Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Opera: Tannhäuser

The hours seemed to fly by watching the Royal Opera's new production of Tannhäuser on Monday evening. The opera about man's dilemma between passion and purity is told on a grand scale with an enormous cast and all are in very fine voice. Johan Botha in the title role is the man unhappy with the excess of Venusburg and unsatisfied with harsh earthly realities. There is no pleasing some people I suppose, but he manages to give this story credibility and power throughout the four hours of the performance.

The production itself is minimal with the orgiastic excess of Venus's grotto Venusburg limited to the Royal Opera's velvet curtain and a rather large dining table. When a sensual and athletic ballet emerges from what started to look like a gala dinner at the opera you couldn't help but wonder if all opera fundraisers are that fun. If there was only one disappointment here it was thinking that Venus (the lovely Michaela Shuster) should not be in a dinner dress as it just wasn't as hot as everything else being served up. Not that she could not cut through the most loudest of bellows from the orchestra. As for the ballet, it not only looked great, but you couldn't help but be impressed by it's ability to set the story. It did not look easy either and I was exhausted just watching them. Given Tannhäuser was also a big man, you could understand why he was exhausted with all the goings on in Venusburg as well...

Of course back at the earthly Wartburg the grass was not greener. Nor was the shepherd boy who heralds Tannhäuser's return to the Wartburg particularly melodic. But particularly nice about this version was the Eva-Maria Westbroek's ambivalent sexuality she conveyed as Elisabeth. It will be fascinating to see what she does in the upcoming production Anna Nicole. Again the simplicity of the production design adds to its wonder. The song contest at the Wartburg was so dramatic, with parallels drawn to a more recent European war a nice touch. Aiding to the drama was the fine voice of Christian Gerhaher in the role of Wolfram, who remains in love with Elisabeth (just to keep things a little complicated).

While at times the opera grinds to a halt with little action and an awful lot of libretto, what could have been a chore to watch was quite engaging with a great production and terrific cast. The audience loved it as well, although unlike Adriana Lecouvreur, no teddy bears were thrown from the circle. Conductor Semyon Bychkov received some well deserved cheers for keeping this performance engaging and fluid.
And in case you missed it, and will not be able to make the final two performances, the Radio 3 broadcast is available on iPlayer until the end of the week.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Movies: Loose Cannons (Mine Vaganti)

A rare trip to the cinema this week during the snow was also a chance to catch Ferzan Ozpetek's latest film Loose Cannons (Mine Vaganti). It is a family comedy drama with a gay twist. It was well worth the trip out in the snow to see a film that was well acted and nicely shot.

But along with The Kids Are All Right, it is probably one of the few films playing at the moment that is worth venturing out in the snow to see (unless you have diabetes perhaps). It's playing at the moment at some sensible London cinemas.

Another look: Love Never Dies

It is nice to get out the week before Christmas and see a show. Particularly as an attempt to see La Boheme at the Cock Theatre Saturday was thwarted by too much snow. So as a break from the usual Christmas festivities, I took Gio and Bill to see a refreshed version of Love Never Dies at the Adelphi Theatre. As we left the theatre by one of the fire exits, we brushed past a man who resembled Andrew Lloyd Webber racing the other way. It most likely was ALW and Gio and Bill wanted to stop and chat / stare / gawk or do whatever fans do. I pushed on as there was nothing to see only the composer...

When I last caught Love Never Dies I was a little bit disappointed by the plot, the gloomy characters and the unintentional hilarity of it all. Nine months have passed and in what must be some sort of theatrical gestation, the production has been reworked and it is a substantial improvement. The story is clearer, the characters make more sense and things generally flow a bit better. There are even some choice improvements to the lyrics. Having seen an early preview it is fascinating how some minor (and a few significant) changes make a difference.

The show has ditched the dreamy start and musings of an old lady and now starts with one of the stronger numbers (Till I Hear You Sing). This gives some context to the show and gets it going with a bang. The focus is now constantly on the central characters and there seems to be much less doom and gloom. The famous jacket throwing at the end of the first half is gone as well. In fact, there are even a few welcome gestures of humour. Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom, Sierra Boggess as Christine and Joseph Millson as Raoul all have fine voices, but also a great chemistry between them.

Of course the story is still a melodrama, but with some of the more curious aspects of the original production removed, it is an easier journey to go along with. And without the unintentional humour that previously existed. The revisions have also wisely not laboured the ending as before and like the best melodramatic operas, the curtain comes down quickly. I was still none the wiser about the motivations of two characters who are responsible for most of the mild peril in this show, but overall this is a ride you won't mind being taken on. It looks good and sounds good and now won't have you wondering what the hell was all that about. Some of the background to the revisions is below.

As to the final message of the show. Maybe it is love triangles end in tears. Or that at some stage of your life a man is going to make you do something you don't want to do because he has a big jewels. Even if you don't run into the composer as you leave, you are sure to have a good time now... Post show Audioboo musings were as follows...


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Theatre: On The Twentieth Century

Tuesday night was an opportunity to catch the first preview of On The Twentieth Century at the Union Theatre. Cy Coleman's 1978 musical is set in the 1920s (or it could be the 1930s) where producer Oscar Jaffee is trying to score a hit again with his former leading lady, who has gone on to bigger success in the movies.

I had not previously seen this show, but over a pre-theatre fish and chips (or as they tend to call it in south London, fush and chups) at Masters Super Fish, Johnnyfox was waxing lyrical about how wonderfully rich and inventive the overture to the show was. So I felt his disappointment when the overture was arranged by musical director Oliver Jackson for a saxophone quartet and piano. It was still wonderful but not quite so rich. Actually throughout the show Johnnyfox was mostly singing along so I could sense it was going to be one of those evenings where I would be experiencing quite a lot of audience participation...

Anyway, this was the first preview and no doubt the performances will get better as the run progresses, but as a Twentieth Century virgin I had a great time. The performances of all the leads were great and I particularly liked Rebecca Vere as the star Lilly Garland. I last saw her in Batboy and comic timing and vocal range are perfectly suited for this role. She also looks great (although not that you can tell from the above cast photo). Valda Aviks also had a little star turn as the nut Letitia Primrose. It was particularly nice she singled out Webcowgirl as in need of repenting for a life in the cheap seats.

If there was one quibble it was that the staging of the show could have made more of the confined space of the Union Theatre, rather than spanning such a length that watching the show felt like being at a tennis match. But this still is a classy little show and an excellent little diversion over the Christmas period (particularly if you don't fancy seeing a panto).

On The Twentieth Century continues at the Union Theatre, until 15 January 2011 (no performances 24/12-3/1) Tuesday-Saturday at 7.30 and Saturdays and Sundays also at 2.30. Tickets typically £16.50 (£13.50 concessions). Box Office 020 7261 9876, or with a fee from TicketSource.

Audioboos from the jaded and usual suspects are as follows:


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Overheard on the bus Monday evening

Man: There are elements of the play that just allow for those sorts of pathos...
Woman: Yes I would have to agree there
Man: Of course for other people it would be like oh yeah I would just rather watch Eastenders

Friday, December 10, 2010

Music: Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky

Purcell - Philippe Jaroussky,
Uploaded by midu92. - See the latest featured music videos.

An evening with two countertenors might be one thing, but when they are Philippe Jaroussky and Andreas Scholl it makes for quite a night (albeit an androgynous one) at the Barbican. The countertenor is the twentieth century response to the castrati performers of past. But the arrival of some very talented (and rather good looking) men such as Scholl and Jaroussky has put this singing onto a whole other level.

I'm assuming the above video from a previous performance was posted on the internet by one of Jaroussky's groupies, who travel the world to see him perform (and reportedly go weak at the knees and post loads of clips on Youtube). The fan base is probably too sophisticated to throw knickers on stage at the end of the concert, but at Tuesday night's sold out performance there were plenty of fans of both men there, and they showed their appreciation instead through rapturous applause. And of course the men deserved this attention.

What was striking about this concert were the performances and when the two performed together their voices complemented each other beautifully. The audience was generous in its praise and while Purcell like other early music composers is not necessarily the first music I would turn to listen to, I was more than happy to enjoy an evening of it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Opera: Adriana Lecouvreur

I finally managed to see la Gheorghiu perform in an opera. It was at Saturday's Adriana Lecouvreur at the Royal Opera. David McVicar's new production has received rave reviews, but seeing it for yourself is another matter. There was such anticipation ahead of Gheorghiu's first appearance, and she did not disappoint. And neither did anyone else in this production. In what at first appears to be a convoluted story, it boils down to a simple love triangle. Besides when Jonas Kaufmann and Gheorghiu are singing together, you are less concerned about the plot anyway. Filling out the triangle was Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina who added to the fireworks.

Star power aside, this opera manages has a series of substantial supporting roles that draws out some excellent performances. It was hard to believe such a good cast and an elegant production could make such high melodrama feel so glamourous. The show has sold out this run (including with the alternate cast), however as it is a co-production with four other houses (the Vienna State Opera, San Francisco Opera, the Liceu, Barcelona, and Opéra Bastille) it is bound to be seen elsewhere soon.

At the curtain calls the audience leapt to their feet, and from somewhere in the circle two teddy bears found their way onto the stage. A brown one for Kaufmann, and a white one for Gheorghiu. While I wondered what was the thinking behind the differently coloured bears for the two performers, it was probably a sensible choice since throwing violets might have raised a few eyebrows. I was not close enough to the stage to determine if they are singing opera bears, but this could be a new trend for audiences to follow at the Royal Opera. Say it with bears... Grr...

Semi-naked scenes from Kings Road Chelsea Saturday

The weather outside was delightful, but perhaps going in budgie smugglers (tight speedos for those not versed in Australian) to do Christmas shopping was a step too far...

Friday, December 03, 2010

Theatre: Grand Guignol

On a chilly Tuesday night, I caught a few thrills and chills with Johnnyfox at Theatre of the Damned's Grand Guignol, which is playing at the Etcetera Theatre above the Oxford Arms on Camden High Street. The Grand Guignol was a playhouse in Paris that for 65 years presented a series of grisly melodramas and cruel plays. It sounded like a smashing place but nowadays it is a term that is more generally used to refer to any sort of horror play. Cheap thrills aren't always easy to find at the theatre nowadays. The Southwark Playhouse does a good job with its Terror season, but it is nice to see there is also a production company dedicated to scaring the pants off audiences.

Presented here are three very fine plays that will alternatively make you jump or make you queasy. Given that, it is probably a good idea to go to the bathroom before it starts as if you wet yourself during the performance, there is no intermission.

The first play, Crime in a Madhouse, a young woman in an insane asylum is taunted by two women who want to get her. The thrills and shocks were somewhat dissipated when Johnnyfox suggested one of the women looked like Vivienne Westwood with better teeth, but it was still an enjoyable story with some excellent performances (particularly by Christine Edwards as Vivienne Mrs Cornish). The second play The Final Torture is as a tense play set during the Boxer Rebellion in China where paranoia abounds. Both of these plays were adapted from original plays presented at the Paris Grand Guignol. The final play, The Art of Death, is an original piece that pays homage to a Parisian theatre of the macabre with a producer who is seeking the ultimate special effect. Particularly creepy is Simon Evans who plays Gilles, the very talented special effects man.

The production and acting are all of high standard. What also makes these plays work is the claustrophobia, the lighting and the sound effects. Sometimes the horror is hilarious, and that's part of the fun. If there is a complaint, it could be that sometimes the dialogue is redundant and the punchlines unnecessary. But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent production. It runs until December 12. Definitely worth a trip out in the cold for a few thrills... I can't wait for their next spooky production.

First impressions, including my inability to pronounce Grand Guignol (I add this to my list of words to stumble over, which includes proscenium, achluophobia and Menier), are in the audioboo below

Monday, November 29, 2010

When I'm not Paul in London... I'm Jack with a baby with a wonky penis...

Australian Couple for their Baby’s Hypospadias Surgery at Hospital of Mumbai in India

Hi I am Jack from Australia. I had my baby’s hypospadias surgery at hospital of Mumbai in India. Our child is a newborn baby. My wife is my other baby but that's another story. Doctors revealed that our son has symptoms of abnormal appearance of foreskin and penis on exam; abnormal direction of urine stream, the end of the penis was curved downward. All this indicated to (play dramatic music)...  hypospadias. Doctors suggested that we must go ahead for hypospadias surgery for our baby as soon as possible. I came in contact with Insert name of dodgy health tourism practice and Dr. Bojwani from Internet. I decided not to worry about my private health or the NHS and some quack online... I cannot praise them.  Enough. I contacted them and confirmed the appointment for my baby’s hypospadias surgery at hospital of Mumbai in India. The hospital staff was very friendly and efficient. The hospital is spotless and it is a pleasure to be treated humanely as opposed to the treatment I was used to in Australia where all they offered was the Butcher of Bundaberg Dr Jayant Patel.  I would have no hesitation in returning to this hospital for further treatment. I probably need my head examined and an oil change for my car and they offered a good deal on that too.

Apparently I'm Jack with a child with an odd shaped penis... And a wife! And she is happy! Who knew? Ok I might have played with the above text a little (the original looks like it was created using Google Translate), but a cautionary tale not to wear a new Abercrombie and Fitch polo when you are taking photos of yourself. You actually might look straight. I am not sure where my wife is. Maybe she is trying to translate the web page into English.

I think on my laptop I was just updating my blog and not updating gaydar at the time this image was taken...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Plugs: Make Your Own Kind of Christmas

In the lead up to the London Gay Men's Chorus Christmas Concert, the men have put together a series of clips to highlight the preparations... I think I can be spotted at the back row... I recognise that sweater from anywhere... The concert is on 10 and 11 December at Cadogan Hall and can be booked via the website. Discounts available through Whatsonstage and Gaydar as well...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Theatre: FELA!

Arriving early at the National Theatre to catch a preview of FELA! on Wednesday evening was a good idea. The band was already playing and they sounded so cool. It was such a contrast to the hillbilly rock-a-billy music playing in the theatre foyer, which was being enjoyed by a group of pensioners and a smattering of eccentric dancers who looked as if they were on day release. Who knew that one building could cater to so many tastes? The Olivier Theatre just felt like the place to be. That is no mean feat given the size of the place. Art, graffiti, lights are everywhere and there was the band with its cool beats and sounds...

When FELA! finally gets started, it tells the story of Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti's last night at his Shrine club in the late seventies. Part concert, part dance, part rambling dialogue, and part musical, what is brilliant about this show is its ability to give context to the man and his music. The show weaves in the events that shaped his life and creativity but it is about recreating the experience of seeing the man and experiencing the thrill of his music that is most important. You mostly don't get a biography here, but if you're not familiar with the Afrobeat music he created, by the end of the evening you will be.  
When you're not outraged by the injustice, or perplexed by his tight trousers or blue speedos, you will be grooving along.

Sahr Ngaujah, who originated the role on Broadway (and in its earlier incarnations) keeps the show together playing Fela, and understandably shares the role over the season given the demands on the man as the singer, performer, musician and holding everything together. His supporting ladies also provide some amazing vocals.

The first act includes some audience participation that involves "shaking your clock". This is only best attempted if you are part of a large group of people and if you had visited the bar prior to the show. While I was uncertain about a number of elements of the first act, on reflection it was merely foreplay for some incredibly amazing sequences that take place in the second. By the second act the production and performances build at such intensity, that it is at times sensory overload.

Afrobeat surely can no longer be just pigeon-holed as "world music", since it has influenced most major recording artists these days, and so it is about time it had a wider audience. This show is a breathtaking new entry into musical theatre and a long overdue injection of life into the genre. Perhaps even proof that musicals could now even be cool and sexy again...

The show runs through to the new year and will also be part of the National Theatre Live programme on 13 January 2011. Don't miss the experience.

Life in London: One New Change

Friday, November 12, 2010

Plugs: Meat

The shows in London are always full of awfully talented people. Here is one in which I haven't seen but just love the poster. I suddenly have this urge for rib eye (or it could be really thick rump I suppose), even if I'm not so sure about the hand model...

The play is apparently based on a Tennessee Williams short story and it is dark obsessive tale set in an abattoir office.

It's at The Albany in Deptford next week and the Giant Olive Theatre at the Lion and the Unicorn in Kentish Town the week after. Vegetarians may wish to steer clear...

Theatre: Bright Lights Big City

Sunday afternoon was a chance to venture to Hoxton Hall to see the musical Bright Lights, Big City. For the second day running, this was another great cast in a a great production. The music (which I had not previously heard) wasn't that bad either.

Musicals usually have a set format but this is not your traditional quirky heterosexual musical, but a hard core, full-on journey through one man's drug-fuelled sordid week in the eighties. Naturally big hair and big glasses abound, but with the everything eighties seemingly fashionable again it all seemed a natural fit in the surrounds of Hoxton and the East End. It was like spending a cool afternoon in your living room with a concept album that came to life. The cast were all great, particularly Paul Ayres as the lead, Jamie, and Jodie Jacobs as Vicky.

Watching it with Johnnyfox, he was less sure about to make of it. He was off that night to see the concert version of Company so I thought it might be helpful to make a comparison between the two shows as they are broadly similar. Just instead of:
Phone rings
Door chimes
In comes
It was more like:
Lousy job
Wear shades
Snort coke
Eat pussy
There's something in that list we all can relate to. Catch it this month.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Theatre: Tomorrow Morning

Tomorrow Morning has been playing at the Landor Theatre in Clapham North for the past month and is a great little show. It is a four-hander musical about a young couple (well sort of young since Jon Lee is one half of it) getting married, and an older couple getting divorced. I don't want to say the second couple is old as it appears the couple getting divorced are no older than me and have fabulous jobs and tight fitting suits. Despite the divorce and the child custody issues you still get a sense they are living the dream though slim cut tailoring...

The show was first presented a few years ago and has gone through some revisions since then. Here it is presented as a very slick engaging production with an incredible cast. Heading it up with Jon Lee is the lovely Julie Atherton along with Grant Neal and Yvette Robinson. The performances make this show very memorable and the production is one of the best looking I have seen at the Landor. The set comprises of a series of sofas and cupboards that open and reveal things about the characters. Although maybe all those recent home improvements I have been undertaking has led me to develop in unhealthy fascination in cupboard doors and sofas that look like they were from Ikea...

The music is reminiscent of Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown and shows like I Love You Because and I Love You, Your Perfect Now Change. Actually after listening to them all they all seem to start to share the same set of values (and plots) it made me wonder whether slightly quirky heterosexual musicals with mild angst is an emerging sub-genre.

It runs until 13 November so catch the last few performances of this production while you can... Julie Atherton's latest CD was available in the foyer or iTunes and it isn't a bad little collection either...

Life in London: Speed flat-dating

The BBC has caught on to the trend of Speed flat-dating (or speed flat-mating... Actually either sound a bit suspecting). Here's hoping that stories like this will reduce the need to explain to partners you don't live with what you're getting up to...

Trying it over the summer when looking for a place I found it was great. It's less pressure than a real date as everyone has name tags which indicate what area they are looking for and what they are offering / prepared to pay so everyone knows where people stand and you don't have to trundle down confusing streets at night to meet new prospective flat mates. Of course you still might need to do that, but there is something reassuring about a familiar face at the end of dark road.

All that is left is to your partner for instance that you are going out for a speed-dating-like experience to find a flat share... It's not a good idea to say your going out drinking if you don't usually do that. But
I met a really nice landlord there who was in the same boat with his partner. We hit it off tremendously and I was ready to move in until I got a better offer... Hmm...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theatre: Onassis

After catching Onassis the Play at the Novello theatre on the weekend, I found I rather enjoyed the smooth and dirty talking central character.

On one hand it is a silly play that goes on a bit. On the other hand it is entertaining with some great dialogue and an engaging performance by Robert Lindsay in the title role. And there is also Tom Austen, playing the surly son Alexandro, stripping down to his underwear for a nighttime swim. It all makes for a great night out.

Whether it is a realistic depiction is probably up for debate. The women in his life - Callas and Jackie O - are more caricatures than real people here. And when things start to get interesting dramatically it is another excuse for some Greek singing. Historical moments fly by as the play moves from being set on his boat to his island. It all seems very glamourous. 

There are some great monologues in the play, including one where Onassis talks about how his experience being sodomised as a young man made him better understand what a woman feels like to have him inside her... While out of context it may seem bizarre, watching it slowly unfold. With pauses. On stage. Seemed so masculine... So Greek... So manish... Yet so tender... It was enough to make you want to go out and get some women, or at least do some sort of manly things. I was painting a living room the next day (which surely must count) and I'm sure my roller technique was much suaver for seeing the show.

First impressions are below, but worth catching in its limited run...


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Overheard outside the pub Saturday

Woman (to security): Ooh you have such a big head... And that hat makes you look like a baker...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Overheard at Café Nero Saturday

Woman 1: Aaah know you know her!
Woman 2: Well I do and she's like you and me...
Woman 1: She is?
Woman 2: Yes she's a little bit german a little bit Flemish a little bit Scandinavian
Woman 1: And her husband?
Woman 2: Well she's divorced you know...
Woman 1: Aw such a shame...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Theatre: Theatre of Horror and Grand Guignol

I was really in the mood for watching Theatre of Horror at the Southwark Playhouse Thursday evening. Maybe it was the skin biopsy I had a lunchtime that put me in the mood. There I was, watching chunks of flesh being taken out of me and put into little jars, blood dripping down my leg and feeling the stitches forcing it all back together. At one point the doctor said, "Oh you turned your head at just the right time," as I watched a little slice of me going in a jar. The shows were tame compared to all that, but still in the same vein.

The first piece, "The Exclusion Zone" started off incredibly disturbing about a young couple wanting to have some fun in the woods. It was a nice ride until the end song, which was inaudible and hard to understand the connection to the previous twenty minutes.

The second piece "The Unimaginable" was a slightly creepy monologue about people who swipe your children. After mentioning parents who go out to the theatre and leave there children at home, I was half expecting a reference to the Tapas Nine. Alas it was not so topical. After intermission was my favourite piece, "Country". This centred around a woman coming to terms with her dead husband who had just written the latest NHS White Paper. It turns out she was possessed by him and seeking revenge against her left-wing friends. Finally there was "Reanimator" which was a long piece adapted from short stories by HP Lovecraft, but had some fascinating scenes with a dead rabbit and zombie-like resurrections.

Holding the show together were Sarah-Louise Young and various others with songs and belly dancing. While the pieces were a mixed bag and scene chewing abounded, there were a few thrills across the piece and some inventive uses of the space. The Southwark Playhouse also has a great bar and you can take your drinks into the theatre. Grab a drink and go for a slightly disturbing evening. The horror runs through the end of the month.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Life in London: Burglary

Crime in London may be on the decline, but occasionally it does come and remind you its still there.  Over the past weekend someone got into my flat via a suspected unsecured bathroom window and helped themselves to a five year old iPod. I wonder if they will enjoy the over-representation of musical theatre and funky house tracks on it, but who knows. There is also the slight sense of humiliation you feel when burglars have determined the only thing you have worth stealing is a five year old iPod, but that's probably something I can discuss when the victims of crime unit gets in touch.

I always believed that you would know when you were burgled as you would come home and see clothes thrown around, drawers left open, things upended. That is also a bit like what my flatmate's room looks like on a good day but I digress. But returning home on Monday evening I at first did not see anything out of the unusual. Except for the toiletries bag with my electric shaver open on the bed. And then my bottom bedside drawer open. It was empty but that's because since I moved I had not had the chance to fill it with junk. And then noticing my iPod missing from its dock I initially thought, "Why has my flatmate borrowed my iPod?"

After waking my flatmates up Monday evening, we started piecing together a hypothetical scenario of two yoofs climbing through the bathroom window, picking my room (as it was the closest), and so forth. I started to spook my flatmates when I suggested one of them probably disturbed them so they decided to flee before venturing into their rooms. I slept soundly that night as I figured the crime already happened but I'm not sure about everyone else.

Tuesday I found myself at the local police station reporting the crime. As I started discussing the story with the police, neighbours and others, the hypothetical scenario seemed more and more plausible. Although once you report a crime you have to be prepared for the police to make an initial visit, then for someone to do a crime scene investigation and then you get a call from someone offering victim support. It is an impressive service, but it is also exhausting.

The landlord, the caretaker and others stopped by to discuss. Suddenly I knew the neighbourhood. Not a bad outcome for an old iPod. Until they come around again I guess...

Friday, October 01, 2010

Music: Caroline O'Connor

Continuing a season of performers in their prime that have seen Wonder Woman and others grace the West End, it could also be known as "Old broads at the Garrick", I caught the second night of Caroline O'Connor with Johnnyfox and others. Caroline O'Connor, while being world famous in Australia, has also been in a number of West End productions, including the ENO's production of On the Town and Bombshells. This time around it is her on stage with a terrific band and some real nice young dancers. Its a bit cabaret and a bit performance and all brass class.

I realised it has now been ten years since I first saw Caroline O'Connor and she doesn't seem to have changed much at all... She still looks and moves pretty well and still sounds good (if you overlook those occasionally suspect high notes), and is full of such energy and life you can't help but enjoy watching her perform.

In the first half of her show she talked about life growing up in Australia and learning all she could from movie musicals. There was a great film montage of her playing leading ladies from a series of famous movies before breaking into a couple of songs from Mack and Mabel. She also did a great rendition of Zing Went the Strings of My Heart. There were some great jokes and she sent us off to the bar interval on a high.

The second half tended to get a bit bogged down with a set of songs from Cabaret, a rendition of Piaf that threatened to send the audience home with industrial deafness and songs that I couldn't care much about. By the end it felt like an over extended audition rather than a performance. While I love her interpretation of some of these songs, it seems a bit of a shame to exclude music from this century in the set. Maybe the secret to these shows is for them to be ninety minutes without an interval, keeping it short and sharp. It might be also a good idea to throw in a few songs nobody has heard (or can remember) to give it a bit of edge. And next time give O'Connor a venue where she doesn't need a microphone... Actually I'm sure she didn't need it this time either... It runs through this week... Worth going, but bring some earplugs..

Opera: Niobe, Regina di Tebe

A three hour baroque opera on a Saturday night is probably not going to be everyone's cup of tea. I am not a fan of the baroque period of music with all those intricate melodies that go on and on and on... And then repeat... So bearing in mind these narrow-minded preconceived notions, it is somewhat surprising to find how enjoyable it is to sit through Niobe, Regina di Tebe.

There is some fine singing by Véronique Gens in the title role and male soprano Jacek Laszczkowski as the King of Thebes. And it is quite a surprise to hear him sing too. I also enjoyed the slightly comic / malevolent performance by Alastair Miles, who wore a most intriguing costume and gave the production relief and drama. Actually there was enough drama and intrigue in the opera to keep anyone alert and attentive. In the orchestra pit was the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble and they sounded great and even by Royal Opera's usual standards of production design (although Don Pasquale might be an exception) this was a pretty good looking show...

The Royal Opera's behind the scenes video includes highlight from the production. There are two more performances of it and it is worth catching. Good seats are bound to be available given those perceptions are going to be hard to shift in the space of a week... Despite the glowing reviews...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scenes from a long bus ride

I suddenly had the urge to eat a huge roast chicken. Can't quite work out what came over me...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Opera: Don Pasquale

Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera was a nice way to spend a Sunday evening. Not good or bad but nice. There was nothing terribly engaging about the performances, and in the first act it was a struggle to hear anything much from the cast. Later we were informed that one of the cast members was having problems but would persevere for us all. But the opera is witty and the story around an old man who marries to spite his nephew moves briskly through its three acts and comes with some laughs.

Particularly exciting was watching conductor Evelino Pidò conduct the opera chorus in the third act, which was a performance in itself. Jonathan Miller's 2001 production still looks fair enough, although its doll's house set design manages to distract one's attention and is possibly the reason for the poor quality sound. On the other hand you do get a better view of the cast than you would normally sitting in the amphitheatre... It runs through September and worth catching...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Theatre: Passion

Stephen Sondheim's Passion has started previewing at the Donmar as part of the Sondheim at 80 season... This dark story about a young officer drawn towards a sick unhealthy woman is less musical and more melodrama set to a lush romantic score, with a bit of crazy thrown. The musical motifs repeat and repeat to a dizzying point and if you let yourself accept the basic premise of the show you're in for a hell of a ride. I have always liked this show in which the central message seems to be long distance relationships don't work, no matter how well written the letters are. Sondheim's music and lyrics are more natural here and grounded in realism, including told through a series of epistolary songs that repeat and alter. And if it this production is this good on the first night, it can only get better.

The show opens with Scarlett Strallen as Clara and David Thaxton as Giorgio in their underwear doing gymnastic gyrations on an unmade bed. Amongst all this they manage to sing the opening number "Happiness". Of course the last time I saw Passion they were naked in this scene so I was a little disappointed with the underwear. Whether it was the choreography or the opening night or the fact that Sondheim has written some rather odd notes for them to sing, the performances at this stage seemed a little hesitant, but this quickly changed and both got better as the show went along...

Waiting for Elena Roger to appear in the main role of Fosca is quite suspenseful. Initially hearing only her screams and moans (it's that sort of show), she arrives onstage after walking behind the set's open doorways, startling both the audience and Giorgio... But she seems such a small and delicate figure - timid and meek - that you feel like you can sit back a little. This changes as dialogue transforms into song and she sings her first song "I read"... There begins the descent into a dark world with one disturbing scene after another. It would be easy to turn this character into a caricature and recent performances of songs from this show have done this. But Roger keeps the role so finely balanced between realism and melodrama that her looks, her screams, her breakdowns are like they are actually happening. And the small space of the Donmar puts you in the front seat of it.

To give anything further away about the show would be to spoil the fun of this gothic musical. It was Webcowgirl's first time watching this show and she felt it was not what she thought it would be as our Audioboo below explains. Meanwhile others in our party commented they were too old for all this melodrama, but they loved it all the same.  At times you will want to slap the characters, but once accepting of the melodrama, it's as disturbingly enjoyable as Sweeney Todd. Afterall, isn't being surrounded by people who are just nuts and then gradually accepting that as normal just part of everyday life? It runs until the end of November. Don't miss it.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Theatre: Death(c)rap

After catching Tuesday's preview of Deathtrap with the West End Whingers and others, I was left slightly ambivalent about it. Sure it was entertaining and mildly amusing, but so is throwing insults at chuggers, and you can do that for free. I had also missed catching the "movie-like" trailer on the internet as well so even the pre-show buzz about this show had passed me by. So when the opportunity arose to see it again on Saturday night, I thought why not. So this post covers both the Tuesday and Saturday preview of the show... It may be a little odd seeing the same show twice in one week but I figured I would simply channel the mindset of Simon Russell Beale's stalker number one fan to get through the show...

Upon arriving at the theatre, you are asked not to give away the story to others and I suspect that is because if people knew it was as creaky as the set then they might have second thoughts. On Tuesday night what made it fun was the audience screaming and the loud sound effects. On Saturday night, while I wasn't as close sitting in the Royal Circle, there was a much better overall view of the show and more C-list celebs about, such as that guy from the Pineapple Dance Studios. While Tuesday night the screams from the circle tended to give away things before you could see what was happening in the stalls, on Saturday night there was less of that, which was a pity as even if the story is predictable, there is nothing like a good scream to get your attention... Neither night however sold me on the merits of this show.

Maybe thrillers are meant to be dated and slightly hoary, but the complete lack of chemistry between the three lead characters doesn't help. There is also some particularly fine scene chewing by the other characters as well, dating it even further and moving the show beyond any doubt of credibility. Perhaps with a bit more immagination in setting up the premise of a desperate writer, maybe it would have been a bit more of an enjoyable and believable show. There are still some cheap thrills at appropriate points and the sound effects boom and people tend to jump at that. Whether they are enjoying it is another matter... There is a line where the psychic predicts that she sees a successful show that will run for years. A tad presumptuous for this production perhaps... Worth catching for mildly entertaining cheap thrills and even cheaper laughs... Or if you like your men with beards...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Shows: Edinburgh Wrap

A midweek trip to Edinburgh with Johnnyfox for the Fringe was brief but productive. Ten shows in three days and not too many were duds. This was a bit of good luck as the awful little secret that nobody dares mention is that... most of the stuff on in Edinburgh is crap. The Fringe Festival seems to be mostly run by students and staged by students so it helps to brace yourself and expect the worst. It was also entirely possible to see more shows in three days but it is important to allow time to savour the fine food of Edinburgh as well and then use your time at the shows trying to digest it... Anyway here are the shows I caught:

Sordid Lives was performed by the Tower Theatre company and had some fine performances. It was well worth putting up with the slow first half, particularly when it came alive with a great drag performance at the end. It finishes Saturday but will be in London next month.

The Improvised Musical performed by No Shoes Theatre. Apart from the fact that half the cast were wearing shoes, Wednesday night's uninspired performance set in a Job Centre highlighted the limitations of a concept when you have no idea about what is a musical, and you're just not that talented either. Still the team had balls for persevering while they were dying... And note to cast: don't laugh at your own jokes, it really pulls focus.

Thoroughly Modern Willie performed by the London Gay Men's Chorus's Far From Kansas. Well of course being in the LGMC I liked it. But there was some fine singing and a nice message at the end. Here's hoping the script is shortened and the bad jokes are banished at some point... It finishes Saturday but will be in London later... Slightly potty mouthed boo below...

Pension Plan performed by Leisa Rea. Johnnyfox and I were drawn to a show purely based on its title  and it was quite a treat. In fact, it was stand up with treats... The treat was a biscuit in the shape of a foetus for the audience as Ms Rea runs through the mental illness and disappointments of her life. Funny and entertaining while still being a little thought-provoking...

Out of the Blue is an Oxford a capella boy group that can sing, harmonise, dance and blow an audience away. Popular with the ladies (and the men), these guys were comfortable singing either a ballad or Lady Gaga's Poker Face. Perhaps they could have applied their style to a few different genres but there was so much energy on stage that they were hard to resist.

Reel to Real the Movies Musical came recommended by someone who likes things that are crap and camp and it fit the bill precisely. Some fine staging of Singing in the Rain and Puttin' on the Ritz dance numbers could not erase the awful cheesiness and flat singing of the rest of it. The concept is to marry whats on stage with old MGM and Warner Brothers musicals. The only problem is the projections are dreadful and it feels like you're watching one a segment of the Oscars telecast... dragged out for an excruciating hour...

Celebrity Autobiography takes the concept of reading selective passages from celebrity biographies such as Peter Andre and Jordan and juxtaposing them for hilarious effect. There were some great performances from the readers as well. The audience took a particular shine to Ugly Betty's Michael Urie and Bridget Christie was hilarious. James Lance also gives a hilarious performance as Richard Burton when the biographies of Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher and Elisabeth Taylor are mashed up. This will be coming to London shortly and is not to be missed.

Girl Constantly F***ing Interupted was a good example of what most shows in Edinburgh are like. It aspires to be alternatively funny and dramatic showing the different personalities of one troubled young lady. It just was mostly dull and lacking both laughs and a range in the performance. It might have helped if she took the awful dress off which looked like a tailored potato sack.

We were stopped by a nerdy looking guy promoting Mysterious Skin on our way to see the above show. He talked about the cast and how they were slightly famous. What he should have talked about was the full frontal nudity and violence which was quite smashing. A great cast, and a great looking cast, tell the story about alien abductions and other sexual things... Intriguing story and well worth catching, particularly if you sit in the front rows on the right... The only other thing I will say is that Paul Standell is an actor with a big future ahead of him...

Finally, an early evening show of hot oompah players Oompah Brass: The A to Z of Oompah was a fitting way to leave Edinburgh. These guys (and one girl) turned any song into a oompah brass band. Particularly nice was the finale, Bohemian Rhapsody with a Bavarian lilt. And in the audioboo we discuss how the trombonist took a liking to fellow chorus member Feroze by blowing in his face. Not for those with sensitive ears but a great show... An hour of oompah is probably more than enough too...

Finally, the lesson learned form Edinburgh is that anyone can put on a show in Edinburgh if you have a good title. Here are some titles for shows that future Edinburgh Fringe creatives could consider:
  • Two for One
  • Queue for Returns
  • Cancelled Due To Serious Bereavement (actually I thought that was a show this year but it was a notice at a venue)
  • Don't Make Me Walk Downhill After Making Me Walk Uphill (potentially for a story about the history of Edinburgh)
  • She's Such An Evil Bitch
  • Which Booking Office Do I Go To
  • It Could Do With Another Week Of Rehearsals
  • It Suffers From A Bad Piece Of Casting
  • Eat Shite and Lose Weight (actually we could suggest that be a slogan for the Edinburgh tourism)
  • Unemployed Actors the Musical
I'm not sure I would go back to Edinburgh for the fringe, but might make the effort to go see Cancelled Due To Serious Bereavement... 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Theatre: Into the Woods (and out in the elements)

Once upon a time, I went to Regents Park Open Air Theatre and sat in the rain to watch HMS Pinafore. There was barely any audience, it was freezing and I got wet.

1000000689Five years passed and all had forgotten this incident. And then one Friday evening we got ready to see a preview of Into the Woods. It was raining and it was freezing. However we did not quite get so wet. This time we made use of seat covers and fashioned them into smart little outfits with bonnets. It may have looked like we had just been to the dry cleaners, but "dry cleaner chic" abounded on Friday night. It was awfully sensible but it made it a bit harder to applaud the many fine performances we saw (unless you punched out holes for the arms)...

And so under the weather, we started watching this fantastic show. There probably isn't a better setting than the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre for this show. The dampness and the chill added to the atmosphere and the set just blended into the park's trees. After initially being thrown by the narrator being a young boy (which makes sense at the end of the show), the cast emerge from the shadows of the woods and show off some very fine ensemble singing. You also had to admire the breath control involved in spitting out some awfully complex lyrics on a cold wet night where bronchitis surely was a possibility for all.

The show itself interweaves several of the fairy tales of the Brother's Grimm with an original story about a baker and his wife who wish to have a child. The second act continues from when everyone lives happily ever after taking a much darker turn. This production doesn't shy away from the more adult nature of the story (and carries a disclaimer of being unsuitable for young children). Sexual appetites, abandonment, death, murder, alcoholism and abandonment all feature. The last time I saw this musical I thought the second act went on forever (and the actors seemed forever out of time with the music), but this time around it seemed to be brisk with pacing like a roller coaster ride that once you were strapped in (or huddled up) it had no lulls or dry patches.

Special mention has to go to Hannah Waddingham as the witch who wears a fabulous costume and a sounds as if this role was written for her. The cast that also features Jenna Russell and Too Close to the Sun's Helen Dallimore. Why none of these ladies have solo albums is a mystery (and a lost marketing opportunity). This show runs until September 11 and is worth catching (with or without bronchitis). Just remember these smart tips for going to Regents Park Open Air Theatre:
  • Bring jacket, sweater and scarf. Unless a heatwave develops in the next few weeks it is bloody cold there
  • If it is starting to rain ignore the bells telling you to go and take your seats as they don't start the show until it stops. There's no point getting wet
  • Buy the cheap seats, as the views are fine back there and you can always upgrade yourself to an empty seat
  • Seat covers on sale for £1 are perfectly fine to keep you dry. 
  • Youtube has a fabulous preview of this production below...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Theatre: Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity has been playing on the West End since May, and it is still showing plenty of signs of life. At present the understudies are covering the roles of Charity, Nickie and Helene and are fantastic and serve as a reminder that you don't need to be a name to give a great performance.

The musical itself is an old fashioned musical fluffed up to some extent to make it feel less dated. It's a little bit coarser and dirtier and the drug use is a bit more explicit, but these changes make you feel like you are trapped in a time warp; torn between the sickly saccharine musical and the coarser (and far edgier) Fellini source material. Still this is the show that introduced the world to the numbers "Big Spender", "If my friends could see me now" and "Rhythm of Life" so there is a familiarity to the show for everyone even if you have never seen a musical before.

And while it is by no means a great musical, it does at least provide the actors with an opportunity to show off their singing, dancing and acting chops, and giving the opportunity to make every number a showstopper. The best revelation in this production was the number sung by the two jaded dance hall hostesses Nickie and Helene, "Baby, Dream Your Dream", which even amongst the superfluous sexual innuendo and drug use, conveyed such a sense of bittersweet disappointment. Tamzin Outhwaite is back in it for the rest of this month, but this show is worth catching anytime...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Music: Elegies for Angels etc at the Shaw Theatre

I wasn't sure what to expect when rolling up to the Shaw Theatre on Thursday evening this week to see Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raving Queens. While I knew one of the ballads in it, I assumed it would be more than just a series of ballads inter cut with a series of monologues. Alas it was an evening of ballads with monologues, some of which were more successful than others, about dying from AIDS. It is serious stuff and it is probably not everyone's idea of entertainment, especially for those people who have lived (or a living) through the epidemic.

For me, the monologues were more interesting than the music, but neither really linked together in any coherent way. The music was largely forgettable and it wasn't until the closing number did it feel like the show made any sense. By then I wasn't ready to be moved by it, but just glad for lively performances. But it is a fundraiser for the Terrance Higgins Trust and a worthy cause for an evening's reflection and contemplation. The artists are also giving their time for free and during this run I expect the show will get a lot sharper. Good discounts are available as well from the usual sources...


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Music: Sondheim at the Camden Fringe

The Camden Fringe is on at the moment which is an opportunity to see some strange and interesting new theatre... It also feels like an excuse to just "put on a show" in the Judy and Mickey kind of way... This was somewhat apparent with the Sondheim at 80 review I caught with Johnnyfox on Tuesday evening.

It finished its short run this week and there isn't too much you can complain about a bargain basement show like this. It is great that Camden is using its spaces in August to encourage this sort of thing. I can only assume that the "deer in headlights" looks of the cast members lessened for the later performances, and that they remembered all their lines...

My only other thoughts were that an evening of all Sondheim can be tough going... And that the show Passion should be left out of any anthology as it provides too many unintentional laughs listening to the songs out of context... I'll find out next month if this changes when watched in the correct dramatic context when the Donmar stages it...


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Music: Maria Friedman singing Sondheim...

After taking a break from the cultural life of London during July, last Friday I found myself watching Maria Friedman singing Sondheim. The last time I saw her it was a bit of a mixed bag, and the person next to me fell asleep. This time around she seemed a lot better and nobody was asleep. Maria may not be the best singer around, but her voice is suited well to Sondheim's music, which after listening to for an entire evening, you realise is not necessarily always music... Maria was able to convey the right amount emotion, whether it was humour, anguish or tears and for a Sondheim song that's often more important than hitting the right notes...

The programming choice was a little odd at times. I don't recall ever seeing a recital opening where the singer walks out cloaked in black as if she is channelling Michelle Pfeiffer in Ladyhawke. She then proceeds to sing a series of songs from the obsessive compulsive musical Passion, which out of context was a bit of a downer. Fortunately the cloak did not stay on for long and she took it off and let things rip with songs from Evening Primrose to Into the Woods. By the time she ended the first act with the song Broadway Baby from Follies the audience of mostly old queens were screaming.

Still, an evening of Sondheim can be pretty tough going. Particularly when the choice of songs were more torture torch songs than light-hearted fare. I could have done with some more laughs, particularly as I have a few more Sondheim shows ahead of me in the coming weeks... I could end up losing my mind...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Opera: Salome

Full frontal nudity, blood and violence never sounded and looked so good as it did in the Royal Opera's production of Salome which I caught last week. Richard Strauss based his one-act opera on Oscar Wilde's play, and gave his leading lady the enormous task of singing Wagnerian-like over a large orchestra, belting all the way. Angela Denoke in the title role could meet that task, although I was a little bewildered why she went from a delightful dinner party down to the cellar to speak to Jokanaan in the first place. Later, as Salome was dancing the dance of the seven veils, running from the dining room to the wash room, it felt more like dance of the seven rooms...

Actually there were so many eccentricities in this production ranging from a cellar / basement that looked like a hospital, it was best not to think about these things too much... I did assume the executioner was naked due to the practicalities of having to wash all that blood off one's clothes. A nice little Friday evening distraction. The opera was okay too...

Theatre: Lingua Franca lost in translation

It always seems to be awfully warm when I head to the Finborough Theatre to see a show. Last year it was the excellent State Fair which is having another run at Trafalgar Studios. It was worth persevering with perspiration for that. This time around it was Peter Nichols's play Lingua Franca which alas, was not. This was a pity as the cast were great and there potentially was something interesting that could have emerged from the constant stream of monologues in search of a story.

When you have a good cast with some great actors featuring I always assumed you could put up with them reading a phonebook. In this case, maybe the White Pages would have been better. The story is set in a language school in Florence in the 1950s, which is the backdrop for a series of mildly interesting stock characters. There are no real surprises in the story, except when two of the characters embraced in some frottage-like behaviour in the first act. By the time the play reaches its climax involving a stabbing in the eye, it is too perplexing to work out what exactly was the point of that... Maybe I missed when I was too busy focussing on perspiring.

The Finborough was as hot as ever this week, and while there is an air conditioning appeal, during interval I took matters into my own hands and bought some Calippos to consume during the second act. Not only were they cold, but the sugar content was enough to keep me awake for the rest of the show. Welcome relief also came in the first act when one of the characters turned on a fan. We were horrified when Rula Lenska's character turned it off, five minutes before the play finished.

There were loads of theatre appreciation studios at the performance as well. They were equally bored with the show, but then again as they were watching three shows a week, they have probably seen a lot worse... At intermission Johnnyfox and I had a lot to say on the Audioboo. I think it was just because we were taking in all that fresh air... The show runs through to August. Wear light clothing and carry a big Calippo.



Hot news this week in London

Ping pong tables are popping up around London this week and are free to play... Providing you return the bats and balls...

It's one of the initiatives to get people playing more sport (possibly by blocking the walkway so you have no alternative)... Here's hoping we see surprise fencing tournaments start up next... Outdoor darts might be a step too far... It isn't an Olympic sport...

Ping pong on Leather Lane in Farringdon
Originally uploaded by 
Ping! London