Thursday, October 29, 2009

Karaoke Circus part III

Part III for me in any case, there have in fact been rather more than that - including an Edinburgh edition (alas not when I was there) during which Simon Amstell sang Enrique Iglesias's Hero. Cannot BELIEVE I missed that.

Anyway. I am a full seven days late in posting this, but it's never too late to say a few words about Karaoke Circus - and it will be just a very few words, don't worry, I realise there is only so much gushing one readership can take. But oh, readership, it is such a lovely, life-enhancing thing. This KC saw the night return to Downstairs at the Albany, a small room under a Great Portland Street pub that manages to be swelteringly hot even on a chilly late October evening. The 100 Club, while pleasingly legendary surroundings, may be a little big, but the Albany, it has to be said, is probably a little small.

But no matter, the heat only serves to augment the 'all in it together' spirit that KC manages to evoke. Not that it needs much augmenting. The line-up that had been announced in advance, including Richard Herring, Robin Ince, Andrew Collins, Josie Long and 'something special' from the previously brilliant Chris Addison, was exciting enough in itself, but KC head honcho Martin White had a few secret gems up his sleeve.

Just imagine my face, if you will, when Jessica Hynes walked into the room. Jessica. Hynes. The comedy queen that co-created one of the greatest sitcoms - possibly TV shows generally - of all time. It takes something genuinely surprising for ones jaw to actually drop - but I was surprised, and it certainly dropped. Not that the wonderousness of the situation ended there; turns out she is also a great singer with a beautifully bluesy voice. AND she gave congratulatory slaps on the back to the punters who braved the stage. Put her down as one of those rare 'great at everything but still lovable' types.

This was basically enough for me, of course, but the whole night was brilliant, and as always, the punters were as entertaining as the comedians, and the audience generous and supportive. Overseen by the house band (Martin, keyboard; Danielle Ward, bass; David Reed, drums; Foz, guitar) Long was the first comic up with Nothing Compares 4U, Collins went all dark and tortured with Nirvana's Lithium, there was a bit of Bugsy Malone, Duran Duran, Buzzcocks, Blur and Queen. And to top it all off, Chris Addison channelled Jarv for a barnstorming, roof-raising Common People.

Hmm. That probably doesn't count as a very few words. If you felt you need to read even more, however, there are performers and audience-members alike who have been rather more timely with their blogging. Collins did it first and best as always, plus there's a few words from Mr White himself, and from the lovely Simone, Will Howells can feel better about how long it took him to blog it, and there are beautiful photos from Linzy and Paul Bailey. Which just about covers it, I'd say.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Vaudeville Theatre

The fact most widely known about Jim Cartwright’s 1992 play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is that it was created, in part, to showcase Jane Horrocks’s astonishing talent for vocal impersonations.

The role was so her own, in fact, that when the play was adapted for the big screen six years later, she once again became shy Little Voice while the actors around her changed. Hers are big shoes to fill then – and Diana Vickers should be applauded for doing so with huge success.

This new production of the play is blessed with a whole host of great performances, however. In fact, if you were told a part was built around one of the actors in this version, you would most likely assume it to be LV’s mother Mari, played by Lesley Sharp. It is a frankly huge performance – so huge that during the first ten minutes the fear that she may veer into pantomime was not unwarranted. But Sharpe is too skilful an actress for that.

Mari is brash, shameless, and ridiculously loud whether enjoying a booze-fuelled high and hangover-induced low. She is a bit pantomime. But, as Sharp shows, she also has a streak in her that is genuinely cruel - and another that knows and regrets it. It is a brilliant, densely-written part and Sharp handles all aspects of the character with ease.

Like the character she plays, though, Diana Vickers ultimately refuses to be outshone. As LV – introverted to the point of reclusion due to a mix of lingering grief over her father’s death and the inability to get a word in edgeways with her mam around – Vickers gives a delicate performance that is the perfect foil for Sharpe’s overbearing Mari. Her scenes with Billy, especially - played with infinite charm by James Cartwright - were heart-meltingly sweet with just the right amount of awkwardness.

It is Vickers’ ability to impersonate the singers her character so clings to, of course, that was really going to make or break her in this role, and here again she proved herself more than up to the task. Her Garland and Faithfull may not have been perfect, but the medley of classic songs from great female singers was, as it must be, a highlight, and she showed some great capacity for comedy in her impersonations of Bassey and Piaf, as well as a versatile voice.

Among all the highs that this production achieves, however, there are a couple of problems. The play is really quite unbalanced, with all the emotional punch occurring in the second half. The first, while enjoyable, never really takes off. More disappointing, however, is the fact that Marc Warren is underused.

Ray Say, the smarmy, manipulative but charismatic small time talent manager desperate to make LV a star should be the perfect role for Warren, but it is a strangely underwritten part. And given Mari’s tragic soliloquies and even Billy’s chance to wax lyrical about the light show he has been painstakingly putting together for years, this seems a bit odd.

In Say’s only really interesting scene though – when he subtly cajoles LV into performing again and so prove that ‘her heart belongs to Daddy’ – Warren showed what he could have delivered had he just been given a little more to do.

The show takes its time to really ignite, then, but the fine performances – and Lez Brotherston’s inventive, meticulously detailed set – mean that it is always engaging. And the moments that are particularly good - from LV’s knock-out turn at the working men’s club to Mari’s almost Shakespearean decline - are very good indeed.

Also at

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Comedy Catch-up

Yes it's that time again.

This week I went to a couple of very different comedy nights - the rather genteel Bottle Rocket at the New Players Theatre on Sunday, and the unwieldy Monkey Business at the basement Caramel Bar, Kentish Town on Thursday. Different then, but both a lot of fun and both featuring Stephen Merchant, a man who is very much 'doing the rounds' at the moment, building up to what he describes - more or less seriously - as a 'lucrative tour and DVD without having the split the money with "you know who"'.

The Bottle Rocket show seems to be a new one, but the New Players Theatre, tucked in the arches behind Charing Cross station, is a nice Goldilocks venue and given the promoter's ability to get not only Merchant but Jon Richardson, Holly Walsh and Mark Watson for the first show, I have a feeling it'll do alright. With York's own Dan Atkinson on MC duties, it all made for a hugely strong line-up, with one unintentional theme - being a bit of a crap human being. Atkinson admits to drinking too much and making stupid mistakes the whole time, Richardson says he gets angry on other people's behalf if they don't achieve the perfection he expects, Walsh is consistently self-deprecating and Watson - soon to be a dad for the first time - worries that being a comedian isn't a great example to set, and that he will mainly only be able to teach his young son how to chase things. The only exception to the rule is Merchant - he does complain that fame has not brought him the perks he had hoped, but, speaking in the guise of a caricatured version of himself, he certainly doesn't point the finger of blame at himself. Overall, it was an impressive line-up that lived up to its billing. Which is always nice.

Despite the promise of Merchant and an unnamed big, er, name, Thursday's gig was essentially an open mic night, and as such about twice as long as Sunday's show, with around four times as many acts. As well as being glad of the chance to see Merchant almost literally in my back yard, and intrigued by who the other headliner would be (Russell Howard, though he was actually replaced by the surprisingly excellent Simon Brodkin), I was also there to support a Mr James W Smith whom Simone and I met at that brilliantly odd Weather Party. A lovely man and a clever comic, this newfangled technology we call 'hyperlinks' allows you to read about the night in his own words.

I haven't been to many comedy nights like this, so it was a bit of an eye-opener to discover that there are comics out there who apparently consider the line "I've found the best combination of drugs - viagra and rohypnol" in some way appropriate. That line of comedy was, thankfully, not the norm however and while the quality fluctuated, it was generally a fun night and I'm especially glad that I've seen Brodkin and got rid of my arbitrarily-held opinion that he would be rubbish.

Up this week - Armstrong and Miller try-outs at the legendary Hen and Chickens, Chris Addison, a We Need Answers recording and, most excitingly of all, a trip up north for some home comforts.

Proper Toy Story 3 trailer


*Love* Spanish Buzz!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful - the Autumn schedules kicking in

Autumn - the telly addict's favourite season, and the schedules are just starting to fill up with the good stuff. Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Peep Show got in nice and early, but it feels like this is the week that things really get going. So, this week I am mostly looking forward to...

BBC One, tonight 9pm: Emma. Of course there's no real reason to do another adaptation of Emma, but that's not to say it won't be any good. Romola Garai has always been a draw for me since her wonderful turn in I Capture The Castle, and it's written by Sandy Welch who also did the recent Jane Eyre... it's not going to be ground-breaking, but it's not going to be rubbish either.

BBC One, Monday 10.35pm: The Graham Norton Show. A lot of people - whose opinion I otherwise trust - really dislike Norton... but I genuinely think he's great. He's the reason the Lloyd Webber shows are saved from self-indulgence and his chat shows are usually a fun watch. It'll be interesting to see whether the move to BBC One means any changes have had to be made...

BBC Four, Tuesday 10pm: It's Only A Theory. Now, this new panel show might well suck, but it's a Hat Trick Production, meaning it's at least worth a look. Plus, one of the hosts is Andy Hamilton- who we must thank profusely for Outnumbered if nothing else - and he's joined by Reg D Hunter who seems to excel on panel shows.

More4, Wednesday 9pm: When Boris Met Dave. These irreverent 'politicians when they were younger' shows are often bad (ok, I'm just basing that on The Long Walk To Finchley) but this Toby Young-produced drama has the great benefit of starring Johnny Sweet. Sweet won Best Newcomer at this year's Edinburgh Comedy Awards, is part of the sketch group House Of Windsor with a few Inbetweeners and is - I suspect - perfectly cast in the role of Dave Cameron.

Channel 4, Wednesday 10pm: True Blood. I watch and love a hell of a lot of TV, and yet my knowledge of the big US drama shows of recent years pretty much begins and ends with Lost. Up until season 4. But this is something I aim to correct, and that starts with forcing myself to watch True Blood. I doubt I'll like it all that much hey.

BBC Four, Thursday 9pm: Micro Men. To my shame I've managed to miss most of the Electric Revolution season so far (including Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe, though I still have two days to catch up). I won't be missing this, however, a dramatisation of the battle between Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry to bring home computing to the masses. With Martin Freeman and Xaaahhhder Armstrong in the leads (that's for anyone who saw him and Ben Miller on Wossy) it's safe to say I'm looking forward to this.

BBC Two, Friday, 8pm: Autumnwatch. Yes, Autumnwatch is back. Who knew? I watched BBC Two every single night last week (Masterchef) and didn't see an advert... interesting. Slightly. Anyway, Chris Packham's 'maverick' approach should be annoying, but in fact, he makes this show a lot of fun, though I suspect something will be lost through moving away from the nightly shows.

Beyond that, Peep Show continues to be consistently entertaining, Have I Got News For You returns (Friday 16th), as do the brilliant Armstrong and Miller (straight after HIGNFY and *not* on Saturdays as originally planned, thank goodness), there's more Attenborough to enjoy in Life, and hey, Buzzcocks might be good on and off, depending who's at the helm. That's Autumn sorted, then.

PS. I opened this up to Twitter as I was bound to have forgotten something, and I was instantly reminded (by @JTLovell1979) of the return of the wonderful Harry Hill's TV Burp.... and now we've had votes for Merlin, the conclusion of Last Chance To See, Five's FlashForward, and Home Time, which I really do want to catch up on.