Category Archives: Anthology of Opinionated Witterings

Opinion: Which “Sweeney Todd” to See?

Sarah Ingram (centre) dishing out one hell of a performance.

Sarah Ingram (centre) dishing out one hell of a performance.

It’s pies all round this season, for some reason, as London gets no less than THREE productions of Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s masterful Gothic musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Going on right now is the production at the Twickenham Theatre that has had all the critics raving (including myself), and soon we’ll be getting another production in London’s oldest pie shop done by the Tooting Arts Club (TAC), and then the English National Opera (ENO) will stick it’s finger in by bringing Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson into the fray.

Recently, the ENO’s publicity shots have been getting a lot of flack because they look so SO bad, with professional West End photographer Darren Bell saying they made it look like “Mary Berry The Musical”.

But as much as it’s easy to scoff at these incredibly misjudged press images, there is the question is whether any of these productions are actually worth seeing.

ENO

Go?

Thompson as Mrs. Lovett may well be something quite special. She’s an incredible actress with a long an illustrious career, so seeing her take will undoubtedly be something unique. Furthermore, the chance to hear Sondheim’s incredibly rich and complex score played by a full orchestra is one not to be passed up.

Don’t Go?

I’m really unsure about this, for two reasons. Foremost, is the inclusion of Bryn Terfel. Now, that’s not to say I don’t rate Terfel as an opera singer. I think he’s marvellous, and seeing him as Wotan in Das Rhiengold at the Royal Opera House was something rather wonderful. But I have a massive pet peeve about opera singers doing musicals. Opera is a completely different style of singing to that of a musical. Every time I hear opera singers doing musical numbers or even pop songs, I cringe. It doesn’t sound right because it’s not the right style. Likewise, I wouldn’t expect Connie Fisher to handle La Boheme, and the very thought of Michael Ball’s opera album (this actually exists) brings me out in a cold sweat.

As beautiful a bass voice as Terfel has, I can’t see how adding operatic bellows to Sweeney’s part is really going to enhance it. In fairness, Sweeney isn’t a new experience for Terfel, having already done this semi-staged performance earlier this year at the Lincoln Centre, and also in a concert performance at the BBC Proms in 2010. From videos you can readily find on YouTube, he does seem to tone it done a bit. But compared David Badella and Ball’s acclaimed performances, it still sounds a bit out of place and far too arch. Though Sondheim himself, in his published collection of annotated lyrics Finishing the Hat describes Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as a “dark operetta”, it’s not really an excuse to ramp up the vibrato, no matter how established an opera star is.

[youtube http://youtu.be/ba6U4mZpG6Y]

Secondly, the fact that the ENO are only going to do a semi-staged production is really disheartening. Given the capability of the stage and some of the marvellous sets they’ve done for almost all of their productions, it seems incredibly lazy. It certainly works for the Lincoln Centre due to it’s lack of space but rather marvellous acoustics. But when you’ve got one of the largest stages in London at your disposal, it’s insulting to do so little with it. Plus, when tickets are going for as much as £155, far more than the top priced tickets for Chichester’s celebrated West End transfer, you’d expect at least some glitz and production value (although, there will be 300 £10 seats at each performance)! Thankfully, the terrible publicity shots belay the fact that the semi-staging still looks brooding. But I can’t see how it would better than the 2001 concert version in San Francisco with Patti LuPone, George Hearn, and Neil Patrick Harris. Here it was these behemoth performers that carried the show, rather than relying on moody lighting and some people dropping a grand piano on its back.

[youtube http://youtu.be/D3-4JHLO12Y]

Tooting Arts Club

Go?

You get pre-performance pie, a gin cocktail, and a sense of novelty.

Don’t Go?

Lynn Gardener recently wrote a very interesting piece on the gimmick of site-specific/”immersive” theatre. Ultimately, she states that, more often than not, it’s a term used as a sales pitch more than anything else. With only taking an audience of 32 into the tiny pie shop at a time, my misgivings is that it’s going to be very difficult to create a performance that’s of much substance, let alone conjurer up the wide variety of scenes and locations within the musical in what will be a very restrictive space. Therefore, on the face of it, this seems like a prime example of the cynical selling-point theatre companies undertake to lure in the punters. If you’re just going to sat be watching Sweeney Todd in a pie-shop, where’s the immersion in that? And what will take the production beyond shallow novelty to warrant something site-specific?

Harrington's Pie & Mash, Tooting.

Harrington’s Pie & Mash, Tooting.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. Derek Anderson’s production at the Twickenham Theatre is brimming with little innovations and tenacities that manage to reduce this massive musical into the tiny sardine-can space. But TAC will have to come up with something seriously good to even contend with the Twickenham production. In saying that, they have been getting a lot of praise for their recent site-specific theatre productions, so they could still pull a coup de grace none the less, and perhaps I should have a little more faith.

Twickenham Theatre

Go?

There’s not been any review that’s been less than 4*s. But particularly, Anderson’s characterisations played out by Badella and Sarah Ingram are astonishing and superbly performed.

Don’t Go?

Because you’ll be hard pressed to get a ticket! The show originally sold out its entire run, BUT there have been a few extra shows added, extending the run until 12 October. Buy them quick!

[youtube http://youtu.be/nG0AyrAdnGk]

Verdict

Given that it’s tried and tested, the Twickenham Theatre production is a version that you just can’t go wrong with. Therefore, if you have the chance, try and see this above others. Mind you, such an opinion is only based on the apprehensions I’ve outlined above, and am certainly not saying that either the ENO or TAC’s productions won’t be worth your time and money.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays at:

English National Opera, London, WC2N 4ES, between 30 March and 12 April 2015. Tickets are £10 – £155. To book, visit www.eno.org.

Harrington’s Pie & Mash, London, SW17 OER, between 21 October – 29 November 2014. Tickets are sold out. For more information about tickets, visit www.tootingartsclub.co.uk.

Twickenham Theatre, London, TW1 3QS, until 12 October 2014. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit www.twickenhamtheatre.com.

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Opinion: Dogfight – Misogynistic, Or Just A Show About Misogynists?

Jamie Muscato (front) as Eddie. Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Jamie Muscato (front) as Eddie. More “douche” than a French shower! Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Anyone who has seen Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse, or even been aware of it, will also be aware of the divisive twitter it’s gotten critics in. Some, like myself, loved the show, whilst others found it to be offensive in it’s apparent excusing of misogyny. So, I’ve decided to wade into the argument (late) with my own thoughts as the show closed at the weekend.

Where’s the Offence?

I was actually quite shocked to hear that some people had found the show abhorrent, even going as low as 2*s from The Evening Standard. I consider myself a male feminist, so was a little taken aback at the whole debate, and was panicked at the prospect that I missed something quite dire. I thought it was fantastic, and whilst my review wasn’t a full 5*s, I think there’s so much here that’s worth praising and was genuinely some of the best new musical theatre to have hit London in a long time.

Particularly, I loved Peter Duncan’s book, based on the film by the same name. Gone is the fairy tale/Hollywood transformation and shallow redemption of a protagonist bee-lining towards a happily-ever-after, and instead we get a tale that’s awkward and a resolution that’s rocky and incomplete. The number “First Date, Last Night” wonderfully encapsulates this less than perfect character development.

But I’ve been trying my hardest to think about what could possibly be offensive. The easiest thing I could find offensive were the marines themselves. I myself describe them as “odious” in my review. And I think that’s the point: you’re supposed to hate them. They’re chauvinistic pigs of the highest order, even going as far to rape a prostitute, forcing her to have sex against her will by using the threat of violence. I would loathe to meet anyone who didn’t find them deplorable! But just having them present and behaving such doesn’t mean this celebrates or excuses them, does it? At least, it shouldn’t.

What I think may enshrine this as a misogynistic show in some people’s minds is that they don’t get their just comeuppance. Eddie, on the cusp of a moment of self-awareness and self-respect, literally throws it away for pride and bully-boy camaraderie. He doesn’t learn, and it’s infuriating. But in the very last scene, we see Eddie return to San Francisco, and is embraced by Rose. There are two possible ways of interpreting this. Either we praise Rose for being a most forgiving, intelligent, and humanitarian character that sees the good in everyone and tries to educate them to being better people. Or we scold Rose as someone who suffers patriarchy, and/or is too shallow, cowardly, or stupid (!!!) to give Eddie the scorn he justly deserves: thus misogyny wins.

Laura Jane Matthewson as Rose. Heroine, or patriarchal enabler? Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Laura Jane Matthewson as Rose. Heroine, or patriarchal enabler? Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Other Misogynistic Theatre

Though I can see at least one way of interpreting Dogfight as misogynistic, what makes me titter about this debate is that there is far more misogynistic theatre out there. For example, the solid but lengthy recent musical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles isn’t exactly a feminist war-cry. The whole crux of Hardy’s story is, “patriarchy sucks, but there’s bugger all you can do except die by it,” which is probably more uneasy to accept than Eddie’s difficulty in changing into a civil citizen. Then there’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. Whilst the last thing I want to do is wander into the debate surrounding people who chose to stay with their abusive partners, neither do I wish to belittle their reasons, I find this a bigger excuse for misogyny (and domestic violence) than Dogfight. Also, there’s the production that the fringe forgot, The Last Ever Musical, which was out-rightly the most offensive and misogynistic thing I’ve ever seen. Two hours of singing songs and making schoolboy jokes about menstruation almost had me storming out of the theatre and forfeiting my review because I was so aghast.

So why has Dogfight received the brunt of criticism? I think it’s because the misogyny here is so explicit; it’s not shielded away from, and shocks because of this. In contrast, a quite easy way of looking at Carousel is that it’s a piece exploring difficulty in consoling love and violence, dressed in some great music and a lot of high-romantic ideas. But Dogfight is balls-out outrageous regarding the disrespect the marines have for women. It’s far more visible, therefore easier to be offended by it.

Male v Female?

The majority of critics who loves the show have been male, and the majority of critics who disliked the show were female. But this is no means, “Oh, well that explains it!” It’s a red herring, if anything, and probably says more about male critics than it does female. But is this really a male v female situation? I think not. It’s more of how a person, regardless of gender, interprets the show. Indeed, there are plenty of females who see the show in a similar light as I and many others.

Worth reading is Rebecca Trehearn’s, who plays Marcy, blog post that brilliantly tackles the debate: one of the most intelligent and objective looks at the argument, where she ultimately takes a positive view of the show. But I also took the time to ask one of the most prominent female theatrical figures in London for her views, who also just happens to be Dogfight’s producer: Danielle Tarento.

“I’ve been astounded by [the debate], to be frank,” claims Tarento. “Firstly, just because we don’t like something, doesn’t mean that a) it doesn’t exist or b) that we shouldn’t look at it. And secondly, surely the show is the opposite of this! Yes, the boys behave badly, but in each instance the girls come out on top. Yes, there was bravado and bad behaviour but to hide the fear and ignorance and to bond as a group. That may not make it right, but that’s no reason not to not confront it.”

Yet I want to do is use Tarento’s words to justify a dismissal of those who think otherwise. As much as I hate the phrase, “check your privilege,” I think it’s important here. I’m a white(ish) lower middle-class male. I am probably going to default to a more to a rosy view of the show than others with less privilege than I, and that’s something I need to bear in mind. Therefore, even with Tarneto’s backing, I recognise that I may not be the best person to have an opinion on the issue. Thus, I’ve actually found my rethinking of how I view and interpret the show a thoughtful experience as a result of this debate.

Laura Jane Matthewson (left) and Jamie Muscato (right). Photograph: Darren Bell.

Laura Jane Matthewson (left) and Jamie Muscato (right). Photograph: Darren Bell.

Critical Miss

Elsewhere, I think too many people have looked to put weight their own, and only their own, opinions on the subject. Particularly, Paul Taylor and Mark Shenton (I use these as two as of the most prominent current critical voices) were quick to come to the show’s defence and fend off the cries of misogyny, neglecting to try to actively engage in their articles with those who oppose their thoughts, even missing a trick in getting in contact with any authoritative females voices, such as Tarento.

I’m disappointed with their responses. Taylor ultimately says that people should see it again and try to see it as not a misogynistic piece, suggesting they “resisted” the first time around, thus implying there isn’t any other viable way to interpret Dogfight. Shenton, though a little more balanced, concluded that, “perhaps some have proved blind to what the show is trying to show.” Whilst I agree that people have seen something quite different to what Tarento has said about her vision in her own words, I think saying that they’re “blind” is a bit too dismissive. I think Taylor and Shenton’s defence of the show is too defensive which hasn’t helped the discussion. Even if difficult to understand and/or agree, these dissents are at worst interesting and at best important, and shouldn’t be shrugged off with such ferocity. Misogyny in entertainment should be an important discussion, and one approached without such polemic dialogue.

The Real Question

Whilst I think it’s right that we’re having this debate, and I think it’s right that people have seen it the way they have, I think the real question is whether audiences should be sheltered. Should producers be putting on shows that offend?

Offence is something that Tarento isn’t worried about. I asked her what she would do if she was given a piece that was potentially offensive. Although being very clear that she does not find Dogfight offensive, she says, that:

Should I actively be choosing a show because of its potential to offend, I would serve the text as honestly and as fully as possible by giving it the best possible production and letting the audience decide.”

As Tarento’s response shows, theatre should challenge and it is up to us to take whatever we will from it. Producers and directors shouldn’t shy away from putting on shows that may offend, within reason and proper context, especially if they spark much needed debates such as this one. But in doing so audiences and critics should not scoff at the fact that something some people might be offended, even if it didn’t offend them: this approach only stymies debate.

In summary, to me Dogfight is just a show about misogynists, and not a show that is misogynistic. I think the fact that Eddie and his marines are hideous human beings, really colours the show and makes it different and engaging, especially as it doesn’t end the way we’d like it to. But just because you disagree, does not make your opinion invalid. In fact, I’m more than interested to hear what you think, and have my own perceptions of the show challenged.

Dogfight played at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD between 8 August – 13 September 2014.


Tips: The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face (The Jetty, London)

Shunt artwork - A5 RGB 72dpiShunt’s new show, The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face is wildly inventive, and something that I found to be quite brilliant. However, I’m completely aware that this is the type of theatre that is going to be quite divisive when it comes to opinion, already demonstrated in The Stage’s luke-warm review, and the comments on Time Out’s review of the show. This is because it’s as far away from the traditional type of theatre, and far more unhinged and off-the-wall than other promenade experiences that have happened in London such as The Drowned Man and In The Beginning Was The End.

So if you’re a little undecided about whether to go or not, or simply want to know how to make the best of your visit then here are some tips from myself.

Getting There

The walk from North Greenwich Underground station is quite straight forward, but it will take around 10 minutes minimum! So make sure you leave plenty of time to get there. However, don’t panic if you’re running a little late. Audience members for a booked time will be let in at several intervals within that half-hour. But still try to make it there on time as the last thing the show needs is people bottlenecking towards the end of each half hour slot: it’ll probably frustrate you a little too.

Dress the Part

1. Wrap up and keep dry.

Although the show takes place inside shipping containers, it’s not entirely inside them. Also, the pop-up food and bar area is uncovered which is where you’ll be held until you’re summoned into Shunt’s intense microcosm. So, as September draws on, remember that things can get a bit wet and chilly.

2. Wear small shoes.

You WILL be required to take off your shoes and socks to enter – no exceptions – and you’ll then be carrying them around with you in a shoe box. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend boots, high heels, or platforms (!?) because it’s likely you’ll end up carrying two shoe boxes around with you (one per shoe) like I noticed some people did on the night I went. You don’t want to be distracted by cumbersome luggage as this may take away from your enjoyment.

It’s also an easy, but not short walk from North Greenwich station. So probably best to wear something comfortable so you don’t tire out those poor feet before even getting there.

3. Be clean.

You’re barefoot. For the comfort of other audience members, please ensure that you have clean odour-free feet.

Make a Night Of It

1. Try pie. Try.

The venue is not just about the show. It also has its own pop-up bar and food area. The food is certainly worth staying for. It’s reasonably priced with decent sized portions and is more than a little delicious! With the bar and food are open from 5pm – a full hour before the performances kick off – and after the last lot have been in, there’s no reason why you can’t catch a tasty bite.

Highly recommended is the pulled pork: spicy, sweet and succulent, it’s delicious but quite distinct from pulled pork you may have otherwise tasted. Also, be sure to try their homemade rum & raisin ice cream, laced with Kraken Rum. :Q_

2. Stay for the Entertainment

Whilst the show is obviously the main draw, The Jetty will also be putting on a programme of live music and other entertainment in their bar area throughout the duration of the run (schedule tba). So why not plan your evening to take in some of the other things they have to offer.

Remember, the O2 is also a short walk away, so if you could easy take in a film before or after, or even a gig if you time things properly.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/102237384]

The Boy Who Climbed out Of His Face: Official Trailer.

Enjoying the Show – Dos and Don’ts

1. DON’T expect a narrative. DO open yourself to the experience.

As mentioned in my review, whilst there is a definite sequence of events, there isn’t a narrative as such. So don’t expect to try and find one. Instead, open yourself to being whisked through areas of amazing detail and design, and don’t be afraid to get yourself emotionally stuck in this intense and multi-sensory journey. Try to think of it more like a piece of walk-through art. It might not make complete sense, but it’s a spectacle none the less.

This is not a traditional theatre experience. If you don’t like anything outside of traditional theatre experiences, stick to traditional theatre experiences. However, I would encourage everyone to expand their theatrical horizons should they have the time to, even if you end up hating this.

2. DON’T go if you’re scared of dark confined spaces, suffer from photo-sensitive epilepsy, have access needs, or are offended by male nudity.

You’re going to be inside shipping containers for 45 minutes, and some parts of it are quite dark and a little cramped. Several parts of the show also include total black outs. There are also some flashing lights, at points – although never strobe – so those who suffer from photo-sensitive epilepsy should seriously be aware that this could trigger their condition.

Unfortuantely, given the nature of the show and the fact that it’s inside shipping containers, it is completely inaccessible for theatre goers who use a wheelchair. For those who require assistance to get around, do be aware that it is not level and there are steps and obstacles throughout that you’ll be required to move through at a good speed.

As for male nudity, that’s your problem. Not Shunt’s.

3. DON’T be afraid to be afraid. But DO be brave and participate.

As I and Time Out have mentioned, there are parts of the show that are actually terrifying. So expect to be at least a little unnerved. But even so, there are points where you as an individual and/or as a group are singled out and/or left to your own devices. So go with a “can do” attitude and a willingness to put yourself out there, even if it is a little petrifying.

4. DO go with friends.

Relating to the point above, going with friends is actually a good idea here. Whilst for shows like The Drowned Man and In The Beginning Was the End audience members were encouraged to go off individually to explore and have an individual experience, there’s not really much scope to do that here. Therefore, find strength in numbers by a coercing a loved one or a couple of mates come along with you, especially if you want to go but feel you might get a little too scared to go solo.

However, do be prepared for the possibility that a member of your group might be split off from the rest at various points. But don’t worry, nothing horrifying will happen to you or them should that happen: this isn’t Sweeny Todd’s!

5. DO make use of the bar. DON’T turn up drunk.

You’re probably going to need a drink afterwards, but I’d also recommend you have one before. Dutch Courage would certainly help some of the more nervous patrons, but it’ll also hopefully loosen you up a bit a really get yourself stuck into the show and open your mind a little.

That said, I can’t imagine anything worse than going through the show intoxicated, or worse, arriving under the influence of narcotics. This is a supremely surreal, scary, and intense show that’s enough of a crazy trip as it is when sober. Arriving off-your-face will most likely make you freak out, not to mention become a pain and spoil the experience for the rest of the audience.

6. DO hang around at the last scene.

Even though the last scene is a bit of a let down compared to how much you’re built up before it, it’s pretty striking and beautiful. The loop for this scene is also around 15-minutes and is actually really relaxing and subdued as well as visually arresting. It’s a nice wind-down even if you could have done with a bit more of the main show itself.

[youtube http://youtu.be/jsuvL1_XoLM]

The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face will run at The Jetty, London, SE10 0FL, from 14 August – 28 September 2014. Tickets are £10. To book, visit www.barbican.org.uk. For more information about Shunt and the production, visit www.shunt.co.uk.


Opinion: See the Best Theatre in London (Members Only)

Pay up, pay up, for the greatest show in London!

Pay up, pay up! For the greatest show in London!

Benedict Cumberbatch has sold out. I’m not talking artistically; I’m talking about the fact that, in less than a day, the Barbican’s production of Hamlet has been absolutely booked-up. Tickets to see Cumberbatch’s last London foray at the National Theatre in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein were also rather difficult to get hold of. But the story of tickets selling quicker than a flash of summer lightning is not a new one. Gillian Anderson is also currently cramming in the punters at the Young Vic, contributing to what has been the fastest selling show in London’s theatre history, David Tennant caused a booking frenzy when he visited the capital with his interpretation of Hamlet, and James McAvoy in Macbeth meant you had to possibly commit regicide yourself to get in on the show.

So how does one go about procuring some of London’s hottest tickets? The answer: pay up!

Friends With Benefits

Many theatres have membership schemes. These are where you make a yearly “gift” to get a certain amount of extras as a thank you for financially supporting the venue. The most valuable of these benefits is priority booking. This is when these exclusive members get the chance to book seats before the rest of the plebs fight it out.

And it’s not just theatre that offer this priority perk either. The British Film Institute (BFI) also has a membership scheme which really comes into its own for the London Film and Flare (formerly London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival) festivals, where being a member is really the only way you’ll be a good shot at tickets for almost all their showings. Even mobile carrier O2 offers priority ticket allocations for its customers for events at its music/entertainment venues, meaning free mobile-to-mobile calls between pretty much everyone at Kate Bush’s upcoming tour.

A Costly Relationship

So if you really want to be sure to get tickets, committing yourself to a theatre is probably the best way to go. But how much will it cost you?

Well, that really depends on the theatre and how good a “friend” you want to be. The National Theatre has the cheapest basic membership that offers priority booking, at a mere £15 per year. But then, membership fees for higher tiers and other theatres can go for £100 or more. More philanthropic members of the public can even purchase packages for up to £50,000 (Almeida)!

But it’s worth it to be able to get those hot “tiks”, right?

“La membri teatro è mobile!”

Membership only gives you a better chance of getting seats by offering this priority period. Despite being part of an exclusive crowd that has first dibs, there are still stories of members having to fight for tickets among themselves, with servers and booking lines become so overload that they go down even when it’s just the presumably exclusive few who are able to book. Members who have been unable to get tickets during these priority periods, due to the theatre or member priority allocation selling out, then have battle it out with the rest of the public during the general booking period: sometimes ending up with no tickets at all.

Therefore, some theatres, like the Barbican, Donmar Warehouse, and Old Vic, have extra priority booking periods for members who are able to buy into a higher tier of membership, from £65 (Old Vic) upwards to £350 (Donmar Warehouse). So if you really want to get those seats, you’re looking at paying an additional up to two, three, or nearly ten times more per year than the actual ticket price itself for that extra level of chance.

James McAvoy and Claire Foy as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Photograph: Courtesy of the Ambassador Theatre Group.

James McAvoy and Claire Foy as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Photograph: Courtesy of the Ambassador Theatre Group.

I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Off The Stage

Part of the problem is that theatres and productions keep pulling in big acting names and causing massive box-office pandemoniums. It’s a marketing ploy and one that works. Create a hype, get someone involved that everyone’s going to want to see, and the show is a sell-out success even before the critics can get a sniff at the actual quality of direction, production, or in some cases, the play itself. The reliance on having a renowned star in a show is becoming a bit of a bore and a cynical exercise. A production doesn’t need a celebrity to be brilliant. Shakespeare in Love currently on in the West End is getting rave reviews despite no big-name brands appearing in it. Famously, when Tennant was unable to make several performances for Hamlet, his understudy, Edward Bennett, did a fantastic job receiving standing ovations, and was arguably a bigger smash than the Dr. Who actor himself.

But to suggest that the resolution to this problem is to keep the stars off the stage is an unfair one. Many of them can offer just as nuanced and interesting an interpretation of a character as any other professional actor, and should be free to do so. To disallow them to play these roles would be a loss to theatre, especially as many of today’s TV and film stars steeled their craft on the stage to begin with, and in many cases have really added something to a show that is unique and incredible. Whilst they should be allowed to appear on London’s stages, their presence really isn’t helping the situation.

A Costly Compromise

Memberships to artistic ventures and venues are nothing new, and have been around for decades as a way of supporting theatres and the work they do. These days, with sweeping funding cuts to the arts, theatres are having to rely more on the kindness of strangers (well, “Friends”) to enable them to continue putting our some rather marvellous shows. Theatres like the Old Vic have even taken to auctioning props on eBay to make up the funds they need. It might seem greedy on the surface, especially given the number of critical and sell-out hits they’ve had, but there are huge costs involved in putting on shows. For all the success and money the public see being poured into the theatre from ticket sales, there’s a lot more going out of it then you’d realise.

But what this creates is a very sad and uneasy compromise. The most anticipated and sought after theatre is becoming a thing that only those who can afford membership, particular the higher tears, can get a decent change of accessing. With London theatre officially having a bigger audience than the Premier League, you begin to realise the potential amount of theatre goers who will end up being priced out of seeing some great shows, especially if they don’t have they the tenacity and sheer luck needed during the general booking period.

Whilst the fringe still, and always will, offer some brilliant shows for much more reasonable prices, actors like Cumberbatch, Anderson, Tennant, and McAvoy shouldn’t be kept merely at the pleasure of those who can cough up the cash. They should be able to be seen by everyone.

Smiley happy members having fun. Photograph: Courtesy of Ambassador's Theatre Group.

Smiley happy members having fun. Photograph: Courtesy of Ambassador Theatre Group.

Members Only

It’s difficult situation to come up with a solution to. Limit the number of membership priority seats and/or stymie the priority booking period and you get a lot of disgruntled people who have paid-up for nought, causing theatres to lose that level of commitment and funding. Without the reliance on those who can act as such mini-philanthropists, we would probably lose some of our best theatres and wouldn’t be able to even have imagined productions such as Frankenstein, A Streetcar Named Desire, Hamlet, or Macbeth. Celebrity stars are unfortunately a key ingredient to ensure a production actually makes money rather than run at a loss and/or close prematurely (usually), so getting rid of those won’t solve things either. But without trying to give the general public more and fairer opportunities to get to see these shows, theatre may well become the playground for the relatively wealthy, enjoying an elitism that has stereotypically been seen as the reserve of opera.

But that’s not to say theatres are at all giving up on the general more cash-strapped public. Many still offer discount and low-cost tickets for shows. But these seem to be getting fewer, not because their allocation is shrinking but because their demand is growing. You just need to get up early enough to see the lengthy queues forming as early as 7am for returns and day tickets for some productions. Even broadcasting theatre to cinemas, another well-meaning and noble way of opening up the accessibility and increasing an audience outside of auditoriums, feels like a cheap consolation prize. In reality, you’re pretty much seeing a film and not a theatre show: it’s just not the same. It’s great that theatres are still looking to cater to those on lower budgets, but the truth is that, for want of trying, the provisions are becoming rather inadequate.

It’s a tricky conundrum, but one that should probably be seriously considered in order to keep theatre for everyone, even if there isn’t an immediate answer. This is made more pertinent when theatre groups, such as the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), have come under intense scrutiny about how they make their money recently.

But ultimately, there are a lot of people who would have liked to have seen Cumberbatch play the Prince of Denmark but lost out because they couldn’t pay for priority booking: not just because of a lack of availability. Theatre shouldn’t be proud of this.


Opinion: Theatre Breaks Down, And Secret Cinema is No Exception

Secret CinemaThere’s been outcry in the theatre world in the past week. Secret Cinema’s incredibly ambitious staging of Back to The Future had its first few shows cancelled, disappointing literally thousands of fans in some cases just hours before they were to attend the performance.

It’s been a social media storm in a tea-cup, with Secret Cinema’s digital PR presence being heavily criticised for how it’s been dealing with some very understandably upset fans, and the rest of the media lapping the drama up for its own benefit. But for all the furore it has caused, we seem to have forgotten a very basic fact about theatre: sometimes it doesn’t work.

Theatre Breaks. Get Over It.

Theatre has always been quite a technical endeavour, and the more ambitious it gets, there are more chances for it to go wrong. Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark is probably the most renowned shows that physically didn’t work, with technology malfunctions and even accidents and injuries amongst the cast (let alone the panning it got from critics and audiences alike) making it go down as one of the most infamous Broadway productions of all time. Shows were cancelled, and some performances stopped part-way through. It tried to be an extravaganza of techno-theatrics, but it seems to fall on its own sword far too many times due to its ambition and complexity. Even when witnessing the technological wizardry of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the little train at the finale of Act I failed to move when it should have. Hardly a show-cancelling fault, but it just made you realise about just how much could go wrong within that production at any moment. If you can’t get the little things right, what hope is there for the bigger things? Who knew that the show would ultimately succumb to ageing plasterwork.

But it’s not just the colossal mechanical scale of some shows that cause a production to go wrong. Even more humble productions can have their problems. When I went to see Akram Kahn’s brilliant DESH the audience were sat for nearly an hour after the show’s billed curtain-up time as crew tried to sort out digital projection difficulties, with rumours of the performance, one of a very few, being cancelled. Thankfully it wasn’t.

Non-technical things can stop a performance too, specifically the cast itself. They could be ill, stuck in a location, or even have absconded, leading to cancelled performances. On the fringe, understudies are few and far between, and a poorly cast member can really put the brakes on a run with disastrous effect. Death, as was the case with Michael Jackson, is the ultimate show-stopper.

Even fraud has put a stop to shows, such as what happened with Best of Friends.

Though a performance may not get cancelled if something goes wrong, seasoned theatre-goers know to brace themselves for a little disappointment. David Tennant’s absence from Hamlet was something that, despite specifically paying to see him, patrons just had to deal with. Connie Fisher and Martine McCutcheon drew similar ire for their missed performances in The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady respectively. But there’s little you can do when that happens. Sometimes the billed leads can’t always be there, sometimes the show’s technology doesn’t quite work, or sometimes the show has to be cancelled altogether. There is always a lot of understandably disappointed audiences in the wake as a result, but it’s nothing new.

Death By Hype

Secret Cinema’s plight is caused partly by its own ambition. This is a huge theatrical project, the biggest in London since Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man, and arguably much larger. But it’s not necessarily because it bit off more than it can chew with regards to building Hill Valley and hiring and rehearsing the 80+ actors. In a recent interview with The Independent, founder Fabian Riggall quietly points the finger at bureaucratic interference/oversight rather than negligence and/or tardiness as the rumours would have it. But why things have gone so sour is much more because of the hype the event has created.

Taking a cult film and giving it such an audacious performance was always going to do two things. Firstly, it was going to attract people who wouldn’t usually go to the theatre, and therefore might not be used to some of the disappointments that more regular patrons would steel themselves for, let alone have the right type of expectations for this type of theatre event that you’d expect.

Secondly, it becomes such a big and anticipated occasion that the margin for error is reduced to pretty much zero, as expectations for the show become close to unreasonable especially given the high price of tickets. That is by no means to say that those who have spent a lot of time, money, and even travel to the show are unjustified in their tweet-vented upset. It means that Secret Cinema now have to deal with trying to manage the truly exceptional customer expectations created by their product, and some truly remarkable accounts from customers about being cancelled on to go with it.

Yes. It’s a royal pain and a huge disappointment if you were one of myriad patrons that have been disappointed over the past few days, and it is generally unacceptable that the product you bought become unavailable or isn’t as promised. But if you’ve planned to go to previews and very early performances of a massively ambitious theatre project, brimming with technical and legal/corporate complexity, then don’t be so surprised when the show doesn’t go on. When you pay for a show, especially one so bold in its remit, you also pay for the chance it might not work: like you do when you buy any other product like a new TV or a car. When that happens, you go through the processes of getting a replacement or a refund, like what Secret Cinema are offering all customers affected. You’re not the first theatre-goer in London to have been cancelled on or disappointed, and you certainly won’t be the last.

From another point of view, the aforementioned The Drowned Man drew criticism for parts of the complex being unfinished during its preview period. Would it have been better to just cancel than to have people pay for an incomplete show? Would you willingly have gotten involved in an incomplete or even potentially unsafe Hill Valley experience for £53?

If you’re one of those who went to a lot of effort to get to the show, my heart goes out to you. But there’s really nothing you can do as cancelled shows are not uncommon, but thankfully still a relative rarity. There certainly are questions about how well/badly Secret Cinema have handled the situation and what more could have been done to prevent it (hindsight is a wonderful thing), and this is yet another case-study for the impact of social media in journalism and on business/customer relations. But maybe we should be focusing our scrutiny on producers truncating runs and disappointing ticket holders due to less transparent reasons – cf: The Full Monty?

Back to the Future plays on various dates until 31st August 2014. To book tickets, visit www.secretcinema.org.


I now pronounce you Mr & Mr Miqo’te? Final Fantasy XIV “consider” in-game same-sex marriages.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Logo: Courtesy of Square Enix.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Logo: Courtesy of Square Enix.

Having finally gotten same-sex marriage onto the statute books in the UK, putting us in-line with countries like Uruguay, seeing the debate roll on in other countries isn’t surprising. But in a video game?

The re-launch of the much beleaguered Final Fantasy (FF) XIV, the second massively multiplayer online (MMO) instalment of the behemoth gaming franchise, is experiencing a bit of a Waterga III in a teacup. Will LGBT players be able to have same-sex marriage ceremonies for their in-game avatars?

FFXI, Square Enix’s first MMO, saw marriage introduced as an option for players. Gamers would get a bundle of nice things, and there’d be a big hoo-ha for all your friends to attend. But it was, and still is, only allowed for characters of the opposite sex. With coming out later this month, is it time for the developers to change their tune?

Developers of FFXIV have said this about the possibility of introducing same-sex marriage to the game:

“…this is an extremely controversial topic that has been under discussion in the MMO world for the past few years. First we would like to start out with opposite-sex marriage, and then consider the feedback from our players in order to make a careful decision.” 

It’s a little frustrating that Square Enix are dragging their feet on the issue, but it’s hardly surprising. After all, Japan, where the company is based, isn’t a culture that’s renowned for forthrightly embracing the LGBT community. But to me, it’s a no-brainer. Same-sex marriage is slowly being adopted by legal systems around the world. America, the UK, and France, three of the five countries that the game’s languages support, already have it established. Futhermore, LGBT characters have becoming more prominent in video games of late, such as characters in Dragon Age and Mass Effect being openly gay, which has caused a bit of a racaus amongst less open minded gamers, so it won’t like they’ll be quite trailblazing LGBT representation in video games.

Also, just because the avatars are of opposite sex, does not mean the players are. There are no caveats or restrictions to what gender a player is allowed to choose as their avatar. Therefore, a same-sex couple in-game, could very likely be a heterosexual pair in real life. During my many years playing FFXI, I constantly saw straight male players play as a female character, more often than not as Mithra – the sexy, busty cat-women of the game. Female players, too, would switch genders when it came to their avatars more often than not.

FF also has a massive LGBT following across all of its franchise instalments, especially in the Western markets. Indeed, in FFXIV, there will be dedicated gamer-created groups (Free Companies and Linkshells) being set up on almost every server specifically for LGBT players to mingle and share the gaming experience. One example, which I plan on joining once the game it launched, is Phoenix Down. And if we’re really honest, Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) have always been incredibly camp, and the FF series is possibly the campest of them all. You only have to look at the males of the Miqo’te race in FFXIV to come to the conclusion that, despite all the sword swinging and shuriken throwing antics, it’s not the butchest game on the market.

So butch! Original concept artwork for a male Miqo'te. Courtesy of Square Enix.

So butch! Original concept artwork for a male Miqo’te. Courtesy of Square Enix.

But the most important point is whether players actually care. Being in a contained virtual environment, it’s hardly going to upset the “natural order” of things and piss off some omnipotent; such as in the arguments against same-sex marriage in the real world. Plus, apart from some fancy items, same-sex marriage will have just the same impact on gameplay as opposite-sex marriage: absolutely bugger all.

However, unfortunately players do bring their real life bigotry into the game. I, and many others, have experience homophobia in FFXI. But Square Enix already do a good job of tackling this as part of their bullying policing. Discrimination on the grounds of sexuality isn’t explicitly mentioned in their User Agreement, but then again neither is race, religion, or gender; it all comes under the vague term of “Offensive Language”. The game’s policing team, employed Games Masters, do a fantastic job in very broadly applying this clause to cover sexuality and everything else. So Square Enix are already behind the LGBT community in ensuring their virtual spaces are safe and welcoming. So why not afford them virtual equal marriage rights?

I’m stopping short of congratulating Square Enix on “considering” same-sex marriage, but at least it’s on the cards. Overall, the fact that it’s gained enough momentum to become an issue is a positive step forward to equality inside video games, even if we’re a long way off having it outside of them. And maybe the former might spur on the latter.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will be released on 27 August 2013. For more information about the game, visit http://eu.finalfantasyxiv.com.


Accents and Sensibility: Vox Pooped!

"How kind of you to let me come." Steady on, Audrey! Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady". Photograph: Everett Collection.

“How kind of you to let me come.” Steady on, Audrey! Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady”. Photograph: Everett Collection.

A while back I reviewed something that was overall a very good production. But I decided not to include one thing that really irked me – one of the actor’s accents.

The situation was that the entire cast were British with British accents bar one actor who was American and had a very strong American accent. Their acting was very solid, just their voice made them stand out like a sore thumb and really distracted me from the production.

Should I have mentioned this in my review, and if so, who should I have blamed?

There is an art to casting. People make entire professions out of it, especially in film. So would the casting director have to take the brunt? One thing I bore in mind was that this was a fringe production, and one of the main reasons I chose not to include it in my review. Fringe must be incredibly inventive by its very nature, due to being usually very strapped for cash, and find support and resources where it can, and would be incredibly insincere and nonconstructive to have moaned about a single actor’s accent. But I would be much less forgiving for something like this in a big West End production, especially when they the wealth of acting talent vying for roles like there’s no tomorrow. For fringe, where actors are usually paid in a profit share if at all, the pickings are a little slimmer to say the least. As I mentioned, the actor was good. If the decision came down to a good actor with a stand out accent, or a less talented actor with a local accent, I can’t blame the production team for plumping with the former.

But what about blaming the actor? Why couldn’t they just put on a British accent? Well, maybe because their British accent is appalling. The British public often mock American film stars for fluffing British accents, but the criticism goes both ways. I think a dodgy and forced British accent would have been more off putting than an America one. Also, sometimes a good actor’s skills can suffer from trying too hard to perfect the accent. This I felt happened with Joe McFadden in Torch Song Trilogy, which is a shame because when his accent was less convincing, his acting excelled.

But can’t the director and production team have done more to level out everyone’s accents? Voice coaches cost, and once again it’s a luxury the fringe can rarely afford. But sometimes it’s an expense that is really worth forking out for. Apart from being a really dreary musical, one of Goodbye Barcelona’s faults was that it clearly had a bad, or more likely (I hope) a lack of voice coaching. The result was with some of the Spanish characters’ accents sounding more Speedy Gonzales than Catalan freedom fighter, a flaw me and the friend I saw it have turned into a long running in-joke.

But maybe we as an audience should be trying a little harder. The production in question was actually set in Germany. Why not have the entire cast speaking in German accents for the sake of being more believable and authentic/pedantic? If our capacity to suspend belief will stretch to making British accents of German characters, why couldn’t I as an audience member do that with the American actor?

At the same time, directors and casting directors shouldn’t try to try a patron’s imagination too much, as there is only a limit to how much it can allow. For example, the marvelous Simon Russell Beale inexplicably kept his very British accent in Deathtrap despite it being set in New England and the rest of the cast donning or using their own northwest American accents. Some reviews picked up on this and moaned about it, and not without cause. However, I didn’t think it was that big a deal. For me it was actually quiet feasible that his character could be a British ex-pat author, especially as nothing alluded to any particular heritage during the play regarding Russell Beale’s character. But an American among a British cast playing Germans is perhaps that stretch too far, forcing me out of my allowance of imagination just enough to find it bothersome.

Overall the show was very good, and I felt that it would be more than a little inglorious to nit-pick at this, especially as the production was making great strides with its limited capabilities as it was. But accents on stage are by no means just a minor detail as it can turn into a big frustration for theatre goers if neglected.


The Church of England’s Last Miracle – Utter Fucking Irrelevance (A Sweary Open Letter)

Dear Church of England,

So, your synod has ruled to disallow any women becoming bishops. Congratulations, you are now utterly irrelevant. Please quietly fuck off.

Let us explain.

Your decision has shown that you are completely and willfully against the values of progressive humanity. Therefore, given your cocksure and shameless disregard for modern thought, you MUST remove yourself from any debate on secular issues as you have demonstrated that you do not represent societal dictum.

By refusing to treat women as equals, a basic maxim that a vast section of society embrace and celebrate, you have absolutely NO RIGHT to exert opinion in debates in British society that are of a secular nature, such as equal marriage and abortion.

Although we never quite understood why secular issues need the sway of religious opinion in the first place. For example, the campaign for EQUAL marriage (it’s not about being ‘gay’, but about ending institutional discrimination of enforcing separate legal identities between same sex and heterosexual couples) is about redefining the legal boundaries of how two people join together as a single supportive civil unit, not about expediting the end of days. Whilst some of us may disagree with many religions’ stance on homosexuality you still have every right to that opinion. But a change in the law will have no effect on religion’s right to an opinion, or have any direct affect whatsoever on the everyday practise of faith. It’s purely a civil matter we’ve never been too sure why you deem it fit to vomit your narrow minded viewpoints unceremoniously and uninvited into the discussion. Scared of losing influence on society, are we?

And with regards to abortion, if you cannot treat women as equals to men, what insight, empathy, or right do you have to bully control over the choice a woman?

This isn’t even about Christianity being irrelevant; it’s about you and only you as an established British religious institution being irrelevant. Non-conformist denominations and many Christians we know and are friends with/related to think women should be equal to men, legally and spiritually. They practise their faith open-mindedly and with regard to the wider community to which they belong. They face full-on and with fervour the challenges that being a Christian in modern society can bring, approaching conundrums of morals not only with faith and scripture, but with common sense and critical capacity. We admire this even if after all is said and done we still might not see eye to eye.

But they still adhere to and support BASIC human rights such as sex equality. Seeing as Christianity’s (and arguably also Judaism’s) stance on the relevance of some rather misogynistic ramblings of the Old Testament is not exactly clear cut, ‘God said so, guv’nor,’ is not a legitimate excuse for ignoring this.

So, seeing as you refuse to align yourself with the majority of thought in the UK, you’ve merrily cakewalked into utter fucking irrelevance. So, as we’ve said once before, please quietly fuck off. Go wank yourselves in that dark and obscure corner you’ve built yourselves over your bloated sense of superiority  just because you believe in a higher power and have been inexplicably venerated to a position of supposed pseudo-influence.

Unkind regards,
Mostly Everyone

PS. Obviously this rudely worded opinion is aimed at the admittedly slim majority of the Church of England who voted in the way that they did. We greatly admire all those who attempted and pushed for change within the institution, including the Archbishop himself. However, have you considered becoming a Methodist? They’re really not as miserable as people make out to be. Can’t be any worse than the crock of bastards you’re currently surrounded by…

PPS. Many of us have signed a petition to have your automatic seats in the House of Lords removed given the circumstances outlined above. Watch the number of denizens grow who don’t want fuckwitted piss-artists like yourselves have even a scintilla of influence over secular law making. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/42117


Spending A Moneypenny: Would a rehash of Bond take the piss?

Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.

Skyfall, Skyfall, Skyfall, Skyfall, Skyfall. Did I mention Skyfall?

The amount of Bond blabber has been unbearable, and I’m a little begrudged to add to it! But after seeing it on its now recording breaking opening weekend there’s been something that’s really eating me. Near the end of the film, Bond finally asks the name of the sassy field agent, who assisted him against this outing’s baddy. ‘Eva Moneypenny’ came the reply, and I was sent into a spiral of despair. The credit’s further threat that ‘Bond will be Back’ made it even worse, because it set up something which I think could possibly be quite harrowing.

With a clear sign that the franchise will not go quietly into an unprofitable night there are two ways it can continue:

  • Whole new Bond films continuing where Ian Flemming left off
  • Remake of all previous Eon films

The former I can deal with. So many of the details of Flemming’s novels have been changed in all films that what remains is more or less just the idea and essence of each Bond novel rather than their original strict narratives. With such record breaking Box Office takings, brand new Bonds with new stories is one way to ensure the studio can keeping the franchise alive and suck all possible dollar bills out of it.

But the latter to me is just unthinkable, and I really hope that this doesn’t happen. For starters do they really need a modern day makeover? It seems a bit silly to ask this question because Bond has always been modernised in film. The World is Not Enough was very 90s and not in keeping with the campy 60s and 80s extravaganzas of Dr. No and Octopussy respectively. But despite the films always keeping up with the times, their charm has always been a timeless one – Bond is always the swath alpha male of epic energy, sex appeal, and danger. But they are also very much of their time, which also forms part of their novelty, with films like Moonraker challenging your average Carry On for most innuendoes per minute. Indeed the first two Austin Powers films did a wonderful job of spoofing everything we love about the older Bond films – the needlessly complicated execution attempts, the maniacal and downright ridiculous plots to control the world, the strange abilities of sidekicks, etc. But they are none the less the films that we know and love. Do they really need a face lift?

I just can’t quite imagine a Christopher Nolan remake – a brooding, raspy Bond wallowing in crushing self-pity and regret, an Odd Job who is actually menacing, and a movie choc with pretty but slightly overbearing special effects played to the same score that Hans Zimmer keeps trying to pass off as new.

But maybe I am being too cynical? Hugh Armitage wrote a rather marvelous article for So So Gay in praise of reboots, especially with the success of the Spiderman reboot’s rebooting (‘rebootception’ to capitalise on a meme) and Man of Steel looking less Superman and more Supergrittyrealismman than anything else (as long as it’s not the dire Superman Returns, I actually won’t mind). Maybe I should be looking at the prospect of a rehash as more of a reworking/re-imagining of James Bond, much like Nolan’s sensational treatment of Batman (as much as I’ll affectionately mock). Who knows, a remake of the Eon films might turn out to be something better and more affecting than my initial response of abject horror, and we might see something deeper than a mere cashing-in and bastardisation of what we’ve come to adore.

To colour my argument, we need only to look at Josh Whedon and Zak Penn. Their superhero films culminating in Avengers Assemble thus far,whilst not be reworks of old films (with the exception of Ang Lee’s a little too boring Hulk and other Hulk films and TV series that came before that), are certainly a clear reinterpretation of the original comics. As writers/directors their success is on their knowledge, understanding and empathy of the genre and the stories in order to tweak and update them.

But in order to turn established groundwork narratives into nearly new stories, there really does need to be someone behind their reworking such as Whedon and Penn in order to prevent the franchise taking a nose-dive into crass and unwanted pastiche. Alas, until we actually know what is to become of everyone’s favourite nymphomaniac secret agent, we have only our fears to dwell on. But even if those fears are realised and the franchise does start to take the piss, at least there’ll still be the oldies but goodies that can still be enjoyed – it’s not like they’re going anywhere.


Are old jokes still the best? A short essay on Joan Rivers.

Last night saw Joan Rivers recent The Now or Never Tour climax to selling out the Royal Albert Hall. Full of glamour and viper-tongued offensiveness that has long been Rivers’ trademark, the evening delivered and then some even if the faux Lizzy Windsor sat up at the organ very convincingly never cracking a smile throughout.

With Joan there’s a certain familiarity that comes with the ground of being a celebrated comedienne with a (very) long and illustrious career. But is she now a little too familiar?

Kit & McConnel warmed up the crowd as if still Kit & The Widow with the usual punditry about Joan’s age and the fact she’s had more sculpting than Michelangelo’s David. And then Joan comes on with a set that leaves you with a very definite sense of déjà vu. There’s the one about lesbians not laughing, tips for gay men faking orgasms, that routine about her minuscule band fleshed out with mirrors etc etc.

At nearly £40 a ticket other comedians would be hounded out the venue if they were to repeat the same gags that they spouted seven years ago. It was that long ago when I last saw Joan live at Manchester Opera house during my halcyon university days. Many of the quips that appeared in this most recent tour were said and done back then and by all means should be considered as antique as she is. However, I found myself not minding at all.

One of our party, Erik (@rebelprince26), an American, had mentioned a while back that he found the British obsession of buying comedians’ shows on DVD as Christmas gifts rather odd especially as there isn’t a market in such things in the US. Surely, he observed, that once you’ve seen the show you won’t want to watch it again because you already know all the jokes, or have simply already heard them all before on TV? A good point seeing as such modern day comedic staples such as Russell Howard and Michael McIntyre do just that and their gags lose their lustre very quickly, assuming that they had any to begin with. But surely, as I pointed out to him last night, that seeing Joan Rivers live again is a much more expensive DVD experience in comparison, no? But as always with Joan, she’s a most glorious exception to any rule.

Joan’s success is that whilst it’s the same jokes, it’s not the same routine. Part of what you buy into is her presence and prowess on stage which is a spectacle in itself along with the fact that she always mixes it up a little. Yes, there are the familiar jokes, but to say that her act was composed solely of old zingers is unfair and inaccurate. Rivers threw in a lot of new material that is both current and genuinely fresh, such some inspired bilious zeal about Adele’s baby, for example. There are also plenty of oldies but goodies that she didn’t use again that could have easily worked its way into the show if she had wanted it to.

An evening with Joan is like a particularly giggly pic n’ mix; there’s the stalwart choices among somethings you’ve maybe not tried before. She has the formula down to an art. Putting in enough familiar good gags that still get an assured titter even from those who’ve heard it all before and a delivery and charisma that is unrivaled  But there’s a titillating expectation of something new and just as hilariously vile and catty as the rest of her arsenal, which she meets with bombast. And that’s why she’s worth going to see again.

I don’t feel cheated but would have loved to have seen Joan do more new material as what there was was sure fire and had me crying with laughter, reminding me why I love her despite the fact that some of her jokes make Frankie Boyle look like Balamory. Sometimes the old jokes are still the best, I was certainly still laughing at them, but a few more new tricks would not go amiss with this grande dame of comedy, especially as she proved that even at 79 she’s still got it.