Hunt for the Wilderpeople Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the excellent ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, with links below if you want to find out more (I strongly recommend you do…)

hunt_for_the_wilderpeople

Laughs: 4/5 

The only reason I haven’t given this film the top rating for laughs is that it pitches itself skilfully in the balance between out right farce and delightful buddy/chase movie. The laughs are where they are meant to be, and never done better than at the heart of the film with the interactions between the two main characters (underplayed brilliantly by Sam Neil and Julian Dennison). The central relationship is so good in fact, that even cameos from the likes of comedy stalwarts like Rhys Derby come second, as fun as they are.

Tears: 2/5

This film could have easily tipped over the edge into a total blub fest, but is always there with well timed light relief (look out for Taika Waititi’s cameo as a fumbling vicar) or section break to move you on and keep the journey going. A low score is reflective of what I think is evidently an intentional shunning of emotional hijacking by the makers.

Cheese: -1

Sometimes the villains can border on being a little bit pantomime, which just goes to show how delicately yet bravely each aspect of this film was pushed for maximum effect, so the odd transgression is forgivable, but does happen.

Cheers: 4/5

This is where the film hits home – you are invested in the characters so early on thanks to a great script, pacing and performances that you are taking every step with them, and feel every blade of grass along the way…

Bonus Cat: Majestical! +2

New Zealand’s amazing countryside is once again proven to be the ultimate back drop to movies of all shapes and sizes.

Total: 11

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Summary

Quite simply a great cast telling a great story that thrive under the skillful direction of the excellent Taika Waititi (who is fast becoming one of my favourite directors thanks to this and What We Do In The Shadows), and the wonderful New Zealand back-drop and sensibility that continues to develop as a major force in modern movies.

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunt_for_the_Wilderpeople

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4698684/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the upcoming ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page…

Health & Safety & The Fall of Humanity

healthandsafety

Hello!

This week sees the return of a couple of projects all aspiring writers should have a go at it, namely ‘The Show What You Wrote’ (TSWYW) and Newsjack’ – both on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Links here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunities/the-show-what-you-wrote

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kvs8r

When I say the return, I mean that the deadline for TSWYW is this Friday, ready for recording later this year, and Newsjack series 10 starts accepting weekly submissions as of next Monday.

I was lucky enough to be invited down to comedy house in London and attend a briefing about Newsjack this week. I got to meet a lot of other writers and the producers, plus drink one free bottle of San Miguel (I could have had more but was busy listening) and then join a mass exodus to the pub (which seemed so right for a room full of writers, like we were all at home again somehow).

Anyway, today I’ve just submitted my sketches for TSWYW. Unlike Newsjack, I’ve not had any material on this show yet. The last series was the first I think, and nothing got in that time. It’s very different from writing topical jokes/sketches as each episode is based on a theme and they don’t want parody/spoof pieces. It’s one of those briefs that’s almost so broad you have to be very self disciplined to get something together for it. (For example, one of the new series episodes is simply called ‘Geography’, which can mean pretty much anything on the planet).

So today I thought I’d share with you one of my misses from the last series. I know why it didn’t get in. It was way too long, over ambitious and sprawling. I had adapted the idea from a spoof musical I started writing last year (still in the pipeline) and inserted a character who causes the fall of humanity through his fastidious health and safety inspections throughout history. Yeah, it was a bit ambitious, and is basically three sketches, so if they didn’t like one, that was my submission quota for that episode done.

Anyway, I’ve reproduced it below ‘as is’, without any editing or omissions. At the very least, if you are looking to write sketches for these shows, read this and use it as a way to know what they’re not looking for! That said, I still quite like some of the ideas in here, and any writing is good practice and worth doing. Every rejection is the next step to acceptance. (blurgh)

Enjoy! (Hopefully)

Health and Safety and The Fall of Humanity.

Brief Synopsis (sketches below).

A series of three separate but running sketches featuring health & safety inspector ‘Mr Nomad’, a man who values the prevention of minor injuries and inadequate lighting above all else, while simultaneously causing major catastrophic accidents that shape the future of Humanity. I would imagine him to sound like a mix of ‘Gordon Brittas’ and Kayvan Novak’s ‘Dufrais Constantinople’ character. We move from the genesis of the Zombie apocalypse, to the fall-out bunkers of a post-apocalyptic Earth, to the advanced genetic science labs of the future. Although presented in a series, each individual sketch could work stand-alone.

 

SKETCH 1 – Health & Safety & The Zombie Apocalypse.

 

Cast

V/O:                           Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:               Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Baron Zipman:         Owner of Zipman chemicals Co. Think Texan oil baron.

Sandra:                     Baron Zipman’s level headed secretary.

Alarm:                       Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

Supervisor:               Voice on telephone, inept supervisor.

INT. OFFICE.

V/O:                In the executive offices of Zipman Chemicals Co, Multi Billionaire owner Baron Zipman is about to find out he has failed a health & safety inspection.

Sandra:            Mr Zipman, I have a Mr Nomad here to see you, he’s from health & safety.

Zipman:           Health & safety? Pen pushing toe rags. Well, you better show him in.

Sandra:            He’s already here sir, it’s this man standing right next to me.

Nomad:           All I’m concerned with Mr Zipman is what’s written here in my report. I have to say, it makes for some very interesting reading.

Zipman:           Not if you can’t read Mr Nomad… not if you can’t read.

Nomad:           Allow me to summarise. Item 1! I was shocked to discover this particular breach in the testing laboratories where I am led to believe you are conducting highly volatile and sensitive chemical research on behalf of the military?

Zipman:           That’s right. What of it?

Nomad:           A desk, Mr Zipman, a metal desk.

Zipman:           So? We have lots of desks.

Nomad:           Yes but are they all, (BEAT / SWELL OF DRAMATIC MUSIC) 5 inches closer to the nearest fire exit than is permitted by regulations? Are they?

Zipman:           Oh god.

Nomad:           Indeed. Your staff could really hurt themselves on that. Right in the thigh.

Zipman:           Ok we’ll fix it. Sandra, memo to sector 3, make the testing lab 5 inches wider.

Nomad:           And that isn’t all. I refer you to item 2 regarding your staff canteen…

Zipman:           We have a canteen?

Sandra:            Yes sir, you had one installed in one of the decommissioned storage facilities where we used to keep the unstable compounds. You saved money by using the old storage tankers to hold soup.

Nomad:           And very nice it is to, it’s just a shame about the (BEAT/MUSIC) loose floor tiles! A slight trip is the gateway to a bad fall. I’m very disappointed.

Zipman:           I can assure you that we will sort it straight away. Is there anything else?

Nomad:           Let’s see, just one last little advisory note here, it seems that the containment unit for your prototype molecular mutation compound Zeta666 triple X has a critical flaw in the pressure fail-safe that could lead to leakage of raw materials into the vicinity of unprotected workers. Nothing major, sure it’s the kind of thing you deal with everyday.

Zipman:           Well thanks for mentioning it all the same. Could you please ask my Secretary to come in on your way out Mr Nomad?

Sandra:            I’m here Sir. I’ve been here all the time.

FOOTSTEPS – DOOR CLOSES

Zipman:           Right, now he’s gone, is there any way around this?

Sandra:            We could seal off sector 2.

Zipman:           Sector 2?

Sandra:            Where we keep the Zeta666 triple x compound.

Zipman:           What? I mean about the desk and the tiles.

Sandra:            We could just fix the tiles sir… and move the desk.

Zipman:           That’s why I hired you! See that gets done would you?

Sandra:            Very good Mr Zipman. While I’m at it, shall I have them look at that little matter of the faulty container?

Zipman:           What? Yes, whatever…

FOOTSTEPS OVER:

Sandra:            (under breath) Oh my God oh my god oh my god…

DOOR CLOSES. PHONE PICK UP

Sandra:            Hello, sector 2, it’s Sandra here. Just a quick one, you haven’t noticed any problems in the containment facility for the Zeta666 triple X compound, by any chance? Namely the pressure…

Supervisor:      (Phone filter) Well it’s quite hard to tell you see. When we put it in we made the pointer on the dial rather large and the warning display quite small.

Sandra:            What’s it indicating now?

Supervisor:      Green…

Sandra:            That’s good.

Supervisor:      … and amber… and red.  Covers them all really. Pointless.

Sandra:            Well does the container by any chance have large amounts of steam coming from it and is it leaking a kind of glowing green ooze?

STEAM HISSES, GURGLING LIQUID NOISES

Supervisor       As it happens…

Sandra:            We need the engineers down right away.

Supervisor:      No can do I’m afraid, the only two guys who can fix this have gone home.

Sandra:            Why?

Supervisor:      Well Steve, he tripped over in the Canteen, caught himself quite bad I hear, and Dave well…

Sandra:            Ran into a desk on level 3?

Supervisor:      Right in the thigh! How did you know? It’s a death trap this place I tell you.

WARNING SIREN/ALARM

Alarm:             WARNING. HIGH LEVELS OF CONTAMINATION DETECTED IN SECTOR 2. WARNING.

Supervisor:      (Phone Filter) What’s that now? Bloody drill again I expect. Oi lads! Stop playing in that slime, you Muppets.

SOUND OF ZOMBIES MOANS

Supervisor:      Lads? Lads? LADS!!! (screams)

 

SKETCH 2 – Health & Safety & The Nuclear Fall-Out.

 

Cast

V/O:                             Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:                 Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Heston Bramcake:      Heroic leader of the UK nuclear survivors.

Alarm:                         Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

 INT. NUCLEAR RESEARCH SITE

V/O:                Following the Zombie apocalypse, the few remaining humans retaliated with Nuclear weapons. In a devastated and baron world, they were forced into underground bunkers to avoid the toxic fallout. The leader of the UK survivors, Heston Bramcake, is just about to find out that his network of bunkers has failed it’s health & safety inspection.

COMPUTERS BEEPING/KEYBOARDS TAPPING

Bramcake:       So this is control. The hub of the operation. The satellites are out of commission but the old cable lines still work, well some of them anyway, enough to allow us to communicate with other survivor groups around the world. We have 50 men and women here, working day and night. Sharing scientific data, passing on medical advice, and sometimes just being that friendly voice to keep them all going. God knows they need a friendly voice in these dark times, eh Nomad?

Nomad:           It’s a bit stuffy in here.

Bramcake:       Yeah well, we ain’t exactly able to turn down the thermostat are we?

Nomad:           Why? Is it broken?

Bramcake:       It isn’t broken. It doesn’t exist. These places were never designed for long term use, so we got to make do.

Nomad:           But, doesn’t that mean people suffer from hot flushes and mild fainting?

Bramcake:       Occasionally. Though it’s hard to tell it apart from radiation poisoning. They’ve got bigger things to think about.

Nomad:           I’d say! Look at those chairs. There’s no way they’re getting the necessary lumber support, and is it just me, or are there no wrist-rests on any of these terminals? Repetitive strain injury is the enemy of productivity!

Bramcake:       Maybe you’re right. We’ll see what we can rustle up.

Nomad:           Right, good. See that you do.

Bramcake:       You know what Nomad? I thought having you come here was going to be a real pain in the arse, you know, health & safety in a post-nuclear fall-out shelter?! I mean c’mon! But you’re making some good points. We shouldn’t neglect the little things or they’ll come back and bite us on the… Nomad?

SOUND OF CLAXON/HORN

Nomad:           (Shouting) Ladies & gentlemen, this is a fire drill. If you would like to all calmly and steadily make your way to evacuation point A as indicated on the laminated maps I’ve left by the exit, thank you.

Bramcake:       Where are they all going?

Nomad:           Evacuation point A. I noticed you didn’t have any procedures in place so I took the liberty.

Bramcake:       There must be some mistake, this map shows the old car park, topside.

Nomad:           Yes, evacuation point A.

Bramcake:       But that passage is sealed…

Nomad:           Was sealed… and may I say, very low. There should be a good 5 inches clearance height but I’ll overlook that for now, as long as the drill goes well.

Bramcake:       But… if they follow that map and open the outer doors, we’re all going to die!

Nomad:           That’s the spirit. Realistic role play. Here you go, put this on.

Bramcake:       What’s this?

Nomad:           High vis. Go on. (Proud) You’re a warden now.

Bramcake:       You’re insane! I’ve got to stop them! Wait!

SOUNDS OF RUNNING FOOTSTEPS

Nomad:           Oh dear. Running in the corridors. Shame. Real shame.

WARNING SIREN/ALARM

Alarm:             WARNING. RADIOACTIVITY EXCEEDS SAFE LEVELS. LOCK DOWN, LOCK DOWN.

Nomad:           Bit loud that. Where’s my decibel counter?

 

SKETCH 3 – Health & Safety & Genetic Engineering

 

Cast

V/O:                            Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:                 Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Professor Scott:          Chief scientist & leader of the ‘Darwin Delta 1’ research facility.                                                   Female.

Alarm:                         Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

 

INT. SPACE STATION

V/O:                The year is 2115. The most advanced genetic engineering research centre ever to be built, Darwin Delta 1, orbits Second Earth by the light of a red-star. The station leader, Professor Scott, is about to find out it has failed a health & safety inspection.

SOUNDS OF AUTOMATIC DOOR & ORGANIC SQUELCH

Nomad:           So, Professor, what is the first thing you think I noticed when I walked in here?

Scott:               The Alien hybrid embryo in the transparent egg-sac?

Nomad:           The what?

Scott:               That pulsating slimy sphere over there – you see?

Nomad:           Well no. No I don’t see. And that’s the problem. Inadequate lighting Professor… Inadequate lighting.

Scott:               We have to keep the conditions in this room just so. It’s very important research into creating a genetically modified predator race I’m afraid.

Nomad:           I am afraid Professor! I’m afraid for the safety and well being of your staff trying to negotiate their way around a dimly lit facility! Darkness is the friend of twisted ankles you know. Are these the main lights?

Scott:               Yes but I really wouldn’t…

CLICK OF LIGHT SWITCH

Nomad:           That’s better! I can see myself think again.

ORGANIC SQUELCHING GETS LOUDER

Scott:               My God. What have you done? It’s photo-sensitive you fool! It’s going to get out!

Nomad:           You’ll thank me when you see the reduction in minor injury referrals to the Med Lab. You and the rest of the inhabitants here. How many people are there here again?

Scott:               Thousands! Families! Children, babies! Oh no. If it gets to the babies it’ll have a host…

Nomad:           (serious) Babies? Where are the babies?

Scott:               The maternity ward is on the 5th deck. Right above us.

Nomad:           I though the 5th deck was catering?

Scott:               It’s a shared floor. Oh god it’s coming out!

Nomad:           This is terrible.

Scott:               I know! We need to do something!

Nomad:           I bet you they’re not correctly colour coding the cleaning equipment for medical & catering shared use. I’ll take them up some laminated reference charts.

Scott:               Quick, the waste airlock, we need to blast it out into Space, it’s our only hope. I’ll distract the creature while you open it up, it’s just down there, by the door. Hurry, there isn’t much time.

Nomad:           Here? By the door?

Scott:               Yes! Quick! Open the hatch! Pressurise the lock!

Nomad:           It’s a little close to the door, wouldn’t you say?

Scott:               What? I can’t hold it much longer…

Nomad:           One mo

SOUND OF TAPE MEASURE

Scott:               What are you doing? Are you measuring?

Nomad:           As I thought. This is very bad. An air lock within 5 inches of an access point? There’s nothing for it, it’s going to have to be immediate shutdown.

Scott:               But the other specimens will escape! This could be the end for humanity as we know it! I beg you, I implore you, I…

SCOTT IS CUT SHORT BY SOUND OF BEING EATEN

Nomad:           Oh dear. Someone’s going to have to clean that blood up. You could have a nasty slip. Looks like a blue cloth job to me, or is it the green mop? Best check my laminated reference chart, just to be sure.

Don’t wait until.

Hello,

Given the inordinate amount of time my work gives over to silliness (writing gags for radio, making daft cartoons, the occasional sit-com script and spoof article on this here blog), I sometimes forget to write ‘proper’ poems… which is a shame because the last, and only, poem I’ve written in the last few months has recently been published in a collection (which, if you are so inclined, you can buy here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dance-Is-New-ebook/dp/B00FL887N8)

So I should do it more often I think, and below is one that popped up quite naturally the other day. The form isn’t standard, but I like that, it’s like a poem of two halves with a connecting line that marks the change, sitting poignantly (I hope) between white space. The space around lines can be important as the words themselves.

It is called ‘Don’t wait until’ – and if I had to brand it with a theme or meaning, I would guess it would be about being truthful to ones self, or different aspects of ones self, or even to others, if you wish. It’s really up to you.

 

Don’t wait until.

By Garry Abbott

 

Don’t wait until I’m broken down,

dejected, sore and torn in two.

Don’t wait until I’m meekly dimming shadows.

 

Don’t wait until the seeds I’ve sown,

have grown and stretched,

to fill the gaps in air,

and fallen limp with time now spent.

 

Don’t wait until the Earth and I have met again.

 

If time is pressing, press back harder,

with bruised and aching shoulders.

Until it does to you, not does you in.

Until you spiral bound in wholeness.

 

Don’t wait, until I’m broken down,

Don’t bear a weight of torment.

If time is pressing, press back harder,

Until you own the moment.

Not good enough for the BBC Returns!

Well it’s that time again. The BBC radio 4 Extra series ‘Newsjack’ has returned, and with it, equal amounts of excitement, rejection and frustration.

For those of you who don’t know, ‘Newsjack’ is a weekly topical comedy that has an open-door submission policy, so basically, it is written my members of the public rather than an established and closed writing team.

I was lucky enough to get two ‘one-liners’ broadcast during the last series and I’m hoping for at least one ‘hit’ again this time around. However, as with all writing, it is tip of the iceberg stuff. I must have submitted nearly 50 jokes last time and a handful of sketches, just to get two very quick puns into the script. I don’t mind this, and if I fail to get anymore on, that’s fine, there are literally hundreds of people doing the same each week, so it’s not easy or statistically very likely.

However, the whole process is enjoyable (if frustrating) and examining your misses can be fun. I’m yet to have a sketch broadcast, and I don’t write very many anyway (favouring puns), but I do have a go now and again. Last week I was struck by the idea of the news that Voyager 1 had left our solar system as being a bit of a ‘sounds-exciting-but-is-actually-quite-dull’ story, and tried to write something. I ended up with two versions of the sketch, both of which I have reproduced below for you lovely people.

Firstly, I wanted to do a Star Trek parody based on Voyager 1 – so I did:

***

 

Voyager 1 Sketch – Garry Abbott

Cast:

Host –              Newsjack host.

V/O –               Star Trek style voice over

Robot –           Monotone robotic voice of Voyager 1 probe.

Host:              People often say fact is stranger than fiction, but is this really true? As the   unmanned space probe Voyager 1 officially left our solar system last week and heads off to the nearest star, is science fact really stranger than science fiction?

ATMOSPHERIC MUSIC

V/O:                Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of er, Voyager. Its 40,000        year mission to explore strange new worlds, well one strange new world, maybe, if it ever gets there, and if it has any power left to tell us what it’s like, which it won’t, and we’ll all be dead by then, and even if it did, it would take years for any signals to reach us, but anyway…To seek out new life and new civilizations, scratch that, to seek out                       fluctuations in radiation from our sun and measure the density of charged protons amongst other low level spectral analysis by instruments designed in the early Seventies. To boldly go, no that’s not technically right is it, split infinitive, to go boldly? Whatever. Just to go out into interstellar space where no unmanned space probe has gone before,                             possibly because, well, there’s nothing there is there?

DRAMATIC MUSIC INTRO

FX – BEEPS / SPACE SOUNDS

Robot:             Voyager Log. Star-date 19th September 2013. Thursday. Reading an                    increased density of charged particles in my vicinity, thus indicating I have reached             interstellar space. All instruments normal. Power levels holding within acceptable parameters. Nothing additional to report.

PAUSE

DRAMATIC MUSIC

V/O:                Join us next week for another exciting adventure when the unmanned             space probe voyager encounters what appears to be a slight reduction in solar wind activity and runs its regularly scheduled self diagnostic.

THE END.

***

The idea behind that was that it is short and sweet and the joke comes from the under-whelming notion of a battered old 70s space probe being placed in the dramatic ‘Star Trek’ setting.

Next up, I wanted to write a sketch of a reporter being sent to live cover the exciting event and being similarly underwhelmed. I have to admit I had a very strong Alan Partridge style reporter in mind when writing this, so to play this down, I changed the gender of the news reporter.

***

Live from Houston Sketch by Garry Abbott

Cast

Justin – Newsjack Host.

Mazy – Exasperated science correspondent.

Prof –    Boring pedantic NASA scientist.

Justin:             Marking a giant step in space travel, scientists confirmed this week that           the Voyager 1 probe has officially entered interstellar space. To bring you all the exciting, up-to-the-minute developments, we’ve sent our correspondent Mazy Upton to the NASA control centre in Houston for this special live report.

Mazy:              Yes thank you Justin. I’m here with Professor Derek Hedger who has all             the latest information live from the voyager probe.

Prof:                It’s not live actually.  Because of the vast distances involved it takes at               least seventeen hours before the signals reach us here in control.

Reporter:       Seventeen hours? What network are you with? You know what, it doesn’t           matter. What we really want to know is, have you found any aliens yet?

Prof:                No, no aliens I’m afraid.

Reporter:       Well what about strange new worlds then?

Prof:                No new worlds yet, strange or otherwise.

Reporter:       Really? No new planets? But I thought you’d got like, really far away?

Prof:                Yes, but basically we’re now in the space between solar systems, having           just left ours. That’s what interstellar means.

Reporter:       You’ve only just left our solar system? When did it set off?

Prof:               Voyager 1 was launched in 1977.

Reporter:       That’s rubbish.

Prof:                Excuse me?

Reporter:       That’s like, 36 years and you’ve not found any aliens or new planets yet?

Prof:                We’ve found out lots of very important things during the mission.

Reporter:       Like what? Go on. Amaze me.

Prof:                Well, for example, recently we’ve seen a hundred fold jump in protons per       cubic square of space, that’s actually how we knew that-

Reporter:       Protons? We have those on Earth don’t we?

Prof:                Yes of course, but –

Reporter:       No. Not good enough. This isn’t working. When will it reach the next interesting thing? Anytime in the next 30 seconds by any chance? Just a little something to make my two day journey from Surrey to Texas worth the effort, and the licence fee?

Prof:                Well, it will reach the nearest star in around 40,000 years.

Reporter:       40,000 years? Are you kidding?

Prof:                But by then the power will have ran out so the probe won’t be sending              any signals.

Reporter:       Hang on. So it’s taken it over 30 years to get out of the bit of space we               already know about, and now it takes seventeen hours to tell you that it’s in a bit of new space that’s empty anyway, and it will take forty thousand years to reach anything interesting, by which time we’ll all be dead and even our descendants won’t be able to contact it?

Prof:                Well, when you put it like that, I suppose but –

Reporter:       Actually, come to think of it, since Voyager was launched, Pluto’s been               declassified as a planet hasn’t it? So the net gain of interesting things found by Voyager is minus one planet. Is that what you’re telling me?

Prof:                It picked up some interesting fluctuations in radiation levels from the sun       once-

Reporter:       Stop. It’s just not enough Professor. Too little, too late. We’re out of time.

Prof:                Sorry.

Reporter:       Well there you go, Space. Big, boring and void of life, just like the                       Professor here. Back to the studio Justin.  I’ll see you in two days you Bast-

Justin:             Yes thank you Mazy.

THE END.

***

Reading this back it’s a lot of waffle to get to the joke that actually we are minus one planet since voyager launched, and we’re not going to be able to contact it anyway once it gets anywhere exciting!

As I said, sketches seem a lot harder, and even though I could ‘hear’ the delivery of the lines in my head, it’s hard to know if anyone reading it could get the same idea from the plain words on the page. That’s always a problem though, someone like Steve Coogan could make the words ‘Ford Cortina’ sound funny by his delivery, but on the page it wouldn’t ‘seem’ like a joke.

So there you have it, the only two sketches I’ve written for the current series, neither of which got in, and probably rightly so, they just aren’t yet good enough. Turning an idea into a reality that properly represent it seems to be the key to this, and I guess, most other things!

I will keep you updated over the next few weeks with any successes and failures that I think are worthy of a bit of re-examination.

The Napoli.

Continuing the theme a little from last week’s blog about Leek (see https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/totally-leek/), today I am going to try my hand at restaurant critique, having finally visited Leek’s new pizzeria/bar, The Napoli (http://www.thenapoli.co.uk/)

As usual when I stray into a new area, I have to point out that I am not a food/restaurant critic, however, I do have a mouth, tongue and digestive system, and eyes and a brain, so I think I meet a good deal of the qualifications one actually needs to talk about such things, though I may be lacking a little in arrogance. In all honesty, I am a ‘food fan’ (who isn’t?), I enjoy food from all corners of the world, I like to try new things, I love the experience of new tastes and appetising presentation, and I like to cook a bit too. So I suppose I do have a little foodie inside me, I mean, I do watch Masterchef, so I must be almost as qualified as Greg Wallace.

I’ve known about the impending arrival of this new eatery for some time. As I’ve walked by on my way from/to various engagements in Leek I’ve peeked through the glass fronted old registry-office on the high-street, wondering what would be installed next (it had a brief stint as a local co-operative during 2012). As I saw various grey igloo looking elements being installed, and the familiar framework of a bar start to take shape, I was more than happy when I heard it was going to be an Italian with “one of them Pizza oven things” as the centre-piece and unique feature.

After patiently waiting for The Napoli to open, and then for some reason taking three weeks to find a suitable excuse to get up there for a meal, I can finally now report back  on my findings. I’m going to take this one step at a time, just like I did last night as I walked over with my family party of 6 to our 8pm booking.

As you enter, there are a few things that immediately draw your eye. Firstly, the huge pizza oven in the back-centre of the room. The chef’s around it are building and firing pizza’s for the already busy service underway, which at 8pm on a Wednesday night, shows great promise. Next my eyes float over the tops of heads to the large bookcase at the far end, stretching from window to partition, stacked with what looks like an interesting array of literary fun. I imagine that for a more casual day-time visit, this feature must make a relaxed lunch or coffee more engaging for those of us who like to read, but aside from that, it makes a great rustic feature as a backdrop. So from the bookcase the eyes pans left to right, back across the oven, to the bar and seating area by the street-side window. A few hand-pumps and stacked bottles hint at the promise of interesting beer, and the cosy corner looks inviting.

We get sat down pretty quickly, greeted politely and already expected. We are sat by the window, half of the party looking out, the other half looking back, with the pizza oven in their sight. It took me a while to realise why the eyes of those opposite me where slightly glazed and to the right of my eye-line: They were watching the fire, like men around a barbecue, fascinated by its dancing flames and glowing coals. This soon passed however as we settled down and our drinks orders were taken and menu’s delivered.

The menu’s were two sides of A4, nicely presented but more importantly, simple and not convoluted. We’ve all seen enough episodes of Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares to know that less is more, and it makes me more confident as a punter. So there is a choice of four pizza’s, about half a dozen main meals that are not pasta based, and about a half dozen that are pasta based. Nice, easy. There are also a selection of starters and side’s, so if you really wanted, you could construct a whole meal in the traditional Italian fashion of anti-pasta, meat course, salad course, pasta etc… but they options also allow for the more British, starter/main/dessert order of things. Also, nestled between the bookcases, a specials board offers a few tantalising additions that already have us talking.

“What’s Puttanesca?” we ask each other, on the off chance that one of my family members may have a secret and extensive knowledge of traditional Italian dishes.

After a quick word with ‘Mr Google’, we find the literal meaning is “Whore-style spaghetti”, hmmm, spaghetti whore. I’m sure this is lost in translation somewhat, and the important thing we find is that it is a salty, spicy pasta, usually made with olives and/or anchovies and chilli. The combination of which wins over my step-Dad.

Also on the specials board, ‘Tagliatelle Carbonara’. I discovered the joy of Carbonara not long ago when I finally bought myself a pasta maker in a frenzy of post-Masterchef kitchen ambition and managed somehow to make the most beautiful Carbonara with home-made Tagliatelle and had one of those “where have you been all my life?” moments. It seemed my brother shared the enthusiasm for this dish, so two more orders were in the bag.

Thankfully my partner went for the fungi-pizza option, so I knew I would be getting to try that out myself (not that I eat food from my partner’s plate or anything… (I do)). There was also a mushroom tart and ravioli ordered, and that was our main’s sorted.

For starter’s the cold-meat platter was popular, served with an olive oil-balsamic dip and fresh bread side. Two of us (including me) went for the chilli and garlic bruschetta, which had just the right heat of spice and crunchy fried texture. A garlic bread on a wonderfully thin base and a nice little portion of sautéed potatoes (with I guess rosemary/garlic) finished off the starter’s. From all accounts, all starters were well received and quickly demolished.

Not long after starters where cleared away, a good length of time to enjoy the after-glow of the first morsels and whet the appetite for the follow up, out came the mains. The Puttanesca kept my step Dad enthralled for every mouthful, which is a wonder for a man who favours curry above all else. The olive and spice must have done it for him. Mine and my Brother’s Carbonara was made with fantastic pasta, broad, thick and perfectly cooked. It’s hard to tell with dishes like this because they vary so much from region to region, country to country, as they travel and get adapted in cultures, but this was not a ‘runny’ Carbonara. The cream and egg had just about cooked around the pasta, making it more of a textured affair. Whether this is more traditional or a mistake I don’t know or care, because it tasted amazing.

I leapt in to rescue my girlfriend who was struggling to finish the plate sized, thin crispy pizza. The slices I had were amazing. I love pizza like that, thin base that both cracks upon biting and has a little give in the dough, a fresh tomato sauce, naturally sweet and soaked ever so gently into the base, and mozzarella and mushrooms to top the whole thing of, but not layered on in sickly slabs ‘USA’ style, just nicely balanced and each a feature in itself. Yes, next time I go, as lovely as the pasta was, I’m having one of them to myself, oh yes.

From what I was told, the ravioli and tart were also equally wonderful. So, after we finished our well-portioned mains (no belly-busting here, good balanced, taste-packed continental portions), we turned to the dessert menu.

Now, I knew about the dessert menu in advance, seeing as three quarters of it is provided by my good friends at ‘Miscos chocolates’ (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) whom I have rather a lot to do with, being as they are wonderful people who also just happen to make the tastiest luxury Belgian chocolates you will ever eat. Especially for the Napoli they have devised three desserts. First we have the ‘chocolate cake to end them all’… this really is a treat. A flour free, almost soufflé like chocolate cake that will turn cake-haters around and send cake-lovers to some near-transcendental state of being. It truly is a great bit of sticky, moist, deep chocolaty slice of heaven, and along with a bit of soft ice-cream, it is the perfect end.

But that’s not it! You also have the choice of two ganache-filled chocolate cups, served with a liquor of your choice. My brother and his girlfriend went for this option, and they marvelled as much at the sight of them as they did the taste. And finally, from the Misco options, Panna cotta, with a choice of a raspberry coulee or honey, Tuaca and Hazelnut topping. Now I tried these in the development stages, and I went from Panna cotta ignorance, to Panna cotta bliss. They are smooth, sweet and refreshing on the palette after all the other wonderful flavours of the evening. Again, all the deserts were balanced, neat portions, as they should be. I should mention there was also a range of ice-creams available.

So, after the desserts were thoroughly obliterated (not a crumb or fleck left on any plate I could see), we finished our drinks (some nice trad ale’s available, though the name of the brewery escapes me at the moment), our bill was sorted and we meandered off and away through Leek to finish off the night in the Roebuck for yet more nice trad ales, which I can say with certainty came from the brilliant Titanic brewery.

All in all, it was a great night, with great food, a great atmosphere and timely service. There may be a few little things that as the business matures will tighten up a little here and there (could do with a beer menu, maybe some complimentary olives and bread when you first arrive), but for a pretty busy service I think they did really well for a young business in its first month and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I’m going again, next week, this time with my former work colleagues, and this time, I’m having a pizza, all to myself.