Award winning dark and delicious comedy sketch group Casual Violence bring their highly successful show, House of Nostril: a gloomy tale of terror, tyranny and taxidermy to town this week. Created as part of the Lowry’s ‘Developed with..’ project it’s a twisted, sharp and devilish tale with perhaps the most perfectly timed opening night on Halloween. Manchester’s Finest interrupted tech rehearsals to catch five minutes with writer and producer James Hamiliton.
MF The timing of the show opening on Halloween seems perfect, how are preparations going for tomorrow?
JH- Really well, we did the show in a tiny little room in Edinburgh so we’re now expanding it to fit the studio in the Lowry, which is very time consuming but very rewarding as well, it’s looking really gorgeous. It’s such an amazing building, to be able to do a show like this in a proper theatre space and have all the tech and all the equipment, lights, sound and everything at our disposal is awesome. I came to visit in January to have a look around and thought it was amazing; it’s great to be able to spend a week here.
MF How did the partnership with the Lowry come about?
JH One of the programmers at the Lowry, Paul Cooper who has since moved on, was heading up the ‘Developed with’ project and saw us do Brighton Fringe in 2012 with a sketch show we were doing called, ‘A Kick In The Teeth’ and he really, really liked it so he came to see us a few more times after that, in Edinburgh and in London, then he invited us to be one of their developed with projects. They’ve given us their support, assistance and advice, and helped us to take a big step forward and make a more ambitious, more interesting kind of show.
MF So does it feel like quite a jump then transferring the show from the fringe to the theatre?
JH Hugely, partly because when we realised this was going to happen we set out to really make something that was a step forwards creatively as well, it encouraged us to push ourselves a bit harder than we normally would. The show I tried to write for the group is all set in one world, in this case within the House of Nostril which is an enormous Gothic mansion, we really tried to create something that had a real sense of unity to it, so even though it’s got sketches within it, it ties together a lot better and everything feels very cohesive, and there’s a story arc to it, a very stupid, ridiculous, silly story arc, but a story arc nonetheless. Another thing we did thanks to The Lowry that we couldn’t have normally done is include bits of animation, bits of videos and graphics which is the kind of thing we’d loved to have included in our previous work but we’ve not had the resources, the capability or the knowhow to do it. We’ve managed to build those things into the show in a way that’s not just tacking bits on for the sake of it but really adds to and enhances what we’re doing.
MF You’ve been described as a company that ‘pack and emotional punch, which can sometimes leave the audience unsure whether to laugh, cry or shudder so should I bring tissues tomorrow or perhaps wear a nappy?
JH That’s pretty much us, the kind of comment we like, we like to do stuff that can get to people, the kind of comedy that I’ve always set out to write for Casual Violence and as a group the sort of thing we’ve always tried to create, is a really, really strong sense of character. We want to make things character driven as opposed to gag driven, the idea being if the characters are strong enough the gags come a lot more naturally. And also if you develop the characters well, even if they’re big grotesque caricatures if we can make an audience care about them then every joke will hit even harder. You can make bad things happen to the characters which is the sort of thing we like to do, then you can make people really empathise with them. I like in comedy to play with people’s feelings rather than just make them laugh.
MF You’re often labelled as one of the darker comedy collections, who would you say were your key influences?
JH Psychoville was a huge influence on me personally; I loved the idea that you could create characters that were monsters and then have moments where you actually feel really sorry for them and before you realise it you’re on their side and you’re rooting for people you thought were vile. In House of Nostril we try and play up the grotesque ideas, the characters are very cartoony, warped, over the top, caricatures, it’s the most fun to play which means we have the most fun doing it and then hopefully the audiences do as well.
MF Do you write alone then introduce the script to the rest of the guys?
JH I have the initial idea for what the shows going to be, we’ll discuss it as a group and see if anyone’s got contributions or suggestions. I’ll then write the script and then we’ll start rehearsing it and work shopping it, bringing it together, inevitably just by getting it up on its feet with the rest of Casual Violence, we are able to edit it down if the script is flabby in any way, they tend to come up with better jokes than the ones I’ve come up with and we start developing it together. Sometimes I’ll bring in a script and it’s good to go, bar a couple of line tweaks we can stage it straight away, sometimes it doesn’t quite work and we might try it out a few times at work in progress shows and if that doesn’t work I’ll take it away, rewrite, bring it back and do it again.
MF -Performing as a sketch group seems to really work for you; do any of you perform alone?
JH Not really, the rest of Casual Violence are more actors rather than comedians, I write bits of comedy for other people and am starting to toy with the idea of writing a solo show to do alongside the Casual Violence stuff. We’ve been working together since pre-Casual Violence stuff so really we’ve known each other for four/five years and the fact that we can work together as well as we can and not drive each other mad after all this time, or sometimes if we do drive each other mad we’re able to work past that, you can’t beat those sorts of relationships.
MF What can we expect to see from you in 2014?
JH We’re doing five dates in the New Year with The House of Nostril at the Soho theatre, after that we’re probably going to do House of Nostril again, we did it for the month in Edinburgh where we did it for the first time and did it a couple of times in London before we came here. We haven’t got a last show in mind; we really set out when we made this show because of the Developed with project and from the support Paul gave us and then Claire Symonds when she took his role and everybody here, we really wanted to repay that by making a show that doesn’t just live for a year. We are going to start working on a new show in the New Year but we really set out to make a show that has legs that we can take around theatres and do as often as people want to see it.
House of Nostril opens at The Lowry Thursday 31st October and runs until Saturday 2nd November.