Mr Twonkey promotes his Christmas in the Jungle in Brighton
So I had a chat with Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers at King’s Cross station in London.
He was on his way back home to Edinburgh. Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.
“How were your Christmas in the Jungle shows at the Brighton Fringe?” I asked.
“It was so hot,” he told me. “I don’t think people were feeling… They were… It occurred to me that maybe doing a Christmas show in the middle of the summer isn’t such a great idea.”
“But surely,” I said, “with your act, to do a Christmas show at Christmas would be a silly idea.”
“Well,” he replied, “I was pitching it as The only Christmas show on at Brighton in June. Unfortunately, there was another one called The Grotto. And, when I was flyering for it in the street, people were asking me: What’s wrong with you?”
“You are,” I checked, “still doing Christmas in the Jungle at the Edinburgh Fringe this August?”
“Have you seen the new Twin Peaks TV series yet?”
“No. But I am trying to write a play about David Lynch.”
“Your previous play was Jennifer’s Robot Arm,” I said.
“Yes. That was more kitchen sink drama/science fiction. This would be about people who actually exist.”
“How are you getting the facts?” I asked. “From Wikipedia?”
“Various sources. There’s a few books about him. The trouble is none of them are any good apart from one which is not bad: Lynch On Lynch, which is a series of interviews with him.”
“Does he know anything about himself?” I asked.
“I would imagine there are a few gaps. But there’s also a good documentary online about someone following him around while he’s making Inland Empire.
“And there’s a book coming out in February 2018, published by Canongate Books which has his full support. I think it’s called Room To Dream.”
“So your play,” I asked, “is about… what?”
“I want to focus on is the time he spent in London. The early part of people’s careers is always the most interesting. He was living in a flat in Wimbledon, making a suit for The Elephant Man.
‘You know, in Eraserhead, there’s a little deformed baby. I think he kept it very damp. I think he used chicken and raw animal flesh, moulded it together and used maggots quite a lot – to eat away the face. And then he kept it damp. His daughter wanted to play with it and he told her: You can play with it as long as you don’t touch it.
“After Eraserhead, he was a cult figure – a young hotshot director – and he had a few films he was trying to pitch. One of them was called Gardenback, which was about a community of people who could only speak to each other by passing an insect between them, either through the ear or through the mouth.
“The studio kept pushing him to write dialogue for it and he couldn’t write any. He said: Well, that’s the whole point: that they don’t speak. They communicate by passing the insect. So that project was shelved.
“Then he had another project called Ronnie Rocket, which was for the actor of restricted height in the Black Lodge. It was like Rocket Man, but he was small and it was surreal and it had villains called The Donut Men. But no-one would pick it up.”
“Jam on the fingers?” I asked.
“Yeah. So then they just gave him a pile of scripts and he picked The Elephant Man without reading it. Mel Brooks was producing it.”
“Mel Brooks,” I said, “once told me that, whenever you get your photo taken, you should always open your mouth.”
“Did he? Anyway, Mel Books had had success with Young Frankenstein as a black & white film and I think he quite liked the idea of re-invigorating the genre and Eraserhead had been in black & white.
“The Elephant Man was a big responsibility for David Lynch and apparently it was the closest he ever came to committing suicide. He almost put his head in the oven in Wimbledon during the development process. I was going to have a bit in my play where he puts his head in the oven and it turns round and Mel Brooks comes out from a theatre where he has been viewing Eraserhead.”
“This is live on stage?” I asked.
“Will the insects from Gardenback take part?”
“They could. But I was thinking focussing more around the fitting of the costume. They gave him six months to make a costume for The Elephant Man based on the fact he had done well with the baby in Eraserhead. And apparently what he created was horrendous. John Hurt came round for a fitting and he couldn’t hardly breathe or walk and certainly couldn’t act in the costume.
Mr Twonkey takes a train and a door north to Edinburgh
“So that process was unsuccessful and a lot of money had gone down the drain and I think that was when he thought about putting his head in the oven.”
“And the costume in the finished film?” I asked.
“I think, essentially, he got someone else to make it. There was a bit of controversy on the set because he was young but had experienced British thespians like Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins who had been round the block a few times. I think there was a friction with young David Lynch adapting to these older British actors.”
“Maybe they didn’t talk about it,” I suggested.
“The elephant in the room.”
“That’s a good title.”
“You just have to make the play relevant to the title,” I suggested. “Would you perform in it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re the wrong shape for David Lynch,” I suggested.
“I don’t think I could play him convincingly enough for more than 5 or 10 minutes; then I would run out of steam. It needs to be a proper actor.”
“The good news with a play about David Lynch,” I suggested, “is that there’s no limit to the possible surrealism.”
“It can be a BIT eccentric,” Paul agreed. “It can be a bit Lady in The Radiator in Eraserhead.”
“But it can’t all be that. What would give it real poignancy is revealing a bit of his history that people didn’t know about. The main scene would be the fitting, where it goes wrong.”
“Hold on,” I said, “If you are going to do a show about David Lynch making a costume he can’t make, you have to make the costume, don’t you?”
“Is that a problem?”
“It will have to be a good costume.”
“The one that isn’t successful…”
“Yes. But it can be really horrendously bad. That will be good.”
Mr Twonkey and Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway (1911-1923) and the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941). He designed The Flying Scotsman train.