Hello again m’dears. So my much-vaunted weekly column of ‘stuff I’ve been up to’ came to a grinding halt over a fortnight ago as I got a touch of the Stephen Frys.
One day I was maniacally off on my merry little way – watching this, writing that – and the next I was stuck in bed, immobilised by fear. Luckily it doesn’t happen very often but that makes it even more of a bloody surprise when it does descend, like a glum-faced angel settling on my shoulder for the duration.
After the initial couple of days curled up in bed not even being able to open the curtains, I managed to get out and continue seeing stuff. That wasn’t the problem. I could drag myself onto a train or into the car and sit in a darkened theatre. I could even just about write some guff about it the next day. The real problem was that I couldn’t open my emails. They piled up. Like some alligator watching me from a river, I could see ‘Inbox – Windows Liv….’ in the bottom left hand corner of my eye every minute I sat writing my reviews. In the end that got too much, and I stopped opening the computer altogether. When your lappy turns accusatory you know you’re in big doo-dah.
Just before I took to my bed, and at my most manic, I also had a bit of a flunk with our dear editor. Luckily for me this magazine takes mental health issues seriously, but even so I felt a right nork trying to explain myself once I’d emerged from my own personal Fry-up.
In my heart I know it’s not my fault. I know that it’s a chemical imbalance and all that, and I know that most people in the arts are pretty understanding but, also in my heart, I know that it sounds like I’m weak, unreliable, a loose canon and what employer wants to give that sort of person the time of day?
Anyway, I’m OK now (till next time) and here’s a rather long account of whats been going daaaaaaaahnnnnn in my life, Fry-time taken as a given and not included. I shall dispense with the days of the week as I’ve simply forgotten what I did when. And what I did. And what it was like. And who I am. This is gonna be good…
THEATRE AND MORE THEATRE:
CHILDREN OF THE SUN at the NATIONAL THEATRE wasn’t a barrel of laughs. I dragged Sid up to London after school for it, but it was wordy, worthy and very Russian. We slipped out at the interval (which isn’t something I do often) only to hear that it peps up greatly in the second half and culminates in an explosive bang that shakes the National to its foundations. But I’d not recommend it unless you’re a mad Gorky fan. Are there any mad Gorky fans? I suppose there are mad fans for everything.
THE AMEN CORNER, again at the NATIONAL, was an altogether different experience. Queer black writer James Baldwin only wrote a couple of plays with this being the best known, and while Children is busy blowing the roof off the Lyttleton with chemical flare-ups, Amen is raising the roof of the Olivier with some sublime praise-the-lord antics courtesy of the London Community Gospel Choir. And the play itself is well thought out, well put together and, well, good! The best news is that there are 500 tickets at each performance for only £12 as part of the National’s superb Travelex scheme. I do so love public theatre when it’s cheap (I’m looking evils at you Royal Opera House). CLICK HERE FOR REVIEW:
HAMMERSMITH IS ALIVE
Off to the RIVERSIDE STUDIOS in Hammersmith for my first time ever and what a lovely bar! No bloody comfy seats though which is really what I judge bars and foyers by these days, not the price of the coffees I don’t drink. Rushing around London like a person possessed it’s handy to know where you can sprawl out and have a quick kip between shows. Writing that made me feel like a tramp….
PAYBACK was a zippy little musical based in the near-future when the government has decided to privatise paternity claims and farm them out to a Jeremy Kyle-style show. Me and Sid sat in the very front row and as the stage was wide and the playing space very narrow the actors were on top of us and one looked like David Tennant so I was happy. Sid said he couldn’t stop looking at the lead’s forehead as it was so massive. He’s a 14 year old boy and THAT was all he could look at? Not the girlies looming over him (he’s assured me he’s straight btw)?
SO BITE ME
At the newly done out ROYAL COURT I got bitten by a table. Twice. And a woman got swallowed by a chair. The furniture is revolting. New artistic director VICKY FEATHERSTONE has made some pretty big changes at the place, including putting on some really rather crap plays. The trend in London seems to be to put on ‘mystery works’ so you’ve no idea what you’re going to see before you see it. The Royal Court’s doing it, the Lyric Hammersmith’s doing it, while the St James’ Theatre is touting a new musical which only has a code name – UGC. Under Ground Cock? Unnamed Grotty Crap? Make up your own.
We were at the Royal Court to see a part of the OPEN COURT where they take a troupe of actors and give them a play to learn in a week, which they then have to perform for the next week whilst learning another play. In essence, it’s the old repertory theatre coming back to haunt. We saw THE PRESIDENT HAS COME TO SEE YOU by Georgian Lasha Bugadze, possibly the most dull play ever written. I mean, it had nothing going for it. Nothing. Words came out of people’s mouths. I heard the words. The words meant nothing. For the second time in a week we walked out at the interval, only to get bitten by the table.
Now I’ve built it up, you’re going to be sooo disappointed by this table-biting thing (that’ll teach me). Fundamentally (which means ‘basically’ but I’m giving that word up for Lent), Vicky in her wisdom has kitted out the large cafe with ‘shabby chic’ furniture which, as we all know, is an ‘I saw you coming’ way of saying ‘second-hand’. Not one chair finds its twin across the table, and the sofas have holes in their leather the size of dinner plates, showing off their springs like the sex vixens they so blatantly are. This, of course, means that all the tables are the wrong height for the tatty chairs. So, there was I, sat in a chair, pulling myself up to the table. Ouch. The underside of the table bit me. I had a splinter the size of a baby’s finger sticking out at an angle at the top of my knee. Having gone through childbirth this didn’t phase me and I plucked it out like Russell Crowe plucking a camera from a pap’s hand.
At that very moment I heard a huge crash. The Revenge of the Crappy Furniture continued its carnage. A middle-aged woman – not a hefty woman like me, but one who’s probably conscious that the scales look askance at her when she heads their way – had plonked herself on a chair, thinking “I’m in a well-respected Arts Council-funded theatre here. This chair will definitely hold me up.” Our brain must make these tiny calculations all the time – is that safe? is this going to kill me? – and we don’t even notice. Well, this old chair and it’s unhappy nails decided their time had come and crash, she was on the floor.
“That’s indignity for you, sprawled out on the floor of a cafe, with London’s literary types looming over you, asking if you’re OK”
That’s indignity for you, sprawled out on the floor of a cafe, with London’s literary types looming over you, asking if you’re OK. She was by the way, and so was I. No festering wound or pus-filled knee resulted. In a way I feel I got off lightly with just a bite.
Soon we flew off to FLOWN, yet another circus act at the upside down purple cow on the SOUTH BANK which turned out to be very different in style and mood from Limbo which we’d seen the previous week in next door’s Spiegeltent. Moody, artfully shambolic, and very European in outlook as opposed to Limbo’s brash Yankness, Flown was a lovely way to pass an hour. We had put in a request to see one of Sid’s faves afterwards, Tommy-Two-Ways himself, Gyles Brandreth, but his PR people declined, probably because they don’t want any spoilers getting out before he heads up to Edinburgh with a new show. It was nice to have an early night. To read review, CLICK HERE:
PUT THE BUNTING UP
On the Sunday I went to a benefit concert at THE DOME for Brighton’s own dear ADRIAN BUNTING. The showman, playwright and buildings project manager died very suddenly a couple of months ago from cancer and his friends had put this show together as a memorial and as a fundraiser for Adrian’s BOAT project. BOAT stands for Brighton Open Air Theatre and it was the last of many projects that Adrian had worked on.
It was emotional (I only knew Adrian a teeny bit from years ago but I’d always rated him as one of the good guys), especially when his best mate brought on THE WORLD’S SMALLEST THEATRE – basically (has Lent come and gone?) a box that went over Adrian’s head and where the audience, a maximum of three people, stared in at the performance from the sides. Tatty and so obviously lovingly hand-made, it sort of summed the bloke up – fantastic enthusiasm, mostly on a shoestring.
He also recounted the time when Adrian was supervising the refurbishment of the Dome and he’d invited his mate to jump up and down on the wire mesh in the centre of the roof with him, looking down at the auditorium below. We all looked up at the ceiling mesh and could see, in our mind’s eye, the two of them gleefully frolicking up there like it was a bloody bouncy castle.
The concert itself was fun. Hove’s own Moleman SIMON EVANS (how does he see with those eyes?) warmed us up, and when TIM VINE ended his act with PEN BEHIND THE EAR (look it up on YouTube) I was crumpled up in a tearful ball. Is it wrong to quite fancy Tim Vine? Oh OK, it appears it is…
“STEWART LEE is ill,” said compere SUSAN MURRAY, “but instead we have his very good friend BACONFACE!” So on came Stewart Lee in a bacon Lucha Libre mask. I mean, you can’t disguise that mouth of his (plus I’d read that this was his new comedy alter ego). Loving Stewart Lee as Stewart Lee I was expecting a lot. What we got was a sub-Rich Hall comedy routine not one iota of which even brushed against funny. Looking around, half the room were laughing, the other half had their eyes screwed up as much as Simon Evan’s naturally are and their mouths downturned in a moue of disgust. How had such a comedy genius misjudged things so badly? Was the fact that it was so bad the joke itself? It was bewildering and faintly disrespectful that he’d chosen a night to remember a dead bloke to give us this experimental bollocks. And then I thought back to what I knew of Adrian, and I glanced up at the roof of the Dome once again. There was Adrian, fingers clutching the mesh, looking down and giggling at the fact that Lee was doing something new and experimental and half the audience hated it. It was definitely what Adrian would have wanted….
“There was Adrian, fingers clutching the mesh, looking down and giggling at the fact that Lee was doing something new and experimental and half the audience hated it”
STATHAM AND CARRY ON
My mate James is an autograph hunter. He’s only 21, is autistic, and his greatest love is standing outside Broadcasting House waiting for slebs to pass by. Click – he has a photo. Scratch – he has an autograph. So his collection grows.
This week he was kind enough to invite me to a film premiere to which he’d won some tickets. All I knew was that it was a JASON STATHAM film. Old baldy hard guy, going out with that model (I gave up reading Heat Magazine some decades ago as you can see). But I hadn’t seen James for ages, so I took up his kind offer and met him in Leicester Square where we bumped into our other friends, Elizabeth and her bro. Elizabeth’s in a wheelchair and is of indeterminate age. I have asked her how old she is but she’s been so cagey that I’ve given up. She could be 14: she could be 40. Honestly.
Coffee and chat done with, Eliz and bro went off to what we fondly call The Crip Pit – the bit roped off at a premiere for disabled people – and me and James prepared to strut our stuff down the red carpet. A tip here, if you ever get the chance to do this. Wait at the red carpet entrance until the star gets out of the car and then rush up the carpet with them. It’s fun, and you’ll probably end up on the front page of the paper the next day.
Front row seats again, this time by sheer fluke, and old baldy guy comes on stage to say hi and to introduce the movie. It’s strange how normal most male film stars look and how totally abnormal female ones do. Male ones look like average-sized people you’d bump into in the street: female stars look like concentration camp victims. I once met JAMES CAMERONS’s wife and if you’d taken her to a doctor in this country they’d have sectioned her for being so dangerously anorexic.
It’s not until you see these people in real life that you realise that they are literally skin and bones. L’Wren whatshername, MICK JAGGER’s missus, is the same. Wearing a skin-tight white jumpsuit, I wondered where the shit comes out of her body as she doesn’t appear to have a bum at all.
“I once met JAMES CAMERONS’s wife and if you’d taken her to a doctor in this country they’d have sectioned her for being so dangerously anorexic”
The film, HUMMINGBIRD, was surprisingly good. I can’t for the life of me remember the plot, but Statham was a hard man with a heart of gold and it was filmed all around Covent Garden and Soho so at the dullish bits I could try to figure out which street they were walking down. And the revelation of the night was that Statham can actually act! And I mean proper act, tears’n’all! It’s definitely worth a look if you a) have a thing about Statham’s muscles (not me) or b) have a thing about the streets of London (me). I’ve just realised how odd that sounds.
A BRITTEN DIVIDED
This being the centenary of BENJAMIN BRITTEN’s birth, I thought I’d better bring myself up to speed. I couldn’t get to Aldenburgh Festival to see the staging of Peter Grimes on the beach (or rather, I couldn’t blag any tickets), so I made do with a front row seat at the COLISEUM to see the ENO’s DEATH IN VENICE (which I paid for and a fortune it was too). When I arrived I found a cameraman plonked in my very expensive seat. “Excuse me, young man,” I poshed it up. “Are you going to be here throughout, as your lap looks mighty uncomfortable?” Turned out they were filming the thing for Sky Arts and my seat was on the camera’s dolly run.
I perked up. A box! I could upgrade to a box! And sure enough the darlings gave me the best box in the house to myself. I stretched out, I put my bare feet on the other seat, I ate Revels throughout the whole performance without worrying that my chomping was disturbing a neighbour. Bliss! And the opera? Bliss too. A wonderful staging that didn’t put a foot wrong.
Later in the week, it was off to DUKES @ KOMEDIA for a live screening from the ROYAL OPERA HOUSE of GLORIANA, Britten’s opera written for the Coronation. This was a different beast altogether and just not my cup of tea. The idea of staging it as a 1953 village hall pageant was a good one in theory, but it meant they were stuck with what 1953 had imagined the Elizabethan Age to look like, and it wasn’t pretty. Horrible block colour costumes and backdrops that looked like an indoor scene from Dad’s Army made me turn off immediately, and I wasn’t keen on the music either. The seats were damned comfy though, so I did my usual trick and fell asleep.
Oh, nearly forgot. I bumped into the press night of THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN on my way to the COLISEUM. I’d requested review tickets but sometimes our humble little magazine is just too tiny and NOT IN LONDON to warrant review tickets to the big buggery press nights. Humf. I hung around to see what was going on, as you do, and spotted James in the distance, autograph book in hand, so I said hi just as a Hummer appeared and parked right in the middle of the road, blocking the whole of St Martin’s Lane (which was already pretty blocked with people trying to get a glimpse of someone famous). Out stepped Sting’s missus, TRUDIE STYLER, with her driver abandoning the car to escort her inside. I’ve just Wikied her to see what she’s famous for apart from being Sting’s missus to find that she’s an ambassador for UNICEF – presumably because she’s Sting’s missus. And a producer – presumably because she’s Sting’s missus. When she became pregnant she fired her private chef for no good reason and got sued – presumably because she’s a bit of a pain – and Sting’s missus.
I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER
Did I mention in the last missive that we’ve got a new kitten? I’m frankly surprised this got written at all as he so loves skidding across the keyboard. Must be the warmth I’m sending out from my kind words.
He’s Siamese and a tiny tornado of trouble. When I say he loves the keyboard, he doesn’t just occasionally stroll across the bloody thing, he writes letters on it. “Pleese mum can i hav sum fud and i thik iv got worms” (if that’s bordering on LOLcats then sue me – I’m a middle-aged woman and that means I’m contractually obliged to LOLcat to my heart’s content. And yes, I do smell of cat wee).
Trying to keep him in the house is a nightmare as every time someone so much as thinks of the front door he’s there. Sometimes he nearly gets cut in half, so great is his need to shoot outside. The other cats have differing attitudes to him: the moggy ignores him while the other Siamese licks his bum like it’s the tastiest thing on earth. I haven’t ‘bonded’ with him yet, mainly because I spend most of my time chucking him (gently) off my laptop and to the other side of the sofa. He sleeps on my head (hence why I smell of cat wee).
Eastbourne is a place I love. I love any seaside town apart from Brighton and Rhyl: Brighton because I spent too much time living there to love it, and Rhyl because it’s Rhyl (have you been to the place? It’s the dirtiest seaside town – no, just town – I’ve ever had the misfortune to visit).
I spread my Sussex wings left and right last week, to Eastbourne and Worthing. Eastbourne to see psychological thriller DEAD CERTAIN at the DEVONSHIRE PARK THEATRE, and Worthing for one of their new comedy nights at THE RITZ, next door to the CONNAUGHT.
Dead Certain was a bit bog-standard, but that’s half the joy of going to these places. You sort of know that you’re not going to see anything very demanding, and certainly not anything that’s destined for next year’s OLIVIER AWARDS. It was, of itself, entertaining, and a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
This was my first visit to the Ritz, an upstairs room that doubles as a cinema and small theatre. All dark green swags and deep red velvet curtains, it’s a dramatic space. I was here on my tod to see THE COMEDY NETWORK, this week featuring MARK SMITH (‘The most astonishing name in comedy!’), KIERAN BOYD (WitTank), and Carl Donnelly who I’m pretty sure I’ve seen on MOCK THE WEEK.
The surprisingly large Ritz was only about half full so we were all asked to scoot up the front and I ended up on the second row. It was only when the first act came on that I realised this may have been a bad move but luckily – phew – I got away with it and wasn’t used as comedy fodder (holding a notebook in one hand and a crutch in the other is usually enough bad ju-ju to deflect anyone on stage’s interest).
Mark Smith began the evening quietly and safely (which is of course code for ‘he didn’t get any laughs cos he didn’t have many jokes’), but he was pleasant enough (read: bit boring).
KEIRAN BOYD proclaimed that a critic had once said he looked like Benedict Cumberbatch’s lesbian sister and I could see where that critic was coming from. After dividing the room into two and asking us to give ourselves a name each (‘horses’ and ‘Worthing’), he shook his head sadly realising just what he’d let himself in for in this seaside town. His main shtick was about googling himself and finding out that the only other two ‘famous’ people who shared his name were a rapper and a paedophile – and the paedophile came from the same town up North as him. Not quite belly-laugh-ful, but funny enough.
Headline act CARL DONNELLY was going oh so well. Oh. So. Well. Until he picked on the section of the audience that the other two comedians had already picked on. We’d grown to like these idiots in the front row, airport baggage-handlers all. Carl decided to not like them quite as much. I’ve seen this so many times at comedy gigs and I must say here and now to all the comedians out there: watch the other acts on before you to see who they pick on and what they say! Then you won’t make the classic faux pas of picking on the same people who we now feel we know like brothers and sisters and slagging them off.
Carl did recover and is a pretty funny gagster, although his choice of clothes left a lot to be desired (he did rib himself mercilessly about this to be honest). You see, he’s gone a bit Noel Fielding in the old dress department and has ended up looking like Rolf Harris in drag. And, as he said himself, that’s not a good look to have in the present climate.
I loved his complete surety that ducks have meetings and that spider monkeys love to play pranks on him (which, written down, sounds a bit left-Fielding too, although it didn’t live). Quite how he got to talking about snorting peas off boobs I’m not sure, but I liked the journey.
It was, in all, a lovely little night out. Again, I was surprised at the lack of booze and boozed up people. When I last went to a night like this (après Sid), everyone seemed to be off their tits and heckling like mad people. Or was that just me? Yes, come to think of it it was probably just me *hangshead*
And that, kind sirs and madams, is where I shall leave it for this dollop of Kat. I hear the government want to make me illegal. I feel just like Jimmy Carr.