John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

Theatre trips

I've been having quite a cultural weekend so far, with two theatre trips on consecutive nights. Well, ok, "cultural" may not quite be the right word, but they've been entertaining evenings out.

Last night I went to see One Man Star Wars with rjw1 and nou. One thing to be aware of is that this didn't exactly start on time, so it may finish a bit later than you'd expect. Basically, there was a stand-up comedian who came on first as the warm up act, which lasted for about 25 minutes. Then there was a 20 minute interval for ice cream etc., so the actual Star Wars performance didn't start until 45 minutes after the advertised time. This then ran for an hour - basically 20 minutes per play, with very brief gaps in between (about 30 seconds to give him time to gulp down some water).

The stand-up guy did have some funny material, and I sympathised with him at the start when he realised that some of his audience was a bit younger than he'd expected (e.g. the 6 year old boy in the front row), so some of his usual material was probably a bit iffy. He left in jokes about Playboy and the "Readers' Wives" pages in Razzle, so I don't know what he took out... There were also some nice sci-fi specific jokes, e.g. the idea that Yoda was doing benefit fraud (going around with a walking stick, even though he could whirl like a dervish in Attack of the Clones). However, I'm not entirely comfortable with the audience interaction aspects; from my limited experience, this seems to be common to all stand-up acts, and basically comes down to "Hey, I'll sulk if nobody reacts to me, but if you do answer my questions then I'll show how I'm so much cooler than you, so that everyone else wants to be my friend". I'd hoped to leave that kind of parasitic behaviour behind when I left school, but I guess some people like it. It also seemed a bit odd to have a warm-up guy, and then leave people twiddling their thumbs during a long interval, so that they're all getting bored and frustrated by the time the real performer turns up. Still, I don't want to be too critical; as I say, there was some funny stuff in the warm-up act that made me laugh.

On to the main act. Unlike the Reduced Shakespeare Company, there wasn't really any audience interaction here; they were almost giving a lecture, by talking about the things that happened in the plays/Bible, whereas this guy was just performing various scenes without any kind of introduction. It's similar to some of the Abridged Scripts for Movies, but not quite the same. One important point is that you do really need to be familiar with the films in order to follow this, because it wouldn't make any sense on its own.

Taking another comparison, last year I went off to see Patrick Stewart perform his one man version of A Christmas Carol. That was similar to the way that Stephen Fry reads the Harry Potter books for CDs (or so I assume), in that he alternated between being the narrator and actually performing different roles. With the Star Wars play, the performer would alternate rapidly between roles, but he'd only occasionally indicate scene changes, so you had to recognise them. For instance, rather than summarising chunks of the plot, he'd repeat some scenes almost entirely word for word, while ignoring others altogether.

One thing I will say for him - he's very good at doing the non-human voices. I know a few people who can do a decent Chewbacca impersonation, but making authentic R2-D2 whistles is quite an accomplishment. He's also quite a physical actor, rushing back and forth across the stage, doing forward rolls, etc.

Some of the funniest moments came with references to the prequel trilogy. For instance, when Luke confronts Obi-Wan about his father's supposed death, Obi-Wan says "Your father became seduced by the dark side, and the good man that he used to be was destroyed. Partly because I cut off his arm. And his legs. And then he fell into a river of lava."

He'll be touring around the UK for a while yet, so I'd recommend seeing him if you get the chance. He also said that he may be back next year to perform his other show: One Man Lord Of The Rings; he performed a little trailer for it (the Gollum/Smeagol dialogue from The Two Towers), and I'd happily watch that. Mind you, one piece of advice if you do go along: don't sit in the front row! As with dolphin performances, people who sit near the front will get wet, since there was a certain amount of (accidental) spitting going on.

One thing I did notice around the building were various posters advertising the Christmas pantomime (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). They had photos of the cast, which basically includes a bunch of celebrities who I don't recognise at all (presumably from various soap operas); however, it also includes the Crazy Frog, who I'm sure will blend seamlessly into the plot... ("A ring ding ding ding" SLAP!) I think I shall give that one a miss, unless I get called in to cover it for SJA duty.

Tonight I went to see Avenue Q with overconvergent. We had seats in the middle of the front row of the Grand Circle (middle balcony), which worked out nicely - that gave a good view, for a reasonable price (£31.50 each).

Actually, booking was a bit confusing for this, so I'll explain how it works in case anyone else is going there. We were at the Noel Coward theatre, so the first thing to do is bring up a copy of the seating plan, and keep that open in a separate window so that you can refer to it. Now go through the normal booking process (as linked from the main website). There are six price bands (A-F), and these have nothing to do with rows. Putting that another way, it gets more expensive as you move closer to the front, but we were sitting in row A and our tickets were in price band D. In fact, the price bands have more to do with side-to-side positions, i.e. it's more expensive to sit in the middle than on the end.

At first I thought that I could get an amazingly good deal (row E in the stalls for about 20 quid), but that price would actually put me in row S. Anyway, the idea is that you start by selecting a part of the theatre (e.g. stalls vs balcony), then it shows you the price bands which apply to that area. What I'd recommend is that you request multiple seats, e.g. if you're buying two tickets then say that you want two in price band C and two in price band D. This will then allocate you the best seats which are currently available in that price band/area, and you can check those against the seating plan to see where they are. At this point you haven't actually committed to buying the tickets, so you can play around with various options until you choose what you like the best. In our case, we had the choice of sitting at the front of the Grand Circle (higher up) or further back in the Royal Circle (lower down) for the same price. One thing I did like about the online booking is that the "title" box on the payment info screen had "Capt." as the first option in the list!

Anyway, onto the musical itself. A bunch of my friends went off to see it a few months ago, and they enjoyed it, so that was a good recommendation. However, all that I really knew about it was the song "The internet is for porn", in one of the many variations that you can find on YouTube. Basically, it's an adult version of Sesame Street, although they do emphasise that these are not officially Muppets, and have no endorsement from the Jim Henson company. It's probably a good idea to warn people that the musical contains swearing and sexual references, but I don't think it's gratuitously offensive; I'd say it's more toned down than South Park for instance (which I also like), and there are some genuinely good points in there. The thing is that the song titles don't really give an accurate impression by themselves, so you really need to watch it to know what you'll think of it (which admittedly isn't ideal if you wind up not liking it).

There's a decent story to link everything together, and the songs are quite catchy. As with a few other comedy songs that I've been listening to recently (e.g. Mitch Benn), you do need to pay attention to all the words, since most of the lines are different rather than having one or two phrases that are repeated several times (as with the chorus of most modern pop songs). I think that my favourite is probably "Schadenfreude", but I bought the CD on my way out so I may change that vote after hearing them all a few more times.

In theory, the cast is a mixture of humans and puppets living together. However, the puppetry is done in a way that surprised me, although I got used to it. If you think about something like Rainbow, Zippy and George were only visible from the waist up, so presumably there were people crouching down behind the counter to operate them. From what I remember of Sesame Street/Fraggle Rock/The Muppet Show, they worked in a similar way, so even when you could see the poles holding Kermit's arms up you wouldn't be able to see the person at the other end. With this show, the puppets are carried around the stage, so the person (or people) operating each one are clearly visible. Generally, the person carrying each puppet was also doing the voice, and they also copied the puppet's movements/expression as far as possible. This seemed a bit odd, and I wondered why they bothered with the puppets at all. However, it gradually became clear that each character on stage would only interact with the puppets rather than the puppeteers, and in some cases the operators would swap around, allowing the main actors to do the voices (speaking and singing) for two separate puppets.

Aside from the puppets, the action was also interspersed with cartoon clips (on TV screens which were lowered down), in the style of "here's a new number/letter/word for you to learn", and they were quite funny.

I think the main thing which may not translate very well to a UK audience is the idea that Gary Coleman is working as a handyman/landlord in the street. Basically, he is a real actor (former child star), as per his IMDB page, but he isn't playing himself (the character was played by a woman in the Broadway show, and by a guy twice his height in London). I'd guess that most of the people reading this will only remember him from his appearances in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, as the precocious genius child from the 20th century.

Anyway, all in all I had a really good time. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but (at the risk of tautology) if your sense of humour leans that way then I think you'd enjoy it.

There are video clips from all of these shows on the relevant websites, so they're probably worth watching to get a feel for what the performances are like.

My next planned theatre trip is Anthony and Cleopatra in three weeks (as performed by the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon), so that should be a bit more highbrow. I've never seen/read that play before, although I'm vaguely familiar with the history of the period, so hopefully I'll be able to follow the plot.
Tags: films, music, theatre

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