Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I have seen quite a few live acts recently but haven't felt sufficiently moved to blog - but as my poor noggin can only hold *so* much information here goes...

First up was Beverley Knight at the Royal Albert Hall.
What?? I saw Bev for the 11th time and didn't blog immediately? The trouble was I had kinda forgotten the show by the time I got home.

I am usually bouncing with joy after seeing her but this time I felt becalmed. I suspect my malaise might have been down to several things - we were in a box stage-left and while this gave an ok view of the stage, we were in the second row within it - and in the front row? Some Italian gayer with his equally Italian fag-hag. Now I was okay with them standing up to dance - but their incessant yakking during the numbers - uptempo or ballad - got on my TITS. I actually shouted at them at one point to shut the fuck up. Owen was a bit more restrained and had a quiet word with them - I'm amazed he could get a word in edgewise.

After that they both buggered off to the bar - only to come back for the encores to stand at the back of the box taking photos each other. Now I despair that whenever I go to a gig I appear to have some mong-magnet that attracts twats who NEED to yap through every song but these two were truly something else. I can only wish them a slow painful death.

So apart from them pulling my focus, I also had to contend with a show which sadly delivered no surprises. She played the tracks I wanted to hear and she was in excellent form - but the show held no surprises at all. I think also there was a feeling of having waited nigh-on 6 months from booking the show to the actual event there was some fall-off in expectation.

The last time I saw Bev was at the ICA at the launch of "100%" and while there is the kudos of being able to fill the Royal Albert Hall, she works better in a smaller venue.

I remember having a similar feeling about a Beverley show in 2006 - I think she needs to maybe get some new arrangements, a new band, something...

The next show was the incomparable Boy George in his Up Close And Personal show at the Leicester Square Theatre (the old Venue Theatre where his show TABOO had it's successful run).

Again there wasn't too much difference in the set than when we saw him there just after Christmas - a couple of new songs including "Grand Scheme of Things" and the truly infectious Lovers Rock of "Ken".

Da Boy has a new album out later this year - it would be great to have some of the countless unrecorded songs he has been singing in gigs in the past few years on cd.

He sounded in great voice and sprung a surprise at the start of the second half when he dedicated "Blue Moon" to the Pet Shop Boys - who were in the audience. I nearly swooned.

I think this was the eighth time I have seen George in concert - and I can't wait for the next one.

Last week we saw another star who first really came to prominence in those mad 1980s - August Darnell aka Kid Creole accompanied of course by his Coconuts!
This was my third gig by the Kid and as always he gave 110% - working his band, the Coconuts and the audience while remaining unflappably cool.

Sadly we saw him from the front row of the circle of the stubbornly un-atmospheric Barbican Concert Hall so although the stalls were up and dancing I was too aware of my surroundings to surrender to the music.
Um... also I was BUSTING for a wee and kept thinking "Ah this is the last one.... no? well this must be the the set-closer..... ok, THIS is the last one then..." But I had forgotten about the Kid's propensity for the extended jams on his songs so being stuck in the middle of a row with what felt to be a small pachyderm sitting on my bladder was No Fun.

After an EXTENDED encore of "If You Wanna Be Happy" - which isn't even his bloody song! - and the obligatory invitation to a "Lifeboat Party" I happily started bundling my way along the row - only for the shagger to come out again! Well tough... thanks for the show Kid but a man's gotta wee what a man's gotta wee.

So that brings us to the final show. Last Saturday we went to the chintzy Bush Hall to see Amanda Palmer and regular support Jason Webley presenting their new discovery... the co-joined twins from Walla Walla, Washington Evelyn Evelyn.As you will have heard on their debut album, life has not been easy for the twins - oddly every person or animal that crosses their path ends up dead or mad - or both!

As befits this - and the lengthy abuse they have suffered at the hands of the people who have adopted them along the way - they are a bit shy in public so, when introduced, they edged on quietly and sat behind Amanda's keyboard, clutching a large Kelly handbag and using their free hands to demurely clap us.
Owwwwwwww I can't keep this up - it was great to watch Amanda and Jason as Evelyn Evelyn! They must have rehearsed for ages to do it, co-ordinating playing an accordion then a guitar as well as all the shtick of fishing things out of their handbag - hankie to wipe the germs off the microphones and off each other. To say nothing of when they did an impromptu Q&A and improvised their answers - each saying a word at a time!

The second half consisted of Jason and Amanda doing short sets before a rampaging encore of Jason's Drinking Song which had us all spinning around 10 times looking at our aloft fingers to give us the suitable experience of being drunk! They are daft buggers them.
Amanda didn't hang around afterwards as she was visibly suffering from a cold on stage but Jason was out front signing and having his picture taken with the fans.

So there you go... four gigs, some enjoyed more than others.

And the music don't stop... am seeing the titans of pop Alphabeat tonight!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Would you Adam and Eve it Constant Reader? I've only gone and seen another film!

On Friday I accompanied Andrew to BAFTA to see a screening of the new Neil Marshall film CENTURION.
This is my second 'Roman' film in as many weeks - AGORA was the other - and I am discerning a definite trend, mighty Empire unable to cope in occupied territories with either, religious fundamentalism or insurrection from indigenous population.

Ringing bells at all?
One definitely gets the whiff from CENTURION - a generic band-of-brothers-caught-between-enemy-lines actioner - that to film it in present day circumstances would be viewed as distasteful so the safety cloak of the Roman era is thrown on.

Goodness knows there is no real attempt to distance it from today, from the opening line of a Roman soldier looking out from a sentry post that "this country is the arsehole of the world" you know what you are going to be in for - thick-eared film-making at it's most unrelentingly grim. The audience mostly consisted of people flinching from the graphic axe-meeting-head, spear-meeting-gonads footage or people tittering at the absurd "oi-oi" script.

Poor the Dominic West having to growl as the legion's just-one-of-the-men General "When will people learn not to fuck with the 9th?" Please...Yes, the film covers the mystery of what happened to the Roman 9th Legion that allegedly vanished while stationed in England. There is a second film due out this year based on THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH by Rosemary Sutcliffe which uses this as it's jump-off point too - you wait years for a 9th Legion film to come along etc...

Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) is taken captive when his company of soldiers is wiped out when their fort is ambushed by Picts. The only reason he too is not killed is when he shouts out in the Picts language. He somehow manages to escape - don't ask why, it would get in the way of the plot - and makes it back to the 9th. Just in time to learn that they are setting out for the dreaded North to kick Pict arse once and for all. They are to be led by the statuesque and Amazonian tracker Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a Pict who has seemingly defected to the Roman side. Oh and she's mute so no tricky English dialogue for our Olga.

Needless to say leads our gallant lads into an ambush where they are all but wiped out, General Virilus (West) is captured and seven disparate soldiers are left to fend for themselves.An attempt to rescue Virilus fails but not before the Nasty Cowardly Soldier (J.J. Feld) kills the Pict leader's young son before the survivors flee the camp. When the son's body is found, Virilus is hacked up by Etain who sets out with the Picts to track down the seven soldiers.

So then we sit back and watch off as the Roman Seven are picked off, either by the avenging Picts - or by the Nasty Sneaky Soldier!
Fassbender makes a charismatic hero and by and large the performances of Liam Cunningham (gruff old soldier), David Morrissey (gor-blimey best mate), Noel Clarke (brave but too trusting squaddie) manage to rise above the relentlessly macho script.

Dominic West is dispatched far too soon as does the always reliable Lee Ross. Ukrainian ex-model Kurylenko unsurprisingly does most of her acting with her cheekbones while Ulrich Thomsen and Dave Legeno make you wish their characters were given more to do.
Noel Marshall certainly directs with a brutish heft but it is so relentlessly brutish that it's relatively short running time of 97 minutes becomes an endurance test. His script is also a slog with it's unoriginal plotline and imagery - there was an audible groan towards the end when he utilises the now-standard PLATOON rip-off shot of our hero sinking to his knees in slow-motion at the meaningless death of a buddy.

The colour palette is desaturated so most of the film is icy blues and dull grey. Marshall also overdoes the tired shtick of aerial tracking shots of the tiny band of survivors running across snow-covered mountain tops. Once or twice okay... but here it is used relentlessly - I guess the budget went on the hire of the helicopter!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Congratulations to the Menier Chocolate Factory which has received two New York Drama League Award nominations for Best Musical Revival with their exported productions of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (which has just opened to excellent reviews)

It's odd to think I saw both in the tiny 180-seater before they launched out into the world!

The Drama League Performance Award is a bit idiosyncratic - they nominate for a single performance award and once you have won it you cannot win it again although you can be nominated. This year quite a few favorite names are on the list:

Douglas Hodge for LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
Angela Lansbury for A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
Laura Linney for TIME STOOD STILL

This Award has been awarded since 1935, how strange that Cook and Lansbury, two of Broadway's great names, have never won the performance award. Angela Lansbury however did win a Unique Contribution Award last year.

For that matter the three living English Queens of the stage - Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave and Judi Dench - haven't won either!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Constant Reader... I am in a peculiar position. To the best of my knowledge it has never happened before in all my blogging years. THAT momentous.

Constant Reader... I have to tell you about FOUR recent visits to the cinema.


In the past few years I have sometimes managed that in a year. Ok... better dive in... but don't panic... I won't do the full nine yards about them!

First one off the rank was NANNY McPHEE & THE BIG BANG. I had liked Emma's first incarnation as the magical Nanny who - Poppins stylee - appears seemingly out of nowhere JUST as a mother or father is at the end of their tether.

In the first film it was a widowed 19th Century Colin Firth unable to cope with a fractious brood, here the action moves forward to WWII and Maggie Gyllenhaal is attempting to run her husband's family farm while he is overseas while she also attempts to work in the local shop, hindered more than helped by the addled Mrs. Docherty (Maggie Smith).

Her three children are horrified when their posh nephews arrive, packed off from London by uncaring parents using air raids as an excuse. All Hell breaks loose as Gyllenhaal dangles from the end of her rope... thunder rolls, lightening flashes... and there's Nanny McPhee at the door.

The film starts a little overly-frantic, with screaming kids and an uneven pace that doesn't bode well for the film but with the arrival of Emma the film calms down as she teaches her five lessons for a happy household.

Director Susannah White then keeps the kid-friendly comedy going but also manages to allow in moments of touching humanity as when a pastoral picnic is interrupted with a dreaded telegram and when the posh boy (Eros Vlahos) confronts his emotionally cold military father (Ralph Fiennes).Emma of course gives an assured and witty performance and her script quietly builds to a moving climax when Maggie Smith's character reveals a charming link to the first film and a figure is seen walking towards the family as Nanny McPhee leaves them.

The film boasts quirky roles for Rhys Ifans, Sinead Matthews and Katy Brand as the agents of mean, charming comic turns by Sam Kelly and Bill Bailey, and White elicits strong performances from her child stars notably Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson and Asa Butterfield (building on his arresting performance in THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS).I have a feeling that one day NANNY McPHEE AND THE BIG BANG will be up there with THE RAILWAY CHILDREN as a classic British family film.

And now for something completely different...

Martin Scorsese's SHUTTER ISLAND is his fourth film with Leonardo DiCaprio, much to the critics' chagrin. Leo gives a committed - no pun intended - multi-layered performance here and his casting as a Big Film Star is as important in this as to any qualities he has an actor.

Set in the repressive atmosphere of post-war 1950s America, the plot starts off as an intriguing film-noir thriller - Detective Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and a new partner (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at an asylum for the criminally insane on a bleak island off the Boston coast. They have been asked to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates overnight who has literally vanished from her locked cell. The only clue he finds is a hidden scribbled note in her cell wondering who the 67th prisoner on the island is... Danels knows the island only holds 66.

The air of lowering oppression is exacerbated by the freak storm that breaks out that night forcing them to remain on the island and slowly DiCaprio's character begins to suspect that this most secretive of places holds a frightening secret. He views the silky head psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley) with suspicion and the psychiatrist's German associate (Max von Sydow) with ill-disguised contempt.Daniels - as with any film-noir hero - is a man with an unquiet soul: he witnessed the horrors of Dachau when his platoon liberated it and the personal horror of his wife being killed in an arson attack on their apartment building by a psychotic janitor.

The Detective confides in his sidekick that he has an ulterior motive for agreeing to take the case as he found out previously that his wife's killer is one of the prisoners held on the island. The film slowly changes into a full-blown horror film as Daniels realises that all the secrets are possibly held in the forbidding Civil War fort in the centre of the prison that holds the most dangerous inmates.Suspecting himself being drugged, he fights off visions of Dachau and of his dead wife alerting him that her killer is there somewhere and determines to get to the heart of this nightmarish situation.

There has been much critical debate as to the manner in which Scorsese has filmed Dennis Lehane's bestseller as he really does throw in everything but the kitchen sink into the nightmare world of SHUTTER ISLAND but I feel as if now that the Best Director Oscar of Damocles that has hung over his head has finally been won Scorsese is just having a ball, using all the tricks in the cinematic cupboard under the stairs to scare the bejeebus out of the audience.I suspect that the big plot twist - that is no real surprise when it comes - is another reason why it has not had the rave reviews one would suspect - people by and large like to believe in narrative in film and once the carpet is pulled out from under them they are largely distrustful of the fact that they were 'conned' by the slight-of-hand. I suspect the film warrants another viewing - just to see it with the knowledge of hindsight.

I enjoyed the sheer Ghost Train thrill of seeing the film on a big screen with sound effects echoing around me - the film also has one of the most genuinely chilling soundtracks, compiled by Robbie Robertson from various recorded works of modern classical and avant-garde composers. It's worth staying for the end credits just to be spooked by the mash-up of Dinah Washington's haunting vocal for "This Bitter Earth" woven into Max Richter's "On The Nature Of Daylight".With excellent performances across the board, DiCaprio holds the audiences attention throughout - the only jarring note being the slight suspicion that he is channeling Jack Nicholson's performance from CHINATOWN.

Next up to the ocky is the curio AGORA from Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar.
I have heard your cry Constant Reader "When oh when is someone going to make a film of Hypatia, the Greek Egyptian teacher and philosopher who caused a schism between the Roman Prefect Orestes and the Christian leader Cyril?"

Well Amenábar heard your cry too. Whether you should have kept your gob shut or he should have had his iPod earphones in I have yet to resolve.

I hadn't the slightest clue of the story of how the Greek atheists, Jewish believers and Roman powers were swept away by the onslaught of Christian fundamentalism in the 4th Century AD. For some reason we weren't taught that in school. But luckily Amenábar picked up on it somewhere along the line and obviously thought "Aha... religious fundamentalism, middle east, women being banned from study, statues being toppled to overthrow regimes... this is all so topical!"Well bigotry is always au currant somewhere but the obvious parallels with today are - well a bit obvious.

It's an ambitious film and it's to be applauded for trying to make the sort of 'intimate epic' that David Lean and Anthony Mann would have attempted. But by Isis, it's so leaden. We get revolt after revolt, stonings, burnings, blood, fire, corpses by the binload... but i was aware from quite soon after it started that I was staring at it, not watching it.

Rachel Weisz certainly gives a thoughtful and nuanced performance - I had never noticed her odd resemblance to Charlotte Rampling before - and she has a rare intelligence on screen but Hypatia sadly remains a pillar of virtue and intellect all the way through - she seems so unconcerned by her obvious fate that it is hard to feel anything for her character. Some sign of doubt or even a sense of humour might have made her more human.

The supporting actors are given more running around and shouting to do but to little obvious effect of making one even remotely concerned in their character's destiny.

Max Minghella - son of the late director Anthony - has a dog of a role as Davus, Hypatia's servant who loves her but who defects to the Christian cause thereby endangering her life. He glowers at anything and everything but his character's sudden defection back to helping her seems forced and the ending flies in the face of what is known of her demise, contrived to give her a dignity that was ill-afforded her.Oscar Isaac is able to bring more subtlety to his role of Hypatia's former student - and ardent admirer - Orestes, who after the upheaval becomes the Roman Prefect and finds himself caught between the hardline Christians and the atheist Hypatia. He gives an interesting performance but again, with no attempt by Amenábar to humanise the character his character is oddly becalmed.The nasty Cyril - dear Horus that name! - is played with an unrelenting mad-eyed stariness by Sami Samir that certainly makes him a hissable villain but again, I found myself aching for some varying of the one-note characterisation.The film certainly looks impressive - it won 7 production Goya Awards in Spain this year - with it's evocative sets suggesting the city of Alexandria (the film was shot in Malta) and Amenábar certainly pulls off some stylish touches such as when the Christian mob ransacks the library they are shot from above as the film speeds up faster and faster, the pillagers resembling a ravaging hoard of insects.

But also he has hit on the notion that to suggest chapters in the story he will zoom out of the city and contemplate the world in the cosmos before zeroing back into the city again like some ancient world DHL advert. Once or twice ok - it fits in with Hypatia's quest for the facts of astronomy - but after a while it is just another distancing effect in a film that really doesn't need any more barriers to engaging with it, a pity as Weisz certainly shines amid the film's torpid atmosphere.So finally to the last film of the bunch and to a director who rather than inducing disinterest by too little connection with the characters, manages it by overuse of his style.

I speak of......although Alice In Burtonland would be more appropriate.

We saw this at the iMax in Waterloo which is a very odd experience... all screen, no atmosphere.

So here we surely have the last shake out of Burton's over-used visual tricks. One would have thought that Alice and Burton would go together perfectly but I felt there to be little connection between him and the material - it all looked exactly as I expected it to.

Only once was I genuinely intrigued by the imagery which was when Alice used the severed heads of the Red Queen's victims as stepping stones as they floated in the castle moat.

The visualisation of the characters was certainly interesting, just this side of disturbing but again I felt like Burton was soft-pedalling - I don't know whether this was due to the length of the artistic spoon he used to sup with the Disney organisation or whether it was down to the bog-standard storyline he had to work with.
The intriguing jump-off of an older Alice returning to Wonderland - or Underland as the natives call it - is soon dissipated as the whole premise turns out to be one long meander to a climactic duel between her and the Jabberwocky. It didn't help that we had previously seen a trailer for the new CGI-fest CLASH OF THE TITANS which ends with a duel with a big feck-off monster so rather than a thrilling climax we are given a by-the-numbers Big Battle that seems de-rigour for these sort of films. Sadly by this time I had kinda switched off having been dulled into submission by the torturous route that had led us to this. it seemed to involve a lot of traipsing around for no discernible purpose than to drag out the film's running time.

I also think the idea of presenting the film in 3-D led to the film to look even more tired - it wasn't even filmed using the process but was added on afterwards and it shows. Occasionally something would grab my attention - the Cheshire cat was always looked forward to - but it all just seemed to dress up the fact that Burton seems to have run out of ideas.Much has been made of Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and she certainly perked the film up but I was alarmed how much of the character seems ripped off from Miranda Richardson's Queenie from BLACKADDER 2. The success of her performance though robbed the film of any other strong female presence - Alice was cookie-cutter Burton heroine: pale-faced and with hardly any life in her, and I found Anne Hathaway's White Queen character forgettable as I watched her.And then there's Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Of course the plot had to find much for him to do but as soon as he would appear on screen I was praying for him to get off again. He brought nothing to the film but the worst excesses of his previous Burton characters - excluding SWEENEY TODD - and as usual, this awful passivity.I think it's about time they took a break from each other - they seem to bring out the worst in each other when they are let loose in Fantasyland. I think SWEENEY TODD is an interesting exception as the form dictated that they couldn't play it cute.

I also think it's odd that critics are happier to find fault with DiCaprio and Scorsese than with Depp and Burton. Give me SHUTTER ISLAND over this misfire anyday.

My advice to Burton? Start making films with a genuinely anarchic performer from ALICE...

Friday, April 16, 2010

The day after receiving very positive reviews, what is the best the American company of HAIR can look forward to? Me and Owen in the audience of course!

Yes it was time to re-visit Diane Paulus' explosive production that we had previously seen in February with most of the same cast in New York.If anything, I thought it was even better at the Gielgud. I was a bit worried how a London audience would take to the show but the audience were up for it from the get-go and I suspect the prospect of performing this very American-themed show with all it's now-obscure cultural references to a London audience made the cast go for it a little harder.

Yes the book still has problems, Claude's extended bad trip sequence does seem to go on a bit - although it does feature the marvellous ABIE BABY - but the sheer brio and exuberance of the cast carry you through the dodgy patches.It was great to become re-acquainted with the cast members from NY such as Will Swenson's Berger and in particular Gavin Creel's Claude - his torment over what is his ultimate destiny is palpable in an excellent rendering of WHERE DO I GO at the end of the first act, so good he pulls the focus from the company stripping off behind him! His choice leaves him invisible to his former compadres and leads to a stunning coup-de-theatre.

It was a pleasure to see Caissie Levy again as Sheila, the political activist doomed to be disappointed in love and life - her soaring voice turns EASY TO BE HARD into a genuine showstopper as well as sparkling in I BELIEVE IN LOVE and GOOD MORNING STARSHINE.

Two performers who I wasn't sure of in New York made a greater impression here: Kacie Sheik as the pregnant Jeannie made the most of her one-liners and got a massive laugh on her Mary Magdalene gag - I guess I was so used to Linda Kendrick's version of AIR on the London cast album - and Darius Nichols was great as Hud - during the HAIR number he crawled over the stalls seats and made it all the way to K row where we were!
It was sad that Bryce Ryness didn't make the trip as he was great as Woof but it was delight to see Allison Case as Chrissy as she had left the cast by the time we saw the NY production. She gave a winning performance as the love-lorn Chrissy and carefully managed to steer her rendition of FRANK MILLS through the lines that elicited laughs to the touching last line. I happily "Woo"ed at the end.

The real bugger was that we didn't see Sasha Allen as Dionne - again! She was off in New York and she was off again last night - c'mon gurl... it ain't THAT taxing a role.

However we had instead the delightfully-named Phyre Hawkins who raised the roof at the top of the show with AQUARIUS and also raunched the bumhole out of WHITE BOYS.

Special mentions must go to Andrew Kober and Megan Lawrence who step out of "The Tribe" to play Claude's parents as well as scene-stealing turns as Margaret Mead and Buddhadalirama respectively.
Oh and the cherry on the cake?

During the finale the audience are invited on stage.... OH COURSE WE DID! It was a great experience to join the teeming crowd on the stage and dance to the finale music played by the rockin' Hair Band.

My estimation of the company went up leaps and bounds while up there - those damn lights make it boiling up there!

Owen has booked for us to see it again soon - can't wait!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Constant Reader... I have been a busy Hector recently so cry you mercy!

I have not STOPPED! It's like that when you have a birthday... yes, birthday. Where was my card? Anyway I have much to impart... firstly two theatre visits. Because if you hadn't noticed, theatre takes precedence every time.
We saw one of the last performances of THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED at the Garrick written by Douglas Carter Beane. I loved his riotously fun book for the Broadway musical XANADU so was keen to see this play. It's New York run earned him the first of his two Tony Award nominations - he was nominated for XANADU the following year. I enjoyed the play's whiplash wit and killer one-liners but felt I would have got more into it had it been played by actors who could have been more at home with the show's Gotham rhythms.

Like... the whole Broadway company has come over with HAIR!... surely they could have spared some actual American actors for this too?
Tamsin Greig is an actress I have never really taken to and while she certainly convinced as Diane, the gimlet-eyed L.A. actor's agent who will gallop over anyone to get her way, I was always aware of her wandering, generic US accent - half the time she seemed to be doing a bad Sandra Bernhard impression. I am sure Sandra could have persuaded to do a limited three month run in the west end... failing that Ruby Wax.
Rupert Friend played Mitchell her #1 client, a handsome new actor generating serious Hollywood heat - and who has "a slight recurring case of homosexuality". A visit to New York has him calling an escort agency and opening his hotel door to the chirpy part-time rentboy Alex, here played by Harry Lloyd. Again the play suffered as the many hesitant, embarrassed exchanges between the two characters seemed to be played with EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! at the END!! of!! each!!! exchange!!!! It was like watching the puppet characters of Rod and Nicky from AVENUE Q.
There wasn't much change either out of the performance of Gemma Arterton as Ellen, Alex's sometime lover who is a spoiled sometime-model and Z-list celebrity. Arterton might be a happening film actress at the moment but she looked a bit amateur-hour-in-Dixie on the Garrick stage.

I suspect some of the above problems are the fault of director Jamie Lloyd who seems to have favoured artifice over substance. Worryingly we have tickets for two more productions of his in the future.It sounds like I had a Hellish time - but most of the time I was laughing at the deliciously savage lines that Beane gave his lead character - and in among the laughs there were some truths about the problems of being a gay actor in Hollywood. Namely the kudos a straight actor gets for playing a gay role - as Diane says "That's like the pretty actress putting on a fake nose and winning the Oscar" whereas "a gay actor playing a gay role? That's not acting - it's bragging".

I also loved being there for when Mitchell said to Diane that he wanted to be a successful out film actor and she shouted back: "Are you British? Do you have a knighthood? Then shut up!"
We were sitting behind Sir Derek Jacobi and guest! He roared.

I'd love to see the play again - but maybe not if the above were cast again.

Of course one straight actor who won awards for playing a gay character was Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey in CARRINGTON - which leads me on to...
My second evening at the theatre was to see Christopher Morahan's revival of Pinter's 50 year-old masterpiece THE CARETAKER at the Trafalgar Studios as is, the Whitehall Theatre as was. It was nice to think that Divine once acted on that very stage in 1977 in WOMEN BEHIND BARS - with Fiona Richmond yet.

Of course in THE CARETAKER it's the men who are trapped in their environment.
Jonathan Pryce was Davies, the vagrant who is saved from a fight by Aston, an oddly subdued man who not only invites the tramp back to his large cluttered attic room in a derelict house but who also offers him the room and a spare bed for as long as he needs it.Davies' joy is soon thrown into confusion when he is surprised the next morning by another man, Mick, who tells him that it's his room, his house. Before Mick can beat him up Aston arrives back and tells Mick - his younger brother - that Davies is his friend and he wants him to stay.

As with most Pinter plays, there then follows a psychological battle for control with all three men wanting some control over one or both of the others - the cramped, cluttered room becomes a mindgame where there is always someone holding what they think are all the cards.Jonathan Pryce was wonderful as the derelict Davies - querulous but ingratiating, self-pitying but boastful, seemingly always on guard for the next physical attack or prying question. His ferrety, crumbling shabbiness made it all to easy to believe that this Davies would walk from the centre of London to Luton on the promise of some second-hand shoes. What Pryce made obvious was how Davies' survival techniques are all too easily his undoing with the brothers.

It was great to see him in this as my only other CARETAKER was the BBC production in 1980 where Pryce played Mick to Warren Mitchell's Davies and Kenneth Cranham's Aston.There is another stand-out performance by Peter MacDonald as the emotionally-submerged Aston. His quiet absorption in his plug-mending is of course the perfect springboard for Pryce in their scenes together but his performance is slowly building to the quiet desperation of his long second act speech where he reveals his secret to Davies.

Aston tells Davies of how he was sectioned as a teenager and how, despite his pleading with her, his mother gave permission for him to be given electroshock treatment which was administered as he stood terrified against a wall, leaving him impaired. It is of course telling that during this confession, Davies falls asleep, oblivious to his would-be friend's tragedy. Peter MacDonald was mesmerising in the scene.Sam Spruell plays the volatile would-be property owner brother Mick and I felt him to be a bit lightweight - I never felt any genuine menace in the character and Mick should have an almost Kray-like ability to be totally unpredictable. You should feel that Davies' attempts to ingratiate himself with Mick should feel like watching someone pulling a sleeping tiger's tail.
It was intriguing to see the play on that stage bearing in mind the last production I saw there was the revival of ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE. Orton's play has some striking similarities to this one and you can easily see how he was influenced by Pinter's shark-below-the-surface style.

I think the only fault I could single out with Christopher Morahan's production is that it possibly could have done with a more disorientating atmosphere - the production seemed a bit too 'joined-up' at times. But it was an engrossing night - with a special mention for Eileen Diss's grungy, cluttered set design for the brother's room.