Tag Archives: Brechtian

An example of how to promote a comedy show – or three – or not

(L-R) Andy Barr, Nathan Willcock and Phil Jarvis at Soho theatre yesterday.

(L-R) Andy Barr, Nathan Willcock and Phil Jarvis at the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday with Jeremy Spake and Baby Spice.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a message from comedy performer Phil Jarvis saying:

Hi John. Is there any chance myself and Andy Barr can plug a few odd shows we have lined up to you? We can bring Creme Eggs.

When I arrived at Soho Theatre yesterday, there were three of them – people, not eggs – Nathan Willcock was a late addition – and they gave me a scanned photograph of Baby Spice holding a pizza plus a photo of a man with a slight beard.

“Who is that?” I asked Phil Jarvis.

“Nathan Willcock,” replied Phil Jarvis.

“No,” I said. “The man in the photo.”

“That is Jeremy Spake,” Phil told me. “From the 1990s TV reality show Airport.”

“And your show is…?” I asked.

“We’ve got a show called Kafka or Magaluf.”

“What is it about?”

I had thought it was a relatively simple question.

But there was a long, long pause.

Eventually, Andy came up with: “Malcolm Julian Swan is attempting to run a nightclub… erm…” There was another long pause. “But he is also interested in Marxist theatre.” He looked at Phil for confirmation.

Phil returned his look, slightly surprised.

Malcolm Julian Swan is an on-stage alter ego of Phil.

“We have,” Phil told me, “got some jungle music as an intro. And we’ve got a DJ in the show as well.”

“A proper DJ?” I asked.

“A proper DJ, yeah,” he said.

“Who wears it?” I asked.

Malcolm Julian Swan aka Phil Jarvis in a previous incarnation

Malcolm Julian Swan aka Phil Jarvis in a previous incarnation

Phil ignored me. “His name is Callum Vaughan. He lets us crash in his spare room… And we’ve got some Velcro. That’s pretty much it… It’s us trying to be Marxist theatre, Brechtian types. Malcolm Julian Swan – the character I made up – is quite a pretentious, avant-garde guy who lives in Basingstoke – He is sort-of based on myself.”

“You live in Basingstoke?” I asked. “I am terribly sorry.”

“It has its perks,” he told me.

“Does,” I asked, “a cockroach appear in the show at any point?”

“We’ve got some bits where we put Velcro on people. That’s about as close as we get to a cockroach. I was going to re-read Kafka’s Metamorphosis before doing this, but that never worked out…”

“What was the last book you did read?” I asked.

“It was a book by Jeremy Spake about working in an airport.”

“And where is Kafka or Magaluf going to be performed?” I asked.

I had thought it was a relatively simple question.

Phil looked at Andy.

“Where is it happening?” he asked.

There was a pause.

No-one answered.

Then someone said: “The Criterion Free House at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival this Saturday.”

Cockroaches or Velcro? Kafka or Magaluf? Eh? Who knows?

Cockroaches or Velcro? Kafka or Magaluf? Eh? Who knows?

“Are you an ongoing threesome?” I asked.

“I’m not in Kafka or Magaluf,” Nathan told me.

“If we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe,” Phil told me, “he has said he will be in it.”

“Are you definitely going to take it to Edinburgh?” I asked.

“Might do,” Phil said, “but the thing we are definitely taking to the Fringe is The Abridged Dapper 11-Hour Monochrome Dream Show.

“Dapper?” I asked.

“We are reclaiming the word Dapper,” Phil told me.

“From whom?” I asked.

Dapper Laughs.”

“Because?”

“Because he’s a cunt. So it’s worth claiming it back cos it’s a tarnished word.”

“How long does your 11-hour show last?” I asked.

“One hour,” said Andy. “Originally, we were going to do it as 11 hours, but it’s abridged. If you know anywhere that will let us do it for 11 hours, we will do that.”

“It would be a free show?” I asked.

“Oh,” laughed Phil. “Oh yes. No-one will want to pay money to come and see it!”

“Did you,” I asked, “flyer for your Edinburgh Fringe show last year?”

“I gave out some IKEA instructions for assembling furniture,” said Phil, “and wrote my phone number down on it and said Come… About 15 people came! We did two days.”

“The first day,” said Andy, “we got about five people in.”

“But that,” I reminded him, “is around the average audience size at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“We could,” mused Phil, “do the full 11-hour show on the Megabus from John O’Groats to Edinburgh.”

The back end of a MegaBus

The back end of a Megabus aka possible venue

Last year, Phil came up with an idea for an Edinburgh Fringe show in which comedians would rotate getting on the Megabus for a month and videoing a live feed onto Skype which would be projected in to a room in Edinburgh. Sadly it came to naught.

“This new show,” said Phil, “The Abridged Dapper 11-Hour Monochrome Dream Show… It was thought-up in Michael Brunström’s garden… at a barbecue. We were all sitting round talking and it came out of that.”

“I went to the toilet,” explained Andy, “and, when I came back, they had conceived a Fringe show.”

“Was it a long visit to the toilet?” I asked.

“Well,” Andy told me, “it was fairly… was fairly… Well, I was checking the Tweets, you know?”

“So Andy comes back,”explained Phil, “and it ends up Andy was the only one who was in the show. Everyone else who originally agreed to be in it has pulled out.”

“They’ve all distanced themselves from it,” said Nathan.

“What is it about?” I asked.

There was a short pause.

Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

“It was originally going to be about the Apocalypse,” said Phil, “but now it’s just dreams – sketches about the Apocalypse. Well, it’s not sketches. it’s dreams.”

“The key difference being,” said Nathan, “that there is absolutely zero narrative thrust to any of the dreams.”

“We don’t really know what it’s going to be” explained Phil. “The key thing is that something is going to happen at a preview in London on the 24th of March. It’s a happening. That’s what we do. It’s happening. A happening. It’s a dream happening.”

Andy added: “We just hope Phil’s gonna keep his clothes on this time.”

“I will be trying to keep them on,” said Phil.

“Oh,” I said.

“The other thing we want to plug,” Phil continued, “is that Andy’s starting a new comedy night on 3rd March called The Apocalypse Survivors’ Club.”

“The idea,” explained Andy, “is that an Apocalypse has happened and all culture has been wiped from the face of the earth, aside from a few bits and pieces.”

“Where is this?” I asked.

“Dalston,” replied Andy.

“At the Ophelia,” said Phil.

“How do you spell that?” I asked. He told me. “Just checking,” I told him.

“We will,” Andy continued, “have some acts on trying to re-build culture after the Apocalypse.”

(Foreground) Cassie Atkinson looks forward to an evening with Andy Bar

(Foreground) Cassie Atkinson keen to spend an evening with Andy Barr and other Apocalypse Survivors’ Club members

“Acts?” I asked.

“The first night,” said Andy, “has Alexander Bennett, Michael Brunström, Cassie Atkinson, Fern Brady and a poet called Michael Clarke. It’s just a new material night. We can use it as a testing ground for stuff we might put in later shows and Phil is my assistant.”

“We were thinking,” said Nathan, “of starting the first show with Donald Trump causing the Apocalypse and then we’re all around the camp fire and link the sketches through that. But Andy immediately said: That’s too much structure.”

“I am more worried,” I said, “by the phrase ‘we’re all around the camp fire’…”

“It is good to keep an element of fear,” said Phil.

“We could get a laptop of a burning fire…” mused Nathan.

“And,” said Andy, “just burn the laptop.”

“That’s too logical,” said Nathan.

When I left, Phil gave me part of the script for Kafka or Magaluf. It starts:

Sam and Andy walk out to the audience and hand out quotes from Karl Marx, Groucho Marx and Harpo Marx…

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The very highly talented and now slightly forgotten Anthony Newley

(A slightly revised version of this blog was published in the Huffington Post)

When I got back from the Edinburgh Fringe at the start of last week, the newly-released DVD collection of The Strange World of Gurney Slade was waiting for me – a TV series by the immensly talented Anthony Newley so obscure that even the word ‘cult’ cannot be attached to it, although its style allegedly influenced the young David Bowie.

When originally transmitted on ITV’s sole channel in 1960, the first two episodes were screened to general apathy at 8.35pm on (from memory) Friday nights, but were then quickly moved to the graveyard slot of 11.10pm.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade was far too strange and avant garde for the mass audience and did not quite have the right ingredients to be a cult for Guardian-reading trendies.

But strange and quirky it certainly is.

The Prisoner – which, when first transmitted in 1967/1968, received high levels not of apathy but of active dislike, became a lasting cult success – I suspect, partly because it was screened in the US so had a wider fan base… and partly because it was transmitted on ITV at 7.30pm peaktime on Sundays

But, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is weird even for a surreal neo-Brechtian fantasy. Even so, it was but a mild trial run for Tony Newley’s 1969 all-stops-pulled-out feature film jaw-dropper of a Fellini-esque fantasy Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Merchant Humppe and Find True Happiness?   

Newley – a creative all-rounder – singer, songwriter, actor, director, fantasist – will be remembered, if at all, as an idiosyncratic performer and writer of mainstream songs. But he should also be rated as a considerable experimental creator of visual fantasies.

I have blogged previously about my only encounter with Tony Newley – and it was a very favourable encounter. He impressed me as a person.

TV producer Danny Greenstone knew Newley peripherally through theatrical agent Jeremy Hicks, who had been the company stage manager for Newley’s West End musical The Good Old Bad Old Days and spent a year working with Newley at the Prince of Wales theatre in London.

In The Good Old Bad Old Days, Newley played the Devil and wore horns and a tail, the edge of which he used in the show to peel an apple. Before going on stage, he always took a swig from his ‘honey flask’. Danny Greenstone says:

“Lord only knows what formula was in there but it did contain honey as well. After taking a swig, he would stomp on stage, perform and stomp off again on cue. As he came off stage, he would reach for the honey flask again and, referring to the the bit of business or gag or song he had just performed, would mutter under his breath: ‘Masterly…. Masterly….’.

“During the interval, his favourite thing to do, with various members of the cast – but notably with Bill Kerr – would be to sit and watch videos of The Bilko Show, one of his very favourites.

“For the 50th performance of The Good Old Bad Old Days, he and his writing partner Leslie Bricusse wrote parody lyrics to fit all sixteen of the show’s songs for a celebration party held in the circle bar of the Prince of Wales for all the cast and crew. I have that recording. I also have a whole recording of the show from start to finish and it’s a crime that the original cast recording (once available on cassette and LP) has never been made available on CD.

“When my daughter Katy was about eight years old I took her to see Newley perform at the Dominion Theatre in London, where he was appearing as Ebeneezer in Bricusse’s musical adaptation of Scrooge!. I had rung him beforehand to say we were coming (we had front row seats) and asked if we could come round and see him after the show. It was New Year’s Eve.

“In typical Newley fashion he said: ‘No! Come round before… and then come round after…‘.

“We met him in his dressing room, which was lovingly adorned with posters from the films he’d appeared in and we spent a good half hour just chatting happily. He laughed his way through at least 28 of those 30 minutes while removing the scalp latex that covered his own hair during the show in which he had a long grey wig as Ebeneezer Scrooge. We both watched, transfixed, as he removed the makeup and prosthetics.

“He took Katy’s hand, kissed it, took her programme and wrote on it – with a silver gel pen – To Katy – you are very beautiful. I still have it. I don’t think it meant very much to an eight year old, but it meant the world to me.

“He told us of his plans to create a musical based on the life and career of Charles Chaplin. We wished him a very Happy New Year ahead and much success with everything.

“The Chaplin musical (co-written with Stanley Ralph Ross, an American who also wrote for the Batman series and the Monkees series on US TV, was doomed to never get onto Broadway or anywhere near the UK.

“The Chaplin estate denied Newley rights to portray the image of the Little Tramp character for reasons we can only guess at.

“And  three years later, after a fleeting appearance in BBC TV’s EastEnders and far more sumptuous but likewise fleeting appearances as The Bishop in BBC TV’s The Lakes, Tony Newley was dead.”

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Filed under Comedy, Music, Television, Theatre