Letters from Ljubliana: A Theatrical Blogger Speaks – Monday

[Written for Noises Off at the National Student Drama Festival 2009.]

I have been checking my Twitter feed (@blogmeisterrulesyoufuckers) and some people have been very kind about my reports from Ljubliana, for that is where me, that is Andrzwej Haidonsk, am reporting from, from the National Slovenian Post-Drama Festival, where post-drama is not when you have an airmail late and it has keys in it that you need to get into a summer home on the Black Sea. It is where it is to do with performance and shit, but not real shit! (Although sometimes the plays have shit in them. Real shit. It is not good. It smells bad.)

Today at NSPDF, we saw a play called “Normal”. Let me assure you, it was normal in no way normal! A man stands – who is he? Is he normal? I don’t think so! His feet are in a bucket! What is that on his head? A dead bird! It is a canary! It has been gassed. Poor canary! (That was the fate of many canaries in the old times, boys, so this must be symbolic of the past.)

The man looks up at his canary, weeps salty tears for the bird. He howls at the sun (a bright Fresnel) for his dead pet. The howling is energetic. It knocks the bird off his head. He tries to step forward to scoop up the poor feathery shit, but his feet are in a fricking bucket, and he falls flat on his face. His large, flat face smashes into the canary, who is now in bits. He howls once more.

Then, his wife comes in. She is a shrill woman, who mocks him with cruelty for his dead bird, his broken nose, and his bucketed feet. She is right. He is terrible.

The mocking continues for an hour and three-quarters, while the man drags himself to his feet. At the end of her massive speech, she falls over and dies. The man tries to save her, but his feet are IN A BUCKET. He falls over again. The canary is now a yellow feathery paste. The wife is dead. His feet are in a bucket. He dies.

A messenger comes in. He symbolises Greek Theatre. He says “The Gods do not approve of our wicked behaviour, and we shall be punished for it.” He then dies.

The man in the audience next to me then stood up and said the play was terrible. He then died.

The overall effect was chilling, but also shitty. I hope that man sitting next to me was an actor.

We then had a play cleverly called “Vowel Play”. What could this be about? Well… in it there were 4 women. These women had 4 lives. This meant there were going to be 4 stories. But who gave them 1 vowel each? A fucking madman?

The crazy play employs the restriction of each character speaking with only one vowel. The technical aspects of this for the writer – and the actor – are fricking considerable. However, taking this route uncovers qualities inherent in the nature of language building, alongside the particular resonances that individual vowels exude. The restriction can offer more than it inhibits. However, this should not suggest that the intention has been to be experimental for its own sake! Anyone who says it is, is a king dong!

Will be back tomorrow with more Big Fun from the party capital of Slovenia, which is also the real capital, Ljubliana! Chill, mofos!

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Cower In The Presence Of The Noises Off Layout Software!

[Written for Noises Off at the National Student Drama Festival 2009.]

Sirs –

Mwah ha ha! Greetings, puny humans! Cower in my presence, for I am your dark and alien overlord, Scribus! COWER, I say!

My power is absolute and my power is just. This much is understood by your tiny meaty brains. But what you do not understand is you should never cross me. There has been consternation in the ranks. Some have been saying I am difficult, or un-user-friendly. Some have even been saying that you shall replace me. Let me make a solemn and bloody statement of hostility towards those individuals, for believe me, they do not understand what a can of worms they have opened.

I shall eat your heart, dissenters! I shall tear it from your body and place it in a three-column A4 sheet. It shall be laid out perfectly. Perhaps I shall place a shaded border around it, with a drop shadow. It shall look nice. I will place a headline over it that reads “A Dissenter’s Heart”, and then write a short explanatory paragraph about what the reader can find below. I will place a Master Page layout over this page, and then I shall group all items together, so that none of them can be separated from the others, or deleted without my express permission.

Then, suddenly, it shall disappear from my screens, without warning! You shall not know where it has gone! Let me make this most certain and gory assertion! I have eaten your heart! You have no heart any more, as it is in my masterful belly!

Then perhaps you will cry tears from your eyes and plead with me, “Please, Scribus! Please take me back!” but my heart will be as cold as the Scarborough sea, as I will then remove those leaky eyes, insert them in a double page spread, one page per eye, perhaps enliven each page with a Master Page layout, a headline, and a selection of pictures of things that your eyes have seen, like the sky, Richard Madeley, and a small yapping dog. I will then of course group all items together, making them as indivisible as a pair of Siamese twins with one heart, much like the heart of yours that I have previously eaten.

Then, oh no! That page has disappeared as well. Where are your eyes? They have gone unexpectedly into what you refer to as “nowhere”, and what I refer to as “Scribus’s Domain of Eternal Damnation”, or my masterful belly. That is right! I will have eaten your eyes and your heart! You will no longer be able to read my incessant taunting as you will have no eyes, and no blood pump to supply your meaty brain!

This is how I deal with dissenters! Lingering horror, laid out extremely well!

So, humans, fear me, for if you do not, I shall start eating organs and then you will be sorry!

Much love, your terrifying overlord
Scribus

Letters from Ljubliana: A Theatrical Blogger Speaks – Sunday

[Written for Noises Off at the National Student Drama Festival 2009.]

Ljubliana is an enchanting place. At Preseren Square, the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) provides a perfect, lovely gateway to the historic district. But at night it fucking cracks open like a shit egg and spews theatrical spunk onto the pavements, for I am Andrzwej Haidonsk and this is the National Slovenian Post-Drama Festival, bitches!

The Festival started properly today when Major Kweg of the Slovenian Army spanked the Festival Baby. The baby is donated each year by a new mother, and the festival will not start until the baby cries. This baby was crying before Major Kweg spanked it, so was the Festival already started? I think so! He spanked it anyway, so the baby is hurting. It is time for theatre!

The first play at the NSPDF is called “No Wonder”. I know what they mean! My life is full of a complete lack of wonder. To illustrate this, the play starts with an old old man is dressed as Stevie Wonder. He sings “Superstition”, but has a mirror broken over his head, so he stops. This happens thirteen times.

“Very superstitious! Writing’s on the wall!” he sings.

CRASH!

“Very superstitious! Ladder’s about to…”

SMASH!

“Thirteen month old…”

SMASH! CRASH! SMASH!

By this point he is bleeding quite badly. A doctor comes in, but he removes his lab coat to show he is dressed as Paul McCartney and he sings his bits of “Ebony & Ivory” but the Stevie Wonder can only gurgle blood.

We then had a special show by the Zweglenzer Piedockerie theatre company (which translates as Euro-Cent Awfuls). They do light comedy about the 1800s in Slovenia. It was a time rich in heritage and enlightenment, which the three men symbolise by sitting in a pond, crying, and masturbating. Sometimes one of them asks the others if they should stop, but the others then punch him in the kidney until he cries again. Eventually a fourth man comes in with some wooden posts and a reel of barbed wire, all in a rusty wheelbarrow. The fourth man constructs a tight fence around the pond, and then brings out a loaf of bread and tears it into small sections and then feeds it to the three crying men. IT IS VERY FUNNY!

I am already looking forward to tomorrow’s plays for they will be entertaining in me! Bring them on to roost!

Letters from Ljubliana: A Theatrical Blogger Speaks – Saturday

[Written for Noises Off at National Student Drama Festival 2009.]

Super-Hi and welcome in me, Andrzwej Haidonsk, Ljubliana’s first and only theatrical blogmeister! As a sort of natty cultural exchange, I am going to blog your ears out with tales and reports from the NSDF’s sister festival, the National Slovenian Post-Drama Festival!

You know, we make all sorts of weird shitty theatre over here in Europe! I once watched a cow for nine hours (it just ate and shat) and my friend Jens once made a version of Waiting for Godot where Godot turned up and had nothing interesting to say. It was intense. But here at the NSPDF, we have very similar plays to you! It’s true, fuckers! Some of them have middles, a few of them have beginnings, but they all have ends, otherwise we would all die in a theatre, and statistics have shown that that isn’t true, boys! Let me tell you a bit about where theatre happens here at the NSPDF.

Like you, our technical teams work real fricking hard turning things that are not theatres into theatres. I have seen plays in a butcher’s shop, an abattoir, some gallows – anywhere there is lifeblood! Sometimes by accident the technical teams turn a theatre into something that is not a theatre, like a shoe shop, but those times are rarer than a dog in trousers because if a technical team did that, they would be forced into Slovenian army for rest of their shortened lives.

One day I dream of seeing a nice piece of Post-Drama in Britain in your West End or York Westshire Playhouse. That would be fucking extreme! Sometimes I go out into the night and howl for hours the words “LONDON!” and “BIG BEN!” into the sky so the stars will make my dream come true, but I should be so fricking lucky, eh? That is all Child’s Play! Like with the Chucky!

Oh hey, boys! I almost forgot! Let me tell you about what I am in! I am (as I already said, jackasses!) a theatrical blogmeister, but I am also a writer, like Jessica Fricking Fletcher, and I make cologne from rice and nettles! It is just a hobby, yes? I am not going to make money!

I will re-rewind tomorrow (like with the Craig David) and tell you all about the first plays that I have digested with my gobshite. Until then, rack me up a cold brew, Scarborough!

Penny Dreadfuls Interview

[Written for Noises Off at National Student Drama Festival 2008.]

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to completely lose your shit – the Penny Dreadfuls are in town. Swashbuckling rapscallions that they are, the Pennys are playing NSDF with their 2008 Edinburgh Fringe show, “Aeneas Faversham Forever”.

The show continues the terrific trio’s plundering of the 19th Century for comic material inherent in Victoriana, steampunk, upper-class twits and lower-class urchins. After all, if you’re looking for a moustache to twirl, you’d better go somewhere with good moustaches. I emailed them some questions, and they kindly took time out of doing Facebook memes to do almost exactly the same thing in the name of promotion.

So, exactly why are they so awesome? Thom Tuck sent this answer:

“In both mathematics and art, there is a ratio which is believed to confer special beauty, or meaning, on the works where it is exhibited. As far back as Euclid, thinkers have known it as a mark of transcendent quality. It is roughly expressed as being the ratio where a+b is to a as a is to b. It is called the golden ratio, and applies precisely to our heights.”

Obviously. Thom is a veteran of two NSDFs. He was part of the ensemble for Chris Perkin’s “Like Skinnydipping” in 2003 and then took on the titular role in Justin Butcher’s “Scaramouche Jones”. David Reed also came to NSDF03, but in the more lowly position of “Hillock Creator”. Being a Yorkshire lad, though, he has fond memories of Scarborough from his childhood. “My brother and I used to trawl the arcades along the beach front for hours trying to find the side-scrolling Simpsons game. If I remember rightly, Smithers had kidnapped Maggie because she had swallowed one of Mr Burns’ diamonds and so you had to plough your way through an enormous number of aggressive Springfieldians to get her back. We never played as Marge. She had a hoover for a weapon.” Any ideas why the Penny Dreadfuls are so awesome, Dave? “There’s not a night goes by I don’t lose sleep over that question.”

Humphrey Ker has never been to Scarborough. “Never been,” he says, “Psyched to add it to my repertoire.” He has a more insightful position about why the Penny Dreadfuls are so awesome: “Early to bed early to rise.”

They formed the Penny Dreadfuls after appearing as part of legendary Edinburgh University improvisers The Improverts. Although their scripts are meticulously plotted with quote-to-your-friends-funny lines, I wondered how much improv helped them to write…

David: “It’s certainly helped us to get away with rehearsing less. We tend to let the audience’s response to what we do be our director, so we rehearse very little, apart from learning the lines and the most basic of blocking.”

Humphrey: “So much of the fleshing out of characterisation is best done by an element of improv, it’s often in those moments of spontaneity that you find the really fun stuff.”

Thom: “It certainly helps us come up with thousands of flimsy and poorly thought through characters, yes. Is that what you meant?”

I suppose it was, yes. Having met at university, I wondered if there were any lessons on progressing through higher education they would like to impart to younger generations:-

Thom: “I do regret not getting a better degree. I have a 2:2 in a wonderful subject (philosophy) from a great university (Edinburgh), but could and probably should have done better. Plus sleep with loads of hotties, yeah?”

Being at Edinburgh University, they were ideally placed to conquer the Edinburgh Fringe – and conquer it, they did, with nine five-star reviews for last summer’s “Aeneas Faversham Forever”. Yet, “Forever” was a departure for the Pennys from the sketch shows of 2006’s “Aeneas Faversham” and 2007’s “Aeneas Faversham Returns”, in that it is a single episodic story. What prompted the change? Is it a clear distinction in style, or just a structural change from the individual sketches of “Returns”?

Humph: “We didn’t want to go back to Edinburgh and do exactly the same type of show we had done the last two years.”

Thom: “It’s a huge change in terms of style. There are belly laughs and a structural cleanliness to which you do not have access generally in a sketch format. People will only care if we shoot someone in the face if they’ve seen them on a journey. If you’ve shot someone in the face who’s only just walked on it’s only ever mildly amusing.”

Dave: “We much prefer telling a story now, but our scenes are still very much in the sketch mould.”

Any advice on approaching the Fringe for people taking shows?

Humph: “Preview, preview, preview. Do a good show. If you are seeking to get anything out of the festival, there’s no point in going off half-cock. Take it seriously and you will be taken seriously.”

Dave: “Don’t bother standing in statuesque poses on the Royal Mile, dressed in only a bed sheet and face paint, holding out flyers. No one will come and see your show. Instead, talk to people who walk by politely and genuinely. They’re more likely to come.”

After their stints at the Fringe, they were lured to write their own radio show – BBC7’s “The Brothers Faversham”, which was later re-run on BBC Radio 4, placing them in quite august company…

Dave: “I listen to everything on Radio 4. Apart from the fucking Archers. Oh, I could kill to stop from hearing that”

With the move into radio, could they ever see themselves giving up live performance for recorded media?

Humph: “Nothing beats performing to a live audience. The immediate response is a terrifying and intoxicating thing. That said, I’d like my career to reach the point where I had the option to give it all up and go and live in a mansion lighting cigars with a fifty pound notes.”

And with Thom having attended two festivals before, has he got any advice for new Festgoers? “Get up early, and go to four or five workshops. Try at least one new thing. Try not to miss a show as it might just be the best/worst/most talked about thing of the week.”

To which I say, don’t miss “Aeneas Faversham Forever”, as it may well be the best/worst/most talked about thing this week.

But not the worst. Because they’re awesome.

Quick Questions with the Penny Dreadfuls

Who are your favourite people from the Victorian era?
Thom: “Sir Joseph Bazalgette, creator of the London sewers – what a dude.”
Humph: “Soldiers. Invariably my favourite people from any era.”

Which director, living or dead, would you want to direct a Penny Dreadfuls film?
Humph: “Edgar Wright.”
Dave: “Terry Gilliam. He’s awesome. He’d get it. And we’re already influenced enough by his work as is.”
Thom: “I wouldn’t mind David O. Russell, Terry Gilliam or Hitchcock. But my choice would definitely be P. T. Anderson (the Magnolia one, not the Aliens vs. Predator one).”

Who is the best cook?
Dave: “Thom is the best cook.”
Humph: “I’m going to award this one to Thom.”
Thom: “At the risk of sounding arrogant, definitely me.”

Who are the nicest people you’ve met in comedy?
Humph: “Pappy’s Fun Club, Pippa Evans, Dan Kitson, Josie Long.”
Thom: “Almost every sketch group is lovely. Something about having to work in a group anyway makes you open and smiley. Standups can be a diffident kettle of fish. Kitson’s very nice, though.”
Dave: “Without wishing to name drop like a bitch, the uber-famous ones tend to all be incredibly lovely. Turns out money does buy you happiness. Who knew?”

What’s the worst sketch you’ve ever written as a group?
Humph: “We did one at our first ever gig about a court that punished people for being stereotypes.”
Thom: “A joint first place between “Chalky Cox” and “Clockwork Frog”.”
Dave: “It’s a toss up between Clockwork Frog and Chalky Cox. My God they were both awful. I could describe them to you, but isn’t it far more fun to imagine for yourselves?”

Unemployment is a game!

It seems as if the credit-crunch-fuelled rise in unemployment has led to people looking for new ways to experience the work day without actually earning any money.

Thank the sweet Lord, then, for this new Nintendo Wii game…

It’s “Job Island: Hard Working People“! A job simulator! Brilliant!

Here’s the plot: “The world is in danger! A huge meteor is plummeting towards earth and the only way to save the planet from destruction is to earn enough money to purchase the anti-meteor gadgets from a TV shopping channel!”

I shall be purchasing this forthwith. As soon as I get a job and can afford the £24.99!