Saturday, December 23, 2006
They are coming.... and I have tickets for an advance screening at the National Film Theatre at the end of January. I had a nice American woman in the shop today while I was playing my beloved Broadway cast recording cd. She had seen the original production on Broadway and says the film is great. I am getting quietly excited.
Friday, December 22, 2006
One afternoon this Spring I was looking through Owen's books and found he had Hermione Lee's masterly biography of my favourite author Virginia Woolf. Opening it my eyes fell on the book's publication date, 1996. I was gobsmacked. Could it really be ten years since I read it? And more importantly could it really be ten years since two of my closest friends, Martin Taylor and Steve O'Connor died? Since then I have been thinking about them a lot. If I had been asked before this memory-jog I could not have told you actually when they died - a few years ago would have been my best reply. But ten years? It seems like yesterday but as well of course, it seems like years and years ago.
Martin died in the summer as I recall and Steve died, we found out later, on Christmas Eve. Over that Christmas I was reading the Woolf biography and had reached the time when she was hit by the death of her sister Vanessa's lover Roger Fry following soon after the death of close friend Lytton Strachey as well as the suicide of Dora Carrington. I found the thoughts of Virginia at this time in her and my life strangely comforting... as if someone knew what I was going through and was expressing the particular loss I felt in a far more eloquent way than I ever could. In essence, Virginia likened the deaths of longtime friends to a walk on a clifftop which one takes every day. One day you turn around to find that your familiar path, so often walked, has crumbled into the sea and you are stranded on a promentary that you have to precariously edge along to get back to where you feel secure again. The loss of friends - particularly those you have known for a long time - robs you of your context and a whole shared history is gone. I felt this about Martin and Steve and I still feel it to this day. After ten years I still sometimes see a play or film and think "I would love to talk to Martin about that" or wonder would Steve still be crazy for Oasis and LOUIE LOUIE by The Kingsmen? How would he have responded to my Type II Diabetes diagnosis when he had always refused to talk about his Type I that he had known of since an early age?
I met Steve at secondary school and was indeed the only school friend I still kept in contact with, having moved away from the area the same summer as having left St. Edmunds. In 1978 I met Martin when he too started work at Claude Gill Books in Piccadilly. I was on the shop floor and he was the goods-in clerk and we soon struck up a friendship based on our love of film, a friendship that was shared too with a fellow-Geordie school friend of his, Judith who also worked there. I remember being vaguely jealous of him, his assured personality and unabashed gayness were traits I always aspired to. Steve had a strained family life, living with his Asian stepfather who he couldn't abide so would often invite himself up to Enfield for the weekend to escape that environment. This soon also included Christmas where we could run amock as my Ma used to go back to Ireland. The ritual was I get the food, Steve get the drink.
Down the years and changes occured to us all - I started work for Flashbacks and bounced along happily enough living for films, music and by then theatre. Martin worked in the Department of Printed Books at the Imperial War Museum and met and moved in with Peter, a gay policeman which dwindled into a marriage until he met and moved in with David an actor. He started working with me on Saturdays at the shop where we would yapp away all day - when he wasn't bobbing about at Marshall Street Baths. In 1989 he achieved a long-held dream when Constable published his anthology of love poems by the trench poets of WWI. Steve worked in various jobs until finally working literally around the corner from his block of flats on North End Road market on a stall selling bags. Occasionally a girlfriend would be on the scene but invariably that would peter out. Things didn't improve on the family front when he found out through an aunt that his mother who had died when he was young had been married before and he had a father and two step-sisters he had never met. Steve also became an occasional fixture at Flashbacks working the odd day - cash in hand of course. But through it all there they were: Martin for theatre and films, Steve for film and concerts, countless phone calls talking about everything and nothing. Misunderstandings would lead to a few weeks of not-speaking then we'd pick up where we left off. You know... friend stuff.
At the start of 1990 Steve had a bad motorbike crash about 5 minutes after dropping me off at Andrew and Freddy's flat in Abbey Road which took him a long time to recover from. A few years later Martin appeared one afternoon at Marble Arch where I was helping a friend run her actors agency and told me he was HIV+. Strangely I cannot remember how I reacted - I think I hugged him while trying not to cry in front of him. However he seemed to work out a way of living with it.
One day I got a call from Steve's aunt telling me that Steve was in hospital. He had taken tablets and tried to cut his arms when his latest girlfriend said she just wanted to be friends. I went to see him and found him in fine form - retelling the incident and laughing over the stupidity of it all. As I was leaving the girl turned up and looked genuinely distressed at what he had done. The job with my friend was slowly driving me mad through inertia and the unacknowledged stagnation of our friendship. Then a few months after our last theatre visit to see the National Theatre's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC with Judi Dench, Martin was admitted to hospital for pneumonia. He seemed to get better then had a relapse. He died aged 39. Andrew accompanied me to the touching humanist service held for his cremation where I had an emotional reunion with Judith.
Things went from bad to worse with the friend and after a blazing early-hours row I quit and started back at the shop again. In December Steve asked to borrow some money which of course I agreed to but told him I needed it by the next week for presents etc. A week went by and no money and no answer when I rang. Finally he called to apologise and to tell me he was in trouble. He had helped another stallholder chase a black guy who had robbed off his stall. They caught him and beat him up. The police were called, Steve was charged with assault and was due to appear in court in January. I told him he was a stupid bugger but that I was sure it wouldn't be so bad. I asked him if he was still coming up for Christmas and he said he would ring me nearer the day. Steve turned up at the shop on my last day off before Christmas and left the money that was owed but I never heard from him. I bought extra food in case and waited at the shop on Christmas Eve for the call. Nothing and no reply when I rang him.
Late on December 27th the phone rang. It was Steve's aunt telling me through tears that he had been found dead in the flat. The step-father had found him that afternoon when he had returned from the friends he spent Christmas with. It appeared he had gone into a diabetic coma before he could inject himself with his Insulin. He was 36.
She asked me what I knew of his movements so I told her I had expected him but I assumed he didn't contact me because he thought I would still be pissed about the money. She then dropped a bombshell. He had worked the stall on Christmas Eve morning and had double-checked before leaving that the step-father was definately spending the next 2 days with friends. He later told the other stallholders he was finishing early to go up to Enfield to stay a few days with his mate Chris so not to try and call him. The aunt was inconsolable that Steve should die as he did especially as he was always so careful with his injections. I remember putting the phone down and just sitting and staring at the wall, knowing Steve had done it deliberatly.
Unlike the celebration of Martin's life at his cremation, Steve's was utter vile. A stupid old bastard of a priest who I swear was drunk, dropping the pages from his prayer book and stumbling through a religious service that was totally redundant of any humanity or soul. The only consolation I had on that dark, dank depressing late winter afternoon was that Steve would have been pissing himself laughing had he been watching it. I had been collared by the aunt outside who told me that the official gathering afterwards was being held back at the house but she and all Steve's workmates were having an unofficial one at a pub in Earls Court. Amazingly I attended neither. I did however manage to have a few words with the girl he had once tried to top himself over and who had become, along with her mother, good friends to him. She told me that Steve had been scared he would be sent to prison at the hearing in January and she would never believe he had died through an accident. That makes two of us.
Some people are surprised when I tell them I don't mind spending Christmas alone. I explain it away as having something to do with once working on Christmas Day at First Call and that this had robbed the day of any particular mystique. But maybe it is because I remember when ten years ago my familiar clifftop walk was altered forever.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
From The Grauniad:
A gay man who was set to make legal history by becoming one of the first people to "divorce" by dissolving a civil partnership yesterday decided to delay proceedings to avoid entering the record books.
Darryl Bullock had planned to go to court today, the 12-month anniversary of the ceremony and the earliest possible date he could legally dissolve his civil partnership with Mark Godfrey.
But Mr Bullock, 42, has instructed his solicitor to hold off until new year. "I don't want to be the face in the Guinness Book of Records," he said. "I don't want to be the poster boy for the divorce generation. I am trying to end an unpleasant period in my life and move forward, and obviously that means I have had to instruct a solicitor to deal with my dissolution, but I am not trying to break any records."
Mr Bullock, who celebrated his union with Mr Godfrey in an 8am ceremony at Bath Guildhall before honeymooning in Torquay, said that, far from being put off civil partnership by his split, he is intending to tie the knot a second time.
But he and his new partner would not be "rushing" into anything, said the freelance writer and self-confessed "serial monogamist", who was with Mr Godfrey for three years before their legal partnership.
Not the Poster Boy for the divorce generation but possibly for something else...
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I have been remiss Constant Reader in not posting for a while - the shock of returning to work after a week off threw me totally. So here is a recap of the cultural events seen. Seen?
On the last day of the vacance O and I went to Tate Britain to see the Hans Holbein exhibition.
It was just the right size, only 9 smallish rooms to meander through and each room contained at least one portrait I would happily have made a beeline for if they allowed me to do a 2 minute dash around with a shopping trolley. I would definately make off with a masterly chalk drawing of Sir Thomas More, an arresting Portrait of A Lady which is assumed to be Anne Boleyn, a saucy looking Herman von Wedigh a German merchant, the majestic small portrait of Henry VIII - looking not unlike Gordon Kaye - and a lovely drawing of an unknown woman who stares out at you from the portrait where Holbein immortalised her 466 years ago. I am sure a few of his sitters imagined they would be remembered for one thing or another but it is only through the artistry of a man destined to die aged only 46 that they managed it.
Then it was back to work. Absolute Hell. I think the next time I want a break from work I should follow Owen's advice and be off for two rather than a measly one week.
Sunday saw us in the wilds of Brick Lane in the former Trumans Brewery which is the temporary home for The Reindeer, a restaurant and cabaret space all done up in fake snow covered fir trees and log cabins surrounding the dining space. All very clever but a few signs showing the entrance and even more importantly the exit wouldn't have gone amiss. Still Justin Bond is worth seeing in any location.
This is my third time seeing him with his trio The Freudian Slippers and they get better with each show. The piano, flute and cello background work so well with this unique performer that one can only hope that the cd he might record next year will come to fruition. Justin's banter between songs is getting even more revelatory and out-there but the tales of his exs - the female-to-male transgender, the gigolo etc. - all just make you want to hear more from his life. While I am happy to stick on the three times I've seen his lounge-singing diva alter-ego in Kiki and Herb I look forward to seeing him again in performance soon. Let's put it this way... it's a rare talent that could make me forget I was sitting at the next table to Boy George.
Tuesday night found me and O at the Savoy Theatre for Trevor Nunn's musical theatre staging of the Gershwin masterpiece PORGY AND BESS.
I had been looking forward to finally seeing this landmark show having never seen it on stage or Otto Preminger's 1959 screen adaptation with four of the same actors from his CARMEN JONES. Trevor Nunn is to be applauded - not something I would say ordinarily! - for bringing the show into the west end as a musical rather than it's usual operatic form. This show deserves to be seen not only as a tribute to the awesome score by George and Ira Gershwin but also as a showcase for the richly talented cast of black British performers.
The story could not be simpler - the black workers of Catfish Row, South Carolina are hard-working and God-fearing. A drunken fight during a crap-game leaves one of the men stabbed to death, The killer Crown (Cornell S. John) flees before the police arrive but the community are left with his mistress Bess (Nicola Hughes), a good-time girl with a liking for the packets of 'happy dust' supplied by the oily pusher Sportin' Life (played by the bizarrely named O.T. Fagbenle). The only person willing to take her in is the neighbourhood cripple Porgy (Clarke Peters). Porgy, used to a life of rejection by women has admired Bess from afar but now falls for her completely and she too warms to this man who truly loves her, The others warily accept her but during a community picnic on a nearby island, she is confronted by Crown who has been hiding out there. He forces himself on her and she returns to the town a troubled woman, aware that her love for Porgy may not be enough to resist Crown's power over her. The community faces a hurricaine which ends several lives but when Crown arrives in the aftermath to take Bess, Porgy stabs him. The police arrive and want Porgy to identify the body but Sportin' Life - who witnessed Porgy's act - plays on his and Bess' fear that a murdered body bleeds afresh if looked on by the killer. The police force him to come with them leaving the way clear for Sportin' Life to work on Bess, supplying her again with 'happy dust' and convincing her the police will never let Porgy go. Porgy returns to find her gone to far-off New York. He sets off after her determined to win her back.
Yes there are a few faults - as striking a performer as Hughes is, she doesn't fully succeed in drawing your attention away from the contrivances the script forces on her - indeed most of her big scenes happen offstage - and occasionally the score could do with some of the musical largess an opera would give it - Porgy's final song "I'm On My Way" seemed to end too quickly, not so much starting a long journey as a couple of steps to the back of the set and occasionally the over-active singing made the lyrics a bit undecypherable but on the whole I really enjoyed it, it was great to finally be able to put those classic songs "Summertime", "It Ain't Necessarily So", "I Loves You Porgy" and "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" into their proper context. The show is also illuminated by some very fine performances - the oddly named O-T Fagbenle makes a wonderfully serpentine Sportin' Life, Melanie Marshall gives Maria the shopkeeper real presence, my LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS friend Dawn Hope is a bit of a revelation as Serena, the religious woman made a widow by Crown's drunken violence and there is fine support from Lorraine Velez and Edward Baruwa as the married couple who are victims of the hurricaine. The ensemble sound great in the choral parts of the score.
The star of the show, and rightly so, is Clarke Peters as Porgy. It's so good to see this veteran of many shows being given such a showcase for his glorious voice and being so loudly cheered at the end. His unsentimental performance is nicely played against any obvious sympathy so his happiness in loving Bess is even more winning.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
Definatly a case of read 'em and weep.
Alvin Ailey, Peter Allen, Nester Almendros, Emile Ardolino, Arthur Ashe, Howard Ashman, Isaac Asimov, Baltimora, Way Bandy, Michael Bennett, John Binden, Amanda Blake, Leigh Bowery, Geoffrey Burridge, Gia Carangi, Ian Charleson, Bruce Chatwin, Tina Chow, Cyril Collard, Patrick Cowley, John Curry, Brad Davis, Tony de Vit, Casey Donovan, Eazy-E, Denholm Elliott, Perry Ellis, Esquerita, Kenny Everett, Wayland Flowers, Howard Greenfield, Halston, John Hargreaves, Keith Haring, Dan Hartman, Ofra Haza, John Holmes, Rock Hudson, Sylvester James, Derek Jarman, Michael Jeter, Jobriath, Robert Joffrey, Larry Kert, Kris Kirk, Fela Kuti, Liberace, Charles Ludlum, Robert Mapplethorpe, Freddie Mercury, Jacques Morali, Cookie Mueller, Willi Ninja, Klaus Nomi, Rudolf Nureyev, Tommy Nutter, Al Parker, Anthony Perkins, Kurt Raab, Dack Rambo, Gene Anthony Ray, Robert Reed, Tony Richardson, Howard Rollins, Steve Rubell, Craig Russell, Michael Staniforth, Jermaine Stewart, Stephen Stucker, Michael Sundin, Ron Vawter, Ricky Wilson.
And on a more personal level, Martin Taylor, David Holloway and Alex Maxey.
The past two days have been all about two favourite ladies.
On Wednesday we went to Hammersmiff to see Beverley Knight rock da house. She was as excellent as ever, her combination of powerhouse singing and great personality make her a very special performer indeed. The set was slightly altered from earlier in the year - the 'stock' songs being Flavour of The Old School, Made It Back, Greatest Day, Get Up, Shoulda Woulda Coulda, Same (As I Ever Was), Gold, Keep This Fire Burning, Supersonic and Piece of My Heart. She slowed it down mid-way to sing three ballads with just backing vocalists, guitar and bongos: Shape of You, Sista Sista and Need of You. Amazingly the audience shut up! Invariably when the ballads come round, people start talking but during Sista Sista you could hear a pin drop. She also sang two much-needed new songs After You and Sweet Black Sugar (very Ike & Tina). The classic cover this time was Aretha Franklin's Rock Steady and she topped off the evening with a stonking version of Come As You Are.
As much as I clapped, stomped and sang along... I couldn't lose myself in it unlike the Shepherds Bush earlier in the year. Maybe I'm all gigged out for the year? I left the show feeling she was as excellent as ever... but. The new album is out early next year so hopefully the next show should offer a new setlist.
Maybe I couldn't really concentrate as before the show, gawping about the foyer while Owen was at the bar who should I see three people away from me but HOWARD TAKE THAT! My Eeek-o-meter went from 0 to 100. Despite Owen's "Who, that scruff?" comment I gawped and gawped til he suddenly vanished like the magical creature wot he is *sigh*
Thursday saw us on the mean streets of Kilburn, scuttling to get to the cultural beacon that is the Tricycle to see an advance screening of STRANGER THAN FICTION which we had seen previously at the London Film Festival. Seeing it a second time was certainly no chore, it's life-affirming in the best possible way and the performances of Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman deserve a re-visit. The main reason for going though was the post-screening Q&A with Ms. Emma Thompson. It turns out she was instrumental in getting the Tricycle Cinema started, helping to raise it's profile and get celebrity sponsers from Hollywood. She opened the cinema and as she is a Hampstead girl, it also serves as her local cinema too. She was in great form, talking with obvious love about the film and answering the sometimes lame questions with honesty, wit and insight. Owen kept nudging me each time the chap asked were there any questions and suddenly I found my hand in the air! There was heaps I wanted to ask her about but as all the questions had been pertaining to the film I quickly garbled out a question about the director Marc Forster. Somehow I phrased the question so it appealed to her as she said I had made an interesting point, news to me! After the time was up, a woman in the front row nabbed her to sign something so I was desperate to bomb down to the front of the stage, no mean feat when trapped in the middle of the fourth row with no one moving on either side of you!
Now the last time I saw Emma was way back in 1993 at the premiere of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOWT at the Empire. I had first met her when she was in ME AND MY GIRL in 1984 and was an out n out fan from the off. The actor's agent I knew was even more obsessed and had managed to get her flatmate chef into doing private parties for the cast so it was through one of these that I first met her. Up until her film career REALLY took off I used to see her around a lot and always got on great... now I was scared, would she still remember me? 13 years is a long time in this business we call show. I waited for a couple of girls to get her autograph and said "You won't remember me but I am the remnents of what used to be Chris Voisey"... How could I have been worried? Her face lit up and of course she remembered! And after all these years I finally got a photo with her... I had always been a bit shy in asking for one before but Owen was there with the camera. She said some really lovely things and I spent the whole journey home grinning from ear to ear.
And no I'm not uploading the picture. Some things are not for sharing... even with you, Constant Reader.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
First, a matinee of the National Theatre's THERESE RAQUIN at the Lyttleton. I was in two minds about seeing this recently-opened production: on the one hand the Zola novel is one of my favourite books and I have also seen a bad stage version in 1993 at the Young Vic. However this is directed by Marianne Elliott whose PILLERS OF THE COMMUNITY was such a success in the same theatre earlier in the year, the production is based on Zola's own stage adaptation and in the cast are a couple of favourite performers, Ben Daniels and Judy Parfitt.
Therese (Charlotte Emerson) is married to sickly Camille (Patrick Kennedy) and they live with his fussing mother (Parfitt) above a shop in a dark arcade in Paris. She is secretly having a passionate relationship with Camille's boyhood friend Laurent (Daniels). Therese and Camille's frustrated passions are at boiling point when a chance remark from one of the husband's friends about how quite a few murderers go unpunished sparks them into action, drowning Camille on a weekend visit to the country. A year later Laurent engineers Camille's grieving mother and friends into agreeing that Camille's supposed dying wish for Laurent to protect his wife should come true. Laurent marries Therese but by now the couple are being eaten away by the guilt of what they have done. Sleepless nights are endured and Laurent is haunted by the sight of Camille's eight day-old corpse in the morgue. Their bitter recriminations are overheard by Mme Raquin who suffers a heart attack and is left speechless and paralysed, staring at them both day and night. For them there can only be one escape...
As much as I admired Elliot's clear and direct approach to the production there seemed several problems. Sadly Zola probably wasn't the best person to adapt his novel as so much of what makes the novel great is lost in this pared-down version, the drowning of Camille occurs between acts and gone is the frightening vision of the morgue. With so much of the inner voice missing Therese is reduced to spending half the play staring into space - and Charlotte Emerson can do nothing to make her watchable during this. There are two actresses who are called on for these dramatic roles these days - if you want obsessed-without-shagging you get Eve Best; if you want obsessed-with-shagging you get Charlotte Emerson... BABY DOLL, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and now THERESE RAQUIN. Rarely has such an underwhelming actress been cast as such ripe broads. Ben Daniels is always watchable but while he was totally believable as a man being haunted by ghosts he didn't strike many bells as the impassioned lover. With the two leads mis-firing in the passion stakes one looks to the supporting cast for inspiration, Patrick Kennedy made a good impression as the doomed Camille, Judy Parfitt was fine as his doting mother and Mark Hadfield stole most of the scenes as the toe-curling M. Grivet, the tedious friend of Camille who visits every Thursday to play dominos. The production values helped, Neil Austin's subtle lighting and the ominous soundscape by Christopher Shutt kept the tension going in the second half. Hildegard Bechtler's set is like the production itself - effective but slightly off. A large drab corner of the rooms above the Raquin shop it conjures up the interiors of Degas and Sickert but hardly squares with the frequent references in the text to being a cramped space as it fills the vast Lyttleton stage and the vital feeling of the lovers caught in a claustrophobic prison is lost. I think the production would have faired better in the Cottesloe.
After that it was up to the Curzon Soho for more marital misery, Patrice Chereau's new film GABRIELLE. Based on a Joseph Conrad novella written in 1898 it starts with Jean (Pascal Greggory) walking home from a train journey. He speaks in voiceover about his life as a successful publisher and how with his graceful and cultivated wife Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert) he now plays an active social life, delighting in the knowledge that more than 50 of the most well-to-do couples are eager to be invited to their soirees. He boasts of his business acumen in managing to keep a newspaper he bought afloat despite his dislike of the editor and how he leads a life that many would envy. On arriving home he finds a letter on his desk from Gabrielle.... a Dear Jean letter. Completely thrown by this bolt from the blue, he is further bewildered by Gabrielle's return a few hours later. When he interrogates her she simply replies that she made a mistake. Later in a conversation with her maid she admits that after ten years of a soulless marriage she found herself infatuated with another man and that you must try and grasp the few moments of true happiness when you can. At the delayed evening meal Jean further berates an impassive Gabrielle until he tells her that after much consideration, he will forgive her. Gabrielle's hysterical laughter at this is proof that nothing will ever be the same again in their presumed ordered existance and, when the identity of the lover is revealed to be the editor of the newspaper, the marriage disintergrates further into one of emotional and physical rejection.
Although it is never stated as to what went wrong with her escape - although the editor is seen at a dinner party ruefully saying that some promises should never be carried out - Gabrielle's sadness at having to return to the cage she had fled from is palpable but that hurt is chilled into cold indifference, her detached and baleful stares shrivelling the husband to nothing until all he can do is to rape her in an attempt to establish his authority. This leads to a final scene of cold capitulation from Gabrielle which destroys Jean totally. Isabelle Huppert is a past mistress of these films of emotional devastation and she delivers another memorable performance to add to her gallery of women whose sexuality is trapped by circumstance.
The novella is written totally from the husband's perspective and so carrying the majority of screen time Greggory has the tougher role in that Jean is such a selfish prig it is hard to feel any sympathy for him when his life implodes and I felt he didn't altogether succeed in making the character at all interesting. The film itself is compromised too by Chereau's intrusive stylistic conceits - I didn't mind the film changing from black & white to colour several times but the freezing of the frame occasionally to superimpose the words just spoken on the screen was jarring and the heavily orchestrated score constantly playing against the mood of the scene was plain annoying. At one point the score was so doom-laden with swelling strings I expected Gabrielle to bump into Hannibal Lechter, Norman Bates and Freddy Krueger in the darkened hall. The cinemagraphy is excellent and although the production design is fine too, the idea to possibly suggest the emptiness of the couple's life by having them live in a huge mausoleum of a building is laughable; in some scenes it looks like they resided in one of the sculpture rooms of the V&A.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
So onto the current production... I had a great time. As it was only the fourth preview - history repeating - the show was a little too powered on nervous energy with a lot of butterstumps handling of props and set abuse from the banging of doors etc but that was forgiven by the cast's full-on and enjoyable performances. When they have relaxed into their roles a bit more and learn to trust in the material they should be on top of their game.
The all important question was... who could play Audrey other than Ellen Greene? Ellen originated the role Off-Broadway then played it in London and against huge studio pressure was cast in the film immortalising her performance for future audiences. However she seemed swamped in the film, being a natural stage performer the need to tone down for the screen made her seem tame compared to the amazing star turn it was on stage, making you laugh and cry in the space of seconds.
Audrey is now played by Sheridan Smith and she was totally captivating, finding all the right areas in the script which give pathos to what could be played as a straight bimbo role. I saw Sheridan Smith eight years ago as a conniving Red Riding Hood in Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS at the Donmar and since then she has made a home for herself in BBC comedy but I had forgotten what a lovely voice she has: her version of SOMEWHERE THAT'S GREEN was competing against offstage set-building but she held her own and turned in a lovely rendition which she then built on for the second act big ballad SUDDENLY SEYMOUR.
Seymour was played by Paul Keating and he's fine if a little too hyper, still it's certainly a different performance to the last one I saw him in - the bisexual lead in the Pet Shop Boys musical CLOSER TO HEAVEN. He could take a few lessons in nebbishness from Barry James - London's original Seymour now playing Mr. Mushnik, their extended version of MUSHNIK AND SON was great fun. The sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello DDS is here played by Jasper Britton and he was on good form too - though he could actually do with a gas mask for his death scene - as opposed to a visor which he had to keep holding over his face! And the 3-girl chorus - Katie Kerr, Merlitza Nicola and Jenny Fitzpatrick - were good although not a patch on the original fierce threesome of Dawn Hope, Shezwae Powell and Miss Nicola Blackman who became a personal friend! The plant - which in a new design resembles a carnivorous green pedal-bin is ably manipulated by Andy Heath and voiced by none other than Mike McShane.
If you've never experienced LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS as it should be experienced - ALIVE on stage - book now!
Friday, November 17, 2006
Yes I am imagining your blank faces staring at the names... well *SLAP* Snap out of it!
They came in as they had seen the posters I had put on the wall as a tribute to Tom Bell and complemented me on the tribute which was nice. So over the course of a chat I managed to sneak in how the poster for RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO! which George C starred in was a big seller for us and how gob-smacked I was by Deborah's performance as Ian McKellen's icy wife in "The Cut" at the Donmar earlier this year. I said how happy I was to have two of my favourite actors in the shop and they seemed quite abashed! They left the shop chattering away about how the shop would be a source of good opening night presents! It right cheered my Thursday up I can tell you. Oddly enough I first saw both of them on stage in1983....
I first saw George Costigan in the original BLOOD BROTHERS at the Lyric where he originated the role of the tragic Mickey Johnstone and then saw him in back-to-back shows at the now-closed Half Moon Theatre in the sprawling but enjoyable LOVE ON THE PLASTIC (with mate Nicola Blackman, Belinda Lang and Nicky Croydon) and AS IS in which he played one half of a gay couple coming to terms with his partner getting AIDS. He appeared in the first series of WIDOWS as Maureen O'Farrell's co-worker in a Soho amusement arcade and in the truly bizarre CONNIE starring Stephanie Beachum and Pam Ferris. Apart from RITA SUE AND BOB TOO his best known screen role was Dougie the awful English tourist in SHIRLEY VALENTINE.
Deborah Findlay is one of the rare breed of actresses whose stage work are a genuine must-see. Whether lead or supporting role she never fails to deliver a performance that lingers in the memory.
I first saw her as the chemist's assistant who befriended Julie Covington's Vivienne Elliot in TOM AND VIV at the Royal Court and over the years she appeared in supporting parts, getting more attention in productions like TOP GIRLS again at the Royal Court and Nuria Espert's production of THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA as the plain oldest daughter Angustias. After her breakthrough role as Spencer's spurned wife Hilda in Pam Gem's STANLEY at the National Theatre (winning her an Olivier Award) she started a run of great performances there - a wonderful Paulina in THE WINTER'S TALE, the voice of fiery conscience in Alex Jennings' Blairite court; her 18th century working class widow who becomes the madame of a male brothel in MOTHER CLAP'S MOLLY HOUSE and her great performance as Poncia, the sardonic housekeeper of THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA last year. Next year she will team up again with ALBA co-star Penelope Wilton in the Donmar's production of JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN with Ian McDiarmid in the title role. This coincides with my birthday.... *whistle*
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Written before his best known comedy NOISES OFF (more on that later) this farce centres on a group of men returning to their Oxbridge College for a 25th anniversary reunion. Life has been good to this group of men as they number a Junior Education Minister, a civil servant, a doctor, a vicar and an author. However over the course of one drunken night all decorum is thrown to the wind as alcohol and the fun of being in their old rooms turns them into anarchic tearaways again.
The catalyst for the misunderstanding is Lady Driver (hoho) now a magistrate and wife of the college head but who 25 years ago was one of the few girls there so had liasions with most of them. However there was only one she still carries a torch for and she later confronts him in his rooms. The trouble is she has taken her glasses off and can't see that the man she is talking to is a complete stranger. He knows her however, he was a student at the same time as the others but because he had to live in the town in digs rather than in the college he has been totally forgottten by everyone. When the men discover her in his room all hell breaks loose - cue dropped trousers, hiding in bedrooms and behind curtains, slammed doors and wrong conclusions jumped at.
The production is directed by Jeremy Sams who also directed the National Theatre production of NOISES OFF. Now whether it was an off night for me, an off night for the cast or his direction all I know is I sat in the Lyttleton stoney-faced while all around me rolled on the floor in hysterics. I must admit I am no particular fan of farce - if they all stayed in the same room for 5 minutes all the misunderstandings would be cleared up - but I look in puzzlement at people whose theatrical knowledge I admire go into reveries about it. The trouble with me is that I also don't believe Michael Frayn's comedies show a man with a sense of humour, it's like he has written them knowing that this piece of business will make an audience laugh... almost like it's a clinical exercise.
However despite all that DONKEY'S YEARS was good fun largely thanks to some exceptional comedy performances. Michael Simkins as the doctor, Edward Petherbridge as the seen-it-all college porter, Paul Raffield as the campy vicar and Hamish Clark as a snotty civil servant all delivered fine support to the two best performances, Janie Dee as Lady Driver and David Haigh as the Government Minister. Janie Dee is always watchable and her scene confronting the man she thinks is her long lost love only to realise he's a total stranger was great, her knowing seductive poise turning to sedate mortification.
Ever since first seeing David Haig on stage in '84 as Maurice, the uber-upper class twit in TOM AND VIV, I have admired him enormously. Here he plays a part made for his comedy talents, the seemingly affable Minister who when drunk turns into a posturing windbag who in the cold light of day is thrown into a frenzy of rising panic as his career looks like it will be ruined by scandal. The whole second act almost becomes a master-class in controlled hysteria as, crippled with a bad back, he hops around his room with his trousers around his ankles sending the others running off in all directions while trying to hide a woman in the adjoining bedroom - not knowing that she has in fact already escaped.
The production also pointed the fate of the college outsider - the way that the character who, because he never lived with them in college, is still a non-man to them 25 years later with no one remembering his name even after him just telling them it. He tries to tell them of his job in pharmaceuticals and they don't understand him and his excitement in finally doing things after hours with fellow-students in rooms is taken as mania and he is tranquilised and led off to an ambulance.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Simon Shepherd has withdrawn from "The Sound of Music".
A statement on behalf of the production said "Following the first two previews of The Sound of Music at the London Palladium on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 November, Simon Shepherd, director Jeremy Sams and producers Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian agreed that his performance as Captain Von Trapp was not working within the production and therefore he has withdrawn from the show".
Sunday, November 05, 2006
There was plenty to divert one's attention before the Groovesome Twosome appeared, we had Australian modern dance from Zen Zen Zo (not as ghastly as it sounds), a fun US beatbox improvisationalist called Reggie Watts and - I had to Wikipedia these two - Edward Ka-Spel and Phil Knight from The Legendary Pink Dots. Amanda took over from the sparky Margaret Cho to introduce the last two as they were "major influences" on her work. I can but hope that these influences are kept subliminal as they were electronica/miserabalism to the nth degree. Three tracks seemed to last an hour. I bet Gerald and Steven loved 'em!
After a tasteful strip by La Cho - again another 'alternate' event where stripping was featured - on boinged Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione... the two and only Dresden Dolls.
They fair ripped through over 2 hours worth of material - they sounded well fierce. Brian V is one of the best drummers around - always fun to watch with his facial asides, delicate touches and fearsome whacks and Amanda as usual played the bejaysus out of her joanna. My favourites from the set were "Sex Changes", "Backstabber", "Delilah" (where they were joined onstage by the still wonderful Lene Lovich), "Mrs. O", "Shores of California", "Mandy Goes to Med School", "Coin-Operated Boy", "The Jeep Song", "Mein Herr" and "Sing" - a fittingly epic finale with us at the front holding sparklers aloft and the DDs joined on stage by the entire company.
While there my mind skittered back over the years to seeing Blondie there in February 1978 and then in the summer of 1982 having one of the best theatrical experiences to live on in my mind. Vanessa Redgrave and Ian Charleson did two benefit performances for the Youth Training Centres which involved just the two of them doing readings and acting scenes from AS YOU LIKE IT, THE SEAGULL and GUYS AND DOLLS which Ian was appearing in at the the National Theatre. It was the first time I had seen either of these favourites of mine on stage and I remember sitting there suffused with pleasure.
As I said these shows live on in my memory only - the Dresden Dolls show was filmed for a future dvd release.
Friday, October 27, 2006
I was looking forward to it but was also a bit trepeditious as from the tone of some of the reviews it appeared to be a case of Director's Theatre where the piece is shoehorned in to fit the director's concept eg. John Doyle's lamentable SWEENEY TODD. There were a few moments when I did want to say to Rufus Norris "stop being so tricksy - the show works goddamn it!" but on the whole I thought it certainly held it's own with the Sam Mendes production that I saw twice on Broadway - and made me look at it anew.
CABARET is an interesting show. An undoubted classic score by Kander & Ebb and a taut book by Joe Masteroff - no scene seems superflous - but one suspects that it's abiding appeal lies not in it's theatre history but in the 1972 film. This presents a problem to any theatre revival as the film bares little resemblance to the actual show and it of course runs the risk of comparison and bafflement on the part of the new audience.
For a start the actual warmth in the show doesn't come from Sally and Cliff but from the supporting roles of Fraulein Schneider, Cliff's landlady, and Herr Schultz, his unassuming Jewish neighbour who recognise the loneliness in each other but whose relationship is stifled by her fear of Nazi reprisals. When the decision was made that the film would ONLY feature songs in the Kit Kat Klub, these two characters were surplus to requirements and their two duets used as background music instead. However as I said the couple provide the only spark of warmth and genuine affection in the show and here the show is rewarded with exquisite performances by Sheila Hancock and Geoffrey Hutchings. Hancock is one of the rare breed of actresses that one instantly relaxes with, you know the character and the audience are in safe hands. Her non-singing singing voice adds to her charm and her final song "If You Were Me" is heartbreaking in it's simplicity. It's a shame the dialogue continues straight after she stops singing robbing her of a deserved round of applause. Poor Geoffrey Hutchings suffers from the Herr Schultz curse though as his song "Meeskite" sung by his character at his engagement party has been 86'd. Mind you this had also disappeared from the Sam Mendes production along with two other songs... although one of these appears again in this production! I guess the inclusion of WHY SHOULD I WAKE UP sung by Cliff all depends on how good a singer you cast. Michael Hayden certainly sings well - I also had seen him play the part in New York - but the role of Cliff is one that I've never seen played well. He may be the narrator of the show but he never seems to have much to do.
And so onto the two roles with the longest shadows cast over them by their film incarnations. As wonderful as Liza Minnelli was as Sally, strictly speaking she was totally wrong. What on earth was a belter of a singer like her doing in a low-rent club like the Kit Kat Klub? Sally is meant to have an average talent at best which fits in with her delusions of grandeur. The best stage Sally I have seen was Kelly Hunter in the production at the Strand - gulp! - 20 years ago which was a vehicle for Wayne Sleep as the MC - a bad idea - but Anna Maxwell Martin slowly gained my interest over the evening - her MAYBE THIS TIME was particularly touching - and by the time Sally had reached her apogee with the title song she had won me over. I could almost see Sally thinking during the song... realizing the lyrics grimly foretelling her own destiny. It's a brave casting choice and she rises to the challenge with a recklessness that is scary to witness but always suggesting Sally's own instability.
I was a bit anxious too about James Dreyfuss as the Emcee, it seemed such obvious casting especially after the huge success that Alan Cumming had in the role. How odd too that Alan Cumming is currently on in the West End in BENT - which is even more obvious casting really. However Dreyfuss was wonderfully malevolent, like a living Otto Dix painting. This struck me in particular during the MONEY SONG when he appears as a fat rich man who sits stuffing his face with money while the girls dance attendance on him. I had expected him to be a lot more camp than he was - he played the role in a gruff gravelly voice and with a hunched menace. As we know the Emcee ushers us in and he is also there to usher us out.
I was wondering how this production - which wilfuly ascerts the darkness of the piece at all times - could top the Mendes finale which was fairly bleak but this one ends in a coup de theatre which freezes the audience in their seats. The first act closes with TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME - here sung beautifully by Alastair Brookshaw - as a Hitler youth while behind him the chorus dance naked, suggesting the Nazi's ideal of Aryan purity and clean-living. The last act ends in a horrible mirror image of this. The Emcee in a dressing gown sings a muted reprise of "Wilkommen" in front of large letters spelling KABARET across the stage, he retreats to join the chorus upstage as a Nazi officer walks casually across the stage knocking the letters over one by one. The lights come up upstage to reveal the Emcee and the chorus slowly huddling together as the Zyklon B flakes fall and a hiss echoes around the stage.
It made me suddenly think of the name Kurt Gerron. Gerron, a successful German actor, director and cabaret performer, is now mostly remembered - if at all - as the owner of the club where Marlene Dietrich sings in THE BLUE ANGEL and who appeared in the original stage version of Brecht's THE THREEPENNY OPERA. His career was cut short as he was a jew and despite fleeing to France, Austria and the Netherlands he was arrested and sent to a series of camps until he was gassed in Auschwitz in 1944. No doubt one of the many cabaret performers from the heady days of the Weimar Republic who ended thus.