Friday Fun returns

Hoorah! After the irony of missing the delivery of my new broadband router because I was in the café three doors down using their wifi, I successfully collected and installed it this morning – in time to put together a little bit of fun for Friday.

But first, can I share with you the ridiculousness of my Friday morning trip to the Royal Mail depot? Honestly, why are these things never simple? Fortuitously, yesterday I missed both the router and my Olympic Park tickets (which arrived at the old flat), so I was able to kill two birds with one stone. Genius. Well, genius, until I handed over the cards to the woman at the counter, who identified several issues:
1. One person with two cards but delivered to two different addresses.
2. Could ‘Liz Clutterbuck’ and ‘Elizabeth Clutterbuck’ be the same person?
3. Why did my ID say ‘Miss’ yet one package was addressed to ‘Mrs Liz Clutterbuck’.

Jeez… I should probably just explain the last one (I’m sure you can figure out the others). Somehow, TalkTalk have decided I’ve got married. Neither me nor the church administrator who set up the account can work out how this happened – suffice to say, I am getting none of the benefits of being married. [When I mentioned this on Twitter, a friend who happens to have used my Eurostar account recently reported that they have me listed as ‘Mr Clutterbuck’ – also have no idea how that happened.]

Anyway, so, the fun…

First up, some classic TfL goodness. I suggest you think of these when despairing of London transport during the Olympics. Over the last couple of weeks some new variations on the classic tube map have appeared. One makes use of the Bible, while the other proves that using the tube is as simple as A, B, C:

For the full-size version, check out this pdf.

The latter map is clearly something that I would consider suitable for hanging on the wall of my offspring’s nursery. Absolutely adore it! 
Combining my love of Twitter, maps, church and beer, here’s a delightful infographic that illustrates the frequency the words ‘church’ and/or ‘beer’ were tweeted in US counties during a week in June. Makes for very interesting reading: 
I particularly like the fact that during the week in question, I was tweeting from the US and therefore I contributed to it with my occasional tweets about Texan beer. I know for sure that during that week I tweeted more about beer than I did about church. 
Finally, something that combines my love of public transport with my love of spontaneous musical moments. It’s a little old, but it retains its goodness and should – unless you have a heart of stone – bring a smile to your face this afternoon. The friend who shared it with me did so with the words “your camp man alter ego might enjoy this…”, I’m not sure I have such an alter ego, but I certainly enjoyed it.

The wonderful thing about revolting children

How better to mark World Book Day than with a review of a musical based upon a book, featuring one of literature’s greatest bibliophiles? In fact, how better to celebrate a friend’s 30th than with a trip to what is unquestionably one of the best British musicals ever…

Matilda, stage

The last time the RSC produced a musical about a telekinetic child, it became the quickest, most expensive flop in Broadway’s history – Carrie the Musical is a classic, but for all the wrong reasons. [Though, in its defence, and having listened to the soundtrack multiple times, there are some gems there…] In fact, I was geekily pleased that The Stage referenced it in its review of Matilda:

“A quarter of a century ago, the RSC co-produced Les Misérables, which has turned into the West End’s longest-ever running musical and a worldwide hit. Now, via an unfortunate detour with Carrie, one of the most notorious Broadway flops when they transferred it from Stratford to New York, they’ve finally hit the musical jackpot again.”

 Musical jackpot it indeed is. It does a rare job of attracting and entertaining adults and children alike. Last night’s audience seemed to consist of vast swathes of children, and hordes of adults around my age. It’s quite possibly a happy coincidence that many of Tim Minchin’s (writer of the musical) fans are a generation that were the right age to read Matilda when the book came out in 1988.Discovering that we were sat in the middle of a massive school group filled me with terror, but it’s testament to the genius of the production that they stayed (pretty) quiet for the duration. Sure, Jo had to explain why we don’t kick seats or predict lines loudly, but most of the time you barely knew they were there. In fact, early on I was worried that the pace of dialogue and clever literary references might have been beyond a crowd of 8 year olds, but as was pointed out to me, there was also an entire scene focused upon ‘the biggest, most chocolatey burp in the world’, which you probably have to be 8 (or male) to truly appreciate. Looking behind me as the theatre was filled with laser beams, I saw a sea of enraptured faces – beautiful.

For those of us who grew up with Dahl, the texts are almost sacred. I doubt you’d find a British child of the 80s/90s who approves of the Matilda film – it’s not even set in England, for goodness sake! The Witches was a good effort, but they changed the ending; and I can’t ever complain about Jonny Depp so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is ok, but it says something that Dahl himself didn’t like any of the adaptations he lived to see made. The musical is more faithful to the book than the film – the characters look like they’ve stepped out of Quentin Blake’s illustrations (especially Mr Wormwood and Miss Trunchbull) and the key plot elements are there. Yes, there’s the addition of a glorious story about an escapologist and acrobat used a device to tell the audience about Miss Honey’s parents, but it’s so beautifully done that I couldn’t possibly hold it against them. (Matilda tells the story to the librarian and at one point it’s depicted with shadow puppets, which is simply stunning.)

The script and songs also faithfully adheres to Dahl’s distinctive language. The reason why kids love Dahl is because he speaks like they do – or how they’d like to, if they were allowed. The language is often beautifully disgusting, or taps into the ‘nice naughtiness’ you wish all children had. I’d forgotten just how much of a childhood crime it was to call someone stupid, until Mr Wormwood used the word in reference to an adult member of the audience – the children near me gasped at it!

Before I left for the theatre, a friend commented on my Facebook status and said that she predicted I’d be a Bertie Carvel fan before the night was out – she was right. Bertie is the man – yes, man – who plays Miss Trunchbull, and he’s phenomenal. Pam Ferris was a very masculine Trunchbull in the movie, but the musical goes for a man playing a woman as an effeminate gay man angle, which works spectacularly well. Can you picture the Trunchbull doing rhythmic gymnastics with a ribbon? No? Trust me, it works perfectly! [There’s a glimpse of it in the trailer below.] Listen to her song about throwing the hammer, and you’ll start to understand…

The most important element in a musical has to be the songs, and they are marvellous. If you’re a Tim Minchin fan, you’ll know the range of his style, if you’re not then you’re in for a treat. There’s a real mix of raucous lively numbers and beautifully moving ones. Two of my favourites are helpfully ones that are available on YouTube – the winner of ‘best use of swings in a musical’, When I Grow Up which is almost tear-jerkingly lovely; and the guaranteed to have you clapping and cheering Revolting Children.

That boy who kicks off the song is Bruce Bogtrotter – of chocolate cake fame. There’s an entire song dedicated to that scene – called, aptly, Bruce – one could say that only an Australian could write such an awesome song about a Bruce…

I know I’m a massive musical theatre geek, but this is no niche musical. I’d go as far as to say that it’s one of the most accessible pieces of theatre I’ve seen (although One Man Two Guvnors would come a very recent second), and isn’t something parents should begrudge seeing. In fact, I suspect they might enjoy it more than their children do. The major challenge is acquiring decently priced tickets. Last night was clearly a sell-out – unusual for a mid-week evening in term-time – and ‘cheap’ tickets must be nigh-on impossible to come by. But persevere, you won’t regret it.

Singing alonga in the shire

I think there’s just one cinema context in which it’s perfectly acceptable to break several elements of The Code of Conduct – where singing along isn’t frowned upon, it’s actively encouraged; where phone action in the form of photography is positively essential; and the audience’s noise levels rise, instead of falling, as the film progresses.

On Thursday night my sister and I spent the evening participating in Singalonga Grease back in the Shire, courtesy of our former neighbour and a long awaited Christmas gift. This friend had previously made several trips to Singalonga Sound of Music and I’d experienced Singalonga Joseph at a Greenbelt yonks ago, so it seemed logical that the Grease version would be something we’d appreciate. Not least, in fact, because it has a long-standing history with us. I babysat J’s children while she and her husband watched a 20th anniversary re-release; and we took their eldest girls to see it for the first time.

Sure, the year before last Greenbelt put on a sing along Grease screening which we entered into with aplomb. But it wasn’t the official ‘Singalonga’ experience – that’s something quite exceptional. It includes goodie bags with props for various points during the film, so for Grease we had a balloon, tissue, chequered flag and a party popper (I’ll leave you to use your imagination as to which got used when). Plus a host who kicks off proceedings with a bit of a singing warm-up and choreography advice. (I am now proficient in the hand-jive. I am immensely proud of this.)

But the most essential element of any Singlonga screening has to be the costumes. Years ago, when first experiencing Singalonga Sound of Music, J arrived at the venue to discover a sea of nuns and felt foolish that her family were not appropriately dressed. At two further screenings they went to town, on one occasion even creating a set of outfits out of curtains – that, my friends, is dedication to the cause. The key to these things is to choose something a little niche, like the people who went as brown paper packages tied up with string, or my sister’s cardboard guitar. Willing audience members are always invited up on stage for a costume contest, and it can get rather competitive.

For Grease, we were a little flummoxed. Pink Ladies jackets are two a penny, and 1950’s prom dresses can be hard to come by, but what else could we do? In the end all three of us simply went for ‘generic 1950s girl’, which was fine. However, on the morning of the show I was seized with an idea that, had I had been inspired days earlier, could have been a roaring success – all I needed was a Victorian style nightgown, a sheet of pink note-paper and an inflatable paddling pool.

[Don’t understand? That would be Olivia Newton-John’s outfit and props for Hopelessly Devoted To You.]

Arriving at the venue, we found many similarly generic 50’s ladies; a multitude of Pink Ladies; a plethora of Frenchies with unfortunate pink hair; and a smattering of T Birds. The competitors for best costumes included few truly creative numbers – although the bright spark who decided to go as Eugene had my vote. However, there was one group of women who were definite exceptions. It took me ages to get a photo of them, and this was the best I could do:

That, my friends, is the costume from Beauty School Dropout and is, what we like to call, genius.

And this is what we looked like:

The effect of all of this is a night out best described as a hen night on acid. Men were very much in the minority, and there seemed to be an awful lot of wine purchased from the cinema’s bar (we had Diet Pepsi and Jelly Babies – classy). In fact, when I finally get to the point of having a hen night, a night out like that wouldn’t actually be a bad way to go – normally I decry dressing up on hen nights, but I’d make an exception for this. No one seemed to mind when we shouted out the lines, and the subtitles were a joy to watch – not just simple words with a bouncing ball, no, this was full-on animation. An especially favourite moment was during Stranded at the Drive-In with the addition of dancing hot dogs and ice lollies.

I’ll accept that such an evening out might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do highly recommend it. In addition to the films mentioned above, there’s also the obligatory Singalong Rocky Horror and Abba. Honestly, what’s not to enjoy about that?

Friday Fun with a song and a dance (or two…)

The last fortnight has been all about the televisual delight that is BBC 4’s three-part series entitled The Story of Musicals. Who wouldn’t want to devote three hours of their life to the story of how the British musical overcame the might American Broadway in the 1960s; went on to dominate it in the 1980’s; and how it got its come-uppance in the late 1990s? Honestly, I’ve watched each part twice and its prompted some fantastic musical archive digging – Cats, Joseph, Starlight Express…it’s been a joy.

This week’s Friday Fun is therefore musically inspired. For a start, dig out some classic tunes on Spotify (or similar – Spotify is out of favour in my world currently, but it is useful on occasion), then, if it’s your thing, check out what follows.

Firstly, do you know who was a star of episode 3? John Barrowman. The man so camply wonderful that really he only needs to be referred to as “Barrowman!” (for a brilliant example of this, watch this clip of David Tenant on Never Mind the Buzzcocks). Even if you’re not a fan, this video ought to bring at least a wry smile to your face:

Secondly, you know who was a surprise feature of musical London’s history? Cliff Richard. I know I shouldn’t be that surprised, but I’d honestly had no idea he’d starred in a chronically awful production in the mid-80s (it featured a 10ft hologram of Laurence Olivier) and I’d obviously blocked all memories of Heathcliff the musical from my mind. He’s not someone who has amused me much in the past, but that changed with the discovery of the tumblr: Cliff Richard is dying inside. The concept is a simple one. Take a shot of Cliff (there are many, he’s done calendars for decades) and consider the real emotion lying behind his eyes.

For example, the most recent one is this:

Fabulous. Obviously, I couldn’t mention musicals without somehow happening upon a Glee connection. Did you know that the utterly awesome Blaine Warbler (aka Darren Criss) is partly responsible for a Harry Potter musical? Given that this appeared on YouTube in 2009, I appreciate that I’m coming rather late to the party, but what could be better than a musical theatre, Harry Potter inspired parody, sung by a beautiful man? No, I agree with you, nothing.

Finally, a tenuous musical link… Last week was the annual London A Cappella Festival, at which the lovely Songmen were performing. I went along to provide sibling-in-law support and had a jolly good time. (Including hearing the most amusing rendition of a 16th century French madrigal ever.) The Songmen were followed by an intriguing collective from one of my alma maters. All the King’s Men are essentially King’s College London’s answer to the Warblers, only with far worse outfits. Morv and I could barely hold ourselves together during their performance of It’s Raining Men, but they are rather quality. I couldn’t find a video of that gem, so here’s an equally camp Spice Girls Medley:

May your weekend be full of singing, or dancing, or both!

Dedication to the cause

Nothing says commitment to a cause like enduring adverse weather conditions for the sake of a passion/obsession – especially in Britain. Rain is a common enough occurrence that to stay at home in the hope of avoiding it would mean missing out on a heck of a lot.

Take Saturday, for example. Miserable weather was forecast, but our plan for the day (fixed up at least two months ago) was to enjoy West End Live in Trafalgar Square, possibly attend a barbecue and then watch Legally Blonde (again) – two out of the three activities required being open to the elements. Thing was, the day dawned bright and sunny, so it was hard work persuading our minds to be sensible and to don practical clothing that would also be suitable for a night at the theatre. Tantrums were thrown in the Met Office’s direction and arguments were had over the reliability of different weather iPhone apps.

The forecast didn’t keep the musicals fans from Trafalgar Square – they were there in droves, ready for all possibilities. In the space of half an hour I must have removed and replaced my cardigan four times; opened and closed my brolly twice; and spent a significant amount of time shielding my eyes from fierce sunshine (couldn’t see the performers properly sans glasses, so sunglasses would’ve hampered my enjoyment). Looking down towards Big Ben, we could see the clouds moving towards us at speed so were at least assured that whatever the weather threw at us wouldn’t last for long.

The showers were annoying – not least because the unfurling of umbrellas obscured our view of the stage somewhat (and a member of our party revealed that he had a paranoid fear of being poked in the eye by one, so found the whole thing rather traumatic), but it certainly wasn’t enough to send us under cover. We had come for free musicals and free musicals were what we were going to see! Then came a true test of our resolve – the Jersey Boys set began (ok, yes, so the jukebox musical is a test for all our resolves…) and as they did so the heavens opened and rain poured down…

…And down, and down. There was a brief pause, then it began again. The water level in the square began to rise (they may need to look at its drainage), and I began to search for higher ground. But the crowd stood firm, determined to stay put and enjoy themselves. Then the rain turned to hail – and still we stood firm. Sure, it was uncomfortable and unpleasant, but while we could see a spot of blue in the sky, we believed that hope was not lost.

See, Morv was not happy.

The crowd standing firm – but damp.

Eventually it stopped – I say eventually, the sun returned before the Jersey Boys had finished their set and we happily watched Mamma Mia excerpts while drying out in the sun and deciding where to go for lunch. As a result of the experience, I think we learned a few valuable lessons:
  • Sandals are appropriate footwear in such circumstances. Yes, I may have looked (and felt a bit cold) but my feet dried super quickly and I did not have to spend the rest of the day in damp shoes.
  • If you’re carrying extra, warm clothing with you, it’s best not to keep it in a fabric bag – in torrential rain it won’t necessarily stay dry. 
  • Shorts & leggings were a good idea – again, because leggings dry quickly. Denim shorts on the other hand, not so sensible – like jeans, once damp it takes forever to get dry (and there’s little worse than an afternoon with a soggy bottom). 
  • Shaking yourself dry may look ridiculous, but can be effective…

Bruce & Morv ably demonstrate the shaking technique.

Oh, and the ultimate post torrential rain warmer-upper is this beauty:
That would be a dark chocolate & rum milkshake with added Oreo bits.
It’s practically an entire meal – and a cocktail, in a glass.