Friday, 25 September 2009

NOTES: A quick catch up....

Saw two more shows this week, don't really need to go into detail on either of them....

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean - if you like Steel Magnolias, Mystic Pizza, Beaches, and the like, you'll love this early 80's play about small town women in a James Dean fan club who meet up after 20 years to reminisce and reveal secrets. The production is up to the Gatehouse's usual high standards, though the show itself wasn't really my thing - but I'm also not the target audience.

The Rat Pack - Live from Las Vegas - Is it me or is this show constantly on tour around the UK and the continent? I guess it's true that you can't stop a good tribute band, as again we have a well performed piece with impersonators doing Frank, Dean, and Sammy. The music is legendary and nice, the banter is VERY much a product of its era, politically incorrect in every way ("Did you say Jew-Jitsu? How would you like it if I called you a wop-sicle?") but you can't help but laugh. The audience ate it up, I would have been happier if it was a 105 minute one-act instead of a full two and a half hours, but again, not the target audience.

Seeing Newsrevue tonight.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

THOUGHTS: “Over the Threshold”

The post-Edinburgh transfer season is upon us as all of the shows with decent reviews rush to get bookings before casts disperse, pockets run dry, and hype evaporates following awards and critical acclaim.

Over the Threshold is no exception: Originally participating in and subsequently developed by the Perfect Pitch, Threshold won MTM’s best score award at the Fringe this year and has so far a number of 4 and 5 star reviews. Needless to say, it’s only natural that Threshold would come to the big smoke, settling into the cozy Jermyn Street Theatre.

What I don’t, however, is WHY. As in “Why is there so much hype around this show?” This isn’t to say that Christopher Hamilton’s book and score are bad - because they’re not - but why are people getting so excited about it? Yes, Threshold is thoroughly competent and professional, but it never, well, goes over the threshold into becoming special. Or even interesting.

Over the course of 75 minutes, two couples fight, have accidental partner swaps, and deal with the aftermath. Scottish Tom and Kate are new in London, he’s an out of work actor and she gave it up to be a stable office manager. They fight about commitment, his low libido, and whether or not he should move into a real job.

I can’t even remember the other two characters’ names, other than the prattish Englishman in an overly shiny suit and his American wife who spews words of comfort and wisdom while keeping secrets of her own. None of the characters are particularly special, deep, or exciting, and the misunderstandings lack the gravity of serious drama and the humour of farce.

The score, sadly, is equally plain. All of the songs are pleasant, but if you think you’ve heard it before on your Jason Robert Brown or Scott Allan CDs, not to mention about 80% of the shows that go through Perfect Pitch in general, you wouldn’t be too far off. There’s little variation in the tunes, just a lot of introspective mid-tempo piano ballads that wouldn’t be helped by a fuller orchestra because there’s nowhere for them to go.

That said, I can’t fault the cast: all four members (whose names I don’t have down by role) are clearly talented and deliver the material as best they can, bringing what little life the show has, but they’re also encumbered by John Brant’s direction. Brant wants very much to be smart, but the limited abstract set (a few half-doorways and some clear chairs) instead inspired an internal logic which demands cast members wander through a maze of paths to go on and off stage as though the audience know the floorplans to the theoretical flats the characters occupy. It’s distracting and sloppy, realism be damned.

In short, I guess Over the Threshold won awards and got decent reviews for being bland and inoffensive: it’s hard to find fault with something that sits so squarely in the middle. I’m genuinely thrilled for the creatives - finding the money to get ANYTHING up at Edinburgh and back to London so quickly is a monumental task in and of itself - but this was really the best that was on offer at the Fringe?

Sunday, 20 September 2009

THOUGHTS: “Kurt and Sid”

(Sorry for the lack of updates, everyone. I’ve been rather busy lately working on my own shows lately - one of which is part of Scratch Festival at BAC this coming weekend - and writing those has drained me of my ability to bother writing reviews. That said, here goes a try...)

I remember when Kurt Cobain died. Nirvana had been the hottest band around, and though I didn’t have a copy of Nevermind, my sister had picked up a used CD of In Utero, sneaking it in past our mother’s overzealous eye (electric guitars in general were too much for her.) I remembered the controversy over the cover art and “Rape Me,” the brilliance of the MTV Unplugged performance, and how my 8th grade lit teacher told us that Cobain should never have been a role model because of his drugs and emphasised the pointlessness of the “Life’s not 100% fun anymore” line in the suicide note.

As someone who hated his classmates and most of his teachers, I thought she was full of shit. And I still do.

So now in Trafalgar 2 we have Kurt and Sid, a fantasia set in the hours before Cobain’s suicide. A frustrated Kurt is in the attic of his suburban home when the vision of Sid Vicious appears. To cut 95 minutes (including interval) short, this Sid (who is, as he puts it, “way too smart” to be the real Sid) is Cobain’s subconscious attempting to talk him out of the act. That’s about as close to a spoiler as anybody can really get, because we all know how it’s going to end.

Needless to say, I found myself asking what the point is (and doing my best not to ask the author, who was in attendance). Cobain’s life has been covered in numerous biographies, and his own journals are available at bookstores everywhere, and for less than the price of a ticket. There’s some witty banter in Roy Smiles’s script, but no real insight: Cobain’s relationship with Courtney Love was idealised with no mention of the two’s constant fighting, his medical issues are written off, and he comes across as the media slanted him 15 years ago: a whiny poster-boy ungrateful for his fame and taking an easy way out.

Production-wise, there are few complaints: Shaun Evans has Cobain’s signature drawl though he never quite channels the real thing’s complexity, and Danny Dyer is a calm yet verbally feisty Vicious both in and out of reality. Cordelia Chisholm’s set is a cluttered attic strewn with toys and records, the old cliche about a cluttered mind come appropriately to life.

Complaints aside, I’m glad I saw Kurt and Sid - the rising alternative rock scene was one of the best parts of the 90's, and we're about to hit that on the global nostalgia cycle. That said, I’m also glad that I didn’t pay for it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to soak up "Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam."

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

NOTE: "I'll Leave It To You"

I've left this way too long to properly review it, but fans of Noel Coward should make it a point to catch his first play, the drawing room comedy "I'll Leave It To You" at Pentameters. Lots of fun, not too long (2 hr 10 INCLUDING two intervals), and brilliantly cast and performed.