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

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.


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 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.