Friday, December 31, 2010

A final visit to the gym for 2010. And it felt a strangely fitting way to round off the year.

As the gym - or rather the exercise bike - has been home to a merry plethora of line learning this year.

First up was the Bad Fairy. Although she wasn't really so bad, was she? She was just in love with the wrong person. (Conveniently forgetting all the wickedness she dealt out to the innocent shepherdess and fool Harlequin.) Of this, I miss my not tutu and my wand.

Then we had the tiny portion of Much Ado. Of this I miss a multitude of lines. The favourite veers between the dog barking at the crow, disdain should die and the strange as the thing I know not speech, depending on how sentimental I'm feeling.

And then the long suffering Isobel with a multitude of lines that I don't miss at all and a handful that I do.

And a little bit of a Tempest slipped in between. I've finally succumbed and hung the commemorative photo on the wall. Four months on can't be accused of dwelling on it, surely?

So these lines and these costumes and these scenes slipped through my head as I stared at the (now presumably incredibly well-educated) exercise bike from my scrunchy sit-up position. Topped off by the most beautiful orange sienna sunset as I stood atop the gym steps looking out over the sea to slightly snow-capped Fife.

Happy Hogmanay when it comes.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My mother always moans that going to the theatre with me is a thankless experience as, the second the curtain comes down, I start to (gently) tear whatever I've just seen into little thin shreds. Well now, the tables are turned. Two times in three days. A fine taste of my own medicine.

It happened first with Hairspray The Musical. (I know, I know, hardly my cup of tea but it was a concessionary Christmas gift and I do love the (original!) film.) I had low to no expectations of this. And it turned out to be as bubbly and silly as you'd expect. But I was really rather enjoying myself as the curtain fell on the first act. Tracy had a gorgeous voice. Michael Ball can really act - an unreasonable revelation. Nice little set. Lots of bouncy music and arm-cannoning dance numbers. But the house lights came up on Sister's thunderous face. Father immediately launched into a list of the bits missed out from the film and the missed opportunities (of which, I agree, there were many). Sister could scarce speak for rage and disappointment. And so I understood what it must be like to go the theatre with me. (I'm trying - I kept my scathing thoughts about Christmas Doctor Who to myself for at least three hours afterwards.)

The second act strayed even further from the film with a wholly invented sequence of events that felt a trifle unnecessary but perhaps they felt the alternative action was easier to stage. or easier for a fool audience to understand. I felt only one moment of flickering rage throughout. They had a backdrop of stacked little round lights. I daresay there's a special name for it. JGH would know. And it flashed various colours and patterns throughout. In the curtain call, someone smart programmed it to flash up a momentary saltire. Patronising..? Or knowing your average Playhouse Christmas audience..?

I'd recommend the Trav's Three Musketeers over this gaudy spectacle any day but it was never going to be a fair competition. And the Musketeers have finished. So if you're desperate for family entertainment (with a sharp political point, mind you), you could do much worse.

More table turning yesterday. This time, at the Filmhouse for Of Gods and Men or properly, Des hommes et des dieux which I inexplicably prefer. The Guardian film critics have been raving about this film so I felt I should set my doubts about its over-indulgent worthiness aside and try and see Something Good for a change. (I'll save Burlesque for miserable early Jan days.)

And it was something good. It's very French. Enormously ponderous. Not a great deal happens. Lots of close ups on angst ridden (or maybe ecstasy ridden - it's often hard to tell) faces. Lots of small inconsequential tasks presented for no apparent reason. (Floor washing, log hewing, bee hive tending, vegetable chopping - you get the picture.) But all so beautifully presented that as long as you're not expecting Inception, you're unlikely to be disappointed. The story told is tragic. A tiny community of aging monks living in North Africa, trying trying eternally to help the local war-torn people with dwindling supplies, dwindling health, dwindling conviction of the wisdom of their actions. It's based on a true story that did not end well. And oh my, typically French, it milks this not ending well for all it's worth with a kind of a P.S. don't forget it ends badly reminder when they could have called it a day rather sooner.

But all of this aside, it was a beautiful story of a little group of people trying really hard to do the right thing in circumstances that would have made other feebler / more normal people give up weeks before. A nice let's take a minute and think about what really matters reality check in the middle of these turkey stuffed days.

The lights came up at the end of this one and My Friend Mr Neill said (now, can I remember his words accurately?): "well, they were a bit foolish, weren't they?" I think I'm doing him a disservice here. I think his actual words were more irreverent than that. But clearly I was so caught up in my must-be-a-better-person moment that I wasn't concentrating properly.

On the plus side, he did like the hero quote: Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction. On this at least, we can agree.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Finally, to complete the coverage of the triumvirate (who's been reading Antony & Cleopatra this morning? And yes, I know it's an incorrect use of the word but I bet you know what I mean) of shows seen by I in London recently, Cinderella.

I love Matthew Bourne. You'll know this by now. I'm very much in love with Sadler's Wells as it beautifully encapsulates all I'll never be. And you can't beat a bit of a Cinderella story in the overfed flop towards Christmas. So I trotted along (at a great rate as we were almost almost late but luckily every show in London seems to start approx 8 minutes late) with hope in my heart.

In many respects, I wasn't disappointed. The set was stunning. Incredibly clever. Gigantically expensive I don't doubt, though with luck, bits of it are recycled from the last time they did it. All majestic manor house and sweeping staircase and overhauled ballroom and departing train platform of it. Evocative and elegant and (World)war(Two)-torn and moody. Maybe (gasp) even a little bit more the star of the show than Cinders herself. I'm thinking of the sinking mirror ball. But would that be mean?

The ballet (show?) burst onto the stage with all the characteristic flamboyance of Mr Bourne. Tippy tappy high heeled shoes, disdainfully flapping arms, boisterous young people and creaking feeble old people. He's created a whole plump and lavish plot that spins out of the Cinderella story to explain why father is so useless and stepmother is so wicked and sisters are so insufferable and Cindarella is so unceasingly sweet. To help us to our midnightish conclusion, we have a boy fairy godmother in a sharp and shiny white suit, a motorbike and sidecar by way of a pumpkin carriage and our blown off course Prince, marvellously meeting Cinders long before midnight strikes when his RAF plane crashes and he's dishevelled and disorientated and the first slippy seeds of love are sown in the dancehall.

The music is as gorgeous as Prokoffy always is. So I couldn't quite put my finger on why I wasn't so astounded and impressed and enraptured and all of these things that I expected to be. Until - catch-up over Christmas reading - I came across Mr Luke Jennings' review of the production in a sliver of old Observer. And he postulates that the problem lies in the fact that Bourne is burdened with too much music.

For Act One goes as it should. Act Two goes a bit fantastical so it's suddenly quite tricky to know if these things are really happening or just dream happening. But then Act Three seems to assume that they kind of did happen but they kind of didn't which is a little more confusing again. And finishes with an unpleasantly protracted eking out of the story that left me feeling more vexed than enthralled. Which isn't at all as it should be as the production (and the dancing) is stunning. But you can see that the poor man was forced into concocting all of these convoluted sub and sideplots to fill up the time. A valuable lesson.

Lyn Gardner put it succintly in a tweet: Cindrella @ Sadlers Wells very enjoyable but needed better dramaturgy; Kick Ass on DVD even better And I'm sorry to say that whilst I have the most hugely enormous amount of respect for the imagination, wit, style and panache of Mr Matthew Bourne, if it came down to a straight (albeit cruel) comparison, I might have to agree.

Friday, December 24, 2010

I've been far too busy touring the supermarkets of Edinburgh in recent days to worry about writing anything here. The festive siege mentality has properly taken hold. However, you'll be glad to know that I've completed my shop in the nick of time. And am now preparing to cosy down and do nothing much for two and a half days. Enjoy your festive times.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You know the way they tell you to look out for vulnerable neighbours when it's snowy bad weather?

I was inching up the street this morning when a cheerful rousing voice cried out to me from the opposite pavement. The Man Who Lives Opposite. I must take him a bag of sugar this festive season.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

T'other day, I was running through my SR lines in my head by way of entertainment and also curiosity to see whether I could still remember them.

I got all the way through a favourite speech "I know. I know you love me. God knows you say it often enough. I don't say that to be cruel. But I never hear the words without sensing something's being asked of me. The words drain me. From your lips, they've become a kind of blackmail. They mean 'I love you and so...' So I am entitled to be endlessly comforted and supported and cheered...." and on and on it went. But I trotted through it amiably enough, interestingly, a month on.

But then I stuck. I got to the start of the Fight. "Good", I say, "then you have what you want". "No", say he, "I want you". I: "Why, why, for god's sake, if I'm what you say I am, if I'm what, (insert adjective)" But I could not remember the word. I got the next line: "If I'm what then, possessive, if I'm this terrible influence, then plainly you're better off free of me." But the previous adjective? Puzzled and puzzled and could not remember. So I shamefacedly capitulated and consulted The Orange Book.



Saturday, December 18, 2010

I'm shocked again at how much time Christmas takes up. Wrapping and writing letters of long-neglected friends shame and packing and posting. Principally this accounts for this week's negelected blog.

Though Thursday was a night of drunken indolence - and living out unfulfilled dreams of being Tallulah. Considerately, our work Christmas party was given a Bugsy Malone theme. I've wanted always always since the age of 9 to be both Tallulah ("I try to leave a little reputation behind me, so if you really need to, you know how to find me") and Blousey ("Only a fool, like fools before me") Brown. But clearly now, I'm far too withered. So the Christmas party presented the perfect opportunity (in a non-threatening environment) to address this. The only let down was my hairdresser's lie that she could create pin curls. It's lucky Jodie Foster had someone rather more ept tending to her on set.

As variations on a theme, I dreamt that I was cast as little orphan Annie in the stage show of the same name. The fact that I, a grown woman amongst a sea of children, might look a little out of place, luckily didn't occur to the director. So now, like a two tailed dog, I hardly know whether to choose Tallulah or "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love yah, tomorrow, you're only etc etc." for my shower time sing song. Harmonious days.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The explanation of my life, courtesy of My Friend (?!) Mr Neill.

All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.
I was applying a little fake tan this morning in tardy advance of tomorrow's work Christmas party and I smelt once again the smell (for me) of Secret Rapture.

Saint Tropez.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lagging behind quite badly now but I'm determined to write up my final London show at some point. A little closer to home, I had the pleasure (and it was mostly pleasure) of seeing Edinburgh Theatre Arts' Aladdin at the weekend. And a fine Aladdin it was too.

You'll know (or at least imagine) that I'm not the biggest fan of pantomime. I was spoilt as a child by a diet of Kenneth Alan Taylor at Nottingham Playhouse. So I wouldn't wander anywhere near the Kings now if I could help it. Not to denigrate this ancient art form as done wonderfully, it's proper magic. But that aside, I'm fussy I suppose. That's all.

However, loping along to see something your friends are in is quite a different (Marion) kettle of fish anyway. Dear Iain was the Emperor, complete with adorable little dance. And we also encountered the unexpected pleasure of Stephanie-Sarah (Harlequin's shepherdess love from the start of the year) as the sweetly pretty princess, Mr Farrimond as a fabulously buxom Widow Twankee and SCDA Stuart being dreadfully underused but it happens to the best of us as a comic policeman. Four for the price of one.

The script. Well it had some very funny lines in it. Some perky enough songs. There was some fabulous villany from Abu-whatever (my, I can't spell his name) and his honourable sidekick. Wishee Washee was brilliantly scatty. (Boys, if you're reading this, audition for my 2011 festival show, will you?) Aladdin had a very nice voice. And the lamp genie should be a proper rockstar.

We had cupcakes at the start and a nice little cup of wine in the interval. Oh yes we did. Lovely festive stuff.
Zumba today. Apparently a Latin based dance form also inspired by other international dances. I see. (Isobel.) The first time I've been to a whole proper class. I accidentally encountered this new art form a few months back when a so-called Latin class was hijacked. But the snow (and shut gyms) (once, one night, but still) have bred idleness so I was mildly apprehensive about my ability to complete a full class. Boldy Balance is one thing. Laying on the floor and waggling your limbs. Based on my brief experience, Zumba sees you running across the floor waggling your limbs. Much more difficult.

I'd foolishly supposed - given previous experience - that the teacher made up a new routine each time. So all would be as in the dark about the movements as the newcomer. Wrong wrong wrong. It dawned on me first that the other spry looking ladies had done this before when we got to the fourth routine, the whirling dervish of a teacher cried out "merengue!!" and the spry women all stripped off their second layer to skimpy slim fitting vest tops and upped the tempo of their vigorous stepping.

There was one new routine / number / dance (??) in amongst the hour's entertainment. I know this because whirling dervish cried out "this is a new one!!" as she writhed into it. Unfortunately this didn't appear to have any impact on the spry ladies' collective ability to follow the steps. So I continued to shamble about in the corner several movements behind everybody else, as far removed from the mirror as possible but catching the occasional glimpse of windmill arms in the disloyal window pane.

My verdict on this 'art' form? As mother would say, it's hardly proper exercise. But it gets you (me anyway) jogging about for nigh on 60 minutes which is otherwise difficult to achieve. At the end of the class, whirling dervish clapped everyone else and cried "well done!!" to me. She looked at me with as much pride as you'd bestow on a drunk who'd just thrown up on the carpet. I bet I'll get better.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I listened a whole two minutes through Rent yesterday on my iPod on the stagger stumble into work before it registered that it was Rent which was one of the songs featured in the Tempy Tempest which should have unleashed a whole yawning hole of misery as the show time is now long since passed. But actually, having acknowledged that this was the song, slithered over some more ice, smiled spitefully at the lollipop man daring him to ask where the orange book was and then sliding the rest of the way into work, I felt that I didn't need to bother too much with the yawning hole of misery.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

How I continue to fool myself that you're actually interested in my half-formed thoughts about the clutch of shows that I've seen. But for now, gloriously, that is all I have to talk about here.

Billy was my date last Monday. I love the film. For me, it epitomises a good story. The underdog triumphs - against real adversity - in familiar, heart-rending and educational circumstances. And of course it tickles the frustrated ballerina in me. If father had been a miner, my life would have been very different.

What I think works quite so beautifully in the film is the juxtaposition of working class salt of the earth doing their best in pretty tough circumstances men with the rarefied world of ballet. I clearly hadn't paid close enough attention to what I was buying my tickets for - as I somehow omitted to see these two tiny tucked away at the end of the title words the musical. So when the band struck up with a fervent energy, I was rather taken aback. Working class salt of the earth doing their best in pretty tough circumstances men rarely - in my experience - burst into song in moments of high stress.

Putting that aside (Isobel), it was an impressive production. They must have thrown money at it. Billy's bed boosted out of the stage on demand on a hydraulic lift propelling him high above the kitchen. A bathroom rolled out of one of the wings. A bedroom out of the other. A social club span in and out of both sides of the stage as required. We had a fence of barbed wire for t'pit. We had a men disappearing into the mine with what appears in musicals to be the de rigeur head torch in the dark sequence. We had rows of policemen with shields. Packs of tiny tutu'd ballerinas pranking about. A whole band of miners who rioted when required. At the climax of the first act, Billy flew. I watched it all unfold with jealous pound signs flashing in my eyes.

The story was as the story is, by and large. The irreverence which most upset me was the replacement (not chronologically) of Adam Cooper in his boy Swan Lake costume with a camp parody of a boy ballet dancer doing a camp parody of a Glasgow accent that theoretically served the same purpose. But as he was dressed in an embroidered tunic and tights, it didn't quite. I disliked also the ridiculous dance number between Billy, cross-dressing young friend and the wardrobe of women's clothes which miraculously came to life and swung about the stage. But this is Scroogey of me.

The moment of greatest ruin came at the curtain call. The play - sorry, musical - winds to its dramatic climax. The strike is broken, Billy gets into ballet school, he leaves his family stranded and abandoned on the quayside and sets sail for London. The story stops. Blackout. And then the lights. The cast rush on and break into a dreadful song with a be whoever you want to be message and - for it gets worse - the miners, fresh back on stage in their orange boiler suits - start (I know my hyphens are all over the place but I'm enraged) struggling into tutus! So you have this packed stage of people and by the close of the hideous song, all and sundry, even god knows how old Billy's gran, are adorned - over their day wear - in tutus. The actors looked as comfortable as my CCC cast during their elongated curtain call. It was a travesty.

All that aside, I loved it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A proper plethora of good things this week, all in. Rounded off with The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain at the Traverse this afternoon.

I feel I've been overdosing on superlatives here a little bit recently but it has less to do with the impending season of goodwill and more to do with the fact that I've been theatrically very spoilt.

The point anyway is that Chris Hannan's swashbuckling tale is a complete treat. He's concocted a new story for the Musketeers based faithfully on the characters outlined in Dumas' books but speculating about what might befall the fellows in their later years.

Porthos continues to eat, sacrificing all for another morsel of cake. Athos is a dishevelled Lennon-lookalike who spends his time in hot pursuit of the hard stuff. And Aramis is a sultry ladies man seeking a kind of solace in the church. D'Artagnan, bemused by this lasciviousness, is a boy who's temporarily forgotten what's most important in life. But rediscovers it with the help of the Princess of Spain and his childhood friend, the fittingly named Constance.

The production looks gorgeous. Draped in coloured lights with a beautifully inventive set, it zips from scene to scene with enough sword fights to keep even the most restless of boy children spell-bound. And they were spell-bound, judging from today's audience's youthful contingent. The script is lovely. Perfectly balanced between a child friendly plot and an adult hunger for wickedness. And there are some cracking performances. Constance is feisty and forlorn, all at the same time. Porthos is fey, fat but ultimately fearless. I of course lost my heart to ladies man, Aramis (interestingly, last seen by me in An Argument About Sex earlier this year which I very much disliked. He looked to be having infinitely more fun this time around). But actually, singling out individuals is wrong because this is an ensemble piece with actors doubling as musicians, puppeteers (lovely skeletal bird!) and general (superbly efficient) scene shifters. Hats off to them for their all-round vigour, verve and energy. It was brilliant.

Hot on the heels of a week in London (of which maybe a little more later) and at least a couple of astonishingly expensive productions, I feel incredibly proud of Scottish theatre. This is a co-production with English Touring Theatre and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry so the Scots can't take all the credit. But with, no doubt, a fraction of the budget of a lot of their London compatriots, this lot have served up a show that has music, magic and mayhem in spadefuls.

Stuart Kelly, Mr Literary Editor of Scotland on Sunday, has written a programme note about Alexandre Dumas and rounds it off with a quote from him:

Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it.

The show's on til Christmas Eve. You'll have sensed by now that I think it's worth a look.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Black Watch.

Now there's a show.

Devoted readers of this blog will recollect that I first saw this in August of 2006. I think I even saw one of the preview performances. It was notable for several reasons.

It was the National Theatre of Scotland's debut offering. And as a production set not in a theatre but, fittingly, in a drill hall, it made a bold statement of intent.

Secondly, it was the second outing for author Gregory Burke who'd had a stupendous success with Gagarin Way.

And thirdly, it came hot on the heels of the announcement that Scotland's historic regiments were to be disbanded and assimilated into a single Royal Regiment of Scotland. An announcement that was received with considerable disquiet in this bonnie land. And my oh my, here was a play set in 2005 in the innocent pre-disbanding days when the Black Watch was as bold and as brave and as revered as it would ever be with no sense of the impending ruin lurking in the wings.

So there were three really sound reasons to pay attention to tthis play. That interestingly transcended the borders of the traditional theatre goer's interest. A promising start.

And then the show was smashing. Honestly, four years on, one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen in my little life. Inventive, audacious, pertinent, pointed. The direction was superb. Mr Tiffany making his presence felt on a properly national stage. The acting was exceptional. A cracking script from local boy Mr Burke. And a production that was impeccably choreographed and constructed to bring out all of the bravery and the bombast of these soldiers but all of the pathos of their unenviable circumstance. It was gorgeous. I was spell-bound. So slavishly went to see it again before August 2006 was out.

Four years on and the National Theatre of Scotland decided to revive the production. The dates were against me so I didn't see it in Scotland but leapt at the chance to pop along to a grandly titled "social media call" at the Barbican earlier this week. They were summoning bloggers, tweeters and other such social media geeks to a privileged preview of a couple of scenes to whet audience appetites for a forthcoming two month run. What a smart idea.

Along I popped on one of the snowiest days we've seen this year. We gathered in the green room, slightly sheepish about our licence to be there at all. And then were ushered through to the auditorium, thrillingly passing one of the actors in costume in the lift. Obviously I was far too star struck to do anything so bold as strike up a conversation. Herded into the auditorium, the stage manager ran around ordering people about and the first scene began.

We were permitted to take pictures. Which felt fundamentally wrong. You don't take photos in a theatre unless you're Jon Davey. And unfortunately this meant that I was distracted wholly by trying to take pictures with my camera, pictures with my fool's blackberry and simultaneously tweet them. All as the scene unfolded in front of us. So you can imagine I wasn't paying a great deal of attention to the action. But they sounded like they knew what they were doing. (In scene one, cursing to high heaven as they watched a bunch of planes bomb a village to f**k.)

Scene two. Obligingly, my all-time favourite scene. The journalist is interviewing the boys.

Then Lord someone or other dressed to the nines as a proper Black Watch boy comes stomping in and lectures them on their disrespect for history.

And this - in the full length version - triggers the whole beautiful sequence where they undress and redress our main protagonist in the uniforms of the Black Watch over the centuries. Red hackle and all.

It's a routine that's astonishing on many levels. It's perfectly choregraphed (yes, I know this eulogy is getting repetitive), impeccably timed, smart, slick and cavalierly delivered. So you're trotted through I think it's 400 years of Black Watch history in not very much more than a few beats of a lazy heart. But they stopped just short of this to my sorrow - though it's probably just as well as I'd have struggled to take my media duties seriously while such a spectacle unfolded.

So the scene wrapped up. Our National Theatre of Scotland marketing man Andrew sprang up and urged us to interview the actors. And god bless him we all stared back at him to a social media 'expert' with mutual aghast horror. We surely weren't there to speak but to be spoken to. But the idea took root and a few hardy souls choked out questions.

I boldly asked John Tiffany (stuttering like a schoolgirl in the face of my hero) whether he thought the timing of the revival affected the messages which an audience might take from the play. Except unfortunately I wasn't nearly so articulate as this at the time. He said that sadly, yes, he felt it was as pertinent as it had ever been as we were still in Iraq, still in Afghanistan, still getting killed dead in the name of our country. So perhaps, please, people can take note.

Well said, John.

So if you're in London - or even if you're not - over the next two months, get yourself along to the Barbican if you haven't seen it already as it's a wonder of a piece of theatre. The new cast, from what I've seen, have got stuck right into it and bring all the energy and ooomph needed to do this play justice. And the Barbican's a very cool place - visit it via the extraordinary highways - particularly in the snow.

Give me a smack when you see me next if you think I'm wrong.