Edinburgh Festival Day 2: Sha-la-la-la, wo-o-o-o: Karen Carpenter haunts the Fringe. Mark Wareham discovers it is yesterday once more-ore-ore . . .
Tuesday 17 August 1993
It's a question Dian Perry, star and co-writer of Yesterday Once More - Growing Up with the Carpenters, isn't about to duck. Hers is the only non-comedy of the three Carpenters shows and the one genuine tribute. The chief reason, it transpires, is that it's 10 years since Karen's death. 'Plus,' she says, 'I'm almost the same age she was when she died. It's time I came out of the closet, dammit. I'm tired of hiding my Carpenters records under the couch.' She might also have mentioned the one other good reason for the show - her uncanny ability to reproduce the crystal-clear tones of the Carpenter voice.
The Carpenters was the first album she bought, aged 12, and it remained her only record for the next five years. 'I liked to hang around in my room and feel really down to the Carpenters.' Then last year, fate intervened. Tomek Bork, the show's director and co-writer, heard her singing a Carpenters song in a karaoke bar in London ('I mean, you can't sing them anywhere else and get away with it,' she says). He suggested a collaboration and, having won the tacit approval of Richard Carpenter, she settled down to rehearse her dooby-doos and shing-a-lings.
Meanwhile, in an altogether sleazier part of town, Graham Norton was working on a less reverential tribute - The Karen Carpenter Bar and Grill, an anorexic comedy that takes place at Karen's last birthday party. While admitting that he's on dodgy ground with this one (last year his appearance as a tea-towel-clad Mother Theresa of Calcutta received plenty of flak), Norton says he's had not a single complaint about little ad- libs like 'Why do birds suddenly appear / Every time you are near . . . Well, because I always throw my lunch away.'
'It's surprised me how far I'm able to push it all,' he says. 'Look, you read the title, then you buy a ticket, you know what you're going to get. How stupid do you have to be? You're not going to get a homage.'
Despite the fact that Dian Perry's tragic Karen is proving the more popular in terms of audience sizes, Norton insists on Karen's intrinsic comedy value. 'She's always struck me as slightly amusing because a lot of Carpenters songs are played in supermarkets. I always think 'How inappropriate' and start putting tins back.'
Although you wouldn't think it, Norton now considers himself an avowed Carpenters fan. 'Originally, when I got the idea for the show, I thought, 'Pre-show music? Just shove on The Carpenters album. Very funny.' So I bought it and it's not funny at all. It's very listenable. Like a lot of Glen Campbell. kd lang says she wants to be the Karen Carpenter for the Nineties. 'Goodbye to Love' is spot-on. All I know of love is how to live without it. Fabulous line.'
David Richard Carpenter, creator of the third Karen in Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, is driven more by revenge. 'I've been called David Richard Carpenter since my birth; I was nicknamed Karen at school and it was a bloody nightmare. I absolutely hated the Carpenters. I was very anti-pop. Would never buy a single. Concept albums only.'
The inspiration for his play, a comedy, was the song of the title. ' 'Calling Occupants' is just off the wall. They were losing the plot by then. It was the official anthem of World Contact Day, some acid-inspired nonsense an East Coast hippie dreamed up at about the same time Tuli Kupfenberg of the Fugs was attempting to levitate the White House.'
Carpenter, who co-habits with Arthur Smith in Balham ('It's not a sexual thing') and who writes for comedians Ben Miller, Tony Hawks 'and anyone else who's around', was determined to avoid being nasty. 'It's too easy to take the piss, though they did write some very irritating songs. It's difficult to write a comedy about a tragically dead person. It's a very sad story. They were loners. They never lived apart.'
All three Karens are keen to get at the underlying tragedy behind the Carpenter voice, but it is Norton who has the most interesting theories. He blames Richard Carpenter for not allowing Karen any control over the group. 'There's something sinister about him. In all the photos, he's always the one in front looking stern and manipulating.' In his version, Karen was only in the group because 'the Carpenter' sounded too religious.
Yesterday Once More - Growing Up with the Carpenters, Hill Street Theatre (venue 41), 19 Hill Street (031-226 6522). 9pm to 4 Sept (not 23 Aug, 2 Sept).
The Karen Carpenter Bar and Grill, Pleasance (venue 33), 60 The Pleasance (031-556 6550). 6.30pm to 4 Sept (not 2).
Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, Stepping Stones (venue 51), West Bow, Grassmarket (031-225 6520). 1.45pm to 4 Sept (not 31 Aug).
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Man to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia after ripping up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Skrillex and Diplo's 24-hour DJ set shut down by police after 18 hours
Alien 5: Sigourney Weaver will reprise Ripley role in new movie, says director Neill Blomkamp
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Drake matches The Beatles' record with 14 singles in top 100 chart at the same time
Aidan Turner interview: 'being a sex symbol is a little awkward'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'