Thursday, 21 June 2012

NEWS - Live Literature at the Peterborough Arts Festival

A few weeks ago, I emailed the Peterborough Arts Festival. They were looking for proposals for a ten minute commission from performance poets and writers and were opening their search up to unsolicited proposals. Now, I am nothing if not unsolicited, so I dutifully filled in the form, submitted my application and promptly forgot all about it. 

Then, on Tuesday of this week I received an email from Mark Grist saying that the committee would like me to perform my piece at the Arts Festival on the 8th July. 

This is amazing for two reasons:

1. Mark Grist is a real poet, who has been in the Guardian and on TV and has had hundreds of thousands of hits on youtube. Not only this, but he is a genuinely amazing poet, deserving of all his recent attention and praise. To think that someone like that has even watched my youtube videos is completely baffling. 

2. Part of the commission means that I will have a mentor, who will help me out with my ten minute piece. In my case, this mentor is Mixy, an amazing Peterborough-based real poet whose work I have admired for a very long time. 

The scary part about the whole thing is that I now have just seventeen days to come up with a decent set! Talk about pressure! But I've already written three poems that I'm happy with, and I've started a fourth, so I'm on the right track I think. Though heavens know how I'll fare when I have to go back to work again next week. 

But overall, I'm just so disgustingly excited about this opportunity, that I had to break the fourth wall here on my blog and tell you about it, so apologies for dismantling the 'author's mystique' that I've been building for the past few years. 

If you want to come on down to the Peterborough Arts Festival and watch me perform, please do. It's on Sunday 8th July and my set is on from around 2pm. The link to the Festival Website is here

And if you're not keen on seeing me perform, then come along for a chance to see all the other brilliant poets on the bill, especially Mark Neil, the headline act and the Poet Laureate for Milton Keynes, who is the funniest poet I have ever met!

I've also been allowed to start a blog on the Cambs24 local news website, so I'm having a lot of fun putting things together for that. The blog aims to unearth great poetic and literary events in and around Cambridgeshire and I've also got a long list of local poets who I want to interview. Really, it's just an excuse for me to bother people whose work I love, but hopefully, no one will realise this for a long time. The blog itself, Literary Ely, can be found here. Check back every week for a new article.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

In Praise of Exercise

In the three hundred years since this vampire was sired
I've never even had a day off.
But now, I feel achy and all the time tired
And I can't shake this terrible cough.

I'd forgotten, over time, what it felt to be poorly,
I'm shaky and sickly and frail.
It can't be my lifestyle that's caused this, no, surely!
Other vamps even say I look pale!

It's the quality of my diet that's doing me in,
Convenience blood is just so much fatter.
I can feel the cholesterol on my lips and my chin;
It's the consistency of pancake batter.

The main problem is that the fat ones are slow
And comparably easy to catch.
I haven't time for healthy victims, I'm a vampire on the go,
So it's the big ones I prefer to dispatch.

Then, there's my fangs, I've got two gnashers left!
It's sugar-blood from those diabetics.
No one wants a vampire to gum them to death!
So it's practical and not just cosmetic.

I feel so run down, I need to get fit,
I need a re-vamp (if you'll pardon the pun.)
I'm a bit out of shape, that much I'll admit,
But how can my fate be re-spun?

I need to look at my diet, go elsewhere to eat,
If healthy life force I now hope to pillage.
I need to go somewhere that's full of athletes,
So I'm relocating to the Olympic Village.

It's been three hundred years since this vampire was sired
And I've never even had a day off.
But thanks to the Olympics I'm no longer tired,
And I will shake this terrible cough.

Monday, 18 June 2012


In these times of economic struggle,
It's important to be well-rounded.
Hobbies and interests are what you need
To appear as though you're grounded.

A boring CV can be shunned or unnoticed –
It's the same with every profession –
It's vital to stand out as best that you can
Especially in a recession.

Although competition in all sectors is strong,
The situation's arguably worse
in the security, crime-fighting, superhero biz.
The number of applicants per position is perverse!

For example, as his hobbies only listed 'Revenge',
Batman was denied interviews.
And because the Green Lantern couldn't play the guitar
He was forced to the back of the queue.

Superman fared better, with his penchant for disguise,
He could say he worked in amateur shows.
But when he couldn't recite any Shakespeare,
It appeared that the matter was closed.

So the costumed crusaders, in the pub late one night,
Resolved to improve their variety.
They'd open a special secret hobby craft club,
The Super Heroes' Pastime Society.

The X Men came down and started a band
With Jubilee on tambourine.
Rogue on the keys and Gambit on drums
And a saxophone for Wolverine.

The Hulk started a book club with the Tick and Jean Grey,
Which all ended in such a commotion,
When an argument broke out on the merits of Twilight,
And the Hulk threw the Tick in the ocean.

Batman and Superman built model trains,
The Bat's had superior gadgets.
But Superman used his breath to win every time
And Thor dismissed trains as Black Magic.

Their hobbies and interests expanded and grew,
And they indulged further in crafts and pursuits.
Soon, all bad guys were vanquished by normal police
They was no need for those wankers in suits.

And the Supers had caused their own redundancy
By becoming better-developed and grounded.
Two-dimensional characters sometimes work best:
There's more to life than being 'well-rounded.'

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Producers - Theatre Review

 The Producers

A Musical written by Mel Brooks and directed by Matthew Kerslake
A production by The Watlington Players

Matthew Kerslake has waited a long time for the chance to direct The Producers. This wait was certainly worthwhile!

The plot revolves around Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer, who enlists the help of his cowardly former accountant, Leo Bloom, to pull off the scam of the century. Realising that they can make more money from a flop than a hit, our two hapless heroes set out to find and stage the worst musical ever. The result? Spring Time for Hitler, a musical homage to the Fuhrer, written by a former-Nazi pigeon-fancier and directed by a man camper than the entire Glastonbury Festival.

An outrageous romp such as this has the potential for disaster, and comedy of this type requires careful casting in order to succeed. Thankfully, the Watlington Players rose magnificently to the occasion! Max Bialystock was brought to life by Richard Abel, who inhabited the role with his characteristic enthusiasm. He delivered a barrage of one-liners with an excellent sense of comic timing and surprised the audience with the strength of his singing voice, which will no doubt be utilised further in future Players productions. 

Opposite Abel, the role of Leo Bloom might have paled into insignificance, but Tom Watson really threw himself into character, and his cowardly snivelling had us all in fits of laughter at regular intervals. Watson's competence in a lead role has really been proved here; his singing was excellent and his tap dancing was beguiling. Watch out Watlington, Watson is a triple threat!

In the role of Ulla, the Swedish actress, Fiona Haylock shone. In previous productions, it is Haylock's dancing skills that have been given prominence, but in this role she was given the opportunity to showcase her full range and has shown that she is a talented player in her own right. Her dancing was impeccable and the on stage chemistry she had with Watson sizzled throughout the piece. Haylock's comedy accent never wavered and her Swedish twang remained firmly in place, even after over ninety minutes of song and dance. Her singing voice was wonderful and she filled the role of leading lady with grace and aplomb.

As always, Matthew Austin excelled in a role that felt as though it was created exclusively for him. Saying this about a character who is a homicidal, Nazi-sympathising, bird-loving maniac may not seem like a compliment, but Austin embodied the German war criminal with an ardent physicality that showcased his dramatic skills to their fullest. It takes a confident actor not to upstaged by singing pigeons, but Austin retained full command of the stage. The mad glint in his eye made him both ridiculously comic and slightly unnerving. It's a fine line to tread, and one that Austin skipped along with gay abandon.

Speaking of which, David Brammer and James Golder were fantastic as director Roger DeBris and his theatrical companion Carmen. The chemistry between these two was electric and the over-the-top eccentricities were played with an affection that was both endearing and hilarious. The number 'Keep it Gay' evoked the loudest laughs from an appreciative audience and the performances from both Brammer and Golder were a joy to behold. Golder, especially, was able to put his expressive body language to good use, eliciting knowing chuckles from the crowd with a single raised eyebrow or flick of his hips. 

The jokes came thick and fast all evening and were timed to perfection, with excellent direction from Matthew Kerslake. Every member of the large ensemble cast was on top form, and many chorus members fulfilled several roles, so that the show really felt as though it had a cast of thousands. One slight drawback though, was that the space sometimes felt crowded. However, this was more to do with the technical setting rather than the play itself. Kerslake's production would certainly have benefited from a larger stage. 

The set was well-designed and scene changes were executed discreetly by an excellent team of stage hands. The music was well-paced and lively and the costumes were breath-taking in their construction. The show girl with a German sausage mounted on her head dress was a personal favourite of mine. On occasion, some of the singing was a little muffled, but overall the projection was great and Mel Brooks' fantastic material was brought to life with relish and wit by a cast of top class performers. 

Congratulations to all those involved for a wonderful production!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Moonrise Kingdom - Film Review

Spoiler: Moonrise Kingdom is quirky. And I mean, ridiculously quirky.

There are children dressed as birds; there's a scout troupe who spend their days making fireworks and racing motorbikes; there's a storm of biblical proportions which gives the story all the menace of a run to the corner shop in the rain.

Bruce Willis wears goofy NHS spectacles.

It's almost as if Wes Anderson wrote a list of kooky situations, and checked them off as he added them to the screen play:

What if a small boy was wounded with left-handed scissors? (check)
What if Edward Norton wore a scout uniform complete with knee socks and woggle? (check)
What if Tilda Swinton's character only referred to herself in the third person? (check)

But there is something instantly charming about Moonrise Kingdom which means that, despite the self-concious surrealism, you really do care about the narrative. From the outset you will find yourself enchanted by the sparse sixties setting and the plight, not just of the two teenage protagonists, but of all the characters in this idiosyncratic New England Community.

The relationship between Sam and Suzy, who resolve to run away from their respective domestic problems and live together as man and wife, is tender and completely believable. Their blossoming romance is expressed through furtive glances and inarticulate conversations that really capture what it is to be thirteen and in love; awash with feelings but without the maturity and vocabulary to express them.

The ensemble cast of big names compliment the narrative beautifully, and we see fantastic performances from Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. Harvey Keitel makes a memorable appearance as the Scout Commander but my favourite character has to be Bob Balaban's narrator, a bobble-hatted and be-mittened beardy bloke who pops up at regular intervals and places the film in its historical context. Some might say that this is a slightly lazy way to tell the story, a 'tell' rather than 'show'. But the narration is never at odds with the plot and these strange asides which inform us of the air pressure or give us information on the Native American pathways that cross the island only add to the haphazard charm of the film. 

The cinematography is fantastic, littered with odd camera angles and sweeping shots that work in perfect synchrony with the tone of the film. The humour is tentative but there are enough laugh-out-loud moments to keep even the most po-faced cinema-goer amused. And though the motivations of the characters could be called into question by the more pedantic viewers, I found it easy to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the film for what it is: a delightfully strange ninety minute pleasure cruise, and one I'd be happy to ride again.

Quirky is not a dirty word.

Friday, 8 June 2012


They reclaimed the land, as
we always knew they would.
The revolution came slowly,
but by degrees, they engulfed
us, so slowly that we barely
noticed the decline. Till the
concrete was subsumed and
the roads faded, as scars do,
cracked and broken by the
push of weeds. Leaves
unfurled in protest, flags of
warning, green against the
darkening skies. No longer
satisfied with subjugation,
the plants rebelled. Gentle tendrils
prized us apart, and we crumbled.
Slowly, so slowly, those malevolent
vines sought to strangle us. And
we were dismantled. Now each
street lamp is smothered in
Jurassic ferns. With lights
extinguished, those redundant
bulbs gaze out like blinded eyes.
And inch by inch, those tangled
stems will come for me. So I lay,
my face pressed against the damp,
dark earth, the scent of summer on
my tongue. They have numbered
all my bones. So I wait. And I
remember when all of this was

Sunday, 3 June 2012


The pandas at Edinburgh Zoo
Were drunk again on blue Bamboo
Fumbling ensued
To sire a brood
Though they'd never been taught how to screw.

Keen but completely naïve
In techniques to make pandas conceive
They tried every which way
Through all the week days
They were exhausted by Saturday eve.

They just couldn't get the act right
The flames of passion were slow to ignite
They tumbled, wrestled and cried
Each gained two blackened eyes
A blur of fur moving in black and white.

Impeded by those tourists staring
And the zoo keepers gleefully leering
You know, it's hard to perform
When you're under such scorn
And each time you embrace you hear cheering.

I think that you'd falter too
If you were forced to have sex in a zoo
For a crowd of voyeurs
Like a porn star with fur
I'd fake a headache, wouldn't you?