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Interveiw: The Double Bill We’ve All Been Waiting For?

The Defectors’ on bringing Defective Inspector back to Camden Fringe

We have to admit, we never got to see The DefectorsDefective Inspector, so we’re a little late to the party on this one. But for this year’s Camden Fringe the team are back once more with their comic creation Richard P Cooper. And not just the one show! You can catch both the original show and their new offering, Defective Inspector: A Stitch In Time as a double bill at Hen and Chickens Theatre (25 – 27 August). And to make up for missing their ex-detective the first time round, we thought we’d grab a little time with them for a recap to see what we’ve missed, and what to expect in his second outing.

Before we get stuck in deeper, should we have seen the first show in order to be able to see A Stitch In Time? Or should we just stop now?

A Stitch in Time can absolutely be enjoyed without having seen Defective Inspector prior. The play’s events carry directly on from the cliffhanger left in the first show, but very quickly spin off-the-rails into its own sci-fi time-tangling adventure! There are a few recurring characters, plot threads and gags that will satisfy fans of the first show, while also bringing enough new elements of self-contained fun for anyone entering blindly into the universe of Richard P. Cooper (or The Cooperverse…). 

Ok, that’s a relief then, because we missed the first show, so would a recap on that help in understanding this one?

As we are tackling the sci-fi genre, we thought it made sense to pay homage to a classic TV trope and actually include a live breakneck recap of the key plot elements from the first show – so we don’t leave anyone feeling too Lost… if you want more context, however, simply arrive 90 minutes earlier, join us for Defective Inspector and treat yourself to the full double-bill!

Who or what inspired Defective Inspector originally? Would we be right to think there is quite a slapstick feel to it and if so, are their comics who you admire in this field?

Writing and performing these shows has become a crucible for us to meld so many of my personally beloved styles of comedy together. The character comedy of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge and Matthew Holness’ Garth Marenghi are a big inspiration for developing the character of Richard P. Cooper. The stories he tells and worlds he inhabits are detailed gag-driven genre parodies akin to Community or Airplane! Theatrically, we have undoubtedly been inspired by classic meta-theatrical antics of shows like Noises Off and the newer flavour presented by Mischief Theatre, which allow us to repeatedly dip into the old reliable slapstick pot whenever we verge on taking ourselves too seriously. We revel in the challenge of creatively blending all of these styles together, and it’s part of what makes writing, rehearsing and performing the shows so gratifying.

And what’s new for A Stitch in Time then?

Stitch takes us into the realm of science fiction, which is uncharted territory for steadfast Richard, who now has to navigate his way through cockney cyborgs, wonky futuristic technology and the suspended disbelief of time travel. Thankfully, his guide through it all is his mysterious new acquaintance, Alice, who enlists him in her grand mission to save the world by going back and defeating Mr. Fluffington before he can start his evil empire. Our amazing new performer, Ellie Church, plays Alice, as she joins Daniel Hemsley and Francesca Eldred in embodying the dozens of new (and old) characters Richard befriends, battles, or berates on his epic journey. The amazing Shannon Fox has joined us to direct this show, pouring her love of sci-fi and its high-concept/low-budget charm into it. She has created hilarious physical sequences, designed simple-but-effective props, and teased so much humour out of attempting to stage a time-travel epic on a fringe stage in 60 minutes. Finally, we have an incredible original soundtrack composed by Yellowlees and Slug_Machine, who have both created some amazing tracks to complete the sci-fi/noir blend that could give Vangelis a (blade) run for his money!

The show has a lot of time travel, should we bring a notebook to keep up with where we are as we go?

While time-travel naturally makes a plot significantly more complicated (and often makes the writer question their decision explore it at all…), I saw this as an opportunity to create a kind of ‘Four Dimensional Farce’. The complications and implications time-travel creates actually become part of the comedy, so as long as you keep up with the key plot beats, you are as much along for the chaotic ride as the characters are. We do attempt to retain the silly internal logic we have laid out. To prevent temporal travel sickness, however, we have kindly provided regular signage so the audience can easily keep track of where and when we are at any time, and thanks to Richard’s explanatory monologuing (or ‘monsplaining’), you should also understand the why as well.  

Is there ever a worry you’d end up repeating some of the same gags from the first show?

Of course, this was a concern when writing and rehearsing – we had to make sure this new show stood up in its own right and justified returning to the character and his world to tell a new story with a whole lot of new laughs. We put lots of effort into creating fresh, self-contained gags and ridiculous plot-threads that work for this show. We have also taken lots of feedback on the shows to figure out which elements made sense to leave behind or would be rewarding to take through into the new show – so the few recurring gags that we have included seem to work really well on their own merit while also being a satisfying callback to the first show. 

What made you want to write a second show around the same character? 

We had so much fun performing an earlier version of Defective Inspector way back in 2019 (The Before Times..), and the show itself ends on a ridiculous cliffhanger that was only intended to be a funny way to end the show as if it was part of a saga. Because of this, I would often get asked by audiences when ‘the sequel’ was coming, which at first made me happy the gag had landed, but over time this slowly started to get the cogs turning as I realised there could actually be an interesting way to pick up this story – and as Richard P. Cooper is the fictional auteur behind all of this, of course he would want to capitalise on the success of the show by creating a second installment. So in a way I was giving in to his ego (definitely not mine…). I then strangely found myself with a lot of time on my hands for lots of 2020-21, and had time to write this (purely hypothetical) sequel that involved time travel, World War II espionage and a fascist Yorkshire terrier, purely for my own enjoyment, never imagining it’d see the light of day. Once I showed Daniel my early drafts, however, he insisted we should attempt to stage it, so here we are! (And you can blame him for what we have unleashed…)

Is this a character you think you’ll be exploring again in the future as well, is this going to become a series of shows?

Richard P. Cooper has a lot of potential I would like to explore, at the moment I have been writing and performing readings of chapters of his new novellum (legally cannot be classed as a novella) ‘Manslaughter on the Megabus’ at comedy nights, including our very own ‘Scratch ‘n’ Sniff’ which we hope to run again soon! We also intend to turn these into a short audio series/podcast soon, so keep an eye out for updates on that. In terms of the show format of Defective and Stitch, I think I would like to explore playing with Richard as a character within a play rather than being the storyteller, and a fun genre to place him in could be Horror. So who knows, maybe soon we will see Richard scared Dickless…?

Many thanks to the team for the chat.

Defective Inspector and A Stitch in Time plays at Hen and Chickens Theatre as a double bill (or can be booked seperately) for Camden Fringe from 25 – 27 August. Further information and bookings can be found (Defective Inspector) here and (A Stitch In Time) here.

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