Edinburgh Fringe 2012
November 12th 1983 and the last 5 minutes of Joe Pooleys life on stage and on earth. Joe Pooley, the comedian, is gunned down whilst on stage in a stand up club in North London. We re-enact this true story whilst stuck in a 5-minute loop, we take on the role of audience at the murder and of Joe! Heckling, sneezing, walking out and telling the jokes – this performance is run by audience participation that is wonderfully instructed, genuine good fun and a brilliant format for the portrayal of a comedian dying on stage – metaphorically and literally
It’s November 12th 1983 and the last 5 minutes of Joe Pooley’s life on stage and on earth. Joe Pooley, the comedian, is gunned down whilst on stage in a stand up club in North London. We re-enact this true story whilst stuck in a 5-minute loop, we take on the role of audience at the murder and of Joe! Heckling, sneezing, walking out and telling the jokes – this performance is run by audience participation that is wonderfully instructed, genuine good fun and a brilliant format for the portrayal of a comedian dying on stage – metaphorically and literally.
Participatory Theatre can be a hard one to pull off, but Comedian dies…is so expertly managed and created that all the concerns and winces around participation fly out the door in lighting time. By giving clear instructions, by spreading the responsibility, by giving little time to think about your responses, through costume and props, by the whole concept completely relying on the audience – everyone gets on board this participatory train and has a fantastic time!
Ross Sutherland, the compare for this evenings stand up, sets the scene of the 80’s, we are in cold war Britain, Margaret Thatcher has just come into power and someone has smuggled a gun into this club. With the aid of effective diagrams projected behind him, Ross explains how the next 50 minutes is going to work, we are sat around tables with Menu’s that give us our character name and what we are supposed to do, some of these Menu’s involve heckles that are marked in red. There are costumes and props for each character, so I don my black berrie and take up the word puzzle book in front of me, I am the detective. We are going to replay the last 5 minutes of Joe Pooley’s life on loop, after each 5 minutes we will swap tables, moving through 1 to 6 and adopt a new character each time. This is very exciting for the audience! One person from each table will be the comedian when the time comes; we take a minute to decide who that is, and then the first 5 minutes begin!
The audience member first up to play the comedian reads of the auto cue behind us, telling bad jokes and being heckled by the audience who take instruction from the menus. ‘What do you hate about the 80’s’ he calls to the blonde lady ‘Reversible Jumpers!’ she shouts. The instruction for Heckling is ‘Say anything you like!’ which allows the audience members to come up with any rubbish, be it sensible or not, this allows for huge variation as we repeat the same stand up routine. I have never witnessed such a funny audience, we fill in jokes, have outbursts and storms out – "This is rubbish I only came here for the Bingo, where’s the toilet!’ one woman shouts whilst storming out the room, her own hilarious adlib. The power is handed to us and within this structure releases a huge amount of off-the-cuff comedy. The comedian’s stumble over the words, responding to heckles of the crowd and impersonates Margaret Thatcher, each time a little different.
There are other quieter characters within the audience, I was ‘fingers’ at one point and my task was to steal the purse of the lady next to me. Later I was ‘the next act who never makes it to the stage’ and read over my script making last minute changes. The detail in the show and consideration for each audience member is brilliant, and aids the reality of the event.
‘Blondie!’ the comedian calls ‘Why are you here tonight?’ – ‘To go home with two men’ one Blondie answers, ‘To drown myself in Gin’ another Blondie on a different round answers. ‘Thank you to PJ and Fritz!’ calls the compare ‘Lets hear that catchphrase again’ he asks – the lucky audience member who has landed the part of PJ and Fritz stands up with the Giraffe puppet ‘Are you having a Giraffe!’ one calls, ‘Aren’t you glad I didn’t say bananas’ another answers, ‘It’s a looooong story!’ another on a different round. Their are endless variables to what can come out in this show, Ross Sutherland stands in the corner roaring with laughter at what the audience come out with.
There are real moments of awkwardness as the comedian struggles with silence and jokes that fail, and heckles, and getting wound up. Then the lights turn blue, the music is turned up and we all swap tables like musical chairs, excited about our new character as the next comedian gets briefed and takes to the stage.
In each 5 minute section a couple of lines gets added to the comedians script, which reminds us that we are progressing, that we are going to reach the end and he will get shot. Ross tells us at the start that Joe Pooley will get shot, yes we can loop time but we cannot stop it or change it, this comedians fate has already been sealed. The final comedian gets to the end of the script, the auto cue is stopped and she speaks off script, suddenly we question whether she is an audience member or a plant, the lights go dark and the audience member that has landed in the murderers seat stands up and with pointed fingers guns the comedian down.
Ross covers the body with his jacket and repeats a few lines of his script, after the hilarious reconstruction we are reminded of the truth, that these are the worlds of a comedian who was shot whilst performing his set. ‘Comedians die on stage everyday’ Ross says, the saying becomes true.
This work is an excellent piece of participatory performance, that you will want to do again and again, it will be different every time and you will be different each time. The script is brilliant, rooted within a specific era and place that we can all connect to and understand. As an audience member it is liberating and just the funniest hour I’ve had at the fringe. It is a memorable show that is playful, witty and dramatically satisfying. Guaranteed fun, a must see! Or more appropriately a must do!