It was only when I was fact-checking for this post (yes, hard to believe, I know, but I do try …) that I discovered that Clare In The Community is now in its sixth year and sixth series – it’s an impressive achievement for a radio sitcom about a social worker who gets worked up about other people’s problems while ignoring her own. It’s a very funny show with a strong cast, and I’ve always wondered why it wasn’t on television. In fact, a pilot was filmed in 2002, before the radio show, with Julia Sawalha in the lead role, but it was never broadcast. The strangest fact I discovered was that Clare In The Community started out life (and continues to this day) as a cartoon strip in The Guardian, written by Harry Venning (who co-writes the radio scripts with David Ramsden). Isn’t the internet great?
I’ve listened to the show for a few years but I’d never got round to going to a live recording before. My lovely girlfriend snagged tickets to remedy this. As with the live recording of The Now Show, there was a large queue of people waiting long before we were allowed into the building – Clare In The Community has quite a following. This is not surprising because it is really good; however, it is very much a radio comedy – there are some jokes in the show that can only work on radio, and it is much better for it.
The best thing about the live recording, apart from the fun of being there as it happens, was putting faces to voices. I knew Clare was played to perfection by Sally Phillips (of Smack The Pony fame) and Nina Conti played her Scottish co-worked Meggan (although I didn’t realise that she also played the Eastern European nanny, which was impressive), but I could finally see the face of Brian, her long-suffering teacher boyfriend (Alex Lowe), and her work colleagues Helen (Liza Tarbuck) and Ray (Richard Lumsden). There was a new addition to the cast this year – another social worker: Libby, the Australian lesbian. I recognised her as an Australian comedienne who had done a set on Russell Howard’s Good News Extra, but my Google-Fu has failed me in locating her name. Sigh …
[Edit: Sean Prower, from The British Comedy Guide, emailed to tell me that the name of the comedian is Sarah Kendall. Thanks, Sean. Among the things he has written on the site, he wrote the entry for Clare In The Community. Go read it to thank him for me.]
We were treated to two episodes, both of which were excellent – the quality of writing was very sharp and the performances were great; it was very funny, and funny watching people trying not to laugh while performing the show, especially when they know a particularly good bit was coming up. Sally Phillips seemed to be enjoying herself even more than the others. It was impressive seeing the cast doubling up – all of them apart from Phillips and Tarbuck did at least two different voices during the night, although special credit must go to Conti for her performance in the second episode, which saw her switching between the two voices (both of which are not her own natural accent) in alternating scenes with aplomb.
The shows were very funny – there was even a joke playing on the Gordon Brown ‘Bigotgate’ incident – so much so that, of the few extra takes that were needed after the initial recording, one of the retakes was because the audience was laughing too much, ruining the rhythm of the joke and putting Phillips off the timing of the punchline. Admittedly, the crowd was full of fans – the producer offered to give people a quick introduction to the show, but the audience reaction told her she didn’t need to do it – but everyone had a very enjoyable evening, and I can’t wait until they start broadcasting the episodes on Radio 4 to relive the experience again.