We did it. We actually returned to a stage and put on a show!
As I’ve written about before, I’m a producer for Next Level Sketch, a sketch comedy collective founded in late 2019, with a mind to do regular sketch comedy nights, as a) we enjoy writing and performing them and b) we felt like there was a dearth of sketch comedy spaces in London, and we wanted to provide a new one. We’d seen so many excellent sketch and comedy acts on bills alongside stand-up comedians, which is fine as far as it goes, but the rhythms of sketch are very different. We wanted a little place of our own.
Our first two shows were sellouts. The set-up was simple: the first half was our gang, with fresh new sketches from our collective of writers and performers. There was then an interval during which we encouraged people to drink and talk to each other. Then, we’d have a headliner, who would provide their own excellent sketch and character comedy stylings.
And to be honest, writing the above feels a bit like a transmission from another world, because as we all know, 2020 turned out not to be the best year to start a new live sketch comedy night.
Fast forward eight months, and Next Level Sketch has been a source of perpetual joy during a really challenging year, thanks to our regular Zoom meetings and outpourings of WhatsApp nonsense.
Our gang agreed to put together a sketch comedy podcast, and the quality of the writing and performance has been staggering. It’s worth reminding ourselves that we’ve never tried to do anything like this before, and the end result is a beautiful and strange little show, with its own cast of returning quirks, personalities and themes, but with entirely new sketches and ideas in every single episode. We are really proud of it and you should have a listen.
But we had really missed live performance. And with Hoopla Impro working their collective butts off to make live performance a Covid-Secure and socially distanced possibility upstairs at The Miller, we decided to put together a show for October, even though at the back of my minds we knew there was the possibility of another lockdown coming along and stopping it from going ahead.*
We limited our onstage cast to six humans, and loved the cabaret style, households-only table set-up that awaited us at The Miller. Capacity had been reduced from 70 to a mere 16 for the shows: we were curious to see what that would mean in terms of atmosphere and CPM (chuckles per minute).
And we needn’t have worried. Both audiences* were wonderful, warm and appreciative, as we put on sketches involving spooky ghost stories, incompetent submarine captains, and energetic boxercise coaches having on-stage emotional breakdowns.
Thanks so much to all the lovely humans who wrote, offered amazing sketch feedback, directed, and performed at our show on Tuesday. This year has been so difficult, but it’s been such a joy getting to know you all and reading and listening to all those strange and mysterious things that you have dredged up from the bottom of your minds.
Below are some more photos from the show.
*And a day after writing this, rumours of a November lockdown began to fly around, like plastic bands in the wind in 1990s movies about late capitalist ennui
Great write up James. I will be at the next one with bells on!