INTERVIEW: Leave the Biscuit

Thu 10th November 2011

reviews

Ryan Sarsfield

at 17:37 on 10th Nov 2011

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It’s fifth week and it’s miserable. It’s already dark before I can be arsed to get out of bed and rain puts a dampener on any attempts to contact the outside world. But I’m optimistic; sixth week comes bearing gifts. Not only is Big Sketch Night making its debut at The Wheatsheaf on Tuesday, but an (up until now) little known sketch group, Leave the Biscuit, is bringing its first full length show ‘Rabbits in the Footlights’ to the Burton Taylor Studio.

I say ‘little known’, but many of the names will be familiar to anyone with even the faintest interest in Oxford drama. Jamie MacDonagh recently took the lead in The Playhouse’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ alongside Jordan Waller, who also appeared in last week’s hilarious ‘Dead Funny’. Add to this the writing input of Ed Baranski, who penned ‘Blood Runs Thicker’ (TT 2011) to rave reviews, and it’s clear that talent isn’t lacking.

I met the group after rehearsal in Teddy Hall JCR. They’re welcoming and laid back. Rhys Bevan explains how the idea of starting Leave the Biscuit grew organically out of the members’ mutual involvement in past Oxford productions – ‘it pretty much started when we were chatting in the pub,’ he says. However, whilst the spark may have been a few ideas scrawled on the back of a beer mat, the group are keen to emphasise how seriously they are taking this. Sketch comedy is a tale of two disciplines, writing and acting, and all members of the group appear genuinely excited at the prospect of giving their audience something that they believe hits the mark in both areas. There’s no filler, they insist.

So, considering that the press release expresses a commitment to ‘consistently and emphatically lower the tone’, I ask, is this the kind of comedy that you’d take your grandmother to? ‘My parents are coming, so I hope so,’ replies director Ollo Clark. He refers to his role as being more of a censor than anything else. Despite the self-deprecating tone of the release, Ollo stresses that they aim to keep the tone high throughout and prove that writing can be clever and funny without relying on puerile and crude punch lines for cheap laughs. With influences being cited as Idiots of Ants and WitTank, the aim is to create intelligent comedy which draws on such eclectic elements as physical comedy, misunderstanding, and word play, and puts them in a slick tightly packed hour long performance.

Student comedy can easily be accused of relying on the security of running with student based material with the assurance that student friends in the audience will laugh. Rhys refers to a conscious effort to avoid such a narrow appeal: ‘We can’t think of any sketch which wouldn’t work outside of Oxford… the focus has always been on being portable. We’ve all been to Edinburgh before and the aim is to try and take this up there. This is what we’re looking at doing [beyond university] so we want to do it properly.’ This isn’t a bunch of thesps having a go at a bit of comedy then, but a group of friends who have mulled over this project for some time. Jamie MacDonagh reinforces the promise of quality, stating that they wouldn’t be doing this unless they were confident that they were a competitive sketch group.

That said the group are eager to not come across as overly self-important; all are quick to acknowledge that they are new to sketch comedy and its demands. Obviously they want to utilise the skills brought from their prolific backgrounds in acting, but they are keen to assert that they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are not afraid to laugh at themselves - so much is clear from the way they interact with each other - and I suspect such chemistry is really going to shine through on the stage.

I’m impressed by their self-assurance and their apparent control over what they want to achieve. It’s a strong cast and – going off this short glimpse – I fully expect them to deliver on their promises. They better because the days are only getting shorter and the nights colder, and I reckon everyone could do with cheering up.

[‘Rabbits in the Footlights’ is being performed at 9.30pm, Tuesday – Saturday of 6th Week (15th – 19th Nov.), at the Burton Taylor Studio.]

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