Phil Jarvis of Consignia: “Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.”

Pay attention now. Concentrate.

Last Sunday, I went to Lottie Bowater’s Depresstival event at The Others venue in Stoke Newington to chat to Phil Jarvis of Consignia about a gig they are performing this coming Sunday at the Bill Murray venue in Islington.

Phil had been to Highgate Cemetery the previous day.

Consignia – named after a failed attempt at re-branding by the Royal Mail – are always interesting. I went to see one of their late-night shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and, at the end, they decided to repeat the whole show. So their one-hour show turned into a two-hour show.

“So,” I said to Phil, “this show on Sunday at the Bill Murray. You told me it’s about neo-liberalism. What on earth is that?”

Phil performing at Depresstival last Sunday

PHIL: Privatise everything. Privatise the whole lot. That’s what neo-liberalism is about

ME: The whole lot of what?

PHIL: Eh… Jobs.

ME: Jobs ARE privatised, aren’t they? Unless they’re public sector jobs?

PHIL: Well, I dunno, I mean, it’s dismantling of the state.

(AT THIS POINT, COMIC ALEXANDER BENNETT ARRIVED)

ME (TO ALEXANDER): Your scarf only starts halfway up.

PHIL: It’s the Euan Blair way.

ME (TO PHIL): Alexander is going to play Tony Blair’s son on Sunday?

PHIL: Yeah.

ME (TO PHIL): You went to Highgate Cemetery yesterday. Why?

PHIL: To look at dead Marxists.

ME: So neo-liberalism is privatising everything?

PHIL: Yes. There’s lots of job insecurity. There are competing Santas because Santa is dead.

ME: It is a Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: Did I know this?

PHIL: I don’t know. It’s a Christmas show about neo-liberalism. Santa is dead and Euan Blair has made sure there’s lots of competing Santas.

ME: So who is performing in this show?

PHIL: Consignia.

ME: Consignia changes occasionally. Is Andy Barr in it?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: But Alexander is not in Consignia.

PHIL: Yes he is. Everyone is in Consignia. You are in Consignia. The whole world is in Consignia.

ME: Could we privatise a percentage of them?

PHIL: That is what the show is about – About fighting back against that.

ME: You said it was about privatising things.

PHIL: No. And it’s coming together quite nicely.

ME: You mean it is organised? Well, that is no use. Consignia has a style to maintain. I was slightly worried you had sold out when I read on social media the word ‘script’…

PHIL: There is always a script. But it is just a guide.

ME: It was unsettling when I saw that Edinburgh show where you did it twice and the second time was pretty much the same as the first time. I thought: “There surely can’t be a script!”

PHIL: Exactly. That is how it is. A script is a prompt. It’s not something you have to religiously stick to.

ME: Like Christmas?… So, this Christmas show on Sunday, is it going to be in Edinburgh next August?

PHIL: No. It’s a special show with lots of our friends in it.

ME: Oh dear. Such as?

PHIL: Seán Morley. It’s all the talent.

ME: I have gone off the idea now. It’s the word “talent”.

PHIL: It’s gonna be a spectacle.

ALEXANDER: It’s all good people, but they’ve not abandoned what Consignia is.

ME: What is Consignia?

ALEXANDER: Phil.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you going to take your clothes off in it?”

PHIL: I’ve reined that in now. I think the way to go is to put more clothes on.

ME: I am rapidly going off this show. It has a script and you are not going to get your kit off.

ALEXANDER: I haven’t had a drink since yesterday morning.

ME: That’s hardly giving up drink…

ALEXANDER: I wasn’t claiming that. I was just telling you how long it had been.

PHIL (TO ME): Are you coming to the show on Sunday?

ME: Yes. I am seeing the Consignia show, then seeing Matt Price & Martha McBrier’s storytelling show at the Bill Murray, half an hour after you finish.

PHIL: Oh, we had better clean up for them. I am doing Dinner For One again, within the Christmas show.

ME: Your shows have a tendency to over-run – by about 60 to 90 minutes.

Phil with part of the 12-page Christmas script

PHIL: Well, the script is only 12 pages long.

ALEXANDER: There are lots of bits in the script that say something happens and then, in brackets, THIS GOES ON FOR FIVE MINUTES.

PHIL (TO ME): So, although you might slag us off for having a script, we are true to who we are.

ME: Your last show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year was a non-show, wasn’t it?

PHIL: Yeah. I had to go for a job interview.

ME: It was a gig with no performers but with an audience.

PHIL: Yeah. We can still get people in without us being there. We are making the system work for us.

ME: Well, it is a way to avoid losing money in Edinburgh. You get an audience for your show but you are not there, so it doesn’t cost you anything and you can’t lose money. It’s a win.

PHIL: It is a win.

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): You should say who else is in the show.

ME: Who else is in the show?

PHIL: Seán Morley.

ME: Again? The Seán Morley Twins?

PHIL: Ben Target, Euan Blair, Adam Larter, Nathan Willcock, of course. Lottie Bowater. Helen Duff. She’s very good. Have you seen her?

ME: I saw her at Juliette Burton’s boyfriend’s birthday. She wasn’t performing. She was eating. But she ate very well.

PHIL: Cassie Atkinson is in it. We’ve got half the comedy scene.

ALEXANDER: The crème de la crème.

ME: You are going to have no-one in the audience. They will all be on stage.

PHIL: That’s the plan. But tickets are selling. Tickets have sold.

ME: So Adam Larter is in your Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes. He is directing it. We have three different directors.

ALEXANDER: Andy Barr is the director…

PHIL: …in Consignia.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you a director?”

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): Well, you are the main driving force behind all of this.

PHIL: I am the project manager of it. We basically have a show about neo-liberalism which mirrors neo-liberalism, because it has lots of competing… eh… sort of things… going on within the actual show.

ME: Structured.

PHIL: Structured.

ME: So it has 12 pages with three directors.

PHIL: Joz can be in it if he wants.

(JOZ NORRIS WAS SITTING ACROSS THE ROOM)

JOZ: I’ll be there.

PHIL: We have to have some punters in the audience.

ME: I’ll be there.

JOZ: I could play a hat stand.

PHIL: Who else is in it? There’s Cassie Atkinson.

ME: Again?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in it.

ME: The Seán Morley Triplets and the Cassie Atkinson Twins?

PHIL: Mark Dean Quinn’s in it. Alwin Solanky. Michael Brunström is in it. He is playing Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. The show is basically about dead Marxists come to save Christmas from neo-liberalism. That’s the basic thrust of it.

Phil with one of the Karl Marx Twins (Photo by Adam Larter)

ME: And this is why you went to Highgate Cemetary yesterday? To see Karl Marx’s grave?

ALEXANDER: There are two Karl Marx graves there.

ME: What? Like all the people in your show? There are two of them?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in the show.

ME: So have they divided him up?

PHIL: Seán Morley?

ME: Karl Marx. Are there two graves in different places?

PHIL: Yes there are. They’ve got the original grave, when he wasn’t famous. And then, in the 1950s, the Communist Party of Great Britain got some money together and made a bigger thing for him.

ME: Ah.

PHIL: Jeremy Beadle is in the show. George Michael is in the show. And Kat Bond. She is also in the new the new WeBuyAnyCar.com advert. She’s in the advert with Mark Silcox about building a statue to Philip Schofield.

ME: You are joking.

PHIL: No. Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.

ME: So, this show on Sunday at the Bill Murray. You told me it’s about neo-liberalism. What on earth is that?

Phil performing at Depresstival last Sunday

PHIL: Privatise everything. Privatise the whole lot. That’s what neo-liberalism is about

ME: The whole lot of what?

PHIL: Eh… Jobs.

ME: Jobs ARE privatised, aren’t they? Unless they’re public sector jobs?

PHIL: Well, I dunno, I mean, it’s dismantling of the state.

(AT THIS POINT, COMIC ALEXANDER BENNETT ARRIVED)

ME (TO ALEXANDER): Your scarf only starts halfway up.

PHIL: It’s the Euan Blair way.

ME (TO PHIL): Alexander is going to play Tony Blair’s son on Sunday?

PHIL: Yeah.

ME (TO PHIL): You went to Highgate Cemetery yesterday. Why?

PHIL: To look at dead Marxists.

ME: So neo-liberalism is privatising everything?

PHIL: Yes. There’s lots of job insecurity. There are competing Santas because Santa is dead.

ME: It is a Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: Did I know this?

PHIL: I don’t know. It’s a Christmas show about neo-liberalism. Santa is dead and Euan Blair has made sure there’s lots of competing Santas.

ME: So who is performing in this show?

PHIL: Consignia.

ME: Consignia changes occasionally. Is Andy Barr in it?

PHIL: Yes.

ME: But Alexander is not in Consignia.

PHIL: Yes he is. Everyone is in Consignia. You are in Consignia. The whole world is in Consignia.

ME: Could we privatise a percentage of them?

PHIL: That is what the show is about – About fighting back against that.

ME: You said it was about privatising things.

PHIL: No. And it’s coming together quite nicely.

ME: You mean it is organised? Well, that is no use. Consignia has a style to maintain. I was slightly worried you had sold out when I read on social media the word ‘script’…

PHIL: There is always a script. But it is just a guide.

ME: It was unsettling when I saw that Edinburgh show where you did it twice and the second time was pretty much the same as the first time. I thought: “There surely can’t be a script!”

PHIL: Exactly. That is how it is. A script is a prompt. It’s not something you have to religiously stick to.

ME: Like Christmas?… So, this Christmas show on Sunday, is it going to be in Edinburgh next August?

PHIL: No. It’s a special show with lots of our friends in it.

ME: Oh dear. Such as?

PHIL: Seán Morley. It’s all the talent.

ME: I have gone off the idea now. It’s the word “talent”.

PHIL: It’s gonna be a spectacle.

ALEXANDER: It’s all good people, but they’ve not abandoned what Consignia is.

ME: What is Consignia?

ALEXANDER: Phil.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you going to take your clothes off in it?”

PHIL: I’ve reined that in now. I think the way to go is to put more clothes on.

ME: I am rapidly going off this show. It has a script and you are not going to get your kit off.

ALEXANDER: I haven’t had a drink since yesterday morning.

ME: That’s hardly giving up drink…

ALEXANDER: I wasn’t claiming that. I was just telling you how long it had been.

PHIL (TO ME): Are you coming to the show on Sunday?

ME: Yes. I am seeing the Consignia show, then seeing Matt Price & Martha McBrier’s storytelling show at the Bill Murray, half an hour after you finish.

PHIL: Oh, we had better clean up for them. I am doing Dinner For One again, within the Christmas show.

ME: Your shows have a tendency to over-run – by about 60 to 90 minutes.

Phil with part of the 12-page Christmas script

PHIL: Well, the script is only 12 pages long.

ALEXANDER: There are lots of bits in the script that say something happens and then, in brackets, THIS GOES ON FOR FIVE MINUTES.

PHIL (TO ME): So, although you might slag us off for having a script, we are true to who we are.

ME: Your last show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year was a non-show, wasn’t it?

PHIL: Yeah. I had to go for a job interview.

ME: It was a gig with no performers but with an audience.

PHIL: Yeah. We can still get people in without us being there. We are making the system work for us.

ME: Well, it is a way to avoid losing money in Edinburgh. You get an audience for your show but you are not there, so it doesn’t cost you anything and you can’t lose money. It’s a win.

PHIL: It is a win.

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): You should say who else is in the show.

ME: Who else is in the show?

PHIL: Seán Morley.

ME: Again? The Seán Morley Twins?

PHIL: Ben Target, Euan Blair, Adam Larter, Nathan Willcock, of course. Lottie Bowater. Helen Duff. She’s very good. Have you seen her?

ME: I saw her at Juliette Burton’s boyfriend’s birthday. She wasn’t performing. She was eating. But she ate very well.

PHIL: Cassie Atkinson is in it. We’ve got half the comedy scene.

ALEXANDER: The crème de la crème.

ME: You are going to have no-one in the audience. They will all be on stage.

PHIL: That’s the plan. But tickets are selling. Tickets have sold.

ME: So Adam Larter is in your Christmas show?

PHIL: Yes. He is directing it. We have three different directors.

ALEXANDER: Andy Barr is the director…

PHIL: …in Consignia.

ME (TO PHIL): Are you a director?”

ALEXANDER (TO PHIL): Well, you are the main driving force behind all of this.

PHIL: I am the project manager of it. We basically have a show about neo-liberalism which mirrors neo-liberalism, because it has lots of competing… eh… sort of things… going on within the actual show.

ME: Structured.

PHIL: Structured.

ME: So it has 12 pages with three directors.

PHIL: Joz can be in it if he wants.

(JOZ NORRIS WAS SITTING ACROSS THE ROOM)

JOZ: I’ll be there.

PHIL: We have to have some punters in the audience.

ME: I’ll be there.

JOZ: I could play a hat stand.

PHIL: Who else is in it? There’s Cassie Atkinson.

ME: Again?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in it.

ME: The Seán Morley Triplets and the Cassie Atkinson Twins?

PHIL: Mark Dean Quinn’s in it. Alwin Solanky. Michael Brunström is in it. He is playing Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. The show is basically about dead Marxists come to save Christmas from neo-liberalism. That’s the basic thrust of it.

Phil with one of the Karl Marx Twins (Photo by Adam Larter)

ME: And this is why you went to Highgate Cemetary yesterday? To see Karl Marx’s grave?

ALEXANDER: There are two Karl Marx graves there.

ME: What? Like all the people in your show? There are two of them?

PHIL: Seán Morley is in the show.

ME: So have they divided him up?

PHIL: Seán Morley?

ME: Karl Marx. Are there two graves in different places?

PHIL: Yes there are. They’ve got the original grave, when he wasn’t famous. And then, in the 1950s, the Communist Party of Great Britain got some money together and made a bigger thing for him.

ME: Ah.

PHIL: Jeremy Beadle is in the show. George Michael is in the show. And Kat Bond. She is also in the new the new WeBuyAnyCar.com advert. She’s in the advert with Mark Silcox about building a statue to Philip Schofield.

ME: You are joking.

PHIL: No. Surrealism has taken over. It’s gone mainstream.

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Filed under Comedy, Surreal

PR Max Clifford and celebrities’ secrets

‘Disgraced PR man’ Max Clifford died in prison yesterday, serving a sentence for sex crimes. But I doubt if we have heard the last of him, because people can tell their stories now. And there is a risk he himself might have more stories to tell.

Stories about him abound.

For example, he used to go along to the after-show get-togethers of at least two major TV broadcasters with two, sometimes three, lovely young ladies and chat to producers, directors et al.

Let’s say he went with a blonde, a brunette and a lady of colour. People have different tastes.

And afterwards, well…

What happens happens.

Sometime later, in the general way of his work, he might invite a TV producer – let’s say one of the people he schmoozed with after the TV shows – along to his office to discuss future prospects.

When the producer arrived, Max would be sitting there in his office chair and, behind him on the wall, there might be framed photos of the producer is sexually compromising situations with one or more of the girls he had met through Max. Alright. having sex in well-shot photos taken without the producer’s knowledge.

The photographs were never mentioned by Max in his chat with the producer but it would come as no surprise if one or more of Max’s clients appeared later in one or more of the producer’s shows.

Part of his job was getting publicity for his clients – as in the (totally untrue) Sun headlines about comic Freddie Starr eating a hamster and MP David Mellor having sex in a Chelsea football strip.

But another job of the top PR man, of course, is to keep his client’s name OUT of the newspapers if there is some scandal or imminent scandal brewing.

And it would be not unreasonable for a worried client to go to Max with a plea to avoid bad publicity and/or get damage limitation.

In such a situation, of course,  it would be perfectly reasonable for Max to ask the client to tell him details not just of what they wanted to keep out of the press in this specific case but of ALL other possible scandals which might also get dredged up by any newspaper.

So he knew not just scandals that the press sniffed around but many of the scandals hidden in major celebrities’ closets that no-one had any idea existed.

Let us hope he only kept these secrets in the back of his mind and never wrote any of them down for future use.

Max Clifford as seen in graffiti on a wall in Battersea in 2014

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Filed under Newspapers, PR, publicity stunts

OH YES IT IS ! – Matt Roper + the first pantomime in New York for 100 years

(L-R) Jenni Gil as Jack, Michael Lynch as Dame Delancey, and Matt Roper as Silly Simon. (Photograph by Don Spiro)

“So,” I said to British performer Matt Roper in New York, “Have you ever done a pantomime before?”

We were speaking via FaceTime, obviously.

“Years ago,” he told me, “as a 20-year-old I was in Mother Goose at the Theatre Royal, St Helens, with ‘Olive’ from On The Buses. Anna Karen. She was great! What a woman! She was a Soho stripper in the 1960s in London. She was deported from South Africa in the Apartheid years. She was a puppeteer at a theatre in Johannesburg and gave a private puppet show to a bunch of black kids and she was deported.”

“And now,” I said, you’re in Jack and The Beanstalk – New York’s first panto for 100 years,”

“Yes. The first major panto for over a century.”

“How did you get involved?” I asked. “You were just an Englishman in New York?”

Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser (Photograph: Laura Vogel)

Mat Fraser lives in New York now and he wrote it with his wife Julie Atlas Muz. She’s a Ukrainian American. Mat’s English, as you know, and his parents were performers, so he grew up watching a lot of pantos.”

“Julie Atlas Muz,” I said, “is a ‘feminist burlesque star’?”

“Yes,” said Matt.

“OK,” I said.

“Matt and Julie have a long relationship with this theatre – the Abrons Arts Centre,” said Matt. “The last thing they presented here was an adults-only version of Beauty & The Beast – she was Beauty and he was The Beast. Very explicit. Very adults-only. But this time, with the panto, it’s completely 100% family-friendly.”

“The whole concept of panto,” I suggested, “must be next-to-impossible to understand if you haven’t grown up with it.”

“Someone is going to go out right at the top of the show,” explained Matt, “doing a whole warm-up routine, explaining the rules to the kids.”

“Someone?” I asked.

Dirty Martini plays the Good Fairy and Hawthorn Albatross III is – Boo! – villainous Dastardly Dick. (Photo by Don Spiro)

“Me,” said Matt. “I think it will work, because New York audiences are not very quiet audiences. I imagine it will be like an audience full of Scousers – you can’t keep ‘em quiet. There is a villain in the show – Dastardly Dick – so I will tell the kids: Every time you see him, you have to hiss and boo!

“And,” I said, “of course, you have to explain things like Behind you! Panto is just weird. The whole format – Things like the principal boy is played by a girl and the motherly dame is a middle-aged man. Who are you?”

“I’m the comic. I am Jack’s brother, Silly Simon. And Jack is an actress called Jenni Gil. She’s from the Lower East Side, from the projects. It has been adapted for a New York audience. So I think that will help. It’s set in the Lower East Side – in a lost village called StoneyBroke.”

“What about the accent differences? Or are you playing with an American accent?”

“It is set up that we had different fathers. In the story, both my brother – Jack – and my mother are people of colour – African American. It’s a really diverse cast; very New York. Our ‘mother’ is Michael Johnnie Lynch, a big, black, brassy drag queen from the Bronx. Honestly, we couldn’t have wished for a better dame.”

“Surely,” I said, “the dame has to be a male-looking man in a dress as opposed to a drag queen?”

“Michael just nails it in some way,” said Matt. “He’s brilliant.”

“Is he a feminine drag queen, though?” I asked. “You can’t be too feminine as the dame. You have to be knowingly masculine.”

(L-R): Julie Atlas Muz, Jenni Gil, Matt Roper, Michael Lynch in rehearsal in New York (Photograph by Dirty Martini)

“He’s feminine but not in a Danny La Rue type of way,” Matt explained. Occasionally he goes into a deep, husky voice… And we have Dirty Martini as the Good Fairy – a plus-size burlesque legend. She’s done great things for body positivity.”

“Any Trump parallels in the script?” I asked.

“The giant is Giant Rump and he lives up in the clouds.”

“Is the Giant a large actor or do you just have giant feet in the background?”

“All the puppets… there are quite a lot of animals in the show… There is Daisy the Cow, obviously, because Jack has to sell the cow to get the magic beans. There’s the goose and there’s the giant. And they’ve all been designed by a guy called Basil Twist, who has been nominated for Tony Awards on Broadway shows.”

“You don’t have a pantomime cow with two men inside?”

“Yeah, yeah. Of course. There’s actors inside the cow. Of course.”

“You have,” I told him, “done very well over there. How long have you been in New York now? Two years?”

“Just over. It’s tough. Health insurance and all that stuff. No-one gives a shit what you’ve done in the UK; you have to start at the bottom.”

“Certainly if you are the cow,” I said. “But you landed on your feet off-Broadway, playing Chico in the ‘lost’ Marx Brothers revue I’ll Say She Is.”

Top Marx (L-R) Seth Sheldon, Matt Roper, Noah Diamond.

“Yes,” Matt agreed. “The New Yorker said: Matt Roper catches Chico Marx’s unearned belligerence.”

“A Brit pretending to be an Italian-American…” I said.

“Well,” Matt reminded me, “of course, he wasn’t. He was a Jewish guy from the Upper East Side in New York. As a kid, because there were lots of Italian gangs and he was Jewish, he pretended to be Italian to protect himself from getting beaten up.”

“And then,” I said, “you went into that early American play.”

“We just closed it last month,” said Matt. “Androboros: Villain of the State. The earliest-known play published in what is now the US. Based on an investment scandal that happened in the 1700s in the British colony of New York.”

“And you were…”

Matt as Androboros: Villain of the State

“Androboros.”

“What was the appeal to a 2017 audience?”

“They put it on because there were many parallels between Androboros and Trump.”

“So you are surviving,” I said.

Yes,” said Matt. “And I write a column each week for Gorilla Art House, it’s a subsidiary of Lush UK, the ethical cosmetics company. And I have a voice-over agent here in New York.”

“And a residency at The Slipper Room,” I said. “What is the Slipper Room?”

“It’s a burlesque house. They market it as ‘a house of varieties’ – It’s like a new vaudeville.”

“Is it the whole caboodle?” I asked. “Singers, dancers, comedy…”

“And we have sideshows and a little bit of magic and it’s all rigged-up so we can have aerial acts.”

“What does ‘sideshow’ mean in this context?” I asked.

Wondrous Wilfredo performs at The Slipper Room

“People who stick piercings through their eyes and stuff like that. Stuff that makes your stomach turn.”

“And you…?” I asked.

“I open the show sometimes as my character Wilfredo… Wilfredo is more-or-less confined to the Slipper Room, which pleases me.”

“Are you ever ‘Matt Roper’ in the Slipper Room?”

“Yeah. We have in-house shows and some out-of-house guest shows who hire the theatre and I’ve done comedy sketches and stuff like that.”

“There is a man in a gimp mask on your Facebook page…”

Matt Roper (left) and Peaches, who lives underneath the stage

“That’s Peaches, the Slipper Room gimp.”

“The Slipper Room has a resident gimp?”

“He lives underneath the stage and, now-and-then, comes out and performs.”

“Nothing surprises me,” I said.

Jack and The Beanstalk opens at the Abrons Arts Center in New York on Sunday. Previews started yesterday.

“Break a leg on Sunday,” I said to Matt, when we had finished chatting.

“Don’t say that,” he told me. “On the opening night of the Marx Brothers musical, the guy playing the dowager’s butler actually broke his leg. So no broken legs. Especially with the cost of healthcare in this country.”

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Simple explanation of the Irish problem

With all the hassle over Brexit and the Irish border, I think it would be wise to bear in mind these two simple explanations of the British Isles, taken from 1066 and All That:

“The Scots (originally Irish, but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce visa).”

“Gladstone… spent his declining years trying to guess the answer to the Irish Question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Irish secretly changed the Question.”

One explanation of the British Isles (there are many conflicting explanations). This one on MapPorn

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Filed under History, UK

Award-winning Becky Fury WON’T tell me things but WILL give you a discount

The self-effacing Becky Fury (right) with Claire Lenahan has multiple advisors on self promotion

Someone said to me the other week: “Becky Fury seems to know everybody.”

I had to agree.

Becky with her Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2016

The last time I went to see the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner’s Democratik Republik of Kabaret evening, her audience included The Establishment Club’s Mike O’Brien, acclaimed international graffiti artist Stik and British Alternative Comedy godfather/legend Tony Allen

“And now you are putting on The Alternative Christmas Party in Shoreditch,” I said to her yesterday.

“I’m doing two shows, John,” she told me. “One is The Alternative Christmas Party on 20th December. It’s a nice room, a really big room, a nice space for cabaret. At the Bridge Bar.”

“In Shoreditch,” I said, “So that will attract trendy IT people?”

“Hopefully,” said Becky, “spending money for their Christmas parties.”

“How much for the tickets?” I asked.

£20 via Eventbrite and on the door… But I will do a discount on the door for readers of your blog – It will only cost them £15 with the code words Becky Fury is Brilliant.

“They will be flying in from Guatemala in droves for it,” I enthused.

“And I’m also doing shows at the Cockpit Theatre,” Becky added.

“Near the Edgware Road in London,” I clarified, ever-thoughtful of my Guatemalan readers or reader. “So at the Cockpit you are doing what?”

“I don’t really want to go into what I’m doing.”

“I’m trying to create some interesting theatre. Anyway, I don’t really want to go into what I’m doing, otherwise people will just rip it off like they have in the past. I am just doing my thing.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. “Chat finished.”

“That’s it,” said Becky. “People will nick the idea.”

“Tell me the bits you can tell me,” I suggested. “When is the Cockpit Theatre thing?”

“February – the 12th.”

“What do you want to say about it? Heaven forfend that you would say anything to promote it.”

“I’ve been commissioned by the theatre to do a hybrid theatre cabaret gig.”

“What is a hybrid gig?” I asked. “Partly electric, partly petrol-driven?”

“I’ve been given a budget to create some cabaret around a theme.”

“And the theme is…?”

“They’re doing a Samuel Becket season at the Cockpit, so I have written Waiting for Guido. Which is the character in my play.”

“Guido Fawkes?” I asked.

“Yes. Precisely. It’s about waiting for a revolution that never happens.”

“Are you going to wear masks with beards?” I asked.

“No. There’s a couple of really good performers. Some of them are going to take on the theme more than others.”

“I suppose,” I said, “at this point in the blog, I should add in …she says intriguingly…

“The thing I don’t want to talk too much about…” said Becky

“If you like,” said Becky. “What I’m trying to do… Well, the thing I don’t want to talk too much about… is I’ve got three characters and they’re all gonna do monologues. I’ve got Geoff Steel, who is in The Alternative Christmas Party, and Jonathan Richardson, the guy who runs House of Idiot. There’s going to be people doing some circus stuff. And Trevor Lock is headlining.”

“As himself?” I asked.

“Well, he is playing the Sun,” Becky replied. “That’s what he’s been told to do.”

“How?” I asked.

“However he wants to interpret that.”

“This Cockpit Theatre thing and The Alternative Christmas Party,” I asked, “are they under the banner of The Democratik Republik of Kabaret?”

“No. I have been told it should be Becky Fury or Fury Productions.”

“Or just Becky Fury Presents,” I suggested. “You have to have a brand.”

“That is what I have been told by my friend who has managed to make his brand out of drawing stickmen.”

“Has The Democratik Republik of Kabaret disappeared?” I asked.

“It is on hold.”

“Until?” I asked.

“Until I find a better venue. But The Alternative Christmas Party is essentially an extension of what’s going on in The Democratik Republik of Kabaret.”

“What IS going on in The Democratik Republik of Kabaret?” I asked.

“It is a sort of Maoist state,” Becky replied. “No. It’s not a Maoist state,” she corrected herself. “It’s a bit like North Korea. So we will never really know. Journalists obviously are not allowed to investigate it.”

“My head hurts,” I said. “This Alternative Christmas Party in Shoreditch on 20th December… erm…”

Who is in the show?” Becky suggested.

“Comedians want to talk about themselves but”

“I never asked,” I told her. “By the sound of it, you are keeping schtum. It’s that odd thing about comedians – They want to talk about themselves but are perversely shy.”

“Well,” said Becky, “Lewis Schaffer is playing Santa Claus.”

“Will he win?” I asked.

“It depends which game they’re playing,” Becky replied.

“So Lewis Schaffer,” I said, “Jewish comedian, plays Santa Claus, Christian saint and symbol of pagan midwinter…”

“It is an Alternative Christmas Party,” Becky reminded me. “A Jewish Santa. With Lewis Schaffer as a sleazy Santa Claus… In the publicity, I wanted there to be a little imp with a strap-on and, in the show, I wanted to sexually assault boys, but I couldn’t find any boys who would let me sexually assault them.”

“That is hardly credible,” I said. “Anyone else in this sophisticated soirée?”

“There’s a Virgin Mary striptease…”

“By whom?” I asked.

“I believe Claire Lenahan, who is also doing some amazing comedy magic. And there is Geoff Steel, who is also doing my Cockpit show. He is a very interesting up-and-coming act.”

“When you say up-and-coming,” I asked, “into what is he rising and coming?”

“Are you trying to be sleazy?” Becky asked.

“I try,” I said. “Anything else happening after the show that evening?”

“A disco.”

“And who else is performing?”

“Oh – I am…. I am going to compere.”

“That is not mentioned on the flyer,” I said.

“According to my friend who has made his celebrity from drawing stickmen, I need to promote myself better. Am I allowed to say that?”

“I dunno. Are you?”

“I think so.”

Becky’s 2016 Edinburgh Fringe publicity flyer aided by Stik

“Stik did your Edinburgh Fringe poster last year.”

“Two years ago. The year I won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award. He did do that poster, so I think maybe we are going to have a collaboration next year.”

“At the Edinburgh Fringe next year?”

“Yes.”

“And the show will be…?”

Apocoloptimist.”

“Which you are trying out in…?”

Leicester in February and Brighton in May.”

“You tried out one bit in Edinburgh this year,” I said. “The bit about being in Calais.”

“Yes. Going to the Calais Jungle and, when you try to do the right thing, it goes horribly wrong…”

“Except for the lucky boy on the beach,” I said.

“You know too much,” Becky told me.

“You will have to do the full autobiographical show at some point,” I told her. “That’s what makes an impact at the Edinburgh Fringe. Laughter and tears. You were telling me some hair-raising tales from your past a few weeks ago and I was thinking: That’s a cracker of an Edinburgh show!

Becky Fury raised an eyebrow like Roger Moore.

It is an admirable skill, though difficult to divine its exact meaning.

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Kate Copstick: Tribal cleansing in Kenya continues stealthily – still unreported

In yesterday’s blog, I ran three edited extracts from journalist Kate Copstick‘s diary. She is currently working with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya. The story continues in these edited extracts from her diary, which she has been posting on her Facebook page.

Tuesday 21st November

Still no news from Oliver. Doris is now linked into several groups on WhatsApp, trying to help mothers and wives find their missing boys. All young men. Bodies are turning up in far-flung hospital morgues. Beaten men are being dumped by roadsides far from their homes. This is ethnic (well, tribal) cleansing by stealth. But no mention in the press …

And, if this is how it is in Nairobi, then out in the villages…

We need to find a way to get the displaced women out of Kisii county. Farm lorries seem to be the best way. VIcky is still up there but treading very carefully. She now has some help from villagers and farmers who have no problem in helping the refugees. The plan is to pay one of the big farm lorries to ferry them out in smaller groups.

I hear that half a dozen houses were torched in Kibera last night. I recount our tale of Oliver. No one looks hopeful. I tell about the bodies dumped. There is a lot of nodding. “That is what they do,” says Mwangi. Everyone has a tale of young men being ‘disappeared’ in the night.

Wednesday 22nd November

The mothers’ group is up and running. We start to think about a name for the rescue house when it opens in January. The women are – in stark contrast to how they were at our first meeting – nothing if not to the point.

STOP RAPE is the most popular suggestion. STOP MEN RAPING is another. I suggest it might be slightly in yer face. And point out, jokingly, that these “Kill All Men” titles are not always helpful. They actually quite like KILL ALL MEN, especially when I mention T-shirts.

Doris appears. Nothing from Oliver but she is in a bad way, having just spent the morning miles away in a place called Tigoni, with a group of mothers also looking for their disappeared sons.

The network of mums (now numbering about 46 in Nairobi alone and centred on Mama Biashara as a point of communication) does internal alerts whenever a body turns up, wherever it is. And mums go.

If they find their man alive or dead, his name is taken off the list of the missing.

None of these alerts is ever, ever made by the hospital. The young men are dumped on them in the night. If they do have ID, the hospitals (so the group have been told) have been instructed to destroy the ID. So only mothers and sisters and wives and friends can identify them, as long as they are prepared to search.

This morning, there was just a badly beaten body to identify. And Doris was there to take care of the distraught mother. This young lad was a student at a technical college on his way home. Taken with two friends. They are yet to be found.

Jayne calls (from Awendo). She has been going to KIsumu to visit a boy in hospital. The matatu she is in has been hijacked on the way and now she has nothing but her phone which she hid when the hijackers took everything from everyone. I send her the money to get home.

Thursday 23rd November

Doris says her friend in the horrendously abusive relationship has been much enlightened by my info on BDSM.

Now she knows what’s what she is keen to take my advice to get out. Especially as the latest news is that he has bought a state-of-the-art knife sharpener and has applied for a gun licence. Easier said than done in a society where:

  1. the man can do no wrong, only the woman can fail in a marriage and
  1. her family is toxic with Christianity and will probably explode at the mention of anything sexual. Especially extreme bondage and the kind of demeaning shit this monster is into. But she is going to talk to her parents and try to rouse the family group behind her.

Still no sign of Oliver.

His auntie/guardian (Oliver is an orphan) is now in on the search.

Friday 24th November

The poor abused woman with the psycho husband has moved out and is with her parents, where he will not dare reach her.

I bring her up to speed on the child rape rescue centre project and ask if she can think of a name. I want something hard-hitting. Punchy. Says it as it is.

Swahili is not the greatest language for saying it as it is in a punchy way.

“I know what you want, Copi” says Doris. “But you must not…”

“Not what?” I ask, girlishly.

“Call it something like TOMBE TOMBE BABA MBAYA” she says.

I am convulsed with a mixture of hysterical laughter and out-and-out admiration for Doris’ brilliance.

It scans… It trips off the tongue… It says it like it is…

It translates roughly as FUCK FUCK BAD DADDY.

Oh how I wish…

I am hearing the Christmas single… seeing the crowds chanting our name…

If only…

She then suggests I name it after Daddy Copstick. Don’t think I had not thought of that, but BIG BOB’S HOME FOR THE REPEATEDLY DEFILED is not a name I see gaining popularity.

I get brought up to speed with the whole ‘disappeared’ saga.

We have found another young man. Doris has spoken to him (in case he knows Oliver) and he says he was taken in a group of three by men who appeared out of nowhere (again, in Huruma) and identified themselves as police.

The boys were bundled into a van. There were many more boys in the van. The boy offered up his ID but the men tore it up in front of him. The captives had sacks over their heads. They were taken to somewhere unknown and beaten to within an inch of their lives. Or further.

The boy does not remember how long they were there. But then they were divided up and dumped in various outlying locations – some alive and some dead.

The boy woke up in a hospital about three hours from Nairobi where he pretended he could not speak because everyone there was speaking Kikkuyu and he did not want to give himself away as a Luo and face a repeat of what he had just been through.

He watched and waited and said he was treated very well. Finally, a cleaner came in the night and let him use her phone. He alerted his parents. He is now unable to walk properly but alive and safe.

And then something amazing happens.

Doris gets a call.

Oliver’s mother has been contacted by someone saying they think they know where he is. They are waiting for another phone call. He is in some sort of a retreat for pastors and priests outside Sultan Hamoud – which is about a third of the way to Mombasa. Two and a half hours without traffic.

And he is alive. Injured but alive.

The mother is already on her way there.

Saturday 25th November

I awake to a dozen messages on my phone.

The mum had reached the place where Oliver was but the men there were terrified to let him go with her. Doris persuaded her uncle to drive her to the place, getting there about four in the morning. The men running the retreat knew only that Oliver had been dumped on their doorstep in the middle of the night and that, twice since then, a group of men has arrived, demanded entrance and asked if there is a boy here who arrived at night.

The men say they are going to tell the enquirers, if they come back, that Oliver just escaped. He was badly bashed about head, severe wounds on his back where he was beaten and an injury to his leg. He says the men in the retreat treated him really well, but just kept him secluded and never told him where he was.

The men in the retreat, says Doris, seemed more frightened than Oliver.

Anyway, Oliver and his family are off back to his home area now. Doris says he just cried and cried all the way back to Nairobi. HIs mother is planning a ‘cleansing’ ceremony when they get home. For whatever good that will do.

In more good news, the first 20 women have left Kisii en route to their new life. This is all wrapping up rather well.

We discuss names. Gotta have a name.

I mention something Doris suggested the other night. And Joan loves it. So, for the time being, we have the working title :

BRAVEHEARTS – MAMAS FIGHTING RAPE

If anyone can do better, I would love to hear. Acronyms are good.

Though I still like TOMBE TOMBE BABA MBAYA.

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Kate Copstick in Kenya: “There is an odd failure to report this in the papers.”

Journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya working with her Mama Biashara charity, which gives small sums of money and advice to poor people so they can set up their own small, self-sustaining businesses which will allow them to help themselves out of poverty.

Mama Biashara’s slogan is:

A HAND UP, NOT A HAND OUT.

Copstick and Mama Biashara make no money from this and 100% of all money donated to the charity is used for the charity’s work. Copstick works for free, receives no money herself and covers 100% of her own costs.

She keeps a diary which she posts in full, when possible, on her Facebook page. These three (edited) extracts from last weekend give, I think, a fair idea of the background within which Copstick and Mama Biashara have to work.


Friday 17th November

Doris calls with news from Kisii. Yes, we are STILL trying to find a way to help the women hiding out in Kisii County (as mentioned in previous blogs/diary extracts).

Good News: between Vicky and themselves, they have found some farmers and villagers who are not tribalist to the point of violent criminal insanity and who will give them jobs. That is about thirty of them with at least a life-raft to cling to.

Bad News: there is a something between a gang and a sect with absolutely the worst aspects of each which operates in Kisii. They are called the Chinkororo. They rule the place. They arrived in one of the decent, helpful villages a couple of days ago, called everyone together, pointed at a random woman in the crowd, declared her to be a witch, doused her in petrol and set her on fire. While everyone watched. Pour décourager les autres, one assumes. If, say, a screaming, terrified child tried to run away or even look away, one of the gang would hold its head and force it to watch. Until the woman died screaming and squirming.

Vicky was sent this on a smartphone video.

Doris saw it and is still traumatised. Doris is not traumatised easily.

There are a lot of silences in our phone call.

Then I get a call from Joan, wondering where I am.

“Still sick?” She worries. “It can be malaria.”

She has some good news, though. Earlier in the week she had called me about a girl – just newly eleven years old, raped when she was 10 and now pregnant. She wanted to know if we could find a doctor to give the girl what is generally referred to here as a ‘wash and blow-dry’. The wonderful… er… hairdresser… who had helped some very young girls for us before has moved to Turkana but it seems Joan found one herself. The girl is now great, and currently home with her mother.

We are getting increasingly worried about Oliver, the marvellous Mobile Phone Whisperer who was going to spearhead our training of young women in mobile phone repair. I had asked that he come to Nairobi to meet with me so we could discuss things properly. Despite all warnings from Vixen and Doris, he went to stay with some friends in Huruma – a scary place at the best of times but, with all the political nastiness still happening, now properly dangerous.

We heard, via Vixen, that, in a night of the kind of ethnic cleansing that happens in places like that at times like this, Oliver had been beaten up while trying to leave the slum. Oliver is Luo. That is all that it takes to get you beaten up. Or worse. He went into hiding and has not been heard from since. It is a nightmare. Huruma is not the kind of place you go wandering around looking for a lost mate.

Doris wants to come over and pick up some headed letter stuff that I set up so we could give people letters of recommendation. Vixen has found jobs for about twenty women in a resort in Malindi and it looks like this could be the start of an ongoing relationship with the owner, who knows the backgrounds of our ladies and is happy to give them a chance, a good training (hotel and kitchen staff) and a really good salary. But he wants a letter of recommendation. Kenyans LOVE letters, certificates… anything on paper.

Plus Doris wants to talk.

Saturday 18th November

There is still no sign of Oliver, but what is emerging is a huge community of mums and wives who are searching for young men who have simply disappeared across areas like Huruma and Mathare. Every other day a body will turn up in some place far away, the other side of Nairobi and a flurry of hope/dread will stir. So far, no Oliver.

Luos are being kicked out of Kenol (on the outskirts of Nairobi), says Doris. They just get a visitor in the night who tells them to go or suffer the consequences.

Kabiria (where Joan lives) is on a knife edge.

Kawangware has sporadic outbursts of what can only be called ‘ethnic cleansing’. Things are not happy.

But there is an odd failure to report any of this in the papers.

I think if people were really looking, they would find that just as many people are being killed now as were killed in the 2008 riots. It is just being managed more carefully this time. Kept sporadic, geographically spaced out. Just young men disappearing from slum areas… who just happen to be Luo. The sixty odd in Kisii who disappeared while Vicky has been up there have not reappeared. People are now looking for a mass grave.

Sunday 19th November

Talking to Doris again I remember that I never DID tell you what she wanted to talk about on Friday.

We have been approached about all manner of domestic and sexual abuse. But nothing like this case. And it is all the fault of UK Kink.

Precis: middle class Kenyan (male), presumably a massive bully, physically and emotionally. Goes to Oxford. Discovers BDSM. Totally perverts it to cover and give a modicum of imagination and sophistication to his own bullying tendencies. Marries a sweet Kenyan virgin. And lives a 24/7 full-on BDSM existence. She is abused physically and mentally.

We are talking to the extent that, before he leaves in the morning, he ‘marks’ her by pissing on her and she is not allowed to wash it off. Oh yes. Because she was so innocent when he married her and is so controlled by him, she thinks this happens in all marriages.

Only now, because he left his browser open and she saw some of the pages he likes, she has she begun to realise what is happening is not normal.

On behalf of BDSM fans everywhere, I am outraged at what this man is doing. I give Doris a gallop through the basics of BDSM, garnished with personal anecdotes and heavy on consent. It takes a lot to gobsmack Doris but gobsmacked she is. Utterly.

We are going to meet up with this woman and see how she wants to proceed. I am thinking a day in a dungeon with the CopMistress and no safe word.

Great news from Brian. Mama Biashara’s Special Condiment has been VERY popular with the ladies of Homa Bay. A refuge for abused girls was suffering regular break ins by state police who would stop off on their way from the pub for a quick rape of some already abused and vulnerable girls. A full face of Mama Biashara’s Condiment is a surefire way to distract a man from any planned action in the jap’s eye area to the searing agony in his other eyes. Production is underway, so that all the women can be safe. Well, safer.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Kenya, Rape