Thursday, December 31, 2009

My last theatre event of 2009 was actually revisiting one of my favourite productions... Matthew Bourne's production of SWAN LAKE at Sadlers Wells.

The show premiered at the same theatre - amazingly - in 1995 and it has been challenging and thrilling audiences ever since. I am sure there are still pockets of
balletomaines aka haters who are appalled at the temerity of Bourne to mess with the history of the sacred text but they don't know Fokine anything (see what I did there?).

When we arrived I was a bit miffed that we would not be seeing Richard Winsor as The Swan/The Stranger as I had seen him in Bourne's THE CAR MAN and DORIAN GRAY but one of the main reasons for seeing the shows again and again is to see the new talent New Adventures finds. This time out we saw Jonathan Olliver as The Swan/The Stranger and he certainly brought a dark and brooding quality to both roles which made his performance as The Swan very interesting and in his final downfall, very affecting.
Dominic North was The Prince and was also very touching in the production's most challenging role. Not as flashy as The Swan or The Stranger but he has to keep the momentum of the show going as he is rarely off-stage and must ultimately be the one whose final moments are the most affecting.Nina Goldman was the icy Queen - unable to love her son but very easy to share out her affection to her footmen and soldiers - and was as good as she has been in the past. Chloe Wilkinson gave the role as The Girl Friend the right amount of toe-curling gaucheness. I had been hoping to see Kerry Biggin play the role as I have enjoyed her previous performances in THE CAR MAN and NUTCRACKER! but she appeared in the company as The Spanish Princess in the Act II ball scene and again stood out in her solo with real charisma.
The company were all up to the Bourne level of excellence and the production again showcased the marvellous design of Lez Brotherston and lighting by Rick Fisher.

The show is playing at Sadlers Wells until January 24th and then the Swans flap away to tour the UK - Woking, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Stoke-On-Trent, Liverpool, Salford, Cardiff, Newcastle and Bradford are all going to be visited so if you have not seen the show yet - what have you been doing for the past 14 years?

This was my third time seeing the show and the show's haunting imagery, stunning choreography and mastery of it's storytelling means that it's a show I know I will be drawn to again and again.
My last gig of 2009 was a rather special affair - Boy George "Up Close and Personal" at the Leicester Square Theatre which, when it was called The Venue, was the home to his great musical TABOO.I was a little concerned to be honest. Although George gave three excellent performances last year at the Shaw Theatre, we have seen him before when he was... how shall we put this... feeling no pain. After the recent court case which ruled that he was not able to take part in the upcoming Celebrity Big Brother - thus losing out on reportedly £400,000 - I was wondering whether we would be faced with a depressed George. Luckily this was not the case - George was in great spirits.
George took to the stage with longtime collaborators John Themis on guitar, Kevan Frost on bass and with Lizzie Dean and John Gibbons on backing vocals. He said he is appreciating his music now more than ever and it showed. Although they were not too many surprises in his setlist it was great to see him so happy and relaxed on the stage.

As we were back at the home of TABOO George sang two songs from his memorable score STRANGER IN THE WORLD and PETRIFIED while dipping into his U CAN NEVER BE 2 STRAIGHT album for UNFINISHED BUSINESS and THE DEAL which segued nicely into KNOCKING ON HEAVEN'S DOOR. Also included were his solo classics EVERYTHING I OWN and IL ADORE.
He included some new songs - THE PENTONVILLE BLUES (a reggae take on his recent incarceration), LIGHTS (in memory of a recently deceased friend), YOUR PAIN MAKES A BEAUTIFUL SOUND (his rather over-the-top hymn of praise to Amy Winehouse), SHADOWBOXING (which we first heard him sing in 2006 at the Pigalle) and his celebration of ballsy women MORE GIRLS JUST LIKE YOU.

George also included recent setlist favorites DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE and THS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE as well as SUMMERTIME - an unseasonal additional treat for us. A new cover of BLUE MOON was included although I can think of many other songs I would like to hear him interpret.
And of course there were his Culture Club hits: this time he treated us to I JUST WANT TO BE LOVED, DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME, VICTIMS and an impassioned duet with Lizzie Dean on ONLY TRYING TO TELL YOU. I would love him to sing MOVE AWAY just once... or THE DIVE.... c'mon G!! He also told us that he and Jon Moss are on good terms at the moment.

As usual the show ended with the mighty double whammy of KARMA CHAMELEON and BOW DOWN MISTER and he left the stage with smiles and waves to a rapturous ovation.

Happy New Year George... I hope to see you again soon!
On Christmas Eve I went with Owen to see the latest screen adaptation of Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL - if you are going to see a version of it then Christmas Eve would appear to be the best day of all.

It is directed by Robert Zemeckis and it uses the motion capture animation that he used in his earlier seasonal animation THE POLAR EXPRESS. Happily the new film is a distinct advance from that film but there is something about the process that truly gives me the creeps.

I look at it is another step away from using actors in film and as such, I find it difficult to reconcile with - especially in a film that so much relies on the all-too human failings of Scrooge. Another problem I have with it is that although in-depth detailing has gone into the work on Scrooge and the characters of Bob Cratchit (modelled on Gary Oldman who provides the voice), Mr. Fezziwigg (Bob Hoskins) and Scrooge's nephew Fred (Colin Firth), all the other characters have slightly bland, ever-smililng faces. Its like watching a production done by "special" people. The film was also made utilising 3-D technology however the screening we went to was in 2-D so there was a lot of noticeable reaching in and out of the sides of the frame and probably one too many whooshing journeys over the rooftops and along the gutters of Olde London Towne.

However I can't say I was ever bored during it's 98 minute running time as it zips along at a rare old pace. The film also doesn't sugarcoat the more nightmarish aspects of Scrooge's long journey into night and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are well realised and give the film an eerie atmosphere that might spook some of the wee uns. But then... it has to happen sometime. I particularly liked Marley's Ghost, seemingly floating through the underworld, a haunting haunted figure.
So there you go... overall a nice way to usher in Christmas Eve night with Mr. Scrooge proving that even a grasping moneylender can change his ways.

Ah Mr. Dickens that you should be alive at this hour!

Monday, December 28, 2009

I hope you had a wonderful Xmas Constant Reader... I was so full of food and so covered in torn wrapping paper that I have only just managed to fight my way to the computer to blog about the Pet Shop Boys at O2 last Monday.

Owen and I somehow managed to meet up despite the sudden snow storm that appeared late afternoon and I scurried us in after our usual O2 dinner of a poke of chips to see the new Bernard Sumner band Bad Lieutenant who were the Pet's support. Bernard has been joined by Phil Cunningham (recent New Order member) and Jake Evans to form the nucleus of BL as well occasional appearances from former Joy Division & New Order colleague Stephen Morris.

Luckily he was with them on stage. Some of their songs stood out more than others - they probably reward a stand-alone listen - but it was so great to see Bernard and Stephen playing on stage together - none more so than when they played BIZARRE LOVE TRIANGLE and CRYSTAL. They played OUT OF CONTROL which they have collaborated on with The Chemical Brothers and it seamlessly morphed into TEMPTATION. Their final song was too much to hope for but they did it: LOVE WILL TEAR US APART. Like... wow!

After an interval spent scanning faces in vain for a glimpse of longtime blogging budd David's Daily Dramas, the lights went down for our second helping of the PANDEMONIUM tour - and it was so much better than before... and I thought that was pretty fierce as you can remind yourself here.

Yes they still have PANDEMONIUM and LOVE ETC. far too early in the set but that is my only quibble with a show that has grown in confidence and power with a couple of key additions. I was on my feet as soon as they started WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS, expecting Dusty's part to be taken by the girl dancer who had already sung the duet on THE WAY IT USED TO BE - but then the digitalised film at the back of the stage slowly came together to reveal Dusty in all her glory from the video and as on the NIGHTLIFE tour, Neil and the audience sang with her. As I sang along with her and interpolated my own Dusty wristflicks my eyes were moist with pure pleasure.
After ALL OVER THE WORLD, SE A VIDA E, VIVA LA VIDA/DOMINO DANCING and IT'S A SIN had left us all bereft of breath, Neil and Chris returned for BEING BORING which as always had the tears flowing and they followed this up with a special treat, their cover of Madness' MY GIRL - dedicated to their late friend Dainton and his wife Mandy - a song which fits perfectly into their canon of conversational wistful songs of put-upon male lovers.
After a sensational WEST END GIRLS that pulsed and thumped like the day it was written, they waved and left the stage... but the lights remained tantalisingly slow to come up - and sure enough on they strolled again - with Chris in a huge white fur hat and Neil dressed for winter. He noted that of course as they had put out their Xmas single IT DOESN'T ALWAYS SNOW AT CHRISTMAS it has snowed non-stop so they least they could do was perform it - and they did, with the four dancers bedecked as Christmas trees and snow falling on the stage - it was utter camp joy!
Like Ray Davies the week before, the Pets left the stage saying they would see us next year... I'll hold them to that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Saturday night Owen and I went to see the legend that is Ray Davies at Hammersmith - which thank God has a roof - Constant Reader, you will remember we went to see him earlier this year in an open-air gig at Kenwood House - where it absolutely TIPPED down! However, as awful as it should have been, there was something resolutely Kinksian in the sight of us all sitting there in the pouring rain listening to songs about the oddness of Englanders!

However back in the dry...The show consisted of 100% Ray - no need for a support when you have so much material to draw on! The first segment featured Ray playing acoustically with fellow guitarist Bill Shanley then being joined onstage by his band. In the second half he was joined on stage by The Crouch End Festival Chorus for choral renditions of some of his greatest songs.

He was wonderfully acerbic about how some of his songs were less successful at the time than others and he is as baffled by the ways of the music business as ever. He joked with the audience's half-arsed attempts at banter but more often than not he was taking us through his amazing catalogue of songs. Ray is rightfully proud of his songs - and more often than not played the chorus again after the finished the song so everyone could join in again!
Personal favorites were from the acoustic section "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", "Sunny Afternoon", "Apeman" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" - singing the last verse a la Johnny Cash which sounded strangely believable - from the section with his band I loved "Dead End Street" and "Where Have All The Good Times Gone". He also sang the lovely "Postcards From London" which he insisted wasn't a Christmas song - despite the fact it's mentioned in the song!

Although the chorus sometimes sound strange on some of the tracks - "All Day And All Of The Night" just sounds odd - more often than not they lift the songs into whole new realms of Englishness, none more so than on the medley of songs from "Village Green Preservation Society". They also boosted "See My Friends" into a strangely transcendental moment in time while "Victoria" nearly took the roof off Hammersmith Apollo.

I wish I knew what was in the DNA of the song "Waterloo Sunset" that gets the tears rolling down my face but it does - every time. I can usually hold it together until the last verse but then I just
go. It is one of only a few songs that affects me in a deeply profound way.

I was hoping Ray might have mentioned Kirsty MacColl in his introduction to "Days" as she is as much associated with the song now as he is - if not more - but it was not to be. It was still a moving experience however. The evening was rounded off with an encore of "Lola" - "that old faggot song" as his neighbours in New Orleans used to call it!

I have seen Ray Davies twice this year so hopefully he will be as good as his word and be back next year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It was with some sadness that I heard today of the death of Brittany Murphy at 32 of what is suspected to be a cardiac arrest.

She appeared in films such as 8 MILE as Eminem's love interest, as one of the disturbed patients in GIRL, INTERRUPTED and Clive Owen's girlfriend in SIN CITY.
However it was her sparky, eye-catching performance as 'Tai' (in centre) the "clueless" new pupil in CLUELESS who Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash attempt to mold into a valley girl like them that I will remember her for.

Very sad...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Nine years ago today Kirsty MacColl went scuba-diving with her sons off the coast of the island of Cozumel in Mexico only to be killed by a speeding motorboat which was breaking the law by being in an area reserved for divers.

In a few seconds one of the most original voices in music was silenced and that is a silence that has resounded through British music ever since.

Tomorrow I am seeing Ray Davies who of course wrote DAYS, one of Kirsty's best-loved recordings. When he sings it tomorrow my mind will be on Kirsty and our visit to Cozumel in 2006 to pay my own tribute to her by scattering petals in the clear, blue sea.
The sadness is mitigated by the thought of the new friends made through the past nine years by the coming together of Kirsty's fans - the most obvious result is the bench dedicated to Kirsty's memory in Soho Square.

There was... there is... no one like her.
Last week Owen and I went to see the latest in the National Theatre's seasonal stage adaptations of literary children's books. After Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials", Jamila Gavin's "Coram Boy" and Michael Morpurgo's "War Horse" this year's offering is Terry Pratchett's "Nation".

I have never read any of his books but I know they are quirky as all get out so was intrigued by what the evening would hold especially as the adaptation was by Mark Ravenhill, he of SHOPPING AND FUCKING fame.

Sadly the whole thing was Amateur Hour In Dixie (thank you Suzanne).

The play was an uneasy mixture of eco-messaging, Empire-bashing and native dancing with a dash of puppetry, no doubt hoping that some of the WAR HORSE magic might rub off. It didn't.

The plot tells of a young South Seas Islander Mau (well played by Gary Carr) whose return from a boy-to-man trial coincides with a tsunami which wipes out his island's population. Shipwrecked on the island is Ermintrude, a young and prim English girl, who was on her way to see her father who is a Governor in the region. She is accompanied by her salty-mouthed parrot, and unknown to either the boy or girl, also surviving the shipwreck are two of the ship's crew and Ermintrude's former butler who has gone not-so quietly mad after the death of his son from an influenza epidemic and who is determined to kill the rich girl.Ermintrude soon adapts to her surroundings, so much so she changes her name to Daphne - and who wouldn't? Soon she and Mau have a new tribe gathered together from survivors from the surrounding islands - luckily one of them speaks English - and Daphne is soon proving her worth, helping give birth to an islander's baby and sucking the milk out of a huge pig to spit into a bowl to feed it. As you do.... However their idyll is shattered when a tribe of cannibals makes their presence known... and their leader is Cox the murderous former butler.

I presume any of Pratchett's quirkiness has got lost somewhere along the line - apart from the idea that Daphne's father is 156th in line for the throne, and there *is* a flu epidemic remember - so what we are left with is an opposites attract plotline saddled with lovable islander schtick. Which is contrasted against the fact that all the white characters are played as either eye-rolling, murderous scrutbags or Imperialist toffs. Even the late appearance by Daphne's father - who has been flagged up through the show as a decent Englishman- appears with a cricket bat under his arm. As you do. Don't worry Constant Reader, I haven't gone all Daily Mail on you... but I found the saintly islanders vs froth-mouthed British baddies rather infuriating after a while.

As I said, Gary Carr makes a good impression as Mau and Jason Thorpe as the parrot with a dirty word for every occasion was a welcome relief from the the pious platitudes and am-dram performances. A special mention must be made too for Gaye Brown as Daphne's imperious aunt - a caricature sure, but a caricature at least played with a panache.

The design features three large screens behind a revolving island and there were a couple of nice scenic effects utilising them - drowning sailors slowly spinning in space as they are thrown from their ship and an ominous shark slowly emerging from the darkness but that was about all.

The bittersweet ending strove for profundity that would have worked had the relationship between Mau and Daphne ever hinted as having any depth.

After the majestic WAR HORSE, NATION was a National Theatre disappointment.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Miss M working boobs, opera gloves and heels on the NINE premiere red carpet...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Time to catch up with what I've been up to this week... We went to the wilds of Kentish Town to visit the Forum where the unstoppable New York Dolls were appearing. We had tickets for the first level seated area and as my eyes got used to the gloom - we had got there just as the support act were finishing - I saw that there were vast stretches of the padded bench seating which were empty. It was quite surprising - this was the New York Dolls people!They slouched on... David Johansen looking quite respectable in a suit and Sylvain Sylvain in his regulation leather cap, t-shirt and turned-up jeans. They were augmented by the ever-good Steve Conte on guitar and Sami Yaffa on bass with Brian Delaney on thundering drums! They launched into "Looking For A Kiss" then the title track of their new cd "Cause I Sez So" and followed this up quickly with "We're All In Love" which grew and grew into a wild rock squall with lights flashing and thunderous sound... it was a real rock gig!!They bounced into "Nobody Got No Bizness" and "Better Than You" from the new album and from their last album we got the two knockout tracks "Dance Like A Monkey" and "Get Away From Tommy" - yay! Needless to say we also got some of the songs that propelled them to success in the early 70s - "Pills", "Private World", and "Subway Train". Sylvain sang the opening verse and chorus of Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" which David took up and led into "Lonely Planet Boy". The end came with "Trash" - both the glam thrash version and their newly-recorded reggae version - "Personality Crisis" and, my favorite song of theirs - the glorious "Jet Boy", one of The great songs of the 1970s. It's been a long time since David, Syl and their broken Doll mates - Billy, Johnny, Jerry and Arthur - burst onto the rock world with their bouffant hair, platform boots and tranny-hooker make-up. As they roared through "Jet Boy" I hoped a screen would drop with the footage of them performing the same song to be sneeringly called "mock rock" by Bob Harris. Maybe so Bob... but they are also fabulous. It's a shame they were at the Forum though where the sound is uniformly muddy.

On Sunday I went with Owen to see Alison Moyet at the
Festival Hall where she was promoting her recently released Best Of album.

La Moyet showed her fans something they had never seen before. Namely her waist. Wearing a figure-hugging long black dress she showed her new shapely self which doesn't appear to have affected her pipes.

Although a big fan when she was part of Yazoo I never really took to her as a solo artist although her early run of singles were good enough to make me add her first Best Of to my cds. It was interesting that the songs that showed some sonic variety of tone where the old Yazoo hits.

I know I should like her, she certainly fits the mould of singers I like but there is something about her that I simply cannot warm to. Is it that dreaded way she has of chewing off the last word in a line? The can't-be-arsed attitude on stage which I am sure most find endearing? I don't know.

I know one thing which pisses me off though about her. Now I will admit my favorite song from her back catalogue is INVISIBLE written by Lamont Dozier, without doubt one of the greatest writers of popular song. However her total dismissal of this song I find frustrating.

Her double standards toward this song is exemplified by her including it on her latest Best Of collection but her refusal to sing it live - and to go out of her way to say she isn't going to sing it - is perverse. Oh no Alison... sing us one of your recent meandering dirges but leave out this classic song which also gave you your biggest US hit. When she bored away about the fact that she would never sing the song I booed. She did however sing "Weak In The Presence Of Beauty" which is another song she said she usually refuses to sing. Which of course is another excellent pop song... written by someone else.

I don't know - maybe she looks upon "Invisible" as 'a woman as victim' song - but if this is so then why sing Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away" - the ultimate 'victim' song? Go fuckin' figure.

Catherne Zeta Jones sounds a bit of a worry but it looks like Angela Lansbury is working on the definitive "Liaisons"...

Breaking News: the cast is gong in to record a new cast recording in January...

Monday, December 07, 2009

So here we are - December rings in the last of my year-long tribute to my personal Legends of Motown.

This month's Legend has to be the group who first got me excited in the label and it's artists and I guess for quite a few in my generation that was through The Jackson 5.

It helped that I was the age that I presume was their demographic audience and I remember playing my 7" single of ABC at the primary school leaving party. I just loved them. I remember staring at the record wondering how that happy sound could be actually hidden in those grooves. Of course what I also was hypnotized by was my first blast of Soul.

The next year I bought with my birthday money what was for me then - and probably still is - The Greatest Album Of All Time: Motown Chartbusters Volume 5.
Apart from The Jackson 5 (The Love You Save / I'll Be There) it had Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (Tears of A Clown), Edwin Starr (War), The Supremes (Stoned Love), Marvin Gaye (Abraham, Martin and John), Martha Reeves and The Vandellas (Forget Me Not), Four Tops (It's All In The Game / Still Water (Love)), The Temptations (Ball of Confusion), Stevie Wonder (Heaven Help Us All / Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours), Jimmy Ruffin (It's Wonderful To Be Loved By You / I'll Say Forever My Love), Diana Ross (Ain't No Mountain High Enough), The Spinners (It's A Shame).

I played that album to death... looking at the pictures of all the artists on the cover... wanting to know who they all were and dreaming of going to this magical place
where all these people made this amazing music.

Needless to say my bedroom wall was covered in pictures of the happy smiling Jacksons in their multi-coloured outfits and my nose was always pressed against the screen whenever they appeared on TV - when they appeared on TOTP singing "Rockin' Robin" in their orange and yellow outfits I nearly self-combusted, to say nothing of their appearance on the 1972 Royal Command Performance.

I remember the bafflement I felt when they tailed off in success over here - their last chart single here "Skywriter" didn't even make the Top 20 in 1973 - and of course then came the madness of world fame for my former hero and all that it entailed.

When I heard the news earlier this year of Michael's death - ironically on returning home from a 50th Motown celebration at Wembley - it was with a sadness for the Michael of both our youths... the ever-smiling, whirling dynamo with the perfect afro who introduced me to the ABC's of Motown.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

If it was Wednesday it was definitely Diva Central at Hammersmith.

Owen and I were among the 25 scared men who huddled together for solidarity in the face of row upon row of women who had loudly come to party. It was all rather overwhelming - the show was sold out and they were standing along the back and down the sides. I tell you - if three of them had experienced a joint hot flash we would have all gone up.

We were there to worship at the altar of three BIG-voiced Sisters of Song namely Lulu, Chaka Kahn and Anastacia. I can't say I have ever particularly cared for the latter but am a big fan of Lulu and Chaka, although Lu was the only one I have ever seen live before.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect but assumed it would take it's lead from the Divas of Motown show where they each had an allotted time to shine before maybe a group singalong at the end.


The three of them appeared together and came and went in ones and twos in a show that seemed to have been sequenced by the director putting his iPod on shuffle. They all had solo moments to shine but Lulu for some bizarre reason lost out in this.

Anastacia had two solos with "I'm Outta Love" and "Left Outside Alone" while "One Day In Your Life" was shared between them. Chaka shared "I'm Every Woman", "Ain't Nobody" and "I Feel For You" with her co-stars but had a solo with "Through The Fire", a lovely ballad needless to say ignored by the audience chattering through it - oh and Owen too.

And Lulu? Well, "Shout" made a for a priceless second half centrepiece, "Independence" was shared with her co-stars as was "Relight My Fire" which made for an obvious encore. But that was it - no "Man Who Sold The World", "The Boat That I Row", "I'm A Tiger", "To Sir, With Love"... hell not even "Boom-Bang-A-Bang" made it!

Even odder was the fact that the "Proud Mary" and "Disco Inferno" arrangements used showed that someone had been listening to the "What's Love Got To Do With It" soundtrack - so why not use "I Don't Want To Fight"... written by Lulu?
What we did get was a generic Motown tribute - odd to watch after the real thing had been on the same stage a couple of weeks back! I was bemused by this 1960s sequence - with Austin Powers-style groovy video projections and the obvious mini-skirted dancers - wondering what does Lulu think of having the decade that made her famous neatly summed-up in this short-handed way. We also had "Soul Man" thrown into the edit as well as Chaka soloing on "Respect" - where even she was drowned out by the audience!

There was also a generic Disco sequence which featured "Enough Is Enough" and "I Will Survive" (yawn). We also had them doing their version of the 'MOULIN ROUGE "Lady Marmalade" and slotted in between were numbers to show that our Divas are still "relevant" - Beyonce's "Single Ladies" and Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" came and went just as they were becoming too incongruous but Lulu had a solo with Duffy's "Mercy" which again raised eyebrows - but which actually proved how she could sing the arse out of the song. Chaka seemed a bit going-through-the-motions - she obviously Doesn't Do Choreography - I was wondering whether the format suits her style of performance. It was great to see her finally on stage though. Anastacia came across well - grinning and shaking hands with the front row at the drop of a hat.

The show certainly had been stylishly put together with video sequenced backdrops, six hard-working dancers and big lighting design but the transitions from sequence to sequence could have been tighter.

I wondered after to Owen whether I would have enjoyed the show a bit better in a smaller venue where there might have been some real engagement with the audience.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

My second theatrical excursion, with Owen, Sharon and Eamonn, was to see the well-reviewed play SPEAKING IN TONGUES at the Duke of Yorks Theatre. I suspect the critics must have had a particularly bad stretch of plays before they saw this one. On reflection it wasn't bad... just not good.I must declare an interest before this - I have yet to enjoy an Australian play. Admittedly I haven't seen that many but the ones I have seen seem - lightweight. Obvious. First-draftish.

The play started interestingly enough - two couples are meeting in two anonymous hotel rooms for extra-martial shags. We watch their embarrassed, fumbling attempts at small talk, each wondering who makes the first move. One couple finally do the deed... the other couple can't bring themselves to. We then follow the couples back and with Charity's "fickle finger of fate" - or a tricky playwright - the cheating man is married to the non-cheating woman and vice-versa. The scene ends where non-cheating wife and non-cheating husband slap their cheating spouses.
Now these two scenes are played on the same set by the actors at the same time with characters saying the same lines for most of the time. A clever theatrical device... if used sparingly. Here, it just draws attention to itself so I wasn't so much following the play, more waiting for one of the actors to miss their cue.

We then get roughly the same scene played twice as the two men, then the two women, meet by chance in a bar and realize who each other is.

The first act ends with the cheating husband, a police detective, telling his wife about a lingering dream he had featuring him scaring another man and the cheating wife telling her husband about her witnessing their next door neighbour furtively disposing of a woman's shoe while appearing in a jittery, scratched state.Act Two then spins the dramatic bottle and our quartet of actors are now playing new characters. A man writes to an ex-girlfriend telling her how he can't forget her - the ex-girlfriend has an uncomfortable session with her analyst about the letters while the analyst is more keen on the woman's latest relationship - the analyst is stranded on a dark road miles from anywhere and leaves increasingly panicked messages on the home answerphone for her absent husband - a man tells an unseen interrogator about how he gave a woman a lift on a dark road who then fled his car in a panic leaving her shoe which he then tried to dispose of until interrupted by his neighbour. See where this is going?

Sadly yes I could see where it was going.

Even more so when the final scene had the Detective from the first act interviewing the guarded husband of the missing woman who finally admits that the reason he was not home for her calls was because he was seeing his mistress.

And of course... the play ends with the ex-girlfriend who was in analysis with the missing woman getting a call from her lover.... guess who?

As I said as we left, does writer Andrew Bovell not realize that we might have actually seen LA RONDE?

The play was the basis for the well-received Australian film LANTANA and I can well understand how the plot contrivances would work better in a film setting. A seemingly random cross-section of people coming into contact with each other by chance reminded me of the film SHORT CUTS but on stage SPEAKING IN TONGUES eventually showed a writer striving for a universality which ended up being just groaningly obvious.

I will admit to never being bored while watching Toby Frow's production, just dulled into submission by Bovell's join-the-dots plotting. Although none of the actors are particular favorites of mine, they all invested the play with more commitment than I think it deserved.

John Simm showed a wry humour as the Detective and an angry defiance as the man accused by his neighbour of wrong-doing. Ian Hart met himself going off coming on as he played three roles - the hapless husband thinking better of having an affair, the sad ex-lover and the vanished woman's husband wrestling with guilt.

Hart launched himself at an audience member recently who he said was talking during his performance. He was probably explaining to his friend which one Hart was playing!

Actually the scenes between Simm and Hart were the best in the production, all played with a teasing tension that as said, gave the play a merit it hardly deserved.

Lucy Cohu made the most of the opposing characters she played - a jaundiced, tempted wife and the emotionally fraught analyst. Kerry Fox fared less well as the gauche, suspicious wife and the defensive patient.

And to quote Mrs. Patrick Campbell, when a rain effect in a play she was appearing in started pouring down on her rather than outside the set's windows, "And it cost the earth!"