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Thursday 3rd November 2005

Grumpy Old Women opened in Cheltenham tonight. I have been script editing the show which was written by Jenny Éclair and Judith Holder. Script editing is a job with ill-defined borders. On the third series of Little Britain I more or less just had to come in, hear them read the scripts and say “Well done, that is good. How about this joke here? No? OK, well it’s up to you,” but with GOW (as all the kids are calling it), because it was a brand new project (it’s not just putting the TV stuff on to stage) things were a bit more stressful and complicated as we struggled to get the material into some shape. But I am not the writer of it, so again it was a case of suggesting a few lines and cuts and moving things around a bit and having a crack at re-writing certain sections, which Jenny or Judith would then rewrite again. It’s been a project that has taken a few months to get to this stage and the script is so familiar to us all that it’s easy to forget which bits are funny and easy to question whether any of it is funny at all. This is normal. It’s happened with every show I have ever worked on.
So it was fantastic to see the show up on stage, playing to a packed theatre (of around 670 people – and it’s already sold out for the next two nights and most of the mini tour already). I got to the Everyman early and there were already a few punters milling around. Then I went to check my email in the café upstairs and when I turned round the place was jam-packed. And practically everyone there was female. This was slightly bizarre, like a middle-aged Amazon tribe, though I suppose shouldn’t have been unexpected. Though there is plenty for men to enjoy in the script, for the moment at least women seem to have claimed it as their own.
I squeezed through them all trying to get to the loo, worrying about the queues and missing the opening of the performance, but once I had finally got to the gents it struck me that of course I needn’t fret. There were only about seven other men in the building. We could have a personalised urinal each for the evening. It would have been a nice gesture in the theatre put a photo of each of us in our designated urinal, which we could then try and hit with our wee. That’s what I think anyway, but the Everyman didn’t do that.
I felt quite nervous as the show opened. I knew that it was the first night and that the performers (Jenny, Linda Robson and Dillie Keane) would be fretting away and worrying about remembering their lines and cues. What if the audience just sat there finding nothing amusing?
We needn’t have worried. It went incredibly well. I had to keep reminding myself that this was the first time this material had been properly aired in public. With my one man shows there are tortuous previews where I try stuff out and find out what works and what fails, but GOW was premiering to a paying audience and amazingly everything seemed to be hitting home with the audience. The laughter of recognition filled the auditorium and it was strange to hear the shrill and joyful sound of almost exclusively female laughter. The noise was somehow reminiscent of some kind of delightful poultry. And the way they laughed as they empathised with the stories from the actors made me laugh as well, not only with relief that the show was working so well, but also out of surprise at how universal some of the observations clearly were. The cast relaxed as they realised or remembered why the stuff they were saying was funny and though inevitably there were things to change and improve upon, as well as technical issues to address, I could see that the piece is destined to be a massive hit. Not only has it sold out despite no real publicity, it also lives up to expectations and entertained.
As a performer it is odd yet gratifying to hear one’s own jokes performed by others and working well. It’s something I have experienced in the more surreal environs of the foreign versions of Talking Cock, but tonight I could understand what was going on on stage as well as the audience. I didn’t provide too many of the jokes, but was particularly proud of one of mine in the GOW manifesto of how they would change the world which runs something like “Israel and Palestine. We’re going to sort this out once and for all. One of you gets to draw in the border and then the other one chooses which half they want.” I had a pang of wishing I’d kept the joke for myself, before realising that of course it only really works in this context.
It’s worth going just to experience the joy of female laughter and at least unlike The Vagina Monologues, you don’t sit in the audience as a man thinking, “Oh dear, I’d better chop my cock off now.”
Best of all I am out of the Health Farm and could have pizza and beer again. Four days good work ruined in four hours! Ha, I laugh in the face of health!

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