Archive for August, 2012

Secrets of the Trade

August 24, 2012

This is another review that Broadway Baby wouldn’t publish and asked me to rewrite.  I looked at it, but couldn’t see how to do it.  It’s about improvised musicals, and it’s my belief that in this particular genre there is rather less improvisation than you might think.  Hence I was less impressed than people who think that every single word and note is made up on the spot.  Showstoppers have a reputation for giving anyone who suggests that their work isn’t wholly impromptu a hard time, and BB didn’t want to the hassle.  It’s a bit like magicians, who guard their tricks jealously.  If you see the strings, the magic is gone.  But I worded this very carefully, since there are obvious areas of uncertainty, and inevitably it has to be speculation.  So – publish and be damned!  I;’ve been threatened with libel before.  Do your worst, Showstoppers!

Showstoppers Family Matinees

Not Quite So Clever As It Looks

***

Showstoppers have been improvising musicals for several years now, and an edited version has had a series on BBC Radio 4.  This is the kiddies’ version, albeit with the familiar ingredients.  The audience get to choose a location.  Someone called out The Wizard of Oz, immediately seized on as a Fantasy Kingdom.  The heroine was Gabrielle, the name of a cute tot in Row Seven noted for her loving nature, prettiness and energy (her mother said).  We were asked for genres to parody – Wicked, The Lion King and Grease were all cues for song styles.  And the characters in the Kingdom were dragons.  There were more prompts later, but that gave the basic framework for a tale of a little girl visiting the dragon kingdom and going on a quest to become the ruler.  When she does, she sets the dragons free, but they decide they want to serve humans anyway.  Quite enough for an hour long show.

There is some doubt about how much is actually improvised.  The dialogue certainly, but my guess is that at least most of the songs have a framework, a tune and the bones of a chorus which are set up in advance, and then an additional quatrain or two is improvised, to yank the song into the plot.  So, for example, the closing Grease parody is ‘Now we have our freedom, ha – ha –ha’ and you could easily change it to any other successful outcome – ‘the money’, ‘our granny’ etc., etc.  Certainly without knowledge of a preordained tune you couldn’t achieve the kind of chorus work necessary.

The range of plots can be refined.  I also suspect that when asked to produce musical styles, audiences will come up with a limited range of choices (Phantom of the Opera? Mamma Mia?),  from which the MC can then choose.  So there is at least scope for a strong element of preparation for possibilities.

Maybe it was the restriction imposed by a family audience which inhibited the improvisers, and they need scope for innuendo and smut to come alive.  Nobody could expect Instant Sondheim under the circumstances, but I expected something altogether sharper and wittier.  And a bit more charisma on stage.

To be fair, the family audience I saw this with were far more enthusiastic than I was, for which I give the show an extra star.

Peter Scott-Presland

 

 

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Scotsman Blog 23rd Aug

August 24, 2012

Specialist Services

There is a red converted transit van sits opposite our flat in Spey Terrace.  It has three back seats, a la people carrier, and behind that a large storage area.  On the side it says ‘Targetted butt Services’.  There are gaps on either side of ‘butt’ suggesting four missing letters before and two behind.  There’s no single word which fits the gaps, and to compound this, the message on the other side is exactly the same.  It belongs to a company called Stanley Odd.

What on earth can it be?  I spent some time thinking about it – it’s the sort of thing which keeps me awake at night – and I’ve decided it must be part of the new, patient-oriented NHS.  More-flexible, but above all cheaper. 

What I think I’ve stumbled on is a pilot scheme for a mobile colonic irrigation and prostate reduction unit.  This idea is reinforced by the words ‘doo doo’ which appear on the front wing.  Now, instead of going to the Infirmary and waiting for hours, you can climb into the back of the van and have your butt sluiced out from a small water tank, using a garden hose.  Or if you bend over, you can have your prostate shaved or your piles removed with the aid of a cold chisel. 

(Obviously there isn’t room for the elaborate equipment and surgical procedures you would find in a hospital.  But these are hard times, and we all have to make sacrifices.  At least you can lie down on the back seats afterwards to recover. ) 

And the service comes to you.  Maybe even on demand.  Maybe there’s a number you can phone or text, or a website – www.Sphinctres-R-Us.com: ‘I feel like a bit of a purge, can you come round this afternoon?’

Talking about websites, there is one given on the side of the van, but I don’t like to look it up.  It would destroy the magic. 

Peter Scott-Presland is the author and performer ofLocked In’ (Venue 53 till Aug 25th at 12.50) and the author/director of ‘Strip Search’ (Venue 54 until Aug 25th at 23.05)

 

Keith Vaughan 100th Anniversary

August 23, 2012

Today, August 23rd, is the 100th birthday of the painter Keith Vaughan.  ‘Who he?’, you may say, because in the 35 years since his death he has been forgotten by all but a few.  But in the 1950s. 60s and 70s he was one of the most important British painters.  He had several commissions in the Festival of Britain, and in the early 70s turned down the position of Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art.  A friend of Hockney, Bacon, Sutherland, Minton and all the neo-Realists, he was, at least according to art critic Brian Sewell, among the very best of them, especially in his final years when he found a new freedom concentrating on abstraction.  Not bad for someone who was self-taught.

To me, the most fascinating works are those in which he is pushing towards this abstraction.  His main subjects, for which became famous, were his landscapes and his pictures of bathers.  But his figures increasingly became part of the landscape, as monolithic and geometric as the stones against which they were set.  Refinement concentrated figures into blocks, circles and lines, his colours becoming more restricted and yet more delicate.

In addition to being a great painter, he was also a formidable diarist.  He kept journals for over 40 years, the first set being published in edited form in the mid-60s.  They caused a furore, because of their quite open expression of his homosexuality at a time when gay sex was still completely illegal, and his descriptions of relationships with boys much younger than himself, usually around sixteen.  After his death in 1977, there was a revision which took the diaries literally up to the point of his death.  He committed suicide with an overdose of anti-depressants washed down with whisky, and continued writing while they were taking effect.  They stop in mid-sentence, at the point of slipping away to eternity. 

It is strange how a man can reveal so many facets of himself in different ways.  The diaries, at least in their edited form, suggest a repressed gay man, very much of his time, romantically infatuated with 16-year-old boys who are not obtainable.  This is borne out by his pictures, which are emotionally very honest; the bathers are worshipped in paint, but always remote.  They lock him out, and he locks himself in.  However, Brian Sewell’s autobiography suggests a very different man, sadist and masochist, who had a relationship for twenty years with the younger Ramsey McClure which involved cruel mind-fucks and eventually turned to blind hate when McClure was unable to provide the physical torture which Vaughan craved.  Sewell suggests that McClure died of love when he passed away four years after Vaughan.  There is no mention of a lover in the published Journal, maybe because he was still alive at the time of publication and the editor wished to spare him.  There are however mentions of ‘auto-erotic devices’ which Vaughan delighted in inventing and then noting how well they worked.

I found yet another Keith Vaughan while researching for the play ‘Locked In’, which is based on the Journals, and currently playing on the 2012 Fringe.  His executor put me in touch with Anthony Hepworth, a gallery owner in Bath specialising in Vaughan, who kindly allowed me access to his huge collection of images, in order to choose some for the play.  He told me of a lady, still alive, who was Vaughan’s best friend, and who swore that he was the most charming, funny and vital man who went on high-spirited holidays with her family, and was always marvellous with her children.  I hope to meet her someday, as time prevented this on the previous visit. 

Ultimately, it is the paintings that matter, and they are ripe for reassessment.  The Museum of Modern Art in Edinburgh owns three of them, but when I went to see them, none were on display.  In his lifetime, Vaughan was overtaken by Pop Art, Conceptual Art and many other passing fashions.  As the dust settles, let us hope that he finds his proper place in the pantheon of British painting again.

Happy Birthday, Keith.

 Image

Homophobia?

August 21, 2012

For claustrophobics, I have two infallible methods of ensuring the maximum amount of personal space around you.  The first is to turn your collar backwards to become a vicar, and beckon people with a benign leer for a friendly chat. 

The second is to hand out leaflets on the streets during the Fringe.  You will get even more space if the leaflets in question feature the naked torso of an extremely fit man, and your company is called Homo Promos. 

 I’m handing out such leaflets every day on North Bridge, for ‘Strip Search’.   The venue is on a ley line between the Tattoo, which finishes about half an hour before we start, and the bus station.  The interaction between me and the Tattoo audience is interesting.  Most of the girlie groups, good sports, take a leaflet and giggle.  In mixed couples, the women look mildly interested and the men pull them quickly away.

But it is the men, alone or in packs, who back away – no, jump away – as if I’d offered them a live eel.  What are they scared of?  Twenty-five years ago there would have been an easy answer: they were scared of catching AIDS.  Surely we’re beyond that now.  

Is it that they’re scared of being identified as gay by accepting a leaflet for a gay show?  Or are they thinking that I have identified them as gay?

It’s strange.  If it was for a black show, no-one would assume they were black.  If it was for Sandi Toksvig, no-one would assume they were lesbian.  Is their heterosexuality so fragile that it would crumble in the presence of a male stripper if they came to see the show? 

In fact we’ve had all sorts in the audience, everyone from grannies to trannies.  Appreciation has not been related to sexuality, which is as it should be.

The sad thing is that those who are recoiling on North Bridge are probably those who could benefit from exposure (I use the word advisedly, given the subject matter) to gay material.  They might even enjoy it.

Peter Scott-Presland

Peter Scott-Presland is the writer/director of ‘Strip Search’, which is at Space Cabaret, Venue 53, on North Bridge until Aug 25th at 11.05pm.  He is the writer/performer of ‘Locked In’ at Surgeon’s Hall, Venue 54, until Aug 25th at 12.50pm.

 

Pure Fiction

August 21, 2012

I have a late entry for this year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and it is the Lothian Buses Journey Planner online.  In addition to working on two shows on the Fringe, I am also a reviewer for Broadway Baby, an online review and listings magazine which has set itself the formidable task of covering all 2,600 shows on the Fringe.

And so I get sent to all sorts of places round Edinburgh in areas I’ve never visited, some of them far flung.  I fell on the Journey Planner as the exact tool I needed.  It is easy to use and quick.   St James Centre to Henderson Row?  Three minute walk,  No 8 bus at 17.10, 10 minute walk at the other end, total journey time about 25 minutes.  Excellent, and well in time.

It is all untrue.  A 45 minute wait for the said No.8, and then it stops dead half way along the route.  Many Edinburgh buses behave like prick-teasing virgins.  They promise to transport you, and then refuse to go all the way. 

I wouldn’t grouch so much, except I’ve arrived late for three shows now, and missed one altogether.  If you go in late to a stand-up’s show, the comic will of course pick on you, which is embarrassing.  But I’ve found the way to shut them up.  I just say, slowly and dolefully, ‘Lothian Buses’ and the audience shake their heads in sympathy, rather as if I’d said, ‘Funeral’.

I’m sure Lothian Buses can come up with a million excuses.  The Festival?  Well, didn’t they know about it?  Didn’t anybody tell them it was coming?   Roadworks?  The Tram?  Well, who’s responsible for that then?   For all I know they might blame it on the wrong kind of haggis in the drivers’ sandwiches.  I don’t care.  It’s their responsibility to maintain services.  Haven’t they heard of planning?  Has nobody told them websites can be updated on an hourly basis or less?

If any Mayor of London was responsible for running such a shoddy service, I wouldn’t fancy their chances of re-election.  Why do you put up with it?

Peter Scott-Presland

Peter Scott-Presland is the author and performer ofLocked In’ (Venue 53 till Aug 25th at 12.50) and the author/director of ‘Strip Search’ (Venue 54 until Aug 25th at 23.05)

 

Reality Check

August 21, 2012

 

I have written two shows on the Fringe this year.  One, ‘Locked In’, is a biographical piece based on the diaries of the painter, Keith Vaughan.  The other, ‘Strip Search’, is the entirely fictitious life story of a male stripper.

People come out of ‘Locked In’ inspired to Google the life and pictures of an artist who has been largely forgotten (he died in 1977).  This is great.  ‘Strip Search’ provokes a slightly different reaction.  Many ask if it his based on the performer’s life.  Since the story encompasses child abuse, the sex industry, military brutality in Iraq and PTSD, he feels slightly uncomfortable being asked this.

Then people ask if it is based on my life.  As I am 63, and – what shall we say? – horizontally challenged, the chances of my having ever been a male stripper are remote.

I’m interested in why people want to know whether the play is true.  Is it the influence of reality television?  Are we so conditioned to looking through a peephole at other people’s lives?   Does being based on ‘real life’ give a show a kind of status it would otherwise lack?  Certainly ‘Based on a True Story’ appears on a number of Fringe posters, as a positive selling point.  ‘Truth’ seems at the least to offer a kind of insurance; people hesitate to criticise the play, as if to do so would be to criticise the people and lives portrayed.  Conversely, ‘truth’ can give a play a spurious credibility, as if ‘that’s what really happened’ is a substitute for crafting a dramatic entity.

‘Strip Search’ is written entirely out of my head.  My only research, on the internet, was into the geography of Treorchy in Wales and Al Basra in Iraq, neither of which I have visited.  If it turns out that some of the issues have since hit the headlines, this is only because my imagination of what might happen has been accurate. 

This is a different kind of truth, of reality.  Artistically, I like to think it is a purer truth.

Peter Scott-Presland

Peter Scott-Presland is the writer/director of ‘Strip Search’, which is at Space Cabaret, Venue 53, on North Bridge until Aug 25th at 11.05pm.  He is the writer/performer of ‘Locked In’ at Surgeon’s Hall, Venue 54, until Aug 25th at 12.50pm. 

Stars Turned

August 21, 2012


Like all the Fringe companies, we’ve had a love/hate relationship with reviewers.  On the one hand we solicit them like cheap French tarts, hitching up our skirts and showing our frilly knickers at the mere whiff of a scribbler.  We go online daily to scour the e-reviews, we pick up copies of The Scotsman to see if we’ve got a mensh (as we call it in the trade).  Then when the hoped-for five-star turns out to be a two- or three-star, we pick over it to find every mistake, every flaw of grammar and mis-spelling, so we can dismiss it.  Obviously no reviewer understands us as well as we understand ourselves.  ‘How dare they be so cruel about my baby?’

Not that a good review necessarily means that they like us.  Our five-star reviewer (ScotsGay) is obviously a genius, a magician of prose, a veritable Solomon.  But of the others, four star reviewers have been barely literate, spelt the name of the subject of ‘Locked In’ wrong (it’s Keith Vaughan, not Keith Vaugh) even though it’s on the programme and flyer they were given, and even appears onscreen during the performance.  Others, less appreciative, have clearly understood the show and even done a bit of research; they quote accurately from it, and their suggestions are something we will learn from when we transfer to London.

One of the problems is that, with so many shows to cover, and with an ambition to be comprehensive, publications need to recruit huge teams.  As a result, anyone with the basic ability to pick up a pen may be recruited.  So Edinburgh is awash with under-age journalists.  I thought there was a law against such perversions.  Much of the writing would not pass muster in a Junior School ‘What I did on my holidays’ assignment.

It’s about time we performers turned the tables.  I think all the companies should band together and give star ratings to the reviewers.  This should be published at the end of the festival in the form of a league table.  I think we can be trusted to be honest and self-critical enough to recognise the good bad review, and vote accordingly.  Although I’m sure there would be many more candidates for the title of Worst Reviewer of the Year. 

It would give us all a giggle.  Any takers?

Peter Scott-Presland is the author and performer ofLocked In’ (Venue 53 till Aug 25th at 12.50) and the author/director of ‘Strip Search’ (Venue 54 until Aug 25th at 23.05)

Seagull

August 21, 2012

The Scotsman has been inviting blogs from Edinburgh Festival participants, but since their website is completely impenetrable, quite the worst of any newspaper I’ve come across, I’ve no idea if they’ve been used.  Of course they don’t bother to respond.  So thought I’d put them up here anyway.  This is the first…

The bird screeches like the Wicked Witch of the West having an orgasm. The display opens with something between a purr and a squawk, as if it has been surprised by someone sticking a finger up its bottom, and builds to a terrifying – well, ‘climax’ is the only word.  Then it stands immobile on the chimney top of the house opposite our flat in Spey Terrace, looking like a weather cock.  Except, of course, it’s a weather seagull.

The seagulls of Edinburgh are so much part of the aural landscape that probably the local people don’t notice them.  To me they are nostalgic.

We used to have seagulls in London when I was growing up in the early 60s. Thousands of them.  They used to dive for your lunchtime sandwiches as you took them out of your satchel.  They’d snatch them from your hand if you weren’t careful.  The docks were still functioning in a world-class port.  But the docks were destroyed when the world moved on, and the developers in league with the local councils achieved what Hitler was unable to do.  Now you have to go out to Tilbury and Gravesend now to see them in any numbers.

Now there is an absence in the air, and seagulls are an occasional sighting.  There are yuppie flats where the cranes once stood, and the locals have mainly moved out to the outer suburbs and the new towns.  Instead of seagulls in Rotherhithe and East India Docks, we have bankers, who snatch metaphorical sandwiches out of our hands in other ways.  Seagulls or bankers?  I know which I’d rather have.

Peter Scott-Presland

Peter Scott-Presland is the author and performer ofLocked In’ (Venue 53 till Aug 25th at 12.50) and the author/director of ‘Strip Search’ (Venue 54 until Aug 25th at 23.05)

Seagull

August 21, 2012

The Scotsman has been inviting blogs from Edinburgh Festival participants, but since their website is completely impenetrable, quite the worst of any newspaper I’ve come across, I’ve no idea if they’ve been used.  Of course they don’t bother to respond.  So thought I’d put them up here anyway.  This is the first…

The bird screeches like the Wicked Witch of the West having an orgasm. The display opens with something between a purr and a squawk, as if it has been surprised by someone sticking a finger up its bottom, and builds to a terrifying – well, ‘climax’ is the only word.  Then it stands immobile on the chimney top of the house opposite our flat in Spey Terrace, looking like a weather cock.  Except, of course, it’s a weather seagull.

The seagulls of Edinburgh are so much part of the aural landscape that probably the local people don’t notice them.  To me they are nostalgic.

We used to have seagulls in London when I was growing up in the early 60s. Thousands of them.  They used to dive for your lunchtime sandwiches as you took them out of your satchel.  They’d snatch them from your hand if you weren’t careful.  The docks were still functioning in a world-class port.  But the docks were destroyed when the world moved on, and the developers in league with the local councils achieved what Hitler was unable to do.  Now you have to go out to Tilbury and Gravesend now to see them in any numbers.

Now there is an absence in the air, and seagulls are an occasional sighting.  There are yuppie flats where the cranes once stood, and the locals have mainly moved out to the outer suburbs and the new towns.  Instead of seagulls in Rotherhithe and East India Docks, we have bankers, who snatch metaphorical sandwiches out of our hands in other ways.  Seagulls or bankers?  I know which I’d rather have.

Peter Scott-Presland

Peter Scott-Presland is the author and performer ofLocked In’ (Venue 53 till Aug 25th at 12.50) and the author/director of ‘Strip Search’ (Venue 54 until Aug 25th at 23.05)

Fringe Reviews they didn’t publish

August 21, 2012

Broadway Baby has a funny policy of not printing reviews where the reviewer walks out of a show, or gets delayed in getting to the venue (very common with the state of Lothian Buses).  So I’m posting two of my reviews here which didn’t get published.  The rest can be found at http://www.broadwaybaby.com

Booking Dance Festival

Book NOW!

*****

Thanks to the vagaries of Lothian Buses I missed the first number in this multi-company showcase of short dance items.  I arrived as two tap-dancers (Hammerstep) were giving their all in a blackout with just small LED lights twinkling on the toes of their tap shoes.  The music was provided by what can only be described as a mouth percussionist (Deoro) of incredible virtuosity.  Hammerstep’s tap routines are like nothing you’ll see in the West End, pouring a bit of Irish dancing, hip-hop and classical dance into the mix.  Astaire it ain’t, mighty fun it is.

This was followed with ‘Character’ a solo piece performed by Daniel Gwiirtzman to the classic Louis Armstrong track, ‘West End Blues’.  Music and movement blended perfectly.  Gwirtzman proved that the body can swing in the same way as jazz does.

Most of the first half was jazz-inflected, the second more experimental.  Perhaps the most startling and novel item was Moth, by Kim Gibilisco, with projections of ultra-violet camera and Live Image Capture technology as well as dance.  Startling and innovative, and riveting to watch.

The largest ensemble is provided by the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, who close each half: a classic Alvin Ailey piece from the 80s, ‘Escapades’ in the first, and Christopher Huggins’ ‘Night Run’ in the second.  They are sassy, flow beautifully and are full of energy.  To quibble, when the ensemble is meant to be in unison, they fall a tad short of that pinpoint precision of movement and line which you get from the very greatest companies.

In short, this is all exhilarating stuff in a great variety of styles.  Each item was greeted with whoops from a smallish audience scattered around a huge auditorium, and at the end many rose in a standing ovation.  A true festival within a festival – it’s a celebration of life and the body.

It only runs till Sunday 19th, so catch it while you can.

Peter Scott-Presland

 

*   *   *   *   *

Puppet, Book of Splendour

Half-Arsed Symbolism

*

neTTheatre are an experimental Polish physical theatre company, who here produce what they describe as ‘the Clinic of Dreams’.  There is back projection with cabbalistic symbols which mutate into their English translations: Justice, Beauty etc.  The Director talks to us over a microphone with a running commentary for the first twenty minutes or so, telling us what we are about to see, and explaining the meaning of what we are seeing now, for the hard of understanding.  ‘It’s all very complex and cabalistic.’  ‘Audiences say the first part is interesting and the second part is boring, so if you get bored, you know you are into the second half.’  This is funny for about five minutes.  Make the most of it, because it’s the only funny thing in the show.

There are subtitles, which you can’t read because the overhead lighting on swirling dry ice obliterates half of them.  In any case they come and go before you can read them.  I just made out ‘We are a nothingness in our flesh and bones.’  Yeah, me too.

There are three angels in silver-white fright wigs, who sing in close harmony.  A child with Hassidic ringlets who seems to be asking questions and playing with stones.  Four dwarfs who do a dance.  Five people in hessian sacks with numbers on them are whipped around in a circle by a ringmaster type who seems to be wearing convict pyjamas.  Is this meant to be a concentration camp?  Search me.

 There is a lot going on all over the stage, but little attempt to organise it so your eye is drawn to specific images in a coherent way.  In any case it is all terribly underlit, so you can’t see very well.  And it is interminable.  People who came in as teenagers went out as grannies; babies grew up and gave birth to their own babies in the stalls by the end.  After 75 minutes or a lifetime in sweltering heat I could stand it no longer, and, since the playing area shows scant regard for fire regulations and there is no audience passageway marked along the front, clambered over a bit of scenery and marched past an astonished actor in pyjamas.  I have never walked out of a show I was reviewing before.  Think of it as the ultimate in dramatic criticism.

Peter Scott-Presland