Yuletide Arts

Watch it ‘Time Out’, or the Culture Vulture’s Guide to Christmas

Far and away the most interesting theatre happenings this Christmas are taking place at The Place (Duke’s Road, close to Euston Station). Let me try to dispel the myth at once. All that goes on there is not for the devoted few, nor is it the obscure, didactic and deliberately esoteric stuff that the opponents of modern dance would have us believe. Sure, it’s nothing like what’s going on at the Garden. (And I say that with a huge sigh of relief!), but a good deal of it is clearer, more honest and certainly less cluttered. If you’ve never been to The Place, I can recommend it from many angles, besides the originality of its production. The price is right to start – tickets are usually 60p and 90p. The atmosphere is very relaxed and unpretentious. Definitely no dressing up! But despite all this, the audience is well mixed. The Place may have the informality of a club, but there’s no feeling of everyone having to wear the modern equivalent of the ‘old school tie’.

From December 18 until January 6 the resident London Contemporary Dance Theatre present a number of new works and the first London performance of a new piece by Robert North, one of the Company’s lead dancers, entitled ‘Brian’.

‘Dance Energies’, a new work by May O’Donnell recieves its world premiere on the opening night of the season. Also in the programme is Richard Alston’s ‘Tiger Balm’, remarkable not only for Robert North’s stunningly sinewy (and full frontal nude) performance as the tiger (no gasps in this audience) but also for the sometimes elegiac, sometimes anarchic choreography, which sticks irrevocably in the mind. The programme is completed by Robert Cohan’s ‘People Alone’. Here we encounter members of the Company in a series of solos, in which each expresses his or her own private misery, linked by comments from an updated version of the Greek chorus (they don’t sing of course, and wear what looks like satin jumpsuits, but don’t let that put you off, they’re great!)

Cohan (who is also director of the Company) was seriously ill earlier in the year. The original premiere was postponed several times, since he was not able to devote the time to it that he had anticipated. In fact, I understand that the work is still evolving. But when I saw it for the first time back in the summer, I was bowled over, so I am anxious to see how it has developed in the last few months.

Another highlight of the season is the British premiere of a work by American choreographer, Lotte Goslar, who is known for the clever use of circus elements in her shows. It’s entitled (temporarily) ‘Goslar Piece’.

At the London Coliseum, Sadler’s Wells Opera has gone ‘light’ on us. Over the Christmas period there will be just two productions on show – ‘The Merry Widow’ and ‘Die Fledermaus’.

Dec.
21 Merry Widow
22 Die Fledermaus
Theatre closed until
27 Merry Widow
28 Die Fledermaus
29 Merry Widow
30 Merry Widow
Jan
1 Merry Widow
2 Die Fledermaus

At the Royal Opera House, things are somewhat more varied (there’s always the incredible ugly sisters of Messrs Ashton and Helpmann in ‘Cinderella’ to give things a fun lift off, even if nothing else quite matches them).

Dec
21 Cosi fan tutte
22 Afternoon of a Faun/Giselle
23 Matinee – Cinderella
Evening – Cosi fan tutte
Theatre closed until
26 Cinderella (matinee & evening)
27 Cosi fan tutte
28 Rigoletto
29 Cosi fan tutte
30 Matinee – Swan Lake
Evening — Cinderella
Jan 1 Nabucco
2 Rigoletto

On January 3, Covent Garden sends off that ‘Fanfare for Europe’ with an extravaganza, that every megalomanic opera director dreams about. Think of a name, and the betting’s that he or she will be there dear departed excepted of course. (But come to think of it, they will have to have a trump card somewhere!) Described as ‘A Celebration in Words and Music’, in the honoured presence of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, the artists taking part include such diverse personalities as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Janet Baker, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Regine Crespin, Tito Gobbi, Alberto Remedios, and Peter Pears. There will be the Trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music (obligatory if there is to be an authentic fanfare I suppose) and even the not always so angelic Wandsworth School Boys Choir (Director Russell Burgess) will be represented. The whole programme is devised by Patrick Garland (just back from his Broadway production of ‘Hedda Gabler’) and John Copley. The designer is Carl Toms, the conductor Colin Davis.

Just in case you are tempted (and the price of the tickets should quickly destroy any inkling of that – stalls at £10) let me quote from the booking leaflet – Evening Dress and Decorations. Now let your imaginations run riot!

The National Theatre at the Old Vic has but one offering for Christmas. From December 26 to January 2 (the theatre is closed from mid-December until Christmas) they will be presenting the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur ‘whiplash comedy’ (!?) about the raucous goings-on of tabloid journalism in the twenties. Astonishingly, the play has never been performed here before, although it has been filmed twice. The Observer said ‘Don’t miss it’ and somehow I’ve managed to do just that. Maybe this will be my golden opportunity, considering the frugal diet otherwise available. Perhaps some kind soul will even join me! (Don’t all rush, but offers please to Box 999). No we don’t get review tickets for the National Theatre, or any other theatre, more’s the pity. We do it all for love!

Before the Festival Ballet’s inevitable performances of Tchaikovsky’s ‘nutcracker’ (the title’s enough to send any self-respecting American into guffaws of laughter) take over at the Royal Festival Hall, there are still a few choice orchestral concerts to keep the music fiend happy.

On December 14, Ivan Kertesz returns to the orchestra of which for a short time he was Principal Conductor – The London Symphony. The programme consists of Mozart’s Six German Dances, his Serenata Notturna (K239) and Brahms’ Liebesliederwalzer. He is joined by Lucia Popp (currently singing Gilda in the Royal Opera’s ‘Rigolletto’) for excerpts from Strauss’ ‘Gypsy Baron’ and ‘Die Fledermaus’. I suppose we have to celebrate in the appropriately jolly style!

At the Queen Elizabeth Hall on December 15 Janet Baker teams up with Raymond Leppard and the English Chamber Orchestra for an evening of early Italian and English music — Albinoni, Cavalli, Monteverdi, Dowland and Handel.

Alfred Brendel gives a piano recital at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 17 December starting at 3.15. He plays music by Schubert and Beethoven.

The London Symphony under Andre Previn (their present conductor) performs Brahms’ ‘German Requiem’ on Tuesday December 19. The soloists are Sheila Armstrong and John Shirley-Quirk, supported by the LSO Chorus. Stephen Bishop plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C (K 467) in the first half of the programme.

The last strictly live musical event before the Festival Ballet and opera films vanquish the South Bank takes place on December 20, when Andrew Davis (gladly not a relation of Colin) conducts the English Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Berlioz’ ‘L’Enfance du Christ’. John Shirley-Quirk is again one of the soloists, this time joined by Peter Pears, Patricia Kern, and Thomas Allen. They’re in the QEH while that monstrous proscenium arch is erected next door.

Meanwhile over at the Royal Albert Hall, the BBC is sponsoring the first ever series of Winter Proms, beginning on December 29 — eleven concerts.ten conductors and eight orchestras.

GAYROCK

David Bowie, in concert at The Royal Festival Hall.

05-197208xx-6There comes a time when each of us has his turn to be right. But let me put that truism in perspective.

This year your reporter said this was going to be the year of “gay rock” And the year when David Bowie was going to happen.

He said it last year. And the year before. By now his ancients are used to dismissing these portentous statements by “Just because you fancy David Bowie” and that sort of thing.

This year Alice Cooper is getting friendly with snakes, the Kinks are living up to their name, the grounds of Elton John’s Honky Chateau have turned into a camp-site. And Elton and Rod Stewart camped around with John Baldry on Top of the Pops.

Most important, Bowie is back in the top twenty singles for the first time since Space Oddity (1969) and he’s well up in the album charts.

It’s good to be right. And that brings us to the event.

THE EVENT: Saturday July 8th Bowie played at London’s Royal Festival Hall in a benefit for the Friends of the Earth’s Save The Whale campaign fund.

Bowie and Mott the Hoople were going to be equally billed. But Mott insisted on doing their full two hour act, which, with Bowie, makes the thing too long, so Mott drop out.

That leaves the boy from Brixton at the top of the bill. And makes the concert something of a coming out for him. And of a gay event.

Two weeks before the concert you couldn’t get a seat in the RFH for deviant practices or money. Your reporter got in early with a couple of quid and there he was just a few yards out from the stage and enough amplification equipment to set up a small to medium sized radio station.

Kuddly Ken Everett is compere. Introduces Marmalade and the JSD Band, who replace Mott. It seems podgy Scots boys with glasses are in this week. They get a reasonable reception. But we’re waiting for the Star.

The crowd isn’t noticeably campy, even though the after shave lies slightly heavier on the air than at most concerts at the RFH.

Then Ken Ev (“I even went a bit gay” – Nova) in a fetching jumpsuit of blue denim with massive while buttons showing how he’d got in and how he meant to get out says he’s fought his way through the feather boas to the star’s dressing room.

“He insists on introducing himself in about four minutes time. So here is the second greatest thing, next to God . . . David Bowie.” says Kuddly Ken.

The speakers boom out the Moog martial version of the ‘Song of Joy’ from ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

The capacity plus crowd claps in time and in the dark as people sneak across the stage in the murk.

It ends. A single spot picks out a thin, almost drawn, jester. Red hair, white make-up and a skin tight red and green Persian carpet print space suit. All this on top of red lace up space boots.

“hello. I’m Ziggy Stardust and these are the Spiders from Mars.”

More lights and we have Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey.

A few seconds and we have the mind-fucking electric music of Bowie from the amps matched by the words that make Burroughs look like a slouch.

And on stage, Bowie rampant.

Until now, Bowie’s never been a star, but he’s studied some of the best, like Garbo, Presley, and now he’s on top he knows what to do.

Sometimes he plays guitar, sometimes just sings with his eerie thin voice, but sometimes that voice grows. Bowie is the understudy who’s been waiting in the wings for years. Finally his Big Day comes, and he’s got every step, every note, every voice-warble right. A star is born.

He’s a showman alright. Even the pubescent girls who’d spent their Saturday-morning-at-Woolies wages on a seat, or crowded into the gangways, screamed.

He says, “Tonight we have a surprise for you”. And everyone knows what it is. Lou Reed. The NME and the other pop papers carried that secret during the week in inch-and-a-half caps.

“Tonight we’re going to do a number by the Cream – Free.” Anti-climax swamps the hall.

But the Bowie voice is haunting in the few lines of words at the beginning of the number. Then he leaves it to the spiders to get on with it. They do – talented musicians that they are. Strobe lights on the gantry over them slow then into a far from silent movie, one frame at a time.

Then our David’s back. Now he’s in white satin space suit that leaves only how he managed to get into it to the imagination.

Garbo on Mars

And, off-hand, he says: “If you’ve seen us before, you’ll know we do some numbers by the Velvet Underground. And tonight we have, for the first on any stage in England, Lou Reed.”

And the Velvets’ former leading light bounds on in black to match Bowie’s white.

We get a set of Velvets numbers. David plays to Lou.

Lou plays to Mick. Mick plays to David.

While they’re having fun on stage there’s enough electricity generated in the RFH to keep the national grid pulsing high voltage goodies all over the land.

They end, and the front several hundred of the 3,000-plus crowd mobs the stage. Time for the expected encore.

Ziggy and the spiders reappear and do ‘Suffragette City’, orange handouts with their pictures on, explode from the stage.

In this hour-and-a-bit Bowie has passed from wild electric rock to simple ballads, such as ‘Space Oddity’ and a Jacques Brel poem, ’The Port of Amsterdam’ and back to wild electric rock.

His words span concepts from science-fiction and the coming of a superrace to sexual liberation.

And that’s what a lot came to hear, your reporter supposes. For Bowie is the totem of gay-rock. Lou Reed a “bisexual chauvinist pig.’

But more important is the little girls who came to scream at Bowie’s “bump” — as the groupy girls say – get turned on to sexual liberation.

And we all had a bloody good time.

David Bowie is probably the best rock musician in Britain now. One day he’ll become as popular as he deserves to be. And that’ll give gay-rock a very potent spokesman.

After the event:

Reporters in state of shock, deafened. So easily put off making prearranged backstage tryst with the Bowie circus by unfriendly lady from Friends Of the Earth, who’s busy being seen with the Stars.

“Thank you so much, Kenny, it was wonderful” Kisses the ducking Ev. Lady from F O E is another reason for mysogeny.

So back to the records.

  • Brief discography of albums:
  • ‘Love You Till Tuesday’ (Deram. deleted) but much of the material is on the low – price ‘World Of David Bowie’ (Decca).
  • ‘David Bowie’ (Philips, deleted).
  • ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ (Mercury deleted) ‘One Stop. Dean Street. W.1 has some U.S. import copies of this., Bowie’s most powerful album, at £2.99.
  • ‘Hunky Dory’ (RCA)
  • ‘The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (RCA) his latest is equally best. Treat yourself. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ (Side two, last track) is a wow.