Monday, 31 October 2005

The Man on the Clapped-Out Omnibus

So, our "government" is thinking about banning drinking on buses and trains.


I'm not a big public drinker myself. I prefer a foaming pint of warm, nutty ale, hand-pulled from a pump, in a snug bar with horse-brasses on the wall. Served, preferrably, by an attractive barmaid, with large breasts in a low-cut t-shirt. "Will there be anything else, Sir?", she asks, as she leans over and licks her lips. "Perhaps I could tempt you to a quick nibble?"...


Errr... Where was I?

Oh, yes, drinking on public transport.

I'm not sure what the problem is. Presumably some of Tony Blair's blue-rinsed brigade have complained about "anti-social behaviour" (forget poverty/disease/homelessness, etc - wiping out bad manners is what really counts to our so-called superiors).

So rather than use existing rules, regulations and laws to simply boot people off of trains and buses if they get drunk and make a nuisance of themselves, we turn, instead, to preventing ordinary law-abiding folk from having one or two cans of over-priced beer (or a small bottle of wine) from the buffet car while they have to stand while making the 4 or 5 hour journey from London to Birmingham (via Inverness, due to track works at Exeter).

That's the UK government. Thinking of our health and well-being once more.

In the meantime, they can't even ban smoking in ANY public places.

I used to smoke. I gave up 18 months ago. But even when I was a smoker, I still supported a ban on public smoking. Because smoking harms others.

I defend anyone's right to harm themselves with booze, smoke, drugs, bungee-jumping or teasing large dogs. As long as you pay your National Insurance, you've paid for doctors to try to make you better again. But if it harms other people, we should stop it.

So, well done Tony. Banning drinking the odd can on a bus or train - which doesn't harm anyone; while lacking the balls/backbone to ban smoking in pubs or restaurants - which probably kills several thousand people each year.

Doesn't it make you proud?

Friday, 28 October 2005

South Park Pete

South Park Pete

A self-portrait. Built using the quite wonderful South Park Studio.

Thanks to The Recruiting Officer for the link.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005


To the Ottershaw Players committee meeting last night.

We had the bright idea of combining the meeting with our semi-regular committee dinner, but it didn't quite work out as it was impossible to hear from anyone more than 3 feet away. So we have to do it all again next week instead.

At the moment we're pondering on what plays to schedule for the next year or so.

Some feedback from ordinary members of the public would be useful - but in the absence of anyone ordinary, the readers of this blog will have to do.

So - of the plays below which one are you more likely to want to go and see (if you don't like the theatre, pretend you're being forced to go at gunpoint...). The idea is, we'd like to find out which play would find the biggest audience, so if you're a thespian-type, think of which you'd rather see, not the one you'd want to perform.

The plays are:
  1. An Evening with Gary Lineker - Modern comedy about relationships and football, with swearing.
  2. Habeas Corpus - A 1970's farce (of sorts) by Alan Bennett. No swearing. Ladies in underwear and vicars with trousers falling down.
  3. Twelfth Night - Mr William Shakespeare's comedy of cross-dressing and stuff.
  4. The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde's play about a man pretending to be someone else. Lavish costumes. Old ladies saying "A handbag".
Please add your vote in a comment by following the linko below...

Saturday, 22 October 2005

Stress Kills

Last night we went to Teddington Studios to watch filming of the second episode of Graham Linehan's new sitcom for Channel4.

It's called "The I.T. Crowd" and is set in the IT department of a large office building.

The odd thing is, that even after 2.5 hours of watching the show, I'm still not sure how funny it was:

The problem is that you watch a scene and laugh along - but you're used to watching at home and not necessarily laughing out loud, so the warm-up man has to tell you to laugh more loudly, and they show you the same piece of VT again and you try to laugh more, but you want to laugh less because you know what's coming and actually, it wasn't really laugh-out-loud funny all the time anyway; don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed it and will probably watch the whole series...

Where was I?

Oh, yes. It's VERY difficult to make yourself laugh over and over when you are seeing something done for the 5th or 6th time. The final scene was a long and complicated take. No jokes, as such, more physical stuff and sight gags.

Anyway, the cast were excellent. Richard Ayoade was very good indeed. Chris Morris was guest-starring in the episode we saw. He's very tall. And intense.

So, yes. Right. As I said, there were definitely some good moments in this and I'll be giving it a go when it's shown on C4 (sometime in 2006, we're told).

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Woking Drama Festival - Saturday 15th October - Recall and Award Night

It's the last night of the festival. I've managed to see five out of the nine nights of competition evenings. That's 14 out of 25 one-act plays in total.

Overall, it's been well worth attending. The good, bad and indifferent have just about balanced out, and I think one learns as much from seeing a bad production (how NOT to do things) as from a good one.

Tonight is purely about entertainment. The festival adjudicator chose 3 plays which, in his opinion, will entertain the audience. Usually, the recalled plays perform better than on the competition night. Less pressure, of course.

So, here are the plays we saw this evening:

Woking College Theatre Company - The Perfect Present by Tarek Merchant.

See previous entry for a review.

Theatre 64
- 412 Letters by Matthew Wilkie

Two women analyze their relationship through the letters written by one of them.

The only play tonight I hadn't managed to see, but it's a belter. Marvellous charecterisations of the nervy, chain-smoking would-be writer and her ex-girlfriend, a more casual, marketing manager. I'd have given the 'Best Actress' gong to the girl who played Charlotte - but they won 3 awards anyway!

Matthew Wilkie has won Best Original Play before. This proves what a talented writer and director he is. If this play isn't published and performed professionally one day, I'd be very surprised indeed.

Lighted Fools Theatre Company - Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (Act 2) by Keith Waterhouse

See previous entry for a review.

And after the entertainment comes the real serious business. The awards! They are listed on the drama festival web-site. Unfortunately, Ottershaw Players didn't win anything, but two of our actors, Tim Matthews and Michael Stainer, were nominated for Best Actor and Best Youth Actor respectively.

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional theatre critic or a qualified drama adjudicator. I'm biased in favour of stuff that isn't dull. Sorry if my opinions offend you - it's nothing personal!

Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Woking Drama Festival - Thursday 13th October

Park Players - Weasel by Tom Collingwood.

When a police inspector's wife is murdered, Eddie 'Weasel' Francton is brought in for questioning.

Another new play, I believe. And the play was OK, but a bit like an episode of The Bill. Something wasn't quite right though. I just wasn't convinced by the acting. And the plot was completely implausible!

Guildburys - Bar and Ger by Geraldine Aron.

Scenes from a brother and sister's life as they grow up together.

This was very good indeed. A companion piece to A Galway Girl (reviewed earlier), I believe, though neither group knew about the other's entry. The play consisted of many, very short scenes (some only 1 or 2 lines) illustrating Barry and Geraldine's life together as they grew up. A very good, controlled performance from the actor playing Barry - who had to age from 11 year up to 17 or 18. But the girl playing Ger was fantastic. Excellent expressions and physicality. The direction was impeccable too. Glad I saw this.

Fairlands Players - A Model Husband by Phil Ellis.

A comedy about a dull husband and his frustrated wife.

Could have missed this one though! The play was actually quite good, but it wasn't very well directed. The 'shock' ending was telegraphed a mile away. The actress playing the wife was the best part of this piece. The less said about the women on the telephone, the better...

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional theatre critic or a qualified drama adjudicator. I'm biased in favour of stuff that isn't dull. Sorry if my opinions offend you - it's nothing personal!

Monday, 17 October 2005

Woking Drama Festival - Tuesday 11th October

Surrey Heath Young Actors Company - Die Superkinder by Steve Hyett.

A group of children are held captive by sinister forces. But why?

Why indeed. After watching this play - I don't really care one way or the other. This was the worst thing I think I've ever seen on stage. OK, it's kids acting. But I've seen other plays where the kids actually made some effort at putting some feeling into their voices rather than simply intoning their lines, as this lot did. And the direction was awful. 20, or so, kids ranged in a semi-circle, stepping forward to deliver their words, then stepping back again. This was worse than a primary school Nativity play.

Runnymede Drama Group - Happy Birthday Dear President or Who Killed Norma Jean? by Nick Bird.

What if Jackie Bouvier Kennedy killed Marilyn Monroe?

Again, as with the previous one, who cares?! RDG are usually pretty good, but this was a dull load of nonsense. Seems that plenty of people in the audience (including the adjudicator) thought this was 'gripping'. But, the adjudicator did wonder if it was just as interesting to people who weren't born when the events happened. Answer - no it wasn't. Not interesting at all.

It didn't help that some of the actors' moves seemed a bit stilted. And the idea of having a Chorus simply stopped all the momentum every time it was built up.

Sorry, but I'm afraid this was the only evening of the festival on which there was nothing worth seeing.

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional theatre critic or a qualified drama adjudicator. I'm biased in favour of stuff that isn't dull. Sorry if my opinions offend you - it's nothing personal!

Stuck on the M3 for nearly an hour.

Stuck on the M3 for nearly an hour.

Actually, it turned out more like an hour and 40 minutes. And after that, the nightmare of negotiating the A30...

A 3 hour journey to work - 50 miles away. Usually it takes me just under an hour...

God - I need another job, nearer to home. Any offers?

Friday, 14 October 2005

Page to Stage

Big Dave made a comment on a recent post. I was replying to the comment when I realised I was rambling on a bit and that this should really be a post to itself.

So, here's the answer (in my rambling opinion):

I think the writer contributes about 80% of what the audience experiences in a play.

It's the director's job to ensure that what the writer intended is conveyed successfully to the audience.

Now, the director can make decisions about the look of the play (lighting; furniture; set; costumes) with his prduction staff, and can determine the pace it's played at. But the fundamental 'message' of the play is all the writer's.

Bad direction can easily ruin a good play, and a bad play can be improved somewhat by a good director. That said, if a director is putting his/her own agenda on top of the writer's intentions, they're not doing their job properly.

It's interesting that Dave uses the word 'vacant'. An unperformed play is simply an intention to make some point or other. It's not until the work is actually in rehearsal that it comes alive and hidden depths are found (sometimes, depths that the play's writer was unaware of).

The challenge, and the excitement, of bringing a play to the stage, is to make it accessible and exciting for an audience, without losing the playwright's underlying message - however deep or trivial that message might be!

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Woking Drama Festival - Saturday 8th October

Wessex Youth Theatre - Shakers Re-Stirred (Act 1) by John Godber & Jane Thornton.

Four cocktail waitresses tell their stories and those of their customers.

John Godber's plays are usually fun and this one is no exception. As usual, the small cast of four gets to play the main characters (waitresses in a cocktail bar) and also the people who frequent the establishment (fat, drunk businessmen; adulterous couples; girls on a hen night).

The young actresses differentiated their characters well, although I think they could have roughened their accents a little when playing the waitresses.

As the adjudicator pointed out, reducing the size of the staging could have made the production even more pacy and punchy than it was.

Overall, a good start to the evening's entertainment.

Woking College Theatre Company - The Perfect Present by Tarek Merchant.

A poor woman, in 1920s America looks for a Christmas present for her husband. Based upon an O.Henry story

This was absolutely fantastic! The play was like a mini-operetta. Narrated by an actor playing O.Henry, but with all the actors playing various musical instruments (flutes, pianos, xylophones, basoon, double bass, violin, viola) as well as singing and acting.

The musical score was quite modernist and after hearing a few bars I thought it would be difficult to listen to - but as we were all swept away by the music, those worries disappeared.

Mr Merchant (who wrote the words and music, narrated, and played at least 4 instruments) is obviously a very talented man. His acting/narrating style was very natural and he has an impeccable American accent. And he only looks to be around 20 years old. If he doesn't go on to much bigger things, I'd be very surprised.

All those involved were excellent and they provided a wonderful 50 or 60 minutes of entertainment that I shall not forget in a very long time.

Chameleon Theatre Company - Galway Girl by Geraldine Aron.

An Irish couple tell the story of their marriage.

This was a decent enough 2-hander. A little static, I thought, but it would be difficult to get much more movement into the piece.

The musical 'interludes' were very distracting though. And the actors' accents seemed to wander into Ulster a little too often - rather than staying in Galway and Dublin where they were supposed to be.

That said, the acting was fine and I believed the love, regret, pain and happiness in the relationship which was being described.

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional theatre critic or a qualified drama adjudicator. I'm biased in favour of stuff that isn't dull. Sorry if my opinions offend you - it's nothing personal!

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

Woking Drama Festival - Friday 7th October

Ottershaw Players - Auras by Suzannah Zerfahs.

A group of people meet in a formless limbo. Their past and present actions will decide their fates.

This is a difficult one for me to comment upon. As a member of the group, I read this play before it was even cast.

I found the character of 'Yellow' a little superfluous. Necessary to drive the plot forward, but she didn't seem to have a good enough reason to be in that place as some of the others.

I also felt that the first, prologue scene was unnecessary - the audience were able to understand the characters and why they were dressed in their colours without that.

The adjudicator pointed out, fairly I think, that the action was a bit too confined to the front of the stage.

Tim Matthews gave an excellent performance as 'Red' and Nicky Breslin was very good as 'White'. Michael Stainer's 'Blue' was OK, but I think Mike needs to work on his diction. Claire Groom did what she could with 'Yellow', subject to my reservations about the character.

Overall, the direction was imaginitive though. Certainly 100% better than MY first attempt!

Lighted Fools Theatre Company - Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (Act 2) by Keith Waterhouse

The famous writer mulls over his life and tells anecdotes while he is locked in his local Soho pub overnight.

Fantastic! It's a marvellous play anyway and this team of five actors put together a superb show.

The actor playing 'Jeff' put in a bravura performance. The audience were eating out of his hand from the moment the curtain opened. And the supporting cast showed their characterisations with an immediacy that was fun to watch.

Certainly one of my two favourite pieces at the time of writing.

Another Theatre Company - 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane.

A young, female writer goes mad and kills herself.

Well. It was an imaginitive enough effort at presenting this item. The three female cast members were certainly committed to the production. Not sure I quite believed the two male performers though.

However. It's a terrible piece of writing. Or rather, it's a piece of writing that really shouldn't be shown as theatre.

Sarah Kane was very ill and wrote what she felt. The writing wasn't published. Then a few months later she topped herself. And since then it's been made available.

I think that this is the very personal outpourings of a very troubled young mind and any attempts to try to portray this in a theatrical setting are ultimately misguided and patronising (to Ms Kane).

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional theatre critic or a qualified drama adjudicator. I'm biased in favour of stuff that isn't dull. Sorry if my opinions offend you - it's nothing personal!

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Woking Drama Festival - Tuesday 4th October

Thurrock Courts Players - Christmas Presence by David Hampshire.

A sick, absent father visits his daughter on Christmas Eve. She thinks he's coming home; but is he?

Sorry, but I'm afraid I found this play quite tiresome. Not the best material. Saw the 'twist' ending coming from too far off.

And the bloke playing the philandering father - a doctor who's been cheating on his wife for the past 30 years - sorry, but the casting wasn't right. He was just too camp!

And the annoying little girl. Only 3 lines to deliver and she nearly forgot 2 of them. Argh!

Nice setting though.

Runnymede Drama Group Youth Workshop - Interview by Jean-Claude van Italie.

This was much better. A very imaginitive piece about communication and dehumanization, ostensibly in 1960s America.

Well directed by Jane Walters with effective use of simple props (four door frames and four wooden blocks - all white).

A young cast who snapped into myriad characters quickly and effectively. Superb use of mime.

I'd pay to see this one again.

Salesian College Theatre Company - Romeo and Juliet Go To Essex by Vicki Grace.

Shakespeare's tale, translated to modern day "Essex" (supposedly).

Again - a duff one for me, I'm afraid. OK, many of the cast got into character alright. But as the characters were modern 'chav' types, I'm not 100% sure if it was that much of a stretch!

The author is only 17, so kudos to her for that. And the cast (and a big chunk of the audience) were having great fun. But the whole play was more suited to a revue or end-of-term concert than a drama festival.

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional theatre critic or a qualified drama adjudicator. I'm biased in favour of stuff that isn't dull. Sorry if my opinions offend you - it's nothing personal.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Woking Drama Festival 2005

Ottershaw Players have entered a play, as usual, into the Woking Drama Festival this year. It's one of the largest one-act play festivals in the country.

Usually I go to the night that we are on and the last night to see the recalls (those plays judged by the adjudicator to be a good evening's entertainment).

But this year, I'm trying to go to as many nights as possible. Four so far. And possibly another 3 to come.

So, over the next few days I'll post my impressions of the plays I've seen.

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional theatre critic or a qualified drama adjudicator. I'm biased in favour of stuff that isn't dull. Sorry if my opinions offend you - it's nothing personal!

Tipping the Double Velvet

Why do we tip the bloke in the toilet who hands us a paper towel?

It intrigues me because The Wife used to do that job, in Planet Hollywood, many years ago - before she was lucky enough to meet me.

It makes a little more sense for the ladies loos. They all have to queue up anyway, so it's nice to have someone in their to make sure they're all pampered (spruced-up, I mean, not wearing nappies).

But when I go for a slash, it's a quick jimmy, then rinse the hands, grab a paper towel and I'm done. Having a bloke standing there handing me a towel saves me, what, 5 seconds out of a 1 minute visit? It's not enough of a service to justify giving the chap a tip.

And invariably, they only hand you one paper towel. I don't know about you, but one of those is definitely not sufficient. It's turned into a paper mush in seconds. So you have to ask the guy for a few more. But he only hands you one, because he's overly protective of his paper towel stash.

I've just remembered. I was in some bar once and they didn't have paper towels. The toilet attendant's job was to push the big, silver button on the hot-air hand-drying machine (you know, the one that doesn't get your hands dry even if you stand there for an hour).


And no. You're not getting a tip.

And just so we know where we stand - here's my list of other people who I don't believe should be tipped.

Bar Staff
Hairdressers/Barbers (have you noticed, it's really only women who tip at the hairdressers, despite the fact that they've been conned into paying more for haircuts than men anyway.)
Hotel Maids (they get free soap and towels - I don't!)

Otherwise, it's the thin end of the wedge!