Tuesday 27 February 2018

Theatre Review: Curtains (Rose Theatre, Kingston)

Its title gesturing cheekily both to the issue of death that’s at its centre, and to the domesticity that constitutes its context, Stephen Bill’s 1987 play Curtains takes a well-worn dramatic situation – a family gathering to celebrate a birthday – in order to explore mortality and the still-controversial issue of the right to die. The birthday girl here is Ida, a pain-wracked and wheelchair-bound 86-year-old whose family – daughters Katherine and Margaret, their spouses Geoffrey and Douglas,  and Katherine and Geoffrey’s son Michael -  seem almost maniacally determined for her to have a jolly good time. Naturally, the day springs some surprises, not least the return to the fold of the youngest daughter, Susan, after a 25-year absence, and the fulfillment of Ida’s own long-held birthday wish.       

Lindsay Posner’s bright revival for Kingston Rose, with its excellent cosy/shabby living room set by Peter McIntosh  (peeling wallpaper, trifle on the table, sunlight through a stained glass window), makes the production itself a mini family get-together by casting the playwright’s son Leo Bill as Michael, the 20-something grandson who, along with the practical neighbour Mrs. Jackson (fine Marjorie Yates) has been Ida’s principal carer. Bill, brilliant in everything from The Glass Menagerie to The School for Scandal to The Silence of the Sea, manages to make something distinctive and interesting of what could be a weak role, relishing Michael’s love of a bad joke and cake-scoffing, while hinting at the insecurities and anger beneath.   

Indeed, Posner’s production opens altogether superbly, with some funny, painful and well-observed interactions. A devastatingly good Sandra Voe conveys, with a minimum of dialogue, Ida’s frustration, anger and sheer weariness, as the reluctant birthday celebrant endures her family’s strained, well-meaning attempts at joviality. Despite roving accents, Saskia Reeves, Wendy Nottingham and Caroline Catz  make a good, strongly contrasting sibling trio. (The play can be seen as another Three Sisters variant, of sorts.)

If the second half is less successful, it’s down to the play’s recourse to a too-strident debate on the central issues, one that feels rigged. An element of harangue creeps into the approach, as the playwright's intentions become too obvious. Tim Dutton brings some sharp, wry humour to his performance as  Douglas but the character is too transparently the play’s mouthpiece, and without effective opposition, the drama's interest wanes. 

Still, even if this Alan Ayckbourn-meets-Amour evening doesn’t quite make good on its initial promise, it remains worthwhile for some potent moments, such as the screwy everyday Englishness of Reeves’s nervy Katherine confessing: “I had a breakdown …  I don’t think anyone knew about it.”

Curtains is booking until 17 March. Further information here

Sunday 25 February 2018

100 Greatest Tori Amos Songs

Four years ago, the fine folks @torisongs polled Tori Amos fans for their Top 50 Amos tracks. Now the task is to create a Top 100 list of the greatest Amos songs. Double the number, double the fun! Or double the difficulty: Amos is a true "album artist" and so it can be very challenging to prise songs from the context of the records in which their meaning comes, in part, from associations and transitions, and claim them as favourites or "best." But here’s my attempt at it anyway. I can’t quite believe that even a list of 100 songs wasn’t enough to allow me to include every Amos track that’s meant something to me (particularly as the great Light Princess songs, written by Amos with Samuel Adamson, are also list-eligible) but that difficulty does make clear once again the - still often undervalued - range and breadth of her artistry. Anyway, my list is below, as before complete with a favourite lyric from each song,  and preceded by  some wise words from one of Amos’s most insightful critics, Jon Pareles. Get voting! Here are links to the information and ballot form.

"Ms. Amos’s songs combine meticulous musicianship with willful abandon. Some repeatedly shift mood and tempo as her voice metamorphosises from croon to embittered rasp to near operatic declamation. Her classical piano training shows in strenuous keyboard parts that can be as brawny as Elton John’s two-fisted chords or as dainty as Baroque counterpoint. And her lyrics dive into unexplained memories and allusions, emerging with a line that rings true for her listeners:  'I hear my voice and it's been here, silent all these years.'

"Some use melodies as concise as lullabies while others are rhapsodic, leaping from bruised low notes to pure soprano heights. To pull off such idiosyncratic songs takes unwavering conviction, something Ms. Amos has never lacked. She merges the calculation of a recitalist with the intensity of a torch singer, and she [makes] every keening, wordless note sound heartfelt." (Jon Pareles)

My Top 100 

      1.  Silent All These Years - “Do you think there’s a heaven where some screams have gone?”
     2.   Yes, Anastasia – “It’s funny, the things that you find in the rain.”
      3.    Liquid Diamonds – “Surrender, then start your engines.”
     4.     Me And A Gun – “I haven’t seen Barbados so I must get out of this.”
          5.  Code Red – “Sometimes I love myself best alone.”
     6.     Tear in Your Hand – “I know I know you well - well, better than I used to.”
     7.     Taxi Ride – “Even a glamorous bitch can be in need.”

      8.     Hey Jupiter – “Took my leather off the shelf.”
     9.     Forest of Glass – “Lift up your head, lift up your heart.”

    10.    Jackie’s Strength – “My bridesmaid’s getting laid.”
    11.    Pretty Good Year – “Some things are melting now.”
    12.    Caught A Lite Sneeze – “I’m hiding it well, Sister Ernestine.”

     13.    Spark – “How many fates turn around in the overtime?”

     14.    Winter – “When you gonna love you as much as I do?”
     15.     Leather – “But why do I need you to love me?”

     16.     A Sorta Fairytale – “I don’t know what takes hold, out there in the desert cold.”

     17.     Precious Things – “Little fascist panties tucked inside the heart of every nice girl.”
     18.     Welcome to England – “Who can stay strong, when they only give us lies to lean on?”

     19.     Datura – “Golden shower tree.”

     20.     Scarlet’s Walk – “What do you plan to do with all your stories?”

     21.     iieee – “Need a lip-gloss boost in your America.

     22.     No H20 – “I have a choice and it's cling to my life or I die.”

     23.     Purple People – “Thunder wishes it could be the snow.”

     24.     Sugar – “Cold war with little boys.”

     25.     Dragon – “I will bring kisses for the beast.”

     26.     Upside Down – “You always find my faults, faster than you find your own.”

     27.     Gold Dust – “You can see in the dark, through the eyes of Laura Mars.” 
     28.      Barons of Suburbia – “We’re on the other side of midnight.”

     29.     Professional Widow – “Strike a deal, make him feel like a Congressman.”

     30.     Cool On Your Island – “Sometimes I’m not afraid to let it show.”

     31.     Zero Point – “We are now in the Photon band.”

     32.     Nothern Lad – “You change like sugar cane.”

    33.     Invisible Boy – “Jump on a Triumph like Steve McQueen.”
    34.     Glory of the 80s – “I’ll clone myself like that blonde chick that sings Bette Davis Eyes.”

     35.     Girl – “Yes, with a message for my heart.”

     36.     Digital Ghost – “Your heart only beats 1s and 0s.”

     37.     Josephine – “In an army’s strength, therein lies the denouement.”

     38.     Hotel – “I have to learn to let you crash.”

     39.     Pancake – “Seems in vogue to be a closet misogynist homophobe.”

     40.     Crucify – “You're just an empty cage, girl, if you kill the bird.”

     41.     Smokey Joe – “One’s past is not a destination.”

     42.     Cooling – “Is your place in heaven worth giving up these kisses?”

     43.     Job’s Coffin – “All forces are being called to dismantle this.”

     44.     Twinkle – “She worked at an abbey in Iona and –

     45.     The Beekeeper – “I will comb myself into chains.”

     46.     Juarez – “The Indian is told the Cowboy is his friend.”

     47.     Honey – “Cowboys know cowgirls ride on the Indians’ side.”

     48.     Playboy Mommy – “A good friend of American soldiers.”

     49.     Mother – “You raised your hand for the assignment.”

     50.     My Own Land – “Father, I would rather stay confined.”

     51.     Etienne – “As the gypsy crystal slowly dies.”

     52.     Reindeer King – “Ice you were the one most tender with the rivers.”

     53.     Almost Rosey – “He bats as the Virginian Slim.”

     54.     Beauty of Speed – “Even still I was built to tolerate your temper.”

     55.     Climb – “The temple of the soul will have to heal the flesh.”

     56.     Cloud on My Tongue – “I don’t need much to keep me warm.”

     57.     Black Dove (January) – “They don't know you've already lived.”

     58.     Little Amsterdam – “Her best friend is a sundress.”

     59.     Shattering Sea – “Every brutal word.”

     60.      Velvet Revolution   “Feeling radical in cotton.”

     61.     Body and Soul – “ Boy, I think you need a conversion.”

     62.     The Waitress – “And is her power all in her club sandwich?”

     63.     Blood Roses – “God knows I know I’ve thrown away those graces.”

     64.     Battle of Trees – “In our enemy, his own laureate.”

     65.     Baker Baker – “If you see him, say hi.”

     66.     Sister Janet – “Slipping the blade in the marmalade.”

     67.     Concertina – “I’m not policing what you think and dream.”

     68.     Little Earthquakes – “Black-winged roses that safely change their colour.”

     69.     Fearlessness – “Did we begin without knowing it/To find fault in every gift?”

     70.     To the Fair Motormaids of Japan – “The last banana hairdo got a laugh from the samurais.”
     71.     Ruby Through the Looking Glass – “Don’t you think she feels us fighting?”

     72.     Flying Dutchman – “They say your brain is a comic book tattoo.”

     73.     Amber Waves – “They told me to tell you they’re waving.”

     74.     Althea – “A vision of golden light falling.”

     75.     Spring Haze – “My only way out is to go so far in.”

     76.     Garlands – “Phileda's Lesson: We're not his possession.”

     77.     Marys of the Sea – “There’s a new Jerusalem.”

     78.     Girl Disappearing  - “I’m boycotting trends, it’s my new look this season.”

     79 .    Bang – “One story's end seeds another to begin.”

     80.     Bouncing off Clouds – “I think fate is now, waiting on us.”

     81.     Virginia – “To ghetto pimps and presidents.”

     82.     Star Whisperer – “I saw a me I didn’t want to see.”

     83.     Father’s Son – “Can we blame Nature if she’s had enough of us?”

     84.     Putting the Damage On – “I say her skinny legs could use sun.”

     85.     Past the Mission – “Some things only she knows.”
     86.     General Joy – “Is that why you gave her dress to happiness?”

     87.     In the Springtime of His Voodoo – “Every road leads back to my door.”
     88.     Cruel  - “My vine twists around your need.”

     89.     Secret Spell – “18 wheels in a high heel.”

     90.     Take to the Sky – “This house is like Russia.”

     91.     Lady in Blue – “I wronged the right man.”

     92.     Way Down – “Yes, I am the anchorman, dining here with Son of Sam.”

     93.     Carry  - “In the procession of the mighty stars.”

     94.     Dolphin Song – “I sought shelter in our child’s room.”

     95.     Suede – “I walk the missionary way.”

     96.     Talula – “Ran into the henchman who severed Anne Boleyn.”
     97 .    Nautical Twilight – “Every alchemist knows fusion and fission can unify or drive a force to split.”

     98.     The Wrong Band – “She says it’s time I open my eyes.”

     99.     Mary's Eyes - “Patterns matter, stringing sequences together matters. 
    100.   Seven Sisters