Umbrella Birds - Retails of the unexpected

This article is from 2009.

Umbrella Birds - Retails of the unexpected

The Umbrella Birds have previously set their comedy in toilets and gyms. Marissa Burgess hears how the quartet will now shop till they drop

The ladies’ shop changing room is an intimate space, playing witness to bubbling neurosis and provoking many an emotional breakdown. Wobbly bums poke out from behind curtains as women twist and turn in front of the mirror suffering body dysmorphia and cupcake regret as they squeeze sun-starved thighs into overly skinny jeans.

Over the last two years the Umbrella Birds, in particular writer and performer Emily Watson Howes, have tapped into these near confidential spaces for comedy. Watching the sketch troupe Cowards, Watson Howes loved the way the all-male team wrote so specifically about the insecurities of men. ‘I thought there’s so much beautiful comedy just waiting to be written about women in the same way,’ says the performer, who gathered together Kate Donmall, Susanna Hislop and Kerry Howard (now replaced by Fran Moulds) to put on their first show WC. ‘It came together because I had this idea to do a show in the loo. It was just full of women crying and gossiping, an emotional range.’

Refused permission to use the loos in the basement of the Pleasance Dome they instead rented their very own Portaloo. ‘We had people standing on toilets; one guy had to watch it in the mirror because he couldn’t see anything else. We had to squeeze people in as much as we could.’

Still, it was a big success and they returned last year to reprise the concept with Gym set in, yep you guessed it, a gym (not a real one this time though, just a Pleasance Courtyard sweatbox). This year it’s the turn of the changing room. ‘It feels to me like it has the same kind of quality of the toilet cubicles, with that mixture of privacy and completely public at the same time, which is really fun.’ It may not be set in an actual retail establishment but they are still bringing the Top Shop feel to you. ‘We have a set with four cubicles,’ she says. ‘We’re never off stage, so we just get changed all the time in these cubicles. You can always see our feet underneath the doors.’ Expect an ever-revolving scene of tears, trying-on tantrums and rib-tickles.

The Umbrella Birds, Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, 9–31 Aug, 6.20pm, £8.50–£9.50 (£7–£8). Previews 6–8 Aug, £5.

Umbrella Birds: Sketches in a Shop Changing Room

  • 3 stars

Stars of Radio 4's comedy series 'The Ladies' return with a brand new hour of sketches. 'Laugh-out-loud funny' - **** (Scotsman). 'Brilliantly fresh' - **** (Metro). 'Book tickets quickly' - **** (List).

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