As I agreed with another reviewer at the first of several singalong performances of Bat Out of Hell The Musical, there isn’t much to review that hasn’t already been reviewed, by ourselves and by others. So, I make no apology for relative brevity here. Lyrics were displayed on a dot matrix screen held above the stage – but not all of them: the audience was not expected to sing through the entire musical. Just as well, as some of these Jim Steinman songs are quite exhausting to sing properly when seated: “I can baaa-rely recaaaa-ll, but it’s aaaallll coming baaaack to meeee noooooowwww!”
That didn’t, of course, stop those in the audience who knew all the words anyway – and the whole point of a singalong show is that people, um, sing along. But there seemed to be a special place reserved, at least in my section, for the incomparable Danielle Steers: the lyrics to ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ flashed and flashed, and nobody stirred: even here, people wanted to hear Ms Steers. Little wonder, then, that Steers’ interval tweet read: “The atmosphere tonight is off the charts!!! BUT you can sing LOUDER!!! COME OOOOONNNN!!!”
The show was, mind you, just as terrific when the audience’s voices were out in force, for ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, and it’s only in the course of singing the songs that one realises how emotionally stirring some of them are. The account of domestic violence in ‘Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are’ is made particularly harrowing when singing lyrics like, “There were endless winters and the dreams would freeze / Nowhere to hide and no leaves on the trees / And my father’s eyes were blank as he hit me again, and again, and again”.
I think that’s the beauty of shows like ‘Bat’, or ‘BOOH’ as it is more commonly known to its fans – there are different aspects to be taken away with every repeat visit. The atmosphere was expectant, and the show is so loud anyway that the pros on stage were never going to be drowned out by the audience, even if every single one of us screamed every line. I don’t think the singalong format would work for every West End musical, but it certainly does for this one.
This was an unusual Bank Holiday weekend, in that I took time out instead of doing what I normally do, and gear up for doing work that I hadn’t had time to plough through in ordinary time, such are the number of interruptions in both the day job and whatever passes for downtime when I’m not seeing a show or reviewing it. The weather was quite typical for a Bank Holiday weekend, though as all my activities were indoors I couldn’t have cared less. In fact, I might well have noticed it more if it were sunnier. Or sunny at all.
The lure of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe finally got to me this summer after decades of insisting there’s enough stuff in London to see and do, thank you very much. There’s a lot I learned about how to approach the Fringe – and how not to do it – and being there as a reviewer for the first time, I probably buggered up more than I got right. Or at least it felt that way: while my decision on insisting on staying in central Edinburgh was, in hindsight, brilliant. One lady told me about her daily commute from Glasgow every day. The rent is substantially cheaper in Glasgow, and some Fringe regulars stay there every time, but one is effectively stuck in Edinburgh until the last show of one’s day.
There were times when, such were the crowds, that it was just easier to get a takeaway from somewhere and trek back to the flat. Occasionally I stood around eating junk food from a plastic tray – and on a rather breezy Saturday night back in Edinburgh, onions and ketchup stains covered what was a pristine blue shirt. I don’t regret that hot dog: I was starving, particularly as the Edinburgh International Conference Centre wasn’t serving the food I thought it was going to, so no pre-show meal before seeing Daniel Sloss’ comedy gig a second time.
It was a last-minute decision to go back after an eight-day stay earlier in the month, mostly to try to catch up with various people who specifically requested a catch up but I couldn’t squeeze in, because in my self-deprecating manner of thinking, I didn’t think anyone would want to meet me. This is, unavoidably, going to sound like bragging, for which I can only apologise, but as it happens my first meetup was at 9:30am, and my last didn’t finish until after midnight. And because I had a much-reduced Camden Fringe review workload this year – to be reduced yet further (if all goes according to plan) in 2019 – there wasn’t the last-minute begging from various companies to review shows there that I had almost gotten used to.
A real treat that I’m glad I made time for on Saturday afternoon was Once Seen on Blue Peter, most of which was aimed at a generation before mine, but was still compelling in every way. There was another show at the Fringe, ‘Very Blue Peter’, which I might have seen but it was deemed a ‘waste of time’ by some audience members. I wonder if that other show was just simply never going to be able to compete with one that had Peter Purves, Janet Ellis, Peter Duncan, Mark Curry and Tim Vincent live and in person. I suppose I shall never know.
Reliving some of their experiences with the cast, the audience audibly gasped when, for instance, a clip was shown of Duncan joining the team that cleans the faces of the clock tower in Westminster that houses Big Ben. Of all the words spoken on in various shows I saw at the Fringe (36 shows in the end), it was three words that left me an emotional wreck, Purves on John Noakes: “I miss him.”
Back in London, I don’t regret not having stayed longer in Edinburgh having seen the National Theatre production of Pericles. A cast of well over 200 people, most of whom were drawn from several community theatre and performing arts projects across London, who joined professional card-carrying Equity members on the Olivier Theatre stage. My 4* review is published here – the production was excellent, the (re)writing and adaptation of the Shakespeare (and George Wilkins) text rather less so. The music was good, if eclectic, and the whole thing generally worked well, with slickness and a genuine commitment to diversity: the audience heard from a Bulgarian choir (well, I can’t actually vouch for the nationality of each of its members – it was a choir that sung in Bulgarian) as well as some drummers who play in the style of classical Indian music.
I was rather drained, not from Pericles, but from all that travelling to and from the Fringe a second time. I can’t see myself doing the overnight National Express coach trip again, even if I enjoyed having a hot meal at each of the two service station stops (I don’t think even the pricey Caledonian Sleeper stretches to two meals), though I appreciate half the difficulty is removed by virtue of the fact that I’ve done it once and survived, so I can do it again and survive again. Or ‘fail better’, to paraphrase Samuel Beckett.
On the way back from the National, I encountered some revellers who had enjoyed the Notting Hill Carnival, despite the rainy conditions. One fellow passenger remarked that they had looked like they had lost a mud fight – indeed, such was their appearance that one could be forgiven for thinking they had participated in Tough Mudder. They proceeded to apply glitter to a willing volunteer, while chiding another passenger for apparently pretending to be asleep. After several minutes I could only agree with them: the level of noise they generated was nothing short of anti-social, and it was quite impossible to remain asleep. I am grateful to them for leaving me well alone.
But one must get out of bed at some point, even on a miserable Bank Holiday Monday, so I took myself off to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, to give it its proper title (not ‘Mamma Mia 2’) – better late than never. Given that it’s a motion picture, I would have thought the sound balance between vocals and band would have been better than it was. Parts of it are beyond ludicrous: when Cher’s Ruby Sheridan calls out to Andy Garcia’s Senor Cienfuegos by his first name, Fernando, there are no prizes for guessing which tune out of the ABBA repertoire immediately follows. It is mostly fun, however, with some poignant moments thrown in, and is worth seeing.
So endeth the last break before the festive season. I have been instructed to relocate for the day job to Beckton, at the ‘wrong’ end of the Docklands Light Railway for someone who lives in south-west London, so we shall see how that goes. I may not be long for that parish. But then I might relish having a longer commute to get more reading done. At least there are no additional Travelcard costs involved.
The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Little Shop of Horrors almost lets itself down in being a show that just so happens to be outside as opposed to one that finds ways of incorporating the natural surroundings into the set. That said, if it does transfer somewhere else – and, all things considered, I have no objection to the production having a life beyond this summer – it will be interesting to see how the show incorporates the use of parts of the theatre other than the stage. At one point, Audrey II (Vicky Vox), unimaginatively named after Audrey (Jemima Rooper), by the show’s protagonist, Seymour (Marc Antolin), sings from the centre of the theatre. A big cheer went up from the rear half of the auditorium, prompting the front half to wonder what was going on.
This isn’t so easily done in a proscenium arch theatre, though I note Strictly Ballroom The Musical uses a box from which the character of Doug Hastings cheers on his son. There are also large bouncy balls that make their way into the audience, to be passed around, something I’ve not seen since the Menier Chocolate Factory of production of La Cage aux Folles transferred to the Playhouse Theatre. Now, re-adjusting back to the London theatre scene after a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe can sometimes mean that one wonders what everyone is laughing at. I suppose one sees more outrageous things there than are placed on stage in London and hammed up for dramatic effect.
I couldn’t really see the point of a huge sign that never left the stage telling the audience a drive-in theatre is closed, any more than I couldn’t see the point of an almost equally large poster of President Obama in the Open Air Theatre’s production of Ragtime, when that show was set in the early twentieth-century. Here, the shop operated by Mr Mushnik (Forbes Masson), is literally, and admirably, ‘little’, and the relatively brief performance, just about stretching a few minutes beyond two hours with an interval and a padded-out finale, is slick and delightful.
Not having seen a production of this musical before, it’s was nice to finally be able to see and hear certain songs beloved of musical theatre cabarets and concerts in context. ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ is gloriously parodied, with surprisingly few changes in the lyrics, in an episode of the animated television comedy Family Guy, in an episode called ‘The Courtship of Stewie’s Father’. Rooper’s rendering in this production is altogether sublime, an impassioned yet subtle expression of longing for the realisation of her somewhat modest American Dream.
As I say, I found it less amusing than most people in the audience. Never offensive in the slightest, but merely unfunny. Through contemporary lenses, a subplot involving domestic violence (the show’s first production, off-Broadway, opened in 1982) is about as (un)amusing as the one in the recently closed London revival of Young Frankenstein. I do rather wish Orin (Matt Willis), the antagonist of the show was, well, more antagonistic. For me, the standouts in the show were Chiffon (Renée Lamb), Crystal (Seyi Omooba) and Ronnette (Christina Modestou), the trio narrators who brought to mind the show-stealing The Divas from the musical adaptation of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
A bright and colourful production, it’s one of those shows best enjoyed by simply relaxing and letting it wash over you.
Until 22 September. https://openairtheatre.com/
There are flyer distributors at the Edinburgh Fringe who can tell I’m fully booked and let me pass by unhindered. There are others who understand the meaning of, ‘Sorry, I’m fully booked.’ There are still others who tell me I shouldn’t have apologised for being fully booked: I’m a reviewer and it’s a performing arts festival. And then there are others who simply do not listen: one insisted on interrupting me whilst sat down in between shows, wolfing down pizza and chips, to tell me about a show which I didn’t have time to see, having a rammed schedule before I’d even come up to “the ‘Burgh”. Not quite satisfied with having come between a man and his meal, they even go so far as to suggest I could extend my stay at the Fringe to ‘make time’ to see their production. Nope, nope, nope. I would name and shame, but I threw the flyer away and I don’t recall what production it was.
I was only up for longer than my usual flying visit because a friend of a friend had a spare place available in student digs, not far from Pleasance Courtyard, the famed ‘Venue 33’ at the Edinburgh Fringe, and so for less than £250 I had a room for eight days. Except I didn’t have it for eight days – I only had it for seven, but the group organiser had made a typing error. The problem was that I had committed to review five shows on my final day at the Fringe, the last of which would finish too late to catch the last train of the day out of Waverley Station, leaving the overnight coach out of Edinburgh Bus Station the only possible alternative to finding somewhere else to stay for the night.
Out of the question. So, I found a nice room with en suite shower and toilet, and bed linen that fit the bed. None of those options were available in the student digs, where the company managing the summer accommodation on behalf of the University of Edinburgh, supplied one knife, one fork, one spoon, one plate, one coffee mug, one glass per person, with stiff penalties for breakages (how do you break a metal fork?). They did at least provide towels (these weren’t available over at Safestay Edinburgh – fortunately I had brought my own towel and bathrobe).
Pat and Liz were my only flatmates for the first couple of days. Retired ladies, they weren’t in Edinburgh for the Fringe, though they did see the Military Tattoo one evening, but as they’ve known our collective ‘landlord’ for years, they took advantage of the special group accommodation rate. Their schedule was filled with trips to the great outdoors and historic places. They were lovely, and by the end of the week they were more than a little envious that I was taking myself off to somewhere where the doors didn’t squeak.
I was incensed enough to make my own arrangements already for 2019, such was the good time that I had at the Fringe this year that I’m going back next year, and staying in the place where a fellow reviewer is staying this summer, hosting an eclectic mix of people. When I mentioned the name where I had decided to stay next year, she immediately beamed, telling me that’s where she was staying now, and I was treated to a site visit there and then. It’s private student accommodation, an improvement on the University-owned rooms.
The Fringe shows I had secured a press ticket for have been reviewed separately, but there were a few that I caught just for the hell of it. ‘Care Not, Fear Naught’ (4 stars) from Temporarily Misplaced Productions was a passionate look at the life of Anne Bonny, an Irish pirate in the early eighteenth century. Some artistic licence was deployed in a show with ten actors – a huge cast by Edinburgh Fringe standards, especially given the number of solo stand-up comedy shows and monologue dramas. But the artistic licence is taken really because relatively little is known about Bonny’s life, though the salient points about her becoming a pirate and having relations with the ship’s captain (and thus receiving preferential treatment) are pretty much agreed upon by historians.
Just as engaging, even if the result wasn’t nearly as impressive, was The Extinction Event (3 stars), which sees David Aula and Simon Evans, both magicians, create the sort of magic tricks that, frankly, would just about work well in a high school talent contest. It came across to me more like The Memory Event, with a remarkable feat on Aula’s part, in which he accurately determines a word from a large book when given page number, paragraph and line.
I was amused by Rhys Nicholson (4 stars) telling his audience that they should see as many performances as they were able, and then see certain people they liked again and again, year after year. I caught Nicholson’s Fringe show last year, purely because I had some time to kill in between seeing shows that friends were in, and his stand-up set was, I think, in the same venue as The Upcoming, a show whose co-producer had tried to persuade me to come to the pre-Edinburgh preview in London of – I was otherwise engaged. I liked his fast-paced, frenetic style, and had come to see him again. As a gay man based near Melbourne, a fair amount of his set talked about the 2017 plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
I had tried, as far as possible, not to see shows I had already seen in London, preserving the limited time I had available to, well, shows I hadn’t seen before. But as ‘Statements’ from the Catapult Theatre Company (5 stars) was playing at the Fringe I couldn’t help but indulge in a repeat visit to this remarkable show about the provision of special educational needs in a mainstream secondary school. ‘Nine Foot Nine’ (3 stars), presented by the Sleepless Theatre Company, which I didn’t get around to seeing when it played at the Bunker Theatre near London Bridge Station, considers what it would be like if every woman in the world gained impressive physical strength commensurate with being 9’ 9” tall.
It’s written by Alex Wood, who used to speak to me quite regularly on the reviewing circuit but now doesn’t give me the time of day. I’d ask him why he now can’t abide my company but, um, he doesn’t give me the time of day, and frankly, I don’t care enough to probe further. He certainly won’t be inclined to resume cordiality if he reads this: the show is well-performed, but the writing lets it down. Not being in chronological order, the narrative jumps around too much and is made unnecessarily complicated.
‘The Beggar’s Opera’ (3 stars) was my only foray into the Edinburgh International Festival. Perhaps it was the relative comfort of the seating in the King’s Theatre, as opposed to the plastic chairs common to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but I found it difficult to retain interest. The proceedings are brought into the present day, which means that bizarrely, hanging is still a thing in twenty-first century London. That isn’t the main problem with it: the sound balance wasn’t right, and the actors, mostly from musical theatre backgrounds as opposed to opera, couldn’t be heard properly above the orchestra. Just as well the lyrics were surtitled.
Unicyclist flashes past
A naked man riding a unicycle over a bridge has been arrested by police in Texas. A spokesman for police in Kemah, near Houston, said: “Obviously the suspect wasn’t armed. That we could tell.”
Here’s a tip for nudists in Vienna – don’t leave your clothes in the car. Sunbathers were left stranded when police towed away 57 cars parked illegally near a naked bathing area by the Danube. “As some of the bathers noticed the cars being towed,” reported the Austrian Times website, “they rushed to beg for their clothes but they were too late.”
Lender sees cents
Thomas Daigle, an optician, has paid off his mortgage – using 62,000 one-cent coins. He delivered two boxes to the steps of the Milford Federal Savings and Loan Association in Milford, Massachusetts, after collecting pennies since first taking out the mortgage 35 years ago. “Pennies add up,” said Daigle. “I was just praying I didn’t die first.”
Nathan Hill’s fiancée is udderly mad about cows, so there was only one way to pop the question – pin a proposal on a heifer. The 26-year-old fixed a home-made sign to show cow Rosie – and partner Angela Olano said yes. “Now she even wants a cow wedding cake,” said Mr Hill, from Bracknell, Berkshire.
Nasty surprise from the skies
A couple enjoying a drink on their patio got a disgusting surprise after a jet flew over them. Artie Hughes and his wife were taking advantage of a warm evening when they, their garden table and their barbecue were suddenly ‘pelted’ by a black liquid. Mr Hughes, whose home in Malverne, New York, is close to John F Kennedy airport, said: “A plane was coming over. Next thing you know my wife says, ‘Oh my God it’s raining.’ I said, ‘No it’s not.’”
Cups and robbers
A masked robber who held up a newsagent’s shop was so casual that he clutched a cup of coffee throughout the raid. A neighbour of the shop in Wythenshawe, Manchester, complained: “It’s just typical of the way robbers behave these days.”
Kamil Geremek is facing a £1,000 fine after riding a horse through the city of Pisz, Poland, while over the drink-drive limit. The 28-year-old told officers he had got lost trying to deliver the animal. “It had taken him two hours to travel 6km,” said a police spokesman.
A judge in India has ordered a group of joggers to stop gathering around a pond in Mumbai each day at 7am for two hours of loud “therapeutic” laughter. The judge ruled that the laughter was causing “mental agony” to the man whose house overlooks the pond.
When a woman heard loud shouts from the next-door basement at 5am, she feared her neighbour was being attacked and called police. Officers raced to the house in Victoria, British Columbia, but found no cause for alarm. Deputy police chief John Ducker explained: “When questioned about the amount of noise he was making, the man explained he had been on the lavatory but was done now. The officers asked him to keep the noise down in such future endeavours. He said he would do his best.”
Give me my degree back
A mugger who stole a graduate’s diploma when he snatched her bag returned it after she begged for it back. The thief responded to Xiao Liu’s plea after the 24-year-old from Zhanjiang texted her own phone – also in the bag.
A cut above the rest
A butcher has insured his taste buds for £1 million. Keith Fisher has distinguished 50,000 cuts and cures of pork in a career spanning more than four decades. The 61-year-old, from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, said taste was ‘critically important’.
Barred by bank for being right
When Ricky Kasabi phoned his bank about his credit card, he knew he’d be asked security questions. He duly told call centre staff at Santander Bank his month of birth and was asked his house number. But when Mr Kasabi replied, ‘eight’, he was told he was wrong and was frozen out of his account – even though he lives at that number on his street in north London. The next day the conversation ended when he gave the same answer. It was only when Mr Kasabi, 51, went to his branch with his passport that he was told why he had failed the question. They said he lives at ‘0,8’. Mr Kasabi was told that to pay off his credit card he must go to a branch and pay with cash or a cheque so he has decided to close his account.
Kevin Winson’s time in hairdresser Darren Greenfield’s chair was cut short when his mobile phone was stolen. The pair chased Isaia Stoian in Kettering, Northamptonshire – with Mr Winson still wearing his barber’s cape. Stoian, 18, of Ilford, Essex, was jailed for 26 weeks for theft.
The country life
Stressed-out workers are flocking to a course that teaches them how to be sheepdogs. They pick up teamwork skills from salesman-turned-shepherd Chris Farnsworth, who runs his ‘Raising the Baa’ course in Wiltshire. Wife Caroline said: “We call it our Open Ewe-niversity.”
A loved-up duo got each other’s names tattooed – then split up just 14 days later. Maggy Brewer, 17, and Sean Broad, 21, has been together a week when they got inked in Winchester, Hampshire. Maggy, who has since had her tattoo turned into a butterfly, said: “My dad told me I was an idiot.”
Police were called to a bar after a mass brawl – at more than 2,000m (6,560ft). Officers arrived to find the fight had started on Axamer Lizum after revellers were asked to leave at closing time.
No overfishing please
An angler has been kicked out of his club – for catching too many fish. Paul Kiely won half the matches at Rolleston Angling Club, in Staffordshire. “I was told I was too successful,” said the 39-year-old.
A scuba diver tried to smuggle 6,000 illegal cigarettes from Ukraine to Romania. He was arrested after emerging from a river in Sighetu Marmatiei, just inside Romania, with the tobacco worth £12,000.
A shop assistant has developed a romantic attachment to the Statue of Liberty (even though the statue never writes, never phones). Amanda Whittaker, 27, who is attracted to inanimate objects and once had a crush on a drum kit, calls the statue ‘Libby’ and felt the first stirrings of romance when a friend posted a picture of Liberty online. “I am blown away by how stunning she is,” said Whittaker, from Leeds. “Other people might be shocked to think I can have romantic feelings for an object, but I am not the same as them.”
Dead grandmother feels better
A frail grandmother has astonished neighbours by climbing out of her coffin six days after she apparently died. Li Xiufeng, 95, was laid in her coffin after being found ‘dead’ in bed by a neighbour in the village of Liulou, Guangxi province. But the day before the funeral, visitors discovered the coffin was empty. They found Li in her kitchen, making herself a snack. She told them: “I slept for a long time. After waking up, I felt so hungry, and wanted to cook something to eat. I pushed the lid for a long time to climb out.”
Budgie sings to police
A lost budgerigar has been returned to its owner after reciting its full name and address to a police officer. The bird escaped from a house in Yokohama, Japan, and came to land on the shoulder of a guest at a nearby hotel. It was taken to a police station where, two days later, it chirruped its home address. A police spokesman said: “We had not expected his owner to be identified in this manner.”
Loo must be joking
Police are baffled by the sudden appearance of a portable lavatory in the middle of a busy street. Officers in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, were called to see if anybody was trapped inside the plastic structure. “No one knows how it got there – whether it was put there for a joke or fell off the back of a lorry,” said police.
Just making a withdrawal?
Two employees at a German bank are facing disciplinary action after being caught having sex on a desk. Managers at the Helaba bank in Frankfurt are reportedly furious that the couple, a banker and his secretary, had not “clocked out” and so were making love in company time, Bild newspaper reported.
Naked breach of safety laws
Police stopped a motorbike with a naked woman riding pillion in Constanta, Romania, and booked her for failing to wear a helmet. A witness said: “The officer gave her a warning and a ticket and told them to ride on.” So she put on a helmet, and nothing else, and the bike sped off.
Photo: Nutcracker Suite featuring human-sized plant life in The Vaults presents Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia. Credit Hanson Leatherby
It’s an ambitious feat, and not an immediately obvious method to pay tribute to an animated motion picture. The Vaults presents Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia, as this production is rather cumbersomely called, is one of those shows where, fortunately or unfortunately, it helps to have sat down for a couple of hours and watched the original in the first place, or at least read freely available information about Fantasia online. Otherwise, there’s a chance one might come out of the multisensory experience thinking, as one lady almost yelled, what on earth the show is all about.
The thing about this particular production is that it’s not really ‘about’ anything, and yet it is about lots of things – the human experience, the beauty of various species of the world’s plants and flowers, and – perhaps unexpectedly for anyone encountering the world of Fantasia for the first time, copious amounts of classical music. There is some interest amongst younger people in orchestral music, perhaps because of its prevalence in the modern world. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, for instance, recently performed a PlayStation concert at the Royal Albert Hall. ‘Resident Evil’, ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ and ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ are titles that mean nothing to me, but to people who indulge in computer games, they will have listened to certain pieces of orchestral music many times before.
The same probably can’t be said of The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, or Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria. (That said, both of those are regularly heard during Advent and Christmas.) Fantasia, being a Disney film, was aimed at children, and so it is with ‘Sounds and Sorcery’. Not that the ‘big people’ get bored, but it seemed to me that children were more enthralled than anyone, captivated by, for instance, a room with patterns on the floor created by moving lights, or a live performance of dance and one-upmanship in a section called ‘The Dance of The Hours’.
I have to admit I probably spent longer in ‘timed’ sections of this immersive experience, as opposed to parts of the production which were to be enjoyed at one’s own leisure. Sufficient numbers of members of staff are on hand to guide people through, and at least on press night, the number of audience members was kept sensible, and no part of the venue ever felt overcrowded.
There is a need to wear headphones: the sound balance is smooth and consistent, though there is, perhaps inevitably, the odd moment of static interference, or ‘radio noise’, particularly when going from one room to another. There’s plenty of animation, and some care has been taken not to merely replicate the motion picture on stage – the experience closes with ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ and ‘Ave Maria’, but the images are very different from the ones in the film.
I found it difficult to warm to ‘The Rite of Spring’ – not so much the music, but at times it was so dark that I found myself standing around waiting for more light to appear in order to see where I was going. More resourceful members of the audience than I plumped for the ‘flashlight’ facility on their smartphones. Far better was ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, a rapidly paced brief performance involving physical theatre and some credible demonstrations of the power of magic. Let’s just say there are privileges afforded to those who sit in the front row.
All things considered, it’s a bit of a cliché, but there is something for (almost) everyone in this dynamic and highly kaleidoscopic production.
Now this is what a good theatrical comedy should be like – a serious message but with hilarity, even absurdity. The elephant in the room with regards to The Lieutenant of Inishmore seems to be the backdrop: it’s 1993, and IRA bombs are still going off in London. The show itself is set over in Ireland, and centres on Padraic (Aidan Turner: why is it that people off the telly aren’t as tall in real life as one anticipates they would be?), a man so violent the IRA didn’t want him in their ranks because he was considered too extreme. But the play highlights the stupidity, vacuity and superfluity of a lot of terrorism out there.
The nature of terrorism may have changed, and online attacks may be more of a threat now that guns and knives. There are still bombs, as a 2017 incident at Manchester Arena demonstrated, but at least the IRA used to phone up beforehand and say there was a bomb about to go off in a certain location. Anyway, the production uses a copious amount of fake blood in what becomes ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (and thus a life for a life). So, what’s with all the guffawing in the stalls (and, as far as I could deduce, the circle)?
Well, a cat, Wee Thomas, has been Padraic’s only (and therefore best) friend for fifteen years, but now he has become part of a splinter group, he’s traversing Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, with a view to making it part of the Republic. So Wee Thomas is being looked after by his father Donny (Denis Conway) – but there’s a problem, which is a bit too much of a spoiler to state specifically. But it means Padraic interrupts his torturing of James (Brian Martin), yet another one of his many victims, and drops everything to return to Inishmore and see to Wee Thomas.
Cue panic, because all is not well with Wee Thomas (again, without giving too much away, if everything were, Padraic would simply carry on torturing whoever he believes to be unionists). It is Padraic’s melodramatic reaction that elicits laughter, not because people shouldn’t care for their pets (of course they should), but because it’s clearly the terrorist’s (very) soft spot, which James gloriously exploits, winning his freedom in the process. Here is the Big Man who terrifies as well as terrorises, slumped and reduced to tears because his father has phoned him to report a problem with his pet cat.
All is well with Wee Thomas in the end (though other cats are not so lucky). Thanks to Padraic jumping to conclusions, and some panicky actions on the part of Donny and young Davey (Chris Walley), it gets rather anarchic. Add to the mix Mairead (Charlie Murphy, whose diction meant I couldn’t fully understand what the character was saying, though much of it sounded aggressive), Davey’s sister, who is in love with Padraic, and successfully woos him. Christy (Will Irvine), leader of the splinter group that Padraic wishes to breakaway from, thus forming a splinter group from a splinter group, isn’t happy at Padraic’s actions. It all comes to blows, in more ways than one.
The strength of the production is in both the comic timing and the script itself. Lines need not be complicated to be both amusing and profound: for instance, Davey’s “Oh, will it never end? Will it never fecking end?” proves a great response to the sheer insanity of the final scenes. There may have been moments when certain fellow theatregoers were questioning whether they should be laughing at what goes on, but there’s no denying the brilliance of this delightful production.
I’m with Ken (Alfred Enoch) when it comes to the sort of abstract art that Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) was known for. “What do you see?” Rothko wants to know. “Red,” replies Ken. But Rothko is not the sort of person that understands what ‘red’ is on its own, so when red is suggested as a colour to be added to a bucket of paint that is already a mixture of a variety of shades, he explodes – figuratively speaking, of course. ‘Red’ isn’t specific enough; it is a mere suggestion. He does have a point. A quick look at the ‘Dulux Colour Palette’ reveals that there’s no ‘red’. The sort of red in a red ballpoint pen is Volcanic Red, but there’s Jasmine Shimmer, Spring Rose, Blossom White, Sweet Pink, Blush Pink, Pretty Pink, Satin Bow, Love Note (don’t ask), Berry Smoothie, Fuchsia Lily, Raspberry Bellini, Pepper Red, Raspberry Diva, Roasted Red, Salsa Red, Cranberry Crunch, Sumptuous Plum, Redcurrent Glory, Monarch and Ruby Starlet.
Thus far, I’ve made Red sound like a show that gets bogged down in the details. If it does so, this is quite deliberate, in its portrayal of a painter that is, perhaps by necessity, obsessed with perfecting every aspect of his work. Molina’s Rothko is bitter and bad-tempered, because people don’t understand his art. I don’t know about everyone else, but I know I don’t get his sort of paintings: if I were ever to see something like it in an art gallery, I would need to read the description next to it to even begin to appreciate what it is supposed to represent.
The show doesn’t in any way change that view: his creation of a mural to hang in some restaurant or other seems to involve a lot of red and black. At least he actually goes to the restaurant once it is opened to see the situation for himself, and finally sees the light – people are going to the restaurant to eat, drink and converse, not to glare at paintings and be mesmerised by them. Rothko, frankly (or this version of him, anyway), is an idiot – he objects to knives and forks clinking against plates in a restaurant. That is like objecting to beer being served in a pub.
Rothko is, however, intense and passionate, and rightly instructs his employee Ken to indulge in reading classics and develop an understanding of “philosophy, theology, literature, poetry, drama, history, archaeology, anthropology, mythology, music”. The scene changes are nothing to write home about, meanwhile – quite dull, really – music accompanied by the changing of canvasses, which I couldn’t see the point of, apart from one scene where some paint is actually applied to a blank canvas (not the same, as Rothko points out, as ‘painting’).
The actors’ performances are excellent, given what they have to work with, and the Saturday matinee performance I attended did, in the end, deserve the standing ovation given. An intriguing piece of theatre with some good insights into Rothko’s life and work, even if we’ve been here before at a macro level – he wasn’t the first Tortured Artist, and he won’t be the last.
I had some trouble keeping up with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love, or at least this Hope Mill Theatre production of it. Any show that covers a period of seventeen years might be a bit much for people to absorb entirely on a first visit. It might have partially been to do with the weather – as I remarked to the theatre’s co-artistic director, Joseph Houston (the other one is musical producer Katy Lipson), I was slightly disappointed to discover it was just as hot in Manchester as it was in London. His theatre (co-owned with his husband William Whelton) was doing what London’s smaller performing arts venues do in a heatwave: fans were blasting hot air around, only to be switched off just before the show was about to start (too much of a distraction, apparently), and then whacked back on the second the house lights come up for the interval.
The lighting (Aaron J Dootson) is good – it’s night when it’s night and it’s day when it’s day. The orchestrations have been pared back, perhaps a little too much, with just two pianos (Gareth Bretherton and Johnny James) and a percussionist (Phil Stevenson). In these days of the #MeToo ‘trend’ and revelations about instances of inappropriate behaviour, it’s easy to think of Alex Dillingham (Felix Mosse) as someone who simply can’t keep his dick in his trousers. But in the living room ambience created by this production, it becomes clear that sometimes it is the determination of others that gets him tangled up.
Still, who is sleeping with whom? It also doesn’t help that not very many people are particularly likeable. Rose Vibert (Kelly Price) is not quite a diva actress but there is an air of snootiness about her, while George (Jerome Pradon), Alex’s uncle, is charming to begin with but becomes ultra-defensive to the point where his health suffers for his rage and bitterness. Jenny (Eleanor Walsh), can’t help being the daughter of George and Rose. I didn’t get much sense of there being a same-sex affair between Rose and Giulietta (Kimberly Blake), apart from a full-on kiss at the close of Act One. Hopelessly underwritten. Oh, and Giulietta was at one point shagging George. See what I mean about struggling to keep up?
There’s a Lloyd Webber musical about cats, and another about trains. Both are preferable to this one about people. There wasn’t anything wrong with the production, at least not for me – it’s not like Alex’s lyric about a night seeming like a lifetime in ‘Love Changes Everything’ is a metaphor for the show. Mind you, other lyrics in that song are just odd. Take, “Love, love changes everything / Hands and faces, earth and sky.” Love changes someone’s hands? How? But the true irony of the song, and of the show, is that there’s a seeming lack of understanding amongst characters between what constitutes true love, and what is really just lust. Thus, spoiler alert, despite the title of the show’s most famous song, most characters remain resolutely unchanged.
Felix Mosse in the lead role sings brilliantly, beautifully even, seemingly effortlessly gliding through the soaring melodies as the romp-a-thon goes on. Some charming choreography (Sam Spencer-Lane) is to be enjoyed in circus scenes, and without giving too much away, the production does extremely well in navigating the many scene changes inevitably required in a show that keeps jumping between Pau, Paris and Venice. The slickness and high standards of this production win out over a bizarre plot.
I can almost hear the grammar police in my schooldays (which constituted the sort of teachers who relished giving detentions out for the most puerile of reasons) yelling, “How daaaaaa-re you! It’s ‘My Girl and I’!” They would probably spontaneously combust if they were ever to listen to ‘Our Time’ from the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, which ends with the lyric “Me and you” repeated eight times. Such people would not enjoy Me and My Girl, grammatical conventions aside, at least in the sense that they do not enjoy anything, and always, always have something negative to say about everything: this is the Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer musical, and it’s fun, fun, fun.
Yes, the performance I attended coincided with a sporting fixture – namely that of England playing against Sweden in the FIFA World Cup 2018 quarter-finals. I do not mean to say that the result (which went in England’s favour) had any impact on the enjoyment or otherwise of the production, but simply that the feelgood factor was compounded by it. As ever with the Festival Theatre’s musicals in the main house, it’s a fairly large cast: twenty-four this time around, supported by an orchestra of eleven, though somehow the latter sometimes comes across as larger than the former.
There’s little, if anything, revolutionary about this show. It even appears to unashamedly borrow elements of the plotline from Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (on which My Fair Lady is based), with Sir John Tremayne (Clive Rowe) having tutored Sally Smith (Alex Young) in the mannerisms of high society in the style of Professor Henry Higgins in Shaw’s play similarly (seemingly) transforming Eliza Doolittle, though we see nothing of the process. Instead it is Maria, Duchess of Dene (Caroline Quentin) and her attempts to refine and reform Bill Snibson (Matt Lucas), a working-class man completely lacking in airs and graces, to which some stage time is given. It is, as per Pygmalion, quite a hoot.
I am still in two minds as to whether the show is too hammy. When Parchester (Jennie Dale), the solicitor to the Hareford Estate (it can, I think, be reasonably assumed she may have other clients as well), bursts into song yet again, someone will tell her to stop. So, it’s not the sort of show that takes itself too seriously. Bill Snibson, meanwhile, throws out punchline after punchline – plot takes precedence over character development. The Act One closing number, ‘The Lambeth Walk’, provokes an enthusiastic response. But the Festival Theatre has done this before: the cutlery comes out and is used as musical instruments, the dancing gets increasingly more impactful as the song goes on, and practically everyone on stage joins in, traditionalists, servants and all. ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’ from the 2016 musical Half A Sixpence, anyone?
It works, though, for the most part – elements of the second half started to drag, and ‘Leaning On A Lamppost’, as unexciting a number as it sounds (it involves Lucas’ Bill, well, leaning on a lamppost), could do with trimming down. And, for those enough old enough to remember, Lucas isn’t quite as nuanced as Robert Lindsay (who won Best Actor in a Musical at the Laurence Olivier Awards 1985, beating Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables). But then, there’s the occasional ad-lib that Lucas does well (though I’ve seen Lindsay ad-lib too, in other productions). Of note is the musical arrangements (Gareth Valentine) – without giving too much away, I am torn between describing it as ‘versatile’ and ‘schizophrenic’.
If you’re seeing this show, don’t be late back at the end of the interval: it goes straight into ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’, which is worth seeing as a big song-and-dance number. I smell a West End transfer: it’s business as usual at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Performances until 25th August 2018
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.