Sunday, December 26, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Before the action even starts you are absorbed by the impressive set, which comprises a flood of Scrabble tiles that tumble down from the rafters, bringing to mind 5-year-old Matilda’s passion for books and language – the same passion that means her headteacher Miss Trunchbull, and even her parents, the air-headed Mrs Wormwood and the cheating car-dealer Mr Wormwood, distrust and dislike her. From there, the staging is consistently bold and frequently truly dazzling.
Having Trunchbull keep an eye on dozens of TV screens in her office (some showing her own hammer-throwing successes) gives her the feel of a deranged totalitarian, and set-pieces such as when she swings a little girl around by her pigtails are particularly well done - not to mention very, very funny.
It is the opening scene from the second act that really sticks with you though, when the children ride on swings which are attached to the theatre roof and swing right out into the auditorium. A moment of genuine wonder, this scene is accompanied by one of comedian – and experienced musical composer – Minchin’s finest songs, ‘When I Grow Up’, which tugs at the heartstrings with its innocent, child’s-eye view of what adult life will be like (going to bed late every day and eating sweets on the way to work feature heavily).
This is just one among many sublime songs however – lyrically complex and packed with instantly hummable melodies, the frankly faultless score is by turns funny, tender and clever. ‘Loud’, Mrs Wormwood’s paean to style over substance is a bombastic crowd-pleaser, and acts as a great counterweight to ‘Quiet’, which charts Matilda’s confusion and eventual calm as she discovers her telekinetic powers for the first time, and which was a highlight of a lovely, controlled performance from Adrianna Bertola as Matilda (Josie Griffiths and Kerry Ingram take the role on other nights). Minchin’s trademark ‘how did he ever think of that?’ moment comes in ‘The School Song’ – a track which contains a fantastic lyrical trick that I won’t give away, but had murmurs of admiration rumbling around the audience.
Dahl aficionados will be anxious to learn how closely this musical sticks to the original novel, and thanks to the dark, twisted humour that Kelly and Minchin inject into the show, it is certainly much closer in both content and feel to the novel than the 90s film version without being slavish. Matilda’s ‘magic’ powers, for example, are here given the same importance as they are in the book (ie, not overwhelming) but on the other hand a whole new character is introduced in the form of Mrs Wormwood’s inappropriately bendy dance partner Rudolpho.
The only possible issue is that Trunchbull – played by Bertie Carvel – is too funny to be truly scary. Carvel delivers a massive, consistently scene-stealing performance, but Trunchbull is certainly a figure of fun in this version and some will feel that she is not the terrifying grotesque that she could be. Moments of real menace do come from Paul Kaye as Mr Wormwood, however – and ultimately any child asked would say that a mean father is infinitely more upsetting than a mean headteacher.
This production ticks a multitude of boxes – inventive staging, wonderful songs, humour and heart – and does it all in such a way that enchants the adults in the audience without ever alienating the very people that this novel, and musical, ultimately celebrates: children. A delight.
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Lonely Avenue is, after just a couple of listens, already my favourite Ben Folds album since Rockin' The Suburbs. Just like his first solo album there is a wonderful mix of the big and goofy, and the quiet and beautiful - both of which he's a real master at. There are bombastic numbers stuffed with layer upon layer of instrumentation and backing vocals like the frankly insane ode to poet Saskia Hamilton, and the radio-friendly 'From Above' about missed-opportunities ("sure we all have soul-mates but we walk past them everyday"). And then there are the smaller, simpler tracks like 'Belinda' - check out the lyrics to see the callbacks (forward?) to Juliet, Naked - and stand-out number 'Picture Window'; and it's on these tracks in particular that Nick's words and Ben's melodies work together wonderfully well.
Friday, October 01, 2010
Ha. Ok, basically it stands for 'What we've been watching' and I'll be doing weekly round-up of precisely that on Dork Adore every Friday for the foreseeable. I'd forgotten how much fun blogging about telly is... Please point your eyes in the direction of the first of hopefully many right here.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
It's literally years - well, two and a half - since I last, and first, saw Carl Donnelly, opening for Rhod Gilbert at the Doncaster gig which has since provided the Welsh comic with so much material (he seemingly never got over the fact that we had the temerity to name our airport after Robin Hood, to whom we have precisely no claim). I enjoyed him then, but have never bumped into him since on my comedy travels and, to my retrospective shame, never actively sought him out - that changed after seeing this video of him from the Edinburgh Fringe however. I just found something about his demeanour, turn of phrase and, well, shades so appealing and cool and - despite my well-documented fondness for Mr Key - it was his presence on the bill that finally kicked my ticket-buying arse into gear for this show. Far from the wind-em-up-and-let-em-go style MC, he just hung off him mic, chatted to people on the front row - dealing deftly with one guy who would gave away absolutely nothing - and generally created a lovely atmosphere.
A lovely atmosphere but not, perhaps, an uproarious one, though there were several reasons for that; the Tabernacle is a big old space for one, and the cabaret tables set-up means that the audience are quite spread out. Plus, as my friends and I commented before the gig, it felt more like a theatre crowd than a comedy one, and all this culminated in the fact that when Rufus Hound came to stage, shouting - as is his wont - 'waheeeyy!' no-one joined in.
As such, he did his usual club set about the differences between groups of men and groups of women and the non-existence of God, but deconstructed it - telling us the mechanics behind each joke, and explaining what reaction he would have been getting, were he performing his set in front of 'real' people, as opposed to the lumberjack shirt-clad, iPad-owning, media twits that faced him. Now, performed with tongue firmly wedged in cheek, Hound would have undoubtedly had the audience in the palm of his hand - we *were* a bit reserved and would have been up for being ribbed about it. Performed, as it was, with a straight face it was rather hard to love. Hound has since said on Twitter that it was an experiment that yielded no results but I doubt that's true (the results bit), and it'll be interesting to see if and how the set continues to evolve.
Tim Key was up after the interval, and rather than leaping straight into his poems, he instead followed up one of Carl Donnelly's stories with his own tales of being alone in Asia: "I was travelling, and I'd heard that you made friends with people along the way, at hostels... didn't happen." It's hard to explain just how Key can regularly reduce an audience to literal tears of laughter, as he did at this point, but it's certainly true to say that it's often these off the cuff moments that are the most special. He seems more willing to go off-script at smaller gigs, but he seemed to enjoy this, so hopefully we'll see more of it. Travelling tales done, he got down to poem-reciting business including a good dose of fairly new ones and a couple of longer stand-up skits that have worked their way into his sets of late and a fabulous video I hadn't seen before featuring the lovely Kristen Schaal.
Headliner Adam Buxton has a hugely loyal following thanks to The Adam and Joe Show, both on Channel 4 and now 6Music (they're back in November, he told us), but while I am au fait with Stephenage I can hardly claim to be a massive fan. Luckily for me then, the in-jokes were kept to a minimum, and Buxton is a whole heap of fun. With his laptop screen projected onto the back wall of the stage, he showed us little videos, his rejected ideas for the replacement name for 'Charmin' (including "Luxuriarse" which, you suspect, he's genuinely proud of) and - most brilliant and successfully of all - some choice comments to a couple of his clips on YouTube. Revealed one at a time thanks to the wonder of Photoshop, the comments are by turns wrong-headed, furious, sweet and inspired and it makes for a sublime set-piece.
Saturday, September 04, 2010
The Empire Cinema in Leicester Square is, unsurprisingly given its location, a little pricey, but when you're seated in Screen 1, a mammoth auditorium with two tiers and an enormous screen, you can't help but feel it's worth it. It feels special, a proper event just like the glory days of Purple Rose of Cairo-era cinema. It's not arthouse, it's big and brash and I love it.
Of course, what you're watching helps, and the two films I have seen in this screen are Toy Story 3 and Back To The Future. Admittedly, these are films that would gladden the heart when viewed on a stuttery mobile phone. But I've no doubt that it was the surroundings, the extra frisson you get with a truly huge audience, that means I have experienced no fewer than four rounds of applause in a cinema in the last month, having previously never been privy to such a thing. (I did clap in joyous anticipation when the opening credits started rolling on The Phantom Menace but my excitement did not prove infectious and unfortunately one person clapping does not constitute a 'round'.)
But yes, the films are superb. I have been actively waiting for Toy Story 3's release since the moment I came out of the cinema having seen Toy Story 2 ten years ago. I am saying nothing controversial when I suggest that the Toy Story films are among the greatest ever made - CGI or otherwise - but I was lucky enough to have been born at just the right time to both enjoy them as rollicking, very funny adventures, and appreciate the deeper sadness and subtlety that make them so special. There was quite a lot of pressure on the third instalment then (I'm sure director Lee Unkrich and his colleagues felt my expectation keenly) but I was genuinely never that concerned that I would be disappointed. And I wasn't.
I will have to see it again in the rather less atmospheric surroundings of my own bedroom on a small screen to really compare it with 1 and 2, but in the moment, it felt right up there, and probably better than 2. It is, for one thing, downright hilarious - there are moments of inspired physical comedy, Buzz being reset to a Spanish-language version is brilliant, and the introduction of (Barbie's) Ken a masterstroke. And yes, it will have you crying buckets - twice, if you're like me. There is one utterly devastating moment (believe me, you'll know it when you see it) and one bittersweet moment - both handled beautifully by a creative team whose heart and care is evident in every single frame. It's one hell of a film, and received two of those spontaneous rounds of applause; one at the end and one after a particularly brilliant bonus scene which screens during the end credits.
And so to Back To The Future, remastered and back in cinemas for a wide but brief release in October. A colleague managed to wangle me a ticket for this preview, and so the long-held wish to see the film firmly ensconced in my Top 5 list on the big screen was fulfilled. And it was great. Cleaned up but not overworked it looks stunning, and sharing this film with a load of fans was a real joy. It was interesting to see what got the biggest reactions and almost without fail it was performance rather than script that got the big laughs - Glover in particular, but also Doc's eye-rolls as Lorraine gets Marty to ask her to the dance, and Marty's squirming whenever she comes near him. We cheered when George laid out Biff, and gave Marty the big response those 1950s squares don't - that's EXACTLY what I wanted.
Up next: A New Hope, Labyrinth, High Fidelity and The Wizard of Oz. Maybe.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Sketch comedy may not have featured on either of those lists this year, but three sketch acts – all very different - were real highlights of my time in the Scottish capital. First up were the oddly-named Delete The Banjax, a four-man (well, three-man-and-one-woman) troupe who are simply fun incarnate. Great songs, a winning mix of personas, an abundance of silly ideas and an excess of charm, their show is lo-fi joy, and I’ve no doubt they’ll come back with something even stronger next year.
The Penny Dreadfuls –David Reed, Thom Tuck and Humphrey Ker - have been around rather longer, to the extent that they have undergone a major, Madonna-esque reinvention for this year’s show. Their Victorian garb and sketches gone, they’re now decked out all in yellow and black, and have allowed themselves the freedom to write sketches on any topic their imaginations can muster – anything from backstreet wrestling broadcast live on the net to the Twilight saga, as it turns out. These extended skits are brilliantly written but it’s the performances – proper acting chops combined with perfect timing and a lovely rapport – that really put them at the very top of the sketch comedy game.
The three gents also put in scene-stealing turns in Martin White and Danielle Ward’s excellent new musical Gutted – which was no mean feat, considering they were having to do the stealing away from this year’s stand-out character comedian Colin Hoult.
Diane Morgan and Joe Wilkinson meanwhile are excellent stand-up comics in their own right, but come together as Two Episodes of MASH to deliver sketches which they say ‘tend to peter out’. They do themselves a disservice, however; this show is actually packed full of “proper” set-up and punchline jokes. Unusually for a sketch show, however, this is understated, quiet stuff – a real change of pace and hugely appealing.
Away from the sketch comedy, there are several one-man performances that have emerged from the pack when asked – as I have been dozens of times since returning from Scotland – which was the ‘best’ show I saw. Just like last year, David O’Doherty’s metamorphosis as a performer continues to astound and delight. Now playing in the proper theatre surroundings of Pleasance One – and not, as he says at the top of the show, some STD clinic commandeered by the Fringe – he, Boyle’s Law- like, has grown to fill his surroundings, and elicited the best audience reaction I experienced on the Fringe this year with his songs about Shakira, animal facts and the offer of practical help on bicycle maintenance.
In complete opposite to David O’Doherty’s shaggy dog stories but just as wonderful, another of my favourite shows featured ream upon ream of stunning one-liners. John-Luke Roberts Distracts You From A Murder sees Roberts attempt to keep our mind off the blood-curdling screams emanating from the wings by insulting every member of the audience with pre-written insults which range from “your hair looks like you borrowed it” to my personal favourite “you laugh at adverts in the places they want you to laugh.” A creative concept, genius writing and spot-on delivery means Roberts will have gained legions of fans with this debut solo show – oh, and he certainly wins the as yet non-existent award for best flyer.
Another show I have found myself recommending to anyone expressing even the slightest interest is Terry Saunders’ Six and a Half Loves, a story of perfect and imperfect love between three couples, accompanied by Saunders’ own animations. Simply performed and with some wonderful throwaway lines, this is an engrossing and intelligently written show. Aussie Claudia O’Doherty meanwhile (no relation, although she did co-write 100 Facts About Pandas with David) brought her award-winning show Monster Of The Deep 3D to the Fringe, and what a magical and very funny show it is. She tells the tale of a now-defunct underwater community ‘Aquaplex’ through flashcards, Blue Peter models and verbatim theatre, and there is a lovely twist at the end of the show which kept me beaming for days.
Let's return to those Comedy Awards, won - many would argue deservedly - by Russell Kane after three nominations in a row, while Best Newcomer went to the endearing Roisin Conaty for her meandering but likeable and astute set. Ironically her material hangs around the fact that she felt she wasn't sufficiently successful in life to give advice to anyone younger than herself; now that she's an award winner that will be a harder case to make.
There have been rumblings that Bo Burnham, while unarguably prodigiously talented, did not really do anything beyond the call of duty, as you might expect of the recipient of the Panel Prize for someone who captures the spirit of the Fringe. Personally my opinions on this are mixed with the fact that (whisper it) I didn’t actually enjoy his show that much, despite being hugely impressed by his songwriting, but as an alternative, may I offer comedy production and publishing company The Invisible Dot. As well as bringing several regular shows, they also took around 400 audience members on a magical mystery tour for a show by the sea, hosted an album launch for Tim Key at Avalanche Records, arranged the wonderful ‘Inaugural 3-Sided Football Tournament’ on the Meadows and placed four specially-adapted telephone boxes around Edinburgh in which you could listen to short stories by the likes of DBC Pierre, Will Self and Mark Watson, for free. Beyond the call of duty, I’d say.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
The main problem with reviewing John-Luke Roberts' impressive show ...Distracts You From A Murder is that you are constantly tempted to forego critical prose and instead simply quote reams of his one-liners verbatim. While that would undoubtedly make for entertaining reading, though, it wouldn't be especially fair on Roberts, who has clearly lovingly crafted and honed his quips to the distilled state in which they are performed, so (with one exception that I just can't resist) I shall try to keep this spoiler-free.
In ...Distracts You From A Murder Roberts has created for himself a lovely niche that brilliantly shows off his talent for clever one-liner comedy. The puns and word play - much of which takes a good few seconds for the audience to fully digest before laughing - comes in a torrent, but it is all framed within the 'storyline' of the show, which is the grizzly murder mentioned in the title. "It's not a whodunnit" he says, "it's more a whatdidhedo" - the answer to which only becomes clear in the last few minutes of the show.
As he establishes early on, a murderer's observational comedy lacks the universality necessary for its success, so instead Roberts spends much of the show insulting every single member of the audience, in order, using generic put-downs written down on a set of cards. What you get, then, is pot luck, and they are creative, generally very mild insults that range from the wildly convoluted to the pithily concise - my favourite, I think, has to be: "You laugh at adverts in the places they want you to laugh." Ouch. It is an ingenious vehicle for his comedy and while perhaps not every one garners an uproarious response, literally dozens are real winners that keep you giggling long after the show has ended.
Between the insults we also get a public health video, (slightly) longer jokes told from the comfort of an 'Anecdote Chair' and, of course, the murder itself. The calmly calculating character Roberts plays means that there is not much room left for banter or adlibbing here, and while that is understandable given the structure of the show, Roberts is such a confident and distinctive performer that it's also something of a shame. Luckily - for him and us - there will be many more Edinburghs for Roberts to try out different ways of showcasing his obvious talent; which is more than can be said for his poor victim.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Five days later came the long-awaited sequel to the original Invisible Dot Club which took place at Proud Galleries in Camden a good 18 months ago and featured a stellar line-up of Tims Key and Minchin, Kevin Eldon, Daniel Kitson, Pippa Evans, Simon Munnery and Arthur Smith. This time, the club relocated to 'a secret location by the sea', a location that was only revealed to the audience on arrival. In a feat of impressive logistics and organisation, a good 300 people were coached out of Edinburgh and into nearby Portobello, taken on an ultimately superfluous but wonderful walk by the sea and guided into Portobello's Town Hall. Unfortunately, headliner Stewart Lee's set was, if not ruined certainly disrupted by an incredibly rude audience member but Kitson was a brilliant host as ever, Eldon mind-bogglingly clever, Colin Hoult a superlative character comedian, Josie Long delightful, and Key typically hilarious. A unique concept, The Invisible Dot Club By The Sea was ambitious and magical.
And throughout all this, indeed throughout the entire month of the Fringe, four inconspicuous red telephone boxes, the physical manifestation of The Invisible Dot Communuications Ltd, stood in various locations around Edinburgh. Those who entered had the chance to pick up the receiver and listen to short stories by the likes of Mark Watson, DBC Pierre and Jack Thorne, for free. Ace.
Claudia O'Doherty's show Monster of the Deep 3D has been laden with awards over in her native Australia and, if there's any justice, that happy trend will continue here at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The show takes the premise that Claudia is the last surviving inhabitant of a now blown-to-smithereens underwater base 'Aquaplex' which was established in the 1970s by a pan-continental committee in order to ready humankind for the coming apocalypse, whatever shape it may take (assuming it involves some sort of massive flood.) With Aquaplex destroyed, she has now taken it upon herself to explain her former home, its people and culture, through the medium of a one-woman presentation complete with flashcards and a Q&A session she has written herself. It's a 'high concept' show, you might say.
The word 'whimsy' hangs heavy (well, as heavy as whimsy can hang) in the air and while to me there is no shame in that, for some it has become a rather mockable word. It is a whimsical premise of course, but those allergic to the idea should realise that Claudia is no shrinking violet, whispering her way through the set; instead she is a hugely dynamic, larger than life performer who fills her venue with energy. And the laughs are big and frequent - whether dancing along to Toto's Africa, doing a bit of verbatim theatre or giving us a guided tour of her self-made model of Aquaplex her turn of phrase, physical comedy and attention to the detail of her invented world are consistently funny and impressive.
All aspects of Aquaplegian (yup) life are covered, from the use of virtual reality 'Dream Helmets' to allow those more used to living on land to imagine they are back in a beautiful meadow to 'Emotionas', the underwater version of Christmas, which Claudia only slowly realises may have had previously undetected dark overtones actually during the presentation. The whole show is inventive and fun but there is one moment in particular that I would bravely state must be one of the most magical on the Fringe. To even hint at it would be a travesty - no-one should be denied the sense of wonder it evokes when a complete and beautiful surprise - but rest assured it is something genuinely special. And while you're resting assured, perhaps book a ticket.
There are a lot of great sketch shows at the Fringe this year, and Two Episodes of MASH - aka Diane Morgan and Joe Wilkinson - are right up there. The likes of The Penny Dreadfuls perform expansive sketches which go on for minutes, however, in the main TEofM eschew big characters and storylines in favour of quickfire gags. The press release may say "don't expect any hefty punchlines" but the show is, in fact, full of them; between the punchline-less absurdist situations there are plenty of sketches which are essentially one-liners acted out.
Of course, this type of comedy requires a large store of killer ideas, but that is something Morgan and Wilkinson clearly possess. Like any good one-liner comic, they take you down one path only to flip the situation on its head, and, such is their imagination and creativity, even when you know there is going to be a twist at the end of a sketch, you can never guess what that twist might be. When they do resort to a cheesy, "and then I got off the bus" type-punchline, they ironically exclaim "a proper joke, ladies and gentlemen!" - but in fact the show has jokes in bucket loads.
Luckily, the sketches come so thick and fast that I feel I can indulge you with the details of one or two without ruining it. Favourites included a tortured game of Eye Spy in which Wilkinson can't imagine anything beginning with R other than rats or the roof of his own mouth, and an aggressive couple who turn the air blue while sitting on the front row for a recording of Songs of Praise.
Directed by Stefan Golaszewski of Cowards fame, you see shades of his fellow performers Tim Key and Tom Basden in Wilkinson's nervy mannerisms and brilliant timing, and while Morgan is frequently the 'straight man', her subtle expressions often upstage her comedy partner. The sketches may be silly, but if you want shouting, gesticulating and general running around you will certainly have to look elsewhere. In the main this is a nice change of pace but, call me unsophisticated, I couldn't help hoping to see a little giggle - something of the real Wilkinson and Morgan beneath their considered performances which might add a touch of warmth to their otherwise excellent sketches.
Thoroughly rebranded from bleak Victoriana to bright yellow and black, The Penny Dreadfuls - Thom Tuck, Humphrey Ker and David Reed - have broken away from their traditionally 19th-century themed sketches into new exciting territory. Now unconstrained by corsets and breeches, the world is their oyster and the Dreadfuls are clearly having a ball - and judging from the whoops and cheers emitted from the audience during this performance, so are they.
Of course what works so well, and what has always worked in the Dreadful's favour, is that they are all such wonderful performers who draw out the very best in each other, each bringing something different to the sketches. Thom Tuck's fantastic physical comedy is called upon throughout the show, but showed off particularly well in a sketch in which he plays a wrestler, keen - for some reason - to take on a Gulf War veteran. David's finest Yorkshire-accented moment comes in a recurring sketch about a car race with the keys to a Honda Jazz at stake, while Humphrey's genuinely great acting skills - and floppy hair - are put to excellent use in an angst-ridden parody of the Twilight series.
There were technical issues with this show meaning that the Dreadfuls were plunged into darkness on a couple of occasions, something which only added to David's rather charming tendency towards barely-concealed corpsing. Of course, it also gave them the chance to ad-lib a little - always a joy for an audience - and it gave rise to a great line at the end of the show: "if you want your money back, just go to the box office and remember, we've been Pappy's Fun Club."
In the main, the sketches are given plenty of time to develop, and they do not exist in isolation but frequently reference each other, with characters and ideas cropping up time and again. As such this is superlative sketch comedy, created with care and performed with real flair by super-talented comics.
"This is dangerously close to conversation" she says at the top of the show, referencing the few empty stools, but in fact 'conversation' is precisely what Luurtsema does best - it is one-sided conversation admittedly, but her style is so comfortable, so chatty and informal that, despite our lack of involvement it does feel like a good old chinwag with a close and very funny friend. The title of the show In My Head I'm A Hero comes from Nat's assertion that she spends most of her time daydreaming about coming to the aid of dozens in some huge disaster, just like in the movies - but the nearest she's actually come to fulfilling the dream is doing something approaching triage after seeing a bus very slowly career into a wall, resulting in precisely no casualties.
These opening discussions are enjoyable but not especially laugh-out-loud hilarious and it takes some time for the show to really kick into gear. Eventually though, we move away from Nat's current daydreams and back into her childhood, and it's here that the laughs really come - it's just a shame we do not get to this fertile territory sooner. Because fertile it is; Nat was a lonely child and to prove the point, she brings along her 'By Myself Book' outlining the rather sad activities that a young nerdy girl can go do on her own - and spins an excellent routine around it. She also gets great stuff from having been sent to a Freemasons school, where she took part in 'drill', aka rather spooky formation marching reminiscent of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony on a severe budget. And yes, we are treated to a mini live performance.
Surprisingly, the story takes a rather serious turn, and we discover that while Luurtsema is forever fantasising about raging fires and kids trapped down a well, she was actually at the centre of a very personal crisis at the age of just twelve. The revelation sneaks up on you and gives the narrative a real edge - but again, the show might benefit from it coming a little earlier. Overall, though, this is a hugely enjoyable hour performed by a warm, witty comic with a vivid imagination, some lovely lines, and, you suspect, much more to come.
The show comprises the tale of three perfect couples; six people who are absolutely meant to be together, and how they love and lose each other, and fall into the arms of others. There are fewer than a hundred of these perfect couples in the world, we are told at the very start, but even these do not always end up together in happy ever afters - life, circumstance and the odd stupid decision can often get in the way. Saunders tells us their stories as his animations scroll through on the big screen, and the names of the three main men involved - Sean, Nigel and Lenny - are projected onto his white t-shirt (which he sports with white trousers, for the sartorially-minded).
For the first twenty minutes, the stories of three couples - I won't divulge whether these are actually the 'perfect' couples or not - are quite distinct. There's Sean quietly simpering after best friend Natalie, poor Nigel who has made his flat a shrine to ex-girlfriend Sue, and Lenny and Kim, the comfy couple who've simply grown apart. As the story unfolds though, their lives intertwine in all sorts of ways, from passionate one night stands which somehow last for months, to brief meetings in bars and stations. The strands are deftly and impressively woven together, but even more brilliant are the tiny motifs - songs, tears, even milk - that subtly crop up at key moments to remind you of previous scenes and situations. In fact, I felt I'd like to have been handed a script at the end, just to go back and check I hadn't missed any clever little connections.
This may not be a show to make you consistently laugh out loud, but the laughs are certainly there if you keep your wits about you; lines such as "the weekends were long, and the weeks even longer" are delivered with a sparkle in the eye but could easily be missed. The only slight issue with this show then is that the animations - while providing some nice visual gags along the way and always lovely to look at - do not add as much to the story as one might hope. Luckily, the story is so finely conceived and beautifully written, very little needs adding.
With the aid of just one chair, a pair of clip-on spectacles, some Aviators and a visor, the two comics play out the tale of Roy - a lowly librarian trainee with a fear of ladders, but a prodigious genius for alphabetising. If only he could overcome his irrational ladder phobia, he would be the greatest librarian there ever was; as it is, he is destined to a dull, ground-level-bound life among the As, Bs and Cs, silently lusting after his mentor Susan, who, for whatever reason, speaks with a manly southern drawl. It is only when a menacing stranger with, what else, a German accent comes into the library requesting The Golden Lizard by Floyd Vernon, that his life takes a more exciting turn.
The story is essentially a series of very physical, very silly, but hugely funny vignettes that give Wozniak and Paker the chance to give full flight to their clearly expansive imaginations and precise comic timing. Throughout the show, the professor and author of the all-important book, Floyd Vernon pops up - played by whichever of the two happens to have the spectacles - to give us one of his latest theories; be it the fact that we only really need five numbers, whether a tree that falls when no-one's around really does make a sound, or working out the average name of the audience (it's as convoluted a process as you would expect). These moments are among the most creative and funniest of the whole show.
Between the mini-lectures the story unfolds, and we travel from the library - by plane, ship and Emperor Goose - to Bolivia in search of the book, with the performers taking the roles of assorted, generally mad men and women along the way. It is a little slow to get off the ground and ends abruptly, but in between there is a massive amount of fun to be had here and importantly, both Wozniak and Paker are really engaging performers - Paker clearly loves a bit of verbal invention, ad libbing his way through some killer throwaway lines, while Wozniak is a brilliant physical performer who is a constant joy to watch.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Sunday, August 01, 2010
At the moment there are two in the same building in fact – this, Educating Rita, and the one-woman-showShirley Valentine starring Meera Syal, which together form the Trafalgar Studios’ Willy Russell Season.
The story of Educating Rita is, thanks to the film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, fairly well-known, though here the minor characters are only talked about, not seen, and all of the action takes place in just one room. Frank is a sixty-something university professor of English who spends his days – and the whole play – holed up in his comfy but care-worn office-come-library (lovingly designed by Peter McKintosh), tired of the same routine, bored of intellectual pretensions and very often drunk. Rita is forty years his junior and his first ever Open University student – a brash hairdresser steeped in Liverpool working class culture but, like her new tutor, bored to tears by her current lot.
The great strength of Willy Russell’s play is the relationship between the nurturing, funny university don and his new passionate student, hungry, as she puts it, to learn and experience more than her life, friends and circumstances have thus far allowed. The relationship is endearing in its simplicity –they are just genuinely good people who find much to like in one other right from the off, despite their differences, and who look forward to their tutorials as a highlight of the week.
Their mutual, though very different, quick-wittedness makes for some very funny banter, and you just enjoy watching this process of learning unfold in front of you. It is a process, of course, that is clearly beneficial to both parties; from the moment Rita bursts into the office for her first lesson and immediately makes Frank look differently at a painting he has had hanging on his wall for decades, it is evident that he won’t be the only one doing the teaching.
A two-hander, the play is hugely reliant on engaging performances that make it obvious why these two characters get on so well; it is nothing without chemistry. Tim Piggot-Smith, straight from the excellent Enron, and relative newcomer Laura Dos Santos are perfectly cast in that not only are their individual performances very good but, crucially, they bounce off each other wonderfully. When Frank is explaining the theatrical meaning of ‘tragedy’ or Rita declaring her hatred of Howards Way, the other often just beams. Dos Santos does get a special mention, though, for portraying such a sincere and deep-rooted desire for education, the physicality of her performance showing that the longing comes from her very gut.
Educating Rita is undoubtedly about the important role that learning and knowledge can play in providing people with choices in life. This production in particular, however, also demonstrates how much a friendship – perhaps especially one found in unlikely quarters – can be equally vital, nourishing, and freeing.
Written for MusicOMH.com
Saturday, July 24, 2010
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Saturday, July 03, 2010
And here's Karaoke Circus deity (oh yes) Chris Addison matching up to a frankly majestic orchestral backing on Pet Shop Boys's Left To My Own Devices:
Also on show among many others were Tim Vine making his KC debut (quite the crooner), Robin Ince bringing a tear to the eye (maybe) with Two Little Boys, Andrew Collins (secret) dancing his way through Uptown Top Ranking, Lizzie Roper blasting out Call Me and assorted plucky punters attempting the likes of Bat Out Of Hell, Design For Life, These Boots Are Made For Walking and - in the winning performance - Take Me Out.
NB. I have not written anything for ten minutes. Instead I have been reliving my first Karaoke Circus experience (Albany, April 2009) by singing along to a karaoke version of Tiny Dancer on YouTube. This is the power or Karaoke Circus people. Embrace it.