Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Last lingering look at panto 2012: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Wimbledon

New Wimbledon Theatre still offers one of the best pantomime productions with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with Priscilla Presley as the wicked queen, and a star turn by Jarred Christmas as her henchman. There is no pantomime dame in this show, but there are seven dwarfs headed up by Warwick Davis.

It is a good balance of cheap laughs, songs, elaborate costumes and camp dance routines. It is a shame that Priscilla has to wear horns throughout the show as they cover her face and don't make it easy for her too look evil... But then again the show is a sensible two hours and ten minutes so it is a bit hard to get too bothered by this sort of thing as things move along so briskly there is no time for even turning to the programme and getting out the crayons to do a spot of colouring in...

 One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" continues to be a popular music selection choice in panto... Here's hoping next year's shows license a few more boy bands to save us from developing 1D earworm... After the show musings with @johnnfoxlondon ensued, where we mused about other potential stars for the 2013 panto season or beyond... The show finishes (and panto season does too) this weekend...

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Grey Gardens meets Downton Europorn: People

Alan Bennett's play People is packing in audiences at the National Theatre. While enjoyable for the performances, design and occasional flash of bare buttocks and thigh, you may find yourself wondering what is the point of it. It isn't funny enough to be a comedy and not insightful enough to satire. But I'm hoping that it is just not a particularly good play rather than a desperate grab at elitism. As surely what National Theatre audiences don't want to do is to look down and feel smug about people that visit places of interest across the country?

If anything it is a very mild satire about a run down house that the National Trust is hoping to acquire from aristocrat Dorothy Stacpoole, played by Frances de la Tour. Dorothy was a former fashion model but now is walking around in a moth eaten coat and gym shoes. She sleeps on the floor in front of an electric heater and apart from her companion Iris, does not see many people. Her younger sister who is a respectable yet overbearing local archdeacon, has hatched the plan to hand over the place to the Trust to deal with the problem of the house, the estate and the lingering liberal guilt from her family's ties to the local coal mine that saw many workers killed. Since various past strategies to restore the property have failed, rather than hand it over to the trust Dorothy flirts with any idea for income, such as using it as a film set (albeit for porn). The decay of the house and Dorothy's fortunes, combined with the preoccupation with class, stately buildings and status makes you feel like this is Grey Gardens meets  Downton Abbey meets Eastern Eurotrash porn.

The cast are great and make the most of the scenario. Things are never boring but they also tend to play to type. Frances de la Tour as Dorothy is funny and engaging although not entirely believable as an aristocrat in a moth eaten coat. Linda Bassett as her companion Iris continues in her tradition of playing downtrodden women well. Selina Cadell as the bossy sister June has a delivery that is lovely and grating.

But to really appreciate this play you probably have to think that the National Trust is some ogre of an organisation. And that their attempts to lure in visitors with walnut cake and coffee disguise the shortcomings and architectural merit of these historic houses. In the programme notes, Bennett seems to bemoan that Jeffrey Archer is the voice Disraeli at Hughenden and that the National Trust provide a porno tour of London's streets of Soho via an app, but it is hard to see how all this adds up to any great atrocities against taste. The play might have been more interesting if it questioned whether these homes are worth preserving in the first place, and in what state. At times it seems to wander down this route but ends up favouring a sloppy subplot of a porn shoot that conveniently pads out the play with bare buttocks and upper thighs to an acceptable running time for an interval.

It was possibly the confusing and rambling plot as much as the odd shape of the theatre seats that led to a lady behind me exclaiming at particularly quiet and serious moment in the first half "My hip hurts!" It  was the first real laugh during the show. When the great restoration finally takes place it is hard to know whether to be disenchanted by it or cheering. Most of the audience seemed to cheer suggesting the audience was firmly on the side of the good work of the National Trust.

All told it makes for a perplexing evening, but just as fans of stately homes will continue to flock to  National Trust houses, admirers of Bennett's work will still want to smugly see. The sneering runs through to early April and it will be in the cinemas as part of the NT Live season in 2013.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sketches and wit: Overruled

 The Wilmington Theatre Company's debut production of three short comic plays by George Bernard Shaw makes for a frightfully witty and enjoyable evening at the Old Red Lion Theatre. The acting and production values are quite high as infidelity, polygamy and morality are all explored. Often with hilarious results.

In the first piece, How He Lied To Her Husband, a wife loses poems written for her by her young admirer. They fall into her husband's hands and his response is not quite what the wife or lover expect. It is a three hander that plays well in the confines of the theatre space and with a focussed cast everyone was hooked. Well almost everyone as there was a couple in one corner that may have got carried away with Shaw's attempts to hold a mirror up to nature and were passionately making out.

The second piece, Overruled, covers two adulterous couples who are caught in the act on vacation. The source of the comedy here is the honesty of each of the couple's explaining what they are doing and why. Shaw felt that this was a clinical examination of polygamy and an understanding of why couples do what nobody wants to admit in polite society. But the frankness and sharp dialogue is what gives the show much of its humour, and the actors deftly handle the banter.

The final piece, Village wooing, is a sweet comic tale of a shop assistant who wins holiday cruise and meets a travel writer. The writer however is so interested in his own writing that he doesn't see what is happening around him at the moment. Musing afterwards with @johnnyfoxlondon (below), Shaw's observations seem as relevant today as they were in 1933. People still travel and live life through a camera lens and social media updates rather than the real world. Lucy Hough as the shop assistant with a plan and Jim Creighton as the bad tempered travel writer create a believable world that creates class divisions and distinctions between metropolitan and village life as a means to distract themselves from more basic instincts.

Together the three pieces make for an enjoyable evening of what feels at times to be the forerunner for today's sketch comedies. Polina Kalinina's direction keeps things moving along quickly and Emma Bailey's design captures the Edwardian splendour quite nicely.It is an impressive debut for the Wilmington Theatre Company, which was set up last year by Lucy Hough and Leo Wyndham.

Overruled continues at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 19 January. Tickets available from their website and the running time is just over two hours including interval. The theatre gets quite warm so dress for that and get a large cold glass of something from the pub downstairs to stay cool. And try not not to let the immorality get to you... Any attempts to make out with your companion can be seen by the audience. But it might be a show to take your best friend's wife to anyway...

listen to George Boonard Shaw: Overruled at the Old Red Lion; on Audioboo