Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Friday, December 02, 2016

Dreamgirls...

Last night Stuart, Darren, Mark and I went to see Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Great musical. Great production. Amber Riley packs a punch and is outstanding as the wronged Effie White. Just don't call it a show about The Supremes!

The original Broadway production of Dreamgirls in 1981 starred Jennifer Holliday as Effie White and Sheryl Lee Ralph as Deena. It ran for 5 barn-storming years.
The Oscar winning 2006 Dreamgirls film starring Jennifer Hudson as Effie and Beyoncé as Deena made a fortune at the box-office and came away dripping with awards.
For this its West End premiere the musical is being directed and choreographed by Olivier and Tony Award-winning Casey Nicholaw and stars Glee's Amber Riley as Effie White. Abd it's no exaggeration to claim it’s probably the West End's hottest ticket right now.
So expectations were pretty sky high as we took our seats.
But did it deliver? Could it live up to the hype? You betcha! Amber Riley was simply sensational. You couldn't take your eyes off her.

Dreamgirls is based upon the show business aspirations and successes of R&B acts such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and others. Act 1 starts in 1960s. Full-figured lead singer Effie White and best friends, Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson perform as The Dreamettes at the famous Apollo Theatre talent show. Effie's song writing brother C.C. writes their songs and they catch the eye of used car salesman Curtis Taylor who is determined to make these three black singers household names.
Curtis's first decision is to make Deena the lead singer and consign Effie to singing the oohs and aahs as a backing singer. Effie as the better singer is initially outraged but goes along with it for the time being. Later when they get billed for their first Las Vegas gig as "Deena Jones and the Dreams" Effie has had enough and stands up to them all. They sack her as she belts out the show-stopping "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going". Wow, what a song!
In the original version Effie was meant to die at the end of the first act but thank goodness the producers changed their minds.

Act 2 starts in 1972 and Deena Jones and the Dreams have become the most successful girl group in the country. Effie's attempt at a solo comeback starting with "I Am Changing" and C.C.'s emotional ballad "One Night Only" initially fares well. However, Curtis steals "One Night Only", makes it into a disco stomper for Deena Jones and the Dreams and attempts to destroy Effie's comeback.
Effie and her lawyer confront Curtis backstage, Deena and Effie reconcile and Denna decides to break up the Dreams to pursue an acting career. At the Dreams' farewell concert, Effie re-joins the group on stage one last time.

It's all great fun. And judging but all the women sitting around us shouting out "Go get him, gurl!" and "You walk out on him, missy!" everyone else loved it as much as we did.

It really was Amber Riley's show though. Her Effie was sublime.

A special mention also needs to go to Adam J. Bernard's Jimmy Early who was fantastic.

My only minor quibble might be that perhaps that Liisi LaFontaine's Deena isn't strong enough for her role as might have been hoped.

Go see.

And the similarities between The Supremes true life events and the plot of the musical? Purely coincidental, surely.

Both the Supremes and the Dreams started off with "ettes" in their group's name. The Supremes were originally the Primettes, the Dreams are shown as starting off as the Dreamettes.
In the beginning, Florence Ballard originally sang lead, just as Effie White does in the musical.
Both the Supremes and the Dreams did background vocals for established recording artists before becoming famous.
Diana Ross was chosen as the lead singer of the Supremes because of her distinctive, softer, commercial voice, just as Deena Jones is chosen as the lead singer of the Dreams.
The storyline of the love affair between Deena Jones and Curtis Taylor Jr. was modelled on Diana Ross and Berry Gordy Jr.'s love affair which eventually led to his emphasis on her career rather than that of the group.
The storyline of Lorrell Robinson and James "Thunder" Early's relationship resembles Mary Wilson's relationships with fellow Motown artists as well as Welsh singer Tom Jones.
Deena Jones is coached to be the spokesperson for the group during press conferences, just as Diana Ross was for the Supremes.
The press was instructed to refer to Diana Ross as "Miss Ross," just as the press is instructed to refer to Deena Jones as "Miss Jones."
As Diana Ross was pushed forward as the star of the Supremes, Florence Ballard became jealous and hostile when she was forced into the background. Effie White reacts in a similar manner when Deena Jones is pushed forward as the star of the Dreams.
Florence Ballard missed performances, recording sessions, allegedly "faked" illnesses, and gained weight, all of which resulted in her being fired from the group in Las Vegas in 1967. The character of Effie White goes through the same experience.
Cindy Birdsong went on to perform with the Supremes the same night Florence Ballard was fired, just as Michelle Morris goes on to perform with the Dreams the same night Effie White is fired.
The Supremes became "Diana Ross & the Supremes" in 1967 while in Las Vegas. The Dreams became "Deena Jones & the Dreams" in 1967 while in Las Vegas.
After Diana Ross left the Supremes in 1970 to pursue other projects such as film work, in 1972 she starred in her first motion picture, the Motown-produced Lady Sings the Blues. The character of Deena Jones leaves the Dreams in 1972 to pursue a career as an actress.

So no similarities then!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An Inspector Calls...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

(Full disclosure: I've shagged the director so the following views may be well biased, innit.)

Synopsis: High drama and socialist hectoring as the toffs confess all. Sorry did I say "socialist hectoring"? I meant "a scathing critique of the hypocrisies of Victorian/Edwardian English society."

J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls is a thinly-veiled attack on the Upper Classes. So thin in fact that at one point one of the characters breaks the fourth wall to step forward, wag his finger and lecture the audience on the injustices metered out by the privileged few and reiterating the wrongs that we have just witnessed. And it's a bit of a toe-curling moment.

But that aside it's a merry old romp. Hidden inside what appears to be a Wendy House at the back of the stage a posh family are having a celebratory engagement dinner. However, when a mysterious visitor comes a-knocking asking questions each nob in turn let's slip a secret about how they have done someone less well-heeled than themselves a grave misdeed. Giving them each enough rope to hang themselves (and their class) the Inspector gets the toffs to see the error of their ways. Or does he?

It's a fun show with lots of dramatic music, rain, smoke, and a fabulous lurching set. And of course a solid message.

The stylised tone straying perhaps a little too far into melodrama at times but well worth a night out. Shag or no shag.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Laurent Koscielny vs Rainbow Laces...

Our captain Laurent Koscielny wore a rainbow-coloured captain's band at the game yesterday in support of the 🌈 laces campaign. Nice man. #proud
 

Friday, November 25, 2016

King Lear...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the mighty Glenda Jackson take on the Herculean task of performing King Lear at the Old Vic in London's glitzy Waterloo.

Synopsis: Great play. Lousy production. It's never a good sign when people walk out of a show or don't come back after the interval. Here they did - in numbers.

First the good; Glenda the Good...

So Glenda Jackson is back. The ex-Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn has made the short walk across Hungerford Bridge from the back benches of the Houses of Parliament to the front of the stage on the Old Vic Theatre. And it's a triumphant return.

Aged 80 and with a deep, sandpaper voice hone both from an illustrious stage career and in the House the wizen Jackson was ideally suited to play this shouty, misguided, vain, and foolish king. She totally steals the show; again and again proving she has lost none of her unearthly powers to captivate an audience. Her Lear is throaty, aggressive and bad-tempered but cleverly avoids playing on our sympathies even when dementia, madness and tragedy strike.

In Act I Scene I when Lear challenges his three daughters to say who loves him the most we know it’s all going to end in tears. But when he banishes one and divides the kingdom between the other two we see a greater tragedy ahead.

Cleverly Jackson injects her Lear with such confidence, power and ferocity that she makes this particular tragedy seem more like destiny than pure happenstance. It's a truly magnificent performance.

However, that is probably all I have to say that is good about this particular show.


To the production itself...

This modern dress take was frankly utterly amateurish. It came across as "sorry about the blue plastic chairs but this is the last run-through rehearsal in our East End warehouse before we move to a proper theatre with proper set and a proper costumes".

Talking of which there was no continuity with the costumes and the standard device of giving visual clues via colour as to who was aligned to whom was completely missed.

And the set... what set? It was dull and featureless.

The entrance at the back meant it took ages for an actor to walk to the front to start to say their lines. Sometimes the other actors would just watch them walk downstage. And in the final scene when Lear is tugged on stage riding on a blanket her wail lasts for over a minute as she gets dragged all the way to the front. Bizarre.

And don't get me started on the interminable setting up and striking of trestle tables behind the actors. It was noisy and distracting.

The storm scene with its billowing black-plastic sheeting? Laughable.

Oh and get that fridge door fixed.

And its long. Three and half hours long. And the time went very, very slowly.


And now to the players...

Fantastic though it was to see a glittering array of well-known actors there was precious little to commend in any of their performances. They were poorly directed, didn't listen to each other as characters but simply battled for the audience's attention shouting their lines at each other and us.

Celia Imrie as Goneril continually mugged off like Miss Babs from Acorn Antiques. She even got some yellow rubber gloves out to wipe the floor.
Jane Horrocks as Regan was unpowered and lifeless.
Rhys Ifans played The Fool far too broadly and not as wittily as his lines deserved. Putting eggshells in your eyes and doing "Grasshopper" impersonations stopped being funny in 1976.
Did we need to see Simon Manyonda as Edmond showing his arse and having a wank? Twice.
Did we need to see Harry Melling (Harry Potter's Dudley) as Edgar stripping off completely and over-acting for England? I noted he also completely threw away the beautiful clifftop speech - a tragedy in of itself.
At least when Karl Johnson's Gloucester had his eyes plucked out and chucked into the stalls he was spared seeing any further embarrassment on stage.


The play itself...

Written in 1606 - or to be more accurate rewritten in 1606 - King Lear was based on an existing manuscript. Shakespeare had made many changes though; turning the happy ending into an utter tragedy, making the traitors' undoing an intercepted letter (a plot device straight out of the previous year's Gunpowder Plot) and changing "I smell the blood of a English man" to "I smell the blood of a British man" to assuage his patron the new King James who was hell-bent of uniting the countries of England and Scotland into a single United Kingdom of Britain.

Shakespeare's theme throughout Lear is 'nothing'. The characters earn nothing, deserve nothing and end up with nothing. And as Lear says to his Fool, "Nothing comes of nothing."

So rather like this production - a was all  bit of a nothing (but for Glenda!)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Brian Blessed...

My mate Rob was stood outside a London hostelry one evening when who should walk by on the other side of the street but the legend that is Brian Blessed.

Rob, being a bit of a lad sometimes, shouts "Gordon's Alive!" at the top of his voice, just as Brian disappears around the corner - to the amusement of his drinking buddies. As the laughter died down, Brian re-appeared back around the corner and at the top of HIS voice, shouted:

"CCCCCCUUUUUUNNNNNNTTTTTTT!!!!"

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lazarus...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see new musical Lazarus at the King's Cross Theatre in London's glitzy King's Cross.

Synopsis: Sub-standard Bowie karaoke with hammy acting in-between. A sad epitaph to a great singer. Dreadful. Simply dreadful.

A wealthy recluse - Thomas Jerome Newton - the stranded alien protagonist of the 1976 film "The Man Who Fell to Earth" is dying but somehow not dead, and sits atop his New York tower, hallucinating about his past and the music of David Bowie.

Sometimes you get to see talented people perform great material. Which is great.
Sometimes you get to see talented people perform weak material. Which is a shame.
But occasionally you get to see talented people perform great material weakly. Which is more than just a shame. Because it's an opportunity utterly wasted. And so it was with Lazarus.

For the original Bowie songs - Changes, Absolute Beginners, Sound and Vision, Heroes etc. - are great. And the actors including the wonderful Michael C Hall, the co-writer Enda Walsh and the director Ivo van Hove - are all very talented too. So where does it all go wrong here?

Well, let's start with the show-tunes versions of the classics. This is a big misstep. Not that we have a jazz hands version of The Man Who Sold the World exactly - but almost! And giving it loads of shoulder as you croon a slowed down Changes doesn't make it any more meaningful even if you did have mousy hair - which you don't. And we collectively cringed at a spoken-word over-enunciated Life On Mars? that would even make Eliza Doolittle blush. And don't get me started on the staccato Heroes - it was done way better in Moulin Rouge!

The back projection was excellent and band played very well. And if we had come to see a Bowie tribute gig I perhaps could have been more forgiving. But we hadn't. We'd come to see a a drama with music, paid through the nose and frankly felt ripped off.

I know Bowie was involved with the original production but this was just bewildering and frustrating. And at times just plain silly. Slide around the stage in a pool of milk anyone?

Hard to recommend. There were lots of yawns near us.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Nice Fish...

Synopsis: Two men out on the ice fishing muse about life. Yes, it's that boring.

Last night Stuart and I went to see Nice Fish at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Mark Rylance stars in and wrote it. And if ever there was an example of a piece of work where you should not let the star write his own material this was it.

Like some over-long end of year drama school improv night it was self-indulgent, boring, stupid with few laughs.

Mark Rylance is undoubtedly a great actor. And he acts well in this. It's just that it's rubbish.

His co-actor Jim Lichtscheidl struggles with the material almost as hard as the front two rows who couldn't even see what was going on on the elevated stage. They din't miss much.

Avoid.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Restart Page...

Geek Porn Alert:- If you're addicted to watching old PCs reboot then have I got a website for you.
Fill your boots, reboot obsessives. (Turn it up loud!)

http://www.therestartpage.com



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Washing Machine...

We just bought a new Miele washing machine.

Now I'm not saying it's over-complicated but the instruction book is big enough to stun an ox and when I tried to program our first wash last night it barked at me in German, sounded a klaxon and flashed up a recipe for flaky pastry.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Julius Caesar...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see the first in the trilogy (but the final for us) of the all-female Shakespearean Donmar productions - Julius Caesar - at the pop-up theatre in increasingly glitzy Kings Cross.

And for us we had saved the best till last.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd and starring the usual cast of excellent actors the story of conspiracy, assassination, retribution, betrayal and revenge was brilliantly realised.

The modern dress production was - as were the other plays in the trilogy (Henry IV and The Tempest) - set in a single-sex female prison. Nice idea. But it is one thing to have an ingenious concept, quite another to carry it out. Thankfully Lloyd's production is a triumph and proves that female actors can bring a fresh perspective to traditionally male roles. It was witty, liberating and inventive.

Occasionally 'real-life' would interrupt the action with the warders hastily intervening with lock-downs, cell searches and identity lines - and this just made the plot more immediate, more real. The anguish in the play was mirrored by that in the cells.

The use of heavy-metal music to evoke military conflict is excellent too. The drum kit being pushed into battle at full roar is magnificent.

If you like your Shakespeare modern, raw, and loud - go see.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Travesties...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Tom Stoppard's masterful modern classic Travesties at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London's unglitzy London Bridge Quarter.

Synopsis: Tom Hollander is hilarious in this mind-bogglingly entertaining Stoppard revival. Great play: very funny, very clever, great cast, West End transfer. Good see.

In Woody Allen's film Stardust Memories the Martians come down to Earth and say to Woody, "we enjoy your works, particularly the early, funny ones”. Well dear reader, the play Travesties is one of Stoppard's early, funny ones.

Travesties is a genuine celebration of the highly improbable but 100% true moment in European history, when James Joyce (Peter McDonald) was writing Ulysses, Lenin (Forbes Masson) was plotting a Soviet revolution and Tristan Tzara (Freddie Fox) was forming the pre-Surrealist Dada movement all in Zurich in 1917. It’s also a massive, joyous piss-take of it all, with a storyline that involves fashion-obsessed British consular official Henry Carr (Tom Hollander) being flattered by the dour Joyce to star in his production of The Importance of Being Earnest, while also posing as Dadaist poet Tzara’s brother in order to win the affections of Cecily (Clare Foster), a librarian with Marxist sympathies.

From these raw materials Stoppard creates an intricate fretwork of political and philosophical exchanges, jokes so densely packed that when you laugh at one you miss the next three, stylistic fireworks and general high jinks involving an Englishman, an Irishman, a Russian and a Romanian.

It’s all intentionally ludicrously complicated, and flies through a wild host of styles – some sections are in stilted rhyming verse; there is singing; there is dancing; there is an entire scene in the limerick form; there is much in Russian; there are allusions, word-play and parodies; there are bits surprising reminiscent of Monty Python's Flying Circus and Vic & Bob.

Not only this but Stoppard throws in a running debate about the value and purpose of art before morphing his characters into the cast of The Importance of Being Earnest in earnest. James Joyce as Lady Bracknell is a scream.

“to be an artist at all is like living in Switzerland during a world war. To be an artist in Zurich in 1917, implies a degree of self-absorption that would have glazed over the eyes of Narcissus”

In lesser hands, such overload could be insufferable. With this gang, displaying the finesse of accomplished farceurs on Tim Hatley’s paper-strewn period set, the artifice is fleet, funny and hooks you in even as you pant to keep up.

It’s impossible to do full justice to the cast but Tom Hollander is outstanding as dotty Henry Carr, Freddie Fox shines as the insolent Tzara, Peter McDonald is spot-on as an ineptly dressed Joyce (even magicking a rabbit from his hat), and the sung-through showdown between Clare Foster’s Cecily and Amy Morgan’s Gwendolen, a barbed conversational exchange familiar to Wilde lovers but here reprised as if in some demented dream, is alone worth a wait in the returns queue.

If you only know Stoppard from stuff like Arcadia or Shakespeare in Love, you might be taken aback by the wildness, no the Wildeness, of Travesties.

Thank goodness a West End transfer is on the cards – anything less would have been a travesty.

Go see.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

President Trump...

I feel sick. The rise of the 'populists' continues unabated across the Western world. We have been let down badly by our current crop of politicians who have shown no vision, no leadership. That void has been filled by the town fool.

General population: "The current Establishment has let me down. All of it. The unaccountable government, corrupt politicians, paedo church, and fat-cat banking have all let me down. So they all deserve a good kicking. And don't get me started on immigrants! I feel I have great power now with my Twitter and my Facebook but how can I wield it? I know, X-Factor has shown me the way!"

The Establishment: "It's time to vote."

General population: "Right, let's vote for Donald Trump, Brexit, Ed Balls and Boaty McBoatface. That'll show 'em!"

The Establishment: "You're idiots."

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Washing Machine...

My old washing machine has broken down. Boo!
I've ordered a new one though! Hurray!
It's not coming until next Tuesday though! Boo!
It's being delivered and installed by John Lewis and they'll take my old one away too! Hurray!
It's costing me an arm and leg though! Boo!
http://www.johnlewis.com/miele-wkr-571-wps-washing-machine-9kg-load-a-energy-rating-1600rpm-spin-white/p2541443

Monday, November 07, 2016

Amadeus...

On Friday night Stuart and I went to see Amadeus at the Olivier Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Synopsis: Great revival of a great play. It's annoying Mozart vs mediocre Salieri - with the questionable message that envy is sorely an affliction of the second-rate.

Thirty-seven years after its highly acclaimed and celebrated premiere, Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus has returned to the Olivier stage in a bold, boisterous, and masterful production. Michael Longhurst, who directed Nick Payne’s Constellations, colours Shaffer’s epic tale with both pomp and irreverence: the world of Mozart moves effortlessly from the vulgar to the sublime. With the Southbank Sinfonia beautifully accompanying throughout, Amadeus is high drama and symphonic storytelling done at its best. The icing on the cake is the excerpts of Mozart’s masterpieces presented in gorgeous splendour including snippets of The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, and Don Giovanni.

Lucian Msamati from this year’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom leads as Antonio Salieri - the “patron saint of mediocrities”. Msamati is a stoic, calculated power, who only cracks when listening to Mozart’s music, turning tender and vulnerable. Adam Gillen as Mozart on the other hand is perfectly haughty, infantile, and erratic. He stamps about with a rebellious attitude, but also displays a dependence on others that not only evokes pity but compassion. Both are opposite yet equally astonishing performances that complement and, just as with their characters themselves, almost rely on each other.

History, legend, scandal, and music make up the components of Shaffer’s prodigious script. As upstart young talent Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart galvanises Vienna with his remarkable music, established composer Antonio Salieri is consumed by jealousy. It is a searing meditation on genius, rivalry, and what it means to be immortal.

The play starts as, disregarding the fourth wall, Salieri tells us about his career, a success story tainted only by the fact that he is acutely aware of his own meagre talents, and acutely aware of young Mozart’s genius. He wants to kill him.

Adam Gillen’s white-hot Mozart is almost too much at first, seemingly channelling The Young Ones as he farts and froths and shrieks across the stage. On one level it is virtuosic – here is the simpering, giggling, infantile enfant terrible who is so busy casually showing off, he fails to notice how many of the stuffy courtiers standing around him are being permanently alienated. Gillen, with a shock of bright blonde hair, and a baby-voice that would make the most tolerant type want to throttle him, pushes Mozart’s insouciance so far that he’s often loping about the place with a Quasimodo-like gait

Good though Gillen is there is surely a limit to how much an audience can take however. As he renders every last syllable and spits it through a mangle so piercingly boorish that by the end you would be forgiven for thinking Salieri more a fumigator than an avenger. I realise we are seeing Mozart through Salieri’s memory, not the real Mozart, but that doesn’t make it any less agonising to share a theatre with.

A master stroke of the production is to make the Southbank Sinfonia actually part of the action. They don't only play Mozart, they act with Mozart too. Although at times this creates certain undeniable problems: a chorus engaged in a 21st century rave to a remixed Symphony No.25 runs perilously close to adding little while trying too hard. But at other times it reaps scintillating rewards: at the play’s turning point the entire set seems to advance towards the audience on a prostrate Salieri as the Mass in C minor rises in crescendo, one of the finest unities of sound, visuals and plotting I have ever seen done at the National.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening with glorious performances with my only slight niggle being Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself. Jess, what a smug twat!

Friday, November 04, 2016

Oil...


 .
Last Thursday Stuart and I went to see mini-epic Oil at the Almeida theatre in London's glitzy Islington. Starring Anne-Marie Duff as the central and recurring character May, the story unfolds as a history of oil and energy as told in five different sub-sections. Each sub-section is effectively a whole play in itself set at different periods in history and often in different countries. The five sub-sections run sequentially. And we have to make sense if them. 

We start off in the 1860s on a meagre candlelit farmhouse as a stranger arrives with a wondrous new kerosene lamp. We then get transported to Iran in the 1930s (oil discovery), the UK in the 1970s (oil crisis), Iraq in the near future (oil war), and UK in the distant future (energy crisis). 

Rather like in Cloud Atlas the same characters and actors constantly reappear and common threads weave into each tale. A mother, a daughter, ambition, love and abandonment... And oil of course. Although oil is very much the medium rather than the message. These dramas are all very human. It just so happens that these particular humans work in, or are affected by, the industry we call oil.

It was a brave attempt at a play - our series of plays - with many interesting ideas. But it was equally frustrating and some of the sub-sections were decidedly weaker than others and perhaps could have done with some rewrites. 

Ms Duff was excellent thoughout though.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Winter 'Flu Jab...

If you want to avoid getting ‘flu this winter (and giving it to anyone else!) Boots Pharmacy do the NHS 'flu jab for £12.99.

I’m getting mine tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Homophobic Friends...

Every single gay joke from 10 series of TV show Friends edited together. It's great stuff but... even though the jokes are sometimes funny there is a point about homophobic attitudes in mainstream media.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Alan Sugar Emulator...

1 REM *****************************
2 REM **** ALAN SUGAR EMULATOR ****
3 REM *****************************
10 input "Are you a twat? (y/n)",$a
20 if a$="y" print "You're hired!": end
30 if a$="n" print "You're fired!"

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures (also known as iHO)...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures at the Hamsptead Theatre in London's unglitzy Swiss Cottage.

"Have you seen the play?” “No, but I’ve read the title.” Ha, ha.

Synopsis: David Calder plays a communist longshoreman with a death wish and Tamsin Greig is his witty, passionate daughter in Michael Boyd’s terrific production.

Tony Kushner’s prodigious three-and-a-half-hour play The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures (also known as iHO) reveals a lot in its full title: this is a work about sex, politics and religion. While it bulges at the seams, it is bracing, in an age of mini-dramas, to find a play that throws in everything from Marx to modern materialism.

In contrast to the spiralling fantasy of Angels in America, Kushner has written a piece that relies on the tradition of American family drama. The setting is New York in 2007 and Gus, a retired Brooklyn longshoreman and devout communist, has called his clan together to announce his plan to sell his house and then kill himself. This causes varying degrees of shock to his three offspring. Empty (short for Maria Teresa) is a labour lawyer with a pregnant lesbian partner. Pill (otherwise Pier Luigi) is a gay teacher torn between his long-term academic lover and a young Yale-educated rent-boy. V (short for Vito) is a hetero building-contractor and much the angriest. Watching over proceedings with eerie calm is Gus’s sister, Clio, a one-time nun and Maoist.

And if you think that all sounds a bit like Amazon's Prime's Transparent you'd be right. It's that good.

It is easy to itemise the flaws in Kushner’s concept. At one point, he resorts to a plot device straight out of The Cherry Orchard. The religious element, in that the partners of both Empty and Pill study faith without practising it, often seems tacked on. And you wonder how many lovers discuss commodity fetishism in the heat of passion. But the play, which makes constant use of overlapping dialogue to convey family tensions, has a furious energy and deals with the disillusion in an Italian-American community, and by implication a whole society, whose dreams have not been realised.

Kushner is at his best when he deals directly with politics in a series of father-child exchanges. The most powerful comes when Gus is confronted by Empty over his planned suicide. He may have Alzheimer’s but it is clear that his death wish is driven by despair over revolutionary failure: as a union man, he fought for a guaranteed annual income for longshoremen only to find it never achieved the radical change he longed for. Meanwhile Empty is an ardent revisionist who cites the numerous incremental benefits brought about by political action. It is a classic battle between the revolutionary and the reformer and has echoes of the father-daughter conflicts in Shaw’s Major Barbara.

Kushner’s play, which is both vivid and untidy, is given a terrific production by Michael Boyd. David Calder’s Gus has the right mix of gravitas and rumbling embitterment. Tamsin Greig as Empty is sharp, witty and passionate in her gradualism and there are equally strong performances from Richard Clothier as the chronically indecisive Pill and Lex Shrapnel as the recklessly impulsive V. But the performance that draws the eye in this tumultuous family battle is that of Sara Kestelman as the ironically watchful Clio. There are many better-organised plays around, but Kushner’s has the rare capacity to make ideas fizz.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Shopping and Fucking...

Last night Stuart and I went to the Lyric Theatre in London's glitzy Hammersmith to see Sean Holmes's production of Mark Ravenhill's debut play Shopping and Fucking - or Shopping and Fucking Dreadful as we called it by the end.

OK, that's a bit unfair. The play - when I saw it back in 1996 - was a scathing, semi-abstract satire on the transformation of human relationships from the emotional to the transactional. Ravenhill was making the point that in this world of consumerism our emotions have been replaced by transaction: you pay for sex, you pay for companionship, you pay for drugs, and you pay to feel. And nowhere was this happening more than in the gay world of the 1990s. So that's what he wrote about. The world he knew at that time; sex, drugs and clubbing and how it was all about the money.

Only this production sadly drowns any of this socio-economic commentary in a sea of brightly coloured, flashy, empty noise. The three main characters no longer live in a bed-sit and spend their night going out clubbing but inhabit a TV studio piled high with cheap products which they try and sell. And in a masterful misstep by Holmes the cast are forced to break character (and the fourth wall) to try and sell this tat directly to the audience. This audience interaction is weak, unnecessary and brings any suspension of disbelief crashing to the plastic floor. Yeah, we know about consumerism. We paid to get in!

There is real drama to be had in the play as the rent boy who is being abused tries to find love. But this message gets somewhat lost when the actor playing him turns to the woman in Row A dressed in only his pants and tries to sell her a Chicken Curry Pot Noodle.

Sadly the production values are simply rubbish too - the set looks like a tip and the lighting is crude and (ironically) unilluminating. There were audible groans towards the end as each fresh stage gimmick was trotted out. 'Slow dance with an audience member' had people avoiding eye contact with the cast unless they got chosen. A few people left. If we weren’t mid-row we might have followed them.

I can't put it better than one critic pointing out it's like "an acid-drenched collision of ‘The Word’ and the QVC shopping channel."

In the end the thing that sealed the terrible evening for me was the constant karaoke interludes. Randomly the cast were called upon to sing a pop classic at the audience - Labi Siffre's Something Inside So Strong, East 17's Stay Another Day - you get the idea. But to suggestion that music is as hollow as shopping and fucking is certainly not a point Ravenhill ever tried to make in this piece. Why torture us with it? So at that point - I was out.

This play deserves better. Much better.

Friday, October 21, 2016

RĂ©union: Au Revoir...

Goodbye fair RĂ©union, it's been fab. With your tropical beaches, your high mountains, your crashing waves, your blue sea, your lush green forests, and your amazing people. Till the next time.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

RĂ©union: The Volcano...

RĂ©union Island's most iconic landmark is Piton de la Fournaise, a climbable active volcano standing 2,632m (8,635 ft.). 

Have you ever climbed a volcano? No, us neither. Well, we have now and I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly recommended it.

Imagine walking over marbles for 5 and a half hours. Ok, not just marbles. Marbles and needles. Marbles, needles, thorns and ice. Only these are all make of rock. And at a 30 degree angle. With gaps in between. Big gaps. And lava. Did I mention the lava? And to get to the rocky marbles and needles and thorns and ice and lava you need to first drive for two hours up a windy road so high you are above the clouds, then walk down (and afterwards up again) a rocky staircase over 500m high. And all this in the heat of the beating sun. And when you have walked, stumbled and clawed your way up what my FitBit tells me is 20km of distance and up 622 stories high you see the most amazing sight ever. The crator of the most active volcano in recent history. Well, that.

But what a view! What a sense of achievement! But what sore feet!

I hear people only do it once. I can see why.
 
 
 

RĂ©union: It's France!...

RĂ©union Island is a French department in the Indian Ocean. Which makes it France. Proper France. It really does. And don't you ever let me hear you say differently. Or I'll have to send the garçons round.

RĂ©union is lovely. It's part of the EU of course (you do remember it is France, right?) and as such is way more developed than either its sister island Mauritius or impoverished Madagascar. 

Stuart and I came here to see Stu's old college chum Nikki who along with her lovely family have been hosting us. Nikki is so sweet and has been checking our itinerary to make sure we see all the sights in her adopted island. And what sights there are!

We've been up a dead volcano, up a live volcano (more on that later), on a beach, narrowly avoiding some sharks, and touring round the island generally making a nuisance of ourselves. 

It's a great holiday destination with much to do! So I'd better get back to sipping cocktails by the pool. French cocktails of course. Because. It's. France.