Friday, 31 December 2004

You've got Aladdin there - Review.

I have been living in this country for over four years now and it has been a real journey of discovery: during that time, I witnessed the strange things people do to food, the fact that they place traffic lights after a crossing or the completely illogical way in which supermarkets are (dis)organised (I remember seeing a sign attached to a display of Christmas puddings informing me that bleach had been moved to another aisle or being directed by a hesitant member of staff to find tissues in the pet food section!). Tonight for me turned into another anthropological study of this most myterious of things: the British Psyche. I went to my first ever pantomime

Now, what is pantomime (or panto as they call it)? The answer is pretty simple if somewhat perplexing for the unsuspecting mind: Panto is a theater show taking place in the Christmas season, where a series of stock characters will perform the silliest antics. The performers mainly comprise men in drag and the lines are ridden with lame puns and sexual innuendos. All of this for the entertainment of children and families... Audience participation required

Even if I look behind me at my, now fairly broad, experience of theatre going, I don't think I have ever seen anything like it. The show I went to see was Aladdin at the Old Vic with Sir Ian McKellen (aka Dame Ian McGandalf) playing the Widow Twankey, which was the original attraction for me to be honest, added to the fact that I had never been to panto. I did not really know what to expect and I was totally right in that. The plot, know by everyone, was stretched to its minimum and took the back seat; the occasion being solely devoted to goofyness. We were presented with a series of tableaux, some including dancing and/or singing, most a pretext for the actors to banter at the audience. A few "topical" jokes were heard about a blanket safe pass and fast tracking, some "spacey" figs, one ring to rule them all (this from McKellen) or the fact that a certain act took less than forty five minutes; all this drowned with a very thick lashing of threadbare puns.

The decor (by John Napier) was very colourful (as were the costumes) and by their flimsyness reinforced the impression of amateur theatricals not to be taken seriously, an impression totally contradicted by the high quality of the production and of the perfomances. The boys in the "chorus" were sometimes wearing some very tight outfits which highlighted the...errr...qualities of some very nicely, one could not help but notice! Oh, yes they did!!! As for the principal actors they were very good indeed. Aladdin was played with the (sometimes annoying) boyancy of a kids TV presenter by Joe McFadden with a sexy smile and Glaswegian accent. The villain was played by Roger Allam, very reminiscent of Tim Curry (Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show). As for Ian McKellen, the shock of seeing him in all his various outfits as Widow Twankey was just too much! See for yourself.

Of course this is the first performance of panto I have seen, and I have a feeling I could have chosen much, much worse for my debut. Yes, Panto is about tackyness but tonight proved it can also be high quality performance. Certainly it is it good fun.
In the end if I don't find myself any closer to understanding the Brits, who cares? We all know it is part of their charm to be unfathomable for the aptless continental mind. Corset is

Aladdin by Bille Brown
Directed by Sean Mathias
Old Vic Theatre - London SE1
17 December - 23 January
Box Office: 0870 060 6628

Thursday, 30 December 2004

Different Stage, Same Animal.

It is that time of the year again. Christmas! It's cold outside, the shops are full and you have to write those bloody cards! As you might have guessed, I am not exactly a fan a crimbo...

Although it is passed as the season of good will, I usually end up feeling lonely at that time of the year; I also fail to see why there should be a particular season for good will to blossom. Christmas has now turn into the commercial celebration of tackiness and “fakeness”, Christmas decorations are like a mask people use to hide the daily, mundane grime of their lives. They expect that a little (sometimes, they need a lot of it!) tinsel and light will transform everything and make the world and other people nice. Breaking news: IT WON'T!!!

Another problem I have with Christmas is that it is a religious celebration. I am not religious: I was dipped in holy water when a kid and kept on wading there for quite a few years but I have finally seen the light (or stopped seeing it?!) and have decided spirituality was not for me really. While I recognise my Christian (catholic) heritage and the profound mark it has made on me (Jesus’ message, taken as a life philosophy (NOT a religion), is quite pertinent, I think), religion makes me cringe and I religiously avoid it with all its proselytes (especially the proselytes!!!). So, given that Christmas is (should be, anyway), first and foremost, a Christian celebration, why should I celebrate it? I should say: “be forced to celebrate it” since there is hardly any way you can escape in this country… Even my favourite Chinese restaurant is closing!!!

It has been all the more difficult for me to avoid it this year, as I have been part of the celebrating. Now everybody complains that Christmas start earlier each year: for me it started all the way back in September and is likely to last till the beginning of March. Lucky me!
As I might have mentioned earlier, I am a member of a choir: the London Gay Men’s Chorus. After our big summer concert and the tour in North America (in which I did not take part), the big thing for us was a Christmas concert at the Barbican, one the big concert venues in London. We had been approached by Raymond Gubbay (the biggest show producer in the country) to put on a show for his Christmas concerts series. Something very exciting for the choir, since this is was the first time that we did not have to produce the show ourselves: We only had to put the thing together, rehearse, turn up on the day and weave our magic (try to, anyway!). This is why we found ourselves on a darkening Monday late afternoon at our usual rehearsal place, singing Christmas carols. In September!!! We haven't stopped since. And we will be keeping up the madness till The beginning of March as I said. We are going in studio to record this repertoire and produce a CD for next year. Our fifth CD.

The concert took place on Saturday the 18th. We had had a whole page in the Independent and a few mentions in the Times and on the radio. Gubbay had put on a national ad compain in the main stream and gay press. About a week before the show, we sold out. All 2204 seats. Despite a huge amount of pressure, the show went really well. The first part was more serious with Traditional Carols and poems read by our MC, Simon Callow but for the second part, we let rip in the way we know so well how to do. We had "choralography", panto, camp and cheese and a small group of dancers of which I was part. All good fun and this was followed by the usual high/buzz you get when performing in front of a receptive audience. Shame I hurt my back dancing (my muscles had cooled down) and had to walk like a gran all week after that!

Last week, we gave ourselves to a different type of audience. We had been hired by Selfridges, mecca of gay shopping, I am told, to sing Christmas Carrols in the store on Oxford Street. That's twenty gigs (twenty minutes each, four times a day). I did twelve of them. That was also quite fun: we made friends with the security guards who escorted us around the shop (one of them might want to join the chorus, considering how friendly he was...) and apparently Victoria "posh" Beckham watched us sing (hopefully she was taking notes!).

Now we are having a short break and on the 10th we are off again to keep the repertoire alive and fresh. Recording scheduled for the end of February, beginning of March. Can't wait!!!

Happy New Year to whoever is reading this and thanks for taking the trouble.

Keep the Yuletide Gay!

Friday, 24 December 2004

Who Cares?!

On wednesday afternoon, I somehow got releaved of my wallet. When I realised I did not have it with me I cast my mind back on the past day to try and see if I could figure out how this had happened. Either I had lost it, which seemed unlikely, or it had been stolen. After several minutes of anxious probing of my memory I seemed to remember an individual on the bus with a slightly out of the ordinary behaviour. I came to the conclusion that he had taken advantage of the fact that I was reading to pick my offered and willing pocket.

I was with a friend at the time of discovery (we had just been for food and were about to pay). It was late-ish in the evening and I still had to check at work the next morning for the unlikely event that the wallet had fallen out of my pocket there. Past the first moments of shock and the attempt at divination as to what might have happened, we moved on to other subjects and, I have to say, I forgot about it! It only came back to my mind on the next morning as I was getting ready to leave home for work.

Now, considering that I had my credit and debit cards in there, plus my French ID card and driving licence (which are going to be a bitch to replace!), the odd tenner and a few other bits, I should have been much more worried or at least concerned. After all I do not usually go anywhere without my wallet. The fact is: I don't really care. Of course I have cancelled my cards and I have been to the police to report the loss but further than that, I am oblivious. I actually feel strangely liberated. I was told I should get new cards within six days (it being Christmas I expect them for the end of January!) and I am considering getting only a new driving licence (which I don't really need anyway as I haven't driven for a while now) and not bother with the ID card. The wallet I got for my eighteenth birthday (that's way before the war!!!) and it was starting to fall apart.

Knowing myself, I should be fretting like mad; I would have been only a year ago, I am sure, but I just don't! Must be age!

Friday, 10 December 2004

A Political Animal on Stage.

For a long time, I wasn't sure I was going to go. I don't like finding myself in that sort of situation. But then I thought, as always in those cases, that I should give it a try, not be my usual self. Plus it would have been rude to have said no... So last night, after work, I got in a bus and made my way to a party. Well, drinks and nibbles. A room full of people I don't know whom I am expected to talk to! The friend who had invited me is a partner in a small design agency. The event was taking place at their studio. They were organising this for Christmas as an opportunity for networking. Both business contacts and friends were there.

I have to say I think I did rather well this time. I talked with most people: usually I stick with one or two persons during the whole night. I stayed there a good three hours, so it can’t have been that bad: it never is really (apart from once in sunny Sidcup but that is a different blog!). It’s just that I am not good with people I don’t (and with those I know too). I would love to be able to talk easily to them but most of the time I find myself tongue-tied and people have a tendency to just ignore me (even when I talk, which is usually not often). Not sure where that comes from. I find myself like an actor on stage performing a play where all the other actors know their lines while he doesn’t know his and therefore has to improvise… badly.

In London when you meet someone new, the first few things that they will ask you is where you live and what you do. Now, this is not for small talk purposes. They use this to size you put and to know in what social class they can categorise you in. This is something unique to this country, I think, that people are so class conscious (which makes it perhaps less surprising that Das Kapital, the manifesto of class struggle, should have been written at the British Library). Of course, a good amount of snobbery underlies this. One of my objections for not going was that the people attending would all have interesting jobs in a creative environment; jobs they like and that I would like myself. They did. My job is as menial and boring and uninteresting as they come. On two counts, I was therefore in the weak position: envying them their positions and having nothing to show for myself. And the dreaded moment, which I can always feel coming, when after a slight pause someone turns to you and says: “So what do you do?”, did happen and each time I find myself apologising for what I do, saying first own boring it is and adding that it pays the rent. As I watch myself doing this, I know this is the right thing to do and say but I just can help myself.

OK, as I said, last night wasn’t that bad and I did even laugh at some point but I am sure no one will remember my presence and there were moments of unease where I wished I knew what to do…. I still do.