Saturday, 31 March 2012

Mr Atoz

The photo below depicts Mr Atoz, the aptly-named librarian played by Ian Wolfe in the Star Trek episode All Our Yesterdays.

When I first became aware of the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, Mr Atoz immediately sprang to mind. I've never quite gotten around to taking part, but this year is different and tomorrow I will be posting the first of 26 posts in April, one for each letter of the alphabet.

The organisers of the challenge have recently been emphasising brevity, but sadly not until after I'd written and scheduled most of my posts. I've still got a few more to write, but I'm determined that if I start it I should finish it and brevity be damned.

Wish me luck...

Thursday, 29 March 2012

“This Was A Great Time And Place...”

So says Tom Paris in Part One of Star Trek: Voyager's Future's End on an unplanned visit to 1996 (see below), he continues "and we're getting to see it first hand" before telling his superior officer to take his shirt off. It's very odd.

1996 was the year that Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov at chess for the first time, the massacre in Dunblane took place, the element Copernicium was discovered and NASA announced that a meteorite thought to originate from Mars contained evidence of primitive life-forms.

1996 was also the year that I started my GCSE's.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1996:

Danny Boyle's adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel has a real energy to it, the screenplay is inventive, the soundtrack is fantastic and the cast are uniformly brilliant. I really hope Boyle and Ewan McGregor can put their differences behind them and make Porno. Here's the trailer.

Jon Favreau and Doug Limon's tale of Hollywood also-rans features some excruciating telephone manner and a great performance from Heather Graham. Here's the trailer.

Bottle Rocket
Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson's over earnest heist movie is a joy from start to finish. Here's the trailer.

Hard Eight
P. T. Anderson's directorial debut is a great little film and Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are wonderful. Here's the trailer.

Star Trek: First Contact
The eighth Star Trek movie has fantastic action sequences with the best horror bad guys. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner lead the charge in the best and most balanced of The Next Generation films that gives each member of the USS Enterprise-E crew a decent slice of the action. Alfre Woodard's Lily is a fantastic point of view character, James Cromwell's Cochrane is wonderfully endearing and Alice Krige's Borg Queen is just the right mix of enigmatic, sexy and scary, while the cameos from Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips and Dwight Schultz are lovely. Threatening the birth of Star Trek itself, the scale of the story is epic and yet the relationships between the characters are visceral and emotional. Here's the trailer.

Everyone Says I Love You
Woody Allen does musical and with largely untrained voices and reappropriated songs (notably 'Hooray For Captain Spaulding' in French), but also great visual gags and wonderful performances from Allen, Julia, Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda, Natasha Lyonne and Tim Roth. The Marx Brothers Christmas party and the revelation that right-wing opinion is a mental illness are very funny.

Doctor Who: The TV Movie
Paul McGann's solo television outing gave us an interesting hybrid between the Who-we-knew and a monsterless Sliders/The X Files style show which succeeded on many fronts. Sylvester McCoy bows out gracefully and McGann, Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso are all wonderful in this attempt to take the good Doctor stateside with a TV movie that isn't as bad as its reputation.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Homefront & Paradise Lost; Crossfire; Return To Grace; Bar Association; Accession; Rules Of Engagement; Hard Time; Shattered Mirror; For The Cause; To The Death; The Quickening; Body Parts; Broken Link; Apocalypse Rising; The Ship; ...Nor The Battle To The Strong; The Assignment; Trials And Tribble-ations; Things Past; The Ascent; Rapture
The fourth season continues with Earthbound two-parter Homefront and Paradise Lost and the change of scenery heightens the paranoia and makes the Patriot Act-esque selling-out-paradise-in-order-to-save-it sweeping security measures all the more terrifying. Brock Peters, Robert Foxworth and Eisenberg are fantastic Odo is caught in the Crossfire as Kira and Shakaar begin a relationship and it's good to see the constable a little out of control. Return To Grace is another great Kira and Dukat episode and one which sees him become a terrorist with great performances from Nana Visitor and Marc Alaimo. On the face of it, Bar Association simply puts the Ferengi spin on trade union relations and mines it for comic potential, but actually this episode still manages to make its point about exploitation. The caste-based discrimination at the heart of Accession varies from comical to terrifying and sees Sisko reassessing the mantle of Emissary. Ron Canada is fantastic in the courtroom drama, Rules Of Engagement and the fourth wall rattling testimonies are a very nice touch. O'Brien does Hard Time and the performances of cellmates Colm Meaney and Craig Wasson are fantastic. Shattered Mirror sees the Mirror Universe from Jake's point of view, mirror Garak is at his weaselly best, the space battle sequences are incredibly impressive and the final scene very touching. For The Cause is great and misleads the audience expertly and both Kenneth Marshall and Penny Johnson are wonderful. To The Death is action-packed, Jeffrey Combs makes a fantastic debut as Weyoun and the insights into the culture of the Jem'Hadar make them al the more intimidating. The guest cast and Alexander Siddig are uniformly excellent as Bashir is forced to learn humility the hard way in The Quickening. The dialogue between Quark and Rom is all brilliant as Body Parts tests the former in a new an unexpected way and the baby transplant subplot is an innovative solution. The season finale, Broken Link, is a great ensemble piece that deals with Odo's crimes against his people, his sentence is an intriguing prospect and the episode ends on a really great cliffhanger.
The fifth season begins with Apocalypse Rising which gets the Changeling infiltrator theme back on track, the scene discussing the finer points of Klingon etiquette is very funny and the reveal of the Founder is great. Sisko captures The Ship and there are casualties as he tries to keep it, but the tensions caused by the discussions of death as the life of F.J. Rio's Muñiz hangs in the balance are great. ...Nor The Battle To The Strong is Star Trek at its bleakest: life on the front line, self-inflicted wounds, the trench humour and the episode is made all the bleaker by shown through Jake's eyes. Alien possession can often be unconvincing, but The Assignment succeeds in being very creepy mostly due to brilliant performances from Meaney, Rosalind Chao and Max Grodénchik. Trials And Tribble-ations is a fantastic love letter to the original Star Trek. Things Past is another visit to Terok Nor and the scenes between Terry Farrell and Alaimo are wonderful, while Garak's affront and Quark's staff relations are very funny. Odo and Quark are forced to make The Ascent and it's a joy to watch them bring out the worst in each other like DS9's version of The Odd Couple…on the side a mountain. Sisko has visions of the future in a Rapture and is torn between his role as the Emissary and his Starfleet mission to bring Bajor into the Federation. He does something none of the other Captains would do. He fails…and the show is all the better for it.

Star Trek: Voyager: Prototype; Alliances; Threshold; Meld; Dreadnought; Death Wish; Lifesigns; Investigations; Deadlock; The Thaw; Tuvix; Resolutions; Basics; Flashback; The Swarm; False Profits; Remember; Future's End; The Q And The Grey; Macrocosm
The second season continues with hard SF episode Prototype which asks all the right ethical questions, features robots galore and a great performance from Roxann Biggs-Dawson. The Kazon storyline deepens as Janeway goes against her better judgement to form Alliances in an episode which sees her at odds with almost everyone at some stage and a brilliant reference to The Godfather, Part III. The much-maligned Threshold is actually a lot of fun. Tuvok undergoes a Meld with Suder, a murderous psychopath and Tim Russ and Brad Dourif are fantastic as both are affected by the personality of the other. Biggs-Dawson gets another opportunity to spend an episode talking to an artificial intelligence and herself in great tense cold war-esque thriller Dreadnought. Death Wish is very, very funny and very, very literate with the very thorny ethical dilemma of assisted suicide at its core, the arguments on both sides are very compelling and John De Lancie and Gerrit Graham are both fantastic as Q. The Doctor falls in love in the very touching Lifesigns and Robert Picardo gets to stretch the limits of his character. Ethan Phillips is great as Neelix turns journalist as the mutiny of Tom Paris comes to a head in Investigations and A Briefing With Neelix is a very funny device that allows it to unfold very effectively. Deadlock is like a great SF disaster movie as Voyager is duplicated and the two ships have very different fortunes. Michael McKean and Picardo are fantastic in The Thaw, a hilarious, surreal and terrifying episode built around a great SF concept. Tuvok and Neelix are merged into a single individual and Tom Wright is excellent as Tuvix, in an episode that is easily one of the best uses of SF to explore an ethical dilemma. Resolutions is a great ensemble piece that explores the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay, whilst Voyager must continue without them and the A and B stories come together nicely. The season finale is the first part of Basics sees the welcome return of Martha Hackett, Anthony DeLongis and Dourif, Chakotay's confusion about Seska's baby and his scene his father are wonderful, the Kazon attack that exploits Seska's knowledge of Janeway is very clever and the episode ends on a great cliffhanger.
The second part kicks off the third season and Picardo and Dourif are wonderful together aboard ship while the crew marooned on a hostile planet. Tuvok has a Flashback to the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in a very inventive alternative to time travel and it's great to see George Takei back as Captain Sulu. Voyager encounters intriguing aliens that are more alien than usual in The Swarm as the Doctor begins to lose his memory, Picardo plays two holograms and is as great as ever while Jennifer Lien gives a lovely assured performance. False Profits is a very funny Ferengi episode. Biggs-Dawson is fantastic as Torres Remembers someone else's memories of a holocaust and its subsequent cover up. The USS Voyager is transported back to Earth in 1996 in Future's End, Ed Begley, Jr. makes a great villain, Sarah Silverman works well with McNeill, Russ and Picardo and the two-parter is huge fun. Mulgrew, de Lancie and Suzie Plakson are fantastic in Q civil war tale The Q And The Grey which once again succeeds in being both literate and a lot of fun as well. Macrocosm is a change of pace and practically recasts Janeway as Ripley from the Alien films.

Karaoke & Cold Lazarus
The final works of Dennis Potter are intriguing. Albert Finney, Roy Hudd, Liz Smith, Francis De La Tour, Henry Goodman and Diane Ladd are all wonderful in these two interlinked mini-series.

Father Ted: Hell; Think Fast, Father Ted; Tentacles of Doom; The Old Grey Whistle Theft; Song For Europe; The Plague; Rock-a-Hula Ted; Cigarettes And Alcohol And Rollerblading; New Jack City; Flight Into Terror; A Christmassy Ted
Fathers Ted, Dougal and Jack to go on a holiday from Hell in the second series opener: The Magic Road, Ted's run-ins with the law and Tom's button confusion are hilarious, while Graham Norton is fantastic as Father Noel Furlong. Father Ted thinks fast in Think Fast, Father Ted and highlights include Ted's panelbeating, the dancing priest, Mrs Doyle's test, "Please stand for our national anthem" and "Oh, it's yourself." Three bishops visit Craggy Island in Tentacles of Doom and it has a profound affect on all of them, "That would be an ecumenical matter", the elements of Christianity that Dougal struggles with and the concept of post-colonic holiness are all very, very funny, plus Gary Lineker's Book Of Ghost Stories is one of the funniest props ever made. Ted's explanation for The Old Grey Whistle Theft is fantastic as are "Fup off!", Father Damo's belligerence and Mrs Doyle's nocturnal exploits. After a fantastic songwriting scene, the shared obligatory video dream, the wonderful difference between Jon Kenny's on and off-camera performances, Ted and Dougal win the Song For Europe competition with the excellent 'My Lovely Horse'. From its Father Ben opening onwards, The Plague is great. and Jim Norton is fantastic. The use of sign language, Dermot Crowley and Ted's long shot and hilarious in Rock-a-Hula Ted. Ted, Jack and Dougal give up Cigarettes And Alcohol And Rollerblading respectively for Lent and their hallucinations and the Nun call centre are great. New Jack City sees Jack replaced with the Jungle music-obsessed Father Finton Stack, while the priest's sports day and visit to St. Clabbert's are very funny. Aeroplane disaster movie-esque Flight Into Terror is a great change of pace: the souvenirs, the Jeff Bridges movie reference and all the priests are fantastic.
The Christmas special, A Christmassy Ted is brilliant: Dougal's advent calendar, the priestly platoon in Ireland's largest lingerie section, priest chatback and Ted's award acceptance speech are all hilarious.

Our Friends In The North
The cast are fantastic and the ambitious scope of the story is impressive as the nine episodes of this serial follow a group of characters from 1964 to 1995, through sex shops, anarchists, the miner's strike, Tory smear campaigns, the Great Storm of 1987, a stock market crash and the rise of Britpop. An amazing piece of television.

American Gothic: Rebirth; Resurrector; Inhumanitas; To Hell And Back; The Plague Sower; Doctor Death Takes A Holiday; Potato Boy; The Beast Within; Learning To Crawl; Triangle; The Buck Stops Here; Requiem; Ring Of Fire; Echo Of Your Last Goodbye; Strangler
The short-lived horror TV series really gets into its stride and shakes up the show's dynamic with Merlyn's Rebirth and Sarah Paulson makes the most of the opportunity. Resurrector is another great example of Sheriff Lucas Buck's sense of justice as he sets a married couple against each other. Inhumanitas is another great one for Paulson, Pat Hingle is great and the resolution to Buck's real estate dealings will leave you cheering for the sheriff. Dr. Matt goes To Hell And Back in an episode that appears to show him hallucinating, but instead wrangles brilliantly with time travel and pre-destination paradoxes as he apparently causes the accident he is trying to avoid. A Royston Vasey-esque epidemic hits Trinity as Merlyn goes on the offensive again in The Plague Sower in an episode which drives Dr. Matt briefly mad and shamelessly introduces Dr. Billy as his replacement. Dr. Matt finally tips over the edge in Doctor Death Takes A Holiday, Veronica Cartwright is great and the reveal of the vaccination audience is very funny. Caleb's "so be it" toothbrushing ritual is bizarre, his definition of mentor is very funny and the resolution with the Boo Radley-esque Potato Boy is surprisingly touching. In an odd piece of scheduling two episodes shown on consecutive days both feature hostage situations gone bad, The Beast Within is another chance for Nick Searcy to shine as Deputy Ben, while Buck's belittling of half Ted is great in Learning To Crawl. Gail discovers she is pregnant with Buck's child and Trinity's love Triangles nearly turn fatal. American Gothic channels The Omen as Buck's death causes Caleb to go on the rampage in the two-part finale, The Buck Stops Here and Requiem, highlights include Buck's funeral, Ben trying to convince the town he can be sheriff, "Grandpa's sleeping on the ceiling" and the final showdown between Buck and Merlyn, although the ending leaves you wanting more. Three excellent episodes were omitted from the original US broadcast, but aired in the UK: Ring Of Fire has massive implications for Gail and Caleb's family and features a great performance from Paige Turco. The horrific Echo Of Your Last Goodbye as Merlyn appeals to Ben's conscience. Buck invokes the spirit of the Boston Strangler to kill Merlyn (again) and Gareth Williams is great in the part, plus it's nice to see Ben stepping up and being a such a good copper in Buck's absence.

Neverwhere: Door; Knightsbridge; Earl's Court to Islington; Blackfriars; Down Street; As Above, So Below
The plays on the names of tube stations, the appreciation of the Tang dynasty and the disconnect between London-Above and London-Below among other things are all great in this six-part story by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry. The performances by Laura Fraser, Hywel Bennett, Clive Russell, Paterson Joseph, Tamsin Greig, Peter Capaldi and Earl Cameron are all brilliant.

The Quatermass Memoirs
An interesting mix of fact and fiction as Nigel Kneale contextualises the first three Quatermass serials with contemporary newsreel recordings from the fifties, while Andrew Keir reprises his role as the Professor now in his retirement in Scotland. As Quatermass looks back on his career with a young journalist audio from the BBC serials in used to illustrate the events of the television stories. The three interwoven strands threaten to be a little less than the sum of their parts, but work surprisingly well and the insight into both Kneale's original writings and the new perspective on the old stories are fascinating.

Doctor Who And The Ghosts Of N-Space
Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen and Nicholas Courtney are as great as ever in the parts they played on television. Guest stars Harry Towb and Stephen Thorne are brilliant, while Richard Pearce's Jeremy Fitzoliver is given much more to do here and rises to the challenge. The second Third Doctor radio play is a strange beast set across several time periods and realities. Bravely encompassing much of the variety that makes Doctor Who brilliant within one story, and with some surprising profanity thrown in as well.

Eels: Beautiful Freak
The debut album from E's band is brilliant. Their distinctive sound has already taken shape here and perfectly illustrated by the moment a whirring drill gives way to some truly beautiful piano. The lyrics strike the right balance between wry observation and outright despair: "When I came into this world they slapped me. And everyday since then I'm slapped again."
Stand out tracks: 'Novocaine For The Soul', 'Susan's House', 'Rags To Rags', 'Beautiful Freak', 'Not Ready Yet', 'My Beloved Monster', 'Flower', 'Guest List', 'Mental', 'Spunky', 'Your Lucky Day In Hell', 'Manchild'

Kula Shaker: K
Kula Shaker's first album unashamedly references their heroes whether it's The Beatles at the height of their Sixties psychedelia, the influence of Jimi Hendrix on '303', that of the Grateful Dead on the almost eponymous 'Grateful When You're Dead/Jerry Was There', while 'Govinda' and 'Tattva' both feature lyrics in Sanskrit. The band draw these disparate threads together to create a sound of their own.
Stand out tracks: 'Hey Dude', 'Govinda', 'Smart Dogs', 'Magic Theatre', 'Into The Deep', 'Tattva', 'Grateful When You're Dead/Jerry Was There', '303', 'Start All Over', 'Hollow Man, Part 1 & 2'

Red Dwarf: Backwards by Rob Grant
When Grant Naylor went their separate ways they each wrote novels set after the events of their second novel together. Described pretty accurately by Grant as "the world's first reverse whodunit space opera western dealing definitively with the concept of post-destination". While it revisits elements of the episodes Backwards, Dimension Jump and Gunmen Of The Apocalypse the fourth Red Dwarf novel is far more than a mere novelisation and is much darker than its predecessors.

Feet Of Clay by Terry Pratchett
The nineteenth Discworld novel pits the City Watch of Ankh Morpork against an army of Golems. The novel asks questions of free will and slavery, but is still very, very funny, and gives the Disc's Grim Reaper the fantastic line: "I AM DEATH, NOT TAXES. I TURN UP ONLY ONCE."

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
The Discworld's equivalent of Christmas is nearly cancelled in the twentieth novel as the Hogfather goes AWOL and Death steps into the breach. Pratchett expertly dissects Christmas traditions and their motivations with very funny results.

Doctor Who: Endgame 1-3
The first three parts of Endgame, the Eighth Doctor's first comic strip in DWM, see him returning to Stockbridge, home of strips gone by, reunited with Maxwell Edison and faced with the Celestial Toymaker. All of which are well handled and cement him into the comic. It's obvious that Izzy is brilliant companion material and each of the cliffhangers is impressive, but it's the game of hangman sequence that is most terrifying.

Ghost World: A Smile And A Ribbon
The seventh chapter of Daniel Clowes' comic sees Enid and Rebecca take a trip down memory lane, argue and Josh comes between them and it takes this song to end the deadlock. The artwork is great, particularly of Enid's photographs and the panels set at night.

Recommendations welcome. Next Month: 1995

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Carruthers Camera #22

Five more photos I took for the Carruthers blog:

Skip It was taken in quite an inhospitable art installation in Southwark.

Segregation struck me as funny whilst walking through Manor House in North London and Baked was taken further down the same street.

Top Floor is clearly a horrific sight taken by the box office door of The Courtyard theatre during the Bike Shed festival.

This photo of a Mug was taken whilst temping nights in an office. The pathetic nature of its passive aggressive tiny rebellion office humour appealed to me.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Miracles Of Marta Manole, Excerpt 5

This scene of an old Romany gypsy man talking to an outsider, a Gâzo, taking a census was the first thing I wrote for The Miracles Of Marta Manole.

I named the gypsy Kazann after Zitto Kazann, the actor who played the Romanian gypsy in Buffy and Angel (above). In lieu of a name I called the census-taker Census.

I wasn't particularly disappointed when it didn't get used, but it was probably a very useful writing exercise. Either way, here it is:

Enter Census, a government man with a clipboard; he nervously attempts to approach several people on the bustling stage, but with no success then he spies an old man, Kazann, sat down in the middle of hustle and the bustle.

Census: Excuse me sir, I'd just like to ask you a few questions.
Kazann: Nothing just about them, son.
Census: I beg your pardon?
Kazann: Oh, they may be merely questions, but you can rest assured they are not just.
Census: If I could take your name?
Kazann: No. I want to keep it. You want to take my name, the more lists you can put it on, the less claim I have to it. Somewhere down the line you'll swap it for a number.
Census: A number?
Kazann: Yes, you know, for insurance, or healthcare or whatever.
Census: Oh, but it's only for identification.
Kazann: We don't want to be identified. Not by men with big smiles and clipboards, not by men with big smiles and semi-automatic weaponry. That's where all those dusty lists make another appearance.
Census: Oh?
Kazann: It's easy to lose track of them. If your name is on one, you see a pretty nurse, she checks your pulse. If your name is on another you get a rifle butt to the face and find yourself doing hard labour.
Census: But I can assure you that this list will only be used for the good of the people on it.
Kazann: An assurance from a man who is desperate to keep a job given to him by a government. Governments are fleeting; sometimes they change very quickly. A list of humble peasants with gout becomes a list of vermin to be shipped out.


Kazann: I do have a date of birth.

Census looks smug and puts pen to paper expectantly.

Kazann: But I have no idea when it was, and this will scare you (he whispers) I don't care.
Census: But surely the day you were born is important?
Kazann: Of course it's important.


Kazann: But only for twenty-four hours. Do you know what 'Carpe Diem' means?
Census: Yes, it means-
Kazann: It means: 'Seize the fish'.
Census: No, it-
Kazann: Because the fish moves quickly, the fisherman must pounce when he sees it, he doesn't wait and see. He pounces. And then do you know what happens?
Census: He catches the fish?
Kazann: Hardly ever! The fisherman goes home to his wife safe in the knowledge that she will shout at him, but that he tried.
Census: And the fish?
Kazann: Swims to another pool and lives a little longer.
Census: Wait, are you the fisherman or the fish?
Kazann: Yes.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Miracles Of Marta Manole, Excerpt 4

This is the last scene that I wrote for The Miracles Of Marta Manole.

The dialogue written for Nula was a servant of two masters. Obviously, it had to serve the narrative and the character, but I was also very aware that Nikki Bozdogan who played the part deserved some good dialogue because she was being marked for this just as much as I was.

It quickly transpired that Nula was a very physical part and Nikki worked very hard on mannerisms that showed her character far better than any of the dialogue written for her.

I have absolutely no idea what "Dvaska moh me, mo moo valle" means now, I'm sure it was vitally important:

Tzagoi empties the bucket, and rattles it until Nula enters out of curiosity.

Tzagoi: There you are.

Nula stops, and cranes to look into the bucket.

Tzagoi: Do you even know what you are?
Nula: Nula.
Tzagoi: That's just a name. You're a bastard daughter of a bastard daughter.
Nula (it's not the first time she's heard the word): Bastard.
Tzagoi: A miscarriage of nature.

Tzagoi is still preventing her from seeing into the bucket.

Nula: Game.
Tzagoi: Yes, game.
Nula (imploringly): Nula see.

Nula cranes to see, Tzagoi blocks her view.

Tzagoi (out loud, but to Nula): That's right: "What's in the bucket?"
Tzagoi: It's just a game.
Tzagoi: Everybody wants to play.
Nula: Nula play.

Tzagoi shoves Nula.

All: Dvaska moh me, mo moo valle.

Tzagoi shoves Nula twice more.

Tzagoi: If you win, you get what's in the bucket.
Tzagoi: And if I win, everything goes back to the way it should be.

Tzagoi grabs Nula by the scruff of the neck and forces her head into the bucket, there is clearly water in it.
Tzagoi: But either way, you still get to see what's in the bucket!

Nula: Same eyes.

Tzagoi throws Nula away from him and then the bucket after her.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Miracles Of Marta Manole, Excerpt 3

This scene of Tzagoi looking after Mitke was staged side-by-side with a scene showing Hogea and Nula's relationship going through similar adversity, but with a more positive result. I think the visuals worked better than the dialogue:

Mitke mumbles something unintelligible.

Tzagoi: Oh good, what is it this time?

Mitke mumbles some more.

Tzagoi: Yeah, couldn't agree more. Are you cold?

Mitke mumbles something negative and shakes his head.

Tzagoi: I think you're cold.

Tzagoi adjusts Mitke's coat. Mitke mumbles again and realisation dawns on Tzagoi. Reluctantly he lifts Mitke from his seat and helps him to a bucket. He steadies his father as he pisses into the bucket, for an interminable length of time. Tzagoi helps him back down.

Tzagoi: Do you want anything? No, don't answer that, neither of us has enough time.

Tzagoi yawns.

Tzagoi: I'd love to stay and…actually no I wouldn't.

Mitke tries to say something.

Tzagoi: I'm going. I'll see you tomorrow.

Tzagoi exits.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Miracles Of Marta Manole, Excerpt 2

This is the second scene I wrote for The Miracles of Marta Manole, it concerns Tzagoi and Hogea discovering their mother's body and then having a converation with her.

The introductory stage directions below are entirely inaccurate, instead Hatzidah entered, built her own coffin from the planks we were using as a set and began knitting, which is a far, far better beginning than what I've written below.

I found it a lot easier to write for Hatzidah and Hogea than Tzagoi, which surprised me.

Reading this many years later I was very proud of it. I like the matter of fact nature of Hatzidah's dialogue:

Tzagoi and Hogea return home to find Hatzidah lying down; the audience don't see her face. She's dead, nothing fancy just dead; she is also sat in a chair away from her corpse. Tzagoi approaches the corpse, Hogea does not.

Tzagoi: Hogea, don't look.
Hogea: Don't look at what?

Hogea looks at the corpse, Hogea jumps at the sight. Hogea weeps at the thought.

Hatzidah: Boys.

Hogea jumps even higher.

Hatzidah: Don't worry Hogea.

She moves to comfort Hogea.

Tzagoi: I told you not to look.
Hatzidah: Tzagoi! He's upset, what is it, dear?
Hogea: You're dead.
Tzagoi: What happened mama?
Hatzidah: Well I don't know. Everything just sort of stopped, but here I am.

Hatzidah rises.

Tzagoi: That's it?
Hatzidah: What more do you want?
Tzagoi: I don't know, angels, harps? Maybe some singing.
Hogea: Who cares? Mama is dead.
Hatzidah: Some singing would have been nice.

She starts to sing something relevant in the background.

Hogea: Tzagoi, how can this be happening? What did we do to deserve this?
Tzagoi: That's enough.
Hogea: What's it like, being dead?

Tzagoi moves to leave but remains on the periphery.

Hogea (unaware of Tzagoi): Being d-?
Hatzidah (fully aware of Tzagoi): Dead?
Hogea: Yes, how does it feel?
Hatzidah: Empty.
Hogea (emotionally): Is it peaceful?
Hatzidah: Peaceful, with all these questions!
Hatzidah: Come here, my Hogea.

Hatzidah hugs Hogea.

Hatzidah: Hogea, promise me that you will look after your brother. Tzagoi is proud, he won‘t ask for help, he takes after his father too much for that.
Hogea: And father?
Hatzidah: Oh, he can't look after himself, so don‘t expect him to look after the two of you.
Hogea: Where is father?
Hatzidah: Where do you think? He's in the whore's bar.
Hogea: What's a whore?
Hatzidah: Ask your father, when he brings one home.
Tzagoi: Hogea, go and find father.
Hatzidah: Does he have to?

Hatzidah looks at a distressed Tzagoi.

Hatzidah: Oh, I suppose he does.
Hogea: OK, I'll go, but you be here when I get back.

Hogea exits slowly.

Hatzidah: Come here, you.
Tzagoi: What?
Hatzidah: Don't 'what' your mother. Now sit down next to me.

Tzagoi does so and his mother places his head across her knees and strokes his hair.

Hatzidah: That's better.
Tzagoi: Mama, will everything be alright?
Hatzidah: No, it never is.

Mitke enters.

Hogea: Where were you? WHERE WERE YOU?!
Mitke: It's not your business to ask me where I was- What about you, you'll be the death of your mother.

Mitke notices Hatzidah.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Miracles Of Marta Manole, Excerpt 1

Mitke's wife was mentioned in the Camden People's Theatre version of the show, but did not appear as a fully fledged character. The simple brief for this scene was to introduce her. I don't think I came up with the name Hatzidah, but I really like it. The scenes also needed to illustrate her character very quickly and give an insight into her marriage to Mitke without simply being exposition.

Gabor Pitoyli was Mitke's crooked employer and played by a different actor each time he appeared. The photo to the left is myself pulling terrible faces in the part. The cheeky stage direction when he enters here is because in this scene Gabor was played by the petite Nikki Bozdogan. I don't think she minded it, although I doubt I'd make such a comment now. Sadly I don't have a photo of Nikki as Pitoyli.

This is the first scene I wrote that made it into the show and looking back at this script years later, I think it did the job:

Hatzidah: What have you done today?

The plank is removed.

Hatzidah: Nothing.
Mitke: Why do you do that?
Hatzidah: Do what?
Mitke: Ask me a question and then answer it before I can.

Hatzidah says nothing.

Mitke: Either you aren't interested in the answer, in which case: why ask the question?

Hatzidah says nothing.

Mitke: Or my answer is never good enough, so you make up your own, so: why ask me at all?

Hatzidah: All right dear, what have you done today?
Mitke: Nothing.

Gabor enters shorter than usual. Hatzidah exits.

Gabor: Nothing.
Mitke: Sorry?
Gabor: You haven't brought me nothing all week.
Mitke (nervously): Well, it's been a slow week.
Gabor: Slow? Need I remind you of what happens to people who disappoint me? Like rent collectors who don‘t collect rent.
Mitke: No.
Gabor: Don't be a disappointment.
Mitke: No, Mister Pitoyli.
Gabor: If you can scare them half as much as I scare you, then we'll be in business.


Gabor: Get out.

Washing line comes on.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Miracles Of Marta Manole

In 2004, the final production in my third year at university was The Miracles Of Marta Manole, directed by Tony Gardner. It was a reinterpretation of a script written by Gardner and performed by the Camden People's Theatre.

The play concerns four generations of a Romany gypsy community. Marta Manole is a mystical and magical figure, possibly a witch. She is wronged by Mitke, a drunk and hapless rent collector.

Mitke is married to Hatzidah and they have two sons, Tzagoi and Hogea. Somehow Mitke convinces Marta to have sex with him and they too conceive a child, Irina. Mitke shuns his daughter and Marta curses him so that every woman he touches will fall pregnant. She refers to these as her miracles.

Over the years, Mitke's curse affects other women including tavern owner Asra Bargoi, Hatzidah dies and haunts her home, while Tzagoi, Hogea and Irina grow up together entirely unaware that they are related. Both brothers have feelings for Irina, but she only has eyes for Hogea.

As adults all three of them go swimming and Tzagoi attempts to force himself on Irina and in the struggle Irina drowns. Marta discovers her daughter's body and also that the curse she placed on Mitke affects both his sons as well and within Irina's corpse is her granddaughter. Marta looks into the baby's eyes and sees her killer and carries her daughter's body through the streets to Mitke's house.

Irina's ghost introduces Hogea to Nula, her baby. Mitke has a stroke and the nuns from a local convent tend to him, but his curse strikes again as the nuns all receives little miracles of their own and Mitke is asked to leave. So as Hogea cares for Nula, Tzagoi reluctantly looks after his father.

Nula attempts to form a relationship with Tzagoi in her own clumsy way saying they have the "same eyes". Tzagoi resists and seeks out his brother.

Hogea pulls a knife on his brother. Tzagoi appeals to his brother and moves to hug him, but is accidentally stabbed in the process. Unable to live with this Hogea then stabs himself, embraces his brother and they die together. Nula guards their bodies. Marta and Mitke never speak again.

It was a fantastic experience to work on something in such an all-consuming way. It felt at the time as though this was the way working like a professional would feel. I now realise that we had the luxury of time that isn't usually present on a professional show.

Tony Gardner worked very collaboratively and trusted most of the cast to get on with the job at hand. It was great to be part of a cast that were pulling in the right direction. Nikki Bozdogan, Leo Cox, Charlote Gunton, Claire Ludgate and Anna Masing were all brilliant and really rose to the various challenges that the script (and sometimes the lack of script) presented.

I played Tzagoi, Mitke's eldest son. It was a great part. Firstly, because Tzagoi, Hogea and Irina are all introduced as children and grow to adulthood, which was a joy to do. Leo, Claire and I genuinely had an absolute ball playing children playing. Secondly, in a play with more by way of antagonists than protagonists, Tzagoi was driven by his own frustrations and so anything he did that was malicious had a psychological motivation.

The scenes of the children at play were very popular with the audience, as was a moment of the two brothers urinating off the balcony. Claire in particular was very, very funny and she and I played to the audience and rode the laughs a bit more than we probably should have.

The adolescent rivalry between Tzagoi and Hogea was great fun as well. Leo and I worked very hard to keep it fresh and did some things differently each performance.

Tzagoi's only real relationship is with his brother and when that is taken away from him he feels bereft and it is this that in the later scenes means there is no way back for him.

Instead of a set we used planks of wood to represent all manner of different locations and objects.

The local drinking establishment...

A coffin...

A house...

The planks were genius and I was very fond of them, but they also lead in part to my getting injured during rehearsal. At one point in the show I was holding on to an upright plank while the rest of the cast held my feet and I would let go and they would catch me. On one occasion they didn't. It was a lesson learned for all of us. I had to go to A & E and get stitches in my chin.

During the scene of the swimming in the lake I was injured...again. We would wet our hair and walk out into the material that represented the lake. The underwater 'ballet' aspect of this had never seemed dangerous during rehearsal, but I slipped on some water on stage and gashed my chin in almost exactly the same place for a second time. Whether it was water dripping off me or whether it had previously been urinated off the balcony I don't know, but I got back finished 'swimming' and exited entirely unaware that I was bleeding profusely until Nikki told me and I washed the worst of it off. I went back onstage to rape Irina and we finished Act One. I was determined to go back on and do Act Two, the show must go on, etc, but that decision wasn't mine and I was sent to A & E for for the second time that month.

I felt very guilty that we hadn't completed that performance. I felt that I'd let everybody down, the cast, the backstage crew, the director, the audience and those lucky enough to accompany me to the hospital. We reworked various scenes for the remainder of the run in order to prevent me from bursting my stitches. One cast member clearly didn't think I felt guilty enough and made his contempt for me abundantly clear the next day and used every opportunity to hit me about the chin during our scenes together. It was agony.

The Camden People's Theatre version was never intended to be our final script, it was clear that we would require new material to expand the cast from five to nine. I relished the opportunity of writing some new bits. I'll post the scripts for the scenes I wrote over the next few days.