Hello again Mr Blog…and here’s part two as promised…

WEDNES 26th November, day 3 in the village hall. First up is the requisite yoga session and then we create our very own 1940s village complete with a panoply of characters for John to meet – including the village idiot stood in the duck pond (beautifully and, some might say, ‘method’ acted by Matt), the Lord of the Manor, the WI, the butcher, vicar, airmen at the base, and many many more – we enjoy ourselves immensely.

All incredibly useful in visualising the world – but is this the show? Time to get out and about – Mike has arranged for us to visit the old American airbase in Upper Heyford which closed back in the 90s but if you’re lucky – and know the right people – you get an extra special tour…We are met by Don – he used to work on the base for about 30 years and knows every inch of it. So 6 of us – 3 MacGuffs, 1 director, Don and Mike – cram into Mike’s car and we drive off around the base. The sheer scale of the place is mind boggling – 1250 acres, enormous bomb proof aircraft hangers with concrete that is metres thick, ‘secret’ areas that look like buildings but are actually storage units for ??? (ssshhh that’s secret) and then there’s mission control which hasn’t changed in decades. This really brings it all home to us – and fuels our imaginations as we recreate an emergency high alert…

IMG_3325

Afterwards we head back and we have major writing tasks to complete: we each have to write a character biography and write a scene – John has tasked me with writing a Geography lesson for American GIs recently arrived in Britain.

We zip off to Deddington to buy food, get back, realise we are all shattered and promptly Jim and I fall asleep on our bunk beds for an hour. Then it’s dinner and I rustle up a healthy meal to galvanise us – broccoli, spinach and fishcakes – a personal favourite of mine. We get to work and the writing goes on til the wee small hours zzzz wigzzzz zzzz.

THURS 27th November, day 4 – can’t believe it’s the penultimate day. Yoga to begin with and I have to admit I’m starting to like the yoga sessions – especially as now I’m wearing loose fitting trousers (Jim still struggling – he only brought jeans). We then present our work and I really enjoy getting inside the head of my character: Major Bill McEnroe – failed semi-pro baseball player and now with 12 years flying experience he has just been promoted. The other MacGuffs also have fun with their characters but maybe…just maybe…Jim as a stiff upper-lipped Major isn’t quite right for the show…could he be a different nationality?

Next up – our scenes – Matt and Jim have co-written a history lecture and I present my Geography lesson which is mostly based on thinking Britain is tiny. Pleased to get a few laughs from the gang. John has loads of ideas to help improve the scenes. A productive morning. A spot of lunch is followed by John setting more tasks including what is our mission statement for the show – both as the character we are playing and as a collective group of actors. Fascinating to get a more global overview of the show and helps focus our minds as much as a yoga session. This leads to a potential ‘major’ breakthrough in making Jim ‘American’ in the show. John sets more writing tasks before we end the day at the local pub – The Red Lion – run by the wonderful Mel and Sarah. The pizzas there are fantastic and Jim is over the moon to get a gluten free pizza and demands to see what flour they use…Bed, full, tired, write til very late – it’s nearly 3am when I finish. Wear my wig in bed.

FRI 28th November, day 5 – our last day. I am shattered – hardly any sleep. Straight into yoga which perks me up. Followed by some clowning exercises which are to help us be more truthful and real onstage – I fail miserably and cry in a corner, which ironically is a genuine and truthful thing to do. We then perform our writings – I need Jim and Matt for my scene which is the introduction to the whole show. The scene needs work but has legs – always good to have legs. Jim has re-written history – so to speak (his task was to re-write Thursday’s history lesson scene) – and it’s come on leaps and bounds. But the highlight of the morning is Matt’s wonderful Money sketch – really hope it makes it into the final show.

John then sets more writing tasks with tough deadlines – except it’s just for me and Jim, as Matt is granted furlough. His sister has given birth that morning in a hospital nearby – so off he zips, leaving Jim and I to carry the metaphorical baby. We crack on and the day ends with us showcasing our final two written musings – I’ve written a two-hander about the weather, but by workshopping it we bring in Matt and it improves the scene! Hurrah! And Jim’s scene about language differences has loads of funny lines and I do my best to ruin them. It’s now 5pm so time to down tools, pack up and head back to Blighty (London) – but first we scurry back to Mike & Clare’s to give them their presents – a lovely book of WW2 cartoons (kudos to John for getting prezzies) and some choccies. Hugs all round and promises to meet up when we’re back in Oxfordshire in January for stage 2 of the R&D.

Back in the Mattmobile and it’s home in time for Christmas (although the traffic jam on the way back nearly prevented that!)

That’s all til next time….thanks Mr Blog.

Hugs and tea and no aluminum on the sidewalk,

Dan x

p.s. Never did use those wigs.

Helloooo Mr Blog,

What were you doing in Steeple Aston I hear you cry? Equally I imagine you’re thinking – where on earth is Steeple Aston? Well Mr Blog, to answer your second question – that’s easy – it’s a lovely little village just north of Oxford. The first question is a bit harder to answer and it all began six months ago…

(flashback music)

My mobile rings – it’s John Walton (director of The Real MacGuffins 2013 show and Doctor Brown and many things) :

John: Hi Dan, fancy meeting for a chat?

Me: Ok John – I don’t owe you money do I?

John: Yes, but it’s more important than that…

Intrigued I meet up with John – pay my debts – and then he shows me a small book entitled ‘Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain’ written in 1942. It’s a fascinating and brilliant insight into the differences between America and Britain back then, how we have changed in 70 years and what it was like during wartime. John suggests putting a show together and if The Real MacGuffins would be interested? Two quick phonecalls later and Matt MacGuffin & Jim MacGuffin are on board.

Fast forward to November and John has done wonders – he has secured arts council funding, rehearsal space, R & D time and potential tour dates…IT IS HAPPENING!! Only we have to go to Steeple Aston…where!?!? (see above)

SUNDAY 23rd November, I finish packing for a week away – chucking in a couple of comedy wigs, as you never know. I meet up with Matt (our driver) who then picks up Jim MacGuffin outside a pub in Kew and we head to the wilds of the Cotswolds (the wolds of the Cotswilds?). We arrive an hour and a half later at Mike & Clare’s – a lovely couple who have been living in Steeple Aston for 40 years and who are putting us up /up with us. John has beaten us to it on his motorbike – but he is staying at the B&B in the village (Old Toms – not sure if Tom was in). Mike and Clare cook us a lovely meal and we then watch a series of DVDs about the village and its history. And so to bed – quick fight with Jim MacGuffin as to who gets the top bunk – I win. Matt is in a separate room, as far away as possible, as his snoring occasionally wakens the dead, and when it’s really bad it causes structural damage.

MONDAY 24th November, our first full R&D day. We arrive bright eyed and bushy tailed at the Village Hall. We do some stretches and warm up exercises – which prove quite problematic as only John is wearing ‘movement clothes’. We then read the text and get thinking about the themes and structure of the book, and how these could translate into performance. We have a concept in mind for an interactive talk to an audience of American GIs – but what/who are our characters? Shall we all be British or shall I try being an American?

A day of improvisation and thematic work ends with John leaving us alone for 90 minutes to put together a 30 minute version of the show for him! He is a hard task master. The resulting show is 29 minutes of shambles with one ‘good’ minute (it was only good because John misunderstood what we were doing). Feeling suitably dejected we do a food shop and cook for Mike & Clare – a massive mushroom risotto. It seems to go down well. We then do more research and watch some old WW2 footage. With hearts and minds fed, it’s off to bed. Note to self – must use the wigs tomorrow.

TUESDAY 25th November, day 2. Back at the hall we do some yoga – Matt remembers to wear movement trousers, Jim and I struggle again in tight fitting jeans. We also get involved in the Village badminton club who are playing in the hall – I take over from Jim after he hurts his arm and let down my partner – Jo – by being absolutely dreadful at badminton – it’s not the same as tennis. Back to rehearsals and we come at the text from a different perspective. This time rather than being military roles, we look at the way village life meets the incoming GIs – the social mores, the various characters who may have run into each other – how would a farmer help out a GI lost in the countryside on ‘furlough’ (leave)? What rules did families have when they were hosting soldiers? What did GIs think of cricket? These exercises help shape the world of 1942 but are they helping us shape the show? We are all feeling slight frustration – we need more information, more research to help us – and what better way than meeting the village’s oldest resident – David Cattermole – he’s 90, totally on the ball and more than happy to regale three sketch comedians with tales from the 30s and 40s. A fascinating hour and a half whistles by, then it’s off to the pub for ‘Steak and wine’ night and to meet the local Players – who are a lovely group, very friendly and also give us some useful information about the nearby American airbase – and, fingers crossed, they’ll come to our work in progress in January. Then back to Mike & Clare’s for a well deserved sleep. Wigs might help tomorrow.

Part two on Monday Mr Blog.

TTFN.

Hello Mr Blog,

The end of the year is nigh – and hasn’t it hurtled round really quickly? My resolution is to keep you up-to-date at least once a month from now on Mr Blog – fingers crossed on that one.

Just to finish up on what, where and how I’ve been – I was filming up in Edinburgh in October and November for BBC3 series ‘Pramface’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00n8w54) which I have to say was one of the loveliest acting experiences I’ve had to date. I had to go up 4 or 5 times, which included the Sleeper train. I can confess Mr Blog that I was hugely excited about this but ultimately the single bed, plastic sheet and snoring neighbour left me rather disappointed and sleep deprived, although the continental breakfast wasn’t too bad (I was advised NOT to go for the hot breakfast – handy tip for anyone using the Sleeper) – here’s the brekkie:

Image

The cast and crew on Pramface are all brilliant and incredibly friendly – I felt 100% welcome straight away; and I totally enjoyed the part I played – ‘Ollie’ in episode 1. Acting with such a talented cast was a real privilege and jobs like that don’t come along every day – the series should start in January and I hope you enjoy it Mr Blog as much as I did making it. Oh and a props box on set meant I got this close to James Bond –

Image

Me and the MacGuffins had a busy old time too – we got a commission to write for Mitchell & Webb on BBC Radio 4, performed our full Edinburgh show at a big corporate night in December and we finished a first draft script for a production company (please send all positive vibes to The Real MacGuffins, c/o Dan, Jim and Matt).

In other news I had a significant birthday which involved eating at The Fat Duck –  http://www.thefatduck.co.uk/ – probably the greatest dining experience I’ve ever had – four and half hours of eating 14 courses with such great friends ( whose knowledge of me covered my whole life – thank you all for being there through thick and thin) – culminating with a guided tour of the kitchens as we were the last people left in the restaurant!!

Image

Followed by just a ‘few’ cocktails with family and friends at The Looking Glass http://lookingglasslondon.co.uk/ – it was truly joyous to see an entire bar filled with people I knew – special mention to Ian who came down from Glasgow, Victoria from Leeds, Nick from Bath and The March Family from Somerset. Thank you everyone who came – you gave me a warm glow inside which is still there – thank you for drinking and chatting with me til 8am even though I was dressed like this:

Image

That’s Gareth Kane there – wondering what he’s got himself into! Gareth is a brilliant improviser, one third of top sketch group ‘Kneel Before Zod’ – catch them at the Paradise on 20th Feb – and a good friend who’s put up with me for nearly 10 years!!

The rest of December was spent doing corporate roleplay, Murder Mysteries as Dr Watson and being this fine chap –

Image

So a slightly tardy Merry Christmas Mr Blog and a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Here’s a toast to 2014…and if you haven’t caught it yet  here’s another Toast: please watch ‘Toast of London’ – I absolutely LOVED it – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/toast-of-london/4od

Cheers Mr Blog!

So Mr Blog – where were we? July I believe, yes, July – a very busy month for Edinburgh preparations involving rehearsals with the talented John Walton – here’s the website for his theatre company http://www.folespoir.co.uk/ – a whole bunch of previews with two fab sketch comedy groups: That Pair (http://www.thatpair.com/) & The Grandees (http://thegrandees.com/) – do check them out – finishing off our crowd funding campaign ( a huge THANK YOU to our sponsors and our 49 shareholders http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-real-macguffins-come-again-edinburgh-festival-2013 – Matt is sending your stock as we speak) and building our set (Jim MacGuffin did wonders with some kitchen units, burgundy paint and a smoke machine).

Then it was off to my 10th Edinburgh – one of the sunniest I have yet experienced – a whirlwind of putting up posters, handing out flyers – here’s one (with a couple of reviews stapled to it – it’s an Edinburgh thing):

Image

having the most intense fun doing shows (and selling out) at the Underbelly, guesting at nights at The Pleasance, Spank and Gilded Balloon (we get around), appearing in the final of the Best New Sketch Act, seeing great shows, meeting the amazing Neil Gaiman along with the legendary John Lloyd & chatting about this great inspirational speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI , catching up with my cousin Gail, drinking with friends and ending up with a green face every day (alcohol/make-up).

I did get one day off and thanks to a certain sponsor (thanks Mike) we got FREE TICKETS FOR THE ASHES at Durham – Matt MacGuffin and I set off early in the morning and look how excited he was about it (non cricket fans please skip the next paragraph):

Image

(CRICKET LOVERS READ ON:  I have to say of all the days we could have picked it turned out to be a sensational day’s cricket –  it was Day 4 of the Durham Test – England scored around 100 runs before lunch (well done Big Tim Bresnan and Swanny) , then the heavens opened and we thought our day was ruined – but the ground staff worked wonders (with some giant squeegie rollers) in fact they did such a good job that Australia – chasing 299 to win – were 120 for 1 and looking set to win the Test. Tea time was a sombre period – but the evening session was pure sporting theatre – with a magical spell Stuart Broad (bowling at over 90mph) obliterated the Australian batting order – aided by the ever dependable Tim Bresnan – and with England having an extra half-hour to take the last two wickets – storm clouds lowering overhead, bad light, pressure, crowd atmosphere – it had everything including the final Australian wicket falling – VICTORY and we all went crazy as England had won the Ashes. I was a very happy Dan (and even Matt woke up) – this is how close we were to the action:

Image

Cricket chat over and Edinburgh over, back to London – September & October –  straight back into the fray performing our Real MacGuffins show to a sell-out crowd at Funnyside Earlsfield ( a great comedy night run by Dave Bourn – http://www.thefunnyside.info/ ) and at the Leicester Square Theatre. I managed to squeeze in some solo character gigs, a bit of corporate roleplay work, an advert for ASDA as well as some filming for BBC3 (more on that in my next missive Mr Blog ). And I caught up on great shows from the Edinburgh Fringe that I missed (because of clashing with my own show) including Grounded and Fleabag (two excellent one woman shows by exceptionally talented actresses) and also Red Bastard – here he is:

Image

All three shows were radically different and highlight the power of one person shows – it can be the most directly engaging type of theatre when it goes well (and the least when done badly). I am so glad I saw them – and congratulations to Phoebe Waller-Bridge for her recent Evening Standard nomination – richly deserved.

Very very nearly up to speed – two quick things – I highly highly recommend Modern Family – here’s a taste – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aogZUDx51vQ  and also in October I went to this book launch http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2013/oct/30/wanksy-worlds-worst-graffiti-in-pictures written by my mates James and Marc – check it out!!!

That’s all for the moment Mr Blog – our next chat should bring us completely up to date…

What’s that Mr Blog? Twice in a month – unheard of – yes, but it’s true. I’m back and I’m here to catch up where I left off. Where was I? May? Ah with my lovely sketch chums at The Real MacGuffins we descended upon the fine folk at The Ministry of Fun – here’s their website: http://www.ministryoffun.net/  – I have known the wonderful James Lovell and Matt Grist since the previous Millennium and they kindly let us borrow some costumes for our forthcoming (now completed) Edinburgh show  – here’s a couple of outfits we ( I mean Matt) tried on :

Image

 

Here’s Matt looking rather fetching:

IMG_1811

 

We eventually decided against these outfits but we did borrow some great hats, coats and wigs which subsequently made it into the show – THANK YOU MINISTRY OF FUN!!!

June was a fun month and I went to some lovely weddings – I have to say that Til and Mel’s wedding was absolutely amazing and the speeches were all fantastic – genuinely not a dry eye in the house; I also got rather drunk at Rich and Janine’s wedding but the less said about that the better. Here’s a photo from backstage at the Brighton Fringe where Jim MacGuffin gained a curious head-growth:

IMG_1847

 

June also involved me pottering around the country with Dom Joly for his current series of Fool Britannia  – Saturdays 6.30pm on ITV1…I may have mentioned I’m in episodes 4 & 5…I had a really fun time in Swansea and Ipswich (being part Welsh and an Ipswich Town fan). You can follow Dom’s twitter rantings here: https://twitter.com/domjoly. June was capped off with some sporting endeavours – going to Wimbledon with my mate Malky and playing a comedians charity cricket match for Chaz Collett – on what was probably the hottest day of the year.

Next Blog coming soon…now just a mere 3 months behind…

Off to do a show tonight at the Leicester Square Theatre…7pm if you read this blog in time…

Toodlepip Mr Blog.

Hello Mr Blog,

Who on earth is this I hear you cry? …Yes, it’s me and yes, I apologise for being very lax in my blogging and I could bore you with endless excuses of filming stuff, Edinburgh Fringe and generally not being home to do it – BUT there should always be time to write a blog! – yes there should and with that self-chastisement I shall now update you as to my meanderings over the past 6 months.

Having just checked my iphone calendar I notice that it seems to delete all calendar notes older than 2 months which is a bit frustrating – is there anyway I can prevent this? I must therefore rely on my memory. Here goes:

I have been incredibly absorbed with my sketch group The Real MacGuffins (www.therealmacguffins.com) – writing and developing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe which we started gigging at the Bath Comedy Festival in March – check the festival out here: http://www.bathcomedy.com/ – it is run by a fine fellow called Mr Nick Steel and has to be one of the friendliest, warmest and well-run festivals on the circuit.

Also in March I filmed this fun spoof of Man v Food with the charming Mr Lee Gant – who never seems to stop working or bantering.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW4zKbJ9MS8

Image

And I filmed a small cameo in a Channel 4 pilot – Wizard’s Sleeve – helmed by directing guru John Henderson with Isy Suttie, Sara Pascoe and Julie T Wallace, (from The Life And Loves of A She Devil – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098849/ ) – here she is menacing me (she’s actually really lovely):

Image

April was great fun – I did a clowning workshop with Mick Barnfather, who I highly recommend; he is an amazing teacher and I learnt so much from him. I use at least one of his exercises every time I meet up with the other MacGuffins. Although he did make me dress up as a scout master…hmmm. Here’s his website:  http://www.mickbarnfather.com/ – give one of his courses a try – he didn’t ask me to say that by the way – (…so Mick that’s a tenner you owe me, yeah?)

In May I played a baddie – Mr Gruber – in a wonderful short film called ‘Downsizer’ written and directed by Joe Pavlo. The whole experience was great from start (group bonding drinks at Soho House) to finish (group bonding drinks at the wrap party). I loved playing someone a bit warped and twisted – here’s the very very cool trailer with a lot of my voice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aKYOi0ncTg

I realise this is only up to May/June, so more to come…soon.

My TV recommendations at the moment are The Wrong Mans  (BBC) and Louie (Fox/SKY) – oh and you will catch me in Dom Joly’s Fool Britannia (ITV1) on 26th October and 2nd November…

Toodlepip and thanks for being patient Mr Blog.

Hello Mr Blog,

Many many apologies for keeping you on tenterhooks for the last couple of months. I have been pretty busy – in a good way. So that bit of filming I did…oh hang on, did I mention I was in a play in January at Theatre 503?  ‘Our Children Will Be Next’ directed by Lydia Parker (who is a great director to work with) which was a total sell out run; I played a heartless, calculating Big Brother type – a real challenge doing a bit of serious acting.

Anyway back to that filming…oh by the way did you catch me in ‘Miranda’ in January – a fun cameo where I met Raymond Blanc and Gary Barlow. M. Blanc gave me a shoulder massage – merci Raymond. And the cast and crew were brilliant – recording in front of a live studio audience was daunting but a huge huge buzz. Miranda works so hard on the series and I personally loved doing the episode (especially rehearsals where I got to play a couple of parts!). Here’s me in Miranda’s flat:

Image

Now that filming…wait a sec, I’ve just found out that ‘Lee Nelson’s Well Funny People’ is due to start on 14th March on BBC3, you can catch me in a couple of episodes.
 
What filming Mr Blog? Oh yeah, I have a cameo in ‘Molly Moon – The Incredible Hypnotist’ which stars the legend that is Joan Collins (although I didn’t actually meet her), the multi Oscar nominated Emily Watson (although I didn’t actually meet her) and Dominic Monaghan ( who is a good guy and didn’t mind me asking about his Hobbit feet – he still has a pair by the way). Here’s a picture of me with a polar bear which has nothing whatsoever to do with my part:

Image

See you soon Mr Blog – I promise not to leave it so long next time…oh and if you’re around on Tuesday 12th March, come down to the Comedy Pub, Leicester Square – awesome sketch and character comedy line up.

Bye Mr Blog.