Tuesday, January 19, 2010

James Sherwood at the Piano, Etcetera Theatre - 12th January 2010

Written for the British Comedy Guide

Musical comedy has always been something of a maligned sub-genre, and it is fair to say that while there are few things in the world of entertainment worse than bad comedy, bad musical comedy is one of them. But there have always been masters of the genre, from Flanders and Swann through Tom Lehrer and The Ruttles to Tim Minchin and Bill Bailey, and when it is done as brilliantly as that, it is, for me, one of the greatest joys to be found on this here planet.

So where does James Sherwood sit in this wide-ranging musical comedy league? Well, much higher than his appearance in a small room above a pub (however well respected, as Etcetera undoubtedly is) would suggest, for a start. And - as is so important these days - he does have a little something that makes his particular strain of comedy song unique: while his peers use music to discuss God, life, and the universe, Sherwood turns the magnifying glass inwards, and instead dissects, examines and generally mocks the absurdities of music itself.

No cow is too sacred here - the 'inconsistencies' in Blake's lyrics to Jerusalem get a particular kicking - and all types of music from Lionel Ritchie to Guns N' Roses and U2 are stripped down and shown to be grammatically or mathematically lacking. You might imagine that Sherwood would be a little more forgiving when it comes to something as trifling as a glorified nursery rhyme like A Windmill In Old Amsterdam, but you'd be wrong. It just isn't realistic - who wouldn't be freaked out by a little mouse with clogs on?

These analyses are such fun for a couple of reasons: firstly, Sherwood is necessarily a brilliant musician who casually turns his hand to everything from The Beatles to Beethoven without hesitation, and secondly he has an obvious love of language that means that he is a just a joy to listen to. When discussing the big band classic The Way You Wear Your Hat, for example, he dismisses the central question with the line: 'Isn't there just one way to wear a hat? Atop the head... as the milliner intended'. Perhaps that won't delight everyone, but it certainly appealed to my particular brand of linguistic geekery.

James Sherwood.The examination of other people's songs is accompanied by original Sherwood compositions, many of which turn musical conventions on their head - a discussion on the lover as fool, for example, gives rise to a great track sung from the point of view of a man who has won 'hardly any Nobel prizes'. Of course, Sherwood does rather leave himself open to having his own songs carefully picked over, but you suspect he's way ahead of us...

Sherwood displays a typically English love of 'properness' on stage; he likes everything to be in its right place, and you suspect he's only half-joking when he sighs at yet another pop star's inability to work out when it's 'whom' and not 'who'. But that's not to say he's not a hell of a lot of fun - this material may have a Divine Comedy-esque archness, but it's equally warm and just a little silly. And Sherwood does wear his influences on his sleeve - his love of language and ear for conversation means that it is Victoria Wood who is evoked most strongly - but he sits happily and deservedly alongside them at the top of the musical comedy league.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Party by Tom Basden, at the Arts Theatre, London

Yay! Londoners (and those willing to travel I guess!) now have the chance to see the wonderful play Party which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe, written by Tom Basden and starring himself, Tim Key, Anna Crilly, Katy Wix and Nick Mohammed. It's rather brilliant, so get there if you can.

The Lowman and Love Podcast

Yes, it's back! And a mere 18 months since the last one... If you'd like to listen to me and Dean chatting about our favourite comedy, telly, music and theatre from 2009, you'd better head over to his blog. He's also included all the topics we cover in order, so you can always skip through to bits you might be especially interested in if you're a busy bee. As you might imagine, the likes of Doctor Who, Mark Watson, Psychoville, Jerusalem and (from Dean's end) Californication, Dexter and Stewart Lee all get a look in.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Bye Bye Ten! AKA A love letter to David Tennant's Doctor...

(written for Dork Adore)


So that’s it. No more Tennant.

Off he goes to America, burning up the TARDIS as he goes and leaving us Nu-Whovians with nothing more than the box-sets to keep us company. Perhaps we will warm to Eleven, the young Matt Smith, but for now, let us mourn the passing of Ten in sombre silence. Or a few-hundred-word blog post since silence doesn’t come across all that well on the internet.

When Russell T Davies gave Doctor Who an unexpected breath of life a few years back, Christopher Eccleston was an undeniably brilliant, grumpy, Doctor, and he deserves praise and kudos for making sure the show didn’t disappear as quickly as it had regenerated. But the fact is, old Chris never really bought into the whole Doctor Who ‘phenomenon’; clearly anxious to avoid stereotyping, he was always going to leave after one series.

David Tennant, on the other hand – importantly a fully paid-up Whovian himself since the age of five – took on the role completely willing to be the Doctor as much off-set as in front of the camera. He has been an ambassador for the show, its greatest defender and, above all, has remained a fan throughout. Despite leaving the programme in dramatic and heartbreaking style, David Tennant is still the Doctor, always will be, and seems rather happy about it.

And what a Doctor. After just one series he was voted the best Doctor of all time, and while that might be attributed to short memories, I have little doubt that he will remain a real favourite because he appeals to so many people for so many different reasons. Kids love Tennant’s Doctor because he is one of them; he’s a big, OTT, bundle of energy who is attracted to danger and has a real love of life. Adults love Tennant’s Doctor because, despite all of that, he is also very much a ‘lonely angel’ who is deeply sad and on the edge of being something rather hideous (of which we saw glimpses in The Runaway Bride and The Waters Of Mars). And, of course, there is the fact that this particular Doctor is rather attractive…

What about Ten’s greatest moments, then? Well, he got off to a bombastic start in The Christmas Invasion (his introductory speech in which he starts quoting The Lion King is just brilliant), he displayed his softer, more sincere side in The Girl In The Fireplace and his unique chemistry with Donna was never better than in the wonderful Fires Of Pompeii. But the moment that will define DT’s tenure for me, will be that look of utter desolation when the Doctor realises he has lost his beloved Rose in Doomsday…

As for the final two-parter, he certainly got quite a send-off. One hour of gun-toting battles with the Master(s) and the corrupted Time Lords, and fifteen minutes of quiet, heart-breaking goodbyes. Sure it was over the top, but seriously, did we seriously expect the greatest Doctor to go quietly? He’s the most ‘human’ Doctor there has ever been – touched by real love and constant loss – and he faced death in a very human way: ‘I don’t want to go’.

Just like the the Noble Wilf, David Tennant, Tenth Doctor, we salute you. Allons-y!