Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Pajama Game - Shaftesbury Theatre, Saturday 31st June 2014


A strike is imminent at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, where the workers churn out pajamas at a backbreaking pace. In the middle of this, a new superintendent, Sid Sorokin, has come from out of town to work in the factory. The union, led by Prez, is seeking a wage raise of seven and a half cents an hour. Sid and Babe are in opposite camps, yet romantic interest is sparked at their first encounter. Despite cajoling from her fellow garment workers, Babe appears to reject Sid. Meanwhile, Hines, the popular efficiency expert, is in love with Gladys, the company president's secretary, but is pushing her away with his jealous behavior. After witnessing a fight between the couple, Sid's secretary, Mabel, tries to help Hines break from his jealous ways.. Meanwhile, Sid, rejected again by Babe, is forced to confide his feelings to a dictaphone. 
During the annual company picnic,Prez chases after Gladys, who rejects his advances, a drunken Hines demonstrates his knife throwing act (these knives are thrown at Babe), and Babe warms up to Sid. As the picnic-goers head home, Prez turns his attentions to Mae, who responds in the positive far more quickly and aggressively than he'd expected. At Babe's home, Sid's romantic overtures are deflected by Babe, who makes casual conversation on tangential subjects.. Eventually the walls come down between the two, who admit their love for one another, but their estrangement is reinforced when they return to the factory. A slow-down is staged by the union, strongly supported by Babe. Sid, as factory superintendent, demands an "honest day's work" and threatens to fire slackers. Babe, however, is still determined to fight for their cause, and kicks her foot into the machinery, causes a general breakdown and Sid reluctantly fires her. As she leaves, he begins to wonder again whether a romance with her is a mistake 
At the Union meeting, Gladys performs for the rest of the union, with "the boys from the cutting room floor" After the main meeting, the Grievance Committee meets at Babe's house, to discuss further tactics, such as mismatching sizes of pajamas and sewing the fly-buttons onto the bottoms such that they are likely to come off and leave their wearer pants-less. At the meeting, as Prez and Mae's relationship is waning, Sid arrives and tries to smooth things over with Babe. Despite her feelings for Sid, she pushes him away 
Back at the factory, the girls reassure Hines, who is personally offended by the slow down.. Sid, now convinced that Babe's championship of the union is justified, takes Gladys out for the evening to a night club, "Hernando's Hideaway" , where he wheedles the key to the company's books from her. Hines and Babe each discover the pair and assume they are becoming romantically involved. Babe storms out, and Hines believes his jealous imaginings have come true. 
Using Gladys' key, Sid accesses the firm's books and discovers that the boss, Hasler, has already tacked on the extra seven and one-half cents to the production cost, but has kept all the extra profits for himself. 
In Gladys' office, Hines, still jealous out of his mind, flings knives past Sid and Gladys (deliberately missing, he claims), narrowly missing an increasingly paranoid Mr. Hasler. After detaining Hines, Sid then brings about Hasler's consent to a pay raise and rushes to bring the news to the Union Rally, already in progress. This news brings peace to the factory and to his love life, allowing him to reconnect with Babe. Everyone goes out to celebrate—at Hernando's Hideaway.
Babe Williams: Joanna Riding
Sid Soronkin: Michael Xavier
Vernon Hines: Peter Polycarpou
Gladys: Alexis Owen-Hobbs
Hasler: Colin Stinton
Prez: Eugene McCoy

Creative Team:
Words and music: Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Book: George Abbott and Richard Bissell
Director: Richard Eyre
Choreographer: Stephen Mear
Set and costumes: Tim Hatley
Lighting: Howard Harrison

There's an old saying in the theatre review world - "never go to see a show when you are feeling ill, because it will colour your review".  OK, I made that up, but you get my drift.  Having obviously caught the mother of all colds in the head when getting drenched by passing cars and pouring rain and then sitting in an unheated, half finished apartment block facing directly on to the river watching Venice Preserved (how I  suffer to bring you these reviews; I hope you appreciate them....) the lurgy was still washing round my system big time on Saturday when I was dragged to see a show I knew little of and wasn't feeling particularly enthusiastic about to begin with, having sat in a coffee shop nearby wrapped in misery, snot and cold sweat for half an hour beforehand because we got there too early. This is Him Indoors' major foible (well, one of them - go anywhere else with him and its all "Why are you hurrying?  Why are you walking so fast?" but when there are theatre tickets involved its like a bloody route march, 'eft right, 'eft right, 'eft right, come on you there with the runny nose, at the bleedin' double.  Bugger only knows why we had gone to see it; I keep pushing for tickets to Handbagged because I could do with a bloody good laugh, but it looks like I am going to have to tell the bank I have spent this month's mortgage money on tickets and damned well buy them myself. Grouch grouch grouch.  But anyway, at least it made a change from sitting at home wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV (if I say this enough times, I might persuade myself).  It looked like we were the youngest people there by a long way - grey heads and beige windcheaters aplenty in the stalls; Stan and Ethel in the seats directly in front of us were just finishing their supper from a wide variety of Tupperware containers, a party of old dears with walking sticks ambled past looking like a small flock of taupe flamingos and there were many old chaps wearing brown slacks and those shoes that look like Cornish Pasties. Oh no, I lie - there was a woman in the seats behind with two grandchildren aged about 10, who were already bored stiff, kicking the backs of our seats and bemoaning the fact that they were being expected to spend the next two hours out of mobile phone contact with their friends.  The two grandchildren were probably on contract to help out the orchestra as they supplied rhythmic seat kicking, musical drink slurping and acoustic chewing gum accompaniment for the majority of the first half, little darlings, until Grannie threatened them with ex-communication and the fires of hell if they didn't behave themselves, which improved  the situation no end for about 12 minutes.  Two tickets for the ferry, Charon, singles, have them ready, customers coming your way....

What I found so bizarre about this show was how unapologetically old-fashioned it was.  Call me a cynic, but it does seem really strange that a wonderful, intelligent show like From Here to Eternity more or less crashes and burns, when a bit of old hokum like this is packing them in.  I dunno, perhaps the theatregoing public are a lot older and less discriminating than I thought.  Perhaps they are all sitting at home in their beige cardigans watching Last of The Summer Wine re-runs and waiting for a new production of an old warhorse like The Pajama Game to be announced, at which point they nip to Rene in the High Street for a wash and set, pack up some sandwiches in Tupperware boxes and head to the West End.  Its not a bad show, just so dated.  At one point not more than 10 minutes into the first act, I leaned across to Him Indoors and whispered "Well, I wonder what is going to happen at the end?"   It is, of course, bleeding obvious, even if you have never seen the show before in your life.   The storyline is, more or less, non-existent and really only serves as a loose framework for the musical numbers - some of which even I am forced to admit are bloody good - You with the Stars in Your Eyes, This is My Once-a-Year Day, and Hernando's Hideaway are all justly famous, with Seven and a Half Cents probably being the best number in the entire show and deserving of being known more - its a big chorus number and looked a lot of fun to be in.  Some numbers are very dodgy - the execreble There Once Was a Man, for example, and others shoehorned in - Steam Heat only exists to give the second act a rousing opening and the justification for it in is absolutely nil. Obviously creative steam was running low by the time Adler and Ross got round to Act 2 because it consists of very little but reprises of numbers we have already heard at least once in Act 1.

Most of the performances were likeable enough, but no character really rises above the level of cardboard and very few of the cast seemed to care about even trying so.  Eugene McCoy's performance as Prez was so irritating I could happily have smacked him one with a Tupperware box wrested from Ethel's clammy grip (Ethel loved the show; you could tell by the way she turned to Sid every 38 seconds and said so.  Loudly). Peter Polycarpou, not my most favourite actor in the entire world, didn't seem to be giving his last performance in the role of Vernon Hines any oof at all - although his "Oh dear, I've taken my trousers off and now the Boss is here and I can't get them back on again" schtick seemed at least to go down well with the horrible grandchildren in the row behind, who momentarily seemed to forget the fact that they weren't on Facebook.  Still, I expected they Tweeted about it the moment the curtain came down.  Yes, Michael Xavier is good looking in a kind of plastic Barbie-and-Ken way, and yes he can sing, and yes he can move, and yes he has an impressive upper body (displayed pseudo-coyly in a completely unnecessary "get your tits out" moment right at the end) but really, its such a bland role that it was all in danger of going for nothing.

Really, I couldn't get past the fact that I thought the show was really, really old-fashioned (yes, I know that a lot of people like "old fashioned" but this particular example left me completely cold).  Mind you, even an old cynic like me briefly warmed to it when Him Indoors welled up on the way back to the bus stop because it was the kind of show that his mum and dad would have loved.  No doubt Ethel and Sid had a great time as well, but I didn't.

What the critics said:

Monday, 2 June 2014

Venice Preserv'd - Greenwich/Deptford Waterfront - Saturday 24th May 2014


The play concerns Jaffeir, a noble Venetian who has secretly married Belvidera, the daughter of a proud senator named Priuli, who has cut off her inheritance. Jaffeir is impoverished and is constantly rebuffed by Priuli. Jaffeir's friend Pierre, a foreign soldier, stokes Jaffeir's resentment and entices him into a plot against the Senate of Venice. Pierre's own reasons for plotting against the Senate revolve around a senator (a corrupt and foolish Antonio) paying for relations with Pierre's mistress, Aquilina. Despite Pierre's complaints, the Senate does nothing about it, explaining that Antonio has senatorial privilege. Pierre introduces Jaffeir to the conspirators, led by bloodthirsty Renault. To get their trust, he must put Belvidera in Renault's care as a hostage. In the night, Renault attempts to rape her, but she escapes to Jaffeir. Jaffeir then tells Belvidera about the plot against the Senate, and against her father. She devises a plan of her own. Jaffeir will reveal the conspiracy to the Senate and claim the lives of the conspirators as his reward. It is only after Belvidera informs him of the attempted rape that Jaffeir agrees to do this, but the Senate breaks its word and condemns all the conspirators to death. In remorse for betraying his friend and losing his honour (by betraying his oath to the conspirators), Jaffeir threatens to kill Belvidera, unless she can get a pardon for the conspirators. She does so, but the pardon arrives too late. Jaffeir visits Pierre at his execution. Pierre is crestfallen because he is sentenced to die a dishonourable death and not the death of a soldier. He forgives Jaffeir and whispers to him (unheard by the audience) to kill him honourably before he is executed. Jaffeir stabs his friend, Pierre, on the gallows, and as a form of atonement commits suicide. Belvidera then goes insane and dies.

Aquilina: Ayesha Antoine
Belvidera - Jessie Buckley
Antonio - Pip Donaghy
Pruli - Emilo Doorgasingh
Doge: James Hillier
Pierre: - Ferdinand Kingsley
Eliot - Dwane Wallcot

Creative Team:
Original text: Thomas Ottaway
Director: Charlotte Westenra (does she have a sister called Lucy, perhaps?)
Producer: Harry Ross
Designer: Helen Scarlett Oneill
Costume: Francesca Reidy
Lighting: Tim Lutkin

Firstly, an apology to all my readers for my lack of posts recently.  There have been some major changes going on at NTWEW Towers, including a change of address, which is always timeconsuming and stressful.  And there have been some staffing issues as well and yadah yadah yadah.

So, it has to be admitted that I wasn't really feeling great; the very muggy weather was making me feel foul and I was nursing a bad chill. And I was therefore knackered, and not in the very best of moods.   And Him Indoors applied his usual poultice to the situation which is "To solve any problem, buy theatre tickets".  Apparently this was a promenade performance on the riverfront between Deptford and Greenwich, and as we are currently living in Blackheath (dharling) for a while, it was relatively nearby.  But because I wasn't entirely sure of where it was happening, and Him Indoors had even less idea (bless him, when he says that something is on the right, it is always best to check whether he means the right that is on the right hand side, or the right that just happens to be on the left hand side), I decided to hit the internet and look up buses and directions and stupid, inconsequential stuff like that because I didn't fancy walking for miles getting lost in the rain when I wasn't feeling great.  For some reason, the venue appeared to be a partially completed apartment block overlooking the Deptford Riverfront.  Odd.  Never fear, said Him Indoors, I will fire up the trusty GPS on the phone and we will be fine.  Which we would have been had said trusty GPS not packed up completely less than  30 seconds after we had got off the bus.  I stood there and folded my arms and pulled "that face" - the one that communicates "I am not very impressed".  By this point there was a fight going on outside one of the local boozers (bit rough, Deptford, always has been) so it was time to move quickly.  "Follow me", said Him Indoors, coming over all Bear Grylls. "But we are looking for a wharf", I said, "and the river is that way [pointing over my shoulder in the exact opposite of the direction that Him Indoors was walking off]".  I pulled "that face" again. Him Indoors turned round, shook his phone, stuffed it in a pocket and set off in the direction of the river.  

Off we set, intrepid explorers both, along a very dodgy looking street leading towards the river.  From the doors and windows of nearby houses, modern-day equivalents of the Artful Dodger and Bill Sykes peered at us walking by. Aside from us, the street was deserted. And then after about 10 minutes the scenery changed suddenly and we were walking between tidy little houses with tubular red exterior trim in streets called  "Spinnaker Street" and "Frigate Mews" and "HeaveYourBreakfastOverTheSide Close" and such like.  The cracked and fissured tarmac changed to designer cobbles.  We rounded a small green area with the fantastic name of "Twinkle Park", which smelled vaguely of piss making me wonder aloud whether someone had been having a tinkle in the Twinkle.  Our destination - a half finished apartment block - hove (heaved?) into sight.   A small car roared by, far too fast for the restricted space, drove through an enormous puddle and drenched me from head to foot. I was not happy, and gave chase, brandishing my umbrella.  The driver (female), screamed abuse from her window and then wound it up and put the pedal to the metal because I was getting closer and wasn't at all happy - serves her right, stupid cow, but it must have been like being chased down by an angry bull elephant.  We picked our way down a small alley paved with designer cobbles (terribly hard on the old ankle) where, Wonderland-like, a small carved table stood alone in the middle of the street.  A rather over-enthusiastic girl in vaguely "all purpose peasant" costume bounded out of a door and sold us a sheet of paper from the shelf underneath the table.  There was a gust of wind which funneled down the narrow street, picked up every sheet of paper and threw them across the pavement.  All-purpose Peasant Girl spent the next couple of minutes chasing them.  I picked up a large pebble and put them on top of the pile to weight them down.  My expression said "See?  Not difficult".  

We found ourselves on a terraced walkway directly adjoining the river, more or less alone, with a view along the river to Greenwich in the middle distance.  Authentic 17th century Venetian rain began to fall.   Gradually, other people joined us, and then various cast members in costume. Him Indoors found himself chatting to an Old Pro Actor (completely in his element, then) and maundered on about how he was in the Profession himself and oh yes, I've seen this play before, it was the 1984 production starring Sir Bingley Bongley Boo and nobody could hear him and someone shouted out "Speak up luv, we can't hear a word" and oooooh, I do like your codpiece and yadah yadah yadah and I rolled my eyes and huddled into my coat and then wandered off to buy a programme - which was clever and inventive because it was in the form of a broadsheet newspaper, and which is so pretty that I am thinking about having it framed.  

Anyway, the bits of paper that had blown off the table were A5 sheets printed with various bits of instructions about what to do during the performance and words to shout out during the audience participation bits and so on  and, this being Renaissance Venice I decided to make it into a mask. 

Unfortunately, I became so intent on creating my wonderful carnival mask from the paper that I paid scant attention when the first scene began, which was basically two men in period costume shouting at each other. It sounded very much like some of those first scenes in Shakespeare where nothing much happens except that people stride on and shout at each other to give the groundlings time to finish buying their oranges and fish heads and settle down and decide when to eat the former and at whom they are going to throw the latter. Big Mistake.  Huge.  For this play is, apparently, One In Which The First Scene Is Extremely Important; If You Don't Listen Carefully You Won't Have A Scooby About What Happens Afterwards.  But, intent in my work of creativity, I blithely ignore the two shouting men, even though did register that the one  with the beard and the big brown eyes was Bloody Sexy.  A woman walked on and began to emote.  I noticed that her dress was coming apart at the back and falling off her shoulders but carried on tearing and creasing the paper and making holes at each side so that I could put my glasses on top and thus keep it on without holding it. The man with the beard, I noticed, looked Bloody Sexy in his black leather jerkin.  There - my carnival mask is finished.  I put it on triumphantly and then realised that I hadn't got an effing clue what was going on. Never mind - its time to move on, to an interior courtyard with a small canal running along it, over which was thrown a scaffolding bridge disguised as the Rialto Bridge.  Clever - and wonderfully, the acoustics here were so perfect that I could hear every word and there were a couple of minutes when I thought I might actually have picked up on the plot.  Alas, it was not to be.   And then we moved inside the incomplete apartment block and watched a couple of very long, dreary scenes and I gave up trying to follow the plot completely and just sat and watched and felt damp and cold and Not Very Well At All.  And then there was an interval during which I asked Him Indoors to explain the plot and, not being very articulate about these things, bless him, I had to ask him to stop after a couple of minutes because I couldn't work out who "Him from that play that we saw about five years ago somewhere - you know, the one that had that woman in, whatshername" was and what his character was called and so I gave up. 

And then it was time to move to a different bit of the unfinished apartment block, this time a bit overlooking the river and the lights of Canary Wharf and we all got a red hooded cape to wear and pretend to be Members of The Senate, which would have been interesting if we could have seen ourselves but because we were the audience we couldn't, although I'm sure the actors thought we looked great. And Jessie Buckley came on and emoted a lot and I got colder and colder and more miserable and still didn't understand the plot.  And then we moved outside and watched the Sexy Man with the Beard and the Black Leather Jerkin get stabbed (shame about the disco boat going past on the river at this point - not calculated to add to the authentic 17th Century Venetian atmosphere) and then we moved again and watched Jessie Buckley go mad, although from where I was sitting I couldn't see that there were images being projected onto the plate glass frontage but anyway by this time I was frozen to the marrow and bored and not happy at all.  And then despite everyone standing on an enormous terrace overlooking the river, the cast came on and had to take their bows in a very cramped space wedged up against the wall of the building and it was time to go home, pausing only to have a blazing row on the way to the bus stop. 

Undoubtedly this is a clever production. The setting is extremely unusual and intelligently thought out, and very well used (would you think about putting on a play in an unfinished apartment block?).  Undoubtedly there is some very fine acting going on - particularly from Jessie Buckley who is becoming a very fine actress indeed, from Ashley Zhangazha who has the most perfect diction, every syllable as clear and audible as a glass bell, and from Ferdinand Kingsley  who, besides being a very good actor, is also One Horny Dude and Hairy With It. Undoubtedly the concept is intriguing and the execution of the production very clever.  But.  I was too cold and feeling too rotten to engage with it in any meaningful way.  Venice Preserved isn't the world's best play, and if you are not a fan of Restoration Revenge Tragedy it won't really be your bag. The audience participation bits are embarrassing (this is England, for pete's sake) and the Commedia Dell'arte sections just plain irritating.  The constant movement from one place to another effectively destroys any build up of tension - just as things are starting to get interesting, its time to move on, and when there are 150 or so  people to move, this can take quite some time; by the time you are all resettled, the tension has deflated like a flan in a cupboard.  Some of the costumes are lovely, some look as if they have been picked up out of the dressing up box.   As a concept its very interesting, but in reality it doesn't really work.

What the critics thought: