Comedy, not a laughing matter.

You might be relieved to know this is not going to be a long one this week. I have got way too much to do this Sunday and, to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was going to talk about. From where I am sitting I can see into the downstairs loo and I know, that at some point today I have to turn off the water and try to replace the flush and ballcock.

Me.

An idiot.

Just promise me that no-one will tell my insurance company when I inevitably get it wrong and flood the house.

I was lying in bed this morning, (Not laying, I was told off on Twitter about that this week.) wondering what had crossed my path during the week that I’d like to explore. Most of it is far too depressing, the world is not a happy place right now and we seem, as a global commune, to be trying to make it worse. But I remembered one thing that made me laugh this week, made me laugh a lot, but also did that wonderful thing of making me think as well. There was sketch on the Tracey Ullman show a couple of weeks ago, and it went viral this week. A woman police officer is interviewing a man who has been mugged. He’s a nice young man in a suit and the officer implies that perhaps he was dressed provocatively, in a nice suit, inviting being robbed and that perhaps he’d been drinking and giving out the wrong signals.

It was, of course, a thinly veiled stab at how woman are often treated by the police and media after a sexual assault, victim shaming and implying they brought it upon themselves. It ends with a pay off gag which I just loved. I don’t know if you enjoy a little Font based humour as much as I do, but implying that using Helvetica is leading someone on was sublime. The sketch was written by Gemma Arrowsmith, who I know of a little. She co-hosts, with Susan Harrison, an improvised comedy podcast called Two Stars, where they play two insufferably pretentious arts reviewers. It might not fit everyone’s taste, but the improvisation is great and occasionally you get that lovely moment where someone starts getting the giggles, which I find utterly charming. It’s an effect they use often on Mrs Brown’s Boys, breaking the fourth wall to imply something has gone awry, except, in that case it’s clearly all pre-planned and staged and falls flat on it’s face. In my opinion at least.

But that sketch just goes to show the power of comedy. There have been god knows how many heartfelt, beautifully written pieces written about victim shaming. But one five minute sketch can communicate the principle and change minds, in a way a thousand word essay can’t.

Look at Donald Trump. Sorry, I should have warned you to prepare for that. Hundreds of thousands of people have hurled abuse at him on-line. Page after page, programme after programme have been produced pointing out his legion of faults, his apparently limitless stupidity and ignorance and it’s all water off a duck’s back. But what really grinds his gears? Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live. He throws a little hissy fit after every time they do one. Good comedy when it’s also good satire can change how a country thinks. Remember John Major’s puppet on Spitting Image, that probably did lasting damage to his reputation. (Although I suspect Margaret Thatcher probably would have quite liked hers.)

So, I guess the moral of the story is, don’t throw insults or stones, throw puns instead. Land punchlines not punches. Change the world with a smile on your face.

Anyway, I’m off now to fetch the waders from the shed and try to find the stop cock. Whatever else, plumbing is funny right?

PS Just as a post script, I was wondering, can Right Wing comedy ever be really funny? The only right wing comedians I can think of indulge in the ‘I’m not saying my wife is ugly…’ type comedy. Just something to muse on.

Find me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the stage…

Back in October last year, I wrote a piece  (An Actor Unprepares…Part 2 – ‘The Stoopid Embargo’) about one of the important preparations I undertake before appearing in a play. I.E, not doing anything daft and injuring myself before the opening night. I was less than usually successful on that last show though, when I managed to introduce my thumb to a rubber mallet whilst helping build the set. The nail still hasn’t fully recovered, but at least it’s no longer black.

I was reminded of ‘The Stoopid Embargo’, at some volume, by Mrs Bloke yesterday as I was playing a game with Little Bloke in our local Lidl car park, which has a decided slope down towards the trolley bay. I decided to call the game ‘Daddy Curling’ and balancing myself up on the handle, freewheeled the trolley down the slope to see if I could reach the bay without putting by feet on the ground. ( I failed, inertia and  friction are no friends of the husky gentleman.) However, I didn’t injure myself and promised I wouldn’t do it again.

Which is a long way of saying that, yes, I’m back on the stage soon. I am lucky enough to be playing the eponymous lead, well both eponymous leads really, of Jekyll and Hyde.

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It is one hell of a part. The last play we did, it was very much an ensemble cast, with no stand-out lead or star character. I also had fewer lines to learn for that. This part is proving to be incredibly challenging. To start with, it is essentially two roles. I have to try and portray two very different personalities within the same play, even, during one section, at the same time, where Dr Jekyll and the evil Mr Hyde hold a conversation.

I have taken on large roles before, Hercule Poirot in Black Coffee and the saintly Lt. Osborne in Journey’s End. Each had about four hundred lines to get through. Jekyll is nearer three hundred lines so, in theory, should be easier. But, by god, am I struggling. We were sat yesterday at the kitchen table; Mrs Bloke, Little Bloke and I just going over the same five line speech again and again. Still not sure I’ve got it right. We’re rehearsing now without books and, I’ll admit, it’s hard word.

It is also, just by definition, an extremely difficult role to play. We are not using any make-up or prosthetics for the transformation between Jekyll and Hyde. It is a slightly laughable cliche to have the hero clutching his throat, falling behind an armchair, then rise again, hairy hands and wild wig applied. No, it is being done entirely physically, by changing my stance, my voice, my facial expression. Hyde, needless to say, is much more fun to play; he slopes and slithers across the stage, gravel voiced, violent, wild, unpredictable. Rather than portray him as deliberately evil I am instead trying to make him an unpolished wild animal, all lusts and urges he can’t control.

Now, I’m going to let you into a little secret, but you must promise not to tell my Director. The inspiration for my portrayal of Hyde was not any classic horror movie telling of the story, but rather a radio sketch on ‘John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme’, a wonderful Radio 4 sketch show. You can listen to it on You Tube here – John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme Jekyll Sketch. It’s worth a listen, trust me. Hyde’s wild enthusiasm and uncontrolled appetites define the character for me and if I can, maybe, draw a tiny bit of sympathy for him from the audience, I’ll know I’ve done a good job.

Whenever we choose a new play, I read through, thinking what character I want to try for. I’ll admit, it is not anything edifying I look for. It usually boils down to a few parameters. Do I get to;

  1. Do some lovely shouty acting?
  2. Die on stage? (The good way. Not the bad way, though I did do that once doing some comedy at a little show in Northampton. Still have flash backs.)
  3. Kill or fight anyone?
  4. Kiss anyone?
  5. Get the best laughs?
  6. Get the most tears?

Yes, I am that shallow and this part does tick several of those boxes. Frankly, acting is about the only thing I’ve ever been competitive at. And I think striving to be the best is a good thing. We may be an ‘Amateur’ group, but we have very high standards and have won many awards. We are currently nominated for two awards for our production of All My Sons in 2016, where I didn’t have such a large role, but was noticeable in that it was the first appearance on the adult stage of Little Bloke, playing a neighbourhood kid. Heart bursting pride at that one.

So, opening night is just over two weeks away and I’m still wrestling with lines. I’ll get there. I need that fear to drive me on. I’m slowly raising my performance, up from Force Five to about Force Eight. By opening night I’ll be on scenery chewing, heart rending, spine chilling Force 10. (Raising to 11 on the night my family are watching.) I am extremely hairy at the moment. I haven’t shave for months so, come the production I can carve an impressive muttonchop moustache out of my beard. Frankly, with the full beard and long hair I could be mistaken for a hipster at the moment. My wedding ring is off, as Dr Jekyll is a bachelor, so that there is no sign of a white band on my finger. Told you I take it seriously.

If you happen to be in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Lincolsnhire or Peterborough on the 28th March – 1st April. Why not come along for a watch at The Angles Theatre, Wisbech. Modesty forbids me from saying it will be great.

But it will.

You can book tickets online here – www.anglestheatre.co.uk/jeykll-and-hyde.html

Now, where’s my script? ‘It is a false face we put to the world……’

Find me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com

 

 

 

 

 

This bloke was made for walking..

I am a pedestrian. A walker. I don’t drive. I had a motorbike once, that was…not a success. Keeping a bicycle on the road seems a technical challenge beyond my means and at a forty mile commute a physical one as well. Besides, any vehicle I pilot carries the inherent risk to other road users of me drifting off into inner space and not paying any attention to my surroundings.

I’ve been known, when leaving the house in the morning to walk to the bus station, to suddenly find myself outside my son’s old nursery, the opposite direction. My feet have gone on autopilot whilst my brain has been on loftier levels of imagination. (Probably working on my zombie apocalypse survival plan.) Since I’ve not been wiped out by passing traffic I can only assume I’m sentient enough to look both ways.

So I plod the streets. A usual working day is about 8 miles of pavement time. Which is nice and healthy. (Imagine the size I’d be if I didn’t!) But it does require a comfy pair of shoes. Or, in my case, my trusty old Karrimor Walking Boots. They have been for years my support on many an adventure. But now, I’m afraid, they are being retired, the soles are cracked, the heels worn down. They are (*sniff*) an Ex-Boot.

A good pair of boots are like a good marriage. Sure, you may lose the shine, but it molds to fit you perfectly and give you the support you need. Ironically, I bought these pair of Karrimor Boots not long after Mrs Bloke and I got married thirteen years ago (I’m going to keep using the brand name, just in case Karrimor want to repay the free advertising by sending me a new pair. Worth a shot right? I did really love my boots.)

They were bought for me to wear during a five day charity survival challenge in the wild woods of Rutland. It was to raise money for the Anthony Nolan trust, a cause close to my heart. Although I never needed a Bone Marrow transplant, the Anthony Nolan trust maintain a register of people willing to donate to those suffering Leukaemia and other blood diseases. And, if I may just pause to bang their drum a moment, I would recommend everyone look into it. I had bone marrow extracted as part of my treatment, in case I ever needed a transplant in the future I could be given my own back. So I know what the procedure feels like and, trust me, it’s no big deal. A quick general anaesthetic and a couple of days mild bruising round the hips. Actually it was following that procedure that I had confirmed what my mother had always told me. I wasn’t fat, I am indeed thick boned. Dr Chapman, my surgeon, told me they had trouble getting the bone marrow out of my hip bone from the back, so they had to flip me and do the front as well. Thick bones you see.

Anyway, check them out, sign up. A couple of days mild discomfort to give someone, often a child, a chance of life is a great deal in my opinion. You can find out more here..www.anthonynolan.org/

Anyway, back to my boots. I spent that week in the woods, in pouring rain and storm force winds, living under leaves and branches. We had a local news reporter staying with us and a camera crew following us round all week. Which led to complaints, as, during a live link up during  children’s TV we could all be seen gutting the corpse of a deer in the background. ‘Mummy, what are they doing to Bambi?’

The mud of those woods never really came out of the boots but I wore them as a badge of honour. They splashed through streams, carried me along beaches and pounded many, many pavements.

They were on my feet when I spent a day hiking the Northumbrian Coastal Trail which, for reasons known only to the route makers leaves the coast for an excursion into the foothills of the Cheviots. Up in those hills I strayed from the route to visit St Cuthbert’s cave. St Cuthbert is a local religious celebrity in Northumbria and, if memory serves, to avoid his body being stolen or defiled during Viking raids on the coast, his remains were taken to safety in Durham. Legend has it was rested on this site. Set into the hillside, it is less a cave than a large overhang of rock. Now surrounded by a copse of fir trees it was easily the most spiritual place I have ever visited. It is a fair distance from any road, so visitors are few and I had it to my self. It was warm, quiet and so, so peaceful. The rocks surrounding the cave had burial inscriptions carved into them, along with graffiti scratched centuries before. If you ever get the chance, visit.

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Those boots carried me along the North Norfolk Coast, sponsored to walk one Million Steps for Leicester Royal Infirmary, ending on the 10th anniversary of my diagnosis. It coincided with a plague of Ladybirds that August and I crunched along red tracks for three days. One of the little blighters even started eating my arm. Didn’t get far I’ll admit but it left a tiny scar. Who knew Ladybirds did that? Mrs Bloke and a very small little Bloke met me at the finish line on Cromer pier. We let him go on a bouncy castle, every time he jumped, a cloud of Ladybirds would be flipped up into the air  as well. Just another irreplaceable memory.

Their last big romp out was with Little Bloke this year, taking his first big walk, tramping the Iceni Way, from King’s Lynn up to, in theory, Hunstanton, via Castle Rising and Sandringham. Twenty miles. I never thought his little legs would make it, but by God he showed me. We had a lovely day, chatting and walking. Lunch in Castle Rising Castle, a brass band playing Abba in Sandringham and a huge deluge in Dersingham. We didn’t quite make Hunstanton, but he gave it a bloody good try. When I measured it out afterwards he had done seventeen miles. That’s a lot of steps for a nine year old.

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So, the practical part of me now has to battle the sentimental part, and make me sling those old boots in the bin. And whilst that makes me sad, it means I need to get another pair of good boots to carry me once again thousands of miles forward.

And I start to think of what adventures those new boots will take me on, what memories they’ll forge. And then I itch to pull out a map or two….

And if anyone from Karrimor is reading this, I take a size Nine thank you.

Find me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com

If you liked this piece, you might enjoy some of my other wistful posts;

reminisce

My little boy ain’t so little anymore….

Bill the Cat – A legend and a friend

Love your Peeler

And if you did like it, please tell someone, I’m always keen on new visitors!