Posts Tagged ‘Southbank Centre’

Review – Black Cat Cabaret: Bohemia – Underbelly Festival

September 3, 2018

It’s rare that I get to review a show I was interested in see, but this was my great luck – to be invited to opening night of the Black Cat Cabaret’s new show, Bohemia. I’d been alerted to their upcoming run at the Underbelly Festival by a friend who pointed it out as the kind of louche night out I enjoy; and, boy, of the various circus cum cabaret evenings I’ve seen over the last several years at this venue, Bohemia absolutely takes the cake as the best combination of movement, music, and sheer pizazz since I saw the puppy play segment of Briefs back in 2014. Black Cat is running the tightest, freshest presentation of circus based performance right now, the ultimate flowering of the hot bed of burlesque/drag/queerness/physical performance that IS London right now, and only this particular sexually charged petri dish could have produced it. Let me describe for those who might be of a more suspicious nature.

The evening opened with our fabulous, sexalicious compere, Frisky giving us a narrated tour of the life of bohemians throughout the ages, hitting Montmartre, of course, but also the sixties and even Manchester of the eighties. This provided an excuse to sing “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love, ” and … well, do you remember hearing how Grace Slick’s voice was ruined early in her career and you never got those candy-sweet tones you heard on vinyl? WELL I HEARD THAT SONG SPUN LIKE SWEET FLUFFY FLOSS and it rocked out.

The performers were a mixed bag of artists – an easy to love hoop dancer, a muscular man who did aerial silks, a fire breather who looked like the daughter of Ming the Merciless (Hayley Harvey-Gomez), and an alcoholic (supposedly) trapeze-type artist (Katharine Arnold) whose antics overhead as Frisky ordered her (in song), “Entertain us! Here we are now, entertain us!” in gorgeously redux Nirvana style …

literally brought me to tears. Early in the evening, the gorgeous Leon Fagbemi, the second featured act, came on stage doing a flip in the air and, you see, missed his landing. His feet were underneath him but I could see he’d landed wrong, and apparently he really hurt himself, although he kept his face completely straight as he walked off into the darkness …

leaving the rest of the cast to figure out how do we get this back together. And they carried on, like the professionals we were, and we did that thing we do, like hungry audiences, not caring very much but wanting to be entertained. And they literally gave us everything, and watching “Danger K” spinning around in the air above me, I thought, they really are in a different world; they give us their bodies and we give them just a tiny big of money and then suddenly we decide we’re not there for them anymore. Our beautiful, talented, wonderful London artists’ community, we just really don’t love them like we ought to, and there I was, sitting in the audience after this had happened, and Frisky was telling all of us that every one of them knows we only love them for four minutes and then we move on. And it was unbearably beautiful and sad and I got teary.

But hey. I hadn’t had enough sleep. That was it.

The overall quality of the performances was technically very high, with inventive executions (and clever narration) that I felt moved the entire show a notch above the usual burlesque performance or even modern circus. But you know what clinched it? Frisky’s voice. My God. One whole star just for the pleasure of hearing her sing, and the incredibly appropriate and thoughtful music she chose. Which would mean I give this show five stars, if I gave stars, with I don’t. But you know what I did do? I went back and reserved a table for two weeks later, because YES I liked that much and YES Leon I want to see you perform (and be well!) and YES YES YES there is nothing sexier than a giant YES PLEASE for Black Cat: Bohemia. See you in two Fridays.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place Thursday, August 30th, 2018. It continues through September 30th.)

Review – Scotch & Soda – Company 2 at Spiegeltent, Udderbelly, Southbank

June 13, 2015

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a theater critic in possession of an excess of Beckett, must be in want of a night at the circus. And here is the Southbank Center, with not one but two stages upon which to view circus acts, all in a vibe of love and free flowing Pimms, and suddenly any sense of existential dread has disappeared in a puff of shimmering fizz floating over the Thames. Ooh, who is it this time? Scotch and Soda, a wonderful combination of steampunk and hill billy, with thumping stand up bass and tubas providing a brilliant illumination for the aerial, balance and gymnastics going on in front of us.

The circus performers had created characters rather than just being, well, there on stage; a sassy, brassy blonde (Chelsea McGuffin); the more ethereal rope artist Kate Munts; and the somewhat terrifying and occasionally naked Mosez (a one man shop for undoing the hipsters beard trend). They concocted little narratives, like two men competing to see who could balance on a higher box; a series of balancing acts taking place on a bicycle (really, it plays out like a story when you watch it): all set to the wonderful music of the Crusty Suitcase Band. My favorite of all was a piece that McGuffin did in a collapsible cage with two parakeets, who clearly loved her to bits; it was beautiful, delicate and heartbreaking, an act filled to overflowing with trust yet still heavily overlaid with the sense of the ephemeral condition of our existence. She is in a cage and they are in a cage and yet we yearn to be free – while also yearning for safety, which keeps us in the cage. It was like holding a soap bubble in your hand.

Of course, the overall tone of the show was jolly, and (as usual) it’s hard to capture a circus in words; but if you’re looking for a positive, cheery night out with some good tunes to boot, you could hardly do better than spend your evening in the shiny Spiegeltent watching Scotch and Soda do their stuff.

(This review was for the press night, which took place on Thursday, June 4th, 2015. Performances continue through August 2nd but do check the schedule as the occasionally take a day, or even a week, off.)

Mini-review – Groove on Down the Road – ZooNation at Southbank Center

August 30, 2013

You’d think after the horror that was the Wizard of Oz musical done at the Southbank center five years ago that I’d be completely against any further adaptations of one of my favorite movies; but drop the word “Zoonation” in the title and there I was trying to figure out how I could afford to go on my newly slimmer budget. Their Into the Hoods was fun and lively and the much longer Some Like It Hip Hop showed they were able to do a more character driven piece that was still hugely entertaining. So: give them a work I really love, and I had high hopes something good would come out of it – even though it was being done by the younger Zoonation performers.

Groove on Down the Road opens in a classroom, where our Dorothy – with long braids – is daydreaming, until her teacher tells her off for turning in a poem instead of her math homework. The teacher then takes on three other students, whom, as we can see from the supertitled animations at the back of the stage – are the basis from which the three companions are to come later (i.e. the blond guy “Leon” is clearly the lion, “T-man” … you get the idea). All four of them seem to be bullied outcasts. Somehow Dorothy is transported to another world, and her toy dog becomes a dancing man with a hat. The companions are assembled (each one getting a great solo dance in as their introduction), the munchkins are met (since there are a lot of kids this is pretty easy), then the journey to Oz begins. Each yellow brick road segment took the dancers out into the front row and aisles of Queen Elizabeth Hall (making me really sorry I had 10 quid back row seats), keeping the energy levels high and broadly distributed.

While the poppy scene was just so so, I loved the fight at the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle, where the flying monkeys got funky! And the bizarre dance sequence of “The Wizard” (being played court by a bunch of green and plaid clad school kids) was hysterically turned in the great unveiling scene, where we get to see a mini-me Wiz behind the curtain. I was howling, and by the end of the night standing up in my seat and clapping along as the kids all danced their way out of the auditorium. The whole thing was, what, 80 minutes straight through no interval? – and just great top to toe, with lots of music that mad _me_ want to dance. I felt so guilty knowing I’d gone to see this instead of Edward the Second next door at the National Theater, or, rather, I felt like I should … but I was just having too damned much fun to care. AWESOME!!!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 29th, 2013. It closes Sunday, September 1st. It is appropriate for all ages provided you like to get your funk on.)

Mini-review – Hamlet – Tiger Lillies at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Center

September 20, 2012

There’s only two days left to see this show, so this review needs to be quick if you’re looking to make up your mind. I’m going to assume you know about Hamlet: to me, it’s the very best play in the English language; as a classic, it’s very open to being “interpreted” as a play as well as being able to form a basis for many other works of art. The Tiger Lillies, well, if you know them I don’t need to say more (and you’re already going), but if you don’t I’ll summarize as: dark clown cabaret music, heavy on the accordion, with liberal helping of Edward Gorey and sex.

Right! So, about that Tiger Lillies’ Hamlet happening at the Southbank Centre for two more nights: it’s 2 1/2 hours long, it has about 10% of the text of Hamlet, and it has five performers doing six characters (Polonius/Laertes is doubled up – well, actually Rosencranz and Guildenstern do make an appearance but they hardly count), so you’re obviously not going to get it all. Instead, you get a journey through the psyche of Hamlet (and a bit of a tour de Gertrude et Ophelia), which, unsurprisingly, the Tiger Lillies find obsessed with sin and death – which, considering the play, isn’t really much of a stretch. There’s far more acrobatics than you get in a normal Hamlet, and very effective puppetry and projections.

Let me go on about the last two for just a bit. Hamlet’s father is a projection, a face bounced onto the cast that contracts until he is only a tiny projection on Hamlet’s body: a powerful expression of his hold over the story as well as his intense sway over Hamlet. This was a nearly shocking use of a frequently lazy medium to convey actual artistry and metaphor: would that all projections were so well used. Ophelia’s drowning scene was also done as a projection, of various waters and splashes behind her while she was suspended from the ceiling; I could have hated it but water (like fire) can just be hard, splashes are impossible (without real water), and the whole thing was just beautiful as well as a summary of Ophelia’s mind (I am particularly thinking of a bit I was sure was blown snow).

The puppets were also very good: Polonius is such a figure of ridicule that he _is_ just perfectly expressed as a giant puppet; and the scene with the players, done as the actual cast with strings holding them to the ceiling, captured nicely the feeling of the performance being controlled by Hamlet as well as the bigger metaphor of the characters in they play all being manipulated by forces beyond their control.

Did the Tiger Lillies intend their design to hit deeper levels so effectively, or was this merely a side effect of someone else’s artistic choices? Oddly, their songs did not really add too much to the show other than atmosphere, a fault that was not entirely caused by the murky sound design (Hamlet’s mike totally gave out at one point). Still, I’m not one to complain; this was a very engaged adaptation of this play and I can highly recommend it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012.)

Mini-review – Le Cirque Invisible – Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

August 11, 2010

Tempted by an invite from Amy and a juicy two for one offer in the Independent (good through August 13th), last night I found myself at Queen Elizabeth hall for the first week of Le Cirque Invisible. I literally knew nothing about them other than what I’d seen on the poster and the fact that it said “circus,” but I figured for £15 I was likely to enjoy myself and after three weeks of almost nothing but ballet I was due a bit of a break.

As it turns out this two person show was delightful in the intimate environs of the Queen Elizabeth hall; I could frequently (due to my seat being on the far right) see the details well enough to answer the question of “how did he/she do that?” but I decided that I would actively avoid analyzing what was going on to figure out the secrets of the magic tricks and costume changes, and just relax and enjoy the panoply of visual stimulation. What I saw was two people, a frizzy haired man I imagined as Morpheus meets Andy Warhol via the medium of your crazy uncle (Jean-Baptiste Thierrée); he mostly did magic tricks, but they were much more funny than magical; he seemed aware as much as I was that he was doing sleight of hand, and made a joke of what he was doing rather than acting mysterious and all-powerful. He also made visual puns and played a lot with people’s anticipation of what they would see next; he also joked at himself by showing things he MIGHT do and then not doing them.

Victoria Chaplin, a lovely, slim woman with long brown hair, did mostly a series of transformations, in which the costumes she came onto stage slowly became something else; a parasol she carried became a Japanese warrior; another parasol creature turned into a strange insect that flirted with another of its kind; a dress she was wearing ate her and then evolved into a walking version of its former self. My favorite moment was her whirling in front of a projection that caught on the giant wings she was waving in the air; it was like a moment out of a movie from the early teens, and I was fascinated with the play of color and fabric. She did two other things that were more obviously technically complex, but this one moment was just unedited beauty, and I was ready to just absorb it.

One thing I did not see much of was traditional circus acts; there was almost no juggling, little acrobatics, and just a tiny bit of tight rope walking. There was, however, a bit of magic with bunnies and birds (including ducks); it’s been so long since I’ve seen an animal of any sort on stage that I was actually kind of surprised. But they all seemed happy, and the bunnies were adorable.

In short, I found this an excellent evening at a very good price. Apparently under 16s are free through the run, and for anyone with kids to entertain this month, Le Cirque Invisible is a real lifesaver. It’s not a high powered circus like Les Sept Doigts de la Main, but I found its City of Lost Children style and humor very enjoyable.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, Augst 17th, 2010. The shows continue through Wednesday 25 August 20th.)

Great deal – 2 for 1 tickets for Le Cirque Invisible

August 6, 2010

Thanks to a discarded copy of the Independent I picked up on Tuesday, I’ve got info for a great deal: two for one tickets to Le Cirque Invisible at the Southbank Centre. Usable dates are limited: August 5-7, 10th and 12-13th August, 7:30 PM shows only; and the 2:30 PM show on August 11th 2010. It’s only good for top price tickets, but I think two people for £30 is a really good deal! Call the Southbank Centre (0844 847 9910) and quote “Independent Offer” to take advantage of this deal. The show continues through to Wednesday 25 August 2010, but the deal is only good on the dates listed above.

Review – Into the Hoods – Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

January 6, 2010

I was excited to hear that last year’s popular show Into the Hoods had been revived at the Southbank Centre for a Christmastime run. Last year, with the TTT’s enthusiastic review and Clement Crisp‘s strange passion for hip hop encouraging me, I tried to get some tickets rather way too far toward the end of the run, and was ultimately unsuccessful. Then I almost totally screwed myself out of going to see this despite knowing about it a month before it opened as, to my shock, even THREE WEEKS before the end of the run, the it was nearly sold out. WTF! Was there something going on I didn’t know about? There weren’t any sales or discounted tickets as far as I knew, it was just selling like hotcakes!

As it turns out, of COURSE I was about a decade behind the times, or maybe two: the house was PACKED, and not with my usual crowd of gray hairs or the National’s oppressive smother of bourgies, but with kids, KIDS, kids! Kids in their early twenties, in their teens and tweens, and even a few of the under ten set (one of whom was dancing on the stage to the pre-show DJ in the bar). I couldn’t believe how busy it was! And when we went into the hall for the show (start time 7:45, run time estimated at 80 minutes), and the lights went down, and the announcer said, “We wanna hear you enjoying yourselves!” damned if they didn’t roar.

And they roared and they roared all night. Me, I found it all way more amateurish than I expected. The dancers seemed like “fans” rather than pros and struggled to do unison movement; the cheesy animated background spoke of lack of budget; and, despite having several characters who were supposed to sing, every sound that came over the loudspeaker was prerecorded. And I’d been hoping for some kind of clever joke on the whole Sondheim thing, but it was nowhere to be found. Honestly, even the whole fairy tale trope wasn’t done very thoroughly. We had characters with names like those in fairy tales – “Rap”unzel, Spinderella, Red Riding Hood — but the stories were really thin. I also didn’t like the overarching story of the two kids who have to, as it turns out, steal something from each of the four main characters in order to complete some poorly defined quest. First it was an incredibly negative concept; and then, when they find them, nothing happens!

Buuuut …. well, let’s judge it on its own merits. This was basically trying to be a low budget entertainment in which a bunch of dance was presented with a bit of a story gloss, and the fairy tale was enough to hold it together. Red and her boyfriend Jack had good chemistry happening, and I really felt it when she was stolen away from him by the “wolf.” And while I didn’t think the fairy tales made sense, I really grooved on the idea of all of these people living in this same shitty place really having big dreams about their lives. They were doubtlessly very different dreams than those that the kids of, say, the National’s audience would have, but they were good dreams and I wanted to see them achieve them, so I rallied behind the characters and wondered what the dreams of people who actually lived in housing projects are like.

And the dance. Well, while it was not as tight as I would like to have seen it, it was often inventive and fun. My favorite scene was in the old folks home, where granny and gramps suddenly cast away their walkers and their wheelchairs and started getting jiggy (the guy who played Jack really stood out in this scene). I was also pleased to see the company was solidly half female, and, in fact, most of the “star” roles were women. And the choreography/staging also demonstrated that you can do stuff on the cheap and really make it work, as in the scene in which Jack and “The Giant” do a slo-mo, Matrix like fight for Jack’s Ipod, all while they’re being carried by other cast members to simulate walking in the air (etc.), then repeat it in ultra-slow motion to show the silly things they were doing during the fast bit (like answering a cell phone). I loved the cleverness and I liked the dance, and, hey, Spinderella moved like a freaking dream. Who was that girl with one shoe off and one shoe on? I spent the evening waiting for her to get solos so that I could admire her effortless, polished movement, and I still don’t know her name.

So while this show didn’t really do what I expected it to, I still enjoyed it, and at 80 minutes without interval it was the perfect, gentle entry back into theater in the week after New Year’s. Such a pity it’s closing so soon; based on how enthusiastic the audience was, there should be a performance like this every week.

*Teenaged Theatre Critic, or as he is now known, the Tyro Theatre Critic.

(Into the Hoods continues through Sunday, January 10th, 2010. This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 5th, 2010.)

Review – Sandy Toksvig’s “Christmas Cracker” – Royal Festival Hall

December 24, 2009

I didn’t know anything about Sandy Toksvig or her semi-cohost Ronnie Corbett but the blurb on LastMinute.com for “Sandy Toskvig’s Christmas Cracker” totally sold me, promising “festive sing-a-longs” and a retelling of “A Christmas Carol!” It all sounded very English and a lot of fun, as I really enjoy group sings and I love a Christmas Carol.

Well. As it turns out, this show was just not all it was cracked up to be. Sandy had a few jokes to tell, Ronnie managed to make jokes about dildos (“Ann Summers calling: we need you to return our fire extinguisher”), viagra, and being felt up (not really appropriate given the number of under-12s in the audience), but somehow far too much time got wasted on a not very enticing story about a mute stagehand and the Christmas fairy he falls in love with. The guest artists seemed generally horribly wasted in the utterly underpowered Christmas Carol: neither Miriam Margolis (as Mrs. Cratchitt) or Tim Pigott-Smith (as Scrooge) were able to do much other than act as background to Toskvig’s own weak jokes.

Even sadder was the unsingability of the supposed singalong moments. We were invited to join Barb Jungr as she attacked holiday classics (“White Christmas,” I think, and, er, something else, maybe “Winter Wonderland”) with a Minelli-esque enthusiasm – possibly from the coked-up years. The thing is, even though her voice was good, when you start going all over the place with your songs, people can not sing along with you. I would have really wanted to, but hers was not a “lead a singalong” performance – it was showy solos all the way through. And the three tenor men who sang earlier – good voices but still, they were showing off and harmonizing, not inviting us to participate. This was an utter flop as a singalong. (And I’ve mostly supressed the memory of the horrible, flat voice of the child who played “The Little Match Girl.” Seriously, this is London: could they not have found a brat who could at least hold a note, and even the RIGHT note? Were they all off performing in Oliver? Did perhaps Ms. Toksvig owe this girl’s mother a favor of some sort? The mind boggles.)

Actually, as I sat there clutching the contents of my cracker and my ticket stub after the show – reminding me I’d shelled out £25 for the pleasure of attending plus £2 for a paper crown, a bad joke, and a battery operated candle – I realized that the whole evening, from the not funny magician to the not funny stagehand to the – dare I say it – not funny joke in my cracker, was just pretty lame. Was it under-rehearsed? Is the Royal Festival hall just the kind of barn that kills any show? In retrospect, the best moments were when an audience member was being chosen in pub-quiz style to participate in “The Christmas Carol” (as Tiny Skirt, er, Tiny Tim), and the brief moment when Ronnie and Mr. Pigott-Smith were joking with each other on stage. But otherwise it was a really poor way to blow my night. Thank goodness this dog is over; I only wish I’d been warned soon enough to have spent the night at home watching David Attenborough on the BBC Iplayer.

(This review is for the performance that took place on December 23rd at 7:30 PM. The show is now over. Weep not. A more thorough review can be found on the West End Whingers‘ site.)

Summary from the Southbank website: A Christmas cabaret in Royal Festival Hall featuring an array of guest stars from the worlds of music, magic and comedy, including the legendary Ronnie Corbett. Hosted by queen of the quips Sandi Toksvig and a house band, the show is a joyous mix of music and comedy. It features festive sing-a-longs and, in time-honoured tradition, a re-working of a much-loved period drama in the form of a hilarious romp through Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, written by Sandi Toksvig and a specially commissioned Christmas anthem by Fascinating Aida’s Dillie Keane. Created by Sandi Toksvig and Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly, and directed by Fiona Laird, who directed Stephen Fry’s Cinderella at the Old Vic in 2007 starring Sandi Toksvig, each performance will have the same format, although star guests will vary through the show’s ten-day run.

Special guest stars now announced! Keep checking the website for updates – the remaining guest stars to be announced soon.

The 20 December performance is captioned and has speech-to-text reporting.

Date
Vocalist
Scrooge
Cratchits
Choir
15 Dec
Maria Friedman
Stephen Mangan
Sara Kestelman
Voicelab
16 Dec
Maria Friedman
Nicholas Parsons
Sara Cox
Voicelab
17 Dec
Sarah Connolly
Fiona Shaw
Jeremy Hardy
Diversity
18 Dec
Denise Van Outen
John Humphrys
Dick & Dom
Diversity
19 Dec
Barb Jungr
Roger Lloyd Pack
Sara Kestelman
Diversity
20 Dec
Clive Rowe
Jon Snow
June Whitfield
London Gay
Men’s Chorus
21 Dec
Sharon D. Clark
Rob Brydon
Sara Kestelman
London Gay
Men’s Chorus
22 Dec
Frances Ruffelle 
Arthur Smith
Sue Perkins
London Gay
Men’s Chorus
23 Dec
Barb Jungr
Tim Pigott-Smith
Miriam Margolyes
Voicelab
24 Dec
Maria Friedman
Lionel Blair
Sue Perkins
Voicelab