Our House – 2013 Tour (2.5*)

2013-10-17Ian’s 2.5* Review:

We went to see Our House at the Festival Theatre. I LOVED Our House when we first saw it in the West End in London, and the same production again in Edinburgh a few years later. I love the energy, the music, the darkness and the staging.

This new touring production isn’t a patch on the West End production. It’s lost all of the energy, the music has lost its punch, the darkness has been replaced with razamataz, and the staging has become cliched.

The cast didn’t help. It’s small, and most people have to cover many parts as well as playing with the band. Perhaps it’s just too much for them, but the performances all lack real charisma. All of the darkness, irony, sarcasm, attitude, energy and authenticity of the original production has been replaced by blandness and razamataz. One member of the chorus (who also played a secretary and various other parts) looked like she was performing in a musical. The vocals were shaky in places, and downright tuneless at worst. Unambitious choreography lacked crispness of execution.

All in all very disappointing. I still enjoyed the music and spectacle, but it has become a sad shadow of what it was. I’ll be watching the DVD of the original production soon to cleanse my mind…

Ruth’s 2.5* Review:

When I first saw Our House in the West End about ten years back I thought it was a different class of musical.  Often I think the storylines of musicals are a little shallow or silly, but this was something different.  I thought this was a challenging, complicated and gritty play that happened to have songs in it – along the lines of Blood Brothers.  And I thought that (90% of the time at least) the songs added to the play and advanced the plot rather than being shoehorned in.  I bloody hate jukebox musicals, and despite Our House being based on the music of Madness I didn’t consider this to be one.

Well whatever they’ve done to this touring revival of Our House they’ve removed all of the integrity of the original.  It has been dumbed down, as if someone said ‘lets make this *fun*!’ and didn’t actually read the story.  It is now all cheesy High School Musical, except that High School Musical has a bit more charm, intelligence and charisma about it.  And better dancing.  And Zac Efron.

I’m sure if you’d not seen this before you could enjoy it for what it is, and I certainly enjoyed the songs and had a nice time being there.  But… it’s a shame.

On the plus side the set looks great and they do some cool things with some stylised house shaped lights.

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Jesus Christ Superstar (5*)

2013-10-01 Jesus Christ Superstar_0025Ian’s 5* Review:

Tonight we went to see the Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Tour at The Hydro. It was absolutely outstanding. HUGE thanks to Ruth for getting me tickets for my birthday.

I’m going to review this as 5*, which for me means that if on the way out the venue someone said “we’re going to run the show again right now – want to buy a ticket?” I would say “YES!”. It was that good.

The musical arrangement has changed very little from the 20th Anniversary London cast recording, which I considered to be almost flawless vocally before today. The setting has been modernised however, using in very 21st century imagery related to the anti-poverty movements in the UK, Greece and elsewhere during the financial crisis.

To me Judas (not Jesus) is the star of Jesus Christ Superstar. It is by far the most consistently technically challenging role, and a good Judas makes the show while a poor one kills it. Tim Minchin was beyond brilliant – I lack the words to express how good he was. His vocal we intense and emotional from start to end, showing huge range in every respect – whisper to yell, low to high, soft to harsh. His descent from worry into confusion and despair was painful to watch. He completely owned the part, and has ruined it for anyone else. He was the definitive Judas.

Mel C’s rendition of “I don’t know how to love him” nearly had me in tears. Her portrayal of Mary was as a more powerful than I have seen before, but it really worked and her performance was outstanding.

Ben Forster’s performance as Jesus was very good in the first half but felt overshadowed by the brilliance of Tim Minchin and Mel C. That made it all the more surprising when he kicked “Gethsemane” out of the arena at the start of the second part. Intense, emotional and with vocal technique not far off what Tim Minchin was delivering. An excellent Jesus all round, and perhaps a definitive version of Gethsemane.

The rest of the cast were also brilliant – I didn’t notice a single missed note or slipped beat from anyone. Even by Broadway or West End standards they were conspicuously good. Ciaphus stood out with a glorious bass voice and sinister attitude, Pontious Pilate wonderfully straightforward, and Annas suitably slimy. Chris Moyles played well to the crowd and put in a very respectable performance, but he didn’t stand out in this company.

The staging felt much bigger than could be accommodated in a theatre, and although in some ways it is quite simple (there are relatively few elements of scenery) it is stunningly effective. The stage is backed by a huge video screen, and I have seldom seen one used so effectively or with such variety. Sometimes the projected images blend with the physical sets, sometimes they are an abstract complement to the lighting, sometimes they are live video close-ups of the performances. The live video is very artfully, especially in the first meeting between Judas and Ciaphus where the use of clever shooting angles and focus is stunning.

The sound on the vocals was consistently excellent, with the ensemble well balanced with the leads. Given the dynamic vocal range and pitch range of some of the performers, this must have been a huge challenge. The only real criticism I can offer for the whole experience is that at times the band sound felt a little soggy – it lacked a certain crispness especially on the drums.

The Hydro only opened a couple of nights ago, and it seems like a brilliant venue. Most of the seats look like they will have a good, although as usual it will be a bit limited from right at the back in the gods, or right round the side. It seems to be running pretty smoothly, and the new parking garage is great (although some signs wouldn’t go amiss). Getting out of the car park was a bit of a free for all, but better than the old SECC parking arrangements as you can pay before the gig rather than everyone trying to pay at once after. Traffic onto the main routes seemed to flow more freely too.

Ruth’s 5* Review

2013-10-01I have always liked Jesus Christ Superstar a lot.  I wouldn’t say it is really a cool musical to love (if there is such a thing) but I’ve thought the songs were catchy and sat well together, and the lyrics were witty and intelligent.  But it is a tough one to perform – very technically challenging – and consequently productions of Jesus Christ Superstar can be terrible, or perhaps worse, baffling.  I’ve seen a few attempts of varying quality.

A lot of people appear to assume that if you like a musical you will automatically love any production of it, but I tend to be less forgiving and have high expectations for the ones that I like.  My expectations are rarely met.

I must have seen a hundred professional productions of musicals in my time – West End, Broadway and touring productions.  People often ask me which was my favourite and I find it hard to say.  Few are perfect, many have excellent elements and are let down on others.  I usually say the 2003 West End revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie was the best.

Well now the Jesus Christ Superstar arena tour is the best.  This production was absolutely exceptional and it exceeded my expectations in every respect.  It is a tremendous example of how you should perform in a musical, how you should stage a musical, and how you should revive a musical for a contemporary audience.  And crucially the vocal performances were super-strong all round.

This musical was first performed in 1971 and it would be so easy for it to look old fashioned.  But they’ve done something amazing with this one.  I have never seen such a contemporary staging of anything.  It just felt so *now*, as if it were written last week. IMG_0116a

Firstly it looked great.  It was all set up to make one think of the recent anti-poverty movements and protests with dreadlocks and tents and gritty urban imagery.  The set was quite simple, but was supplemented with projections of images, text, and live video footage.  It was very creative and the timings and framing were impeccable.  This was often done very cleverly to increase or decrease perceptions of the size of the stage, to make it appear that there were more people on stage, and for tongue in cheek embellishments. Stuff came down from above.  People flew.  And there was fire.

But it was the cast in combination with the music and lyrics that really made it.

The chorus were spot on, tight and accurate and there were excellent supporting performances from darkly suited-and-booted Ciaiphas and Pilate.

The part of Herod was clearly written for a cameo to bring a bit of razzmatazz, and Chris Moyles has a decent go.  Perhaps in other productions I’d have been raving about him, but despite being absolutely good enough he was thoroughly out-charismaed by the three leads.

TAFKA Sporty Spice, Melanie C, plays a defiant Mary Magdalene with a strangely sordid sensuality as befitting a contemporary protester-cum-prostitute.  Her solo pieces were quite touching and she really captured the essence of a woman who was acting completely out of character because she felt compelled to love a ‘different’ man, and was totally thrown off-balance by the whole idea.

Jesus was played by Ben Forster, winner of ITV’s Superstar.  He gave a very credible performance throughout, and again in any normal production he would have stood out.  To start with I thought he was a little weak in the way of his Jesus-ness.  Yes, a bit cocky, a bit smug, but he wasn’t quite dominating the stage and I wasn’t sure I’d have followed him.  But after the Last Supper, symbolically alone with his thoughts, Ben Forster kicked the arse out of the song Gethsemene by taking us through the five stages of grief in just one song as Jesus accepted his fate.  A decisive but eerie delivery of the conclusion of this thought process – “take me now before I change my mind” – was for me the highlight of the whole production.  Following this, the stoic acceptance of what was yet to come and then what eventually came was masterful.  Having decided, he stood there and took it.  It was brave, and it was terrifying.

IMG_0134aHowever, Tim Minchin as Judas acted everyone else off the stage.  He simply owned it.  From the first song he set Judas out as being a man in turmoil, who simply didn’t know what to do for the best.  He took us from confused desperation (“I remember when this whole thing began.  No talk of God then, we called you a man.  And believe me, my admiration for you hasn’t died. But every word you say today gets twisted round some other way.  I am frightened by the crowd for we are getting much too loud”) to chaotic despair (“I have no thought at all about my own reward. I really didn’t come here of my own accord. Just don’t say I’m damned for all time”), to desolation (“God I’ll never ever know why you chose me for your crime”), and out the other side to a taunting and malevolent hallucination of a narrator (“Every time I look at you I don’t understand why you let the things you did get so out of hand. You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned”).  He was physical, he was emotional, and his vocals were exceptional.  He made me believe that if I was in his position I would have done the same thing, and he made me believe that Judas should be the seminal role that every musical theatre actor should aspire to play.

I’ve read the source book, I’ve had a culturally Christian upbringing, and I’ve seen this show several times and listened to the CD even more.  I know what it is about.  But the depth of the performances in this production made me see new things the story – or perhaps more accurately in the songs and in this interpretation.  Certainly I felt it more deeply.

The relationship between Jesus and Judas.  Complicated.  Love/hate.  Uncertainty around whether roles were pre-defined by God or Fate or whether free will led them to this unpleasant conclusion.

The scale of the betrayal.  By Judas, by Peter, by the fair-weather friends who were happy to take from Jesus when the times were good and dump him when the going got hard.

The juxtapositions.  The major “Hey JC, JC you’re alright by me” to the minor “Hey JC, JC won’t you die for me?”.  The silliness of King Herod amongst the precariousness and severity of Jesus’s position.  The rumination around who could, or would, or should be remembered for what transpired.  Both for Jesus: “I must be mad thinking I’ll be remembered”, and yet of Judas: “What you have done will be the saving of everyone. You’ll be remembered forever for this.”

When Jesus died (spoiler!) and the solar eclipse settled over the cross, a light swept across the audience signifying both the exquisiteness of Jesus’s sacrifice and the complicity of everyone who stood by and let it happen.  It was for us, but it was by us.

Overall, the production was laden with doom from end to end, with a feeling that fate and destiny were out of control and rolling towards something horrific.  It was uncomfortable viewing, it was touching and complicated and awful and wonderful.  I was often open mouthed, equally in awe of the performances and stunned by the plot.  If it hadn’t felt so contemporary it wouldn’t have been so shocking.

I loved it, and if someone had given me the option I would have walked straight back in and watched it again.

The cost of tickets for this show is steep and we were lucky enough to get a two-for-one deal on top price tickets (usually £72).  But this was well worth the full price, and more.

The Noise Next Door on Improv and the Edinburgh Comedy Awards

One of our fringe favourites, The Noise Next Door, has written an article on the exclusion of Improv from the Edinburgh Comedy Awards.  I thought it was really interesting, and I ended up agreeing with their point!

Have a read, and see what you think:

Why do the Edinburgh awards ban improv?

Executed for Sodomy: the Life Story of Caterina Linck (4*)

2013-08-25 Fringe 0010Ian’s 4* review:

I saw this get a 5* review in ThreeWeeks and was curious to see how such a complex story could be presented so quickly.  Caterina Linck is a woman who chooses to live as a man in an unforgiving society, and who is ultimately executed for the crime of sodomy.  This three-woman production is extremely intense and presented with great energy and passion.  The audience gets a pencil sketch of Caterina’s life from the courtroom dialog at her trial interspersed with flashbacks to key scenes from her life.  I found this both enjoyable and interesting, but it felt just slightly incomplete – like there was a lot more to explore.  I’m not sure if this has been cut down to 1-hour format for the fringe and lost something in the process?

Ruth’s 4* review:

An extremely interesting play about the life of Caterina Linck  who was born a woman and lived as a man in eighteenth century Prussia, and was tried and executed for various ‘crimes’ relating to this.  A very passionate and intense performance all round.  I think if anything the play would have benefited from being a bit longer as I would have liked to see more depth and I think the story had more to it so it could have stood that.

The Lastminute Comedy Club @ Whistlebinkies

2013-08-25 Fringe 0011Ian’s Review:

Compere Paul B Edwards (pictured) was an energetic host for an hour of high-quality standup.  Danny Ward kicked off and warmed the room up nicely  – his National Express story rather tickled me.  Alex Edelman’s material overlapped a little with when we saw him at Richard Herrings podcast, but he did some different stuff too – also very funny.  Christian Schulte-Loh may not be welcome in Israel after an unfortunate misunderstanding concerning the Holocaust, but he’s welcome here any time.  Matt Price finished the show, quickly turning a slightly strange audience interaction into a near hostage situation!  His prepared material was funny, and his banter even better.

If this is the standard of show Paul is putting together, I’ll be back next year!

 

Ruth’s review:

We went along to this compilation show because we had a free hour and it was nearby, and it was excellent!  Four really good acts and we laughed and laughed throughout.  It was nice to see Alex Edelman again and his material varied to a certain extent from his set at Richard Herring’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast, so that was a bonus.  Matt Price entertained us with some high quality spontaneous audience participation.  Very good.

Silhouette Burlesque – 3

Cherryfox singing to Ruth and I

Cherryfox singing to Ruth and I!

Ian’s Review:

A final visit to Silhouette Burlesque for their bumper-last-night-special.  Kim Khaos  started the show (as a panther!), Aurora Winterborn & Poppy La Pilule did a spectacular “drunken sailor” number (loved it!), Sarah ‘Gypsy Charms’ Vernon & Goldilocks Bears did a charmingly weird “hysteria” performance, and Frankii Wilde, Impressive Johnson, Gilda Lily, Serena Bellydance and Calum MacAskill completed the lineup for a great evening of entertainment.  Cherryfox was helped out by co-host Baron Bartholomew Black who I’ve not seen before, but was rather splendid.

The highlight was Cherryfox closing the show with “Dream a Little Dream of Me” which she dedicated to Ruth and I! We’d told her last time that it was the first dance at our wedding, and she remembered.  An extra-special moment since Ruth and I had been together 12 years to the day.  What a way to end the fringe!

Ruth’s Review:

Our third time at Silhouette Burlesque, for their final show.  It was slightly extended, which was great, and the vast majority of the performances were ones we had not seen before so that was also great.  Of particular note, me and my friend K got pulled up on stage for vital roles in one performance (fun!) and Cherry Fox dedicated her final song (Dream a little dream) to me and the husband because it was the first dance at our wedding.  Lovely!  Especially as we had been together exactly 12 years that day.

Titty Bar Ha Ha (4* / 4.5*)

2013-08-13 Fringe 0010

Ruth’s 4* Review:

I saw an excerpt from this at The Distraction Club so thought I’d give it a go.  Hope and Gloria work in 1940s club Titty Bar Ha Ha, and in this show we are welcomed into their world.  This is mainly musical comedy with a storyline to hold it together, and quite a lot of filth thrown in.  The story is silly but works pretty well.  But it is the combination of costumes, accent, song and vulgarity that is hilarious and brings it all together magnificently. This show had quite a bit of audience participation and as I was one of the audience that participated this part was particularly awesome.  But the girls are so good I would have much preferred to skip this bit and just hear from them.  The singing was outstanding – lovely voices and lovely harmonies – and a real highlight for me was the mashup of Tainted Love and Bang Bang.  I also loved the kazoo section, and in particular the excerpt from Chess which was surprisingly beautiful.

Ian’s 4.5* Review:

Any show with a riotous kazoo duet of “I know him so well” from Chess (still humming it today) and a spectacular vocal  mash-up of “Bang Bang” and “Tainted Love” is going to be a winner in my book.  Set in a seedy club in WWII, Hope and Gloria mix smutty comic songs with entertaining audience interaction and exposition of their sordid back-stories.  They are likeable and engaging, and this was a nicely put together hour of light-hearted entertainment.  Some of the singing was really quite beautiful, and the characterisations are as charming as they are dark.