Max and Ivan bring Edinburgh Fringe hit show Commitment to Portsmouth Guildhall Studio BIG INTERVIEW

What do you mean you’ve never heard of Voodoo 7:2, Liverpool’s premier mid-noughties ‘art-rock post‐punk funk’ group?

Thursday, 9th January 2020, 9:17 am
Updated Thursday, 16th January 2020, 10:25 am
Max and Ivan's new show, Commitment, is at Portsmouth Guildhall on January 29, 2020. Picture by Matt Crockett

The band was fronted by Ivan Gonzalez, who now stars as one half of the comedy duo Max and Ivan.

And the pair are bringing their latest show, Commitment, to the other half, Max Olesker’s hometown for a date at Portsmouth Guildhall Studio on January 29.

Commitment tells the true story of how Max, as Ivan’s best man, attempted to reunite Ivan’s teenage band for one final gig. It’s a show about dreaming big, growing up, and trying – but ultimately very much failing – to make it in the band.

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The show debuted last summer at the Edinburgh Fringe, where it received rave reviews across the board, reviews Max claims not to have read: ‘I always make a thing of not reading them while I’m in Edinburgh because it's such an intense month.

‘But luckily Ivan always reads them anyway and just tells me if they’re any good,’ he laughs.

‘We're really proud of the show, the reviews were lovely, and we were in The Guardian yesterday, which said it was their fourth best comedy show of the year, which was delightful.’

After several acclaimed shows, a memorable stint as the near-mute Ben and Jerry in the BBC sitcom W1A, and The Reunion for Channel 4 among others, Commitment sees the guys delve further into their own lives for material than ever before.

‘We were actually writing a completely different show that had nothing to do with anything autobiographical at all.

‘And then Ivan’s stag weekend happened, which as the best man, it fell to me to organise. Afterwards, we both independently of one another started telling our mates what had happened over the course of the weekend. We came back together and we're both like: “You know, what, I've been talking to people about it and it's got quite a reaction”. So we started talking about putting that on stage instead, and it kind of led to the show.

‘The premise of the story is that Ivan was in a band called Voodoo 7:2 in his teenage years, his misspent youth.

‘Part of my quest for the weekend was trying to get the band back together, which proved to be a hell of a struggle.

Max Olesker, top, with Ivan Gonzalez. Picture by Matt Crockett

‘So it's about that, it's about growing up, and then it became about childhood ambitions and about my overly big dreams and ludicrously complex plans – and this one long-held dream of Ivan’s.’

As part of The Guide’s diligent research for our interview, we came across some YouTube clips of dubious quality billed as Voodoo 7:2’s final gig at The Cavern Club in Liverpool.

‘Ivan will be overjoyed to hear that you found them on YouTube!’ says a thrilled Max on hearing this. ‘The quest to go viral continues – very, very slowly.

‘This show is basically part of Ivan’s long-term game plan to pivot to being a full-time rock star. I'm sure it'll happen, but it’s a work in progress. I'm not sure what age he intends to be when he makes this pivot, but it maybe retirement age...’

Max & Ivan at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea in May 2018, when they were performing in a fundraiser for Top Banana Circus. Picture by Habibur Rahman

The stag weekend and wedding took place in late 2018, and with an Edinburgh slot already booked the duo had to work fast when they decided to make this the show.

‘We scrapped all of the previous overly-ambitious show that we were writing, which was like an encyclopedia of the entire universe. It’s probably for the best we knocked that on the head,’ he says rather drily.

‘You phone up a venue in Edinburgh, you announce that you've got a show for them and then you go away and have a nervous breakdown and the show kind of comes after the fact. It's not a healthy system, but then it's not a healthy festival. But it is addictive.

‘Having the show already booked in, it sharpens the mind! And we respond well to deadlines.’

The pair met at Royal Holloway University, with Ivan still in the band.

‘When I met Ivan he was still in the final vestiges of his band phase. It’s like that life you leave behind when you go off to university – you sort of have these embers of your previous existence that graft into that first year.

‘So I went up to Liverpool to see Ivan’s band play, and when we started performing there was sort of an overlap.

‘We performed together, I think it was for Ivan’s birthday one year, which was one of our first comedy gigs, and one of his last band gigs at the same time. So I've been mates with his band members for as long as I've known Ivan, almost, just not as close.’

Although Max now lives in London, he’s looking forward to playing a hometown show – and seeing his family – his parents still live here, and friends.

‘I like coming back to Portsmouth anyway. Although it's a city, it's got the feel of a village and I immediately go back in time when I’m there and it's like I'm back in college.

‘If I can justify it logistically and practically I would love to spend a bit more time back at home and kind of recharge the batteries and spend time with my wonderful, eccentric parents and and see my mates who are still based in Portsmouth.’

The tour finishes next month up in Glasgow, when the boys will take stock of what to do next.

‘At some point we'll have to work out whether or not we’re going to Edinburgh this year. If not then I'm sure we'll be back one way or another.

‘We've also just written and recently released our very first podcast, which we’re delighted about and is called Max and Ivan: Fugitives. I say podcast but it's an eight part scripted audio-drama comedy-thriller.

‘We did that with a brilliant company called Storyglass and we were lucky enough to work with a wonderful cast – Adam Buxton does a cameo, Gemma Whelan, who's in Game of Thrones, Stephen Mangan pops up in it.

That was a really challenging, but in the end, rewarding and fun experience, so if we've got a chance to make some more Fugitives then we'd love to do some more of that.

‘And we've got a bunch of other ludicrous ideas in the pipeline...’

In the meantime though, anyone curious can stream or download Voodoo 7:2's debut album on Bandcamp.

‘Yes, you can get familiar with Voodoo 7:2’s songs before the show. Or as many other people are choosing to do: not,’ laughs Max.

Max and Ivan: Commitment is at Portsmouth Guildhall Studio on Wednesday, January 29, 7.30pm. Tickets £14.80-15.90. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.