2010 Eurovision songs I like so far, Part Two.

If I may refer you back to my previous post here I am happy to say that I am still fond of all those songs, especially Yes Man, Synk eller svøm, and Give it to me.

Plenty of new songs have come our way since then, some that will bedeck the stage in Oslo with their jewels, some that will only exist in a few months’ time on some anoraks’ hard disks. I suppose I should throw my hat into the ring and say that I do like the song that has been chosen for Iceland, Hera Björk’s Je ne sais quoi; I didn’t at first, very much. Too reminiscent of Euroband’s iconic “This is my life”. And indeed the music is written by the same person, so I guess he is entitled to rip himself off. Anyway, after a few high volume hearings of it cruising down the motorway, it has become firmly wedged in my brain.

To Armenia, where they have chosen “Apricot Stone” by Eva Rivas to be their representative. It’s actually a rather charming piece, with a softly evocative start, building to a nice ethnic feel and a groovy chorus. I like it. Apricots are apparently a symbol of Armenia. You learn something every day.

In Norway I’m not going to elevate their entry “My Heart is Yours” to the level of “songs I like” yet – because I am still ambivalent about it. I think I will like it in due course, but I’m not there yet. So I’m going to offer “Jealous cause I love you” by Venke Knutson as an amusing character piece; unfortunately she didn’t perform it too well when it mattered and it is a rather slight song, but it’s entertaining and you can sing it to yourself whilst doing housework. Or rather Mrs Chrisparkle could, as my back is probably too painful for me to do such a thing.

There are two songs I like in Estonia, one is Siren, which snuck in to the final luckily as a previously selected finalist was disqualified. I find it very haunting and once you hear it, very hard to get out of your head. I doubt it will win in Estonia.

I also like Maagiline Päev by Violina and Rolf Junior. I suspect in a month or so’s time if any of these selections will have got demoted from Songs I Like to Songs I’ve Had Enough Of Now, Thank You, this may be the most likely.

In Finland my choices were pretty much kicked aside early in the day. An unfortunate performance from Bääbs meant that You Don’t Know Tomorrow got a deserved flea in its ear.

I also liked America I think I love you, by the Boys of the Band, but I’m sure parts of Europe wouldn’t have approved of such an overtly political statement.

In Denmark, I really like Breathing by Bryan Rice. It came second to the eventual winner, which everyone except me is raving about.

That’ll do for now. I like some of the Melodifestivalen songs but, as you may know, SVT guard their tv output with their lives, so I can’t upload the videos.

Keep enjoying the National Finals season!

Review – End of the Rainbow, Royal and Derngate Northampton, 18th February

End of the RainbowJanuary 1969. Judy Garland is playing her last concerts at the Talk of the Town in London and has six months to live. She doesn’t know that – but we do; and that’s just one of the aspects to this play that tugs at your emotions so hard that your heartstrings twang.

I came to this play with no preconceived notions other than that it had received rave reviews. I knew very little about Judy Garland. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her sing (apart from the ubiquitous “Over the Rainbow”). I’ve only seen Wizard of Oz once and that was a couple of years ago. Tracie Bennett My mother used to like to sing “Meet Me in St Louis, Louis” but she didn’t have a Hollywood voice. However I would now be quite intrigued to hear her back-catalogue. (Judy Garland’s that is, not my mother’s.) I have no idea if Tracie Bennett does a good impersonation of Judy Garland – but I do know that she looks like she would be Liza Minelli’s mother, and she performs the old songs emotionally, sizzlingly, or wastedly, depending on the context in the play.

It’s written by Peter Quilter who wrote the marvellous “Glorious!” which we saw a few years ago with Maureen Lipman as the charming but tuneless Florence Foster Jenkins. There are many similarities between the two plays – the central character is female, charismatic and believes in her music; her entourage includes a gay friend and a suitor. They’re both very funny; they both create sadness.

But End of the Rainbow is a very special production. Tracie Bennett – spiky as Velma in Hairspray – is simply astonishing. Her performance means it is very difficult to take your eyes off her. From her opening distress at the smallness of the hotel suite (which to my eyes appears to be a totally magnificent suite), through her hopeful rehearsals of the concerts, to their subsequent failure, you can’t fail to be mesmerised by her reactions to the world about her, one that you feel is closing in. No wonder she thinks the suite is small. And when she takes to the stage at the Talk of the Town, the back wall of the suite flies up and reveals a live band recreating the concert sounds. The merging of the two scenes makes the whole thing feel like a fantasy. But just maybe, briefly, the world opening up like this gives Judy just a little bit more breathing space and the ability to come alive. The physical expansion of the set reflects the prospect of an emotional expansion within her, albeit temporarily.

Hilton McRae I should add that it’s by no means a one-woman show and that the supporting cast were all excellent, especially Hilton McRae as her pianist. Two particularly memorable scenes with him were when Judy allowed him to do her make-up, and the final scene with him, when he was begging her not to marry Micky Deans but instead to live with him: safe, relaxed, quiet, unthreatening. Very moving.

One thing did go wrong – Judy throws a fruit bowl off stage in anger at her fiancé which apparently smashes against something and causes some damage. Well the performance we saw revealed the fruit bowl to be made of rubber as an inaccurate throw meant it didn’t quite get off stage and it bounced a bit, so that the sound effect of smashing china (which wounded pretty limp anyway) was embarrassing. Surprising that in otherwise such a technically stunning production they didn’t nail this piece of business better.

Still, this is to nit-pick. I sincerely hope this splendid production does not end its life here – it thoroughly deserves a West End transfer.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton 11th February

Another Comedy night last Thursday, please see an earlier blog entry for general details. Absolutely packed they were, they had to bring in extra chairs and the volunteer ushers worked their socks off to make sure everyone had a seat. Well done to them!

Dan Evans was the compere again, new jokes, they didn’t always work but that didn’t matter as he is excellent at being self-deprecating, which made it funnier.

Karen BayleyFirst act was Karen Bayley, we thought she had a great set, full of funny content, maybe more geared toward making women laugh rather than men. I saw quite a few younger guys looking quite stoney-faced through her set, but I’m old enough to realise that if you try to have a good time, generally you do! A nice segment about what happened when she went to a swingers’ party, threw her car keys in the middle, but was the only one who did… My only criticism would be that she could have worked the crowd just a bit more. But she had lots of good content so it didn’t matter too much.

Ron VaudrySecond was Canadian Ron Vaudry, very quick witted, fast to react to the crowd, the setting, the lights, his total “performance environment”. Nice observations about life in England from a Canadian’s point of view. Right on the centre of the front row was a senior local police officer (a D C no less) with his son – this had been winkled out of him during Dan Evans’ introductory banter – and it was enjoyable to watch Ron Vaudry’s slight discomfort at telling jokes involving drug taking and drink driving!

Roger MonkhouseLast was Roger Monkhouse, who had an unusual style with a slightly young fogey persona, occasionally stuttering (deliberately I’m sure) with his “I can’t quite understand the world today” observations. He admitted to being 45 and that’s why he’s now becoming a grumpy old man. Hmmm. I’ve got a few years on him but I’m not grumpy. Actually he wasn’t grumpy – more wistful in a bemused sort of way. Anyway again very good content, possibly could have done with more interaction with the audience, but all three acts went down very well and a bunch of very happy people emerged from the theatre at 10.55 last night. Brilliant value! No more comedy for a few weeks but we are seeing End of the Rainbow later this week to which I am really looking forward.

Review – Ravel’s Bolero and other orchestral works, RPO, Derngate Northampton, 7th February 2010

BoleroLast Sunday the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra had another of their concerts at the Derngate. You could have called the programme “Classic’s Greatest Hits” as every piece was a popular favourite. Again a virtually full house enjoyed an invigorating night of super sounds.

They opened with Night on Bare Mountain, performed with verve and vigour, and showed that the violinists really do need strong arm muscles. That was followed by Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which seared as it ought and held the audience’s attention firmly – not a cough, sweet wrapper or rustling to be heard at all in the quiet bits. Well done the crowd.

John Rigby The conductor was John Rigby. An amiable man, who had a microphone so he could chat to the audience a couple of times. In his introduction he reminded us of Andre Previn and Eric Morecambe’s performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto, as that was to feature in the evening’s schedule. He promised us that Sarah Beth Briggs would indeed play all the right notes and in the right order.

So it came to the time when Sarah Beth Briggs would take to the piano for the Grieg, which would close the first half. I promised Mrs Chrisparkle that I would do my best from singing the “Song of Norway” during the performance, although it was a struggle and I had to let it our during the interval.

Anyway. Ms Briggs is seated and looking expectantly at Mr Rigby. Mr Rigby turns to the orchestra and lifts the baton. The famous accelerating drum roll at the beginning of the concerto starts up. The orchestra all perfectly hit that A with a triumphant oomph. But where was Ms Briggs? It was almost as though she had forgotten that she had to play too! Her opening chord felt like a complete age after the orchestra’s. In reality it was probably less than a second but ithe gap sounded agonising. And not only that, the next time she and the orchestra had to play that big chord together, she was late again. My head was buried in my hands at this time. However – I have to say, the rest of the performance was fantastic and no further criticism is needed or deserved. It was totally stirring. Mrs Chrisparkle was well impressed.

After my second Sauvignon Blanc, it was time for the second half. The Sabre Dance started us off – extremely well; then it was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol (aka Torville and Dean’s Paso Doble) and Ravel’s Bolero (aka Torville and Dean’s Ravel’s Bolero). Both were pretty damn exquisite. The Capriccio Espagnol really got in to the Spanish mood and the relentless growth from zero to hero of the Bolero was controlled, then motivated and finally explosive. Fab!

By the way, I was going to add a nice photograph of Sarah Beth Briggs to this blog but no matter what I did with the photo I couldn’t get her to sit upright. She would always be 90 degrees to the left, or 90 degrees to the right, no matter how many times I edited and saved the file on my pc, on wordpress, wherever. So I gave up.

My father always used to call Rimsky-Korsakov “Rip Your Corsets Off”. Did anyone else’s?

Review – Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Milton Keynes Theatre

Look, I promise you – Swan Lake when I go to see something I don’t enjoy, I really will tell you. There’s nothing duller than someone going on about how great something is. It makes you think they haven’t honed their critical faculties. Honestly, though, mine are pretty honed. I do, however, do my best to see performances that I think I will like. Not much point going to stuff you know you won’t like. I’m not a professional critic after all.

So we come to Thursday night’s performance of Swan Lake by New Adventures, out of Adventures in Motion Pictures. Matthew Bourne’s modern take on an old masterpiece, thereby creating a fresh new masterpiece for the last and this century.

Fridge MagnetLet me take you back, if I may, 15 years to the Wycombe Swan Theatre and the first time we saw this production. Look, here’s a picture of our old Fridge Magnet! A Saturday matinee, with the chief roles of The Prince and The Swan danced by Scott Ambler and Will Kemp respectively. They remain my favourite performers in the roles; their dancing was fantastic (take that as read) but Will Kemp as the Stranger in the Second Act was precision to perfection. Scott Ambler’s expressions of all the emotions Bourne puts the Prince through are memorable to this day.

In the intervening years I estimate we’ve seen the show another 8 or so times. Basically, whenever it’s on – we go to see it. So going back to see it now is like seeing a lovable old friend, checking that it’s still in rude health and still as full of gusto as ever. Delighted to report that it is.

Sam Archer Here we now have the 2010 Fifteenth Anniversary Tour, with Sam Archer as the Prince and Richard Winsor as the Swan. The dancing remains fantastic; although for me Sam Archer’s expressions are not quite heartfelt enough to be completely convincing. It’s a small cavil. On the other hand, Richard Winsor’s Swan very nearly beat Will Kemp in the favourite stakes in that I (we both in fact) really felt completely sorry for the Swan at the end, whereas normally you feel more sorry for the Prince. Richard Winsor Sorry is not strong enough actually – you feel devastated for the Swan. We measure how much we enjoy the performance of the Swan/Stranger by the precision with which he ends up on the Down Stage Right table in the ballroom scene (if you’ve seen the show, you’ll know which bit we mean). Will Kemp still keeps the honour of being tops in that department.

But it remains an absolutely wonderful production. Funny, sad, inventive, insightful. So many memorable moments – the Royal Box scene where the uncouth girlfriend shows herself up is as funny as I’ve ever seen it. The programme notes reveal that Matthew Bourne has changed a few small bits, notably trying to tone down the humour at certain points. Well not in this scene he hasn’t.

Scott AmblerThe disco at the seedy bar is possibly slightly less funny but the machinations of what’s going on appear a bit clearer now. And in the ballroom scene, the guys who have had their girlfriends semi-seduced by the Stranger now appear to get together to dance a “Who the bloody hell does he think he is” type of dance, which I hadn’t noticed before. The Queen does an excellent “Don’t Touch Me – unless you’re one of those nice boys I fancy” routine and dances tremendously athletically. Wonderful too to see Scott Ambler now cast as the Private Secretary, deviously manipulating half the characters, taking sadistic pleasure in ruining the Prince, dancing with effortless ease.

The swans are as stunning as ever; I know that to some eyes the all-male swans meant homoeroticism, and I’m not denying it’s there, but for me having the swans as male mainly increases their menace, their power and strength, their capacity for harm. The way they emerge nightmare-like in the final scene still sends a shiver of fear down your spine. When the group of swans turn on and attack “our” swan at the end you feel it is because he has transgressed some code of species, and “gone off” with a human. It’s an inventive and effective way of showing the viciousness of prejudice.

You’ll gather I still like the show. So did the capacity crowd (if it was a football match) at the Milton Keynes theatre. This is one of those productions that it should be compulsory to see. It will change your life to some extent.

Review – Twelfth Night, RSC at the Duke of York’s London

Twelfth NightWe’d seen Twelfth Night a couple of years ago in the gardens of Wadham College Oxford, performed by the Oxford Shakespeare Company, who we try to see each year. They had an outrageous Malvolio. Very funny, very camp, and when he thought Olivia was in love with him he basically came on cross-gartered and wearing precious little else – a thong maybe.

Richard Wilson I wasn’t expecting Richard Wilson’s Malvolio to wear just a thong, and I was right. His Malvolio’s cross-garters are the original yellow tights with garters criss-crossed over them. Very eye catching and unattractive. Along with the rest of his interpretation of the role, it was spot on. This Malvolio was pompous, not because he was sneery, but because he took his role as the head of Olivia’s household seriously. He is a serious, sombre, puritan person. After he has been tricked, he is a completely broken man. This Malvolio is more sinned against than sinning, and you come away from the production sorry for him and realising that the jolly jape against him was really rather cruel.

Alexandra GilbreathI particularly enjoyed Olivia’s (Alexandra Gilbreath) transformation from grieving sister to girlish glee as she fancies Cesario (Viola dressed as a boy). When she sees both Viola and Sebastian together, and she’s happy to fancy Sebastian instead, you realise that her ability to transfer her love from one person says something about how deep her love is; or isn’t. Jo Stone-Fewings Jo Stone-Fewings’ Orsino, however, is perfectly happy to love Viola, even though he’s always thought of her as Cesario. Where he must have loved the personality, Olivia had loved the body. If Orsino and Olivia had got it together they probably would have disappointed each other.

Richard McCabe Great production; inventive staging; programme notes affirm that Illyia is modern day Albania, and the set, costumes and scenes are full of Turkish and Central Asian motifs. Miltos Yerolemou as Feste actually makes you laugh – very hard for a Shakespearean clown. Personally I find the character of Sir Toby Belch an irritant; if I’d wanted Shakespearean puns and drunkenness I could have stayed as home. James FleetAs it is, Richard McCabe made him very watchable; and James Fleet’s Aguecheek was decently ineffectually vain whilst remaining credible. An appreciative and well-behaved audience, they kept their whooping for the curtain call. What is it with whooping in the audience nowadays? If it’s THAT good, you can shout the occasional Bravo. It isn’t bear-baiting, it’s The Theatre.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground, Northampton, Jan 28th 2010

We just love going to these comedy evenings at the Derngate. It’s incredible value for money. £12 on the door; £11 in advance; £10 if (like me) you’re an “Enjoy” member. You get a compere, three comedy acts, and two intervals means you get to have a nice drink with it too. Ah the simple pleasures of life.

Dan EvansLast Thursday, we had Dan Evans as the compere. He normally is. His delivery is fast and engaging, he interacts smartly and inventively with the audience and he is definitely Someone To Look Forward To. He does however ALWAYS do the same joke about having a wakeup call at the hotel. Hilarious first time; remembered it with affection the second time; several times on now I just let the other people who haven’t heard it before laugh.

Ava VidalFirst act was Ava Vidal; she has a very clever deadpan delivery which makes the content of her routine stand out. It’s very well thought out, full of funny observations and with a lot of self-deprecation. Not ROFL belly laugh, but extremely wry. Typical material: she is confronted by her 15 year old daughter determined to go out late at night to get drunk in a park. She says her daughter ought to act more responsibly. “Oh yeah I guess you were always responsible when you were 15 Mum”. “Of course I was” she replies, “I stayed at home, looking after you and your brother.”

Chris Martin Second was Chris Martin; a young man who I read is expected to Do Great Things In The Future. Less content than Ava Vidal, but with a more traditional standup delivery. It may be a boy/girl thing but I preferred him to Ava, and Mrs Chrisparkle preferred Ava to him.

Martin Davis Last act was Martin Davis. Very little content to his routine, just bouncing off the audience, which he did tremendously well. Highest rating on the giggleometer of the night – although the final glass of wine always helps an act.

Overall a very enjoyable evening but not a great one. We’ve seen better comedy nights, we’ve seen worse. Maybe we weren’t quite sufficiently warmed up at the beginning? Not sure. Anyway there’s another one in a couple of weeks time. I shall compare. But I won’t compere. That would be asking too much.