Ten Things About Who: Aliens of London

Ten points of discussion inspired by the 2005 Doctor Who episode, Aliens of London.

It’s been a few weeks since we departed the Cardiff rift. Apologies – pressures of work, and all that. But we continue a revisit of 2005’s Doctor Who series with the TARDIS’ return to the Powell Estate.

A quick reminder that my collection of Ten Things About Who posts for the 2012/13 series is now available for Kindle devices and Kindle e-reader apps for the bargain price of £1.99 – that’s 14p per episode discussion Thanks to everyone who’s bought it so far – if you have, please do leave a review or, at the very least, a star rating. And if you haven’t bought it yet, you can do so at mtthw.mn/whoebook.

1. A quick recap…

OK, so I said that The End of the World starts with what is, for Doctor Who, a rarely-used device: a “previously…”-style recap, that has “rarely been needed since”.

And then, two episodes later, that device gets used again. Still, I’m right – it tends not to be used much after this. To be honest, its usefulness in a series where the setting can change so drastically from episode to episode is debatable. But notice, even here, that it’s a recap of events solely from Rose. There’s no glimpse of Platform One or Victorian Cardiff at all.

Conceptually, it fits – this episode is a thematic sequel to the first episode, and deals directly witht he consequences of Rose’s impetuous run into the TARDIS at the end of that episode. For me, the recap here feels alien, if you’ll pardon the expression.

While what we now call “classic” Doctor Who used the old B-movie serial of replaying the previous week’s hangover to remind viewers of where they’ve got to, this “remember this from three weeks ago?” style of reminder has never sat well with Doctor Who. And it really isn’t used much after this. I promise.

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A trio of musical theatre reviews: Barbershopera, Nunsense A-Men, and Bullets and Daffodils

I’ve been remiss about linking out to my reviews elsewhere recently. Here are three that I’ve written recently for Musical Theatre Review.

Bullets and Daffodils

Tristan Bates Theatre, July 1-6

The poetry of Wilfred Owen, born as it was from anger at the cruelty of war, is full of powerful imagery and intense emotion. Sadly, neither are on display in Dean Johnson’s tribute to Owen…

Nunsense A-men!

Landor Theatre, until July 28

The show gives the best moments, the best numbers and the best lines to the Broadway-obsessed Sister Mary Robert, and Alastair Knights takes full advantage. Stealing ensemble scenes with gay abandon, it is his solo numbers – and his wimple-based impressions – which will remain in the memory.

Barbershopera! – The Three Musketeers

St James’s Theatre Studio, July 13 – touring until October 26

Alexandre Dumas’ novel has formed the basis of several musical interpretations before… None has dared attempt to stage it as a cross-dressing, four-person a cappella production, though – and after this riotous evening, one can only feel the other productions are missing a trick.

 

Paul Sinha: Last Christmas, Soho Theatre Upstairs

Paul Sinha’s latest warm and self-deprecating comedy show brightens a London in August that’s normally depleted of top-flight comedians

In August, most British comedians move up to Edinburgh. It’s a huge part of the comedy year – several comedians will spend the months preceding to try out their new material and hone it, deliver it once a night at the Fringe, and then spend the next few months reusing that material wherever they can until it’s time to start the cycle again.
Paul Sinha has, in the past, done a similar pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a renowned sports fanatic, though, he chose to forego that experience this year in order to attend the London Olympics. And that means that, in a month where London comedy is usually running on depleted stock, we get his new show, “Last Christmas”.

Now the last time I saw Sinha live was at Comedy Camp, back when the bar on Archer Street that is now an identikit wine bar was a gay venue called Barcode and had regular comedy nights every Tuesday. This was probably at least ten years ago now, but Sinha’s relaxed, self-deprecating warmth hasn’t changed.

Introduced by a cheesy acoustic version of Wham!’s Yuletide hit, Sinha – an inveterate quizzer, ranked 20th in the UK and now a regular on ITV1’s The Chase – treats us to some trivia about the pop tune, before revealing that has no basis for the rest of the show: instead, it is about his own last Christmas, during which he found himself joining his family on a jeep trip through the Himalayas and genuinely thought he was going to die.

What follows is an exploration of what is necessary to have led a satisfying life, and around that hang various anecdotes from Sinha’s own life.

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The top 5 gay musicals… that aren’t

As someone who used to work in online LGBT news media, and who now works in theatrical media, Pink Paper’s “Top 5 gay West End musicals” article piqued my interest for multiple reasons when it turned up on Twitter.

Unfortunately, it’s so riddled with errors that it’s almost laughable.

The West End has never had so much competition attracting tourists as the capital has become the place to be this summer.

Rather than give up, the industry has pulled out all the stops to entice eager theatre fans, and it seems they have followed the advice of theatre producer Max Bialystock, following the manta: “whatever you do on the stage, keep it snappy, keep it happy, keep it gay!”.

Unfortunately, while that quote does indeed come from The Producers, where Max Bialystock and business Leo Bloom attempt to create an über-camp pro-Nazi musical with the hope of fleecing their investors, the line quoted comes from the director they hire, Roger De Bris, and not Bialystock.

And if West End producers really were following the “manta” [sic], surely all five musicals would be gay, or gay-themed? Instead, only one of the five could be said to be gay-themed – and it’s neither a musical nor in the West End.

Continue reading “The top 5 gay musicals… that aren’t”

A Rude Awakening, New End Theatre

An allegorical fantasy set in a far future where homosexuality has become the norm and straight people are barely tolerated as genetic freaks, what A Rude Awakening loses in subtlety it gains in some good performances and one or two killer one-liners.

Jonathan Woodward leads an able cast as the homophobic politician who, upon being revived in the far future, finds himself ostracised because of his heterosexuality. It is through his conviction that the early scenes, set in the present day, escape being regarded as a crudely drawn depiction of US politics in which even a gubernatorial candidate describes their part of America as “the South”.

The production is somewhat thrown off-kilter by video inserts which are by turns either preposterously surreal or hilariously comic. Sarah Wolff’s performance in the news parodies are especially noteworthy, but they sit oddly with the otherwise dramatic tone of the live performances.

Ultimately, though, Barry Peters’ first play is hamstrung by a lack of clarity of the satirical message he is attempting to convey. Rather than questioning modern-day prejudices, or even suggesting that a majority’s dominance over a minority is in itself the catalyst for bigotry, the impression the play leaves behind is that, whatever the century, you just can’t trust a politician.

* Reviewed for The Stage

Author:
: Barry Peters

Management:
: New End Theatre

Cast:
: Genevieve Adam, Chris Barley, Sean Browne, Morgan Deare, James Le Feuvre, Lucy Newman-Williams, Sarah Wolff, Jonathan Woodward

Director:
: Olivia Rowe

Well done, Joe. Go, Clare. Naff off, AA Gill

Two stories about gay people in the media have made the front pages of the national newspapers today – and demonstrate generational differences in writers’ (and editors’ and readers’) attitudes to out gay people.

The first revolved around BBC presenter Clare Balding, who via her Twitter account (@clarebalding1) has been documenting her correspondence with the Sunday Times over some particularly puerile comments by its television critic, AA Gill, and editor John Witherow’s condescending reply to her objections.

Continue reading “Well done, Joe. Go, Clare. Naff off, AA Gill”

Lord Arthur’s Bed, King’s Head

There are moments during this short play by Martin Lewton that seem to border on genius, only to be followed by several more moments of utter bewilderment.

Spencer Charles Noll and Ruaraidh Murray play gay couple Donald and Jim, who celebrate the first anniversary of their civil partnership by re-enacting tales of two Victorian cross-dressers and their relationship with Lord Arthur Clinton. The court case of Edward ‘Stella’ Boulton and Frederick ‘Fanny’ Park, while little known today, is something of a landmark case in the course of England’s ambivalent attitude to homosexuality, and is one of the first recorded instances of the word drag being used in its now familiar sense. Lewton’s script presents the case in an interesting way, only failing to work when he tries to create parallels to 21st century gay life in Britain.

Noll in particular displays a flair for character transformation, playing each of his multiple roles with precision – a quality useful for an audience that has to cope with a story that bounces around time frames and storylines at a fair pace.

Murray has the harder problem, coping with a contemporary character who is saddled with a neurosis about his own homosexuality that comes and goes at a whim. His fear of being outed at work seems out of place with his modern London lifestyle in a way that devalues any sense of peril the script tries to imply. The faults with the creation of that character are ultimately this otherwise promising play’s undoing.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/27439/lord-arthurs-bed)_

King’s Head Theatre, London, March 2-April 10
Author/director: Martin Lewton
Producer: Theatre North
Cast: Spencer Charles Noll, Ruaraidh Murray
Running time: 1hr 10mins

Maurice, Above the Stag

The last thing gay theatre needs, one might suppose, is another story about a young man struggling with his attraction to men before settling into life fully reconciled with his homosexuality. But EM Forster’s 1914 novel, shocking even when first published in 1971, still has something to say about the importance of loyalty to oneself over any conventions of class, family, religion or society.

Adam Lilley (Maurice) and Rob Stott (Durham) in Maurice at Above the Stag theatre
Roger Parsley and Andy Graham’s new stage adaptation is perhaps a little too faithful, choosing to play out Maurice Hall’s sexual awakening through a series of staccato scenes. This leads to the first act lacking any real momentum, a dangerous quality in a production that is just under three hours in length.

Thankfully, director Tim McArthur and an able cast work their hardest to bring life into the script, finding new wit and nuance to appeal to a 2010 audience, while remaining faithful to a novel written nearly a century ago.

As moustachioed hypnotist Mr Lasker Jones, Jonathan Hansler threatens at times to turn the production into one of melodramatic pastiche, but it adds a levity that helps propel the second act forward. He is helped in this endeavour by Persia Lawson as Ada, able to wring comedy from awkward silence.

But it is the central role of Maurice which must carry the production, and Adam Lilley succeeds admirably. The progression of a socially and sexually unaware 14 year old arriving, via a confused adolescence, at contented homosexual adulthood is played with delicacy and care.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/27429/maurice)_

Above the Stag, London, March 2-28
Author: EM Forster, adapted by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham
Director: Tim McArthur
Producer: Peter Bull for Above the Stag
Cast includes: Adam Lilley, Rob Stott, Leanne Masterson, Jonathan Hansler, Persia Lawson, Stevie Raine
Running time: 2hrs 50mins

What’s Wrong With Angry?

When does a drama that’s written about contemporary issues stop being about now, and start to be nostalgic? And once it’s nostalgic, how long until we become so detached that it becomes a historical piece that can talk to us about how we live today?

The answers to both questions are, of course, somewhat fluid, but they do give some indication of the two stools between which _What’s Wrong With Angry?_, the 1993 play which is currently being revived at the King’s Head in Islington, falls.

Patrick Wilde’s script revolves around two very different sixteen-year-old boys who both attend the same single-sex Catholic school. Steven Carter is fey, bullied and out to his best friend, Linda; John Westhead is the cocksure, laddish head boy who dates girls, but sneaks off for encounters with men and doesn’t really know where either head or heart is at.

So far, so familiar, if not even hackneyed. Although if you’re thinking the setup is remarkably similar to feature film _Get Real_, there’s a reason — the movie was based upon the play. And to be honest, if you’re going to spend an evening in the company of a script by Patrick Wilde, I’d choose the film over the theatre version.

Part of the problem is that there is too strong a desire to preserve the theatrical piece in aspic. When a director revives a production that he both wrote and directed on its original run, as in this case, it seems that fidelity to that production takes precedence over speaking to a present-day audience.

There are good points within the production: notably, the central performances from Oliver Jack and Christopher Birks and one or two of the supporting actors. However, Charlie Deans has been badly let down by being miscast as Linda. Steven’s best friend is described throughout as being fat, but Deans is bordering on petite. As if to compensate, Deans plays the role much larger than the tiny King’s Head can accommodate, often neutralising the realistic portrayals that Jack and Birks provide.

In addition, Nic Gilder as gay schoolteacher Simon, who cannot help Steven for fear of falling foul of Section 28, is the weakest element of the whole play. Not once does he connect with the script he’s given. We end up not with a portrayal of a man in torment, but a recitation of lines with no heart and no emotion.

After _Fucking Men_ and _Naked Boys Singing_, it appears that the King’s Head is trying to stake a claim as a venue for gay theatre. I haven’t seen either of those productions, but can only hope they are better than _What’s Wrong With Angry?_. And if it wants to enhance its reputation, its next gay production will be vital.

A five year anniversary, and a milestone to boot

It’s sobering to think that it’ll be five years ago next week that [I won an award for political blogging](http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/feb/11/uk.technology).

That website, thegayvote.co.uk, fell out of my control when I left PlanetOut UK, who owned the domain. And when the UK office closed down shortly afterwards, the registration lapsed and got snapped up by a third party looking for a quick buck. It had lapsed quite recently and I held out hope that I may be able to grab it back, but it looks like the company that currently owns the domain name has renewed within the allowed limit, so it’ll remain unavailable.

If I had kept the whole blog going, I’m sure that the progression of Iceland’s Johanna Sigurdardottir to become the first out world leader would have been covered before now. It’s a significant milestone, of course, and one that was bound to have been passed one day.

That it has happened in Iceland, a country traditionally more respectful of gay and lesbian people as part of society as a whole, is not that much of a surprise. In that respect, it’s less of a milestone than, say, Barack Obama winning the presidency of a country which in many ways is still racially divided.

There are similarities, though: just as some of Obama’s critics tried to defuse any sense of achievement for the first black president by suggesting that because his mother was white, he wasn’t quite black enough, you get some idiots saying that because Sigurdardottir was previously married and has two children, that she’s “not really gay”.

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Well, aren’t we all glad that we have such people declaring themselves the final arbiters. Just as well, perhaps, that all the gay men and women who have had previous straight relationships, many of which have produced children, are off living their lives instead of taking notice of the ignorant amongst us.

With the way my career’s going at the moment, I’m not sure I’d have the time and energy to devote to an extracurricular blog in the same way as I could five years ago with The Gay Vote. When so much ignorance is clearly still at large, though, it is sorely tempting.