Monday, 30 June 2008

Bratwerk: A second horrible love story

(originally posted on myspace here)

I got back from the Wambam Club about an hour ago and I'm having second thoughts now about not having a compere for "The Information". Not doubts. Just thoughts. But that's not why I'm blogging. I just phoned my imaginary girlfriend and I need to come here and hide. I need to post my two days 'orth. I need to buy myself some time before finally, definitely knuckling down to that sketch about Tesla- I've said too much... So yes, I got round to unpacking and boxing all the stuff my parents left for me and one of the last items to turn up was this, from the earliest comic of mine that I can find. The other strips were all Leo Baxendale knock-offs like the stuff I've already posted. I called them "Willy The Kid Books" because that's basically what they were, except for this one. Here, for once, the 5-year-old me decides to do away with the usual stumpy-heads-have-accidents-at-the-fun-fair-or-museum structure and go for something a bit more epic, Peer Gyntish even, involving a bride, a groom, a baby, a tramp and a harpy. The more I look at this story, the more I like it. And I don't think you're supposed to understand what the harpy's saying. We'll speak in a couple of days. Night night.

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Le Nouveau Vieux (+horrible love story)

The trick, I'd say, is this: Don't try and come up with something new that nobody's seen before. Try and come up with something INCREDIBLY OLD that nobody's seen before.

That's why I wanted "Jonah Non Grata" to feel a bit like stumbling into a church. And it's why I'm excited about Dr. David Rosenberg's plans for a new monthly comedy night at the Vaults. If anyone's interested do please get in touch. It will be called "The Information" and will put all of Shunt's technology at the disposal of invited comics. There will be no compering, just captions (probably) and every month a different "big idea" will be "pounded into shit-sized nuggets that we can carry around with us": War, Gods, Crime, Space, Witchcraft... and one as-yet unnamed topic that will cover both Love and Pornography. David's stuff's is rude, of course. It is obsessed with tyranny. It is also always depressingly prescient. Three examples:


It was in the middle of rehearsals for "Dance Bear Dance" - a show based on the gunpowder plot - that the Twin Towers fell. And our curtain call...


... was decided upon months before Guantanamo Bay chose the same bags-on-the-head motif for its own publicity.

And it was in the middle of rehearsals for "Amato Saltone" - a show about sitting next to a killer - that the bombs went off in Tavistock Square. I argued at the time that nothing would change, that London was used to bombs. But I was wrong and the show was right, and now you have to pass through an X-ray machine and a metal detector just to get into a recording at Broadcasting House (No scissors are allowed for example, presumably in case you intend to hijack the building and fly it into a plane)...

And most recently: Why were two pages of the "Contains Violence" programme given over to this?

Well that's nobody's business but David's. However one month into the run Boris Johnson did become Mayor of London (and yet at the time of the programme going to print that seemed insane). Oh dear fuck, the first Tory victory my adult life has ever seen and it clearly won't be the last. "Well he can't be worse than Ken" said a new girl at work, but it turns out her godfather's head of the British National Party.

I suppose one of the less crappy things about this crappy present is how much access it gives me to the past, at least. Youtube has been shoring up all manner of extraordinary new old things for example, like the work of Ladislaw Starewicz (sp?):



Le Lion Devenu Vieux ( Axial`s live soundtrack for Starewicz animation) from Projeto Axial on Vimeo.

Talk about "That's all folks!"


And my apologies to those of you without broadband, but from now on I'm just going to assume everyone has it - Ah, while I think of it, quickly, check out Adam Buxton's Meebox, a fine example of something non-crappy fashioned from the present crap, although you've only got five hours left! (After that there'll still be bits of it here.) Adam Buxton really is an example to us all (well, me anyway) a prolific amateur in the best sense. He and Joe Cornish should definitely take over from Wogan next Eurovision. I, meanwhile, have yet to produce even one page of comedy... At two in the afternoon John Cusack (of all people) was still trying to frame me for a series of axe murders so that I'd get thrown off the board of directors of the Natural History Museum. Maybe in future I just won't bother with the snooze button.

And lay off staying up to watch "The Camomile Lawn".

Friday, 27 June 2008

Excuses, excuses and Heather Couper

(originally posted on myspace here)

 

 

Ack, daylight.



The sun says hello. Good afternoon then. My system of parallel alarms clearly hasn't done the trick. My sleeping body's learnt how to operate two snooze buttons simultaneously and instead of waking up I make it only as far as REM sleep where Sean Penn's crouched behind me in the back seat of a left-hand-drive Buick tearing through an orchard, saying how shit an actor he thinks Michael Caine is: "He always plays the same damn thing! He always does the same fucking thing with his hands! He should - Like one character should maybe have two fingers blown off so he's only allowed to use three fingers - Find something different to do with his hands. At least that would get him to fucking act for fucking once!" And I go "Well, hmm..." and watch the trees streak past and think "Shall I tell him how over-rated I think he is?" but don't. And then the alarm goes, my lizard brain kicks in, slams it off, goes back to sleep and now I'm channel-hopping with my Dad in a hotel in Spain... I tried to find a graphic to illustrate "lizard brain". I think its proper name is the cerebellum. There's supposed to be a lizard bit and then a mouse bit and then a monkey bit and then dolphin bit, but I can't work out where the lizard bit initially is. It's not the kernel. I think it's more like a little old-man-of-the-sea brain that clings onto the back, curled up like - now I come to think of it -

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Anyway by half past one in the afternoon some part of me even tires of being tired, and I reach a hand over to the off-white, Glen-Larson-schemed replacement phone I've been issued with since the theft of the one on which I used to play Sonic, and start playing Snake.

And Heather Couper's on the radio, discussing the anthropic principle. This as I understand it points out that if you throw a tin of paint against a wall it's got to leave SOME kind of mark, even though the chances of it leaving EXACTLY that mark are infinitesimally small. Ergo the presence in this universe of life intelligent enough to ask "Why are we present in this universe, ie here?" proves nothing but, well, itself... It's a very simple principle, confounded perhaps by my decision to explain it in terms of paint. Of course I remember Heather Couper back from when I was a kid watching her on Saturday morning television explaining Space or Halley's Comet or warning us not to look at an eclipse. She had a white jacket and a red shirt and a perm back then. Lovely, warm Heather Couper.

Was she always on because we were sending so much stuff into space? Were we? Or had we just got something back? It's odd to see in hindsight the conditions of your childhood environment revealed as blips, not constants. Are kids still even into Space? I know for a fact they still receive the same basic grounding I did in Ancient Egyptian burial technique, because whenever I ask them what this double-pronged eye-ball gouger's for their first response will always be "Oo, pulling the brains out through the nose!"

And I was reading Michael Palin's Diaries (1969-79) recently, in which he unwittingly charts the day-to-day gestation of the world into which I got born. Everything's so recent. I was amazed. Such-and-such a day saw the rise of the IRA, the discrediting of the Left, the gentrification of Notting Hill etc... I'd hoped, you see, that reading these diaries would help get me back into the act of writing (I hadn't forgetten about you) and bought quite a number of other books by writers about writing in this same vain hope. Read 'em all. Played Sonic. Then Snake. So I've read Brian Aldiss' "Bury My Heart in W.H. Smiths". And I've read Kurt Vonnegut's "A Man Without A Country", where he jots down "the funniest joke in the world" (Last night I dreamed I was eating flannel cakes. When I woke up the blanket was gone) although I found a funnier one I think on page 131:

"When I got Home from the Second World War, my Uncle Dan clapped me on the back, and he said, 'You're a man now.' So I killed him."

Another interesting thing about Palin's diaries: He writes nothing at all about the business of crafting sketches for Monty Python, but will meticulously chart the progress of a possible voice-over gig. (And it only takes him half an hour to write an entry. I can't be a writer. That explains it.)

And here's Anthony Neilson's advice to young writers, if you're interested. I've done some homework. And I don't disagree with what he says about the liberating discipline of "story", but all this stuff is just so self-evident and, as advice, useless. It's unilluminating. "Thou Shalt Not Bore". Oh, you think? It gets us nowhere. Silly, old, fantastic, paperbacky Brian Aldiss would be the first to point out the wrong-headedness of this simply as advice to a writer, let alone someone wishing to write for the theatre - SPECIFICALLY for the theatre. If all you want to do is tell a story then set up stall somewhere unheckleable and accessible to millions. Make no mess. Never fail. And, ahhh BLAH BLAH (I wonder if that Sean Penn dream had anything to do with this) anyway I'm awake now, my fingers hurt, it's dark, that was five hours well spent, and if there's one OTHER thing I learnt from the Palin diaries it's that sketches don't write themselves. So I'm off to play Snake. Stopping only when the measure of my own success makes me bite myself in the ass:
 


 
(Hm. That's two posts now that I've ended with the word "ass". Maybe I'm a writer after all.)

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Shout Stays In

(originally posted on myspace here)

 

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"DAHHH-lings!"

Where HAVE you been? You simply MUST come in! Look at all my wonderful new twenty-first century stuff! See, I have sorted all my split boxes of juvenilia, I've inherited a pair of shorts, bought a bonsai tree and a boxed set of Steve Reich, trained my feet to face forward by walking with my elbows out and I'm bounding about youtube and iplayer these days like the nimblest of cyber-squirrels. Really I've NO idea how I managed before: Last night I was able to catch "Snog, Marry or Avoid" at three in the morning, which is probably when it would be on anyway but there's all those charming documentaries they're making now about Thatcher and Mary Whitehouse, thank the baby blonde Jesus Derek Jarman's long dead and all his ilk but ANYWAY, you're very lucky to catch me in actually. I was supposed to be in Goodge Street doing a second day of devised work for the RSC with Anthony Neilson.
Only he's, it turns out, a bit shit.

The first day of devising was eye-opening. Shall we rewind? For the purposes of this story it would help if you knew something about Adriano Shaplin. He's a young American playwright. He sounds like this (thanks for teaching me that linking thing, Tom) and he looks like a young Robert Newton and is the writer-in-residence at the RSC. Last Tuesday he got in touch with me out of the blue asking if I'd like to be in this - which I subsequently was - and also if I'd like to be involved in something he and Anthony Neilson had been asked to prepare for the Royal Shakespeare Company's slot at the Latitude Festival. I did. I've always wanted to work with Adriano. He's good. I don't know much about Anthony Neilson but he's supposed to be a famous deviser and if the RSC were asking on board the odder theatricals I wanted in. Also, the pitch that Adriano had put to me sounded awesome: Zombies versus Pilgrims.

Zombies was Anthony's idea (Scratch that! I've just learnt it was Nick the sound czar's idea), Pilgrims was Adriano's - as in the Pilgrim Fathers, with the big buckles on the hats (is it established what those buckles actually tighten?) So I turned up this Monday to the basement of a church on Goodge Street and there was Adriano and actors and a sound designer and producer and all that, but no Anthony Neilson, and we start talking about - well Nick the sound czar talked about how interested he was in rumours at a festival, how news travels, and the producer talked about bringing along the RSC's make-up department to zombify the punters, and Adriano talked about teaching people the rules of being a zombie, the idea being that at midnight we'd put on this play about Pilgrims and at a given signal the recruited zombies would then attack, and we'd play Zombies versus Pilgrims. Of course there were clear and understandable qualms on the part of some of Neilson's invited company concerning the prospect of being physically assaulted by flesh-eating festival-goers, "health and safety" was mentioned (by actors, not producers) but hopefully the ironing out of this structure was what these two days were for. Then Anthony Neilson came in, two hours late, suited, bleary-eyed and with a bead of something that could charitably be indentified as sweat hanging from the scoop of his lower lip. His new idea, which had nothing to do with what Adriano and Nick had been e-mailing each other about all week, was to stick a telly in the tent, bung on a video of Shakespeare and then go and get pissed. This, it transpired as the day wore on, was his favorite idea that anyone had had: "It's basically going to be a Guardian-reading Audience, and this is the last thing people expect of the RSC, which as I understand it is kind of our remit. Also I don't understand what it is that's going to make people want to dress up as zombies. What if no-one turns up? I'm sympathetic to the ethos but I just don't think it will work. And why pilgrims? It doesn't have any significance? Surely the question is, when the zombies attack do the actors stay in character? It doesn't make sense that they would. And what's in it for the audience? (meaning the punters turning up at midnight to sit in the tent and watch, not the festival as a whole... blah blah roll forward five hours)... rather than this kind of gimmicky getting-the-audience-involved trap what if we put on, like, the most boring piece of theatre we can possibly make and then at the end a zombie comes on and kills the actor, or maybe not even a zombie, or we're just all in bed asleep, or it's like some really really bad stand-up. Anyway that as I see it is the third way, and my idea, which is what I propose that we do. So are we all agreed? Hang on I just have to take this call -"

And that's pretty much verbatim. So no, Anthony, not agreed but that's fine. Suddenly it all makes sense, all these long and heated - and as I once thought pointless - debates about a "Crisis in Theatre", because seated here before me, listening attentively and buying me a pint and tired and bored is the Crisis incarnate, the poster boy of maverick theatrical experimentation trussed up as a gormless yuppie. Adriano and I and our fellow actor Cait hung around on Goodge Street while everyone else was in the pub, trying to picture a workable scenario for the following day's "workshop". It was clear to me there wouldn't be one. I mean, if you can't see HOW COOL ZOMBIES VERSUS PILGRIMS ARE HOW CAN YOU PROPERLY CALL YOURSELF AN ARTIST?! HONESTLY, Anthony! My mate Ned's seen some of your stuff. He told me "Neilson spoons out a tosser's bag of ideas after rubbing his anus against the long-shattered remnants of taboos he's claiming to break." I don't know if you can use that, if it fits your remit. It's controversial... Cait's dropped out too now. And Adriano. Cool. I feel great.

So here I lounge today, not sulking but counting my blessings - which is probably why I started this blog in the first place. Because all the work I've done over the past three months, from "Contains Violence" to the Dungeons to the 48-hour film challenge where I talk about glue (oh, here, it's called "Homework") makes so much more sense in the light of my one-night-stand with the RSC. Let's never ever work ever with or for the bored.

Did I really say I'd leave a post every other day? Tt. In this three months' absence my blessings seemed far too obvious to count, and when they stopped there seemed far too much to catch up on. I still hadn't even written about Jonah. Not even that. And it's June... Okay, well, starting from now. And I'm back now. I mean it, darlings. I've got to work on some sketches, but I'm back. I never did write that pilot of course. The more you write the more you write, so you've got to write it all really. Yes! Let us, in the words of the artificially promotable catch-phrase David Mitchell hopes to see shoe-horned into the new series of ThaMitAnWebLook - you just wait - Let us OPEN UP ANOTHER BOTTLE OF WINE AND SEE IF WE CAN GET BACK INTO IT!

Peace (and don't let the wrought-iron panhedron slam you in the ass on your way out):

-Video no longer there again. This definitely isn't it -