Sunday, 31 October 2010
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but they seemed to play the musical straight, moving from microphone to microphone with their folder of music and lyrics, reading the lines between the songs as if they were playing them. Scenery and costumes would have added to the production but they fully told the story of the musical as it was without them, which is a credit to the cast and the play they were performing.
The play is made up of a series of scenes that go back in time from 1980 to 1955, telling the story of a group of friends who are successful in 1980 in literature, music and theatre and look at how they become successful, the sacrifices and compromises and how they started out as wide eyed and naive, hopeful of the future. The penultimate song, 'Our Time' seemed to sum up youthful hopefulness for me, looking forward and how we can change the world before cynicism and world-weariness spoils everything.
I've come across some of the actors before. The main character is played by Julian Ovenden who I saw at the Donmar in 'Grand Hotel' in which he played the flawed Baron whose songs made me cry particularly 'Roses At The Station'. I've seen Daniel Evans in a few things before, most notably Sondheim's 'Sunday In The Park With George' at both the Choccy Factory and at Studio 54 in New York. Chris reminded me that I'd also seen Samantha Spiro as the servant in 'A Winters Tale' last year, so she doesn't just do musicals.
It was great fun and a very thoughtful production. I'd like to see it 'properly' one day.
My love affair with the Dolls began in 2005 when they were part of Patti Smith's Meltdown on the Southbank. They performed a couple of songs at the 'Stand Bravely Brothers' concert of Brecht songs at the Royal Festival Hall and then did a free gig in the ballroom area. After that gig I bought their first studio album, 'The Dresden Dolls' from the merch stand and Amanda signed it with a flourish of her gold pen. And I lost my heart. I've seen the Dolls on every visit to London since then and, in the last couple of years, Amanda's solo shows. I've even bumped into her by accident with Neil Gaiman and still been the happy recipient of a trademarked Amanda Hug.
I also went to see Brian when he played drums on the Jesse Malin tour a few years ago and was lucky enough to meet him after the show - of course, it was Brian I went to support, not some random American, and he was, of course, excellent. How many times have you been to a gig to see the drummer? Ah, but Brian is no ordinary drummer.
Sadly, I didn't make it over to Boston to see 'Cabaret' and I'm not in New York for the Hallowe'en show, but it's going to be filmed so I expect it'll be available somewhere at some point. The Dresden Dolls make me happy and will continue to do so. All I can say is...
PUNK CABARET IS FREEDOM!
Friday, 29 October 2010
According to NME.com:
The singer will return with a free download, 'Black Christmas' on December 20, with the record following in March 2011. The album, 'Generation Indigo' was produced by Youth.
The download, which will not feature on the album, was written by Styrene and her daughter Celeste who features on the recording and is an anti-Christmas song inspired by news about a killer in Los Angeles who was dressing up as Father Christmas. For more information head to www.poly-styrene.com
This news makes me really happy and gives me a big smiley face. This blog is named in honour of one of Poly's songs from the days of X-Ray Spex, I've tracked down all her solo work and even badgered the National Portrait Galley into letting me see the rare photograph of her by Pennie Smith from 1977 that is in their archive collection.
My world turned day-glo on 6 September 2008 when I finally saw Poly Styrene live for the very first time in 30 years at The Roundhouse. And I was overjoyed later in 2008 when she released 'City of Christmas Ghosts' with Goldblade - a Christmas single from Poly and here she is, releasing another one. My cup runneth over.
I will, of course, keep you informed of any news about Poly, the single and the album. You *need* to know these things and you *need* to follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook and, of course, download the single and then buy the album. This is The Law.
Thursday, 28 October 2010
The story of the play starts out as quite straight forward, of our hero, Giorgio, who is a captain in the Italian army in the late 19th Century with his lover, Clara, in Milan. He is transferred to an outpost in the mountains where his commanding officer's female cousin, Fosca, lives in the same mansion as the officers and, gradually, the two get to know each other through little acts of kindness. Then she obsesses, stalks and generally makes our hero's life miserable with her love. Or is it obsession? He escapes to Milan to resume his light and airy love with Clara and then... I'll leave that a secret so I don't spoil the plot.
'Passion' is a study in just that - passion. It explores the extremes of love and human relationships and how far we would go for the one we love if, indeed, it is really love. This is all quite brave for a musical, it's not upbeat or positive at all, but a serious examination of what might happen if love or passion escalates beyond all reason. I've no idea why it's set in 19th Century northern Italy but there was more facial fur on display on the army officers on the stage than I've seen in ages (and I'll be terribly disappointed to learn that most of it was stuck on half an hour before the start of the show).
I was deeply impressed by this production. The first half hour acquainted me with the characters and then slowly, ever so slowly, started to drag me into it, deeper and deeper, taking Fosca's stalking personally until understanding dawned. All credit to James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim for writing such a powerful piece of theatre. It ends incredibly sadly with a death but that is the only way it could end. And with understanding and enlightenment.
It's a triple-header production, with Scarlett Strallen as Clara, all blond and light-coloured clothes, Elena Roger as dark and plain Fosca and, the centre of their attention, David Thaxton as Giorgio in a rather ill-fitting uniform. I haven't come across David before but he'll be worth watching, with good acting and singing. I've seen Elena before as Edith Piaf at the Donmar. She has a voice worth listening to.
Although it's sold out, if you get the chance to see this show I'd recommend it. If you aren't ever so slightly choked by the end then you either aren't human or haven't felt love. Thank you Mr Sondheim and Mr Lapine for penning something so powerful.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
'Design For Living' is a tale of the eternal love triangle in which two young men love the same woman and they also love each other. At the start of the play, Gilda is the partner to artist Otto in Paris, then she becomes the partner of playwright Leo in London after which she runs off to New York and marries an old friend of her mothers' while Otto and Leo presumably console themselves with each other before tracking their love to New York and ... well, that would be telling.
The play is charming and intelligent, engaging and, rather sadly, doesn't have every sentence ending with the word 'darling'. It's very worldly wise and was initially banned in London, presumably due to the free love and gay themes. My reading of the play is that it is about the nature of love and art, not of sex. However, since it was The Old Vic then there were the obligatory school-kids-on-a-trip to the theatre and the girls couldn't help but giggle out loud when the lads snogged on stage.
The production is getting great reviews but I found it a bit hit and miss. The sets were great and justified the two half-times so the sets could be changed, but I found some of the acting to be a bit so-so. Lisa Dillon was great as Gilda, flitting from man to man and disdaining marriage until the final act, a free woman with personal wealth at her disposal so she can be and do as she pleases. I also liked Andrew Scott's Leo, the playwright, who has some great extended and breathless lines, but he was a little bit whiny at times. I was less keen on Tom Burke's Otto, the artist, who seemed to be playing it lazy since he has floppy hair and therefore we must automatically love him. I didn't. His delivery and approach sometimes just seemed to be rather lazy and by numbers rather than putting any real effort into it.
I (thankfully) didn't have any problems in staying awake during the play, it was light and airy, we had a Coward witticism every few lines and it was nicely paced. And the sets were great - have I mentioned that? If anything, it's made me want to see more Coward plays. Go and see it while you can.
I boom-mumble I bass-blow
I hull-heavy I big/slow
I boat bump I limpet-skin
I soft-sink I sky-swim
I sea-search I salt-swallow
I bone-backed I fluke-follow
I gulf-cross I listen-talk
I moon-map I wave-walk
I tail-turn I time-keep
I ship-wreck I song-seek
I blue-blood I grumble-sing
I fish-heart I dream kingThis tickled me in all the right places so I made a note of it and then tweeted it into the wide world when I was above ground. Read it. Say those words out loud, slowly, feel them with your tongue and lips and be a dream king.
Then, coming home tonight after a performance of a rather intense 'Passion' (by Sondheim) at the Donmar Warehouse, I got on the Tube at Leicester Square and, looking up from my book for a moment, what did I see? The 'Whalesong' poster again. Twice in one day, on different trains on different Tube lines - I am obviously meant to do something with this poem. I tweeted about it this morning and now I'm blogging. Read it please.
I've just Googled Sophie who is, it seems, 19 years old and has just won a 'young poets' prize. There's even a video of her on YouTube (not reading 'Whalesong', sadly). I'm not sure if there's a 'young poets to watch' list, but it'll be interesting to see if she continues with her poetry. I hope so.
Monday, 25 October 2010
The set was bare, the walls of a Baroque palace which were moved around to create different spaces for different scenes, sparse use of furniture and props but lots of lighting, not always to best effect. A glimpse at the set and you know you're no going to see a happy-go-lucky version of the play (now there's an idea Mr Producer) but something grey and stark. And that's what we get. Except it's in modern dress for some reason that never became obvious to me. So we had smart suits, hoodies, trackie bottoms and earphones for eavesdropping. Um, why?
While I'm on a roll, can I also mention the strange direction of the 'mad' scenes, particularly Hamlet standing on his bed with his duvet pulled over his head and Ophelia in a bra pulling a shopping trolley around. Um, this is meant to be a palace y'know, so how come she gets a stolen shopping trolley past the guards and up all those steps we all know exist in every palace or castle? Another irritant were the night scenes in the first act with virtually no lights on the stage so I couldn't see what was happening very well and the actors who seemed to forget their stage school training on enunciation and projecting - I had difficulty hearing some of the actors and I was in the stalls. What else? O yes, the odd police state visuals of men in suits with guns wandering round every so often being generically menacing - reminded me of seeing 'Assassins' earlier in the summer at that little theatre under the arches somewhere not exotic.
Okay, I got that out of my system all in one rush of annoyances, so why did I think it was a good production? Rory Kinnear, that's why. I saw Rory in 'Burnt By The Sun' last year and, unusually for me, remembered him from it, so I must've seen something in his performance that stuck in my mind. Rory is the son of Roy Kinnear (yes, *that* Roy Kinnear for readers of a certain age).
Something you can't help but notice in any reading of 'Hamlet' is how many of the phrases have made their way into popular culture and Rory has a great way of delivering them. I particularly liked his 'Alas poor Yorrick, I knew him Horatio' which was almost a whispered aside that had us (well, me) riveted to what he was saying. He breathed new life into some of the lines, made them fresh and new again and, in doing that, conjures up all sorts of images with the words. That is a powerful talent and skill and it influences anyone with an ear to listen. Anyone who can do that to Shakespeare's age-old words needs to be listened to and I'd be happy to hear Rory take on more Shakespeare.
It's not a one-man show, though, and I'd also give credit to Clare Higgins as Gertrude (Hamlet's mam) who played the role with a love of booze from champagne at the start to the poisoned tipple at the end, and Giles Terera as Horatio who seemed to grow into the part as the play progressed. I liked his 'Flights of angels' speech at the end. Chris (the fount of all knowledge) reminded me that I'd seen Giles in the role of Gary Coleman in 'Avenue Q' a few years ago (yay for my mates, the Bad Idea Bears!) so here's where he shows he's a 'serious' actor. I thought both actors were very good.
For once I caught a show at the start of its run rather than at the end, so I'd encourage everyone to go to see this production. Apparently it's also going on tour after the National Theatre season closes, so book tickets early.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
On he came with a guitarist and percussionist (who also played the air trumpet) and launched into two new songs before alternating between songs from his album and ep, new songs and a smattering of covers (including a fun cover of 'I Kissed A Girl'). Gavin has a good stage presence, chatting away to the crowd, telling us his personal history with London, joking how some of our pubs are older than his country and then back into a song. His band were excellent too, creating a big sound with just the two of them. Gavin has a very natural and versatile voice, not stage-y at all, and his songs are what I can only think of as gentle. Here's a video of him singing 'Hot Ohio' at the Jazz Cafe:
We met him briefly after the show and he talked about the new record he was planning for late next year - the songs sound excellent so it should be good. He seems a very nice lad, willing to stay and chat to the many fans hanging around to meet him afterwards. It'll be interesting to see what he does next with his career.
Friday, 22 October 2010
'Cut' is their classic album but I like the EP that the rejuvenated Slits released a few years ago, 'Revenge Of The Killer Slits', and the latest album, 'Trapped Animal'. I am now, of course, kicking myself for not seeing The Slits last year when they were on tour, but they will always have a place in my punk heart.
Farewell Arianna and give 'em hell wherever you are - you never were a typical girl.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Monday, 18 October 2010
But this year that must be different. I must start talking about it early if only for one reason: Mr Fred Schneider has forced me to. His special brand of madness has infected Christmas and given birth to 'Destination ... Christmas' by The Superions! Oh yes, Fred has a new record out next week and it's a Christmas record!
Now, it's not The B-52's, but I wouldn't want it to be. I want Fred to have many outlets for his special insanity and The Superions are a good way to let it all out.
A few other Christmas records have already been announced by Annie Lennox, The Indigo Girls and Shelby Lynne, but all I can say is, 'sorry girls, Fred comes first...'. I fell in love with The Superions' 'Totally Nude Island' last year and I think Christmas might just be nude this year.
Saturday, 16 October 2010
The exhibition is made up of a group of 11 themed rooms on the fourth floor of the Tate full of paintings, drawings, prints, carvings and even a few of his ceramics - he turned his hand to most things, did Mr Gauguin. That, I think, helped bring him to life, seeing doodles and rough carvings as well as great paintings, helping to fill him out a bit as a personality in his own right, not just some historical figure known for a few famous paintings. And I really liked a little ceramic vase (I think that's what it was) with two openings and a vague shape of a shepherdess on one side and some rough balls of fluff on the other as sheep - it looked rough and unfinished, damaged even, but it radiated magic to me and would look nice on top of my bureau at home...
I've long learned to ignore the standard way of viewing exhibitions like this, shuffling from one painting to the next in reverential awe. I don't have the patience. I'd much rather stroll through the galleries looking left and right, viewing paintings without a crowd and just glancing over and between heads to see those with crowds, stroll the whole way through and then head back to the start to take a longer look at those paintings or exhibits I've made a mental note to take a good look at.
And that brings me to one the main annoyances about the exhibition - digital guides. Loads of people had little handsets displaying paintings and details while you listen to an audio commentary through headphones. Now, I do think that's a good use of technology, but I found it very frustrating to see a nice painting with a few people clustered in front of it looking down at the screen on the handset rather than at the painting while they listened to the commentary before moving on to stand vacuously in front of the next painting, take a quick look and then look down again at the handset. Why? I mean, really, why? The painting is there in front of you - look at it, not at your handset and if you are going to look at the handset, move away so others can look at the painting.
Mind you, it was nice to be reminded of paintings I'd forgotten about, like 'Bonjour Monsieur Gauguin' (above) that I remembered my old art teacher used to love as well as discovering some new paintings by Monsieur Gauguin that I've never seen before. One of those was a delightful still life of a bowl of fruit with three puppies lapping at a bowl of milk - all have their tails in the air and one has his tongue sticking out and you just know he's the cheeky one of the three, a personality outlined in a few brush strokes.
Another was a beautiful Tahitian landscape with palm trees reflecting the sun and colour around them by having orange, red and all-colours leaves - it really drew me in and made me want to wander across the field to inspect the trees more closely. I also liked the rough nature of his prints, with a room dedicated solely to his print works. I was particularly taken with a small print of a Buddha image, almost incomplete with faint lines but it caught my eye and kept it.
It's an exhibition well worth seeing but it's probably best to go during the week if you can so you can fall into the sumptuous colours and drift into a Tahitian pastoral scene. If you're a fan of Gauguin then you'll need your credit card for the shop outside the exhibition, selling everything you could imagine, including a knitting kit to knit your own puppy. I'll have the painting instead, thank you.
Friday, 15 October 2010
The important clip, however, is of Buffy Sainte-Marie singing 'Until It's Time For You To Go' from 1971 on a show I've never heard of called 'One In 10'. Buffy was not only singing live but was wearing the shortest pair of hotpants putting Kylie's golden hotpants to shame. I've never seen that clip before and, although it's not the best of Buffy, it's just nice to see her included in the array of singer-songwriters from yesteryear. Of course, she's one of the few people on that programme still making and releasing new music and touring - she's playing a gig in Canada tomorrow night.
Now, if the BBC has one clip of Buffy, it means they have more. I know for a *fact* that it has a half hour show all about Buffy because I saw it in 1975 or 1976 and I've never forgotten it. C'mon Beeb, hunt out all your clips of Buffy on shows over the years and give us a DVD or, at the very least, repeat it on telly. Even better, invite me in to curate a season of Buffy at the Beeb. My rates are very cheap y'know...
Here's a photo of Buffy in concert from January 2010 at Shepherd's Bush Empire:
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
I'm not entirely sure what the pole dancers have to do with it, but it would be churlish to mention it. Oops. Would it be churlish to say that Kim's looking good? Cos she is!
The album seems to be just available in Germany at the moment and I can't find a legitimate download, but I'll continue my hunt. And I'll watch out for any shows - wouldn't a gig by Kim be wonderful?
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
'London Terminus' is a 16 minute film about life in Waterloo Station in 1944 and I found it fascinating to see what was similar to the station as it is today and where it has changed. The thing that struck me most was the movement of people. It was incredibly busy back then as it still is, but the crowds of people were moving across the concourse in 1944 whereas my immediate memory of Waterloo today is static crowds blocking the concourse waiting for trains - the movement has gone. I also felt a slight swelling of pride when the narrator said that over one million people commuted into "the Great City" - London is a great city and it's mine. I found the film both fascinating and touching.
'A Window In London' was a proper film, with Michael Redgrave in the lead role, filmed in 1939 and related to the previous film since our hero is a crane operator building Waterloo Bridge. There's a lot going on in the film under the basic storyline such as the apparently sexless marriage of the lead couple since they work shifts and only have Sundays together, the temptations on the man but not on the woman and the class structure at work in the film where our hero has a posh accent even though he's a crane driver but his colleagues are (of course) common cockneys. Two things stood out for me - the way it was portrayed as perfectly acceptable for the men to push and pull women around as they saw fit and, in the wider scenes of travelling across London, the total absence of pubs! Where were they? I also liked the panoramic scenes of the Southbank without all the buildings we're used to today.
This evening's film was a different kettle of fish again, 'The Chalk Garden' from 1963 starring Deborah Kerr, Edith Evans and John and Hayley Mills and set in Sussex somewhere. It's a rather Hollywood-ized version of the stage play of the same name but I liked it. It was introduced with a short interview with Julie Harris, the costume designer for the film, which was a nice way to start it. There's something about seeing films on the big screen that makes them very different and adds to the experience of seeing them - I'm not sure I would've liked my first viewing of this film on DVD on the small screen. It's a slow burner, starting off tight and controlled and gradually becoming looser and more naturalistic and it's only in the final few scenes that we understand why. And I'm not saying why.
Maybe I ought to go more often? Or, more likely, it's that Chris knows his films.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
It's the sorry tale of Nomax who's been thrown out by his girlfriend and he's holed up in a motel with his Louis Jordan records, drinking himself silly and he's a sad sight. Then he's swallowed by his record player (as you are) and ends up with his five guardian angels, all of whom are named Moe. They take him on a journey through relationships, understanding women and self-confidence through the medium of song and dance before he goes back to his motel room to, well, I'll leave that for you to find out.
The set was very simple, just a large podium for the six-piece band and lots of space for the Moes to do their stuff, all dressed in brightly coloured zoot suits, looking well smooth and cool. The story is told very effectively through the songs of Louis Jordan and others, with different Moe's taking lead vocals and dominating the stage, with Nomax sometimes joining in, sometimes watching. Nomax was played by Clarke Peters who also wrote the musical and starred in it as Four-Eyed Moe 20 years ago and it was great to see him on stage, especially giggling along with the audience a few times.
The Moes were all excellent - Ashley Campbell, Christopher Colquhoun, Carlton Connell, Peter Hazel and Horace Oliver - singing and dancing their hearts out and always in character, including during the conga line that took us up onto the stage at the end of the first half. I was particularly impressed by Christopher as Big Moe and he has some great songs with some audience participation, joining in the songs. My favourite moment was when the leaflets fluttered down from the ceiling with the lyrics to chorus of 'Push Ka Pi Shee Pie', my favourite kind of pie from now on!
As you can guess, I loved it! Seeing it the first time on the evening of my last day at work before a holiday was the perfect way to start relaxing, with a big smile plastered over my face for most of the evening - great stuff! It's a very happy and upbeat show and the cast were all excellent. We also met Clarke Peters after each show which was a great pleasure, a very gracious gentleman, happy to chat for a few minutes and engage with his audience. Here's hoping the show transfers to the West End - I'll definitely be in the audience for my share of push ka pi shee pie!
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
That is my new favourite song, whether it's called 'Swagatham' or 'Let's Go' (it seems to be called both). It's dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and I'm sure the Mahatma would rock out to it in his own style. Me? I love it and intend to play it lots!
Sunday, 3 October 2010
The Commonwealth, for those readers not part of it, is a collection of 54 countries based largely around the former British Empire, ranging from tiny Pacific islands to the vast population of India. In Commonwealth Games terms, we, as in the UK, compete as four teams representing the constituent nations of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It gets even more complicated when other parts of the UK are entitled to teams in their own right, such as the three-legged Manx-men of the Isle of Man and Guernsey.
There are 71 teams competing in the 2010 Games, made up of nations and territories from every corner of the globe. I like the opening ceremony when the teams appear and you see the names of places you rarely see anywhere, with their athletes marching proudly. Favourites today were The Cook Islands wearing their crowns of exotic flowers and the team from Papua New Guinnea in their colourful shirts. It was nice to hear the roar of welcome in the stadium for the team from Pakistan.
The ceremony was spectacular, illustrating the culture of the ancient country of India and it's multitude of different indigenous peoples, from the cold of the Himalayas to the balmy Indian Ocean. Song, dance, colour and spectacle were the order of the day. I liked the yogic section, demonstrating some impossible yoga positions, and the 'journey through India' section heading off with a train and followed by the chaos of Indian transport. I loved it.
The ceremony ended with A.R. Rahman and his official theme song for the games, 'Let's Go', with its mighty glitter-stomp bangra beat seguing into 'Jai Ho' from 'Slumdog', and pretty damn good it is too.
I travelled around the north of India, including Delhi, back in the '90s and loved it. I have fond memories of the place, travelling from Delhi to Varanasi (or Benares if you like), especially the railway stations and trains, where everyone wanted to talk and find out about my family unto the 19th generation, the children walking through carriages selling food and drinks, and the optician who was desperately interested in my glasses. I would love to go back and travel by train between Chennai and Mumbai (Madras to Bombay) - maybe one day.
So, namaste to my bretheren from around the world in Delhi and, as Her Excellency the President said, let the Games begin....
And here are a few photos shamelessly stolen from Getty Images (I love the giant train made from bangles):