Sunday, 27 May 2012

There's a time to come..and a time to leave

Today I decided to begin my life. I decided to step away from what I thought was my place of sanctuary and move on. It turns out it hasn't been my sanctuary for quite a while. As Marta says in Company: "There's a time to come to New York, and there's a time to leave". Well I've decided its time to leave MTSoc.
When I started university I wanted to have a completely fresh start- shed the years of bullying and loneliness and become a new person. I found the Musical Theatre Society and knew I was home. These were people like me- they weren't like everyone else at Imperial and needed an outlet.  I was apprehensive that would be divas and premadonnas but they weren't. In those days we didn't appreciate divas which was refreshing. I was amazed to be cast in the lead and t seemed that people really did want me around. The love I felt was all encompassing, especially from Seb, Alex and Dale - my new family and director from the show.
For the next couple of years, no matter how shit my course got I knew that I could leave the labs and lectures and go and see my friends at rehearsal. We shared the same interests, we bitched about the same things and, more importantly, we cared about each other. I finally felt accepted.
Come my final year of Uni, I was Vice Chair, in demand as a costume designer, got the part I wanted and was doing a show I love. Those people got me through a really tough year- I had been diagnosed with depression and MTSoc gave me escapism from my own mind. that year we did Hair and enjoyed a blissful summer of love. I was leaving university with great memories and the hope that I would be welcomed back after uni. 
I came back to costume another show after being requested to do it. Maybe there was still a place for me. I felt that society was in good hands that would continue the friendly and warm welcome I had received as a fresher.
This year I decided to be in the show which was still a nice experience but I didn't feel the same friendly atmosphere I had worked hard to build up. Today I made up my mind- I need to move on. i feel like maybe I'm a hindrance and people don't appreciate me around. I know I can be grumpy and moody at times, I never intend to be that way but strangely being a recovering depressive can make you that way sometimes. And yes, maybe I take things the wrong way. I've always found it difficult ot make friends and years of bullying at school has left me constantly seeking acceptance- something  I used to have at MTSoc. Now I'm beginning to feel like the odd one out. I always assumed I had a couple of years before I was too old for the society. Perhaps I've grown up faster than I thought or was at the end of an MTSoc era- a left over.
So I've decided. I'm moving on. I can't kid myself I'm a student any more. I'm going to have to go through the whole process of making friends again and I'm scared. I'd always planned to move back to London to be closer to my friends. The question is will I have any friends left when I get there?

Friday, 30 March 2012

Who Celebrates Their 35th Birthday?

I finally got to see some new writing this week in the form of Zach Braff's "All New People". It was a truthful, if stylised, portrayal of people on the edge but not wanting to admit it. Everyone has a secret that has led them to become the fucked up person they appear to be and by the end of the hundred minutes they come to realise that maybe there are people more fucked up than themselves.
At the end of the evening I walked out of the theatre with some disconcerting feelings that I doubt the rest of my group were feeling. I had entered two hours earlier anticipating a play were everyone is sad for extremely over the top reasons, resolved them and felt better. Instead I came out realising how close to home some of the situations and feelings were to me.
Charlie Bloom enduring his 35th birthday

Braff's character Charlie has come to this deserted beach house to hang himself; not because he has slept with his brother's girlfriend or some other crazy reason. His reason for ending his life stems from being stuck in a rut and feeling that deep down he is lonely despite having many friends and acquaintances. Now, obviously I'm not planning on killing myself but I am at a point in my life where I'm stuck in a rut and distanced from the people I love most- my friends This is where theatre is at its best, when something that could have been pure entertainment unexpectadly reaches you on a complete other level. Whereas, to me, musicals focus on escapism plays can tackle the feelings you've tried to hide and possibly help you conquer them. I'm not the only person that has felt like this in real life or in fiction.

As Charlie revealed that this was his thirty fifth birthday I was taken back to the screening of Company I had seen a few weeks previously. Here we have two men both approaching middle age with little to show for it with noone to love or to love them back. Each is surrounded by people yet feels no attachment to them.

What I found fascinating was the differrent ways in which the central characters' pathways differed. Bobby in Company begins the play wishing to be alone but thinking the shallow affections he feels for his friends is enough. It takes those friends to realise that he needs something more in his life. I've seen a few versions of the show each with a different way of portraying Bobby's psyche in the final scene. Is he content with living alone? Is he actually planning to kill himself? Or has he found someone?I guess this is left deliberately ambiguous as to leave the audience to make up their own minds. Having first heard the show in my teens, my views and understanding have already begun to change and I feel will continue to change as I face new challenges and embrace new things.
What would we do without you?

For Charlie, he has already reached rock bottom but, as I often feel when I'm low, he wants to be alone, to sit out this depression without anyone annoying him. But (as I need to learn) it takes these three strangers taking an interest in his well being to make him open up and explore his suicidal thoughts. They aren't there to tell him everything will be alright as Bobby's friends do. but share their own anxieties instead. Maybe this is why Charlie chooses not to kill himself whereas Bobby feels more alone than ever.
But alone is alone...

Perhaps the passage of thirty or forty years, and changes in society, have altered the way we want our lives to be and how and who we feel able to open up to. In the seventies, one couldn't simply tell their friends how they felt but had to keep up appearances; just as Bobby does at his surprise party. He is their crazy friend- reliable but never exciting, stable but never happy. Charlie is allowed to feel down- these strangers even joke about his suicide attempt. As they continue to argue and bicker , he is able to see himself in the others resulting in an ultimately therapeutic evening.
Charlie is finally able to open up (to the delightful Eve Myles)

They say that society has changes for the worse but I disagree. We have saved Charlie from suicide and are more able to embrace our negative attributes which Bobby's friends refuse to do.

"I stood it"

Thursday, 8 September 2011

And There Was Distant Music (Coming From a Small Stage in Clapham)

Another wet and windy afternoon in London Town, another solo theatre adventure. Following a night spent with some very drunk friends, and thanks to my trusty smartphone, I decided to leave them in their hungover stupors and get on a bus to the Landor Theatre in Clapham to see their revival of Ragtime. Standing outside under an umbrella I looked up towards the room above the pub dubious as to how the traditionally grandiose epic was going to fit into such a tiny space.

Ticket bought, tummy in nervous state of "I really hope they don't screw this up and ruin all my preconceptions that this will be amazing", I climbed the narrow staircase, pass through a cramped corridor and entered a space not that much larger than my living room. Being the (very short) eager beaver I plumped for a front row seat and awaited preconceived amazement.

The novel of Ragtime by EL Doctorow is a classic in America yet hasn't made the transition to many British readers (although I love the book). This is undoubtedly due to the story being firmly set in 1900 USA, examining the American Dream whilst intertwining real figures from American history into fiction. The same inability to transition to the UK is also true of the musical; it has been in the West End before but not to much success. I felt that the episodic nature of the book did not transfer to the stage too well, donating large periods of time to one of the three story threads leaving the audience wanting to get back to a different part of the story. This was especially obvious at the beginning of the second act where bereaved widower Coalhouse vows revenge then disappears for half of the act, leaving the other story lines to provide some of the weakest songs in the show. I just wanted to know what happened to Coalhouse! Why build tension up and then allow it to subside whilst we watch a pointless number about baseball?

Just let him get on with the grieving!

All the performances were very strong even under the close scrutiny of an audience less than an arms length away. Alexander Evans showed a vulnerable side to the thankless roll of Father; if any character could be thought of as the villain it is he, yet Evans managed to make me empathise with his struggle to keep up with the changing times. Louisa Lydell as Mother held the whole story together tremendously, impressing with a vocally triumphant "Back To Before".  John Barr played Tateh with real love and warmth; by the end I wanted him to be my dad, his accent was spot on and he had real chemistry with his onstage daughter. It is hard to live up to a role originated by a four time Tony Award winner but Rosalind James made the part of Sarah her own, infusing it with soulful vocals and powerful acting. For me, the real standout was Kurt Kansley as Coalhouse Walker Jr, he inhabited every trait and characteristic of the part and wasn't afraid to show his emotions. "Make Them Hear You" was one of those moments you live for in theatre where one person takes the entire audience's breath away. the band, although small, could give any larger show a run for its money, I particularly enjoyed musical director George Dyer "head conducting"- a must have skill for an MD/Conductor/piano player.

Tateh tells Emma Goldman how it is
As a girl who occasionally dabbles in the technical side of theatre, I liked the simplicity of the set combined with the effective use of silhouettes to echo large set pieces the theatre did not have room for. The homemade quality made you think they could have been made by Tateh himself. There was one moment at the top of act two that made my heart sink though. If you are going to use newspapers in a show, please make them at least look period; with the audience so close you really can't just use the Metro. Maybe the props person spent all their time on the highly symbolic model car but I don't think 1900s newspapers had TV listings.

Aside from the oversight on some props, the entire production was amazing, I had goosebumps from the outset with the rousing title number. It literally took ten minutes for me to stop shaking after "Till We Reach That Day"
- a mournful gospel song with a heartbreaking solo by Emma Beckford. Director Robert McWhir has managed the impossible in translating Ragtime to a small fringe theatre, amplifying the emotions without losing pacing in what can be a clunky story.

PS. The guy playing Henry Ford is hot!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Finding Wonderland

So the theatre season has been over for a few months now, Book of Mormon has swept the awards boards and the losing shows have posted their closing notices. But this post isn't about any of those shows; it's about a show that never really had a chance. Wonderland (A New Alice, A New Musical) opened with some somewhat dubious publicity from the New York critics and closed pretty soon after. I recently watched a filming of the musical and feel that I can now have some sort of opinion on this year's biggest flop. Frank Wildhorn has never had a "comfortable" relationship with theatre critics, being synonymous with writing long, ballad-heavy period pieces such as Jekyll and Hyde, Wonderland appeared to be something different; a lighter, pastiche-ridden fluffy take on Alice in Wonderland. Please note, I really don't like the use of sub titles in musicals, do we really need the "A New Alice, A New Musical"? Just as do we really need "A New Mel Brooks Musical" alongside everything Mel Brooks has ever hummed into a tape recorder?

Alice and Friends. That would be a great title for a sitcom.

The show wasn't as bad as many would be led to believe- the costumes were awesome, the songs were catchy and, on the whole, the actors did their best with some rather cheesy dialogue. But I've never seen a show where is faults are so obvious and easy to rectify. The main issue is the book, in particular the structure of the book. I know that a) the show has already closed, b) I'm not a theatre script doctor (unfortunately) and c) Frank Wildhorn doesn't really listen to anyone but himself but I'm going to have a little dissection of the play and examine how it could easily be improved. This also requires the following warning-  *SPOILER ALERT*.

My first issue was with the placement of the Mad Hatter's big showstopper "I Will Prevail", having heard the song on AccuBroadway I assumed it was the big eleven o'clock number yet it appeared at the beginning of act two. The phrase eleven o'clock number refers to when shows used to start later with the penultimate song occuring at eleven clock; a big showy number to keep the audience awake! Famous examples include "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" from Guys and Dolls and (more recently) "No Good Deed" from Wicked. So step one in reorganising Wonderland is to move "I Will Prevail" to the eleven o' clock position which leaves an act two opening slot. My second issue was the use of "Through the Looking Glass" as the ending to act one; it was a good song but far too poppy and happy to conclude the act. There just wasn't enough tension or build up for an ending number, I'd instead move it to the beginning of act two. The act two opening is intended to bring the audience back into the show with something fun and buzzy to bring them back up to speed, which I think "Through the Looking Glass" does very well.  

What does this do to the entire storyline of act two? I hear you ask (well only if you know the show). The capture of Alice's four companions has always appeared to me as being too early in the plot leaving a long time for Alice to journey around the land beyond the mirror by herself with very little reason for it. I understand that many of Alice's songs in the second act are by herself or with characters she encounters, it would be easy to split herself and her companions' endeavour; the four friends off to save the brainless soldiers and Alice to find her daughter. This would also solve our act one finale dilemma- have Chloe being taken by the Mad Hatter as the ending to act one with her mother and she singing a duet about being apart, or even giving the Mad Hatter another song (please do, she's great!). Now the story is starting to sound a lot like The Wizard of Oz which is probably a good thing as it is 'one of the best musicals ever' and therefore must have done something right. Even the use of the same actors playing different characters in and out of Alice's dreamworld echoes that great film, I feel that this concept could have been used to greater effect, placing her other friends El Gato and Caterpillar within her real world. I also liked the concept of the Mad Hatter as Alice's alter ego, created because she didn't come to Wonderland as a child but it needed to be more defined or made more of a big deal to really drive the idea home. 

See Chloe, I told them what would happen if they didn't give me an Act One finale of my own...
As I've previously said a bad book doesn't always lead to an unpopular musical, there are plenty of shows lacking in the storyline department that have done really well. For Wonderland I don't believe it was the bad structure that really paved the way to failure but the steely determination of the top critics to let it fail. As I mentioned above, Frank Wildhorn has never really been liked by the critics with very few of shows his shows doing well on Broadway, he's not the only one. A very nicely documented account of a similiar occurance is the launch of "Taboo" on Broadway shown on "Showbusiness: The Road To Broadway". One scene I distinctively remember is of the leading New York critics having a good old giggle about a Boy George musical coming to Broadway and thinking the idea is absolutely hilarious.  Another case closer to home was the critics' opinions on "Imagine This", the musical based in the Warsaw Ghetton. Having done my own article on the show, my Dad sent me a rather more derigatory and unresearched piece mocking the use of a serious storyline in a musical. From the Guardian no less!

This is nothing new though, my History of Twentieth Century Technology characterised me as the person who always blames the media for the downfall of anything new. The electric car is a great example, the media didn't like it so wrote articles about how unreliable and costly it was, next thing you know the New York electric taxi company has gone bust and the plans to roll out electric recharging stations in America have been stopped. Oops

Monday, 4 April 2011

Not Perfect..

Oh yes, I have just used a title with multiple meanings, how awesome.

So I'm not perfect, I haven't updated the blog in an incredibly long time, this is down to me being rubbish and can now also be blamed on having a job (for the rest of this month anyway). Jobs= moneys= being able to see my friend in London - yay! But it also means having to go to work everyday, and what I really miss in going to work is being able to discuss the arts as no one there seems to care. Which is where the blog comes back into play (and yes I know that entire paragraph was very badly written but tough.)

The subject of this blog actually derives from an event at work when I was on put on hold by a sustainable bag company. Now most hold music sucks- cliched classical music or some dodgy Spanish guitar- but this most certainly did not for it was Canvas Bags by Tim Minchin. My workmates had no idea why I started bouncing up and down excitedly to the hold music, or why I exclaimed to a bemused stranger on the other end of the phone that his hold music was AMAZING!

I never used to be one for comedy songs as they're usually a bit shit or "in-jokey" but the Australians seem to have developed a knack for it. What I like about Minchin's work is that he knows that most comedy songs are a bit shit and makes no apologies for this. He also has a great range to his work, whereas many comedians can only write one type of song his range from all-out offensive anthems to meaningful ballads. So this is what I'll show you. But first I feel I have to show you what all the fuss on the phone was about:

Its catchy, funny and even makes an environmentally friendly statement! Plus it would brighten up anyone's work day when the alternative highlight is whether they have chocolate sponge for lunch or not. Minchin hits satire on the head without making it obvious and who else could have Bono glasses and an accordion in the same video?

Next up, something a bit more offensive:

Happy Little Africuns!! Yay! Although I now feel that I live in a third world country as I don't own a PlayStation either. As a musician I appreciate that the song quality is never compromised and as a comedy fan I'm also glad that its funny- best of both worlds.

Although he's known for his blasphemous little ditties, much like my musical theatre preferences, I actually prefer when Tim Minchin is being a little more serious. Which brings us to the title of this blog: Not Perfect.

Much like his song Rock and Roll Nerd which is essentially that story of my teenage years, Not Perfect really got to me.  I found this song at time where I needed reassuring that I don't  have to be perfect but I can still be happy in  myself, and Tim Minchin did this for me.

So what is next for Australian Musical Comedy? Why that would be Axis of Awesome who I discovered on a rather hungover day watching Comic Relief in bed. Their Four Chord Song is absolute genius- really smart and really funny. I like the smug feeling I get being a musician listening to it (and then running to my piano to try out their theory) but that isn't to say its not accessible for the regular comedy fan, it really is nicely funny without offending anyone...except maybe Journey.

PS. If you're reading this Geoff, is it true that you're touring with Tim? If so I may have a small fan-gasm.

Friday, 5 November 2010

It Gets Better

I don't usually go in for these sorts of things and I may not be gay, but I was really touched by this video. It's not just for homosexuals, its for anyone who's ever been bullied, including myself. Seven or eight years later I'm still getting over it and its going to take time for me to resolve my issues, but now I have a group of friends who love me for who I am and I love them for who they are. Whilst at the moment I'm feeling rather down and lonely, I know that it is going to get better and it already has got much better.

PS. I do find it fun to look up my old bullies on Facebook to find they're fat, or single mothers, or in dead end jobs. The lesson here? Karma is a Bitch.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

You Are 22...

A few weeks ago I very spontaneously bought tickets to Avenue Q. It was literally a case of walking past the theatre, joking to my sister that we could see the matinee, to my surprise she actually agreed. Come 5pm, I found myself in the second to last row in the balcony of the Wyndham's Theatre.

Avenue Q- more than just puppet sex

I originally saw Avenue Q during previews, the day before my A Level Maths exam, and loved it (having already obtained the sheet music and CD). I was interested to see how my perception of the show has changed 4 years later. A lot has happened in those four years, I've lost my puppy fat, made a lot of good friends, done a lot of things I'd never dreamed of doing and, through a lot hard work, somehow got a Masters in Chemistry. Coming out the other side, I feel I'm better for those experiences and now find myself in a position echoing those of the characters in the show. I was only to realise this when I heard the line "You are twenty-two, and you live on Avenue Q". Shit, I'm 22 and just like Princeton, I'm 22 and looking for my purpose in life. And just like Kate Monster "I'm kinda pretty and pretty damn start" and still don't have a boyfriend. For once a show I can directly relate to, although not in a good way.

Avenue Q has always been a bittersweet story but at the tender age of 17 I only noticed the funny songs and the puppet sex. I wasn't sure if this show had enough depth. Now I've realised it was not that it wasn't there, it was just that I was oblivious to it. Just like Christian at the beginning of Moulin Rouge, I realised that I wanted to write about all these things but I couldn't as I'd never experienced them.
No, this wasn't just an excuse to post a picture of Ewan Mcgregor, he has a point.

Watching Avenue Q now, as a rather more embittered 22 year old, I began to notice Princeton's inability to find his way in life or Kate Monster's inability to connect and have a relationship. I left the show actually feeling better about myself as I realised I'm not the only person in this situation and perhaps I shouldn't feel so ashamed.

Just as I've grown into Sondheim, I'm finding myself growing into shows that never appealed to me before. After performing Make Our Garden Grow in Budleigh, I discovered Bernstein's grandiose Candide. Never before had I ventured so close to the territory of opera. But, after watching the Kristen Chenoweth production, I have to say I loved it. Yes, it is all very silly, but it is knowingly silly rather than The Boy Friend that thinks it is silly and clever but fails.

In The Heights- If you haven't checked out this show yet, you should
As I come to the realisation that I do have to face real life, I find new meaning in old songs and new songs that I can relate to. No longer is Breath, from In The Heights (a song about not wanting to tell your parents how you really feel about your education and university) the soundtrack to my life. I now find myself drawn to Being Alive, as Bobby laments the fact that all his friends are in serious relationships and he has no one, and Stranger In This World from Taboo as I've found myself feeling more distant from my family and unable to connect with the world.

What the future may hold I do not know, I still have a sea of Broadway love songs that I just don't get the meaning of. As Christian says "How could I understand love when I've never been in love?" And that's the one thing I feel is missing. Love. There are so many songs about being in love that I've always shied away from but now I'd just like to be loved like all those lovelorn heroines.