Up-and-coming comedy duo Robin & Partridge will be headlining the inaugural Old Vic Tunnel's Screening Room Society this Friday. We loved their madcap character comedy when we saw them in March and were keen to find out what made these guys tick.
Tell us how it all began.
Partridge (P): The accounts vary – many say they are lost to the annals of history. Others say that Charlie was in Edinburgh doing a late night improv show ‘Carnival des Phenomenes’ and had this spare slot in the day to do anything with. Knowing Robin from Uni, we decided to do a show together with some others and this pairing just sort of stuck together. After stints with other performers, we eventually became Robin and Partridge in time for Christmas 2009.
Robin (R): I like this account best: We met at uni, fell in love and then decided that getting a proper job was too responsible.
Where did you get the inspiration for the Hackney Food Photography Company? Which other parts of London inspire you?
P: We both really enjoy greasy spoons, but find the thinking behind food photos in those shops, and particularly kebab places, so odd. They don’t make food look appetising, but someone has still gone through the trouble of taking the photo and photoshopping it into a wider menu. You probably think about it more in places where amongst the many communities living on top of each other, is this middle class media lot, who hyperanalyse everything from fonts to lighting and would take the ‘art direction’ of such shoots very seriously.
Other parts of London? – Anywhere where you have a sense of community as opposed to the usual anonymity of London. 9 Elms Pier in Battersea has a brilliant community of people living on boats. They’re in the shadows of the Battersea Power Station, but might as well be a million miles away. Sadly, the pier is being knocked down for The American Embassy complex and that community’s future looks uncertain.
R: Keep an eye out because lots of greasy spoons use the same food photos, which made us think that there must be a company somewhere selling the same brilliantly dodgy photos of faded lasagne and massive chicken legs to lots of different cafs. In our imagination that company is the Hackney Food Photography Company.
As for other parts of London, at the risk of sounding like a div, I really like ‘in-between places’. Bits of land that have been left undeveloped and officially aren’t in use; old car parks and abandoned building sites. The kind of place that you’d break into when you were a kid and find a broken shopping trolly. I like those places because they push your imagination, they are often full of lots of weird old discarded objects; toys, very old sweet wrappers, random shoes. Also, overtly it serves no function, no one is trying to make it anything, Perhaps weirdly that reminds me of being a kid and I find them quite nostalgic. I am aware that this makes me sound like an odd Stig Of The Dump freak-like child.
What are the best things about working as a duo? Would you ever consider expanding?
P: Being able to be in two places at once is pretty handy for meetings…also its not lonely. Stand-up can be pretty odd like that. I once had an amazing solo gig in Leeds, but then the bleakest 8 hour coach journey home. It makes you consider what is required when you’re ‘doing what you love’. Writing in a duo is a great experience too, when you’ve found somebody you work with. That’s why expanding might be hard, because finding that creative chemistry that works seems as unique as finding a romantic pair. We do a lot of collaborations though, like with Femme-Ferale, The Marvellous Dorians or Tom Bell – they keep you fresh.
R: Being in a duo means you have someone to slap chests with after a good gig, it’s someone to get lost at festivals with and someone to keep you going when you go ‘oh god my friends have proper jobs and I’m in a field in Somerset dressed as a fairy’. What we do is about more than us two and we are definitely expanding, we have lots more people on board to draw, direct, produce and inspire us.
You've performed all over the capital from the modern grandeur of Tate Modern to the old school delights of upstairs at the Hen and Chickens. What would be your fantasy venue to play? Who would be on the bill?
P: We’re pretty stoked about playing the Pleasance in Edinburgh this summer actually and also The Old Vic Tunnels – both feel like fantastic steps forward career-wise. I’m also looking forward to hosting Luche Brittania wrestling at 1500-seater Colliseum in Glastonbury this summer – we play such a varied mix of shows that its hard to think of fantasies as what we do is so much fun. For Robin though, I imagine bigger is better, so maybe Wembley getting strut like Freddie Mercury would be good for him.
My fantasy bill? Well the whole show would have to be pretty theatrical to start with – not just a straight up comedy show, more like what we’re doing with The Old Vic Tunnels for Screening Room Society, and my favourite acts… people like Reggie Watts, a very playful and gifted musician, Phil Kay or Stewart Lee.
R: This is too hard, there are so many places I’d love to perform, so I’m giving a really abstract answer: The ideal show would have the spirit of the House of Fairy Tales, the showmanship of Freddie Mercury, and it would look like Bowie. Thats it.
Who should we be looking out for on the London comedy circuit?
P: Such a difficult question – so many people we love. Ben Target (Leicester Comedy Festival New act of the year) – brilliant, subversive, original. House of Hot Breath who do VERY alternative club nights at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. I also love stand-up James Acaster’s stories.
R: There are a lot of talented people out there, here are a few people who are wonderful and very inspiring; Ben Target, Tom Bell, Rob Broderick and James Hancox, Rachel Parris, Chris Coxen, Paper Tiger and the stories of Mikey Please...there are many more but I have spatial restraints.
What's the story behind Charlie's hair?
P: I don’t know what you mean. Is it really that odd?!?
R: It’s genetic. His dad was a pineapple.
Can you whisper some secret London tips in our ear?
P: The Fox and Cutlass… where we did our first ‘secret adventure club’, has a special place in my heart, but its pretty tricky to find. Also Luche Brittania wrestling has the oddest crowd I’ve ever seen, a mixture of proper East London lads and fetish fans.
R: If you hang around the Southbank centre long enough, you’ll often get free sandwiches.
You've been involved with literally hundreds of productions big and small. How do you see the government's arts cuts affecting London entertainment?
P: Wow. How much room have you got? I think the most dedicated entertainers will never have the quality of their shows impeded by money – so many innovative people do brilliant shows with very little money – for me ACCESS is the bigger issue as arts spending really does help engage more of society, both as audience and performers. Increasing dialogue between these different strata of society, whether in workshops, from the stage or elsewhere has a wider effect than just entertainment – I think it has a positive and important effect on all manner of social problem.
R: I think they’ll be quite dramatic. For example, we’ve been involved with the ‘visual dialogues’ programme at the Tate Modern, which puts young people in direct contact with Tate Modern artists, which was super fun and rewarding. It’s gone now and it’s a great shame to stop that. Also, if you’re poor and need to get off the ground, it makes a big difference to have funding, or institutions that are going to support you. Having said that, creativity finds a way....wait...does that sound like something Dawson Creek would say?
Finally, how do you make decisions when you can't agree? We're guessing arm-wrestling or a Call Of Duty face-off.
P: I think we always eventually agree, albeit often after lengthy discussion (helpful) and perhaps sulking or passive aggressive emails (inescapable). Lucky, because I would almost certainly win at Call Of Duty – Robin’s more of a pro-evo guy.
R: We both bake a quiche. The person with the crumbliest crust loses. That or a tickle punch - it starts as a punch ( a soft punch) then immediately becomes a tickle. It’s very confusing.
Tickets are selling fast for this Friday's Screening Room Society (£11). There's comedy, cabaret plus an interesting OVT-style twist which you only find out after you've booked your ticket.