Is This The End of Acting, Dear Boy?

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There is, as those who have seen will know, something deeply creepy at the heart of the new Star Wars movie, ‘Rogue One.’ Don’t get me wrong. I’m bowled over by the film itself. I think it’s better than ‘Force Awakens’ and may well be the strongest iteration of the franchise since ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ But that’s not it, not at all.

When we’re not being pummelled into new dimensions by the special effects – the cleverest of which involve the Death Star either in orbit or on the horizons of various unfortunate planets – the nerds among us can revel in spotting the numerous references to other movies. The darkness of the thing is a huge nod in the direction of Game of Thrones. All those kiddies who keep hearing about the show but rail that their parents won’t let them watch it because of all the graphic nudity; not to worry: Disney has you covered: this is Game of Thrones in space, without the naughty bits.

Look, wasn’t that the Japanese legend Zaitoichi suddenly showing up on an alien planet? Come to think of it, one of the scenes involving him is a straight lift from Mulan. But Mulan is another Disney movie, and after all, if you can’t rip off yourself, who’s left?

And I’m not even giving out about that. Mainstream movies constantly reference other films and stories. Part of the fun of Rogue One is watching the skill with which it is done. One of the worst things about ‘Avatar’ was the crude, brainless way it harvested the corpses of other concepts, such as ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Alien.’ How it could have done with a writer who understood how to do a tight script, which is something Rogue One benefits from enormously.

But that’s not it, not at all. The ‘it’ is the presence of Peter Cushing, an actor I know to have been dead since 1994, reprising his 1977 role as Governor Tarkin, complete with new lines and gestures. No. This isn’t some remarkable lookalike pretending to be Cushing, it’s the guy himself, reanimated from beyond the grave, the first digitally undead actor (that I am aware of) to star in a main feature.

After a while, of course, you begin to spot things. The technology behind Cushing’s CGI resurrection is awe inspiring, but it’s not perfect yet. There’s something about that weirdly feral glare from the eyes; the way his temples seem to keep flexing. During his actual biological time upon Planet Earth, the actor famously resembled a vampire, in his new, digital undeath, he looks even more like the real deal, and it only serves to make what the producers have done even more unsettling.

These are, after all, the people who gave us Lassie and Pinocchio, not to mention Herbie the Volkswagen, well, not exactly the same people, but you know what I mean. Now they’re handing us reanimation: dead flesh served up in scary digital facsimile. What used to be the stuff of horror movies is now part of a Disney main feature. Can there be any better metaphor for the age?

It is a testament to the age that I fretted about the legalities long before thinking about the ethics. Surely, I reasoned, somebody would have had to sign some form of waiver, they couldn’t just go along and do it, could they?maxresdefault

It turns out that Cushing died in 1994 without heirs, and his estate was willed to the woman who had served as his assistant. Reports about exactly what kind of agreement she signed are hazy, but she is quoted somewhere as expressing a deal of shock about the result. If memory serves, Cushing was regarded as being a religious man while he lived. Did she stop to think what he might have thought about this reincarnation?

Yes, I can already hear some of the arguments: if it’s a crime, it’s an entirely victimless one, any injury is entirely theoretical etc. But it bothers me that we have crossed a new Rubicon in terms of how we perceive life and death and the way someone’s memory should or should not be respected, and there has been absolutely no discussion about it, because Disney’s corporate right to keep its plot lines secret comes before any other consideration, human or metaphysical.

There was a time in my life when I very briefly considered becoming a professional actor. Chickening out is one of the very few life choices I’m glad I made, because now you have to compete for parts not just against the better connected living, but against the dead as well.

The technology isn’t quite there yet, but it is, without doubt, only a matter of time, and not much time at that. Why bother auditioning new guys for that remake of ‘North by NorthWest,’ when you can just reanimate Cary Grant instead? Surely a digital Marilyn Monroe is just around the corner. Will she fall foul of a digital President and digital gangsters, and end up shocking the world with her digital tragedy, washed away on a wave of digital booze and pills?

Will, some years hence, a digital Dustin Hoffman find himself admonished by a digital Lawrence Olivier for taking the whole method thing way too seriously: “ever try acting, old boy?” And while we’re on the subject of method, what on Earth will happen to poor Daniel Day Lewis when he’s confronted with a digital version of himself that acts better than he can?

Oh brave new world, let me off at this stop please!

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An Irish Fable Of Money And Lust

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“Bridie Broody, is it? Don’t tell me that old crone continues to cheat the gates of Hell.”

I’m delighted to announce that my dark comedy, ‘The Prime of Johnny Broody,’ receives its radio debut on Midlands 103 FM at 7pm (1900 GMT) next Tuesday, 20th December. The show can be heard by tuning into the station’s website – Midlands103.com or via the TuneIn radio app. Brimming with laughs and darkly knowing observation, it’ll bring you some much needed hilarity this Christmas.

“The best and the worst of rural Ireland. It all comes out for a death: the relentless sandwich making and the lust for land.”

Set in a Midland Irish village, the play tells the story of Johnny, a bachelor farmer in his 50’s who has devoted his entire life to the care of his mother, the elderly and entirely villainous Bridie Broody.Johnny Broody 1

Having cheated neighbours and every disease known to man, Bridie looks like she’s finally headed for the exit door. She’s managed to squirrel away quite a bit of money over the years, so it looks like poor Johnny’s life is finally about to begin, with the aid of a big wad of cash.

But life, alas, is never that simple. Enter Johnny’s estranged brother, Billy, chased from the door by Bridie many years ago but now back to demand his share of the pile. Enter the neighbours, confident that the naïve Johnny won’t have a clue how to spend all that lovely money.

Poor Johnny has to fend off everyone from a scheming politician to a highly sexed nurse. Sure he hasn’t a chance, or has he?

“You can’t share tenderness with a dog, Johnny. Well, not that some oul fellas haven’t tried, but it doesn’t come out well, believe me.”

The radio version of The Prime of Johnny Broody is brought to you by the producer – director team of Alan Meaney and Jason Gill. Both have successfully completed a number of radio dramas which have received funding under the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s (BAI) Sound and Vision Fund and been shortlisted for a number of major European awards.

‘The Prime of Johnny Broody’ takes us thirty years further into the life of an all powerful Irish matriarch such as John B. Keane’s ‘Big Maggie.’ She’s vanquished everyone around, sent family and neighbours packing, but what happens when mortality finally beckons?

“I know women that’s made fortunes on the strength of their ankles. And you’re not the sharpest Johnny Broody.”

The drama plays with one of the most traditional Irish tropes – a tortured family, an impending death, a will – but adds new elements, such as the fact that all the of the action is narrated by two ghosts, looking in with the rest of us on all the shenanigans of rural Ireland.

Dark, mischievous and brimming with killer lines, ‘The Prime of Johnny Broody’ is a must listen for anyone with an even passing interest in rural Ireland, or who just badly needs a laugh over Christmas. This is not to be missed.

‘Jesus, it’s like talkin’ to a tree. No, feck that. A tree if better lookin.”

So don’t forget: 19.00 Hours GMT on Sunday, 20th December. You can listen in on Midlands103.com or the TuneIn radio app.

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Finding Your Inner Ameoba

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The story so far: half a billion years ago, give or take, the first microscopic specks of life began to form in the tepid primordial sludge then covering part of the three and a half billion year old Earth. Somehow, over 500 million years – barely a spit in cosmic terms – that ooze eventually became us.

That, at least, is the best theory we have about where we came from. Not great, is it? Forget what the shrill dogmatists tell you, we actually have no idea how barely animate micro-bugs evolved into our maddening complexity over such a short period of time. All we have is a theory, partially confirmed by observing the way lower life forms appear to change their biology over time.

Actually, the biggest problem with Evolution, bizarre as it might sound, seems to be that there wasn’t enough time for it to happen in the way suggested. But I digress. That wasn’t what I meant to talk about. I am here to pronounce upon the death of Evolution, or at least the throwing of it into reverse, if corporate marketing giants get their way.

Natural selection began half a billion years ago, but at least one mobile phone giant launched a campaign several years ago to turn it backwards. The ad from Vodafone commended to us the mayfly, that phenomenally shortlived creature of the early summer, much beloved of anglers.

The mayfly, the ad told us, lives for just a day, but do you hear him complaining about it? Eh, I guess not. We must all be like unto the mayfly, commanded Vodafone. Imagine how happy mayflys would be if they had access to wireless mobile technology, how they could fill up the ether with their happy non-thoughts.

Betcha they’d never complain about phone bills or how hard it is to make that customer service guy in Pakistan understand what they’re complaining about.

Customers, you must embrace the way of the mayfly. Live every day as if it was both your first and last. You know nothing and you’re not going anywhere. Don’t worry about Vodafone, we’re still getting paid.

The mayfly ad actually represented a substantial evolutionary step backward on the corporation’s previous campaign, when Vodafone encouraged its customers to make videos of themselves honking like monkeys. There’s actually a message here, buried under all the shiny colours and marketing gloop. This is how corporations actually see you: something less than hominids, something that needs its dreams boiled down to those of the mayfly.thy1f58i83

What’s up for next year, I wonder? “The amoeba spends all its time oozing around a few centimetres of dark, dirty water, occasionally eating stuff that looks like other amoebas, then squirming hopelessly as bits of it split off to become still other amoebas. Do you hear the amoeba complaining about it? Of course you don’t.

“Become an amoeba today and get an even more expensive Vodafone account. Chat to all your fellow amoebas today via text, picture messaging, video and something even more expensive we’re about to launch next month. Remember, pseudopod brothers and sisters, don’t trust anyone with an I.Q. over 50.”

In a nearby globule of the same, rapidly dumbing down universe, I was clinging to the last remnant of sanity like a drunk trying to clutch a bar of soap while a PR amoeba oozed down the phone at me with phrases like “it’s de bast hoy colonic aver loike. You just loike, stan up on yer hawns, loike, attach de hose and loike torn it on. Yull feel loike a new mawnn. Um, you urr a mawn, urrn’t you?”

“Uh, well, I passed into a different dimension there for a few seconds but, yeah, I think so.”

“Hov yew aver hod a colonic before?”

“Em… (one of the problems with human-amoeba contact is the utter uselessness of any of our traditional tools of communication. Language is irrelevant, unless I have some method of sending emojis directly to her brain. I am thinking of some crusty old Kurt Vonnegut line about being comfortable, or at least resigned, to your own inner effluvia, but it would probably come out the other end of the phone as something like “blargle flargle splundigg vargle” and she’d just carry on regardless anyway) no.”

“Oh you should loike it’s fowbulous. Oim having one right neow. Oim literally upside dawn talking to yew roight now. Loike whammo.”

With some difficulty, I manoeuvre my pseudopods to indicate that I’d love to attend the press launch of the de bast aver hoy colonic aver next Saturday, but I’m double booked. I have to go to a symposium on scabies, and after that a press conference on flatulence (or is it the other way round? I can never remember.) But I remember to be quite passionate about wanting to read the press release.

I flatter myself that this mollifies her. I don’t know much about high colonics, but I presume you certainly don’t want to be agitated while having one.

It doesn’t matter anyway. She, or someone very like her, will be on to me in two weeks, explaining why Hillary Clinton (or has it moved on to Michelle Obama yet?) is the greatest human being in the entire history of the world.

If a genie popped out and offered me the chance to go back to the beginning, to start over and erase all my mistakes, I think I would answer him thus: “I wish to forget everything I know about history, literature, music, science, art and psychology. I want to grow pseudopods and become a part of the amoeba collective. It’s not a great step in evolutionary terms, but evolution is patchy and overrated, and at least I wouldn’t feel alienated anymore.”