Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Our poetry group has been known since November 2011 as Pop Up Poetry, a name we inherited by default from another promoter, but we've been feeling for a while now that we'd like to change it to a more imaginative name. Our 2014 Anthology's subtitle is "A Thousand Monkeys with a Thousand Typewriters..." and we're considering changing our name to "Thousand Monkeys". Here's an extract from the foreword to the latest Pop Up Anthology, which will probably be the last we publish under that name:
“If a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters typed for an infinite length of time, then eventually they would write the complete works of William Shakespeare ...”
Nobody seems quite sure who first made this remark. In any case, we haven’t had to go to the animal kingdom or use a thousand laptops to collect the text of this anthology. It seems to us that most people have a poem or two in them, and Pop Up Poets is the group that aims to find and enjoy as many people’s poems as we can encourage on to the stage and the page. These poems are far from being the random products of mathematical probability. Personal, honest, crafted with care, or poured joyfully on to the page without inhibition, but never random.
Whatever the name, we'll go on writing, hosting and publishing poems as long as anyone wants to come to our events or contribute to our collections.
I was very pleased to be invited to write another theatre review for Trinity News a week or two ago. This was a very different assignment from the Burnt Out Theatre's afternoon outdoor performance of "Much Ado About Nothing" (my last blog but one).
This time it was "Tonight's the Night" at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, on 21st July. Being a beginner at the reviewing game, I found this a bit of a test. I had criticisms and when you're given a free ticket (and a glass of interval white wine) you hesitate to bad-mouth the performance. Luckily there were redeeming features for me (though Dónall who came with me didn't agree - his review was pithy and unprintable!)
This is a tribute musical written by Ben Elton using the songs of Rod Stewart. It's been in the West End and is touring the provinces now. If you think of going to see it, you might be interested in my thoughts on the Woking performance, which I'm posting verbatim below. It was accepted by the paper, so I gain confidence.
TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking.
I came away from ”Tonight’s the Night” wishing that I hadn’t had to sit through the first half of this vehicle for Rod Stewart’s songs, but quite glad that I’d done so. The plot line is flimsy and such characterisation as I could discern was thin; this mattered less in the second half when the laborious process of setting up the situation had been done and the cast relaxed into Ben Elton’s preposterous scenario and had fun with it.
The idea is this: Stu (Ben Heathcote / Craig Mather), a weak nerdy victim with a crush on a nice girl, Mary (Jenna Lee-James), who also fancies him, is visited by a rather tacky female Satan (Tiffany Graves) who gives him the chance to exchange his immortal soul for the soul, heart and balls of Rod Stewart. Stu’s subsequently transformed persona is a shallow, womanising, charismatic stud with musical talent and great energy. In this role Stu invites Mary to commit herself to him, and she accepts, even when she can see that he will cheat on her.
We also meet Dee Dee (Rosie Heath), Mary’s friend, and Rocky (Andy Rees), Stu’s friend, in the garage where they all work (cue the first song, “Gasoline Alley”). A succession of love triangles links Mary and Rocky (who loves Mary) and Rocky and Dee Dee (who loves Rocky). Then there’s Baby Jane Golden (Tiffany Graves again), the rock chick who has promoted Rod Stewart but now finds him changed since he has acquired Stu’s sensitive, vulnerable soul: now she “loves” and wants to promote Stu instead. And there’s Stoner, played by Ricky Rojas as a rather lovable buffoonish caricature of Mick Jagger. Add a team of dancers performing moves reminiscent of a keep-fit class in spangles, a lot of over-miked singing, harsh pseudo-American accents and insensitive renderings of several of Rod Stewart’s songs, and you have the first act.
Now for the good news: beautiful, sensitive, passionate singing by Jenna Lee-James (“Lost in You”) and especially by Rosie Heath (“What am I Gonna Do?” and “Every Beat of My Heart”); relaxed clowning by Ricky Rojas; lively, energetic performances by the two actors playing Stu, lovely lighting and a brilliant transformation scene in the second act; and a great finale that had the whole audience (even me) singing and swaying and loving the original Rod Stewart magic.
Rating: *** (3 stars)