Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A replay of how Marks and Gran’s much loved tv series nearly didn’t make it past episode 1
Marks and Gran are two of the most well-known British sit-com writers – “Shine On Harvey Moon” was era-defining for many, but they also wrote “The New Statesman” and “Goodnight Sweetheart”. These paved the way for arguably their greatest success, “Birds Of A Feather”. Emerging from retirement, they have written the story of how the latter series came about – and how it almost didn’t make it past the first episode.
Following the success of “Harvey Moon” we are taken on a swift tour of the way tv series are conceived and commissioned and there’s ample opportunity to wink at the audience and take the mickey out of 1980’s BBC culture – “who’s in, who’s out”, the whiff of PLU (People Like Us) and the fine line that the writers have to tread between breaking ground and offending the public’s sensibilities. Real comedy about real people.
“Early Birds” moves neatly from the inspiration – an idea that two bank robbers, one of whom gets nicked – and their wives who are constantly dealing with the fallout – to the resolution of the series’ salvation. There are lots of interesting vignettes along the way, especially concerning the founding of Alamo, one of the first independent production companies to get BBC commissions. Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson had already worked with Marks and Gran, but had not yet become household names. This piece is as much about their journey as the writers themselves.
Harriet Watson’s Pauline captures exactly Quirke’s combination of enthusiasm and vulnerability while Katrina Perrett turns in a fine version of Robson, irony and sarcasm nicely underplayed. What’s more impressive is the fleshed-out relationship between the two and recreation of the real-life almost telepathic timing. Sue Appleby’s Dorien completes the trio, a delicious leopard skin tribute to Lesley Joseph’s maneater-next-door. Nick Seenstra’s Laurence and Alastair Natkiel’s Maurice bounce off each well, giving us a glimpse into the writer’s world, seizing on ideas and pushing narratives. It’s quite edgy in places too – we’re very aware of how one meeting could shape people’s lives. Ultimately it’s a warm recollection and a happy – if predictable ending – and “Birds” is. of course, still very much a comedy classic 30 years on.
The ensemble are uniformly good, changes of scene with chairs, a flip table and even a sofa (impressively handled on a small stage) are swift and efficient. Director Alex Hughes has given the piece a good pace with lots of light and shade – and it’s no mean feat managing a cast of 10 in a studio space.
PQA One in Riddle’s Court is a nice intimate space just off the Royal Mile, tucked away so there’s no intrusive sound bleed – a welcome relief. This looks like becoming a venue for new talent to break through, much like Marks and Gran, Quirke and Robson – one to watch.