Thursday, 15 July 2010

Curtains! - Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Monday 12th July 2010


Robbin' Hood of the Old West, a bad Western adaptation of the Robin Hood story is reaching its conclusion. The untalented leading lady, Jessica Cranshaw can't sing, act, dance or remember when to say her lines. To the relief of everyone, she is murdered during her opening night curtain call. The entire company comes under suspicion, and Lt. Frank Cioffi of the Boston Police Department is called in to solve the homicide. Believing that the perpetrator is still in the building, he sequesters it.

The suspects include the hard-bitten producer, Carmen Bernstein; her husband, Sidney; the show's flamboyant director Christopher Belling; divorced songwriting team Aaron Fox and Georgia Hendricks; Stage Manager Johnny Harmon; choreographer/leading man Bobby Pepper, ingénue Niki Harris, and ambitious chorine Bambi Bernét.
The company use its spare time to attempt to fix the show's problems. Niki, Ms. Cranshaw's understudy, is passed up for the leading role in favour of Georgia, who is encouraged to take the role despite the protests of Aaron, who has fallen in love with her again. Cioffi, a theatre fan and amateur actor, becomes more involved with saving the show than solving the case. Cioffi finds himself falling for Niki, and she seems to return his affection, so he hopes she's not the murderer. Meanwhile, secrets are surfacing, the production numbers in Robbin' Hood are rewritten, rehearsed and rewritten again, and the body count is rising. Can Cioffi solve the case, save the show, and get the girl before the curtain rises without getting offed himself? This is a musical, after all!

Jessica Cranshaw: Sophie Colquhoun
Randy Dexter: David Walmsley
Niki Harris: Eleanor Wyld
Bambi Bernet: Emma Fisher
Bobby Pepper: Nikesh Patel
Georgia Hendricks: Lily Fox
Aaron Fox: Henry Gilbert
Carmen Bernstein: Paloma Oakenfold
Christopher Belling: Patrick Osbourne
Lt. Cioffi: Fred Lancaster
Creative Team:
Director: Martin Connor
Choreographer: Bill Deamer
Musical Director: Steven Edis
Designer: Tom Rogers
Lighting Designer: Mark Jonathan
"Fame costs - and right here's where you start paying......" Was that Mr. Shorofsky strolling past being curmudgeonly about Bruno's latest electronic interpretation of Beethoven? Did I just see Doris Schwartz coming back from the local deli with pastrami on rye? Was that smell wafting along the corridor the tang of Debbie Allen's leotard after a hard morning's session in the dance studio? No, dahling - nobody here would do anything quite so declasse. For this is not the New York High School for the Performing Arts but the privileged environs of the Guildhall, luvvie, and these old dears are not here because Irene Cara is dancing on the roof of the black cab which dropped them outside but because they're checking that their darling grandchild is spending their Trust Fund wisely in preparation for Life upon the Wicked Stage (preferably in Something At The National or maybe the RSC). For many, of course, life is going to be unkind and they will end up waiting tables or going into accountancy. For others, life will be really fucking unfair and they will end up in Holby City. But until then, its a constant round of "five, six, seven, eight" or gathering from the buttocks while walking around dressed entirely in Ralph Lauren's Polo and sending the bills to Mummy and Daddy, who can't be here because this is a Monday matinee; Mummy is in the Chair at the Townswomen's Guild and Daddy has to soil his hands with work, for chrissakes, but the Gramps are here so hurrah!

Reading the programme is just as entertaining as watching all the Trustafarians milling in the corridors lugging bongo drums, pushing racks of costumes or discussing what Shakespeare may have had for breakfast the day of King Lear's first performance. There's a "News about Last Year's Graduates" page, which makes entertaining reading; a couple look like they might be onto something relatively big, others are doing sterling work in the provinces - but poor old David Kirkbride has really lucked out and his only credit to date is, indeed, the dreaded Holby City. Given that The Bill has finished its long, long run now, all the rest of last year's lot are apparently already Resting, mugging up on compound interest, wiping down lunch tables or have put their head in the Aga. There is a very strange smell coming from a man in the row in front. He's wearing a skull and crossbones beanie, is pushing a Womble Trolley and obviously hasn't washed for a while. He's either a tramp or gloriously eccentric, dahling. Perhaps he is related to the Marquis of Bath.
Despite some earlier reservations, I do actually quite enjoy the show, which is as about as daft and engaging as you can possibly get, performed with that fresh-faced optimism that only drama students can possibly get away with. There are some very good performances, some average performances, some crap performances and a couple of performances which are destined to take the person giving them direct to Casualty - these people are certainly not gathering from the buttocks. Runaway star of the entire afternoon is the utterly gorgeous Fred Lancaster, who gives a performance of immense charm and gives the part of Cioffi everything that you want from it. He has enormous, brown Bambi eyes and I sit there in the dark fantasizing about gazing deep into them while doing unspeakable things to him. A Great Future awaits Mr. Lancaster - or at least it will do if I ever get my hands on him. Lily James makes a very good stab at her part but doesn't quite manage to convince in the shift from ingenue to tart with a heart, and she's a little pushed at the top of her vocal range - the part is simply just that bit too high for her. Paloma Oakenfold also makes a good stab at the part of the middle aged producer but doesnt quite make it; the accent comes and goes and so does the characterisation. Probably the show's most famous song - It's a Business - is again just that little bit beyond her as it needs an Ethel Merman-esque belt which she simply doesn't have. But she has excellent timing and is a generous performer, although I suspect that serious drama is going to be more her area of expertise than comedy. Patrick Osbourne is hysterically funny as Christopher Belling, the Director, playing the part for all it is worth and more and walking off with every scene, channelling Julian Marsh, the Director in 42nd Street and getting away with it. There's a very fine line between parody and over-egging it, and Belling knows just which side of the line to mince along. Henry Aaron Fox, however, seems to get bored with the show about half-way through (unfortunately he allows this to show on his face) and starts to "phone in" his peformance as if he's just tired of the whole thing. I still can't quite work out whether Nikesh Patel is giving a really good performance as a cardboard cutout leading man or is just not giving it any welly. There are two people in tiny parts who are polar opposites as regards their performance - a tall, slightly chubby chap who is obviously not a stage animal and who is struggling a little with the choreography but who is enjoying everything immensely and who never stops beaming, sings his heart out and sounds destined for the chorus in an opera company somewhere, treasuring his memories of his moment in musical theatre, and a tiny girl who is half a beat behind everybody else in the choreography, has no stage presence, has dreadful hair doesn't know how or where to stand and is goldfishing some of the words. She looks totally ill at ease and, to quote Victoria Wood yet again, probably originally signed up for ju-jitsu but turned the wrong way when she got out of the lift.

There is some excellent choreography in the chorus numbers although spacing is sometimes considerably off and, surprisingly, some very bland stuff for the principals. There are some missed opportunities for comedy in the direction, but on the whole it's very good, even though its a little loose at times. The lighting is good and the technical needs of the show in terms of slick, seamless scene changes (and some quite difficult staging requirements) handled better than many professional shows I've seen. Costumes are excellent and look well made and designed - although the nit-picker in me notices a minor glitch - all the characters are locked into the theatre by Lieutenant Cioffi and have clothes delivered from their hotels. Cioffi specifies blue and green clothes for Niki, the girl he's falling for as he's trying to match her eyes - but none of the character's clothes are blue or green; she ends up wearing a yellow jersy and a red flowered skirt for practically the entire show. Black mark for the Wardrobe Department who obviously haven't read the script! The orchestra, sawing away unseen in the pit, is on top form, although someone in the woodwind section feels it necessary to give a solo obbligato after the playout music has finished, which is terribly unprofessional. However, the Gramps have had a good time, the smelly man in the front row is clapping fit to burst and I've had an unexpectedly good time as well.

We head off to Carlucio's afterwards for a quick bite, where we sit next to a dreadful woman who is showing off her iPhone to her parents. She bleats on and on about having "this app which knows where you are because of satellite or something and sends you poems mentioning the road you're in". I neck my coffee ice cream and wonder if there's an app you can download that will tell you you're a pretentious twat. I could make a fortune with that one. Then its through the rush hour hordes to Regent's Park, for the second of today's theatrical offerings. What a hectic life I lead! - an incredibly snotty review of this piece by that arch-queen Michael Billington. Its not much use as a review as all it does is pour scorn on the actual piece rather than review the actual production. Methinks Mr. Billington just wants to show how clever he is.


  1. I was at the same performance, and you have certainly caught the spirit of the occasion. It was such a pleasure having a full orchestra. I thought that some transposing would have helped (especially Its a business) As you say, Fred Lancaster was indeed the star and I guess I will have to join the queue of admirers who want to do what you want to do with him etc!!

  2. PLEASE tell me your next blog will be called 'Gathering From The Buttocks', the internet is crying out for this.

    Interested in your assessment of a student production, did you think 'Curtains' as a piece stood up to their amateurish rendition, I loved it in the US but that may have been because David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk were so good.


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