Monday, August 31, 2009

(Open Air) Theatre: Hello Dolly

Watching a musical in Regent's Park is always going to be a little tricky as the venue lends itself better to plays as the acoustics of the venue... Well there are none. Watching HMS Pinafore four years ago on a chilly drizzly August night did not make me keen on ever going back. Four years later however and on a perfect bank holiday Monday evening - warm and a gentle summer breeze - for Hello Dolly.

Arriving at Regents Park I could feel some trepidation... It may have been something to do with running into a friend on the tube who enquired where I was off to. He thought that was hilarious and when he alighted at the next stop with his mates he shouted, "ENJOY WATCHING HELLO DOLLY!" before all of them broke out into an off-key version of "Put on your Sunday clothes" which trailed off only when the tube pulled out of the station. I remained on the train for another stop. Surrounded by manly men I could feel the glares... And the shame. Although most had got on the tube at Vauxhall where the RVT had its sports day so I probably had nothing to worry about.

Attending the show with Peter, he was quick to spot some eye candy in the crowds while I could only see pensioners for the most part. Before taking our seats, I detect that we were amongst quite a few friends of Dolly and wonder if it would become a singalong. Thankfully (for the most part) it didn't.

Hello Dolly tells the story of a matchmaker who realises she needs to move on with her own life is a great show with lots of rousing numbers (if you like that sort of thing of course). And this is a great little production full of energy and life and was just the thing for the last day of the holidays. Samantha Spiro as Dolly was a standout but the performances by all were marvellous. There was even that rarely seen art form of tap dancing and enough dazzle and spectacle to keep people cheering throughout the show.

Of course being Open Air Theatre there were still a few things that were problematic such as actors speaking while there microphones were not on, or the show being generally underlit, or not lit at all. I put the latter down to the fact that they were worried that proper lighting might lead to a swarm of moths that would lead to displays of lepidoptera not seen since soprano Yvonne Kenny wore a moth broach during the Sydney Olympics.

Still these were all minor quibbles when it was a great night out. Also when there is great weather it sure is nicer to be in an open air theatre than in some stuffy non air-conditioned one. Dolly runs until 12 September. Here's hoping there is a West End transfer in the works as well as it deserves a longer run...


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hot news this week in London...

IMG_1152, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

I still don't like the brown word... Even if invisible...

Overheard outside the Ivy London

Paparazzi #1: I'm trying to help you...
Paparazzi #2: You're trying to help me?
Paparazzi #1: Yes...
Paparazzi #2: ... You're an idiot.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Starbucks coffee chipped mug special

Be sure in London to ask for your coffee to be served in a chipped mug as well... It adds to the flavour...

Posted via email from paulinlondon's posterous

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Theatre and trousers: Call Me Madam

Not content to see one old musical this week directed by Thom Southerland, there was another of his productions to see, the final performance of Call Me Madam at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. It was a matinee, which normally would not be the smartest things to attend... Too many old ladies shoving you aside with their walking sticks to get to the unreserved seating first... And too hot... And the barbecue summer that had been called off was back on again...

But after fighting through the old ladies and battling the heat, there was a definite preference for the gay men in the audience to sit to the right hand side of the stage. This became apparent shortly into the first act... Not because it was close to the air conditioning, but because one of the cast members was dancing and wiggling about in his trousers. And his trousers had a 12-inch fly. It seemed to have hypnotic effect on a section of the audience and continued throughout the performance. One wiggle derived at least three titters (not tweets of course as the mobile phones were switched off). And in the second act a particularly dramatic dance move elicited a reaction that was almost off the charts.

There were others in the audience there not just to enjoy the wiggling wonder, but they seemed to be as enthused about the show as they would be enthused about visiting the dentist. Or for the older ones, they reacted like death was imminent.

Oh and as for the show? Notwithstanding the sound imbalance on this final performance (maybe you needed to switch your hearing aid to the T position), the show was great. It received great notices during its month long run. It is is nice to see these old productions being revived in fringe venues since the West End doesn't seem to stage musicals nowadays unless they are crap.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Hot news this week in London

The argument was limited to 260 characters alas...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Theatre: State Fair

Sitting down in a darkened space as the sweat runs down your neck, then your back and into lower regions is probably not something you would expect from a night out at the theatre. But it is worth it to see this lively and energetic little production of State Fair playing at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court. It will have you damp with delight...

State Fair is an odd sort of musical about a pig, a nightclub singer, a boy, a girl, a nightclub singer and the Iowa State Fair. There is an awful lot of mince meat too. It includes cut numbers from other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and a book with some of the corniest jokes immaginable. But it all hangs together somehow. It helps too when you also have such a filthy minded audience (or maybe just a Londonist reviewer). People were laughing hysterically after lines such as "I'm going for a pearl necklace in the back row" and "There's a girl who knows her way around a cucumber"...

The cast are all great but I particularly liked Laura Main, who gets to sing "It might as well be Spring", the song which managed to win Rodgers and Hammerstein an Oscar. Here's hoping she has an album in the works. Even in their piano accompaniment, there is much to appreciate about the other songs in the book too... Although you might leave the theatre with that darned little ditty "Our state fair is a great state fair" in your head...

For a musical big on melodrama it's shrunk well into a small space, with an even smaller budget. Although if the show sells out (which it might start doing given its great reviews) it might be a tad frightening sitting in the front row with all those kicks in the dance numbers.

The only thing I would advise is that you should bring your own booze as are having licensing issues at the moment... Hand wash gel is a good idea too... The bathroom was pretty grim and there is no running water... That's something to think about as you hold the handrail climbing the stairs to the theatre... It runs until the end of August. Don't miss it... But skip the beer nuts at the bar...


Monday, August 10, 2009

Scenes from a council block lift

IMG_1112, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Insight into your neighbours perhaps... Maybe that will help them to swallow...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Theatre Wake: Too Close to the Sun


It didn't feel like closing night of Too Close To the Sun. It felt more like a wake. Too Close To the Sun opened two weeks ago and immediately posted closing notices. We arrived almost too late for curtain up as John, Feigned Mischief and I were still having dinner across the road from the Comedy Theatre. I was keeping an eye on the theatre to watch when people went in, only to realise (almost too late), that with so few people attending the show, it was hard to tell. As we entered there was a deathly silence, and while I don't recall if there even was an overture, it felt like there should have been an organ playing funereal music.

The musical is a four-hander about the last few days of the life of Ernest Hemingway. The synopsis goes something like this: Ernest plods about and tries to molest his secretary. His wife, played by Helen Dallimore, walks around the set in some rather fascinating stirrup pants and heels. Meanwhile some other guy tries to woo Helen Dallimore and the screen rights to Ernie's books while singing Ethel Merman-like numbers. All this apparently drives Ernest to blow his brains out. Any insight into one of the great writers of his time must have been superfluous.

When a show is this bad, it isn't t necessary to wait for the reviews. John and the West End Whingers provided enough analysis to explain why it was not going to work in any case. John for some masochistic reason wanted to see it again, but I was grateful that he was there as an expert witness as I could keep asking him important questions about the production such as:
  • "How long is it until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "Does that mean it is intermission?"
  • "How long is it now until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "Didn't Ethel Merman sing a song that sounded like that once?"
  • "How long is it until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "There surely must be only five more minutes before Ernie blows his brains out right?"
Since the previews, some of the more ludicrous elements of the show had been toned down. It was also thankfully a little shorter. The "I don't trust that pirate girl" number became "I don't trust that little girl". The reference to pirates in Iowa was too much for some preview audiences who reportedly erupted into howls of laughter. Part of my motivation in seeing the show was that I missed the composer's previous opus, Beyond the Iron Mask, back in 2005, so naturally I was a little disappointed by these improvements. Still, there were enough WTF moments in the show to keep shrugging and shaking my head. Mostly they had to do with the musical numbers which bordered on the atonal and not well executed. The exception being the jazz parts of the number "I've been Too Close to the Sun", which ends the first act with a whimper... It could have been Liza... Although pity the character singing was Hemingway. The production also marked the return of the pointless revolve to the West End as well as the house turned and turned and turned without adding much. You were still in Iowa...

During intermission our group noticed two ladies who managed to smuggle into the theatre some Korean takeaway from a restaurant nearby as well. A lovely aroma wafted through the theatre and became the topic of the Audioboo I recorded and posted above. Talking to the ladies afterwards they suggested the food was the highlight of their evening as they bought tickets to this show on the premise that it was a play and they couldn't understand what the point of all the music was. Then they added that they couldn't understand the dialogue either. We probably should have asked Roberto Trippini who wrote the libretto to explain it to them as he was sitting a few seats away.

After the show we waited by the stage door to congratulate the cast for being professional and to wish them well. We also showered them with party poppers as a tribute to being in a show where the highlight of it was when the lead character blows his brains out. Somebody clapped as Trippini walked out as well but he said (what seemed like without any irony) that the real stars were still coming. When they did appear they were good sports and hopefully they had a stiff drink afterwards. Helen Dallimore also had a creepy fan who looked like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver give her a stuffed animal and a kiss before she left as well. Lets hope nobody remembers that they were in this production... But the fans of course...

Monday, August 03, 2009

Scenes from the Serpentine Pavilion

IMG_1093, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Is it a coffee shop? Is it art? Is it both? Certainly this year's pavilion is an inspired piece of design.

Also at the Serpentine is the Jeff Koons Popeye Series. While some at the gallery commented that if you shoved any inflatable water toy up your arse this could constitute as a Koons installation, it was brief enough for me to not get too bothered about it one way or the other...

Both run through the summer.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Theatre: The Mountaintop

Friday evening I caught The Mountaintop at the Trafalgar Studios. The two-hander is about the night before Martin Luthor King Jr is assassinated and imagines King as a man. A man with stinky feet, no toothbrush and afraid of thunder. There with him is the hotel's maid. After bringing him a cup of coffee, the stage is set for an astonishing set of revelations, many of which are hilarious.

Much of the humour derives from the banality of everyday life. There are pros and cons about different brands of cigarettes, whisky, coffee, the weather. Martin Luthor King has just delivered his I've Been to the Mountaintop speech, and as the play unfolds, both his regrets about what more there is to do, and the knowledge the audience has about what lies ahead, gives this play its strength.

Katori Hall's play is fast paced and the production is slick. The chemistry between David Harwood as King and Lorraine Burrough as the maid Camae was incredible too. Who knew summer plays could be so interesting and entertaining? Here's hoping other historical characters from the 1960s could also be recreated in a similar way. Perhaps a production exploring Rachel Carson's flatulence might be interesting too... Anyway the play runs until September and worth catching...