Notflix is the hit all female improvised musical comedy returning to the Edinburgh Fringe. The show works on audience suggestion where patrons suggest a movie they’d like to see converted into an hour-long musical parody. The shows are funny as hell, and very well structured. I sat down with Sarah Spencer (creator of Notflix/director) and 6 cast members–Pernilla Holland, Ailis Duff, Aisling Groves McKeown, Gemma Marie Everest, Holly Mallett and Jodie Irvine–to discuss the show.
Tell me about the long form improv you guys use. It’s unusual, isn’t it?
Sarah: We’re unique in that we’ve musicalized something called a Harold, which many established improvisers would say is impossible but actually the format really, specifically, lends itself to musical theatre because, essentially, a Harold is a show in three acts, although we describe them as beats. And a Harold will start with something called the “ideation”, which is where the audience give a suggestion and then we work together as an ensemble to try and figure out what that, thematically, or in terms of metaphor, means. In a Harold, the aim is to throw things out there and then let them go in different directions knowing you can hook them back. And I think that probably is the most terrifying and the most liberating thing about the show. When you find something’s not working in the show and the audience isn’t responding how do you deal with that and get through?
Pernilla: Whatever we do, we need to really listen to each other, to what’s going on, to everything. And listening is not just about what you say but it’s everything about the stage. We’ve definitely had shows where when we don’t listen; that’s when it falls to pieces. So that’s why the number one key is listening.
Aisling: Our show has a very unique thing about it that we’re doing this balancing act between getting just the right amount of the film but still having that organic nature to it and not being pre-planned. Improv is about listening to us but also about listening to that audience and what they want when they have suggested that film, their expectations.
Holly: I feel like it’s kind’ve like learning anything really, like a musical instrument or something. You’ve gotta learn your scales and your rudiments so you can forget about it on the stage. So the good thing is if we have a tricky show, that’s when we fall back on the techniques that we work really hard on. So we can always get ourselves out of a jam. We can tell if we’re having a tricky show but I feel like we’re getting to a point where the audience can’t tell. When it flies, [though], I feel like we just do not have to work hard at all. We’ve got to a point now where we have a technique for pretty much anything.
Any specific moments in the past where you were forced to fall back on technique?
Ailis: I had a bit of a hayfever attack onstage. My hayfever’s not been very good this month and I just could not stop sneezing while two [of us] were singing a song and Holly just looked at me like: “don’t worry. That’s part of the dance routine now. We’ve got your back.”
Pernilla: Oh! Was that what we were doing? I had no idea! (Laughter.) I think the mistakes are the gift. Gemma, do you remember, [she] got confused with Martin Freeman and played him as Morgan Freeman. And [did] a dodgy Scottish accent.
What do you think is drawing people to your show over other comedies or improv shows, or both combined?
Pernilla: I think that it’s because we are just who we are. This group of wacky, cooky ladies. There’s a real skill behind what we do but it’s balancing very real comedy with a lot of heart. Every time we step up and are building something together, it always comes from an emotional place. I think audiences really respond to people being vulnerable, sharing that emotional connection.
Jodie: When you think about Hollywood, it’s a very male dominated industry. We take these films and give them our own twist as women living in 2017. And I also think there’s something very interesting about watching that as well. Like one of my favourite shows we’ve ever done is Top Gun and that’s your kinda “man, I’m being macho”. It’s [an] “all about being macho” kind of film and we were somehow able to feel like, y’know, you were watching our interpretation of Top Gun. Not just related to Top Gun but we’d put our own twist on it. That’s something really interesting to see.
Pernilla: I think also there’s this amazing…kind of deal…that we make with the audience. When they come in we know that they are going to have their say in what we’re gonna do. And I think people really genuinely…I think that’s exciting that you’ll have power–[that] your voice is heard as an audience and we respect that, and we use that. And I think that’s a real buy in for an audience.
Holly: I think it’s a really good time for women to come out and be badass. There is a lot of straight white man improv. Very, very good straight man improv. Absolutely fine with that. But there is something very freeing about–it doesn’t matter–gender…because we’re all women so we’re all gonna have to play all genders. It’s not funny just because we’re a man playing a woman or a woman playing a man. That’s not what’s funny. We’re funny. That’s what I think. I think it’s time for improv and it’s time for women.
Notflix is on everyday at The Gilded Balloon Teviot until 28th August at 15:00 and have a onenight only show in the Debating Hall on 18th August at 18:00.