Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Theatre: Shirley Valentine

Just before Easter I managed to catch Meera Syal in the Chocolate Factory's revival of Shirley Valentine, part of its Willy Russell season which also includes Educating Rita. I wasn't particularly in the mood to go and see this play as I was to be packing that evening for a holiday, but there was something about this show that sucks you in and has you hooked.

On one level the 1980s have never been so fashionable. But on another level, when you are watching a show with a set that reminds you of your mother's kitchen, and the first scene involves frying chips and egg (don't go to the theatre on an empty stomach), perhaps it isn't everyone's idea of a great night out. That's a pity as Syal's performance is great and the show is as good as ever (not withstanding the difference of opinions in the audioboos below)...

Willy Russell seems to love the cliches and dramatically obvious but here in this show that is an asset (unlike in Blood Brothers where it is just an embarrassment), particularly when there is the right actor to tell the story. It runs with Educating Rita until 8 May.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Fashion: Trends on the underground Saturday night

Originally uploaded by Paul-in-London

It's all about brown shoes at the moment... Preferably your own not somebody else's...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wandering about London Saturday

Originally uploaded by Paul-in-London

Battersea Power Station with moody weather backdrop... Shortly after a monster dump of rain ensued...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Theatre: Anyone Can Whistle

Anyone Can Whistle, playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre is an odd sort of show that apart from potentially curing your insomnia will leave you wondering what on earth it was all about. I sat in the front row and even with all that great singing and acting I was none the wiser. It is one of Sondheim's shows that closed shortly after opening and that was probably less to do with the songs (there are a few good ones) and more to do with the book and subject matter.

Still, well done for the cast and the creative team for trying to make something out of it. Just pity the audience that has to sit through it. It is not every show that has four people falling asleep, and about half a dozen not returning for the second half...

It is Sondheim's eightieth birthday so there will be an onslaught of Sondheim shows in London this year. It feels like we get at least one major Sondheim revival every year for the past few years anyway... So perhaps no excuse was needed anyway. It runs a bit longer for those that have to see every Sondheim show out there...


Friday, March 19, 2010

Theatre: Soap

I don't recall anyone saying that you should see more shows that feature hot wet acrobats falling about. But there should have been. This great looking show Soap, is playing at the Riverside Studios and is quite a eye opener. And not just because the cast is well fit and lit with water and moody lights. The show was quite engaging on its own level and will have you hooked. After a slightly shaky start on Tuesday night (where I think the audience wasn't quite sure what to expect), we all settled in and went for the ride.

The programme notes make the point that this show has been a hit in Germany, this is the ideal sort of Cabaret / Variety show. That was fine with me. Some of the creative team was also behind the production of La Clique, however this show has a much more coherent thread through it. There may not be a woman playing a kazoo with her vagina, but there was water and acrobats so that was more than enough (as the clip above demonstrates). It runs for about ninety minutes, plus interval which seemed about right...

It is playing through until April and definitely worth catching. Here is hoping the buzz will grow on this one. Oh and sit towards the front. Not just to admire the fine bodies on stage, but it is much more fun to get squirted in your face with water...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Theatre: Once Upon A Time At the Adelphi

Last week I was watching Paint Never Dries at the Adelphi Theatre wondering if this is what passes for British musical theatre nowadays, maybe I should avoid it in future. This week I was at the Union Theatre watching Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi, which despite the overlong title (and perhaps an overlong second half), was enough to make me change my mind. There may be no projections or intricate melodies, but at least there is a coherent story and a series of characters that you could at least care about.

The musical, by Phil Willmott, is set at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, which has been the source of many great stories, such as Roy Rogers taking his horse, Trigger, on the roof for some exercise or Hitler working in the kitchen. The action moves between the present day and 1930s. While it is more melodrama than drama, there is an emotional heart in it all, that had me hooked right up to the ending. And dare I say... It will leave you with a slightly misty-eyed view of Liverpool. Anything that makes you feel anything other than contempt for that city surely must be evidence of the power of theatre at work...

While the show might have benefited from a lavish production budget, there is enough fine singing and energy in this show (particularly with Andrew Wright's choreography) that you will forget that you are at the Fringe. Don't sit on the front row though as those high kicks really are something...

The musical is having its London premiere at the Union Theatre in Southwark, which is a great little reclaimed space under the railway arches and full of character... Although you do have to watch your step as one theatre luvvy made a less than grand entrance falling over some chairs upon arrival. This may not have been the attention he was craving for.

The programme notes that after its successful run in Liverpool while it was European Capital of Culture, there were plans to take it elsewhere... But they never eventuated. It is great to see that it has made its way to London eventually... It runs through this month.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nights out: Show Off

London has never really done the piano bar... They are good at doing the rough bar, the noisy bar, the bar where everyone used to be hip but now look weathered, the bar with too much wallpaper but never a bar where there is just a piano and a singer... And an open mic... So Saturday nights may not ever be quite the same again after the inaugural Show Off Piano Bar, downstairs at the Cafe Koha behind Leicester Square Tube on Charing Cross Road. The lovely Nathan Martin and Marissa Dunlop entertained and then coerced (at least some) of the bar patrons up to the piano to sing. The standard was pretty good too... Particularly after a few drinks...

With such a wide selection of sheet music flying about the bar, finding a song in low level lighting wasn't the easiest of things to do but I did make do with a little number from The Producers. Show tunes did abound strangely enough but they weren't essential. An awfully sensible way to start (or end) a Saturday night. The next one is on 27 March. Given the venue is a little on the intimate side, you can reserve your place so you don't miss out...

Friday, March 05, 2010

Theatre: Love Never Dies

I had the opportunity to catch a preview of Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, Friday  night at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End. It is the show with the really creepy artwork that is starting to appear around town, and which has its opening night this week...

I have yet to get around to seeing Phantom on stage, but I would like to think that I know enough about the story and the music to make sense of any follow up. I also recall many years ago playing the Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman cast recording on a family road trip which caused my grandmother to throw up. The free association of the show with grandma's sick probably hasn't incentivised me to rush out and grab a ticket.

Anyway arriving tonight at the theatre with Johnnyfox there was a buzz of activity. It was either excitement, or the sounds of people scrambling to pick up tickets from the shambolic box office. Normally at one minute to the curtain up you don't see a line of people stretching to outside the theatre waiting to pick up tickets, but someone was mumbling about problems due to the first night cancellation. The delay gave me a chance to observe the audience, which seemed to mostly consist of gay men and their mothers. I think this is a wonderful trend as it relieves straight men from having to endure what passes for musical theatre these days, but perhaps a sad indictment of what mothers will let their gay sons take them to.

The show starts with a great opening number full of spectacle and a little bit of excitement. It is Coney Island New York at the turn of last century and the Phantom is there running a show. It must be a bit of a come down from the Paris Opera but he doesn't seem to mind much. But after the opening number we then start getting hit with the plot... And there is plenty of it. This is a sequel like Jewel of the Nile is to Romancing the Stone. It's kind of nice to see the characters again but you still are left wondering what's the point of it all. It would have helped if there was some comic relief or greater sense of spectacle. Instead we get marital problems, drinking and scene with the Phantom and Christine's son (complete with some chimp-like creature), that had me wondering if this was what it was like at Michael Jackson's ranch...

By the time intermission limped around (after some dramatic jacket throwing down the stairs by Madame Giry), it all felt a bit gloomy and I was grateful for the opportunity for a drink.

Posted via web from paulinlondon's posterous

via AudioBoo

Returning after intermission, following a robust discussion about the merits of a movie version of the musical Cats and whether Sidney Poitier should direct it, I had high hopes for a change of pace. There was less exposition thankfully, but there was plenty more gloom. Who could have known that Coney Island could be so dreary? The drama hinges on will Christine go on stage or not to sing a song the Phantom has written for her...  So there isn't much tension... Given she is a performer... And we're watching a musical...

The music is pretty much the standard to be expected from Andrew Lloyd Webber, which people either love or hate. I think it was the title song that reminded me of main theme to the movie The Apartment (albeit without a satisfactory resolution). It doesn't help that most of the music doesn't seem to be written to showcase the vocal talents of the cast (or be in their range). Sierra Bogges, who plays Christine, has a lovely soprano voice. Too bad that she is often forced to sing in some gravelly register. The music and the amplification felt as if it gets in the way of the performances. The lyrics and libretto deserve particular ridicule for their basic rhyming or pointing out the bleeding obvious.

But even if love never dies, all shows do end. The audience leapt to their feet with applause. I was less enthusiastic. Some minor tweaks, including fixing some technical issues and delivering a proper end to the first act, might help with the pacing of this show. It would also help to have it lit so you could see the actors faces. Still, I suspect that Ken Mandelbaum's observations that no musical sequels have ever worked still holds true.

All told however I wonder (and the spoilers are below) if there is a long term audience for a show that kills the leading lady, makes the hero of the first show an alcoholic, and turns Christine's best friend Meg into a mad crazy woman. What is left is Phantom and son...  It might run as a double act on Coney Island... Who knows what the public would like these days? A night out at the theatre strictly for those who just can't help themselves to find out what happened to Christine, Raoul, Madame Giry and the Phantom... I couldn't quite work out what happens to Meg Giry, apart from going a little crazy...

I think she should throw herself off the pier at the end (there's plenty of time to do it)... It might give us all a bit of a thrill...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Theatre: Hobson's Choice

At the end of Tuesday night's performance of Hobson's Choice at the Broadway Theatre in Catford, the woman behind us leaned over and said to Johnnyfox and myself, "You two are terrible..." I was thinking, hmm wasn't that exactly what the ladies at the Gatehouse said when we saw the high furniture removal production of High Society?

Well naturally anything with the slightest double entendre is going to make us titter, so lines like "I like a man who's good with their fingers" is naturally going to lead to trouble. Of course this woman's mind also was in low places; she was the lone person laughing following the line that mentioned something vaguely about finishing up your work before you come (to bed).

Schoolboy antics aside, this is a great production of the Harold Brighouse play, briskly paced and acted well. Oh and it is directed by Thom Southerland who always manages to make a show look great in a tight space.

Written in 1914 and set in 1880, it is easy to forget that this play was from another time when I suspect the audience would have had a lot more sympathy for the lead character Hobson, the bootmaker. As a widow, he has to contend with trying to find husbands for two of his three daughters. His oldest daughter, Maggie, he considers too plain and old to marry. But she still has her uses by looking after the day-to-day running of the business. An opportunity arises for Maggie to change her circumstances and there unfolds the play.

While it is quite funny (even intentionally), it also has some interesting observations about life in Salford, the role of women, class, values and aspirations that would become quite commonplace in modern Britain. It is probably testament to how good this play is that Johnnyfox and I felt like discussing these sensible matters after the play at Catford Station waiting for the 22:32 train back to Victoria. We might have discussed it at the bar afterwards if it were open. The only thing open nearby was the Catford Chippy so it seemed wise to head back into London.

Catford is only a ten minute trip from London Bridge, so it was definitely worth the trip. Drink up at interval...