Saturday, 20 May 2017

Wonderful London Mozart Players

I read an article this morning about Miranda Hart, who is about to play Miss Hannigan in a new production of Annie. I'm actually quite a fan of Miranda's. I like her warm, bumbling, jovial, English energy. What I can't for the life of me imagine is her playing the brash, sardonic, belting, Bronxy Miss Hannigan. I'm not altogether sure she has the pipes to deliver a decent vocal performance, and the interview I read with her hardly put my mind at rest. If she turns out to be rubbish, she informs us, we're to blame the musical director, who assured her that he'd be able to get her singing well. That's okay then. As long as being shit is not her fault.

Look, I'm aware that this particular production of Annie is not about getting my particular bum on a seat in that particular theatre. I'm really not in the market for seeing that show... again. I've directed it. I've sat through a million amateur performances of it and seen both films. I'm equally aware that Hannigan has become one of those roles you stunt cast. Paul O'Grady, Kathy Bates and Craig Revel Horwood have all been there. It's one of those roles like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors which people mistakenly think they can reinterpret without paling into insignificance when compared to the original film interpretation.

Of course, Miranda should be able to take her turn as the grotesque Madame of the orphanage without old theatre queens like me condemning her before she gets out onto the stage. I hope she's absolutely amazing and wins an Olivier. And if she does, I'll applaud her. I guess I simply feel that her casting is indicative of everything which is going wrong in the British musical theatre industry right now. Whether dealing with writers or actors, it seems the risk-averse money people are shying away from those who can actually do the job, in favour of those they think are more likely to put bums on seats. It's just not the same Stateside. There are scores of musical theatre stars on Broadway, who fill houses night after night based on the fact that they are genuine triple threat performers. If Annie were being performed over there, I can almost guarantee a producer would simply open the door to a huge stable of Broadway actresses who'd be able to sing and act the shit out of the role. Linda Eder. Bebe Neuwirth. Joanna Gleason. Bernadette. Patti. I could go on for days. And yet, in the UK, when it comes to musical theatre, we invariably settle for second best.

It's like that in no other UK art form.

We all know that Bucks Fizz star Cheryl Baker did ever so well when she trained her voice to sound operatic on Pop Star to Opera Star, but are they going to invite her to sing Tosca at the Royal Opera House? We know that Katie Derham plays the violin to an okay standard, but would they book her to play the Bruch at the Proms? Of course not. And yet my industry gets watered down in this fairly obscene manner on a daily basis. We don't allow specific musical theatre stars to emerge any more. And, I suppose, that just makes me feel a little sad.

Speaking of opera, we're sharing our rehearsal space with a professional opera company at the moment and the differences between our world and theirs are noticeable. We don't really have a budget for a set on our production of Em, but money doesn't seem to be an issue for the opera lot. We sat and listened to all sorts of bizarre conversations in the kitchen today, one of which involved someone refusing to play anything other than a harp which was made in Romania, and another which involved a man, perhaps the director, asking for an armourer to be brought into rehearsals!

We're meant to have the rehearsal rooms booked until 9pm, but, the young girl who works behind the counter regularly throws me out of the building if I'm the last one left inside. Usually I'm sitting at a table orchestrating music. It obviously doesn't look like work to her. It was particularly frustrating tonight as I had three hours to kill in the London Bridge area whilst waiting for a train to take me to Croydon. I thought how nice it would be to stay in the venue and write, but the woman had different ideas. I think it was when she appeared with a giant padlock on a chain and switched the burglar alarm on that I realised I was no longer welcome! I wouldn't mind if she'd come up to me and said, "you know what, if you leave now, I can be paid for two hours' extra work and get home nice and early." I tend to think if you've paid for exclusive use of a space from 9am until 9pm, you really ought to be able to use it as you wish. In the end I went to a cafe near the station where they were doing a promotion involving free coffee (which was no good for this tea drinker.) I sat down to write and discovered instantly, and to my great chagrin, that they were playing songs on the sound system which all mentioned coffee in some way. Turns out there aren't many decent songs about coffee. It was an excruciating wait!

I went to Croydon to see the world premiere of Fiona's composition, Relationships. It was being performed by the London Mozart Players who have literally just leapt to the top of my all-time favourite ensembles. I have seldom been to a gig which felt better suited to my taste in music. Shostakovich. Brice. Piazolla. I spent the night with a massive grin on my face, feeling proud of Fiona for writing such an epically wonderful piece and feeling the joy radiating from the players who included my friend Anna who played at my wedding and on the requiem. It was a twelve-piece string ensemble, but they made the sound of twenty players. Really brutal, aggressive, theatrical musicianship. The Piazolla Four Seasons is a supreme piece of music and it was so exquisitely performed that, at the end, the audience spontaneously jumped to their feet. There was such a brilliant interaction between the players and us. The concert took place in a bar. The ensemble want to get music out of the concert hall environment, so it meant there were no more than sixty lucky people crammed into the space. I felt genuinely privileged to have been there. It's the most fun I have EVER had watching classical music. Bravos all round.

Croydon's a bit of a mess isn't it? From what I could gather, most of the city centre is derelict or boarded over and filled with a tangled mesh of piss-stinking concrete underpasses and dodgy-looking shopping centres. It feels like a place in trouble. A place with no identity. A place where everyone feels a little on edge. A place which the world conveniently ignores. It is no surprise at all that it was the scene of such dreadful rioting five or so years ago.

But enough negativity. I've had a great night. And I go home a happy, yet shattered man.

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