I wasn’t sure that I would like this. Taking the mickey out of a religion, albeit a strange religion, isn’t something that sits well with me. The thing that swung my decision to go was the writers. As the writers of South Park, they are irreverent, but they take on the hard things.
They do that in this musical, too. They address racism, sexism, religious bigotry. The show has a subplot about AIDS and it’s various nasty so-called remedies. There is another subplot about FGM. There is a subplot about “tribal” warlords. Another about homosexuality, another about the loss of religious belief. All meaty stuff, and all delivered through the main plot of missionary Mormons bringing God to “ignorant African villagers”.
I found the depiction of the villagers unpleasant. I didn’t like the main male character’s habit of getting the main female character’s name wrong. (African names are clearly too hard to remember). Having said that. I laughed as hard as anyone else when he called her “Nigel Farage”. And that was what made the whole show problematic. It was very funny, although I found myself hoping no one I knew could see me laughing. The music was good. The dancing was excellent. The voices were good, even if the songs were intentionally terrible.
In the end, I was glad to get out into the open air. My skin felt a bit crawly.
I’ve never been a fan of “big” musicals (with one or two exceptions- I loved Wicked and Starlight Express). I’m more of a fan of the small and quirky – Grinning Man; Frogs; the Tiger Lillies’ Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
So it was with a lot of doubt that I trotted along to the London Coliseum for Chess. The Colly isn’t the most comfortable of venues, unless you splash out for the posh seats, but I had a good view and some legroom in the circle, even if I was jammed into my seat by strange men on both sides (strange as in strangers, not as in weirdos). I compensated by claiming both armrests.
The set was modern. The show wasn’t. There were some very problematic moments (the Bangkok ladyboys being just one), but also some excellent theatrical moments. The Cirque du Soleil interlude was lovely, the two Russian dance routines were excellent (I really loved the one in Red Army uniforms- don’t judge me).
The orchestra and chorus were fantastic, and what a brilliant idea of having the orchestra above the stage.
The soloists’ voices all stood up well, and Alexandra Burke made Svetlana into a strong character. Finally, Michael Ball. Normally a singer I can take or leave, he really showed that musical theatre is his natural habitat.
I came out feeling energised. Four stars.
The Arts can often be an antidote to the grim reality of life. At other times they can be cathartic, allowing release. This week’s outings were all produced by women, and all addressed the hard parts of life.
Lucy Kirkwood: Mosquitoes
This play has been the season’s hot ticket. A complete sellout from the beginning of the booking season, only two tickets allowed per customer, and only very occasionally appearing in the “Friday Rush”. I managed to bag the single ticket on offer for the performance I saw, and it was well worth the effort I had gone to in order to get that seat. Olivia Colman was absolutely wonderful as the most damaged (and damaging) relative anyone could ever have. Scientific themes threaded through this excellent play, but it was accessible to the non-nerd. I loved it.
White Cube: Dreamers Awake
A very comprehensive feminist surrealist exhibition, curated by Susanna Greeves and featuring work by (amongst others) Tracy Emin, Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas and Louise Bourgeois. There were some beautiful works, some very peculiar works, some that were hard to look at. None of it left me unmoved.
Rosie Kay Dance Company: 5 Soldiers
This piece was staged during a local festival back at the beginning of the summer. I wasn’t able to get to it then, and so was really pleased to see it being live streamed from an actual army base this week.
The dance shows the progress of five soldiers through their training and deployment. The interaction between the recruits and their officer, and between themselves were very well portrayed, with some difficult moments between the sole female soldier and her male colleagues played out effectively. One of the soldiers suffers a life-changing injury during deployment, and this is addressed well.
The female perspective made all of my “culture” difficult to look at this week. There seemed to be a specific harshness about life itself in these pieces.
Brockley Jack Studio
Edgar Allan Poe double bill
It is so rare to get “goth” theatre. I tried very hard to like this, but sadly, I didn’t. The first half was the MasqueoftheRedDeath, a famously scary story that didn’t really work for me in this setting. Perhaps it was a bad night, but I’m afraid I didn’t wait around for the FalloftheHouseofUsher, scheduled for the hour after the interval.
This was a lot of fun. The Merchant family seem to be Bollywood legends; Vaibhavi and Shruti choreographed the production, with Salim and Sulaiman writing the music that linked the Bollywood standards. The dancing was good to my untutored eye, the costumes were spectacular, and the largely Indian family audience seemed to love it, despite (or perhaps because of) its adherence to Bollywood tropes. This was my first Asian dance experience, and I would certainly go again.
Only one this week, but a good one. This is the second book about Yashim the eunuch. An interesting case story, with a brilliant sense of place. Reading this, you can hear and smell Istanbul, and almost taste the food Yashim loves to cook while he is pondering his cases.
This brings my reading challenge total up to 54. Still on target, but only just…
This week, I was trapped at home by disappearing bus stops. The two stops I use were out of service because of road workings. Only temporarily, but annoyingly, including a day that I had intended to go to the theatre. This week was consequently quiet, and my culture was of the armchair variety.
English National Ballet: Curing Albrecht
This was a lovely little thing. Short and sweet, and a lot of fun. I loved the old Victorian baths it was filmed in. All those tiles, all that cast iron. And water! And stripey swimwear! Do take a few minutes to watch. It will cool you down on a hot day.
I occasionally buy a play script if I am not going to be able to see a play (and if it is not available on video). I had intended to see All Our Children this week, but wasn’t able to get there. I bought an e-copy of the script before I had a message from the theatre that they could offer me a transfer to another day (hooray!), so now I will be familiar with the play before I see it staged. I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable, but it was thought-provoking. I’ll say more when I have seen the play.
I’m working toward my reading challenge goal of 100 books by the end of the year. As part of the challenge, I make myself read books I should have read years ago. This week, I suffered through two. Pippi Longstocking must be the most irritating child ever imagined. I loathed her, and I can’t imagine that I would have liked her any better if I had encountered her as a child. The Bell Jar was disappointing. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but whatever it was, I didn’t get it. The book was readable, and contained some truly shocking moments, but I wanted “great” literature, and for me, this fell short. My final book this week was written by a Nobel prize winner. A shortish novel, heavily allegorical and with an anthropomorphic personification. An interesting read, not too heavy, with a predictable ending. I’d be interested in reading more by Saramago.