Wednesday, 7 March 2007


Guy's and trolls

Star Turns 2

Fast forward to Friday. During the afternoon, I had an appointment at the London Palladium to negotiate its hire for the London Gay Men's Chorus Christmas show and it was more than exciting to be on that stage, especially as it was maintenance day for Sound of Music and the mountain was rotating on its mechanical axis whilst we discussed the percentage commission on merchandise and whether we could let just any old queens use the Royal Box.

Perhaps my smartest piece of negotiation was to ask if I could buy the house seats for the evening performance, and was thrilled to be able to pick up two superb stalls seats at face value, since they're touted for so much more on the street.

By staggering coincidence, it was Connie Fisher's first day back after illness and Lesley Garrett's first after holiday so whilst the previous evening's audience had to accept four major understudies, we were dealt almost a full deck. As it turns out, Garrett's leaving the cast and Fisher has been given more time off to rest her vocal cords and we may have seen their last performance together.

I've seen Sound of Music before. And not just the film, although I was taken as an impressionable twelve year old in new shoes which blistered my feet and by my grandmother's neighbour Alice Oldfield - she who used to tittup across the cobbles on a Thursday with the Heywood Advertiser and say "Hello, Hilda. I'll tell you who they've buried ..." - on her twentieth visit to the Theatre Royal, Bury, to see Julie Andrews yodel her technicolour socks off.

No, the stage version I saw was at the Apollo Victoria in the early 80's, I think, when Petula Clark had a crack at it. Presumably she felt being a tax exile in Switzerland gave her a unique alpine insight into the character of Maria von Trapp.

It didn't really give her much of an insight into anything else because she was as painted and wooden as the scenery and any spirited resilience she brought to the part came across as pugnacious defiance that she was, even then, twenty years too old for it.

At 23, Connie Fisher has no such problem. She convinced me entirely as a replica of Julie Andrews' interpretation of the role, and since no stage or screen representation ever attempts to portray the real frumpy, dumpy and grumpy matriarch that was the original Maria Augusta Kutschera von Trapp, who cares if sugary tunefulness is the stock in trade when it's done as well as this?

What really pleased me about this evening was the audience. It was full of people who had saved money to bring family or friends to this show as a treat. Not the usual jaded, half-empty, half-bored West End audience, but out-of-towners who'd made an occasion of it, and the friendliness and enthusiasm of people in the bars and foyers was a genuine delight.

Star Turns 1

It's been quite a week in the West End. On Tuesday, my best-mate James, who works for Cameron Mackintosh the theatre mogul, phoned to say he had a spare ticket for the first night of Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe, and the majestic Richard Griffiths who, it only occurred to me much later, had played his Uncle Vernon in the first couple of films.

Fearing Peter Shaffer's dusty old tract might have been re-worked for commercial consumption as 'Harry Potter and the Blinding of Nags' I hesitated just long enough to speculate that this was the hottest ticket in the West End, and ran to the dry cleaners for my suit trousers.

It was electric. Radcliffe is astonishing in that as a film actor he has the stage technique to speak clearly and unmiked in a 1500-seat three-tier West End theatre, and either he has natural stage talent or took Thea Shorrock's direction intravenously because he's wholly convincing as Alan Strang and in the masturbatory climax to the first act, or in the ballet in which he blinds the horses he simply owned the stage.

A lot of reviewers took a swipe at the producers by asking why a paean to Laing's psychiatric theorising is really deserving of a revival, but as a vehicle to exorcise the ghost of Harry Potter from the corpus delicti of Daniel Radcliffe, I can't think of a better excuse for dragging it down from the shelf for 16 weeks. And I bet it goes to Broadway too.

R D Laing. He's out of favour now, but he did a lot to demystify mental illness and drag it in public perception out of the strait jacket and electric shock era.

Laing was an off-road explorer in a time when Freud was the only cartographer and Peter Shaffer was giving his pathfinder views a sympathetic airing about the same time Tennessee Williams was still in grand guignol mode railing against giving his heroines lobotomies.

I do think all Laing's stuff about the insane having mystical insights into the nature of life that the wholly rational are missing is a bit over-selective. I think all sorts of people have incisive insights into the futility of mundane diurnal existence. It's just a coincidence that we're actually mad too.

You can't leave this arena without a comment on the physical actor. He's lean and highly toned, in a way simply not visible under the Hogwarts robes and whilst the nudity is entirely natural and within the context of the play, you are entitled to a Mrs Henderson moment in which you ponder - who knew Harry Potter was Jewish ??

I think I was more shocked to see him smoking, than with his cock out.

Actually, and I had to look this up, Daniel Jacob Radcliffe is a child of mixed religious background, but clearly his mother had the final say when it came to the snip.

The bars were heaving during the intervals, and not entirely with celebrity, although I did spot Bob Geldof but up where we were sitting the best on offer was Cilla Black, who I think was smiling - surgery seems to have triangulated her features, and Gail from Coronation Street who is as attractive and elegant as her character is frumpy and naff.

There was a lot of free champagne and I have to confess that Fiona Phillips from GMTV, a woman I have often derided as a total moron, kindly picked me up when I fell over someone's umbrella. It won't make me watch her crap show, but she was rather nice.