‘Butter. butter jam. or butterjam and cream'." barks the waiter with about as much grace as a station loudspeaker.
Forbes Masson and Alan Cummings exchange glances. It's almost irresistable. A ﬂicker ofa smile. a wee purse ofthe lips. and Victor and Barry rise elegantly to the occasion. ‘Oh. butter jam and cream.‘ they murmur. gravely.
Just so. The scone situation clarified the waiter drifts off cheerlessly through the lace tablecloths. oblivious to the conspiracy he has just engendered. In the distance we can hear him dispiriting some tourists.
The characters of Victor and Barry are clearly never far away for Forbes Masson and Alan Cummings. It is partly through such tea-room encounters that they have evolved and even their creation was pretty spontaneous — the result of ‘a moment of desperation‘ when both actors were at drama college a few years ago.
‘We had to do a cabaret in first year.‘ explains Alan. ‘The day before we were due to do it I still hadn't got anything ready so I asked Forbes to help. We shut ourselves in a room with a piano for an afternoon — and Victor and Barry were born.‘
Inspiration arrived partly in the shape ofAlan‘s landlady. a Kelvinside stalwart with an interesting understanding ofwhat constitutes nice manners. ‘You'd be frying onions and she would come into the kitchen and spray aerosol over the pan while you were cooking
Taste for campari
Such exemplary behaviour was only the beginning though. A whiff of Noel Coward here. a soupcon of Hinge and Brackett there. — plus the pooled memories ofsome of the more exotic specimens they had both encountered in their amateur theatrical days — and Victor and Barry emerged: a pair of theatrical darlings with a taste for campari. theirown jokes and silk monogrammed dressing gowns. (‘We’ve always kind of liked dressing gowns.‘ volunteers Forbes. somewhat opaquely).
The recipe sounds more derivative than it is. however. The appeal of Victor and Barry lies in the originality and completeness of their characters and the alarming credibility of their fantastical bitchy little world.
‘They're the kind of people who would sing to you in their parlour.’ points out Forbes. In Theatrical/y Yours they do just that. A little soiree at the piano. Theatrical/y Yours is a pot-pourri of the highlights of Victor and Barry's Amateur Dramatic Careers. Delivered in deliciously camp style. it manipulates the disparity between the grandiose and the trivial that characterises cheap music and gradually works up a stock of malicious little digs delivered with saccharin smiles.
Though it has quietly been
Over tea and scones Forbes Masson and Alan Cummings tell Sarah Hemming about their creations Victor and Barry. a couple of outrageous theatrical hams currently sending a flutter though the Scottish cabaret world. Photo by David Williams.
developing over the past few years. this curiously old-fashioned entertainment (performed with precise judgement by Cummings and Masson) has suddenly emerged at the crest of wave of up-and-coming young cabaret acts in Scotland. Regulars at Glasgow‘s Tron Theatre. Victor and Barry appeared in fully-fledged drag there during the Christmas panto last year. Recently they presented A Guide to Mayfest for Scottish Television. more recently they sold out at the Traverse Theatre‘s new cabaret slot and this summer will find them both appearing at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms and returning to STV for a new cabaret programme.
It hasn't always been so. On a less glorious occasion during the Edinburgh Festival two years ago. Victor and Barry played to a cat. ‘It was Fireworks Night and nobody came.‘ says Alan. ‘Even the cat left eventually. . .'
The show. needless to say. went on. Victor and Barry would play to a ham sandwich if it showed signs of life and it is this sense of impervious
self-importance that is their raison dietre and the main focus of Alan and Forbes' attack. Delicater poised on the edge of tastelessness Theatrical/y Yours gains its edge from the dangerous feeling that it could topple any minute into being just too dirty or just too cruel. It doesn’t. but its targets— which range from Kelvinside snobbery to Barry Manilow lyrics — are serious to some extent.
‘There's more to it than just being silly.‘ says Alan. ‘All these things are things that we think are a bit crass. It's all those twee Scottishy things. And arrogance. There are people like Victor and Barry. And they are really sad. just because they‘re characters who think they're more than they are.‘
In reality. Forbes and Alan could scarcely be more different. ‘People are often quite astonished that we aren't huge personalities — but we‘re just really boring people.' says Alan. soulfully. ‘I‘ve got a wife and a mortgage and Forbes has a dog. . ’
Off-stage as well as on. though. they do fall into the classic double-act structure of one who talks and one who tries to. All their material is written together explains
4The List 12 — 25 June
Alan: ‘We just put on a tape recorder and chat to each other as Victor and Barry. We sit there going (be slips into a languid drawl) “Right. then. let‘s just have a naice cup oftea - "‘
‘And if] can get a word in edgeways. I write some as well.‘ mutters Forbes.
But despite their banter and the ease with which they write together (later this year they will be writing the Tron’s Christmas panto) they don't see themselves developing into a stand-up comic double-act.
‘I don‘t really rate myselfas a stand-up comedian .' says Alan. ‘The good thing about Victor and Barry is that really they're like two characters that we‘re playing. And we know them well enough to write their material. that‘s all. It‘s quite an odd thing to categorise. But I think that because they are characters you can do more - you can present programmes like the Mayfest one because you're not tied to a stand-up routine. You can even read the phone directory in character and it‘s funny.‘
They don‘t foresee the comedy being limited by the format then. nor do they find the political restrictions to what they can say through Victor and Barry a problem: ‘I think that almost everything you do is political - with a small ‘p" points out Alan. ‘Victor and Barry do make quite huge political statements when you think about it - where they come from and their attitude to things. The whole thing is about trivialisation. People get the wrong idea that if you're not quoting facts and figures about things. then you‘re not political.‘
In fact they quite enjoy the incongruity between Victor and Barry’s characters and some of the benefit performances at which they appear— though Alan does recall one dodgy occasion when they were nearly rejected for not being
‘What I like about Victor and Barry is that we have done and are welcomed at political benefits and things like that. And I like doing that rather than being clever. Victor and Barry will do crass political things like doing a mime piece about nuclear war — that‘s the kind of thing they would do rather than actually saying “Vote Labour“. Last weekend we did the Arts for Labour night and the (ND boat trip. So Victor and Barry are political activists. ifyou like.‘
He laughs at the idea. But it's interesting that Victor and Barry are not alone in offering this refreshingly alternative alternative comedy. In Scotland at the moment there seems to be an emergent generation of potentially good cabaret performers whose acts rely partly on fictitious characters: Peter Capaldi. The Alexander Sisters. The MsFits. Susie MacGuire - not to mention the more established Bing Hitler and Nippy Sweeties. Do they see this as a potentially intrinsically Scottish form ofcabaret'.’