I am a Very Bad Blogger!

Yikes it’s been ages since I wrote anything on the site, so here’s a catch up:

Saw an excellent new version of Sunset Boulevard before Christmas at the Comedy Theatre. I’ve long been a fan of the show – I saw the original production at the Adelphi twice and then also on tour in Birmingham. This one is very, very different and far more captivating. Directed by Craig Revel Horwood (he was milling around in the bar with friends on the night we went) the show follows the tradition of the Watermill Theatre in Newbury by having actor/musicians on stage throughout. The original production was all about spectacle, glamour and glitz. This time round it’s dark and claustrophobic which breathes a new lease of life into the show. Highly recommended.

Also before Christmas I saw Tim Minchin at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. My sister had seen him perform in Cheltenham and said I must go and see him. Quite unlike any performer I think I’ve seen before. Definitely not one for a lazy night out – “you mean I’ve got to think about what is being said on stage rather than just laugh along?”. Here’s an example of his brilliance recorded on of the London nights.

In January, I saw previews of Milk and Bolt 3D at BFI Southbank. Both completely wonderful and followed by Q&A with Gus van Sant and John Lasseter. I saw The Times of Harvey Milk documentary at the BFI last year and thought it was amazing. Sean Penn puts in a spellbinding performance.

Finally, this month I took my mum out as a birthday treat to see An Inspector Calls at the Birmingham Rep. I’d seen the production at the NT in the early nineties with Kenneth Cranham as the inspector and remember liking it but I think this production made a much bigger impression. It’s such an amazing show. Not just for the cinematic quality of the staging but the performances are wonderful – the Inspector and Shelia in particular. It’s on tour around the country until June 2009 and I’d urge you to go and see it if you can. Theatre at its absolute best.

Edward Scissorhands

Tuesday night was another first to cross off my invisible list. I saw my first full length dance production and loved every minute of it. I’d never seen the film but armed with a quick read of the synopsis on IMDB, felt brave enough to venture far north and brave both branches of the Northern Line to EC1R.

It is a truly magical and quirky show. The performances are entrancing, the set and costumes a delight and there are moments of great humour in there. One of the funniest scenes is where one of the mothers tries to seduce Edward into giving her a trim in the downstairs department while her husband mows the lawn in the background. The scene’s climax involves a washing machine and had the entire audience in stitches. If you can get tickets, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it.

The only disappointment of the evening was the lack of 5-way scissors at the souvenir stall. A missed merchandising opportunity I think and after all ’tis the present wrapping season where they would save so much time.

Oh and one more thing…as we left the fantastic Sadler’s Wells Theatre, my friend Lynn stuck her nose in her scarf and said “Oh no, I think I’ve done the perfume thing again”.

The ‘perfume thing’ is a reference to another theatre performance we went to many months ago. I think it may have been ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ but we couldn’t be sure. What we did remember was the Duke of Kent was sitting in the row in front because we both thought it was an unexpected choice for a Duke’s night out. Anyway, Lynn spent the entire interval and second act trying to find out who was wearing the wonderful perfume she could smell. She asked the lady on her left (no it wasn’t her) and she asked the lady in front (who shaked her head). The Duke escaped questioning on this occasion and was left to chortle undisturbed.

When we left the theatre, Lynn started laughing hysterically. I mean the show was funny but not so hilarious to bring a forty-something woman to her knees in a theatre foyer. When she’d stopped laughing enough to actually force some words out, she dropped the bombshell: “Oh Tin Tin, I think it’s me!”


A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of seeing the new production of Cabaret at the Birmingham Rep. I’d never seen the show or indeed the film before but had only heard good reports and this production did not disappoint.

Samantha Banks as Sally Bowles in Cabaret
Samantha Banks as Sally Bowles

Normally when it comes to theatre, I admit to being a stalls snob – if I can’t sit in the first 15 rows or so of the stalls, then I normally won’t go! I have a similar rule about flying long haul in economy…but that’s for another post. Cabaret had received such great reviews that it was fast selling out and the only option was to ‘slum it’ in the back row. More about that later.

From the moment Wayne Sleep pokes his head out of the O in the giant WILLKOMMEN letters to welcome us to Berlin, you know you’re in for a good evening. The cast are superb all round. Samantha Banks plays the female lead, Sally Bowles. In case you didn’t watch the BBC’s ‘I’d Do Anything’ talent search, she was one of the runners up. During the series I only warmed to her near the end, but if you see Cabaret, you’re in for a real treat. She has the most incredible voice even more so when you consider she’s only seventeen.

The only toe-curlingly embarrassing moment in the show is when Wayne Sleep breaks out of character and after a staged “mistake” involving switching places with a female dancer does a “you think I’m too old to do that do you?” routine with the audience. Suddenly we’re transported from Berlin in hot pants to Blackpool in panto. So tacky and unnecessary. Reminded me of seeing Connie Fisher in the Sound of Music when she got laughs for totally dropping out of character and being Connie. Something to do with eating a cake in a comedy fashion I seem to remember…

I can’t finish this post without mentioning the sound. I hadn’t been to the Birmingham Rep for many years and it’s such a great theatre. I don’t know whether it is known for good acoustics but every word was crystal clear and the orchestra sounded rich and sumptuous. Just wonderful, even from the back row. I heard other audience members commenting on it during the interval too.

So a big thumbs up for an amazing show. After Birmingham, the show visits Bristol, Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester, Woking (I’ll be revisiting for a closer view), Cheltenham, Bath, Leeds, Truro, Northampton, Eastbourne, Malvern, Southampton, Hull, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and finishing up in Glasgow next April.

Full tour details on the Bill Kenwright site.

The Wizard of Oz

If you’ve ever wanted to try Scarecrow Salad at a sushi restaurant, buy a t-shirt proclaiming you as “A Friend of Dorothy” or remember that “There’s No Place Like Home” on a glittering red key ring, then the place to be this summer was London’s South Bank.

Yes folks, unless you’d been just been flattened by a small wooden house, there was no escaping the fact that The Wizard of Oz was in town.

My first childhood memory of The Wizard of Oz is watching it on TV at Christmas at my grandparents’ house and I seem to remember being quite terrified by the whole experience! In anticipation of seeing it on stage, I was almost tempted to crack open the ‘limited edition’ DVD that I bought for £5 in HMV two years ago (having been seduced by the kitsch packaging that plays the chorus of “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and lights up emerald city when you press the button)…but I resisted. Anyway I digress…

Whilst I’m a big fan of the amazing regeneration of the Royal Festival Hall (completed in 2007) this was my first time in the auditorium and I was disappointed. It had a very clinical feel somewhat akin to an aircraft hangar with seats. Perhaps I’m being unfair and it wasn’t looking its best. The RFH is after all a concert hall rather than a theatre so the space was dominated by a temporary stage (with the obligatory revolve) that had been built above the existing stage. The set was a large curved steel structure with clumps of telegraph poles either side and a video screen at first floor level flanked by torn vintage American billboard posters.

Act One was quite enjoyable if slow at times. You can’t beat a stage full of cute kids singing their munchkin hearts out and Toto was a true professional. The orchestra played with gusto and the disney-esque angelic choral voices sent the obligatory shivers down the spine but there was something dark and menacing looming overhead. It soon became clear during the pivotal (and completely underwhelming) twister scene that the role played by the video projector was bordering on the comical.

Artist's impression of the terrifying twister graphics
Reconstruction of the terrifying twister graphics

Now given the limitations of the venue, I can completely understand why the designer put in a video screen as the centrepiece of the set. The great thing about a video screen is that it’s a blank canvas. You can put ANYTHING on there. Unfortunately that’s exactly what we got. A mish mash of childish and unimaginative graphics. Not even childish in a charming way, just really, seriously, unforgivably crap.

The wonder of the emerald city graphic
The Emerald City really was quite a sight

So as Dorothy and her friends reached the outskirts of the green shapes…sorry I mean Emerald City, we filed out to the bar for a quick top up. “Ooh look it’s Alan Rickman collecting his preordered drinks”. Sensible man and don’t his female companions look fetching in their ‘A Friend of Alan’ t-shirts.

Act Two kicked off in unseasonal panto style with the intrepid foursome entering through the audience but after that, I was in grave danger of nodding off. Like Dorothy, the production really seemed to lose its way. Clunky, drawn out and downright dull are the words that sprang to mind.

On the upside, the performances were all solid. Adam Cooper in particular was a delight to watch as the balletic Tin Man. Hilton McRae as the Scarecrow did some amazing things with straw and Gary Wilmot played the Cowardly Lion with a light touch and humour, although his campness seemed to come and go like Toto. A portly Roy Hudd (is it me or does he never seem to age?) played the great wizard with all the genial homeliness that you’d expect from a national treasure.

But ultimately the show failed to hit the mark. The lack of pace (the show was almost three hours long with interval), the misconceived graphics and overall lack of magic, energy and wonderment made me feel very much like Dorothy’s disappointment on discovering the great Wizard of Oz isn’t all that he appears.

Top marks for marketing and merchandising but a great shame that the production didn’t live up to the hype.