Tag Archives: Diana Vickers

For the Record

SON OF A PREACHER MAN

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 13th September, 2017

 

The words ‘jukebox musical’ are enough to send a shiver down this reviewer’s spine.  Stephen King should write one.  Perhaps Pet Sematary using the music of The Animals.   Mr King, however, would endow his show with a plot worth following.  Here, sadly, writer Warner Brown does not.

Paul (Michael Howe) yearns to reignite his crush on a boy from his youth spent in a Soho record shop; Alison (Debra Stephenson), newly widowed but reeling from an attraction to one of her students, has a hankering to visit the Soho record shop her mum was always banging on about; Kat (Diana Vickers), following the death of the grandmother who brought her up, finds her way to the Soho record shop in which her gran had so many happy times…  Three strangers with the same record shop in common – sort of – meet at the corner of Old Compton Street only to find that record shop is now a coffee franchise, called Double Shot (although the cup motif on the sign could represent a different vowel).  Here’s where the shoehorn comes in: the record shop’s name was Preacher Man.  The proprietor was some kind of community guru, also called the Preacher Man.  They are both long gone, but living above the coffee shop and working there as manager is Simon (Ian Reddington) who, all together now, is the Son of – well, you can see where it is going.  Simon embarks on a quest to solve the problems of the three strangers but, frankly, I couldn’t care less.

I think it’s the overall tone that stops me from engaging.  The story is tosh but they carry on as if it’s somehow mystical and significant.  A bit of tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink to say, Look, we know it’s tosh, but come along with us, would have made the show more fun.  This means the songs, each one a belter of a track from Dusty Springfield’s oeuvre, are made ridiculous: at a bereavement group, the members sing mournfully ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, dancing with empty plastic chairs.

The performers range from competent to excellent, many of them playing instruments with flair and panache.  Of the lot, Diana Vickers has by far the best voice and it’s a treat to hear her – but, of course, no one can match Ms Springfield.  Mercifully, they don’t try to.   A stand-out number for me is ‘Spooky’ performed by Sandra (Ellie-Jane Goddard) accompanied by Michael Howe.

There is a trio of backing singers, the Capuccino Sisters, who like the girls in Little Shop of Horrors add harmony and humour to proceedings.  Vocally, Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berekely-Agyepong are great but in this po-faced world, their sassiness comes across as cynical and mean-spirited.  Or perhaps I’m just projecting my responses onto them!  There is Madge, the cleaner, a ‘comic’ role (played by Jon Bonner) which is a throwback to the era of the fictitious record shop of the time.  One word: cringe.

Director Craig Revel Horwood needs to loosen things up and not try to sell this lightweight fare as something we should take seriously.  Horwood also choreographs and, while the dancing is tight, sometimes balletic even, the moves are often inappropriate, needlessly suggestive – as though he has remembered this is a show adults will go and see and perhaps will swallow the juvenile plot if he spices things up a bit.  The Capuccino Sisters virtually humping the tables they’re serving is at odds with the heartfelt/bubblegum stylings of Springfield’s exemplary pop.

Banal twaddle though this may be, it is performed well by a talented cast who work their socks off, making me wish they would dispense with the story and just give us a concert instead.

Ah well.  I’m off to write a show about a woman who loses a scratchcard at the seaside, using the back catalogue of, I don’t know, Alma Cogan or somebody.

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Diana Vickers putting Mike (Liam Vincent-Kilbride) in his place

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Not dreaming but being

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 13th June, 2016

 

Richard O’Brien’s cult camp classic is doing the rounds again in this exuberant production.  I’ve been a devotee for decades and I’m sure I would have enjoyed the show on its own merits were it not for the actions of one of America’s inexhaustible supply of gun-toting shitheads.  On Saturday night an inexcusable cunt murdered innocent people in a Florida gay bar, just because they were there.  My thoughts have been coloured by this act of hate-filled cowardice ever since.  And so it was heartening to approach the theatre and see so many people in costume.  Men in drag – straight men, many of them – getting into the spirit of the show, wobbling on high heels, squeezed into unfamiliar basques, and sweating under polyester wigs.  I felt decidedly underdressed by comparison.

It struck me, more than ever, how the show is a celebration.  Uptight straight couple Brad and Janet are changed forever by their encounter with the flamboyant, predatory Frank N Furter.  Their eyes (and their legs) are opened to other possibilities.  And it got me thinking what would our culture be like if LGBT people did not contribute?  Dull, flat, white bread – it doesn’t bear thinking about.

As saccharin sweet Janet, Diana Vickers is wonderful, showing her character’s sexual awakening in her voice as much as her acting.  Richard Meek is a sturdy, stand-up Brad, testing the boundaries of his masculinity.

Fellow Dudley boy Norman Pace excels as the Narrator, managing the audience interjections assertively but always with a sense of fun, and it is an absolute pleasure to see the remarkable Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff again – a masterful butler, if you can have such a thing.  Kay Murphy’s Magenta is a glamorous vamp, while Sophie Linder-Lee’s Columbia is perky and brittle – her drug-induced freak-out is hilarious.  Good value is S-Club 7’s Paul Cattermole appearing in two roles, as experiment-gone-wrong Eddie and as Nazi-leaning, wheelchair-bound Dr Scott.  Liam Tamne gives a magnificent star turn as Frank N Furter, adding a touch of Southern drawl and a whole lot of glamour.  Tamne is at his heart-breaking best in the closing numbers, with some soulful torch-song singing.  But tonight, for me, scene and heart were stolen by Dominic Andersen as Rocky Horror himself.  A perfect physical specimen in leopard-print pants, Andersen can sing, move and act.  It was love at first sight.

Director Christopher Luscombe somehow keeps things fresh while giving us everything we expect.  Seasoned audience members know exactly what to shout out and when – you don’t heckle, you participate.  It’s more of a litany than a pantomime.

The show is tons of fun but I am always struck by the downbeat denouement.  But tonight, especially, when Frank is gunned down for going ‘too far’, it is extra powerful.  That he is shot by someone inhuman says it all.

The show concludes with one of the bleakest assessments of our sorry species I have ever heard.  And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race, lost in time and lost in space and meaning.

The show has never been more relevant and necessary.

And then, we’re all on our feet and dancing the time-warp; we’re clapping and cheering and enjoying the moment, because that’s how life should be lived.

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Rocky relationship: Dominic Andersen marvels at Liam Tamne’s Frank-N-Furter

 


Ducking and Diving

THE DUCK HOUSE

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Tuesday 5th November, 2013

 

It’s 2009 and despicable self-serving rotter Robert Houston MP is about to defect from New Labour to the Conservative Party (although why bother?).  He and his wife are drinking champagne and getting frisky at the prospect of going further upmarket.  Then news of the expenses scandal breaks and Houston is thrown into a panic.  Can he hide everything he’s claimed for (such as hanging baskets, bags of manure and yes, a duck house) before Tory bigwig Sir Norman Cavendish arrives to give him the final nod?

Dan Patterson and Colin Swash’s script begins like a Yes, Minister deleted scene, peppered with satirical references.  It’s like watching a repeat of Mock The Week as you cast your mind back to remember what was going on four years ago.  Ha ha, Nadine Dorries did bite an ostrich’s anus! And yes, Michael Gove still looks like ‘a smug fish’! Fortunately for the play, many of the things mentioned are still current, with the phone-tapping case in court right this minute. It’s humour for the current-affairs crowd, Spitting Image made out of meat.   My problem with satire is it is the ‘allowed fool’ – it’s all very well to laugh at the not-so-great and the far-from-good but it’s not going to change anything.  It’s not really bringing anyone to account.

Be that as it may, all of that is thankfully just a prelude, a springboard from which launches a hilarious couple of hours of traditional farce of the Whitehall variety.  As fraught fraudster Houston, Ben Miller pulls off the remarkable feat of making us detest the character but love his performance.  He does a Fawltyesque rant very well, along with knowing asides and some excellent physical comedy.  He is ably supported by Nancy Carroll as his snobbish Mrs, and James Musgrave as his student son who has been subletting the flat that is supposed to be Houston’s second home… It all gets wonderfully, farcically complicated.  Add to the mix a superb Debbie Chazen as Russian housekeeper Ludmilla, who espouses the rabid rightwing views of the Daily Mail, and the vocally versatile Diana Vickers as an acupuncturist who offers ‘personal services’.  Simon Shepherd’s Tory bigwig is both the foil for the humour and the butt of the jokes in a stoic performance that descends into broad humour as his particular peccadilloes are laid bare.  Shepherd is wonderful as Sir Norman, the stock character of the authority figure brought low by hypocrisy and sexual perversion.

Director Terry Johnson keeps the energy levels high and the pace unrelenting.  His cast are already so at ease with the material they can improvise their way around troublesome ruches in the carpet and props that don’t behave as they might.  In an age where television comedy is going all retro and postmodern, it’s refreshing to see that the traditional farce form still works and still has a place on the British stage.

Rather than a call to action about the shameless scoundrels who continue to rip us all off and line their own pockets, The Duck House is a reminder that old-fashioned farce done well is a heck of a good time at the theatre.  And when the government is hell-bent on making life as miserable as possible for the majority of us, anything that makes us laugh consistently for a couple of hours is to be welcomed.

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