Richard Sparks, who has written for comedians such as Rowan Atkinson, has directed Jack Black on stage and is currently adapting a short story by Woody Allen for the LA opera, discusses his new sketch show Margarita Dreams and the highlights of his star-studded career.
Dave is on the beach, in Mexico, drinking margaritas. He drifts off... into a whirl of absurdities. Cross-dressing, community affairs, phone-induced paranoia, appalling revelations, the Five Minute Detective, a four-way divorce, a spirit-reading summoning a flasher, String Theory explained, the modern technology-addled brain (with robotic legs), the Geneva Convention's rules of comedy flouted, a very strange romance and the mystery of Brad Pitt’s trousers, disappointed parents – and finally, the Shy People's Encounter Group, where a riot breaks out, ending, harmoniously, in Disco Therapy. Funny where nine margaritas can take you.
Margarita Dreams has been the happiest of accidents. One of its cast, Bella Speaight, had just left university and wanted advice about becoming an actress. I started mentoring her in December by Skype from Los Angeles where I now live. I had spent eight years studying the directing of actors at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where my teachers included Jeffrey Tambor, now the huge star of Transparent and Arrested Development. I was very happy to pass on my knowledge, and Bella turned out to be a stellar pupil.
I wrote her an eight-page monologue about the harassed owner of the world’s rudest parrot, Extremely Blue Peter, which she premiered in a pub in Somerset. “So what about Edinburgh?” I suggested. Bella was startled: “My friend Sophie called me yesterday out of the blue and said the same thing.”
So I started writing. And it all came flying out. Bella had her eye on Jack and Jason, two seasoned comedy performers at her old university (Leeds), and they jumped on board. We started rehearsing in June, and it has been a joy working with these kids. I can’t thank them enough for being the inspiration for all the strange and surprising stuff I’ve come up with.
I hadn’t written sketch comedy in decades, and had forgotten what fun it is. I wrote the Schoolmaster sketch for Rowan Atkinson in 1978, and his career was launched spectacularly when he performed it in The Secret Policeman’s Ball. Directing the amazing Jack Black in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale was another brush with greatness. Jack has time for everyone, gives his all and more any time you want it, and just lights up the stage when he comes on. Mel Smith, my contemporary at Oxford with whom I did two Oxford Revues at Edinburgh, had exactly the same effect on audiences. Placido Domingo has recorded songs with my lyrics, and conducted the world premiere of the Los Angeles Opera’s Dulce Rosa, which I directed (my libretto, Lee Holdridge composer). Placido is going to sing the lead role in our current commission for the LAO, The Kugelmass Episode, based on the Woody Allen short story (premiering Spring 2019). Lee and I wrote an opera for puppets with Brian May (of Queen) in the movie The Adventures of Pinocchio. All these great stars are stars for a reason, and working with them is one of the true privileges of this business.
And now Bella, Sophie, Jack and Jason. Who knows how far they will go, and in what directions? All I know is they have been a delight to write for and direct, and have had me weeping with laughter in rehearsals. Forty-one years after the last of my four Fringe comedy revues I am heading back to Edinburgh with them – to where it all started for me, and where, with luck, good things will start happening for them.
Margarita Dreams will play at the Underbelly Med Quad at the Edinburgh Fringe from 2-28th August.
Tickets available at www.edfringe.com