Posts Tagged ‘Brian Blessed’

Review – Brian Blessed’s King Lear – Guildford Shakespeare Company at Guildford Holy Trinity Church

January 23, 2015

It was impossible to resist the draw of one of my favorite British actors starring in one of the best of the Shakespeares – Brian Blessed in King Lear – even though it meant I was going to have to trek to Guildford to do it and watch an amateur theater company attack (possibly literally) the play. And God knew what it meant that it was going to be performed in a church – bad sightlines? The horror of three hours in pews? Or … worst of all … that I was going to spend the money and time travelling outside of London only to discover that my entire reason for going had collapsed on stage and was no longer to be seen in the production?

After this truly bad bit of news flashed through the wires Tuesday, I was relieved to hear no further news of illness on Blessed’s part. I was excited about being a part of his Lear, but I didn’t want to be a part of some horrible tragic history. The front of house confirmed on my arrival that all was well and there had been no sign of any illness on his part Wednesday night – whew! My companion and I dropped our rented cushions on our chair (I was in the fifth row and sightlines were good), and I ducked out to the Sainsbury’s to grab a quick sandwich – while they did have drinks and crisps, there was no cafe in the church, and even though I’d gone straight after work, I’d only actually made it to Guildford at 7 PM, meaning no sit down dinner was possible. (In case you’re wondering, it’s only a ten minute walk to the church from the main Guildford station, so there’s no need for a cab.)

At last the lights darkened and the cast gathered on stage – the opening lines were spoken – and Brian Blessed walked on stage! I wanted to shout “Blessed’s alive!” but restrained myself, as did the rest of the audience who avoided a tacky welcome ovation in favor of breathless silence. At last, it begins!

Thus started the loudest and most comic version of a Shakespearean tragedy I had ever witnessed. Blessed bellowed, he capered, he chortled, he took every turn to display his fantastic voice but never once relaxed into a quiet moment. No, this was Lear the war hero, Lear the man of action, Lear who was loud and noisy and fully capable of tossing ay of the other actors through the scenery. Every transition was signaled by some of the most horrifying organ music ever to grace the stage, lending the entire affair the air of a Hammer Horror, or possibly Carry On Ranting. The effect was greatly aided by the church setting, as all of the trappings were in place – you could easily imagine that behind the curtains someone was positively gouting fake blood while the cameras rolled and we got ready for the reveal that there had been a murder in the cathedral.

But, no, what was really going on was a performance of King Lear that was bleeding dry through a lack of subtlety, so much so that when one character walked on stage and spoke I briefly thought we were getting a guest visit from Baldric. To be honest, I was actually very pleased with the performances of Edmund (the “evil bastard”), who was deliciously bad at a level that almost matched Lear; and the nuanced performance of Gloucester. But all such things were washed away in the tide of crayon colored Bard that gushed from nearly every level of this production. I did feel a bit of a twinge of tragedy about the whole thing, a brief fear as Blessed grasped his heart in a moment which, as it turned out, was thankfully in the script: it reminded me of another Lear, one who was truly undone and nearly unmade by his health, as documented in the play My Perfect Mind. Lear is an old man’s tale and it’s one that many actors perform at the end of their careers. I’m glad this was not the final show for Brian Blessed, and that I got to see him on stage in his own, full, roaring glory; but some tiny bit of me wished I was seeing a better Lear and a little less Blessed. Ah well. If nothing else, I saw enough to not feel obligated to wait through to the end of the second half, and I did manage to get home right about eleven. It was certainly an event and worth £25, but your joy levels may be different from mine.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, January 22, 2015. It continues through February 14th.)

Aladdin’s Magic: Limp (Review of Pamela Anderson/ Brian Blessed “Aladdin”) – New Wimbledon Theatre

December 16, 2009

Pam Anderson in a panto? Pam Anderson? As an American, I figured her visit to the annual extravaganza at the New Wimbledon Theater – which I’d previously skipped due to its sky-high prices – presented nearly unlimited opportunities for naff, whether due to her slim acting skills, her utter inexperience on the stage, or her complete lack of familiarity with the panto form (and as an American I can guarantee she had no idea what was going to be going on). And then there was the Brian Blessed factor. I only knew him as King of the Hawkmen from the 80s camp classic Flash Gordon; but per my intended fellow Pantonian Wechsler, Blessed is also well known … for a near pathological obsession with large bosoms. “Basically,” he sold it to me,”the two of them should work like baking soda and lye. I expect the fire brigade will be on alert.”

Two months later, the entire premise had degenerated into farce. Pam was now only scheduled for a third of the run; wait, no, she wasn’t going to even do that much & Ruby Wax was filling in for her on what was supposed to be opening night. And then my party of six went down to five, no 6, no (day of show flu) five, then finally six, then yet another person cancelled and even my original recommender said a work emergency might keep him away. It all seemed so doomed, really; was this a panto Black Mariah?

As it turns out, this is a perfectly servicable panto, with all of the requirements; silly costumes, silly dances, and silly songs. The audience participation is rather limited, though; while we got lots of booing in, there was a real shortage of “it’s behind you”s, the “oh no you’re not”s were forced, and the call-out to Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee was unnecessarily complex.

Fortunately the overwhelming presence of Brian Blessed ably compensated for these deficits. As evil sorcerer Iwanna Banana (or suchlike), he eagerly engaged the audience, keeping us on point and the story moving along. Of _course_ he had the villainous laugh down pat, and he threw in references to his previous star turns and even his personal achievements to up the humor, but what he really had was stage presence in buckets. Twanky got the good costumes, but Blessed unequivocably owned this show.

Now that’s not to say that Pam wasn’t entertaining as the genie of the lamp – she got her lines right, participated gamely in an extremely comic dance routine, and mocked her own fame – but it was the slave of the ring (Djalenga Scott) who was cranking out the sex appeal. And Twankey (Jonathan D Ellis) was a pretty sharp dame, but …

I think this may have been where the blah dialogue, by-the-book costumes, and completely unimaginative songs cut this show off at the knees when it could have really shone. It should have gone for gaudier and even more over the top, and then this could have been the panto I was hoping for, but ultimately it felt canned and unengaging. Blessed is utterly brilliant, a panto force to be reckoned with, but even the power of Pam couldn’t keep this Aladdin from being limp.

*Now get Blessed and Ian McKellen in a show written by that genius at the Hackney Empire and _then_ we’d have a show to talk about for years!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009. Performances continue, with a variety of genies, through January 10th. For other reviews, see the Evening Standard and the West End Whingers.)