#12 - The Wild Party and America After the Fall (and the links between them)

The Other Palace/The Royal Academy

Michael John LaChiusa’s hectic, decadent Jazz Age musical is harsher and less arch than Chicago but cut from the same gauzy cloth. Seeing it the same day as the Royal Academy’s superb exhibition America After the Fall is enlightening. The vaudevillians are dancing towards the crash, the painters examining the aftermath. Both shows are less than the sum of occasionally outstanding parts, but the rawness and urgency of both are gripping. The Wild Party (based on the 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March who also penned the line “Excuse me while I slip into something more comfortable” for Jean Harlow) reminded me of the mid-90s. And of right now, of course.

#11 - Review: See Me Now

Young Vic

Real-life sex workers tell us about their lives in this unvarnished piece. It is brave in that it is exposing and confrontational, and awkward not just because of the subject matter but because the non-performers strike an uneasy balance. Some are proud of their jobs, others came to it through abuse, trafficking, addiction or mental health problems, and some to pay for gender reassignment. Some are very funny, even when detailing violence or despair. Collectively, they ask us – no, tell us – not to judge them. And that sex work, which harms only the criminalised workers, should be legalised. Seems fair, needs thought, as the “super-brothels” of Germany show.

Pictures by Matt Humphrey

Terra Incognita - Here Be Dragons

Tower Bridge Bascule Chambers (aka the most dramatic space in London...)

Tower Bridge’s dank, raw-brick bascule chambers have the volumes of a looted cathedral and are the most dramatic spaces in London. Into these below-river voids swing 1200-ton seesaw counterweights when the roadway swings up in a bridge lift. Now Guildhall students have used the huge walls as a canvas for video projection with music and cut-up film dialogue. The installation works best at its trippiest, with abstract CGi or giant images of lithe swimmers, though it’s upstaged by the majesty of the space. But do take any chance you get to see anything here: the huge, dormant drum of the accumulator, a prototype brake battery as big as a house, is worth the trip alone.  

Robots

Science Museum

Carers of the future or bringers of a mechanical apocalypse? Hard to think of anything that brims so copiously with promise, fascination and menace as the robot. So this show’s a no-brainer. Amazingly, the first humanoid automata were religious figurines, and industrial robots go back to the 19th century, long before the term ‘robot’ was invented in 1920 by Karel Capek. Lots of prototype metal men here (humanoid form is pursued as assiduously as artificial intelligence) and scary modern androids, plus a smattering of movie ‘bots. The show must appeal to kids, obviously, but I’d have liked more on the philosophy and morality of creating something that so closely resembles us and could supplant us.

London's oldest picture palace

Regent St Cinema

For decades I’ve admired and slightly resented those Woody Allen characters who have time to seek out screenings of classic films in elegant arthouse cinemas. Last Friday, I became one when me and @acghunter watched Ossie Davis’s gaudy adaptation of Chester Himes’ Cotton Comes to Harlem at the Regent Street Cinema. This steep-raked, high-screened, dramatically vaulted palace of film was used by the Lumiere brothers to demonstrate their Cinematographe machine in 1898, though the building itself dates from 1846, and it oozes a similar historic vibe to the BBC Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House. A beautiful cinema can lift even an indifferent film. Next time I’ll go the full Woody and have a martini.

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