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Review: A Conversation with…

Image: York Literature Festival, via Facebook
Image: York Literature Festival, via Facebook
Image: York Literature Festival, via Facebook

The York Literature Festival this year was convened by Robert O’Connor, who organised two weeks of workshops and shows in the city. On the third day of the festival, the York Opera House hosted two renowned guests: Michael Palin, the Monty Python comedian and travel documentary maker, and Mark Gatiss, the actor and Sherlock writer.  The two events were hosted by Rob Ross, a British Comedy Historian and ex-writer of Doctor Who, in a relaxed sofa setting. The talks provided a reflective insight into two incredibly diverse characters.

Mark Gatiss was, understandably, greeted warmly by a full house at the theatre. The first half of the show, beginning with the ‘Stumphole Cavern’ sketch, one of the most famous sketches from The League of Gentlemen, was a reflection on his inspirations and some of his first roles as an actor and comedian. From a young age, Gatiss has had a passion for reading and writing, most of it inspired by his fascination with horror stories. Just by stumbling across such movies on the television, Gatiss gained great inspiration for his horror-inflected comedy and believes a “healthy scare is a great thing” and “a part of growing up.” He announced that a League of Gentlemen special is certainly on the cards by the end of the year and has just started recording the radio show, The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula.  More exciting news includes a new film that Gatiss has written which might enter production next year, but he would give no more details away besides its setting in the 1940s.

The second half of Gatiss’ conversation was more focused on his most recent work, followed by an audience Q&A. A scene from ‘The Lazarus Experiment’, a 2007 episode of Doctor Who, played. Gatiss explained that he had always had a soft spot for Doctor Who as “the little show that could.” He was surprised, yet thrilled, to see its return and felt honored to be asked to be part of its long history. He is still very much involved in Doctor Who – he has written an upcoming episode, ‘The Ice Warriors’, which he says may be his last writing endeavor on the show. Unfortunately, Gatiss will not be the next Doctor.

The end of the conversation was concluded with questions from the audience, which Gatiss answered with his particular style of finesse. He gave his best advice to writers (the answer is: just write!) and suggested his future ambitions to do more theatrical work. He also opened up on his views about how a writer should interact with fans’ demands, explaining that the writer should stick to their view. The show was, all in all, a funny and witty recollection on a long and prosperous career in film, television and radio.

And now for something completely different…

Image: the Evening Standard
Image: the Evening Standard

The second show of the day invited another esteemed guest to the Grand Opera House. Through his dedication and many appearances on television, Michael Palin has become a household name. Like the earlier show, tickets were sold out. Palin was introduced by the world-famous ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch, which set the tone for the first half of the show. He spoke about The Life of Brian, in particular the £5,000,000 financial support provided by ex-Beatle George Harrison and the film’s reception. Palin also elaborated on the lack of female roles in the Python shows, explaining that it wasn’t to be anti-feminist but it was the only way they knew how to make the ridiculousness of the sketches work. He also spoke about his post-Python career and the struggle for his work not to be labelled ‘Python’ if he collaborated with any of his former comedy partners.

The show continued with another video from Palin’s career. As he went on to elaborate, his role in the drama series G.B.H. in 1991 was one of the most difficult roles he has had to play. However, Palin does not see this as a deterrent but instead relishes the challenges he has faced in his acting career. Not only has Palin faced challenges in his acting career but also finds writing alone difficult because of the internalised motivation and energy it requires.

Finally, Palin gave a gleaning sense of his more recent work on travel. Having been to 96 countries, Palin has always had an ambition for travel and had been keen to even get exotic locations for Monty Python scenes. He emphasised that the most important thing for a traveller was to be curious and also to have a sense of humour to get through the more difficult days.

Like the previous show, the conversation ended with another Q&A, which was arguably more varied in questions than Gatiss’ show. In particular, Palin explained his observations on his travels, saying that while interacting with people who were less exposed to the technology he was using, they manipulated their words less than those who knew the cameras. To close, he reflected on his desire to go back to so many of the countries he has visited as well as a wish to see more of Central America and Central Asia. The show provided another conversation with an incredibly fantastic man who has had such a diverse range of experiences.

For more information on The York Literature Festival, click here. Events run until 30th March.