Yes, it’s that time of year again when the technicolor travelling circus that is Eurovision rolls into town. After Ukraine’s win last year, the tele-moguls wisely decided against staging the glitterfest in Kyiv with the risk of Russian drones crashing the party – literally. So, the poisoned – or blesséd – chalice was passed to runners-up, le Royaume-Uni.
‘… the songfest has been given an extra political frisson this year by Tsar Putin’s annexation/ repatriation (delete according to taste) of the Crimea; continued unrest in eastern Ukraine might earn Kiev a few sympathy votes…’
Prophetic or what?
Reaching an audience of over 160 million, the Eurovision Song Contest is the biggest music show on the planet. These days, the competition is less about the actual songs – once heard, rarely remembered – and more about the glitzy spectacle, with performances ranging from the camply sublime to the utterly bizarre. It hardly matters. Votes will be cast along political and ethnic fault lines anyway. They always are.
The City of Liverpool won the bid to host the jamboree on behalf of Ukraine and good ol’ Auntie Beeb has chucked most of our licence fee at it with week-long sideshows online and on stage to accompany the main events. Excitement has built to fever pitch with superfans from across the realm and the continent descending on the city. There have even been special trains laid on…
Just like our Liverpudlian comrades, we’ve decided to embrace the entire silly shindig with a silly shindig of our own. Sadly, our gaff is a tad smaller than the Liverpool Arena so a kindly neighbour has stepped in to host the show at their mini-mansion. They’ll be silly hats, silly score cards and silly prizes. Good luck to the UK’s Mae Muller. It’s a crackin’ song with crackin’ lyrics.
But when the nil points roll in and the UK predictably plummets down the scoreboard, we’ll just crack open another bottle and drown our silly sorrows.
We had a little taste of Echo Youth Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors at the Maddermarket’s recent charity gig and thought, yep, that’s right up our alley. The quirky musical comedy features Skid Row florist Seymour in a kinda horticultural ménage à trois with co-worker Audrey and Audrey 2, his pet pot plant with an insatiable appetite and bad attitude. What’s not to like?
Taking on a cult classic, particularly one as eccentric as Little Shop of Horrors, is either brave or foolhardy but Echo Youth Theatre have strong roots and always put on a colourful display. And they didn’t disappoint, delivering an outstanding show from the entire cast with particular stand out performances from the young leads – Korben White as Seymour, Carrigan Matthews as Audrey, George Bartlett-Archery as Mr Mushnik and Jack Rudd as Orin/Martin. We also just adored the Ronnettes, the girl group with a great sixties vibe and all the right moves.
And a special mention has to go to Lily Matthews as the voice of Audrey 2. Sensational vocals, Lily.
We pitched up at the first night so there’s still time to grab a seat this week before the curtain falls on Saturday 15th. Go on, there’s nothing to fear.
A big birthday deserves a big show and they don’t get much bigger than ABBA Voyage at the specially constructed ABBA Arena in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Discretion prevents me from broadcasting the number of the big birthday. Let’s just say the lady turned 21 again. After a Champagne breakfast at the White Horse generously provided by our jolly landlord – the birthday girl’s other half – the fancily-dressed voyagers piled onto the charabanc to the Smoke. More generosity from the innkeeper saw some of us three sheets to the wind before we hit the M11.
London traffic, as always, was bumper to bumper, but we made the performance – just. And what a performance. It took my breath away. Truly the best light and sound show I’ve ever seen. ABBA split in 1982 and, unlike some ancient rockers who seem to be on perpetual tour, the quartet wisely decided they were way too long in the tooth to squeeze into those skin-tight costumes and hit the road again. So ABBA Voyage is the next best thing – or the first best thing depending on your point of view – a virtual concert featuring ‘ABBAtars’.
At first, it felt a bit weird clapping to a series of holograms, but the show is so technically brilliant, so convincing, that it’s easy to suspend belief and party hard to the fast-paced set of timeless ABBA classics. And who doesn’t like a bit of ABBA at a party? We all had a ball, particularly the birthday girl – because she’s amazing too.
The last time I was at a school play, I was in a school play. That was 1976 and it was Midsummer Night’s Dream. No, I wasn’t typecast as one of the fairies. Shame on you for thinking it. In fact, I was ‘Snug, a Joiner’, who was also ‘Lion’ in the Bard’s play within a play. I was terrible. My lion’s roar was particularly lame. Roll on nearly half a century and school plays have come a long way. Back in my day, there was no technical wizardry with lights, mikes and music, just a few spotty teens mooching and mumbling.
And judging by the recent production of Matilda, the Musical, at Hobart High, our local secondary school, the quality of the performances has come a long way too. There was some real talent on that stage and the complicated ensemble song and dance routines were a pleasure to watch – harmonious and pretty much step perfect. The enthusiasm was infectious, warming up the audience on a cold midwinter’s evening. And the fact we knew some gifted kids in the cast made it even better. Mothers cried with joy.
A glitter bomb of drag queens in outrageous slap and the highest heels sashayed onto the stage at Norwich’s Theatre Royal to add a little glamour to the naughty but nice musical Kinky Boots, the very latest thing from the class act that is the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. The show is based on a 2005 British comedy* of the same name, which itself is loosely based around the true story of a Northampton cobbler struggling to save his family-run factory from closure by producing fetish footwear for men.
With songs by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the show is a glorious celebration of diversity and acceptance. Despite being set against the grim reality of deindustrialised Britain, it’s a heart-warming tale of hope and salvation, and strangely resonant given Norwich’s own long history of shoe-making. The dazzling cast did Cyndi proud, and dowager drag queen Lola was simply fabulous. The show ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.
I’ll leave the last words to that camp old crooner Barry Manilow and aptly named sixties supergroup The Kinks.
Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl
With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there.
‘Copacabana‘ by Barry Manilow
Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walked like a woman but talked like a man
‘Lola’ by Ray Davis
*A film directed by Norwich’s very own Julian Jarrold. The Jarrold family are big round here.