Next Level Sketch has been going since January 2020, a really sensible time to start a regular live show. We did podcasts during lockdown, and have been gradually building ourselves back as a live concern since then.
We are aware that our set-up is unusual. A writers’ collective with a core group of regular performers, we aim to be a vehicle for new writing and an inclusive, affordable (literally, free) space to receive script feedback and advice.
We also put on live shows, and we want those to be as good as possible.
We’ve hit upon a format of putting on a mix of new and classic sketches, which I think is the right one. It still requires a bit of fine-tuning.
It does mean (and I’m very aware of this) that we’re sometimes at a disadvantage compared to our guest acts, who are often doing polished sets of material they absolutely know works, whereas we’re regularly putting on sketches that have never been unleashed on audiences before.
As one of the producers, I am obviously very biased, but I think ours is one of the very best nights in London, with a very welcoming crowd, great, alternative guest acts with license to be weird, and us lot being stupid up top. When everything works – like it did last night – it absolutely flies, like some kind of winged animal soaring towards the sun (that’s where birds go, right?).
Last night’s show was hosted by my co-producer Nadine Bailey, who set the tone perfectly – charming, welcoming, and with some crowd work reminiscent of her many occasions MCing for Hoopla Impro shows.
Tonight’s gambit was a) anointing a member of the audience King and b) getting them to tell a joke via a Christmas cracker. It was all a lot of fun, and everyone was warmed up and on side by the time it finished.
Errant cast member Shruti Sharma duly fetched from the loos – she was in the opening sketch, and we were starting to panic – Next Level Sketch took to the stage. I was in six sketches this time, with small roles in two (being a baby and a policeman, only one of these was on fire) and four chunkier bits.
Of the new stuff, I really liked Ben Fortescue’s Oregon, a very stupid and very funny sketch about the patronising, cliched language of politicians – either that or Ben genuinely does have a specific hatred of a very specific American state.
I decided, last minute, that my senator character should sound like Richard Nixon – really, I ended up doing an impression of the Nixon in Futurama, so an impression of an impression – and that seemed to work well, and hopefully didn’t distract too much from the joke.
It certainly was fun to contrast with my opponent in the sketch, the fabulous and returning Vic Dry, who was playing a politician from the Deep South with her usual, all-in gusto.
The first of the sketches I wrote for this show was French Clowns Teaching English Clowns To Strike Properly and I loved performing that sketch so much because I got to be French (for evidence, see below). Naomi Bowman and I played the French clowns, Dan Smith and Rebecca Diez the milquetoast, English clown union counterparts.
I hadn’t even had a chance to rehearse with Naomi until half an hour before showtime, but she was brilliant, as befits a PROPER ACTOR who had rushed from a telly acting job all the way in sodding Uxbridge. I really hope she had fun and joins us again in future.
Next up (for me) was Moving Universes, a Dan sketch inspired by a writing prompt that everyone else pretty much ignored.
It was a fun time – lots of back and forth between myself and Dan, lots of very silly lines, and I even got to jump through a portal and get eaten by giant chickens.
My other sketch, 11th Century Sky at Night, probably needs a bit of work. The main problem here, of course, is the show I am parodying, The Sky At Night, isn’t watched by many people, and the person I was pretending to be is not the cultural figure he was twenty or thirty years ago, particularly because he is dead.
But my fellow actors were all very good playing assorted monks / amateur astronomers.
Of the other sketches, it was wonderful to have Vic Dry’s “So Anyway” back – a runner that would not work performed by anyone else – and I loved the performances in Sirens and the murder/detective sketch particularly – shout out to Rebecca Diez’ work in the latter. She didn’t have much to do, but she did a lot with it!
Time for the other acts! Closing out the first half was Su Mi, a brilliant performer whose stage entrance was nearly ruined by me throwing her a cane a) too late and b) very poorly. She’s an anarchic presence, punches stereotypes and racism in the face, and has a beautiful singing voice when performing by turns stinging and silly songs.
The second half started with Leslie Bloom, whose mix of poetry, pathos and top trump tarot reading was typically brilliant. Rumours abound that Leslie is actually Mr Simon Topping in an unconvincing wig, but these rumours can neither be confirmed or denied at the time of going to press.
Next up were Matt and Rosa, an act I knew precisely zero about except a bear is involved somehow. They were brilliant, lots of very clever ides and concepts, coupled with good sound work, extra-long bouts of urination and the occasional cowboy hoedown. Also one of them looks like George Orwell circa 1933.
Concluding the night was Mr Joz Norris, an old favourite of ours, and who very kindly agreed to perform last (ish) minute after Elf Lyons had to pull out.
He’s one of the most thoughtful performers out there, constantly challenging what stand-up is and how it should work.
Tonight he allowed us a bit of a look behind the curtain, made us consider the work of an esteemed philosopher, and held hands with a stranger for an unnerving amount of time. It’s always lovely to see Joz and I hope he’ll grace our stage again soon.
Next Level Sketch’s next London show is Wednesday 31st May and early bird tickets are available now