Friday, October 26, 2012

Poptastic fun - Frisky & Mannish review

Frisky & Mannish at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on October 3, 2012

I HOPE Frisky & Mannish realise that they impressed me so much on their first visit to Newbury, at New Greenham Arts last October, that not only have I broken my own golden rule about not seeing the same act twice within two years, but I have actually planned this write-up within 12 months of the last one specifically to spread the word about their twinklesome fabulousness. I even missed Red Dwarf legend Norman Lovett at Arlington Arts on the same night for this pair Now, that’s devotion.

This all for a musical comedy twosome who I first dismissed as a “bit pants” on seeing them as part of BBC Three’s Edinburgh Fringe coverage. But lo - on seeing them live, the scales fell from my eyes, and I realised that well known pop songs reworked by a delightfully flamboyant pair of Oxford University graduates (Laura Corcoran and Matthew Floyd Jones) is not only the future of comedy, but the future of pop music.

Their current tour, Extra Curricular Activities, sees an upgrade of venue size - in Newbury’s case, from NGA to The Corn Exchange - and a setlist which mixes the best bits of their previous shows with some new material which proves they still have their fingers firmly on the pop pulse. While their previous tour, Popcentre Plus, had something of a cod-educational bent to it, Extra Curricular Activities goes all out for greatest hits-style fun; cramming in as many pastiches as possible, from Cheryl (Cole, as was, until she recently decided she was famous enough to drop the surname entirely) to Karen Carpenter, and Dizzy Rascal to the Bee Gees.

F&M’s talent (apart from the chameleon-like vocal talents of Corcoran, Floyd Jones’ snake-like hips, and an overall fantabulous sense of style, of course) is spotting the similarities between performers or songs from entirely different genres, making them unlikely musical bedfellows, and then taking the idea and running with it until the audience twig that they were in fact right all along, and in fact the link between the disparate performers should be blindingly obvious. And so, the Phantom Of The Opera-like “mentor” of sultry poppet Lana del Rey was revealed to be the barrel-voiced singer of Canadian one hit wonders Crash Test Dummies; and “X Factor reject” Diana Vickers to be the unexpected vocal lovechild of 90s Community Service dodger Mark Morrison.

The F&M concept of “pop” was widened for this show with an educational glimpse into the world of Made In Chelsea for audience members who hadn’t seen it (all but one, it turned out; and the F&M precis was more than enough), and an insightful interview with Cheryl (the one who was Cole). Lots of life-affirming fun, enforced audience dancing and game-for-anything volunteers. Everyone should have a little bit of F&M in their lives; and on Saturday night, The Corn Exchange certainly did.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on October 18, 2012

Show me more - Chris & Pui Roadshow review

The Chris and Pui Roadshow, at The Anvil, Basingstoke, on Saturday, September 22, 2012

CHRIS Jarvis and Pui Fan Lee have been stalwarts of the BBC channel for under sixes, CBeebies since its launch in 2002, and worked on pre-school programmes before that (Lee was Po, the red Teletubby); so they are a dead cert when it comes to knowing exactly what makes little people tick.

As a result, their live show - featuring toys and characters from their current CBeebies programme Show Me Show Me - grabs and holds the attention of pre-schoolers for far longer than most theatrical productions. Unusually for a show aimed at very young children, it even had an interval - and yes, the audience did come back for more.

Fast paced, but not terrifyingly loud or colourful, the show crammed in seemingly hundreds of nursery rhymes, songs, counting, charactes and costumes, presented with such tender care by the extremely likeable Jarvis and Lee (or “Show Me and Show Me”, as my two year old calls them) that the concept of two television favourites appearing live on stage in front of them didn’t seem to phase the young audience.

I have a bit of a personal aversion to nursery rhymes, but there’s something so appealing about this twosome that I found myself joining in with the actions to “The Wheels On The Bus” and “Wind The Bobbin Up” with more enthusiasm than I expected; and with plenty of panto-style cheesy jokes thrown in for the grown ups and older siblings who may have come along, I found myself as involved as  the little ones.

I’ve seen plenty children’s shows over the years with my son, and with my daughter having the attention span of a gnat, I wasn’t particularly desperate to start it all again too early. However, if the sparkling quality of Jarvis and Lee’s live show rubs off on other productions for pre-schoolers, I’ll be more than happy to brave the theatre with her on a regular basis. She spotted a poster for a live Ben & Holly production on the way out, so I suspect I’ll be back in an auditorium with her before the year is out.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on October 4, 2012

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A funny valentine - review of Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Saturday, September 15

COMEDIANS often rave about the warm and friendly atmosphere at The Anvil, but Sandi Toksvig’s visit  generated such a tangible glow of love radiating towards her from the audience, that she probably could have spent the whole show explaining the rules of Mornington Crescent (the unfathomable parlour game played on I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue) and still have been adored by every person present.

In fact, Toksvig gave us much more than that. Entitled “My Valentine”, the loose theme was a love letter from Toksvig to life; what inspires her to still find “delight in the day”. Much of her daily pleasures arise unexpectedly via her wholehearted love of books - not just literature of quality, but the fun to be had from dubious book titles, and a gem about the rules of golf during wartime, found while thumbing through an old golfing almanac (“A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place. Penalty, one stroke.”)

It is no wonder that Toksvig has little trouble finding ideas for her novels, the most recent of which is Valentine Grey, and she explained the various inspirations for the plot, including the several women who are known to have disguised themselves as male soldiers (and many who were probably never discovered), and the horrors of the generally forgotten Boer War at the turn of the 20th century.

Toksvig’s anecdotes included touching tales about Toksvig’s late “showbiz husband” Alan Coren “We used to lie on his hotel bed eating burgers... it was like being an old married couple without the sex - hang on, that is being an old married couple”, her long-term friendship with John McCarthy, dating back to before he was taken hostage in the Lebanon, and her parents, who met at the BBC - “I have the BBC running through my veins”.

It was interesting to hear in Toksvig’s voice, not just the hint of Denmark of her birth which I always suspected bubbled just under the surface of her clipped English accent, but also the broad New York drawl which she brought to the UK as a teenager after years living in the USA. Such a globetrotting past hasn’t stopped Toksvig from becoming a truly British institution, but her description of Danish as a “peasant language with one word to describe one thing - although we have lots of words for ‘herring’” may go some way to explain her love of the intricacies and delights of the English language.

However, it was fun to learn some Danish essentials - if I am ever in Denmark to find that I have been made king, and need to convey my love of strawberries, I am sorted. There was also audience participation with a Q&A session, a silly little history quiz (I say “silly” only because I got knocked out on the first round) with the prize being not the expected signed copy of Valentine Grey, but a Moleskine notebook, beloved of many writers, to allow the winner to begin her “own writing journey”. 

The evening’s fun rounded off with a mass audience conducting of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, commissioned by The Philharmonic Society of London in 1817 for £50 - “surely the best 50 quid ever spent”. I suspect everyone in the audience felt the same about the £18.50 they spent on their tickets.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 22, 2012