This film goes on general release in the UK today and I was lucky enough to see a preview last Friday at BFI Southbank.
Now what I know about football could be written on the back of a stamp but luckily this film isn’t just for footie fans. It tells the story of Eric Bishop (played fantastically by Steve Evets), a depressed postman in Manchester living with his two teenage sons. As his work mates rally round to lift his spirits, he starts talking to the poster of Eric Cantona in his bedroom. Before we know it, ‘Big Eric’ is sitting in the same room and playing life coach – pushing ‘Little Eric’ to move forward in his life and take control of himself.
Through babysitting duties for his grown up daughter, he begins to heal old wounds and misunderstandings with ex-wife Lily. Then the plot takes a dramatic turn when he discovers one of his sons hiding a gun for a shady local gangster. Trapped in a seemingly impossible situation, ‘Big Eric’ encourages ‘Little Eric’ to turn to his mates for help and the resolution is unexpected, hilarious and uplifting.
‘Looking for Eric’ is a triumph. The acting is superb and the film is completely engrossing and never descends into sentimentality. Highly recommended.
After the film’s preview there was a fascinating and very entertaining Q&A session with Ken Loach, Steve Evets (outrageously funny guy) and yes the man himself…Eric Cantona. It was being videoed and is well worth seeing if it becomes available on the BFI or Guardian websites.
So another West End show, ‘Joseph’ starring Gareth Gates has just closed early. If I remember correctly, I saw the original Palladium production two (or possibly even three times) with both Jason Donovan and Phillip Schofield. This restaging has been at the Adelphi Theatre since 2007 when Lee Mead, the winner of the BBC talent show, ‘Any Dream Will Do’ took on the lead role.
Tonight was the last night and it was packed with the additional showbiz element of Tim Rice sitting a few rows in front and getting besieged by autograph hunters. As far as I could tell, the show was identical to the Palladium production. It’s still brilliantly staged with the scenes flowing effortlessly into one another. Performances were very good and it must be a tough show to do because there’s little pause for breath. Dean Collinson was a particularly fun Pharoah but Jenna Lee-James played the Narrator in an oddly cold and businesslike fashion.
Oh and Mr Gates? He did a very fine job. I was impressed. The megamix was as foot-tappingly camp as it should be and Gareth went up on the hydraulic lift at the end. What more could one ask for?
Based on a controversial German play, ‘Spring Awakening‘ the musical first saw the light of day in New York in 2006. It tells the story of a group of teenagers as they leave childhood behind and transition into adulthood. I’d read lots of positive reviews and it was on my list of shows to see and by sheer fluke I was a bit alarmed to discover it was due to close early this week. So a discount ticket email was hastily dug out from the inbox and Tuesday was the night.
I’d heard some comparisons made between the show and another of my favourite musicals, ‘Rent’ (the original production not the abysmal ‘Rent Remixed’) and it does have the same feel – the brick wall set, the liberal use of dialogue during songs and in-your-face rock band guitars. Like ‘Rent’, ‘Spring Awakening’ has a raw energy and youthfulness that’s invigorating to watch and the music is just superb. It runs the full musical gamut from the soft and tender ‘Left Behind’ to the angry, rocky and pretty-damn-awesome ‘Totally Fucked’. Yes folks, the Broadway cast recording is now sitting on my iPod and I love it.
Acting was good all round but vocally the girls were much stronger and more confident than the boys. The one exception was Iwan Rheon (playing the role of Moritz) who had an fantastic voice. The set design and lighting deserve special mention because they really lift the production to a very high standard.
Unfortunately, fantastic songs and staging wasn’t enough. Even after a successful run at the Lyric Hammersmith, any show that deals with ‘challenging’ subjects such as suicide, incest, S&M and abortion is going to have a tough time in the West End. ‘Spring Awakening’ just isn’t commercial enough for a mainstream audience and that’s a great shame because any show that isn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber or a jukebox musical deserves a home in my opinion.
As a footnote, I’d never been to the Novello before but it’s a wonderful theatre. We sat in row T of the stalls and on the side walls are large ornate mirrors that reflect what’s happening on stage. It really enhanced the experience. Another unusual feature was the bar at the back of the stalls that has a window into the auditorium and looks like a cute old train carriage.
The photo above is the entrance to the DMA (Direct Marketing Association) offices in central London. In case you didn’t know, the DMA is “the trade assocation for the direct marketing industry. Its aim is to raise consumer confidence and trust and raise the profile of direct marketing through lobbying, events, research and development.”
In other words, they defend the corner of the companies that want to send you junk mail through the post along with unsolicited emails and phone calls.
Now there’s something very ironic about these entrance doors. Can you spot what’s missing?
Yes I know it’s been running for centuries but for some inexplicable reason I’d never seen Les Mis until last night. It’s one of those shows that everyone seems to rave about. OK well almost everyone. The friend-of-a-friend at Priscilla last night thought it was a snoozefest.
So along I went to the Queen’s Theatre with an open mind and a smattering of anticipation. The latter probably due to the fact that the lovely and highly talented Jon Robyns has been part of the cast since last year. But what if my reaction to the show was inappropriate? Should I pop into Angels on the way down Shaftesbury Avenue and hire a couple of masks?
If so, how would I know which mask I should be wearing? Is Les Mis the sort of show that starts with the right mask and ends with the left? Or is it just right mask all the way from curtain up through to the train journey home and bedtime?
Three and a bit hours later as we stumbled through a mild gin and vodka induced haze into the street (at the Queen’s Theatre the circle exits are at street level..how weird is that?) I still wouldn’t have known which mask to wear.
I wasn’t very familiar with the music but it sounds great and looks great. David Shannon as Jean Valjean was very good with a beautiful voice. Also strong was David Thaxton as Enjolras and Jon Robyns didn’t disappoint. On the other hand, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was rather a hard and shouty affair.
I can appreciate that Les Mis is an impressive show but would I go again? Hmmm. Sorry Les Mis fans, but it just didn’t light my fire.
The huge stiletto heel at the front of the Palace Theatre is a bit of a clue that this is not Les Mis. After years running in Australia, the movie-turned-into-a-musical has hit the West End.
The star of the show is of course Priscilla the bus. She’s 8m long, dominates the stage and is covered in LED lights. Inside are 3 lifts and an interior that looks like an Early Learning Centre.
Tony Sheldon is superb as Bernadette, the transexual who unexpectedly finds love in the outback. Jason Donovan is OK but rather bland as the drag queen on a trip to meet his son and Oliver Thornton makes for a convincing dippy and shallow Adam. The rest of the company put in solid performances and the three divas that hover above the stage are a lot of fun.
The set and costumes are as extravagant and inventive as you’d expect but it just feels a bit half-baked, clunky and lacking in pace at times. The sheer size of Priscilla means she can only move slowly around the stage and that drags the show down a bit (sorry couldn’t resist). There’s a bizarre scene at the start of Act 2 where the Aussie locals in the outback have a hoedown with members of the audience dragged up (oops I did it again) on stage. Did I miss summer? Is it panto season already?
The last time I saw Jason Donovan on stage was in Joseph at the Palladium. Now there was a show with amazing energy, great lighting and earth shattering sound. I was expecting a similar thing with this production – to be swept away with it all but it never happened. The sound is average and the lighting in particular was very disappointing. It was terribly flat at times, the rear cyc was underused and the operatic travelling scene could have been far more striking with some lighting animation. Maybe there was no budget left after all the frocks?
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the show and there are some great moments but I left feeling a bit disappointed. All the ingredients are there but a little bit of theatrical magic got lost on the road from screen to stage.
One of the problems with not watching TV is that every now and again I miss a real gem. My sister tipped me off about Beautiful People last year after watching the last episode of this new BBC Two comedy series and deciding it would be right up my street. As luck would have it, the LOVEFiLM pixies recently delivered the DVD through the letterbox and I give it a resounding thumbs up.
Written by Jonathan Harvey, Beautiful People is based on ‘Nasty’ by Simon Doonan, a memoir of his quest to escape from suburban Reading and live with the beautiful people in London. It’s highly original, very camp, laugh out funny yet also very touching.
All the cast are great but Luke Ward-Wilkinson as the lead (yes he’s the one in the subtle Joseph coat…) deserves special mention for an extraordinarily believable performance. The good news is that a second series has been commissioned so my withdrawl symptoms hopefully won’t last for long.
Yesterday Google launched their street view option in Google Maps UK. I’ve used the option on US maps for some time but it’s a different feeling being able to see around places closer to home. In many ways it is amazing but also slightly creepy and I started thinking about why I have that reaction.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the street view is raising the ‘slightly creepy’ reaction because it is showing us the world in the way we directly experience it every day. When Google Maps came out with satellite photos everyone was amazed, yet also less creeped out. That makes sense because it showed us an aerial view of the world that we never experience, just like seeing an X-ray of your arm.
The narrower that gap gets between our own human experience and what’s publicly available on the web, the creepier things will get.
Matt Dillahunty is the main host of The Atheist Experience, that I’ve mentioned before. Matt’s a very smart guy. Every now and again he lets his ego get the better of him when dealing with callers but on this occasion he was on fire.
A few weeks back, there was a caller named John. Matt asked whether John thinks that as an atheist he should go to hell. Over and over again, John replies that it’s not his decision and only God can decide. In the end, Matt gets so frustrated with the inability of John to think for himself that he hangs up on him and launches into this fantastic rant:
Right inside of you right now, dealing with those difficult questions, there is a moral struggle where you’re beginning to realise that you are more moral than the God that they forced you to believe, that they’ve conned you into accepting. You don’t believe that I necessarily deserve to go to hell for exercising the ‘free will’ that you think your God gave me. You don’t think that the dictates of a conscience, whether or not somebody believes, is a sufficient justification for eternal torture, and yet you’re just too damn cowardly to say it!
You are better than your God, you are better than your religion, so am I, so is Don (co-host) so is damn near everybody on the planet. I wish you people would wake up and see this. Stop apologising for this! (holds bible up) It’s not the good book, there’s nothing ‘good’ about it. All it does is poison minds. All it does is make you sacrifice your humanity – the only thing that you have that is of any value – in order to sit around in deference to your Gods.
This perfectly sums up what I find most disturbing, dangerous and downright offensive about religion – namely brainwashing, deference and the loss of personal identity.
Part 2 is the best bit but you can watch part 1 here if you like.
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.