Quote Of The Day

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Half A Sixpence...

Last night Roger and I went to see rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches again musical Half A Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Perky show. Strong cast. Like the lead’s trousers though - rather weak material.

Originally a star-vehicle for Tommy Steele this revival has been marvellously conceived by writer Julian Fellowes with a slick production, a wonderful cast, even if a few of the songs were perhaps - how can I put this? - rather less memorable than some of the others.

That said, when the songs were weak these boys and girls stepped up to the plate and certainly knew how to make a little go a very long way.

The source material is HG Wells’s 1905 novel Kipps what tells the story of a cockney draper Arthur (played by the outstanding Charlie Stemp) who strikes it rich, dallies with the toffs, gets swindled out of this money, goes back to his childhood sweetheart and then strikes it lucky all over again.

Let's not look too deeply into the subtext of the piece - well, ok, just for a bit - but whereas some might think of this as a "We were poor, but we were happy" or "Money can't buy you happiness" tale in fact it's told closer to a "Oi! Poor people! Know your limits!" fable.

The poor are severely downtrodden and only dream of one thing - money. And if they get it they can never be accepted in high society. The poor women in particular only seem to want a husband, a baby or both. Fellowes seems to acknowledge this one-dimensional portrayal of the masses and introduces a socialist (but who soon takes the money) and 'gives' him a Suffragette girlfriend (but to whom he gives no lines and marries her off quick sticks.) Oh, well. It is just a musical!

Talking of which, if the first-half was just OK, the second-half really picks up as it includes a show-stopper called Pick Out a Simple Tune, which starts with a rudimentary plucking at a banjo and gathers into an almost orgiastic cockney knees-up, engulfing stiff sophisticates at a Folkestone soirée.

And to crown the night off we were treated to an eight minute all-singing, all-dancing, jazz hands, table thumping, version of Flash Bang Wallop (What a Picture!) which was worth the ticket price alone.

Good to see the show reinvented from its 1960s roots but I think it might need a bit more work to be the outstanding show the excellent cast really deserve.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Explosion...

Terrible news last night. Manchester Arena. 22 dead, 59 injured in suicide attack at pop concert.

Children are among the dead as police say one male suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device after the concert.

Witnesses say they saw a "massive explosion", with nuts and bolts from the bomb littering the ground.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Arsenal 3 - 1 Everton...

The final game of the season was a bad tempered one. We won but list out on a champions league place for the first time in 20 years. And who caught the ire? Stan Kroenke.
video

Friday, May 19, 2017

Salomé...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Yaël Farber's new play Salomé at the National Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Synopsis: Lovely lighting.

Although visually striking the whole night was fatally undermined by a thoroughly turgid script. And at a snail-like pace.

Encouragingly Salomé here is presented as a fresh and politically potent concept. Farber sets out to strip away the veils of myth and misogyny that hide the figure of Salomé (Isabella Nefar). She finds in her a young woman in a brutally male world and an occupied country. Raped by her stepfather (a creepily lascivious Paul Chahidi), Salomé slides around the fringes of power, her abused body a metaphor for her colonised country. Then she meets Iokanaan (John the Baptist) and realises that, by demanding his execution, she can turn him into a martyr and ignite a revolution. That apparently whimsical demand for his head is neither sexual nor capricious here but a provocative, political act.

 It’s a fascinating proposition that, in theory, gives a shadowy woman voice and agency. In practice, we get no closer to Salomé. She remains a near silent, symbolic presence.

And in this silence a few people simply saw boredom. And with that boredom left mid-performance. Which was a shame. Because the bit at the end with the curtains was pure Eurovision.

A classic case of style triumphing over content.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

American Style - Philip Glass & Laurie Anderson...

Last night Stuart and I spent an evening in the company of Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson in the Barbican Hall in London's brutalist Barbican Centre.

Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson might have known each other for forty years but the 100 minutes on stage together barely scratched the surface of what either of them have achieved either separately or together in that time.

Part improv, part jamming session, part greatest hits Ms Anderson and Mr Glass each treated us to some of their solo work while the other played along. It sometimes worked and it sometimes didn't. The playing of the instruments all too often drowned out the speaking.

The stage was set up with a piano for Glass, a desk with laptop and electric violin for Anderson’s music, and a comfortable fireside chair for her story telling. The backdrop was a large screen on which were projected images – photographs by Anderson that had been manipulated in various ways and bringing attention to the many facets of Anderson’s creativity.

Anderson, one of the most creative and influential artists of her generation has collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, John Cage, Peter Gabriel from the world of music and with writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Lou Reed to whom she was married. It was works by these last two writers that formed the basis for the performance.

The voices of both writers were present as recordings of them reading their works were played. Wichita Vortex features the voice of Allen Ginsberg reading his anti-war poem and Junior Dad is a song from the rock opera Lulu created by Lou Reed in 2011. Anderson accompanied the songs on an electric violin that could be manipulated into different sound effects by way of laptop wizardry, while Glass performed the piece at the piano. Voices from the past formed a theme to the evening’s pieces, the performance beginning with a very personal piece by Anderson "I’m Standing in a Room" recalling the loss of her mother. Anderson is one of the best story tellers around. Her timing is superb and her voice, though often pitched at a monotone is amazingly expressive. It was like she’s speaking to each member of the audience personally, almost in a whisper. Her juxtaposition of unexpected ideas is nothing short of miraculous. Anderson’s poem "World Without End" had lines that stop you in your tracks and ponder that big things in life – “When my father died it was like a whole library had burned down.” It was just a shame the sound production on the night was sub par.

To be honest, big fan though I am of both, I think I prefer them performing separately. That way they get the sound right.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Arsenal 2 - 0 Sunderland...

A very empty Emirates Stadium last night. We made heavy work of it too. And now it's all down to the last day of the season. We need to win and everyone else needs to lose. Fat chance. Hey ho. 
 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Angels in America...

Last Saturday Stuart and I went to see both Angels in America plays back to back at the National Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Synopsis: A simply outstanding production. There is blood, tears, laughs aplenty, Russell Tovey getting his kit off, and we see lesbian sex with an Angel. What's not to like?

An epic eight-hour duo of plays featuring more than 30 characters, from travel agents and lawyers to divine emanations and bisexual Mormons, Angels in America is unique.

It creates a world where illness and sexuality are unapologetic and political diatribes sit alongside angelic visions.

It is also very, very funny.

Set in 1985 Tony Kushner's two plays (full titles) Angels in America - A Gay Fantasia On National Themes - Part One: Millennium Approaches - Part Two: Perestroika tell the stories of three gay men living tortuous lives in Reagan's America. AIDS is rife and people are dying.

Prior Walter (a sublime Andrew Garfield) is one of these unfortunate souls but who has a rather fabulous journey to make before he meets his maker.

A second Joe Pitt (hunky Russell Tovey) is a bisexual Moron whose wife (Denise Gough) has her own illusionary world to explore.

A third man Roy Cohn (outrageous Nathan Lane) is a real-life vicious closeted lawyer who knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Tragedy strikes each of them, but not before a world of fantasy touches them all.

All the cast are excellent but especially Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the nurse Belize.

Highly, highly recommended.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Alien...

"I don't wanna play any more. She'll only whoosh me out the door again."
 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Lettice and Lovage...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Peter Shaffer's play Lettice and Lovage at the Menier Chocolate Factor in London's rather unglitzy 'London Bridge Quarter'.

Synopsis: Amusing rather than funny.

Directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman the play is about a stately home tourist guide (Kendal) who makes up exaggerated and oft outlandish stories to make her tours less boring. This is by far the best it on the play. She then is hauled in front of her boss (Lipman) who despite firing her also feels some sympathy for her. They develop a friendship, which is sweet if rather improbable.

The play is in three acts and although at times drole the piece ends up being a rather thinly veiled attack on post-war Britain including English modern architecture, (Shell House comes in for some particularly vicious stick). They even propose a tour of the "fifty ugliest new buildings in London".

We saw it in previews and to be honest although great actors both Ms Kendal and Ms Lipman seemed rather under rehearsed. More than once, they fluffed their lines and did not always know where to stand.

Originally, the play was written for Maggie Smith. I bet she did it better.

The show did not start until 8pm (why?) and finished closer to 11pm, which on a school night lead some of the audience to head for the door for their last train.

Recommended only if you really, really like Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Philip Glass Music in 12 Parts...

Last Monday night Paul, Stuart and I went to see a recital of Philip Glass's Music in 12 Parts at the Barbican Hall in London's glitzy and savagely brutalist Barbican Centre.

Coming in at five and half hours the twelve pieces were written in the early 1970s and reflected early experiments with minimalism. Repetitive, hypnotic and at times genuinely euphoric the time just flew by.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Gavin's 40th Birthday...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went down to Piano Works in London's none-too glitzy Farringdon to help Gavin celebrate his 40th birthday. The music was loud (too loud really) but we had a gay old time. Judith was in good form and we meet some friends of theirs - a nice couple from the Dominican Republic and Romania - Gina and Robert.
 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Arsenal 2 - 0 Manchester United...

Last Sunday Mark and I went to watch the mighty Arsenal take on the once-mighty Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium.

Goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck were enough for Arsenal to record their first ever competitive win over a Jose Mourinho side.

Four more games to go - let's see if we can make a dash for fourth place.

 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Post Haste...

It's been a fab weekend filled with theatre, fortieths, football, weddings, and anniversaries. But the funniest thing was watching Stuart desperately trying to delete a "Terrible" TripAdvisor posting he made whilst a little bit worse for wear.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

11th Anniversary...

Happy Anniversary to my handsome, funny, sexy better half Stuart - it's been so great to find in you that one special person... to annoy for the rest of my life.
 

Friday, May 05, 2017

The Ferryman...

Last night Stuart, Jane, Sara and I went to see new play The Ferryman at the Royal Court in London's glitzy Sloane Square.

Synopsis: This is a play that deserves all of its five star reviews. Gripping, funny, tragic and enlightening. It also deserves all the awards that will surely be heaped upon it. Fight for a ticket. Do not be put off by the three and half hour running time either - it simply flies by.

Jez Butterworth’s new play starts with the discovery of a body. For ten years, Seamus Carney has been lying in a bog near the Irish border. Throughout that time, his wife Caitlin has been living with Carney’s brother Quinn and his seven children in a warmly chaotic Armagh farmhouse while upstairs Quinn’s wraith-like wife languishes in bed.

But as the Carney family gather to celebrate the day of the harvest, this other, uglier harvest from Northern Ireland’s bloody soil cannot be ignored.

Starring Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly and directed by Sam Mendes, it’s easily the best new play of the year and arguably as mighty as Butterworth’s 2009 smash hit Jerusalem. Where that play exuberantly summoned the unquiet souls of a mythical rural England, this one does something similar for Northern Ireland but this time through the concrete political context of 1981.

Bobby Sands is on hunger strike, Margaret Thatcher is on the radio and the IRA are on the streets. Considine is tremendous as Quinn, the ex-IRA member and committed family man struggling to suppress both a violent past and a treacherous love for Donnelly’s bright-eyed Caitlin.

An ominous sense of foreboding stalks the play and the ending is all the more shocking for it.

Butterworth is as interested in the future as he is the past. In a crack cast Tom Glynn-Carney stands out as hothead 17-year-old Shane, who makes an easy recruit for a revolutionary cause.

If you haven’t yet got tickets for the West End transfer of The Ferryman then you’d best get on the case, fast! A Broadway transfer must also beckon.

Oh and the excellent cast is joined on stage at various points by a live rabbit and a live goose. Reason enough to go see I would have thought.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Blondie...

Last night Stuart, Simon, Joanna and I went to see the magnificent X Offenders Blondie perform at the Camden Roundhouse in London's not too glitzy Chalk Farm.

Ostensibly to launch their new studio album, Pollinator, and thirty-nine years after the band played a career-defining gig there the legendary rockers lit up the Roundhouse with an up-tempo set of hits old and new. In fact the new stuff sounds so much like the old stuff (a good thing) it was sometimes hard to tell them apart. Stuart and I were singing along to some of new tracks with lyrics to the old ones - the way you do. Oh, how we laughed.

The visuals were great, Debbie Harry looked amazing and was in fine voice. She chatted and joked with the crowd and worked us all up into a frenzy.

Their new single, My Monster, written by The Smiths’ former guitarist Johnny Marr wasn't the best but we danced around anyway.

Great night.

Set List

01. One Way or Another (One Direction cover (only joking!))
02. Hanging on the Telephone (The Nerves cover)
03. Fun
04. Call Me
05. My Monster
06. In the Flesh
07. Rapture
08. (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) (Beastie Boys cover)
09. Fragments
10. Long Time
11. Atomic
12. Gravity
13. Heart of Glass / I Feel Love (Donna Summer cover)
Encore:
14. Maria
15. Too Much

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Bob Dylan and His Band...

Last Sunday night Stuart and I went to see Bob Dylan and His Band perform on his Never Ending Tour at the London Palladium in London's glitzy West End.

I didn't know much of Dylan's music before the gig and I'm not sure I know much more now - he did a lot of covers. A lot. And rather dreadful ones at that. The first four songs were great though - very lively and very musical.

A couple of his songs sounded like they were being played by an Hawaiian wedding band but then I like Hawaiian wedding bands so that was fine.

"See Bob Dylan" (Bucket list tick.)

The set-list was:-

01. Things Have Changed
02. To Ramona
03. Highway 61 Revisited
04. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
05. I Could Have Told You (Frank Sinatra cover)
06. Pay in Blood
07. Melancholy Mood (Frank Sinatra cover)
08. Duquesne Whistle
09. Stormy Weather (Harold Arlen cover)
10. Tangled Up in Blue
11. Early Roman Kings
12. Spirit on the Water
13. Love Sick
14. All or Nothing at All (Frank Sinatra cover)
15. Desolation Row
16. Soon After Midnight
17. That Old Black Magic (Johnny Mercer cover)
18. Long and Wasted Years
19.  Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)

Encore
21. Blowin' in the Wind
22. Ballard of a Thin Man


Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui...

 
Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Brecht's classic political satire The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse.

Starring Lenny Henry and me (more of that later!) Brecht's classic, Chicago-set satire on Hitler's ascent to power almost feels too obvious to stage in 2017, the year a right-wing demagogue took control of the United States. Employing Mr Henry as Arturo Ui was then perhaps a genius bit of counter-casting as he bears very, very little resemblance to Trump.

That said, the fact this new version is by waspish American satirist Bruce Norris would suggest there would be parallels there – plus plenty for Henry to get his comic teeth into.

Before we had even taken my seats at the Donmar, we had spoken to two actors and shaken a few hands. It was all part of the Donmar's transformation. The stalls - stage and seating - had been removed and replaced to create a space decked out as a late night jazz cafe complete with wooden tables and chairs to fit the new setting of prohibition era Chicago.

The cast mingled with the audience as they arrived in the building and then in the theatre chatting as if you are cafe customers. The reason behind some of the conversations only becomes apparent as the play properly started. If you are sat at the front, you may be roped in. As I was in the second half.

In Norris' adaptation, our Brechtian villain is a gangster who wants respect as well as power and will be as ruthless as he needs to be to get there. The fact that his protection racket targets grocers and in particular, the cauliflower importers and sellers gives you a taste of the rather bizarre tone of the piece. Who knew cauliflowers could be such a ripe target for gangsters?

It is an Arturo Ui which is frothy and fun, with unsubtle references to Donald Trump and blatant parallels with the likes of Richard III - Norris also manages to weave in excerpts from several other Shakespeare plays including 'To be or not to be'. There are also tantalising snatches of popular songs sung live in a lounge jazz style, it becomes a game of name that tune - try and guess the song from a verse or two of familiar lyrics sung in an unfamiliar way. Nat King Cole's Nature Boy gets its second stage outing in as many years too (it was the song playing at the start of Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet). And did we heard Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out For A Hero?

The second half doesn't feel as quite as riotous as the first and in embellishing the play this way the more serious plot development scenes can feel a little stodgy and subdued in comparison. It certainly isn't a production of nuances so one wonders if it they could be trimmed to leave more room for the fun stuff.

And so it was that I got called up on stage. I was asked to play a man on trial - falsely accused of course. For 20 minutes; I nodded, I ran around, I sat in chairs, I got cross-examined, I pointed to the guilty party, I got dressed in bandages, I got in a wheelchair, I got shot. The end.

(Weirdly out in the West End on Sunday night - two days later - someone in the street recognised me and said "I saw you on stage at the Donmar last Friday!" Fame at last!)

Anyway, enough of my fame… back to the play...

Lenny Henry's Arturo is less menacing, more of a lovable rogue who happens to have people killed and that pretty much sums this up. It is a production weighted more towards silliness than biting satire but that isn't a criticism because it was laugh out loud funny.

Recommenced.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Fame At Last...

On Friday night I got invited to be on stage at the Donmar Warehouse (in a Brecht play) and ended up being part of the production. I was on stage for 20 minutes playing a man on trial. The play had Lenny Henry in it.
Weirdly out in the West End last night someone in the street recognised me and said "I saw you on stage at the Donmar last Friday!" 
Fame at last!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Obsession...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Obsession at the Barbican Theatre in London's glitzy Barbican Centre.

Synopsis: Don't bother. It was utter rubbish.

Well, not exactly utter rubbish but mainly rubbish. Even WunderKind Ivo van Hove's quirky production couldn't salvage the dreadful translation of the script by Simon Stephens. Lame, boring and trite the actors try their best with lines like, "Is that what you are thinking? Is it? Because if it is, I don't know what to think myself."

Based on The Postman Always Rings Twice (unhappy couple, enter drifter, steamy affair, stylised murder, and tortured guilt) this should have been a sexy affair. Jude Law gets his top off (buff!) and there is oil, lots and lots of oil to wallow in. But the chemistry between the leads rarely catches fire and you find yourself being more interested in the minor characters like the priest with his interest in yellow eels or the gay drifter Johnny with his longing for adventure and the sea.

There was lots of sighing and yawning in the auditorium and a few people left mid-performance. All a bit of a waste of what is undoubtedly good talent.

Oh and did I mention that the characters burst into opera for no apparent reason. And they run away by running on the spot on an asthmatic travellator. All it needed was a tandem or a dog on roller-skates.

Maybe I was right first time. Utter rubbish. Avoid.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Arsenal 1 - 0 Leicester...

It'll be a long slog to try and secure top four this season but every long journey starts with the first step. 

Despite having much of the possession we couldn't seem to make it count until an own goal a few minutes from full time gave us the game. 

Next step Spurs away. Gulp!
 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Immersive Records Hounds of Love...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to an Immersive Records production of Kate Bush's the Hounds of Love at Hornsey Town Hall in London's glitzy Crouch End.

It was great fun and the evening was topped off by a performance of the entire album by Kate Bush tribute act funsters Cloudbusting.





Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Handmaiden...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Korean erotic psychological thriller The Handmaiden at The Screen on the Green in London's glitzy Islington.

Based upon Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith the twisty plot has been changed from Victorian era Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule.

Under Park Chan-wook's direction the film is visually sumptuous and absorbingly idiosyncratic. It's at times sexy, often funny and at one point toe-curling horrific.

Recommended.

Monday, April 24, 2017

FA Cup Semi-Final...

Yesterday afternoon Paul, me and 35 other Gay Gooners all went to Wembley Stadium together to watch the might Arsenal take on the might Manchester City in the FA Cup Semi-Final 2017.

The boys did us proud and because of a disallowed goal (tee, hee) we scraped a win in extra time.

Big ups to Monreal and Alexis for their goals.

We had a great time and it was quite special to spend it with the Gay Gooners.
 

   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Human Nature...

To understand human nature, look how worn out the lift's "close the door" button is compared to the "keep the door open" button.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Limehouse...

So another election is upon us? (sigh)

Last Thursday Stuart and I went to see timely drama Limehouse at the Donmar Warehouse in London's glitzy West End.

The story is set in a house in Limehouse in 1981 where the so-called 'Gang of Four' – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams - meet to plot their future, the future of the Labour Party, and indeed the future of British politics.

At the time of the Limehouse meeting Britain had an adamantine female prime minister with a strong right-wing majority and a Labour Party divided over how to respond, arguing over Trident and in disarray over Europe. Sound familiar?

After Margaret Thatcher's big win in 1979, the Labour Party took a big jump to the Left. And the moderates/right-wingers of the Labour Party like our Gang of Four weren't too happy. So they met in secret to talk it through – do they stay and fight or break away and form a new party?

By the end of the day they had set aside their rivalries, anger, guilt, squabbling, in-fighting, jealousies and bitter recriminations and come up with The Limehouse Declaration. A statement that signalled their intent all to leave the Labour Party and form a Council for Social Democracy.

The Social Democrats were wildly successful for a while polling at 25% but then after Thatcher's Falklands War election win in 1983 they waned until merging with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats. And look where *they* are now.

In some ways, the Social Democrats were the New Labour of their day. And if May gets a huge majority in 8 weeks’ time... who knows?... maybe their time will come again.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Queer British Art 1861-1967 @ Tate Britain...

Last Friday Stuart, my brother Simon, my sister Joanna, my niece Charlotte, Paul, Simon and I went to see Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain in London's glitzy Pimlico.

Two pieces of legislation set the timespan for this exhibition. One is the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861; the other is the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. And it’s the shadow of illegality and widespread prejudice that’s cast over everything on display in this rich and fascinating survey of queer art.

Weaving between history and gossip, private lives and public declarations, repression and celebration, the exhibition recounts a complicated story of sexuality and desire through work that is as often as coded and veiled as it is candid and outspoken.

Although wide-ranging, I'd like to highlight three pieces from the exhibition that spoke to me.

The first is the calling card left by the Marquess of Queensberry for Oscar Wilde (with the words “for Oscar Wilde, posing Somdomite” [sic]) left at Wilde’s club. The card hangs near a full-length portrait of Wilde, as an elegant man about town and the door to his cell in Reading jail.

The second is Duncan Grant’s 1930 portrait of PC Harry Daley which commemorates the Hammersmith policeman who was, for a time, EM Forster’s lover, and who went on to write a book recounting his experiences on both sides of the law.

Thirdly the heart-breaking pieces by precocious Jewish pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon who was arrested for cottaging, first in London, later in Paris, and spent the last 20 years of his life in St Giles workhouse, alcoholic and abandoned by many of his friends.

The show is strange, sexy, and oft heart wrenching. From Man Ray’s portrait of Virginia Woolf to Orton’s library book collages and Noël Coward’s dressing gown, this vital survey is bursting with fascinating stories.

Go see.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ebola vs. Tulisa...

Q: What's the difference between Ebola and Tulisa?
A: Ebola will finish you off.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Boom, Boom!...

My grandad said, "It's going to be hot this weekend."
I said, "Tell me something I don't know!"
Grandad replied, "Your Nana's arse can take my whole fist."


Talking of my Nana. Last Sunday she invited Stuart and I round for a roast.
Kinky bitch!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

42nd Street...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see showbiz musical 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Paper thin plot but wow what a show!

There are few more famous openings in musical theatre: the curtain rises a few inches, just enough to reveal a line of tap shoes thundering away. 42nd Street, the ultimate backstage musical, is a blunt force trauma of a show. It roars where others purr. Mark Bramble, who co-wrote the book for original 1980 Broadway show, in turn based on the 1933 MGM smash film, continues his long association with the musical as director here.

And it’s an extraordinary thing, crammed with songs by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, full of the sound and fury of tapping feet, illuminated by dazzling colour. So much so, in fact, that it’s easy to ignore the fact that by interval time nothing has really happened.

Famed director Julian Marsh is putting on a huge show, Pretty Lady, in the middle of the Great Depression. “This is April 3rd 1933 and we start work on a new show”, he says helpfully, embodying the show’s characteristic avoidance of subtlety. Erstwhile star Dorothy Brock has been reluctantly cast as the lead so that the producers can get a wedge of investment money from her rich beau.

A young woman from small town Pennsylvania, Peggy Sawyer, rolls up late looking for a job in the chorus line. She's an instant hit with the show's leading man, not so much anyone else. Eventually – and not before a lot of songs and dances – Brock breaks her ankle, Sawyer steps up and the dream comes alive for everyone.

It’s a show with a strange history: its original director, Gower Champion, died on opening night in 1980. Catherine Zeta-Jones was propelled from chorus girl to star in the 1984 West End production in this same theatre. Bramble has been there all the way, and he clearly knows this piece inside out, and that’s apparent from the occasional flashes of real complexity in the production.

Layer upon layer of artifice is built up, completely blurring the line between what’s real life and what’s happening on stage. Sets represent sets, costumes double as costumes, actors play actors

The production recognises the rust that’s bloomed on many of these MGM-era tropes and it paints them with silliness, rather than seriousness. The hackneyed lines – “Sawyer, you're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!” – are played for laughs and the zero-to-hero ridiculousness of the story and its setting is amplified.

Every number, from familiar songs like Keep Young and Beautiful and Shuffle Off to Buffalo to lesser known numbers like Boulevard of Broken Dreams (added to the production especially to showcase Sheena Easton’s voice) swells to a huge climax and although there are a few forgettable performances, perhaps inevitable in a cast of 48, the good ones are great.

Tom Lister doesn't make Julian Marsh the dictator he's often played as. Instead there's more of a 'firm but fair' vibe. It means that, until Lister can show off his powerful baritone voice late in the show, the character is somewhat diminished, especially in the midst of three extraordinary women.

Clare Halse as Peggy is, without doubt, a phenomenal dancer. She moves so fast and with such precision that in some moments her legs are a blur. She’s got the acting skill too, an endearing brew of optimism and bewilderment, with a sharp comic sense – “eyes shining like a kid at Christmas” as one of the characters describes her. But she’s a whisper of a threat away from the triple, with a voice that doesn’t knock one’s socks off in the way her dancing does.

Jasna Ivir is hilarious as Pretty Lady’s composer Maggie Jones and, in her West End debut, Sheena Easton’s sneers and snarls as Dorothy Brock almost push her diva routine into panto villain territory, but it sets the tone for whole show – one of embracing the silliness, revelling in the recognisability of all the old Golden Age cliches.

Everything conjures the America of the 1930s – except the accents, most of which got lost somewhere across the Atlantic. Douglas W Schmidt’s set and Roger Kirk’s costumes – every colour dialled up a hue – show just how appealing the theatre would have been in the Great Depression, a world full of smiles and sequins.

One scene sees four urchins find a dime in a gutter, and within seconds colossal coins are rolled onto the stage and set down like circular stages, danced upon by chorines wearing all the spangles and glitter in the world. Opulence and escapism meet Depression-era America head on, a reminder that the 1933 film’s colossal success was due in no small part to the feel-good and consequence-free lavishness it offered in contrast to the poverty of its audience’s lives.

In a brilliant hat-tip to the iconic film, during one chorus scene a giant art deco mirror hangs above the stage and we see the dancers blossom and grow into abstract geometric shapes. Busby Berkeley’s groundbreaking film choreography is resurrected in glorious Technicolor onstage.

The musical has always been about immensity: subtlety begone, nothing by halves. It’s a show that can say all it needs to through numbers alone: 48 cast members, 432 costumes, 2,000 lights; it holds, and has shattered, Broadway records. Sometimes that magnitude, that earth-quaking rumble of dancing feet is enough to sustain it. It can survive through sheer size.

But, here and now, it’s combined with a nascent West End nostalgia kick and seems to be tapping (sorry) into an audience that is desperate for the classics. An American in Paris opened a couple of weeks ago, borrowing from the Gershwins’ songbook, there was La La Land of course, Sunset Boulevard – in fact the producers of the recent Glenn Close production, Michael Grade and Michael Linnit, also produced this show.

We may not be in the middle of a major economic depression, but things aren’t looking that rosy at the moment either. A show that’s all about pretence is well timed. 42nd Street is where the underground meets the elite, and that’s what theatre is too: a girl from small town Pennsylvania has to pretend to be a star; chorines crammed 10 to a dressing room backstage have to conjure incredible worlds on stage.

When that army of dancers gets going, when the rows of lights start twinkling and tap shoes hit the bleachers extending towards the audience from the back of the stage, it’s simply, overwhelmingly, stunning.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead...


Last night Stuart and I went to see Tom Stoppard's absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at The Old Vic in London's glitzy Waterloo.


Against the backdrop of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this mind-bending situation comedy sees two hapless minor characters, Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe) and Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire), take centre stage with David Haig as The Player. Increasingly out of their depth, the young double act stumble their way in and out of the action of this iconic drama. In a literary hall of mirrors, Stoppard’s brilliantly funny, existential labyrinth sees us witness the ultimate identity crisis.

Both Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire are excellent; the first two acts producing some full-on belly laughs – none more so that when they play Questions. The production perhaps loses its way a little in the final third act though as the events of Hamlet play a more prominent part of the action.

The play is delightfully absurd and as the characters constantly ask themselves what is going on - we the audience know only too well – they demonstrate theie conflict between art and reality.

Metatheatre is a central structural element of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Scenes that are staged as plays, dumb shows, or commentaries on dramatic theory and practice, are prominent in both Stoppard's play and Shakespeare's original tragedy Hamlet. In Hamlet, metatheatrical elements include the Player's speech, Hamlet's advice to the Players, and the meta-play "The Mousetrap". Since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters from Hamlet itself, Stoppard's entire play can be considered a piece of metatheatre.

Luckily all this self-referentialism is not only clever but funny. Very, very funny.

Recommended: If you like Hamlet. And Stoppard. And metatheatre!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Arsenal 3 - 0 West Ham...

We didn't hold out much hope last night at the Emirates due to our pretty poor run of form of late but despite a boring first half we really pulled to together in the second. 

Yay for our team!

 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?...

I have fond memories of Arsene Wenger. Whether he stays for a bit longer or goes at the end of this season I hope those memories don't get tarnished by a slow, awkward and disruptive departure.

AW deserves repect for what he has achieved to get Arsenal FC where they are now but that respect could soon turned sour if he is seen to putting himself before the club. It may be hard for him to take but he may not be the best thing for Arsenal's future.

Where I work we have succession planning meetings. We make arrangements for what will happen when (not if) someone leaves the company. I chair the group and I usually start each meetings with the same phrase, "The graveyard is littered with indispensable people. If we don't plan for the future we are betraying those who will follow us and they will curse us for our lack of foresight."

No one likes change but it is nearly always for the best in the long run. Afterwards people often wonder why they never did it earlier.

I just hope Arsene does the right thing by the club - even if the right thing is he not staying on and so making way for the fresh ideas the club so obviously needs. It would be such a shame to see him hounded out and my memories become those of his ungracious exit and not of his glory years.

If you prune an aging rose bush well you can watch it sprout new wood and bloom a wondrous red rose once again.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Hamlet...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Andrew Scott take on the Bard's mightiest role as he played Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Synopsis: So "Hamlet" then Moriarty... 221B or not 221B? He did not disappoint. Wonderful. Long but wonderful.

David Tennant has had a go. Benedict Cumberbatch has taken a stab at it. And now fellow star of BBC Steven Moffat dramas Andrew Scott – Moriarty in Sherlock – is giving us his apparently compulsory Hamlet. When will it be Martin Freeman's turn, I wonder? Or Billie Piper's? Actually, there's a thought!

But be reassured dear reader, Mr Scott's sweet prince was top notch. His was a moving and human Hamlet, full of charm, self-mockery, and ability to speak directly to the audience. He found new paths through Hamlet's soliloquies, dwelling on certain words as if caressing their edges. Cleverly each seemed like an act of intimacy with the audience.

As we've come to expect from director Robert Icke the production is clever too. Bob Dylan songs regularly float across the auditorium, the ghost of Hamlet's father is first seen on CCTV, and Polonius wears a wire.

It's transferring to the West End soon so if fancy 4 hours of good quality Shakespeare - this is the show for you.

In the foyer we spotted Benedict Cumberbatch with Sophie Hunter. He was obviously there to support his friend - and check out if he had done any better than his own fairly lacklustre production at the Barbican a couple of years back. And when Mr Scott uttered the immortal line "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him.." I'm sure we heard Cumberbatch mutter under his breath "I knew him better!"

Monday, April 03, 2017

Pet Shop Boys...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the Pet Shop Boys alongside Johnny Marr and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra perform in aid on The Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall in London's well-heeled Kensington.

Good egg Roger Daltrey was on hand too to help get the message across about the good work The Teenage Cancer Trust does.

Neil was in fine voice and on good form. Chris didn't move from his chair(!)

"We have often combined electronics with orchestrations on our records and now we’re going to do this in concert. Johnny has played on many of our albums and it will be a real thrill to have him on stage with us."

The orchestral arrangements were great filling the auditorium with beautiful concert music coupled with the PSB's inimitable wit and sound - "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat."

It was a great night that brought tears to my eyes. The cause was a good one and the performance was sensational.

The set-list was:-

Act 1
Left To My Own Devices
Tonight Is Forever
This Must Be The Place I've Waited Years To Leave
Rent
Later Tonight
New York City Boy
Miracles
The Survivors
Leaving
Jealousy

Interval

Act 2
Hold On
It Couldn't Happen Here
All Of Us
Can You Forgive Her?
Breathing Space
He Dreamed of Machines
Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin
Indefinite Leave To Remain
West End Girls
It's Alright
It's A Sin


 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Don Juan in Soho...

Last night Stuart and I went to see David Tennant star in Don Juan In Soho at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Patrick Marber's version of Molière's story about a serial seducer of women transports the action to contemporary London. It is rude, it is crude, and it is very, very funny.

Tennant plays the recently renamed DJ as a magnificent, terminally bored, quasi-toff who beds, dumps and cruelly taunts his conquests. He is dangerous, sleazy, a hedonist, and he is not fussy about orifices either, “He'd do it with anything – a hole in the ozone layer.”

His chubby little factotum Stan (excellently played by Adrian Scarborough) struggles to keep up.

The humour ranges from hysterical slapstick to downright offensive. Tennant hits the heights as he tries to control the pleasure wrought under the blanket by expert fellatio from one woman, while his upper half engages in conversation with and oozes fake concern towards the wife of a male rival whom he has considerately put in a coma. The lows are plumbed when he taunts a homeless man by dangling a £1,000 watch if he agrees to blaspheme against Allah.

Is DJ one of J. M. Barrie's Lost Boys? Is he the Devil incarnate? Or just a sex addict?

Fans of Tennant will love this. The critics have been somewhat sniffy. Critics? Cretins!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

An American in Paris...

Last night Roger and I went to see new musical An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Well-produced show reimagined from the 1951 Gene Kelly Hollywood film. It has gained 5-star reviews across the board from most critics. To my taste, it was perhaps a little light on the songs at the start and a little too heavy on the ballet in the end. But by the second half the show had really taken flight.

An American in Paris is ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's first stab at directing a musical. And it is largely a success. He shows a love of the source material - Gene Kelly's dancing and Gershwin's tunes are done great justice. The plot has perhaps turned a little darker with more hints of Nazi-collaboration and closeted-homosexuality than I remember from the film. But that all adds more light and shade to the four-way love-triangular plot. (Can a triangle have four sides? In musicals I guess it can.)

We are in Paris just after the war. A GI wants to be an artist, another GI wants to be a composer, and a Frenchman wants to sing jazz in America. Centre stage is a ballet dancer who is looking for her big break. He loves her, he loves her too, oh and so does he. You get the picture. They all love her. So whom will she choose? My money is on the one with the biggest jeté. For all the principle parts are played by ballet stars. And 'ballet' they do. A lot. It is good toes, bad toes all the way in this show.

We did enjoy ourselves alot and the performances were all solid but... my main quibble might be that it took over 15 minutes before we got to hear our first Gershwin song. And this is a musical after all. And while we wait for the singing there are lengthy interludes with just ballet - no talking, no acting, no songs - just ballet. Solid, athletic, ballet. Now don't get me wrong, I like ballet as much as the next West End Wendy but it made for a rather ponderous show when you are waiting for the next line and the lead actor has to do another few circuits around the stage spinning his head like The Exorcist on fast-forward before suggesting they both go for a walk along the Seine.

And while I'm quibbling I'd have to say that the Dominion Theatre is big theatre with a very big stage. It needs to be filled with sound and filled with light to make a great show work and both these qualities were rather lacking in the first half. Turn it up please! Neither the should-be-infectious "I've Got Rhythm" nor heart-felt "The Man I Love" really took flight as they were too quietly performed and you could bearly see the action though the dimly lit auditorium.

However things were very, very different in the second half. The show suddenly took flight. The band played up, the lights shone brightly, the scenery settled down, the back projection ignited like a firework, and the big production numbers simply blazed on the stage. It was funnier, slicker and the plot simply tore along. In the second half Gerswin's tunes came thick and fast and the whole show soared. It was like a different show. Even the 20 minute ballet towards the end seemed to have earned its bright Piet Mondrian stripes.

Kick, turn, kick-kick, turn - feathers, top hats, show tunes - tap dancing, show girls - kick-kick, turn. Wow! It was wow. It was gorgeous. This is what we came to see! Gershwin tunes writ large on a big stage, played by a big band with dazzling dancing.

Now if only the first half had been as good as the second I'd have joined the 5-star reviewers in my fulsome praise.

Verdict: If you like Gershwin and you love ballet - this is the show for you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Caravan Club...

Last Saturday Stuart, Oliver, Marcin and I took a queer walking tour around London's glitzy Soho and followed it up with a night at the infamous Caravan Club.

The walking tour was great - taking in such places as the old Colony Club, various queer haunts of the 1930s and beyond, and peppered with illuminating (and sometimes funny) stories of the arrest and persecution of gay men and women by the police.

The Caravan Club, once billed as the capital's greatest bohemian rendezvous, had been lovingly recreated for National Trust and National Archives Queer City project. It was originally a short-lived queer meeting place back in the 1930s festooned with flowing shawls and coloured blankets. And the 2017 recreation was spot on.

We were greeted at the door by a suitable discerning but fabulously camp/butch bouncer who asked us our business. Once reassured that we were 'just so' he soon allowed us entry into the dim twilight world of the homosexual beyond the curtain.

Immersive actors played suitably fey characters, sang for us and encouraged us to mingle and recite limericks and songs to entertain our fellow caravaners. We were served cocktails, felt a real sense of history and laughed a lot.

The night drew to a close with a police raid. Of course.

Well done National Trust.




  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Call Me God: A Dictator's Final Speech...


Last night Stuart and I went to see John Malkovich in Call Me God: A Dictator's Final Speech at Union Chapel in London's glitzy Islington.

Synopsis: Nice to see Malkovich in the flesh but the show is rather Just Call Me God-awful.

John Malkovich is no stranger to dark roles, so it is no wonder that he has become a sort of muse to writer-director Michael Sturminger. After exploring two extremes together – a serial killer and Casanova – their third collaboration sees them carry on the theme of extremism. Just Call Me God: The Final Speech of a Dictator premiered in Hamburg earlier this month, and the London stop of its European tour is taking place in the charming Union Chapel. Even before the show starts, amid the bustle of the audience finding their seats, the chapel makes its presence felt and creates a special atmosphere.

While the venue does half the job, Malkovich gamely tries to do the other. Sadly in vain.

He plays Satur Diman Cha, a dictator in hiding who has recently lost all his power. When a group of soldiers and a bold female journalist, Caroline, enter his palace, he attacks them and leaves most of the party for dead. In an attempt to save herself, Caroline challenges the ruler with an impromptu interview, declaring that she is interested in his side of the story. A surreal power game ensues.

The surprising element of Just Call Me God is the number of scenarios normally associated with high tension, if not terror, that become laugh-out-loud moments. The failing is that many of these moments are far from intentionally funny though. Malkovich can be superb in veiling the sinister core of his characters with waves of sheer hilarity but here he simply corpses at his own jokes. Unprofessional? Tedious? A few people left.

The play sits somewhere between theatre and cinema, with cameras on stage and a large screen above the action showing close-ups and otherwise unnoticeable details. Malkovich traditionally is at ease with both mediums but the execution here is poor and confusing - under-rehearsed even.

It is very clear that Sturminger created Satur Diman Cha around Malkovich, because the role fits him like a soggy glove. But the play seems to rely too heavily on its protagonist, and it sometimes becomes apparent that without him it would not hold up half as well. Even when he goes off stage for a few moments, it feels as if what little magic there is is momentarily deactivated.

Since the subject-matter is not fresh, the execution ought to be wildly imaginative to justify its existence. The main character is essentially a medley of dictators, but condensing all the despots into one does not make Satur more powerful, only too generic to offer much beyond an caricature. The problematic factor of depicting a dictator is that this figure has become the villain par excellence, and two-dimensional baddies have never fared too well.

Overall this is a pretty weak production - although bravely supported by the strong presence of Malkovich, it is only the aura of the venue and conductor Martin Haselböck’s organ concerto that makes Just Call Me God experience just about bearable.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Singapore...

Stuart and I arrived in Singapore last Friday and we've been pretty much partying ever since. Dawn and Al have been our hosts and rather lovely hosts they are too. City Tour, sky-high bars and electric trees followed by Singapore Slings at Raffles. What's not to like?!

Singapore is an unusual place. It's isolated, beautiful, clean and safe. There are lots of great places to eat, drink and hangout and being just shy of the equator the place is rather lush with vegetation. It's also a gated community bulging with skyscrapers, ex-pats and clammy weather so attracts a certain well-heeled crowd.

The 15% tax rate fills the place with high-end economic migrants, making it a global centre for trade and shipping, and it is a nice place to live - for those with money that is. For calling the place "expensive" doesn't even begin to cover it. Most things including food and drink seem to be 2 - 3 times even London prices.

And this little paradise island also has some tough rules to accompany its good living. Apart from the well-known no spitting and no chewing gum laws, commiting more serious crimes can prove costly or even fatal. Some have described Singapore as Disneyland with the death penalty. Singapore has the second highest per-capita execution rate in the world. The semi-authoritarian regime is run by a governing party that has been in power since 1959 and their motto is effectively, "If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to fear." Now where have I heard that before?

So Singapore is a nice place to live, expensive but nice. Just don't break the law.