Sunday, 28 June 2015
Minging Detectives preview in Cheltenham and Birmingham
This week saw two Edinburgh previews for the Socks' show Minging Detectives and also marked an interesting moment in that there had been a whole month in between gigs. This is a very unusual thing, certainly compared to this time in previous years when I've been engaged in very full spring tours that segue, around now, into preview shows. This year I've been doing a lot of schools, and have even thrown a new season of Sitcom Trials into the mix (see that show's own blog for details), taking the development of the new Socks show slowly and steadily.
So it was that Thursday's show, in the basement of the Strand in Cheltenham, to a crowd who don't pay for tickets but take a collection at the end (I left early so I don't know what I made), was a bit rusty in places. Partly this was the gap since the last show, but I would put most of it down to the fact that I've spent the week losing my voice. Having developed a cold on Monday morning, my classroom voice had become croakier and croakier and a throat infection had made my swallowing muscle into a ring of fire. On Thursday morning I had a workable human voice but no Socks falsetto at all. It took a lot of practice to get it back. It cracked and struggled during the show, but we got there.
The best test of the Cheltenham show was seeing how well new Socks material goes in front of an audience who've never seen or heard of the Socks before and had no idea what to expect. With no safe or classic material to fall back on (apart from I'm A Sock, they got no Magic, no Michael Jackson, no Walk On The Wild Side, none of the standards) the only slightly old material was last year's UKIP Song which has now become a strong opening routine, and the Baby In The Corner running gag which holds the disparate sketches together and is still to be replaced. The fact that someone said at the end how much they liked The Isis Song (Hello Muddah Intifada) was encouraging...
...especially given that, just before we started the Isis Song two nights later in Birmingham, I could clearly hear someone saying "too soon." Admittedly there had been the deaths of 15 British tourists inbetween times, on a beach in Tunisia. But that sort of thing is going to happen at various times all the time, which shouldn't affect the fact of the satirical song I'm trying to do. The Isis Song is this year's UKIP Song, which I spent last summer thinking would be "too much". It still slightly divides an audience (you can tell when there are UKIP sympathisers in the crowd, and I stand by my song's highlighting of their xenophobia and racism, and by the way it gets great laughs) but it's worth it. Ooh, listen to me, I'm Stewart Lee. (I'm not, I'm a silly, shallow, gag merchant who writes entertaining verbal slapstick routines, half of which centre on parody, and one in a dozen of which is genuinely satirical with an actual point.)
Birmingham's audience at the Old Joint Stock were fantastic, and the show was improved to match. Learning all the lessons from Thursday in Cheltenham, where there'd been fluffs, indecisions, costumes not prepared between scenes, lulls while I tried to get my voice back and get the material to work, Saturday night was spot on. The voice was still a little raw, but making a virtue of, and a joke out of, drinking lots of water throughout the show, kept it going. I kept the pace up, tightened the gaps. And, without rewriting the script inbetween gigs, made the show work brilliantly. We ended up playing for an hour and a quarter, which bodes very well for being able to take out the ..And So Am I (2014's show) material and being left with a good Edinburgh hour.
A record number of selfies were taken by audience members with the Socks at the end, so I look forward to seeing those on Twitter. And now we have a similar gap between shows before we do 5 previews in a row at the end of July then hot Edinburgh running. Writing, editing and the like ahoy. Keep buying those tickets, people, we're doing well.
The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre are at The Gilded Balloon throughout Edinburgh Fringe 2015, August 5th - 30th. Tickets are on sale now.