Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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Middlebrow in Middlesbrough

(Happy birthday, local time, to elsalus and the much-missed Norman J. picklepuss, and similarly happy returns to muffinbutt based on the posting date.)

Have been to the theatre twice in the last two nights, making a total of four visits for the year. This is not at all a high total, but it's probably about the same number of visits as I have made between the end of university and the end of 2003. Middlesbrough Theatre is a whole 400 yards or so away from this house, so my only excuse for not going more is that the line-up of shows there is seldom much to my philistine taste. However, it's a theatre of capacity possibly 450 and doesn't get the big names; the summer season 2004 listings brochure is headlined by Phil Cool, who had limited success as a TV impressionist over ten years ago. Nevertheless, the two items on the schedule which caught my eye were on successive days, so a double-header it was. (Teesside folk, why did I not tell you about these in advance? Sorry; my excuse is lame.)

Thursday 3rd June: The Vagina Monologues. I had heard of this a few times over the past years and fondly recall tromboneborges' (sadly unGoogleable and so presumably friends-locked?) tale of his trip to see it, so this was an opportunity not to be missed. The theatre was well over 95% full, except for the private boxes; I had a seat at the central aisle end of row six of the circle (upstairs), though I thought I had booked for the stalls (downstairs). Accordingly, I sat in the wrong place and had to be kindly and gently redirected by one of the penguin-suited ushers. Not scary, but about the last show for which I would liked to have been publically reseated.

I would estimate that the audience was 90%-95% female, almost all parties of ladies' nights out. Had any of the ladies been militant, I would have used my cover story that my girlfriend was watching The Vagina Monologues on the same day too, only she lives in Boston, MA. Sadly incorrect, but I'd happily do this sort of long-distance date should there be an opportunity for dezzikitty and I to see the same thing on the same day. I only saw one other man who did not appear to be accompanied, who looked about 50 years old and apparently keeping any practical interest in vaginas very well hidden. (It's nice to think that he might have a season-ticket to see every single show at Middlesbrough Theatre and occasionally gets exposed to odd ones like this.) I saw no apparent m/m couples, for the record. I ended up sitting next to a man with (apparently) his wife; on the other side was the aisle.

The stage was very simple: three chairs, three mics, tables between the chairs. The back wall was curtain covered with small white lightbulbs; the side walls had red spinning capital Vs in lights. There were spotlights from both front and behind on each of the chairs; the speakers didn't stray from their chairs at all while delivering monologues. The speakers (none of whom I recognised: someone from Eastenders, someone from Footballers' Wives and someone else again) worked from cards, but delivered their speeches extremely well with excellent comic timing and some ability to ad-lib with the audience. There were an impressively wide range of (largely very amusing) accents employed; three or four monologues were delivered in varied American accents and other monologues used a variety of accents in places.

Remembering all the monologues would be a feat of memory, but here are the pieces (of very varying lengths) in approximate order. These represent large spoilers for those who might want to go to the show later, so I have put them in white; highlight by clicking and dragging over to see. (You're lucky I didn't put them in ROT13 as well.)

* Introduction, including a joke about mobile phones and pagers
* Pubic hair and shaving (apparently more painful for many - most? - than I had realised)
* "What My Vagina Would Wear", "What My Vagina Smells Of" and "What My Vagina Would Say" (elicited lots of laughs: two-thirds riotous, one-third sympathetic; excellent variety of accents and delivery styles)
* A lady who didn't like her vagina until she met Bob, who lay there and admired it for an hour, which proved extremely effective self-esteem-raising foreplay
* The Clit Fact; the narrators bragged of the wonders of the clitoris and invited the audience to chant "8,000", "fingertips", "lips", "tongue", "twice", "twice", "twice" and "penis" in order. It was a tiny bit yah-boo-sucks (though very good-naturedly so) so while I did join in, it was very quietly. The audience was invited to yell out "Clitfact!" at any point for a repeat performance. Inevitably, someone did so straight away.
* A 70-year-old Brooklyn lady who hated her vagina; once, kisses inspired wetness which ruined her date's car seat, and her sexuality was restricted to dreaming in great detail about Burt Reynolds after that
* The Vagina Workshop; a British lady who had not deliberately had an orgasm before goes to New York, is introduced to her clitoris and inadvertently masturbates in front of a class
* My Vagina Is My Village; a harrowing piece about the experiences of ladies in Bosnia and Kosovo sent to rape camps and the way that it affected their opinions of their own vaginas
* An angry piece in the coarsest language of the first half about what my vagina wants

(intermission. Typical intermission tune: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun")

As an aside, I think they should make it conventional that when there are ladies and gentlemens toilets in a theatre staging The Vagina Monologues, the gents should only be allowed to use their toilets for the first five minutes of the intermission before it temporarily becomes a second ladies' loo in an attempt to make the queues manageable. Ladies take longer by necessity and the gender balance was such that five minutes would have been quite long enough for all the gents to use the facilities, in sequence.

* Female Genital Mutilation - the facts (more difficult listening)
* The Little Coochie-Snorker That Could: a series of childhood memories from a homeless lady with a badly mistreated vagina, which happily and positively concludes in a blissful lesbian relationship
* Clitfact redux, so another chance for the ladies to chant about the potency of their clitorises; the gentleman next to me, who had been almost silent throughout, fairly screamed "penis". The speakers approved, called for a round of applause for the men and invited ladies to turn to any unknown men sitting next to them in the hope that they might be the mysterious Bob. Alas for sitting between a man and an aisle!
* What a six-year-old girl said about her vagina
* Reclaiming the word "cunt" (lots more audience participation!)
* Christians and The Vagina Monologues
* The Home-Made Vagina
* Confessions of a lawyer-turned-dominatrix, including a fantastic demonstration of many types of sexual moan, building up to the spectacular "surprise Triple Orgasm moan". This monologue got the biggest laughs of the night and was a masterclass in physical comedy.
* Watching a vagina give birth
* A final comparison of the vagina to the heart

I'm really glad I went. I learnt a lot; the deliberately funny parts hit their targets, the informative parts opened my eyes and the harrowing parts too had their intended effect. It was also a fine chance to see lots of ladies enjoy a rather more public celebration of sexuality than many of them would have been used to and just to find out what does make (at least many) ladies laugh. And laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

Recommended without hesitation!

Friday 4th June: All The Great Books (abridged). Having seen and very much enjoyed players the Reduced Shakespeare Company perform their complete Bill S. works on my first date with dezzikitty, this was an easy choice; I liked their style and anything to remind me of that first date is more than welcome.

I had a seat at the central aisle end of row two of the circle upstairs; again, I was next to a man who was there with his wife. I estimate that downstairs was over half-full and upstairs about 20% full, so over 40% full overall - a respectable turnout, but probably one of the smallest crowds they've played to on tour. I estimate the audience as 60% female (lots of couples, a smattering of family groups, and some ladies' nights out) with a median age of 35-40. Scary old unaccompanied bloke from The Vagina Monologues was also present and unaccompanied once more, backing up the "season ticket" hypothesis.

The premise was that the audience were students sitting a Remedial Western Literature class, for we had all failed Western Lit first time around and needed to pass this in order to graduate; the backdrop was of a school library, with the ReducedShakesCo's habitual two doorways for hiding and quick-changing behind. As yesterday, there were three players; we were first introduced to Coach, secondly to the camp and overenthusiastic school Drama teacher and thirdly to the student teacher, who played off the other two. Nominally we would seek to cover 90 books in 90 minutes, the 90 (generic hardback) novels being dropped onstage for a dramatic beginning.

The style of the show was very similar to their other work; a number of extended sketches, each covering one subject within the canon, linked by a number of shorter gags and storyline progressions. Lots of physical comedy (possibly slightly less than their titular show) with quality acrobatics, dancing, juggling, fake swordplay and so forth. Bonus points for topical gags - zero-day references to the infallibility of British military intelligence and the CIA were well-appreciated on the day the story broke. Also a couple of local references; all good evidence that the company tried hard night after night despite the pressures of touring.

If you'll never see the show, or you just don't care about spoilers, highlight away to learn what the big sketches were:

* Great Expectorations - a Dickens megamix, as what we might have called it a decade and a half back, with references to five of his pieces, containing lots of references to British soap operas.
* Poetry - purportedly the drama teacher has his collection of great poetry works ripped up, so he attempts to concoct a medley of great poems on the fly - in practice, seldom taking more than two or three lines (in effect, the most famous two or three lines) from each one before jumping into the next, possibly via a spurious song lyric or two. Considerable improvements via improper quoting, as you might expect.
* Walden - nobody in the UK knows anything about this, and that's part of the gag. (Wonder what expetesso thinks about this?)
* Don Quixote - Coach and the drama teacher present this in Spanish and the student teacher translates on the fly. Lots of silly translation and mistranslation gags, as you might expect.
* Little Women - a monologue by Coach on the chalkboard, chalking up letters and diagrams in the stereotypical school-coach-on-a-chalkboard style to explain the plot of the book.
* Huckleberry Finn - the joke here is tension between the student teacher and his elders because of the language of the day in the story. Lots of "inappropriate slang" and homophonic gags.
* The Classics - Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Favourite sight gag: Odysseus in a Superman costume, but instead of a S in a pentagon, there's a Ω instead. Virgil's Aeneid is thrown in for good measure and there's a spectacularly horrible pun about Achilles suffering both the thrill of victory and - must I say it? - the agony of defeat. The Trojan Horse is played by the silliest and therefore best panto horse act I've seen.
* Concluding the first half is the purported midterm, in which audience members are invited to name the two best novels, with reasons. Some of these are quoted in the second half, but I suspect the answers Middlesbrough gave were insufficiently amusing and so replaced by the standard gags.

(intermission. Typical intermission tune: "Rock'n'roll High School")

* Ulysses (James Joyce) - duellin' inner monologues! I'm always slightly down on live acts which included prerecorded material (the inner monologues in question) but this works quite well in context.
* Jane Austen, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf - this triple-header was actually the conclusion to a long-running joke in which the student teacher had got us to sneeze every time Coach mentions Plato. One of the perpetrators is dragged out of the audience on-stage and has to improvise Virginia Woolf's answers in a Dating Game/Blind Date spoof. Needless to say, Austin and Eliot get literary questions; instaWoolf gets "if I were a banana, how would you peel me?" and the crowd's adulation.
* War and Peace - Coach presses for the inclusion of this one, which is the longest sketch of the second half. The others complain about its length and want to substitute several shorter works instead, but Coach is insistent and claims that it has all the action, romance and drama of every other great work. Blue-Man-esque silliest moment: War and Peace fictionalises Russian reaction to the announcement of victory over Napoleon, so we cue the 1812 Overture and simulate cannonballs by having the audience pelt Coach with footballs. Sketch also notable for including sundry highlights associated with page numbers up to 1,976,853.
* The final three minutes cover the final thirty novels in one sentence each. Lots of neat comparisons and contrasts. I particularly enjoyed Don Quixote? "Sanity is overrated." One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest? "Sanity is overrated." Harry Potter? "It's overrated." Colon hyphen capital-p, but it got a big laugh.

I'm not sure I will be able to remember more than a handful of gags a month or so down the line, so hardly life-changing comedy, but a lot of fun and a lot of gags and gasps for your nine quid of concessionary ticket. I wouldn't recommend this ahead of their Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) because the latter is an extremely slick and well-rehearsed show and this is a touring performance, different every night. Nevertheless, I suspect you're 90% likely to prefer whichever one of the two you see first. I would happily go and see either show again in a couple of years, or any of their other shows. Only very faintly educational and accessible to the point of bordering on low-brow (a good thing from my perspective), but lots of laughs.

Recommended without hesitation!

Did you want to look at one lj-cut without looking at the other? Ooh, bad luck!

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