Fresh from seeing her latest sketch at the Newsrevue Edinburgh previews, we spoke to comedy writer Sian Rowland....
Hey Sian! Congratulations on your excellent 'Little student teacher'. Why should new comedy writers consider writing for the world's longest running theatrical comedy show?
NewsRevue runs every week in London as well as the yearly Edinburgh show and always needs new material, so it's a great opportunity to play around with news stories. It's a massive buzz seeing your words brought alive on stage by the NewsRevue team who are so talented and funny. I actually find writing about topical issues quite tricky so I sit down and go through news stories and brainstorm ideas until an angle pops out. The first idea is usually the obvious one so I try and push on to come up with a range of ideas. Some weeks are harder than others!
(N.B. those wanting to learn some tools and tricks for coming up with great comedy ideas should check out our courses page -Ed)
In a nutshell, what's the sketch about?
It was my response to all the new government initiatives being piled on teachers. A young teacher tries to do her job to the best of her ability with very little help but when she succeeds everyone wants to take the credit.. She gets her revenge in the end though. It's based on the traditional tale of the Little Red Hen.
It's carefully staged, with 'children' nodding excitedly in a circle as they're read a story by their Teacher. How much of a difference can good staging make to the humour?
Words are only the start of the story and the staging brings them to life and gives them a whole new dimension and feel. A creative director and talented cast make all the difference. I keep stage directions to an absolute minimum to allow the director to create their magic. And it's always funny seeing grown adults being children!
Your day job is about education - to what extent should you 'write what you know'?
To some extent, although this is my first sketch about education. I think it's more about finding the human element in the story and that could be anything from sport to politics to celebrity gossip. I've written sketches and songs for NewsRevue on the pretty wide-ranging subjects of marmite, Danny Dyer, BHS cardigans and Trump's love of, er...cats. It all boils down to human reaction. I recently wrote a sketch about the London marathon and running technology and had to research carefully to get the feel right, but it was basically about the human need to do things right.
Ex-BBC Bursary writer Gabby Hutchinson Crouch advises new writers to create comedy about subjects that make them angry. Is that what happened here?
Definitely! I'm furious about the government's attempts to demoralise and micro-manage the teaching profession. I teach on teacher training courses and unsurprisingly the number of new trainees applying to the profession has fallen significantly. There's now a teacher recruitment crisis and it can be traced back to Gove's tenure as Education Secretary. A few years ago I was made redundant from my local authority advisory job because of government cuts and started writing a blog as a form of therapy. Some of my posts turned out to be sardonic and funny rather that just angry and that was my way of dealing with the terrible mess I saw going on around me. Writing comedy helps me make sense of the world...and get my feelings off my chest!
I've noticed your writing makes fantastic use of rhythm, structure and repetition - how, in your experience, can these devices help writers connect with audiences?
Thank you! I love the depth and layers we have in our language and am fascinated by how subtle change can be achieved - perhaps it's the teacher in me! Some letters and words are naturally funnier than others - custard cream is a far funnier biscuit than a digestive for example - so small changes make all the difference. Victoria Wood was an absolute genius at this and is one of my comedy heroes. It's also important to finish off the sketch with a decent punchline or reversal.
You've just taken your highly rated stage play 'Gazing at a Distant Star' to the Edinburgh Fringe - is there room for moments of comedy in your more dramatic work?
Always. 'Gazing' is about people who go missing and those who are left behind so goes to some quite dark places but there has to be humour to balance out the harrowing stuff. We need lighter moments in life and sometimes the most dreadful situations throw up these moments. It's why we end up laughing at funerals - but the humour has to be sensitively handled. In 'Gazing' there are lighter moments and jokes about cheating in swimming tests, how not to impress girls and organic buffalo milk yoghurt!
'Gazing at a Distant Star' is running at the Assembly George Square, studio five, at 12.15 daily for the whole festival. You can buy tickets to the show now!