Fringe Cuts: Lady Garden interview

Jake chats to Lady Garden as they take their show to the Edinburgh Fringe...

Eleanor, Camille, Beattie, Hannah, Rose and Jess may sound like the plucky heroines of a lost book by Enid Blyton but together they are Lady Garden, born out of a mutual love of performing comedy and Julia Davies. Since they’ve formed they’ve picked up great reviews and their own residency in London.

With their new Edinburgh show coming up, I met up with the girls minus Jess and prayed I didn’t piss them off in case they beat me up.

Lady Garden Member Fact Files:

Name: Beattie EdmonsonAge: 23Comedy Heroes: Bill Hicks, Larry David, Julia Davies, Chris MorrisFavourite Comedy Shows: Jam

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Name: Eleanor ThomAge: 25Comedy Heroes: Bill Hicks, John Cleese, Charlie Chaplin, Julia Davies, Caroline Aherne. Connie Booth has got to be in there!Favourite Comedy Shows: The Royle Family, Fawlty Towers, Big Train, Jam, Brass Eye, all that kind of stuff!

Name: Rose JohnsonAge: 24Comedy Heroes: Tina Fey, Julia Davies, Armando Iannucci, Chris Morris, Ricky Gervais, Larry DavidFavourite Comedy Shows: The Office, The Thick Of It, Nighty Night, Kath And Kim and Arrested Development

Name: Camille UcanAge: 23Comedy Heroes: Julia Davies, she’s my main one, really. She’s the first one I think of, my absolute comedy hero!Favourite Comedy Shows: Obviously, Nighty Night, Human Remains. I do also love The Thick Of It, Nathan Barley, and Fawlty Towers, if I was going to go really old-school.

Name: Jessica KnappettAge: 25Comedy Heroes: Oh this is so hard, there’s so many! Julia Davies, I love all League of Gentlemen.I love all that kind of stuff. Chris Morris is a genius. And then Victoria Wood, Eddie Izzard. I’m a big fan of The Mighty Boosh.Favourite Comedy Shows: Of all time, probably Brass Eye. It just hasn’t dated. I’m a really big fan of Alan Partridge as well. I love Nathan Barley. The Office, Extras and Nighty Night.

Name: Hannah DoddAge: 23Comedy Heroes: Julia Davies, Chris MorrisFavourite Comedy Shows: I absolutely love League Of Gentlemen, Nighty Night, Human Remains. Dark stuff, really. Jam, things like that.

Hello, girls. So, how did you all meet?

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Rose: We all met at university in Manchester. We were all studying various incarnations of English, Drama and Film studies. That kind of thing. And there wasn’t a lot of opportunities to perform comedy at uni, like stand-up and sketches. So, Eleanor and Camille set up a comedy night that we all took part in various guises.

We weren’t Lady Garden then, it was a big thing with about 30 different people involved. Then we did it again at the Comedy Store and that went really well. So, we formed Lady Garden and went up to Edinburgh in 2008 and we’ve been going ever since.

What made you set up a comedy night? Was the circuit at the time not something you were interested in?

Camille: It’s like Rose said, there wasn’t anything. There was a drama society and lots of others where you could perform in, but none of them did comedy. So, Eleanor suggested that we put a night on and made it so that it was an opportunity for people.

The first show had to be all new material that had never been performed before. So, it was just a different opportunity to what the drama society was offering. They would put new writing on stage, but more often it was pre-written plays.

But yes, this one was specifically for comedy and new writers, so it gave people a chance to try stand-up or performing sketches.

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Eleanor: I wrote a sketch that ended up being half an hour long! It never got shown, but I had a lot of material that I wanted to try out but didn’t want to do it on my own. I thought that, if I felt like that, then there must be other people who want to try stuff as well.

There’s a lot of you, how does it work to have so many people to work with on stage?

Beattie: I like it!

Rose: When it’s six people on a stage, you have a relationship with someone else and they have a relationship with someone else, etc. I think that’s a really interesting thing that not many other people get to explore.

Hannah: We can do all sorts of things as well, because there’s so many of us. We’ve got a proper cast!

How do you write your material with five other people involved?

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Hannah: It works in many different ways. We write by ourselves then come together and read through it. Then edit it together and chat about how it could be better, how we’re gonna stage it or whatever. That past few weeks, we’ve been writing in pairs and that’s been really good.

Rose: Having pairs is a good thing, isn’t it? It’s enough people so you can keep getting ideas and get things moving. Getting together to write as a six-strong group is impossible! Everyone has a different idea of where a sketch can go or what lines you can use.

Eleanor:  The first sketch we ever put on as Lady Garden was an improvised one and that really did work, but then that wasn’t a proper script. We were just saying words.

I think it’s much harder to riff off a six person group, because you can’t get the timing right. One person might be able to follow it through, but you’re gonna need signals to do it properly. There’s definitely room for that much more in the material we have now. It’s less rigid, less character-based and more about us.

Rose: When we’re writing, that’s something we place a massive amount of importance on. We leave spaces where we can experiment with language

Being an all female group, do you think that comes into what you do? Are you careful to avoid all the usual clichés of being women comics?

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Beattie: We don’t say specifically when writing every single sketch, “I’m not gonna write anything about women’s troubles.” We do naturally tend to write stuff that we just think is funny, rather than gender based.

Rose: It is frustrating that everything we do is automatically looked at from that point of view, and we’re not trying to do that.

How do you all work in your material? Is there a democratic voting process?

Camille: If we all like an idea, then we’ve got confidence in numbers and think we should definitely give it a go. When you do stand-up on your own, you don’t really know if it’s going to work until you try it. Because there’s six of us, we all have five different people we can run our ideas by first. We have quite a few voting systems and often have a top ten out of the big batch we’ve got.

It is democratic. You have to be, really. You can’t just have one person overriding everyone else.

Hannah: We’re good, if something isn’t working, at not putting it to one side, but re-drafting it. There was one sketch that took about 19 re-drafts!

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This is your second year at Edinburgh., What kind of things can we expect to see?

Hannah: We’ve got a new set! And new costumes!

Camille: We’ve got a massive surprise at the start of our show, which is absolutely top secret and we’re not allowed to talk about it, really.

A lot of our material this year is ensemble. It’s all six of us. Last year was a lot of character things where it’s just one or two of us, so this year we tried to make it so it’s all of us. It’s basically the six of us in a variety of different situations.

Beattie: I would say that there are some beautiful moments in it!

Rose: Maeve Binchy, Russia. Boom, that’s a show.

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Everyone else: Fire! Don’t forget the fire!

Eleanor: Fire, Russia, Maeve Binchy. Come down!

What I’ve seen of your work, it’s a mix of traditional with some Mighty Boosh-style surrealism. Are you informed by the past or do you keep up with current trends?

Beattie: I think a mixture, really.

Rose: Yeah, you can’t help but be informed by the past, can you? You don’t say, “RIGHT! In light of Fawlty Towers, I’m going to write a sketch now!” But, obviously, the stuff you watched when you were younger formed your sense of humour.

So, wrapping it up now, who should come and see your show?

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Everyone at once: Anyone! Everyone!

Eleanor: As long as you’re over 14!

Rose: I think it’s wrong to write comedy for a specific audience.

Camille: Because you can laugh at anybody, can’t you?

Eleanor: Some 100-year-old woman could come and watch the show and fucking love it.

Rose: We don’t aim for a young audience or a female audience. We just write what’s funny.

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Camille: We’ve a lot of male followers, but not for the most obvious reason. It’s nice that everyone, men and women, can see past the fact we’re six girls on stage.

Thank you very much, ladies.

Lady Garden will be playing in Edinburgh throughout the month and will return to their residency in London in September. For more info, check their website at