Jennifer’s Robot Arm – first official performances!

The fantasy returns…

Jennifer’s Robot Arm, the Paul Vickers play we covered in rehearsal here, played in Clapham, London’s Bread & Roses Theatre, from April 16-18th 2015. And we caught the last night of the run. It wasn’t that much of a different experience this time, given how committed the performances were at rehearsal and what seemed, from memory, to be fairly minor script changes.

As sexually seductive as a young Judith Chalmers (John Rushton as 'Pam')

As sexually seductive as a young Judith Chalmers (John Rushton as ‘Pam’)

The biggest difference was the departure of drag queen Myra Dubois as Pam. At the rehearsal, we were sat next to a feller who looked like an ordinary theatre goer. But here he was, all of a sudden, on stage in drag as Pam! Helluva big boots to fill, but a job done with some panache by John Rushton. The remaining, returning cast were first rate once again.

The Twonkey newbie who came to the show with us got confused at the early off-screen appearances of Horatio Nelson and Patrick Promise. We didn’t, being already familiar, but perhaps it wasn’t overly clear to the uninitiated. Or he was just as thick as a plank. We’re calling it Evens.

Do NOT criticise the quality of his goose eggs (Connor Jones as 'Father')

Do NOT criticise the quality of his goose eggs (Connor Jones as ‘Father’)

Something we didn’t notice the first time without costume pointers is perhaps a slight Rab C. Nesbitt influence on the Father character. He comes out wearing a vest for a start, but the cleancut, well spoken Connor Jones is as far as it gets from Fisher’s Govan scumbag. As alumni from Vickers’s radio play, the part may even have been written with him in mind. The father is played as a permanent wet blanket, incapable of doing anything. His big line is very much in the signature style of Rab C (“You can sleep with my wife, you can give my daughter false hope, but you CANNOT criticise the quality of my goose eggs”). It occurred to us that if Rushton and Jones switched roles (but retained the manner of their original performances, Rushton as alpha male no matter his gender), you would have a very different play on your hands indeed. But maybe if they alternated, Jay and Shrapnell would insist on doing the same so not to be outdone. It could get trippy! Shrapnell, a woman playing a hysterical child, once again delivers the goods (and somehow rhymes ‘wood’ with ‘blood’ – just plain wrong, that, even if it works better in the play). Jay, an amiable looking fella, can summon the icy stare of a Bond Villain with no obvious change in expression. His Inventor’s repeated mantra of ‘It doesn’t really matter, does it‘, seems to refer to plotting in absurdist comedy more than anything else.

Some of the funniest lines of the night were nothing to do with Paul Vickers, as it happens. First class ad-libbing was going on. Before the show, Mr Rushton was holding court in character as Pam:

Rushton / Pam: ‘Sit down, love, it’s about to start.’

Audience Member: ‘I can’t. Nerve damage.’

Rushton / Pam: ‘Me too, love. Not in the same place as you, I’d expect.’

And we made the catastrophic decision to use the interval for a toilet visit. If only we had known Simon Jay stayed on entertaining the remaining audience, we would have just gone in our pants.

Simon Jay / The Inventor: ‘Anyone have any questions about tonight’s play?’

Audience Member: ‘What does the Robot Arm represent?’

Simon Jay / The Inventor: ‘It represents… Vietnam!’

Genius. Funny on so many levels.

Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail (Simon Jay as 'the Inventor', Miranda Shrapnell as 'Jennifer')

Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail (Simon Jay as ‘the Inventor’, Miranda Shrapnell as ‘Jennifer’)

The plan may be to bring Jennifer back at a later date for an even longer run. Fingers crossed some or all of the cast can stay on board. And there remains the possibility that a performance on Vickers’s own doorstep could lead to him taking a role himself, although the current cast have all ensured first team selection at this stage. Which would mean either writing a new part or, more likely, filling in for someone no longer available. Vickers in a dress? He’ll be wishing good health and unemployment on Mr. Rushton for the forseeable future.

Once again, full marks to director Jay and his incredible cast. Especially Rushton who was theoretically well up against it following Myra Dubois, which he’d seen for himself. But the part was nailed well and truly before the lights even went down. Bravo!

Photos by Anthony Oudot (thank you!)

Oh, and the Playboys Legend award for 2015 goes to… Martin Schiebel, aka ‘Das Soundmachine‘ (he knows why).

—————————————————————

BASTARDOGRAPHY

Director / Actor Simon Jay has also released a biography, hence the title of the book (he has replaced the ‘bi’ in biography with ‘bastard’ – you really have no chance with him, ladies, not even as a one-off). The blurb mentions it as a memoir about dealing with homosexuality and mental health issues as a schoolboy. We really wanted to finish it before this review, but it would mean missing our self-imposed review deadline, so we reserve the right to update this part in a few days. But the first half (and a bit) gets a gigantic thumbs up at Playboys HQ. It took huge guts to write it, and to put it out there for the public. As a lot of gay men (Jay himself, Stephen Fry, etc) have spoken about gay literature being a guiding light during their adolescence, you can only hope the people who need it the most will hear about it somehow.  You can buy it on Amazon Kindle here, for a mere £4.80, which is only 30p more expensive than a crap Sunday lunch:

The Book on Amazon

illegitimatography

Bastardography is both harrowing and hilarious in just about equal measure. Some of the funny parts are not only laugh out loud, but keep on giving. From his early school years, he says something like ‘I went up to every boy in the class and kissed them all right on the lips, saying “I am going to marry each and every one of you.”‘ When he speaks to a therapist a few years later, he’s asked if he likes girls or boys and is shocked that anyone bar himself suspects he might be gay. Which just makes you think of the earlier kissing incident and laugh even harder that he didn’t think this gave him away.

He describes some poor ex’s genitalia as looking like ‘a wilted red hot chilli pepper.‘ Amusingly, that imagery definitely made its way into the Robot Arm show, certainly the rehearsal. We were too far back at the Clapham show to see such an appendage if it reappeared. But a shrivelled bright-red chilli pepper was right in our faces, hanging out of Simon’s fly, at the run-through. Ugh! We’d rather have that week-old raw kebab, thanks!

Something trivial I couldn’t quite get my head around were the cultural references from his schooldays. They are all out of wack! He’s a grown man now, and kicking some arse in his field. So what’s all this about getting bootleg Kanye West CDs at school? Kanye West? I like to think he meant Go West, and the spellchecker did the dirty on him. ‘We Close Our Eyes‘ – what a track! Spotify it. Learn something about a time when music meant music! And I’m sure Simon meant to say ‘tapes’, not CDs – the old C90, Spandau Ballet on one side, Robert Palmer on the other. The shiny discs didn’t come out until at least 1989!

Also, the book features all the questions about gay culture you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Like, when does a gay man consider his virginity to be lost? We’d often wondered about that one. Buy the book and find out. Sorta.

I’d be interested to hear what others make of Simon’s time at secondary school. Because as bad as it sounds, it was no harsher than what at least 20% of boys at mine were subjected to, sad to say. I like to think I was in a very bad batch but who knows. Certainly this part must be fairly unique: of a class of 30, 2 died in separate incidents before the end of my school days, one by his own hand, the other by someone else’s (ruled an accident). Another died 9 months later, in 1991, which I only found out on a websearch in 2013 after suddenly becoming obsessed about this fragile character’s current welfare mid-hoovering one day. Simon’s book really took me back, and none of the memories were pleasant. Worst of all, to my shame, I was accused of personally bullying someone to the point he said he would never ever return to school (as happens to Simon in the book). But, I argued, I don’t even know the guy! For once, the teacher seemed to believe me and said he’d investigate. Next day, I’m asked if he had joined us for football recently and, at one point, I’d shouted I was going to get the RSPCA to take him away. I had done. In the context of the game (and possibly his bad behaviour, but maybe I’m being The King of Wishful Thinking here), it just sounded like the usual inane thoughtless crap that gets said. Either way, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can only wonder now what else he’d been put through up to that point. Charlie’s surname has left the memory bank so I wont get a nasty surprise by trying to find him online, thank god. I’ve still felt terrible about it all day today, some 28 years later. (Good name for a movie, that).

Robbie Coltrane had been at the same school about 20 years earlier. I imagine he munched his way out of misery. Children, especially boys between the ages of 12-15, are nasty little bastards. Fuckin’ all of them.

Anyhow, buy Simon’s fab, enlightening book. And count your lucky stars.

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One response to this post.

  1. Thank-you so much for your kind words 🙂

    Reply

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