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…)

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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…

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Explore The Beatles – My pick of lesser known album tracks.

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If you didn’t catch Part 1 of this blog (https://garryabbott.com/2014/05/13/access-the-beatles-part-1/) – here is part two of my attempt to share some of the lesser known album tracks by The Beatles that I think will enrich and enhance people’s appreciation for what they did for western music.

My full introduction can be found on part 1 – but just to reiterate a little: for those of you who have a good understanding of the Beatles catalogue, this blog may not be so revelatory, but hey, if you think these songs are cool already, then here’s a good excuse to revisit them!

For those of you (I guess quite a lot) who are aware of The Beatles number one records and most popular tunes, I think you may find that some of these songs will surprise you.

When I listen to these songs, I hear modern music. I hear the inspirations and experimentations that have shaped generations of artists. I hope you will too.

Note – I’m working chronologically following on from the last blog, hence numbers start at ‘6’.

 

6. I’m A Loser (Beatles for Sale – 1964)

I think this is the only song from ‘Beatles for Sale’ I’m going to include here. The album is great, and every song hints at the flexing of musical muscles they were building up at the time, but as a stand-out example, ‘I’m a Loser’ demonstrates the self-awareness that Lennon would go on to use (exploit?) to give his song’s meaning.

Meaning is sadly lost from a lot of modern popular music. The Beatles in part started this with a lot of songs that centred around pretty two dimensional love scenarios (She loves you, I want to hold your hand, from me to you etc…). The difference however, is that they were aware of this, and wanted to find better ways to express themselves. In this song, Lennon turns the lens on himself. It stills centre’s around a pretty banal situation (unrequited love), but shifting the focus and giving us hints of the ‘man behind the mask’ begins to introduce a depth of meaning (“although I laugh and I act like a clown, under this mask I am wearing a frown”).

Musically the song is, once again, nicely juxtaposed with the theme of the lyrics. There is obvious Bob Dylan influence here, and I fancy you can even hear Lennon trying his best to sound like him (especially in the harmonica section!). Using influences and making them your own is a huge part of a healthy creative process, as evidenced here.

 

7. I’ve Just Seen a Face (Help! 1965)

This is the only song I will offer from ‘Help!’ – mainly because the film and the album combined make many of them already so well known (Ticket to Ride, Hide Your Love Away, Help, Another Girl…)

‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ is another foray into folk/country music, keeping us in theme with the last. It’s more jaunty, goes at a great pace, and goes to show that when they wanted to, The Beatles could do this style just as well as any band who were dedicated to the genre. This is another aspect that I think marked them out – they could cross genre’s with ease, almost like they were playing with them for fun. That shows understanding and talent, but more importantly, leads to catchy little numbers like this one!

Musically, I can imagine this song done as a slow ballad, a mid-tempo rock song, or even a fast thrash punk song! I reckon that’s a good clue to knowing when the foundations of your compositions are solid: when you can ‘hear it’ in different modes. Also – check out the introduction!

 

8. Think For Yourself (Rubber Soul, 1965)

George Harrison’s ‘Think For Yourself’ is a song of firsts. It was his fist none love song, and also the first song to feature a fuzz bass (possibly ever, but don’t quote me on that).

Here we see George Harrison start to look inwards and outwards, urging his listeners to make their own mind’s up about the lies and promises of the world, a theme that I guess took him on his spiritual journey and the study of Eastern thinking and spirituality.

The vocals are gorgeous. I can’t find a video of the harmonies isolated (though I’m sure that exists somewhere) – but just listen to the precise yet hauntingly slurring slide down the harmonic range accompanying each second line (also check out ‘If I needed someone’ on the same album for another example of this). It conveys a message, and it sounds cool. What’s not to like?

 

9. In My Life (Rubber Soul, 1965)

Okay, so many people may already know this song, but it’s worth putting it here even if it only reaches one person who hasn’t.

I haven’t much to say about Lennon’s melancholic masterpiece that can’t be understood just by listening to it. It’s the kind of song that brings tears to your eyes if you’ve ever lost anything that was dear to you. Lennon had his fair share of that, and even though this could be construed as a love song, I think it is primarily a lament for anything lost.

The use of the harpsichord for the solo is inspired, and shows a generosity by The Beatles in orchestration and allowing George Martin (the producer) to contribute. Without this, they couldn’t have developed like they did as their compositions transcended the need for strict format guitar solos and arrangements.

 

10. She Said She Said (Revolver, 1966)

As someone who grew up in the nineties and had my modern musical faith restored with the indie/Britpop resurgence that took us into the 21st Century, it is songs like ‘She Said She Said’ by the Beatles that made me wonder why it took so long to come back around. They had done it already. It was like everybody had forgotten and thought they were doing it for the first time. There is a line between rock, rock and roll, pop, and what we might recognise as ‘indie’ music today. The Beatles walked across all of them.

Musically – I think Ringo silence’s his critics in this song. As a former skiffle drummer, you can hear him ride the toms off the snare after nearly every phrase in a fusion of old and new that brings the song together. Interestingly, this is the only song not to feature McCartney: Harrison is playing bass! (I never knew that – the wonders of Wikipedia eh?)

 

Thanks for dropping by. More to follow at a date yet unspecified! Next week I am on holiday, so probably no blog – see you again soon!

Owl Stretching Time – Pythons and Culture.

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Although I didn’t make the pilgrimage to the O2 arena to watch Monty Python bow out on stage, I was very happy to realise on Sunday that the very last show was being broadcast live on television. Despite the beeped out profanities (thanks to the broadcast going out pre-watershed), it meant that I, and presumably millions of others, got to watch the end of an era.

As far as ‘era’s’ go, it could be argued that it ended some time ago. I remember watching the 30th anniversary evening on BBC2 in 1999. As I recall it was an evening of Python episodes, interviews and documentaries. When the night finished the continuity man announced over the BBC2 logo – “That was the end of Monty Python”, a sentiment the pythons had previously made clear, having contributed only a few snippets of new footage and interviews, and I think, still not really seeing eye to eye on many ideas. (For what felt like many years, Eric Idle seemed to have banished himself to America, only ever appearing in video link ups. I always just guessed it was a tax thing).

This time, however, it felt like a much more fitting way to close the curtain on what has been for them, and us, a cultural phenomenon. It was obvious that they had chosen to come together mutually rather than just responding to expectations because of some arbitrary anniversary. It felt like watching five talented men, happy and thankful for the chance to choose the manner of their own exit, doing it in style.

I don’t really want to review the show in detail here. I think Martin Freeman put it well when in a ‘VIP lounge’ pre-show interview he said that no matter what he thought of the performance, they’ve already done it, they’ve already earned our applause and gratitude. As it happens, I think they more than earned it again with a funny, naughty and well produced finale.

Instead I want to talk more about some other sentiments that were raised by another celebrity fan in the backstage build-up: Harry Shearer, of ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘Mr Burns from the Simpsons’ fame. He said that although the Pythons didn’t influence his kind of comedy, what they did do was show people that a group of creative people could maintain control over their own output. There is no doubt from the first moment of Python on TV when Graham Chapman says ‘Good Evening’ before sitting on a stool to the sound of a squeal, and then we cut to a drawing of a pig being crossed off a blackboard, that the BBC had taken a risk (see video below). Even more so when you listen to the stilted, baffled titters of the studio audience who don’t quite know what to make of it. Given that it took some time for Python to grow in popularity, it would have been so easy for some number obsessed executive to have deprived the world of their legacy. It hardly bears thinking about.

Of course there would have been some element of creative control over it, but the point, I think, is that they were allowed to experiment and take risks within wide boundaries, even if they were very silly risks. Without risks, culture stagnates. I imagine this is similar to when Paul McCartney was allowed to do a totally acoustic ballad in the form of ‘Yesterday’, a decision that many other producers and managers would have dismissed in favour of ‘more of the same’. Which takes me nicely onto my next point…

Harry Shearer also said that for these reasons, the Pythons and The Beatles are synonymous in his mind. Both groups inspiring his generation and beyond to stick to and stand up for their own creative vision. I agree with this entirely. For someone born in 1981 I was strangely raised on a cultural diet of The Beatles and Monty Python. This came mostly from my older brother. Quite how he discovered it all I don’t really know, as our parents lived outside of the UK for much of the ‘golden age’ of comedy and music. Either way, they were staples in my life, despite having been born not long before these cultural icons had all but disbanded, or been shot. But even from an early age, it was the sheer creativity of both these outfits that interested me. It was the reach of their influence in so many things that followed in our culture that made me excited.

As we get older and discover the world around us, finding out about the architects of our world is (or should be) a profound experience. Comedians and musicians may not have put the bricks and mortar around us, or paved the streets, but they certainly set the tone. Artists of all kind are the interior decorators of the life we are born into. They add to the ‘point’ of it all. Even if you argue that they are only a small part, they are an important and entertaining aspect that we would all miss if it wasn’t there. Unless that is, you want to live in silent, grey boxes, doing nothing ever but working, eating and procreating, never once telling or hearing a story, making something up, whistling a tune, drawing or enjoying a picture, or laughing… ever again.

There are many ways to make an impact on this world, and so many who try end up adding to the problems or creating new ones because their motives are ill founded. Artists give – even if they are sometimes rewarded for it – they create output to (generally) make the world a more enjoyable place and provoke original thought. It is this sentiment and motive embodied in exemplary examples  such as the Pythons and The Beatles that I wanted to try and get at with this blog, and in my little way to say thank you, and goodbye.

 

Pen Sieve. A very short story.

As I have a busy week, I’ve dusted down a short story I wrote last year which didn’t make it into my collection, but I think is still a nice little read. The themes of unseen controlling factors are present, just on a much lesser scale! You’ll see what I mean. I hope you enjoy this early, unedited draft of a little idea. Thank you.

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Pen Sieve. 

Once there was a cleaner who worked in a big office.

Every night after all the office workers had gone home for the day, she would wipe off all the dead skin and debris that covered each desk in a thin film, vacuum the crumbs and morsels from the recently devoured meals that clung to the dull grey carpets, mop the scuffs from the tile corridors, and wipe the finger-prints from the metal door handles until they shined once more. On one day of the week, depending on her mood, but usually once a week, she would also steal a pen, and always from the same desk.

She didn’t know who the desk belonged to, at least not in real life. She knew his name because it was printed onto a flimsy piece of white printer paper and tacked to his monitor. His name was Julian Beswick, but she didn’t know him.

She rotated the specific day so it would be less obvious. Not because she was scared of being found out, but so Julian Beswick could never be sure if it was he who was losing his pens. She had figured, quite rightly, that if she were to steal the pen the same evening every week that somewhere in the back of his mind, overtime, he may start to notice the pattern and so become more vigilant. It was more fun for her to change the days. Sometimes she would steal the pen on a Friday night so that it would be gone the following Monday, and then not steal one again until the Thursday after next. In this way he could go almost a whole two weeks without having his pen stolen. And then, just as he was starting to doubt any suspicions that might be forming in his mind, his pen would be gone again, but so close to the weekend that the matter would pass into triviality.

For this was a trivial matter. The pens were not expensive. She never stole a pen that looked like it had been supplied from outside of the office. On occasion she would find, resting on the function keys of his keyboard as always, some kind of metal cased or rubber gripped oddity that had obviously been procured or borrowed. These she would leave alone until inevitably they would be replaced by a bog standard issue biro. Then she would steal it.

The thing is she had noticed how often Julian Beswick’s pens changed, that’s why she had chosen his desk to start stealing them from. One day there would be a brand new smooth biro with the satisfying black line running through it from one end to the other, the next day there would be a near dead sorry looking excuse of a pen covered with tiny puck marks from human incisors. He obviously lost them, took them home, lent them out or whatever, and then had to scrabble around for another the next day. Sometimes she would find the pen he had lost of his own accord underneath his keyboard or below his desk. On those days she would replace the new pen on the keyboard with the one she had found, carefully ensuring that they were positioned exactly the same, and then steal the new one.

She imagined Julian Beswick each morning flinging his jacket over his chair, switching on his computer and setting to work for an hour or two before the moment came. The moment when he would need to take a message from a phone call, or was off to a meeting, or had a flash of inspiration and needed to jot it down, or if he just fancied scribbling pointlessly on a post-it note. She imagined him reaching for the groove above the function keys on his keyboard, not even looking as he did so, and then fingering the plastic for a second or two before looking down to the sight of no pen. Naturally he would furrow his brow, look around, behind, underneath the keyboard, maybe even underneath the desk, and then straighten up while pulling his lips together in a moment of slight confusion.

He might even say to one of his colleagues ‘Have you got my pen?’ to which they would probably reply ‘No’ (or if she was lucky, also look around, behind and underneath their own keyboard, maybe even underneath the desk).

On the days when she replaced his pen with another, she imagined him happily gathering it up in his fingers, flicking off the lid (and at this point perhaps even starting to remember that the last pen he used didn’t have a lid) and mid-scribble catching a glance of it in his peripheral vision and thinking to himself, ‘I’m sure that’s not the pen I had yesterday’ before continuing on anyway, as he always must do.

In this way the cleaner was linked to Julian Beswick in more subtle ways then he could ever imagine. They have both worked in the same office block for twenty years.

The End

Access The Beatles. Part 1.

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Something I haven’t talked about much on here is my love of the Beatles. I am a big Beatles fan. It’s not something I externalise much: I don’t buy Beatles duvet’s or plaster my walls with pictures, but I do, and have always, loved their music. They are a big influence on me.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do is point out a few tracks that aren’t so well known by none-Beatles fans. Obviously their catalogue is HUGE, but many people (I suspect) are more aware of the major singles and songs that have been covered and popularised by other bands (especially following the ‘1’ album that captured the imagination of a whole new generation some years ago featuring all the re-mastered number 1 singles).

So today’s post is going to be a few links to Youtube videos of less well know songs, and why I like them. If people like this post I will do another. I’m not particularly ranking these in any order of preference  – just picking some out that I think will surprise and delight newbie and die hard Beatles fans alike. (something for everybody, see?)

Let’s get started then with the first five (I’ll do more if you like it!). I’m working chronologically due to me referring back to album lists! By the way, unless stated otherwise, presume Lennon/McCartney for writing credits.

 

1. Ask Me Why (Please Please Me) 1963

First up, I’m only picking one from the debut album ‘Please Please Me’ – mainly because only half of the album was written by The Beatles, and most of the others are so well known now it would defeat the point of this post!

WHY GARRY, WHY?!

Because it demonstrates (even this early on) the Beatles use of close harmony, and deviation from standard Rock ‘n’ Roll, which leads to the kind of progressive song writing that I will be featuring!

 

2. It Won’t Be Long (With The Beatles) 1963

Next up, the opening track of ‘With The Beatles’ (second album), and definitely not the only one from this Album to feature here!

BUT MY GOD GARRY, WHY?!

The opening! The call and response of the chorus vocals which belts straight in, bouncing across the stereo, and then smoothing out into story-verses (all underpinned by the simple yet distinctive descending guitar riff at each section break).

 

3. Don’t Bother Me (Harrison) (With The Beatles) 1963

From the same album, George Harrison’s first writing credit.

EXPLAIN! I DEMAND YOU EXPLAIN!

Well, George Harrison must have had a hell of a time getting heard in these early days (even in later years this same problem led to him temporarily leaving the band). But this early outing is  a belter, and much opposed to the mop-top ‘whoooo!’ image of the time. It is gritty and angry, almost uncomfortably so, and this is expertly reflected in the arrangement and performance. Don’t you think?

 

4. Any Time At All (A Hard Day’s Night) 1964

Okay, things get a bit confusing with Album release if you’re trying to follow them through Wikipedia – so I’m sticking with UK releases, making this album #3 (feel free to correct me).

SO WHADDA YOU GO PICKED THIS ONE FOR EH?

A bit like ‘It Won’t Be Long’ – this just kicks straight in with a hook that drags you (or me, or all of us) into the song without a second to realise it. Just imagine this really heavy. There is still a skiffle/folk feel to the interlinking verses, but they just serve to lull you into the screaming chorus (and a brilliantly composed solo, hinting at the clever instrumentation that would come to define later studio work).

 

5.And I Love Her (A Hard Day’s Night) 1964

The next one from A Hard Day’s Night.

EXPLAIN YOURSELF YOUNG MAN!

Well, McCartney is getting into his stride writing the kind of songs here that seem to squeeze you like an emotional sponge. All the while he is singing, “I know this love of mine, will never die, and I love her” – the music is saying something else, something along the lines of “this love thing makes me want to despair for my very existence in anguished contradiction”. Which is brilliant. And then there is the arpeggio classical guitar backing and solo from Harrison, and yet another brilliant run down defining section changes. It’s a sad beauty.

 

Conclusion:

I could do this all day – but the blog would be very long, and I already write blogs that are too long which don’t involve 15 minutes or so of music! I’m sure plenty of people will be familiar with these songs, but still, some won’t, and it’s nice to give the less well-known tracks an airing, even if it is on my modest little blog.

If people like this, I shall do more, five at a time, over the coming weeks. Let me know by liking, commenting or just reading the page! (which, if you’re at this point, you already have done, so well done and thank you!)

 

About me:

I am a writer and musician from Staffordshire UK, currently touting my first published eBook ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ which can be found in these places. Please have a little look!

http://www.amazon.com/The-Dimension-Scales-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B00JW1KMUG

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dimension-Scales-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B00JW1KMUG

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/dimension-scales-other-stories/id862470105?mt=11

… and KOBO, NOOK and Barnes & Noble too! (just search for the title!).

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/

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.”