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Posts tagged ‘comedy’

That’s Life – in the Eyes of Noel Coward

I’ve loved the work of Noel Coward since I first saw one of his comedies, in my teens. Noel CowardAmong many different archetypal character-types which I hold in my mind, is that of an indolent Noel Coward male lead, lounging against a mantelpiece wearing a silk brocade smoking jacket, elegant, mannered, and dispensing witticisms with the greatest of ease: the sort of individual who would instantly impress in a social setting; but what’s really going on behind that stylish, confident exterior? I had this image in mind when I created the character James in my novel Mystical Circles (and James reappears in A Passionate Spirit).

In Coward’s play Present Laughter, the male lead, Gary, a successful comic actor, lives out of the image of himself he projects on stage.

He is the focus of everyone else’s obsession.

Gary is a poser – he throws tantrums, acts in a theatrical manner, and hates it when others accuse him of “over-acting” – which he, of course, does all the time. Only his secretary and his supposedly-estranged wife see him in a plain unvarnished way.

Meanwhile, a strange, intense young aspiring playwright, Mr Maule, is obsessed with him and latches onto him and challenges him.

Gary want to get rid of them all, yet cannot see he himself is a magnet for them.

In this play, we see yet again the beloved Noel Coward tropes:

  1. A flouncing self-important male lead;
  2. A sullen fag-smoking housekeeper;
  3. A strange insecure subsidiary character who has a major effect upon the action;
  4. A femme fatale triple-crossing vamp married to the MC’s best friend, having an affair with the MC’s other friend, and with the MC himself.

In this play, the women who spend the night with Gary, and have to explain themselves to visitors in the morning, always:

  1. appear for breakfast wearing Gary’s dressing gown and his black silk pyjamas;
  2. say they had forgotten their latch-key, which was why they had to stay the night; and
  3. claim they slept in the spare room.

Just so do so many of us feel compelled to behave in predictable patterns, so that we might as well be following a script that’s been written for us.

It’s comedy, farce, satire … but isn’t it often just like life? Comedy is a wonderful vehicle for communicating truths. Don’t we find sometimes – especially in this society, and on the current political scene – that people behave as if they were characters in a farce, acting out a parody of themselves?

This is the human comedy.  And comedians only need to tweak real life a very little: just a slight exaggeration – for us to see how absurd this all is.

I think this is why, in moments of insight, we instinctively respond to good observational comedy, especially when it is delivered with warmth – for there are occasions when we recognise ourselves reflected back in the wit of the comedian. And when that is so, we might see opportunities to try and interrupt this pre-determined script, and start acting as if we genuinely do have free will, instead of behaving like characters pushed hither and thither by the plot…

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Quirky, Anarchic, and Fizzing with Life

During the last week we’ve been at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival – an overwhelming variety of acts and shows and comedians and performers, all jostling for your attention. Those who are trying to make a name for themselves are free: the already established are in big venues and do paid-for shows.

On the Royal Mile, Edinburgh - The Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

On the Royal Mile, Edinburgh – The Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

I’ve never been handed so many flyers by so many people in such a short space of time as on the Royal Mile – it felt like every member of the crowd heading in my direction was handing out leaflets for his or her show. I recalled online tips for young actors trying to breakthrough at the Edinburgh Festival: “Be prepared to spend most of your time walking the streets and handing out flyers.”

You can be trying to decide where to go and then a troupe of actors dressed in white from head to toe with eerie white masks approaches you and leaflets you; and you decide you’ll go to their show instead.

Or you pass one of the free fringe venues, see something’s on in 5 minutes and just drop in because you happen to be passing by.

And that’s how we found ourselves in the audience at a free fringe event, facing up to whatever the comedians threw at us – including, in my case, a fountain from a shaken-up bottle of Irn Bru, because I happened to be sitting in the second row…

Troupe of actors advertising their show at Edinburgh Fringe - photo credit Abigail Robinson

Troupe of actors advertising their show at Edinburgh Fringe – photo credit Abigail Robinson

We enjoyed Jonny Freeman’s Funtime Family Friendly Impro show, and a one-woman comedy show by Claire Ford called ConsciousMess. Claire showed brilliant clowning skills and I thought she’d be a good children’s TV presenter – with the exclusion of some of her material.

Street entertainment on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival - photo credit Abigail Robinson

Street entertainment on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival – photo credit Abigail Robinson

We also found ourselves in a marquee at The Ibis Hotel where we saw “The Grown Up Show” when London’s “best emerging comedians battle it out for the title of Worst Adult in the World”. I can assure you this was not family friendly, and one of the comedians – host Alexis Wieroniey –  even queried our 2 teens from the stage about how old they were, having been about to deduct “adult points” from us for bringing children in, whereupon she realised it should be herself she deducted “adult points” from for designing the fun cartoon on the flyer! Upon being assured of their true age, the comedians then went on to present their material, packed with lewd humour about sex and bodily functions.

Seeing these “emerging” young comedians made me reflect again upon what I believe makes a great comedian: the ability to connect with the audience, win our confidence, show strong observation of life, say things we know are true and can identify with, and do it all with perfect comic timing.
And in the end, for a performer at The Fringe, what really counts is the way audiences take to you and whether you get noticed and given a chance by a casting director, agent or impresario.

Group of actors advertising fringe performance Chatroom on the Royal Mile - photo credit Abigail Robinson

Group of actors advertising fringe performance Chatroom on the Royal Mile – photo credit Abigail Robinson

Of the paid-for shows in The Festival we saw “The Lift” a new comedy by Fergus Deery at the Bedlam Theatre and “Potted Sherlock“, a fantastic whizz-through of all 60 Sherlock Holmes stories in 70 minutes by 3 excellent comic actors whose previous shows included Potted Potter, Potted Pirates and Potted Panto.

Street entertainer on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Street entertainer Simeon Baker on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

For many creative actors and comedians, and for those who flock to Edinburgh in August, including ourselves, this Festival is all about fun, zanyness, and the principle of having been here and been involved with a show at the Fringe – however unpredictable.

 

 

 

 

 

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