Chichester debut on hold for Frisky & Mannish

Cult musical comedy duo Frisky & Mannish were expecting their Chichester Festival Theatre date to be their only gig of the year.

Cult musical comedy duo Frisky & Mannish
Cult musical comedy duo Frisky & Mannish

Now, with a second national lockdown imposed, it’s a date which won’t be happening.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that it was a date at a venue with huge personal significance for Matthew Floyd Jones, who is Mannish to Laura Corcoran’s Frisky.

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Heaping up the frustration still further is the fact that it was a show with a bizarre, purely accidental resonance for our times.

PopLab was scheduled to play Chichester Festival Theatre on November 12 with the duo peeking down a microscope in an attempt to find an effective vaccine for the contagious virus sweeping through the pop world…

The irony is that this is last year’s hugely successful show, written before the word virus took on all the weight of meaning we now know only too well.

Matthew said: “There is a sizeable chunk of material that runs through the show that is to do with this virus that is infecting the world of pop music, and for us, it was a total joke. We couldn’t be more silly or flamboyant or frivolous. We are just pure entertainment. There is never really any serious weight to what we do. We were just thinking that a virus could be something which was incredibly serious and dramatic, but at the same time really be a massive joke in the show. But now saying those words will have a massive impact, and we are going to have to figure out how we say them.”

Sadly they aren’t, for the moment, going to be working it out in Chichester, with a month-long shutdown of all arts venues now beginning.

The sadness is that Chichester is a place rich in associations for Matthew. His father grew up in Westbourne, went to Chichester High School and used to work at the CFT as an usher during school holidays in the 70s.

For Matthew, whose grandparents live in Emsworth, the area has always been tied up with family and with theatre trips: “I would go to Chichester to see my grandparents and whenever we went there to see them, we would go to the theatre. It feels like a place of pilgrimage to me now.”

It was to have been their only gig of the year.

“The producers in Chichester got in touch and provided us with a really clear plan as to how they might make it work on the stage. It just worked for us. They made it all sound so easy that we just couldn’t say no. The only other work we have been offered either hasn’t felt safe for us or just didn’t work logistically for us (Laura lives in France).”

Inevitably, however, it all leaves Matthew wondering just when he and Laura might be able to get back to doing anything remotely normal.

“We both create for the live stage. We always have done. Most of our work is live performance, and this has obviously been a huge thing for everybody in our industry to deal with. We had gigs booked that were postponed and then postponed again and are now on hold or just cancelled.

“But in a way we were lucky because we weren’t planning a very busy year.

“We did a new show last year which was the show which we were bringing to Chichester. The show itself is a show which is very nicely honed, and we weren’t actually planning on doing a new show for 2020.”

As he says, things could have been so different if they had been pinning their hopes on an Edinburgh festival which didn’t happen, having invested thousands in a show they couldn’t actually perform…

But again, not to be performing still comes as a shock: “We have been self-employed performers on the road for more than a decade now… and then you realise that your main way of earning a living is actually illegal.”