Monday, June 21, 2010

Edinburgh Previews - Russell Howard & David O'Doherty

Ok, so Russell Howard isn't even going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, and this wasn't even strictly an preview for DO'D (or at least not advertised as such), but hey I've set a precedent with the Horne Section/John-Luke Roberts blog so I'm sticking with it.

This gig was at Up The Creek in Greenwich - a new one for me, mainly because I'm spoiled with lots of good comedy in North London and have therefore rarely made the effort to venture south of the river, let alone east of Canary Wharf. But with David O'Doherty's headlining gig at Union Chapel on Saturday cancelled (also featuring Tom Wrigglesworth who I was really looking forward to), I was delighted to see he'd been added to the bill at Greenwich, so I happily trundled along the DLR for the gig.

Kiwi Al Pitcher was MCing, and a fine MC he was too, despite getting a matter of a few minutes at the start of each half. Great at audience banter, he got the crowd suitably warmed up, though many were clearly excited to be seeing Russell Howard off't'telly in any case. I have to say, while I like Howard on Mock The Week and the like, I've never been massively convinced that I'd be enjoy a full show - the proof of the pudding is in the eating though (the proof is NOT in the pudding - why does that bother me so much?) and he was much more enjoyable than I'd imagined. A real ball of energy on stage, and quite a surprisingly exasperated, if not angry, one, he has some new ideas on reducing the deficit (pimping out Robert Pattinson) and a real way with bizarre imagery. Funny stuff.

And so to David O'Doherty, a comedian who - and I know I've said this before, and it's getting boring, but it's said with complete honesty - just gets better every time I see him. This hour-long set saw DO'D start with him embellishing a little bit of older material, (an extended rant on the modern tendency towards ridiculously strong and polarised opinions was particularly fun) but he quickly moved on to brand new stuff in readiness for the Fringe. There's a great couple of new songs - one on human failings and another listing David's awesome qualities ("This might make me a bad person", he says by introduction) and a fab story about taking his crappy plastic Yamaha on the train. His performance gets bigger, his confidence stronger and yet, the sense that he would be the bestest best mate - ultimately his point of difference - remains unabashed. Quite a trick to pull, that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Doctor Who - The Pandorica Opens

....and unleashes a stunner of an episode complete with dense plotting, surprises, humanity, Rory, hot Italians, iPod Daleks, Amy's happy tears, the under-henge, River not being annoying, Churchill, scary Cyber-tentacles and one hell of a twist. Is it 26-06-10 yet?

Edinburgh Previews - The Horne Section & John-Luke Roberts

Despite my Edinburgh programme STILL not coming through (grr) I'm already looking Fringe-wards, and, of course, particularly anticipating the shows produced by Invisible Dot. As well as the return of Tim Key with a short midnight run of his Comedy Award winning show The Slutcracker, and Best Newcomer Jonny Sweet, there are some other rather intriguing prospects happening under the illustrious Invisible Dot banner, details of which are yet to be released: "The Invisible Dot by the Sea" (meet at Assembly and see how it goes), the 3-sided football competition (obviously), Tim Key's album launch (!) and Invisible Dot Communications Ltd (no venue, no time, bring it on).

In addition, Alex Horne presents the Horne Section, and John-Luke Roberts Distracts (us) From A Murder - two shows which previewed in Camden this week. Tuesday saw We Need Answers's Alex Horne, a drummer, keyboardist, bassist, trumpet player, saxophone player and even a few audience members fit into the office for a night which mixed comedy and music - boldly claimed by Horne to be the first time such a feat had been attempted. Unsurprisingly, it's a real joy of a show; Horne is lightening quick so the improvisation and audience participation, of which there's plenty, works brilliantly - especially the live-action game of Battleships complete with an ear-worm of a theme tune.

Then on Thursday, John-Luke got distracting us from that murder, but - quite rightly - kept the 'big reveal' a surprise for Edinburgh. I've never seen Roberts perform before, but he has the charm, the 'watchability' that ties together all the acts that the Invisible Dot produces. His show comprises one-liners that rely on imaginative punnery, mildy and creatively insulting every member of audience and quick anecdotes, accompanied by anecdote music and told in an anedote chair. For what was not only a preview, but a completely free one at that, the show was 80% there (just missing some videos in which I might briefly appear in the background, it having been shot after The Horne Section....), and silly, charming and funny enough to make me look forward to seeing the whole 100% very much indeed.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Want to know what I thought of Vincent and the Doctor?

Then read Rob's review. He says it all. The point on direction deserves underlining though - HUGE props to Jonny Campbell who framed every shot with an artist's eye...

Hay Festival 2010 - Sunday: Making Hay while... the skies threatened, actually

Yes, the clouds which drifted over the valley on Sunday were a rather more ominous slate-grey colour but, rather amazingly, not a single drop of rain fell. The day started with what would turn out to be one of the funniest things I heard all festival, and it wasn't even from one of the speakers, but some young guy sat next to us. Here's the conversation as I remember it...

Him: "Are you going in for Richard Herring?"
Me: "Is that who's guesting on The Early Edition? Then, yes, I guess."
Him: "I saw him in Newport, it was a grotty place but he was great."
Me: "That's the lot of the touring comedian, I think, playing grotty places."
Him: "Are you in stand up then, that sounds like the voice of experience."
Me: "Oh no, that just seems to be the way for them."
Him: "I'm in a double act actually."
Me: "Oh have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe then?"
Him: "God no, never been north of York. Can't see the point."
Me: "......"


We hadn't actually pre-booked anything for the Sunday, but enjoying the ambiance (and, it has to be said, catering, of which there's lots) we got tickets for the final Early Edition before leaving on Saturday. It wasn't so early on Sunday, in fact - 2.30pm - but when you're on holiday that's no bad thing. The show, which has grown out of the cancelled Late Edition but since flourished in live form at Edinburgh, is hosted by Marcus Brigstocke (here sporting a rather dashing goatee for his role as King Arthur in Spamalot) and Andre Vincent, and they were joined by Carrie Quinlan and, er... well I forget actually, but definitely not Richard Herring, as it turned out. In a week dominated by events in Cumbria, it may not have been a classic time to spin comedy gold from current affairs, but luckily Brigstocke's nemesis Peter Hitchens had written a column with the headline "Actually, the Israelis weren't tough enough"; a piece which elicited the most wonderful use of the phrase "shit the bed" to denote incredulity I have ever heard.

We then caught the little shuttle bus into the centre of Hay, and while the bookshops were great (they're why the festival is where it is, of course), none were as wonderful to me as Mostly Maps, a shop which does as described. Not just any old maps though of course, but really old, really beautiful maps, and all original. Some from the 17th century! As I said rather grandly on Twitter: "my cup runneth over, my pockets alas do(th) not." Some of the maps weren't so expensive - ones from the 19th century were often under £30 - but the really evocative ones from 1650 and earlier could set you back the best part of a grand.

Tucked away in the Hay Fever (kids') tent was a brilliant exhibition curated by House of Illustration, who'll soon open their doors as the country's leading museum of illustrations. They'd asked the very top illustrators to create a picture containing all of their favourite things - book, place, animal, comfort etc - and it provoked some really beautiful pictures, sketches and collages. Unfortunately, I suspect its positioning meant that not as many people saw it as it deserved...

And that was Hay. Or, a very small portion of it, but a lovely first time that is unlikely to be my last. Hearing Charlie Higson talk about writing, about reworking and improving and beautifying did actually spark a little interest in me of trying to write fiction again which isn't something I've done for, well, probably about ten years actually, so at least in a very small way I think Hay can feel it has done its job pretty successfully.

Hay Festival 2010 - Saturday: Making Hay while... oh you know the rest

I finally got to the Hay literary festival last weekend after several years' hankering. Nestled in the Wye valley it really does inhabit the most beautiful spot (one way into the town requires you to pay a lady 80p to go over a bridge, which is fun if a little random; I'm sure I've been over several bridges where I *haven't* had to pay a lady 80p) and it's just at the stage where it's bustling as opposed to sardine-like.

I'd quite like this sculpture if anyone has a few grand they'd like to throw my way...

One big draw had actually been Philip Pullman, who was set to talk about The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (which I'd read in preparation: formal syntax makes it hard to get into at first but Pullman quickly drags you in) on the Saturday evening. Unfortunately, ill-health kept him away, but Hay and his publishers were more than generous, giving full refunds and a free audio version of the book for every ticket bought. A disappointment nonetheless of course; no-one rewrites the life story of Jesus without rather a lot of interesting things to say on the subject.

Awful photo, sorry chaps...

I was also booked to see Mark Kermode interview Charlie Higson about his latest children's novel The Enemy though, and seeing as I pretty much love them both, I still had something exciting to look forward to... The Fast Show was and remains one of my favourite TV shows - a programme that can run the gamut from Cheesy Peas to a wordless sketch which encapsulates the heartbreak of unrequited love (that'd be the Ted and Ralph, here) is alright by me, and I always held a special place for Mr Higson particularly. The talk was huge fun as expected; as The Enemy is a zombie horror in which everyone above 15 becomes a member of the undead, Kermode was clearly in his element. Higson was open about his writing process, such as pushing the fright factor further and further until his youngest son - to whom he read his work-in-process every night - came running into his room scared half to death by a zombie-filled nightmare ("At last!"). He also said that gore is easy - scaring, and more importantly surprising your reader, is much more difficult. [He covers many of the main points he made during the talk in this Guardian podcast.]

And this was something repeated during our second talk, with Tom Thorne writer Mark Billingham and the man who is to play the heavy-hearted detective, David Morrissey. Literally repeated, in fact - he said that anyone can write a grizzly murder, but keeping your audience guessing is the trickier part. And even trickier, as they both said, on screen, where avoiding revealing the killer is that much harder, but Billingham was at pains to make it clear that he didn't mind the writers doing what was necessary to his stories to make them fit the format; indeed he wished he'd come up with some of their ideas in the first place. Both Morrissey and Billingham were great speakers, and it was nice to hear that the wonderful Dave had had a real say in the whole process of the forthcoming Sky productions. The talk, with Marcel Berlins who knew an awful lot about the genre, is going to be on Sky Arts at some point soon.

There's a lovely post-script to Day 1. I tweeted in the evening that it was real pleasure to see "@monstroso" talk earlier in the day (that'd be Charlie) and that I'd have loved to ask a question but it felt a bit wrong to stick my hand up when there were lots of excited kids wanting to hear from their favourite author. I was clearly fishing for a "thanks for coming" type response, but actually got a much nicer reply: "ask me one now." The question I had wanted to ask was whether the act of writing a novel and a sketch or show is entirely different or requires a similar mindset, and while I'm loath to repeat the answer verbatim as it came in a Direct (non-public) Message, Charlie did find space even in a 140-character message to say that he likes to write comedy with someone else, "ideally Paul." Which is kinda sweet.