Tag Archives: Proud Archivist

Beth Vyse – How breast cancer turned her from an actress into a comedian

Beth Vyse, eating daffodils

Beth Vyse – showing her animal side earlier this week in Soho

When I met Beth Vyse in London’s Soho Theatre this week, she had come straight from lecturing drama students in acting at the University of Rochester in Kent.

“I didn’t know you lectured,” I said.

I think research can be over-rated.

“Oh yes,” she told me. “I teach at LAMDA. I’ve worked at Rose Bruford, the Manchester Met – all the big Uni colleges.”

“Worked at?” I asked.

“Taught at. Directed at,” said Beth.

“You know a bit about drama, then?” I asked.

“I know a lot about Chekhov and Ibsen and Shakespeare and that kind of stuff. I performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company a few times when I first left drama school – small parts in three Shakespeares and then I understudied the leads. I was in Taming of The Shrew, The Tamer Tamed, Measure For Measure and…”

The Tamer Tamed?” I asked.

“It’s the sequel to Taming of the Shrew,” Beth told me. “By John Fletcher.”

“Were you teaching Jacobean stuff in Rochester today?” I asked.

“I was doing animal studies with them. They study animals and the physiology of animals and how they’re weighted and how they walk and communicate and eat. They find the characters within the movement of animals.”

“Surely,” I said, “there are a limited number of roles to play in Planet of the Apes and Star Wars?”

“You can use it in anything,” Beth told me. “My comedy career, perchance.”

“When were you last a camel?” I asked.

A golden-headed tamarin (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

A golden-headed tamarin – it screeches (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

“I haven’t done a camel,” admitted Beth, “but I’ve done a golden-headed tamarin many a time. Facial expressions. Eating.”

She started making screeching noises like a small monkey.

“I also teach at Soho Theatre,” Beth said. “I teach at the Comedy Lab Plus. I work with people who are already on the circuit, sketch performers, some performance artists, some cabaret performers, some normal stand-ups. I help them to try different things, shape their sets, make them more theatrical, use the audience, eye contact, that sort of thing.”

“You always wanted to study drama at university?” I asked.

“I applied to five universities. I wanted to be a town planner. But I thought: Why not apply to one drama school? So I did. And I got an audition at Rose Bruford, got in and the rest is history.”

“Why town planning?” I asked. “That says to me: a mind that wants to organise.

“I’m quite organised when it comes to certain things,” Beth agreed. “Not with some others.”

“You want,” I asked, “to make sense of the anarchy of life?”

“Yeah… Well, that’s why I teach as well. It helps me make sense of things.”

“You want,” I suggested, “to have control – not in a bad way – over the anarchy?”

“Yeah,” said Beth. “I’m always in control. It might look like I’m completely not, but I think I am. I never let it go too much.”

“So your show scripts are very tight?” I asked.

Poster image for Beth Vyse Going Dark!

Poster image for one of Beth’s earlier shows – Going Dark!

Going Dark! was really scripted. Get Up With Hands! was scripted. As Funny As Cancer is the least scripted. I wrote lots of it, but I’ve also left room for audience members to come and play the different parts in the story – to play the Chinese doctor, to play Michael Jackson, my mum, my dad. They have to read my cancer diagnosis and that’s pretty hard for anyone. It’s funny but dark and dangerous and weird.”

“And you are a Weirdo,” I said. “I missed the Weirdos Christmas Panto AND your Edinburgh show As Funny As Cancer last year. I’m embarrassed.”

“We had a chat in the street in Edinburgh,” Beth reminded me.

“Oh God, did we?” I asked.

“It was when the Guardian article about me came out.”

The Guardian piece was headlined:

FAKE BREASTS, PING-PONG BALLS AND TEARS IN A COMIC EXPLORATION OF CANCER

Beth Vyse - As funny As Cancer

Beth Vyse – the poster for As Funny As Cancer

Beth told me: “You said I had a bigger picture than the Queen of Spain got when she died.”

“I think there was about two-thirds of a page on you,” I said.

“We have gone off course,” Beth mused.

“It happens,” I said. “When is your show next week?”

“On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Proud Archivist in Haggerston.”

“This is your Edinburgh Fringe show As Funny As Cancer…”

“Yes.”

“You started as an actress and then became a comedian.”

“I was always an actor and then I got breast cancer when I was 28 and everything got kind-of thrown up in the air, really, and the acting kind-of dried up because I didn’t really care and then… Well, I always wanted to be a comedian. I wanted to be the David Bowie of comedy or the Kate Bush of comedy – Someone who is kind of weird and experimental and changes themselves each time. I mean, I’m nowhere near doing that. I’m teaching animal studies in Rochester!”

“Well,” I said, “David Bowie and Kate Bush’s early performances were both influenced by mime. I saw David Bowie when he was a mime and…”

“I always wanted to do comedy,” said Beth, trying to get me back on track, “but I was never brave enough. So, when I got breast cancer at 28, I decided I was going to write some comedy and get up and perform it. I thought: You don’t know how long life is and you don’t know how long you’ve got. Why don’t I just try it? What have I got to lose?

“So I started writing with a friend of mine and we took a show to Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it and I’ve just been doing more comedy ever since. My comedy is big and grotesque and raw and it’s all to do with me having breast cancer. Everything I do is, really. Once it happens to you, you can’t really change that.”

“But you didn’t talk,” I said, “about breast cancer in your shows before this one.”

Beth Vyse as Olive Hands

Olive Hands: “No-one would have known what it was about.”

“I didn’t talk about it until the five-years all-clear. Before this show, no-one would have known it had anything to do with me having cancer. I played this woman Olive Hands who was a big, grotesque, daytime TV presenter. All she wanted was fame and she had a really nice family at home but never went. A constant want for something. But why? Why would anyone want this type of thing? It was all to do with that theme of wanting something you couldn’t have. In one show, Olive Hands is ill and this is where it all came from. It seemed mental and silly; no-one would have known what it was about.”

“You got the all-clear after five years?”

“Yes. I hadn’t really let anyone know except my close family and got the five-years all-clear and decided last year was the right year to do As Funny As Cancer. I’m taking the show to Leicester, Manchester, Exeter and, in April, New Zealand and I might be going to Los Angeles later in the year.”

“And the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I might take As Funny As Cancer up again, but also a new show. I want to have Gareth Morinan in it, playing Noel Edmonds. I’m quite obsessed with Deal or No Deal. It makes me cry!”

“Why?” I asked.

“People just suddenly win £40,000. I find it very emotional and it’s all done on complete chance. The idea is so stupid and ridiculous, but I find it very emotional and I’m interested in why it gets me like that. It is just boxes with numbers on them. It’s all complete chance.”

“Like life,” I said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Medical, Theatre

Malcolm Hardee – live on stage – in his first UK comedy show since 2005

Malcolm Hardee died in 2005... Headlined a show in 2014

Malcolm Hardee died in 2005… back headlining in 2014

When I talked to Chris Dangerfield for yesterday’s blog, he gave me a photo of an interesting comedy poster.

It was interesting because it was for a gig billed two weeks ago in London –

ZIP ZIP COMEDY
WITH MALCOLM HARDEE

I would have paid a large amount to see this gig because Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005.

Also on the bill were Ellis and Rose (billed as Ellie and Rose), Lee Kern, Rob Pybus and Tom Webb. As far as I am aware, they are all still alive.

When I asked Gareth Ellis (aka Gareth Ellie) this morning, he told me: “Ha! That gig was cancelled!”

Rob Pybus told me: “Ha! Yes – this was a bit of mistake by the publicity people at The Proud Archivist (the venue). Not only did they have the date wrong, but a line up that was a tad impossible. I wonder if anyone went? The proper night happened the following Friday and was great.”

So I asked Poppy Hillstead, who organised the gig.

Poppy Hillstead in a selfie taken this morning

Poppy Hillstead in a selfie taken this morning

“I’m unsure if anyone turned up for the gig,” she told me, “as I had the poster down quite quick! We didn’t even have a gig on that night: we actually had Trevor Lock headlining the week after. The Proud Archivist does its own posters for my show, I have no idea how they managed to get not only the wrong date but the wrong lineup – with Malcolm Hardee headlining!

“When I went in to speak to them, the staff said: We’re really excited about tonight’s show! I said: That’s great, but it’s not on and the headliner has been dead since 2005…

“They said: Aaaaw. Yeah, we should change that. And also I also pointed out that ‘Ellie’ and Rose don’t exist haha. We were meant to have a gig on that date with (Malcolm Hardee Award winners) Ellis and Rose and two other acts but it was moved to the next week because Ellis got ill and had to drop out. I don’t know how The Proud Archivist got it so wrong haha. I think they had a new poster maker in.”

“I see they also used a photograph of Malcolm,” I said, “which I took myself in about 1995.”

“They must have Googled it,” said Poppy.

Bob Slayer (left) with act Paul Currie (Photograph by Poppy Hillstead)

Bob (left) and act Paul Currie ‘finger piping’ from Paul’s show (Photograph by Poppy Hillstead)

If she had not told me the whole thing was a mistake, I might have thought it was a publicity stunt because, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Poppy helped run (Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner) Bob Slayer’s two venues The Hive and Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop.

I asked Poppy about her experience of working with Bob this year – It is always an experience.

Poppy told me:

“The Hive smells but Bob Slayer wore the same Electric Eel Shock T-shirt every day of the Fringe and not once did it smell. By far the best smelling act was Chris Dangerfield. Nobody smells better than Chris Dangerfield, whose show Sex With Children did incredibly well. But it also meant I had to announce at the bar each night: Anyone for Sex With Children? Come on through for sex with children! This was met with disgust by people just out for a regular drink.

Bob Slayer (left) presented Wilfredo at the recent Edinburgh Fringe

Bob Slayer (left) presented Wilfredo at last month’s Fringe (Photograph by Poppy Hillstead)

“Other highlights included, every night, fetching Wilfredo‘s specially-purchased step, which prevented his bollocks getting crushed in his ridiculously tight trousers as he stepped up on stage.

“A major highlight, though, was watching Bob Slayer get his prostate checked by a lady with a very dirty industrial rubber builder’s glove.

“Now I’m back to running my own Zip Zip Comedy Night at the Proud Archivist. We want the night to be a mix of animation and live stand up from more alternative acts on the circuit. The first gig was mental: we tried to create this 3D compere which motion tracked comedian Rob Pybus‘ face in real time, projecting him as a Max Headroom type character onto the stage. But it was very complicated and deeply terrifying. We will probably bring him back at some point.

“Now we showcase a new episode of Rob’s Living Cartoon series each month. Using his skills as an animator, he projects cartoon environments and characters around him. You have to come down and see it. I will try and get Malcolm Hardee to headline it.

Trevor Lock (left) & Chris Dangerfield, by Poppy Hillstead

Trevor Lock (left) and Chris Dangerfield… by Poppy Hillstead

“Another night that I’m doing, which I’m proper excited about is Tell Us a Secret hosted by Trevor Lock with Chris Dangerfield and a showbiz pal on the panel. Comedians and the audience are asked to tell a single secret before the panel. This is going to be a good one. It is on the 17th of October!”

Maybe the whole thing with the Malcolm Hardee poster WAS a cunning stunt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy