Monday, December 15, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I had been warned that In A Dark Dark House, currently playing at the Almeida Theatre is a disturbing sort of show. So I figured it was only fitting to be the final show for Adrian to see before he left the UK. I had been in a rehearsal all day and was a little exhausted after that, and Adrian was returning from a few days in Manchester, so something interesting and a little controversial by Neil LaBute was bound to keep us interested.
While we waiting for the show to start we could at least take in the fantastic production design. The Almeida always seem to create the most fantastic realistic looking gardens and grasses and this was no exception.
After a slow start, the play really started to unfold, somewhat sneakily, into another realm... Which also included a mini-golf course. This is a play about sexual abuse and two brothers reliving their unhappy childhood. But it was told from an interesting perspective and there are such terrific performances it is worth catching. All told was it disturbing? Well, only if you are disturbed by human behaviour...
When friends visit from Australia I find that I see a lot more musicals in the West End. Adrian was in town from Melbourne this week and as a fan of musical theatre I knew that at some stage this week it would end up like this. And it did. I ended up seeing Avenue Q (which in its third year is still fun, but a little lacklustre and the Tuesday evening performance this week had some pretty poor puppeteering), and Zorro (enjoyable sort of panto with the music of the Gypsy Kings and well-shaved gypsies). Bearing this in mind, I was determined to mix it up a little as well. So last weekend I took Adrian to the Royal Court's production of Wig Out by Tarell Alvin McCraney. This is an entertaining and slick production. While music features prominently in the story about competing drag houses in New York, it is no musical.
It seems that for the characters in this play, the motivation for doing drag was that their grandmother wore a wig. Who knew that grandmother's could cause such an impression? By intermission Adrian declared was impressed by its high wig factor. Normally only period dramas would have such an endless parade of cast members in wigs, but we can thank our grandmothers for giving us drag dramas.
While the story at this point did tend to go on a bit (too much exposition), the performances and production were great. The second half was even better and moved much more quickly. Certainly a different sort of play to see over the Christmas period. It runs until 10 January and good discounts are available to see the show from various places.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I was a bit worried about seeing A Little Night Music on Sunday. Well, the last time I went to see a Trevor Nunn show it all ended in disaster (although I ended up with seats with lots of space around me). This time at least I was certain that the material he had to work with was much better. But still, I was a little bit worried. It was less to do with the show and more to do with the company I was with. After having lunch with the Whingers, John and a few others, our party of ten to see it was in a very silly mood.
The two bottles of non-cheap red wine consumed over lunch may have had something to do with it. There was so much banter that anything was a target and everything was hilarious. The production team sat in the row in front of us, taking notes using pens and little notepads looking like they were waiters. John suggested we ask Trevor to take our order for a couple of lattes for the interval. Yes, it was set to be a silly afternoon.
Fortunately all the banter stopped when the lights went up. Well the lights went up in the row in front of us anyway. The note taking continued under the glow of pen lights and mobile phones. It took a while for the stage lights to go up. I think they did not go up until about the third number and it was hard to make out who anybody was until then. Still there was so much to enjoy about this show; the excellent cast, the brisk pacing and the great story.
I had not seen a production of A Little Night Music before but was familiar with the score. I also knew the film Smiles Of A Summer Night on which the musical is loosely based upon. Smiles Of A Summer Night is an Ingmar Bergman film, but is not a bleak film about death (like many of his films) but a very funny comedy. The book and score of A Little Night Music is just as witty and incisive. So it was great to see this production bring out the fact that at its heart this show is a sexy comedy.
There are some wonderful singers in this cast and they all kept the show real while managing the right balance of laughs and pathos. Some in our party had reservations about Maureen Lipmann playing Mme Armfeldt but I figured the role called for a touch of channelling Margaret Thatcher with a bit of Miss Havisham. But particular credit has to go to Hannah Waddingham in the central role of Desiree. Judi Dench played it in the last London production, but by giving this role to Waddingham (who is in her early thirties and looks stunning even eating a bag of crisps), the show makes a lot more sense and gives added power to the story. It was also nice to see Jessie Buckley, runner up in the TV show I'd Do Anything to find the next Nancy for the upcoming West End revival of Oliver! playing the role of the young virgin wife Anne as well.
All told this show looked and sounded fantastic. I would challenge anyone not to enjoy the closing number of Act 1, "A Weekend In The Country". It is helped by the small confines of the Chocolate Factory and the extra intimacy it provides. You know you are seeing the real thing as you are so close to the performers as they deftly handle very tricky music. The production design was another added bonus. A real treat and one not to miss. Press night was 3 December and it will run until March at the Chocolate Factory. Beg, borrow or steal (if the Sondheimistas snatch them all up) to get a ticket while the nights are long... It is worth it...
Monday, December 01, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
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.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
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
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
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...
Monday, November 17, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
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...
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...