BLUE JAM ON STAGE The Burton Taylor Theatre, Oxford 12-16 May 1998
When the first series of Blue Jam drew to a close, an enterprising young undergraduate student from Oxford called David Kaye had the idea of staging a number of sketches from the show. To this end, after the end of the second series, he gathered a small cast, hired a small theatre and played to a crowd of family, friends and a bunch of semi-pissed blokes from a mailing list. Alas no authoritative list remains of what sketches were done and in which order, and we would welcome any corrections, but at the time of writing this remains a best estimate:
Intro (... like fucking pinball...)
Doctor's Surgery: Jesus and his Rubber Twat-bomb
Monologue: Conceptual Art pt 2 (Will Self's Special Pillow)
Doctor's Surgery: Don't Like Doctors
Sweary Man: Fucking Noddy
Monologue: Crime Reconstruction
Dodgy Lawyer: AIDS Rapist
Wage Negotiations: Photo of Balls
Monged Sex pts 1-3
Monologue: Crime Reconstruction
Dodgy Lawyer: Train Crash Witness
Wage Negotiations: Fart on Head
Uncaring Parents: The Missing Child
Child Abduction Helpline
Doctor's Surgery: Ugly Patient
Outro (as intro)
Produced and Directed by David Kaye, with the blessings of Chris Morris
All sketches were acted out on stage, except for the intro and and outro and Monged Sex pieces, which were played to the audience over the speaker system while the stage was blacked out. All the sketches chosen were from the first series of Blue Jam, apart from one Monged Sex scene from the second series. The lefthand side of the stage was set up as an office for the Doctor sketches and wage negotiations, the righthand as a living room and the centre stage had a backdrop painted as a grafittied brick wall, the latter strangely reminiscent of Lenny Henry circa 1986.
The sketches were acted out by Morris, Lawson, Buscombe and Cooper, with Flexer on the longer monologues. Morris took the authority figure roles, such as the doctor and the boss in the wage negotiations, and did a reasonable job of impersonating his namesake, while Lawson chose to do some wonderful work with the other male roles, including playing the 'Fucking Noddy' sketch in a Birmingham accent, which worked brilliantly. Of the two women, Buscombe tended to take the roles of tight-faced maniacs, such as the doctor who thinks her patients don't like her, with Cooper in the more downbeat female parts, such as the ugly patient and the Uncaring Mother.
Flexer's monologues were delivered alone on the stage, with him dressed in a shabby parker coat, scuffed jeans and a ripped "I Love New York" T-shirt. The Conceptual Art story was given in one long speech, while the Crime Reconstruction one was divided into two parts with two sketches between them. It's hard to say which approach worked best - the first felt like too long to concentrate on a single speaking figure, whereas the second, with the broken narrative point, tended to spoil the continuity of the piece. Perhaps it would have been better not to try these parts of Blue Jam on stage at all, but Flexer did cut an hypnotically shambolic figure on stage.
Trying to capture the intimate strangeness of the original radio series on stage was always going to be the hardest part of this production, and generally they steered clear of it, concentrating not so much on the whimsical, hallucinatory side of the show, and more on the savage and/or bizarre nature of human relations portrayed in it. Music was used to link sketches but not, as a rule, during them. The stage lighting was OK as far as it went, but not as original as one might have hoped given the experimental nature of the material.
The production included a number of really nice touches, such as, during the Uncaring Parents sketch, the mother burying her face in a Feng Shui magazine as she grew more and more irritated by the news of her murdered son. But these were balanced out by some minor quibbles, such as the echoing "Blue Jam Blue Jam Blue Jam" of the intro fade out being out of phase with the original. Over all, though, not bad and better than I expected. Several people were believed to have left the audience in disgust at the material portrayed on stage, although, on reflection, they may have just been popping out to the toilet.