Saturday 17 June 2017

17/06/17: Miss Kiddy and the Cads, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate

On the way up the hill to the Gatehouse pub, we saw Ray Davies and a lady friend walk past us: a good omen for the night ahead. 

This show was on for just one evening in Highgate, so I was pleased to catch it. The premise was that the band are a 1945 group of American small-time crooks and lowlifes. They perform entirely in character with the singer, Miss Kiddy, linking the songs with wisecracks and brief observations regarding her life and her band. The twist is that the Cads play radically reinvented 1940s jazz-swing versions of pop songs including "Billie Jean" (Michael Jackson), "Call Me Maybe" (Carly Rae Jepsen), "Can't Get You Out of My Head" (Kylie Minogue), "Honky Tonk Women" (Rolling Stones), "Let’s Dance" (David Bowie), "Song 2" (Blur), 'Wannabe" (Spice Girls) and "Wonderwall" (Oasis). Improbable, but it works.

It's impressive that Miss Kiddy sings all-out for nearly two hours, not even pausing once to sip a drink on this swelteringly hot June night. The Cads are joined on stage by "Little Missy", a tap dancer whose feet kept to and enhanced the rhythms. (I have a pet cat called Missy, so they won me over immediately with that name.) 

I liked the way they played with the retro angle – sometimes they were consistent with it; other times they didn't bother. So Prince's "1999" was reworked to have them "party like it's 1945", while "Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus ended up as "Vintage Dirtbag" (with Iron Maiden replaced by Frank Sinatra). But when they played “The Power of Love" (Huey Lewis and The News), they left in the "don't need no credit card" line and retained the lyric about "listening to Marvin all night long" in "True" (Spandau Ballet), even though Marvin Gaye would have only been six years old at that time. Clearly none of it was to be taken too seriously, especially as Miss Kiddy took the opportunity to advertise their Facebook and Instagram pages long before social media could be invented.

The group's website describes "Show stopping vocals, stunning authentic costumes, spectacular tap dancing routines, and a story of suspense". All of this was spot-on except for the "story of suspense". The only narrative element came from Miss Kiddy's between-song chatter. The lack of a plot wasn't a problem at all – the music, costumes and tap dancing offer more than enough to sustain interest – but it was a bit misleading. This is a musical revue rather than a musical. That point aside, the show is hugely entertaining. Whoever arranged the songs deserves a great deal of credit: these imaginative new (but old) versions are playful, sophisticated and witty. They are performed with some real force behind them. It would all have fallen flat if the band didn't play so well, but they are note-perfect and tightly drilled – with a singer who never flags. The venue was packed and the crowd loved it.

Sunday 4 June 2017

04/06/16: Notes from Underground, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate

In this dazzling production by Traffic of the Stage, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novella is updated from St. Petersburg in 1864 to London in 2017, in a way that makes perfect sense. John Cooper’s play, directed by Harry Meacher, tackles big themes including commerce, social status, identity and what it means to be a member of a society that dismisses you as a “loser” or a “weirdo”. The company put on a draining and exhilarating performance that, ultimately, is desperately sad. 

Giorgio Galassi is absolutely wonderful as the existentialist narrator/protagonist (named simply "man" in the programme credits), a semi-reclusive intellectual who struggles to communicate with his peers and work colleagues. His simmering rage and frustration is articulated so convincingly that you simultaneously relate to his suffering while feeling a growing sense of revulsion at his self-absorption and verbal violence (warning: there is some very “strong” language in the show).

Anna Danshina is utterly convincing as the earnest, well-meaning and misunderstood Russian call girl Liza, who identifies with the man’s pain while battling to find a way through it. Her companion Ylenia is pitched spot-on by Olga Starpovich, especially as the night’s booze takes hold and she begins to stagger around in her high heels. Wealthy toffs Roger (Matthew Duckett) and Simon (Callum John Hill) are all too believable as the ghastly posh guys who order women like others order pizza. Finally, there’s Robert Artlett, who is versatile and believable as various waiters and barman. In fact, all but two members of the highly skilled cast effortlessly double up on smaller roles.

In today’s Sunday afternoon performance, the six actors on stage played to an audience of only 11. That’s a huge shame because this is a terrific show – one of the most emotionally involving I’ve ever seen – that's deeply intense and yet surprisingly funny. It deserves to be experienced by more people.