Topping & Butch interview

March 31, 2010


The 2010 ABSOLUT Gay Theatre Festival is back to tickle the city pink this May, running in a variety of venues between the 3rd and the 16th of that month. With performers coming from countries as far a field as South Africa, Israel and America-as well as the Netherlands and the UK- this unique arts festival aims to promote, commission and showcase new writing on gay related theatre and music.

Among the acts appearing at this years festival are Topping & Butch, who present their outrageous new show Filth-which despite being held in Break for the Border isn’t about that particular hell holes regular clientele- rather a sexy, wry and sharp look at what goes on between the sheets. They spoke to Caomhan Keane to give him an idea of what to expect during their five-night residency.

Could you introduce yourself?

B:

I’m, Butch of Topping and Butch

T:

And I’m Michael Topping, obviously Topping from Topping and Butch

B:

So you see Michael already had the name Topping while I had to earn the name Butch.

And how did you do that?

T:

Not biting pillows

B:

Em…. oh dear, how did I earn the name Butch? No.I’ll leave that to the audience to decide after the show.

Will this be your first time performing in Dublin?

B:

It isn’t actually the first time. The first time was part of the Fringe Festival in 2006 where we played at the Spiegel Tent. Which was brilliant. It was a different type of a show. It was a more political, satirical show.

And what type of show are you doing this time round?

T:

Filthy of course. It does just what it says on the tin.

B:

It’s not gratuitous. It’s very naughty. We developed  it cause we got to a stage in the act where we had done a lot of work through Radio 4, for Loose Change, and we thought we just needed to, to….

T:

Let our hair down…

B:

Even though we don’t have any.

How did this double act get started?

T:

We were friends already and we had a similar sense of humor or complimentary sense of humor and we did one song as part of a guest spot on somebody else’s show called the Old Screw.

B:

They just loved it and we decided to keep writing and eventually we got a show together and did the Edinburgh festival in 2003.

Is comedy, specifically satire, something you have always wanted to do?

B:

Yeah, definitely. We both grew up watching The Week That Was and Ben Elton and Griff Rys Jones so satire was always there and Topping’s great cause he grew up in Blackpoll all his life…

T:

…and you really need a sense of humor to grow up there.

Did you have any training?

T:

I was trained as an accompanist pianist and as an opera singer originally.

B:

Were you?

T:

Yes

B:

Were you really? An Opera singer? What were you a tenor?

T:

I was actually till I fell down the stairs of the Billy Farthing and became a bass.

Did that training stand you well when you got involved in comedy?

T:

My teacher told me that I could really do something with this, but that I was a clown. So she saw that side of me. So I started off taking the piss out of opera before moving on to everything else. Because Opera is a bit of a killing spree isn’t it. It’s so artificial, I love it,

For people who’ve never heard of you how would you describe your act?

T:

I’d say we are charmingly edgy.

B:

I think there is a mixture of camp, silliness and joy that obviously is informed by a gay sensibility. If you like wordplay and structure of songs, we are very careful and work very hard at the different bits to get everything sounding perfectly and keep the irony original.

We get the audience involved a little bit but we don’t attack the audience.

T:

Were cheeky, not nasty. We laugh at ourselves but we also laugh at everyone else.

Do you think there is a danger in labeling something as Queer Art or Queer Comedy or Queer Theatre in that it can be seen as Queer art rather than Art, Queer comedy rather than Comedy?

B:

The people who don’t want to come to it build the wall around this festival. They hear the word gay and they don’t want to engage with anything at all like that. In our show, its not designed for gays, its designed for everyone. Its like saying Alan Carr or Paul O Grady is only for gay people.

Do you like appearing at such festivals or do you prefer doing your own shows? Is there a difference?

B:

The only thing you can do is finding something that is funny. We work with gay audience, with comedy club, in stand up, in working men pubs, at festivals our own theatre shows in the West End

T:

We try and do something we enjoy doing, that we think is funny, be it a one night show or for the week.

B:

If it makes you laugh that’s half the battle.

Can you tell me about your current show, Filth? Does it have a particular story line?

T:

No. It’s off the cuff. Its naughty, its cheeky. There are different songs about different subjects. There are songs about gay sex, straight sex, difficult sex…

B:

…sex that never happens.

T:

…there is a bonus song about Lesbians.

B:

If you want to let your hair down and you don’t want to think to hard about the politics of the day, then there’s a real silliness to it.

T:

Just don’t look for hidden meanings.

B:

We’ve spent a lot of time putting it together and we are opening it in Dublin. There will be plenty of material there and plenty of fun with the audience.

Topping & Butch will be appearing from the 3rd to 8th of May, Break for the Border. Prices range from 10 to 17 euro and can be booked online at www.absolutgaytheatre.ie or visit the Festival Box Office at Filmbase, Curved Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

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