Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The huge stiletto heel at the front of the Palace Theatre is a bit of a clue that this is not Les Mis. After years running in Australia, the movie-turned-into-a-musical has hit the West End.

The star of the show is of course Priscilla the bus. She’s 8m long, dominates the stage and is covered in LED lights. Inside are 3 lifts and an interior that looks like an Early Learning Centre.

Tony Sheldon is superb as Bernadette, the transexual who unexpectedly finds love in the outback. Jason Donovan is OK but rather bland as the drag queen on a trip to meet his son and Oliver Thornton makes for a convincing dippy and shallow Adam. The rest of the company put in solid performances and the three divas that hover above the stage are a lot of fun.

The set and costumes are as extravagant and inventive as you’d expect but it just feels a bit half-baked, clunky and lacking in pace at times. The sheer size of Priscilla means she can only move slowly around the stage and that drags the show down a bit (sorry couldn’t resist). There’s a bizarre scene at the start of Act 2 where the Aussie locals in the outback have a hoedown with members of the audience dragged up (oops I did it again) on stage. Did I miss summer? Is it panto season already?

The last time I saw Jason Donovan on stage was in Joseph at the Palladium. Now there was a show with amazing energy, great lighting and earth shattering sound. I was expecting a similar thing with this production – to be swept away with it all but it never happened. The sound is average and the lighting in particular was very disappointing. It was terribly flat at times, the rear cyc was underused and the operatic travelling scene could have been far more striking with some lighting animation. Maybe there was no budget left after all the frocks?

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the show and there are some great moments but I left feeling a bit disappointed. All the ingredients are there but a little bit of theatrical magic got lost on the road from screen to stage.

Beautiful People

One of the problems with not watching TV is that every now and again I miss a real gem. My sister tipped me off about Beautiful People last year after watching the last episode of this new BBC Two comedy series and deciding it would be right up my street. As luck would have it, the LOVEFiLM pixies recently delivered the DVD through the letterbox and I give it a resounding thumbs up.

Written by Jonathan Harvey, Beautiful People is based on ‘Nasty’ by Simon Doonan, a memoir of his quest to escape from suburban Reading and live with the beautiful people in London. It’s highly original, very camp, laugh out funny yet also very touching.

All the cast are great but Luke Ward-Wilkinson as the lead (yes he’s the one in the subtle Joseph coat…) deserves special mention for an extraordinarily believable performance. The good news is that a second series has been commissioned so my withdrawl symptoms hopefully won’t last for long.

Amazing or Creepy?

Yesterday Google launched their street view option in Google Maps UK. I’ve used the option on US maps for some time but it’s a different feeling being able to see around places closer to home. In many ways it is amazing but also slightly creepy and I started thinking about why I have that reaction.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the street view is raising the ‘slightly creepy’ reaction because it is showing us the world in the way we directly experience it every day. When Google Maps came out with satellite photos everyone was amazed, yet also less creeped out. That makes sense because it showed us an aerial view of the world that we never experience, just like seeing an X-ray of your arm.

The narrower that gap gets between our own human experience and what’s publicly available on the web, the creepier things will get.

* this has been a Blog from a Bench

Great Clip from The Atheist Experience

Matt Dillahunty is the main host of The Atheist Experience, that I’ve mentioned before. Matt’s a very smart guy. Every now and again he lets his ego get the better of him when dealing with callers but on this occasion he was on fire.

A few weeks back, there was a caller named John. Matt asked whether John thinks that as an atheist he should go to hell. Over and over again, John replies that it’s not his decision and only God can decide. In the end, Matt gets so frustrated with the inability of John to think for himself that he hangs up on him and launches into this fantastic rant:

Right inside of you right now, dealing with those difficult questions, there is a moral struggle where you’re beginning to realise that you are more moral than the God that they forced you to believe, that they’ve conned you into accepting. You don’t believe that I necessarily deserve to go to hell for exercising the ‘free will’ that you think your God gave me. You don’t think that the dictates of a conscience, whether or not somebody believes, is a sufficient justification for eternal torture, and yet you’re just too damn cowardly to say it!

You are better than your God, you are better than your religion, so am I, so is Don (co-host) so is damn near everybody on the planet. I wish you people would wake up and see this. Stop apologising for this! (holds bible up) It’s not the good book, there’s nothing ‘good’ about it. All it does is poison minds. All it does is make you sacrifice your humanity – the only thing that you have that is of any value – in order to sit around in deference to your Gods.

This perfectly sums up what I find most disturbing, dangerous and downright offensive about religion – namely brainwashing, deference and the loss of personal identity.

Part 2 is the best bit but you can watch part 1 here if you like.

I am a Very Bad Blogger!

Yikes it’s been ages since I wrote anything on the site, so here’s a catch up:

Saw an excellent new version of Sunset Boulevard before Christmas at the Comedy Theatre. I’ve long been a fan of the show – I saw the original production at the Adelphi twice and then also on tour in Birmingham. This one is very, very different and far more captivating. Directed by Craig Revel Horwood (he was milling around in the bar with friends on the night we went) the show follows the tradition of the Watermill Theatre in Newbury by having actor/musicians on stage throughout. The original production was all about spectacle, glamour and glitz. This time round it’s dark and claustrophobic which breathes a new lease of life into the show. Highly recommended.

Also before Christmas I saw Tim Minchin at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. My sister had seen him perform in Cheltenham and said I must go and see him. Quite unlike any performer I think I’ve seen before. Definitely not one for a lazy night out – “you mean I’ve got to think about what is being said on stage rather than just laugh along?”. Here’s an example of his brilliance recorded on of the London nights.

In January, I saw previews of Milk and Bolt 3D at BFI Southbank. Both completely wonderful and followed by Q&A with Gus van Sant and John Lasseter. I saw The Times of Harvey Milk documentary at the BFI last year and thought it was amazing. Sean Penn puts in a spellbinding performance.

Finally, this month I took my mum out as a birthday treat to see An Inspector Calls at the Birmingham Rep. I’d seen the production at the NT in the early nineties with Kenneth Cranham as the inspector and remember liking it but I think this production made a much bigger impression. It’s such an amazing show. Not just for the cinematic quality of the staging but the performances are wonderful – the Inspector and Shelia in particular. It’s on tour around the country until June 2009 and I’d urge you to go and see it if you can. Theatre at its absolute best.