Sharon Horgan: interview

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If you've never heard of the immensely talented TV writer and comedienne Sharon Horgan, you will - she's finally set for the big time with a new sitcom set in a London caff. Time Out met her in Soho's legendary New Piccadilly Café, in the week it finally closed, to find the perfect recipe for comedy.

  • Sharon Horgan: interview

    Out of time: Sharon Horgan glows outside the popular but doomed New Piccadilly in Denman Street

  • With her sleek laptop and Prada handbag, Sharon Horgan looks out of place among the yellow walls and green ceiling tiles of Denman Street’s New Piccadilly Café. But that’s not the only reason she’s attracting glances. Familiar to all too few from her BBC3 sitcom ‘Pulling’, she’s more distinctively beautiful than she is on screen. Against the New Piccadilly’s colourful interior, she seems to glow.

    It was in this very caff that Horgan called the first meeting with her cast when she heard she’d been commissioned by Five to write new sitcom ‘Angelo’s’. When I mention that the surrounding theatre posters and waiters will all disappear when the café finally closes (which happened on September 22), she looks slightly dejected: ‘They’re totally London, these cafés,’ she declares. ‘You wouldn’t get them in Italy, the ingredients are too poor, but they’re totally charming.’

    Angelo’s is just such a café, run by an Italian patriarch and his London-born daughter, Maria. Angelo serves frothy coffee, not cappucino. He has posters of Princess Diana on his walls, and he thinks there’s nothing classier than a Heinz sauce. Despite this, he has a regular clientele, and the sitcom revolves around their visits.

    It’s four years since Horgan started developing the idea. She was working at Ealing Studios and, though she never performed at the studios’ legendary Thursday stand-up night Ealing Live, she was impressed with the standard of character comedy on show: ‘I wanted to think of a way of using as many of these comics as possible, so we made a ten-minute pilot in the spoof docusoap style with most of the actors who are in it now.’

    Shelley Longworth (‘Tittybangbang’) is Maria, Angelo’s feisty, fame-obsessed daughter; Alice Lowe (‘Star Stories’) is her undersexed best friend; Simon Farnaby (‘Spoons’) plays the failed actor, bitter about his old classmate Jude Law’s success; Miranda Hart (‘Hyperdrive’) is the minicab driver with a penchant for stalking men and Horgan and Paul Garner play police officers who work on the same beat and are failing to have kids. ‘I saw this pair of officers at Glastonbury, walking hand in hand,’ Horgan explains. ‘I remember thinking: Would they do that on the beat or is it just because they’re at Glastonbury? And wondering: What do they talk about when they’re searching for crime?’

    When Horgan took the pilot to Five, they said the parts they liked best were the café scenes and asked for a sitcom. ‘I had these visions of “Desmond’s” and wobbly sets,’ says Horgan. Happily, there’s not a wobble in sight. You can tell the actors in ‘Angelo’s’ haven’t just been given their lines the night before so they can regurgitate them for the first time on set, they really know their characters. ‘The actors had all workshopped their characters; I wrote a skeleton script, then we set up the cameras and let them run with it,’ she says.

    Horgan’s currently writing a second series of ‘Pulling’. Despite disappointing ratings, the critics loved its portrayal of a group of female friends living together in circumstances beneath those they imagined for themselves. ‘They’re in the same situation in series two,’ says Horgan. ‘Dennis (Kelly, co-writer) and I had both been in long relationships, then split up but still teetered around our old partners. I ended up following my ex to Camden to live because our group of friends were there.’

    Horgan didn’t have any success in her chosen field until she was past 30. Her determination she mostly attributes to competing within a high-achieving ‘stereotypically large Irish family’. She ‘ducked out of art college in Dublin’ and came to London, wanting to do ‘some sort of theatre thing’. ‘It was such a hideous disappointment at the beginning, well, for the first four years really,’ she says. ‘I was working in the Job Centre and living off Green Lanes in a 20-storey tower block. London’s one of the greatest places to live but you need money to appreciate it.’

    Pride kept her from giving up until, at 27, Horgan decided to go back to Ireland to study English literature. ‘I’d done some bits of creative writing as part of my degree and I sent them to BBC producer Jo Sergeant. She liked them and I got introduced to Shane Allen who was setting up a new comedy department.’ She started writing with Dennis (who she’d had met at university) and they won the BBC Comedy Award in 2001. Roles in ‘Annually Retentive’ and ‘Broken News’ followed. ‘I thought: That’s weird, I’m in comedy. But there’s not a huge amount of women writer-performers so you’re not competing. And I hate sitting around; writing gives you something to do every day.’

    There won’t be much sitting around for Horgan this autumn. As well as ‘Angelo’s’ she’s starring alongside Stephen Mangan in ‘Bitter And Twisted’, a Channel 4 comedy pilot. Bright, funny and ambitious; she’s still got to prove to her friends and family that she’s a success (they don’t get BBC3 in Ireland). If this is the first time you’ve heard of her, it won’t be the last.

    ‘Angelo’s’ airs on Five this autumn.

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