REPOST: The Black Rider

Left to right: Robert Wilson, William Burroughs and Tom Waits, photographed around the time of the original German production. (Burroughs is sitting down, by the way. He's not an amputee or anything.) Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 20/05/2004.

This production of The Black Rider toured San Francisco and Sydney as promised in the links section below, and then had a final run in Los Angeles in 2006. A separate production by November Theatre has been touring Canada for the last few years.

Tom Waits finally did a London show of his own in November 2004, and was bloody great.

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REPOST: Closer To Heaven

Closer To Heaven, the logo Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 04/06/2001.

Closer To Heaven's London run lasted five months, in the end. Thanks to the post-9/11 slump in tourism, a lot of West End shows closed before their time in the autumn of 2001, and this was one of them.

A soundtrack album was released, but judging from the prices on Amazon (see below) it's no longer in print. Here, have a video of Frances Barber singing Friendly Fire instead.

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REPOST: The Tempest

The Almeida foyer. And this is *before* they made it look like a building site. Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 24/02/2001.

Ian McDiarmid went on to make two more Star Wars films, and my predictions about the involvement of Palpatine (see the Links section) turned out to be utterly wrong. Meanwhile, this review subsequently ended up on a McDiarmid fansite translated into Russian.

As for the Almeida Theatre, they moved out to King's Cross, operated there for a bit, then moved back again. They're still going, now under the leadership of Michael Attenborough. And Le Mercury survived, too, despite the sentence that directly follows this one.

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REPOST: Mamma Mia!

...wishing every show was the last show... Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 01/04/1999.

After spending much of my first year on the site concentrating on the best arts and entertainment available, eventually I had to crack and do a full-throttle FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STAY AWAY FROM THIS PIECE OF SHIT post. Not that anyone listened, of course, given that the show's been a hit in numerous cities across the globe since then. And that whole 'firebomb the theatre' spiel looks a little bit tactless in the wake of what happened down the road from the Prince Edward Theatre just one month later. Oops.

In other news, Mamma Mia! The Movie opens worldwide later this month. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STAY AWAY FROM THIS PIECE OF SHIT.

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Our Friends In The North

'What fettle, bonny lad?' Andrew French (Joseph) and Craig Conway (Geordie) in the Northern Stage production Our Friends In Shit Wigs, we used to call it in the office. But affectionately, you understand. Because Our Friends In The North was one of those TV serials that inspired a great deal of affection when it appeared on BBC2 in 1995. For me, personally, it was thrilling to see a chronicle of British political and social life that almost perfectly spanned the 30-odd years I'd been on the planet. Hugely engaging, with a cast that included one future Doctor Who and one future James Bond, it was television of a scale and ambition few of us had ever seen before: and we were prepared to let a few dodgy bits of ageing makeup go by, simply because the rest of it was so powerful.

It wasn't until the belated release of the DVD a decade or so later that I found out an astonishing thing: it was adapted from a stage play. A play which was just as ambitious in its scope, to the extent that after the initial 1982 Royal Shakespeare Company production, nobody had dared to try and restage it. Until now, that is.

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The Masque Of The Red Death

Disabled toilet, Battersea Arts Centre, 8:44pm. And some dick in a mask.I think I've worked out how Punchdrunk do it. Whenever you attend one of their theatrical productions, you have to wear one of these plastic masks all the way through it. It has a curious psychological effect on you as an audience member - and we'll get back to that later - but nobody ever mentions the physical effect it has on you. The mask can be a little uncomfortable, particularly if you're trying to wear glasses underneath it: and I've found that on both occasions I've watched a Punchdrunk show wearing one, it's pinched my nose so tightly that I've had to spend the entire performance breathing through my mouth.

You see what they've done there? It's artificially simulated awe.

Mind you, it helps that they're the best in the world at what they do, too.

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Monkey: Journey To The West

Monkey (front row, centre) and his mates The city of Manchester has developed a whole new cultural life for itself since I left it some twenty-odd years ago. (I'm sure that's just a coincidence.) For example, back when I was a student there, it didn't even have an arthouse cinema worth mentioning: I can remember the days when the Cornerhouse, current jewel of the Mancunian arts community, was a porno house. Still, that's all changed now, and the frantic redevelopment of the city - helped in part by the IRA's little present to it back in 1996 - has made it a terrific place to return to.

And now it has the Manchester International Festival: the celebration of world arts that a city with this level of cultural history deserves. It's an eighteen day arts festival, running from June 28th to July 15th 2007,  and it's unique in being a festival of entirely new work. But given that we had only one day to spare in Manchester, what could we see? A live performance by PJ Harvey? An installation by Howard Devoto? A site-specific theatre piece starring Johnny Vegas? Or something involving a monkey? A difficult choice, as I'm sure you can imagine.

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Richard III: An Arab Tragedy

Poster image for Richard III: An Arab Tragedy, which played at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon on February 8th-17th, 2006 I do enjoy a good arts festival. Mind you, regular readers will probably be well aware of that, if they've seen this site's previous coverage of Edinburgh and the London Film Festival. The thing is, it's not just a way to consume art in bulk, or to see things that wouldn't normally come to your town (although both of those are certainly attractions for me): what I like most about festivals is the way that you can sometimes catch an extraordinary piece of work purely by accident.

Case in point: on the old site, I documented the events of August 20th 2002, when The Belated Birthday Girl and I spent an hour or two wandering around Edinburgh desperately trying to find a show that wasn't sold out or cancelled. We ended up at a play called The Al-Hamlet Summit purely because there was nothing else available: and it was fabulous. Zaoum Theatre Company - specifically, their lead writer/director Sulayman Al-Bassam - had taken the basic ideas behind Shakespeare's tragedy, and reworked it as a new drama set in the contemporary Middle East. A dangerous thing to be doing in the first Edinburgh Festival to be held after 9/11, particularly given the explosive finale to Al-Bassam's adaptation: but sheer nerve and theatrical invention carried it through.

And now, five years later, Sulayman Al-Bassam has returned to the UK - and to Shakespeare's birthplace, no less - to see if Richard III can stand up to the same treatment.

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Faust. Note that this is the only publicity still I could find, and it bears no resemblance to anything I saw on the night.I know it's appallingly bad form to quote yourself, but I'm quite pleased with this one, so indulge me here. Half a dozen of us were eating in the River Spice restaurant before heading off to see Faust, and we were working out what we knew about the production beforehand. We knew it was a collaboration between the National Theatre and Punchdrunk Productions, the latter being a company specialising in site-specific theatre. We knew we'd been asked to go to a mysterious address in London's less-than-glittering East End for the show. We also knew that we'd be expected to walk around the location, and were free to explore it at our leisure. And we were struggling to decide how the hell that would work, until it hit me: "it's going to be an art installation with a plot, isn't it?"

And that's pretty much what Punchdrunk's Faust is. Except for, perhaps, the plot.

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