A character comedian, musician, Olivier Award-winning experiential theatre-maker and all-round entertainer, Christopher Green this month brings his music hall ‘creation’, Ida Barr, to Coventry’s Warwick Arts Centre.

What’s On recently caught up with him to find out more...

Ida Barr is an extremely elderly lady with many extraordinary talents. As an old-fashioned music hall singer turned grime & hip-hop rapper, Ida fuses her old and new music genres in revolutionary performances filled with fun and laughter.  

‘I’m really interested in music hall and other forms of old-school entertainment like variety,” says Christopher Green, the man behind Ida. “I’ve spent a lot of time researching in the archives, and a lot of that time at the British Library. I found some mentions of this Royal Music Hall singer called Ida Barr. She died in 1969, and I just really liked the sound of her. Seeing as most people don’t remember her, I thought that instead of just inventing something completely new, I’d resurrect her in a certain way. I imagined that she hadn’t died in the ’60s but had carried on living until she was incredibly old. I thought that she seemed pretty sparky, and that by now she’d have thought of doing something completely new, so my character is combining old and modern songs. It’s a very basic comic confit to have an oldie doing contemporary rap.”
Ida calls her genre ‘artificial hip-hop’ - as  Christopher explains: “The ‘artificial hip-hop’ refers to the ‘pensioner music hall singer meets the streets’ idea, so you’ll get a really old woman rapping about her prescription meds. I think my favourite Ida song is Get Old Or Die Trying - I think that really symbolises her and her gangster-grandma attitude.”

So what does Christopher think makes Ida so funny?

“Ida herself steers clear of doing old-fashioned jokes because she’s worried about being misinterpreted by the modern generation, but she’s really, really funny inadvertently. It’s just that clash of old meets young, typically British meets multicultural urban city life. It’s just observations on what life is like now if you’re impossibly old, have been around to see so much happen, but are now struggling to understand things in the modern world.”

Ida’s latest show, Granarchist, explores the dreaded ‘p’-word - politics - in a lighthearted but very frank way. 

“What I’m exploring with this new show is the idea that ordinary people are voicing their unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their political structures a lot more. I think we could do worse than listening to a really old lady whose learned a few things. I think her sort of attitude, of not caring anymore because she’s got nothing to lose so just says everything as it is, is great. I think she’s got really great values; they’re very open and tolerant. Being overwhelmed by a lack of common sense in our political structures seems to be rife among us all at the moment. She’s really no-nonsense, talking as it is and wanting to make changes for the good rather than having such hostility.”

Audience participation is frequently a part of Christopher’s character comedy shows. But don’t be put off by that - it’s not as intense as you’d think…

“Audience participation is an awful phrase and I really hate using it, because while it’s one that people understand, it makes everybody really worried. But actually, certainly in the context of Ida, the audience involvement is really, really gentle because it’s just like having a sing-song. I really do believe in the power of collective. Groups of people are really powerful, and I think the angry mob is very rare - a benign, well-meaning crowd is much more common. I really, really like group behaviour. So it’s not like I’m getting one person out of the audience and saying, right, do this, and I’m going to make a fool of you. It’s absolutely the whole audience singing along, or making decisions amongst themselves and talking to me as a collective group. I think having a sing-song in shows is something we used to do a lot, and we’ve kind of lost that.” 
Alongside Ida, Christopher’s other characters include Tina C, a raunchy satire on country singers: “I think what you have to contemplate when going into standup is which version of yourself you want to present. All standups are a part of themselves that’s magnified for the audience. In terms of that process, I find it much easier and much more fun for me - and therefore for the audience - to be someone completely different to me. I think that’s why two of my most successful characters have been women: Ida Barr and Tina C. Some performers work really well being completely different from themselves, and some work well being closer to themselves. I definitely prefer to be as far away as possible! It’s also a way of being able to sing, as I’m primarily a musician and entertainer. So having a musical character who can sing all kinds of songs, whether good or bad, and make them work just makes sense really.”

Although he’s currently touring with Ida, Christopher has other irons in the fire: “I have two big strands to my career. One is the character comedy, the other is experiential theatre. A lot of my creative work is in that theatre field. I’m doing a big show this year for a fake old people’s home, where the audience come and live for three days and the elderly people care for them. It’s pretty full-on as a piece. I’m hoping lots of people get excited about it, and that it really gets people talking about vulnerability, loneliness and all of that. Obviously, I’m very interested in ageing and why people are scared of it, and I’m exploring that subject both through Ida and through this new piece.”

Ida Barr: Granarchist shows at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Thursday 21 February.

Interview by Lauren Cole