Wednesday, 31 May 2017

A happy face on a sad world

"Hats are a great antidote to what's going on. It's really their purpose to put a happy face on a sad world."

"That's the thing about hats. They're extravagant and full of humour and allow for a sense of costume, but in a lighthearted way."

Hats by Stephen Jones - milliner to the Royals and to the stars; friend of Boy George and John Galliano; the man who taught Philip Treacy all he knows - who celebrates his 60th birthday today.

A genius.

Stephen Jones OBE (born 31st May 1957)

Friday, 26 May 2017

Friday, 19 May 2017

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual... birthday girl Miss Alma Cogan!

Over at my "regular blog" Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle we're celebrating the birthday of Miss Grace Jones. In complete contrast to the "Patron Saint of Fierceness", however, over here we're welcoming the "girl with the giggle in her voice" to the Museum of Camp; the little Jewish meydl from Whitechapel who rocketed to fame in the "pre-Beatles" era - and would have been 85 years old today. [It's a bit of a glut of birthdays today incidentally; also born today were Ho Chi Minh, Kemal Atatürk, Pol Pot, Malcolm X and Nancy Astor, as well the likes of Victoria Wood (RIP), Martyn Ware, Dame Nellie Melba, Pete Townsend, James Fox, David Jacobs and - erm - Yazz.]

Known for her fabulous gowns as much as her cheery songs - never appearing in the same dress twice - Alma Cogan was also renowned for her lavish parties, guests at which included some of the greatest "names" of her day including Princess Margaret, Noël Coward, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Frankie Vaughan, Bruce Forsyth and many more. She became one of the first UK record artists to appear frequently on television - that fledgling post-War novelty - and, despite being deemed "uncool" by the time the 60s arrived, nevertheless she allegedly had a passionate affair with John Lennon, and was a close friend of all the Beatles.

Her premature death from cancer aged just 34 shocked the nation, and to this day she is revered for the joy she brought to this country in the midst of the "austerity years" and beyond. Here, you can recapture some of her magic in this documentary from 1991:

Alma Cogan (born Alma Angela Cohen, 19th May 1932 – 26th October 1966)

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The 'Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?' of the cosmetics world

We went to see a camp extravaganza on Thursday night - Madame Rubinstein, John Misto's brand new play about the true-life rivalry between cosmetics moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, their entirely fictional face-to-face encounters as they compete with each other to create the first waterproof mascara, and their reluctant alliance as they attempt to thwart the underhand tactics of Charles Revson, founder of Revlon.

As if the premise itself weren't appealing enough, when we discovered that not one, but two of our favourite gay icons Miriam Margoyles (as Madame) and Frances Barber (as Miss Arden) were in it - it was essential that we got a ticket!

As the always amusing review site West End Whingers elucidates:
Rubinstein is portrayed as an irascible, cheapskate manipulator who waddles around weighed down by envy and bling and keeps a leg of chicken in her office safe as it saves buying a fridge. Somehow Margolyes makes her endearing. Almost.

Arden drifts in and out plotting and competing with her to find a waterproof mascara. That’s when the two aren’t volleying barbs at each other. It’s the Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? of the cosmetics world. If Barber doesn’t get to play Bette Davis one day then it’s an affront to the gay community...

...Some of the jokes are as clumsy as the between-scenes furniture-shifting but if you’re a connoisseur of high camp you’ll find enough to make you chortle.

And chortle we did, as these two mistresses of OTT acting brought the "Great Ladies of Slap" to life in all their bitchy and manipulative glory - for despite the irritatingly disjointed scene changes (far too many gaps in the "action" for my liking), they have many great waspish lines to relish.

The foil for this (almost) two-hander is Madame Rubinstein's trusted aide, originally hired to help prevent industrial espionage, the gay Irishman "Patrick" (played by Jonathan Forbes). His loyalty to the end, despite all the cruel jokes and tricks played upon him by his ogrish-yet-vulnerable patron, gave a humanity to the story that otherwise could have veered a little too close to caricature.

Despite its limitations, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! However, unless the production is tightened-up a bit so that the storyline flows rather than appear as a collection of vignettes, I really cannot see this production making a transfer to the West End.

But I certainly shan't be buying Revlon again...

Madame Rubinstein at The Park Theatre [currently sold out]

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Leave your worries on the doorstep

"...a heart-warming and a joyfully camp tribute to a national treasure." - The Telegraph

We watched a rather splendid tribute to an eternally revered [especially here at Dolores Delargo Towers] star last night, a so-called "biopic" of the kind that British telly, and the BBC in particular, does so well. Following on from similar panegyrics such as that on Dame Shirley Bassey, and the masterful performance by Sheridan Smith as Cilla, this time it was the turn of... Barbara Windsor!

Now in her 80th year, it was fitting that the lady whose best-known roles were as the shimmying, chesty sexpot of the Carry On films and the matriarch of TV soap Eastenders should be treated to a dramatic exploration of her less well-known history. For not may people realise that, had she not chosen a path whereby her "assets" would forever be better known than her acting skills, the artist formerly known as Barbara Deeks might have had a far more - ahem - reputable acting repertoire by which she may have been judged.

I use the word "judged" carefully, especially as the usual "journalism-free" reporting in the aftermath of the drama-documentary [and by that, I of course refer to the fact that most so-called "newspapers" these days would rather report on what brainless twats on Twatter have to say about a telly programme than actually employ a genuine reviewer] has produced a slew of articles slating the programme as "confusing". In my opinion it was fabulous. If people are too stupid to understand that not everything that appears on screen has to be explained by endless exposition, then in my opinion they should be barred by law from having access to any form of media. Especially the "social" kind.

Babs was not - by any stretch of the imagination - a "straightforward", linear, biography. Starting at an odd crossroads in her life (the early 1990s, when Miss Windsor's "career" was somewhat limited to "end-of-the-pier" regional theatre and panto), the drama revolved around the contemplative Babs and the "ghost" of her father, through whom she revisited a series of disparate chapters of her past life - from early wartime childhood, to her first forays into drama school (The Sunny Side of the Street became her anthem even in the early days), to being trapped (painfully) in the middle of her parents' divorce, to the blossoming of our familiar "giggling, wiggling" blonde bombshell with a penchant for "bad boys", her choice to have an abortion, and the wide and varied progress of her career.

All these stages were played by different actresses, and all of them were excellent! As the Guardian said:
"It’s the Barbaras who make it. Samantha Spiro as end-of-the-pier Babs is all sad eyes and flashes of sauciness as she reminisces with her dad (Nick Moran), appearing as a charismatic figment of her imagination to backchat her through the past 50 years. Jaime Winstone is delicious as the younger Babs: sweet and self-knowing with an up-do so outrageous it looks less like a bun and more like a giant round loaf rising atop her head. We first encounter her backstage, being instructed to strap up her chest because “the director says your tits are too big”. Which induces a perfect Babs laugh, deep and dirty as a drain."
Particular highlights in the drama - apart from the sometimes challenging interplay with the cruel and heartless "Dad" that Babs always looked up to, despite being abandoned by him - were the unbridled joy of her first cabaret shows at Ronnie Scott's, and the appearance of the estimable avant-garde theatre impresario "Joan Littlewood" (played to perfection by Zoe Wanamaker). We (unlike some viewers) enjoyed the "flick-flacking" between timelines, the fact the producers wisely decided not to concentrate too heavily on the Carry On years, and (by placing the narrative a decade before she landed the role) didn't feature her late-stage stardom in Eastenders.

Babs is, after all, more than that.

In all, this was an excellent televisual feast, and highly recommended!

Babs - a treasure, indeed.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

“Grand and fabulous? That’ll do.”

"I adore clothes, I adore drinking. I just don't have the time or the inclination to totally indulge in it."

"If your career is not predicated on just your physical beauty, you're able to project a sophistication. You can take sophisticated to your grave. You can be that worldly woman, that woman who looks beautiful dressed up."

"You have to hold your bloody own or you're lost."

"I'm sad to say that stardom is a commodity in our culture."

"The very thing that brings you to success can also be like a curse, because then people think that's all you can do."

"I have a kind of remarkable ability to, for want of a better phrase, get what I want."

“Grand and fabulous? That’ll do.”

The utterly fabulosa Christine Baranski celebrates her 65th birthday today.

All hail!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Pole dancing queens

It is Beltane, Calan Mai, May Day, whatever - the time to celebrate flowers, dancing, light... and Queens!

And poles.

From May Morning by A.E. Housman:
How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.

Happy May Day!

Needless to say, here it is raining.