A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Torquay…

su42ezw5f1jr1f8yecq8Darn it. For one reason or another I missed out on seeing last night’s performance at Gray’s Inn Field of Antic Disposition’s Comedy of Errors. One reason being that nonone wanted to come along – after all they’d seen that play at the Rose, done by an all male company, who the year before had given a cracking Midsummer Night’s Dream with full on production values and energy in spades. Thanks to their funding being pulled, their CofE was a school show with costumes being pulled from railings as an obviously necessary device – I could smell sweaty gyms and the fading smell of school dinners. The set text kids loved it – but I was saddened.

So I thought I’d give the other a go. It was set in a prohibition- era Chicago and was based on a favourite film- Some Like it Hot. Obviously the cross dressing, trickery,etc was the key.  There was a band ( based on Sweet Sue’s) and a Marilyn/Sugar Cane – what’s not to love?

BUT I DIDN’T GET TO GO. Instead, I settled down to watch the previously mentioned Friday Night Dinner.  The family love it – no schlepping into town, for one thing. And so I got to thinking – none of this has changed since the days of Plautus ( Roman comedic playwright who followed the Greeks) – no wonder Frankie Boyle is whinging about the BBC and how sitcoms are stuck in 1978 ( yeah,1978 BC!).

Your average Plautine comedy is responsible for many a sitcom. Think first of all about stock characters – crafty plotting slave, hapless master in thrall to a nagging wife, young lovers finding ingenious ways to meet, cases of mistaken identity, annoying neighbour, the list goes on. Oh, and the chorus.

Starter for ten – name as many as you like. I’m thinking of Fawlty Towers, Terry and June -often the twenty year old son plays to the crafty type here), Porridge, the list is endless.

Where’s the Chorus, you’re asking? Think of those little scenes at the beginning of the show which foreshadow the action – when Seargent Wilson mentions the Warmington-on- Sea village fete,one immediately  senses trouble between the Vicar and Captain Mainwaring, when Basil tells the Major that the wife’s sister is turning up, when Godber informs Fletch that McKay is on a cell hunt for contraband, etc,etc.

Films? Apart from Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, The Rocky Horror Show (!!). Textbook. The storyteller in the armchair, the revellers, the plotting servants. Pure Plautus.

Which brings me back to Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. S challenged himself to write to the model of Plautus’ Menaechmi , for Ephesus read Rome of course.What about The Office, The Royle Family,People Just do Nothing ?Look hard enough and he’s in there somewhere.And as Billy Wilder wrote as the final line of Some Like it Hot:- “Nobody’s Perfect”.


Packing+Family=Epic Farce

overloading-440“Mmm, er…but the ideas just won’t come”. Which writer has never said that?

And then the Lord said – “let there be summer holidays” and the rest should’ve been easy, but that’s the subject for another blog.

Pitched up at the home of my dearest friend yesterday, to say “hi” and do the usual friend thing, to find the family chaotically unloading a full on food shop, two kids,etc. Outside on the road chatting to the husband, was, and let’s call him Dai Neighbour, the tanned and charming bloke over the fence – chatting about how the missus is stuck in a caravan in Wales with her sister, the ‘use, you know. A touch of ’70s sitcom anyone?

However, and here’s the thing – they were SUMMER HOLIDAY PACKING.

Now, you know how every  writing coach will tell you to pile on the obstructions to the goal – well this was textbook. And it goes like this. My friend, after 12 years had recently landed a great job in the City, very smart, which often entailed arriving home at nine absolutely knackered. The night before she had arrived home to find the gorgeous family dog with a very poorly paw, requiring anaesthetic,stitches and one of those white sick dog collar things PLUS they now had to drive up to her mum’s in East Anglia to leave him to be dogsitted.

OK. Back home. Friend had to go to work in the morning with no packing done and no floors cleaned ( did I mention she was a clean freak?). Arriving home –  nothing had been done by hubby (tho’ to be fair the car had to be sorted for the long drive to the Continent – really 70s). NOW HERE’S THE HOWLER – she’s lost her mobile phone! In-between washing towels, bedding (did I mention this was camping – it’s already in the Vacation- Road Trip movie genre), the family were looking in dustbins,under bushes, in freezers – all the desperate places where no-one ever finds anything, except the husband ( a Northerner for whom waste is a want not concept) who then finds a loathed tie chucked in recycling along with a one day out of date bag of spuds. And all the time the clock is ticking for the two hour trip to catch the boat PLUS the time queuing to get on PLUS the recent maritime strike which caused thousands to miss their longed-for break.

Meanwhile the kids were squabbling about toy space in a joint backpack, bad fashion choices and all the while roller skating up the road between parked cars and trips to to the corner shop for chewing gum tape dispensers (don’t ask).

Anyway – fast forward to getting to the Chunnel. There was bound to be something forgotten – something quite crucial, or a loved toy which led to child squealing in the back seat of a car overloaded, Joad-stylee. An idea to purchase something would lead to a trip off course down a one-way country lane, and as luck would have it there is a tractor approaching and no immediate passing place. There ensues an argument with the husband calling the tractor driver a “dumb yokel”,etc. On reaching the village store it is closed, and hubby has to hunt down the old proprietor, who happens to be ringing  the bells in church that morning. There might also be a section where the family on leaving the village, get stuck in mud and are forced to beg the smug tractor man to tow them out, only after the wife cannot call the AA because the mobile phone was never found and all the others are out of charge…  AND ALL THE TIME THE CLOCK IS TICKING…

Well, the family manage to get on the boat/train with seconds to spare and huge sighs of relief and laughter. Just then there is a sound – the ringing of the mobile – probably the old style  – the family stop, search frantically following the sound – deep joy – in the boot of the car. Friend grabs for it between a sleeping bag and cool box and then, the mobile flies out and lands under the front wheel of the car behind and is duly crushed. Last shot of longing looks as the car rolls on board. THE END.

So, you get the picture. Story ideas are in your backyard and always be open to the usual and never forget to pile on the obstructions.Of course this example was embellished and somewhat corny and borrowing heavily from your 70s middle- class family sitcom. But it didn’t do the funny and popular Friday Night Dinner any harm.