Butter, is a short film that I wrote and directed. It was my directorial debut and I was really lucky to have a great friend, Dixie Linder, to produce it and a bunch of really great actor friends to be in it and help me bring it to fruition.
Originally I wrote Butter as a short one woman piece that was performed as part of a trio of plays called Listen, I'm Talking at the RSC Fringe Festival in Newcastle in 1990.
I am really fascinated by food issues, I have had them myself, and I think there is a huge problem in the way people can seek their own happiness, desirability and self-worth through or via food. I had listened to many people's stories and anecdotes and finally I put pen to paper and Butter was the result. Also, like Jane in the film, I equate comfort with mashed potatoes, so that's why they play such an important part!
Jane (who was played by my ex-wife Hilary Lyon) has an eating problem. She has bought and prepared a feast for an unseen date who calls in sick and sends her spiraling round London, visiting friends and revisiting old habits. The film also stars Jane Horrocks, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Richard Wilson, Susan Wooldridge, Andy de la Tour, and me myself in a cameo as Jane's secretary. The film premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 1994 and played at many other film festivals before being shown on Channel 4 TV.
In 1992, the director/designer David Ultz asked me to collaborate with him on a new adaptation of the Russian play Dragon by Yvgeny Schwartz, which was to be produced by the Royal National Theatre later that year. T
he play concerns a village that lives under the thrall of a dragon, but as the play progresses it turns out there is no dragon at all, and really the dragon represents a fear that they need to have as they have been so conditioned to it for so long. The play was also a thinly veiled attack on the communist regime Schwartz was living under.
This was a really difficult play to adapt. There were so many things in it that didn’t translate well, and we wanted the show to have a very urban, modern feel to it that kids could relate to. I think there was a big mistake in using Spitting Image for the animatronics and then putting a big dragon on the poster. Because of course, there was no dragon, and so a lot of kids were really disappointed when the play ended and they hadn’t seen one.
But I still have a Dragon ruler which the National shop sold.
Victor and Barry's swan song was entitled In The Scud, which is a Scottish phrase meaning naked. And so Victor and Barry were bearing their souls and selves one last time for their fans. Forbes and I worked really hard on the script for this show with our friend Ashtar Alkhirsan, and in one of the previews at the Tron theatre in Glasgow Ashtar actually appeared as Victor, wearing Jimmy Somerville's motorbike helmet which we had borrowed from him! Don't ask! Suffice to say that the reason she was impersonating Victor was that Forbes was getting ready to re-enter as one of Victor and Barry's female friends. The scene was cut when we did the show the next night in Cumbernauld, and Jimmy's helmet was returned.
We went on to perform In The Scud at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh during the Fringe festival and then took it to the Kings Theatre in Glasgow before taking it to the Perrier Pick of the Fringe season later in the year where we performed a short run of a version of the show at the Purcell Rooms on the South Bank in London.
Victor and Barry returned to the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh for a few shows during the 1990 Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. Forbes and I hadn't been working together very much for a while so it was a bit of a reunion. We called the show Clean Ripe Gentlemen.
This Royal National Theatre production toured Britain before opening at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in 1990. I played The Madman and I also co-adapted the Dario Fo play with the play's director Tim Supple (published by Metheun Books). The role called for many disguises and changes, and the adaptation caused some controversy because of its criticism of the British government for the wrongful imprisonment of The Guildford Four and The Birmingham Six, innocent men accused of IRA crimes, who were all later released. The play was nominated for Best Revival at the 1990 Olivier Awards, and I won an Olivier for Comedy Performance of the Year. Here are some production stills and me in rehearsal with Dario Fo himself.
Tim and I worked really hard on this. We wanted to retain the wit and the farce of the original but also to be truthful to the political issues that were at stake at the time when Dario Fo had written it. So we went back to the original Italian translation, and then decided that the wrongful imprisonments of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four (two groups of innocent people who had been accused of IRA bombings) were comparable political issues of our time, and so we wove them into the dialogue and the plot. It was really successful because although it is very funny, it also was very shocking and that was what Fo intended. So even though we were quite radical in our approach we felt we were being more faithful than other adaptations had been. What was exciting was that during the run of the play we had to make changes all the time, because the Birmingham Six were released, and shortly afterwards so were the Guildford Four.
Victor and Barry had dabbled in radio several times, most notably in their series for BBC Radio Scotland, Scones and tea with V and B.
Now, here they were doing a live show from the Paris Studios in London with special guests Bonnie Langford and Barbara Windsor. The whole conceit of the show was that Bonnie and Babs were former members of Victor and Barry's Kelvinside Young People's Amateur Dramatic Art Society, and Victor and Barry had taught them everything they knew.
The show was broadcast on Radio 2 and produced by Sioned Wiliam.
While he was in the acting company of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1989-90, Alan wrote three monologues which were performed at the RSC Fringe Festival in Newcastle. They were Social Disease performed by David Joyce, Butter performed by Jane Maud, which Alan later adapted into a short film, and The Sauna performed by Hugh Ross. They were all under the umbrella title of Listen, I’m Talking.
At the end of 1988, Forbes Masson and I flew to Sydney, Australia to start rehearsals and in early January 1989 we opened at the Playhouse of the Sydney Opera House in See Victor and Barry and Faint, a version of the show we had performed the previous year at the Edinburgh Festival, on tour in Scotland and at the Donmar Warehouse in London as part fo the Perrier Pick of the Fringe season.
After a month in Sydney we toured to Adelaide, Alice Springs, Cairns and Rockhampton.
I remember that the hole in the ozone layer had recently been discovered above Australia and there was a huge PR campaign going on to encourage people to protect themselves from the sun. We were both incredibly pale and people would literally scream 'skin cancer' at us in the street, and ask us what factor we were using.
Here we are in a short clip from a hilarious TV show in Adelaide called A Touch of Elegance and from the Rockhampton local news show.
It had to happen. I flew up to Glasgow to hold a press conference with Forbes to announce the release of Hear Victor and Barry and Faint, the latest installment of their plan to rule the world.
You can hear the full album on theseYoutube clips.
Automatic Transmission was a pilot for Night Network on ITV in the UK, which I shot with Forbes Masson and Ross King late in 1988.
The premise was that Ross drove a huge old NYC taxi and the guests sat with him in the front, and Forbes and I, in our guises as Victor and Barry, were the car wash men who hopped into the back of the taxi and bitched about the guests in the front. Luckily we shot our bits on a different day from the guests! The pilot had The Boys, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Pia Zadora as guests, but strangely it was never made into a series!!