Monday, October 30, 2006

Sci-fi snooze

Last Saturday's Guardian 'Guide' supplement described the hero of the BBC's new Doctor Who spin-off as "one of the most pantomime characters ever to appear in Doctor Who...like Buzz Lightyear, but less realistic". A pretty harsh assesment of what was intended to be a flagship programme - much-hyped, and eagerly anticipated by sci-fi buffs, myself included. Up until last night, I'd been keeping an open mind about Torchwood, giving it the benefit of a few episodes to get going, but was sadly so bored by the third installment that I dozed off. So I'm afraid I'm with the Guardian on this one... Captain Jack Harkness is a ridiculous caricature, utterly devoid of charisma or sex appeal, and the laboured attempts to create on-screen chemistry between him and the leading lady were about as sexy as a bowl of cold porridge (thanks to Ant for that analogy).

The recently resurrected Doctor Who series were aimed firmly at children, and yet the scripts were funnier, the characters far more appealing, and the sentiments at times genuinely moving. Having been seduced by the "This Life meets the X-Files" pitch for Torchwood, one of the few prime-time programmes aimed squarely at me (a post-Buffy-DINKY), I feel sorely disappointed that the BBC have got it so, so wrong.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Green is the New Black

A few months ago, I expressed my gushing enthusiasm about the new musical Wicked, which I could not wait to see. Well, the big day came along, my 31st birthday in fact, and I could hardly contain my excitement! Ant and I spent the day in London (not such a chore now I don't work there anymore), shopping for boots (we didn't find any) and had a pre-theatre dinner at Ozer, a swanky Meze place near Broadcasting House. Walking into the foyer of the Apollo Victoria was like entering the Emerald City - green walls & carpets, and the most extensive array of merchandise I've ever seen at a musical. The whole theatre has become part of the Wicked experience. I'd bought the tickets on eBay, so wasn't sure what the seats would be like, but luckily they weren't bad - half way up the dress circle, quite central.

The show itself exceeded my expectations in every way - my skin was literally prickling from the very opening chords, and I could feel Ant exuding a similar response next to me. "Good news! She's dead!" is the triumphant opening line of the chorus, referring of course to the demise of the notorius Wicked Witch of the West. Based on Gregory Maguire's novel of the same name,
Stephen Schwartz's new musical presents an alternative slant on Frank L. Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, essentially telling the Witch's side of the story. Altogether deeper and darker than the camp-and-spangly Judy Garland film version, Wicked tackles some pretty political issues to do with power, corruption and persecution. I won't spoil the twist for anyone who doesn't know the book, or hasn't yet seen the musical themselves, as I'd only listened to the soundtrack CD before going, and hadn't quite guessed how things turned out.

We were lucky enough to see the extraordinary
Idina Menzel - who created the role of the Witch on Broadway - during her limited London run as Elphaba. Her incredible stage presence seemed to ignite her fellow performers, creating an electric chemistry between the cast members. If you think you know the Wicked Witch of the West, think again. Menzel's powerful voice, statuesque physique and great comic timing have given this classic 'baddie' a long-deserved revamp. Of course, Maguire and Schwartz are also to be credited for providing the star with such inspiring material in the first place. I could go on and on about every little detail of the production, from the stunning costumes to the sensational score, but all I really want to say is "go and see it!", even if you don't normally like musicals. Wicked is unlike anything I have seen on stage before, and I can't wait to see it again.

As we boarded the train back to Brighton (sure to become the 'Wicked Express' methinks), I swear I overheard one of my fellow passengers declare "Well, I'm no friend of Dorothy anymore!" and I couldn't agree more - Long Live Elpheba...the Wicked Witch is alive and well!