Brian Wilson, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Mike Carey, Bill Bailey, Ian Rankin

13255953_10154385438737150_4753346895583407184_nMy busy cultural week began on Sunday with Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds at Colston Hall. The gig took place on 15 May, just one day before the 50th Anniversary of the release of the seminal Pet Sounds, and the album was played in full in the second half. The first half was an hour of highlights from the Beach Boys back catalogue, including California Girls (one of their greatest, Brian said), I Get Around, Then I Kissed Her, Do It Again and Don’t Worry Baby. He was joined by Beach Boy Al Jardine and a fantastic band, which included Al’s son Matt, who played a key role in the evening. Brian’s voice shows the signs of his age and his life, so the vocals were sympathetically shared, with Matt singing the higher pitched lines. This frailty was most evident on some of the slower songs, especially Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder).

13178928_10154385438762150_3182000090530225387_nAt the end of the first half, another former Beach Boy – Blondie Chaplin – joined them on stage for three songs which were dominated by his electric guitar. When the band kicked off the second half with the first song from Pet SoundsWouldn’t It Be Nice – many of the audience were still returning from the interval. The brilliant back-to-back renditions of Sloop John B and God Only Knows received a standing ovation. One of the highlights of the evening was I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times – which seemed to gain extra resonance from Brian’s slightly forlorn demeanour.

The encore was extraordinary, and a reflection of the incredible song-writing – hit-writing – ability of Wilson and his band. Good Vibrations, Surfin’ USA, Barbara Ann, Help Me Rhonda, All Summer Long and Fun, Fun, Fun – the audience was on its feet for the entire encore, dancing and singing along. It was a terrific, uplifting, joyous experience. And then Brian took centre stage again, a few spotlights shining on him as he brought the evening to a close with Love & Mercy (also the title of the 2014 film about the Beach Boys). It was a lovely end to a incredible, memorable evening.

From Theatre Royal Bath

From Theatre Royal Bath

On Wednesday afternoon, I travelled to the Theatre Royal Bath to see a impressive new stage version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Somehow, I have never seen the classic 1961 film which has long attracted criticism for sanitising Truman Capote’s original novella. Having never read that either, I did not spend the afternoon comparing versions. I was, however, intrigued to see how Emily Atack – best known for her role in The Inbetweeners – would take on a role made famous by Audrey Hepburn. (Emily is one of three actresses playing Holly Golightly during this show’s UK tour, sharing the role with Pixie Lott and Georgia May Foote, who will be playing the Holly at the Bristol Hippodrome). I thought it was a really engaging performance, capturing the mix of bold flirtatiousness, intrigue, and caring-but-can-be-cold that makes every man who meets Holly – especially aspiring writer Fred (Matt Barber) – fall for her (there’s an affecting little turn by Victor Maguire as infatuated barman Joe Bell). Emily also sings very nicely, and her version of Moon River was superb. Barber is also very good and there was evident, playful chemistry between the two during their head-to-head scenes.

The entire cast – including Bob the Cat – supported the two leads very well, it’s neatly directed by Nikolai Foster and Matthew Wright has done an excellent job with the set and costume design – the New York apartments, fire escapes and bars are superbly captured. Compared to the film, the play doesn’t whitewash Holly escorting, nor Fred’s sexuality, and the ending is, I understand, very different. I aim to watch the film soon to see what it’s like but it will have to pull out all the stops to entertain me as much as this production did.

IMG_6151After the matinee, I rushed back to Bristol to see M.R. Carey at Waterstones talking about his new book Fellside, a ghost story set in a women’s prison. In a wide-ranging chat with the always-knowledgeable Cheryl Morgan, he discussed economics, the dangers of privatised prisons, the influence of the media (especially during criminal trials), pseudonyms, addiction and the X-Men character he wanted to be when he was younger (Cyclops). In the comic book world, Mike is probably best known for his 73-issue stint writing X-Men, but his hit last novel, The Girl With All The Gifts, brought him to a wider audience. And with the film adaptation of Gifts coming out in September, that audience will no doubt become wider still. He revealed his satisfaction with the process of making the film, and explained how he worked closely with director Colm McCarthy in adapting his book. He said he had seen the film four times and “loves” it. In a bit of a sneak preview, he said that while he won’t do a sequel, there may be plans afoot for a novel exploring that world further… Mike was also asked if there would be a sixth book in his Felix Castor series anytime soon. He replied that he would like to write it – the last one appeared in 2009 – but suggested he may have to self-publish it. This was the second time I have seen Mike speak, and he’s a quietly-spoken, likeable and self-effacing guy. I look forward to reading Fellside soon.

From Bill's website

From Bill’s website

On Thursday night I was at Bristol Hippodrome to see Bill Bailey‘s latest show, Limboland. I saw Bill last time he was touring and he instantly became one of my favourite comedians. His new show cemented that position – it was another two-hours of brilliance. I laughed pretty much all the way through and on several occasions had to wipe away tears. As usual, it was a mix of funny stories, audience interaction and very clever musical interludes. I’m not sure anyone there will ever forget his death metal version of The Wurzels’ Combine Harvester. There was also a revamped version of Happy Birthday and a country-and-western homage, played on his Bible guitar. His hilarious experience attending a One Direction gig was a highlight, and there were other tales – an Arctic sleigh ride, a meeting with Paul McCartney – that were beautifully told. An absolute treat.

On Friday, I went to see two new art exhibits: Hollow at the Royal Fort Gardens and the cute, creative Briswool at the M Shed. Then on Saturday I made a short visit to Crimefest to listen to author Ian Rankin. The event began with Ian reading from the draft of Rather Be The Devil – the 21st John Rebus book, which will be published in November. He read the opening pages, but warned these would only be the first pages of the published novel if his wife approves. It revealed Rebus on a health kick (decaf coffee, giving up smoking) after being diagnosed with COPD – his wife had suggested Rebus needed to have an illness after years of an unhealthy lifestyle.

IMG_9248In conversation with Jake Kerridge, he discussed the challenges of coming up with things for Rebus to do given he is now retired from the police force (a situation which led MSP Helen Eadie to ask the Scottish Justice Minister if the retirement age for the police could be raised!). He doesn’t want to go down the private eye route. He said he could do prequels but this would take more research and would be slower to write. But it sounds like he will continue to clash with Edinburgh gang boss ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty for a while yet…

Ian made clear he only goes to the police when he has a question or a problem – he doesn’t want to become a friend to them as he wants the freedom to write about cops who are corrupt or occasional rule-breakers. He talked about Black and Blue – the eighth in the series – at length. It was inspired by James Ellory in that it was based on a real crime, but was also the real breakthrough for the series, ten years after it began. There was a lot of anger in the book, a reflection of events in his life at the time (his son being diagnosed with a rare genetic condition, living in France and struggling with the language), but he said it was good that writers can get that anger out in their books. He agreed with Jake that the books are more elegiac now, as both novellist and characters get older (Rebus has generally aged in ‘real time’ as the series has gone on).

There were some nice reminiscences about William McIlvanney, and a good story about Rebus being made a Hibs supporter for the TV series simply because actor Ken Stott was a Hearts fan. This was a really enjoyable event and, as I have only read the first of the Rebus novels, I am looking forward to getting stuck into the rest. It sounds like there’s a lot of fun to come…

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Ending soon…

In the last few days, Shaun the Sheep has disappeared from the streets, the Bristol Whales have drifted away from Millennium Square and the Hogarth exhibition at Bristol Museum has closed. All three have been a credit to the city over the past few months.

Some other cultural events are ending soon, and I wanted to give a quick mention to some of them.

Mrs Henderson Presents finishes a three week run at the Theatre Royal in Bath on 5 September. Although it is based on the film of the same name starring Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, it is a very different production – not only is the stage show a musical (there are around 18 songs), it makes a significant (and, in my view, necessary) change to the ending.

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Photo from Theatre Royal Bath website

Telling the true story of the Windmill Theatre – famous for its still, nude performers and for never closing during the war – it is lots of fun. It has great music (there’s a live orchestra) and choreography, terrific costumes and sets, and a fantastic cast who seem to be having a ball. Tracie Bennett (Mrs Henderson), Ian Bartholomew (Vivian Van Damm) and Graham Hoadly (the Lord Chamberlain) are all particularly good, and a special mention must go to Emma Williams who plays Maureen, the accident prone assistant who becomes the Windmill’s star attraction. She’s gives a spirited, brave performance and her vocals – especially during the song If Mountains Were Easy to Climb – are very impressive. She’s a star.

The numbers – lyrics by Don Black, music by George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain – are of a very high standard. Possibly there’s one or two too many, but there’s a good mix of toe-tapping, upbeat, song-and-dance routines, and quieter, more emotional pieces. The opening of Everybody Loves the Windmill and Mrs Henderson Presents gets the show off to a flying start.

Photo from Theatre Royal Bath website

Photo from Theatre Royal Bath website

It is also very funny – numbers such as the Lord Chamberlain’s Song and Anything But Young raise lots of laughs, Mark Hadfield’s comedian Arthur raises lots of groans. There is darkness here, too – the shadow of war dims the Windmill’s footlights a little – which adds some necessary depth. But the show-must-go-on, stiff-upper-lip spirit wins through. This show, with this cast, deserves a long run – in the West End or on tour – and I hope it gets it.

At the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), there is a stunning collection of Kate McGwire‘s work on show until 10 September. I knew nothing about Kate’s work before going. When you walk into the room, the first thing you see is a large, twisting, alien-like sculpture emerging from the back wall. Then you notice it is covered in feathers, as are almost all the other artworks in the exhibition (although there’s also a great piece that uses wishbones). There’s a strange beauty here that I really liked, and I couldn’t help but have admiration not just for the skill and vision, but also for the patience in the creation of this work.

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Also at the RWA, but ending on 6 September, is James Ravilious: Rural Life. The beautiful, atmospheric black and white photographs (such as this one) in this collection were taken in the 1970s and 80s in Devon. One of the most remarkable things about them is that they feel as if they could have been taken in the 1930s or 40s.

Photo from RWA website © Beaford Arts

Photo from RWA website © Beaford Arts

Finally, Withdrawn – the fishing boats that Luke Jerram placed in Leigh Woods five months ago for a Bristol Green Capital art installation, funded by Arts Council England – will be removed on 6 September. It’s a lovely walk through a beautiful part of Bristol to find them, and the visual image of these boats stranded here is striking.

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(Disclaimer: I saw Mrs Henderson Presents for free, having won tickets.)

A Mad World My Masters, Theatre Royal Bath

Before A Mad World My Masters ‘officially’ begins, actress Lois Meleri-Jones sashays onto the Flamingo club set in heels and stockings, with Marilyn Monroe-style hair and make up, sits on a chair at the front of the stage, and smokes and chats with nearby members of the audience. After a few minutes, the show kicks off for real, with Linda John-Pierre – the excellent lead vocalist of the house band, who are visible throughout the play on a balcony at the back of the stage – singing Dinah Washington’s Big Long Slidin’ Thing. It’s a song about a trombonist. Honest…

This all sets the tone for what is to come: a very cheeky, very funny, innuendo-filled romp set in Soho in 1956, based on Thomas Middleton’s early 17th-century play. It has been adapted by Phil Porter and Sean Foley, who is also the director. While most of the language appears to be from the original, there are updates – including to the character names (so Mr Shortrod Harebrain becomes Mr Littledick, for example).

Littledick (Ben Deery) believes his wife (Ellie Beaven) is having an affair and so asks an Irish nun to give her some spiritual guidance. The problem is she’s neither Irish, nor a nun, but a prostitute called Truly Kidman (Sarah Ridgeway) and she’s more than happy to help Mrs Littledick have her fun with the object of her desire – self-flagellating clergyman Penitent Brothel (Dennis Herdman).

The other thread of the story follows lovable rogue Dick Follywit (Joe Bannister) who is set to inherit the fortune of his lecherous, whip-wielding uncle Sir Bounteous Peersucker (Ian Redford). But, deciding he’s fed up of waiting for him to die, he goes to steal his riches instead, using a variety of disguises (including a posh Lord and a Geordie burglar). Peersucker is a regular client of Kidman, and Follywit even pretends to be her during one hilarious scene. Another highlight comes at the end of Act One, where we see one of Mrs Littledick and Pentitent’s trysts in silhouette on the curtains of a four-poster bed, while Kidman tries to obscure the sounds in order to fool Mr Littledick, who is listening in.

This English Touring Theatre presentation of a Royal Shakespeare Company production is enormous fun. The energetic ensemble are clearly having a great time and their joy is infectious. They frequently break the fourth wall: Peersucker tells one woman in the front row to go and see him later…and bring her friend; Kidman goes to find a man to kiss her on the cheek. On the Wednesday matinee performance, there appeared to be an unexpected mishap when, during a scene when Brothel is tempted by a vision of his lingerie-clad lover, his trousers split. Somehow, in a farce such as this, it seemed entirely apt.

It is inventively staged and the set changes covered by music from the band. There are eight songs – including standards such as Let the Good Times Roll, Cry Me a River and Ain’t Nobody’s Business – with most of the lead actors taking lead vocals at least once. The 19-strong cast (plus five musicians) are uniformly excellent, but Redford, Bannister, Ridgeway and Beaven are standouts. Lee Mengo and Michael Moreland, playing Follywit’s friends, and Nicholas Prasad and Charlie Archer as flower-and-chocolate carrying suitors Muchly Minted and Whopping Prospect are good comic pairings, too.

At times it felt like Carry On Wodehouse – and that’s not a criticism at all. However, a few of the audience I saw it with seemed to think it a little too “bawdy” and left at the interval. A shame, because while it is naughty and rude, it really is great entertainment.