Sunday, November 30, 2008

Scenes from a new terror threat to London


Picture 615, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Reports are surfacing that the retail downturn in London may be attributable to the threat of freaky giant snowmen attacking shoppers on Carnaby Street...

Theatre: The Walworth Farce



I wasn't that keen on The Walworth Farce after I saw it on Thursday evening. Maybe it was that after seeing Changeling at the cinemas already I had seen enough weird stuff for a week. But then after a few days it still lingers in the mind. And over the course of the weekend I saw enough weird stuff to make me wonder whether the characters in this show really were that bonkers.

The play begins with a father and his three grown up sons putting on a play for themselves in the living room of their run down council flat in Walworth. It is a little weird seeing the usual National Theatre audience types watching characters in a place set two stops on the tube away. It is two separate worlds. With my view over the stalls I could see that there were a few there to see the play who were on dates. As the play develops and a stranger interrupts their world, it becomes quite clear that it isn't a play you should take your date to.

The clever thing about the play is that the story unfolds within the play the three main characters put on. While it may not be a laugh out loud show (as it is way too creepy for that), it is still interesting enough to catch. It's current run has finished at the National Theatre.

Theatre scenes 2: Blowing Whistles

What did they do to poor teddy? Note the large window too... It's very Clapham North...


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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Theatre: Blowing Whistles


source:www.blowingwhistles.co.uk

I had not planned to see Blowing Whistles which finished this week, but an acquaintance had his date bail on him and I was called in as backup... While waiting for a very long time in the cold while the Leicester Square theatre got the place ready (the previous show didn't finish until the scheduled starting time for Blowing Whistles - 9.15pm), all was revealed. After innocently asking, "So who stood you up tonight?" I heard a great story about a date ambivalent about gay plays and the scene. I wondered whether part of the problem was that they had both seen In a Dark Dark House the night before and date was now seeking therapy... Who knows with the gays these days? Maybe the guy was too assimilated to see a gay play. Anyway he bailed and everyone else my acquaintance asked was busy... Except for me...

While we were waiting in the cold it was an opportune time for taking photos of the long line of mostly gay men waiting for the theatre to open... And to text mates who had seen the show to check which side was the best side to view the full-frontal nudity. Actually in the end it didn't matter as we practically second row centre and could see quite enough of everything... And besides I much prefered the acting talents of Paul Keating... Particularly when he was in pants...

All told the play by Matthew Todd is very witty and incisive, and very well acted. It looks set to have a life of its own now as gay Doll's House. And I couldn't help but see paraellels with an ex who seemed a lot like Stuart Lang's character... which gave (at least for me) the right amount of creepiness to feel my skin crawl throughout key scenes in the second act.

Finally there were the little touches that I particularly liked. It felt like it was set around the corner from where I lived given the references to Clapham North, the high street and The Sewers. And (ahem) having been in a place or two around that area, it made me wonder (purely based on the size of the window in the set) whether the characters lived on Landor Road... I can't recall being at the theatre where a play could speak to you so much... Now if only I could work out what it all meant... I might take coffee in Clapham tomorrow to think about it further...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

with pizza in SW2

As if any excuse is needed to go to Franco Manca for lunch... Although Grant wanted to catch up before he headed back to oz (one of the pizzas was his)...

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Theatre: Imagine This

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Imagine This... A show with its own serviettes...

Tonight was the first night after press night for Imagine This at the New London Theatre and I decided that I would introduce my musical-loathing friend Lorna to it. Well, a musical about a theatre troupe in a Warsaw ghetto circa 1942 is different, so I was thinking she might be up for something a little gritty and a little less gooey gowns and showgirls. Or at least perhaps something akin to Life is Beautiful meets Fiddler on the Roof.

Press night Wednesday may have been buzzing but on Thursday there was a distinct sense that the audience was a bit thin on the ground. It's a pity as it is a great new show. The story is about a theatre troupe in the ghetto performing a musical based on the story of Masada. Things get interesting when a member of the resistance has to hide within the troupe and peform a lead role. And there begins the play within a play, with both commenting on the past and the present.

A lot of very predictable debate appeared in the Guardian and The Times about whether it trivialises the holocaust, as if there is only one way to treat history like this: traditional music and minor key harshness (whatever the hell that is). While it isn't a perfect show, this view misses the point of the second act entirely where things really get interesting and it feels almost is like a morality play. The show was also criticised for its upbeat ending, but I thought it was ambiguous enough to not suggest any particular outcome other than death being preferable to enslavement...

Ok so it isn't a light bit of entertainment... But it is still a musical and that calls for music that is emotional, likeable characters, tension and drama, and a great cast. Unlike many new shows that have opened in London (not based on a movie or a jukebox collection), this show has all these things. And the structure of the play within a play while very simple, was also very well done. Leila Benn Harris and Peter Polycarpou were particularly good in their lead roles.

At intermission I mentioned to Lorna that the couple who walked by us looked like they weren't coming back for the second act. "You know, people who walk out of the theatre and don't come back at intermission," she commented, "really should take a good look at themselves and think maybe they should stop going to the theatre!"Maybe she had a point, but I made a mental note not to introduce her to the Whingers. Of course, Lorna never had to sit through the second act of Gone With the Wind... Nobody should ever have to suffer that much...

I did warn her that in the second act it would all end in tears, but we were both glad we stayed and it is a memorable and moving musical experience... Whatever the future has in store for the show, it is worth catching... Discounted tickets are available too...

Scenes from Waterloo

The Italian rugby team is here...

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Movies: W



It was funny to see at the end of Oliver Stone's movie about the failure known as George W Bush's Presidency the words "the end". Bush is still in office, but the movie serves as a comforting reminder that not only is he a lame duck, but that the end of a weird eight years is nigh...

It also is a reminder about the collective administrative and leadership failure over eight years. Iraq is at the forefront here but any number of the administration's policies could have been used. The movie portrays Bush as a likeable guy in a struggle for approval from his father. Unlike previous Stone biographies, you don't really care whether this is accurate as there is too much pleasure to derive from the knowledge that this analysis is bound to piss off the Bush family...

Josh Brolin is great in the title role, but it is a pity that the other actors seem to be more playing dress up than developing characterisation. And what is going on with Jeffrey Wright's eyebrows? I didn't know Colin Powell used tweezers? We also don't get much insight as to why he was popular and won two elections... I guess it probably serves as a reminder that it is entirely plausible given the options the American people would not hesitate in electing a likeable but stupid guy again in future... Now there's a happy thought...

Theatre: Blood Brothers



I mentioned earlier this year to Grant and a few others in the chorus, that I had not seen Willy Russell's musical, Blood Brothers. The reaction to this statement was like one of those scenes in a movie... You know like in a western, when a stranger walks into a bar and the music stops, people gasp, and everyone looks up and stares... I was committing musical heresy apparently, even if a show about two guys who turn out to be brothers and then die wasn't high on my list of things to see...

Well Grant was determined to rectify this oversight, so on Friday I found myself at the Phoenix Theatre where this show has been playing for a very long time... Blood Brothers tells the rather melodramatic story of two twins separated at birth. They grow up only knowing each other as friends and one goes to Oxbridge and becomes a Councillor, while the other goes mad (some may be confused about whether there is much of a contrast here). Eventually thanks to the love of a girl and shoes on a table (lucky it wasn't wire hangers), it all ends in tears.

I was told that I would be a hard man to not to be upset by the ending. Well throughout the show I was upset by loads of things such as the lack of characterisation, the entire role of the narrator and his dirty shoes (a downside of sitting too close to the stage) and the constant spelling out in big letters the class differences (which is done a lot better in Billy Elliot). But what saves this show is the central character of the mother Mrs Johnstone.

Grant was disappointed that one of the Nolan sisters wasn't performing as Mrs Johnstone, since over the years I think every single one of them has played this role. But we got something far better. We got last years X Factor finalist Niki Evans. Evans came fourth in the show last year. She seems so perfect for this role and gave this show the lift it needed. Evans own story as told on X-Factor last year was emotional enough. She was working as a dinner lady before going on the show last year. But it is not just her story and her pitch-perfect singing that makes her interesting. It was also her ability to deliver the most incredibly emotional performance, that had the audience on its feet cheering her at the end. Here's hoping that we see more of her on stage in the future, as she was nothing short of sensational.

It is always possible to get good discounts to the show, and the show is worth catching while Evans is in the run... Even the most jaded theatre-goer would be hard not to be impressed by this turn...Then again I am always a sucker for stunt casting...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hot news this week in London...


parking row turns ugly, originally uploaded by Yersinia.

Don't mess with Sevenoaks drivers...

Opera: Aida and For You

The weekend before last turned out to be a bit of an opera fest. I went with Patrick on Saturday night to see Aida at the ENO as he liked a bit of grand spectacle on a Saturday night. That Saturday was so cold and wet I had not dared venture out all day so going to see this rather brightly coloured production of the show certainly felt like a sensible antidote to such a grey day... This production was first staged last year and while the directorial choices are not to everyone's taste I thought it was interesting enough... It runs until later this month... I am trying to get Patrick to write an opera blog as he has far more witty lines about Opera productions than I do as I suspect he has seen every opera staged in London over the last twenty or so years... He has only just got an MP3 player though so the blogging concept might be a bit too new media for him right now but we can only hope as opera writing needs some laughs...

Anyway not content with just Aida on Saturday, on Sunday I found myself at the Lindbury Studio at the Royal Opera House watching the new opera For You by Michael Berkeley and Ian McEwan with some boys from the chorus. Patrick warned me the night before that the opera was a bit like an episode of Midsomer Murders without the trashy ITV commercials... And with a mostly difficult score by Berkeley...

Still, anyone that can get high notes from "general anaesthetic!" in the libretto certainly can do a few tricks... And the scene of the big soprano humping the lead and then putting on her knickers in full view of the stalls (we were in the circle) certainly left an impression on me... The other guys with me had trouble staying awake watching this show as they didn't care for the characters, the plot, the libretto or the music. But on the whole I didn't mind it. If only the surtitles could be seen from the upper level... Next time I will bring my opera glasses...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

On Clapham Common

A mass gathering to see the fireworks go off on Wednesday evening... Well... The free show always packs the punters in... Mad scenes of people on the surrounding streets ensued...

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Scenes from rehearsals Tuesday...

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Hot news this week in London...


BBC In Sex Prank Apology, originally uploaded by LinkMachineGo.

Everyone loves a beat up... Just the thing to take your mind off the economy tanking, poor leadership and the like...

Theatre: Piaf



The dazzling and brilliantly acted Piaf is now playing at the Vaudeville Theatre after its sellout run at the Donmar Warehouse. It looks great, the songs are great and the performances by everyone including Elena Roger are sensational. Roger may not look like Piaf (hey, who would want to?) but she manages to channel Piaf when she sings that it is a thrill watch. The men in the cast are also quite (phwoaaar!) fit as well which was a little surprising. Many of them could easily play Clark Kent if they were ever going to revive that Superman musical. Obvious in Piaf's day it was important for her men to take their vitamins. Maybe that is why they were such bad drivers... That's all the good stuff about this production...

Now I was supposed to see Piaf back in July with the Whingers, however on that day I was hurling my guts up. After seeing this gritty production where people have sex on the cobblestones (owch) you just want to go into all these gory details. Pam Gems has reworked her original 1978 text for this production which has seen some scenes such as Piaf urinating on stage cut. Still, there are enough utterances of "fuck" and "cunt" to keep reminding you Piaf was a whore from the gutter. Each time a filthy word was said I could hear two little old ladies behind squeal and wheeze. It can be a cruel show... Not just on Piaf but the audience too! But what was worse was that despite all the reworking of this play... It still sucks. Episodic and full of dull dialogue it left me torn between liking the show on the strength of the performances to loathing it due to the script. There were also loads of tricks to jazz up and improve the pacing with lighting and sound effects... But in the end it is a bit hard to hide the fact the story is a dog...

Then again the strong point of this piece has never been the story but always the performance of the actor playing Piaf. It's just to bad that the recent La Vie en Rose managed to show Piaf's life was more than just a series of car accidents and morphine hits. I guess you can't have everything... Still worth checking out and it runs through to January...