16 December 2009

Rope - Almeida Theatre, Monday 14th December 2009

On a night not unlike any other night, Brandon and Granillo commit murder. They kill a fellow classmate in college for the simple sport of it. What do you do to top a murder? Why, you stuff the boy’s body into a chest in the middle of the room and you invite friends over for a dinner served off that very chest. And for good measure you invite the boy’s father too, One of the friends invited over is Rupert, slightly older and more sophisticated.
And it is upon Rupert that the truth behind the secret of the chest in the middle of the room begins to dawn.
Philip Arditti – Sabot
Bertie Carvel - Rupert Cadell
Emma Dewhurst - Mrs Debenham
Michael Elwyn - Sir Johnstone Kentley
Henry Lloyd-Hughes - Kenneth Raglan
Blake Ritson - Wyndham Brandon
Alex Waldmann - Charles Granillo
Phoebe Waller-Bridge - Leila Arden

Creative team:
Roger Michell – Director
Mark Thompson – Design
Rick Fisher – Lighting
John Leonard – Sound

Finally, the Almeida produce something worth seeing. It hasn’t formally opened yet, and I suspect that the critics will be extremely divided in their opinions, possibly seeing this play as a bit of a museum piece. But its extremely well written, directed with panache and, with a few caveats, well acted.

It’s interesting that the director made the decision to set the play in its original period (the 1920’s) which comes as a bit of a shock to anyone who only knows the piece through the Hitchcock film. I must admit that I haven’t seen the film, but still somehow expected it to be set in the 40s. So it was a pleasant surprise to get an “authentic” production (even though I spent the first 10 minutes or so feeling that I had wandered into an Agatha Christie novel), and even more surprising that this is set “in the round”. This decision works well, because it’s quite a claustrophobic piece (particularly for the poor sod in the chest!) and being able to see the audience on the other side of the auditorium enhances this feeling of restriction and airlessness. The chest around which all the action is centred is therefore, quite literally, in the centre of the action and the centre of attention as it commands the middle of the octagonal stage. You therefore can’t actually take your eyes completely off it and it consequently becomes a brooding, menacing presence throughout the entire play, almost taking on a character of its own. Clever, clever! One thing I didn’t like about the production, however, was the final coup de theatre, which struck me as completely unnecessary and somewhat “theatrical” (in the worst sense of the word) - rather as if the director was trying to end the play “with a bang” when really such a well-written piece doesn’t need it.

Acting was practically perfect, apart from one or two slight quibbles. Alex Waldmann was a very milquetoast Granillo, and I noticed that Michael Elwyn played the role of Sir Kentley almost as two people, becoming softer round the edges as the action progressed and more “cuddly” almost, perhaps in a misguided attempt by the director to engender sympathy for the character. Bertie Carvel, however, walks away with the entire evening with his portrayal of Rupert Caddel as a lisping, mincing aesthete with a razor-sharp mind, although it has to be said that his projection was, at times, extremely poor and many of his lines simply didn’t reach us in the back row. This, however, may have been the fault of the production being in the round, which always causes problems as, try as you might to avoid it, the actors always end up with their backs to at least part of the audience. Credit to for Emma Dewhurst for making a good part out of a character who has less than a dozen lines throughout the entire play. I also enjoyed Henry Lloyd-Hughes’ portrayal of Kenneth Raglan for all the wrong reasons – not only did he look and sound exactly like he had stepped off the page of Agatha Christie, but there’s something indefinably sexy about a moustached cad in a well-cut dinner jacket….

My enjoyment of the play was spoiled somewhat by some kind of technical problem with the sound system for the first 15 minutes but thankfully this resolved itself just as I was starting to get irritated by it. I would also like to thank the stupid cow who shoved past me en route to the theatre causing me to drop a brand new library book into a muddy puddle. Merry Christmas, you daft bitch. I hope your bus broke down at the next stop.

What the critics thought:





06 December 2009

Aladdin - Wimbledon Theatre, Friday 4th December 2009

Abanazer – Brian Blessed
Genie of the Lamp – Ruby Wax
Genie of the Ring – Djalenga Scott
Widow Twankey – Jonathan Ellis
Wishey Washey – Paul Thornley
Aladdin – Ashley Day
Princess Jasmine – Leila Benn Harris
Emperor of China – Ian Talbot
PC Pong – Sam Bradshaw

Creative Team:
Writer – Eric Potts
Director – Ian Talbot
Choreography – Sarah Dean
Musical Director – Warran Wills
Lighting – Tim Macall
I admit that I had a really hard time enjoying this – not because there was anything intrinsically bad about the production but because I was feeling terribly depressed about life. And theres nothing quite like a theatre full of people having a jolly time to make you feel worse if you’re coming down with a cold and you’re having a rotten time personally. Particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

The place was packed out, and I have to say that not a single child misbehaved themselves. This can’t be said for the adults- articles have been appearing in the press for a couple of years about badly behaved audiences and the writers of these would have had a field day during this performance. Firstly, I was amazed at just how many latecomers there were – and just how many of these people seemed to have seats right in the middle, forcing everyone else in the row to get up and let them in. The sheer amount of popcorn and noisy sweet-eaters was outrageous. Yes, I know that noisy sweets are a very lucrative sideline for theatres, particularly in panto season, but I think I’m going to start my own campaign against this. Its soooo rude, distracting for the performers and the rest of the audience, and the upcoming generation of theatre-goers is being taught that going to see a show = eating noisy food and slurping drinks, just like going to the cinema is these days, and bugger the irritation it causes everyone else. And it wasn’t just the audience – the front of house staff were major noise culprits as well; constantly walking up and down the side aisles, leaning around at the sides to watch a bit of the show then congregating en masse to have a good, loud talk about it. Absolutely disgraceful – and extremely unprofessional.

Panto is, of course, a traditionally English form of theatre, so I was disappointed that this production soft-pedalled a lot of these traditions. There was no “behind you”- ing, very little “oh, no it isn’t”-ing and no comedy wallpapering scene. There was also only one Chinese Policeman; traditionally there are two, the production company obviously being too tight to pay for a second one (neither had the costume budget apparently run to providing the leading man with a pair of tights – not a good move as it looked like he had a pair of milk bottles hanging out of the bottom of his breeches. He could at least have put some make-up or fake tan on his shins). It was, however, nice to see that one particular panto tradition had been maintained – that of employing a troupe of absolutely hopeless dancers from the type of dancing school generally to be found over suburban supermarkets, in this case “June Pughe’s School of Dance, Allesley” (syllabus includes Jazz, Tap, Ballroom and loft lagging).

Brian Blessed was, well, Brian Blessed (as always). Never will anyone ever convince me that this man can play any part other than Brian Blessed. What I particularly dislike about him is a pathetic habit (one which he shares with the actor Royce Mills) of quite literally asking for applause by either making a gesture with his hands to the audience or, as he did this evening, by actually saying “Come on, that’s got to be worth some applause”. This is something that even the rankest amateur knows is tacky beyond belief. Djalenga Scott was particularly noteworthy as the sexy Genie of the Ring (nice to see this part actually included for once!). Jonathan Ellis was not quite on best form as Widow Twankey (sad fact: Twankey is a blend of Chinese Tea, so the late Mr. Twankey must have been a Tea Merchant) and some of his costumes were quite disappointing. One of the conventions of panto is that the Dame’s costumes are completely OTT, and that a different one is worn for every scene. Here, one costume was worn three times, and one “costume” consisted merely of a purple velour tracksuit that looked as if it had been bought at the local branch of TK Maxx that very afternoon).

Thank heavens for Ruby Wax – the saving grace of the entire production, with a nicely observed, sardonic and sarcastic turn of caustic wit that lanced through much of the saccharine bogging down the stage. The jokes about Pamela Anderson were particularly clever, seeing as the botoxed-to-buggery Ms. Anderson is taking over the role of the Genie in a couple of weeks’ time. In fact, I must quote you (at some length) from Ms. Anderson’s biog in the programme as it is quite heave-inducing:

The most recognisable icon of the new millennium continues to hit her stride again and again in so many different fields. this model, actress, mother, entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist has appeared on more magazine covers than any other star of her generation….. Her unparalleled career in television extends from the extraordinary global phenomenon which was Baywatch to her recent global documentary series Pam – Girl on the Loose. …though she does not think of herself as an “actress”[that's lucky!]..she has collaborated with some of the most esteemed artists and photographers of the age. … Pamela is currently delighted to be launching her own fragrance Malibu by Pamela Anderson, followed by an extensive range of related products. This is now available in drugstores across America and coming to Europe at the beginning of next year. Negotiations are ongoing for the launch of several international spa hotels based around Pamela’s name and her principles [so they will obviously be called the "Waggle your tits at the camera and take the cash Hotels"]…at 41 years old, this powerful woman, devoted mother, sex symbol and style icon continues to live life on her own terms and give meaning to everything she does.

Honestly, she’s got a great career in comedy ahead of her if she wrote that. It would almost be worth going back to see this show when she takes over just to see what an utter tits-up she’ll undoubtedly make of it.
What the critics thought:
(what hacks me off is that that none of the reviewers went to see the first performances of this and therefore Ruby Wax didn't get her deserved review. Everyone waited until Pammie appeared - two days late, apparently)

01 December 2009

Peter Pan - 360degree Theatre, the O2 - Wednesday 2nd December 2009

Look into my eyes and whisper "I DO belive in fairies...."

The Darling household is a place of joy, consisting of the three children, Wendy, John, and Michael; the practical and sometimes stern father, Mr. Darling; the loving mother, Mrs. Darling; and the children’s nurse, a dog named Nana. But sneaking into the children’s bedroom at night to listen to Mrs. Darling’s bedtime stories is Peter Pan. One night, Nana and Mrs. Darling see him and try to stop him, but are only able to catch his shadow as he flies out the window. So they roll it up and put it in a drawer. Peter, of course, wants his shadow, and returns later after Mr. and Mrs. Darling have left for a dinner party. He brings with him his not-very-polite fairy, Tinker Bell. However, when he finds his shadow, he can’t make it stick to him and wakes Wendy as he begins to cry.

Peter is entranced by Wendy and tells her that he had run away the day he was born because he heard his parents talking about all the things he would do when he was a man, and he went to live with the fairies so that he would never have to grow up. Now he lives in Neverland with the lost boys, children who fell out of their perambulators and were never found again.Wendy sews Peter’s shadow back to him, and then Peter convinces Wendy and her brothers, by teaching them how to fly, to return to Neverland with him and Tinker Bell. So off they fly, over the rooftops of London to Neverland, where the lost boys share the island with the mean pirates, led by Captain Hook, and a tribe of Indians led by their chief and princess, Tiger Lily. It was Hook’s greatest desire to capture Peter Pan and his friends because it was Peter who had cut off Hook’s hand and fed it to a crocodile. The crocodile had so liked the taste of the hand that he followed Hook everywhere, waiting for the rest of him. The crocodile had, unhappily, also swallowed a clock, and its ticking warned Hook of any approach.To this magical land Wendy and her brothers fly with Peter Pan. The lost boys, seeing Wendy and spurred on by a jealous Tinker Bell, think her a giant bird and shoot her with a bow and arrow. Peter arrives immediately and sees that Wendy is only stunned, and, after banishing Tinker Bell for a week, he tells the others that he has brought Wendy to them. They quickly build her a house and ask her to be their mother.

The next day, Peter takes Wendy to Marooner’s Rock to see the mermaids. While there, the pirates bring in Tiger Lily, who they have captured and bound and are leaving on the rock to drown at high tide. Peter saves her, and she and the rest of the Indians become their friends and guardians. Eventually, the children begin to worry about their parents and to feel the pangs of homesickness; and they decide it is time to return to their warm beds in London. The lost boys decide to go with them, but Peter will not hear of going if he will have to grow up. Hook and the pirates, however, foil their plans and capture all the children and take them to their ship. Only Peter, with Tinker Bell’s help, avoids capture.

The pirates are about to have their captives walk the plank, when Peter arrives and saves them. In the final fight with Hook, Peter forces the pirate captain to the edge of the ship where he hears the ticking of the crocodile and, unnerved, falls into its waiting jaws.The three children then return home, along with the lost boys, who the Darlings adopt. Peter stays in Neverland, coming to visit Wendy on occasion, but she soon turns into an adult and mostly forgets Peter. However, she has a daughter, Jane, who dreams of pirates, Indians, and magical places far away . .

OK, lets start with some facts. Fact 1: Peter Pan is a very long, wordy play adapted from a very long, wordy book. Both are very much a piece of their time, and are generally thought of as ideal fare for children – by adults, rather than the children themselves. Children are therefore dragged to the play by their parents or grandparents on the slightly suspect basis that it will be “good for them” to be exposed to classic English Literature of the type that only features in some golden Neverland childhood that didn’t really exist. The whole thing is therefore just an adult fantasy of the kind involving crumpets toasted for Nursery Tea before an open fire, Silver Cross prams, Winnie the Pooh and kindly servants straight out of Upstairs Downstairs. Peter Pan is actually quite a tedious play.

Fact 2: The general social demographic of 02 customers is not the kind of person who lives in a four-storey townhouse in one of the better parts of London. They do not generally take their young children to the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens to sail wooden boats, or afterwards serve supper on the Nursery floor in front of the fire, accompanied by another thrilling chapter from Mr. Barrie’s well-known book. The average O2 family (on yesterday’s evidence) is likely to consist of slatternly women in tracksuits trailing a large collection of children fathered by several different men, one of whom has coughed up the substantial amount of money he recently “earned” (by stealing hub caps) for tickets, and who would probably be happier dahn the boozer with his mates getting bladdered or sticking the DVD of Disney’s Peter Pan on to keep the kids quiet for an hour while he spliffs up with the new girlfriend. The children, one of whom has today been excluded from school for extortion and another who has some kind of unspecified “Attention Disorder Syndrome” are both high on the sugar contained in their Jumbo Bucket of Popcorn, have never seen any kind of theatrical performance before and are getting bored and twitchy.

Fact 3: put Facts 1 and 2 together and you have a recipe for disaster.

The evening didn’t get off to the greatest start when myself and Him Indoors, having negotiated our way round 2/3 of the circumference of the O2, (past an enormous array of naff-looking chain restaurants and the saddest, emptiest, most expensive “Christmas Fun Fair” on the entire planet - £4 a ride and they wonder why nobody is on the dodgems - staffed by a pack of sullen faced men who appear to be on day release from Belmarsh and for whom the addition of Santa hats is, frankly, doing nothing) to the “360theatre” have to walk most of the way back again to find the one public toilet in the O2. We then walk the remaining distance back to the entrance in order to find that the cashpoints are not working, and that getting money out involves trailing all the way back to the tube station. In the pouring rain. We walk all the way back to the “360theatre” to find that, having walked all that way under cover, getting to the “360theatre” now involves a 200 yard dash through the rain, the proprietors of which obviously can’t be arsed to pay for a covered walkway for their customers.

A glance at the programme (£5) reveals where the money for the covered walkway has gone. And honey, it ain’t on the cast. Crammed into the first couple of inches of a double page spread, tiny type reveals that there are 4 Lost Boys and 5 Pirates (most of whom seem to be understudying each other). The Pirates also constitute the on-stage band. White Man’s Diseases seem to have decimated the Indian Tribe down to TigerLily, its sole representative. There are 2 mermaids – Mermaid 1 is understudying TigerLily and Tinkerbell, and Mermaid 2 is understudying TigerLily, Tinkerbell and Mermaid 1. The credits for the production team takes the remaining 9/10 of the pages. The Wardrobe Mistress has a dozen Costume Assistants, 2 Deputies, a Wigs Mistress (and Deputy) and 2 Dressers. There are 4 Assistant Stage Managers, and a “Basketwork Co-ordinator” (who obviously provided the laundry hamper) and 83 musicians played the soundtrack. There are 3 Sound Engineers but the entire production is so badly miked that the moment any of the cast turn their back, their words disappear into thin air. As this is “in the round”, people turn their back quite often. The thin amplification has to contend with: rain on the roof, passing aircraft coming into land at City Airport, Latecomers admitted during the quiet bits, Latecomers in Very Loud Shoes, Latecomers Who Sit Down And Immediately Start Eating Popcorn and Latecomers In Loud Shoes Who Sit Down And Them Immediately Go Out Again And Then Come Back In With Two Glasses Of Wine. My blood pressure begins to inch towards Shouting At People Level
The first half 20 minutes of the play is very tedious and wordy, with lots of Edwardian Dialogue. Not much happens and the audience starts to get shifty. Peter Pan flies in, ragged shirt open to the waist and showing off his three Fairy Friends: Fairy Sixpack, Fairy Pectorals and Fairy Biceps. Fairy Tinkerbell, however, is a not the beam of light as Barrie envisaged, nor a twinkly little winged minx a la Disney, but a grubby Punkette wearing DMs, a dirty vest and a filthy tutu with a couple of Fairy Landing Lights sewn into it. Things perk up considerably during the flying sequence, when the entire roof turns into an enormous CGI screen on which the flight over London to Neverland is projected, and everyone ooohs and aaaahs and gets a crick in their neck and starts to feel slightly queasy after five minutes. However, Neverland seems to have shifted location since I last saw Peter Pan and is now not to be found “Second star to the left, and then straight on till morning”, but at the bottom of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens. The Mermaid Lagoon is the Serpentine, and the Albert Memorial sticks up out of the sea. Ah, I get it – the whole thing is being presented as an extended fantasy sequence, with Neverland being made up of aspects of the Darling children’s daily life (for those Readers baffled by this, and who obviously weren’t listening at bedtime, The Little White Bird, the first book to feature Peter Pan, is set in Kensington Gardens). This leads to some interesting ideas; the Wendy House is built using a cot, a couple of blackboards, nursery blankets and a tennis racquet, the pirate’s rowing boat is an Edwardian bathtub and the Crocodile is made out of coathangers and clothes pegs and has footballs for eyes. But the rest of the show is almost incidental to the CGI which switches rapidly between pirate ship, coral reef, Lost Boy hideout, mermaid lagoon, exotic forest etc. Most of the audience spend so much time staring up at this that they start to tune out what is happening on stage. When the CGI isn’t on, they have to contend with lots of Wordy Edwardian Dialogue which tries hard to be funny but is just painful, a loathsome Tinkerbell about whom nobody really cares much and a general feeling that the cast are rapidly giving up the fight to maintain the audiences’ interest. In fact, about 15 minutes from the end, a tiny voice pipes up “I’ve had enough of this” and the whole auditorium erupts in the biggest laugh of the night. TigerLily (Sole Representative of the Indian Tribe) performs an acrobatic dance which is faintly indecent, ending up on her knees in front of an obviously embarrassed Peter and looking for all the world like she is about to go down on him. Mermaid 1 and Mermaid 2 perform a series of vague rope tricks rather than be hooked up to the flying system, which is a major opportunity missed as regards spectacle in the underwater scene. Wendy gets more and more irritating and the entire show maunders on and on and eventually (pun intended) peters out completely.

Of the performances, none really stands out. Ciaran Kellgren makes a good stab at the title role, battling against what is really quite an unsympathetic role when you look closely at it, although I spend most of time looking closely at his Fairy Pectorals. The role of Tinkerbell is badly, badly misjudged by the writers and the hideous, tatty costume lends no magic to the portrayal. Abby Ford was blonde and bland as Wendy (and it irritated both me and Him Indoors that she wore pajamas, which would have been considered indecent for an almost pubescent girl of the period). Neither is she old enough or tall enough to convincingly play the older sister of Michael and John Darling. Jonathan Hyde seemed too weighted down by his dialogue to give Captain Hook anything like the necessary evil swaggering bravura, and his dark, rather tatty costume meant that he failed to dominate the stage visually. Captain Hook should be a panto villan in a bright red and gold frock-coat and an enormous feathered tricorn hat, not a slinky black and silver dressing gown affair. Note for the writer: Captain Hook’s first name is “James”, not “Jas” (although this is invariably how the name was signed during the period, rather like “Thomas” always being rendered at “Thos”. Someone didn’t do their homework properly).

Later, the autopsy report from Great Ormond Street Hospital reads “Cause of Show’s Death – Complete Lack of Heart”.

and a couple from the new run:

18 November 2009

The Tsarina's Slippers - Royal Opera House, Friday 20th November 2009


As the witch Solokha admires the beauty of the moon, the Devil comes and flirts with her. He has come to the village to take revenge on her son Vakula who has painted an insulting image of him on the church wall.The Devil invokes a huge snow storm to cause confusion in the village, making the moon disappear so that he can steal it. He and Solokha ride into the sky on their broomsticks.The villagers, Chub and Panas, get lost in the blizzard below.

Oksana, the village beauty, is at home admiring herself in the mirror. Vakula arrives and declares his love for her but she ignores him. Chub, Oksana's father, and his friend Panas stumble in. In the dark of the blizzard, Vakula does not recognise them and kicks them out, believing them to be intruders.

Solokha and the Devil return from their broomstick ride and the Devil tries to seduce her. There is a knock at the door. It is the Mayor who has also come to woo Solokha; the Devil hides in a sack so he won't be found. There is another knock at the door, and the Mayor hides in a sack. It is the school teacher, he has also come to woo Solokha, and he also hides in a sack. Then Chub enters, also intent on wooing Solokha, he too conceals himself in a sack.Finally Vakula comes in to see his mother. He is miserable after being rejected by Oksana. He exits, carrying off all the sacks.

The villagers dance to celebrate Christmas Eve and one of the boys presents his girlfriend with a pair of slippers. Oksana is jealous and challenges Vakula to fetch her the Tsarina’s slippers. In return, she says, she will marry him. He sets off in despair, leaving all but one of the sacks behind. Solokha’s lovers (except the devil) all pop out of the abandoned bags - to everyone’s surprise.Vakula is so dejected that he contemplates throwing himself in the lake. Just as he is about to fling himself in the water, the Devil pops out of the last sack he has been carrying and offers him a deal: he will help Vakula get the Tsarina’s slippers in exchange for his soul. They fly to St Petersburg to find the Tsarina: Catherine the Great. They enter the palace where a great ball is underway. They marvel at the dancing, steal the Tsarina’s slippers and leave.

Back in the village, both Solokha and Oksana grieve for Vakula believing he has drowned himself in the lake. Vakula appears and they are overjoyed.Vakula offers Oksana the slippers and she agrees to marry him, declaring that it is he she wants – not the slippers.

Creative team:
Composer: Tchiakovsky
Director- Francesca Zambello
Set Designer- Mikhail Mokrov
Costume Designs- Tatiana Noginova
Lighting Designer- Rick Fisher
Choreography -Alastair Marriott

Oxana -Olga Guryakova
Vakula -Vsevolod Grivnov
Solokha-Larissa Diadkova
Chub -Vladimir Matorin
The Devil- Maxim Mikhailov
Schoolmaster- Viacheslav Voynarovskiy
Pan Golova- Alexander Vassiliev
Panas -John Upperton
His Highness -Sergei Leiferkus
Master of Ceremonies -Jeremy White
Wood Goblin -Changhan Lim

Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while ( I HOPE there are more than six; six readers after four years of hard slog does seem a little disappointing, particularly when there are so many people fawning over the likes of the West End Whingers) will know that I don’t “do” opera. The idea of sitting for three hours listening to people sing at each other in Foreign while disguised as their maid or taking an inordinate amount of time to die ain’t really my idea of fun. So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I pencilled this outing onto the calendar in the kitchen a while back. Still, thought I, its Tchaikovsky, so there will be something to hum along to, at least, as well as a vaguely festive storyline (I see that the Royal Ballet are rolling out their incredibly dreary Nutcracker AGAIN this year, while the Birmingham Royal do their fantastic version for those people fortunate enough to live within striking distance of the Midlands). There was a slight contretemps when I announced to Him Indoors that at least Tchiakovsky might be vaguely hummable; he countered with “No, its by Rimsky-Korsakov” and we argued back and forth until an old programme was unearthed from god knows where of “Christmas Eve [the alternate title of the piece] by Rimsky-Korsakov”. I went and had a sulk until I read in the programme a couple of hours later that the original story had been turned into operas by four different composers, among them Tchaikovsky, at which point I became unbearably smug for another couple of hours.

The Opera House was completely and utterly packed out; loads of Russians and people with those insufferable little Jocastas and Tarquins that you get every time something vaguely child-friendly is on there. Standing room only. Sold out for the entire run. All of which makes what happened in the following three hours somewhat of a let-down. Somehow the whole thing didn’t gel. Yes, it was charmingly costumed and the whole thing looked authentically “Russian” in the manner of those little black lacquerwork boxes you get with pictures from Russian fairy tales on them. Yes, there were some very good voices on the stage (but also, it has to be said, a couple of the cast who were distinctly off form). But it looked rather under-rehearsed, with some poor staging of the chorus scenes; people didn’t look as if they knew exactly where they should be standing and there was a lot of vague milling about and gesticulating as a result. Scenes inside houses were very cramped, staged on small “floating” sets plonked at the front of the stage. Lots of opportunities for comedy were missed. Important parts of the story seemed to have been cut in favour of long, pointless recitatives which did nothing to progress it and the ballet sections seemed very badly placed on the stage. The only saving grace for me was, essentially, the final act, which exploded onto the stage as if the lid had popped off a toy box on Christmas morning. Finally the entire thing took on some life and everyone on stage looked like they were having fun. There was a dancing bear (in pointe shoes, a tiara and a tutu), lots of chorus movement, a panto-style walk-down of all the cast, a wonderful sunburst set and the campest exit for the hero and heroine I think I’ve ever seen in an opera; both piled into an enormous gold slipper which was on runners like a sledge. And then it was over.

I felt a bit underwhelmed really and not a little cheated of what I expected to be a fun night out. The pro critics of all the major newspapers have been incredibly sniffy about the entire production; this is just as expected. I sometimes wonder whether opera critics are trained not to like anything they consider "populist". OK, the evening wasn't fabulous, but it wasn't that bad.

What the critics thought:





13 November 2009

Mrs Klein - Almeida Theatre - Friday 13th November 2009


Mrs. Klein is one of the most admired psychoanalysts of her time, but her relationship with her daughter has been damaged almost beyond repair, and unexpected message from abroad brings it to a bitter confrontation.


Mrs. Klein - Claire Higgins
Zoe Waites - Melitta
Nicola Walker - Paula

Creative team:
Director -Thea Sharrock
Design -Tim Hatley
Lighting -Neil Austin
Sound -Ian Dickinson for Autograph
Casting Director - Sarah Bird
Dialect Coach - Jan Haydn Rowles
Fight Director- Alison de Burgh
Assistant Director- Oliver Baird

Goot evenink, you are very prompt. This is good, no? Ven coming for psychoanalysis it is most important to be prompt, so zat ve ken do as much digging around in the liddle grey cells as possible. Zere are many, many dreadful zings to be discovered lurking around in ze depths of zat naughty little brain of yours. Please, to be sitting in zis chair. I am sorry zat it is only a chair, but after so many productions recently at Ze Almeida featuring counselling sessions, I am afraid zat ze couch is now completely worn out.

It vas a goot play, no? Veeeery interezting, veerry … vat? “Freudian”, you say? Ach no, zat Freud he vas a complete sex maniac, seeing villies and boobies and ozzer disgusting leetle bits and pieces of ze body all over ze place, effen vile vandering round zis loffley set, vich as you can see is all red. Veeerry red, veeery claustrophobic. Vat? “Klaus-trophobic”? Vat is dat? Oh, I see, you make the leedle joke. Very funny. I am glad ze set makes you feel so comfortable. Ze set is my drawing room, not a vis-drawing room. See, I make the little joke too, eh? Anyvay , the set is aaalll red. Just like going back to ze vomb, non? See, it has vindows, so it is a vomb viz a view. Ha ha, I make anozzer little joke.

Vould you like a leettle drink? Sherry? From zis bottle zat looks like a penis? No? Visky then? From zis bottle zat also, strangely, looks like a penis? Ach, goot. Let me pour you a liddle visky into zis glass zat looks like a vagina. Gott in Himmel, vat is the matter vis me today? I haf been reading too much about Herr Freud, obviously. Ze visky is very brown, no? Just like the little poo-poos you did ven you ver a liddle baby. I vonder if Herr Freud ever did ze little brown poo-poos? If so, zat probably means zat he hated his mozzer and his fazzer veeeeery much and vanted to have secks viz dem both. Visky is referred to in zis play as "symbolic urine".

So, about zis play. Vat? You found it a liddle “heavy going”? Vy? Did your mozzer play naughty games viz you ven you were a liddle baby doing poo-poos? Ach, goot, I can see zat you vill haf to be coming to me for a loooooong time in my liddle red room. Probably at least for ze second half of ze play. Ach, I haf dropped my pen. Please to be excusing me vile I pick it up. Vere haf you gone, liddle pen? Vere is der little pen…. Is it here? No, here ze pen is! Hmmm…. Pen. Is. Pen. Is. It sounds like “penis”, no? Vat? You zink I am fixating on ze penis? Zat is veeeeery interesting – I must write it down vis my little penis…ach…. PEN and remind myself to ring my analyst zis effening. My anal-lyst, in fact. Vat is this you say? Oh yes, ve anal-ysts are all veeeeery anal. Zat is why ve are called analysts. Ve aaall hate our mozzers and projects those feelings of hatred onto our kinder. Dat is why zey have to have analysts also.

You sink ze play vas a little bit too gloomy? Vy is dat? Zere were lots of veeery funny lines, I sink. Ach, zat is vat ve anal-ysts called “bleak humour”. It is veeeery important to make de silly liddle jokes all ze time, ozzervise ve vould be throwing ourselves off ze cliff. Just like my son. But not to vorry. After nearly two hours of make de liddle jokes and getting all vorked up about villies and poo-poo and blaming our mozzers for ze fect zat we are all monsters and very horrible to each other and our daughters and anyvon else who might happen to come into zis liddle red room – such as ozzer psychoanalysts fleeing from ze Germans who haf volunteered to vork for ozzer psychoanalysts by typing up there latest mansuscript - ve vill find out zat he did, in fect, not throw hizzelf off ze cliff shaped like ze boobie. It vas, in fect, just a liddle accident, despite ze fect zat he vas probably a raving loony from heving me analyse him for all those years ven he was a liddle boy growing up into a naughty teenager interested in villies.

I do vish dat det lady in zer row behind vould stop coughing so. It is veeeeery annoying and I am sure det it means she is suffering from being over-analysed about vanting to hef secks viz her father and vanting to chop off his villie and cover it with visky. Because the visky bottle looks like a penis, no?

Vat? Yes, it is a great shame dat ze couple in the seats next to you decided to leave at ze interval. Perhaps ze play made zem veeeeery depressed. Never mind. You vill probably see zem again veeeeery soon, hanging by de neck from a tree in zer street outside. Did you know, just out of interest, zat ze interval represents the dark void of the vomb?

Vat? You sink I sound like Julie Valters? I em chust doing my best Cherman eccent. Who is dis Julie Valters? Is she anozzer analyst? Ach no, I sink I sound like Claire Higgins. You know her? She is in a veeeeery strange play at ze Almeida, aaaaaall about poo-poo and villies and hating your mozzer.

Vat ze critics thought:




http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/0e24d57e-c7d1-11de-8ba8-00144feab49a.html - can I just point out that several critics have chortled in an extremely over-intellectual way about the “three drawer filing cabinet”, each identified by the title character as “the ID drawer, the EGO drawer and the SUPER-EGO drawer”. What none of them seem to have noticed is that the cabinet on stage actually has FOUR drawers.


03 November 2009

Arturo Brachetti's "Change" - Garrick Theatre, Wednesday 4th November 2009

Synopsis (from the Garrick Theatre website):

The world’s greatest quick-change artist Arturo Brachetti presents the world premiere of his new show written and directed by Sean Foley. In an amazing display of virtuosic skill that simply has to be seen to be believed, Arturo Brachetti brings over one hundred characters to the stage in a unique and spectacular show. From James Bond to the Queen via Johnny Rotten, he transforms between characters in the blink of an eye in an astonishing display of the time-honoured art of quick change.

Arturo’s own distinct brands of humour and charm combine with eye-popping illusions in a show that tells the story of a famed entertainer whose memories of his illustrious career come to life.

Well, what a bizarre night. Him Indoors was convinced that we were going to see Ennio Marchetto even though I’d done my best to persuade him otherwise. Trouble is, I couldn’t come up with his name to do a google search, and the keywords “Italian paper costumes” didn’t really come up with any possibilities. So, we didn’t get to see someone lip-synching Britney Spears and Edith Piaf. Which was a shame.

Having said that, it looked like the audience was doing its best to provide a display of outrageous outfits anyway. Five rows in front we had the old chap in a broadly-striped boating blazer and tie made of exactly the same material so he looked like at least one of his parents had been a deckchair, next to whom was a VERY expensively coiffured woman who looked like she should have been at the opera instead. Immediately in front of us we had the Scum Family, complete with 16 year old son wearing a Burberry Alice band, to the left an impassive Italian with the biggest afro I’ve ever seen on a white man. To the right, an old guy in carpet slippers and a slightly grubby parka (who took a tube of Rolos out of his pocket, opened it, put one in his mouth, put the tube back in his pocket, chewed the Rolo, swallowed it, took the tube out of his pocket, opened it, put one in his mouth…. repeat until tube empty, then drop wrapping on the floor), in the row immediately behind a black guy wearing dark glasses and a trilby. Somewhere off to the right a pair of very expensively suited Suits next to four Japanese lady tourists of decreasing height looking like those wooden dolls you unscrew to find a smaller one inside and, three rows behind us, Bobby Davro (mums and dads, boys and girls!), who spent the entire evening laughing in the manner of Zippy from Rainbow. So, the bello mondo, the alto mondo, the meta-mondotutti, in fact. I think the phrase they use in Theatre-speak is “heavily papered, dharling” – either that or the management were standing on Charing Cross Road with an extremely large butterfly net and dragging in anyone they could catch with it. In fact, we were the only normal people there.

Brachetti’s show is a strange thing, neither fish nor fowl. Essentially he is a quick-change artist/magician, and if you had seen one of his routines involving magic tricks, quick change, shadow puppetry etc on something like the Royal Variety Performance (not that any of my readers would ever watch such a thing) it would completely blow you away. But two hours of it and you start to get desensitised to exactly how incredible the whole thing is. Another problem is that his material is essentially old-fashioned variety but wrapped up in a modern theatrical way; I had to describe it later to someone as a stainless steel gift box with a copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady inside – the two elements feel forced together and somewhat at odds with each other. And because of this, I think that the audience didn’t really know how to react to a lot of it. I mean, what would you make of going to the theatre and sitting watching someone making shadow puppets of bunnies and elephants on a big screen? Yes, I bet the Victorians would have loved it…Him Indoors, of course, loved it but then Him Indoors loves Ken Dodd, for pete’s sake.

Another problem with Brachetti’s material is that it is very uneven. Some of it is brilliant, highly entertaining in a kind of “end of the pier show” kinda way, with spectacular routines involving magic and mind-bogglingly fast costume changes. But this takes a long time to arrive – the first long section of the evening is merely him assuming different characters via costume changes and – basically – standing there waiting for the applause. Which sometimes fails to come. The “linking device” between each section is a rather grandiose multimedia “dialogue” between his “older self” and his “younger self” about “the final transformation”, which turns out to be death itself; all this feels laboured and completely at odd with what we are actually there in the theatre to see. The long end section is based around, and laden with references to, Fellini’s films, starting with The Clowns, then moving to 9½, La Dolce Vita and La Strada. Now, like it or not and however much theatregoers might like to deceive themselves and others about how well they know the works of Fellini, this fell spectacularly flat as it flew completely over the head of the vast majority of people.

The best section was undoubtedly the opening of the second half – a long, visually witty and extremely funny tribute to some of Hollywood’s greatest films. Using the enormous spinning “box of tricks” on the stage as an ever changing backdrop with projected images, doors, windows, ladders and screens, Brachetti proceeds to affectionately send up Nosferatu, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Carmen Miranda films, Shrek, Star Wars, the Harry Potter films, Frankenstein, Lord of the Rings, Titanic, King Kong, Jaws, ET and Cabaret (among others) in an almost never-ending stream of visual jokes and costume changes. Because the very vast majority of these films are cross-cultural references, everyone “got” practically every joke and I thought Bobby Davro (mums and dads, boys and girls!) was going to wet himself. It was brilliant – exceptionally clever, wonderfully paced and something I would happily sit and watch again. Unfortunately, it was followed by the Fellini sequence and this completely deflated the audience again. All in all, the evening was very much like the “Curate’s Egg” – good in parts. But parts of it definitely didn’t work for me, or for many other people by the sound of the very muted applause at times.

Still, I did manage to send an email today to the theatre journalist who wrote an article for the programme and correct a couple of points he made about two Shakespeare plays. Which was nice.

What the critics thought:





24 October 2009

Beauty and the Beast – Churchill Theatre Bromley, Thursday 22nd October 2009

Synopsis: I'm sure you know, and if you don't you should be ashamed of yourself!

Beast – Shaun Dalton
Belle – Ashley Oliver
Gaston – Ben Harlow
LeFou – Eddie Dredge
Maurice – Richard Colson
Mrs. Potts – Sarah Louise Day (understudy)
Cogsworth – Ashley Knight
Lumiere – Phil Barley
Wardrobe – Laura Barrie
Feather Duster – Sophia Thierens
Rug – Chris Cage
Monsieur D’Arque – Daniel Page

Creative Team:
Director/Choreographer – Alison Pollard
Set – Gareth Williams
Costumes – Elizabeth Dennis
Lighting – David Howe

From Broadway to Bromley – how are the mighty fallen! The No. 1 Disney production of this tale “as old as time” (an epithet which could be used about the “girl” playing Belle yesterday), having toured the provinces to the delight of little girls in yellow polyester ballgowns for what seems like an eternity is now being farmed out to touring companies who usually produce “all-star” pantomimes at venues such as the Anvil Theatre Basingstoke and the Grand Pavilion, Rhyl. “UK Productions” is run by two slightly dodgy-looking blokes who look like distant relatives of the Kray Brothers in their programme photos. There’s nothing “all-star” about this Beauty and the Beast – Belle’s biography reveals that “in 2006 [she] featured in a commercial stills photoshoot for Bishop’s Finger Beer” – so not quite Elaine Paige then.

Still, this was a reasonably good, if slightly work-a-day production of something I still wish I had seen when it was on in the West End. If it hadn’t been played quite so cartoony though, it would have been heaps better. Beauty and the Beast is actually quite a dark story (most fairytales are), and this was very firmly aimed towards the very young members of the audience who have spent hours plonked in front of the DVD while their mothers are busy painting the scuffmarks on their white stilettos with tippex. Most of them spent much of the performance screaming (the children, not their mothers). The show veered dangerously towards panto during the first half – scenery and direction for the opening chorus seemed lifted direct from something like Mother Goose, and Gaston and LeFou were played as classic panto villain and sidekick, complete with “comedy” sound effects while trading not-very-convincing blows. I was left thinking that it could have been played a lot more “down the middle”, which would have appealed to a broader range of audiences. Mind you, this didn’t seem to bother the gaggle of Bromley-ettes sitting next to us who spent the entire show with their shoes off and bare feet firmly plonked on the edge of the balcony rail. One of the major criticisms of Disney is that it always goes for the sugary goo in stories and downplays any darker nuances, and the sugary goo is applied with a bucket here to the entire production’s detriment. Its basically a cheesy version of the already-cheesy film version.
There was only one point when the creepy, slightly gothic nature of the story rose though the gloop (and interestingly its an aspect that never appeared in the film) – at several points, the staff of the castle comment on and worry about how they are gradually changing from people into inanimate objects as the spell progresses, nicely reflected in the script and in minor costume alterations – at one point, Cogsworth acquires a key sticking out of his back and the chambermaid’s hands start turning into feather dusters. Its commented on that one of the minor flunkeys is so obsequious that he’s turning into a doormat. It would have been good if this idea had been developed further, along the lines of the Birmingham Royal Ballet production I saw and reviewed in October 2008. However, the idea of giving the wardrobe a back story and making her into a faded opera singer makes little sense – what is an opera singer doing hanging around a royal castle? Still, it gives Cogsworth someone to pair off with at the end, I suppose, and of course everyone must have someone to hold hands with at the curtain call in Pantoland.

For some reason, the second act was played considerably “straighter” than the first, and this improved the production no end. Belle’s feeling of being “different” – she’s described in the programme as being thought odd by the villagers as she prefers books to boys – could have been pointed up and made more of, and would have chimed in nicely with the Beast’s problem of being perceived as something “different” because of the way he looks. Instead, we got the usual wide-eyed Disney heroine whose worries about being thought different are no more than a slight wisp of cloud in an otherwise clear and untroubled sky. Still, its easier to go for saccharine than psychology, isn’t it?

Set changes were impressively slick throughout, although there were a troubling number of front-and back-projections, which achieve nothing but blur the dividing line between live theatre and film, meaning trouble ahead for the next generation of theatre set designers who will find it increasingly difficult to find work, and easy times ahead for directors who will use projections as a lazy option. Some of the special effects were impressive – petals falling off the enchanted rose, the transformation of the Beast back into a human (although it was painfully obvious that there were two people wearing Beast costumes at one point, one keeping his face very obviously hidden and having his dialogue miked over the sound system).

Of the performances, I have to say that Ben Harlow was dreadful as Gaston. Yes, he had the biceps required, but where Gaston should be burly, boneheaded, baritone and butch, Harlow was stringy, soprano and sissy, milking the role for camp comedy value rather than having that “you lookin’ at me, mate?” arrogance that physically beefy but dunderheaded men have when they feel that their brawn is being outclassed by brain. He was obviously cast for his strange but unique ability of being able to grin exactly like a Cheshire cat and show off acres of teeth. He didn’t come across as being any kind of villain and consequently his demise at the end of the show didn’t really register. Ashley Oliver was OK as Belle – if rather too long in the tooth and she has an irritatingly squeaky speaking voice, pitched just below the range at which dogs start to whine. Sarah Louise Day did OK as Mrs. Potts considering that she’s the show’s “Swing” – theatrespeak for someone who understudies any part that needs understudying, whether principal, chorus member or dancer, but played it too young to be the kind of wrinkled motherly influence that Angela Lansbury achieved in the film. She also *gasp* CUT the second verse of Tale as Old as Time at which point I almost demanded my money back. Ashley Knight seemed a bit tired as Cogsworth; very slow to pick up on cues. The banter between Cogsworth and Lumiere should snap back and forth as the two friends try and top each other intellectually, and I felt that this wasn’t happening. Even Phil Barley as Lumiere didn’t seem quite on top form, although he was far and away the best person on the stage; I thought that many of the lines were just thrown away. If the production hadn’t been pitched at the very low intellectual level, perhaps he might have put in a bit more effort. But then Thursday afternoon in Bromley, a week before half-term (bad timing, UK Productions!) isn’t exactly going to be a cerebral fantasmagoria.

02 October 2009

Annie, Get Your Gun! - Young Vic, Saturday 3rd October 2009


When the traveling Buffalo Bill's Wild West show visits Cincinnati, Ohio, Frank Butler, the show's handsome, womanizing star challenges anyone in town to a shooting match. Foster Wilson, a local hotel owner, doesn't appreciate the Wild West Show taking over his hotel, so Frank gives him a side bet of one hundred dollars on the match. Annie Oakley enters and shoots a bird off Dolly Tate's hat, and then explains her simple backwoods ways. When Wilson learns she's a brilliant shot, he enters her in the shooting match against Frank Butler.

While Annie waits for the match to start, she meets Frank Butler and falls instantly in love with him, not knowing he will be her opponent. When she asks Frank if he likes her, Frank explains that the girl he wants will "wear satin and smell of cologne",. The rough and naive Annie comically laments that "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun". At the shooting match, Annie finds out that Frank is the "big swollen-headed stiff" from the Wild West Show. She wins the contest, and Buffalo Bill and Charlie Davenport, the show's manager, invite Annie to join the Wild West Show. Annie agrees because she loves Frank even though she has no idea what "show business" is. Frank, Charlie, Buffalo Bill, and everyone explain that "There's No Business Like Show Business."

Over the course of working together, Frank becomes enamoured of the plain-spoken, honest and tomboyish Annie and, as they travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota on a train, he explains to her what "love" is. Buffalo Bill and Charlie find out that the rival show, Pawnee Bill's Far East Show, will be playing in Saint Paul, Minnesota while the Wild West Show plays in nearby Minneapolis. They ask Annie to do a special shooting trick on a motorcycle in Minneapolis to draw Pawnee Bill's business away. Annie agrees, since the trick will surprise Frank.

As Annie and Frank prepare for the show, Frank plans to propose to Annie after the show. When Annie performs her trick and becomes a star, Chief Sitting Bull adopts her into the Sioux tribe. Frank is hurt and angry, and he walks out on Annie and the show, joining the competing Pawnee Bill's show.

The Buffalo Bill show tours Europe with Annie as the star, but the show goes broke, as does Pawnee Bill's show with Frank. Annie, now well-dressed and more refined and worldly, still longs for Frank. Frank and Pawnee Bill plot a merger of the two companies, each assuming the other has the money necessary for the merger. They all meet at a grand reception, where they soon discover both shows are broke. Annie, however, has received sharpshooting medals from all the rulers of Europe worth one hundred thousand dollars, and she decides to sell the medals to finance the merger, rejoicing in the simple things.

When Frank appears, he and Annie confess their love and decide to marry, although with comically different ideas: Frank wants "some little chapel," while Annie wants "a big church with bridesmaids and flower girls". When Annie shows Frank her medals, Frank again has his pride hurt, and they call off the merger and the wedding. They agree to one last shooting duel. Annie deliberately loses to Frank to soothe his ego, and they finally reconcile, deciding to marry and merge the shows.

Creative Team:
Director: Richard Jones
Choreography: Phillip Gireaudeau
Costumes: Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting: Mimi Jordan Sherin
Musical Arrangements: Jason Carr
Sitting Bull - Niall Ashdown
Annie Oakley - Jane Horrocks
Pawnee Bill - Eric MacLennan
Charlie - John Marquez
Frank - Julian Ovenden
Dolly - Lisa Sadovy
Buffalo Bill - Chucky Venn
The evening didn’t get off to a great start. Thanks to the Young Vic’s unreserved seating policy (booooo!), the queue was through the bar, up the stairs, round the corner, through the ticket hall and into the street, doubling back on itself several times, and threatening to merge with the queue for returns for Inherit the Wind up the road at the Old Vic. Anyone wanting to get a drink or go to the toilet would probably have needed an Indian scout to guide them through the crush. Getting to the cloakroom was like being at Custer’s Last (Hat) Stand. And anyone trying to track the footprints of the Programme Seller through the underbrush would have been severely disappointed as, although this show has been previewing for a week or so, they still hadnt arrived from the printers, which I think is disgraceful. There’s a strange sign right outside the auditorium saying “Annie Get Your Gun Downstairs” – a new fringe production, perhaps? Or an instruction? Whatever it means, its nonsensical as there are no stairs, unless it refers to the stairs up to the balcony, in which case the sign is in the wrong place. The chaos continued inside, where there were a lot of Excuse me, is anyone sitting here? conversations going on and lots of staff saying to people Can you move up?. At one point, cramming everyone in got so complicated that the staff were sending smoke signals across the auditorium to each other while trying to clear enough space for a party of six that had arrived slightly late. And then, two minutes after the curtain (vile mustard-yellow polyester and too long) was supposed to go up, one of the staff arrived carrying a big pile of photocopied sheets with the cast list and production team credits on, stood right at the front to hand them out and several small children, a pensioner and two gay men in plaid shirts were trampled to death in the crush. In fact, not so much Annie Get Your Gun as Annie Get Your Act Together.

The first major shock of the evening was that there was no orchestra, just four upright pianos ranged across the front of the stage where the orchestra pit wasn’t. . This, I suppose, gave the whole evening a folksy, Wild West (or “cheap”, depending on your point of view) feeling, reflecting the period in which the show is usually set. It was a novelty to begin with, but means that you miss out on all of Irving Berlin’s fantastic orchestrations, as well as making all the music seem rather thin and shoddy. Annie Get Your Gun was written in 1946, at the height of the American love affair with the Musical, and having only four pianos pounding away at what should be a lush, razzamatazz score (this is a show about “Show Business” remember) just feels so wrong.

The lights went down (in fact, the lights went up – they were chandeliers made of wagon wheels on ropes which were heaved on by members of the theatre staff – talk about “no frills”). The cheap mustard polyester curtains opened (as they were too long, this meant they swept across the fronts of the pianos – at least one of the pianists had to make a grab for their sheet music as the curtain went past) and the big shock of the night was revealed – this production isnt set in the fabled Wild West of vaguely 1890, but in a vague amalgam of the 1940s and 50s – the time the show was written, rather than the one its set in. This contrasted strangely with the “four pianos and wagon wheel chandeliers” set-up of the auditorium, and makes complete nonsense of a story featuring historical characters such as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill and Chief Sitting Bull. In fact, the confusion permeates the entre show – the entre’act, depicting Annie’s triumphal tour of Europe, is a projected film incorporating Annie into historic filmreels featuring Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the UK 1940 – 45 and 1951 – 55), Ghandi (died early 1948), Hitler (dead by 1945) and Chairman Mao and his Little Red Book (published 1964). Part of Act 2, to go by the costumes, is set sometime in the 50s. Was this the director telling us that the story is timeless, or are there shocking great holes in his “concept”?

Another shock is that the stage is only about eight feet deep, presumably because the auditorium has been designed in a way as to get as many rows of seats in as possible. This means that everything is very linear, lots of straight lines and absolutely no room to dance. The director had a cunning plan to get round this last problem – not having a single dance routine in the entire show. Sorry, but when you’ve got no dancing in numbers like No Business Like Show Business you really do start to feel terribly cheated. As I’ve said before, the entire show is about show business, and this production has practically no show-biz in it whatsoever. The set is almost without exception dreary, there's a see-through swing door plonked right in the middle which is very annoying and terribly over-used, and there's a strange upper level to the set giving a small room "upstairs"; thankfully this isnt used very much because practically nobody sitting left of centre out front can see into it. Horribly, the very final scene between Frank and Annie takes place in this and half the audience couldn't see what they were doing.

The lack of pazzaz and sparkle even extends to the cast. Yes, Jane Horrocks is charmingly kooky, and her interpretation entertains for a while, but she’s not a big enough personality to bring the thing off. I have sympathy for her - doing this part must be like playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Every actress who plays this part has to wrestle with the ghost of Edith Evans, and every actress who plays Annie Oakley has to wrestle with the ghost of Ethel Merman, and also the recent memory of Bernadette Peters in the Broadway production. Horrocks just can’t cut it – there isnt enough theatrical weight behind her and Merman wins by at least three falls and a submission, if not a total Knock-Out. There’s also far too much reliance on Horrocks’s established stage persona – slightly Northern vowel sounds, crossed eyes and pursed up lips, which gets tiring after a while - and she doesn’t scrub up well enough to make the transition to glamorous leading lady in Act 2 (although there is a huge, unintentional laugh during Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better when she sings about how well she fills her girdle – Horrocks’s chest is like two peas on an ironing board). Lots of the second act looked horribly under-rehearsed.

Chucky Vennis a complete failure as Buffalo Bill. Not only can he not sing a note, he can’t act, is the wrong ethnicity (yes, I know its called “Integrated Casting” but Buffalo Bill was NOT black), is far too young for the part and is even the wrong body type. We all know what Buffalo Bill should like like – Howard Keel. Big and burly with long white hair and a big droopy moustache. Big Chief Sitting Bull is played here by Niall Ashdown, a tall, pasty-faced caucasian wearing a dreadful “Injun” wig that makes him look like Fenella Fielding in Carry On Screaming (and while I’m on the subject of bad wigs, the ladies in the chorus wear the worst-dressed wigs I’ve ever seen on stage – hideous!).

Still on the subject of hair, the book has also been scalped. There’s an entire romantic sub-plot gone missing somewhere as two major supporting characters have been cut out. A lot of their lines and one of their songs (which has been moved to the second act and, frankly, should have been cut completely) have been given to John Marquez as Charlie and Lisa Sadovy as Dolly. Now, here I change gear slightly and praise something. Marquez is completely wonderful, and is a joy to watch (as he was in The Good Woman of Schechuan at this venue last year. He plays his part with a great Noo Yoick accent, has total mastery of comic timing and could easily play one of the gangsters in Kiss Me Kate, so perfect is his characterisation. Sadvoy however, is far too old for her role, is deeply annoying and looks hideous in her red fright wig. I rather wish that Jane Horrocks had missed the bird on her hat and blown her head off instead.
Julian Ovenden, though looking eerily like a very young John Barrowman, was a brilliant, if not definitive Frank - very sexy in a veritable parade of increasingly OTT cowboy shirts and, finally, a pair of trousers so tight that you could almost read the cleaning instructions. However, it seemed that some of the songs hadnt been transposed for his tenor voice (Frank is usually a baritone, or even a bass-baritone) and there were a couple of occasions when he had to jump up from the register he was singing into one in which he was more comfortable. Ironically, this was most obvious in the song that Jane Horrocks was also having trouble pitching - in this case though it was written too high and she had to keep swooping down. He has great stage presence, great hair, a great voice and a great bod - its only a shame that he hasn't got a great Annie Oakley.
All in all, it was a spectacularly disappointing evening, and I came away feeling really cheated of what should have been a night full of escapism, great show choonz and outrageous costumes. The production was mildly entertaining, but completely ran out of steam very early on in the second act. I was forced to do my Ethel Merman impression on the train on the way home to compensate for such a dreary evening. And if you've never heard They Say That Falling in Love is Wonderful sung by a 6'4" bloke on the 2325 Waterloo East to Mottimgham then honey, you ain't lived.

What the critics said:

28 September 2009

ENRON, Royal Court Theatre, Wednesday 30th September 2009

Synopsis: Based on true events, ENRON goes from a relatively small gas and oil company to one of the most successful companies in the world. Its dramatic expansion and ever-increasing stock price hide the fact that the coffers are empty and that something nasty is lurking in the basement....

Creative Team:
Written by Lucy Prebble
Directed by Rupert Goold
Design: Anthony Ward
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Music and Sound: Adam Cork
Movement: Scott Ambler
Video Design: Jon Driscoll

Samuel West - Jeff Skilling, President of ENRON
Tim Pigott-Smith - Ken Lay, Chair of the ENRON board
Tom Goodman-Hill - AndyFalstow, ENRON Chief Finance Officer
Amanda Drew - Claudia Roe
With: Gillian Budd, Peter Caulfield, Howard Charles, Andrew Corbett, Cleo Demetriou, Amanda Drew, Susannah Fellows, Stephen Fewell, Tom Godwin, Ellie Hopkins, Orion Lee, Eleanor Matsuura, Ashley Rolfe and Trevor White

You get on a plane, you don't understand exactly how it works, but you believe it'll fly. And if you got out of your seat and said "I'm not flying, I don't understand how it works", you'd look crazy. Well, its like that. Except, imagine if the belief that the plane could fly was all that was keeping it up in the air. It'd be fine. If everybody believed. If nobody got scared. As long as people didn't ask stupid questions about what it is that keeps planes in the air"

To Sloon Skwyare, to the Royal Court Theatre, somewhere I’d never been before. Ironically, as this is the theatre where lots of plays about kitchen sinks were first performed and is thus the birthplace of “Theatre for the common man”, the place was heaving with Henrys, Caspians and Jamies – the kind of brayers who have first-hand experience of ENRON-type companies on a daily basis and for whom “kitchen sink” means the place under which Anna, their Taiwanese cleaner (in the country without a work permit, but happy to work like a dog for 17p an hour and eat plate-scrapings, such a find) sleeps during her few off-duty hours.

In fact, Anna probably has more room among the spare toilet rolls and bottles of Fairy Liquid than there is available for your legs in this theatre. I spent nearly three hours crammed into a seat so tiny that my chiropractor has had to cancel his golf on Sunday in order to unbend me. But, dear Reader, such is my devotion to the dwama that I will undergo any trial in order to tell you about the hottest show in town this autumn. Sold out, full house, returns only but don’t get your hopes up, get one of the West End Whingers to donate their ticket because they’re in Jordan and can’t go (no jokes about Peter Andre, please).

Him Indoors had rolled his eyes and muttered “Obsessed” when I expressed an interest in going to see this. Yes, I’ve followed the ENRON story but no, not obsessed – I just take an inordinate delight in seeing a certain kind of person get their comeuppance. Politicians, bankers, corporate fat cats, particular hospital managers – I do like to see a calling card from Nemesis on the silver tray on their hall table. And these particular corporate fat cats had practically cornered all the markets in hubris, so it was a great delight to sit and watch their downfall. And what a downfall. In fact, it wouldn’t be at all out of place to compare this play with Greek Tragedy, so expertly does it depict the rise and fall of those who would equate themselves with the Gods.

If presented as an ordinary play, this would be unbearable to watch. But with Light Sabre-wielding brokers, twisted accountants portrayed as ventriloquists dummies and Jurassic Park raptors stalking the basement (to say nothing of the Lehman Brothers portrayed as Siamese Twins, both inside the same enormous jacket and "the market" personified as the Three Blind Mice) its still unbearable – but in a can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-stage-but-have-to-look-through-your-fingers way. What is essentially a multi-media presentation with a play woven through it becomes immediate, powerful and an utterly compelling lesson on the evils of capitalism, how it devours the morals of those falling under its spell and how it can ruin the lives of innocent people (no, please don't bother leaving pro-capitalist comments because I won't publish them).

Tim Piggott-Smith gave a terrific performance as Ken Lay, Chair of the ENRON board; paternalistic yet creepy, overlaid with all the cigar-waving insincerity and false bonhomie of Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard. Sam West (Member of the "They Who Can Do No Wrong" club) actually managed to make Jeff Skilling a strangely sympathetic character, progressing from uber-geek with comb-over and Joe 90 glasses to sharp-suited, slicked back lizard in a $1500 dollar suit and handmade shoes. There was more than a touch of Hannibal Lecter about his performance towards the end (those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad), particularly in the chilling closing speech in which he expresses his continued belief in (and almost worship of) "the market". Tom Goodman-Hill was completely credible as Andy Falstow, evil architect of ENRON's continued rise and keeper of the raptors in the basement

I think it was the raptors that really made this production for me. City-suited men with head-covering dinosaur masks (complete with creepy red-light eyes), they personified the companies-within-companies that ENRON "fed" with the debts they wanted to keep off their balance sheets, giving those of us in the audience with little or no knowledge of how financial markets work an easy way of understanding the complex procedures involved by turning the abstract ideas involved into something concrete and almost visceral. The play is full of clever ideas like this, which inform the audience without going into tedious detail. Lighting and choreography were excellent, blending seamlessly into the production - and incidentally providing much-needed light relief at times. And it was a masterstroke to have an electronic ticker-tape display showing share prices (with ENRON's highlighted in yellow each time) constantly flickering across the back of the set - as the price edged higher each time, it really became the focus of everybody in the audience's attention (exactly how this had been in real life for the ENRON executives) and I certainly couldn't tear my eyes away each time the display lit up. It was perhaps only right at the very end that the play ran out of steam - as it was put to my by Him Indoors "Once Julius Caesar is dead, the rest is a bit boring and you want to go home". Perhaps if it had ended with the incredibly moving scene in which two of the "ordinary people" ruined by the ENRON crash explain just how their lives had been changed, rather with than a long, rather dull speech by Skilling in which he tries to justify his actions, the evening might not have felt as if it ended with a whimper.
I was only just prevented from marching on Canary Wharf with a flaming torch and a pitchfork on the way home. This is a "must see" - but it might be a good idea to invest in some leg-room.

What the critics said:


http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jameshall/100000989/enron-play-is-gripping-allegory-for-our-times/ - what I particularly like about this review is that it has obviously upset some Capitalist Suit who felt the need to ridicule it in a comment at the end – which is even more entertaining than the review itself and goes to show a) how closely this play has hit home and b)what a blinkered world these people live in.



22 September 2009

Guest Review - Surrey Opera@ Chequer Mead, East Grinstead - The Barber of Seville - Saturday 12th September 2009


Count Almaviva, a Grandee of Spain, is desperately in love with Rosina, the ward of Doctor Bartolo. Figaro is Bartolo’s barber, and, learning from the Count of his heart’s desire, immediately plots with him to bring about his introduction to Rosina.

She is strictly watched by her guardian, who himself plans to marry his ward, since she has both beauty and money. In this he is assisted by Basilio, a music-master. Rosina, however, returns the affection of the Count, and, in spite of the watchfulness of her guardian, she contrives to drop a letter from the balcony to Almaviva, who is still with Figaro below, declaring her passion, and at the same time requesting to know her lover’s name. Figaro tells her that the man is Signor Lindor, claims him as cousin, and adds that the young man is deeply in love with her. Rosina is delighted. She gives him a note to convey to the supposed Signor Lindor. Meanwhile Bartolo has
made known to Basilio his suspicions that Count Almaviva is in love with Rosina. Basilio advises to start a scandal about the Count.

To obtain an interview with Rosina, the Count disguises himself as a drunken soldier,and forces his way into Bartolo’s house. The disguise of Almaviva is penetrated by the guardian, and the pretended solider is placed under arrest, but is at once released upon secretly showing the officer his order as a Grandee of Spain

The Count again enters Bartolo’s house. He is now disguised as a music-teacher, and pretends that he has been sent by Basilio to give a lesson in music, on account of the illness of the latter. He obtains the confidence of Bartolo by producing Rosina’s letter to himself, and offering to persuade Rosina that the letter has been given him by a mistress of the Count. In this manner he obtains the desired opportunity, under the guise of a music lesson Figaro also manages to obtain the keys of the balcony, an escape is determined on at midnight, and a private marriage arranged. Now, however, Basilio makes his appearance. The lovers are disconcerted, but manage, by persuading the music master that he really is ill -- an illness accelerated by a full purse slipped into his hand by Almaviva -- to get rid of him.

When the Count and Figaro have gone, Bartolo, who possesses the letter Rosina wrote to Almaviva, succeeds, by producing it, and telling her he secured it from another lady-love of the Count, in exciting the jealousy of his ward. In her anger she disclosed the plan of escape and agrees to marry her guardian. At the appointed time,
however, Figaro and the Count make their appearance-the lovers are reconciled, and a notary, procured by Bartolo for his own marriage to Rosina, celebrates the marriage of the loving pair. When the guardian enters, with officers of justice, into whose hands he is about to consign Figaro and the Count, he is too late, but is reconciled by a promise that he shall receive the equivalent of his ward’s dower.

Rosina - Kelly Sharp
Count Almaviva - Yuri Sabatini
Figaro - Jeremy Vinogradov
Bartolo- Gabriel Gottlieb
Basilio -Leon Berger
Berta - Katherine Price
Fiorello -Samuel Queen

Creative Team:
Director - Mark Hathaway
Design team: Susan Beattie, Francesca Branch
Conductor - Jonathon Butcher

The lovely people at Surrey Opera once again provided me with free tickets for this production. Unfortunately I was going to be away on holiday when this was on. I was sad to miss the opportunity to see the show but, rather than waste the tickets, passed them to a friend and asked her to attend on my behalf. This review was kindly provided in my absence by Vanessa C.

Lovely little theatre. The Set got the first applause – even if it was only three people. It was very simple and effective, quite bare and hard, but gave an excellent platform for the show with the balcony providing a second level for action and with the arches below making it a super space for all the sneakings in and out and busy-ness of the Barber.

I was dreading the orchestra – but what a delight! They were the best thing about the whole evening. A fabulous start (despite the backstage banging) to what turned out to be a rather weak show vocally. Neatly held together by Jonathan Butcher, the band made an excellent sound in what can be such a mess of an overture, and they continued throughout the show with some great solo playing from all of the sections.

I personally favour operas performed in the original language. One of the reasons being that singers too often forget about their technique when singing in English (because, I guess, they are trying to enunciate too much) and so the vocal line together with the support totally disappear. Surrey Opera’s performance was a complete example of this, particularly with Kelly Sharp, who proved to be a good actress, but who is not, in my mind, an opera singer – very pretty, but inaccurate, unsupported, no vocal line, singing, particularly in her oh SO well-known aria, she should have known better!

The selection of voices for the performance was disappointing – with so many thousands of singers around, why is it not possible to find singers who look good, can act AND who have a technique and most importantly, who have a ‘voice’. It is all very well having people running around and being funny but what about the voices? The actual quality of sound made by these singers was dismal. The inability to colour the sound, the lack of control – the inability to sing quietly but still with focus, the obviously lack of training to support the voice – particularly with Rossini – underneath all the runs – was evident throughout. Shaking the head violently whenever they are supposed to sing a grace note, or strutting around the stage from left to right at the beginning of each run thrusting an arm out like a sword, is just irritating.

Which brings me to Yuri Sabatini. I was excited when I read in the programme about an Italian singer, etc., etc. But after a couple of minutes my bubble was burst when Count Almaviva started to sing, and even more so when he forgot his lines and asked for a prompt (was it three times) instead of just singing anything…I mean WHO is going to know that he has got the translation wrong…and for him to have come right out of character (his whole body did a kind of “oh damn it of COURSE that’s what the stupid word was how silly of me, thanks Jonathan) – dreadful dreadful.

The worse thing for Sabatini was that his first entrance was to sing after the best vocal instrument in the show – Samuel Queen. He has a lovely fresh, baritone, evenly placed and free, and his voice made a stark contrast to the pinched, nasal, laboured vocal production of the Count.

The Chorus however were excellent. They had delightful costumes and made many pleasing pictures – all the maids with their numerous duties and up-and-downing of stairs and sweeping looked great. And the chaps in the band at the beginning sang and acted well, with nicely understated humour. I don’t quite understand the costumes for the soloists however. The Count (sorry to get at him again) at the beginning had a very weird tabard-thing going on that was way too big for him, and Bartolo had a massively distracting wig, so much so that one couldn’t really see his face – which is always disappointing. Figaro, who was very dashing, wore boots with metal tips that made a lot of unnecessary noise.

Overall the production was visually pleasing and entertaining and the orchestra really excellent. I can quite understand how an audience would have found the show an extremely enjoyable night out – the humour and of course the story come across so well particularly with the Holden translation. For me, however, I was disappointed by the solo voices.

Final comment: Hoorah for Jonathan Butcher!

The Barber of Seville is a “prequel” to Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro (or “Figaro” is a sequel to “Barber” depending on your pov).

The overture is played during the end credits of the Beatles film Help! “Largo et Factotum” (arguably the most well-known piece of music from the opera) has been parodied by Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry and Homer Simpson, among many others.

Rossini composed the opera in little more than 2 weeks. Time to prepare for the first performance was limited so he borrowed the plot of a story that had earlier been used in an opera by Giovanni Paisiello. Paisiello was quite angry at this so he sent a group of loyal friends to disrupt the opening night of the opera. They booed and hissed and threw things on the stage. This made the singers nervous and caused one to trip on his robe; another broke a guitar string; and a third fell through a trapdoor. Someone even let a cat loose on the stage. The opera ended up even funnier than Rossini had intended.

During a performance in Cincinnati in 1952, four audience members died during Act II.

10 August 2009

Shall We Dance[?] - Sadler's Wells - Wednesday 12th August 2009

Synopsis (official version):

Set to a score comprised entirely of melodies by Richard Rodgers, Shall We Dance[?]tells the story of one man's extraordinary quest to find true love. His panoramic voyage transports us from the Orient to the Wild West by way of Russian folk dance, New York jazz and the delirious waltzes of a Viennese ballroom.

Synopsis (actual version):

The Guy works in a nightclub. There is a lot of dancing. The Guy can't find a decent shag, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. He is picked up by a cute-looking drunk who becomes His Friend. Awwww! They join the Navy and sail off round the world. They land in Vienna [which is nowhere near the sea. The backdrops all show Notre Dame so this is obviously Vienna, France]. They gatecrash a ball; there is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs a princess, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. The Princess's boyf isn't best pleased. The Guy and the Cute Friend get chucked out. Boooo!

They go to Russia where some creepy puppet show is being performed at a fair; there is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs a peasant girl, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. The Peasant Girl's boyf isn't best pleased. The Guy and the Cute Friend get chucked out. Booo!

They go to Some Oriental Place [with a Chinese Dragon and music from The King and I, so this is obviously Beijing, Thailand]. They gatecrash a betrothal ceremony; there is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs the bride-to-be, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. The bride-to-be's boyf isn't best pleased. He seals The Guy inside a barrel and throws it in the sea. Booo! The Cute Friend disappears completely from such plot as there is. Awwww!

The barrel is washed up on the coast of Oklahoma [which is nowhere near the sea], where there is a Hoe-down in progress; there is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs a Cowgirl, not realising The Right Girl is nearby. The Cowgirl's boyf isn't best pleased. The Guy gets chucked out. Boooo!

The Guy returns to Noo York and goes to a seedy club. There is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs the Mafia Boss's moll, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. The Mafia Boss isn't best pleased. He shoots at The Guy but misses and kills The Moll. The Guy isn't best pleased. He kills The Mafia Boss. The Guy finds The Right Girl! She has Loved Him All The Time and The Guy Never Realised! Hurrah! There is a lot of dancing!

Adam Cooper: The Guy
Emma Samms: Swing Girl
Lorraine Stewart: European Girl
Rachel Muldoon: Russian Girl/Dance Captain
Noi Tolmer: Eastern Girl
Pip Jordan: Wild West Girl
Sarah Wildor: Slaughter Girl
Ebony Molina: The Right Girl
Tom Dwyer: The Friend

Creative Team:
Director, Choreographer and all round luvvie: Adam Cooper
Musical Supervisor: Richard Balcombe
Designer: Paul Farnsworth
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Video projection: Thomas Gray
Sound: Matt McKenzie
Associate Director: Kenn Burke
Mr. Cooper's muscles lovingly buffed up with: Johnson's Baby Oil

I'm on the warpath, filled with righteous anger. I'm writing to The Daily Mail, Watchdog, Lynne Truss and anyone else who will listen. The title of this show is a quotation, taken from the great number in Rodger's and Hammerstein's The King and I, "Shall We Dance?" You know the one (altergethernaw):

"Shhhhaaall weeeee dance? pumpumpum

On a bright cloud of music shall we fly? pumpumpum

Shall we dance? duh um pumpum

Shall we both say 'Goodnight' and mean 'Goodbye'? umpumpum

Or perchance pumpumpum when the last tiny star has left the sky deedeedee

Shall we still be together with our arms around each other

And will you be my new romance?

On the clear understanding that this kind of thing could happen

Shall we dance? Shall we dance? Shall we dance?" duh um pum pum

and, as you can see from the context of the verse, the use of the word "shall" means this refers to a possibility and is therefore clearly a question, not an imperative. And as we all learned on practically our first day at school, along with our teacher's name and the location of the toilets in case of emergency, questions are followed by a question mark. So where's the question mark, Mr. Cooper? Harrumph!

Even without punctuational indignation, the evening got off to a rocky start. It pissed down with rain (we're talking 40 days and 40 nights here) and we discovered that our favourite pre-Sadler's Wells greasy spoon caff now closes every day at 4pm, so we were cold and wet and there was no chance of a lovingly-crafted friedeggsbeanschipsandacuppateathreefiftydarlincheers. I could have cried. So I wasn't really in the best frame of mind when the curtain went up. Still, things could have been worse. I could have actually been in this. Honestly, what a crock of banal shit.

This was just a lame excuse for a rummage through the dressing-up box (Oooh look, here's a stetson. We can do a cowboy dance! I've always wanted to do a cowboy dance! And a peasant blouse. Can we squeeze in a Russian section somehow?) and a chance to throw together some well-known (and some considerably more obscure) show choonz, cobble them together with some vague semblance of a plot that requires a lot of dancing and stalk around the stage looking moody, wearing a black vest so that we can all see your biceps. And, preferably, adulate.

Well, there seemed to be plenty of people in the audience last night prepared to adulate at the shrine that is Adam Cooper. But I'm not of one of them. Sure, Cooper can hoof it up. But choreographer or dramatist he ain't. You would have thought that someone with all his classical training, who spent many years perfecting his craft under Matthew Bourne (no sniggering at the back, please) could put a few dance steps together and come up with a decent storyline. But Shall We Dance [?] just shows the truth of the Oriental proverb: The Pupil must become better than the Master in order to become a Master himself, Grasshopper. But the Pupil hasn't learned, preferring outward show for inner depth. The choreography is flashy yet uninspired, empty and repetitive (the same lifts occur time and time and time again). The "storyline" would disgrace Jackanory and has the dramatic shape of a plate of cabbage. There's no characterisation, just Adam Cooper. The one inspired section of the entire evening - the tapdancing Hoe Down - comes too late to save the show from banality. Cooper, carefully togged out entirely in black to draw the eye, places himself both outside and above rather than of the company throughout the entire evening. The craving for adulation is almost palpable, but as Dorothy eventually discovers in The Wizard of Oz, if you pull back the curtain and look past the smoke and mirrors, The Great and Powerful Oz is a bit of a humbug, a false idol. And one that can't punctuate.

GEEKERY: Rodgers is one of only two persons to have won an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy, a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize (Marvin Hamlisch is the other).

Rodgers was considering quitting show business altogether to sell children's underwear, when he and Hart finally got their first hit in 1925.