February is a big month for comedy group Casual Violence. Their new show, The Great Fire of Nostril, runs at the Soho Theatre next week, immediately followed by the recording of a new “podcast sitcom” at the Old Red Lion, and a new project that will be announced in the same month. “That first week of February is going to be really big!” James Hamilton, lead writer and member of the group, tells me, adding that the month will be “really scary, but exciting.”
The group’s new show follows a pair of conjoined twins who work as assassins, until one of them decides he’d actually rather be a baker, and, as Hamilton puts it, “everything goes horribly wrong from there.” The show marks a departure from the group, as it’s “the first one we’ve done that’s just one continuous narrative, and it does kind of branch off a little bit and go on tangents, but it’s the most complete story that we’ve ever done.”
It’s a definite move away from the group’s previous sketch-show style, although Hamilton stresses that their work is still comedy, “but I don’t think The Great Fire of Nostril is a sketch show anymore. I think it’s very strange, quite surreal comedy theatre, but you can sort of see the sketch roots still in there. Because the way we tend to go about scenes and characters still has that sort of sketch DNA in it, I suppose.”
The group met and formed at Sussex University, and have since been making theatre for five years (“which feels really long when you put it like that – like it’s half a decade!”). Over the years, the group have “relentlessly ploughed on with making the kind of comedy that we do”, and recently have focused on evolving their work. “We’ve tried to do stuff that, firstly, has a bit more emotional impact and kind of can make you feel sorry for what would otherwise seem grotesque, very hideous characters,” Hamilton explains, “and also try and do stuff that’s more ambitious in terms of narrative and storytelling, and all that other pretentious stuff that we like!” Their current show is set in the same fictional world as their 2013 show, which Hamilton says has lent the show a more complete feel to it.
With their shows becoming more well-rounded, how would they define themselves in terms of genre? “I’d say it is more comedy than theatre,” Hamilton muses, “but it’s kind of straddling that divide, it’s in that quite awkward little halfway house between the two of them really.” He describes The Great Fire of Nostril as “one of the most theatrical shows we’ve ever done – and I think we like theatricality as a group. Whenever we do a live show, we’re big on very theatrical characters and effects and trying to do stuff that’s visual.”
The process of making shows that are more complete in a theatrical sense has, according to Hamilton, changed the process of making the show in the first place. “We didn’t have little bits that we could try out in ten minute chunks, really, because everything was part of one complete story, so it would have been weird to take a bit out of context,” he says. Hamilton describes how the group try out bits of script, before Hamilton, the sole writer in the group, goes away and re-writes material for the group to try out again – a formula he wittily notes as “lather, rinse and repeat that until we have a show”. Despite not being able to trial small chunks of work in front of an audience due to the nature of the show, Hamilton notes how being in such a large group “provides enough sounding boards to work out whether or not something’s funny. You get a much clearer sense of whether something’s working or not.”
In addition to their Soho show, of course, is the podcast sitcom. Casual Violence have taken a character from a previous show – a clockwork operated man who has to wind himself up with a turnkey sticking out of his chest – and decided to make a series about him “independently as a podcast sitcom, and record it live in front of an audience, and we’ll release them as episodes as we go.” The show will be called Hector vs the Future, and Hamilton describes it as “a big experiment, really. We’ve never done anything like that before.” The series will be an ongoing project, and clearly adds to the way the group is aiming to evolve. “In five years of working together with the group, we’ve never done anything like it. So should be a lot of fun,” Hamilton says affirmatively.
Although the group will not be taking a new show up to the Fringe, Hamilton comments that “I still have the Edinburgh bug”, and is potentially taking up a solo show. In terms of projects on Casual Violence’s horizon, the sitcom will be ongoing, and the group will be gigging around the country during the year. Then there’s the “big film project that we’re going to announce in February, which is something that we’re gonna be fundraising for. If we get the money for that project, that’s gonna take up a huge chunk of our year.” But before this, the group has that mammoth month of February ahead of them, which by the sounds of things is set to be jam-packed.
Casual Violence: Great Nostril of Fire is playing at Soho Theatre 3-7 Feb. For more information go here.