Sunday, February 28, 2016

Exit Through The Giftshop - Postcards at an exhibition....

More postcards from exhibitions and galleries...

1) ELS COLOMINS (1957) - Pablo Picasso

A wonderfully exuberant and vibrant painting of the view from Picasso's Calais window, I bought this at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona.  I love his punky white pigeons, the propped-up palette, the azure sea and magnificent tree in front of his studio window.

2) LE COURONNEMENT D'EPINES (1602-3) - Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio

Well I never knew Caravaggio was a Michelangelo too!  I bought this at the Musée Jacquemart-André when they held an exhibition named FROM GIOTTO TO CARAVAGGIO.  Caravaggio lights the scene with his usual shaft of light from one side to illuminate his fleshy, all-too-human Christ, held by two soldiers, as a third forces the crown of thorns onto his head with a stick. I like how Caravaggio has both Christ and the soldier holding him staring into the face of the soldier forcing the crown on as well as the emphasis on the hands of all involved.

3) LA NASCITA DI VENERE (1484) - Sandro Botticelli

Botticelli's iconic Birth of Venus isn't exactly one of my favourite paintings ever but when you go to the Uffizi Gallery shop you have to buy a copy of it - they call the police if you don't!  For such an image of idealised beauty Botticelli's Venus is all over the shop physically but I prefer to dwell on the figure in the billowing drapery who hurries to cover Venus' modesty.

4) WOODEN CRUCIFIX (circa 1412) - Fillipo Brunelleschi

This wonderfully realised crucifix is in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence and is one of the many remarkable works of art displayed there.  According to the biographer/artist Vasari, Brunelleschi was compelled to make this crucifix after criticizing the one that Donatello had just unveiled in Santa Croce.  Donatello's is certainly more realistic than Brunelleschi's idealised, stark figure but if you wish to decide for yourself, head to the Capella Gondi at Novella.

5) ANNE BOLEYN (circa 1533) - unknown

 Um.  The shame.  I have never actually visited this portrait at the National Portrait Gallery!  And me a big Boleyn fan.  I am telling myself that this is for the best as I would probably try to stick it in my bag!  An iconic portrait of an iconic woman, this has been the first stop for any costume designer and/or casting director in the countless retellings of Anne's sorry tale.  I do love the stark quality of the portrait, Anne's jet black veil and gown accentuated by the brown furry sleeves and heavily-worked gold and pearls of the dress's neckline - and of course the directness of Anne's coolly knowing gaze, it almost feels like she is saying down the years, "Me?  Guilty??"

Thursday, February 25, 2016

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON TRIPLE BILL at Covent Garden - Dance, dance, dance!

As you know Constant Reader, last year was the year of doing New Cultural Things and the winner was ballet - I honestly didn't see that one coming.  So here we are again, back at Covent Garden and ready to launch on this year's terpsichorean adventures!

One of last year's non-Covent Garden ballet events was seeing Christopher Wheeldon's CINDERELLA at the Coliseum which was a good introduction to his choreographic style but here we were, back in the impossibly glamorous Royal Opera House, to see a triple bill of his more challenging pieces.

The programme included a world premiere bracketed by two works Wheeldon choreographed for American companies which have now been added to the Royal Ballet's repertoire.  AFTER THE RAIN from 2005 was an abstract sliver of elegant loveliness danced to an achingly spare score by Arvo Part.  It started with two male and female dancers in grey/black costumes suggesting the swirling relentlessness of a rain storm but were wiped out of mind by the simple delicacy of Marianella Nunez and Thiago Soares in a glorious pas de deux seemingly welcoming the sun after the deluge, it, and they, were spellbinding.

I was excited to see the world premiere as it dealt with a favourite subject: John Singer Sargent's MADAME X, his infamous 1884 portrait of society beauty Amélie Gautreau.  American-born, Amélie married well in Paris and hired Sargent, the artist-of-the-moment, to immortalise her imperious beauty.  Sargent had her model in a black evening dress and painted her with one of the golden straps slipped off her shoulder.

The result was an instant scandal when the painting was displayed at that year's Salon - her imperious air and the suggestion of abandonment in her pose was deemed too shocking for the Parisians and their opprobrium was turned on both Sargent and Amélie.  Sargent heard that the Gautreau family wanted to buy the painting at the end of the Salon to destroy it so Sargent removed it and kept it in his studio, eventually repainting the offending shoulder strap to look more normal.  Sargent was too great an artist to be ostracised for long but Amélie's reputation was permanently ruined and she became a recluse in a house with no mirrors.  The reaction always struck me as bizarre when one assumes that the Salon also had it's usual number of artistic nudes which were deemed okay - but a misplaced shoulder strap....!

Ultimately I think STRAPLESS slightly missed it's target as the narrative had to put over too much through pure dance but the I enjoyed the fluidity of Wheeldon's choreography and in particular Bob Crowley's beautiful set and costume design which suggested the Belle Époque very well.  I particularly loved Crowley's version of the infamous black dress which swirled and whirled behind the ever-moving Amélie, restlessly pursuing Sargent until she was immortalised.

The main three performances were also excellent: Natalia Osipova was an imperious Amélie, spoilt and capricious until she is shunned by her peers, and she managed the final moments well, stripped and standing in front of her portrait, now surrounded by a 21st Century audience, but the woman herself is invisible to them.  Edward Watson gave us a suitably grave and haughty John Singer Sargent fascinated by the glamour of Amélie but drawn to a younger man, and Federico Bonelli was very seductive as Dr Pozzi, first seen in the pose that Sargent painted him, who is the conduit for Amélie to her painter.  I hope they stage it again in the future...

The last act was Wheeldon's 2008 ballet WITHIN THE GOLDEN HOUR which was an excellent showcase for his abstract choreography, his fourteen dancers seemingly floating, sliding, rising and falling again and again, and as the curtain slowly fell, they were circling and weaving, circling and weaving, movement flowing for ever...  It was a particular joy to see the male dancer we seemed to always see last year, Steven McRae, having the most extended pas de deux with Sarah Lamb.

It was another great evening at the Royal Opera House and I am looking forward to seeing Wheeldon's version of THE WINTER'S TALE there soon.  This triple bill - more than his CINDERELLA - has made me see what a fine choreographer he is.

Oh and by the way, what was my reaction to MADAME X?  Click here for my blog about the 2006 AMERICANS IN PARIS exhibition at the National Gallery to find out!

Monday, February 22, 2016

150 word review: CRAVEN HOUSE by Patrick Hamilton

Patrick Hamilton has a strange legacy; his fame is as the writer of two plays that were made into famous films GASLIGHT and ROPE but more importantly are the books he wrote before, during and after WWII which chronicle the pathetic lives of those who skulk in the shadows of London and commuter towns; nervy spinsters, predatory tarts and anonymous men who pass you by who might bore you at the pub, fleece you of your money or worse.

CRAVEN HOUSE was Hamilton's second novel, written in 1926 - revised in 1943 - and shows a 22 year old writer drawing on his unhappy upbringing - from middle-class affluence to reduced circumstances in drab rented rooms - but his writing draws attention to itself as he relentlessly shows over-literary archness while remorselessly ridiculing practically all his characters.

But the oddball occupants of the Craven boarding house point the way to greater works.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS at Noel Coward Theatre - tits but no balls

It's interesting that theatre turns so often to the "little British film" for new musicals: the female footballers of BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, the Geordie ballet dancer BILLY ELLIOTT, the factory workers making high heels for drag queens in KINKY BOOTS, the WI ladies in CALENDAR GIRLS, the unemployed strippers in THE FULL MONTY, the colliery band in BRASSED OFF, the striking factory girls of MADE IN DAGENHAM - there is even talk that the gay activists of PRIDE might be musicalised.

These films all follow the same template of an individual or friends chasing a dream or fighting injustice which nearly stumbles at the final hurdle only to triumph in the end.  They are all reasonably successful films which have a built-in audience awareness and a collection of 'lovable' characters the audience can bond with.  It doesn't always work - hello MADE IN DAGENHAM and FULL MONTY!  And now we have another show based on a similar "Little British film" about an individual chasing a dream...

Bob Hoskins co-produced and co-starred in the 2005 film with Judi Dench as the indefatigable Mrs Henderson who owned the Windmill Theatre in the 1930s and who hit upon the idea of mixing low comedy and high nudity - the showgirls were frozen in non-moving tableaux and the theatre famously never closed during the air raids of World War II.  And now Terry Johnson has adapted and directed it for the stage.

Constant Reader I left the theatre with one thought on my mind - why??  I had sat through the show with a real bafflement as at no point during it did I ever feel the need for this show to be musicalised at all.  Yes it has pastiche numbers for the 'onstage' scenes but the score is weakly malnourished and feels horribly old-fashioned mostly due to the shocking unoriginality of Don Black's lyrics - whatever originality he might have once had has long since dribbled out of his nib.

In his programme notes Terry Johnson says that MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS gave him ample scope to explore favourite themes including the male gaze and female empowerment.  Well I am sure those themes were mentioned on the first day of rehearsals but there is nothing in the finished article that strikes you as original or even that interesting.  His script simply plays out the film's plot - no insight, no real exploration of the wartime experience... it all just slides by like a film watched with the sound turned off.

The production felt bland and coy - for a show that's about nakedness it's awfully tame and toothless.  In fact the whole production: book, music and performances felt like it could easily have been teleported from the late 50s or early 60s.  It's remarkable that a new production can feel like a museum piece in 2015 (it opened at the Theatre Royal Bath last year).

Tracie Bennett gives a grating performance as the garrulous Mrs Henderson, over-pitched, shallow and lacking in any charm at all.  Ian Bartholomew has been an asset to many a musical but here as Vivian Van Damme, the manager of the Windmill, he sings and dances up a storm but without a single bead of charisma so it feels like his hang-dog facial expression and baggy suit are all there is to him.

Emma Williams is personable as Maureen the tea-girl-cum-main showgirl but her relentless perkiness soon feels like you are being battered to death with a rolled-up copy of Bunty and the rest of the cast play various stereotypes without troubling one's interest too much.  Terry Johnson's inoffensive piffle has even changed the film's plot so the character of Maureen is not killed in an air raid, her ex-stage hand boyfriend goes off to war instead and is conveniently killed so Williams can sing an interminable eleven o'clock number with Mrs Henderson about how "If Mountains Were Easy To Climb"... yes, you guessed, the next line ends with 'time'.

To paraphrase John Betjeman "Come friendly bombs and fall on the Noel Coward Theatre"

Sunday, February 14, 2016

HUSBANDS & SONS at the Dorfman, National Theatre - In The Pits....

I had been toying with seeing this as it is directed by the always-interesting Marianne Elliott but never got round to it until O booked tickets for it as the first of his birthday week theatre trips.  It certainly had it's moments but it also showed the worrying way that "director theatre" is taking.

So it turns out that in a workshop of D.H. Lawrence's three most important plays: THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, THE WIDOWING OF MRS HOLROYD and THE COLLIER'S NIGHT IN - none of which he ever saw performed - Elliott and Ben Power (who has that dreaded job, a dramaturg) hit upon the *whizzer* idea that, as they were all of comparable length, why not stage them all at the same time and have all three plays performed on the same stage - Lawrence's Eastwood community alive at the same time.

The trouble is that Lawrence, while obviously skilled as a writer, had a limited dramatic palate; the three plays seem to have the same rhythm, the dramatic peaks all seem to happen at the same time - and the dramatic lows all happen at the same time too.

I am sure if Lawrence - who had yet to hit his full literary height when he wrote these plays - had wanted his plays to be performed as such he would have written an ensemble piece.  They are three miniatures that have been pasted onto a massive painting.  This "cut and shunt" approach to plays is growing more prevalent as directors make productions more about them then about the text they are presenting.

The idea of setting a play within it's period and within the writer's character delineations are becoming more grist to the star director's mill.  If I go to see UNCLE VANYA then I want the lead character to be called Vanya... and not John as is currently the case at the bloody Almeida.  And what with the National announcing in the past week that Tamsin Greig is going to be playing MalvoliA in a re-imagined TWELFTH NIGHT...

Bunny Christie has transformed the Dorfman into a Nottinghamshire version of OUR TOWN or DOGVILLE with the outlines of the three houses cheek-by-jowl and one couldn't fault the lighting design by Lucy Carter and video design of Tal Rosner.

The cast were mostly ok but no one really seized their role and gave it a damn fine shake.  Anne-Marie Duff is unlikely to ever give a bad performance and she was suitably downtrodden as Mrs Holroyd and I liked Katherine Pearce as Gertie, a fine big lump of a girl, always up for a laugh.  Otherwise, the performances were anonymous.

I wish I had liked it more but the concept kept getting in the way.  What next I wonder?  Hey, Noel Coward wrote plays about the same types of people - why not do PRIVATE LIVES, HAY FEVER and DESIGN FOR LIVING all at the same time and call it RICH PEOPLE?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Exit Through The Giftshop - Postcards at an exhibition....

I am going to do this as an occasional blog...

Usually for me it kicks in about halfway round an exhibition... that's when I start thinking "I wonder if they have this picture as a postcard in the shop?"  Indeed I remember going to the Royal Academy's 1991 Pop Art exhibition with a friend, Jacqui Tomlinson, who *raced* around the gallery barely looking at the Warhols, Lichtensteins and Johns'.  When I caught up with her I asked did she really dislike it that much and she said "No, I just want to get to the shop quicker".  I thought Andy Warhol would have found that particularly funny.

Of course once I get to the shop, I usually start my usual rant: "Why don't they have a postcard of THAT picture??  Why are there only 4 postcards for such a big exhibition - and why are they all the SHITE ones?"  I have yet to get a proper answer to that one...

But we buy the postcards they have - and in a very special case, the catalogue - but what do you do with yours?  Mine tend to sit in various boxes, waiting to be looked at again... so let's get them on here!  I shall put up a few at a time and give my memories of when and where I saw them.

1) CARNATION, LILY, LILY, ROSE (1885-6) - John Singer Sargent

I bought this after seeing the glorious 2015 Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which included the luminous painting of an artist friend's two daughters lighting Chinese lanterns in a twilight garden.  The postcard doesn't exactly do Sargent's colours justice but it's a lovely painting, giving a nod to impressionism but with Sargent's careful staging.

2) EL FINAL DEL NUMERO (1900-1) - Pablo Picasso

I think I bought this at the Courtauld's exhibition BECOMING PICASSO in 2013 which focused on 1901, one of the key years in the artists life. I love his use of pastels in this vivid moment of a singer taking the applause of her audience.

3) MRS HERBERT DUCKWORTH (1867) - Julia Margaret Cameron

 I bought this at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition of Cameron in 2003.  Cameron's niece Julia Jackson posed for this photograph aged 21 and her austere beauty could almost be a personification of Victorian femininity.  Later that year she married the barrister Herbert Duckworth and was left widowed 3 years later with 3 children.  Eight years on she married the writer Sir Leslie Stephen who already had a daughter from his first marriage.  The Stephens would go on to have four more children together before Julia's death at the age of 49.  Her daughters would later rebel against their mother Julia's Victorian values through art (Vanessa Bell) and literature (Virginia Woolf).


I bought this in the Medici Chapel in Florence where Michelangelo's monumental tomb for Lorenzo, Duke of Urbano is. The Duke of Urbano was one of the lesser Medici, dying at the age of 26 but his daughter Catherine de Medici would go on to fame as the controlling Queen of France at the time of the Huguenot massacres.  Michelangelo's nude allegorical figure of Dawn however is a glorious statue of weary majesty.


I bought this at the Musée Jacquemart-André, a favourite museum in Paris which usually has interesting exhibitions and an even more interesting restaurant, perfect for déjuner avec un grand patisserie.  This was part of their 2015 exhibition FROM GIOTTO TO CARAVAGGIO and is a fine example of Giotto's skill in humanising his figures, his John The Evangelist is an old man whose kind and wise face is suggested by the lines around his eyes and forehead.  I like the gold trimming on his blue gown and pink shawl... John obviously liked his colours.  I have been told by Owen that "Giotto invented art" and I'm glad he did.

More soon...

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

ELLEN TERRY WITH EILEEN ATKINS - Lightning Strikes Twice...

Last Sunday I had the great thrill of seeing, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Eileen Atkins in her one-woman show based on the Shakespearean lectures of the great Victorian actress Ellen Terry - and it was as good, if not better, than last time.  Click on the picture below to see my original blog:

What makes the show so fascinating is that, while Atkins is saying Ellen Terry's words, you cannot help to look through that to hear the actress sharing her own thoughts on acting, actresses and Shakespeare, so often are the lines blurred...

The 80 minute monologue encompasses Terry working with Sir Henry Irving as well as her reflections on the wonderful Shakespearean women she played and this is when the show becomes the stuff of legend - at times turning on a sovereign to play two characters within a certain scene, Atkins was simply dazzling in speeches from AS YOU LIKE IT as Rosalind (as well as Orlando and Duke Frederick),  MERCHANT OF VENICE as Portia, MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR as Mistress Page, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING as Beatrice (as well as Ursula and Hero), TWELFTH NIGHT as Viola, OTHELLO as Desdemona and Emilia (and even Othello!), ROMEO AND JULIET as Juliet, KING LEAR as Cordelia (and the King) and HAMLET as Ophelia.

Using Terry's own words to describe each heroine and to point out the pleasures and the pitfalls in playing them, the Victorian actress then gave way to the magnificent Atkins to fill the auditorium with wonderful readings of the parts, finding pathos, comedy and wonder in the words with no props or scenery.  Once within the role - even if for a few lines - the years fell away...

My favourite characters were Rosalind, loving and wise; the humanity of Portia; the fearless courage of Emelia; Juliet and her tremulous fear of waking in the burial vault (and giving a great example of the age-old observation that by the time an actress has the experience to play Juliet she is too old to be Juliet);  Ophelia and her broken mental state; and the finest of all, Cordelia and King Lear's reunion.  Atkins was simply stunning in both roles - an example of total theatre thanks to true acting genius illuminating the heartbreaking words of a bewildered, humbled King and his loving daughter.  You could hear a pin drop during this moment and I will happily admit to copious tears.

I am honoured to have experienced this wonderful event twice - PLEASE someone film this show!  It would be the perfect addition to the marking this year of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM at the Lyttelton - August in February!

Back in the day - actually it was 27 year's worth of days - I saw the National Theatre's production of MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM by August Wilson in the intimate Cottesloe Theatre.  It stayed with me as being an exploration of the burgeoning success of black jazz and blues performers and musicians within the 'race' recording companies while also boasting impressive performances from Carol Woods, Hugh Quarshie and Clarke Peters.

August Wilson died in 2005 after writing ten plays in which he wanted to show the experience of black Americans in the 20th Century.  The only other of these that the National has staged was Wilson's first play JITNEY with a visiting American company in 2001.  This played in the Lyttelton Theatre which is now the home of Dominic Cooke's revival of MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM. Everything old is new again!

I am sure Rufus Norris wants to give the production the widest exposure possible but it feels too exposed on the expansive Lyttelton stage - a vast empty space surrounds Ultz's recording studio set and proves too much of a distraction even with the quality of the performances.

Ultz also has a narrow, train-corridor room raise up and down at the front of the stage to show the downstairs musicians' area which could surely have been included somewhere on the main stage as Bob Crowley did for the 1989 Cottesloe version.  It reminded me too much of the set design for THE HAIRY APE at the Old Vic last year.

This was my only problem with Dominic Cooke's production which is hugely involving, after an admittedly slow-moving first hour, and he captures the undercurrents that swirl around an otherwise unexceptional recording session for Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey, "The Mother Of The Blues" and her touring band.

Cooke skillfully highlights the air of change that haunts the characters - Rainey's fame is slowly being eclipsed by Bessie Smith who has bigger record sales whereas 'Ma' Rainey's style of shouted blues are perceived as out of fashion.  The band have to face the changing style in music and one in particular, the explosively egotistical Levee, is preening that the record company man has asked him to supply him with songs - surely that means Levee will be a star in his own right soon with his own band?

The play needs a barnstorming actress to play 'Ma' Rainey and Cooke has the good fortune to have Sharon D. Clarke who can act up a fearsome diva storm as well as belt out the title song to the balcony.  Clarke has found a home at Rufus Norris' National Theatre with roles in THE AMEN CORNER and EVERYMAN and here she is in suitably imperious form.

After her manager (a suitably harassed Finbar Lynch) assures the record boss that she will be on her best behaviour, she sweeps in an hour late, says she will not sing her song with the new jazzy arrangement, she won't sing if she doesn't get her bottle of Coca-Cola and she definitely won't sing unless her stuttering nephew is allowed to perform the spoken intro to the song!  Clarke is excellent in the role and shades the divaness when 'Ma' is allowed a reflective moment in the studio.

There are excellent performances too from Lucian Msamati as Toledo, the seen-it-all pianist, Giles Terera as Slow Drag the bass-player, Clint Dyer as trombone-playing Cutler and O-T Fagbenle (a name I marvel at) as the dangerously ambitious Levee.  When his dreams of being a future jazz star are dashed by "the man" his violent response brings to the play to it's shocking conclusion and Fagbenle gave a kinetic, jangly performance.

There is also fine work from Lynch as Rainey's weary manager, Tunji Lucas as her stuttering nephew Sylvester and a nicely sly performance from Tamara Lawrance as Dussie Mae, Ma's latest young lover who one suspects will move from bed to bed as long as it keeps her in new dresses and spending money.

I would recommend MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM very much... and look forward to new plays such as MADONNA'S CAUSING A COMMOTION and DUSTY SPRINGFIELD'S GOIN' BACK!

And to finish off, how about the actual recording the play is based on - although the first photo on the video is actually Bessie Smith (oh and it fades out before the end)  'Ma' would NOT be happy!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Dvd/150: I CLAUDIUS (Herbert Wise. 1976, tv)

40 years on, the BBC series of Robert Graves' I CLAUDIUS shines bright with it's dazzling cast and Jack Pulman's witty, concise adaptation - a textbook example in bringing a sprawling novel to life.

Filmed on BBC TV Centre sets, budgetary constraints allow Herbert Wise to concentrate on the interplay between the characters - and what characters!

Derek Jacobi is outstanding as Claudius who, in old age, writes the history of the emperors in his Imperial family from Augustus to himself, along with the formidable women they married or were murdered by!  Stuttering, lame Claudius is the family joke but survives them all to bear witness.

Of course it's the monsters one remembers: John Hurt's psychotic Caligula and the equally dangerous Livia, sublimely played by Sian Phillips in one of the great television performances.

Brian Blessed's avuncular Augustus, Margaret Tyzack's stoic Antonia and Sheila White's lascivious Messalina are among the other treasures.

Shelf or charity shop? You must be as mad as Caligula to think I would part with this!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

BILLY ELLIOT at Victoria Palace.... yes, I finally gave in!

It's only taken 11 years...
I tend not to see shows that hang around for years - to be honest none of the shows I like seem to be the hanging-around type.  I think it's also difficult to fully appreciate a show if you see it in it's nth year, shows can develop a run-of-the-mill quality with the original magic spark lost in numerous cast changes and resident director touch-ups.

I was fully expecting that with BILLY ELLIOT - I assumed it's much vaunted choreography would consist of a half-hearted leap here, an arm waved in the air there.  How wrong could I be?  Peter Darling's choreography was wonderfully kinetic and lively and a lot of that was down to our BILLY on the night, Euan Garrett who in the dance routines was a spinning, leaping and back-flipping delight.

So what took me so long?  I guess a love of the film which I have seen countless times allied to a general dislike of Elton John,  However the news that it was due to close in April and Owen asking for the dvd of the film for Xmas made me do the booking thing.

I haven't been in the Victoria Palace for years - more than 11 obviously - so I had forgotten how nice it is inside with room to roam in the theatre bars and with an impressive open auditorium - it's a shame this Frank Matcham-designed theatre doesn't have a bigger profile.  I was also surprised how busy it was!

But what of the show?  As I said I certainly enjoyed it for it's dynamic choreography and for the central performance of Euan Garrett but what really surprised me was how totally nondescript Elton John's score was.  For someone who has written the odd memorable tune in the (distant) past it was a bit odd that on leaving the theatre I couldn't remember one of the 13 songs in the score.

What I came out humming was Lee Hall's book as it lifted whole scenes out of his original film script.  Only with added swear words - make that a lot of swear words.  Now I am no prude but even I got fed up with the swearing, only there to 'shock' the audience with a kid saying "bastard" for the 100th time.  It all seemed a bit broad with certain characters becoming cyphers - Deka Walmsley's Mr. Elliot goes from being an unloving man to a bit of a lovable klutz in the course of one scene.

Ruthie Henshall played the dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson with less gritty realism than gritted teeth; I think her inherent teeth, tits & tonsils style was at odds with Mrs Wilkinson's dogged manner.  A character who has been built up is Michael, the not-so-secretly gay friend of Billy which was winningly played by Nathan Jones and who made the most of a big dance number with Billy where they are joined by giant dancing dresses.  Believe me, it ain't subtle.

Another surprise was how much it wore it's anti-Thatcher views on it's sleeve, not that I'm complaining, mind!  It was certainly more overt than the film and one of the more stirring moments of the show was towards the end when, as Billy leaves for a life of dance in London, his dad and his brother sing their way back to the pit, the auditorium and Billy illuminated in the dark by the torches from their mining helmets - defeated but unbowed.

As I said Peter Darling's choreography for Billy was quite wonderful and in particular the dream ballet between Billy and his older dancer self was quite breathtaking and Rick Fisher's lighting was also great in the dance sequences, creating areas on the stage to contain the dance.

Would I recommend it to anyone who has not yet seen it at the VP or on it's upcoming UK tour?  Yes I would, for the choreography and for Stephen Daldrey's production... just don't expect to be buying the cast recording.