Bladder infections are common among elderly men and recurrent attacks may be linked to kidney stones or prostate problems. These can include an enlarged prostate which affects the vast majority of men in their 80s and older.
Obstruction around the prostate, or a swollen prostate, would cause urine to remain in the bladder, causing an infection. This usually develops quickly and is often a result of dehydration because fewer trips to the lavatory can worsen existing bladder problems. Sufferers are likely to develop a fever quite suddenly, be in pain and feel generally unwell. Often they become confused and disorientated.
The diagnosis of a urinary tract infection is confirmed using a simple urine test. Antibiotics are the first line of treatment and usually work within the five to seven days for younger patients. However, if the infection is causing severe pain and the patient is elderly, hospital treatment is advised. There, intravenous antibiotics can be administered more rapidly, the patient can be quickly rehydrated using a drip and progress monitored more carefully.
The actual cause of an infection is bacteria within the patient’s body which get from their normal home in the bowel to the bladder which becomes infected. Precautions are necessary because such infections may be serious, even life-threatening, without prompt treatment. In rare cases the infection may travel to the kidneys causing kidney failure or lead to septicaemia – blood poisoning.
To the cells, please, officer
Two police officers who stopped at traffic lights were surprised when a drunk climbed into the dark of their patrol car and asked to be taken to the cells. Police in Stockholm said: “He sort of fell into the back seat, but just said he wanted to go and sleep it off in a holding cell. The man was very intoxicated. He was brought in and left to sleep it off. After six hours we sent him home. it was still a lot better than when they pass out and we are forced to carry them away.”
Women cyclists are putting their sex lives at risk by not sitting up straight in the saddle. Placing the handlebar lower than the seat increases pressure on the genital region, decreases sensation and reduces ability to detect vibration, according to a US study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
A barmy booze bar
A shopper was told she couldn’t buy alcohol from Asda, even though she was 39 and with her 70-year-old mother. Francis Fitzgerald could have £300 only if they both had ID, a checkout worker in Canterbury said.
Oh no, no, no
Apparently, there is such a thing as too many orgasms. Kim Ramsey, a 44-year-old nurse from New Jersey, America, feels constantly aroused and is plagued by up to 100 a day, which are triggered by even the smallest of movements. “Other women wonder how to have an orgasm,” she said. “I wonder how to stop mine.”
Walter, Walter everywhere
It can be difficult to agree on baby names, so when Erotides Brandao suggested to her husband Walter that they name their first child after him, he was delighted. In fact, he was so delighted that after their daughter Walterlucia was born, he requested that any other children they had were named after him, too. The couple, from Paraiba, Brazil, went on to have eight more daughters and six sons – Walterlivia, Walterlenia, Walterlonia, Walterlacia, Walterluzia, Walerluana, Walterangelina, Waltersilviana, Walteremanuel, Walterluis, Walteroliverio, Waltermarcelo, Walterlicinio and Walterfernando, as well as Walterlucia. Walter has now passed away but his name lives on with 33 grandchildren also named after him.
Boy racer Heinz Koenig, 19, ended up in hospital after a giant stereo speaker hit him on his head as he braked hard in Bavaria, Germany.
£4 trial is a real steal
A judge hit out after a £4 theft case was brought before him – at a cost to taxpayers of £1,200. John Neligan said magistrates should have dealt with Linda Meehan, 55, who pleaded guilty at Truro crown court.
Beach dummy’s a figure of fun
A beach rescue turned into farce when a person trapped in sand turned out to be a shop mannequin. The ‘emergency’ was a birthday prank, in which the dummy was kneeling with its head buried in the sand with a sign saying: “50 And What?” Police in Bielefeld, western Germany said, “It was clearly intended for a 50th birthday.”
All stories took place prior to the Coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic.
In a phenomenon known as the Peppa Effect, American parents took to social media with fears that Peppa Pig was turning their children British. Not only were their children speaking with a British accent, but they were also using British English terms such as ‘petrol’ and ‘lorry’ instead of ‘gas’ and ‘truck’.
In 1995, Heinz hid 100 18-carat gold beans in random tins across the UK to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the foodstuff. In 2019, one of those beans went to auction and was snapped up by Heinz itself, which has failed to keep one for itself and had been waiting 24 years for one to come on sale.
On the release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the film was widely accused of blasphemy and many UK councils banned it. This remained in place in Aberystwyth until 2008, when it was eventually lifted by the new mayor, former actress Sue Jones-Davies. She had played Brian’s girlfriend in the film.
Police were called to a potential murder scene when neighbours heard a man repeatedly screaming “WHY WON’T YOU DIE?” and a child crying in the background. It turned out that the man suffered from extreme arachnophobia and his comments were directed at a spider. The incident report concluded: ‘No injuries sighted (except to spider).’
The American rock band Guns N’ Roses sued a brewery for making a beer called Guns ‘n’ Rosé. They said it had caused ‘irreparable damage’ to their brand.
Several months after a consignment of Nike trainers fell off a ship on the east coast of America last year they have become of unexpected interest to scientists. Oceanographers realised that the shoes responded to ocean currents in different ways, according to whether they were left or right shoes. More left shoes that right ended up in Newquay, and more right shoes than left ended up in the Azores.
A Massachusetts man came home to find that someone had broken into his house and stolen nothing at all. They had just cleaned it. He said, “Nothing was damaged, nothing was taken… just arranged in a really creepy way.” Almost every room had been spruced up, and an elaborate origami rose had been made out of toilet paper.
More than 50 billboards across the UK were fitted with cameras and facial detection software. They can identify the age, gender and mood of the passers-by and then show an advert best suited to the individual walking past.
Residents of Jersey feared a feral chicken outbreak. Because there are no natural predators – such as foxes – on the island, escaped chickens were able to breed rapidly, forming gangs of up to 100 birds, which then took to stalking Jersey’s streets, causing traffic chaos and chasing joggers.
In 2016, a team of scientists travelled to Dominica to study the grip strength of local lizards. They returned in 2019, more than a year after Hurricane Maria had struck the Caribbean island, to find – on what may be an example of extremely rapid evolution – that the latest generation can grip onto surfaces ten times more powerfully than their predecessors.
The people of Preston were asked to vote on the city’s best restaurants. Two hundred were nominated but it was a local branch of Nando’s that came out on top. Mark O’Rourke, whose burger restaurant Don’t Give A Fork was the runner-up, said: “It just makes Preston look bad. Not that it doesn’t anyway.”
Matt Carthy, a Northern Irish MEP, discovered his kids were unlocking his laptop by using an election leaflet with his face on it. He wrote that he wasn’t sure whether he should be proud of his children’s cunning or ‘concerned about the sneakiness’.
County judge Robert George sentenced Missouri deer poacher David Berry to a year in prison. He stipulated that, while incarcerated, the offender must undergo a monthly viewing of the film Bambi.
A 50-year-old Nebraskan man was being rushed to hospital with an abnormal heartbeat when the ambulance hit a pothole. It jolted his heart back to a normal rhythm and saved his life.
A man in Salisbury excused himself from jury duty on the grounds that he was scheduled to be the judge in the case in question. His appeal to be excused was rejected at first, and he was told to apply to the resident judge if he still wanted exemption. He replied: “I am the resident judge.”
A woman who ordered a cake with a picture of singer Mariah Carey on it was presented with one that featured Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie.
Wedding guests who bundled a bridesmaid into a car for a spoof video caused a police chase. Onlookers in Suedlohn, Germany, thought it was a real kidnapping.
A road menace was arrested for causing crashes to lift his mood. Depressed Song Liu, 31, found he was cheered when he saw a car accident outside his home in Liudian, Liaoning province, China. To recapture the feeling, he put rocks in vehicles’ paths – as ‘it made my heart happy’.
Four robbers dressed in armour and carrying swords and axes got away with £17,000 at a medieval costume festival. The dark knights hit one victim with an axe handle in Bitche, near the German border.
A chipped false nail and a dog with a broken leg are some of the so-called ‘emergencies’ clogging up a hospital’s A&E department. Another patient visited Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, Hampshire, complaining he had red eyes – after swimming.
Race-goer Gary Williams was left with money to burn – when his £200 winnings got wet in the rain and he dried them in the microwave. The 59-year-old forgot about the metal strip that runs through bank notes. “I turned my back and it exploded,” said the tiler from Oswestry, Shropshire.
A police officer thought he had busted a fake passport gang after mistakenly believing all the suspects were named ‘Abu Dhabi’. The officer in Stoke-on-Trent confused the names on the passports with the place they flew to Britain from, according to Police magazine.
A bungling service station worker cost his bosses £10,000 when he mistakenly set the pumps to deliver free petrol. Aurelio Padovano’s slip-up was taken advantage of by 60 gleeful drivers at the Total garage in Bergamo, near Milan, Italy, before it was noticed.
Civil servants have been given a licence to pilfer public funds. Staff were told, ‘if you work hard, you can steal a little – but don’t behave like bandits,’ by Shivpal Yadav, public works minister in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Gardener Graham Coe felt a right dope when he grew some plants – that looked just like cannabis. The 67-year-old’s flowers were only innocent cleomes but he was quizzed by the police after neighbours claimed he was running a drugs factory at his home in Chippenham, Wiltshire.
A confused girlfriend thought her beau’s romantic texts laced with Romeo and Juliet quotes were suicide notes. She called police, but her partner was amazed his texts had caused a drama. “She had not heard of Shakespeare and thought the language used was strange,” said a police spokesman in Milan, Italy.
A teddy soared 43km (27 miles) into the air attached to a home-made balloon. It set off from Brighton and landed in Essex, to the delight of record-breaking owner Peter Brown.
More than 50 firemen arrived to put out three smoking sausages. Gerda Wiegand, 71, was confronted by the crews as she carried the burning bangers form her home in Bergisch Gladbachof, Germany. “You don’t know until you get there,” a fire brigade spokesman said.
An inquisitive deer got into hot water after he wandered into a garden and stepped on a pool cover. The buck was stuck in the pool for four hours until firefighters in Colorado Springs built a ramp and guided him along with a rope. He ran off as soon as he was free.
A thief was arrested after being grassed up by the robotic lawnmower he stole. Keith Herron, 30, broke into a car after stealing the Clever Trevor gadget, which sent out SOS signals in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.
A couple waiting for a courtesy shuffle at Dusseldorf airport were astonished when their own car arrived at the pick-up point. Berndt and Korina Becker thought the vehicle was safely parked during their break. Instead, it had been used as a shuttle service for a fornight and clocked up 400km (300 miles).
A hamster which tried to make a break for freedom survived a 3.6m (12 ft) fall from a window ledge onto a car bonnet – and then gave a cat and two police officers the slip. Rolo was caught after one of the PCs threw her hat over him. He was then returned to his owner in Beddington, Surrey.
A romantic was out of luck after pretending to win the lottery to see if his fiancée would still love hi when she learned the truth. Li Han, 29, was dumped by Liu Ming, 22 – who hit him with a pan in Nanping, Fujian, China.
Train passengers have been relieving themselves in photo booths in Switzerland rather than paying to use station toilets up and down the network. Bosses have had to hire extra cleaners.
Nasal cancer patient Bert Eastham will always be able to follow his magnetic prosthetic nose if he loses it – by sticking it on the side of the fridge. The 64-year-old, from Chorley, Lancashire, found the ideal place to keep his replacement nose after previously putting it in his slippers at night.
A circus tiger brought the show to a halt in Kazakhstan when it relieved itself over VIP guests. Male tiger Kesha was asked to perform a trick but lifted his leg and took aim at parents and children in the best seats. The show, in Ekibastuz, paused for a clean-up… and for the laughter to die down.
A homeowner who thought he had rumbled a burglar in the night found a huge bear rummaging through his kitchen cupboards. “It walked right in,” said Shawn Brennan on Ontario, Canada. “Talk about bravado.”
With church numbers dwindling, Pastor Ralf Schmidt turned to sex to boost his congregation. He held an ‘erotic mass’, complete with pornographic illustrations, to reach out to more Christians in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Karl Weiss thought he was doing a good deed by driving over a ‘dead’ deer he had knocked over to a police station. But the animal was only shocked and jumped around his car after recovering. ‘The deer was uninjured but my car was a right mess,’ said Mr Weiss, 67, from Peine, Germany.
A stunned woman has received a parcel addressed to a property in the West Indies. Clyna Merchant has no idea how the package meant for a home on the island of Nevis 8,530km (5,300 miles) away was delivered to her home in Orton Brimbles, Cambridgeshire.
Like many wealthy two-year-old’s, Oreo had a birthday pool party. But her celebrations were different in one respect – Oreo is a dog. She and 20 of her friends enjoyed cake, snacks and a rib-shaped biscuit in a Delhi resort. “It was like having my daughter’s birthday party,” owner Priyamvada Sharma said.
A hungry thief who broke into a sandwich shop was easily caught – police simply followed his trail of crumbs. Benjamin Sickles, 21, was munching stolen crisps as he made his getaway in Pennsylvania.
A farmer was ordered to get rid of the tinkling cowbells worn by his herd after people living in nearby Stallhoften, Austria, complained. “They couldn’t sleep,” a judge said. “They were at the end of their tether.”
Motorists feared a ‘divine judgement’ was headed their way when 24 tons of pilchards covered a road. In fact, a dopey trucker had spilled the load, in Kolobrzeg, Poland, after driving with the back doors open.
Pepe the parrot has long-suffering spitting feathers – because he keeps screeching taxi bookings he picked up from his former home in a cab office. The yellow-headed Amazon shouts things such as ‘taxi for Lidl’, ‘car one’ and ’10-4’ said owner John McAliden, from Glasgow.
Keeping visitors off the priceless antique chairs at stately homes is a thorny problem. But one attraction has solved it – with thistles. The prickly deterrent is used to protect the furniture at Falkland Palace in Cupar, Fife. “The last thing you want after a nice day out is a sore burn.”
Due to “events, dear boy, events”, certain producers have been scrambling to provide online content to tide audiences over until such time as it is safe theatres and other venues to re-open. One of the first production teams to make their show available to the masses, free of charge, is the team behind Eugenius The Musical. I had intended to see the show during its planned West End run, having secured a transfer from The Other Palace Theatre, but the run never happened in the end: nothing to do with Covid-19, as the run was to have taken place towards the end of 2019. A key investor pulled out at the eleventh hour, and an alternative funding source could not be found in time.
The show takes its audiences back to 1988, when, according to the Space Lord (the voice of Brian Blessed), it was “a simpler time for earthlings where hair was big, colours were neon, and Milli Vanilli pretended to sing. But in the dreams of a boy named Eugene (Rob Houchen), things were far more complex. A disaster loomed as beings far beyond our reckoning invaded!” A world of science fiction, then – well, a superhero, to be more precise, called Tough Man (Simon Thomas) who would take on the Evil Lord Hector (Neil McDermott) in (quelle surprise) yet another triumph of good over evil.
In terms of narrative, then, there isn’t much that can’t be seen elsewhere. But at least this show has the good grace to acknowledge some of the sources of its material, with nods to the likes of Star Wars and at one point, even the stage version of Les Misérables. Eugene is socially distant, to coin a phrase, one of those schoolboys that isn’t part of the in-crowd, like the title character in Dear Evan Hansen, or Jeremy Heere in Be More Chill, or Marty McFly in Back To The Future (the film and/or the musical, take your pick). He does have Janey (Laura Baldwin) and Feris (Daniel Buckley) on his side, the latter displaying some particularly nifty footwork both in ‘Who’s That Guy’ in the first half and ‘No Pants Dance’ in the second.
The songs are, taken together, sufficiently varied in tone and pace. The choreography is sometimes too repetitive, though – I should have done a tally of how many times one of characters’ arms went up in the air with their hands made into fists steadily before the other one did the same but suddenly. Or, as they say on BBC Television’s Strictly Come Dancing, ‘too much armography, darling’. It’s a simple enough action that most of the audience in the front rows followed the cast doing it during at the end of the show, and this musical would appear to have something of a cult following even with its relatively limited exposure on this side of the Atlantic.
Mr Houchen is not entirely convincing as a socially awkward young man, though vocally he is in this recording in fine form, as ever. In Thomas’ Tough Man lies the epitome of bad acting: I hasten to add this is deliberately so for comic purposes, and much humour is derived from Tough Man not delivering lines in the way prescribed by filmmaker Lex Hogan (Alex Bourne). Tough Man’s sidekick, Super Hot Lady (Emily Tierney) is almost as bad (in a sort of Springtime For Hitler kind of way). I have to admit I found it difficult to maintain interest throughout, but this show has the kind of silliness much needed in these unusually difficult times.
Available to view at https://www.facebook.com/eugeniusthemusical/ for a limited time only.
Photo credit: Scott Rylander
The Red Shoes
Whenever I have the privilege of seeing Dominic North in a New Adventures production, I continue to be amazed at how he was born in 1983 and yet still looks like a school leaver. In The Red Shoes, yet another of Sir Matthew Bourne’s dance adaptations of well-known stories, North’s Julian Craster, a composer and musical director, is one of two main love interests of ballerina Victoria Page (Cordelia Braithwaite), the other being the ballet producer Boris Lermontov (Reece Causton). The ending, or rather the end result, at the risk of giving too much away, is pretty much the same as it is in the motion picture. Here, the staging of a train on stage really isn’t bad for a touring production (and I’ve seen a production of The Railway Children in what used to be the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo Station, in which an actual steam train came rolling in towards the end).
It seems (almost) all about Craster (though there’s some nifty footwork from Liam Mower’s Ivan Boleslawsky too) gliding about the stage composing away like a man on a mission. There are lifts and pulls, struggles and desperation. Lermontov, on the other hand, demonstrates some serious commitment to getting Page back, or at least seeing to it if he can’t have her, Craster can’t either, but otherwise, there isn’t nearly as much for him to do. As with the other New Adventures shows I’ve come across (and there are many I haven’t seen, mind you) this is highly accessible stuff – and highly enjoyable too.
As various people have spoken and written so positively about this Korean movie, it was in the back of my mind of films to check out if the opportunity arose. There is more than a sufficient number of plot twists in this movie, which has some incredible cinematography to enjoy as it follows its characters around. In Seoul, poverty is as abound as it is anywhere else in the world, and the Kims can’t get enough income together to keep themselves going as they would like, so when a neighbour sets a password on her WiFi, the family lose ‘their’ internet connection. Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang Ho) and his wife Kim Chung-sook (Chang Hyae Jin) are doing their best for their teenage children, son Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) and daughter Kim Ki-jung (Park So Dam), and to cut a long story short, they sneak their way into well-paid jobs with the same employer with, well, trickery.
“Times is hard, sir, times is hard,” as Mrs Lovett put it in the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. (I’m such a theatre buff: this may well be the only commentary on Parasite that references Sondheim.) The family’s creativity and resourcefulness are admirable, so much so that despite the high levels of deceit that occur, one finds it difficult not to sympathise even when they get their comeuppance. And boy, is the price they pay very steep. Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun Kyun), on the other hand, is a business tycoon, whose wife Park Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo Jeong) is in charge of domestic affairs, including tutors for their children, daughter Park Da-hye (Jung Ziso) and son Park Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung) and a busy social schedule – very much the polar opposite of the Kim family.
There’s a fair amount of moral ambiguity here – yes, the Kims lie, but only to get jobs. It’s not exactly the Great Train Robbery or the Hatton Garden heist. But there is something to be said about social injustice, and this film makes its points clear without a scintilla of preachiness. This was certainly a memorable movie experience.
In the days before theatre became something an obsession for yours truly, I used to watch something called television. One of the series I found rather inspirational was BBC Television’s The Choir, in which choirmaster Gareth Malone set up various choirs in various situations, including the Northolt High School, the Lancaster School (actually in Leicester), the community of South Oxhey in Hertfordshire, and then various workplaces. The fourth series, however, The Choir: Military Wives was probably the most emotional, looking at the lives of the wives and girlfriends of military personnel whilst the lads are away on overseas operations. At the time the war in Afghanistan was still raging, and the show eventually resulted in the establishment of various Military Wives Choirs across the country and elsewhere.
But even without having known all that, the ending of this film, which culminates in everybody coming together and smashing a performance at the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, could be seen from a mile off, and it is absolutely no surprise that a standing ovation ensues. The narrative, broadly speaking, has been done before, in Sister Act: a bunch of ladies who cannot really sing very well eventually do so after much perseverance and disagreement.
It does, at least, portray the sort of nonsense that goes on in military barracks, when Kate (Kirstin Scott Thomas), ‘the Colonel’s wife’ considers herself to have ‘responsibilities’ towards the other people on the base, even stating that Lisa (Sharon Horgan) must step up too, what with her husband having secured a promotion. There’s Jess (Gaby French), the one who doesn’t think she can sing very well but is actually very good, and Ruby (Lara Rossi), who thinks she can sing but really can’t, at least not brilliantly. But I can see why some actual military wives would have nothing to do with their fellow ladies – there is a certain amount of pressure, whether they realise it or not, to conform. That said, it’s a crowd-pleasing charmer and sends one away from the cinema feeling quite warm and comforted.
Okay, so there’s a script on stage, and it’s occasionally referred to. That’s still better than not having a show at all. The Last Five Years, as musical theatre aficionados will be well aware, is a two-hander, and this particular production has no understudies. So, when Molly Lynch was, in the words of the producers, “signed off with illness”, they’d brought in Lydia White to play Cathy Wallerstein: I was watching her second performance in front of a paying audience – and, goodness me, she did extremely well indeed, especially given the very short rehearsal time (I believe only a couple of days) she was given.
There’s a nice touch of actor-musicianship throughout, even if it means the stage is dominated by a grand piano in the centre. And the piano isn’t the only instrument the actors accompany their own voices with. This isn’t Once The Musical – there’s a band as well, visible above the stage. I’ve seen, I think, three different productions prior to this one of The Last Five Years, including one in the West End. This is the first I’ve seen with a revolve, perhaps a metaphor for arguments and counter-arguments in an increasingly fractious relationship that go round and round. Or maybe I’m reading far too much into that.
The other thing that musical theatre fans will tell you about this musical is that Jamie Wallerstein’s (Oli Higginson) story is told in forward chronological order, with Cathy’s story in reverse chronological order. In this production neither leaves the stage at all, so the interaction at face value comes across as cold-hearted and unconvincing, until one remembers that they are in a different time from one another, except for a few seconds in ‘The Next Ten Minutes’ (which feels like it goes on for ten minutes, but then quite a few of Jason Robert Brown’s songs, in this musical and in his other works, do). It’s also worth raising the point that having one of them piano playing whilst the other is singing away also rather detracts from the idea of the relationship gradually disintegrating.
A note in the programme asserts that to “truly grasp the show’s ingenious wit and pathos demands that it either be re-visited or at the very least, re-listened to via a cast recording”. I couldn’t agree more: I’ll admit to being the owner of three The Last Five Years recordings, the 2002 and 2013 off-Broadway casts respectively, and the third being the 2014 movie adaptation cast. All have their different takes on the characters. Here, White’s Cathy is rather likeable, leaving Higginson’s Jamie to be somewhat distant, though I hasten to add he is far from an antagonist. His career as a novelist takes flight whilst his wife’s acting career consists of a few blessings but mostly a series of rejections by casting directors. For anyone in the entertainment industry in the audience, it’s very likely to be hashtag relatable.
Both have remarkable singing voices, which go well together when in harmony as well as when each of them tells their own story. There are plenty of props to aid the narrative, but otherwise, visually, each scene is barely indistinguishable from another, and I wonder how someone without prior exposure to this musical would have been able to follow proceedings. Jason Robert Brown’s wordy compositions certainly help, but the staging felt a tad minimalist to me. But perhaps it was necessary to keep the flow of the musical numbers going.
I mean, it’s incredibly needy, with its first world problems. But it’s incredibly engaging too, the characters’ emotions palpable and the standing ovation from the audience at the end well deserved.
I don’t know whether it’s related to Covid-19 or not (and crowds consequently staying away from crowded theatres and concert halls), but there were some reasonable deals going for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie on Shaftesbury Avenue, and also for The Best of the West End, one of those musical theatre concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, so I took advantage of the situation. The ‘class of 2020’ at Jamie is in fine form, with James Gillan standing in for Rufus Hound at the performance I attended: his Loco Chanelle was particularly impressive, even if I was making a comparison between his rendering and that of Phil Nichol, who frankly couldn’t sing.
Noah Thomas in the title role captured both the vulnerability and bravado of the character quite brilliantly, with Jordan Ricketts as ‘school bully’ Dean Paxton convincingly condescending. Hiba Elchikhe’s Pritti Pasha was something of a vocal powerhouse (whenever she got the chance to demonstrate that). It’s good to see the show still drawing in new audiences: there were people in my row amazed to discover for the first time that Dan Gillespie Sells (of ‘The Feeling’ fame) had composed the music. They marvelled, too, at the staging – being able to see the orchestra is not something that happens in every production.
As for The Best of the West End, The London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO to its fans and followers) was probably the largest I’ve ever seen it at the Royal Albert Hall. There was more ‘Jamie’ to be enjoyed as its touring leading man (and previous West End lead) Layton Williams took to the stage. Marisha Wallace brought the house down with ‘And I Am Telling You’ from Dreamgirls, delivering it with the sheer vocal power that musical theatre audiences just love, especially in a concert setting. The LMTO’s orchestral arrangements were beautiful throughout, with the big-name soloists flanked by a select group of backing singers (Laura Tebbutt, Lizzie Wofford, Rebecca Ridout, Harry Mills, Danny Lane and Matthew McDonald) and a large group of MX Masterclass students, effectively forming a choir.
Ben Haenow, whose single ‘Something I Need’ was the 2014 Christmas number one in the UK following his win of ‘The X-Factor’ series that year, strutted around the stage very arrogantly, and while there’s no doubting his vocal abilities, prancing around like the great man that he clearly isn’t did not go down well with the audience, who responded to his attempt at call and response during ‘I Want It All’ from We Will Rock You with appropriate silence. And then there was Ruthie Henshall, who keeps being invited to these Albert Hall shindigs but keeps screwing up every time. This time she forced the LMTO to restart a version of ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company, and even given a second chance, sounding alive, let alone being alive, was something of a pipe dream.
Thank goodness, then, for everyone else. Frederike Krum delivered a note-perfect ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ from The Phantom of the Opera, while Lauren Samuels did the famed ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen more than justice. Mazz Murray brought the house down reprising ‘The Winner Takes It All’ from Mamma Mia!, where she still plays the leading role of Donna Sheridan, and Matthew Croke reprised ‘Proud of Your Boy’ from Disney’s Aladdin. Songs from the motion picture The Greatest Showman bookended the event. Ben Forster presented the event slickly (though he did have an autocue to help him along) and all things considered, it was a very pleasant and enjoyable evening. The programmes, priced at £10, were too expensive for their (relative lack of) content.
I had yet more time to spare over the weekend, and as I don’t really know the meaning of the term ‘downtime’ I thought I’d check out a couple of motion pictures I had thought about seeing if I could spare the time to do so on the back of recommendations from others. 1917 was quite a slow-burner, which fit the storyline well enough: during the Great War, two armed forces personnel, Lance Corporal William Schofield (George Mackay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are given orders by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to crossover ‘no man’s land’, through enemy territory and into where another set of troops are stationed, with a letter commanding Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the Second Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, not to advance into ‘a trap’ of some sort. The journey is imperilled with danger. A lot of danger, naturally, as it would be a very short film indeed if there was only a bit of rough terrain to encounter. And couldn’t they have just used a carrier pigeon? But while the narrative is dull, the cinematography shines. To say any more than that would be giving too much away. And there are more knowledgeable people than I that could converse at length about its historical inaccuracies.
Emma, being a work of fiction, itself based on a work of fiction (a film based on a Jane Austen novel), can take whatever liberties it likes with historical verisimilitude. The film is thankfully considerably pacier than Austen’s writing style. More than two centuries after the novel was first published, a fair bit of its content continues to be relevant. Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), whose father (Bill Nighy) is wealthy enough to grant his daughter pretty much whatever she wants, lives a comfortable life, but as ever, money doesn’t grant happiness.
Josh O’Connor’s Mr Elton was a hoot: I almost drew a comparison between him and Fleabag’s Hot Priest before realising that this being an entirely different kind of society, what was considered naughty back then results merely in a ‘U’ certification these days from the British Board of Film Classification. Elton, the local vicar, enunciates with the kind of ecclesiastical divinity that would be quite laughable in almost any other context. Mr Woodhouse’s dry sense of humour is admirable, while the overly talkative Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) was, I felt quite rightly, put in her place by a sharp observation by Emma. Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn) takes her to task for it privately later, rather unfairly, though there’s something about his character that leads the film to a happy ending for him and Emma – and anyone who thinks this film has a meandering feel to it should try reading the source material.
It is one thing to laugh along with a production, and in some cases, this one-off concert version of Zorro The Musical provides some opportunities to do just that. When Ramon (Robert Tripolino) goes to confession regarding his relations with his father Alejandro (Zubin Varla), he’s duly informed it is customary to address the person being confessed to as ‘Father’: but when he speaking about his own father, and when the priest calls him ‘my son’, who are they really talking about? But there are also times when I found myself laugh at this production. For all the talent on stage (and looking at the cast biographies in the concert’s programme, it is considerable to say the least), a fair few of them came across as simply trying too hard, which somewhat took away from the enjoyment of a technically skilled performance.
Zorro, for people like me who only really get introduced to famed fictional characters on seeing a stage adaptation of an otherwise well-known story, has been portrayed by, amongst many others, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. He is really Don Diego de la Vega (in this production, Ricardo Afonso, who sang so beautifully he gained a mid-show standing ovation from certain members of the audience). Diego – as I understand it – is the heir to the vast lands owned by Don Alejandro. In this version, however, Don Alejandro is instead some kind of unelected and supreme ruler of a section of California (nope, I have no idea how that works in the ‘land of the free’ either). He puts on an elaborate disguise – which wasn’t very elaborate at all in this concert version, frustratingly – in order to try to stop the tyrannical regime run by Ramon, who has succeeded his father, not exactly legitimately.
Aside from Afonso, who is from Portugal, Lesli Margherita (playing a gypsy, Inez) from the United States and Tripolino, from Australia, this is largely a bunch of British actors, who, to be frank, fail to convince as being of Spanish or Latino heritage. At least Emma Williams’ Luisa doesn’t even attempt an accent, delivering her lines in stage school style British English. Fair play to her on that, and on some spine-tingling performances in ‘Falling’ in the first half and ‘Man Behind The Mask’ in the second.
Fifteen actors comprised the LMTO Chorus (in the order given in the programme, Catalina Amaral, Charlotte Clitherow, Daniel Amity, James Leeman, Joe Thompson-Oubari, Justine Saville, Mia Michaud, Richard Upton, Richard James-King, Danny Lane, Enrico Volpi, Grace Mouat, Lauren Lockley, Margarida Silva, Matthew McDonald), with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra itself, as ever under the baton of Freddie Tapner, reduced from its usual twenty-something to ten – somebody somewhere decided violins and cellos (and so on) were completely superfluous to this concert. The children’s cast – Young Ramon (Tahj Kerr), Young Diego (Devon Francis) and Young Luisa (Caterina Bargioni) did brilliantly.
Overall, though, this felt like a production put on by the BBC. I simply didn’t feel like I had been transported to a place filled with Spanish characters. Perhaps the concert format didn’t help, but there was relatively little dancing (given the style of the music of The Gypsy Kings, who perform in Spanish) going on. Most of it happened, to be honest, in the encore, post curtain-call. Perhaps it is just one of those shows that needs to be done as a full production to be properly appreciated for what it is. Some tremendous singing voices though.
Simon Stephens (Paul Sloss) is seeing a psychiatrist, Dr Peters (Stephen Atkins) in what the audience is told is a subsequent visit, though in When The Birds Stopped Singing it feels like a first visit, as the session is used as a framing device to give structure to a plot revealed almost entirely through a series of monologues. Having a series of direct addresses to the audience interspersed with sections of the conversation between the psychiatrist and his client may have effectively deprived the rest of the cast of bouncing off one another’s lines through dialogue. It is, nonetheless, a method, even if slightly overused here, of holding the attention of a live audience. Interestingly, the production has also been filmed: in my view, it would work better as a radio play.
The play does well to reveal the storyline in stages, even if the warped theories of Sigmund Freud came to mind as the psychiatrist wanted to delve into Simon’s childhood memories. The audience hears, at length, from his father Tom (Phillip Gill), and his mother Alison (Jenny Perry) – the former has felt “jealousy and resentment” as he felt the arrival of baby Simon displaced the love and intimacy that once existed between him and his wife. Alison, needless to say, showered Simon with love and attention, which eventually only compounded the dislike – no, hatred – between father and son, both ways.
Enter Kim Reynolds (a highly engaging Bethany Staton), who became good school friends with Simon, having warmed to what she perceived to be his “vulnerability” and “sensibility”. Phillip Carter (Ray Calleja), who bullied others as well as Simon, has become a repeat offender, and in his own story manages to reveal much about how the prison system didn’t so much reform him as embolden him: “I am respected in here [a young offender’s institution]”. Granted, he may well merely be a legend in his own mind and have ideas above his station. Either way, it would have been beneficial if the play had found a way of uncovering more about his background in order, as it has done with Simon, to determine the root causes of his current situation: how did he get to where he is now?
At some point, Simon grew up and moved out of the family home and moved in with his partner Ben. I’m still not sure what to make of not portraying Ben and thus not hearing his side of the story, however implausible it may have been. The production has also chosen not to try to depict or re-enact instances of domestic violence, instead relying on kindly neighbour Cicely Walters (Jacqueline Parram) to tell the audience about a chance meeting with Simon in which she felt compelled to enquire about a large bruise on his face. As the show has been deemed unsuitable for persons under the age of 18, staging an example of what happened (like one of those ‘reconstructions’ of criminal activity that used to be televised on a BBC programme called Crimewatch UK) would have been hard-hitting – in more ways than one.
That said, as the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell pointed out after the “world premiere performance” (his choice of words), the play is more effective than a speech, article or leaflet would have been. Some immensely important and relevant contemporary issues are fleshed out in a credible and harrowing narrative.
I haven’t sat through such an infectiously warm and gushing performance from a musical theatre actor doing their own concert with an orchestra since seeing Idina Menzel at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011. Lucie Jones had booked in the London Musical Theatre Orchestra (conducted, as ever, by the effervescent Freddie Tapner), plus special guests John Owen-Jones and Marisha Wallace, but the production budget somehow couldn’t stretch to a table or a stand, leaving her to bend down periodically to consult notes taped to the floor of the Adelphi Theatre stage.
At the time of writing, the Adelphi is home to the West End production of the Broadway musical Waitress, though Jones is not in the show for some weeks as the show’s composer, Sara Bareilles, is playing the leading role of Jenna herself, alongside Gavin Creel (thus putting David Hunter on hiatus as well). This is not the first time Jones has been rather uncharitably treated by Waitress, and frankly she was more than gracious to that production. Whatever one thinks of Waitress as a show (I’ve been once and have not at all been inclined to return), Lucie Jones deserved, and deserves, better.
Anyway, the concert itself was highly authentic, peppered with anecdotes stretching back as far as her amateur dramatics days and even her childhood. One gradually realised over the course of the evening Jones’ sheer versatility, in a set that ranged from ‘A Piece of Sky’ from Yentl to ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’ from Rent (sung with Marisha Wallace, who stood waiting for quite a long time before her ‘bit’ in the song began) to ‘Never Give Up On You’, the United Kingdom’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 2017.
She’s done Les Misérables, including being part of the huge cast of casts for that show for its 25th anniversary celebrations at The O2 Arena. She was in We Will Rock You, and had played Molly Jensen in Ghost the Musical in China. She played the lead character in Legally Blonde the Musical, Elle Woods, in the 2017-18 UK tour of the Curve Theatre Leicester production, and before that toured in a production of The Wedding Singer, itself preceded by a UK tour of Rent. She is married to Ethan Boroian, who she first met when they both auditioned for the ITV Saturday night show ‘The X-Factor’ in 2009. And for all that, she is still only 28 years young.
‘She Used To Be Mine’, that slightly overcovered song from Waitress, had the capacity crowd on its feet. The second half also included ‘Moon River’ – which I tend to associate in my own mind with Andy Williams (1927-2012), but was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) in the motion picture Breakfast At Tiffany’s – and a surprisingly charming rendering of ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Misérables. Jones very much came across after the show as someone who doesn’t take her fanbase for granted. (I noted others in front of me in the queue to meet her had brought gifts, and having pointed out to her that I didn’t get the memo about presents, she replied she would rather I spent my money on seeing shows. Just as well, then, that that’s what I do.)
‘That’s Life’, in an arrangement from the West End’s first Jenna Hunterson, Katharine McPhee, was a delight, as was a solo version of ‘So Much Better’ from Legally Blonde the Musical. The evening was recorded for an album release by the end of 2020 – to the point where the audience sat through brief reprisals post-curtain call in order for the production team to capture whatever it was they didn’t capture the first time around. So, even if you weren’t there, perhaps you’ll enjoy Jones’ version of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s ‘God Help The Outcasts’ as much as I did. Either way, this was a brilliantly varied and highly engaging evening.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.