Eurovision 2015 – The Grand Final

Into the final furlong now with seven more songs that by virtue of their parentage or previous success have made it direct to the Saturday night spot without having to appeal to the midweek crowd as well. As the performance order is not yet decided I’m going to take them in alphabetical order. (I know, I’m so conventional.) Again each preview will have its own star rating and its bookmaker odds courtesy of oddschecker.com, as at 13th May. You know you want to.

Australia – Guy Sebastian – Tonight Again

Guy SebastianDo you need me to explain why Australia is in the contest this year? Course you don’t, so let’s move on. The first time I heard this – in fact by the time I’d got to the first chorus – I said, that’s it, game over, Australia has won. Then after a few hearings, little parts of it started to annoy me; specifically the “do whatchya whatchya whatchya want” sequence, which is just some meaningless verbal equivalent to a huge clearing of the throat before the chorus starts; and – no surprise – that final “again”, which has fourteen syllables. I know. I counted them. However, everything else about it is chock full of contemporary fabulousness, and I really do think this has a strong chance of taking the grand prix to Adelaide. (OK, Germany then, because it has been decreed that they won’t host the show next year down under if they win). For all those countries who put their timid little inexperienced people in front of the massive Eurovision audience and then wonder why they crack on the night, take note. Guy Sebastian is the new Dima Bilan; he is a massive star and (according to Wikipedia so it must be right) has 51 platinum and six gold certifications, with combined album and single sales of over 3.7 million in Australia. You always knew those competitive Aussies would take it seriously. He gave a fantastic performance at the London Eurovision Party. I said hello to him in a corridor. He said hi back. Friend to the famous. 7/2 – 5/1. *****

Austria – The Makemakes – I Am Yours

The MakemakesTricky one this. The host nation goes to the opposite extreme from the campness of Conchita Wurst and ends up with a soft-rock threesome who look and sound as gloomy as hell. The song trudges along without ever lifting its head above the parapet. If you think you like the tune, it’s because you’ve more or less heard it several times before over the decades performed by others. “Let it Be” written by a less talented hand; Coldplay with a cob on. I think they’ll give a good performance because they looked and sounded professional at the London party; but I can’t see this doing anything. This isn’t what people watch Eurovision for. 80/1 – 125/1. **

France – Lisa Angell – N’oubliez Pas

Lisa AngellHurrah for another experienced singer giving us a moving song with dignified lyrics about the effects of war and invasion, and inspired by the centenary of the First World War. Sadly I think it’s let down by a not particularly interesting tune, but I reckon Lisa will give it all she’s got. It’s written by the same nom-de-plume as Natasha St-Pier’s Je n’ai que mon âme, so that’s a pretty good pedigree. 80/1 – 200/1. ***

Germany – Ann Sophie – Black Smoke

Ann SophieRichmond-upon-Thames’ very own Ann Sophie sings this year’s song for Germany, Black Smoke, co-written by Ella Eyre who features on Rudimental’s 2014 BRIT award winning single Waiting All Night (I’m so trendy, me.) This is most definitely a grower, it didn’t impact me much on the first couple of hearings, but Ms Sophie’s performance at the London Party was a bit of a knock-out, and now I rather like it. It’s a song about love gone wrong, with more than its fair share of fire, flame, burning and smoke analogies. They missed a trick by not mentioning ashes. Spiky and quirky. 66/1 – 150/1. ***

Italy – Il Volo – Grande Amore

Il VoloWinners of this year’s San Remo festival, this operatic boy band have been together for five years now, and have enjoyed no mean success with their three studio and two live albums, the first of which charted in several countries around Europe (and indeed in Australia) so plenty of the televoters will already know these guys. Their EP version of Grande Amore has gone double platinum in Italy too. For the first time ever, I finally like a Eurovision popera song. Normally it’s a genre that gives me a pain in the aria, but this one is a little gem. Actually the full San Remo version at nearly four minutes is a big gem, and it has suffered a little by undergoing the necessary pruning to get it into the permitted time. The song was originally written in 2003 with the hope of going to San Remo but it was shelved as the writers thought it was simply too old-fashioned. Times change. Certainly Italy’s best entry since their recent return. 3/1 – 11/4 (second favourite). *****

Spain – Edurne – Amanecer

EdurneAnother stunning lady with another stunningly dramatic song. Amanacer means daybreak, but apparently it’s a song about heartbreak – I wish they’d make their mind up. Edurne is a product of the Operacion Triumfo stable, has had a few hit albums and a couple of notable singles, and is also a TV actress and presenter. When she’s not singing and acting, she’s Manchester United goalie David de Gea’s WAG. The song didn’t do much for me at first, but it’s yet another grower. Great for annoying the neighbours when singing in the shower. No tigers were harmed during the making of the video; the bloke, I’m not so sure about. 28/1 – 66/1. ****

United Kingdom – Electro Velvet – Still in Love with You

Electro VelvetAnd finally we come to the UK entry. Ever since its first appearance, subtly introduced to the world by the magic of the Freeview red button, it’s been a matter of some controversy. Certainly if you were hoping for the UK to come up with a contemporary song that can hold its head up in Europe this is Not It. However, in a year where there are a number of similar sounding entries, this is the only one with a novelty sound, which I think can only help it. Many of my francophone friends rate this very highly, and having seen them sing it live twice now I can definitely confirm that they have excellent voices and give confident, fun performances. It does stick in your head, although maybe not for always the right reasons. I have a fiver bet with a friend that it will finish lower down the table than Australia. What can I say, the friend really likes this song. Alex and Bianca are a lovely friendly couple and I wish them loads of luck in Vienna. I really hated it when I first heard it – but now I like it quite a lot. Despite those terrible trite lyrics. And the be-bap-be-bap-be-bap-a-doo nonsense. 33/1 – 50/1. ****

As ever, I do a little counting up of the number of hits each song has received on the Eurovision.tv youtube channel, not that it means anything at all on previous experience.
10th – Belarus (954692)
9th – Israel (988442)
8th – Italy (1058514)
7th – Belgium (1180352)
6th – Spain (1119215)
5th – Australia (1262238)
4th – Armenia (1480922)
3rd – United Kingdom (1819826)
2nd – Azerbaijan (3499640)
1st – Russia (4108146)

Last year Conchita’s song came 2nd in this table, second and third placed Netherlands and Sweden were not in the top ten and Armenia’s fourth placed Aram MP3 came top of this table. Azerbaijan, Italy, Spain and the UK were also in the top ten of youtube views, just as they are this year. The big difference this year is the massive number of views for Polina Gagarina. Do those Russians know something we don’t?

Have a great time watching the show on May 23rd, wherever you are – at home with some crisps, at a party, or in Vienna. No doubt we’ll have some kind of post-mortem at the end of May. May the best song win!

Eurovision 2015 – Semi Final Two

Yes I’m back again, gentle reader, with a look at the seventeen songs that will glitter their way through Semi Final Two. As before, you can also see the betting odds, courtesy of oddschecker.com (taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places each way, as at 6th May) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. To horse!

Lithuania – Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila – This Time

Monika Linkytė and Vaidas BaumilaAn inauspicious start to the show. I’m sure this was put together as some kind of tribute to or emulation of Denmark’s jolly 2001 entry Never Ever Let You Go by Rollo and King, but it so hugely fails to come anywhere near it. Not so much “I’m feeling love, love, love”, more “I’m feeling sick, sick, sick” as it gloopily wallows in every sub-country-music cliché. If they stop and do that irritating kiss halfway through I’d be so tempted to throw a brick at the TV screen. Trite as it is, it seems bewilderingly popular with some people. Get a life, guys! 66/1 – 150/1. *

Ireland – Molly Sterling – Playing with Numbers

Molly SterlingHaving started with something horrendous, we move on to something ultra-bland. There’s something about this song that turns me off after about ten seconds, and it never regains my attention. Believe me, I have tried to concentrate on it… has it started to rain outside? Ah shame, I need to go and…. What was I saying? Ah yes, this year’s Irish song. Sorry, vacuous overload. Pass. 50/1 – 125-1. *

San Marino – Anita Simoncini & Michele Perniola – Chain of Light

Anita Simoncini & Michele PerniolaWell Michele sums the whole thing up with his first word. Have you ever seen such ham acting in a music video? To be fair, they are both only 16, so we can make some allowances (but see Israel, below) and an awful lot of the blame should be heaped on the shoulders of composer Uncle Ralph Siegel, who continues to devalue his brilliant career by writing latter-day tosh. I cringe when Anita does her little street-rap interjections (“all walk together”, “yes we should”) and I wonder if that conductor’s asking himself where did his career go so wrong. There are worse songs. A few. 66/1 – 300/1. **

Montenegro – Knez – Adio

KnezAdio has Zeljko Joksimovic’s size 12 bootprints stamped all over it, but it’s none the worse for that, and for me this is the best song he’s penned for the contest apart from his very own Lane Moje. It soars to a lovely middle section full of oh oh oh’s and ethnic instruments, and it just somehow feels right. Knez is a seasoned performer (I think that’s the right phrase) who gave a great performance at the London Eurovision Party. The video could do wonders for the local tourism industry (again, see Israel, below). Montenegro came surprisingly low with a similar entry last year – but this year’s is a whole heap better. 100/1 – 200/1. ****

Malta – Amber – Warrior

AmberThe second of two Warriors in this year’s contest, and the more accomplished. It’s a big tune that calls for a big voice, and Amber has that in spades. She’s been knocking on Eurovision’s door for a few years now, and I’m sure she’ll seize her chance with all the decibels she can. Very borderline qualification, as I’m not sure the song stands too much examination. But I wish her luck. 50/1 – 200/1. ***

Norway – Mørland and Debrah Scarlett – Monster Like Me

Mørland and Debrah ScarlettA few months ago I was skimming through the contestants for Melodi Grand Prix (that’s the Norwegian national final to the uninitiated), listening to 30 seconds or so of each song just to get a feel for it, and on the whole thought they were pretty good. Then Monster Like Me came on and I was transfixed. I had to hear the whole thing. So what was it that Mr Mørland did that was so terrible in his early youth? I don’t think we’ll ever find out. I have a sneaking suspicion that he doesn’t know himself either and has been feeding on hallucinogenic substances to block it out (or make it up). This song is so different, so impactful; a fantastic example of less is more, and Kjetil and Debrah have such a presence together it takes your breath away. A three act drama in three minutes? The missing number from Phantom of the Opera? However you want to categorise it, it’s my winner of the year. 16/1 – 28/1. *****

Portugal – Leonor Andrade – Há um Mar que nos Separa

Leonor Andrade“There is a sea that separates us”, sings Leonor, or at least according to Google Translate. She’s a rock chick-cum-fado singer who looks like she could wrestle with the most difficult composition and win on a technical knock-out. Sadly the song ambles along without getting anywhere, despite its emotional lyrics. A fairly typical Portuguese snoozefest. 100/1 – 500/1 (the most rank outsider). *

Czech Republic – Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta – Hope Never Dies

Marta Jandová and Václav Noid BártaWelcome back to the Czech Republic and their first entry since 2009. Although it doesn’t have a lot of competition, this power ballad is far and away the country’s best entry to date. Marta and Václav performed at the London Eurovision Party and won us all over with their terrific sense of fun and amazing vocals – Václav’s Roxanne has to be heard (and seen) to be believed. A stirring tune and a feeling for drama make this one of this year’s surprise hits. The Czech Rep doesn’t have much in the way of natural allies on the Eurovision front but I hope a good jury score will send this through to the final. 100/1 – 300/1. ****

Israel – Nadav Guedj – Golden Boy

Nadav GuedjI referred earlier to the youth of the Sammarese kidz and the tourism aspect of Knez’ song. Both are intertwined in this year’s entry from Israel, performed by Nadav Guedj, 16 going on 35, and winner of Israel’s “The Next Star” TV show. No surprise he won – what a find is this young chap. Great voice, likeable personality, and such maturity for his tender years. The song takes a while to get going, but once it’s got there it’s the best Middle-East/Bollywood sound to come out of Eurovision since AySel and Arash. Perfect for some embarrassing middle-aged dad dancing. “And before I leave, let me show you Tel Aviv” – this song has been brought to you courtesy of the Israeli Tourism Agency. What Eurovision is all about – entertainment on max. setting, slipping through your taste filter like sh*t off a shovel. 25/1 – 100/1. *****

Latvia – Aminata – Love Injected

AminataAs is often the case with Eurovision, we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Aminata’s lyrics sound either wimpishly wingey or stridently wingey, depending what part of the song you’re listening to, and the musical arrangement sounds like farts in a water bottle. At best this will get lost amongst all the other dullish female vocalist songs; at worst it’s a nul-pointer. 40/1 – 100/1. *

Azerbaijan – Elnur Huseynov – Hour of the Wolf

Elnur HuseynovAnd now for an injection of class. Elnur last appeared on the Eurovision stage in 2008 clad as a fluffy angel. Now he’s back with a less hysterical song (let’s face it, anything is less hysterical than Day After Day), that’s nevertheless splendidly atmospheric and dramatic. Despite being written by a panel of four, probably in a bureaucratic office back of Baku, it’s definitely a contender for this year’s best written song. Elnur’s vocals are a little Marmite, and I’m not a great fan of his English accent, but I expect it’s much better than my Azeri. I’m sure the juries will love this. 20/1 – 25/1. *****

Iceland – Maria Olafs – Unbroken

Maria OlafsThis year Iceland are sending the cutest of their pixies to represent them, 22 year old Maria Olafsdottir. This is an odd song, to my ears; it has all the elements of something really rewarding and enjoyable but somehow, when it comes to the crunch, just fails to deliver. Probably too many “one step”s involved, making it the bastard child of Michael Ball and Bettina Soriat. (That’s a joke for the nerds out there). I couldn’t work out why it was called “Unbroken”, until I realised it was in the lyrics. I thought she was singing “I’m back again”. Enunciation dear, that’s the key. It leaves me not entirely flat, but certainly not particularly sharp. 33/1 – 50/1. ***

Sweden – Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes

Mans ZelmerlowAh dear old Måns, the godlike darling of many a Melofestivalen. How can we thank thee for thy Cara Mia? How may we praise thee for thy Hope and Glory? Yet you win with the much slighter Heroes, and 90% of it was due to that terrific little chap whom you high-five even though he’s make-believe and just a cartoon (hope that’s not a shock to anyone). I’m being mean really. It’s a pretty good song, and Måns is a superlative performer. When he sang at the London Eurovision Party he had the audience in the palm of his hand; and is also no slouch preparing the cocktails behind the bar if the rumours are to be believed. Upbeat and uplifting, it’ll do very well no doubt – but I do prefer his other songs! 6/4 – 13/8 (the favourite). ****

Switzerland – Mélanie René – Time to Shine

Mélanie RenéAnother perfectly nice, charming entry from a perfectly nice, charming female singer that provides a perfectly nice, charming three minutes that you forget instantly afterwards – but it was all perfectly nice and charming. If it’s her time to shine, I hope she’s brought the Mr Sheen. Does she really sing “mucking around” or do my ears deceive me? Switzerland has no natural allies at Eurovision and, frankly, this hasn’t a hope of qualifying. 50/1 – 200/1. **

Cyprus – John Karayiannis – One Thing I Should Have Done

John KarayiannisSomething a little different from Cyprus this year, a very gentle, reflective ballad sung by a decent young chap who looks like a trainee accountant. One Thing I Should Have Done is written by Mike Connaris of Stronger Every Minute fame, and you can see similarities between the two entries. The stand-out moment of this song is its extremely quiet and underplayed middle section, although that’s also its weakness as it’s just too quiet and laid back for me. Cyprus and Greece have been separated in the semi-finals this year like two naughty schoolchildren so I think both might struggle to qualify. As Paul Daniels would say, I like this, not a lot, but I like it. 50/1 – 125/1. ***

Slovenia – Maraaya – Here For You

MaraayaSo Maraaya are a duo. Who knew? She’s Marjetka, and he’s Raay, so together they’re Maraaya, geddit? He wrote Round and Round for Tinkara Kovac last year, but he’s done a better job with this year’s entry, with its English lyrics by Charlie Mason, who penned the words to Rise Like a Phoenix and Beauty Never Lies. Marjetka’s vocals really suit this retro-feeling, sub-Motown sounding, dark song about supporting your lover who’s down down low. A good song, much favoured, and it ought to do really well. 14/1 – 33/1. ****

Poland – Monika Kuszyńska – In the Name of Love

Monika KuszyńskaI first heard this is in its original Polish language version and it completely passed me by. Now it’s in English I find it’s actually quite a beguiling little song. Monika Kuszyńska is a most attractive lady and has lots of experience in the Polish music industry. Being in a wheelchair obviously doesn’t hold her back! The song is perhaps a little repetitive at times but has a kind of Enya-ish quality which can just soothe you to sleep. However, that’s probably not the best genre for the final song of the night, and it might get overlooked while everyone SMS’s for the Slovenian entry. I fear Poland may well not qualify this year. 100/1 – 125/1. ***

So that’s your lot for Semi Final Two. Which seven songs do you think will go no further? Ireland, San Marino, Portugal, Poland, Latvia, Switzerland and Czech Republic is my guess. Remember to watch the second semi-final on BBC 3 at 8pm on Thursday 21st May – this time viewers in the UK can vote. Ten songs will go forward from both semis to the Grand Final on 23rd May along with seven others – the Big Five, last year’s winner Austria and, for the first time and stretching the boundaries of Europe even more thinly, Australia. I’ll be back again tomorrow to run through those final songs – see you then!

Eurovision 2015 – Semi Final One

Yes it’s that time of year again. As sure as night follows day, the Eurovision Song Contest bounces breezily back onto the stage of a European city, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a whole new gamut of the best ever/worst ever songs to titillate your fancy/send you to sleep and make their mark on the continent/never get heard again (entirely up to you, gentle reader, as to which you delete). As ever, I’m here with my trusty youtube app and sharpened pencil to give you the run down of each of the forty songs that will affright the air at Vienna in a couple of weeks’ time. We’ll be starting off with Semi Final One, and the 16 songs in the order that the producers have chosen in advance to write off the chances of the countries they don’t like, I mean, create a sequence for the most exciting musical show from the resources given them. Once again, I’m also giving you the betting odds, courtesy of oddschecker.com (taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places each way, as at 5th May) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. On y va!

Moldova – Eduard Romanyuta – I Want Your Love

Eduard RomanyutaWe start with a song that seems to have met with some derision, although personally I don’t think it’s half bad. Eduard is a 22 year old student, writing his PhD on “tax policy of Ukraine in the context of European integration”. Can’t help think he might have missed the boat on that one. The song is dedicated to an ex-girlfriend, and given his driving habits in the video, I hope any future girlfriends are well-insured. Eduard rocked the crowd at the London Eurovision Party and I thought he was a pretty good performer. It’s got lots of funky moments, and I have a tendency to join in with his “picture that you’re paintin’ got me all anticipating”, much to the embarrassment of all concerned. I heard someone say that if this song had been from Sweden, the fans would have been all over it like a rash; but as it’s from Moldova, they’re not. 100/1 – 200/1. ****

Armenia – Genealogy – Face The Shadow

GenealogyOf course, in the Grand Final, to perform second in the running order is the complete kiss of death. It’s not quite so disastrous in the Semi Finals, but nevertheless if there is anything to help this appalling dross out of the contest as quickly as possible, that’s a blessing. Genealogy are six Armenian singers, plucked out of worldwide obscurity for no apparent reason other than the fact that they are Armenians scattered throughout the world, singing a hokey, grim ditty about world peace. Originally it was called Don’t Deny, but simply changing the title hasn’t helped it one iota. Horrendously derivative, totally tedious. According to Eurovision.tv, for good luck before a performance they hold hands and say random Armenian words. I wonder what is the Armenian for “wtf are we doing here?” 33/1 – 80/1. *

Belgium – Loïc Nottet – Rhythm Inside

Loic NottetHere’s a song with a bit of atmosphere, if nothing else. Loïc moods all over these three minutes with his very portentous “I’m gonna get that rhythm back”. Aged just 19, he’s quite young to have lost his rhythm, poor lad, so I do hope he sorts it out ok. A lot of people like this but I find his English accent rather irritating – I’d have preferred it in French. And that rapapap stuff just makes me cringe. Next time he shoots a video, I recommend he takes a brolly. The androgynous look does nothing for me, although I suspect I’m not the target demographic. 33/1- 66/1. ***

Netherlands – Trijntje Oosterhuis – Walk Along

Trijntje OosterhuisAll those “j”’s in her name really put you off don’t they – think of her as Traincher and it’s much easier. An experienced Dutch singer with absolutely nothing to do with golfer Peter Oosterhuis (although watch to see if she’s wearing 70s checked trousers on the night). An instantly appealing pop song, with a catchy tune and a chorus that reminds you of a Geordie with his finger caught in the car door. Maybe slightly repetitive after a while but still very enjoyable and it’s a thumbs-up from me. 66/1 – 150/1. *****

Finland – Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät – Aina Mun Pitää

Pertti Kurikan NimipäivätFinnish songs can be Marmite, and punk rock isn’t (perhaps) at its most natural home with Eurovision, although it’s a broad church and everyone’s welcome. Amongst the more unusual aspects of this entry is the fact that it’s all over in less than 1 minute 25 seconds, all four members of the group have developmental disabilities, and that it’s a raucous din. Alas, these guys are not the new Lordi. Personally, I think it’s the worst song in the contest. It’s so short, they could reprise the entire thing and still be within the time limit. It’s not even long enough for a proper toilet break. Its relatively short odds can, I think, only be put down to a misplaced and patronising sympathy vote. It’s a no from me. 12/1 – 22/1. *

Greece – Maria Elena Kyriakou – One Last Breath

Maria Elena KyriakouThis year’s Eurovision is notable for a plethora of very worthy strong female ballads, which I think, on the whole, will cancel each other out, leaving the winner to come from another genre. However, the first of these strong female ballads to get an airing this year is possibly the best. We saw Maria Elena Kyriakou at the London Eurovision Party and I have rarely seen anyone more stunningly beautiful, and she delivers the song with great style and presence. Very classy indeed. 50/1 – 125/1. ***

Estonia – Elina Born & Stig Rästa – Goodbye to Yesterday

Elina Born & Stig RastaGoodbye to Yesterday? That old Melodi Grand Prix entry by Blue Moon Band that got nowhere in the 2007 search for a song for Norway? No. This is a very different kettle of fish. Elina and Stig present a very modern and dark look at a relationship split, with his sneaking out the door without waking her up, and its video with its undercurrent of suggestions of domestic violence (her on him). Not a lot of laughs here, but then it is Estonia. It’s a really strong, thought-provoking, sad and strangely beautiful song, sung with loads of conviction and it’s definitely my favourite of this semi-final. Highly fancied, a song that will last. 5/1 – 11/1. *****

FYR Macedonia – Daniel Kajmakoski – Autumn Leaves

Daniel KajmakoskiNo, not Nat King Cole’s old classic, but Daniel Kajmakoski’s entertaining blend of ballad and ethno-pop. Daniel won the first series of X-Factor Adria, and he’s got a great voice. I really like this song – it’s simple, heartfelt and delicate, but I wonder if it might get a little lost after the grand drama of Estonia. Watch the video to see a charming cartoon romance. I hope it does well and I think it will qualify. 40/1 – 100/1. ****

Serbia – Bojana Stamenov – Beauty Never Lies

Bojana StamenovThe message of Serbia’s song is that not only is beauty merely skin deep, but you have to look deep inside to find the real beauty of a person. I can imagine few people who could put this message across better than the incredible Bojana Stamenov, whose powerful, larger-than-life presence gives the song some amazing oomph. The video is good fun, with fans all over the world contributing their own performances. An excellent song for anyone who’s got a few scars – mental or physical – and isn’t afraid to show them. Strong singalong tune too. Rather like Bojana’s dress size, this just keeps on growing. 50/1 – 125/1. *****

Hungary – Boggie – Wars For Nothing

BoggieIf you were asked to imagine what someone called Boggie might look like, I’ll wager a pound to a penny you wouldn’t have come up with the impish loveliness of this year’s Hungarian singer. She was born Boglárka, which makes more sense. She came to prominence with her video of Nouveau Parfum, which I would highly recommend to you. Wars For Nothing is a quiet anti-war song that is so laid back it can barely stand up by itself. Whilst there’s no doubt its heart is in the right place, for me this song commits the cardinal sin of being just a bit boring. She sang it at the London Eurovision Party but I can’t say that I actually remember her performance. Sorry. 50/1 – 125/1. **

Belarus – Uzari & Maimuna – Time

Uzari and MaimunaNow here’s an unusual thing – for the second year in a row, Belarus have kept with the same song that won their national final! Time is an uptempo pop song from singer Uzari and violinist Maimuna, who certainly lends some class to the proceedings. Uzari has the nastiest case of aural metallurgy I’ve ever seen; he’ll never get through the airport security scanning unaided with those things attached. It’s quite a funky song, with its pretty-music-box introduction and thumping chorus. I can see them all doing the Military Two-Step to this in all the Minsk hotspots. 33/1 – 100/1. ****

Russia – Polina Gagarina – A Million Voices

Polina GagarinaThis year’s annual Russian juxtaposition between caring lyrics, human rights and warmongering comes from the delightful Polina Gagarina, another stunningly attractive woman with a belter of a voice. The video features lots of cute kids and a lovely old couple in an attempt to make you think the Russian government values international peace. It’s a strong, anthemic tune, and Polina delivers it assuredly and with vigour, but I think she’s better than it is. I’m sure the technical team will be active on the night to fade out the boos. It’ll do very well, I have no doubt. 12/1 – 20/1. ***

Denmark – Anti-Social Media – The Way You Are

Anti Social MediaFour clean cut lads recreate a retro 60s sound with this simple feelgood chant. No hidden message, no subtle agenda, just a plain old pop song about love. It puts you in mind of summer sunshine, a few beers and some happy days. Co-written by the chap who co-wrote Superstar for Jamelia, so he probably knows a thing or two about what makes a good song. The group have only been together a few months, let’s hope they continue after May 23rd. 80/1 – 150/1. ****

Albania – Elhaida Dani – I’m Alive

Elhaida DaniI often find myself struggling with Albanian songs. They’re usually too serious for me, performed by a female singer with just too much angst. This year it’s the same, only lesser so. Originally they chose Diell as their song but it was replaced in February, and the new song is definitely an improvement. Elhaida is a great singer, who triumphed in The Voice in Italy in 2014. This is one of those female ballads that will get eclipsed because of all the other female ballads. I would like to like this more than I do. But I don’t. 33/1 – 66/1. **

Romania – Voltaj – De La Capat (All Over Again)

VoltajTime for a moving little song about the plight of Romanian children left behind at home while their parents move abroad for work. It’s part of a charitable project set up by the group that you can read about here. Voltaj have been going for about 20 years now and have nine albums to their credit. Without the background knowledge of what the song is about, it’s really just another quite nice song. With that background knowledge, it takes on a much nobler feel. Hard not to love it. 50/1 – 150/1. *****

Georgia – Nina Sublatti – Warrior

Nina SublattiSemi Final One ends with the first of this year’s songs called Warrior. At first you think this is going to be really powerful, then it all drones on to become rather samey and dull. If you thought Ruslana was like Xena Warrior Princess, Nina’s warrior is a whole new form of scary. Don’t watch the video before bed unless you want nightmares. And surely it’s the only song in the whole wide world to feature the word “oximated”. Nina’s a fine performer and there’s a helping hand in the production from Thomas G:son, but it fails to live up to the sum of its parts. 66/1 – 150/1. **

So what do you reckon? Six songs won’t qualify and I’m going to suggest they will be: Armenia, Finland, Hungary, Georgia, Moldova and Greece. Semi Final One is on BBC3 on Tuesday 19th May at 8pm. The UK can’t vote in that semi-final, so just watch for fun! And I’ll be back shortly with a preview of Semi Final Two. A bientôt!

Review – King John, Royal and Derngate and Shakespeare’s Globe at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton, 25th April 2015

King JohnWasn’t it Tony Hancock who said, and I believe it was, “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?” Actually, no, she didn’t. Because one of the off-shoots of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta is this co-production between the Royal and Derngate and Shakespeare’s Globe, of King John; one of Will’s lesser-known histories, relatively infrequently performed; an early play, not considered to be one of his greats. Geeky me, when I was 15 I devoted the summer holidays to reading all of Shakespeare’s plays. I didn’t understand King John much; and it hasn’t featured on my radar since, until this splendid opportunity to combine seeing a Shakespeare play with visiting the extraordinary Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton, built in Norman times in imitation of the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem. It’s an amazing place – and if you’ve not visited it before, and your ticket to see King John only leaves your curiosity piqued (as it surely will), come back and visit it on Wednesday or Saturday afternoons during the summer. It’s full of history and surprises.

Jo Stone-FewingsHowever, not only is it a splendidly atmospheric venue, it’s highly appropriate to this particular play too. King John himself is believed to have visited the church several times, and Shakespeare sets Act Four and the first scene of Act Five in Northampton Castle. Given that the castle fell into ruin and what was left of it was swept aside to build the railway station in the 1860s, bringing the play to the Holy Sepulchre gets us as close as we can to sharing a truly theatrical experience in its original surroundings.

Joseph MarcellKing John is an episodic dash through the highlights (or should that be lowlights) of the eponymous monarch’s life. As an early play, Shakespeare hasn’t got much of a narrative style going on here, it’s more like separate snapshots of the savage sovereign’s reign – his coronation, his deciding between the two Faulconbridge brothers as to who should inherit, the assault on Angers, the manipulation of the French King by the Papal legate to cause war with England, the almost-torture of Arthur, Arthur’s death, and finally King John’s death and succession by Prince Henry. It’s a bit like The Archers but with more blood. Look a bit more closely and you can see traces of much greater things to come. Talk of the clashing of swords and shields presages his more eloquent writing in Othello. Three forcefully meaty female roles look forward to King Lear’s daughters. The character of the Bastard – a complete invention of Shakespeare’s, as it turns out – paves the way for Edmund, also in Lear. King John himself is in some ways a forerunner for Shakespeare’s interpretation of Richard III.

King John and entourageWe knew a few people to whom this production would definitely appeal. So a veritable baker’s dozen of us turned up at the Holy Sep on Saturday night. We were joined by Lady Duncansby and her butler Sir William (recently knighted for services to the vehicle bodywork repair industry), the lovely Belle of Great Billing, Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters, our nieces Secret Agent Code November and Special Agent Code Sierra together with their Mum and Dad, and Professor and Mrs Plum. The good Professor had previously accompanied us to the magnificent, site specific production of The Bacchae three years ago – indeed he gave a talk at the theatre before one of the performances; maybe one day Prof & Mrs P will actually get to see a play inside one of the Northampton theatres. The production of The Bacchae, directed by Laurie Sansom, and of King John, directed by his successor as Artistic Director, James Dacre, make fascinating comparisons, both extracting an extraordinary atmosphere from an unusual location, encouraging an amazing sense of ensemble from the cast, and creating productions that will stand the tests of time as being definitive for that particular play.

Laurence Belcher in rehearsalPrior to its Northampton run, the production had indulged in some previews at the Temple Church in London; I’ve not been there, but it’s another extraordinary setting, I’ll be bound. We saw its second preview in Northampton so it is possible that some things might have changed before its “proper” opening. Something that might benefit from a change – if I might be so bold – is what happens when the doors to the church unlock and you enter the building. Hooded monks sing a requiem for the late Richard I, walking solemnly around the rotunda. It’s a stunning opening image. An usher invites you to stand and listen to the requiem – just the first of many exquisite compositions by Orlando Gough. However, with unreserved seats, the temptation is to head straight for the pews and nab the best viewpoint. As a result you only get that stunning image fleetingly – and although you can still hear the requiem from your seats, it’s not as impressive as actually remaining in the rotunda to hear it in full. I wonder, therefore, if there could be some way of imposing a delay on the physical progress of the audience, just so that they enjoy the requiem a little longer.

Simon Coates in rehearsalGuided by the ushers you locate your seat. The church is dark and mysterious, lit by candles, and whatever fading light remains is dramatically converging through the stained glass windows. The stage area takes the form of an enormous crucifix, with the audience in pews either side of the central vertical strut. King John’s throne is at the top of the crucifix – and there are five entrance and exit points on to the stage which enable a constant flow of characters in all directions. As a theatregoing experience this is all enormously vivid. Sitting in the front row, knights, courtiers, royalty, soldiers all sweep past you, their brightly coloured capes swirling and rustling in front of your eyes. The thump of their footsteps reverberates against your feet. They stop and converse just inches away from your face. Their gloriously performed plainsong is delivered directly to your ears. Their intense stares, the glints from their eyes, their mischievous smiles, invade your personal space. Battle rages terrifyingly all around you. It’s a communal experience. You can’t be this close to the action without actually being part of it. And, whether or not you have any faith, there’s definitely a frisson to be derived from experiencing the juxtaposition of all this medieval death and villainy whilst sitting in a House of God.

Tanya MoodieIt’s a rare theatrical event when absolutely everything comes together with stunning perfection. The gloriously atmospheric building. The haunting music and ominous drum beats. The costumes, both lavish and poverty-stricken. A group of actors who have been so well cast in their roles that you absolutely believe they are their thirteenth century originals. And whilst the play itself is rather turgid at times, with some chewy and hard to understand dialogue, there is such clarity in this production that you’re never at a loss as to what’s going on. Every word is spoken with precision and value, every sentence with insight and every reaction with honest expressiveness, creating two and a half hours of sheer viewing privilege. As I was watching it, I could not stop thinking that the experience was so riveting, so stimulating, and so downright exciting that I was incredibly lucky to be there to witness it.

Alex Waldmann in rehearsalAt its heart is a sensational performance by Jo Stone-Fewings as King John. Whilst we were talking about the play before it started, Lord Liverpool declared that when most people think of King John, the Disney version voiced by Peter Ustinov in Robin Hood comes to mind. It does for him anyway. For me, I think of him more like the character in A A Milne’s Now We Are Six masterpiece King John’s Christmas. But my Lord Liverpool was right. Mr Stone-Fewings looks remarkably like the Disney John, but his performance is no cartoon. Calculating, panicking, conniving; this is a true wretch of a man hiding behind a regal exterior. You instantly got the measure of him during his opening coronation ceremony when he hurriedly assumes the crown whilst no one’s looking. We’d previously seen Mr S-F in the RSC’s Twelfth Night and the Trafalgar’s Richard III, but his performance in this production outshines those completely. A terrific blend of charismatic leader and utter degenerate.

Daniel Rabin in rehearsalBarbara Marten, as his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, has that classic look of Middle Ages wealthy respectability – she could have stepped straight out from a contemporary portrait. Powerful and dominating, more statesmanlike than her son and heir, it’s a superb performance of control and manipulation. Tanya Moodie is extraordinary as Constance, mother of Arthur, who is King John’s nephew and claimant to the throne. I’ve rarely seen such an intense, moving and overwhelmingly strong performance. Her clipped enunciation is a delight; her stage presence extraordinary.

Jo Stone-Fewing in rehearsalOne of the strongest aspects of this production is not only that the actors are so good but that they are so appropriately cast in their roles. There are some spectacularly dynamic scenes with Arthur and Hubert and I cannot imagine anyone more perfect for these characters than Laurence Belcher and Mark Meadows. Mr Belcher’s quiet demeanour, youthful pallor and innocent expression and voice all create an unforgettable image of the vulnerable young pretender, who died aged 16 – although his jumping off the prison wall is another of Shakespeare’s inventions. His final scene, where he falls dramatically to his death, is staged simply but inventively and I know the Belle of Great Billing was devastated to find the poor lad lifeless at her feet. Mr Meadows’ Hubert looks for all the world as though he would carry out his liege’s wishes no matter how dastardly, and you can see the internal angst as he tries his hardest to comply with the king’s villainous instructions but cannot overcome his innate decency. It was one of the best acted scenes I can ever remember.

Giles Terera in rehearsalAnother role that’s perfectly cast is Alex Waldmann as the Bastard. He instantly engages the audience in his soliloquies, talking to us openly and frankly, as though we had been mates for ages. He’s one of us, we’re one of him. We’re on his side as soon as he invites a member of the audience to participate in his speech – in our performance, it was “if his name be…. Justin…. I’ll call him Peter…” He’s one of the few characters who remain faithful to King John throughout the play and although we think of the King as a pretty bad man and therefore the Bastard is carrying out some pretty bad things, we have a sneaking regard for his loyalty and common-touch decency. It’s a fantastic performance, immaculately judged; a fine balance between humour, vengeance and ambition. His down-to-earth manner and slightly wide-boy approach sets him apart from the essential nobility of Ciaran Owens’ performance as Faulconbridge; they may both be of royal blood but only one of them is ever going to get their hands dirty.

Barbara MartenThe whole cast work together like a dream – Aruhan Galieva makes an extraordinary stage debut as the compliant yet self-reliant Blanche, and the eerie Peter of Pomfret; Joseph Marcell, a hard-as-nails papal legate Pandulph whom you wouldn’t trust further than you could swing your incense burner; Simon Coates, a delightfully manipulable King Philip of France, and with great support from Daniel Rabin as the faithful Salisbury and Giles Terera as the bloodthirsty Austria.

Aruhan Galieva in rehearsalIn 48 years of theatregoing I can only think of a handful of Shakespeare productions on a par with this. Judi Dench in the RSC’s 1976 Comedy of Errors. The Oxford Shakespeare Company’s chilling Macbeth. Albert Finney as Hamlet. For clarity of vision, for intense atmosphere, for immaculate performances and for all-round satisfaction, this is about as good as it gets. After it finishes its Northampton run, it plays Salisbury Cathedral for the last week of May then is at the Globe in June. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Simply a triumph.

P.S. I was travelling on the train back from Euston on Monday afternoon, and, as I was preparing to get off at Northampton, I recognised someone also getting their bags together before getting off the train. It was Arthur. Who would have guessed that the young Duke of Brittany would have been on the same commute? I resolved that if we stopped at the same pelican crossing walking into town I would have complimented him on his performance. However, he made a beeline for the chocolate counter of W H Smiths, so an embarrassing moment was avoided.

Review – Oh What A Lovely War! Curve Theatre, Leicester, 18th April 2015

Oh What a Lovely WarThe words “Oh What a Lovely War”, “Theatre Royal Stratford East” and “Joan Littlewood” are inextricably linked, and have had almost legendary status within British 20th century drama ever since the show first appeared in 1963. It was originally a radio play by Charles Chilton, which was then developed by Joan Littlewood in conjunction with the whole of the original Theatre Workshop cast, to create this iconic, epic musical, telling the story of World War One through song and dance. The show was another on my bucket list of Still haven’t seen it after all these years and it’s about time I did. There is a film, that I also haven’t seen, directed by Richard Attenborough, that Joan Littlewood, apparently, hated. I’m not surprised – he ruined A Chorus Line too.

Britain 1914The highly stylised production gets as far away from the typical depiction of war as possible – Joan Littlewood didn’t want it to be horrific in any way. Instead the notion of war and the hard facts of fatalities are juxtaposed with a music hall and commedia dell’arte presentation to create its own, telling, anti-war story. Every barrier is broken down in this production. It starts off with the actors mingling with the audience, chatting about the performance they are about to see. Sadly no one mingled with us, but I overheard one performer explaining that he was wearing a pierrot costume as was traditionally worn in early 20th century revue shows, and as was used in the original Stratford East production. I saw another talking to an audience member and pointing out which one he was in the programme. So you’re starting with a great sense of equality between the cast and the audience, a level playing field where we’re all sharing the same experience, no matter whether we be audience member or performer.

Ian ReddingtonThere is a main MC who addresses the audience throughout the entire show apart from when he takes on a few different characters. He introduces us to the different songs and sketches as though this were some Edwardian end of the pier show – hence the suitability of the pierrot costumes. He encourages us to sing along with the songs if we know them. The majority of the under-lubricated matinee audience weren’t up for that, apart from the man two to my right who bellowed his way solo throughout much of the afternoon. You would have thought self-consciousness would kick in at some point, wouldn’t you? Cast members rush on and off the stage at odd moments and 90% of the material is extremely light-hearted. Act One takes us to the beginning of the war, with actors assuming the roles of nations having agreements and arguments in the lead-up to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. It reminded me of a rather trendy history teacher getting the kids up in front of the class to act out war campaigns. I almost expected to see a blackboard rubber representing the Treaty of Versailles. We then see the early stages of the war, and the expectation it would all be over by Christmas. The act culminates in the famous 1914 Christmas trench scene, with the Germans singing Stille Nacht and Tommy and Fritz playing football in No Man’s Land – simply but very effectively staged.

OWALW ensembleAct Two takes us further into the war, where the innocent pleasure of enjoying light-hearted entertainment is constantly shattered by an electronic newsreel across the back of the stage, recounting the numbers dead or injured on individual days or at particular battlefields. Every so often you take your eyes of the performers just to read the horrendous casualty statistics. They bring the simple lightness of the stagey songs and dances into perspective. The audience questions itself as to how it reacts. How can we fritter away our time whilst they’re dying on the Somme? But there’s nothing we can do to stop it. And, actually, isn’t having fun what life really should be all about? Guilt, resignation, and powerlessness are just some of the emotions that overcome the audience. And, as the MC points out at the end, that this doesn’t only apply to World War One. When will the massacre of innocent people in war end? Will it ever end? Sadly the evidence suggests otherwise. The show is still a really forceful weapon in the argument against war, and Littlewood’s and Theatre Workshop’s left-wing bias stands out (refreshingly, in my opinion).

Richard Glaves and the girlsEver since the BBC dropped The Good Old Days, you don’t get to hear these old songs as often as we used to – in the good old days, in fact. Songs like It’s A Long Way to Tipperary, Pack Up Your Troubles and Keep the Home Fires Burning remain wartime standards; whilst Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy, Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts and I’ll Make a Man of You recollect the best music-hall traditions. A couple – Here Comes a Whizzbang, and Bells of Hell stop you dead in your tracks with the sheer horror of what they convey, and one, I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier, brings a lump to your throat with the soldier’s simple plea for the return of his old life. On a personal note, it was lovely to hear Roses in Picardy again, as it was a favourite of the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle, and I used to enjoy playing it on the piano when I were a lad.

This is warIt’s an excellent cast who work together really well as an ensemble, both as pierrot entertainers and in their individual character sketches. Ian Reddington takes on the role of the MC with a likeable blend of cheek and cheese, plenty of knowing looks to the audience, but also full of portent when it comes to the gloomy prospects for the future. I really enjoyed him in the stupid but very funny sketch about the unintelligible sergeant barking garbled waffle at his troops. Taking the lead female role is Wendi Peters, larger than life and with a belter of a voice. In fact, if anything, her voice was a little too loud in comparison with everyone else. She’s one of these performers who simply doesn’t need amplifying. She brought out all the naughty music hall double entendres in her songs and has a wonderful stage presence. But all the cast are excellent; if you come to see the show, watch out for William Oxborrow struggling with an umbrella as a rifle and Alex Giannini’s hilarious “stage fright” moment.

Wendi Peters and the girlsThe show is still to visit Aylesbury, Birmingham, Truro, Hull and Wimbledon on its tour, and I’d recommend it for its emotionally strong anti-war vibe as well as its unusual and entertaining no fourth wall qualities. You come away with a sense of true gratitude and humility for the lives lost in war. Despite the preponderance of WW1 songs and clichés, its message is as relevant today as ever.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 17th April 2015

Screaming Blue MurderOnce more into the breach at the Underground for another Screaming Blue Murder. Another full, hot house (keep those doors open, and don’t bring a jacket), with Dan Evans compering once again. This week he had the usual front row teachers – their comedy value is on the wane now, I feel; two rows containing a very demure hen party (well, his mother was one of them so I don’t suppose they had much choice),Dan Evans a lady from Duston who thought she was from Dunstable and a chap who worked for a secret department at Weetabix. We had a nice chat with him and his girlfriend during one of the intervals, where we delved deeper into the mysterious activities at the cereal manufacturer and as a result there’s no way I’m revealing what’s going on there. Who would have thought it? Dan of course was on excellent form as usual, and got us all in a relaxed and thoroughly chucklesome mood.

Joey PageOur first act was new to us, Joey Page, a very funny young chap with rather esoteric material, and a voice like Spitting Image’s Mick Jagger (if you can remember that far back). He has a lot of terrific material about still living at home with Mum and Dad – and the difficulties that creates when bringing a girl back. I also liked his nicely made-up facts, especially the one about Prince Philip and his cleaners. As a climax, if that’s the right word, we were treated to a performance of his one act play, “Hands”. Delightful sense of the ridiculous, and a very engaging comic. Most impressive!

Sally Anne HaywardThe second act, whom we have seen three times here before, was Sally-Anne Hayward. She’s very funny in a self-deprecating way and has a great conversational style that really puts you at ease, even though she’ll probably do some toe-curlingly embarrassing stories about sex. She was easily able to bounce off the hens (so to speak) and had some enjoyable observations about all-male and all-female groups going out together. She went down a storm and was absolutely at her best. To be fair, she doesn’t stray much from her previous routines, but what’s not to like?

Anthony KingOur final act, whom we have also seen twice before, was Anthony King, whose act is based on comedy songs on the guitar that reveal (sometimes subtly, sometimes not so) his darker side. He’s the kind of person you’d expect to have buried his neighbours under the patio, and then have a perfectly logical and well-argued reason as to why it was appropriate. His pet centipede never stood a chance. A very assured, confident and clever act, and everyone loved it.

Only one more Screaming Blue this season before the comedians go into the Summer Recess. Sadly we’re unable to go – but you still can!

Review – The Shakespeare Revue, White Cobra Productions, The Playhouse, Northampton, 16th April 2015

Shakespeare RevueA Double First for us last night, which is something neither of us can say of our academic careers. Not only was it our first encounter with local drama company White Cobra Productions, it was also our first visit to the charming little Playhouse theatre in Northampton. Tucked away in a quiet corner of The Mounts (or should that be the recently rebranded Boot and Shoe Quarter), this little gem is full of character and atmosphere. Just like nearly every other building in Northampton that has something of a history, it was originally built as a shoe factory in the late 19th century. Since then it’s undergone a number of changes including – allegedly – at one time being a coffin warehouse. Frankly, it’s not the kind of place I’d like to be locked in alone at night.

Rod ArkleWhite Cobra Productions have been going for three years now and The Shakespeare Revue is (I believe) their fourth production. The show is a vivacious assembly of over thirty sketches and songs, originally put together by the RSC for the annual celebrations to mark Shakespeare’s birthday in 1993. Just think, he would have been 429 years old. Not many people get to mark that particular birthday, but being the good egg he was, we just love him, don’t we, us theatregoers, can’t get enough of him. “What a wonderful old chap Shakespeare was, bald but sexy” as Peter Cook once intoned. The sketches and songs themselves date as far back as 1905, and flowed from such gifted pens as those that belonged to Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Victoria Wood, J B Priestley, and many many others.

Fraser HainesAs you might expect from such a varied collection of writers, some sketches and songs hit the funnybone with a bit more pinpoint accuracy than others, but even if a few of them don’t quite do it for you, another will be along in a minute. I had a number of favourites: there’s a quirky version of the Teddy Bear’s Picnic sung by the Capulets; another song, In Shakespeare’s Day, refers to the challenges in staging some of these shows with modern day performers wondering how on earth they managed it in the 1500s. There’s a pomposity-pricking sketch about the ways you might interpret the word “Time”; and a wonderful sequence when a noble wanderer returns to ask “And How is Hamlet” only to find the play’s entire cast have snuffed it.

Richard JordanThere were two sketches that I appreciated the most. Richard Jordan took the Julie Walters’ role in Victoria Wood’s sketch Giving Notes, where he is the director taking his cast to task for not giving us their funniest of Hamlets. I remember that sketch so clearly, having re-watched the series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV dozens of times in the 1980s. A masterstroke to have it performed by a man – Mr Jordan treading a fine line between luvvie and tyrant – which gave it its own unique identity. The other really inventive sketch was the superbly written Othello in Earnest, where Othello is grilled by Lady Brabantio as to his suitability for marrying Desdemona – just as Wilde’s Lady Bracknell grills Jack overKate Billingham her dear Gwendolen. This gives rise to some fabulous cross-over puns, for example “to lose both sounds like hairlessness” and “the lion is immaterial”. Kate Billingham was a marvellously haughty Lady B and Fraser Haines a quite modest and genteel Moor of Venice – as superbly unlike your average Othello as is possible to imagine.

Just as each sketch or song has its own charm, each of the six performers brings their own style and character to the show too. They all worked together very well as an ensemble – not getting in each other’s way on such a small stage is no mean feat, particularly with the incorporation of choreography! The cast have a nice sense of the ridiculous, Kimberley Vaughanperhaps nowhere seen better than in The English Lesson where Kate Billingham and Kimberley Vaughan take on the roles of Henry V’s intended bride Katharine and her partner in Franglais, Alice. Like all the best pantos, we had a song sheet (which was, literally, a sheet) and a competition to see which section of the auditorium could sing the loudest – an interesting concept in a theatre that seats 84 max. No finer sound than a happy audience knowingly (or unknowingly) singing along to a list of double entendres.

Bernie WoodBut these are just a few highlights of a very entertaining and upbeat show performed by a talented and likeable cast. It’s only on for a brief run at the Playhouse, but there is an additional performance scheduled for July 4th in Pitsford. Catch it if you can!