Friday, August 25, 2006

Rock 'n' Roll - Duke of York's Theatre, 20/08/06

I'm not sure I have the staying power for another 800 word marathon, so I'm going to keep this to the basics!(Again, some plot points are outlined).

Rock 'n' Roll, just like Sunday In The Park..., is just as good as everyone has made it out to be, and if you like to think that guys and gals with guitars really can make a difference, even when they're not trying to do so, well, you'll be in for life-affirming evening. Because that's essentially what this play's about - sure, there's plenty of theory spouted, especially by Brian Cox's world-weary Max (this is a Tom Stoppard play, after all, though I think I followed the debates about Communism better than I did the discussions in Jumpers...!) but the title shows where the heart is.

Jan, played by Rufus Sewell, is a quiet yet charismatic idealist who believes in the redemptive power of rock and roll - and he soon discovers that it's his love of music, rather than his dislike of the communist rulers of his home country Czechoslovakia, that will land him in trouble. Musicians , he explains in one of the key speeches, don't care about the authorities, they just want to be able to play, and that scares the hell out of those in charge. They can cope with the intelligentsia, the almost 'approved' opposition here represented by Jan's flatmate Ferdinand, but anyone who acts outside of the system is much more dangerous. In the end - both in real life and in the play - Czech band Plastic People Of The Universe were arrested and made an example of. It backfired, with press all over the world deriding the trial as a massive over-reaction, but the authorities learnt from their mistakes and started to allow concerts again: "Even Communist governments want to be popular", Jan says.

Sewell makes Jan an incredibly engaging and endearing centre to the play, and for me his was the standout performance. Sinead Cusack is wonderful too, playing Max's classics-obsessed wife Eleanor who struggles to reconcile her body's deterioration with her husband's belief that life and love are simply a series of bioligcal processes.

And, of course, there's one hell of a soundtrack.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sunday In The Park With George - Wyndam's Theatre, 19/08/06

NOTE: I go into a lot of detail here, so if you're thinking of going to see this, maybe wait until after you've gone before you read on!

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If ever the word 'delightful' can be attributed to a production, then this is surely it. I'm afraid I can't go against the grain of five star reviews for this, which started at the Mernier Chocolate Factory, but simply heap on praise, just like everyone else.

This Sondheim musical is one of two halves. The first shows us the story of how the eponymous Georges Seurat came to create his masterpiece Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Seurat, played by Daniel Evans (one of those performers you feel instantly at ease with), is a young genius in love with the beautiful if eccentric and endearing Dot (the consistently brilliant Jenna Russell), who dreams of being immortalised in a painting. Their relationship, however, follows the age-old course of many between artist and muse, and his lack of attention towards Dot ultimately drives her away, and into the arms of Louis the baker. He's lovely, and everyone loves him, as the song goes. He'll clearly look after her - and clearly she'll never be entirely happy, but when a baby is on the way (Seurat's), Dot knows who'll make the better father. Seurat is left behind, forever 'Finishing The Hat'.

In this half, particularly, the emotion, wit and warmth comes from Sondheim's songs, which are let down somewhat by the slightly cliched script by James Lapine. But the songs are wonderful. Sondheim captures brilliantly the genius at work - he has some first-hand experience in this, of course. In 'Colour And Light', he matches every manic stroke of Seurat's paintbrush with a staccato stab of sound from orchestra, but he shows an understanding of how hard it can be to care about an artist too. The title song, sung by Dot, shows her happily standing for hours in an uncomfortable bustle so that Seurat can work his magic, but this is later heart-breakingly contrasted with 'We Do Not Belong Together'. In both of these, Jenna Russell shows why she is the leading lady of choice at the moment - a clown one moment, tugging at the audience's heart-strings the next.

In the second half we are taken to the present day. In front of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte in a Chicago gallery, Seurat's great-grandson, (another George, and another celebrated artist, again played by Evans) is unveiling his laser and light installation, Chromolume #7, with his grand-mother Marie (Russell) as the guest of honour. Mark Lawson writes in the programme that critics and audiences alike have seen this George as a pale imitation of his name-sake, willing to sell himself to get a commission. But this seems a little simple. Just like his great-grandfather, George is obsessed with light - technology means he can literally use it for his art - and we even saw Seurat Snr. schmoozing with people he knew disliked his work. And if there's one opinion we can trust, it's that of Marie, who certainly has her mother's good soul, and she sings 'Mama you'd like him, mama you would/Mama he makes things, mama they're good'. At this stage though, George has certainly hit an artistic drought, and it takes a trip back to the Parisian park, and even a brief, century-spanning conversation with Dot to get him back to the exciting blank page with which the musical started. Dot was always trying get Seurat to 'connect' with the outside world, and the people around him, and while 21st century George may not be the genius his great-grandfather was, we see the wise and caring words of Marie overcome him, and know that it's this very connection that has given him the chance to make great work again.

The performances were, as you can probably guess, uniformly wonderful, but what was perhaps even more exciting to see was how brilliantly technology was used for the set and scenery. Timothy Bird and the Knifedge Creative Network designed and created the projections and animations for this production, which show on a grand scale what Seurat is doing on the canvas - when he rubs out what he doesn't like, so it disappears from the stage. It's wittily used too - an animated version of the dog in the painting is used to represent the real life inspiration, and one of the two soldiers which can be seen in the background of the painting is also a projection, which is nonetheless talked to and dragged around. In the second half, George gets to stand back and watch as several images of himself talk to as many possible investors as possible. Everything works perfectly, and you get the feeling that Sondheim and the two Georges would be very proud.

Ok, that's taken quite a long time - Rock 'n' Roll tomorrow, I think :)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A few bits of news from Chortle.co.uk

Quickly becoming one of my favourite sites, Chortle tells me that Eddie Izzard will not play Sally Bowles in Cabaret, but instead the role will be taken by Anna Maxwell Martin - her of the National's production of His Dark Materials and Bleak House. Not an obvious choice, I wouldn't have thought, but we sure know the gal can act.

Also announced is the news that Zach Braff will be leaving at the end of the next series of Scrubs to work on films full time. Seeing as though the show is seen through his eyes (and mind) it's hard to see how they'd carry on...

Another piece of news that didn't come from Chortle, but could have done, is that the date for the release of The Mighty Boosh live DVD has been set for November 13th. So for all of us who missed them coming to town by about a week (not that I'm still annoyed or anything) we can catch up relatively soon. Get pre-ordering.

Sunday In The Park With George and Rock n Roll reviews, by the way, will probably not be forthcoming until Wednesday due to work and other such distractions - sorry :)

Anna's Fun Weekend In London

A post that does exactly what it says on the tin, this is about my fun weekend in London. Because weekends in London aren't always fun, sometimes they're a little frantic with fun bits.

First thing to do when we got to our fair capital was to try and get some theatre tickets for the evening, having Rock 'n' Roll tickets for the Sunday matinee already safely bought and stored. The ticket booths in Leicester Square (all, they proclaim, the official one) can get ridiculously busy, so we headed to a lesser known one on the corner between Shaftsbury Avenue and Monmouth Street and were five minutes later the proud owners of tickets for Sunday In The Park with George. Simple as.

(I'm not very good at these 'what I did' posts... this is virtually my first, I think. Just bear with me!)

Perhaps even more miraculous was that I had gone to London in the hope of getting some little pixie boots - and I did! Within about ten minutes of the beginning the search, too. Sometimes things just go right. Look! They're great, aren't they?!

The good luck continues! I've been wanting some Wayfarer style sunglasses for a while - well, if they're good enough for Bob...

...then they're good enough for me. Ebay's got a load, but the prices are pretty steep, and they're nowhere to be found on the highstreet, despite the fact that The Kooks, Razorlight and other such bands of an indie/Topshop-type persuasion are wearing them. But Urban Outfitters had some, and in the sale for five pounds! Wayfarers+boots+hat=happy Anna. It doesn't take much :)

The luck must run out, you cry! And how right you are. We arrived at the hotel at four - two hours after check in time - to walk into a clearly-not-ready room. Good old British customer care meant we received no apology, and instead had insult added to injury by having to sit in the foyer listening to panpipe versions of 'I've Had The Time Of My Life'. Urgggh.

But the Sunday In the Park that evening made up for it, as you'll see in my review below. A stunning piece of theatre in a venue (the Wyndham's) that's obviously seen a bit of Mr. Mackintosh's cash - plush seats, plenty of leg room, and air conditioning.

The next morning we set out for Somerset House, where you can sit on the terrace, drink some lovely coffee, and watch the world go by. Somehow this little haven has stayed a virtual secret, but I'll let you guys in on it, because you've stuck with this post so long. Then we headed off to the National Gallery and looked at Seurat (the painter focused on in Sunday In The Park) in a whole new way before going to the Duke of York's theatre for Rock 'n' Roll. There were autograph hunters stood by the stage door waiting for the stars - Sinead Cusack, Brian Cos and Rufus Sewell - to go in. Sure enough, Mr Sewell sauntered by with about half an hour to go, signed a programme (not mine, but he looks lovely and is therefore forgiven), and hurried inside. A few of the photographers hung around though, and looked very interested every time a taxi drew up... I still wonder who they were waiting for, but when it got to about ten minutes before the start of the show, we thought we'd better forgo a bit of star-spotting for a bit of drama instead. There were lots of people we vaguely recognised, though, and one we very definitely recognised (spotted by Mum) - none other than Loudon Wainwright III. Not interested in going to see his son at the V festival then ;). The play, by the way, was as brilliant as everyone says it is - again there's more in the review below.

And that's about it. Then we all went home and had tea, and all that. Great weekend though. Fun, you might say.

P.S. Reviews are to come soon...!! :D

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Late Edition

Two episodes of this have come from Edinburgh this week, and it's been great fun, though of course, it did make me insanely jealous :) Two sketch groups who featured called The Cowards and We Are Klang were both absolutely great, as were the Spaghetti Western Orchestra who I've heard nothing but praise for.

I've never actually watched the Late Edition before, but I'll try and stay awake from now on, as I really enjoyed it, though it'll clearly be different when the Fringe is over... I think I'll still like it, though. Obviously, it's just a little inspired by the Daily Show (ok, completely) but Marcus Brigstocke is no Jon Stewart. Who is, I guess. He's funny, and, importantly, informed, but he doesn't have the warmth that Stewart has - I always remember Paul telling me that when it was announced that Stewart was going to present the Academy Awards he said 'we're going to the Oscars'. Which was lovely. Plus he's just too damn left-wing, which limits the scope for comedy.... but to be quite honest I can't think of who I'd rather have presenting it, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Steve Furst (you know, this guy) who's played the guests this week is fantastic, too.

Charlie Brooker's US Screenwipe

Charlie alone to the camera: I hate everyone, everyone hates me, lots of swearing, oooh I'm angry.
Charlie with American focus group: Look! I'm happy and smiley and... English! You like the English, don't you?.... Love me.


Great show last night, though :)

Crap crappety crap crap

Is it just me, or is it only *very* recently that 'crap' has become an acceptable pre-watershed word? Maybe it's just that I was sheltered from it as a youngster, but I'm not convinced. Yesterday on FiveLive there was a c0nversation that went like this, pretty much word for word:
A: Do you think calling Bush crap will backfire on Mr. Prescott?
B: Well, he called the policy crap, he didn't call Bush himself crap.
A: Some of the papers are saying that he called Bush crap, though, aren't they?
B: Yes, crap crap crap.

Maybe not 'word for word', but you get the idea. I've no problem with this, really, just an observation...

Friday, August 11, 2006

In Praise of.... Des Lynam

On Countdown:

Susie Dent: There was 'porgies' for seven - a porgy is a small fish.
Des: Porgy and Bass!
Audience: *Silence*

Brilliant.

Turn Back Time

Well that was rubbish, wasn't it? Dara O'Briain was surprisingly unfunny and Terry Jones just spurted anecdotes in the hope that they had some sort of tenuous link to the 'Turn Back Time' theme. Just not good enough in this post-Annually Retentive world.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Reduced Shakespeare Company condense Star Wars

Yay!

In Praise of.... The Guardian's 'In Praise of....' column

We all know I like anything sunny and warm (Paul Fuzz and I have decided that the best Tom and Jerry cartoons are the ones where they get along), so I love this column. A little nugget of positivity nestled in between the 1000-word think-pieces and letters about film canisters, it has praised Doctor Who, the Fringe and, today, Monty Panesar.

I think I might just have to nick this idea for myself. Well, I guess I just did.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Edinburgh Fringe stufff

I was hoping I could give you some of this first hand, but as that seems less and less likely, you can join me at these various Fringe-related places:

thestage.co.uk/edinburgh - Scott's been working very hard so make it worth his while :)
guardian.co.uk/edinburgh - really good comprehensive mini-site
Dean - excitingly, Dean is reviewing comedy gigs for Chortle, and you can find all that good work, with added digressions here.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Been away...

... back now though. Clearly. :)

Just in time to bring you news 0f some very exciting casting (Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel especially) for the first His Dark Materials film - probably to be called the American book title 'The Golden Compass', as opposed to Northern Lights - (via), and to say to Q - it's only a guilty pleasure if you're pretentious enough to hide what you like. Tut tut, I say, tut tut.



Good to be back, kids.