The Meeting - Suits you sir
This article is from 2008.
Three young talents have variously got a boardroom comedy, a sketch show and a student competition to contend with. Our chair Julian Hall asks if there is any other business
This year it’s going to be hard for many Fringe-goers to leave work too far behind them as they have the opportunity to go and see two ‘situational’ shows themed around office life with the self-explanatory The Meeting and Office Party. It would make sense to go and see the two in that order, which it is chronologically possible to do, for the full busman’s holiday experience. While Office Party provides revelry and japes, The Meeting offers an absurd journey through a company boardroom meeting where seemingly inane agenda items erupt into confrontations and revelations about the various dysfunctional traits of the characters.
The Meeting was written by two of the actors, Joe Thomas and Jonny Sweet, who are joined by Simon Bird, a fellow ex-Cambridge Footlights compadre. Many will recognise Bird and Thomas from E4’s enjoyable teen comedy Inbetweeners, while the threesome appeared together in 2007 in the lauded sketch show House of Windsor.
Sweet and Thomas also garnered praise and a List/Writers’ Guild nomination for their 2006 debut sketch show The Future and will be clocking off after The Meeting to appear in their very own Jonny and Joe Show. However, The Meeting is the troupe’s first continuous narrative hour and a ‘site specific’ exercise that allowed the cast to talk to the audience as if ‘they were our colleagues’. If, like me, you are wary of comedy that leans too heavily on its audience for laughs, fear not. Having seen a preview of the show in London I can promise you that bemusement, rather than embarrassment, is the worst you’re likely to feel.
Talking to the group after the preview, I find they have an equally charming bonhomie off stage as they have on. It transpires the office setting came to them in a rather indirect way. ‘It enables us to talk in a non-linear way,’ explains Thomas. ‘It’s not that we were particularly interested in corporate affairs; we don’t really know what a meeting is.’ Bird, adds: ‘Yes, we thought it was time we put a suit on as we’ve never done any work.’
The tangential nature of the show means absurd flights of fancy evolve from routine agenda items. A proposed location move for the company, for example, reveals a surprising secret about one of the characters. Each twist unveils a defect or insecurity within the trio but the departure from the agenda doesn’t feel contrived or tacked on. Dodgy part-exchanges with company cars and dubious ‘blue sky’ thinking are introduced without the flow of the piece jumping a credibility gap. Some of the scenes are vaguely reminiscent of moments in The Future, but any similarity is unwitting and purely co-incidental.
Sweet is the most obviously jovial of the three and with appropriately good humour he deals with the issue of Inbetweeners when it comes up. ‘Ah, it’s caused a massive rift between us,’ he jokes. Thomas and Bird give the impression that despite two intense months away from their writing and live performing schedule, Inbetweeners hasn’t changed things overnight, but Bird admits that ‘more TV people are coming to see our live stuff’ and Thomas adds: ‘it’s our ultimate aim to get something on TV that we’ve written.’
Given that Inbetweeners – along with the rather more self-aware Skins – has heralded a renaissance in the teen genre, I ask if it’s an area they would come back to as a group. ‘I have always wanted to write something about my lower sixth year,’ admits Thomas. ‘It’s a time of great frustration, and you feel like you’ve got a lot on your plate.’
A full plate is no stranger to these twentysomethings either. With Sweet and Thomas off on their two-hander sketch, Bird is busy with another cabaret show and the Chortle student comedy final which he qualifies for as he’s currently doing a PhD. With so much to think about, the worry of any competition from Office Party is easily dismissed by Sweet: ‘We’re going to trash it every night.’
The Meeting, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 2–25 Aug (not 12), 6.25pm, £9.50–£10.50 (£8–£9). Previews until 1 Aug, £5;
The Jonny and Joe Show, Pleasance Dome, 556 6550, 2–25 Aug (not 11), 8.10pm, £8.50–£9.50 (£7–£8). Previews until 1 Aug, £5.