Posts Tagged ‘Vaudeville Theatre’

Review – Handbagged – Vaudeville Theater

June 3, 2014

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Handbagged, the play about Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth, other than it looked to be a two hander (wrong!) and funny. So when I was contacted with a request for blogger feedback from a publicist, I was pretty pleased – things have been a bit grim in Webcowgirl-land the last three weeks and I was in dire need of a good laugh. I mean, I had no idea why the thought of these two women was supposed to be humorous (although “So Maggie Thatcher and Queen Liz walk into a bar” does makes me giggle) or even under what circumstances they would have come into contact (it was based on actual events? – shock!), so there was a leap of faith involved. I’ve done the Life in the UK test but Handbagged assumed a level of knowledge beyond what I, not born English, possessed.

So, factual basis: not only does the PM go to the queen and ask for “permission to form a government” after the election, but apparently the traditionally have some kind of weekly catchup as well. Now, I’d been a tiny bit exposed to this from seeing The Queen, but this is all from the post-Thatcher era and I wasn’t entirely sure how much the interaction of the queen and the PM as depicted in this movie represented reality at all. That said: how much does anything that happens in the palace represent reality? It seems as likely a topic for comedy and satire as any; theatrically, King Charles showed there’s much to be explored in the workings of a monarch in modern times (as opposed to the rather more active workings of historical times).

The play itself is a story told on two sides, that of the queen and of Thatcher; but it’s also told from two points in time, that of the near-present (maybe five years ago), with a gray-haired monarch and “elder statesman” Thatcher, and their “actual” selves at the time of the events. Their older selves correct their younger selves’ mistakes and laugh (or harrumph) at their stupidity – and by “their” I mean of both of their younger selves. I found the imagined evolution of each of their perceptions very interesting – how the queen had grown, perhaps, more disillusioned; and how Thatcher grew, I think, more rigid – and in some ways simply failed to evolve at all, parroting exactly the same things at her height as she does in her retirement.

Fleshing all of this out are two other characters, originally a butler in the palace and Thatcher’s husband (I’d never heard of him before), who wind up playing many varied roles: Ronald and Nancy Reagan, President Kaunda of Zambia, and, well, themselves, as actors with opinions. These two do a lot to fill in the gaps in my historical knowledge of the times – although addressed at the “young folks in the audience who weren’t even alive at this time,” it was helpful to me as a person who, while born, wasn’t really reading international news.

In the end, I feel like I was both educated and entertained, although the whole thing was done with such a light touch that I never felt lectured to. And look: a play in which there are four roles for women in their fifties or older! Really, the only thing I needed to make this night perfect was a cream tea at the interval: it was a very enjoyable night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thurday, May 29th, 2014. It continues through August 2nd, 2014. As I researched this, I found more an more that the events that took place outside of “the audience” all really seem to have happened – i.e. per this article – which makes me enjoy the play even more.)

Mini-review – What The Butler Saw – The Vaudeville

May 17, 2012

My feeling of elation on walking out of The Vaudeville after seeing What The Butler Saw is difficult to put into words. I felt like Joe Orton had just jumped the shark, landed on a rocket and shot to the moon. The whole play is a cascading series of ridiculousness that’s clearly in the farce tradition (person tells lie, gets into trouble) but all twisted and manipulated to make it feel horribly modern and inappropriate even for the sixties. It oozes the unrestricted sexuality I enjoyed in the previous Joe Orton work I’d seen – many of the characters are bi and quite free with themselves, including the lead character’s wife – and this, to me, turned the formula of the Commedia Dell’arte (read: “One Man, Two Governors”) on its head. It’s still all nudge nudge wink wink and occasional slamming doors (four at once), but instead of stock characters we have a money-hungry rentboy, a married woman who’s in a club for lesbians, and characters who engage in and discuss a variety of non-vanilla sexual practices. All in all, a good looking naked man running across stage mid-show isn’t really all that surprising – it’s just another jolly treat in Orton’s pick a mix bag of dodginess.

While some of the dialog and attitudes seem a bit hard to swallow (you can practically write your own joke here – Orton would have), I fell in love with this production because of the way it felt like every word, character, and action was knowingly transgressive – not just of its time (the Churchill jokes alone make me imagine it would have made blood boil when it was new) but of ours, still. The actors uniformly pushed it further, turning the dial up to eleven and just completely going for it. I felt there was a manic energy on stage and was completely swept up in it, laughing loudly and snorting frequently. Meanwhile, the aged American professor sitting next to me found it just not in the least bit comic. Ah well.

I advise seeing this as soon as possible: they may tone it down and you don’t want to miss this gem while it’s still completely over the top. It’s funnier than anything I’ve seen since London Assurance. Later it may just be another show with perfect timing and every line memorized: right now, it’s joyfully shocking and raw and the actors know it. Just remember: don’t take the kids.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, May 14th, 2012. It continues through August 25th.)

Review – Megan Mullally – Vaudeville Theatre

February 16, 2010

Was it really less than six months ago that I saw Alan Cumming on the stage of the Vaudeville with his one man show? I had a lot of cause to remember it tonight as I watched Megan Mullally on the very same stage. Hey, for 15 quid in the second row, I was utterly blown away … there was no reason to think that fourth row and 35 quid wouldn’t give me the same experience. The other tickets were just a steal.

Tonight, however, I left with the feeling that perhaps I was the one who’d been stolen from. Ms Mullally said she’d left Karen behind, but just who had she taken with her? I expect a one person show like this to really captivate me – to reach out and make me feel that we’re all really best friends, no matter how insincere this sentiment is. I mean, shit, Alan made me think, “My God, if only we could sit around smoking and drinking after the show, I’m sure it would be totally fantastic, the man is SO funny and has had SUCH an interesting life and we could just talk all night long.” Did M not have these stories? She only told us one in the first act, about touring around Prague with a dire tour guide named Olga.

Otherwise, really, all we got were songs, songs songs songs, songs by PJ Harvey and The Decembrists and Bryan Adams, all performed in a serviceable but somewhat thin voice, none of them really having the compelling oomph of the originals. Actually, “The Dreadful Wind and Rain,” and old Irish ballad, was really powerful, and none of them were awful … but she just … I don’t know … “I Remember” from Evening Primrose was nice … but I just couldn’t get motivated to care about watching her sing. I mean, yeah, sure, certain degree of celebrity, but I came to be entertained, and I wasn’t. I was certainly underimpressed by watching her refer back to her music again and again. Hello, Broadway 101 – even I memorize the lyrics to songs I’m going to sing in public!

For those who want to know what they missed, here’s a list of the songs she performed in the first half:
Up a Lazy River (PJ Harvey_)
I Lost My Heart Under the Bridge
Lucy My Gal (Bryan Adams)
Dreadful Wind and Rain
Little Bird (the Weepers)
I Remember (Sondheim, from the TV show Evening Primrose)
Engine # 9 (Roger Miller)
Home Sweet Home
We’re Gonna Find Romance in the Dark
It’s Not Easy Being Green

And, well, given the option between going home and getting plenty of sleep before work tomorrow or staying and watching the rest of the show, I voted with my feet. It wasn’t actually bad; I just didn’t care.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, February 16th, 2010. The show continues through February 21st. FYI you could also go see some flamenco at Sadler’s Wells instead, which I highly advise, or perhaps take advantage of an evening of karaoke.)

Review – Alan Cumming’s “I Bought a Blue Car Today” – Vaudeville Theatre

September 1, 2009

Tonight I went with J and Jess to see the opening performance of Alan Cumming’s one man show, “I Bought A Blue Car Today.” Despite this show having had runs in NYC and Australia, I hadn’t read any of the reviews and knew little of it other than it was Alan Cumming doing whatever he felt like. This suited me fine (though somehow I’d got it in my head that this was a stand-up comedy evening). While I can rarely be convinced to see a show based on one performer (I frequently can’t remember actors’ names and am nearly wholly immune to the clut of celebrity), fact of the matter is that Mr. Cumming is my #1 favorite stage actor and probably the only performer of stage or screen that I teenishly fangrrl over. I’m not saying I follow him online or have a poster of him on my wall or was waiting in line to get an autograph tonight; but I do think he’s painfully sexy on top of being a great actor and a good singer.

“I Bought A Blue Car Today” has actually very little in the way of narrative about Alan’s life in America, though he does explain why he went for citizenship (to overturn our previous fascist regime) and a little bit about some cultural confusion (no worse than mine here except for not understanding why being on Saturday Night Live was such a big deal). Instead, it’s full of fun and occasionally rude anecdotes about his life in showbiz, ranging from dancing with Walter Cronkite (at Cabaret) to riding a motorcycle up 5th Avenue while high. The anecdotes fill time between songs, which are really the heart of the show (available on the CD they’ll be happy to sell you in the lobby). They ranged from a Dolly Parton/Mika mashup to “Mein Herr” and on to some lovely original songs. Mostly the music was rather on the fluffy side, but really gave Mr. Cumming a chance to show of his pipes. It’s no surprise that he’s really quite a good singer; what’s a real shame is that with all of his movie roles, he so rarely gets to sing on stage, which is, in my mind, where he ought to be. The best of the night was “Where I Want to Be” from Chess; I’ve never seen it but with the 7 (?) piece band backing him, with extra trumpet, it really rocked the house and showed a lot of passion.

For any Alan Cumming fan, this was an unmissable evening, especially if you’d managed to pull 15 quid second row seats, and the audience was quite enthusiastic. But the guy has really got a good voice, and while I think he could have chosen better material, if you’re looking to catch a Broadway/West End performer at the peak of his performing career – unlike Liza, whose performances this last year showed a star faded almost to black – then this show would be worth the effort to see. As it is, it’s given me a host of dirty jokes to tell people (like the one about Anne Miller and Eyes Wide Shut) and I consider it a great start to the West End’s fall season.

Note: Alan Cumming also announced from his stage that he and his pianist were going to be doing a late night fundraising show on Thursday, so if you can’t get enough of either or both of them you’ve got another shot to load up while they’re in town. Here’s the email I just got from Nimax Theater’s about it: “Notes Unleashed! The Music of Lance Horne, will take to the stage at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand at 11.00pm on Thursday 3 September 2009, in a special one-night only event following Alan Cumming’s solo show at the Vaudeville that evening. It marks the London première of songs written by the Emmy Award winning composer, Lance Horne, with the composer at the piano.

“Olivier and Tony Award winner Alan Cumming will join West End stars Julie Atherton (Avenue Q), Aneurin Barnard (Spring Awakening), Simon Burke (La Cage Aux Folles), Alexandra Silber (Carousel), Hannah Waddingham (Spamalot, A Little Night Music) and Emma Williams (Zorro) in Notes Unleashed! The Music of Lance Horne, the inaugural edition of a late-night strand of the West End’s Notes from New York series at the Vaudeville Theatre on Thursday 3 September at 11.00pm. Book Online or call the Box Office on 0844 412 4663.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 1st. “I Bought a Blue Car Today” runs through Sunday, September 6th. And since someone asked about nudity, the answer is, no, Alan does not take his clothes off. *sniff*)