“she won’t help the hungry once a month at your tombolas”

I never got around to doing a review of Evita (2006 London revival), save a few hastily typed thoughts on Livejournal immediately after the fact.  For those who’ve been wondering about the whole ‘West End Bitch’ thing, especially since I rarely write about the theatre anymore, well rest assured that my love for all things theatrical hasn’t waned just because I don’t get to go quite so often.  Evita was a watershed moment for me, I fell in love with musicals because of the original London cast, and I still have a well-thumbed libretto taking pride of place in the crates full of theatre memorabilia.  When there finally was a revival it was a mixed bag of emotions for me, something I loved so much, but not in its original form.  I booked the tickets as an anniversary outing for the missus and me, but didn’t relax until the interval; to quote the Sopranos: I sat on one ass cheek for the entire first hour or so. 

My emotions about the event contrast strongly with my critical thoughts on the production, but time has faded the fervour and I won’t bore you with it now.  All you need to know is that in Elena Roger, the West End finally has a worthy successor to Elaine Paige, and fittingly she seems to be bouncing around the roles that made the original First Lady quite so renowned.

You might be able to imagine my barely contained joy at the prospect of seeing Elena in Pam Gems’ Piaf.  At the Donmar no less, home to some of the most kickass productions in my lifetime.  So excited am I at the prospect, that I’m going to do that which I never do: recommend that you see it before I’ve seen it myself.  I’m sure most of you seeing this here are too far away to consider it, but I’m doing my own limited bit to promote something that’s likely to make my year. 

In other theatrical news, my latest foray was a trip to see Under the Blue Sky aka “The Catherine Tate play”.  My initial reaction after stumbling out of the Duke of York’s can best be summed up by one of La Tate’s most notorious characters, Nan: “Worra load of old shit.”  I hasten to add that Ms Tate was one of the few good things about the evening, alongside Francesca Annis (who looks about 30 years younger in that promo shot!) and Nigel Lindsay.    My main problem, the one that had me clenching my toes in a weird combination of anger and embarrassment, was the writing.   Since this is a revival/transfer of a 8 year olf Royal Court Production, it came with superlative-lashed reviews about the ‘quality’ of the new writing.  New writing IS desperately important, the lifeblood of the real West End being strangled by tribute-show-musicals and yet another TV-spinoff-revivial.  This, however, was no sterling example of it.

It was awkward, is the best way I can describe it.  Shoehorned references, like the IRA attack on Canary Wharf, that serve absolutely no purpose.  You know those middle-class awkward sitcoms, like Hugh Laurie’s fortysomething, it was that sort of ‘oh God, people don’t talk like THAT’ feeling.  The play itself is actually three short plays with interwoven stories.  Each is presented with two actors, but each new play references the last one heavily.  The idea is sound, but the writing just didn’t carry it off.  The first play was utterly forgettable, with bland acting and ambiguous accents doing nothing to save it.  The second showed more promise, and the anticipation of seeing Catherine Tate in full-blown harridan mode was clearly what a fair percentage of the audience had come to see.  In this I felt the writing was closer to what you’d hope for, though a little reliant on shock value.  I felt Tate ably resisted the temptation to turn her shrewish character into something from one of her sketches, and the imposing nature of her performance showed that she does fit just as well on the stage as the telly.  

The last section had the two best acting performances, and genuine chemistry, perhaps a decent counterpoint to the one-sided desperation of the first two ‘couples’.  It was let down, however, by some of the clunkiest speechifying I’ve ever seen.  Similar to the difference on the West Wing once Aaron Sorkin left, in that you could see how clever they were trying to be, but it just sounded trite when spoken aloud.  I’ve never heard so much numbed-bumb shifting as I did during the tedious story about an old lady’s war-hero boyfriend.  Absolutely tedious, in fact. 

Suffice to say, I’m not suggesting you rush out and catch it during the limited 10-week run, and I’ll just hope that next time I see Catherine Tate or Francesca Annis, it’s in material more deserving of their talents.


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