Category Archives: the centre of the universe

“I’m a woman and proud of it..”

If I haven’t mentioned it before, let me say it now… I love the Donmar. Not just because of its original and often groundbreaking productions, but the vibe of the place itself. It’s like watching a play in a classier, upscale version of your primary school gym hall.

Some of the biggest names in theatre, film or television will perform in a setting so intimate you can see the cracks in their greasepaint and the sweatmarks on their dresses. A few months ago I saw a fantastically raw production of Piaf with Elena Roger and this Saturday gone it was Gillian Anderson’s turn to wow me.

Happily, my original TV girlfriend did not disappoint.  One thing we remarked on at the interval is that although she’ll forever be known for the X-Files, as the attendant there-but-for-the-Grace-of-God Society proved, she has the poise and discipline of a quite marvellous stage actress.  I’ve always thought the best performances I’ve seen have been like watching someone try to cross a canyon on a tightrope: they weave hapharzardly from charming to irritating, never falling into one or the other, always keeping you enthralled.

Nora isn’t perhaps the most likeable character in literature, but she is sympathetic.  You root for her to save her marriage in one moment, the next you’re cheering her sad but clinical decision to end it.  Like the great heroines, she is as strong as she is weak, locked in a continual battle between what she is, what she was, and what she ought to be.  When the entire theatre is hanging on your every word, you must be doing something right, so brava Ms Anderson.

The rest of the cast was actually quite enticing from the programme – Christopher Eccleston being the only thing I’ve ever liked about Doctor Who, Toby Stephens a magnificent actor who used to rehearse his sword-fighting in leather trousers every night when I worked Front of House at the Haymarket.  While the former disappointed with his shouty acting and awkward stage presence, the son of Maggie Smith did the family dynasty proud.  At the play’s dénouement, I felt compelled to look away from his raw tears, but only because they were so painful that they were too close to real.  It takes a lot to make me do that, and his turn as the favour-seeking politician was the perfect counterpoint to Nora’s moral journey from start to finish.

The supporting cast were capable, and even the child actors managed to stay on the right side of grating.  A restrained but beautiful production, and thankfully, the perfect birthday present.

A Doll’s House plays at the Donmar Warehouse, London until Juy 18th

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Now playing: Aimee Mann – Nothing is Good Enough
via FoxyTunes

“I don’t go to therapy to find out if I’m a freak”

It’s astounding to me that this can still be the case, but there are therapists out there in Blighty still attempting to “de-gay” people.  Even the expression ‘treatment for homosexuality’, as this article phrases it, fills me with a kind of cold dread.

Saddest of all is that people even in our ‘enlightened’ age can be made to feel that being homosexual is an illness, that it’s something so wrong or shameful that they simply have to have it exorcised, like some form of perverted demon.  While I have had the occasional bout of questioning, of musing over how much easier my life would be if I just stuck to dating men, ultimately it comes down to biology.

When I see an attractive woman, the relevant departments wake up and make their individual contributions to a physical ‘zing’, and all the well-intend chatting in the world won’t stop that from happening.  Similarly, although there are a great many men I find to be handsome and witty and brilliant, I don’t get that ‘raaaaaaaawr I’m gonna jump him’ feeling at all.  (Fernando Torres being the exception, but as I keep reminding everyone – he looks like a girl!).

Ultimately, if people seek ‘treatment’ for whatever reason, therapists can’t simply ignore them or pretend it isn’t an issue.  I really can’t see an alternative course to helping those affected to rationalise and accept their homosexual feelings, any attempts at a ‘cure’ just simply don’t work.  Offering the impossible would be unethical at best.

In further sex-sex-sex news, the Committee of Advertising Practice (judging by some of the adverts lately, there’s an R missing from that acronym) is considering a relaxation of the rules on advertisements for abortion services and condom/STD ads before the watershed.  To which I say, about bloody time.

In the many snippets on rolling news channels that I was half-paying attention to, a seemingly educated gentleman made the point that these are all perfectly legal services, and why therefore should they be subject to restrictions?  I couldn’t agree more, because this country needs more sex education and not less.  The problem is, with everything from Hollyoaks to the Pussycat Dolls (oh, get your own ‘yoof’ terms, I’m on the march to 30 dontchaknow?) that teenagers (and younger) are being presented with the fantasy of sex.  What they need is a large dose of reality – including consequences like STDs and pregnancy.

Speaking of which, here’s an absolutely terrifying report about the irresponsibility of 16-24 year olds: 68 freaking percent admitted they don’t use condoms.  What the hell?  Are you really saying that in a huge metropolitan place like London, with all the access to the internet and everything else that so many people can think that sort of behaviour is safe?  The comments of sheer ignorance regarding HIV made my jaw drop when I first read it on the Tube tonight.  Not getting AIDS because you’re “not gay” or too young, or the disease isn’t as fatal and life-wrecking as it used to be?  While I accept that advances in HIV drug therapies have made it livable, this is not a lifestyle change you want to make voluntarily.  I feel like I’m in a flashback to the 80s (though of course I was only a nipper then) and any minute now there’ll be a press conference with Ronald Reagan not even saying the word.

Are we really back there?  The misinformation, playing Russian Roulette with every ejaculation?  I really don’t know what to say about this anymore, but if ever there was a sign that we need to ramp up the accurate information being given out to these morons, I think we just received it loud and clear.

The Taming of the Shrew, or, Bitches Ain’t Shit

I’ve never seen a live production of this particular play before, and I’ll admit that my familiarity with it is largely through the camp and slick musical adaptation ‘Kiss Me Kate’ rather than the original text.  Sure, the title implies that women may not exactly be portrayed in the best light, but it’s almost enough to make an apathetic quasi-equalist like me be out there burning bras.

The real problem is that the play hasn’t stood the test of time, in that the ‘comedy’ is wildly unfunny and the inequality between the sexes veers from historically appropriate to psychologically damaging.  I was ambivalent at the interval but in shock by the final curtain. I waited with baited breath for Kate’s final monologue, tensing for the glorious sarcastic revenge that was no doubt to come as a response to Petruchio’s intolerable cruelty.  Instead, there was misty-eyed supplication, the speech of a downtrodden wife who had been beaten, starved and tortured into submission.  There was no dramatic relief as a result, but I can’t help feeling that these directorial and acting choices have merely exposed the play for what it is: a dark and disturbing tale of misogyny and viciousness, certainly not one that should be celebrated.

After all, Shakespeare can do the whole ‘spiteful banter as foreplay’ thing so well – look at Much Ado About Nothing (my definitive Beatrice and Benedick being Harriet Walter and Nic Le Provost at the Haymarket a few years back).  Hell, it’s one of the most used romantic storylines even to this day: House and Cuddy, Mulder and Scully, the list goes on.  This just fails on a number of levels and instead of stooping to save the material, they lay it bare in all its distasteful glory.

Michelle Gomez does a fantastic job within the considerable limitations of the role.  It’s so un-modern, so contrary to the image of women that I’ve grown up with that I almost couldn’t believe what I was watching.  I could have done with her being a little less screechy at first, but girl’s got to show she’s off her rocker somehow.  It set up as such a delightful sparring match, but even though her physical comedy was impeccable, watching a man hit a woman (even while she gave something back) was the first arse-shifting uncomfortable moment.  I knew she could do bonkers, loud and pretty funny, but after the interval she came into her own as a dramatic force.

There’s no two ways about it, Petruchio (an entirely unsympathetic character I found) absolutely destroys Kate.  There’s no spark left, and watching her decline is as frustrating as it is unsettling.  It’s a portrayal of domestic abuse, in its own way, of how one human being can claim another through ‘love’ and leave them as nothing.  By the time we get to marital rape of a sorts, the  play within the play is over and the tinker is just another bum left there naked and shamed.  Gomez must have been drawing from somewhere pretty deep though, because for the terrible short bows she looked somewhere between collapse and floods of tears.  I can’t imagine how draining that must be on a nightly basis.  Still, it’s the nation’s second-favourite Shakespeare, so clearly we’re a nation of theatre-going wifebeaters.  Give me Julius Caesar any day.

Which brings me to my more general problem with the RSC and its countless ‘re-invention’ of the same plays over and over again.  Once in a generation perhaps there is a new definitive production of Hamlet, or Othello, but for the most part it’s simply good actors rehashing durable material with an ‘angle’ that makes it somehow edgy or relevant.  We’ve been through the permutations: set it in Nazi Germany, a nightclub, its original era, or as in the case of last night’s show – a 2008 stag do and 16th century Padua.  It’s interesting for a few moments but ultimately the words are the same and the characters have the same limitations, so we’re essentially paying £50 to watch someone reinvent the wheel.  Not that I’ve paid full-price for a theatre ticket in years, but plenty of other people still have to. If I never have to watch another disguise/mistaken identity/fool the young maiden storyline again, it will be too soon quite frankly.  The rest of this play is merely a distraction from the main misogynistic event and I can’t really bring myself to review the camp prancing and falling-to-knees that constitutes RSC comedy routines.

I slipped out of the Novello stunned, updating Twitter as I fumbled to get my mind back on track for the journey home.  It was certainly harrowing, and Michelle Gomez is a tour de force who deserves a better vehicle for her considerable talent next time.  Should you wish to subject yourself to it, the play is on until 7th March at the Novello Theatre, Aldwych, London.  In the meantime, they should provide some sort of in-foyer counselling service, or at the very least a trauma helpline like after they deal with ‘issues’ in Eastenders.

“I serve at the pleasure of the President”

Barack Obama really is the President!  He’s won me over, albeit slowly.  I thought his inauguration speech brought some much needed pragmatism to the hope/change theme that’s served him so well.  Even a little bit of predecessor smackdown despite the enforced camaraderie of such an occasion (you know, where the word bipartisan suddenly becomes noun, verb and the Holy Grail itself).

I’ll admit that my biggest jealousy towards the man is his newly tricked out Blackberry.  If they can put nuclear launch codes on his start menu, or whatever, why can’t my Blackberry Storm handle simple tasks like allowing me to answer a freakin’ call?  It hasn’t tried my patience too severely as yet, but if the next software upgrade doesn’t fix the remaining kinks, I’m going to be shoving it somewhere unpleasant in Vodafone’s immediate vicinity.  Probably best I don’t start ranting about their Macphobia, because dammit, I was ready to betray Blackberries for a swanky little iPhone.  I would have done it too, were it not for 02’s utterly pathetic excuse for coverage in this particular pocket of North London.

In other news, I’m gritting my teeth and booking a glut of driving lessons.  The most annoying part of this drawn-out process is that I can drive perfectly well if I just have to think for myself.  It’s when I’m awaiting instructions for the route that my control freak brain gets sluggish.  I’m well aware that I have to grin and bear it because it’s the only way to get through the test, but believe me when I tell you that it’s actually easier to pootle around in a gigantic train than it is in a Mini.  Fewer idiots in your way at least.  Still, the test is provisionally booked for mid-February, let’s see how it goes.

Right, I’ve had it. One more hour and I’ll be safely on the train back to civilisation. It is good to have a break now and then, but I’m done with the rest of England. There’s a reason why my LJ/blog tag for anything about London is ‘the centre of the universe’.

I’ve learned my lesson – from now on I venture beyond the M25 only for Liverpool or Scotland. Erm, and possibly the airport since most of them are pretty far out of London, but you get my point I think?

I’m sure York is perfectly charming, and I will concede that it’s very clean and easy to walk around. It’s compact like Edinburgh is compact, but without the constant hills that leave you searching for a sherpa and oxygen masks. And therein lies the rub, it is a lot like Edinburgh, much like it’s similar to Chester and Oxford. Building your McDonald’s into ye Olde English storefronts has lost its novelty for me (though weirdly, I do like the merging of eras, in an ‘appreciating the tacky’ kind of way).

Another annoying trend that’s pissing me off in Manchester, Belfast and God knows where else – the ripoff of the London Eye. I’m not saying London has it copyrighted or anything, but it’s very different getting chucked up in the air when you have the dirty majesty of the Thames and world-famous landmarks as far as the eye can see. I splurged a whole £6.50 on the Norwich Union Yorkshire Wheel and I was actually looking forward to it on such a sunny day. But oh York, you forgot the view. What’s the point in being hoisted on high for panoramic views of… suburban house, rusting trains in the depot, and the roof of the building they’ve stuck the wheel next to. Nice idea maybe, shame about the execution.

I’m sure if you’re stuck in Bumfuck, Nowheresville then this place must seem like the height of sophistication. Sure, the museums are pretty informative and clearly well-funded, but the National Railway Museum didn’t grab me the way that the London Transport Museum did (and I don’t get any discounts here either!). It’s surprisingly quiet in the City Centre on a Saturday night, and choosing a hotel located in the midst of about 12 churches certainly made Sunday morning a loud, if not entirely harmonious experience. You know that episode of the Gilmore Girls when Luke and Lorelai break the church bells? That.

If you enjoy the slower pace, charming tea rooms and food that comes smothered in gravy (ok, that last one is pretty awesome) then don’t let me put you off. The major redeeming feature of the trip was a walk along the city walls, with a refreshing lack of history-blighting railings. Although after the twentieth pas de deux with idiots who didn’t understand the concept of passing in single file, I was close to just shoving people off. I, however, am done with England and will be conserving my funds and travel time for branching out into the corners of Europe I’m yet to discover. As long as there is Ryanair and I eventually get my replacement passport, all will be well.

“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.

“if you were queer, I’d still be here”

Miracles do still happen, I got the Saturday off for London Pride.  Anyone who has known me over the past few years might be surprised that a) I’m planning to go, or b) that I’ve even noticed when it is. 

There’s been a shift, especially in the last year or so.  In terms of struggles with my sexuality, I know I had a fairly easy time in comparison.  Such is my non-affiliatory nature (oh God, I was given a Union membership form the other day!) that I’ve always been loath to define myself by my sexuality.  That ship has sailed though, most areas of my life are affected by being a lesbian, I’m out at work and to my family, I am quite proud in a low-key sort of way.  It won’t make the haters hate us any less, but instead of getting uptight I’ve decided to go to two of the biggest and best parties of the year with my dearest friends and just have a freakin’ good time.   I may not be changing exactly, but I am evolving.  I’ll still have to grit my teeth when presented with Stonewall’s latest superficial cause, but I’m never going to be militant and that I can live with.

 

Not to mention that Brighton Pride falls during my scheduled long weekend.  FTW!