Yonderland S2: the cast talk puppets, Star Wars & Labyrinth

Mathew Baynton and Martha Howe-Douglas take us into the wonderful world of Yonderland Series 2

Debbie (Martha Howe-Douglas) and Elf (voiced by Mat Baynton)
Debbie (Martha Howe-Douglas) and Elf (voiced by Mat Baynton)
Debbie (Martha Howe-Douglas) and Elf (voiced by Mat Baynton)

The UK’s most bizarre comedy is back! Yonderland returned to Sky 1 this week for Series 2, which is shaping out to be just as strange, silly and brilliant as ever. We talked to two of the show’s stars, Mathew Baynton and Martha Howe-Douglas (both also of Horrible Histories fame), to find out what’s in store for Debbie, Elf and the residents of Yonderland

SFN: How did you find the reaction to Yonderland’s first series?

Mathew: Well, I guess we couldn’t have written it that well ourselves! All the reviews were positive and lots more people watched it, the viewing figures went through the roof. I guess it would be a bit odd to say we didn’t expect it to go well because why would you make a show if you didn’t believe in it? But we were pleasantly surprised just how well it went down. And the great thing is that it means you get to make another series and have more fun with your mates.

SFN: Yonderland has been compared to Monty Python a lot. What do you think of that?

Martha: It’s a very flattering comparison, I think!

Mathew: It’s kind of inevitable when you’re doing multi-character stuff as a group, and also we all grew up with Python. We’re all fans of it and we make no pretence that we’re not directly influenced by them. You know, there’s moments of even direct homage that we’ve paid to them, but luckily no one has compared us to them unfavourably. It’s always been to say that we remind them of Python as opposed to we’re nowhere near as good as them. [Laughs] So it’s really flattering! In fact, we all went to the reunion show together.

SFN: We’ve heard that Yonderland is a bit more adult this season. Is that true?

Martha: We’ve got a later time slot. But I don’t think you’d notice much… perhaps we’ve got a little cheekier with some of the jokes, but really it’s an extension of the first series in that it’s equally as silly and absurd.

Mathew: Families watched the first series and the adults loved it as much as the kids. You realise that by promoting something as a family show, a huge sway of the population will be adults without kids thinking that it’s not for them and therefore not tuning it. There’s no reason why someone with kids would have a different sense of humour to someone without kids, and we’re really pleased that Sky wanted to do a slightly later time slot and try to open out its appeal because we want as many people to enjoy it as possible.

Mathew Baynton as Bombero in Series 1
Mathew Baynton as Bombero in Series 1

SFN: Are you all fans of the fantasy quest genre that it takes on?

Mathew: Yeah, to varying degrees of obsession. One of the fun things about working in this team is that because there are six of us, there’s a real breadth of tastes in there. Jim [Howick] is obsessed with Game Of Thrones at the moment.

Martha: Larry [Rickard] is a massive Star Wars fan.

Mathew: Yeah, we’re all big Star Wars fans so there’s many a Star Wars reference in this series. Star Wars creeps into everything.

SFN: Did your combined love of the genre inspire the show?

Mathew: It was more the fact that we wanted to do something multi-character. The opportunity to make something together came about because of Horrible Histories and we wanted to still be doing what we loved about that, which was playing loads of characters and raiding the dressing up box. We thought if we did another sketch show it would always be in the shadows of Horrible Histories, in a way. So fantasy seemed like the ideal place to go to allow us to play lots of different characters and explore the same sort of silly tone and be really colourful and anarchic but within the kind of narrative format instead of a sketch format. And we were all fans of Labyrinth! That was the biggest touch for this, really, and the idea of using puppets was just a dream. We thought they’d tell us we couldn’t but we were kind of amazed to get everything we wanted.

SFN: The puppets are incredible! I love Nick the Stick.

Mathew: He was great! Coming up with stupid ideas like that in a room and then showing up and they’ve built these incredible animatronic, real characters, those are the kind of magic moments, when other people’s talents that you couldn’t dream of having have brought your silly ideas to life.

SFN: Martha, what’s it like acting opposite a puppet? Debbie spends a lot of time with Elf.  

Martha: I think the first series was a real baptism of fire, really, in terms of not so much acting with them but the logistics of negotiating your path around the puppeteer underneath what you see, so that was a little bit tricky. But I think across the board we’ve learnt so much from the first series that we’ve kind of taken into the second series. It’s not weird; because the puppets are so brilliantly brought to life, you kind of treat them like they are real! I speak to the puppeteer through the puppet and they’ll do the puppet back when they’re talking back to you! You kind of just assume that they are the character. But it’s so much fun! Like Mat said, to have something that you create on paper and then it’s realized, it’s just amazing.

SFN: Have you ever written something for the show that was brilliant when you thought of it, but then you’ve had to cut it out during filming because it was either too ridiculous or just impossible to execute?

Mathew: With the puppets, lots of that first series was written with Debbie and Elf walking through the woods, and what we discovered is that the hardest thing for puppets to do is walk! We’ve learnt that there were things on the page that seemed extreme or difficult or time consuming like someone’s head exploding, when actually it turned out that it’s really easy, but just trying to get Elf to walk five paces is absolute hell. It can’t be done without breaking a human being. It’s true what Martha said: there was one particular scene we did in that first series where we were all peering over a ditch and if the camera panned down it would have looked like a fancy dress orgy! Just five or six bodies and we weren’t sure what belonged to who.

From L-R: Laurence Rickard, Jim Howick, Mathew Baynton, Ben Willbond, Nick the Stick, Elf, Martha Howe-Douglas, Simon Farnaby
From L-R: Laurence Rickard, Jim Howick, Mathew Baynton, Ben Willbond, Nick the Stick, Elf, Martha Howe-Douglas, Simon Farnaby

SFN: Do you have favourite characters to play on the show?  

Martha: Well, mine would be Debbie, I guess! [Laughs]

Mathew: I really loved the Ninnies in the first series. They were great, so we’ve brought them back in the second series. You get to sort of find out what they are like now that they are allowed to read the book. They’re still idiots, they’re just a different kind of idiot.

SFN: Are any new characters going to be introduced?

Mathew: Yeah! Loads! We thought it would be boring to have a show where you’re just introducing all these crazy characters and then do a second series where you just bring all of them back. There are new characters in every episode. Loads!

Martha: But a few of our favourites pop back.

SFN: I loved Miss Fanshawe and Mr Havelock, but I suppose their storyline wrapped up in Series 1.

Mathew: It did. There might be a little… you never know… But there are new running jokes in this one as well and also more of an exploration of Imperatrix, who Martha plays. She gets to do good and evil against herself.

SFN: Mackenzie Crook guest starred in the first episode. Do you have any more guests lined up for the rest of the series?

Martha: We have Anthony Head. He was great actually! He played my father-in-law, so he’s a character in the real world.

SFN: Do you ever end up improvising while you’re filming?

Mathew: Yeah, we do! I mean, we’ve always sort of adlibbed quite a lot and the joy of having written this ourselves is that it’s not like you’re disrespecting the writer to do it because we wrote it! So there is a fair bit of adlibbing. In a way a lot of the show gets written through that process in the beginning in a room in Soho somewhere. We’re just trying to make each other laugh coming up with stories for the show, and in the process we’ll be scribbling lines that each other have said, just anything that makes us laugh we jot down.

Yonderland Series 2 is currently airing on Mondays at 8pm on Sky 1 and Sky 1 HD.