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.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
SHORTBUS sees most of the cast damn hard too.
The film was the talk of Cannes due to the sex scenes - the most hardcore ever seen in a legit film. As Mitchell said to the audience before the film started "If you can get through the first 10 minutes you can get through anything" - and what a baptism by spunk. James (Paul Dawson) films himself first peeing in the bath then gingerly auto-fellating himself until he gives himself a money shot. Intercut with this is sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) and husband Rob (Raphael Barker) going at it like the Taliban are on Ditmus Boulevard while dominatrix Severine (Lindsay Beamish) giving Jesse (John Hardman - O Dear) a young yuppy lad a sound thrashing in a room overlooking Ground Zero until he squirts all over a Jackson Pollock hanging over the bed! James and his partner of 5 years Jamie (PJ DeBoy - should by BJ by the looks of things) have deceided they need a more open relationship but seek help from Sofia first. The session results in Sofia confessing she is wound up over never achieving an orgasm. The Jamies' invite her to visit Shortbus, a downtown private sex club/cabaret where anything and everything goes. When she arrives she meets the flamboyant Madame Justin Bond (luckily played by Justin Bond of Kiki & Herb fame) and the Jamies' meet model Ceth ("It's Seth with a C", Jay Brannan) who becomes their first threesome partner. Stumbling into the Lesbian room Sofia meets Severine and they start a tentative friendship. But where does Caleb (Peter Stickles) the Jamies' voyeuristic neighbour fit in? And with whom?
And that is the set-up. We follow them through ups and downs and ins and outs, through epiphanies and climaxes, through swooping around a nice animated Manhatten, through sex attempts and suicide bids until it all culminates - oh ok CLIMAXES - in the 2003 New York blackout with all our protagonists in one place. Ok let's get it out of the way... the sex scenes are jaw-droppingly graphic. However Mitchell is right in filming them as he has. Too often in films where sex is the main theme it's seen as empty and almost the last dance in the Last Chance Saloon - how many of the shaggers in LAST TANGO IN PARIS, INTIMACY, ROMANCE, BAIS-MOI, IRREVERSIBLE, CRASH, MA MERE actually seemed to enjoy what they were doing? Here the sex scenes are seen as ways of affirming a sense of being alive... indeed there is almost a post-9/11 feel to the film - the characters seem desperate to connect and feel loved and wanted.
The performers all - sorry - handle their parts well, you find yourself liking the characters and enjoy their company. I liked Sook-Yin Lee's screen presence a lot, PJ DeBoy gave Jamie a likeable gaucheness while Jay Brannan and Peter Stickles are good as the men who come into the Jamies' orbit. Sorry about that. Justin Bond steals every scene he is in, slightly larger-than-life but with razor-sharp timing, none more so when he wearily surveys a room full of humping bodies as sighs "It's just like the Sixties only with less hope". How good it is that this unique performer has been captured on screen.
But why did this film I enjoyed so much in the cinema start to fade after a while? Despite the empathy generated by the cast, the characters remain fairly one-dimensional and none are ultimately hurt by this La Ronde trip Downtown - apart from an astonishing scene where Alan Mandell appears as an ex-Mayor of New York seeking atonement at Shortbus for doing so little during the 1980s AIDS epidemic (that's spelt K-o-c-h), the film maintains a fairly light feel that makes you wish for some real emotional grit. For all it's envelope-shunting and provocative content it all boils down to we just need to love each other. As disappointing an ending as any Hollywood rom-com. Or even a Lassie movie.
But see it, it's a hell of a ride.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Sunday afternoon brought my first visit to the London Film Festival this year.
Owen and I went to see STRANGER THAN FICTION starring Will Ferrall, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah and Dustin Hoffman. It's directed by Marc Forster who directed the hugely enjoyable FINDING NEVERLAND. Annoyingly our screening was subtitled for the hard of hearing which was really distracting, you can't help but read them and it totally throws a comedy off-kilter when the audience is laughing ahead of the punchline. However the film was an absolute delight and will definately warrent a second screening. Harold Crick (Ferrall) is a total blank. An IRS worker, he lives alone, has one friend who is a geeky co-worker and lives a life governed by his hours at work, the hours he sleeps, the minutes to the bus stop etc. Suddenly his life is turned upside down by two women. He is sent to audit Ana (Gyllenhaal) a baker who has been withholding a percentage of her returns as a protest against the government and finds himself falling for her liberated free-spirit - despite her antipathy towards him. The other woman is more tricky. It's a voice in his head, describing his every move before he does it and knows all about him.. a voice that is driving him to distraction.
What we know is that the voice is that of Karen Eiffel (Thompson) a well-known novellist who is writing a novel with a character called Harold Crick... an IRS worker who lives alone etc. etc. Kay is going through her own trauma with crippling writer's block so her publisher has sent her an assistant Penny (Latifah) to help sort out her problem... how to end her novel with the death of Harold Crick! Harold is now desperate to find who the woman is and enlists the help of Jules Hilbert (Hoffman), a professor of English to find out whether he's living a comedy or a tragedy. The film twists and turns until the author and character meet - but that's far from the end of the story. The film took a bit of time to engage me but it soon had me hooked with it's inventive story-telling and in particular the fine performances - Gyllenhaal in particular in her role of the feisty baker. Emma again shines as the depressed and moody author and who delivers an off-screen narration at the end which had me quite moist-eyed.
Then it was on to see the New York Dolls at the Forum with O and Dawn. It was great to see David and Syl again and they certainly ripped through a set which included the classics and new solid songs from the new cd but I felt a bit outside it all. As usual there was the usual dozey twats in the audience whose spatial awareness was shot to shit leaving me bruised to buggery by the bloke next to me who wanted to dance like a monkey even though everyone else standing where we were realised that there was no room to dance and O left the Forum with a soaking jacket after having a pint of beer knocked by some clown. It's a shame they aren't playing a second night really. Maybe I was a bit spoiled by seeing them at the Royal Festival Hall last time. Would hate to think this was the last time I might see them though! How happy was I though that played GOTTA GET AWAY FROM TOMMY!
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Needless to say, it was a bit of a disappointment. His reflections on the works are fine - but when did documentaries ALL turn into drama-documentaries? As is usual now we were inflicted with dramatic scenes littered throughout the programme so you do end up wondering "Is this from a documented text or is it fiction?" Invariably the budget for these scenes ain't that huge either so this episode featured endless shots of the actor playing Caravaggio emerging out of the darkness into close-up in various states of euphoria or narkdom. There was one scene depicting a fight Caravaggio had in an inn which had 3 different actors all talking to the camera describing what took place in their best RADA Working Class Accents... it was like a Crimewatch reconstruction directed by Mike Leigh. Do the directors/producers of these documentaries all assume that viewers can't actually take in what's being said by the presenter and that everything, even art histories, have to be turned into entertainment?
BBC2 are also currently showing a series on the Suez Crisis. Now I'll admit that a Caravaggio documentary covering his life from 1571 to 1610 showing just the paintings, some old buildings and Simon Schama might be a little visually spare but annoyingly the Suez documentary is guilty of the same play-acting. The first episode had ample interviews to camera from people involved in the period covered, news photographs and more importantly tons of archive news footage
of the whole subject - so why do we need James Fox playing Anthony Eden? Surely if it's just so we can also have his private writing on Suez from letters or cabinet minutes, why not just have his voice? Especially as no attempt has been made to make him look like Eden!
I'll keep watching both series' but I wonder how many times knuckles will be chewed?
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Last night O and I went to a new venue for us, The Pigalle Club which is on Piccadilly Circus - for all it's pretensions it's still the old Cannon Cinema to me! By and large I preferred it to the other club we have been to recently - Too 2 Much - where the attitude of the staff was kinda off-putting but maybe that was because we, the non-eating Pigalle punters, were left to fend for ourselves apart from ordering drinks. The venue reminded me of the Jazz Cafe with the stage sideways on as you walk in and the low ceiling due to the seating upstairs. However the Pigalle stage and seating areas are on a lower level as you walk in so the only place to stand if you are there for the act only is by the bar which is furthest away from the stage or on a cramped ramped walkway facing the general dining area with the stage at your . No I can't figure it out either. Allegedly it took 4 years to design this! We nabbed a place at the top of the ramp which was bad as it was so close to the bar area where punters of course didn't SHUT THE FUCK UP even when George came on but good as we had a clear view over onto the stage.
The support was Amanda Ghost who was resoundingly average - for a woman feted for co-writing the ubiquitous YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL with the Blunt none of the tracks she sang had anything even approaching a memorable musical phrase. As Owen suggested they all sounded like the album tracks you leave out of a live set! She also commited the cardinal sin of conducting a conversation with a member of the audience - a friend? - without including the rest of the audience into the gist.
Sister George bounced onto the stage with a fullish band and played a set which mostly boinged with Dancehall rhythm - interesting to see him embracing one of the earlier influences of Culture Club so vehemently. Opposed to when we saw him at Ronnie Scotts back in 2003 where a lot of his songs where a bit shapeless the current set featured a return to what he does best - writing great pop songs with great choruses. SHADOW-BOXING stood out particularly and indeed he said he was quite proud of it (there was also exquisite guitar from longtime collaborator John Themis). The opener CZECK was good too as was his ragga overhaul of GO YOUR OWN WAY! We were treated to EVERYTHING I OWN and CC's DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME and KARMA CHAMELEON which, as George's upper-register seemed shot to shit, we the audience duly filled in. He encored his hour-long set with the forthcoming single with La Ghost TIME MACHINE which actually sounded totally chartworthy. Oh and we got a short spiritual in tribute to the fact that Kylie was in the audience. Sadly this last fact appears to be the only coverage the gig received in the press today. He seemed in fine if somewhat subdued mood. Maybe he was thinking of the crash 'n' burn documentary that was on Channel Four at exactly the same time?
Friday, October 13, 2006
Dawn picked the table right in front of the stage, promptside... the things that she will do to get to fight a boxing Kangaroo. More of that later. Our Emcee, Nathaniel De-Ville, took us on a slideshow journey through gay history which culminated in him burning his Calvins on stage in protest against the CK Klones. He HAD stepped out of them I hasten to add. I have never seen such red bollies. It was obv quite cold up there too by the looks of things. Then it was time for the first turn off the rank, the Bearlesque boyz... bugga me if it wasn't Freddy, mate Andrew's ex-flatmate! I was VERKLEMPT. Of all the places in all the world I had to look at HIS bumcrack hanging over his leather shorts! Actually it was great fun which resulted in Freddy doing his Jennifer Beals/FLASHDANCE routine which ended up with our table sopping wet from being in the line of fire of a bucket of water chucked over him. Next up we had Luci Fire - executing a mean striptease while raining glitter down on us from her ostrich fans - oh and spots of fake blood when she crushed roses to her which bled all over her naked body. No hefty laundry bills for her. I must say I never knew what the female naked body looked like until I went to the VT. Us alternate gayers like a pair of knockers it must be said.
The last act was Luci's Firetusk Painproof Circus where her tattooed assistant - in a Kangaroo suit - boxed 3 members of the audience.... needless to say Our Dawn was up there faster than we could say knife and gave the hapless bugger a right old belting with her comedy club. There was really no need for her to belt him off the stage - and over our table resulting in us 3 being covered in our drinks! She was followed by Freddy looking very fetching in his leather shorts and glitter Viking helmet. The things he put that roo through had Steve Irwin doing a spin-cycle in his box. One more bloke had a go but in the final vote - Dawn won the free bottle of Champagne. Which we polished off. Our third. I only hope my Diabetnik doctor isn't reading this. The evening ended not only with the retina-burning sight of Freddy pole-dancing round one of the VT's columns, but also a quick dance to several standards - BEAT IT and LET'S DANCE to be precise.
It was good to see Freddy again after all this time and to tell him how good the act was. - Lord knows the dinner long-mooted between he, me and Andrew showed no sign of ever happening. It was a fun night and if there are 3 good acts on in the future I would go again... only maybe a little further back. I positively squelched home with soggy trousers and jacket!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Yes Constant Reader... that WAS me you saw with his arms folded on the BBC London News on Sunday.
Err... if you were in London. And if you were indeed watching the BBC.
It was on a small segment about the annual celebration of Kirsty MacColl, always held on the Sunday nearest to her birthday first at the bench the fans had dedicated to her in Soho Square and then at a local pub.
I was aware of a man skulking around worryingly at ankle-height with a camera around and about the bench and hey poncho, there I was on the footage, standing next to our Eunice. And there was I not wanting to go this year. I had signed off the e-mail group a few months back and what with the no shows of Chuffy, Rose and Kris I thought I might give it the go-by but I stayed about 2 and a half hours which flew by in the company of Johnny M from San Francisco, said Eunice and Irish David with their attendant other arfs.
Not sure how much longer the get-togethers will last in their current form. It is only natural that the ongoing Justice For Kirsty campaign should be represented on the day but the whole idea of the get-togethers was to celebrate her life and art and on the contrary they have been overshadowed more and more by the campaign. Claire who is now organizing the event seems to have noticed this too and stressed how the day should reflect her more and indeed at the pub it was good to have Kirsty's cds playing. Her voice has been missed in the all the get-togethers in the past.
So as today is the actual day - happy birthday where ever you are Kirsty.
Um. It's also mine and O's 4th anniversary. Happy Anniversary O!
Monday, October 09, 2006
Last night, I watched the last half of a BBC4 prog on romantic fiction which might have been the wrong thing to do before I saw this film as I sat there mentally ticking the chicklit boxes. The film is based on the bestseller by Lauren Weisberger who once was an intern in the office of Anna Wintour, the editor of US VOGUE.
Sweet but unworldly aspiring writer Andrea (Anne Hathaway) somehow manages to land a job as the 2nd assistant to the frightening editor of 'Runway' magazine Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep). In her jumpers, tartan skirts and clumpy shoes Andrea aka Andy is looked down on not only by Miranda but her Sloaney fellow assistant Emily (Emily Blunt). But of course Andy proves herself adept at fulfilling Miranda's most outrageous demands and soon finds herself being taken seriously by all including waspish Nigel (Stanley Tucci), Miranda's gay creative assistant.
But is Andy selling her soul to the fashion devil? Will she be able to extracate herself from this job at the end of the year as she hopes to go back to 'serious' journalism or will she be seduced by the Prada and size four Chanels? Can she stay true to her chef boyfriend or will she be seduced by the slick and stylish star journalist? FFS OF COURSE SHE CAN!!!
David Frankel's film is amiable enough but it desperately wants to have it's cake and eat it. It tries it's best to convince us that fashion is completely facile and self-regarding while positively drooling over the great frocks and just itching to give Hathaway her much-needed makeover to become almost a new Audrey Hepburn.
Anne Hathaway certainly has a gamin charm and reminds one at times of an early Julia Roberts - dark hair, ready laugh and ear-to-ear smile - but her large features are a bit scary in animation! Emily Blunt certainly has plenty of opportunities to shine as the bitchy workmate but her rhythms seem off with the rest of the cast. But bestriding them all is Meryl Streep who gives Miranda a frosty hauteur, the cruellest of stares and acidic asides all delivered in a scarey hushed monotone. She is quite magnificent, making bricks from the script's straw. She is given an "eleven o'clock song" scene where she shows cracks in her flawless composure over the news her husband is divorcing her which might have been mawkish in other hands but Streep's taste and restraint make it bearable. You sure do miss her when she's not on screen.
Friday, October 06, 2006
FALLING - McAlmont & Butler
MAMBO DE LA LUNA - Kirsty MacColl - to celebrate her birthday next Tuesday
DANCE FOR ME - Mary J Blige
FREE - Estelle
CRUSH - Jennifer Paige
Rob informed me that apart from the last one which was a guilty pleasure of his, he didn't care for any of the others. Like... I was playing them for him?
Apart from the thudding pleasure of seeing Don (with new dancing partner Roberto) and Hayley for the first time in yonks, the evening confirmed for me that a) the sooner the smoking ban comes in the better and b) nothing is as interminable as other people's set lists.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
On Sunday Owen & I schlepped up Mitchum Lane in a deluge to get to the West End to see VOLVER at the Haymarket Odeon, the Pop Quizzer's favourite screen! On the way however we stopped off at the Apple store in Regent St. I think Owen enjoyed VOLVER, although I'm sure his mind was on his latest purchase, a new iPod! Bearing in mind how many songs, music videos and photographs can be downloaded onto it, it's not the size of a wheelbarrow. The evening passed with O's feet sticking out from the pile of cds being uploaded onto his shiny new iPod while I watched the last 2 episodes of the LOST second series on E4. Oh and shouting at the television as the credits rolled!
On Monday - after accompanying O to finally get the long-awaited Slade box-set from HuhMuhVuh on Oxford Street - I went with Angela to see Stephen Frears' film THE QUEEN at the Barbican. What an odd film. Although the performances certainly warrented the praise that has been heaped on it, I couldn't shake the feeling I was watching something that rightfully belonged on television. It struck me while watching it that the Queen and Diana were almost a retelling of an older clash of conflicts. Two women equally as famous as the other, one seen as being tied to duty and one being seen as pure emotionalism - you could almost be describing Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots especially as the death of one of them reflects on the other. As I said I enjoyed it for the performances. Helen Mirren inhabits the role of Brenda remarkably, the characteristics that make the Queen so familiar - the ramrod posture, downturned mouth - are suggested but with a deftness that doesn't leave you thinking of WHO DO YOU DO? Her triumph in this role is in making one see the woman behind the image all too familiar with us. There is a crafty little scene quite early on in the film which surprised me - when the Queen and Prince Phillip (James Cromwell in a restrained performance bearing in mind who he is playing) are watching a news report which mentions Mrs. Parker-Bowles and Phillip makes a reference to the age-old practice of keeping one's mistresses out of sight which is greeted with a small flicker in the eyes of the Queen. A small scene but a brave one methinks. Of course the film is also about how the Queen was made to change her mind on the Royal Family's stance on Diana's death by Tony Blair and the spin-doctoring of Alistair Campbell. The role of Blair is again played by Michael Sheen who really should concentrate now on fictional characters - over the past few years we have seen him in film, theatre and television as Blair (twice), Kenneth Williams, Caligula, David Frost and Nero - what a bunch! His performance is great though and the two scenes that book-end the film of Mirren and Sheen together are great. The final one where the Queen icily punctures Blair's ingratiating spiel with the insight that one day the public will turn on him too is all too topical! There is also a nice scene-stealing turn from Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair. As interesting as Peter Morgan's script is, it leaves a strangely empty feeling at the end as he never once gives us a scene which shows us what the Queen actually felt about Diana.
It did however make me remember that extraordinary week in 1997 and the feeling that I was living through history actually changing by the hour.