Tag Archives: Theatre

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:

Jersey Boys

The other night we travelled to London in order to see ‘The Jersey Boys‘. I can honestly say that this was a great show, one of the best I’ve seen in years.

The show is the story of The Four Seasons, their life in New Jersey and their relationships with the people around them (including the mob). We are shown how The Four Seasons became ‘Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ and all along the way there is music.

This show is almost non stop, wall to wall music – and the music is used sympathetically, sometimes it is as the act on stage performing, sometimes as a snatch of music arising from a piece of action. Though I knew of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons before the show, I would have struggled to name more than a few of their songs, yet all were familiar – the music was toe-tapping and the performances excellent. When the band ‘makes it’ on the Ed Sullivan show, the theatrical presentation is very special indeed, with the audience seeing the band performing to camera, and the resulting ‘footage’ being shown at the top of the stage – it works very well.

If visiting or living in London, do go and see this show. The show is also on Broadway, in Melbourne, Vegas, Toronto and is on tour.

Pedal Pusher

Pedal Pusher

We went to see ‘Pedal Pusher’, a play performed by Theatre Delicatessen in an interesting venue on Regent Street.

In an old disused building, Theatre Delicatessen have set up shop, and we are transported to the Tour de France of the late 20th Century – to the slopes of Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux.

The play is about being a top class athlete, and issues surrounding both doping, and the problems with the suspicion of doping. Autobiographies, news reports and so forth were used as source material, with lines quoted – so the Lance Armstrong character says when asked what he’s on says: "I’m on my bike for six hours a day, what are you on?"

During the play, the audience move around the actors, and vice versa. If you choose to sit in the wrong place you may need to move – like the real Tour! (Note, there is an area reserved for the audience, so if moving in a hurry is difficult, go there).

The play looks at the main characters of Marco Pantini, Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong as they struggle for supremacy.

For a show covering several tours, one might expect the director to have thought about cycling – but no bicycles are used (though the audience can bring bicycles into the venue). Instead, the cycling is portrayed in a variety of ways (of varying effectiveness). Often chairs were used, with the actors standing on the chair pretending to pedal (it works much better than this description suggests!)

One of the most effective sequences was in describing a long stage on the tour, the actors metronomically counted out the kilometres, whilst over the top they monologued the action – it worked well, especially as the end of the stage drew near and the pace quickened.

It’s only on for a few more days, and tickets are in short supply. However, if you can go, do. It’s a good evening’s entertainment – and they’ve already added one more performance, so you never know – if demand is high….. !

As I write (30th July, 2009), there are seven tickets left. There are still a few months to reward my cycling efforts with a donation to Leukaemia Research, though (I did the London Bikeathon Challenge Ride the other week).

I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue

Last night we went to see the ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue‘ tour at Reading. This was a ‘not for radio’ show – probably best thought of as the ‘Tim Brooke-Taylor retirement fund’ (Humph isn’t likely to retire!)

As might be expected it was very entertaining (though, heretically, Mornington Crescent doesn’t do it for me).

I loved Jeremy Hardy singing (‘Thank you for the Music’… and as Abba fades out, Jeremy continues….), he also did one song to the tune of another – singing ‘I tawt I taw a puddy tat’ to… ack, can’t recall. It may have been ‘Jerusalem’.

In the ‘re-written nursery rhyme’ round, Graham Garden managed a nice reference to Bill Oddie… it’s frustrating. With comedy, I know if I enjoyed it, and at the time I think ‘I’ll remember that’ – but within a minute the next few gags have come along and it all becomes a blur.

The perfect audience member for ‘Clue’.

My favourite game had to be when the audience used the kazoo to play a song, and the panel had to guess. Hundreds of people trying to play ‘Feelings’ or ‘I like to go a-wandering The Lonely Goatherd’ was just chaos. (memory is such a fallible thing!)

The highlight of the evening, as always with ‘Clue’ was Humphrey Lyttleton. The man is a legend, with a sense of timing that’s superb. After a hilarious stint by the panel, Humph will pause, say ‘mmm’ in a resigned way… and move on. The best bit of the show was the finale – after the kazoo and swannie-whistle round, Humphrey’s trumpet came out, and we were treated to ‘We’ll meet again’. Accompanied of course, by kazoo and swannie-whistle.

After the show, I really wanted to wait by the stage door – mainly to meet Humphrey, but also to see the Goodies (sorry, Jeremy, Barry and Colin). Unfortunately we had a little drive to get home, and needed to get home safely with tiredness creeping up – so it wasn’t to be.

Update: Post from someone else who was there