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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 25: Comedy reviews, surrealism, nudity and politics

The Edinburgh Fringe splintered from the Edinburgh Festival 70 years ago and, like Christianity, has been splintering ever since.

The official International Festival and the official Fringe end on Monday; the Free Fringe ended today (Saturday); and the Free Festival and Bob Slayer’s Heroes venues close tomorrow (Sunday).

So today I saw shows for which mentions in this blog will, alas, not get any extra bums-on-seats. But, then, I think mentions in this blog only add to ‘profile’ not to bums. So apologies to them, but just think of the increasing prestige.

I always try not to ‘review’ shows or acts. I think I may have failed today. When I do this, it never ends well for me.

Cassie Atkinson (centre), a real character

I have a tendency not to like character comedy if the characters are too close to reality; I don’t mind more cartoon-caricature-like or wildly OTT character comedy. Which makes it odd that I like  Cassie Atkinson. I think it must be that the character comedy I hate is the stuff that feels like acting students doing an end-of term performance to their drama school mates. And I guess Cassie is a better actress than most! Or maybe she adds a tiny pinch of herself into even the characters least like her, so I buy into them more. I have no idea.

She does occasionally show a taste for the genuinely surreal – never a bad thing in my eyes though, alas, TV producers have no taste for the actual genuinely surreal. But now she seems to have linked up, more often than not in a blonde wig, with Kat Butterfield and Charlotte Pearson to perform sketches as Northern Power Blouse who, with luck, should be more attention-grabbing for TV producers – not that she really needs them with National Theatre work in her CV.

Lovely Lucy Hopkins – part light-fantastic

The genuinely lovely Lucy Hopkins is probably too good for British TV as her show Powerful Women Are About is said to be inspired by Mohammed Taleb’s Witches, Eco-Feminists, The Adventurers of the Soul of the World and is correctly described on the flyer as “part  electro-ritual, part theremin-experiment, part light-fantastic. Ultra-conscious comedy by award-winning, internationally-touring, terribly present clown.” In other words, it is totally un-categorisable – awkward for commissioners scared about the security of their jobs who think in terms of safe elevator pitches.

No great loss, though, as Lucy’s work is very specifically for live theatre.

Becky Brunning is interesting because she can bill herself as being an actor in the popular Broadchurch TV series – which will certainly help her in elevator pitches and may be why her room was literally full to overflowing with punters – some people couldn’t get in. Beaming is/was her debut solo show at the Fringe and, I have to say, was/is weird.

Becky Brunning suddenly pulled out a twist with a call-back

In Beaming, she establishes herself as a likeable, ordinary, modest girl-next-door then progresses to fairly standard, well-structured, low-key observational comedy – driving tests, shopping, crisps (I think she may have lost the audience on the long crisps section of the show) and she even, unless my ears had an audio hallucination, actually delivered the straight non-post-modernist line: “Does anybody in the room like food?”…

But then, in the last 10 minutes or so, she suddenly brings in a totally different and fascinating autobiographical strand about sexuality which would and perhaps should have been an entire show in itself. This strand did not come out of nowhere – it was a call-back to a tiny fact which had been mentioned in passing earlier in the show, but she suddenly pulled out a twist on this earlier comment.

Most of her show was standard and very general observational comedy. When she suddenly switched to very specific, unique personal stuff, something happened. I hate to say she is “one to watch” – far be it from me to be cliché. But I am certainly going to see her next show.

Luca Cupani even appeals to Hungarians

Then I went to see the wonderful Luca Cupani who, at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards last night added to his glittering collection of awards the title Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Champion 2017.

I thought I had seen his show – It’s Me! – at a preview in London, which is why I went to see it so late in its run here, but he has developed it beyond recognition and, of course, was superb. I can never quite get my head round why he is so good.

In theory, his Italian accent and what objectively is a rather dithery, broken-up delivery should interfere with the flow of the comedy but, for some reason – perhaps because it requires a slight bit of extra attention from the listener (but not too much), he is consistently fascinating. And he knows how to structure a story.

Interestingly, the room today contained Scottish, English, Siberian punters and a  lady sporting a T-shirt saying: I SPEAK HUNGARIAN. She was Hungarian. They all enjoyed it. I was watching the Hungarian lady a lot – her English was not too strong and she loved the show.

Becky backstage at Malcolm Hardee Awards

Next stop was Becky Fury, who had hosted the wildly chaotic Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show last night. The chaos was not of her making – acts not turning up, acts turning up late, acts not saying in advance what they were going to do. And she handled it all masterfully, if that’s the right word, making up most of it on the spot – including swallowing a 3ft long balloon and doing a gameshow based on the health warnings on cigarette packets. Literally honking her breasts, of course, is always a crowd pleaser. And so it was tonight in her Molotov Cocktail show, ending with her successful rollercoaster of a Calais Jungle story. She dropped the political sections of the show and it still worked.

I am still waiting for the autobiographical street anarchist show which she has in her: if she ever does it, that will be a unique, perhaps literally fiery Fringe show.

If she does not get arrested.

Or even if she does.

A man conducts himself well

Rounding off the evening for me was a show called Brain Rinse – Puppetry of The Audience which threatened in its publicity to be “immersive” (almost always a horrifying idea).

In fact, it was superbly entertaining for the same reason that Herbie Treehead worked so well at last night’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show. Both Herbie and Brain Rinse’s Mike Raffone (say it out loud) have long experience in street performance, so their audience control is second-to-none. A well-structured show; the ability to ad-lib on the hoof; top notch audience psychology. All hail!

That was my day.

Meanwhile, elsewhere…

Last night, at the repeatedly aforementioned Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, Russian Egg Roulette competitor Samantha Pressdee could not stop herself taking her top off. She has a lot of ‘previous’ in this.

Samantha Pressdee – a woman never knowingly overdressed

And, while I was roaming round the hot and sticky comedy rooms of Edinburgh today, she was out in the fresh air and I do mean ‘out’.

Apparently this was the 10th International ‘Go Topless’ Day and there was a rally in Edinburgh. The stated rules included:

NO-ONE IS IN CHARGE.

AS ALWAYS THE RALLY IS ESSENTIALLY ANARCHIC AS NO-ONE HAS AUTHORITY OVER ANOTHER PERSON’S BODY OR VOICE.

Samantha sent me a ‘report’ on what had happened:


The annual Edinburgh Free The Nipple rally for International Go Topless Day and Women’s Equality Day has been a success.

Members of the public joined in with regular campaigners and an open mic was held as a platform to oppose the censorship of opinion as well as nipples.

Only one member of the public got offended, shouting at protesters: “Shame on you! You’re flaunting yourselves! I can’t bring my daughter in to this space!” 

I chased the lady whilst shimming my tits shouting: “Breasts feed children!”

The hysterical woman responded: “I know! My daughter has seen my tits loads of times!” before telling a photographer to “Fuck off!”

I wrote FREE LOVE on my chest in protest of the threatened extradition of alleged hacker Lauri Love.

He is appealing in the High Courts this November on the grounds that, because of his Aspergers and severe depression, he would be unable to cope in the US prison system and would commit suicide.

For more information see freelauri.com


So there you are.

Comedy reviews, naked tits and political activism.

For what more could one ask?

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 2: Good advice on dodgy comedy stage show directors

In this blog yesterday, a comedy performer whom I did not name was complaining about the way they had been treated by their director who had just said their show being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe could be directed from London without the director coming up to Edinburgh at all. 

I know a few theatre directors and got this response from the highly-experienced and much admired Catherine Arden (who is NOT the director in question). In other words, this is good advice…


Advice from Catherine Arden, director

I was concerned to read about the performer whose director did not support him or her to bed in the show for the opening week in Edinburgh.

I served two 2-year terms on the Equity Theatre Directors’ Committee and recently attended a conference where this type of thing was discussed and strongly disapproved of. It gives professional directors a bad name and is not good for the industry!

Some suggestions for the performer:

–  If both the performer and director are Equity members, Equity can help resolve and give assistance to the performer to make contracts clearer in future.

–  There is a Fringe contract the performer might want to look at.

–  If the director is an Equity member, the performer can report this poor behaviour to Equity.

–  If the performer is an Equity member, then he or she can get further guidance on the matter and learn how to safeguard future dealings.

If neither the performer nor director are Equity members, I recommend the performer goes along to the Equity desk in Edinburgh.

Equity is running workshops at the Edinburgh Fringe which are great for professional development as well as for networking with proper professionals.

Also, Equity says…

If you are a member or student member taking part in any of the Edinburgh Festivals and need advice or support at any point please contact our local office on 0141-248-8472 or scotland@equity.org.uk

The Fringe has its Venues and Companies team for any show or venue taking part in the festival and they may also be able to help: participants@edfringe.com

Failing all that, your performer can get in touch with me as a director with Fringe experience if she wants a director who will give her the support he or she needs – and deserves! 🙂

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Nathan Lang lost 2 Edinburgh Fringe venues but stayed a sketchy stuntman

Nathan Lang has lived in the UK for ten years now. He made his career debut as Pinhead in the Australian soap Neighbours.

“I have forgotten,” I told Nathan,” why we are chatting. Am I meeting you to plug your Edinburgh Fringe show?”

Performing One Man, Two Ghosts at the Edinburgh Fringe last year were (L-R) Nelly Scott, Annie Bashford, Nathan Lang)

“I thought you were more interested,” said Nathan, “in my juicy gossip about losing my Edinburgh Fringe venue twice… You saw One Man, Two Ghosts last year.”

“Oh yes,” I said. “And you were going to bring it back again this year. Three of you. Different cast.”

“We were promised a good time-slot at a venue in the New Town,” explained Nathan. “The management had seen the show last year and loved it. But then, around the time of early bird Fringe registration, the management changed; and the programming changed; and we lost the venue; and it lost us £100 because we missed the cheap deadline.

“Then we got in touch with someone who had also seen the show last year, loved it and was starting up a new venue. She asked us immediately before the final Fringe Programme deadline and the venue just fell through. Everyone has a different story why. I’m not blaming anyone. Just bad luck. A few shows in that venue got re-homed; some collapsed; we got a very good offer from Bob Slayer but couldn’t do it because it clashed with my other two shows. So the three of us decided not to do the show. There seemed no point compromising on a less good venue at bad times on scattered dates.”

“You still have two other shows at the Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes, there’s the sketch comedy show Jon & Nath Like To Party which you saw an early incarnation of. We’ve been previewing it for a year and had a very good Brighton Fringe.”

Playful Jon Levene (right) and Nathan Lang Like To Party

“What’s different from the version I saw?”

“The crap sketches have gone and been replaced by good ones. It’s really good now.”

“Sketch comedy is dead,” I suggested.

“No!” said Nathan. “There’s lots of exciting sketch comedy on the scene at the moment. It’s evolving beyond that episodic kind of style. It’s blurring into alternative stuff and character stuff. What has changed in our show since you saw it is we now have an underlying kind of…”

“Arc?”

“No. An underlying thread where we can communicate our selves and our relationship – the way we constantly try to thwart each other.”

“What’s the stage relationship?”

“We’re like brothers but we antagonise the hell out of each other and disagree about everything.”

“And your other show is?”

“My first solo show. The Stuntman. Surely, with that title alone, I should be eligible for a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award?”

“But is it cunning?” I asked. “Do you do your own stunts? Is there an imminent risk of death? Death is always good for promoting a show.”

“Yeah,” said Nathan. “I do my own stunts. I am the Tom Cruise of clowning character physical comedy.”

“Hanging on the side of a plane?” I asked.

“Hanging drunkenly on the side of the bar while my own wind blows my feet up. It’s slapstick. It’s What if the stuntman were always a stuntman, even at home? But family friendly. Well, it is now. Except for the bit where I pretend to be nude for ten minutes.”

“But is there a potential death factor?” I asked.

“One stunt went too far the other night,” said Nathan. “The toothpick stunt.”

“The toothpick stunt?” I asked.

“The toothpick stunt. I impaled my head on a toothpick and, when I pulled it out, the red red krovvy started to flow. Half the audience were delighted; the other half were horrified.”

“Krovvy?” I asked.

Bicyclist Nathan often wears a crash helmet in everyday life

“Haven’t you read A Clockwork Orange?”

“Print is dead,” I said. “I’ve only seen the film.”

“You don’t know Nadsat?”

“Let’s get back to The Stuntman,” I said. “What’s the elevator pitch?”

Evel Kneivel meets Wile E Coyote in Technicolor.”

“With deep canyons to fall down?”

“Not on this budget.”

“Why The Stuntman?”

“Because I really wanted to do a one-man show and it came about through Dr Brown’s clown workshops.”

“Tell me you’ve not been to Gaulier,” I pleaded.

“I’ve not been to Gaulier,” repeated Nathan. “And that makes me feel insecure.”

“But you have done clowning workshops?”

Nathan is not averse to potty training

“Yes. In a Spymonkey workshop, Aitor Basauri told me: Nathan. A clown costume for you, you need three things. Hair slicked back. Outfit very tight to your body. And heavy boots. Aitor is so amazing. He’s such a brilliant clown. Spymonkey are my idols – my clown idols.”

“Is he Hungarian?” I asked.

“Spanish.”

“Why does not having gone to Gaulier make you feel insecure?”

“Because he and his style are exalted and to be Gaulier-trained seems to me to be the pinnacle of clowning tuition. And also I can’t afford it.”

“It seems to me,” I suggested, “like people go to France, get insulted by Gaulier every day, then come back to Britain, sit on a stage a stare at people until something happens. I could do that.”

“I did Dr Brown’s Clowning in Nature in Wales,” said Nathan. “That was great.”

“Arranged by Adam Taffler?”I asked.

“Yes.”

“What is Adam doing now?” I asked. “Last time I met him, he seemed to be organising a sex orgy with philosophical undertones on top of a skyscraper in Docklands.”

“I think there was an Intimacy Convention,” said Nathan.

“That’ll be it,” I said. “I’m still not clear why you decided on a stuntman character.”

“I thought being a stuntman would be playing against type.”

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Hello to the Bye Bye Girls – Ruby Wax’s offspring – two Siblings on the Fringe

Marina (left) and Maddy Bye drinking it all in

Maddy and Marina Bye are real-life sisters performing their show Siblings at the Edinburgh Fringe. They are the daughters of comedy actress Ruby Wax and legendary TV comedy director Ed Bye.

Maddy went to the Gaulier clown school in Paris. Marina trained at the Guildhall theatre school in London.

So, obviously, I chatted to them.


JOHN: Your mother and father are both in showbiz…

MADDY: It’s weird. I don’t think either of us expected to be here doing this. It just sort of happened.

MARINA: I always liked to sing and dance and be a monkey slave for people. And Maddy did that too. But then I went to drama school to kind of pursue the acting career.

MADDY: And it was my godfather actually who sent me to clown school. I was working in PR in London and then I ran away to clown school in Paris.

JOHN: Who is your godfather?

MADDY: Alan Rickman.

JOHN: So Alan Rickman decided you shouldn’t be an actor.

MADDY: I should be a clown, yeah. Well, I was actually frickin’ lucky to have him in my life. I kiss the ground he walked on. One day I told him about Gaulier and he was like: What are you doing? You have to go.

JOHN (TO MARINA): But he didn’t tell you to go to clown school.

MARINA: No, he didn’t. I think he was quite happy I went to drama school. He was very supportive. He came to every single show I did there.

JOHN: Was your father a performer originally?

MARINA: No, but he’s so funny he should be.

MADDY: He’s just so funny. An English gentleman.

MARINA: That’s what’s great about our parents. My mum is very…

MADDY: One is very American and one is very British.

MARINA: Yeah. Two different characters. So I think Maddy and I have a really nice balance in our comedy because of that. It can be a bit showy and big… but then be very British.

JOHN: So you have decided to be sketch comedians… An art form that has died or is dying or is no longer popular…

MARINA: We’re bringing it back!

MADDY: If you wanted to categorise our show, I guess it would go into ‘sketch comedy’, but it’s not standard. Someone reviewed us by saying that the sketches start off quite sketchy but end in a sort of bizarre, uncomfortable clown world that doesn’t make much sense and is completely absurd. We really like being quite dark and…

MARINA: Our aim for every sketch is to start quite normal and structured and then shock as much as we can by taking it somewhere dark.

JOHN: Is there a single thread to the show?

MARINA: Yes. To do with us being siblings and rivals and me thinking I’m a lot better than Maddy because I have professional, classical training and Maddy saying: C’mon. No-one wants to see that! So it’s taking the piss out of that: I’m classically-trained! Everyone wants to see me!

MADDY: And I’m like the idiot, I guess.

MARINA: Yeah. But then you win… a lot!… Because no-one does want to see…

MADDY: And we’re taking the piss out of our actual selves.

MARINA: Completely. We’ve had to lose all sense of dignity.

JOHN: I’m not keen on dignity. I like a bit of quirky.

MARINA: I guess there’s the story of fisting up the arsehole in the film I was in.

JOHN: Fisting?

MARINA: I fisted a man up the arsehole to split into my male identical alien twin.

MADDY: It was a Neil Gaiman film.

JOHN: Ah!…

MARINA: The title was How To Talk To Girls at Parties.

JOHN: Ah!… So… In your Siblings show, are you playing characters or being yourselves?

MARINA: It’s really hard to explain.

MADDY: The majority of the show, we are characters.

MARINA: But we are ourselves at times – a heightened version of ourselves.

JOHN: You previewed the Siblings show at the Brighton Fringe.

MARINA: We did one show where everyone in the audience was just with us. You know that moment when you’re all on the wave together? We thought: Amazing! Wow! The next night we were sold out but fake blood spilt backstage so Maddy and I were, inexplicably, covered in fake blood for the entire show. People were not only laughing but also really concerned…

MADDY:…that we had stabbed ourselves backstage.

MARINA: I looked over at Maddy at one point and there was a gentle drop of blood running down her nose. I thought: This is really ruining the element of comedy.

MADDY: There was fake blood on someone’s face in the third row. We don’t know how it got there.

JOHN: Did the person in the third row know they had fake blood on them?

MADDY & MARINA (TOGETHER): No!

MARINA: We thought: Let’s just not say anything.

JOHN: The worst thing is that, for at least the next three years, you are going to be referred-to as Ruby Wax’s daughters rather than yourselves. That must be frustrating.

MARINA: My personal reaction is that I’m not at all ashamed that she is who she is. I think she’s amazing. And both our parents have been so supportive.

MADDY: It’s hard, maybe, when you know people have come in with a pre-conceived idea about your comedy or you as a person.

MARINA: We hope they will leave liking US.

MADDY: Liking or disliking US.

MARINA: Yes.

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Don’t Think Twice – When scripting a movie, a story is not the same as a plot.

Five days; two movie previews; two bizarre starts.

Last week, before a movie preview, comic Richard Gadd persuaded me he was half-Finnish and starred in the film. Neither was true.

Last night in London, I went to a preview of the movie Don’t Think Twice. I had not actually been invited. I was a last-minute stand-in as someone’s +1.

I arrived well before they did, explained to the PR people who I was and who I was with. We got right through to the point where my name badge had been written out, put in its plastic sheath and handed to me when I – for no real reason – asked: “This IS for the Don’t Think Twice preview, isn’t it?

It was not.

It was for a New Statesman talk on Brexit and Trump.

I was tempted to go to that because I actually HAD been invited to that event and had not been invited to the film preview.

But I took the movie title to heart and went to the Don’t Think Twice preview.

It was what used to be called a ‘talker’ screening and is now apparently called an ‘influencer’ screening. In this case, an audience of comics and comedy industry people.

Afterwards, one comedian told me they loved it. Another told me they thought it was awful. Yet another told me that, as long as they remained within the confines of the building, they would say it was very good.

As I wasn’t officially invited to this screening, I feel I can actually be honest about my thoughts.

The story is about a New York improvisational comedy group – they are middling fish in a small pond – all of whom see their next career step as being invited to be one of the regular performers in the TV show Weekend Live (a not-really disguised fictionalisation of Saturday Night Live). The publicity says the movie “tells a nuanced story of friendship, aspiration and the pain and promise of change”. And therein lies the problem.

Well acted, well-directed, well-intended, but only an OK script

Mike Birbiglia is the director/co-star (it is an ensemble piece). He is a comedy performer as are most of the cast. It is shot in a successfully easy-going style. But it falls prey to the problem of a movie created by actors about and for actors.

Actors are interested in building atmosphere, character and relationships.

Which is good.

But that ain’t plot.

The movie tells a story – Which, if any of them will get on the TV show? There is a sub-plot about their live theatre closing and the father of one of the performers is dying. And there is the thought: Will success spoil existing relationships?

But those are stories, not a movie-movie plot.

Clichés are clichés because they tend to be right.

The cliché plot structure is:

  • You start with a major unresolved problem. That is the ‘hook’.
  • The body of the film involves the unravelling of the problem.
  • The problem is resolved at the end of the film.
  • Along the way, the hook is refreshed and additional subsidiary temporary hooks are inserted and resolved while the main plot continues.

A subsidiary ‘rule’ in a movie-movie is breadth of scale and that, ideally, the entire set-up of the movie, the main characters and the hook are established in the first 2-4 minutes. (The best example I have ever seen of this is the original Die Hard movie in which everything is set-up, including an important back-story, under the opening titles.)

Don’t Think Twice starts with sequences which establish the main characters and the general setting but the main hook (the not-quite-strong-enough Saturday Night Live Will-they?/Won’t-they? plot) is brought in far too late.

The film is high on atmosphere and fine on characters. Good.

It has a story.

But not a gripping plot structure.

There is nothing particularly wrong with it as a piece of entertainment. It will probably feel better watched on a TV or computer screen at home rather than in a cinema because it is not a movie-movie. It is a TV movie or (in olden days) a straight-to-DVD movie.

It got some laughs of recognition from the rather industry audience I saw it with. But, at its heart, it is a movie created by performers, about performers and for performers. Average punters Dave and Sue in Essex or Ohio, in South London or East LA have no real reason to be gripped.

‘Story’ is not the same as ‘plot’.

But – Hey! – What do I know? I did not like the multi-5-star-reviewed Finnish film The Other Side of Hope and liked Guy Ritchie’s $175 million mega audience disaster King Arthur.

Don’t Think Twice was shown in the US last year. It opened on one screen in New York City and grossed $92,835 in its opening weekend, the highest per-screen gross of 2016. Rotten Tomatoes currently gives the film an approval rating of 99% based on 111 reviews.

What do I know?

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A meeting in a sex shop led me to tea with actor William Sebag-Montefiore.

Hell and a meeting in a sex shop brought me together with William Sebag-Montefiore.

In January last year, I wrote a blog about the shooting of a sitcom pilot called Hell, set in a sex shop.

Well, OK, it was a film set pretending to be a sex shop.

The would-be TV sitcom pilot was eventually re-titled Whipped, posted on YouTube and, at the time of writing this, has had over 365,000 hits. Another result was that, last week, I had tea at the Soho Theatre Bar with William Sebag-Montefiore. He had acted in the film.

I figured: He must be related to British historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore. How many Sebag-Montefiores can there be around? And Wikipedia said Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s great-great-uncle was an international financier who worked with the Rothschild family.

I thought: I might get a free cup of tea out of this.

And I did… but…

William told me: “We’re not really that related. Simon Sebag-Montefiore is my cousin twice removed. I have a name that sounds like I have connections but, in reality, I don’t. I was brought up in Leeds. My mum is Scottish; my dad is Canadian. My grandma is from Inchinnan in Glasgow.”

“Have you got siblings?” I asked.

“Two younger sisters. One’s at the University of Essex studying International Relations. The other is a nurse. So she saves people’s lives and I run around pretending to be someone else.”

“Are there other thespians in the family?”

“My dad’s a clinical oncologist and my mum is a Special Needs Assistant.”

“So no thespian tendencies?” I asked.

“When dad was at medical school,” William proffered, “he did all the comedy revues and used to sing a song called Praise The Colo-rectal Surgeon. And mum loved Billy Connolly.”

“Do you have any medical tendencies?” I asked.

“Well, when I was 17 and started working in a bar, I thought about being a paramedic. It might have been because I watched Casualty on TV when I was a kid. Maybe I just want to be in Casualty. In fact, I still do.”

“You wanted to be an actor?” I asked.

“I am an actor,” William said. “I did a year’s Masters at the Central School of Speech and Drama.”

“Acting is easy, isn’t it?” I asked. “You just have to pretend to be somebody else.”

“I was doing an hour-long one-man show,” said William, “which was a terrifying experience. An hour of me talking and it was not comedy. It was a play about a man made out of newspaper: The Inevitable Disappearance of Edward J Neverwhere, written by a gentleman called Igor Memic.”

“Surely,” I suggested, “doing an hour acting as someone else is not as terrifying as doing an hour of stand-up comedy as yourself?”

William with a hot tea sheath and a crushed Kit-Kat wrapper in London’s Soho Theatre Bar

“I haven’t done stand-up,” said William, “because of the autobiographical angle. I can’t find a way of expressing myself through it, because I would be doing an imitation of someone like Stewart Lee – and a poor one.”

“But you could always be a character comedian?” I suggested.

“I think the problem,” said William, “is more that there’s an hour of responsibility on me. The reason I like acting is because I like listening and responding. When I like watching actors on stage, it’s when they’re listening and reacting. When it’s live, it has to change all the time and, when there is another person there, if you lose focus for a second, the likelihood is they will stay focussed and bring you back in. But, if you are on your own…

“We were doing that terrifying one-man show in a listed building in Peckham – as part of The BasicSpace Festival – and somebody with four dogs knocked on the door saying: Someone told me I could watch the show.

Somebody with four dogs knocked…

“He was just a bit of a local oddball. I stood there, looked at him and thought: I have to acknowledge it. So I looked over at the door, looked back and had no idea where I was in the script. There is that responsibility of focus and continuation…”

“Now you are doing sketch comedy,” I said. “You seem very trendy. Sketch comedy is out of fashion, isn’t it? What’s the attraction?”

“I just think it’s silly and it’s fun. The thing that really made me love it was radio sketch comedy –  John Finnemore and his Souvenir radio programme.

“I tried to write a sketch when I was about 10 or 11 which was directly copied from a Harry Enfield sketch about someone coming round to rob a house but they were like a door-to-door salesman.

“And I did a lot of improvisation and sketch comedy at Newcastle University. I studied English Literature, then graduated from Central and went into this industry where I thought: Everyone will want me for everything and I’ll be in a Hollywood film in a year… But people soon told me: Ah! That’s not how it works and now TV only makes sitcoms with established comedians.”

“Do you consider yourself,” I asked, “to be an actor or a comedy performer?”

“I am an actor who does comedy. People have put me more in the comedy bracket which is great, because that’s the stuff I like to create.”

“And.” I said, “you are now forced to have tea with me to plug the show you are doing at the Canal Cafe Theatre in London on 7th and 8th April – Just These, Please. Will it make your fortune?”

Just These, Please foursome together – (L-R) Georgie Jones, William Sebag-Montefiore, Philippa Carson & Tom Dickson

“We won’t make money out of the show. It’s for love of the form and wanting to get our name out there. We are a comedy sketch group, but we are all writing sitcoms and stuff and having pipedreams. There’s this hope that we will be so endearing and hilarious that people will think: We need to put these guys everywhere.”

“You’re a foursome.”

“Yes. Tom Dickson and I met at Newcastle University, in a play where we were brothers with exceptionally questionable Irish accents. Now he is a trainee lawyer, so he has a real career in him. It was revealed to us that our Irish accents were questionable by one of the girls in our troupe: Philippa Carson, who’s intimidatingly talented – an award-winning film editor and actress. She went to film school; she’s an improviser. And Georgie Jones is our other member – she’s a member of the National Youth Theatre and in the poetry collective at the Roundhouse Theatre. Fundamentally, they’re just hilarious women and very talented actresses.

Just These, Please at Canal Cafe Theatre

“The group has, technically, been going for about two years. We did one show with about 30 sketches about two years ago but then did nothing. We filmed some sketches but haven’t yet released them. Since last October, we’ve written 60 new sketches for this one.”

“So is the future going to be YouTube?” I asked.

“I think so. We have about four sketches – our longest one runs maybe 5 or 6 minutes – filmed and we are waiting to find the right time to release them.”

“Which is?”

“Exactly. This is the problem with a bunch of creatives trying to do the business side of it. I would say around the summer time.

“I’m also a member of an improv group called Very Serious People who have a monthly residency at the Bridewell Theatre near Blackfriars. Maybe I like doing too many things.”

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Two stars. Two totally different acting methods. One worried movie director.

The Legend of Hell House poster

When I was a kid growing up, living with my parents, watching television a lot, there were two people who established in my brain the importance of the director.

One was Mike Hodges, who directed some of the ultra-stylish ABC TV Arts series Tempo. He went on to direct movies including Get Carter and Flash Gordon.

John Hough

John Hough’s feature films include Escape to Witch Mountain, The Watcher in the Woods, Twins of Evil and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

The other was John Hough (pronounced ‘Huff’) who directed five years worth of The Avengers TV series under producer Albert Fennell.

I always reckon, if you see an Avengers scene shot through an empty wine glass or with exceptionally arty angles, it was a John Hough episode.

Last night I went to a rare screening of The Legend of Hell House, a movie produced by Albert Fennell and directed in 1973 by John Hough from a script by the brilliant Richard Matheson based on his own superb humdinger of a novel Hell House.

After the screening finished, John Hough was asked which actors he most enjoyed working with in his career.

John Cassavetes,” he replied, “was really interesting to work with. I did a couple of films with him (Brass Target and The Incubus). He genuinely never read the script. He would ask: What’s the situation? He just wanted to know what the scene was about and how the character was feeling and then he would ad-lib the scene brilliantly.

John Cassavetes co-starred with Sophia Loren in Brass Target

John Cassavetes co-starred with Sophia Loren in Brass Target

“But, when I did a picture with him and Sophia Loren (Brass Target) she could not ad-lib so, when I said Action! she was waiting for him to say what was in the script and he didn’t say that. I was in big trouble there. She couldn’t do it.

“So I rang up MGM – it was their picture – and the answer came back: The poster reads SOPHIA LOREN… and John Cassavetes. So he had to learn the script.”

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Filed under Acting, Movies