Friday, 14 October 2016

Dario Fo 'The People's Court Jester'

Dario Fo died today at the age of 90, his work has inspired and in a strange way haunted me ever since I was handed a bright orange copy of his 1974 masterpiece Accidental Death of an Anarchist at the age 17. Drama was the first subject I’d really been any good at, I’d enjoyed and excelled at drama throughout GCSE so taking it at A levels was a no-brainer, but as I went through sixth form, I began to have doubts whether drama was the right move after 18, ‘perhaps I would be happier in media studies, History was clearly a much safer break and besides do I really want to make theatre? Yeah, it’s alright, but as a career?’ That all changed with the discovery of Accidental Death of an Anarchist. This was a play which had the energy of The Young Ones and the politics of Brecht. I had been interested in politics at school and I loved comedy and theatre, however up until this point they had remained separate passions. Political theatre, as I understood it back in 2007, was dry and serious, it involved men in suits and ties, walking around old buildings discussing complicated foreign policies, or making sense of the economy, political theatre was important and was staged at The Royal National Theatre and was written by men whose names began with Sir. Dario Fo changed all that for me, in his work Fo along with his wife and collaborator Franca Rame created a space where Karl Marx and Groucho Marx could exist together. 

Image source http://www.sanremonews.it/ 


Accidental Death of an Anarchist remains one of the funniest plays I have ever read, at the age 17 it blew my mind. I was cast as the Maniac, and I became obsessed with learning everything I could about the work and its creator. Every night I would leaf through the script with its bright orange cover and the grainy photo of the Milan Police Station, reading the introduction and searching the internet for more information about him.  In time I would discover other satirists like Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci. I would discover great clowns like Chaplin and Keaton, I was yet to enter the world of stand-up comedy, before all of that there was Dario Fo.

In Britain we often talk of Fo as a Playwright, although, in all honesty he doesn’t really fit into that box. Fo came from a tradition of oral storytelling which he learnt from the great glassblowers of Milan as a child. His work mixed this oral tradition with clowning and slowly through devising, improvisation and dedicated research Fo would produce some of the finest post-war comedies in Europe. Fo was both hugely popular (his one-man show Mistero Buffo in the seventies could sell out Football Arenas) and politically dangerous to the Italian Establishment. Undercover Police Officers would often attend productions of Accidental Death, which was inspired by the real-life death of a Milanese railway worker accused (and later exonerated) of a terrorist attack. Fo didn’t just see the farce that politics was, he used farce as a weapon to expose the hypocrisies and corruption.  As well as a great artist he was also a lifelong political campaigner, his political activism resulted in him being refused a visa to enter the USA for many years. For a British audience the best way I can describe Dario Fo, is part Harold Pinter, part Rik Mayall, part Tony Benn.

In 1997 Fo was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature, there’s always the danger that artists who were radical in their youth can be swallowed up by the establishment, they become safe, their work becomes bland and nasal gazing. This was not the case for Fo who remained a force of satirical nature spending his later years skewering the corruption of Berlusconi’s Government.   

At University I discovered so many great contemporary theatre-makers, yet as I approached my final undergraduate project I found myself returning to Fo for inspiration, here I would discover so much more of his work and realise the great tragedy that so many of the English translations we have of his work don’t do him justice.  Whilst studying on my Masters one day I was asked to bring in a play I knew well and could easily describe the plot off. The answer was obvious as I reached for the now bruised and battered orange book from my bookshelf. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Gotta Catch 'Em All

Over the last week, strange happenings have been reported across the Western World. People have fallen off cliffs, grown adults have stepped into moving traffic, children have been going outside and playing in the sun, when they should be indoors watching television and snapchatting each other photos of their own poo. What could be causing this strange behaviour, are people depressed about the current global situation? Unable to cope with this brave new world we live in? Perhaps this is the result of a strange alien virus, slowly we are being invaded and turned into mindless zombies? No, the answer is far more terrifying, everyone is playing Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go the mobile phone app by Nintendo which allows players to catch Pokemon in the real world, is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with modern society, a poisonous mix of nostalgia, mobile technology and a refusal to accept reality. Pokemon Go is taking the world by storm.

Source: Google Images 

Theresa May, the new Prime Minister and Pokemon Master,  moved into Number 10 this week, May addressed the people of Britain "I want to be the very best, like no one ever was." May's first act as Prime Minister was to download Pokemon Go. Having installed this important piece of government software she went about catching her Pokemon battle line up, ready for the big Pokemon Brexit Tournament. Her first big catch, Bojosaurus, who's specialist attack seems to be shouting racist slurs. Bojosaurus is the marmite of political Pokemon, whilst some love him, most find his existence an embarrassment. Having been given the task of Foreign Office, Bojosaurus, picked up his red briefcase and headed to his new office at MI6. After Moneypenny had made him a pot of tea and politely laughed at his sexist jokes, Bojosaurus opened the briefcase, ready to see what his first briefing as the Minister for the Foreign Office was. Inside the briefcase a simple scrap of paper which reads "Don't mention the war!".

May spent the next day catching Pokemon, Hammonard would become chief Pokemon to the Treasury, Rudditu would take May's old job in the Home Office and David Davis (a man to dull to be turned into a Pokemon) would lead the team in the Brexit Tournament. May is a serious Pokemon fighter and is willing to dispose of any Pokemon that get in her way and so it was Osborotle was thrown out of the Pokemon Gym and left to fend for himself.

At this point you're probably thinking the weird Pokemon metaphor would have run its course...but you'd be wrong.

Meanwhile in Jeremy Corbyn's allotment, the Labour NEC were into the 16th hour of debates about which turnip was best. Some members argued that rather than arguing about turnips the Labour Party should unite and start catching Pokemon. However John McDonnell said he didn't want to do that as all the Labour Pokemon were "fucking useless" and besides catching Pokemon went against the values of the Labour Party. Later after a turnip was thrown at Eaglerio, McDonnell said he was only joking and didn't see what the fuss was about.

Meanwhile, Tim Farron announced to the world's media that he was a big fan of Digimon and couldn't wait to download the Digimon Go app and get catching all those digital monsters.

I don't blame people for playing Pokemon Go, given the fact that every 24 hours the world seems to become more and more like a horrific nightmare, the idea of a world where your main priority is "Do I  have enough Pokemon balls" well that's quite appealing.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Brextopia

Following Britain’s decision to leave the EU on 23rd June our country has quickly turned into a nightmare version of its former self. The United Kingdom post Brexit resembles an episode of Trumpton penned by J G Ballad. Nibbs the Carpenter has taken to scrawling racist slurs, onto his Polish neighbour’s garage in dog excrement. Whilst Windy Miller ponders the future of his small business outside of the single market. 

The Auton High Commander has decided now is the time to retire the Cameron Model, in an emotional goodbye to the nation we all watched and long for the days when the biggest news story was the Prime Minister sticking his dick into a dead pig. With the Cameron Auton gone, we now have two choices. Theresa May described as a “safe pair of hands”. The type of hands that could easily hold down an unmentionable as Special Forces water board him into a confession. Or Andrea Leadsom, a woman who looks like the Chairwoman of a demented W.I. group, all Jam and Jerusalem to your face, but she wouldn’t think twice about throwing you in a Wicker Man and setting fire to it. 

NEWS UPDATE KLAXON - Andrea Leadsom has resigned and thus pissing on a perfectly good joke bonfire! 

Meanwhile the Labour Party are hiding in Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment , bickering over which turnip is best. On the left a small shrivelled up turnip, organic and longing for a return to public owned industry and on the right a much bigger and juicer turnip, sprayed with preservatives and in favour of the free market. With the PLP unable to make their mind up, they just set fire to the allotment.

Everyone gets a short break from the Brexit migraine to be reminded of happier times, as the Chilcot Report into the Iraq War is published. Coming in a 6.2 million words many are phased by its size, not me, my generation were brought up reading the Harry Potter books.  The Chilcot Reports slowly comes to the conclusion that everyone else reached thirteen years ago. Still it’s nice to have your views as a teenager validated, now if Sir John Chilcot could just get on with publishing his report into why The Libertines are better than The Beatles and how my uncut flop of hair was highly fashionable and NOT a greasy untamed mess , then I’m golden.

Source: https://twitter.com/hopbin/status/741745639294402560 
Anyway that’s enough of that back to Brexit and the far right are on the rise. Britain First the bastard child of The Only Way Is Essex and the National Front are busy roaming around Sherwood Forest desperately looking for immigrants, posting a video on You Tube which renders satire pointless. Whilst Nigel Farage sits on his favourite bar stool in the Cock & Bull pub, knocking back a pint of “Churchill’s regret” celebrating his piss up in a brewery. Not only had he achieved his dream of leaving the EU, he’s also broken his own personal record for how many water dispensers he can piss in, in one afternoon, at the European Parliament. Having stepped down as leader of UKIP, Farage now wonders what he can do next. Perhaps he can campaign to be allowed to smoke in pubs again? Or maybe he could bring back The Black and White Minstrel Show, he’s heard “The Netflix” is popular these days.

As Cameron falls on his sword and awaits his career in the private sector to kick off. Politicians from across the spectrum are forced to admit that none of them have a plan. Everyone was too busy campaigning for Remain or Leave that nobody took the time to write down what a post Brexit Britain would look like. They all presumed somebody else was doing that. Ken Clarke, a man who seems constantly surprised to be in the Conservative Party, had some notes but he left them in the restaurant he was drinking in at lunch time.


As the island we live in falls into chaos, the internet crashes as 48% of the population starts googling how to get an Irish Passport. The other 52% await the impending doom, there is some good news…Radiohead have a new album. At least the apocalypse will have a pretty good soundtrack. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Birmingham Camera Obscura Research Part 1

In November I found out a project I was involved with had been successful in receiving  Art's Council funding for Research and Development. The project is the Birmingham Camera Obscura, as my contribution to the project I'll be writing a short play which responds to the Camera it's history and ideas that respond to how the camera works. To find out more about the project in general check out the website http://bhamobscura.com/ 

What is a Camera Obscura? 

A camera obscura (Latin for "dark room") is an optical device that led to photography and the photographic camera. The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced, inverted (thus upside-down), but with colour and perspective preserved. The image can be projected onto paper, and can then be traced to produce a highly accurate representation



The Project 
In November we had our first formal meeting for the BCO creative team, I had already met Pete before applying to be part of the project so it was good to meet Jenny and the other artists. We met at BOM (Birmingham Open Media) which is fairly recent addition to the Birmingham art scene, it’s a nice space with a cafĂ© next door, I visited earlier in year when I first met Pete and got to look at the Camera Obscura for the first time. This time we were upstairs which has a few desk spaces and kinda snug area with sofa where we had our meeting. The meeting was a general overview over the BCO so far and what Pete and Jenny had planned for the next 6 months their aims and goals, then we went around in a circle and spoke a little bit about who we are and our practice. We discussed in loose terms what we had planned for the camera and what we need from Pete and Jenny. Possible places where our finished work could be exhibited. 

After the meeting on my journey home I began to think about my project again, I have rough idea of how the piece might work visually, but being a playwright what I am really interested in is story and character which responds to ideas and themes that link with BCO. Originally I had planned on something which was based on the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops (as the story also appears in one of Sinbad’s voyages and the history of the camera interest me) the idea was the play would take place in the Cyclops cave, the box would be cave and the lenses would act as a opening from which images relating to the story would appear.  But since that original concept I've been having a few doubts as to whether this really makes best use of what the camera can do.

One thing Pete said was the theme of perspectives and changing perspectives. The camera by its very nature changes the perspectives for the viewer, in fact it was instrumental in giving artists an understanding on perspective to begin with. I was thinking about figures from history someone who in some way could relate to the story of the camera and whose own life had a change of perspective or people’s perception of them changed. This made me think of Roscoe Arbuckle, or as he is more commonly known Fatty Arbuckle at one time the highest paid actor in Hollywood, certainly one of the very first movie stars (both Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton began their career appearing alongside Arbuckle.) 



Roscoe was the first of many for Hollywood, the first star, the first comedian to make feature lengths and sadly the first scandal. Arbuckle was accused of Murder (later dropped to manslaughter) after a woman died at a party he was hosting. Eventually found completely innocent Arbuckle public persona had completely changed and he would never star in a Hollywood film again.

I find Arbuckle’s story an interesting starting point there is a very clear change in perspective narrative wise, there is the link to the camera (Arbuckle being one of the first stars of moving pictures) but I also think there is a lot to play with a lot of things to explore which could really interesting to experiment with the camera. Pete also talked about how silent cinema plays with perspective it made me think of this scene from Buster Keaton's One Week (1920) 21 minutes in where Buster's moving home has become trapped on a train track and a train is fast approaching, we see Buster and his wife desperately trying to move the house of the tracks succeeding at the very last minute.



Only for a train coming the completely opposite direction to smash the house. 


I met with Pete a few weeks later and discussed with him my ideas. We set up the camera and discussed how it might work. We played around and tried to work out the play might work in performance, my gut feeling is that this would be a short piece that would be performed for 1 or 2 audience members at a time.  I discovered you need A LOT of light. We also discovered that the actor performing the piece would most likely need to wear make up to help highlight their face. The workshop was useful, I left with a lot of questions both from a storytelling point of view and ones which relate to the camera, as I often find with these type of things narrative questions and staging questions have a way of answering each other and it when that happens you get a piece of theatre...I hope so anyway. 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Stuff I liked in 2015

I wrote a list of things I liked in 2015, because that's how you celebrate the New Year you break the old year down into lists, then you move on to write more lists. That's how life works...I think. This is a personal list, by me so it's completely stuff I liked in 2015 if it's not on the list I didn't see or didn't like it or didn't like it enough to put it on the list, I things to do I can't list everything I liked ANYWAY list time.

Theatre 
I had a lot of great trips to the theatre this year and started by MRes in playwriting so plays have kinda been on my mind a lot, these are just the top picks of things I really liked.

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan (Machynlleth Comedy Festival)

Plastic Figurines by Ella Carmen Greenhill (Liverpool Playhouse Studio)

The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

Everyman by Carol Ann Duffy (National theatre, London...well technically I saw it a cinema screen in Didsbury, shouldn't that count as a film? I hear you ask...No, it's a theatre show being live streamed, we don't all live in London)

The Hangman by Martin McDonagh (Wyndham Theatre, London)

Film 
I probably saw more films at the cinema this year than I ever have before in one year this is what I liked best

Selma

Birdman

Whiplash

Inside Out

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

TV
TV was a bit so so this year with these exceptions.

Cucumber

Wolf Hall

Doctor Who

Daredevil

Books

OK so they may not have all been published this year but this is the year I read them so?

So you've been public shamed by Jon Ronson

The Sleeper and the spindle by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell

How to build a girl by Caitlin Moran

Also this doesn't have it's own category but it's pretty ruddy awesome. My Girlfriend baked this Millennium Falcon  Ginger Bread to celebrate the day of my birth. 


And remember years are just a man made construct to measure the passing of eternity... I mean happy New Year. 

Yeah, yeah I know it's late but I've been busy. 



Wednesday, 26 August 2015

What have the Satirist ever done for us?


I'll be starting an MRES in Playwriting Studies at the University of Birmingham at  the end of September. I graduated from my undergraduate degree in 2011 and whilst since then my practical portofolio has blossomed my academic writing has not. I thought I'd start by writing a few blogs about things I find interesting they cover a range of subjects over the coming few weeks they might be off interest to you they might not. 



After the election I saw a lot of people on my twitter feed making the same point “We are in for five years of great satire” it’s a belief held by many that under Conservative governments there will be a blossoming of satirical comedians tackling the tangled web of media opinion, slaying the dragons of Westminster and an over use of metaphors. But can Satire really ever change anything?

Satire is a genre of comedy in which vices, follies and abuses of power are ridiculed, with the intention of shaming the individuals involved into improvement. Jon Stewart, Charlie Brooker, Bill Hicks; they aren’t just making jokes about the week’s news they’re also trying to get the audience to think. Satire comes from a place of anger, it’s driven by morality as much as it is by punch lines. However despite the best efforts of the performer or writer can comedy ever change an audience’s opinion or is just preaching to the converted?

Enid Welsford in her book The Fool asks the question. “Does comedy act on the spiritual system as a vitamin or a narcotic?”  Laughter is cathartic, will laughing at something that angers you make you less likely to go out and change it? During the eighties Spitting Image was one of the most popular shows on TV, but the government it ridiculed continued to win election after election with huge majorities.  Satire makes no real difference; it just feeds the narcissism of the social media echo chamber.

Or perhaps it’s just what we need to wake up, the smell of morality coffee in the morning, the ice bucket challenge of sanity, the cat of social justice scratching on the door of indifference demanding love and attention.  In America the British Comedian John Oliver was on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Not surprising when you consider that after a segment on Net Neutrality he caused the FCC website to crash after viewers flooded the site with criticism, and when Edward Snowden decided to be interviewed for a US TV show it was Oliver’s Last Week Tonight he picked. John Oliver is able to use comedy to talk about issues traditional media outlets are reluctant or afraid to cover, a point he stresses is more an “insult to the state of journalism than a complement to the state of comedy.” So satire booms when other platforms fail?  Perhaps or maybe there’s more to it.

In today’s multi-platform, digital world, when the latest news is sent directly to your phone, there is an ever increasing tidal wave of horror and misery, when the trending topics on twitter are all subjects that show humanity at it worse it easy to feel dehumanised. The easy response is to switch off, stop reading the paper, or just presume the people publishing know what they are talking about and not ask too many questions, right?

Comedy makes us laugh, a good joke can defuse tension. It makes the unbearable, tolerable even for just a second, comedy can bring an audience in, you can confront the audience with an issue they don't want to look at. Laughter brings us closer together, an audience laughing together at the same joke are united.  In short comedy can help remind us that we are human. I don’t know if it’s a narcotic or a vitamin on the spiritual system, but at least comedy reminds us we have one. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Party Political Broadcast Review Part II (this time it's principled?)

So last time I reviewed the big three PPB however we all know that this election will not just be fought by the big three Westminster parties, but also the fringe parties. Traditionally the fringe parties were just there for a bit of a laugh, or for people who wanted a protest vote, or for people who were actually mental. But in the last five years that's all changed. There is now a whole host of smaller, regional and possibly more likeable political parties to choose from so let's start of with the everyone favourite drunk uncle at a wedding...UKIP.


Now as I mentioned in the last blog the last thing any party wants to do is place it's leader in the middle of it's campaign ad, politicians are to the PPB what Scrappy Do is to Scooby Do, contributes nothing and just pisses everyone off. Of course that is slightly different when it comes to UKIP, there major asset is their leader, Mr Nigel Farage. A lot has been said about Farage and UKIP, it's almost impossible to turn on the news without fag smoking, beer swilling, Un-PCing, Nigel describing himself as a fox in the Westminster hen house, or a bull in the china shop of Brussels or a dead badger in the road of progress. Nigel Farage definitely has the X factor, so it only make sense that he be the star of their film. We see Farage in full 1970's sitcom character style, actually opening the ad by nicking a joke from Monty Python "And now for something completely different" personally if you asked me for a Python sketch for Farage to quote I would of suggested the upper class twit of the year. Anyway the ad cuts between Farage looking out onto the White Cliffs of Dover like he's a one man boarder control and Farage in a studio, looking like he's on Mastermind, specialist subject? Crisps flavours? Actually it appears to be the people's army, who Farage says is the driving force of the party, which is funny because despite all his talk of the people's army you don't really see much of them. It's almost like he's worried that if he puts them in front of camera they are going to say something embarrassing about gays, or blacks. We do briefly get to see part of the people's army when Farage addresses them at a conference in scenes that resemble Farage being a Preacher at a Deep South Bible Belt Church Service where everyone speaks in tongues. Anyway I suppose he deserves some credit for avoiding the phrase "I'm not racist but..."



Now from the white cliffs of Dover to north of Hadrian's wall. Now I know being English means I am the least qualified person in the world to talk about Scotland, but since when has blogs been written by people who know what they are talking about so... it's the SNP, or is it? The film starts with a car driving around a mountain range, like it's an advert for the latest Toyota car.Then a Voice Over starts "This is our country" oh wait it's not a Toyota advert it's an advert for Visit Scotland, oh I like these, the music the beautiful landscape...Oh wait how come were looking at a tower block? Oh there's Guitars and the car moves into the city centre, the video seems to really make it clear that it's being filmed in Scotland, actually there's no real information about policies or even ideology just "SCOTLAND! DO YOU LIKE SCOTLAND? I LIKE SCOTLAND, I'M FROM SCOTLAND, ARE YOU FROM SCOTLAND AS WELL? DON'T YOU HATE THE TORIES, I HATE THE TORIES TOO"Which is fine because the advert ends with the camera panning out to show the man who's been talking to us saying "The question is who's going to stand up for Scotland?" The only question I'm left asking is "Are you like a famous person or something? Cause I don't recognise you?" Probably because I don't live in Scotland.



Now on a whistle stop tour of the UK we head over to the valleys, do you remember Little Britain, do you remember the "I'm the only gay in village" sketch? Yeah, Matt I do, why are you mentioning that, it's bit of an old reference? Not for Plaid Cymru, they open there PPB with a nice little nod to that sketch that is now over ten years old. A young man coming out to his parents as a Plaid voter, next we cutto  an office worker he looks nervous, his boss enters, she talks about cut backs, the future, is he getting fired, there are tissues? NO surprise she's also voting Plaid, and look she has the daffodils to prove it.
Next we have someone who's decided that she's showing her support by getting a tattoo and is showing it to her Nan, like you do! I'm sorry but the only people who get political tattoos are Neo Nazi. Later on we see said Nan getting her own tattoo and we appear to be full fantasy land, perhaps the subtext of the PPB is Plaid having a say in Westminster is as likely as your Nan getting a Tattoo, it could happen, but it would a strange and terrifying day. Plaid Cymru ad just comes across as being a bit naff, which is a shame because the SNP really seem to have a lot of energy, something the Plaid advert is missing.



Now it's time for sandle wearing, cycling loving and vegan friendly Green Party. Actually that kind of an out dated stereotype, and if you spend a lot of time on twitter (which this blogger does) you'd see that there a small but growing Green Surge and with the Greens picking up one seat in the House of Commons five years ago they clearly want to build on it. The Greens it has to be said have got a good PPB it's presents the Tories, Lib Dems, Labour and UKIP as all being in harmony, a singing a song about voting for them is all the same, like they are in a Boy band, it's a strong message and it's well executed, of course given the popularity of One Direction this could massively back fire, "Hey that coalition songs pretty catchy." Also I think Ed Miliband might come out of this advert looking pretty good seeing  as the actor they've hired to play him looks like he's Don Draper, he's dripping with cool, and Cameron playing the piano, that's a million times cooler than anything he has ever done. Actually I like to see them develop the Boy Band motif for the rest of the campaign.
"Oh who's your favourite?"
"Oh I love Nick C, he's so dreaming, the way he says sorry drives me wild"

There could be T shirts and pillow cases, hey what about some action figures.
Of course I'm waiting for the ill advised and clumsy retaliation where one of the parties portrays Sturgeon , Bennett & Wood as a girl band. But what to call them Non Atomic Kitten? Girls Aloud the same salaries as men?

So if this election was fought solely on the bases of who had the best Party Political Broadcast, it's hard to say who'd win, I'd know who would lose. My advice for future PPB film makers, drop the Politician, spend a bit of time deciding what your message is, come up with a clever, interesting and entertaining way to deliver that message and for the love of God don't make something that reminds me off a 90's road safety video (see previous blog).