Category Archives: Entertainment

Les Misérables

Last night we went to the Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in order to see Les Misérables. This is a show I last saw in the 1980s when it was at the Palace Theatre on Cambridge circus. Performing then was Graham Bickley (from whom I got a tour behind the scenes after the show – I had gone with a friend, and his father knew him).

I knew the show pretty well, or so I thought – but, especially at the start, there were whole segments that seemed new to me. Of the bits I knew, there were some small changes in the odd note here or there, perhaps unsurprising with so many personnel changes over the years.

I’d not been into the Queen’s theatre before, but we were quite impressed by it. We were in the Dress circle, and the theatre bar’s setting is very good indeed – with a great view out onto Shaftesbury Avenue. The one thing I would say about the experience surrounding the show is that the interval is too short. We were first out to the bar, we got our drinks and nibbles (which were pre-ordered). We demolished the nibbles, but seemed to have only had a few sips before the ‘show is starting in 3 minutes’ bell started to ring. Obviously, the bar itself is too expensive – but then, that is hardly a surprise.

We saw Alfie Boe in the role of Jean Val Jean, my mum had been raving about Alfie Boe for ages, but we knew not of his work. Crikey, that man has a pair of lungs on him… he was very, very good.

In the role of Thénardier was Matt Lucas (Katy Secombe is the missus). Matt Lucas was astonishingly good (and, if I’m honest, surprisingly), and the Thénardiers worked well together. They seem to have tweaked the comic timing to suit Lucas, and it works very well indeed.

The actor playing Javert (Hadley Fraser?) was simply wonderful, achieving malevolent righteousness throughout.

There was one cast member who, we both thought, was a little too ‘stage school’. They were still very good on the whole, but stood out against the excellence around them.

The child performers did very well, and in particular, the boy who played Gavroche deserves a special mention.

I’ve used a lot of superlatives, and the show deserved them. It’s a piece which has deservedly stood the test of time. It has some complex numbers going on with counterpoints as the characters sing against each other, but it stops short of becoming a jumble of singing as can be so often the case – which contrasts with the vast majority of musicals out there.

This is a show which is worth seeing. Of shows I’ve seen, and are still available, the ranking now:

  1. Les Misérables
  2. Jersey Boys (Something special – Foottappingly good music, and a great story)
  3. Stomp (It’s percussion, with style)
  4. The Phantom of the Opera (Perhaps a bit cheesy, but still enjoyable)
  5. Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (Australian camp!)

Whilst I’m listing, let’s do a few more. This isn’t an exhaustive list, for instance, I’ve consciously not included Ballet/Opera as these are productions which tend to have short runs with many different companies.

Shows that aren’t on any more, but I’d love to see again:

  1. Pedal Pusher (About the Tour de france – a really good show)
  2. Fiddler on the Roof (Diddle iddle iddle, diddle iddle iddle iddle dum)
  3. The Blue Man Group (Weird and wonderful, available across most of the planet – but not London anymore?)
  4. The Three Musketeers (Okay, a ballet, but a particular bit of choreography that blew us away)
  5. The Rat Pack (Not PC – but then, it’s a mid 20th century show revisited)

Shows that were great to see, and I’d recommend – though it’s out of my system:

  1. Slava’s Snow Show (Clowns, but in a good way – saw it twice. Spectacular.)
  2. The Producers (Comedy about the theatre and bad taste)
  3. The Car Man (Updated Carmen)

Shows I’ve seen, and don’t want to revisit:

  1. Footloose (A couple of good numbers, but the show itself was underwhelming)
  2. The Play What I wrote (actually the second half is good)
  3. Cats (spectacular, but a one time deal)
  4. Lord of the Rings: The Musical (spectacular, very well done, but in some places it veered into ‘so bad, it’s good’)
  5. Evita (Meh)

Shows I’d like to see:

River Song

It had been previously assumed that River’s story was the inverse of the Doctor’s. It now seems we have a different shape – that of the umbrella. Imagine an old style umbrella in a stand. The tip of the umbrella is silence in the library and as we move up we have the likes of Flesh and Stone.

Move further up and the ‘tip’ of the umbrella comes alongside. This is ‘Demons Run’. We see the start of Melody Pond along with an older River.

The Timeline of River Song
This graphic tries to show the Timeline of Melody Pond/River Song

Move further up along the handle of the umbrella and we have ‘Let’s kill Hitler’.

This opens the intriguing possibility that we don’t know if we’re on the shaft of the brolly, or the handle on a given occasion in a future episode when River appears. Will we see the newly born River, who only knows Mel and ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’? — who has been researching the doctor in Luna U – and who possibly is still shaking off her programming …. or will it be the older, more experienced, River – who has yet to visit the Doctor at the end of Demon’s Run?

Could we see both at once?

What will happen as we reach the ‘inversion point’ at the top of the umbrella?

Caveat: This picture is somewhat simplified as we know that the doctor revisits ‘The Impossible Astronaut’.

BBC Proms – Prom 59: Hooray for Hollywood

Prom 59 was our last Prom of the 2011 season, and it was a trip to Hollywood.

The Proms goes to the movies with John Wilson and his Orchestra in a celebration of the Golden Age of Hollywood film musicals.

This was a pure joy, from the medley at the beginning to the ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ and ‘There’s no business like Show Business’ encore – there really could have been further encores for this one (I was hoping for ‘The Trolley Song’!)

In the room, there was a bit of a problem with the levels from the microphone for the singer on the early number – the singer was drowned out by the orchestra, but I hope that they’ll be able to boost that for the recording.

There are some nice moments with the choir, and for me, ‘Sit Down you’re rocking the Boat’ was a highlight – though it did jar that in ‘Top Hat’ (I’m… putting on my Top Hat… doing up my white tie… polishing my tails…) that the singer had black tie. Silly things sometimes.

The programme was live on BBC Radio 3 (and will be on iplayer for 7 days). It will be on TV, BBC2, on the 3rd September

Let’s Kill Hitler

In short, I really enjoyed that episode of Doctor Who. I was concerned that an adventure would be had with Hitler, but he was an incidental character, treated with contempt by all of the cast – and was swiftly dispatched from the script, having been [spoiler]locked in a cupboard[/spoiler]. [spoiler]River’s[/spoiler] line about going [spoiler]to the gay, gypsy Bar Mitzvah for the disabled[/spoiler] was great – wonderfully taunting of the Nazis in front of [spoiler]her as well as emphasising that all of the main characters were against these guys, even whilst they squabbled amongst themselves[/spoiler].

In his article for the Guardian today, David Mitchell says (about Madame Tussauds):

It’s perfectly possible – and important to our understanding of the human condition – to find that amusing, to laugh at the goose-stepping, the shouting and the pomposity, while simultaneously holding in our heads the tragic murderous consequences of Nazi power. That’s what makes the joke bite and also what reminds us that the massive disaster was human.

For me, "Let’s Kill Hitler" was on the right side of this line, and if he’d taken an active part in the story, then there were many places to fall afoul of this – but he wasn’t, the story wasn’t about Hitler. It was set in Germany, but it was the stage for something more akin to ‘The Great Escape’ in tone.

I appreciated that the BBC followed the programme with a documentary about Hans Litten on BBC2. I do hope that a significant fraction of parents allowed their children to watch this in order to underline who this man was for their children.

(Serious spoilers follow)

Continue reading Let’s Kill Hitler

Don’t forget to watch the Comedy Prom on BBC2 tonight (9pm) with Tim Minchin, Sue Perkins, Kit and the Widow, The Boy with tape on his face, Beardyman and others…. and watch out for Monica just after the interval, we think she’ll be behind Tim Minchin, on the left of the screen (if they have sense, I should be a little out of frame).