Tag Archives: musical

Candy Gigi – Ethel Merman meets Lionel Bart in a 5-Stars-of-David show

Candy Gigi in London last night with composer and musical accompanist Jordan Clarke

I almost never do reviews in this blog but – hey! – if it involves a bit of self-publicity too…

The late Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards had a halfway-decent hit rate, including spotting future US successes Trevor Noah, Bo Burnham and Reggie Watts.

In 2014, we gave the main award for Comic Originality to Candy Gigi.

Last night I saw a beyond-barnstorming London preview of her Edinburgh Fringe show this year: Friday Night Sinner.

It is an astounding abso-fucking-lutely gross-out musical about a frustrated young, wildly psychopathic Jewish girl’s life and marriage in Borehamwood.  

The poster bills it (and this rather understates the case) as:

and the blurb listing says: “This deluded, narcissistic, unsatisfied occasionally violent woman has delusions of grandeur and wants to become the biggest star in the universe – or at least in Borehamwood.”

Far too OTT to be staged by any mainstream West End Theatre, but with superbly tuneful songs by Jordan Clarke performed by Candy Gigi with belting all-stops-out passion, including Borehamwood!, Finishing What Hitler Started and the hopefully/possibly prophetic She Will Be a Star. 

This (certainly in the preview last night) is a 5-Stars-of David show.

There is a clever line in one of the songs about wanting to be “a Jewish Barbra Streisand“.

But it felt more to me like Ethel Merman Meets Lionel Bart in some unholy, foul-mouthed, foul-imaged, sweet-tuned union.

It will be a bloody miracle if Candy Gigi’s voice lasts out for the whole 3½ weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe.

I always thought she had immense potential though what on earth she could do with it I was never quite sure. Now I know. Candy Gigi should be on the West End and Broadway stage in a musical (with words and images that don’t make your aged aunt or Miss Marmelstein blush).

One warning:

As with all Candy Gigi shows, do not sit in the front rows unless you enjoy imminent physical peril.

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Yesterday’s quirky day from The Great Terror to a woman not playing a horse

Nick Awde singing opera in the streets of Edinburgh yesterday

Nick Awde seemingly sings opera in Edinburgh’s streets

In my opinion, this blog may meander around a bit in its subjects, but one uniting factor is a little bit of quirky detail. And yesterday had some quirkiness woven into it.

I had bumped into Nick Awde the day before.

He is a writer and critic for entertainment industry weekly The Stage, has published books under his Desert Hearts imprint by comedy people Phil Kay and Bob Slayer and he himself co-wrote Pete and Dud: Come Again (about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and, solo, wrote Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show which (as a title) Ellis & Rose infamously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe – though, it has to be said, mostly without much reference to the original script.

Anyway, Nick Awde invited me to go and see the world premiere aka a rehearsed reading of Midnight at the St James’s Theatre yesterday. He told me it was a very serious Azerbaijani play about the Stalinist Terror.

In the last couple of weeks, I have seen the West End musicals Showstoppers! and Bend It Like Beckham – both bright, jolly, uplifting, toe-tapping feasts of singing and dancing and primary colours – so I cannot honesty say that an Azerbaijani play about the Great Terror seemed wildly appetising. Well, it would not be an attractive proposition at any time but – Hey! – I thought – It might be interesting or eccentric or both.

Midnight - the Great Terror musical

Midnight – Stalin’s Great Terror as a musical

So I went yesterday afternoon and realised I must not have been paying full attention to Nick when he described it to me, because it was a MUSICAL about the Great Terror written by Elchin Ilyas oglu Afandiyev, who has been Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan since 1993.

And it was not eccentric. It was wonderful. It was a serious and very dark musical about The Great Terror which I thought owed a little bit to J.B.Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. Although, I should point out, I have never actually seen An Inspector Calls.

Well, I possibly may have seen it years ago on the London stage but, as is well documented, I have a shit memory – I can’t remember the plot but have a vague memory of a two-storey stage set.

Midnight did not have a two-storey stage set.

Anyway, Nick Awde’s involvement in Midnight is as artistic director of the Aloff Theatre company which staged the play/musical and which is “dedicated to the promotion of new and classic works from East Europe and Central Asia” and which is “currently focusing on the interchange of dramatic resources between Azerbaijan and the UK”.

So Nick Awde, in my eyes, should be described as – and, indeed, is – an Englishman raised in Africa living in France with a Georgian passport involved in an Azerbaijani theatre company who wrote about Jimmy Savile as a Punch & Judy show.

I think that qualifies as quirky.

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

After the show, Nick told me that one of his relatives had been in the British Army and had been carried onto one of the boats evacuating the troops at Dunkirk in 1940. He had not been wounded. He had been carried on because, like many of the British troops at Dunkirk, he was paralytically drunk.

Retreating through a not-totally-devasted France, they had been taking shelter in abandoned farmhouses, most of which retained their wine cellars. His relative could remember little about the evacuation from Dunkirk except being carried onto a boat.

Inevitably, Nick had invited interesting people along to see the Midnight musical yesterday afternoon.

Notably:

  • former Liberal Democrat MP and Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office, now author and rock singer, Norman Baker who bizarrely, like me, was born in Scotland, partly brought up in Aberdeen and partly brought up in Essex.
  • and Christopher Richardson, founder of the Pleasance venues in Edinburgh and London who, it turned out, had previously designed theatres and theatre seats – it was suggested my buttocks may have rested on one or more of his creations – and who, in a previous incarnation as a teacher, had taught Stephen Fry.
Jody Kamali - Spectacular!

Jody Kamali – eternally Spectacular! and eccentric

I then had to rush to see Jody Kamali’s excellent Spectacular! show at the Museum of Comedy (I had already seen it at the Edinburgh Fringe in August). Afterwards, he told me about someone he knew who had a dispute with Rowan Atkinson at a press conference at the Fringe in 1971. As a result, his friend’s show was sold out despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Rowan (very popular on the Fringe at the time) allegedly stood outside the venue every day screaming to the public NOT to go in and see the show.

Anyway, eventually, in the early hours of this morning, I got home to an e-mail from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith (who seems to be spending less and less time on the South Coast).

The email said:


I went to the Camden’s People’s Theatre in London this evening to see Lou aka LoUis CYfer, from the Admiral Duncan pub, Soho.

Louis Cyfer welcomes Sandra with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

Lou welcomes Sandra into dressing room with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

She got a Guardian review and is booked for Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe next year. I really enjoyed her one woman show Joan

She wove her late grandmother, Catherine, into the piece, complete with reserved empty chair. It was beautifully done.

I got to play a cannon instead of a horse and gave it my all.

My efforts were clearly not appreciated because the audience all laughed.


As is often the case in this blog, I have no explanation and it seems wiser not to ask.

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Laurence Owen, comedy songsmith with a marriage made in Disney World

Laurence Owen

Laurence Owen – not a deceased female skater

“You’re doing quite well,” I said to composer/performer Laurence Owen when we met for a chat.

“I suppose so, “he agreed.  “There are now two Wikipedia pages on Laurence Owen – one is me and the other is a deceased female figure skater.”

“That’s good,” I said. “Your own Wikipedia page.”

“It is absurdly detailed,” said Laurence, “but I didn’t write it and I don’t know who did. There is information on there that I feel only my mum would know and I have asked her and it’s not her. It’s maybe a little frightening.”

“You’ll be writing a hit Christmas song next,” I said.

“I did write one two years ago,” laughed Laurence. “It was a fairly cynical experiment – to see if you could write ANY Christmas song and then release it on all the channels at Christmas and get it picked up.”

“And the answer is?” I asked.

Lawrence’s album: Lullabies of Pervland

Mr Lawrence’s highly original album: Lullabies of Pervland

“No. Not really,” said Laurence. “But I quite like it. It’s a cross between Bing Crosby and Paul McCartney. Christmas songs are all that jingle bells, sleigh bells rhythm aren’t they? My song was called called Kith and Kin and I shoved it onto the end of my Lullabies of Pervland album.”

“What was it about?” I asked.

“A Quasimodo-esque hideous evil twin who lives in an attic, watching the family from the rafters, looking down, wishing one day he might be invited to sit at the Christmas table. It’s very sad.”

“Are you sure,” I asked, “that you had your finger on the genre here?”

“Maybe that’s why it never took off,” agreed Laurence.

“Although,” I said, “on the other hand, the Pogues’ A Fairytale of New York is the most-played Christmas song of the 21st Century.”

“And that’s not a cheery subject,” mused Laurence.

“But your new Edinburgh Fringe show is…?” I asked.

It might be a Silly Musical but is not a Cinnamon one

Might be a Silly Musical but not Cinnamon

Cinemusical,” said Laurence, “which everyone keeps mis-hearing as Silly Musical, which I don’t mind. But it got introduced the other day as Cinnamon Musical, which I’m not so keen on. It makes it sound even camper than it actually is.

“It’s essentially a one-man musical… a sort of adventure story that consists of music from lots of different genres and is performed by me in the guise of various stock characters.”

“So there’s not one Laurence Owen presenting it?”

“No, no. I appear at the beginning to explain what I’m going to do because, at the first preview, I didn’t do that – just launched straight into it – and no-one knew what was going on. They sort-of enjoyed it but looked quite confused for the first half.”

“What’s not to understand?” I said. “It’s a man singing songs.”

“Yes,” said Laurence, “but I play five different characters in total, plus myself at the beginning. The first is the Disney character – the only thing I’ve kept from last year..”

“That’s the song,” I checked, “where you analyse the limited career potential for females in Disney movies?”

The wrong Laurence Owen - Women's Figure Skating February 13, 1961 X 7205 (Photo: Jerry Cooke)

A photograph of the wrong Laurence Owen (Photo: Jerry Cooke)

“Yes. So she begrudgingly resigns herself to being an evil queen on the grounds that it’s the only appealing option. But there is also the bird character she talks to in that song who is now also a character in his own right. The five characters each have a problem, basically, with the limitations of their genre. That’s the framework of the show.

“The characters have a main song each and, in each of those songs, they establish they’re not happy within the rules of their genre.

“The Disney princess character just wants a normal working business life because she’s ambitious and is fed up because she’s got to either become an amicable fairy godmother or die or become evil. The bird is annoyed because he’s only ever allowed to play novelty sidekicks. So, in his song, he’s campaigning for more lead roles for avian Americans. And so on with each character…

“It all ended up, rather by accident, a bit more issues-based than I had intended. But I quite like that. It’s sort-of got a serious point… ish. And they end up quoting Gandhi…”

“Gandhi?” I asked.

“Yeah. Well, it’s actually a fake Gandhi quote: Be the change you want to see. It’s a quote often attributed to Gandhi, but I think it’s like Elementary, my dear Watson – it was never actually said.”

“Except possibly by Russell Brand,” I suggested.

“Possibly,” said Laurence.

“What is married life like for you?”

“Great.”

Laurence recently married comedy performer Lindsay Sharman at Disney World in Florida.

Laurence & Lindsay - a marriage made in disney world

Laurence and Lindsay have a marriage made in Disney World

“I managed to go through our entire Disney wedding,” said Laurence, “without telling anybody I had written a Disney parody. I think I told our wedding planner that I was a composer, but never mentioned Disney. My dad kept trying to tell people and I was quite embarrassed. Maybe I should have let him.”

“You also wrote the music for The Golem,” I said.

The Golem was at the Young Vic, “ said Laurence, “then went to the Trafalgar Studios in London and has been to China and Russia. I don’t know where they are now – maybe Taiwan. They’re touring it all over the place.”

“And after Edinburgh…?” I asked.

Krazy Kat

Krazy Kat – coming back to a screen with re-scored music

“Well, last year Paul Barritt, the animator, made a load of short films loosely inspired by Krazy Kat – a pre-Tom and Jerry American comic strip about a cat and a mouse. He showed these films in Germany last year accompanied by a very very serious German new music, high Art, experimental orchestra.

“It worked well, but that orchestra are very expensive. When Paul was approached by David Byrne this summer for the Meltdown Festival on the South Bank, Krazy Kat was just too expensive. But then he thought – slightly too late for Meltdown – Why don’t I just get Laurence to do a new score for four players?”

I suggested: “Laurence should have thought of Laurence doing that.”

“I wouldn’t have presumed to ask,” said Laurence. “But we are now going to do that – 90 minutes of film with a live score – after the Fringe.”


A very well-produced video of Laurence’s showstopping Disney parody Empowered is on YouTube:

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Yesterday was a good news, bad news day – from the Beatles to Cowgatehead

The Beatles musical at the Garrick Theatre

Beatles tribute musical at the Garrick Theatre

So yesterday, with performer Matt Roper, I went to see the Beatles musical Let It Be in London.

A man was handing out flyers to ingoers at the theatre for a Mozart concert. This was either very enterprising or very foolish audience targeting. Good news or bad news.

Afterwards, we went to Bar Italia in Soho and, as we were about to go in, performer Chris Dangerfield came out.

Chris Dangerfield & Matt Roper outside Bar Italia

Chris Dangerfield (left) & Matt Roper outside Bar Italia in Soho yesterday

“I’ve forgotten my keys,” he said, turning back to pick them up off a table.

“You run a lock-picking business,” I said. “Why do you need keys?”

He ignored this, I think valid, point and he and Matt Roper degenerated into conversation about Bangkok. I have only overnighted at Bangkok in transit. All I remember about it is that I was told a military coup there once failed because the tanks got stuck in the traffic jams.

As Chris left, he told us: “I’m off to get some ice cream.”

“Ice cream?” I asked. “What does ‘ice cream’ mean?”

“It means ice cream,” said Chris and left.

I said to Matt:

“I hadn’t realised Let It Be was just the songs. I assumed there would be a story, like the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon.”

“I have never,” replied Matt, “been drawn to tribute acts and tribute shows. If I want to hear the Beatles, I’ll play one of their albums. I would rather go and see four musicians covering 1960s songs in their own way than just trying to be carbon copies. The trouble with that sort of show is the Beatles are so famous that… well, I know the casting of the musicians and actors and all those dynamics have to work and that’s kind of more important than what their faces look like. But I would not cast performers who look like other familiar figures. They got away with John and Ringo, but Paul McCartney looked like a young Kenny Dalglish and George Harrison, poor bugger, looked like Rose West, the serial killer wife.”

“The only trouble with the Kinks’ musical Sunny Afternoon,” I said, “was that the actor playing Ray Davies looked like Paul McCartney.”

Matt Roper at Bar Italia

Matt Roper phones Bob Slayer for a Download

“Do you know any strange acts?” Matt asked. He was trying to fill a spot at the Download music festival today which he himself was unable to appear at. He tried comedy/music chap Bob Slayer. This, too, was good news and bad news.

Bob Slayer, when Matt phoned, was already AT the Download Festival… but he was leaving.

The good news and bad news continued.

Comic Mel Moon phoned me.

Her Edinburgh Fringe problems have been sorted out.

But she is going into hospital on Sunday for a very serious 9-hour operation.

I left Bar Italia.

On my way home, passing through St Pancras station, I met Italian comic Giacinto Palmieri.

“Where are you off to?” I asked.

“I’m coming back from the British Library,” he replied. “I was reading about the philosophy of humour.”

“Because of your academic stuff?”I asked. “Remind me.”

“My search is about the translation of humour, particularly stand-up comedy.”

Giacinto Palmieri - an academic at St Pancras

Giacinto Palmieri – an academic at St Pancras

“Anything about nudity?” I asked.

“In Freud, of course,” said Giacinto. “Just as background knowledge, I am reading about the philosophy of humour. I found a good quote: Good wit is a novel truth as the good grotesque is a novel beauty.

“Said by?” I asked.

George Santayana.”

“Ah, Indian,” I said knowledgably.

“Spanish-American,” said Giacinto. “Before I went to the British Library, I was interviewing Francesco De Carlo, who belongs to Comedy Sans Frontières a group formed by Eddie Izzard.”

I had never heard of them.

I realised my finger was somewhere other than on the pulse of what was happening.

When I eventually got home, there was a message from Mark Davison, who quit the PBH Free Fringe yesterday on a matter of principle losing, as he thought, £800 in the process.

That had been bad news. This was good news.

“It’s been a busy day,” he told me, “full of messages coming in from Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.

“I’ve had offers of guest slots and, more importantly, have accepted an offer from Darrell Martin to take a 9.00pm slot for my full hour’s show at Just The Tonic’s Just Up The Road venue for the duration of the festival – and to run it as a free venue.

Mark Davison has a bunch of friends

Mark Davison and a bunch of friends hope for genuine change

“I hope the whole thing has stirred something up that will lead to genuine change and performers being treated with full respect… and I hope Let It Be was good. Part of my show this year is Mr Susie doing an inappropriate ‘Jukebox’ musical, so I may need to see Let It Be myself to fine-tune what I’m planning.

“PS Mike Leigh also offered me a slot but this was at Frankenstein’s and I knew my show would not work there, for technical reasons. Still very much appreciated the offer though.”

I went to bed early last night and probably dreamt of bananas and Frankenstein and the Cowgatehead.

But, this morning, as always, I remembered nothing.

Except that Christopher Lee had died.

Or did he?

Is he one of the undead in his black Count Dracula cloak?

Life is probably like a bunch of bananas.

I have no idea why.

So it goes.

 

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Gay Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Now Linked To Sight Gags for Perverts

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

“It’s not a play. It’s not a musical. What is it?” I asked writer Jon Brittain at Bar Italia in London’s Soho yesterday afternoon.

He co-wrote and directs Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, which this week starts a 4-week run at Theatre 503 in Battersea.

“Well,” replied Jon, “we describe it as a drag comedy Christmas musical extravaganza. The idea behind it is that Margaret Thatcher, played by a man, has become a cabaret singer and she tells you the story of how she went from being Prime Minister to cabaret singer.

Matthew Tedford as Margaret Thatcher

Matthew Tedford stars as Margaret Thatcher, queening it up

“Basically, we tell the story of Section 28 – the law that stops councils funding the promotion of homosexuality in schools. It’s Margaret Thatcher, played by my friend Matt Tedford (who co-wrote the show) and two dancers in hot pants and moustaches who dance along to songs and play all the other parts in the show while never really wearing anything more than hot pants and moustaches – including when they play women and children.

“My girlfriend Laura was very confused about the whole thing. We rehearsed in our living room and I think having to hear the voice of Maggie Thatcher all the time got a bit grating for her.”

Jon also directed John Kearns’ award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Jon Brittain (right) with John Kearns

Jon Brittain (right) with comic John Kearns

“John and I did a double act together at UEA – the University of East Anglia,” explained Jon, “and he’d been in a lot of plays I’d directed.”

“Was there,” I asked, “much difference between directing Sight Gags For Perverts and Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho?”

“Not much,” replied Jon. “John and Matt are both really spontaneous. John knows where he wants to get to and, if something happens in the room, he will respond to it… and Matt’s very much the same, even though Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho is a much more rigid script and much more about the story.

“John’s Edinburgh show was much more about the experience and he could go off in different directions. His show was deceptively stupid, but he’d thought about it loads and it was very intricately layered and worked-out. There was a really powerful emotional feeling behind it: a real sadness and loneliness and desperation behind the very silly, seemingly stupid, surreal stories he was telling.”

“But you have directed straight plays as well,” I said.

“Yes,” said Jon. “Directing comedy is different from directing a play… With a play, you’re saying Stand here… Do this… As the director of a comedy show, you go in and suggest There is a problem here: how are you going to solve it? and the performer is the one who has to come up with the solution.

John Kearns in Sight Gags For Perverts

John Kearns in the award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts

“During my time in Edinburgh with John, we had a lot of conversations about the end of his show and how to tie together the loose ends. I made a lot of suggestions as to how he could do that and then I went away and came back at the end of the run and he had solved the problem in a way that was entirely different to any of my suggestions. But I think my useful function was asking the questions and pointing out the problem.

“I think there’s a temptation in theatre plays to say everyone has assigned roles – the actors do this; the writer does this; the director does this – and no-one crosses-over into other people’s fields. Whereas I do a lot of crossing-over. I direct my own stuff and do the sound design and, in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Matt acts and writes and there’s a lot of crossing-over.”

“How did the idea for Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho come about?I asked.

The Margaret Thatcher - Queen of Soho poster

Margaret Thatcher – Queen of Soho poster

“Matt hadn’t performed in about five years – not since university. He’d been a civil servant and other things. I held a Hallowe’en party in 2012 and he came along dressed as Margaret Thatcher – in the same costume he uses in the play – with a wig. He looked amazing. He had a pint of milk in his handbag that he would pull out and say: Would you like some? No, it’s not for sharing.

“Then I was asked if I wanted to write something for a night of short plays – Thatcherwrite – a few months after Margaret Thatcher’s death. So I asked Matt to write something with me.

The original night

The original night when Margaret Thatcher first appeared

“We wrote a 15-minute version which he performed on the Thatcherwrite night. Most of the other plays were, by-and-large, quite serious. A play about the Falklands War. A play about the housing bubble.

“So we thought it would work if, at the end of the night, suddenly an announcer went: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for your headline act of the evening – Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho! – and she comes out and sings YMCA with two backing dancers in hot pants. Just make it, on the surface, as stupid and silly and ridiculous as possible. Though there is a point underneath, because it is about Section 28 and gay rights and what she could have done if she’d chosen to.

Two dancers who always keep their moustaches

Margaret Thatcher + 2 dancers never without the moustaches

“From our research – which we pretend not to have done but which we did do – it sounds like she had gay friends and was OK with them as individuals, but she supported this legislation and so, with our play, we imagine what might have happened if she’d actually supported gay causes. That’s underlying it, but we try to do it in the most ridiculous, stupid way possible so that any kind of message is buried deep down.

“Even during the most po-faced emotional monologue we have in it, in the background there are dancers doing the most disgusting dance moves, grinding and slapping their arses in slow motion.

“One of our male dancers plays Jill Knight, an MP in the 1980s, but in a bright pink cardigan still wearing his moustache and we have Peter Tatchell as if played by Ray Winstone.”

“You are not interested in performing yourself any more?” I asked.

“I’d be really interested in doing some story-telling,” said Jon. “About five years ago, I did stand-up very loosely for about a year and then very often for about a year and, at the end of that, I just wasn’t having fun. The reason I stepped away from it was I didn’t really have a ‘voice’. I could write stuff, but there was no unified point of view when I performed and I didn’t feel I could find it.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that a writer of plays can change into different voices, but a stand-up comedian can’t switch from warm-and-cuddly one moment and Frankie Boyle the next.”

Jon Brittain - a working playwright

Jon Brittain – a working playwright who knows his Ps and Qs

“Yes,” agreed Jon. “And I felt confident writing dialogue for stage plays and more confident of the worth of it. When I was writing jokes, almost every single one I thought: I don’t know if this is going to work. When I write a story, everything in that is working towards the telling of the story. I felt much more confident and comfortable with that. So I would quite like to return to standing up on a stage – but telling a story not jokes.

“I don’t really subscribe to the barriers between comedy and storytelling and theatre anyway. It’s people in the industry who like to put the barriers up so they can figure what section of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme it goes in and what person from what TV Department should go and see it.”

“If they still had such things,” I asked, “what would you write in your passport – writer, director or performer?”

“I don’t really act at all, though I do the voice of Winston Churchill in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho – I do the voice and someone else operates a portrait where the mouth moves.”

“Like Captain Pugwash,” I said.

“That was the aesthetic we were going for.”

“But obviously without Seaman Staines…”

“Only backstage,” said Jon.

I think I’m a writer first and the directing comes out of that. I’d really like to direct more stand-up comedy and direct in different media – film, stage, live comedy. But I think I’m going to take a year off theatre and just write television scripts, because I’ve started making a bit of headway. Me and Suzi Ruffell have written a sitcom script that’s in development.”

“You’ve worked in TV already haven’t you?” I asked.

“I did six months at Cartoon Network,” replied Jon, “which was like in a writers’ room. It was called The Amazing World of GumballI worked with James Lamont and Jon Foster who wrote The Harry Hill Movie.”

“Do you get repeat fees on the Cartoon Network programmes or was there a buy-out?” I asked.

“Oh, there was a total buy-out. When my agent sent me along, the first thing said was: Whatever you do, do not create any characters!

“Wise advice,” I said. “When people are dead like Margaret Thatcher, it’s always comforting.”

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Comedy duo Ellis & Rose: beefing-up Jimmy Savile, looking for other work

Worth a punt? Saturday’s Big Comedy Conference in London

Worth a punt? Saturday’s Big Comedy Conference in London

On Saturday, I am on one of the panels at the Big Comedy Conference in London.

Yesterday night, I got a message from a starting-out stand-up comedian based outside South East England:

Hi john,

Do you think I would benefit from the Comedy Conference?

My answer was:

No idea. It’s a bit pricey – £149 – but good value for money. It runs 09.00am to 11.00pm and there are over 40 top names giving advice, from Big Name comedians to BBC bosses, writers, agents and the whole gamut down to the likes of me.

But, if you have free accommodation in London, I say go for it. The only way to get on in anything is to be in the right place at the right time. There is no way of knowing where or when that is, so you just have to put yourself about a bit as much as possible. If you don’t go, you can be 100% certain nothing will come of it. If you do go, there is at least a chance something might.

I think you should go not expecting to LEARN anything specific as such, but it would give you a wider, non-local, professional view of the business and I suspect you can schmooze well (something I’m shit at).

It is a financial decision really. If you can afford to go, look on it as a weekend holiday with potential benefits; expect nothing; hope for the best. It is a bit like the Edinburgh Fringe. Toss money away and pray.

I think the comedy-going public assume when they see a comedian on stage that he/she is a full-time comedian. The truth, of course, is that for maybe the first five or six or more years of their professional lives, comedians tend to have ‘day jobs’ because they cannot survive financially on their comedy work.

Coincidentally, I had a chat on Friday with award-winning comedians Ellis & Rose.

I say “award-winning” because they won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, when Rose repeatedly punched Ellis in the face so they could – as a publicity stunt – claim he had been beaten up in the street by an irate punter who was offended by their show Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show.

That is REAL dedication to your art. They videoed the punching and it is on YouTube.

I met them on Friday in a pub in London’s Soho.

I paid for the single round of drinks. After all, let us not go mad on spending money. I am a Scot brought up among Jews.

“So,” I said, “you performed Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show in Norwich, while I was safely out of the country in Nuremberg. How did it go?”

“It was the first time we’ve done the beefed-up Jimmy Savile show,” replied Ellis.

The Norwich poster

Ellis & Rose – beefed-up show in Norwich

“Beefed-up?” I asked.

“Now with real puppets,” explained Rose.

“Glove puppets or string puppets?” I asked.

“Muppet-sized puppets,” said Ellis.

“Foam and felt,” said Rose.

“With people in them?” I asked.

“Well, me,” said Rose.

“The audience in Norwich really liked it,” said Ellis. “I think because we’ve added more stuff. It’s become something.”

“What have you added?” I asked. “A plot?”

“Not necessarily a plot,” admitted Rose.

“It started off as nothing in Edinburgh,” said Ellis, “but, by the end of the Fringe, it was consistently hitting… erm… the hour mark. So we’ve added in extra nonsense like Rolf Harris.”

“That was what it was lacking,” said Rose.

“They all really enjoyed it in Norwich,” said Ellis. “Not one of them really hated it,” he added with a hint of surprise in his voice.

“I think you should tour old people’s homes,” I suggested. “You need to find people who will be really offended.”

“You didn’t help us,” said Rose, “with your Raoul Moat headline (Jimmy Savile comedy duo banned from Norwich pub. Now they plan a musical based on a murder maniac rampage). I’m never gonna get a job now.”

“Excuse me,” I said, “am I the person who beat up his comedy partner in Edinburgh just to get a couple of lines of publicity in The Scotsman newspaper?”

“One line,” said Rose.

“Anyway,” I added, “What did I say about Raoul Moat, the infamous murderer?”

Police photo of Raoul Moat

Police photo Raoul Moat

“You said it was a musical,” Ellis told me, “but it’s an opera.”

“And I’m not involved in it,” added Rose warily.

“You made it seem like a frivolous entertainment,” complained Ellis. “It’s going to be a real work of art. It’s going to be a departure from what we normally do.”

“I didn’t think you actually intended to do an opera,” I explained. “I assumed it was a cheap publicity stunt.”

“I’m meeting up with Jorik Mol,” said Ellis, “and we’re going to write material for it… It’s going to be a genuine opera. It’s going to be a serious tragedy.”

“I believe that,” I said. “I have seen your previous work.”

“John Kearns has agreed to play a sniper lens,” said Rose.

“Karl Schultz has agreed to be a fishing rod,” said Ellis, “and Adam Larter is going to play a startled deer.”

“So when is this seriously tragic opera going to be staged?” I asked.

“2016,” said Ellis. “It’s only an idea so far.”

“What gave you the idea?” I asked.

“The story,” explained Ellis, “is just incredible… unprecedented in terms of the media interaction: the week-long narrative that developed around it.”

“The problem now,” said Rose, “is that partly due to you, John, if you type my name into Google followed by the words Raoul Moat or Jimmy Savile… well there goes any chance I have of getting a job.”

Seeking any employment: Gareth Ellis (left) and Richard Rose

Seeking any employment: Ellis (left) and Rose

“That’s why we’re unemployed,” said Ellis.

“Yeah thanks, John,” said Rose.

“I’d like to say in your blog,” emphasised Ellis, “that I’m looking for a job.”

“As what?” I asked.

“Well, I’m good at organising gigs,” replied Ellis.

“That’s not a job,” said Rose.

“Surely you could earn a good living as a gigolo?” I asked.

“I’ve got a licence for bar management,” continued Ellis. “I can manage a venue.”

“There must be money in being a gigolo,” I said. “Women were throwing themselves at you in Edinburgh.”

“I want a job and a girlfriend,” insisted Ellis.

“You’re asking too much from life,” Rose told him.

“I’d just like some money,” said Ellis.

“Have you never seen The Producers?” I asked. “You just find some old women, get them to finance your shows, leech onto them and get loads of money.”

“But we’ve already produced one of the worst shows of all time,” said Rose, “and it didn’t make us loads of money.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “I financed Killer Bitch, the movie… I think Raoul Moat: The Opera could be equal to Springtime For Hitler.

“What I like about your blogs with us,” said Rose, “is that they manage to be even less coherent than the ones with Chris Dangerfield.”

“So plug something,” I said.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

Ghost of Jimmy Savile pursues comedy duo

“We’re doing our Ellis & Rose show on Tuesday and Jimmy Savile on Thursday,” said Rose.

“Is there a point to the Jimmy Savile show?” I asked.

“It wasn’t satire in Edinburgh,” said Rose, “but now it is.”

“It’s a satire on the nature of performers,” said Ellis.

“No, don’t give it away,” said Rose. “It’s not that.”

“Is it a post-modern comedy?” I asked, trying to help.

“It’s not even comedy,” said Ellis.

“It’s definitely not comedy,” agreed Rose.

“It’s genuinely a work of art,” said Ellis. “I don’t think it’s classifiable. It’s funny, but it’s not a comedy. It’s a kind of tragedy.”

“It’s poignant,” suggested Rose. “Actually, Ellis did have a kind of revelation…”

“…during the show in Norwich,” explained Ellis. “I just stopped.”

“The whole show stopped,” said Rose.

“We had this beautiful moment with the audience,” said Ellis.

“The audience stopped laughing,” said Rose.

“And we actually realised why we were all there,” said Ellis, “watching this show about Jimmy Savile.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well,” said Rose, “we’re not going to give it away.”

“You’re going to have to come along and see it,” said Ellis.

“And we’ll cynically try to recreate that revelation,” said Rose.

Potential Edinburgh Fringe legends Ellis & Rose

Is it original art? Is it comedy? Is it a post-modern revelation?

“I was talking to someone the other week,” I said, “and he suggested we should have an annual beating-up of Ellis at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“I’d be happy with that,” said Rose.

“It could become a Fringe tradition,” I suggested.

“I think someone every year has to get punched in the face,” agreed Ellis.

“It could make you a star,” I suggested.

A sparkle appeared in Ellis’ eyes, but I am not sure what caused it.

Maybe it was a tear.

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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