Dave is on the beach, in Mexico, drinking a margarita. And then another. He drifts off… into a whirl of absurdities.
Cross-dressing, community affairs, phone-induced paranoia, the five-minute detective, a four-way divorce, a spirit-reading summoning a flasher, a singing theoretical physicist explaining string theory with a ukulele, the modern technology-addled brain (with robotic legs), the Geneva Convention’s rules of comedy flouted, a very strange romance, disappointed parents – and finally, the Shy People’s Encounter Group, where a riot breaks out, ending harmoniously in disco therapy.
Funny where nine margaritas can take you.
What was the inspiration for this performance?
Working with these young talents by Skype from Los Angeles where I live. They have so much to give, so much enthusiasm. And no fear. They love a challenge, and it became obvious they could handle anything I threw at them. I said “Why not Edinburgh?”
They jumped at the idea, and Margarita Dreams came pouring out. It has been an absolute joy writing sketch comedy again, and I can’t thank these kids enough for being the inspiration for all this strange and surprising stuff.
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Yes, it most definitely is. Writers put a lot of thought into their work. They explore their subjects in many directions, and discover many aspects to them for audiences to consider. Our show is lightweight – but many of the writers I love most are lightweight. Damon Runyon, P.G. Wodehouse, S.J. Perelman, Dorothy Parker.
Whereas more earnest writers like Brecht and Shaw are lecturers as well as entertainers. It’s always a mistake to tell the audience what to think. This is show business, not tell business. Show them your story, absorb them in it, and send them off to the pub afterwards to argue about it.
How did you become interested in making performance?
The joy of laughter. My father took me to The Marx Brothers Go West when I was about ten, and I literally – and I mean literally – rolled in the aisles with laughter. Spike Milligan in Son of Oblomov had the same effect a few years later.
There is nothing quite like sitting in an audience which is all rocking backwards and forwards in a completely uncoordinated fashion roaring with laughter at something you and your cast have created.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Everything is done, redone and done again to the best of our ability. I have written and rewritten. We rehearse and change and grow the work and performances. And all this takes place beneath the surface, out of sight of the audience. The audience should never look beyond the moment of performance, at the writer, or at the preparation.
It should see a duck serenely paddling, not the legs churning away underwater. I believe in the art that conceals art. Nothing irritates me more than seeing a show in which everyone on stage or on film is having the most wonderful time amongst themselves, while I’m sitting there in the audience thinking – well, let me in on the fun, can’t you?
Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Yes and no. Margarita Dreams marks my return to Edinburgh 41 years after the last of my four shows on the fringe (two Oxford Revues, starring Mel Smith, and two later two-handers with Peter Wilson, producer of The Woman in Black). One of my best-known pieces is a comedy sketch, the Schoolmaster, which I wrote for Rowan Atkinson.
On the other hand I have written a lot of TV episodes, a dozen stage plays, a couple of books about poker, and a number of libretti for operas (translations and originals), mainly for the Los Angeles Opera. My current commission for the LAO is based on a Woody Allen short story. Placido Domingo will sing the lead. But coming back to sketch comedy after a long time away from it has been like finding a long-lost friend again.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
The joy of laughter, see above. What I write is benign, slightly surreal, and ever-changing. It is easy to write sour comedy, crude comedy, smug comedy. Those prompt different kinds of laughter: embarrassed laughter, awkward laughter, shocked laughter. The purest laughter comes from the stomach. What is laughter a reaction of?
Above all, it is a reaction of surprise. If I tell you the world’s funniest joke, you may well laugh. If I tell it to you again, you probably won’t. That delight, that opening-of-the-eyes and rocking backwards and forwards, surprised (see above): that is the height we aim for. Anyone can aim low and hit.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Script-writing is all about story structure, whereas sketch-comedy is all about situations and ideas. Nevertheless, our show has a flow. Everything weaves in and out of everything else, and one thing does indeed lead to another, but with the peculiar logic of dreams. It does, in many weird ways, indeed make sense.
As our title song says: Oh, welcome to the world of Margarita – where peculiar is the new normal, and a good, if unusual, time is had by all. What we want the audience to experience can be summed up in one word: fun.