Monday, 25 March 2013

Peter and Alice - Noel Coward Theatre, Wednesday 20th March 2013


Peter Llewleyn Davis (J. M. Barrie’s inspiration for the character of Peter Pan) and Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for the character of Alice in Wonderland) meet before appearing at a public event organised by Davis’s publishing house. They ruminate on what being a muse has meant to them and their lives and the trouble it has caused them.
Peter Llewleyn Davies – Ben Wishaw
Alice Liddell Hargreaves – Judi Dench
Lewis Carroll – Nicholas Farrell
James Barrie – Derek Riddell
Peter Pan – Olly Alexander
Alice in Wonderland – Ruby Bentall
Arthur/Reggie/Michael – Stefano Bratch

Creative Team:
Script – John Logan
Director – Michael Grandage
Set and costumes – Christopher Oram
Lighting – Paule Constable

Review by Tumnus the Faun, our Narnia Arts Correspondent
Dateline: Eternal Winter, but never Christmas

Mr. Tumnus was beginning to get very tired of sitting next to Him Indoors in the Upper Circle, and of having nothing to do; once or twice he had peeped into the programme Him Indoors was reading but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a programme,” thought Tumnus, “without pictures or conversations?”

So he was considering, in his own mind (as well as he could, for the heating in the theatre made him feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of going to the toilet would be worth the trouble of getting up and fighting his way back through the row of seats, when suddenly Judi Dench appeared on the stage.

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Tumnus think it so very much out of the way to see that Judi Dench actually took a watch out of her pocket and looked at it, remarked “We won’t be late because we’re only on for 90 minutes, and as there is no interval at all, we’ll all be home nicely by 10pm”. Burning with curiosity, he ran across the stage after it, and was just in time to see her appear in a new play at the Noel Coward Theatre. In another moment, Tumnus followed Ms. Dench, never once considering how in the world he was to get out again.

The play went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then took a strange turn and dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Tumnus had not a moment to think about stopping himself before he found himself falling down a very deep hole indeed. Either the play was very deep, or it was very slow, so Tumnus had plenty of time as he went down to wonder what, if anything, was going to happen next. He looked at the sides of the hole, and noticed they were filled with cupboards and bookshelves; he took a jar from one of the shelves as he passed, it was labelled “Wonderful new play by John Logan starring Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw”, but to his great disappointment it was empty; far emptier than the Noel Coward Theatre which was packed out for the entirety of the play’s run already.

Down, down, down. Would the play never come to an end? “I wonder how many minutes its been so far?” he said aloud. “We must be getting somewhere near the centre of it by now. Let me see: that would be about 45 minutes I think--” Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Tumnus soon began talking again. “ThinButWordy will miss me very much tonight, I should think!” (ThinButWordy was the plot). He felt that he was dozing off, and had just began to dream that he was watching something interesting, when suddenly, thump! Thump! Down he came on a heap of psychoanalytical babble, and the play was over.

Suddenly he came upon a little three-legged table; on it was a script of the play addressed to Judi Dench and bearing the words READ ME. “Rubbish,” thought Mr. Tumnus, “everyone knows that Judi Dench never reads any of her scripts before taking a job”. It was all very well to say READ ME, but Tumnus was not going to do that in a hurry – he had never forgotten that, if you don’t read your script beforehand, it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later. However, this script was not marked “box office poison” so Tumnus ventured to taste it, and finding that it was dark, and bitter, and bleak, and full of angst, he very soon finished it off.

“What a curious feeling!” said Tumnus. “My childhood memories of long, golden summers down by the river with the Revd. Dodgson must be being polluted by the current apparent fascination for retrospective paedophilia”. He waited for a few minutes to find out if his memories were going to be polluted any further; “for it might end, you know, in me finding out that J.M. Barrie was an appalling predatory homosexual with a nasty thing for young boys”. Soon his eye fell on a little box that was lying under the table; he opened it and found in it a very small excuse for an evening at the theatre, even if the scenery was lovely. He watched a little bit, and was quite surprised to find that he remained terribly unimpressed with Mr. Logan’s new play. To be sure, this is what generally happens when a playwright has a major hit with his first one and is asked to write another one, perhaps with Judi Dench in mind, and while he watched it, Tumnus got so much into the way of expecting something to happen but finding out that it was really just a series of flashbacks in which the late 19th century fashion for being very chummy with young children was turned on its head and made into an object of repellent fascination by vast sections of the public, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for it to be suggested that the world was a different place back then and it was quite commonplace for single, middle-aged men to strike up close relationships with pre-pubescent children and sublimate their desires by writing fairy stories about them.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Tumnus, as the play got very dark indeed and it transpired that neither Alice nor Peter had had a very jolly time of it when they grew up. “Are we to sit here while Alice and Peter are joined on stage not only by Mr. Barrie and the Revd. Dodgson but also by their literary counterparts who are very probably only here to add a little bit of meta-dimension to the script because the author has already said what he wanted to say, which in all probability was not that much to begin with, and needs to pad the script out a bit?. I’ll try and say “How doth the little– ” and he crossed his hands on his lap and began to repeat it.

“How doth the little impresario
Improve his West End cred
To posit the grim scenario
That it’s all to do with BED!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws
And welcomes all the punters in
And glories in applause!”

“I’m sure those are not the right words,” said poor Tumnus, with a sudden burst of tears. As he said these words, his foot slipped, and in another moment, splash! he was up to his chin in hot water.

Contrariwise, it seemed to Mr. Tumnus that the play had shut up round him like a portmanteau, and although it was practically critic-proof because it had got Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw in and is practically sold out for the rest of the run (as had been mentioned previously), it was all much of a muchness and although it purports to hold a mirror up to the reality of childhood fame, the reflection doesn’t really show you very much of what anyone wants to see. Apart from Judi Dench.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Burn the Floor - Shaftesbury Theatre, Monday 11th March 2013

Sorry – no cast list apart from Robin Windsor and Kristina Rihannof- I didn’t have time to get a programme before going in due to a mix up over getting the tickets. The Burn The Floor website is a bit of a mess and nowhere on it could I find a list of last night’s performers.

Oh, the glamour. Oh, the endless hobnobbing with celebrities. Oh, the champagne. Oh, the paparazzi. Love, the endless socialising I put myself through to bring you these reviews. It’s a bit like being one of the West End Whingers. Daaarling, we were all there last night (except, apparently, the West End Whingers. Z-listers, darling, Z-listers). Denise van Outen, wearing so much eye-liner she looked like she had been lent by the Chinese Government to take part in a breeding programme at Edinburgh Zoo. Lisa Riley, completely tanked up and bellowing like an elephant seal on ecstacy. Lewis Smith, muttering that so many people wanted his photograph that his interval ice-cream was going mushy. Arlene Phillips, who thought it was fancy dress and who had come as a Bag Lady. Russell Grant, who just popped in for the first half. Nancy Delolio, looking like an old leather handbag in drag and doing her best to rid the world of small furry animals by wearing several of them. Johnny Ball, looking bewildered. Suzanne Shaw – no, me neither. NotTheWestEndWhingers. Mwah, mwah, mwah. The only people missing were Brucie’s life support machine and Claudia’s fringe.

Well, darlings, if you like relentlessly upbeat music, arse-stretchingly tight trousers, glistening torsos and the occasional glitter ball, this really is for you. Subtle it ain’t. Its camp, cheesy and just that bit too overwhelmingly high-octane for its own good, really. Now, I’m not going to say that the cast can’t dance, because just watching them made my feet hurt. These guys and gals can move. Its just that, given the instruction to “Burn The Floor”, this show seems to want to take it literally. There is so much energy pouring off the stage that it pins you back in your seat like the G-force of a really fast take off and leaves you feeling like you’ve just been through a particularly energetic spin cycle in your favourite washing machine. Mind you, if anyone had thought to literally burn the floor, it might have raised the temperature a couple of degrees in the chilly old barn that is the Shaftesbury Theatre. What is needed with this show is the occasional bit of restraint as a counterpoint. A passing attempt at this is made with a couple of all-too-brief classic tailcoat and floaty dress ballroom numbers, but these are really the only breathing spaces the audience gets in two hours. There is so much relentless choreography that after about 20 minutes you stop registering it and – more importantly – stop appreciating it. There’s also a bit too much raunch – granted, there are some beautiful bodies on stage, both male and female, but a bit of decorous restraint doesn’t go amiss sometimes. You wouldn’t get Anton Du Beke prancing around shirtless all evening. Mind you, if I had a torso like some of the ones on show last night, I’d be walking around half naked on a practically permanent basis. I wonder why male dancers always shave their armpits?

The show’s putative stars – Mr. Windsor and Ms Rhiannof - are strangely and noticeably underused most of the evening. On several occasions they start a dance routine off, and you sit back expecting a powerhouse, showcase routine – and then they disappear, to be replaced by an ensemble. In fact, as far as memory serves, they only do one complete routine all evening. Still, its good that they are not so up themselves that they refuse to join in with the big ensemble numbers, but it has to be said that they do look, erm, somewhat mature when surrounded by the rest of the cast. Rhiannof has got the most gorgeous pair of pins and can vamp with the best of them, but it does occasionally get slightly embarrassing when her quarry looks about 15. Mr. Windsor tries hard to be butch but you can tell he’d rather be getting his sweaty paws all over the boys. There must have been poor visibility over the Thames last night because every time Mr. Windsor made an appearance, Foghorn Riley rattled the eardrums of anyone sitting within a radius of 500 feet. It was the shout of “Cooom on Ooncle Robin!!!” that finally reduced me to hysteria.

Musically it’s a real rag-bag, seemingly slung together with little rhyme or reason. Along with a classic paso doble number (nice to hear, but sounding incredibly out of place among the grunge), there is a stunning jazz performance by – I think – Vonzell Solomon, which literally stops the show in its tracks for a couple of minutes. This lady is one ballsy singer, absolutely born to be headlining in a smoky 1930s speakeasy in downtown Chicago and I would gladly have heard more from her. Her male counterpart suffers by comparison, but I’m not going to be quite as disparaging about his as Him Indoors was. He’s got a decent enough voice but sounds a bit forced in the upper register.

The show occasionally spills out into the auditorium – there is a particularly excruciating “audience warm up” session before the first half which I could well have done without. I don’t know whether this is a permanent part of the act or whether this was just a filler thrown on to cover a backstage delay, but its supremely naff. Mind you, its lucky it happened; due to an administrative mix up we had been told the show started at 7.30 when, due to it being Press Night (oh, the glamour!) it actually started at 7pm. It was 7.20 when we got into the auditorium and found it bewilderingly packed out, with the “warm up” in full flow. During the second half finale, the audience were so hyped up by the dancing in the aisles that I’m surprised Lisa Riley didn’t start ripping the seats out with her teeth. So, the Burn the Floor juggernaut rolls on, propelled by sweat, testosterone and enough raw energy to power a small town. Its not for everyone – its bewilderingly full on. A little more restraint at times would make it considerably less exhausting for the audience. Undeniably there is some major dance talent on that stage but if you’re fans of Anton and Erin, you might have to go home and lie down for a couple of hours afterwards.

Tickets kindly provided by