Quote Of The Day

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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

RIP Debbie Reynolds...

Six years ago Stuart and I were lucky enough to see Debbie Reynolds perform live on the London stage. She was fantastic. This is what I wrote about it at the time.

Debbie Reynolds: Alive and Fabulous...

To kick off our anniversary week Stu and I went to see Debbie Reynolds in her Alive and Fabulous show at the Apollo Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

I've not laughed at the theatre so much for ages. She was very, very funny.

The show consisted of a mix of anecdotes, chatting to the audience, showing us film clips and singing. OK, her voice perhaps wasn't quite what it was but she is seventy-eight. Here are some of the things I remember from the show:-

"Thank you for coming. No one here is under fifty. Not unless someone over fifty bought you. Anyway, it was nice of you to come and see me before I die."

"I was born Mary." (Whoops from man in audience). "Oh, are you a Mary too, dear."

"I won a beauty competition at sixteen - I wanted to win the first prize; a scarf and a blouse. I ended up getting a contract at Warner Brothers."

"My first husband Eddie Fisher left me for Liz Taylor - she being three months older than me. I warned him that she'd dump him after fifteen months - and she did!"

"I'm Princess Leia's mother - that makes me a Queen... (eyes front row)... are you all Queens too?"

She showed many film clips such as 'Singing' in the Rain' and 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' and sang along to all of the songs.

She told a dirty joke: A woman was at a party and said, "If any one can guess what's in my hand they can sleep with me". A man calls out, "an elephant?" The woman says, "close enough!"

She did a lovely 1940s melody and even did a rap to Three Little Fishes and did a bit of Beyoncé's Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It). Stu almost wet himself laughing.

"How do I look from up there?", she asked the balcony. "From down here (pointing to the front row again) I look like Lady Gaga."

She did some spot-on impressions too; Mae West, Jimmy Steward, Ethel Merman, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis among others and regaling each with stories from her days in Hollywood. Nice to have someone take the piss who actually knew the originals.

"Judy Garland and I were great friends. I'd put Carrie and Todd to bed and she'd put Liza, Lorna and Joey to bed and I'd go over to Judy's house for a drink. Then we'd wake Liza up and give her some!"

Her impression of Barbara Streisand was something to behold though. She looked, sounded and joked just like her. And it was very, very funny.

All in all Debbie Reynolds is a non-stop all-round old-school entertainer. Real show-biz, with all the razzmatazz of Hollywood. She obviously never wants to leave the stage. Always wanting to be in the spot-light. But it's a spot-light that casts a very long shadow. And I can't imagine how tough it must be having to walk in that shadow all your life (yes, I looking at you Carrie Fisher).

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

RIP George Michael...

The last time we saw George Michael live was in 2012. Such a loss. But fond memories of such a great musician.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Death Knows No Season...

Last night Stuart and I went to see funny guy David Sedaris along with the BBC Symphony Orchestra perform a show entitled Death Knows No Season at the Barbican Hall in London's brutalist Barbican Centre.

Conducted by Giancario Guerrero we were treated to a few Christmas orchestral pieces interlaced with some stories old and new from Master Sedaris.

Nuit of the Living Dead went down best not least because it contained the drowning of a mouse, graveyard zombies (French), and a dead burglar stuck up a chimney.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Peter and The Gang...

Stuart and I had a lovely Xmas meal on Sunday with Peter, Todd, Darren, Roger, Stuart, Luca, Steve and The Gang at the Fentiman Arms in Kennington.

Father Christmas was there to deliver the Secret Santa gifts and we ate and drank until the cows came home. Great fun.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Dawn and The Gang...

Dawn and Al are back from Singapore for a while so they, Stu, Lynda, Jo and Jo all met up for a tipple and a bite at Gem on Upper Street.

Great fun was had by all. (We can see you Lynda!)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story...



(***Mild spoilers***)

The good news about “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first in a planned series of stand-alone films set in the Star Wars universe, is that the last half-hour of the film is a sustained stretch of rousing action, indelible images and cliffhanger thrills.

The bad news about “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is that getting to the good stuff is a slog — and the film is pretty long. The inherent problem in a story about the suicide mission to steal the Death Star plans used to blow up the space station at the end of A New Hope is that we already know how it ends. There’s no suspense, no momentum, no stakes.

Don't get me wrong, I love the main Star Wars films and the TV spinoffs but in Rogue One although bits were ok it was all just a bit boring. I wanted to be excited, but was anything but. Someone walked out at our screening. I yawned and looked at my watch a few times.

It took an hour and a half to get going which for a 2-hour film was just too long to wait.

And when it did get going I didn't really much like the plot or ultimately what happen to the characters to be honest. I think I prefer my Star Wars films to have a driving and surprising plot with strong characters who become heroes and heroines using the Force to fight evil baddies - not trench warfare. There was just too much "Wars" and not enough "Star" for me. The space fights were fun but all too brief.

It was just all too messy, too bleak and too dark for my taste. So dark in fact that often I couldn't see what was happening on the screen.

The comic relief, such as it was, came from K-2SO, the scene-stealing military droid voiced by Alan Tudyk. But his impression of Marvin the Paranoid Android "Life? Don't talk to me about life. Brain the size of a planet..." etc. did little to raise a smile. No one else in the film seemed to smile anyway. They all looked pretty miserable.

And where was the opening title Star Wars text crawl?! Crime! Not even a blast of John Williams’ symphonic score! Sacrilege!

And as for "bringing back" or reanimating characters? They looked OK. But not quite OK enough in my opinion. It was distracting to watch. Their lack of facial movement made them look like Botox models and made me not really listen to what they were saying.

Maybe churning out one new Star Wars film per year is just too much. Or maybe it's just that in my humble opinion this particular story is an unnecessary backfill to a plot point in the mythology whereas I wanted the mythology itself to be extended with new stores in new directions. I wanted A New Hope.

So what I'm really saying is I just don't like prequels!

My Top 5 Star Wars Films
1. Empire Strikes Back
2. A New Hope
3. The Force Awakens
4. Return of the Jedi
5. Rogue One

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Essex Christmas...

We were back at The Railway for our Essex Christmas get together last Saturday. And guess who got roped into playing Father Christmas? Or (with John-Paul on the fart machine) Farter Christmas. 

The adults laughed their socks off. The kids hated it. Ho ho no.
 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sky Feature Requests...

I’m fairly new to Sky TV but just wondered if there is a poll somewhere that Sky could run to gauge the most requested features for the various Sky apps / platforms / web sites?

If so here are a few I'd like to add:-

14-day EPG across all platforms
I'm sure this is much requested but I have to put it as my top request

"Never Miss" emails to be for recordable show times only
I get "Never Miss" emails from Sky - great idea - but they sometimes tell me about a show on this very day but next week i.e. in 7 days’ time but the Sky TV guide counts it as 8 days’ time. I got an email today Monday for a show on next Monday but I can't schedule the recording because of the EPG limit.

Discover new programmes as really NEW in the EPG
Some shows have the word NEW in their title but not all. It would be great if there was a proper 'new' flag for programmes that could be used so when you search or you have a series record it could be set to record 'new' programmes - the definition of 'new' to be agreed. Let's say I was to record new showings of The Simpsons but not every single repeat (of which there are many).

Edit Existing Scheduled Series Recordings
On the Sky Q you can see what individual shows are scheduled to be recorded in the next 7 days but you can't seem to list or edit the series links behind them. I have a feeling I have a long list of series links but can't list them do delete or edit unwanted ones so odd programs are being recorded I no longer want.

Create Auto Record Schedules from Search
It would be great to be able to search for a word - say "Arsenal" - channel "Sky Sports" - show type "live" - and save this with an auto record setting. Or say "Brad Pitt" - channel "Sky Movies" etc.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Red Shoes...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see The Red Shoes at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

This most recent of Matthew Bourne's works is perhaps not his best but certainly worth a visit. Kate Bush thought so anyway!

Based on the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film which itself was based upon the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Red Shoes is a story of obsession.

Vicky is an aspiring ballet dancer whose leap forward from the back row to that of prima ballerina catches the eye of Boris, the ruthless but charismatic impresario of the Ballet Lermontov.

However, Vicky's heart lies with young composer Julian and a bitter love triangle ensues.

Julian writes a new ballet for Vicky called "The Red Shoes" which is a big hit. Only the obsession with which her character wears the ill-fated red shoes in the ballet seems to be bleeding into real life too. An obsession that will have fatal consequences.

Good toes, bad toes.

As the story itself is about a ballet dancer inevitably the work has a lot more ballet in it than a contemporary dance show. And this is perhaps it's only weakness. Most of Bourne's works play with subverting traditional ballet clichés and his dance moves are often innovative and witty. Here however his feet are rather tied. As The Red Shoes is about ballet it really does have to contain a lot of traditional ballet in it.

Luckily when the action moves from Monte Carlo to London's East End the humour of the piece is more apparent but despite the auteur's masterly attempts it never reaches the giddy heights of say The Car Man, Swan Lake or Edward Scissorhands.

Good try. Worth a visit.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Rent...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the opening night of New York set musical Rent at the St James Theatre in London's (soon to be) glitzy (when is it going to be finished) Victoria.

Synopsis: Surprisingly good, spirited performances of the Jonathan Larson's classic rock (La Bohème inspired) musical. A bit dated but great fun. Angel steals the show.

Now, we've seen some pretty rubbish things over the years at the St James Theatre (yes, we're looking at you McQueen). And although Stuart is (or was) a big fan of Rent as a piece of work recent listening to the Original Broadway Cast recordings had rather put him off. I'd never seen the show myself but to be honest when I too listened to the cast recordings I wasn't filled with much hope either. Self-absorbed losers wringing their hands, singing about killing a dog and a cow jumping over the moon? No, thanks.

But how wrong we both were. Our low expectations proved totally unfounded. The admittedly rather dated story of poverty, angst and HIV set in New York City in the 1990 proved to be highly entertaining. It was funny, heart-felt and sexy.

And it was all down to the wonderful cast.

Sure, the setting was fairly standard NYC fayre - the sort of place you might find on Sesame Street with burning braziers, graffiti, discarded supermarket trollies and wrought-iron fire escapes. Sure, the on-set band played excellently. And sure, the sound and lighting were as good as you would expect to see in any West End show.

But it was the cast that made the story come alive. Even the weaker songs were sung with gusto. Bruce Gutherie direction was spot on too with Lee Proud's Hot Gossipy dancing making full use of Anna Fleischle vertical set.

Philippa Stefani's sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll Mimi was the perfect femme fatale match to Ross Hunter's tortured aspiring songwriter Roger. Her set-shaking performance of Out Tonight was excellent.

Ryan O'Gorman played Tom Collins as a sexy beefcake wearing what are probably the tightest pair of jeans I've even seen on stage. It wasn't just my eyes that were bulging. Hubba hubba.

Even Lucie Jones as fly-by-night lesbian singer Maureen made the piss-poor song Over the Moon fun.

Other notable stand-out ensemble songs were the renditions of Rent, La Vie Bohème, and Seasons of Love.

Best song of the night: Tango Maureen as sung by Billy Cullum as jilted Mark and Shanay Holmes as soon to be jilted Joanne.

The absolutely stand out performance of the night though was Layton Williams as Angel. When he sang Today 4 U complete with high-heeled, drag queen back flips it brought the house down and the audience to its feet. Simply sensational.

Go see.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Wolverhampton Tourism 1972...

"What can you do in Wolverhampton?"
"Nothing."

"Can you think of anywhere nicer to go than Wolverhampton?"
"Majorca."

"It's hardly Monte Carlo but it's quieter than Blackpool.."

News item from ATV Today: 20/06/1972 called "Wolverhampton Holiday Town"

video


http://www.macearchive.org/Archive/Title/atv-today-20061972-wolverhampton-holiday-town/MediaEntry/1205.html

John Swallow report about a new initiative to attract tourists to the town of Wolverhampton.

 John Swallow piece to camera standing in the centre of Wolverhampton (he describes the town and also says that it is his home town).

 We then see traffic in the town centre, an industrial canal and a park (some of these shots are mute).

 Next, Swallow conducts vox pops asking local people what any potential holidaymakers would find to do in Wolverhampton.

 Next we see mute shots of the exterior of the Queen's Ballroom and restaurant, posters for Asian cinema and several signs for bingo halls.

 Swallow then interviews Peter Wills about a scheme to attract tourists to Wolverhampton (Wills appears to work for a local hotel although his exact role is not known).

 Finally Swallow ends the item with another piece to camera sitting in a deck chair: "It's hardly Monte Carlo but it's quieter than Blackpool.."

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Great Tower for London...

Here's a scan of 68 bat-shit crazy designs the Victorians proposed for a Great Tower for London. Why? Because Paris just got the Eiffel Tower and we had to do bigger and better. My fave is #6, with the spiral steam train driving up the side. What happened in the end? We got discouraged and gave up - oh, London, don't ever change!

Descriptive illustrated catalogue of the sixty-eight competitive designs for the great tower for London
http://www.archive.org/stream/descriptiveillus00lynd#page/n3/mode/2up

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Hair...

Last Saturday afternoon Stuart and I travelled all the way up to Manchester to see a production of our favourite musical Hair at the Hope Mill Theatre in decidedly unglitzy Manchester Piccadilly.

Synopsis: Great musical in a small theatre. Dazzling performances Let the Sunshine In.

I was too young to go to the London opening of Hair the first time around but I'm certainly not too old for it now.

It is one of Stuart and my favourite musicals which, for all the show’s structural failings – including an almost complete lack of narrative impetus and coherence – it is sweetly enticing, whatever your age, in this revival by Jonathan O’Boyle. The show benefits enormously from the intimacy of Manchester’s most vibrant new theatre space, which makes the audience feel as if we really are part of this tribe. It’s hard to resist joining in the dancing at the end – although we resisted flinging our clothes off, too.

The piece, which focuses on a group of New York hippies and Vietnam protesters who believe in making love not war, is as daft as a brush. It follows Claude, who can’t decide whether to burn his draft card or just his New York library card and accept his call-up. You can only assume that Gerome Ragni and James Rado were high on something when they wrote the book and lyrics, particularly in the second half’s hallucinogenic trip sequence.

But from the opening song Aquarius all the way through to Let the Sunshine In, which begins almost as a lament and turns into something more optimistic, almost every song in Galt MacDermot’s score is a tuneful cracker. One number – Manchester, England – has added appeal, given the location of this revival, and choreographer William Whelton plays to it wittily with a display of umbrellas that nods to the city’s famed weather.

Unlike Daniel Kramer’s 2005 Gate dreadful revival, which attempted to update the show and turn the Tribe into protesters against the Iraq war, O’Boyle treats it as the period piece it undoubtedly is. But that doesn’t mean it lacks traction, particularly in the light of recent events in the US. When the arrogant, pleasure–obsessed Berger announces, “I’m going to stay high for ever”, you can’t help but be reminded that he is part of the baby boomer generation who reaped the benefits of the economic good times and whose self-interest may have played a part in putting Trump in power. This revival is a lament for lost innocence in more ways than one.

O’Boyle’s production is staged with far more dash than cash, and benefits enormously from a fine onstage band and a thrillingly talented, sweet-voiced cast. Robert Metson brings depth to Claude, torn between conformity and revolt, and Ryan Anderson’s Berger exudes a camp charisma. This is not a show in which anyone really gets a chance to develop a distinctive character, but they differentiate themselves vocally.

That’s particularly true of the female characters, who seem largely untouched by the impact of the women’s liberation movement, but who find their voices in song. Chloe Carrington as Jeanie finds every comic nuance in Air; Shekinah McFarlane is a ball of roaring energy as Dionne; and Laura Johnson, as Shelia, makes her mark with Easy to Be Hard and Let the Sunshine In. It’s shining brightly on Hope Mill.

Monday, December 05, 2016

This House...

Last Friday Stuart and I went to see This House at the Garrick Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Very funny play about untrustworthy, back-stabbing politicians doing dodgy backroom deals in the 1970s. Like things have changed! A live rock band play David Bowie songs too - most notably the poignant “Five Years”.

The play derives its title from the name given to the House of Commons by MPs. The action takes place in the period in British parliamentary history between the February 1974 general election and the 1979 vote of no confidence in the government of James Callaghan. The play is set in the Palace of Westminster mainly in the offices of the Labour and Tory Chief Whips. Party leaders such as Ted Heath, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Jeremy Thorpe and Margaret Thatcher remain offstage characters. The narrative concentrates on the relationships between the two sets of whips (the so-called usual channels), and between the whips, their backbenchers and the members of the minor parties.

It's a sort of Yes Minister on steroids. Like House of Cards but with extra Jokers.

Very funny. Recommended.

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