Thursday, 23 April 2009

(Some of) My Favourite TV Themes.

What's a blog for if not shameless self-indulgence? It's sun-up on an orange juicy Sunday morning, I'm not in any plays, following any elections (well, except maybe the Indian one, a bit) or looking to rant about charlatans & frauds...just felt like a trip down memory lane.

Right so...apropos of nuffin', TV themes. Here are a few of my favourites, some classics, some more or two unrecognisable to younger audiences. Of course, the shows don't all hold a special place in the pop culture crevice of my heart, but that ain't the point. It's not a 'definitive list' and it's not a 'best of', it's merely a personal indulgence and a bit of hopefully those who remember these shows & tunes will get a bit of a sentimental twinge and those who've never heard of 'em can hear what a TV theme with a bassline sounds like.

The Rockford Files (Mike Post & Peter Carpenter)

It seems like Mike Post wrote just about everything on American TV in the 70s and early 80s, but this is my favourite of his. I liked the show too. James Garner was cool even when he was being beaten up, which was quite often. Another memorable factoid about watching Rockford Files was around seeing an answering machine for the first time.

Rockford Files Season 1 intro

Curb Your Enthusiasm ('Frolic' by Luciano Michelini)
I love Curb, I love Larry David and I love the theme, which Larry remembered from a bank ad he'd seen years earlier. The link music for Curb, like just about everything else on the show, is perfect. The thinking behind the theme is as simple as it is brilliant. No matter how dark or bleak a situation might be, when the audience hears 'Frolic', everything's gonna be ok.

The Champions (Tony Hatch)

Here's a slightly more obscure one. My brother and I loved this show, mainly because we liked poking fun at William Gaunt's 'on the verge of tears' facial expression. I can't remember much about the show other than the premise: three young and attractive people are in an accident and when they wake up they've been given super powers by some old beardy guy. They work for a covert group called Nemesis, fighting baddies who are uncommonly keen on germ warfare.

The Persuaders (John Barry)

I can't remember too much about the show, other than it starred Roger Moore & Tony Curtis as two playboy types who...did stuff. And Tony Curtis wore driving gloves. And there were lots of windy Euro-roads. Oh, and John Barry wrote possibly the most famous theme ever, James Bond. I like the Persuaders theme because it's curiously melancholic and reflective for this kind of show.

Dave Allen at Large (Robert Sharples)

One of my favourite shows ever, one of my favourite comedians ever and possibly my favourite theme ever. Dave Allen was a man of great style, charm, grace and infinite ability. The most urbane comedian ever, and a TV groundbreaker. He's the first I know of to seamlessly blend sketch comedy with live stand-up (or sit down, in his case). I can't help but smile when I see him, and can't stop a little nerdy boogie when I hear his theme.

Rush (George Dreyfus)

Ah, an Aussie one. I have fond memories of our first colour TV set being bought in anticipation of seeing Jon Waters' dark blue uniform and...well...lots of brown dirt. I also remember the TV crapping itself the day the before show was on. A stirring theme from an Australian classic. As with many Australian bits and pieces, I couldn't find the actual opening titles, but here's the tune:

Peanuts (Vince Guaraldi)

More a fan of the books & strips than the shows, I still love the theme. Years ago I saw Joe Satriani live and the bass player Stu Hamm played a wonderful cameo solo version of this beautiful theme, which has since been maimed by commercial overuse.

Doctor Who (Ron Grainer)

This one's widely regarded as the best TV theme ever, with good reason. If the themes are meant not only to identify the show but give some indication as to the content, then the Doctor them is an archetype. Of course, the theme was probably the most expensive bit of the old show. On a mildly interesting side note, the composer Ron Grainer was born in Atherton, Queensland, my home state.

Van der Valk (Jack Trombey)

I can hardly remember this show, other than the confusion of seeing an obviously English (Barry Foster) man in charge of Dutch police. And his tan coat. Plus, Barry seemed far too avuncular to be a high-ranking cop. Beautiful theme tho', and a lovely tan coat.

The Professionals (Laurie Johnson)

BUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGH!!! Dununt nunt! Aw yeah, I got excited every time that car smashed through the window. The Professionals was so cool. Bodie & Doyle were hipper, tougher versions of Starsky and Hutch, and they didn't need a Gran Torino, just Escorts & Capris. Plus it had the gravitas of grouchy Gordon Jackson as their whisky-supping boss. If you hadn't picked up on it, I really like themes with lots of crunchy wukka-wukka wah.

S.W.A.T. (Barry de Vorzon)

Not just wukka-wukka, but ballsy basslines too. Basically all I can remember from S.W.A.T. is lots of people jumping off stuff. And everyone, especially Steve Forrest, being cool.

Robin's Nest (Richard O'Sullivan)

This Man About the House spin-off was really only notable for a few things, one of which was David Kelly's brilliance. The other was Richard O'Sullivan's theme, a mini-Moog masterpiece. Oh, and Tessa Wyatt was lovely too.

Bewitched (Jack Keller)

Back to 'classics' territory with this one, a show still repeated ad nauseam. As themes go it's okay, it's really here only because of Elizabeth Montgomery, who was one of the most beautiful women ever.

Barnaby Jones (Jerry Goldsmith)

Hated the show, loved the theme...and the titles. Whenever it came on I cringed. There was something about old Buddy Ebsen that really irritated me. However, I did love the spoken titles and the episode announcement, not to mention 'a Quinn Martin production!' They also used to title caption the chapters and had an epilogue.

The New Avengers (Laurie Johnson)

The only composer to make the list twice. Now, I know The Avengers was the classic and The New Avengers a pale facsimile, but 1) I was too young for the original and 2) the theme kicks ass. Plus, in good 1970s style, there are many more 'splosions.

The Banana Splits (Nelson B. Winkless Jr)

I was born in 1969, so have only the most vague memories of seeing the Banana Splits when it first ran, but I was once told by a relative that I used to say 'Uh oh! Chungo!' whenever I was given a mouthful of food. I can confirm this as being true, as I was 33 at the time. The theme gets a run here purely because it's one of those tunes (like 'Across the Universe') that I feel I've known since before I was born. Which may well be true.

Magic Roundabout

Circus music is freaky, but I loved the theme to MR. I also loved Dougal, probably because he moved while seemingly missing feet. He was a snake dog.

Sesame Street (Joe Raposo 'The original Cookie Monster')

Kids' show, three-in-a-row. Sesame Street brought us more than just a great theme tune, it was notable for a host of really cool, melodic & funky bits and pieces, most of which were written (and often sung) by Joe Raposo. In fact, I might dedicate a whole entry to Mr Raposo's work sometime.

Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids (Ricky Sheldon & Edward Fournier)

What the hell, let's make it four. Like a lot of kids my first exposure to Bill Cosby was through his stand-up records, so I knew that a lot of the people in Fat Albert were drawn from his childhood. There's something special about the way Mr Cosby spoke to kids through this show. You didn't feel like you were watching a kids' show and you didn't feel preached at. And once again, the theme is some coolass shit.

The Young Ones (Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett)

This show was everything my Dad hated, and I think it was meant to be. I couldn't see why though, it was just a bit of colourful and inspired silliness from a bunch of extremely talented, funny people. The Young Ones was probably my first experience of a 'cult' show, even though in Australia it didn't really kick off till 1986 when the ABC re-ran it at 9pm, after the D-Generation. It originally went out in '83 or '84 at 11-ish and I snuck a few episodes, but no-one at school knew what the hell I was on about. Channel 2 was so uncool.

The Goodies (Bill Oddie)

Yayyy! What more needs to be said?

There are others that were in a big list that didn't make, and I'm sure five minutes after I post this I'll remember some totally fuck off brilliant theme, but that's it. Enjoy...

Post-script - Yes, I wrote the bulk of this last Sunday morning but only posted it today. I've been unwell the last few days, thanks to the side-effects of a 'stop-smoking' drug I've been taking. More on that later...

Monday, 6 April 2009

Goodbye Pillowman.

Show's over, folks. Back again.

Please bear with me if I drift into hyperbole here, my words do little justice to the experience of the last couple of months.

Last Saturday evening saw the lights finally fade on an amazing show: the 23rd/MetroArts co-production of 'The Pillowman' by Martin McDonagh. Let's briefly kick off with him. What a fucking brilliant play, Mr McD.

Despite my sporadic forays into theatre over the past 20 years, I've been in more shows than one might think. Some have been professional, some not. Some have been transformational, others not so much. With the benefit of a few days remove, I can now quite objectively say that The Pillowman is quite possibly the best show ('soup to nuts') I've ever had the honour of being involved with. Here's why:

1. The production company. This is my third full show with 23rd Productions, and they just keep getting better and better. Kathryn Fray and Christopher Sommers are determined, dedicated people. Kath has a passion for theatre the size of a whale and it's matched only by Chris's awareness, understanding and drive. They have clear and defined goals. They want to make art with a purpose, but they understand the primary objective: to entertain. They are rare insofar as they are both artists who can switch effortlessly into business mode when necessary. If a person wanted an example of a Renaissance in this city's theatre industry, they need only be pointed in the direction of 23rd.

Special mention must be made of Amanda Bell, the Company Manager. Chances are if something goes splendidly well and you don't hear very much about it, you have Amanda to thank. She is the embodiment of the Quiet Achiever, working herself silly to make the production a success, but staying very firmly in the shadows. Y'know, I think Amanda Bell might actually be The Pillowman.

2. The director. Prior to this year 23rd had mounted two full productions: Closer in 2007 (directed by Mark Conaghan) and Motortown last year (directed by Shane Jones). Each time they managed to find the right person to steer the ship. The choice of Michelle Miall to direct The Pillowman was inspired. Michelle has created this sweet little beast of a play almost by sleight of hand.

From the very first rehearsals she went about her work with the most defined of ideas and the lightest of hearts. She had a clear and uncluttered (read: non-wanky) understanding of McDonagh's work. She never pushed or even cajoled her actors, she merely teased ideas and suggested different approaches when necessary. She was able to bring the separate elements together seamlessly when we stopped working scenes in isolation. She made us aware of our own choices as actors'. She never lost a mote of confidence in our ability to deliver what the play required when the time came. She cast the thing superbly. And she's just a really lovely human, which of course counts for plenty.

3. The creatives. From the simple but hugely effective set design by Amanda Karo right through to the amazing Danny Elfman-esque score by Chris Perren, everything clicked on The Pillowman. Jason Glenwright's LX design was as shocking as it was textured and beautiful, Chrispey McDougall's wardrobe choices managed to stay faithful to the idea that we were not only in a nebulous world, we lived in an unknown time and Louise (my darling Loolee) Gavin's hair artistry meshed perfectly with the indefinable 'place & time' of the piece.

4. The crew. Whitney Eglington is a first year uni student. This might lead you to believe she's still finding her feet. Well, she knows where her feet are, but I had trouble finding 'em. They are a blur! I've never seen a Stage Manager so committed to going up on time, and better still, turn around an interval so fast. That's completely forgetting her tech knowledge and calling of the show, which was just staggeringly good.

Apparently there are universities that frown on students doing work outside the course. While I understand and acknowledge the reasons for this, I'm quite confident that, were they witness to such a professional display, they might have second thoughts about this directive. Darling Tim 'Auntie Mary' Wallace really needs no praise from me. An absolute hero, pro, champion and ├╝ber-Mary. I love you. Gaby Zsolnai came to us in tech, and what a powerhouse performer. Piglet paint-mixing, blood-prep, prop-setting, everything done with an enthusiasm and minimum of fuss. In fact, Gaby's work speaks to the whole ethos of the production: enthusiasm...minimum of fuss. Thanks also to Dirk (The Prince of Dirkness) Hoult who jumped into the bump-out so we precious ones could prance about.

5. The critical response. Never in my life have I seen such an overwhelmingly positive reaction to a play. We all like to say that we don't care about the reviews, but we do. Who doesn't like to hear nice stuff being said about the work they are doing? I'm sure some people don't care, but we're talking about theatre people here...c'mon! Moreover, widely-read positive reviews can translate to much bigger houses than an indie production might normally expect, which in turn provides a company the chance to keep making good work. So to the reviewers, a big thank you.

6. The support from our industry. The Pillowman was 23rd's first co-production, so it would be remiss not to pay homage to the people at Metro Arts, The Pillowman's co-producer and a heavyweight supporter of independent theatre in Brisbane for many years. My first show at the Metro was in 1992, and I was far from the first person to walk that stage. Without the support of people like you, there'd be fewer productions in our town.

Equator-sized thanks to Jon Halpin for his input and support during the rehearsal process. I'm sure everyone felt slightly more emboldened (if a wee bit nervy, at first) knowing that Jon was in our corner. Thank you to the many industry leaders who made time in busy schedules to come and see The Pillowman. It's a huge confidence boost knowing you came.

7. The audience. 'No audience, no show'. You came in great number, you gripped your armrests, you pissed yourselves laughing, you cried, you showed up when it was raining, you shared your appreciation during and after the show. On a personal note, you reminded me in the best way what it's like to ride waves of laughter. You were fucking magnificent. Thank you.

8. The cast. Sigh. I guess I had to mention these fuckers eventually...hehe. What spectacular people these little pillows are. All with amazing pedigree and talent, all so driven to do the best work they can, all so much more 'credentialled' than I am. I don't really know where to start here...but off we go.

Chris Vernon. A darling of a human, talented beyond reasonable measure, captured a wondrous duality in Michal that was breathtaking. It's never easy playing 'the retard' (context, people). It's so easy to fall into the realm of parody or pastiche, but Chris made Michal human, inquisitive...and he allowed the audience to feel real compassion for a man who was ostensibly a murderer.

Emma Che Martin, Emma Pursey and Matty Filkins proved the rule that 'there's no such thing as a small role'. Each of them brought a great vivacity to their work which shone onstage. There were times, hiding in the hole in the wall watching 'The Little Jesus' story that I was so engrossed I nearly craned into view of the audience. They were note-perfect. Matty's slack jaw, Emma's bogan sneer & ciggie flick and Emma Che's..well, everything...often forced me to cover my mouth to keep from laughing.

Rob Thwaites is Motortown. He is, too. But he's just as much Pillowman as he is Motortown, and I've no doubt he'll be the next show he's in. Rob was my 'bad cop' partner in Pillowman and I couldn't have wished for more. He prepares so meticulously and is always striving for more. I love Robbie Thwaites as a man and an actor, and am very proud to have worked alongside him again. The cunt.

Finally...young master Steven Rooke. This is where I almost run out of words. Steve...makes me realise what I can (and should) be as an actor. He's a tireless professional, he's generous as all fuckery onstage and off, he's bursting with enthusiasm, he's a total sweetheart of a man and he's an amazing actor. If you need a cue, a hint, a 'pointer' on your path as an actor...look no further than Steven. I'm blessed to have shared a stage with him.

I feel blessed, full stop. The last few days have been boneless fatigue, but remembering the short distance back to the show fills me with something rare and special. This play has re-ignited a love for something I've always felt compelled to do. It's totally natural and understandable to dislike doing a job you hate, but when you feel the same about your passion...that's just plain weird and sad. The Pillowman (and everyone involved in it) has stoked the furnace in me. The support & encouragement I'm receiving from peers and colleagues to keep striving is gold dust to me. I'm back.