Thursday, 30 September 2010

From Delight To Disaster

There are a lot of changes going on in the West End at the moment. Lots of shows are closing, and others are opening for very limited seasons. I guess its a turbulent time out there. Maybe the economic climate has finally caught up with the arts, after it had seemed that they had faired quite well throughout the recession. Knowing that this was the case I took the opportunity to see two shows in their final week at the beginning of this month.

The first of these shows was Tap Dogs which has just completed its season at the Novello Theatre. I appreciate that I am very much bias towards dance, and with tap being a favorite of mine it was inevitable that I would love this show. No surprises there then. I will admit I had my doubts as to whether a 90 minute show without an interval, with solely tap dance routines may become a bit boring, but somehow it didn't. I really connected with the show, even in the absence of Adam Garcia in the lead role. I wish I knew what it was that draws me in to tap dancing so much. Maybe it is the energy that flows from the performance? It could be the rhythm that draws me in... I really don't know, I just really like it.

The cast of Tap Dogs kept the routines energetic, skillful and at times witty. The audience often left in awe at the ability being showcased before their very eyes. The interesting thing about tap dancing now days is, it generally isn't seen in its classical and contemporary forms anymore. Rather routines have become more street wise, which is nice. It has opened this format of dancing to a whole new generation who may have overlooked it otherwise. In essence it is giving it credibility rather than allowing it to be seen as old fashion, like ballet is often seen these days. (Though I beg to differ on this point). Shows like Tap Dogs are the reason for this. Taking tap dancing and bringing it into a more urban environment in a manner that allows people to relate and connect to it.

In all it was a fantastic night. I think I enjoyed it much more than my friend Reem who too loves dance but failed to find the connection that I did. With regard to everything else that is on in the West End at the moment, Tap Dogs is definitely different, however the exorbitantly high prices which London theatres command, are the main reason behind dwindling door numbers at more specialised shows like this. I can't help but think if ticket prices were lowered it would draw in new people who maybe wouldn't have seen the show otherwise. None the less a fantastic show which I am pleased to have had the opportunity to see.

Later that week I went to see Hair, which was finishing its run at the Gielgud theatre. I will be honest I had heard mixed feedback about the show, and I wasn't completely sure that it was my thing, but as I have said before I am very open minded and I am open to seeing all sorts of shows. Generally speaking I have liked everything that I have taken the time to see, except maybe with the exception of Chicago. I never did take to that one even though Jerry Springer formed part of the cast. But back t Hair.... it was pretty poor if I am frank.

The show itself by all means should be credited for the fact that it deviates away from the production style of conventional musicals, by utilising the entire theatre - not just the stage, and by involving the audience throughout instead of just performing to them. There is also an element of improvisation throughout which is interesting. Hair's diversity within its performance dates back much further than this however. Back when it opened 30 or more years ago, it too was going against the grain rather than conforming with the standards of the time. The original producers took advantage of the recently loosened censorship regulations which had previously governed theatrical performances. This needless to say caused quite a stir.

It was the first show to include full frontal nudity during a performance back in those days, a feature that the show has kept in its revival. Though this fact alone aggravates me somewhat. Its not the first time I have seen someone naked on stage, I doubt it will be the last either, however it was the most pointless use of nudity ever. During a song at the end of the first act (don't ask me what the song was called - I was bored senseless by this stage) the entire cast strip stark bollock naked and just stand there. There was no meaning to it at all, nor any power conveyed in the actions. I can't help but think that in its original format this was mealy used as a giant middle finger to Lord Chamberlain who had fought to keep censorship in the theatres. I am not against the use of nudity at all - for the records. Used effectively it can portray weakness, vulnerability or even be used to emphasise the sexual side of a relationship. But in Hair it was just pointless.... much like the show in general. Are you starting to pick up my feelings for the show yet?

Just in case you are still mysteriously under the illusion that i loved the show, lets take this review a little deeper, shall we? The storyline was erratic and hard to follow. The standard of acting was dubious in my opinion. At times, particularly in the improvised pieces within the show (mostly during the audience participation moments) I felt the actors fell out of character too much which is a real weakness in my eyes. It was noticeable to me as a drama student, so surely the actors must have been aware of their own failings too?

If I am honest, the best part of the afternoon was the ice cream I had during the interval. Chocolate flavour... and an orange and passion fruit J20... strange mix I agree, but rather nice. I recommend it next time you are at a shite show! It makes the 2nd act much more bearable. On this tangent - I have a thought, why can you never get Ben and Jerry's ice cream at the theatre?

The ending of the show too came as a relief, not simply because it was over - but the fact that the audience were invited onto the stage to sing along with the final song. A unique and frankly genius touch to finish a show on. It certainly removes the barrier between "them and us". I stuck to my guns however, there was no way I could be a hypocrite and join them on stage. Not after cursing them in my mind for the last two hours! Though I will admit the opportunity did cross my mind, purely to say that I have performed on a West End stage. Come on... you have to admit that line does sound good, though with my decision to stay seated, the dream of the stage is still right out there! This in turn means even more blogs... sorry about that!

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