‘The Young Ones’ will never grow old

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It’s only right that I ended up living somewhere in the former British empire, as one of the key warp engines on my young American mind was British comedy. Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits,” the Beatles and rare Dandy comics, Adrian Mole and Peter Sellers – all these things I mainlined under sunny California skies. 

But for me, my first love will always be “The Young Ones.” I spent the weekend re-watching the entire series for the first time in ages, and its wacky, ugly and surreal comedy still holds up. The punk-rock anarchy of “The Young Ones” combines the rude genius of the Pythons with classic sitcom tropes and a Looney Tunes-style madness that still makes it shocking today.

YO-leadRik, Vyvyan, Neil and even comparatively dull Mike were my Beatles of comedy. Like the best British shows, it knew when to quit – 12 episodes and that’s it, and with the late, great Rik Mayall leaving us way too soon in 2014, there’ll never be another. 

“The Young Ones” for teens in the US was like a secret treasure, airing on MTV in the dark of the night around 1985. Screaming punks, snotty anarchists, soiled hippies – What the hell was this? The sheer surrealism of the show blew the mind of us California high-school kids. Objects might start talking, the scene might abruptly shift to the middle ages or a Rat Pack TV show. Anarchy!, as Rik would shout. One of my all-time favourite moments is “Elephant Head” in the episode “Summer Holiday” – the 11-second cameo makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and to my 14-year-old mind watching MTV in the ‘80s, that’s what made it totally brilliant. 

“The Young Ones” could be stunningly gross (nobody who’s seen the “Sick” episode and its cure for Neil’s sneezing fits can ever forget it) and scathingly harsh about British politics. The recurring gags about racist British cops are funny, but admittedly a punchline like “Sorry, I thought you was a n*****” doesn’t hold up so well today. The violence may be a bit much for some, but I can’t help but crack up every time Vyvyan whacks Rik in the head with a blunt object. And there’s more catchphrases than one can safely repeat in one lifetime in the show’s 12 episodes (my go-to is “Cor, that looked just like a negative reality inversion, didn’t it?”)

YOUNG-ONES-9Several times, episodes build up with plots involving things like axe murderers or vampires or marauding medieval peasants only to abruptly draw curtain on the episode. Nothing really matters, the ‘madcap adventures’ can be waved off and the show will restart as normal the next episode. There’s something very existential about these damned housemates, trapped in their greasy grey pigsty and never changing, being squashed by a giant eclair in one episode and back for more in the next.

The funny bits of “The Young Ones” when I was 14 are still funny, but the bits that sting even more today for me are the ones that wail and cackle endlessly into an uncertain void and make me wonder if Vyvyan smashing everything around him to bits had the right idea. That’s life, innit?

RIP Julie Adams, the Creature’s one true love

DyiRW9YV4AArB-y.jpg-largeJulie Adams wasn’t a household name, but she was legendary in her own way as one of the last surviving “scream queens” of the classic Universal Monster movies of the 1930s-1950s. Adams died at 92 this weekend, and horror geeks like me are mourning her today. 

She had a lengthy and impressive career, but it was as the damsel in distress in 1954’s “Creature From The Black Lagoon” that Adams swam through our dreams. 

She was probably one of the very first celebrities I ever got a crush on, when I saw “Creature” on TV sometime in the early ‘80s. On the page, Adams’ part is nothing too special – the standard “scientist’s girlfriend” seen in a hundred other movies of the era, who has a monster fall in love with her. Yet there’s something so iconic about Adams in the film, with her white swimsuit and wide-eyed charm. 

The scene where she swims idyllically in the lagoon while underneath, the misshapen Creature stalks and pines over her, is the blueprint for a thousand other sequences like it (you wouldn’t have the famous opening of Spielberg’s “Jaws” without this scene).

“Creature” itself will always be in my top 10 movies – elegant, simple and yet pulsing with unexplained mysteries and thanks to Adams’ unforgettable performance, a primal sensuality. Sixty-five years on, it still simmers and entertains.

I can take or leave the Oscars a lot of years, but when Guillermo Del Toro’s superb, dreamy “The Shape of Water” won Best Picture and Best Director last year, I cheered. More than anything Del Toro’s masterpiece is a loving homage to the mystery and magic of classic horror movies, “Creature” in particular, and I couldn’t help but feel it was almost as if the Gill-Man himself was getting a belated honour from the Academy. Del Toro himself wrote yesterday, “I mourn Julie Adams passing.  It hurts in a place deep in me, where monsters swim.”

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The only remaining star of note from “Creature” left is none other than the Gill-Man himself, Ricou Browning, 88, who played the monster in the swimming scenes. When he’s gone, the final curtain will draw at last on the Universal Classic Monster series. But they’ll continue to haunt the dreams of movie-loving fans forever. 

The Pop-Up Globe: Keeping Shakespeare real

img_0696One of my highlights of the last three summers has been working at the remarkable Pop-Up Globe theatre in Auckland, a working replica of the famous second Globe Theatre of 1614 that Shakespeare and company used. 

Its design closely replicates the actual experience of the punters of 400 years ago, lords and ladies, groundlings and commoners. The Pop-Up Globe, created by Dr Miles Gregory, has been so successful it’s gone on to be replicated in Australia and is now in its fourth season here in New Zealand. 

I started volunteering there a couple years ago, and it’s been an amazing experience. You help the crowds, deal with any issues, and get to bask in the glow of some amazing actors performing the greatest plays in history. The Pop-Up Globe has done some smashing productions (A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the fairy dialogue done entirely in Māori and an all-female Henry V are among my favourites) and sold hundreds of thousands of tickets. 

img_1910I’ve loved Shakespeare since a superb high school teacher (thanks, Mr. Lehman) showed us how the Bard wasn’t all dusty words and impenetrable verse, but a living, breathing body of work that contains some of the greatest stories ever told. Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not merely read aloud in a halting adolescent voice in a dry classroom. 

The biggest appeal of Shakespeare to me is that he seems bottomless – you can spend a lifetime studying the plays and still come up with new angles, new turns of phrase and new spins on characters you’d never imagined. 

One of the great things about seeing a play multiple times is how it changes, in small and big ways, from show to show. The weather, the audience, the actors’ moods, a quirk of fate. Watching Richard III five or six times in a row and it’s never quite the same show. You get a heroic appreciation for the actors and crew who sweat and bleed for their art nightly.  It’s why theatre will always be there because it’s so cracklingly alive compared to staring at a screen.

img_4348A joy for me is seeing how into the plays the audience still are in 2019. This isn’t boring Shakespeare – trust me, when the stage blood starts gushing into the audience during the bloody close of Richard III, you wouldn’t call this stuffy. There’s a witty, relaxed vibe that’s perfect for a New Zealand summer. We get all kinds of crowds – young, old, repeat customers and those who’ve never seen a Shakespeare play in their life.

A big highlight has been working at a dozen or so school shows. You haven’t seen Shakespeare’s gender-studies comedy The Taming of the Shrew until you’ve seen it with a capacity crowd of 700 screaming high school girls. 

I’ve just been a tiny, tiny part of the Pop-Up Globe, working somewhere near 50 shows in the past three seasons. But it’s been an immense highlight of my summers and it’s a star performer of New Zealand’s theatre scene. Long live Shakespeare.