Monday, October 16, 2017

42nd STREET at Drury Lane - Nostalgia isn't what it used to be...

33 years: a long time ago but, as is often the case, it also seems like no time at all especially if you are experiencing the same show in the same theatre.  In 1984 I saw a preview of "42nd STREET" at Drury Lane and was swept away by Gower Champion's propulsive choreography, Theoni V. Aldredge's lavish costumes and the larger-than-life performances of Georgia Brown as 'Dorothy Brock', Claire Leach as 'Peggy Sawyer' and Carol Ball as 'Anytime Annie'.  I knew Carol from Richard Eyre's company at the National Theatre so eventually her dressing room became a second home!  So there I was and here I am, sitting in the same theatre seeing a revival of the same show...

I had been in two minds about seeing the revival; with such fond memories of the original, how could it compete?  However last week, Owen surprised me with tickets - even better was the fact that when O picked up the tickets, he asked was there any chance of an upgrade from the Upper Circle to the Dress Circle?  Constant Reader, you can't go wrong in the second row of the Dress Circle - £35 tickets upgraded to £125 seating! Well, you don't get if you don't ask eh?

The production is directed by Mark Bramble, who co-wrote the original production with the late Michael Stewart, and the show has been made bigger and better with Champion's routines added to by choreographer Randy Skinner.  Oddly enough, the book has been the last thing to be revised so is still as thin as ever - 42nd STREET is definitely the last musical to go to if you want 3-dimensional characters -and the book literally jumps from song to song like a tapping mountain goat.

But the show knows it's strengths and the songs - and the thrilling dance routines that accompany them - just keep on coming.  The Harry Warren and Al Dubin songs might not be the best songs of the 1930s but boy, they have tunes and Bramble has inserted three extra ones into the original score - remarkable to think that the original 1933 musical film only had five songs!

From the famous opening moments - when the curtain rises and pauses so you can focus on the ensemble's furious tapping feet - the show just picks you up and whirls you through it's classic backstage tale of Broadway director Julian Marsh, desperate for a hit to put him back on top, having to rely on untried chorus girl Peggy Sawyer to take over the lead role when his temperamental star Dorothy Brock breaks her ankle.

The show's genesis is now Broadway legend: producer David Merrick, trying to reclaim his King of Broadway crown, decided on produce 42nd STREET that was adapted by Bramble - his ex-office boy - and Stewart.  Michael Stewart had written the lacklustre book for MACK AND MABEL which Merrick produced and Gower Champion directed.  The show flopped and Champion swore he would never work with Merrick again.  But six years later, and with two more flops to his name, Champion agreed to work on 42nd STREET but again producer and director clashed during pre-production.  Aware that word was reaching New York that the production had problems in it's tryout in Washington, the paranoid Merrick cancelled all the Broadway previews to stop the press sneaking in but insisted the actors still perform to the empty auditorium.  One of them even suggested that they all bring in any cuddly toys they had one night and played the show to them sitting in the front rows!

The non-previews also covered up the sudden absence of Champion, but he was in hospital having succumbed to a blood disease that he had been fighting.  Opening night finally arrived and Merrick had to let the press and public in - but that morning, Gower Champion died.  Merrick only told a couple of people and, after acknowledging the standing ovation at the end of the show, announced to the stunned cast and audience that Champion had died.  The next morning 42nd STREET was front-page news and Merrick had his hit.  There is still conjecture that he made the announcement this way knowing it would make any bad reviews redundant.

It's a show where the ensemble is the real star - the leads are played pleasantly enough but some of the supporting performances are pitched so high as to be like fingernails on a blackboard. Sheena Easton - Sheena Easton!! - can never be accused of being an actress but she sang well enough - it's not her fault that she does not have the pure star heft of the late and great Georgia Brown.  Tom Lister as Julian Marsh was a surprise as I felt he had a real presence on stage, but the one who dazzled - as she should - was Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer.

Halse twirled, whirled and fired off machine-gun tapping riffs and, in particular, in two interpolated numbers - WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU and an extended finale with just her and the chorus - she resembled a young Debbie Reynolds.  Julian Marsh famously sends Peggy out on the opening night of PRETTY LADY with the phrase "You are going out there a youngster but you've got to come back a star" - suffice to say, Halse is one now!

Oddly enough, what stuck me with this version is the desperation behind it all, Marsh faces a bleak future with no hit shows, Peggy has only her no-hope existence in Allentown if she fails, the dancers all face the breadline and the score is peppered with songs like WE'RE IN THE MONEY, WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU and THERE'S A SUNNY SIDE TO EVERY SITUATION (the pithy lyrics are courtesy of Johnny Mercer) which make light of the lack of money.  It's odd that I never really noticed it in the 1980s.

As I said I was in two minds about seeing 42nd STREET but I'm glad I did, there is really no other show like it at the moment which is so resoundingly optimistic about the joy that a Broadway musical can bring and puts all that money on the stage.  Randy Skinner's additional choreography really works, fleshing out the title number with the ensemble thundering down a huge staircase - a reference to the original staging of "Lullaby of Broadway" in the film GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 - and the joyous extended finale danced by Clare Halse and the chorus.

Oh and on the subject of money...

Here is the reverse of the 42nd STREET flyer that I picked up at that preview all those years ago - bear in mind Owen's £35 Grand Circle tickets was upgraded to Royal Circle seats that ordinarily would have cost £125...

I guess it was 33 years ago...

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Dvd/150: ENTRE TINIEBLAS (DARK HABITS, Pedro Almodóvar, 1983)

Almodóvar's third film was made with proper film company funding which shows in the look of the film: finally Pedro finds a visual language and, although set in a convent, his use of shadows and colour make it a visual pleasure.

DARK HABITS is hampered by the dull central performance of Cristina Sánchez Pascual.  Pascual, while fine in a supporting role in LABYRINTH OF PASSION, was the film company boss' lover and her involvement was non-negotiable.

Luckily, Pedro surrounds her with sublime actresses who became his Almodóvar regulars.
Julieta Serrano is wonderful as the drug-taking, lesbian Mother Superior who gives sanctuary to singer Pascual who is implicated in her lover's death; Serano turns a cartoon character into a piercing study of lonely despair.

Memorable too are three zany nuns - masochistic Marisa Paredes, Carmen Maura (playing bongos to her pet tiger!), secret novelist Chus Lampreave - and Cecilia Roth too.

Shelf or charity shop? Despite Pascual's charisma bypass, Sisters Julieta, Carmen, Marisa and Chus make it a keeper...

Monday, September 25, 2017

Dvd/150: ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED (tv, Jon Blair, 1995)

Jon Blair's powerful documentary was first shown on BBC television but a US cinema release resulted in a Best Documentary Academy Award.

With access to the Anne Frank Museum archives, Blair not only tells Anne's story but also puts her in the wider context of the events that engulfed her, her family and her contemporaries.

Born in Frankfurt in 1929, Anne moved with her family to Amsterdam in 1934 after Hitler came to power; in 1942, two years after the Nazi occupation, they went into hiding in attic rooms above the warehouse where Mr Frank worked, later joined by four others.

Betrayed in 1944, they became victims of the Final Solution but through Blair's fascinating interviews with schoolfriends and fellow prisoners, Anne's personality is fully revealed.

The film is also a tribute to Miep Gies, the surviving member of the Frank's four helpers, who hid the diary after the arrests.

Shelf or charity shop? With Kenneth Branagh's excellent narration and readings by Glenn Close (originally Joely Richardson when first shown), this is a documentary to treasure.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Nymphomaniacs, artificial insemination, Muslim terrorists, incontinence, father-love, nail-varnish sniffing... it can only be early Almodóvar!

This was his second feature film and, like the later WOMEN ON THE VERGE.., builds to a dizzying screwball chase finale - yes it's scattergun story-telling, but it's done with such verve and anarchic delight that it's also huge fun.

Aptly-named Sexi is the nympho daughter of a renowned gynecologist who falls in love at first sight with Riza, bisexual son of a deposed middle-eastern dictator whose ex-wife is a client of Sexi's father.  The trouble is, Muslim terrorists are out to kidnap Riza - and he has already slept with one of them while in disguise!

Almodóvar crams in so many outrageous characters that it could overwhelm you but delightful performances - including Antonio Banderas in his film debut and Almodóvar as half of a gay punk duo - keep you engaged.

Shelf or charity shop? It's Almodóvar! 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

FOLLIES at the National Theatre - Now and Forever....

Since first sitting in the Olivier theatre on 6th August 1982 for Richard Eyre's legendary GUYS AND DOLLS, I have sadly seen my fair share of dog shows on that stage, and every time I have endured an EDWARD II or a WONDER.LAND, my mind has wandered to shows I would love to see on that stage and the one that always swayed to the front, glittering with beads and feathers, was Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES.  And now it's here...

It has been such a long-held dream of mine to see FOLLIES there that I felt very nervous leading up to the lights going down as the first ghostly showgirl made her appearance on Vicki Mortimer's crumbling backstage set.  I must admit to having a few niggles with Dominic Cooke's production but as Imelda Staunton's Sally sings, "I'm so glad I came".

In 1965, Sondheim and writer James Goldman were looking for a project to collaborate on when Goldman had the idea of a murder mystery set at a reunion of showgirls.  Over the years the plot kept tripping them up but both loved the idea of the showgirls reunion and how regrets for what one did and more importantly didn't do, can haunt your life.  When Hal Prince became involved as director, he remembered a 1960 Life magazine photograph of a glamorous but fragile Gloria Swanson standing amidst the rubble of the Roxy cinema in New York which had opened with her film THE LOVES OF SUNYA. Prince felt this captured the essence of the project - the survivor, the glamour and the ruin.

It's 1971 and the Weismann Theatre is to be demolished to make way for a car park. The former owner Dimitri Weismann invites former stars and show-girls of his inter-war "Follies" productions to a first (and last) reunion onstage, the night before the demolition.  The guests compare how they have survived out of the spotlight but cannot resist running through their old numbers.  Among the guests are Phyllis and Ben Stone & Sally and Buddy Plummer - when they were showgirls in 1941, Phyllis and Sally were room-mates being courted by best friends Ben and Buddy but during the joint courtship, Ben led Sally to believe he loved her; he rejected her however and married Phyllis, and although Sally married Buddy she has never stopped obsessing about Ben.

Eventually the two couples finally confront each other - Sally reproaches Buddy for his mistresses while Buddy tells her it's only because she has shut him out emotionally while obsessing about Ben; Ben feels his life as a politician has been a lie and foolishly lets Sally believe he still loves her, while Phyllis accuses Ben of turning her into a frigid trophy wife and never really appreciating the real her.  As they argue with themselves - and the ghosts of their younger selves - it leads to an explosion of fantasy: they find themselves starring in their own "Follies", each singing a solo number which expresses their dilemma.  But the illusion cannot last forever...

Hal Prince's 1971 production ran for 522 performances but closed at a loss of over $720,000, due of the huge costs involved and audience ambivalence - despite 'names' like film stars Alexis Smith and Yvonne de Carlo, 1950s tv singer Dorothy Collins and veterans Ethel Shutta and Fifi D'Orsay, audiences found Goldman's book too downbeat.  It won seven of the ten Tony Awards it was nominated for but failed to win Best Musical.  Cult status grew through the original cast album but sadly Capitol Records would only release it as a single album, losing a lot of the score.  The show has had two further Broadway revivals in 2001 and 2011, but lost out winning the Best Musical Revival Tony Award both times.

1985 was the year FOLLIES hit me!  The lack of a full cast recording led to the decision to stage a concert version in New York to be recorded featuring the full song score with the jaw-dropping cast of Barbara Cook, Lee Remick, George Hearn, Mandy Patinkin, Elaine Stritch, Carol Burnett, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Liliane Montevecchi et al.  But before this, I had already seen my first production of the show in Wythenshawe, Manchester.  Directed and choreographed by Paul Kerryson, the production swept me away and made me yearn for a London transfer.  However, when FOLLIES opened in 1987 at the Shaftsbury Theatre, it was a new production directed by Mike Ockrent. 

Cameron Mackintosh had asked Goldman and Sondheim if they would 'revisit' the work to make the tone more optimistic.  Goldman was happy to, Sondheim less so.  One night I was outside the Shaftsbury stage door after seeing a preview and Sondheim came out on his own.  While he signed my programme I told him I had seen the Manchester version, he shot me a look and asked which I preferred.  Cautiously I said that, although loving Julia McKenzie, David Healy, Dolores Gray and Lynda Baron, I felt that Manchester was better.  He replied that while shows can always stand a revision it was always possible to return to the original.  Point taken Steve...

Nineteen years later FOLLIES turned up at the Landor Theatre which seated a mere 48 in a production which made up for it's lack of grandeur with a cast guaranteed to have any musicals fan of the 1980s hug themselves with delight - Sarah Payne, Claire Moore, Adele Anderson, Rachel Izen, Carol Ball, Roni Page - my blog of that production is here.  But now here it is at the National Theatre, in a production that looks back to Hal Prince's original, in particular without the sub-par songs Sondheim wrote for the 1987 production and it plays straight through with no interval.

This is Dominic Cooke's debut musical production and if you think FOLLIES is too big an ask for a debut you would be wrong as Cooke handles the production with a thoroughness of vision which allows the musical numbers to flourish and stake their claim on the Olivier stage but is just as thorough at the emotional trauma the four main characters inflict amid the nostalgia.

I grew to like Vicki Mortimer's design but wanted to remind her that the wrecking-ball arrives the day after the reunion not the day before as her set was like a bombsite at the best of times, however Paule Constable's lighting was a wonder and Bill Deamer's choreography is also a pure delight, especially in the wonderful WHO'S THAT WOMAN where the aging showgirls gamely go through their steps unaware that they are being matched step-for-step by the shadows of their former selves.

When the production was announced I was excited as to who would be cast, imagining the National Theatre could and should get together some West End musical veterans who would rival MGM's slogan "More Stars Than There Are Heaven".  Well that didn't happen which is where I have a niggle with the production.  The pure joy of the Landor production, as I said earlier, was to see so many musical performers from the 1980s playing the ex-showgirls; FOLLIES cries out for that recognition of the history behind each of the performers.  Sadly the NT didn't do this so although ultimately it's a whinge probably only I have, I think a trick was missed out on.

My other stumbling block was with Tracie Bennett as Carlotta Campion, the Weismann girl who couldn't quite make it on stage but who found fame, first as a film star then as a tv actress.  As I suspected might happen, Bennett dispensed with a character all together and sang Carlotta's cri-de-coeur I'M STILL HERE as if reprising her Judy Garland role in OVER THE RAINBOW.  More than ever, some identification with the actress playing Carlotta works wonders - most notably when Dolores Gray then Eartha Kitt made it such a tour-de-force in the 1987 London production - but here it was just Tracie Bennett doing her shtick.

But why then did you see me wiping tears of happiness away at more than one occasion?  Because, despite those niggles, I was presented with the production of FOLLIES I have yearned for all those years.  Because when it hits, it hits hard and, despite Tracie Bennett, there are astonishing performances wherever you look.  It was a given that Imelda Staunton would be a great Sally but she is such an astonishing performer that she mines down within the character to find the raw, festering yearning that Sally has nursed for Ben, making her life as a wife and mother a sham.  To quote Neil Simon, Sally is worse than a hopeless romantic she's a hopeful one and watching that dream die in her was Imelda's triumph.

Janie Dee was equally great as Phyllis, the woman who once told Ben that she would read all the right books to make herself worthy of him and who now realizes that in doing so, she lost her most vital possession - herself.  A real treat was to see how a dropped idea from the 1971 production was re-used here: Hal Prince wanted Sally and Phyllis' Follies solos to be tributes to Jean Harlow and Rita Hayworth but it was dropped as it just didn't seem to fit - but here Cooke has Sally singing LOSING MY MIND in a white on white Harlow-esque boudoir while Phyllis' THE STORY OF LUCY AND JESSIE is shake and shimmied to as in a Hayworth film like MISS SADIE THOMPSON.

The real success of the show is Philip Quast as Ben, the man everyone looks up to as a shining beacon of success but who inside cannot understand why.  Owen asked me before were there any songs I didn't like and I said it was Ben's THE ROAD YOU DIDN'T TAKE but in Quast's deft handling it landed wonderfully.  Peter Forbes as Buddy was a little out-of-his-depth but then I was so bowled over by the late and great David Healy in the 1987 production that anyone would struggle.  Of the younger shadows, Zizi Strallen and Alex Young as the 1940s Phyllis and Sally really stood out.

The truly astonishing thing about FOLLIES is that Stephen Sondheim floors you with a fantastic song only to follow it up soon after with another.  It Is a credit that Dominic Cooke keeps the tension throughout and it doesn't become a stop-start affair of big numbers stopping the show, one after the other.  Di Botcher comes out swinging for BROADWAY BABY which was all the sweeter for being from someone I had always looked on as a play-as-cast performer - believe me, that song was still travelling when it hit the Olivier's back wall!  Dawn Hope invests WHO'S THAT WOMAN? with plenty of attitude and sass - she's come a long way since Crystal in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at the Comedy.

But the one that utterly floored me was ONE MORE KISS which is sung supremely by Josephine Barstow as Heidi Schiller, the oldest of the Weismann girls who, before leaving the stage for the last time, sings the operetta aria that Oscar Straus wrote for her - or was it Franz Lehar?  A sad, lilting song of farewell, Heidi sings it to herself but also to Weismann who was once a lover who watches from the shadows, the song made doubly poignant as she is joined by her younger operatic self.

That the production managed to cast one of Britain's great operatic divas for the role is special enough, but within the short space of the song, you could hear a pin drop as her voice soared around the auditorium joined by Alison Langer as her younger self.  In a score of unstoppable great musical moments this was one to treasure.  Hopefully next time, Dame Josephine will be lit to fit her status.. someone should have given the follow-spot op a nudge.

I will be seeing FOLLIES again at the end of the month; by which time the wobbly preview ticks - Barstow's missed lighting, the feedback that distracted during Janie Dee's COULD I LEAVE YOU and the slightly unfocused ending - will be sorted.

As it is, FOLLIES is nigh-on perfect; an American classic given the production it deserves on our leading stage. Surely a cast recording must follow on?  If you are unlucky enough not to to have booked a ticket already, the great news is that FOLLIES will be filmed live as part of the NT Live series and shown simultaneously in cinemas in the UK and abroad.on 16th November.

Clink the image to see where it's playing near you:

Constant Reader, if you have ever loved this blog... go!

The ghostly Weismann showgirls are waiting to walk their stage just one more time...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

COMING CLEAN at the King's Head Theatre - 35 years later, Kevin Elyot's debut play...

So, to paraphrase the ad-line for AMERICAN GRAFFITI,  where were you in '82?

I started 1982 as an avid film fan who looked at the theatre as something of a planetarium - a place to stare at stars - I ended it as an obsessed theatre-lover thanks to Ian Charleson.  First there was the joy of seeing him and Vanessa Redgrave in two Sunday afternoon benefits for the SWP Youth Training Centres and finally, after months of trying, seeing him, Julie Covington, Julia Mckenzie and Bob Hoskins in GUYS AND DOLLS.  Film just couldn't offer as exciting as that.

It was a big theatre year for Kevin Elyot too.  Elyot had been an actor with the Gay Sweatshop theatre company and had played the Bush and King's Head Theatres with them.  In 1981 he submitted his first play called COSY to the Bush where it opened the following year with the title changed to COMING CLEAN and it went on to win the first Samuel Beckett Award for excellence.

This year, three years after his death, we have seen the odd symmetry of his first and last plays being revived: Park Theatre gave us the slight TWILIGHT SONG written at the end of his life and now we have the King's Head - where he acted all those years ago - staging that first play as part of a short season of productions to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality - but how well does it stand up?  See, Elyot isn't the only one to deal in innuendo!

It was fascinating to see small beginnings in this debut play of themes which would be developed in his later plays, most importantly, the secrets that can fester in friendships and love affairs.  One can confidently say that none of Elyot's main characters would know all the words to "Sing If You're Glad To Be Gay" and his jaundiced view of them rarely leaves room for sympathetic writing.  But that is one reason why I like his writing: there was no pandering to his obvious audience, especially as the years when he was most active saw a more celebratory feel to gay writing, albeit in the shadow of the HIV virus.

Set over the summer months of 1982, COMING CLEAN is set in the cramped living room of Greg and Tony, two 30-somethings who live in the Elyot stamping ground of central North London.  New Yorker Greg is the couple's breadwinner as a University lecturer which allows Tony to concentrate on his writing.  Much to the hilarity of Tony's old friend William - who hangs around the flat chatting about his latest sexual shenanigans and eating pastry - the couple have hired a cleaner, a young out-of-work actor called Robert.

Tony and Greg have been together for five years and have agreed that they can have partners on the side but only as one-night stands: twice would be betrayal.  So it's no surprise that Tony is shocked to discover after four months that Greg and Robert have been having an affair behind his back. It's an interesting play, the bitchy gay comedy that starts the play settles you into thinking that you know how the play will go but especially in the second act the mood changes to one of genuine pain as Tony confronts Greg with his infidelity which has now shattered their agreement. 

The scene that follows brings the play to an uneasy conclusion - Greg has left for New York - the holiday they were supposed to take together - and Tony has picked up a German leather queen in a disco.  Their love-making is awkward and stilted but when they stop trying to communicate, Tony can finally relax.  Maybe after University lecturer Greg, Tony can forget the importance of words...

The stage was dominated by a large red leather couch which was in keeping with the era but was resolutely ugly and the design seemed particularly crashingly odd - Greg and Tony don't need a cleaner, they need an interior designer.  Adam Spreadbury-Maher did a good job at directing the slowly darkening atmosphere of the play and there was a stand-out supporting performance from Elliot Hadley as the outrageous best friend William although his popping up as Jurgen the German in the last scene was a distraction.

I also grew to like Lee Knight's jittery Tony, his playing of the confrontation scene was nicely layered, but the production was let down by Tom Lambert's two-dimensional performance as the calculating Robert and the shockingly one-note performance of Jason Nwoga as Greg: a charmless performance which did nothing to explain or develop his character.

I am glad I got to see the production as it was interesting to see the springboard for Kevin Elyot's writing which found it's true peak with the shattering MY NIGHT WITH REG, but now someone has to revive his three post-REG plays: THE DAY I STOOD STILL and MOUTH TO MOUTH in which he exploits the playing with time he successfully managed in REG and his family drama FORTY WINKS.  It's good to see where a writer started and ended but we must also celebrate the career peaks too.

The King's Head poster design is also alarmingly misleading...  there is no sloppy milk-drinking in the production, let alone buff lads.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

LA BAYADÉRE at Covent Garden - Mariinsky 1 - Bolshoi 0

This time last year we had a bit of a marathon with the visiting Bolshoi company at Covent Garden but in truth I found them rather underwhelming - technically fine but with little emotion or three-dimensional performances.  But this year, while the Royal Ballet are off on an Australian tour, the Russians are back with the equally famous Mariinsky Theatre company, formally the Kirov.

I think we chose wisely as LA BAYADÉRE is one of the ballets most associated with the Mariinsky company.  The piece was the collaboration of the writer Sergei Khudekov and the father of classical ballet as we know it, choreographer Marius Petipa to a score by Ludwig Minkus in 1877.

It's a load of old hokum of course, but Petipa's choreography is still a marvel.  Saying that however, this production is based on a 1941 Kirov revival which was overhauled by Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani.  Also credited is the choreographer Nikolai Zubkovsky who created "The Dance of The Golden Idol" for a 1948 Kirov revival.  Oh and Konstantin Sergeyev gets a shout-out too for supplying the notations for Petipa's final production in 1905 which he managed to spirit out of Russia after the revolution thus allowing the Imperial Ballet's to survive for the ballet companies in the West.

The plot is a headspinner - in India, the temple dancer Nikiya loves the warrior Solor but he is married off - with apparently no say in the matter - to a powerful Rajah's daughter Gamzatti.  The High Brahmin who also has designs on the dancer gets her agreement to dance at Gamzatti's wedding not knowing who she is marrying.  The High Brahmin further stirs it by telling the Rajah that Solor was betrothed to Nikiya - but the Rajah decides to kill her rather than the erring warrior. Men eh?

Gamzatti has Nikiya brought to the palace and tells her to leave Solor but it all gets a bit heated and after Nikiya threatens Gamzatti with a knife, the Rajah's daughter too wants the girl dead.  She still dances at the event but doesn't realize that the basket of flowers presented to her is not from Solor but from nasty Gamzatti, it contains a poisonous snake who bites Nikiya and she dies.

Solor is distressed - as he bloody should be - and drifts off in an opium haze to the Kingdom of The Shades where ghostly virgins walk the earth and there he finds Nikiya and they are reconciled.  The original featured a fourth act which involves the wedding of Solor and Gamzatti in the temple but her murder of a temple dancer has angered the gods who destroy the temple killing all within, leaving Solor to be reunited with Nikiya in the heavens, but this was dropped in a 1920 post-revolutionary revival and has stayed in the Russian canon like this ever since.

Amazingly the West had to wait until 1961 to see the first full-length LA BAYADÉRE in Argentina but two year's later the then-Kirov Ballet danced the Kingdom of The Shades sequence in Paris which dazzled the ballet world and in 1963, Sir Frederick Ashton asked Rudolph Nureyev to stage the same sequence at Covent Garden for him and Margot Fonteyn, again to huge success.  In 1974 Natalia Makarova staged LA BAYADÉRE in America for the first time and she retained the four-act version, indeed the last production at Covent Garden was Makarova's production in 2013.  In 1992 Nureyev mounted a production for the Palais Garnier in Paris as he was succumbing to AIDS and after a rapturous opening he died only three months later.

It was certainly spectacular - the production included a wheel-on large elephant and a rather shabby tiger who was seen one production too many - but as with last year's visit from the Bolshoi, I found the actual characterizations fairly bloodless and austere.  It made me wonder what the dancers of the Royal Ballet could do with the grand passions of the main characters, they always bring such brio to their performances.

Viktoria Tereshkina was pretty as the Bayadére, Kimin Kim was a very bouncy and spinning Solor and the Golden Idol was flashingly danced by Vasily Tkachenko.  So in summation, I am glad to have seen this famous company dancing this famous production, but I think I will give Russian companies the go-by next time.  The Kingdom of The Shades *was* truly gorgeous though...

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Almodóvar's debut feature film is only 77 minutes long and is a whirlwind of scattergun story-telling; sleazy and unfocused but captures the heady movida movement in Madrid after Franco's death.

PEPI, LUCI, BOM allows a first glimpse of future El Deseo stars - Kiti Manver and Julieta Serano both feature in eye-catching cameos in a club scene, Cecilia Roth is seen in a commercial for wonder-panties, Cristina Sanchez Pascual plays a screeching bearded lady and Fabio McNamara flaps about shrieking as per.

But it's dazzling heart is Carmen Maura as Pepi who is raped by fascist cop Felix Rotaeta at the start of the film, and who exacts her revenge by getting her lesbian punk singer friend Bom to seduce his wife Luci, a downtrodden woman who loves to be degraded.

With it's mad swipes at pop culture and personal politics, it's amateurish at times but huge fun.

Shelf or charity shop? It's Almodóvar, it stars Carmen Maura and uses Little Nell's DO THE SWIM as it's title track - SHELF!!!!