Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

I’m writing this after a glass or two of Prosecco, sitting on the balcony, looking at the sun set behind the Faro. Yep, me and the girls arrived in Trieste yesterday for the Easter holidays.

We went to see the Rocky Horror Show this afternoon! I tell you, The Rocky Horror Show on a Sunday afternoon in Trieste is something else. The audience was to die for. If they’d have been English, they’d be called The Blue Rinse Brigade – but here it’s more like The Silver Highlights troupe. I don’t know what they were thinking, but they certainly didn’t get the innuendos. Exactly, there weren’t any. Still, they were probably also pondering what my six year old could have made of the graphic exhibitions of fellatio (in varying gender configurations) albeit shadow versions behind a screen. In fact she was mostly distracted by the amazing ceiling of the fabulous Teatro Rosetti – more like the planetarium in Rebel Without A Cause – midnight blue with clouds and sparkling lights:

rebel without a cause planetarium scene

So you know the story – or at least the gist – of The Rocky Horror Show. Staid American couple Janet and Brad (or ‘Branet’ as my six year old insists: “it rhymes with Janet and planet, dammit”) get caught in a storm on their way to visit a professor friend. And they have a flat tyre. They go for help at the nearest castle (as you would) even when the door is opened by the freakiest looking butler you ever saw, and the lightning flashes, and thunder crashes (lots of references to midnight movies). They have happened upon a Transylvanian transsexual convention (or somesuch) headed up (in all ways) by Dr Frank ‘n’ Furter’. This Furter (Rob Morton Fowler apparently: a fowl and furtive Frankenstein) is in every physical way perfect – a God; sooo tall, broad, muscular..and he looks great in high heels – his voice is pretty spot on too – but he is just lacking the downright drooling menace alongside overwhelming magnetism that Tim Curry must have brought to the role. And also, he just wasn’t camp enough for me. Give me Eddie Izzard or Julian Clarey any day – that knowing glance at the audience you get from a good stand-up.  

Anyway, after some flirting, strutting and chemical concocting (and lots of great visual and audio effects), Furter produces his own version of the monster – a buddy for himself ; the eponymous Rocky – whose pecs, ladies or gents, were pretty spectacular (and highlighted with eyebrow pencil from what I could tell). Furter managed to seduce both Brad and Janet (though not at the same time) and the corrupted pair are left pondering the state of their relationship, the universe and everything. Which they need to, because it turns out Magenta and her brother Riff Raff are aliens from planet Transylvania (p-lease) – and so is Frank! Except Raff wants to do a runner without his master so shoots him dead with a laser – and takes out Rocky and another minion along the way (have you lost it yet?). The show ends with Brad and Janet singing to the castle as it takes off into the distance…

My favourites of this production were Brad (whose struggle to resist the inevitable slide from all-American clean nobody to experimenting, avant-gard some body was perfectly portrayed). His voice in the ballad solos was especially moving and pure. Magenta, too,  was gorgeous. Fab body, fab costumes, great voice, great part. Janet was good enough – though I wish she hadn’t had to spend 2/3 of the show in that unflattering combination of Madonna’s bra and Bridget Jones’s knickers. Much better in the Alexander McQueen style leather corset. 

The audience hated the Italian narrator (here played by Erik Arno, intriguingly described by the Italian press as ‘a local actor who has become famous in German-speaking countries’). One woman shouted out ‘Stai a casa!’ – (you should have stayed at home!) – which may well have been in the Rocky Horror spirit of audience banter (although it was notably the only intervention in the entire show)- but I at least agreed. He just seemed out of place. As though it were insulting to have these pitiful threads of Italian when we’d managed to sit through all the songs in English. His manner, we felt, was condescending. He seemed to be trying too hard to get in on the act. I can’t see Christopher Biggins giving that impression, or Michael bloody Aspel for that matter. 

So this show certainly wouldn’t have lived up to its first incarnation in the 63-seater Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court in 1973. Or, after its immediate critical and commercial success, its second outing on the King’s Road before transferring to the West End. It wasn’t as good as the film version, or very probably the Broadway version, and any others that followed. But it was still a great way to spend a rainy afternoon in Trieste. And made me feel happy and relieved to be here. I like these kind of productions after all. Slightly displaced, like this city, but leaving you with room to breathe.


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Took the kids to see Billy Elliot on Tuesday – cheap block tickets so we were sat at the Victoria Palace among five rows of uncharacteristically quiet Japanese students, most likely stunned into silence by the thick Geordie accents on stage – and the noise going on in the row behind us: a line up of 50+ women who looked and sounded as though they’d been drinking for hours (if not years). Celebrating a divorce perhaps? They chatted all the way through the show, as though they were waiting for a bus! I turned around and glared (in a middle class sort of way) and the woman looked straight at me and replied (in a working class sort of way)  ‘Don’t you fucking tell me to shut up. I’ve got as much right to talk as anyone. You fucking shut up!’ All this going on through one of the most poignant scenes. Shortly afterwards she stood up, fell over and banged her head on the wall. Security came running, this bouncer type literally dripping with sweat, desperate to see if she was okay. She was drunk. Very.

The drama off stage was not dissimilar to the drama on stage. Policemen against miners, miners against scabs, boxers against ballerinas, northern blue collar workers against southern poofters, boys in dresses against the world.  It was all there. Dreams versus reality. Escape versus imprisonment. Rags and riches. I love that about a good musical. Politics and social commentary alongside singing and dancing. Real tears (the heartfelt sobbing can’t-stop-them kind when Billy presents the ballet teacher with a letter from his dead mother and she reads it out to him in a haunting duet) followed by howls of laughter ( ‘William Elliot is queer?’ asks Billy, squinting at the envelope addressed to him from the Royal Ballet School ‘It says William Elliot esquire you idiot!’ replies his dad).

The show, in short,  is fantastic. And it’s a thrill to see kids taking centre stage in a grown-up production. Since the gruelling schedule takes its toll there are four Billies who do the show on different nights, as well as three Michaels (Billy’s best friend) and three Debbies ( the ballet teacher’s daughter) alongside a sundry mix of would-be ballerinas and boxers. The Billy we saw was Tom Holland. I have no other Billies to compare him to (except Jamie Bell of course) but he brought warmth, depth and humour to the role – and his dancing was okay too. Sometimes his accent felt a bit forced (unlike the other Billies, he’s from London) but the Geordie accent is one of the hardest to imitate (though Cheryl Cole has given lots of us reasons to try) and sometimes, even when it’s right it sounds wrong (I should know, I was born there though we left when I was one – I’ve been trying to say ‘I’m a Geordie’ right ever since).

Some of the best scenes are with Billy and his mate Michael (George Maycock when we went). Michael is the true tragedian of the piece, a boy who likes to wear his mam’s dresses and lipsticks and who falls in love with Billy, but is stuck in this derelict town with its smouldering gender and sexual prejudice, despite the feelgood community scenes. Michael remains on stage sitting on his bike at the end of the show, Billy’s farewell kiss fresh on his cheek, the miners clunking down the shaft behind him.

It’s in these scenes with Billy and Michael perhaps that the differences between film and musical are most marked. The musical relishes the costume side – parading dancing dresses in a ravishing display  of slapstick-lipstick humour. Eleven-year old Maycock/ Michael is a truly gifted comedian – his timing is impeccable. But in the film there was so much more poignancy about their relationship.  I cried in the film when Michael runs up to Billy as he’s leaving (and again when he comes to watch him perform in the Royal Ballet years later) . In the musical it felt underplayed.

One more place where I thought the film was more intense, more effective: Billy’s dance of anger – when first his foot, then his leg, then his whole body twitch into an overwhelming spasm of contorted dancing shapes and acrobatics. Maybe Jamie Bell had more say over the moves – maybe he chose them himself and so it really was his dance. Or maybe he just knew how to inhabit that anger. In the film Jamie/Billie runs down the claustrophobic alleyways of the back-to-back terraced houses, bricks shining in the rain, kicking off the sides, running along walls, through back gardens, his face contorted, his arms exploding. In the show, Tom Holland was limited by the stage. It was just him and the dance. And though it got the biggest clap of the night, I didn’t feel he really owned it (or the flying scene). This Billy would have danced differently if he was expressing himself – anger is personal.

Apparently the kids from the show all live in a house just down the road from me in Ealing – and they have to do 3 hours schoolwork every day as well as rehearsals and performances. Though the show doesn’t go on forever – when their voices start to break the boys have to move on. Billie is supposed to be eleven (though Jamie Bell was sixteen when he played him).  For the first set of Billies (who won a joint Olivier best actor award in 2006) the come-down to a normal life and routine was tough. But what an opportunity – to do ballet but to do cool ballet!

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