Imagine being marooned on a desert island with only five of your favourite songs for company, what would you take? A blast of sunshine pop to raise the spirits perhaps, or some stirring classical music to inspire a break for freedom? Or how about wallowing in some gothic misery as you ponder your misfortune and cry yourself to sleep with only a volleyball for company … These were some of the questions mulled over by the Belle Vale-born and bred comedian, actor, director, giddy buster and generally über-talented PETER SERAFINOWICZ at the latest In Conversation evening hosted by Club Geek Chic.
Elevated if not marooned on an island of polished wood and decadence in the Concert Room at St. George’s Hall, Serafinowicz sits awkwardly in the limelight as he discusses his career and achievements to date: a man used to the background, he is probably best remembered for his vocal performances rather than his on-screen antics, though when he does appear on camera his cameo roles are often the stuff of cultish legend. Although, infuriatingly, Serafinowicz’s profile is relatively low-key (“Peter who? Never heard of him!”), he has had a foot, or vocal chord, in the camp of some of the most celebrated televisual institutions of the past decade. An impressive CV that includes voicing a Star Wars baddie (the red-faced judo gooseberry Darth Maul), and screen-grabbing turns as the sleazy Duane Benzie (Spaced) and US-obsessed Tex in I’m Alan Partridge, it is still a wonder that his notoriety is not matched by his creative output. “I always liked playing dicks,” he confesses, which somewhat downplays his ability to take someone or something fundamentally flawed and accentuate it to create comic gold, but still doesn’t explain why he isn’t a more treasured icon beyond the stalwarts of Terry Wogan’s radio show.
Schooled at OLA and SFX, Catholic schools in the Belle Vale/Gateacre area, Serafinowicz has always had a unique talent for mimicry that ultimately saw him flying the nest to found a career as a voice-over artist and impersonator. To the delight of the crowd packed in to this tiny space, he treats us to some of the favourites, Al Pacino and Marlon Brando sparring with Ralph Fiennes and Leonard Rossiter; his unique talent for creating a comically-skewed caricature showing why the likes of Simon Pegg and Steve Coogan have sought out collaborations with this master of spoof.
It must take a finely-tuned musical ear to perfect the art of the impersonation, a trait that Serafinowicz has always displayed, most often in conjunction with his vocal acrobatics. Under the pseudonym Gelg he scored the music for his Tomorrow’s World-aping TV series Look Around You, and has recently embraced the medium of the music video, directing Hot Chip’s video I Feel Better and giving us a peek at his new video for Swedish House Mafia’s latest single (another spoof). As the night unfolds and anecdotes about his career are coaxed out of him by host Mike Neary, Serafinowicz seems modest and unassuming, graciously accepting plaudits and nervously looking over his shoulder at the big screen as clips of his work are rolled out. It seems a relief for him when the focus is shifted to the musicians who are brought on to bring life to his desert island picks. Watching open-mouthed as Alex Berger delicately deconstructed Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years, Serafinowicz’s appreciation for the musical mastery on show was evident as he mouthed the compliment “fucking amazing!” as the crowd broke out in applause. Similarly stage-grabbing performances of Serafinowicz favourites followed, with Neil Campbell and Perri Alleyne-Hughes’ stellar reworking of the Tubeway Army hit Are Friends Electric?, and local orch-pop, harp-wielding darlings Laura James & The Lyres smashing Deerhunter’s Desirelines out of the park. Unfortunately not enough time was given over to discussing these selections, and I would have loved to hear Peter’s reasons for making these choices, not least when it came round to Helter Skelter. “I could have picked any Beatles song, my favourite changes each day,” was as far as we got before talk turned to the remake of Yellow Submarine in which Serafinowicz had been cast to play Paul McCartney. The project is now up in the air as Disney have pulled out, but, as demonstrated, Serafinowicz could cut costs drastically by voicing all four Fabs, even if he does admit that Shameless’ Dean Lennox Kelly does do a better Lennon.
As the haunting strains of The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now? waft across the auditorium, I’m left wondering why it takes nights such as this for us to sit up and take notice of our city’s talented and creative luminaries: the newspaper back pages are full of the deeds of our sporting heroes, but what of those at the cutting edge of theatre, television, music and comedy? Club Geek Chic’s Karen Podesta and Gemma Aldcroft are thankfully redressing this imbalance, having already been in conversation with Mike McCartney and David Morrissey at previous events. And, with Vassily Petrenko and Sue Johnston in the pipeline for future sessions, it seems as though this trend is continuing: God bless the Geeks, for they shall inherit the earth!