Quote Of The Day

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

Kiss of The Spider Woman - an engrossing piece, brilliantly realised - dramatic, powerful, heart-felt and very funny. Go see. Samuel Barnett is wonderful. Declan Bennett is remarkable. #KissOfTheSpiderwoman @MenChocFactory @mrSamuelBarnett @thisainttherapy

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to a new play adaptation of Manuel Puig's seminal novel Kiss of the Spider Woman at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London's glitzy London Bridge Quarter.

Writers José Rivera and Allan Baker along with director Laurie Sansom have done a great job of bringing this electrifying work to life.

Under an authoritarian regime, Molina (played by the wonderful Samuel Barnett) and Valentin (played by the remarkable Declan Bennett) are imprisoned in a small Argentinian jail cell in the mid-1970s. Despite their great differences, they start to depend on one another and a friendship develops.

Valentin is straight and Molina is gay and to pass the time the latter tells stories of dramatic Hollywood films to help them both 'escape' their confined space. The films are projected in silhouette on the walls of the auditorium as the twists and turns of the action mirror what is going on inside the cell.

Powerful, lyrical and compelling, Kiss of the Spider Woman examines friendship on many levels as both characters struggle with the uncertainties of truth and falsehood, friendship and betrayal, against a background of cruelty, torture and disappearances.

Samuel Barnett's Molina is on the surface funny and camp, but hides a sadness and a dark secret. Ultimately his plight becomes both moving and redemptive.

Declan Bennett's Valentin is brutish, political and passionate. He learns to suffer - both physical torture and the battle his own emotions.

It's an engrossing piece brilliantly realised - dramatic, powerful, heart-felt and at times very funny. Go see.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fabulous LGBT History Tour of the Houses of Parliament. Full of fascinating info and insight and very funny to boot @UKParliament @visitparliament #LGBT @PrideInLondon ...

Last Saturday afternoon Stuart and I took an LGBT History Tour of the Houses of Parliament in London's glitzy Palace of Westminster.

It was an engrossing look into the history of the Kings and Queens of England - the homophobic legislation they introduced (sometimes to repeal only to reintroduce it again) - and the various Governments that sought to change such legislation - often to strengthen it and thankfully more recently to repeal it.

The tour was told as a story that explored the struggle for civil rights from universal condemnation and victimisation to the freedoms and rights enjoyed today.

The journey began in Westminster Hall with tales of medieval kings before passing through St Stephen’s Hall and into Central Lobby. The tour then moved into the Lords and Commons Chambers, and narratives from sovereigns and members of both Houses were brought to life through the art and architecture of the Palace of Westminster.

Our guide was great, full of fascinating info and insight and very funny to boot.

We were lucking enough to bump into Michael Cashman (the real Gay Lord!) who happened to be passing through and he stopped and shared with us some of his own experiences of working in the House of Lords. I asked him about Barry. He said, "we still stay in touch". Bless.

After the tour Stu and I enjoyed a posh champagne tea over-looking the river. Lovely.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Midsummer Night's Dream @E_N_O #ENODream

Last night Paul, Stuart and I went to see a striking revival of a rather naughty production of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream performed by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum in London's glitzy West End.

Based on Shakespeare’s popular comedy, Britten’s opera follows the consequences of a falling-out between the green-haired fairy-king Oberon and his blue-haired fairy-queen, Tytania. It leads to mistaken identities, confused lovers and a donkey having sex with a fairy.

Actually there is a quite a lot of sex in the show. As there should be. Shakespeare's play is essentially a sex-comedy.

Robert Carsen’s production explores the blurred relationships between reality and dreams, the natural and supernatural, and - yes - said sexual desire.

From the sliding string chords of the magic wood to the rustics’ well-intentioned entertainment at the end, Britten’s ear for beguiling orchestration and melodic invention enchant and entice.

Leading the cast as Oberon and Tytania are counter-tenor Christopher Ainslie and soprano Soraya Mafi. The roles of the lovers are taken by a quartet of rising stars – Eleanor Dennis as Helena, Clare Presland as Hermia, David Webb as Lysander, and Matthew Durkan as Demetrius. Young British conductor Alexander Soddy makes his ENO debut.

We loved the show - it was beautiful to watch, with its lush green and white set - very funny, Bottom and Puck both playing it for laughs - and the time just flew by, although the joke about "filling the 3 hours between supper and bedtime" wasn't lost on the crowd.

Maybe it's not up there with the sublime Peter Grimes but it is a great introduction to Britten and to the world of opera in general if you fancied taking the plunge.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Goodbye Professor @Steven_Hawking It was great to be a small part of your Universe. "It's Turtles All The Way Down"

Just over 36 years ago, I was lucky enough to have been taught theoretical physics (for a short while at least) by Professor Stephen Hawking. He had recently been elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics when I went up to Cambridge and had started with tutoring both under-graduates as well as post-graduates. My own interests were cosmology, quantum gravity and general relativity and he was the go-to guy in these fields. He soon gave up with us under-grads though as his health was deteriorating and he wanted to write a book. Therefore, I was one of the lucky ones in that brief history of time between him having enough energy to teach and him needing full-time nursing care in 1982. Six years later he had finished his book and as we all know A Brief History of Time was to go on to sell big - 12 million copies.

His lectures weren't the rock concert events they were to become years later but they were well attended all the same. He obviously prepared what he was going to say and in his tutorials it was slow to get responses to questions. He was incisive, sharp-witted and blunt though.

A year ago, it was with some excitement I ventured out to see him again. Or so I thought. It was his 75th birthday and he was due to give a lecture. His book had become an app called Stephen Hawking's Pocket Universe so he was keen to flog that too.

Sadly, he was not there that night in person as he was ill so this place was taken by Martin Rees my old Master at Trinity College. Such a shame to have missed him but Stephen had pre-recorded his talk for us and some answers to pre-submitted questions.

His mind was still on top form. Short answer: robots *will* take over the world, information is never lost, everyone on earth will die eventually, there is no God and the Universe will expand into virtual nothingness.

And, what's this about turtles?

Well, Stephen used to tell a story about the mighty Bertrand Russell.

Bertrand Russell once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"
"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady.
"But it's turtles all the way down!"

Stephen found this anecdote very, very funny. He had a keen sense of humour. Something that must have stood him in good stead for the challenges life threw his way.

Goodbye Professor. It was great to be a small part of your Universe.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wuthering (hits the) Heights...

40 years ago today. La Bush was number one. But what great memories further down the Hit Parade too!

 I can sing almost all of these (in my head obviously!) Interesting how many are still played today.

Good to see No. 26 hanging in there too.

 It was an interesting time: rock, disco, novelty, punk, middle of the road, and (let’s not forget) songs released for football matches!

 Back Home in 1970. Now there’s a memory. Blue Is The Colour, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, Three Lions, oh and Arsenal’s cringeworthy Hot Stuff! And Let’s not talk about the Anfield Rap!

Monday, March 12, 2018

New Fans, New Friends - @GayGooners...

One of the many great things about being a member of a football fan group - any football fan group - is the opportunity to meet new people.

So it is with Gay Gooners - I regularly get to meet new people - all Arsenal fans - some bi, some lesbian, some trans, some straight, and, yes, some gay.

We meet at meet-ups, we meet online, we meet at matches, or just randomly meet through other fans.

So it was this last week just gone I got to do just that. Meet some new fans. Some new friends. In this case in Milan. We got to hang out, chat, laugh and argue about the club be love. Because we do love it. Which is why our passions sometimes run as high as our expectations!

Anyway - I thought I’d just put this out there that through our joint love of this our club I have met some new friends. It is was great fun.

And what do friends do? Why they muck about on tour buses, they go for dinner together, they try to escape Escape rooms, they drink the odd beer (or three!) together, and basically enjoy each other’s company.

So my advice - meet some new friends through a fan group, go to a meet-up, chat to some fellow fans online, or just sit back and watch it from afar and click on a ‘like’ here or there.

In the Gay Gooners case you soon realise that you are all part of an extended family of Arsenal supporting LBGTQ+ fans (with many straight allies) and from where I’m standing... it’s been good to meet you all.

Friday, March 09, 2018

AC Milan 0-2 Arsenal...

It was very exciting to get the chance to go the San Siro stadium in Milan last night to watch Arsenal take on AC Milan in the Europa Leagure last 16.

As we arrived at the space-aged looking concrete stadium we were watched closely (and filmed) by machine-gun armed soldiers. At the stadium itself we went through numerous body searches - some extremely thorough. I think Body Checker 653 and I might be going steady now - I’m not sure though - he’s not returned my calls.

The away fans get to sit way up in the Gods so we had first a strange climb up a steep ramp - a never-ending spiralling column of corkscrew concrete. Eventually we were not far below the roof - which is 60m up! Ruddy high!

The away seating area wasn’t that busy so we had free seating.

The game itself was great. We played well and got an unexpected win. A performance we have not seen of late. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's first goal for the club put the us ahead, cutting in from the left to fire in with the aid of a deflection off Milan skipper Leonardo Bonucci.

Wenger spoke before the game about his team showing fight without compromising their attacking principles - and they delivered in a dominant first-half performance.

Aaron Ramsey deservedly doubled their lead before half-time, collecting Mesut Ozil's piercing pass through the centre of Milan's defence to round keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and tap in.

The score stayed the same for the second half for a much deserved win. We sang our hearts out. 

We were held back in the stadium for almost an hour after the game to let the local fans disperse and then boarded lots coaches laid on by Arsenal to take up back into the town centre and away from any potential trouble. 

A great night out. Really pleased I made the trip.

Thursday, March 08, 2018


Yesterday I took a half-day guided city tour of Milan. It was part bus, part walking and wasn’t particularly cheap but we sure packed a lot in.

Highlights for me were the massive Duomo Cathedral, the iconic La Scala opera house, and Leonardo Da Vinci’s pièce de résistance The Last Supper.

And I learnt a few things on the way too. So here we go...

The Last Supper is housed in a dust free building with pneumatic air locks - as we entred one glass-walled room the doors would close behind us and we had to wait for the doors to the next sealed room to open. Very sci-fi. You only get 15 mins in there though. 

They fucking hate Dan Brown. 

At La Scala all the boxes were private until 1918. Each had it’s own little kitchen, allowed gambling, and patrons were known to have sex in them. Patrons would arrive at 7-30pm, eat dinner, play cards, muck about a bit and then the opera started at midnight and ended at 4 or 5am. The people were part of the performance really. The music was largely incidental. Only after the Great War were rules of behaviour introduced. 

As our guide put it, “Italian rich people enjoy three things - having kids, making wars and eating meat -  fucking, fighting and hunting. Music and Art are for everyone else.”

The Duomo Cathedral is massive. Built in 1776 of largely pink marble it is one of the biggest in the world. Capacity 40,000 believers.

Milan is situated between two rivers - hence the name Mi(d) Lan(d). 

Da Vinci stayed in Milan for 20 years. 

Inter Milan used to play in a football stadium built by Napoleon before they moved to the San Siro - a place they share with AC Milan.  And where we are going tonight to watch Arsenal play - the reason for my visit.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

In airport lounge waiting to fly to Milan. The waitress just said. "Another beer? You look like a nervous flyer" 🍻 ✈ 👀 😂

Yesterday I was in airport lounge waiting to fly to Milan. The waitress said. "Another beer? You look like a nervous flyer" 🍻 ✈ 👀 😂

Actually the flight wasn’t too bad and my first impressions on Milan are good ones. They have trams! (see below), The Best Western Plus hotel is quite posh (also see below) and it seems quite easy to get around. The main station is epic and gothic (see below too!)

Off to see The Last Supper and to do a little city tour this afternoon. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Harold and Maude - we loved the film so had high hopes for the show. We weren't disappointed. It is a delight. @thomsoutherland #HaroldandMaude @CharingCrossThr ...

Last Friday night Stuart and I braved the snow to go and see Harold and Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Starring Sheila Hancock and Bill Milner and produced by Thom Southerland the play is based upon the American romantic black comedy drama 1971 film of the same name.

We loved the film so had high hopes for the show. We weren't disappointed.

Equal parts dark comedy and romantic innocence, Harold and Maude is an idiosyncratic romantic fable told though the eyes of the most unlikely pairing: a compulsive, self-destructive young man and a devil-may-care, septuagenarian bohemian.

Dame Marjorie "Maude" Chardin (Olivier Award-winner Sheila Hancock), is a free spirit who wears her hair in braids, believes in living each day to its fullest, and trying something new every day. Harold Parker Chasen (Bill Milner) is an 18-year-old man who is obsessed with death, attends funerals of strangers for entertainment and stages elaborate fake suicides. Through meeting Maude at a funeral, he discovers joy in living for the first time. Harold and Maude dissolves the line between darkness and light along with ones that separate people by class, gender and age.

The reviews have been a bit sniffy but we really enjoyed it. Yes, it was quirky, fanciful, peculiar, quaint and full of so much whimsy you'd think they would even throw in a honking seal for good measure (spoiler alert: they do.) But the sheer charm of the piece, the sadness and the lightness of touch simply won us over.

I'll not give away the ending but I think it's fair to say many didn't see it coming.

A delightful night out. Despite the snow.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Satyagraha: It was a fantastically hypnotic production. Jaw-droppingly wonderful in fact. In has to be in the top ten best things I've seen on stage. Ever. @openspacer @E_N_O #ENOSatyagraha ...

Last week Paul and I went to see Philip Glass's brilliant Satyagraha at the ENO in London's glitzy West End.

It was a fantastically hypnotic production. Jaw-droppingly wonderful in fact. In has to be in the top ten best things I've seen on stage. Ever.

The opera is in three acts for orchestra, chorus and soloists. Composed by Glass with libretto by Glass and Constance de Jong. It's loosely based on the life of Mohandas Gandhi. The term satyagraha is the philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance developed by Gandhi himself.

Act I. Tolstoy
On the Kuru Field of Justice
Tolstoy Farm (1910)
The Vow (1906)

Act II. Tagore
Confrontation and Rescue (1896)
Indian Opinion (1906)
Protest (1908)

Act III. King
New Castle March (1913)

Philip Glass's music is simply glorious: those repetitive patternings shifting and shining with ingenious rhythmic and melodic ideas, interlocking, overlapping, yet ever calm. But it was the staging that made the night so wonderful. So enchanting.

The director of the piece was Phelim McDermott (Shockheaded Peter) and Julian Crouch is the assistant director and set designer. Boy, they did an amazing job.

All three acts take place within an arc-like wall of curving corrugated iron. Within the slow waves of music and human movement, an ensemble of acrobats and puppeteers conjure miracle after miracle. Newsprint looms large: there is a ubiquitous whispering of newspaper as sheets are shifted, read (the founding of Indian Opinion was central to Gandhi’s work) — and then, almost imperceptibly, formed into gigantic papier-mâché puppet-figures of gods, beasts and politicians.

High in the iron wall, windows disclose the three iconic figures who watch over the three acts: Tolstoy, Tagore and Martin Luther King.

The beauty of the sung Sanskrit is bewitching: sober sepia projections of key passages replace supertitles; but verbal comprehension isn’t really the point. Although it would be inappropriate to single out individual performances in a work that has so little to do with conventional operatic glory, Alan Oke’s central performance as Gandhi is a masterpiece of compelling clarity and absorption.

As the last act unfolds, the great wall buckles and disintegrates, leaving a miming silhouette of the preaching King high on his plinth, and the diminutive figure of Gandhi below, singing a simple rising scale — no fewer than thirty times.

Stand out moments of the night for me were:
- the amazing floating coat hangers and the equally amazing floating lights lifted up high
- the weaving and crumpling up of a huge web of sellotape to produce at first a barrier, then a giant puppet man then an image of Gandhi himself
- the long newspaper streams across the stage that became first a barrier, then wings for Gandhi and then again sky high banners for projecting words all in one fluid motion.

Image after image is etched indelibly on the memory, in its masterly fusion of the aural and the visual. If you ever get a chance - go see.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Loved #SummerandSmoke @AlmeidaTheatre - a joyous, intoxicating, delicious treat about love, loneliness and self-destruction - @PatsyFerran and @MrMattNeedham are absolutely excellent. Marvellous @Frecknall ...

Last night Stuart and I went to see a preview of Tennessee Williams' play Summer and Smoke at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Directed by the marvellous Rebecca Frecknall this production stars the excellent Patsy Ferran as Alma, an unmarried highly-strung minister's daughter who experiences a complicated, transformative romance with John, the wild undisciplined young doctor who grew up next door, played by the equally excellent Matthew Needham.

It's the heat of summer and Alma is trapped between desire and fear in a life of obligation. Her world turns upside down in the search for salvation.

Alma and John's spiritual/sexual romance nearly blossoms a number of times. She, ineffably refined, identifies with the Gothic cathedral, "reaching up to something beyond attainment"; her name, as Williams makes clear during the play, means "soul" in Spanish; whereas John, doctor and sensualist, defies her with the soulless anatomy chart.

As the play progresses, however, John and Alma seem to trade places philosophically. She transforms beyond modesty. She even throws herself at him, saying, "now I have changed my mind, or the girl who said 'no', — she doesn't exist anymore, she died last summer — suffocated in smoke from something on fire inside her.". But he has changed too. He is engaged to settle down with a respectable, younger girl; and, as he tries to convince Alma that what they had between them was indeed a "spiritual bond", she realises, in any event, that it may be too late. In the latter scenes, Alma accosts a young traveling salesman at dusk in the town park. Will she follow her new-found lusts to enjoy the "after-dark entertainment" at Moon Lake Casino, where she had resisted John's attempt to seduce her the summer before, or will she keep her "soul" pure?

It's a joyous, intoxicating, delicious treat about love, loneliness and self-destruction.

Incidentally the play was made into a film back in 1961 and got four Oscar nods including one for Geraldine Page as Best Actress.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Beginning seems to have actually matured. It's grown in power. I found myself welling up three times and at one point actually crying. As my nephew said, "They weren't just waiting for the other person to stop talking. It was like two people actually talking to each other" #ntBeginning @deldridgewriter @Ambtheatre @NationalTheatre ...

Last Saturday afternoon my nephew William, his fiancée Jaye, Stuart and I went to see Dave Eldridge's marvellous play Beginning that has transferred to the Ambassadors Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Stuart and I had seen it before so I refer you to my previous (glowing) review. Although this time it affected me much more. The play seems to have actually matured. It's grown in power. I found myself welling up three times and at one point actually crying. That's when I wasn't laughing out loud of course.

"Did you enjoy it?" I asked William afterwards.
"Yeah. They weren't just waiting for the other person to stop talking. It was like two people actually talking to each other", he said.
And I couldn't put it better myself.
"I guess he didn't just want to get in there though as he'd been burnt. Must have been some fire! She was a bit desperate though"
Millennials, eh?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Macbeth @NationalTheatre - Rory Kinnear is great, Anne-Marie Duff is a corker. Bloody ambicide, regicide, and infanticide. Sleep no more. #Macbeth...

Last Monday night I went to see Macbeth at the Olivier Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

This hotly anticipated take on Shakespeare's tragedy from National Theatre boss Rufus Norris stars Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff as the gruesome twosome - the friend-killers, the king-killers, the child-killers – the Macbeths.

Now, “the Scottish play” is one of my favourite plays and I'll go and see any tom, dick or Hamish version of it. So I knew I'd enjoy this version, right? Especially with the dream-team behind this one. But did I love it?

Well, sort of. Rory Kinnear's Macbeth is great. Of course. He's a great actor. His slow descent into madness following his bloody ambicide, regicide, and infanticide was gripping to witness. And Anne-Marie Duff is also a corker of an actor. She can play any part with ease. Her Lady Macbeth was sly, compelling and evil. And the rest of ensemble too were good – the three witches jumping about as they talked backwards, Macduff raging like a bear at the loss of his family, and lots of other bellows from lots of other fellows. No, you couldn't fault the cast.

And the production looked fine - granted the rather dated post-apocalyptic grunge look meant it came across more as a low-life Glasgow estate than Highland Royal Estate - but still, it worked. And the plastic dolls and doll's masks were especially affective.

No, it was the set itself I had a slightly harder time with. There was so much of it! The Olivier is a very big stage but boy did they fill it with stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. And some of it very noisy stuff too. Massive swinging walkways, tall swaying poles, spinning rooms, tumbling chairs, trestling tables and trundling trolleys. It was just all so noisy when it all rattled about. At times I struggled to hear the words of the actors’ despite being in a front of house row F.

But then this was a first performance so maybe these minor set niggles of set noise will soon be resolved as the previews progress.

So, a great show then – just in need of a few production tweaks during previews.

As I say I've seen quite a few Macbeth productions over the years. But where would I place this one in the list? Let's say this… it’s better than James McAvoy's gore-splattered Trafalgar Studios effort steered by Jamie Lloyd in 2013 but not quite up there with Patrick Stewart's sublime Gielgud Theatre triumph under Rupert Goold back in 2010.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City: Carabao Cup final - dreadful result for us but a great day out with all the Gay Gooners nonetheless @gaygooners...

A freezing afternoon at Wembley Stadium saw the old guard of Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva score as Manchester City thrashed a desperate Arsenal to win their first trophy under Pep Guardiola.

It was a dreadful result for us, but a great day out with all the Gay Gooners nonetheless.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Erasure - Great gig (as ever) only marred somewhat by the dangerous over-crowding at the venue @EventimApollo @erasureinfo...

Last Friday night Stuart, Angie, Kev and I went to see the wonderful Erasure at the Eventim Apollo in London's glitzy Hammersmith.

Ostensibly to continue the promotion of their new album World Be Gone the marvellous duo of Andy Bell and Vince Clark put on a great show, as ever, for a very enthusiastic crowd. And there was tip-top setlist. We sang, we danced, we laughed, we sang some more.

It was just a bit of a shame that the Eventim Apollo was dangerously overcrowded downstairs though. An accident waiting to happen I suspect. I spoke to the manager who denied that there was any issue even as her staff where holding doors closed to keep people in. The words "Nero", "fiddling", "Rome" and "burning" spring to mind.

World Be Gone is Erasure's 17th album and is quite a change of direction. Gone is their sugary pop and uplifting songs of love and hate replaced by a voice of remonstration and discontent. The songs are a lot more sombre taking on topics that blur the lines between pop and politics. None demonstrates this more adult theme than the beautiful protest song "Still It’s Not Over" - a lament on HIV/AIDS. Although the new songs are mostly melodic, they are slower and painfully vulnerable and perhaps not suited to a largely standing venue when people really just wanted to dance, dance, dance baby. Heart-felt though the performances were of these more thoughtful songs when they came on people were all too often seen running to the bar or the loo.

But then when a high-tempo hit came on to follow it the place erupted again in a sea of cheers, dancing and singing. And the hits kept on coming. It was perhaps the biggest karaoke venue in town that night.

Even as the last notes of A Little Respect died away the crowd kept singing it all the way out of the venue, along the street and down onto the tube station.

There is a lot of love out there for these boys - even if a new album is not quite up there with their best.

Set List

Tales of the Unexpected
Oh L'Amour
Ship of Fools
Mad As We Are
Just a Little Love
In My Arms
Chains of Love
Sweet Summer Loving
I Love Saturday
Victim of Love
Phantom Bride
World Be Gone
Who Needs Love Like That
Take Me Out of Myself
Blue Savannah
Love You to the Sky
Here I Go Impossible Again
A Little Respect (Encore)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Hamilton "It's better than Wicked" @HamiltonWestEnd @VictoriaPalace ...

Last night Stuart and I went to see much-hyped hip-hop musical Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London's glitzy Victoria.

Hamilton's composer, lyricist, and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda thunders his massive show into town sweeping aside all before it. You can't argue with success, right? Money talks. Sold out performances can't lie. And the reviews - boy, those reviews - "one of the greatest artworks of the 21st century", "I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show," wrote Ben Brantley of the New York Times. "But Hamilton... might just about be worth it."

Michelle Obama even called it the "best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life," (which perhaps raises some disquieting questions about the level of cultural exposure offered in the Princeton undergraduate curriculum.)

So what did we think?

Well, we didn't hate it! But we didn't really love it either. We just 'liked' it. It was good - and at times great - but the promising first half was a little let down by the rather boring second half. It was a super slick (too slick?) show though even if it was at times uneven.

We left thinking to ourselves exactly how did a ten-million-dollar 8th grader US history skit get described as "one of the greatest artworks of the 21st century"?

I'm guessing Miranda saw Les Miserables and thought - "let's do a hip-hop version of that." Revolution (check), stirring songs (check), a band of brothers and maybe they don't all make it (check). Only it's not really as good as Les Miserables. Or Rent even. The songs aren't as good for a start. And the subject matter doesn't really inspire this particular Brit - an annoying loud-mouthed orphan with a chip on his shoulder decided to help 'found' America but couldn't keep his dick in his pants. Ok, let's be nice - let's just say the musical is about putting a humanising focus on famous American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s vulnerabilities and ambitions.

It's better than Wicked. But then we hated Wicked.

So given I've said we liked Hamilton, I do have a few issues with it...


To judge from the reviews in the UK press and online, most of the appeal of Hamilton seems to rest with the diversity of its cast and the novelty concept of a "hip-hop musical." Those who write about Hamilton often dwell primarily on its "ground-breaking" use of rap and its "bold" choice to cast an assemblage of black, Asian, and Latino actors as the Founding Fathers. Indeed, you'd think from all these column inches of praise that Hamilton exists more as a corporate HR department’s wet dream than as a biographical work.

But this casting "Founders Chic" tends to really downplay the involvement of the Founding Fathers in slavery. Slavery as a subject barely gets a look in. It’s still white history. And no amount of casting people of colour disguises the fact that they’re erasing people of colour from the actual narrative. Indeed, it does take some getting used to have a black actor play Jefferson, because the actual Thomas Jefferson raped slaves.

In its defence of the casting the director of Hamilton said, "It has liberated a lot of people who might feel ambivalent about the American experiment to feel patriotic."
I'm guessing "ambivalent," here, means being bothered by the country’s collective idol-worship of men who participated in the slave trade, one of the greatest crimes in human history. And to be "liberated" from this means never having to think about it.

Also why was the audience so resoundingly white? (Not, that that is solely a criticism aimed at Hamilton mind you!)

The Women

Given the wealth of alpha males on stage, it's too bad that the female leads are made to sound like afterthoughts, consigned to more traditional Broadway roles and bland blends of R&B and show-tune balladry. As Hamilton the man negotiates a tricky triangle of three lovers or would-be-lovers — his wife, his wife's sister and a mistress — Hamilton the Bechdel Test failing show loses momentum.

The leading women in Hamilton are long-suffering actors who melt into the background while the strutting male leads get all the best lines and songs.

Tickets Prices

One of the unfortunate aspects of the success of Hamilton is that it has made tickets formidably expensive. For those on the lower end of the income scale, the show exists as a tantalizing yet elusive dream. We paid £400 for two tickets. And there are stories of people paying four times that amount.

The Music

The use of hip-hop has been described as new. Yes, hip-hop - that edgy, up-and-coming genre with only 37 years of mainstream exposure.

We couldn't remember a single tune after the curtain fell. Apart from maybe "The Room Where It Happens" which was one of the few standard pop songs in the show.

The Lyrics

When it was good it was very, very good. When it was bad, it was terrible.

Madison: It’s a tie!
Jefferson: It’s up to the delegates!
Jefferson/Madison: It’s up to Hamilton!
Hamilton: Yo. The people are asking to hear my voice
For the country is facing a difficult choice.
And if you were to ask me who I’d promote
Jefferson has my vote.

Perhaps marginally less embarrassing than "when I say yo, you say ho." But only ever so marginally.

Thankfully for every cloying, bourgeois "ten-dollar Founding Father without a father" and "when the British taxed our tea we got frisky," we were treated to the thrilling "I'll be Socrates throwing verbal rocks at these mediocrities." and the genius phrase, "will no one mention the eloquence in the room".

The Hamilton-Jefferson battle raps was quite good fun too but the show's most entertaining musical moments belong to King George III. He's played with condescending flamboyance and his perpetually raised pinkie finger. The king's a punch line, the sound of the Old World being subsumed by the faster, quicker, brighter hip-hop future of America. Yet he commands the stage like no other cast member by channelling Queen's Freddie Mercury. The clueless King loves to knock his rivals and perceived inferiors (which includes pretty much everybody) down to size with foppish putdowns. He makes even his wordless vocal melodies sound like he's heckling.

Final Thoughts

As I say we liked it. I’m not sure it will become one of the all-time great musicals though. It's no West Side Story. At best I'd say it's a nice musical about immigrant pluck, impudence and ambition.

That said, it was great to see so many black actors on stage. But perhaps the power of the piece's grand political point about America as a country built on the backs and minds of immigrants is conveyed as much by the actual content of the show as by its mode of presentation.

But it’s better than Wicked.