Category Archives: drama

Brexit: A Farce in Two Acts

Here’s a summary of my latest creative endeavour, a fifteen-minute radio play entitled ‘Brexit: a Farce in Two Acts’.

Act 1

Scene 1: The f*** up.

Dodgy Dave wants to screw Britannia, whom he fancies.  Urged on by his mate Nigel, manager of thrash metal band ‘The Kippers’, he asks her out and decides to sleep with her.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Scene 2: the consequences

Dave has had his fun and goes whistling back to No 10 for a good night’s sleep.  He’s so sure nothing can go wrong, he refuses even to consider advising Brit to take a morning-after pill.

Scene 3

Unfortunately, 52% of Dave’s sperm were fertile and Brit has a positive result to her test.  In one year she will give birth to a child who will be called Brexit.

Dave refuses to do the decent thing and support Brit: appalled at the news, he scarpers and is never seen again.

Act 2: Brexit

Brexit is born, but it is clear that she has multiple handicaps.  Misshapen, misbegotten and malformed, her mere presence divides the country in two: those who think she should be strangled and those who think she’ll be absolutely fine in spite of everything.

Brex is an unhappy child, forced at a very early age to go to Brussels and negotiate with the EU even though she doesn’t know what she wants apart from three words written on a piece of paper: strong, stable and hard.

Seeing the state her child is in, Brit is devastated.  She is diagnosed with acute schizophrenia and sent to lie down in a darkened room.  Brexit comes back from Brussels with another piece of paper, though what is written on it is not yet clear.

I’ve written this into a fifteen-minute play and will look for a suitable slot on which to perform it.

Kirk out

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Charles III and Another Windsor

Camilla (Margot Leicester), King Charles III (Tim Pigott-Smith), Kate Middleton (Charlotte Riley), Prince William (Oliver Chris), Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) in King Charles III

Image result for open source images barbara windsor

(no copyright infringement intended: images will be removed on request)

Notwithstanding Ken Loach’s recent comments about historical drama on the BBC, with which I substantially associate myself:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-37679158

the Beeb does produce some stonking drama; and two gems I’ve seen lately tend towards the biographical; one retrospectively and one futuristically.  They are also royally linked; the subject of the first, ‘Babs’ being about a self-styled Windsor and the second, ‘Charles III’, featuring an actual member of that family.

I have never been a fan of Barbara Windsor.  You could argue that the construction of the dumb bombshell with the humungous bazoongas was a creation of male writers and directors, but it was one in which she was complicit.  Her ‘Carry-On’ persona so completely eclipsed her earlier acting talent that I was completely gobsmacked to find that she’d worked with Joan Littlewood.  You would think that Littlewood, a Communist in early years, would be anathema to the conventional and staunchly royalist Windsor; but work together they did.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02t02pl

Littlewood warns Windsor in this production that if she’s not careful she’ll play the dumb blonde for the rest of her life, a prophecy which came true – at least until Babs moved to EastEnders.

I liked this programme, in spite of it’s following the ‘Lady in the Van’ convention of having two narrators: it showed a side of Windsor I would never have imagined.  But it was as nothing to the stupendousness of last night’s ‘Charles III,’ an imagining of the first months of Charles’ reign following the death of the Queen.

Tim Piggott-Smith plays Charles (Smith was shortly afterwards to die) in a tour de force.  But though the acting is superb, the success of this begins with the script.  With the great soliloquys written in iambic pentameter, it brings to mind every Shakespeare play that ever featured a monarch, and takes us back to the power-plays of Richard II and Henrys IV and V.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen this yet I strongly advise you to watch before reading on.

Charles is known nowadays to be proactive behind the scenes; this play sees him make some disastrous decisions in his first days by refusing to sign a bill which comes before him, thus precipitating an answer to the age-old question of where royal power resides.  The paradox has been sustained for generations; the Queen signing bills with which she almost certainly disagrees, being fully aware that not to do so would precipitate a constitutional crisis.  You have to pick your battles, and Charles’ tragic flaw in this is that instead of waiting and discussing, he charges straight in like a bull at a gate, prompting the Prime Minister to call his bluff and enact the bill into law with or without royal assent.  The Machiavellian Leader of the Opposition advises the King to follow the example of William IV and dissolve Parliament: this he does, and the ensuing crisis is Charles’ downfall.

What was most interesting was the role of Kate in this.  Bored by her portrayal as a smiling and supportive wife, she urges the indecisive William to take control and intervene.  Kate is the typical Shakespearian female malcontent, albeit with more possibilities open to her than a Tudor princess: and from the moment she persuades her husband to act, the writing is on the wall for Charles.  He becomes Lear; pathetic, outcast, bemoaning the treachery of his children and only giving way when they threaten to leave the palace and take his grandchildren with them.

Also interesting was a sub-plot centring on Harry’s desire to be a commoner: he returns to the fold just in time for the coronation.

And this is how the play ends: with William being crowned in his father’s stead, and stability being returned.  At the last minute Charles snatches the crown from the Archbishop, seeming to be about to put it on his own head.  Instead, in a touching gesture, he places it on William, murmuring ‘my son.’

And there’s even a Shakespearian ghost: Diana returns to speak to both widower and son, telling them both that they will be the greatest king ever: in a nice twist, it seems Charles will achieve this by abdicating.

I can’t sing the praises of this enough: I’m going to watch it again in a few days.  I’ve only scratched the surface here.  I urge you to see it while you can:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04z0n7s/king-charles-iii

Kirk out

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Best. Shakespeare. Ever.

I was initially a tad dubious about these beamed-in theatre productions where theatres film their output and transmit it simultaneously to cinemas all over the world.  Whilst I could see that it enabled thousands more people to see a play which they might not otherwise get to attend, it seemed a rather dislocated experience.  It must also be hard for the actors, knowing that they are performing for a dual audience and that as well as having to project to the gods at the National (or wherever) they will have cameras on them doing a close-up.

But I am now a total convert, having seen not only Hedda Gabler from the National but also, on Saturday, the completely amazing NT production of Twelfth Night, starring in a gender-bent role, Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.

I always respected Tamsin Greig as an actor.  Her ultra-distinctive voice is rarely heard on The Archers nowadays, as Debbie is permanently in Hungary, but I loved her in Black Books and various other things on the good box.  But I basically thought of her as a soap/sitcom actress and had No Idea of what heights of comic invention she could ascend on the stage.  Her Malvolia was the funniest, most striking, most pathetic, most hilarious and outrageous I have ever seen.  And though she was the best thing in it, the cast as a whole was far from dusty.  Setefane claimed that Phoebe Fox was the finest member of the cast, playing another gender-bent role, Olivia (a woman pretending to be her own brother).  And ’tis true, she was indeed brilliant, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Tamsin Greig.  Best.  Twelfth Night.  Ever.  In fact, possibly the best Shakespeare ever – in my experience at least.

Gender-bending is common in Shakespeare when not only did boys play women, but characters often pretended to be of the other sex.  But recently in more feminist style, roles have been swapped; so recently Helen Mirren has played Prospera in The Tempest and Maxine Peake, Hamlet:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/gallery/2014/sep/26/female-hamlets-sarah-bernhardt-maxine-peake-in-pictures

If you get a chance to see this production, go.  Sell your house and all its contents, but go.  It’s terrific.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/twelfth-night

Kirk out

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But is it Lit-richa?

Like most people I was astonished at the announcement that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I mean, WTF?  He’s a song-writer!  What were they thinking?

Let’s consider this more judiciously.  Firstly, can song lyrics can be literature?  Well, in one sense, why not?  Then again, in a song the words and music are designed to go together, so that to look at the lyrics in isolation is like viewing a painting through sunglasses.  You’ve only got half the experience that the author intended.  Then again, maybe the lyrics can work as stand-alone poems, in the same way that Shakespeare’s plays can be read as well as seen.

But the crucial question is, are they literature?  Well, what is literature?  What is the difference between literature and fiction (if there is one) or between literature and poetry?Well, I guess it’s the difference between the good and the best.  Literature represents the best of the written output of a culture; that which stands out from the rest and which may in time turn out to be great literature, ie that which transcends time and place and shows itself to be universal.  Fiction speaks to a time and place; literature speaks more widely and great literature resounds through space and time.  Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Austen, Dante, etc are read in every literate culture; and Shakespeare’s stories are told in many illiterate societies too.

The Nobel Prize for Literature reflects this.  And it is is international: by its very nature it picks that which speaks not just to one culture but to many; that which transcends borders and may well stand the test of time.  Can we really say that about Bob Dylan?  Does Dylan speak to Russians and Africans and Chinese as he does to Westerners?

I think we’ve got confused about this.  We’ve got mixed up in the boundaries between cultural elites and literary merit.  Yes, we need to keep expanding the boundaries to include writers from second-and third-world countries as well as considering LGBT writing (considering women goes without saying, I should hope) and putting these on a par with white Western males.  This has been reflected in recent Nobel Laureates: J M Coetzee, V S Naipaul, Alice Monro, Orhan Pamuk and Mario Vargas Llosa have all won the prize in the last ten years and stand alongside the more familiar figures of Harold Pinter and Doris Lessing.  But expanding the boundaries to consider these groups is not the same as awarding prizes, and more often than not nowadays I think we tick the boxes rather than seriously considering merit.  People are so scared of being called elitist that they sometimes choose people who don’t deserve to win rather than genuinely weighing the options.  (I am always slightly uneasy when people complain at the lack of women on particular shortlists as though this were prima facie evidence of discrimination.  It may be: then again unless we can find independent evidence – novels by women which were overlooked in favour of worse novels by men – the argument won’t stand up.)

Mind you, to judge fairly requires an opening of the mind not only to other styles and forms but to different types of merit.  As far as I can see the Nobel committee has done a fairly good job of this recently.  Until this year, when they lost their minds.  Let’s hope they get back on track soon.

Bob Dylan is a great singer/songwriter.  But a Nobel Laureate?  Do me a favour!

If you disagree I’d really like to hear why.  Please post your favourite Dylan lyrics with reasons why you think they count as literature.

Kirk out

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Harry Potter and the Jumped Shark

A few weeks ago I scooted through the hot-off-the-press script of the latest J K Rowling creation: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’.  I wasn’t sure what to make of there being a sequel: I generally think series of novels are best left ‘finished’ rather than projected into the future, a problem CS Lewis solved by killing off all his characters as well as the setting which spawned them.  I partly wish Rowling had gone the same way: although there is a case for background info like ‘Pottermore’ I think it’s generally unwise to give in to the temptation to write further stories.

On the whole I think this instinct was confirmed by my reading.  The story definitely ‘jumps the shark’ in many ways by going back in time to alter outcomes arising from events in HP 4, specifically the death of Cedric Diggory.  A time-turner has conveniently survived the Ministry purge and falls into the hands of two newcomers to Hogwarts; Albus (second son of Harry and Ginny) and Scorpius, son of Draco Malfoy.  The friendship between these two is the most authentic part of HPCC; sons of enemies who both end up in Slytherin, their relationship is touching and feels genuinely updated.  There’s tons of irony here; the fact that Albus is cursed by his father’s legacy; the fact that he ends up in Slytherin house, and the fact that he becomes best friend of his father’s bete noire.  But whilst the boys are rounded personalities, the same cannot be said of Harry, Ron and Hermione projected into the future; in fact I found all the adult characters flat and uninspiring.  That said, this is a play and not a novel and I can well imagine that with thousands spent on special effects and equipment this is a stunning spectacle.  But as a read?  Nah.

Enough Potter already!

Kirk out

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Orton Ornot?

Regular readers of Lizardyoga’s blog will be only too familiar with this particular rant of mine, but bear with me because there is a new twist.  It has been mooted that the old Haymarket theatre, which has been hanging around with nothing to do, should be resurrected in some form.

http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/2-2-million-plan-reopen-Leicester-s-disused/story-29348599-detail/story.html

I could never quite understand why they found it necessary to close it in the first place and replace it with some steel-and-glass monstrosity which looks far more like a conference centre than (oo! the words ‘conference centre’ have triggered another rant, but more of that later) than a theatre, and instead of calling it after Leicester’s most famous playwright, Joe Orton, to call it by the spectacularly unimaginative name of The Curve.  By that token the new bus station would be called The Swerve, the Highcross Centre The Sprawl and Town Hall Square, Town Hall – oh wait.  But you get the drift.  There was a perfectly good Leicester-born and -bred playwright screaming for a theatre to be named after him, and instead they opted to name it after its shape.  Shame on them.

So I think I’m going to launch a campaign, if they do resurrect the Haymarket, for it to be named the Orton Theatre.  He deserves no less.

http://www.joeorton.org/

Oh, and the other rant is concerning a certain local religious centre which seems increasingly more concerned with hosting conferences than it does with supporting the homeless.  Nuff said…

Kirk out

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Upstart Crowing

I’m making the most of the iplayer before they start charging for it, in which case we may as well a) give up altogether or b) get a TV licence/Freeview box/whatever other packages they’ve come up with in the ten years or so since we last did This Sort of Thing.  Actually I think it might be more like fifteen years than ten.  Anyway… last night was a stonking night’s viewing: beginning with a classic ‘Over-sexed and over here’ Dad’s Army where they meet, greet and punch the visiting GI’s; and continuing with the utterly compelling comedy-drama ‘Love Nina’.  I wasn’t sure about this at first; but it only took a few minutes to hook me in to this series about a nanny from Leicester (yes, Leicester! – which, as it’s set in the eighties, no-one knows anything about) who goes to work as a live-in nanny for two precocious boys and their single Mum Helena Bonham-Carter.  Equally engaging is the latest Jo Brand series.  Knowing that she worked as a nurse, the series ‘Going Forward’ featuring a hard-pressed care-worker and her chauffeur husband is thoroughly authentic and gripping as well as comic.  I can’t wait to see how both of these pan out:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07cgs18/love-nina-episode-1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07c99ps/going-forward-episode-1

Sitcoms seem to be like buses: and last week we had the first episode of ‘Mum’, a gentle series about a bereaved woman surrounded by well-meaning idiots:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07cgmdq/mum-2-february

All three of these are different, intriguing and therefore unpredictable.  And what’s even better is that only one of them is on BBC 4.

As if all this weren’t enough, as part of the current Shakespeare-a-thon comes Ben Elton’s sitcom ‘Upstart Crow.’  I dimly recall that ‘upstart crow’ was one of the insults hurled at the bard by a contemporary; such is our reverence for him now that it’s hard to believe he could be so insulted in his own time.  David Mitchell plays a baffled, bewildered, much rivalled and yet supremely confident Will whose closest friend Kit Marlowe is also his nearest rival.  And here’s the rub: for, though David Mitchell is totally right for the part, I can’t help feeling that it’s otherwise a cast of understudies.  It’s as though Elton wanted his dream-team of Blackadder back again, with Rowan Atkinson as Shakespeare, Rik Mayall as Marlowe, Stephen Fry as Robert Green and Tony Robinson as Bottom the manservant, a Baldrick figure if ever I saw one.  So there’s an odd feeling of actors channelling other actors.  See for yourself whether Mark Heap isn’t channelling Stephen Fry here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07d3rqw/upstart-crow-3-the-apparel-proclaims-the-man

Still, the language is nicely parodied and there is a feminist update as Shakespeare’s friend Kate supplies a lot of his best ideas.  So well worth watching.

A good crop!

Kirk out

 

 

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