improvised theatre

June 25, 2006

We've moved!

Uncertain now longer, James and I are now blogging our thoughts on politics, life and (mostly) Doctor Who at our new website Talk To Rex, where you'll also be able to find information about our book (as if you haven't already heard enough).

God, now the Doctor Who website is growling at me. What's that about?

On the Uncertainty Division front, we have a new blog, Made Up Words, which we'll be writing with other members of the group on theatre, art, life, paint, 2B pencils and anything else that takes our fancy while we're there.

Which one will we put an entry about cookery in? Or dating? Or dating through cookery? Dunno. So we're still uncertain a little bit.

Posted by James Aylett at 2:35 PM on June 25, 2006 (read with comments)

June 22, 2006

Technology gripe

It's been one of those days when Microsoft Word insists on completing words for me whenever I hit enter, so that I keep looking up to find words (or just randomly inserted dates) that I had no intention of leaving there.

I know there is a way to turn off this feature, but I don't have the time or patience to look for it. In fact, the time would probably be made up for by the time I'd save going back over my documents and deleting things, but for some reason I felt the time would be better used blogging about the problem instead.

Posted by James Lark at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2006 (read with comments)

June 05, 2006


Ministry of Sound, having spent over two weeks being silent and not shipping my order, finally bothered (once I kicked them via email) to send out ... a completely different model. Which costs less than the one I paid for.

To make matters worse, when I tried to email them just now, the email bounced, with no indicated reason. Just: "Failed".

I'm consequently now very anti-MoS, which is a shame because about a month ago I was very pro- them. Idiots.

Posted by James Aylett at 1:56 PM on June 05, 2006 (read with comments)

June 04, 2006

Squashes and other ways of feeling better

Early last month, in an effort to cheer me up, one of my friends sent me a card, inside which was written:

I asked the boys at work what to get for a man in the circumstances under which you would get a girl flowers/chocolates/pampering stuff.
They helpfully suggested a stripper.
I thought the next best thing was a butternut squash and some dead budgies. Well, it was that or the backside of a pig.
Anyway, Jack and I think you are fantastic, and he sends his love also, though he is a little sad about the budgies.

The front of the card has some pears clustered around murdered budgies, and a glowering butternut squash looking at them. The caption is: "The boss walked into the meeting room and reiterated that budgets must be slashed...".

Which did, indeed, cheer me up (although I bet a stripper would have done, too).

But that wasn't the end. A couple of days later I got a small package through the letterbox that turned out to contain a miniature pot of jam, with a note saying "in continuation of not getting you a stripper, here is some jam we stole from a hotel".

This was swiftly followed by another package, with a Lily O'Briens chocolate crispy heart inside ("originally I stole two of these for you, but then I ate one"). It was around this time that I felt more cheered up than a stripper would ever have managed.

Finally (just before watching Mission: Impossible 3), she gave me a pair of Twinings fruit teabags, and ... a fork. It was around this time that I started worrying for her sanity, and wondered if I should send her a stripper.

Posted by James Aylett at 6:26 PM on June 04, 2006 (read with comments)

Internet art

In the absence of a real entry from me (due to tiredness brought on by eviscerating my garden - although no actual viscera, unlike last time when I discovered a dead bird in amongst the undergrowth), check out some Internet art.

People who grew up in the 80s might also like to shudder at Los 80s - someone has too much time on their hands, but for once it isn't me.

Posted by James Aylett at 3:19 PM on June 04, 2006 (read with comments)

May 30, 2006

Lessons from my youth

At the moment I’m staying in the hilly and damp Cotswolds for the occasion of my brother’s wedding. The place I once called "home".

Since I left "home", my parents appear to have invested in a whole load of technology I really would have quite liked when I lived here. The most recent acquisition is a DVD recorder/player, something I have in common with Jane Espenson (aside from the fact that I’ve taken to blogging about writing using my own work as examples, to which this entry will be no exception). So I have finally been able to transfer my deteriorating home videos onto DVD where they will last for considerably longer, barring accidents or deliberate sabotage.

By "home videos" I don’t mean hours of holiday footage and my sister cleaning out the rabbit. There was some of that, but from the moment I left the womb I have wanted to make movies and when I bought a camcorder after years of saving up pennies (literally), movies is what I started making. Beginning with the lovely but oddly-named Children of Blibble (my surrealist homage to Toy Story), moving through various Robin Hood, Star Wars and James Bond parodies filmed with my younger cousins, and onto an extremely pretentious hour-long film made on holiday with my A-level friends (wait for it...As the Outside Temperature Rises), I painstakingly put together about fifteen hours' worth of films, each one edited mostly in-camera then lovingly scored and mixed as far as was possible with a VCR. (I even wrote and recorded theme songs for the Bond films...even for a teenager, I must have had a lot of spare time on my hands.)

None of them are exactly masterpieces, but I swear I learned a hell of a lot about making films – the ambitious sequel to my first opus, Blibble 2000, seems remarkably pacey and well shot given my lack of equipment. fact that it was shot entirely in my bedroom with a load of worn toys. No really – it even has a Back to the Future-esque time paradox, all the more impressive given that they were all made up as I went along. It is clear to me that even six or seven years ago, improvising nonsense before I knew anything about improvising, I still knew more about structuring stories than Russell T Davies does now.

Which probably says more about him than it does about me.

Being something of a completist, I have also spent many hours searching through old videos for other unique material I might rescue, knowing that even before I bought a camcorder, I very occasionally managed to borrow one. And this has yielded some fascinating footage. Mostly just plain bizarre, like a video of a fourteen-year-old James Lark miming to a recording of "Christopher Robin is saying his prayers" in an astonishingly weird parody of Kylie. But particularly interesting is half an hour of sketches I recorded at the tender age of fifteen with my friend Matthew.

The sketches are mostly very dull. There are a few moments of enjoyable visual humour, like a sped up video of two puppets fighting (oddly amusing) and a "public information video" about how to make your camera angles interesting, which is clearly copied directly from a Monty Python sketch. And lots of falling off deck chairs, for no apparent reason.

But on the whole, what it reminds me of is an episode of A Bit of Fry and Laurie. By which I don’t mean for a minute that Fry and Laurie are mostly very dull – they’re not – and it is clear that three of the things they had which we didn't were Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and a script.

But in format it's very similar, which is hardly surprising because back then A Bit of Fry and Laurie was the sketch show I had seen most often and most enjoyed. And I think I'm right in saying that this was before the short-sketch-short-attention-span format of The Fast Show had made its impact. Certainly it hadn't on me. So apart from a few brief flashes of randomness, my youthful offering is a series of sketches which all last for about six minutes. As I say, without scripts or any discernable talent for improvisation, the result is far from entertaining.

But what the sketches do have – and this again I think is very Fry and Laurie – is some sort of basic concept, or idea, which is the reason for the sketch and occasionally makes their openings quite funny. There's a scene in which a German tries to mug a Frenchman and because neither speak the other's language they try to conduct the mugging in patchy English. There's one where I march towards the house in a bowler hat and ring the doorbell; Matthew answers it.

Me: (angrily) I understand you wish to marry my daughter!
Matthew: (bemused) Er…no.
Me: (pause) Oh, right. (pause) She's very nice...

If only we'd had the presence of mind to end it there, it would have worked.

And we probably should have been able to see that's what it needed, not least because the best moment is a twenty second sketch: we're eating breakfast, I say "pass the cereal, will you?", Matthew picks up the cereal, does a rugby pass, I catch it, run down the garden and score a try. Again, it’s hardly comedy genius, but it’s unexpected and even made me chuckle.

If I was Jane Espenson I'd try to turn all this into a piece of advice, so I suppose my conclusion is this: if you can't write, keep your sketches short and you might get away with it.

Or more usefully, I suppose it comes back to the golden rule of narrative improv which is to finish your scene when you’ve made your point and not drag it out for another four minutes.

Posted by James Lark at 11:57 PM on May 30, 2006 (read with comments)

May 25, 2006


The central line station at Oxford Circus has been lit and decorated to resemble the set of a relentlessly gritty 70s post-apocalyptic nightmare-vision-of-the-future-with-second-world-war-imagery-thrown-in film.

The people using the station appear to have taken this onboard and are very much the faceless, dehumanised survivors crowded together in the barren underground remains of the mostly uninhabitable planet.

Go visit it, if you want to see the most depressing sight London has to offer.

Posted by James Lark at 12:10 AM on May 25, 2006 (read with comments)

May 21, 2006

Amanda Palmer agrees with me about burlesque

Although from the performance art scene, she is wary of being lumped in with the trendy return of burlesque that has been catching on in London, at least.

"I was aware of it, but not really involved," Palmer explains. "Most of the acts were really poor. A lot of people in the scene say it's great to see the revival, but depressing to see a whole slew of girls say, I can take my clothes off, that sounds like fun."

(From Friday's Independent.)

...and if the lead singer of the Dresden Dolls agrees with me, I must be right.

Posted by James Lark at 7:55 PM on May 21, 2006 (read with comments)