Kiell Smith-Bynoe returns to the Fringe

Best known for his TV roles on Stath Lets Flats, Ghosts and the latest series of Taskmaster, Kiell Smith-Bynoe brings a chaotic kids party to the Edinburgh Fringe and goes back to his improv roots

Feature by Polly Glynn | 04 Aug 2023
  • Kiell Smith-Bynoe

“I genuinely think it's probably the best show I've done live, and I've been doing live theatre since I was like 11,” says Kiell Smith-Bynoe, describing String v SPITTA as it heads to Edinburgh Fringe for the very first time. 

The show, about two rival children’s entertainers on the London kids’ party scene, has been in the works for the best part of a decade. “We actually started doing it in 2016. That’s when we first performed it,” and when the legendary, late director Adam Brace first saw it and took it under his wing. 

String to Smith-Bynoe’s SPITTA is Ed MacArthur, recently seen in the Bad Education reboot and Dreamland alongside Smith-Bynoe and Lily Allen. The pair met through a mutual friend and hit it off after discovering a shared history of working in children’s entertainment and both being musically-minded. “We just knew every time we met up we'd make a REALLY good song so we just kept doing that,” developing the show around the music they made. Modestly, Smith-Bynoe pins the show’s previous successes (sell-out runs at Soho Theatre, five-star reviews from national newspapers) on “a mixture of talent and working with an Eton Boy. Ed's definitely got a lot of things that I don't and one of them is not getting bored or giving up when things get uninteresting.”

The pair have also had to persevere with audiences getting a little out of hand. As a kids show for adults, some crowds regress more than others. Their press night audience in 2021 “were probably worse than any children that I've dealt with. There were two women in particular that were incredibly drunk, talking to us as if it was like Gogglebox or something. It's probably the worst heckling we've ever got.” Smith-Bynoe looks on, the trauma flooding back.  After “a masterclass in dealing with an audience... some newspaper gave us this quite nice review, four star review, and at the end they put 'and they dealt with hecklers quite well'. I was like 'QUITE WELL?'. They nearly took over the whole show. There was gonna be a riot. What do you mean 'quite well?!'”

Luckily Smith-Bynoe has been training for situations like these for years after finding improv comedy in his early teens. Aarawak Moon, a theatre company run by actors Jo Martin (Doctor Who, Fleabag, Back to Life) and the late Josephine Melville, had significant success with Blaggers, an improv show boasting Black British talent like Richard Blackwood and Robbie Gee. Junior Blaggers was born shortly after, with Smith-Bynoe joining the group aged 12 or 13. Several improv groups and a stint at an improv-led drama school later, he came to the Fringe with BattleActs! who he’s rejoining this August, as well as leading his own improv show Kool Story Bro. “We've never done it before,” he cackles, “and we actually don't have any time to try it out in London before we go to Edinburgh, so the 21st [of August] will be the first time I ever do it.”

Improv, he says, has “always been part of what I want to do and what I do and I'd like to do more of it on TV as well,” lamenting the lack of the format being broadcast outside of repeats of Whose Line is it Anyway? “That's another thing I'm trying to do at the moment, trying to figure out how we make improv work on TV. I haven't got the answers yet but hopefully one day.”

There’s a definite trace of improv in the Kiell we see on the latest series of Taskmaster, where he’s the epitome of competitiveness. Like many previous contestants, he’s quick to sing the show’s praises. “It's the best. You forget that you're at work. The organisation that goes into that show is unbelievable. It's like military or something. It's like if everyone in the military was like, a joker.” But unlike improv or his TV work, he was never tempted to make the onscreen Kiell more of a caricature: “It's very different for me and quite scary to show the world the real me in its truest form.”

As for the real-life Kiell, he’s delighted to return to Edinburgh, even if for a few days. Even when he’s performing in four separate shows on a couple of days. “I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be fun.” He waits a beat. “I'm gonna be so tired”.

String v SPITTA, 18-26 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard (Above), 8pm
Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Friends: Kool Story Bro, 21-23 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard (Forth), 10pm
BattleActs!, 21-27 Aug, Laughing Horse @ The Counting House (Ballroom), 11.30pm, free
Sounds Like..., 21-25 Aug, Underbelly Bristo Square (Ermintrude), 10pm (Kiell guesting 24-25 only)

Follow Kiell on Twitter at @kfRedHot and Instagram at @klayzeflaymz