AN award-winning sketch comedy quartet who first got together to put on a show at the
AN award-winning sketch comedy quartet who first got together to put on a show at the Henley Fringe in 2012 are back in town next week for an evening at the Kenton Theatre.
Mixed Doubles are preparing to take their latest show Fundraiser up to the Edinburgh Festival in August.
But before they do so, they are looking to raise the roof at the New Street theatre on Friday (June 24).
Originally known as the Beauty School Dropouts, Mixed Doubles are Paul Aitchison, Will Close, Rose Robinson and Megan Smith.
Now in their late twenties and early thirties, they first met as drama students at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in Wood Green.
But it wasn’t until four years ago that they decided to pool their talents when Paul, who grew up in Henley and attended the Oratory Prep School and Shiplake College, suggested putting on a show at the Three Tuns in Market Place.
He said: “I knew there was this space at the back of the pub that was probably a good place — or as good a place as anywhere — to try it out.
“We all knew each other at Mountview and I’d done a couple of my first acting jobs with Megan — just by chance we were both in the same couple of plays and I remember thinking it would be quite fun to try doing some sketch comedy.
“We’d done a few sort of little bits of around five minutes but the first time we’d had to do anything resembling a show was in Henley.
“We had a different name back then and to be honest we didn’t really know what we were doing. But I think that’s the joy of that kind of thing — that you can rock up and have a go. And it’s sort of kept snowballing a little bit.”
That’s one way of putting it. Mixed Doubles have enjoyed sellout runs in London, Australia and Edinburgh — which they first visited in 2013, just a year after forming.
Along the way they have picked up a people’s choice award from TV channel Dave, had a “top five” recommendation from The Guardian and appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Pick of the Week.
Their Kenton date will see them previewing their new show, Fundraiser, which combines fast-paced sketches with an everyday tale of English country folk raising cash for a new village pavilion.
Little Comberton is the most definitely fictional village in question, with the members of Mixed Doubles taking on the roles of a troupe of local worthies staging a fundraising comedy revue to swell the coffers.
Megan Smith, who plays the overconfident local beautician, says: “It’s a show within a show — with villagers doing their haphazard best to raise funds. Think of it as eccentric comedy with a Famous Five edge.”
Audiences will also meet Rose as the lovelorn librarian and Will as a loveable village idiot, while Paul’s character feels the theatre world lost a great talent when he decided to become a GP.
Light-hearted as it is, the “show within a show” structure represents something of a step forward for Mixed Doubles.
“Fundraiser is our most ambitious project yet, breaking from our traditional sketch-blackout-sketch format,” says Will. “It knits together a context in which the show and our sketches take place. It’s a deliberately tenuous device that highlights the forced nature of some narrative-driven sketch comedy.”
Paul adds: “I think in the past we’ve always done sketch comedy, but the next level is if you can incorporate your sketches into something with a bit more of a format behind it.
“I think it just opens up a bigger toolbox — different types of gags — because we’re always trying to get a bit of a buffet in there.”
Looking ahead to Edinburgh, which traditionally functions as a shop window for radio and TV comedy, Paul says the group are keen to make their mark.
“When we first went up in 2013 nobody knew who we were at the beginning. Because we got nominated for an award for best new sketch act against some more established acts, by the end of our month we’d sold out all our shows and had a good time of it — and even made a bit of money back, which doesn’t always happen. Now I think it’s a good time for us to go back and show what we can do three years on, because we’ve done many hundreds of shows since.”
He continued: “We’re sort of on the fringes of having a full prime-time show as opposed to just ‘Here’s a one-off special’ sort of thing.
“We’re in that kind of process of talking to the people who make the decisions and then looking at our scripts and making suggestions and changes and seeing whether we can sustain that into 12 episodes rather than just one.
“That’s one of the reasons the Little Comberton idea comes in, because it’s not a million miles away from something like a Royston Vasey or a Little Britain concept where you’ve got the kind of villagey town and all the people who live there. Certainly some of the smaller villages around Henley are quite recognisable in Little Comberton, I think.”
Tickets for Mixed Doubles are £15 for adults with concessions available. To book, call (01491) 575698 or visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk or www.mixed-doubles.co.uk