Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) told the audience at his 2008 concert at the O2 Arena that he recognised that they had been “geographically and financially inconvenienced”. Heading off to North Greenwich is certainly a bit out of the way, even for people like yours truly that live in London, and the O2 Arena’s stringent ‘no food or drink’ policy does mean pretty much every single trader after security does a roaring trade. Except, perhaps, the popcorn guy, who couldn’t really compete with the hot food outlet I queued up for, with a selection of pizza, chicken strips, chips and other pleasurable staples. Junk food hasn’t gone out of style just yet: not that I would have indulged, but I couldn’t even see a salad option.
Jack Whitehall isn’t doing badly these days. That is, if he ever did ‘badly’, having been born in the private Portland Hospital, attending public school and then – to cut a long story short – becoming well known through a combination of writing, stand-up comedy, television acting and presenting. This stand-up set, Whitehall’s “biggest tour to date”, in his own words, is all very well-drilled and well-rehearsed, and for all its polish and slickness, it somewhat lacks the roughness and ruggedness that the very best of comedians somehow muster even in a borderline soulless arena.
I suspect he’s trying not to repeat what happened on a previous tour, when, on the night the DVD of the said tour was being recorded, he plainly forgot a joke he was telling. And I mustn’t be too negative about someone getting it ‘right’ – the audience, after all, have not paid to see someone screw up. But Whitehall has a way of following up his punchlines with remarks that immediately make one realise that not much, if anything, that he’s just said has even a sliver of truth to it. Put it this way – if you really think he shops at Lidl, you’re an idiot. Mind you, I liked his observations about those conveyor toasters in restaurants in hotels: I must confess I’ve never used one, but I’ve seen others do it, and it’s just not something I have the time or the inclination for. Even when I’m away from home.
There’s a lot of material relating to – well, faecal matter. Would ‘It’s All Shit’ have been a better tour title than ‘Stood Up’? A story about a sign referring to “active diarrhoea”. Another one about when he had problems down below whilst in Cambodia and took a selfie of the affected region to send to his Harley Street doctor. Still another about his now ex-girlfriend who started farting in his company in an attempt to make him love her less. Oh, and one about his father Michael wanting to use the toilet whilst they were out filming on location and there weren’t any conveniences nearby.
There’s no doubting Whitehall’s energy and enthusiasm, however, bouncing and bounding about, giving it his all. And for the most part, he played it safe – for example, he talks about the Prince of Wales but there’s nothing about the Duke of York. A closing video appealed to the musical theatre lover in me, though I wonder if an arena audience at large enjoyed it nearly as much. The various milk alternative options at certain coffee shops were lampooned, as was his mother’s seeming overindulgent relationship with her pet dog. A pleasant and comfortable night out.
Even with the surtitles (or captions, as the captions provider StageTEXT likes to call them), not everything is entirely clear in this production of My Mother Said I Never Should, a show I only went to see as it has been recommended to me by various theatregoers over the years, and I kept missing them – even a production at St James’ Theatre in London (now The Other Palace) came and went before I had a chance to check it out. On the National Express coach up (because, you know, the trains can no longer be trusted and are not nearly as cost-efficient as road travel), I was reading about floods that had affected Yorkshire: Sheffield itself was well protected by miscellaneous defences, but elsewhere, villages were suffering bigtime.
Anyway, Jackie (EJ Raymond) communicates primarily in British Sign Language, being D/deaf. Everyone else – Doris (Ali Briggs), Rosie (Lisa Kelly) and Margaret (Jude Mahon) regularly engage in BSL too, though we have the captions and the spoken word as well. Not too much is lost whenever Jackie signs without corresponding captions – either someone else will say what she’s just signed, or else it is entirely possible to get the gist of it from the way the conversation is nonetheless flowing. I found rather ingenious, and without wanting to come across like a patronising twat, it must be a little taster of what it is like for someone hard of hearing to comprehend what is being when people with reasonable levels of hearing are conversing amongst themselves.
Slightly confusingly, at other times Jackie can be ‘heard’, thanks to the voice of Genevieve Barr. On occasion the ‘actual’ Jackie can be heard too, usually when frustrated or upset or having an outburst – but the point is well made: one way or another, she struggles to get her points across. Raymond is an excellent actor, such that sometimes no translation is even necessary thanks to the sheer expressions of emotion.
But it doesn’t help that the story isn’t in straightforward chronological order, and despite the use of projections, each location looks pretty much the same as all the others. Some scenes are set in Cheadle Hulme, which is closer to Stockport (unless I’m reading Google Maps incorrectly) but is apparently classed as being in Manchester, and others (according to the script) in Raynes Park, southwest London, though frankly those scenes could have been anywhere down south.
The show’s critical incident arises out of that protective trait people have, in this case towards a daughter – information is withheld in order not to hurt the younger one’s feelings but when she finds out what the cold, hard facts are, it hurts all the more than it would have done if she’d been told in the first place, rather than when she was older and therefore more (allegedly) capable emotionally and psychologically speaking. Act One, coming in at 85 minutes, could have been a little pacier – the more comfortable 45-minute Act Two is riveting to the core.
After a while, though, one almost forgets about all the captions and the sign language, gripped by an oftentimes poignant storyline about four generations of women trying to live their lives as best they can in the different circumstances of their times. It’s relatable, at least to some extent, for many people – though not for me, as I had such a dysfunctional upbringing I was rarely spoken to with the civility and love that these characters have for one another. There are some difficult choices to be made in life, and the non-judgemental approach taken here leaves the audience with a generous serving of food for thought.
It was one of those concerts I popped along to without intending to say anything about it other than, ‘yes, I had a swell time’ – or perhaps nothing at all if it wasn’t all that. But I found Kelli O’Hara’s concert at Cadogan Hall on Remembrance Sunday evening so delightful I ought to put something down. It was rather eventful – whatever hand cream she’d used was strong enough to sting her eyes when she then touched her face, such that she appeared to be overcome by emotion when in fact it was a mere allergic reaction of some kind. But the show must go on, and so she soldiered on through to the interval. Girl power and all that.
I only really came to know who O’Hara is thanks to a Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King & I that came across to the West End and took up residence for a limited season at the London Palladium. Not every American performer can do a decent British accent (the Broadway cast recording of the Cyndi Lauper musical Kinky Boots being a case in point), and I’m aware it works both ways – some British actors (no names) have utterly appalling American accents. Quite a few remind me of Stewie Griffin in the animated comedy television series Family Guy. O’Hara took the advice of her dialect coach when she was over in London, and rounded out her vowels so she sounded less like the 1930s diction of HM Queen Elizabeth II and more like the mid-nineteenth century tones of her character.
“I’m a soprano,” she deadpans, having already demonstrated the full strength of her voice. ‘I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy’ from South Pacific seemed effortless, as did ‘They Don’t Let You In The Opera (If You’re A Country Star)’, though those two numbers, aside from appearing in different acts, couldn’t be more different if they tried. The latter, written by her musical director, Daniel Lipton, and David Rossmer, tells the story of a country and western singer who wanted to join an opera company but found herself up against people who were convinced their patrons would never take to her on account of her rural background. Years later, she attends an opera performance whilst heavily pregnant, and the baby arrived so quickly after her waters broke that she gave birth in the auditorium. Because her screams and cries took the form of a soprano singing an aria, the opera company decided they would have her on their books after all.
It is more hilarious than I’ve made it sound. The evening was more sublime than it was ridiculous, taking in ‘That’s How You Say Goodbye’, one of the songs cut from the Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012) musical The Sweet Smell of Success, the title song from the Adam Guettel musical The Light in the Piazza, and a tune from Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County. ‘Madison’ didn’t really appeal to me when I saw it in London (at the Menier Chocolate Factory) but then O’Hara really is one of those people that can sing the phone book (do we still have those?) and make it sound beautiful and engaging. ‘She Loves Me’ became ‘He Loves Me’, and the closing number, ‘Make Someone Happy’ (from Betty Comden (1917-2006) and Adolph Green’s (1914-2002) Do Re Mi) felt anticlimactic to a fellow audience member, but that was before O’Hara returned with the jaunty ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ from My Fair Lady, and then (and this really was slightly anticlimactic) ‘La Vie en Rose’, made famous by Edith Piaf (1915-1963). My schoolboy French is insufficient to pass judgement on it.
Getting to know (so to speak) Kelli O’Hara was a decent and pleasant experience, and a varied one at that, with a tune by Greg Naughton, her husband, and his band called The Sweet Remains included. ‘Finishing The Hat’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, had its own fresh interpretation, and as with every enjoyable evening, the whole thing was over all too soon.
There are many, many films I never get around to watching, such is my penchant for live theatre. I haven’t yet figured out a way to say this without sounding like a pompous ass, so please accept my apologies, but these days I receive more invitations to theatre shows than I am able to physically attend. Being unused to evenings off, whenever I get one it’s usually because it’s the Christmas / New Year holiday season – or perhaps the Easter weekend – but if it isn’t, my tendency is to fill it with something or other, be it a repeat visit to a long-running show I very much enjoy, or a seat-filling opportunity. The latter one I can’t say too much about, suffice to say there are numerous seat-filler clubs out there, and if you’re happy to attend radio and/or television recordings, these are usually free of charge.
I still retain a cinema membership at Curzon, though the long-term future of the Wimbledon branch (the one nearest to me) remains uncertain as the cinema is now the only part of an otherwise empty building that once housed the local HMV record store. Anyway, as the shelf life of movies at the cinema tends to be fairly short, I had imagined Judy had been and gone, but as it was still on the listings on the evening I had available, I decided I’d take the plunge. Better late than never, though I had one or two responses saying ‘never’ was the better option – some people simply prefer watching movies actually starring Judy Garland (1922-1969) rather than ones about her.
It’s not strictly in chronological order, but flitting between decades is hardly problematic, not least because there’s Judy (Renée Zellweger) and there’s Young Judy (Darci Shaw). Young Judy is unsure of herself, and the stern attitude of Louis B Mayer (1884-1957) (Richard Cordery) didn’t help. Mayer’s conduct towards Garland and other women in his employment at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was deplorable, at least by modern standards – those who didn’t do precisely what he wanted were threatened with all sorts of repercussions and consequences. Older Judy, by contrast, is the sort of person that people like the theatre producer Bernard Delfont (1909-1994) (Michael Gambon) and Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley), the personal assistant assigned to Garland (presumably by Delfont) were being perhaps overly kind to.
That Garland was in England at all was not out of choice: her work in the United States had all but dried up. Fair enough, but the decision to leave for London meant leaving her young children, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd) in the care of ex-husband Sidney Luft (1915-2005) (Rufus Sewell). The film takes its time in portraying her decision-making process and the care taken to soften the blow as much as possible as she breaks the news to her children. In some ways this is even more difficult viewing than watching her obstinacy towards others fuelled by addiction.
As the film makes clear, there were more photogenic women than Garland around at the time, but few (if anybody) could match her singing voice. But this was somebody clearly damaged beyond repair by exploitative movie executives and producers, who (as portrayed in this movie) even starved Garland, insisting that she took pills in place of eating meals. What rapport Garland was able to muster during her ‘Talk of the Town’ concerts in London demonstrated some excellent comic timing. I suppose these days audience members would have simply got up and left if things weren’t going so well. Back then, they stayed but they heckled a poor performance that started late – in Garland’s case it is as though they resented the idea that Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz dared to grow up.
Dan (Andy Nyman) and Stan (Daniel Cerqueira) are the sort of Garland obsessives that wait at stage door in the rain long after everyone else had left, hoping that Garland would still yet make an appearance. Their subplot is pleasing to see but was ultimately superfluous, resulting in underlining a perceived stereotype of Garland’s fanbase being predominantly comprised of gay men rather than driving the film’s narrative forward. There’s a feelgood ending which makes for good musical theatre, but this is a motion picture, and on-screen text merely telling the audience that Garland passed away months after the events just portrayed seems too abrupt an ending. Judy Garland surely deserves better.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.