Laura Marling – The Grand Eagle Hotel Ball


Recently there has been a wave of immersive theatre in London, led by Punchdrunk , Felix Barrett’s innovative audience-interactive dramas,. Now Secret Cinema have got in on the act with this extraordinary blend of theatre, live music and promenade. 

Audience members are given strict instructions to bring with them gifts for a stranger, flowers for Mrs Undine, proprietress of the hotel (a converted school in Hackney) and to wear their best clothes. They are met on arrival by chambermaids and bellboys, all dressed in period costumes. The setting of the evening is 1927. Guests are politely asked to leave their mobile phones and cameras at the door. Once inside, they are free to wander the rooms of the hotel. In one room, birds are bizarrely kept behind netting, recalling the theme of Laura’s album. In another, a woman lies Ophelia like in a bath, covered in flowers. A psychiatrist sees patients for a group therapy session. And an erotic pas de deux unfolds on the stairway between a crazed woman in a red dress and her partner in a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker. Then on the upper landing Marling sings a slowed down duet with Eddie Berman of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark. It’s spine tingling and not a word of the song is wasted. And then suddenly they are gone again. 

Then at eight o’clock guests are requested to go to the ballroom for the evening’s performance, which takes place in what would have been the school’s gymnasium, although it’s been immaculately styled with full-length red velvet curtains. 

when Laura Marling appears its as though the spell has been broken somewhat, because her voice belongs to no age but this one. Nevertheless, the concert is mesmerizing and the audience are captivated, listening intently to songs mostly from Once I was an Eagle. Marling is accompanied by guitar, double bass and cello for the first song, after which she is all by herself. Her voice is delicate, wry, sometimes bitter, it follows the twisting chords she picks out on her guitar. It’s fiery and passionate music. Sample lyric: ‘dark before the dawn is the darkest I can go’ from Breathe. She forgot the words on Sunday night, but a woman from the audience rescued her, calling out the forgotten words.

Even after the concert, guests are welcome to stay and linger, watching actors playing croquet on the lawn. There were no more than 400 guests on the night I was there, for a musician of Marling’s stature it’s a tiny number, bearing in mind that she could fill a venue like the Brixton Academy (4000 capacity) several nights running.

Neil McCormack of the Telegraph has called this the most extraordinary gig he has ever seen. I don’t go to enough gigs to say whether this statement is justified. But I will say this: for audience’s for whom the cost of a theatre ticket is nothing more than a very expensive sleeping pill (to quote the New York Times) this may be just what they are looking for. Yes, its expensive (tickets £35), but it’s all so immaculately conceived, with everyone responsible maintaining the theme of an old hotel that looks like Jay Gatsby’s mansion after the money’s gone. 

As for Punchdrunk, they will soon begin a massive staging of The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable. With 50,000 extra tickets available, it looks like most people who want to go will get the chance.  

Marlon Brando: The magic and the madness

The magic: by the end of the fifties Brando had already made several films that defined the art of screen acting. A Streetcar Named Desire (51), inventing the screen rebel (The Wild One), and giving the screen’s most famous improvised dialogue performance in On The Waterfront: ‘I coulda been a contender. I coulda had class.’


In the sixties he directed his only film, One Eyed Jacks and acted in films which didn’t quite match  with his method techniques.

Then came The Godfather, 1972, and one of the most mesmerising of screen performances. The difficult gestation of The Godfather is one of the most interesting film productions. Nobody at Paramount thought the film would be a hit. Nobody wanted Brando in it. Yet the film became the high most successful of all time, and is surely the finest gangster film. Brando’s Vito Corleone died at the halfway line, showing how to die quietly, not in a hail of bullets but drinking wine in an olive grove and playacting with his grandchild (that scene was improvised).


Until Marlon Brando filled his cheeks with cotton wool, no actor showed such unconventional methods, and none went so far to create their character. The same year he was also in The Last Tango In Paris, going further in screen eroticism than  anyone else. When Brando won the Academy Award for The Godfather, he sent an American Indian woman in his place to collect the award. 


A sure sign of his contempt for film acting, yet there was more: the disastrous Missouri Breaks (76), Superman (78), and Apocalypse Now. And then what? By this point in time, the movie brats had taken over. It was the age of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. These were really kid’s films, nothing wrong in that at all but who was making adult masterpieces like Apocalypse Now or The Godfather? No-one, at least not on that scale, although Woody Allen made several small scale human comedies in the over the top eighties.

The Madness:

Brando’s weight. He looked like an athlete, muscle toned and powerfully masculine in Streetcar, or in motorcycle leathers in the Wild One. Vito Corleone was the most cultivated gangster, sinewy, as though the years of crime had hollowed him out from the inside. Seven years later he was being filmed from the waist up to hide his rapidly expanding bulk. He hadn’t gone as far as Orson Welles, in weight-gain, but it was still shocking.

The women: Brando was the prototype of the primitive modern male in his films. He didn’t do much better in real life. He married actresses Anna Kashfi, Movita and Tarita Tarripaia. His relationships with his children seemed to involve either abandonment or over-possessiveness. He fought bitterly with Kashfi over the custody of their son Christian. He was tried for the killing of his half sister Cheyenne Brando’s boyfriend, but died of pneumonia in 1998. After years of mental instability she hanged herself in 1995.

Brando was close friends with Michael Jackson, and appears in the thirteen minute video of You rock My world. The day after September the 11th, Brando and Jackson decided to flee New York State, along with Elizabeth Taylor. Disguised in sunglasses and hats, they borrowed a car and managed to travel unrecognised across the state, stopping for KFC along the way, the sheer implausibilty is hard to believe.

He spoke of his disdain for acting: –

“Acting is an empty and useless profession.”

“Acting is the expression of a neurotic impulse. Quitting acting is the sigh of maturity.”

“I’ve never had any respect for Hollywood. It stands for bad taste, but you work for three months, then you can do as you please.”

Others have paid tribute: 

He was deeply rebellious against the bourgeois spirit, the over-ordering of life. – Elia Kazan.

An angel as a man, a monster as an actor. – Bernardo Bertolucci 


Patti Lu Pone – Leicester Square Theatre

Patti Lu Pone

Leicester Square Theatre

Sunday 16 – Sunday 23rd June

Patti Lu Pone is a big star. She has won two Tony Awards and an Olivier and was Fantine in the original Royal Shakespeare  Production of Les Miserables. As a musical theatre star they don’t come much bigger. The audience was full of men, mostly gay, who simply couldn’t get enough of her.

Starting the night off was Seth Rudetsky, himself a very funny, camp performer. He got things off to a great start by treating the audience to some hilarious video footage of The Osmonds performing a disco version of “If I were a rich Man” and Shirley Bassey singing on an oil rig. The audience laughed hysterically but you would have to be off a certain age or persuasion to find a lot of it very funny. Eventually Patti Lu Pone came on and the show got started, with Rudetsky accompanying Lu Pone on piano and singing along to some of the songs.

Lu Pone belted out two songs from Evita,- ‘Rainbow High’ and ‘Buenos Aires’-  with Rudetsky gamely playing along. Between songs he interviewed her about some of her experiences working as a serious actor and moving into musical theatre. Lu Pone came across as slightly self-effacing, as though she was afraid to show her diva side which is clearly something which has made her so successful. The songs where she took centre stage were the best, where she was illuminated by a spotlight and watched by a hushed audience. ‘I regret everything’ was a new song written by the writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Lu Pone sang it as though it was the flipside to Edith Piaf’s ‘Je Non Regrette Rien.’ Otherwise things sagged a little during the non-musical numbers, and it would have been nice to have heard more songs. 

She sang ‘Fine Life’ from Oliver, which your reviewer was delighted to join in with, going on to ‘As Long as he needs me’. She did her worst cockney accent, screwing up her face and looking like a stroke victim.  The sound quality was first rate and Lu Pone’s showcased some fine singing, even if she found it hard to reach the high notes on Rainbow High.

Luckily there were two encores. The audience leapt to their feet to give a standing ovation, giving us time to hear Lu Pone preview a song from an upcoming musical of Woman on The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Lu Pone looked like she could convincingly play Pepa, the woman left by her husband who puts her into a mental hospital. As for Rudetsky, it’s nice to see that as well as supporting Lu Pone he has his own show at the same theatre later this month, Deconstructing Broadway. It sounds great, seriously.

Three stars. 

Blood Wedding, Waterloo East Theatre

Review of Blood Wedding (Bodas de Sangre) by Frederico Gardcia Lorca

Directed by Zoe Ford

Waterloo East theatre – June 12th to July 7th

In the 1930s Lorca wrote a group of plays that were later known as the “rural trilogy”, together with Yerma and The House of Bernardo Alba. Blood Wedding has a gripping storyline: the ties of family versus the bonds that we form with others outside the family circle.

The wedding of the title is between a young woman and a man whose mother is concerned that her son’s bride should be clean and virginal. Her obsession with virginity leads her to discover that her daughter in law is not so pure: she was betrothed for three years before she broke off her engagement to Leonardo, a member of the Felix family. He is now married to somebody else, but unhappily so, and his horse is seen by the bride’s window at night.

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Above, maids tie a garland of orange blossom around the bride ahead of her wedding.  (Maya Thomas, Carolina Main, Jo Mifsud, Abigail Unwin-Smith, Catherine Nicole, Jennifer Shakesby)

The bridegroom’s mother pins all her hopes on her son’s marriage to bring her grandchildren. She has an interest that is uncomfortably close to incest: caressing and kissing him, because her husband died long ago and her son provides her with her sole affection in her life. It’s an environment where most of the men have died or been killed in deadly fights. Women are at the centre of the play. The men are mostly weakened by their sexual urges: for example, Leonardo is unhappily married and is prepared to risk everything to be with the bride, and will stop at nothing to do so.

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Above, Maya Thomas as the Bride and Leonardo (Giorgio Spiegelfeld), the man  to whom she was previously engaged.  

The stage is set for a conflagration, a spark that will set off a live wire of human tragedy, but Mark Forrester in the role of the bride’s father provides much needed comic relief as the good-natured old man who wants only happiness for his daughter and future son-in-law, and how very movingly this is conveyed by Forrester playing a man who resists hatred and refuses to let his heart be blackened by bitterness.

It’s a dark and atmospheric production that feels like walking in the forest at night, full of mysterious noises and shadowy presences which jump out at you. In fact it’s not dissimilar from the cauldron scene of the witches from Macbeth the maids in act one sing a lullaby that warns of the tragic events to come:

Horsey’s hooves are red with blood, horsey’s hooves are broken. Deep inside his staring eyes, a silver dagger broken.’

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Carolina Main, Jo Misfud, Cat White. All photos by Adam Trigg

After the interval the play becomes increasingly symbolic and abstract, with characters representing death and moon. The last act becomes one long lament in which the mother grieves for her lost son and turns against the bride and her family. They knit with blood red wool and death comes in the figure of a stripped-bare woman with a grotesquely twisted outstretched hand. There is violence, but we don’t see it, a deliberate decision by director Zoe Ford to move away from the stage descriptions, and present her take on it. The play makes us wonder whether it’s better to leave old longings in the past or risk entering a world of pain and torment. What a stunning production it is and all credit to the cast and crew of Hiraeth for bringing the unsparingly dark vision of Lorca to the London stage.

Five stars

Blind Date

Blind Date, Sarah Northan.

Charing Cross Theatre

May 30th 2013


I used to love dating shows. Blind Date was my favourite TV dating programme. I watched it, glued to the television every Saturday evening from 1991 to approximately 1996. Unfortunately this new play by Sarah Northan has nothing in common with Cilla Black except for having the same title.

In fact it’s stretching things to call this a play, since the blind date of the title doesn’t turn up, and Mimi chooses a likely candidate from the audience (in actual fact this person has been carefully selected beforehand). That’s one of many drawbacks to a format like this. For it to be successful, the play depends very much on the man chosen to be her date. He needs to be charismatic, confident, with a voice strong enough to be heard through the audience. On the opening night, Mimi chose the improbably named Barty as her replacement date for the evening. He gamely went along with all of her wild ideas, whilst his real – life girlfriend kept watch in the audience. She was given the option of being able to call ‘bullshit’ whenever Barty was telling a lie, a privilege which she never took advantage. She also had the chance to call timeout, meaning that Barty and Mimi would then step out of the date scenario into a corner of the stage.

Mimi came out with a few good one-liners. When fashion designer Barty told her he created ‘interactive windows’ her response was “That would be a door no?” There were jokes about his height (he was fully grown as a 12 year old). Later, a scene change  took the play to the bedroom, the conclusion of the date. She was briefly vulnerable, revealing that she used to be called budgerigar eyes by her school mates. It was a shame the play didn’t go further down this road, sharing the many anxieties andhang-ups men and women feel about themselves. It was all very frothy, with some moments of pure farce, such as an incident where she was caught driving erratically by police and hides her wineglass between her legs.

Sarah Northan is a talented comedienne, delivering her lines with a heavy French accent, and wearing a red nose to look like a clown. She did physical comedy too, driving along to Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and giving birth. It would be worth seeing more than once  to see if Mimi can carry this off with a less willing participant and one with less to say.

Three stars



Femen: Ukraine’s feminist shock troops

Either the Ukrainian feminist group are blazing a trail for feminism or they are setting the clocks back to the pre-Germaine Greer early days of the women’s movement.

One thing I know for sure is that it will be impossible for any of their detractors to describe them as hair-legged man-haters or any other hateful descriptions. All of their activists are noticeably young, early 20s at most. That’s roughly the same age as Germaine Greer when she wrote The Female Eunuch in 1969. And they appear to be well groomed and carefully presented at their demonstrations. At first they appeared scantily clad but began to appear in topless in 2009.


Their founding member is one Anna Hutsol, from Ukraine. At 25, the movement she created already has members in four continents across nine countries. It describes its tactics as ‘sextremism’, and its hundreds of volunteer members stand against sexual exploitation, organised religion and dictatorship. 

Their guerilla tactics have demonstrated against the pope (releasing red smoke to represent the harm done by the church over the centuries); at the Berlin Festival to decry female genital mutilation; at the Davos world economic forum where they decried income inequality.

Most famously they have been stripping off in support of Tunisian activist Amina Sboui, who had faced death threats after posting a topless picture of herself on the web. (when you consider how much porn available online this action becomes meaningless). She was arrested for carrying pepper spray and remains in prison as the authorities consider additional charges.

Whilst Ukraine is undoubtedly behind most of western Europe in terms of gender inequality, I wouldn’t be surprised if the group start to make waves over here, too. After all, how can women have the same rights as men when a man can be bare – chested freely but a woman topless in public can be considered obscene? The group’s topless protests could be used to combat the pernicious ‘lad’s mags’ culture. Everyone wants to look at women, so the group goes topless because they know that it is the best way to get media coverage. 

Some have criticized them for going naked in very religious countries and exposing themselves to danger and violent attacks. Yet they continue to protest, and make the police   who arrest them appear ridiculous for manhandling semi-naked young women. 

The group’s main activist Sasha Schevchenko said it may take a revolution, perhaps with some bloodshed, to improve the lives of women oppressed by Islam or dictators, or who are pressured into prostitution. Their most valuable service will be in educating the next generation to take up the fight themselves.