A wee while ago Velveteer Mog was lucky enough to spend time with the lady we refer to as TVO’s fairy godmother, Alice Lowe. They met to talk about Alice’s various creative projects – past, present and future, and the wider world of comedy in general. Here we bring you Part 1 of the interview, which looks at Alice’s fantasy comedy radio series, Alice’s Wunderland, currently airing on Radio 4:
Alice Lowe is marvellously multifaceted, both in terms of her professional creative output and her general persona. When you first meet Alice, her friendly girl-next-door-ness immediately lulls you into thinking she’s the type of person you’d take home to meet your Mum; someone you might have gone to school with. As the conversation progresses, however, little bubbles of naughty rebelliousness start to emerge from her butter-wouldn’t-melt smile, occasionally punctured by moments of genuinely sinister oddball-ness. If you spend more than a few minutes with her, you begin to see the shadowy shapes of the darkly comic off-kilter characters and story lines that she dreams up. Alice’s Wunderland is one such project, an audio-based fantasy world, “a place in the Nether Regions, the manky Poundland of magical realms”.
I ask Alice how she approached the leap from stage, TV and film to radio. “I was worried when I did the pilot, because I thought I was a totally visual comedian. It was always about my facial expressions and my physicality. But this made me think in a different way. I love music, so I took that as my start point.” she explains. “A lot of people who do something for radio think it needs to be about words. While words are important, I wanted this to have a poetic quality to it; I wanted it to be about rhythm and music and soundscapes and atmosphere.”
Alice taps into her live performance experience in order to help her imagine the worlds that her characters inhabit: “I can see the environment that I’m in. If I’m acting on stage I’m imagining a setting, and this is the same thing. It’s what I love about radio shows; you can transport people to strange places. You can say ‘we’re on the moon now’ and we’re on the moon. Aural comedy is visual comedy.”
For the new series, Alice considered whether she should make any major changes to the Wunderland concept. In the end she chose to evolve it slightly, rather than fundamentally shift gear. “I know this show and I knew what I wanted to do with it next.” she says. “We’ve made it a bit more narrative this time: each episode is a story in its own right, with one main character – and each episode has a different main character. It was really good fun, because each one is like a silly little adventure.”
Now in its third series, how does Alice feel about its success? “A third series! I never thoughts I’d be saying that, ” she laughs. “People find it hard to believe I have a radio series on Radio 4!”
Although said entirely un-selfconsciously, it’s a comment that carries meaning. Alice is one of many artists that we write about at TVO who continually innovate, entertain and inspire with their talent and creativity. Like the others, she has enjoyed periodic mainstream success, but deserves much more.
I ask her why this is and what she thinks binds the group together: “I think it’s because we’re this weird inter-generation.” She explains. “There was a point when BBC3 stopped being about alternative comedy and became more about youth comedy. But none of us were quite young enough to fit into that category! We weren’t the hot young things, but we weren’t comedy establishment either.”
With BBC3 focusing on the younger end of Gen Y and Channel 4 no longer the proud home of alternative comedy, many of the group were left without a TV springboard for their output, still the primary channel for mainstream comedy success.
“We all had to find our own way instead,” Alice explains, “And the way we did that was working with each other and helping each other out [indeed, Alice’s Wunderland features fellow TVO folk Richard Glover and Rachel Stubbings]. All of those people are so creative, but you can get put in a little box on TV. It can hamper the creativity of what you do.”
TV’s loss is radio’s gain, as Alice’s Wunderland continues to weave its wonderful web of the bizarre and bonkers on our airwaves. The first episode of four, featuring the gloriously silly Lady Bowie, is available on iPlayer here (for a further 25 days). Episode 2, which features “the ghost of a child who died in the 1970s” will air on Radio 4 at 11pm on Tuesday 22nd September. So tune in (and drop out).
Many thanks to Alice for taking the time to chat to us about he new radio series. Look out for Part 2 of our interview, coming soon, in which she talks about Sightseers, the joy of playing baddies, and her other new projects.