Class Of ’92 Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 5 October 2017

Partly inspired by my chance encounter 18 months ago (and subsequent re-encounters) with Chris Stanton at the real tennis court at Lord’s

…partly inspired by the fact that many of us who gather for these Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners have been hanging around NewsRevue now for 25 years…

…John Random decided to theme this get together around the notion “Class of ’92”.

I didn’t realise that John had actually persuaded Chris Stanton to come along this time, which was a very pleasant surprise. Chris brought a couple of ringbinder files with scripts from his 1992 runs, including the late Spring run, directed by John Random, in which I (or rather, my material) made its NewsRevue debut:

Seeing those files, it made me realise what a challenging job it must be for performers to do NewsRevue. The sheer volume of scripts, the mixture of sketches and songs, the changes to the show every week…

…Chris showed me one running order, for example, in which there was an unbroken sequence of fourteen or fifteen pieces in which he appeared.

John Random brought along a photo album which had lots of photos of NewsRevue types…even one of me and Janie from our very early days together…most people in the room were represented by at least one photo.

Mark Keagan was there, as was Barry Grossman, Nick R Thomas, Colin Stutt and Gerry Goddin, the latter of whom produced a particularly fiendish version of his “quiz” game and tortured us with it at the end of the evening.

Prior to this evening, when chatting at Lord’s, Chris Stanton had been threatening to have a bonfire of his old scripts. Part of my purpose was to help John Random to rescue this treasure trove for posterity. But by the end of this evening, Chris explained that he did not want to part with his scripts and had no intention of destroying them.

On the way home, my song “Coppers are Dressed as Hippies” popped into my head, as did the notion that I too have a ringbinder file at home with correspondence and one or two old running orders and programmes.

In the morning, I copied/wrote up “coppers” (click link here or above) and found a running order, programme and writers’ newsletter from Paula Tappenden’s summer run; the run that followed the John Random/Chris Stanton one.

In some ways, I thought, I had blooped by not bringing those artefacts to the evening. But in other ways, it seems more fitting that I use Ogblog as a medium, following up on the Class of ’92 evening, to circulate copies of my 1992 artefacts, shown below:

  • the programme for that Paula Tappenden run (late June through August 1992);
  • the running order from week four (late July 1992);
  • John Random’s unusually short writers’ newsletter w/e 31 July 1992…who was your visitor from Idaho, John? Do tell.

Postscript. In response to my request for details on the mystery visitor from Idaho, I received the following beautifully-crafted missive from John Random a week or so later:

…the friend from Idaho was my former flatmate Janet.

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t spend the whole of 1986 simply writing down everything she ever said. Here was comedy gold, narrative gold right under my nose and I didn’t recognize it for what it was.

Without ever trying to be funny, without even KNOWING she was being funny, Janet contrived to be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. This was chiefly because everyone she’d ever known was either barking mad or the victim of some cruel yet ludicrous twist of Fate.

I recall she had a pioneer ancestor who was run over by the very train that brought his family out West to join him. Apparently, he had started the celebrations a little too early and was a little too merry by the time the train pulled in.

Not that this should be taken as meaning she was catty or scabrous. On the contrary, she was a big motherly woman of the sort you might get if you crossed Jenni Murray with Claire Rayner.

Sadly, Janet’s not much of a writer, so I have very few letters of hers, and she seldom even e-mails. However, she recently broke a seven-year silence indicating that she might be coming over in a week or two. I do hope so.

In my grateful reply to John, I described Janet’s interruption to his newsletter writing that week as John’s “person from Porlock” moment.

My own offerings from that Paula Tappenden Week Four are all now up on Ogblog, btw, all clickable below:

If anyone wants a better quality copy of the artefacts, just message me and they can be whizzing your way in next to no time.

Brexit The Musical by David Shirreff and Russell Sarre, & NewsRevue, Canal Café Theatre, 17 November 2016

Mauritian Giant Tortoise ...like...so old!
Mauritian Giant Tortoise …like…so old!

I first met David Shirreff many years ago when we worked together on a couple of “financial Armageddon” simulations. I have long wanted to see one of his plays/musicals, but have somehow been confounded by the timing and/or location of the performances.

So when I saw that David was putting Brexit The Musical on at my beloved, local Canal Café Theatre and that one of the show dates was a free Thursday in my diary, I had no hesitation in booking a seat. While I was at it, I also booked to see NewsRevue; might as well while I am there.

The previous week, while playing a real tennis skills tournament teamed with friend Tony Friend – click here to see my piece on that victorious evening – the subject of the Canal Café Theatre and NewsRevue came up, not least because Chris Stanton (formerly of that “parish” and coincidentally an avid realist at Lord’s, as I reported a few months ago – click here) was also playing in the tournament.

“I’m going to the Canal Café Theatre next week, as it happens”, said Tony, “a friend of mine has written a musical…” The coincidence grew when we realised that not only did we both know David Shirreff but we had both booked the same Thursday night to see Brexit The Musical.

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I ate early and walked to the Canal Café Theatre, as I had so often done back in the 1990s, when we used to meet up for writers’ meetings on a Thursday night before watching the show.

Tony and son John were already there when I got to the theatre.

Tony and I swapped “real tennis war stories” from our famous victory in the skills contest the week before and from our match against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club (MURTC) the night before, in which Tony and I had both been part of losing pairs, but pairs who had lost more heroically than MURTC’s losing pairs, hence contributing towards a great MCC match victory; 2.5-2.5 in rubbers, decided in MCC’s favour on net games. Oh boy, John must have been fascinated and impressed.

I was also able to swap my ticket so I could sit with Tony and John during the show.

We had a chat with David Shirreff before and after the performance. It is a good show. Low hanging fruit for humour, of course, Brexit, not least Boris Johnson and Michael Gove as comedic characters. There were some superbly acerbic lines throughout the show.

The dramatic highlight for me was a parody of the three witches from Macbeth (Theresa, Andrea and Amber, presumably) confounding Boris and Gove with their power riddles. The musical highlight for me was the Putin Rap.

Between shows while I was chatting with David and some of his friends, Nick R Thomas (one of our NewsRevue writing gang from the 1990s) turned up, which was a really pleasant surprise. Nick had seen my e-shout-out that I was going that night, happened to be in London that day and thought, “why not?  I haven’t seen the show for 15 years or so…”

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Since 1979…like…so old!

In case anyone reading this is unaware, NewsRevue has been going since 1979. Around about the time the show first went to Edinburgh, in August 1979, I was in Mauritus looking at prehistoric-looking giant tortoises and stuff (see above picture…no, not the ones with politicians’ faces, the other picture). I wrote for the show extensively for most of the 1990s, starting in 1992.

In 2004, NewsRevue was awarded a Guinness World Record for the longest running live comedy show. It has been described as The Mousetrap of live comedy. You can read more about it by clicking here.

Nick blagged his way onto my table, where we were joined by a very perky and friendly young couple who had never seen the show before. “Have you seen the show before?” they asked us. “Hundreds of times”, we replied, explaining our connection with the show.

Realising how young they were, I suggested that, scarily, Nick and I might have been writing for the show before they were born. The young man politely replied that he was a toddler back then, while the young woman remained silent, confirming my fears. I think the young couple probably saw me and Nick as curious antique creatures, a little like…me looking at centuries-old Mauritian giant tortoises all those years before.

We really enjoyed the show. The Trump opening number was an “orthodox” medley of Queen songs, well put together. A “Corbyn Man” number to the Willy Wonka “Candy Man” song was good, as was a version of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen; Len singing his regret that no-one listens to his recording of the song.

There were some excellent quickies and short sketches. I especially liked the customer complaining about their Galaxy Note 7 catching fire, with the gormless shop assistant misconstruing each danger/complaint adjective as slang praise for a wonderful device.

Ed Balls singing and dancing a “Gangnam Style” parody was excellent, as was a superb rap, the origins of which were beyond me, but the lyrics and delivery were superb. But despite those two numbers, most of the songs used as the basis of the show seem to be stuck in the choices we used to make in our era; musical numbers and pop songs from the 1960s to 1980s.

Sadly, the closing number broke the second law of NewsRevue songs, which is Do not use “I Will Survive”.  (The first law being Do not use “YMCA”.)  Still, given the way the world is right now, the use of I Will Survive might be forgiven. Indeed, come to think of it, what with Brexit and Trump, those financial Armageddon simulations David Shirreff and I did years ago might come in handy. But I digress.

I was most taken by the response of the NewsRevue audience, not least the young couple at our table. In fact the whole audience (mostly younger folk) seemed thoroughly thrilled by their evening. It was heartening to see that the formula still works after all these years and can all-but fill the Canal Café Theatre on a cold, wet but thoroughly enjoyable Thursday evening.