peter A cross

ramblings from a troubled mind

Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Would Neighbourhood Watch Have Prevented Underbelly?

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I’ve been reluctant to post, review or even put finger to keyboard over the last few months for a variety of reasons – mainly I would say laziness but also I have been underwhelmed by so much of what I have seen that my enthusiasm for theatre has sadly been dissipated by the amount of schlock I have sat through.
I know I’ve said it before but Terminus has left me with such high expectations that most everything else has paled in comparison.
However Belvoir Street has gone a long way with its latest production Neighbourhood Watch’ in restoring my faith in new theatre and especially new Australian theatre.
Written by Lally Katz, directed by Simon Stone and starring Robyn Nevin, in what should go down as one of her best performances. ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, which is now deservedly sold out, is a simple story told quietly without all the flash and trappings that have marked some productions in Sydney.
There is a certain freedom in allowing the audience to ‘imagine’ scenarios and settings rather than feeling the need to cover weak narrative or shallow characterisations with flashy sets and expensive costumes. Of course I am referencing my BFF play ‘Terminus’ here but also giving more than a passing nod to ‘Wild Duck’ (also directed by Simon Stone) as examples of good, simple story telling – allowing actors to act with honesty and integrity.

Kris McQuade as Milova

Most of the other reviews I have read have said everything that needs to be said about this play if you want to read one of the better written reviews I would suggest  http://jameswaites.ilatech.org/?p=6822    however I did want to make particular mention to an almost unrecognisable Kris McQuade as the thankless Milova.

After thought: I was reminded of the STC’s production of Thornton Wilder’s play ‘Our Town’.

So thank heavens for Belvoir Street, one for restoring my faith in Australian writing and two for getting my fingers twitching again.

“And now to the  movies Margaret”

“Thanks David”:  One of the great things about being a reviewer (yes you can argue the point) is that you get asked to many different types of  events.  In the last couple of weeks I have been privileged (and it is a privilege) to see screenings of two new movies – well they were new at the time – Green Lantern’ and ‘Horrible Bosses’,  one a big budget, CGI, 3D, blockbuster glam movie premiere and the other a character driven black comedy in the style of ‘The Hangover’.

‘Green Lantern’, forgetting Ryan Reynolds in body hugging, form-fitting tights, is an expensive attempt to jump on the current super hero band wagon that seems to be sweeping the celluloid universe. NO amount of smoke and mirrors can hide the fact that without a story and character that some movies should not be made. Thin plot, shallow characters and no emotional connection, this movie hits the trifecta.

‘Horrible Bosses’ starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and a potty mouthed Jennifer Anniston is a modern, darker version of ‘Nine to Five’. Now this movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is – a misogynistic, nudge nudge, wink wink, embarrassing pleasure. It’s a groan out loud and laugh – with some great cameos and some truly awful gags. I am embarrassed to admit just how much I enjoyed it.

(One movie to keep your eyes and ears peeled for is ‘The Staff’.)

Underbelly: Razor – Channel 9’s much hyped and heavily advertised reputation saving (hopefully) latest installment of the Australian crime franchise. As a longterm resident of Darlinghurst I’m always excited to see my ‘hood’ on the telly but really this sexed up version of Darlo in the twenties is one storyline too many. The first ‘Underbelly’ was groundbreaking, professional and passionate TV now it seems to be heading down that road to ‘period soap opera’. I have to admit I spent most of the time wondering why they were all smoking filter tipped cigarettes which didn’t really take off until the 1950s rather than rolling their own and pondering why the streets were so busy during the day rather than focusing on the plot. Engaged – no, entertained – no, will I watch the rest of the series – doubtful.
Such a shame, still it rated well when combined with The Block giving CH 9 an overall 46.9% of viewing public. A record audience.

However all is not lost in the wonderful glare of the cathode ray box that dominates every house in every street across this wide brown land of ours. I can highly recommend ‘Misfits’, a series about five British kids caught up in a freak weather event that gives them each a special power, ranging from invisibility to being able to wind back time. Good, strong characters with strong plot lines; it’s worth looking out for.

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Written by peteracross

August 22, 2011 at 16:41

The Russians are coming and Gant’s mind is going

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I’ve been trying to work out why I have had so much trouble writing about the last two plays I have seen: The White Guard and Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, finally I think I have worked it out – they didn’t really move me. Well ‘der’ I hear you say. It’s no easy thing sometimes to work out, not what but why a certain play has or has not worked for you. Don’t get me wrong I mostly enjoyed them both but neither had a “wham bam, take that you sucker, now sit up and pay attention” affect on me.

I blame Terminus; it was such a standout that whatever has followed has been a let down.

The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov as envisioned by Andrew Upton:

Russia is falling apart and revolutions seem to be happening daily. In one house, in the Ukraine, Lena (Miranda Otto) tries to keep her ragtag family together through the threat of advancing and conflicting ideologies.

On the cavernous stage of the Sydney Theatre the warring armies of monarchism, socialism, democracy and communism all fight for dominance. A large(ish) cast of 14 strong do their best to describe the futility and farce of war and the importance of family and love. Otto, the sole female in the cast represents I guess some kind of mother Russia while her husband, children, nephews etc all rush headlong backwards and forwards singing songs and drinking vodka to an unknown future represent the past and possible future that would become the USSR. Okay even I think I am reading far too much into that metaphor.

The set, designed by Alice Babidge, and the music, Steve Francis, that accompany the set changes are really the big winners in this production. Yes there are good and in some cases strong performances, Patrick Brammall as Leonid but in the end, by the time I had reached the car park, I had pretty much moved the entire production to the back of my mind. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it – it just didn’t grab me in ‘me vitals’.

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson:

Emily Tomlins as Madame Poulet

A couple of years ago I was pretty scathing about a certain play or more correctly a certain production of one of Anthony Neilson’s plays. I remember leaving the theatre in a bit of a fury at, what I felt, was a badly directed piece of nonsense, I’m talking of course about The Wonderful World of Dissocia, so I had no great expectations of this night out to see Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness;(EGAFoL) – even just the name set my few remaining teeth on edge. The hardest thing in winter is to leave the comfort of the sofa and the lure of the telly, and venture out into the wind and rain to see a play. I’m glad I did – mostly.

Have you ever wondered what happens to a troupe of actors who have stayed too long in one show? EGAFoL is that troupe. Gant’s gallant troupe of troubadours has been touring for too long. Their simple stories of loneliness and unrequited love have taken an unnatural edge and become a mixture of madness and grotesque melancholia; from the girl with pock filled pearl producing face to soldier in love with the ‘jam tart’ tart.

In the style of Victorian melodrama with a dash of ‘Around the Horn’ and a hint of ‘Monty Python’ thrown in Neilson’s world unravels in front of us.

Now I love a tent show (set design Renee Mulder) as much as the next fellow and I do love a good frock on stage, and the frocks are VERY good in this production thanks to Romance Was Born balanced with strong performances from the tight ensemble of four so in theory we should be in for a very entertaining night out – and again mostly we are.

The strength of the story telling is more in the fantasy than in the reality. I know what the hell does that mean. Simply, I enjoyed the tall tales but true section much more than the cold light of reality thrown over us by a Little Nicholas Ludd (Lindsay Farris).

Neilson is at his best when he lets his mind run free with a suitcase full of characters like ‘Ranjeev the Uncomplicated’ and the more bizarre the character the happier I was but somewhere near the last third of the play, after the story telling stops, the play runs out of steam – it kind of, sort of, you know stalls. Luckily the madness of the finale saves the play – or at least for me it did and I left in a much better mood than when I walked in.

And – how could I forget – Sarah Goodes direction was pretty darn slick. I can’t wait to see more of her work.

However I have been spoiled – spoiled by a trio of Irish actors who do no more than stand and tell a story for almost two hours. No tricks, no blood, no seeping pustules just a story.

I wonder if I will be over my love affair with Terminus by the time I get to see The Seagull?

Terminus

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Olwen Fouere (top), Declan Conlan and Catherine Walker

You can say what you like about the Irish and many do but they sure can spin a tale although I’m not sure that the fine city of Dublin would take kindly to the tale told by the fine young cannibals of The Abbey Theatre who in association with The Sydney Theatre Company present Terminus in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.
Boy that’s a mouthful.
I have to say that I loved it from first spoken word to last drawn breath I was with them every step of the way. Thank you, thank you thank you Abbey Theatre and thank you STC for realising that this is a piece that needs to be performed by the people who created it.
However it’s not enough for, and I use the term loosely, a reviewer to just announce that he or she loved a show or performance. I’ve got to give to you some solid reasons why.
Fair enough.
Terminus isn’t really a play, it’s more a triple monologue woven and connected together with the art of old fashioned fire-side story telling.
From the moment we enter the theatre we become part of the tale, the subliminal beat of the music (Philip Stewart), the fog filling the shattered proscenium frame and then running down across the lip of the stage we all had a prediction, our own pre-set fantasy of what was about to happen.
The beat of the drum louder and louder vibrating through the floor shaking us awake, the lights (Philip Caldwell) suddenly turned up and on us and then blackout. And most of our predictions and fantasies were knocked on their head.
Three actors: A (Olwen Fouéré), B (Catherine Walker) and C (Declan Conlon) stand alone on a fractured stage behind a shattered window/mirror and for 100 minutes they take us on a macabre tour of one night in Dublin. ‘A’, a middle aged woman, sits in her booth at the Samaritan’s counselling service when ‘B’, a young woman, who wants an abortion rings in while ‘C’, a man, picks up a girl in bar to have sex with and then kills her. Each character is connected and no story can exist without the other.
Mark O’Rowe writer /director has constructed a macabre world: demons and angels, lesbians and lovers, mothers and daughters, and using rhyme each tells their story, as one story reaches a climax the next begins and so on and so forth until the whole story is told.
After the initial shock it becomes the kind of night you can close your eyes, slide down in your chair, put your feet up in front of the fire and nursing a pint of whatever takes your fancy while the wind howls outside you let the story unfold around you.
Yes, in places, it’s self indulgent and yes it’s self serving in others but if you pay attention and go with the flow it’s a very satisfying, nourishing exhilarating ride. It is a masterful piece of story telling that is a tribute as much to the writing as in the telling – does that makes sense?
For me it was as glorious as Ginsberg reading Howl or hearing Burton in Under Milk Wood.
Terminus is playing in the Drama Theatre at the Opera House until July 9, 2011.

Baal

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Baal (Thomas M Wright) is all things to all people: visionary, rock god, lover, destroyer, creator and poet. Baal couldn’t give a shit – I warn you now there will be profanity in this review.   

On an empty stage bathed in an unflattering yellow light that washes up across the first few rows Baal lies next to his electric guitar making his poetry as we the audience enter his world. Immediately I think of George Harrison and his seminal song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” but there is nothing gentle about this cacophony, this aural rape, we are forced to listen to before the ‘play’ begins.   

One by one the middle-class sycophants of the gallery opening, cocktail party circuit join Baal on stage to bask in his originality, his dangerous talent and his sex. Baal wants to play his music, sing his songs, drink and fuck, anyone, anytime, anywhere with no thought of consequence. Each player is used and then thrown aside or in the end murdered by Baal.  There is a never-ending parade of cock and cunt for Baal to choose from. Everyone is fair game even his best friend, the one person who has actually loved him without any judgement Eckhardt (Oscar Redding) who seems to spend the entire play comfortably naked… and wet.   

Thomas M Wright

Baal is Dorian Grey without the picture to hide the flaws, Baal is Jim Morrison or Charlie Sheen, Baal is the hot guy across the bar who you know is bad and you know he will fuck you over and yet you still want him in you.   

Baal is also Brecht’s first play written when he was twenty just after World War 1. It is a flawed, angry piece that lacks a strong narrative structure yet it flows seamlessly down the path of self-destruction and offers no apology, no final act of public or private redemption. Baal dies as he lived his life – alone.   

Thomas Wright, same name as the actor but different person, and Simon Stone have given us a good adaptation of the original play – not that I have ever read the original in German or any other language for that matter.   

Stone has directed a no-nonsense, grinding production that has drained any possible thought of eroticism out. It is a harsh, unforgiving, cold night of in your face theatre.    

Some plays or at least some productions of plays invite you in, this production, like Baal the character, wants none of that. The staging the rain, the noise, the lighting and even the players distance themselves from the audience. Baal never asks us to like him or feel his inner pain or go on some ‘hero’s journey’ with him; he actually couldn’t give a fuck. He stands before us with his guitar, in the rain, and says ‘this is me and I don’t fucking care what you think or who you are. Accept me or not I couldn’t give a toss.’   

The set and lighting, designed by Nick Schlieper, is the other major character in this production: sparse white walls, devoid of furniture, the occasional mattress for the players to rut on. In the second half, after one of the best set transformations I have seen for a long time, the rains come; at first light and misty then heavier, pelting rain forcing the players to shout to be heard. Sure we may lose some of the nuances of the text but this is not a subtle production. The rain isn’t there to wash away the sin or cleanse the sinner but more to constrain and restrict them. 

Baal is a transfer from the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne and is currently playing @Wharf 1 Hickson Road until June 11

Written by peteracross

May 13, 2011 at 16:41

It’s catch up time kiddies – theatre and film oh my!

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So you laugh and then you cry

 

I feel sort of, kind of guilty bad, I haven’t written anything about nothing for this little blog of mine for a while so I’m going to use this night to just catch up. See how we are all travelling.              

Now to the y’arts:              

I’ve been seeing a lot of film and theatre lately – some good, some not so good. Well it has been Oscar season.              

The crop of movies that hit the Oscar awards trail this year was pretty damn fine.                            

I was left untouched by Black Swan – although I did think Mila Kunis was very good – she’s the annoying Jackie from ‘That 70’s Show’.  Natalie didn’t really do it for me and Mamma played by Barbra Hershey – well I wasn’t having a bar of her. (I know but sometimes you just have to say it)                            

True Grit I thought the girl, the child; the little one was brilliant, I mean she acted the pants off most of the people working in film today; she was a joy to watch, listen to and get carried away with. I really enjoyed the movie even though it took me a good half an hour to work out what Jeff Bridges was saying.                            

Inception I loved every hour of every minute of every second. I can’t understand why people found it so hard to follow – were they on drugs?                            

The King’s Speech, well I need say nothing about that, so of course I will; a movie right up my processional arch. From Jeff to Cole to little ol’ Helen it hit every right nerve – I was a tingle throughout, despite a few little errors of historical fact.                            

The Social Network I enjoyed but wasn’t in raptures and I am a huge FaceBook fan. And I always love a good-looking young cast – so I was as surprised as anyone not to be swept up by it. Little Juzzie T is turning into a fine young actor – he might have a career there one day.                            

Toy Story 3 what can I say: I want to see actors now – I’m at that age. As good as it was and as real as they looked and as well done as it was – damn it I want humans on stage.                            

The Fighter, The Kid’s Are Alright and 127 Hours I didn’t get to see but I’m sure I will over the next month. I had so much good, heavy film I was very pleased to be asked to the premiere of Hall Pass; mindless entertainment with laugh out loud (lol) moments, nothing taxing but good ol’ fashioned fun.                            

Oh and just for the hell of it a movie I am one of the Executive Producers on, Violet Tendencies which had two screenings at Queer Screen, with a third screening coming up at the Beresford Hotel  on Monday 21 March (I will be stuck with Hamlet  at the STC ) – go see it or hand in your queer card.                            

And then there was the Theatre:                            

The great thing about seeing live theatre – as opposed to dead theatre I guess – is the variety and this last week has been one heck of a ride.                            

From Ruhl to Rossini, from Rossini to Islam, from Islam to Ibsen and not in that particular order.                            

The Barber of Seville,  or as I wittily remarked Barbra of Seville, was a bit like a Farrelly movie – nothing taxing just a few humable ditties and a bit of ol’ farce. All in all a good night at Oprah’s place.                            

As for Islamic Harmonics (not really a play but I went) I can see why the middle ages were in the middle. They are a bit like the third series of a TV show – I kept looking for the shark to jump and there she was all trussed up and disguised as Winsome Evans.  Too much of Winsome spoils you for all that follow. But seriously I enjoyed the night even though I felt that one of the two Whirling Dervishes didn’t really whirl as much as one hoped he would. Perhaps he was all whirled out from an earlier unannounced whirl.                            

The Other Room or The Vibrator Play even though it got PMSLOL from the opening night crowd left me wanting something a bit… more, harder, something with more bone in it. It seemed to be an opportunity missed to actually deal with the issues that surrounded sexuality and isolation at the turn of the century – the last century that is not the one that we are in. Performances were all okay, direction seemed adequate, staging was very much a tribute to the era but something didn’t gel. There were pockets of resistance through the room and at half time, because it felt like we were in it for the long haul, we wondered “What are we missing here? Why aren’t we getting it?” No one had a good answer.                            

The Wild Duck, well thank heavens for mallards. Simple set dialogue cut back and down and what a great story to be told. It was a great end to a couple of weeks of theatre and if this is an indication of how Belvoir will go post Neil Armfield then we are in for a heck of a good year of theatre.                            

The STC is playing catch up and they have a lot of running to do.                            

So this week it’s Zebra at the STC with Colin Friels, Bryan Brown and Nadine Garner and back to semi-proper reviews.                            

Thanks for staying with me and as my old parish priest used to say “See you in the dark.”              

And only because I love the opening credits so much I’ve added this:              

Not enough variety in this Variations

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If only they had wheeled him out and left him out

 

There is so much to get excited about in Sydney over summer: the beach, outdoor cinema, long lazy days relaxing watching cricket, Eddie Perfect, iOTA, yes there certainly are a lot of exciting things in Sydney during the Sydney Festival, unfortunately John Malkovich  in The Giacomo Variations  was not one of them. 

For three hours on the Concert Hall stage at the Opera House, in front of a packed house, the Sydney Symphony and John Malkovich try to bring to life one of the great lovers of history, Casanova

The plot: Casanova is nearing the end of his life and is busily trying to finish his memoirs while trying to seduce his Irish maid. Through the artifice of flashback we glimpse the once great lover in his prime as he seduces his way into the history books. Rutting, first with a woman who then gives birth, unknown to him, to his daughter, who he then falls in love with and after some debate gets her pregnant to give birth to his son who is actually her brother. 

 It’s worthy of an episode of Desperate Housewives. 

Using the music of Mozart and the lyrics of Da Ponte, director Michael Sturminger tries to give us a glimpse of what made this man, pardon my French, so ‘fuck-able’, how could this one man have possibly made love to the thousands of women he claims to have bedded? Why was he so damned attractive? What power did he have over not only women but men? You would expect that Malkovich, probably most famous for his role in “Dangerous Liaisons” would have found this part a stroll in Green Park, however, his lacklustre, energy less, old and excruciating performance had the audience on opening night booing and after interval a large number of empty seats magically appeared in the theatre. 

The set (not the Concert Hall)

The Set - but not at the Concert Hall

 

And it wasn’t just Malkovich that let this ill-conceived, misdirected, badly produced production drag those of us who were silly enough to stay for the second act into a deep well of depression. 

The sound design was appalling, microphones not turned on or up; the set or what there was of it, although very pretty was lost on the cavernous Concert Hall stage. House lights that came and then went down – I assume to allow Malkovich to break the third wall and talk direct to the audience. God help those who were sitting just behind the stage – all they would have seen was a blur of moving fabric every now and then and the backs of the actors head. 

Wrong show, wrong venue – wrong cast. 

Still it is a festival and not every show can or should be a hit, some shows should be there simply to provoke you, to make you think, to expand your mind. This aberration did none of that. 

‘The Giacomo Variations’ closed on Friday 21 January 2011.

Written by peteracross

January 23, 2011 at 16:41

Les Miz – the Birthday bash

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Les Miserables - half a century later

   

Twenty-five years ago, (1985), something astounding happened in London at the Barbican Arts Centre, a musical based on a Victor Hugo novel opened and took the West End and then the world by storm.      

Les Misérablesa musical set against a failed student revolution in Paris during the early 19th century.      

The plot:  Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601, is released on parole after 19 years of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread. His jailer Javert warns him that he is still not a free man so he better behave. Valjean is taken in by a kindly bishop who he promptly robs; the bishop lies to Javert to save Valjean. Taking stock of his life Valjean decides to break his parole and start anew. The rest of the very long musical is really Javert chasing Valjean through the streets and years of Paris until they meet once again on the barricades of revolution. Valjean saves Javert; Javert unable to live with the humiliation commits suicide. Along the way women are wooed, men lose their hearts, love triangles collapse, money is made, fortunes are lost and a revolution fails.      

Originally the musical was met with critical scepticism and the show was nicknamed ‘The Glums’ by the critics, but the public seemed to like it and eventually the musical took over the world in much the same way that ‘Cats’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ have done. There is no country, with the possible exception of North Korea that has not had at least one production of these shows.      

Twenty-five years later with two major productions already playing in England Cameron Macintosh has once again reinvented this musical. He has devised an “event” – a concert version of the show featuring a cast of over five hundred which includes a massed choir and a full orchestra to celebrate the anniversary.      

Starring Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, who rightfully stopped the show with his performance of ‘Bring Him Home’, bringing the 20,000 members of the audience in the O2 Arena to their feet. This is not the kind of thing you see every day.      

Norm Lewis as Javert has a beautiful baritone voice. A voice that reaches out and enfolds you and leaves you shaken by his raw emotion, especially during his duet with Boe near the end of the concert when they perform ‘Javert’s Suicide.”      

Matt Lucas, yes you read it correctly Matt Lucas from ‘Little Britain,’ plays Thernardier, and surprisingly, considering the opportunities to play up to the crowd, delivers a restrained performance that manages to capture the sinister humour the character requires – a kind of French version of ‘Fagin’.      

Samantha Barks as Eponine is captivating, even though you could argue she is far too good looking for the part, her voice and her acting ability carry her through especially in her big number ‘On My Own.’      

Nick Jonas as Marius unfortunately doesn’t have the voice (yet) to carry the part but he does deliver a more than adequate performance and his version of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ was very moving. His scenes with Katie Hall, Cosette, are sweet, romantic and easy to watch. (A piece of trivia for the show queens reading – Nick Jonas­ played Gavroche on Broadway in 2003.)      

Other standouts in the cast are Jenny Galloway as Mdme Thenardier and Ramin Karimlool as the handsome revolutionary Enjoloras.      

The O2 Areana

   

There are inherent problems in transferring a stage show designed for a proscenium arch to the vast expanse of an arena like the O2.      

How do you manage to get 20,000 people involved and keep them interested for over two hours in what is now basically a static show?      

The answer of course is three huge video screens set high above the choir and massive lighting racks that become part of the action most noticeably during the defence of the barricades.      

But the strength of the theatricality of the stage show is also the concert versions greatest weakness, at times there is nothing happening and because of the twenty or so cameras filming you see every dead minute of stage time.      

Oh did I not mention that the show was also beamed live into cinemas around the world. This is a huge undertaking.      

But wait there’s more!      

After final bows have been taken the cast is joined on stage by the two other current English Les Miz casts and the original West End cast. The four Valjeans: Colm Wilkinson (the original), Simon Bowman (Queen’s Theatre cast), John Owen-Jones (Barbican Art’s Centre) all combine with Alfie Boe to perform one of the most moving performances I have seen in a long time, ‘Bring Him Home’, followed by the original 1985 cast singing ‘Óne Day More.’      

Never one to let a microphone go unattended Cameron Mackintosh introduced the writers and composers: Claude Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer.      

And then – yes there is still more – as a last tribute, hundreds of students who perform in the school’s version of Les Miz paraded down the stairs to the front of the stage singing ‘Do You Hear the People Sing.”      

This is event theatre on a scale that I have never seen before and for all its faults it works.  If it plays at a cinema near you and you have even the slightest interest in musical theatre then it’s a must see. Otherwise you will be able to buy the Blu-Ray widescreen digital HD DVD version from your favourite outlet, probably in time for Christmas.

Written by peteracross

December 6, 2010 at 16:41