Two Trips to the Royal Albert Hall
Standing like a huge domed coliseum at the edge of Hyde Park lies the Royal Albert Hall, home to hallowed classical concerts and full of culture vultures taking in various big name gigs. Last time I went was to see god of jazz Pat Metheny about ten years ago, and was sat so high up in the gods that I spent most of the gig with my hands over my eyes trying to control an onset of unwelcome vertigo. So that was a good live experience.
Last week I had the wonderful pleasure of nestling into much better seats for two big events- the first, a screening of Titanic complete with live music from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the second, Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in Concert.
Let it be known that I love Titanic. I loved it aged 12, swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio’s hair falling into his eyes as he sketched, I loved it aged 18, weeping into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, tending my latest heartbreak inflicted wound and I loved it aged 24 when I saw it in 3D and my loins burned for the rugged Irishman Tommy Ryan (my tastes in men have cleared matured along with my ever-growing crows feet). It was a pretty safe bet that I was going to love it aged 27 with all those wonderful live performers.
Under the flawless leadership of Ludwig Wiki, the 90 strong Royal Philharmonic Concert orchestra and the Tiffin Boys Choir swelled underneath the wonderfully familiar scenes, allowing us to feel as though we were experiencing it for the first time all over again. The Celtic band who underscored the Steerage below-deck party were so incredibly rousing and prompted a spontaneous stamping, thunderous applause as Kate Winslet stood on her tip-toes.
Perhaps the best moment though, was the moment Kate Winslet slipped her dressing gown off, showing the entire Royal Albert Hall that glorious nude female form…and one of the cellists dropped his bow in amazement. BOOBS + SILENCE + CLATTER=Mass giggling from the audience. Excellent timing.
To conduct that many performers and get the timing so incredibly accurate against the background of the film was just a phenomenal feat. SPOT ON. At the end, James Horner, James Cameron came on to take a bow as the audience cheered themselves hoarse whilst wiping the tears away from their faces.
Oh Titanic. I will never let go. That’s for sure.
And then before I knew it, I was back the next day to watch the star-studded matinée of the Follies Live concert. Full of dirty brass riffs, ostrich feathers and leggy showgirls, Follies is a lovesong to the vaudeville days, of chorus girls glittering in sequinned leotards, whilst allowing a story of regret, fading divas and nostalgic lust to play out in the background.
I can’t help but think semi-staged concerts are a bit weird. All the ingredients are there for a show- big band, set, costumes and in this case, lots of wonderful choreography, but yet so much of it is a stand and sing affair. They’re like a weird halfway house between of a formal concert and a full production and I’m not sure how I feel about them yet. I can’t decide whether I’d be happier with a slick, tightly rehearsed concert, or the whole affair spiced up with production values to keep the audience’s interest sated, even if that means slightly under-rehearsed produce.
That’s what happened here. Everything was in place to make this a truly spectacular gig, but sadly the show just smacked of being under-rehearsed. Choreography went awry, lyrics were missed, and the curtain call made everyone giggle as no-one knew who was supposed to bow next and the cast were all nudging each other forward going “IT’S YOU NOW, IT’S YOU GO ON.” There’s something so uncomfortable about watching a show where you, as an audience member feels unsafe with what’s going on onstage.
Still, the hoards of stageys that were there delighted in stellar performances from Peter Polycarpou (I am yet to see him be anything other than brilliant in anything), Lorna Luft and most show-stealing of all, Anita Dobson who preceded her big company number ‘Who’s That Woman’ with a sly wink to the audience, muttering”Wish us luck!”. Betty Buckley belted out a phenomenal rendition of ‘I’m Still Here’ and as she finished, the Buckley fan club in the audience (I like to think they’re called the Buckaneers) leapt to their feet like Jack-In-The-Boxes. It was like Whack-a-Mole. But like, the gay men edition.
All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but I think I would have been supremely disappointed if I’d paid full whack for the tickets, which were incredibly expensive (I was on a cheeky comp because I have really kind friends who take pity on my flailing bank balance).
Thanks ROYAL ALBERT HALL for being my home last week, I had a SWELL old time nestling into those plush red velvet seats. I won’t leave it as long next time, I PROMise. (Srsly though, anyone game for the Proms?!)