All this month we are chatting to Rachel Thorn, someone that you may recognise as they have written many articles for us in the past. Rachel is heading to the Brighton Fringe this month with her team Mates which we spoke about in depth last week. Today I want to focus on her other team Sex Lies and Improvisation as well as solo work.
You are part of a few different shows lets talk about them today! Firstly, tell us all about MATES and Sex Lies and Improvisation.
MATES: The Improvised ‘90s Sitcom is a hilarious homage to TV classics such as Frasier, Seinfeld and Friends. Every episode is a sitcom about three 20-somethings who live in a rent-controlled apartment in New York City in the ‘90s. The show has all the tropes of a classic ‘90s sitcom but with the added joy of improv magic.
Sex, Lies & Improvisation is a dark comedy about why we lie to the people we love. Every show is inspired by a real-life secret or lie submitted anonymously in advance. If you know of any juicy porkie-pies, please go to our website and fill in the form!
They are both very different styles of shows – why do you enjoy doing both?
I love performing Mates because it’s pure joy. It’s fast-paced, it’s silly, and it gives us the chance to create some really fun, exaggerated characters. Having said that, it’s also really technical. Sitcoms follow very strict rules, and if we don’t keep that structure in mind, then we’re not delivering on our promise. Mates is the perfect blend of rules and anarchy!
And I love performing Sex, Lies & Improvisation because it’s dark and sexy. It’s a chance to deep-dive into one character and one relationship and create a completely different type of comedy.
What have been some of your favourite things about performing in both?
I love the feeling in a Mates show of being on an express train. I don’t know who’s in control when we’re performing but it’s not me, Alex or Hugh! And in Sex, Lies & Improvisation I love the shrieky laughter gasps we get from the audience. Nothing like it.
I was reading to my daughter and my husband came into her bedroom, playing my sketch live on Radio 4!Rachel Thorn
What are the rehearsals like?
Rehearsals for Sex, Lies & Improvisation involve a lot more tea and chat than rehearsals for larger casts. But since the whole show hinges on the connection between me and Alex, we’re happy to go with what feels right that night. And rehearsals for Mates are 90% LOLs!
How do you prepare for the show? Do you have to watch a lot of Friends? Do you have to watch a lot of couples on tv etc?
When we were building the format for Mates, we worked with a sitcom expert called Declan Hill and he helped us identify the key features of a sitcom. Funnily enough, now I’ve peeped behind the veil, I don’t really enjoy watching things like Friends as much. I’m always thinking about the structure of the episode! And I quite enjoy real-life documentary-type programmes like Couples Therapy and Eating With My Ex, which I justify as research for Sex, Lies & Improvisation. That’s legit, right?
I love performing Mates because it’s pure joy. It’s fast-paced, it’s silly, and it gives us the chance to create some really fun…I love performing Sex, Lies & Improvisation because it’s dark and sexy.Rachel Thorn
Who is your favourite Friends character to get inspiration from and why?
I really love Eddie (Chandler’s room mate when Joey moves out because he’s working on Days Of Our Lives). He starts off fairly unremarkable, but they escalate the character beautifully without losing any of the truth.
You have also been collaborating on material with some impressionists – tell us about that?
In lockdown I started submitting sketches to a podcast called Making An Impression, and I got promoted to script editor. I discovered not only that I have a knack for writing for impressionists, but that it’s a niche skill. I’m really glad that since the podcast has ended, I’ve been able to continue using that skill by collaborating with some awesome impressionists, including Alistair McGowan. It’s a very narrow seam of comedy with many pitfalls, but when it lands, it’s second to none.
How different is it to work with impressionists to improv?
I write sketches, I write plays, I write one-liners, I perform improv, and I think there’s a crucial similarity that underpins them all: you start off with nothing and you have to make a leap. But after that, there aren’t many similarities! Writing with impressionists requires really thorough research of the source voices, of the impressionist’s style, and of the target audience. It’s narrow. It’s like walking on a tight rope, and you know instantly as soon as you fall off. But performing improv is expansive and every mistake is another gift. They are very different beasts, but equally fabulous!
You have had some of your writing broadcast on Radio 4’s Dead Ringers. How did you feel hearing your work go out live on air?
Yes, I managed to get a sketch on the Christmas mini series of Dead Ringers! It was really tough because they have a whole team of very experienced writers and I wasn’t commissioned. Plus the news that week changed very significantly after the official writers’ deadline, so the majority of what I submitted was irrelevant by the time they recorded the show. You never know for sure what will make the edit, so you have to tune in live. I was reading to my daughter and my husband came into her bedroom, playing my sketch live on Radio 4! It was a great feeling. My daughter didn’t get it though. She’s been born into an on-demand world and has no concept of broadcast TV and even less idea of radio. She probably thinks CDs only work in cars.