Susan Boyle – Singer – Britains Got Talent 2009

I don’t do reality TV, and it’s not just snobbery, I genuinely don’t enjoy it.

Every year I get roped into watching the X-Factor final, occasionally I like the person who wins, but it’s also my chance to back and see the criminally bad from the first few episodes. I mean, come on, everything between the delusional and the final three is pointless, right?

So when I saw this linked on a musicals comm I use on LJ, I’ll be honest and say I only clicked because I’m in bed sick and have literally nothing else to do.

Watch the clip, stick with it past the cringeworthy intro stuff that these shows are built on.

This is a lesson in confounding expectations, and since I’m one of the most judgemental people ever, think how it affected me.

Also, well done Susan Boyle for namechecking Elaine Paige. That’s going to win me over every time.

“all of this could be yours if the price is right”


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Originally uploaded by Lolie Smith

Wow, what a weekend. Finally I’m learning how to make the most of my time off. It helped to have the lovely Scho for company, and we had a fantastic time.

After various landlord irritations, I was off to St Pancras with still-wet hair. For variety’s sake, or perhaps just on a whim, I treated myself to Starbucks and the overhead train into Kings X, something I usually resent since all my travel is free apart from that. I’m still impressed with the clean-and-pretty of St Pancras, though we didn’t linger long once I met up with my favourite Frenchwoman.

The lack of Vic line gave me the two days of freedom, but it made the journey slightly slower. Still, using inferior lines we made it to Borough for the most delicious Eggs Benedict and fruit juices, then onwards to Lambeth North for some SERIOUS EDUCATION AND CULTURE. We are that classy.

Honestly though, I was kind of blown away the Imperial War Museum . I’ve been saying for years that I wanted to see the Holocaust exhibition, the one part of history that never fails to compel, terrify and sadden me with every new piece of information. It was as vast and comprehensive as it was shocking. Incredibly sobering to realise what humanity is capable of. The real sucker punch came at the end, the video footage of survivors played against the giant text of Edmund Burke’s “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” quote. It’s impossible enough to wrap the brain cells around the cruelty, but even those who did escape of survive have lived decades with nightmares and guilt over those who perished. Heartbreaking, truly.

It’s another redeeming feather in the cap of British tourist attractions/public institutions though. The Secret War exhibit kind of kicks the ass of the International Spy Museum in DC. Similar principle obviously, but the very British tone of it all, the greater access to now released documents and artefacts, it all felt more real. Plus, it ended with a really wonderful display about the role of the SAS and civil liberties vs security. Bloody well done I say.

The evening was fuelled by Absolut and beetroot crisps. No honestly, that’s a thing. ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’ finally got an airing, my love of Gillian Anderson meaning I sat through another sub-par cinematic offering. At least it was mildly amusing, with bitchy commentary making the whole experience.

Sunday was silly indulgence day, a 3D screening of Monsters vs Aliens which had that predictable ‘haven’t we already done this?’ feel that all Dreamworks productions seemed to be tarred with, but I’ll overlook anything for Hugh Laurie and Amy Poehler.

Home via Nando’s and their cracktastic mango marinade for a further Amy fix in the form of Baby Mama. I reviewed this when I first watched it, but it stands up well on a second viewing.

I have, however, had about three hours sleep since Friday. Trying to keep up with young whippersnappers makes me feel every one of my 26 years and then some.

“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.

“sing for the damage we’ve done and the worse things that we’ll do”

April is fast approaching, bringing with it the 20th Anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster.  There will be more moving tributes already in print than anything I could ever say, and this piece in the Observer is particularly vivid.  I thank the Footballing Gods that UEFA saw sense and didn’t force Liverpool to play on the anniversary, and hope that instead we’ll lead into it by having spanked Chelsea at the Bridge (for the second time this season!!).

The club, massive though it is, has always retained a sense of community.  Sure, it’s hard to get tickets a lot of the time unless you’ve had a season ticket since nineteen canteen, but I’m sort of proud that so many of the club’s former greats are still involved in the daily running of the club, and that every major issue on Merseyside, from Michael Shields to James Bulger has access to the immense platform that LFC provides.

So the new recording of “Fields of Anfield Road”, to raise awareness of Hillsborough and raise money for the Hillsborough Families’ Support Group is really quite moving.  It’s sort of adorable to see Kenny Dalglish blush as they sing about him, in the words of the song that rings out around Anfield at least once every home game.  You can watch the video here, with the familiar first verses for Shankly and Paisley (because this club never forgets its history, at least we have one, eh?) and a new verse in tribute to those 96 people who lost their lives.  They lost their lives due to the mistakes of others, and those responsible have not yet been held to account, not even close.  Anne Williams and her case in the European Court for her son Kevin remains the last hope of getting the arbitrary (and convenient) 3.15pm cutoff from the original 1991 enquiry overturned.  That limited time period allowed the verdict of ‘accidental death’, one of the biggest whitewashes in British legal history.

While justice has still not been done, fans and non-fans alike can take a moment on April 15th to remember those who died simply because they wanted to watch their team and the system let them down.

An even better tribute might be to win the League and European Cup double this season, but like all sensible fans, I won’t get carried away.

Checking In

You know it’s been a while when Firefox doesn’t remember your WordPress login anymore.

Perhaps that’s a timely reminder to start using this thing again, but I’m making no promises until I’m more sure I can keep them.  News from the land of Lola is that I’m now a fully licenced Tube Driver, though I’ve spent my time since passing out in pointless away days rather than actually driving.  Still, the job is secure and that’s the main thing.

Some theatre coming up in the next few weeks – Judi Dench in Madame de Sade (reviews unpromising) and Spring Awakening at the Novello, the fangirling over which has already set my teeth on edge.  Still, if it keeps original work coming into the theatre instead of constant tribute band shows, I’m all for it.

Anyway, it’s still alive, and if I put my mind to it I may write on here more than once a month. Maybe.

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.