La Princesa de Woking: Sex, Brexit and big hair in Emma Sidi’s glorious spoof

If a Mexican TV company set a Spanish-language soap opera in a bland British town, peppering the script with gratuitous references to the NHS and Brexit alongside the usual telenovela recipe of sex, murder and big hair, the result would be something like La Princesa de Woking, a new pilot created by the comedian Emma Sidi. In this gloriously overheated seven-minute episode, we meet Becky, played by Sidi, who discovers after her mother is killed by a falling chandelier that her father is marrying a gold-digger from the local chapter of Ukip. What is Becky to do, other than toss her hair repeatedly in the direction of the camera, tremble at the sight of her hunky new stepbrother, and (possibly) shove her stepmother down the stairs?

In the tradition of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, La Princesa de Woking could pass for an authentic example of precisely what it’s spoofing: the muddy colours, wobbly music and sincere, straight-faced acting are pitch perfect. Sidi knows her onions; she grew up in Woking and spent seven months in Mexico as part of a languages degree. “I lived in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which is essentially the Woking of Mexico. The people were nice, it was 36 degrees and there was just nada. I became fascinated by that mixture of the exotic and the mundane.”

With several acclaimed Edinburgh shows behind her, she pitched a telenovela idea to TV channels and production companies. “There was always a bit of a barrier when I said I wanted it to be in Spanish. You know: ‘We don’t really speak that in the UK.’” But the directing duo Big Red Button – AKA Johnny Burns and Pier van Tijn – brought it to fruition, with both its original tongue and its tackiness intact. “I said that if we didn’t have enough money we could drop the idea of shooting it with vintage cameras,” Sidi recalls. “But they pushed for all that. It’s the attention to detail which makes it funny.”

That extends to the bilingual performers, who will be unfamiliar to UK audiences; this patently isn’t, say, the Stath Lets Flats cast passing for Mexican. If the budget can be raised for more episodes, the show will stick to that rule, with guest slots for the occasional comedy star. “But they’d have to learn their lines in Spanish,” Sidi insists. Other ideas are in the pipeline, especially now that Prince Andrew has put the Woking branch of Pizza Express on the map. “I was watching the interview live and I screamed at that bit!” she says. “Maybe Becky could meet a member of the royal family in a pizza restaurant, and get married to him for half an episode.”

Among the work that’s been delayed for Sidi by the Covid-19 crisis is a part in Rose Matafeo’s HBO Max sitcom, which was due to start filming a week before lockdown began, as well as a third series of the BBC Three vlogging sitcom, Pls Like. And, though she did perform in a recent Knock2Bag remote comedy night at Moth Club in east London, she doesn’t consider herself a natural online comedian: “I rely so much on improvisation and audience interaction that I’m not very good at it.” Asked to nominate someone who is, she singles out the recent bite-sized sketches by The Pin. “They’ve nailed the Zoom conversation so perfectly. It’s freakishly relatable.”

Pondering the future of live comedy, though, tends to make her sad. “The magic is knowing anything can happen in that room on that particular night and that it’ll never happen exactly like that again. I remember Mae Martin doing a gig where it turned out practically the whole front row was called Mariana. It was insane! They all got their driving licences out to prove it.” She shakes her head at the memory. “That’s an example of why live comedy is so great – it’s the communal experience. I guess things will come back slowly. Space between seats, mics disinfected between each performer, that sort of thing. It sounds crazy but that could be part of the MC’s job: they’ll have to carry wipes with them.”

• La Princesa de Woking is on YouTube.

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