Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"I Love Magic!"

"I Love Magic!"

As you may well have noticed, I am not someone who does liking by halves. Why be ambivalent when you can love something? Why potter along with 'ok'? No one wants ok. And I frankly don't have the energy for ok. Which, as you may well be guessing, means that I'm heading towards one of those blogs about something I love. Brace yourselves. It's Harry Potter time. Again.

I'd been looking forward to the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with almost indecent excitement. After all, it's not like I don't know what's going to happen in the film. I know exactly what's going to happen. I even had the good luck of reading some of the Oxford filming schedule after a copy was discarded in Radcliffe Square. So I knew for definite some of the scenes included. But it remains. I was excited. I was even excited enough to ponder if I could squash a screening in somewhere in the manic three days that included two gigs, a play reading, a belated birthday celebration and a new haircut. Given that I don't have a time turner, I couldn't. But it didn't stop me wishing I could or gazing longingly at every Potter advertisement that appeared on my horizon.

On Saturday afternoon I finally - if finally can really be used given that the waiting period was only 8 days - found myself in the VUE cinema in Leeds, the opening music blasting out at me. And I swear that I was excited enough to whoop. I wanted to be dazzled. I wanted to be able to say 'but ooh, look what they haven't included...'. I wanted enough Alan Rickman screen time to keep me happy.

As it was I managed to get all three (or just about in the case of the last one). I've been progressively impressed with each Potter film - and despite PoA's over-use of the bloody werewolf towards its climax I love the tone and feel of the film which seemed to have sensed some of the depth that the first two had missed. GoF didn't have the kind of decaying beauty that PoA had, but everything seemed to be on a larger, more breath-holding scale. And, possibly more importantly, for the first time I felt that the characters I had in my head were starting to play out on screen. Suddenly Harry and Ron seemed much more rounded and confused. I loved them. And whilst I'm here - Snape. I adore him. I adore Rickman. And I'd been scared that because GoF isn't - in actual mechanical plot terms - very Snape heavy, he was going to be consigned to a few swishy robe down corridor moments. If I was lucky. And I got a bit jumpy early on when I thought that he wasn't even going to get a solitary line of dialogue. Which, when we're talking about Rickman's voice, is a CRIME. I've paid my money. I want to hear the voice. But I need not have worried. And, anyway, this being Rickman, Snape's best moments came when he wasn't talking. If anyone wanted a lesson on how to steal a scene when you haven't got a line, watch Rickman. And, courtesy of understanding Snape more than any of the other directors have, I loved Mike Newell.

Even by my standards I concede that GoF is a long book and I wasn't surprised to see that large chunks of the story had been chopped or re-written. No house elves or SPEW, a major character shaving for Rita Skeeter, no Dursleys and a hell of a lot less Hagrid than in the book (no blast ended skrewts for us). Predictably the Dragon challenge got extended and more dramatic whilst the final maze challenge became somewhat simplified. On the whole, given the nature of the film, the changes worked but it did leave a few plot holes and, if I didn't bring my knowledge of the book to the film I'd have been somewhat at a loss as to the reason why Barty Crouch Snr died, or what the heck was going on with the scoring system for the Triwizard tournament. And there are still the gaps in the bigger narrative that drive me insane. To read the books is to know that you're reading a septology. The films stand on their own much more. As ever with the films they also made it a LOT EASIER TO WORK OUT THE TWIST. Hit me round the head with a bottle of polyjuice potion, why don't you.

But if there is a reason why, ultimately, GoF has proved to be my favourite of the films so far (whereas PoA is my favourite book) it was in how unflinchingly it dealt with its climax. For the first time there is no happy ending. Harry may live and escape Voldie but we get actual death that cannot be overridden. And Newell didn't become squimish or shirk away from this. He faced it head on. And I rather loved that.

Coza Through The Looking Glass

Coza Through The Looking Glass
"Are Tweedledum and Tweedledee going to be in the next half?"

"No, they're not in this book -"

"They're in Alice Through The Looking Glass -"

"Though most adaptations put them in Alice in Wonderland -"

"Along with the singing flowers -"

"Yes, they're not in it either".

[silence as tumbleweed blows through the WYP coffee shop]

"We're geeks".

"Tell me about it".

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Shush!

Shush!

Given that I didn't have any bridges to photograph and London's a bit of a journey just to sit in and watch the News at Ten, I ended up squished on a northern line train bound for the Bedford. Arriving at the Bedford with more than a little nod to decadence, it must be said:


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Whether it was the Fitzgerald myth running through my veins, the fact that - let's make no bones about this - the size of my waist in the dress had made me somewhat hyper or the biccardi, extra strong coffee and chocolate orange muffin I'd had earlier in the day it was noticeable that my entrance - and quick dash to the toilets to adjust my underwear which was I was in danger of losing - wasn't the classiest I could have imagined. But I reckon that the dress could cover a multitude of sins. Including, I would hope, my attempting to drink my body weight in baccardi. As a general rule of thumb I don't drink much at the Bedford, possibly because the bar prices scare me. On Thursday, however, I threw caution to the wind and ended up resolutely pissed before we were even half way through the the entertainment. I suspect things went downhill somewhere around this point:


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And it only got worse as Gayle and I, in our wisdom, decided that we needed to emote our way through Tony Moore's set. We were either a comedy highpoint or a car crash. I think I'd lean towards the former rather than the latter, but I can't be sure.

After this point - and when Val had told me to go and eat something - I decided to slow up on the drinking given that the last time as was as knowingly drunk as this in Griffin's presence I ended up with writing over my breasts and my bottom in much closer proximity to his face than either of us desired. And I think we can safely say that the Bedford IS NOT the venue for either of those outcomes. I want to be able to go there again for starters.

So I was pleasantly merry when Griffin came on stage. And it was lovely to see him in the Bedford again, against the sparkly backdrop and in surroundings that I mark as one of the most special venues I've been to. And if the new song on Sunday had opened up a new vein of belief then Thursday night compounded it. Not only did Griffin sound lovely he also hit us with three more new songs, and suddenly it became clear that 'working on the second album' hadn't been a euphemism. And I felt happy, exhilarated and moved in a way that I'm sure I don't really have any right to be but am, simply because I believe in him. And maybe what moved me more, something that I've noticed in the performances of the last few months, was that he believed in himself too. It became clear that there's a future there and it's not a story of the past. And that makes me excited.

Possibly because my head is still full of The Four Right Chords, I felt most moved by 'I've Lived' because it's a song I intimately connect to the play, especially in its new, harder version. If SSoB will forever be evoked to me by The Verve then Four Chords will be by 'I've Lived', should it ever get staged I'd fight for its place in there. And, even with the pressing knowledge that the last tube was soon, I'd have quite happily stayed listening for eternity.

As it was we weren't the only ones who needed to catch the last tube and the evening ended, post discussion about the possibility of mooning [so maybe there was still a little bit of alcohol floating in our veins], waving as Griffin made his way off of the tube. From the sublime to the ridiculous. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

NB: Hello to everyone I should be saying hello too, especially any of my now not-so-secret readers.

NB 2: Photos stolen, as so often, from Val's lens.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Scene[s] From A Generic Coffee House

Scene[s] From A Generic Coffee House

"Are you going to the Bedford tonight?"

"I thought I might. But I've got to take photos of some bridges".

"I would, but the News at Ten's on".

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Switch On

Switch On

I think that as a general rule you grow out of going to Christmas light switch ons somewhere around your early teens. And that's providing that you live in a city large enough to entice a former member of S Club 7. If you're stuck with some local children, Santa and the Mayor then I can't imagine interest lasts beyond the age of eight.

Against that I have to place the fact that I've been to four Christmas Light switch ons in the last two years (none of which, I'd hasten to add have corresponded to either of the cities that I've lived in during that time). Griffin has a lot to answer for what with the cold, fake snow, endless carols and crap radio presenters that this inevitably involves.

Not that I'm someone who usually expects the worst, but I've seen Griffin in the freezing cold far too many times not to. And even though I suspected that as Griffin was on at 2:00 we could rock up around 1:45 and leave around 2:45 I still expected to - politely - freeze my arse off. I even abandoned my cape search and spent the money on a proper winter coat.

So I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to arrive in Scarborough and not have to immediately defrost my fingers. I was even more amused - despite the multiple layers - to have a wander around the shops and then a drink in the local - and oft visited on Griffining trips to Scarborough - Wetherspoons. And because it was clearly one of those days when the God of weather, accidents and wet bottoms smiles down at you, when Val, Gayle and I made our way to the stage area the crowds parted and we ended up in the second row. Albeit with me still scowling about resembling a twelve year old.

Now I should probably establish something here. Sunday was the 60th time that I've been to see Griffin. And of those 60 times my second to bottom experience in terms of fun/pleasantness/and general non-grumpiness (from all involved) would have been the Christmas light switch on in Scarborough the year before. It came on the back of all that placard waving, the big gigs, the high point of York Grand Opera House and - possibly not at all coincidentally - Riccardi giving us lots and lots of free alcohol at a gig a couple of days earlier. Scarborough involved a worryingly protracted trip, it was cold, Griffin had the most wonderful coat on but was singing to the same backing tracks that I'd heard him sing to a year earlier and it ended with my three-quarters yelling "Next time do your own bloody promo!" after him. If there was a ball of feelings there regarding what this switch on symbolised for all concerned, then I also hated Griffin a little for thinking that he could smile at us and make everything ok. And I hated the fact that it would.

Skip forward twelve months and low key has been the watch word. This would be only the second time that I'd see Griffin at something public - the Ilkley gig didn't count as I could, if pressed, have made a stab at the identities of at least 90% of the people there - this year. It was at once intensely familiar and rather odd. And when he stepped on stage I had that odd thrill I hadn't experienced for a while, what with the pubs and tents of the last few months. And because I'm shallow - just how much do I love him with long hair?


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Quite a lot. After the kind of intro that mentally had me recoiling to those BIO roadshow days (and giggling when Griffin proved to be almost as pernicky about the answers to the 'Griffinology test' as we were) it was on to the old standard of WYWG. And I loved it. I loved that, for the first time, we had new backing tracks. Bring It On sounded particularly pingy. I'd been mentally hyperventilating at the prospect of a new song, and in 'Why' - as I tapped my foot and half felt the words - I got more than I could have wanted. Because it showed progress, a slight change as a writer (it's a third person song, something which not many of Griffin's have the honour of being), a widening of subject I rather suspect. And if I'd got grumpy at Griffin the person this time last year, then I'd never stopped believing in him as a writer. Conversely I think I believed in him more, in that respect, than I ever had. If I needed any more proof of belief then it came in Hallelujah; every time I hear Griffin sing this song it gets better. Though not his own, it's perfect for him. And once again I thought that the voice might make me cry.

Afterwards there was a rush round the back, autographs to be signed for the waiting people. And, again, I felt a little odd. I've never been reticent about going and speaking to Griffin. But, ego or not, I didn't want to in this situation. I didn't want an autograph. I didn't want a photo. I didn't want a hastily exchanged sentence. I think, after the past few months, that relationship's been changed forever. I don't think that - however much of a fan you've been - you can switch back after having giggled together about Fox's pants, or his unashamed nosiness, or - I can hear this land like a thump - been treated like an equal. I know I can't. It's not in my genetic make up.

Daddy Griffin clearly a little impatient to leave, Griffin was soon whizzed away. We stayed and talked for a little bit before retiring to the front for some very nice fish and chips. And, in its odd way, I couldn't help but think how perfect the day had been.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My First Pub Gig

My First Pub Gig
"More often than not I don't really understand what I'm writing about. It can be a phrase I hear on the news. A piece of litter floating down the street. It's a feeling. It's an emotion. It's a question. I don't think it's ever an answer". Ben, Act One, Track Seven, The Four Right Chords.

As soon as we stepped into the back room of The Minster* - and when I say back room I mean back room - it was clear that Waggo had played a blinder. Because the no-smoking room, with its empty seats, fire place, book shelves and dominoes was perfect for a couple of drinks and Four Chords first read-through. Such was the general brilliance of the location that it almost made me forgive him for teasing me about sending Griffin in our direction.

Once scripts had been distributed, roles assigned via the complex and hi-tech method of characters written on the back of a bus ticket and placed in my umbrella case and we'd discovered the outdoor toilet it was down to the major business of the day - working out what everyone was going to sue me for.

As it was the threat of legal action was kept to a minimum and the read-through continued through a couple of hours of popstars, not at all gratuitous swearing and jokes about trainers.

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If you're wondering that's Ben (Guitar and lead), Jude (drummer) and Paul (Tour Manager). And if I was pleased that everyone was still speaking to me at the end, then I was also pleased at how well, for a first draft, Four Chords held up. I'm not sure that the first draft of SSoB would have held up as well. If the read through brought out some niggles I'd suspected and confirmed that there are a couple of characters who really need their own storylines, then it also brought out that there's more than just an autobiographical story at its heart. I saw connections, character beginnings, things which I wouldn't have thought would have made their way into the story when it started. And I felt quite pleased that, for all its plot, the play is quite emphatically a character driven one.

I think we're all going to sleep on it a little before I work on the next draft, though I'm itching to do so. After that I suspect that the play will be ready to let out into the world properly. Which is exciting if not a little scary.
And, were that not enough, during the reading it was enquired as to whether any of us were famous. I'll keep them posted.
NB: Courtesy of the nice man at the print shop I've got Four Chords as a PDF file, if anyone would like to read it - all feedback incredibly welcome - email me (distantaggravation at gmail dot com), leave a message, or drop me a pm if you know me in my whooping guise.
*That would be a pub rather than the actual Minster.

You Know You Have Issues When...

You Know You Have Issues When...

To the question as to why you want your very long hair short the first answer that comes into your head is "because of Sienna Boho-Princess".

Said shorter hair results in you being id'd twice in less than 24 hours when, prior to this, you'd only been id'd twice in your entire life.

You discover that sleek, non-fluffy haircut lasts as long as it takes you to wash it and know that you're going to have to spend the next fortnight with your straightners clamped to your head.

Your so-called friends allow you to stand in front of them at a Christmas lights switch on "because it's children to the front".

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tonight, Matthew, I'm Going To Be...

Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be...

I was told the rules in no uncertain terms:
1. I wasn't allowed to stay all day.
2. No running down the aisles...
3. Or climbing under the racks.
4. And definitely no whooping.
The reason for these rules and the possibility of whooping? York Theatre Royal's Wardrobe Department.

Whilst I can see why such a trip might be pretty much par for the course for a Saturday morning (isn't that how you spend yours?) this trip had a reason other than my wanting to try on lots of pretty dresses. On Thursday I'm off to that must mythical of DA places - the Bedford. And if a trip to the Bedford with the added bonus of it being to see Griffin perform weren't enough there's a dress code. Decadent. Now I'm assuming that the Bedford being a jeans and nice top place, or even a jeans and not so nice top place not everyone is going to take that much notice of the word 'decadent'. But you can't wave something like that in front of me and expect me not to run with it. Thus I found myself stood in my underwear in the changing room of the theatre's wardrobe department surrounded by at least fifteen different dresses and a number of somewhat dubious corset tops that I wasn't quite as chuffed with.

Given the fact that the rails and rails of costumes had caused me to end up resembling a rabbit in some rather bright headlights it was a good job that Val took charge and with some uncanny decadent clothing radar marched her way up and down the racks pulling out potential clothing. And the corsets. Which, given that they were from what was clearly a particulary twisted pantomime, were not potential clothing but, let's get one thing clear, when Val gives you something to try on, YOU TRY IT ON. Trust me it's the easiest - and most pain free - route to take.

So try on I did. A black lace dress that really revealed far too much of my underwear to the viewing public. A red dress with feathers that was spectacularly unflattering. And because there was little chance that I was going to leave without grabbing something regency to wear, I had to have a Byron groupie moment.I think I'm going to start a one women campaign to get these dresses back into fashion. What day wouldn't be fantastic if you were wearing something out of the pages of an Austen novel?

Sadly I had to concede that the regency dress was possibly a step too far, even for 'decadent' and the choice came down to a long 1930's dress, blue with pink flowers, and a purple dress from West Side Story that immediately had me swishing around and in desperate need of a musical medly. After much debate - and a run in with some of the wardrobes furs - I made the decision that I'd miss the 1930's dress more if I didn't get it. Plus I had gone in with the idea that decadent for me meant being in a F Scott Fitzgerald novel, and in that dress I can certainly imagine that I'm a singer in some smokey early nineteen thirties club, possibly in some mainland Europe destination. Obviously you're going to have to wait for a picture because I'm keeping it secret. A girl's got to make an entrance after all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

ND-Day

ND-Day

Not one to pass up on an opportunity for a little bit of retrospection, I can't blog without marking the date. Two years ago today I went to Middlesbrough for the first time, got pelted with washing up liquid and sang lots of Christmas carols out of tune. One year ago today I danced in a fountain, carried a placard around Ann Summers and discovered that the universal signal for last orders is, apparently, flashing lights.

So, happy anniversary Griffin [the present got lost in the post, right?].

And, more importantly, happy anniversary Northern Division. I love you all. Even when you tell me to shut up.

Stick a deckchair up your nose

Stick a deckchair up your nose

I've been racking my brains and attempting to remember whether the gestation period for SSoB was quite as intense as the gestation period for Four Chords has been. Maybe the fact that when I was writing SSoB my only overriding commitment was to the magical red button and its tortuous reality television show meant that I didn't notice the sheer bloody minded all consuming nature of it. The fact that I've been juggling two jobs, the wheeze (much better now that it's no longer a wheeze and more of a regular phlegm inspired morning cold. Just don't make me run for any trains. Thank you.) and a couple of other things that I really really should be doing seems to have contributed to the fact that if I'm awake and not in the vicinity of a theatre or a photocopier, then there is only one thing I'm doing. It's probably not conducive to my well being as a social creature, how many people - other than me - are interested whether Jude (my drummer) has enough motivation to do what he does in the final moments of the first act? No one would be the answer. But it interests me greatly. And the intensity of the experience is only making it more so. Those little characters, siphers, names in my head, have turned into people some where along the line. I've become rather fond of them, even when they annoy me, wandering on stage unannounced, wearing only their pants.

In some ways I suspect that Four Chords, at least in places, is too indulgent. Both of the pants waving of my little people and my own. There's a snippet of a scene that I feel odd about putting in, not because it doesn't work - it works rather well - but because there's a point when I have to chose how much I want of myself up there. And it scares me slightly. At least until I read a message on a writers list I'm part of [it must be the zeitgeist, the original message was nothing to do with me] that said you should write of what scares you, what embarrasses you, what you wouldn't want people to know. And - for all Four Chords current problems - it has that sense of skinny dipping at its heart.

Which is probably all a long winded way of saying that the first draft is complete and ready for its little reading on Saturday. So I'm towards the end of the period when it belongs to me. Which is liberating given that it might make me a more exciting dinner companion. Not to mention blogger.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Maturity

Maturity

Your DA heroine comes out of the theatre, African drum beats in her ears, eyes blinkingly adjusting to the lights knowing that a session on the coffee shop [the rota job of doom] awaits her. Just as she is passing the ice cream stand...

"There's already three gone to the coffee shop, so that means that you can come and stand with us!"

All three attendants, including your DA heroine, does some strange hand waving, excited thing. With a little whoop.

Beat.

"We're like a pack of geese".

I probably should apologise to the patrons of the WYP. I'd say I wouldn't do it again, but theatres bring that out in me. And to think I'd been given gold stars by my boss the previous day. Let's see how long that lasts with the geese thing.

Monday, November 07, 2005

In Association With Lemsip

In Association With Lemsip

It's one thing for your blogging to be halted by the oncoming rate of your latest writing project, it's another thing entirely when you lose your blogging time to a stupid cold. Because said cold decided to settle on my chest making me wheezy and grumpy and requiring that I spend copious amounts of time in bed having weird dreams. And as much as I like weird dreams [one of which had me waking up with a smile like I'd had a coathanger in my mouth] there comes a point when wheezing is not fun. Especially when you know that you've got to get up and go to the WYP to give out oranges/balloons to the audience.

So when I wasn't in bed last week I was mostly trying not to pass any germs on to the patrons of the WYP [for various reasons - not all altruistic it must be said - I wasn't keen to phone in sick]. First up was Knee High Theatre's Tristan and Yseult [otherwise known as Tristan and the girl whose name nobody can pronounce] whose lovely audience members were the recepients of the balloons. Basically at some point in the first half, everyone had to blow their balloons up and then let them go. In a theatre. Can you imagine the mess? Or indeed the looks on people's faces when we explained this to them? But the house was practically sold out every night [even 500 for the Thursday matinee] and you'd have thought it was a pantomime rather than a play such was the audience participation. So quite enjoyable, even for an attendant with a wheeze and head full of extra strength cold medicine.

Next came World Cup 1966. An interesting premise it must be said in that it's probably not the first subject that you would think of for a play, let alone one at the WYP. Given that it was coming directly after My Mother Said I Never Should it was never going to quite hit those heights. But it was sparky, very interactive and rather a lot of fun. Not great, great theatre, but fun theatre. And there should be a place in the WYP's schedule for fun theatre, especially on such a subject matter that got lots of fathers with their sons in the audience [not a demographic we tend to get lots of]. The kids who got pulled up on stage, in one case changing the course of history [because Terry Paine didn't score it must be said] clearly loved it. And as I was distributing oranges at 'half time' [that would be half way through the 45 minute first act] I got to sit and eat orange for 45 minutes. The only downside to the production was that it very much required an active, loud audience, willing to shout, boo the Germans and do silly things up on stage in the name of football systems. Which was somewhat lacking in the Thursday matinee audience of 32. Possibly one of my easiest shifts at the WYP, it must be said.

On Friday it was time for some theatre on the other side of the fence - Blood Brothers at the Billingham Forum. Now I'd heard of Blood Brothers, and I knew the rough plot, but I'd never seen it, so I was quite looking forward to a show that is bordering on iconic for its very devoted followers. Nolan aside [could kind of sing, couldn't act, didn't have any real charisma on stage] I really enjoyed the show. It was slick, energetic and heart breaking. I cried for at least the last twenty minutes and was rather grateful for some loud members of the audience towards the end when I thought I was going to let out a tremendous sob. I couldn't help but put it next to the very eighties in out look My Mother Said, or the American eighties of Falsettos because if the outlook of the world of Blood Brothers is anything then it's the eighties. I enjoyed the somewhat relentless message of the play less than the story it must be said. Being hit over the head, even by Willy Russell, isn't much fun. I always think an audience - even a musical theatre one - needs to be allowed to do the work. Join the dots. Put two and two together. If the story and the acting is good enough then they will do. And Blood Brothers is a good enough show to allow you to draw your own conclusions. Having a 'narrator' is an interesting step in theatre, but it's one that I'm not madly keen on. As it was, when the rest of the theatre clamboured to their feet, I remained sitting. It was good enough to warrant clapping over the head, but not quite - by my somewhat exacting standards - good enough to warrant me to stand. I'd have stood for the actor playing Mickey Johnstone as I thought he was bloody fantastic, but they don't hand out little disclaimer cards before the show, so I didn't.

As if that wasn't enough, it turned out that Johnny from BB3 [y'know the fireman who was friends with Kate Lawler who I COULD NOT STAND] was seated in front of us. If you're wondering, he's very tanned and rather seemed to enjoy the show.