Alison coming home to see her Mam – and for Body and Soul
A comedian whose podcast with Kerry Katona is hitting new highs is one of headline acts on the comedy stage for this year’s Body and Soul festival.
Now in its 13th year, the arts festival returns to Ballinlough on June 16-18 with its mix of music, talks, cabaret, live podcast recordings and comedy, and Alison Spittle from Ballymore is one of the main attractions.
Ahead of a return to “hopefully catch up with my Mammy”, the comic spoke to the Westmeath Examiner from London, where the pigeons drive her “mad”. Enjoying success with the Wheel of Misfortune podcast she co-hosts with Kerry Katona, Alison spoke about her latest play, Glacier, preparing ‘Soup’ for the Edinburgh Fringe, and her appearance on Eastenders, which had reporters contacting her asking if she was pregnant!
“I think you have to do loads of different things to try and keep your head above water,” says the 30-something on her comedy, acting, and playwriting career. “I just really love doing all of them, they make me happy in different ways.
“With standup, you get that instant validation and reaction from people – it’s scary but it’s fun. With playwriting, I get to write about stuff that I really want to talk about, and the acting is just good craic.”
Body and Soul is one of her favourite festivals. “David O’Doherty’s also on the bill. There’s a big comedy tent and I can’t wait to be doing a gig in Westmeath again. Hopefully it will give me a chance to see my Mammy too. I’ve been to Body and Soul a few times and it’s one of my favourite festivals. It was my favourite section of Electric Picnic, because that’s where it started out, and because it’s in Westmeath. I know it’s on the border of Meath, but I’ll claim it for Westmeath.
“You can definitely tell the difference between the people who come down from Dublin and the locals – but not at one o’clock in the morning because everyone looks the same then,” she laughs.
Admitting she didn’t get to the Fleadh Cheoil last year, and won’t again this year because it coincides the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Alison says: “I saw that they did all the roads for it so I knew it must be serious. I hear it’s mighty craic. The Edinburgh Fringe is in August, my Mam’s birthday is in August, I always miss out on good things on in August!”
To do comedy on the Edinburgh Fringe is manna from heaven for comedians. It’s where greats started out – Steve Coogan, Amanda Hart, Mel and Sue, even Billy Connolly and Robin Williams – and it’s also where Alison’s show ‘WET’ sold out (it was included in the British Comedy Guide ‘Best-reviewed Edinburgh Fringe shows 2022’).
Body and Soul goers will get a taste of Alison’s new show, ‘Soup’, ahead of this year’s Fringe festival. “The Fringe is massive, the fleadh on steroids. I think when the fleadh came to Mullingar the population multiplied, it’s the same for Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, from all over, South Korea and Japan – it’s the biggest arts festival in the world. This year I’m trying to make my show as good as it was last year. It’s called ‘Soup’, and it’s about the cost of living crisis,” says Alison.
She says it takes a year to write stand-up. “Every day I’m writing with other comedians, we just team up to hold ourselves accountable and make sure we do our writing. And then you do loads of shows to try and develop it, see what works and what doesn’t, to make it the best show it can be. I’ve been working on this show since last September, so it’s a fierce long process. But I enjoy it, I really do.”
Not a newcomer to the stage by any means, Alison’s play Starlet, a dark comedy about the young people forgotten by the boom, featured at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2019, and now she’s been commissioned by the Old Fire Station in Oxford to write a new play for Christmas.
Drawing on her upbringing in the Lake County, Glacier has been described as “funny, sad and brilliant”.
“It’s about three women who go fresh water swimming in a lake every year, and while it’s based in Oxford, I grew up in Westmeath and there’s lots of lakes around. So although it’s about English people, it’s definitely inspired by my childhood. The fun thing is the action takes place fully in a lake, so I don’t know how they’re going to depict that on the stage, whether it’s actual water or lighting or what, but it’s going to be funny and hopefully people will like it.”
It is six weeks since Alison appeared on the set of Albert Square alongside Shona McGarty (Whitney) and James Farrar (Zack), who were filming a difficult storyline involving a pregnancy with Edward Syndrome. “I played the part of a woman called Deborah who was in a clinic waiting room with them, and was being annoying and asking them loads of questions before their scan. Shona and Farra, they were really kind and really helpful.
“It was a dream come true because I was born in London and my Da is English, so Eastenders was a big thing in our house – it was the only thing that the Irish people and the English people in my family had in common.
“They had a full set built to look like Albert Square in a studio and I genuinely had a wonderful day doing it. I had to keep it a secret all over Christmas, and when it finally did come I took a picture with the pregnancy bump on and put it on Instagram saying I was going to be in Eastenders, but people didn’t read the ‘I’m going to be in Eastenders’ part, and presumed I was pregnant. I had newspapers calling me from all over! It was quite a mad day – I’m definitely not pregnant!”
Asked if there’s any chance of her character making a return to the East End, Alison says: “Well she didn’t die in a big fire in a car crash, so it’s always a possibility. But even when people do die, they come back – remember ‘Dirty Den’?!”