The Bish Bosh Bash’s special guests this month are two cornerstones of the Bristol Improv Theatre. Caitlin Campbell and Imogen Palmer have been performing improv together since they met a decade ago. In this sentimental and touching blog, they reminisce about their favourite moments on stage together, why they enjoy performing with one another so much and how their friendship has evolved over the years.
I love performing with Imogen because she’s brave and generous and a little bit wicked. Since we joined forces in our student improv society in 2011, here are some of my favourite moments from improvising with Imogen:
Edinburgh Fringe- 2013
At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 in a dingy night club at about 3pm, we did one of my favourite improv shows ever. I was playing an assassin, sent to kill her former partner who had fled a life of crime and attempted to start afresh. Imogen played his unknowing, adorable ditzy artist wife and had invented the signifier of their idyllic domestic life, a dog called Sausage. Playing with Sausage, getting tangled in its lead, talking about how cute he was became the game of the show. When I confronted Imogen (planning to take her hostage to lure my ex-hitman partner), she made an emotional appeal: “please don’t hurt me! I have so much to live for. I have a wonderful husband. We have a wonderful dog”. I took out a gun and shot Sausage. Blackout!
Murder She Didn’t Write – 2012
Imogen and I were in the original cast that created Murder, She Didn’t Write back in 2012. In those very early days of devising the show we were rehearsing in a room above the Hatchett Inn and experimenting with playing scenes with complex characters in a period drama style. I was playing a young, sporty, high-achieving debutante, preparing to make her way in the world (probably through a prudent matrimonial match). Imogen was playing a slightly older friend of the family, a single woman who had achieved financial independence through her writing. Over the course of the scene it became obvious that these women were in love, and would not be able to be together. I would have been about 20 years old and it was the first time I had ever played a queer love story. I remember feeling profoundly lucky to be practising an art form and working with collaborators like Imo that enabled me to tell those stories.
‘Friends Like These’ – 2018
Six years later, Imogen and I were performing ‘Friends Like These’ at the Zeal, the Pride Improv Festival in London. Imogen had come up with this dream of an improv format where we asked the audience for stories about their friends and then made up scenes inspired by them. In our pyjamas. It was always a riot to perform, but I remember on this occasion there was one long scene which devolved into an incredibly meta discussion of how bisexual characters were portrayed and what message that was sending about bisexual people – which ended with us concluding that as it was only the two of us in the room (in the scene) it didn’t really matter how we came across.
The Bish Bosh Bash
Although Imo and I came up with the concept for the Bish Bosh Bash together back in 2017, we have never actually played a scene in that particular show together – back when I was in the show in 2018, Imogen was always the host. But I’ll never forget her entrance for the debut performance, when we wheeled her onto stage lying on a table, decked out in a gold cycle helmet, elbow and knee pads over a bowtie, suit jacket and lemon gym shorts, accompanied by stirring classical music and a smoke machine. It set the tone for those early BBB performances – glorious, unbridled chaos and fun.
Caitlin is leaving Bristol Improv Theatre as Artistic Director this week and we are performing together for the first time ever in The Bish Bosh Bash on Friday. I met Caitlin doing student improv comedy at the University of Bristol and we’ve had some incredible creative collaborations over the past ten years!
A story I often share is how, when we first clocked eyes in the male-dominated student improv society, there was a layer of tension and animosity, stemming from (on my part) envy!
Caitlin was younger, hilarious and bold in her opinions- something I struggled with at the time and felt insecure about. I remember thinking ‘Who is she and how does she have such strong opinions on everything?’ Caitlin has later told me she found me really intimidating to begin with…cut to a year later and we’re cast together in an improvised film noir… through rehearsals a fast friendship and deep mutual respect was formed! Caitlin supported me through a Sylvia Plath induced existential crisis without judgment and I knew she was a gem.
She is still younger (sigh), very hilarious and I have managed to catch up with her on the bold opinions front… In addition she is incredibly talented and has been a great leader for the theatre during some hard years. I will be sad to see her go but looking forward to the next step for the organization with Kierann joining us at the helm.
Picking some highlights of performing with Caitlin has been tricky – there are so many ! These are some of the ones which stick out.
Being my boss in a lobster restaurant in ‘A Night of Noir’- 2012
In 2012 the student society Bristol Improv attempted our first ever hour long improvised narrative show- an improvised film noir. Caitlin and I were the only women in the cast and became fast friends during rehearsals. In the premiere show, at the Bierkeller in the city centre, we were incredibly nervous about this brand new style of show and what people would think of it. I remember stepping out in that opening scene, with Caitlin, she playing a demanding boss of a mafia-ran lobster restaurant and me being her hapless new waitress. Every time my waitress character set the table wrong, the boss would clap, making my character more nervous and dropping more things…. It was such a fun opening scene and the rest of the show flowed from there.
A sign of things to come with Caitlin having been my boss in Real Life for the past 5 years!
Thankfully, she doesn’t clap when I get things wrong.
The Delight Collective – Zeal Festival 2017
This show is a special one for me. I was fresh back from traveling and finding my feet in the UK…I’d applied to perform in the Zeal Improv Pride Festival with the name ‘The Delight Collective’, got accepted and then had NO IDEA what to do. I asked Caitlin if she wanted to revive an old format ‘Friends Like These’ at it and she was up for it! The show was really fun, exploring themes of friendship and Caitlin and I both love playing a range of queer and alternative characters…I have a memory of one scene where the characters were talking very opening about their sexual life and I was like ‘I’d only go there on stage with someone like Caitlin’.
Imogené and Catarina Campébell – Pride 2019
I normally work with a musician for my improvised pop diva show but on this occasion no one was available. I asked Caitlin how she would feel about stepping in and doing music on my laptop and she was totally up for it ! What I loved about this dynamic is that Imogené is totally out there and full of love and Caitlin developed this character of Catarina Campébell using some excellent big sunglasses and swept back hair who was so too cool for school. My favourite moment was listening to her ‘interact’ with the audience in an incredibly deadpan and direct way: ‘What are you doing here?’.
I was trying to do a costume change behind a curtain at the time and it was really hard not to laugh.