Wednesday, 13 August 2014

RIP, ROBIN WILLIAMS

The temptation to spill all that Robin Williams said to Express writer Roger Tavener and me one afternoon at the London Palladium during the Eighties, after rehearsals and ahead of that night's charity show, is huge. I'm not going to. I will remember with mirth the mischief we made, hiding in the downstairs Gents' until the venue had emptied, then squirrelling our way around the warren of dressing rooms until we found his. I'll cherish the expression on Robin's face when we told him what we'd got up to. How could he not grant us an interview after that? I'll recall his Lennon-inspired line during the performance that same evening: 'Madam, you can either wear that bracelet, or you can feed Nicaragua.' I will try, along with everyone, to accept.

The dysfunctional childhood that Robin Williams endured left a gaping void that he would spend his adulthood  attempting to fill. He needed adulation. His maniacal brand of humour was an expression, maybe even a quest for exorcism, of the demons who possessed and taunted him. I cannot think of a person more deeply human. He mattered because he touched base with us all. It was as if he knew all our terrifying secrets, and wasn't afraid of confronting and exploring them. Or possibly he was. He did so anyway. What amazes me, now that I think about it, is that he lived so long. All the while that he was able to make art out of anguish, he could maintain what passed for a normal life. When his art boiled down to money - not having enough of it to pay off past loves, nor to keep everyone in the style to which they'd become accustomed - he lost the will to live.
At least death was on his terms. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

SECRETS OF THE FIFTH BEATLE ...

EPSTEIN: THE MAN WHO MADE THE BEATLES
By Andrew Sherlock, starring Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein and Will Finlason as 'This Boy'

How to process this moving and disturbing play, which was rave-received, deservedly so, on its First Night at the Leicester Square Theatre, Monday. It occurs to me what Brian saw in those legendary 'first three minutes' he gave John, Paul, George and Pete Best (pre-Ringo), beyond their talent, chemistry, magical hold over an audience, and their - as he described it - 'charm'. A would-be but didn't-quite-have-it actor, Epstein perceived, in an instant, a way to make himself cool. A way to become, not only socially acceptable, but one of the most desirable beings on earth. Those four unusual boys would be his passport to fame, fortune and reflected glory. His ticket to ride. The key to shaking off his tormented childhood, putting behind him the misery and angst he had grown up shackled by. Largely but not only thanks to having been born both Jewish and gay.

It is no accident that this play is set in 1967: the year that homosexuality was decriminalised. The piece hinges on the backward glance, through the eyes of a fan and would-be music writer, who wants to tell Eppy's story as it really happened and not as just another predictable rehash of the sanitised version in the rock manager's autobiography, 'A Cellarful of Noise'. Their encounter dredges the depths of Brian's true personality, taking him closer to the wall than he has dared to go in years. A day later, at only thirty-two, he is dead.

Pink Floyd's Nick Mason found it 'excruciating to watch,' he said. 'It's so true.' Frankie's Holly Johnson looked a bit gobsmacked. Gary Crowley On-Air said it was 'raw' and 'thrilling', with which I have to agree. The turn-out spoke for itself. Good to see David Wigg, Henrietta Knight, Kevin O'Sullivan, Mike McCartney, Philip Norman, Lloyd Beiny and his first wife Hazel, James WoodleyAnita Maguire. Heartfelt thanks, as always, to David Stark, the Everywhere Man, who makes it happen.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

INALA at the Barbican Theatre

INALA: five years in the making. It combines the isicathamiya harmonies,
mbube rhythmic vocals and jerky moves of the all-male South African a
cappella choir LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO with the Zulu-inspired ballet
of RAMBERT and ROYAL BALLET dancers in a presentation so beautiful
that I was in bits before the second act. The Sisters Grimm production, 

choreographed by Mark Baldwin, will receive
its official world premiere at this year's Edinburgh International
Festival, 10-12 August. But to see it in preview at point-blank range
in the womb-like Barbican Theatre was a dream that I feel challenged
to describe. 

Exhilarating,moving, humbling, dignified: this work lends
perspective into another dimension of dance that leaves us

speechless at what the human body can do. There is no storyline as
such. It is open to interpretation. For me, there was a sense of
steps being retraced into the dawn of time; of man's early, tentative
relationship with nature, his conquering and command of it, the
consequent harnessing and destruction of it, of the circle of life
full-turning and of nature regaining its strength.

What resonates is the traditional music of the Zulu people.
Most of us know the group founded by Joseph Shabalala in 1960 from
Paul Simon's 1986 album 'Gracelands'. They sang memorably on
'Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes' and 'You Can Call Me Al'. The
exposure led to an international career, four Grammys,
and a 1988 appearance in Michael Jackson's movie 'Moon Walker', in
which they performed their song 'The Moon Is Walking'. It also led to
Nelson Mandela lauding the group as 'South Africa's cultural
ambassadors'. They accompanied their future President to the
Nobel Peace prize ceremony in Norway in 1993, and sang at his
inauguration the following year. It further led to them recording Cat
Stevens's 'Peace Train' with Dolly Parton for her album 'Treasures',
and to what is, to date, a forty five-year career spreading a message
of harmony, peace and love. 

Their almost half-century has been oft-darkened by murder, illness and
other tragedy. The stories could curl dreads. Yet they have never lost
hope. Never stopped singing. There linger, in this unique, uplifting
and instantly recognisable sound, the echoes of the earliest choirs
formed in the Natal region during the 1920s, when young Zulu males
migrated there to find work in the factories and mines. Far from
home, lonely and afraid, they formed choirs to comfort and lull
teach other, to preserve a sense of community, and to stay close to
the cultures into which they had been born.

Mbube, incidentally, is Zulu for lion, which figures. The name Ladysmith Black Mambazo is
derived from three elements: Ladysmith, Kwazulu-Natal, the hometown
of founding father Shabalala's family; Black for the Ox, the
strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo, Zulu for Axe, which is
symbolic of this choir's magical ability to 'chop down' all
competition.

Inala is Zulu for 'an abundance of goodwill.' 
Ladysmith Black Mambazo keep the essence of South Africa alive.