Archive for May, 2014

THE FROOD: Fit The Third

A VERY VERY FROODY TOWEL DAY, EVERYONE!

Update on The Frood? To quote Sir Guy, “GETTING IT READY FOR YOU NOW.”

This article made a rather good point yesterday, that Douglas Adams would probably have been more bemused and befuddled by the concept of folk all around the world celebrating his work via bathroom linen than anything else – but then, as we only do it because he’s no longer here, that’s no reason for anyone to hold back, from Innsbruck to Santa Barbara, grab your towel and have a good time…

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The last time I had a pass for this building, I was pitching a show to a Radio 4 producer circa 2001. A callow youth.

The high probability that fans somewhere will still be celebrating this day after we have all joined Adams is a very pleasing thought, but even though last year was the 35th anniversary of Hitchhiker’s first leakage into public consciousness, 2014 has turned out to be a particularly auspicious year for towel-carriers everywhere. Of course, it’s the 35th anniversary of the publication of the novel that turned a cult Radio 4 comedy into an international sensation, but it could well also be the year when that radio titan finally reached its conclusion.

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A thoroughly unprofessional photograph of a thoroughly geektastic experience – being the one audience member for the Hitchhiker Live technical rehearsal.

Returning to probability – or this time, Improbability – what odds would you give? That one year ago I would sit down and begin to write an all-new updated history of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, roughly ten years on from Nick Webb’s previous Official Biography but without any particular anniversary guiding me… And then, within the very last FORTNIGHT of the writing of The Frood, I would find myself in the BBC Radio Theatre watching the ultimate embodiments of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trilian Astra-Mcmillan, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Random Dent, and TWO embodiments of Marvin, taking their quite probably final bows for a brand new live broadcast of the programme that started it all? I still hadn’t quite recovered from the honour of being handed an unproduced Blackadder script by Richard Curtis two years earlier, but this was further off the scale.

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And yes, the Hitchhiker Live experience was made even more exciting by discovering this book in the small BBC shop, one of only three or four titles they were featuring. Still available in all… places.

The other way in which ‘Blackadder In Bethlehem’ was just a taster for the archival treats to come has already been detailed in this blog, but it has deepened since, with my second trip to Cambridge. Sadly no palatial quarters for me this time, I had to find myself thrillingly seedy digs as I documented every last scrap of the private Adams Archive at St. John’s that I could – very hard work, and worth every millisecond.

THE FROOD will now be out this September (pre-order here why don’t you? Have Amazon started paying their bloody tax yet? Apologies if not. Buy it from a proper shop in four months then), and in addition to the teases already teased, I’ve been able to work in whole chapters of a totally different draft of ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’ previously believed destroyed, sections from the planned second TV series which never got beyond the rough script stage, and… well, too much to document here. We could only fit the cream of the discoveries into the book! And last time I shot my mouth off in this arena the lovely folk at St. John’s College told me off, and I had to remove images and await rights clearance, so for now, perhaps this Fit should keep shtum.

There will be much more to come at the start of the autumn – including special Hitchhiker events in Cambridge and as the centrepiece of this year’s Cheltenham Literary Festival, so keen Froods should keep their eyes non-literally peeled for further information. But if they’re real fans, they will quite probably BURST. Like a Drubber. Sorry, that’s a Hitchhiker reference which will only make sense to you after reading THE FROOD…

Right, I have an afternoon gig at the Spiegeltent as part of the Bath Fringe, and as it’s Towel Day I’ll be ending on ‘So Long & Thanks For All The Fish’, so I’m off to get ready. For now…

WE APOLOGISE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

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UNREHEARSED THEATRE

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MAKE YOUR OWN ENTERTAINMENT.

Having spent most of my life showing off on stage in some form or other, from Ludlow to Aberystwyth to Brighton, London and Edinburgh, to Bath and Bristol et cetera – and having expended endlessly more sweat, currency and love on every evening’s entertainment than was probably logical… Well, frankly, in recent years my main aim has been to find the single most perfectly lazy way of sharing some kind of performance with friends and kind strangers, offering a good night out with the minimum of prep.

UKEAOKE was the ideal way of arsing about in lackadaisical limelight for a fair few years, while a working Unrelated Family Band held together (before The Great Drummer Famine of 2012), and it remains a lovely musical show to dust off if the opportunity is there.

But since Halloween 2012, TUF has been pissing about merrily with the idea of UNREHEARSED THEATRE, advertising a theatrical presentation which is not just unrehearsed, but uncast – and at least it’s free.

Ideally the concept is that any script which is freely available online can be summoned up on smartphones, iPads, tablets and the like at a second’s notice, using wi-fi – and then you have all you need to put on a show. Pint in one hand, script in another, silly hat on, and – CURTAIN UP! In theory…

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Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.

UNREHEARSED MACBETH was the pilot scheme that Halloween at the Love Lounge, The Bell Inn, Bath – actually, come to think of it, which I do, they’ve all been at The Bell. With a few rudimentary props – a crown, some swords, a few decorative giant flowers for Birnam Wood etc., the conceit was that anyone could show up with the text in any form, and claim their part – while others were also just welcome to watch the bedlam unfold (and then Lawrie Duckworth’s Playgroup open mike would follow immediately after).

The whole thing balanced on a knife edge, to be honest, but thanks to our incredible Lady M, Muriel Lavender, and her family, plus a random chap called Sam who appeared out of nowhere, and a whole cast of Bell irregulars, Shakespeare’s horror totally caught fire that evening. There’s a terrible cliché about theatre, and especially Shakespeare, connecting with everyone and coming to life in the strangest places, but Unrehearsed Macbeth certainly proved it to be true, to us. Undeniably dodgy-looking well-oiled geezers who seemed just as likely to punch me in the face as the concept was first explained turned out to be secret McKellens, there were cheers as the swordfights got out of hand, and by 9pm, and ‘Scone’, the comradely adrenaline was positively chewable. The FB Event page is still viewable right about here.

But then the problem became apparent – that’s Macbeth for you. Billy Shakes’ fastest, coolest, darkest action thriller of all. We got away with that, but pretty much anything else from the oeuvre, necessarily uncut because we could only use the most convenient text, would probably have imploded – Hamlet would barely reach Act 3 before everyone was pissed. One way or another.

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Jem Roberts, Gavin Lazarus and Matt Bragg are not actual Victorians.

In fact, that is what happened with UNREHEARSED A CHRISTMAS CAROL a few weeks later – though we did get the first Stave polished off before skipping to the end. This time we were in the more public front of the pub and raising money for Comic Relief, so it’s a shame I hadn’t already realised the obvious solution to the problem – MOVIE SCREENPLAYS. There are huge troves of scripts available in places like www.simplyscripts.com and when you flub over the credits, cinematic longueurs and action sequences (car chases being particularly tough to achieve in pubs), they only tend to take an hour or so from first reel to tragic denouement. If I’d linked everyone to one of the many scripted versions of Dickens’ story, we could have avoided the obvious embarrassment of the full text theoretically taking several hours…

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Xmas Past Jem, Scrooge Gavin and also non-Victorian Claire Johnson are close to admitting festive defeat.

And so followed UNREHEARSED DRACULA for Hallowe’en 2013, using the original Universal Bela Lugosi screenplay (daft as a larch though it is), with Mr Lazarus returning for the title role – plus Lawrie, two Matts, Lauren, Jess, Peter, and dudes whose names I forget, but dudes they were. I didn’t even get to be in this one, having to narrate and play the part of a rubber bat on a bit of string, but it was a thrilling way to spend an early Hallowe’en evening, and we got away with it yet again…

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The cast of Unrehearsed Dracula think they’re the cast of Peter’s bleeding Friends or something.

… But the annoying thing is, ‘getting away with it’ really isn’t quite as good as UNREHEARSED THEATRE can be. It has to be edge-of-seat stuff, but first you need to know you’re going to have everything relatively in place…

When we tried UNREHEARSED BLACKADDER on a sunny Sunday afternoon out in the Bell courtyard as part of the Bath Comedy Festival, again for Comic Relief, there was too much of an emphasis on begging to get anyone to stick on a wig, wrap themselves in a curtain and take part. Very often there are one or two absolute heroes who will just make an event like this happen, and this time, as well as Matt Bragg taking part throughout, the discovery of Gemma de Carteret – an utterly syllable-perfect tribute to Miranda Richardson’s brilliance in every role – was the saving grace (plus her splendid friends who we basically had to pressgang).

Although we managed to get through one episode from each series and make half the boozers laugh (and raise, um, fifty quid), one thing was becoming horrible apparent: UNREHEARSED THEATRE wasn’t going to work without one modicum more actual organisation. I’m a flaky sod at the best of times, but although this was conceived as a bit of a laugh, there’s no doubt that just crossing my fingers and hoping this will work is more stressful than it should be.

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Jem, Matt and Gemma de Carteret perform the balcony scene…
I may be no Hugh Laurie, but least I’m more the size of the actual George IV.

So this is a call-out to any south-west performers, show-offs and strangers – we need to create more of an UNREHEARSED THEATRE community if there’s to be any more performances, either for charity or purely for laughs. This isn’t just a ‘script reading group’, we just do everything we can to fully perform the story, without any prior rehearsal.

What’s the point of it? Well for professional performers, it is a great work out, to portray a character’s whole story arc in an hour or two from a standing start, just downloading your dialogue onto your phone (admittedly you need good eyesight, and good wi-fi). But for anyone else, it’s a way of enjoying the sensation of entertaining a crowd, of being part of a unique cast just for an hour or two… without all the bother of learning lines, changing costumes, doing the same thing again night after night. And if we can get it working right, it’s also a memorable night of frenetic, ridiculous one-off entertainment even for those who just turn up to watch.

Sifting through online script databases, so many possibilities present themselves – Unrehearsed An American Werewolf In London? Monty Python & The Holy Grail? Casablanca? Or perhaps less cinematic freely available scripts, Unrehearsed Twelfth Night or A Doll’s House or The Birthday Party? Some people have a problem with reading from phones, it is a bit squinty, but then there’s always the option of sharing PDFs ourselves, if anyone would like to arrange a script. The thing is, if there’s a community of people who are generally up for taking part, anyone can come up with an idea for an evening’s entertainment – but this time, we wouldn’t book a venue or put up posters for the show until we had at least a ‘Reduced Shakespeare Company’-sized cast who could manage to get up and do the show, each totally committed to being there, and of course bringing along as many people as possible.

But most importantly of all, still not rehearsing so much as one word in advance.

A really good show could raise lots of money, and definitely beat a night with the curtains drawn gawping at a boxset. So email jemquitegood@yahoo.co.uk or search UNREHEARSED THEATRE on FB, and you could be the star of a new live adaptation of Goonies in no time.

Magazine Scraps #2

It is slightly worrying to note that it’s exactly a year since Magazine Scraps #1, but then I have written an entire book in the ensuing time. Of which more anon…

But here are two or three utterly random snatches from my 20-odd years in magazine publishing – or certainly, my many years of active videogame journalism, particularly Total Advance magazine, which I ran pretty much solo from the age of 22. I thought I could get away with anything… but sadly I couldn’t get away with not making enough profit every single month, and so the mighty title was slain, to the wailing of a dozen or so thousand stalwart readers, leaving me washed up on the shores of Pokémon World…

But anyway, these were wilder, shinier times…

First, a couple of the traditional ‘write any old bollocks’ Professor boxouts we could get away with back when gaming was obligatorily fun:

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Secondly, from a year or two later, TA issue 34, a slightly more factual (i.e. less testicle-flavoured) item from the Yoshi’s Island review, concerning the act of infantilising famous characters, a la Baby Mario…

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… And here’s an exclusive from the same issue. These magazines were created at the now defunct (or transmuted into Imagine Publishing) Paragon Publishing, based down in Bournemouth, where I lived from 2000-2003. And the sad truth is I never lived anywhere with so little of historical or cultural interest – okay, now I live in Bath, so I’m a bit spoiled, but Bournemouth was only built less than two hundred years ago as a London overspill, so it’s little wonder that there was nothing much there of note but terrible clubs filled with stags and hens, and old folk’s homes.

The one major exception was Mary Shelley’s grave, which was literally just opposite the offices, and very often the location for a lunchtime or otherwise extremely taboo smoke with friends, and of course it was also very much a Goth hangout. One of my few favourite spots in the town, Goth or not.

And of course, an irresistible scoop for any young journalist looking for a boxout for their Frankenstein-featuring Monster Force review…

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