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Jon Pointing: Act Natural, Edinburgh preview

| Comedy, Festivals, Theatre | 27/07/2017

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In the second of our Edinburgh Fringe previews, Ian Cater speaks to Jon Pointing about his brilliant comic creation, acting coach Cayden Hunter, in debut solo show Act Natural.

In our first Edinburgh preview last week, we started with a prediction.  So here’s another: Cayden Hunter will be the breakthrough character act of this year’s Fringe.  The arrogant, vulnerable, hilarious star of Jon Pointing’s debut solo show, Act Natural, has already got much of the London comedy world talking.  That buzz should extend north and, hopefully, onto our TV screens before long if executives can find a suitable vehicle for him.

Should Pointing get the plaudits he deserves, there won’t be a more humble recipient.  When he walks over to meet me wearing cap, plain t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, he apologises for the twin misdemeanors of being three minutes late and unused to giving interviews.  Neither are necessary, as Pointing – though initially nervous – relaxes into an engaging and genuine conversationalist.

But the man who takes to the Soho Theatre stage an hour later, seeming every bit the natural successor to Alan Partridge and David Brent, is worlds away from his creator, despite sharing a boyish looking face and vocal chords.

Acting the part

The premise of Act Natural is that audience members are attending Cayden Hunter’s acting workshop, aimed at imparting wisdom but ending up revealing far more about his deeply flawed character.  “Cayden’s heartbroken,” Pointing says with his slightly hesitant South London inflection.  “He was with someone who brought him into acting and that’s now over.  He tries to hide it, but the workshop is a perverse way to get him an audience – people he thinks will treat him reverently – which he uses to work out what’s happened to him and how he can win her back.

20376119_1865576393707391_2529568824417473807_n“Although the show’s kind of about acting, most people know someone like Cayden, whether it’s a guy at work or your boyfriend’s mate.  Someone who presents themselves as sensitive, understanding and worldly, but are actually none of those things.  They’re invariably after baser pleasures, like power and sex, and he’s no different.”

Cayden’s self-regard outstrips his talents and achievements, with the pleasing irony that the acting coach has no idea how he’s portraying himself to the world.  “In a way, he’s like a lot of classic comedy characters,” Pointing explains, “because he wants to be a rung above where he is.  His attempts to get there are where much of the comedy comes from – that vulnerability from not being in the inner circle.”

Pointing admits taking inspiration from Partridge and Brent, although he’s quick to place them on a pedestal beyond his reach.  “They’re worlds away.  But when I’m writing, I always think of how they use very calculated language, phrases they’ve thought about and practiced, which tells you lots about them and how much they care what others think.  So Cayden’s my version of the great comedy I like.”

The character works fantastically live, where Cayden’s vulnerability – clear from the confused grin in the face of unexpected laughter – infuses nervous tension throughout the room.  But he’s also adjusted encouragingly to screen ventures, most notably an in conversation piece recording a painful exchange with a make-up artist whom Cayden thinks he’s entertaining with average impressions.  The similarity with a recent excruciating video featuring Tom Hiddleston is obvious and deliberate.

“With people like him, there just seems to be no filter,” Pointing smiles, before choosing his words carefully.  “To be fair to Tom Hiddleston – not that I need to feel sorry for someone so successful – he isn’t malicious or deliberately showy; there’s just something in him – and Cayden – that no-one’s ever taken to task.  Although Cayden’s not from that same background, he has some of those slightly entitled Oxbridge traits.”

Treading the boards

The down-to-earth Pointing shares none of these pretensions, although he knows the world in which they thrive.  “I studied drama at Winchester and did workshops like this one.  Even now, I do rehearsals where I say and do things I’d rather no-one else saw, but which are really helpful in that space.  So Act Natural isn’t an attack on actors.  It’s more about people who recreate those exercises elsewhere and go on about how special theatre is.  It is, but you devalue it when you start telling people that’s the case.”

Jon_P_189He knows precisely how special theatre is, being exposed to it from an early age growing up in Epsom.  “My mum often took me and my sister to plays when we were young, so we always saw it as a legitimate career.  I realise how lucky we were now, as most people don’t get that encouragement.”  Mrs Pointing’s coaxing bore fruit, with Clare Pointing recently completing a run of Delphine at Leicester Square Theatre, and brother Jon deciding to study drama at university.

“I met really good people there, but regret not doing acting school instead.  I wasn’t set up for being a performer and that set me back.  I spent ages trying to do my own thing after, but lacked the tools.”

Pointing threw himself into writing plays, inspired by his studies of Harold Pinter and Edward Bond.  But things changed when Clare started dating Ed Eales-White, a talented actor and member of sketch group Clever Peter.  “I got on with Ed straight away and he agreed to be in a play I wrote called The Head of the Fork, which we took up to Edinburgh in 2009 and 2010.  Once we found we liked working together, we started coming up with funny ideas like Life Guru.”

Life Guru is an amusing BBC mini-series the pair wrote and performed in 2012, with Eales-White playing the djinn-like title character helping Pointing recover from a breakup.  The three short but chaotic episodes sowed seeds for the double act they debuted at Edinburgh in 2015.  “I’d done a sketch show with Kat Bond in 2014, but Ed and I had nothing lined up the next year, so decided to do something together.”  Their first idea was a prison-based play called Bucket, but although they eventually opted for a surrealist sketch show instead, the title stuck.

Bucket was well-received, praised – somewhat unusually – for both its structure and surrealism.  “We had this through-line that we were falling out: that I wanted it to go one way and Ed, another.  Then we used sketches to flash up our anxieties over the top of the show.”  The show earned Pointing and Eales-White a spot on ITV2’s @elevenish sketch show, and formed the basis of their superb short film – Double Act – released this year.  “I’m looking at doing more things with Ed and we’d love to shoot a film again.  But there really needs to be some money behind it next time!”

Liking to please

Pointing’s eye-catching 2016 adverts for Weetabix and Virgin Games were more lucrative.  As were appearances in BBC Three’s neatly worked Pls Like, in which his perfectly guileless character – Charlie South – served as the ideal lightning rod for writer and comedian Liam Williams’ attack on the vlogging industry.

“It was fun filming that, as there were such good people involved,” he says with a glint in his eye.  “I was acting with Emma Sidi, Liam, Tim Key, and Tom Kingsley [the director] gave us loads of freedom.  So it was still creatively challenging and a great job.”  Although Pointing says he enjoyed “just acting for a change”, he’s keen to return to more of a hands-on role soon.  “When you’re writing and directing as well, it’s really satisfying solving problems on both sides of the camera.  I’m really interested in that process and definitely want to do more of it, so I’m always watching directors during filming.  When I’m not in the scene, obviously.  That’d be weird otherwise.”

For now though, his focus is firmly on Cayden, who’s been 18 months in the making.  “After taking Bucket to Edinburgh, I wanted to try doing a solo show, so I went along to a open night really with very little planned.  I took a chair on stage, tried to make people laugh with it and sort of fell into this slightly creepy acting coach.  Then I took the idea up to Edinburgh last year under the radar at quarter to midnight in a tiny, loud pub.  It was a bit odd, but it seemed like the sort of place Cayden would end up in.”

This time, Pointing will perform Act Natural at the prestigious Pleasance Courtyard in an early evening slot, perhaps explaining some of his jitters. “I can’t help feeling the pressure a bit,” he admits, worrying at his knuckle, “as crowds there really know their comedy.  But the previews have gone well and I honestly think the show’s getting better all the time.  I’m starting to think more like Cayden and often find myself wondering how he’d react in certain situations.”

Pointing catches himself and rolls his eyes, before breaking out a huge grin.  “Oh, God.  I’m sounding like one of those fucking actors now.”

Jon Pointing is performing ‘Act Natural’ from 19.15 at Pleasance Courtyard between 2nd-13th and 15th-27th August (tickets here), with his final London preview taking place on Saturday 29th July at The De Beauvoir Arms (N1) from 6.30pm (tickets here).  For more details, see Cayden Hunter’s new website or follow him on Twitter @JonPointing.  All images used above are © Rosie Collins.

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