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A UK comic with a building reputation and a collapsing Edinburgh Fringe show

Martin Soan - stimulated by decorating

Martin Soan – stimulated by home decorating

“I don’t mind admitting what I find stimulating,” said Martin Soan over breakfast this morning.

Pull The Other One comedy club runner Martin Soan is decorating my hall, stairs and landing this week.

It might seem odd having a man decorate your house who is best known for creating a naked balloon dance.

But Martin has more than a bit of previous, as prop-maker to comedy performers (of which I am not one).

“There was that Edinburgh Fringe show in 1995 where you created a kitchen for Boothby Graffoe,” I said.

“Did you ever see it?” Martin asked.

“No, I missed it,” I said. “But just getting the set in and out of the room must have been a nightmare.”

“For the first 20 minutes,” Martin explained, “Boothby did stand-up in front of a curtain while we erected the set behind the curtain. But, after the third day, I’d ironed-out all the problems and we could erect it in about 8 minutes. There was a table, oven, sink, bookcases, walls, doors and lots of little sight gags round the place.”

“And it was nominated for the Perrier Award,” I said, “but legend has it Boothby didn’t get the award because he wouldn’t be photographed drinking from a Perrier bottle.”

A photograph of a Perrier bottle without Boothby Graffoe

A Perrier bottle without any Boothby Graffoe

“He didn’t like playing up for the cameras” admitted Martin. “I was perfectly ready to prostitute myself. But, to be honest, we weren’t going to win, because it was about time a woman won it.”

“That was Jenny Eclair’s year?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin.

“Well, at least it was a chum of yours,” I said.

“And good luck to her,” said Martin, “But Boothby didn’t behave for the Perrier publicity and  Avalon (Boothby Graffoe’s agent at the time) didn’t want to put the show on tour because they couldn’t see any profit in it. Insane.

“Such a pity, because there were some brilliant gags in it. The concept was there were sight gags all round the kitchen and, five minutes before the end of the show, Boothby said: I’ve gotta just put some washing in the washing machine. Then he said Look after it and left the stage.

“Then there was just an empty kitchen with the washing machine in the middle going Brrrrrrr…. There was a great big pause and silence, then giggles from the audience. Then it goes into spin mode and I’d taken some of the ballast out of the washing machine so it really started shaking and that started vibrating the whole of the set and gradually, bit by bit, everything started falling down.

“The oven walked out and exploded – I had a stick and the top would come down and I’d weighted the top so, when it hit the back of the thing, it lifted everything up in the air….

“The Welsh Dresser’s shelves fell down alternately, either side, and the plates would run down like some sort of pinball machine…

“There was just lots and lots of stuff. We had great big lumps of cornice at the top which were knocked off and the wall was strips of lino so it looked like a solid wall but, of course, when the set fell apart, it used to curl up and fall to the floor…

“The table legs used to jump up in the air and the table would collapse.

“The door was fantastic – a floating door – so there were sight gags with that, where you would open the door one way, close it, then open it the other way and it used to spin on its axis.

“Boothby did this sketch about No 10 Downing Street. The door would spin round. It was black and had No 10 on it. He put on a policeman’s outfit and pretended to be the copper outside No 10, looking around. Then he’d open up the letterbox and shout in You wanker! Then the door would open and I’d stand there bollock naked wearing a John Major face mask.

“There were three of us putting up the set every day, then packing it away and putting it into a Portakabin. There was me and Suzie the stagehand and a guy called Adam. It was a massive show which packed down into almost a zen thing.”

“How long did it take to design and build the set?” I asked.

“About 9 months to make it,” replied Martin.

“And at Edinburgh?” I asked.

In lieu of any photos of a collapsing kitchen, Marton Soan in my hall this afternoon

In the absence of photographs of a collapsing kitchen at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1995, Martin Soan in my hallway today…

“I used to get there around five hours before the show,” explained Martin, “and I’d be fixing stuff because things got damaged every day. About 2 hours before the show, I’d start arranging the gear in a specific order for a massive get-in real quick when the show started.”

“And this was outside?” I asked.

“We had the Portakabin,” explained Martin, “and I stuck up tarpaulins outside in case it started raining.”

“You got full houses at the Edinburgh Fringe, didn’t you?” I asked.

“The first day, people were really, really worried we could pull it off,” said Martin. “Then there were respectable-sized audiences the first three days and the show was sold out from Day 4 for the rest of the run.”

“So you and Boothby made lots of money out of it?” I asked.

“There were £33,000 of tickets sold, “said Martin, “and we got a £400 cheque nine months later, after loads and loads of hassling.”

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