‘That’s the way to do it!’ – Punch & Judy
Now that we’re at the end of the third week of rehearsals, the Monster Raving Loony rehearsal room looks more and more like some eclectic antiques emporium, stocked up with all manner of instruments, furniture, hats, wigs and three-legged giraffes steadily piling up around us. But it’s something that’s only to be expected when you’re essentially staging thirty shows in one!
#MonsterRavingLoony rehearsal room looking like a bric-a-brac stall – or, as
mrJamesGraham</a> would say,bric-and-brac! <a href="https://t.co/a7ATXQ0dg7">pic.twitter.com/a7ATXQ0dg7</a></p>— Chloe Mashiter (ChloeMashiter) January 18, 2016
I struggle to think of another show that’s done what Monster Raving Loony does – pairing specific content (in this case, the life and exploits of Screaming Lord Sutch) with such a huge variety of forms (comedies from TV, radio and film). In one day, we might move from classic farce to quick-fire wordplay to funny man and straight man double acts to domestic sitcoms – all things that fall under the bracket of ‘comedy’, but all with their own unique details and specific performance styles.
All this, of course, combines to make quite a task for the cast. Our work in the rehearsal room has typically been split into three different strands: developing individual impressions – exactly how nasal is Kenneth Williams? Precisely how does Tommy Cooper walk?; reflecting the tone of the show being referenced – are we being surreal here? Or satirical?; working through the story of each scene – who has the upper hand here? Does he expect this to go smoothly? It’s a little like singing one song to the tune of another, or (to use cast member Jack’s example!) patting your head whilst rubbing your stomach.
Of all the possible definitions of ‘director’ out there, the one that comes to my mind during Monster Raving Loony rehearsals is ‘the person who works to ensure all aspects of a production – the performances, the writing, the costumes, the lighting, the sound, the set – complement each other to make one coherent whole’. With so much to balance in this particular show, we often come back to one question as the means to tell if the balance is right: do we believe it?
When I think about what Monster Raving Loony actually puts onstage, it surprises me how natural these – aptly Loony – scenarios now seem to me. Of course campaign meetings should be mixed with Carry On films, of course party conferences should be combined with Hi-De-Hi! Part of this is down to how the show’s writer, James, has matched up the tones of different shows to certain moments in Sutch’s life; part of it’s down to how the cast are rising to the challenge, making even the most unexpected combinations believable. I better stop writing now and get back to rehearsals – The Young Ones are lining up for the general election results…