Losing my LOTR virginity

I was attacked by an orc once. I know that sounds like I’m trying to tell a bad joke, but I’m serious. It’s one of my favourite anecdotes to prove how reliably ridiculous my life can be.

My friend Cat took me a few years ago to London to see Lord of the Rings: The Musical, and the audience-interaction levels were a little too high for my consciousness to manage. Having attempted to nip to the loo in the middle of a battle scene, the (really bloody terrifying) orc-actors had spread out into the audience in order to intimate us all. Wonderful theatre, but not too great for my psychological welfare.

In the strangest stand-off I’ve ever been in, me and Cat tried to outwit the orc in front of the entire upper circle. He took a single step towards us, and we quickly shit ourselves and scurried back to our seats with tails between our legs. Obviously, not feeling embarrassed enough, I decided to pass out. It’s a trick I do when I don’t feel like there’s enough dramatic tension in a moment.

Needless to say, this traumatic LOTR experience was always enough for me. However, upon finding out I’d never seen the films, or read the book, my boyfriend decided I needed “nerding up”, good and proper. So the next few weeks of my life became almost completely about Lord of the Rings. Romance isn’t dead.

We rented each film, extended edition, and watched the lot. Three bags of peanut M&M’s, half a cheesecake, seventy different pause-to-explain-what-just-happened-s, about nine brews and two library rental fines later- it’s over. I’ve seen all of the Lord of the Rings there is to see. And it’s pretty cool. I know I’m a bit late to the party to start reviewing them, so I’ll skip that and get straight to the important shit.

1. How much of a dick is Frodo?! Like, I know you’re having a tough time carrying that cursed demon ring, but can you cut it out with the elongated pauses and middle-distance stares? And getting onto that boat at the end was not cool. Honestly. You destroy one evil warlord-eye, and all of a sudden it’s okay to totally bail on your mates and get on the boat full of cool grown ups. You’re being a sulky, marde-arse weirdo.

2. Legolas is the coolest guy ever. Just casually killing orcs and sliding down stairs on a shield and riding an elephant while simultaneously killing it and just fuck yeah Legolas. He’s also Orlando Bloom. He wins at everything.

3. Kings are douches. If I was a king, I would not ignore Gandalf. I also wouldn’t try to drown people I didn’t like in a landslide of skulls. Nor would I burn my own son alive. Nor would I be a marde arse about my daughter not wanting to live forever on my weird-ass eternity boat.

4. I want everyone to talk like they talk in LOTR. Next time I get on the bus, I’m going to bark at the driver- “Bus-driver, show us the meaning of haste!”.

5. I kinda love Gollum. He’s misunderstood. Why does everyone beat him up?! The only time I dislike Samwise is when he’s being a bully to Gollum. I understand that yes, he does try to murder quite a few people, and that creepy phlegmy voice he does is kinda disconcerting, but that’s because he’s cursed. He clearly has a serious mental health issue, and Gandalf is right to stick up for him. He’s also undeniably adorable at points. I think I’d quite like a Gollum. You know, as a pet.

After watching all twelve glorious hours, I’m kinda really into it. I’ve been watching YouTube clips, and I’m taking out the documentary on the making of Gollum as soon as I get chance. I think I’ve sufficiently been “nerded up”, but Jonathan doesn’t particularly agree. We’ve got to watch Star Wars next. Fabulous.


Piff the Magic Dragon- Harrogate Comedy Festival review (Yorker archives)

“Sometimes I think I need a gimmick”, says the grown man dressed as a dragon. Holding a chihuahua. Who is also dressed as a dragon. The irony sinks in, and the audience guffaw again. Welcome to Piff the Magic Dragon- bringing a touch of magic to the Harrogate Comedy Festival.

Securing his place as a cult favourite on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, Piff is the absolute last comedian-come-magician-come-dragon you’ll lose in a crowd. Despite his bright and cheery outfit, Piff is anything but a happy dragon. He’s broke, divorced, and his only source of income is Mr Piffles, his slightly less than magical glamorous assistant.

When Piff pulls up a member of the audience to inflict some magic upon, he swiftly falls in love with her and decides he must find out if she is a true princess- via all the usual routes. Does the boot fit? Is she sensitive enough to sense a pea? Can she guess Mr Piffles’ real name?

The show is quite unlike any other. Think a younger Jack Dee in a dragon costume, and with the ability to sneeze fireworks. The entire show is based on anticlimax- thrillingly so. You never quite know whether the tiny dog in a dragon outfit is genuinely about to be shot out of a cannon, or whether there’s another punchline on its way.

The magic tricks were definitely a personal highlight for me- and were brilliantly set up. For instance, in handing a random member of the audience a giant box, he casually remarked that he was sure “it probably holds no relevance to the rest of the show, so you needn’t worry”.

My only minor criticism of the night would be that the magic/comedy balance was slightly off. As a comedian, Piff is great- with excellent timing, good audience banter and some cracking one liners. Yet, short of pretty cool Mr Piffles tricks- one disappearing dog in particular which was very impressive- and a handful of card tricks, there wasn’t as much magic as I would have liked.

Mr Piffles, the bored looking chihuahua, makes a fabulous glamorous assistant. Allowing himself to be laminated, shot out of cannons, and forced to moonwalk (Piff declares him as “Putting the RSPCA into “Call the RSPCA!!”)- he earns his treats by performing adorably.

With a whole host of dragon puns up his sleeve (not to mention the finger puppets or phone aerials), a cheating ex-wife who lives in his briefcase, and a broken heart- all this dragon needs is a hug and a round of applause- which he’ll certainly manage to get at his forthcoming shows.

A night with Piff is an unusual night- how often can you say you’ve seen a real-life adult dragon make his chihuahua levitate, after all? The show is cute, funny and deadpan. Wonderful stuff.

The Harrogate Comedy Festival continues at Harrogate Theatre throughout October

Originally published on The Yorker, Oct 13th ’12, here.


Rapping Lyrical

Mark Grist, one half of the Dead Poet’s, recently shot to fame thanks to an astounding performance in a rap poetry slam battle.  The video went viral, and if you’ve been hiding under a rock that doesn’t have a wifi connection, you can find it here. The novelty was in seeing an teacher in a battle with a student; old v young, suit and tie v baseball cap and trousers that hung below the arse. 

For me, the novelty wasn’t the only reason to stick around. The lyrics were impeccable- both MC Blizzard and Grist delivered masterfully crafted lines, never stumbling or losing rhythm, inventive insults which dripped with wit and intelligence. It’s high time spoken word poetry was appreciated as an art form, an entertainment form. This unlikely duo have done the trick.

Grist’s performance was brilliant. Witty and cutting, the only thing that made it taste sweeter was that it was directed at a cocky pupil- everyone has always kind of hoped to hear what their teachers thought of them, and here it is. In a much purer and honest form than your school report ever could have been. 

On a side note, I want to praise Blizzard. “The honest truth is Bradley, I’ve been served better whilst in Costa”, while the lyric is perfectly put together, and I think Grist would agree with me on this, it’s not entirely honest.  In all the excitement to congratulate Mark Grist on his (well-deserved) win, many have wrongly demoted Blizzard’s skill as sub-par. His extraordinary ability to properly produce amazing lyrics at a speed most professional rappers can only try to emulate, not only demonstrates his quick-tongue and skill, but also his forward thinking imagination. Lines such as “But hold up Mixy, I’m taking the mick, see, you could mix E in my drink and still could never lick me”, while remain a tongue twister for anyone else (genuinely struggled even typing it out…) are simply fluid for the young battler. Three dimensional insults (personal favourite, “then you’ll know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of a glass ceiling“), and intelligent (“I’m gonna get rid of Mark like when Germany brought the euro in“) against almost any other performance poet would bring them crashing down. 

But not against Grist. With words as sharp as his suit, he effortlessly tore into his opponent, stumping the audiences and causing thousands of YouTube viewers to burst out in laughter; “This blizzard lizard’s got no fire it’s just hot air he’s breathing, when all’s said and done, as the years drag on, you’ll look even more like Deborah Meaden”. Not needing to resort to tired lines, he brings creativity and originality to traditional jokes- the standard “your mum” joke reaches new levels of profanity and hilarity, and is a highlight of the entire slam. The Pokemon line (around 8 minutes into the video) is simply put, genius.

Using Blizzard’s real name, playing on his previous occupation, yet still slipping in youth culture references, ultimately, this was a battle Grist couldn’t lose. His skill and cool were at a level that almost guaranteed winning- and a perfect triumph that the video has well over 1.7 million views. It’s a war of attrition Blizzard didn’t really stand much chance against. I’m not claiming Grist is the best rap battle poet in the world, (his next Don’t Flop, though as lyrically engaging, just doesn’t have the excitement this battle does), I’m asserting that a better platform for a poet such as himself couldn’t have been scripted. You know, unless he’d written it.

Upon the video going viral, Grist’s fame meant his other videos have also seen a surge in popularity. “Really Really Good at Bored Games”  is an admission of how uncool he is, yet comes across as incredibly smooth.

“Girls Who Read” is my personal favourite. A little soppier than the others, it still contains the dry humour and hints of boyishness underneath the more tender feel- and certainly appeals to any romantics who had been so far unconvinced by Grist.

His newfound popularity is doing wonders for spoken word poetry. He has started a little fashion on twitter- #SpokenWordSunday. I’m proud to admit that I was the first to jump on this bandwagon (poetry-wagon?)- and was the first follower he retweeted with my suggestion of Taylor Mali. Mali is also a teacher turned poet, and is definitely worth checking out. Each week, I spend hours scrolling through the suggestions this new twitter trend, fuelled by Grist, offers up. I’m finding poets I never would have reached otherwise, and am now actively searching out live poetry events in my area.

He’s making T.V. appearances, both with and without his Dead Poets Partner “Mixy”, and is being namedropped by national press. Hopefully, for the spoken poetry field, and the rap battle scene, his unlikely fame will increase interest in these art forms. I’d love for this to be the beginning of a new trend of spoken word- and at the moment, Grist is pioneering this new phase of popularity. 

(Originally published in my sister blog)

Luke Jermay: Psychic Cabaret

Luke Jermay opened the show by asking the audience to raise their hands if they believed mind reading was possible, to which a scattering of nervous hands went up. The general consensus was “No, not really”, it seemed. Had he asked at the end of his show, I expect every hand in the room would have shot up.

In the intimate venue of the Basement, underneath City Screen Cinema on Coney Street, Jermay altered beliefs on what a single man could do with pure intuition. Stunning the audience with his uncanny ability to pinpoint exact details, with no clues or overt trickery, Jermay left us in awe. He could tell you a stranger‘s exact date of birth, know the full name of an audience member’s first kiss, and was somehow able to produce mirror images of drawings the audience members were asked to make in private.
He quickly developed a rapport with the audience, handling unexpected challenges with a finesse and sense of humour that made the show seamless. His adeptness at mastering the audience’s emotions was impressive; one moment everyone would be chuckling at a wonderfully delivered insult, the next we were hung in suspense.
The small venue was the perfect location for Jermay. A highly interactive show, I walked into the show hoping to be able to sit quietly at the back and spectate without interruption, yet by the end of the show, I was hoping that I’d have a chance to get involved – an opportunity that a surprisingly large number of the audience got to take.
Having written for and worked with many famous magicians and mentalists, such as Derren Brown and Dynamo, Jermay’s talent is indisputable. It has taken him around the world, from Las Vegas to London.
Luckily for York, Jermay won’t be rushing off anytime soon, so there are plenty of chances to see this unusual live entertainment act for yourselves. The Psychic Cabaret will be at Basement on the first Thursday of every month, and with tickets at just £12, it’s a show that you can’t afford to miss. This is entertainment that truly delights and spooks simultaneously, and an experience that you will talk about for a long time afterwards.
REVIEW FOR THE YORKER, FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.theyorker.co.uk/arts/performingarts/10558