A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum

You feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves.

a funny thing happened on the way to the forum
a funny thing happened on the way to the forum

I went to see A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum tonight and it took me a little by surprise. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I was thoroughly entertained. From the opening, A Comedy Tonight, you feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s a high camp farce set in Roman times featuring double entendres and mistaken identity by the bucket load (you almost expect a vicar to appear from a cupboard) but it’s joyful and not at all cringe-worthy as many farces are. Sondheim’s music isn’t the best you will ever hear (in fact, much of it isn’t memorable) but during the performance it’s entertaining. Such a shame it is coming to the end of it’s run. I discovered a US version of the soundtrack featuring Nathan Lane which ties in nicely with tomorrow – more then.

The Grand Old Duke

I decided to go on the backstage tour at The Duke of York’s Theatre. It is a fascinating tour of the old London theatre that was built when the area was underdeveloped and helped transform that side of Charing Cross Road into the entertainment area it is today.

It is often said that those of us who call London home do not benefit from the great advantages that the capital city brings. People have been heard to suggest that Londoners do not use London. Well, glancing through a copy of this week’s Time Out I came across the backstage tour of The Duke of York’s Theatre on St. Martin’s Lane and decided to go. The tour wasn’t very expensive and lasted almost two hours and I reckon it must be one of the best value guided events around.

It is a fascinating tour of the old London theatre that was built when the area was underdeveloped and helped transform that side of Charing Cross Road into the entertainment area it is today. It’s the theatre that first staged Peter Pan, the theatre that first saw actors agree to the forming of UK Equity and it has seen many greats play its stage since.

I can now say that I have appeared on the West End Stage, and standing on the stage looking into the auditorium I was surprised at how close theatergoers would appear to the actors. I was also struck by how small the stage area really was and by how big the under stage area is. Also intriguing to know that Capital Radio once owned it.

A lesson leant, that’s for sure. I will be spending more time each weeks with the what’s on listings and try to take advantage of some of the things this city has to offer.

Elsewhere: Everything Taboo

I thought Taboo was fantastic and I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I think I had envisaged it as something akin to Closer To Heaven, but it wasn’t really like that at all. I loved the fact that The Venue is quite small and quite intimate which made you feel closer to the stage (and the audience bits help) and, of course, it brought memories flooding back (although I was watching events in the early-80s from the safety of the north).

I went to see Boy George’s Taboo last Friday and have been contemplating the blog entry ever since. I have to say that I thought that it was fabulous and I want to see it again (I even ordered the soundtrack last night!). It’s a fictional account of a lot of real people but most of the plot must be based on Boy George’s own life story as I recognised may of the characters and plot lines from his book Take It Like A Man. Obviously, he is a key (though not the central) character. I would thoroughly recommend to this anybody visiting London regardless of the way you feel about Boy George. It’s a strange time capsule of a musical and his songs are great – although several of them are old (some of which are taken from the under-rated album Cheapness and Beauty which I regard as one of the best of all time). The story is tender, the performances top-rate and the whole thing is laugh-out-loud funny (especially, Julian Clary). Lastmiunte.com often has cut-price tickets a few days before a show. Go see it. Often.

I also posted a review to the musical fan group at Yahoo! This is what I wrote:

I thought Taboo was fantastic – and I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I think I had envisaged it as something akin to Closer To Heaven, but it wasn’t really like that at all. I loved the fact that The Venue is quite small and quite intimate which made you feel closer to the stage (and the audience bits help) and, of course, it brought memories flooding back (although I was watching events in the early-80s from the safety of the north).

I am a big fan of Boy George’s more recent albums – Cheapness and Beauty is one of my all time favourites. When I heard some of the songs were being reworked for the show I was worried. Luckily, few have been re-penned and those that have been re-done are still as good as they are on the CD (although different). I was stunned by how much the mannerisms of the Boy George character seem to be like the Boy George we see on TV etc. It was a remarkable performance. Duncan Bennett as Billy was superb (was he really in the band Point Break? I don’t remember him) as well as being some appealing eye candy 😉 It was a thoroughly entertaining night out and I would recommend it to anybody.

Julian Clary was superb and, of course, looked stunning in those Leigh costumes. I would be interested to see how other people play the part as he put his own stamp on it without it seeming to be too Julian Clary.

I’ve ordered the CD – the cheapest I could find it was £10.99 at play.com – although it was on back order I notice tonight that they have posted it to me. I’m sure the CD doesn’t do the show justice (they rarely do) but I hope it will be brilliant anyway! Lastminute.com always seems to have discounts on top price tickets. I bought the cheaper seats direct from the box office and, to be honest, I think my view was as good as anybody with the more expensive ones (the theatre isn’t really large enough for it to make a difference). However, Lastminute’s discount seats are even cheaper and I shall certainly be going again.

[Links: BBC News – George breaks 80s Taboo | BBC News – Matt Lucas’s comic extremes | Guardian – We were so naughty | I Love the 80s]

The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband

… on seeing the three-headed comedy, The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband at The New Ambassadors Theatre.

After much walking around London yesterday, I eventually got PY, American Colleague and Myself tickets to The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband. It’s on at The New Ambassadors Theatre, which can be an intimate and interesting venue. It stars Alison Steadman and Daisy Donovan.

It’s a three-headed almost-farce like comedy (I was waiting for a Vicar and no trousers) and it’s only mediocre. Firstly, the title gives the game away. Secondly, the story is too weak to be carried for ninety minutes and thirdly, sadly, some of the acting isn’t great. There’s an old adage that everyone’s a critic and at £32 a ticket I think I bloody well deserve to be. Daisy Donovan, who I find hilarious on television, seemed out of place – although maybe that was just me as reviewers seem to think she handled herself well. However, when the main comedic thrust of her role was the comedy dancing – which might work on TV but looks very strange on the stage – I didn’t think she stood a chance. I imagine that Alison Steadman did her best but I think, the material was just not up to it. It didn’t give Daisy Donovan anything to make her West-End debut with and it didn’t give Alison Steadman anything to get her teeth into. This review says all this in a much more articulate way.

Still, despite its shortcomings, it was an OK evening. Middle aged couples and pairs of gay men. There is something faintly disturbing about that mix. And, perhaps, one should always remember that food is as important as sex.

The Full Monty

I saw The Full Monty at The Prince of Wales Theatre, London, last night. I have to admit that it was a lot better than I expected it to be. The central story that you’d recognise from the film is there but it has been adapted for the stage and re-set in Buffalo, New York.

In particular, the introduction of some new characters (the excellent Lynda Baron as Jeanette and the lovely Julian Essex-Spurrier as Keno, a professional male stripper) helps the story along well. The songs were strong and I shall be looking forward to getting the CD. In my opinion, Ben Richards (Jerry) was excellent as the show’s main character – which is useful, as he does seem to have a majority of the show to carry. The rest of the cast were great: Paul Keating made Ethan into a amusing character, adding a slap-stick dimension to the humour and David Ganly carried Dave’s insecurities and vulnerabilities well.

Without taking anything away from the show I would have liked to see it set back in the UK and the main narrative driver (Jerry’s need for money to keep seeing his son) was somewhat unbelievable (even for a West-End Musical). However, if you fancy an evening in a theatre that is 70% groups of women (although it didn’t seem overly hen-nighty) then I would thoroughly recommend it.