I don’t know how many times musical theatre concerts at the Royal Albert Hall like Magic at the Musicals feature Louise Dearman – still the only UK actor to have taken on the roles of both Glinda and Elphaba (or is it Elphaba and Glinda?) in Wicked – belting out ‘Defying Gravity’, or Mazz Murray, who seems to have been in Mamma Mia! for years and years, knocking ‘The Winner Takes It All’ into Hyde Park. But why reinvent the wheel? They do what they do so incredibly well.
This concert drew more performers from across the West End than any of the other compilation gigs I’ve sat through – including The Show Must Go On!, a series of concerts featuring people in various musicals that took place earlier in 2021 in the period between whatever stage of the Government’s ‘roadmap’ being reached and the theatre industry’s ability to restart its large scale productions – something which it is still in the process of doing. The Book of Mormon does not restart until November, while Dear Evan Hansen’s Sam Tutty told the audience there were still nine days until the show he’s in reopens to the public.
Tutty was given an opportunity by this event’s co-host, Ruthie Henshall, to give an ‘acceptance speech’ to an audience of thousands at the Albert Hall, something he was denied having been awarded Best Actor in a Musical at the Olivier Awards in an online ceremony, public health restrictions being what they were at the time. Visibly moved, he spoke about how much the show meant to him and to its many fans and followers. He did not refer to the other actors from the show stood on either side of him as co-stars, colleagues or team members – they are his friends: a very high compliment indeed.
There aren’t many concerts that go the whole hog and have, say, fourteen children from various casts of Matilda The Musical, or the entire cast of Come From Away singing the opening number from that show. This one did, with many of the performances flanked by the musical theatre students at Mountview Academy of Performing Arts – the students themselves were given a number to themselves, ‘Spread The Love Around’ from Sister Act the Musical. The only show to be given two songs, one in each half, was & Juliet, with the closing numbers from both acts, ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ respectively.
Lucie Jones, currently on tour with Waitress the Musical, delivered a spine-tingling rendering of ‘She Used To Be Mine’, while Henshall and her co-host Jason Manford were also given songs (‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret and ‘This Is The Moment’ from Jekyll and Hyde). There was a good mix between the rock solid standards such as ‘Circle of Life’ from Disney’s The Lion King and songs from newer shows like Pretty Woman and Cinderella (the Andrew Lloyd Webber one). ‘When You Believe’ from The Prince of Egypt was, for me, unconvincing – I didn’t think the soloists genuinely thought there were such things as miracles! A great evening overall with an eclectic selection. At one point, Henshall felt she was in “musical theatre heaven”. She wasn’t the only one.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
As the film version is on Amazon Prime, most people have probably seen it on that, which meant I had an auditorium to myself at the Curzon cinema in Victoria when I popped along to see it. I retained my Curzon membership, which was extended at no extra cost during the COVID lockdowns, so I thought I’d make use of it. I had an invite to the opening gala shindig at the Royal Festival Hall, but had a prior work commitment on the same evening. Anyway, the motion picture works sufficiently well, leaving nothing to the imagination (as opposed to the stage show). I rather liked the archive footage of Loco Chanelle (Richard E Grant, a rather better singer than some of the stage Locos in the West End), and – cinema being what it is – the quick fire lyrics of the title number could be heard very, very clearly.
Red Light Winter
It is supposed to be easier to get to the Turbine Theatre in Battersea now that the Northern Line Extension has opened. But, I was at Kennington waiting and waiting for a connecting Tube, along with several dozen other people, until eventually I gave up, surfaced and got in a black cab. TFL: Totally Failing London, my cabbie told me, although he perhaps uses a different word beginning with F with friends and family. The thing about Davis (Freddy Sawyer) having a change of clothes, albeit in the privacy of a hotel room, is that for whatever reason it sticks in the memory, and if you’re anything like me, calls to mind streakers at sporting fixtures, or indecent exposure cases in the news. Davis is a book editor, while his friend Matt (James Burman) is a playwright who has become something of a recluse. To bring him out of his shell, Davis has hired Christina (Tian Chaudhry), a sex worker. The plan works rather too well, with Matt still having a vivid recollection of the night in question, justifying – would you believe it – a second act. There were some literary insights but otherwise it’s a couple of hours of my life I won’t get back.
The Memory of Water
An altogether more engrossing play, courtesy of Hampstead Theatre, that has been reviving previous works that originated there in decades past. The story is of three sisters, though it is less Chekhovian than I have made it sound. Teresa (Lucy Black), Mary (Laura Rogers) and Catherine (Carolina Main) have lost their mother, Vi (Lizzy McInnerny). The play retains its mid-1990s setting, down to a C&A plastic bag and a front room décor that looks rather garish through contemporary eyes. It wasn’t that long ago, really, but people’s homes really did look the way this one does. The grieving process and the coming together of the sisters, together with Teresa’s husband Frank (Henry Everett at the performance I attended, standing in for Kulvinder Ghir), and Mary’s love interest Mike (Adam James) means that, almost inevitably, sibling rivalry spills over into outright confrontation. From the outside in, one would be forgiven for thinking that they would eventually just get through their mother’s funeral and then never have anything to do with each other ever again.
But there’s something about the family dynamics here that led me to think that they will continue to annoy and aggravate one another: at the end of the day, blood is thicker than (ahem) water. There are – surprisingly, given the context – a lot of laughs in the show, as the characters look back on the past and recall happy times. Their recall of good past events is infinitely less contentious than that of negative experiences, which more often than not result in a sister completely disagreeing with the other’s version of events.
No Time To Die
As I find myself in a theatre far more often than a cinema, the thought of sitting through a screening for two hours and forty-three minutes (not including the twenty minutes of trailers and advertisements that come before it) without an interval was, admittedly, a little daunting. It’s escapism of the highest order: imagine actually having to walk around like ‘Bond, James Bond’ (Daniel Craig) does, almost always with a gun in hand, ready to shoot – well, anyone. There are far more Bond movies that I haven’t seen than ones I have, so I have no idea if Bond has ever shot someone that wasn’t an enemy – what in some quarters is known as ‘friendly fire’.
As if gunshots and bombs weren’t enough, this one (spoiler alert) has a missile strike, which if anything showcases some excellent cinematography. In terms of plot, it is, as Bond movies tend to be, utterly ridiculous, though there are also some chucklesome moments and even a bit of poignancy. A good experience, and I wasn’t bored at any point. Rami Malek plays a suitably sinister antagonist, with a degree of intellect and sophistication one doesn’t always see in the ‘bad guy’.
Welcome to Spoiler Central. Do not read on if for whatever reason (usually because you haven’t seen it for yourself yet) you do not wish to know anything about the 2021/22 touring production of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell the Musical.
It is simply not possible to replicate the grandeur of the 2017 (and 2018-19) West End productions of Bat: constructing a pool in each venue, for instance, isn’t going to happen. Neither is constructing a set complex enough to accommodate an entire car being plunged into the orchestra pit. And so it is that Raven (Martha Kirby) opens the bonnet, extracts the engine, and hurls that at the orchestra instead. The result is the same, with members of the orchestra making stage appearances with broken instruments, apparently for comic effect. Kirby has more to do than her predecessor Ravens, or so it would seem: the opening ‘speech’, ‘Love and Death and the American Guitar’ has been reassigned to her. She does a great job of it, and introduces nuances that simply weren’t there before when one of the Strats would invariably scream most of it. There’s a riff at the end of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ that I rather liked, though purists may dislike the singular high note from the Christina Bennington era being dispensed with.
I am talking about a show still in previews, and as there have been changes to Bat even long after press night during previous runs, this living, breathing organism could yet change substantially over time again. Glenn Adamson’s Strat is still (at the time of writing) a work in progress – there isn’t quite the level of swagger and confidence (and therefore stage presence) that the role requires to be truly convincing, but I suspect that will develop sufficiently as the tour goes on. It’s very early days yet and all that, and he seemed to be enjoying himself on stage.
Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Falco and Sloane are the only cast members from the previous productions still going strong in the same roles. I will not, therefore, regurgitate the superlatives that have been said previously, as they still very much apply. ‘In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King’ has been excised completely from the second half. Whether it is a trade-off or not, I’ve no idea, but ‘Good Girls Go To Heaven’ now appears in the encore, in a similar manner to ‘Waterloo’ being tacked on to the end of Mamma Mia!
Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) is beaten to a pulp by Falco (who still calls him Blink, Stink, and so on) but not to death. Previously, Tink dies of a gunshot wound – the revision to his story results in a happier ending. Whilst the heartache of tragedy is missing, so is the defiance and emotional depth in ‘Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through’. Earlier, ‘Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are’ doesn’t have the narrative context it once did, so has become a song that’s just there, sung very well but not driving the storyline forward, rather like ‘Dead Ringer for Love’. Outside the four leading roles, Danny Whelan’s Ledoux stood out vocally for me.
No pool means no baptism, and so Falco is instead seemingly beaten up by ‘The Lost’ during ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, and has a change of costume in that process. Falco and Tink spit on their gentlemen’s handshake ‘deal’, after which Falco applies hand sanitiser, and one would assume Tink does the same, albeit off-stage. Fortunately or unfortunately the ‘pink pants’ are retained (if you know, you know). Some elements of the previous productions are much missed, and while one is tempted to conclude that “it was so much better than it is today”, this is still a show that gripped me from start to finish.
I almost feel as though I ought to order a custom T-shirt online saying something along the lines of “I was at the first 2021 in-person event at the Royal Albert Hall”. There was a sense of normality: the rustling of sweet wrappers in the row behind, the people surreptitiously taking photographs of a concert they weren’t meant to be taking photographs of, and let’s not forget the woman who yelled at me whilst I was waiting to get out at the end and never bothered to say thank you when I made space for her self-entitled backside and pathetic ego, both about as wide as Galway Bay. (I’m still winning: I had to put up with her for seconds, while she has to live with herself.)
After the show, there was the twat who muttered some expletives at me for apparently getting in his way (I wasn’t impeding him in the slightest). There was also the stupidity of Transport for London, whose staff decided the usual platform for departing trains towards Wimbledon at High Street Kensington was “closed”, ordering everyone onto a different platform, only for a Wimbledon train to pull up alongside the usual platform a minute or so later, and promptly take off, leaving us plebs at the mercy of the District line “timetable” whilst we waited for the train we were told was the first train to depart to actually leave. And then there was the Earl’s Court crawl. If you know, you know. And for some reason, the bus indicator boards in my local area are largely out of service (oh, but there’s an app, don’t you know, but Transport for London don’t bother providing WiFi at bus stops).
This 150th anniversary concert was a very mixed bag indeed, deliberately attempting to encompass the broad variety of events at the Hall since 1871. Some of the content was more accessible than others. I managed to get my head around Professor Brian Cox’s scientific spiel, for instance. But for some reason Spice Girl Melanie C was given a script to read out that tried too hard to promote the Hall’s contributions to popular music, without mentioning the Hall’s previous use in the 1980s as the host venue for the Brit Awards, amongst other pop-related things. There was something about the elixir of something else – I tried to follow it but I couldn’t.
I liked Helen Pankhurst CBE’s contribution. The great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, key figures in the suffragette movement, she spoke eloquently about how the fight for equality, respect and decency goes on – there is still, for instance, a substantial pay gap, and considerably less than half of captains of industry and Members of Parliament are women. Charles Dance and Michael Sheen spoke, respectively, on the subjects of wartime remembrance and looking to the Hall’s future. At some point Claudia Winkleman said something about – wait for it – dance.
I’m not sure whether the music was accompanying the many video projections or the other way round: there was so much to look at in the Hall’s illustrious history and archive footage that much of the music, although pleasant and conducted with pizazz by Nicholas Dodd, felt somewhat secondary. There was an amusing moment when percussion members of ‘Albert’s Orchestra’ (presumably assembled especially for the 150th anniversary celebrations) started mimicking the sounds of table tennis balls being struck by a bat, a boxer hitting a punchbag and a basketball being bounced. A nod to the BBC Proms seasons had the National Youth Choir of Great Britain bobbing up and down to whichever bit of Fantasia on British Sea Songs the Proms audiences bob up and down to (no prizes for guessing my level of interest in the Proms).
Overall, then, an interesting evening in which I learnt a fair bit about the Royal Albert Hall – and I’m someone who has taken a guided tour of the building a few times over the years. It’s been used for everything from boxing matches to ballet in the round. They are, financially, in the shit at the moment, but this felt like the first step in a very long and winding road to some sort of recovery.
Stephen Clark (1961-2016) is best known to me for writing the book and lyrics for the stage musical adaptation of the motion picture Love Story, which became one of many London transfers from the Chichester Festival Theatre. The opening number has the lyric, “What can you say about a girl / A 25-year-old girl who died?” During the funeral of Jenny (Emma Williams), various characters talk about her life, and the salient events are dramatized. Of working class, Jenny falls in love with Oliver (Michael Xavier), who is eventually disinherited by his wealthy family because they disapprove of him marrying for love rather than financial gain (I’m simplifying here, but ultimately not by a lot). He therefore goes off to law school, with Jenny working to make sure the bills are paid. But she is later diagnosed with a terminal illness.
And yet, there is some hope and even some humour in the show, which despite its tragic content manages to be uplifting and positive as well as plumbing some serious emotional depths. The Boy Next Door, which Clark collaborated with Rob Fowler on, is in a similar vein, dealing with the effects and consequences of someone dying long before their time, though Fowler put the project on the shelf after Clark’s own untimely death. It is no secret that Fowler met his current partner, Sharon Sexton, when they started working together on Bat Out of Hell the Musical. When lockdown was imposed in March 2020, Sexton and Fowler (as they styled themselves), deprived of the remainder of a touring production of Mamma Mia!, took to performing online concerts – and they, like so many other performers, faced teething problems getting various technological gadgets to do what they were supposed to do.
Some of the songs that have become known to their fanbase, such as ‘Delight’, ‘Sign’ and ’Shadows’ (the last having been retitled in The Boy Next Door as ‘Right Where You Want Me’) appeared repeatedly in their series of lockdown concerts, and then in a subsequent limited edition double album. It may have taken a global pandemic to make it happen – The Boy Next Door was given another lease of life, with more songs and further refinements to the story as a whole. The variation in tempos and musical styles gives The Boy Next Door the edge over Love Story, which had too many songs that sounded more or less the same as one another.
In a concert read-through format, with only an hour to condense a full two-act show, it was admittedly rather difficult to keep track of events in the plotline, which made me grateful for having had the opportunity to sit through a whistle-stop tour of this meaty story twice over. Boy (Liam Ross Mills), not to be confused with the title character, The Boy Next Door (Sam Cassidy), who goes by Dan (but you really can’t just call a musical Dan) is a teenager who ends up pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, more than happy to leave home to do so. A major tragedy in the family hits those who remain hard, and much of the show appears to take a look at how the different characters work through loss, bereavement and grief. It’s difficult, it’s messy, and it’s very, very human. I suspect a full production will require a ‘trigger warning’.
The concert ended abruptly, so as not to reveal quite how the various strands and subplots are resolved by the show’s curtain call – or, indeed, if they even are resolved. There weren’t any discernible big song and dance numbers: in place of ‘showstoppers’ are musical numbers that drive forward the narrative in the way the country music songs tell a tale. Sister (Jessica Cervi) enjoys a more amicable relationship with Mother (Sharon Sexton) than Boy – some ‘normal’ names for characters wouldn’t go entirely amiss.
What we do know is that the show has more than one ‘critical incident’, a sudden and unexpected event that has a major and permanent effect on the characters, and therefore, the storyline itself. I suspect an ending not dissimilar to the final number in the Broadway show Next to Normal: “Day after day, wishing all our cares away / Trying to fight the things we feel / But some hurts never heal / Some ghosts are never gone / But we go on, we still go on”. Being a semi-autobiographical piece, there might well be a ‘to be continued’ element by the time the show reaches curtain call. It’s certainly a story worth telling, and I’ll be keeping an eye out to see where this intense but thoughtful show goes next.
There was a ‘wow’ factor in my first experience at the Alexandra Palace Theatre, but it wasn’t to do with the theatre space itself, which I was rather underwhelmed by, given that the result of a £27 million restoration project was an auditorium that could do with another £27 million being splashed out on it. The idea, it seems to be from seeing a video on the project on the Palace’s website, was to preserve the existing condition of the brickwork in perpetuity, rather than do anything to redecorate. Given the theatre fell into disrepair and was unused as a theatre space for eighty years (according to the Palace itself), this doesn’t, frankly, equate to ‘restoration’: the walls couldn’t possibly have looked this terrible when the theatre was first opened.
Signage in the theatre bar instructing patrons not to consume any alcohol until they were sat in the auditorium proper was ignored, at least by me: the auditorium hadn’t opened when I got through security and into the bar area, and I wasn’t going to stand there on a hot day, drink in hand, not drinking, waiting for an indeterminate period for the damn doors to open. Even when they did, I resisted going in straight away (this wasn’t a Ryanair flight, and I grasp the concept of numbered seating), and so I finished my glass of wine stood in direct line of sight to the signage saying I shouldn’t be drinking alcohol in the area. This was, mind you, in full view of the Palace’s staff, who did nothing to challenge me. Why have rules if nothing is done to enforce them?
Neither cast list nor programme for Sunset Boulevard in Concert was available, leaving me to find out who was who from cast lists provided to members of the matinee audience prior (a few of whom were kind enough to post photos of said list on social media). Being a concert production, one could hardly expect a staircase, or a car, or a film studio, but I’d seen three previous incarnations of it (West End transfer of the Watermill Theatre production, 2008-09; English National Opera ‘semi-staged’ run, 2016; Curve Theatre and subsequent UK tour, 2017-18) so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what was happening.
The atmosphere was electric, and rightly so, given the sheer talent on stage. I hadn’t seen a mid-show standing ovation of the kind Mazz Murray received at the end of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ since a Saturday night crowd at Chichester Festival Theatre rose to their feet at the end of ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’ in 2016. And no, there weren’t any ovations before the end of the show at any of the other Sunset productions I’d seen. A delightful evening all round, really: no weak links to report, and just the occasional microphone issue that is part and parcel of live performance.
There were several cast changes from the original announcement (the concert was to take taken place in February, then rescheduled to April, then re-rescheduled to June). Ramin Karimloo ended up in the role of Joe Gillis, replacing Kai Ushe (who had been cast in the West End production of The Lion King), with Zizi Strallen taking over the role of Betty Schaefer from Laura Baldwin. Jeremy Secomb took over the role of Max von Meyerling (minus the ‘European’ accent) from Alex Bourne. And for me, in the end, it was either this, or Hair at the London Palladium (at Palladium prices, for a production I’d already seen at a reduced price at an outdoor venue round the corner from the Turbine Theatre in Battersea last summer).
Finally, I followed the advice from David Shaw Parker, who played Cecil B. DeMille, and got the W3 bus from Finsbury Park (rather than Wood Green, which is the Palace’s own suggested route), which apart from the very warm (by British standards) weather, was reasonably painless. And at last, I can say I’ve been to Alexandra Palace.
If 7pm starts on a Saturday evening constitutes the new normal for West End theatre, I don’t like it, especially when it means finishing dinner in time to get to where one is going even earlier than for a 7.30pm start, and go through the even more rigorous checks in place just to get in. It’s all very well front of house staff telling me to ‘take your time’ when I am already in a hurry. After I had my temperature checked and confirmed my name and phone number for ‘track and trace’, security had to satisfy themselves that I didn’t have any gunpowder or any other improvised explosive devices, or indeed, food. I have nothing against the security officers: they are paid to do what it is they have been instructed to do.
I have since learned that Nimax Theatres are being draconian with their refund policy, or rather sticking to their usual terms and conditions even in a pandemic: if a ticket holder needs to self-isolate by Government decree, tickets will not be refunded. There does not even appear to be the option to take out a policy with Nimax Theatres – See Tickets, for instance, has used TicketPlan Cancellation Protection for some time, which allows patrons to obtain a refund under all sorts of circumstances, including “unexpected disruption of the public transport network which could not have been reasonably known about before the date or time or the booked event” and receiving a positive Covid-19 test result. Even ATG, owned by private equity firms, entertains refund requests.
The jokes were corny, and very evidently scripted, with hosts Bonnie Langford and Trevor Dion Nicholas reading off cue cards, albeit in an engaging and animated way. The worse the punchlines got, the more the audience lapped it up: this was, essentially, selected songs from selected musical productions performed in concert format, backed by a live orchestra. While the show script proved borderline insufferable (at least to me), the line-up was, in places, a logistical challenge, with (on the night I attended) Collette Guitart performing the matinee performance of Six at one end of Shaftesbury Avenue, coming up to The Show Must Go On, and apparently going back to Six for the evening show.
Trevor Dion Nicholas raised the roof, ditching his usual part of George Washington in the West End production of Hamilton in favour of George III in an almost riotous rendering of ‘You’ll Be Back’. Some of the other men, I’m sorry to report, came across as a bit wooden, though John Owen-Jones put in a stunning version of ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Misérables that elicited sustained applause, and to open the second act, Back to the Future’s Olly Dobson gave it his all in ‘The Power of Love’.
Otherwise, as Beyoncé put it over and over again, “Who run the world? Girls, girls.” Laura Pick did ‘The Wizard and I’ from Wicked justice, and Alice Fearn (herself a previous Elphaba) was delightful in ‘Me and the Sky’ from Come From Away. It was the first act closers, however, that were nothing short of sensational. Aisha Jawando, in the title role in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical and Mazz Murray, reprising Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! were, as Turner herself used to sing, simply the best. In the end, it was all for a good cause, with the five night run on Shaftesbury Avenue helping the Theatre Support Fund get over its £1 million fundraising target.
The Show Must Go On!
By George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
The Show Must Go On!
The curtains must rise again
With tears in our eyes again
The show must go on
The actors must learn their lines
Designers submit designs
Directors, and band and crew
Are here for you
The dancers will dance again
We’ll have an advance again
So let any doubts be gone
The Show Must Go On!
We’ve baked so much banana bread
We’ve hoarded toilet rolls
We’ve seen every series Netflix ever screened
We’ve been masked, we’ve been distant
We’ve observed the rule of six
And our hands are all meticulously cleaned
If there’s one thing the pandemic proved it’s this –
We don’t mind a lengthy interval
But this one takes the piss
The Show Must Go On!
Let Poppins take flight again
We’ll go fly a kite again
The Show Must Go On!
Let Hamilton rap once more
The Lion King has to roar
The Mormons will spread the word
And we’ll be heard
Let chandeliers fall again
We’ll watch Michael Ball again
Javert will pursue Valjean
The Show Must Go On!
We had to seek out other roles
To help us make ends meet
We’ve been poorer than the Lady and the Tramp
We’ve stocked shelves, we’ve delivered
There are supermarkets shell
Where the checkout staff have never been so camp
So to say we were unviable was wrong
And now just like Dolly Levi
We are back where we belong
The Show Must Go On!
Let orchestras play again
Then Hairspray will spray again
The Show Must Go On!
Put Jamie back in his rock
And welcome us to the rock
& Juliet can be sure
To live once more
Sit Elphaba on her broom
Performances must resume
Dear Evan will lie and con
The Show Must Go On!
And Tina must turn again
Matilda will learn again
And Sophie will find her dad
While Vivian meets a cad
And Joseph will have a dream
And Moses will float downstream
For broomsticks to have a job
Just rub that knob
We were proud to clap the NHS for making us feel better
But isn’t it now time that we all clapped for the theatre
The Show Must Go On!
We’ve all had to wait so long
For Elsa to belt that song
The Show Must Go On!
When Back to the Future starts
And Marty McFly departs
Then Cinders can start anew
To find her show
When Six Tudor Queens can reign
And tell of their woes again
There’s one thing that we are all agreed upon
The Show Must Go On!
The Show Must Go On!
Could there be a better place for a shopaholic to spend the night than in a department store? A woman fell asleep in the toilets of a BHS store in Reading and awoke to find herself locked in – but then suffered the embarrassment of being rescued by fire crews via a first-floor window.
A retired lawyer did not hesitate when a 7ft alligator snatched his dog. Steve Gustafson, 66, was at home in Orlando, Florida, when Bounce the west highland terrier wandered too close to a nearby pond. He heard the dog yelp, looked up and saw his pet being carried away in the alligator’s jaws. “I leaped on the gator, like you do some silly belly flop in a pool. The only difference was I landed on top of a gator.” Steve grappled with the alligator until it released the dog. Bounce – and his owner – escaped with only minor injuries.
A short-sighted shopper paid £527 for two pork chops because she used a supermarket self-service checkout without her glasses on. The 57-year-old thought she was paying £1 and didn’t see that a technical glitch had caused a huge price rise at the Asda store in Poole, Dorset.
Sergei Hodirev, 29, fell in love with a motorist whose car ran him over, breaking his leg. “Despite being in pain he was completely charming,” said driver Elena Muhametshina, 29, of Chelyabinsk, Russia. The couple now live together after striking up a friendship while Mr Hodirev was treated in hospital.
Smitten Patrick Erzer tried to propose to girlfriend Sonja Wyler by putting up a poster outside their flat made up of 1,700 pictures of them – but she didn’t spot it for a week. The 28-year-old finally got a ‘yes’ when Sonja, 26, noticed a crowd taking photos of the collage in Basel, Switzerland.
Even a bomb and pistol are no match for an angry 82-year-old woman who knows how to use a handbag. Herta Wallecker sprang into action when a masked man demanded money at a bank in St Egyden am Stenfeld, Austria. As he shouted, “I’ve got a bomb – I only want the big notes,” Wallecker walloped him with her handbag and then pulled off his mask. He threated her with a pistol but Wallecker just hit him again and told him: “That is the bank’s money. If you want money, then get a job, you lazy devil.” Police later arrested a 62-year-old man.
A mayor put his neck on the line to marry two giraffes. Dragan Palma cancelled a meeting to wed buck Jovance, five, and bride Ema, nine. “Boring meetings can wait for a couple in love,” said the mayor of Jagodina, Serbia.
Some people go on cruises for the food or the sightseeing: others like to see a bit of action. Two women in their seventies have been bailed by police in Sweden for collaring a burglar in their cabin. According to officers in Haninge, the women, who both admit being “portly”, forced the thief up against the wall in an armlock – a technique they had learnt from watching police dramas – and called security staff.
I’ve been indulging recently in ‘Chapters’, an app containing ‘interactive stories’ to read. As with many apps, one can pay to go ad-free, or otherwise put up and shut up (as I do) and tolerate adverts every so often. There are different categories, such as ‘thriller’, ‘suspense’, ‘sci-fi’, ‘young adult’ and so on, but they are all essentially about scenarios in which lonely hearts find their (possible) match, and invariably the most palatable ending is one that ends with two young characters who get married, start a family together and have the perfect life.
Apart from that, they are not as formulaic as I’ve made them sound. One of the stories I’ve ploughed through, ‘Fallen’, goes into some detail about forensics and how advances in science and technology have helped to secure convictions – frankly, I skipped over some of it. But it’s ultimately about demons – or rather ‘fallen’ (hence the title) angels, and the last few chapters are action-packed to say the least.
‘Chapters’ isn’t exactly family viewing, however, and it’s a little surprising that it’s as freely available as it is to any smartphone user. This is an extract from ‘Under Covers’, in which Jake Knight, a billionaire who runs an empire of security firms, seeks to dominate an employee whom he has taken under his wing in more ways than one. Jake tells her (the reader is asked to choose a name for the female central character, and for no particular reason, I plumped for ‘Charlotte’): “I want to make you crazy for it. I want to memorise the taste of your pussy. I want to wind you up so tight that you cum harder than you ever have in your life.”
The narrative continues: “Jake stands up between your parted legs. Lined up with your centre is his clothed cock, the hard, long outline of it clear through his pants. He unbuckles his belt, his blazing blue eyes glued to yours. The rugged timbre of his voice oozes sex. It’s the kind of sound you imagined Jake could make, but never thought it’d be directed at you. He tugs down his boxers, freeing his cock from his pants. Your throat goes dry as you take in the hard, glistening length of him. He strokes himself with one hand as he runs a finger lazily along your apex. He smiles.”
Then: “Jake steps forward into the space between your thighs, his hands gently sliding up your legs and pushing them further apart.” He says, “I can’t say I’ve never dreamed of having you on your back, Charlotte… but laid out on my desk like this, with your legs spread for me?”
“Jake leans over you and captures your lips in a kiss, heated and wanton. You gasp when the weight of his bare cock lands against your thigh, flooding your body with heat. His tongue runs along your lips, making you part for him. His bare length slides between your slick folds as he pushes his body against you. The feel of it is blissful. Jake groans. He bites his lip, almost hard enough to draw blood. You wrap your legs around his waist to pull him close.
“He takes hold of your hips, pulling you to the edge of his desk. It opens your legs even more and you lock your ankles at his lower back. He growls and reaches down to position himself. You can feel the head of his cock pressing at your entrance, and a jolt shudders through you.” He says, “I’m going to fuck you so hard you won’t be able to remember another man has ever been inside you. So hard that you won’t ever want another cock. Come on, good girl. Tell me if you want it. I’m gonna be greedy with that pussy. I plan to indulge myself in you.”
And the story goes on like this, chapter after chapter, twenty in all for this one. It’s worth pointing out that ‘Charlotte’ does have the right to say no, and that right is always respected, even if the story is at pains to point out that the guy is upset and/or unhappy. These stories have me in stitches, partly for their crudeness, partly for their absurd scenarios. I’ve started another one, ‘Unfixable’, in which an American photographer flies to Dublin for a month on assignment and ends up shagging Shane Claymore, a local hotelier and pub landlord. ‘Pushing Her Limits’, meanwhile, is very much in the vain of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.
There’s plenty of additional content for those who wish to pay for it, which I stubbornly refuse to do. Besides, what is available for free is entertaining enough. It’s literature only good for the gutter, but I think I have a slightly better understanding as to why Mills & Boon books are popular. Part of me tells me unequivocally that this is bizarre, misogynistic, indulgent bullshit. But part of me also thinks that it’s enjoyable, and ultimately harmless.
There’s some sympathy for actors in The Fosse Forest Ballet, which despite its title is a pantomime (there’s a joke in there somewhere, which I’ve evidently missed). Practically everyone else is painted in a bad light. When Bob (David Muscat), desperate to tread the boards again, pours his heart out in desperation to his agent James (Philip Joel), the latter falsely claims it’s a bad line and he didn’t hear the bulk of what was said. Bob ends the call diplomatically, emotionally spent, and must somehow summon the strength from somewhere to carry on dreaming the dream.
Such is the harsh reality of the acting profession. But it also seems grossly unfair to most theatrical agents out there, who (or so actors invariably say) work hard for the people on their books. I suppose one mustn’t take this series too seriously or think that the attitudes of the creative team behind this ballet/pantomime are indicative of everyone in the entertainment industry. The production seems doomed to fail, which probably makes better drama than a show about a show where everything goes swimmingly, and a blockbuster success is born.
The style of humour is quirky to say the least: in one scene, the pantomime’s director, choreographer and musical director (all Philip Joel), all assert in similar ways that actors are impossible to work with because they never, ever get anything right (in which case, why not pursue a vocation that doesn’t involve working with actors?). Individually and collectively, their attitudes stink, and one wonders why, if this is meant to be remotely representative of how creatives behave in the real world, actors put up with it. Perhaps it was meant to be a light-hearted poke at how creatives are sometimes perceived, and many of them may well take what they find here with good grace.
But I’m sorry to report I barely raised a smile, let alone a hearty laugh. Non-actor characters are pretty much all the same, universally extremely highly strung – the sort of people that seem to think the planet will stop spinning on its own axis if the slightest thing doesn’t go wholly and entirely in their favour. Frankly, I found much of the episode tiresome. When the narrator, Darren Day, claims, with reference to a certain point in the audition process for the panto, that “not many make it this far, but then again many do”, which is it? And I couldn’t see the need to lampoon call centre workers in a ‘punchline’ (inverted commas mine) at the end of the episode.
That the series was commissioned with the idea of supporting Acting for Others and Theatres Trust by donating its profits to such causes makes such a disagreeable portrayal of the theatre world all the more bizarre. The show, is at least, filmed to a high standard, and appearances from the likes of Kerry Ellis, Louise Dearman and Oliver Savile will doubtless be welcome to regular theatregoers. A pity, really, that I had little interest in watching any further episodes of this peculiar story.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.