POCKLINGTON Arts Centre favourites LipService Theatre will present a special live stream of their savvy yet delightfully silly Bronte sisters spoof Withering Looks tomorrow night (22/4/2021).
Forming part of the still-closed East Yorkshire venue’s ongoing series of online events during the pandemic lockdowns, the 7.30pm streaming will be introduced on Zoom by LipService duo Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding.
They will conduct a live question-and-answer session too at the finale. “We’ll either be on Maggie’s sofa or mine, with some no doubt very interesting photographs behind us!” says Sue.
Tickets are selling fast with customers from far and wide – including Belgium – snapping them up.
Dubbed “the Laurel and Hardy of literary deconstruction” by the Guardian, LipService have visited Pocklington Arts Centre regularly, and when pandemic restrictions put a cross through their latest return, they settled on tomorrow’s stream instead.
“We’re doing this live stream specially for Pocklington Arts Centre, who had booked us to perform Withering Looks as part of their grand celebrations for their 20th anniversary last year, when obviously we couldn’t do it,” says Sue.
For the uninitiated in the Lip Service world of affectionate parody and pastiche, Withering Looks explores a day in the life of the Bronte sisters. “Well, two of them, Anne’s just popped out for a cup of sugar,” say the duo. “And in true David Attenborough style there’ll be additional footage, going behind the scenes of the making of the show.”
Commissioned by the Bronte Parsonage Museum, the filmed performance by “Britain’s favourite literary lunatics” was recorded by Maggie, from York, and Sue, from the other side of the Pennines, at the Bronte family’s home at Haworth, West Yorkshire.
Scenes from Withering Looks filmed “in the actual parsonage where the Bronte sisters wrote their actual books actually” will be complemented by additional material by Maggie and Sue recorded in and around Haworth village and on the wild and windswept moors in sub-zero temperatures.
“We made the recording three years ago in January, when the Parsonage was closed for cleaning, so we could do the filming,” says Sue. “That’s when we also filmed some scenes on the moors…in a blizzard. It was freezing! I think we nearly died! I’ve never been so cold!”
Maggie recalls the filming sessions: “We worked with a wonderful crew, with Noreen Kershaw directing us. She got a fantastic team together with the floor manager from The Teletubbies, the soundman from The Night Manager, and a brilliant cameraman, who did documentaries outdoors with Billy Connolly, so he was used to the cold.”
Maggie and Sue first met as drama students at Bristol University in a “very serious Henrik Ibsen production that had the audience on the floor laughing”. A tragedy for Ibsen nevertheless turned out to be the launching pad to a very long partnership in satirical comedy.
Forming LipService in Manchester in 1985, Maggie and Sue have chalked up 22 original comedies from a distinctly female perspective, as well as series for BBC Radio and tours of Germany, Eastern Europe, the United States and Pakistan, over the past 35 years.
Not everyone has appreciated their comic tone. “We did a ‘very controversial’ production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, when someone asked: ‘Who thought this was a good idea, with all the cross-dressing and the underlying scandal that was going on among the actors?’,” says Maggie.
LipService are keeping busy, despite the hiatus in live performances. “We should be on tour with our new show, a farce set in a hotel called Chateau Ghoul, but we’ll now be doing that tour this autumn,” says Sue. “In the meantime, while venues remain closed, we’ve being down live stuff on Zoom to keep our audiences involved, offering an interactive digital performance, with the invitation for people to make origami windmills.”
Maggie adds: “We’ve had lovely feedback, with people saying how much they’re enjoying see us close up for about 50 per cent of the show. But it is quite disconcerting seeing people with their ‘computer face’ on. That neutral face, where you think, ‘Do they hate us?’. It’s weird for us getting familiar with seeing them so close up!
“Doing a digital performance is a new way of performing for us, and we’ve really enjoyed it, because it means we can perform ‘live’, but we can have a different relationship with our audience, chatting with them beforehand, where they’ll tell us on the stream where they’re watching from, or what they’ve had for dinner…”
…“Or we can pick on people for the quality of their origami!” says Sue. “But what’s been interesting is that we’ve had an international response, with people watching from Belgium, Oklahoma and San Francisco.”
What next? “We’ve been thinking about turning our Sherlock Holmes show into an interactive murder mystery, using the material in a different way for a streamed show,” says Maggie.
Above all, they long for a return to taking to the stage. “I really, really miss loading the van, driving to venues, looking around towns – like going to York Minster – doing the shows and hoping there’s a bar open afterwards,” says Sue.
Meanwhile, what about those ticket holders from Belgium, Luc and Hilde Verstraeten-Mariën, who will Zoom into the PAC show after their plans to catch LipService live were thwarted by the pandemic?
“We were excited to hear that Lip Service had created Zoom performances,” say Luc and Hilde. “We’ve just watched Château Ghoul and it made our day! We really enjoyed the show: it was funny, cheeky, and mad. We enjoyed the interactive part of it and we thought they made clever and creative use of Zoom. We kept giggling for the rest of the evening!
“We are looking forward to more of the same: refreshingly funny, intelligently witty and slightly mad at the same time, highly creative, high-standard comedy with a twist by two fabulous women.”
Tickets for Withering Looks cost £15 at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
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