Monday, December 19, 2011

Theatre: The Importance of Being Earnest The Musical


The Importance of Being Earnest, The Musical currently playing at the Riverside Studios Hammersmith, turns out to be a nice little Christmas surprise. The show with a book by Douglas Livingstone and score by Adam McGuinness and Zia Moranne takes Oscar Wilde's play and turns it into a brisk and witty affair that captures the essence of the comedy while feeling like a distinct show in its own right.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Music and Advertising: Millbank Tower


In case you missed it, Millbank Tower earlier this week served as a showcase for a light show and performance by Deadmau5 to mark the launch of the new Nokia Lumia smartphone. Maybe this landmark building is getting a new groove (albeit through a phone and operating system that is a bit boxy)...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Theatre: Crazy For You (and those legs)


After a successful run at Regents Park Open Air Theatre this summer, Crazy For You is now at the Novello Theatre. I saw it at Regents Park and was not so crazy about it then. Now in a theatre and away from evening chills, planes flying overhead and the occasional moth, it is a chance to ignore those distractions and focus on the vibrant singing and dancing, and spectacular costumes. There is so much energy on stage conveyed through a series of spectacular dances. Legs kick, flip and dance their way through nearly three hours of entertainment.  You will be exhausted just watching it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Theatre: A Round-Heeled Woman

A Round-Heeled Woman has just transferred from the Riverside Studios to the Aldwych Theatre. It is an opportunity for Sharon Gless (of Cagney and Lacey fame) to portray through part monologue / part drama the true story of Jane Juska. Juska is a woman who placed an advertisement in the The New York Review of Books that read: "Before I turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me." 

The play, which is based upon Juska's book, goes through some of the encounters that lead to love, heartbreak, rejection and laughs. The audience on Friday night was not prepared for the humiliation arising from this situation. There were audible gasps when one of her male suitors tells her why she needs to get some lubricant. 

But the sharp wit and brutal incisiveness is frequently undermined by a superfluous supporting cast that have little to do, and a set so distracting that it has your mind wondering to ask questions such as, "Why does Juska have a tomb in her front garden?" Maybe it is meant to be a metaphor. But perhaps cutting back on both would enable more time to focus on the central character. 

Still, Gless gives a pretty good performance and it is an enjoyable night. But perhaps the target audience is for those whose last outing was to see Menopause The Musical, although there were plenty of fans from Gless's Cagney and Lacey and Queer As Folk days in the audience... It runs until January. Incidentally Tyne Daly is appearing January in Masterclass... Maybe the two productions should have a mash-up?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Theatre: Revenge of The Grand Guignol


It was a bloody night at the Courtyard Theatre Hoxton where I finally managed to catch Theatre of the Damned's Revenge of the Grand Guignol. Well it is not all blood and gore, but these four stories all have enough thrills, laughs and shocks to have you and the ice within your favourite beverage all aquiver... So much so that when the lady in front of @johnnyfoxlondon and I blew her nose, we both jumped.

Last year's show in Camden was great, but this year was even better with stories that are even more compelling and some great performances. There is a melodramatic story about a mad doctor, a pensioner with a buried secret, a long distance relationship gone wrong and a beautiful woman trapped in a munitions factory. All of the stories have in common the ability to turn something ordinary into the unusual. And through some rather clever lighting and sound effects, even when things seem fine, you were on the edge of your seat.

The show is part of the London Horror Festival (which has been running over the past month). It is great to see there is a dedicated festival for giving audiences intended shocks. Here is hoping there is more next year. It runs through to Sunday...

An audioboo with @johnnyfoxlondon follows

Friday, November 11, 2011

Games: The Show Must Go On


 Thursday evening I found myself at the launch event for The Show Must Go On, which is a rather nifty little game that brings together opera, cheap laughs and the iOS platform. Given all three are favourites of mine I downloaded it.

It is very cute and quite amusing little game, recreating Covent Garden and backstage at the Royal Opera when everything goes wrong. The game puts you in the shoes of a stage manager and includes a series of mini games. Within these you have to undertake a variety of back stage tasks in order for the show to go on. I particularly liked running over the rooftops of Covent Garden chasing sheet music and dodging pigeons. Depending on how well you do, depends on how good the show is. So far I have only created rubbish shows... The game might be trying to tell me something but I will ignore that for now and keep practicing...

An interesting collaboration between the Royal Opera, including its sound technicians singers from the Jette Parker Young Artist programme and musicians of the Orchestra, EMI and Hide and Seek. Very funky cool stuff... Go play...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Theatre: Three Days in May

Three Days In May, is about the period shortly after Churchill becomes Prime Minister in 1940 and when Britain contemplated whether throwing in the towel and negotiating peace with a stronger, more powerful Germany was an option. It is currently playing to healthy audiences at the Trafalgar Studios. An early surrender seems today to be an unthinkable prospect. But at the time France was powerless to stop the German invasion and worried that without surrendering they would be annhilated. The British were outnumbered and feared suffering a humiliating defeat at Dunkirk. The play therefore unfolds with this context and debate.

There is nothing like a bit of Churchill to get people standing to attention nowadays and reflect upon glories past. Or at least perceived glories past. As the play notes, Churchill commented that he expected history to be kind to him as he intended to write it. So it is a shame that the play doesn't attempt to throw more grey on a dark period in the country's history. Instead we have what is essentially a radio play and half a history lesson gleamed from wikipedia without too much characterisation.

The production relies on the audience having lived through the war to know its context. And judging by the average age of the audience on Saturday night they might have got it right. But it might have been more helpful to inject a bit more context via newsreels and footage of the day rather than bland projections and a map as a backdrop. It might have given the story a greater sense of urgency and drama. Also, while Churchill's secretary may have provided for the source material, he does not make a compelling character. And as a narrator he kills the drama.

Still, what makes the play a stand out is the performances. The actors manage to polish the material and give it a subtlety and at times sophistication that makes it worthy of a night out. Warren Clarke as Winston Churchill delivers an engaging performance. While he may not be channeling the man with his cane, bowler hat and cigar, you get a sense of a man with an understanding of history weighed down by his own experiences and age. Robert Demeger manages to give a more sympathetic portrait of Neville Chamberlain than most history books will record. At this point in history Chamberlain was still largely respected and not been written off as an appeaser and Churchill was not respected amongst his peers. It is how Churchill plays upon Chamberlain's regret for negotiating with Hitler in Munich in 1938 that gives the play its most dramatic fire.

The play is proving too tempting for journalists to draw parallels to the current loss of British military power. Perhaps a more relevant parallel (and less rabid) is one that highlights how intertwined the island is to the continent... Whether it likes it or not... Catch it and contemplate... Good seats available (for now) at the usual discount venues.

(Pop up) Theatre: Inzain

Fine Artis Tree's production of Inzain under the railway arches at Queens Circus Battersea is an example of a great concept in bringing new theatre to the unlikeliest of places. The company specialises in pop up theatres and in this case is next door to a tile shop. It was a pity we didn't arrive earlier as the tile shop had closed and we could have done with some inspiration for our next mosaic, but we were somewhat distracted by the plethora of gastropubs in the Battersea area serving good quality food and had lingered longer than we should have over bangers and mash and burgers.

The play is a two-hander by Leah Chillery, it tells the story of Zain who had a vision that he would become a player at Crystal Palace Football club and his battles with the club manager. The stage is set for battles over faith, entitlement and youth culture. And football. It is an interesting premise but the punches are often pulled. Also the vast space of a railway arch means that the audience are watching the action on the sidelines... Literally.

But all told the trip to Battersea proved to be an unexpected experimental diversion for an evening. It runs through to 19 November and good discounts are available if you look for them...

Friday, November 04, 2011

Opera: La Sonnambula


 Opening night of La Sonnambula at the Royal Opera was an opportunity for Eglise Gutiérrez to show off some incredibly light yet lingering high notes in this piece about jealousy, mistaken identity... And sleepwalking. It is a mildly silly opera but the piece by Bellini with its music and creative forces at work make you overlook these things and the let the action unfold in what looks like a large railway station foyer.

The cast are great and rising star tenor Celso Albelo makes his Royal Opera debut as the jealous composer Elvino. But the real passion and drama was perhaps watching Gutiérrez and conductor Daniel Oren create music together. It was exhausting yet exhilarating and what any good night at the opera surely is about. Nothing too serious but lovely music set to a mildly amusing farce, complete with a domineering mother. It runs through to November 18.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Scenes from Waterloo Imax early evening...

Current advertisement around the Imax informs passers by, "Brazil is calling you."

So that's what all the noise around Waterloo is...


Monday, October 31, 2011

Theatre: Shalom Baby

The message from Shalom Baby, currently running at the Theatre Royal Stratford East appears to be that no matter what the circumstances are, there is always a group of people out there that are beneath you. At a time when people are feeling less sympathetic for rioting chavs, travellers building illegally on green belt land, migration from Europe (or elsewhere) and Broken Britain, it is an interesting topic for reflection.

Shalom Baby is a love story initially set in 1930s Berlin. Events unfold as the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family falls in love with their black "Shabbles Goy", which is a term used to describe people who assist Jews on their Sabbath with tasks they are unable to do within Jewish Law. The play then moves forward to the present day where a mixed-race couple in modern and unprejudiced Brooklyn have to cope with a dysfunctional family unit.

Writer-director Rikki Beadle Blair originally became interested in exploring information about information about black survivors of the holocaust. But the scene is set for a much larger exploration of prejudice, sexuality, family and friendship using a variety of theatrical devices including some thought-provoking poetry. It all makes for a constantly intriguing and entertaining night at the theatre.

Helping to keep things in focus is an incredibly talented cast that make two wildly different families so believable. The story bounces back and forth between each family. And with the seating of the theatre rearranged to be either side of the proscenium, characters run in from the back, climb over the seating and fly (sometimes literally) onto the stage which also helps keep things at a brisk pace.

Depending on which side of the proscenium you sit also gives you a slightly different perspective of the theatre. Although I'm not sure being able to see the sign over the stage door reading "Work sets you free" would be everyone's cup of tea. But there is something creepy about being on the wrong side of the safety curtain. Interval boo reactions with @johnnyfoxlondon follow. Shalom Baby interval musings (mp3)

Shalom Baby runs until 19 November at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Catch it if you can.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Theatre: John Leguizamo Ghetto Klown


John Leguizamo's latest show is in London for the next couple of weeks. It is a chance for him to showcase his ability to impersonate people, dance and tell some pretty funny stories based on his personal and professional life. Relating the experiences of working with Al Pacino, Patrick Swayze and Sean Penn are funny, but it is his personal life stories that are particularly engaging. When he talks about his depression that involves drinking too much coffee and not being able to sleep it, the delivery and visuals take it to a whole new level.

It isn't stand up comedy, it's more intense, it's more personal and as it is so coherent and well written it is much more satisfying. He calls it therapy. Whatever it is, it is good value. And it works really well in the Charing Cross Theatre.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Theatre: Earthquakes in London (National tour)


Earthquakes in London, currently on a national tour, is having a quick stop this week at the Richmond Theatre. It is an engaging and and entertaining take on global warming, political activism and childbirth. It seems even more relevant in the week that the population hits seven billion and the world teeters on the brink of economic collapse that these big issues are up on stage. They are made even more palatable with a great pop/rock soundtrack, dance, movement and some pretty sharp and incisive dialogue. The neuroses of the country are on show warts and all at times, and we're even told that we are all c--ts and / or we are fucked... Now that is my kind of play...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Overheard at the Affordable Art Fair Sunday...

Woman: Oh yes that's my sort of thing
Man: What that?
Woman: Yeah that's my sort of thing when I'm talking about abstract landscapes...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Opera: Der fliegende Holländer

Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) at the Royal Opera is an opera with a long burn. But the story comes together in the last act so quickly, with music so rousing and a production so stylish that it will almost leave you breathless.

The opera tells the tale of the captain and his ghost ship that is doomed to sail the seas forever unless its captain can find a wife once every seven years when the winds will bring him ashore. It is the seventh year and again his ship is washed to the shores of a Norwegian fishing village. The daughter of a ships captain has heard of the tale of the ghost ship and wants to save him, regardless of what her former boyfriend things. It is at times a frustrating opera as there is so little action happening and then there is so much at once. The production updates the time to a late twentieth century period when socialist aesthetics and polyester reign. It is jarring and gives rise to anachronisms about ship sails but as things progress it takes upon a beauty of its own.

Opening night's performance of this austere production included brilliant performances by Egils Silins as the Dutchman and Anja Kampe (reprising her role from the original 2009 production) as Senta. Both commanded the stage and were in fine singing voice. The opera choruses added to the excitement and were worth the price of admission alone and quickly brought things to life.

It makes sense there is no intermission but careful with the pre-show drinks. The temperature inside the theatre seemed to be designed to further evoke a Norwegian fishing village and had me rushing for the nearest mensroom once people were on their feet applauding. Or alternatively dress warmly. The short run concludes on 4 November. Seats were noticeably available on opening night...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Theatre: Backbeat



Backbeat is based upon the film of the same name which is a snapshot of the period when The Beatles were on the edge of stardom. It is also about creativity, artists, relationships and some excellent classic rock and roll music. It is thoughtful and fun, with a talented and good looking cast that can act, sing and play musical instruments and the bar has now been set very high for the jukebox musical.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Overheard at the supermarket

Woman (arriving at checkout with a lot of greens): Don't laugh, but I have an unhealthy obsession with cucumbers. Well... I guess it is healthy...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Opera: The Passenger


The Passenger which is having its UK premiere at the ENO's Coliseum, is a lavish production with a great cast. It is a pity that the music does not live up to the standards of production. By interval I found it to be hard going with little reward from the Shostakovitch-like score. However upon heading to the bar for interval drinks I found myself listening to an elderly gentleman also heading to the bar who thought it was brilliant and compared it to Shakespeare. Or Shakespeare with a lot of clanging...

Following that brief discussion, it seemed like it would be too easy to leave and not come back for the second half. So @Johnnyfoxlondon and I returned to the general area of our seats. The lady next to me in the first half who was texting on her phone throughout and laughing at rather serious parts of the piece had not returned so we had room to spread out. Fortunately in the second half, the music and story is much stronger. There are also a surprising blend of styles including traditional folk music and jazz, which helps to keep things believable.

This work, by Soviet composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, was written in 1968 and did not have its first performance until 2006. The reasons for this are not made clear but maybe he just wasn't the fashion of the day in Soviet-era Russia. He did have first-hand experience with the subject matter however since Weinberg lost most of his family due to the holocaust. This opera tells the story of a real-life concentration camp survivor who meets her captor and her liberator on a boat to South America. The scene is set for fragments of recollections, guilt and the inevitable horrors from the period.

The piece attempts to musicalise what is inherently unmusical and by the end of the piece you can't help but have some admiration for the effort. The split level production moves between modern ocean liner and concentration camp quickly, but maybe in this case a smaller scale production might have matched what is essentially a story of two women. A sombre and reflective evening evening at the opera.

There are six more performances spaced between now and the end of October... All told, it is probably worth catching to see a lost opera that is unlikely to be staged again anytime soon...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Theatre: A Clockwork Orange

The London riots come to mind when thinking about A Clockwork Orange, which has been "re-imagined" at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. While it is not the entire focus of the story, the lawlessness and the violence that features in this story evokes the memories of August when fear and panic gripped the city. A Clockwork Orange serves to remind us that perhaps this is not a new problem for this part of the world...

This re-imagining and musicalisation of the story does take a different approach to the book by Anthony Burgess. But taking it on its own merits rather than a faithful adaptation it makes for a engaging and entertaining evening out.

There is no classical music in this version of the story. Instead we have some thrilling music by Fred Carl that appears to be inspired by jazz, hip hop and perhaps AfroReggae. For the most part this propels the story forward and gives the performances the opportunity to deliver some emotionally charged songs.

Holding the show together is a terrific performance by Ashley Hunter. A lot of this show rests on his performance and he holds your attention as the violent delinquent Alex. One to watch.

Under the glow from the newly-opened Westfield Stratford City (and a small fire from a bin alight from a stray cigarette) @johnnyfoxlondon and I recorded the following Audioboo during the interval... Worth a trip out east to catch... And perhaps even to take a peek at the new mega mall as well... Although maybe you should check out his Londonist review before making that decision... And mind the glass ceilings...

Burning boo: half way through A Clockwork Orange (mp3)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Theatre: The Moon Is Halfway To Heaven

The Moon is Halfway To Heaven is currently at the Jermyn Street Theatre and is an insightful look at friendships through the ages. Written and performed by David Kerby-Kendall with Lucas Hare, it charts the history of two friends from seven through to eighty-nine, against the backdrop of events in England over the last century to the present day. They meet at the local park bench and discuss the times and their lives and where they are heading.

What makes this play interesting is how natural and honest it is at exploring two characters emotions over the ages. I couldn't quite believe that a park bench would survive in England that entire period without being trashed, burned or weathered away, but it is was a reflective evening at the theatre nonetheless. And an opportunity to catch two excellent performances and some new writing in the West End. It runs through to 1 October.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Theatre: Rock of Ages



Rock of Ages which is now playing in London, is a jukebox musical of classic rock hits from the eighties. It is full of so much energy and rocked the Shaftesbury Theatre on Wednesday night so hard, that you can't help but like it. This show has played Broadway and other parts of the world and now even has a film in the works. The reasons why it has been such a success might bewilder, but you will have a good time anyway

The cast of incredibly talented people manage to do a lot with the material. And by that I mean both the overly laboured plot and the skimpy costumes. The ladies in the chorus are a particular treat as they bump and grind their way through the proceedings. The men nearby seemed to be watching the show mostly with their mouths open.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Theatre: South Pacific

While many of the critics seem to think it has lost something in crossing the Atlantic, Saturday's performance of South Pacific at the Barbican was still an impressive night out at the theatre, and highlights what has been missing from London musicals for a while.

Notwithstanding a little lack of chemistry in the leads (and a fully fleshed out characterisation of Nellie by Samantha Womack), South Pacific is an impressive show. The cast give an excellent performance with some very fine singing. There is even a little bit of rear nudity and flesh in this production which no doubt gives a modern updating (and a thrill for the older gentlemen in the audience of a certain persuasion).

The work is a marvellous example of how seamless and integrated a story with music can be. While the songs could stand on their own (and most do), there is very little pointless exposition or labouring. The three hours you spend in the South Pacific will breeze by. If only all musicals were this clever and well written. It runs through to October.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Theatre: Crazy For You (or maybe slightly ambivalent)


Hopefully it will be a while before there is another revival of Crazy For You, which has its final week at Regents Park Open Air Theatre this week.

The cast are terrific and so is the dancing. Sean Palmer and Clare Foster make terrific leads and keep things as fresh as they could be. But this is probably the kind of show that needs constant revisions and rewrites to stay fresh. While it is an update of the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, twenty years on it too feels dated. The cheesy book linking to even cheesier lesser known Gershwin works quickly becomes tedious.

The "open air" doesn't help the ambience either... Nor does the Roy Rogers inspired set. Perhaps another Gershwin show, Porgy and Bess might lend itself better to the open air environment... Although London summers are not quite the hot temperatures of South Carolina, there no doubt could be some effective rain sequences for the hurricane scenes... Until then, marvel at the cast, great costumes and some rather nifty footwork... It ends 10 September...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Edinburgh 2011: Segue Sisters



Looking back at the Edinburgh Fringe there was a lot of fine singing to be savoured. Including from the Segue Sisters, who are a close-knit harmony group with a difference. They ride on personal mobility vehicles. Or rather they would if health and safety rules at the Gilded Balloon allowed. Instead, we have to pretend that they could as they harmonised some thoroughly modern popular tunes of the day against the backdrop of a story involving them going to jail for stealing too many popular songs.

Actually it is hard to believe these sweet lovely girls could go to jail for anything. Well, maybe writing cheesy stories to hang their act off, although they are not the only ones at the Fringe guilty of doing that...

The ladies are lovely whatever they do and perform some great versions of Alice Cooper’s Poison and Lady Gaga’s Telephone. Singing Sweet Dreams by Eurthmics without accompaniment also gave a chance for their vocals to shine. Well worth becoming Facebook fans of them to watch what they get up to next...





Thursday, August 25, 2011

Theatre: Grindhouse

From one fringe festival to another, on Monday night I found myself with Johnnyfox at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern catching Grindhouse, an evening of experimental theatre from RE:artzzZ as part of the Hot August Fringe.

Vauxhall around the RVT is an odd place to spend a weeknight. The busy roadway, the sense the venue is boarded up and the empty side streets gives you a hostile vibe about the place. On the other hand, we had it on good authority they serve a good scampi and chips, and you can smell the vinegar from the food upon entering.

As the act prepares to begin, the audience is weirded out by some mortuary chic as the performers wearing various shades of black and grey, walk around the venue staring at the patrons. It is slightly unnerving particularly when you are sharing a plate of scampi, but effective nonetheless. The attention to detail in the costumes were particularly impressive.

Grindhouse consists of two parts. The first part, Dial M, performed by Greg Tate is an engaging one man performance that is unbearably intense at times. It is a story of love, terror and obsession. A lot of obsession. There was a quip about cutting off a clitoris and putting it in a sandwich, and the simulation of a sexual act was hilarious. Whatever the intention of the work, it was clear this character had some unresolved issues with his mother...

Ed Fringe 2011: Briefs

Of all the shows that I caught at the Ed Fringe, one that I had a soft spot for was the boys from my hometown Brisbane Australia performing Briefs. They have taken the circus act and made it dirty. Very, very dirty. Part drag, part circus and part filth they have managed to go to a place nobody else has quite gone before. The circus and burlesque will probably be better for it.

It is an unpolished act, and there are long stretches that could be politely described as, "not connecting with the audiences". But full frontal nudity and Australian cliches aside, it is a showcase for some incredible burlesque and circus acts (along with a slice of life from Australia). It is not all filth and there are some touching moments including where one of their troupe gets a traditional tattoo and a small treat for the audience is offered up at half time. It all makes for an impressive show and a sellout on the night I saw it. Here's hoping they don't quite make it back to Australia yet and manage to get a few dates in London... Or at least come back next year...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Edinburgh reflections 2011: More coverage

After four full days over five days, it was time to bid farewell to Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Fringe (and reviewing for the guys at Whatsonstage.com and The Public Reviews).

Going to the Fringe requires discipline in itself. You need to be able to plan a day of seeing shows, get to each of them in time (and not get lost). And manage to eat and drink something on the way. Sleep is always good too. Adding the requirement to write short and coherrent 200 word review of what you are seen within 24 hours and give it a star rating is really like trying to be too clever for one's own good.

Of course nobody reads the reviews (even the performers in some cases). They only read how many stars it has. And the star system could be quite complicated. Not so in Edinburgh. Arriving here Johnnyfox advised of the tendency for everyone to inflate stars and described it in one of his reviews as "reviewers spunking stars up on the wall in order to be bylined on the posters." Therefore a five-star show would be a four star show anywhere else and so on. So for a show to be one star, it would have to be completely vile.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Edinburgh Reflections 2011: The first 36 hours

The first reflections on the shows seen to date with @Johnnyfoxlondon and a jaded boo following an awful Faulty Towers experience...

  Edinboo: Reflections on a bad lunch and a fringe so far... (mp3)

Meanwhile, I have published elsewhere short reviews of the following shows so far:

More detailed coverage to follow...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summertime: Leave London

1000001536Summertime is a chance to be out of London, which given recent events has been quite a relief. But it hasn't all been muscle boys in tight speedos on beaches of Nice. I am also at the Edinburgh Fringe reviewing for Whatsonstage.com and The Public Reviews. It is a great opportunity to see some strange and interesting shows and meet some rather lovely and talented people.

I will publish and tweet these reviews separately, along with the links to the above sites. I'm up in Edinburgh until Sunday so welcome any suggestions for things I should catch, but at the moment I am on a deadline to publish three more reviews and find a complete stranger who speaks fluent French. Now if I only had my instructions a few days ago when I was surreptitiously taking pictures on the beach... The things we do for cultural inspiration... Now back to the laptop...

Monday, August 08, 2011

Dance: Napoletango



Napoletango is a bit of Argentinean tango fused with Neapolitan songs, movement, flesh and style. Actually there was a lot of flesh and sitting where I was on the last night at the London Coliseum, I had a terrific view of bare breasts and firm buttocks (and the occasional bouncing penis).

But this is a very entertaining show that tells the story of a family from Naples who become a famous tango troupe. It was at it most successful when it was not trying to tell a cheesy story and focused upon the dancing talents of its large cast. The shower sequence and the bed sequences were particularly funny (and exhausting to watch) and combined with a fantastic soundtrack it was a slick and fun night out.

It also helps if sitting on the aisle seats you know a few dance moves yourself. And if you have ever been to a tango dance class the first half of the show where the troupe learn the moves will seem familiar...

This show has been a hit in Italy (the last time I saw a hit show from Italy in London was All Bob's Women) and is the work of Giancarlo Sepe... Look out for future tour dates on their website, if they ever get around to updating it beyond 2010...

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Theatre: Betty Blue Eyes



Finally caught Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello over the past weekend. It is an excellent looking production with a great cast and star performance by a pig that gets wheeled about with what looks like a very long extension cord. The music is fine too. But watching this show is almost as unsatisfying as post-war rations.

What should be a very cracking musical comedy gets bogged down with subplots and misplaced sentimentality. And when the farce finally gets going it is quickly jetissoned as if fun can't be had at the theatre. The central message at the end (and a very English one at that) seems to be by conniving with the corrupt townsfolk you can enter into society...

Perhaps if part of the creative team that managed to suck the life out of Mary Poppins (and drag it out for three tedious hours to boot) could trot off and come back with a shorter funnier version of this show down the line... All the ingredients are there for a smashing show... There is just a bit of swill there too...

Still it is worth a look as it has to be one of the better new musicals to come around these days. Good seats are available from the usual discount venues... There may not have been fare shares for all in post-war austere Britain, but cheap tickets to the theatre have to be the next best thing...? The Novello is one of the better theatres too with its comfy seats and mildly glamourous refurbishment...


Monday, August 01, 2011

Theatre: Four Dogs And A Bone

Thursday evening was an opportunity to catch Rock 'n' Roll Theatre's production of Four Dogs And A Bone at the Phoenix Artists Club.

The play, by John Patrick Shanley (of Moonstruck and Doubt fame), focusses on the business of Hollywood, the backstabbing and shenanigans that go on to get a film made. It is a dark world where bond completion companies, sexual favours and lecherous producers rule.

This piece which runs a little over an hour focuses on two actresses appearing in the film. One is an established theatre actress, Collette (Laura Pradelska) who does not want to become a character actress. The other is Brenda (Amy Tez), an up and coming performer so desperate to be famous she chants daily for it... Each know that slight changes to the script could improve their career prospects remarkably. They enlist the support of the writer and the producer to help secure their aims, with sometimes comic and always engaging results.

The Phoenix Arts Centre, with its low ceilings, ageing theatre paraphernalia and unique artsy smell provides and excellent location for this little show about the seedier side of movie-making. There isn't anything particularly new Shanley's play is saying about the movie business, but with this cast the piece is funny and mildly disturbing. If you are into fringe theatre, it is a funny (and short) night out at the theatre that is hard to beat...

Architecture and Art: Summer Pavilion at the Serpentine

Maybe not so tranquil surrounded by chatty women

This year's summer pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery is a hot noisy affair... Imagine a spaceship has landed in Kensington Garden (albeit one made out of wood) and is about to take off with various plant samples... While Peter Zumthor may have had in mind a tranquil garden and oasis from the rest of the park, in reality the noise is just amplified to unbearable levels with the hoards of people inside. And on a warm day it just feels so much warmer... Still the temporary concrete pathways leading to it are lovely.

Tranquility is better found inside the gallery with Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto's exhibition The Mirror of Judgement. It is  a meditation on religion and faith amongst cardboard and mirrors... It runs until 17 September and is worth a look... Free too...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Theatre: Four Nights in Knaresborough


A play about the men who assassinated Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1171 seems an unlikely source of an entertaining night. But this production at the Southwark Playhouse of Four Nights in Knaresborough is so sexually charged, so pumped up and full of machismo and so bloody and funny that it is hard to resist.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Opera: Madama Butterfly



Madama Butterfly (appropriately subtitled "Japanese tragedy in three acts") is a little too dramatically obvious, and musically unsatisfying. But the performance by Kristine Opolais as Cio-Cio-San is the sort of dramatic and powerful performance that this piece needs and she had the audience cheering for her on Saturday night. It is all high melodrama and her transformation from a meek and feeble fifteen year old girl, to a woman rejected is incredible and really fleshes out this minimalist production.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Comedy: The Worst of Late Night Gimp Fight



It is possible that the title of the show The Worst of the Late Night Gimp Fight at the Soho Theatre, is one of the funniest things about this show. The singing is patchy, the clothes are a bit scrappy and most of the men look like they need a wash. But gradually over an hour they do kind of win you over with their show. The Godfather sketch (featured above) is indicative of their antics. There are plenty of gimps, and a few piss-weak fights. They could have also worked on the front row a little more as they seemed to be making their own entertainment...

The material is good but you get the feeling they could take the comedy a little further and a little darker... Here's hoping they keep pushing those boundaries beyond the obvious... They are at the Soho Theatre until 8 July.

Gay: Pride London

Pride London 2011

It is Pride London parade today. Lesbians, drag queens, gay boys, drag queens, muscle men are in town so expect delays in Soho at the bars. And don't feed the bears. They seem to have packed lunches...

Friday, July 01, 2011

Lesbian scenes underground

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A poster ad on the underground for an upcoming television show set in a Soho bar. No cliches here perhaps except for the advertising... Maybe a follow up show could be set in a sauna. Passing out drunk and towels on fire could be obvious plot lines...

Theatre: The Beggar's Opera



Thankfully it was a clear night on Wednesday to see this new production of The Beggar's Opera at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. It is a smart looking production with a great cast and music performed by The City Waites. But although authentic, the sum of it feels more like an embalming of a great work than a ripping night out.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Theatre and perspiration: Roadshow

The tennis at Wimbledon at the moment is getting really exciting, so it was great when walking into the Menier Chocolate Factory to see Stephen Sondheim's Roadshow that the seats were arranged like you were at Wimbledon - comfortable but a bit hot and forcing you to turn your head to see the action as it moved across court the stage.

Staging (and heat) aside, this is an interesting piece of theatre about two brothers who have various scams and schemes and in the process end up building a town in Florida, writing a screenplay (or at least being in the room when it was written), and developing an architectural style that (for better or worse) persists to this day. It is all interesting enough to have you wanting to locate the source material, or at least looking up the history of Boca Raton on the internet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Theatre: Mr Happiness and The Water Engine

Monday night, Johnnyfox and I found ourselves in the dark, cold underworld where dreams are destroyed by faceless businessmen. We also found ourselves at the Old Vic Tunnels, a fabulous collection of spaces under the railway arches near Waterloo station (that are also a little bit dark and dank) watching Mr Happiness and the Water Engine, two short plays written by David Mamet originally for radio.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Theatre: The Flying Karamazov Brothers



Friday night, half way through the second act of the Flying Karamazov Brothers when lead Karamazov (Paul Magid) was trying to say something funny, a lady in the second row staggers to her feet and interrupts saying for all to hear, "I just wahnt to saye that theeeshow is aabsolutely wahnderful". At this point Magid offers to give her a kiss. She initially declines announcing that her shoes are off (prompting the audience begin wondering if she was the owner of the shoes that were offered up for juggling in the first half of the show). Eventually she gets up, staggers up to the stage, gets a kiss and staggers back to her seat. It was random acts of humour throughout this show that made it all somewhat worth the while.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Theatre: Blink Again Turn on the lights!

It took me a while to work out why a man in a Spiderman suit kept appearing on stage for a show about songs from flop shows. I was somewhat distracted by the low turnout on Thursday evening to see Blink Again at Above The Stag to think too much further.

Maybe it was the weather or maybe it just wasn't gay enough show for the venue. But the cast were energetic and the irony of the lack of a big audience didn't seem lost on them. The show was a compilation of some great (and some not so great) songs from shows that perhaps did not put them in their best light. This includes songs such as "A Boy from Nowhere" from Matador and China Doll from Marguerite.

In the second half things liven up even more with a spirited re-enactment of scenes from the Umbrellas of Cherbourg. There is also a number from Tarzan where the actor stripped down to a rather skimpy loincloth and sang a rather vulnerable song...

The show runs until 3 July and notwithstanding the occasional underlit scene, a dud song or a persistent cough that seemed to come from where the music director was sitting, it was all good fun and worth catching... It runs through to 3 July. The views from the boo (including @Johnnyfox) are below...

Half way through Blink Again at Above The Stag (mp3)

Opera: Macbeth



The Royal Opera's production of Macbeth has its final performance on Saturday. It is a great production with a strong performance by Simon Keenlyside in the title role, and a hell of strong performance by Liudmyla Monastyrska as Lady Macbeth. When she first appears lying on a bed you have no idea the power the voice you are going to hear. But wow. She is perfectly suited for the role and the audience was very appreciative of the performance.

Matching this is a series of strong choruses energetically conducted by Antonio Pappano. Verdi's opera is a fast-paced drama that gets to the essence of Shakespeare's play and all the performances worked so well here bringing it all together

This production directed originally by Phyllida Lloyd is an interesting mix of the bloody and sophisticated and even if it has received ambivalence in previous outings, it all seemed to hang well together. I particularly liked the chorus of witches as Frida Kahlo clones that are integrated within the story. And for those not in London, a performance of the production will be in cinemas in the United States and Australia over the next month...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Music: Matthew Morrison



Matthew Morrison somewhat exploded onto the stage last night at the Hammersmith Apollo. Well there was a lot of bass noise anyway. In fact, it was hard to pass any judgement on the show given the bass drowned out his vocals most of the evening. The ladies shouting for him to get his shirt off seemed more audible. The technical problems were not just with the base but also with late pick ups, cameras in the way, projections running on a laptop that was low on batteries. Still, Matthew Morrison couldn't be accused of being low on batteries however as he sang / danced / bounced on stage for almost two hours.

It was a great performance and Morrison is a very likeable performer. Highlights included a medley of songs from West Side Story accompanied by bongos, which thankfully someone recorded and sent to Perez Hilton (above). There were also a number of tracks both from Glee and his new album Summer Rain that were a treat, including Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

The show lasted two hours and included a proposal of marriage from one of Morrison's friends to his girlfriend. It was an awkward moment that came out of nowhere and perhaps a telling warning for any women thinking of dating singer / actor / dancer types (or their friends) and keeping a low profile at concerts... On the plus side there was an incredible performance of Don't Stop Believing by JC Chasez, where he reached notes no man should surely try to attempt at home...

The show could have benefited from being a bit sexier. Despite the repeated calls from women with impressive vocal projection in the audience shouting for him to remove his shirt, it did not happen. It was a shame as the ladies in the audience were hardly rough and worn like Take That fans. They were much too nice and seemed more interested in dancing and taking photos. They would have enjoyed it, in a sensible kind of way. And besides, he took his shirt off for South Pacific so that must count as art... And ladies, if you have found this page by searching "Matthew Morrison Naked" you should probably check out the clip form his performance at charity fundraiser Broadway Bares. It is very artistic and for a good cause...



All told it was a girls night out for slebs like Chelsy Davy and other hangers on... I was just going along for the ride... First impressions from the hangers on (or at least Johnnyfox) in the boo below... Go see him live or get his album...

Listen!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Scenes from London: World Naked Bike Ride 2011


Hundreds of cyclists braved the weather (well it turned out to be sunny once the ride started), narrow London streets, traffic, road works and pedestrians with long lenses on Saturday to mark the annual world naked bike ride, which (among other things) is a protest for more sustainable transport.

This year it seemed a little more chaotic with naked people having to wait at traffic lights surrounded by cars, red-faced taxi drivers, busses and tourists. If you ever have nightmares about being stranded naked in Piccadilly Circus, then this is the event to live them. It all helped underscore this year's message on cycling safety and how vulnerable cyclists are in the streets when motorists aren't aware of them.

More men than women seemed to be taking part this year, which wasn't such a bad thing since there was a good showing of fit types amongst the other body shapes on display... And not having a bike didn't stop people from taking part this year thanks to the Boris Bikes scheme...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Opera: Simon Boccanegra


It was interesting to try and attempt to transplant Genoa from the 1300s to the 1960s in this ENO production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. It does not quite work, but it still looks so sophisticated and hip you can probably overlook this and feel smug anyway. Unless of course you were the lady next to me who was unwell five minutes before the end of the first half and fell over my man bag running for the exits. But I digress...

There is some beauty in this production as tableaus become images and spectacle abounds. Although if you have been to Genoa and seen the palaces that the Doges - who were elected for life and were among the leading merchant families of the region - it makes it a bit hard to comprehend why everyone was moving about in grey suits and minimalist sets.

The opera itself is fairly convoluted and requires descriptions projected onto curtains between scenes just so you have a vague chance of understanding what is going on. So the modern transplanting of the opera does not make things easier, nor does the less than inspired translation. The last time I saw this opera I recall the setting having more to do with 19th century Italy than the period of the 1300s that Boccanegra lived. It probably makes more sense with Verdi's nationalism and occasionally grand romantic arias that pervade throughout the piece. If there is a central message in this piece, it surely must be something along the lines of "can't we all get along and stop trying to poison each other", which must have resonated well for Verdi's contemporaries...

Despite some reservations, there are some strong performances in the piece including by Brindley Sherratt as Fiesco - the man who lost his daughter to Boccanegra, and Maisie Turpie as Maria, Boccanegra's lost daughter. Family intrigue trumps the mild political intrigue and infighting in this piece and their performances work well here. The rousing chorus and orchestra also rose to the occasion of melodrama. It runs until 7 July at the London Coliseum, and part of the essential Verdi experience... I'm not sure if this opera is essential Verdi, but worthwhile all the same...

Friday, June 03, 2011

Theatre: Rumours


Rumours-Teaser Trailer from Rob Watt on Vimeo.

If the eighties were the decade of big hair, big angst and big dramas, then Neil Simon's comedy-farce Rumours probably fits in rather nicely. It is a sex scandal, political intrigue, power dressing fetish extravaganza rolled into one. Farce isn't every one's cup of tea but I was in the mood for cheap laughs on Thursday evening and it did not disappoint.

This production transfers the setting from its original New York to Oxford, which makes the cultural references more relevant. The premise is that as guests arrive at the home of the finance minister and his wife for a tenth anniversary celebratory dinner, there is an attempted suicide and the hosts are nowhere to be seen. Given the status of the hosts and the guests, everyone decides it is in their interests to conceal the truth rather than risk a political scandal. Cue pandemonium.

While I wasn't sure if anyone in the cast was born in the eighties let alone lived through it, there are some nice touches in this play. While there was no door to swing open and shut, the budget in this production did extend to some fabulous 80s style hair. The hair is introduced as a series of over-the-top creations, getting more absurd as each character is introduced. By the time Claire Lyons storms in as the celebrity chef Cookie, her big flowing ginger locks make her look as if she is channelling Rula Lenska (or Rupert Everett in St Trinians).

The cast are impressive in their hard work at keeping things afloat. While shouting does not necessarily give the play the pacing it requires, and the young actors didn't quite have the years behind them to be as faded and jaded as the people they portrayed, the characterisations constantly offer up nuggets of unexpected laughs (which most of the time don't pull focus) and keep things interesting and varied for the show's ninety minutes.

The play is a co-production of Roam Productions and the Madison Theatre Company and feature the awfully talented actors from both. It is directed by Rob Watt and runs through to 18 June at The Hen and Chickens Theatre in Islington. It is my first visit to this great little theatre pub in Islington, which also features comedy on its evening line-ups. Although get a cold beer before going in if it is a warm night. There was no air-conditioning and it does get a little warm...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Movies: Vallanzasca - Angels of Evil



It's been a while since I have seen a truly satisfying crime film. This is probably the most interesting film since Animal Kingdom and worth catching, despite the luke-warm reviews from the press.

It probably helps to have lived through the 70s and 80s when Vallanzasca was Italy's notorious bank robber, kidnapper, escapee etc. Characters come and go and you are taken on a whirlwind tour of fashion through the period. But even without the prior knowledge of the history (and the endless characters), it is a great (gory) ride helped by the performance of Kim Rossi Stuart in the lead. He's hot and for a gangster film he spends an unusually long amount of screen time in his underwear. One suspects he won't be single for long...

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Theatre: London Road


Suffolk murder musical angers Ipswich by itnnews

The Ipswich serial murders that took place around December 2006 quickly captured the nation's attention. So much so that I remember the tales such as:
How do they know it's Christmas in Ipswich?
Because they keep finding prossies under the trees...

I also remember have a frightfully engaging conversation with the woman at the supermarket about how many strangled prostitutes had been found in Ipswich. It was all gripping stuff. And easy to make jokes and have silly conversations about something that was taking place in far away Ipswich.

So I was intrigued to see London Road, best described as a play with music, that attempts to recount and make some sense about the serial murders and the community that lived through it. The red light district, seamen, police tape and neighbourhood watch meetings are all set to music in a sung-spoken kind of way. It has captured the immagination of the National Theatre-going public and is now running through to August.

The first half of this play works very well and focusses on the residents of London Road. While the media described the street as the local red light district, the reality was not quite like that. Prostitution gradually escalated after being pushed out of other areas. As prostitution starts to become ever-present, women start to disappear. It is the shades of grey that this production brings out about the story and the community is where this works best. There are the meetings over cups of tea, the banter between neighbours, the hysteria and the siege mentality that develops as every week another woman disappears and another body is found. One of the best lines is by a resident who said something along the lines of: "The police were telling people all sorts of things except for the obvious which was don't be a prostitute and don't get into a strangers car at night".

The second half of the show turns out to be less successful. After intermission London Road resident, Steve Wright, is caught. The piece then seems to get bogged down in the processes that follow and the media attention rather than how the community is coping with the matter. There is a loss of any sense of irony and a persistence of the alienating music that sounds more like an orchestra tuning up. It starts to wear a little thin and you begin to yearn for a song that could better capture the emotions and feelings of the people depicted.

Amongst all this is a rather unpleasant message that emerges that the community were somewhat grateful for the serial killer cleaning up the street and bringing them together. It has to be the first show since Serial Mom to make you wish you had your own mass murderer on your street. It then proceeds with a trite message of how hanging baskets and a cup of tea solved all evils. While I would never doubt the power of builders tea and geraniums to heal some wounds, in the end you are left feeling the production is as shallow as the media coverage it purports to critique.

Upon leaving the theatre the actors take up a collection for a charity that supports prostitutes in Ipswich. Since they are shafted in this show you feel like the least you can do is hand them your spare change. Hopefully the piece is a work in progress and it will be interesting to see how it develops. At the moment it is more an interesting study than an entirely satisfying evening.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Opera concert: Handel's Ariodante

To appreciate Handel's opera Ariodante, presented in concert form at the Barbican this week, I think you need to get into a baroque frame of mind. The trick is to appreciate the prettiness of it without falling asleep like the little woman next to me did. It was not too hard to get into this frame when an impressive cast headed by Joyce DiDonato and Il Complesso Barocco.

As the first half of the performance closed with the incredibly dramatic "Scherza infida" sung by DiDonato for someone not familiar with the work it was easy to wonder how that could be topped in the second half. It was sublime music with an eerie bassoon accompaniment. But by her final aria, Doppo Notte, there was more breathless breathtaking music making that the audience could not help but cheer and applaud, even if the epilogue was still to run.

AriodanteThere was some very fine music making here, which helps bring to life this piece. Even for a concert version, it was fairly dramatic. Costumes and scenery were not necessary when the singers could act (and push music stands about). Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Polinesso, the rival to DiDonato's Ariodante was particulary good in getting so much out of the villain's role, both in voice and performance. It was tempting to hiss, but only in a good natured way, and she had many fans by the end of the evening.

The last time I saw DiDonato she "famously broke her leg on stage". It is not often you get to witness modern opera folklore, but one suspects as DiDonato goes from strength to strength this will be one of those stories to dine out on for years to come... Her new album Diva, Divo was released earlier this year, but a full recording with Il Complesso Barocco is also available from June... Not even indigestion from eating a chicken breast smeared with salsa and stuffed in a worn out focaccia from the Barbican's canteen could put me off enjoying the evening. The six-thirty start necessitated eating there (amongst the flying pigeons) out of desperation. Live and learn...

Signs from outside Mansion House tube this week


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Originally uploaded by Paul-in-London

Taking a stand against the rivers of urine, it states:
Please note - this is NOT (much underlining) a toilet (just one underline) so don't piss up it (sic). Go before you leave the pub or wine bar (for the posh pissers). Thank you (your mother).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Opera Last Look: Werther



If opening night was a sensation watching Rolando Villazon in the title role, closing night didn't disappoint either. At the curtain call Villazon was very excited and shouting like a very satisfied man. The audience was on its feet applauding. It was mutual admiration. Villazon's performance made Werther, a tragic story about a young troubled poet who falls in love with a woman committed to someone else, incredibly passionate and engaging. His act three aria was worth the price of admission alone. Even in the context of an incredibly melodramatic opera, you couldn't help but be drawn into this world. And at the curtain call I couldn't help but think he must be awfully fun at parties.

Opposite Villazon was Sophie Koch playing Charlotte, the woman who is his obsession sounded great too. But focus of the  opera is the tragic young poet. With Antonio Pappano in the orchestra pit, the music was incredibly lush and intense. All breathtaking stuff... It was enough to make you want to go home and write obsessive poetry for hours. Here's looking forward to Villazon's next engagement with the Royal Opera.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Theatre: The Cherry Orchard

1000000871It was only two years ago when I last saw a production of The Cherry Orchard. Either I have seen too much theatre, or this play is a favourite in this town. It is probably a favourite given its subject matter of class and the property ladder. Now that is something everyone who goes to the theatre here can relate to. And I really don't get out and see that much theatre surely?

The last time it was at the Old Vic, this time around it was around the corner at the National Theatre, and in a new translation by Andrew Upton. The most discernible difference I could note about this new translation was that there are a few more potty-mouthed words, which in the context of the drama and its setting makes the performers come  across like they are frightfully naughty schoolchildren. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the characters in this play could be construed as being a little naughty I suppose (or at least incapable of making sensible decisions).

There is also the problem that this production feels lost in the huge space of the Olivier theatre, despite over extending the set so it stretches across the stage. It is one big house this time around. Big is not always better and everyone also has to shout and play it big in this production for fear of not being heard... If feels at times that the characters have to be larger than life just to be heard (and seen). Chairs are thrown, big dance numbers are staged, emotions are larger than life...

But having said all that, the cast are great. Headed by Zoë Wanamaker, she gives an excellent performance of the conflicted Ranyevskaya, which will have you feeling sympathy for her and wanting to slap her at the same time. Conleth Hill as Lopakhin, the serf-made-good, gives an excellent performance balancing the comedy and drama that is central to the story.

So even a Cherry Orchard with a few blemishes is still a great night at the theatre and this show doesn't disappoint... Much... It is also part of the National Theatre Live and will be broadcast around the world on 30 June. The close ups of a broadcast might even benefit this production. Sitting in the circle it was hard to tell what facial expressions were on the actors.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Theatre: Fing's Ain't Wot They Used T'Be

Fings at union tonight
Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be is not so much a musical but a music hall revue of songs with a very loose excuse for a plot. It feels a little like a downmarket Guys and Dolls (or at least one transferred to the East End). There are busty prostitutes, gamblers, fights and a sissy male... But not much of a story. That is not to say that it is not rather enjoyable with the songs being a pastiche of music hall styles where humour and melodrama are more important than characterisations or  driving forward a plot. This current production at the Union Theatre has an energetic cast and is a slick production. It sounds good too, with a small orchestra that is supplemented by the actors playing instruments as well.

It is amazing to think that Lionel Bart had written this the year before Oliver! as this is not in the same league. But perhaps that isn't the point. This is much more of a sing along. It's tempting to sing along at times and I am sure @Johnnyfox was doing it every now and then. Grab a beer and go see it and have a good time. It runs until June.

Just brush up on your cockney slang before-hand as there is not a glossary in the programme. Interval and post show musings follow...
Listen!

Listen!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Theatre: A Delicate Balance

It's a delicate balance...

There was something odd about this revival of Edward Albee's 1966 play A Delicate Balance, which is playing at the Almeida Theatre.

It's not just being warned upon entering the theatre to switch off rather than silence your phones as the slightest noise will upset the actors. It is that almost without warning, the actors will emote at such intensity that things become so disturbing and painful to watch it feels like you are watching someone's mental collapse. At one point during Wednesday evening's performance a mobile phone went off behind me and I feared that suicide on stage may have been next.

It is a play about a respectable middle class couple, their family, friends and perfect life. Although naturally being an Albee play nothing is quite what it seems and there is a secret terror ripping at their lives. Despite the drama, this is also a very funny play with some incredibly witty lines. But all the while you are kept on edge as you are never quite sure when things are going to take a turn for the worse.

The cast is led by Penelope Wilton as Agnes who is restrained to the point of being unbelievably remote. Her almost lifeless husband is played by Tim Piggott-Smith. Against this is Imelda Staunton playing Agnes's sister Claire who seems to be a permanent house guest in their home. She manages to provide the comic relief as she recounts such adventures as shopping for a topless swimming costume. As their daughter is returning home from another failed marriage, their lifelong friends arrive unexpectedly.

All the action is set in an oval-shaped living room. The round room was a somewhat distracting set for me as I couldn't help but keep wondering what shapes the rooms in the rest of the house were, and whether any house would have an oval living room given that it would lead to a lot of dead space. Given the importance of alcohol in this family the layout of the bar seemed unusual, but there was a substantial array of spirits, mixers and glassware for the various drinks consumed throughout the day.

Even suffering from jet lag from returning from Australia, this was a sharp and enjoyable play. The restrained and nuanced performances sometimes stretch the bounds of believability and can be at times frustrating, but the script directions are often very specific so it must be a difficult piece for actors to interpret. But then again acting in a straight jacket is part of what this play is all about... Go catch it... But have a martini first to loosen things up... And switch your phone to flight mode...