Monthly Archives: June 2014

Miss Saigon (Prince Edward Theatre)

This much-heralded West End revival of the Boublil-Schonberg musical brings back the doomed love story of Kim the bar-girl and Chris the marine (based loosely on the opera ‘Madame Butterfly’) with some new choreography, a slight reboot of lyrics, a new song for Ellen, and a cast which is headed by show veteran Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer and new discovery Eva Noblezada as Kim.

If you’ve seen the show before, you’ll know what to expect – epic staging, emotional impact, humorous interludes, and excellent performances.  And yes, the helicopter is back, in one of the staging highlights.  Last night’s show had the understudy (Niall Sheehy) on for Chris, and to my eyes he didn’t quite have the chemistry needed to gel with Eva’s Kim, although their duets (‘Sun and Moon’ and ‘Last Night of the World’) were still affecting.

The opening sequence in the sleazy Saigon bar – ‘The Heat is On’ – now has different lyrics and feels a little bit cramped and cheap, but despite this Gigi’s predicament as the crowned whore who cannot get a passage out of the hell-hole she finds herself in to a better life is well portrayed by Rachelle Ann Go.  As John (Hugh Maynard) sets the tragedy in motion by buying the sexual services of the innocent Kim for Chris, the fall of Saigon seems just a heartbeat away.

Other highlights are the vibrant victory parade ‘Morning of the Dragon’, the choral melody of ‘Bui-Doi’ (although I am not a fan of Maynard’s approach to this, a bit too gospel for me), the intensity of ‘This is the Hour’, and the light relief of the big production number ‘The American Dream’ where we find that The Engineer’s ambition only stretches as far as being the greatest pimp in the Western world, as he postures around in cheap plastic pants and attitude singing of selling blondes ‘you can charge on a card’.

I did miss Ellen’s solo ‘Her or Me’ in the early years, then ‘Now That I’ve Seen Here’.  The new song, ‘Maybe’ is OK, but just not as memorable, and it does not advance the story as much.

All these years after the close of the Vietnam war, ‘Miss Saigon’ feels more a historical piece than it did back in 1989. when the cast was made up of a mainly Western cast even in the Asian roles.  Now the cast is majority Filipino or Korean, and what a talented bunch they are.  The night belongs to Eva Noblezada though.  Only eighteen and able to bring all the vulnerability and strength of soul the role requires to this exceptional staging.



Chrissie Hynde – Royal Festival Hall


Chrissie Hynde appeared as part of the Meltdown festival (this year curated by James Lavelle) at the Royal Festival Hall last night.  The bulk of the show was promoting her new album, ‘Stockholm’, which has only just been released, so we haven’t had a chance to hear or get to know the songs yet.  Still, ‘You or No One’ and ‘In a Miracle’ sound like songs which will repay multiple listens.

Flanked by Swedish flags and her touring band (more starry names appeared on the record, like Neil Young and John McEnroe), Hynde was in good voice and looked every inch the cool professional post-punk star in white jacket and old school tie.

Following the ‘Stockholm’ songs the mood changed to honour some of her favourite songwriters, with Jarvis Cocker’s ‘Walk Like A Panther’ being a particular highlight, sexy, laid-back and slightly dangerous.  The show finished with a couple of old favourites from The Pretenders days, ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ getting the audience out of their seats and streaming down the staircases and aisles for a dance, and ‘Hymn to Her’ (just Hynde and her keyboardist) being an effortless fusion of melody.

A quick note on the support act, Zacharias Blad, a Swede who with his family came through Swedish television talent shows.  His style is reminiscent of a camp Jim Morrison on speed, but he certainly has energy.  He’s probably the oddest live act I’ve seen in a long time.

Grab-bag book reviews #1



McCaig, Donald. Rhett Butler’s People – the authorized novel based on Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind.  London: Pan, 2008. 

McCaig’s novel should appeal to those who can’t get enough of Rhett and Scarlett’s romance during the American Civil War.  We find out what happened in Rhett’s past, about his family, and about his meeting with Scarlett.  It’s a new perspective, well-written, and will make GWTW devotees see their beloved characters in a different light.  At 514 pages of text, this is a read which will engross the casual reader and delight the fan of Mitchell’s original novel.  I find it more successful that the official sequel, ‘Scarlett’, by Alexandra Ripley.


Piazza, Jim & Kinn, Gail.  The Academy Awards: the complete unofficial history.  New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2006 revised ed.

This book presents the story of the Oscars year by year, in ‘Chronicle of the Cinema’ style.  Alongside an array of photographs, there are details of all major winners, a commentary on each year’s awards, and notes on ‘sins of omission’, ‘unmentionables’, ‘firsts’ and so on.  From the 1927 awards (Jannings, Gaynor, Jolson, Chaplin) to 2005 (PS Hoffman, Witherspoon, Weisz, Clooney, Ang Lee), most big names are covered, and along the way we hear about the honorary awards, the nominees and also-rans, and a little bit of gossip.  This is my favourite Oscars book of the three or four I have in my collection, and it is the most accessible if you want quick, well-illustrated statistics and comment.


Hooper, John.  An illustrated history of Oldham’s railways.  Pinner: Irwell Press, 1991.

Now a definitively historical document with Oldham’s railway network now completely replaced by trams, this short history of Oldham’s stations and routes from 1842 through to the 1960s, this study is a little dry when it comes to the text, but has a huge amount of photographs, which not only show the tracks, stock, bridges, and buildings of the railway infrastructure, but also the factories, mills, and viaducts which surrounded them.


Riddell, Jonathan. Pleasure trips by Underground.  Harrow Weald: Capital Transport, 1998.

This book celebrates the poster artists who were engaged to promote the Underground as a means to travel to work, home, leisure and entertainment.  Published in association with the London Transport Museum, this is a sumptuous coffee table book which has full colour illustrations of the pick of transport poster art, split into sections on shopping, night out, sport, open air, day in town, ceremonial London, the countryside, the Thames, and holidays.  The vast majority of posters featured are from the 1920s and 1930s, with their bold colours and art deco feel.






Reverse Hitchcock #6: The Birds, 1963 – ★★★

‘The Birds’ is one of Hitchcock’s best known films, and the third time he would work from an original story by Daphne du Maurier. This is a film of two halves, a rather lacklustre romantic story for around the first forty minutes, and then a full-blown horror where avian attacks become the terror of Bodega Bay.

Technically, the bird attacks are done well, even if it is now obvious where the fakery occurred. In the cast, Jessica Tandy is good as the overprotective mother of Rod Taylor (and my, wasn’t Miss Daisy a glamourpuss back then); and Suzanne Pleshette is the jaded schoolteacher Annie who has been abandoned in love. Taylor himself is a bit of a stick but he’s only required to be the classical Movie Hero and he fills that role admirably. And the old lady ornithologist made me think of the countess who desperately wants to escape in Torn Curtain.

I much prefer Hedren in this film to her next role in ‘Marnie’. She doesn’t have the warmth or relaxed personality of her daughter Melanie Griffith, instead essaying the ice-cold blonde which Hitch seemed to favour, but for Melanie (the character) this approach seems to work best.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Magical Mystery Tour, 1967 – ★★½

‘Magical Mystery Tour’ sees the Beatles on one of those dull, dull, bus trips around the countryside.

Except of course this trip keeps getting interrupted by strange happenings and visions, and has some classic Beatles tracks including ‘Flying’ (with lots of colour filter changes which would have really looked rubbish when this film first aired on TV, in black and white!); ‘Blue Jay Way’ (in which George drones on while playing a keyboard drawn on a rock); ‘Your Mother Should Know’ (with the cheesy ‘coming down the stairs’ bit); ‘The Fool on the Hill’ (where Paul stands on a hill, natch); and, best of all, ‘I Am The Walrus’ (with eggmen, walruses, and other strange beings, and some funky spaced out camera work).

The fab four also appear as some irritating magicians, all big hats and silly voices, and not that funny, while Ringo’s ‘aunty’ dreams about hitting it off with Buster Bloodvessel (played by the very odd Ivor Cutler). Nat Jackley gets in there too, as well as Victor Spinetti playing a manic Sergeant major who talks so fast thatnoonecankeepupwithawordheissaying…

If you’re bored with The Beatles, you can always catch the Bonzo Dog (Doo Dah) Band near the end doing ‘Death Cab For Cutie’ while singer Viv is distracted by a stripper (the very alluring Jan Carson).

Is the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ worth your time. Well, it’s different.

I can just see a 1967 audience watching this on the box and thinking ‘what the…?’. It’s on a par with ‘Yellow Submarine’ although I think this time they didn’t take themselves quite so seriously.

The ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, with its tent, muddy spaghetti on the restaurant table, very white beaches, and static cows, is a candy coated, multi-coloured, goggle-eyed, very silly bundle of fun.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Royal Festival Hall)

A rare opportunity yesterday to hear the whole cycle of Shakespeare’s sonnets, read in two sections.  The Royal Festival Hall ended a day devoted to ‘the poet’s sonnets’ with this reading, featuring ten actors (Simon Russell Beale, Harriet Walter, Guy Paul, Victoria Hamilton, David Harewood, Maureen Beattie, Paterson Joseph, Deborah Findlay, Oliver Ford Davies and Juliet Stevenson).  The notes handed out as we went in warned us we might even hate some of the evening (!) but this did not prove to be the case.

I’d like to single out some of the readings for particular praise – Simon Russell Beale put across sonnets 143 (“Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch”), 126 (“O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power”), 42 (“That thou hast her, it is not all my grief”), and 138 (“When my love swears that she is made of truth”) with an emotional connect that reached through the centuries since this cycle was written.

The ‘greatest hits’ of the sequence went to Harriet Walter, 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”, and David Harewood, 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” and served well as anchor points for a change of mood.

Oliver Ford-Davies read well, but the one I remember the most is 37 “As a decrepit father takes delight”; while Deborah Findlay did well with 71, “No longer mourn for me when I am dead”.  The night was almost stolen in terms of pure performance and wit though by Paterson Joseph, who interpreted the pair of sonnets 135 “Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will” and 136 “If thy soul check thee that I come so near”, and 144 “Two loves I have of comfort and despair” extremely well.

I liked the way the Royal Festival Hall provided a big screen so everyone in the hall could clearly see the readers as they shared the sonnets with us, but as a viewer from the stalls it was interesting to see who was following the text from the book and who was paying attention to their fellow performers.  It was also interesting to see a definite chemistry between adjacent readers Paterson Joseph and Juliet Stevenson (who also read beautifully), and to note some pairings both professional and personal on the stage – David Harewood played Othello to Simon Russell Beale’s Iago at the National Theatre, Juliet Stevenson and Deborah Findlay played sisters in the film ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’, Harriet Walter and Guy Paul are married in real life.  These kind of things keep a viewer engaged during the slower passages of verse.

If the sonnet sequence does not fully sparkle throughout, then there are certainly enough highs and enough memorable lines of verse to make this marathon well worth attending.






The Rattlesnake, 1913 – ★★★

The Rattlesnake (1913), dir Romaine Fielding for Lubin Manufacturing Company. 

Romaine Fielding (1868-1927) was one of the most fascinating characters of early silent cinema. A maverick who created a new identity and background for himself, he was a flamboyant actor, writer and director who created many westerns set in New Mexico for the Lubin studios, becoming by 1915 the most popular screen personality in the United States.

Sadly, few of his films (70 as director, more than 60 as actor) have survived the passage of time. Many perished in a fire at the Lubin HQ in 1914, and the few which remain survive in a poor state or are unrepresentative of his best contributions to cinema (he crops up in a couple of Alice Guy melodramas – Mixed Pets (1911) and Greater Love Hath No Man (1912) where his style of acting looks 19th century and theatrical; and can also be seen in a handful of comedies which are held by archives around the world, but by all accounts these are not representative of his talent).

Which brings us to ‘The Rattlesnake’, a film he directed and starred in, which was filmed wholly on location in that New Mexico outpost. It is missing the final few minutes due to nitrate decomposition, and the print shows significant damage, but this film, which was publicised on its release with the blurb “Man who threatens society with a dangerous snake returns to sanity after an encounter with a young girl”, zips along well enough.

Fielding plays the bad guy, a Mexican who, crazed with jealousy, wishes to kill the good guy, who has married his former girl (Mary Ryan), but of course he finds redemption by the closing reel. He’s an unconventional filmmaker with a back-story which would do any fiction scenario writer proud, which makes it frustrating in a way that there isn’t enough of a body of work to see this performer reappraised in any meaningful way.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

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