Rory Bremner & Jan Ravens INTERVIEW: ‘Blowing raspberries at power’

Jan Ravens and Rory Bremner. Picture by Steve Ullathorne
Jan Ravens and Rory Bremner. Picture by Steve Ullathorne

It’s hard enough keeping up to speed on the latest political developments right now as it is.

Now imagine taking a topical satire show on the road in these turbulent times.

But following on from their sell-out Edinburgh Fringe show in August, that’s what Rory Bremner and Jan Ravens are doing.

She’s Merkel To His Trump. He’s Boris to her Theresa. Two of Britain’s finest impressionists come together on one bill, trying to make sense of the world. Good luck with that…

Rory tells The Guide: ‘It’s a very fluid show, as I’m sure you can imagine, things change all the time. Every day you hear the news and you’re going,’ his voice rises in mock exasperation: ‘”What? They’re doing what now?”’

The pair decided to put a show together after working on the same radio programme.

‘We were doing this look back at the year, and there was Jan doing these knock-out impersonations of Theresa May, Diane Abbott, Hillary Clinton and all these others. I’ve known her for ages, and I thought this was brilliant – we really complemented each other, in terms of the impressions we do and to some extent our take on politics, so it’s a very natural fit.’

READ MORE: Jan Ravens: 'If you become part of the establishment then you lose your edge
Explaining how they put  the show together, he says: ‘You’re in a rather chaotic world. I feel like I was given three boxsets a couple of years ago, one was labelled Brexit, one was labelled Corbyn and one was labelled Trump, and I don’t want to watch them I just want to know how they end and they don’t show any sign of ending any time soon – which presents us with an interesting problem.

The Washington Post has been keeping tabs on Trump, tracking the number of misleading claims and false statements, things that are demonstrably untrue that Trump has said since he became president. By August 1 it was up to 4,229, [it’s now at 6,420] so people say you couldn’t make it up, but Trump does all the time - and so does Boris!

You’re dealing with these two – two-and-a-half if you count Nigel Farage – complete rogue elephants.

‘It’s both a pain and a challenge, it really does mean you’re working topically and trying to make sense of it. It’s making sense and nonsense out of it – but it’s rather more nonsensical than it has been in the past.

‘I think it’s rather like we’re caught in a weather system – this political climate isn’t going to change any time soon. It’s a very exciting time to work in, let’s put it that way. And it suits our skill-set, both Jan and I have worked in topical comedy for a long time and we both have a wide range of voices.

‘You adapt to circumstance – you chop and change a few bits. Over the summer we thought we broadly had bits and pieces in place. But politicians don’t know, the pundits don’t know, the public doesn’t know. Who are we? We don’t have a crystal ball.

‘We did a show on the night of the 2017 election, I think we were in Huddersfield, we finished at 10pm and read out the results of the exit poll. We realised it was effectively going to be a hung parliament. I remember there being huge excitement in the room because Theresa May’s big gamble hadn’t come off – she’d blown it. I remember looking across at Jan and her face had gone white because she was thinking: “Oh my God, I’m going to lose Theresa May”.’

‘Then extraordinarily Theresa May came out on the steps of Number 10 the next day - and made this speech as if nothing had happened. It was just kind of oh well: “Forget that, we’re going to give the country the strength and stability... “ And it was hang on, have you not seen the news today?

‘It is the most bizarre time.’

And given the last few days in politics, who knows what the audience are going to get by the time they reach Hampshire.

One of Rory’s best-known endeavours is the satirical Channel 4 show, Bremner, Bird and Fortune, which ran for 16 series from 1999 to 2010. Does he think the show is missed at a time of political turmoil like this?

‘I miss it! Channel 4 never actually told us it was finished – in a sense you’re like the Japanese solider hiding in the jungle.

‘I kind of do in the sense that at its best, it engaged people with politics and politicians. I remember when we started with New Labour, it took us a few weeks to work out that the heart of New Labour was that tight cabal of Blair, Mandelson, Campbell and a few others.

‘And I think we really could have made sense of the coalition. People tend to think of it as a benign marriage of convenience between the right and the centre, but there was a lot going on beneath the surface that I think sowed the seeds for Brexit, and there’s been a lot of horrible stuff going on.

‘I’m very pro-immigration, but the narrative built that people felt they were overwhelmed by it and in some places they were, with different cultures and languages, and not enough was done to address it, and Europe wasn’t really the problem. We’re still recovering from the huge financial crash of 2008. Brexit was the wrong answer to the right question.

‘Had we been on air, I think we would have, could have, really engaged people and we would have had the ability to be less blandly neutral.

‘There’s this thing now with bias – so if you interview a round-the-world yachtswoman, you have to have someone from the Flat Earth Society to balance them up.’

Rory is keen to emphasise that the show with Jan is happy to throw out that need for balance: ‘With our Edinburgh show and the tour, it does have a point of view, it does have an attitude, it does call it as we see it. And I think satire shows can do that.

‘Although you’re aware of public sector broadcasting, which Channel 4 and the BBC still is, but it needs to be free, it needs to be trenchant, it needs to be independent minded – we need to have that licence, the court jester thing, to if not speak truth unto power, to at least blow raspberries at it.’

RORY BREMNER & JAN RAVENS

The Berry Theatre, Hedge End

Thursday, November 22

theberrytheatre.co.uk