Monday, December 31, 2012

Last evil looks: Robert le Diable

Closing night of The Royal Opera's Robert le Diable was a drawn out affair. An opera that was described to me as Mildred Pierce meets The Omen, it could have been half its length if all the repeated phrases were cut. I don't recall ever seeing an audience so restless either who were mostly squirming or fidgeting throughout the four and a half hours of the performance.

Meyerbeer's grand opera was an instant sensation when it first premiered 1831. Full of stuff that packed in the punters - drama, the occult, difficult music - over time it has not aged well. The story is inspired by a medieval legend of the devil's son. Robert, Duke of Normandy, has travelled to Sicily with the hope of marrying Princess Isabelle. But his companion, Bertram (who turns out to be more than just a friend) leads him astray. Cue chivalry, the occult and some incredibly outrageous French knight costumes that could have come direct from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Closing night seemed a struggle for the chorus and orchestra to be together at times, or for the chorus to be heard over the orchestra. The soloists managed to hit all the right notes but it wasn't always a pleasant experience with various needlessly tricky vocal passages throughout the piece. Most of the soloists did not fare well either given the material they had to sing that at times seemed painful for both the singers and the audience. Russian soprano Sofia Fomina - a late replacement for the role Isabelle - comes off best in this piece in balancing the intensity and dramatic absurdity of it all. She makes her Royal Opera debut here and hopefully she will be seen here again.

The production is often colourful but in an attempt to recreate how it was received in the nineteenth century, the end result looks a little dull and uninspired. Even the famous ballet that features zombie nuns (featured in the above preview) was a let down, particularly given the full-frontal nudity that the Royal Opera usually serves up.

Ultimately while intriguing to see a piece that has not been staged at the Royal Opera since 1890, over the course of the evening it becomes evident there were good reasons for its long absence, and not just because of Wagner's campaign against him. If it is revived again it is probably an opera best enjoyed while doing something else, like reading a book or knitting...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lovely green things: Salad Days

Salad Days is back at the Riverside Studios and is a delightful antidote to cold wet days in London. The story of a young couple who just recently graduated and find themselves entertaining London with a piano is a bit like the Fantasticks with its ever-so-silly plot, but the performances, inspired production and upbeat nature of the show make for an enjoyable, if slightly overlong show.

It is 1954 and Timothy and Jane (played by the wonderful Leo Miles and Katie Moore) leave university to make their own ways in the world. A chance meeting with a tramp brings the couple together as his street piano gives everyone around them an irresistible and unstoppable urge to dance. Meanwhile the police and the establishment want to put a stop to all this fun. Cue singing and dancing and general silliness.

The production is from opera company Tête à Tête, and so the singing and musicianship is very good. But the ensemble also show a great sense of comic timing and fun in the proceedings which is essential for this sort of show. The company aims to bring uplifting, surprising, daring and intimate (hopefully not all at the same time) opera productions of the highest quality to audiences. Riverside Studios is transformed into a piece of Hyde Park complete with AstroTurf and the cast welcoming you to the graduation upon arrival. With some clever lighting and effects you soon find yourself transformed to a different time and place.

As a piece that is constantly aiming to be light and frothy it is an alternative to panto and can be enjoyed by all ages... Although one lady at the evening performance I caught decided to tell off a father for not keeping his young daughter under control. From what I could hear from her rant it was something about being distracting. The father was very polite considering the show is staged in the traverse and the slightest twitch from someone opposite could catch your eye. I found the little girl less distracting than the horsey ladies sitting opposite with their long faces and riding boots. The other downside to this staging was that the actors had an awful lot of running to do, which might explain why they look exhausted by the end of it.

But it is all good clean fun (and not at all like the Sam Peckinpah version).  It runs to 2 March. Look out for offers and discounts from the usual outlets...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Phone rings, bitch and drink, lose your friends: Merrily We Roll Along

Merrily We Roll Along, currently playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory near London Bridge is like a bitchier, nastier version of his show Company where Bobby is Frank and a total bastard. It has received great reviews, has a wonderful cast, looks good (well as good as aluminium windows on stage can be when they design feature - but the period is the sixties and seventies so it is appropriate) and sounds great. But for a show that tells the tale in reverse about how a man becomes wildly successful and loses his friends on the way, it is still a tough, bitter sell.

The characters are two-dimensional and shout at each other and even as they move from jaded to optimistic, it still feels unrelenting and repetitive. By the time the upbeat finale comes about (close to the third hour) you may find yourself close to exhaustion (or sleep) to care about it much. At intermission one Sondheimista fan said to me, "but all those lost opportunities and wrong turns... That's life!" That may be the case - particularly if you're a glass-half-empty kind of person - but who needs to fork out £40 to see that on stage?

It possibly is a piece of musical theatre medicine that is good to take to appreciate the evolution of the form and an attempt to update a story from the 1930s to a contemporary context. It is interesting to see dramatically and musical a story that focuses around key moments in a person's life and how choices that were consciously taken or not set them on a path for the rest of their life. But his subsequent works, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods feel like they cover this territory more successfully. There are stand out songs in this piece, but none feel like essential to the story and seem to slow down the proceedings. It possibly doesn't help that since the show was originally performed, many of the songs have become minor standards on the cabaret circuit and seem to stand up well without needing a story around them.

The strength of this production lies with the cast however. In the confined space of the Menier Chocolate Factory you can see how hard the ensemble is working and the singing is a particular highlight. Mark Umbers plays a suave and masculine Franklin. He has the looks and presence to make you really believe he could run off with your wife if he thought it was necessary to further his ambitions. Damian Humbley does a great turn as his neurotic partner Charley, particularly with the  lyric intensive song Franklin Shepherd Inc. Jenna Russell is always great but as Mary it did seem to be stretching credibility to be a fat bitter drunk in a dodgy costume. She seems much too nice for that...

So while people are raving about this show, despite the terrific performances it felt more like some bitter medicine to swallow. Perhaps best enjoyed with someone you have known for years and don't like that much. You will be inclined to let rip by the end. You have until February to do it...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Theatre going and moaning in the cheap seats

Theatre in London is pretty good value for money, particularly if you don't mind trying your luck at the half price ticket booth, trying to get to the theatre by 10am for the few day seats on sale. Many of London's ageing theatres have great seats at a good price if you don't mind a partially restricted view or a bench seat. But it can be a false economy if you find yourself sitting in the theatre with your knees up to your ears because the row in front of you is so close. Or if you are so high and far away from the stage you can't see anything other than a small fuzzy dots which might be either actors or the onset of vertigo.

While there are a few sites out there that review theatres, the information tends to go out of date as theatres are upgraded, so a new website Seat Plan aims to address that. It's launching in the new year and for every review posted by the end of this week, it is offering the chance to win £100 worth of theatre vouchers. 49,000 seats are reportedly listed already and reads a bit like the theatre equivalent of airline seat review website Seatguru, except people write about sight lines and stiff necks and not the smell from the toilets. It is looking like a very useful up to date resource for London theatre peeps...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Richmond Panto: Aladdin

Some fun costumes, and a great performance by Tim Vine (pictured far left) as Wishy Washy keep Aladdin at the Richmond Theatre as a sensible evening out for families (or very big kids) who don't mind a mild case of panto over Christmas.

This version of the Aladdin follows a fairly traditional storyline. Aladdin works in his mothers laundry, meets a princess and after stumbling across the lamp with a genie, is granted riches that allows him to marry her. Well he would have married her if that evil Abanazar didn't get in the way. The loose plot is an opportunity to show off some great costumes, sing a few songs and tell a few gags. A few more filthier jokes for older members of the audience (timed to sail over the heads of the younger ones), and a few more modern tunes would have made the show better.

Of course for the younger members of the audience, who were likely to be experiencing their first time at the theatre this did not matter so much. They were hooked on the drama anyway... So much so that when Abanazar goes to steal back the magic lamp they were shouting out with such indignation.

Suzanne Shaw who has a dual purpose role of genie of the lamp and ring was a bit of a damp squib. It isn't really a star role and she doesn't have much to do. The other cast members don't fare much better with material that is pretty light on jokes and heavy on plot... During these scenes it was an opportunity for those in the audience with crayons to colour in their programmes, or for those in the audience without crayons to look on at the others who did with envy.

Nevertheless, even when the sound is a bit wobbly and the story getting a bit hoary, Tim Vine comes to the rescue with an assortment of bad jokes that sound good. The staging of the Abbot and Costello routine, "Who's on First" also comes across as fresh and funny as well. It runs through to 13 January.

Friday, December 14, 2012

In a damp warm spot: Mydidae

A day in the life of a married couple, as set in a bathroom is the premise of Jack Thorne's sharp and funny play, Mydidae, currently playing at the Soho Theatre.

This classy little play on the top floor of the Soho Theatre features a fully plumbed bathroom, that  provides the backdrop for a full and frank exploration of a couple and their secrets. Actors Pheobe Waller-Bridge and Keir Charles undress, shave, lust after each other, wash and urinate in front of the audience.

Strangely enough they don't fart in front of each other which was possibly a missed opportunity as there never seems to be a better place to do that than in a bathroom... Particularly if your partner is in it...  Of course once you get past the novelty of the full frontal nudity; the tweaking of the penis, the perky tits and vagina at eye level, it is amazing how it is the intensity of the performances and the intriguing story that holds your attention.

The piece seems an innocent enough premise at first, but gradually amongst the throwaway remarks and glib references a darker story emerges of a relationship under strain. It is hard not to have admiration for the actors, particularly as they run about dripping wet and don't have much to hide behind. A bathtub for two does not seem to be the most comfortable of spaces to perform, but it certainly intimate and both Waller-Bridge and Charles maintain the focus throughout the seventy minutes of the piece.

Whether you accept the premise of so many events taking place in the bathroom during one day may influence how much you appreciate it. But it nevertheless is an original idea from Drywrite, which is a new writing theatre company that supports writers to experiment with new ideas and perspectives. Drama at the bathtub runs until 22 December.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Classic songs, breathless dancing, innuendo and long pauses: Kiss Me, Kate

The Chichester Festival production of Kiss Me Kate, now playing at the Old Vic Theatre, has a wonderful cast and thrilling and lively musical numbers. If there is one thing to be bothered by this production it is that between the songs things are not so lively. The dialogue is treated as if it were Shakespeare, and some of it is... Delivered so slowly... And deliberately... That much of the fun feels drained at times from the show. Thankfully there are too so many musical numbers that are well-conceived and performed that you will find yourself waking up to enjoy them.

Star Hannah Waddingham was indisposed last Friday night when I caught this show and so Carolyn Maitland took the lead. Given the show is very traditionally staged (set backstage at a theatre in 1948 the set is backstage at a theatre circa 1948), it was a refreshing opportunity to inject a bit of uncertainty into the evening's proceedings. Cole Porter's musical, while a classic, only has two female roles so it is nice to see someone else get a shot at one of them. Maitland showed she could be a rough and ready Kate too. By the time she got to the number "I hate men" she had made the role her own and the audience was with her all the way.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Melodrama and plonk love potions: L'Elisir D'Amore

Laurent Pelly's revival production of Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore at the Royal Opera is an early Christmas present full of some fine singing performances and comic turns. The piece moves abruptly from comedy to tenderness and the performers handle this so believably that you find yourself completely drawn into this world of small town unrequited love and quack doctors administering love potions.

Roberto Alagna plays the farm worker Nemorino who yearns for the love of Adina, played by Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak. Alagna tackles the role with bounding enthusiasm as he throws himself over haystacks and rips off his clothes revealling some very nice y-fronts and a tanned physique that suggests all that physicality has been paying off. Of course he sounds great too as the simple farm worker who constantly tries for the affection of Adina. Kurak manages to balance what could be an unsympathetic screechy character with one that is tender and nuanced, and reveals early on her soft spot for her farm hand. Both are wonderful to watch. Giving the piece some of the best laughs is Ambrogio Maestri as the quack who offers up a love potion for Nemorino to win over his woman. His performance is a delightful combination of clear singing, comic timing and a hint of vulgarity that ensured his time on stage was greeted with laughs and applause.

This production updates the action to the countryside of 1950s Italy with some giant haystacks, endless fields and a dog that darts across the stage so quickly that you don't have time to contemplate the meaning of it. It is an opportunity to draw inspiration from post-war Italian style and is so beautiful to look at it is hard to be bother or care whether the change works of not...

Conducted by Bruno Campanella there are a two more performances this week (Tuesday and Friday) before this run ends. It is all good fun...


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cheap laughs and nothing fancy: Judith Lucy

Judith Lucy is a household name in Australia. She has done a show, she has done films, she is on crap television like the show above. But until the 1 December she is London at the Soho Theatre doing the thing that made her famous in the first place. Stand up comedy. It is just her, a microphone and some very sensible shoes because as she tells the audience, "My feet are fucked!" She is brutally honest too...

Naturally being an Australian act, the audience will be dominated by Aussies desperate for some cultural references from down under (this was part of the incentive to go, along with being reminded of her talent after recently seeing her on film as Merle the racist pub owner in the film The Sapphires). But none of this should put you off.

When Lucy is interrogating the audience she is in her element with her ability to draw laughs out of what could be the most innocent of responses from unwitting audience members in the first few rows of the theatre. You are wise to sit further back unless you want to be part of the show. The rest of her routine covers minor celebrities, gifts of soap and candles and vaginal discharge. Even if not all the gags work (or frighten the men in the audience), as the title of her show hints, it is nothing fancy but good stand up from someone who knows how to deliver it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Somewhere out there in a parallel universe: Constellations

Nick Payne's Constellations takes a quantum mechanics view of a love story. The basics of this is that in one universe the outcome is A and in another universe the outcome is B. And there begins a story about Marianne and Roland. They meet at a barbeque and develop a relationship. Or in a parallel world they don't as he is there with his wife. She is a scientist and he is a beekeeper in Tower Hamlets (somewhat inspired by London-based urban beekeeper Steve Benbow and there is Constellations honey available in the foyer). And thus begins a series of fragments of a relationship that together tell a story of a number of different possibilities that it could take.

While the premise of this piece threatens to feel repetitive (or at least a bit like Groundhog Day meets Love Story), over its short but perfectly formed running length a range of scenarios play out that simply highlight some of the quirks and eccentricities of their relationship. Holding it all together is the wonderful performances of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall who bounce off each other as they shift from downbeat to enthusiastic in a flash. Literally. As complimenting the performances is a series of globes and baloons that flash to reset scenes. Watching them is a real treat.

Along with some clever light effects and balloons are a series of sound effects that are suggest where the story is heading. This is somewhat reassuring when the piece is at times often resetting and repeating itself. Of course at the Duke of York's there is also the sound of the London Underground to contend with, but in this piece with its semi-regular rumbles and groans it feels like a contributor to this etherial drama not a distraction.

The exploration of the human drama in this story is interesting enough so the introduction of a major life changing event feels a bit of a distraction, particularly as the fragmented nature of the work makes it hard to be as emotionally connected to it in same way of a drama with a more conventional narrative. But overall it is an enjoyable meditation on a romance.

The show had its first outing at the Royal Court earlier this year and has a limited run as part of the Royal Court at the Duke of York's Theatre until January. It is a great little after work diversion that won't keep you too long at the theatre yet possibly give you pause for thought. And if you don't like it, you at least can take comfort in the fact that somewhere out there in a parallel uniververse you are raving about the piece...

Photo credit: Johan Persson

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nice nights out: The Magistrate

The Magistrate, which has just commenced playing at the National Theatre, is a big lavish production that feels like part panto and part musical. It is actually a farce written by Victorian actor and playright Arthur Wing Pinero, but under the production values of the National, it is something bigger, brighter and sweeter. The cast look lovely. The set is amazing (it opens and folds over and spins around). And there are a series of panto-like characters that pop out, sing and cavort about as commentary on the piece. Of course it does not help that the songs are superfluous and at the preview I saw, the singing was out of tune and the dancing was out of time. But it all adds to the running time of the show so you can't say you didn't get your money's worth.

The basic premise of Pinero's story is that Mrs Posket (played loudly here by Nancy Carroll), shortly after her first husband passes away, takes five years off her age in order to seal the deal of a second marriage to a respectable Magistrate (played here by the respectable John Lithgow). The knock on effect is that her nineteen year old son is fifteen, yet has all the urges of an older young man which includes lusting after several women, gambling and getting up to no good.

It is a funny premise, but of course being an English farce well-developed characters are less important than observations about class and morality. The end result is a play where it's a stretch to care about the people on stage that much and with its padded length it becomes a bit of a bore. You know you're in trouble when the programme devotes several pages trying to explain the context of Victorian society in what seems to be a desperate grasp to make it appeal relevant. A line about a stockbroker getting arrested towards the end had the audience of screaming with delight at the slightest hint of relevancy. Although it feels a bit odd to be taking delight at the downfall of one type of scrounger while being surrounded by people that most likely arrived at the theatre on free travel passes...

Still it is quite nicely acted and you have to admire for the cast who are working their pantaloons off shouting and running around creating mayhem. Joshua McGuire makes a wonderful Cis (Mrs Posket's rather confused son), who seems much older than his years. The male cast members fare better than the women, although possibly because of the limitations of Pinero's piece. Pinero's later play, Dandy Dick, has better female roles and covers most of the same ground. And at the end all works out well and there is even a song to send everyone home humming...

The piece runs through Christmas and is no doubt a nice alternative to the panto fare available this season and runs through to February...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Art: Joe Hesketh A Pendle Investigation

One of the most famous witch trails in English history, the Pendle witches are recreated in Joe Hesketh's dark and haunting pieces titled A Pendle Investigation. It has been on tour around the country for a while but has come back to London, to coincide with Halloween and give a few lasting chills to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the trials. There is an old pumpkin still hanging around outside the gallery so you may think you know what you're getting into when you arrive. Alas you will be wrong...

Hesketh turns witches and Halloween on its head and gives a contemporary perspective to the violent story of injustice, superstition, rivalry and corruption. It's an ambitious project but Hesketh creates some unforgettable scenes layered with imagery. Alternatively beautiful and horrific, she also likes to thrown in the occasional visual puns such as the justice holding two breasts as the whole trial went tits up, just to throw the viewer off guard. There are layers of meanings in her work that is the result of paint or marks scratched into the canvas. Blended together it emphasises the horrors and silliness of it all and is a fitting tribute to an event to be commemorated and not sold as sensational for tourists heading to Lancashire looking for smells and spells...

Hesketh is a witch herself and is based in Pendle which is an interesting hook to the pieces, but her other works also on display underscore her real interest in life, people and how she is perceived, particularly as a woman. Not part of the witches series, there are other works that explore some of her other thoughts on these matters. Her works are big and attention grabbing but there is a beauty and originality in them is both intriguing and impressive. It is hard not to spend time looking at them and contemplating what riddles they are suggesting and what was going in her life at the time she produced each piece.

Joe Hesketh – A Pendle Investigation runs from 31st October through to 22nd November 2012 at The Newman Street Gallery and is open from Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 6pm. Other times can be by appointment. With thanks to Simon Desmond for the tour and insight into her work as well...

Friday, November 09, 2012

On the radio: Radio Times The Musical

The Radio Times The Musical is in Richmond this week and it is a funny and entertaining enough show. It is set during the Blitz in London as a BBC light entertainment show prepare to undertake a special broadcast that will be heard in America. It is an opportunity to breathe life back into composer Noel Gay's music, who also wrote the songs for the show Me and My Girl. With Gay's songs, a story evolves full of bad jokes, gags and silliness as the star of the show Sammy Shaw, tries to hang on to his leading lady, a new producer fights with the writers for a show that isn't full of smutty innuendo and the need for a show to go out that will lift morale.

This production originated at the Watermill Theatre and follows their usual style where the performers act, dance and play the music. In a show with such brassy and lively numbers it looks great as the cast integrate dancing, music-making and performing so effortlessly. The effect gives things a real buzz. Gary Wilmot in the lead as Sammy manages to get away with the hoariest of jokes and still get laughs from the audience... It could be also that Richmond Theatre audiences are easy, but he gets away with it anyway. Sara Crowe, who replaces Anna Jayne Casey who played the leading lady earlier in the run productions did not appear to be as at ease in her role as the girlfriend waiting to get married. The role does primarily involve being serious while silliness abounds, but it is a key role and balance between the comedy and drama felt alternatively jarring or dragging at times.

There are enough songs and enough material to potentially fill two shows here but the production is slick and it looks great too. It is a musical that is going to give you two hours of laughs and you may even feel compelled to treat it as a singalong if you know the music... Of course the songs were written before the Second World War so that may give away your age... It runs until the end of this week and the remaining tour dates are on the website.

The views of the ageing (and Johnyfoxlondon) follow on the Audioboo...

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Cabaret: Karen Akers at The Crazy Coqs

The Brasserie Zedel, run by restauranteurs Jeremy King and Chris Corbin (of The Ivy, The Woolsey fame) which opened this summer, has given new life and a touch of French glamour to a formerly unloved hotel just off Piccadilly Circus in the heart of the West End. Their cabaret room, The Crazy Coqs is a beautiful art-deco space that is a great way to sample an evening of cabaret.

The last time I saw Karen Akers we were bemoaning that Pizza on the Park was shortly to be closing. But change isn't always a bad thing. Akers act was the same act (or possibly shorter) but in a smaller, classier space with a sensible cocktail it seemed all the more enjoyable. Akers has finished her run but there is great line up of acts running throughout the autumn with shows at 8pm and 10pm (I have also made a mental note to catch Miss Hope Springs some Sunday evening in the not too distant future).

Either timeslot allows for a quick bite at the Brasserie Zedel before or after the show. The space allows you to chose either comfortable seats around the side or some more upright ones in the centre of the room. The bar staff are friendly and service is efficient... It opens half an hour before each show and it is worth arriving early to make sure you have your preferred spot. Well worth popping in if you find yourself at a loose end in Piccadilly Circus...

Monday, November 05, 2012

Lookout behind you: Panto season

Christmas also means that Panto season is coming and aside from the usual blockbusters in the West End or the likes of slightly edgier Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, they are designed to lure families in with a mix of childrens comedy and dirty innuendo for the adult members of the audience. Or in the case of Dame Edna's foray into Dick Whittington last season, it was an opportunity graft Edna's material onto a panto format for a new unsuspecting audience...

Others are taking this to another level, with less innuendo and just filth and good ol' vulgarity.

There is Snow White and the Seven Poofs that has its run at the Green Carnation in Soho from early December... Subtitled, "The Climax" it looks like it leaves little to the imagination... With pop numbers and a show billed not for children (or for the faint hearted), it will be fascinating to see what they (ahem) come up with...

The Drama Queens Drag Theatre Company is also producing Sinderella What A Slut where "Sinders" is a big hearted sexy scrubber who is always horny... It's playing at the Two Brewers in Clapham over Christmas at various dates. Expect a plot with some resemblance to Cinderella complete with filthy language and lip-syncing to pop music...

Finally that rough theatre pub in central London, Above The Stag, may be gone, but the production team have moved south to the Landor pub where they will be performing Get Aladdin. Described as filthier than a Clapham late night takeaway and sweeter than satay sauce, it tells the tale of stowing away to the Chinese province of Hao Hung...

Filth is definitely in fashion for panto this year...

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Last chance (for now): The Mystery of Charles Dickens

The Mystery of Charles Dickens is finishing its run at the Playhouse on 10 November and worth a look if you don't mind watching Simon Callow on stage for a couple of hours. He is great to watch as he has such a marvellous speaking voice. It isn't so much a mystery but a good story telling that takes place as he runs through some rather dramatic points in Dickens's life, interwoven with recreations his readings of his stories, which you learn were quite a sensation.

This show was first staged in 2000, but has come back for another revival timed to commemorate the 200th anniversary year of Dickens's birth. It is a simple concept with Callow on stage as part teacher, instructor and performer. Written by Peter Ackroyd, who knows a thing or two about London (and Charles Dickens), he manages to distil the interesting aspects of his life and this production keeps things moving at such a brisk pace you can be forgiven for forgetting how many years, books and wives have passed by during the two 50-minute halves of the show.

Anyone familiar with the life and times of Charles Dickens may not find anything new here, but what works best here is the ability to recreate the period he lived in and see it from this perspective.

Good discounts are available at the usual outlets...

Friday, November 02, 2012

Patter songs: I Love You You're Perfect, Now Change

A short run of the show I Love You, You're Perfect Now Change at the Riverside Studios Hammersmith is a pleasant enough diversion, although you get the feeling it is more fun performing it than watching it.

Performers must love it as the cast of four manage to sing in a variety of styles from country to cantata. They  also run through a variety of roles from young nervous daters to old Jews at a funeral home (well, it is set in New York). This cast are great and manage to make the most of the material and the comic possibilities. But after awhile it becomes clear there isn't much variety in the work and each song tends to blend together. For the most part they are trite and forgettable. There is an occasional gem such as a ballad in the first half when the girl who finally manages to land a date proclaims, "I will be loved tonight" with such such desperation you are left wondering about her fate. In the second half there is an amusing song about being a bridesmaid, but it is all rather tame - even for show written in 1996 - and the endless scenes of women pretending to be interested in their dates, parents over excited about their babies feels quite dated now.

It might have worked better in a smaller space than the Riverside studios... And a space with less furniture... It seems to be an awful habit of these sorts of shows to make the actors work as if they are furniture movers. Future productions would be better off skipping that trip to Ikea or borrowing whatever they find backstage at Riverside...

Nevertheless it is a successful Off-Broadway show that has been translated into many languages... But then again so is the Fantasticks. Most interesting as an early work of writer Joe DiPietro (who has gone on to bigger things in the musical theatre world) and composer Jimmy Roberts. It is also no doubt essential viewing for any musical theatre student as well...

It runs through to Sunday... Go with a notebook... The views from the jaded (with Johnnyfoxlondon) follow...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Directors, Developers and Swingers: A Chorus of Disapproval

 The revival of A Chorus of Disapproval, Alan Ayckbourn's comedy farce about an amateur light operatic society's production of The Beggar's Opera manages to be an agreeable evening out, although it tends to be more smile out loud than laugh out loud. The cast are terrific but the play lacks the pace and the insanity that are hallmarks of a well written farce. On the other hand, for something silly with wife swapping and unlikely male conquests, you probably can't do that much better on the West End right now...

It opens with a successful opening night of the piece with Guy, the lead who plays Macheath, being shunned by the rest of the cast. The piece then returns to the start of rehearsals and traces the path that leads to the opening night.

As a play within a play, the music and story of The Beggars Opera reflects (or perhaps riffs) on the story of Guy, played by Nigel Harman, who arrives in a small town and just wants to please everyone and get over the death of his wife. It is a bit unfortunate that he is in a town that is famous for land deals, wife swapping and operatic drama. It helps that he is a bit handsome, and in his knitted sweaters and loose jackets he has everyone in the town swooning. Well, I guess it was that sort of town...

Taking top billing in the show is Rob Brydon, who is making his theatrical West End debut as the mad Welsh director of the piece. It is a great role as he gets to sing, insult the other cast members and be completely oblivious to the sexual play going on between Guy and his wife. It is amusing to watch him as an intense fool, and also managing to create a character that distills all that is excruciating about amateur groups... The effort spent behind making a work while dealing with egos, infighting and dull performers.

The rest of the cast do well at balancing their roles as amateur performers and shrewd locals after their pound of flesh. The production also looks smart... But ultimately the tale becomes a bit grim  in the second half as things go a little pear shaped for our Guy... But what could have been a lively comedy ends up being more of a damp squib. Still it is lovely to watch and there is the music from The Beggars Opera. Personally it is not a favourite but most people like that sort of thing... It is on a limited run until January and keep an eye out for good deals at the usual outlets...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Rough treatments: Dangerous Lady

Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East's East's new stage adaption of Martina Cole's bestseller is a trashy, violent and funny production that will have you enjoying almost every minute of it.  There are wry observations about criminals, the police and class in this piece. Things are not black and white and what is right or wrong is not always easy to tell. It is a bloody tough life and it is the women who are the survivors and keep things together.

The play opens with an unexpectedly frank depiction of childbirth. Later in the first half there is an intense scene depicting an abortion that had members of the audience so engaged they were screaming out in horror as if they were watching the backyard procedure really take place. There is nothing gruesome on stage, but the production manages to suggest just enough to have most audience-members squirming... or about to pass out...

It is all part of the gritty depiction of the life and times of a London Irish gangland family. And at its heart is the story of Maura who joins the family business after a love affair goes wrong and helps her wild and gay brother carve up London.

Clare-Louise Cordwell plays Maura and manages to make transition the character from optimistic and innocent to a cool and calculating criminal believable and gives such an enjoyable performance as she moves from naive young girl into the mastermind behind a criminal empire. But she also keeps things real and has a tremendous likability about her so even when the story becomes a little far fetched, it is hard to mind too much. Veronica Quilligan (also pictured) as the mother also manages to create a truly memorable character that is not just a one dimensional evil woman. Although at times during this epic piece her wigs and makeup make her look more like the Home Secretary than an ageing matriarch.

Things move briskly in this piece and it is helped by some clever staging and a production that is one of the more slicker shows I have seen at Stratford East. The piece spans thirty years as the family move from small time gambling to big time property deals in the Docklands so things need to move, and a double revolve keeps characters spinning in and out of the story at a brisk pace. It is a slick production and hints of drama, great use of sound effects and lighting give it added panache.

Even if you have not read Martina Cole's book it is based upon, this play stands on its own as a great story, interesting production and strong cast. It runs until 17 November but with sex, violence, laughs, strong Irish women with filthy mouths, it should have a future beyond this short run... Don't miss it...

Photo credit: Robert Day

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Everything: Taboo

A smart, slick new production of Boy George's musical Taboo has been playing in Brixton for the past month. What makes this production worth a look is the insanely talented people on stage. Some are even making their professional debut here and in the small yet perfectly formed space of the Brixton Club House (on the corner of Brixton Road and Coldharbour Lane... above the KFC), it makes for one hell of a show.

The story focuses on the club scene in the early 1980s and the rise of the New Romantic movement. It is a journey (of sorts) into fashion, big hair, bitchy  banter and decadent antics. At the centre of this was Boy George and living artist performer Leigh Bowery... The latter role is played by newcomer Sam Buttery who manages to make a larger than life figure rather human and delicate, even when singing a song about Bowery's voracious sexual appetite. Buttery was in the recent BBC chair-swining series The Voice and you get the impression from his performance that he will be going on to bigger and better things... The rest of the cast are great too but Katie Kerr as Big Sue (or Benefits Supervisor as she was immortalised in the portrait by Lucian Freud) manages to get through the piece belting out a series of ballads with such emotion that it almost looks easy...

Taboo as a piece probably is a bit too conventional a musical to become a cult hit. There are too many cliches written around the ballads and pop tunes and the first half is way too long. The story is essentially this... Boy (not George) leaves rough home to make it in London. Boy hooks up with an old school friend at a squat and meets Boy George. Boy (and Boy George) get confused. Cue shouting and awkward love triangle. Meanwhile on the other side of the town in a toilet cubicle there is Leigh... And meanwhile at another club night there Marilyn who also wants to be famous. And meanwhile back at rough home mother keeps calling on a phone. And so on and so on...

While the music is great, characters also tend to be famous rather than sympathetic. Boy George becomes a star as quickly a costume change and there isn't much insight to what drove these mad creative-types and clubbers in the 1980s, their music and their downfall. In between the ballads and pop tunes there are the drugs but by then the story all becomes a bit of a blur. It is a shame that a period of change and the rise of the new romantic pop culture gets reduced to a few lines and quips. It is also a period chronicling the rise to fame in a time before wall-to-wall television shows made anyone of dubious talent a star. Then again it also was the period when Marilyn released Calling Your Name so it was an omen for what was the horror to come...

Still maybe it does not matter. It is a hell of a ride anyway with some energetic dancing, audience participation and rather amusing floor show banter. Go for the music and the performances.

Taboo runs until December at the Brixton Club House. Look out for good discounts and meal deals. There are also matinee performances which is a chance to head to the markets for lunch beforehand... Or you could just get some finger licking chicken in bucket...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Opera: Finding Butterfly

The trend of theatre companies to take classic operas and find new perspectives on them continues with The Wedding Collective's latest production of Finding Butterfly. Produced in association with Soho Theatre, Finding Butterfly is a deconstruction and re-imagining of Puccini's Madame Butterfly set in a hospital. Rather than beautiful Japanese screens and gardens, we have Butterfly institutionalised and believing her American soldier will return while doctors and other patients know otherwise. The story of the opera is then told in flashbacks and fragments. It is quite an ingenious concept that is only let down from time to time from some over-staged dramatics and a booming clavinova accompaniment. Both tend to distract you from the sensuality and fine singing that is taking place almost in your lap...

In this pared down work, the piece is at its most exciting when the performers playing Suzuki, Butterfly and Pinkerton are on stage, and this production emphasises their roles. All three performers sang with strength and clarity that gives emotional intensity to this interpretation. Suzuki is a nurse at the hospital rather than a servant and played by Japanese mezzo soprano Megumi Shiozaki. Cio Cio San was played by feisty Li Li and Joe Morgan plays the role of Pinkerton. The wedding night duet is re imagined in bed with Pinkerton in loose boxers and Cio Cio San in a flimsy slip. There is no full frontal nudity (after all it isn't the Royal Opera), but leaving things to the imagination makes for as just an equally satisfying piece, particularly when the duet is sung so close to the audience and with such tenderness.

These days it seems as if staging a production in a theatre is rather passé, and anything from a septic tank to an abandoned office block is is a preferred performance space. But Limehouse Town Hall, with its grimy peeling paint, flooded bathrooms and general decay creates a perfect atmosphere for a clinical, alienating hospital. Here's hoping that if the venue isn't demolished at some point a future refurbishment includes the purchase of a piano. All told it is hard not to like a production that takes a fresh look on reinterpreting a classic and mixes it with some excellent performances.

Finding Butterfly runs until 20 October and there are good discounts available from the usual outlets. It deserves a future outing as well so keep an eye out for future productions.

Post show Audioboo on busy Commercial Road follows...

listen to ‘Butterfly boo: Finding Butterfly’ on Audioboo

Monday, September 10, 2012

Art and travel: Voyages

A short walk from Oxford Street into Fitzrovia (and near the famous Newman Street Post Office) is The Piper Gallery, and it is currently showing an exhibition of works by artist Francis West. Called Voyages, it is an opportunity to explore West’s voyages through the series of his works on display. Never mind if you find travel exhausting, each voyage reflects West’s experience of locations.

Figurative forms that are in different states of metamorphosis feature throughout, along with combining fragments, dreams and memories. The end result is quite fascinating to look at and admire.

Le Désert (2008)
West was born in 1936 in Scotland. After moving to London he studied at the Chelsea School of Art (1957-1959). His first solo show was in 1973, at the Hamet Gallery on Cork Street and in 1981 his work was included in the Arts Council’s Hayward Annual. Although grounded in reality, West’s concepts blur symbolic forms with fragments from poetry and historic painting.

 It is all on show in the lovely and seriously cool space of The Piper Gallery, which opened this summer. It is dedicated to showcasing artists who have had a career spanning at least forty years and the intention is to highlight their skills and experience to a new generation. Well worth a look. The exhibition runs through to 5 October.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Music: Australian Chamber Orchestra with Dawn Upshaw

An opportunity to see the Australian Chamber Orchestra should not be passed up as they thrilled audiences at Cadogan Hall over the weekend. It was a varied concert that included ACOs artistic director and leader Richard Tognetti's composition Caprice on Paganini Caprices (featured above) and songs by Schumann, Schoenberg and Schubert performed with American Soprano Dawn Upshaw.

Dawn Upshaw's arrival in the second act was warmly received but the star of the show were the musicians or the ensemble of soloists as they are sometimes known, who were full of such passion, precision and energy.  An evening of very fine music making, with an ensemble that moved as one providing a incredible sound. Keep an eye out for future tours via their website.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Surprise the (Piccadilly Circus) Circus is in Town

Today the streets of central London have been taken over by a pop up circus called Piccadilly Circus Circus. From lunchtime today until the finale at 8pm more than 240 international circus artists including aerialists, high wire trapeze artists, hula hoopers, jugglers, stilt acrobats, not so stilted acrobats, tightrope walkers, looserope walkers, acrobats, Chinese pole artists, Polish Chinese artists, aerial dance performers, contemporary clowns, musicians and the like will be around to distract shoppers and force you whip out your camera-phone and experience it all...

I caught the opera singers and drummers earlier today but events continue throughout the afternoon. The finale at Piccadilly Circus will be where French artists’ Les Studios de Cirque presents the UK premiere of Place des Anges. The piece is about a renegade group of angels who are drawn down to the Earth, and begin to shed their wings, and their feathers fall on the unsuspecting spectators below… With zip wires strung across Piccadilly Circus, it is likely to be a one of a kind event. If you can't get to it, or you are worried about feather allergies, it will be streamed live from the website at 8pm.

The event is part of Surprises, which is part of the Mayor of London Presents programme. It is free secret performances that have been popping up all over the capital this summer on the unsuspecting public... Enjoy it all while it lasts!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Co-op Opera: Don Giovanni

In a week when Prince Harry's buttocks and a rowdy party were the topic of discussion, the opportunity to see young opera performers in an English modernisation of Don Giovanni cavort and brag about conquests seemed rather relevant. This Don Giovanni may not be royalty but he is a bit of a lad and the women he seeks look like they could be found at a Vegas pool party. It is probably a little too faithful to the Mozart's original which does tend to be confusing, but things move along at a pace you find yourself not minding it too much.

Helping things is the energy and enthusiasm coming from the cast of young opera singers. The Co-Opera Company is made up of members and associate members who wish to pass on their expertise to the next generation of performers. The company exists to provide aspiring artists a start in their career on stage, in the orchestra or behind the scenes. They are into their fourth season and they manage to do with no outside funding.

While perhaps after a long week of workshops and training the performances did tire a few of them by Friday evening's performance, there was still much to admire in both the performances and the philosophy behind the company. And it is great to see yet another outlet for young singers to develop their skills.

This minimalistic and stylish production generally worked although there were a few odd moments such as a food fight towards the end that seemed out of place in such a smart-looking show. Still things were brought back into focus for the finale where the voices, music and production came together rather well and highlighted some fine music-making.

The Co-Opera Company is about to set out on a UK tour in September starting at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. Don Giovanni is one of three productions that are part of the tour, with the others being Hansel and Gretel and The Magic Flute. Check local papers or view more details on their website.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hot August Nights: Drag Divas

If you have been wondering where you could see a live all-singing all-dancing tribute show to the worlds greatest divas performed by a bunch of blokes, then you could do with catching Drag Divas, which is having a short run at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square. It has been always a bit difficult to see a drag show in central London as the local punters don't seem to go for that sort of thing... But it is great to see there is at least for the moment a place in the West End where you can go for a late night camp fix that doesn't take itself too seriously and gives a touch of hoary glamour to theatreland this summer.

The show is billed as being "Fierce. Fabulous. Fearless" and this could apply to both the divas and the drag performers as they come out and sing live in front of an audience that has already had a drink or three and has been warmed up by drag compere Mrs Moore. But what they may lack in the vocal department, they make up for with some impressive costumes and great performances that managed to channel the idiosyncracies of the star divas.

The cast includes Anthony Poore performing as Madonna and Dusty Springfield, Leo Loren performing as Amy Winehouse and Cher, Chris Dennis as Shirley Bassey and Liza Minnelli and Rob Tucker as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Tina Turner. And they are accompanied by two rather flexible singer-dancers Scott Bishop and Ashley Martin, who managed to thrill the audience with a few splits and gyrating manouvres.

At an hour fifteen it isn't a taxing diversion and feels like the sort of show anyone with some spare time after a day of sightseeing or drinking could do with. Just make sure that you have something to keep cool as the Arts Theatre is not the coolest of venues on a hot August night. The performers on stage won't be the only ones that are dripping with perspiration.

Drag Divas continues tonight and then Wednesday 22nd – Saturday 25th August 2012 at 10.15pm. Look for offers as for this week, tickets are two for one. Also keep you eyes out for the boys handing out fliers in Soho too...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Life in London: Olympic bubbles and musings

The Olympics have finished and for those who stayed in London it was a dream. The city was quiet, traffic was minimal, the tube seemed empty when I needed it and people were in a jolly mood. There was some seriously good sport to watch and so in a break from theatre I took the chance to see what drama was on offer of the muscle, sweat and lycra kind.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Art: Yoko Ono smiles and light reflections

The Serpentine Gallery is currently showing Yoko Ono's To the Light. It is an opportunity to view new installations and films from Ono and escape what has been a busy summer period of sports. One of the things that keeps recurring as a theme is the role of the artist and the viewer, along with perspectives on peace, war and happiness.

It is hard not to like an exhibition that makes you take your shoes off and get lost in a maze to the amusement of others in the gallery, or watch a collection of smooth and hairy bottoms move about.

As the above video clip notes, technology has finally caught up with many of Yoko Ono's more ambitious ideas and this one is to capture the smiling face shot of everyone in the world. You are invited to sit down and have a photo taken and then it will be posted onto the Flickr page for #smilesfilm. It is bound to have you leave the gallery smiling, unless you are horrified by the results of your mug shot blown up on a giant video screen by the door.

The exhibition continues until 9 September and for those not in London you can find a variety of technological solutions to send your smiling mug into the #smilesfilm global collaboration via the website, app, social media et cetera...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Life in London: Ring in the show

It's about to get a bit quiet on the cultural front for a few weeks while some major sporting event takes place in our fair city. However before things calm down culturally, anyone in London this morning should get their bells ready for 8.12am to ring them as part of All the Bells.

Of course there are loads of other Cultural Olympiad events, but in a city so full of it, here is one cultural event you could experience in the comfort of your own bed...

Whether it is a bicycle bell, a ringtone, an alarm clock or a church bell... Get ready to ring it for three minutes. Don't ask why. It is just culture... And you can say you took part in the big boing...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Compelling tragedies: Otello

Opening night of Verdi's Otello at the Royal Opera House was a thrilling affair. Passion, rage and jealousy explode from this piece from the start. Conductor Antonio Pappano makes the most of both the drama and tenderness of the piece as it ebbs and flows. One moment of intensity and emotion gives way to another so delicate and light.

Aleksandrs Antonenko is terrific in the title role as the doomed hero and strikes the right balance and tone between tenderness and fury that makes the drama coherent and believable. There was some fine music making between him and Anja Harteros, who plays Desmemona his wife, as they move from a delicate love duet towards a darker sinister end. It is hard to believe that within two hours they sing about love and then damnation, but here they are complimentary.

Lucio Gallo was sublime as the evil Iago who orchestrates it all. At the curtain it was hard to tell whether cheering or hissing at his evil brilliance would have been more appropriate. Of course being an opera and not panto one did plump for the former.

The production is wonderful and elegant with its renaissance inspired set. With beautiful music and fast-paced drama, it adds up to a night to remember at the opera. It is possibly more fun than Shakespeare's original; even if it does all end in tears...

Otello is part of the World Shakespeare Festival which itself is part of the London 2012 Festival. The latter has seen slightly more unmissable events than a normal London summer embarrassment of cultural riches. It runs until 24 July... And is sold out so you will have to conspire to get tickets... Or alternatively live vicariously through the social media raves...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Horsing around the UK: Dandy Dick

Dandy Dick is a mild Victorian farce that is full of energy and wit that you can't help but have a very civilised time. It was written in 1887 by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero and cheap laughs and farce are a priority over satire of witty observations. But it so well-acted and pulled off so stylishly that it is hard not to like, particularly in Richmond Theatre.

It is the fist major revival for forty years and tells the story of a the Very Reverend Augustin Jedd, who after a visit from his gambling mad and horsey sister, risks everything at the races. Cue the shenanigans of mistaken identity, runaway horses, romantic intrigue and mystery. There are some wonderful lines about horse meat that obviously had a more innocent meaning at the time they were written, but viewed from the present day conjure up a variety of interpretations. We weren't the only ones thinking this as one lady in front turned around at the interval and informed us that we had her sense of humour.

The production stars Patricia Hodge and Nicholas Le Prevost. They are supported by a rather talented ensemble that can sing, play music and keep things moving quickly.

This is the inaugural production of Theatre Royal Brighton Productions, under the artistic direction of Christopher Luscombe. The team are off to a good start. It's at Richmond this week and continues the national tour over the summer.

The Boo with @Johnnyfoxlondon follows, which muses about Victorian sensibilities, Pinero versus his contemporaries, and standing in a muddy field opposite the theatre...

Last Look: Les Troyens

Tonight is the last chance to see Berlioz's Les Troyens at The Royal Opera. It is an event: an epic opera with some grand spectacle to match. However at nearly six hours (including two half hour intervals) you do need arrive prepared, which includes familiarising oneself with Berlioz's music. The piece is full of rousing choruses and delicate moments, but as a drama that hangs together like other Romantic operas it is not easy to take in at first listen.

David McVicar's production makes things a little easier to appreciate with the spectacle and astonishing set designs by Es Devlin. Brush up on your Berlioz late Romantic period, refresh your knowledge of Virgil's Aeneid and go along for the ride... It may not come around too soon again...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Design: Bond's Look at the Barbican (if you can find it)

Tickets..Designing 007, Fifty Years of Bond Style commemorates the designs, fashion and brouhaha that goes with the worlds most successful movie franchise. It is currently at the Barbican before touring the world, and I suspect that other venues will do it more justice than the three confusing rooms of the Barbican; with each less successful than the previous. You receive a stamp for each room and if you manage to find everything you should get a reward. The second area is a showcase for the styles created for Bond villains but all the pieces are behind glass boxes that all look alike and face different directions. You will find the bathrooms before finding all the boxes. And in the third room it is unfortunate that the centrepiece is the ice hotel that looked cheap in the film Die Another Day let alone up close. It is a film in the franchise best remembered for the worst CGI in film history. Given the room also includes a large screen showing edited highlights from it, you will not want to stay long.

Overall the exhibition is a mix of set designs, scripts, notes, interviews and fashion. And it is the fashion from the films that makes for most interesting part of the exhibition. The collection of suits and outfits worn by Bond and other characters highlight the trends and trendsetting nature of the films. It also is an insight in to how collaboration with directors, designers and actors created some unforgettable images, such as Ursula Andress in a white bikini  that was roughly put together to flatter her frame. And those swimming trunks worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, which were inspired by a less revealing pair Sean Connery wore in Thunderball. The latter have been recreated for the exhibition.

With gadgets, suits, outrageous dresses and spectacular set designs, there is something here for film geeks, Bond fans and people mildly interested in the enduring series. If you can find it all... It runs until early September and then will tour the world... Expect queues to see it...

Monday, July 09, 2012

Strip show meets drag show meets circus: Briefs

Briefs, the all-male circus cabaret is part circus act, part drag act, part strip tease and part filth. The boys from Brisbane Australia are back in the UK for the next couple of months touring with their show. It is a rough and rowdy sort of show and while it lacks the polish of other circus acts (including Cantina which they follow this week at the London Wonderground on the South Bank), they make up for it in energy, shock value and some impressive acrobatic feats. It is billed as burlesque with balls and there are plenty of them on display, either tucked between the legs or dangled over an unsuspecting member of the audience and a tray of raw sausages... If that doesn't sound like your idea of a good time, it probably is not the show for you. Others will find it a guilty pleasure...

Saturday night's performance had quite a few hen nights in the audience and this definitely is a show for girls who have had too much to drink and want to see full frontal nudity in a mildly artistic environment. Although the best pieces are when they are just performing rather than trying to be derivative Australian stereotypes. An act to watch and one to see before success makes the act a bit more polished and a little less vulgar... After this week Briefs tours Cardiff, Salford and Edinburgh...

The boo including the filthy @johnnyfoxlondon follows:

Friday, July 06, 2012

Architecture so big you can't miss it: The Shard opens

For a dynamic modern-looking building, it seemed like a rather pompous sort of opening for The Shard on Thursday evening. Anyone hoping for a repeat of Deadmau5 at the Millbank Tower would have felt it was a letdown.

Still it was a night out with a bit a colour and light so people crowded the bridges near it to see it. Whether the Shard becomes a great building or a great carbuncle is hard to say at this point in its history, but it is certainly something you can't miss on the London skyline now, and one that makes you look at it with some sense of awe. Looking at it up close it appears surprisingly delicate and accommodating to its neighbours around London Bridge. It is open to the public early next year...

Theatre and c-sections: Birthday

In Birthday, currently playing at the Royal Court, Stephen Mangan plays a man who is pregnant. While this unlikely scenario could lead to a rather dubious evening of entertainment (does anyone remember the film Junior?), Joe Penhall's play presents it in such a way that it all seems so plausible and understandable... And best of all it is hilarious.

The audience on Wednesday night were in stitches throughout this show, including at some rather squeamish scenes of a medical nature that had some men in the audience wincing.

As Ed, the expectant father, Stephen Mangan keeps the audience on side as a slightly loveable modern man while still being a rather disagreeable patient who hurls abuse at staff and his wife. And he has an impressive hairy belly and set of saggy tits. His wife, played by Lisa Dillon is a career woman who can't have another baby. While they wait for hospital staff who are busy with more important patients, the stage is set for some terrific banter.

While the role and gender reversals provide some of the humour, there are also subtle digs at relationships, health care provision, liberal values and other modern trivialities. You soon become aware of the various levels the show is working on and it isn't just all about KY lube and an impressive belly prosthetics. Put it on your plan of shows to see this summer. It runs until 4 August.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Subterranean art: Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei is described as an opportunity to inspire visitors to look beneath the surface of the park as well as back in time at the ghosts of the earlier structures.
With its cork surfaces and dark corners what it really is is the ultimate children's playground. It will be hard to visit it without finding screaming children running about, hiding from each other in the dark corners and leaping over the uneven surfaces. There is place for a good coffee, but this year's pavilion is a cork dungeon for the children. The little buggers will love it...
It is open until 14 October. 

Be sure to also catch the other free exhibition at the gallery itself - Yoko Ono's To the Light which runs until 9 September.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pizza and beer for lunch... that sounds good...

There appears to be a campaign afoot to tempt office workers of London out at lunchtime... For pizza and beer... Notwithstanding that it is an awful lot of carbs, it also sounds like an offer too good to be true. Birra Moretti is a very sensible beer to be drinking anytime of the day... And the video beautifully captures the grim reality of working lunches. Although I don't think I have ever picked up 12 inch sandwich thinking it was a phone handset... Keep an eye out for the experiment as they move across London via the Facebook page...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Returning satire: Yes, Prime Minister

Yes, Prime Minister is back in the West End at Trafalgar Studios following two successful previous runs in the West End and a tour. It is probably good timing in the lead up to the Olympics as no doubt it will appeal to people with a spare night amongst all the other cultural offerings on at present and who have been inspired from walking up Whitehall past all the impressive Civil Service offices to pop on in... 

The original television series was a quintessential satire from the 1980s and ran from 1980 to 1984 as Yes, Minister, and then 1986 to 1988 as Yes, Prime Minister. It was purportedly one of Margaret Thatcher's favourite shows. So anyone keen to wonder what writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn would make of the modern political environment of spin, coalitions, European rules and global recession the answer is here. Sir Humphrey Appleby and Jim Hacker now find themselves dealing with a loan scandal involving illegal workers and sexual favours against a backdrop of global warming and financial collapse.

It is a strong cast (pictured above) heading the show. Robert Daws of Outside Edge fame plays Prime Minister Jim Hacker. He alternates between looking Prime Ministerial and looking the fool. Alongside him is Michael Simkins. He seems to bear some resemblance to Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude but as Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby the audience laughs more at what he doesn't say than what he does. There are some moments of great comic timing, although you also couldn't help but wonder if the actors switched roles would it work just as well. Clive Hayward as Bernard and Emily Bruni as Claire the special policy adviser fill out the main cast.

Of course in the years since these characters first appeared there has been numerous other satires such as Drop the Dead Donkey and The Thick of It. Each new show has been sharper and given more edge to political satire (although the unwatchable 10 O'Clock Live show on C4 is a case of possible devolution). Given this, it is disappointing that sometimes the punches are pulled in this show and tend to go for safe targets such as an undemocratic European Union. The best laughs come from some well-placed jokes about the BBC and its self-importance and the civil service padding their incomes and gold plating their pensions. Unfortunately there some less amusing moments involving some stale ethnic references and a "joke" about sex trafficking that could have been left out.

Unlike in the television series, the Prime Minister's wife does not appear which is a shame as it does not give the chance to make Hacker look a bit more human, or to calm things down. While perhaps the edge of the original series is not there, it still provides for an entertaining night out, but perhaps more smirk out loud than laugh out loud as you would expect. The usual discussion with @johnnyfoxlondon ensues on the Audioboo below... Tickets are available at the usual outlets and look out for discounts and offers.

Update: One offer currently running is tickets for £29.50 for Monday-Friday performances as well as Saturday matinee until 31st August. To redeem, customers can either call the box office and quote "Online £29.50" or use the promotion code YESPM when booking online...