Keeping myself entertained

In a train-spotting moment, I thought I should fill in the gaps with an abbreviated list of things I have been to see or hear which have been hitherto unnoticed:

  • Jerusalem String Quartet, Musica Viva, Angel Place – despite my snarky comment, I went to this on the free list with a friend who is a reviewer.  The Ravel quartet was the standout item by a mile.
  • Australia Ensemble final concert for 2008.  Noted by Thomasina here.  Traditionally, the final concert concentrates on popular works in order (I assume) to encourage renewals for next year.  Appalachian Spring was the highlight, but the arrangement of Sculthorpe’s Small Town for string quartet was very skilful.  Thomasina has (gently) criticized the ensemble’s performance of the “Trout” Quintet.  I too would have preferred a more full-blooded approach, but I can also see what they were aiming at, which was something more inward and intimate.  Next year’s subscription series, which was announced with the traditional not-champagne and chocolates, suggests a some budgetary restraint in the use of guest artists and larger ensembles compared to this year. 
  • SSO – Elgar 2 – that is, the Elgar Symphony No 2, Sea Pictures (Lilli Paasikivi was terrific if quite unrecognizable from her vampy program pic) as well as the Serenade for Strings – a very satisfying concert;
  • Billy Elliot – I’m not a fan of musicals as a rule, but I took D to the last performance in the Sydney run of this show. 
  • The Men’s Group – not the only film I saw in this period, but noteworthy for reasons set out further below (omg: I’m drafting an affidavit!)

Billy Elliot  was better than I expected, though the second half is a bit anticlimactic because the most exciting numbers and the bulk of the story are in the first half.  D and I both can look back on childhoods as girly boys who at one stage or other learnt dance/ballet. At interval and before and after the show, D amused himself by spotting the girly/dancy boys in the audience, and there were plenty. 

As with the film, the musical side-steps any question of Billy’s sexuality, and relocates this issue in his cross-dressing friend, Michael.  D thought this was wrong and even went so far as to claim the story was homophobic (Gloria Jeans was a sponsor, by the way).  I was more forgiving, on the grounds that  not every male ballet dancer is gay and because, realistically, in order to reach a wider audience it cannot just be a gay story.  Consequently, the ostensible theme is not simply “sexuality” but, as in one of the big numbers, “individuality” – albeit that this is a duet between two frocked-up boys supported by giant come-to-life dancing dresses.  This got one of the biggest cheers of the night (actually, afternoon: it was a 3pm performance).   

Because this was the last performance in Sydney, friends and relatives of the cast had turned out in force.  Judging by appearances, they were a broad social cross-section: there must have been a host of Billy-Elliot-ish stories out there. This was not the artsy upper middle class crowd that you see at classical music events (even youth orchestras) or, even more, the opera.  They  gave standing ovations for their favourite numbers and clapped and cheered at every boy-on-boy kiss.  So I’d say that D’s fears that the gay part of the story had been covered up were misplaced.

We went to see The Men’s Group after it won the IF award for best [Australian] feature film and Grant Dodwell (unrecognizable from his soap-opera past) won best actor.  The scenario was a “men’s group” meeting on a weekly basis, gradually disclosing their “issues” to each other.  Most of the action takes place in the group meetings, interspersed with episodes in the stories of each of the individual characters.   The film was shot digitally, which clearly allowed for a lot of improvisation and a lot of “Acting.” 

This was the sort of film you might get if a group of actors get together (the film was made co-operatively) and say “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if…” and then the film ran with that.  A lot of the film was about men and their role as fathers, mostly disfunctional (understandable, since that was why they were at the group).  The problem for me with improvisation is that it inevitably involves the invocation of formulae. We had, for example, the sad fat clown and more than a bit of Willy Loman and Biff from Death of a Salesman.  It seemed a bit too obviously born of the “wouldn’t it be a good idea if” process that the one gay character was a child abuse survivor in the closet with anger-management problems. 

D gave it one star, then conceded one and a half.  I wouldn’t be so mean as that.  The film gives a lot of food for thought, but I do think that as a result of being actor-led it is overburdened with characters and under-resourced with plot and structure.  Grant Dodwell is very funny.

3 Responses to “Keeping myself entertained”

  1. Anthony Says:

    I’m not a fan of musicals that are based on movies that were never a stage play to begin with, whether perfectly fine movies (The Producers; Hairspray; Billy Elliot) or not (Priscilla) – especially when we get the movie of the stage musical of the movie. But Billie Elliot might be an exception? An English friend loved the film because of the omnipresence of the miners’ strike. “That’s my early adulthood” she exclaimed. Does the strike still figure prominently in the stage musical? A choreographed chorus line of Thatcher’s police “flying squads” with truncheons?

  2. marcellous Says:

    The strike is big, and there definitely is a choreographed chorus line of Thatcher’s police “flying squads” with truncheons and a particularly brilliant coup de theatre when they appear with their riot shields. They are sent up just a little in the tradition of “Pirates of Penzance” but at other points are seriously menacing. There is a great confontation between the police and the miners where the miners say that they are fucking the policemen’s wives and the police urge the miners to keep the strike up because with the overtime they are sending their kids to private schools and building extensions to their houses. And to add to all of this, the confrontation is overlayed on top of a ballet class being conducted in the local hall.

    Is that sufficient answer?

  3. Anthony Says:

    Fantastic. All that, and Elton John too!

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