Monday, July 23, 2012

Three reviews

I've been slack in my blogging lately, for lots of reasons; some good (busy) and some bad (vaguely disillusioned about certain things) – but now I'm back with some thoughts on a few things I've seen recently – a filmed play, a stage musical and the biggest cult film of all time.

One Man, Two Guvnors

I missed this the last time it was on, so I was very happy that they decided to replay it – the National Theatre Live production of the multi-award-winning One Man, Two Guvnors.

The concept of NT Live – if you've not heard of it – is fairly straightforward: a performance of a play in one of the spaces at the National Theatre in London is filmed and broadcast at cinemas around the world. They've done quite a few over the last couple of years, and I've managed to catch the screenings of Hamlet and both versions of the hugely successful Frankenstein with Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch as, alternately, Doctor Frankenstein and The Creature.

I wrote about seeing Frankenstein here.

One Man, Two Guvnors, as I realised as soon as I read the synopsis, is an adaptation of the classic comedy The Servant of Two Masters, a production of which I'd seen a few years back – though that particular show was not so great; that wasn't because of the story, though – as I wrote in the review, shows don't continue to be staged nearly three hundred years after they first appeared if they don't have something going for them.

It stars James Corden – most well known from the show he co-wrote and appears in, Gavin & Stacey, as well as two episodes of Dr Who, as Craig, the Doctor's flatmate1 – as Francis Henshall, a role that recently won him a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.  It's the story of how Henshall, as the title suggests, balances having two 'Guvnors', or employers.

However, since both of these Guvnors are shady underworld figures who are hiding out and engaged in more than a little duplicity, this proves to be a somewhat difficult task – and Henshall is by no means the brightest of men. And then there's a complicated subplot about an arranged marriage and the subsequently disgruntled ex-boyfriend, some unhelpful pub employees and a somewhat cynical love interest.

And it may be the funniest show – film or play – I've ever seen, replacing Noises Off at the top. It's an absolutely brilliant mix of slapstick, visual gags, puns and nearly ever other kind of comedy in between. It's set in Brighton in 1963, so there are dozens of jokes pertaining to the period, and even features a live skiffle band (The Craze2) who play a few songs before the show, and pop back up again throughout to cover scene changes; almost the whole cast appear as additional entertainment, including James Corden (in a fez - fezzes are cool) playing the xylophone.

It's also fairly unconventional in the constant breaking of the fourth wall – several characters direct comments to the audience, but Corden/Henshall goes beyond that, dragging up audience members to help him move and hold things; there's one long segment where he has a conversation with a guy about a sandwich.

There's no way I can do it justice – and, apparently, no way you'll ever get to see it again unless they choose to rescreen it, since they don't plan to release it on dvd. And you can be damn well sure if anyone stages a production in Adelaide I'll be there to see it – and even more sure that if a local company put it on I'll be doing my darndest to be involved.

1It makes sense in context.
2 This itself is a pun, on 'The Krays', famous gangsters of the era.


Next on the list is the SA premiere of the stage version of the musical adaptation of the John Waters cult classic, Hairspray. I'd seen neither the original nor the musical remake, so I only had the faintest idea what it was about.

Teenager Tracy Turnblad dreams of appearing on Baltimore's hit dance show, The Corny Collins Show, and meeting its teen heartthrob Link Larkin. Standing in the way of this are her housebound mother Edna, Link's girlfriend Amber von Tussle and her mother Velma – who's also the producer of The Corny Collins Show.

There's also a more serious element, one that gives the show a real depth that a lot of other, lighter musicals don't have: just like in the original film (and the real 1962 Baltimore), race is a serious issue, and Tracy's efforts move from getting herself onto the television to ensuring that her newly-made friends in the African-American community can be there too.

A second sub-plot revolves around Edna, Tracy's mother, and the attempts to get her out of the house and improve her sense of self-worth; this, combined with the strength of the relationship with her husband, Wilbur, gives it a really touching aspect that's hard to do without seeming forced - but which they've achieved here.

It's not a sung-through musical3; there are a number of dialogue-only scenes in between the song and dance numbers. This, of course, means that the show requires people who can act as well as sing and dance – but, flipping through the program I realised that this show had a depth of talent that big musicals don't often have, with more than a few of the minor roles played by people who'd been leads and major characters in other recent shows like Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story and Beauty and the Beast.

The result, then, was that it worked – and worked brilliantly; it's one of the most enjoyable shows I've seen for a while, and one that I'm very glad I got to see. It's still on, so if you're interested, check out the details here.

Oh, and I've now realised for the first time why Bart wears that distinctive wig in the episode of The Simpsons that John Waters appeared in (Homer's Phobia) - it's the Tracy Turnblad beehive.

3One that consists only of songs, like Jesus Christ Superstar or Les Misérables.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I'd forgotten that I'd agreed to go see the Friday the 13th session of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with one group of friends when I agreed to go to Hairspray with a different group of friends – but, since the latter was at midnight, it wasn't going to be too much of a problem.

Obviously I've seen it before – a few times – but I'd never been to a proper 'participation' session; the closest was a showing at the Moonlight Cinema a couple of years ago, and there were only a few people there dressed up and doing the callbacks, so it wasn't really the same thing – plus it was raining, which (no pun intended) dampened our enthusiasm somewhat.

I've you never been to one of these, it's certainly worth it, just to see how involved people get. There were some seriously impressive costumes, especially considering how damn cold it was outside. I didn't have that much time – and had to be in a theatre full of people beforehand – so I went with the easy of option of a lab coat, which is (technically) an official costume; I didn't, however, go the authentic route and strip down to my underwear beneath it.

There was a costume competition, a few speeches and some songs from the show played on the Wurlitzer cinema organ, which is pretty damn awesome in itself. The film with participation is an absolute blast – I know a few, but not close to all (and there are quite a few variations) the callbacks and the words to the more well-known songs (Time Warp, Hot Patootie); we didn't, however, bring any of the props, so we couldn't do any of that – throw rice or bread or playing cards, don party hats, shelter under newspapers or blow party favours.

About the only downside was the lateness of of it all; I'd been up at 6.30, at work all day, and then sat through dinnner (with wine) and a fairly involving musical, so by 1.30 the following morning I was kind of struggling to stay awake. But I managed to make it all the way through.

While this was the last Friday the 13th of the year, they will be doing another one for Hallowe'en – that is, however, a Wednesday night, so it's a bit more of an ask. But they've been a huge success, so they'll probably be bringing them back next year.

I know I'll definitely be going again.

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