Simian Substitute Site for March 2023: Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary
MONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2023
Books: It was a surprise to look through the new release audiobooks this month and find that one of them was With Nails: The Film Diaries Of Richard E Grant, read by the author. It’s a surprise because I bought that book almost three decades ago, and it’s taken Grant that long to finally sit down in a studio and read it out loud. I’m assuming that his recent experience of recording the audiobook of his 2022 memoir A Pocketful Of Happiness gave him a taste for the medium. I had a memory of the book being a good fun read when it first came out in the nineties, and for large parts of it that’s true: we follow Grant from his debut in Withnail & I to Pret A Porter a decade later, as he marvels at his good fortune while still being detached enough to have a wryly cynical view of the movie business. However, I’d totally forgotten about the darker passages in his diaries: the story of the stillbirth of his first child is astonishingly intense (his emotional reading is a large part of that), and it takes a while for the book to get back to the amusing on-set anecdotes. But as a document of the first decade of a film actor’s career, it can’t be beat: although the thirty year gap between publication and recording must have given an awkward edge to him reading his tales of hanging out with Kevin Spacey.
Telly: I mentioned while we were in Edinburgh last year that The BBG and I had become fans of the New Zealand version of Taskmaster, which copies the framework and design of the UK show but has slowly developed its own distinct personality over the course of three seasons. As a result, we’ve become a lot more aware of the New Zealand comedy circuit, and the ridiculously small number of people in it. As proof of this, there’s currently a primetime show on NZ’s channel Three called Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee, whose cast appears to be made up almost entirely of Taskmaster NZ alumni (plus at least one person we saw at the Edinburgh improv show Snort). Like our own No More Jockeys, it originated as an online game that a bunch of comedians used during lockdown to amuse themselves and anyone else watching. Unlike Jockeys, though, Montgomery has managed to turn it into a working format for an entertaining TV show, even though its premise is literally ‘watching comedians trying to spell difficult words’. Elsewhere in the Antipodes, they’re a few episodes into the first ever season of Taskmaster Australia. It’s still at the bedding-in stage: Taskmaster Tom Gleeson is a little too Light Entertainment for the role, assistant Tom Cashman is enjoying himself a bit too much, and the audience laugh track has been doctored to sound positively inhuman. But some of the tasks have been absolute corkers, to the extent that – as with New Zealand – we can probably expect a few of them to be stolen for the UK version in a year or two.
Theatre: The first time I saw Richard Hawley, I wasn’t entirely impressed, but I warmed to him hugely over time. So as soon as I heard about Standing At The Sky’s Edge – a musical based around Hawley’s songs – I leapt at the chance to see it. Somehow, it wasn’t until a day or two before my visit to the National Theatre that a horrifying thought struck me: what if it turns out to be Mamma Mia! but with added references to Henderson’s Relish? Happily, this isn’t one of those jukebox shows where the plotting is jerry-built out of random lines from the songs, as long as you don’t count the scene where Open Up Your Door is sung by someone standing outside a door. Chris Bush’s book is generally a lot smarter than that, brilliantly structured around a single flat in Sheffield’s Park Hill estate, and interweaving the stories of three sets of people who’ve lived in it at different times. The young couple who moved in in the sixties, convinced that the steel industry would keep them going through thick and thin: the family of Liberian refugees who came over in the late eighties: and the newly-single woman taking advantage of the estate's 21st century gentrification. So it’s definitely not Mamma Mia!, but what we get instead is two shows battling it out for space on the same stage. An Our Friends In The North-style social history of Britain from 1960 to 2020, with some lovely echoes across its three timelines: and what amounts to a Richard Hawley ballet, with his songs proving surprisingly amenable to a Broadway-style makeover, and Lynne Page's spectacular choreography frequently involving the entire 21-strong cast. The frustrating thing is that both of these shows are great, but it just feels like we’re constantly flipping between one and the other: if the two could have fitted together better, this could have been magnificent. Still, I’m happy to settle for great. It’s running at the National until March 25th.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for March 2023 is Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary, because I don't believe we've done anything in these pages for St David's Day before. It's not a zoo: they're very clear about that. To quote their mission statement, "the sanctuary rescues and provides a home for many types of unwanted animals, especially primates, such as chimpanzees, gibbons, baboons, spider monkeys, vervets, capuchins, tamarins, macaques and marmosets." It's located in the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales, and you don't need to book in advance if you want to visit. And if you can't visit, why not just give them some money?
This month, you can expect... well, actually, I'm not sure yet. Let's find out together, shall we?