‘You’ve got to hand it to Sophia and Heleana Blackwell,’ says the Broadway Baby website. ‘Performing a comedy show on your own is difficult enough, but just imagine you’re telling anecdotes about your wife, whilst she’s actually on stage performing alongside you.’
To be honest, that part of it’s fun. What’s less fun is my endless impulse to question our decision to write and perform a show about our relationship, particularly given how some of my past shows, and indeed relationships, have gone.
The thing is, once Heleana came up with the title, we couldn’t stop thinking about it. I found a photo of us laughing, draped in a sheet and rose-petals taken by amazing photographer Krystyna Fitzgerald-Morris, and that became our first poster.
On the Friday night before Brighton Fringe, we were lucky to perform fifteen minutes of the show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern at Barbara Brownskirt’s Big Night Out, also featuring Audrey Heartburn. I’d just put together a music track for us to lip-synch to at the start, a mash-up of lines from Four Weddings and a Funeral, Married at First Sight and Pulp Fiction, having got the idea for that from the amazing comedian and clown Frankie Thompson’s show CAttS at a queer comedy night.
I was totally inspired by Frankie’s performance but Heleana had reservations about the lip-synch as we didn’t want to get sued by music or film companies for a quick blast of Pete Burns or a few lines of Nikita from Married at First Sight talking about veneers, but the RVT, being a cabaret and drag venue, got what we were trying to do immediately as we gyrated around the stage in our wedding clothes, pulling faces you could see from space. It was a short extract, but we realised something quite special had happened when we were bought about twenty-six drinks before we could get back to the Green Room.
Our first full-length show at Brighton Fringe was more of a split bill, with the two of us together at the start and finish but effectively delivering separate comedy and poetry sets. We returned to do a half-hour version at the Indigo Club with Hannah Brackenbury and Peaches LaMore, who were a pleasure to work with.
The version we just did at Camden Fringe is almost unrecognisable from those first cabaret-themed drafts - with the help of our director Maria Shehata, we’ve changed the framework so it’s darker, more theatrical and hangs together properly - no longer a simple split bill.
My favourite show of the year still has to be L Fest, where we could have filled the space twice over and people were sitting on the stairs to watch. As we sat quietly at the start, one audience member asked, ‘Are you two getting divorced yet?’ It was a welcome ice-breaker, and did touch on some of my anxieties about the show. Is this tempting fate? Heleana doesn’t see it that way, of course. My wife has a note on her phone that says, ‘why tour on your own when you could do it with your favourite person? Winning!’ Trust her to see it like that.
We hope to perform Wife Material a few more times before the end of 2022, so if you are a queer or queer-friendly venue, do hit us up - and if you haven't seen it yet, feel free to contact me about future dates.