In Step with Modern Britain

With all the endless doom and gloom swilling around us, it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come. It says something incredibly powerful about our society when the three finalists of Strictly Come Dancing – the most popular show on British TV – were a black woman, a deaf actor and a same-sex couple, as voted for by the viewers. As critic Barbara Ellen put it in her Guardian review:

“A ground-breaking Strictly final in step with modern Britain.”

“… Strictly, and the BBC, at its best: everyone welcome, and everything all the better for it.”

Hot on the heels of Strictly came the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, also a public vote. It was won by the child of Chinese-Romanian immigrants with a gay diver bringing up the rear in second place.

And then came the out-of-the-blue and very public marriage proposal on the stage of Norwich’s splendid Theatre Royal at the end of their Christmas panto production of Dick Whittington. When Joe popped the question, the kids went wild. Just as well Luke said yes!

Watch it on Facebook. Congratulations boys.

Tinsel Town

The tree’s up and dressed, the garland’s draped above the fire, the mulled wine’s gently simmering on the stove and the village is sparkling in pretty strings of twinkle. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

As usual, festive tunes dominate the wireless, so I’ll leave it to those strawberry blonds Ed Sheeran and the Rocket Man to sing in the season with their jolly Christmas duet. Here’s their cheap, cheeky and very British gig gently taking the piss out of Christmas videos past. How many can you spot? Hit it, boys…

Come On You Queens!

Now that live theatre is back in full flow after the lockdown drought, we’ve been lapping up the good, the bad and average. First on the bill was the fantastic Come From Away – a West End show for our times – at the aptly named Phoenix Theatre. Next up was Norwich’s cute Maddermarket Theatre for a semi-pro production of One Man, Two Guvnors, the full-on farce which made a West End and Broadway star of James Corden. We saw the London show a few years back but enjoyed our little local offering rather more.

Then there was Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks the Musical on its pre-West End run – strictly for the kiddies and needs work before it gets to London – and The Dresser starring the brilliant Matthew Kelly as the well-past-his-sell-by-date thesp and a so-so Julian Clary as his long-suffering retainer. Both productions were at Norwich’s splendid Theatre Royal.

But by far the best in show was Six – also at Norwich’s Theatre Royal – a very modern musical about Henry the Eighth’s six wives. The gig was first performed by Cambridge University students at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 and has since gone global. It’s now on its UK tour.

Presented as a concert by a girl group, the wives take turns to sing their stories to decide who should get lead vocals. It’s a right royal foot-tapping take on girl power long before the Spice Girls got in on the act. Of course, in reality they were just pawns in Henry’s matrimonial chess game – divorced, beheaded, died – divorced, beheaded, survived.

Let’s face it, we only really remember the old letch because he had six wives. Ok, there was the small matter of the break with Rome too, but honestly, Henry, all that fuss over a pretty face and the pursuit of a male heir. His daughters were much more capable. Well perhaps not Bloody Mary so much, but the Virgin Queen showed real girl power.

Prime Time Gays

We’ve put Amazon Prime on trial. The retail juggernaut offers Prime free for a month. The jury’s out whether we’ll carry on once the trial is over. Not because it’s rubbish. It isn’t. But because Amazon has got too big for its boots. Just saying.

The trial did give us the chance to check out Prime Video and a couple of movies that took our fancy – ‘Dating Amber’ and ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’. We’d not heard of the former but we’d seen the stage version of the latter beamed from the West End before the pandemic turned off the glitter ball.

Set in Ireland during the mid-90s, ‘Dating Amber’ tells the story of Eddie and Amber, two gay teens who decide to fake a romance to stop the kids at school from banging on about their sexuality. It’s a funny, sweet and touching coming out tale, and perfect for warming a cool autumnal evening.

The musical ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ was a surprise West End hit, inspired by the 2011 BBC documentary ‘Jamie: Drag Queen at 16’. The show follows the eponymous teenager as he beats the bullies and the bigots to slip on the high heels, sequined frock and big hair as a wannabe drag queen.

The show’s back on in the West End now and Prime recently premiered the film version. We liked the stage show but we loved the movie – gutsy, exuberant and courageous with a sparkling cast, including Max Harwood as Jamie.

And what do these two films have in common (apart from the bleedin’ obvious)? None other than fabulous Irish actress, writer and comedian Sharon Horgan who plays Eddie’s doting mother and Jamie’s tight-arsed teacher. Sharon Horgan’s all over our screens right now, making career hay while the TV sun shines. And who came blame her?

Come From Away – a Show for Our Times

No trip to old London Town is complete without taking in a show. At last the curtain has gone up all over the West End after a very tough time. Our musical treat was Come From Away at the aptly named Phoenix Theatre. The show tells the remarkable true story of what happened when, following 9/11, thirty-eight civilian planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small Newfoundland town of Gander. With North American airspace cleared, 7,000 ‘plane people’ were stranded for the duration. The residents of Gander and surrounding towns rose to the considerable challenge, freely providing board and lodgings and a warm welcome. Funny, inventive and moving, it’s a show for our times. Here’s a taste.

To be able to take our seats we had to show our NHS app and prove we were double jabbed. For the moment, so-called ‘COVID passports’ won’t be mandatory in England and I know some fools think they are an affront to their civil liberties. Tough. Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. It’s called civilisation. Stopping at a red light, wearing a seat belt and smoking restrictions are there to protect us all, including the foolish.