Laura Solon: Bunny Girl
This article is from 2009.
As the last ever Perrier winner, Laura Solon moved into the big league working with Harry Enfield and Al Murray. Julian Hall finds she has chosen the right moment to finally return
As a comedian who performs with a great deal of poise and has a taut, controlled quality about her, I wonder if Laura Solon is going to prove a somewhat distant subject for interview. My apprehension is soon dispelled in our small talk during which she describes having a ‘life-changing starter’ in a restaurant we both know in London. ‘I’m not joking, it was amazing,’ she adds as if in character. The potential superpowers of the main course and the dessert duly discussed, we come to why the last-ever Perrier Award winner has been away from Edinburgh since that glorious run of 2005 and concentrated on her own Radio 4 series, and appearing on TV shows Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul, Laura, Ben and Him and Al Murray’s Multiple Personality Disorder.
‘I’ve wanted to do another live show ever since. I have only ever really done one and that was not that planned in advance. For the first few years since the Perrier I had radio recordings in August and then last year I could have gone but I couldn’t quite think what I wanted to do.’ Solon, now 30, knows that the problem of fitting multi-character comics into a narrative is a tough challenge. ‘In 2005, I did nine monologues in a row that I had been doing on the circuit and then turned them into the show. This year, I needed a concept that allows me to do lots of different voices and people in 50 minutes with a loose story and to use the space of a venue that I didn’t really get to do in the back room of a pub!’
From The Holyrood Tavern back then with Kopfrapers Syndrome, Solon moves now to the giddy heights of the Assembly Rooms’ Wildman Room for Rabbit Faced Story Soup. She jokes that it’s ‘the latecomer room’, but whatever its idiosyncrasies, it’s a nice space that has housed some great female acts including Kristen Schaal and Maria Bamford. Solon is excited about playing with both the space and some props to boot. Her central idea, she reveals, features an author going missing while finishing his book and has Solon portraying all his characters solving the problem together.
Other than getting to grips with her ‘novel’ idea, I wonder if Solon’s Fringe absence, other than her obvious TV and radio commitments, can be explained from a comment she made last year that, taken at surface value, leaves little to the imagination: ‘To be honest, I don’t love live performance. I never have. I always wanted to get into TV and radio.’
So, is she here on sufferance? ‘For a while, live performance made me feel physically sick. It was one of those things, like exercise, that I would enjoy afterwards, but during it I was very nervous. There are some people that do enjoy it and you can tell that. I was starting to worry about it in a way that meant I just left it for a while after I came back from Edinburgh. Then when I started to do radio recordings with a studio audience I really enjoyed it properly for the first time, albeit reading off a script. Now I want to get this fear out of my system and avoid the hang-ups about doing it. Yeah, this is the year I conquer my demons.’
Admitting that she is one of the Perrier winners who would say it made a difference to their career, Solon says she doesn’t feel any more or less pressure coming back as a winner after a break: ‘I am going up to enjoy it, there’s pressure on myself to do well as there is on everyone to do well, but with no external pressure. I don’t think anyone comes up thinking, “It doesn’t really matter, I’ll just do whatever I want”,’
Indicating in other interviews that her gender, as a character comic, has been less of a factor than it would have been for a stand-up, it’s fair to say that since winning the Perrier, Solon has played in the premier league of comedy with the big boys. Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse to be exact. ‘Harry came to see one of my shows in London, and I think that was how it came about. It’s great to watch legends in action. They have an ability to identify the simplest ideas of what is funny and embrace silliness in comedy which I lean towards in my personal tastes.’
I pick up on her own personal taste and probe what inspires her and once again she comes up with some unexpected answers. ‘Silly comedy. When I was young I loved all the Mel Brooks movies and the Naked Gun breed of American films that would do anything to make you laugh in that consistently silly way. People have firm views on what comedy should be; that it should make a point, comment on society and be politicised. I think that it should make people laugh and not be taken too seriously. The sillier and the bigger the effort made to make you laugh the better.’
Also name-checking We Are Klang, Josie Long, Jeremy Lion, Human Remains and Kath and Kim as some of her favourite comic takes, Solon adds that by and large she feels that British comedy ‘doesn’t take silliness far enough unless it is in a self-conscious, hammy way. A lot of comedy here likes to go for a slow pace and ums and aahs in awkward moments rather than got for all-out energy.’
It may be that the energy of her own characters (that have included an Australian divorcee possessed by the spirit of Lady Diana and a competitive wedding planner from Rotherham) is reflected by the ‘uncorked nature’ of her writing process of which she says. ‘I have to write myself into stuff, to generate a lot of material. I can write for three weeks before I start to think of things that really interest me.’ Solon then adds something that Fast Show star Paul Whitehouse would readily endorse when she says, ‘Sometimes characters are one-offs who might be funny for 30 seconds and that’s all you need. In character comedy the established idea is you do a character for ten minutes when five or six is often enough.’ For Laura Solon, less is clearly more.
Laura Solon, Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, 9–30 Aug, 5.05pm, £11-£12 (£10–£11). Previews 6-8 Aug, £5.