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Tuesday 20th May 2003

I first saw Jerry Springer the Opera (written by my friends and associates Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee) at the Battersea Arts Centre a couple of years ago. It had minimal set, a cast of maybe ten and (I think) Richard playing the music on a keyboard. The second half was work in progress and a bit of a mess, but still interesting. We were told we could go home at the interval if we didn’t want to see it as well. It was a brilliant show already.
Then I saw it at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh last summer. I was astonished by how lavish and large it had all become. The cast was bigger, there was video projection. The second half was properly written and rehearsed and was much better, though still not quite right.
Tonight I went to see it at the Royal National Theatre. It was unbelievable. Set, costumes, cast of dozens (well, two dozen maybe), surprises galore. The second half is triumphant. It’s like a proper show that would get put on in a real theatre. Only better, because it is actually entertaining (not something you can generally say after watching something at the theatre- “You know it wasn’t just worthy and clever and made me go “aaaaah!”, I actually had a good time as well).
I remember when we first went on TV Stew and I couldn’t believe that we’d write a sketch and then it was several people’s jobs to make our stupid sketch become reality. And also someone was happy to pay thousands of pounds to make a silly idea on a piece of paper turn into an actual thing. It was when I was sitting in a milk float on Richmond Common at 6 o clock in the morning, with three stuntmen made up to look like plague ridden demons galloping around on horses around me that I first felt this uneasy wonder. “It was just a joke,” I said. But none of the twenty or thirty people who were there heard me. It was their job to make this thing happen. Whether they thought a milkman of the apocalypse was funny or not.
With Jerry Springer the Opera tonight I got that feeling time a hundred. Because so much work and money had clearly gone into every aspect of the show, which is essentially just a silly idea about an opera based on a TV show with swearing in it (albeit with brilliant and intelligent execution).
This isn’t a negative thing. Quite the opposite. It is just amazing to have witnessed the journey of this extraordinary show, from a small fringe theatre, to one of the most prestigious theatres in the land. It is joyfully obvious that this is only another beginning and that there is a long way for this to go yet.
I know there is a part of Stew, however proud he is of his work (and I hope he is proud and happy, because he should be) that is still thinking, “It was only a joke.”
The minute we stop thinking that, I think all is lost. And we will have become wankers.

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