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BWW Interview: Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen Chat THE COMEBACK at Noël Coward Theatre

The comedy duo brings their very first play to the West End this December!

BWW Interview: Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen Chat THE COMEBACK at Noël Coward Theatre
The Comeback

The Pin Duo, Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen, are bringing their debut play The Comeback to the West end this December. After making a name for themselves with their many sketches and comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, they are now tackling a new challenge: a comedy play! They spoke to us about the show.

The Comeback, directed by Emily Burns and produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, tells the story of two double acts fighting to take control of the most chaotic, farcical and high-stakes gig of their respective careers.

It will have audiences doubled over laughing and wiping a tear away at the end with its heart-warming exploration of bittersweet nostalgia and the enduring power of friendship. This show is a much-needed dose of feel-good, dizzying escapism with real emotional heart, and a celebrity guest each night to boot.

For those who are unfamiliar, who are you and what inspired you to get into performing and writing?

Ben: We are Ben and Alex, and together, we are a comedy duo called The Pin. We met at university, doing a lot of student comedy. We did a few shows together at university, and then, we moved to London together. We worked as comedians and comedy writers as much as we could alongside tutoring and other gigs. Then, we slowly built up our careers from that. We went to Edinburgh, more or less every year.

The last time we went to Edinburgh, a few years ago, we worked on this show that did quite well. So, we took it to London, and that's where the producer Sonia Friedman saw it and asked us what we wanted to do with it. We said we wanted to take it to the West End. Then, for a year and a half, we developed until it was ready and here we are!

How did you get the idea for The Comeback?

Ben: Alex pitched it to me one day when we were backstage.

Alex: I really thought this idea could become a full play. We've been doing quite a few sketches shows in Edinburgh, and we wanted to do something a bit more ambitious. My wife Emily, who is the director of the show, gave us the idea of setting the show both on-stage and off.

It started as a cabaret night with lots of different acts, and then, we developed that into something else. It's about us, the younger comedy duo supporting an old comedy duo upon their tour.

The Comeback is your debut play, right?

Ben: Yes! It's our first commercial play. Before that, we've been doing sketch shows. It's been an entertaining new format for us to write. Luckily, we had time - 2 years with Sonya Friedman - and it has been a joy turning it into a more theatrical experience.

What does it feel like to have your first play going to the West End?

Ben: It's unbelievable! At any time, it would be unbelievable, but, in these times, it feels like a dream. It's completely magical. We've been to see the theatre, and it's a mind-blowing space. We are really looking forward to it. We can't believe it's happening to us.

BWW Interview: Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen Chat THE COMEBACK at Noël Coward Theatre
Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen

The producers are putting a lot of work to make sure it's safe for everyone.

The play is a comedy, do you think this is what people need right now?

Alex: It's a very silly play, and hopefully, people will be in the mood to come and see something like this. It's going to be a bit of an escapist moment of non-sense and fun.

The play also has themes appropriate for the current situation such as companionship, community, and not giving up on the relationships that are important, no matter how difficult they get. I say that, but 95% of the show is people falling over and throwing things at each other!

Ben: This show definitely exists in a world where there is no COVID. It exists in a timeless space and is about memory and hope, things that can be accessible at any time of the year. We hope it'll bring a bit of light into the darkness of this year.

How different is it to write a play from what you usually write?

Ben: We are used to writing sketch and comedy, and in this, there is no obligation to show you what happens next. When it's over, it's over. Part of the appeal is that it ends and you start again.

Slowly, in our writing career, we started to become more interested in finding out what happens next. So, we would do a sketch about a stupid doctor, for example, and then we would talk about what would happen after that. We began to be interested in piecing a bit more of a narrative bit by bit.

We also wanted to include what it means to be a double act, what it's like to be backstage, and what it's like to build a comedy through it. We started drawing from our own experiences. So, we had that hunger to write in different styles, and before we knew it, we had a story.

For the last two years, the main focus has been to turn a show that has been built for an Edinburgh audience - usually, 50 mins long and for an audience used to comedy - for a West End audience. Every time we changed the show to satisfy that need, it got stronger and stronger.

Within the first 10-15 minutes, there are a few moments we are hoping the audience will be like 'Oh I see, this show is not what I thought it's going to be.' There are a few of those, and this keeps until the end while showing a whole arc.

To answer your question, it's been an exciting process, and we hope you like the result.

You are used to working together, did the pandemic made it harder for you?

Alex: Well, we got into working on video calls pretty easily. It inspired us a little bit as we started to develop sketches about people doing zoom calls and FaceTime as it felt like this is how everyone was doing their life. It worked out fine for us.

That said, I am really looking forward to meeting again. We are starting rehearsals soon and have missed being in a room together. With Zoom, it's harder just to hang out or have a break from work together.

Being in a room with all the directors and everyone involved in the show is a completely different experience. I am looking forwards to that team aspect.

You will also be performing in The Comeback, is this going to be your West End debut? How does it feel like?

Alex: Yes, it will be our debut as actors, playwrights, everything! It feels amazing.

What drew you to want to perform in the things you write?

Ben: I think it's because it's more fun. If you've come up with something good, you want to do it. We write in our own voices so it's natural. We very rarely write something that other people would do. Everything we write we want to perform.

I think that began when we were at university. There was a culture of "if you want to perform comedy, you need to write it". Similarly, "if you want to write something, you need to perform it".

Alex: Yeah, I think that's the culture of comedy and our way of working. It never really felt like a choice to us because that was just a normal thing to do. We're coming into theatre through that sort of culture rather than just wanting to be playwright or performers.

Ben: That said, we would love for people to be in this play in the future. Our dream would be for it to be successful enough for others to be in it. I am very biased but if I was a comedy performer, and I saw this show, I would want to be in it. It's just the two of us, so you get a lot of time to shine. It's a good little play.

Which do you prefer, writing or acting?

Alex: I think my favourite is a combination of the two: when you've got an idea and you think it could be good. Then you pitch it, and you're riffing with it a bit, and you realise, "oh, that's really fun!" That moment is the most fun. Writing it exactly right and then performing exactly right, the moment of inception of the idea. It's really fun.

Ben: I think performing to your writing partner is the best version.

Are you planning on writing other shows together in the future?

BWW Interview: Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen Chat THE COMEBACK at Noël Coward Theatre
Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen

Ben: I should think so, yes! We've got a taste for it now, so, yes, absolutely! The scale of what you can do in a theatre production is amazing.

Alex: It would be so fun! Part of the reason why we wanted to do this in the first place was that West End audiences are known for having an enjoyable time. I hope that people do like it. If they do, we are certainly keen to try to develop new ideas and take them in any direction.

Finally, why should people come to see The Comeback?

Ben: They should come and see it because it will be a magical evening where you will be able to be in a safe room and have a feeling of community. I want people to remember how nice it is to hear laughter in a room. So, come see it to hear people laughing with you!

Also, there's a celebrity in the show every night. Each night, a different celebrity is uniquely involved in the show - in the flesh - some of them are legends of the West End!

The Comeback at Noël Coward Theatre from 8 December




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From This Author Constance Drugeot