Stunners, a new Scottish comedy, has launched on BBC Scotland this month by Stirling Alums, Katrina Allen and Sarah Grant.
The series follows Ruby and Lola, two thirty-somethings living lives that closely resemble that of eighteen-year-old f**k boys.
Available to watch now on BBC iplayer, the pilot tackles missing condoms, complicated female friendships and some interesting fashion choices.
During a writing session for their next project, the pair talked to Brig about what makes Stunners stand out and how it differs from the rest of the Scottish comedy scene.
“[Scottish Comedy] is quite panto… and that absolutely has its place. But we didn’t feel like we had to take that route. We could do it in a more nuanced way.” Sarah told Brig:
“But we’re dressed as giant genitalia in the pilot, so obviously, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously.”
The pair met in Stirling University’s Drama Society, SUDS. This became the place where they would grow their creative partnership. For Katrina, this meant securing leading roles in student productions while Sarah began to develop her love of directing.
This turned into short films, then viral sketches, but the formula remained the same. Katrina and Sarah.
“I kind of knew that as a director, you put your best foot forward, and [Katrina] is my best foot.” Sarah said.
That is what makes this duo so special. One conversation with them is enough to see the love and support they provide each other in a very pressurised environment. Their friendship no doubt inspired their onscreen characters but also was the spark that led to Stunners in the first place
Katrina told Brig, “I obviously massively admire Sarah. Before writing together she’d shouted at me on a number of occasions saying, ‘you can write…Here’s all the reasons why!”
Having performed as Lady Macbeth at the Globe Theatre and taken part in the Edinburgh Fringe favourite, Sh*t-faced Shakespeare, Katrina clearly can shift between genres. Yet this confidence has come with time rather than instinct:
“I would be much more comfortable writing drama… but I didn’t really think I was a writer; I didn’t think I could do comedy.” Said Katrina:
“I learned it’s because I’m not necessarily the goofy comedy one. I’m not the one that’s making the jokes, I’m the straight man.”
Once finding her feet it wasn’t long until Katrina was thinking like a writer, while never forgetting her training as an actor:
“I break it down very differently as an actor than I do as a writer because you’re asking different questions.” Explained Katrina.
According to Sarah, this was when things started to click in their creative partnership:
“I think that’s funny, because myself and Kat, our relationship started as me behind the camera, Kat in front of the camera,” said Sarah:
“But I think things really started to work when we kind of almost met in the middle.”
Sarah explained to Brig, “we’d been working together for 10 years, but it was a case of being like Oh, we’re onto something special. It was a total eureka moment.
Honest, Feminist and Fearless
That eureka moment resulted in the hilariously funny, Stunners. The feminist answer to male-centric buddy comedies.
“We put female stories at the forefront… we are female writers and like, I think for me, I’ve learned to own that… apparently being female is a unique selling point even though that’s like half population but great, fine, sure, I’ll own it.”
Stunners is the natural successor for shows like Absolutely Fabulous and Broad City which celebrate putting female friendships before traditional milestones in life.
Katrina told Brig:
“Our aim for Lola and Ruby was to be two women in their thirties not living life as you would expect them to be…I think there’s such a generational thing now where people aren’t taking that route that is expected of them.”
Like the shows that came before it, Stunners opens a conversation about things people would rather leave unsaid, but this time it’s from the Scottish perspective. Sarah spoke about this by saying:
“We wanted to normalise one-night stands and telling people to leave when you want them to leave. We want to normalise safe behaviour for when you’re out on a night out on your own and we wanted to normalise talking very, very graphically about periods when they are not normal.”
This is a perfect example of what Sarah calls being “honest, feminist and fearless”, a checklist for her work that aligns with her values and helps her find what she wants to say:
Sarah explained her process by saying:
“Is what you’re doing honest, feminist and fearless? And a lot of time, it’s not honest. Then I’m just like, ‘well, it’s not for you then.”
Since working together, Katrina has also begun using this mantra and echoed Sarah’s feelings about it saying:
“it’s certainly something that resonates with me, and I feel like all our work absolutely is that…[Stunners] is fearless, because, well, why not in your first TV pilot dress up as a giant vagina?”
Katrina spoke about plans to create a space within Stunners for other underrepresented stories:
“We want to hopefully elevate other voices as well. Female writers are major, but there’s also non-binary and Trans writers, and, you know, lots of people that deserve their moment.”
Sarah added that:
“I think we genuinely just want to kind of go into anything we do with the idea of holding the door open behind us. That is the only way that we can get more voices, like ours and different ours from ours, in the door.”
Behind the scenes
Going into Stunners, Katrina and Sarah had a very clear vision of what they wanted. That’s when Niamh McKeown stepped in:
“Niamh was always the perfect choice [to direct] and she was so funny.” Said Sarah:
“She’s so different to both of us. Like she just comes out with stuff and we’re like, What the f**k? She’s amazing.”
Her work has earned official selections at some of the top film festivals by creating uniquely female narratives through her direction:
“Niamh was just like, ‘this isn’t going to look like what you think Scottish comedy is going to look like,” said Sarah.
And it doesn’t. Rather than distancing us with wide shots and self-deprecating humour like its counterparts, Stunners is sincere with soft lighting and close angles.
This was the learning curve for Katrina and Sarah, who made the majority of their sketches by themselves.
“We always go in being like we know that we enjoy doing this and we’ve got something to say and as long as we’re making ourselves laugh, then we can’t be doing anything too wrong.” Sarah explained:
“But then seeing… an entire team rally around a script that came from our brains and take it seriously. We were like oh sh*t.”
Now that the pilot is released the comedy duo is in a waiting period to see what is next for Lola and Ruby. Katrina teased:
“We would adore a six-episode series. Just to be given that opportunity to just go into this world and also, we’ve met people that we want to write for. I’ve never had that.”
As far as what a possible series might entail, the writers alluded to a much deeper storyline for their characters.
Sarah explained to Brig:
“The thing with Lola and Ruby is that one of the beautiful things about their friendship is that it’s fragile. Because how can either of them develop and move on with their lives without breaking what they have?” Said Sarah.
No matter what happens though both of them agreed that they were proud of how far they had come.
Talking about when the pilot was first released, Sarah told a story about some encouragement she received from a friend at the BBC:
“you’ve added your name and your content to like an industry and an establishment that is one hundred years old, and you added your voice to that archive,” Sarah said.
When asked what it feels like to have a BBC comedy, Katrina laughed saying:
“None of this was happening at the end of 2020. Our first sketch wasn’t even out yet. It’s so important to just go ‘you’ve done that!’ But it’s so easy to want the next bit. I think we do that naturally as humans, but it’s a f**king achievement!”
Whatever that next bit is, it can’t come soon enough.
Featured image credit: Mark Bignall