Friday, 31 October 2008

REVIEW: Dracula

Vampire musicals have something of a curse on them: namely that they tend to do the sorts of things that vampires would do if they existed: bite and suck. While there is one shining example hovering above the rest, Alex Loveless’s new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s defining novel isn’t it. What Loveless, Loveless (Liz, extra lyrics), & Loveless (Chris, director) give us instead is a tick-box list of how not to handle vampires in yet another version of Dracula.

See, a good vampire story is sexy. The whole lure of the forbidden and abandonment of morality in the face of a challenge to Good Christian Living stems from Stoker and it’s not here: Leigh Jones has presence as the legendary Count, but sexy? Nope. The female cast are so buttoned up that the Transylvanian may as well go back to planet Transsexual if he wants a chance of getting any. As much as Ann Rice’s prose may leave something to be desired and Elton John’s score was lacking, the duo delivered sexiness in abundance in Lestat.

Alternatively, a good vampire story is scary. The old Bela Lugosi films have lost much of their scare factor after decades of video nasties, but seventy-five years ago they were terrifying. The only scary thing about this musical was coming back for the second act.

On the other hand, you can go for spectacle: while Frank Wildhorn’s Dracula (which shares numerous book quotes with this one) also received a critical drubbing for its bore-factor it featured a top notch cast and Des McAnuff’s flair for the visual.

The LovelessX3 show sex, no scare, and no budget. It also has no point (the scenes with Renfield go nowhere and amount to nothing,) no memorable songs, no choreography, and no wit. To that extent it does have the last trait of the Vampire: sin. To bore the audience to sleep (or an interval departure) is the greatest sin a creator can commit, and the night I went there was programme checking, nodding off, and interval departures in abundance.

In short, the [title of show] team say it best: DIE VAMPIRE, DIE!

Where: White Bear Theatre
When: Until 23 Nov., Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Su @ 17:00
How Much: £12 unreserved
Concessions: £10
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £0. Stay home and take a nap or rent any of Hollywood’s better efforts. Or you could listen to....
RZ Other Notes: The greatest vampire musical of all time? Tanz der Vampire. Not the version Michael Crawford stunk up on Broadway but the original Austro-German edition which is scary, witty, sexy, and stunning.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

REVIEW: "So Jest End"

(Second of two reviews today, see below for a quickie catch-up post.)

London’s history with the Forbidden Broadway franchise is an iffy one. Despite running for over twenty years across a variety of New York locations, all three attempts at bringing the sharp witted parody property to London have been met with short, unprofitable runs. Recently, a local alternative has been in development, running first a few months ago and now in a one-weekend-a-month engagement at the Leicester Square. So Jest End (formerly Jest End and Fraudway) attempts to rework the winning formula for the West End, but it comes up empty and unimpressive instead.

The fault lies in getting what makes Forbidden Broadway funny: While Forbidden’s jokes tend to tread the same themes, the show is kept religiously up to date (barring the occasional throwback to the classic diva and the infamous Annie skit) and the show chooses its targets well: the dumbing down of Broadway, plots of hit shows, eccentric divas, and new trends. Creator Gerard Alessandrini also keeps his jokes wide enough that innocent tourists wandering in on a half price ticket stay entertained even if they haven’t seen everything on the boards.

And this is where So Jest End fails. Despite being billed as an update and featuring new songs, much of the material is out of date: there are still bits from Mary Poppins (gone six months) and Footloose (closed a year ago), shows with no official plans for the West End (Little Mermaid), and Gone With The Wind jokes (again, gone for months and no longer funny). Instead of looking at the state of the West End or even some of the biggest shows (no Hairspray, Dirty Dancing, or Joseph bits), the popular themes are reality TV (a full two song bit dedicated to the upcoming Oliver and multiple references elsewhere) and the low state of actor pay (constant mentions plus a full song about how Phantom uses alternates). There’s enough to chuckle one’s way through it, but the material lacks fangs and fire which makes it hard for the cast (all very talented and flexible) to land the serious jokes. Only the Les Miserables bit about the hell of lasting a year in the cast managed to score constant big laughs, and even so it just doesn’t hit as hard as Forbidden Broadway’s “Ten Years More.”

While it’s good to see those involved in the West End finding humour in its flaws, So Jest End is very much an insider’s show and mere fans (or even industry people who aren't actors) are likely to find themselves lost, bored, or underwhelmed. While the show will undoubtedly get better over the years and various iterations, it’s just not there enough yet to justify even its Fringe-level ticket cost or the risk of not being able to get home (see below for more).

Where: Leicester Square Theatre (Basement)
When: 14/15 Nov, 19/20 Dec @ 23:00
How Much: £15 General Admission
Concessions: None
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £5. It’s strictly amateur night.
RZ Other Notes: Hoo boy, where to begin. First, go to this with friends. I made the mistake of going alone and was the only person NOT attending with at least six companions who knew the people in every other group at the venue. Second, get seats at the tables if you can - the back row seats may be more comfortable but there’s no rake so they’re slightly obstructed and the people next to you *will* fidget and elbow you repeatedly as they move around attempting to see what’s going on.

Third, be forewarned that securing transport after the show is at your own risk. While most bus lines are still in operation at 00:15, and while the Northern Line hasn’t OFFICIALLY run its final trains, Leicester Square station was thoroughly gated off and locked up when the Saturday show let out, as was Tottenham Court Road. Patrons looking to catch the underground home may have better luck at Charing Cross, but I wound up getting lucky and catching the next to last train out of Goodge Street instead. Should you not live conveniently on the Northern Line, work out your bus route in advance or plan to budget on catching a cab as you will not be able to transfer to another underground line.

CATCHING UP: The Plague of Laziness...

Well, not so much laziness this time as business. MCM Expo, non-writing commitments, and more job hunting hell. And yeah, some laziness too. Do not expect good writing this time, just some notes. A full review for one show, however, will follow.

The White Devil @ Menier Chocolate Factory: I don’t generally go for plays written during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, but I missed the highly acclaimed Revenger’s Tragedy earlier this year at the National, and this seemed like a good way to see some of the period’s work that isn’t Shakespeare. While I’m still not a big fan of the language and convention of the times, I still found The White Devil an interesting play full of horrible people doing rotten things and enjoying it more than I’d expected. Director Jonathan Munby manages (mostly) to safely clear the minefield of traverse staging by giving the piece a claustrophobic setting, but the nature of the beast means that everybody will spend at least one major scene staring at the back of the action. I think the cast had a few repeat performers from the MCF’s recent production of The Common Pursuit as well. It’s worth checking out on a meal deal price or with a discount.

The Picture of Dorian Gray @ Tabard Theatre: Props to Kangaroo Court for working their juxtaposition of Wilde’s classic tale of beauty in evil and the age of celebrity. This new adaptation revels in its modernity while maintaining the feel of Wilde’s original. The only problem with the piece is that it’s a musical, and while I love the form, it’s entirely unnecessary here: the show would work just as well as a straight play, largely because the songs are sung by the nameless chorus (Megan Pugh and David Templeman, neither of whom are particularly impressive singers) who spend most of the show moving scenery. I honestly wouldn’t have had a problem with this show being a 60 minute straight play vs. a 90 minute musical, and the opportunity to have, say, paired it with another one-act seems wasted. Neil McCurley has, however, struck gold by using projections to reflect the increasingly warped nature of Dorian’s portrait though the cues ran late the night I saw the show.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

REVIEW: “Rue Magique”

(Because some anonymous will undoubtedly bitch and moan that this is coming off of a first preview, let’s get a key fact out of the way: tickets are being sold at FULL PRICE during the preview period. That’s £20-25 for the fringe for a technically unfrozen show. Complain to those responsible for THOSE ethics before complaining about a member of the public rambling on the internet. With that taken care of...)

Ladies and gentlemen, the trainwreck express is now pulling in at the King's Head.

Because Riflemind wasn’t enough of a disaster - because Imagine This actually has good word of mouth coming in from out of town - because someone has extra money to throw around (and to those people, I will be happy to work for you vetting funding requests) there’s Rue Magique, currently previewing and soon to open at the Kings Head. And despite nine years in development, Rue Magique is a show that musical disaster fans will be talking about for years.

As the show is still in previews, I’m going to give the standard free passes: the hard working cast give it their absolute all here, especially Melanie LaBarrie as conflicted madame Desdemona and newcomer Nadia Di Mambro as the sweet voiced Sugar and despite the flaws in her book, Lisa Forrell’s direction gets the right stuff out of her cast. Any flaws with the acting or staging will undoubtedly be fixed by the end of previews.

Now for the carnage.

Rue Magique claims to be based on true stories, and while I have no doubt that such tragedy exists in real life, it’s a questionable area to be taking a musical. The plot here revolves around creole Desdemona, a demanding, game boy addict of an agoraphobic madame who runs a brothel in south London. She has three full timers: a British crack whore, a Jamaican dreaming of opening a nail salon, and a Latvian with iffy English who spends more of her time fulfilling Desdemona’s OCD cleaning demands than landing clients - aka vipers.

The show opens with a song about the run down area, the homeless, and the fierceness required to survive. The customers fight over the women (an early song talks about the air being rife with the smell of lubrication - rhymed with sexual frustration), and Desdemona lays down the rules, lording over her tiny domain. When daughter Sugar - it’s her thirteenth birthday today (despite looking 20) - gives her mother’s snacks to a homeless man, she’s sent out for more and talks to shop boy Rem (who’s 17 but looks 25) who offers to teach her kickboxing (to the tune of a drum machine backed song called “Flex”) as a way of chatting her up. Sugar then goes home and Desdemona informs her that she’s now old enough to start servicing the customers. Sugar sings a tender ballad proclaiming her dreams of a magic birthday party surrounded by a loving family (her father is AWOL), and she performs the last chorus while her head hangs off a table as she’s raped by a rather large man.

I’m going to repeat that bit because it’s a true Springtime for Hitler moment come to life. 13 year old Sugar sings the end of her “I Want” song as she’s being raped by a fattie. It’s not even shocking and edgy because di Mambro looks so much older, but it’s tasteless in the same way that The Blonde in the Thunderbird was tasteless when Suzanne Sommers sang “If I Only Had A Brain” as the voice representing her father boomed abuse.

The show goes all downhill from there. Rem sings to Sugar that not all men are evil, she turns against Desdemona and tries living on the street under the sometimes-watchful eye of the homeless man from the opening, it’s revealed that Rem is one of Desdemona’s old clients, and he eventually persuades the domineering mother to confront her past and reveal her daughter’s origins. I would think the right thing for Rem to do would be putting in a call to social services, but that doesn’t make for a good ending and the reveal comes too late in the second act for such an integration to play out in a way that resolves the mother-daughter tension. Of course, the actual ending isn’t so great either: Desdemona frees her daughter from sexual slavery, but only for tonight because it’s her birthday and she’s expected back at work tomorrow.

I wish I could be more positive about this show coming into town. Despite the squick factor of the characters’ ages (I’d believe it more if they were, say, 15 and 18 or 15 and 20), Forrell’s book does manage to hit most of the right emotional notes, but it’s undermined by Brett Kahr’s songs and their truly dreadful lyrics. Outside of two or three big numbers (the act one face-off between Desdemona and Sugar, the title song sung in Creole, and a comic relief number in the second act by three vipers), the lyrics are jaw-droppingly bad which is a shame because the melodies are nice though a bit bland.

If it were up to me to fix things up, I'd keep Lahr's melodies but bring in another lyricist. I’d also cut the interval and the second act opener (an extended comic song about keeping the house clean - like the aforementioned dream song) to keep the tension high. Likewise I'd try to clean up the some of loose ends and tighten up the character arcs: why does Sugar dream of the West End if she can only leave the house to buy groceries? Does Rem actually know about kickboxing and if so why not have him actually teach Sugar so that she can physically take care of herself by the act one conflict and come across as a real threat?

In the end, Rue Magique is sort of like a prostitute’s Annie crossed with BKLYN, except without the wealthy payoff. At this point, it's not even mock-musical East Hastings from the last series of Slings & Arrows. And yes, when going into the theatre I was thinking of this line from [title of show]: “When Bock and Harnick were writing Tenderloin / they were taking a risk to write a show about whores.” While I’m not sure if Rue Magique can be 100 people’s ninth favourite thing or not, but it may manage to become nine people’s favourite regardless of its flaws.

Where: Kings Head
When: Until 7 December, Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Sa/Su @ 15:30
How Much: £20 (Unreserved)/£25 (Reserved)
Concessions: £17.50. If you hold your ground you can try and get a discount on previews but there is no official discount.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £12.50 because the trainwreck value is that good.
RZ Other Notes: I think I spent about half of the show with my jaw agape from just how ridiculous things played out on stage. Also, I rag on the lyrics quite a bit so I should include some examples:
“Prepare yourself for explosive sex / but no, nothing risky / and she don’t take credit cards or personal cheques.” (this is from a song that's not supposed to be funny - and if it was, the crowd weren't laughing very much)
“When you’re threatened by a junkie / strike a pose and look real funky!”
“When the crop is ripe / put it in your pipe / all the whores become madonnas”
“He’s brave and bold / his bum is very cute / some day he may be mine”
“You must submit / you piece of shit!”
“To reclaim your self-respect / with strong detergent we disinfect”
“If there is soap / then there is hope”
“And so I sit with with my well thumbed pornographic magazine with pages stuck together”

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

REVIEW: "Shit Mix"

Before I go any further with this review, let’s get the formalities out of the way. Shit Mix is not a bad play, and I commend Leo Richardson for getting his first work this far.*

But does it really belong in the West End? Even at groovy funky Trafalgar Studios? No. No, it really doesn’t. Shit Mix (a slang term for what we yanks call a suicide cocktail) is a strictly by the book tick-box example of derivative youth theatre, and while it would be at home on the Oval House or Almeida’s (excellent) programmes for youth targeted works and audiences, it fails completely at reaching the teenage audience it so desperately seeks here. I saw this play on a Saturday night and I’d guess that a third of the audience were under 30. I was too lazy to try (and it’s increasingly hard to be certain), but I’m pretty sure I could have counted the actual under 18’s without needing to go past my figurative fingers. Of course, ticket prices are higher on weekends, but concession rates are the same, so I stand by my argument.

Onto the play itself. Wannabe chav LB has the hots for gothiloli Raggedy Anne but they’re too shy to tell each other. Obviously closeted friend Bent Ben is a go-between keeping everybody happy but he secretly fancies LB’s older brother Harry the Hottie who has a BIG SECRET. It’s the same BIG SECRET that you get in most teen plays so no points for guessing. Of course slutty girl Dirty Debbie fancies Harry as well but settles for prostituting herself to LB for £6.50 and a plate of chips.** In between these escapades everybody meets in the park, consumes mass quantities of alcohol, screws around, and substitutes internal monologues for interpretative dance. It’s a nice gimmick, and combined with Samantha Potter’s direction keeps the show moving along, but the upbeat choreographed curtain call set to the title song from Dreamgirls is unnecessary and contradicts the more downbeat ending.

All in all, I’m not really sure what the point of Shit Mix’s current run is. Teens aren’t going (it’s cheaper and hipper to get a DVD from Blockbuster) and there’s nothing in it for adults who aren’t nostalgic for a miserable time in most peoples’ lives or trying to understand “those darn kids today.” I suppose it’s all rather hypocritical of me to be saying this as well - I’m not that old, and I loved Dog Sees God (which recently ran in Manchester, though I saw the Off Broadway run) which covers almost identical territory but at least had the twist of subversively filtering its cliches through beloved childhood icons. With a veritable flood of exceptional productions running in the city right now, it seems a waste for grownups to go and see this.

*This is the internet, not a family friendly newspaper, so no, I'm not giving in to using asterisks.
**I wish I were making up these names and events, but they are in fact real parts of the show. The names are even displayed in the form of back-lit pop art.

Where: Trafalgar Studios 2
When: Until 25 October, M-Sa @ 19:45
How Much: £15 M/Th(Mat)/Sa(Mat), £22.50 all other performances
Concessions: £15
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £10. Fringe price for a fringe show and what you’ll pay for less-choice performance times at TKTS.
RZ Other Notes: For those wishing to be spoiled, the tick boxes here are: popular kid, closeted gay, suicide, goth kid, slut, drugs, boozing, party life, dissolving friendships, pop culture references, character fails at their art, the bad kid, no visible adults, scuffy costumes, generic “this could be anywhere” setting, profanity, big central event. Now, am I talking about Shit Mix, Dog Sees God, or this week’s runs of Neighbours and Hollyoaks?

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Catching Up: Four More...

As the RZ finds his will to live (or at least his will to make an effort on projects that don’t pay) sapped by job hunting hell, his posts are likely to be sporadic and minimal unless he finds something reaaaaaaalllllllly interesting to post about - like some recent things in the Graduion blog. But that’s another post.

After all, you’re here for reviews. And the RZ has been very, very lazy lately with posting those. So, without further ado, here’s four quick bites before running off to see Shit Mix tonight...

A Patriot For Me @ New Players - Solid production of a rarely-performed John “Look Back in Anger” Osborne play. Big cast, interesting historical subject (gay officer in the late-Habsburg Austrian army succumbing to blackmail), but the second act drags (literally and figuratively) and everybody is so damn smug that it detracts from the tension. That said, it’s never boring even it does meander. See it if you’ve got a free night.

A Skull in Connemara @ White Bear - Either you love Martin McDonagh or you loathe him, as his plays (excepting The Pillowman) tend to follow a similar formula. The RZ loves McDonagh’s works, and the sharp, witty writing in Skull makes for a short, biting play that’s paired with creative design in the White Bear’s space.

Hans Teeuwen (Comedian) - The RZ saw Mr. Teeuwen at BAC doing a gig in anticipation of his upcoming run at the Leicester Square, and found his act hit or miss. It’s much closer to German Kabarett than what most people would expect from Anglo-American stand-up. The press have made favourable comparisons to Eddie Izzard (who the RZ is not fond of as a stand-up) though a cross between Izzard and Bill Bailey would be more accurate since Teeuwen sings as well. Teeuwen’s act jumps from biting material on FGM freedom of speech to absurdist skits (some of which go on far too long) and songs with the mandatory use of dick jokes to break up the bits. Good at BAC prices, not so much for the West End.

Betwixt! in Concert - It’s hard to say a lot about this as 1)it’s a charity gig and therefore hard to rag on regardless and 2)other than some song rehearsals the whole thing only had 24 hours to rehearse as a whole. The show is still great, there have been a few revisions (including one song getting slightly repositioned), and word on the street is that Off-Broadway is the next stop for this charming piece.


And now we’re all caught up. Just in time for four shows in the next week...

Friday, 10 October 2008

Catching Up: “Spyski”/“That Moment”

(Two very quick ones to prevent getting even further behind before another show tonight)

If The 39 Steps is your idea of a good time, you will love Spyski. A comedic espionage thriller of the smart-stupid variety, company Peepolykus (pronounced people like us..and they sure do) have created a wacky adventure framed within and set against Wilde’s classic The Importance of Being Earnest. Though slapstick heavy and full of groaners, the cleverness required to make it all work both on its own terms and the audiences is truly amazing, for how often do you really get actors suck tracking down genetically modified Russians being left in handbags at Victoria Station for MI5 operatives to collect at Cockfosters? It’s zany, family friendly fun (though not for the pre-PG film crowd) and cheap tickets are everywhere.

For the unemployed actor in all of us, the Kings Head just wrapped up a two week lunchtime run run of Dougie Blaxland’s That Moment, a solo piece starring Jenny Harold as out of work actress Alicia who somehow ends up dating a two-timing passive aggressive depressed playwright while dogsitting for a famous director. It sounds naff, but it’s an engaging, blissfully quick hour, and people in (or close to) the business will recognise references and landmarks instantly. That said, why did they bother setting up a series of not that frequently (or well) used TVs to project the occasional still image? It seems a total waste.

Where: Lyric Hammersmith
When: Until 1 November. M-Sa @ 19:30
How Much: £10-£27
Concessions: Check the Lyric’s website because they’re abundant.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £18. Fun and funny but not a long time memorable gig.
RZ Other Notes: Tours after the Lyric run.

That Moment
Where: Kings Head
When: Closed.
How Much: £7 Unrserved
Concessions: £5
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £7. Come on, it’s less than the cost of lunch.
RZ Other Notes: None!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

REVIEW: "The Witches of Eastwick" (UK Tour)

(Still catching up, two shows behind now, two more on this week's theatregoing agenda. To a certain author/composer who posted a comment recently, the RZ is trying to get his hands on your concept album so he can have a listen and reply appropriately.)

Well, the RZ saw The Witches of Eastwick for the first time on Friday night in Wimbledon. It was a pleasant evening, and he has to say that he left the theatre with songs such as “Words Words Words” and “Dance with the Devil” stuck in his head where they've remained through writing this review. So far, so good right? Right.

But may he be bold enough to offer those responsible a piece of unsolicited advice about the show? Yes? Good.

Stop changing it. Seriously. Because you see, while the RZ, a new visitor to Eastwick, had a decent enough time - as did a friend’s companion for the evening - my friend himself (and it appears many visitors on the UK message boards) did not. Pleasant memories of the prior two London productions run rife through the community here, and the endless revisionism this show has undergone is starting to hurt more than help.* After a while it reaches a point where one has to just sit and wonder “why?” If they’re so unhappy with the show, why has it had multiple commercial productions in the past (when it should have perhaps stayed in workshop?) and why not just walk away and move on to new work that can be better than the last one? Because eventually there will be so much editing and rewriting that you wind up with Starlight Express syndrome: a hodgepodge of ideas and revisions that no longer functions as a coherent, cohesive show that loses the charm and appeal of the original work.

Needless to say, the mantra that comes to the RZ’s mind is “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and it seems that audience members the RZ has spoken to feel that the older versions weren’t broken, which is a shame as the current version certainly is. Going into details (vs. making a metacritical statement) requires more familiarity with the material than this author has.

How so, you ask? Well, there’s something missing now, particularly in the second act. It’s hard to describe the sensation, but at times it felt like the show was in the background or like watching other people enjoying the show (like watching friends play video games). It’s not that the RZ was bored, more that he felt disconnected in a rather off-putting way - and last he checked, this is not a show that aims for Brechtian alienation.

And then there’s the mixed messages: is this a show about the power of sisterhood? How about that men are scum? Or is it meant to be a misogynistic piece about the two-faced and manipulative nature of women who, as a result, deserve to be manipulated by the men around them? The show in its current form touches on all three, while (according to Wikipedia anyways) the film version leans towards the first option, which is likely why people find it endearing. The RZ will, however, point out that the show’s accusatory opinions of small town American are entirely accurate.

Anyhow, putting the textual problems aside, on to the current production: designer Peter Mckintosh has gone for a look straight out of Archie comics with cartoony houses and pastel coloured costumes. It works, but the RZ wonders if something with a more realist approach wouldn’t have served the material and the fantastical aspects better.

Cast-wise, Rebecca Thornhill reprises the role of Sukie Rougemont from the London transfer production, but the RZ found her performance - like most of the cast’s - to be on the unmemorable side. The cast weren’t bad but there was a lack of stage presence all around, possibly due to catching an 8:30 show which followed a 5:00 matinee.** Pop star Marti Pellow did stand out however, but not in a particularly attractive manner: his voice is higher than the RZ expected for Daryl, and he plays the character as so immature that when he expresses his desire for children to the trio of witches, it’s impossible to understand why. And while he certainly came off with more charisma than most of the cast, it just wasn’t enough to really impress.

As the RZ said above, he found The Witches of Eastwick pleasant, but this production lacks punch. Those who haven’t seen the show before could do far worse than to catch the tour if it’s coming nearby, but previous Witches fans may find themselves disappointed.

*The current UK tour is the fifth edition of the show, the previous editions being the original Drury Lane production, the transfer to the Prince of Wales (rev1), the Australian production (rev2), the Washington DC area production (rev3), and now this tour (rev4). Even The Scarlet Pimpernel only has four official versions.

**For those unfamiliar with UK scheduling, some shows opt to have a late double on Friday which allows an after-school family or after-work crowd to go to the theatre before dinner/clubbing/whatever. In this case, the first performance was at 5PM and the second at 8:30. Witches ran around 2:50 with an interval, meaning that the cast effectively had their half hour call as soon as the curtain went down from the early show.

Where: Touring. Seen at the New Wimbledon.
When: Until 9 May 2009
How Much: Varies by venue
Concessions: Varies by venue
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £15. Discounts are out there if you know where to look.
RZ Other Notes: This may be the longest review in recent memory.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

THOUGHTS: Roy Walker/Goodbye Mr. Chips

(Second review in a day. Check your feeds/read below for the RZ’s thoughts of A Tale of Two Cities at the Gatehouse.)

There’s a long and often painful history of comedians who become game show hosts - and game show hosts becoming comedians. When you think about it, the skill set overlaps quite a bit: the need to make one-liners, dealing with hecklers, higher than average charisma stats, and so on. Add to that the associations audiences make between a game show and its host (let’s face it, The Price is Right is nothing now that Rod Roddy and Bob Barker are gone and the less said about the syndicated version of The Weakest Link without Anne Robinson the better), and it’s the perfect place for a solo entertainer looking for a steady income to be.

So here comes Roy Walker, long time host of UK game show Catchphrase. The RZ never saw this show in the US, nor has he seen reruns in the UK as he sadly doesn’t get the Challenge network (and if he did he’d have it just to watch Richard O’Brien terrorise the contestants on The Crystal Maze), but taking in this evening seemed like a cultural endeavour worth pursuing.

To keep it short (as the show was - about 50-55 min.), the show is about half biography (punctuated with ancient material from Walker’s comedic past and the dusty joke books) and half “you’ll expect me to spout bits from Catchphrase so let’s have fun.” The RZ smiled through most of it and Walker’s an endearing fellow with a cider drinker’s red cheeks and a Belfast brogue, but that’s sadly where it ended: pleasant, but not powerful and sweet, not sharp.

(One-off evening, prices and dates will vary with future productions.)

THOUGHTS: "A Tale of Two Cities"

(When the backlog gets big, the RZ gets to the point.)

No, the RZ hasn't made a journey to see the critically-slammed megamusical currently running on Broadway. This OTHER version of the classic novel, running at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, is the brainchild of David Pomeranz (score), Steven David Horwich (Book/Lyrics) and David “I wrote the part of Time everybody hated” Soames (Book) manages to do what the big bad Broadway edition couldn’t: condense Dickens’s epic into a svelte 2:40 (with interval) without sacrificing characterisation or major events in the plot.

Director and co-producer Paul Nicholas has brought together an excellent and experienced cast (no fresh faced pre-drama schoolers here like the upcoming cast of Spring Awakening), and in this case things do get better with age: they sell the show marvellously. While the occasionally clunky line shows up in the text, it doesn’t get in the way, and Pomeranz has supplied a chamber score much like that of Marguerite’s: pretty but same-y and ultimately unmemorable, reproduced here on two pianos. Sound tech (no sound designer is credited) Andy Evans has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide a wonderful mix which, given the large cast and small space, is no easy task. Mike Lee’s costumes are lovely to stare at and his set design is clean and simple.

In short?

Sometimes smaller is better, and this intimate production is worth checking out. The RZ would not be surprised were it to have a lovely future ahead. There’s a gem of a show here, and with some polishing it can become brilliant.

Where: Upstairs at the Gatehouse
When: Until 2 Nov. Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Su @ 16:00
How Much: £12/£15 (All but Sat/Sat). Unreserved seating.
Concessions: £10/12
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £12. Lush costume drama, big cast, and not boring.
RZ Other Notes: Those close to the RZ will appreciate the difficulty he had in actually reviewing this production at all. Not that getting to the show was hard or that he had massive laziness to overcome, but there are other “issues” which made it a bit of a sticky subject.

Thursday, 2 October 2008


The Infamists presents


A new play written and directed by Drew Davies

Venue: The Courtyard (Studio Theatre), Bowling Green Walk, 40 Pitfield Street, N1 6EU

Dates: Tues 11th November - Sun 30th November

Times: 7.30pm.

Running time: 90 minutes with an intermission

Box Office: 0870 163 0717 /

Ticket enquiries: 020 7729 2202 (6.30pm - 9.30pm Tues - Sun only) /

Tickets: £12.50 / £10

Press Night: Weds 12th November

One man and one man alone has been chosen to rescue Hell from great tyranny. His name? Chaverston Robert Scumthorpe Jnr. Petty criminal. Pit-bull breeder. And, how can we put this …chav! Now Robert must journey to the heights of Heaven, meet with the Almighty, conquer his own (and many other people's) demons and save the afterlife before time runs out. Our future is in his hands. God help us all…

When Chaverston Robert Scumthorpe Jnr wakes up dead, he can't imagine his day getting any worse. He's left everything behind him; his girlfriend Kathy, his dreams of finishing Grand Theft Auto 3 and any chance of living a good and decent life. That is, until Robert discovers he's in Hell.

After re-uniting with his careerist father, Robert is unwittingly enlisted as a suicide bomber and sent off to free the citizens of Hades by blowing up their greatest oppressor, God. His journey takes him through Purgatory, where Robert befriends Lou, a burnt out hippy with a penchant for card games, before confronting him with the Lord Almighty Himself who, as it happens, is his recently deceased girlfriend Kathy...

With fresh insight into the workings of the Universe (and a LCD ticker still strapped around his middle counting down to detonation), Robert must face up to his feelings on love, his scheming father, the Dark Prince of Evil and - most worryingly of all - the rest of his Afterlife.

Broad, scurrilous and unashamedly fun, CHAV SCUM KILLS GOD takes a wry look at modern life in England and skews terrorism, National pride, the ASBO underclass and (ultimately) death while ensuring the theological debate stays firmly within human proportions.

Drew Davies (Writer/Director)

Drew Davies was born in London in 1979 and later moved to New Zealand when he attended Auckland’s UNITEC School of Performing and Screen Arts (BPSA majoring in Acting). Drew worked extensively in television as an actor before winning the New Zealand Playmarket Young Playwright of the Year Award for his one-act play ‘Swirl’ in 2000.

Returning to London in 2001, Drew’s work includes the radio play ‘On The Up’ (2004), and ‘Fear of Projection’ (2008, writer/director/actor) which premiered at this year’s Brighton Festival Fringe before a successful three week run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

CHAV SCUM KILLS GOD is his first full length play.


Bradley Benjamin (Robert)

Since Bradley graduated from The Academy Drama School in 2006 he has performed in “King Lear” and 'Hound of The Baskervilles'. His work in short films; music videos and TV make him a versatile actor especially suited to character roles. "I think the word CHAV has become almost ecumenical, although we probably hate to admit it there is a little bit of Robert in all of us"

Michael Lindall (The Other)

Michael trained at the Drama Studio London before making his professional debut in the acclaimed play 'The Irish Curse' at The Edinburgh Festival 2006, reprising his role in the same production in May 2007 at the Dublin Arts Festival. His work in theatre includes: Gabriel in 'Gabriel', Astrov in 'Uncle Vanya', Simon in 'Hayfever', and Romeo in 'Romeo and Juliet' at the RSC Dell open air Theatre in Stratford. His work on film includes 'Spoon', 'Once I Was' and 'Blood Related' (which he also wrote and produced).

Des Brittain (Rob Senior)

Des began his acting career in Melbourne and Sidney (Australia). Des has appeared in a number of recent productions in London including, "Money from America" at the Broadway Theatre, Catford. He has performed in Alan Ackebourn's "A Woman in Mind", Jimmy Chinn's "Colours of Time”, and the Irish hangman in "Our Country's Good" by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Jonathan Hansler (Lou)

Jonathan’s recent stage work includes playing Peter Cook (in the play he co-wrote and produced) "Goodbye - The After Life Of Cook and Moore" at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh, Neil Callaghan in "Maggie End" and Peter Cook again in "Pete 'n' Me" at the New End Theatre.
His television work includes "Hotel Babylon", "Dream Team”,” My Family" and "The Queens Sister”. He is part of double act Teakshow and runs Comedy at the Private Eye Dining Rooms in Soho.

Sarah Alborn (Kathy/God)

Originally from Leicester, Sarah graduated from Birmingham School of Acting in 2006. Her theatre credits include Anitra in “Peer Gynt” at the Hackney Empire, Sybil Chase in “Private Lives” at the Marie Bjornson Open Air Theatre and Julie in “Save Your Kisses for Me” at the Barons Court Theatre.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

REVIEW: “Girl with a Pearl Earring”

The problem with adaptations is that they will inevitably and almost certainly be compared unfavourably with the original work. After all, the original is what the creator intended the piece to be, so how can a reworking dare hope to improve on their artistic vision?

If you’re a cultural bum like the RZ, however, this qualm is frequently moot: you can’t compare an adaptation to the original if you’ve never read it/seen it before. Case in point? The fact that the RZ didn’t outright despise David Joss Buckley’s new stage edition of Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, currently running at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, is a testament to the fact that he is clearly missing out on something that the critical establishment has partaken in.

For those who, like the RZ, have no idea what all the fuss is about, the story is simple: Griet’s (Kimberley Nixon) father is a tile painter who, after going blind, pulled some strings and got her a job as a maid at master painter Vermeer’s (Adrian Dunbar) house. Not quite sure of her place as a maid (she speaks her mind quite a bit) and uncomfortably Protestant in an unforgivingly Catholic neighbourhood of their Dutch town, Griet learns of art and philosophy from the master while cleaning his studio, eventually becoming the subject for one of his paintings, much to the household’s displeasure and the great joy of leering patron Van Ruijven. There’s a subplot involving whether or not Griet will marry butcher’s apprentice Pieter, but for the most part it’s a story of jealousy and artistic beauty - which is probably why everybody seems to think it’s so darned lame. Griet’s not sleeping with Vermeer (or at least it’s not acknowledged), and the whole thing makes much ado about nothing: from the beginning we see the supporting characters making asides along the lines of “I knew from when I saw her - her beauty - that she would end up tearing the house apart.” Given that the entire play is just over two hours with the interval, such conceptual clubbing is unnecessary and detracts from the natural growth of dramatic tension.

Since enough other people have highlighted the negative, let’s talk about some positives: Peter Mumford’s simple revolve set is effective, and though a bit on the pretentious side, his checkerboard walls and tiled floor symbolise the contrasts of the text. Mumford also chose to utilise a relatively minimalist lighting design that enhances, rather than obscures, the locations and events. Christopher Gunning’s incidental score is appealing and well used, and the cast (particularly Sara Kestelman as house matron Maria Thins) give it everything they’ve got. And, contrary to some other members of the internet, the RZ was decidedly not bored. Not enthralled, but not bored.

To be honest, the RZ wonders if Girl with a Pearl Earring is a victim of location as much as any flaws in the material: had the show gone up at the Menier or the King’s Head or any choice venue where the production would have been smaller (and indeed more effective from the venue’s intimacy) and the tickets cheaper (versus the Haymarket’s standard West End rates), would the majority of the press and public been kinder to it? It’s hard to tell, but the RZ paid the same as he did for Riflemind (nothing) and he was quite happy to sit through the second act at Girl.

Even so, let's not fool ourselves: Sondheim did the whole tormented art and beauty gig better.

Where: Theatre Royal Haymarket
When: Until November. M-Sa @ 19:30, W/Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £17.50-£45
Concessions: Day seats in the stalls for £20 from 10AM, seniors can advance book matinees for £20, students can book upper circle for £15 on the day.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20. The material’s not perfect, but it’s not as bad as everybody says it is, and the production values and acting are lovely.
RZ Other Notes: That doesn’t change the fact that the Haymarket’s had four less than well received productions (The Country Wife, The Sea, Marguerite, Girl with a Pearl Earring) in a row. And it doesn’t change the fact that the RZ is still more interested in the upcoming Treasure Island more than any of the Haymarket’s other offerings from the past year.