Monday, August 27, 2007

On Saturday Owen and I made the schlepp out to Greenwich to see Prince at the O2 aka Millennium Dome. The last time I saw Mr. Nelson was nearly 5 years ago in the.. er... more intimate surroundings of Hammersmith for his ONE NITE ALONE shows.
Well compared to the O2 it's intimate.

I have just had an add-up and Saturday was my tenth time seeing Himself.

1986's PARADE tour - 1988's LOVESEXY tour - 1990's NUDE tour (x2) - 1992's DIAMONDS & PEARLS tour - 1993's ACT II tour (x2) - 1996's GOLD tour - 2002's ONE NITE ALONE. I also noticed the gaps between seeing him became longer, a reflection of his troubles with Warners obviously.

My days of being a rabid Prince fan have lapsed slightly. His erratic output has been troubling and even the acclaimed return to form MUSICOLOGY yielded only a number of memorable tracks but there really is no more spellbinding performer than Prince live.

After the obligatory Mexican-Wave-inducing delay we were treated to a laudatory video of bods such as Joni Mitchell, Wendy & Lisa, Pharrell Williams and Salma Hayak telling us about his genius which was nice but like... we know... that's why we're here. It was there to draw one's attention from the band's entrance into the auditorium towards the in-the-round stage shaped in the famous O(+> and in their midst a strange small-person-type box!

With a blaze of light there he was, and he launched into... PLANET EARTH, the opening track of his controversial new album. I had just about got worked up to a state of excitement through the various video clips shown during the opening film so felt a bit stymied by this meandering ballad. An obvious choice for the tour but not the best to get the audience from 0 to 100. It wasn't long before tho' until a slow deep voice boomed out "DON'T WORRY I WON'T HURT YOU..." and Bang! we were back into the late 20th Century fear of 1999 and normal service was resumed!!
As with Madonna it's usually the case of trying to forget what favourites were not included in the set and concentrate on what was played so here, as far as I can remember is what he played:
PLANET EARTH, 1999, GUITAR, SHHH (which showcased the excellent drumming of Cora Dunham), CREAM, MUSICOLOGY, U GOT THE LOOK, KISS, IF I WAS YOUR GIRLFRIEND, BLACK SWEAT, a magnificent, emotional PURPLE RAIN, I FEEL 4 U, a great CONTROVERSY, NOTHING COMPARES 2 U. He also included cover versions of HONKY TONK WOMEN, THE LONG & WINDING ROAD (a song I always think I like till I have to sit through it) and CRAZY - the latter raunched out by his fierce backing singer Shelby J who also sang a lovely version of Nancy Wilson's FACE IT GIRL, IT'S OVER - which of course was the signal for half the audience to start talking and head off to the bar.

Sadly this activity marred Prince's solo spot at the keyboards too. He played through a medley of LITTLE RED CORVETTE, CONDITION OF THE HEART, DO ME BABY, DIAMONDS AND PEARLS, THE BEAUTIFUL ONES, HOW COME U DON'T CALL ME ANYMORE and SOMETIMES IN SNOWS IN APRIL.
As always he was non-stop... working the stage, working the audience, working the band who were drilled to his every hand gesture. A special shout-out to Maceo Parker, as always thrilling on the alto-sax. The show was a joy to watch as well, the stage bathed and awash in deep vibrant colour.

The night was a pleasure, the Hell getting home was not.

It took forever to get out of the O2, the punters funneled through the circumference of the place past the bars and restaurants - now why do you think that could be? We decided it would be nice to take the boat along to Waterloo as they were promoting it inside the arena: make full use of the river, boats leaving every 20 minutes etc etc - they didn't mention that the pathway to the jetty was under-lit with a tiny 20"x30" poster pointing the way or that the queue for tickets was about 30 minutes due to one slow sod in the ticket office. We shuffled closer to the window - thoughts of Prince ebbing away - to get within 2 people of the ticket office only to be told by the guard "You can pay on the boat mate"! Waterloo tube was closed by the time we docked so another lengthy wait for a taxi was in order. We walked through the door 2 hours 30 minutes after Prince left the stage!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Debbie Does Foliage!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Happy Birthday Miss Thing!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

As the man with the colostomy said "It's odd the things you find when you shake out your bag isn't it?"

Running out the door to work a few weeks back I picked up some flyers with my letters lying on the mat.

I have just found them in my bag tucked in one of the zippy pockets.

I like the way the Jehovah's Witnesses think Jesus invented the 1970s Fire Island look.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

One of the hitherto undiscovered joys of no longer working on a Saturday is that I can now do matinees so I rectified that yesterday by seeing the world premiere production of TAKE FLIGHT at the Menier Chocolate Factory with Angela. A pattern is emerging with The Menier, my trips there seem to go good (SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE) disappointing (THE LAST 5 YEARS) good (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) disappointing (TOTAL ECLIPSE) and TAKE FLIGHT definitely fitted in the good slot but with qualifications.

It certainly has a pedigree as the score is by David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr (BABY, STARTING HERE STARTING NOW, CLOSER THAN EVER) and book by John Weidman (PACIFIC OVERTURES, ASSASSINS, CONTACT, BOUNCE).

TAKE FLIGHT tells three real life stories concurrently, the Wright Brother's attempts at flight between 1900-3, Charles Lindbergh's famous solo flight across the Atlantic in 1923 and Amelia Earhart's career as an Aviatrix from 1928-1937. It sounds a bit confusing but it all kinda comes together pointing out their joint obsessions in pushing uncharted territories and in the cases of the pilots there is the strange unresolved feeling of landing.

The Wright Brothers provide the humour of the piece with their worries of whether they are ever going to get the damn plane to fly, Lindbergh is a strange character to dramatise being an obsessive loner but his interaction is played out with people from his life appearing in his mind during the flight and Earhart provides the emotional input with her tentative relationship and marriage with the book publisher George Putnam.

Oddly enough for an established song-writing team here they have almost subsumed their voice to a score that could be called Sondheimesque. The opening number "Flies" sung by the Wrights on their first visit to Kitty Hawk beach is frighteningly close to the opening number for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and more noticeably in the number "The Prize" - where members of the company play failed European pilots - which feels like a re-tread of the European Ambassadors in "Please Hello" from PACIFIC OVERTURES. Even the title number with some admittedly fine choral work from the cast sounds like an echo of "Sunday" and there were occasional under-scored phrases which reminded me of SWEENEY TODD. The obvious conclusion would be that this has happened as they are working with Weidman - a frequent Sondheim collaborator - but actually it appears that Weidman only became involved after the score had been workshopped a few times. Malby's lyrics also overwork the whole flight imagery a bit so after the nth time time someone "needs wings to fly", "going alone" etc. it gets a bit samey.

After the wonderful design for SUNDAY... which involved computer and digital effects it's odd that the same designer David Farley has gone for the use of a stepladder for a plane! Not even a bit of video projection for sky. After utilising the space so well for SUNDAY... this seemed like a bit of a missed opportunity for a piece which so needs to differentiate between the earth and the sky. Also at 2 hours 20 minutes the show seemed to be taking it's time.

"But apart from that Mrs. Lincoln what did you think of the play?"
Actually I did like it mostly due to the cast. They certainly help to keep one's interest in the potentially difficult lead characters although Michael Jibson - looking like a young Dudley Sutton - through no fault of his own can't quite make Lindbergh interesting. This is due to the fact that his story arc ends with his landing in Paris so all his post-flight controversy is never mentioned which might have helped flesh out his persona on stage.

Sam Kenyon as geeky Wilbur and Elliot Levey as perplexed Orville Wright work well together and in the second act are finally given a duet worthy of their talents, the gently funny "The Funniest Thing" with Kenyon strumming on a banjo as they mull over their many flying machine failures.

Sally Ann Triplett - who I still have difficulty with as a leading lady - certainly nailed her numbers as Amelia Earhart although her vocal power was a bit too top-heavy at times. Ian Bartholomew, who I first saw in the 1st replacement cast of GUYS AND DOLLS at the Olivier, gave the performance of the evening as the publisher George Putnam who falls for Earhart as he is marketing her as 'Lady Lindy' only to realize that even after marriage he will never be able to clip her wings. Their duet "Earthbound" was certainly one of the musical highlights.

Clive Carter serves as a sort-of narrator playing German glider pilot Otto Lillienthal who was killed in 1896. Always a competent performer his character doesn't particularly work well here. His big number "Pffft!" describing the fatal attempts by early aviators seemed an odd subject for a light-hearted number. Out of a hard-working supporting cast I must single out Ian Conningham as among others, Lindbergh's first aerial employer Ray Page who stole every scene he was in. The musicians under Caroline Humphris sounded wonderful making the score genuinely thrilling.

So with reservations I recommend it to anyone who relishes musical theatre that does not depend on the creator's iPod shuffle, reality tv imports or screen-to-stage unoriginality.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Thanks to HMV's 3 for £20 sale I finally caught up with SPARKLE, a film I had been wanting to see for years as it was never released in the UK. Filmed in 1976 it's obviously been released by Warner Brothers on the back of the DREAMGIRLS success and you can see why with it's basic premise of three black girls in a singing group who meet heartbreak and success in equal measure as well as the score featuring songs by Curtis Mayfield.
The trouble is that SPARKLE... um... doesn't.

The late 50s: Sister (Lonette McKee), Sparkle (Irene Cara) and Delores (Dwan Smith) - their mother Effie (Mary Alice) obviously ran out of Ss - are living in Harlem. Two male friends from their church choir - Stix (Philip Michael Thomas) and Levi (Dorian Harewood) - ask them to join them singing in a doowop group. They win talent shows but get no further. When Levi leaves to work for Satin (Tony King) the neighbourhood crime lord, Stix decides to drop out too and manage the girls as a three piece Sister And The Sisters. Soon they are headlining at a fancy club and obvious success beckons. Sparkle and Stix start a relationship but when Sister falls for the sadistic Satin she soon goes from headlining to mainlining. She stumbles out of the group and their home. Delores, tipping off the police in the hope of getting Satin caught dealing drugs, instead causes Levi to be arrested and sent to jail. She too disappears to escape Satin's clutches. Stix breaks Sparkle's heart when he too leaves New York. Sister dies of a drug overdose, Stix returns and wins Sparkle back, promising to make her a star. Borrowing money from the Jewish 'businessman' who Effie cleans for, they get a hit record and a supporting spot to Ray Charles at Carnegie Hall. But when the 'Businessman' wants more than just his investment returned Stix says no. Sparkle goes onstage not knowing Stix has been kidnapped by hoodlums. Refusing to sign over Sparkle's record contract to the mob even at gunpoint... they let him go!! He rushes back to Carnegie Hall to see Sparkle wow the audience. Slow curtain, The End.

Now that's a lot of hare-brained plot for a 98 minute movie. You would think whoever came up with that story would never work again. Step forward Joel Schumacher who went on to direct ST ELMO'S FIRE, THE LOST BOYS, FLATLINERS, BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN AND ROBIN, PHONE BOOTH and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. However SPARKLE is directed by noted editor Sam O'Steen who is so busy cramming the story in he neglects giving any of the characters a reason for doing what they do or any sense of dramatic tension. It's flat, clunky 'tv' movie look - not sure if this is the fault of the original film or the dvd transfer - doesn't even allow it to be ushered into the shrieking halls of Camp. Sadly the absurd ending with Stix being released from the Mob with them shaking their head going "Tsk that guy eh?" robs the film of any credibility.

The cast fare little better and none more so than Lonette McKee as Sister. She is never less than watchable, bristling and firey - what a CARMEN JONES she would have made - she exudes star quality and her sudden disappearance from the film is completely baffling. Irene Cara plays Sparkle and as likeable as she is, her character is so milquetoast you wonder why they didn't stop mid-filming, rewrite the script and call it SISTER! To show how lazy the filmmakers are: Stix goes to see Sparkle after the funeral and tells her he wants to make her a star because she has a different style to Sister - Sparkle, still furious he left her, angrily throws him out saying "No one understood her like I did". This throws you completely as there is no scene of them alone together!! It's all the more frustrating as Irene Cara plays the scene exquisitely. Dwan Smith as Delores has a good screen presence but is also jettisoned too early from the film. Mary Alice as the girls' mother is quietly effective as well.

I think the reason the film is remembered at all today is because of it's score. One of several film scores by Curtis Mayfield, the film never had a proper film soundtrack album. Instead Mayfield produced Aretha Franklin singing over the existing music tracks and this was then released by Atlantic as a solo album. The most famous song is SOMETHING HE CAN FEEL which reached #1 on the RnB chart and #28 on the pop charts. In 1992 En Vogue had a Top 10 hit both here and the US with it and it again was a #1 hit on the RnB chart.

But typically with this damn film, as good as the songs are they don't seem to fit the period that the film is set in. The song LOOK INTO YOUR HEART which allegedly catapults Sparkle to fame would never have been a hit in the early 1960s as it's too sophisticated a sound.
After the double whammy of 25 years since seeing GUYS AND DOLLS at the NT and then finding out that John Normington had died, there was no other place to go tonight but back to my spiritual home on the South Bank.

Owen and I went to see RAFTA RAFTA at the Lyttleton which Owen has been wanting to see for a while. It is written by Ayub Khan-Din based on the earlier play ALL IN GOOD TIME by Bill Naughton, this was also the basis for the 1960s film THE FAMILY WAY starring John and Hayley Mills.

Khan-Din has kept the action in the working class streets of Bolton but has transplanted the story from an English to an Indian family and brought it forward to the present day. This works perfectly as it fits the idea of family being all important in Asian society.

It's the wedding night of Atul (Ronny Jhutti) and Vina (Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi) and they are about to spend it... in Atul's bedroom at his parent's house where they will live until they can afford a house of their own. Atul's father is Eeshwar (Harish Patel), always the noisy boastful centre of attention at any party much to the quiet vexation of his wife Lopa (Meera Syal). Eeshwar has been working to better his family since his arrival from India, back when an Asian face was treated with disdain in Bolton, and he now views Atul as workshy and snobbish for liking to listen to classical music. He wastes no time in rejoicing in beating his son at arm-wrestling in front of Vina, her parents Laxman (Kriss Dosanjh) and Lata (Shaheen Khan) and family friends. When upbraided by Lopa, the father drunkenly invades Atul and Vina's bedroom to apologise and to tell them if they ever want a chat he is only in the room next door "Don't worry, I'm a light sleeper". No wonder the marriage isn't consummated that night!

Things start getting problematic when it remains unconsummated for a whole 6 weeks. The couple start growing apart and Vina unwittingly sets the cat among the pigeons when she tells her mother the secret. Lata wastes no time in telling her husband, Eeshwar and Lopa and they meet to decide how to solve the problem but this also ends in chaos when their own grievances are aired: Lata has always been jealous of Laxman's closeness to Vina and Lopa reminds Eeshwar that he brought his best friend on honeymoon with them. Eeshwar's defence is he couldn't leave his best friend on his own even if the same friend disappeared out of their lives soon afterwards. Atul and Vina's marriage looks over before it has even begun. But life can be very unpredictable....

I must admit I wasn't expecting too much from the production but was soon won over by the sheer warmheartedness of the play - apart from one obvious bad apple, all the protagonists are allowed room to breathe and justify their characters actions. The play was snappily directed by Nicholas Hytner and eye-poppingly designed by Tim Hatley. His standing two-up two-down set also worked by having a scrim descend during scene changes showing a photograph of a row of drab houses through which you could see certain illuminated rooms with the characters within. It was a nice touch and added to the sense that behind even the humblest of front doors all human life is within.

The performances were all fine allowing for some over-emphatic line readings among some of the supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi, Kriss Dosanjh and Shaheen Khan. Funnily enough I thought of John Normington during the play thinking if they had done the original Naughton play he would have been a natural to play the girl's father.

But the show was dominated by the marvellous
performances of Harish Patel and Meera Syal.

I must admit at times Patel's line-readings were a bit muffled which upset the rhythm of some jokes but he was a joy to watch and turned in one of the best comic performances I have seen for a while. He has the timing of death and has great magnetism on the stage. There was a great little scene where he forces his son to have a late-night chat to find out what's wrong and both realise they cannot do small talk. The son suggests they talk about India having the Atomic Bomb which the father says he has no interest in. The son says "But you have family in India" to which Patel got the laugh of the evening with "Yes but I don't like any of them!" His huge gift for comedy also made his quieter scenes very effective, his sad recollections of his early years in England, only made bearable by his childhood friend who later vanished when he married Lopa were truly touching.

He was matched stride for stride (literally sometimes) by Meera Syal as Lopa. It's a great role - Marjorie Rhodes stole the film with her wonderful performance - and Syal mined it for all it was worth. She marvellously showed Lopa's abiding love for her husband while at the same time more than adept at whacking him with a cushion for using the same swear word in company. Whether shooting someone down with a killer put-down or quietly despairing of her son's unhappiness, Syal proved what an under-valued actress she is. Surely it's time to knock the KUMARS shtick to touch.

Literally right at the end of the play Patel and Syal showed their brilliance. In the space of three lines of dialogue the whole emphasis of the play shifted and the curtain fell to an awed silence. They were loudly cheered at their curtain call and justifiably so.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

How strange life is.... after writing about my 25th anniversary of seeing GUYS AND DOLLS a few hours ago I have just found out that John Normington who played Arvide Abernathy in that production died July 26th aged 70 of Pancreatic Cancer.

John in 1982 after Bob Hoskins, Julie Covington and Ian Charleson's last night in GUYS

The last time I saw John in May last year towards the end of his run in THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE at the National, he told me how he had cancer for most of 2005 and how it looked like he had hopefully managed to fight it off. Then in January of this year he had to withdraw from THE ENTERTAINER at the Old Vic so I knew he must be quite ill again.

I sometimes wondered whether the fact I knew John coloured my opinion of his work but I don't think it did. John was simply the best supporting actor around, beloved by fellow actors and directors. An actor that when you saw him in a cast list you knew at least one person on stage would be pulling their weight. He gave each role no matter how small an emotional truth and honesty. especially when playing nasty characters which he played straight down the line with no attempt at gaining audience's sympathy.

John worked with the two major subsidised theatre companies at both their inceptions. In the 1960s he was a company member of the Royal Shakespeare Company under Peter Hall working in the famous War Of The Roses cycle and the original production of Harold Pinter's THE HOMECOMING as Sam which he also played on Broadway, garnering him a Tony Award nomination. He also worked with Peter Gill at the Royal Court during this period. In the 1970s John started his association with the National Theatre which was to last on and off for 30 years. He appeared in Robert Bolt's STATE OF REVOLUTION. Peter Shaffer's AMADEUS, Howard Brenton's THE ROMANS IN BRITAIN, a haunted Cassandra in THE ORESTEIA, a chilling Robespierre in DANTON'S DEATH, Peter Hall's stage version of ANIMAL FARM, a reet Northern Noah in THE MYSTERIES, a spiteful pensioner in THE ASSOCIATE, The Old Shepherd in A WINTER'S TALE and as Peacey the conniving clerk in THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE among many others.

John toured extensively, appeared in productions for most of the major regional theatres and also appeared in several West End productions such as Waffles in UNCLE VANYA, the father in OUR TOWN, a return to Sam in a 1990s revival of THE HOMECOMING, excellent as Dr. Miller in Rattigan's THE DEEP BLUE SEA and his final appearance as Billy Rice in THE ENTERTAINER for which he received glowing reviews. John was also a teacher at RADA and I saw a production he directed there of the farce CHARLEY'S AUNT which co-starred then-student James Dreyfuss.

John appeared in relatively few films but can be seen in small roles in STARDUST, ROLLERBALL, THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, A PRIVATE FUNCTION and WILT. Hopefully one day Peter Hall's 1968 screen version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in which he played Flute will be made available. He appeared extensively on television and indeed his most obvious web presence is due to his appearances in DOCTOR WHO and TORCHWOOD.

John was a wonderfully warm and friendly man, always up for a gossipy chat in the bar after a show. He was always keen to know what I had seen lately on stage and once when he asked me I made a point of telling him that it was a direct result of my love for GUYS AND DOLLS and him and the other members of the cast that I became such a theatre fan. He seemed genuinely touched when I told him this. I'll certainly miss his Christmas cards, signed from 'the Johns' - his partner of many years standing is John Anderson, a doyenne of many a west end wig department.

And I guess it's as Sarah's kindly uncle Arvide in GUYS I'll remember him, resplendent in his red Mission uniform, turning the fairly standard front-cloth number MORE I CANNOT WISH YOU into one of the most moving moments of the show. I could never watch him sing this without a little tear running down my cheek and it's happened again just now listening to the cd.

Goodbye John, I can't quite believe I will never see you again.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Twenty five years ago tonight me and my friend Judith were sitting in the front row of the Olivier Theatre seeing Richard Eyre's now-legendary production of GUYS AND DOLLS. It was a life-changing evening that lives in my memory still.

I had queued up from about 7am with one of the longest lines of people I have ever seen as it was the first ever National Theatre Bargain Night where seats in all three theatres were reduced to £2.00. That's right... £2.00. Amazingly I got two in the front row, just off-centre.

So I would like to mention now the greatest ensemble of actors it has ever been my privilege to see fly:

William Armstrong, Mark Bond, James Carter, Ian Charleston, Sally Cooper, Julie Covington, Irlin Hall, David Healy, Fiona Hendley, Bob Hoskins, Rachel Izen, Julia McKenzie, John Normington, Robert Oates, Bill Paterson, Kevin Quarmby, Robert Ralph, Barrie Rutter, Bernard Sharpe, Belinda Sinclair, Imelda Staunton, Harry Towb, Larrington Walker, Richard Walsh, Norman Warwick, Kevin Williams

Stars all... some shining from afar now.

Time to brush-up my time-step for the finale.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

On Friday Owen and I schlepped out to the ever-delightful Bush Hall - which we only ever visit in heatwaves - to see Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls in a tryout for her solo appearances at Edinburgh.

The Bush Hall is such a nice venue to see acts it's a shame I come here so infrequently. The only problem is as it was originally a dance hall there is no rake to the floor so if you have a crowd full of top punters you are kinda fecked. It wasn't that packed so luckily there was room to roam.

We had 2 support acts both introduced by Amanda, the first Christian Silva were actually quite fun - quirky little songs that didn't outstay their welcome. The second, Rohan Theatre Band luckily kept it to two songs, there's one guy who needs to back up on the Jacques Brel listening.

Luckily he soon introduced us to Amanda.. but where was she? Then we heard a ukulele being strummed from the back of the room and there was Amanda perched on the balcony overlooking the room in a red tutu. She started singing Radiohead's CREEP there then wended her way through the singing audience. It was an idiosyncratic way to start but then she is nothing but an unpredictable performer.

She played songs that were all new to me and most of them sounded very good. Maybe it's my mind but it seemed she sang the quirky songs early in the set leaving most of her introspective songs for the rest of the evening so after a while they began to become interchangeable. Her solo album will be released next year and I'm sure when heard in that context the songs will be a bit more memorable.

My heart sank when Rohan Theatre Band popped up with his violin but when they started on a deeply introspective MATERIAL GIRL it wasn't so bad and they then did a fine version of the Dresden's COLORBLIND. She finished off with a thunderous version of HALF JACK which stayed rattling around my head for the rest of the night.

By then we had moved back away from the crush at the front as Owen was getting a bit uncomfortable - and it's lucky we did as suddenly a woman holding a video camera and a big light was walking backwards through the crowd followed by Amanda who was heading for the grand piano at the back of the hall!

She suggested everyone sit down which was easier said than done for poor O with his dodgy back so by the time we managed to sit down we had to contort ourselves in between the hands feet and legs of the others - I was in agony! But it was worth it to be so close - about 3 people back from her at the piano and she did haunting versions of the Dresden's ME AND THE MINI-BAR and new song I WILL FOLLOW YOU INTO THE DARK.

She seemed to be filling up as she thanked us for sharing the evening with her and to huge cheers she attempted to make her way though the crowd scrambling to its feet to applaud her - Owen and I both got a hand squeeze as she past though I suspect Owen was more trying to use her to pull himself up off the damp carpet!

We hung around in the tiny foyer with a crowd of fans and she appeared on the stairs in a sparkly little cocktail number and before we knew it we were chatting and taking photos with her. She was so friendly and happy to chat, she even gave O her private e-mail so he could send her some of his pictures from the Dresden's Roundhouse gigs.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Last night - before I was As Seen On Newsnight - Owen and I went to see the new production of Matthew Bourne's dance-noir THE CAR MAN at Sadlers Wells. I missed the Old Vic premiere in 2000 so was more than somewhat excited to finally see it in the steamy, illicit flesh.

I must admit for the first 15 minutes or so I was beginning to think "Could this be the one Bourne show that doesn't engage me?" then suddenly bang! We had a great reveal - which actually caused a rather flustered ripple across the peanut gallery - and there I was hooked. Suffice to say it boiled down to a gag from an old Danny La Rue skit on CARMEN:
Don Jose: I love Carmen
Mercedes: I know.. I've seen you with a few!

THE CAR MAN is a knowing take on THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE but being Bourne the inspiration also comes from several other films. POSTMAN is an inspired choice to fit with a reinterpreted version of Bizet's memorable score for CARMEN as both stories deal with the fatal consequences of a lustful relationship out of control. Mind you I added my own bit of cross-cultural referencing by running through the lyrics of CARMEN JONES as the music played!

In the Italian quarter of a Southern town called Harmony a drifter called Luca walks into the garage/diner run by Dino and his wife Lana and soon fills the position of Man Wanted.

He soon establishes his character among the macho workers there, sticks up for the bullied quiet co-worker Angelo and realizes that Lana is simmering with discontent with her oafish husband. Angelo is loved by Lana's younger sister Rita, the diner waitress, but the relationship is tentative for some reason.

One hot summer night it all comes to a head. While Dino's away Luca and Lana get busy in the upstairs apartment. Interrupted by Dino's return Luca finds a sexual conquest in one of the cars in the garage... he emerges followed by Angelo. Cue my engagement and the slight ruffling of some balletomane feathers.

But of course once the line is crossed there is no going back and in the best noir tradition by the interval curtain Dino is lying dead on the garage floor at the hands of Luca and Lana with lovesick Angelo in the frame.

I really loved the performances. Alan Vincent brought a brooding sensuality to Luca, physically vibrant in the first act and broken by his crimes in the second act with an excellent drunk scene in a club. Michaela Meazza was a tall and sinuous Lana, Richard Winsor was excellent as Angelo, left broken and vengeful by his abuse at the hands of others, Kerry Biggin was moving in the potentially tricky 'nice' role and Bourne's longtime colleague Scott Ambler was delightful as the cuckolded husband. The company were marvellously energetic with an explosive dance-off early on that had a distinct nod to WEST SIDE STORY. As usual the production was helped immeasurably by Lez Brotherston's set design and Chris Davey's lighting.

The score by the very fine Terry Davies is a reworked version of Rodion Shchedrin's Carmen Suite and it made the familiar music new and vibrant orchestrating it for percussive and latino rhythms. The score actually played a huge part in making the show so suspenseful and thrilling.

We are definitely going to see Matthew Bourne's acclaimed re-imagining of NUTCRACKER which will be on at Sadlers Wells over Christmas... and the great news is that there is going to be a new New Adventures production sometime in 2008.

Although it finishes at Sadlers Wells this Saturday it will be popping up again in Wimbledon in September.
Yes Constant Reader...

that was my e-mail read out and scrolled across the screen on Newsnight tonight and yes that was my name pronounced correctly.

I'll try not to let it change me.

Chris As Seen On Newsnight