Jackson's way to a Perrier Award

Will Adamsdale was turned from virtual unknown to the talk of the comedy world when he took the Edinburgh Festival by storm last summer. The Perrier Award winner told Keiron Pim how it all happened ahead of his show in Norwich this Sunday.

When Will Adamsdale picked up the coveted Perrier Award for his one-man show at last summer's Edinburgh Festival, it was the culmination of a strange series of events that trailed back to a paper cup in a television studio.

The show, which comes to the University of East Anglia, Norwich, this Sunday evening, is called Jackson's Way.

Will plays a character called Chris John Jackson, a motivational speaker who has bags of enthusiasm but doesn't quite have the theories to support his bluster.

Jackson's philosophy is that “around every act or thing with a point there are an infinite number of pointless acts or things”.

To demonstrate, he attempts to put his hand in two places at once and to make rhyme two words that don't rhyme. It's hard to explain on the printed page.

Asking Will to describe his act for someone who hasn't seen it doesn't actually tell us much about the show, which was described by the Times as “thrillingly, inventively, hilariously odd” and by The Guardian as “a satire on 21st century credulity [and] the Fringe's most exciting new comedy act”.

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It probably tells us something about the mind of the man who created it, though.

“I guess the show is about this motivational speaker, it's just his material is completely… well, I suppose that at times it's slightly surreal. Maybe that's the wrong word,” he says.

“The character? I had to think up a thing I did in a cabaret night a couple of years ago and I was trying to think of something.

“You know what it's like when you have a deadline and you can't think of anything, you get a fever, everything you look at becomes part of it – you're like, 'Maybe that can help…?'.

“I was in a studio doing some children's TV, it was a lowpoint of my acting career.

“I was looking around, staring at this cheap paper cup, and thought I would take it with me to the cabaret night, which was quite a long way on the other side of London.

“I thought I would take it with me, in that desperate deadline fever, an 'up all night when you've got to hand your essay in' kind of thing: Maybe I can come on with a cup, keep it short…?

“It came out of that desperation, that dream scenario… they say 'Here's your big moment' and you say 'I've got this cup'.”

This doesn't really explain much about the show, but there is something so ridiculous about the situation and Will's bemused description of the circumstances in which he found himself you find yourself laughing and then understanding what the critics were so excited about.

Winning the Perrier was the last thing on his mind when he first pitched up at the Underbelly venue in Edinburgh at the beginning of August; in fact, the show nearly didn't make it at all.

“I almost didn't do it. I only went up there speculatively just to do 10 minutes to develop the character.

“I'm really indecisive. I was like, maybe. I took my gear up there. The venue asked if I wanted to extend my run. My start time was key to the success of the show because nobody else was on at that time.”

The show picked up word-of-mouth acclaim and began to snowball, becoming the hottest ticket in town.

When Will, who's 30, won the Perrier, it was the final surprise after a month that had already turned the actor's career on its head.

“It was dreamlike, that whole few days. It was great, really fun, but there was a weird element to it.

“The zenith was being asked to appear on Celebrity Weakest Link, which I didn't do. I kind of regret that, it could have been kind of fun.

“It was a bit strange, having all that attention. There's lots of people around and you don't know all the people you are talking to. It's quite difficult in a way. It was very extreme.”

He was inundated with offers of television work, which wasn't in itself such a novelty. His background is in straight drama and he has made a few TV appearances, for instance as Nigel Havers' wayward Justin in the BBC series Manchild and in ITV's Rosemary and Thyme.

“I went a bit nuts for a while. I met lots of TV people. That's one of the more clear and obvious things that came of it,” he reflects.

“I suppose comedy is a big thing at the moment. I had quite a few meetings that were interesting but I wasn't sure what to do with the piece.”

After a rest period to take stock and decide what to do, he is now embarking on his first tour of the UK and Ireland, and then will take the show to the Melbourne Comedy Festival. After that he'll return to London for a three-week run before jetting off once more to New York to perform at the Brits Off Broadway Festival.

If he hadn't decided to take his show to Edinburgh none of this would have happened. One day that paper cup could be worth a lot of money. t

t Jackson's Way is at the UEA Lecture Theatre 1 this Sunday, February 20, at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £10 and £5. Call 01603 508050 for more details.

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