British Comedy is apt at tenderly teasing individuals varying from the everyday to the obscure. As history has so far proven, British audiences have a soft spot for observational humour. In their show Talking to Strangers, Lily Bevan and Sally Phillips provide nourishment for the great British comedy past time by offering a smorgasbord of characters for us to cringe at, laugh with and relate to. In the same vein as past comedies that have resonated with audiences here like Fry and Laurie, Smack the Pony or even The Office, Bevan and Phillips bring everyday people to life and shine a spotlight on how absurd peoples’ behaviour can sometimes be.
Talking to Strangers is made up of a series of short plays that hardheartedly but confidently mock certain individuals who, in some way, veer into the ridiculous. A black box stage provides a blank canvas for the two comedic actresses that is adorned with the occasional prop and minimal, if a little bizarre, costume additions that range from an acid yellow waterproof mac, to a shimmering silver wig, to a retro 80s mullet along with tattoos sleeves – Ed Hardy-style. The performers rely on their own strength as storytellers rather than creating a technical show. Each actress takes to the stage individually for about eight minutes at a time, in a sort of comedic tag team relay.
The subjects vary from a Swedish businesswoman, to a yoga instructor, a French nutritionist, and therapist with a penchant for drawing very obscure and explicit diagrams of the human sex organs. The situations and vocations of these individuals may be obscure but their vulnerability and awkwardness are wholly human and relatable. In sparse moments throughout the performance, each actor engages with the audience, proving how interactions with other humans can be blisteringly awkward, to great comedic effect. The direct interactions with the audience allow the characters to appear more real and suddenly Sally Phillips playing a woman who’s lost the ability to comprehend privacy and personal space is an emblem for every awkward encounter one’s ever had when a stranger imposes themselves.
Sally Phillips and Lily Bevan have created a pool of unrelated characters who are likeable, recognisable and a tad pathetic. They’ve strung them together to create a show that feels like both a nod to a great tradition of British Comedy and an out stretched hand to a modern audience inviting them to join in. Both Bevan and Phillips have a way of sculpting an entire character in mere minutes and refraining from the use of punch lines, instead crafting heightened but honest situations about how humorous the everyday can be.
There are no big surprises with the show; it contains two very competent comedic actors giving their audience a solid hour of comedy. As comedy shows heading for Edinburgh, this one feels safe and traditional. Bevan and Phillips are funny likeable women who’ve created a solid show that will appear to a wide audience. It’s nuanced and well crafted and it’s understandable why BBC Radio 4 recently chose to pick up the show with guests like Emma Thompson involved.
It seems like Lily Bevan and Sally Philips have tireless radar for detecting and re-imagining the most bonkers personalities lurking out there and bringing them centre stage.
Talking to Strangers previewed at the Soho Theatre and will be playing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For further information visit The Soho Theatre website.