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Comedian Caitlin McNaughton understands why some people can be puzzled by those that go weak at the knees at the mere mention of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
“If all they’ve seen of him is a photograph, they will automatically be like ‘I don’t see it’. But the moment that they hear him speak or watch him be interviewed, it’s so hard not just to fall in love with him,” she says, before taking a deep breath.
“There is something very endearing about him, the way he comes across in interviews” says fellow comedian Kate Schrader. “He’s quite considered but he also says little things.”
“[There are] little asides that aren’t really meant to be heard by anyone but ‘I heard you, Benedict – I heard you’,” adds McNaughton.
The same goes for comedian Abby Howells, who looks off longingly into the distance as McNaughton and Schrader swoon.
While this may sound like the Wellington branch of a Benedict Cumberbatch fan club – and there is genuine passion for the 37-year-old star of television’s Sherlock, who’s also a voice artist and plays Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit trilogy – it’s all been channelled into a one-hour comic play, Benedict Cumberbatch Must Die.
Despite the title, it’s a celebration of Cumberbatch as well as a look at celebrity and the obsessions of fans.
McNaughton, Schrader and Howells are members of women’s comedy collective Discharge, which last year won best comedy at the Dunedin Fringe Festival with their debut show, the sketch-based What is This, Woman’s Hour?. The show was also a finalist in the Wellington fringe festival.
But Cumberbatch is their first crack at a comic play, and the seed for the show was discovering that they each share a fascination bordering on obsession with the actor.
“It was one night and very intense,” says Howells, who is studying scriptwriting at Victoria University and ended up writing the play.
“Abby had just moved in with Kate and I came round to visit and we all decided to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch, and we all slowly realised that we were all equally obsessed with him,” says McNaughton.
“We’ve tried to capture the essence of the excitement of that first conversation in the show, because it was quite a release,” says Schrader.
“The other flatmate was in the room but he left after half and hour and we didn’t notice,” says McNaughton.
In the show, Schrader plays an obsessed Cumberbatch fan, McNaughton is an aspiring actor working on a solo show that she wants to perform for Cumberbatch, while Howells is an internet-focussed loner who sits at home writing Cumberbatch fan fiction – “so meeting up with these girls is a pretty big deal”, she says. The three also at times play the actor himself.
“All the characters have quite different relationships with Benedict for different reasons. The characters are removed from ourselves, but we like to think of them as hyperbolic versions of ourselves. They all want the same thing but they all want it for different reasons,” says Howells.
Discharge was formed at the end of 2012 when McNaughton and Howells were based in Dunedin – other members are still based there, but the three now see themselves as the Wellington arm and, post-Cumberbatch, will be looking to stage other shows in the capital.
The New Zealand comedy scene today is such that there are several avenues for aspiring comedians to forge a career, where once there was little support and few venues. But it still tends to be male-dominated. The women say it was one reason they formed the Discharge collective.
“We were struggling to find opportunities where we were free to play the characters and write the characters we wanted to play. It was, ‘Let’s just do our own thing’,” says McNaughton.
Meanwhile, the three have heard unconfirmed rumours that Cumberbatch may be in Wellington doing some final voice work for Smaug for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Cumberbatch has been in Wellington before to work on the films and did make a surprise appearance on the red carpet at the Embassy Theatre for British comedy The World’s End last year.
“It’s possible he might come and see it,” says Howells. “We received a Facebook message the other day from someone in America saying, ‘I’m a really big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch and I think it’s a possibility that he will come. So I’m crossing my fingers for you’.”
But the three admit to mixed feelings on the possibility that His Hotness could be in the audience, even though they say they’ll keep a seat aside for him.
“Benedict,” says Schrader, “if you are reading this, you have to sit in the back row.”
Benedict Cumberbatch Must Die, Bats Theatre, tonight, 8pm, until June 28. ——————–
Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have quite the detective skills we think he does — but he does have a pretty impressive imagination.
Comedian Pete Holmes plays Sherlock in a spoof of the BBC series that stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Martin Freeman (Watson), revealing that the famous detective actually has horrible deduction skills. In the video, Holmes’ Sherlock makes assumptions about James Watson’s (Matt McCarthy) life based on things like the kind of phone he has and the shoes he’s wearing which all end up being completely wrong. Maybe he was just having a bad day?
Watch parody here…