Creativity and gin thrive in London. It’s one of the many reasons why I love this city so much. On any night of the week you can sing-a-long to a world-renowned musical in West End, enjoy a delicious gin-based cocktail at a new pop up in Soho, see a play on an outdoor stage in one of London’s many green spaces, be moved by a photo documentary in Trafalgar Square or relax to some splendid music in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank.
But, did you know that summer is the best time of the year to discover the underbelly of London’s creativity? Especially in July when comic, artist and creative geniuses test their hilarity before heading north to Edinburgh Fringe.
I recently caught up with my mate Robert Blackwood of Interrupt the Routine, to chat about creativity in London, and how his creativity is inspired by his desire to bring people joy (and gin) and by a wonderful trip to Australia that ended disastrously. But, I’m guessing that it’s mainly the gin that inspired him to write a hilarious staged radio play set in Britain post-WWII…
Wait. What on earth is staged radio play?
Picture four energetic actors bouncing across the stage behind four vintage microphones as they slip in and out of multiple characters, accents and costume changes, accompanied by a Foley artist sat behind a table overflowing with everyday objects and props he expertly manipulates into hilarious sound effects.
Think classic Monty Python crossed with the 1960s Get Smart TV series and you might come close to this rollercoaster of comedy and delightfully silly story of mystery, gin, Scottishness, and more gin.
So Rob, what’s with all the gin?
Growing up in a British household, gin o’clock was a regular time for me. At home, a cup of tea or a G&T makes everything alright. It’s that!
And, gin is now very much a part of The Gin Chronicles?
Gin is very much part of the whole vintage experience. The radio play is centred on two funny characters in the 1940s and their love of Captain Botanicals gin, (currently) a fictional brand of gin. But, because we love our audience, we’ve married our British comedy with delicious Darnley’s View Gin and Fentimans authentically English soft drinks to give every adult punter a complimentary Gin & Tonic with their ticket so as to share the whole vintage experience with you!
So you’ve always enjoyed a G&T?
Always. Even when I lived in Japan, my flat was known as the “British Embassy” and we always greeted our guests with a welcoming G&T or a beer. And these days, gin is in. It’s British and it’s very London.
Do you enjoy performing in London before you go to Edinburgh Fringe?
London is so…. right for a lot of people to test. It’s one of the best melting pots, which includes senses of humour. Performers can be hardened by it but it’s a good challenge. You question yourself. What is good? Do I need to change it? Are there more ways, or better ways, to be creative? There’s a raw energy about that.
I like writing/directing/performing but I have to produce because we can’t afford someone else to do it at the moment (though we’ve a plan for that to change). There’s a trick to covering all bases. There are so many companies in London that produce fantastic stuff, but without the marketing savvy they get nowhere. Sadly, you can’t keep doing this for the love of it because London is not the most forgiving city economically.
Still, there are so many people who work so hard in this city to create awesome things, and that includes every one of The Misfits of London. We rehearse all day before heading off to work a long shift at a pub, or as an usher in a theatre, or to host an event. So, my co-director and I have to be careful in what we ask of our actors. In spite of this, London is still one of the top places to try to be great, and if/when you fail, you train better, go to a different venue, and start afresh.
I can’t believe how many characters and accents The Gin Chronicles has! I particularly liked Blue, the Aussie redhead. When you write a play, how do you decide on the characters and the actors?
The Misfits of London have evolved over the last four years. Along with Interrupt the Routine’s co-founder Nick Cowell, Helen Foster (Doris Golightly), Luke (our Foley artist) and I have worked together for the past 16 months on the first instalment of The Gin Chronicles. With The Gin Chronicles: A Scottish Adventure, we’ve got two new actors (Emer O’Connor and Nicholas Limm) and they’ve been wonderful. They have a very different energy and are progressing quickly.
We’ve spent a lot of time evolving our style, but I’m not precious about the script. As the writer I hear the actors and what they’re doing and I try to write to their style and strengths. I adapt to actors in the space. I give them a brief rundown of how I see the character and I’ll leave it to them to develop their own take, and when we recast a show, you see things change again: you thought the rhythm was flowing well but then someone brings their own take to it and there’s a new joy that comes from that. During the process you see how hard people work and how much they want to do a good job. It’s true what they say: comedy is a serious business.
I love Doris Golightly, but Mr Jobling is hilarious! And, you seem very comfortable playing him – any similarities there?
There is a huge part of me that is a ridiculous idiot and I just have to remind myself that Mr Jobling is a loveable singleton who stumbles upon things more by luck than judgement. He has a certain charm that I think people find endearing – it’s a great smoke screen to play with in comedy. And luckily, when his character flaws are exposed, Doris is usually there to save him from fatal idiocy!
I do love playing Jobling; he’s such good fun. And Helen, as Doris (amongst many other characters), really sounds like she’s walked off the set of an Ealing Comedy.
There seems to be something building between them. Will we see more of a relationship in the future?
I love hearing what people think about the characters and it’s a question that’s getting asked more and more. For him, it’s probably a little bit of a class thing. Very Downton Abbey! But he’s so oblivious that I don’t think he’s considered the possibility of a relationship with a housemaid. But in the future…? You’ll have to wait to find out!
Oh, the suspense! So tell us, how did you get into showbiz/performing? What inspires you?
After graduating university, I taught English in Japan, did a master’s degree in drama, and then went travelling. I was in Australia when I broke my neck –
You what?! How?
– Yes. Well, diving into a pool in Griffith. I was airlifted to St Vincent’s in Sydney and spent most of my recovery having the piss taken out of me by the Aussie staff. But, I really think that was what helped me through such a serious and scary time; the laughter.
And, it’s one of the reasons I do what I do now. I like to make people happy. I like to put a good spin on it all. I’ve had great support in life and have grown up in a stable background; my folks are great people. So there’s a lot of relief, joy and gratitude that I can do what I love to do.
There’s a lot in life you can get stressed out about, but our philosophy is that you will leave with the feeling that you had a good time. If we can help people get over a bad day or just laugh – then we’ve done our job.
So, that’s the aim in Edinburgh – to make sure everyone has a laugh?
It will be the tonic to their day!
We work so hard to bring joy… and gin. If you come to see us you’ll be part of a great big vintage- and gin-based hug.
So, you heard it here first, Londoners! Cancel your weekend trip to Ibiza or your tour around the Greek Islands because summer could be your last chance to experience some free amateur comedy or a hilarious new play before they head north to Edinburgh Fringe. Get on it!
For tickets, go here