Category Archives: Drama

Amanda Fleming on concussion and stitches and the serial killer Countess

Amanda: Originally, we were going to talk about The Countess

So I arranged to chat via Skype with my namesake but non-relation actress Amanda Fleming in Manchester. She has not been heard of in this blog since May 2015.

We were going to talk about her play The Countess, which we last talked about in February 2015.

But we got sidetracked…


JOHN: So, your vampire Countess woman…

AMANDA: She wasn’t a vampire; she was a serial killer.

JOHN: Well, she was Countess Dracula, in the Hammer horror film.

AMANDA: Yes. Ingrid Pitt. She’s still alive, isn’t she?

JOHN: Of course; she is one of the undead.

AMANDA: No, Ingrid Pitt… Well, the… I… Oh… Someone here wants to say hello… (A WHITE CAT APPEARS ON SKYPE AND SNIFFS THE SCREEN)… I have two cats now. This is Misty.

JOHN: Hello Misty. Lovely pink ears. Not the cat, of course. You.

AMANDA: Pink ears. But no earlobes.

JOHN: You or the cat?

AMANDA: Me… Look.

JOHN: No earlobes.You must be Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

AMANDA: What?

JOHN: From the James Bond films… You have no earlobes.

AMANDA: The Plantagenets didn’t have earlobes.

JOHN: You are a Plantagenet?

AMANDA: According to ancestry.com I am.

JOHN: Related to whom? Not Richard III, I hope.

AMANDA: Edward I… Longshanks.

JOHN: The Hammer of the Scots? I am Scottish. I am shocked and saddened.

AMANDA: Well, I have my Celtic side. My bloodline from about 1500 upwards is a bastardisation of the Tudors and the Plantagenets and then they married into Irish aristocracy from Wexford.

Forget the Planagenets and James Bond – clock the pink ears

JOHN: Accidents of birth.

AMANDA: I had an accident.

JOHN: You had an accident?

AMANDA: I had an accident. A window fell on me on 5th May this year. I finished work and went to the theatre pub where we were doing a show to do a bit of work on the synopsis. I was sitting in the beer garden, typing away on my laptop computer. I had had literally two sips out of a glass of Chardoney and I heard this crack and the edge of a pane of glass from an upstairs window hit me on the head.

JOHN: The pane or the frame?

AMANDA: The whole section of the middle part of the glass.

JOHN: It hit you flat or the edge hit you?

AMANDA: The edge. Luckily it was not two floors above me or I would have had time to look up and I would have been a goner. It was excruciating pain. I didn’t even know it had cut all down my face. The shock.

Apparently there was an improvisation performance going on upstairs and there was only a very thin wood panelling covering the window and blacking out the room and a guy bumped into the wood panelling. That loosened the centre part of the window which broke loose and fell down on me – about this size.

JOHN: Bloody hell! That’s about what? Two feet wide?

AMANDA: The circular centre with a jagged edge broke loose and fell and just thank God the jagged edge didn’t hit me or I would be dead. It hit the corner of my skull and slit down off the side of my face and that is why I have a big gash there.

JOHN: It was mostly impact damage?

AMANDA: Yes. It smashed on the floor. The police who came said: “Amanda, you’re very lucky. It would have been a lot worse if it had smashed on your head.”

You know when you bang your head sometimes? You come up too quickly and you hit your head on something? Imagine that, but five times more painful. I thought a piece of metal had hit me on the head. I didn’t realise it was glass. I got up and went: “Oh! What was… Aaaargghh!” and then it all went Boooofff! – There was blood everywhere.

The guys in the beer garden were going: “Shit!! Shit!!!” and all running round.

Amanda Fleming’s head cut – in May 2018

I had no idea of the extent of it. There was a 9 cm gash and I had to have two lots of stitches. I had them under, because it had cut an artery – That was why were was so much blood. Apparently I had lost half my body weight in blood by the time I got to the hospital.

It was a surreal experience, because I was talking and trying to crack jokes, but I could hear my voice slurring.

JOHN: Because of the impact; because of the concussion.

AMANDA: Yeah. I tried to do yoga breathing to keep myself calm, because I could feel myself… you know… the adrenaline. I was telling everyone else: “It’s OK! It’s OK, yes…” Crack a joke, crack a joke, crack a joke. But, inside, I was thinking: KEEP ALERT! KEEP ALERT! KEEP ALERT!

JOHN: You were trying to crack jokes?

AMANDA: I think it’s just a kind of survival instinct thing with me. To not think about what is actually happening.

By the time I got in, the surgeon realised the secondary artery – not the main carotid artery – the one next to it that goes down – had been sliced and that was why I had lost so much blood. So he had to do two lots of stitches: one lot to secure underneath and then on the top of the head as well.

There was a lot of work I had to cancel. I had about £2,500 of work booked in for the next six weeks and I had to cancel it all.

For the first couple of weeks afterwards, I was just numb everywhere. Now, near where the scar is, it’s like a weird kind of tingling. And, if I touch the right side of my head here, I feel it on the left side. It’s the weirdest thing ever.

JOHN: I was hit by a truck in 1991 and the back of my head hit the corner – the edge – of a low brick wall as I fell – My brain wasn’t even remotely right for about nine months with concussion coming and going. You must have had problems with the concussion.

AMANDA: It was weird. I had never had concussion before. I have noticed some of my words I have to think about a bit more now. And, when I’m typing fast, some of the letters go wrong… not all of them… just like, for example, if I mean to type WEAR it sometimes comes out as WAER.

As directed and produced by Amanda – The Countess in Salford, Manchester

JOHN: It hasn’t affected your acting?

AMANDA: Well, I think I’m going to go fully into directing now. It has changed my life – the way I look at my life now. Definitely.

JOHN: You look up a lot more?

AMANDA: Don’t even get me started on that… That’s still an anxiety I’m trying to get over… When I see scaffolding ahead of me, I have to cross the road.

JOHN: But it’s changed your life more fundamentally?

AMANDA: Yes. I used to over-think things all the time. Things I could not really do anything about. It would frustrate me and get me angry and make me bitter about things. But, since this happened – even though lots of negative stuff came with it – the sensations and shooting pains and things – on a personal level, it has made me realise that, right now I should be doing everything to enjoy myself and do what I love rather than worrying about what could have been or what people think or whatever.

JOHN: And why has that happened? Because you could have been killed?

AMANDA: That’s it, yes.

JOHN: Why have you decided not to act?

AMANDA: I haven’t decided I’m not going to act – if something comes up in films or commercials or voice-over or whatever, I will still do it, but I’m not going to act in theatre any more: I’m going to direct theatre and I’m getting a strong passion for film-making and directing.

JOHN: Why?

AMANDA: I think because I have more scope and creativity there. When you’re an actor, you only have a specific area where you can create. Having been in acting for like 30 years, I can bring my actor’s side to directing. You are in charge of your own creativity.

JOHN: Anyway, we are supposed to be talking about your Countess woman thing.

The Countess was a success in Todmorden’s Gothic church

AMANDA: I wanted to make it historical but with a supernatural twist. We put it on for three performances at Todmorden, because they have an amazing Gothic church there. Ideally, we would like to tour round the country in those types of venues. We did two performances in Manchester last month, because people who saw it in Todmorden told people in Manchester and there was a demand… It sold out in Manchester.

We cant afford to stage it in Edinburgh, but we are trying to get the funding together to take it to the festivals at what they call The Three Bs – Brighton, Buxton and Bath. But we would like to tour it round rural venues like barns and village halls.

JOHN: Or castles?

AMANDA: We’d like to! We are going to get a video – a 60 second ‘taster’ – and press pack together.

JOHN: Sounds like it has movie potential, too.

AMANDA: Yes. Or maybe an amazing Gothic opera.

JOHN: And it’s the Countess Dracula woman?

AMANDA: Well, she wasn’t a vampire, though some sources say she was somehow distantly related to Vlad the Impaler.

JOHN: Blood relatives.

AMANDA: Maybe. Might not be true. 

JOHN: But she was for real.

AMANDA: Yes. Countess Elizabeth Báthory. She was a Hungarian aristocrat in the 1500s who murdered at least 650 people – 90% women plus some men – probably more than 650, but those were only the bodies they found. 

JOHN: 650 is going it some… Was there a ‘trigger’?

AMANDA: She started by knocking off peasant girls and bathing in their blood. She didn’t want to grow old. Blood is kind of soft and moisturising – it’s the plasma in it. She must have thought: Ooooh! It makes yer skin go really soft! That was the trigger.

The Countess – by Amanda Fleming – “Historical but with a supernatural twist”

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Why Richard Gadd won a Perrier Prize at the Edinburgh Fringe but justifiably failed to get a Cunning Stunt Award

Richard Gadd with his used-to-be Perrier Award

Richard Gadd with what used to be called the Perrier Award

Richard Gadd’s first words to me were: “You thought I would cancel this meeting, didn’t you, John? You thought I would be too big for you now. But I like you, John, even though everyone else doesn’t.”

He was joking.

I think.

After he was nominated for – but failed to win – this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award back in August, he texted me a message saying: “You. Are. Dead. To. Me.”

He was joking.

I think.

Yes, he was.

Yes.

We nominated him for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award on the basis that he had caused a buzz at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe with his show Waiting For Gaddot – mostly because it was stunningly original but also because it was almost impossible to get in to see it because there were far more people wanting to see it than there was space in the small room he had booked at the Banshee Labyrinth venue.

So, this year, he booked his new show Monkey See, Monkey Do into an even smaller room at the Banshee Labyrinth, meaning the difficulty of getting in – and the consequent buzz – was even greater. We checked with him and he said, Yes, indeed he had booked himself into the smaller room as a cunning stunt to create more buzz.

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ award in Edinburgh

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ comedy award in Edinburgh

He failed to win our award, but he did go on to win the other main comedy prize at the Fringe – the one that is forever called the Perrier Award even though the sponsors have changed over the years.

“So,” I told him this week, “booking yourself into a smaller room was a very clever cunning stunt…”

“Well, no,” he replied. “It wasn’t a stunt.”

“You told us it was!” I said.

“No, it wasn’t a stunt,” Richard repeated. “When I visualised the show, there was only one room in the whole of Edinburgh I visualised – the Banshee Labyrinth Cinema Room. I needed a screen that was bigger than me. I needed a screen that would engulf me and engulf the audience.

“I thought: What do I do? Do I sacrifice audience numbers and money for artistic gain? And the answer was: Absolutely. I didn’t do it to create a buzz or as a cunning stunt or anything like that. It was a genuine artistic decision that I made.”

The poster image for Monkey See, Monkey Do

The poster image for award-winning Monkey See, Monkey Do

“And Monkey See, Monkey Do went on to win the Perrier,” I said. “That can be life-changing.”

“Well,” he replied, “I’ve had a lot of interest since then, but I’m not a mainstream act. It used to be, back in the day, that someone would win it and get a TV series straight away. But those days are over.

“I think now, if you win the Perrier, there is a more logical route towards the Have I Got News For Yous and Mock The Weeks. But that’s not my route either because I’m a very alternative act.

“I’m very interested in the art performance and I’m very theatrical, so those sort of (panel show) offers did not come through the door, but a whole bunch of people did get in touch who do want to work with me. Television companies and theatre companies. Writing work, drama work, stage work. And better acting auditions.

“People seem to take you more seriously. They know who you are – you’re not just a sort of underground comedian this, cult comedian that. People now know who I am and I think that’s important – and they know I take myself seriously and I’m still young – I’m 26.

“People don’t really trust people in their mid-twenties but, if you win the Perrier, if they have whittled down 1,000-odd shows in Edinburgh, it’s no easy feat to win that award. So at least I’m not being patronised any more.”

“A lot of people,” I said, “thought you should have been nominated for the Perrier last year.”

Richard Gadd wearing nob shoes to promote his Soho Theatre show

“All my other comedies have been very -in-your-face romps”

“Well, I think my work until very recently has been very polarising, very in-your-face and some people don’t like their eardums blasted or their eyes tainted with images of this and that. I think this year it set out to make a difference and to change opinions on things and it did tackle some big subjects.

“All my other comedies have been joyful romps or very -in-your-face romps but this year it set out to say something. I’ve had a challenging and complicated life in a lot of ways and this year I was tackling a subject that not many people speak about.”

“There is,” I prompted, “an autobiographical revelation in the show.”

“Yes, I use an autobiographical account in the show to reveal this information about myself. It’s an incident I went through that no person should go through and it caused a lot of turmoil and upheaval in my life, especially as a man.”

“I don’t want to give too much away,” I said.

“You can say sexual assault,” Richard told me.

“So the type of show you did,” I said, “was different this year…”

“I think the difference,” replied Richard, “was that, this year, it had a lot of heart and a lot of soul. It was trying to challenge views on masculinity. That was quite important to me. I’ve always felt I was a man but, after the incident, my masculinity was taken away from me.”

“Can I include that?” I asked.

“You can put what you like but just put me in a bloody good light, for the love of fuckery.”

“Righto,” I said.

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

“I wanted,” Richard continued, “to challenge the mainstream media definition of masculinity, cos masculinity needs to shift now, in this day and age of feminism and emotion on your sleeve. I feel masculinity needs to become synonymous with openness, But there is still this keeping-it-all-bottled-up masculinity; being ‘the man’.

“I bottled it up for so long because I felt it was a dent in my masculinity. That was the difficult part. But then, all of a sudden, you wake up one day and you realise: Jesus Christ! It’s just a word. It doesn’t exist.

“Your masculinity is as fickle as sexuality. These words that just cause people so much pain and don’t mean anything in the end, because boundaries are blurred. Nothing is black and white. Nothing is concrete. They’re just words, but they can cause so much misery.”

“It must,” I suggested, “have been scary to decide to talk about it openly.”

“I hinted about it in every single thing I did. Every single show I did, there were big overtones of it.”

“You seem,” I said, “very commendably serious about what you do as being art.”

“Yes, I am. I care. I kick myself if things aren’t good enough. I always try my best. If I’ve made mistakes, I will try to learn from them. I’m interested in the process of art and what it can achieve. And I’m interested in always doing things differently. You just have to keep staying one step ahead of what people expect you to do and expect you to be.”

“So what is your next step ahead?” I asked.

“I’m going to chop my cock off on stage and then eat it and regurgitate it and use it as a flute.”

“And,” I asked, “in reality?”

“I have ideas about what next, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them to you, Mr Fleming.”

“Would these new things,” I asked, “be like writing a different type of comedy drama or coming out of a totally unexpected trap like writing a musical?”

Breaking Gadd - Richard’s current show

Breaking Gadd: “I wasn’t doing anything different”

“I did Cheese and Crack Whores. Then Breaking Gadd the year after… and Breaking Gadd was Cheese and Crack Whores in a different setting with a different group of characters but sort of the same. Despite the fact it did well and got well-reviewed, I realised that the buzz was elsewhere because I wasn’t doing anything different. So the next year Waiting For Gaddot was a big shift in a different direction and that got the buzz.”

“Some people,” I said, “equate arty success with low audiences.”

“Yes,” said Richard, “Some people think: I like being cult. I like being not for everyone. I’m too cool for mainstream. But it’s ridiculous to think I would write a piece of work so only the cool people can enjoy it. I would like to be as mainstream as possible. But I still like to bring these off-kilter themes into the mainstream and still be challenging. You can be challenging in the mainstream: you just need to figure out how to do it. To rebel against it is wrong. Charlie Brooker is a good example of someone who manages to be quite challenging in the mainstream.

“I don’t care about money. I was brought up better than that. I don’t care about that. I would like to expand my audience size but, at the same time, get my message over and do a piece of work in the best possible way it can be done.”

“We are having a chat,” I reminded him, “to plug your Monkey See, Monkey Do show at the Soho Theatre in London, so when is it on?”

richardgadd_sohotheatre_cut

Richard trying to keep one step ahead outside Soho Theatre

“We are doing a live recording for the DVD this Saturday at 5.30pm. Then the show runs 18th October to the 12th November. That run is completely sold out already, so it will probably be back in the New Year.”

“So this blog is completely pointless,” I said. “You don’t need the publicity.”

“No, I don’t,” agreed Richard. “But I like talking to you, so that’s fine.”

I do not think he was joking.

But who can tell with comedians and actors?

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

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Martin Luther King had a dream. So did I, but the Queen Mother was in mine.

Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea being re-paved on 29th March 1986

Workers re-pave Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea on 29th March 1986. I was there. It was a Saturday.

As I occasionally mention in this blog, I almost never remember my dreams unless I get woken up in mid-dream.

Early this morning, I got woken up in mid-dream by my burglar alarm.

It is in the nature of bananas to smile.

I was watching the TV series Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with my mother, who died in 2007. Chris Tarrant was presenting the TV show in a blazer with bright red and yellow vertical stripes. The show featured identical twins as contestants.

“Grace had twins,” my mother told me. “She put them in a chest of drawers. Jock and Grace didn’t know they were going to have them.”

Then my dead father’s friend Harold came round to see my mother. He was very gaunt. Harold was. His cheekbones were a bit more prominent than they had been the previous week when he came round, as if he was in the process of turning into one of those L.S.Lowry matchstick men.

Harold talked about the Second World War. I don’t know what he said. The legs of his grey flannel trousers dangled round his bony legs. The way the grey flannel of his trousers flapped around the air surrounding his bony legs was very distracting. His throat added a slight extra sound to each syllable he spoke – more of a gasp than a rasp.

On television, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? was followed by a documentary in which a man with very pink cheeks said he mostly stayed at home because of the Recession and he argued that cannibalism was a reasonable option. He said there was a particularly fat couple in a neighbouring road whom he had started to stalk.

My mother and I laughed.

The man on the television said he had taken out a subscription to Hermit Monthly and had high hopes of getting a job as a hermit in a folly at the bottom of the Queen Mother’s garden.

The Queen Mother had bought the folly at a local garden centre where you could buy mass-produced follies.

Then the Queen Mother walked slowly into my mother’s living room on two matchsticks.

My mother said to me: “What’s the point of living to that age if you have to walk like that?”

The Queen Mother died shortly afterwards.

Then I woke up and wrote this blog about a dream.

Or not.

“All this happened, more or less.”

That is the opening sentence of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

It is a very good book.

It is about the bombing of Dresden in the Second World War.

I went round to see comedian Martin Soan last night. Four Germans were staying with him. Only half of one could speak English. None of us talked about the War.

Martin Soan and I talked about hip replacements. I said they were age-related.

He thought I said they were AIDs-related.

But I had said age-related.

He laughed a lot about this.

A banana with my name on it

A banana with my name on it

It is a funny old world.

It is in the nature of bananas to smile.

In 2004 and 2005, the North Korean government denounced men’s sloppy hairstyles in a state-run TV series titled Let Us Trim Our Hair in Accordance with the Socialist Lifestyle.

I think I may go back to sleep now for half an hour.

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BBC: “You could not piss on the Queen and you had to be careful about Ireland”

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

As I am currently on jury service in a city somewhere in England, I was interested to hear last night a quote from Robert Mark who became Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 1972. He said his ambition was to “arrest more criminals than we employ”.

He seems to have failed.

The quote came up last night, when TV and film producer Tony Garnett was talking at at London’s National Film Theatre.

The second best drama I have ever seen on British TV

The second best drama series I have ever seen on British TV

Tony Garnett was responsible for The Cops, the second-best drama I have ever seen on British television.

The best was John Hopkins’ Talking To A Stranger, directed by Christopher Morahan, who was also in the NFT audience last night.

On television, Tony Garnett produced – among many, many other influential dramas – Up The Junction, Cathy Come Home, Days of Hope and the series Law and Order, This Life and The Cops.

Last night, he said that, when he worked at the BBC and produced some of his most acclaimed shows, “the BBC had a very different management theory. It wasn’t perfect then and one’s freedom was very limited but they did, to some extent, believe in ‘producer power’.”

He then went on to say:

____________________________________________________________

They thought producers were basically ‘good chaps’ – there were one of two chapesses – and, if you had a problem, you should refer upwards. I never thought I had a problem. I was given a fair amount of freedom. You could not piss on the Queen and you had to be careful about Northern Ireland and so on, but you could find a way through.

What’s happened since the 1990s is that everything in this country’s been Thatcherised and management’s right to manage predominates.

Management is one of the great con tricks of the 20th century. A number of people have made a lot of money out of it, including managers and (the management consulting firm) McKinsey’s.

McKinsey’s have a phrase. They say If you can measure it, you can manage it.

The problem with the BBC is that what it’s there to do is be creative and you can’t measure creativity. You just can’t do it. You can say something’s really good if it lasts a century or two but, apart from that, you can’t measure it. So big trouble.

Huw Wheldon (BBC TV Managing Director) in the 1970s – and I’ve only got his word for it – told me they had asked McKinsey’s to come in to the BBC and, after a while, with their extremely expensive chaps roaming round the BBC, the boss man came to Huw and asked: Could you tell me, Mr Wheldon, how many actual decision makers do you have at the BBC? I mean people who can actually take decisions about the product. 

Huw said: Well, we have several hundred producers…

And the man said: Yes, I thought so. I’m afraid we can’t help you.

But the management at the BBC now is so tight and there are so many layers of management that the pyramid is a bit like The Shard.

The BBC has now taken on the shape of The Shard in London

The BBC is now the shape of London’s Shard

So you have lots and lots of people who can tell you what you must not do. And lots of people supervising you at each stage. That is the enemy of creativity.

One problem with the BBC, like the problem with much else in our culture – and this is more in Current Affairs and News than in drama – is that the BBC concentrates on one borough of London called Westminster and makes programmes for people who live in two or three other boroughs – Notting Hill, Islington…

The whole of the rest of the country is completely ignored.

Occasionally, they’ll go and make a programme in Doncaster and they’ll send Jeremy and Emily, who come from a very nice family, and they’ll send them out like visiting anthropologists to either come back with very sympathetic portraits or maybe to laugh at all these Chavs who are not like ‘us’.

I’d like some kids from Doncaster to go to Canary Wharf and make a film about the people there. But the traffic’s all one-way and I think it’s a great, great pity and a dereliction of the BBC’s responsibility, because we live in a very diverse society – in all sorts of ways diverse – and the BBC’s main job is to consult a national conversation.

Particularly in drama, because the beauty of drama is that it allows you to empathise with others: to say Oh, I felt like that. These people are not so different from us.

The BBC have made a very good start at Salford (in the new Media City) but they really ought to fight against London-itis and realise that they are representing and a part of this whole diverse country.

I think the BBC is very important. That’s why I criticise it. If there’s a great institution that has many enemies, one of the problems is that we tend to want to draw the wagons into a circle to defend it – the same is happening with the NHS now.

I think that is a mistake.

The more you love the BBC and the more valuable you think it is – imperfect as it is – the more you should criticise it. Society’s changing all the time. Technology’s changing all the time. The BBC won’t stand still. It will get worse or it will get better and we’ve got to push it to be better all the time. It’s no good just defending it.

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