Saturday, 25 May 2019

Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated

Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated

'Emotion' began with a banger. You know it already: that blaring saxophone riff that launched into a thousand memes. From her humble beginnings on Canadian Idol, to one-hit-wonder, to cult idol and Queen Of...well...seemingly everything, Carly Rae Jepsen's career was set.

'Dedicated' is a more muted affair. Opener Julien is a mid-tempo 70s funk groove that's less immediately arresting than her past work, featuring haunting lyrics, crooning vocals, and subtly squelchy production. For an artist whose best work is truly iconic for certain corners of the internet, 'Dedicated' eschews all that, the vibrant pop colours of Cut To The Feeling, Run Away With Me, and I Really Like You swapped for blushing pastels.

It is, in its own way, a bold move. 'Dedicated' may not have the variety of her previous work, but in its place is sonic consistency - even with the plethora of songwriter and producer collaborators. This feels, more than ever, like a Carly Rae Jepsen album, from her heart to ours.

That sound is a melting pot of 70s and 80s pop. Funk grooves and weird synths predominate, all squeezed through a filter of polished modern production and Carly Rae's trademark quirkiness. Perhaps Want You In My Room exemplifies it best. Jangling guitars, stomping percussion, keytar solos, and Daft Punk-esque autotune underpin a song that's essentially about shagging. It's as cheeky yet polite, honest yet shy as she's ever been.

Other songs also stand out. The woozy No Drug Like Me features an intoxicatingly elastic bass. Happy Not Knowing stomps into blissful unawareness, all hand claps, processed drums and the album's catchiest chorus. The Sound starts delicately enough, before lurching into a strutting, bubbling chorus.

There are nods to the past too: Now That I Found You (as heard on the latest season of Queer Eye) is Carly in classic Cut To The Feeling mode of unfiltered joy; and (ahem) self-love anthem Party For One ends the album on a typically cutesy note.

Other songs don't quite have the impact of her best work, blurring into a ball of fluffy, heady, wistful pop. Even so, repeat listens reveal fun little details to ensure each song retains an individual personality. Still, 'Emotion' wasn't the commercial success it deserved to be and 'Dedicated' does little to rectify that.

It is, though, above all an album about falling in love. Gone are the boy problems for an emotion that's more genuine than before, with lyrics more quietly raw. From its longing opening, we see the rise and fall of a relationship through vulnerability, sex, jealousy and real, unconditional love. She doesn't just cut to the feeling, she revels in it. And as she falls in love, her fans will be falling with her.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Want You In My Room
* Happy Not Knowing
* The Sound

Listen: 'Dedicated' is out now.




Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Vincent River @ Trafalgar Studios

Vincent River @ Trafalgar Studios

When it was revived at the Park Theatre last year by director Robert Chevara, Philip Ridley's Vincent River was a poignant and powerful depiction of the aftermath of a homosexual hate crime. One year later, in its West End transfer to the Trafalgar Studios, that's as true as ever.

Premiering at the Hampstead Theatre in 2000, Vincent River is indicative of Ridley's style: confrontational and unafraid to pick away at the darker side of humanity with a wry grin. Davey (Thomas Mahy) arrives on the doorstep of Anita (Louise Jameson). It's clear that he had some involvement in the death of her son, the titular Vincent, and over the course of one act the night's events unravel with dire consequences.

Vincent is never seen or heard from, but he still feels like the protagonist of the play. Anita and Davey's descriptions of him are so potent and tangible, it's as if his ghost is right there on stage. His positive impact on both of their lives is abundantly clear; his absence now feels all the more tragic because of it.

In the tight confines of the studio theatre, Ridley's confrontational style is intensified. We are complicit in the narrative, mere inches away from the actors. We can see the whites of their furious eyes, the tears glistening in the stage lights. When Jameson unleashes a guttural scream, it cuts to the bone.

Indeed, these are two outstanding performances. Mahy is steadfast and intimidating, youthful yet knowing, with a secret that slowly unfurls. Jameson begins cold, sarcastic and defensive, yet her motherly instincts are unavoidable, later giving way to a girlish flirtatious side. These two actors give layered depictions of broken characters who feel devastatingly human, captivating from start to finish.

The play itself, too, is cleverly multi-layered. It might be a play about a hate crime. But it's also a play about grief. About coming out, from both a personal and a parental view. About life in East London. About two people whose lives cross paths, who both crave completeness and closure. About the unbreakable bond between mothers and sons and how easily surrogates can fill that void.

This is a play that rewards multiple viewings: intense and tragic and funny and immensely powerful.

4/5

Watch: Vincent River runs at the Trafalgar Studios until June 22nd.

Vincent River @ Trafalgar Studios

Vincent River @ Trafalgar Studios
Photos: Scott Rylander

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.