Friday, December 01, 2017

Occasionally, work and my eventime pursuit cross paths with wonderful serendipity. A few months back, I found myself sat in the boardroom at work opposite the table from the combined marketing wisdom and the new artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland. If I were a dog, I'd have leapt and spun and frothed at the mouth. As I'm not, I settled for trying to hurl as many show titles at the poor unsuspecting things ("yes, this is our job. Who TF is this wannabe??" they must have burst to say).

This turned into us at the agency trying to come up with some stuff that might be useful to them in their new artistic director Jackie Wylie's inaugural season with the company. Which has been like living my fantasy life as Ms Wylie's sense of what theatre should be seems eerily in line with my sense of what theatre should be. (I'm ashamed to even write this as she is she and I am just living in hope of being better.) She's taking their premise, Theatre Without Walls, and giving it a good shake down. She's wanting to make it political with a little p and topical and promenadey and site-specificy and it all just sounds marvellous. Audacious theatre, she spoke of, and I wanted to stand up and clap. 

The season launched last night at their shiny new premises, Rockvilla, with our blue and our pink and our very bright yellow. And they were all out. All the glitterati of Scottish theatre. Luckily I was there with a colleague so I had to contain my impulse to gibber like a fool. But there's Fergus from EIF. And all the marketing team from EIF. (Oh the shame when their marketing man remembered me and I remembered tens of minutes too late that he had been wonderful as we navigated through a laborious development process for some other campaign some at least ten years ago.) There's my hero and I want to be her Cora Bissett. There's that man who is obviously someone I should know as I see him everywhere and he looks really cool and kind. There's the cast of Rocket Post on stage.There's Adura Onashile. And oh, over by the sausage rolls, there's David Greig. Just standing about like a normal person, chatting away, just like a normal person and not an amazing god of the pen (or keyboard).

I quietly gathered up my obscurely large bag of stationery. (For who wouldn't want to take a large bag of stationery to a launch party?) And slipped away into the night. 

Friday, November 17, 2017


I expected to like Follies a lot. I did't expect it to make my heart swell.

I love Stephen Sondheim. Every time I've been to London in recent months, I've tried to get tickets to see the National Theatre's production but failed. I even contemplated dragging the children though I thought it might be a wee bit un-frivolous for them (unfair as they probably have darker hearts than me). But I couldn't get tickets for either them or I so when instagram started serving me ads for the live relay, I capitulated. Though it wasn't much of a capitulation. £9 (with my Cineworld card) versus about a thousand pounds to see it in real life wasn't too tricky a decision to make.

I was skin of my teeth late, plopping into my seat two minutes before actual curtain up which meant I missed an interview with Mr S himself which was a pity. But as lateness is a luxury that the theatre doesn't afford, it was another hoorah for the cinema version.

And it began.

It's a slightly clunkily constructed show. Reunion of dancers from a club in New York that opened throughout the between the war (World Wars) era. So they've all aged a bit. But they're all beautifully stalked about the stage by the young versions of themselves who periodically take over the dialogue to give you bits of back story. I guess it's unusual to see this on stage though it's a favourite technique in film. And it felt like a bit of a cheat. But Dominic Cooke did it so beautifully that it was hard to mind.

And it gives the beautifully poignant opportunity for the let's say mature actors to address their younger counterparts. With all the questions that you do cast back to your dumber younger version. But the only person you can tell off for your stupidity is yourself.

The show looked completely gorgeous. The 42nd Street costume designers (or the producers who maybe made them "sex it up" some) might learn from this elegant and tantalising and sumptuous presentation of show girls. There were no gold lame wannabe bikinis in this show.

The set was stunning. They used a revolving stage very nicely. And the acting and singing was top notch (Imelda - amazing - but so were the other leads so it's wrong to single her out) perhaps suffering only from the unforgiving proximity of the camera lense. The fundamental problem with a live relay is it doesn't do soft focus.

But it didn't really matter because the show is the star. The production made it sing. But the loss and the longing and the wish-things-had-turned-out-differently-but-they-didn't-so-we-let-it-crush-us-or-we-suck-it-up properly stole my heart.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Totally spoilt this week. I've just watched some excellent Cuban contemporary / sort of ballet dance.

And Thursday was dry-mouthed death and destruction.

Feasting on culture. 

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Monday, November 06, 2017

There was some really good stuff in this. Pontus Linder was a bit of a highlight.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

42nd Street was on at the Drury Lane Theatre in London in 1984. Mother's friend, Christina, was miraculously playing the (marginally) older female lead. Catherine Zeta Jones, the younger female lead. 

Aged 9 (and then perhaps a little later), I think Mother, Father, Sister and I all went down to London from Nottingham to see it. Twice. I remember it because it was very exciting. I'd possibly only been to London once before (for another of Mother's friend's productions). And because I think Sister and I got matching little outfits, in honour of the occasion. Since then, I have been fascinated by this show. We bought (Mother bought) the soundtrack on cassette tape and we learnt all the words to all the songs. Latterly, I tried repeatedly to hack out the (full orchestra required) music on my rudimentary clarinet. 

I saw the posters for a resurrection of this classic work first at Waverley train station. And then was stalked by high-kicking buses whenever I went to London. All of which made me yearn to see it. But what occasion is most fit for the trip down the notoriously risky memory lane? In the end, I plumped (riskily) to purchase tickets during a half term trip to London last week with the two remaining at home kids. I managed to secure some relatively cheap tickets - twice what you'd pay for a show in Edinburgh but that's the joy of London. And two Thursdays ago, off we went.

The story is the story you'd expect. Enormous risky investment show is put on at a time when no-one has money to risk (1933) so everyone needs it to work. Leading lady is a bitch and an ageing bitch. The most virulent kind. A kid pitches up from nowhere, late, chaotic but brilliant and is allowed to join the (huge) chorus line. But then bitch breaks her ankle, like the night before the show. And the kid has to take her place. Is, of course, amazing and the show is a triumph!

It's a lovely heart-warming story in which loose ends are tied, love is found and lots and lots of dancing and singing is enjoyed by all. Sets extravagantly swoop and change. The neon signs flown down for the "in the heart of little old New York" hero number catch in my throat still for evocative wonder. I remember the costumes being stunning (remember I was 9). The music sumptuous and the dancing, to die for though I wouldn't have known such an expression then.

So fast forward thirty something years. And I'm back. Same theatre. Same show. Except Harvey Weinstein is unfolding on the news now. I know a little more of how the world works. And I'm trying to write a play about gender politics. Julian Marsh (potentially washed up though once hugely successful staking his all on this show producer) slapping the pert ass of the newly elevated lead as she skips to his perfectly played tune plays out altogether differently with my 42 year old self. "Is that not a bit predatory?" hollers my 42 year old head as the 9 year old shouts back that this is cheeky courtship.

It's an interesting play for its depictions of women, in fact. There's the naif young female lead, sweet, wide-eyed, enthusiastic, willing to work as hard as is needed to achieve her goal. There's the bitter cynical manipulative using one man for his money and another for his youthful good looks except she really feebly vulnerably can't make herself get over this young chap even though she knows she should. There's the happy fat lady, "mum" of the company who seems to be both dance and song instructor, costume mistress and she also features in the end production. And there are the sweet and sassy but not very well-rounded "pack" girls that you seem to get in many musicals. See Grease / Mean Girls / Dirty Dancing / Legally Blonde etc. 

The update of the show isn't helped, from a progressive representation of women point of view, by the fact that whilst the men remain fully clothed this time around, the girls are showing much more flesh than they did in 1984. We don't need to see their skinny tummies in "We're in the money" to know that they're hungry. I yearned for the little all in ones in a silvery green that they wore in 1984 in place of the golden wouldn't be our of place on The X Factor shiny oh so shiny bra tops and little golden knickers that they pulled on today.  But I am old and a prude so perhaps this commentary should be taken with a dose of salts. 

42nd Street will not be the first and will not be the last show to contain caricatures that perpetuate gender stereotypes. If you set aside all of young girl swooning into the arms of the masterful / predatory older man stuff, it's a sweetly classic rags to riches set in musical theatre story. The costumes were lovely looking. The cast is huge (spending the money they saved on fabric). The sets are spectacular. And the chorus line dancing is stunning. Don't be put off by my disenchanted rant. It's a cracker of a show.

Monday, October 30, 2017

I liked this so much, I saw it twice.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

I'm still puzzling over Cockpit. I stand by my review. It was an excellent production technically and bold and vaguely visionary given the subject matter and the current world circumstances. But none of that reduces the fact that the script was lumpen. For me, anyway. So everyone did the best they could with the material and it looked stunning but it didn't make me refashion my world view which a marvellous play should. Lucky I'm not Joyce. I'd spend far too long agonising.