Looking for Eric

This film goes on general release in the UK today and I was lucky enough to see a preview last Friday at BFI Southbank.

Now what I know about football could be written on the back of a stamp but luckily this film isn’t just for footie fans. It tells the story of Eric Bishop (played fantastically by Steve Evets), a depressed postman in Manchester living with his two teenage sons. As his work mates rally round to lift his spirits, he starts talking to the poster of Eric Cantona in his bedroom. Before we know it, ‘Big Eric’ is sitting in the same room and playing life coach – pushing ‘Little Eric’ to move forward in his life and take control of himself.

Through babysitting duties for his grown up daughter, he begins to heal old wounds and misunderstandings with ex-wife Lily. Then the plot takes a dramatic turn when he discovers one of his sons hiding a gun for a shady local gangster. Trapped in a seemingly impossible situation, ‘Big Eric’ encourages ‘Little Eric’ to turn to his mates for help and the resolution is unexpected, hilarious and uplifting.

‘Looking for Eric’ is a triumph. The acting is superb and the film is completely engrossing and never descends into sentimentality. Highly recommended.

After the film’s preview there was a fascinating and very entertaining Q&A session with Ken Loach, Steve Evets (outrageously funny guy) and yes the man himself…Eric Cantona. It was being videoed and is well worth seeing if it becomes available on the BFI or Guardian websites.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

So another West End show, ‘Joseph’ starring Gareth Gates has just closed early. If I remember correctly, I saw the original Palladium production two (or possibly even three times) with both Jason Donovan and Phillip Schofield. This restaging has been at the Adelphi Theatre since 2007 when Lee Mead, the winner of the BBC talent show, ‘Any Dream Will Do’ took on the lead role.

Tonight was the last night and it was packed with the additional showbiz element of Tim Rice sitting a few rows in front and getting besieged by autograph hunters. As far as I could tell, the show was identical to the Palladium production. It’s still brilliantly staged with the scenes flowing effortlessly into one another. Performances were very good and it must be a tough show to do because there’s little pause for breath. Dean Collinson was a particularly fun Pharoah but Jenna Lee-James played the Narrator in an oddly cold and businesslike fashion.

Oh and Mr Gates? He did a very fine job. I was impressed. The megamix was as foot-tappingly camp as it should be and Gareth went up on the hydraulic lift at the end. What more could one ask for?

Spring Awakening

Based on a controversial German play, ‘Spring Awakening‘ the musical first saw the light of day in New York in 2006. It tells the story of a group of teenagers as they leave childhood behind and transition into adulthood. I’d read lots of positive reviews and it was on my list of shows to see and by sheer fluke I was a bit alarmed to discover it was due to close early this week. So a discount ticket email was hastily dug out from the inbox and Tuesday was the night.

I’d heard some comparisons made between the show and another of my favourite musicals, ‘Rent’ (the original production not the abysmal ‘Rent Remixed’) and it does have the same feel – the brick wall set, the liberal use of dialogue during songs and in-your-face rock band guitars. Like ‘Rent’, ‘Spring Awakening’ has a raw energy and youthfulness that’s invigorating to watch and the music is just superb. It runs the full musical gamut from the soft and tender ‘Left Behind’ to the angry, rocky and pretty-damn-awesome ‘Totally Fucked’. Yes folks, the Broadway cast recording is now sitting on my iPod and I love it.

Acting was good all round but vocally the girls were much stronger and more confident than the boys. The one exception was Iwan Rheon (playing the role of Moritz) who had an fantastic voice. The set design and lighting deserve special mention because they really lift the production to a very high standard.

Unfortunately, fantastic songs and staging wasn’t enough. Even after a successful run at the Lyric Hammersmith, any show that deals with ‘challenging’ subjects such as suicide, incest, S&M and abortion is going to have a tough time in the West End. ‘Spring Awakening’ just isn’t commercial enough for a mainstream audience and that’s a great shame because any show that isn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber or a jukebox musical deserves a home in my opinion.

As a footnote, I’d never been to the Novello before but it’s a wonderful theatre. We sat in row T of the stalls and on the side walls are large ornate mirrors that reflect what’s happening on stage. It really enhanced the experience. Another unusual feature was the bar at the back of the stalls that has a window into the auditorium and looks like a cute old train carriage.

What’s Missing?

The photo above is the entrance to the DMA (Direct Marketing Association) offices in central London. In case you didn’t know, the DMA is “the trade assocation for the direct marketing industry. Its aim is to raise consumer confidence and trust and raise the profile of direct marketing through lobbying, events, research and development.

In other words, they defend the corner of the companies that want to send you junk mail through the post along with unsolicited emails and phone calls.

Now there’s something very ironic about these entrance doors. Can you spot what’s missing?

Les Miserables

Yes I know it’s been running for centuries but for some inexplicable reason I’d never seen Les Mis until last night. It’s one of those shows that everyone seems to rave about. OK well almost everyone. The friend-of-a-friend at Priscilla last night thought it was a snoozefest.

So along I went to the Queen’s Theatre with an open mind and a smattering of anticipation. The latter probably due to the fact that the lovely and highly talented Jon Robyns has been part of the cast since last year. But what if my reaction to the show was inappropriate? Should I pop into Angels on the way down Shaftesbury Avenue and hire a couple of masks?

If so, how would I know which mask I should be wearing? Is Les Mis the sort of show that starts with the right mask and ends with the left? Or is it just right mask all the way from curtain up through to the train journey home and bedtime?

Three and a bit hours later as we stumbled through a mild gin and vodka induced haze into the street (at the Queen’s Theatre the circle exits are at street level..how weird is that?) I still wouldn’t have known which mask to wear.

I wasn’t very familiar with the music but it sounds great and looks great. David Shannon as Jean Valjean was very good with a beautiful voice. Also strong was David Thaxton as Enjolras and Jon Robyns didn’t disappoint. On the other hand, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was rather a hard and shouty affair.

I can appreciate that Les Mis is an impressive show but would I go again? Hmmm. Sorry Les Mis fans, but it just didn’t light my fire.