Thursday, February 24, 2011

A lovely week

I had, as the title suggest A Lovely Week, last week, seeing as I did rather too much fun and interesting stuff to blog about each individually. So here's my "quick" round-up (I'm hedging my bets with those quotation marks, as I bet it ends up being anything but...)

Monday: Kevin Eldon Is Titting About
Kevin Eldon is a *hugely* beloved comedy performer, and when you consider the fact that he's been in (and been consistently brilliant in) Spaced, Big Train, Nighty Night, Lee and Herring, Brass Eye, Black Books and lots, lots more, it's not really surprising. Neither was it surprising that his first solo Edinburgh show was such a hit last year, and so it was great to have another chance to see it, at the excellent Soho Theatre. Not just stand up, but also character comedy, sketches, songs and - in the guise of the pretentious, hilarious Paul Hamilton - poetry, this show is constantly inventive, and the section in which he talks about deciding what sort of comedy he should do (surreal, confessional, observational) gives him the chance to show that he really can do them all.

Tuesday: Jersey Boys
First, thanks to Scott for the rather fancy tickets at the front of the stalls - it's the only way to see a show, dahling. Second, this is a genuinely fun, engaging musical. The star is undoubtedly the Four Seasons back catalogue - I am astonished that the same man wrote Sherry, You're Just Too Good To Be True, Begging AND Oh What A Night (I mean that's just insane) - but there's also a great story here. In particular 'band leader' Tommy's involvement with the Jersey mafia - and the band's willingness to bail him out despite the general whirlwind of chaos that surrounded him - was fascinating. It's a safe bet, but that's meant in the kindest way possible.

Thursday: Karaoke Circus
A new venue offers a new excuse to bang on about how great Karaoke Circus is, so thank goodness this bi-monthly night relocated to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern last week. That's not the only reason to be happy about the move though - it's also just a wonderful venue, all curves, mirrors, booths and pillars, like a mini-spiegeltent. Perfect. And hey, the performers were pretty good too; among many others we had Margaret Cabourn-Smith channelling Beyonce for Crazy In Love (with partner and guest judge Dan Tetsell on Jay-Z duties), Andrew Collins performing a Carter USM song in front of Mr JimBob himself, Thom Tuck getting us dancing with Cee-Lo's F*ck You, and Pappy's covering the first few rows in glitter during It's Raining Men. Utterly, utterly joy-making.

Friday: David Reed and Thom Tuck work-in-progress
The Pleasance in Islington is very much the place for early versions of Edinburgh shows at this time of the year, and each of the wonderful Penny Dreadfuls is using the upstairs space to try out his own material. Which is pretty exciting. On Friday, non-Dreadful Tom Price chatted about The Youth Of Today and doing warm-up for Loose Women in his lovely support slot, before David Reed gave us three new characters. The first - a kid (or, er, slow adult) reading out his awful-brilliant sci-fi story featuring a gun called Kelly Brook - and third - a terribly posh Doctor suffering from amnesia - were both fab. The second was much odder... dead Spaniard in a sombrero presenting a doughnut who's only dream is to be an acrobat, anyone? Bizarre. But a whole lot of fun. Thom Tuck's show, I think it's fair to say, is further down the development track, and promises to be really ruddy great. Ostensibly about Disney's straight-to-DVD films, Thom weaves little tales of heartbreak between intellectual readings of the likes of Little Mermaid III: Arial's Beginning. Admittedly, having a passing interest (and preferably affection for) Disney helps, but thanks to Thom's ability to make, I suspect, pretty much anything entertaining, it certainly isn't essential - I'll look forward to seeing the full thing this Summer.

Saturday PM: Frankenstein
As you might expect from a production directed by classy Danny Boyle and led by classy Benedict Cumberbatch and classy Johnny Lee Miller, this new production from the National Theatre doesn't go down the schlocky horror route, featuring a groaning dullard with a bolt through his neck. Instead, the Creature (I saw Miller in this role, meaning, excitingly, I got to see Cumberbatch flounce about in a fitted coat as Dr F.) is a sensitively soul - if he has one, which is kinda the point - delighted by learning and logic, and obsessed with the pursuit of true love. The script, unfortunately, lets this production down on occasion, and the pace slows when the Creature spends time with a kindly farmer who teaches him to speak, read and think, but the two main performances are flawless and there are some incredibly powerful, disturbing and atmospheric scenes along the way.

Probably the best character comic around at the moment, Colin Hoult is clearly as good an actor as he is a stand-up, and this show is the perfect showcase for his general ace-ness. The longest section comes courtesy of Andy Parker, an ex-army man from Nottin'um who spends his time selling little drawings of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and acting out his own movie script - and while I've seen this character many times (it being his club set regular), Andy's turn of phrase never fails to make me giggle. Then there's the divorced dad desperate to impress his kid with ridiculous promises he can't possibly keep, luvvie actress Anna Mann, and a bullied boy who we see grow up and take grisly revenge over the course of the show. The sketches are linked by songs and little skits from Hoult's supporting cast, and overall it's an incredibly skillful and creative show.

Sunday: Ben Folds, Lonely Avenue Tour
Well kids, we've made it. We've finally got to Sunday; and what a wonderful way to round off the week. I'm a big fan of Folds's collaboration with Nick Hornby - Lonely Avenue is his best album since Rockin' The Suburbs, probably - and so it was great to see him with four other musicians, all doing full justice to the multi-instrumental approach Ben took to these songs. If you were at the Hammersmith Apollo for old Ben Folds Five stuff, you may have been disappointed (though we did get Kate, Underground, Army and - wonderfully - Mess) but this show proved that Ben's built up a great back catalogue since going solo. He was in really playful mood - goofing around for the photographers, who he invited up on stage - and his set lasted a good two and a half hours. It's just a shame you know it'll probably be another couple of years before he's back in the UK...

Friday, February 04, 2011

Why producers should be fighting over Gutted: The Musical

One of Edward Moore's frankly stunning photos.

I have to admit that I'm not sure whether Gutted creators Danielle Ward (book and lyrics) and Martin White (music) actually want big shot producers to be sticking their hands in their pockets for a West End run or worldwide tour of Gutted - and if not, let's pretend this article is called 'Why Gutted Rocks'. But hey, personally nothing would please me more than to see this superlative comic musical run and run, so here are my reasons why some big impresario should be writing cheques to keep it on the stage...

The book is consistently funny

Often, such focus is placed on the songs in a comedy musical (understandably, I know) that the script can be overlooked. It's either just plain weak, or packed with obvious jokes and terrible puns that have you wishing for the band to strike up again. Not so here. The set-up is that Sorrow marries her parents' killer so that she can then murder his own family, and so make him suffer as she has done - don't worry, it's not as depressing as that makes it sound. And thanks to Ward's sharp wit and evident love of the macabre, this story (plus a love interest, Greek chorus and lesbian side-plot) is a constant joy, mixing silliness with darkness and OTT gags with throwaway winners.

The songs are instantly hummable

Anyone familiar with Martin White's work with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra, or who has seen his previous musical Psister Psycho, will know that he is one uber-talented songwriter and orchestrator - but Gutted could well be his masterpiece. I have only heard these songs twice - once during the show's run in Edinburgh, and again during the wonderful concert staging that prompted this plea for backers - but I could hum you the tunes to most of the songs right now. I won't, you wouldn't hear it, but I could. My personal favourites are the Elvis (Mud?)-inspired first dance Ballad of Rancid Mortimer, power ballad Don't Need No-One, the Victoriana music-hall of In We Should Trust and slow-jam Lost Years - but frankly, they're all instant classic in my eyes.

The cast is to die for

Yes, the way I see it, the entire cast will stay when Gutted transfers to a massive Shaftesbury Avenue theatre. Why change a thing when you have the Penny Dreadfuls as Sorrow's twisted subconscious, bickering over Thom Tuck milking his big moment? Or Michael Legge as the Vicar, adlibbing lines like "Everytime you sin, God bums your Mum and puts the footage on YouTube"? Or Doc Brown, or Margaret Cabourn-Smith? How about Sara Pascoe, JimBob or Lizzie Roper? No, exactly, you would keep them all and be overjoyed about it too. Then there's our leads. In Edinburgh, Sorrow was played by Helen George who brought an angelic innocence to the little psycho, while in the semi-staged version Isy Suttie was brilliantly bitter - both are fantastic. And stealing many scenes as not only Mr Bewlay but four members of his family, the excellent Colin Hoult is hilarious and, quite simply, irreplaceable.

It's cool as hell

Let's face it, musicals aren't always cool - they can be cheesy, quickly outdated or just a bit too jazz-hands. Gutted, on the other hand, keeps all the things that make the best musicals great (catchy songs and zippy dialogue) while adding a streak of joyous bloodlust and a hugely talented ensemble. And that's pretty darn cool.

I wrote this love-letter to Gutted for British Comedy Guide...