Friday, September 28, 2007

Ode to the Enhanced

I love the Royal Court Theatre. In fact, I love it enough to endure the dreaded District Line to get there. And, yet again, the journey was worth it; this time for The Ugly One, a brilliantly clever and funny new play by one of Germany's hottest young playwrights, Marius von Mayenburg, opening the Royal Court's International Season.

As the play has already been reviewed in the mainstream press, I will avoid a plot rehashing. But, suffice it to say the main theme is society's obsession with plastic surgery and its resulting generic templates of beauty. With so many Botoxed, Propeciaed, Lasiked and breast-augmented around, the suggestion is that all individuality and identity is lost. Think Jessica Simpson. Who? Precisely.

So when the protagonist of The Ugly One turns to a plastic surgeon to refashion his 'ugly face' the implication is that he is breaking a basic human covenant: that we each suffer whatever genetics we were given. The assumption being that the playing field is fair in the big picture, that some of us are born beautiful smart and talented and it somehow gets balanced out by being Michael Lohan's daughter.

But is it really fair? Or rather is there not also danger in conforming to the idea there is danger in conforming? Is redesigning your body any more an affront to nature than wearing make-up or a Wonder bra? Shouldn't it be okay to use technology to compete? Think Barry Bonds. Shouldn't a man who can only hit a home run every once 16 at bats be allowed to hit a home run every nine bats? Or a politician use Botox to beat out a younger wrinkle-free opponent? Isn't that what Jefferson meant when he wrote that whole "pursuit of happiness" thing? Or do you really think the guy was just talking about stamps and tea?

The Ugly One
Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
£10-£15, Until 13 Oct
020 7565 5000

Proof (as if needed) that Paris is an idiot

Ok, so idiot may be too much of a strong word, but this video from Paris to promote her new fragrance 'Can Can' certainly does her no favours. When there's so many intelligent, interesting women in the world (who actually have things to say other than 'I just spray my fragrance through the day, it smells so good") why does this one get so much attention?*

*Yes I know, I am in fact giving her more attention instead of talking about other intelligent, interesting people. I am also an idiot.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Burn Venus Burn

I must stop going to plays about men in skirts. I only spend time admiring their legs over their lines. Just last night at the Soho Theatre, under the spell of the mesmerising Tam Dean Burn's performance of Venus as a Boy, I was distracted by thoughts of Kate Moss. Not because Venus and Kate both live cocaine-and-sex sagas or represent the epitome of a kind of cool heavily tinged with London decadence. But rather because they both have spindly bowed legs which look great in skinny jeans. But I digress.

Venus as a Boy is one man's way of infusing beauty into a life that is not the soft landing that a childhood in the hills of Orkney prepared him for. We first meet Venus as he lies dying in his Soho bedsit, turning gold and lamenting that 'true love was never going to be my reward.' The plot then traces his story of loves found and lost and the interminable heartache the cycle induces. Venus tackles the big subjects, the desire to connect with other people, and to long for a love equal to that which we offer up. It made me want to hunt down my exs and exact tantamount revenge. What better use is there for Facebook?

It's such a shame that visually Burn is more a haggard Boy George than gorgeous Orcadian boy. It means that as this book come play is currently being given the motion picture treatment by Film Four there isn't a place for Tam. Even more of a reason to get to Soho before Hollywood polishes off its integral tarnish for the silver screen.

Venus as a Boy
Soho Theatre
Until 22 Sept, £7.50-£20
0870 429 6883

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cumming out on top

Just last post I wrote that it's not everyday you spend a few hours inside the heads of "theatrical divas immersed in sex..." I should have also added that it's not often said divas are men flirting on stage in wigs and skirts with faces covered in slap. What else should I have expected from a camped up version of The Bacchae staring Alan Cumming, you ask? Fair point.

From the opening scene when Alan descends suspended by his ankles with his bum exposed from under a gold kilt, I understood why the wacky Bacchae was the hit of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is now on transfer to the Lyric Hammersmith: Alan is the acceptable (and some) face of sexual ambiguity. Like a naughty schoolboy he can get away with behaviour that is controversial. In this new version of Euripides' tragedy, Cumming takes on the role of Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy (as if the two could ever be mutually exclusive) as a hyper-queen and steals the show.

Alan is so spectacular that the show's main fault is that his appearances render the moments without him flat. As the lascivious desk clerk ('a flaming queen who's obviously besotted') fawning over Tom Cruise, he's responsible for the only enjoyable scene in Kubrick's otherwise torpid Eyes Wide Shut. The same pleasure principle applies in the Bacchae: Alan makes a delicious Dionysus. He camped marvellously between comedic prankster and murder-some menace. If Dionysus is the god of theatre, then surely Cumming is the god of Scottish stage?

The Bacchae
Until 22 Sept
0870 050 0511, £10-£27

P.S - In true bacchanalia spirit post-show wine consumption was enjoyed amongst the company of West End Whingers, Interval Drinks and Helen Smith. But we deny any connection with the subsequent indictment scandalising today's binge drinking as akin to 18th century Gin Lane.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

All About Almodovar

It was a week ago yesterday that I sauntered along The Cut to the theatrical adaptation of Pedro Almodovar's 'All About My Mother' at the Old Vic. I have been meaning to write about it here, but I have been shamefully remiss of late. So late that the mainstream papers are already on the case: anathema to a blogger. And, as is often the case, I disagree with the dead white males. Well, okay, I often disagree with the live ones as well but that's academic. And I rarely do so with the West End Whingers whose review, yet again, is more relevant (personal photo ops aside) than the Times, Guardian and Evening Standard.

In short, I thought the play was brilliant. It's not every day that you spend a few hours inside the heads of pregnant nuns, transsexual prostitutes, and theatrical divas immersed in sex, drugs and three untimely deaths (Sunday afternoon sessions at the Vauxhall Tavern aside, of course). Lesley Manville and Dame Diana Rigg offer superb examples of cooling British acting talent which provides a counterpoint to the play's Spanish heat. My only niggle is the girl who plays the nun (played by Penelope Cruz in the movie) is generally excellent but her Spanish accent when she says "Mama" or "Papa" is laughable. It actually sounds Italian (she stresses the first syllable instead of the second one). Ok, it's a detail.

The critics moan that it's a play of a movie which makes it somehow less worthy as a play. I disagree. It's not the movie, but we knew that, it's a play. Does it work as a play? Absolutely.

'All About My Mother' is at London's Old Vic Theatre until Nov 24th. There is £25 'Early Bird' ticket offer through the month of September. Book here.