Thursday, 20 December 2012

'Taboo', Brixton Club House, 11/12/12


'Taboo' is an affectionate reflection on the New Romantic club scene and the people who frequented it. The fictional plotline women around the real life figures, replete with an outstanding score by Boy George and Kevan Frost, was a big success first time around. Now, all the original creatives have re-assembled and reworked the show, rejigging the plot-line, the score and even the design.
Now a sight-specific production, taking place in an actual club, this new update works even better than the original (which I thought would be almost impossible). The New York adaptation has all but been forgotten (and with good reason) aside from a few musical numbers which were created for the NY run and which are seamlessly integrated here. The original 'raw' aspect is restored to the play much to its benefit, unlike the sleek, polished, Broadway production.
The reworked script clarifies the plot even more and changes 'Billy's' journey slightly making his story arc more transparent and believable. Likewise the other characters this change impacts.


The cast are exceptional and, led by original cast member Paul Baker, reprising his role as 'Phillip Salon' sing and act mere inches away from the audience. Such bravery, especially given the attire and roles they perform is acting at its best. Alistair Brammer as 'Billy' is everything required of the role and strikingly handsome to boot. A leading man, indeed, and one to watch! Matthew Rowland as 'Boy George' is something, also, although memories of Euan Morton in the role are quite pervasive.
Sam Buttery as 'Leigh Bowery' lends a beautiful voice and honest soul to the performance. And he makes some brave choices in his portrayal.
The club setting, and the close proximity of the audience to the cast, is part of what makes this production work so well. Here one is all but part of the show.


The three piece band, plus sound design is first rate and perform O'Dowd's score to perfection.
My only gripe is that one or two numbers written for the Broadway staging that aren't included here could have been with little adaptation required. I also miss 'Church of the Poisoned Mind' from the original staging. But these are very minor quibbles in a show that has reworked itself to near perfection.

Catch this show while you can. Prepare to be transported to a world where everything's 'taboo'. Prepare to be moved, also!

'Hansel & Gretel', GAMTA, 20/12/12

Advertised as a 'dark and devilish new musical' this reworking of the fairy story is an enjoyable affair even though it doesn't quite live up to the 'dark' or 'devilish' part. The closest it gets is in the character of the witch who, rather than eat little children, turn them into mindless drones continually accessing knowledge via wi-phones.


There is a surprising array of talent on display in this production, from the youngest cast member to the eldest. Since there is not a complete cast list with character names attached in the programme is it difficult to pick any ensemble individuals out, although there were more than a few. As part of the 'adult' cast I'll state here and now that the 'baker' was rather flavoursome!
Chris Roberts (another handsome chap) led well as the eponymous characters' father 'John Clay', his strong voice and physical presence suited for the role, whilst his gentle nature was brought out subtly. 'Lisa Wilson' as 'Fable' clearly enjoyed her role as potential pure evil, yet we also see something more underneath. She has a pretty, pure voice and I can't say that any one performer was really weak.
Stephen Allen and Millie Innes as 'Hansel' and 'Gretel' worked wonderfully together with Innes especially confident and strong, as befits the role as written. Likewise Alex Fulton (I believe) performed well as their best friend 'Ilsa'.

The simple set and lighting designs by john Holding were more than effective, especially the latter, although at times some of the changes were a bit heavy handed and not as gentle or as subtle as they could have been.
The libretto could have been trimmed down a little, with act one being a trifle too long. It does seems at times as though author and director Shaaron Graham tries to hard to put a point across but her twist on the whole information age with the children permanently attached (literally) to their phones is a neat one. There are some plot holes errors such as when we learn that the village of 'Storyville' has closed itself off from the outside world yet we hear references to things such as Disney, likewise we are told early on that the children are taught about what happened to 'Fable', a child who wished to know too much and was thus seen as different to the rest of the village and therefore banished. We subsequently learn in an act two song about her history that the townsfolk decided never to speak of the event ever again. Did they change their minds?
Ah well, such things can be overlooked, I guess. After all this modern morality play still has something to say despite its somewhat hurried and sentimental ending where all is forgiven, naturally. But it wouldn't be a fairy story without a happy ending, right?

 
As for the musical numbers written by Stuart Bird (additional lyrics by Graham) there are quite a few catchy numbers sung with verve by the company and several ballads, many of which are quite tender. The lyrics may not be always the most original but they suit the piece and there are only one or two superfluous numbers such as 'The Argument' (its latter half however, 'My children' is not). Personally I always find it a shame when a live band or orchestra is not used but in such a small venue I can understand the use of pre-recorded material, although I'm sure the music could be orchestrated for a small four or five piece band which could be installed in a corner somewhere. I also think that the orchestration, at times, was a bit heavy, although, for the most part, it all worked quite well.

Lisa Mathieson' choreography was sprightly and varied and the direction by Graham, for the most part, was lively, if not always original, and there were only a few moments where we were faced with an empty stage. Indeed when the stage was full it was full.

Were this to be produced in the future I would certainly rework the script somewhat, tightening it and excising the excess, likewise the unnecessary musical numbers. I also would have liked this production to have been darker as it certainly had the potential to be so. As it was the production was enjoyable, catchy and actually had a little social message behind it.

Monday, 17 December 2012

'Sweeney Todd', Adelphi Theatre, London, 29/8/12

This one is very late but I am, at last, getting it down (indeed there are a few other reviews I have yet to put down).
This production was, to put it simply, perfect. From the cast, through to the lighting and sound design, the set and the orchestra, every thing coalesced to create one of the most thrilling, engaging and sublime pieces of theatre I have ever experienced.


This was no mere rehashing or retreading of past productions but a fresh take that approached the work with a more realistic edge than the original melodramatic approach: Even before the first note of the Overture the cast milled about onstage going about the daily drudgery of their lives in the dirty east end of London, efficiently setting up the environment before the show had started proper - these were hard times and people were suffering.

It is difficult to single out any one cast member but it is quite appropriate to say that Imelda Staunton as 'Mrs. Lovett' and Michael Ball as the title character were revelations. Staunton, especially, clearly played the role in a way not seen before - here was a person truly as vile and warped as Todd himself.
Lucy May Barker's voice was glorious as 'Lucy' and hers was no dumb blonde of a role. Likewise James McConville's 'Toby' was no mere idiot, rather he was played as a naive boy with learning difficulties. I found his 'Not While I'm Around' truly heartbreaking.


The set was ingenious, industrious and, at times played subtle homage to the original Hal Prince staging. The lighting perfectly complimented this with atmospheric use of light and shade.
The sound design was divine with voices layered in a way I've never heard before - with some voices more 'present' than others at times, the sense was one of aural depth, the likes of which complimented Sondheim's perfect score tremendously.

I only wish the run had been extended and that the production had been filmed. It truly was perfect in every way and I lament the fact that the cast recording was only a highlights album (and one full of strange choices - 'Pirelli's' numbers are excluded as is 'Green Finch and Linnet Bird').
I shall treasure the memory, however.

Friday, 14 December 2012

'The Phantom Of The Opera', Her Majesty's Theatre, London, 13/12/2012


I last saw the 'Brilliant Original' in 2006 where, whilst it still worked as an enjoyable piece of theatre, it was beginning to suffer from fatigue. Many cast members at the time had been with the show for several years and, to my eye, were simply 'going through the motions' which is a big no no!
This could not be further from the truth of this current company headed by Marcus Lovett who imbue the show with so much fresh energy and verve that it truly felt as though the show had only recently opened.

For the first time in all of the times I've seen the show in London I sat in the stalls which allowed me to see every line on each person's face. (I was also surprised at how small the stall section was). From the stalls the whole Chandelier sequence was much more exciting and involving.


The show still runs like a well oiled machine, hell even more so since last I saw it. The lighting and sound are still second to none whilst the visual effects still have the wow factor.


The entire cast was top notch with the ensemble in fine form and voice.
Lara Martins as 'Carlotta' was perfectly vile and diva-ish and in fine(is that word appropriate here?) voice as the schemings soprano hell-bent on keeping her status. Jeremy Secomb is perhaps the most realistic 'Piangi' I've seen. His pairing with Martins works, he has a lovely voice, but is also built like a strapping operatic tenor rather than the clownish versions of 'Piangi' I've seen before.
Barry James and Gareth Snook as the 'Managers' (who they also played in the 25th anniversary concert) were humorous and fresh - not simply sticking to how they played the roles previously.


Alternate 'christine' Anna O'Byrne, who features as 'Christine' in the DVD of the Melbourne production of 'Love Never Dies' was revelatory. Her vocals at times echoed those of Sierra Boggess but were distinctly her own. Her portrayal of the fear, confusion and inner turmoil at the struggle she endures whilst trying to fight for her freedom from both the shadow of her father and 'The Phantom' was tremendous, and she played the arc story arc perfectly; going from naive girl to confident woman via the ordeal in the graveyard where she truly begins to regain control of herself. During 'The Point Of No Return' that control is assured so that when, in the final lair scene, she is faced with the choice of 'The Phantom' or her true love 'Raoul' it is believable why she chooses the former. It is also worth noting that Hers is one of the few portrayals that makes me believe that she utterly wants to be with Raoul whilst feeling pity (and really little else) for 'The Phantom'. This is partly due to Simon Thomas who plays Raoul. He is no overly confident cad but rather someone who cares much for his former childhood playmate. Thomas is dashing in the role and brings the helps balance out the love triangle perfectly.


As 'The Phantom' Marcus Lovett is a wonder. His voice of hard thunder, lightning and soft silk and candlelight is not typical Phantom fare yet echoes the voice described in the original novel. In fact, much of his portrayal echoes the novel. He doesn't merely echo anyone else who has filled the shoes of 'Erik' but plays Leroux's 'Phantom'. Here is a 'Phantom' who, at times, one thought was capable of utterly destroying that which he loved most - namely the Opera House and 'Christine'. Yet he also showed the tender side that only 'Christine' was able to produce', showing us the adolescence that never was; where a normal man would learn social skills, 'Erik' clearly has not and has thus remained much a spoiled, temperamental child. The final lair scene is one of the most thrilling I've seen, filled with danger, passion and clarity. Lovett's demoniacally passionate 'Phantom' dragging his obsession around left 'Erik' quite possibly dying of the heart attack that claims him in the novel. Lovett's presence, power and inherent awesomeness as 'Erik' is sublime and I may have a new favourite 'Phantom'. He slowly stalks at one point and then rushes about maniacally the next. His 'Phantom' is truly full of the unexpected.
I dearly hope I can see him in the role again before the end of his run.

I urge you to go NOW to Her Majesty's to catch this amazing performance in this amazing show. Believe me when I say words can't really describe how wondrous Lovett is.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

'The Phantom Of The Opera', Edinburgh Playhouse, 29/9/12


As 'The Phantom Of The Opera' John Owen-Jones not only commands the Opera Garnier but the Playhouse as well. His astounding performance being the cherry on top of a beautiful cake of a production.
Is it a perfect production? Sadly not, but it is close to being so:

The musical direction was excellent aside from 'All I Ask Of You' which was conducted at too fast a tempo for my liking. The conductor, Anthony Gabriele, was a joy to watch and truly brought out wonderful sounds from the reduced orchestra which did, at times, sound a bit thin, especially in the more operatic moments and the obvious addition/substitution of synthesisers was at times obvious, although, surprisingly, 'The Music Of The Night' was the most sublime I've ever heard it played live. Mick Potter's sound design complimented the orchestra and was used cleverly to enhance them in regards to volume and quality.

Maria Bjornsons' costumes were as glorious as ever although some of the newer, additions are conspicuous. Paul Brown's wonderful set was truly outstanding with use of a multi-purpose central design essaying further details of the backstage areas of the Opera House. To my mind much of the design echoed locations as featured in the original novel; the 'Maquerade' here takes place, not on the Grand Staircase as per the original production, but rather in a circular, mirrored room, akin to the Rotunda featured in the novel for the same scene. True, this lessened the entrance of 'The Phantom' (especially since his reveal and 'The Phantom Theme' came at different times) and the cast did, at times, look a bit sparse, but it still works well. Likewise the backstage areas are more obvious and detailed than in Bjornson's original designs, which preferred to hint at them, and some of the detailing here, plus the goings-on in the background helped create the sense of a functioning Opera House. The Lair of 'The Phantom' also looks more real and human (as per the novel) and we even see a rail of his dress shirts. In fact his lair looks quite a pitiful place which only adds to the sense of isolation the character must feel day-to-day whilst subconsciously feeding the same feeling to the audience. When confronted by the crowd in this place at the end of the show it is perhaps more embarrassing for this enigmatic figure.This is the kind of detail and variation from the original (stunning) Bjornson design I wish they had applied to the 2004 Motion Picture where expansion was essential.
Some set changes were a bit cumbersome, however, which meant that some scene changes and musical cues didn't quite gel. Likewise to facilitate some of the changes portions of the book were changed with often pointless additional lines of dialogue to fill the time required.
On the plus side a nice touch to certain scene changes was their implementation by men dressed as backstage crew of the period. Such small details please me. Paule Constable's Lighting complimented the design well, creating variations of light and shade adding to the depth of the production.


Laurence Connor's direction had some wonderful touches, such as the use of projected shadows (by Nina Dunn), but at other times a little puzzling: I understand it was the intention to make 'The Phantom' more man than mystery and to that end we actually see him at times amongst other people but, at the same time, he still has to hold much mystery and power and Connor negated some of this especially in the Perros scene where his confrontation with 'Raoul' is an almost muted affair: In this scene, 'Raoul' is also made quite ineffectual, given the fact that they are only a matter of meters away from each other. Since 'Raoul', only in the scene before, had stated that 'The Phantom' must be killed, he makes no effort whatsoever to take advantage of a moment to do so. Of course, were he to do so the story would be over but it's the director's responsibility to stage the scene in an appropriate manner. Here we had a glaring error of judgement.
The staging of 'All I Ask Of You' also irritated me. Here are a young couple declaring their love for each other, but instead of letting the song and the emotions work their magic, Connor has 'Raoul' and 'Christine' constantly dodging each other and wandering about the stage, almost as if Connor has no confidence in the simplest of stagings.
He does stage other scenes, however, quite wonderfully: 'The Music Of The Night' is a successful and subtle variation of Hal Prince's staging (it is very difficult to get away totally from aspects of Prince's staging as much of it is entwined with the music and lyrics), 'Don Juan Triumphant' and 'The Point Of No Return' (especially 'The Phantom's' impersonation of 'Piangi') is passionate and well directed, as is the final Lair scene and other little touches of Connor's are elegant and effective: It is his use of Brown's set that perhaps showcases the most original aspects of his direction.

Katie Hall as 'Christine' has to be one of the best in the role, looking every inch the young girl with a beautiful voice and assured acting talent.
Simon Bailey also looks and acts the part, handsome and charming and together they come across as the closest approximations to the characters of the original Leroux novel I've yet seen. It's just a shame their big duet, 'All I Ask Of You', was directed in such a clumsy way. But it's also a pleasure to see that Connor's direction of 'Raoul' is not so obviously directed as to be an indication of the travesty the character becomes in 'Love Never Dies'. 'Raoul' in the 25th anniversary concert, as staged by Connor, was nothing more than a selfish, angry, spoilt aristocrat who I found it preposterous to believe 'Christine' would give any attention whatsoever to.
'Carlotta' and 'Piangi' (Angela M Caesar and Vincent Pirillo) were not so successful with the former's voice being inconsistent in strength whilst they, together with the 'Managers' of Andy Hockley and Simon Green, were directed in such a way that some of the comedy inherent in their parts was flattened so that they became dull and tiresome at points.
Though the remainder of the ensemble looked a little sparse at times every member performed excellently.
'The Phantom' himself was performed by John Owen-Jones who imbued the character with beauty, mystery, power, presence, viciousness and pity in such a well crafted and acted performance that to hear him sing with such a sublime voice, which was at times as soft as a feather and at others as hard as stone, one could utterly believe how he could project terror and fascination, not to mention wonderment and enthralment, into others. Owen-Jones' was a perfect, well rounded performance that can only have been equalled by Michael Crawford's initial creation. He certainly surpassed in every way the performance that was given by Ramin Karimloo in the 25th anniversary concert which makes me wonder why he wasn't chosen for that concert in the first place (he was playing the role in London at the time and makes an appearance in the finale along with several other 'Phantoms').
In any case John Owen-Jones is even able to overcome any flawed direction (e.g. Perros) and constantly delivered above and beyond the call of duty.


The tour now continues on with a new 'Phantom', Earl Carpenter, and, if some of the more negative aspects of my review were dealt with (e.g. timing of musical cues/entrances, simplifying staging etc.) I would say that the production was as near powerful as the original as is possible. As it stands I would still say it is a superb production with an outstanding design, good direction (overall), overall top-notch cast, a wonderful orchestra and is more than well worth a visit. 
Even if the chandelier fails to actually crash (we do still get a bit of destruction, though).
It certainly stands amongst the best things I've seen tour, and wouldn't look out of place in the West End with a few minor tweaks.

Update 23/10/12:
When I saw the show the only programme available was the souvenir brochure which had an additional cast list (no pics or bios) slipped in. I have since learned that a separate programme was available, as per usual, complete with biographies and such but that the theatre (who produces these) sold out by the final two shows featuring John Owen-Jones. This is the second time I've been to an Ambassador Theatre where they have produced insufficient programmes to cover a run and think that this is an unacceptable thing to happen. It is a disservice to those onstage that people are unable to appreciate who they are and what they've done previously, not to mention those whose hard graft backstage is not featured at all in the simple credit page slipped in with the brochure (and in some cases I was aware that this page wasn't always slipped in by theatre staff!).

Friday, 28 September 2012

'A Little Of What You Fancy' by H. E. Bates

The final book in the Larkin chronicles is suitably the most melancholy of them all.

 
Pop's indulgent life-style finally gets the better of him when he is taken ill quite seriously, leaving him to ponder on all the things he is denied whilst in recovery. Naturally friends and family do all they can to lift his spirits but to little avail. It is only when a new nurse arrives to care for him and the threat of a major road being built through his beloved junkyard does he begin to recover.
Whether Bates was aware he was writing his last novel to feature the Larkins or not I do not know, but I think he may very well have been conscious of the fact: The book is a lament at the passing of the old and the inevitability of progress at the expense  of some of the simpler things in life. It is this aspect which I found to be the most moving part of the novel, especially since what Pop Larking fears has actually come to pass. Of course, progress must be made, even Bates and the Larkins accept that to some degree, but the real question is, 'at what cost?'

Perhaps the most philosophical and sad of the Larkin novels, it nevertheless ends with optimism and hope. Another fine read, indeed.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

'Jesus Christ Superstar', Glasgow SECC, 25/9/12

One of my all-time favourite shows. In an arena, echoing its original incarnation onstage in the United States. Well, not quite. Where those arena tours were produced simply (orchestra/band, singers and mic stands - no fussy staging and no attempt at set or costume) and on the back of the huge success of the album here we have a case of either overblown or underwhelming.


At this moment in time composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is stating this is how 'Superstar' was always conceived and yet throughout the show's history both Lloyd Webber and Lyricist Tim Rice have openly stated that the album and arena tours only happened because no-one wanted to produce a stage musical of their work. It was only after the recording success of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' that it finally hit its intended location - the musical theatre stage, albeit in varying degrees of success. The original Broadway production, directed by Tom O'Horgan ran for two years although his psychedelic vision was rather jarring and, some would say, ahead of its time. Lloyd Webber especially loathed the production. Various international productions followed until in 1972 'Superstar' opened in London directed by Jim Sharman who brought aspects of his previous Australian concert and theatrical stagings into the mix to produce a show that would run eight years. Simplicity ruled over excess and even the two cast recordings, Broadway and London echo this (Lloyd Webber and Rice had no involvement of the former whilst they produced the latter, and it is audible).

On the original 1970 album and on those early cast recordings you can hear the full wonder of Lloyd Webber's orchestration (although Hershey Kay adapted them for Broadway). Over the years those orchestrations have been down-graded from a near 30 piece orchestra/rock band to a 10 piece band - and that's one of the crimes of this new arena production. So much so that there is little variety in the sound produced by the band, especially since virtually everything is played at one single volume; loud and with seemingly little regard for tempo variation. In fact the whole musical direction lacks variety lacking any real light or shade.

As for the concept and direction of Laurence Connor I can only say that it is at times odd, cliched in some aspects and the concept is jarring with many of the lyrics that are sung. The choices he makes from one scene to the next do not always unify, thereby creating something of a jumbled way of story telling, rather than following a conceptual through-line that adequately works.
I also cannot understand why a random line or two of dialogue was added which added nothing to the story (were these authorised by Tim Rice?). There were also things going on which didn't need to be, detracting from the music and lyrics and primary story telling (when there was a momentary coherent moment of it) such as during 'Peter's Denial' where we have 'Peter' and 'Mary' and the three denial witnesses supplemented by at least three ensemble members performing acrobatics and skateboarding in the background. To what purpose? Beats me.
Which reminds me; when I heard that they would be using parkour in the production I was intrigued. I was greatly disappointed to find that it only really consisted of the same repeated somersaults and cartwheels amongst otherwise run-of-the-mill choreography. Perhaps there is really little that could be done on a set , by Mark Fisher, that consisted primarily of one giant staircase (reminiscent of the finale of 'Carrie' in 1988). The remainder of the modern day, protest/political concept seemed to me to have been an extreme development of some of the concept that Gale Edwards touched upon in her revised 1998 UK tour (and subsequently filmed for the 2000 video release and produced on Broadway) - indeed the stairway reminded me of elements of the design for that earlier production. The costume design was incredibly boring and tired - far too cliched and dated ('Rent' cast-offs galore) with every other cast member having dreadlocks - do they all share the same hairdresser? The whole visual concept was just far too obvious and 'been-there-done-that'. The use of screens, whilst at times helpful to those seated further back, was perhaps over-used in a vain attempt to help clarify the plot - that should have been done otherwise. For me the best moment was 'Judas' Death' which worked very well.
Having 'Herod' as a talk show host served no real purpose other than, perhaps, highlighting the idea that in the case of 'Jesus' the people have the power (in this case via text), although Chris Moyles was evidently more concerned about soaking up the adulation more than being a part of a company attempting to tell a story. It was during his number that a hideous choice was made where Moyles rushed off-stage to be replaced by an obvious double who performed back flips before Moyles rushed back on to continue. Again utterly pointless.
The idea of having the 'Priests' as bankers(?) was an odd one as surely they should have been played as MPs? I actually laughed when 'Caiaphas' sung the line 'Our expenses are good' because, unexpectedly, MPs are the first thing that shot into my mind. It's always good to try and think outside the box but these concepts just didn't work for the piece - they were heavily shoe-horned in and in an incomplete state; 'follow the twelve' is displayed prominently throughout and yet I kept asking myself, which twelve? We are never shown the twelve Apostles themselves - we eventually work out which ones are 'Peter and 'Simon' simply because they have solo parts - but the remainder (Judas aside, obviously) were just part of a mass of men and women who were always together, even at the 'Last Supper'.
'Pilate' (Alex Hanson) as Judge was probably the most appropriate choice made in this 'update' of the show although even some of his choices (dictated by the story) are at odds with today's modern world - what Western civilisation would openly and publicly flog a prisoner before condemning him to death? Hanson's portrayal was a highlight of the show. His was a more is less take which upstaged many of the larger-than-life aspects of the production.
Story-wise there was little development in any character's journey; Jesus abruptly goes from being quite jubilant up to 'Simon Zealotes' to suddenly being downbeat for pretty much the rest of the show - there is no graduation. 'Judas' is presented as starting out as he means to go along - angry and pissed off - with no change along the way. 'Mary' serves very little purpose, save to look somewhat knowing. We are just presented with music and words and visuals which didn't necessarily compliment each other rather than a story complete with faceted characters with varying agendas.
It is clear that when modernising a story that is as old as this one there is a limit to how far a director can go, and in this case Laurence Connor went too far.
The lighting by Patrick Woodroffe is suitably rock concert orientated and I think that is symptomatic of this production: It is trying to be both a rock concert and a theatrical presentation. I believe it is possible to do both to varying success (hell, 'Notre Dame De Paris succeeded far superior than this) but there are too many missteps here to say that it gelled as a whole. It simply didn't; here was the odd occasion that worked as a theatrical, almost dramatic presentation, and there were many more that were rock spectacle; the guitar soloist during the introduction for 'Damned For All Time' for one. Again, utterly pointless in the storytelling.


I'll say here that the cast were all pretty good, the ensemble were strong singers and even Mel C as 'Mary' was better than expected, though her voice isn't particularly to my liking (nor her horrible costume and dread locked hair) and she isn't up there with Yvonne Elliman, Dana Gillespie or Anne-Marie David. Like most of the cast, Melanie Chisholm's acting was too large and flat to truly register any emotion (I do blame the director for these choices) and, Ben Forster as 'Jesus' suffered the same fate at times, though he came to life during 'Gethsemane'. Whilst He can certainly sing the role he is no Steve Balsamo who redefined the role in the 1996 London revival - and that is part of the issue with this role: Ian Gillan originated the role on the album and Jeff Fenholt copied his vocal performance almost note for note on tour and on Broadway. Ted Neeley who played the role on the silver screen put his own twist to the vocals and his was the performance to copy. Then Balsamo came along and totally reinvented the vocal part and ever since people have tried to copy him note for note - Glenn  Carter certainly attempted to do so on Broadway and on the 2000 film, but his voice was thin and weak in comparison. Forster has much more power than Carter but the fact that his vocal choices were made by someone else robs him of the chance to truly own the role. Tim Minchin as 'Judas' is certainly the most successful of the leads. His is not so flat a performance, being able to express visually and vocally more than others do, which makes me wonder why he is able to do it and others aren't. Of course, the role is the most complex in the show and his voice, albeit different to what one would expect for the role, is quite suited. I only wish the cast were given more chance to actually act and create three-dimensional aspects to the characters they play in a production worthy of them rather than the flat, almost paint-by-numbers parts they have here in a production which is not.

If I imagine this as a rock concert with some (random) visuals it would be fine but since they were obviously trying to perform dramatically then it missed as much as it hit and considering Lloyd Webber kept mentioning in publicity the original 1971 American arena tours I wish he had just done that - ORCHESTRA (Oh! how I missed the orchestra!) and rock band, singers (no fancy costumes or staging) and mic stands. Da-Dah! Let the score speak for itself. Failing that, a fully fledged theatrical tour. And why not a revival of the 1996 London production which, since the design by John Napier was in the style of an Amphitheatre, could surely have been adapted for an arena stage?

Last words: The best thing to come from this production is that it has made me revisit the original album and the early cast recordings, if only to hear decent orchestrations and singers who, through vocals alone, without need for an in-your-face visual can tell the greatest story ever told.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

'The Mousetrap', Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 19/9/12

60 years on Agatha Christie's theatrical legend finally does the rounds in a tour of the UK with a cast featuring Thomas Howes (Downton Abbey), Karl Howman (Brush Strokes) and Bruno Langley (Coronation Street).


It is always interesting to see how well such writing holds up in modern theatre and, in this case, it holds up pretty well. No doubt this is aided, in part, by the fact that the director and the cast are aware that some lines are certainly seen as rather twee and so played slightly tongue-in-cheek. This all adds to the fun of the performance in which near-stereotypical characters are fleshed out by a willing cast who are more than happy to play along with some of the more melodramatic aspects of the play.
Agatha Christie's plot is as intriguing as one expects from the crime queen and together with the cast and director has created a dramatic, sometimes funny and, especially important, thrilling - especially at the climax. Kudos to the actors and the director who balance the pace of the piece well building it subtly so that, without being aware of it, tension is built and is held perfectly.
And the cast do not attempt to fight the antiquated dialogue but instead are able to swim along with it. None more so than Howes who is mesmerising as 'Sgt Trotter' and who not only feels utterly natural and believable in the role but makes his dialogue sound of today. Langley physically looks a little young for the role of 'Giles Ralston' but is nevertheless effective in the role, as are the remainder of the cast. Jan Waters, having previously played the role in the West End, plays 'Mrs Boyle' to a tee and Howman clearly has fun playing the foreigner 'Mr Paravicini'. Likewise Steven France as the rather effeminate 'Christopher Wren'.


The period setting and music is evocative and well designed and it is clear that 'The Mousetrap' still holds a fascination with theatrical audiences as many performances are sold out. If you can it's well worth grabbing a ticket.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Images

I'm just writing to apologise that my most recent posts do not contain any images. For some reason Blogger is not allowing my to put any into my posts.
When, of if, this issue gets resolved I'll edit the posts to rectify this.

Cheers.

'Whistle Down The Wind', Runway Theatre Company, Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow, 15/9/12

I adore 'Whistle Down The Wind'. I think the story is enchanting and the score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman is sweepingly epic, lush and thrilling. The modern fable of a story is enchanting and it is up there amongst my favourite of shows.
So I, naturally, grab any opportunity to see the show. I missed the original London production (and the earlier Washington tryout natch) but I did catch the brief Bill Kenwright West End revival and subsequent tour. Kenwright made many changes from the original London production, primarily to make the stage version more in keeping with the film's family appeal (the '98 London production was darker in tone). Some of the changes I liked but some, especially in relating to the cutting of songs, I didn't.
It was a pleasant surprise to see then that the songs cut from the Kenwright show were re-instated for the Scottish amateur premiere. These were the songs which were, perhaps, some of the darkest in the show, including the rather gruesome tale of Annie and Charlie Christmas (but kids enjoy a bit of that stuff, right? I know I did). This variety of light and shade is what was missing somewhat from the Kenwright version and could only be a positive addition to the show.


Runway Theatre's production was a well executed one with but a few quibbles. The cast were overall more than competent though, naturally, there will be those who stand above the rest. Amongst the ensemble Neil Patrick Harris look-alike Dominic Spencer as the 'Snake Precher' and Bob McDevitt's 'Sheriff' stood out. The former's vocals being amongst the most memorable of the evening.
Lead Ellie MacKenzie's 'Swallow' had a sweet voice whilst 'The Man' of J Campbell Kerr had a beautiful baritone but struggled with some of the higher notes (the role is for a tenor). There were some minor diction issues and some performances could have done with some more light and shade. But these are, perhaps, all things that the director, Robert Fyfe, should have addressed. Along with some of his pacing. It felt, at times, that the show playing to one constant rhythm as if there was a metronome clicking away off-stage. There were moments that should have been played slower, and others that should have been faster. Otherwise his direction was perfectly fine, aside from his not staging the Overture at all, which I found somewhat puzzling since it follows the actual start of the show and seemed to bring the show to an abrupt stop just as it it was getting started. But, like I said, small quibbles.
The musical direction of David R Dunlop was quite exuberant, although some numbers could have done with a faster pace, especially in the more dramatic moments.

The show really belonged to the children, however, who were quite excellent throughout; from sustaining accents (which one or two adults did not) through to their singing. They truly lit up the stage and brought a life-force whenever they were onstage. Kate McVey as 'Brat' and Ethan Kerr as 'Poor Baby' more than ably led the whole lot of them.


I will mention, finally, the set which was provided by Scenery Projects which folds out in various guises to produce the variety of locations as needed for the story. This unfolding aspect actually lent an air of 'storybook fairytale' to the evening's proceedings, further creating another layer to this modern fable.

This production, despite my small quibbles with it, reinforced my love for this show more than ever. Perhaps the utter innocence of the children performing in it (who, as far as I am aware, are not stage school brats) was the perfect manifestation of what the show and the original book represents.
Well done to all.

Friday, 14 September 2012

'Sister Act', King's Theatre, Glasgow, 12/9/12

Because I enjoyed it so much last time I decided to revisit this show when it showed up in Glasgow and to put it simply; I stand by everything I said in my first review of the show.
The production was the same, the cast was the same (with the exception of the actress playing 'Mary Robert' - this time I saw Julie Atherton whilst previously I saw her understudy Lucie-Mae Sumner - both were equally as brilliant in the role although, obviously, they each portrayed the role slightly differently) and as good as they all are I really do think that Cynthia Erivo is an outstanding talent.
On this second viewing I was able to appreciate more how witty the script really is and how wonderful a lot of the songs are. Indeed many are truly rousing!
In fact I'd go as far as to say that I enjoyed the show even more this time - it really is just so much fun that one cannot help but get swept up in rapturous enjoyment!


My only issue is that the follow spot operators needed more work and the sound balance needed some tweaking; the orchestra, especially the brass, was at times quite overpowering and drowned out the vocals.

But, anyway, go see it!

Monday, 13 August 2012

'Oh To Be In England' by H. E. Bates

Ah, another trip into nostalgia!

 
Ostensibly about the Christening of the Larking children, this charming novel is really a lament at the changes that England (and, perhaps, by extension Britain as a whole) were seeing, the changes in both people and the environments.
Once again one is left with a sense of longing for such times that once existed, and this book is, perhaps because of the sense of change within, more attuned to hitting the mark in that respect.
Whilst food and drink, of course, make an appearance, they are relegated to playing second fiddle to the more pressing needs that Bates writes about. Ultimately one gets an honesty from this book that Bates' feelings on the matters within were very close to his heart indeed.

The previous novel, 'When The Green Woods Laugh', really pales into comparison compared to this book but I would still say that all the Larkin novels were well worth a read. They are ideal for when one wants to escape into the kind of world that we can only wish and dream we lived in.
They are almost guaranteed to leave you with a warm, cosy feeling.

Monday, 6 August 2012

'Rising Sun' by Michael Crichton


True to my word, another Crichton novel!
Now I shall be honest and say that I wasn't all that excited about reading this novel about murder in the corporate world. Perhaps because most things to do with business and large corporate bodies bore me. Or perhaps I have vague recollections of the movie version (which I'm not even sure I've seen, to be honest).
But, anyway, I was greatly surprised by this book. It's fast paced, engaging, well structured and is very much a page turner that certainly does not bore.

Now, I am a fan of detective fiction and there is something of that genre in these pages and the plot is well devised and busy, which may be a little confusing at times.
The insights into what goes on behind the corporate scenes are quite fascinating and, unlike 'Congo', such factual information is told in a manner which does not at all remove the reader from the book. Instead they are told as part of the story and this integration is one of the strong points of the writing. Crichton's research (as evidenced in the bibliography) pays off dividends.
We follow two primary detective characters throughout and they are interesting ones at that, surrounded by various others that feed into the plot to varying degrees. These inter-relationships are another strong point in the plot though some are left unresolved at the conclusion of the novel.

The book is not so much about the murder of a young woman as it is a essay on the pitfalls of modern (at least for the time of the book's writing) business and international relationships.
But it's still a heady, full speed, thrill of a novel.


Thursday, 12 July 2012

'Congo' by Michael Crichton


Essentially a 'lost world' story in the traditional sense, this novel by Crichton is a 'modern' (it is more than 30 years old, now) adventure story where an expedition heads into the Congo jungle to ascertain the fate of a previous expedition whilst also pursuing a particular type of diamond needed to further technology. Along the way there are, of course, obstacles to overcome; including a rival expedition party and the more typical jungle fare such as cannibalistic tribes.
Crichton is, perhaps, famous for his use of modern technology throughout his stories and whether this is so I have yet to see as this is, in fact, my first Crichton novel. It shan't be my last.

My only issue with Crichton and his use of scientific references is that he interrupts the plot to spend pages illuminating the reader of scientific studies and quotes (garnered from the books in the reference section at the rear of the book) to hammer home how real the possibilities and reasoning he writes about are or could be but since the book is presented as a dramatisation of recent events (occasionally he will present a quote from a character after the fact) I can understand that he may be writing along the lines of a scientific journal almost.
Crichton also passes over small details only to reference them later leaving me briefly irritated.
That said the primary plot is clear and the writing is paced well with a cast of varied characters, including what must be one of his most famous; Amy the 'talking' gorilla. When he takes the time to describe an environment or situation it becomes quite compelling and engages the imagination to the fullest. There are few events or details which are hastily written and Crichton seems to be a writer who doesn't wish to over-write, despite all his sojourns into referencing, and although the finale is a little contrived compared to the rest of the novel it still smacks of the realistic tone that Crichton was evidently going for.

So, having wanted to read this novel for some years, was it worth the wait? The answer is a most definite 'yes' and I shall be reading more Michael Crichton some time in the future.

On a side-note; I became aware of this book when the film adaptation was released in 1994. I enjoyed the film, which is very different to the book in many aspects, but am far more impressed with the novel. Inevitable? Probably. But I shall still enjoy the film, which is, of course, an utterly different creature, but is not the most faithful, or original, of adaptations.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

'Blood Brothers', King's Theatre, Glasgow, 4/7/12

This new touring edition of a production nearing its 25th anniversary (though the show is nearing 30) still retains the ability to awe and move with the simplest of means. Here is a show that has no spectacular set pieces to boast of but instead relies on human emotion to stir its audience. And stir it does.
Whilst Russell’s score may be thematically repetitive it is still used quite economically and is employed to great effect striking the right balance between the libretto and itself. Russell must be given his dues for crafting a piece that, all these years later, still stands up as something of an oddity in musical theatre yet is able to boast some wonderful writing on all fronts.


This touring production is led by Maureen Nolan and Marti Pellow as ‘Mrs. Johnstone’ and the ‘Narrator’ respectively. Both are seasoned  performers and Pellow plays his role especially dark impressing upon everything the sense of the inevitability of the events that unfold onstage. Nolan is credible though, as the central figure, she is not as emotionally diverse or as powerful as she could have been. And both these performers struggle at times with the Liverpudlian accent.
Far more successful are the juvenile leads. None more so than Sean Jones as ‘Mickey’, who gives a powerhouse performance in perhaps the most difficult role after ‘Mrs. Johnstone’. His performance is the most tear-jerking of the evening and is closely followed by Matthew Collyer as his twin ‘Eddie’, though that role offers less chance to show off one’s acting chops. ‘Linda’ was played to perfection by Kelly-Anne Gower who embodied everything required, and more, of the part. The company ensemble were no less effective.


The direction is straightforward and unfussy and the simple designs allow the writing and performances to resonate beyond the stage and the situations presented seem somewhat appropriate given today’s economic woes. It becomes so very easy to think ‘there, but for the grace of God … ‘


A minor quibble I have about this production, having not seen it in nearly 20 years (and then in London’s West End) is that the audience at times treated it as something akin to ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ with lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ (to the point where I feared audience participation) and with the actors onstage at times acknowledging them whilst at other times the actors performed certain lines very much ‘playing to the crowds’ as if knowingly playing for laughs. I feel the writing is strong enough that this is overkill but the sell-out audience certainly lapped it up.
And speaking of audience – people really should be more considerate: the tickets clearly say that the show began at 7.30pm and yet half the audience still left it until last minute to make their way into the auditorium and some even later than that! The effect being that the curtain didn’t go up until 7.45pm. If people cannot adhere to the announced time then I believe they have given up the right of entry and the doors should be closed and admittance granted only at the interval. And theatres should enforce such policies strictly.

Theatre etiquette is certainly declining these days. Rant over.

Monday, 2 July 2012

'42nd Street', King's Theatre, Glasgow, 30/6/12

The epitome of 'backstage' musicals, '42nd Street' boasts outstanding musical numbers, some stunning choreography and a cast easy on both eye and ear.


Based on the Busby Berkeley film from the 1930s the stage show first appeared in the early 1980s and was revised and revived in the early 2000s on Broadway. It is this revised Broadway production, directed by book co-author Mark Bramble, that now tours the UK. Or, rather, it is an adaptation of the Broadway production that is touring.
Bramble certainly directs, and assuredly so, but the large-scale sets and lavish costumes that graced the Broadway stage have, inevitably, been cut back here, for practical purposes if nothing else; how the King's theatre managed to squeeze so much set into their tiny wing spaces I'll never know but touring theatre, naturally, hasn't the luxury of being able to use large set pieces in only one theatre for X number of months where there is little thought of varying storage space or the cost and logistics of transporting every week.
That said the costumes and simpler sets are still something of a marvel and very easily evoke the glitz and glamour of those early Hollywood musicals. Roger Kirk's costumes could easily be enough at times but supported by the backdrop supplied by the settings created by Douglas W Schmidt the whole stage comes to life like a living Hollywood film of the golden era. David Howe's lighting design also has moments to shine especially throughout certain musical numbers (go see for yourself) and the classic songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin still stand up amongst the best of them.


The direction is clean, often concise and often has nods to those classic musical films and, tied with the musical staging and choreography of Randy Skinner and Graeme Henderson (original dances by Broadway legend Gower Champion), they form a unified whole designed to grab an audience's attention from the very first image of the line of tapping feet to the last fade to black. Tap dancing has never been my favourite style of dance but here it is presented in such a brilliant way and in so many variations that it becomes exciting and fresh.

The cast are nothing short of excellent and Jessica Punch as 'Peggy' and James O'Connell as 'Billy' lead the way with powerful performances showcasing wonderful voices, outstanding dance skills and acting chops to boot. The supporting roles are performed by a cast no less able and Bruce Montague, Carol Ball and Graham Hoadly exemplify the comedic talents of the cast.
The star billing, however, goes to Dave Willetts as the show director 'Julian' and Marti Webb as (has-been) star 'Dorothy'; seasoned stalwarts who show, quite easily, how talented they both still are: Webb shows off her clear vocals several times throughout the evening and it's good to know that some voices remain undamaged by time unlike others I could name. Willetts brings his sometimes tender, sometimes commanding vocals to bear in a domineering role yet both are still able to allow the juvenile cast to shine in a production that revels in the glories of musical comedy.


A last-minute impulse ticket purchase on my behalf this is a production I look forward to seeing again when it makes its way to Edinburgh.
For a night of entertainment and joy you'd be hard pressed to find something better than this.

'Murder On The Nile', Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 28/6/12

This is the first production of the Agatha Christie Theatre Company that I've seen, having missed all previous ventures and it was certainly a popular production with the audience.


Whilst there are some who will say that Christie's plays are dated and belong to another era, and in part they may be true, it is nice, once in a while, to revisit such examples of theatre especially in a production which understands such shortcomings in the modern world.

Director Joe Harmston's steadfast direction, complimented by the elegant, simple paddle steamer design by Simon Scullion, navigates Christie's script with a direct attitude peppered with moments where some of the larger-than-life characters are played tongue-in-cheek. Matthew Bugg's sound design is evocative of the locale ~(complate with some glorious unidentified Arabian music) and Mike Robertson's lighting and the costume's of Brigid Guy further compliment the production.
There are few moments when the dramatic action begins to lag but Harmston never allows them to last for long.


The cast are very able and engaging, dealing with the archaic dialogue with aplomb. Led by a superb Denis Lill as 'Canon Pennefather', who commands attention at all times, and Kate O'Mara as 'Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes' (complete with lower-case fs), who appears to relish her over-the-top posh snob of a character, the cast manaouvere steadily bringing archetypes to life with realitve ease.


Based on one of Christie's most famous books, 'Death on the Nile', it is easy to see why Christie elected to reduce the large number of characters featured and choose to combine characters and to modify the plot in order to streamline for the stage but it does come across as a not quite successful effort when compared to the glorious cinematic presentations that have gone before. That said it is still an enjoyable romp through whodunnit territory which is something I always enjoy.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

'La Cage Aux Folles', The Orpheus Club, King's Theatre, Glasgow, 23/6/12

The Orpheus Club continue their alliance with director Walter Paul who presides over an enjoyable production of the classic Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein show based on the original French farce by Jean Poiret.

Led by Michael McHugh as 'Georges' and Jim McPhee as 'Albin' the cast are generally very good but it's certainly these two leads who stand out, together with Sean Stirling camping it up as 'Jacob' and Jamie Walker whose brief moments onstage as 'Francis' with his amusing minor sub-plot involving a somewhat vigorous love-affair are highly amusing. Much of the humour comes from the dated types presented but this being a farce it matters so little. McPhee as 'Albin/Zsa Zsa' embodies memories of several of the greatest drag artists including Danny La Rue, Dame Edna Everage and there is even a bit of John Inman thrown in for good measure.


Neil Thompson's musical direction is assured, despite a trumpet player being a little off-key at times, and he brings out some quality vocals from the cast. Preston Clare's choreography becomes a little repetitive at times but is nonetheless enjoyable.

As for Walter Paul's direction well, I have never been a fan of the man's work, finding him a competent director at best. This show is the best I've seen him, no doubt being aided with a fine score and libretto by Herman and Fierstein respectively.
That said he is still and uneventful director who relies too much on stale, safe staging which renders some scenes verging on the dull, relying on the same set-up time and time again - fortunately the cast refuse to let this happen. Paul is also guilty of often ignoring logic and reason not to mention detail and the director has also yet to truly deal with scenic transitions: He allows the story's flow to stop to have scenery moved when there is no need: Any director worth his salt would rectify this with clever staging and distraction. If this is truly unavoidable then a director should make something out of the scene change and the closest Paul gets here is in the transition to the Restaurant where the crowd create something to watch and look at while the locale is changed. Such peaks are rare where this director is concerned although the final image of Act One where the back-cloth is raised to reveal the real backstage area of the theatre creating a beautiful image of light and shadow as 'Albin' walks away, toward the paraphernalia of artifice, from 'Georges' after being told the reality that he is surplus to requirements. It is worth noting that here the lighting reaches a peak amongst the otherwise fine lighting of Rod Littlefield.

All in all a very enjoyable production where the sum of all its parts came together to create something worthy of viewing.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

'Macbeth', National Theatre of Scotland, Tramway, Glasgow, 15/6/12

Touted as a one-man performance of the Scottish play by a well known Scot in Scotland's second city this production of Macbeth is rather hit and miss.
The setting by Merle Hensel is some sort of cell or ward within a mental institution complete with tiled walls, security cameras and a steel staircase to the secured door and this reminded me of the hospital setting used a few years back in a production that featured Patrick Stewart in the title role. Here we have Alan Cumming playing almost all the roles and speaking the majority of Shakespeare's lines.
The concept is one of the things that work completely; indeed the concept itself seems confused - was this man who we see confined to this ward part of the events he replays in his mind or is he so utterly delusional that he creates the play complete within himself (albeit with the addition of props that are either part of the 'evidence' that come with him or just happen to lie about the stage)? Beyond the man himself there is the doctor and orderly who infiltrate his delusions - what is there purpose?


The production starts slowly and I tended to drag at times in the first half. Once Macbeth's ascent to power is completed and his descent begins things move along at a more appropriate pace, thankfully. Throughout the sound effects and music were a constant and often annoying presence and were clearly used to set mood and effect, as was the constant variation of lighting; sometimes it seemed barely a minute would pass before the next lighting cue was executed. This rushed execution was also given to the text, which was quite truncated, and often seemed to be rushed through virtually eliminating the power and rhythm of most of the words. I must note that I felt most of the issues I had in this regard are with the directors John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg rather than with Cumming himself. Cumming showed instances of brilliance in some of his many portrayals although they could often be so confused that a familiarity with the plot, if not the text, is essential. It is also a shame that the directors elected to, wittingly or not, play down the gravitas of Macbeth and the actions preceding his rise to power and replace them often with a comedic spin. The better performance that Cumming ultimately gave was as the man (whom Cumming has apparently named 'Fred' as you can read here) who we see glimpses of between his delusional states. 'Fred''s breakdowns and wistful moments are indeed poignant and wrenching and show that Cumming is capable of so much more than he is given the chance to do here.
Because of the difficulty in distinguishing between characters (partially intended by the directors but perhaps not to the degree that the final production offers) it is a welcome relief when the two medical staff finally utter a few lines of Shakespeare and have some sort of real interaction with the man. Here one could see a germ of what could have been from this production.


It seems to me that the high concept has outweighed the production, confused itself whilst losing relevance to the story and text. There is so much that is unnecessary in this production that it threatens to completely nullify the necessary. The setting is quite vast and while this allows much space for which Cumming to play with (movement by Christine Devaney) one wonders whether a more claustrophobic setting might not have been more effective. Likewise the seemingly endless sound by Fergus O'Hare became simply annoying. Natasha Chivers' lighting became as frivolous as a child's finger upon a light switch.
The use of security cameras, in particular in evoking the weird sisters, was one of the better aspects of the production. These cameras would show real time footage of Cumming in his cell, lulling the audience into a false sense of security, before pulling some intriguing tricks and twists upon them. Ian William Galloway (Video Designer) and Salvador Bettencourt Avila (Video Production Engineer) create a sense of unease in their use though some of the execution needs a bit of tweaking.
The mental institution idea, whilst somewhat cliche, is a valid concept but the concept that surrounds Shakespeare's play as a jacket is simply too confused and offers no real purpose in being. It asks question that are irrelevant to the Shakespeare and which are never dealt with - Who is this man? Why is he here? What has he done? What are the origins of the objects that arrive with him and that are lying about the place so randomly? It's almost as if the concept has generated a play within a play unconsciously and as such has seen no reason to answer and explore these questions which, ultimately proved at least as interesting as the story 'told' by the man.

Myra McFadyen and Ali Craig provide solid support as the medical staff and I only wish there was more interaction between the three actors. Alan Cumming, as stated above, really should have been served better by his directors and, at least for most of the duration, we are not engaged with the play and Shakespeare's text as we are the ability for someone to memorise so many words and recite them in so fast a time as he does. I have seen a few production which use the concept of a mental institute and to better and more appropriate effect.

The germ of a possibly mesmerising (and Cumming was such at many a time throughout) production is here but it has yet to take root firmly. Perhaps with further development, more interaction, more precise execution ...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A note on 'Prometheus'

Beware of SPOILERS!

A Precursor to a full review but I thought I'd jot this down nonetheless.

There are far too many questions and far too few answers. This is also the same syndrome that put me off Lost. If an audience is willing to put so much time and faith in a film or television series the creators have to acknowledge their existence and need for some closure - for answers. Not necessarily to everything but to at least something. Here we get almost no answers whatsoever. I can only hope that any future sequel solves this issue. Together with answering plot-holes(e.g. exactly what caused the holes in the engineer corpses? If it was the black oil material then surely we would have seen the same fate applied to some of the Prometheus' crew? And how can the silicone-based xenomorph evolve from the genetic material of Carbon-based life-forms? Have we to await a potential sequel for that issue to be resolved also?).

Don't get me wrong I thoroughly enjoyed the film, it looked gorgeous and had probably the best 3D I've experienced. And to be honest I wasn't exactly sure what to expect so I can't say I was disappointed in that regard. There were sufficient surprises for my liking.

I do think it unfair to compare Prometheus with Alien as the former is certainly a film independent of its source. But there are aspects that cross over: Namely the engineers and the concept of bio-mechanical life - which is never explored. In this regard the design is a bit of a let down as it appears that biological and mechanical aspects of the engineer civilisation are independent of each other. To that end one wishes that Giger had a far more active involvement beyond the murals he created which appear all to briefly - indeed they are one of the more satisfying aspects of the design.
So, if we are to believe this is a stand alone film, one simply has to concede that it is heavily flawed - albeit very enjoyable - and offers many questions but almost no explorations of those questions and certainly no answers. Perhaps we should see Prometheus as the question and the future sequel(s) as the answers.
At least I hope so.

And, yes, the proto-xenomorph was rather too Bambi-like to be satisfying and one wonders how many generations it will take before it evolves into the well-known xenomorph and in such a short period of time - Alien is set only 30/40 years beyond Prometheus.

I guess time, and Twentieth Century Fox, will tell ...

This is also worth a good listen (be warned it contains many SPOILERS and some BAD LANGUAGE): Listen

Friday, 1 June 2012

'Educating Rita', Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 31/5/12

I've never seen the film version of 'Educating Rita' so I came to the play with no expectations.

Willy Russel's play is both witty and charming and I found myself enjoying it more and more as the play progressed. The story of a working class lass who wants to be 'educated' and the man who is to educate her brings up interesting points about education and culture itself.

As 'Rita' Claire Sweeney is pretty much spot on. Her entrance immediately sets the tone of the character and she evolves effortlessly as the play progresses.
Matthew Kelly is a wonderful actor and as 'Frank' he lives and breathes each aspect that the role presents. I was most impressed by his acting skills which I'd never witnessed previously.
Tamara Harvey's direction is pretty straightforward and she is able to bring out performances that excel without having the need to create any fussy business. Her only possible misstep is at the very end when a piece of staging, where 'Rita' is to give 'Frank' a gift, seems somewhat out of step with the rest of the production.
Paul Anderson's lighting is likewise uncomplicated and functional as is Tim Shortall's design which consists of shelf upon shelf of books. The passing of time is visualised in a tree that stands outside the window; a tree that undergoes the change of the seasons.

The play is both funny, poignant and even thought provoking. Whilst the situations presented may be a trifle outdated it still stands on solid legs. My only real quibble is that I wish the transfers between scenes was smoother and speedier.


Now I must talk about theatre etiquette. The afternoon I saw this play there were many OAPs and school children in attendance. Now I believe that all members of society should see theatre and that it should be open to all. But. But I wish someone,be it a teacher or carer - whomever, had had some words with some members of these groups. Throughout the show there were numerous annoyances and distractions from the audience; children dropping cans and even coins and some elderly people talking rather loudly. We even had to put up with some people who are outright disruptive and shouting. Now in the latter case I feel that these elderly patrons were perhaps the victim of some medical condition that facilitated these acts. But surely the person or persons who accompanied these people to the theatre should take into consideration that a theatre tends to have more audience members present than themselves. And that, if it is known that a person can be disruptive, then that person should not be presented in a situation where one is expected to pay due respect to the artists onstage? As for the children - well, we all know they can be disruptive but I do wish the teachers present had taken it upon themselves to acknowledge their wards and put pay to their behaviour.

As it was Mr Kelly and Miss Sweeney ploughed on regardless for most of the play, never dropping their energy levels. However at one point where one elderly audience member was at their most disruptive Mr Kelly took it upon himself to simply stop after a suitable line and stare at the guilty party. He never once said anything to this audience member and may have seen the possible nature of the predicament. He casually waited until all had settled then resumed the play as if nothing had happened with not a single dip in the energy or pace of the play. Miss Sweeney's response was a simple reaction Mr Kelly; she quickly stole a glance in the direction toward which he were looking.

In the theatrical press instances of disruption (from those who should know better and who are certain to have all their faculties) are becoming more noted and I think that something needs to be done. Is it so hard to tell a child about, and to reinforce the idea of respect for a performer to do their job and to respect other members of the audience? Likewise those factors should be taken into account when planning a trip to a theatre; if one is aware that that respect in the form of silence and attention cannot be paid then perhaps it's best that one doesn't go in the first place.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.

Rant over.





Thursday, 31 May 2012

#BuckleyForBoulevard

There are many people out there, myself included, who wish that more stage musicals were adapted into film versions. Not in the way that 'Nine' was, which was nothing short of an abomination, but something more along the lines of the classics of the genre and even more modern pieces which are true to the original stage show whilst being filmic in their own way. There are so many that have graced the stages of the world over the years that have yet to find a celluloid life; 'La Cage Aux Folles', 'City Of Angels' (which is, supposedly, in development), 'Spring Awakening' (another stuck in development) and the list goes on.

Now one that I would dearly love to see on film is 'Sunset Boulevard' which, onstage, was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Christopher Hampton and Don Black. It boasts a great score and contains some great roles that would challenge an actor.
Since Paramount own the original film on which the show is based they no doubt retain the rights for a film version yet have made no inclination to go forward with any adaptation of the stage show. A shame because, if done well with a good director, the film could be a wonder.

Of course 'Susnet' boast one of the greatest roles for a leading woman; that of 'Norma Desmond'. Patti LuPone originated the role in London whilst Glenn Close premiered the show in America and won the Tony award for her performance (I shan't go into the backstage drama that followed since LuPone was originally to have played in America as well). Naturally it would seem that Glenn Close, being a film as well as stage star, would be the first choice for any film adaptation, though no doubt several other stars would vie for the part; Barbra Streisand, perhaps? Maybe even Bette Midler. But the one that Lloyd Webber has publicly stated he'd like to see is Madonna.
Yes, that's right; Madonna. Now, while I thought Madonna really excelled in 'Evita', which was basically all sung, I'm sure I'm not the only one who believes that Madonna is just not capable of tackling any great role that contains a lot of actual dialogue, as 'Sunset' does.

So I make the case that they should instead cast a great actress who can sing, rather than a 'name' just to sell the film (were it ever made of course). There have been quite a few over the years since the show's premiere in 1993; Petula Clark, Elaine Paige, Diahann Carroll to name a few. But the one that stands out for me is Betty Buckley who replaced LuPone in London and Close on Broadway. She is one of the premiere interpreters of song and is a Tony winner herself. She is also a solid actress. Check her out on youtube if you don't believe me.

And so it is Betty Buckley, whose onstage performance in the role drew wonderful reviews , that I, and many others, would wish to see in a film version of 'Sunset Boulevard' in the great role of 'Norma Desmond'.

To that end there is a quiet twitter campaign that is beginning to rumble away to ensure that those in the know and those in power are aware of the desires of those that matter; musical fans. The hash tag #BuckleyForBoulevard is the one to use if you agree that Hollywood should pay more attention to those who could actually do a musical role justice.

So if you're a fan of musical theatre and want a decent film with a decent actress you know what to do: #BuckleyForBoulevard
Pass it on.

#BuckleyForBoulevard

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Update

Just a quick message to say to the loyal few (or one) that I am not dead.
The reason I've not posted anything of late is that I've been experiencing some medical issues. I'm also frightfully lazy which is also a bit of a hindrance.

There are things I've seen and/or read that I could have blogged about and at some point they may appear on this blog but, for now, bear with me.

Be well and happy!

Sharman

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

'When The Green Woods Laugh' by H. E. Bates

Another escapade featuring the Larkin family.

There is something incredibly comfortable about reading these pleasing novels: Maybe it's the days-gone-by aspect of the tales or maybe the sense of family and friendship that is imbued throughout the writing but in any case these book are such a happy read that, despite thin plots by an author seemingly more concerned with food and nature, we are still invested in the characters, despite any modern morals we may wish to apply to them.


Actually this novel has a little more plot than the last with 'Pop' Larkin encountering city folk for good and for ill. It's also a neat commentary on the attitudes of both country and city folk regarding each other. It's also a tale of the bonds that unite people and how the simple things in life are often overlooked and under-estimated by some.
The food for once, whilst still very present, takes a back seat as it were to focus more on the plot and how it entwines the characters, old and new, that populate this book.

Once again I heartily recommend this as a fine, easy going, relaxing read.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Life Worth Reflection?

As the fibromyalgia that riddles my body continues to metamorphose, defying my attempts to 'adapt', I come to a point where I begin to ask 'what kind of a life do I actually have?' I ask what dreams and wishes I had and realise how few, if any, have been fulfilled.
This then leads me into thinking that there are and have been things that were in my control and things that were not.

As I look back I come to realise that there are so very many things that I regret; choices not taken, chances not observed and mistakes made.
I have not been one of those people who is able to see opportunity or one who is able to capitalise on any talent given me. Whilst others are able to concentrate and visualise their career goals and options, looking forward is not a strength of mine. Only when I have, say, a project on the go can I make any sort of projections. Where I am concerned I am secondary in the scheme of things.
When opportunities and the such might have shown up other things appear to have taken my attention; I drift from one thing to another, I move where fate deems to take me. At least that is what I might say. In reality not having a specific focus - only in later life has any inkling of what I want to do with my life come to me - allows other distractions to steal focus; the pursuit of love an example. And to what end? I am here ultimately alone.

Throughout my educational life it would have been much easier were I to have had a goal to work toward but I didn't. I tended to choose subjects and pursuits that I enjoyed never thinking about which may be more appropriate to help towards my goal - after all I had none! The same applied to University where I undertook a course in a subject I enjoyed but never thought would be a subject that I wanted to pursue career-wise. As it turned out I discovered, toward the very end of my degree course, that there was a part of the subject that seriously interested me and over the next few years that followed that interest became more acute until I realised that here was the goal I wish I'd had when I was a teenager. Now, progressing from my late 20s into my early 30s, I realised, with horror, that the field in which I wished to pursue a career was really one where you had to have started earlier. The chance, like many others before and since in my life, had passed.

I have said that I was blind to observing opportunity and this was (and maybe still is) true across my life; it is not just regarding a career that I am unobservant. I fail to recognise signs that a person is 'interested' in me, fail to understand when someone is offering me a lifeline. I have never wanted to take advantage of any other person and I fear that this attitude has played against me on more than one occasion.

I am not a confident person in any real applicable way. I am no great looker, have nothing but doubt in any talent I might once have possessed. I can feign confidence but when push comes to shove my true attitude comes to the fore. This can be crippling for any person irregardless of their profession or social standing and here my lack of self-belief, in anything to do with myself, is one which continues to set me back where I am always three steps behind.
It is also probably true that I am very much a coward.

And then, of course, when, in these later years, such dawning has arisen in my mind I find that a new enemy has come upon me. Fibromyalgia, an 'invisible' condition that can be looked down upon even by health care professionals, is eating away at any semblance of life I retain. The physical and emotional toil that it exudes upon me is enough to make me think that any last flickering chance I might have had to pursue the things I love has been extinguished. Here is the most pressing concern of my life - how to live with this accursed blight. The things that most take for granted - job, partner, friends - are now a distant shadow to me.

Living is different to existing and for these past few years I have only really been able to do the latter.
As I watch my social and professional life flit away (the latter well before the former) there are moments of brief despair. But I continue to try to 'adapt' though with little success as the condition continues to evolve, change and assume lordship over me. I am subject to its whims and were I to rebel it would always be at a dear cost.

So these are factors that come to my mind when I think of 'what if?' There are aspects which I could have, for certain, taken control of but there are also the aspects over which I have no control and lately these are the more prominent. I can make no excuse for the sad state of affairs I come to find myself in but this is my curse; that I must live knowing these things. And that I will live in probable regret for ever such a long time.
Even my dreams are torture to me.

I see myself for what I am. That is all. At least I am not blind to that.

I believe I shall be one of those whose greatest achievements are well behind them and to die will be an awful big adventure.