I don’t know whether it’s related to Covid-19 or not (and crowds consequently staying away from crowded theatres and concert halls), but there were some reasonable deals going for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie on Shaftesbury Avenue, and also for The Best of the West End, one of those musical theatre concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, so I took advantage of the situation. The ‘class of 2020’ at Jamie is in fine form, with James Gillan standing in for Rufus Hound at the performance I attended: his Loco Chanelle was particularly impressive, even if I was making a comparison between his rendering and that of Phil Nichol, who frankly couldn’t sing.
Noah Thomas in the title role captured both the vulnerability and bravado of the character quite brilliantly, with Jordan Ricketts as ‘school bully’ Dean Paxton convincingly condescending. Hiba Elchikhe’s Pritti Pasha was something of a vocal powerhouse (whenever she got the chance to demonstrate that). It’s good to see the show still drawing in new audiences: there were people in my row amazed to discover for the first time that Dan Gillespie Sells (of ‘The Feeling’ fame) had composed the music. They marvelled, too, at the staging – being able to see the orchestra is not something that happens in every production.
As for The Best of the West End, The London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO to its fans and followers) was probably the largest I’ve ever seen it at the Royal Albert Hall. There was more ‘Jamie’ to be enjoyed as its touring leading man (and previous West End lead) Layton Williams took to the stage. Marisha Wallace brought the house down with ‘And I Am Telling You’ from Dreamgirls, delivering it with the sheer vocal power that musical theatre audiences just love, especially in a concert setting. The LMTO’s orchestral arrangements were beautiful throughout, with the big-name soloists flanked by a select group of backing singers (Laura Tebbutt, Lizzie Wofford, Rebecca Ridout, Harry Mills, Danny Lane and Matthew McDonald) and a large group of MX Masterclass students, effectively forming a choir.
Ben Haenow, whose single ‘Something I Need’ was the 2014 Christmas number one in the UK following his win of ‘The X-Factor’ series that year, strutted around the stage very arrogantly, and while there’s no doubting his vocal abilities, prancing around like the great man that he clearly isn’t did not go down well with the audience, who responded to his attempt at call and response during ‘I Want It All’ from We Will Rock You with appropriate silence. And then there was Ruthie Henshall, who keeps being invited to these Albert Hall shindigs but keeps screwing up every time. This time she forced the LMTO to restart a version of ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company, and even given a second chance, sounding alive, let alone being alive, was something of a pipe dream.
Thank goodness, then, for everyone else. Frederike Krum delivered a note-perfect ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ from The Phantom of the Opera, while Lauren Samuels did the famed ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen more than justice. Mazz Murray brought the house down reprising ‘The Winner Takes It All’ from Mamma Mia!, where she still plays the leading role of Donna Sheridan, and Matthew Croke reprised ‘Proud of Your Boy’ from Disney’s Aladdin. Songs from the motion picture The Greatest Showman bookended the event. Ben Forster presented the event slickly (though he did have an autocue to help him along) and all things considered, it was a very pleasant and enjoyable evening. The programmes, priced at £10, were too expensive for their (relative lack of) content.
I had yet more time to spare over the weekend, and as I don’t really know the meaning of the term ‘downtime’ I thought I’d check out a couple of motion pictures I had thought about seeing if I could spare the time to do so on the back of recommendations from others. 1917 was quite a slow-burner, which fit the storyline well enough: during the Great War, two armed forces personnel, Lance Corporal William Schofield (George Mackay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are given orders by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to crossover ‘no man’s land’, through enemy territory and into where another set of troops are stationed, with a letter commanding Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the Second Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, not to advance into ‘a trap’ of some sort. The journey is imperilled with danger. A lot of danger, naturally, as it would be a very short film indeed if there was only a bit of rough terrain to encounter. And couldn’t they have just used a carrier pigeon? But while the narrative is dull, the cinematography shines. To say any more than that would be giving too much away. And there are more knowledgeable people than I that could converse at length about its historical inaccuracies.
Emma, being a work of fiction, itself based on a work of fiction (a film based on a Jane Austen novel), can take whatever liberties it likes with historical verisimilitude. The film is thankfully considerably pacier than Austen’s writing style. More than two centuries after the novel was first published, a fair bit of its content continues to be relevant. Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), whose father (Bill Nighy) is wealthy enough to grant his daughter pretty much whatever she wants, lives a comfortable life, but as ever, money doesn’t grant happiness.
Josh O’Connor’s Mr Elton was a hoot: I almost drew a comparison between him and Fleabag’s Hot Priest before realising that this being an entirely different kind of society, what was considered naughty back then results merely in a ‘U’ certification these days from the British Board of Film Classification. Elton, the local vicar, enunciates with the kind of ecclesiastical divinity that would be quite laughable in almost any other context. Mr Woodhouse’s dry sense of humour is admirable, while the overly talkative Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) was, I felt quite rightly, put in her place by a sharp observation by Emma. Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn) takes her to task for it privately later, rather unfairly, though there’s something about his character that leads the film to a happy ending for him and Emma – and anyone who thinks this film has a meandering feel to it should try reading the source material.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.