The business of comedy
April 10, 2013
Monday 8 April, 10:43am. At the RSC's Clapham rehearsal rooms, Director Sean Foley and his actors attempt to refine a piece of comedic business...
SEAN: Let's try that bit again, from when you two come in.
RICH: Okay. I'll move a bit further down stage this time.
SEAN: Yes, I think that'll work.
BEN: So, wait - is it funnier if I put the box down, then you say the line; or is it funnier if you say the line and then I put the box down; or is it funnier if I go to put the box down, stop halfway through, and then you say the line?
SEAN: The second one.
RICH: Hang on, which one was that?
BEN: Ummm... I don't know. I've sort of forgotten why I thought it was funny in the first place...
Somewhere in my flat is a battered old issue of Plays and Players (if you're fond of old school, dusty theatricalia, you must search that magazine out). On the front page is a pull quote from Donald Sinden that reads, 'Comedy is a hideous mechanical business'.
Rehearsals for A Mad World My Masters certainly haven't been hideous. I have to say that, firstly because the director might be reading this, and secondly because we're all having a lot of fun. Nevertheless, I find that that quote comes to mind from time to time as we set about finessing some of the comic beats that require metronomic timing and physical precision.
It's tricky, because often the things that make us laugh are the happy accidents; unexpected flashes of mirth that we didn't - indeed, couldn't - plan. But once we've hit upon something fun, Sean needs to pounce with a keen eye.
There will be a single, particular way of executing the moment that will be sharper, snappier and just plain funnier than any of the alternatives.
So the upshot is that amidst the fun, there's hard work to be done. And it can be frustrating when you fluff a carefully plotted sequence of moves for the third time on the trot.
But it's rewarding work, and relief is always close at hand - one of the joys of working with a company like this is that you're never far away from another flash of mirth...
by Ben Deery
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