This week we return to Brighton Fringe again for our Show of the Week although this time it’s a tale of legends!!! Well, improvised legends anyway. New improv group The Silliad are performing their show at The Warren: The Burrow between the 31st May – 2nd June. I caught up with the troupe to find out all about what they have in store…
Hello tell us all about who you all are and a little bit about yourselves?
We’re The Silliad! There are four of us: Zack (the one who waves his arms around a lot), Alex (the handsome one with the crazy eyes), James (the bamboo stick) and Hannah (the effortlessly charming one on the tech). We specialise in long-form improvised myths and legends, which can be Greek, Norse or Egyptian depending on what the audience roots for! We’ve been improvising together for four or five years now, and we’re super excited to take this show on the road.
How did the show come about?
We met at the University of York as part of the Comedy Society, and cut our teeth with The Shambles, their short-form improv troupe. As our time at uni was coming to a close, we were eager to keep going with improv, and keep getting practising and getting better, and The Silliad was an idea that clicked: we each have our areas of expertise (Literature, History, and Archaeology), and most of all we love pulling out crazy characters, which is what mythology is all about! One year later, we’ve packed out a show at Great Yorkshire Fringe, headlined in Leeds, and this summer we’re heading out of Yorkshire for the first time.
How did your troupe form?
Zack: Well we’d performed with each other for years as part of our university’s short-form improv troupe (The Shambles). Alex and I started exploring long-form together, just as a way of developing our skills and came up with this idea to do an improvised mythology show. We also realised that this was probably a big ask for just two people so thought that James and Hannah would be great additions to the team.
James: I’d heard whispers that Zack and Alex were working on something, but when they invited me to a mysterious pub lunch I still wasn’t sure what to expect! And thus, over bangers and mash, The Silliad was born. We always had Hannah in mind to help bring the show to life with tech, but it did feel odd bringing her into the fold and showing her what we’d cooked up behind closed doors. It was a bit like a cat bringing in a dead mouse and hoping its owner likes it, except the mouse is a hilarious blend of Horrible Histories, Clash of the Titans, and Whose Line Is It Anyway? cough
What type of improv do you do in your troupe?
Our improv is long-form, but it’s also very free-form, which is what makes it so exciting and unpredictable! We take a couple of suggestions from the audience, one of us gives a prologue, and then we’re off: since there are only three of us performing, there’s a lot of multi-rolling to bring pantheons and mythical creatures to life; we’ve had audience members suspect that we pick our characters beforehand, but we promise it’s all by the seat of our pants, meaning you’re in for a roller-coaster of madcap fun every time.
Tell us a little bit about the show that are happening this week?
This weekend, from Friday 31st of May to the 2nd of June, we’re at Brighton Fringe! You can find us at The Warren: The Burrow at noon. In each show we try to answer one burning question from the audience: in the past we’ve had things like “Who’s the automated voice at call centres?” and “Where is Wally?” Expect to see the mythological characters you know and love — from Zeus, to Anubis, to Thor — mixed in with a whole bunch of off-the-wall references to TK Maxx, pool parties, and more. Of course, the exact content of the show relies on audience suggestions, so the only way to ensure your mythic silly fantasies come to life is to come along! There might even be something in it for those whose suggestions we choose.
What improv styles do you want to see more of this year and why?
Alex – I’m looking forward to seeing some excellent narrative driven styles this year. We all know and love the quick and formulaic style of Whose Line, but I’m always bowled over by improv that constructs a compelling story, that shocks and amazes me as much as makes me laugh. Unique to this form is the feeling that you are walking through a story together with the characters and the performers, exploring a world that is as new and temporary to them as it is to you, and there’s something beautiful about that. A show that takes its time and builds a good story will have me even now coming out wondering ‘how on earth did they do that!’.
Hannah – I love watching talented musicians work alongside improvisers, so I’m excited to see Showstopper again this year, and any improvised music I can find!
What festivals are you guys planning on heading to this year?
After Brighton, we’re gearing up for a run at the big kahuna: Edinburgh! We’ll be there from the 1st until the 11th of August, on at The Caves (Just the Tonic) at 12:50pm. We’re hoping to perform in our adopted home of York in between but — as any fringe-goer will know — we’ve got a lot of logistics on our plate already! Since The Silliad is only a year old (albeit with a combined improv experience of 15!) we’re excited to spread our eagle wings, throw our hammers as far as possible, and mix as many metaphors as we can. There’s even an improv festival that happens in Athens which we’ve definitely got our eyes on, but don’t tell our bank accounts…
It is the month of May – What festivals are you most looking forward to this summer and why?
Edinburgh definitely is the big one — there’s just so much! We love finding hidden gems as well as supporting our friends from York: The Shambles, The Dead Ducks, and especially Any Suggestions, Doctor? who seem to be going from strength to strength. And, really, isn’t Doctor Who just a retelling of all the classic myths and legends, encountering strange creatures on an action-packed odyssey? What we’re saying is: Jodie, if you’re reading this, fancy a cameo in our show?
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe themselves?
James: One of The Silliad’s biggest strengths is that it’s something anyone can connect to. I think most of us were taught about the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Vikings in school — and, even if not, everyone knows characters like Thor and Hades! So in terms of the show, it has to be a bit familiar. But in terms of the troupe, my biggest piece of advice is to find people you like and practice. There’s no substitute for learning how your scene partners tick, and the best way to do that is to keep improvising. Performing a Silliad is like a chess game with a million pieces, and knowing the other guys so well helps me predict what their moves will be, and then we can bring everything together. It’s a challenge, but a lot of fun!
Alex: Play to your strengths, be yourself and make friends. If you have people in mind, start by meeting up a couple times a month, practice improv together but also go for drinks, bowling, or anything! This not only helps you get to know your potential troupe better, but also builds trust and takes away the pressure of having to be ‘on’ whenever you are together. You’ll find your scenes mesh better and become less forced, your stories become coherent and a bit more honest and the chemistry between you and your scene partner will really shine through. Everyone has a type of comedy in them, and being open with a bunch of people, discovering what makes each other funny together is the greatest way to start a brilliant improv troupe.
Zack: Make sure that what you’re doing is fun, and that you find what you’re creating funny. Likelihood is that what you find hilarious, someone else will. Also, work with people that make you laugh, can give you feedback, and that are willing to put in the effort to make what you’re doing excellent!
What is the best thing about a night for the audience?
James: The Silliad is just that: silly! Mythology might have been serious stuff for Homer and Virgil, but we take a lighter approach, taking characters you know and weaving in references you might not expect. Where else could you find Tracey Emin fighting the forces of Hades?
Alex: We put on one hell of a show. Lighting and sound draw an audience through the rich and vibrant worlds of ancient Greece, Egypt and Scandinavia, jam-packed with absurd characters interweaving with epic confrontations and heart-wrenching melodrama, The Silliad really brings the legends to life!
Zack: If you’ve got any interest in mythology at all you’ll have a good time. You don’t need to know all the ins and outs of the Illiad, or the Nine Realms of Yggdrasil, or even what the name of the Egyptian underworld is to enjoy the show! We’re very accessible and shape the ‘facts’ to fit our fiction anyway. (To be honest, I’m still unsure of the correct pronunciation of Horus)…
If people want to find out more about you where can they follow you on social media?
We’re on all social media @thesilliad, where we’ll be posting road-trip pics, updates, and all kinds of fun stuff.
And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?
James: Silly! Epic! Finances! [Fringes are expensive…]
Alex: Epic, Silly, Original!
Hannah: Energetic! Educational! Accessible!
Zack: Amusing. Funny. Hilarious.
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Alex – Duck Tongues, Cold.
Hannah – Crystalised dragon fruit
Zack – I once accidentally ate a caterpillar. It was in a salad and mistook it for a bit of lettuce.
James – I partially ate a rubber, I thought it was a marshmallow.
If you could trade lives with anyone for a day who would it be and why?
Alex – The guy who does the see it, say it, sort it Tube announcements. It’s a simple life, full of simple things, and people would respect me.
James – Mark Hamill, he just seems to have the best time all the time
Hannah – Phoebe Waller-Bridge, I want to be inside her brain
Zack – George R R Martin, so I could release Winds of Winter…
If you could paint anything what would you paint?
Hannah – A Grecian style nude of the other members of the Silliad, but on an urn
James – I’d paint Hannah painting us
Alex – I’d paint a wall on Banksy
Zack – And I’d paint a cartoon style tunnel of that wall in an attempt to fool Roadrunner
What is the most delightful word you can think of?
Alex – Mmmbop
Hannah – Aglaonema
Zack – Halitosis said in an Australian accent
James – Anthropocene
James – Runaway by Aurora
Hannah – Washing Machine Heart by Mitski
Alex – Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen
Zack – Want it That Way by The Backstreet Boys
Who is your comedy hero and why?
Alex – Lee Evans. Silly, original and incredibly talented, he has always felt honest onstage. Also, he’s not locked by definitions of what stand-up or comedy should be, and I feel I wouldn’t be as irreverent or clown-like if I hadn’t grown up watching him
Hannah – Paul Currie, he’s silly, super original, and he talks about mental health in a nuanced way. Also he paints his nails
James – Graham Chapman, because he was incredible as both an everyman, and as a character, and he was a pioneer
Zack – Catherine Tate, her array of characters is something I grew up watching and has definitely inspired some of the characters I fall into.
What is your favourite movie quote?
Alex – “That still only counts as one!” – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
James – “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper” – Star Wars
Zack – “That ain’t no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be undid, Homeskillet.” – Juno
Hannah – “Oh Honey, it was ruined when she bought it” – The Cat in the Hat
Who is your favourite cartoon character and why?
Alex – Yakko Warner, All singing, all dancing, mad yet coherent, Yakko and his siblings were surprisingly intelligent and always incredibly silly
Hannah – Spongebob Squarepants, because he was as kind as he was porous
James – Mr Burns, because they took a stereotype and made it into an incredibly rounded character somehow
Zack – Mona the Vampire, because that girl had one hell of an imagination!