IMAGINE that Emma Thompson throws a dinner party.
Who might the illustrious lady of UK film invite, and what would they talk about?
In the world of the Monkey Poet, she invites the cast of Love Actually in an unofficial sequel to the hit film, but most definitely not written by Richard Curtis.
The Monkey Poet – aka Matt Panesh – takes on the role of the ever hopeful Colin the caterer, who in Curtis’ film leaves the UK for the USA to find the girls he can’t get at home because “I am Colin. God of Sex. I’m just on the wrong continent, that’s all”.
In Love Hurts Actually Colin is still catering, but this time he’s serving up the drinks and snacks to Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon and 'the little boy who grew up to be in Game of Thrones' at their annual Christmas get together.
There are laughs, jocularity, class war and a surprise visit from the late Sir John Gielgud.
And there might be a surprise in store at the end.
“I write comedy with a point to it,” says Panesh, “but it is not a case of hitting the audience around the head with a big stick – it’s about laughing your socks off for 40 minutes, then I’ll get to the point at the end.”
You don’t have to have seen the film to enjoy the show and if you have, it doesn’t matter whether you loved it or hated it.
“There are plenty of in-jokes for those who love the film, acid satire for those who hate it, and dollops of other stuff for those who have never seen it, so they won't be left behind."
Panesh, who lives in Manchester, took an acting course in his youth and found it “cliquey” and not to his taste at all.
“Then I thought if I can’t go in front of the camera, I’ll go behind it and did a TV operations course, but that was even worse!” he says.
He did some bar work and then went into sales, but the lure of performing proved too strong.
“I was in a sales job and they offered me a promotion if I didn’t go to Edinburgh, but I only lasted for about three weeks. It was a six-figure salary but it was like saying ‘as long as you consign your dreams to the dustbin’.
“Funnily enough,” he adds, “everyone I’ve met since I actually started doing this has been lovely.”
He now has a schedule of writing a show, taking it to the Edinburgh Festival, touring in the US, returning home to Manchester then starting to write the next one.
He doesn’t shy away from the controversial – the first show was entitled Welcome to Afghanistan – “It was as funny as it sounds!” he quips.
And he welcomes his reviewers, whether bad or good.
“I once had someone throw a load of beer bottles at me in the US,” he recalls.
“But that worked out all right because I got the nickname ‘trashcan guy’ and everyone around the comedy circuit got to know about it. I’d rather have a fivestar review here and a one-star review there than three stars all the way.”
He’s been to Salisbury before with his past two shows but his new show, he says, is the one he is the most proud of.
“It is the fastest-paced show I’ve ever done and it’s hard work, but it’s also the most fun. It’s a roller-coaster and by the time I get to the end the audience is dazed – and so am I!”
The first 45-minute half of the show consists of the dinner party parody Love Hurts Actually, then the second half is stand-up.
“You can tell which half it is by what I drink,” says Panesh. “The first half is water, the second half I have a beer and relax.”
* Love Hurts Actually is at Salisbury Arts Centre on Saturday, May 3 at 8pm and is suitable for ages 16 and up. Tickets and information at salisburyartscentre.co.uk, or call 01722 321744.