Monthly Archives: December 2013

Theatre: Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho

Matt Tedford has the sparkling eyes of someone destined to be on stage – and not just because he’s playing a woman who also knew a fair bit about performing, Margaret Thatcher. Having spent the past five years working in roles including a civil servant, this satirical drag musical (co-written with Jon Brittain) is both a comeback for him and the Iron Lady. For anyone who is nostalgic for 1980s pop culture and has conflicted feelings about one of the UK’s most iconic leaders and provocative hate figures, it’s a glittering ride into a wryly observed idealised past: one where Section 28 was never passed and Thatcher was a cabaret queen.

Developed from a tight little short, performed at Theatre503’s Thatcherwrite season, the funny yet warm-hearted script is longer and looser than it once was, but extra characters (including panto villain Jill Knight and testosterone-fuelled leftie Peter Tatchell), played with exuberant flair by Robert Cawsey and Ed Yelland, make it all the richer.

A reflective final scene touchingly brings us back to reality, while some terrific one-liners and visual gags resurrect the spirit of the alternative comedy scene. Anyone who mourns that this died with the 1980s probably hasn’t seen this show. I await the West End transfer (with live band).

Theatre503, London. Until 11 January.

Written for The Stage

Theatre: Boris and Sergey’s Vaudevillian Christmas Adventure

If watching a faceless Bunraku puppet emulate having oral sex with a hapless audience member is your idea of hilarious festive fun, then this is the show for you. As part of Theatre503’s Alternative Christmas double-bill, the popular group of puppeteers return with their difficult-to-like but impossible-to-ignore bad boy brothers of vaudeville; Boris and Sergey.

With enforced joining in and the kind of delivery that rarely dips below shouting, the performance initially feels aimed at eight year olds. However, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s for adults only, ideally ones who have had at least four pints and enjoy seeing something childish mashed together with sex and swearing. It’s an idea that has been done better, but perhaps not with such an in-yer-face attitude.

The rotating cast are excellent puppeteers and some of the musical numbers are beautifully choreographed, but while Boris and Sergey might relish the unstructured mayhem, they could really do with a proper story to take things beyond a series of anarchic skits. A remote controlled truck falling down the stairs is a highlight; less so a rambling poker game with Lee and Kate from the second row. While the company’s punk ethos is appealing, characters as obnoxious as this are an acquired taste.

Theatre503, London. Until 11 January.

Written for The Stage

Film: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Everybody loves a Gladiator, so much so that many people probably wish the Roman Empire had never ended. Slaves tearing one another apart? Bring out the popcorn! That’s what The Hunger Games is about – oh, and a ‘strong’ female character called Katniss, who may or may not have been named after a new brand of pet food. Apparently there’s more to her character in the books – which I’m looking forward to reading – but here she’s defined by being good with a weapon (a bow and arrow) and brave; the same traits that male heroes have in pretty much every other action film.

A cross between George Orwell and Simon Cowell’s visions of the future, The Hunger Games films (or at least, the two so far released) can seem like a sanitised version of the far bloodier Battle Royale, while being less subversive than they may at first appear. Yes, there’s a dystopia with a 21st-century twist, revolving around the controlling powers of Reality TV, but ultimately one oppressive totalitarian regime can seem pretty much like another.

Katniss might look nonplussed at the sumptuous outfits she’s made to wear, but we’re still encouraged to enjoy them. In Hunger Games: Catching Fire, at one point she’s even trussed up in a wedding dress like a romcom heroine. But wait! It turns into an equally sumptuous black mocking bird outfit, so that’s OK. While riding around the ring in a chariot she also gets to wear a dress made out of fire. Real fire! How strong and yet stylish is that?! No wonder everyone fancies her. Even old men can’t resist randomly presenting her with roses.

When I was a kid I used to watch a cartoon called Jem and the Holograms in which, through the power of holographic technology (whatever happened to that?), a millionaire teenage pop star transformed herself and her outfit by simply twisting one of her earrings. Katniss, aided by Lenny Kravitz as her fashion designer, at times seems to have the same powers. Thankfully, despite the X Factor-style setting, she never gets to sing. (Singing was Jem’s ‘skill’ and upon recently relistening to her hits I discovered it wasn’t a very good one).

In contrast, wannabe heartthrob Peeta – trapped with some other bloke in a Twilight-style love triangle – seems to have very few skills. His main one appears to be standing in front of Katniss when she is trying to shoot someone. He also enjoys offering to lay down his life, but unfortunately doesn’t get the chance to follow this through. Katniss is just too damn capable. She must feel like she’s been thrown to the lions with a member of One Direction.

With a slow build-up, training sequences and battle to kill or be killed on an island filled with peril, it’s pretty much the same set-up as the first film in the series. However, it’s all undeniably exciting stuff, particularly when the games begin. Will Katniss die a horrible death? Probably not – but it’s what she’ll have to do to survive that we want to see. Cruelty is enjoyable when it’s happening to someone else. Gladiators don’t exist anymore, so we go to the cinema instead. And although The Hunger Games isn’t 1984, it does manage to capture the thrill of watching someone being tested to their limits while looking unusually good in a boiler suit remarkably well.

Theatre: Changing Rooms

Despite getting more dated with every passing year, French farce refuses to go away. Marc Camoletti’s Changing Rooms is lesser-known than his 1960s hit Boeing Boeing but it’s mixture of faux salacious sex, partner swapping and door slamming is as predictable as children shouting “it’s behind you” in a pantomime.

In a solidly directed production by Anna Ostergren, set in the 1980s, Massaratti owner Bernard and his vampish wife Jacqueline attempt to smuggle their younger lovers, Robert and Brigette, into their plush home, each believing the other to be away. Caught in the middle of the ensuing chaos is their housekeeper, Nana, wryly played by Jill Stanford. “Get your trousers on!” she exclaims, between extorting cash, as this quartet of dippy extroverts gallivant in and out of their bedrooms in outfits ranging from silk dressing gowns and silver pants to ropes and frilly corsets.

The likeable cast give lively performances and are at their best when playing their archetypical roles with understatement, the dialogue being heightened enough without wry nods and winks to the audience. When Robert and Brigette finally realise that their users and abusers are “over the hill” and not the gods they once seemed, it’s surprisingly satisfying. Perhaps times are changing after all.

The Drayton Arms, London. Until 21 December.

Written for The Stage