Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tuesday marked the first official day of my week off so how to celebrate this new-found freedom Constant Reader? By watching French married couples implode, you big silly.

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

I try... I really try. But I laugh out loud everytime I see this advert

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I had been looking forward to Tuesday evening for sooo long... going with Owen and Angela to see the first London revival of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at the enterprising Menier Chocolate Factory. Can it REALLY be 23 years since Mushnik's Florists first opened for business at the Comedy Theatre? I have to declare a special interest - having seen the original cast well over 20 times. As is well-known I was a front-row regular in 1982 for GUYS AND DOLLS at the National Theatre, the first production to really make me believe in the alchemy that sometimes happens between actors and audience resulting in a truly memorable theatrical experience. In 1983 the main bulk of the cast left GUYS to go on to other work including Harry Towb who went from being the gamblers' nemesis Lt. Brannigan to the down-at-heel Skid Row florist in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Because of him I went to a preview - and BANG it happened again. Another musical, another great night in the theatre. In the intervening years I of course saw Frank Oz's film version and a naff touring production with Su Pollard but the original stayed fresh in my mind and the cd of the original Off-Broadway cast is one of the most played from my Musicals stack.

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

My dear the shop is Celeb Central...

Sean Pertwee on Wednesday, the afore-mentioned George Costigan
and Deborah Findlay yesterday
and today... Lanah Pellay!

I can't think what's keeping Huw Edwards.
Constant Reader, it's not often that I am excited by my punters. To be honest the only people to be excited by most of the oxygen-thieves who walk through the shop door would be serial killers and psychiatrists. But today was different. Would you believe two of my favourite actors walked through the door namely George Costigan and Deborah Findlay.

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

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

And to think I thought I'd been to quite a few places...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tonight, thanks to the magic of Immodium, I went to the Comedy Theatre with Owen to see the revival of Michael Frayn's 1976 comedy DONKEY'S YEARS starring one of my favourite actors David Haig.

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

So it turns out the show should have been called HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE VON TRAPP?

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

Still not fully shaken the dodgy stomach but went with O last night to see The Dresden Dolls at the newly buffed-up Roundhouse.

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.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Get Your Own! | View Slideshow

I have been poorly since Sunday... yes Constant Reader... through the eye of that famous needle.

I am sure it had nothing to do with Dawn's launch party for her TRANNY HAG tranzine which also marked the Retro Bar premiere of San Francisco uber-tranny Peaches Christ's short films SEASON OF THE TROLL, A NIGHTMARE ON CASTRO STREET and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PEACHES CHRIST? It was a damn fine afternoon for an excellent cause. Um.. Dawn's bank account.

And yes.... I was the only one to frock up. Lightweights.