Saturday, July 24, 2010

Burn The Floor - Shaftesbury Theatre

Like Scott, I headed to Burn The Floor on Wednesday, but unlike him, it has taken me four days to actually getting around to writing about it...

Despite spending a ridiculous amount of my formative years in dance classes or at festivals and competitions held in various northern seaside resorts, I don't actually go to see much dance these days, something this show certainly persuaded me to rectify. Although it's Strictly Come Dancing's Brian Fortuna and Ali Bastian's faces which are emblazoned across the posters, the stars of this show are the large chorus of dancers, made up of couples from the across the world (they were all introduced by name in the finale, a nice touch). As Scott said, Fortuna and Bastian have rather little stage-time and Bastian, while a good dancer, does suffer from being showcased among professionals at the top of their game.

The dances - a good mix of solos, duets, small groups and whole company - are on the whole thematically unrelated, but they flow from one to another with really impressive and inventive ease. Many are driven solely by the fantastic percussionist and drummer who feature on stage throughout the show, meaning the majority are Latin; especially samba and jive and their variations. Understandably so - the talent for those dances in particular on show here is massive. It does mean, though, that pure ballroom is rather under-represented here, and the two big group ballroom dances are not well served by the music: Knights in White Satin and another power ballad I couldn't place. Impressive, then, that one of the most enjoyable and memorable dances of the night is a classic, and un-showy Viennese Waltz.

The best thing about this show, though, (creeping in just ahead of the astonishing energy on display from start to finish) is definitely the choreography. It's hugely creative and shows off individual talent and the magic that comes from a perfectly honed group dance equally well. Burn The Floor has a couple of cheesy moments, but overall it's a lot of fun, the dancing is top notch, and the live music and singing lift the show to a level that makes it deserving of the big audiences that the Strictly faces on the posters will provide.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Divine Comedy - Somerset House... again

Back in 2006 (when, it seems from a casual glance through the posts, I blogged little and often - the pre-Twitter age, y'see - making me feel very guilty) I went to see The Divine Comedy at Somerset House. Then, in 2010, I went to see The Divine Comedy at Somerset House. Again. How far I've come. Now, I rather waxed lyrical about the gig last time, and, surprise surprise, I rather waxed lyrical about the Tabernacle gig too, so I'm desperate not to simply bang on about how wonderful Neil Hannon is. But the fact is he just doesn't leave me any choice.

In terms of the songs, the new album Bang Goes The Knighthood boasts some instant classics (notably Down In The Street Below, When A Man Cries and I Like, which several audience members actually shouted out for) and, as everything 'required' for these new tracks is there in the piano, at these solo gigs we are hearing them just as they were written. As Neil said himself, this was also a 'Promenade-fest', with Geronimo, Don't Look Down, and, of course, Tonight We Fly all appearing, along with the sublime Our Mutual Friend and Your Daddy's Car. There were nice touches particular to this gig too, like an extended segue into Blue Monday during At The Indie Disco ("we probably don't have a licence for this!"). And in terms of showmanship, Neil clearly revels being alone with the audience - drawing enjoyment and enthusiasm from his fans, who here happily harmonised and provided backing vocals on the likes of Songs of Love and Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count.

Two PSs to this: 1) I went to this gig with lovely Momma Waits (the original Divine Comedy fan in the family), and we both passed Neil in Leicester Square a few hours before the gig, much to our repressed excitement and 2) Concert Live recorded the gig, and if you preordered a CD, you could pick it up the moment the last note was played. So I did. Which is nice.

Edinburgh Previews - Alex Horne and Jonny Sweet

Unlike my last tenuous effort, these shows were genuine Edinburgh Previews; they were advertised as such and everything. And we even got a BBQ in between so win, win... win.

I've seen Alex Horne on We Need Answers (lots and lots), doing a teeny club set at Gloom Aid, and I loved The Horne Section a few weeks back, but I've never actually seen a full show from him before. He tells us right at the start of his Edinburgh show Odds that it only contains three jokes - when someone shuffles in 10 minutes late, he has to inform them that they've already missed 33% of them - but they're good ones (read: delightfully groany) and in any case, Odds is more about the story and its telling. Accompanied by his trusty Powerpoint and clicker, Horne takes us through his genuine bet that he would make a hole in one - on a "proper golf course", as the betting slip stated - before his 32nd birthday. During the show he discusses his favourite bets (he really does have them) and even manages to explain a Stephen Hawkins theory in a way that makes complete sense. The show is beautifully paced, has a wonderful story arc and, a month ahead of the Fringe, already pretty much fully-formed.

Another Powerpoint aficionado is last year's Comedy Awards Best Newcomer Jonny Sweet, and his new show has an even odder premise than his winning one - a one hour talk on the merits and eventual fall from grace of HMS Nottingham, from crew to, er, plumbing. Again, he plays a nerdier, egotistical and slightly unhinged version of himself, but to say any more would, I'm afraid to be giving rather a lot away. Suffice to say it has a VERY big twist that I am sure will have Edinburgh tongues a-wagging come August.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Meeting Niles Crane

What I forgot to include in my review - but is probably best kept separate in any case - was the fact that we hung around the Stage Door after the show with around forty others. Well, David Hyde Pierce is the co-creator of one of the best comedy characters ever to appear on television so he's worth a twenty minute wait, I reckon.

Joanna Lumley, of course, also got a huge reception, and spent a good quarter of an hour talking, signing and posing for photos. She didn't exactly pose for this one, but it's quite nice...

When David came out, I moved with more purpose towards the throng, and he was kind enough to sign my programme. Whenever I meet people I admire, I'm always anxious to take the opportunity to not just compliment but thank. It makes you sound a bit of an tool, but he responded to my lame line "That was a brilliant performance... and, er, thanks for the years of laughter" with "thank you, I appreciate that" which is good enough for me.

La Bête - Comedy Theatre

There are some performers in all fields that just seem special; the ones that you can't help but think will genuinely be remembered beyond their lifetime as one of the best. David Hyde Pierce - Niles Crane to you and me, and physical comedian extraordinaire to US theatre-lovers - has to be one those performers, right? A master of comic timing, but also blessed with the capacity to create moments of heart-rending drama, his 11-year turn in Frasier was, pretty much, a succession of genius looks, phrasing and pratfalls. I am, you might have worked out, something of a fan.

It's a love very much fostered by my dad, so we dutifully bought tickets for his West End debut as soon as they were released - a decision made easier by the fact that his chosen production, La Bête, would also star the superlative Mark Rylance who gave that barnstorming performance in Jerusalem last year.

You wouldn't know it from the publicity shots, but this play, though only twenty years old, is written in rhyming verse and set in 17th century (or somewhere thereabouts) France. As Elomire, Pierce is a passionate, serious and rather self-important playwright working under the patronage of the nameless 'Princess' (Joanna Lumley) who tells him that - to keep her support - he must admit a popular street clown into his troupe of players.

Where Elomire is wedded to innovation, aesthetic virtue and above all ideas and integrity, Valere (Rylance) is a shameless populist - as well as egocentric, immune to criticism and verbose to the point of verbal diarrhoea. In fact, verbal diarrhoea doesn't really cover it; the fact that Rylance has to remember a twenty-five minute uninterrupted speech probably does. Just. The two stars are undoubtedly superbly cast - Rylance has the chance to be huge, crude and ridiculously over the top, and Pierce channels a little of that Cranian pomposity and incredulity while Valere rambles on (and on and on) about himself, how loved he is, and how he is the great literary genius of the age.

Pierce's brilliance is such that, even while Rylance is stomping around chewing up the scenery, you always keep one eye on him to make sure you don't miss any exasperated reactions. And it's a good job, because his role, perhaps inevitably, is sometimes overwhelmed by Rylance's. Perhaps nothing could ever really compete with an expansive and consistently funny near-half hour speech, but when Elomire's repost - though cutting - finally comes, it rather pales into insignificance, when what you really want is something majestic, operatic in its criticism and in proportion.

All in all, La Bête is something of a Problem Play; both in the sense that it has its problems, and that it literally shares with the likes of The Winter's Tale a propensity to veer from the broadest comedy to moments of real ambiguity and awkwardness. There is, for example, a rather heavy-handed moment when the audience is meant to consider whether it really is Valere who is 'the beast', but then the ending (which I won't give away) seems to drag the audience in one particular direction. And the beauty and brilliance of that long speech - both in the dense imagery of the writing and mesmeric performance - means that the play is top-heavy.

It must be admitted, though, that these problems only really reveal themselves, and indeed intensify, on reflection, far from the auditorium, and some of the uncomfortable moments are certainly intended. While in your seat, you are simply rapt by the central performances and that speech - and Pierce's mute response - has to be one of the most fun 25 minutes to be found in the West End at the moment. An oddity, yes; flawed, certainly; but entertaining? Hugely.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Short blog #3: Karaoke Circus @ The 100 Club (with full orchestra)

It's Karaoke Circus time again, but just a quick snapshot I assure you. The nomadic night found itself back in The 100 Club this time round, complete with Martin White's mammoth Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra and, as ever, its wonderful atmosphere means that it is probably best seen rather than described... So first up, here's the great Tony Gardner putting the imaginary R into Sha(r)ft - a tune which it's an absolute joy to hear played live:

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.

Short blog #2: Doctor Who - The Big Bang

Ah a Doctor Who finale - what a wonderful thing. And what a *different* thing in this case; both from last week's wham-bam-thank-you-mam-throw-in-everything-including-the-Tardis-sink episode, and from anything RTD ever gave us. No "I *sniff* love *sniff* you" through rivers of tears here, not even a monster really (half-baked Dalek doesn't count) - just lots and lots of the timey-wimey stuff that Moffat so utterly loves. (For the differences - good and bad - between how RTD would have handled the plot and Moffat's treatment, see Rob's excellent blog, by the way.)

It was complex and fast-paced and my lord I certainly got a lot more out of it during my second watch. And "It's a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool" is one of my favourite lines ever, of course. True, I'm an emotion-above-art kinda gal at heart and so missed being shamelessly emotionally manipulated, but this was quality, clever stuff, and in a series that veered wildly from the sublime (The Eleventh Hour) to the fun (Vampires in Venice) to the ridiculous (I've still not got over the 'walk like you can see' debacle) it certainly sits firmly on the sublime end of the scale.

A word on Matt Smith - he's ace. I love him. I love his alienness and the fact that he was the most consistent thing about this series. He can stay.

Short blog #1: Paul McCartney, Cardiff Millennium Stadium

All families have stories that are wheeled out at any available opportunity, and the one that is most frequently repeated in the Lowman household is that young Lesley Harrison (mum) went to see The Beatles at the Nelson Imperial Ballroom in '63, stood in the balcony because she wasn't really old enough to be there, and was waved at by none other than Macca.

Skip forward 47 years, and Lesley now Lowman got to see her favourite Beatle, this time with her husband and the kids in whom she had instilled a huge love for him. Yes, me and Paul (the big bro one) spend a not inconsiderable proportion of our lives standing up for Macca against those who say he's cheesy, over the hill, or simply not as talented as John.

Legend is a big word, but you don't get bigger than a Beatle, and McCartney seems anxious to live up to his status, and to his fans' expectations; this gig was three hours long and packed with all the songs you would expect, and several you wouldn't.

So yes, there were the songs that you now simply think of as 'Paul McCartney songs' - like Hey Jude, Yesterday, The Long and Winding Road, even Jet and Live and Let Die - but there were also songs which are undeniably Beatles songs. And there we were, seeing and hearing a Beatle perform them. Incredible - and, in the case of second number All My Loving, really quite emotional for me. Pure, joyful, early Beatles. And dancing along to Back in the USSR and that - as Neil Hannon would have it - divine Beatles bassline of Lady Madonna? Truly magical.

There will now follow a series of short blogs...'s been a bit of a topsy-turvy week with genuine highs - provided by some wonderful gigs, theatre and TV - and lows in the form of an emotional farewell to my kind and much-loved auntie. That all means I'm a bit behind, so I will catch up with a series of short blogs starting with a few words on a Beatle...