Tuesday, April 06, 2010

CABE design review of Sky Gardens

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has published a Design Review of Sky Gardens with some interesting reservations. I don't know if it has any power or not. Doesn't sound like it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

West End Whingers transfer

West End Whingers have fallen out. Not with each other, but with this blogging platform. They have transferred to http://www.westendwhingers.wordpress.com. Do please come and visit us there where we have more room to whinge and better lighting. This venue will remain dark for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

You Might As Well Live - you might as well go

Please note that West End Whingers have moved to http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com. You are currently reading an old version of the site. The West End Whingers are getting about these days. In an attempt to break from the perpetual disappointment of the west end theatre, WEW decided to sample the fringe. (Fringe Whingers?). So it was that life-long Dorothy Parker fan Andrew dragged Phil up (it's not the first time) to Hampstead's New End Theatre to see You Might As Well Live ("the untold life of Dorothy Parker"). When paying west end prices, WEW love to moan about length as most shows are either too long or too short. YMAWL came in at 65 minutes for £12. We like short -it leaves plenty of time to chew the show over with a bottle of grape. So Andrew was delighted when he found out that 40 years of his heroine's life were going to be rattled out in barely over an hour. To save you doing the maths that's about 18 months per minute. Not much space for longeurs. Even so Phil found himself glancing at his watch from time to time and checking the number of scenes (7) in the programme (free- well done New End Theatre!) then trying to remember how many we'd sat through. The man in the seat next to him appeared to be doing the same, but then he did also seem to be enjoying it enormously. By"The Untold Life of Dorothy Parker" first time playwright Christian Spurrier seems to mean DP minus wit plus politics and general worthiness, and towards the end DP does bemoan that she'll be remembered for things which were meant as throw away jokes, so we supposed this was the point. But it's a bit of a poisoned chalice, really, as an audience drawn to a biography of Dorothy Parker is presumably hoping for at least a taste of her mordant wit and they're doomed to disappointment. Even the title of the play was never explained. At the risk of engaging the wrath of Dorothy Parker's estate (historical footnote: which isThe National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as noted in the play. Parker bequeathed her estate to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr who died 10 months after her. Despite protests from executor Lillian Hellman, Parker's estate then passed on to the NAACP as Parker had requested in the event of King's death) it's the last line of her poem Résumé: Razors pain you; Rivers are damp; Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp. Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live. Anyhow, YMAWL suffers from the usual problem of one-actor shows. Pandora Colin's Parker finds herself having conversations with the dog (stuffed), a corpse, shouting at unseen characters, responding to the occasional offstage voice (taped) and too frequently chatting on the phone. Despite these rather strained attempts to introduce dialogue into a one-woman show, WEW were pretty impressed with Colin's performance, particularly her ageing process and both Andrew and Phil noted her ability to tie and untie her hospital robe behind her neck with fine dexterity. WEW were excited to see from their free programme that Pandora had appeared in both The Bill and Casualty. Phil even went as far to find himself "completely forgetting he was in the theatre" when DP described the build up to a double execution that Parker had fought to prevent. Don't worry he's not gone soft, it was a brief moment, but it rarely happens theses days. Indeed, WEW's only regret is that this play wasn't nearly bad enough to justify ripping off (we mean paying homage to) some classic DP put-downs. Andrew had planned to end the review with either "She delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B" or"This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it." but it was not to be. It's only on till next Sunday. If you're a Dorothy Parker fan you might as well go.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Frobisher's Gold

Please note that West End Whingers have moved to http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com. You are currently reading an old version of the site. As Elizabethan explorer Sir Martin Frobisher was searching for the (then) theoretical Northwest Passage, he discovered a marvellous black mineral from which he was convinced gold could be extracted. He transported it back to England in copious quantities, only to find that "Frobisher's Gold" - although quite sparkly - was worthless. And so it was that the West End Whingers were gifted of a hook for their review when they sat through two-and-a-half hours of Frobisher's Gold at the Shaw Theatre in the heart of London's glamorous Euston Road. In actual fact, Phil was spared this experience. Andrew took along would-be whinger Neil just to check that the whingers haven't lost the plot when it comes to theatre criticism - can they really have seen so much rubbish at the theatre? But Andrew is pleased to report that all is well with the WEW dramatic compass which does indeed point firmly towards true crap. The play opens as a history (albeit with a free sprinkling of anachronisms) featuring the usual Elizabethan suspects - Essex, Walsingham and in this case Frobisher - and trundles along in this manner until the interval (end of Act III!), at which point it drifts into surrealism which culminates in the major characters transforming into animals. It's all kind of explained, but in a "it was all a dream" kind of way. Frobisher's Gold was written by Fraser Grace under the patronage of Menagerie - "a leading independent producer of new writing for the stage" which only goes to reinforce Andrew's view that, on the whole, new writing should be suppressed rather than encouraged. In fact Andrew rushed home after the show to instruct his lawyers to set up an endowment to fund a foundation for this very purpose. Poor Janet Suzman - remember her from the film Nicholas & Alexandra and the seventies TV series Clayhanger? She's an excellent actress and her performance as Elizabeth I rises far above the material. But one imagines her next gig as Volumnia in Coriolanus (which will round off the RSC's Complete Works Festival) can't come round soon enough for her. The costumes, sets and make-up don't help. They put Andrew in mind of a university dramasoc production. Actually, this production might have worked quite well in the informal intimacy of a pub theatre, but the Shaw Theatre is too large to do anything other than show this production up as rather tatty and low-budget. So, was it value for money? Andrew and Neil paid just £10 for the tickets which they thought was worth paying to see the woefully underexposed Suzman. But when Elizabeth reprises herutterancee that "underachievement" bugs her (yes, Elizabeth uses words like "bug") at least two people in the audience could be seen nodding gravely in sympathy.

Angela Lansbury - Broadway bound

Please note that West End Whingers have moved to http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com. You are currently reading an old version of the site. WEW are very tight lipped about their ages. Andrew sees Angela Lansbury's return to the Broadway stage at the tender age of 81 (that's Angie not Andy) as an excuse to to think about a trip over the pond. Phil's not so sure, he ticked her off his list a few years back when he saw her do "Bosom Buddies" with Bea Arthur in a charity show at the Shaftesbury theatre and also saw her turn up at a preview of the original London production of Sweeney Todd. Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson were also there - ah those were the days when real stars would put in a showing. In what surely must be her last theatrical outing, Ms Lansbury's to appear in a play Deuce by the prolific Terrence McNally with Marian Seldes (that's her on the right) as her co-star making their combined ages 159! Apparently it's about two old tennis pros. That information alone was enough to raise Andrew's interest. Let's hope if Andrew does get to visit it won't be murder he writes.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It pays to whinge at Wicked

Please note that West End Whingers have moved to http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com. You are currently reading an old version of the site. Like the West End Whingers, fellow theatre-goers and would-be whingers Simon and Nick found themselves at the very end of row C in the stalls at Wicked. Problems similar to those experienced by Phil and Andrew ensued. They could only see the front of the stage at the best of times and when cast members were on the spiral staircase at the front of the stage, they couldn’t see anything except their backs. So in the interval, Nick (of whom WEW are proud) spoke with the box office manager who admitted that the tickets went on sale before they knew what the set design was, and they didn’t realise that some tickets would have a restricted view (one more tale of box office poison). The box office manager tried to insist that Nick write to the theatre manager to complain but caved in under a further onslaught of whinging to offer Simon and Nick best seats (the middle of the row with the leg-room in the stalls) for another performance. He also mentioned that they had had more than a few upset customers. So, what's the thinking going on at the box office here? "Whoops, these seats we sold at top price are actually crap. We must contact the poor people who have shelled out for them and offer some kind of recompense?" Yeah, right. That would have been the honourable thing to do; the decent thing. But you have to remember that the one thing box office people can't stand are audiences. They are scum. Fans of WEW may be wondering why practised whingers Phil and Andrew - whose seats subjected them to similar visual and aural imediments - did not kick up a fuss like Nick did? Simple. For his efforts Nick now has to sit through Wicked again. Wild horses wouldn't drag us. Not for all the tea in China. Poor Nick - hasn't he suffered enough already?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wicked - 'orrible

Please note that West End Whingers have moved to http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com. You are currently reading an old version of the site. Phil has always wanted to use the word "behemoth" in a review and at last an opportunity presented itself last night when West End Whingers put the cork in the bottle and subjected themselves to three very long hours of the broadway import Wicked. The good news? Idina Menzel's performance as Elphaba is strong despite having performed her role hundreds of times after which the dialogue and songs must have worn very thin; Andrew and Phil were finding them threadbare by the end of Act 1. Oh, and there's one good joke. But that's the last kind remark you'll be hearing from us today. For a musical comedy it doesn't have much in the way of music and it takes itself very seriously. In case you don't know, this is an imagined prequel to the Wizard of Oz (whose charms and tunes Andrew - not previously a huge fan - yearned for). It tells (rather laboriously) the story of how the Glinda and Ephaba respectively became the good and evil witches. Or didn't. They were both terribly misunderstood. The music is and lyrics by Stpehen Schwartz (Godspell, Children of Eden) is dreadful and the orchestrations smack of rock opera inclinations which put Andrew in mind of the appalling Rent, as did the applause of the uncritical audience before every song. It just sounded like a bad rock concert - over-amplified and swamping the singers. In fact, from our seats the sound mix was so appalling we couldn't hear a word the chorus was singing, and precious little else. Probably a blessing. Phil felt it was less of a show than a behemoth (see) - it's big and overblown. Strangely, although the production looks expensive there's not much "wow factor" and WEW came away feeling that investing a little less money and a little more imagination would have paid dividends. Andrew felt it was one of those occasions when you can see your money up there on the stage, but wish that they had spent it more wisely. Phil might have been able to see his money up there on the stage, but from his seat in side block C of the stalls, half of the rear of the stage was obscured by the vast mechanical construction that adorns the proscenium. This was compounded by bad blocking which plonked performers too near the front, frequently obscuring the action futher up-stage. Apparently there was a lion puppet in a cage at some point but Phil saw none of it. He was also flummoxed when a Tin Man appeared on stage without any apparent explanation, Phil's line of sight ensuring that he missed a key transformation scene. As for performances: Menzel put her all into it (but you would think that by now someone would have pointed out that her green make up stops halfway 'tween wrist and elbow); Miriam Margolyes as Madame Morrible is wasted; Nigel Planer makes so little impact as the Wizard he could have stayed at home; Adam Garcia works his way through it with very little to build on apart from prosthetic buttocks (we don't know why either); Helen Dallimore as Glinda is passable, but lacks the charm needed to overcome the monstrousness of her teenage high school character. Perhaps a few lessons from Alicia Silverstone who pulled that particular coup off in Clueless would have helped. We weren't even sure quite who this show is aimed at. Not us. Kids? WEW were thankful that there were few in evidence at the beautiful barn of a theatre the Apollo Victoria Theatre. By the interval, Andrew was close to leaving, but WEW stuck it out. By the end, Phil was close to tears. A woman near him did sob at the end, but for quite different reasons. And £6 for a programme? It's called a "souvenir programme" but isn't every programme a souvenir? And whats wrong with an ordinary one? £55 for seats from which we couldn't see plus another six quid to find out the titles of the songs we couldn't hear - no wonder it's called Wicked. Pay no attention to that show behind the curtain!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ticket tip - Little Shop of Horrors at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Please note that West End Whingers have moved to http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com. You are currently reading an old version of the site. Far be it from the West End Whingers - for whom every purchase of a theatre ticket is a triumph of optimism over experience - to predict hot tickets for the future, but the Menier Chocolate Factory has a track record of interesting productions (Sunday in the Park with George was excellent) and a very nice bar. So it's exciting to hear that the Menier is to revive Little Shop of Horrors (previews 17th November). The West End Whingers are both fortunate enough (or old enough, depending on how you look at it) to have seen Ellen Greene play Audrey in the original London stage production and, of course, in the excellent movie version. If Sheridan Smith's voice has half the power of Greene's this could be worth seeing. Let's just hope they haven't gone down the "Audrey couldn't really sing" route which has blighted so many Cabaret productions. The role of Seymour is taken by Paul Keating (he was in Tommy and nominated for a Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for his performance in Closer to Heaven). Comedian Mike McShane (Whose Line is it Anyway) plays Audrey II. WEW know that they are almost certainly doomed to disappointment, but they are going anyway. At least they can be sure they will be able to have a good moan about the Menier's unallocated seating.

...but Andrew liked Spamalot a lot

Please note that West End Whingers have moved to http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com. You are currently reading an old version of the site. A spoof Broadway meta-musical that lampoons theatrical Jews and gays along the way. Sound familiar? Monty Python's Spamalot ("a new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture") doesn't have the grace, wit, or structure - nor the quality of pastiche or song - possessed by Mel Brooks' The Producers, nor it does not exude a particular love for the genre. But for an enjoyable night out at the theatre in the West End at the moment, it's pretty hard to beat. High praise indeed from a West End Whinger, but Andrew does have some empathy with Phil's lukewarm feelings for Spamalot. For a start: if you're not a big Monty Python fan, it's not nearly as funny as half the audience seems to think it is. Indeed, they laugh before the jokes which is most disconcerting. It's also true that Tim Curry as King Arthur coasts rather languidly through his role without bringing the energy or dynamism one might have expected. Thankfully the rest of the cast is strong - which it needs to be with each of the principals playing three or four roles. There's some fine singing too, particularly from Darren Southworth (Historian / Not Dead Fred / French Guard / Minstrel / Prince Herbert) and Hannah Waddingham (The Lady of the Lake) who steals the show. Waddingham - who has been in two more Ben Elton musicals than any actress should have to endure (Beautiful Game and Tonight's the Night) - has a fantastic voice and brings the house down several times. Her vocal play is fantastic - The Diva's Lament, in which she complains that she doesn't have anything to do in Act II, is excellent. So is her duet with Sir Dennis Galahad (Christopher Sieber) - The Song That Goes Like This - an amusing (if not terribly original) musical theatre parody. The songs (by Eric Idle and John Due Prez) don't really stick in the memory but they've wisely imported some ready-made goodwill in the form of "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" fromMonty Pythons' Life of Brian. Again, the audience is ahead of the show, singing along almost from the opening notes. Spamalot never bores, although bits of the second act drag somewhat - notably the over-laboured, sub-panto scene in which Prince Herbert's father instructs his dim-witted guards not to let his son leave the room. There are also some real problems with the transfer of this to the West End from Broadway. Faced with the task of putting on a West End Show, King Arthur and his knights are faced with the apparently essential corresponding task of therefore having to find Jews to take part on it. This might have worked on Broadway, but in the Palace Theatre the introduction of this theme was understandably met with bemused silence - it's simply not part of our theatre in-joke culture here. It worked in The Producers because (a) it was set on Broadway (b) Max Bialystock is Jewish and (c) Mel Brooks is Jewish. For evidence of just how half-arsed this transfer is look no further than the programme where the accompanying song is still called You Won't Succeed on Broadway, although those certainly weren't the words being sung on the stage. But these are minor gripes. Director Mike Nichols (whose films include The Graduate, Who's Afraid of Vifinia Woolf, Postcards from the Edge) puts on a terrifically busy show which, combined with Tim Hatley's first-rate set and costume designs and the presence of Tim Curry, all helps convince you that you're seeing your £60 ticket money up there on the stage. If Andrew were a lazy newspaper critic keen to have his words up outside the theatre he might say that in some ways this is the Holy Grail of musical theatre - enjoyable, funnygreat singing, lots to look at and a star. Who would have thought that there would come a time in musical theatre when such a combination would be rare enough to be worthy of comment?