Sunday, 11 December 2011

Warning: Awful Restaurant Alert

Completely forgot to tell you. Here goes. Virulent vilification of victuals.
Actually that's not exactly true - the food was fine, even 'nice' (though the distinctions between 'medium' and 'medium rare' seemed to elude them... but now I sound snobbish...) but you could only really appreciate the 'niceness' of said fuel if you were prepared to wait an hour and a half for it.
It was a full a hour and a half before the main course was served. And with 4 kids down one end of the table, really rather hungry, it wasn't a pleasant experience for parents.
I have been to Bertorelli's several times before, and each time the service has been appalling. Dreadfully slow, entirely unapologetic, the staff always assured us it was 'just coming'.
It very clearly was not.
And this time they gave us the bill before serving the ice cream (which we had naïvely assumed had arrived, been consumed, and left). Ice cream was then served at presumably what they call 'double-time' but the rest of the sane, time-keeping world calls it 'unrepentingly sluggish', and it had to be gulped down by the desperate children as we put on their hats, coats, scarves and gloves.
So if you're anywhere near St Martin's Lane, whether to visit Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery, the ENO or any of the surrounding theatres, don't bother the green-painted, silver-studded door of Bertorelli's. Or, if you still want to go, leave at least three hours for your meal. And don't count on ice cream. You may have to forsake it.

Sorry. Rant over.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

'Bah' said Scrooge, 'Humbug!'

No prizes for guessing what I've been to see! Simon Callow (that wonderful man again) is at the Arts Theatre, London, until January, and once again he is donning the mantle of Dickens; once again the man's thundering tones are to be heard echoing through Victorian London. But this time, we have no travelling cheap-jacks, no disillusioned dwarves (see this post)... this time we have Scrooge. Ebenezer Scrooge.
I will leave it to Mr C. Dickens himself to introduce you;
'Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.'
So there you have it. And of course you know him already! A Christmas Carol is trotted out at this time of year in so many households, that it really is a wonder we all don't know it off by heart. But still, I feel, it really never gets any older... the thing's 168 years old, and today, it was as alive as it's ever been for me. More so, in fact - I've rhapsodised about Callow's performance before, so I will only touch on it today - but he manages to capture the voice of the author so perfectly, and evokes such strong portraits while never skimping on his own intense performance, that I think if Dickens himself had walked into the Arts Theatre today, he would have been blown over at how his own oft-repeated, time-honoured words are being made to sound so fresh, so immediate.
A Christmas Carol is also, as well as being a classic festive tale, a ghost story; we have the three sagacious spirits, Christmas Past, Present and the really quite terrifying Future, come to warn the miserly Scrooge of his future. You would expect Callow, with Dickens' range of characters (including the ghosts) to leap from caricature to caricature; but his voice barely changed. This may sound like a detrimental comment, but trust me, it's far from it; Callow didn't need to change a thing. His physical presence and movement on the stage was enough; the dynamics that are usually there due to interaction between characters were all there within Callow's performance, and, of course, all in the text itself.
The minimal props (coat, chairs, and erm... fire...) that Callow manipulated himself were all it needed. Two sheets of gauze were used, one at the very back of the stage and one on an axis in the middle, and these were lit with different light depending on the scenes painted by Callow and Dickens. Gobos (silhouettes placed in front of lights to cast a shadow on the stage) showed us Scrooge's double-locked front door with the haunted knocker, and his own gravestone, chillingly placed in cold light at the back of the stage. Lights placed either side of the gauze helped conceal or reveal parts of the stage at key moments - with a clock appearing periodically to sound out the next hour of Scrooge's haunting... with the chime waking a napping member of my party - and Callow's turn as Marley (regrettably short) was made all the more spine-chilling by the cold, spectral spotlight cast on him; the spotlights' sudden switch from this to the warm, human light that encompassed Callow's Scrooge snapped us back from the phantoms' visit.
The sound effects were fantastic too; music was faintly heard for most of this hour-and-a-half long monologue (but by no means intruded on the story) and helped create the fantastic, almost tangible atmosphere.
I have one minor quibble; the appearance of the clock, and the changing of the lights, often happened abruptly... I found this a weeny bit distracting... perhaps fading them in and out and merging the colours would have helped to maintain the atmosphere that Callow had seemingly effortlessly created? Anyway, don't let this stop you from going, please. It really is a festive treat for all the family; I went with little ones ranging from 6 to 10 (hmm... 'little ones'... bit harsh on the two ten-year-olds!) and they all loved it and were captivated by it. I myself could watch Callow all day.
So you've got two ways to look at Christmas;
'Every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!'
'God bless us, every one!'

I know which one I'd pick right now... I'm feeling incredibly festive after today's trip!
Merry Chrimbo!
West End Girl x

Monday, 7 November 2011

You sir... how about a shave?

I'm afraid you're going to have to put up with my Sondheim obsession once more you poor things... because GUESS WHAT'S ON! Yes... what else could it be but;
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
And you can all blame my Uncle, who just happens to be the best one in the world.
I reviewed the National Youth Music Theatre's version (see the review here) in the summer, but I have never seen a full professional production of it before (no offence to the very talented guys in the NYMT!) so you can imagine my indecent levels of excitement when, on my birthday, I opened a card to find an invitation to the Chichester Festival Theatre to see the Demon Barber and his pie-baking accomplice at work...
So off we went! On Thursday! Starring were Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett, and the usually adorable, cuddly Michael Ball as Sweeney. Now I knew she'd be perfect, but I wondered what they were going to do about Michael's instantly loveable features.
I'll show you just what they did; look at this snapshot!       > > > > >
Scary. His slicked hair, hollowed eyes and sharp beard really suited Sweeney; and of course Imelda Staunton's little, bawdy, busybody Nelly Lovett complimented him perfectly! She was incredibly funny, adding her own quirks to the already quirky character, but still in fact much darker than, say, Angela Lansbury's rather music hall characterisation in the original cast. Right at the end, when Sweeney pretends to forgive her for deceiving him (before throwing her into the fire) Staunton's Mrs Lovett was still frightened; she knew that she wasn't going to get out of this one, no matter what he said, and it was this genuine fear and realisation of what she has unleashed in him that was so subtle, and yet so central to the character. Ball's Todd had a real East End twang to his voice, something I'd not really heard, and it suited him. He had the right balance of malice, black humour, and finally, psycho, that it needed, and it really struck all the right chords; together, they worked like a dream. I could watch them all day.
What struck me at first was the time frame; Sweeney Todd is set in dark, dirty, Victorian London. This production, however, was set in dark, dirty, blitzed East End London, and the transition was remarkably smooth; 40's London also had buildings that were liable to collapse at any moment (the balcony above the stage looked hauntingly good as a round, tiled, bombed train station), a shortage of food and generally uncertain hygiene among the poor. The new timeline was a fantastic idea, giving it a real edge, and making it stand out vividly from other productions. In the spoken lines some changes had been made ('shillings' to 'quid' e.t.c) but there were still moments where the Victorian shined through; the Judge sentences a man to hang for thieving... Sweeney has been transported for life to Australia... the madhouse is named 'Bedlam'; and it is of course the madhouse, that quintessentially Victorian obsession, that is the biggest sticking point. Those horrific asylums had moved on considerably by the Forties, with the First World War sparking research into mental health, but really, the rest of the tale is so filled with horror, that historical accuracy stops making a difference. If Johanna must be sent to a madhouse, by God, it is going to be a recognisably nightmarish one!
And of course, the music; Sondheim's music gives me the shivers, and then it makes me laugh. My favourite song, 'A Little Priest', where Todd and Mrs Lovett merrily discuss the different flavours of human that will grace her pies after he's dispatched the unfortunate souls was brilliant, and always seems to be an audience favourite. The shivers come mainly when the chorus are working their magic. Sondheim commented that he hates hearing choruses that are just one melody being sung by all; he thinks it implies that all the characters have the same thought, and that that's silly. While I'm all for the chorus of 'There's Nothing Like a Dame' in South Pacific, the way Sondheim brings so many layers into the chorus, or indeed into any line, gives it a very unearthly quality and is part of his unique, instantly recognisable sound. In the final bars of the musical, the grille went up at the back of the stage and we see Todd enthroned on his barber chair - in the same position as when we first see him but this time with the added devil on his shoulder, Mrs Lovett - and the chorus warned us that he could be right next to us, 'perhaps today you gave a nod / to Sweeney Todd', and I got the shivers as suddenly, with their dissonant chord humming in the background, one by one, they spotted him high on his throne, and pointed, accusingly; 'There! There!'
It's coming to London! Hurrah! Chichester (who have been hogging it for far too long, in my opinion) have let us have it! I will be constantly checking theatre sites and gearing up my Sondheim buddy - everyone needs one - for a trip.

West End Girl x
(becoming a bit of a misnomer... promise I'll be back in London next time!)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

What the Dickens!

Hoorah, hoorah, just like I promised, A NON-MOANING POST! And it's all thanks to three things; that wonderful seaside town of Brighton, the inimitable Simon Callow, and (extraordinarily, considering my dealings with him at GCSE) a certain Charles Dickens.
Early in the summer (not that we had much of one) I went to see Simon Callow in 'Being Shakespeare' at Trafalgar Studios. It was essentially the life and times of Shakespeare, along with some of his more famous speeches, rolled into two-and-a-bit hours; and it was fantastic. Though it may seem dry when described simply, Callow's rolling, rumbling voice and intense style was utterly perfect. He shone. It was rather unfortunate that one of our party fell asleep due to strong red wine lemonade, but even he admitted that he was sorry he'd missed it. Anyway, I got a history lesson, a biography, and some fabulous Shakespearean acting all in one evening.
Dr Marigold

And by George he did it again! In the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I had seen Simon Callow in 'Dr Marigold & Mr Chops', a one-man play, with two characters, both of Dickens' creation. Callow entered first as an old circus master (telling us he was 'appy to see us and hhhentry would cost us a shilling) and told of the dwarf Mr Chops, a troubled man with dreams of 'entering socie'y'. After the interval, he entered as Dr Marigold, a cheap jack on the road around England.
I had forgotten the power in Callow's performance, and am forever glad that I got to see this a second time, three years later. Dickens (who I find immensely depressing and hard work) was suddenly transformed by Callow into a rich, deep tapestry of the Victorian underworld. Pictures were painted so vividly before my eyes, I stopped seeing Callow; all I could see was Marigold's cart, and his stunning adopted daughter, both deaf and dumb. All I could see was the dark dingy inside of the Circus building, the fading posters, the elegant crowd, forever hard to please.
Callow telling us of Mr Chops
It is testament both to Callow's extraordinary story telling skills, and Dickens' prose. It was all meant to be read aloud. Think about it; 'Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.' That pause, signified only by a comma in the first sentence, when read aloud, can be laden with all sorts of emotions. Mystery, fear, excitement, everything, comes from the speaker pausing, just for the right amount of time, to allow those who know what's coming to shiver and smile, and those who don't to glance at each other as if to say 'Does the pause mean there's some question as to how dead he is!?' It's perfect Victoriana macabre, perfect for dark evenings by a flickering fireside.
Callow captures all this and more. His characterisations are so utterly believable that his transformation (with the help of a fabulous wig) in the second half doesn't halt at all, because it is not the same man onstage. His grasp of Dickens' style is beyond me; anyone who can make so much sense and emotion out of the puntuation-less, endless sentences I struggle through deserves a medal.
The minimal set that has been built around Callow is fine, but unnecessary. This man could carry this at the same tip-top rate that he does with a black stage and a single chair. As it is, the deep colours, faded woodwork, and odd cog and spring do envoke the dingy Victorian setting, but Dickens and Callow re-iterate this all anyway through their words.
The power that pulsed from that stage blew me away; My eyes were both fixed on the man onstage, but still far away, watching the story play out before me. There is no feeling better than that, being swept utterly away. Please, go, he's touring, and I hope he's touring near you. If, like me, you moan and say 'It's Dickens. An evening of just Dickens. And not even famous Dickens! I think I'm cleaning the cats boils that evening, sorry', you, especially youshould go!
The Theatre Royal in Brighton was perfect too, with its gold gilt and red velveteen chairs. I've got the shivers all over again, thinking about my evening spent on lonely English country roads, and smokey Victorian alleyways.
Perfect for Halloween.

West End Girl x

Friday, 28 October 2011

Not a Tempest... just a mild sea breeze...

Who'd have thought sixth form was quite so hard? I feel so useless at having had a two-month (two-month!?) break in blogging - and I can't even blame the first month on school... anyway, after a mixture of laziness, procrastination and multiple English essays (but that's always fun) I'm back, and I'm afraid it is not  good.
Ralph Fiennes is currently starring in Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, directed by Trevor Nunn, and on Friday, we all huddled over there (it was cold) to see how it worked out.
Now I have some big news for you all, so brace yourselves; Ralph has a NOSE. A REAL ONE. And, as well as this shocker, I have more news; a big star does not make a great production. I know, I know, you seasoned theatre goers are all tutting and rolling your eyes and saying 'The girl knows nothing. Nothing. OF COURSE you need more than a big name!' and I do know that, I swear; it's just, well, 'The Tempest was the high point of my week. Seriously, I'd really hyped it up. It was my night out (I'm just so wild) and I came away so... disappointed.
The Tempest is what I would term 'hard' Shakespeare; some of his plays roll off the tongue, and no matter what sort of fool you have directing, they will come out well. The Tempest is no such walk in the park; it has difficult (some half-formed, in my opinion) characters, many different themes, and it is run (mostly) in real time. It's TRICKY.
Take, for instance, Ariel, the spirit who attends on Prospero (played by Fiennes, incase you hadn't guessed). Ariel is usually compared to Puck, the 'merry wanderer of the night' in The Dream, and in this production we very much had that sort of Ariel; spritish, imp-like, full of energy. But where directors tend to make Puck a very masculine character (earthy, you might say), with Ariel, they tend to make him extraordinarily camp. Here, we had an ethereal spirit clad entirely in sky-blue lycra, prone to singing falsetto, and making strange 'airy' noises. When Prospero tortures him by reminding him of his past in imprisonment, he just sort of... twitched. I was not taken by him. At all. Especially the singing.
Nunn seemed to really want to go for the singing in this production; Juno and two other goddesses appeared near the end (Argh, why does Shakespeare bring in these random classical deities?) and regaled us with a very long number... beautifully composed, don't get me wrong, but I was running out of patience.
Miranda was good, but I missed a few jokes due to not being able to see her facial expressions up in the circle, which was a problem that really influenced the evening, I think. Fiennes himself, a much younger Prospero than usual - The Tempest was one of Shakespeare's last plays and it's said he may have written the character for himself - was, surprisingly, hard to watch. Though I'm sure I'm in absolutely no position to tell Trevor Nunn and Fiennes what to do, I thought he was falling into the classic Shakespeare-trap of proclaiming his part, not finding the meaning behind the foreign words. It was all delivered very monochromatically; very slowly, deliberately, deeply. Great for some aspects of Prospero, but not others; he is a complicated man.
Thank God for Nicholas Lyndhurst as the clown; he did his office and made me smile. Caliban (played by Giles Terera) was suitably spitting, twisted, and yet defiant and righteous; a hard character made easy, both to watch and to delve into.
So, once again, I'm sorry for such a long wait... and that my come-back is a lot of moaning! Anyway, give this one a miss. I'll be back with a better one. As one of those many phrases pinched straight from the Tempest says, 'We are such stuff as dreams are made on'; shame Trevor Nunn's dream hasn't quite panned out.

West End Girl x

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Guy Who Isn't Shakespeare

The Globe is a wonderful theatre - it's both a dream come true and a daunting experience for any actor. We toddled over there on Sunday the 14th to see a production of Christopher Marlowe's "Dr Faustus" starring Paul Hilton as Faustus and the lovely, lovely Arthur Darvill as the evil Mephistopheles. HOORAH! I shouted, ANOTHER DR WHO STAR!, for Darvill is indeed currently fronting a vintage period in Dr Who alongside Matt Smith's 11th Doctor.
The production was rather spectacular. One thing the Globe always does with gusto is costumes, and these were excellent. Darvill's Mephistopheles get-up was really quite yummy, and I think he particularly enjoyed his cape. The various hellish creatures all looked suitably nightmarish and mangled, and Lucifer, who has been depicted so many times in so many different forms, was a triumph. He was in an angel's garb, and only in the end tableau were his wings brought forward, tattered, unused, and yet magnificent. Throughout the play he is crouched, supported by two minor devils with the heads of rhinos, and at the very end he painfully, excruciatingly lifts himself and spreads his arms; the effect is obvious. He appears crucified. And naturally, as well as various devils and demons, Marlowe had to tell us off; the Seven Deadly Sins appear, all in black and red, and to varying degrees of effect. Pride managed to knock a devil's horns askew as she curled around his shoulders; Anger was genuinely frightening; and good old Gluttony managed to get some fart jokes in there.
Humour in such a piece is of great importance - we can only deal with so much fire and brimstone! As in Shakespeare, this is supplied to great effect by the servants (and yes yes, Gluttony's wind problem caused giggles). Pearce Quigley as a deadpan Robin, servant to a servant, had everyone in proverbial stitches, and one line about the French makes me very happy; it's good to know that what made people laugh in the 1500's still makes us laugh today, and it's good that it's still the French, too.
One bit which would have definitely tickled the Protestant Elizabethans fancy was a scene in which the Pope is ridiculed and Rome shown to be the corrupt institute it really was; however, today it doesn't quite have the same effect. It's a bit long, and a bit nothingy, and brings the pace down a bit - my advice would be to cut it, but hey, no one listens to me!

And of course, I have to come back to Arthur Darvill, of course I do. He injected a sort of deadness into Mephistopheles, an emptiness behind the eyes which I thought was really effective (and hey, really attractive too,) and I thought both he and Paul Hilton balanced the act well; at times, Faustus was the master of his Devil, and at others, Mephistopheles simply quietly performed his errands whilst in actual fact, he was ruling the show.
I have called this post, somewhat unfairly, 'The Guy Who Isn't Shakespeare'; poor Marlowe. He was somewhat under the shadow of the Bard for a long period of time. However, I find his language very different. Although it is of course of the time, he isn't as flowery or as affected as Shakespeare; the scenes where Faustus is tormented, or where Mephistopheles very bluntly and harshly admits to being the cause of Faustus' downfall (and doing it gladly) are plainly spoken, and yet still very moving.
It was a fantastic play; I'm surprised that it hasn't been revived sooner! The production itself is spectacular, and even if Shakespeare isn't your thing, try this. It has both a darker tone and a simpler plot; it is simply the human condition - wanting things we cannot have. It is different and magnificent. I loved it.
Ooh, and I met a star! Karen Gillan, the Doctor's other assistant, and wife to Darvill's character Rory, was there showing her support for her colleague. She was lovely and very obliging - I got a signature and a photo! As I was walking away, who should run up to her but Darvill himself; he greeted her with 'Hello, you maniac!'; and I would have asked for his autograph too, but thought it would be too rude to interrupt them. As my friend said 'You thoughtful rabid fan you.'. It's true. I'm too good to them.
Till next time,

West End Girl x

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The End of My Childhood a.k.a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2

I apologise profusely for my recent two-week gap in blog postage... work experience wore me out, and then I just got lazy. But I'm here now.
And yes I know, I'm sorry; it's not theatre-based, and like the contrary minx I am, I actually saw it in the East End... but how could I pass a Harry Potter review up! This is (see title) MY CHILDHOOD ENDING!

At the premiere, some genius wrote a placard saying ''Harry Potter is over. See you in therapy.'' and it's true! I was an emotional wreck! But I will try and get past the sheer passion and try to write this review without actually breaking down.
Well. It was a very odd experience, walking into that cinema. I snuggled into my seat, 3D glasses pinched firmly on my nose (not that those things are very secure... sizes should be introduced) and thought 'This is the last time I will do this. That famous title sequence (Huge Shiny P - I refer you to this video) will never roll before my eyes in such humongous splendour EVER AGAIN.' It was tough.
As for the film? Well, if you have to finish a series like HP, you bloody finish it like that. Daniel Radcliffe gave his best performance to date, Emma Watson has become a seriously good actress, and darling Rupert Grint turned up, too. David Yates, the director, really worked his magic and every single scene was atmospheric - he even managed to keep Bonnie Wright's scene alive (for those not in love with the Potter franchise, she plays Ginny Weasley, Harry's love interest, and is the most awkward, wooden actress I'ver EVER seen on film. I ALSO feel that I should, by rights, be playing Ginny). The parts I have come to love most in these films are the scenes with the 'Baddies', and I have a sneaking suspicion that these are also the parts Yates loves to direct. Helena Bonham Carter manages to steal every scene she's in as Bellatrix Lestrange, and the whole of the Malfoy clan just work together magnificently.
While I'm on the subject of Baddies, I have to mention the Baddiest Bad Guy of the Bad Bunch; VOLDEMORT! (alias You-Know-Who/He Who Must Not Be Named). OH RALPH FIENNES YOU ARE A BRILLIANT VILLAIN! Ah but the perfect part in this film (and what was partly shown in the last two) is Voldemort's transition from classic 'villain' to pure, living, evil. Fiennes's speech when Voldemort believes he has won was simply chilling.
If I was to pick one thing that was wrong with the film, it would be that Dumbledore's story was not told. His murky past, always something of a mystery in the franchise, was extremely interesting to read about in the last book, and it is a great shame that they only touched upon his family relationships and his doomed friendship with the dark Wizard Grindelwald. But alas, I have to admit that, had they addressed that as well, it would have been a long film... as in King Kong long.
Of course, I have one, massive shout out to Neville Longbottom. He finally, finally, gets his chance to shine, and WOW he shines bright. So much kudos to the lovely Matthew Lewis for doing it with so much heart, and making me love him.
If you haven't read the books or seen the previous films, stay away, it will make no sense. But if you are anything like as much of a Potter Nutter as me, I don't need to recommend it. You will already have seen it twice.
West End Girl x

Monday, 18 July 2011

Attend the Tale...

I am (and I will say this now) a Stephen Sondheim nut. His beautiful, intensely complicated melodies and hysterically clever lyrics awaken something of a fanatic in me, and so it was a joy for me to see my first production of the Sondheim classic 'Sweeney Todd'! Despite having loved both the film and the Broadway 1979 soundtrack, I had never seen it performed, and I was, needless to say, very excited. On top of this, it was a National Youth Music Theatre production at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, and so I took it to be a bar-setter; I myself am embarking on a two week course with the National Youth Theatre soon, and I am properly terrified now I have seen the standard of performance they put on... wow, I have to match that!?
As any musical theatre fan will know, Sweeney Todd is not your average musical, nor is it an easy singalong, which made the kid's production all the more thrilling (I say 'kids' - mostly late teens/early twenties). When you know the score as well as I do it's easy to tense up, and to lack faith in the cast; ooh there's a hard bit coming up, are they going to get it right? Oh god this song is FAST, can they do it? That sort of thing.
Lizzie Wofford as Mrs Lovett during 'A Little Priest' - singing
and beating 'pie mix' (Play-Doh) in time to the syncopated music?
No, not easy.

But ten minutes in I was ashamed of my scepticism. How professional they all were! What beautiful voices! Lizzie Wofford as Mrs Lovett particularly captured my attention: this was probably because she had a wonderfully powerful voice (built for Sondheim!) and she had impeccable comic timing, but it was, I confess, probably also because I covet that role. I want it. It is my Precious. Ever since meeting Sweeney Todd I have wanted to portray the pie-baking, scheme-making Nelly Lovett - I unfortunately don't have a voice half as wonderful as Lizzie's, but OH I want to give it a go! And if I get it half as right as her, I will be proud of myself! She also highly resembled Angela Lansbury (1979 cast) - weird.
Matt Nalton as Sweeney, my friend and I agreed (same friend of 'I love you David!' fame in my first post), was a little lacklustre. Again, another gorgeous voice, but he was not a psychopath... and by the end Sweeney IS a total psycho. He's willing to kill everyone and anyone, something Nalton didn't really get across; there are several moments when Sweeney cracks, and behind the calm, calculating exterior, we see a terrifying madman - Nalton had a chance to really go for it, to scream his lungs out, but, alas, he left us wanting more. In a bad way. Still, in the calmer, quieter moments, his Sweeney hit all the right notes.
Ah, it seems so harsh to have to pick out names, they were all so good! Tom Milligan as Anthony; Steffani Nash as the Beggar Woman; Stewart Clarke as Pirelli; all fabulous, all characterisations that were at the same time believable, and also the caricatures Sondheim paints in his lyrics.
A word must also go out to the director, Martin Constantine. The cast only had a small stage to work with, but boy, they worked it. Of course, musical director Jeremy Walker must also get a mention, as well as the fine-tuned orchestra; without their expertise it would have fallen apart.
Please, I urge you, go and see this; the audience were too few in number. I know the premise of the NYMT may bring back memories of dire school plays, but that could not be further from the reality; these guys may be young, but they are seriously talented. The names of the future could be in that program... you are making a mistake if you don't take this opportunity to see them shine.

West End Girl x

Friday, 15 July 2011

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside! (especially if there's a comedy ticket)

So, for only my second post I am no longer a West End Girl; I'm a Seaside Girl! Because, on Saturday morning, off we all toddled to Brighton. It's beautiful; clear air, ocean breeze, seagull chatter e.t.c e.t.c - but I'm not here to share the splendour of the Regency buildings (mostly lovely flats now), I'm here to tell you who we saw.
Dylan Moran has come a long, long way since I fancied him. He has gone from the tousle-haired, slightly manic chain smoker of the Black Books series to being a middle-aged man; on stage, thanks to fire-hazard regulations, chocolate has replaced the ciggies, and he (unfortunately) sports a much more sensible haircut.
This freaked me out a little, sitting in the dark auditorium. OH NO! my conscience shrieked, HE'S NOW A FATHER-FIGURE! THIS IS WRONG! YOU CAN'T FANCY HIM, YOU SICK, SICK GIRL! But luckily, I had been pre-warned. Two years ago I was once before treated to his genius (this time on the West End) and it was apparent to me then that he was no longer a suitable object of desire; he was a changed man. His comedy has morphed from angry young man into disgruntled old man, and though he has always had a world weary tone, he is now also very reflective. He hates 'machines' and frequently references their various evils - one unfortunate woman using one in the front row got a swift and barbed put-down; 'Madam, try and enjoy an unmediated experience'; enough to put you off your iPhone for good.
However despite the annoyance and, often, anger that he exudes, he is side-splittingly funny. The man has so many grievances with the ridiculousness of the modern world and his fellow humans, and puts them across in so pointed a fashion, that you can't help but laugh along at the utter bizarreness of it all. He made a particularly wonderful point about supermarket machines; you know the ones, they go 'blip'. Well, this being Brighton, Moran rhapsodised about the fabulousness of diversity, and then asked why, in this modern world of iPads and sat-navs, can't anyone make anything more diverse and exciting than a thing that always goes 'blip'? Surely we can make a supermarket trip (otherwise routine and dry) more creative by having, say, an Irish checkout machine? 'Oh that's a fierce lotta mangos ya got there, what'll ya be doin' wit them then?'. Or perhaps Italian? 'You want these for that much? OK, you take your top off, then we talk.'
His (hopefully) fictitious conversations with his wife are also priceless. Here is a man who, despite all his efforts, is a wonderful cliche in his home life. His wife wears the trousers, his kids run rings ('It's wonderful to come home, ask your son how his day was and the only reply you get is him walking up to you, grabbing the lower half of your stomach and saying "wibblywobblewibwabblewaooob"'), and he hates all his friends. It's hysterical. You end up wishing you were invited to one of their dinner parties just to see him sulking in a corner next to Boring Keith, whom his wife has said he has to talk to, because she doesn't want to.
It is hard, however, to work out where his comedy persona ends, and where the man begins. He comes back on in the second half angrier than when he went off, and the arguments are so forceful, and the grumblings so seemingly deep-rooted, that it is difficult to discern what is real, and what is false. He is a deep-thinking, complicated man (ha, like all comedians), but he takes it so lightly, he makes you feel nothing but welcome, even if you think he's ranting at you (except if you're that lady in the front row).
Now my laptop's running out of power. Go see him, honestly. Your sides will be split.
Au revoir,

West End Girl x

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Much Ado About... Nothing Much

Much Ado About Nothing is possibly my favourite Shakespeare play, and numerous amazing performances have graced the West End, with Tamsin Greig, Simon Russell Beale (known affectionately within my family as simply SRB) and Zoe Wanamaker among the starry names.
THIS one had the dangerous duo David Tennant and Catherine Tate having a crack at the unwilling lovers; and they, frankly, rocked my socks in Doctor Who. Their escapades together as the Doctor and Donna were truly fun and exciting and they worked like a dream. Naturally the Wyndhams theatre hoped to re-spark the chemistry...
But, oh, had they but talked to a Whovian before heading into the fray! Because it is well know within this geeky but gleeful group (of whom I am proud to be one) that after the emotional car crash that was Rose Tyler's departure, and the terrible unrequited love that Martha Jones harboured for the Doctor for so long, Donna was the first assistant since Doctor Who's rebirth who DID NOT FANCY THE DOCTOR. Donna was having none of it; she wanted adventure, not courtship! She and the Doctor shared a relationship closer to that of siblings than that of a couple, and I liked her all the more for it. I'm a sucker for Mr. Tennant; a friend confided that during Much Ado, she genuinely struggled not to shout out 'I love you David!' during quiet moments, and, though I'm not as vocal about it, I entirely agree with the sentiment expressed.
So, as hard as Tennant and Tate may try, their chemistry is not of quite the right stock. It works superbly when there is witty sparring and jocular banter; the final scene in which they deny any feelings for each other and then find their 'own hands against (their) hearts' in the form of 2 love letters was brilliant, but in the more romantic and emotional scenes, something lacked.
Tennant, being RSC trained and having executed a much complimented Hamlet 2 years ago, was a nigh-on perfect Benedick; he captured the boisterous, uproarious joker wonderfully and then went on to show us all the subtle nuances of his character falling unexpectedly in love. Tate was on top form during the comedic scenes (not a single hint of Lauren 'perpetually un-bovvered' Cooper anywhere) but she lacked the necessary emotion during pivotal scenes. Humour was ruthlessly injected into the scene where Beatrice and Benedick first admit mutual love, and it shouldn't have been there! Tate nearly went full on slapstick which ended up completely undermining a beautiful line; 'I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.' And all just to get a laugh. Grrrr.
The rest of the cast didn't gel as an ensemble either, despite some nice performances from Adam James (Don Pedro), Elliot Levey (Don John) and, even with limited lines, Kathryn Hunt as Ursula. Sarah MacRae as distressed, virginal herione Hero did nothing but annoy me; she was flat and uninspiring. Admittedly Hero is a bad part, but, honestly, do something more with it. The marvellous rotating set was clever without being complicated or off-putting, and it really came into it's own during Tennant's hiding scene ('See you where Benedick hath hid himself?' 'O, very well, my lord...'). 1980's Gibraltar makes a fabulous substitute for Messina with it's decadence, glamour, and, of course, returning soldiers.
If you are a Shakespeare purist, or with limited theatre dosh, don't go. You will, unfortunately, come out disappointed and feeling as though you have wasted your time; it doesn't live up to the hype. However, if you are up for seeing Tennant give a fab performance, Tate show us her considerable comedic talent, and a good-looking production, please, go. It leans more towards the 'oh-Lord-Shakespeare-is-so-hard-to-get-through' end of Shakespeare (as opposed to the 'AH-that-was-amazing-and-it-was-Shakespeare-too!' end), and that is all down to it as an ensemble; the weakness of the rest of the cast means that essentially David Tennant carries it.
And if your a Whovian, of course go. Look who's in it, for pete's sake.

West End Girl x

Friday, 8 July 2011

Curtain Up - it's my cue!

And so I gingerly enter the blogosphere rather like the first man into space; not entirely sure of what I'm getting myself into. But hey ho, here we go.
I have been lucky enough, in my short space of time on this planet, to have been taken to many plays, musicals, dance and opera shows... basically any stage-based activity. From Broadway to the West End (separated only by a pond I'm told - Geography was never my strong point though...) I have been incredibly fortunate in what I have been able to see, and have grown a deep-rooted and intense passion for the theatre. This is what I would like to share with the blogosphere (good name, guys); I would like to share my passion!
Ugh, I was never much good at beginnings - but forgive the cheesiness & bear with me! I will review, I will pass comment, I will moan and I will rejoice, and I will endeavour to share with you all my theatrical experiences, from Shakespeare to Sondheim. I would be honoured if you would read along.
So here I am, ready, set. Wish me luck, and please, enjoy. GO.
Next (and first), the great man himself; Shakespeare.

West End Girl x