Finding Our Funny Roots

In the early part of 2019 Creative Black Country contacted us about co-ordinating a project looking at humour in the Black Country between 1950 and 2000.

Over a year later this became one of the biggest projects PPP have ever undertaken, and took in research, live performances, and videos. Even better, we got to work with some of the region’s most talented people and produce resources which will last long after we are gone.

Dolly Allen… apparently.

With this wide ranging brief, we started working together with CBC and their volunteers to research the idea of “Humour in the Black Country” and made a series of vlogs to show what we were doing. The project was still in its infancy and we weren’t sure exactly how it would look. Purshouse took control of the script, Pottinger kept all the plates spinning and Pitt did technical stuff. We enlisted Alex Vann to do music and sign language; He’s a polymath, after all. Brendan Hawthorne and Billy Spakemon provided further comic relief and invaluable research. Finally, we roped in Paul McDonald and Josianne Boutonnet for the academic take on Black Country humour.

The live performances – which involved quizzes, sing-alongs, and pork scratchings – started coming together. A central part of the brief involved taking the performances to places not associated with theatre and over the next six months, we would take versions of the show to care homes and community groups. Ahead of these, we had a preview show – for invited guests – in Wolverhampton Art Gallery to launch the Funny Things comedy festival. This indicated we had a great show on our hands. The full show, performed to a sell-out crowd at The Arena Theatre as part of that festival, confirmed it. All three members of PPP learned some sign language (with varying degrees of success) and the show was a true multi-media extravaganza which pushed all of us to produce top-notch work. We had a great deal of positive feedback.

Purshouse and Bren contemplating what they’ve got themselves involved in.

Normally, sell-out performances are the climax of projects like this, but not Finding Our Funny Roots. This was just the start. While the show went out to care homes, Pitt got together with Alex Vann, local filmmaker David Williams, and some of the young people at Gazebo theatre to take the research and vibes from the live show and turn them into four short films.

It’s been a fun, hectic, email-bursting, laptop-melting, hilarious journey. We now know everything there is to know about the Sot Nev, and we’ll never forget bad Dolly Allen impersonations or the sign language for ‘National Lottery Heritage Fund’.