Saturday, 31 May 2014

Ball-alike.


Would anybody like to go to see a Michael Ball tribute act with me? He’s on in Stevenage next month if you fancy it.

 
(They should have called it ‘A Load of Ball’; they missed out on a trick.

The blurb describes the show as 'two hours of Michael Ball bliss’. I might sue them for Trade Descriptions. If nothing else, it’s a good way of rounding up all of his fans in one convenient - and sealable - location.
  
I’ve got no issues with Ball (or Ball issues) by the way. I actually quite like him. He’s self-deprecating and a very good sport. What I can’t understand is why you’d go to a two-hour sound-alike show, when you could see the real thing just as easily.

A Michael Ball tribute is a confusing concept. He's not dead. He’s also a musical theatre performer and not a pop star ('One Step Out of Time' notwithstanding). You wouldn’t be paying tribute to him, but the various shows he’s been associated with.

Where do you go after 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' and 'Love Changes Everything'? Except for the bar, that is.

Based on this, I might stage my own tribute to John Barrowman. If I do, I'll call it ‘John Barrowman: Live and Kicking’, on account of the fact he used to present it.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Gammy Hand.


My handwriting has deteriorated so much over the years that it now resembles the illegible scrawl of a five-year-old.

Not a particularly adept five-year-old at that. I’m talking about the sort of child who seldom writes, has broken both wrists and is holding the pen in his weak hand. Yes: that bad.

It’s very embarrassing. Just writing a greeting card makes me self-conscious. I’ve grown to expect the frown and narrowing of the eyes of the recipient as they do their best to decipher it; something even the people at Bletchley Park would have struggled with.

These days, I’ll mostly resort to block capitals, which is the writing-style-of-choice of the moron. Even this isn’t foolproof. My capital E looks like a small 't', and my M and W are nigh on indistinguishable.

This is what happens when you type and text so much: you get out of practise. It’s still a shame. There was a time when I couldd write a multiple-paged essay without worrying whether my teacher would understand it.

Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps the only reason I got an A at English A-Level was because the examiner thought that I’d written something else.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Suspicious Shopping.

Browsing the kids’ section of various charity shops this morning for a costume for the play I'm in made me feel very suspicious.

I don’t know why. I could have been a young(ish) parent on the lookout for a new (old) outfit for my child. Even though I wasn’t, I still had a valid excuse - and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was up to something nefarious.

It didn’t help that I wasn’t looking for anything specific. Just something small, that would barely fit. It didn’t even matter if it was for a boy or a girl, as long as it made me look ridiculous. I just hadn’t factored in also looking stupid while I bought it.

The worst shop of all was the British Heart Foundation. The man behind the counter eyeballed me as I walked around the store. His expression when I finally swooped on the toddlers’ section was priceless.

‘Thought as much’ it said. ‘I bloody thought as much.’

I felt like a man who’s gone into a newsagent to buy porn, then pretends to browse other magazines beforehand to save face. 

Next time, I’m taking someone with me.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

I'm Spinning Around.

Since yesterday, I have been suffering from vertigo.

It’s not actually vertigo; it’s labyrinthitis. I decided against using its proper name initially, for fear of the David Bowie connotations it provokes.

Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner ear, which causes incorrect information to be sent to your brain regarding balance. This makes you think you’re spinning around when you’re not. When it strikes it can be very debilitating, making it hard for you to even walk down the street.

I first caught labyrinthitis in 2010, when I was in the midst of a West End run of the musical Dreamboats & Petticoats. Whilst I was standing on the stage one night, moments before curtain up, I suddenly felt like I was going to faint. The floor beneath me became blurry and indistinct; I thought it might open and swallow me up.

I went to see the doctor the following day, who explained the problem (this being his job). He told me that there was no cure for labyrinthitis or definite timeframe for it to be out of my system; I would just have to be patient and sit it out. He said it was often brought on by tiredness and stress, and exacerbated by bright lights and loud music - all of which played a big part in my job. He may as well have told me I was allergic to theatre.

I took a few months for that first bout to pass. Unfortunately, I had to leave the show to concentrate on recovery. Thankfully, any instances since have been brief and less severe.

I hope this will also be the case today. The timing is awful, as I open in a play on Friday that involves a lot of throwing myself about. I’m doing my best not to panic.

Trust me to suffer from a ridiculously-named illness. Why can’t it be called The Goonies?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Cat 22.


Scratch, eat, sleep...scratch, eat, sleep...scratch, eat, sleep: this is my pet cat’s itinerary.

She’ll factor in the odd variation - like sneaking into the room she’s not allowed in, pissing on the curtains or being sick on the carpet - but this doesn't happen often. When it does, it’s a little treat. For her, not me, that is.

It must be nice to live your life only concerned with when you can factor in your next snack, scratch or snooze. A cat doesn’t worry about the pension deficit, the rise of UKIP or the situation in North Korea (unless they live there, as they could wind up as a medicinal ingredient). The average cat couldn’t give a fuck. Give it a comfy sofa or a cushion and it's sorted.

The word 'cat' should be substituted with 'git' in the Oxford English Dictionary. As names go, that's much more accurate.

"I will destroy you."

Monday, 26 May 2014

Garage Camaraderie.


I popped into my local garage yesterday to buy some essentials. All was well, until the time came to pay. The cashier, who had been in hysterics with the customer in front, only asked me if I wanted a receipt. It made me feel very inadequate.

Was it the way I look? Perhaps my face doesn't encourage banter. I always try to be friendly and upbeat when I'm in the midst of a transaction. Maybe that’s where I go wrong; what’s meant to create the impression of a pleasant, well-rounded individual probably makes me look like an axe-wielding maniac.

Maybe he disapproved of my shopping. I can’t see why. There’s nothing offensive about a bottle of orange juice and a smoothie, even if you mix them together.

He could have known the man in front, of course. Actually, that’s probably what it was. Either way, I think I’ll prepare a little slapstick routine for when I return. I won’t be happy until I’m known as BP’s funnest customer.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

In Praise of Arcati.


Last night I watched Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre, with Angela Lansbury. I didn’t go with Dame Angela; she was in it.

The train into London was full of people going to the Arctic Monkeys gig at Finsbury Park. I was off to watch the star of Murder, She Wrote. The culture divide was massive.

I’d wanted to go to show from the moment I’d seen it advertised. I’m a big fan of the play and its leading actress. Neither disappointed. Both have aged well. Lansbury was hilarious, with an energy that belies her age; there aren’t many eighty-eight-year-olds who could cope with eight shows a week, let alone attack them with such panache.

Her CV is incredible. She’s won five Tonys and six Golden Globes and been nominated for eighteen Emmys and three Oscars. It puts my Most Promising Student award to shame. She made her Broadway debut in 1957 and is still going strong. I made my first professional theatre appearance in 2002 and am already contemplating a different career.

She also starred in my favourite kids’ film, Bedknobs & Broomsticks. Her rendition of The Age of Not Believing brings a tear to my eye to this day. She’s also one of the few people to be threatened by Bruce Forsyth with a knife. One of the only reported cases, anyway.

The cast were excellent all round. It must be exciting to work with an actress of Lansbury’s calibre, however experienced they may be in their own right. Imagine the stories she must have and the people that she’s worked with.

Blithe Spirit runs until the 7th of June. Go and see it if you can. You won’t regret it.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

David's Soap Box.


Yesterday, I took my dad to the doctors’. As we sat in the waiting room, my eyes were drawn to three noticeboards that were up on the wall (this being the best place to keep them).

They were separated into three categories: Juvenile, Young Adult and Elderly. I was surprised by the pamphlets they’d attributed to each.

The Juvenile board had the information you’d expect; leaflets on breastfeeding, vaccination and the like. It was the other two that bothered me. The Young Adult board was full of posters on chlamydia, AIDS and smoking - not for; against - while the Elderly board only had information on depression and losing weight.

I didn’t like was the categorisation. Why suggest that only young people catch STDs and the elderly suffer from depression? It was great that they offered so much information and support, but they didn’t need to pigeonhole it. This could make those in difficulty feel they couldn’t ask for help, because they’re worried that they shouldn’t be in their situation in the first place.

This is particularly the case with depression, which is one of most common mental health issues experienced by younger people. One in seven men aged between 16 and 24 suffer from depression and anxiety each year. Many deny they even have a problem. So, why create the impression it’s just an issue for the older generation?

Maybe I was being pernickety. They were on the same wall after all. Either that, or I was just upset because I couldn’t decide which age bracket applied to me. When will I stop being juvenile?

Friday, 23 May 2014

Writer's Block.


Today, I’m finding it hard to get into a creative flow.

I’ve spent the past hour working up a blog on the subject of a noticeboard I spotted at my dad’s doctors’ surgery. The topic is more interesting that it sounds. Despite knowing what I want to get across, I can’t seem to get past the first paragraph.

That's the way it goes some days. It’s very irritating. I become obsessed with the structure of every sentence, constantly adding and subtracting words here and there, until I eventually lose track of the point I was trying to make in the first place.

(I even did it with that one. Fuck off, David. FUCK OFF!)

This happens when you focus too much on the mechanics. Most ideas are at their freshest and most coherent at the moment of inspiration. If you don’t get it down quickly, when you’re still enthusiastic about the subject, it ends up sounding forced.

I remember this happening when Glyn and I wrote some material about a Dutch Phrasebook I’d bought whilst touring the Netherlands. The crux of the joke was that most of the phrases in the book that were listed as ‘essential’ were actually far from it. Two that spring to mind now are “I love you” and “Get away from me or I’ll scream”. I can understand the potential need for the latter, but not the former; could you love somebody you could only communicate with using a phrasebook?

While the gist of the gag was good, we never really nailed it. We still perform the skit occasionally; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Probably because we didn't strike while the iron was hot.

It was the same when we reworked out sitcom script, Nick & Joe, for a rehearsed reading at the Soho Theatre last year. We revisited the first script we'd ever written, adding a couple of new characters (played by Michael Barrymore and Norman Lovett) along the way. While the newer gags were strong and got laughs, the older bits didn’t sit so well; partly because I no longer found them funny. It’s always a bad sign when the material doesn’t amuse one of its authors.

Perhaps I’ll return to that noticeboard in tomorrow’s blog. Then again, I might not. If I don't, you could go and see it yourself and write your own jokes. It's in the waiting room at the Marymead Doctors’ Surgery in Broadwater, Stevenage. Knock yourself out; if you do, you'll be in the right place.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Jarvis Cockcrow.


There was a crow outside my window today with a call that sounded exactly like the muted trumpet in Pulp’s ‘This is Hardcore’.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve noticed this 'Bird with the Britpop Squawk' (a good title for a thriller). I hear him a lot. Each time he unwittingly triggers a niche earworm in my head. At least he reminds me of a song I like. It could be worse: he could sound like Axel F’s Crazy Frog.

(This was the most modern musical reference I could come up with.)

Perhaps his aural similarity to a Pulp song isn’t a coincidence. He could have flown through Somerset during their headline set at the '98 Glastonbury Festival and decided to make one of their brass arrangements his own. They have an average lifespan of ten to fifteen years – crows, not Pulp – so it’s on the cusp of being possible.

Thank God he didn't hear Robbie Williams' set. If so, I'd be one of the first people convicted for strangling a bird. I'd like to think my actions would be justified.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Office / Orifice.


This is the first installment of my blog to be written in Doggett & Ephgrave's new office.

The room is currently bare, except for a clock that needs a new battery, a cheese & tomato sandwich (which wasn’t part of the deal), a chair, a laptop and me. I carried the chair on foot from my flat, thinking it wouldn’t be heavy, then regretted my decision almost instantly.

(At least I had something to sit on if I got tired.)

I’m excited about what our new office represents. It feels like we’re taking ourselves seriously. It'll be great to have a base from which to work on our various collective projects (which will double as a crack den).

We’ll kit it out properly when Glyn returns from his holiday. Until then, I intend to stay in the room 24/7, to be sure that I get my money’s worth. I’d better leave a window open, so I don’t run out of oxygen.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

No Prize.


There’s nothing like the BAFTAs for reminding you how little you’ve achieved in your career. Don’t let it be said that I never set myself unreasonable goals.

While there's no golden mask on my mantelpiece, I’ve not faired too badly over the years. I’ve worked in the West End, toured the UK more times than I care to remember - and my various projects with Glyn Doggett have certainly had their moments. There may be a string of two-star reviews to our name, but I like to take this to mean we're two stars in-the-making.

Though I may never win a BAFTA - and I’m not sure what I’d get one for anyway: Best Beard, perhaps? - I still have the odd prize to my name. My old group Big Day Out won Best Band in Hertfordshire and Best North Herts Finalist at the 1998 Hertfordshire Music Awards (what do you mean, you’ve never heard of it?). I was also awarded Most Promising Student on graduating from drama school; an accolade I’ve been trying to disprove ever since.

I also once won a travel edition of Monopoly during a BBC Radio 5Live phone-in back in the early Nineties, speaking to Andi Peters, Mark Curry and Edd the Duck in the process – and was very nearly booked to perform magic on the ‘8:15 From Manchester’ with Ross King.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts can shove their coveted trophy up their arse. I’m just not interested.

(I obviously am.)

Unimpressive.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Step Into My Office.


Today, me and Glyn looked at a small office in Hitchin that we might start to rent.

I’m very excited about the prospect. It'd be great to finally have our own workspace. For too long, we’ve made do with meeting at each other’s houses, or cadging a room at the Hitchin Youth Trust or the Market Theatre. Wherever we go, we always feel in the way.

Having our own office will be a definite step up. I love the idea of being able to go there whenever I want, to write, rehearse or catch up on admin, and then closing the door at the end of the day and leaving it behind. It’d almost be like having a proper job (God forbid).

The room is small, but cheap. I'm sure it will be big enough for us. It's not as if we need to swing a cat. 

We could put a few of our old posters up on the wall. We might even buy a pot plant. Our transition to adulthood is nearly complete. 

I really hope we do it. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Being Barry Scott.


‘Barry Scott’ must find it hard to be cast as anyone else.

(Barry and the Scott is gone.)
I’ve used those inverted commas intentionally. There’s no such person as Barry Scott. Well, there probably is, but he’s not the chap we associate with Cillit Bang. He is a figment of an advertising executive’s imagination; as fictional as the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny or Adrian Chiles.

The Barry Scott who’s obsessed with household cleanliness is merely an actor playing a part. His name is Neil Burgess. He’s got lots of other credits to his name, yet his face will always be synonymous with limescale removal.

Playing Barry Scott must be a double-edged sword. While it might preclude you from other work, such as advertising rival products, the income generated would probably make up for this.

He should count himself lucky that he isn't Mr. Muscle. What was once a lucrative earner for the scrawnier actor is now a computer animation. Advertising is a very fickle business.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Forgotten Breakfast.


The other day, I added Weetabix to my mobile phone’s dictionary. The time had come to make a commitment.

(I’m referring to the word Weetabix, rather than the actual product. You wouldn't want flakes of wheat clogging up your phone’s inner mechanism.)

There are only so many breakfast-related texts you can send before you get sick of the little red wavy line that clutters them up. This is meant to assist you, but only winds you up, particularly when you know you’ve spelt the word correctly. It also plays havoc with your OCD; it’s a lose-lose situation.

It’s surprising that a food invented nearly a century ago with a name in common parlance has yet to achieve the distinction of being listed on a smartphone’s memory. This might just be the case with a BlackBerry Q10, though there’s only so much research I’m prepared to do on the subject. I’m not going to buy an iPhone to find out.

(While Weetabix isn’t recognised by BlackBerry, it is by Microsoft Word. I spy a Bill Gates-led breakfast snack conspiracy.)

When it comes to including cereal brands on a mobile phone’s dictionary, I guess there has to be a limit. If they included one, then they would have to include them all – and no manufacturer should be given preferential treatment.  

When I texted the word Weetabix, I was actually referring to Sainsbury’s Wheat Bisks. If Weetabix didn’t make the grade, I suspect a supermarket own-brand wouldn't fair much better.

I might stick to cornflakes in future.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Mostly Hattie.


Last night’s Hitchin Mostly Comedy was a good’un.

We had a slightly smaller turnout than the last few months, but we’ve been spoilt for audiences since the beginning of the year. The last four shows were all sellouts.

Though yesterday wasn’t quite as jam-packed, they were still a lovely crowd, who were happy to listen to everything laid in front of them, comedically speaking. They were a nice bunch, and quite vocal; the laughter count didn’t represent the amount of people we had in (in a good way).

Last night saw the first Mostly Comedy appearance of Hattie Hayridge; a veteran of the stand-up circuit, who’s probably best known for playing Holly in Red Dwarf. Although we’ve seen her in the crowd at a few gigs over the years, this was the first time we’d actually met. She was very easy to talk to; we managed to fit in a nice little interview for our podcast, just before the gig went up.

Hattie Hayridge at last night's gig.

We also had Lou Sanders on the bill, who for some unfathomable reason we haven’t had back since she played our first Hitchin venue, The George, in April 2010. This wasn’t personal. It was good to have her down and to catch up.

Jay Foreman completed the line-up. He’s a Mostly Comedy old-timer, having performed at every venue we’ve run in Hitchin, London and Edinburgh, since the club began. Actually, that’s a lie: I don’t think he played The George – but he’s certainly been everywhere else. It’s always nice to have him back. We also had a nice informal chat for our podcast after the show, over a couple of glasses of wine.

(Jay didn’t drink, as he was driving. Sensible chap.)

It was also a good one for us. We resurrected a couple of pieces of material that we haven’t performed for a couple of years. We gave them a little tweak before the show, and were both pleased that they still get a good response.

Next month we have James Acaster and Nish Kumar previewing their new Edinburgh Fringe shows at Hitchin Mostly Comedy, and Richard Herring previewing at our Leicester Square Theatre gig. Both should be good.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Touring Lowlights.


Twelve years ago, I toured the UK with a show called ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’. One week, we found ourselves stranded at Grimsby Auditorium.

There are a few downsides to touring. One of them is having Grimsby on your itinerary. The town has very little to speak of, except for the Auditorium which isn’t; it’s a sports hall, caught adrift in the midst of a deserted residential area. You could put together a strong case suing the venue for Trade Descriptions; a theatre, it’s not.

Another problem with touring is finding somewhere to eat. You can spend hours wandering a city, trying to find a decent meal before you need to be at the theatre. The only options in Grimsby were chips, chips or chips (with optional fish).

One day, we visited the neighbouring town of Cleethorpes. The streets literally smelt of gravy. It was as ominous as it was savoury.

Whilst sitting in a café tucking into a round of fried breakfasts (which wasn’t much different from eating chips), we looked out of the window to see a parade of shops opposite with their windows boarded up.

“Must be hard to run a business in this area” one of our entourage piped up. Unless you work in gravy, I thought to myself.
 “I wonder what they used to be?” said another.

We leant forward collectively to squint at the sign. There, next to a childlike drawing of a windmill, a pair of clogs and a couple of slices of holey cheese, was the legend “MADE IN HOLLAND”.

If you can’t sell top-quality Dutch merchandise on a backstreet in Cleethorpes, there’s no hope for modern enterprise.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Thirty-Third Orbit of The Sun.


I'm thirty-three-years-old today.

Let put this in perspective. By thirty-three, the Queen had been on the throne for eight years. The Beatles were all in the midst of their solo careers (Lennon was well past Imagine and McCartney, Band on the Run). Steve Coogan had made The Day Today, Knowing Me Knowing You, Knowing Me Knowing Yule and the first series of I’m Alan Partridge.

(Not that I set the bar high or anything.)

Based on this, I’d better get a wiggle on. Perhaps I'm worrying too much. Hendrix and Cobain had both been dead for six years by now; there's always someone worse off than you.

There's also always somebody older (unless you're Sir Bruce Forsyth or Carol McGiffin).

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Where've You Bin?


I’m not sure that the wheelie bin is a universally recognised unit of measurement, despite what the people at BBC News seem to think.



The problem with using a bin to illustrate the scale of a jellyfish is they vary in size. I’m referring to the bin here and not the jellyfish, though the same applies to both.  

It depends on the type we’re talking about: industrial or household. It’s all a question of perspective; what’s big to one is tiny to another.

(I’m still talking about bins.)

I assume the trash can comparison is meant to stun us into silence. This didn’t work. If anything, it leaves us with more questions than answers. Telling us the size of the jellyfish in metric or imperial would have been clearer and still impressive.

I’ve just noticed that the line about bins is in inverted commas. So, the fault doesn’t lie with the BBC, but with the person they’re quoting. Whoever made this statement should have at least supplied a picture of their own bin for reference.

You'd still need something next to it for scale. A jellyfish, perhaps?

Monday, 12 May 2014

Perfect Timing.


I’ve just come out from the second rehearsal of the play I’m doing called Marry Me or Be Evicted, which opens in a couple of weeks.

I’m sitting in Caffe Nero around the corner from the theatre – and just stopped writing for a moment to talk to my friend Ollie (co-owner of The Croft, where we used to run Mostly Comedy), who I haven’t seen for a good, or bad, few months.

“What are you up to?” he asked.
“I’m just writing my blog.”
“What’s it about today?”

His gaze was drawn to my laptop screen, to see a page that was empty except for the first four words: ‘I’ve just come out’. He couldn’t have timed his entrance better.

The rehearsal went well. We were directorless today, but still managed to get a lot done. We’re already past the halfway point of the script, with a couple of weeks to go before the opening night. The show is frantic but fun; I only wish I could shift the cold that I’ve had for weeks, so I’d have sufficient voice to do it justice.

If not, perhaps I can find someone to dub my performance.

Brighton Two (David Nil).


Tonight, we had our second and final show on the Brighton Fringe.

While it was slicker than Thursday, it felt a little low on laughs. It was a small house – and I got the impression that most of them hadn’t necessarily wanted to come up the stairs to watch us. We had a friend in - the super-talented artist, actor and musician Kludo White - plus an agent. Kludo did an excellent job of coercing a small crowd from the pub downstairs, when it looked like no-one was going to join us.

A few minutes before ‘curtain up’ (there weren't any curtains), it looked like we might be performing just to Kludo, his girlfriend and the agent. The audience would have outnumbered the performers by just one person, which would have been a very depressing prospect.

Thankfully, this wasn't the case. Though the reaction was quiet, they were enjoying it. Despite this, I still managed to convince myself very early on that they didn’t want to be there, and couldn’t shake this from my mind. I’m my own worst enemy.

I still think the show is in good shape. Both the agent and Kludo liked it, which was great. I was particularly pleased that Kludo enjoyed it, as he’s never seen us do stand-up.

I’m looking forward to performing it at the next two London Mostly Comedies in June and July. By the time we film it at September’s Hitchin Mostly we should know it inside out. That night we’ll share the bill with Stewart Lee; don’t let it be said that we don’t like to challenge ourselves.

You might like to read a little interview we did with The New Current to promote our Brighton show. Then again, you might not.