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Monday, August 23, 2010

Robert’s guide to not being annoying in the theatre 

Before I start, I shall point out straightaway that I commented on this exact same topic this time last year. No doubt I shall comment on it again. Last time the comment was a footnote in a longer posting but now I’ve decided on a larger canvas. I shall probably repeat myself in writing this but it needs saying.

Why is it that people do not know how to behave in the theatre?

I don’t mean whether to stand up for the right parts of Mamma Mia! but in simple courtesy both to the performers and to the other people in the audience. People can be so rude.

David and I have just come back from the final week of this year’s Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton. The shows were good and every one we saw was an excellent production. I’m not going to review them here. Other people have, no doubt, made a much better job elsewhere.

There were, however, a few flies in the ointment. The audience seemed to have no concept of where they were. Most seemed to think that they were at home watching television and behaved accordingly. I am surprised that people hadn’t turned up in their dressing-gowns with a mug of cocoa.

I thought it might help if I laid down a few guidelines …

  1. If you’re in the front row of the circle, you will have probably been sold a ticket with the words “restricted view” on it. This means that there is a wall and a railing and if you are below a certain height you should really aim to get other seats. It doesn’t mean that you have to lean forward on the nice comfy railing and block the views of the people behind you with your head. Justifying it with “we’re short” really doesn’t wash. You shouldn’t be sitting there.
  2. If you find someone in your seat ask politely to check their tickets. Don’t assume they’ve sat in the wrong seats. It might be you. Don’t imply that they weren’t able to read the numbers properly or that knowing the difference between A and AA is “confusing”. You just come across to the people sitting behind you as a patronising cow.
  3. If you must eat sweets during the performance, please make sure they don’t have wrappers. It’s amazing how far the sound of rustling carries. We could clearly hear the sound of some woman unwrapping a couple of sweets with exquisite slowness four rows in front of us. Doing it slowly doesn’t help. Just don’t do it.
  4. The same goes for water bottles. By all means drink water but don’t sit there squeezing the bottle and making that lovely clicky noise.
  5. And while we’re on the subject of water – buy a bottle either before the show starts or comfortably during the interval. Waiting until 19 minutes and 55 seconds into a 20 minute interval before deciding you are thirsty is verging on stupidity.
  6. A little tip – the music and the singing are not there to cover up the sound of you having a chat with your neighbour. A word here or there is just about OK but having a prolonged discussion is just not on and we can still hear you whispering.
  7. If you suddenly realise that there isn’t a full orchestra when you were expecting one, please don’t bellow “there’s no orchestra!” at the top of your voice. The actors on the stage probably already know.
  8. Bring children – yes. Bring children that are too young to appreciate what they are seeing or to not chatter at the tops of their voices – no. Bring one or two children – yes. Bring every child in your extended family – no. Iolanthe may be about fairies but it isn’t intended for children.

Going to the theatre, a concert or even the cinema is not the same as sitting at home watching television. There are other people there. The other people have paid good money to see and hear the production, whether it is a play, an opera, a dance or a film. They haven’t paid to see the back of your head or the lovely cardigan that Aunty Mabel knitted or to listen to your whispering.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

The Puppini Sisters 

For those who don’t know them, The Puppini Sisters are a trio of women who sing in the close harmony style that was popular in the 1940s. Their repertoire covers hits from the era as well as more recent songs adapted for the style. Their albums have "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" rubbing shoulders with "Wuthering Heights" or "Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree" following "Walk Like an Egyptian". It is not a combination that you think would work immediately but when you hear it you find it works very well indeed.

I’ve been a huge fan ever since David gave me their first CD (Betcha Bottom Dollar) for Christmas. I listened to it on the drive down to the Kent coast to see my family for Christmas and I had a big grin on my face all the way. By the time I got there, I was so in love with the album I could talk about little else.

I would love to see them cover a few other modern pieces. Matt Bianco’s "Get Out Your Lazy Bed" could be interesting, for instance, and would suit their style. Some of Jill Sobule’s numbers would work well, I think. I can just imagine them with "The Resistance Song". Actually, I could just imagine them singing with Jill. What a show that would be!

Last night, David and I went with a collection of people from work to see the girls at the Cadogan Hall where they had been loosely slotted into its Hits from the Blitz week. I was worried that they might restrict their set to purely songs from the 1940s but fortunately they chose an eclectic selection from both Betcha Bottom Dollar and The Fall and Rise of Ruby Woo as well as some new material that enabled each of the trio to show off their respective skills.

What was great about seeing them in concert was that, for the first time, I could see them as individuals and not as pictures on a CD cover and a group of anonymous voices. Personalities emerged.

Marcella (Puppini) is the small dark haired sultry one who looks vaguely like a young Maureen Lipman. She wore a red outfit with a huge puffy half skirt that swished around like some huge tail.

The other two are, shock, horror, not really her sisters. Kate Mullins is the blonde one and she has a wicked sense of humour (“Now we have a song from one of the best American composers of the last 150 years … Beyoncé Knowles” ) and, as well as singing, plays the Melodica, an instrument that I haven’t seen since Primary School. She played it to good effect, however. She was largely the group’s spokeswoman introducing the solo performances for the other two.

Stephanie O’Brien was a powerhouse of energy and strutted around the stage filling it with enthusiasm and red hair. She also played a weird S-shaped electric violin. She smiled a lot and very genuinely. She had a fantastic solo number and had the audience in the palm of her hand.

All three girls looked stunning and had lovely long legs which were probably lost on large portions of the male members of the audience. The audience were, it has to be said, a bit of a mixed bag. I couldn’t make up my mind whether they were fully representative of the Puppini Sisters’ fans. There were girls dressed in 1940s finery with one even wearing a land girl type scarf. There were older men and women who may have been there as Puppini followers but it was just as likely that they were there as Forties fans. And there were, to my surprise, lots of gay men. I hadn’t realised the Puppini Sisters had a gay following other than me and David.

The front row seemed to the Puppini Sisters Fan Club with one man practically floating out of his seat when they directed mock ire at him for "I Will Survive".

There were some male Sisters on the stage as well: Blake Wilner on guitar, Henrik Jensen on double bass and Pat Levett on drums. They were a little too loud at the beginning but that was largely down to the balancing of the sound engineer who, for some strange reason, seemed to favour the instruments over the voices. I was struggling to hear any of the vocals. It did spoil the first number for me and for most of the other members of the audience but a proper balance was achieved and we were able to hear the wonderful voices that we had paid to hear.

It was a great evening which ended on a lovely high note when we dragged the six of them back on stage for an encore and they sang Glen Miller’s "In The Mood". They had us sing the refrain “in the mood” at various points and Henrik and Blake danced around with some very impressive gravity defying stamping.

Where’s the next album, ladies?

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