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Interview: Thick'n'Fast's General Secretary at Soho Rising Festival

 

The theatre industry received another blow after the cancellation of February's Vault Festival, the intended venue for the first in-person performance of Thick'n'Fast's acclaimed show General Secretary. Streaming online throughout the pandemic, the duo have been working hard to reshape the format of the show and bring it to a live audience. Thankfully, they've found a new home at Soho Theatre on 1 February as part of the Soho Rising festival. 

General Secretary looks at the desire for power through the female lens. It focuses on Cassie and George, two insignificant individuals who suddenly find themselves in charge of the world and responsible for devising solutions to the biggest global issues. Will they manage to avoid the pitfalls and corruption that have befallen the world leaders before them? 

Run-Riot caught up with Georgina Thomas and Cassie Symes, the duo behind Thick'n'Fast, to learn more about the show and the journey of its conception:

 

Kerenza Evans: What makes General Secretary unique in its approach to female power?

Georgina Thomas and Cassie Symes: It puts a fresh perspective on what might happen if two seemingly powerless women are suddenly given vast amounts of power to affect change. This isn't a show about women being passed over for promotion; it's about two completely inept women being over-promoted. Our characters are pop-music loving and internet-obsessed; the next generation of Leslie Knope meets Fiona Bruce with a sprinkle of Broad City. 

 

Kerenza: What are the key themes of the show?

Georgina and Cassie: General Secretary is about power, corruption, the millennial condition and gender. It also has underlying themes of trust and female friendship rarely seen in the context of global politics. 

 

Kerenza: The show premiered via livestream during lockdown. What were the challenges and advantages of this medium?

Georgina and Cassie: How long have you got? As two people in need of audience interaction and applause, livestreaming was a different ballgame. Parts of the show were pre-recorded and we filmed as we went along. This meant that when we had an epiphany on day 20 and decided to change the plot, we had to make it work with what we’d shot on day 1. On the day of the livestream we relied on the live parts to fill in the gaps in the jigsaw; some bits worked but others didn’t!

The incredible team at Applecart filmed and streamed the live sections on the day, as well as a music video which features in the current version of our show and is a wonder to behold. We wrote, shot and edited everything else ourselves because we couldn’t have other people in the studio. We learned valuable filming lessons: make sure your green screen isn’t creased, make sure there is enough space on the memory card and make sure your head is actually in the shot. 

 

Kerenza: What key changes have you had to make to convert the show to a live performance?

Georgina and Cassie: Since the lifting of restrictions, we have had so much more development time and we’ve pretty much rewritten the entire show, although the essential elements remain the same. We’ve been able to add theatrical elements including fun physical sequences. This was temporarily halted by Cassie fracturing her spine shortly before we were due to perform in person for the first time at Fringe Futures Festival! Needless to say, she is now back on her feet and you wouldn’t know anything had happened. 

 

Kerenza: Do you worry that the people who could learn the most from shows like yours will be the least likely viewers?

Georgina and Cassie: We are still waiting for the day that we receive a ticket request from the Kremlin or the White House. We have invited Michael Gove, but his private secretary informs us that he will be stuck in another lift that day. We hope the show inspires people to picture a world not run by career politicians. Our protagonists may not have all the solutions, but they represent a joyous fantasy which leaves you asking what you would change given the chance.   

 

Kerenza: Is it hard to strike a balance between education and entertainment in theatre?

Georgina and Cassie: Yes, but the two go hand in hand. When writing a show, we often start with issues that infuriate us but if we end up moralising or taking ourselves too seriously, it isn’t going to be funny! Done right, theatre can be one of the best educational tools; when it’s entertaining, it makes you want to think more about that subject rather than shy away from it. 

Some days we look back at our scripts and think ‘this is great, it’s funny, but what are we trying to say here?’ Other days we’re like ‘oh boy, we need a few more gags in this scene’. Finding that balance is hard but it’s so important.

 

Kerenza: Did lockdown stifle or stimulate your creativity?

Georgina and Cassie: We were lucky to land an amazing opportunity which might not have existed without the pandemic to develop General Secretary with Applecart Arts. We were also able to focus on writing with few distractions during lockdown. On the other hand, collaboration is a huge part of our process. We are thrilled to be able to have other people in the rehearsal room working on the live version of this show. Audiences are also integral to developing our shows; during lockdown we were just throwing gags into the abyss and couldn’t tell what worked and what didn’t. 

 

Kerenza: Who are your comedic inspirations?

Cassie: I grew up obsessively watching Blackadder, Green Wing and Flight of the Conchords. I love Black Books, Big Mouth and documentaries about sharks - you cannot fault their timing.

Georgie: I am a big fan of sketch and grew up watching everything from The Fast Show, to Victoria Wood and Julie Walters to Kenan and Kel. I love recurring topical sketch shows like Saturday Night Live and The Mash Report too!

We both love: Lazy Susan and Succession (not totally a comedy but we reference it a lot in rehearsals). SpitLip, Police Cops and Crybabies are other groups on the comedy scene making incredible theatre-comedy shows.

 

Kerenza: What's next for Thick'n'Fast?

Georgina and Cassie: We want to take General Secretary further afield and share it with more audiences! We recently released our first short film, Succulents, about falling in love with your houseplants, which was shortlisted for a Funny Women Award. We have many more comedy shorts in the works that we can’t wait to share.

thicknfast.com

 

General Secretary is at the Soho Rising Festival on February 1st at 9pm. Tickets are available here.

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