Lissy Lovett has quite a lot of time for new feature Norfolk, but is baffled by the sight of a narrow boat on the Broads.
Norfolk is a county in the east of England. It’s where I was born and grew up, and it’s my favourite place in the world. Not that many people live there, but those that do are often unconventional and self-contained. There were once many Air Force bases, fewer now, but I’d often see strange planes in the sky when I was growing up. Norfolk is generally flat, with skies that go on forever, and has a series of man-made lakes, called the Broads, formed by medieval peat excavations. Continue reading Norfolk→
Looking back over the plays I’ve seen this year, English Touring Theatre’s tour of Shakespeare’s Globe’s Anne Boleyn has been my stand out favourite. It’s just the kind of play I like – funny, well acted, tightly scripted, with moments of sadness and surprise, all woven around an historical story which by the end makes me feel like I might have learnt something – in this case a tiny bit of the events and philosophising that led England to become a Protestant country instead of a Catholic one. The writer, Howard Brenton, wears his historical research lightly, I’m sure it all must have been more complicated than is presented here on stage, but he gives a good flavour of the issues, illustrated nicely with details – the battle between the Jesuits and Puritans over altar rails is particularly good. The cast, containing some changes from those who performed the play at the Globe itself back in 2011, were superb. Due to my job, I was fortunate to see the play at many venues on its tour, like some kind of Tudor /Stuart groupie, and it was exciting to see them develop their performances more at each venue and respond to the different audience reactions in each place (2012’s best audience award by the way goes to the audience at Hall for Cornwall in Truro – they were amazing.)
Gatz opened at the Noël Coward Theatre two weeks ago, and ever since then my Twitter feed has been full of comments like “I think I might have just seen the best piece of theatre ever,” and “ #gatz just blew my mind #gatzlondon”. When I bought my and my viewing companion’s tickets (up on the balcony, the most expensive seats down front are a whopping £117.50, which is a bit beyond Mostly Film’s budget), we had thought that maybe we’d sneak off halfway through if we didn’t like it. Heck, as it turned out we could have gone to watch England lose to Italy. But this blanket of praise put a different slant on things. What if we didn’t like it? Would that mean there was something wrong with us?
Lissy Lovett: I go to the theatre quite a bit, maybe once or twice a week on average. I’m lucky enough to see a lot of different kinds of things, Big West End musicals, straight plays in the subsidised sector, fringe productions, but I have only ever been to the opera twice. Once was to see some modern thing that I didn’t understand one bit at the Coliseum a few years ago, and then I went to see La Traviata at the Royal Opera House at the end of last year.
The first thing that struck me about the whole experience, is that in venues of that massive size, I’m used to see lights & speakers everywhere. We were sitting in the Amphitheatre right at the top, and if I squinted a bit I could almost believe that it looked exactly as it would have done in 1858. The proscenium arch was completely clear of lighting bars & speaker stacks. Which meant, I guess, that the orchestra & singers aren’t amplified at all? Is that the case? Because if so that’s really amazing. I’m not used to seeing singers who can sing that loudly! In your average West End musical everyone will have their own radio mic. I guess thinking about it that must be a modern-ish innovation, but it’s completely standard in theatre now. I’m finding it still quite hard to get my head around one voice being able to fill a space that large.
I was watching Legally Blonde a few weeks ago on TV and it seemed like it was missing something. It took a little while to work out what it was but then it hit me – there weren’t any songs. Legally Blonde: The Musical opened at the Savoy Theatre in London a good year and a half ago, and although the critical and commercial response was good overall, there was a certain amount of snobbery in there too. It was viewed, along with Dirty Dancing, Grease, Sister Act and others, as just another way to entice middle-aged women into theatres. The argument runs that women of a certain age (surely the biggest spenders in the West End) remember the original films fondly, and head to the shows in droves to try to recapture their youth, bringing their friends and families with them.
So here we have a class of musical that’s commercially successful and very often fabulously well staged, acted and sung, which is nevertheless dismissed by many people writing about theatre. The most often expressed reason for this dismissal is that the musicals are not original: they are based on films, and crowd-pleasing mainstream films at that. Dare I say it, but I think they are sometimes also discounted for being based on films that tend to be popular with women, and often “things women like” is synonymous with “things we look down upon”. From time to time there will be an article in The Stage or in The Guardianwhere the number of “original” shows and/or straight plays is compared with the number of remounts and film adaptations, either between the West End and Broadway or between now and 50 years ago. The subtext of these lists is always that having a greater number of brand new shows is better, and a higher number of straight plays something to be proud of. The list writers suggest that musicals and film adaptations are not as good as brand new work and plays where no one sings. The articles will say things like, did you know that in the 1950s, The Entertainer starring no less than Sir Laurence Olivier was playing at the Palace Theatre, instead of – gasp! horror! – Priscilla Queen of the Desert? Golly, everyone must have been so much more clever and cultured then than they are now. Continue reading Legally Scorned: Films as Musicals→