Oh, the things a therapist must hear. Rebecca Front’s psychoanalyst hears a lot more than most in one of Britain’s craziest comedy shows—her clients include Jackie Kennedy, Mary, Queen of Scots and Mona Lisa.
Psychobitches is a sketch show like no other; a rolling cast impersonates some of history’s greatest women as they spill their darkest secrets and most twisted desires. In the upcoming second season, Margaret Thatcher is wheeled out on a Hannibal Lecter-style gurney; Tammy Wynette sings her concerns, letter by letter; and Little Miss Muffet recalls her wildest night: “Put it this way, I won’t be going on a date with Tom Thumb again.”
Front, who is best known as the foul-mouthed proto-Veep character in the The Thick of It, does a fantastic job as the straight-woman while her surreal roll-call of patients, all of whom are dead, take it in turns to overshare.
“The concept is just brilliant,” Front told the Daily Beast. “I heard it mentioned and just thought: ‘Yes, I have to have that part.’”
One of the show’s early breakout characters was Eva Braun, who hopes her new boyfriend, Adolf Hitler, may have finally broken her terrible run with men. “He loves his job, everyone really respects him, you know, when he walks into a room… Smart dresser—he’s really going places,” she says.
Any negatives, Eva? “….he might be a tiny bit racist.”
The show swings from moments of great historic significance—one of Henry VIII’s wives trying to convince him that you have to really work at a healthy marriage—to moments of hilarious flippancy like a drinking contest between the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.
“What’s interesting for me is I sit there while these people come and do brilliant things and I’m thinking, apart from trying to remember my lines, ‘This is the best one that we’ve done, this is just great.’ Then they go, and I think, ‘No, actually this is the best…”
Anna Nicole Smith is one of the funniest new additions to the cast. Slouching in her chair she is in defensive mode when describing the age of her latest lover. “Let’s just say I ain’t Edward’s first clam bake,” she says. “He’s in three figures.”
She claims to be bowled over by a genuine attraction to another older companion. “He’s got $500m worth of Facebook stock and the longest balls you’ve ever seen,” she says. “I can perform CPR without him having to withdraw.”
At a screening in London, the comedian and actress Morgana Robinson said she was less than enthusiastic when she was told she would be playing Smith. “I was a bit underwhelmed, I was like; ‘Oh God, some blond slag. How am I ever going to understand that?’” she said, laughing. “But I did my research and I fell in love with this woman, I’m fucking obsessed with her. The Anna Nicole Show is the best, best, best reality show.”
“She’s multi-faceted and very complicated as a character. She’s such a weirdo—she’s got the showgirl, and everything is so drastic,” she said, adopting a Smith/Marilyn Monroe voice. “’It’s raining, it’s pouring, my whole life is boring BECAUSE OF YOUUUUU.’ It’s very sad, very tragic, very funny.”
The show is not afraid to go after the characters pretty viciously, even the recently deceased, but there’s always an element of warmth in the imitations. Woman after woman rotates through the analyst’s chair. In a cutesy voice that brings Zooey Deschanel to mind, Audrey Hepburn says: “It’s a fine line between being charming and being irritating. You find me charming don’t you?”
Edith Piaf mournfully lists her mistakes, allowing Front a rare punch-line: “So… you do have some regrets.”
Jeremy Dyson, the director and head writer, said the female-led cast had made the project incredibly appealing. “The thing of the show is that it’s women—there’s enough shows with men doing silly voices,” he said.
“I couldn’t think of anything else that was like it. With sketch shows it’s normally a question of what binds this together? This was such a strong format that’s made it a joy to do.”
The only character they shied away from was Princess Diana. In the first series, she peers round the door into the room and the therapist looks down at her watch and says: “Too soon.”
Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, was afforded no such grace period. She died before they started shooting season two, and an unflattering caricature was included immediately. “People talk about inequality as if it’s a bad thing,” she says.
Robinson said the cast could hardly wait to see who would be next. “I literally emailed as soon as Joan Rivers conked it, and I was like: ‘Shotgun!’ It’s reason enough for a third season,” she said.
Front turned to Dyson, and said: “You are going to Hell. It’s only a matter of time before you start killing women!”
The second series of Psychobitches starts on Tuesday November 25th on Sky Arts in the U.K.