Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Theatre: Spamalot


Well, at least there was Nina Söderquist

It isn't often that I am put off seeing a show just because I have heard the cast album. But when I heard Spamalot a few years back I thought it was such crap that I waited until the ticket prices dropped through the floor before going to see it. Perhaps the show is on its last legs. The show has been a huge hit on Broadway but seems to be struggling here. Monty Python wrote some hilarious music in their day, but you wouldn't know it with this lamely written show that serves up lines like:
We're going off to war
We'll have girlfriends by the score
We'll be shot by Michael Moore
Because we're not yet dead

Sitting in the front row you can just smell the stench of stale satire. It was a very tame night and hardly the bloody and silly enjoyment of the film that this musical "lovingly rips off". Anything slightly risqué seems to have been cut or toned down (so no oral sex jokes) to the point that instead there are stereotypes of French mimes, cheerleaders and a big musical number about Jews on Broadway theatre (the lyrics were rewritten but it was hard to hear what they were singing anyway since the balance wasn't very good)... Pretty uninspired stuff...

Anyway, all can be somewhat forgiven when the price of the ticket is less than the cost to go to the cinema. I took Fraser, who is always nagging me that I don't mention him on my blog (and to which I reply if he went to the theatre with me there would be a much better chance of getting a mention). He is a little ambivalent about musical theatre, but after seeing Gone With The Wind I figured that is enough to make you want to stay away from the West End for years so we made a great pair. Who knows maybe if I see one more production by Trevor Nunn and I will never return to the theatre and start hanging 'round in bars?

The music and stale satire aside, the show is rather well put together and there are some of Monty Python's sketches that have survived the musicalisation pasteurisation. So much so that in two scenes Fraser snorted so I took that to mean he was laughing.

But Tuesday night's performance also seemed to overall lack the comic timing necessary to make the show genuinely funny. Only the performances by Nina Söderquist and Jake Nightingale (as the Lady of the Lake and various characters respectively) seemed to rise to the challenge of giving the show the laughs it needs. Söderquist won the role in a Swedish television show which seems like a pretty good idea if they can find performers like this.

Alas the biggest problem with the show was the central character of King Arthur played by Alan Dale. Sitting in the front row, even then it was hard to tell if he was alive. The role of King Arthur doesn't have all the laughs, but straight men should be able to deliver lines with a little enthusiasm and timing. Alas instead he gave the character of King Arthur a weird creepiness that would have been more suited playing an Austrian in the Sound of Music (or perhaps just any old Austrian). When Arthur kissed the Lady of the Lake the obvious age difference did make me wonder a little about art imitating life... Browsing through the programme at intermission it was probably the first instance where I gazed at the bios of the understudies sighing at what could have been. Actually there were quite a few of the ensemble and swing that weren't bad performers... Or lookers for that matter...

All told, the show will make a great musical for the amdram circuit, but unless you are seeing it for cheap, get the movie out on DVD. There is less singing, but it is much funnier. Still there was something Fraser and I took away from the show. Later in the evening we both were Googling the ensemble and swing members to see if they had any fan sites. Alas they did not. What is with these up and coming actors? Not a website between them... Oh well...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not in London: Paris Orangina


240420085075, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

The bears are hotter in Paris...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not in London: Street Theatre Paris


23-04-2008, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Still on holidays this week and soaking up the sights of Paris for a few days... The great thing about French street theatre is that it is so bad you don't mind not giving them any money for it. This one I caught yesterday afternoon basically involved a woman wearing a fox fur (I had to correct my sister who thought it was a beaver) shouting profanities. Every once in a while the man in the white shirt would slap her about a bit. Bearing this in mind I thought I was watching it again tonight when a man started attacking another man with an iron (the kind you use on shirts). It was only when the police started to appear on rollerblades that I started to think that maybe this wasn't so avant garde afterall...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Overheard at the Tate Sunday...

Woman #1: What about Mr Whippy?
Woman #2: Mr Whippy!!
Woman #3: I hate Mr Whippy!

Scenes from a deli in South Kensington Saturday...


19-04-2008, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Hmm... Nice camel toe...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hot news this week in London...


180420084784, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Apparently the French were to blame... Easterly winds bringing their smelly cheese and their smelly dogs over the south east...

Overheard at Waterloo Station

Man on mobile: I wanna know who's been saying these things about me so I can sue their f----- pants off!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hot news this week in London...


WELCOME TO SUNNY SOUTH LONDON, originally uploaded by the_moog.

It isn't true that all of South London is in the clutches of this... Just Crystal Meth Palace...

Overheard on the London Eye Tuesday...

Man #1: You see I told him... You come to this company... You do some time here and those that really make their mark are the ones who get the networks running... Get the contacts...
Man #2: Yeah... And...
Woman #1 (interrupting): You're not all talking business here are you?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Scenes from West End Whingers Party


West End Whingers Party, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

I went to the West End Whingers Party and all I got was smarm... That's about right...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Overheard at the gym Saturday...

Man #1: What would you say if I called you skinny boy? Would ya like that? Would ya?
Man #2: Uh... No...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Theatre: Gone With the Wind

One of the fun things about going to the theatre and blogging about it is that you can pick up the buzz and excitement about new productions as they hit town. Sadly this was not the case with Gone With the Wind. When asking around about it over the last month, the only responses I got back about it were forced smiles and phrases like... "Well... It's innnnteresting". Well now after seeing a preview of it on Tuesday night I can confirm what they are saying. It is innnteresting... And for those that don't know theatre-speak... That means it is rubbish.

First of all starting with the leads. It was a curious choice to put Darius Danesh and Jill Paice in the lead roles of Rhett and Scarlett. Despite the efforts of Darius to make his voice boom and disguise with sideburns the fact he is in his twenties, he still looks like he is playing dress-up and wearing his dad's clothes. Paice doesn't fare much better either and together to pair give the show the kind of earnestly bland feeling you get from a high school musical... Perhaps the stress of carrying such a heavy show will prematurely age them so they might begin to resemble the age of their characters but even then they I suspect they still wouldn't have the gravitas to pull it off...

As a musical, I kept thinking how the opening song from Parade in a few bars conveyed more about Georgia than anything I heard in the three hours and forty-five minutes of this production. It isn't just that the songs are bland and forgettable, but the majority of them simply grind the show to a halt rather than advancing the plot and keeping things moving. The numbers (and the performances) that had any life in them were sung by the black cast. The stark contrast between the songs and performances made me wonder whether they adapted the wrong book and that they really should have adapted the parody The Wind Done Gone and be the south's answer to Wicked...

But ultimately what kills this show is the endless narration. And it is so embedded in this production that it strips the show of any sense of drama. Obviously no effort was made to focus the show so loads of narration helps get through huge chunks of the plot. But there was also actually very little dialogue and everything from the bleeding obvious ("she turns her head") to whatever fiddle-dee-little-dee devilish whim enters Scarlett's mind also was given the narrative treatment. This show must be wonderful if you are blind, although you still have to listen to the music.

I suspect part of the problem is that the book, lyrics and music were all written by the same person. Generally (unless you are a genius) this is a pretty brave thing to do. And if in the case of Margaret Martin - where you have no previous theatre credits to your name - and half of your bio is devoted to how you are a specialist in child and maternal health, it is particularly bizarre. It gets even more bizarre in the production notes where the claim for experience is based on the fact that "As a single mother, she identified closely with the challenges faced by Gone With the Wind’s young protagonist". A pity she didn't identify with the challenges faced by adapting a well-loved film and particularly dense novel into a watchable musical.

The production itself was intriguing too. There was a revolving mansion that when it revolved didn't seem to be any different. A big flag descended at various points to signify we were in Atlanta. And actually the entire theatre had flags and drapes and other paraphernalia around just to remind you that you were in the south. Given it had such an Englishmen's view of America this was quite necessary to be reminded about exactly where this story was set... Then there were these pesky hoop dresses that all became a bit of a burden and started taking on a life of their own. Well I guess hoops must have been difficult. When they disappeared at a point in the first half I assumed they were melted down as part of the war effort as selling pillowcases to fund the war effort (which also featured in a prominent scene) can only get you so far. The scene where Scarlett walks through the dead of Atlanta by running around in circles and having the dead roll over was particularly amusing unintentionally. I began to wondered if one of the dead was meant to be Margaret Mitchell... Turning in her grave.

I caught the show with the West End Whingers (and seven others). When it happened and what happened was all dutifully recorded by the Whingers in the first act. Although for the record I will be disputing with them that I arrived at 7.29... It surely couldn't have been any later than 7.28... Besides I knew I needed all the spare time to consume enough coffee to stay awake for this thing so I did make an extra stop at Nero. Still I was grateful to the Whingers that they had got us some great seats that were also set back from where all the actors kept running around so I didn't have to worry about tempting to trip them up with my feet and other baggage.

But by the second act, the Whingers and six of their guests decided a bar would be more pleasurable than a moment longer of this show. But Katy and myself were determined to stick with it. Besides, I had said to Andrew I would "take one for the team" and keep him up to speed on what happens in the second half... Since I don't carry a notebook with me to record every detail of what I am seeing, I decided to twitter my reactions to the second act instead. I could tell Andrew was impressed with this as it is so Web 2.0 (even though I have no idea what that really means). Anyway, while using a mobile phone in a dark theatre would normally be a no-no given the distraction for others around, given that there were eight empty seats I figured there was enough space to not make too much of a disturbance. If you missed the feeds on the right hand side of the blog at the time, they were:

9:21 PM: Phew i just managed to get gin so i can endure the second half!
9:37 PM: Oh the narration! Make it stop!
9:44 PM: Now the actors are crowing...
10:15 PM: Drunk scarlett sings... Oh dear...
10:27 PM: Cut the white characters... Leave the black ones... They can sing (this was at the point of one of the showstopper black songs)
10:35 PM: Rape song now... Oh goody
10:49 PM: Just sung gone within a month... How prophetic...
11:02 PM: Another death song
11:16 PM: The narration... It has stopped... It has finally stopped...


Not as detailed as the Whingers, but you try texting in the dark while concealing your bright phone under your right leg. But at least by 11:16pm, more than three and three quarter hours after it started it was all over. I felt like I had survived. I couldn't applaud. I was too weak. Not counting Elaine Paige at Barbara Cook's 80th, it was the worst show I had seen since Cabaret. Still somebody on one of the sides leapt to their feet. Others cheered and carried on too. Cabaret is still playing in the West End, so maybe it shows what the hell do I know... I didn't think about that too much... I just needed to get some sleep...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Housekeeping: I'm ready...

Tomorrow night I am going to the theatre and the production is so long who knows when I will get home... Such is the odyssey that one particular production is currently enduring in the West End. Bearing that in mind I plan to use twitter as my means of communication to the outside world... Oh and I will stay awake if I can find a new energy drink called Pussy... Now that's a drink with a name that's going to take off...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hot news this week in London...


Stoolball and Secrets, originally uploaded by dayglowill.

Stoolball and secret children... It all happens in London...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Overheard on the High Street Tuesday

Lady #1 (to woman on a mobile phone blocking a doorway): Excuse me... Oh that's a lahvely ring
Lady #2: Oh thank you dahling... Thank you...
Lady #1: No it's lahvely
Lady #2: Thank you dahling...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Theatre: Jersey Boys


From the Tony Awards 2006

I caught Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre Monday night. I saw it with Grant and we must have looked like a right pair of luvvies as a lady in front of us from Cincinnati asked us if we get to the theatre all the time living in London. I wasn't quite sure if that was a question asking us whether we liked musical theatre. Whatever the line of questioning was, I wasn't going to admit that I had just bought on DVD Show Business. Besides it had been over a week since I had last been to a theatre. And that was fringe theatre...

Jersey Boys - a show about some workin' class boys from New Jersey makin' good - was was all class. Rather than the usual trick of being a juke box of hits strung together for an unbelievable story, or weaving a string of b-side songs into a nights entertainment because that is all the rights that were available, this show tells the story of the boys rise to fame using their music. Their story moves at breakneck speed and has been very cleverly put together. Songs spin into drama about the creative process that spun into new songs spinning into more drama about paying back mob loans. It felt like Dreamgirls meets The Sopranos... But by the end of it you felt like you knew something about each of these boys.

Drama aside, even more fascinating was what happened when the show gave the audience the recognisable music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The first time it occurred was half way through the first act in the build up to the song "Sherry". Surrounded by baby boomers, as the song started there was this shock wave of audience excitement that rippled across the theatre. It was like we were taking part in some sort of phenomena channelling a collective experience of the 1960s. As that was a little before my time, I was a bit taken aback by this... Music always takes me back to when I first heard it, and I was assuming that this audience had a bit longer to travel back than some eighties retro flick like Dirty Dancing... Just as well the tunes were so easy to groove to otherwise there could have been quite an emotional mess in the Prince Edward Theatre...

It was easy to forget it also wasn't the Four Seasons on stage but a talented group of young(ish) actors and a rather amplified band. There seemed to be a great chemistry onstage with the actors and Ryan Molloy as Franki Valli and Stephen Ashfield as Bob Gaudio were particularly memorable. When songs you have heard many times before seem new and fresh like "December 1963 (Oh what a night)" you know something good is going on.

The only thing that had me perplexed all evening was the set. It was a mish mash of styles and almost as hideous as the one in Thoroughly Modern Millie. I could appreciate that it was to give the show the backstage / gritty / Jersey look, but surely we could have something executed a little bit more elegantly. Oh perhaps nowadays one should just be glad to have seen a decent new show, well made and performed, that hasn't had to rely on BBC advertorial to pull in the punters... Good tickets available at the usual outlets.