Friday 26th September 2014


So, that’s the first week of rehearsals done for The Snow Queen. And it feels like we’ve already got a fair bit done. I’m trying to go in softly to begin with, and have relatively few rehearsals when I call everybody. Frankly, there’ll be enough time for that later in the production process. What’s already so pleasing – so exciting – is the amount of charisma already bubbling off the stage. Everyone seems to be perfectly pitched opposite each other, and finding little nuanced moments that I didn’t think of writing. Hell, when this year began, I didn’t think I’d end up writing a musical, (or to be exact: a play with songs in it) but it’s odd how things turn out sometimes. I mean, I don’t have a musical bone in my body (actually, I do: it’s my femur, and you can use it to drum out a mean solo on some Led Zep, but the downside for me is that I have to be either dead or an amputee), and I’ve managed to hack out some lyrics. Let’s be honest – in a couple of cases, those lyrics are almost literally hacked out. They initially sounded clunky and and straining, and I’ve greedily availed myself of any help that I could in order to get them purring like an engine or a head of state on the phone to a smary Prime Minister. We’ve got most of the songs in some kind of working order (we’re gonna have another meet about it tomorrow), and I still need to fix a couple of basic problems in certain lines (apparently, I refuse to accept that singers quite like to take a breath every 560 seconds or so), but it sounds like we are in fairly good shape.

Newsjack came back this week. It’s the open-door submission radio show that pretty much anyone can write for. I’ve had my eye (ear?) on it for a couple of years now, but never submitted. Actually, that’s lie: I did deliver a sketch a couple of years ago, which, if I remember correctly, was a Life On Mars sketch that put Gordon Brown in the Sam Tyler role. Yes, I know. But generally I haven’t tried writing anything for the show because .. well, because I’m not sure that I know how. I’m not being self-deprecating. I’m genuinely fascinated and somewhat awed by sketch writing. I don’t quite k kw how it works. I love good sketch comedy, although I’ll concede that the definition of good sketch comedy varies wildly from audience member to audience member. And lest we forget, Big Train (the one that usually gets mentioned in conversations like this is about 15 years old now. I find something very attractive and seductive about a good sketch. A novel is a strange and exciting journey, a stand-up is a bottle of wine with a great friend who shares much of the same opinions as you, and a sketch – a sketch is that piece of cake that makes you emit inappropriate noises when you consume it. A good sketch (for the most part) is delightful, small, unique (I knew someone who used that phrase on their dating profile). All my favourite sketches have got from me first, a bark of laughter, then a hiss of jealousy: that idea was so clever/beautiful/simple .. It was there for the taking, for years and years .. and someone got there first.

A friend of mine tagged me in a post this week, suggesting that I write for NJ, which is prompting enough to do something I guess (we all write a lot better if there’s someone waiting over our shoulder). The fact is that I’d already tried to write a couple of one-liners , and then my Internet failed – I was trying to send emails from my phone, but my email wasn’t playing fair. I’d had lots of phone time with the lovely people at EE (not Phones 4U, they weren’t returning my calls for some reason) before it became apparent that I had apparently exceeded my Internet allowance. So, the readers of the slush pile at Radio 4 Extra were spared my inane ramblings for at least another week.

I listened to the show as it aired, however, at least partially out of research: what was the house style? What exactly was the sort of joke/sketch to get through the gate? I have a sad suspicion that this is the mood that most of the listeners attend the show: not simply punters, but slightly earnest would-be writers listening stony-faced as they try and crack the code. I’m not judging: as I’ve said, I’m one of them. There were a pleasing amount of gags that made me laugh out loud (and at least one that made me jealous that they’d got to the joke before I did: one about Phones 4U employees and their contracts), but I’m still not really any the wiser as to what makes a good sketch. But if I can get at least one joke through the gate .. then I would consider myself at least holding the foot of the ladder. Not the first rung. That’d take some more time yet.


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