Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Before your very eyes

Back in the day, it used to be different.

Back in the day, conventional wisdom said that you'd toil for years, decades even, on the road. Leaving flopsweat footprints on creaky stages across the country, setting up that nightly payment of your dues, making friends and enemies, finding and losing lovers and agents, as you criss-crossed the map doing your thing. Squinting through cheap spotlights at a fresh set of faces in the darkness every night, and, if you were good, if you were lucky, sending them back home as fans. Slowly, you changed minds, made strangers into believers, one half empty auditorium at a time, until you got the call. Then, with your pedigree proven and your suit pressed, you got a shot on telly.

Your colleagues would suck at their teeth at the news, knowing, as did you, that you were faced with a choice. Did you do your best stuff, the song that had almost become your catchphrase, the trick that people clapped you on the back and shook their head with disbelief at, and, by putting it in front of so many gogglebox-fixated eyeballs, render it useless for future live work? Or would you only give 'em your B-material – don't run the risk – save the good stuff for the crowds that had made you, and that would see you into another few years? Would you dance with the one that brought you, or do the old switcheroo?

But here's the thing: I'm pretty sure that conventional wisdom is wrong on this one.

Television is often cited as one of the main contributing factors to the death of music hall and variety, and I think it's pretty obvious what a crock this is. For a start, it's fairly well documented that greedy venue managers started to realise that they could book a couple of these new-fangled rock & roll bands into their hall, paying just for two acts, rather than a whole mixed bill of performers, and by doing so, attract a younger audience. Bands would work for less, because the more fans they could create, the more records they'd sell the next week. That was the killer heart punch to variety – the re-purposing of the stage as a place to promote another product, to a whole new market, the teenager.

But surely TV didn't do any good? Well, all I can really do is relate my own experience. I've done one of my signature tricks on some pretty high profile shows, and my live work is going better than ever - although there has been a discernible change in my audience reaction, and I think its very telling. A few years ago, before my reverse-tablecloth trick had infected your screens quite as extensively as it has done since, I'd pull the cloth, get the applause, and as I'd prepare to put the cloth back on, they'd be a nice feeling of happily confused expectation in the audience. They knew something was coming, but they had no ideas what. When it happened, it was a surprise. These days, in pretty much every crowd I work to – at least in this country – as I get ready to put the cloth back on, there is – and I promise you this is true – a completely tangible feeling from a section of the audience of “Oh shit, it's that guy” - they realise, in a split second, that I'm the guy a few of them have seen on TV do that trick, and then they realise that they're about to see it live, and they get excited.

And that's the key. I think, these days more than ever, when people see a million incredible things on youtube before lunch, that to see one of those things live – before your very eyes – has gained in value. I imagine those people telling their friends - “You know that guy we saw do that tablecloth thing on youtube? He was at the show last night! He did it right in front of me!”. I think that the more opportunities to see things on screens there are, the more prestige there is in seeing something right in front of your nose.

Screens didn't kill variety, but they are helping revive it.

Which is why I've been enjoying making some little bits of video to put up online. It's a fun, creative process, and people who enjoy the videos might well seek me out in a live show. And besides, we're supposed to be makers right? It's possible to make little movies with cheap equipment you can put in your pocket. Why would I not want to do that?

In only slightly unrelated news, I was told recently that a fairly well-known burlesque and cabaret producer thought the only thing I did was pull tablecloths. I'm currently touring my third hour-long one man show, which is full of bottles, hats, canes, electric carving knives, yoyos, bowling balls, and no I don't, so far, have a routine with a kitchen sink but it can only be a matter of time. I work pretty hard at creating new pieces and pushing the boundaries of my art form as much as I can, so I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't frustrating when someone who, frankly, should know better, writes me off as a one-tricky pony. Not that I'm not proud of that bit of business, you understand. So I guess that's another reason that I'm enjoying infecting the internet with little video calling cards – hopefully it'll remind people the breadth of what I do. Anyhoo: whinge over.

It's been a great month – did my last few 2014 tour dates in a beautiful spiegeltent at the Canterbury festival, and in some gorgeous venues around the Lake District. My mind is still happily boggled when I walk out on stage and find a room full of people who have chosen to spend their hard earned money on a ticket to my show. I couldn't be happier when that happens, and hopefully it'll happen a lot more next year: “Showman” comes to the Purcell Room in London's South Bank Centre in late January, (Which is INSANE) and plans are in place for some more tour dates in spring 2015. Can't bloody wait.

Between now and then, I'll be popping up at lots of burlesque and cabaret shows, supporting the brilliant Puppini Sisters at the Garrick Theatre in the West End, oh, and if you're in Germany, you'll be able to see me do my hat & cane routine as part of the Rire Sur La Ville comedy gala which will be broadcast on RTL sometime over Christmas. It was full of very famous Europeans, who I didn't know, so it felt weird, but the lighting was gorgeous, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks!

Monday, 22 September 2014

AFVS at the London Wonderground


The aforementioned AFVS standing, of course, for "Another Fucking Variety Show", the pirate ship of cabaret, captained by Lili La Scala, in which I have had a regular spot for the last couple of years in Edinburgh, and which has come to the London Wonderground for a couple of shows. Gang back together, and all that. It's always an amazing show, and one of my favourite backstages to be hanging out in. Especially meaningful to be performing in such a gorgeous venue, when, just a handful of years ago, I was doing street shows, right there on the South Bank, a few feet away.

Great though my iphone is, I felt like taking out the big boy camera for this one. Hope you like what it saw.

Vicky Butterfly

Lili La Scala

Lili and Reuben

Missa Blue


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Short fringe


See what I did there? Fringe. Like hair. No? Fine. Screw you.

Anyway, I brought "Showman" back to the Edinburgh fringe this month for a limited season of sixteen performances - which of course meant that within those two and a bit weeks, I ended up doing a total of fifty five shows, spots and other associated stage-based arsing arounds. Good times. Tiring, but good.

During a chat with the always delightful Hardeep Singh Kohli I heard myself saying that this year I finally felt that I wasn't knocking on the door trying to get into somewhere, but was on the inside, accepted. I'm aware of the slight level of self-involved bollocks that implies, but its the honest truth. This year, although the weather was bad, even for Scotland, and audiences were maybe a little down across the board, it felt a bit easier. The rave, five star reviews, helped. haha.

I certainly had a lot of fun doing my show, and hanging out with gangs of friends from the worlds of street performing, cabaret and comedy. Ahh, the precious nourishment to be gained from created families.

Best moments of the fringe for me: Hurting my knee, getting some painkillers, and then, while under the influence of said painkillers, buying a house. That's a special kind of thrill. Also: Watching Lili La Scala fall off her piano, headfirst into the lap of her pianist, and then just stay there. Cabaret pizza club, of course, and its young spinoff group, the Meltdown society (Deep fried mars bars for the win).

Here's a few things my iphone saw while I was there.


If you do like my photos, then I'm all over instagram, so maybe consider following me there?

 Aaaand the "Showman" tour rolls on - I'm out of the country for a few days, and then I'm bringing the show to the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal on Saturday 30th August. Spread the word and COME!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties is back online!

After a few technical difficulties, I'm very pleased to say that four episodes of Mat Ricardo's London Varieties are now back online, for anyone to watch, for free. The shows feature some of the most interesting and entertaining people from the world of comedy and variety in conversation and in performance, including - Al Murray, Paul Daniels, Eddie Izzard, The Boy With Tape On His Face, Piff the Magic Dragon, Eastend Cabaret and many more. I'm very proud of them, and I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I enjoyed making them!

mat ricardo's london varieties - Show one from Mat Ricardo on Vimeo.

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties - Show Two - Featuring Al Murray, The Boy With Tape On His Face, and much more from Mat Ricardo on Vimeo.

Mat Ricardos London Varieties - Show Three from Mat Ricardo on Vimeo.

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties - Show Four - featuring Eddie Izzard, Piff the Magic Dragon and much more! from Mat Ricardo on Vimeo.

Feel free to embed to share them wherever and however you like!

And if you like my stuff, come see me at the Edinburgh Fringe, and on tour throughout 2014/15.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Street photography in Italia

Just got back from a delightful work/holiday combo in Italy. Snapped off a few images with the iphone while I was wandering around Milan, and various other places.

Oh, and by the way, if images are your thing, I'm now on instagram, as TheMatRicardo, so come and friend/follow/add/stalk/tolerate/ignore, as appropriate :)

And don't forget...

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The dark truth of touring with Brian Conley

Ok, ok, there is no dark truth. It was a total delight from beginning to end, and I sumbit the following curtain-call selfie as evidence that a good time was had by all.

Here's the thing about Conley: He is, as we used to occasionally say at Covent Garden about people with a penchant for schtick, "one of us". He thinks of himself as a singer first. "I was born to sing", he says, "and everything else, I learned". But the thing is, that "everything else" covers quite a lot of ground. He is, to start with, a much better singer than you think he is, unless you've seen him in one of the many big musicals he's been in. Boys got pipes. He's also, of course, very funny - a stand-up with funny bones, but also plunges into audience participation, slapstick, fire-eating.. He's a vaudevillian - someone who can turn his hand to pretty much anything. An entertainer. And there ain't too many like that left.

He cut his teeth on Summer seasons, holiday camps and end of the piers, where to cultivate yourself into a swiss army knife of bits of business was the way to ensure a healthy career, and the stuff he started learning back then continues to make him one of the country's most invaluable pantomime performers, as well someone who, when he decides to, can sell out a national tour, which is what he did last month.

And my god, he's a worker. The James Brown of light entertainment, right there, ladies and gentlemen. There's no wasted time at the top of the show, no time spent "getting to know the feel of the room". He bounds on stage with a hearty "I'M HERE!", and literally within five seconds he's jumped off the stage, in knee-deep in the audience, lobbing out gags in between wall-shaking verses of "Let the good times roll". This is a seasoned fighter, bouncing around the ring landing jab after jab, totally able, as they say, to go the full 12.

Near on two and a half hours, minus me doing a quick twenty in the first half, the rest is all him. And its all killer, no filler. Routines polished over a career that spans all his adult life, and a fair bit before that, too.

For the best part of a month we pinballed around the country, doing a show, then driving through the night to wherever the next show was. Lots of grins from late-night garage shop staff as they recognise the face - or just as often the voice - that just strode up to them clutching coffee and a Kit-kat (He likes Kit-kats). 

So, in short, I had a ball. Gorgeous audiences who were totally up for having fun. Some of the most beautiful theatres in the country. Being driven by Brian from gig to gig, while getting a steady stream of excellent andecdotes about the great and the good. What's not to like?

I also deliberately avoided the tour curse of eating crap and putting on weight - running every day (which is a very nice way to have a look around whatever town you happen to have woken up in), and eating healthlily. I actually managed to lose nearly a stone while on tour, which is insane, but here I am giving it a proper middle-aged man brag anyway. Sorry.

The last date was at Leeds City Varieties - one of my favourite rooms in the world, and one I've played enough times that when I rolled up at the stage door, the staff greeted me by name and started teasing me immediately. Nice. Can't think of a more perfect way to end the tour.

Took a few photos while we were on the road - hope you like them..

A prop from the show. Yes, it is, in fact a puppppppettttt.

Always nice to bathe in the glory of the greats who have played a theatre before you

The boss, giving it tits and teeth

Me, giving it "Oh, if I must..."

Warming up backstage

 So thanks to Brian, and Rick and Gareth - the amazing team that put the show together every night - what a blast.

Also thanks to all the audience members who were kind enough to tweet me after shows and tell me how much they enjoyed my work - means so much. I'm spending most of the next few weeks doing some shows in various places abroad, but will head back to the Edinburgh fringe in August for a return season of my critically-acclaimed one man show "Showman". A strictly limited run of 16 shows only, so click here to book your tickets now!