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...