A former collector of football replica shirts, an ex-director of the Oxford Revue and a guy, once described as a ‘massive lemon’, they both knew from school, are all members of what is collectively, and more commonly, known as ‘Rory and Tim’. Using what is essentially a blank canvas of a set, the team act out a series of sketches that are humorously thoughtful and have a certain light and charming poignancy to them.
They began the set with three characters discussing books submitted for the Manbooker prize and used two idiotic characters to express their opinions, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the brilliance of the scene by revealing the simple premise they play on. One of the other sketches was set in a boxing weigh-in between Mark ‘the Metaphor’ Carlton and Louis ‘the Literal’ Feydou at the Hyperbowl, where the former threatens ‘I’ll punch you in the soul’ and the latter merely states ‘I’ll punch you in the chest’. What you will notice on seeing this production, and I strongly recommend going along, is the sly audacity of the writing; it seems to dare to put into script our own observations of several, perfectly plausible, situations. How many times have you wondered what a situation would be like if you took it completely literally? Or how an awkward situation could be made even more awkward? This is what they do and they do it with real vigour and passion.
It is difficult to say, however, whether the fact that the characters lack any psychological depth is a problem to the overall idea, considering the nature of sketch comedy. I was trying to work out whether it is the situation making us laugh or the characters they have created. Indeed, the cunning word play and unexpected twists are cleverly done. Yet, from the point of view of their acting or potentially just their character development, there is a bit of a void, despite the precision of their timing. Theirs is certainly a rather intelligent comedy, but maybe the physical performance could be injected with something more to really lift it.
The team is ultimately based around whatever characters Rory and Tim are playing in the scene, but there is also the third actor, Iain Stewart, who is deployed as both ‘whipping boy’ and handy extra. In his own words ‘I’d rather be the idiot than the guy who is called in to do the housework’; however, I think this takes away from the subtle importance of his role. Without him there, the two others themselves would be overpowering, abrasive and potentially lost. Though they tried to persuade me otherwise, the image of Karl Pilkington in ‘An Idiot Abroad’ repeatedly came to mind.
From watching them rehearsing before the set, their serious attitude towards their art was obvious; the switch from characters to analytical self-critics was interesting to watch as it really emphasised the work that goes into the performance. Matthew Perkins is their director, apparently a new feature of their rehearsals, and it is perhaps through this extra pair of eyes that every sketch is rigorously polished.
I had a chance to meet them after their show and to find out a bit about their life and thoughts on comedy. Having all three gone to St Paul’s school, Rory was in the Oxford Revue when Tim was auditioning at the same time as Iain. Contentiously, Tim got in but Iain didn’t make the call-backs. Eventually, Rory decided that he had had enough of directing and decided to join forces with Tim to write sketch shows. They then set up ‘Sketch Club’, a core team of people who accept proposals for sketches from anyone and which rivals the Oxford Revue’s ‘Audrey’. And their reasons for doing it seem altruistic, Rory explains: ‘a couple of years back, if you didn’t get into the Revue, that was your only chance to perform and that’s not very much the case now.’
They both seem very determined to write and perform the comedy that they want to do, sticking to what could be called a slightly alternative style; “Comedy now is pumped up – ‘How I met your Mother’- t here’s 20 minutes of bright glitz. There’ll be some joke, but it won’t be very funny and it will happen and life will continue.” It seems like the standard ‘backlash’ attitude towards mainstream culture but it’s encouraging to see such fervent individualism. However, they naturally still do harbour thoughts of becoming big on the London circuit and hope to project their brand of ‘Rory and Tim’ to higher levels.
Despite having had a few disastrous evenings in London and having their show cancelled in Edinburgh, the duo say that this summer has given them the confidence to think about the potential reality of achieving these higher levels. Though Tim described themselves dryly as ‘mostly talentless’, apparently they’ve received some very positive comments from the audience feedback sessions at their Free Fringe slot.
I was curious as to the reasons they went into comedy and so I asked whether someone had told either of them that they are genuinely funny and suggest that they go into stand-up. Rory replied that it happened all the time, although he did add that, “I don’t think I had, at least in my teenage years, the ego or the arrogance to go ‘You know what? I’m funny’”. As a result, it was this drive from others that made him do stand-up at school and here he is now. Tim has a different story: his childhood was spent relentlessly watching comedy and he eventually felt under the illusion that this was how the real world actually is. Though he was more an actor at school (and in fact still is, performing soon in a play called ‘Posh’), it was not until university that he became interested in this noble art. He explained that it was Rory’s dad who had encouraged him to go specifically to St Anne’s college, citing ‘his [Rory’s] admittance as evidence of lack of standards.’
Such a close relationship was obvious both when performing and during the interview, leaving me to assume that this closeness helps with the dynamic between them. Though Rory still does stand-up by himself, they both confess that better comedy is more often written in groups and when I asked them why they like working together, their response was “because you can’t do sketches on your own. And there’s safety in numbers.”
The two do apparently get annoyed with people who think that they should be constantly amusing to all, asking them to make them laugh, or assuming that any conversation they have with them is going to make it into their sketch show. “That’s not how it works” is Rory’s usual response. On a more intimate note, they did complain of sometimes not quite recognising their own existence. According to them, there was a period last June when they were doing so many performances that it was sometimes difficult for them to live in the real world.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with Rory and Tim (and Iain, I suppose) and my final comment would be to reiterate that their writing puts on stage the ideas that are usually just stuck on the tips of our tongues. And when I asked them what their final comment would be, Tim eagerly replied “I’m single now”.
‘Rory and Tim Will Never Sell Out’ – 4 stars
BT Studio, 21:30 Tues-Sat 2nd week