Tag Archives: Full Monty

Nudity among the English, the East Germans, art colleges and comedians

Matt Roper chatted to my eternally-un-named-friend yesterday

Matt chatted to my eternally-un-named-friend yesterday

“What’s it like being naked on stage?” my eternally-un-named-friend asked my temporary lodger Matt Roper in my living room last night.

Matt is performing with the Greatest Show on Legs in Totnes, Devon, next Friday night. This inevitably involves performing the naked balloon dance.

“You’ve just got to get on with it really,” replied Matt. “there’s no time to consider being nervous or not nervous: you’ve got to go on and do it. I think it’s a great honour to be naked on stage with nothing but a balloon and your socks on as part of Martin Soan’s Greatest Show on Legs.”

“I’m just going to urinate,” I said and went upstairs to the toilet. My iPhone kept recording.

Martin Soan chats to an audience member after last night’s show

Martin Soan stands around naked

“Martin is quite used to being naked,” my eternally-un-named-friend told Matt after I had left. “He’s done this sort of show a lot, so he ends up just standing around almost forgetting he IS naked. In my family, we were very familiar with walking around naked in the house. John’s family was not.”

“My family was not a nudie house at all,” said Matt.

“You didn’t sit and chat to your sister while she was in the bath?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“We probably did when we were all little,” said Matt. “I was by far the youngest. At what point does it stop?”

“In Germany,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, there’s a park in Munich where everyone’s naked.”

“And,” said Matt, “when the East German state was in existence, nude beaches and nude life was a big part of the state culture, because you can have equality when everybody’s naked.”

“But in England,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “it’s not acceptable at all.”

Matt Roper, Alex Frackleton and Czech friend

Matt (left) is not un-used to oddity

“Maybe I’m a little bit different,” said Matt, “because I’ve been so much submerged into alternative culture with Totnes and all of that. And nudity isn’t a big deal at festivals. Being naked and drunk at festivals, covered in mud.”

At this point I came back in the room.

“John doesn’t walk naked around the house at all,” said Matt.

“Ye Gods,” I said. “What have I missed?”

“Martin,” said Matt, “is in better shape than all of us in the Greatest Show on Legs and he’s the oldest.”

“It’s his lentils,” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“Is that what you call them?” I asked.

“They’re keeping him fit and regular,” continued my eternally-un-named-friend. “And he doesn’t have a sweet tooth.”

“No,” said Matt, “ but he smokes and drinks and…”

“It just goes to show what poison sugar is,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “He’s been here at John’s and you bring out the chocolate and he doesn’t touch it.”

“Martin,” said Matt, “banned sweets for his two daughters when they were growing up. I think he used to let them have sweets or chocolate on a Saturday. His daughters thought that sweets were illegal except on a Saturday. I grew up on all sorts of shite. Lots of E numbers and crisps.”

My eternally-un-named friend in Nuremberg

My eternally-un-named-friend has been a life model

“Did you mention you were a life model,” I asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“I was sort-of comfortable about it,” she explained, “except I wanted to be actually drawing instead of being the model. And keeping still is a real drag.”

“For how long?” asked Matt.

“Possibly a half hour. But within ten minutes you’re in agony. You can’t find a position to stay in that’s comfortable unless you’re flat on your back.”

“I’m saying nothing,” I said.

“Where was this?” asked Matt.

Goldsmiths and other arts colleges.”

“Were you happy with the results?” asked Matt.

“No. They were just averagy.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“In my early twenties.”

“How about naked balloons?” Matt asked. “Would you be comfortable with nudity for comedy purposes?”

“What? Me doing it?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“Yes.”

The Greatest Show on Legs' balloon dance

A previous Greatest Show on Legs balloon dance

“I would not be comfortable with me doing something DRESSED for comedy purposes!” she laughed.

“The trouble with including a woman,” I said, “is that the balloon dance with the Greatest Show on Legs is asexual…”

“Yes,” said Matt. “That’s why we keep our socks on. There is something that de-sexualises it. Three naked men with their socks on.”

“I thought Martin should advertise socks,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “I thought he could get sponsorship. He was wearing £30 spotted socks that his eldest daughter had got him when she was working at a posh men’s clothing company.”

Martin Soan earlier this week, naked on radio

Soan wore socks on Schaffer’s radio show

“On stage?” asked Matt.

“No,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “He was on a Lewis Schaffer‘s radio show and he had decided to do it naked.”

“There was,” I said, “a Malcolm Hardee Awards Show I staged in Edinburgh where a woman comic told me she wanted to take part in the naked balloon dance and I thought about it but figured you couldn’t add a naked woman because it would become sexual and then, also, there’s a physical problem because she has three bits to hide with two balloons whereas a man only really has one bit.”

“Why would it be sexual if you added in a woman?” asked Matt.

“I dunno,” I said. “I just felt it would.”

“I saw a funny act,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “where a woman had a balloon stuffed down her shorts and she was taking the piss out of the Ch… the Ch…”

“The Chechnyan freedom fighters?” I asked.

“The Chipperfields?” suggested my eternally-un-named-friend.

The Chippendales,” I said.

“Have you ever,” Matt asked my eternally-un-named-friend, “seen women at a male strip show: the way they behave?”

“Only on television,” she replied.

The Full Monty has a lot to answer for

The Full Monty movie has a lot to answer for

“Years ago, when I was eighteen,” said Matt, “I worked in a pub up north and they had a strip night in one of the rooms and I was on the bar and they were doing obscene things to the strippers.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Everything apart from full sex.”

“Oral?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Matt.

“This was just an ordinary pub?” I asked.

“Just an ordinary pub. I can’t remember what the occasion was. It could have been the Sandbach Ladies’ Darts Society.”

“Did they have erections?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“The Sandbach Ladies’ Darts Society?”

“No. The guys.”

“Yes. But they kind of go out and, I guess ‘fluff’ themselves and then tie it up with an elastic band to keep the blood…”

New Legs (left to right) Adam Taffler, Matt Roper, Martin Soan use sanitised rubber bands

Greatest Show on Legs demonstrate one use for rubber bands

“Oh gawd!” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“…to make it look erect,” continued Matt, “when it’s perhaps not naturally erect.”

“Tying it with an elastic band?” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“I think that’s pretty common,” said Matt.

“Well,” I said, “the Greatest Show of Legs always carry elastic bands for their Michael Jackson’s Thriller routine…”

“Which brings us back to Totnes,” said Matt.

“Are you the permanent third member of the Greatest Show on Legs?” I asked. “After the second we can’t mention.”

“I think it will probably have a rotating cast of members.”

“You will be rotating members?” I asked.

“Let’s talk about Totnes on Friday 21st,” said Matt. “The naked balloon dance is coming home. It was invented in Totnes. And (Matt’s on-stage character) Wilfredo, too, was invented in Totnes.”

“Both?” I asked.

“It is a fantastic place to live,” said Matt, “and it’s full of very creative, interesting people – a nice community – but there’s a very precious, almost slightly pretentious side to its attitude to art or artists’ attitude to their own art.”

“You don’t want to be quoted saying that,” I suggested.

“I’m quite comfortable saying it,” said Matt. “Martin and Malcolm (Hardee) had come across a group of militant feminists who were having a weekly meeting about how to wipe out Chinese foot-binding.”

“I think,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “that John wrote about it in a blog.”

“I might have done,” I said. “I don’t read my blogs.”

“So they just created the balloon dance,” said Matt, “as a kind of statement.”

Wilfredo comforts Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her chin

Wilfredo seduces comedy critic Kate Copstick

“And,” my eternally-un-named-friend asked Matt, “you created Wilfredo because…?”

“I was sick and tired of how seriously people were taking themselves and…”

“Keep talking,” I said, “I’m watching the penguin…”

The John Lewis Christmas ad was on TV.

“I’m watching the penguin too,” said Matt.

I switched off my iPhone and we watched the penguin.

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Police corruption and the excessive use of four-letter swear words in Ireland

Last week, I was talking to someone about the Isle of Man and the subject of political corruption came up.

“I think maybe the Isle of Man is too small to be a country,” I said. “It’s like Ireland. Almost everyone in any position of power in Dublin seems to have gone to school or college or is very matey with everyone else in any position of power. The place is inherently corrupt because it is too small.”

And, indeed, I worry about an independent Scotland for the same reason.

This conversation came back to me when I saw the Irish movie The Guard yesterday, which has collected a fair amount of word-of-mouth enthusiasm. It has been called “subversive”, presumably because of its casual acceptance of corruption.

The phrase ‘The Guard’, by the way, is used as in someone who is a member of the Irish police force, the Garda

It is a very funny little film starring the always-good Brendan Gleeson as a village policeman in the West of Ireland. He uses prostitutes, has taken cocaine and ecstasy and swears casually. Which I found was part of the slight (but only slight) problem with the script.

What this film is… is a modest, easygoing Victoria Wood or Alan Bennett film set in Ireland, in the same genre as Brassed Off or Hear My Song or The Full Monty. It is quintessentially a small British (Isles) film. As I said in yesterday’s blog, let us not get into distinctions between British and Irish.

The Guard is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, who has said (obviously) he would be quite happy if his $6 million movie did the same amount of business at the box office as The King’s Speech (which has currently grossed around $386 million on a $15 million budget).

In fact, I think The Guard stood more chance as another Full Monty ($257 million gross on a $3.5 million budget) because it has neither the big historic story nor the middle-of-the-road appeal of The King’s Speech.

The plot of The Guard is spiced up with the arrival of FBI agent Don Cheadle, who is black, allowing for streams of non-PC  comment from the local cop – which we are never totally sure is real or tongue-in-cheek.

Which is fine.

The trouble is the swearing.

There is too much of it.

The first 20 minutes is full of “fucking” this and “fucking” that, as if the film is nervous it is too middle-of-the-road and is trying to establish itself as a movie not just for middle-aged lovers of Victoria Wood humour but for ‘the kids’ in ‘the Projects’. The trouble is that the excessive swearing is likely to alienate the audience that made The King’s Speech such a blockbuster and, as far as I can see, it is just plain unrealistic.

I just do not buy into the fact that the local policemen, whatever his foibles, and his mother and, it seems most of the population of rural Connemara/Galway are going around swearing like fucking troopers in fucking casual fucking conversation. It tails off after the first 20 minutes, but it remains distracting and unnecessary. It is as if North Dublin speech rhythms had been imported into a rural West of Ireland setting.

I also did not swallow the idea that three down-market scumbag heroin smugglers (and they are established as that) would be discussing Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and Dylan Thomas… nor that locals would be mentioning Dostoyevsky and Gogol in casual conversation.

Perhaps this is an attempt to ‘do a Tarantino’ with the script, but his characters tend to discuss Madonna lyrics and hamburgers.

It was, at the very least, distracting.

But I am being far too critical of The Guard. It is a very enjoyable small-scale film – and very funny – though I think it has been damaged by trying to make it more commercial.

But, then, who am I to tell anyone how to make a more commercial film?

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Is Matt Roper the new Steve Coogan or is that just a trite headline for this blog?

Comedian and actor Matt Roper got his first Fringe review yesterday. It was a 4-star review from What’s On Stage and began:

“It’s always an especial joy at the fringe when a show you had feared could be a stinker comes up smelling of roses…”

Matt is the son of George Roper, one of The Comedians in the seminal 1970s ITV series which introduced the rest of the UK to successful Northern comics including Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, Stan Boardman and Jim Bowen.

Whether it is correct to call Matt a “comedian” is a moot point. I think he is really an actor with deep comic genes built-into his body.

I saw his Wilfredo – Erecto! show at the Underbelly in Edinburgh last night. I had previously seen it in London, but it has been tweaked and refined (not a word you might normally associate with the character Wilfredo).

The audience reaction last night was extraordinary. There were two points at which he had to actually pause before continuing the show because the giggling was so loudly overwhelming.

There was an entire row composed of Underbelly staff who had come in to see the show (I suspect not for the first time) and they had almost lost all self-control, doubling over in giggles. But the giggling and laughter was widespread throughout the audience.

We are not talking single belly-laughs at specific jokes here. We are talking uncontrollable giggles at the character, the performance and nuances of the script/ad libs. And the whole audience was very definitely laughing WITH not at the character of Wilfredo – a spittle-spewing, slightly seedy Spanish singer and would-be Lothario.

The 4-star What’s On Stage review makes one highly perceptive observation which I would not have thought of but which is spot-on. It says Matt “at his best, shows traces of Steve Coogan in his ability to embody a preposterous alter-ego”.

In a sense, if you see only his Wilfredo character you might underestimate Matt Roper’s full potential.

At the Phoenix, as part of the Free Festival, he plays a Satanic spin doctor in the political satire Lucifer: My Part in the New Labour Project (And How I Invented Coalition Government) – I saw an earlier version of the play at the Canal Cafe in London.

It is only when you see the two totally different characters – and, indeed, meet the real Matt Roper off stage – that you realise how much you are taken in by the characterisation. You are suckered into a willing suspension of disbelief almost without realising it. They are all clearly created characters not 100% realistic (just as Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge is not truly realistic but a semi-cartoon character). But audiences are engulfed by the fantasy.

I have not been so impressed by an actor’s range since I saw Robert Carlyle in The Full Monty and then, two days later, in Face. He performed the characters and their body language so utterly differently yet so believably within their own context that… I would not have realised just how good an actor he is if I had not seen them so close together. It was a bit like the shock of listening to Robert Carlyle’s totally convincing Northern England and South London accents in those movies, then hearing him speak in his own very strong Glaswegian accent.

Matt Roper moves, speaks and looks so totally different in his Wilfredo, French and political spin doctor characters that you only realise just how good he is and what his potential is when you see all of them close together.

Charlie Chuck currently sings a song on stage at the Fringe – I’m Not All There: There’s Something Missing.

With Matt Roper, there is even more there than at first meets the eye and I suspect much more to come.

Next year at the Fringe, he should perform a show comprising multiple characters as a showcase for his immense potential. It would be difficult to pull off because of the costume changes but not impossible.

There is a fascinating potential here.

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