Saturday, 18 May 2019

Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself @ The Ovalhouse

Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself @ The Ovalhouse

You've seen the title. "What's a guy doing at a play like this?" I hear you ask. But not only is this an intriguing piece of theatre, it's educational and truly thought-provoking as well. It's a chance to expand horizons.

Sure, if you've ever wondered where to find the clitoris, now you'll know. But the play is a deeper exploration of female sexuality that begins during puberty and continues into adulthood. It's written and performed by Bella Heesom as 'Ego', who's joined by Sara Alexander as her 'Appetite' - a personification of her sexuality. This is mirrored by their roles as 'Brain' and 'Clitoris', creating a distinction between sexuality and logic, society and culture.

If the general trajectory of a woman learning to reconnect to her sexuality seems like an oversimplification, it still provides a satisfying and emotional journey. It's divided up into smaller vignettes that debunk various myths about female sexuality projected on to the back screen: women don't masturbate, women must be objectified, women are either sluts or frigid. Through comedy, poetry and expressive movement, Heesom and Alexander deliver frank honesty that invites the audience as a whole to consider their own sexuality and consider the toxic patriarchal norms we've all become overly accustomed to - whether we have vulvas or not.

Some of these early vignettes feel a little feminism 101, but later the two actresses are stripped of all pretence as they reach womanhood. Here Heesom's poetic writing is in full bloom and moves into more uncharted territory. Schoolyard conflicts are one thing, but how can we help women now to be their most authentic selves?

Yet - without wanting to mansplain, this is a play focused on women after all - there are some universal themes here. We all, in our own way, can lack sexual confidence at times and, as a gay man, Heesom's writing on sexual shame strikes a chord. The play's final empowering moments are one of unity between mind, body, spirit, and sexuality and that's something we can all learn from. It's a call to silence our inner saboteur and embrace our sexuality, no matter what gender we may identify with.

3/5

Watch: Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself runs at the Ovalhouse until 25th May.

Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself @ The Ovalhouse

Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself @ The Ovalhouse
Photos: David Monteith

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Boom Bang-A-Bang @ Above The Stag Theatre

Boom Bang-A-Bang @ Above The Stag Theatre

A lack of guests; an interfering neighbour; infidelity; and a busted TV. This is a Eurovision party where everything that could possibly go wrong, does.

Jonathan Harvey (Gimme Gimme Gimme and multiple other TV shows and plays) first wrote Boom Bang-A-Bang back in 1995 and it's remarkable how well it holds up. The script is full of nods to the annual contest which is just as popular with the queer community now as it was back then. And it's still unlikely we'll win.

Yet Boom Bang-A-Bang isn't really a play about Eurovision, it's a play that touches on deeper themes: grief, internalised homophobia, and friendships between gay and straight men. The protagonist is party host Lee (Adam McCoy), who still grieves for his boyfriend who recently died from a brain tumour. For them, Eurovision was their special yearly event - hosting a party without him turns out to be a traumatic experience.

It's best mate Steph (Christopher Lane), though, who steals the limelight. A bitchy queen, he's jealous, bitter and manipulative, yet eminently watchable. He manages to consistently be the centre of attention to the detriment of the other characters, even though you suspect he has a heart of gold...somewhere deep down. Elsewhere, Sean Huddlestan plays a perennially positive (and high) Roy and Joshua Coley is the nerdy, nosy neighbour Norman. Sadly the female characters get something of a raw deal.

Together the cast make up a collection of queer stereotypes, as recognisable as they are over the top. This is camp and flamboyant soap opera drama, that plays out on a detailed set from director and designer Andrew Beckett. We all know people like these and the gossipy trials and tribulations of their lives are compelling to watch, even if the messiness spills into farce eventually.

There are still some tender moments though amongst all the jokes. Harvey's often hilarious script carefully balances witticisms and queer references with darker, human material. And just like Eurovision, it's wonderfully frothy entertainment that doesn't take itself too seriously.

4/5

Watch: Boom Bang-A-Bang runs at the Above The Stag Theatre until 9th June.

Boom Bang-A-Bang @ Above The Stag Theatre

Boom Bang-A-Bang @ Above The Stag Theatre
Photos: PBG Studios

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Amour @ Charing Cross Theatre


Amour @ Charing Cross Theatre

The wordless “Overture” of Amour is probably its best moment. Sung only to repeated “bah bah bahs”, the emphasis is on wonderful melody writing and contrapuntal vocal lines, while the staging reflects the hustle and bustle of 1950s Paris. Once the whispy plot kicks in, Amour falls flat.

With music from noted film and jazz composer Michel Legrand (who sadly passed away earlier this year) and lyrics from Didier Van Cauwelaert, the musical was originally performed in Paris in 1997 where it won the Prix Molière for Best Musical. In 2002 it arrived on Broadway, directed by James Lapine and with an English translation from Jeremy Sams, but flopped after two weeks. This production at the Charing Cross Theatre marks the musical’s professional UK premiere, brought to the stage by Danielle Tarento.

That plot then. Full of cliché and thin characterisation, it centres on the civil servant Dusoleil (portrayed gently and meekly by Gary Tushaw) – a typically mild, nerdy hero who magically discovers he can walk through walls and uses his newfound power to woo his love who, of course, has no idea he exists. Isabelle herself has zero agency (though Anna O’Byrne sings the role beautifully), simply a young ward caged in a marriage with an older lustful Prosecutor (Sweeney Todd much?). Adapted from the 1943 short story Le Passe-Muraille from Marcel Aymé, the musical explores the lengths we go to for love and making the ordinary extraordinary. It’s just too flimsy and shallow – as the title suggests it’s a fantasy romance with a sheen of soft lighting and little drama or tension.

It’s also a musical that seems more concerned with cleverness than plot. Legrand’s score includes musical jokes and quotations, while Sams’ translation is old-fashioned and consists of constant rhyming couplets and wordplay that ranges from mildly amusing to groan-inducing. Some crass humour creeps in at times too, jarring against the romantic tone, while the wordy book gets in the way of the melody, turning what was likely poetic French into clunkiness.

The main draw, then, is Legrand’s score. Through-sung, Amour borders on operetta, full of gushing melodies and rich, colourful orchestration (played by the well-balanced orchestra). It’s not always inventive – there are typically Parisian waltzes and oom-pah-pah rhythms, as well as overuse of musical sequences – but it brings character where the book alone falters. Quieter ballads are particularly gorgeous and some a capella singing is arresting – both notable on a purely musical level rather than for any dramatic impetus.

Director Hannah Chissick’s Paris is all baguettes and bicycles in perpetual night, but her direction makes great use of both sides of the traverse staging and keeps the pace swift. And there are great performances from the cast, particularly the ensemble. Claire Machin is especially hilarious as the whore, while the rest of the cast bring life to multiple roles and are given small moments to shine. Like the orchestration, these moments add colour to what is otherwise a bland narrative. With stronger material this passionate cast and crew could have delivered a musical of true love; instead this particular romance is a light and fleeting thing.

3/5

Watch: Amour runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 20th July.


Amour @ Charing Cross Theatre

Amour @ Charing Cross Theatre
Photos: Scott Rylander

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Marina @ The Royal Albert Hall

Marina @ The Royal Albert Hall

For her first three albums, Marina (and her diamonds) made a name for herself with off-kilter pop, especially in alter-ego Electra Heart. But after a three year break she's dropped the diamonds and released a new two-part album, 'LOVE + FEAR', that's a far more serious and personal affair: haunting pop for an anxious world.

This gig, part of her European tour, follows the same love and fear theme. Marina floats on to the stage in a shock of pink for the album's lead single Handmade Heaven, interpretive dancers around her, overshadowed by a huge unbalanced screen that throughout the night bursts with colour and vibrancy. Songs from 'LOVE' are joined by favourites from her previous albums: the prophetic Hollywood ("I'm obsessed with the mess that's America"), the thumping Primadonna, the bubbly Froot. It's these that stir the crowd into cheers and singing, though recent single Orange Trees brings a breezy, laidback vibe as the screen shimmers with ocean views.

For the second half, songs from 'FEAR' predominate, the azure seas swapped for a frosty wilderness and an all-white outfit. The playful pop of her earlier albums dissipates and we're left with moving ballads performed on piano, dark synths and anxious production. "And my mood it changes all the time, I smile with tears in my eyes," she sings on Believe In Love, while on Soft To Be Strong she finally overcomes her fear. Most arresting of all though is the melancholic Happy, from previous album 'Froot'. Where 'LOVE + FEAR' have been inspired by her struggles with mental health, the roots of that are in this song: "I've found what I've been looking for in myself".

Even on the most bombastic songs, her vulnerability shows. Her soft vocal soars up to a gentle falsetto that's almost operatic - fitting for this venue. The crowd may be singing back every word, but there are moments of quiet contemplation where the popstar persona reveals a genuine fragility.

'LOVE + FEAR' may be split in two, but its best moments are where those two halves come together. Superstar is a love song of quivering melodies and dark dependency, undercut by brittle beats and ominous sub bass. Best of all is Enjoy Your Life - something of a mental health banger - where she admits "I know, you've been feeling stuck, feeling low" before imploring us to "sit back and enjoy your problems" with infectious hooks and upbeat synths. Even on this latest album her music remains a little more offbeat and intelligent than most pop music, but her lyrics are forever relatable.

As a performer, though, Marina is a buoyant presence: synchronised dancing, bubbly personality, and plenty of smiles, culminating in the sizzling finale of How to Be a Heartbreaker. The fear subsides and all that's left is love.

4/5

Listen: 'LOVE + FEAR' is out now.

Marina @ The Royal Albert Hall

Marina @ The Royal Albert Hall

Marina @ The Royal Albert Hall

 Marina @ The Royal Albert Hall


Friday, 3 May 2019

Detective Pikachu

Detective Pikachu

For those who've played any one of the multiple Pokémon games released by Nintendo over the past two decades, Detective Pikachu is a dream come true. Here is a world of Pokémon that feels tangible and real, a Poké utopia where people and 'mon live in perfect harmony. Pidgey fly through the skies of Ryme City; Charmander light grills with their flame tails; Squirtle aid firefighters. Every human is paired with a monster - and you will want one too.

Of course, the premise of the games has always been to battle the pocket monsters in an attempt to be the best Pokémon trainer, like no one ever was. But this film - or the central character at least - is based on the game of the same name released for the 3DS console in 2016 (Japan) and 2018 (worldwide). As the title suggests, it takes its cue from '40s detective movies: Pikachu, everyone's favourite mouse 'mon, is here given an adorable detective hat as he joins Justice Smith's Tim Goodman to solve the mystery of his father's death, a dangerous drug in gas form, and the mysterious Mewtwo pokémon.

For all its cartoon origins, it begins on a grave note. With the death of his father, Tim is drawn to Ryme City - a futuristic, neon lit city with a hint of Blade Runner. It sets up a story about estranged fathers and broken families that, initially at least, suggests a more serious tale than expected. The realistic look of the pokémon follows suit.

Yet Detective Pikachu is a kid's film after all. The plot, full of holes, gets wrapped up in the action; there are wooden performances from the young cast and eccentric performances from others (Bill Nighy); cameos from musicians (Diplo is having a great time, Rita Ora less so); and the main emotion the film elicits is "OMG LOOK AT THE CUTE POKÉMON".

But wow, these 'mon are cute. Director Rob Letterman nails the look and feel of this world, full of lifelike and adorable monsters. Fans will appreciate multiple nods (as well as great use of the theme song), but the depiction of Mr. Mime, a speechless pokémon who communicates solely in mime, will have everyone in fits of laughter. Best of all though is Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu himself. It's an inspired piece of casting, with a sarcastic and irreverent delivery reminiscent of Deadpool. The character's design is impossibly cute with his little nose, rosy cheeks and big eyes, yet he speaks in a wisecracking drawl and his lines seem hilariously ripped straight from a classic noir. The film simply wouldn't be as good without him.

Detective Pikachu is a film that manages to capture the imaginations of young and old alike, full of wonder and nostalgia. Its predictable plot falls flat, but it presents a world that everyone will want to lose themselves in.

3/5

Watch: Detective Pikachu is released on May 10th.



Sunday, 28 April 2019

Eurovision 2019

Eurovision 2019

Dare to dream? It seems Europe is in the grip of a nightmare. From sombre ballads to political statements and an all-out screaming apocalypse, this is a particularly downbeat Eurovision year. It's certainly reflective of the prevailing mood of the continent.

Where many countries have gone back to their roots with a modern twist, The Netherlands offer the pick of the ballads with a contemporary song and are currently odds on favourite. But the likes of Italy and Iceland are delivering more interesting atypical Eurovision songs. Expect to see these three riding high at the top of the voting table.

In a sea of ballads, there are still some uptempo positive songs, a handful taking their cue from last year's should-have-won, Fuego. Czech Republic are funky fun, Spain bring the party and where the other Nordics disappoint, Sweden have entered a song of pure joy that's obvious Eurovision stuff.

Yet with so much bleakness this year, those positive pop songs may come off as insincere and out of touch. It's clear that this year's competition will be a serious, sometimes melancholic and very intriguing week of music.



Albania
Jonida Maliqi - Ktheju tokës

"Return to your land," sings Jonida Maliqi in this return to Albania's roots. The lyrics are more than a little fatalistic ("one day you live, the next you die / so much nostalgia, so little hope"), but the traditional melodies, thundering drums and flutes make for a dramatic entry.



Armenia
Srbuk - Walking Out

X Factor Armenia runner-up Srbuk delivers dark gothic pop on Walking Out, complete with this year's most dramatic key change. She's got some big notes up her sleeve, let's hope she can deliver them live.



Australia
Kate Miller-Heidke - Zero Gravity

On paper this is winning Eurovision: opera meets dance pop, styled as a Scandi ice-maiden in a big dress. In actuality, her voice sounds like a car horn that could break glass.



Austria
PÆNDA - Limits

Austria did very well last year and are looking to do similarly with another serious entry. Limits is a vulnerable tearjerker of a ballad that may be a little too subtle, but PÆNDA's delicate voice is quietly haunting.



Azerbaijan
Chingiz - Truth

For a country with poor LGBT rights, Azerbaijan surely know how to deliver for the Eurovision audience (even if Chingiz isn't topless in the live performance). Yet right from its moody, pulsing opening this is polished synth-pop with a traditional twist, an intoxicating mix of old and new.




Belarus
ZENA - Like It

ZENA has performed at Junior Eurovision on multiple occasions (coming third in 2016) so could be popular with the Eurovision crowd. Like It, though, is pretty standard 90s inflected pop that doesn't do enough to stand out.



Belgium
Eliot - Wake Up

Belgium have a tendency to do either really well or not qualify at all, despite delivering some interesting, moody pop over the last few years. This year Eliot is set to continue that trend, not least because he wrote their 2017 entry. Here he delivers twinky synth pop (that's not quite Loïc Nottet) - let's hope he can qualify.



Croatia
Roko - The Dream

The lyrics of this year's Croatian entry are a little on the trite side ("I dream of love," sings Roko in the soaring chorus), but there's enough cinematic flair here to make The Dream stand out.



Cyprus
Tamta - Replay

Let's be real: we all know Fuego should've won last year. Clearly annoyed, Cyprus have this year entered a song that is essentially a second rate rip-off. Lightning does not strike twice.



Czech Republic
Lake Malawi - Friend of a Friend

Lake Malawi have performed on BBC London as well as at Brighton's Great Escape festival in 2015. There's certainly a British flair to their indie-pop that's all funk guitars and glittering synths - a rare ray of fluffy positivity in this year's competition.



Denmark
Leonora - Love Is Forever

Leonora sings in four different languages on Love Is Forever, presumably courting favour with each country. But the pizzicato strings and cutesy vocals make this irritatingly twee. Bring back last year's vikings.



Estonia
Victor Crone - Storm

Hoping for some Scandi magic, Estonia have put forth a Swede for their entry. Victor competed in 2015's Melodifestivalen, but finally makes Eurovision with Storm - an uplifting country dance-pop track with a strong hook. Enjoyable, but he needs to work on his guitar miming.



Finland
Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman - Look Away

Yes that's the Darude of Sandstorm fame. But Look Away is a disappointingly bland dance track that will have you walking away for a cup of tea.



France
Bilal Hassani - Roi

Bilal is a major YouTube star in French-speaking territories and here delivers an emotional ballad of self-acceptance. Let's see if that fanbase pick up the phones.



Georgia
Oto Nemsadze - Keep on Going

This will never make it past the semis.



Germany
S!sters - Sister

Sadly this is not a cover of the Sister Sister theme song. Instead it consists mainly of screaming "SISTER!" down a microphone.



Greece
Katerine Duska - Better Love

Katerine has a rich, raspy timbre to her voice that stands out amongst the pack. Yet although the song has a Jessie Ware / Lykke Li kinda vibe, it's just not memorable enough overall.



Hungary
Joci Pápai - Az én apám

Joci brings Hungary's gypsy roots to this year's competition, all folky melodies and a whistling hook. But how the hell is he playing guitar with leather gloves on?



Iceland
Hatari - Hatrið mun sigra

This is the one everyone will be talking about. Eurovision songs aren't meant to be political (though they often secretly are), but Hatari singing apocalyptic lyrics like "hate will prevail / and Europe's heart impale" isn't exactly subtle. Screaming vocals, buzzsaw synths and bondage costumes ensure it will get plenty of attention, but the slick production and key change bely a pop sensibility beneath it all. Brilliantly bonkers.




Ireland
Sarah McTernan - 22

Nope, not a cover of the Taylor Swift classic (22 is a house number here, not an age). Vocally reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, this is a soulful ballad that's sweet if a little vanilla.



Israel
Kobi Marimi - Home

Let's just say Israel won't be winning two years in a row.



Italy
Mahmood - Soldi

Egyptian-Italian Alessandro Mahmoud has already courted controversy with Soldi. Chosen to represent Italy at this year's Sanremo competition, he's described the song as "Morocco pop", and sings an interlude in Arabic, at odds with Salvini and his right-wing government. Who said Eurovision wasn't political? Beneath all that though is a song that sounds like nothing we've had at Eurovision: a cool and clever R&B infused track with Middle Eastern flavour exploring estranged fathers and familial divides. It's suave and sophisticated and perfect for an Israeli competition in 2019. Can we please make this win?




Latvia
Carousel - That Night

This stripped back lilting ballad is pleasant enough but it just doesn't go anywhere. Another tea break.



Lithuania
Jurij Veklenko - Run With The Lions

This spacey electronic ballad has potential and the falsetto vocals are lovely. But the chorus doesn't quite have the intended punch - those clipped drums are weak.



Malta
Michela - Chameleon

Another Fuego wannabe here. The chorus is enjoyably weird but it's basic overall.



Moldova
Anna Odobescu - Stay

A typical emotional power ballad that's ultimately forgettable.



Montenegro
D mol - Heaven

Performed by a group of six singers, Heaven mixes traditional instrumentation with modern pop. The vocals are impressive, but the song is just on the edge of saccharine.



North Macedonia
Tamara Todevska - Proud

Formerly F.Y.R Macedonia, the country doesn't have a good track record at Eurovision. But perhaps that's set to change with the new name. Proud is an intense ballad with a feminist message and a big belting voice.



Norway
KEiiNO - Spirit in the Sky

Norway frequently have success with gothic techno. The eccentric KEiiNO here mix dark electronica with Nordic folk, treading a fine line between cool and amusing. It's certainly memorable.



Poland
Tulia - Fire of Love (Pali się)

Bringing back memories of butter churning with their traditional dress, Tulia are a far feistier proposition. Their fiery folk-rock has a love it or hate it appeal that could split voters.



Portugal
Conan Osiris - Telemóveis

Portugal's 2017 win was hailed as a win for "authentic" music. Conan certainly takes himself seriously, with a track heavily influenced by Egyptian culture. It's experimental and far removed from anything else in the competition, as weirdly compelling as it is an interesting composition. And that backing dancer is SERVING.




Romania
Ester Peony - On a Sunday

The lyrics to On a Sunday is pretty depressing - a breakup song of loneliness, nightmares and the unfairness of life. Yet Ester gives a sultry performance, perhaps to lure back her missing lover. It certainly works.



Russia
Sergey Lazarev - Scream

Russia's golden boy returns after narrowly missing out on a win back in 2016. This time he's swapped pulsing synths for downbeat orchestral strings that lacks the same winning energy. Yet if the theatrical video is anything to go by, we're in for some extraordinary staging.



San Marino
Serhat - Say Na Na Na

San Marino are sending over your embarrassing uncle singing karaoke over some funky disco. It's definitely entertaining.



Serbia
Nevena Božović - Kruna

Another previous Junior Eurovision entrant, Nevena sings a beautiful ballad here that builds from a gentle acoustic opening to a soaring rock chorus with a little Slavic twist. But in a sea of ballads, does this do enough?



Slovenia
Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl - Sebi

Sombre synths and clipped beats make for a Slovenian entry of bleak ennui. It's an intriguing song but unlikely to win over voters.



Spain
Miki - La Venda

You can always count on Spain to bring the party. Ska rhythms and blaring trumpets bring some much needed sunshine to this year's competition. There's Spanish guitar, "la vida loca", enough energy to have you jumping in your seat, and a cute singer fronting it all. When much of Europe is in seeming despair, I'll have whatever Spain are having.




Sweden
John Lundvik - Too Late For Love

John Lundvik's song is perhaps the most obvious Eurovision winner this year, though that's to be expected from a country with one of the best track records. Bold melodies, gospel backing, and vibrant production ensure this is a sheer joy to listen to. It's ironically perhaps too Eurovision to win the competition, but it's a brilliant little pop song. He also wrote our entry, but clearly kept the best for himself.




Switzerland
Luca Hänni - She Got Me

From a country with one of the best track records, to one with one of the worst (at least in the last couple of decades). Luca won Germany's Pop Idol equivalent and on She Got Me does a passable Justin Timberlake impression. It's all worth it for that filthy bass though.



The Netherlands
Duncan Laurence - Arcade

Currently the odds on favourite, and not just because he's naked in the video. Sorrowful and moving lyrics (the repeated "loving you is a losing game"), a tender vocal and carefully balanced production make this the best of the ballads (and there's stiff competition). Expect this to win the jury vote, but other songs are perhaps more likely to capture the voting public.




United Kingdom
Michael Rice - Bigger Than Us

The Lamest Showman.



Saturday, 27 April 2019

New Music Friday 26/04/19

Taylor Swift feat. Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco - ME!

Taylor Swift feat. Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco - ME!

It's Taylor Swift's big return after the ill-received 'Reputation'. And it sounds like the soundtrack to a straight to DVD Dreamworks film. Critics wondered if this new song would be a return to her country roots, a continuation of the synth-pop from '1989', or perhaps a more political take following on from recent posts and interviews. Instead we've got a spelling bee in song, together with Brendon Urie to complete the 'Greatest Showman' carnival theme. This is sugary bubblegum pop at its most insipid and childish. Even Shake It Off was better.

Don't bother.



FKA Twigs - Cellophane

FKA Twigs - Cellophane

"Didn't I do it for you?" questions FKA on this comeback track. It's one of those simple lyrics that's loaded with sentiment, her yearning falsetto quivering with emotion and vulnerability. As with the music of her debut album, the production is minimalist - as much about the space between as the sounds themselves - but Cellophane is an intimate, achingly beautiful ballad that takes us beyond the fierce voguer. Stunning.

Add to playlist.



Lauv - Drugs & The Internet

Lauv - Drugs & The Internet

Drugs & The Internet is Lauv's first new music since the release of his debut album last year. It's a song about anxiety and social media, which feels like a very 2019 topic for a song. Yet from Lauv it's a potent and personal exploration, following his own struggles with mental health. "I traded all my friends for drugs and the internet," he quips in the chorus over squelching production, while his verses are all too relatable.

Worth a listen.



Bastille - Doom Days

Bastille - Doom Days

This is a short one, but it packs a punch. Taken from their forthcoming album of the same name, Doom Days is a two minute apocalyptic take on today - a world of echo chambers, online horror shows, and fucking up the planet until it burns. It runs like a stream of consciousness, an acoustic start hurtling inevitably to its urgent, electronic end. The final sentiment to put our phones down and fall into the night seems rote, but really what else can we do?

Worth a listen.



ionnalee - SOME BODY

ionnalee - SOME BODY

For all her eccentricities, SOME BODY is a more straightforward disco synth track from ionnalee. It, too, is apocalyptic - "come on bring the age of sorrow," she sings in the second verse - but in the chorus she asks us to "remember the good times...[before] the end of humankind" as the production (from long time collaborator Claes Björklund) swells and struts. The effect is intoxicating.

Worth a listen.



Zara Larsson - WOW


Zara Larsson - WOW

This doesn't quite make your jaw drop as Larsson implores in the chorus, but it's a fun time all the same. The downbeat verses bely lyrics loaded with sexual tension, before bursting into an ecstatic, otherworldly chorus of shifting vocals, blaring horns and infectious beats. Less jaw drop, more slut drop on the dancefloor.

Worth a listen.


Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame

Don't worry, this review will be spoiler-free. As was the script for much of the cast of this climactic film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's been widely reported they were given dummy and blacked out scripts. It means Endgame has been somewhat pieced together, disparate individual scenes that eventually come together to complete the puzzle.

Of course, that could be said of every film. But it makes you question how the actors can develop their characters when they don't know what the...endgame is (sorry). Then again, the Marvel films are rarely about anything more than heroic characters saving the world. And on that, Endgame surely delivers.

In fact, this is the most meta of all the Marvel films. The whole franchise has been a collection of puzzle pieces. Now Endgame provides that in microcosm. It is at once nostalgic yet new, a look back at the past 21 films and a forward-looking conclusion. The plot is essentially an opportunity to revisit the best bits of the previous films, allowing each character to have their moment in the spotlight. It's full of references and fan service that will surely reward repeat viewing, though the story is simple enough to entertain as a piece of popcorn cinema.

With so much to wrap up, it's no wonder the film is three hours long. But that whips by and doesn't feel bloated. While it starts off slowly and takes itself a little too seriously (though that's perhaps to be expected given events in Infinity War), the pace soon picks up. There's a clear structure and a clear goal, with little need for exposition or introductions of fantastical alien races or magic MacGuffins. We've had 21 films of that - now we finally get the pay-off and it undoubtedly satisfies, while leaving just enough tidbits for future films.

That clarity is true of the action sequences too. The visual design, CGI and choreography is everything we've come to expect from the best of Marvel - intense, exciting and easy to follow. And for all its melodrama and operatic scope, there's still time for moments of comedy (even if some are unintentional thanks to the cheesy script), as well as more tender, intimate moments.

How much you care for the latter is almost entirely based on your enjoyment of the previous films. Individually, they may not be the most original or well done. Many of them are flawed. Yet the cleverness of these interlocking narratives is extraordinary, resulting in an overarching saga with a fitting conclusion. Really, these films should be judged together as one incredible achievement. The whole is greater than the individual parts - rather like the Avengers themselves.

4/5

Watch: Avengers: Endgame is out now.


See-Through @ Camden People's Theatre

See-Through @ Camden People's Theatre

What do you need to become a YouTube star? A camera, an internet connection and an opinion. Or so it seems. But what is the impact of becoming a vlogger? Not on the internet, but on yourself?

Performer Claire Gaydon decided to test that out and the result is this new piece of smart experimental theatre, See-Through, at Camden People's Theatre. It's equal parts documentary and performance, though the line between the two is blurred. Gaydon performs with her back to the audience as we watch the narrative play out on a projected screen - she's right in front of us, yet she's intangible, a personality on a screen. Vloggers aim to be relatable, but do we ever really know them?

Over the course of the short hour, we watch Gaydon as she researches, creates a logo and a theme tune, and begins to upload her videos. She does challenge videos and storytime videos, gets her mum involved, and projects a friendly, charming and amiable persona, all in the name of content. This is all somewhat a parody of actual vloggers - a funny performance...that's also real.

Tellingly, her first success is a ridiculous video about smoking weed and having sex. Of course, it's the crazy ideas that are most likely to go viral - resulting in both views and shocking, negative comments. More of these types of video build up, until the climactic video of a horrific revelation - but is that real, or just part of the performance in the endless hunt for clicks and likes?

It's clear that being a vlogger takes its toll on Gaydon's mental health and her relationship with her family. The moment she finally turns to the audience to sing is quietly haunting. The show is an eye-opening look behind the screen, yet we never really discover what she learned from this experience, or what the potential positive impact was. As a documentary, See-Through doesn't fully get to grips with the vlogging experience. But as a narrative, its clever ambiguity keeps us questioning long after it ends.

3/5

Watch: See-Through runs at the Camden People's Theatre until 27th April.


Thursday, 25 April 2019

Ain't Misbehavin' @ The Southwark Playhouse

Ain't Misbehavin' @ The Southwark Playhouse

It's all glitz and glamour in this musical revue of Fats Waller's music, that sees Tyrone Huntley in his directorial debut pair up with Strictly star and choreographer Oti Mabuse. It's the first London revival of the show in almost 25 years and the all black cast certainly do justice to the 1920s jazz legend.

There's no narrative, though Huntley finds the story in each song and ties them together with smooth transitions. The shimmering set from takis, the on-stage band and the beautiful period costumes together create an authentic mood that swings from exuberant through steamy, sultry and seductive.

That extends to Mabuse's lively choreography. Charleston and jive dancing predominate, all flaps, kicks and cheers. Though the cast is only five-strong, they assuredly use the entire stage and solo dances are full of character. More than the technical dancing, it's the sheer enthusiasm of the performers that bowls over the audience. They are hugely energetic, their joyful emotions infectious.

It's the music, though, that's the star of the show. Waller's piano playing was hugely influential and the show cherrypicks his best songs, from the title song to 'Honeysuckle Rose', 'You're A Viper' and more. The band are great but sound imbalances prevail, which is sadly often the case at this venue.

The singing isn't always as authentic as the setting - riffs, trills and soulful tones sound a little too modern - but the standard remains exceptional. Renée Lamb in particular stands out for her delicate voice and subtle delivery, while Carly Mercedes Dyer gives bags of zeal with her comedy and dancing. Indeed, the ongoing competition between the three female performers hints at unheard stories both on and off the stage.

Ain't Misbehavin' is at its best, though, when it all slows down. Ballads are richly sung, but the real showstopper is 'Black And Blue', for its racial commentary as well as its stunning harmonies. The song soon leads into more lighthearted material, but its spell lingers over what is overall a glamorous and fun celebration of black entertainment.

4/5

Watch: Ain't Misbehavin' runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 1st June.

Ain't Misbehavin' @ The Southwark Playhouse

Ain't Misbehavin' @ The Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Pamela Raith

Saturday, 20 April 2019

New Music Friday 19/04/19

Madonna - Medellín (with Maluma)

Madonna - Medellín (with Maluma)

This is hardly the first time Madonna has pinched from elsewhere. Vogue took a dance from New York's underground scene; Hung Up sampled ABBA for a disco reboot. Yet, where in the past she's been at the forefront of discovery and trends, the last few years have seen Madonna playing catch up. Medellín, from her forthcoming album 'Madame X', is no exception. It's as if she and her label execs had a board meeting to discuss what's hot right now. Reggaeton was the inevitable conclusion, complete with feature from Colombia's (misogynistic) Maluma, clichéd lyrics about "a cartel just for love", and breezy melodies that float away into non-existence. There's still room for the album to be a worthwhile listen, but put your expectations in check and slow down papi.

Don't bother.



Carly Rae Jepsen - Julien

Carly Rae Jepsen - Julien

Jepsen stated on Instagram that Julien taught her the heart and direction of forthcoming album 'Dedicated'. It's certainly got heart - its lyrics depict raw heartbreak, honest and haunting - but the production is all squelchy disco, breathy melodies and spacey club sounds. This is funk to get you out of a funk, paving the way for another brilliant pop album.

Add to playlist.



Kygo & Rita Ora - Carry On

Kygo & Rita Ora - Carry On

Next month sees the release of the Detective Pikachu film, a weird, bizarre and hilariously real world take on Nintendo's franchise. Why, then, has this generic track been chosen to lead the soundtrack? All Kygo songs sound the same and Rita is phoning in the vocals (originally meant to be Charlie Puth). A bland and soulless cash-in.

Don't bother.



SZA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott - Power Is Power

SZA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott - Power Is Power

Speaking of cash-ins, this track is taken from 'For The Throne' - music inspired by Game of Thrones now that its final season is here. Fans will recognise the title as a reference to a conversation between Littlefinger and Cersei from season two; non-fans will at least appreciate nods in lyrics like "I was born of the ice and snow with the winter wolves". Sonically it sounds like an cast-off from the Black Panther soundtrack - not necessarily a bad thing, but not overly original either.

Worth a listen.



Au/Ra - Assassin

Au/Ra - Assassin

Jamie Lou Stenzel, better known by her stage name Au/Ra, is still best known for her hit Panic Room thanks to its Camelphat remix. But her unique gothic pop is as much a reflection of the younger generation as, say, Billie Eilish. Panic Room was a comment on anxiety, while on new track Assassin she moves on to self-sabotage and reflection, underscored by seductive electronica.

Add to playlist.



No Rome - Cashmoney

No Rome - Cashmoney

This is the latest track from The 1975 collaborator, who recently appeared with the band at Coachella and will continue to tour with them. There's certainly a similar vibe to his music, but on Cashmoney No Rome luxuriates in sharp production: laidback, twinkling, and polished. Which is fitting for a song about money and designer brands.

Worth a listen.


Friday, 19 April 2019

Tumulus @ Soho Theatre

Tumulus @ Soho Theatre

Back in 2016, Stephen Port was convicted of serial rape and murder after luring in young gay men using the app Grindr and drugging them to the point of overdose. Christopher Adams' thriller Tumulus takes this as its inspiration.

This is a queer urban nightmare that plays with noir tropes. At a basic level it's a murder mystery that weaves through chemsex parties, London streets and the impenetrable darkness of Hampstead Heath. A ghostly figure from the past demands justice; an unsuspecting nearly-thirty-three year old man is compelled to uncover the truth.

Ciarán Owens' Anthony is a suave, charming and unreliable narrator. A librarian at the British Library, he pursues a not-so-secret life of sex and drugs in London's gay underworld. And, like all the gay characters, he's haunted not only by the death of previous lover George but by a strange tinnitus-like sensation in his mind. Drugs are the only answer.

Together with Ian Hallard and Harry Lister Smith, the three strong cast present a twisted vision of homosexual life. An early scene depicts a horrifying dinner party that magnifies stereotypes into a grim fantasy, but the play as a whole bristles with danger and tension. In this context, murder seems tragically inevitable.

Further atmosphere is delivered through live foley sound and chiaroscuro lighting, while Adams' script, narrated by Owens, swings from the poetic to the bleakly humorous. It ensures that this intrinsically gay mystery remains compelling through to the end, with all its gut-wrenching twists.

Beyond engaging storytelling, Tumulus is equally a comment on the anxiety of modern gay life. It's a cautionary tale that delivers riveting fantasy based on shocking reality.

4/5

Watch: Tumulus runs at the Soho Theatre until 4th May.

Tumulus @ Soho Theatre

Tumulus @ Soho Theatre
Photos: Darren Bell

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Back in 1968, George A. Romero released his masterpiece film that became a major influence not only on horror cinema, but the likes of video game series Resident Evil and the comic/TV series The Walking Dead. Now Night Of The Living Dead has made its way to theatres in the only stage adaptation authorised by the Romero estate.

Except here it's not quite how you remember. There's a fine line between horror and comedy - what was once horrifying now seems laughably tame - but in distancing itself from the original film, this production veers so far into the latter as to be unrecognisable.

It's starts off faithfully enough, following the general plot of a group of disparate people holed up in a rickety house as they try to save themselves from the roaming undead. The production design is stunning, with all set, costumes and lighting presented in strict monochrome mimicking the black and white of the film. Jump scares and tension abound as the audience are kept on the edge of their seats.

There's comedy in the over-the-top acting, the exaggerated "yee-haw" accents, the cartoonish physicality. Particularly amusing are Mari McGinlay as the hysterical mouse-like Barbra and Marc Pickering's bumbling coward Harry. An eerie weasel and crunchy sound effects add to the irreverent horror vibe.

Romero's film has since been analysed for its criticism of 1960s America, Cold War politics, racism (the film's lead is a black man who's tragically mistaken for the undead in the final moments), and other tensions of the time.

Here, though, the play's multiple writers and director Benji Sperring nod to that "political bollocks" with the looping structure. It whips through the plot swiftly in its first half, before playing out various "what if?" scenarios. This might toy with a political agenda - sexism, racism and more - but it's only ever played for laughs. Soon the play descends from send up of the film into all-out slapstick farce, full of crass humour and silly antics.

Audience members can pay extra to be on-stage in the "splatter zone", which ends up as a simple marketing ploy - the play's gore is overhyped and these audience members simply prove distracting. Coupled with the amount of merchandise available, it all seems at odds with the consumerism Romero sought to critique.

It makes you wish a little more thought had gone into wrestling with that intriguing grey area between horror and comedy. Night Of The Living Dead Live is a fun night out in itself, but it's far removed from its original source.

3/5

Watch: Night Of The Living Dead Live runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 8th June.

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London
Photos: Claire Bilyard

Saturday, 13 April 2019

New Music Friday 12/04/19

Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc - SOS

Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc - SOS

SOS is typical Avicii. That's to say, it's a catchy club bop with hooks galore and an Aloe Blacc vocal feature after their work on Wake Me Up. But of course, the song is underpinned by the sad death of the Swedish DJ last year, the first posthumous release from a forthcoming album. As such, lyrics like "can you hear me SOS, help me put my mind to rest" take on a truly heartbreaking new layer of meaning.

Worth a listen.



Ellie Goulding - Sixteen

Ellie Goulding - Sixteen

Ellie Goulding's latest is an ode to her teenage years and a reminder of the innocence of youth. It's lyrically simple but the choppy, fizzing chorus is an exuberant joy, even where the verses are a little generic. After the recent release of morose ballad Flux, Sixteen is a welcome return to vibrant pop.

Worth a listen.



Mark Ronson feat. Lykke Li - Late Night Feelings

Mark Ronson feat. Lykke Li - Late Night Feelings

On paper this is a dream collaboration. Ronson himself has described his forthcoming album as a collection of "sad bangers", so pairing his slick disco production with Li's yearning vocals makes total sense. "My heart keeps pulling in the wrong direction," she sings over funk bass and orchestral fluttering. The cumulative effect doesn't quite live up to the billing though - it's sad and polished but doesn't hit banger status.

Worth a listen.



Anna Of The North - Used To Be

Anna Of The North - Used To Be

Before I lose you to the dog grooming video, know this: Anna Of The North's latest single is a nostalgic take on life before social media, with languid synth and saxophone melodies. It's a reminder to step away from our screens and appreciate ourselves and each other a little more. With that said...go watch the dogs.

Worth a listen.



Yeasayer - Fluttering In The Floodlights

Yeasayer - Fluttering In The Floodlights

The New York band's 2013 single Henrietta remains a heady, intoxicating listen, but they're back this year with their fifth album and two new tracks. Let Me Listen In On You is a ballad with a slightly creepy vibe, but Fluttering In The Floodlights is the band on fine, weird form with its jittering production. 'Erotic Reruns' is due out in June.

Worth a listen.



Tame Impala - Borderline

Tame Impala - Borderline

Psychedelia and soft rock blend effortlessly in this new track from the Australian band. Only Tame Impala could merge pan pipes, harpsichord, conga drums and whirring synths into such a transportative mood, while Kevin Parker sings introspectively of a relationship on the verge of collapse.

Worth a listen.



Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Catharsis. After eight years of mourning the loss of friendships and relationships, Robyn's 'Honey' was a moment of catharsis, a musical release of tension, love, loss and joy. Performed live, that catharsis spreads over a crowd of thousands, all willing to dance and sing their hearts out.

White fabric billows from the ceiling and envelopes the staging, monochrome and ethereal. Robyn stands statuesque in the centre to the mostly instrumental beats of Send To Robin Immediately, eyes closed, soaking up the moment. It's clear we're in for a class act.

Robyn has always been at her best delivering heartbreak over euphoric club beats. "It's gonna be all heartbreak, wistfully painful and insanity," she sings early on in Hang With Me as if warning us of what's to come. It's that juxtaposition of emotions that's made her career and it's what the majority of the crowd are here for.

But it's not all heartbreak. There's a joy and playfulness in the dance tracks of 'Honey', but when the likes of Beach2k20 and Between The Lines break up the set into long experimental interludes there's a drop in momentum that feels self-indulgent. These sultry, muted tracks don't translate so well to a live performance, feeling at times more like a DJ set. That continues with the lengthy techno Love Is Free, a nod to her EP with La Bagatelle Magique. When she sings the exultant 'Honey' closer Ever Again, it doesn't quite hit as hard as it should.

Yet Robyn remains a transfixing stage presence throughout. She's a surprisingly quirky and eccentric performer, twirling across the stage, screaming, crawling seductively, while maintaining pitch perfect vocals. She dances for herself as much as for the audience.

When those sad bangers eventually arrive, the effect is transcendent, far outweighing any earlier lulls. Early on the swirling spacey synths of Indestructible send shivers down the spine. Later, the throbbing Missing You and Call Your Girlfriend have the audience enraptured, followed by an encore of the fizzing Stars 4-Ever. The pulsing Every Heartbeat lifts us with its wash of strings before we crash on to the dancefloor, tears in our eyes. It's in these moments that Robyn delivers phenomenal pop songs like no other, artist and audience collectively exorcising relationship demons.

Dancing On My Own remains Robyn's biggest hit and it's here that she's finally as stunned as we are. The music drops out as the crowd takes up the chorus, singing back every word of her own heartbreak. "Thank you so much," she screams, visibly emotional. It's a standout moment in a night that's full of them: exhilarating, impassioned, sublime.

A second encore beginning with Human Being ends the evening on a downbeat note, followed by the lesser known Who Do You Love. It's an unexpected finale, but Robyn proved with 'Honey' she's an artist not afraid to confound us. As she repeatedly questions "who do you love?", there's only one name on everyone's lips.

5/5

Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Friday, 12 April 2019

A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) @ The Vaults

A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) @ The Vaults

The title is a contradiction, but the juxtaposition of happiness and sadness is at the heart of this musical about depression from Silent Uproar. Written by Jon Brittain, the Olivier award-winning writer behind Rotterdam and Margaret Thatcher Queen Of Soho, this performance at The Vaults is just one leg of a long tour across the UK.

And so it should be. A Super Happy Story... is a timely and vital production that needs to be seen. It's a musical that's as funny as it is serious, knocking you back with a sucker punch just as you belly laugh.

That juxtaposition is also a reminder that depression is an invisible illness. There's a contradiction between internal and external, between what we see in others and how they really feel. The show takes us through one young woman's struggle with depression from her teens to her mid twenties as she slowly recognises the illness and learns to cope. It presents a visceral portrayal of living with depression, how it eats away at you even in your best moments and turns you into someone else. Even those who haven't suffered can still relate to the central character of Sally.

That portrayal relies on the enthusiastic and energetic performance of Madeleine MacMahon. She brims with excitement and delivers the songs with gusto - written by Matthew Floyd Jones and heightening both the happy and sad sides of the plot - but is equally capable of steering the mood in new directions. It's an endearing and honest performance.

She's aided by Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland playing a variety of roles, both twirling on to the stage in different costumes and with instantly recognisable physicality. Their singing and dancing is also excellent, ensuring the musical is a joy to watch.

A Super Happy Story...is a lovable and charming new musical that packs a lot into its short runtime. Self-help cards are handed out after the show and it's sponsored by the charity Rethink Mental Illness, further emphasising its importance beyond the theatre walls.

4/5

Watch: A Super Happy Story... runs at The Vaults until 3rd May, before continuing the UK tour.

A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) @ The Vaults