Calendar Girls

Calendar Girls

Come Valentine’s Day, romantically-minded Liam likes to put on a show and the show in question was the Calendar Girls musical at the Theatre Royal, Norwich. And what a show it was too. Adapted from the 2003 film, it’s based on the real-life story of a group of middle-aged Yorkshire lasses from the local Women’s Institute who bare all in a naughty calendar. The husband of one of the racy ladies had died from cancer and the modest aim was to raise enough cash to buy a new sofa for the relatives’ room at their local hospital. The plucky troop battled against their own considerable anxieties and stiff resistance from their local chairlady, horrified as she was that the squeaky-clean, jam and Jerusalem reputation of the WI would be badly sullied. Eventually though, the ladies triumphed. The calendar was a runaway international success and it, and the sequels, have so far raised over £2 million for Leukaemia research. And the ladies bought the sofa. I call that a result.

The musical version, with a score by Gary Barlow from Take That, is emotional without being soppy, tuneful, uplifting, joyous and very, very funny. The touring cast of well-knowns and less well-knowns really know how to belt out a song or two. Like us, the audience lapped it up and gave a standing ovation at the end. For some, though, it was all too much. The lady next to Liam sobbed the whole way through. Cancer, as we all know, is a serious business.

For a taste, here’s the trailer (from the West End production)

Perfect Day

Perfect Day

Christmas comes but once a year, thank the Lord. You can almost taste the stress in the high street from the world-weary shoppers to the fixed-grin workers with tired old tinsel in their hair. I shop early to avoid the hurly-burly. We do, though, always look forward to the John Lewis festive TV ad, and this year’s offering featuring Elton John is a cracker. But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for Captain Fantastic. Predictably, a few scrooges got all bah humbug about the extravagance in these austere times; the moral high ground can be a joyless place. Besides, it’s our job to fix the ills of society, not a shop.

This year, Liam and I are having a quiet one in the microloft. The calorific grub will come courtesy of Mr Marks and Mr Spencer and the quality of the vino will go up a notch or two. Then we’ll drop onto the sofa to foot-tap our way through Mama Mia – Here We Go Again! Out on DVD just in time for Christmas. A perfect day.

Seasons Greetings

Seasons greetings to one and all. Whatever Christmas means to you, may your day be peaceful.

Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

We were planning to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the new Freddie Mercury biopic. But the reviews have been decidedly mixed, despite Rami Malek’s astonishing portrayal as the Queen of Queen. It’s been said that, as producers of the film, the surviving members of the band all come across as a bit too saintly. Of course, they’re not saints. Nobody is. And Freddie’s sexuality has been sanitised, presumably to appeal to the widest international audience possible. Freddie’s excesses are well-documented. His AIDS-related death was awful and, for me, profoundly affecting. I remember it all too well. I once saw Freddie at a gay club back in the day, surrounded by his acolytes. There was nothing ambiguous about Freddie. So we decided to give the film a miss to avoid the disappointment. Instead, we lunched at Bishop’s, one of Norwich best indie restaurants. The meal was courtesy of the staff at the village surgery where Liam earns an honest crust. We’d already had our joint birthday treat at the newly opened Ivy Brasserie. But you can never have too many birthday treats, can you?

A Star is Born… Again, Again and Again

A Star is Born… Again, Again and Again

‘I’m going to see A Star is Born,’ said a colleague of Liam’s. ‘It’s supposed to be brilliant,’ she gushed. ‘Have you seen the original, you know, the one with Barbra Streisand?’

‘That’s not the original’ he replied.

Liam was right. Ms Streisand and her dodgy seventies curly perm was not the first. That honour goes to the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. Then there was the more famous remake – the 1954 musical with Judy Garland and England’s very own James Mason. And who could forget the 2013 Bollywood incarnation? No, I didn’t see it either.

a Star is Born Compilation

Image courtesy of The Atlantic

Now it’s been rolled out again, this time with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the leads. Reviews have been star-bright and Liam’s a sucker for a gay icon – Garland, Streisand, Gaga (though I’m not sure about Gaynor, unless it’s Gloria, of course). Naturally, we couldn’t resist.

It’s a well-trodden plot – a maelstrom of passion and torment as girl on the way up mates with boy on the way down – so no need to recount it here. But was it worth the ticket price?

Well, sort of. Both leads are excellent and Lady Gaga lets it go with both barrels but the film is way too long, the dialogue way too mumbly and the script way too sweary. I’m no prude and I’ve been known to utter the odd profanity myself but, really, there’s no need to say f*ck with every other word. It dulls the effect, especially for a weepy. It left me unmoved. What would Judy say?

It’s a Sin

It’s a Sin

It’s my habit to pop out for a mid-morning coffee following the torture at the gym. One sunny day I parked myself outside a café to rest my weary bones, sip my americano, scan my newspaper and watch the ebb and flow of the eclectic crowd. A sallow-faced, reedy man plonked himself down in front of me. He was playing Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ on his phone – not too loud to cause a stir but loud enough to raise eyebrows.

A silver-haired old chap with a walking stick shuffled past.

‘Like the music?’ he asked.

‘It’s fine,’ I replied. ‘I don’t mind a bit of Rick.’

‘Some Pet Shop Boys would be nicer,’ he said with a wink.

I tend to agree. And so to the Pet Shop Boys anthem which was the soundtrack to many a young man’s coming out back in the day.

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

Le Gateau ChocolatThis year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival has been in full swing with the usual eclectic mix of the traditional and the avant-garde in words, music, dance, acrobatics and eccentricity. And they don’t come more avant-garde or eccentric than Le Gateau Chocolat, a black, fat bearded drag queen from Nigeria with a rich baritone voice and a thoughtful line in diversity and exclusion. ‘Chocolate Cake’ delivered his jerky, quirky cabaret with pathos and panache, receiving an enthusiastic hand from a full house of well-oiled whiskery types.

Quite by chance, a foe from my pre-Liam Soho days parked his skinny arse in the row in front of us. It was a blast from the past that instantly chilled the air. Thankfully, the cabaret raised the temperature to heart-warming. By the encore, the old foe threw a tantrum (nothing to do with me) and sleeked off into the night with his entourage.

Back to the act…

A Hard Act to Follow

A Hard Act to Follow

When Liam planned our ‘jolly’ down memory lane, he wasn’t to know it would be the hottest May Day holiday on record. The Sun puts a smile on everyone’s face, doesn’t it? And we smiled our way round Bankside, my favourite district of London. Back when the first Elizabeth was on the throne, old Southwark was a riot of licentiousness – playhouses, brothels and taverns – beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London’s buttoned-up elders who wagged their fingers from the other side of the Thames. This is where Will Shakespeare plied his trade among the players, the prostitutes and the drunks. That’s my kind of town.

Not that there are many ne’er-do-wells milling around these days. The area has cleaned up its act and is now home to over-priced flats, over-priced eateries, over-priced bars, world-class modern art and a working replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It certainly pulls in the crowds.

I went all thespian and began to recite the only lines I could remember from my part in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream circa 1976…

You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear

The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,

May now perchance both quake and tremble here,

When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.

And roar I did, when Snug the Joiner became the lion in a rabbit costume smelling of mothballs and accessorised with an improvised mane. Times were hard in the seventies.

Liam decided my hammy Shakespeare was putting off the tourists and bundled me onto a riverboat and took me to a different kind of theatrical show – a little fairy dusting of trad drag.

street-entertainment.jpg

It was an eventful afternoon made all the more eventful by the delightful boys from the Abbey Rugby Club in Reading. They were on a ‘Monopoly board tour’ and had landed on Trafalgar Square for a queer beer. Well fancy that. And I did.