Comic Gemma passes test of character...
Rising star Gemma Whelan will be bringing a Victorian touch to proceedings at the upcoming Funny Women comedy night at The Orange Tree Theatre.
Each year Funny Women, the Richmond-based comedy promotions company committed to providing a platform for female comics, holds an annual competition to find the best up and coming talent.
2010’s awards saw Whelan claim the inaugural Variety prize for her turn as her spinsterly alter-ego, Chastity Butterworth - a character she will be performing at The Orange Tree on January 23.
The comedian describes the character as “a fancy Victorian Lady” and, as she explains, Chastity grew from Whelan’s on stage persona as a straight stand-up.
“When I first started about a year-and-a-half a go I was dong straight stand-up,“ she says.
“Someone came along to watch me and suggested that I push what I was doing and create a Jane Austen-type character.”
“I started heightening all of my mannerisms and it seemed to work. I borrowed some Victorian-looking costumes from my friends, my Mum made me a skirt and there was Chastity.”
Whelan will be taking the opportunity to unveil some new characters alongside Chastity at the Funny Women night - characters that may well then make an appearance in her first solo show at Edinburgh Festival later this year.
As well playing characters in comedy clubs, Whelan is also a professional actor having recently appeared in the blockbuster films, The Wolfman and Gulliver’s Travels, and it was as an actor growing up that she first discovered her love for character comedy.
She says: “When I was growing up and acting in school plays I’d play a lot of the comic, character roles and I suppose I was drawn to portraying these heightened versions of people. I’m definitely more comfortable going down that road than standing up and being myself - that is terrifying.”
And what is the key to creating a memorable comic character?
“The key is research and attention to detail, in terms of mannerism, voice and physicality. You’ve also got to be careful not to fall out of character during the set which can be hard, particularly if it is not going well.”
Joining her on the all-women bill at The Orange Tree will be two other acts who appeared in the 2010 Funny Women Awards - runner up Rachel Parris and finalist Alison Thea-Skot.
Canadian Mae Martin and journalist and comic Viv Groskop will also be performing sets, with Funny Women regular, impressionist Jan Ravens, taking on MC duties for the night.
The gig will be a fundraiser for The Victoria Foundation (formerly The New Victoria Medical Foundation), which provides life-enhancing assistance to sufferers of a range of illnesses.
Funny Women, Orange Tree Theatre, January 23, 7pm (doors), £20, orangetreetheatre.co.uk