The madness and mayhem of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is soon to hit our city and with it are some fabulous shows that will entice. Amongst them is The Worst Little Warehouse in London – Winner of Best Cabaret (Adelaide Fringe Weekly) – and it posits the question: When 12 people live under the same roof in a converted warehouse in North London, what could possibly go wrong? Well…

The multi talented performers bringing this work to life are Lala Barlow and Robbie Smith whose real life experiences inspired the show’s premise.

“We had known for a long time that we had wanted to write or create something together and had bandied about several ideas but as is so often the case, real life delivered the best storyline possible,” explains Smith. “During our overseas stint, we found ourselves sharehousing in this incredible converted warehouse in North London for the better part of a year filled with all these eclectic and interesting personalities that you wouldn’t never see together. It was upon finally moving out that we realised that this was the story we would try to bring to life on stage and after a night of butcher’s paper, cheap wine and some felt tip pens, the bones of the cabaret were in place.”

 Barlow and Smith are life partners as well as creative partners which, according to Smith, lays a strong foundation for their collaborative work. However, acknowledges Smith, the art of writing itself is not as simple as some may assume.

“Through this whole experience I have a new found respect for anyone that writes, ” he says. “What an undervalued task it is yet so crucial to the whole process! For us, we are in a creative and romantic relationship which often blurs the lines of work and life (where does one start and end?) The process would usually find us discussing general character arcs and plot points. I would often put together the skeletons of structure onto the page, but the words that each character speaks are generally from Lala’s pen as she has a much more formidable take on the English language (and a double degree to prove it!)”

A fortuitous meet between the two forged a viable and fun partnership with Barlow acknowledging that theatre really was at the centre point of their relationship from the very beginning.

“Robbie and I met  formally in the foyer of a theatre and informally, under the influence of far too much wine at one of Theatre Peoples infamous Guild Award after parties,” says Barlow. “We met, we bonded, we laughed, we enjoyed each other’s company and the rest as they say is history. It wasn’t until we packed up and moved over to London together in May of 2016 that we began talking about a theatrical collaboration, and one year later whilst still in London that we actually sat down and started writing our first script together. To be honest, I always figured we’d be onstage together at some point but assumed it would be in a musical already written, with him as Joseph and me as camel number #4. London inspired us both to get creative, to get active and to push ourselves in into writing together, which inevitably led to performing together. Performing together is the fun part, lots of fun and a hell of a lot of trust. We’ve since continued songwriting together and another new show could be just around the corner…”

In fact, Barlow’s love affair with the musical theatre stage began at a very early age and, could be said, is in her genes.

“My nan used to play Cats and Phantom on cassette in the car when she collected us from school, so I grew up humming showtunes and singing along to Don’t Cry For Me Argentina in the changeroom at Target,” she says. “Mum loved theatre, which meant I was always going to see shows on weekends. I was very lucky and although my parents were both chemists LOL, I was always immersed in music. Piano, singing and dancing lessons from a young age led to performing in shows at school, which led to amateur theatre, which led to university which led on to so many many things. And here I am now wearing a unicorn onesey! At the crux of it all for me is my love of storytelling. I also love being immersed in a character, in someone that’s not me. I find that fascinating. I love connecting with an audience and I love testing and pushing them. I definitely get a kick out of that. Oh and love making people laugh. Inspirations are Robin Williams, performance artist Marina Abramovic and fashion designer Alexander McQueen. They are all hysterically funny, fearless, authentic, dark, bold storytellers. A dinner with them on the moon would be my idea of heaven on a biscuit.”

A long term goal for the pair is one word: creation!

“Once you get the bug for writing and creating your own work or collaborating, it’s hard to satisfy the itch,” staes barlow. “London is such a hub for people formulating, workshopping, writing and coming up with new things – we have certainly brought that buzz and fizzy energy with us back to Melbourne in our move home. And Australia has so much effing talent! In writing new songs, scripts, poems and shows there is that desire to see as much new work as possible and support these courageous artists who are baring their hearts and souls in their works. I just LOVE seeing original theatre! I would absolutely love to take a show that I’ve written across to New York for a season, that’s definitely on my to do list. And I guess essentially, to keep performing and stay active in the industry whilst keeping as many fingers in as many pies as possible and allowing ourselves to stay focussed, busy, positive, tenacious and…… to earn a living by doing what we love, ain’t that the dream! And to be good and kind people, always 🙂 “

The Worst Little Warehouse in London is lead by UK director Sarah Redmond who has worked on all things from children’s theatre (founder of children drama classes, Top and Tiny Turns) to touring shows, she is also a regular face on the UK cabaret scene. Smith had  worked with Redmond previously on a musical called Bromance which led to them becoming good friends. The relationship between Smith and Barlow and Redmond was then only a matter of time. Explains Smith:

“Very early on I sent her a copy of our script to get her thoughts and some trusted feedback and within the hour she had agreed to direct it for us. She was such an integral part of the whole process, not only bringing our ideas to life but often playing the adjudicator and mediator in the room as Lala and I vigorously defended and debated our own individual ideas.

Whilst we would dearly love to work on the next project together, Sarah is based in London and we are currently calling Melbourne home which might make things a little logistically difficult… but Skype is a wonderful thing and I’m sure she will be a part of it in some capacity.”

The Worst Little Warehouse in London is a must see, hilarious cabaret that will entice all age groups.

Says Smith: “We have somehow created something that seems to have much broader appeal that we ever thought it did when we were writing it, including a much older audience than we thought would enjoy it. For anyone that has lived abroad, suffered through less-than-ideal shared accommodation or if you are just a music theatre nut, you will find a layer in this crazy warehouse that speaks to you for sure.”

March 25 – 31

Images: Ben Fon