Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Outnumbered and its five-year-old genius

Ok, so Outnumbered wasn't *amazing* but there were some great lines, and the kids were interesting - the oldest was 21st century incarnate (tech savvy, perceptive and lazy) and the middle child was a pathalogical liar.

But the youngest, Karen, was pure genius. Or, I guess, her real-life alter-ego Ramona Marquez was, seeing as though the kids were basically improvising all the way through. Honestly, you have to see this girl. My favourite bit was when she was discussing what pet she'd like. After nit, giraffe and lion were all turned down she pondered a little longer: "Could I have......................... a puffin?" She said it in that matter-of-fact way that all five-year-olds utter the ridiculous and it made me laugh out, along with everyone I was watching it with.

If they're paying her anything at all, they should double it. Triple it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Comedy on TV... a little round-up

Saxondale: I watched the first episode of the first series, and was utterly underwhelmed... maybe I was in a bad mood, maybe I was expecting too much (understandable with Steve Coogan at the helm) or maybe it was just a sub-par episode, but I was not impressed. But I was totally up for giving it another go last week, and I'm really glad I did. There was a good number of laugh-out-loud moments, too many good lines to remember and Saxondale's a fabulous creation - an idiot, but likable, more so than Partridge, certainly. Thursday's a good telly night now; Mock The Week, Saxondale, and My Name Is Earl all have a great laugh-per-minute ratio.

The IT Crowd: I tried. Really I did. All the newspaper reviews mention these 'sublime moments' but somehow I keep missing them. There were a few laughs to be had, but that's just not good enough for a flagship Friday night comedy. The performances are pedestrian, and the insanely raucous audience laughter just puts me off. I'll stick with it longer this time, because I did laugh a few times, but I can't say I'm exactly excited about the next episode...

Outnumbered: This looks like it might be alright, but it hasn't had a whole lot of promotion, so I thought I'd flag it up. It's about a family comprising two parents and three children (hence 'Outnumbered') and while I'd normally be sceptical about a mid-week BBC One comedy (and to be honest, I still am, just a little) the fact that it's semi-improvised gives it an interesting twist - especially when you consider the fact that the little kid actors are so very young (one if just five years old). Give it a go... but don't blame me if it sucks :)

Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! does Judy! Judy! Judy!

It was on TV last night - or a heavily cut down version at least (there was no Martha for a start, though I know she performed Stormy Weather). And it was absolutely wonderful. Once again, I simply have to come back to his ridiculous voice. It's so nasally that it really shouldn't work, in fact it should be rather horrible, but instead it's astonishingly beautiful. And it's *so* unique that he totally owns these songs, depsite the fact that many are so inextricably linked with Judy Garland herself. Indeed, such is Rufus's own propensity to write songs that would sit well in a Broadway musical, that many feel like they could literally be penned by him. The slower songs show off the range of his voice, but for me, he's a showman, and as such he's at his best with show tunes. For me, the only song he doesn't quite seem up to is - surprise - Somewhere Over The Rainbow. But somehow, that feels right - it's Judy's song, and while he just has to sing it, it seems fitting that her genius should remain untouchable when it comes to that particular signature tune.

But you have to think - who else could pull off this show? Who could take a classic live album, re-create it, and make it neither tacky nor pastiche, but a really special show in its own right, as well as a great homage, and a love letter to a stunning performer. No-one I can think of. Rufus dances and laughs and tells anecdotes, lets his voice soar and his face show every single emotion. Like Judy, he's one in a billion.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Thinking about Big Brother all day is strange indeed...

I have been doing, and will continue to do 'til Friday night, the hourly updates on Available For Panto, hence it being a tad quiet around here.

People who love friction and drama have found this series dull; those, like me, who are more interested in subtle relationships and genuine affection have found this the most fascinating to date... Liam should win - the way he dealt with Charley was pure genius. He didn't argue with her, just had a go at her - half joking, half serious - all the time, and told her exactly why people disliked her, without getting her back up. Sometimes she even listened... that's pretty impressive.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Edinburgh Bloggy Blog

I've gone a bit Guardian on your asses for a while, so here's the proper bloggy blog.

So me and my parents decided we'd stop off at a b+b near Alnwick on the way up to Edinburgh, so that we could take in a bit of sea air before the bustle of the Fringe. It was a good idea - just a shame that the place we chose was thoroughly odd (in both a good and bad way). It was literally just off the A1, with nothing else around, and had a chair on the roof... It seemed to be an ex- or current architectural salvage yard, with huge piles of wood around, but the little courtyard where the rooms were was really pretty. So we just wandered into a room that looked the most communal, and waited until a lady noticed us. She showed us to our room ("oh, I've put you in the old dairy shed") and pushed the door open. "You can't lock it from the outside" she said, cheerily, "but there's a catch on the inside!" Off she went. She'd already told us on the phone that there was no electricity in the bathroom - a couple of lovely candles though - but there didn't seem to be any electricity in the main room either. Or a tv. No tv! What kind of hell-hole is this?

Haha, it wasn't a hell-hole at all. Just quirky. And, you know, not finished yet. It made our B+B in Edinburgh look like an absolute palace, though.

So the first night in Edinburgh was Frankie Boyle and David O'Doherty, both at Assembly @ George Street. It's a fantastically well-oiled machine at this venue, cheery aspiring actors in red t-shirts all over the place, telling you where to go and what to do. You feel totally at ease. In fact, Edinburgh as a whole puts you at ease. It's absolutely beautiful, and everyone we encountered - bus drivers, the B+B staff, shop assistants - were really helpful and good-natured. Are they on their best behaviour for the Fringe, or is this what it's like all year round? We also felt rather good as we'd already seen Sean Lock and Rich Hall wandering about, which was pretty cool.

I met Dean after the David O'Doherty gig (shout out) which was really great, but unfortunately circumstance meant we couldn't meet up again... same time next year, dude?! Also great to speak to DOD, of course, but he had to rush off to a Mark Watson-MC'd quiz somewhere or other, so it was brief, though lovely.

The Simon Amstell gig was over in the old town, in the Pleasance Courtyard. I don't know if they schedule gigs this way on purpose, but there seemed to be a much younger demographic over there than at Assembly. It's got a fantastic atmosphere - you could just hang around without going to any shows and still have fun.

Erm anything else... basically, it's a stunning city, filled with apparently lovely people all just looking for a laid-back, fun time. And I'll be back next year. :)

Edinburgh Fringe 2007: Tony! The Blair Musical, C Venues, 18.20

(This was written for MusicOMH, too - look, I've got a biography and everything!)

At the moment, White Rose Theatre - a group of students and recent graduates from York University - are living the Edinburgh Fringe dream with their musical treatment of Tony Blair’s ten years at No. 10. They’ve been in national newspapers and on TV, and as a result, now have a sell-out show on their hands. But it has to be said, it hasn’t all been down to them alone. The fact that they have a direct rival, Tony Blair: The Musical, has meant that their show is not just an anonymous one of many, but part of a great story.

It is surprising, actually, that there are only two musicals about Tony Blair running at the Fringe, when you consider how theatrical his reign was. Tony! The Blair Musical picks up on the fact that Blair was a rocker himself, and that - for the first few years at least - he was apparently obsessed with the glitz and glamour of office. It is no surprise, then, that his story works so effortlessly as a musical. Writer/director Chris Bush and composer Ian McKlusky have used this happy coincidence to great effect - the songs are true showstoppers. They all sound vaguely like something you’ve heard before, but that’s certainly a good thing, displaying McKlusky’s intimate knowledge of the great musical shows, and the tunes are matched by laugh-out-loud lyrics.

Many reviewers, however, have taken umbrage with the fact that this is not a scathing, political attack on Blair’s years as Prime Minister, but then they are judging the show by a criterion is doesn’t ask to be judged by - this is Blair’s reign as seen through Blair’s own eyes (the fabulous James Duckworth as our Tone talks directly to the audience), and as such, we are persuaded that he was just trying to do what he felt was right. It is surprising, perhaps, to those reviewers that Chris Bush, one so young, could be this even-handed in his analysis, but this may be something we should in fact be praising. In any case, this is far from a vindication. The ‘Big Conversation’ is mocked through pointing out all the things - from the NHS to the trains - we weren’t allowed to talk about, and Blair is seen to step on absolutely anyone who doesn’t agree with him; “There’s no ‘I’ in team, and no ‘me’ in Tony” is a recurring refrain.

There are a few problems with the show: George Bush seems a hasty sketch of a caricature (though the performance is hilarious nonetheless) and there’s the occasional crack in voices which makes you worry how they will cope for the rest of the run. But ultimately, there are enough moments of real inspiration to make this show a joy. The biggest cheer of the night came for one of those wonderful moments, when former Tory leaders, from John Major to Michael Howard, appeared as a Barber Shop quartet. I’m sure this is a highlight for most audiences, but you can’t help feeling that it was extra special this time. Why? Ed Duncan Smith plays his father, Iain, who just happened to be in the audience tonight, laughing along with the rest of us.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe 2007: Simon Amstell - No Self, Pleasance Courtyard, 22.30

Now, I'm a total Fringe virgin (or, at least, was) so I can't be sure about this, but I'd bet quite a lot of money that there are Fringe Snobs. You know, the type of people who actively find the shows playing to one person a night and hail them the best thing ever to hit Scotland. They're the sort of people that will have seen Simon Amstell's show in the Fringe programme and consciously avoided it because he's on the telly. (I was the total opposite, of course - I chose Frankie Boyle and Simon Amstell precisely because I've seen them on TV, and I only know about how brilliant David O'Doherty is because I saw him when I went to see Noel Fielding.) But these Fringe Snobs that I've just made up, they're missing out, because this is a deeply impressive show.

Frankie had the one-liners, DOD (you'll remember) had the Joyous Off-Beat Charm, and Simon Amstell, it turns out, has the ability to pur together a beautifully thought-out set - I was spoilt, really. On Never Mind The Buzzcocks he reduces Phil Jupitus to fits of giggles, and even outshines the brilliant Bill Bailey with his quick-wittedness, and as such, I thought it would be his ad-libbing that would be the highlight of the show. But this was far from the case; he's got a script - and it's a damn good one.

The theme - a much tighter one than that of Mr O'Doherty - is the Buddhist idea that there is no individual, No Self, but that we are instead all part of a single, larger consciousness. But Amstell manages to take this existential argument, and mix it with digs at Justin Lee Collins and come up with a hugely satisfying, cohesive show that you marvel at, as well as laugh at. He's constantly referring back to previous jokes, linking themes together - it certainly hasn't been thrown together, let's put it that way.

But there are some stand-out one liners too. When discussing how we struggle to create a personality, he points out a girl in the front row with dreadlocks and a hat. "But then you have another crisis, because you have to convince others that you're more than the dreadlocks and a hat - whereas in fact, you're less."

Just like on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, he manages to walk a strange line between being thoroughly charming - cheeky even - and utterly cynical. His 'No Self' philosophy means that he can say 'Basically, I'm God', but in fact he's much more at home being bleak: "Is there anything worse than being alive?" he asks. And later, Amstell says that telling us we should just end the misery if we feel like it is his favourite bit of the show. He even does a little jig to prove it.

The tightness of the show was spoilt this evening somewhat by a couple of idiots who decided to pick up on the word 'juggler' and shout it out just as Amstell was coming to a big pay-off line. Obviously a little rattled after this happening several times, when a guy asked if was alright to go to the toilet, he replied; "You can stay in the toilet. That should be the name of my show next year."

Punchline-ruining idiots aside, this was a show that surprised even me, who's already a fan - and it's one that mythical Fringe Snobs everywhere should take time to see.

Rullsenberg on Summer Sundae

Go read! Her piece on The Divine Comedy is especially brilliant, but then, I probably would say that... lordy that guy's good.

It's uber-long reviews a-go-go between the two of us at the moment, right?! Well, there's just two more to come from me, and then I'll 'blog' Edinburgh in the RTD sense of the word.

Edinburgh Fringe 2007: Dickens Unplugged, Assembly Rooms, 12.15

I wrote this for MusicOMH :)

The appearance of new material from Adam Long in the Fringe programme will have excited a select, but certainly not insignificant group of people: fans of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, such as myself. This is because, while not strictly a founding member, Long is widely recognised as a major factor in the company's success, as a writer, actor and director. During their long run at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly, the RSC divided theatre-goers - some praising their mix of high and low comedy, others seeing them as just a bit too silly - and this ambivalence was summed up when they were described as 'immovable' in a "state of the West End" think-piece a few years back. Eventually, however, they were moved - but another product of Long's wit and talent has come to the stage after just a few years.

I suspect it is perhaps better to go into this brand new show with no preconceptions, however, as Dickens Unplugged may leave die-hard fans of the more knockabout elements of the RSC's work somewhat disappointed: the actors are here showing off their musical comedy skills, rather than their clowning abilities. Adam Long, it seems, has grown up.

But the musical comedy, it has to be said, is excellently conceived and delivered. This is far from a 'Complete Works' show, concentrating instead on just a few texts, and setting them to the most wonderful score. Dickens is, of course, a quintessentially British - or more properly, I suppose, English - author, but Long has kept to his tradition of mixing British and US culture by telling those stories using quintessentially American music.
Rhythm and blues, Broadway show tunes, American songbook, and country and western all make an appearance, and all - amazingly - seem to work perfectly. The scope for emotion in these styles is apparently suited to the melodramatic moments of Dickens' work, and the sparkling tunes and always witty lyrics are well served by a hugely musically talented cast.

The steady stream of real belly laughs, and quickfire visual gags are less in evidence here than in, say, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), but Long has maintained, and in fact enhanced, one of the elements of that show which made it so interesting - an ultimate respect for the source texts. The more convoluted plots and coincidences of Dickens' novels are mocked, but Dickens himself appears on stage to explain his calling - to show London life in its entirety, and to try and instigate change for the most needy.

This combination of a real engagement with the stories and truly wonderful songs means that this certainly has the potential to become an excellent full-length show - just as long as, from a personal viewpoint, jokes involving silly props and cross-dressing aren't entirely sacrificed in the name of maturity.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe 2007: David O'Doherty - It's David O'Doherty Time, Assembly Rooms, 22.15

Being such utterly different stand-up comics, it was a joy to see Frankie Boyle and David O’Doherty on the same night. Boyle is all angular glasses and sharp suits; O’Doherty more a mass of hair and slightly crumpled white shirt. To use O’Doherty’s own way of describing his comedy, he rocks our world ‘like a delicious cake’, whereas Boyle’s more a ‘bag of drugs’. You know, in a good way.

Tonight the theme, such as it is, is Facts. ‘Haha’ is no longer good enough, we’re told; now’s the time for ‘Ahhhh…. haha’. The sort of facts O’Doherty is interested in are the facts that we were all interested in as a kid - facts about sharks and dinosaurs, not medical or technological things. They’re boring, and O’Doherty doesn’t do boring. He may love his iPod (the number of musical references in the set confirms this), but he doesn’t care how it works - in fact he’d rather you opened it up to find ‘a white feather and a puff of smoke…’ In other words, he prefers magic - and let’s face it, so do most of us.

It won’t utterly surprise you to learn that the joyous, off-beat charm that O’Doherty exudes as he discusses these facts, completely appeals to my love of, well, joyous off-beat charm. Apart from Demetri Martin, with whom there is certainly a comparison, my limited knowledge of the comedy circuit means that my points of reference for O’Doherty are generally musical - he’s like an even-more-comedy Beck; he’s already got the keyboard, just give him Two Turntables And A Microphone and the comparison might just start to look reasonable… he’s nu-folk, lo-fi, he’s The Spinto Band, or Simple Kid. He’s certainly got the air of that kind of performer - as he sits down to perform his songs, he’s at once geeky and massively confident, like Ross Gellar showing off his music. You know, in a good way.

For a few moments tonight, though, we got a glimpse of mildly-annoyed David O’Doherty, as he tried to explain to a guy that using your phone in the front row isn’t really the done thing. O’Doherty laughed it off with the offer of a high-five, but when that offer was refused (the height of rudeness, and I mean that totally sincerely) it was changed to an offer of the guy leaving. Unfortunately, that wasn’t taken up on either.

If anything, these few understandable moments of slight prickliness only served to endear the audience even more to O’Doherty, and he responded with a set that, importantly, had laughs to match the charm.

---

Ok, official review over. I got to have a little chat with the DOD! Yay. After I'd downloaded his album ("Giggle Me Timbers", get it from Trust Me I'm A Thief) I said on his myspace how much I'd enjoyed it, and we got a little correspondance going - he seems to make time for anyone who makes time for him. He signed a CD for 'Anna from Myspace', gave me a hug, and went off on his way, leaving my mum thinking him to be a perfect gentleman. Which, it appears, he really is.

Edinburgh Fringe 2007: Frankie Boyle - Morons, I Can Heal You, Assembly Rooms 21.00

(This will soon also be up on the fabulous FringeBlogs site!)

There's no doubt that Frankie Boyle is the real star of Mock The Week - he's acerbic, the quickest of the lot of them, goes further than anyone else dares, and, quite frankly, has the most to say. I'm still laughing, three weeks later, at the fact that, when faced with working out what question got the reply '200,000 tonnes' (or something similar), he came up with 'When Tony Blair was asked how many Iraqis had been killed since the start of the war, what was his callous reply?'

Up here in Edinburgh, without nervous TV producers breathing down his neck, Boyle clearly relishes the ability to say whatever the hell he likes, and makes full use of that opportunity: no subject matter is off limits, from terrorism to paedophilia. But, Boyle's a clever comedian, and knows that a whole hour of jokes that make you cringe as much as they make you laugh just doesn't work, and so has structured his set so that a punchline receiving a groan, or even a boo, is followed by five which stay on much safer ground. In fact, I personally preferred the material which didn't rely quite so much on shock value, and it seemed that most of the audience here did too.

So if Boyle's clearly a master of the one-liner, and has come up with a show which just about matches the audience's appetite for controversy, why only three stars (don't worry, I always look at the star rating first, too)? Well, it's simply that I got very little out of seeing him live that I don't get out of seeing him on television. Now, there may be a valid excuse for this, in that his banter with the audience hit a dead end when faced with four actuaries on the same row - not a rich vein for comedy. I've no doubt that if he had been faced with teachers, or nurses, he would have had a wealth of material stored in that comedy brain of his, but we didn't see it tonight. Less excusable, however, is that he has actually used a fair amount of the material on Mock The Week already, and he referenced news stories which are pretty much past their sell-by date. I laughed throughout the gig, certainly, and am happy to have seen such an accomplished comic - I just wish he'd made this show just that little bit special.

3/5

Back from Edinburgh...

... and I'm missing it already. Got loads of reviews coming up for you, and there'll come up as quickly (or, more probably, as slowly) as I can get them out :)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Off to the Fringe...

Yay! I'm pretty excited. The last time I went to Edinburgh I was about 10 (it could be anything between 7 and 13, I really don't know...) and it was just for a day while we were actually staying in North Berwick. We saw a comedy covers band who introduced me to Jimi Hendrix... good memories.

Courtesy of lovely parents, we're staying in good accommodation, pretty near the centre, and have a few things already booked - Frankie Boyle, David O'Doherty, Dickens Unplugged (by Reduced Shakespeare head honcho Adam Long), Simon Amstell and TONY! The Blair Musical, by a group from my (old) uni. That's got Ed Duncan Smith playing his dad, and therefore *much* better than the other Blair musical playing there...!

Right, I'm sure it's all free wi-fi and stuff up there so I'll try and get some reviews up - both here and at Dean's cute little baby, FringeBlogs. Anyone can sign up, or send reviews by email, and as such is a fantastic idea:

For years now, the concept of what’s ‘good’ and what isn’t at the Edinburgh Fringe has been dominated by the big newspapers and websites, with critical opinion being formed by just a few loud voices. Meanwhile hundreds of small, independent bloggers post their reviews and thoughts on show and the Fringe experience to thier own blogs, but go unheard by the majority of attendees that won’t dig that deep for information on Fringe productions.

Perfick. So au revoir dudes, speak soon.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The West End Is In Crisis! Again!

We might not agree with Michael Billington's (him again) 'yes-we've-said-it-before-but-this-time-it-really-is-in-crisis' conclusions, but he makes some good points along the way - particularly that the producing/directing talent seems to be going to the subsidised sector (eg Nicholas Hytner at the National, and Michael Grandage at the Donmar), and that quite a few West End theatres are in dire need of a face-lift.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

British Absurdism

I was reading Michael Billington's review of Absurida - a trio of 'absurd' plays at the Donmar - and this phrase stood out:

These plays, however, are absurd in a defiantly British sense, whimsically inventive pieces about the application of logic to illogical situations.

And I thought, that's exactly the shared quality that means Mitchell and Webb are the true succuessors to Monty Python, the quality I've been trying to express to people for ages. This is *precisely* where both derive a lot of their humour from - reacting to an utterly bizarre situation "as you or I might an endlessly running tap". Thanks Billers - I'll use the phrase 'British Absurdism' from now on, and sound clever, if a little pretentious.

Guess what I bought this morning...

It's a certain debut novel called Gods Behaving Badly, by Ms Marie Phillips. And I'm *so* excited to get started. Congratulations, Marie: the cover is beautiful, and I have no doubt that the contents will be even more so.
Now get on with the second, we're getting impatient ;) Haha. No, you take some time off, and have a fabulous party this evening - we all know how much you deserve it.