Opinion: A Sketchy Way to Film Stardom


In 2003 I reviewed Ealing Live, a modest little comedy club in a dingy back room at Ealing Film Studios. It was an oddly memorable gig. None of the people involved were particularly famous but for some reason lost in the mists of time Joan Collins was in the audience. And because of her presence rather than because of any great insight I concluded the piece with a painful pun saying that a new comic dynasty - geddit? – was emerging here. If I had a pound for every time the club sent out a press release with my phrase on it I'd have, ooh, about £11.

Of course I knew what I was talking about after all. On Monday night Sightseers, written by and starring Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, two of the lynchpins of Ealing Live, picked up the Peter Sellers Prize for Best Comedy at the Evening Standard Film Awards. It took a decade but they are finally at the forefront of that new comic dynasty.

Sightseers, the grimly funny story of two caravan fans who end up going on a bleakly scenic killing spree, is fairly typical of the duo's uniquely warped sense of humour. Oram was part of double act Oram and Meeten and would do various twisted skits including a disturbing country music routine. Horrible costumes were a speciality. Imagine Vic & Bob cubed.

Lowe, who was previously part of the sketch group Garth Marenghi (alongside future Submarine director Richard Ayoade) and can be spotted camping it up in a frightening synthetic wig in their cult C4 series Darkplace, is unafraid to leave her dignity at the door when it comes to the art of comedy. In Ealing Live she seemed to specialise in trampy, tarty characters in ugly tight-fitting clothes or bad Europop singers, also in ugly tight fitting clothes. I'm not saying that the Evening Standard discovered Alice Lowe, but I dimly recall reviewing her alongside a young Mitchell & Webb in a pretentious play entitled Progress in Flying Machines in, the internet has just told me, 2001. That may have been the production where I noted that "Lowe deserves a laurel for her portrayal of a camel."

The movie, directed with viciously dry, brutal wit by Ben Wheatley, has given Lowe and Oram a great break but I suspect they would have probably made it big at some
point anyway. They are the kind of people that constantly have projects in development and I'm sure that sooner or later the public would have caught on. In 2009 Lowe made an appealingly odd BBC3 one-off Lifespam, which had a heavy Chris Morris influence, and earlier this year her seriously loopy Radio 4 creation Alice's Wunderland was nominated for a BBC Audio Drama Award for Best Scripted Comedy.

It is great to see them get wider acclaim. It is also nice to see that they have not ditched their old Ealing mates. My favourite moment in Sightseers is when their doomed friend Martin gets into his half-bike/half-mobile-sleeping-bag invention the "carapod" and it accidentally trundles awkwardly over some gravel. For some reason this snatch of film – a little bit of slapstick in the middle of a macabre serial killer spree – always makes me laugh. Martin is played by Richard Glover, another person who was in the line-up on that night in October 2003. Maybe Lowe and Oram should give Joan Collins a part in their next project.

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