Review and Interview by Carmel Shortall
As the audience filed in to The Etcetera for The Intimate strangers’ Concept Album, onstage we watched a figure slumped at his desk with his head in his hands. We could also hear his ‘thoughts’ – a mocking, self-doubting monologue which finished with endless repetitions of “write the show…”
It is one month later and Matt is meeting with James and Emma to discuss the progress, or lack of it, of the sketch show. We again hear their thoughts as they take turns to shine torches under their chins in the dark. “We can’t just be funny.” They want more than a sketch show – something like a concept album is required: a sketch show about putting on a sketch show.
And ultimately a sketch show is hammered out as a series of straight, surreal and deconstructed sketches follow. Some are interrupted, dissected and then resumed while we wait to see how that punchline is going to crop up in a tale of time-travelling spies.
Running through all the mayhem is the character of Abdullah the clumsy terrorist who Matt doesn’t want in the show but Emma keeps resurrecting. Some of the strongest gags are character-based like the posh graffiti artist and the Big Brother interviewees (I never thought I’d hear the crazy frog ringtone again – brrr!). And with terrifying inevitability – because Matt doesn’t want it – it all ends in a silly dance.
I met with The Intimate strangers after the show and as we cooled down in the beer garden of the Oxford Arms, Matthew explained that the show is very much a work in progress. He has been writing it since Christmas and plans to develop it over the next year to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.
They’ve been doing sketch shows in the same vein – whimsical, surreal humour – for about five years now although the personnel haven’t remained constant – Emma has only been with them for a year and someone who left is believed to be responsible for sending stage manager, Chris, newsletters from Trout Fishing Monthly. As stage manager, Chris is regularly set challenges in acquiring exotic props at short notice but he is occasionally allowed on stage as a reward.
Matt likes sweets and writes them into sketches much as Noel Coward used to write himself cigarette breaks into his plays. Jellybeans were the sweet of choice over the Camden Fringe run but he’s partial to a bit of cake too and can be seen face deep in a chocolate cake in a You Tube video: The Intimate Strangers at Christmas.
Next up is a gig at Cleves School in Weybridge, Surrey on the 8th September and there are some dates in Bristol planned for next year. Check out their website for details.