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The Goodmonkey Awards For 2014

January 21, 2015

I’ve done the show list, so I guess it’s medal time, Muttley. As ever, named in memory of Goodshow, the sadly deceased website, here’s “the awards that other awards dare not mention…”

 

Eye Mask and Swag bag, but no matching stripy top yet: to debut maker Patsy Ferran, for almost stealing “Blithe Spirit” from her fellow, far more experienced cast-mates. Had they not kept their feet very firmly on the set, Ferran would have been half way to Piccadilly Circus with the show before they’d even noticed. Had she succeeded, the striped top would have been hers, of course. Concurrently, Golden Ouija Boards to the entire cast, for truly exception ensemble playing and a wonderful performance.

 

 

Bob The Builder’s Hard Hat to: The kindly drill-wielding  front-of-house person at the Theatre Royal, Straford East, who twice valiantly attempted to repair the broken seat I was allocated. Concurrently, a tub of “Vanish” to the Old Vic’s front of house staff, to clean the seats after a school party visit and before us adults need to use them…

 

 

The Lee Harvey Oswald Library Card, for best assassination attempt to: Sinéad Matthews in “Blurred Lines” at the National Theatre. Kicking off a stiletto shoe at great speed from a good height seems the perfect, undetectable, way to despatch that annoying punter in row A… a tiny bit more force, and a legend may have been born…

 

Christiaan Barnard’s surgical gowns to: the cast of “My Night With Reg” at the Donmar Warehouse. For successfully tearing the audience’s hearts out without them even noticing in the space of a mere two hours. Concurrently, “I’d Like to Buy the World A Coke” song on permanent loop backstage:  for gratuitously wasting half a bottle per performance of the precious liquid.

 

 

The Mary Whitehouse Blue Pencil to: an elderly lady two rows ahead of me at “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. As the very beautiful ladies of the show’s chorus went into the “French Maid” dance routine, we all heard the very audible “oof” as her husband leaned forward to admire the view… and received a corrective elbow in the ribs. Concurrently, the Vogue Magazine Front Cover to said ladies of the cast of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and the show’s casting director, for services to pulchritude.

 

 

A Bowl of Duck Soup, for Marx Brothers Front of House service to the Ambassadors Theatre. On a visit in July 2014 I recorded:  the staff sadistically not letting an elderly woman 10 steps past a staircase foyer rope to use the toilet, as “the house is closed – so go 200 yards down the road to the local pub, and good luck with that.” Once past the rope, an underworked usher gets concurrently a “King of the Swingers” CD for entertaining us all by swinging around on the stalls door frame while waiting for customers. That same usher then blamed the customers he did let in for taking seats that weren’t theirs. Turned out it was his fault for not reading tickets properly and letting circle customers take the equivalent stalls seats. To cap it, he noisily moved customers forward from the rear stalls – just as the play had started… luckily he was too busy to see the look he got from the stage for his efforts.

 

 

The Diana Morales Headband to Joanna O’Hare, for effortlessly becoming a bedside table, sports-hall coat hanger and well, clothes line, rather than ice-cream cone; as required during “The Beautiful Game” at the Union Theatre, London.

 

 

A Night in a Haunted House, for badly spooking me to: Chloe Lamford and Ruth Stringer, designers at “God Bless The Child.” That primary school corridor leading to the classroom, and the classroom set itself were sufficient to cause serious flashbacks.

 

 

Tim Rice’s Biro to: Harry Hill for the lyric “When I sing all the windows crack, I thought a quaver was a cheesy snack” in the libretto of “I Can’t Sing.” Amused me very much. Also, they can’t say now that the show hasn’t won at least ONE award…

 

 

A Star on the Fridge’s Chart: to Ms Isabella Pappas for a stunning performance from a very young person in the complex role of Iris at “The Nether.”

 

 

Max Bygraves High Stool and Mic, for most compelling musical solo to Neil Stewart as Phil Cavilleri in “Love Story” (Union Theatre). For his effective simplicity holding an audience in one compelling song sung from a centre stage bench.

 

 

Tryout for the Comedy Store Players to: Karl Davies for a superb “in character” ad-lib as the set fell to pieces during “Hobson’s Choice” at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park. Saved the entire evening for all.

 

 

A giant trumpet of joy to: Designer Samuel Wyer and directors Finn Cauldwell and Toby Olie for “The Elephantom.” Intended for younger children… it’s the adults who admired it most. Wonderful, and a summer 2015 revival, with “adults only” performances, please?

 

 

And finally…

An I-Spy Book, with all the pages already filled in so it’s no fun:  to the first member of an audience I was part of, to ever spot “theatremonkey” as I was doing some “pre-show” sightline checks before a performance… and stupidly deduce it was something worth telling ushering staff about, causing us all unnecessary hassle and embarrassment. The place was empty, they knew I was “in” – and importantly, not disturbing anyone. Paranoia is, fortunately, treatable, though.

 

So, to sum up the year, I think it was “The Year of the Experiment.” More so than previous years, I’ve found myself looking very much forward to some productions, all sounding more promising than in previous years. A play written as a big trial concludes? The National Theatre as a nightclub for a biographical musical? Internet Pedophilia addressed on a mainstream stage? The ladies of Dagenham rightly celebrated on the Strand? All here. Some were great, others disappointing, many that I’d agreed to attend “to just see,” turned out to be stunning. My reactions may have been “out of tune” with the professionals – I rated “Bakersfield Mist” far higher than most, “Porgy and Bess” far lower – but it mixed things up wonderfully.

Looking to 2015, there’s “Gypsy” and the Cumberbatch “Hamlet,” and no doubt many more productions that may just be in contention for a “Goodmonkey” next year. Until then, I guess that concludes the annual ceremony. Thanks to all who contested the categories, and I assure the winners that –as ever – their prizes are not “in the post.”

My Best and Worst of 2014 Theatre

January 14, 2015

Happy New Year to all readers. Back for 2015 :).

So, with another year gone, in the great tradition all blog-writers use when they are still slightly in “holiday mode” but need to file… Here, in no particular order under each heading, is my “best to worst” show list of 2014:

Out Of This World:
Blithe Spirit
Cats
The Nether
Blurred Lines
The Beautiful Game (Union Theatre)

 

The Wonder Years:
The Mikado
The Weir
A Streetcar Named Desire
Cinderella (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Memphis
Love Story (Union Theatre)
Sunny Afternoon
Made In Dagenham
The Elephantom (New London Theatre)
Skylight
My Night With Reg
Bakersfield Mist
A Taste of Honey
Handbagged
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Hobson’s Choice
Here Lies Love
Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be
 

California Dreams:
Assassins
King Charles III
Little Revolution (Almeida Theatre)
Electra
Henry V (Noel Coward Theatre)
Speed-The-Plow
Behind The Beautiful Forevers
Forbidden Broadway (Menier Chocolate Factory)
Clarence Darrow
Ushers: The Front of House Musical
All My Sons
The Pajama Game
The Duck House
I Can’t Sing
Finian’s Rainbow
Other Desert Cities
King Lear (Olivier Theatre)

 

Saved By The Bell:
Great Britain
Hotel
Mr Burns
1984
American Psycho
God Bless The Child
Grim

 

Bug Juice:
Urinetown
Porgy and Bess (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park)
The Confessions of Gordon Brown

 

It’s not comprehensive – I’ve left out “re-visits,” tours outside London, and shows which haven’t had official press nights yet, but otherwise, it’s been quite a year.

Now to work on who receives a “Goodmonkey Award.” Coming soon, watch this space.

Changes in Panto

December 17, 2014

As I mentioned last week, I went to my first panto in 33 years. I enjoyed myself so much that yes, I’ll be booking again for next year, without hesitation.

While there, I was also amused by how things have changed.

The stories remain true, and the old favourite routines are still there – “it’s behind you” still happens, the special “hello” one character demands, the “clapping off” song, all present and correct.

The show still takes place in a cardboard cut-out set, with the villagers opening the show, numbers boosted by the local junior dance school. And you get the ponies drawing the carriage.

And you get the stars. Well known names, doing something many of them look forward to doing every year.

It interested me, though, how this extravaganza is paid for.

Video seems to be both the draw and the money-maker. There’s no communal “drop down” song-sheet for a sing-a-long any more. It’s all screens when a show wants to interact, now. Before both acts, it was also used for another purpose – a Littlewoods avert was played. Now, I’m in two minds about this. It seemed wrong to show promotional material to such a captive audience. On the other hand, a life-sized Myleene Klass to enjoy… jury out…

It was the “before the show” stuff that was the even harder sell, though. A choice of 3 toys out of 6 for £15 suggests parents coughing up more than the price of a ticket to get the set. An extra 50p (on the standard £4 programme price the theatre chain usually set) included 2 glow-sticks, though, so there’s a spark of generosity.

No sweets given away either – chucking stuff from the stage seems out of fashion for various reasons, but no healthy snacks in the foyer either. Not that I care either way, to be honest… but then I didn’t have kids with me, I guess.

The only other mild sadness was a 3D film sequence of skeletons, skulls, ghosts and goolies (I don’t want to be grabbed by the ghosts, or by the…. nicely set up by it) got more audience reaction than almost anything else in the show. Replacing the time honoured guys in sheets with video just seemed lazy, somehow – and film can’t react as a real person would to the audience. Shame.

Some things improved, though. The script managed to be clean of filthier innuendo and 70s sitcom stereotyping yet sound fresh and funny. The leading lady was an example to young women rather than just an ornament, and the whole thing looked and felt of a quality easily worth the price of a ticket.

If you can get seats and want a special few hours this Christmas, I’d say finding your nearest panto is an excellent idea. In a family or even making a lone escape, I’ve a feeling you’ll love every minute.

 

 

And on that note, I’m off for my Christmas break. Back posting 14th January. Until then, “happy Christmas” to Christian readers, “happy holidays” to all… and all the best for 2015.

Cinderella (New Wimbledon Theatre)

December 10, 2014

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 6th December 2014.)

With a heavy jolt, I suddenly realised that I’d not seen a professional pantomime since, er, gosh… 1981! John Inman in “Mother Goose” at the Victoria Palace Theatre, since you ask. Partly it’s down to those “difficult teenage years,” partly the fact they don’t do “professional panto” in my area so it means going across London to more enlightened and better equipped theatres.

Also, I wanted a really “traditional” panto – not some PC “we wrote the songs and went all-inclusive” effort. Nope, I wanted traditional jokes, proper pop songs mixed with famous stars and real ponies drawing the coach on stage. The old and loved “it’s behind you” routine and the odd gag which the adults ‘get’ and that leaves the kids wondering…

all
… Family First Entertainment at the New Wimbledon Theatre delivered the lot. In spades. More stars on a single stage than the West End usually muster, a script that keeps young and old entertained  – without a single smutty joke – for over 2 hours, and it looks good all the way through.

amy and mike
Amy Lennox is not just a “fairytale pretty” (with a little ‘edge’ to keep her interesting too) Cinderella, she also finds a lovely optimistic outlook in the role and proves a safe pair of hands to carry the show. Her extensive West End experience shows, particularly managing to make the inevitable “Let It Go” sound fresh and actually improve on the original. A delightfully giggly admission that “I’ve forgotten my line” while dealing with the constant trauma of microphone failure just proves how endearing a leading lady she is.

Around her, Liam Doyle as her Prince Charming does everything expected of him, including a superior duet and some nice comic timing when required.

grey
Star billing, though, goes to Linda Gray who makes her panto debut as Fairy Godmother. No doubt her lines will come more easily as she gets used to the part, but already the joy in her face when the audience reacted was lovely to see. Hooked on panto by the end of the run, I think.

tim wayne
Already hooked on panto, Tim Vine as Buttons, Wayne Sleep as Dandini,

mathew and team
and father and son act Matthew Kelly and Matthew Rixon as Ugly Sisters Mel B and Cheryl (yes, really!). Also worthy of note is James Doherty as Baron Hardup – who really should take the advice of changing the name of his oil company to BP, perhaps…

All deliver the class which can only come from years of experience. Vine’s one-liners and comic adlibs (one shocked little Sleep, plus one joke that I’m sure won’t be told again in the run) win out over the groan-inducing puns; moreover,  he knows a great sequence when he gets one, and is generous enough to share it with those setting it up (I’ll say no more, for fear of spoilers).

chorus
Supporting a pair of spectacularly nasty ladies, the chorus and children (Blue team, my show) fill the stage, with the young page announcer doing a noticeable sterling job. Her confident younger sister, Olive, also made a stage appearance (I know this because I happened to have bought the seat that was beside her rightly proud mum!) and charmed everyone – helping Tim Vine deliver a neat pre-finale.

Some amusing pre-show projections and (rather last-decade, really) 3D effects reminded us that panto evolves, but most of all the noise of everybody joining in reminded me that when panto is done properly, in fact, done to the highest standard it is here, with an experienced and eager to entertain cast, it’s like nothing else in theatre.

Will I be leaving it another 33 years? “Oh No I won’t.” Will I be booking for the 2015 panto as soon as tickets go on sale? “Oh Yes I Will.” And should you see this right now? The only place the queue for tickets should be is… behind you!

 

 

(photo credit, throughout review: Craig Sugden, used by kind permission).

What happened to the mugshot?

December 3, 2014

It’s really starting to annoy me.

I’m talking about what has gone missing from far too many theatre programmes recently.

In the old days, the programme had a cast list, then pages of “head shots,” (admittedly, some dated, some hideously taken, a few just plain hideous) with the name and achievements of the cast member underneath. Writing an opinion for the site, I just matched headshot to body on stage, and it was fine.

Now, those headshots have started to vanish. Instead, you do get the names, but no photo. Those are restricted to a few pages of “photo montage.” Actors wallying around in rehearsal, or posing for the photographer on stage. If you are lucky, the photos are captioned and the characters are in full costume. Sometimes, they are not.

Result, you can’t always be totally sure that you are praising (or, of course, slagging off) the right thespian. Worth remembering, programme compilers, that for those sitting more than a few rows from the front, faces are not always clear…

Actually, while we are on the subject, I’d also like back the list of song titles in a musical’s programme (it’s embarrassing having to ask a kindly PR for the show for them when writing up), the “theatre quiz” which used to pass the time nicely during the interval, and the smart “first performed on” date title page listing the cast, producers etc, plus a nice logo of the show.

Call me “Mr Nostalgic” if you like, but I’d also like the tiny “production credits” restored too… it was kind of nice to know that “wardrobe care is by Persil” don’t you think? Oh, and mixing the articles would be good – make them less about what’s on in the rest of the chain’s theatres.

And please, on the first of the month, start selling new programmes. Those of us who go regularly get angry when for two months we get the same pulp wrapped around the current production’s scrappy 4 pages of cast montage and vague scene-setting description (sans captions / list of musical numbers etc).

Not a lot to ask for my four quid now, is it?!

Should Shakespeare Shuffle Off?

November 26, 2014

Jemima Lewis, a journalist on the Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/william-shakespeare/11214992/Shakespeare-is-too-obscure-for-the-stage-methinks.html

thinks so. On stage, anyway. Too hard to understand and anyone laughing at the jokes is pretentious as nobody REALLY “gets” them any more, and they were not funny in the first place.

So, basically, a gravedigger waving a skull and declaiming “alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well” isn’t hilarious – particularly if the grave digger inserts a cigarette in the skull’s mouth first. Well, to be fair, the journalist was a woman, and that’s “schoolboy” humour I’d say… rather proving that funny is in the mind of the beholder, except that which school girl wouldn’t find the idea of a bloke trying to attract her by wearing yellow stockings hilarious? And doesn’t everyone laugh at word-mangling ramblers like Dogberry?

And all is Shakespeare. I’ve written at length in this blog about the WWET (World’s Worst English Teacher) who appears related to that journalist’s one, for doing the same thing – reading “round the class” out of the script. No feeling, no context. Nothing.

As I’ve also said, I had already seen Bill the Quill’s output done on stage – so WWET could (and now, hopefully does) rot somewhere like the Wackford Squeers Home for Underachieving Educational Folk. So WWET had no effect on me whatsoever. I ignored the idiot and “did my own thing” very successfully, as it turned out, in the exams – and now of course earn a living from my writing.

Of course WWET and that ilk cause the damage that make an otherwise sensible journalist publish such ideas. It’s just because the most vital thing of all is missed. As I’ve already mentioned… “context.”

Most of us grew up watching American films and television programmes. Sorry, American movies and TV shows. An educated (and, frankly, hormonal teenage few in search of a bit of pre-internet titillation) ventured further in to “World Cinema,” i.e. “those films you have to read as well as look at.”

Even the most well-travelled don’t truly understand every nuance of another country’s arts output… but from the “context” of the story, environment and speech-patterns, we figure it out and understand perfectly well.

And Shakespeare is no different. We can tell our “patches” from our “drabs” by the costumes they wear, scenery around them and the tone of voice used – provided the director is inventive enough. Is it any more baffling than a reference to “pop fly” or “flic” in a modern film made overseas? I think not.

Had I the money or a time-machine, I’d have made certain every teenager in the country was able to see the 2012 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Not as starrily cast as the 2013 Smith / Walliams / Grandage version, but so simple and inventive, anyone (and I took a ‘first timer’ myself) not only “understood,” but laughed uproariously. The “Chav Dream” as it was known, played by everyday builders and a population that wouldn’t look out of place in “Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” (as the production indeed ended) was entertainment, pure, simple and as easy to understand as a John Lewis Penguin.

For sure, ban bad Shakespeare interpreters, but keep the Bard off the stage? Not since Cromwell, my dear.

 

It seems it is about the price tag (sorry, Jessie J)

November 19, 2014

Last week’s entry got a lot of interest (http://www.theatreforum.com/index.php?/topic/79645-dynamic-ticket-pricing/); and also coincidentally seemed to be a theme on journalist and reviewer Mark Shenton’s website too (http://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/shenton/2014/11/are-theatre-fans-being-penalised-for-booking-tickets-early/).

Those on theatreforum noted that it wasn’t really “dynamic pricing” as such which upset them – though when prices fell, it was annoying of course – but a lack of clarity in pricing.

Mark Shenton highlighted that too, noticing how the same seat could be three different prices at one show, depending on the date, and that you could save nearly £100 either choosing a different date or even picking a seat a couple of seats away with the same view…

Expanding the them by both was how hard it was to decide whether to book in advance or wait in case of a deal. Those flexible enough to be able to get into London quickly at will and only needing a single ticket (and not fussy where they sat or even what they saw) were doing fine. Getting the tickets they wanted at a good price.

Those living further away and leading busier lives, however, were less happy. Forced to make a choice or “sweat it out.”

I’ve been in both camps myself; right now, it’s really towards the latter to a great extent. I am luckier than most in that invitations to review balance out tickets I pay for (plus, all tickets I do buy are “tax deductibles,” so that’s an automatic saving) but even I get caught sometimes, having to buy seats to take a slot in the diary that I know would otherwise vanish. Yes, I know where the “cheap but good” seats are, but even so, I feel the frustration of overseas visitors too.

The clearer pricing is, and the greater range of “fixed prices,” the more audience members will benefit, I think I’d conclude. Another one for the marketing department to ponder, I’d say.

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