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After Hurtwood: Lizzie Davidson – actor, comedian, improvisor, writer…


The brilliant rise of our very own Brave (new) Girl on the TV block....


World turmoil, political and electoral jeopardy? Long cold spring, reluctant and patchy summer?  Sorry – outside my remit.  What I can do is invite you to put aside your worries, put up your feet, even, and bask in the achievements of our very own Lizzie Davidson – a multi-talented firecracker of a comedian, actress, improviser, and writer, who in her very first TV role has found herself part of the BAFTA winning team, for her central role within the BBC comic hit, Such Brave Girls.  Described by her sister as ‘the funniest person anyone knows’, Lizzie, already something of a legend here, is at the heart of lots of extraordinary stories, all of which chime with the Hurtwood ethos – and some of which I can actually share with you.  This is one interesting human being.





So let’s get the basic ducks in a row here: Lizzie secured a well-deserved scholarship to Hurtwood by way of the Sylvia Young School, settling down to three challenging A Levels – Theatre, Media and English – where she joined my English class, a lively talented bunch, who fed equally off literary riches and each other’s energy and considerable creativity.  Her presence always raised the bar: a natural performer with an innate desire to make people laugh (more of that later), she always added something, even when it was only a kind of anarchic energy.  It was frustrating as her teacher to sense her acute intelligence and originality, so often at odds with the demands of academic literary study.  Always impressive, however, was her psychological grasp of the world, her amazing insight and wit, and the chat — that was always hilarious and often quirkily illuminating.  Two years of hard work saw her emerge with really impressive final grades, and choices about the way forward.  Eschewing other options, Lizzie went ‘straight into the industry’ in possibly the most brutal route, spending the next five years (‘my own drama school’ ) on the delights of ‘Shrek’s Adventure’ and the London Dungeon Experience.   And what experience it sounds!  As ever, she offers joyous self-mockery in the form of brutal realities of performing set pieces to an audience of bored, and sometimes even barbaric, kids intent on both literal and metaphorical savagery of her role.  This, alongside lots of ‘rubbish jobs’ and a horribly toxic relationship (which has certainly given her experiential material for her breakout role as Billie) and with the usual complexity of family relationships, took her into the time-warp of Covid and lockdown. And it is at this point that ideas and events began to coalesce into the project that has come now to such rewarding conclusions. Her older sister Kate (professional name Kat Sadler) had begun turning the collective turmoil of their family life and personal traumas into entertainment.  Having had the skill and luck to have secured the attention of the BBC for her scriptwriting there was already a portal of opportunity, and out of what Lizzie calls the collective ‘narcissistic neurosis’ of the sisters and their mum, the pilot of ‘Such Brave Girls’ was born.  The fight to translate this into a commissioned series took three years: challenging and frustrating times, of course, but also really exciting. Kat and Lizzie even produced an ‘hilarious 15 minute blag’ in their persuasive endeavours to get the series commissioned.  One ‘mind-blowing moment’ was receiving something of a ‘love letter’ from ‘comedy hero’ Simon Bird, full of praise and indicating that he would be willing to direct the series.

 

Once the commission came, the fun and hard work began on a new level.  With a bunch of ‘totally incredible actors’ on board, Lizzie positively bubbles with enthusiasm about the way that the series has evolved.  Her awe – it is genuine and, for once, not ironic – for her sister’s writing is touching.  Then, as now, she tells me, Kat is the one that puts in the daily graft of writing the scripts, framing the narrative drives and outcome.  With incredible wisdom and generosity on her sister’s part, next came the creative discussions that added so many layers of experience and comic complexity.  In the brilliant process of script editing, ‘three hours of (Lizzie’s) babbling’ would be turned by Kat into ‘three minutes of script’.  In the same way, on set and in rehearsal, all the actors were empowered to innovate and improvise within their roles.  The one clear decision that they all fought for was that this was to be pure sitcom rather than comic drama, encouraging all the actors to let rip with the grotesquery and stylization of the roles. The result is a show bringing to comic life the tensions of single-parent family life, female neurosis and frustration, sisterhood and sibling rivalry, of economic vulnerability – which is as truthful in its exaggeration, as it is funny. Billie’s story, like Josie’s and their mum, draws heavily on their respective experiences; that said, the aim of the show is ‘never about shaming’ or seeking sympathy, and certainly not creating likeable characters.  Equally, there seems to be plenty of comic therapeutic self-recognition going on, if social media responses are anything to go by.  That this is quite painful watching for many, especially men, goes without saying, but of course this is part of the fun and originality.  Filming the series – in the Liverpool area – was an amazing experience, Lizzie tells me: ‘a passion project’ for everyone involved, including the lighting team; everyone giving their all and – having a ball. Jokes abound.  Lizzie’s superlatives go into overdrive, as she recalls the process: ‘You get three meals a day – brought to you.  I slept on a leather sofa in my own van.  I was allowed to be outrageous.’  She also makes it clear that the whole team was collectively charging at the boundaries of the acceptable, and totally loving it.  And the responses?  Impressive, frankly.  Whilst Lizzie was feeding her ego by reading her name ‘in print’ in the BBC scheduling, there was a growing drumbeat of critical approval, as the show came out on BBC3 and was soon shifted to BBC2.  Driving up to London one day I was (almost literally) stopped in my tracks (I pulled over) when I heard that the ‘real-life sisters’ at the heart of the show were to be interviewed on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.  A good ten minutes of banter and analysis followed, making clear that here was something new, something from source, about single-parent families, about relationships, love, depression, self-esteem, abortion even, seen through the satirical lens: how serious, how funny.  Lizzie and Kat were applauded by Anita Rani as important newcomers on the edge of fame.  At the Bafta ceremony, Anita took off her heels in order to sprint across and congratulate the girls, affirming ‘I knew you would win it’.  Praise also from DJs on Radio 6 and influential cultural commentators and journalists (Eve Wiseman in the Observer: ‘if you’re a fan of laughing at pain, please watch 'Such Brave Girls’, calling Kat ‘fantastic’ and Lizzie ‘brilliant’).  They garnered some extraordinary praise also from many prestigious exponents of comedy, including the team behind The Office.  It is also worthwhile pointing out that their award, the Bafta for Best Scripted Comedy, is pretty well THE coveted award in this country in its field, awarded over the years to all the greats, from Porridge and Fawlty Towers to The Detectorists, Derry Girls, as well as The Office itself.  This, I’m assured, is the marker of comic genius, and to be told by those who should know, that this series has ‘moved the needle on the dial’ - well, this is affirmation that matters. 

 




It is glorious fun to catch up with Lizzie in the wake of this extraordinary achievement and witness her energetic repetition that the experience of this, the ‘best night of (her) life’, will last her whole life.  It is heartfelt, and I think it will. Being part of something so rewarding and creative — even if this is the pinnacle of her achievements (and I don’t think for one minute that it is), she has arrived.  Like every aspect of her life, the experience has already been moulded into a self-mocking but endearing tale.  Look at the glossy, glamorous Getty images of the night to see Lizzie positively glowing with innate Hollywood glamour.  She happily debunks this with self-mockery.   Hitting the hay at 3 am after the amazing events of the evening, with full Bafta face paint intact, the morning found her rather more bedraggled in the stockroom of the local clothing and accessories store, on the early shift.  Still stunned by it all, she watched ‘back-to-back YouTube repeats’ of her moment of Bafta triumph, in between the rather harsher necessities of earning a living.  The day we catch up, she is postponing the humiliating chore of taking back her beautiful ‘on loan’ 1950s gown.  ‘It’s stained’, she tells me.  Of course it is — this is life, this is Lizzie.   And this of course is where her genius comes from: her ability to take the absurdity of the human condition (especially the female) and invite both recognition and laughter in the form of self-mockery.

 

The future is looking bright, with – unsurprisingly – the second season already commissioned: the plan is for autumn production and spring showing.  As yet, she awaits the job offers that surely will come.  Meanwhile, she is building on her material, working towards a collection of ‘Billie’s poems’, something which will make sense if you watch the series, and gradually, if not visibly, coming down from the ‘Cloud 9’ of a Bafta win.  Back briefly to her Hurtwood days: Doug Quinn and Phil Ward, her Theatre and Media teachers respectively, join me in affectionately recalling her extraordinary capacity for creating hilarious mayhem. ‘Quirky, comedic’ as well as ‘hard-working’ and astute in the process of bringing out the best in others, she seems always to have been at the ironic, if understated, heart of things.  In my memories, she is always slightly at an angle from the mainstream world, generous in her support of others, and often downplaying her own impressive performance skills, like her singing, which I found extraordinarily moving.  With irony as her dominant modus operandi, it is hard to nail Lizzie’s exuberant commentary down at times; possibly this ambiguity is one of her greatest skills.  Either way, she is crystal-clear and generous in her praise of what she gained at Hurtwood.  What she loved was the recognition and endorsement that she found with us, the sense of engagement and equality between staff and pupils.  ‘I didn’t need to know what I wanted to do,’ she tells me.  ‘Hurtwood made me believe I could do anything.’  The ‘totally professional approach’ produced fantastic exam results, but also gave her the highest of expectations.  It certainly seems like she has filled the brief.  From her self-defined role as class clown, she has now garnered extraordinary plaudits from peers and professionals alike, as well as appreciative fans grateful for her role within a show that has spoken truth to their own messy but ultimately meaningful lives.  She has likewise found her tribe in that niche corner of the entertainment world, comedy: the ‘world of weirdos’ like her, she happily chuckles. Her laughter is infectious, as it always was.  That’s Lizzie for you.  Thanks for the memories, thanks for the distraction from a challenging world, and thanks for the reminder that education and comedy are both as serious as they are ultimately rewarding.




 

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