Hayley Sproull is Wellington's latest, greatest comedy talent, winner of Best Newcomer at the 2012 New Zealand International Comedy Festival. Her solo act Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues, which recently played a season in Auckland and is now on again in Downstage's Weekend Comedy Cocktail, has been a hit. In it, she becomes a wacky substitute for a geography teacher and encourages her out-front ''class'' of of pubescent boys to express themselves through music.
Timing, of course, is everything. Especially if you're in a marching team. And it turns out Sproull, 22, is not just an ace at comedy, she's also in the country's top marching team, Lochiel, and has been for a long time.
She has marched in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, in Switzerland and in Norway. Next year she's off to Edinburgh again. Marching has kept her timing immaculate since she was 9 years old. She comes from a marching family. Her mum was a marching girl and a coach and her grandfather also coached marching.
Her family is also into fun. Her dad, she says, is ''a bit of a clown''. So, for her, being a comedienne is ''quite a natural thing''.
''I've always loved making people laugh. Since I was a kid I was known to be 'that girl'. I think it's built into my DNA, a sense of comic timing. I'm sure one day it might fail me and it will be a real bomber, but it isn't this show. It came up trumps.''
She couldn't, though, be sure of Miss Fletcher's appeal. Until she went on stage at Bats for the first time, the whole show had only been seen by one person.
Miss Fletcher emerged as a character when Sproull was in her third year at Toi Whakaari, from which she graduated last year. The class was required to dash out a 20-minute solo show. Sproull conjured up Miss Fletcher.
''I finished drama school and someone recommended I approach the comedy festival with my show.''
She did, extending it to an hour and trying it out before the first night on a friend. She was very nervous on opening night, on her own with her own words, a complete novice at a solo public comedy show.
''I wasn't sure how the audience would react.''
From the first laugh, she knew it would be fine.
''They reacted overwhelmingly. I couldn't believe it, shocking and ecstatic. At the end of the show I knew I'd really enjoy it. It's such an amazing feeling. I can't describe what it's like to be there.'' The season at Bats sold out.
''I'm quite naughty, and I feel I can do anything with them [the audience]. I'm the ringmaster at that point.''
Her on-stage intentions haven't always been to make the audience laugh. At Queen Margaret College, Shakespeare was her bag and playing Richard III is no joke.
''It's very, very dramatic. I went to an all-girl school and it was quite normal to play male roles - Hamlet, Macbeth and Richard III. I played him with great seriousness and I think I won an award for most outstanding performance - the betrayal of Richard III.''
Her stage life could easily have been more music than comedy. She began learning to play the piano at 5. ''When I applied for drama school I was thinking about applying for the New Zealand School of Music. I got into drama school first. I thought my piano career would end then and there but now I can do both.''
Miss Fletcher won't keep Sproull on stage forever, fresh as she makes it with nightly improvisation.
''I do have to do something after that, something equally exciting, funny and naughty.
''The wonderful thing is, Miss Fletcher has led to other acting jobs, a show at Circa, West End Girls, and I'm currently doing a film with Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clements, working on their new feature.''
Sproull hasn't ruled out straight acting, though she's made her early name with a combination of comedy act and music.
''I am an actress first and foremost and I think if I'm a funny one, I'm a funny one, but I wouldn't shut off an opportunity to do straightforward acting. I'm a huge Shakespeare fan.
''Miss Fletcher I've created myself. It wasn't handed to me. So many people in New Zealand want to do what I'm doing but there are very few jobs. If you want to do it you have to create work yourself in the hope that people like Downstage want to put it on. No-one's going to carry you to fame ...
''If I could do this the rest of my days, I would. If people don't see it as funny any more, that's fine. I might become a piano teacher.''
Downstage Weekend Comedy Cocktail: Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues is at Downstage until October 27.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Have you read Kiwi author Eleanor Catton's Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries?Related story: What now for Eleanor Catton?