Five minutes accompanied by Jon Culshaw are enough to go on a cyclone tour of the famous, infamous and eccentric. A walk with him in search of a café to chat with involves interaction with Alan Bennett, Sir David Attenborough and Professor Brian Cox, who are suddenly amazed at the place of the cappuccino in the space-time continuum. This is a man who cannot stay in conversation long without turning into someone else. This is a useful tool to have now because he believes we are in a golden era of mimicry.
"It seemed for a while that the boring were in control," he says in his natural Lancastric twang. “David Cameron and Nick Clegg weren't the funniest characters. But since Brexit, with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg, there has been an explosion of characters to work with. And then there's The Donald … "
Jon Culshaw as Donald Trump. Dead Ringers has been sowing mischief on BBC Radio 4 since 2000
At that point, Culshaw relaxed his wrist, put his index finger on his thumb, pursed his lips "just like the attachment to my grandmother's handbag in the seventies" and became the 45th President of the United States.
"He is the king of the nausea-causing parody characters." Everyone needs a Donald in their repertoire, ”he says. His tone, accent and mannerisms are as precise as if his listener had been taken to the Oval Office.
When it comes to being someone else, Culshaw can't help it. It has been since he was a student, impressing Mrs. Jump, his grandmother's cleaning lady, and Mr. Naylor, the local coal dealer. And he says he could use the practice right now. He is about to premiere the popular Dead Ringers radio show on stage at the Barbican next month. To do this, he has to make his Tom Baker fully functional.
Jan Ravens as Theresa May. Nothing gives a more meaningful overview of time than the increase in the number of female characters now living on the show
"I do it quite often," he says of the impression of the fruity, harmonious former Doctor Who, who has announced the beginning of the show since it first aired. "I like it when the doorbell rings at home and someone tries to sell me the redemption." I can see her on my intercom and answer as a Doctor Who [slipping into the Baker timbre]: "I would come down to speak to you, but I have a very important task that affects the entire future of your species." It is so childish, but I've had this attitude since I was a boy: happy mischief. "
Dead Ringers has been sowing mischief on BBC Radio 4 since 2000. In 2007, Culshaw called it a "tea break" from the airways to return in 2014 with a completely new list of characters. For some of us, the 19 years since it first aired didn't seem long, but the list of famous people at the time who were parodied in the opening show shows how much our cultural landscape has changed: Des Lynam, Brian Sewell, Barry Norman and Lily Savage. We know the names, but these characters no longer play a role in the national conversation. "The people you embody give a real impression of the time," says Culshaw. "There's a snapshot of the moment."
Nothing gives a more meaningful snapshot than the increase in the number of female characters now living on the show. Jan Ravens, who will come to the stage with her pitch-perfect impressions from Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and Fiona Bruce to Culshaw, joined the cast in the third episode of the first series and remembers that women were noticeably absent from their scripts at the time.
"My first post was Posh Spice and a secretary," she recalls. & # 39; And that was it. I have always tried to promote the female perspective. It was difficult at that time: there were many good male characters, but not so many female ones. I was aware that the world is pretty male. "
Theresa May is all about the tension in which she stays as if she were pushing a drip cart
In the past, celebrity impressions were never an art form of equal opportunities: When Ms. Thatcher became more important in the 1980s, the ITV puppet parody show Spitting Image used a man to pretend to be her voice. But since Dead Ringers started, Ravens was on hand to give a voice as women were on the rise. "When Theresa May was Minister of the Interior, for example, I said to the boys: We have to do them." But she hardly said a word – she hid and waited for the distinguished boys to screw up, which they did. Then she made that speech on Downing Street and everyone said, "Oh, hello." I studied her and I heard this thing that is like two voices at the same time, and as soon as I get that … «And it makes a May impression that is as unlucky as if the Prime Minister was really there.
Jan Ravens and Jon Culshaw from Dead Ringers. Ravens joined the cast in the third episode of the first series
Culshaw and Ravens insist that Dead Ringers are not impressions – it's a current satire. This means that the long-standing cast of Culshaw, Ravens, Lewis Macleod, and Duncan Wisbey, directed by producer Bill Dare, must be kept up to date to masquerade as those who do it.
"Some of them jump at you," says Ravens. "When I first saw Fiona Bruce on camera, I thought she was reading the news as if she was trying to seduce you. Once you have that, you have it. You want to be as accurate as possible, but almost still it’s more important to highlight the character’s comic spirit. ”
Culshaw agrees that getting the right voice is no longer enough. "It's not good to put on a Frank Spencer voice and just say," The cat did a whoopsie "- our characters have to say something funny, something relevant." Dead Ringers' timeliness is its strength. And you don't have to see the part to convince. "The attitude lies in the writing and spontaneity of the performance."
But Ravens points out that putting on a voice can have a transformative effect and often turns into the person who parodies it. "Theresa May is all about the tension in which she stays, the passage as if she were pushing a drip cart. You have to get that to get the voice.
“Making an impression is a strange process – you can see and hear the character in your head, and then use your skills to restore it. You pretend to be someone the audience knows you are not. Get it right and they'll shop. For a moment they think you are them. It's like a magician: the audience knows it's a scam, but for a second they have to believe it. "
That's what Dead Ringers put in capital letters, she hopes: magic on stage.
"Dead Ringers Live" is from May 15th to 18th at the Barbican in London. barbican.org.uk