Thursday, 29 October 2015


On Saturday 24 October I saw Xanadu at the Southwark Playhouse. I was by myself for the weekend, but it was a last-minute thing to think about going out in the evening; I checked this, because of course I like ELO and I like musicals, but I had thought it was sold out, so was surprised to see it wasn't. I got a ticket, although I must confess I was almost put off by the things I was reading about it - not reviews, but Twitter comments - in which the overwhelming theme (of praise) was how it was the campest thing anybody had ever seen, but I decided to go for it all the same. (The fact that it's about ten minutes' walk away was also a factor in choosing it rather than other possibilities.)

I think perhaps campness - in performance/theatrical terms - is one of those 'can't define it but you know it when you see it' things. I'm at ease with a bit of over-the-topness, and cheese and ham can work on stage as well as on a sandwich, and arch is fine up to quite a high point, but there can be a degree of 'enjoying something because it's so bad it's good', and I really can't bear 'so bad it's good'. Nothing is so bad it's good. Wikipedia has a rather long article on 'camp (style)' which I may read one day.

And of course 'camp' may also be a not-very-coded way of saying 'Gay men: this is aimed at you!', which makes it not aimed at me. But perhaps more of that in another blogpost. This one will be about the show rather than the audience.

I enjoyed it. I was worried at the start because I thought it started out a bit so-bad-good over-the-top in the first number, but I felt it settled down. The singing and dancing throughout were good, the acting was on the whole pretty good, and the script was well put together and was properly funny (including the self-referential and movie-referential material), as were most of the performances. The rollerskating ability was variable, but any ability at all is impressive to me, especially while singing and acting. There were a couple of aspects which had fairly clearly been tailored with the gay male audience in mind, but on the whole the raw material and the production was pretty all-inclusive.

In my view the Jeff Lynne songs were on the whole much better than the John Farrar songs, which were more 'unremarkable musical' songs to me, but that's me. The female lead, who was essentially playing a version of Olivia Newton-John, had that very typical stage musical style of female voice which I'm not keen on (I think it has a pinched, nasal quality) but which is both popular and successful, so again what do I know. Nothing more subjective than liking someone's voice or not.

My favourite performance of the night was probably Lizzy Connolly, who played the younger of the two baddy goddesses, Calliope; she was very funny in expression as well as delivery. Looking at the programme initially, and seeing the cast in action, I didn't think I'd seen any of them before, but I realised later that I had seen Lizzy Connolly before, as Jolene in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. We were sitting in the back row, more or less, so I couldn't have picked her out on the street even then (I was in the front row of the stage left section for this one); I watched a couple of Youtube clips to remind myself of the DRS number, and what she looked like, and I did remember it as an enjoyable section of the show. She looked completely different in this of course; in fact in this she reminded me of my late former colleague Sarah Mayers, which was rather bitter-sweet. I'm sure the same happened in something else I saw within the last year, though I can't remember what; it must be a generic similarity - something about the shape of the face and the curly dark hair - rather than a close similarity. Of course, the photo of Lizzy in the programme, in which she is blonde, looks nothing like Sarah did.

(Since I saw it, I have seen Spectre, which I knew Nigel Barber was in, though I forgot until I saw him, for a split-second, as one of the national representatives at a conference.)

I have noted previously that most people I see in fringe productions are on Twitter, and it transpired that every cast member (not to mention crew, which I didn't look into deliberately but saw some) was on Twitter. It was this that prompted me to start making a Twitter list of stage tweeters who I've seen.

I don't think I could say this production of Xanadu prompted any particular reflections (apart from about the audience) or provided any particular insights, but I don't think it intended to, and that's fine. It was a good production which I'd recommend to someone who liked musicals, but not necessarily generally recommend, and I certainly wouldn't feel the need to see it again (as a significant number of Tweeters seemed to intend to do).

Some reviews - not many in the first couple of pages (almost entirely earlier articles about the production coming up). Webcowgirl. and Partially Obstructed View were actually the only two that came up in the first two pages, and even when I restricted the search to the last month. Unusually, the theatre and the company haven't been tweeting links to good reviews, which suggests it's not that I'm missing them but that they're not there (good or bad). Which surprises me, as I'd expect there to be more blog reviews at least, if not professional press. Maybe if I look in a couple of weeks there will be some more.