Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Some underwhelming Christmas comedy... and a little gem

(written for The British Comedy Guide)

If you're anything like me, Christmas isn't just food, drink and family - it's also poring over the Radio Times double issue, geekily circling all the comedy specials and getting your hopes dangerously high. And with Victoria Wood, The Royle Family, Catherine Tate and Outnumbered all getting a festive outings this year, the red pen certainly got a good workout.

Victoria Wood's first new sketch show for nine years led the way on Christmas Eve - not the big day, allegedly much to Wood's chagrin - and, if anything, it was the programme I had been most looking forward to. I'd laughed my way through the 90 minute documentary which rightly celebrated her the week before, and the repeat of the 2000 special had reminded me just how brilliant and uniquely gifted she is. How disappointing then, to find myself struggling to raise a smile during her 'Mid-Life Christmas'...

There's no doubting that Wood can concoct the most sublimely ridiculous turn of phrase for her characters, and that was still in evidence here, but several of the sketches misfired completely. The 'have you been injured in an accident?' parody was a good few years out of date, there was too much of Bo Beaumont and I still can't quite make up my mind about the updated 'Let's Do It' - I adore the original, of course, but did its inclusion suggest a lack of new ideas...?

The Royle Family.Perhaps another wonderful female, northern comedy writer would live up to expectations. Caroline Aherne's The Royle Family got the prime Christmas Day slot, and for the first half hour that was completely warranted. Reclining contentedly in their usual positions on the sofa, Jim, Barbara et al provided us with the sort of warm, naturalistic humour that has rightly brought the programme 'classic' status. But when the action moved to a rainy caravan park in Prestatyn, these usually endearing characters began to grate, and I eventually found myself more interested in tea and Twitter than their incessant squabbling. So far, so so-so then.

Catherine Tate's Christmas Carol parody wasn't all that bad, I suppose - there were a couple of nice cameos from Ben Miller and the ubiquitous (not that I'm complaining) David Tennant - but it was essentially panto. Plus, I suspect I viewed it less harshly than Wood and Aherne's offerings because I came to it with rather less reverence for her previous comedy work...

Outnumbered. Image shows from L to R: Ben (Daniel Roche), Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey), Sue (Claire Skinner), Karen (Ramona Marquez), Pete (Hugh Dennis). Image credit: Hat Trick Productions.Thank goodness, then, for the chaotic charm of the Brockman household; thanks to some predictably brilliant performances from adults and kids alike, Outnumbered was Christmas 09's comedy highlight. You could take your pick of favourite moments: Ben's announcement that Osama Bin Laden is 'cool', perhaps, or Karen's questioning of Grandad's very Scottish friend Mac ("it's not that I want you to talk like me... just why don't you?"). It's warm, it's truthful, it's intelligent and it's unique - all of those British Comedy Awards were utterly deserved.

Luckily, away from the new programming there were a couple of other gems made for comedy anoraks just like us. The Story of Slapstick did more than it said on the tin and charted the history of physical humour as a whole, thus providing a magnificent hour's worth of people getting hit over the head with a frying pan, from Buster Keaton to Vic and Bob. And meanwhile, the raucous, satirical sketch show Not The Nine O'Clock News got the documentary treatment, reminding viewers just how outrageously brilliant Rowan Atkinson is, if nothing else.

Not a classic comedy Christmas then, but then I'm too busy checking out Chaplin and Not The Nine O'Clock News DVDs on Amazon to care...

--

One comedy that I didn't mention - simply because it didn't quite 'fit' - but which provided me and all the Lowmans with rather more laughs than Ms Wood and all the Royles combined, was A Child's Christmases In Wales. Hidden away on BBC Four (until a repeat on BBC Two being aired as I speak), the hour long family comedy is based on a Dylan Thomas short story and written by none other than Mr Mark Watson. That all bode pretty well of course, but this time expectations were met - completely charming and stuffed full of great lines and performances. Snuggle up with a cuppa, and have a watch.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Doctor Who - The End Of Time Part I

Merry Christmas all you lovely people! Telly-wise it's all gone a bit sketch show (hit and miss) but I'll be good and save the round-up for a British Comedy Guide blog (I'll cross-post here, though anyone following me on Twitter will have got the general gist of my opinions on Ms Wood and the like, I think...!)

A very quick note on Doctor Who is required of course, though - the jewel in the Beeb's Christmas crown which has been complemented by appearences from DT on every show he can be shoe-horned into. Not that I'm complaining... The End Of Time Part I appeared to split Twitter down the middle - the initial reaction being of a 'well that was predictably disappointing, bah humbug' nature, while the supporters took a little more time to be brave and whisper 'yeah... but... that scene in the cafe!'

And here lies the dividing line, of course. What do you care about more; plot and sci-fi or character and performance? RTD pretends to care about the former but when it comes down to it, he couldn't give a monkeys and some viewers, understandably, have been consistently frustrated about those priorities. They don't want to see the Doctor crying about the fact that he's going to die soon and even if it was one of the most heartbreaking scenes nu-Who has produced, that doesn't mean they have to like it.

Lucky for me then, that my priorities happen to tally with RTD's. I share his love of putting emotions and relationships at the core of everything. I also share his love of the ridiculous - my knee-jerk reaction to seeing a million John Simms in dressing gowns, pencil skirts and the White House is to squeal with delight at the audacity of the whole thing, not to say 'here we go, now he's ripping off the Matrix, how LAME.' And so RTD dupes me everytime; tricks me into raving about something that is flawed because the elements that are flawed just don't matter to me as much as those which I think most people would agree RTD does very well.

As for this final DT story, you do have to wonder how all the guest stars are going to be crammed into the second part. And isn't there the whole first proper meeting between this Doctor and River Song to come? And the return of the Time Lords, DoctorDonna, and y'know, a regeneration? There's a lot to get through... and I can't wait.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Comedy and Karaoke

Another super-quick comedy catch up so that I can remember what I’ve been up to and remind myself how bloody lucky I am – these gigs are not only top class, but at most around a third of the price of what you’d pay for bands or musicians of a similar calibre. Comedy really is the value-for-money night out.

On my birthday (the 17th, when I also splashed out on those Hamlet tickets) I went to the Falling Down With Laughter night which is very well established but which I’ve never ventured to before – and it ended up being one of the best mixed bills I’ve ever been to. Headlined by Mr Key, the night is MC’d by Alexis Dubus’ French character Marcel Lucont – and it really shouldn’t work. Comperes are normally big and over the top to get the audience going, but Marcel is typically Gallic; laid-back, softly spoken and forever with a glass of red in his hand. And yet, he’s somehow perfect, and he introduced a pretty stellar evening which included several sketch groups, the character comedian Pippa Evans, ivory-tinkler extraordinaire James Sherwood as well as Tim. Nice going.

Since then I’ve seen Mark Watson continue to hone his great new material for a mammoth tour next autumn, Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong try out sketches for their third series (going to be a good’un), Key launch his book, and David O’Doherty. Twice... oh but he’s just so damn good. He does a song about the fact that ‘everything’s not shit’. It’s beautiful.

And then there was Christmas Karaoke Circus on Thursday; just as wonderful and life-affirming as ever, but with added festival magic in the rather brilliant Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Moving back to a larger venue meant that the brave performers were once again backed by the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra as in the 100 Club, allowing for full-on renditions of Mr Blue Sky (heaven!), Blur’s The Universal and Bohemian Rhapsody, as well as plenty of Christmas classics, of course. All the regulars were there: Pappy’s (they’ve dropped the Fun Club) did Slade; the Penny Dreadfuls channelled the Boss, and dream team Chris Addison and Jess Hynes became Shane and Kirsty for Fairytale of New York. The highlight though, came from Ben Miller and Tony Gardner (he of Lead Balloon and My Parents Are Aliens, AKA one of the best kids’ shows ever). Ben stayed with Bowie, while Tony joined him on stage - avec pipe - to perform Little Drummer Boy. Hilariously, they did the whole spoken bit at the beginning of the video, and points must be given to Tony for not corpsing, which is more than can be said for Ben... all in all, a pretty excellent way to kickstart the countdown to Christmas.

Stephen and the Sexy Partridge, Trafalgar Studios

When you’ve got a surreal, knockabout live comedy show to direct, Cal McCrystal is certainly your man. Paul King may have received plaudits for his direction of the Mighty Boosh television series, but it was McCrystal who first got those unique comic minds Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt together on stage, so who better to bring a human-sized partridge superhero from outer-space to the West End?

This is the ‘Sexy Partridge’ of the title, who is commissioned by the intergalactic and much revered great Pear to fly around the universe saving poor souls who are in need of some festive help. That’s where the ‘Stephen’ of the title comes in; when we meet Stephen at the start of the show, his girlfriend Chanel is on the verge of splitting up with him because he is stupid, narrow-minded, sex-pesty, hates dancing - and precisely seven other problems.

And so, on Christmas Eve, just as Stephen is feeling particularly un-Christmassy in the Westfield shopping centre while looking for a present that will rescue his relationship, the Partridge appears before him, in the hope of helping him solve these eleven problems (plus one Partridge makes twelve days of Christmas of course). On his increasingly odd journey to self-discovery, Stephen meets four calling birds with whom he manages not to be sex-pesty, six geeks a-playing a version of The Weakest Link in which he proves himself to be not so stupid after-all, and seven male swans a-swimming (Partridge takes him to see the Matthew Bourne Swan Lake) who teach him that dancing can be cool.

Stephen’s various trials and minor triumphs are punctuated by songs, usually loosely based on a pop track; everything from the Beatles (“I am the Partridge, coo-coo-cachoo”) to a brilliantly wittys version of Beyonce’s Single Ladies, via a Somerset rendition of Kelis’s Milkshake – sung by Daisy the cow for eight maids a-milking, of course. The songs are certainly highlights, and are really enhanced by some funny choreography, but the show could probably do with a few more to further break up the often breakneck speed at which Stephen and the Partridge race through the various verses.

The deliberately dodgy sets, props and costumes mean that there’s a nice handmade feeling to this production, with which fans of the Mighty Boosh will be very familiar, but that controlled shambolicness did jar somewhat with the rather conventional Trafalgar Studios venue.

Stephen and the Sexy Partridge started life in the tiny Old Red Lion theatre, and while it sounds like an insult to say that it might have been better if it had stayed there, one does get the feeling that it might have been more fun. The show lends itself to – and I think would benefit from – more interaction with the audience, and more improvisation from what is clearly a naturally funny cast, but that sort of informality and intimacy is difficult to reproduce in a theatre. This may be a rather slight production, but it is nevertheless warm and genuinely unusual, and a nice alternative to the more traditional ‘oh yes it is’ festive offerings.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A bit more exciting news...

...my column on The British Comedy Guide has just launched! Bit odd seeing my face up there, but very lovely to have a place to put all my comedy musings - big thanks to Mark for asking me to write for the site. So far there's an introduction to me and my comic preferences, and a review of Tim Key's new book, and its brilliantly odd launch...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

These words make me pretty happy...

Hamlet + Q&A
at NFT1
Monday 14 December 2009 at 18:10
2 seats allocated

Friday, November 13, 2009

Preview clip! Mr Tennant in BBC Two/RSC's Hamlet



Looks beautiful, and we already know that the acting is near-perfect. Can't wait.
(Here's my review of the stage production, by the way, if you fancy a read or re-read.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Writing for Dork Adore... and very exciting about it!

Yup, I'm back and telly blogging! Dork Adore is Katie Lee's lovely site filled with great articles to satisfy one's inner - or, in my case, outer - geek, and I'm really stoked to be writing for it. My first article (saying Dave's not just for boys) is currently pretty easy to find on the home page (!) but here's the direct link for when it's bumped off. Full-time work means I won't be able to contribute as much as I'd like, but shall I let y'all know when something's up.

Writing about geeky TV... it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Karaoke Circus part III

Part III for me in any case, there have in fact been rather more than that - including an Edinburgh edition (alas not when I was there) during which Simon Amstell sang Enrique Iglesias's Hero. Cannot BELIEVE I missed that.

Anyway. I am a full seven days late in posting this, but it's never too late to say a few words about Karaoke Circus - and it will be just a very few words, don't worry, I realise there is only so much gushing one readership can take. But oh, readership, it is such a lovely, life-enhancing thing. This KC saw the night return to Downstairs at the Albany, a small room under a Great Portland Street pub that manages to be swelteringly hot even on a chilly late October evening. The 100 Club, while pleasingly legendary surroundings, may be a little big, but the Albany, it has to be said, is probably a little small.

But no matter, the heat only serves to augment the 'all in it together' spirit that KC manages to evoke. Not that it needs much augmenting. The line-up that had been announced in advance, including Richard Herring, Robin Ince, Andrew Collins, Josie Long and 'something special' from the previously brilliant Chris Addison, was exciting enough in itself, but KC head honcho Martin White had a few secret gems up his sleeve.

Just imagine my face, if you will, when Jessica Hynes walked into the room. Jessica. Hynes. The comedy queen that co-created one of the greatest sitcoms - possibly TV shows generally - of all time. It takes something genuinely surprising for ones jaw to actually drop - but I was surprised, and it certainly dropped. Not that the wonderousness of the situation ended there; turns out she is also a great singer with a beautifully bluesy voice. AND she gave congratulatory slaps on the back to the punters who braved the stage. Put her down as one of those rare 'great at everything but still lovable' types.

This was basically enough for me, of course, but the whole night was brilliant, and as always, the punters were as entertaining as the comedians, and the audience generous and supportive. Overseen by the house band (Martin, keyboard; Danielle Ward, bass; David Reed, drums; Foz, guitar) Long was the first comic up with Nothing Compares 4U, Collins went all dark and tortured with Nirvana's Lithium, there was a bit of Bugsy Malone, Duran Duran, Buzzcocks, Blur and Queen. And to top it all off, Chris Addison channelled Jarv for a barnstorming, roof-raising Common People.

Hmm. That probably doesn't count as a very few words. If you felt you need to read even more, however, there are performers and audience-members alike who have been rather more timely with their blogging. Collins did it first and best as always, plus there's a few words from Mr White himself, and from the lovely Simone, Will Howells can feel better about how long it took him to blog it, and there are beautiful photos from Linzy and Paul Bailey. Which just about covers it, I'd say.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Vaudeville Theatre

The fact most widely known about Jim Cartwright’s 1992 play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is that it was created, in part, to showcase Jane Horrocks’s astonishing talent for vocal impersonations.

The role was so her own, in fact, that when the play was adapted for the big screen six years later, she once again became shy Little Voice while the actors around her changed. Hers are big shoes to fill then – and Diana Vickers should be applauded for doing so with huge success.

This new production of the play is blessed with a whole host of great performances, however. In fact, if you were told a part was built around one of the actors in this version, you would most likely assume it to be LV’s mother Mari, played by Lesley Sharp. It is a frankly huge performance – so huge that during the first ten minutes the fear that she may veer into pantomime was not unwarranted. But Sharpe is too skilful an actress for that.

Mari is brash, shameless, and ridiculously loud whether enjoying a booze-fuelled high and hangover-induced low. She is a bit pantomime. But, as Sharp shows, she also has a streak in her that is genuinely cruel - and another that knows and regrets it. It is a brilliant, densely-written part and Sharp handles all aspects of the character with ease.

Like the character she plays, though, Diana Vickers ultimately refuses to be outshone. As LV – introverted to the point of reclusion due to a mix of lingering grief over her father’s death and the inability to get a word in edgeways with her mam around – Vickers gives a delicate performance that is the perfect foil for Sharpe’s overbearing Mari. Her scenes with Billy, especially - played with infinite charm by James Cartwright - were heart-meltingly sweet with just the right amount of awkwardness.

It is Vickers’ ability to impersonate the singers her character so clings to, of course, that was really going to make or break her in this role, and here again she proved herself more than up to the task. Her Garland and Faithfull may not have been perfect, but the medley of classic songs from great female singers was, as it must be, a highlight, and she showed some great capacity for comedy in her impersonations of Bassey and Piaf, as well as a versatile voice.

Among all the highs that this production achieves, however, there are a couple of problems. The play is really quite unbalanced, with all the emotional punch occurring in the second half. The first, while enjoyable, never really takes off. More disappointing, however, is the fact that Marc Warren is underused.

Ray Say, the smarmy, manipulative but charismatic small time talent manager desperate to make LV a star should be the perfect role for Warren, but it is a strangely underwritten part. And given Mari’s tragic soliloquies and even Billy’s chance to wax lyrical about the light show he has been painstakingly putting together for years, this seems a bit odd.

In Say’s only really interesting scene though – when he subtly cajoles LV into performing again and so prove that ‘her heart belongs to Daddy’ – Warren showed what he could have delivered had he just been given a little more to do.

The show takes its time to really ignite, then, but the fine performances – and Lez Brotherston’s inventive, meticulously detailed set – mean that it is always engaging. And the moments that are particularly good - from LV’s knock-out turn at the working men’s club to Mari’s almost Shakespearean decline - are very good indeed.

Also at MusicOMH.com

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Comedy Catch-up

Yes it's that time again.

This week I went to a couple of very different comedy nights - the rather genteel Bottle Rocket at the New Players Theatre on Sunday, and the unwieldy Monkey Business at the basement Caramel Bar, Kentish Town on Thursday. Different then, but both a lot of fun and both featuring Stephen Merchant, a man who is very much 'doing the rounds' at the moment, building up to what he describes - more or less seriously - as a 'lucrative tour and DVD without having the split the money with "you know who"'.

The Bottle Rocket show seems to be a new one, but the New Players Theatre, tucked in the arches behind Charing Cross station, is a nice Goldilocks venue and given the promoter's ability to get not only Merchant but Jon Richardson, Holly Walsh and Mark Watson for the first show, I have a feeling it'll do alright. With York's own Dan Atkinson on MC duties, it all made for a hugely strong line-up, with one unintentional theme - being a bit of a crap human being. Atkinson admits to drinking too much and making stupid mistakes the whole time, Richardson says he gets angry on other people's behalf if they don't achieve the perfection he expects, Walsh is consistently self-deprecating and Watson - soon to be a dad for the first time - worries that being a comedian isn't a great example to set, and that he will mainly only be able to teach his young son how to chase things. The only exception to the rule is Merchant - he does complain that fame has not brought him the perks he had hoped, but, speaking in the guise of a caricatured version of himself, he certainly doesn't point the finger of blame at himself. Overall, it was an impressive line-up that lived up to its billing. Which is always nice.

Despite the promise of Merchant and an unnamed big, er, name, Thursday's gig was essentially an open mic night, and as such about twice as long as Sunday's show, with around four times as many acts. As well as being glad of the chance to see Merchant almost literally in my back yard, and intrigued by who the other headliner would be (Russell Howard, though he was actually replaced by the surprisingly excellent Simon Brodkin), I was also there to support a Mr James W Smith whom Simone and I met at that brilliantly odd Weather Party. A lovely man and a clever comic, this newfangled technology we call 'hyperlinks' allows you to read about the night in his own words.

I haven't been to many comedy nights like this, so it was a bit of an eye-opener to discover that there are comics out there who apparently consider the line "I've found the best combination of drugs - viagra and rohypnol" in some way appropriate. That line of comedy was, thankfully, not the norm however and while the quality fluctuated, it was generally a fun night and I'm especially glad that I've seen Brodkin and got rid of my arbitrarily-held opinion that he would be rubbish.

Up this week - Armstrong and Miller try-outs at the legendary Hen and Chickens, Chris Addison, a We Need Answers recording and, most excitingly of all, a trip up north for some home comforts.

Proper Toy Story 3 trailer

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!



*Love* Spanish Buzz!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful - the Autumn schedules kicking in

Autumn - the telly addict's favourite season, and the schedules are just starting to fill up with the good stuff. Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Peep Show got in nice and early, but it feels like this is the week that things really get going. So, this week I am mostly looking forward to...

BBC One, tonight 9pm: Emma. Of course there's no real reason to do another adaptation of Emma, but that's not to say it won't be any good. Romola Garai has always been a draw for me since her wonderful turn in I Capture The Castle, and it's written by Sandy Welch who also did the recent Jane Eyre... it's not going to be ground-breaking, but it's not going to be rubbish either.

BBC One, Monday 10.35pm: The Graham Norton Show. A lot of people - whose opinion I otherwise trust - really dislike Norton... but I genuinely think he's great. He's the reason the Lloyd Webber shows are saved from self-indulgence and his chat shows are usually a fun watch. It'll be interesting to see whether the move to BBC One means any changes have had to be made...

BBC Four, Tuesday 10pm: It's Only A Theory. Now, this new panel show might well suck, but it's a Hat Trick Production, meaning it's at least worth a look. Plus, one of the hosts is Andy Hamilton- who we must thank profusely for Outnumbered if nothing else - and he's joined by Reg D Hunter who seems to excel on panel shows.

More4, Wednesday 9pm: When Boris Met Dave. These irreverent 'politicians when they were younger' shows are often bad (ok, I'm just basing that on The Long Walk To Finchley) but this Toby Young-produced drama has the great benefit of starring Johnny Sweet. Sweet won Best Newcomer at this year's Edinburgh Comedy Awards, is part of the sketch group House Of Windsor with a few Inbetweeners and is - I suspect - perfectly cast in the role of Dave Cameron.

Channel 4, Wednesday 10pm: True Blood. I watch and love a hell of a lot of TV, and yet my knowledge of the big US drama shows of recent years pretty much begins and ends with Lost. Up until season 4. But this is something I aim to correct, and that starts with forcing myself to watch True Blood. I doubt I'll like it all that much hey.

BBC Four, Thursday 9pm: Micro Men. To my shame I've managed to miss most of the Electric Revolution season so far (including Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe, though I still have two days to catch up). I won't be missing this, however, a dramatisation of the battle between Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry to bring home computing to the masses. With Martin Freeman and Xaaahhhder Armstrong in the leads (that's for anyone who saw him and Ben Miller on Wossy) it's safe to say I'm looking forward to this.

BBC Two, Friday, 8pm: Autumnwatch. Yes, Autumnwatch is back. Who knew? I watched BBC Two every single night last week (Masterchef) and didn't see an advert... interesting. Slightly. Anyway, Chris Packham's 'maverick' approach should be annoying, but in fact, he makes this show a lot of fun, though I suspect something will be lost through moving away from the nightly shows.

Beyond that, Peep Show continues to be consistently entertaining, Have I Got News For You returns (Friday 16th), as do the brilliant Armstrong and Miller (straight after HIGNFY and *not* on Saturdays as originally planned, thank goodness), there's more Attenborough to enjoy in Life, and hey, Buzzcocks might be good on and off, depending who's at the helm. That's Autumn sorted, then.

PS. I opened this up to Twitter as I was bound to have forgotten something, and I was instantly reminded (by @JTLovell1979) of the return of the wonderful Harry Hill's TV Burp.... and now we've had votes for Merlin, the conclusion of Last Chance To See, Five's FlashForward, and Home Time, which I really do want to catch up on.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Speaking In Tongues - Duke of York's

When a cast comprises John Simm, Kerry Fox, Ian Hart and Lucy Cohu, you expect great acting, and that's precisely what you get with this production. S it is testament to the writer Andrew Bovell, that the star of this show is in fact the script, which cleverly - and with a challenging but ultimately satisfying complexity - links the lives and loves of the nine characters that these four strong actors portray.

The main themes of this play are betrayal and loss of trust, but rather than keeping that within the confines of one or two relationships, Bovell delves deeper and shows that deception not only affects the people directly involved, but also how they act in other, seemingly unrelated situations. From a starting point of just two couples, and two acts of infidelity, we see the repercussions ripple out further and further, in a rather tragic example of the six degrees of separation theory.

There are certainly a few laughs, and Simm in particular gets the chance to flex his comedic muscles, but these fade as time goes on, and at its heart this play is incredibly tense and, I think, quite pessimistic. As such, it's not a production you enjoy, but, as all aspects are so well done - not only the fine acting and script, but also the stark lighting, disconcerting sound and great use of back projections - it is certainly one to hugely admire.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Appy Anniversary Spaced - it's 10 years old!

Goodness. 10 years old. Like most comedy I claim to be a huge fan of, I came to Spaced rather late; only at the start of the second series. That I was 13 ten years ago might have been a reasonable excuse, if it weren't for the fact that by that point I was pretty well versed in a whole host of comedy and could have easily watched it from the start.....

But hey, better late than never, and now I have had ten years' worth of enjoyment thanks to those 15 episodes of near-perfection. I can quote along with my brother whenever it's stuck on, it kept me company when I was homesick at uni, and later was shared with the great friends I made there on cosy nights in.

In the ideas, and the delivery of those ideas, it is obvious that the cast and crew have gone the extra mile; no moment, scene or line deemed insignificant enough to be compromised on... y'know, I did a 'Why I Love' piece for TV Scoop a while ago, and I wrote it pretty well back then:

The two series follow this group of friends as they struggle to become Proper Grown Ups with pop culture as their only frame of reference. They save their dog from freelance vivisectionists, throw awful parties, have a Matrix-style fight with secret agents, fall out, make up, and punch an artist in the face. It's like a puzzle that you keep finding new pieces for, and never want to finish, it tells you life isn't like the movies and then ends a series with Tim and Daisy taking to the dancefloor, and you know what else? I've seen it a thousand times and it still makes me laugh.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Should comedians do adverts?

This is the debate bubbling away on Chortle and subsequently Twitter, prompted, of course, by Mark Watson's appearances on ads for Magners Pear Cider. Well, I say 'of course', but there was also Ed Byrne on Carphone Warehouse, and literally as I write I am listening to Stephen Fry and Paul Merton voice cartoon phones. And there must be many others.

Anyway, the argument started with a piece from David Jesudason whose main point was that...

The role of the comedian is to highlight the ills of our society and not be scared to say things that other people are afraid of highlighting. This means they have a huge responsibility, a responsibility that must be used to shine a light on how power is used to repress and maintain the status quo.


This, as you've probably guessed, is not really how I see comedy. I want comedians to make me laugh and make me happier for a while than I would be otherwise. That might be by lambasting "the ills of society" but it also might be by singing about something as trivial as sending a text to the person the text was about (David O'Doherty) or reading a poem about dew (Tim Key).

Then Carl Donnelly responded to the overall criticism of comedians "selling-out" on their moral responsibilities, but Mark Watson himself felt that he needed he needed to reply to the attacks on his personal integrity:

I accepted the Magners job because the money has allowed me the freedom to take on unpaid or hardly-paid projects which I might otherwise have had to abandon.


This was followed up by Ivor Dembina who made the rather surprising claim that:

Sorry, when you operate as a comedian your first responsibility isn’t to your family, it’s to your audience.


In my response to the criticisms aimed at Watson specifically, I can be rather more robust than he could (I guess he felt it would look rather immodest to list his more altruistic achievments). That 24-Hour Show - featuring not just Mark but comedians such as Simon Amstell and Stephen K Amos whose solo shows could cost over £20? That cost each audience member £5. He has also dedicated himself to being less Crap At The Environment, to the point of taking courses and now delivering lectures on how we can all do our bit. And the idea that Watson has little regard for his fans just doesn't add up - he consistently goes out of his way to get fans into sold-out shows and events he's involved in.

Does one advertising deal outweigh all of this? Some people think so, I clearly don't. Sure, it's not the best thing he's going to do with his life, and he's understandably taken a great deal of good-hearted stick for it. But to suggest that it is so bad to have irrevocably betrayed his personal integrity, his fans, or the good name of stand-uppery, well that's just a step too far.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oh, and a Weather Party...

One thing I forgot in my previous catch-up post - but which is probably the most interesting thing I've done in the past month - was my attendance at Lloyd Woolf's Weather Party. That is, I grant, a group of words that doesn't mean a whole lot without explanation, so here goes: Lloyd Woolf is a comedian (part of the Cowards sketch group) and he decided that he'd like to meet some Weather Presenters and/or Forecasters. Understandable, I suppose, they generally seem an amiable lot. To this end, he set up a party in a pub, which anyone who reads his blog could attend and hopefully buy a Weather Person a drink...

Ok, so only two weather people turned up, but one was my friend Benn and the other was from the Met Office (impressive). And it was a lovely, lovely evening. Just talking with nice people brought together by the oddest of conceits - but lovely.

Little catch up...

Over the last month I have:

- Recovered from the Edinburgh hangover and got back into the swing of work
- Seen two excellent bills of comedy both headlined by Mark Watson
- Where Watson was excellent, Freeze! (Tim Key and Tom Basden) ended on a dance, and Shooting Stars' Angelos Epithemiou was an unexpected highlight
- Started thinking about Christmas (lordy!)
- Enjoyed the Last Night of the Proms rather more than usual
- Eulogised over the wonderful piece of TV that is Lost Land of the Volcano
- Been confused, entertained and irritated by Derren Brown
- Seen my bridesmaid dress for big bro's wedding...

In the immediate future I will:

- See how Tim Minchin's Ready For This show has progressed over the last few months
- Be happy about Peep Show's return
- Be happy about Strictly's return
- Definitely see John Simm in Speaking In Tongues
- Try to see John Barrowman in La Cage Aux Folles
- Be thinking about how Doctor Who will 'end' a LOT
- Hopefully see Mitch Benn, Alun Cochrane and We Need Answers being filmed
- Try to blog more. Honest :)

*looks at watch*

Is it DW time yet? It's been ages...

Saturday, September 05, 2009

So Flight of the Conchords are touring the UK next year....

Something tells me those gigs are going to be INSANE. But still, yay, certainly. (Dates TBC...)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Edinburgh Fringe 2009: Comedy Highlights

My Edinburgh comedy round-up for MusicOMH.com...

Edinburgh Fringe 2009: Comedy Highlights

So the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2009 has come to a close.

Doubtless a few stray, soggy flyers are still dancing along the Royal Mile, but the vast majority of performers, promoters and press folk have returned from whence they came and all the Edinburgh residents have begun to emerge from wherever they hide in August.

To mark the end of the festival musicOMH’s Natasha Tripney and Anna Lowman take you through their Edinburgh experience.

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Tim Key and Twitter

Before this year’s Fringe, there was a controversial piece in The Guardian which suggested that comedians are slipping back into the bad old ways of causing offence just to garner a cheap laugh. Who would have imagined, then, that the month would end with a celebration of the charming work of comic poet Tim Key and comic actor Jonny Sweet, respective winners of the main and newcomer Comedy Awards (latterly known as the Perrier and if.comedy).

Key was one the comics I booked up for straight away having seen him at the Invisible Dot several times in London, the Invisible Dot being a small company who also produced his solo show, Tom Basden’s play Party - which starred both winners - and the successful comedy art installation The Hotel. Good festival for them, then. A ‘funny bones’ performer, his show is a great, quirky miscellany of short poems and videos. Sweet’s show is a character piece in which he pays homage to his (fictional) late brother Arthur - and neither performer could ever be described as ‘offensive’.

This was, of course, the first Fringe since Twitter usage went huge, and it has instantly become a powerful word of mouth tool. Sites such as EdTwinge.com brought together tweet reviews of shows to create ‘karma’ ratings based on the number of tweets, and how positive they are. This system, which appeared to be wide open to abuse by over-active PRs, in fact proved quite useful: if a visitor had time to see just a few shows, the EdTwinge Top 10 - which has included the likes of Pappy’s Fun Club and Chris Cox – would have been a pretty good place to start.

Elsewhere, my personal memoires of the Fringe ’09 are bound to be dominated by Mark Watson’s Last Ever 24 Hour Show. Hosted by Watson, and helped along by his friends such as Adam Hills, Brendan Burns and Tim Key (him again), the show literally lasts 24 hours, but is more about games, challenges and storylines which grow organically across the course of the day than ‘proper jokes’. Ambitious, warm-hearted and unique, I hope this special group of comedians appear together on stage again in the future, if not for a whole day...

Finally, it was great to see how a year as Comedy Award winner has affected one of my very favourite comics, David O’Doherty. Confident, and filling a relatively huge Fringe venue with ease, he only went to his trademark Casio keyboard a few times during the set but somehow, this wasn’t in any way a disappointment. Much as I love the songs, his stand-up is now such that they simply aren’t missed – and I have little doubt that his good friend Tim Key will take a similarly positive journey over the next 12 months.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Comedy Awards - Daily Record video

Really nice video - interviews with Tim Key, Jonny Sweet and presenter Frank Skinner, and David O'Doherty giving Tim the biggest hug in the history of hugs. Huge thanks to the lovely Simone for bringing it to my attention.

A belated tribute to leader of the pack, Ellie Greenwich

When I was younger, and treated generously often to trips to the Sheffield Lyceum theatre, we rarely missed the 'jukebox' musicals that regularly rolled into town. The one that excited me most, however - and didn't disappoint - was 'Leader of the Pack', the life-story of Ellie Greenwich told through her amazing songs.

The girl group classics of the 60s are usually associated with Phil Spector but in fact many of the tracks I love (something which grew from singing along to our 'Girls On Top' cassette on long car journeys) were penned by Greenwich. This includes the brilliant Be My Baby, Da Do Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me, River Deep, Mountain High and, of course, Leader of the Pack.

'I met him at the candy store!'

I remember that it particularly appealed to my embryonic feminism that these songs that I loved so much, and came from an era where I assumed men did the songwriting, came from a woman's brain. Those early connections have a tendency to stick and so - despite the fact that I can't pretend to know all that much about her - Greenwich has always been something of a hero for me, or at least someone who I hugely admire.

In celebration of the life and works of Ellie Greenwich then, who passed away just last week, here's one of my favourites; Be My Baby performed by The Ronettes:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tim Key & Jonny Sweet win Comedy Awards!

Meaning the Invisible Dot is about to go pretty huge....! Tim's wonderful show, The Slutcracker is produced by the Dot, and Jonny Sweet is very much part of the family so expect many profile pieces in the near future. Can't think of two more deserving winners, even among the strong nominees that made up the shortlists, so huge congratulations to them both. DO'D last year, Key this - the judging panel are getting good at this, eh? Maybe I'll have to get myself on it next year....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Aoife on her Edinburgh entourage... er, exploits


As you all probably know, Aoife isn't just my very good friend, but also a very good journalist, so I thought your lives would be considerably improved by reading about her experiences as a member of Adam Hills's entourage in her own words. Sure, she missed a couple of hours of the 24 Hour Show, but I think she's ok with that...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Edinburgh Fringe 2009: The Hotel

The brainchild of Mark Watson - a festival legend at the age of just 29, thanks to his 24-hour shows and solo stand-up – The Hotel is one of the least easily-definable shows on the Fringe. And that’s going some.

Watson, along with the innovative Camden-based production company The Invisible Dot, has commandeered an entire townhouse on Queen Street in the New Town, and with a cast and crew of dozens, turned it into something which is part comedy, part play, and part art installation.

The audience are guests at The Hotel, a once-salubrious B+B (recipient of a Highly Commended Award for Best Integration of TV in Lounge or Games Room in 1991, according to the witty flyer you are handed on your arrival) that has now fallen on hard times – a fate mirrored by its tragic owner, Charlie Rowland.

Ushered from room to room by staff who are either over-eager, disinterested, or foul-mouthed, the guests experience a little more of The Hotel each time they open a door. There’s the Boardroom, where a job interview leads to the candidates brawling out in the street; the ‘Wellness’ Room, where you’ll get fit or else; and – most disturbingly of all – the kitchens, where unstable chefs are kept behind glass for the guests’ safety, and use increasingly unconventional methods to either cook the food, or escape.

The attention to detail in all of this is exquisite. The shabby wallpaper, the woeful attempts at modernisation and the crazed look in the staff members’ eyes all come together to evoke an establishment where even faded charm has faded.

The most impressive example of this comes in Charlie’s room at the top of the house, where empty whisky bottles and takeaway wrappers are strewn across the floor, while letters charting Charlie’s demise cover the walls. Down in the Computer Suite, access to Charlie’s emails gives further, unsettling insight into his troubled mind.

The only issue here is time-management – you get sucked into a certain room (this can easily happen in the Cabaret Bar, where “proper” comics including Pippa Evans and Marcel Lucont perform) only to miss out on something equally great elsewhere. And that’s such a shame, because there is something to delight, disturb or otherwise confuse in every room: in a town where the abnormal is normal, The Hotel still manages to be seductively weird, and utterly unique.

Also at MusicOMH.com

Edinburgh Fringe 2009: Anna talks about the 24 Hour Show. For too long.


That's a picture I drew at about 00.20 NST, of Chris Cox using his powers of suggestion to guess what pictures people would draw, with Sherwood and Butterworth in the background, tinkling and bowing away. Nice huh?

Anyway, below is my final video in this little series (and maybe my last ever, who knows) and it's just me gushing about the 24 Hour show. I've done a review of The Hotel too, for MusicOMH, so that'll be added here when it's been published.

video

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Edinburgh Fringe 2009: It's Rhys Darby Night

There are people who believe that the Edinburgh Fringe should be all about new acts playing to one man and his dog in some makeshift venue on the way out to Leith, and not about people who are famous for being on the telly and doing films with Jim Carrey – two things which do, of course, apply to Rhys Darby.

But Darby has done more than his fair share of low-key gigs; indeed he has been to the Fringe many times in the past as just another act struggling to ‘make it’. Then came his role in Flight Of The Conchords as the hapless, naive but loyal and ultimately lovable Murray, and suddenly he’s playing Udderbelly (a purple, inflatable, upside down cow) alongside the likes of Reginald D Hunter.

It is precisely this move from small-time, niche New Zealand comic to celebrated cult star that informs much of Darby’s show, It’s Rhys Darby Night. In past shows, flights of surreal fantasy about meeting mermaids and jettisoning girls out of his car have been built around the uncanny sound-effects he can produce, but here that talent is put to use adding colour to real-life tales about his recent fame.

Stories which begin "So I was in LA shooting a film" could easily become self-congratulatory - certain reviewers have, rather harshly, used the word arrogant – but in fact Darby is ploughing classic Conchords territory here in that they are all told from the viewpoint of a man with a small-town mentality suddenly being thrown into a world of conference calls and glitzy dos and not knowing quite how to react.

There are one or two flat moments - his whale-watcher character especially seemed to lack a point and, more importantly, many laughs – and it seems that Darby is at a cross-roads in terms of his stand-up: does he continue as before, all robots and jet-packs, or confront his new-found celebrity and go down a story-teller route? One suspects the two can be successfully intertwined, though it’s not quite there yet.

But in the end, this is a fun, thoroughly generous show performed by a comic who at heart quite clearly exists on stage simply to make his audience happy in whatever way he can. When his mic-pack becomes dislodged, he does an impression of a dinosaur to compensate; when he spills some water he licks it and employs his clowning skills to “slip” extravagantly - and, yes, he even lets the immortal words ‘band meeting’ pass his lips.

also on MusicOMH.com

Mark Watson's Last Ever 24 Hour Show - photos

I'll probably do a final video to talk about this a little, but for now, here's a few pics of the day which involved games, challenges, lots of music, chat, eating, and even a bit of comedy here and there. And Lionel Blair...

Mark Watson and David O'Doherty at about 8am (it started at 1.20am, BST, or 1am NST - New Scottish Time, which was establish to rectify the late start...!):
Adam Hills decided he wanted an entourage, and what Hills wants, Hills gets. (Aoife is in the red cardie):

Brendon Burns, Dan Walmsley and Tim Key react to... something:

'The Lovely Band' (James Sherwood on piano, Amy Butterworth on violin, Martin White on accordion and Ali McGregor on a strummy thing [sorry again!] and vocals) performing a beautiful version of Radiohead's Creep:

Adam Hills (suit), Mark Watson (green), Brendan Burns (headscarf), Tim Key (shirt), Tiernan Douieb (happy), Dan Walmsley (background) and Simon Amstell (non-load-bearing) celebrate the end of the show:

Edinburgh Fringe 2009: Anna talks about DO'D and Superclump. In that flat again.

More talk from me in a flat - this time about the wonderful David O'Doherty (who as well as being a first class comic, was also lovely enough to stop and chat to me, Aoife and my parents for rather longer than he had to), and a great sketch troupe recommended to my by http://dogscantlookup.com/, called Superclump.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2009: Paul & Becca. In a courtyard.

The Pleasance Courtyard, no less.

This one's a couple of actual, proper reviews from Paul Fuzz/Waits/Lowman and Becca Dumican - a couple soon to be known as Paul and Becca Fuzz-Lowman-Dumican-Waits. Or Paul and Rebecca Lowman, something like that. (They're getting married at Christmas! Yay :D)

Up for discussion in this vlog: Hugh Hughes and Grave Situation...

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Edinburgh Fringe 2009: 'Hotel' chat. In a flat.

This one's just me, I'm afraid, talking about Mark Watson's comedy/art/installation The Hotel which is co-produced with The Invisible Dot, and therefore brilliant.

If you'd like more of an idea of the show than you get from my review (surely not!) there was a really great piece about it on The Edinburgh Fringe Show (aka The Culture Show) last night, which you can watch on iPlayer here.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2009: Comedy chat. In a cafe.

Since we last spoke I have been to the Edinburgh Fringe and returned - very tired (a 24 hour show will do that to you, but we'll come to that later) and very satisfied that I saw some rather special things. To accompany the little reviews that will be coming your way very soon (and comments including "I MET MURRAY!") I thought it'd be nice if you actually saw my face, and the face of people I like.

So here we go, my first vlog - just me, Aoife and Sabina chatting about what we'd seen, about two days in.

"Enjoy".

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Friday, July 31, 2009

A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar Warehouse

Of all the aspects of Rob Ashford's production of Tennessee Williams' play which can be praised - and there are several - I am sure that it is Rachel Weisz’s performance as Blanche DuBois that will be best remembered when the house lights come up on closing night.

As delicate as the Chinese lantern she uses to shade a naked bulb, Weisz’s Blanche is waif-like, easy to shatter – the ethereal silks and chiffons she wears seem more robust than her mental state.

When Blanche arrives at her sister Stella’s house at the start of the play, everything about her is at odds with her surroundings. She demands old world manners and chivalry, but is met with the brutal power of her “ape-like” brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, and the overt sexuality and occasional brutality of his relationship with Stella. She yearns for space and air, but has to endure oppressive New Orleans heat. She even looks out of place, wearing blues, reds and whites while all around her is a murky ochre.

This is a likable Blanche – or at least one that you feel sorry for rather than irritated by. She lies constantly (preferring magic to realism, of course) but there is something endearing about her, and her depression and anxieties stemming from the suicide of her husband as a very young woman are in evident from the moment she steps shakily into the Kowalski household. It is hard to hold mood swings and invention against a woman who has reason to be sad, angry and tired with reality.

Weisz’s Blanche is complemented by a wonderful turn from Ruth Wilson, who equally makes Stella an appealing character. She may live with a man who strikes her on a semi-regular basis but, for right or wrong, she never comes across as a victim - and with a mountain of a husband in Elliot Cowan’s Stanley, that shows that this Stella has a core of steel to match her smiley exterior.

Cowan certainly inhabits the overwhelming physicality of Stanley, then, and his own dual personality that veers from joker to raging drunk seems to mirror that of his sister-in-law – whose own mood is similarly affected by alcohol. It is just a shame that his wavering accent sometimes distracts from the performance.

Blanche’s tragedy and decline is certainly placed firmly at the centre of this production, perhaps to the point that other aspects of the play are not given as much prominence as they could - but it has the benefit of showcasing a wonderful performance from Weisz.

for MusicOHM.com

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Top Telly of the Noughties

According to this blog on MediaGuardian, there's going to be another of those 'Top [Number] [Somethings] of [A Time Period]' on Channel Four, this time populating the missing fields with [10], [TV Shows] and [The Noughties] respectively. I've come up with a off-the-top-of-my-head list over on the post, which as I say isn't exactly revolutionary, but at least it involved Cranford unlike any other up until that point! Feel free to make your comments over there, just wanted to flag it up :)

Jerusalem, Royal Court

The very first thing that strikes you about this production – after we see a mini outdoor rave in silhouette, but before a single word is uttered – is the height and sheer enormity of the acting space in front of you.

With three huge elm trees rising a good thirty feet, casting a soft, dappled light across the stage, the English countryside dominates the visuals of the production.

It dominates the text too - but just as the rural idyll is tempered by the remnants of last night’s ‘revelry’ - a broken TV, empty drinks cans and rickety garden furniture tipped upside down - so is the man at its centre a confusion of contradictions and dichotomies.

That man is John ‘Rooster’ Byron (Mark Rylance). He is the ultimate Lord of Misrule who “brings the ruckus” as his waster, wannabe-DJ friend Ginger (Mackenzie Crook) would say. He’s of Romany descent, close to nature, and full of fantastical stories of the giants that once – and according to him, still do – stalk England's green and pleasant land.

But, just like a lot of the characters he brings to mind - in particular Bacchus - there is more than a hint of danger about Rooster; he is also a drug-dealer, a tax-dodger, and a squatter on the council’s land who has just 24 hours to get out before being forcibly evicted.

Byron, then, would be a gift to any actor, but few could inhabit him so completely as Mark Rylance. It is a stunning performance that leaves you in no doubt that a gaggle of hangers-on and fair-weather friends really would be utterly in awe of him. The audience certainly are. You even start to believe his ludicrous stories of being held captive by Nigerian traffic wardens (and watching the snooker semi-final with them) because he has an air of magic which suggests that literally anything could happen to him.

The moments when the Bottom-esque bluster recedes are just as affecting, however. Rylance brilliantly portrays Byron as a man out of time, clinging to ancient ideals while a new estate encroaches on the wild garlic and mayflowers growing around his trailer.

At three and a quarter hours, this play is certainly on the lengthy side, but time spent in the company of these dreamers and drop-outs is certainly time well spent. It is only a shame that reality must hit home in the sombre, at times shocking , third act, and bring this Shakespearean Dream to an inevitable (and as such unfortunately rather predictable) end.

Overall though, the outstanding Rylance is supported by a cast who excel simply by not being completely overshadowed by such a big performance – Crook shines in particular. And, they are all served by a wonderful script that manages to be rich, expansive and inventive, while consistently eliciting the sort of laughs that stand-up comedians would kill for.

Also at MusicOMH.com

Monday, July 20, 2009

Desperate Romantics

The more observant among you may have noticed that TVScoop, along with all the Shiny blogs, is now existing in a state of suspended animation (Shiny's gone into administration, but that's about all I know...) But dammit, I'd alread written by Desperate Romantics review! So here it is...

The BBC have been promoting Desperate Romantics pretty heavily of late, so they must be proud of it - but I've actually heard rumblings that it is not, in fact, all that great. Our head honcho Paul had an early look, and it wasn't so much that he didn't like it, as that it wasn't quite what he had expected; rather than a serious look at these apparently serious men, it's something of a fun, BBC Three Casanova-esque romp. Sign me up...

He's right you know, Desperate Romantics *is* fun. Over the top, yes, to the point of silliness, probably, but when has that ever stopped me enjoying something? It usually enhances my enjoyment, to be honest. And what's better, it's over the top fun performed by really engaging actors.

Leading this merry band (band being the operative word - they're made out to be rebellious rock stars, raging against the establishment of the Academy) is "half Italian, half mad" Rosetti, played by the brooding vampire in Being Human, Aiden Turner as a ladies' man who has an artistic temperament, big dreams, all "wit and bluster". Then there's intense Mr William Holman Hunt, played by Rafe Spall, who is also known as 'Maniac' (sweet) and the hugely engaging, rather fey John Millais AKA Samuel Barnett, who excelled as the older Simon Doonan in Beautiful People.

And finally, with their reputations (and ability to afford food...) in his hands, there's art critic Ruskin, who also provides the only storyline approaching drama in this drama. Played with his usual aplomb and delicacy, Tom Hollander steals the show from under the noses of the young bucks as the repressed critic who - inexplicably to most - refuses to yield to the advances of his wife, played by the delightful Zoe Tapper.

I've no idea how accurate Desperate Romantics is (not particularly, I'd imagine), and yes, I would also like a sister documentary on good ol' BBC Four just to keep my TV diet balanced, but overall, I can't pretend for a moment that I would have preferred this programme to be more cerebral. It's gossamer-light but, thanks to some lovely performances, is saved from being completely inconsequential.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Karaoke Circus at The 100 Club

There are some crappy things about living in London, but we're also often very, very spoiled. I went to the latest Karaoke Circus on Wednesday, which has made a quite significant leap from a tiny room downstairs at the Albany to the legendary 100 Club. After last time's joyous, magical affair, I have to say I was slightly concerned that it couldn't be matched and not only that, but that the show would lose something by moving to a bigger room. But in fact, it was just the same. The atmosphere was just as wonderful, the audience once again more than happy to join in, and performances equally special.

But this time, the band was expanded to a full orchestra, allowing for some pretty ambitious song-choices. Being the Macca fan I am, it was a joy to hear Live and Let Die performed with strings and horns, and Waen Shepherd fronted an astonishing version on Rock and Roll Suicides. The award for bravery, however, simply has to go to an audience member for choosing to go for MacArthur Park ("someone left the cake out in the rain") - though no-one could argue with the judge's decision in terms of the winner. That rare accolade went to Angel who performed Beastie Boys' Sabotage with what can only be described as true chutzpah.

The other celebs and comedians on the bill included (big breath) Bridget Christie channelling Kate Bush with worrying accuracy, the Penny Dreadfuls tearing up Under Pressure (take that as you will), the legend that is Kevin Eldon mashing up One Day Like This and Hey Jude (identical chord progression, it would appear), poet John Hegley displaying one hell of a voice with Sunny Side Of The Street, the wonderful Andrew Collins dropping an octave to perform Tom Waits's Way Down In The Hole, Peep Show's Isy Suttie smiling her way through Piano Man and Miles Jupp bringing it all to a singalong end with Come On Eileen.

Oddest, and simultaneously most brilliant of all, however, was the appearance of Gary Richardson. Gary Richardson! The BBC Sport guy! Singing, of all things, Daydream Believer! Read Mr Collins's great blog post about it if you think I dreamt it. I didn't. It happened. (In fact, read the blog anyway - there are photos too.)

This did feel more like a 'proper gig' than the previous Karaoke Circus, so huge kudos to Martin and Danielle for retaining that wonderful atmosphere - I didn't actually think it possible. If anyone's going to Latitude, the circus will be rolling into town on the Sunday, and then there'll be more comedy karaoke at the Edinburgh Fringe. Neither of which I can make. Dammit...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Torchwood - spoilerific of course!

My proper review is up over on TVScoop, but with my SQUEEILUVNOOWHOOO hat on, the thing I'm most interested in is how Captain Jack as a character can recover from what he's done. I *know* he had to do it to save millions of children but.... you know. Still a bit much, sacrificing your grandson in front of his mother, isn't it?

Where does that leave Jack - the Jack who throws up a "whatever" sign and comes onto anything with a pulse? I *liked* that Jack. Is that Jack gone forever?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Avenue Q, Gielgud Theatre

I really should have gone to see Avenue Q before now - it was clearly my kinds thing. Thanks to MusicOMH then for getting me tickets to the opening night at the show's new home where as well as the musical, I also saw Eddie Izzard, Julian Rhind-Tutt AKA WHY ISN'T HE THE DOCTOR? and Kimberley from Girls Aloud. All in all a good night...

--

Of all the consequences of George Bush leaving office, the fact that the writers of a Broadway puppet-based musical would have to tweak a lyric was probably one of the least earth-shattering.

But that was in fact the case - Avenue Q’s closing ode to ambivalence, compromise and mild optimism For Now contained the line "George Bush is only for now", and replacements including "recession", "your mother-in-law" and even "this show" were all considered.

In the end, though, they opted simply to swap "is" for "was", and why not - it's probably best not to play around too much with a show that is already rather wonderful.

Opening in its new home, the Gielgud Theatre then, very little has changed about Avenue Q. It might seem strange to say of a show where puppets are the stars that it doesn’t have many gimmicks, but in terms of the staging, that is entirely the case, and as such Avenue Q could make most theatres its home.

The look of the puppets instantly brings to mind Sesame Street, but in fact the relationship between the stage show and the TV show goes a lot deeper than that. Sesame Street attempts to help children learn how to grow up emotionally as well as educate and entertain, and that’s just what this musical is about – only transposed twenty years later in a person’s life.

It charts the confusion, fears, and struggle for identity and purpose that young people fresh out of college or university very often feel, and little cartoon films that punctuate it try to help the characters along, just as similar cartoons are created in the TV show to help young children.

It’s not all twenty-something angst, of course, though. This is essentially a fun, funny show that wants you to leave the auditorium as happy as possible, without suggesting that things are going to be happily ever after (but maybe happily "for now".) Irreverent but ultimately rather good-natured songs such as Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist and Schadenfreude go down a storm, and the central love story between Princeton and Kate Monster - both puppets - is genuinely aww-enducing if a little sickly at times.

The real joy of having the puppets operated by people in full view of the audience is that there are always two performances to joy for every character on stage. It really isn’t long before you start watching the puppets rather than their counterparts, but it’s good to sometimes switch your focus back to the men and women in all-black clothing to see how they interpret the movements and emotions of their characters.

In the case of Julie Atherton, that focus is often pulled anyway, as she is such an engaging performer, and imbues Kate and the Lucy The Slut with such wonderful comic timing. She is more than ably supported by the rest of the cast, though – notably Daniel Boys and Mark Goldthorpe, who has a Cookie Monster-style voice down to such a tee that the Jim Henson Workshop would surely be happy to have him on staff.

It might be easy to say that Avenue Q is simply a smutty Sesame Street, and there are certainly elements of that. But in reality, the stage show retains much of the heart of the iconic programme, and is as much a paean to it as a parody. Warm, very sweet and anxious that we all just accept who we are and try to get along, its ideals are not so far removed from those of its main inspiration as it tries to make out.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Junior Ministers, 6 Day Riot and assorted others

There's not a whole lot going on in the mainstream music scene that particularly excites me at the moment, and as a result my non-comedy-gig-attendance has dropped dramatically of late.

It took a Minchin-connection to get me down to Stockwell for a Junior Ministers gig (he is old friends with one half of the duo, H Anthony) but I'm very glad I made the trip south of the river. H and t'other half t'duo - Jim - do Talking Head's-esque tunes that one clever journo described as "arty stuff with squelchy beats and dark oddball narrative." Spot on!

Also on the bill, and a real find, were 6 Day A Riot, a lovely six-piece with a double bass, trumpet, violin, guitar, along with the more usual guitar, drummer and vocalist... with a ukulele. A bit Guillemots, a bit Arcade Fire, and quite a lot Spinto Band, they're a lot of fun, and have a *very* talented lead singer in Tamara Schlesinger.

Canadian comic Pat Burtscher did a great ten minute set too, and Mr Minchin performed 'Perineum Millenium' - a dirty twist on TS Eliot, most of the references in which I'm not well-read enough to get - a long, long list of one-lines, 'Nothing Can Stop Us Now' (the love song with a sting in the tail), and the Notting Hill Billies' gorgeous 'Feel Like Going Home'. Not your usual set, so a delight to see.

Very good night.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Twitter Comedy - the review

Written for MusicOMH.com

While Facebook is great for sharing photos, Myspace now generally based around promoting music and YouTube the go-to website for videos, Twitter is all about words.

It should perhaps come as no surprise, then, that it has become the social network of choice for comedians, and the fact that users have just 140 characters to play with appears more an attraction than a restriction – comics, it seems, are only too happy to prove that brevity is the soul of wit.

On Monday 8 June, as a sort of celebration of this new outlet for their talents, nine of the UK’s most prolific comic Twitterers undertook a little experiment: a comedy gig held on Twitter, which was hosted by Tiernan Douieb and headlined by Mark Watson.

And while it was a certainly chaotic and, at three hours, probably too long, (though when you’re watching the gig in your pyjamas, it matters rather less than usual) I think that Twitter’s inaugural comedy night can be considered a huge success.

The main positive was the line-up. The easy option would have been to stick with comics who specialise in one-liners, a style of comedy tailor made for Twitter, but thankfully the organisers were a lot more adventurous. So, along with acts who could shoot off puns at ten or more a minute (the brilliant Gary Delaney tweeted too often in an hour and had to start up an emergency account to continue his set), we also treated to acts that would, on the face of it, seem completely incongruous: the sketch troupe Pappy’s Fun Club and musical comedian Mitch Benn.

Perhaps the fact that they were forced to be more inventive was a blessing, however, as these two acts were definite highlights. Pappy’s Fun Club get the award for most preparation thanks to their inclusion of photos and additional accounts, but the night, I think, belonged to Mitch Benn.

Benn is an enthusiastic Twitter champion, and so he was even prepared to break his own rule of never setting new lyrics to an existing tune for the good of the cause. We had to guess the song, but if I copy and paste the wonderful lines “I see a little grainy twitpic of a man/SCARAMOUCHE SCARAMOUCHE WILL YOU START A NEW HASHTAG” you will quickly get the idea. And it was a delight. Funny, inventive, and an in-joke aimed at just the right audience, Benn deservedly got many a *cheer* and *standing ovation* from those following the gig.

In the end, the only problems were logistical rather than inherent. Having all the acts tweet from one account rather than their own would make following the gig much simpler, and trying to tell the rebellious Twitter masses not to use the hashtag reserved for the comedians was simply never going to work. But these are issues that can be easily sorted out, and when they are, there will be no reason why Twitter Comedy should not become a regular, and very successful, event.

The line up in full:
Mark Watson - @watsoncomedian
Pappy's Fun Club - @PappysFunClub
Mitch Benn - @MitchBenn
Matt Kirshen - @mattkirshen
Rob Heeney - @robheeney
Carl Donnelly - @carldonnelly
Terry Saunders - @terrysaunders
Gary Delaney - @garydelaney
Host: Tiernan Douieb - @TiernanDouieb

Monday, June 08, 2009

More Comedy Blogging (and Twittering,,,)

1) The BBC have got Adam and Joe blogging, which is something of a joy. Early days, but you can take a look here.

2) There's a comedy gig happening on Twitter at 8pm tonight, hosted by Tiernan Douieb, with the likes of Mark Watson, Mitch Benn and Pappy's Fun Club on board. Ten minutes each, one-liners or stories welcome. Might be just a tad unwieldy (Stephen Fry mentioned it, meaning thousands will be following) but should be a lot of fun nonetheless.

Sister Act

First posted over at MusicOMH.com

Thanks to its feel-good themes, big-hearted lead character, classic Motown soundtrack – and, you suspect rather importantly, a large and enthusiastic existing fanbase - putting the early ‘90s big screen hit Sister Act onto the stage is actually quite a natural progression.

There were, however, always a couple of major issues for the producers to deal with: the role of Deloris Van Cartier is inextricably linked with the Whoopi Goldberg, for one, and with Motown putting together its own musical, using the songs which form the heart of the film was strictly off-limits.

Based on the criteria of overcoming these inherent problems, though, the creators of this new powerhouse musical have done an excellent job. Stepping into the beloved Whoopi’s shoes must be daunting, but Patina Miller - at the age of just 24 - does it admirably.

This is more than a just a case of holding her own; Miller has a wonderfully big, rich voice and imbues her character with just the right mix of sassiness and warmth. You can see why the nuns of the circumlocutorily-named Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith follow her lead, even against the will of their austere Mother Superior (Sheila Hancock).

And in the case of the soundtrack, who better to entrust with this vital new aspect of the show than Alan Menken. His work with Disney, which includes most of the successes from their rejuvenated period in the 1990s (Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin among others), shows that he can do family-friendly with that added bit of class, and Little Shop of Horrors demonstrates his edgier, darkly comic side. A perfect combination for Sister Act, then, and so it proves.

But only eventually. We are made to wait for Menken’s genius to shine, as the show suffers from a pretty uninspiring first half hour. The musical only lurches into fourth gear, quite suddenly, when lounge-singer Deloris, witness to a murder by her partner, is put into a protection programme in the last place anyone would think to look for her: a convent.

After that shaky start, the pace and the enjoyment quickly pick up – although it has to be said that all of the subsequent fun is provided by the performances, and Menken’s tunes and Glenn Slater’s quick, clever lyrics: the script, despite coming from Cheers writers Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, adds little.

But that matters less and less as time goes on, as Menken and Slater are given more chance to indulge their obvious gift for ironic parody. Moving the action to the 1970s means that we get witty musical allusions to Earth Wind and Fire, Shaft (for the police chases, of course), Gloria Gaynor, Barry White, and – in a bizarre but wonderful nun-rapping moment - Grandmaster Flash.

In fact, aside from the brilliant, anthemic Raise Your Voice, which brings to mind Menken’s exceptional gospel soundtrack to Disney’s Hercules, it is the peripheral tracks that do nothing to move the story forward which are actually the most enjoyable, and which give the show a bit of much-needed edge. Ironically for a musical all about sisterhood, it is the men who tend to get the most interesting songs.

Overall, this musical more than makes up for its dubious opening. The big ensemble numbers do plenty to lift the spirits, and are augmented by some very funny choreography. And while the sentimentality can be a bit much at times - and one would certainly expect more from the book - there is always a welcome touch of sourness and ingenuity added by the songwriters to even things out.

The 'what would your band name be' discussion...

...normally throws up only depressingly awful suggestions (follow journalist/musician Rhodri Marsden's advice and search 'would be a good band name' on Twitter Search for evidence).

But my bro Mr Paul Fuzz has come up with a good'un...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Toy Story 3 Teaser Trailer

*hyperventilates*

Comedy blogging

Just a quick post to bring to your attention three new blogs from comedy types that might be of interest to you...

Lloyd Woolf Says - A daily blog from Coward Lloyd Woolf
TomBasden.com - Lots of videos from fellow Coward and Freeze! er, member Tom Basden
Back Of The Net News - A very funny spoof footy blog from Paul Watson (creator or the Back Of The Net wiki) and his brother non-Coward comedian Mark.

Enjoy.

The Invisible Dot - now with added ltd.

You know that Invisible Dot I've been going on about? Well now it's a limited company. Not, you might think, the most exciting news in the world, but that's not the case in Invisible Dot-land. Here it warrants a delightful, free party at the office - in the sweltering heat - and, of course, a mini-documentary presented by Simon Bird... (this is *brilliant*, by the way)



There was a lovely cake.


Simon Amstell topped the bill.


Tim Key hosted, and said the words "It's so hot, this isn't my hairstyle."


Tom Basden provided some awesome tunes.


And I am in this photo. YAY.


Thanks (and congrats) to Mr Invisible Dot, Simon Pearce. Beautiful piccies by Luke Ngakane.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Well this is different, eh?

EDIT: I changed the template and hated it instantly, as I knew I would. Back to same template then, but sans serif font for the main text to simplify things a bit....!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ordinary Dreams, Trafalgar Studios

Sorry guys, totally forgot to cross-post this from MusicOMH...

With its references to quantitative easing and credit crunch, along with more general allusions to those little annoyances that punctuate modern life, Marcus Markou’s new comedy is very much a play for 2009.

The play is subtitled 'How to Survive a Meltdown with Flair', and that meltdown is suffered by new dad Miles (James Lance) who used to be the creative sort, but somehow ended up working for a faceless company doing something related to market research which no-one can quite pin down, including Miles himself.

Riled to distraction by the litter in the street and the noisy family next door, and terrified of letting down his baby son, Miles descends into a crisis characterised by psychosomatic infirmities (he buys himself a wheelchair when the doctor dares to suggest his aching legs may be stress-related), dreams of running the country and arming himself with a replica medieval mace. His wife Penny, (Imogen Slaughter) meanwhile, is left holding the baby.

In real life, this would be a sad and everyday case of frustration and worry turning into something much more debilitating – “there is no therapy for the severely disappointed”, Miles sighs in one of the stand-out lines of the night – but here depression generally manifests itself in ridiculous, comic ways, and the motivation for Miles’s return to fully-functioning member of society is never really explained. The fact that Penny appears to give up on her husband quite quickly also jars slightly, especially when we learn that he supported her when dealing with her own particular demon - alcohol.

Because of these loose ends and inconsistencies, then, the play does not have much of a life beyond the auditorium, and as Markou clearly wants you to discuss the issues over your post-show drink this is a failing. Luckily, though, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun while you are still in your seat, thanks to some lovely performances.

Lance sparkles during the dream sequences as a glossy, man of the people, messiah-like politician, but all four members of the cast are a joy to watch. Adrian Bower, who last appeared at Trafalgar Studios in the superlative Elling with John Simm, plays Miles and Penny’s old uni friend Dan, and as always brings immense warmth and charm to his character. Slaughter too makes Penny more than just the put-upon wife, and Sia Berkeley is delightful as the new-agey Layla who uses her hokum mix-and-match beliefs and sunny outlook to genuinely help the other three.

Quite what this play is saying, then, is difficult to fathom, and it certainly has no answers to the problems of 21st century life, unless the point is simply that we’re all going have a crisis at some point or other and can only hope that we ride it out. But while the message is muddled, the acting is so strong that spending 90 minutes in the company of these four friends is nonetheless time well spent.