Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Coat Before Dying

This time last Friday I was hurtling across London in the tube like a right proper commuter drone with my visiting best friend Jo tucked under my arm for safety (hers, not mine) when a couple of stage kids from the Italia Conti School got on and pleaded with us in their best little Oliver! voices to vote for Lewis and Danny. Not that reinforcing the message was necessary, but they shoved photocopied leaflets under the work-glazed eyes of a full tube carriage and pleaded some more. It's remarkable just how stage-kiddy stage kids look, like they were re-moulded from melted down waxworks of Bonnie Langford.

Jo was nonplussed when I carefully explained our unique method of casting musicals, which is to scour the country for people who can neither act nor dance but can sing a bit and put them on television for months on end and have them bleat cabaret and pop songs for which they have neither aptitude nor motivation week after week to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Spitting Image puppet. That’s a story in itself. You see, they were having a bit of a clear-out at one’s adored BBC when someone came across the long abandoned puppet and also a vintage Kermit the Frog. Both had frankly seen better days but, ever keen to get value for money for us out of our mandatory licence fee, those clever BBC folk got out the sewing kit and transformed musty old Kermit into something they christened Graham Norton. Unfortunately, the budget didn’t stretch to, err, stretchy sewing thread so there isn’t much movement in the faces of either, probably just as well really.

Any road up, having done such a marvellous job of re-leasing life to these moth banquets, our intrepid BBC set itself the seemingly insurmountable challenge of building a show around them. Luckily they also had one John “Barrowboy” Barrowman lolling about. His disconcertingly shiny face, I explained to Jo, is due to the many skin grafts needed after he barely survived the self-immolation that was Torchwood. If ever there was a need for eye candy, or even someone who looked vaguely human, it was prevalent in Any Dream Will Do, the quest to find a star for Joseph etc, the Lloyd Webber musical immortalised by the legendary Jason Donovan and then some by the unforgettable Donny Osmond. (I’m not sure it’s possible to improve on ‘immortal’ – any Highlander fans out there? Your expert opinion would be welcome).

Step up to the diamante plate Denise Van Outen, fresh from standing in for Ellen DeGeneres's current significant accessory Portia de Rossi (or plain old Mandy Rogers to most of us). Denise was keen to get a word in edgewise after her stint with the velvet-jacketed motor-mouth. Unfortunately she was parked alongside the Barrowboy, so any hope of being heard was dashed before the red light even went on. Happily, she had her grand-dad sat next to her for the whole season. I can only assume they came as a package and were able to comfort each other in some way that only theatre folk understand. It was a national blessing, if not a miracle, that the Barrowboy managed to complete a whole TV show without succumbing to the compulsion to stick his tongue down the throat of everything that happened into his line of vision. It's nice to know that the broadcasting regulator is at least alive and well and not having a relationship with Barrowboy.

Jo informed me that in Sydney they still cast theatrical productions in the old fashioned way – read not innovative, now or modern or now – sorry – I said now already. Can I really go back and live there? After all, I’m used to the wonderfully chaotic way in which we do everything in Britain. Apparently, what they do if they want to put on a musical in Australia, is ask all the actors who’ve done one before and are not doing anything at the moment, if they’d like to be in a show and get paid and invite them to come along and do a thing called ‘an audition’. This takes up very little of their precious unpaid time, involves no obvious torture to their precious unpaid bodies and doesn’t require the entire country to witness said unpaid torture and make a decision on something about which they know absolutely nothing. I have to say, where is the fun in that?

So there we were on the Circle Line at peak hour on a Friday, with two stage school kids shrieking the following,

‘Vote for Lewis – he’s really talented and he goes to our school.’

‘Vote for Danny – he’s really talented and he goes to our school.’

Clearly, script writing is not taught at the Italia Conti School, more’s the pity. Mercifully, we zoomed into Liverpool Street just as our Hogwartian hopefuls reached fever pitch. As we struggled past them I declared,

‘I’m for Lee.’

All right, already. I did watch a bit of it. Lead stage kid replied,

“He shouldn’t even be in it. He’s a professional.”

Well, quite right too. Certainly the last thing I would ever, ever in the world want to do is pay £60 to sit in a theatre and watch a performance by someone who had been trained to entertain people and had considerable experience in doing so. How positively gauche would that be?

As we alighted from the train at Liverpool Street, I remarked to Jo,

“Welcome to my country. My hovercraft is full of eels.”

PS : Congratulations to Lee Mead – the professional actor who eventually won the part of Joseph.

PPS : Great news for TV Licence payers - the Lloyd Webber puppet has since been hired out to ITV where it has been festooned with crucifixes and turned into something called a 'David Gest'.

Picture : The Kiss by Gustav Klimt


Reading the Signs said...

My daughter was two years at the Brit School doing musical theatre. It is perhaps fortunate that she didn't get a place to take it further as she would have liked because I don't know how we'd have paid the fees which are, I think, over £10,000 a year. Her friend applied to Mountview academy three years running. Two out of the three years she was offered a place but needed to get a scholarship to cover the fees. She didn't so she can't take it up. My daughter went on to study performance and is finding other ways and means of doing what she wants, but this girl has nothing else she wants to do - and without a sponsor, winning a "Maria" or a "Joseph" would be her only way in. I couldn't bear to watch much of either, but wouldn't be surprised if many of the contestants were people like her who would do almost anything to be given the chance to have the training they might have had if their families had money. The whole thing stinks. And of course it's hard for the professionals, who have spent all that time and money training to do the job, to see this kind of thing.

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs

Thank Sondheim, someone is out there. I thought no one was going to respond to this poor dear post. YES to everything you've said here. You would have thought that West End musicals would have been considered a major 'sustainable' employer, since we're a world joint-leader with Broadway in this very popular art form. I went to the London School of Musical Theatre when it first started and it was brilliant then. If there was ever a need for joined up training opportunities, this is it.

J said...

Hi there - I was also voting for Lee, because if I am going to be spending my hard earned cash on theatre tickets, at the very LEAST I expect to see someone who knows stage left from stage right.

The fact he has a hot body, lovely curls and blue eyes is almost immaterial. Almost. Plus, as a real bonus, the boy can actually sing! Yes... I am going in December. Booked my tickets and everything. I'm such a girl!

That's so pants said...

Hi J and a very warm welcome to you.

You can see blue eyes from that distance?

I would ask - could anyone convincingly inhabit the technicolour dreamcoat after Jason Donovan and (pause) Donny Osmond? I dread to contemplate the dry cleaning bill.

I agree with you agreeing with me that it's nice when you pay sixty quid for your ticket, you can be confident of seeing someone who knows how to 'act dear boy' in the immortal words of S. L. Olivier.

I never don't enjoy the theatre and I especially never don't enjoy musicals. I hope you don't never not enjoy double negatives.



Sven said...

Good Job! :)