Bristol Slapstick Festival Review


Written by Lisa Bartlett
04 Wednesday 04th February 2015

The first event I attended was ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set: Revisited’ a look back over the hugely popular television show which first aired in 1967. The event was hosted by Radio 3’s Matthew Sweet who was joined on stage by three of the shows’ stars, Neil Innes, Tim Brooke-Taylor and the hilarious Denise Coffey. As I settled into my seat the room was buzzing with the excitement of comedy enthusiasts and fans of the show, behind me I overheard a group of women discussing the importance of the show for families, ‘Well it was Monty Python for kids!’

We were treated to outtakes of the programme accompanied by discussion from the stars themselves who clearly had great fun making the show. This fun came from the freedom they had to create sketches with little regulation and ‘All the toys of television to play with’ as Neil Innes put it. Innes spoke fondly of mischief they got up to and how they ‘Taught the world anarchy!’ When asked by a member of the audience if he thought a show like ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ could be made today he somewhat glumly replied ‘No, it wouldn’t get past all the people with desk jobs’ summing up just how different the business of television was back then.

Denise Coffey was an absolute joy to watch as she enthusiastically explained how she relished subverting the common role of women in television at the time, by representing the absolute opposite of the tall pretty blonde characters who were gracing the screens of other popular programmes, ‘Subversion was the name of our game’ she told us. Of course time was made to discuss Denise Coffey and David Jason’s hugely popular feature ‘Captain Fantastic’ an idea which was born from their love of silent film. When asked how much of the show was prepared beforehand, Coffey admitted that none of the producers really knew what it was they were getting up to in rehearsals but that ‘Everyone was in on the conspiracy of fun!’

It was so refreshing to see that the cast clearly thrived on the freedom and fun of the show and made the most of doing what they loved while being inspired by the comedy that they loved and with little thought as to whether the outcome was well received or not, a sentiment which was nicely summed up by Denise Coffey when asked what other television stations thought of the show, she simply responded ‘I don’t know, we never asked them.’

The second event I attended was Shappi Khorsandi’s Top Comedy Moments, hosted by Marcus Brigstocke. Khorsandi talked us through some of her top comedy moments in film which have helped to shape her understanding of the world and of comedy. She spoke of the great silent films of Charlie Chaplin which she devoured as a child and can’t wait to show to her children when they are old enough. She also praised the accessibility of visual comedy for all ages and how after initially not really ‘getting’ silent films as a young child, watching Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’ changed that view forever and opened her eyes and mind to the beauty and importance of the great silent films which have helped to shape British comedy. Khorsandi’s comedy moments were peppered with great slapstick moments from Chaplin in ‘The Kid’ and ‘The Great Dictator’ to Robbin Williams in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ intercut with candid conversations about her experiences with film as a child. She spoke of following her big brother down to the local newsagents to choose a comedy from the small selection available on VHS and how growing up in the seventies and with less access to film and comedy without the technology we are blessed with today, meant that she was open to trying a wide spectrum of old and new film.

If you didn’t manage to get down to the festival last weekend, never fear as it will be back this time next year, well worth a visit!


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