I wasn’t going to say anything about Engelbert Humperdinck’s sole UK concert in 2017 – I’d never seen him in concert before, so I had no idea what to expect. But his name was on a list of performers in one of the many marketing emails from the Really Useful Group that float into my inbox, and I thought, “Why not?” As I said to someone at the concert who asked me if I would turn in a review, what on earth could I say about Engelbert Humperdinck that hasn’t been said already? And, truth be told, isn’t he getting on a little bit now? I recall an ex-colleague (it’s me that’s changed workplaces since, not him) thinking it was a brilliant idea for the BBC to arrange to have Humperdinck sing for the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012. He came 25th, out of 26.
But he has his fanbase for a reason, and they were out in considerable numbers at this Theatre Royal Drury Lane gig. In all of Humperdinck’s 50 years in showbusiness (hence the celebratory world tour) he had never performed in the West End: he’d done a series of concerts on Broadway in 1979. Drury Lane itself had underestimated him, publicising an expected 9.35pm finish for this Sunday night concert. It was well past 10pm before Engelbert Humperdinck finally said goodnight: a two-hour set from an 81-year-old who only left the stage for just a few seconds between the end of the first set of bows and start of the encore.
He lost his place a few times, but never during any of the songs. This was simply a matter of getting so immersed in the emotion and passion of a given number that whatever song was to come next was occasionally forgotten. Still, this was someone who had neither autocue nor sheet music on stage, and, as I say, didn’t miss any of his lyrics. Also, performers less than half his age sit for entire songs. Engelbert Humperdinck would ask his audience for proverbial permission to sit down “for a bit” – two verses at most, before the enjoyment of performing live would compel him to his feet once more.
It is easy, I suppose, to be a little dismissive of an oldie taking to the stage and singing tunes that were in the charts when browsing involved going to high street stores and hooking up referred to getting a device up and running. But Humperdinck is fully aware that it’s 2017 now, and nonchalantly ignored the various bits of underwear flung on the stage by women who really are old enough to know better.
There’s a distinct ability in evidence to keep things fresh and contemporary. He’s even releasing yet another album in the UK before the end of the year, called ‘The Man I Want To Be’. Two of the songs off the album, performed in this concert, are ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran, and ‘Just The Way You Are’ by Bruno Mars, names unfamiliar to many of the core ‘Humperdinckers’, but known to most of their grandchildren.
Speaking of grandchildren, there was also a stellar performance from nine-year-old Olivia, Humperdinck’s granddaughter, already a powerhouse vocal. Humperdinck remains hopeful that his wife of 53 years, Patricia, will be able to be in a position to see his concert at some point in his current world tour. I only discovered afterwards that she has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for some years.
The thing about seeing something as a member of the public and not as a member of the press, but writing about it anyway is this: there’s no press release and no list of backing vocalists and musicians from which to name-drop people. (If there were programmes available, I didn’t see any programme sellers and I didn’t see anyone with a programme.) I have no desire to pick out certain people in any event – this was a tightly-knit group of singers and musicians who are excellent at what they do.
Yes, almost all of the spoken dialogue was well-rehearsed and on occasion a tad contrived. But nobody – nobody – attains a golden anniversary in the entertainment industry by being merely okay. It only happens to those who are superb. Well done, Engelbert.
Rather like the smaller, so-called ‘fringe’ theatres as opposed to the glitz and glamour of the West End, there are some real gems to be found in the football clubs in lower leagues, away from the bright and polished lights of the Premier Division. The changing room of an unspecified ‘semi-professional’ football club in that general place called The North (as per the road signs) is the setting for The Red Lion, a show that could, given its title, be reasonably mistaken for being set in a pub.
As the audience files in for this Trafalgar Studios revival, the theatre even smells like a locker room. The three on-stage characters are given more than sufficient character development. There’s Yates (John Bowler), an older man with an affiliation to the club that stretches back decades, Kidd (Stephen Tompkinson), the first team manager (I must call him that, such is his disdain for all the other teams in the club), and Jordan (Dean Bone), a young player, fresh-faced and eager. The casting is sublime.
There’s an optimism in Kidd that makes him, in many respects, a suitable manager, though his methods are questionable enough that even the rookie Jordan finds himself taking a stand against unreasonable behaviour. “I won’t cheat!” he says, but – acting under instruction, he must fall in line or simply go away. (This being football, rather more colourful language than ‘go away’ is used, of course.)
Jordan fails a medical at a club higher up in the football league, whose bashed-up knee is being treated by (ahem) medication. That isn’t even the salient point: how he found himself being in the running for being signed up by a fully-fledged professional team, and the consequences for all three men, is a gripping story. The stakes are high. It doesn’t end prettily for any of these lads, as ‘The Board’ catch on to what is happening behind the scenes. Let’s just say the words ‘gross misconduct’ were bandied about.
Some suspension of disbelief is required in all that kit being put out but only one player who ever comes in during the course of the play, though a scene change helped tremendously with establishing a semblance of the locker room having been used. The play is highly educational for people like me who know very little about football, whilst those infinitely more knowledgeable about their ‘beautiful game’ still have much to enjoy, deride and relate to without feeling patronised.
The generational gaps between the characters have, rightly, limited significance as far as the plot is concerned. All of them have a clear passion for football, and all of them, to borrow a slogan from the 2010 General Election campaign, can’t go on like this. It seemed somewhat contrived to me for Yates to suddenly ask Kidd how the family is getting on – I loved Kidd’s instinctively dismissive reaction – but on the other hand, there’s no denying that events off the field can have an influence on what goes on during play, and vice versa.
As I never tire of saying, there’s nothing wrong with ambition. One might have expected an analysis of league tables, who went where in the last transfer window, and inept referees. There’s some talk of the latter, but this play stretches far beyond that, into a thoughtful consideration of human weaknesses and the difficulties of life.
I didn’t see the original London production at the National Theatre, but I can imagine it was quite a wordy chore – I was surprised that the running time then was 2 hours 30 minutes including interval. Now it’s 95 minutes without an interval, and the intensity and humour of this production makes this revival a decisive victory for the Live Theatre team.
On an old, old and long defunct website I used to have, I had a ‘news’ page, where I would place unusual stories I picked up in the news media. These days, being a theatre reviewer, my time on public transport is taken up with reading scripts, or novels from which stage productions are based on. but in the process of some autumnal cleaning (as opposed to spring cleaning) I found some newspaper clippings which for whatever reason I never got round to putting up. So here they are, all in one place. I make no apology for the length of this blog post.
A suitcase containing £630,000 in cash was left in an Italian restaurant in Sydney. The money was dropped by a man aged about 30 in surfing shorts and a singlet who ‘seemed to get spooked’, say police.
A massive cargo of ketchup and mustard was pinched while it was left in a car park. The condiment-loving thieves also made off with the semi-trailer that housed the 21-tonne contents. Police in Vienna said the criminals were probably more interested in the £13,000 trailer than its contents.
A father sparked a mountain rescue hunt when he reported his daughter missing from their Alpine cabin – only to find her asleep in another room trying to escape his snoring. Erik Klug, 47, joined a three-hour hunt for the 23-year-old who woke up ‘surprised about all the fuss’.
A calamitous hunter is in need of some practice after he shot himself while cleaning his rifle. Andreas Vogler, from the eastern city of Graz, tried to pass off his thigh wound as a pitchfork injury when police arrested him over the unregistered gun. But X-rays showed the bullet was still in the 57-year-old’s leg.
Two hapless gamblers who lost thousands of pounds faked a robbery to stop their girlfriends finding out. the Amstetten pair face charges for wasting police time.
A farmer is creaming off a fortune from his cows – by brewing brandy from their milk. Kristo Katinov has created a dairy version of the lock rakia drink, normally made from grapes and plums. “It has no methyl alcohol so there are no hangovers,” said Mr Katinov, 54.
Rickshaw cabbie Bo Liao stripped in protest when police refused to believe he had been attacked by a motorist. The 42-year-old lay on a pedestrian crossing in rush-hour Beijing, watched by his wife and baby son, before officers tried to cover his modesty with cardboard – and then arrested him for indecency.
Baker Wang Lee paid for a £10,000 car – with ten sacks of coins he’d saved under his floorboards over seven years. The 38-year-old from Xianyang was able to buy the motor after a bank was found to count the change.
A couple got the spark back in their marriage – when their bed was hit by lightning. Li Dexiang and wife Hao were downstairs when the bolt came through a window. ‘We would normally have been in bed doing what married people do – that would have been quite a way to go,’ said Mr Li, of Sichuan.
A welder has had a peanut-sized pebble cut out of his chest – six years after it was thrown up by a passing lorry. San Pu, 34, thought the stone had simply cut him. ‘I’d always had a nagging ache in my chest like a bruise and now I know why,’ he said after a series of operations in Suzhou.
House-hunter Ji Shuangshuang is so desperate for cash that she is selling her hair. She wants wigmakers to pay £1,000 for her 1.5m (5ft) locks. The 28-year-old, of Qilu, said: ‘I won’t miss combing it for an hour every day.’
A nursery has been accused of ripping off parents by insisting they buy 27 uniforms per child – all from the school shop. ‘Those are the rules,’ said Zhou Zhifang, head of Xiehe Kindergarten in Guangzhou.
Burglar Ying Zi told his victim to work harder – because he couldn’t find anything to steal. But the 40-year-old from Nanchang was arrested when Le Ming called police – on a smartphone hidden under her pillow.
High school is taken a bit too literally in Sichuan province. Erping Village school is perched 1,800m (6,000ft) up a mountain and pupils have to climb up to it every day.
Lui Wang has baffled her bank by trying to return more than £2,500 she claims she owes. The 43-year-old – who does not owe a penny to the bank in Gaogiao, Hunan province – has stashed money under a chair, in the toilets or pushed it across the counter. Staff always pay the cash back into her account.
A restauranteur put ten dogs in an ID parade after his wife was beaten, then followed her chosen suspect 5km (three miles) home to talk toits owner. It paid off because Chan Tao got £600 damages after the incident in Chongqing.
Police poured cold water on motorist Steffen Eggers’ barbecue plans when they stopped him towing a bath down the road. The 26-year-old’s tub swung violently as it carried firewood and a passenger around the north-western city of Bremervoerde. “It was incredibly stupid and dangerous,” said one officer.
A skier was fined £200 after police saw him hurtling along a motorway. Lans Bortast, 32, claimed his car had run out of petrol and he was using the skis, with attached wheels, to get to a service station in Mellrichstadt, Bavaria. “It was an emergency and I didn’t think anyone would mind,” he said.
The country’s iconic police dogs have been dubbed ‘too soft’ for law enforcement. The role of German shepherds has been outsourced to the more aggressive Belgian malinois breed by officers in North Rhine-Westphalia. ‘They often do not have the potential we need,’ said a spokesman.
A university has the world’s longest-serving student – a man aged 73 who has been ‘learning’ medicine for 54 years. Max Werner has signed up for college in Kiel twice a year since he was 19 – using a law that makes it illegal to prevent people taking degrees – while claiming travel and health concessions.
Sun worshipper Martin Weller was locked in a solarium cubical after staff forgot he was there and went home for the night. The 20-year-old, whose clothes were locked in another part of the salon, dialled 999 when he found an emergency phone in the pitch-black cabin in Lubeck.
Thousands of beer bottles slid off a truck in Munich, blocking a busy road until firefighters could wash the booze down drains. “You might love a beer but you wouldn’t want to buried under a landslide of it, “ said one.
Fake fruit was all it took to fool customs officials into allowing half a tonne of cocaine into the country. The plastic pineapples were eventually spotted by sharp-eyed fruit packers, who called the police. The bogus fruit were stuffed with cocaine from Latin America worth nearly £23 million.
Convicts escaped from a prison van that was taking them to jail by ripping up a wooden floor when it got stuck in a two-hour jam. Four drug dealers and a serial killer were among those who managed to flee – despite the four prison guards and two policemen on board the vehicle in Calcutta.
Big softy Lee Jin-gyu has married the love of his life – a giant cushion. The 28-year-old wed his ‘hugging pillow’, which has the life-sized picture of sexy anime cartoon character Fate Testarossa, in a special ceremony in Tokyo.
In New Zealand
A thirsty four-year-old boy had to be rescued by firefighters after getting his hand stuck in a Coca-Cola vending machine for more than an hour. Nathan Thomson calmly sucked on a lollipop while his rescuers smashed open the front of the machine at a shopping centre in Wellington to free him.
Robber Michal Jankowski was so drunk during a bank raid he passed out at the counter. the 25-year-old was snoring by the time police arrived in Tomaszow – but he later claimed the botched heist was a prank.
When Calin Diaconescu was reported missing by his worried wife, police swung into action – only to find him shacked up with his mistress. The 47-year-old prosecutor, who has received death threats because of his job, had left a message saying he would be ‘away on business’ but wife Raluca, from the northern town of Piatra Neamnt, never received it.
A burglar used the oldest trick in the book to avoid police. But hiding under his bed did not fool officers, who promptly found him at his home in the central city of Ploiesti. “He could have at least tried,” said one.
A woman who stayed awake for 11 years because of a rare illness has had her first night’s sleep after dropping off doing Sudoku puzzles. Anastasia Haletskaya, who suffered from vegetative dystonia syndrome, said she felt ‘wonderful’ after dozing for 12 hours at her home in Novosibirsk.
Angry decorators pained a silver BMW bright purple after the owner’s bad parking hampered their work. “We tried to find the owner by going door to door but had no luck so we decided to show him what we thought of his parking,” said one of the crew working in the central city of Veliky Novgorod.
A girl of 11 had an air pistol pellet stuck up her nose for ten months without realising it. Yana Kazakova of Solnechnogorsk complained of headaches after firing her grandfather’s gun the previous year. It has now been surgically removed.
Sibin Ivanovic has become a magnet for all things metal after doctors zapped him with a high-voltage shock to restart his heart. “I’m hoping to have the same attractive effect on women but probably only if they wear lots of jewellery,” said the 66-year-old, from the northern town of Jagodina.
Romantic mayor Dragan Palma invited single women from across the country to a Love Supper – so his town’s 200 bachelors could find brides. The civic leader of Jagodina, who also offered a free holiday in Greece to anyone who announced their engagement at the party, said: “It is not healthy for a town to have so many single men.”
A conman stole 350 coffins worth £30,000 after pretending to be a council worker. The thief claimed he was in charge of moving bodies from a cemetery and got victim Pero Maric to make the caskets. “We wonder what on earth he’s going to do with 350 coffins,” said a police spokesman in Cack.
A jobless mother who helped find the owner of £190,000 in cash left in a café toilet has been made a police officer. Marina Moravcanin, 28, said: “I only did what any other honest person would have done.”
A drunk teenager spiced up his journey home – by stealing the bus. Dragoljub Javic, 18, stuck to the usual route in Temerin before crashing into five cars and a tree. Police said: “It was the only way he knew to get home.”
A dozing commuter leapt off her train – not realising it wasn’t in the station. She was jerked awake as the train came to a halt but it had stopped at a junction short of the platform in Zurich. Scores of trains were delayed while she was rescued. “I didn’t notice we weren’t in the station because I’d been napping. I thought it was a long drop down,” she said.
A teenager who welded an old Renault Clio to a motorbike was deflated when traffic police confiscated the unregistered ‘tricycle’ and fined him £350. But Sebastian Kuettel, 17, is happy again after officials in St Gallen sold his bizarre creation to a transport museum – and give him the cash back.
In the United Kingdom
Bosses at a car showroom are handing clients umbrellas to stop seagulls attacking them. Customers at the Vines dealership in Guildford, Surrey, have been dive-bombed by the marauding flock and hit by droppings.
A trip to the loo ended with much straining – by firefighters. A hapless man had to be freed by crews when he got stuck on the toilet in Eastbourne, East Sussex. A rescuer said: “He was the only person in his house and couldn’t get out.”
Pot luck cured a woman wo had suffered a runny nose for 12 years when she coughed up the tip of her pool cue which had been lodged in her nasal passage. Chantel Faill, 31, had baffled doctors who didn’t link her condition to a pub accident years before.
The second half a concert by the Worcester Philharmonic Orchestra had to go ahead without one of the horn players – as he got stuck in a toilet. The gig went on while firefighters forced open the door to the public convenience near Pershore Abbey.
A 999 caller told police he had seen a mysterious object hovering above his house – only to realise it was the Moon. The man told Hertfordshire Police that the UFO’s lights were blazing but called back shortly after to admit he had been looking at the Moon.
A clumsy woman phoned 999 after gluing her own trousers to her legs. She rang for an ambulance when she got into the sticky situation at her home in Gwent, South Wales. Emergency service chiefs said they were ‘heartily sick’ of time-wasters.
A pub landlord who removes windscreen wipers form vehicles left in his car park has been told he is not breaking the law. Paul Hook hides the wipers at his Charters Inn in Peterborough and has been allowed to continue because he is on private property.
In the United States
Police who rushed to tackle an ‘armed robbery’ found themselves crashing a film set. Officers in New York ordered the lead actor to drop the gun before realising the mix-up. Director Fred Carpenter accepted the blame, saying: ‘I was supposed to tell the local police precinct what we were doing.’
A thief was arrested after he stole several baby albino boa constrictors by stuffing them in his shorts. Eric Fiegel, 22, was caught on CCTV as he took the snakes from an Arizona store.
A passenger tried to board a flight with excess luggage – bags of exotic reptiles stuffed down his trousers. He was arrested when security staff spotted seven snakes and three tortoises as he passed through a body scanner at Miami International Airport, head for Brazil. The animals were taken away by wildlife officials.
Two men have been jailed for three years for recoding Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards with stolen bank account details to take more than £11,000 from an ATM in New York.
A runaway rodeo steer caused chaos on a major road when it fled its trailer. After leaping over a brick wall and “kicking the crap out of” police vehicles, the beast was finally roped by a sheriff’s deputy in Yuma, Arizona.
A bomb used to crack a safe was so powerful it burned £2,600 of bank notes inside. Three robbers who forced their way into a garage in the town of Norton, near Harare, watched the loot go up in flames.
Four burglars left alone in a police car managed to escape arrest – by simply driving off. One of the gang – suspected of pulling off a string of robberies – noticed the engine had been left running and its keys were in the ignition.
Washing puts men in a spin
A fifth of men are unable to use a washing machine, according to a survey. And even if they could manage the task, the poll found that 11 per cent did not know how to use the iron afterwards.
Go to bed
A teenager dialled 999 and asked for police – because his parents told him off for playing on his X-Box console past 11pm. “It was time for him to go to bed,” the 13-year-old’s apologetic father said when a Durham Police call-handler rang back.
Just don’t tell the wife
A butcher who lost his wedding ring in a skip had it returned after recycling workers spent two days looking for it. Darren Higham, 43, rewarded the Warwickshire County Council workers with £120 worth of barbecue meat.
Wrong way to spend a penny
A homeowner has kicked up a stink after the local authority put up a sign directing people to his house to use the toilet. The man had to turn cross-legged people away after the mix-up in Petts Wood, south-east London. It followed the closure of Bromley Council’s public toilets.
Noodles crash puts factory in hot water
A taxi driver is suing a food company after his car was crushed by tonnes of instant noodles. The food fell from a truck that collided with Lin Hu’s vehicle outside the factory in Xian. “It was swaying and could hardly steer. There was nothing I could do,” said Mr Lin, 43.
A statue built near a cathedral has sparked an unholy row – because it looks like a sex toy. The ‘phallic’ obelisk, built in honour of a Welsh explorer, has stunned residents in St Asaph, North Wales, who say it ‘would not look out of place in Ann Summers’. The former mayor said she was pleased with it.
A bilingual parrot learned to speak Urdu and English while growing up with a Muslim family in Bradford. African grey Mittu can say a range of phrases in both languages. “He also barks like a dog and makes the noise of the refrigerator alarm,” said owner Ghaffar Ahmed, of Stourbridge, West Midlands.
Forget something? Son gets left behind
A family holiday started badly when a couple forgot their son. The parents stopped at a service station in Germany and left the eight-year-old in the car. He got out but they returned and drove off oblivious. Police called them back to collect him.
Pavlov’s, um, bats?
Bats hanging around in a tunnel are to get their own traffic lights to warn them when a train is approaching. The creatures, which avoid bright lights, will ‘learn to associate’ the lights with speeding trains in Oxfordshire, it was claimed.
Seven teachers are reliving their childhoods by working at the same school they went to as pupils. The group is returning to Purbrook Park School in Waterlooville, Hampshire. ‘We consider ourselves lucky to have so many students returning,’ said headteacher Hazel Rhymes.
A teenager was fined after conning police into giving him a lift home by claiming his wallet had been stolen. The 18-year-old sparked a five-hour hunt for clues to the ‘robbery’ but later admitted he made it up because he did not want to walk home in the rain in St Austell, Cornwall. He was fined £80.
A hamster trapped under a car seat was rescued by Kwik-Fit workers after 90 minutes. Lily escaped from her cage while in the Volkswagen Golf and hid in an air vent. Owners Nilesh and Heena Parmar drove to Kwik-Fit in Sheldon, Birmingham, and Lily was freed after the car floor was taken apart.
Harbour staff were flabbergasted when a holidaymaker complained that his family had been upset by the smell of fish… in a fishing port. They said they were ‘distressed’ by the crates of dead fish when they visited Ilfracombe in Devon. A spokesman said: ‘Seeing us in action is considered a tourist attraction.’
Joyriders take off on a 4mph mobility scooter
Joyriders who stole a mobility scooter found their 4mph thrills quickly came to a stuttering end when the vehicle ran out of power. the thieves managed to travel 500m before the £1,600 vehicle ran out of power. pensioner Len Cook had briefly left the scooter outside his house in Belvedere, Kent, when it was taken. The 76-year-old, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, was unable to leave his house for three days. He suspected the scooter could have ended up in a van and had been carried miles away but was elated when it was found close to home. “It was difficult to believe when I was told it had showed up – I thought how wonderful it was,” he said.
Fat burglar in a tight spot
A warehouse robbery went wrong when the burglar tried to escape through the roof of a lift and got stuck. The raider was planning a revenge attack on the technology company where he used to work. But when he couldn’t’ get into the warehouse in Shenzhen, China, to steal a stock of surveillance cameras, he removed the ventilator grille of a large lift and hoisted himself into the space. The chubby burglar then found he was stuck. He called his girlfriend, who couldn’t free him, and was found – trouserless – by security guards the following morning.
A little domestic trouble
A businessman who ordered a prostitute collapsed in shock when the girl who arrived at his hotel room turned out to his 20-year-old daughter. She fled and Titus Ncube has now apologised to his family. “I don’t blame my daughter, and hired a therapist to counsel her,” he told reporters in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Shy worker in coma after human pyramid collapses
An introverted businesswoman is in a coma after a human pyramid created to symbolise her ‘rebirth’ collapsed on top of her. The 40-year-old was in confidence training in Moscow but screamed to be set free when she got stuck among the bodies.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.