Tim Johns

Putting Pretty Little Panic together was a long process. After casting the show in February the Footlights retreated to a shack on the Isle of Wight for an intensive writing week. The team spent days coming up with premises for sketches. ''The most important thing is not to let it get too academic,” says Mark Fiddaman. “Just try to make the other guys laugh.”

“We probably wrote sixty sketches,” says James Moran, co-director, “many of which we thought weren't in the public interest to pursue.” The finished sketches were aired in a two-week preview run in May Week before the Footlights set off on their tour of Europe and the US.

Touring America meant making a few changes to their comic style. Adam Lawrence explains how their US shows began with a direct-address introduction, giving the actors a chance to gauge the atmosphere of the room before launching into the show. “About 5% of the actual writing had to change, literally just because of cultural references,” James tells me. “But the main difference was something less tangible - I think American audiences want to be friends with whoever is on stage, whereas British ones prefer a professional separation between performer and audience.”

On the Britishness or otherwise of their humour, Mark reckons their show is 'just a collection of jokes to which people from different backgrounds respond in different ways. We certainly didn't find that the show went less well in America - Americans are all about going in with an open mind, wanting to have a good time.'

When it comes to highlights of the tour, James tells me there was a two day period in Boston when Alex Owen got ill and had to go to hospital, which gave the company some much-needed space. But from a theatrical point of view the highlight was a gig “inside a Las Vegas gay sex shop when we got quite of lot of friendly vocal feedback during the show”. Apparently this was their most enthusiastic reception: when I asked if being a Footlight helps with the laydeez, Adam informs me he's now spoken to three girls as a result of the tour and very nearly spoken to a fourth, while Ben Ashenden shakes his head: “No. I keep asking, but no.”

I ask which Footlight of the past the cast would most like to have worked with. “Ben Ashenden!” says Alex. Ben is torn between Matt Green and John Goodman. Alex confesses his dream to put together a cast comprised of “tall, authoritative performers with Tim Key playing the nervous straight man in every sketch: John Cleese, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Baron-Cohen, Alex Armstrong and Key.”

The cast's advice for aspiring comedians is to “try working with lots of different people and see who you hit it off with” (Alex), “ignore how confident everyone else appears to be, just write and perform as much as you can (not just in Footlights smokers)” (James), and “remember that it's not about churning out a flawless product” (Mark). “It's about learning how to be a better comedian. If you screw up one day, fuck it, it doesn't matter. Be committed but don't take yourself too seriously. Above all, enjoy it- no matter how successful you are, you'll never have this much comedic freedom again!”

Pretty Little Panic opens at the ADC on Tuesday 4th October. Their West End finale is on October 10th at the Lyric Theatre.

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