DAVID SWARBRICK

Comrie Saville-Ferguson is no stranger to Cambridge comedy, but for the first time, he’s taking to the ADC stage on his own, with a one-night-stand exploring anxiety, creativity and performativity via multimedia comedy. This is Comrie Saville-Ferguson: Prang. But what is prang?

"Prang is a word that my friend Ben and I use when we’re overwhelmed or finding things difficult, and it can come out as really nervous and stressed or really ramped up and hyper," he explains. Prang is a comedy show devised from these anxieties, presented as a collection of monologues and multimedia sketches, representing exaggerated personality types and intense emotions. ‘I’ve written some of the scenes when I have been in 3 am essay crises, or having panic attacks,’ he tells me, explaining his effort to capture those heightened emotions in their reality. Even though Prang is mainly based on Saville-Ferguson’s own experiences, they are not uncommon in a place as high-stress as Cambridge, and he has also taken material from an anonymous questionnaire. He notes that, while this is a personally cathartic project, there is a dissociation from himself; the character on stage is called Steve, who stands for anybody as much as he stands for Saville-Ferguson. Steve is a lonely film extra with an overactive imagination, and he does an online personality test which delineates his various traits; the show dips in and out his responses to this, and sketches about those facets of himself. Saville-Ferguson tells me that he began the project because he wanted to write about how everybody is in some way performing, how difficult it is to know when somebody is really being themselves, and whether there is an overlap between sincerity and performativity. One of the most interesting things about the project, he says, has been discovering how much we are all like one another, after all.

"Saville-Ferguson notes the paradox of being a confident performer but often a very shy person."

This is not a regular one-man comedy show; Prang is a multimedia piece, it is cinematic and technical as well as very physical. Saville-Ferguson explains the set-up: ‘it will be me on stage, but I’ll have my laptop set up, which will be plugged into the projector, and I’ll be doing my own sounds for the sketches on QLab as I perform. I also have a little PowerPoint clicker and a Britney mic – very sexy.’ He tells me that one of the most rewarding things about the project has been being so involved with every aspect of the show, from writing to performing to tech. ‘My writing partner Dan [Allum-Gruselle] graduated last summer, and this is the first thing I’m doing on my own. It’s great to stretch myself and it’s fun to write whatever I want and face the ramifications of that, but it’s daunting. The ADC is a big stage for a one-man show; it’s nerve-wracking – but it is an amazing opportunity and I’m very excited.’ He notes the paradox of being a confident performer but often a very shy person, and it is clear that any association of one-man shows with arrogance would be inaccurate here.

Saville-Ferguson is candid about how the show came about: ‘Last year I was overworking myself, and I ended up really isolated. I’ve been so lucky to do some amazing projects with Footlights but it can be difficult to balance. I think with this show I wanted to do something more relaxed and something a little different.’ Of course, Speechless went to the Edinburgh Fringe and the Footlights International Tour Show: Pillow Talk went across the Atlantic, so it is not surprising that Saville-Ferguson’s summer was both exciting and exhausting. To top off his year, he co-wrote the Footlights Panto 2018: The Gingerbread Man. Yet Saville-Ferguson is incredibly humble when I point out that his recent projects have been well received, and that people may have high expectations as a result. He has drawn on his previous projects in creating this one, and while the result may be more surreal and stylised, the physical comedy of Speechless and the punning humour of the panto will make their way into Prang.


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In fact, Saville-Ferguson credits almost every show he has been a part of and every person he has worked with as an influence – ‘I’m really sorry, I’m just name-dropping all my friends,’ he laughs, after listing practically every other comedian who has done a one-night show this year, or has an upcoming slot this term. While he thinks that his own comedy is different from theirs – ‘it’s quirkier, I think, more nonsensical’ – he enjoys the exposure to other senses of humour. ‘The comedy scene here is so rich and I think it’s easy to forget that Cambridge offers that. I get to practice my comedy among lots of other talented and hard-working people, and we’re all learning, and that’s really cool,’ he says. Yet even the straight plays Saville-Ferguson has been involved in have been influences for Prang. He mentions Pomona (5 stars, Varsity) and tells me that some of the darkness of that play finds its way into the humour, not least because he has worked with Aaron Kilercioglu directing on both shows. He adds that studying writers like Alistair McDowell (who wrote Pomona), Caryl Churchill, and Sarah Kane has encouraged him to play with structure and form, which Prang certainly does.

Prang will be a candid reflection of what it means to be Steve in a world of anxiety and enigma. ‘Different things should resonate with different people,’ says Saville-Ferguson, but he adds that ‘it doesn’t have to be like that if you don’t want it to, it can just be a bit of a laugh. I just really want it to be a nice night.’ His sincerity is striking, and the paradox of that position on a show about performativity is one which he is hoping to delve into in the show. It should be funny, it should be a little bit crazy, but more than anything it should be a nice night.

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