Karl Minns returns to Norwich with his new one-man show

Comedian and writer Karl Minns back in Norwich.Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Comedian and writer Karl Minns back in Norwich.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Fresh from two sell-out stints at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, and the Norwich Playhouse alongside comedy partner Owen Evans, Karl Minns from the Nimmo Twins is back in the city with his new one-man show. STACIA BRIGGS asked Karl about appearing on stage without any back-up, a boy who can set the bed on fire using the power of his dreams and the difficulties of rehearsing on your own.

Comedian and writer Karl Minns back in Norwich.Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Comedian and writer Karl Minns back in Norwich.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Were you pleased with the reaction to the Nimmo Twins' return to Norwich?

We were delighted, surprised and humbled. After five years away, there was a genuine fear that people would've forgotten us or not be bothered either way. Booking the Theatre Royal for two nights was a real gamble, but we'd always dreamed of playing it. We talked about the possibility of us playing to swathes of empty seats - we called it the 'Portman Road Scenario'.

As it was, the tickets sold out ridiculously quickly and then the ten extra nights at the Playhouse went in a matter of weeks. Knowing the audience were there and were up for it was great, but then we had the pressure of the show being good enough. Our previews at the Arts Centre were disastrous: it was like playing at Madame Tussaud's (Owen swears someone laughed at the Norfolk Sex sketch, but I think it was someone coughing up a hairball). Despite that, I knew the show was good. The Playhouse shows totally settled our nerves and the final two nights at the Royal will live with me for the rest of my life. Owen and I could actually see the balcony vibrating with laughter at points: the TV monitors were shaking. It was incredible. The cheer that greeted my character 'She Go' meant I couldn't start speaking for over a minute. We were all pretty emotional by the end of it. The laughter meant that the show lasted two and a half hours, which was ridiculous. Peter Wilson [chief executive of the Theatre Royal] burst into our dressing room at the end and said: 'Great show!! WAY TOO LONG!!' It was also the first show we've done with social media being so ubiquitous. To get home every night and see tweets from people saying they hadn't laughed like that in years, was so gratifying. It's why we do it.

When do you think the Twins will return? Will there be a show for the Twins' 20th anniversary next year?

It's looking that way. Next year it will be 20 years since the first Normal for Norfolk, which was staged upstairs at Hector's House (formerly on Bedford Street in Norwich) in 1996. To have been going 20 years seems surreal. Myself and Owen have been through a lot together, including a long stint of doing the Nimmos with generic material, rather than the Norfolk-based stuff we're most known for. Radio 4 was a second home for us in the late 90s and we played in New York, Singapore and all over Britain when we did the Loose Ends shows. We've got plans for what the celebration might entail: there's lots of material that hasn't been seen in a long time, if ever, by our current audience. That could make an appearance. Or it could be a brand-new show, or a combination of the two. I'm not sure, yet. But we will definitely be playing Norwich in 2016. Big shows, too. I'll start writing this autumn and see what comes up.

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Tell us a little bit about the new show...

It's called Raining Diamonds. I did a writing course called Story Slam at the Southbank in London about four years ago and the theme was Sheet Lightning. You had to write a 200-word story based on those two words. Everyone there did quite flowery and poetic pieces that used thunder and lightning as a pathetic fallacy.

Mine was about a boy who set the bed on fire if he had erotic dreams. When I thought about writing a one-man show, I was adamant that it shouldn't be remotely Nimmo-esque. I really wanted to show the other side of myself as both a writer and performer.

So, I took the basic premise of what was a fairly grubby story, removed the grubbiness and turned it into a 75-minute monologue about a boy afflicted with a strange condition that prevented him ever being touched. It's effectively two love stories: a boy and his father and a boy and a girl. It's the most personal thing I've ever done, even though I'm playing a character and nothing in the story is actually true. There are also plenty of jokes in it, but it's much more involved and moving than anything a Nimmo audience would have seen me in.

Is it daunting to be performing on your own?

I don't know, as I haven't done it yet! I was a stand-up comedian in London for three years, so I know what it's like to carry total responsibility for both your triumphs and tragedies. Rehearsing it on my own is not as much fun as doing Nimmo stuff with the boys [Owen and Nigel Woolston]. No-one's laughing or suggesting stuff or being encouraging, I'm just schlepping around my living room for hours at a time, trying to make 10,000 words stick in my memory.

The scariest thing is that once I start, I'm on my own. There's no-one cue-ing me my next line. There's no point I can go off-stage and gather myself. It's like running down a hill at full pelt – I've just got to put one foot in front of the other as frequently as I can, or I'll fall. I think the worst bit will actually be being backstage as I hear the audience come in. My stage-fright is not good at the best of times, but normally I've got someone there to talk me down from the light-fittings. But hey, it's a challenge, it's something very different. And that's the only way to grow as a performer.

Sell us the new show in one line...

It's a love story for anyone who's ever felt different and a loss-story for anyone who's ever had to let someone go.

What do you miss most about Norfolk when you're not here?

I've actually spent more time in Norfolk in the last year than I have in the previous seven. I miss my friends and family, obviously. It's the ease of getting anywhere easily, that I really miss, to be honest.

I can be anywhere in Norwich in ten minutes, whereas in London, it's a tube, bus, walk and violent mugging to get to the shops. I miss the big skies and the accent. But I like my total anonymity here. What I DON'T miss about Norfolk is winter.

It's only a few degrees difference betwixt Lunnun and Norwich, but I fear I've become a soft media luvvie in my time here. Whenever I get out of my car, having driven to Norfolk, the wind is like shrapnel. It blinds me.

That, you can keep.

What plans do you have for the future?

After Raining Diamonds, I'm having a bit of a rest. I've been writing solidly for about six years on various TV and stage projects and I need to refuel a bit.

I want to have a think about the direction I'd like to take my own writing. That may mean another solo show in London. It may mean more or less performing. More drama, less comedy. I really don't know. I've got some sitcom scripts to pitch, but that's more in hope than expectation. If Raining Diamonds works as a piece, I'd like to perform it in London. Actually, I was possibly going to be playing at Battersea Arts Centre.

They were going to come and watch it in April. They emailed me last week and I sent them the dates.

Two hours later, I turned on the news and the whole place was on fire! I'm not saying the two incidents are linked, but it's enough to make a man paranoid…

Karl Minns: Raining Diamonds is at Norwich Playhouse from Thursday April 16 to Saturday April 18 at 8pm. The show has a running time of approximately 75 minutes and is suitable for people over the age of 16. Tickets cost £15, www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk, 01603 598598.

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