Friday, 31 October 2014

Watching Watching

As a child growing up in Granadaland in the 80s and 90s, Watching, Granada's sweet sitcom about mismatched Merseyside couple Brenda and Malcolm was a big favourite in my house.

At the end of August I bought Network DVD's complete series boxset of Watching which features all 56 episodes that ran between 1987 and 1993; and though there are no extras on the DVD, this remains a real bargain at £20 for seven series in one set.

I developed a routine of watching an episode or two each night in bed before going to sleep and managed to finish all seven series (plus the Christmas and New Year's specials) off last weekend.

I'm missing my little trips down memory lane already!

Watching tells the story of Malcolm, a shy birdwatcher from over the water in Meols (played by Paul Bown) and his unlikely relationship with the sparky, quick witted scouser Brenda (Emma Wray) who is initially more interested in the sport of 'people watching'; making up outlandish stories about strangers her and her sister, Pamela (Liza Tarbuck in an early breakthrough role) see in their local pub. Opposites may well attract, but the path to true love never runs smooth and in the six years of the sitcom we, the audience, get to see their relationship and they as people adapt and mature. Its longevity makes you feel like you've really witnessed people's lives and you certainly get to know the characters and come to love them, especially with great actors like the aforementioned Bown, Wray and Tarbuck, but also John Bowler as Tarbuck's yuppie husband David, Patsy Byrne as Malcolm's pompous curtain twitching mother, Perry Fenwick (now famous for playing EastEnders' Billy Mitchell) as Malcolm's flash friend from Hemel Hempstead Terry, and Noreen Kershaw as Brenda and Pamela's scatty mother. Though there is one character you don't meet and indeed she's completely excised from continuity in later series, and that's Brenda and Pamela's other sister Sandra. When we do finally meet the rest of the Wilson family, it's stated quite clearly their mother has just three children; Pamela, Brenda and Gerald, a young boy she wishes would clear off and join the navy! No Sandra, whatsoever. Bit niggling that.

Every episode of the sitcom was penned by the Liverpudlian scriptwriter Jim Hitchmough, who sadly passed away in 1997. The initial premise of the awkward twitcher and the scouse pocket rocket originally started out life as a sketch developed in a drama workshop at Liverpool's famous and groundbreaking Everyman Theatre. Hitchmough went on to submit the sketch for the BBC series Not The Nine O'Clock News but was unsuccessful. Undeterred, he adapted it for the stage and in turn received a commission from Granada for a seven episode first series. 

Broadcast at 10pm Sunday nights in 1987, Watching became something of a success which saw it move to an earlier 7pm slot for its second series which it secured right up until the final episode, gaining viewing figures of over 17 million.

Watching Watching back, I found I could remember many episodes extremely well...some of them dating specifically around the 1990/1991 fact, I could even remember some of the gags word for word!

What this rewatch did bring to me though was a fresh appreciation of the characters and the beautiful writing on display. It's true to say Brenda Wilson is a very lippy young woman but the brittle vulnerability that Emma Wray teases out beneath that brash exterior may have initially been lost on my ten year old or so eyes. There's real depth of character here that most sitcoms, certainly ITV sitcoms, sadly lack.

Having lived and worked in and around the areas Watching is set too means there's an extra appeal to watching the show. And again, having more experience of the region now, makes sight seeing and comparing how the area has changed an extra pleasure. I find it very funny for example that two Christmas specials saw the cast descend on dizzying glamourous locales such as Delamere Forest, Frodsham and Pennington Flash just outside of Wigan! Curiously the final series saw Emma Wray and Liza Tarbuck (reunited with former cast member Perry Fenwick, who played Malcolm's friend Terry in the first few series and was Wray's boyfriend at the time, though he is now more famous for playing Billy in EastEnders) jet out to Israel for two episodes, which was somewhat unexpected.

It's fair to say that Watching is a little dated now - in this day and age Malcolm and Brenda would probably meet on, and keep in touch with, Facebook or a dating site as opposed to their chance encounters and hesitant first moves in pubs and out bird watching - with some truly irritating directorial choices such as drowning out dialogue with background music in pubs or party scenes, and some instances of dubious and naive humour; Malcolm does a now racist stereotypical Chinese impersonation in the first Xmas special, whilst Brenda gets one up on an obnoxious drunk by sending him off to work behind the wheel (!) in the knowledge that cops will pick him up for drink driving - but the late 80s and early 90s were different times I guess and much of the humour in Watching remains utterly charming and representative of quick and occasionally dry Northern humour. It also stands now as a document of its time now, with references to rising unemployment, privatisation, the rise of the upwardly mobile yuppie set and the Poll Tax. 

But always at its heart is the relationship between Brenda and Malcolm. It really draws you in as both characters are so believable and endearing. It's a sweet relationship though never traditional - indeed in one episode which sees them briefly reunited on a bird watching weekend after Malcolm had married someone else, its revealed that Brenda never had the courage to say she loved him throughout their first years together. Again such a reveal points to the insecurity inherent beneath Brenda's sharp tongued facade.

The show featured the lovely theme song What Does He See In Me? written by Charles Hart was performed by Emma Wray herself and has remained a personal favourite of mine all these years. Here's a video of the opening credits which plays a short version of it. 

Some episodes of Watching can be found on YouTube and for more info I can thoroughly recommend this lovely fan site Watching

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Why has the shaven Bungle from Rainbow that is UKIP's deputy leader, Paul 'nutty' Nuttall deleted comments about the NHS on his website?

Could it be that UKIP want to mask or hide away the stances they have on anything other than their rapidly (though bafflingly) populist beliefs on the EU and immigration because they know that the prospective supporters and voters they get from espousing their Little England, borderline racist crap would soon change their minds if they heard about their unsavoury prospective policies and beliefs regarding things we hold dear such as the NHS?

I'm genuinely worried and astounded that such a madcap party of zealots, eccentrics, shysters and Tory floorcrossers can propel themselves forward on just one policy and I urge people to wake up and read the small print, read between the lines, see more than one opinion and actually realise how damaging a potential UKIP protest vote can be to everything we have fought for and become accustomed to.  

Don't fall for their flannel!

Happy Halloween/Samhain

If you celebrate it, however you celebrate it, enjoy :D

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Out On Blue Six : The Who

Cos sometimes, when the world throws you a few shitty curves, you just need to kick back and listen to The Who...

End Transmission

Guilty By Suspicion (1991)

"Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" 

So began the interrogations by the House of Un-American Activities Committee that led to the ruination of many Hollywood figures who could claim to have ideals or a conscience and a desire to help their fellow man. Entered onto the infamous blacklist often just through hearsay and scaremongering, the committee - drunk on power - prohibited them from their right to work and, driven to despair, they were humiliated and publicly shamed 'lepers' who remained in the shadows for a further twenty years.

Guilty By Suspicion is a faithful and engrossing depiction of that time which focuses largely on one director (played by Robert De Niro) and his internal battle to choose over his friends or his country. Marking the directorial debut of veteran producer Irwin Winkler, the film scores successfully on authenticity (thanks in no small part to contributions from blacklisted names such as actor Sam Wanamaker in front of the camera and, behind it, scriptwriter Abraham Polonsky, as well as several characters and scenes echoing real life figures and events - the western film star who intervenes when De Niro is thrown off set is said to have been inspired by Gary Cooper's stance on the witch hunts) but perhaps loses a little in terms of enjoyment thanks to a largely pedestrian air from the first time director. Winkler may be an unshowy helm for a movie but ironically he's helped greatly by an unshowy turn from his leading man, De Niro - a world away from his Mafioso heavies.  A great supporting cast includes the likes of Annette Bening, Cheers star George Wendt in a rare straight role, the aforementioned Wanamaker, a young(ish) Chris Cooper, Patricia Wettig and a coolly professional cameo from director Martin Scorsese playing (what else?) a director, who avoids his subpoena by exiling himself to London, an action taken by many including Jules Dassin whose film there, Night and the City, was remade a year on from this by De Niro and Winkler to poor reviews.

It's interesting to note the controversy that occurred behind the scenes of the production which saw Abraham Polonsky take his name off the script and refuse an executive producer credit when it transpired Winkler changed the backstory of De Niro's central character from that of a committed Communist Party member to a fairly apolitical liberal with a strong sense of injustice. There may be something to be said for the depiction of a man forced to take a stand, neither hero, fighter or fanatic but the decision to take this path leaves a bad taste in the mouth; suggesting that even in 1991, Hollywood still wasn't ready for a hero who truly claimed to be a Communist.

Here's a very rare UK TV interview with De Niro on the Wogan show done to publicise Guilty By Suspicion

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

'71 (2014)

Yann Demange, director of TV's Dead Set and Top Boy, sustains his flair for gripping action with this gritty and authentic big screen debut.

'71 depicts what is ostensibly the first real stirrings of British armed forces deployment in light of the sectarian violence that would come to be known as the Troubles. Jack O'Connell stars as Pte Gary Hook, a Derbyshire lad whom writer Gregory Burke's script seems to implicitly suggest finds life in the Paras as an opportunity to become part of a surrogate family. Shipped to N.Ireland for his first tour and requested to provide support during an RUC raid, Hook and his unit are immediately thrown in at the deep end when things quickly sour and turn violently ugly. Witnessing his friend's assassination by an IRA gunman, Hook narrowly escapes with his own life whilst the remainder of his unit retreat without him. The rest of the film concerns itself with Hook's survival instincts as he scurries and shelters in the rabbit warren streets of Belfast, increasingly desperate and unable to tell friend from foe.

It comes as no surprise to say that O'Connell is brilliant in this and, coming off the back of a truly impressive performance in the prison drama Starred Up, it really makes him one to watch. There's a wonderful underplaying on display here that fits the action perfectly. Whilst this is essentially a traditional 'behind enemy lines' feature, O'Connell, Demange and Burke wish to make it clear that Hook is not a Hollywood action hero. He is, as his commanding officer remarks to him at one stage in the film, 'lucky'; knowing just enough of his training and having just enough stamina to keep on running. When confronted with the enemy, Hook can and will make mistakes that almost cost him dearly, and when violence occurs it is dealt with in a matter of fact manner that is at once both non gratuitous and shocking in its authenticity. It's also interesting how matter of fact the film is in depicting Hook to the audience - he isn't a character whom we truly get to know or understand what makes him tick, rather he's just the person who is ostensibly our guide. He is essentially the person unlucky enough to have found himself in this situation, and nothing more. This no heroics stance works incredibly well for the approach the film wishes to take, and its left to us to piece together Hook's background, his motivation for joining up, his links to the children's home and the young child he visits there and lastly, how his experiences have affected him.

There's also a strong supporting cast including the now familiar creeping and creepy menace that is Sean Harris, sporting a naff 70s mullet and moustache as a cold blooded undercover British officer, Paul Anderson as his Sergeant, Richard Dormer and Charlie Murphy as a Good Samaritan father and daughter, Barry Keoghan as a near silent yet always striking presence whose blank features and gimlet staring eyes still manage to express much inner conflict, and lastly, child actor Corey McKinley.

Uniquely for a film about the Troubles '71 doesn't concern itself with hand wringing explorations of guilt or piety to the issue at hand. Instead it concerns itself with the action and a conspiracy element of 'who can you trust?' drama that is usually to be found in the spy or thriller genre. This more detached style certainly plays to Demange's strengths, allowing him to concentrate on the nail biting taut chase sequences and moments of edge-of-the-seat suspense rather than the why's and wherefore's. That's not to say this is a dumbed down piece because it still provides a social commentary and often, in the most unexpected ways - witness O'Connell trying to explain to Belfast girl Murphy why Nottingham and Derby don't get on - and it does indeed still pay to know your modern history (one woman in the cinema tonight hadn't a clue for example, making two staggering comments; "Why's he helping him?" and "Is this set in the past then?" which suggests a staggering inability to understand not only sectarian issues but also on the film's title) but it is the almost in-the-moment, fly on the wall presentation of the unfolding events that take precedence and, like the best war correspondence, are immensely absorbing to witness.

It does have some minor flaws however. There are some moments of plot expedient character stupidity and I'm not totally convinced by a certain key dramatic point near the end, finding it almost straying into the sentimental Hollywood territory it had previously seemed determined to avoid. I also found the ineffectual CO played by Sam Reid something of a tired cliche (especially when the film went so delightfully against the stereotype by casting Babou Ceesay as the foul mouthed yet secretly kindly Corporal) But this remains a visceral and engaging production of great immediacy.

Wordless Wednesday : Alter Ego

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Got It Covered

It's been announced that the Pet Shop Boys 1987 cover version of Always On My Mind, the song made famous by Elvis, is considered the best cover version of all time by a BBC Music vote.

Now, I like the Pet Shop Boys but this is dead wrong. Willie Nelson sings it far better for a start

Even if he didn't have the great Joss Ackland in his video!

Looking at the BBC vote, the results are all wrong.

Coming in at number 2, when it should perhaps be number 1, was Johnny Cash's version of Hurt. In 3rd place was The Stranglers version of Walk On By, 4th place went to Jimi Hendrix for All Along The Watchtower whilst Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah rounded off the top 5.

Hmm. It doesn't get much better for the remaining five in the top ten either;

6. Soft Cell - Tainted Love (that's acceptable)

7. Joe Cocker - With A Little Help From My Friends (should have been way higher)

8. Sinead O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U (same as Cocker)

9. Muse - Feeling Good (oh just feck off. I thought this was about music?!)

10. Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You (Meh)

Where was Nilsson's Without You? Top 3 material right there!

The Results Are In

This past week I've been running a poll asking readers what is their favourite type of post on this blog.

Happily for me, each category I listed received votes, which means I'm offering something for someone.

It's great to interact with readers/followers/visitors to see just what people stop by here for (though the Popular Posts - seen on the bottom right hand side of my page - give me a good indication, it's often just from popular links that take visitors rather than regulars to my blog; the chance to see Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones completely starkers being a prime example as you can see!) Hopefully, with help from little indicators like this, the kind of posts I provide will continue to entertain.

Here are the results in reverse order;

Out On Blue Six (Music posts) 20% of the vote.

Rapid Reviews (Short book reviews) 20% of the vote.

Bumday (Self explanatory!) 30% of the vote.

Wordless Wednesday/Silent Sunday (Photography) 30% of the vote.

Political Content (Petitions etc) 30% of the vote.

Theme Time (TV Themes) 40% of the vote.

Film Reviews (Self explanatory!) 50% of the vote.

Smoking Hot and other model photography/imagery 60% of the vote.

Feel free to comment on the results, to elaborate further on what you voted for and why, whether you're disappointed with what topped the polls or whether you're happy. And a big thank you to everyone who took the time to vote.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Some films you just want to live inside, this is one of those movies.

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delightful and mischievous confection that is a true delight for the senses. It's also wickedly funny thanks in no small part to Ralph Fiennes who, in recent years with appearances in In Bruges and Cemetery Junction has been showing a hitherto hidden flair for comedy, well this performance is undoubtedly his pinnacle with lines like 'She was shaking like a shitting dog' (always one of my favourite similes) delivered with an aplomb that makes the viewer's jaw drop before dissolving into fits of laughter - primarily because, with his dramatic track record, you don't truly expect it from Fiennes. His slippery yet beguiling and utterly charming M. Gustave is a creation of Withnail-like proportions and I love it.

The supporting cast is just as fabulous and Anderson has truly pulled out all the stops here with each character being played by a talented and famous face. Remember those 60s Peter Sellers movies like The Magic Christian or Casino Royale, silly adventures were cameo after cameo impressed? The Grand Budapest Hotel feels a little like those at times. I could mention Jeff Goldblum or Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel or F Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton or Saoirse Ronan, Matthieu Amalric or Ed Norton - all fabulous - but really special praise must go to newcomer Tony Revolori for holding his own alongside Fiennes throughout and helping to make their friendship truly convincing and totally touching. 

As well as its impeccable cast and its equally impeccable sense of style, there is also the now traditional Anderson trademarks; the use of animation, distinctive imagery and colour schemes. But this isn't just the usual quirky Anderson movie. I'd argue that more than any other offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel needed this approach because it is trying to evoke a particular refined and sophisticated period - a period whose death knell had been sounded. Indeed between the gales of laughter one cannot help but feel a poignancy brought on by the winds of change Anderson is depicting. The emotional maturity that often runs through his films and reached perhaps its deftest approach in The Darjeeling Limited is especially well used, though subtly so here, because it goes hand in hand with the film's historical context and backdrop. 

The Europe on the brink of war setting is a genre I am particularly fond of in film and literature and I must confess I am something of a devotee of fiction from the likes of John Buchan (The 39 Steps etc) and specific books like Riddle of The Sands,  Fortunes of War, the TV adaptation of Olivia Manning's autobiographical works, films like Hitch's The Lady Vanishes and of course the work of Stefn Zweig, all of which have some echo here. In many ways, the style is the substance within The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Kicks (2009)

Kerrie Hayes is a young Liverpudlian actress I've admired for a bit now, largely thanks to her heartfelt performance in the Channel 4 drama The Mill, a role which has seen her rightfully gain herself a BAFTA nomination though sadly not a win (well, when you're up against the likes of Olivia Colman...)

The 2009 film Kicks features another impressive turn from the young Ms Hayes, though it's a radically different part than the feisty mill worker Esther Price. 

Hayes plays Nicole, an introverted, lonely but attractive schoolgirl who, because there's nothing else in her life, develops an unhealthy crush on a top Liverpool footballer played (with suitable reptilian sleaze) by Jamie Doyle. One day she meets Jasmine an equally celeb loving though more knowing teen played by Nichola Burley and together the pair start to hang around Anfield, city nightclubs and even the footballer's home in the hopes of catching a glimpse or even meeting the man.

But you must always be careful what you wish for and when their pin up announces he will leave the club to sign for a Spanish team, the girls desires become all the more real and frighteningly intense.

The directorial film debut of Lindy Heymann from a script by Leigh Campbell, Kicks taps into what has become a rich vein for low budget indie movies; the coming of age adolescent female friendships. As in other examples from this genre, the passion and potency that has become channeled into one obsession quickly sours and develops into a darkly psychological, sexy and sinister, twisted tale. Cleverly, Heymann and Campbell explore the present infatuation with celebrity, both from the inside and out as the too much too soon reprehensible lifestyle of highly paid sports stars is just as represented as the WAG aspirations and teenage insecurities of our female leads.

Running at just 80 minutes, Kicks is literally short and to the point aided by some truly eyecatching performances from Hayes and Burley and a hazy misty almost unreal eye for Liverpool's urban cityscapes. Broadcast on BBC2 late Saturday/Sunday morning, it's kudos to the channel for showing this at a time when the dubious morality and far from clean living lifestyles of premiership footballers are very much in the public eye.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Theme Time : Gary Portnoy - Cheers


Aw man. What can I say about Cheers?

It's just fucking Cheers.

Cheers is still one of my favourite US sitcoms.

It always will be thus.

Cheers is also Channel 4, Friday night in the 1980s and 1990s, and watching with my Dad (and sometimes my sister) while Mum was out at bingo or at work.

It's just such good memories and such feelgood TV, and the theme tune 'Where Everybody Knows Your Name' by Gary Portnoy is a bittersweet gem that always gives me warm fuzzies as I'm transported back to good times....


Silent Sunday : Breakfast

Saturday, 25 October 2014

'I Don't Want to Sound Like a Twat...But I'm Gonna'

I don't often post personal stuff on here, because I just don't feel it's that interesting and because I don't necessarily view a blog as a diary. Granted I may occasionally post about things I'm personally involved with, such as my recent voluntary work with a performing arts group for people with disabilities and health issues, but just general posts about how I'm feeling or what's happening with me are quite rare.

But today I want to post about something that happened to me the other day, in particular my brief (thankfully) meeting with a complete and utter stranger.

It had been a good night, I had been to see Jess Thom's Backstage In Biscuit Land (you can see the review of that fantabulous experience here) and perhaps in hindsight against my better judgement I decided to go for a couple of drinks afterwards with the group I had been to see the performance with.

We ended up in a bar I have been visiting quite regularly lately (a friend is set to start a regular comedy night there next month) and got our first drinks during the final round of the monthly pub quiz. As such, I ensured we sat at a respectable distance and spoke relatively quietly as the questions were being read out. 

A little while later and a few more drinks down the line we were approaching chucking out time. I had been spotted by a neighbour who beckoned me over for a quick chat and not long after I had sat down with him, the quizmaster joined us and began to stare at me as I was talking.

Finally, he spoke, addressing my neighbour rather than me. 

"Who the fuck is this?" the man demanded in a deadpan fashion. 

"I'm sorry?" I laughed somewhat uncertainly as my neighbour briefly explained the nature of our acquaintance.

"You've not introduced me, so I'm just asking who the fuck is this?" he repeated.

At which point, I thought I'd best interject "And who the fuck are you?" I laughed "You sound like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Next thing you'll be asking if you amuse me, if I think you're some kinda clown" 

He seemed to accept this and laughed politely before returning his attention to his mobile phone.

A little while after, my neighbour excused himself to the loos and I was about to return my group. Before I did, the quizmaster had one more thing to say.

"I don't want to sound like a twat..." he began.

Oh dear. Now if you ask me, whenever anyone starts a sentence with a phrase like that or 'No offence' say, it usually means that is exactly what they intend to do. They want to cause offence, they want to be a twat.

And after all, the less than hospitable host had previous form in twattishness towards me right?

I decided to head him off at the pass "You don't? Oh go on, I'm sure you're going to"

He paused, met my gaze and said "You've got twenty minutes to finish your drink"

What? Was I suddenly in a Western? Was this a barely concealed threat for forthcoming violence towards me?

"The barman has ordered his cab and that's when it'll be arriving. So, drink up"

I assured him I would finish what remained of my pint (I had about a half to go) long before that point, and went back to my friends. Unfortunately I had missed one friend's departure having spent the last few minutes being insulted by this self confessed twat.

Why do people have to behave so offensively? I genuinely don't go out drinking all that often - I enjoy a pub but because of my own health I probably do more drinking at home than actual socialising/drinking - and it's at times like this that I realise just why I don't.

Since that evening I've been wondering just what it is that makes someone behave like that towards a stranger. Was it intentional, did he really want to make me feel so unwelcome? I realised that the bar in question was 'gay friendly' and as I am heterosexual myself I wondered if this man was somehow offended to be confronted by a 'not we'? If so, he is the first person to behave in such a manner as the bar has always lived up to its friendly rep. Maybe he was hoping to cop off with my neighbour and saw me as a threat?! 

Just what makes people behave so unfairly to one another? Do they ever wonder how their behaviour affects others?

Normally after a night out I often have a horrible feeling of guilt and melancholy which leads to much thought and analysis. It's something I've managed to self diagnose as being down to the previous night's alcohol intake and, perhaps, its lack of good companionship with the anti-depressants I have been taking for over ten years now. That feeling was there in spades the following day and continues to linger now, which is why I'm posting something personal for a change.

Out On Blue Six : Cream, RIP Jack Bruce

Another sad passing announced today, veteran rocker Jack Bruce has died of liver disease aged 71. One third of Cream (alongside Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) his contribution to British rock music is invaluable.


End Transmission

Northern Soul (2014)

Nicely evocative of the scene - to the extent that you can almost feel the sweat on your body and smell the stench of the beer in the dance hall - Northern Soul, Elaine Constantine's debut mutually released cinemas and the DVD market this week suffers from being a project that is a something of an authentic style over actual substance piece.

2010's Soul Boy previously attempted to cover this ground and though that was a somewhat cliched depiction/representation of the Northern Soul scene it remains more peppy and enjoyable than this film which seems to want to be more realistic warts and all but ultimately remains less interesting and engaging.

The cameos of Steve Coogan, Lisa Stansfield, Ricky Tomlinson, Ashley Taylor Dawson, Christian McKay, John Thomson and James Lance add weight to the largely novice cast but the script in the main lets them down thanks to flawed or ill considered/confusing narratives that lead to dead ends and fail to add the character they so sorely require. It is perhaps only Coogan, naturally, who holds our interest playing a boorish school teacher.

As someone who lives not far from Wigan and can honestly claim to know several of the true 'Faithful' from this era, it's also saddening and unrealistic to see another depiction of this scene that concentrates itself with drug use. Those that I know who were there say that whilst drugs were spoke of - which suggests they were around at the very least - they were not truly part of the scene for the masses. For those that I know at least the music alone was enough to have them buzzing so energetically on the dancefloor, and kudos to them for that. If Northern Soul as a film does one thing it is to remind us of just how fantastic the music gleaned for that moment in time truly was.

Smoking Hot

Audrey Hepburn

Friday, 24 October 2014

Theatre Review : Backstage In Biscuit Land

Jess Thom has Tourettes, a condition which makes her say 'biscuit' 16,000 times a day. Her unusual neurology gives her a unique perspective on life and in the guise of Tourettes Hero, she unleashes this perspective on the world with a glorious two-woman solo show entitled Backstage in Biscuit Land which weaves comedy, puppetry, singing and tics to explore disability, creativity, spontaneity and things that you never know would make you laugh.  

The show wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe this year and I had the good fortune to see it for myself last night via the Culture Hub at St Helens Central Library. 

Jess dressed as Tourettes Hero and her co-star Chopin aka Jess Mabel Jones

Right from the off this was a real rollercoaster ride of entertainment. As an audience member you never knew what to expect, thanks in no small part to Jess' neurological inability to stay on script! No matter, because you were more than happy to go along with each wildly diverting turn thanks to the utter charm both Jess and 'Chopin' exude. Their humour and outlook on life is deeply infectious  and it didn't take long to get on their wavelength and appreciate Tourettes in a whole new light.

It's fair to say that inbetween the funnies - and there was so much funny; seriously laugh out loud tears in your eyes stuff - Jess offers a deeply insightful and thought provoking point of view as to what her daily life is like. So many preconceptions about Tourettes that I had were instantly blown away as she discussed, inbetween those tics which ranged from 'hedgehog' 'hairgel' 'merry christmas' 'happy birthday' the occasional 'fuck' and of course, 'biscuit' , her difficulty with walking that now sees her largely confined to a wheelchair (and her obsession with various types and models of chairs available on the market!) her near constant beating of her chest which means she now must wear padded gloves to save her hands from any injury, her early years and being diagnosed with her condition and also her fitting. Perhaps the most striking anecdote was the one where she discussed going to see the political comedian Mark Thomas live. Despite alerting Thomas, the theatre and the audience to her condition, some audience members still complained about what they viewed as 'interruptions' coming from her and Jess was asked to sit in the sound booth for the second act. It's a real sobering eye opener to consider just how different things that we would take for granted such as seeing a show are for someone like Jess. 

But before things got too deep, Jess and Chopin returned to comedy discussing how impossible a game of I-Spy is for someone with Tourettes, a quick round of 'Fingers on Buzzards', the creative joy that is a baby grow decorated with Les Dennis' face, a free biscuit for every audience member and finally a rousing rendition of the tic inspired song entitled 'We're having sex with animals again and they all like it hard in the face!'

Jess and her alter ego

Afterwards I got the chance to meet Jess and have her sign her book (a collection of her blog entries, with a foreword from Stephen Fry) for me and she proved to be a lovely friendly warm person who was genuinely touched by the audience's favourable comments. I would urge absolutely everyone to take the opportunity to see Jess Thom if ever her show comes near you. It's an inspiring, incredible one off - a chance to laugh and learn.

Below you'll find Jess' showreel featuring her many appearance on TV, stage and YouTube

Jess' website can be found here Tourettes Hero and her YouTube channel is here YouTube