There are times when writing for The Velvet Onion is a matter of simply posting the news of a fresh gig, a dvd release, or a fresh interview. These don’t come along every day, however, and in an attempt to widen the scope of TVO and keep our faithful readers entertained, we will be experimenting with additional reports that take an off-kilter look at some of the things you may have missed.
Every now and then, we’ll be casting an occasional glance back at past side projects that for various reasons, didn’t reach a wider audience. Wherever possible, we’ll post links to enable you to watch these items legally, or perhaps even buy them on shiny digital discs of joy. This week, it’s the turn of Matt Berry‘s musical masterpiece AD/BC.
AD/BC: A Rock Opera first aired on BBC3 back in December 2004, and to date, has never been repeated – despite the prestigious nature of its cast and crew. This may arguably be down to the channel’s shift away from the kind of comedy made by those behind it, towards cheaper to produce, teen-orientated sitcoms, but it may also be simply because the channel didn’t quite understand what they had been given.
Coming less than twelve months after their cult favourite Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace quietly sneaked out onto unsuspecting audiences over on Channel 4, writer/director Richard Ayoade teamed up with the then-secretly very musical Matt Berry to create another pastiche of television gone by.
Whereas Darkplace was a pitch-perfect homage to mid 1980s horror serials, AD/BC would go even further back to a bygone age when BBC2 was not the relatively mainstream channel it is now, but closer perhaps in style to present day BBC4 – offering programming of artistic value but relatively little commercial appeal. Spoofing the kind of low-budget, studio-bound plays they would often broadcast, the show also fired a mean left hook towards the preposterous Jesus Christ: Superstar musical. It also drew heavilly on the equally tacky Godspell, which knowingly closed its original production the year before AD/BC is alleged to have been made.
Like Darkplace before it, no effort is made to explain to casual viewers that this is a pastiche. The show is introduced by its writer, composer and star Tim Wynde (Berry), complete with lo-fi sound quality and jumps in the film. There are no fancy cgi effects – everything is intentionally shot on basic video, though unlike Darkplace, compromises have been made: beyond the introduction there are no sudden cuts or moments in which the sound wavers, and the feature is shot in widescreen (perhaps at BBC3’s insistence), when an actual period piece would have been shot in the ‘fullscreen’ ratio, fact fans.
Despite this minor inconsistency, the actual performances on offer are certainly accurate homages to the time period… with progtastic rock songs (if anyone can make music that sounds like its fallen through a wormhole to the seventies, its Berry), allowing the cast to suddenly expand random lyrics into full on bursts of ear-piercing vocal extravaganzas at the most inopportune moments. There are 70’s fashions sneaking into the ‘period’ costumery, studio lights in the middle of the set, doors reopen when they should’ve stayed closed, and vintage telephones are used by the characters for the sake of comedic inacuracy. There’s even a random montage of bed & breakfast snapshots slapped onto the climax of a song, to further add to the level of pretencious lunacy.
Any chance to hear Matt Berry utilise his vocal chords is always welcome – his is a gloriously fruity voice that has many levels most simply cannot reach… from that glorious voice he used on Darkplace to that sultry smooth tone most of his singing is on. The same can be said for the ever-brilliant Julian Barratt, embracing the chance to do something different to his standard Howard Moon-esque characters (see also the delightful Nathan Barley for another side of his persona). As Tony Escariot, hotel entrepeneur, he gets to be ruthless, cold-hearted, and ponce around in very very short shorts as he threatens to put Berry’s unnamed Innkeeper out of business. Barratt’s real-life partner, Julia Davis, plays Ruth, the Innkeeper’s wife who is torn between her love of her husband, and her lusting for Tony… while Ayoade appears as Joseph, father of Christ, and one seriously funky dancer. Unlike the others, dear Richard can’t sing to save his life – but that just makes his efforts all the more hilarious, and oddly in keeping with the original inspirations for the show.
There are also cameos from the likes of Rich Fulcher, Noel Fielding, Lucy Mongomery, James Cook, Graham Linehan and famously, Matt Lucas as God. The majority of these are intriguingly dubbed by Berry, Ayoade and Fulcher – which makes Fielding’s appearance in particular rather bizarre to watch!
Despite all this talent on display, it took 2|Entertain almost three years to release it on dvd. It’s short length (a mere 28 minutes) and festive theme worked against it, and the show has never recieved widespread recognition, even after Ayoade & Berry became more popular as regulars in The IT Crowd. It may seem an expensive purchase given its length, and the fact that the only video extra on the dvd is a short interview with Berry’s Tim Wynde character blowing his own trumpet… but when you bare in mind that the full length soundtrack is also included, and its a soundtrack many fans of those involved have fallen in love with – it may be a more convincing proposition.
And at the very least, you get another chance to embrace Barrat’s northern pins…
AD:BC is available to buy on dvd, via various retailers. Buy it from Amazon here: AD/BC – A Rock Opera [DVD]