Opinion: Working with Rik Mayall, By Kevin Armento: Page 2 of 2

That thoroughness played out in a steady routine: we'd show up in Barnes at nine in the morning, work in his office until one or so, walk to the Red Lion for a pub lunch (napkin always tucked into Rik's shirt), work more until eight or so, and then he'd walk us to the bus stop.

 

"Best way to get the bus to arrive? Light up a fag," he'd tell me, nearly every day. We liked the repetition of jokes, like they were part of the daily ritual. There were bus ads for Henry Winkler in a panto Peter Pan production, and every day it was: "Ah, poor Fonzie. God help me if I'm ever doing fucking panto."

 

The thoroughness also paid off - by February, after a third visit, we had a draft we were thrilled about. Adventurous, funny, with much of the heart of the novel, and Rik's distinct voice. We were ready to start sending it out.

 

The first step was a dinner with Rik's agent, the legendary Aude Powell, and on the way to dinner one of my favorite Rik moments happened. It's the one I think back to the most. We were walking through a tube station, and a couple train workers recognised him: "Hey, I know who you are!" Without missing a beat or slowing stride, Rik says, "I'm just a regular twat like you, mate," and briefly shakes his hand as we pass by. 

 

The first sign of trouble came just a few weeks after that dinner, when Aude passed away suddenly. She had been Rik's agent for years, and was a singular force in the industry. When I was in town the following month, Rik still seemed shaken by it. We all were. But our dedication to O.T. (our script's title) endured, and we began charting next steps without this invaluable giant of British film and theatre to guide us.

 

I was in town that time not for O.T., but for a play of mine that was up at the Pleasance, and the opening night performance left me with another memory I continue to hold onto: Rik came to see it, and brought his entire family and some friends we had grown to love - and they sat right in front of me.

 

I don't know if you've ever felt the pressure of, say, rolling a joint for Willie Nelson - but this was the comedy equivalent. My eyes darted between the stage and the back of his head throughout. Thank god, at most of the funny parts I could hear his laughs - a roar that matched his mane - and he couldn't have been kinder afterwards. Let's not forget Rik was a lover of theatre - he once recited Lucky's famous speech from Godot for us, from memory.

 

It would be the last time I'd see him. Three months later, I landed in Los Angeles to the news that Rik Mayall had died. An eight month whirlwind abruptly ended, leaving Carlos and I heavy with grief, and staring at his words on the pages of the script we had made together. I return to those words often, imagining what might have been, and feeling lucky to have seen him perform it, if only for us, in his little office in Barnes.

 

My grief took its form in a new play, which I wrote in a feverish few days not long after Rik's death. It wasn't directly inspired by O.T., but looking back I can see the influence: the play is told from the perspective of a cell phone.

 

We're taking that play to Edinburgh this August, and on the way, I'll stop through London. I hope to spend time with Rik's family, who are Carlos' family, and now my family. Maybe I'll have a drink at the Red Lion after. And then I'll walk to the bus stop to move on to the next place, thinking about how lucky those eight months were.

 

At least he never had to do fucking panto.

 

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally by Kevin Armento is at the Pleasance, August 3 – Sun 28 August. Info and tickets here.

 

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