Monday, May 31, 2010

Sunday Venturing to Zone 6

It isn't quite a trip out of town, however on Sunday a trip to zone six to see friends in Ruislip felt almost like one... Still it was a chance to see suburban London, its wide open spaces, and the many tube stations it takes to get there...


Rayners Lane

Theatre: Eurydice

Vox Pops Dr 3 F9 480p (16x9) from David Newell on Vimeo.


Eurydice takes greek mythology and gives it a twist focusing on the loss, memory and redemption in this production at the Young Vic. Maybe all this death and loos has been putting people off from seeing it as Saturday night's audience could have been larger. The play itself is not bad at all and full of mildly surreal scenarios with water that can leave a lot to your imagination.

The play opens with Eurydice and Orpheus about to go for a swim and then off to get married. Meanwhile her father is writing letters of advice to her for her wedding to her but she is not getting them. On her wedding night she leaves the party lured away by a man who says he has one of his letters... Soon she is in the underworld and Orpheus is trying to get in touch with her... One of the problems with this play is that there is no sense about how much Eurydice and Orpheus like each other... Sure they are practically naked with swimming goggles at the start, but you get the impression Orpheus is Mr Right Now rather than Mr Right. Eurydice seems ambivalent and Orpheus seems more interested in his music...

Still, the focus of this play seems more about memory and loss and the scenes in the underworld are great, including a young boy on a tricycle and three actors playing stones who manage to speak in unison throughout. And at 80 minutes long (with no interval) this was a whimsical enough diversion for the evening... Go for the meditation on memory... The relationships probably won't entice you as much... It runs until 5 June before touring and discounts are available (including through facebook)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Opera: La Fille Du Regiment



The production of La Fille Du Regiment at the Royal Opera is in its first revival, and Thursday night's performance included Colin Lee in the role of Tonio, which earlier in the run was filled by Juan Diego Flórez. Having seen Juan in a passable but hardly thrilling recital at the Barbican earlier in the month, I was happy to miss him in the opera. The audience were thrilled after his performance of "Ah mes amis" with its nine successive high Cs and Lee himself looked awfully pleased as the audience cheered and applauded... The same applied after singing the tender declaration of love in his Act 2 aria, ‘Pour me rapprocher de Marie’. It was all great stuff...

Laurent Pelly’s production, first staged in 2007 is a lot of fun and the performance by Natalie Dessay as the tomboy daughter of the regiment, who falls in love with Tonio gives the show its heart. The rest of the cast round out this great opéra comique (a slightly silly one)... There are two more performances next week (also with Colin Lee) and definitely worth catching... And if you miss it, there is always the DVD...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Theatre: The Fanta sticks



The Fantasticks (which I mis-pronounced Fanta sticks thinking it was some sort of ice lolly) is now playing in the West End. It's a fifty-year old musical with whimsical songs and and tells an allegorical story that forces actors to run about and inflict injury on themselves for laughs. It played for forty years in New York and again has been revived again there recently, so there has to be something going for it. None of our party that included Johnnyfox and the West End Whingers had seen it before and the so it was as good an excuse as any for catching the second preview of this London revival...

It is great they are offering stage seats for the show. Not only are they cheaper tickets, it is more fun watching it sitting on stage, assuming you can stay awake for the full two hours (not everyone in our party could do this)...  Plus you get a special little tour backstage to get to your seats (well not so much a tour but just a walk down some narrow stairs and past the props). Of course sitting on stage you don't get to see the actors faces much, but you get their sweat and some nice rear views and side profiles (if you like that sort of thing)... And you can watch people in the audience holding hands, fidgeting, looking bored and not returning after interval...

Of course sitting on stage has its problems when you have someone like Johnnyfox next to you... After pointing out to him you've spotted West End Whinger Andrew sitting on stage opposite with his shoes off as if he is channeling Bea Arthur, several minutes of trying to hold back laughter ensues. This turns to unrestrained laughter when a line about how a man knows how to use a carrot is uttered... I'm not sure if the book is meant to have all this innuendo in it, but we sure took it that way... And finally as the stage seats are vinyl,  the slightest move to adjust ones buttocks sounds a bit like farting. None of this helps looking sensible, attentive and composed as an onstage audience member...

As for the rest of the show... Well, it's nice. There was a general consensus that the show must have been more fun in the 1960s when acid was plentiful and nobody cared about the book and the music. Going as a group added to the atmosphere and the fun (fart jokes aside)... And the actors including Edward Petherbridge are full of energy and enthusiasm that this makes up for the shortcomings of the material.  While the show will no doubt get better as the run continues, there was the feeling this was a ninety minute show dragged out to two hours...

Probably its biggest problem is that it needs a smaller venue. Even with on stage seating and in the Duchess Theatre (one of the smaller West End theatres) it still feels like it is a small show in a big space. So you get a hybrid: a Fringe show on the West End... The Fringe elements extend to the costumes that made the young cast look like they were homeless people who walked in off the street. The males also could do with a shave and a haircut (or at least some manscaping to match their publicity shots). The West End elements extend to the some parts of the stage design and the price of the ticket... My advice would be to go with a group, get the discount seats on stage and make your own West End debut... Just mind those vinyl seats... It opens June 9...

Pre-show boo, musing about those jaded bloggers
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Post show drunken boo
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Theatre: Paradise Found (or at least something to pass the time on a warm night)

On Friday evening when it was warm and too nice to be indoors, Gio and I were indoors taking in a very early preview of the new show Paradise Found at the Menier Chocolate Factory. The audience consisted of Americans, the elderly, homosexuals or a combination of these. Given that it was a full house and the chocolate factory has only bench seating, you had no choice but get very acquainted and slightly sweaty with your neighbours.

We knew nothing about the show and only the poster and programme art suggested it was going to be some warm loving sex show... Possibly set to music. What I did know was that it had a great cast of talented people in it... A cast that includes Mandy Patinkin, Nancy Opel, Judy Kaye, Shuler Hensley and John McMartin. It is directed by Hal Prince and Susan Stroman, and has music arrangements by Jonathan Tunick. You would think it is surely is worth a shot.

As the show got underway, the story is about the Shah (John McMartin) and his trip to Vienna to find new women. Patinkin plays the Shah's chief eunuch. While in Vienna he meets a Baron and his whore, and discovers the Austrians are really into wife swapping in a big way. At a state ceremony the Shah takes a fancy to the Empress of Austria and gets an erection and demands that he see her for sexual gratification. To avoid a scandal they fool the Shah into thinking the whore is the Empress as she sort of looks a bit like her when the lights are a little low. It is all set to the music of Strauss, including a song about masturbation. And all that was just the first act. You could be forgiven for thinking it is an odd sort of show. Yet amongst all this there were some inspired moments and some pretty good singing too...

By interval I couldn't make up my mind what to think of the show. Then Gio turned to me and said, "It's an operetta." It then all made sense. I could forgive the nonsensical plot and take the show as a slightly bawdy (perhaps yet to develop its full comic potential) operetta. Producing an operetta is probably not the objective of the creative team (the programme notes refer to Prince saying he didn't want to do an operetta), but it certainly felt more like an operetta than a musical theatre piece or music theatre piece... A wife swapping operetta may not have been the first thing I was expecting out of my Friday evening but I could live with it. New musical works that are funny, creative or interesting have been rare of late so maybe it is time to go back to the origins of music theatre for some creative inspiration... Or at least to pass the time... Although if we are going to revive the operetta as an art form it could do with a composer and original music...

Things took a darker turn in the second act,  but there was a warmth to the show that couldn't just be the result of the underpowered air conditioning... There were a set of characters and show there, it just wasn't always there... Maybe with an original score, a faster comic pace and more than just a few choice cuts it . It is still worth catching for its curio-factor / stunt casting. It has a great cast performing something new that could develop into something more interesting... Plus the fact that leading lady Kate Baldwin has an amazing set of legs and breasts... Enhanced by great costumes and great costume tape... It will have you wondering how it all stays there without popping out for most of the first act... As for the rest of the show, it runs until 26 June...

Of course the show probably isn't to everyone's taste... Walking out of the theatre, I heard the phrase "what a load of garbage" a fair bit (and it wasn't about how clean the streets are in Southwark)... But you could say that about most things at the theatre... Our post show bewildered boo impressions were a little more measured...
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Theatre: The Habit of Art

I caught the penultimate performance with the original cast of The Habit of Art on Tuesday, Alan Bennett's latest play which has been running since late last year at the National Theatre (and been broadcast in cinemas around the world recently). It's had great reviews and been hard to get a ticket... Afterall, it is an Alan Bennett play so you know it is going to have some great dialogue and something about cocksucking in it. There will be a new cast returning in July and a tour, but this cast had a bit more star power with Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour...

Since the play does talk about devices, there is only one thing worse than plays within plays, which often seem to be a device to make a show that doesn't work slightly more palatable (Imagine This anyone)?... And that is plays about plays at the National Theatre.

Walking into the theatre and seeing the set made of a rehearsal room at the theatre is enough to make your heart sink as well. No chance of being transported anywhere with that...  But the play really has spark in the scenes between Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings, as poet Auden and composer Britten. It was enough to forget the rehearsal room scenes (even if that was the source of some of the best gags of the evening) and go for the ride. The audience liked the show on Tuesday night, but I don't think anyone would say they loved it...

Tickets go on sale shortly for the summer run and tour... It is still a very civilised if somewhat slightly important night at the theatre...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Staycation: The Cotswolds

Ladies of Gloucester...

Last weekend I ventured out of London to the Cotswolds for the first time. The Cotswolds seems to consist of many cute little towns that all look the same and that offer an array of antiques, clothing for  the elderly and places to eat lunch. It is all rather civilised. Lunch in the Cotswolds turned out to be a very cruel sport. Establishments were either offering a one hour wait, or menu boards outside saying they were full and didn't want you approaching them. Once inside one of these sought after establishments, no menu could be considered complete without deep fried brie and some form of lasagne. With menus like that on offer it was no surprise everywhere we turned we saw fat people, such as Gloucester at sunset...

Incidentally, the trip to Gloucester was accidental after being frightened out of Cheltenham by chain restaurants and loose women amongst the regency terraces. It was a chance to take in the cathedral, the various shopping arcades built circa 1970/1980, and a rather good Nepalise / South Indian restaurant, Hilltop, which we found using a combination of the Tripadvisor app and iPhone navigation... Eventually...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Opera: Aida

The Royal Opera continues in its current trend to show flesh with its slightly naughty version of Aida. I caught up with it on opening night last week, and this new production looks great. And with plenty of partial nudity, it can be a little distracting. While it has been a controversial choice in staging, I thought it helped since I really don't care for Aida as an opera - a small story blown out into epic proportions that goes on forever. Still, conductor Nicola Luisotti also gets a great sound out of his orchestra and chorus (if perhaps not his soloists). His thoughts on the opera are captured in the latest podcast from the Royal Opera as well.

Opening night was also a charity fundraiser with HRH in attendance (wheeling in his wife), so the standard of dress was a little bit better than usual at Covent Garden as well... It runs until 16 May and worth catching.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The other Westminster question on election night...

Play: Holding the Man



On election night, I was in Whitehall at the Trafalgar Studios watching the Australian (gay) play Holding the Man. The play is about two boys and their fifteen year relationship from meeting at a good Catholic school in Melbourne in the late seventies through to the early nineties.  It is based on the book of the same name. The story is part coming of age, part coming out, part gay life in oz in the eighties, and part dealing with HIV and AIDs. Two out of the four parts are quite depressing, but at least the coming out and coming of age parts are charming.

Surprisingly for a play that has won a lot of awards (in Australia), I found it to be like a cliff notes version of the book. While I have not read the book, after seeing the play I feel I have a sense of its geography, but not its sentiment. The direction and staging don't help much either, which is fairly uninspired with too many "comic" diversions and a set that looks like a tip.

This is a shame as the cast are great and the chemistry between the two leads Guy Edmonds and Matt Zerimes was very believable and they are two actors to watch in future... Jane Turner and Simon Burke are also in the cast but they play mostly comic supportive roles. It is nice to see them both, particularly Turner, making her West End debut, but I was not quite sure what they added to the show.

The play is at the Trafalgar Studios, where Dirty White Boy is also playing. I think they would make an excellent double bill of Holding the Dirty White Man. Both plays are surely worth catching if you are a single gay male about town. Johnnyfox switched on his Grindr in the theatre and the thing went crazy. It is fascinating to see slightly undressed versions of people who are just metres away from you as well... Well, if you like that sort of thing...

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Scenes from tough times in a phone booth in London


IMG_1745
Originally uploaded by Paul-in-London

Card reads: Hot Transexual. Busty boobs. Fit, sexy, English, naughty babe. £60 recession special.

For when times are tight I suppose...