Festen

The Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue is currently home to a production of Festen, David Eldridge’s adaptation of the cult film by Thomas Vinterberg The play, directed by Rufus Norris, no longer had the original cast but I don’t think that matters: it’s a stunning piece of theatre.

paul_n.jpgthisistheatre.com sums it up well: Patriarch Helge Klingenfelt is celebrating his 60th birthday with his family at a magnificent old hotel in the Danish countryside. Gathered together are his loyal wife Elsa, his daughter Helene, and sons Christian and Michael. As the evening progresses Christian feels compelled to break the silence surrounding a dark family secret. The effect is explosive and sets the tone for a celebration no-one will forget! [Source]

I don’t really want to give the plot away any more but you can read a little more at The Independent’s review (and some non plot-spoiling reviewer’s comments at the Festen site). Regardless, it’s a powerful piece of work with some excellent acting. It’s hard to pick anybody out but Stephen Moore (Helge), Paul Nicholls (Christian) and Lisa Palfrey (Helene) are just three of the wonderful performances.

Credit must also be given to designer Ian MacNeil and all the others involved in the staging of this work. It’s simple, yet stunningly effective, set is a wonder. The stark, dark stage that opens the play hides some very clever set work.

As it appears only to be running until the start of May I would advise you to go now! thisistheatre.com has tickets.

More Producing

I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment.

Following up on my previous review of The Producers, I’ve had a little more time to think about it and earlier I posted this to Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK at Yahoo!

Having read the positive reader comments on the BBC’s story about The Producers I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment. I hadn’t read many reviews but I did know about the reception it had received in the US and the praise heaped on Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

I haven’t seen the film which, judging by the number of people sitting around me who had, means I was possibly one of only a small number of people in the audience who hadn’t. I wonder if that made a difference?

I saw it a week or so ago and it was good but not as good as all the raving would imply. While Nathan Lane’s talent, comic timing and performance cannot be faulted I did find weaknesses in the show. I thought some of the musical numbers in the middle were slow and the Ulla character was not engaging at all – in fact she was positively irritating. James Dreyfuss was camp (which, I guess, is the intention) but in that 1970s OTT cringe worthy way. Humour is, of course, personal and subjective, but I found it only amusing and not
laugh-out-loud funny as many of the reviews suggest.

Still, I would take issue with the review of Lee Evans’ performance which says ‘he just about holds his own’. I would argue that he did far more than that. He too was excellent, believable & humorous and while I’ve never been a big fan of his stage antics he worked well in the role. In fact, for me, he worked so well I can’t imagine Broderick in the role.

I will, however, recommend the show because it stands out from much of the rest of the West End right now – it is good. It’s has some wonderful comedy and delightful musical moments. But the sum of those individual moments does not, in my opinion, add up to a great whole. I
even bought the soundtrack in the hope that familiarity with the songs will make me warm to more of them.

Maybe it’s just me.

The Producers

The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

I went to see a preview of the London version of The Producers today and was, like last night, a little taken by surprise. This time, however, it’s with disappointment and not pleasure. I’ve been talking to PY and trying to explain my disappointment but he doesn’t get it: he loved the show. I did not know the plot nor had I seen the film so I wasn’t let down by the story but I had read that Nathan Lane had taken Broadway by storm.

You can’t fault Nathan Lane: he’s superb and his comic timing is excellent. Lee Evans seems born for his role as the sidekick Leo Bloom and some of the songs are great. Others, however, seem weak and parts of the story are just not engaging. James Dreyfus camps it up John Inman style while Ulla, the Swedish blond bombshell, is so lost in the stereotype that any humour is lost.

Don’t get me wong, it is a good show. I can’t imagine Richard Dreyfuss in it and I imagine it will be hard to replace Nathan Lane in January. If you’re going to see it I would suggest trying to get tickets now because without Lane’s superb performance I am not sure where this show will go. The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

Sadly, The Producers disappointed.

UPDATE: Well, the reviews are out and I may be a lone voice expressing disappointment. I wrote an updated review for the Yahoo Group: Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK (which you can read here if you’re not a member of the group).

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.

Billy Connolly

Of course, I can’t actually remember any of the jokes but I will remember this feeling of joy for a very long time.

I have to quickly post that I saw Billy Connolly tonight at The Hammersmith Odeon and, despite some recent newspaper comments, I have to say I have never laughed so much or so hard. Of course, I can’t actually remember any of the jokes but I will remember this feeling of joy for a very long time. If you get the chance you really should go and see him.

Of course if you want an alternative view read what The Times said this morning, although I imagine nobody else in tonight’s audience would agree:

He has become a frightful bully, willing to address only the converted and noticeably absent when it’s his turn to be on the receiving end. Connolly has become the patron saint of the truly humourless, one who is little more than three years shy of retirement age. Don’t you wish that, like the fanatics of Baghdad, he’d just hurry up and get on with it?

Well, he still made me laugh.

Cybill Disobedience

The experience of watching your slightly pissed auntie making an exhibition of herself at a wedding

Earlier tonight we went to see Cybill Shepherd at The Soho Theatre. It’s her so-called Cybill Disobedience tour where she performs jazz, her own songs and tells stories from her life – if you didn’t know, she once dated Elvis. Well, I think I should have learnt my lesson from seeing her last year. This show wasn’t that different but it’s a little like watching a car crash (or at least aliens trying to fix a car at the side of the road). It’s billed as comedy and was amusing (although not laugh out loud funny) but, really, you couldn’t keep yours eyes off her. Was she drunk (no, I suspect that was pretend) but she was certainly a little odd. Stephanie Merrit in last week’s Observer likened it to “the experience of watching your slightly pissed auntie making an exhibition of herself at a wedding” [source] which I think sums it up.

Entertaining but scary. Strange and a little unerving.

Oh, and the picture is from her remarkable promotional appearance on GMTV sometime last week. She may just be a great promoter but I think she needs to think a little more!

Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar at The New Wimbledon Theatre with James Fox as Judas.

james foxSo I have to take it all back about TV pop stars. Last night I went to The New wimbledon Theatre to see the touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar. PY bought tickets for my birthday. I had heard the soundtrack as a child but never seen the musical until I was in Norway a couple of years ago when I saw it in Norwegian – which of course made little sense to me but was an amazing staging in an outdoor setting. This one was, thankfully, in English. Fame Academy star James Fox was Judas and he put in a superb performance. He was very impressive with a much more powerful voice than I thought he had the last time I saw him perform his own material.

Glenn Carter was excellent as Jesus (although it seems to have been a role he has played many times) and the rest of the cast were also very good. The only piece I found a little odd was Herod’s Song which was camped up unnecessarily but – overall – an excellent night out and worth going to see. Last night was the first night and it was sold out. I hope the rest of the run is like that as it deserves it.

Throughly Modern Millie

Amanda Holden was good but the rest of the show wasn’t great.

PY and I have a knack of seeing musicals in London’s theatreland just before they close. We’re just back from seeing Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Shaftesbury Theatre which we decided to do very last minute.

Amanda Holden is the Kansas girl arriving in New York at the height of the Roaring Twenties and is something of a revelation. She was truly excellent and carried the show. It’s such a shame that it’s closing and she has had some of the blame but I didn’t think it was a killer show.

Although it’s set in the twenties it was written much more recently yet, sadly, it had a somewhat dated feel which Anything Goes (which is older) didn’t when we saw it a few months ago. I don’t think it’s helped by Anita Dobson’s character Mrs Meers, a failed actress pretending to be an Oriental landlady. The character seems dated and the impersonation of a Chinese woman somewhat patronising. I had wanted to see Maureen Lipman in the role (she starred when the play first opened) and was described by one review as, Grotesque and comical, she’s verbally and physically sharp-witted” [source] but I think I am glad I didn’t. I don’t think it was Dobson but the character which was uncomfortable.

Still, it’s such a shame so many of London’s plays and musicals are closing right now. I do enjoy a good night out at the theatre. This, sadly, was only mediocre.

Here We Go Again

Big Brother is back on Channel Four in the UK.

dermot and davina back for big brother 2005Last night saw the last Friends in the UK (it was Black Friday)and the first of the new series of Big Brother. As we all knew the ending to Friends it seemed like something of a disappointment really. Big Brother on the other hand was a very different beast. Having had a few hours to think about it I am slightly less caught up in it than I thought I would be. It would appear the producers have selected all the people who claimed that they would ‘mix it up’. The house is full of individuals who claimed that they would be outspoken. Last night I thought this was a dangerous tactic. Yes, it will be fun when they first explode at each other (which they surely will) but I think it risks getting dull. Part of the fun of the original series was the fact that the housemates had fun and were, therefore, funny to watch. Car-crash television isn’t that interesting after the initial look. A high quote of lesbian, gay and bisexuals should exploitation to me and doesn’t make me think of a happy, diverse home.

UPADTE 2 JUNE. The Big Brother links:

The big brother popularity poll is a neat interactive idea to get you coming back to the site again and again. I do quite like that idea.

Missed Todd’s Coming Out

Sounds like it was a fab night on Coronation Street yesterday.

bruno langley is toddReading the Yahoo group, it seems the story line for Coronation Street got all exciting last night and so I now have to remember to catch the ITV2 repeat. It’s funny but I really do only watch it for the gay story line and fast-forward through the rest of the episode.

For the uninitiated, Coronation Street is a classic British soap that has been on screen screen forever (see the faq). Rumour has it that Adam and Eve watched it back at the beginning of time. Anyway, Todd (engaged to be married, father) had a ‘moment’ with his fiancee’s brother (who, to be honest, is hot). It was the first ever openly gay moment on The Street (which is what it’s known as here and has no link whatsoever to stocks and shares and New York City). So, Todd gradually realises his preference is for men and falls for hunky nurse Karl. This week was the big coming out moment. The storyline is helped by the fact that Bruno Langley is also cute as hell too. So, despite the fact I don’t watch the soaps anymore, I keep watching bits of this storyline (and so, apparently, did lots of other people).

And if my friend Steve is reading this I am expecting a nice long comment about Gail Tilsley and what a joy she has been since her arrival on The Street (a hundred years ago – or so).

What’s Happening on Channel Four?

Next Friday night is Channel Four’s big Friday.

In 1992, Kate won Big Brother 3. I started the summer with little interest and then, gradually, watched more and more of it. Last year, I seemed very aware of Big Brother 4 from the beginning. Then I grew to support Fed despite the bad press and gradually you get sucked in.

next week is a big night for channel 4So, this time next week – in a clever bit of scheduling – we will see the last episode of Friends and then watch as the new contestants enter the new house for Big Brother 5. Perhaps I will try and avoid it again this year. Still, it means interest in Dermot O’Leary will pick up again and that tends to go hand in hand with the beginning of summer. It’s a good time of year!

Channel Four will have a big night next week but C4’s boss Mark Thompson won’t be clebrating with them as he’s just jumped ship back to the BBC.

Fantastic London

Peter Ackroyd’s London is one of the best TV programmes I have seen for a long time and I caught it by accident.

Last night the BBC aired the first part of Peter Ackroyd’s London – a totally fascinating history of London. Yesterday’s episode was Fire and Destiny which according to BBC Two’s site went ‘From Boadicea’s torching of the city to recent bombings’. In the programme Peter Ackroyd traces London’s extraordinary ability to survive and grow stronger every time it burns.

Actors re-created historical figures talking about their time in London; Charlotte Bronte, Samuel Pepys and a Roman historian were among the characters featured last night.

Of course the main features of the programme were September 1666’s Great Fire (officially only 4 people died) and the German bombings of World War II (6000 people killed in the first 30 days of the bombing) but it seems that London has burnt many times since its founding in 50AD.

It was a thoroughly fascinating programme and well made. It was not your typical history programme for Peter Ackroyd gives London a real personality. I wholeheartedly recommend the other couple of programmes in the series. I’m quite interested in taking one of the walks have been designed to work with the programme.

Unexpected Movie Gems

Despite the fact that you can be critical of television over Christmas 2003, I really think that it served me some unexpected movie gems.

There was something of an 80s flashback over the Christmas period which set me thinking about my teenage years – although I am not suggesting you should now read my regurgitated teenage angst. The flashbacks came in the form of three films on free-to-air television that I caught by accident (by which I mean I didn’t know there were on until I flicked past them).

picture of kevin bacon in footlooseFirstly, we had the excellent Footloose (Kevin Bacon, dancing) which is a film I must have seen several hundred times and never get bored. It’s those standing up for you rights and proving your responsibility moments that resonated with people of a certain age when it was released. It’s helped by the fact that the 80s electro-pop soundtrack was pretty good (for the time) and Kevin Bacon is moody and supports a tight fitting vest at one point!

Then, on New Years Day, we had another teen angst film in the shape of The Breakfast Club. From the John Hughes stable (he made one of my all time favourite movies, Some Kind of Wonderful) this was a teen film with a difference. The film is – almost entirely – dialogue driven and there is very limited action. It’s set in the detention room on a Saturday where a small group of students (of all the stereotypes) must spend the day together as punishment for various misdemeanours.

Again, we are treated to the teen isolation, the misfits and the stupidity of the adult world. And, it also features a soundtrack that instantly brings to mind the mid-Eighties including Don’t You by Simple Minds – which is possibly the only Simple Minds track that I can listen to again and again.

Sandwiched in between Footloose and The Breakfast Club and shown sometime in that almost-dead period between Christmas and New Year was the first Back To The Future movie (which again has a soundtrack of it’s time featuring Huey Lewis and The News, Eric Clapton and Lindsey Buckingham). What struck me about it (apart from the now dated effects) was how good a film it really was. There are some superb performances in it (Christopher Lloyd and Crispin Glover) and it was a real combination of teen and sci-fi movies. It was also the first film I can recall going to the cinema more than once to see – it must really have inspired me as a 15 year-old. Superb stuff.

So, despite the fact that you can be critical of television over this past Christmas period, I really think that it served me some unexpected movie gems. And for that, I am grateful.

Up Above The Streets And Houses

In case you’re wondering, my attempt to bring forth an avalanche of programmes from my childhood didn’t quite have the desired result.

In case you’re wondering, my attempt to bring forth an avalanche of programmes from my childhood didn’t quite have the desired result. However, Danny Baker on BBC London this morning did spend some time talking about Rainbow (fab title sequence here). Somehow, it doesn’t seem quite so much of a spooky coincidence as the whole Fame thing.