Sunday, January 30, 2011

Last week, thanks to a tip-off from Dawn Right Nasty, Owen and I went along to The Royal Geographical Society - excuse me people - to see and hear Patti Smith in conversation about her award-winning memoir JUST KIDS. The interview was under the auspices of Intelligence Squared.

It's always a shock that a woman who can be so larger-than-life and dangerous on stage is such a chatty, unassuming person off it! She greeted us with a smiley "Hey everybody" with a wave and the onstage chat commenced.

Sadly Patti wasn't talking to herself, she was being interviewed by the writer Geoff Dyer and it didn't take too long before our eyes were rolling and we looked at each other with a weary air of "Here we go again".Once again - as with last year's South Bank onstage interviews between John Waters and Philip Hoare and Stephen Sondheim with Jude Kelly - the interviewer tried to make the chat as much about them as about the subject, with Dyer yakking away during his opening question while Patti smiled and looked about her.

He then started asking her a question that rambled on and on about her visit to London during the punk rock years which he finally told her was based on his reading of Victor Bockris' biography of her. Oooops. Patti interrupted him to say that the book was a pack of lies, that anyone who loved her had nothing to do with it and that she detested it.

"Be that as it may" says Dyer, "he tells a story where...." and preceded to chase his anecdote down to the wire despite Patti disputing it at every development of the plot. It was blatantly obvious that for all his blathering about being a big fan he had no other question he could go to.
However Patti has been at the rodeo for quite a few years now so all of his waffling - as well as the usual inane questions asked from the floor - were met with amused good grace and I felt that Patti was answering the question she wanted to hear!

She was as always winning and likable, with just the right amount of American gaucheness and spoke with obvious love about those close to her and of course Robert Mapplethorpe, the subject of her memoir.

She also happily celebrated the fact that it was Virginia Woolf's birthday when Dyer brought up the subject of her performing a work at Charleston a few years ago that was inspired by "The Waves". She spoke very eloquently about Woolf's writing and I wondered if she knew we were only a couple of blocks from Hyde Park Gardens where she had been born in 1882.

JUST KIDS won the US National Book Award for Non-Fiction and here is her emotional acceptance speech:

2010 National Book Awards Presentation of the Nonfiction Award from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A few weeks ago we started our cultural doings for 2011 by getting along to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see the last day of their exhibition of DIAGHILEV AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE BALLETS RUSSES. I had wanted to see this for a while and had meant to go over the Christmas period but of course left it till the last day - and there Constant Reader, was the problem. Well, one of them.

It was PACKED - and packed with the most infuriating dawdling shaggers I have ever had the sadness to be stuck amidst. It was a dangerous combination = ballet subject + big modern art names + last day = Hell. I swear to God most of the old dears tottering around must have known Diaghilev... and that was just the men. The most profoundly irritating thing was that it was difficult to get near any of the exhibits as the knobheads I shared the space with seemed to be more interested in reading the small signs as opposed to looking at the actual artifact - ARGH!

I am not sure when I became interested in the Ballets Russes but I guess it was instigated by my late friend Martin Taylor who probably suggested I read Richard Buckle's biography of Nijinsky which I remember 'borrowing' from Claude Gill Books where we both worked in the late 1970s - and yes, I still have it. The interest was further stoked by Herbert Ross' 1980 film NIJINSKY starring Alan Bates as Diaghilev, a film which seems to have vanished. I can't even remember it appearing on VHS, maybe the music rights are holding it back.

The tortured relationship with Nijinsky only takes up a fifth of Diaghilev's professional life but one suspects it's this period that most people came to the exhibition to see. What the curator attempted however was to show that he had a marked influence on all the arts until the end of the 1920s. I'm not sure there were all together successful.

One of the problems is that Diaghilev was the producer, the impresario who brought the creatives together. So how do you get a feel for him, the man himself, when by the curator's admission there is relatively little of the man's effects left? Yes you can show the costumes designed, the set designs and the sheet music - but of Sergei himself there is his top hat, plenty of receipts, chequebooks and a few business cards. It was full of exhibits spread over three enormous rooms - but Diaghilev was always disappearing around the next corner. No doubt a trick he used from his creditors.The exhibition was also very oddly designed - all the main walls and platforms seemed to be at odd angles to each other which very often led to bottlenecks of people trying to fit through a small gap between the exhibits - it probably looked great at the private show and press night but with any number of punters within, it was a logistical nightmare.

The lighting was also set to dim for most of the exhibits - especially when it came to lighting the costumes on display. I presume this is because brighter lights might have showed the costumes to be slightly the worse for wear - theatrical costumes from the start of the 20th Century were never made to be seen in close-up - but again it just added to more frustration as there were obviously some remarkable designs on display such as Feodor Chaliapin's BORIS GUDONOV costume from 1908...Nijinsky's costume as The Prince in GISELLE....
and the bathing costumes designed by Chanel for the 1924 production LE TRAIN BLEU.In the main room for the glory days of the Ballet Russes there was a semi-circular enclosed space dedicated to Vaslav Nijinsky which again proved frustrating as the it proved to be a people trap - and again there was the whiff of items cobbled together to form a viewable space. There was however, remarkably, an original rose prop of Tamara Karsavina's from their duet LE SPECTRE DE LA ROSE - it was only a hundred years old! - and an original of Léon Bakst's wondrous artwork for L'APRES-MIDI D'UN FAUNE as well as his set and costume designs for both ballets.There was a particularly awe-inspiring massive backcloth for THE FIREBIRD and there were plenty of other things that caught the eye but as the exhibition progressed though to Diaghilev's death in Venice in 1929 I had long since tired of the trappings and longed for something that pertained to the man himself. At the end of the exhibition was a copy of his death mask - there he was finally but again, he had escaped.

Any hope of walking away with a bulging carrier bag of gift shop purchases were dashed when I saw the scrutty collection of postcards and absence of a catalogue.

Not a good way to start 2011's cultural life... such a shame as I had high hopes for the exhibition.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sad news to hear that Theoni V. Aldredge, designer of some of the most glamorous costumes seen on stage and screen, has died at the age of 78.She was nominated for 14 Best Costume Tony Awards and won three times for ANNIE, BARNUM and for the over-the-top glamour of the original 1983 production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES seen here with star George Hearn and La Cagelles.Among the shows she was nominated for was the original 1981 DREAMGIRLS, the Tyne Daly 1989 revival of GYPSY and the original 1975 production of A CHORUS LINE.She won a deserved Academy Award in 1974 for her glorious costumes for THE GREAT GATSBY which saw a revival in the soft lines of 1920s fashion on the high street. She also designed for the divas of the day such as Faye Dunaway's power-dressing TV executive in NETWORK, Bette Midler's satin-and-tat schmatte in THE ROSE and... um... Valerie Perrine and The Village People in CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

In news that will make any theatre musical fan's heart skip a beat, Arthur Laurents has confirmed that he and Stephen Sondheim have given Barbra Streisand the o.k. to appear in what will be the third film of their classic show GYPSY.

Early days yet but allegedly Warner Brothers are on board.

Has it all been left a bit late?

Ethel Merman was only 51 when she played the iconic role of Rose, the unstoppable stage mother of actress June Havoc and stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Rosalind Russell was 55 when she played Rose in the unsatisfactory first screen version and Bette Midler was 48 when she played the role in a better made-for-television version.

Streisand will be 69 in April...

Sunday, January 02, 2011

As 2011 lies before us, all unknown and untouched, it's time to done your gayest apparel as I whisk you to the most important award ceremony of the season... The Chrissies!

As is tradition we start with the THEATRE AWARDS:

Best Drama/Comedy:
AFTER THE DANCE by Terence Rattigan at the Lyttleton, National Theatre

nominees - ALL MY SONS (Apollo); KING LEAR (Donmar); LONDON ASSURANCE (National Theatre); SPRING STORM (National Theatre)

Best Musical:
HAIR at Gielgud Theatre

nominees - SOUTH PACIFIC (Lincoln Center, NY); CINDERELLA (Sadler's Wells); PASSION (Donmar); A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (Walter Kerr Theatre, NY)

Best Actor (Drama/Comedy):DAVID SUCHET (All My Sons, Apollo)

nominees - DEREK JACOBI (King Lear); RORY KINNEAR (Hamlet); SIMON RUSSELL BEALE (London Assurance); JONATHAN PRYCE (The Caretaker)

Best Actor (Musical):GAVIN CREEL (Hair, Gielgud)

nominees - DAVID PITTSINGER (South Pacific, NY); SAHR NGAUJAH (Fela! National Theatre); ALEXANDER HANSON (Little Night Music, NY); KEVIN MAMBO (Fela! NY)

Best Actress (Drama/Comedy):NANCY CARROLL (After The Dance, National Theatre)

nominees - ZOE WANAMAKER (All My Sons); DEBORAH FINDLAY (The Glass Menagerie); HARRIET WALTER (Women Beware Women); FIONA SHAW (London Assurance)

Best Actress (Musical):ELENA ROGER (Passion, Donmar)

nominees - TRACIE BENNETT (Over The Rainbow); LAURA OSNES (South Pacific, NY); SHERIDAN SMITH (Legally Blonde); JENNA RUSSELL (Into The Woods)

Best Supporting Actor (Drama/Comedy):ADRIAN SCARBOROUGH (After The Dance, National Theatre)

nominees - OLIVER FORD DAVIES (The Crucible); PETER McDONALD (The Caretaker); RON COOK (King Lear); SIMON PAISLEY DAY (Private Lives)

Best Supporting Actor (Musical):NICK HOLDER (Assassins)

nominees - BRYCE RYNESS (Hair, NY); MICHAEL XAVIER (Into The Woods); ANDREW SAMONSKY (South Pacific, NY); DARIUS NICHOLS (Hair)

Best Supporting Actress (Drama/Comedy):
SINEAD MATTHEWS (The Glass Menagerie, Young Vic)

nominees - BETTRYS JONES (The Crucible); CLARE HIGGINS (Hamlet); JUSTINE MITCHELL (King Lear); JACQUELINE KING (Summer Storm)

Best Supporting Actress (Musical):ANGELA LANSBURY (A Little Night Music, NY)

nominees - CAISSIE LEVY (Hair); ALISON CASE (Hair, London); LORETTA ABLES SAYER (South Pacific, NY); BEVERLY RUDD (Into The Woods)

Best Director:HOWARD DAVIES (All My Sons, Apollo)

nominees - MICHAEL GRANDAGE (King Lear); BARTLETT SHER (South Pacific, NY); THEA SHARROCK (After The Dance); NICHOLAS HYTNER (London Assurance)

Best Designer:LEZ BROTHERSTON (Cinderella, Sadler's Wells)

nominees - BUNNY CHRISTIE (The White Guard); WILLIAM DUDLEY (All My Sons); HILDEGARD BECHTLER (After The Dance); MARK THOMPSON (London Assurance)

Best Lighting:NEIL AUSTIN (Passion, Donmar)

nominees - NEIL AUSTIN (Cinderella); NEIL HENDERSON (All My Sons); JON CLARK (Hamlet); NEIL AUSTIN (The White Guard)

Best Choreography: MATTHEW BOURNE (Cinderella, Sadler's Wells)

nominees - BILL T. JONES (Fela!); KAROL ARMITAGE (Hair); PAUL J. MEDFORD (Five Guys Named Moe); CHRISTOPHER GATTELLI (South Pacific, NY)

Now onto other awards!
I have already chosen my Best Gig so onto
Best Film - not a great year for cinema-going so my winner comes from 1939!

A WINDOW IN LONDON (Herbert Mason - Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Sally Gray)

nominees: BEAUTIFUL DARLING; GRACE OF MY HEART; SHUTTER ISLAND; INCEPTION

Best Books read:MRS. WOOLF & THE SERVANTS (Alison Light)

nominees: VITA (Victoria Glendenning); TALKING THEATRE (Richard Eyre); I DOLL (Arthur Kane); THE SHIP THAT FLEW (Hilda Lewis)

Best Miscellaneous Entertaiment:
SONDHEIM @ 80 CONCERTS: MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG; COMPANY
(Donmar at Queens Theatre)

nominees - THE SACRED MADE REAL (National Gallery); GUTTED (Riverside); STEPHEN SONDHEIM (Royal Festival Hall); GAUGUIN (Tate Modern)