The Joke runs at CPT from 17 May – 4 June. FIND OUT MORE
From one extreme of England to the other this week, as we took The Joke first to Norwich, then to Exeter. In the latter, we performed four gigs (not to mention some snake-hipped dancefloor antics at about 1.30 on Saturday morning) at the ace Bike Shed. You might think Week Two of the tour would be about consolidating, but in fact the show’s still changing every night – sometimes deliberately, but just as often in ways we don’t remotely expect.
At our first Bike Shed gig, the non-appearance of a crucial sound cue in the final third obliged us to improvise a scene that had never before (or since) featured in the show. I say ‘us’, but I must admit that – expensive improv training notwithstanding – my contribution was negligible, leaving Will and Lloyd to fill the dead air. Happily, the tech gremlin occurred at a point when our three characters – deeply lost by this stage in the joke – are trying to remember the names of the three (or is it four?) Marx Brothers. The scene lends itself fairly easily (it turned out) to indefinite extension: by the time the errant audio finally arrived, the list of suggested names had covered most of Brazil’s 1982 World Cup squad, and a fair few others beside.
Then there was Friday night, when at the show’s dramatic apex, a fire alarm was inadvertently set off. The audience assumed it was intentional; no one from the theatre seemed in any hurry to dis-activate it. And so it got absorbed into the action of the show, giving Will’s Englishman another thing to complain about at a point in our tale where his persecution complex is already going nuclear.
Audiences seem to be having a ball: they’re also using words like “poignant” and “thought-provoking” about the show, which is music to our ears – because, while we want it to be funny, we don’t want it to be just funny. And they’ve rightly identified that, because it’s a show about three men trapped in one another’s company, obliged to “produce, direct and act out” a performance, the world within and without the show must be separated by pretty blurred lines. It’s true: making the show, the three of us were never 100% sure when we were acting, and when we were being ourselves. And so it continues: we’re stuck with one another on the road (quite happily, I should add), endlessly tinkering with a show that’s about three men stuck with one another, endlessly tinkering with their show.
Some of this week’s tinkering boiled down to a disagreement over a single world at a climactic moment of our tale. As I said, we want the show to pack a punch, to be emotionally – maybe even philosophically – significant, as well as being a bit of knockabout fun with an inflatable desert island. But the three of us couldn’t easily account for what the show means, and wouldn’t want to dictate to audiences what (if anything) they should take from it. Consequently, we’re hyper-cautious about what is said and suggested at its denouement – which is when, for better or worse, audiences will be trying to divine some kind of meaning or message. And so we locked horns this week over whether or not the qualifier “really” was required in the line “Now we really have nothing”. Lloyd was anti: he appears to have had a traumatic experience with the word “really” as a child. Will and I were pro. On this debate, the whole profound significance of The Joke seemed to rest.
I could tell you how we resolved it, but I really, really don’t want to spoil things for you.