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...