Tag Archives: comedy

All’s Well That Trends Well

To celebrate the recent 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, one independent drama company is planning a series of the great man’s plays with a modern twist.

The Millennial Theatre Company for Millennials is situated in a trendy borough of London that is home to a plethora of pop-up art galleries, theatres, organic coffee shops and confused, angry locals slowly being airbrushed out of existence by the unyielding yoke of gentrification.

Indeed this chic quarter is so fashionable that it foregoes the archaic nominative traditions that have historically been used to label residents of an area as being residents of that particular area, and is often referred to by those in the know as simply The Borough with No Name.

The company’s innovative re-imaginings of the Bard’s work are designed to attract a whole new audience of young, vibrant trendsetters to the world of community theatre. Its tagline of “Drama: It’s Dramatic!” underlines the simple approach of its director, Fiach Atticus Higgins-Collins.

“Young people want to be entertained,” says Higgins-Collins. “Shakespeare’s works have a lot of extraneous nuance and subtext that tends to confuse people. We’ve just focused on keeping the drama, and that’s what our theatre is all about: Drama.”

The last word is whispered with the sincerity of a true artist at work. His ground-breaking vision is one of theatre as social network, in which the audience plays an active part in proceedings.

“They’re encouraged to Tweet their reactions scene by scene, to live blog the plays, to put pictures on Instagram,” explains the director.

“The audience is our portal to the digital world,” he says with a theatrical and rather complex hand gesture that lasts several seconds.

So what can people hope for from yet another modern Shakespeare adaptation?

“Whatever happens it’s going to be dramatic,” promises Higgins-Collins, “very dramatic.”

To give us a taste of what we can expect the company has kindly provided the following guide to the programme of plays, with a brief synopsis of each one.

~

Hamlet

The King of Denmark is having problems with paranormal activity in his royal residence. He needs to put his mind at ease so he can get back to being fiscally prudent and enjoying football and expensive beer in moderation. So who’s he gonna call? That’s right – Ghost Büsters!

Not to be confused with any existent trademarked fictional paranormal detectives, Ghost Büsters are Scandinavia’s premier exorcism specialists. Which of course means that they have their own reality TV show on Danish satellite channel Kanal Umlaut.

Follow the exploits of the team, Lars, Kristian, Lars Kristian and Magnusson Lars Magnusson as they investigate the ghoulish goings-on at Castle Hamlet. Will they succeed in ridding the place of its spectral intruders before the important visit of the Norwegian Minister for Fishing? What supernatural device does Lars Kristian find in the Queen’s underwear drawer? And which of the house servants comes under increasing suspicion as the full story is revealed in a devastating and dramatic denouement? To be there or not to be there – there is no question!

Romeo and Juliet

This timeless love story is brought into the digital age in this brave adaptation. Romeo is bored with meeting the same dull, vacuous girls on Tinder, and is feeling hopeless. When he comes across Juliet’s profile, however, it’s love at first swipe.

The two share stories, laughs and animal memes as Romeo falls deeper in love with this seemingly perfect woman. Her answer to every question is exactly the response he had hoped for; every text is witty and self-deprecating; she shares every one of his hobbies, interests and rather vanilla sexual fantasies. Romeo is besotted – he must meet her in person.

However the frisson of romance is dissolved in a heartbreaking and dramatic twist when Juliet turns out to be a Google drone that had been deployed for marketing purposes in order to improve their targeted advertising algorithms. Romeo is crushed, and after sharing some valuable insurance policy price-comparing information, and a somewhat clumsy yet beautiful kiss, the two part ways forever.

Elizabeth II

Nobody wants to hear about a boring old bunch of Richards, Henrys and Johns so the Bard’s oeuvre of historical plays have been replaced with a majestic and moving tribute to the current Queen and her family. In fact most of the play centres on Prince William and Princess Catherine, since Twitter polls have shown that they’re the most popular royals among most key demographics. The Queen and Prince Philip are actually quite far down the list behind all of their great-grandchildren, some of their pets and even a few of Princess Charlotte’s teddy bears.

There is also the fact that a large number of millennials are somewhat hazy on the particulars of the monarchy; many of them think that the Queen is either David Cameron’s mum, or the woman who invented paper money.

The action of the play, therefore, is mostly based around the morning of an OK Magazine photo shoot in William and Catherine’s stately mansion. The drama unfolds as our protagonists are forced to deal with lighting problems, make-up shortages, and a delightfully whimsical last-minute wardrobe change after a hilarious (and dramatic) juice spillage.

The play also presents us with several tense sub-plots such as Prince George’s traumatic flashbacks to his brave battle against chickenpox, and Princess Charlotte’s touching personal struggle to learn how to use a spoon to eat her yoghurt.

Othello

Othello is a Syrian refugee who attempts to flee his war-torn homeland with his family to start a new life in Europe. The story follows his heartbreaking struggle in the face of adversity.

Othello’s journey begins with a narrow escape from death in his country’s bloody civil war, which impels him to seek a new life for his loved ones. The family overcome many physical, emotional, financial and political obstacles on their odyssey to the safe haven of Europe, enduring oppression, rebuttal and failure at every turn.

Eventually Othello and his family are successfully processed and granted asylum to live and work in Europe. Many months after they had set out on the long road to meet their uncertain future, they finally arrive at their new home: a sleepy English seaside village that reminds Othello of his grandfather’s home town which he used to visit as a boy. He is relieved beyond words, beyond emotions; relieved, content and even a little proud of what he has achieved for his family.

Their travails along the way have made them stronger and brought them closer to each other than they had ever thought possible. They wake at last to a dawn full of promise and possibility.

Unfortunately two weeks later Britain votes to leave the EU and they are promptly sent home.

Macbeth

This tale of a married couple seduced and corrupted by the promise of political power is transposed to the more glamorous setting of the US for a contemporary audience, because nobody cares about Scottish independence.

The gullible, power-hungry Macbeth manages to get elected President through nefarious means, while his cold, calculating wife is the real power behind the throne.

Years after her husband’s career has finished, the cunning Lady Macbeth plots a return to power. Spurred on by her ruthless ambition, hurt by the indiscretions of her husband and supported by supremely powerful vested interests, this reptilian warmonger looks set to claim the Presidency for herself, with only a court Fool standing in her way on the other side of the political divide.

Enter the brave Macduff, a plain-speaking, honest merchant, and a member of the Macbeths’ own court. His is a hopeless task as he attempts to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden and defy the might of the Macbeth dynasty. However his wit, intelligence and integrity convince the people of the realm that the last thing they need is another Macbeth on the throne, and the vile harridan is defeated.

King Lear

Juxtaposing this classic tale of human suffering and familial conflict with the trappings of the modern entertainment industry, this adaptation sees the Lear family take their dispute to the ultimate arbiter of fairness and justice in the land: Mr. Jeremy Kyle.

The absurdly wealthy landowner Lear, a mean-tempered, conservative war veteran, is terminally ill and wishes to divide his estate among his three daughters. Regan, the eldest, is married to a successful City broker and has raised a family of her own. Goneril, the middle child, is a partner at one of the country’s top law firms. Both appear on the show to fulsomely profess their love and respect for their father.

Cordelia, the youngest, has always been different, and has not spoken to her father for many years. She identifies as a non-binary pangender individual who lives an austere, self-sufficient life on an alpaca farm in Cumbria with her life partner Esperanza, with whom she has adopted six children, each from a different African country. They earn a little extra money by making Anarchist Party woollen jumpers that they sell online.

The explosive and dramatic showdown between estranged father and daughter is one you won’t want to miss. Can Lear and Cordelia grow to accept each other before it’s too late? Will Jeremy’s sage judgement help Lear to overcome his heteronormative bias and embrace his little girl’s life choices? Or will the drama be too much to keep this dysfunctional family from crumbling apart? Drama!

The Tempest

Climate change is having a more egregious impact on our planet as each year goes by, and this retelling serves as a prophetic warning about its dangers.

As prevailing weather conditions become more erratic around the globe, the Pacific Ocean becomes one of the most turbulent regions, being struck almost daily by violent storms. One fateful day a super storm with immensely powerful wind speed hits just a few miles off the US coastline, causing a massive waterspout.

This spout causes thousand of the sea’s most fearsome (and most dramatic) creatures, great white sharks, to be pulled out of the ocean depths and deposited onto the streets of downtown LA, resulting in chaotic scenes of epic proportions.

* The Millennial Company’s legal team has advised that this synopsis be accompanied by a reminder that the company’s recent legal battle with the Syfy channel was settled out of court, and that the details of said case shall remain private by special court order.

Elizabeth II Part II

This one hasn’t been written yet, but it will just be the most popular characters from Part I repeating the catchphrases that trended the most over and over again.


Don’t You Know About The Word?

A disability rights campaigner has written an article criticising comedian Ricky Gervais for his use of offensive language on his Twitter page. Personally I find it more offensive that someone of Gervais’s calibre has succumbed to this grammatically bereft conveyor belt of inanity from people who have unlearnt the art of the inner monologue. If texting has become the graveyard of the English language then surely Twitter is the all-consuming hellfire that expunges all manner of syntax, spelling and original thought with its demonic lust for poorly expressed clichés, unashamed product placement and the most profound abuse of the exclamation mark since it was fondled in the copy room by an over-zealous semi-colon at the punctuation Christmas party.

The word that drew the ire of the writer in question is ‘mong’, a word of which Gervais does seem to be quite fond. While the word is basically comparable to ‘idiot’ these days, it does have a history of use as a pejorative term for the disabled. It stems from the Mongoloid classification ascribed to sufferers of Down Syndrome, a term coined by John Langdon Down himself, after whom the condition is named. Down saw similarities in the facial features of his patients and those of the vast ethnic group of Asians labelled simply as Mongolians at the time. Given that the prevailing ethnic theory in those days was something in the region of “White man is God, everyone else is sub-human”, I suppose we can forgive John his appallingly racist choice of nomenclature. Political correctness has since seen the word relegated to a relic of a simpler time, until of course people like Gervais use a derivative of it and somebody takes offence.

The gradient of offence taken at the use of certain terms is interesting. In the above article the author cites the following question from a blogger as the most sensible reaction to Gervais’s use of the word: “Just a thought, but if you think ‘mong’ only means ‘idiot’, why not just use the word ‘idiot’?” I’m sure Ricky does use the word idiot, as we all do quite regularly. In fact one of his shows is called An Idiot Abroad, in which the eponymous idiot travels the globe and does idiotic things. Of course, anyone who is familiar with Dr. Henry H. Goddard’s classification system for mental retardation that was drawn up in the early 1900’s (and who isn’t?) will know that ‘idiot’ is also a term that was used to describe a mental disability. The word was used to describe a person with an IQ of less than 30; ‘imbecile’ and ‘moron’, other words used frequently today, were also terms included in the system.

So why are these words acceptable? Probably because they were used so often that their original connotations were forgotten, something that is likely to also happen with the word mong if it is allowed to proliferate and become part of an everyday lexicon. Censorship and labelling words as offensive do nothing but draw attention to their original meanings, which would otherwise become unimportant as the word evolves. People from older generations may be shocked to hear young people calling each other ‘retards’ or ‘faggots’ but the fact is that these insults are used in a completely new context, for the most part. It is only on the rare occasions that they are used vindictively in relation to disability or sexual orientation that the debate over their use becomes complicated, and any offence taken can be fully warranted.

Inevitably this episode has raised the issue of censorship of comedians, specifically the question of what, if anything, should be a taboo subject where comedy is concerned. I would be of the opinion that everything is available for parody as long as it’s more funny than it is offensive. Whether it’s religion, race, disability or whatever, by all means use the subject for comedy if you can make it funny. People don’t have a divine right not to be offended and they can simply ignore any comedy that doesn’t appeal to their sensibilities. Any hateful comments masquerading as comedy that simply target these groups or individuals won’t be funny, and are therefore just offensive. There’s a not-so-fine line between the brave, intelligent satire of someone like Louis CK, and the brazen, wilfully ignorant bleatings of the likes of Jim Davidson.

As for words like mong that still upset certain people, hopefully their original meanings will become obsolete with continued use. At this stage as a society we should have moved past the point of mere words being allowed to cause any kind of distress, no matter what their connotations are. Or maybe we’ll always have certain words whose ability to insult and injure is inescapable. Perhaps some of today’s nondescript words will one day be regarded as insults of the highest order. ‘Bieber’ may yet become an outrageously inappropriate slur hurled at simple young men with learning difficulties. The term ‘Glee’ will be used to taunt roving gangs of homosexuals. But worst of all, people whose opinions, and indeed existence, are deemed to be entirely irrelevant will forever be known as ‘Tweeters’. I’d take mong over that any day.


The One Where They Stop Showing Repeats

E4 has this week finally brought to an end its constant airing of the beloved sitcom Friends, which has been a mainstay of the channel since the series ended seven years ago. Despite being shown on a daily basis, the repeats often drew audiences of hundreds of thousands, outperforming many of the channel’s newer programmes. The show will now be put out to pasture in the sitcom retirement village that is Comedy Central, where it can live out its last years attending arts and crafts classes with the Cheers gang, listening to the Sex and the City girls moan about their osteoporosis and trying to avoid bumping into anyone from Everybody Loves Raymond at Friday night bingo.

Although the quality dipped slightly towards the end of its ten season run, Friends remains one of the best of its kind to date. The characters were well rounded and believable, the scripts incredibly witty and well-written, and the show had as much heart and pathos as it did slapstick humour and sharp one-liners. Its influence on an entire generation’s views on everything from life, love and friendship to poultry ownership, being on a break and divorce (again) is immeasurable.

One of the reasons for its enduring popularity was the variety of characters that people could relate to. Cynical, sarcastic types could appreciate Chandler’s acerbic wit, Jewish palaeontologists could aspire to be like Ross, and extremely irritating people could enjoy Phoebe’s quirkiness. The early seasons, especially, had some classic moments (which anyone who recognises the name ‘Ms. Chanandler Bong’ can attest to), but the quality of the last few series fluctuated from episode to episode. Ross seemed to have cracked completely to the point where he should have been committed, Joey had gone from being a bit dim to displaying cartoonish levels of stupidity, and Rachel stopped wearing short, tight skirts. The finale, however, was a suitably funny, heartwarming and satisfactory ending for the gang, a rarity among long-running TV shows.

In recent years the bewilderingly popular How I Met Your Mother seems to have become the successor to Friends. It deals with a group of friends living in New York, is hugely commercially successful and is endlessly quotable. It is also, however, a far inferior product. The acting is fairly hammy, the writing lacks subtlety and Bob Saget’s narration is overly sentimental. The characters, aside from not being very interesting, are very one-dimensional and therefore more difficult to relate to. They exist simply to say their lines, as opposed to their dialogue existing to tell us more about them. It is a show that has adopted all the elements of the sitcom but has failed to become more than the sum of its parts. It is also quite clear that the writers have let the original conceit for the show become more of a hindrance than anything, resulting in a lot of unnecessary exposition, as well as some unexplained loose ends.

This sitcom-by-numbers approach is not rare these days. The most popular sitcom of recent years is Two and a Half Men, a programme consisting entirely of silicone-enhanced morons sitting in bed with Charlie, feeding him poorly written lines that he can spin into unfunny and woodenly delivered innuendo, with the odd bumbling interjection from the fat kid, the joke apparently being that he has severe learning difficulties. Maybe the only reason for the show’s popularity was the likeability of its star, Charlie Sheen, a veritable hero among much of the college generation in the US. And what could be more heroic than a crack-smoking, anti-Semitic wife-beater who has lost custody of his children and seems to permanently reside in the full grip of a psychotic break? What a card.

The good news is that there are still plenty of brilliant sitcoms being made. The likes of 30 Rock, Modern Family and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are very successful examples. The less mainstream comedies still suffer though, as evidenced by the fact that Arrested Development, probably the funniest and cleverest television show of all time, was cancelled due to lack of viewers. It is no coincidence that more intelligently written shows, or the ones that exhibit a bit of dry humour as opposed to people being slapped with fish or shouting tired catchphrases at each other, are less popular with viewers.

Unfortunately there are only a handful of people willing to put in the effort to make a Frasier or a Curb Your Enthusiasm when they know that the high-brow humour will alienate much of their prospective audience. Hopefully the sitcom will continue to thrive so that for every sub-par, derivative new series that becomes the next big thing, there are a dozen other small, intelligently funny shows that don’t just appeal to the lowest common denominator. As for E4 taking a break from Friends, we’ll just have to learn to cope without it. Look on the bright side, at least they’re not showing Joey.