Thursday, 7 November 2013

Simon Lovell is unwell.

When I was young and foolish, before I became old and foolish, I used to read a magazine called The Spectator. Actually, I still read it. But in those days, the days of yore, the first thing I would do is to turn to the back, to find a column called "Low Life", which was penned by a man called Jeffrey Bernard.

By the end of his life, Jeffrey Bernard was primarily famous for his drinking. He was a journalist, initially of horse racing and pugilism, whose colourful associates, many of them famous or notorious, helped bolster his career as a sports hack.

He had something else on his side, however; in fact, he had two things. The first was the ability to do something exceptionally well, which in his case was to write very good, tight prose. His other attribute was his personality. This worked in all sorts of ways, and might result in someone either lending him a fiver, or punching his lights out.

In his twilight years, Bernard wrote his column in The Spectator, as he lost limbs to alcoholism, always with a caustic commentary on his own physical deterioration, which was in fact a result of his own psychological failures. When he'd been out [bin out!] on a monumental bender, he would fail to file his copy in time, and under the banner of 'Low Life' would be the simple italicised message: Jeffrey Bernard is unwell.

Shortly before his death, these Spectator columns, chronicling as they did his painful demise, were turned into a theatrical production, by Keith Waterhouse, entitled 'Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell'. It was a one man show, starring another famous drunk, Peter O'Toole, who had known Bernard. It was a great success; the highlight of the show was a trick with an egg. I never met Jeffrey Bernard, but by all accounts, he had great success with this trick, and in the theatrical show it brought the house down every night.

The scenario was simple: a total piss-head, exuding failure from every pore, achieves the impossible against all expectation.

Now, Lovell wasn't drunk when he did this lecture, or at least not properly. We've seen him drunk on film, and drinking more, and it's a different animal. But we were watching him play the drunk: the drunk who gets one over on you; the drunk who makes you feel uncomfortable; the manipulative drunk. But above all, if you know drunks, you'll know how with every drink their empathy grows less. Now, that's fine if everyone is keeping pace, at a cocktail party for instance. Or if you are young and naughty, you might do your lines or drop your pills at the same time. Of course, I wouldn't know about that.

But to play the drunk to an indifferent, sober room, or to a theatre, you need to have a reason, and a good story worth the telling. I'm sure Lovell does a good job in his off-Broadway show, it's been running for quite a while; "Money talks and bullshit walks!" is an epigram worthy of Wilde, if not Pope.

But is he a magician? I had considered framing this review in those terms. In fact, I had toyed with the idea of going through Our Magic, and pointing out how Lovell fails in almost every one of the criteria set out in that text. It would have made him look stupid, and it would have been cruel, and it would have been a lot of work. But the reason I didn't do it, despite me being a nasty, cruel, hard working cunt, was that I would look stupid in reviewing him that way.

His performances, on that tape, were woeful. The pace was bad, the sleights were bad, I hated it. I hated the patter, the interaction, the handling. I just hated it. Sorry, Simon Lovell. At one stage he invoked Tommy Wonder to make a point. Yes. Tommy Wonder. Watching Lovell is more reason than any to run back to films of Tommy Wonder, should you need the excuse.

Clearly, Lovell has something. He has personality, and cheekiness. He has some gags. He has some tricks, but they are just silly tricks, and are presented as such. He has absolutely no magic. None. This was not a lecture on magic, it was a lecture on being Simon Lovell. 

Barry Solayme claimed he was going to review Lovell's Penguin extravaganza, but of course he became abusive and drunk after only 45 minutes, and so I, his "assistant" have written the review.

I must confess that I, too, couldn't make it all the way through. I tried, my God, I tried. I tried three times. I get the impression that I would have no problem sitting through Lovell's NYC show, without the lecture crap. I know I wouldn't like the magic, but I might laugh at some of the jokes. In fact, honestly, I would definitely laugh at some of the jokes.

Now I'll tell you a story about Jeffrey Bernard. When he was still relatively young, he decided to quit drinking. He left Soho, and moved to the countryside, to a quiet hamlet, with no pub or public transport. His plan was to dry out, and to avoid temptation. He had no driving license, having been banned, and so was in a state of monkish grace.

After a few days, he discovered that the only way to the nearest pub involved hitching a lift with the postman, should he happen to deliver a letter. So Bernard wrote himself a letter everyday, until his lease ran out, whereupon he moved back to London.

Barry Solayme is unwell.

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