Saturday, 20 February 2010

I turn to yous...

Alright muckers! Why, oh why, does Mel C's fringe get me goat? Do any of yous feel the same?? Eh, la? Eh??

Last week I went to see Blood Brothers. There's so much good theatre out there which I've never seen, hence not that long ago I made a pact with myself to go and see lots more!

Unfortunately "BB" was one show I could have quite happily avoided adding to my "must see" list - if I'd known what it was going to be like beforehand, but of course, how could I ... ? Okay it had its merits, but overall I came away feeling disappointed ... all praise to my friend Ying though, for sorting out our tickets and getting us some very good stalls seats into the bargain (cheers darling!) But she pretty much shared the same opinion as me so I'm sure she won't mind me writing this ...

For anyone in the dark, Blood Brothers is a musical set in Liverpool from the 1950s onwards and penned by Willy Russell (of Educating Rita fame). The story begins with working class mother of many, Mrs Johnstone (Mel C) who to make ends meet, takes a job as a cleaner working for an upper class couple, the Lyons. She then discovers she is pregnant yet again, this time with twins! Mrs Lyons is unable to conceive and is desperate for a baby, whilst Mrs J can't afford to provide for any more children ... you can probably guess where this is going, can't you? Yep, Mrs J agrees to give Mrs L one of her babies so she can raise it as her own. Mrs Johnstone gives birth to two boys, Mickey and Edward and hands over Edward (Eddy) to Mrs L ... Mrs Lyons, keen that the deal stays sealed, makes Mrs J swear on the bible that she won't interfere or get involved once the kiddie has been handed over .... Very soon Mrs Johnstone comes to regret her actions and in spite of their different social backgrounds, the two boys end up meeting and become friends, making a pact of loyalty to one another (hence the title) ... and from thereon the drama escalates ...

Actually I've made it sound rather good there haven't I. And it was by no means terrible. The two actors playing Mickey and Edward were pretty good and made the roles believable - Mickey's scallyish, tearaway persona, deriving from his impoverished upbringing, contrasts sharply with the properly brought up and properly educated Eddy, and some humorous dialogue ensues between the pair as a result (when Mickey swears his head off, an awe-struck Eddy tells him that he "says some smashing things"). The two actors also do a good job of playing themselves as children - the sight of two grown men donning short trousers and behaving in kid-like fashion works better than you might think. What I found ultra- cliched though were the stereotypical ideas of class that ran throughout the musical (and click away from this now if you don't want to know what happens at the end!): well-heeled and well-spoken Eddy goes on to university and becomes a councillor and generally does well for himself; meanwhile Mickey turns to crime out of financial desperation, shoots someone in a bungled heist, goes to jail, after which he gets hooked on drugs ... Mmmm, ever so slightly cliched and offensive??

Ere!! I'll give you this big wadge of dosh if you DON'T do another Spice Girls reunion gig, alriiiiight Mel darlin' ?? Heh heh heh ...

As for Mel C, well I confess I was very curious to see how the former Sporty One would shape up on the stage. Her singing voice was pretty good (then, I always thought she had the best voice out of all the Spice Girls), however as an actress she just seemed ... flat. The storyline gave ample opportunity for her to emote (mother having to scrape a living in difficult circumstances; the pain of losing one's child, etc, etc) yet for me, she never seemed to fully inhabit the role of Mrs Johnstone - a review I read on the net described Mel C as "drifting" through the story, and I think this sums it up very well - for such a passionate vocalist there wasn't enough passion in the actual performance and most of the time she just seemed to be going through the motions. I also reckon she was a bit too young for the role - by the close of the story she's presumably meant to be in her 40s or 5os, but doesn't look a day older than she did at the beginning! Surely the make-up people could have done something?

And the songs? Well another thumbs down from me here, I'm afraid. Unoriginal lyrics, some naff rhymes and one song with its incessant references to Marilyn Monroe really did start to grate (probably cos we heard it about 10 times). Another problem was the loudness of the instrumentation and backing, which sometimes drowned out the actors' singing! The biggest drawback of all for me though was the style and sound of the music itself - VERY 1980s with electronic drums, overblown synths and swirly sound effects - it seems like they hadn't bothered to update this since the show began i.e. in the 1980s. Now as you all know, I am a major '80s fan/freak but in the context of the story it just didn't work - and I'm going to pilfer another reviewer's comments here - the 80s instrumentation undermined the tension and trivialised the seriousness of the situation. Right on! Okay, I should cut "Blood Brothers" a bit of slack here - the fact that it started in 1983 probably accounts for the dated lyrics and style. At the time that "BB" was first produced the songs probably sounded fresh and exciting, but by today's standards they now seem hackneyed and stale. All the more reason, surely, for an update?

Oh dear. I've probably rather ruined everyone's expectations of the show now. Well my lovelies, don't mind me, make up your own mind. Still it can't be denied that a lot of West End stuff often tends towards the crowd-pleasing, run-of-the-mill, mainstream variety, so maybe I was wrong to expect otherwise. I saw "Wicked" a year or two back and was rather disappointed by that. I've never seen "Les Miserables", even though people have raved about it and have so far resisted the "allure". "Priscilla" on the other hand surpassed my expectations, and then some. So sometimes you can be proved wrong. And there's a heck of a lot of drama out there which isn't showing in postcodes beginning with "W" or "WC" and which is probably a lot more cutting edge and memorable (but which sadly, you rarely get to hear about).

Anyways, the "no mark" Cheeser will now bow out ... and by the way I'd probably award "Blood Brothers" 3 out of 5. Which probably surprises you a bit, doesn't it? 3 out of 5, just!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Valentine - Carol Ann Duffy

And which one would make your ideal
Valentine's Day gift ... ??

By a bizarre coincidence, I taught this poem to some of my students this week just gone. I love the imagery and ideas going on, not to mention the poet's own very unique take on what might be considered "romantic". The perfect solution for those of us who hate the crass commercialism of Valentine's Day...
Read, reflect and relish. 

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Cheeser's Choice: Victoria Wood - As Seen on TV

She's been around for years, and some would consider her to be past it or "old hat" in terms of her humour, but you still can't knock Victoria Wood.

I recently treated myself to her "As Seen On TV" DVD (bargain for a tenner - the entire, unedited, two series of the show!) originally broadcast by the BBC back in the mid 1980s, and it's been great watching all these episodes again, as well as a reminder of how funny and observational Ms Wood really is. The essence of Victoria's humour is a preoccupation with the stuff of everyday life, with references to social class and all things domestic (often related to the Northern of England, from whence she originates). There's also a kind of surrealism to some of the comedy that makes the show even more entertaining. "As Seen on TV" is a series of sketches featuring many well-observed characters, played by regular supporting cast Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and Susie Blake. Two of the funniest comic creations to feature were the characters of Marjorie and Joan, two hoity-toity and bitchy TV presenters, dishing out useful / pointless consumer advice to TV viewers. Gotta love Viccie's hair in these scenes, a definite piss-take of Judith Chalmers??

Wood and Walters make an excellent comic duo and spark off each other incredibly well (they had their own show prior to "As Seen On TV", so it's no wonder) and this Italian restaurant scene is one of my favourites with some hilarious lines. The oversexed waiter is also priceless (if even more of a comic stereotype by today's standards):

Funny eh? I just love the lines, like "She likes the majesty and grandeur of the landscape, but she's not too keen on the bacon" and "They got onto politics and I ended up watching "Take The High Road" take the biscuit ... not to mention "Just a black coffee, thank you"!

And what about the Mayflower Hotel, Nottingham? An experience which will be painfully familiar to many of us:

Another hallmark of "As Seen On TV" was a weekly musical number, normally performed by Ms Wood on the piano with accompanying lyrics. I must confess some of these numbers now sound very twee and dated with their tales of love affairs gone wrong and suchlike. However one number worthy of inclusion is "Keep On Shopping" which still has a lot of resonance today and features some amazing female vocal performances (a great skit of blues/"belter" type singers):

And who can forget the deliciously catty continuity announcer played by the brilliant Susie Blake?

She also had a choice line (which I couldn't find on the net) in one scene: "We'd like to apologise to our viewers in the North. It must be awful for you".

And last but not least, what about Acorn Antiques??

For those of you who've obviously been living in the Outback since 1985, the "show" was a spoof of low budget soap opera and its poor production values - shoddy sets, wobbling walls, poor camera angles and cr*p acting - the most obvious target being the equally low budget and much derided "Crossroads". The performances in Acorn Antiques are legendary (for all the wrong reasons) - Celia Imrie's posh Miss Babs, Duncan Preston's pompous Mr Clifford and best of all, Julie Walters' brummie tea/charlady Mrs Overall, who forever missed her cues and fluffs her lines ("Coffeeeee, Miss Babs?") There were some great send-ups of soap opera-type plotlines, including terrorists infiltrating the shop and later on, its transformation into a health club ("Just leave your antiques in the cubicle, they'll be perfectly safe!"):

In the final episode of Acorn Antiques we hear that the characters of Mrs Overall and Mr Kenneth have been axed, leading to some hilarious pre-show footage (Julie W is skitting actress Noele Gordon, who played matriarch Meg Richardon/Mortimer in Crossroads and who was similarly sacked from the programme):

A bit of an icon then, our Victoria. As a matter of fact she was back on our screens recently in a (now rare) Christmas special. While retaining quite a lot of the Wood humour I didn't find it as memorable as her shows of yore, though, one reason being the absence of her regular supporting cast (although Julie Walters was still present, playing the actress who portrayed Mrs Overall, Bo Beaumont, to good comic effect). But if you want to see the reason why Vix is such a celebrated comedienne, look no further than "As Seen On TV"!

Brazil pics - Part One!

Okay, I promised I'd put up some pics from my hols to Brazil to show you what it was like - so here are some edited highlights .... belatedly! It all seems a lifetime ago now what with the chilly climes we've been enduring here ... (ggrrrr!!)

The house we stayed in, in Porto Seguro. I loved the warm colours and rustic style - as soon as I saw the place on a website I knew it would be THE place to stay!

Another house shot with lots of lush vegetation.

Pool shot. One day I want my own place with a pool - every home should have one!

Me taking a dip, I was in there like a shot as soon as we arrived!

Night time dips were rather nice too! (it was so balmy and warm at night it made no difference!)

There were lots of trees in the region with red flowers like then one you see above - this picture doesn't totally do them justice, but very pretty all the same.

Or fabulous pink ones like this.

Cute (pretend) lighthouse at the bottom of the street where we were staying.

I liked the coloured glass of this building.

One of the many beaches in Porto Seguro. Bliss!

Sea view.

We visited the beaches practically every day.

The beaches were constantly full of vendors, like this sweet old lady, coming to sell you various goodies. Prawns on a stick or fried sea food (spiced up with fresh lime) were very popular (and totally delicious!!) Goes very well with a chilled beer too. And they had some fab and very cheap cocktails ...

Yum!! Or as they say in Portuguese, gostoso ....

You also found scenes like this on most of the beach areas - a stage area with lots of Latino music and trained performers/dancers, like the chap with in the red t-shirt with the mic, who'd get all the punters to come up and copy their moves. Brazilians are very into synchronised dancing. I had a good go, but it's damn hard to keep up with it all!

Altogether now .... Follow the leader, leader, leader, follow the leadaaaaaaaaaar!!

Alternatively there were performers like this .... laaaaady (ahem)!! Great entertainment and there was usually a performer of this ilk down on the beach every day.

Standard trannie act usually involved getting four nice-looking men, sometimes mere teenagers, out of the audience (mostly heterosexual guys) and making them perform lots of interesting ... dance moves ... as well as getting them to do other rude and suggestive things, to the extreme amusement of the audience.

Such as this.
And this .... what was great to see was the parents and kids thoroughly enjoying it all with no bigoted comments or nastiness. Not sure you could get away with that in the UK - Brazil is definitely more open-minded in some respects and I just think they have a much freer attitude and sense of fun over there!

Even the pensioners got a look-in.

Alternatively there were fit young fellows like this one - mmm mmm.

If you fancied a tattoo, there was usually someone on the beach who could oblige. Here's me and Gustavo's sisters, newly tattooed (temporary ones, mind!)

Another fascinating thing about the resort is the abundance of Native Indians. Porto Seguro is one of the oldest cities in Brazil, and was the first site to be discovered by the Portuguese explorer, Cabral. Prior to his arrival, the Native Indians were the indigenous population - still are, actually! There were lots of Native Indians frequenting the beaches, selling natural artefacts and the like and we also visited one of their villages a bit later on! This stunning, if sombre looking, guy kindly allowed me to take his picture...

Thinking about it, they probably get sick of tourists saying "Can I take your picture??"!

Another Native Indian, this young boy was a bit of a cheeky chappie and took the mick out of Gustavo being gay! These people are more clued up than you think.

Do you think the headdress suits me, then? More of me in Native Indian attire, later.

Gustavo and some of his family on the beach...

More piccies coming soon!

When the postman don't call on Valentine's Day...

... Guess which 80s pop crooner sung those lyrics?

Well it's almost Valentine's Day, innit?? And as you can no doubt tell, I've been off the blogging radar for some considerable time ... again. Seems to be a regular occurence nowadays. My job and other stuff has been taking predecence. I'll come clean and admit that, again, I've toyed with packing in this blogging malarkey - I just ain't had the time, energy or inclination to write anything. Sowwie.

But NO. I WON'T go. I WILL not be defeated! I'm sure I can continue to manage at least ONE post a month (wooohooo!) Thankfully it's now Half Term and I'm not teaching next week so already I have some more time on my hands - yeeeehaaaa.

Anyway post-Brazil trip things have been pretty much as normal. Dear God, I'm now desperately trying to think of something interesting to write and .... can't!! Well ... my day-to-day existence might have been quite mundane of late but I can still write about other stuff, can't I? You know, TV, Music, Movies .... that kind of thing.

Happy Valentine's weekend. Any romantic plans, anyone?

OC x