Thursday, 11 July 2019

David at the Theatre: Back to the Age of Aquarius



I saw Hair (three times – I loved it!) when it opened in London in the autumn of 1968, so for me last night’s revival in Brighton was a trip down Memory Lane. For younger members of the audience it may have served as a History Lesson. Hippies must seem as distant as cavemen (whom my mum always said they resembled).

It’s a lively show, raucous and profane. I didn’t recog-nise anybody in the touring cast. Paul Wilkins is solid in the central role of Claude, which was played by Paul Nicholas in the original West End production (Nicholas is now one of the pensioners visiting retirement locations abroad in the ‘Marigold Hotel’ TV documentaries – about as far from hippiedom as you can get).

The original 1968 poster
Maybe distance lends enchantment, but I think the 1968 version was a lot more musical than this. Perhaps under the X-Factor influence, the songs are shouted rather than sung. The ‘anthems’ are still very powerful – ‘Aquarius’, ‘Ain’t Got No/I Got Life’, ‘Let the Sunshine In’ – but ‘Frank Mills’ has lost its poignancy and Shake-speare’s ‘What a Piece of Work is Man’ loses its majesty by being spread through several cast members. The dancing seemed a little over-choreographed, with a few inappropriate echoes of Pan’s People. The nude scene still has impact after all these years (Elaine Paige tells a fruity story about what she nervously took hold on to under the sheet in 1968, which you may be able to google).

It's probably just me (eligible for the Marigold retire-ment tour), but this revival didn’t generate the thrill I got in the 1960s. Still, the nostalgia is welcome and the show explodes with energy. The tour rolls on after Brighton. Sit in the stalls if you want to dance with the cast on stage during the finale.



Tuesday, 9 July 2019

What I'm reading: Gay porn à la Cartland


Gordon Merrick: ONE FOR THE GODS

I’m still ploughing my way through some of the gay ‘classics’. Originally published in 1971, this is the first of two sequels to The Lord Won’t Mind, Gordon Merrick’s ‘landmark’ novel about gay love and gay sex in postwar USA. Our hunky well-endowed heroes Charlie and Peter are on an extended holiday on the French Riviera. Charlie is heartbroken when Peter two-times him with a cute local lad. After this little hiccup they join their rich friends Jack and Martha for a cruise to Capri and the Greek islands. More hiccups.

The yacht trip begins with a night storm which is almost in the Herman Melville league. Then Charlie, who has bisexual tendencies, decides he wants to have a child with Martha. He also – spoiler alert – wants Peter to have sex with Martha, at which point the novel unravels into tawdry melodrama.

Gordon Merrick 1916-88
Rich people on a yacht drinking too much and screwing their brains out, there’s a faint echo of Scott Fitzgerald, although some of the writing – “his dark eyes were soft with desire” - is more evocative of Barbara Cartland than Fitzgerald. The sex scenes are hardcore without being too crude, but here too there are lapses: I’m not sure if Barbara Cartland ever described a blowjob (I’m trying not to picture her giving one!), but she could well have written “he lay back and surrendered to the rapture of Peter’s miraculous mouth.”

As gay porn One For the Gods delivers the goods, but as a study in gay relationships the story’s artificiality weakens its conviction. A ‘juicy’ read, then, but not much more.

Friday, 5 July 2019

David at the Theatre: Modern murder mystery - well, it was modern in 1952


The Mousetrap has been playing in London continuously since 1952. Now, for the umpteenth time, it’s on tour. We caught it in Brighton, many decades later than the rest of the population. Respectable audience for a midweek evening, but not sold-out. Splendidly solid-looking country house hotel set. I’m clearly disrespecting some fine performers if I say there aren’t any major household names in the cast (not from my household at least), but they all play their roles with a gusto that this creaky old theatrical warhorse merits.


There’s only one onstage murder. A lot less ‘bloody’ than most television or movie whodunits. As so often in Agatha Christie, there’s a ‘historical wrong’ which the murderer is avenging. Secrets are revealed. Everyone in the snowed-in hotel is a suspect. It’s still set in the post-war era of Rationing (which I can recall, verging on antiquity as I am). The blond architect probably wasn’t as camp (Kenneth Williams camp) in the original production and may not even have been written as gay. The slightly butch female seems to owe something to the current TV Gentleman Jack, which again may be more than Mrs Christie intended, though there wasn’t any actual same-sex action, which is now essential to late-evening home entertainment.

I’m not sure if I would have guessed who the killer was; I must have been told some time during the last 67 years. During the curtain call the audience is asked to keep a secret that is known to almost everyone over the age of 40. Philistine that I am, I’m now going to reveal that the murderer is –

                      (thud)

Thursday, 4 July 2019

David at the Movies: Even obliterated, the Beatles are the real stars

YESTERDAY


Richard Curtis takes a clever ‘What-if’ as the premise for his screen-play for Yesterday. What if a global power-cut-type event obliterated all memory of the Beatles? Except for one provincial British Asian, Jack Malik, a singer whose career is going nowhere. But now, with the vast catalogue of Lennon and McCartney hits which are exclusively his to pirate, he becomes a pop sensation. His childhood friend Ellie (Lily James, adorable as always), who’s been managing him, gets replaced by a percentage-hungry American super-producer (Kate McKinnon, gloriously OTT).

Himesh Patel (whom we know in the UK from East-Enders) acts and sings his way persuasively through the slightly klutzy central role. Ed Sheeran almost steals the show, playing himself (a natural klutz!) in a charming send-up. Danny Boyle has directed this at a snappy pace, but the most visible contribution is clearly Curtis’s script, with his trademark mismatched love-story. Other erasures from human memory caused by the power-cut are fed to us at clumsy intervals – did CocaCola pay for product dis-placement, I wondered? And the central mystery – what has actually happened to the Beatles? – is neatly addressed. I particularly liked the late appearance of two other people who know that Jack is a musical thief.

The other most visible contribution is the Beatles’ back-list – we are constantly reminded just how powerfully their songs are engrained in our consciousness. There may well be Sing-Along screenings of this next year.


ROCKETMAN


Hot on the heels of Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning turn as Freddie Mercury, we have Taron Egerton going into camp hyperdrive as Elton John in this musical extravaganza charting the rise to superstar-dom of young Reggie Dwight from Pinner in suburban northwest London. This is not exactly the “plain unvarnished truth”, since once his career took off Elton didn’t really do Plain or Unvarnished.

Egerton does a great job capturing Elton’s growly vocal style and his weird combination of shyness and monstrous egotism. It’s a performance that rivals Michael Douglas’s take on Liberace, who is briefly glimpsed on Elton’s gran’s telly and whom he clearly drew on for inspiration. As in Candelabra, the script doesn’t hesitate to show the star’s battle with homo-sexuality. Elton has a crush on Bernie Taupin (nicely played by Jamie Bell) who isn’t gay but loves Elton and cherishes their Stan-and-Ollie/Eric-and-Ernie partner-ship. Elton has a stormy relationship with his second manager John Reid (Richard Maddon – fantasy-fulfilling to see him playing gay!). His happy-ever-after with David Furnish comes later than this timeframe. 

The other movie I was reminded of was Moulin Rouge in the way some of the songs are not just performed but acted into scenes that carry the story forward. Bell and Maddon both get to sing.

Elton's addictions to booze, drugs and sexual excess (and shopping) are not skated over, just as they weren't in the Lioberace movie. Rocketman is a story with a message about the dangers that Fame brings. At another level it's simply a great musical biopic.