Richard Briggs is selling his £10,000 Action Man collection – because it takes up too much room. The 42-year-old from Somerset has spent the past decade amassing the toys, which are still in their original boxes.
A drainage tube was left inside a patient’s body for more than 50 years. The woman, from Taranto, Italy, complained of chest pains and a scan showed the 15cm (6in) tube. It was later removed.
An armed gang was arrested after the axle of their clapped-out getaway car fell off in front of a police station. The teenage robbers were being chased by officers after holding a family of five hostage in Manaus, Brazil.
A boy of two had to be freed by firefighters – after he got his head stuck in a toilet training seat. Kai Stevens pulled the seat over himself so hard that he got hammed at home in Northam, north Devon.
A groom’s father sparked a riot by hiring two strippers instead of a ‘boring’ band for the wedding. Zhang Cheng was arrested after the brawl. “The locals wanted a better look,” said a police spokesman in Xuzhou.
A pen was removed from a woman’s stomach after 25 years – and still worked. The plastic felt-tip eluded X-rays and led to health problems for the patient who claimed she fell and swallowed it when she was checking her tonsils. Exeter doctors only believed her tale after the operation.
A motorist has been thanked by city chiefs for paying a $1 parking ticket he received 58 years ago. Dale Crawford, of Houston, Texas, said he wanted to clear his conscience even though it was an ‘unnoticeable’ amount.
Pigeons caused havoc at a pharmaceutical company’s new head office after hopping on to a motion sensor for the revolving doors. The birds trooped in one by one to fly around at Celgene UK in Uxbridge, London.
Divers cleaning up a river made some unusual discoveries, including 42 shopping trolleys and 22 bikes. They also found a concrete bus stop topped with a circular sign and timetable dating back to the mid-1980s in a 45cm (150ft) stretch of the Avon in Chippenham, Wiltshire.
A dreadlocked woman was caught trying to smuggle 1.5kg (4lb 4oz) of cocaine in her hair. Nobanda Nolubabalo, 23, had flown from Brazil to Bangkok, where officials noticed her matted white locks.
There have been a number of shows in recent years that have highlighted the deaths of large numbers of people in the LGBT+ community – the National Theatre revival of Angels in America and the Young Vic production of The Inheritance considered the aftereffects of AIDS (as does the Timothy Conigrave play Holding The Man). The View UpStairs, considers a different kind of tragedy, one brought about by a fire in the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar, on Sunday, 24 June 1973, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The fire broke out on the last day of Pride weekend. Coincidental? I think not.
The show could have been longer if it had delved into the details as to why and/or how it happened – but that wouldn’t have made for good theatre: investigations did not result in any convictions. Even the show’s programme is sparse on detail, though it categorically asserts the incident was a “catastrophic arson attack”. It could well have been Rodger Dale Nunez, known only in this show as Dale (Declan Bennett), who had developed a reputation for antagonising other patrons of the bar: he had escaped from whatever psychiatric facility he was being treated in, and was eventually taken by his own hand in 1974. Not that one would know that from seeing the show, which doesn’t do that ‘what happened to them’ thing at the end, so such details are omitted from the play’s conclusion, which instead looks to the future with hope and conviction in the way that musical theatre productions have a tendency to do.
Wes (Tyrone Huntley, treading the boards once more following a directorial debut over at the Southwark Playhouse) finds himself transported (quite how would be revealing too much) from 2019 to 1973, whereupon Willie (Cedric Neal) smashes Wes’ iPhone repeatedly with a hammer, believing it to be a surveillance device. While some harsh realities are avoided in the musical’s narrative, such as church funerals being denied to the victims, there are some personal stories to ponder on. Buddy (John Partridge) has a wife and children, despite being homosexual, but in line with prevailing attitudes at the time (which still prevail in certain sections of American society to this day), he feels he cannot ‘come out’ – though I did wonder what he told his family he was doing with his spare time, spending so much of it at the UpStairs Lounge. Patrick (Andy Mientus), on the other hand, has no communication at all with his relatives, with the expected pain and heartbreak this brings (irrespective of sexual orientation).
The production itself is slick and tight, and there is little to criticise apart from perhaps the odd lyric not being quite decipherable from my front row vantage point. The variation in tone and tempo of the musical numbers is excellent, and there isn’t a dull character amongst this motley crew. Some humour is to be found in Wes’ unimaginative view of ‘the future’ and the likes of Patrick finding Wes’ ‘predictions’ mind-bending and extraordinary. The group comes together to support Freddy (Garry Lee) following an altercation outside, for which a police officer (Derek Hagen), typically, points the finger of blame at the gay community.
Most characters get their big moment – of note are Dale’s ‘Better Than Silence’ and Patrick’s ‘Waltz (Endless Night), bringing some reflective thoughts to an otherwise rather rowdy – and smoky – room. Audiences are capable of thinking for themselves, and do not really need the expositional bits of dialogue that tell us, for example, that Mike Pence, the US vice president, supports ‘conversion therapy’ for homosexuals, and therefore contemporary society hasn’t come as far as it sometimes likes to pride itself on doing. The musical goes even further, though, asserting that Wes’ attitudes towards wealth creation, which take precedence over continuing the fight for justice and equality, are holding back the LGBT+ community from fully flourishing. Make of that what you will.
Truth be told, some of the characters do come across as stereotypical, such as Carly Mercedes Dyer’s Henri, the no-nonsense bar manager, Barbara Windsor’s Peggy ‘get out of my pub’ Mitchell with an American accent. A surprisingly enjoyable evening overall, given the dark storyline, The View UpStairs is worth a visit.
With psychological and mental health being increasingly talked about, perhaps this revival of The Deep Blue Sea is quite timely. I only bothered to see it in Chichester on the back of positive reviews, and because I was down in West Sussex anyway to see a production of Oklahoma! in the Festival Theatre, I thought I may as well stay on to see this play across the road in the Minerva. A heatwave was taking hold in the UK when I saw it, and the theatre staff were handing out cups of water on the way into the auditorium, because the air conditioning had broken down in the theatre, as well as in the Bar and Grill in the same building.
I know when I’m out of London when free refreshments are available under any circumstances. The London theatres may say that free water is provided, but it is not actively promoted or pointed out: one either knows where it is kept and gravitates to that place, or must very deliberately ask someone, which really isn’t the same thing. There isn’t a huge amount I wish to say about this production, not least because I’ve only gotten around to saying anything about after the production has closed. It is also a very faithful production – as an ex-Prime Minister once put it, “Nothing has changed!”
The clipped tones are still there – and Hester Collyer’s (Nancy Carroll) life is complicated even by contemporary standards. There are divorce proceedings in progress following her departure from Sir William Collyer (Gerald Kyd), apparently a High Court judge, and is now seeing Freddie Page (Hadley Fraser), who served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and displays the kind of brash bravado that one would reasonably expect from such a character. The set fits the 1950s setting, as do the costumes and forms and manner of speaking.
There isn’t anybody that isn’t thoroughly convincing – the landlady, Mrs Elton (Denise Black), the upstairs busybody Philip Welch (Ralph Davis) and the doctor (who no longer practises for reasons explained in the narrative) known only as Mr Miller (Matthew Cottle) are all highly believable in their various distinct ways. Carroll’s Hester, however, is the one who runs through an extremely broad range of human emotions – usually restrained and composed, her cry of despair in the dying moments of the play is made even more powerful because of all the subtlety and nuance that preceded it.
It was the right play for the relatively small stage space, and the storyline was as gripping as ever with this stellar cast.
I must admit I wasn’t aware of the extent of Dame Margot Fonteyn’s (1919-1991) (Abigail Moore) involvement in the political affairs of her husband Roberto Arias (1918-1989) (Fanos Xenofos), known as ‘Tito’ to his friends and acquaintances. What Margot, Dame, The Most Famous Ballerina in the World doesn’t make explicitly clear is that it wasn’t until the release of documents in March 2010 by the UK Government that it became officially known that the wife as well as the husband had substantial involvement in an unsuccessful coup d’état in Panama. The production is billed as being set in ‘Panama, 1956’ (aside from certain scenes set instead in ‘Sleeping Beauty American Tour, NYC, 1953’ and a meeting with Fidel Castro (1926-2016) in the ‘Military Office, Havana, Cuba’).
In many ways the coup was quite laughable, with the benefit of hindsight. Castro (Oliver Kaderbhai) is keen for Fonteyn to dance in Cuba to his people, while Tito is portrayed quite one-dimensionally as a thoroughly unpleasant and controlling figure, hungry for power, mostly because (as this production would have it) the Arias family had reached the presidency of Panama several times before. Tomás Arias (1856-1932) was a member of the ‘Provisional Government Junta’ between 4 November 1903 and 20 February 1904; Harmodio Arias Madrid (1886-1963), Tito’s father, was acting President in January 1931 and President from 5 June 1932 to 1 October 1936. Tito’s uncle, Amulfo Arias (1901-1988), was president from 1 October 1940 to 9 October 1941, from 23 November 1949 to 9 May 1951 and then from 1 to 11 October 1968, after which he was deposed in a successful coup. Ricardo Manuel Arias Espinosa (1912-1993) was the 29th President of Panama, serving from 29 March 1955 to 1 October 1956.
Castro is portrayed sympathetically, fortunately or unfortunately, all but laughing at Tito’s demands, even if he eventually pledged his support. It’s an interesting and unusual angle to take for a one-act show about a ‘prima ballerina assoluta’ who accomplished so much in her life, carrying on dancing until she was 67 – and as the play would have it, when she passed away at 71 years of age, there was “nothing” – she had run out of money, having used up her savings to care for Arias after he was made a quadriplegic in 1964 because he was shot, and had even begun to sell her jewellery. Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993), not referenced directly in the production, had apparently helped with the bills, though he had to do so anonymously, presumably to spare Fonteyn’s blushes.
Okay, but what of the production? There’s Alexandro (Louis Van Leer), a young dancer who stays with Fonteyn ostensibly to look after her. I wasn’t fully convinced at his inclusion in terms of the narrative, but it does at least provide a framework that justifies the convincing ballet sequences that periodically appear – there’s not a huge amount of performance space in a studio theatre like the King’s Head, but Van Leer makes the most of it, and Robbie O’Reilly’s choreography shines brightly throughout.
The character development could do with some tweaking: people are either very, very good with a capital G or otherwise downright evil with no redeeming features whatsoever. The play also makes a heavy criticism of the entertainment industry as being so ruthless as to completely and comprehensively disregard performers once they are too old or ill (or both) to continue. But I would argue that it is no different in any other industry – every employment relationship comes to an end at some point, after which there is no obligation by either employer or employee to maintain contact. Anyway, it’s an intriguing piece of theatre, straight to the point, with a storyline that is incredibly easy to follow.
This Is Going To Hurt Live – Vaudeville Theatre
I recall seeing this show a while back at Soho Theatre, and in its West End incarnation, the show from Dr Adam Kay, a former medical doctor who now works as a writer and performer, is as acerbic as ever, and only marginally longer. I understand more fully, having read through 74 per cent of his book (according to my Amazon Kindle) what people mean when they say the show doesn’t add much to what people have already gleaned from reading the book – indeed, one of my companions on the night I attended was even able to provide further details on the stories Kay told.
But the book doesn’t have the songs he performs in the live show, including several verses set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, in which the audience is invited to guess what it is he’s singing about, and sing the refrain accordingly: “Yellow fever, yellow fever, yellow fever, yellow fe-he-ee-eeee-ver”. Kay is also responsible for a parody of ‘Going Underground’ by The Jam, with lyrics such as “The floors are sticky and the seats are damp / Every platform has a f*cking tramp”. Interestingly, his book refers to his partner as ‘H’, and is referred to as a woman, though his spouse is actually James Farrell, a television executive who has produced Mrs Brown’s Boys for the BBC.
13 – Jacksons Lane Theatre
I’m still discovering theatre venues in London that I’ve never been to before, and I think I once refused an invitation to review a show at Jacksons Lane because I looked up the postcode and didn’t fancy such a long journey from one end of the Northern line to the other to get back home afterwards. This time I had nothing else on (aside from a gig at the Lytham Festival in Hove, which I didn’t, as it turned out, have a hope in heaven or hell of getting to on time), so I agreed to make the trip up. It’s really not bad, as it turns out, being very close to Highgate Station. The Independent Centre for Actor Training (ICAT to its members, friends and followers) put on an almost black-box production of 13 – not the Jason Robert Brown musical but the play by Mike Bartlett (whose other works include King Charles III and Earthquakes in London).
With a relatively bare set (there were props and, of course, costumes) figuring out where each scene was set in this five-act play (two and a half hour running time including one interval) wasn’t always easy – which bit of 10 Downing Street were various political briefings, meetings and quiet words being held was quite impossible to be sure of. Slightly confusingly an enigmatic man called John is played by a woman (Olu Adaeze), which does at least remove the possible misogyny that might otherwise have arisen when John took Ruth (Amelia Hursey), the Prime Minister, to task in a showdown meeting in which, perhaps all too predictably, the Establishment listens to someone outside their closely knit circle, only to carry on pursuing their original course of action.
Aspects of the narrative are very convincing – a gung-ho United States government is keen to crack on and get on with nuking another country and would like the United Kingdom to join their war effort. Others, however, are bizarre and are probably better placed in a science-fiction dystopia play rather than a socio-political one: people have dreams, or rather recurring nightmares, with ‘monsters’ and ‘explosions’. The play also explores the role of religion and spirituality in the lives of its characters, going as far as to include a discussion (which, quite hilariously for me, descends into chaos) in the context of the Christian education programme The Alpha Course. Some intriguing questions are asked about the (non) workings of government – and while the play is somewhat messy and complicated, this is, I suppose, only indicative of real life.
Present Laughter – The Old Vic
It’s not gone unnoticed amongst regular readers that I very much enjoyed Bat Out of Hell The Musical, and so when one of its leading lights recommended a show, it only naturally followed that, review schedules permitting, I would go along and see it if the cost wasn’t too prohibitive. The first thing Simon Gordon (who covered the lead role of Strat in ‘BOOH’) did after seeing the Old Vic production of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter was book to see it again (funnily enough, I did that at ‘BOOH’ when it played at the English National Opera). I have no shame in admitting that is the sole reason for considering this particular show.
These days the Old Vic’s pricing structures mean that I usually give it a wide berth – the last thing I paid to see at this venue was a production of the Cole Porter musical High Society in 2015. The theatre had emailed repeatedly since then, fundamentally saying words to the effect of ‘Please come back, we miss you’ – well, I might have done so sooner if it didn’t cost so much to sit anywhere half-decent. Considering this is a comedy play, I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I ought to have done (and I like Coward’s material even if it does almost always involve the clipped tones of the British Pathé newsreels). What on earth was Monica Reed (Sophie Thompson) saying? Hers was a highly exaggerated regional accent, but which region? The last lines between Liz (Indira Varma) and Garry (Andrew Scott) were totally indecipherable for some reason. (It could have been me not getting any younger and all that, but I could hear the rest of the play.)
A notable difference here is that Joanna Lyppiatt (she/her) is now Joe Lyppiatt (he/him) (Enzo Cilenti), which, aside from a more explicit acknowledgement of Coward’s own lifestyle, doesn’t add much, if anything, to the production (apart from making three characters essentially bisexual). Scott puts in a very energetic performance that is almost exhausting to watch. Joshua Hill did well as Fred, the valet who basically gets bossed about and enters and leaves only when instructed, making the best out of a relatively minor role. Luke Thallon is utterly sublime as Roland Maule, the would-be writer who has zero understanding of the meaning of the word ‘no’. Enjoyable enough overall, so thanks to Simon for his recommendation, and I’m glad I saw it, but I shan’t be following in his footsteps and booking for a repeat visit.
Noises Off – Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
Noises Off is always a good laugh, so long as the cast are well rehearsed, which is a perennial irony for this show, because it’s about a show (called Nothing On), a touring production that has had a woefully short rehearsal period, and it shows. Apparently, on press night, the lights at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith went off unexpectedly, and a stage manager went on to apologise for a technical hitch. Such is the ridiculous nature of Noises Off, partly about the antics and chaos of what goes on backstage during a performance, that some people (presumably those who hadn’t seen it before) thought the ‘actual’ pause in proceedings was all part of the script.
As ever, the same first act of Nothing On is performed three times over, the first time during a dress rehearsal, the second from the perspective of backstage mid-way through the production’s UK tour, and the third once more towards the end of the run. Thus, according to the programme, “There will be an interval of 15 minutes between Act One and Act One. There will be no interval between Act One and Act One.” Meera Syal stood out for me, switching effortlessly between Mrs Clackett, a Cockney-esque ‘ousekeeper, and Dotty Otley, the sort who says ‘Oh hello’ as ‘Air hair lair’.
Jonathan Cullen does well as Frederick Fellowes – when given a pep talk about why a particular prop had to be moved by his character from A to B at a specific moment by Nothing On director Lloyd Dallas (Lloyd Owen, whose voice was suitably authoritative), he responds as though his life had just been saved. The various front of house calls are as hilarious as always (three minutes, two minutes, back up to three minutes, and so on), resulting in Lloyd bursting in yelling “What the f*ck is going on?” It was great to see this show back on in London again, and particularly so at Lyric Hammersmith, where it debuted nearly forty years ago.
I had the front row to myself one Sunday evening at the Royal Academy of Music (other rows were more densely populated). But still, I found it difficult to get into the spirit of The Wild Party, set in a world that doesn’t really exist anymore. People still party, of course, and there are all sorts of happenings that are probably best kept out of the public domain. But this was the interwar period, and it felt like it was a garish and unstylish version of The Great Gatsby, with very little of interest going on. The alcohol flows freely – which I have nothing against at a party – but with many of the guests clearly drinking in order to get drunk, as opposed to drinking socially – the words that come out of their mouths become increasingly random and fuelled by booze.
It is, at least, believable and convincing. But it is also rather boring to watch this 110-minute show without an interval. It’s just as well that it was presented as a single act as I doubt I would have bothered coming back for the second half. Queenie (Lily Kerhoas at the performance I attended, sharing the role with Roshani Abbey) and Burrs (Connor Jones) are hosting the party, and neither they nor any of their guests are particularly likeable.
It’s also in bad taste, with cocaine bandied about liberally, and then there’s Nadine (Amber Quinn), assaulted by Jackie (Anton Schweizer), though presumably out of fear she insists to Queenie that nothing really went on. At some point there was an orgy, and two producers, one called Gold (Nitai Levi) and the other called Goldberg (Kristian Roche), wake up almost naked, not knowing either where their clothes are or what has happened. To quote Gone With The Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”. But there was some good music from a fifteen-piece orchestra conducted by William Bullivant (as per the show’s programme: all his friends call him ‘Billy’).
Far more enjoyable was what preceded this show, a musical theatre cabaret, set in a contemporary setting, where people have gathered for a very different sort of party, held in honour of someone who used to host annual gatherings for a large group of friends. That lady has now passed on, but the tradition continues, as per her wishes. The range of songs included was quite extraordinary – encompassing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Jonathan Larson’s Rent, and a ‘Party Medley’, a selection of chart music so wide-ranging even the programme merely stated “Music and lyrics by various songwriters” – everything from ‘Baby Got Back’ (whose most famous lyric is “I like big butts and I cannot lie”) to ‘Angels’, made famous by Robbie Williams.
A fortnight later, there was the (un)imaginatively titled ‘Musical Theatre Cabaret 2’, a very short and sweet show, subtitled ‘Every Movie’s A Circus’. The premise is that this is a busy film set, with a stressed-out director always and forever frustrated that things aren’t being done or actors can’t be found, and so on. Most of the cast and crew spend so much time with each other that they find love (it naturally follows that some of them will already have been in relationships before starting work on this particular motion picture, but let’s not get too over-analytical in a show that is really about showcasing a broad range of musical styles) – cue ‘Unchained Melody’ (from Ghost The Musical).
The opening number was rather inspired, involving the 20th Century Fox signature tune performed through vocal harmony, and an amusing and poignant medley of Walt Disney Company tunes accompanied a movie reel of key moments, both academic and social, in the life of the Academy’s musical theatre students over the past year, closed the show. I’m sure that was particularly touching for the parents and other family members of graduating students to witness.
I hadn’t seen a performance of ‘City of Angels’ before, so it was good to catch it at the Academy. I may have heard a tune or two as part of the ‘Night of 1000 Voices’ events that used to take place at the Royal Albert Hall, but they were not all that memorable performed as standalone songs in a concert setting, out of context. A three hour show (there was an interval), it was refreshing to note that if anything didn’t make sense, it would be pointed out within the show that the narrative had gone awry (and so it wasn’t just me not being able to make neither head nor tail about a plot point). It was all very sublime. The cast could have taken slightly better care of props – the occasional widget got dropped or kicked – but that is, in all honesty, the only (and very negligible) criticism I have of this student production.
The video projections (Gillian Tan) worked well, guiding the audience to where scenes were set or otherwise providing a suitable backdrop. The lighting (Rob Halliday) was highly commendable, and the dual plot was easy enough to follow. In a cast with no weak links it is difficult to pick out stand-out performances, though I thought George Whitty’s Stone had a lovely singing voice. The character has far more spoken dialogue than sung lyrics, while Christopher Hobbs’ Stine (Stone being a private investigator character in Stine’s novel City of Angels – hence a story within the story) belts out a Very Big Note at the end of both acts that Broadway and West End musical theatre audiences just adore.
Although set in the late 1940s, some things in the entertainment industry do not change – there are motion pictures that are adaptations of books even now, for instance. When Stine’s script is changed significantly behind his back by Donna (Eliza Waters at the performance I attended, the role being shared with Martine Rishaug Hellman), secretary to film director and producer Buddy Fidler (an engaging Robert Madge at the performance I attended, the role being shared with Joe Thompson-Oubari), it brought to mind a recent controversy regarding the creative input behind Tree, a play that recently premiered at the Manchester International Festival. Its writers, Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin, were unceremoniously removed at some point from the project (so the story goes) and are now completely uncredited, with the play as it stands listed on the Young Vic’s website as having been “created by Idris Elba & Kwame Kwei-Armah”.
The other noticeable thing here is the American approach to guns – at least one appears onstage every few minutes, or at least it certainly felt that way. Refuse to do something? I shall point a gun at you. You’re in my room even though you’re the person I’m looking for and it suits me to have you in my room because I want to talk to you? I shall point a gun at you. Dare to point a gun at me? I shall point a gun back at you. It seemed the universal method to resolve, or try to resolve, almost anything. Thank goodness, then, for Stine and his wife Gabby (Amy Parker at this performance, the role being shared with Paige Peddie) who stand out as being unarmed, trying to sort out marital problems through conversation! Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable show, and there is no doubt in my mind that members of this student company will be treading the boards professionally sooner rather than later.
Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith
The Americans were out in force in London over the weekend, and not just because there were some baseball games going on at the London Stadium. On both evenings I found myself using the rail replacement bus service home, only marginally slower than the District line which it substituted – and to be honest, on a particularly warm Saturday night it was probably better to be on a bus above ground with every window open than on the stuffy Underground network.
I had never seen Tony Bennett perform live in person, and as he is (at the time of writing) 92 years young, it could only be my own fault if I didn’t correct that wrong before he enters into the great hall of fame in the sky. As I had no previous gigs to compare this one with, I could only accept without further comment remarks from fellow concertgoers about a reduction in the sheer strength and assurance of his voice. I also had the ‘privilege’ of sitting next to a woman who complained that the show even had an interval, demanding to know “why they can’t just get on with the bloody show” and giving me the dirtiest of dirty looks because I whipped my phone out briefly before the show, only for her to loudly unzip her handbag during the show, turn on her phone and start recording.
Then, of course, she didn’t know what she was doing, so loudly asked her husband for assistance, and other times she had no hesitation in declaring at full conversational volume how much she loved a particular song (in which case, kindly shut up and enjoy it!). But even Madam Hypocrite failed to dim my enjoyment of the performance, and there was a moment of karma (or Mother Nature, or divine intervention, or whatever) when the chatterboxes in the row behind left early, only for Bennett to start singing ‘(I Left My Heart In) San Francisco’ immediately after they buggered off. At Bennett’s time of life, whatever there is to say about him has already been said, so the focus here was very much on the music.
A quartet was on the stage with him – pianist Tom Ranier, Gray Sargent on guitar, Marshall Wood on bass and Harold Jones on drums. The jazz singer Donna Byrne was the support act, setting the scene for what was to come quite marvellously, particularly helpful for people like me who don’t knowingly have any Tony Bennett albums in their collection but came along to this concert regardless to see what it is that makes him enduringly popular with his fanbase.
“I’m old fashioned,” he crooned (this is someone who not so long ago recorded an album with Lady Gaga). For a man of 92 to move around for 80 minutes solidly singing – and doing that thing some performers do where he introduces and re-introduces and re-re-introduces his band as they play – is a remarkable achievement. A relatively brief concert, it was still worth every penny.
As I was only tagging along with the editor of Love London Love Culture, I wasn’t in reviewing mode for a visit to ‘A Right Royale Tea’, so went right ahead and stuffed my face with various sandwiches, scones and a lemon tart, plus generous top-ups of tea and water. Tickets to this immersive event aren’t cheap, but for this kind of experience in the posh Amba Hotel next door to Charing Cross Station, aren’t overly extortionate either – a ‘Servants Package’ is at £69.95 while the ‘Lords & Ladies Package’ is at £77.50, the only difference being a glass of prosecco, which can in any case be bought on the day as we discovered. Still, cheaper options are available in London for those who are content to entertain themselves.
Lord Right (Jason Taylor) and Lady Right (Giselle Summers) are the audience’s hosts, though it is their lawyer Richard (Bruce Chattan-McIntosh), who first bids us welcome. The Right’s butler, Patrick (Carl Christopher), made a point of referring himself to in the third person, which confused the hell out of his master. The Right’s daughter Ginny (Chloe Brown) was typically rebellious: she is more interested in going off to university and pursuing a career rather following in the upper-class revelry of her parents. Quite why a lawyer is present is because of the crumbling nature of the Right’s estate, Crawley Hall – there are, the audience must imagine (suspension of disbelief, etc) the roof leaks when it doesn’t rain, let alone when it does, and this tea party is therefore a fundraiser.
Some better signage wouldn’t have gone amiss to find the section of the hotel where the event would take place. The concierge had to be consulted on the ground floor, and then another member of staff upstairs had to be found. All part of the experience, one could say. But I was grateful for the lack of pretentiousness in the food options – a lemon tart was a lemon tart, and a scone was a scone (and so on), and it was good to connect with the other guests on our table, most of whom were from the United States and were captivated by the mannerisms and deliberately out of touch remarks from a bygone era (the play is set in 1922).
On Sunday evening I enjoyed a concert at Cadogan Hall by Laura Benanti, a very versatile singer and performer whose career to date includes a run of ‘My Fair Lady’ on Broadway and a recurring role as Melania Trump on CBS Television’s ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’. It was a lot of fun, with banter that was off the scale (even one of the venue’s security officers noted at the interval that she could tell the audience was laughing out loud regularly). In the end, the concert overran by twenty-five minutes – not that anyone was complaining given the 6:30pm start.
Like many Americans, Benanti was very taken with the British accents that surrounded her during her stay in London (she even got to hear mine after the concert, courtesy of the show’s producers who had arranged a ‘meet and greet’ for certain members of the audience that I didn’t know about until I arrived for the show). I wasn’t wholly unfamiliar with Benanti’s career, which is Brit-speak for ‘I might as well have worn a T-shirt with the words, “Who the f—k is Laura Benanti?” written on the front’. This wasn’t the polished and overly obviously scripted “banter” of certain other performers (no names) – this lady has the gift of the gab, establishing an excellent rapport with the audience that never faded.
And there was a lot of detail in the show, which had plenty of anecdotes, including ones about Patti LuPone and a re-enactment of her first night nerves in a production of The Sound of Music. Her musical director, Todd Almond, was equally up for a laugh, providing the audience with a surprisingly delightful Dolly Parton/Johann Sebastian Bach mashup. Bianca Del Rio was brought on for a politically slanted reworked ‘Send in the Clowns’ (setting: the White House) to great comic effect.
Somebody somewhere decided she should wear a ridiculously over-the-top dress for the second half, one of those over-embellished gowns that are evidently difficult to walk in. This was a highly eclectic evening in terms of musical offerings, too, ranging from the likes of Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell to ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ from She Loves Me and a song which I’d never heard before, ‘Mr. Tanner’, written by Harry Chapin (1942-1981), a detailed and rather sad tune about Martin Tanner, from Dayton, Ohio. His friends persuade him pursue a singing career because of his natural talent, and he uses his savings to hire a venue in New York City. The New York Times review was not encouraging. “He came well prepared, but unfortunately his presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards. His voice lacks the range of tonal color necessary to make it consistently interesting. Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.” So, he goes back to Dayton, resumes his old life, and doesn’t sing in public ever again.
Thank goodness for all the laughs elsewhere in this highly enjoyable show. Jeremy Jordan returns to Cadogan Hall later in 2019 – I do hope Laura Benanti returns to London at some point too.
I don’t see a lot of films these days – come to think of it, I don’t think I ever did. It’s the 300 or so live performances a year that get in the way of seeing a few more motion pictures. But as I had some downtime in between arriving at Sheffield Interchange on the National Express and seeing the touring production of Kinky Boots The Musical which I’d schlepped up north to see, I took the opportunity of sitting in the local Curzon cinema to see Toy Story 4.
The possibility of a sequel to Toy Story 3 was always on the cards, as Andy, the original owner of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and so on and so forth, had donated what was left of his toys to Bonnie, who attends the local day care facility called Sunnyside. But TS4 seems to be running low on creativity, resorting to the use of a white plastic fork and some other discarded items from a trash can (as they call rubbish bins in the States), which Bonnie makes on her first day at school. Rather unimaginatively, the new toy is called Forky (Tony Hale).
There’s something to be said, perhaps, about environmentalism and upcycling, but aside from that, the beauty in this film (for me anyway) was more in the animation than in the narrative. Lightyear’s subplot is, in a word, dull, an all too repetitive journey of self-discovery through the use of motivational catchphrases that his literal inner voice provides. I thought Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) were utterly hilarious as fluffy toys that were once on display as prizes to be won at some carnival or other.
In the first half, Woody expends a lot of time and energy ensuring that Forky finally realises he is actually a toy and must not yearn for the apparent comfort of being in a trash can. Then there are the main women characters. There’s Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is no longer attached to a child but roams free and is one of many toys that are played with, albeit quite roughly, in the equivalent of ‘the wild’ – in this case, a play area at a funfair. There’s Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who lives in an antiques shop, forgotten and abandoned. But as various toys in various ways get displaced, it is for them to accept their lot in life: they may yet get thrown into the ‘garbage’, or literally put on the shelf, perhaps indefinitely.
In a very different way, then, some of the characters in Small Island, a play with a running time the ‘wrong’ side of three hours (start 7:15pm, end 10:35pm) must also make the most of an uncertain future. Adapted from the novel by Andrea Levy, it’s about the ‘Windrush generation’ who came over to Britain from the Caribbean islands to help ‘the motherland’ recover from the Second World War, and to make a better life for themselves.
But Hortense (Leah Harvey), a prim and proper schoolteacher who might as well have been from the Victorian era, is far from impressed when she finally joins her husband Gilbert (Gershwyn Eustache Jr) in London, not least because the streets aren’t paved with gold after all, and they must make do with a one-bedroom upstairs apartment with a shared downstairs toilet. Hortense’s insistence to landlady Queenie (Aisling Loftus) that she must have three basins is borderline ridiculous, and such is her abrasiveness I must admit I wasn’t exactly sorry for her when the education authorities she approached in London told her she would have to re-train to teach in the UK and her previous qualifications from overseas had no validity here.
It’s a long play, but a good one, and as I was seeing it as part of the ‘NT Live’ ongoing series of cinema screenings, I had the benefit of comfortable seating. It was interesting to observe how the likes of Queenie (a white lady) were not immune to racist abuse, in her case simply for having black people as lodgers. Even worse was the difference between the British and American armed forces and their attitudes towards blacks (the American ‘GIs’ insisted on the N-word), which even resulted in a cinema screening of Gone With The Wind ending prematurely in chaos. Such attitudes, sadly, appears to be resurfacing in this day and age – the black American comedian Reginald D Hunter quipped at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 that as black people were especially vulnerable to being shot once again in the United States, he had better stay in the UK for the time being (one wonders if he was only half-joking, or perhaps not even at all).
The term ‘snowflake’ is perhaps banded around too much these days, but there is still something to be said for rolling up one’s sleeves and getting on with things instead of expending too much energy complaining about things that can only really be changed with action rather than mere bitterness.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.