Friday, 24 March 2017

"Here are some phrases..."


This is me trying to transcribe an audience's reactions to a show that I performed nine years ago (the promenade performance of Jonah Non Grata at the Shunt Lounge). Is that someone saying "This is an asshole of a night" at 40 minutes, 40 seconds? I can't be sure. I might leave that out. It's tricky. What sounds like "Good question" on one cheap set of headphones turns out to be "Is it Russian?" on another, and if anyone can tell me what I'm saying 22 minutes and 28 seconds into this please let me know or I will just have to go with "I've discovered a new version of ham" which it definitely isn't.

It's a surprisingly creative procrastination exercise though: Initially I just wanted to subtitle the video (using youtube's CC function) because so much of it was inaudible and because it beat writing something new, but the subtitles seem to be taking on a nice life of their own now and something new seems to be making itself regardless. Maybe this is because I've spent nearly a week staring at the thing but it might also be because so much of the show concerns the reading or repeating of text: phrases in a foreign accent, instructions, hymns, Ian Livingstone's "City of Thieves", that it seems apt these texts are now literally take centre stage. I also like that any audience murmur I can make out is now also "text". You could never do this in the live show. This is the book. It's almost like a comic. Finally. And the fact that so many of the words are inaudible might actually be helping that. Words and pictures.

 
I still haven't made a decision about Edinburgh though, obviously. This is what I'm doing instead. I'll let you know when I've finished, but in the meantime here's the test piece I did a few weeks ago, although I don't know who or what I was testing, maybe just people's capacity attention.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

In lieu of a new blog post: Hannah's show. That.

Here's an alert: Anyone who can make it to Shoreditch Town Hall tonight or tomorrow to catch Hannah Ringham's new show should do so. That's a lot of you I realise, okay let's narrow it down: Anyone who can blah blah the above, and who has ever asked themselves "what is actually funny though?" should go and see - No... Yes, anyone - No. Everyone... Look I suppose my point really is that I saw it last night, and I was hugely and happily reminded of just what an influence this artist's been on me. And I thought about what it might be like for someone who's never seen Hannah before or heard her writing, and I suspected it might be mind-blowing. I first saw her perform nearly twenty years ago in early Shunt cabarets, and I worked a lot with her since, both in Shunt and out, but I never actually saw her perform on her own until last night (apart from the showings we'd give each other when we were making a show which I've said elsewhere are among my happiest memories of watching theatre). And I noticed myself laughing aloud last night a lot more than anyone else in the audience, sure, but that's normally a good sign. And I was reminded of this blog - In fact that's one of the main reasons I'm recommending the show here, just to let Hannah fill in some blanks - And I thought once again about whether we bill what we do as "theatre" or "comedy", because people should know that they are allowed to laugh, but we don't want to break any promises either, but also, dammit, we want to plant our flags. We do want to go "This is funny. This has heart. This little. Just this. Doesn't it?" We want to check, at least... Listen to me, going "we"! I had forgotten how good Hannah's work was for me. I recommend you get some.

(And if you do book tickets on the site don't worry, as I worried, about having to print your own. It's just the site being stupid. Just go.) 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

There are more things in Heaven and Ufton Nervet...

"Populism can survive only amid polarization... Don't feed polarization, disarm it."   This guy

Well this is pretty disarming. Disarming and utterly brilliant.


I found it searching for "Time Spanner" on youtube. As a city boy I'm not entirely sure I get all the references. Is it a Brexit thing? Who cares? I assume the name Time Spanners is a brilliant act of reappropriation though, rather than a terrible mistake. So yeah, two pretty unrelated links... I just thought, parenthetically, it's worth bearing in mind that fascism probably does thrive on polarization, and that there's little more polarizing than a referendum. I'm not saying any of this was planned, but maybe let's not have any more, and - note to self - no matter how hard things get, let's do everything we can to stop that inner census asking of every new face we see: "How did they vote?" because it only helps the heavies. "Oyez. Bad dog."

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Share and Enjoy

LOOK HOW HAPPY HE IS!

Wow I've really played a game of chicken plugging this. Okay, "Time Spanner" - the thing whose progress I've been charting on this blog the past ten years - finally had a pilot recorded in June and was then broadcast on Radio 4 a month ago, which means you now have just one day left to listen to it. Sorry.

And look who turned up to the recording! 
Ben Moor! Ned Mond! Julia, Joel, Jason, Katy Wix!
(Wedding photographer: Stephen Evans)

Has it really been ten years in the making? This interview from September 2007 suggests not: There I talk about wanting to write a vehicle for myself about a homeless wedding planner instead. What I think I realised soon after that interview however was that if I was going to write that, I'd have to research wedding planning, and I wasn't very interested in researching wedding planning so opted instead for this sort of cosmic science-fiction fantasy - You know "Doctor Who"? That. 

Beautiful pic for the Radio Times by Thomas Flintham

Of course it's not really "Doctor Who" (Carrrie Quinlan's got that gig sewn up.) It rips off so many ideas from so many sources that hopefully I can't be fingered for any specific theft. The real impetus behind Time Spanner is probably the comics I read in my teens, when comics seemed to be doing something amazing, when Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" created a playground in which Peter Milligan's "Shade the Changing Man" could hang back on the benches coolly composing existential thought experiments with painted covers by Brendan McCarthy, while the more popular kids like Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" entered everything and won the gold, exactly the same impetus behind that strip I did about a slacker sent on a mission by an angel twenty years ago, now that I think about it. Sorry. Obscure references. Bad. 
Also I wanted to write the show to which "Peaches En Regalia" was the theme tune. 

 Team Spanner photo by Amanda Benson
l to r: Jeremy Limb, me, David Mitchell, John Finnemore, London Hughes, Belinda Stewart-Wilson

So yes I'm sorry I haven't given you blog-readers much notice of this culmination. You'll probably want to listen to it three or four times, that's what all the cool dudes are doing. John suggests as much in this very nice piece. "John" as in John Finnemore, who played Laika - both in the finished thing and in that first read-through that he let us do in his flat six years ago. (Organising those read-throughs was the only deadline I had for finishing a script.) Also present at that first read-through was the show's producer Gareth Edwards, who I suspect experienced even more ups and downs trying to get this commissioned than I did. For me this was always the dream. You're a fool to be disappointed if you don't get your dream. But Gareth managed it.

And a lot of the "refining" John writes about was the result of conversations I had with Gareth both in emails and in person, and indeed in the final edit where a tenth of the show had to be cut to meet the running time. I only know this by checking the original script. It didn't feel like a tenth because Gareth clearly cut the right tenth. It was Gareth too who suggested that I call this other dimension "Heaven", rather than as it stood in the 2010 draft, "Uberspace". "Uber" didn't mean then what it does now. Similarly the choice of an unhinged, dictatorial reality-television-starring property developer as the story's heavy seemed a lot more light-heartedly surreal back in 2010. Here's the problem: Among the many exciting things comics were doing back in that exciting period I mentioned was the refashioning of Superman's arch-enemy Lex Luthor into a satire on Donald Trump. And it wasn't just Lex Luthor. By the release of "Batman Returns" you couldn't budge for superheroes pitting themselves against wealthy philanthropists secretly trying to take over the world, all of whom provided the seed for Kraken.


So I hope Time Spanner gets a series. Of course I do. But what's funny has changed so, just between you and me, I might have to rethink where it goes. That's the problem when you grow up reading surrealist apocalypic dystopia. But it's also exciting. Far worse for the fate of the show would have been if everything was now fine. I'm still glad I didn't go with that wedding planner idea. Shall we cheer ourselves up further by looking at more of Amanda Benson's lovely rehearsal photographs?

Here's our Kraken. I had asked for Jon Hamm but what are you going to do? It's worth mentioning that if it wasn't for David Mitchell I wouldn't be writing comedy at all and I certainly wouldn't have written this. He effectively joined Gareth as midwife for the last two years of this thing's birth.

Returning for a second to Jon Hamm: I love Mad Men creator Matt Weiner's motto "Subtext is Pleasure" and I was keen that the dialogue in Time Spanner should sound pretty natural and leave as many jokes unsaid as possible, if that make sense. The problem is that commissioners are only going to read your script once, if that, and even if by some miracle they do correctly interpret every nuance and fluff the actors who end up having to perform the thing are only going to be spending a single afternoon with these words as well, so you have to make it absolutely clear why people are saying what they're saying on the first read. It's not Shakespeare. And it was David who suggested the solution. Stage Directions. Here's an example:

       
Needless to say all David's ideas were good. Here I think he's suggesting John be given a stool:

And here he is holding a script in front of his face because the character he is playing is on the other side of a door. John as Laika is urging me on. I as Martin am literally miming holding a cup of tea because I'm new to this.

Oh yes. That name. "Martin". I wanted - as we all want - something basically normal but a little unfortunate. "Martin Gay" just came up in conversation eight years ago and I thought: Bingo! It wasn't until two years into the drafting that I realised I'd plumped for exactly the same name John had already chosen for his own feckless sitcom hero, and by then it was too late. This might be why nobody in the episode ever actually addresses my character as just "Martin".


London! Secret weapon. Gareth always said Gabbie was the key. Here's another indicator of how long I've been writing this: I was writing for Laurence and Gus when I first thought of Gabbie. Isy Suttie was in the cast and I thought she might make a good Gabbie and then, by a total coincidence, she was cast as someone called Dobbie in Peepshow. That long ago. Anyway, auditioning actors for Gabbie might have been the most grown-up thing I've ever done. Everyone we saw gave beautiful, intelligent readings but London Hughes actually reminded who Gabbie was. I don't mean that she reminded me of Gabbie, I mean she reminded me who Gabbie was, and why Gareth was so right. There's a surplus energy in Gabbie you can't transcribe and without which very little Martin does in this episode really makes emotional sense. So we were very lucky with London. If you want more of her - and of course you do - try here.

Far right: B-Stew gets into the zone. She took a porridge of archetypes and instantly made sense of it: Angel, yes, Muse, sure, but also Femme Fatale, Bell Dame Sans Merci, Cylon, Siri, White Witch, VALIS, the Sorceress from He-Man, that weird female Buddha from Monkey Magic, "M", and if this is a rip-off Doctor Who, the Doctor - a character referred to in the script simply as "the Voice" so nervous was I of pinning her down, Belinda took all this and simply made it sing.

And completing the team, second from left, the unweildily talented Jeremy Limb from The Trap and Music. You can hear his own science fiction comedy epic Event Horizon Crescent here. If Time Spanner is a baby I always wanted Jeremy to be Godfather. In the Green Room before the recording, as final tweaks to the script were being made, it occurred to me how lucky I was to be in one of the best writers' rooms ever assembled. So thanks again to Gareth and to all the cast for keeping me company. And thanks to everyone who came to the read-throughs and played the roles and helped them exist a bit more. And thanks again to John who always seemed to love this thing in all its forms. Which meant it was probably good. Which meant I stuck at it.

Have I missed anything? OH! THE LINK! Here
(And you can like it on here too.)
((And also broadcast that same belated epiphany was Now The Twelfth Night Show, which I loved appearing in, and which you also have a day left to listen to.))

Sunday, 25 December 2016

A Christmas Reconciliation Between the Swedish Chef and Big Bird


Merry everything! Yes, I'm back in Puissalicon for the festival of lights and the Queen's speech (I liked this one) but I didn't watch A Muppet Christmas Carol because I still don't like that Jim Henson was dead for it. I do like that he was still around for A Muppet Family Christmas however so here's a lovely festive clip from it, featuring a rare encounter between Big Bird and the Swedish Chef, insight, laughs, chokes, a song, the usual Muppet magic and the deathless Muppet pertinent binary. It's wonderful.


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And speaking of wonderful, John Finnemore's Christmas Special heralds in a new series of Souvenir Programme this Tuesday! Thank goodness for the good guys. Happy First Night, readers!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Seasonal Wear

Well, the show reel worked. At the time of writing this I've been put up for at least two festive jobs where sad dads stare brokenly at bills. Here's the one I got.

It was filmed last week, around what used to be the Arndale Centre back when I grew up in Wandsworth. Behind me in the above screengrab is what used to be the Ram Brewery* and in front of it, wearing the hi vis, director Kevin Curtis. He writes "please ignore the misleading thumbnail - it’s been a source of great disagreement here with us!" but I don't know what he's talking about. Enjoy.


And I've had a second Santa gig since: Nordic this time. Long straight hair and a blue tunic, chuckling and waving carrots at party-goers while occasionally tugging at the necks of the People Pile like a consensual Jabba. That same night I dreamt the gig all over again - the only time I've ever dreamt a straight flashback -  but no photos were allowed, so here instead is a nice shot of what we did on Halloween, that particularly Mexican-themed Halloween of 2016 we spent a full week celebrating because it was the year of the dead. The invitation said "come dressed as your dark side" so here it is, you mothers!

taken by Graham Turner. More here.


October looks warm now.

* When I was four, the Arndale Centre sported a poster for butter curls on toast and I thought that's where the smell of yeast was coming from.

There's actually an updated show reel with clips from "Suicide Hotline" here.
You can see a trailer for "Nightmare on Deskteeth Street" here.
And you can see what the Arndale Centre looked and sounded like when I was four, seven and a half minutes into an episode of Grange Hill here.