Saturday 30 March 2019

Company at last - and a few Follies offcuts

Nearly missed it - and you will, too, if you don't go today (and don't ask me if there are any tickets left, though we got half-price ones from the Leicester Square booth). Marianne Elliott's endlessly inventive production of Company hit the headlines because Sondheim's evasive protagonist, whom I last saw played by the superb Adrian Lester, has become a woman, anxious about the need to settle down and start a family while the clock's still ticking. I like the way that Elliott underlines to David Benedict in the programme how this is 'not better, just different', a concept for this particular time. All production images here by Brinkhoff/Mogenburg.

It involves some major cast changes: Bobby's lovers become men, who pull off the Andrews Sisters pastiche 'You Could Drive a Person Crazy' very much on their own terms, though one of them - George Blagden as PJ - falls a bit flat on his own, the only member of the cast to do so; it may be what his character's given to do. 'Getting Married Today' is now 'owned', as they say, by Jonathan Bailey as Jamie, not Amy (pictured above o the right with Rosalie Craig and Alex Gaumond), and that 'should I?' aspect applies equally well to the ramifications of a gay marriage (it could stay in any future production, and I don't see why Bobby - here Bobbie - shouldn't be a gay male, either).

Anyway, Rosalie Craig is bewitchingly wonderful and funny as our heroine. She has that admirable habit of delivering key numbers as if they were improvised on the spot (which stops 'Someone is Waiting' from getting sugary). 'Being Alive', which I also have difficulties with out of context (and without the spoken interjections), is rightly her magnificent zenith. Her situations are a gift to designer Bunny Christie, who springs on us an Alice 'Eat Me/Drink Me' situation shortly before the 11 o'clock number so vibrantly delivered by Patti LuPone (pictured below), 'The Ladies Who Lunch' (perhaps too vibrantly; one just can't imagine this powerful woman sensing futility or mortality).

Way more brilliant things than not so good, then. But I had some doubts. About the dynamic between Bobbie and her lovers, especially air steward Andy, camp as his breed tends to be - though I have to gush about Richard Fleeshman's Greek-god body. About the sound of the band - folk whom I'd spoken to thought that was only under-par thing about the show, but I feel the problem is due to not using Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations, still sounding splendid on the original cast recording. About the de luxe edition - were the extra movement people necessary in 'Another Hundred People'? About the dialogue, above all. Reams of it. All the songs are winners, but I found myself waiting too impatiently for some of them. Spoilt of course by having seen Follies again a couple of weeks earlier, in which, as Peter Forbes pointed out, the dialogue is so minimal and takes us up to the musical numbers which then further the action. Only a year later than Company, Sondheim had discovered how to 'do' musical theatre rather than a play with songs.

Still, when I enjoyed it, I adored it - and came back for further fixes of both Follies and Company on CD. Spent some time and small amounts downloading from Amazon Follies numbers which either hadn't made the original show or were added for the first London production. This is the most, well, beautiful, a Ben/Sally duet that is just as haunting as 'Too Many Mornings'.

The text may be unambiguous; it's the music with its bittersweet downward slips that works the magic: Sondheim in Ravel Valses nobles et sentimentales mode. Surprising he didn't re-engage it in A  Little Night Music, but then words for him come first, and the melody couldn't be twisted to fit another text. Lovers of Follies will recognise it as the opening of the Overture - ah, so that's what it is! - along with a number for Buddy, 'That Old Piano Roll'. I could only find Wynton Marsalis's arrangement on Amazon, but here it is as sung and played by the master in his demo sequence (at 7m25s). What's more, the sequence starts with the original version of what became the 'Beautiful Girls' we know (much better).

From 38m40s onwards you get three more numbers you probably won't hear in any production of Follies today. All this began because I mentioned to Peter and my friend Simon after the revival performance we attended that I preferred 'Ah! But Underneath' - composed for Diana Rigg in the only previous London production - to 'The Story of Lucy and Jessie' until I saw what was made of the latter, with Janie Dee giving us the Rita Hayworth-as-Gilda look and dancing splendidly; 'Ah! But Underneath' is for a singer, first and foremost.

No-one does it better than Cleo Laine on a treasured Sondheim disc with all orchestrations by Tunick. Heck, she could probably still sing it well at 90, as she did a fair number of songs around the time of the birthday. Weirdly neither of the YouTube clips are embeddable, but try this: As I couldn't find one comparable that I could embed, let's leave it there. And onwards to the Buñuel musical on which Sondheim is currently working...and that's definitely in progress, since I was told he and Thomas Adès communicated on taking The Exterminating Angel as a subject (one of two in Sondheim's case). Will mortality be the main theme? It would certainly be right.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Joyeuse Marche No. 4

No apologies for the French titling (the name is Chabrier's for the most gorgeously dotty and lopsided march ever; and that allows me to slip in a by now well-worn aperçu of mine about the connection between the opening of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 and Delibes' "Cortège de Bacchus" from the ballet Sylvia, which EE would have known as a player in Worcestershire 'pops' programmes). This is the fifth time I've joined a demo for remaining in the European Union in a year. I didn't actually march on the first one, only able to turn up in Parliament Square for the speeches in September 2016. The fair-weather progress started for me properly in March 2017, resuming in June 2018 and beginning the parade of the 700,000 in November. They've all been exuberant, polite (this should have been called the 'sorry/excuse me' march), friendly for dogs

and families,

humorous, sometimes carnivalesque (though for that the anti-Trump march took the biscuit). The band above was actually playing 'YMCA', to a big singalong, halfway down Piccadilly.

I gave up on several alternative plans to meet folk, including one to join the West London Group led by my MP Andy Slaughter, which turned out also to include the great Alf Dubs, and came straight out of Hyde Park Corner tube, which once again like the train itself was packed with others heading to make up the million-plus - including my nice young neighbours -

to find the streets closed to traffic. So I headed for a grassy mound at the east end of Hyde Park Corner and immediately got various coigns of vantage - towards Park Lane, where Mrs Mayhem was to be seen spearing the economy with her ever-growing nose

and towards Piccadilly and Green Park.

Only when I saw my neighbour clicking some counter or other did I look at his coat and notice this:

Thought of asking him very politely why he was joining us, but didn't want to risk souring the general sense of well-being which held, as before, throughout the afternoon. There were much more interesting signs and declarations to be read. Many need no explanation, though the first, for anyone who hasn't watched the best entertainment/artistry on telly, is RuPaul's catchphrase for the contestant of the Drag Race week who gets to stay ('sashay away' is the phrase to the loser, which is probably on the other side of the placard- rhymes well with 'Theresa May').

The fearless Speaker of the House of Commons makes his first appearance on a march.

and there's at least one learned reference (bit surprised to be asked who Hannah Arendt was by two friends. Recommended them the surprisingly good biopic based around the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem starring Barbara Sukowa.

And so to the ridiculous, referencing Dumb Britain as represented by Love Island, which I've never watched.

Here's the clip to explain it.

Eeeuw. Time to slip in (not for the first time on the blog) the aforementioned Chabrier by way of intermezzo. I posted my favourite performance, Ansermet's, before, so time for Beecham.

Consumerism wasn't conspicuous on the march, but our delightful friend Orfeuo, just over from the Netherlands, added some retail colours. We met him, appropriately, outside the Ritz, fresh from a shopping spree.

Then we joined the march down to St James's Palace. I had a nice chat with these people, who'd adopted the consummate posters highlighting the tweets of the hypocritical mini-horror clowns for their boards.

The poster campaign was run by the creative heart of Remain, Led by Donkeys. For this ingenuity alone, obviously not my pic as it could only be seen from above in Parliament Square (click to enlarge a bit), I gave something for their campaign - you can, too, here.

Now we approach St James's Palace.

And here the enticing notion of lunch at the ICA took us away from the main procession and along the Mall.

I haven't eaten at the ICA in over a decade. The cafe used to be run by a nice Italian family who served cheap and excellent plates of pasta daily. They were replaced by a table-service-only restaurant with pretensions, no good for fast-ish food. Now there's an excellent restaurant and a fine cafe downstairs, and you no longer need to belong to the ICA or pay for a day pass to get in. Our lunch was splendid, and I met an acquaintances of J, Trevor Horne, and his wife Linda Morris. She happened to be sporting the same Tillmans T-shirt as I was, a first in my experience on any of the marches since I got mine,

and he was bearing, amongst others, the Tillmans banner I wanted to make myself but in the end didn't (the one on the left about Putin, Trump, Le Pen and the now-superseded Wilders supporting Brexit).

Time passed quicker than I realised and I got to Parliament Square just after the last speech had finished. I regret it even more since Heseltine's was one for the ages, spelling out the strong message of peace from one who was alive when that was the driving force of the European project. Do watch all 12 minutes.

I still caught a couple of excellent posters - there are two more 'anti-saints' on the reverses; but can anyone remember what "Saint Theresa" is, and what she was/is to be crucified on? -

and the legendary unicorn just before I descended to St James's Park tube for the journey home. The bike was then sitting with a flat tyre in Berkeley Square; yesterday I got it fixed at the superlative Cycle Republic off Upper Regent Street and while I waited for it to be serviced took a big loop of a stroll up to Regent's Park, around and back on the most perfect of spring days.

Thursday 21 March 2019

Discovering Kensal Green Cemetery

It speaks volumes for London's infinite riches that I'd never been here before attending a (pre-)birthday commemoration of Niagara ropewalker Charles Blondin (born 28 February 1824) by his grave. Not that I knew much about this extraordinary man; it was enough to clock that on one of his crossings above Niagara falls he cooked an omelette and ate it. This year the near-birthday fest took place during that period of freakishly warm, May-like February weather before the winds and hailstones. Wondered if we'd find the grave once we reached the neoclassical Anglican chapel at the head of the central avenue, but there through the columns the gathering could be seen.

The small party is organised annually by fellow funambulist Hermine Demoriane, now a writer and singer, a friend of J, so along we went to hear poems

read by, among others, Hermine's husband the poet Hugo Williams, with whom I once shared a flat in Edinburgh during the festival as a fellow writer on The Sunday Correspondent (he covered theatre, I classical music and opera alongside my pal Ed Seckerson). That's him with his back to the camera.

The big performance was the one by Silvia Ziranek, word-music matched to unforgettable images.

Pink much favoured, with a designer's eye for detail.

I took in the gist subliminally and admired its culmination, which was a tightrope walk of the imagination.

This was the first of the 'magnificent seven' landscaped cemeteries to be opened, by The General Cemetery Company in 1823. It's still a working cemetery, with recent graves marking the latest populations to move in to the area; Ethiopians (Amharic Christians, presumably) predominate. There was a power struggle over whether to construct the main buildings in Gothic or Neoclassical style; the latter won. John Griffiths' central edifice has Doric columns for the Anglican chapel and Ionic for the Dissenters. Must go on a proper tour one day to see the (restored) hydraulic systems for the catacombs. But there was still plenty to see in terms of monuments which excel anything to be found in our local, Brompton Cemetery, despite its magnificent overall design modelled on St Peter's Rome and its approach. Père Lachaise was an influence here, but the slope upwards is less pronounced, and there's more space.

Four servants of the British Raj guard the effigy for Sir William Casement, early 19th century Administrator of India.

Artificial stone is used both here and in the canopied resting place of Victorian artist William Mulready

as you can see from where the outer casing of 'Pulhamite' has worn away on one of the feet.

Perhaps the loveliest figures are the four angels on this neoclassical tomb

but unquestionably the most original in terms of detail is Andrew Ducrow's 'Egyptian' memorial, initially for his first wife before Ducrow shared his second thoughts in a ridiculous inscription: 'This tomb is erected by genius for the reception of its own remains'. Ducrow was proprietor of, and virtuoso performer in, the horsey 'Astley's Amphitheatre'.  His memorial aroused the ireful verdict of 'ponderous coxcombery'.

Sphinxes flank two sides

and this is curious, a lady's hat and gloves on a fallen column.

Opposite the east side is this humbler and much damaged horse and child on another tomb for an equestrian and circus-horse breeder, Alfred Cooke.

Of the more well-known inhabitants, not all are buried here. But a memorial to the great Victorian illustrator George Cruikshank suffices to inform readers of his temperance.

Along the south side of the cemetery run water gates to allow for admission of coffins borne along the Grand Union Canal. You have to go down there to see it, but the remains of Kensal Gasworks, where a huge housing scheme is afoot, can be seen from many points, at least before the trees come into leaf.

At this end of the slope, near the gate, there are a few homages to the Gothic taste that lost out in the bigger scheme of things.

I'm grateful for some of the information here to a book I bought on the offchance. The Magnificent Seven: London's First Landscaped Cemeteries by John Turpin and Derrick Knight. It turns out to be more pictures than text, but good ones, and has inspired me to head off to the sites I don't know.