Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dying the death

One of the reasons I stayed on at my secondary school into the sixth form was a desire to take part in the house play competition. As far as I recall, it was the only event in which the four houses (all named after English naval heroes, which gives you some idea of the environment in which I existed for seven years) battled each other in circumstances that didn't require a communal shower afterwards.

The normal process was to choose something sub-Coward, or Rattigan on a bad day; if you had a couple of actors who could attempt a non-specifically northern accent without sounding Sri Lankan, you might select from that unjustifiably crowded field, the School of Hobson's Choice.

We (Charlie, Rick and I) didn't want to play safe. A few years before our number came up, one enterprising soul had staged the first act of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, which was a bit of a disaster, but a brave disaster. We wanted to follow that example, either to triumph, or to go down in a blaze of incomprehension. We elected to put on Woody Allen's play Death (now probably better known as the source material for his underrated 1992 expressionist comedy thriller, Shadows and Fog). I can't remember why we dressed the hypnotist as Aladdin-Sane-era David Bowie, or gave the murderer a Fulham scarf to wear; or indeed why we chose 'Spread A Little Happiness' as the introductory music; but something seemed to work. The judges retired to a more salubrious venue, and the following morning the headmaster announced that we'd won.

It was a few days later that I discovered none of the judges had thought our production was the best. All had placed it second, then disagreed wildly about the merits of the other three plays, enabling us to come up through the middle. Despite our strivings, we'd achieved the one thing we dreaded most: a beta-plus; a polite verdict of all-round competence.

When, several years later, I put on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, the critic from The Scotsman described it as "unbelievably atrocious". I was delighted, and notwithstanding the entreaties of my colleagues, put the quote on the posters; attendances doubled in the second week.

13 comments:

Vicus Scurra said...

Thank you. That was OK.

pleite said...

Bloody hell, Tim. Your posts are gradually revealing the extent of your stardom. This, the Edinburgh Festival, inventing the Guinness Book of Records and the internet, your book about Radiohead and trying to be the presenter of that music show. Can you e-mail me your autograph?

pleite said...

...and you've had 2 visitors from St. Kitts and Nevis. *throws boxers at screen*

Billy said...

Something awful is always better than something average, percentages be damned.

Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

But what was the first week's gate? If we know that, we can work out how many weeks it would have taken for the entire population of Scotland to see the show, and indeed if they're still queuing...

...and which naval heroes? I bet they included Beatty and Jellicoe.

Geoff said...

Sting singing on Brimstone & Treacle couldn't have been Potter's idea but a concession to American audiences. Please tell me this is so.

Charles Frith said...

What a fucking talent advertising missed out on. I mean that. Ace post. Unbelievably good.

Tim Footman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Footman said...

Thank you, VS, I asked for that.

Pleite, I think you missed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. And yes, hello Kitts & Nevis, lovely to have you guys on board.

Billy, that's what I told my parents when I came top and bottom in maths in consecutive terms.

That's working on the assumption that any Scottish people attend the Fringe, Christopher. And the hello sailors were Drake, Grenville, Nelson and Rodney. (who he? -- Ed.)

Geoff: I thought they did it to attract squealing teenagers who might not feel the same way about Denholm Elliott.

Thank you, Charles, although I'm not entirely sure what I could have advertised with this. Greasepaint? The collected works of W____ A____? Failure?

Murph said...

Is that where Woody's great line "I'm not afraid of death - I just don't want to be there at the time" comes from?

Dressing the murderer as Mr Harrods was a bit adventurous.

FirstNations said...

i'm still trying to get my head around all the implications of having been judged 'unbelievably atrocious' by scottish persons.
DANG, tim. *goes all girly*

Tim Footman said...

Don't think so, Murph. Although I'm buggered if I can recall a single line.

I know, FN. And that was before I started playing my bagpipes.

rivergirlie said...

nothing damns like faint praise, does it. better a heroic failure, i reckon.