ADMIN CAT! Bright Spark.

This week’s ADMIN CAT! (24/04/2014)

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Review: ‘Glasshouse’ A forum theatre play by Kate Tempest – performed by Cardboard Citizens.

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I came up to Manchester last night to watch ‘Glasshouse’: a play by Kate Tempest, performed by ‘Cardboard Citizens’ theatre company at the Z-arts centre in Hulme. In the blurb the play was described as ‘forum theatre’, which roughly means that after the performance the audience are invited to discuss the character’s choices in the narrative and then improvise alternative versions of key scenes.

My main reason for coming to see this play was because of the author. I recently watched Kate Tempest live performing her epic poem ‘Brand New Ancients’ along to music, and I was blown away. So, having the chance to see one of her plays was enough for me to get over the ‘interactive audience’ element which I admit, I was slightly dreading. I also wanted to experience a modern play. I’ve been to the theatre lots, but not to watch anything contemporary and it’s an area I’m interested in learning more about as a writer and as a cultural consumer. I also wanted to challenge my preconceived notions of modern ‘workshop’ theatre being cringe-worthy and overacted: a notion that has probably been sown via the League of Gentlemen’s ‘Legs Akimbo’ acting troupe sketches.

Thankfully, the actors were good – very good in fact. The play itself dealt with a chain of events in the lives of the three protagonists: a young woman, her mother, and her mother’s partner. I don’t want to discuss the plot here because you should go and see it, but broadly it was about a suburban family in crisis, under pressure from the world, themselves and each other, the choices they make and the consequences of their actions. It was gritty in that it dealt with verbal and physical domestic abuse, substance abuse, homelessness, helplessness, sexuality and inner city depravation. That may sound extremely miserable, but it was also funny and warm in places, mostly thanks to the characters being so well-drawn and Tempest’s effortless and accurate blending of comedy and tragedy.

We were treated to several key scenes from the chain of events, each retold and elaborated on by the main characters in turn. This meant we saw a few of the central scenes three times, each subtlety different as the narrator character represented events from their point of view. This meant that we zipped around in time, and as the characters got their turn, gaps were filled in that contextualised and added to the previous renditions. The scenes and scenery changed rapidly, with excellent use of the minimal sliding-board set, props and costumes, pushed and pulled into place by the performers as they moved through the story, adding to the sandbox-like approach to interactive theatre, keeping the transitions as kinetic and dynamic as the performance itself.

Each character introduced and intersected their version of events in soliloquy to the audience, bouncing along in Tempest’s inimitable style with elements of rhyme and prose touching at the edges and making a whole that is greater. When it was over, we were left digesting three versions of events, three outlooks and representations  – let alone our own. I liked it. It was good. Go see it.

And then, after the main performance and a short break, there was the forum theatre element. Before this the director had already started to ask us questions, to gauge opinion and such like, but that was only as a show of hands, a mumble of agreement, a few nodding heads or an occasional comment – now we were being asked to actually come on stage and improvise. This was different.

Luckily for me, the audience mostly consisted of two other theatre groups, so I was content and undisturbed in my silent observation of their valiant efforts. As we re-watched key scenes from a democratically voted-for character (the daughter), anyone could shout ‘stop!’ and replace the actor in the scene. The other actors would then respond in character to the volunteer’s efforts – allowing us to see what could have, might have, maybe should have been. It was extremely interesting to watch and I can only applaud those that gave it a go. Of course it had its awkward moments, and also some extremely funny ones. But on the whole it worked as a social experiment more so than an exploration of drama. The central message was that we can make different choices to change our lives, that our reactions are not always a good reflection of ourselves and have real consequences. Many of the contributors approached the scenes by being open, honest, compassionate and respectful to the other characters, and then abandoning the conflict as soon as possible (often by just walking off set when they had said their piece). This is why I say it wasn’t an experiment in drama (well-meaning resolutions don’t make for great plays) and more like group therapy – in a good way.

It made a lot more sense when the director told us that they normally perform in prisons and hostels, where I guess many people are living through the consequences of their actions and/or the circumstances they find themselves in. But for a generally neutral audience member like myself, it was still a fascinating concept none the less.

All in all, I enjoyed it. My faith in modern theatre now has a foundation to be built upon where before I only had assumptions, and my admiration for Kate Tempest’s work has been further bolstered. In short, I have been entertained, challenged and inspired – and there’s not enough of that around at present, so it was a welcome experience. I would recommend it.

It’s on tonight again if you are in the area, and I’ve included any links I can find below for you to seek it out in other locations.

www.z-arts.org/glasshouse

http://www.cardboardcitizens.org.uk/

http://katetempest.co.uk/

ADMIN CAT! Home Alone.

This week, ADMIN CAT is home alone… (17/04/2014)

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Newsjack Series Ten Critique with BONUS JOKES!

By Garry Abbott

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As you may or may not know, the topical ‘sketchbook’ comedy series ‘Newsjack’ has just finished its tenth series on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

The show has an ‘open-door’ policy for writers, allowing anyone to submit sketches and jokes each week to be considered for the script. Over the last three series I’ve had credits in 9 episodes (two in series 8, five in series 9 (including a sketch) and two in series 10). I would say I’ve been lucky to get these credits, but that’s not entirely true – I’ve also been really disciplined.

Each week I prepare the maximum number of sketches and jokes they allow you to submit. I spend all week keeping an eye on the news, making notes if I spot something with potential. I then spend a whole day getting my sketches together and the best part of another day writing one-liners. Basically for six weeks I lose my Sundays and a good part of Monday to topical writing!

The format of the show changed a bit this year. I was invited down to Comedy House in London to attend a briefing where we were introduced to the new format by the new producers. I got to meet a bunch of other writers. The BBC provided beer. We all went to the pub afterwards. It was good.

The new format was challenging. Less submissions allowed, a strict format for one-liner jokes, and a new ‘feel’ to the show. A lot of these changes were centred around the new host, stand-up comedian Romesh Ranganathan, who now opens the show with his own routine before the rest of the cast join him to start performing the submitted material.

There was some unease at these changes, hence the writers briefing I think. It felt initially like we were losing nearly ten minutes of potential joke placement to Romesh’s monologue, and that the prescribed one-liner formats were stifling (previously you could just submit as many jokes as you could fit on a page, in whatever style/approach you felt like – now you are allowed three jokes in each of three categories – ‘coming up’, ‘breaking news’ and ‘listings’). However, things change and people must adapt – and I got the feeling that most writers (like myself) just knuckled down to the new show and vowed to see what happens.

So what did happen?

To start with the positives; I liked Romesh’s opening monologues. It feels fine to me that a show that is designed to bring people up through the ranks should do the same for the cast and crew as it does for the writers. I’ve already heard Romesh appearing since on the ‘News Quiz’ (Radio 4) and hopefully thanks to Newsjack we will hear/see more of him in the future. The change-up to one liners worked quite well – breaking up sketch features and keeping the show interlaced with snappy jokes between longer sketches. As per usual, the rest of the cast did a sterling job with most of the sketches, especially Lewis Macleod and Morgana Robinson (who joined the cast this year, a steal for the producers I reckon). And most of all, it did what it set out to do: showcasing material by none-commissioned writers from across the country who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity.

I think there is a general reluctance amongst the writers to say anything negative about the show in the fear that they may never get a broadcast credit again! However, what sketch show have you ever heard which doesn’t have its ups and downs? The famous hits and misses? And naturally, there were a few things that didn’t quite work for me. I think most of them generally stemmed from a bit of an identity crisis throughout the series. I registered a shift away from satire towards goofy-entertainment style stories – but then I think it went back towards satire again towards the end. This is understandable when the new producers had a vision for the show and were willing to test things out to see what does and doesn’t work. This may have led to come sketch/joke choices for the purpose of fitting the new vision, rather than being the best of the bunch. But under such pressure to collate, choose, redraft, rehearse, perform, record and edit the show each week, I think we can forgive the odd groaner or sketch that didn’t land quite so well. Also, Romesh isn’t a character actor, so we only had one male voice that could do diverse characters (in the form of the vocally-talented Lewis Macleod), so some sketch options felt thin, and there was a lot of one-to-one interview style sketches in order to give Romesh a role to play (as himself). These often worked quite well, but I think another male character actor would of helped a lot here to broaden the options.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the old format was also not perfect, because topical sketch shows often aren’t (even the ‘Now Show’ has it’s off-moments). So all in all, I think it hit the brief, raised more smiles than not, and explored some new territory at the same time – all good work for when they start planning series eleven (I hope).

Anyway, I’ll leave you now with a few of my jokes that did and didn’t make it into this series (I haven’t included the sketches here, I will put them up another time). Well done to all those who got stuff on, and all those who didn’t but stuck at it anyway.

 

Series Ten Hits:

BREAKING NEWS:

“Michael Jackson to release a new album in May, proving it really doesn’t matter if you’re black or white… or dead.”

LISTINGS:

“Later tonight, The Archers, at whatever time you’re not expecting it and can’t get to the radio to switch it off in time.”

 

A selection of my series ten rejects:

BREAKING NEWS:

“World plans to celebrate a hundred years since the first World War by starting a new one.”

“Studies have found that obese children may be slower thinkers because they take more time to answer questions in class. That’s a bit unfair if you ask me, it’s hard to talk with a mouth full of Mars bars.”

“Misunderstood threat from Obama laughed off by Russians who say their asses are already frozen.”

“MP John Mann warns Labour not to be ‘too clever’ if they want to win the next election – ‘not a problem’ says Ed Miliband as he cleans his ears out with his tooth brush.”

 

COMING UP:

“As the row over the upcoming budget escalates, we’ll be investigating if George Osborne has got Balls on the ropes, or if he just keeps them in his pants like everyone else.”

“Following the announcement that 100 year olds in the UK have increased by 73%, we’ll be investigating how they got so big”

“Grant Shapps will be trying to explain why he doesn’t think it was racist to refer to the UK as Bingo Bingo land.”

“Plain packaging on cigarettes: we’ll be investigating if it would be a more effective deterrent to only package cigarettes in actual planes.”

 

TV/RADIO LISTINGS:

“New to ITV! Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen goes head to head with Kelly Hoppen to try and redesign a town house in only twenty minutes! That’s: Game of Throes, coming soon.”

“This Friday on ITV2 – ‘Birds of a Fuhrer’: Long suffering Eva is in for a big surprise when her new husband tells her what he’s got lined up for their honeymoon.”

“Radio 4 has assembled the coalition cabinet to ask what songs they would play if they were ship-wrecked: in ‘Desert Island Dicks’ – tonight at nine.”

“Can you guess the celebrity just by taking a look around a triple heart bypass? Find out tonight in ‘Through the Keyhole Surgery’ on ITV2!”

“Join Jeremy Clarkson and friends as they score some high quality drugs from a bloke round the back of a pub, in Top Gear, tonight at nine.”

ADMIN CAT! Has a new friend?

This week’s Admin Cat! By Garry Abbott. (10/04/2014)

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So she resigned. What next?

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Imagine my disappointment  this morning when, over breakfast, the man on the radio told me that the subject of today’s blog had already resigned.

‘Damn it!’ I shouted as I launched my weetabix across the room with one hand, and slammed the other onto the kitchen counter, ‘what now?’

I had been gazumped, or, as my name is already Gaz, I had just been ‘umped’. All I had wanted from this whole debacle was to see the back of Maria Miller after I had written this blog telling people why.

But then, I thought, as the blood trickled from my knuckles onto a passing ant, maybe I can still do the blog, but about the reaction to her resignation?

I turned up the radio, and lo and behold, an interview was already underway between John Humphries and some of those politician types: one from each of the main two colours – you know, the red and blue ones, the Smurfs and the Hellboy’s.

Humphries started by asking the lady from the reds what she thought:

“It should have happened last week! It has further damaged politics and the public perception of politicians” she declared, rather more vigorously than her actual party did, but still with all the sentiment of a walnut.

The man Humphries jumped at his chance to ask if politicians should perhaps, you know, not ‘mark their own homework’. To which the red lady agreed in the strongest, vaguest terms possible.

The other, from the blues (you can tell by the way they talk usually, they sound ‘bluish’) – was a bit annoyed at only having 1 minutes and 20 seconds of air time left on national radio to defend his recently departed colleague, and wasted a whole twenty seconds in telling us so. But then, when he had got that slight off his chest, he said:

“I don’t think anything needs to change with how we monitor ourselves. If the media had actually read the report last week and reported on it accurately, this whole thing would have turned out differently.” Etc…

And then they ran out of time. Poor blue man felt very put out for only having such a short amount of time to reiterate that nothing needs to change and it was everybody else’s fault. He needn’t have worried, I think we got the picture (even though it was on the radio, which is really clever).

So I switched off the voices, muttering some violent swearword in regards to the last speaker, and came to my computer to find out more. Luckily, it seems the rest of the country was also listening to the radio, because it’s all over the news.

The little part of me that was relieved that Maria Miller had finally resigned, was soon quashed when I read the gushing acceptance of her decision by David Cameron. All of a sudden, I felt like, well, like, like, well, like – I don’t know what I felt, but it was somewhere between crushing inevitability and hopeless frustration. And here is why, in neatly summarised bullet points:

  •          It shouldn’t have happened in the first place
  •          Why should MPs have the luxury of managing their own departures/resignations after committing fraud?
  •          What does it say about the world-view of the PRIME MINISTER of this country, when he so obviously favours self-protection of his inner circle over the people of this country and basic moral decency?
  •          Why weren’t Labour officially calling for her to resign? Apart from a few dissenting voices, the cross-party political class basically closed ranks on this, VS ‘the public’. (the obvious answer is again, self-protection, should they ever  need to use this ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ system for their own ends).  You are meant to be the cocking opposition!
  •          She still isn’t going to be paying any more money back or facing criminal charges from the look of it, so she’s done rather well for herself, and no longer even needs to worry about going to work! She can probably retire on the profits she’s extorted.

On a positive note, in felt to me like the real proliferation of this story was taken up by ‘the public’, and only instigated by the media, who then recognised the anger it had caused and fed back into it. I don’t think we were led by them, I think this one was mutual. I’m guessing the 150,000+ signatures on the e-petition were a great help.

For instance, the first I heard of this was from a very dry article on the BBC news last week, and it was these things that flared up my anger immediately (before the furore really kicked off):

  1.        The arrogance of the PM in offering unwavering (and ‘warm’) support for someone who had quite obviously fallen short of the standards that should be required.
  2.        Learning of the way that the initial report and recommendations by an ‘independent’ committee was over-ruled by a separate MP led committee who exist, it appears, only for purposes such as this.
  3.        Learning that the ‘independent’ committee has only two independent (none party affiliated) members anyway, both of which don’t have a vote.
  4.        The whole obvious rigged game that is caused by points 2 & 3, and imagining the motivations of the kind of people who would come up with it.

So actually, the precise details of Miller’s affair were not as important to me as the above, because the above is indicative of the attitudes and systems that cause this massive gulf between ‘us and them’, and is in my opinion, the biggest problem facing our country (and much of the wider world). I don’t mean just these things specifically, but the whole approach to accountability and such like.

Was today a victory for people-power over politics? Not unless any of the above points are actually dealt with: not ‘tinkered’ with – dealt with.

Why not, for example, replace these two committees with a new committee selected from the public in much the same way as jury service? And give us the right to recall MPs (as they promised they would)? Oh, yeah, and Cameron has to go, obviously.

The question is, why don’t they ever actually introduce progressive legislation to enforce the accountability and transparency they so often tout in speeches and manifestos?  Why don’t they hand the responsibility to the people? The simple answer, I guess, is because they know what would happen if they did. Which when you think about it, is a really bad state of affairs, and all the more reason we need it.

So what happens now she’s gone? More of the same after a brief period of rhetoric about ‘change’ and ‘transparency’?  Probably. But if we can act together like we did this week, with common purpose and outrage against the presiding political class, who now seem to be more distant from us than ever before: maybe we can see a few more heads roll? Maybe even change things for the better. That’s a nice thought. I feel a bit better now.

ADMIN CAT! Has been hunting…

This week’s Admin Cat! In which he reverts to his animal instincts… 03/04/2014

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