The Treason Show

The Treason Show

Iconic Brighton satire show rounds off 22nd year

This is always a busy time of year for The Treason Show, and its Creative Director Mark Brailsford. They’re putting together another instalment of their That Was The Year That Was production, which bitingly looks back at a particularly eventful 12 months, as well as preparing a parody of the King’s Speech for the festive period. 

“It’s going to be quite gentle,” Brailsford tells me. “Maybe a few jokes about meeting a lot of Prime Ministers. One in and one out and all that… And maybe a bit of fun about pens.” He suggests that the real thing, broadcast to millions on Christmas Day is going to be an intriguing affair. “There’ll be a lot of people who’ll find it a big adjustment. It’ll be fascinating to see how he talks about the Queen.” With their own version launching on TTS’s YouTube channel in the next few days, it demonstrates, like Britain and the Commonwealth, that the company has entered a new age.

TTS made the jump onto the small screen during lockdown. Robbed of the opportunity to bring their enormously popular shows to venues across Sussex, Brailsford and his team had to learn, adapt and overcome, although it initially presented a steep learning curve. “I had to vertical upskill very quickly… How to shoot, edit, prop, costume, auto-cues… all of those.” Running for four seasons on Latest TV and on regional broadcasters in 12 other UK cities, this stripped-down version of the show got them a nomination at The UK Comedy Awards alongside Spitting Image and Horrible Histories. It’s an enormous accolade for something originally filmed in his living room.

“The TV format is quite limiting,” Brailsford suggests. “It’s not the best example of the show, in my view. But it’s lovely to get that recognition.” The increased exposure did give a real boost to the production’s crowdfunding efforts, which sought to see them through the extended period without live audiences. It’s also attracted a bunch of new faces to their busy writer’s room. This has given a real boost to the show’s scope and creativity.

This iconic Brighton-based satirical show features an extraordinarily talented cast serving up a feast of sardonic comedy, silly songs and inspired impersonations. It delves into the more implacable and ridiculous side of current affairs, and anyone could be target, whether they’re politicians, celebrities or royals. With times as challenging and uncertain as they are, the intention is to bring a little humour and happiness into the winter months with this bumper TWTYTW edition. Although staging something based on current affairs does bring a few challenges.

“We were in rehearsal when Truss resigned. The night before a show we had to rewrite everything. I do like that though. It keeps it exciting and dangerous. Then new material comes in. The reason I’m still doing this is because it’s fresh all the time. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie in that sense.” To stay relevant when the world is changing so fast requires a team of writers who are on top of everything. “It’s a chorus of writing. That variation is a joy when you’re editing. I write a lot of stuff, but I couldn’t do a whole show. And it would be rubbish if I tried.” He says his writers have a broad range of views and political persuasions, and polarisations do happen amongst the group. But this only enables them to take a ‘scattergun’ approach to gag-writing. Nobody who has recently made a fool of themselves in public is safe from the writer’s wit.

On Thurs 8 Dec, That Was The Year That Was comes to Hove’s The Old Market, followed by performances at Brighton’s Ironworks Studios on Thurs 29 Dec and Shoreham’s Ropetackle on New Year’s Eve. There’s also a date at Hassocks Adastra Hall on Sat 17 Dec. “That’s a really well-kitted out facility, which just been upgraded. We’ve done preview shows up there and always sold out, so thought we’d try another one…” The season also sees Brailsford reining to his performance roots, Portslade’s The Railway Inn on Thurs 15 Dec with Parodies Lost

“I did a version of it on the beach at The Warren as a one-off. It’s like classics from The Treason Show, but I’ve developed it into more of a stand-up show thing, with new routines and guests.” He says it’s been a joy getting back into stand-up, but it’s been hard working on both ventures. “I quite like that. It motivates you to create more show energy, and that energy creates more work. So, it’s a cycle.” 

He originally got into stand-up during his late 20s, but didn’t feel like he fitted in. Satire was not trendy, and it was the time of things like the Balkan Wars which didn’t exactly inspire jokes. He recalls doing an open mic night with Dylan Moran and were the only people on the night to get rebooked. “He was a real craftsman, but in my spot, I went off the track and mucked about. That’s what got me the gig. We went up to some place called American Dreams in Hertfordshire, which was grim. We go in and I do my routine as written – I died on my arse. It was a good lesson.” He says the bloke who came on after his set stormed it with a range of silly faces and jokes about cancer. “Much as I love a knob joke, that’s not what I do. I wasn’t looking down my nose, it just wasn’t me. That’s what made me veer off into theatre, TV and sketch.”

Beside more serious screen work and his productions with Brighton Shakespeare Company, there’s been 22 years of The Treason Show. Brailsford acknowledges that has become his life’s work and feels a great sense of joy in what has been achieved. “I’m really proud of that. And humble. When people stick with you for that long, it’s just amazing.”

Comedy can bridge divides; highlighting the problems we share and give us the strength to face them. And perhaps it can change preconceptions. “It was fascinating to hear someone from DMOS (a charity which researches the changes people want in society) was sitting in one of our audiences. Not that we’re going to be the weathervane which defines politics. Comedy is like whispers in the wind. But now, more than ever, we need to laugh at all the stuff which is going on.” Rather than shaping the zeitgeist, he likes to think of himself as providing a service, offering a little levity when things are getting serious. Society is more divided than ever, which can lead to polarised audiences. He does note that it’s easy to tell when there’s a seed-change in attitudes, especially when anti-Tory material starts getting huge laughs in a place like Shoreham.

“It could go the other way…. Peter Cook told us: ‘Satire can change the world, as they said in Nuremberg during 1933’. So, it can perform a reverse function. Because it is an outlet, it releases a lot of tensions which would have us out on the streets like some other nations. Perhaps those valves which have been built in all those years ago have been unconsciously very well placed, which has led to a less revolutionary environment. Maybe I’m actually the enemy….”

The Treason Show’s That Was The Year That Was comes to Hove’s The Old Market On Thurs 8 Dec, Hassocks’ Adastra Hall on Sat 17 Dec, Brighton’s Ironworks Studios on Thurs 29 Dec and Shoreham’s Ropetackle on New Year’s Eve. Mark Brailsford also presents Parodies Lost at Portslade’s The Railway Inn on Thurs 15 Dec.

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