Colin Hoult has been busy fine-tuning his new show Characthorse for a uniquely spectacular performance at Southbank’s Udderbelly. Velveteer Mog caught up with Colin over a pint to strong-arm him into telling us what the show is all about.
The Velvet Onion has been lucky enough to interview Colin Hoult on several previous occasions (take a look under the Interviews tab above to have a read), but until now, our editor in chief was on hand to get to grips with Colin, and geography and busy-ness have conspired against a face to face conversation of my own. Last week, I finally managed to meet up to have a proper natter with Colin. In the flesh he comes across as the fresh-faced, less sinister younger brother of some of the characters he’s played on stage and screen; as we talk I half-expect a bubble of Len Parker or vampire Crumb to break the surface and take over.
We meet to discuss his new show, Characthorse, which Colin will be performing at Udderbelly on 22nd June. Talking about the show seems to make him slightly nervous, the conversation peppered with gentle, hesitant pauses. In large part this is driven by the knowledge that it’s still taking shape and will evolve between now and next Saturday’s performance. He’s also concerned about spoiling the show for the audience.
One also gets the sense that his hesitation comes in part from struggling to define something that feels so big, new and exciting to him with mere words. “It’s silly, stand-upy and character-y,” he starts, by way of explanation, “It’s packed with stuff – and there’s still other stuff that I haven’t put in yet!” Undaunted, he seems genuinely delighted by the challenge this presents.
“It’s a show I wrote as a seven year old about a town called Snottingham,” Colin explains, “It relates to various things in my life at the time and a particular thing that happened. It’s a sort of love letter to growing up and my family and the people I met as a kid, and Nottingham in general. As a kid I read a lot and would be up in my bedroom writing and drawing, and that’s where the show comes from.”
But don’t assume Characthorse is simply gentle autobiographical whimsy: “It has stand up and character sketches – and more,” Colin notes, “I’m really excited about it, it’s packed in with loads and loads of stuff. It’s got a bit of Wizard of Oz about it too – there are these two worlds going on at the same time!”
It also has Patrick Stewart. “This is the first time I’ve got a real life character!” Colin says excitedly.
The Patrick Stewart in Characthorse can more accurately be described as an extreme/silly facsimile of the actor, apparently “more in the vein of Vic & Bob’s Lloyd Grossman.” Colin’s fondness and admiration for Stewart is tangible, and extends to theatrical types in general – perhaps a throwback to his student years studying drama in Manchester: “I love the way he (Stewart) talks. It’s so full and rich. I love how actors are, and the sheer urgency of everything, even the most banal stuff.” One of Colin’s best-known and well-loved stage creations, Anna Mann, is testament to this.
This is the first show in which Colin appears on stage as himself from the outset. “In other shows I’ve done I’ve often had a guide or ringmaster character, who’s sort of been me, but talked in poetry,” he explains. Furthermore he won’t have the support of his usual collaborators, Stephen Evans, Zoe Gardner and Dan Snelgrove.
He’s full of superlative praise for his co-performers, but says of this particular show, “I really wanted to do something that was just me and a microphone and an imaginary world. The characters are just me and the audience.” If you’ve been to one of Colin’s shows before, you’ll be aware that audience participation (“in a friendly, non-humiliating way”, reassures Colin) is an important part of what he does.
I ask him how a pared back show will work in the relatively large interior of the iconic Udderbelly tent. Colin explains how simple staging doesn’t necessarily mean small: “It’s going to be big. It’s going to be spectacular – it’ll be an uber-version of what I’ll be taking to Edinburgh. It’ll involve lighting and sound – it’s all about imagination and seeing things around me as I describe it.” It’ll also involve what he describes as “pretty advanced” dance; in fact earlier in the day Colin had met with his choreographer friend, Lucy, to practise, so expect something beyond vague foot tapping.
So what have we learned about Characthorse? There’s a nervous seven year old in Snottingham; it includes stand up, sketches, and more; there’s an extreme, silly incarnation of Patrick Stewart; it has lights, sound and plenty of imagination – and choreographed dance. In fact, the more Colin’s describes the show the less easy it is to pin down precisely what it is…and the better it sounds! Who wants to see comedy that you can describe in a sentence anyway? Not us.
To get your mitts on tickets for Characthorse at Udderbelly on 22nd June visit the festival website. Tickets are £12.45 (£11 conc.) and the show starts at 7.45pm.
Many thanks to Colin for taking the time to talk to The Velvet Onion. Look out for the second part of our interview with him, when we’ll be discussing his two Edinburgh 2013 shows, Eddie Izzard audiences, who should be the next Dr Who and all sorts of other stuff in-between.