Ahead of their UK premiere at The Old Market in Brighton Fringe, Finnish musical clowns Jouni and Petri Backstrom talk about their collaboration with Spymonkey with The Old Market’s Andy O’Connor.
How did you come to make the Fabulous Backstrom Brothers show? What were the starting points?
Jouni: It was a lifelong dream of mine to do a musical comedy like this. I grew up watching musical comedians like Victor Borge and Dudley Moore – and of course comedy shows like Blackadder and Monty Python. We had talked years about doing a show inspired by the movie Fabulous Baker Boys and when I saw Spymonkey perform in Finland all these pieces came together. I loved how they made a comedy with a real story, funny numbers and I really liked also that they play themselves on stage. That was what I also wanted us to do. A show that is funny, moving and tells a story about us.
Petri: My brother must have been thinking about this for years. We tried the 2-piano-band, like in the Fabulous Baker Boys movie, in a couple of gigs. One summer Jouni was going to an acting-clowning-course and asked me to join. Unfortunately I was not able to, but Jouni felt really brave and asked the teachers (Toby & Aitor) if they would be interested to make a show with us. Next spring we started, and the rest is history!
What’s the best and worst thing about working with your brother?
Jouni: The best thing is that we know each other very well. It’s like in football, when you know what the other one is going to do sometimes even before he does. From time to time our work on stage feels like telepathy. The worst thing is that no one can get under your skin like your sibling. When work is hard, having someone that close to you working with you can be the most wonderful but also the worst thing ever.
Petri: The best really is, that one can really trust the other. There is a fundamental, mutual understanding of wanting the best for the other. Of course, sometimes really annoying! Like: Jouni always knows everything… Worst is the fact, that we can not just walk away from difficult situations. They need to be solved, sooner or later. Most of the time in the realm of professional work there is a sense that you can let the really difficult things be. But with such a close relation that would destroy the relationship.
Opera and comedy?!
Jouni: The two things I love the most. Music and comedy. It’s that simple. We are not making a parody. We love opera and we will try to sing it to best of our abilities. But there are very funny things happening when people sing opera very seriously – I feel like we just give the audience permission to laugh at those things. To laugh at us.
Petri: I have performed quite a many comic roles in opera stages – and most of the time, I have to say, it is impossible to make an audience really laugh. Together with Jouni we often thought what to do about it. And this is our first real attempt to learn the tools and tricks necessary to make the audience really burst out laughing!
If you love opera why would you want to see the show?
Jouni: There is so many levels of musical comedy in this show. Little details that most won’t even notice but if you know your opera you are going to laugh in different places than the rest of the audience!
Petri: For sure, if You know your Wagner, I think you are up for a really interesting and new and fresh way of interpreting the classical scenes – as well as plenty of new colours and all. And if you don’t, I hope you catch the idea of our rebelllish way of treating the material to the best of our abilities (in all possible ways, in this quite impossible setting, trying to perform Wagner in a very serious way).
If you are a massive comedy fan why will you want to see the show?
Jouni: It’s a very good comedy. We are doing the music as well as we can, but we also approach the comedy with the same respect and eye for detail than we do classical music. Plus we had the best directors who really know their stuff – and also they say that we are very funny.
Petri: We have been putting together all that we have, all the musical-skills, all the openness of our personalities, all the acting abilities, really all that we have. And if we manage to convince the audience, and we will really try the best that we can, we are all up for a real treat!
The show seems to have been a big hit in Finland and Germany. How do you think it is going to go down in the Brighton Fringe?
Jouni: We hope really well for sure. I think that this kind of comedy is much more familiar to British audiences, so I believe that the Brighton audience will appreciate the subtle jokes, especially at the beginning of the show – where in Finland the audience many times doesn’t know if they are allowed to laugh or not.
Petri: We are really looking forward to be able to perform in Brighton! We hope we can make audiences laugh a lot!
How was it working with Toby and Aitor from Spymonkey?
Jouni: It was so much fun but also hard work. They are so good – every day I thought that I’m going to wake up any second and this was only a dream. And I was so worried that one morning they would come and say “Sorry guys. This was a huge mistake. We can’t make you funny.” But yeah, it was the most demanding and simultaneously the greatest creative process I’ve ever been part of.
Petri: For me, Toby and Aitor have filled a huge gap that too much operatic work has eaten inside of me. Their guidance in the pleasurable art of comedy has been life-changing to me. I have a lot to thank. Most of the time really difficult, because my mind would not easily let go of old habits and bad understanding. And I hope this is just a beginning…
Did they ask you to take your clothes off at any point?
Jouni: Yes, they did! I think the original idea for a costume of one of the characters was that I would play the character completely naked only having a long beard that would cover my private areas. In the end the idea was abandoned because I didn’t have the time to change clothes before or after that scene.
Petri: What a funny question! But of course we would like to take the clothes off. But this time I only get to drop my pants…
We heard that you created some of the show in Brighton, tell us about that? What were your first impressions of the city?
Jouni: Yes, most of the key numbers of the show were invented in Brighton. We had great time working hard in the daytime and seeing some lovely Fringe shows in the evenings. I think Brighton is very beautiful and lovely place and i actually brought my wife to Brighton last year, and this year I’m coming with my whole family – having a holiday as well as performing our show.
Petri: Yes, we had the first period of rehearsals at the Founders’ Room at the Dome, which they kindly gave to us in support. I think it was the BEST way to start the whole production. Because of this, Brighton is like a home to us! We love it!
What is your favourite moment in the show?
Jouni: I can’t pick one. There are so many good moments. But what I really love is when Jukka invents new musical gags in the background when we are playing a scene – sometimes I have hard time playing the scene with a straight face when he finds something new and funny.
What are you looking forward to most about playing at Brighton Fringe?
Jouni: I’m looking forward finally playing in front of a Fringe audience. I’m nervous but so happy.
Petri: Meeting the audience! I remember seeing a comic movie in London years ago. We were with some other Finns, and I remember: we were not laughing at the same spots as the rest of the audience! So, I am really interested to see how they all react with this show!
Do you have any plans to tour the show in the UK?
Jouni: I’d love to.
Petri: We are working really hard to find possible partners, as well as other opportunities to perform. We are open to all suggestions! Especially we are very, very proud of the big symphony-orchestra version of the show. We have been told, it is really unique globally! So we hope for the best and fear for the worst, like they say…
Fabulous Backstrom Brothers at The Old Market Hove, Brighton Fringe
31st May – 2nd June
tickets and info: http://theoldmarket.com/shows/fabulous-backstrom-brothers/