I’ve discovered a new (to me at least) fixture on the local comedy circuit – the Bluelight Comedy Magic show, which has been going for some time but last night had their first outing at the rather swish and showy Borjia bar in Northampton. All proceeds from the evening went to Rape Crisis to support their important work (and I won a very fine looking bottle of champagne in the raffle into the bargain!)
Mrs Chrisparkle and I, along with Lord and Lady Prosecco, Prinz Markus von Köln (second in line to the Prosecco family estate) and our hosts for the evening Mr and Mrs Jolly-Japester, took our specially reserved seats across the front row. Not quite sure how we scored that, but I’m not complaining. I think we were five on a bench for three, so only a small portion of my posterior felt the pleasure of the padding, but three pints of Asahi made up for that.
Our MC for the evening, and the man behind the Bluelight, although I think he’s now chucked in the blue light for full time comedy and magic, was The Trixta (aka Ashley), who kept everything going at a cracking pace but also left us plenty of time to get our glasses charged – always a vital element of any comedy night.
First up, and all the way from Las Vegas – I kid you not – was the fantastic magician Chris Randall. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such extraordinary magic at really close quarters and yet not have a clue as to how he did what he did; but then I am a sucker for magic. Mrs C always pooh-poohs it as some inferior kind of entertainment until she actually sees it, and then her jaw drops just as far anyone else’s. The thing is, one always itches to know how someone performs a magic trick, but I am so glad that I don’t know how magic works, because if I did, it wouldn’t be magic anymore; so don’t tell me!
Mr Randall did a trick with what appeared to be dental floss, pushing it up into his neck so that it apparently went right through the skin; and when he pulled at either end of it, the skin either side of his neck got pulled out too! Made me feel quite queasy but it’s an amazing illusion. He procured two £20 notes from members of the public (including Lord Prosecco) who wrote their names on the notes and which he then made disappear, only to reappear sometime later trapped inside a satsuma! He got me out of the audience and performed a trick where torn bits of paper were strangely re-assembled to create a hat, but what particularly impressed me was that whilst I was onstage with him, he managed to get my watch off me and put it on his own wrist without my noticing. Mrs C is right – I am so unobservant. He did plenty more tricks besides, including ending up with an extraordinary display of cardsharpery. He’s one helluva magician.
After a break, we next met Robin Boot, armed and extremely dangerous with his guitar and he’s not afraid to use it. If I tell you that, for his opening gambit, he sang – to the tune of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, Toe of the Camel, I think you’ll get his general drift. That song will never be the same again. He’s a really funny guy who blends ridiculous and reasonably filthy humour with his disarmingly enjoyable guitar work to great comic effect. He also achieves a great rapport with the audience and we all loved him. Mr Jolly-Japester was required to exercise his dong during his act. You had to be there.
Our headline act for the evening was comic Dan Nightingale. One of those gifted guys who makes it all look so easy, he kept us laughing our socks off for ages. Whether it was about being a Mancunian, with all that accent entails, or being a young father with all that sleeplessness that entails, or having a wife that deleted your only tv appearance off the skybox, with all the resentment that entails, his great material just kept coming and coming. He’s a very likeable guy with effortless style and again, he really went down well with the whole room.
At only £10 that was fantastic value for money and also hopefully raised bucketloads for Rape Crisis. Apparently, the next show will be in June, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for further details. Brilliant fun, can’t wait for next time! (P.S. You don’t have to look too hard to spot Mrs C and me on this photo!)
These final six songs are already guaranteed to be there on the Saturday night without any further possibilities of elimination. As the performance order is not yet decided I’m going to take them in alphabetical order. As usual, each preview will have its own star rating and its bookmaker odds courtesy of oddschecker.com, as at 24th April. Stick with it, you know you want to.
France – Alma – Requiem
Last year France came up with an absolute smasher of a song that was far and away my favourite for 2016. Well darn me, they’ve very nearly done the same again this year, with a thoroughly entertaining treatise about the ins and outs of love delivered superbly by the bewitching Alma who captured my heart at the London Party. She saw me out of the corner of her eye, gave me a huge smile and dedicated her entire performance to me. (Well, two out of three ain’t bad.) I was uncertain about her vocals at first but she can really sell this song and it ought to do really well. The video takes the concept of dancing underneath the Eiffel Tower to a new level. 20/1 – 33/1. *****
Germany – Levina – Perfect Life
Now here’s a song that splits people. Levina redefines what constitutes a perfect life with her look at making mistakes and learning from experience. It’s a relentlessly catchy arrangement and she sings it beautifully; the only thing that maybe doesn’t quite make the grade is how the lyrics seem to end up at the same place where they started. Nevertheless, I think this is a vastly underrated song and Germany’s best entry since Cascada. 100/1. ****
Italy – Francesco Gabbani – Occidentalis Karma
If you’ve not been anywhere near Planet Eurovision over the past three months you won’t have yet encountered the source of this year’s hype, Francesco Gabbani’s San Remo-winning satirical take on how the west look to the east for some easily digestible spirituality. Ever since it won it’s been the one to beat, and Francesco’s fantastic performance at the London Party did nothing to weaken his chances. The only downside is how brutally they’ve cut the San Remo version to make it fit inside Eurovision’s stipulated three minutes; but what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve, and anyone hearing it for the first time on the Saturday night won’t know what they’re missing. Since the original video was posted on 9th February it’s now had more than 100 million looks which is unheard of for a Eurovision song. Unquestionably this year’s best entry; funny, dancey, uplifting, and there’s an ape. Clear favourite. 10/11 – 11/8. *****
Spain – Manel Navarro – Do It For Your Lover
Three superb songs, then along trundles Spain. Whether you think Manel won the Spanish selection by fair means or foul (foul being by far the popular vote), he made himself no friends with his reaction to the audience’s reaction (not very dignified), and Spain ends up being represented by three minutes of repetitious tedium that last a lifetime. To be fair, it starts quite promisingly, but then rapidly falls apart. Spain’s like that – for every Pastora Soler there’s a Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, and I’d estimate this as one of Spain’s worst entries of all time. When you get to my age there’s no way you can do it for your lover that frequently in so short a time. 100/1 – 200/1. *
Ukraine – O. Torvald – Time
Time is what the writers of this entry should be doing for crimes against music. O. Torvald – subversive name for a group – have a lot of energy on stage and were entertaining to watch at the London Party but the song is execrable. I don’t think we’ll be in Kyiv two years on the row. 50/1 – 125/1. *
United Kingdom – Lucie Jones – Never Give Up On You
Let’s look at the positives. Lucie is a tremendous singer and performer and was by far the best contender at the UK National Selection. She’s been touring in Rent to fantastic reviews so holding her own on that stage should be well within her grasp. The song is plaintive and heart-warming but sadly not memorable. It’ll need a good spot in the running order and fabulous staging to have the remotest chance of getting noticed. My guess is that it’ll be everyone’s 15th favourite song, so nul points (or not far off that) wouldn’t at all surprise me. 25/1 – 66/1. ***
In previous years, I’ve analysed the number of looks each song has received on Youtube’s Official Eurovision channel but there doesn’t seem much point as there’s a large discrepancy between how long some of them have been uploaded – so it doesn’t make a fair comparison. For what it’s worth my favourite is Italy, with Estonia second and France and FYR Macedonia battling it out for third.
Have a great time watching the show on May 13th, wherever you are – at home with some crisps, at a party, or in Kyiv. May the best song win!
So here we are again, gentle reader, with a look at the eighteen songs that will battle it out in Semi Final Two. It was going to be nineteen, but there was a little ongoing skirmish between Russia and Ukraine because the Russian singer had appeared on stage in the Crimea, which just so happens to be land belonging to Ukraine that Russia have invaded and as a result, and in the spirit of Celebrate Diversity, Russia have told Ukraine they can shove their music contest up their Dnieper. Will Russia be back next year? And moreover, who will there be for the crowd to boo now? As before, you can also see the betting odds, courtesy of oddschecker.com (taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places each way, as at 14th April) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. On y va!
Serbia – Tijana Bogićević – In Too Deep
We start off with a song that many people rather like and that the bookmakers also fancy. She’s not quite Tijuana, but she still has some brass to present a song that starts like About You Now by the Sugababes, goes into a chorus like Katy Perry’s Firework, and spends the rest of its time sounding like Nina’s Caroban from 2011. Tijana was actually a backing singer for Nina so maybe she’s staying with a winning formula. Except that Caroban only finished mid-table. They’ve even nicked the title from Genesis. Is nothing original? My verdict: meh. 25/1 – 100/1. **
Austria – Nathan Trent – Running on Air
I thought this was all a bit cheesy and simple and phoned in until we saw Nathan at the London Party, and I tell you gentle reader, the man is a total star. He sang Running on Air a capella due to a technical issue and, unfazed, he really proved his worth. Plus he has an enormous connection with the audience (Matron!) If he can project that to the people at home this could do very well. As refreshing as a St. Clements, although essentially as insubstantial. 66/1 – 200/1. ***
FYR Macedonia – Jana Burčeska – Dance Alone
Hold the front page – FYR Macedonia in “great Eurovision song” shock! The gorgeous Jana (who also aced it at London) takes out her hair and washes off her makeup in the expectation of a life without love to the sound of a song that would have been a hit for Bananarama. It’s got a clever video too, where old Jana looks back at young Jana through virtual reality glasses, emphasising its message of enjoy life while you can. I really love this song and can’t stop singing it. Best Macedonian song evah! 25/1 – 80/1. *****
Malta – Claudia Faniello – Breathlessly
Finally representing Malta at the 9th attempt, Claudia Faniello is a great singer with wonderful stage presence and whilst this is a fine song, I don’t think there is any one aspect of it that will make it stand out sufficiently to get noticed. When Claudia was at the London Party she sang a medley of her previous songs – if only Caravaggio had made it. Another clever video, where an evening out goes seriously wrong, in reverse – his fault for using a mobile whilst driving. It would be great if Malta were to win one year… don’t think it will be this year though. 100/1 – 200/1. ***
Romania – Ilinca feat. Alex Florea – Yodel It
Every so often Eurovision throws up (and I mean that significantly) a mixture of genres that usually clash and burn. Rap has featured a little in Eurovision ever since Kolig Kaj fell in love with the telephone operator, and yodelling, whilst scarcer, hasn’t really achieved anything since the Pepe Leinhard Band in 1977; mind you, that was a good song. Yodel It is a truly dreadful embarrassment to modern music. But – and it’s a big but – we saw them at the London Party and my goodness they perform brilliantly. The most endearing couple on stage, they could make you believe that yap is the only way forward, and there will be millions round the world simply beguiled by their charm. Ignore this at your peril. 20/1 – 33/1. ***
Netherlands – OG3NE – Lights and Shadows
OG3NE. Not an enigmatic compass point or a half-completed postcode, but a convoluted way of saying O Gene. Graduates of the Junior Eurovision, the three sisters perform a song written by their dad about their sick mother. The lyrics are moving and heartfelt and may well twinge the emotions of the juries. However, musically, the combined melody and performance is the blandest thing I’ve encountered since the beige safari jacket. Nausea overload. 40/1 – 50/1. *
Hungary – Joci Pápai – Origo
From the blandest song in the contest to one of the most characterful. Joci gives us some authentic Hungarian gypsy vibes in this year’s least Western sounding song. (Are you sure? question Belarus. Yes, I reply.) But this is none of your happy gypsy wedding music, it’s got a very haunting rhythm and melody which suggests sadness and angst. In fact, it’s a very serious and dour account of being betrayed because of your race and knowing that only God will stand by your side in the fight for truth and justice. Not many laughs, then. Goulash, anyone? 33/1 – 40/1. ***
Denmark – Anja Nissen – Where I Am
Strong woman sings brassy song about how being a strong, brassy woman gets you nowhere in the love stakes. Anja’s a terrific performer who won The Voice Australia a few years ago, so she can certainly be relied upon to belt out the song. Trouble is, the song isn’t that great; it’s a bit shouty, and I find it quite tiring to concentrate on. I’m sure it will qualify but I don’t think it will trouble the leaderboard on the night. 33/1 – 40/1. ***
Ireland – Brendan Murray – Dying To Try
Brendan Murray was internally selected to represent Ireland this year and his song is a sweet, gentle ballad about taking that risky step into a first love affair, entirely appropriate for a singer who is 20 going on 14. He’s got plenty of experience for his young years and I am sure he will make a splendid stab at it; but again there’s not a lot here that stands out apart from the purity of his rather feminine voice. I confess it doesn’t really do anything for me. 33/1 – 66/1. **
San Marino – Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson – Spirit of the Night
Now we’re off to the land with more cars than people, it’s San Marino and their annual Ralph Siegel-penned, Valentina Monetta-sung entry, Spirit of the Night. Valentina’s fourth appearance in the contest makes her the equal the record for the most frequent female performer at Eurovision, alongside Elizabeth Andreassen and Sue from Peter, Sue and Marc. This time she’s partnered with American actor/singer Jimmie Wilson. It’s a pleasant little number with a racy façade but not much going on beneath the surface. The eponymous spirit is more Ovaltine than tequila slammer; still it means well and does nobody any harm. 100/1 – 250/1. **
Croatia – Jacques Houdek – My Friend
Another song chosen internally, which comes as no surprise to me as I cannot imagine anyone voting for this nonsense of their own volition. Did you know that opera singers are always identifiable by their spectacles? One of the most cringeworthy things I’ve ever had the displeasure to listen to. Please make the strange man singing to himself go away. No, just no. 66/1 – 150/1. *
Norway – JOWST – Grab the Moment
Norwegian singer Joakim With Steen shortens his name to JOWST, so don’t expect him to arrive on stage on horseback with a long pole. He’s accompanied by Aleksander Walmann as a mysterious keyboard artist and backing vocalist, which lends an air of intrigue. This song probably has more words per square inch than any other this year. Nice bouncy delivery and it’s an enjoyable way to waste three minutes, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. 66/1 – 100/1. ***
Switzerland – Timebelle – Apollo
Back to the land of anonymous female ballads that don’t have much to distinguish themselves from the others. Actually Timebelle are a group, but the focus is fully on vocalist Miruna. However, let’s face it, it’s no Sebalter. Nor Sinplus. Nor even Takasa. The song is fairly tedious and nothing drives me to keep listening for the full three minutes. Sorry! 66/1 – 150/1. **
Belarus – NAVI – Story of my Life
The other ethnically-charged entry this year (along with Hungary) and the first ever Eurovision song to be performed in the Belarusian language. Arciom and Ksienija are a personable young couple who sing this positive ditty about life being good and at first it seemed that it was going to be a surprise favourite this year; now, I’m not so sure. Kudos for giving us something different though. 66/1 – 150/1. ***
Bulgaria – Kristian Kostov – Beautiful Mess
Here’s this year’s dark horse. Young Kristian performed at the London Party like a dream, and if you take the time to listen to the song lyrics, it’s absolutely beautiful. A first class ballad, delivered impeccably. Certainly a classic of the future, and by rights it should be up there with a chance on the night. Second favourite. 5/1 – 6/1. *****
Lithuania – Fusedmarc – Rain of Revolution
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Three minutes of total nothing. Lead vocalist Viktorija prances her way over the stage but nothing can disguise the thinness of the song. 42nd out of 42. 80/1 – 250/1. *
Estonia – Koit Toome and Laura – Verona
Keeping two of this year’s best entries till last, repeat offenders Koit and Laura join to deliver a duet about how they’ve lost their Verona (you can provide your own personal definition) with true enigmatic style, elegance of performance and benefiting from a truly singalong melody. Firm fan favourite, it’s instantly appealing but it also allows you to fill in the characters’ back story for them. I think this is magnificent. Oh, and I love their slightly stagy recriminative looks in the video. My second favourite this year. 33/1 – 66/1. *****
Israel – IMRI – I Feel Alive
And Semi Final Two ends, not with a whimper but a bang. IMRI (apparently you have to give him capital letters, it’s the law) delivers a dancey, singalong, feelgood song that will have you up on your feet on the beach at Tel Aviv within seconds. He shouldn’t be fazed by the experience, having been a backing singer for both Nadav Guedj and Hovi Star. It’s got “summer hit” written through it like a stick of Haifa Rock. Sailing through to the final. 50/1 – 150/1. *****
And there go all the songs for Semi Final Two. To which eight songs will we saying thanks, bye? Lithuania, Malta, San Marino, Ireland, Belarus, Switzerland, Netherlands and (if there is any justice) Croatia is my guess. Remember to watch the second semi-final on BBC 4 at 8pm on Thursday 11th May – this time viewers in the UK cannot vote, so it’s all just for fun. Ten songs will go forward from both semis to the Grand Final on 13th May along with six others – the Big Five and last year’s winner, Ukraine. See you tomorrow for that final countdown – and there are some good ones still to look forward to!
Well hello there, gentle reader! No sooner has Article 50 been triggered and a General Election announced, than it’s Eurovision time again, and ISN’T the UK going to be popular this year! 42 European nations (well, including Australia) have come together in peace and harmony (well, including Ukraine) and cast their national enmities aside (yep, Russia aren’t there) in this 62nd annual bunfest. To titillate your fancy, I’m here with my trusty friends YouTube and Oddschecker to bring you the 18 songs that constitute Semi Final One, and as any ESC fan will tell you this is by far the stronger of the two semis, so if you don’t like this lot, then I’m afraid you’re not going to have a very good time. We’ll take them in the order that Ukrainian TV have decided; guided by that pure-bred Ukrainian, Christer Björkman. With each song you’ll find the betting odds from all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places on an Each Way as at 24th April, and also I’ll give each song a star rating out of 5. Dum Tek Tek and off we go!
Sweden – Robin Bengtsson – I Can’t Go On
So where do you stand on the use of the word “f*cking” (apologies gentle reader) in a pop song? True, it depends on context, but as far as the Eurovision is concerned, I’m not impressed. Its subsequent replacement by “freaking” isn’t much better, as it’s a word that’s solely used when you mean “f*cking” but can’t say it. Isn’t it always the way that when someone wins Melodifestivalen, you always prefer their earlier songs that didn’t make it? This isn’t a patch on Constellation Prize. There’s no doubt that the repetitious “I Can’t Go On, I Can’t Go On” makes a big impact, especially when he and his guys all walk forward in a very determined and resolute manner. It’s flashy, it’s professional, it’s Sweden; and it’s totally without heart. I suspect that this will do very well and I think that’s rather sad. Third favourite with the bookmakers. 7/1 – 8/1. ***
Georgia – Tamara Gachechiladze – Keep The Faith
Almost every year it’s said there are too many female ballads. And when I first heard all this year’s songs, this was one of those indistinguishable female ballads that might have been anyone from anywhere dirging on about anything. But actually, if you concentrate on it, it’s not half bad. Tamara, who in 2009 was put out when she wanted to Putin, sings another one of those songs that could be a James Bond theme (albeit on a rough year). It’s a song about personal assertiveness; basically, if others are telling you what to do, tell them to go jump in the swamp. I hope Tamara doesn’t go anywhere near a naked flame in that PVC outfit. 66/1 – 150/1. ***
Australia – Isaiah Firebrace – Don’t Come Easy
Hotfoot from his success at winning Australian X-Factor last November, 17-year-old Isaiah gives us his best puppydog eyes as he tries to convince us, despite his meagre years, that, through the heartache of a series of so many agonising relationships, he’s picking himself up and looking at love through the experienced eyes of – wow, maybe, even an 18 year old. Isaiah is a great singer who emotes well, the song has a tuneful chorus and builds nicely to a final anti-climax. But it does lack a certain something. I had to confirm with 4lyrics.eu that the last word of the second line is in fact “sheets”. 14/1 – 25/1. ***
Albania – Lindita – World
Is it just me, but when a song opens with words like “we’re so alike, yet different” my heart just plummets. Lindita seems a nice girl and relishes in her opportunity to be dramatic. Another incarnation of the indistinguishable female ballad genre, the song washes over you comfortably and cosily and you never knew it was there. Despite that, it’s still probably one of Albania’s best entries. Lindita’s been on American Idol, the real deal, not one of these European fake versions, and I’m sure she’ll perform real swell. 100/1 – 300/1. **
Belgium – Blanche – City Lights
Time for one of the early favourites. On video this is so good. Moody, dramatic, contemporary, brooding, Blanche takes us through her experience in the danger zone with a palpable sense of threat only just out of reach; and it’s great to see the Mysterons in gainful employment again. But how is this going to work on stage? I’m afraid at the London Party Blanche had all the charisma of a mushy Brussels sprout and no clue as to how to sell the song. Another 17-year-old, she’ll need a lot of direction as to how to project and make the best of this powerful material… but if she gets it, then this could go big. 10/1 – 16/1. ****
Montenegro – Slavko Kalezić – Space
A word of warning: if you ever stumble upon a Montenegrin restaurant and Slavko Kalezic is your waiter, don’t risk it because his pigtail’s a clip-on and it might fall in the soup. And that would make an almighty mess. Not that Slavko should need any second income after this contest, as I’m sure his sheer pizzazz as a natural showman will keep him at the forefront of Saturday night family entertainment viewing for a long while. Oh wait… Space has a pretty good verse that develops into something of a late 70s disco track – I could easily imagine it as part of the Saturday Night Fever brand – all apart from those lyrics about having sex in space. “Wet dreams, wild nightmares, I surrender, come into me from within, we can be as one in the sin”. What would Mary Whitehouse make of it? 66/1 – 200/1. ****
Finland – Norma John – Blackbird
Another early favourite – when this first reached our ears many were hailing it worthy of an Ivor Novello award. Just a singer, a pianist and an account of love now lost. For the record, she isn’t Norma, and he isn’t John. With its plaintive simplicity and moving lyrics it really stands out in a sea of bland pop as being different, but is different good enough? The staging will be vital to keep the audience’s interest up during that frilly trilly instrumental sequence, and Leena’s diction will have to be spot on – we couldn’t make out a word she was saying at the London party. It’s dour and downbeat, but appropriately so. Otherwise we’d ask the blackbird to “chirrup”, geddit? 40/1 – 66/1. ****
Azerbaijan – Dihaj – Skeletons
Diana Hajiyeva lends a couple of her syllables to the group she fronts for this year’s representative from lovely Baku in Azerjeben. A quirky midtempo number that’s quite appealing on the ears but it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s written by the same team who won with Running Scared, and it’s every inch as dynamic. Of all 42 songs in this year’s contest this is the one I find hardest to recall, which may be another way of saying it’s instantly forgettable. But it’s perfectly within possibility that Dihaj will win D-day. (sorry) 18/1 – 33/1. **
Portugal – Salvador Sobral – Amar Pelos Dois
The same position in the running order as the much-fancied Sergey Lazarev last year, here comes the complete opposite, Salvador Sobral, almost an anti-performer, with his crumpled jacket and quiet reserved style. Where some performers need coaching to come out of their shells, Salvador creates an art form of it, basing his whole presentation on an intimate, private and heartfelt rendition of his song, written by his sister. It’s extremely old fashioned; as the introduction starts you can imagine the black and white footage of the orchestra, or see the blunt stylus crashing down on top of the grooves of a spinning 78. A Marmite song – personally I think it’s enchanting but I also think if you hear it too often it could pall quickly. Nevertheless, this could be Portugal’s best chance of victory for a very long time. Salvador has his health scares; let’s hope he is well enough to be able to perform on the night. Fourth favourite. 10/1 – 14/1. *****
Greece – Demy – This is Love
Another rather anonymous midtempo number, with a very wordy verse redeemed by a disco chorus, but wait… what’s that wriggling under the surface trying to come out? Yes it’s Paula Seling and Ovi’s Miracle from 2014 oozing from nearly every note. To be fair, it’s not bad but there’s something about it that stops me being enthusiastic; maybe it’s the banal lyrics. 28/1 – 40/1. ***
Poland – Kasia Mos – Flashlight
From one anonymous song to another. This is so lurking in the shadows that it barely registers. Shamelessly trading on the fire, higher, desire rhyme, you could hear this twenty times and still not remember it. Poland always does well, and Kasia is a good singer, but this really is so dull. 40/1 – 100/1. *
Moldova – Sunstroke Project – Hey Mamma
And yet another unoriginal song, but at least this time there’s a purpose to its unoriginality. Yes Epic Sax Guy is back, he who accompanied countless internet sealions on the saxophone following the unexpected interest in his wonderful sax riff on Run Away back in 2010. This time, in a rather saucy video, the Sunstrokers are on the trail of a beautiful girl but constantly interrupted by her milf of a mum. Honestly guys, you could do a lot worse. This year’s epic sax break is possibly even more epic, and has a nice back foot shuffle move to go with it. Instantly uplifting, and I like it much more than I should. 66/1 – 200/1. *****
Iceland – Svala – Paper
Svala peers into the light like a waking meerkat with her little hands fighting away imaginary jackals. Wearing her thick red anorak indoors, where it’s not even raining; if she doesn’t take it off she won’t feel the benefit. “You make me feel like paper,” she sings, “you cut right through, I’m stuck like glue”. It’s true, there’s nothing quite so painful as a paper cut. Not so much a song, more of a collage. This doesn’t do much for me. 50/1 – 100/1. **
Czech Republic – Martina Bárta – My Turn
Martina’s contemporary dance video to accompany this song makes you think there must be something more substantial to this song and encourages you to concentrate on it more – and actually it works as a combination. However, she’s not going to be allowed to have twenty nearly naked people in their underwear cavorting over the stage, so I expect on the night it might sound rather hollow. It’s not a bad song, albeit with lullaby qualities. Czech soul music. 100/1 – 250/1. ***
Cyprus – Hovig – Gravity
Last year Cyprus gave us schlager rock, and they’ve followed the same pattern this year. It’s an opportunity for some macho posing that Hovig sees no need to ignore. The song’s a little lumbering and heavy but I rather like it, even though they break the cardinal rule of taking you high and touching the sky. Probably delivers slightly less than it promises. 50/1 – 200/1. ***
Armenia – Artsvik – Fly With Me
A little mood music from Armenia, with Artsvik encouraging us to fly with her as though she were 10cc’s Mandy. It’s quite evocative and atmospheric and very nicely done but never really reaches turbodrive. It’s in the tightly fought Semi Final 1 but even so, doubtless it will qualify. 16/1 – 20/1. ***
Slovenia – Omar Naber – On My Way
The second of this year’s return offenders, Omar Naber offers us a pleasant and unremarkable ballad that isn’t a patch on his song Stop, which failed to qualify so I can’t see this getting through. The video seems to show a Shakespearean tragedian having an argument with himself and I don’t think that’s helping. Omar appeared at the London Party and he’s a strong performer, who deserves to have more original material written for him… oh yeah, he wrote this himself. 100/1 – 250/1. **
Latvia – Triana Park – Line
The final song of the first semi is a quirky, rebellious little number from Triana Park, which isn’t the name of the lead vocalist but the group as a whole. Yet another song that it’s quite difficult to recall, even though it’s very different from most of the others. It’s space-agey in a modestly exciting manner, although that “all I see is you, all I see” sequence is immensely tedious. Agnese came to the London Party and aced it. 66/1 – 150/1. ***
So that’s the line up for Semi Final One. Eight songs won’t qualify and I’m going to suggest they will be: Albania, Poland, Moldova (even though it’s my favourite in this semi), Iceland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Latvia and Cyprus. Semi Final One is on BBC4 on Tuesday 9th May at 8pm, and that’s the semi-final in which the UK can vote. And I’ll be back shortly with a preview of Semi Final Two. See you soon!
Proposition: The works of Tom Stoppard become progressively more irritating the older you become – Discuss. And a syllogism: One) recently I’ve seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Travesties and Arcadia and they were all heavy going. Two) those plays were written by Tom Stoppard in the 60s, 70s and 90s. Conclusion: Stoppard is all mouth and no trousers.
It’s a shame, really it is. I remember how I loved this play with a passion when I was 15. I saw it at the Criterion on a school jaunt, with Christopher Timothy and Richard O’Callaghan as the cipher courtiers. I read it avidly. I marvelled at the wordplay. I was fascinated by Stoppard’s refreshingly innovative themes. I adored (still do) the originality of its structure. What never struck me was the possibility that it was all just too clever-clever and lacked heart. Watching it today, that’s almost the only thing that does strike me. I’m a huge drama fan and I’ve fallen out of love with Tom Stoppard. Woe is me, I am undone. Ecce homo, ergo elk.
Let’s just dwell on that structure again. Somewhere in space and time, the play of Hamlet is taking place. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, friends of Hamlet, although two of the most minor characters of the play, are offstage, because they haven’t had their first cue yet. They have no other purpose in life – not to the play, not to Hamlet (despite allegedly being “friends”), not to themselves. Basically, they just have to sit around, spinning coins, and waiting for something to happen. Eventually the play of Hamlet catches up with them, as Claudius and Gertrude welcome them to the court, with the whole Hamlet scene invading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s stage. They have their conversation about keeping an eye on how Hamlet’s behaving, and then the king and queen sweep off, signifying that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have left the action of Hamlet, and remain behind to inhabit their own lives for a little while until the next time their and Hamlet’s lives intersect.
Meanwhile the Player King, Hamlet, Polonius, Ophelia and so on drift in and out of R & G’s world as Shakespeare’s plot develops, even though R & G’s involvement doesn’t. Eventually they get given a job to do – to accompany Hamlet to England (and to his intended death). Students of the Bard have argued for centuries whether Rosencrantz and Guildenstern knew that they were escorting Hamlet off this mortal coil, or whether they were also innocents abroad. Stoppard makes it crystal clear that R & G were the fall guys, as we see Hamlet return to Denmark, but they do not (dead, see.) It’s an incredibly clever piece of writing – the linguistic representation of some mathematic genius. And you do, indeed, feel sorry for our antiheroes, caught up in a web of international intrigue, when all they’re really any good for is spinning coins.
For the illusion of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to work, you have to believe absolutely in the concept of the two parallel plays taking place at the same time and how they interweave at those dangerous corners. Therefore, it’s vital that you believe unquestioningly in the stage dominance of Claudius and Gertrude. In Hamlet, they control proceedings alongside the eponymous hero. Sadly, in this production, I found that Wil Johnson’s Claudius, in particular, had an element of pantomime about him, and I couldn’t see him as this strong, villainous, murdering king. Diminish the power of the Hamlet element to this play and you diminish the play as a whole. Similarly, Luke Mullins’ Hamlet was for me a little too jocular, a little too stagey. I didn’t get the sense of his troubled soul; and without it, R & G are even more pointless than they are in the first place.
And then you have the Player King and his entourage: David Haig in full declamatory mode, puffing up the character’s already considerable sense of self-importance, mortally wounded to have lost their audience participation at their first encounter, idly taking mild sexual advantage of the young tragedian Alfred. It’s not an easy role to get the tone absolutely right; and I did find the character a little more monotonous than when I remembered it, or imagine it in my mind’s eye. It wasn’t helped by those travelling tragedians; although their performance was probably exactly how those roving casts used to appear, I still found the sight (and sound) of them rather wearing. I found it all rather laid on with a trowel and could have appreciated something a little subtler. As I said, I’ve fallen out of love with Stoppard.
That’s not to say there aren’t elements of the production that weren’t highly entertaining. The moment, for example, when our two courtiers attempt to force Hamlet to drag Polonius’ body into their “trap” is simple and extremely funny. Perhaps wisely, they don’t follow Stoppard’s original stage direction of having Rosencrantz’ trousers fall down whilst he’s removed his belt. The scene where it appears that Guildenstern has murdered the Player King is incredibly effective. But there aren’t many moments of physical humour to alleviate the burden of the cerebral nature of the nub of the play.
That said, none of this prevents me from appreciating the two excellent performances from Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire. As Rosencrantz, Mr Radcliffe absolutely nails the introvert intensity of the character; slow to respond and react, keeping his own counsel, simply saying what he sees rather than what he thinks. As the complete opposite, Mr McGuire is perfect as Guildenstern’s extrovert loose cannon; flying off the handle, panicking loudly, trying to understand the whys and wherefores of the situation in which they find themselves. As the characters almost present themselves as two halves of one whole, the intricate dovetailing of their speeches and stage business is done with immaculate accuracy and a beautiful lightness of touch. This is the third time we’ve seen both actors on stage (Mr Radcliffe always as a troubled soul – Equus, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Mr McGuire always as a brash nincompoop – Amadeus, The Ruling Class) and they never fail to impress with their superb commitment and artistry. As an acting masterclass, they give a magnificent display.
Mrs Chrisparkle fell almost instantly asleep within the first few minutes of the play as she simply couldn’t keep up with Stoppard’s smartarseness. She awoke when the Player King and his entourage took control of the stage about an hour later. That was the point that I yielded to sleep because I found the characters so irritating. We both enjoyed the final act, after the interval, much more. But I think that all probably says much more about our own inability to put up with Stoppard than the production itself. So, if I return to my original proposition: yes he does. And my syllogism: well, it’s a syllogism, innit.
It’s been a few weeks since we last went to a Screaming Blue Murder, and when I finally snuck my way through the crowds into the Underground my preferred seat(s) had already been taken. Slightly emboldened by the fact that I knew regular host Dan Evans wouldn’t pick on me, I ventured one row closer to the stage. And what happens? “Ladies and gentlemen, meet your host and compere for this evening, Windsor!” Windsor. Not Dan. We’ve seen Windsor before, he’s brilliant. I knew precisely what was in store.
Less than 30 seconds into his material he’d ascertained my name and assured me that we’d be working a lot together during the course of the evening. He wasn’t wrong. By the time we’d finished he made me confess our favourite sexual position and had me demonstrate to two other guys the correct amount of pressure to apply to a clitoris. He’s a fantastic host, because, despite all that, he really puts the audience at ease – he was excellent in his interaction with the girls from a certain hotel in West Haddon – and, even if he picks on you, he’s never cruel and I enjoyed the opportunity for a little friendly sparring!
We’d seen all the three comics before but that didn’t matter because they were all on top form and fresh as daisies. First up was Luke Benson, the gentle, genial Geordie giant, all 6ft 7in of him. As you might expect, he gets a lot of great material from his height; his girlfriend goes up on him, for example. He forms a great connection with the audience, reacts inventively to anything that happens during his set, and he’s absolutely right about how there are some things you just can’t measure in millimetres. He went down really well.
Our second act was Juliet Meyers, who I remember always likes to use the C word within her first few exchanges – and once again she didn’t disappoint. She had a lot of new material since the last time we saw her, which was great, including how to cope with a needy dog, and the problems that women face going to the GP. I think she really succeeds when there are a substantial number of women in the audience, as there were last Friday – and she really capitalised on that!
Our headline act was Anthony King, brilliant interpreter of psychopathic crime to music, which is way funnier than it sounds. You wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover he is the inspiration for all the criminals on Midsomer Murders. Sometimes he just can’t quite maintain the straight face which makes it even better. I still feel sorry for the centipede. 100% hilarious.
A really superb night’s comedy, with everyone giving their best – and also, if I may say so myself, we were a cracking audience. Windsor said at the end that the next one will be in May… but one look in my ticket drawer shows that it’s on again next week. So why not come?!
Mrs Chrisparkle was more like my carer than my wife as I slowly shuffled into the Comedy – I mean Harold Pinter – Theatre to see Saturday’s matinee of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I’d been feeling lousy with a virus since midweek, but on Good Friday I finally flopped and it was only the prospect of seeing Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill get the guests – and the fact that I didn’t want to waste £180 worth of theatre tickets – that made me drag myself out of my sick bed and limp to Leicester Square.
“So, what’s the play all about”, Mrs C asked me in my occasional lucid moments on the train into town. “Oh… two older people have two younger people round for drinks”. Well, that’s not wrong, is it? “And that’s what makes it one of the 20th century’s best plays, is it?” “Well, it’s symbolic as well.” And after that, I think I nodded off. Tracts, theses, chapters, essays and more have been written as to what it’s all about, so I’m hardly likely (or indeed intelligent enough) to encapsulate it in a quick paragraph or two, particularly with my manflu. University types George and Martha (the original President and First Lady, as my English teacher Bruce Ritchie liked to point out) verbally tear each other limb from limb through endless bottles of late-night liquor. He both plays up to and despises his own personal failures, which she endlessly mocks too; he also humiliates her for her drunkenness and tendency to keep her dress over her head. There’s no point both exercising and exorcising these themes unless they have an audience; so, the arrival of new boy Nick and his ineffectual wife Honey is the perfect opportunity for them to unleash their catalogue of fun and games. Not to mention their son, of course… which Martha unfortunately does… which hurtles the relationship further towards its own endgame.
As well as being an examination of a breakdown of a marriage, it’s an examination of the breakdown of American Society, particularly its culture – no, it is, honestly. George quotes from Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West: “and the West, encumbered by crippling alliances, and burdened with a morality too rigid to accommodate itself to the swing of events, must…eventually…fall.” Cold war? USA v. USSR? Or George v. Martha? George describes the university campus variously as Illyria, Penguin Island (the dystopian satiric version of Anatole France I presume, and not the tourist attraction off the coast of Perth), Gomorrah, New Carthage, (after all, George does say he was born around the time of the Punic Wars) and Parnassus (home of the Muses – Nick doesn’t get it). The very title is a pun on Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, which they sang at the dreadful sounding party the evening before, a really self-conscious pompous way of combining pop culture with something more literary. They all think the song’s a scream. I think it makes them look like smartasses.
It’s structured as a three-act play, each with its own title: “Fun and Games”, “Walpurgisnacht” and “The Exorcism”. Fun and Games – well, that doesn’t need explaining, as they ritualistically humiliate anyone and everyone. Walpurgisnacht is the eve of the feast day of St Walpurga, a celebration of sorcery and witches with bonfires and dancing; and we all know how that kind of thing can get out of hand. The Exorcism deals with the aftermath of the “death” of their son. With no sub plot, all set in the same place at the same time, it observes the classical unities (which is nice) – and even the death of the son isn’t seen; George reports that Crazy Billy from Western Union delivered a telegram. Coming in at three hours it’s a long play, but even so, I note that this production cuts the significant scene where Honey confesses to George that she’s scared of having children and doesn’t want any. I feel that does a disservice to the character of Honey, making her more vapidly inconsequential and less of an individual with their own concerns and problems. But, then, let’s face it, Honey isn’t really who’s on display here.
And that’s why everyone is in the auditorium: Imelda Staunton as Martha, and Conleth Hill as George. I can’t think of anyone more appropriate for the role of Martha as Ms Staunton, and from the moment she appears, cursing her head off, you know you’re in for a treat. Aggressive Martha, intimate Martha, cutesypie Martha, dismissive Martha, mocking Martha, and even that rare beast appreciative Martha, she’s in total control of the character, even if her character isn’t in control of anything much. It’s a supreme performance, just as you knew it would be. Conleth Hill is new to me – although looking at his biography I’ve no idea how that can be – and he’s absolutely superb at playing George’s irritating verbal games. As Nick says, he sets each question up as a trap so that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and there’s no quarter given as he pounces on any perceived weakness. I’ve no idea if this was intentional but both Mrs C and I thought there was an element of Donald Trump about the throwaway delivery of some of his lines that made them even more generally unpleasant. And you sense the threat behind anything he says or does is really tangible – you wouldn’t cross this man.
Luke Treadaway is great as the much-toyed-with Nick, aggressively by George, sexually by Martha; a perfect physical representation of that All-American Hero but with too many insecurities and flaws to carry it off. There’s not a lot that the character can do apart from attempt to hold his own in argument or conflict with his hosts, both together and individually, and Mr Treadaway achieves this extremely well. Imogen Poots is delightful as the vacuous Honey, performing her interpretative dance to the second movement of Beethoven 7, slowly realising that George’s round of Get The Guests is aimed at her, and regularly teetering off to be sick in the john.
But it’s those endless rounds of verbal fencing between George and Martha that remain with you after this production, and the fact that they perform them with such split-second accuracy of timing and expression is an amazing achievement. James Macdonald’s wonderful production runs at the Comedy – I mean Harold Pinter – until May 27th.
P. S. I note that the language has been beefed up a bit. When George throws open the door to reveal the arrival of Nick and Honey, in the original version Martha was yelling “Screw You” at him. In this production that’s been replaced by a simple “F**k!” The F-word appears in a few other scenes too. It was very effective – if you’re waiting to come in to a party and the door opens to reveal your hostess screaming “F**k!” at the top of her voice, there’s no way you can pretend that you didn’t know you were in for a rough time.
You may think you know your Terence Rattigan, but have you ever come across Love in Idleness before? I bet you haven’t. This is, in fact, the first London production of the play since it originally graced the boards of the Lyric in 1944, two years after Flare Path and two years before The Winslow Boy. It’s easy to forget Rattigan’s status in the first half of the 20th century; but to give you some context, Love in Idleness was one of three plays he had on at the same time in Shaftesbury Avenue in the 1940s, and he is the only playwright to have notched more than 1000 performances for two separate plays – French Without Tears and While The Sun Shines. That’s some feat. No wonder a few years later John Osborne and Kenneth Tynan were so jealous.
Love in Idleness is actually a rewrite of Rattigan’s unpublished play Less Than Kind, created at the behest of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne as the perfect vehicle for that darling American stage couple (although, to add to the confusion, it was called O Mistress Mine on Broadway). For this new Menier production, that seasoned expert of the stage Trevor Nunn has created a new piece by placing Less Than Kind and Love in Idleness side by side and synthesising the two. The result is a fine creation that blends the comedy of Lunt and Fontanne, heavily sprinkled with Rattigan wit, with a story of political argument highlighting progressive versus reactionary, youth versus experience. Ironically, the character of Michael Brown preceded that of Jimmy Porter to vie for the status of Angry Young Man by a good twelve years. No wonder John Osborne and Kenneth Tynan were so jealous. That’s twice I’ve had to say that.
Back in 1944, children who had been evacuated during the war were just starting to come home. Olivia Brown last saw her son Michael almost four years ago; and since then her life has changed more than somewhat. No longer living in a dingy bedsit in Baron’s Court, she’s become the lover and co-habitor of none other than Cabinet Minister for New Tanks, Sir John Fletcher, in his swish pad in Westminster. When Michael, now nearly 18 and something of a lefty, returns home, he is taken aback by the change in his mother’s status, appearance and behaviour. Something’s gotta give, but who, or what, will it be?
I came to this show with no prior knowledge of what it was about and no particular expectation, aside from the fact that a) it’s the Menier so it’s bound to be good and b) it’s already secured its West End transfer and that speaks for itself. Nevertheless, I still don’t think I was expecting too much from this production. Well that just shows how wrong I can be. This is an absolute corker (as Michael might say) of a production, immaculately performed throughout, at times blisteringly funny, at others superbly moving, and really, one must ask, why has this little nugget been hiding from us for all these years?
Trevor Nunn has coaxed his brilliant cast to get the maximum laughter, tension and pathos out of Rattigan’s characters whilst always remaining natural, unforced and very character-driven. That delightful opening scene, where Eve Best’s Olivia is draped over her couch arranging guests for dinner by telephone, tells you so much about her character with such simplicity, clarity and humour. In fact, it’s those physical moments in the play that really communicate what the characters are all about, from Olivia’s tender and ever-so-slightly sexual undoing of John’s jacket and giving his feet a gentle massage, to Michael’s continuously flinging himself face down on his bed in grand gestures of teenage harrumph.
Visually it’s charming, with perfect costumes by Stephen Brimson Lewis, from Olivia’s trouser-suit to Diana’s Ascot chic and even Miss Wentworth’s artily dotty creation; I appreciated the use of the attractive but commonplace Susie Cooper crockery – perfect for the era; and the Pathe newsreels, projected onto the translucent curtain, that divide the scenes, and add an informative background. Although, beware when the curtain forcefully swishes open past you; I was sat, legs outstretched, on the corner of Row A where it takes a 90 degree turn and the curtain very nearly took me with it.
About three minutes in to the play, I completely understood what it is Sir John would have seen in Olivia. Eve Best gives a most scintillating, enticing, and endearing performance as the Baron’s Court wife lured into the high life of Tory politics; adoring the surroundings and accoutrements of Dorchester dinners and tittle-tattle, relishing the demands of being a society hostess. She really would spark up an older man’s life and no mistake. Where it comes to uniting her new life with her old, she shows her struggle of understanding the demands of youth and upholding her familial commitments: as the poet once said, I thought that you’d want what I’d want, sorry my dear. Her changed appearance in the final scene provides a stark contrast to the glamour that preceded it, and shows how she is the only character to have made a genuine change in an attempt to help those around her. Ms Best is one of those actors that you just can’t take your eyes off. A stunning performance.
Anthony Head’s Sir John is a distinguished, largely mellow, extraordinarily patient man, unless his routine is interrupted or he is pushed just that one inch too far. Unlike Olivia, he is totally used to the trappings of wealth, so his disdainful contemplation of catching a sequence of three buses in order to get to the café at Puffins Corner is absolutely hilarious. Radiating power, but through nobility rather than mere strength, he completely captures the essence of Sir John, which includes his unconventional handling of his wife. Mrs C thought he really knew how to carry off a Tuxedo. I’ll say no more.
Edward Bluemel, as young Michael, is new to me but is definitely a candidate for One To Watch. Perfectly expressing that awkward age between boy and man, his Michael is both feistily uncooperative and easily malleable at the same time. I loved his scene with Mr Head, as they prowl either side of the sofa like two caged tigers ready to rip each other to shreds but far too well brought up to do so. Idealistic and petulant, but also knowing when he’s beat, this is a gem of a role for a young actor and Mr Bluemel really handles it with aplomb.
I’ve only seen Helen George before on TV following her Strictly journey so didn’t know what to expect from her as the wronged (maybe) Lady Fletcher. Certainly her unexpected appearance just before the interval lifts the whole play and adds a new dynamism as the audience can’t quite work out whether she is more sinned against or sinning; simply incompatible to her husband is probably the closest you’ll get. It’s a lovely, assertive, slightly strident, beautifully composed performance; again, her interaction with Mr Bluemel is hilarious, ridiculing his use of archaic words, as is the cringingly excruciating scene where she meets Olivia, in a delightfully underplayed exercise of oneupwomanship. There’s excellent support from Vivienne Rochester as Sir John’s remarkably humourless assistant Miss Dell, and from Nicola Sloane as the respectable and loyal parlourmaid Polton, and the arty yet insubstantial Miss Wentworth.
I found myself absolutely glued to this play, and when the final scene fitted all the pieces together so nicely and with an amusingly happy ending, I found myself saying out loud “what a beautiful production!” as the lights dimmed but lingered on its protagonists. No surprise at all that this sold-out show warrants its West End transfer, intertwining as it does its rather beautiful depiction of 1940s elegance with its very relevant undercurrent of political anger. I thought it was magic! And if you missed it at the Menier you can catch it at the Apollo in May and June – but you’d better be quick, tickets are getting scarce.