Sunday, 31 March 2013

'The Book Of Mormon' at The Prince of Wales Theatre

I went to see 'The Book Of Mormon' last week and was both shocked and disgusted and laughed and laughed and bought the cast recording and was terribly ashamed of myself but, hey ho, that can't be helped. I first tried to see it in March 2011 on Broadway but it was sold out and I ended up seeing 'The Addams Family' instead. Two years later and I've finally seen it.

The show is doing great business and is virtually sold out until July so it's been extended for a further six months. I suspect it'll be a hot ticket for the rest of the year so you'd better book now.

It stars Gavin Creel (from 'Hair' and 'Mary Poppins' in the West End and 'Hair' on Broadway) who perfected the role on the American tour and Jared Gertner (who played the role on Broadway) as the naive "elders'  sent to Uganda along with Alexia Khadime from the Ugandan village, Giles Terera (last seen in 'Avenue Q') as her dad and Stephen Ashfield as the not-gay elder with his pink suitcase.

As you'd expect, it's full of great songs, great scenes and dance routines and, of course, lots of swearing and damning of organised religion (of all sorts). There are some great scenes such as the elders singing about sinful moments when they erupt into a tap dancing line in glittery waistcoats that would do any 1930s musical proud. There is also the 'man up' scene that ends the first half in which Jared sings that he'll 'man up all over himself'. Then there's the 'Spooky Mormon Hell Dream' sequence with the camp Hitler, the demons and skeletons dancing round the stage and Jesus coming on stage to call Gavin a dick. O dear, he's had it now...

As you might expect from the writers of 'South Park', the language is quite ripe and you might want to be wary of General Butt-Fucking-Naked. He turns out ok in the end though. I like the robe with the light trimming that Jesus wore (not quite disco-Jesus).

It's all quite fun, with some great song and dance scenes, some great comedy lines and it's always great fun to see Gavin Creel. I think I'll book to see it again!

The Unthanks - 'Ship Building'

Here's a lovely video of the The Unthanks' version of 'Ship Building'. It's from their last album, 'Songs From The Shipyard', that tells of the rise and fall of the shipyards of the North East over the 20th century. I saw them perform this live back in October 2012 when they sang the whole album at the Purcell Room in London.

The Unthanks - 'Ship Building' from Mikey Levelle on Vimeo.

Light Show, Man Ray and Becoming Picasso

I've been to a few exhibitions recently, starting off with ...

Light Show @ The Hayward Gallery

The hint is in the title, it's an exhibition full of works themed around light in various manifestations. One of my favourites was the first work you see when you go into the dimly-lit gallery, Cylinder II by Leo Villareal. It's a very big and rather marvellous piece in which light runs up and down silver streamers, sometimes random and sometimes making patterns. I stood and stared at it becoming ever more mesmerised by the magical lights. It's a very clever piece.

There are works that you walk into and interact with, others you sit and watch at a distance, some you can't touch and others you can join in and disrupt the flow of light to create your own art.

I loved Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez that is made up of three rooms you can walk into and be saturated by different colours, bathed in bright primary colours that blend at the margins. It felt quite magical to be in those rooms, walking around and changing colour. A room full of blue light, another with red and another with green light, acting like photoshop on photos, everyone with cameras and phones out, experimenting with the light. It's not only art, it's great fun too!

The other piece I'd single out is Model for A Timeless Garden by Olafur Eliasson (the bloke that did The Weather Project - aka the Big Sun - at the Tate Modern ten years ago). It's basically a set of small fountains in a blacked out room with strobe lighting trained on the fountains. It's such a simple but effective idea and was quite magical, almost like seeing interactive diamonds in a dark dwarf kingdom.

Man Ray @ The National Portrait Gallery

There's a great exhibition of Man Ray photographic portraits at the National Portrait Gallery at the moment. It's not a big exhibition but it's quite a thrill to see all these famous people that've been photographed by the same man over six decades, see the changing styles, see the unknowns next to the famous, all quite fab really.

There are photos of Marcel Duchamp, a photo of George Braque and Pablo Picasso side by side, creators of Cubism, George looking quite workman-like and Picasso looking decidedly shifty. There's a rather dashing Ernest Hemingway, a bearded Henri Matisse and a host of others. Did he know every artist who was or was going to become famous? Later on we see a lovely, stylised portrait of Coco Chanel and a famous Virginia Woolf portrait.

It's not just the big names, the artists and film stars that he photographed. There was also the striking Barbette, a cross-dressing acrobat, with double exposures to show him on the high wire as well as in full make-up in the same photo.

It's quite a fun exhibition so go and see it while you can.

Becoming Picasso, Paris 1901 @ The Courtald Gallery

Yet another Picasso exhibition is the small but delightful 'Becoming Picasso' exhibition of his works from 1901 when he moved to Paris. As with every Picasso exhibition, it gets crowded so get there early. It's only made up of two rooms and, maybe, 30 paintings, but it's worth seeing.

My favourite painting was the in your face 'Yo Picasso' of the young and brash artist who knows he's good and knows he'll be the next big thing. I looked at it and looked at it and started to think he reminded me of someone else. Someone with the same attitude, the same moustache, the same flair for colour. Picasso looks like Prince! Or maybe Prince looks like the young Picasso? Who knows but there's definitely a resemblance.

Other paintings worth drinking in are 'Harlequin and Companion', one of a series of Harlequin paintings he did in Paris, and 'Evocation (The Burial Of Casagemass)'. The latter is very odd and doesn't really look like a Picasso painting, telling the story of the burial, from friends gathered round the body to his spirit riding off to heaven surrounded by the spirits of prostitutes he's known. Rather odd.

I like the Harlequin, the rather glum figures with a glass of absinthe, looking round and watching the world go by. I'd have that hanging on my wall any day...

Theatre Trips February-March 2013

It's occurred to me that I've been depriving you of my visits to the theatre this year, and there have been several. Where shall I start?

Merrily We Roll Along @ The Menier Chocolate Factory

Another Sondheim production from the Choccy Factory. It's struck a vein of gold with it's Sondheim productions, with 'Sunday In The Park With George' and 'A Little Night Music' not only transferring to the West End but also to Broadway, so I had high hopes for 'Merrily'. I saw a concert version of it a few years back so was familiar with the outline of the play.

It's a bit of an oddity in that it heads back in time rather than forward. It opens at a Hollywood party for the director's first blockbuster and from there we head back to when he and his partner had a success on broadway, further back to when they were a revue troupe and, further back to when they first met. From the swaggers of life, excess and success we later see them as young, idealists and hopeful.

I prefer the younger characters and felt the older versions of themselves were just plain unlikeable and that influences my view of the production. They were too shouty, too full-on and in your face and, if not unpleasant, at least not very nice. And why were they mic'd up? The Choccy Factory is a small venue that means you don't - or shouldn't - need microphones. I don't know if it was the play or the cast, but I wasn't terribly thrilled by it. Or, perhaps, it was the '70s setting moving back into the '60s - not terribly attractive costumes? I liked Jenna Russell who I've seen in Sondheims before (most recently in 'Into The Woods' and in 'Sunday In The Park') but that was about it. She does good drunk heckler.

It's another success, of course, and is transferring to the West End so you can see it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Privates on Parade @ The Noel Coward Theatre

This production of 'Privates on Parade' has now closed but I thoroughly enjoyed it from it's opening barrage of foul language to the closing scene of boarding a ship from Singapore back to Old Blighty. I've never seen it before but sort of know what it's about and that 'It Ain't Half Hot, Mum' was a sort of comedy telly series version of it.

It's the tale of a private posted to a concert party in Malaya at the end of the Second World War, finding his feet and love in the strange environment of camp entertainers, homosexuality and racism, prostitutes and the black market, mad officers and, of course, the Malaysian rebels/freedom fighters. There are some lovely song & dance set pieces and some rather long (and dull) diatribes by the worthy officer. There's nudity when the soldiers take turns having a shower after rehearsals one day.

Even Simon Russell Beale gets in on the act when he's changing costumes between routines, wearing what looks like a corset and then stands up, turns round and there's his bare bum. Not the best sight but brave of him to do it. Other than that, he was great fun as the camp officer leading the troupe in his short shorts, with his many costume changes, singing and dancing as Vera Lynn, Marlene Dietrich and Carmen Miranda and giving good show.

I thoroughly enjoyed the production. It was nice to see Harry Hepple on stage again but he didn't have any solo songs. It was quite strange seeing actors acting badly in character, making themselves look like amateurs that just happen to have found themselves in the concert party and away from the front line. Simon Russell Beale was great fun with his various set pieces and, of course, becoming the gallant hero at the end when he marries the Anglo-Indian leading lady who's become pregnant by the private and takes her to her land of dreams, Britain.

Dear World @ The Charing Cross Theatre

If you've heard of this play before you're probably one of a small elite of theatricals - I'd never heard of it but I have heard of the film it was made into, 'The Madwoman of Chaillot'. I've only seen 'Madwoman' once, with the lead taken by Katherine Hepburn, but it's stayed with me over the years.

The play is set in Paris after the war as the world changes from olde to modern with old social mores changing to greed and exploitation. Naturally, a group of greedy entrepreneurs discover oil under Paris so need to exploit it. This is where Countess Aurelia (aka the Madwoman) enlists the help of the Sewerman, the Madwoman of the Parks and the Madwoman of the Dogs to save Paris and banish the greedy folks to a strange underworld which is conveniently accessed through a manhole in her cellar.

It's a rather dated piece from the late '60s with a simple environmentalist theme but I liked the wonder, simplicity and deft incisiveness of the Madwoman. She lost her lover many years ago and chooses to live a romantic world of her own creation but she sees through the modern world quite easily. Don't mess with the Madwoman.

It's a rather thin play and the songs are a bit over-long but it's great fun nonetheless. It stars Betty Buckley and Paul Nicholas (yes, that Paul Nicholas). The night we went it also hosted Una Stubbs and Trevor Nunn in the audience.

The Judas Kiss @ The Duke of York Theatre

The Judas Kiss is the tale of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas in which the first act is set the day before Oscar is arrested and the second act sees him released from prison and living, penniless, in Naples. It stars Rupert Everett as Oscar and Freddie Fox as Bosie. We see Oscar at the height of his powers and then laid low by his time in Reading gaol.

Rupert Everett gave us a masterclass in understated acting, for the most part sitting in a chair just off centre-stage speaking calmly and letting the other characters whirl around him in passion and anger and frustration. No matter what the others do, the eye and attention always travels back to Rupert and his performance as Oscar. His deliberate indecisiveness and, later, world weariness, seems to drip from the stage, the ennui of being alive being so troublesome.

I wasn't terribly keen on Freddie Fox who seemed to stamp around the stage declaiming at the top of his voice like a spoilt child - the very role I last saw him in in 'Hay Fever' last year. Of course, some of that will have been the part and the direction, but two similar performances in the space of a year doesn't make me wish for more.

As with 'Privates on Parade' there was unexpected nudity and it seemed like all the men under the age of 30 had to get their kit of at some point. On the other hand, it allowed Rupert to make some choice comments about the equipment of the Italian sailor Bosie picks up one night.

So, which was the most fun? 'Privates on Parade'. Which was the most wondrous? 'Dear World'. Which was the most thoughtful? 'The Judas Kiss'.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Poems On The Underground 150 - Chi Chi Prelude

I've mentioned the Poems on the Underground series a few times in this blog. I like stepping onto a Tube train, ideally getting a seat and glancing at the various adverts around the carriage before ignoring everything by getting out a book and listening to music. The Poems on the Underground posters change that routine and make me read the poetry thrust at me in ordinary life. It usually makes me think as I read and re-read on the journey around London and my book stays in my bag.

This morning I got on the District Line to St James's Park, looked above the door and there was a new poem that I hadn't seen before so I read it. It has the glorious title of 'Bam Chi Chi La La London, 1969' and is by Lorna Goodison. It's part of the new series of poems chosen for the 150th anniversary of the London Underground. I don't know who or how the poems are chosen but this is an inspired choice.

Read the poem. Read it twice and savour the words, then think about it:

In Jamaica she was a teacher. Here she is a charwoman
at night in the West End. She eats a cold midnight meal
carried from home and is careful to expunge her spice
trail with Dettol. She sings 'Jerusalem' to herself and
recites the Romantic poets as she mops hallways and 
scours toilets, dreaming the while of her retirement
mansion in Mandeville she is building brick by brick.

The first line sets the scene and we follow her careful journey, never losing her love of poetry as she mops floors and recites poems to herself. I suspect many people reading this will recognise the reality behind these words. This could be the story of so many people who come to London to fulfil dreams or escape harsh realities. It's partly what makes London the great city it is.

Can you recite any of the Romantic poets?

Another poem I've noticed on the Tube is by Mr Wordsworth (such a great name for a poet) and is an extract from his very long poem, 'The Prelude'. I remember having an enormous copy of 'The Prelude' full of notes and additional reading many years ago. I last read it in 1982 so can't claim to remember any of it but it's nice to see a quote from William that doesn't involve daffodils or the Lake District.

The River proudly bridged, the giddy top
                              And Whispering Gallery of St. Paul’s, the Tombs
Of Westminster, the Giants of Guildhall;
Bedlam, and the two maniacs at its gates,
Streets without end, and churches numberless,
Statues with flowery gardens in vast squares,
The Monument, and armoury of the Tower.

It's a different side of London to the experience outlined in 'Bam Chi Chi La La' but just as valid. It's the view of a young man with sufficient money to visit London in the late 1700s and glory in it's diversity. That diversity continued to grow and still continues to the benefit of us all.

There are another four poems in the latest series so I'll have to keep my eyes open for them.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Agnetha Faltskog - 'When You Really Loved Someone'

Something strange is happening in the world of popular music. First we had Petula Clark announcing her new album, 'Lost in You' in late 2012 and then in January David Bowie released a surprise single and announced his excellent new album on his 66th birthday. Then, on Saturday, I learned of a new EP from Chris Clark and this morning I heard about a new single and album from Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA fame. Who else will release some new songs this year is anybody's guess!

Agnetha always had a lovely voice and great phrasing and her new single, 'When You Really Loved Someone' demonstrates that she's lost of none of her art. It's a lovely, touching song with a lovely video (below). The album of new material will be released in May and is called, simply, 'A'. I'm looking forward to it.

Welcome back Agnetha!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Chris Clark - 'Dream Or Cry'

Chris Clark, Motown legend and Northern Soul goddess, has released her first new music in decades and it is good. Her EP, 'Dream or Cry' includes three songs: 'Dream or Cry', 'Sleepin'' and 'Hang It Up', all of which explore the blues rather than the soul music she sung in the 1960s. Her voice is in top form and perfect for these songs. I hope this means there's a full album on the horizon

The record came out in November 2012 but I've only just come across it. You can hear the record streaming on Chris's website. There's also a short write-up about her background and the new record that opens with a quote from Berry Gordy:

"I told you the bitch could sing"  -  Berry Gordy
Coming from legendary composer, producer and founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy, after hearing Chris Clark’s first recording in over 30 years that’s a pretty nice compliment.

Clark, the first female white artist ever to record for Motown, enjoyed cult success in the ‘60s with her singles “Love’s Gone Bad” and “I Want To Go Back There Again”, along with the “Soul Sounds” album, re- released on CD by P&C’s sister label Reel Music.
From singing, she moved to an executive role at Motown, was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay to the blockbuster movie “Lady Sings Blues” starring Diana Ross and ended up a Vice President at Motown Films.
More recently, she enjoyed great success in  2009’s “Divas of Motown” concerts at London’s Jazz CafĂ© and Hammersmith’s Apollo.
For this new single, Clark worked with a number of well-known musicians including members of the Tower of Power horn section. The result is three new  recordings, all of  which show that Chris Clark still has her vocal chops intact.  The Christine Cale song “Dream Or Cry” has a vintage ‘70s feel to it, whilst the old Diana Ross MOR album cut “Sleepin’” comes alive with its tale of a lover who od’s on heroin. The CD EP features a neat cover of the ‘60s R&B obscurity “Hang It Up”, written by Chess Records’ Bobby Miller. Both 7” and CD are released in individual picture sleeves.


I was lucky enough to see - and meet - Chris as the Jazz Cafe and Hammersmith Apollo shows back in 2009 (see here and here). They were both great shows and it was great to see Chris up there on stage along with Brenda Holloway. Come back soon Chris.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

How Do We Let People Pay For Music?

This week Amanda Palmer spoke at the TED conference in America on the subject of crowd-sourcing. Her whole career, from the Eight Foot Bride to 'Theatre Is Evil', has been based around crowd-sourcing, learning how to do it, how to connect. Take a look at her talk, it's only 14 minutes and you might learn something.

I'm pleased to say that I was one of the 25,000 backers Amanda mentions. I also wrote on her naked body (the left shoulder, to be precise, in London).