Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Monstrous Menagerie written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: Jago and Litefoot are on the run! Framed for a crime they didn’t commit, the infernal investigators seek refuge in a house on Baker Street owned by their old friend, Professor Dark. That’s when Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle enters their lives. Tired of his popular creation Sherlock Holmes, Doyle has moved onto other works that he considers more worthy.

Theatrical Fellow: Jago has neither the temperament or the physique for going on the run but they have no choice but to lie low until they can clear their names. All they have done in a couple of days skulk about in back alleys. Henry is used to a certain level of comfort and a constant stream of delicious repast since he first met Litefoot and his stomach now feels as though it has been cut. Jago immediately gets into the role of Holmes, tugging on his lapels and displaying a robust sense of arrogance. Jago's interpretation of Holmes is to use complicated language and to gaze enigmatically into the fireplace. His attempts at deductive reasoning are hilariously inept. Sweetly Jago offers to lay down his life so that Litefoot can escape the pack of ravening hounds that are pursuing them.

Posh Professor: Litefoot suggests that Jago's physique can politely be termed stout, which is a damn sight more polite than his medical opinion. In return Jago suggests that Litefoot is too old to lay Watson, Holmes' sidekick was supposed to be 30 years old. I guess time on the run has made them snippy. As far as he is concerned all you need is a roaring fire and all is right with the world whereas for Jago it is a fully stoked larder. In their bolt hole they are both satisfied. Whereas he was practically allergic to the work of Oscar Wilde, Litefoot is a keen admirer of Arthur Conan Doyle's output, much more a fan of detective fiction than camp wittery. Litefoot cheekily points out that it will be a great hoot reading The Hound of the Baskervilles when it comes out knowing the real reason it was written.

Standout Performance: Steven Miller gives a fulsome account of Arthur Conan Doyle, sporting a very sexy accent and not shying away from the arrogance of the man. As Litefoot said he has received critical acclaim at a very young age and that affects a man but in Miller's hands he isn't completely narcissistic, there is an element of humanity to the man too.  

Sparkling Dialogue: 'The only reason it's still standing is because the woodworms are holding hands with the deathwatch beetles.'
'They're just shilling shockers.'
'You know what authors are like. They have to praised all the time or they fall into a deep depression!'
'My hounds prefer their meat to be fresh and they haven't had a decent meal for 150 million years.'

Great Ideas: Jago & Litefoot wanted for the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria? The very idea! Ellie's cryptic message (sweetly she risks her freedom to give it to them) appears to have come from the Doctor seems to suggest that they should go to Baker Street and play Sherlock Holmes. Why is it that some authors and actors like to try and forget all about the books and television shows that made them household names in the first place, considering them almost a little humbling compared to their next great works. In some respects I do agree with the adage if it aint broke then don't fix it and Doyle was onto a sure fire winner with Sherlock Holmes, a literary character so popular he had his own obituary when he was finally written off. Why somebody should turn their nose up at something that is populist and provides a great deal of entertainment baffles me. Why simply offering people a good time rather than using your works to change the world should be seen as something less important even moreso. It's like critics that turn their noses up at populist works, considering them less worthy because they can be enjoyed by the masses. Pompous lot. So initially I found it quite hard to warm to this interpretation of Doyle, one who is trying his damndest to distance himself from his trendiest work and throw some light onto his less well known (but in his eyes more commendable) output. I know Doyle was quite ambivalent about Holmes and his continued existence and this is the period where he almost seems to regret bringing him to life in the first place. He wants to write something that will last and he thinks that Holmes is keeping him from that - not realising that Holmes will be the character that keeps him a household name forever. I also find it bizarre that rational people can find themselves writing to fictional characters expecting a response (with children it is a different kettle of fish entirely). It's exactly the same sort of people who have lost their grip on reality and phone up Manchester Emergency Services when they see a tram come off the rails on Coronation Street. Letters fall into three categories; people pointing out mistakes in the stories, people asking for more Sherlock Holmes stories and people writing to Sherlock Holmes about their problems and case they would like him to solve. The Doctor has a very droll sense of humour, sending Jago & Litefoot the right outfits to play Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in a scenario where a pretty slip of a thing is convinced that they are perfectly real. It almost seems like Jago & Litefoot are trying to wind Doyle up by pointing out the many ways that Sherlock Holmes could still be alive; the fact that we are never privy to his descent down the Reichenback Falls and the possibility of an unreliable narrator. Time travellers from the future heading back to the Jurassic period to study dinosaurs. Their study of dinosaurs has had disastrous consequences, allowing their monstrous menagerie to wander into the East End of London and prey upon its inhabitants. Doyle is shocked to learn that in the 63rd century that people are still talking about Sherlock Holmes, that his work genuinely does endure. Even if people have started believing that they were real people (in the same way that modern generations figure that Robin Hood was). Morris does give Doyle a sound reason for wanting to leave Holmes behind. Losing his mother to an asylum and his wife to incurable consumption he realised that no one is long for this world and it is better that you make the time that you are given matter. He wanted to write serious historical novels so he would be remembered long after he has slipped off the mortal coil. The events of this story being the inspiration for The Hound of the Baskerville is such an obvious idea and one that I have seen done over and over again, especially in Doctor Who. That doesn't stop it being a fun idea though and it is handled in a rather smart way here where the book has to be written in order to affect the future and set all the events of this story in motion.

Audio Landscape: Rat squeaking, street callers, bells ringing, a train in the distance, rumbling thunder, rain, a squeaky door, doorbell, smashing a window, gunshots, Big Ben sounding, horse whinnying, clip clopping hooves, a dog barking, crickets in the undergrowth, hounds barking, a vivid jungle setting, apes hooting, lions growling, Baskerville being ripped apart, stepping through the temporal force field.

Standout Scene: I will never forget one very funny afternoon when my mum came to visit me and we went into town to grab some DVDs and snacks to watch and picked up what we both thought was the first Robert Downey Jnr Sherlock Holmes movie. We stuck it in the box and prepared ourselves for a big budget, Hollywood version of the Holmes universe. To our everlasting mirth (and we still laugh about it to this day) we were confronted with a dinosaur roaming about Victorian London, gobbling down prostitutes in back alleys. Turns out we had bought some low rent b movie version of the same film (it wasn't until we actually studied the cover that we realised there was a robot and a dino adorning it). Dinosaurs in Victorian London? What a bloody insane notion! Imagine my surprise then when this story manages to not only head down the same path but to pull it off with a great deal of style. The less said about Steven Moffat's application of the same idea, the better. Needless to say I am starting to wonder if this period and location is a stomping ground for a menagerie of Dinosauria.

Result: 'Why didn't you write any more Sherlock Holmes stories?' Whilst I am not entirely sure that this story fits comfortably within the 'Jago & Litefoot on the run' sequence, The Monstrous Menagerie is exactly the sort of classy, insightful and entertaining story that I have come to expect from Jago & Litefoot. This could have simply been an homage to Doyle's work (which ultimately it does turn out to be) but Jonny Morris uses the opening 20 minutes to introduce Doyle into the world of the dynamic duo and paints him in unflattering, yet fascinating colours. Anybody expecting a love letter to Doyle might be quite surprised, this is an author who is trying to move away from 'shilling shockers' and attempting to produce world-changing works that will endure. The conceit of the series regulars pretending to be the real Holmes and Watson is a massive giggle and as ever Jago gets all the best lines. Halfway through it transforms into quite a different story, shirking off its Victorian roots and turning into something more akin to the recent sixth Doctor adventures with the intrepid twosome, whilst still showing off its Holmesian roots all the while. The soundscape throughout is quite extraordinary and I felt as if both settings were evocatively brought to life. Howard Carter has emerged as one of the finest sound designers and musicians and Jago & Litefoot is very lucky to have him on board. A great opening for the box set; one that provides a fun ride, says something profound about its subject (Doyle), playfully uses his works to pay tribute and reveals how this series can skip genres with absolute confidence. Bravo: 8/10


Peakius Baragonius said...

HAHAHAHAHAHA it would appear that you were an actual victim of THE ASYLUM MOVIE COMPANY!!! I can't believe that their hare-brained and asinine strategy of releasing "mockbusters" to tie in with major film releases *actually works*!!! The Asylum - where I might be able to intern through film school :D - is the company that's also given us such video store gems as "Transmorphers", "Snakes on a Train", "Alien vs. Hunter", "The Day The Earth Stopped" (their masterpiece of rip-off movie titles) "MegaPiranha", "Transmorphers: Rise of Man", "Atlantic Rim", and "Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls" to name a few.

Not to mention, they gave the world Sharknado. And even more enjoyably, "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus", one of my favorite terrible movies which is best known for giving the world this scene:

Funnily enough, the guy in the scene reminds me of your appearance in photos, though you're without a doubt a better actor. I can say that with 100% certainty.

As for the Monstrous Menagerie, I was expecting the "strangest case of their career" bit to be a bit of a cop - but then the Stegosaurus turned up! And from there, this went into my Top 5 J+Ls with ease. Not least because a Stegosaurus is one of my two favorite dinosaurs, but the rest of the story is just fantastic - and fantastically funny. The scene were "Rodger with a D" asks Doyle to autograph his books before he kills him being my favorite, not least because of the absurdity of the aforementioned quote in the middle!

Peakius Baragonius said...

*Transmorphers: Fall of Man. Not that any living soul on Earth cares.