Stephen Ward, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical, opened with the usual fanfare just before Christmas, only to close four months later, dogged by lukewarm reviews and empty seats. Viv Wilby caught the show before it suffered the same fate as The Beautiful Game and Love Never Dies.
They’d already buried Stephen Ward before I got the chance to praise it. News broke last month that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical would close at the end of March after less than four months. I saw it in a half-empty theatre and the curtain has already come down for the last time. Continue reading So. Farewell then, Stephen Ward.→
I don’t go to many first nights at the opera. As I settled into my seat at the Coliseum for the UK premiere of Philip Glass’The Perfect American, his new piece about the final days of Walt Disney’s life, I suddenly flashed back to a first night I attended twenty-five years ago. That was also at the Coliseum, and it was for another Philip Glass opera. The Making Of The Representative For Planet 8 was his adaptation of a Doris Lessing sci-fi novel, and I can remember precisely one thing about it.
Roughly three-quarters of the way through Planet 8, there was a brief pause in between sections. Outside, there was a sudden commotion, and a police car could be heard roaring down St Martin’s Lane, its siren NEE-NAW-NEE-NAWing at full volume like they used to back in the eighties. The orchestra paused, waited for the noise to die down, and then launched into the next part of the opera. This being Philip Glass, it started with a simple repeated bass figure on the strings, just a pair of notes separated by a minor third. It went nee-naw-nee-naw. The audience laugh that followed was extraordinary – a sudden burst of guffawing, which was just as suddenly truncated as everyone remembered that the composer of both of those notes was sitting in the room with them.
Harold Pinter wrote The Hothouse in 1958. He then discarded the play and it remained out of sight for over two decades, before Pinter himself directed its premiere at the Hampstead Theatre in 1980. “I have occasionally out of irritation thought about writing a play with a satirical point. I once did, actually, a play that no-one knows about. A full-length play written after The Caretaker,” he told an interviewer in the early ’70s. “Wrote the whole damn thing in three drafts. It was called The Hothouse and was about an institution in which patients were kept: all that was presented was the hierarchy, the people who ran the institution. One never knew what happened to the patients or what they were there for or who they were. It was heavily satirical and it was quite useless.”
Despite Pinter’s protestations about its substandard quality, The Hothouse was a success in its initial run and was acclaimed again when it was revived in 2007. Now the play is back in London, with Jamie Lloyd directing a new production at the Trafalgar Theatre, and it gives audiences another valuable opportunity to catch up with this still underrepresented work. What might take some viewers by surprise is how broadly comic much of The Hothouse is, perhaps being partly inspired by some of the revue sketches he was writing around that time. In fact, the opening scene of the play unfolds in the manner of a classic sitcom.
Niall Andersonwatches the West End transfer of The Book Of Mormon
It goes without saying that Americans on the whole have a different view of religion than Europeans, and a lot of this has to do with how the two civilisations conceive of the rights of their individual citizens. To vulgarise slightly, in Europe rights are conceived of in negative: they’re the things that nobody can legally stop you from doing. In America, the connotation is largely positive when not outright libertarian. The expression of your individual rights as a citizen is precisely what marks you out as American; a tendency that in turn reinforces the notion of America itself as the great unindividuated home of personal freedom.
There are ironies galore here, but one thing there isn’t is actual irony. The sober Baptist in his New England chapel, the snakehandler in his revivalist’s tent, the dollar-mad televangelist in his sweaty megachurch: all are equally protected by the same Bill of Rights. This is a legalistic definition of equality, to be sure, but in a nation effectively founded by lawyers it has become something close to the cultural definition too. To suggest in the public realm that some manifestations of the religious impulse are kookier than others is held to be impolite; to suggest that religion as a whole might be a crock has the ring of sedition about it. When you mock the faithful, are you not also attacking their fundamental rights as citizens?
All of which perhaps explains the especial nervousness – and the especial atmosphere of heretical glee – that greeted the first Broadway run of The Book Of Mormon in 2011. A satirical musical about America’s foremost native religion, written and co-directed by America’s foremost native satirists (South Park honchos Trey Parker and Matt Stone), the advance word was so hectically positive that you almost thought they’d found a cure for religion through the medium of dancing and low sarcasm. In a probably unconscious echo of the missionary zeal the musical elsewhere mocks, The Book Of Mormon has evangelised itself into a number of touring productions, one which turned up in London last week. Far from home in an alien culture, how would Mormon get on in the godless hinterlands of Soho and Piccadilly? Continue reading Pull The Utah One, It’s Got Bells On→
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.)
Niall Anderson pleads for people to lighten up about spoilers
The first recorded use of the term SPOILER ALERT is from 8 June 1982. It occurred in a Usenet film group (net.movies) and related to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which had been released the previous Friday. A group member called Hamilton from the University of Chicago employs the term as a warning to other users before speculating [SPOILER ALERT!] on whether Spock is genuinely dead or if he could be brought back for the sequel.
It feels strange to see a meme so fully formed a good twenty years before it hits the mainstream. But it’s all basically here, including the tendency of spoiler etiquette to skew towards cultish material. Look further in the Usenet archives and you’ll see the term being adopted as a simple matter of course and courtesy. A spoiler hierarchy also develops. Minor plot points are preceded by a throat-clearing SPOILER ALERT, while complex or major plot points tend to be translated into a substitution cypher like ROT13 (which replaces a letter with the one thirteen places after it in the alphabet). This way, you couldn’t be spoiled inadvertently.
It’s all nice and civilised, in other words, and it seems to have developed within Usenet without friction: that is to say from a commonsense recognition that not everybody who’s reading will have seen the film that you’ve seen, and would just like to know whether you thought it was good or not. The Usenet archive isn’t exhaustive or particularly easy to navigate, but of the 300 uses of the word “spoiler” I was able to find from the 1980s, none was preceded by a complaint, a tantrum, or a threat of excommunication from the community for apparently saying something too revealing. The anger and the aggression surrounding spoiler etiquette in the Net age simply aren’t there. I don’t often wish I was living in the past, but for this one topic I do.
Open a TV or film discussion thread on just about any online forum these days and the following things will happen. Someone will cry firsties, someone will call foul on the firstie, someone will propose an alternative firstie that makes an oblique jokey reference to something that happened in the thing under review. At which point someone else will appear threatening to kill you and your children if you even think of spoiling the plot. A dozen similar messages will appear at intervals until your scrollwheel goes elastic from the effort and your eyebrows knot themselves into a permanent V at the sheer bad-tempered entitledness of these people. The unintended consequence being that I now read more complaints about spoilers than I do actual spoilers. Continue reading You’ll never guess what happened next→
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?
Maybe it would have been different if the band hadn’t been called Arsenal. It’s so jarring to British ears to hear things like, ‘Hey man, I saw Arsenal play in 79.’ Thoughts immediately jump to Alan Smith rather than Aerosmith, to van Persie rather than Van Halen.
Arsenal, in case it’s not clear, is the fictional band in Rock of Ages, the jukebox musical that has made the lightning leap from the LA fringe, to off-Broadway, to on-Broadway, to the West End, to the big screen. Continue reading Rock of Ages→
There are many great things about having small children and living in the country, but access to theatre productions isn’t one of them. The formula for touring family shows seems to be pretty well set; take a classic text, a bare stage, half a dozen recent graduates, and some inventive staging (a sleeping bag…is a dragon!) and you’re guaranteed a slot at the local arts centre. They’re almost always full of bounce and energy, but once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, and the songs are always awful.
So I was in two minds about the Bristol Old Vic production of Swallows and Amazons; on the one hand, another staging of a slightly fusty children’s classic, on the other hand, no matter how irritating Neil Hannon can be, he knows how to knock out a tune.
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”
From April 21st to June 9th, The Globe theatre is the stage for all the world, as 37 international theatre companies are coming to London to present 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in their own languages. This international celebration of the Bard is the centrepiece of the World Shakespeare Festival and it offers a rare opportunity to see familiar tales reinvented in a new language and infused with the spirit of a different culture. Hindi, Cantonese, Korean, Arabic, even British Sign Language and Hip-Hop – this is Shakespeare as UK audiences have never seen or heard him before. Mostly Film sent a few curious theatregoers to The Globe and here is their take on some of the productions so far