Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Choosatron

Very quickly - Last night I was in the Hen and Chickens in Islingtonto see "Pekka and Strangebone's Comedy Showpiece" for a third time (it's excellent by the way, if you're doing nothing tonight get yourself along) and I ran into some friends from the Wireless Theatre Company all huddled round a guy from Minnesota called Jerry. In his hands was this:

What looked like a receipt printer was in fact printing the text of a choose-your-own adventure, and the thing that looked like a calculator was actually the number pad into which you key your choices. Written in marker on the lid after the fashion of Calvin and Hobbes was the name "The Choosatron". It was Jerry's own invention and you can out more about it here. He was not short of drinks that night.

"You Are A Shark"...?!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The bloody basics

It is, of course, the most fundamental rule of story-making-up that you work out what your characters want from the outset. I say story-making-up rather than story-telling, because if somebody else has made your story up that's a lot easier to get a handle on. As John Finnemore just tweeted "They're slippery buggers, made-up people". His hero's called Martin too. But yes, that's the thing, what if you get what they want wrong?

Two weeks ago I suggested that actually, excitingly, my Martin was juggling a double wish, to be a hero and to be a scapegoat, and while I'm very happy with that as an idea, I've realised tonight it's not THE THING. I only think this worth recording because for the last two weeks I've felt, well, powerless and I've now realised it was because I'd lost all sense that I had a right to tell this person's story, and that felt terrible. It felt terrible not least because the Real World during those two weeks was pitching Sci Fi left, right and centre: Iranian space monkeys...

Excellent work as ever, people!

Russian Meteor Showers...

Shadows! Car alarms! Wheee!

The screening on BBC4 of this superb, level-headed, Wells and Kafka-quoting documentary on Google and the World Brain...

And then there was also the sad, but happily much-commented-upon passing of The Daddy Of All Martins.

But tonight I think I've remembered now what my Martin really wants, which is not to be hero, or to be dead, but simply to go back. Around that, everything else at this hour now seems to fall into place, as it did when I was first making it up however many years ago that was, when it seemed to come so naturally. It seems there, but then that's what I said a fortnight ago. Still, I am writing.

While I'm here, and continuing my sci-fi kick, I found James Burke made an excellent (and crazy) history of the world in fifty minutes back in 1989, if you're interested here.
And John's knowledge of his onions is very much to the fore in this post on cliffhangers. I should get some post-it notes.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

What I saw in "The Architects"

I was walking a little oddly yesterday because I'd just done a photoshoot for David Rosenberg promoting his latest piece, the Glen Neath-scripted Ring. (Had David tried to call it "Ring Piece"? Of course he had.) None of which really brings me to this write up of Shunt's latest show which ended last Saturday, but the post's late enough and at least I don't have to worry now about spoilers...

I loved "The Architects". I saw it tonight (for "tonight" read January 11th) and Keeps and I got back from Venice only yesterday, so my bar for using the word "love" is pretty high. It was giddily rewarding to turn up, having felt so thrown by my non-involvement in this one, and be returned to the days when shunt was just a company I followed, and find that they are still by far my favourite makers of pretty much anything. Critically they do themselves no favours by wearing their genius round their ankles I suppose, but good, it's still there on display if only those without a sense of humour wouldn't be so squeamish. And still thrown, of course I come away wanting to tear off the stuff I think keeps it from being perfect, but that's what fans do, and here "perfect" doesn't mean something small and achievable, it means that thing which alerts you to what it is you should be wanting, which is massive.

The myth of the Labyrinth was the starting point this time, and I've long thought the labyrinth shunt's real medium (there's a quote somewhere in Ken Campell's "Violin Time" which I can't find now about how great it would be if the National Theatre could create works backstage). But there was also an interest in the myth of the feral child that goes back to devising of  "Money" which clearly informed the depiction of the Minotaur.

Yes, we saw a Minotaur! And we got fed to it. Or at least in the perfect show in my head we did, as soon as it was revealed to us we'd never left the labyrinth (and the hollow cow wasn't the only commission in which people get screwed). But what do you do with an audience once you've killed them? "You kissed our children goodbye" the monitors said, and I realised that having been treated to the simulation of a cruise, only now were we really being made to feel like heroes, because now we were being sent to our deaths. Except it turns out we weren't. There was still some stage fighting and aeriel stuff simulating dying to get through, but in amongst that sudden shift in vocabulary was the glorious revelation of our killer: a child with a terrifying mask that hid an even more terrifying face, who looked lost and then lobbed a brick.

I remember Gemma talking about the seeds of it last year. She said the Athenians would never have seen anything like Minos' palace at Knossos. Of course it seemed like a Labyrinth. She said that "bull" meant what "wolf" meant, that "minotaur" maybe simply meant "feral", that Daedalus who designed the palace said to hold the Minotaur also, less famously, designed the cow-shaped contraption said to facilitate Queen Pasiphae's impregnation by a bull in the first place. And I knew the myth, the Athenian virgins sent by boat to be sacrificed, and I left for New Zealand imagining a pamphlet found through the letterbox "Why We Eat Children". So I knew all this, and maybe - maybe - this gave me the edge over the rest of the audience, but really it was all there in the show SPOILER alert and all. Having sounded that I must admit the spoilers I read probably helped my enjoyment if anything, since I knew enough to time what in hindsight seems the best entrance, and to find what I suspect was the best seat. In fact I'm pretty sure the show is unspoilable. No spoiler can prepare you for that scenery. It's no insult to go on about the scenery if your medium's a labyrinth, and Lizzie Clachan's scenery here is unbeatable (and I've just got back from Venice, remember.)


It was so simple, although making it that simple must have been complicated (Kudos, Louise Mari). And it was funny, really funny, and when your jokes involve two hundred and fifty moving subjects, blackouts and a live band that too must take a while to get right, longer than any critic will give you. I hear there was only a month's rehearsal this time, an altogether more affordable working method I guess, and one that produced similarly happy results over a decade ago with the Tennis Show, my first experience of working with shunt and again a beautifully simple idea. So this seems the way forward, and that it didn't include me I find a bit worrying. But not while I moved through it. Or sat at the back, in the corner, basking in the kind of isolated fantasy landscape Chris Goode probably finds so resistible, but for whose construction I only ever feel a child-like gratitude. And here that construction is the subject. I mean, it's called "The Architects". It's the kernel of a myth told to us, and with us, smartly, lightly, meticulously, hilariously. Is anyone else doing this? I got it and I loved it.

Right, there's a "Sightseers" review knocking round here somewhere as well...

He too woke with his head in the toilet of an inconceivably large house he must have once commissioned, with the odd rope hanging between platforms and walls you couldn't see, "If I was a Rich Man" playing in every wing, and his very own Nightmare Room.

Not the Full Ten Bells.

Before I sleep I just found this, talking of moving premises... Some cameras came round to record the last ever day of the Dungeon at Tooley Street, which meant that my exquisitely paced Ten Bells show, carefully honed over five years in front of the public could finally be recorded for posterity before the whole thing gets moved to County Hall never to have a male landlord again. It's a dream position if your lungs are up to it, with a steady build of tension, loads of effects and relatively sound-proof. Unfortunately my previous show had to be stopped half-way through because of a fainter and I'd forgotten when the cameras came in that I'd already pressed two of the effects buttons. Have a look at this clip now and see if you can spot what want wrong...

 Well, not quite the FULL walkthrough experience

"You can stay until the weather clears up but WILL HE STRIKE AGAIN?!!!"
My favourite bit's when I start listing the suspects.

Is this funny?

I mean this whole scene... I had a  meeting here in the BBC's new offices on Tuesday with a TV comedy executive (see lampshade). Exciting. It's called Grafton House, maybe so writers will think it's a pub. It's where the magic happens. The first thing I noticed was all the empty picture frames on the far wall that you can just make out above. "Mm, it's to suggest potential," proposed Gareth Edwards whose mere attention to this project has been one of the best compliments it's received. He was along to provide some simple and attractive answers to questions such as "So, Time Spanner; let me be blunt; what's it about?" while I ran through a list of nouns and hums. I had no real answer, but here was the conclusion - the reality's in place but the fantasy is fudged. I wanted my hero to be given superpowers but hadn't really hit upon why. 

However I think - I hope - I've hit upon the missing ingredient last night while milling around the sphinxes in Crystal Palace: Danger. The tradition is that the comedy schnook is only promoted because he's going to be sacrificed (Margaret Dumont's numerous elevations of Groucho I suppose are the exception rather than the rule) and what I like about this tradition is it's a two-sided fantasy: there's the child's fantasy of power, but also the uglier and funnier failed adult fantasy of victimhood, a fantasy that the world wants you dead because secretly that's actually what you want and now your death will have some meaning. This also makes more sense of the choice of that great burnt offering Laika as a narrator. Anyhoo, I really came here just to post this photo of  the Beeb's new premises, because everyone seems to be finding new premises these days, and also this page from a Star Trek colouring book signifying the creative process:

more here

Oh, in addition to writing children's books and producing comedies about space, comas, string theory, swans and Napoleonic gay horses, Gareth also does a blog, and it's very funny.

Friday, 1 February 2013

31/01/13. The Dungeon's Last Day at Tooley Street

- to let the Shard get on with turning it all into glass and sandwiches - deserves far better than these terrible photos. But what a Night. "It's going to be black tie," we were warned, "Not what you're used to. Not cheese and pineapple and karaoke." So we got ready, popped over to turn heads at Azzuro's for Happy Hour while the managers rolled out the red carpet, and returned to check our coats and find inside D.J. Sammy, cheddar and chunks all present and correct, hurray (although he didn't have "Stars" so I couldn't do my Russell Crowe). I started working at the London Dungeon ten years ago, and stayed because the actors that pass through all work like bastards and keep their dreams, and they're mad and they're fit and I get to paint myself a chin and shout at a public drawn from every class and country. And of course Shunt was right next door once. It's unlikely I'll commute to London Bridge again now, I suppose, now the freaks have been sent packing. A five-hundred year tradition of caging drunks on Tooley Street for Public Entertainment gone, gone like shots down a luge or rats up a pipe, gone like those baffling workplace maxims now finally torn from the toilet walls. Still, Go Team! Oh... they've gone.