Flexibility is central to this productionDavid Swarbrick

It’s an intriguing title, and one that took hours to take shape. The cast describe their first session together, crowded around a laptop, brainstorming combinations of words, working out which are funny and which are not. The result? Pillow Talk.

It’s a motif rather than a narrative arc, they explain, based around the idea that the conversations in each of the sketches fit into intimate environments and interactions, close relationships between families, friends, and lovers. This is a motif which encourages the audience to engage with the show not as a composed performance with an arbitrary narrative, but as a group of performers feeling their way through the complexities of comedy, its different styles and genres, towards both the obvious, side-splitting roar and the unexpected laugh.

The variety of types of comedy in this show is remarkable. It swings from the meta-comic, Mitchell and Webb-esque style, where the audience is unsure whether they are watching the perfected final piece or whether something has actually gone wrong, and where the power of the final laugh comes from making the audience feel this sense of uncomfortable uncertainty, to the ridiculous cheesiness of “some boys on the beach” with their over-the-top dance moves and hilariously intense singing. The cast talk about their influences, comic styles which they like and those which they hate and can mock, and about a writing session where they each brought YouTube videos of their favourite sketches, looking at them to see what could be incorporated into this sketch show.

When you’re going to perform a show fifty-six times, embracing change is particularly important

The main writing for this show took place on the group’s writing week during the Easter vacation, an experience which was much more refreshing than piecing the work together bit by bit during a busy term. The week consisted of various inspiration-stimulating and team-building activities to cement the group both as performers and as friends who will live together during the ten-week tour. They worked in different pairs, discovering dynamic combinations and the different kinds of humour they can produce together, from Ash Weir’s meticulous word-by-word, tightly-sculpted comedy to Christian Hines and Meg Coslett’s more chaotic method, speaking their lines to each other in a mass of jokes and only afterwards reeling them into a coherent sketch.

Flexibility is central to this production, and this is clear especially in the rehearsal space. There the physical script seems to play only one small part, as the actors change the lines as they go along, blocking it out bit by bit as the sketches become a performative reality. This is where Dan Emery and Molly Stacey’s roles as directors of a sketch show are unique; they must work both as audience and as writers, finding the right balance between investing themselves in the creation of the jokes and distancing themselves into the role of the audience who have never seen the show. They seem to work smoothly together; open to shifting scenes but confident in sticking up for the jokes which they find hilarious and know will work. Comedy requires bravery, and this team certainly have that.


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When you’re going to perform a show 56 times, embracing change is particularly important. Audiences shouldn’t be surprised if the show changes almost night by night during the Fringe run and then later on the US section of the tour, adapting itself to the different comedy that the cast see during their time at the festivals and allowing them to test out everything they have written, leaving no sketch unexplored. In fact, the hardest thing about the whole process, the cast tell me, has been cutting down the material to the length of a single sketch show. Nothing is left unturned or undeveloped; somewhere, at some time, each character’s voice will be heard. And who better to voice them than these five brilliant Cambridge comedians.

The Footlights International Tour Show: Pillow Talk is on at the Cambridge Union June 12-17 and 19-23

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