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Isy Suttie: The Actual Book Tour, 15th – 27th August at Soho Theatre

| Comedy, Music, Spoken Word | 14/08/2016


Former Peep Show star Isy Suttie is back with a new live show, The Actual Book Tour, which warmly and hilariously discusses her journey towards finding the right man and finally – if a little reluctantly – becoming an adult.  Ahead of its 12-night run at Soho Theatre starting on 15th August, she caught up with Ian Cater to discuss parenthood, internet dating, giant penguins and ball pits.

On Monday, Isy Suttie starts the next leg of The Actual Book Tour with the show – coinciding with the publication of her first book, The Actual One – already receiving gushing reviews for understandable reasons.

Suttie’s an extremely talented, funny and versatile performer, first coming to fame as Dobby in Series 5 to 9 of seminal sitcom Peep Show.  In the show, she showcases many of these talents, intertwining songs, stand-up and book readings documenting her awkward journey on the way to finding Mr Right.

3But the likely success of The Actual Book Tour stems from other qualities: her relatability as a storyteller and inherent warmth as a human being.  Although that sounds trite, these win audiences over instantly and mean Suttie’s on solid ground observing how people interact.

“I’ve always been fascinated by relationships,” she admits, pointing to BBC Radio 4’s Isy Suttie’s Love Letters and her recent podcast, The Things We Do For Love.  “Probably because I always try to analyse why mine haven’t worked.  They’re also great creatively.  For example, if you wanted to write about someone having OCD, you could neatly approach that by looking at how they act in a relationship.”

Suttie’s happily settled with fellow comedian Ellis James and their daughter, Betty, now nearly two.  But in The Actual One, she wanted to address an unhappy period when all her friends began to settle down.

“I’d get so bored of seeing pictures of babies and hearing conversations about mortgages.  It was like hanging around with a group of bell-ringers who had a secret code that I didn’t know and didn’t want to.  But there’s a lot of pressure not to opt out.  People always asked when I was going to find ‘the one’.  The honest answer was: ‘It’s none of your business.  Leave me alone.'”

Mum’s the word

One person who made it her business was Suttie’s mother.  She created a dating website profile for her daughter and insisted that Suttie accept the first approach unless she got a boyfriend within a month.

“My mum’s a problem solver,” she says charitably.  “She wasn’t obsessed with my love life; she just saw I was sad and decided that was a practical way to fix it.”  The pact led to a madcap attack on the dating scene, hilariously narrated in both book and show.

Although sometimes glossed over, this period of her life contained some pretty bleak moments.  “They were tough,” Suttie admits.  “Relationships always are.  But over time those moments have ripened into things I can laugh at, so I want the audience to as well!”

1There’s the occasion she walked along a dual carriageway to her boyfriend’s, wearing nothing but a pair of trainers and a fur coat as a seduction strategy.  “He was gay, but wouldn’t admit it and I didn’t realise,” she laughs.  “When he didn’t want to have sex with me, I had to trudge back home in the rain and get dressed into my tracksuit bottoms.”

Another tragic-comic moment was when – in a bid to save a doomed relationship – Suttie spent a great deal of time and money constructing a giant penguin out of chicken wire and papier mache as a gift for her boyfriend.  His response was underwhelming, the pair split up and Roy (yes, that was her creation’s name) has since been forgotten about somewhere in Herne Hill.

Although she regularly laughs at herself, Suttie hates being labelled as quirky or kooky.  “I really don’t think I am.  I just like seeing things through to the end,” she chuckles.  “Maybe something about the Roy project was a bit skewed.  But from my point of view, it was: ‘I haven’t got any money, his favourite animal is a penguin … I know what I’ll do.'”

Suttie manages to avoid bashing her exes, focusing on her own faux pas.  “That said, I try to be honest about why things went wrong and the sadness you feel when a relationship fails.”

To that end, the show isn’t a complete substitute for the book: “When you do a live show, you’re constantly thinking about the laughs.  But with a book, you can delve deeper into the serious elements and that’s probably what I enjoyed most about writing it.  You don’t have to worry about the pay-off, because you’re not in the same room as the reader … unless you’re mental.”

Marked for success

Speaking of pay-offs, Suttie’s reaping the benefit of years of hard work and the springboard Peep Show provided.  “I’m not always confident about auditions,” she says, “but when I read for the role of Dobby, I thought it really suited me.”

That’s undeniable, as Suttie excelled as Mark’s friendly and deceptively cool office colleague who becomes a love interest for him and his flatmate, Jeremy.  Modestly, she deflects her success onto the show’s creators and other stars: “It was basically the first time I’d been on telly, so I was lucky to jump into something already established with great writers and cast.  Look at David Mitchell – he’s got to national treasure level now.”

Irrespective of the cause, Peep Show raised Suttie’s profile and soon she was performing live comedy to much larger crowds.  “I’d been doing stand-up and musical comedy for about five years, so I was relatively prepared for what came next.”  The confidence to stand behind a mic came from her teenage years writing and performing music, and then training at Guildford School of Acting.

“Back then, I wanted to do straight acting and write music for other people,” she says.  “But all my work seemed to be theatrical, drawing on people like Frank Zappa and Tom Waites.  I couldn’t write a traditional love song.  I’d always find myself singing about people who fell in love with fry ups.  So, to a degree, comedy was inevitable but I was in denial for a while.”

After graduating, Suttie decided to give stand-up a go, seeking to add more strings to her acting bow: “I know it’s a cliche, but it was like a drug: I had some horrible experiences, but I was hooked.”  And after a couple of years out, Suttie’s clearly delighted to be ‘using’ again: “It’s great, but I like doing a bit of everything.  I’ve just acted in Damned [screened later this year on Channel 4] and Man Down with Greg Davies.  It’s nice being part of a team after writing and looking after Betty, but I’m sure I’ll go back to writing in time.”

Suttie says motherhood has helped her relate more to the last two series of Peep Show, which featured Mark and Sophie’s attempts to raise their young son.  But she’s not sure if that’s the sort of material she’d like to write herself: “Now I’m in that world, I’m not sure I could be honest about it.  If I slagged off NCT, then I’d probably get punched at a soft play.”

Mention of soft play gets us talking about Episode 5 of Peep Show‘s last series, in which Sophie (played by Olivia Coleman) turns up inebriated at The Kiddie Cave.  Suttie guffaws: “Oh, I love that scene.  Whenever I go to soft play now, I always think of Olivia unconscious in a ball pit.”

Ivy Suttie is performing The Actual Book Tour at Soho Theatre between 15th and 27th August (except 21st), before taking it nationwide.  To get tickets, head to her official website.  And for more information on her future work, follow Isy on Twitter @IsySuttie.

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