An 80s Sketch Show

By Douglas Roberts

AN 80s Sketch Show, performed last Friday and Saturday at Walkerburn Village Hall, was the creation of local 17-year old Arran Houston.

He wrote it, organised and directed it, and performed about 50 per cent of it, alongside his young and talented cast of six.

Arran is no ordinary 17-year old. He makes films, writes scripts, devises outrageous characters (including one that roamed the streets of Edinburgh in the middle of this year’s Festival creating improvised street theatre), and runs a YouTube channel.

He has a restless boundless creativity and an infectious belief that he can achieve the seemingly impossible by simply throwing himself at it with his whole heart.

And, despite noises off, he was right about An 80s Sketch Show. His ambitious script, meticulously planned out in a hard-backed A4 journal, transformed into a raucous stage show through sheer hard work and persistence.

He and his cast collaborated and argued and adapted the material over three months, producing an evening of surreal and exuberant fun.

The show kicked off with two elderly ladies, Darcy and Angelina (Arran Houston and Euan Macleod in drag), clattering into the hall and interrupting Fiona James’ safety talk with loud arguing and demands that audience members move to give them the best seats.

This set the tone for the evening; we never knew quite where the next sketch was coming from or who else might get caught up in the action.

An audience member was whisked on stage to take part in a bizarre 1980s game show, and Biff Tannen from the 1985 film Back To The Future shouted and bawled at anyone in the room who dared to look at him or laugh.

Continuing the Back To The Future theme, Doc Brown and Marty McFly (Matthew Whalley and Katie Brown) bumbled their way back to June 1985 and on to the stage at Live Aid, upstaging Freddie Mercury and generally changing history with every step they took and every move they made.

The nostalgic songs came thick and fast, including an impressive live rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody by Matthew Whalley.

Meantime Emily Hamilton reported the rivalry between Walkerburn and Peebles with caustic (mostly fake) news reports about Peebles, and Fiona James glued the whole show together with links and commentary as well as playing Arnie the cameraman and dancing to the hits in a mad black wig.

Liam Greig also danced, in between playing George McFly as both wimp and bully.

Arran Houston’s Freddie Mercury stole the show for many. Bestriding the stage in an absurd plastic moustache, he somehow achieved Mercury’s massive stage presence despite his slight build.

Freddie and Doc Brown wrestled the microphone back and forth between them while Fiona James managed to play all the other members of Queen at once. You had to be there.

Hamish Swan took charge of technical management, ably assisted by his stage crew Nicky Crawley, Daniel Cooper, Sam Smith, Kevin Gray and Harris Houston. This involved rigging and running the lights, managing a complicated sequence of stage, curtain and costume changes, audience space appearances, and directing DJ Aiden Duckworth’s rapid-fire music playlist.

Duckworth was on stage through the entire show and ran the 80s-style after-show disco complete with smoke, cheesy lights and star-shaped sunglasses.

Houston’s attention to detail extended to a four-page script-style printed programme, multiple costume changes assisted by wardrobe mistress Lynda McPherson, and extensive publicity in the weeks leading up to the show.

Walkerburn’s community turned out in droves to support its local young talent, and the hall committee ran front of house, laid on a bar and provided a free buffet of 80s-style wine and cheese followed by desserts. Walkerburn locals also assisted with production, with finance, with rigging up

the hall and providing equipment and transport.

This was a community nurturing its home-grown talent.

An 80s Sketch Show was an impressive and fun evening organised by a young man with extraordinary creativity, drive, determination and optimism.

It was raw in places, with a gang-show feel, but goodwill and laughter ruled the day. The word ‘potential’ came up repeatedly in conversation after the show.

In years to come I think audience members will look back and reflect that they were in at the beginning of something big. You heard it here first.