Saturday, April 28, 2007

One Year On

Today is my blog’s first birthday. It is a whole one year old. This is probably not exciting to anyone other than me, but still I am quite chuffed about the fact. Thank you to everyone who occasionally drops by to read this unfocused waffle (which since I finally got around to installing Stat Counter I know is more than none and less than many people – substantially more than I ever imagined would read it though. I was also quite amused to discover that someone ended up here after typing Cheap Gin Drinks into Google – welcome, my friend!)

I started writing Interval Drinks because, as I found myself seeing more and more theatre, I wanted a place to order my thoughts about what I saw, a place to record the things that moved and engaged me (as well as the things that irritated and infuriated me). I had been pondering the idea of starting a blog on the subject for a fair bit and then I went to see a play by this man (Festen, if you're interested, which after stupidly missing it in the West End, I finally caught on tour in Richmond), that was vital and thrilling, and finally made me stop prevaricating and get on with it.

Oh, if you are able to make it over to Theatre 503 in Battersea in the next week or so, I strongly recommend you see George Gotts’ new play Cocoa. It’s an unsettling and engaging little play about a daughter returning home to visit her parents - but just like in Festen you soon sense there are dark, hidden things in this family. I enjoyed the way it took a familiar premise and twisted it around. It felt fresh and original; Gotts' dialogue has a lovely lulling rhythm to it as well, an excellent sense of pace and pause. In short, ‘tis good – go see.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New York, New York

I was standing by the bar in the Coliseum (gin-less for a change but waiting for my mother who’d nipped outside for a quick interval cigarette), when an elderly man in a grey suit, who was also waiting for someone, started talking to me. “£75, my ticket cost,” he informed me.

I made a kind of noise that began as a popular expletive but was hastily amended to something a little milder. It sounded a little like: “fosh, really?”

He nodded, with the stunned look of a man who was still coming to terms with this fact, but then he shrugged and smiled warmly, “But whatever makes her happy.” He waved his hand in the vague direction of ladies’ toilets where I’m guessing his wife was. And I smiled too because his sentiment seemed genuine and because I was glad my tickets had not set me back anywhere near £75. It had been an enjoyable evening so far, but it wasn’t £75 worth of enjoyable. In fact, I was under the impression that the most you’d ever pay for a ticket in the West End was a still-scandalously high £55, but I guess the Coliseum operates slightly differently.

Anyway, I was there to see the ENO’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town, which was back in London after a sell-out run in 2005. As I said I was with my mother who - though she had claimed to be far too busy to come to Menopause The Musical with me - suddenly had a free evening when the show on offer involved three strapping young men in sailors’ garb.

The plot, such as it is, involves the three aforementioned sailors, who have 24 hour shore leave in New York. One of them spots a poster of a pretty girl on the subway and resolves to find her before the day is through. The musical is set in 1944 and therefore this is not considered weird or stalker-ish behaviour but as something sweet and romantic. Much running about follows and, oh, you’ve seen the film, you know the rest.

Though staged by an opera company, surprisingly there weren’t that many standout vocal performances, bar a fabulously resonant turn from Andrew Shore, as a cuckolded judge, and a great performance from Caroline O'Connor as the man-hungry and magnificently named Hildy Esterhazy, who managed to exude brassy New York charm even when driving around the stage in a strange taxi contraption seemingly made from Meccano.

The stage is stuffed with people, all gamely dancing away, which went some way to compensates for the rather spare sets, and I did enjoy hearing the score performed by a full orchestra. But even with all the care that had clearly been lavished on it, it wasn’t possible to disguise the fact that the plot was thinner than (insert lame but topical size zero related pun here) and that the three sailor chappies remained unforgivably interchangeable throughout.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Importance Of Being Interesting

Prior to the Whingers’ bash on the weekend I managed to squeeze in a trip to Jermyn Street Theatre. If you’ve not had the pleasure, this is a little basement theatre tucked beneath the Getti Restaurant, kind of charming in its own way despite some of the most cramped seating of any fringe venue I’ve been to. Indeed the two men sitting beside me had to resort to some increasingly elaborate seat gymnastics to retain blood flow in their lower limbs. At least that’s what I assume they were up to.

The current production is a revival of The Importance Of Being Earnest, a play of such comic perfection it would take a fairly determined director to make a hash of it. And this staging, by the fringe company Antic Disposition, does indeed avoid anything resembling a hash-making. In fact, theirs is a pleasant, conventional, entirely competent production. Straight, solid and safe. Determinedly dependable. Do you see a pattern emerging? The only vaguely novel element in this version was the casting of James Pellow as the fearsome Lady Bracknell, but even this bit of cross-gender casting malarkey seemed a tad obvious, and Pellow’s performance felt rather subdued.

There was nothing very wrong with the production, the acting was decent, and the audience chuckled in all the right places. It’s just that there was nothing there likely to make it stick in the memory, nothing to make you poke your friends repeatedly on the shoulder, when you meet for a drink afterwards, and annoy them by saying: “you really must go and see this show.” (The way I did after seeing Ridiculusmus’ frenetic two-man staging of the play). Maybe I’m being too harsh. Not everything has to be daring and rule-bending. Or have a singing polar bear. But there should be a spark - of life, of love for the text, of something – and there simply wasn’t one discernable here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Putting Faces To Names

So these chaps had a party on Saturday, attended by a number of theatre bloggers, and very entertaining it was. I tend to get a bit nervous in these situations, so I hit the gin with more enthusiasm than was prudent, but fortunately I had brought along a friend to back me up (and to hold me up for that matter.) This chap was there and this one too. Oh and him also, and several more I suspect, though those are the ones I talked at/to the most. And now all these virtual voices have form and shape and faces, which is a trifle odd but on the whole a delightful development.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hot In Here?

If you live in London, you may have seen the posters on the tube. Four podgy cartoon women doing high-kicks beneath the strapline Menopause The Musical. You may have seen them, chuckled a little and/or sneered, and filed them away in the back of your brain as something you will never, ever be going to see ever – which is pretty much what I did too.

But then I found myself thinking that I am a woman and the menopause is something that will one day happen to me, and it isn’t something to be scared of or ignored. In fact maybe it is worth singing about, why not?

I mentioned I was going to my mother, because being, you know, a woman whose 50th birthday was well behind her, I thought she might be interested and want to come with me. However she looked slightly alarmed at the prospect and declared rather too quickly that she already had plans for that night. Even though I know for a fact these plans involved uncorking a bottle of Merlot and watching House, I thought it was telling that she preferred this to watching a musical about hot flushes. Would actual menopausal women want to watch such a thing?

The answer is yes, oh yes, they would. I haven’t seen such predominantly female crowd since I went to see Dirty Dancing. There were only about three men in the auditorium and I wondered what they had done wrong recently to warrant being dragged along to this.

The show has been a huge global success, and since 2001 it has played in cities all across America and Australia; now it has arrived in London, to the Shaw Theatre, which has to be one of the most charmless venues in London, tucked away in the Novotel near Euston Station – an utterly anonymous space. This did not bode well. The set was cheap-looking and covered with Marks and Spencers logos in the most overt display of corporate sponsorship in the theatre that I’ve ever come across.

The show itself consisted of four intentionally stereotypical women, a housewife, a business women, an aging actress and a Per Una wearing hippy type, singing familiar songs from the 1950s and 60s that had been slightly reworked to include references to night sweats and elasticated-waist trousers. And that was pretty much it. For two bloody hours. And yet the majority of the audience loved it, they lapped it up, to the point where their enthusiasm became a little infectious.

But after a while I found myself becoming quite dispirited with the whole thing. This was the laughter of recognition, not anything more. The message was that, yes, women have hot flushes and it can be embarrassing but it can also be quite funny, however there were no ideas to engage with beyond that. It was patronising and simplistic, pretty damn dismal in fact. The emotional impact of the menopause, of seeing society’s view of you as a woman shift as you got older, was not really touched upon at all and any tricky issue, like HRT or loss of libido were also brushed aside. Instead the production veered dramatically in the other direction with a penultimate number which involved Su Pollard singing a song that was in essence an ode to wanking herself off (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type).

I felt disappointed both for, and a little bit in, the other women in the audience, yet in the main they seemed to be loving it, with a large number dashing on stage to join in with the final dance number. I left the theatre feeling more than a little confused, distinctly unclean and oddly desirous of an M&S sandwich.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Familiar Feeling

This has happened before.

Last night at the theatre I was surrounded by people in fits of laughter while I just sat there straight-faced and bemused. Yes, I chuckled occasionally, but on the whole I was definitely, you know, not getting it.

The show was Peepolykus’ three-man staging of The Hound Of The Baskervilles, it had got decent reviews when it opened in Leeds last year and its transfer to London was something I had rather been looking forward to. However, for some reason, the humour just didn’t work for me. I found many of the jokes laboured and have seen this sort of small-cast/big-story parody done better elsewhere – the current production of The 39 Steps at the Criterion springing most immediately to mind. I waited for something to click, for the joke or the scene that would draw me in, but it just never happened. And yet, all around me, people were laughing so hard they seemed in real danger of having their minor organs evacuate their bodies through their nostrils.

I began to worry that this was somehow my fault, that I was somehow deficient for not finding this rather clumsy and patchy comedy life-threateningly funny. Fortunately I had gone along with Not French Clair, who seemed equally perplexed and unamused. On the interval, and at the end of the show, we found it necessary to reassure each other that we weren’t alone in our bemusement, that we weren’t both in some way broken.

As I said, this isn’t the first time this has happened (hello Spamalot) but it’s always disconcerting when it does. And it’s a shame as the cast were not untaleneted and had a nice rapport with one another; I just found the whole thing a bit meh. No actually, on reflection, a little less than ‘meh’, maybe simply ‘eh.’

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Lemon Tree Lives

For my birthday last year, the L half of D&L bought me a little lemon tree (along with a little bottle of gin, presumably so that when it bore fruit I could make lots of little gin and tonics – and then, you know, pour them all in to one big glass).

However, and perhaps predictably, after two months of living with me the lemon tree started to look rather unwell indeed. Its leaves shrivelled and dried, and it became a somewhat sad and twiggy thing. This could be down to our flat's rather aggressive central heating, but I suspected it was somehow my fault, that my lemon-tree tending skills were sub-standard. I was at a bit of a low ebb at the time and, of course, this became Just Another Thing In My Life That I Had Managed To Fuck Up through my general uselessness.

But still I continued to water and look after what remained of my lemon tree. And, last week, I noticed proper shooty green things – leaves and everything – protruding from what were recently dry and bare stems. I was so happy and excited I cried a tiny bit.

So no theatre this week, as you may have gathered. I’ve actually been enjoying having a run of evenings to myself and have been spending some quality time with the glinty box in the corner of my living room. As I don’t usually watch much television, I am however a bit behind on most things - still I enjoyed learning that selling kisses to old men in Richmond pubs is a legitimate business activity and not at all cheapening and tawdry. Who knew?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter. In Lists.

1) Driving from Dorset to London via windy back-roads and pretty villages is a very satisfying way indeed to spend a Bank Holiday Monday.

2) They’re very big on flinty walls in Winchester.

3) Yeovil is not a place to stop for a mid-drive snack or for any reason actually. ‘Tis dull as anything.

4) Two cups of coffee is all it takes these days to give me the Twitches.

Easter Egg Consumption:

1 Chocolate. Dark. Purchased from a quality high-street confectioner.
1 Real-actual-egg egg. Hard boiled. Shell dyed red with onion skins in a nod to eastern European ancestry.

Sheep sightings:
Many. Very, very many.

Goat sightings:
Zero. Not a one. Fluffy or otherwise.

The Elephant Man

The latest show at the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios’ performance spaces is a staging of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 play of The Elephant Man. The story of the short life of Joseph Merrick is a familiar one, most memorably told in David Lynch’s film. Abandoned as a child, he was forced to work in a freak show before being taken in by surgeon Frederick Treves at the London Hospital. Here he soon became a society favourite, spending his time in the company of artists and aristocrats (though arguably still on display).

In the film Merrick was played by John Hurt, buried under a mound of facial prosthetics. Here they make no attempt to replicate the man’s considerable deformities; instead they are solely conveyed through the contorted movement and speech of actor Marc Pickering. He was the chap who played Johnny Depp’s sidekick Young Masbeth in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow and is now all growed up. I know, I saw. (And though there’s a joke begging to be made here about the Elephant Man’s trunk, I shall step around it, because I am a Nice Girl). Anyway it’s his subtle and touching performance that holds this solid but unspectacular revival together. The production feels rather cramped in the tiny subterranean studio space. Some plays can stand a simple, stripped down staging, but this just felt hugely lacking in the atmosphere department. Not as hideous as some of the critics have been saying, but still a rather plodding and uninspiring piece of theatre.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wonderful World?

I traipsed over to the Royal Court last night to see Anthony Neilson’s new play The Wonderful World Of Dissocia. Now Neilson has been making a lot of noise lately in the Guardian and elsewhere about how so many modern plays are irrelevant and dull and advising young playwrights to be, well, less boring. And while a lot of what he has to say is valid, that kind of slightly self-aggrandising, I-hold-all-the-answers talk does make people (well, me anyway) arrive at the theatre with a ‘come on then – entertain me’ attitude.

The play is about a young woman called Lisa, who in the first half is lost in her own internal world, a land called Dissocia. It’s a colourful place, where people frequently break into song and cars can fly, a wee bit Wizard of Oz, a tad Alice in Wonderland with a whole heap of League Of Gentlemen thrown on top and maybe a smidgen of The 5000 Fingers of Dr T chucked in for good measure. She’s on a quest – searching for a lost hour (the clocks went back while she was on a plane, crossing over time-zones, or something, and she ended up minus one hour, her life unbalanced as a result). Here she encounters numerous oddball characters, including a pair of Insecurity Guards and a clipboard-toting woman whose job it is to suffer pain on other people’s behalf.

The second half is completely different from what went before. Now Lisa is in hospital, having clearly suffered a psychotic episode. These scenes play out against a sterile white background, with minimal dialogue. The set is behind a glass panel and the sound is slightly distorted. It’s an effective, unsettling technique. Indeed, despite my reservations, some elements of the play work very well. And though it is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is (there are some very heavy-handed and poorly judged moments in the Dissocia scenes), it achieved Neilson’s aims – it kept me engaged. I’m not sure Neilson had anything particularly enlightening to say on mental illness, but the play in parts, both angered and amused me, it was impossible to just sit there passively soaking this stuff up, it demanded a response of some kind. Even if that response was to get quite upset and walk out as the woman sitting behind me did.

Oh, and did I mention it had a goat in it? Only not the cute fluffy kind like in The Rose Tattoo, no – this goat was a very bad goat that did very bad things. I certainly did not want one of these. The singing polar bear on the other hand…

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

On Loveliness

This weekend was almost wholly composed of wedding. It was very weddingy indeed.

This is only the second wedding I have ever attended ever and given that it was for two good friends who I have known for many years, it’s impossible for me to write much more on the matter without risking some flagrant overuse of the word ‘lovely’ and a probable descent into unabashed sentiment. So I shall desist. (But it was lovely).