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...


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.