Lights, Camera, Alan! Mr Cumming's Solo Show Feels More Than a Little Me, Me, Me

By Billen, Andrew | New Statesman (1996), September 14, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Lights, Camera, Alan! Mr Cumming's Solo Show Feels More Than a Little Me, Me, Me


Billen, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)


I Bought a Blue Car Today

Vaudeville Theatre, London WC2

I sometimes wonder what it must be like to have talent, the burden it must impose. The questions must always be: how do I do myself justice, what shall I do next? The obligation to do the right thing may not weigh as heavily upon an interpretive artist as a creative one, but the chances to betray it may be even greater. Lacking quite the right offer for stage or screen, the actor's temptation must be to say, "Hey, let's make my own show and put it on right here."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It is a temptation to which Alan Cumming, who made his name in Sam Mendes's memorable staging of Cabaret in 1994, succumbs in his sometimes charming (but more often irritating) one-man cabaret, I Bought a Blue Car Today (closed 6 September). The flaw is in the title. This is, apparently, a sentence that putative US citizens are asked to transcribe in their naturalisation test. Cumming, who has lived in New York since taking Cabaret there and recently took citizenship in order to vote for Barack Obama, attempts to draw significance from the sentence as an encapsulation of those twin American evils, capitalism and carbon emissions. It still sounds like a private joke, and although the show sets itself up as a celebration of his years in America, his stories are just too random to fit the theme. This is a celebration of Alan Cumming.

Not yet the legend he might hope to be, Cumming would have to labour much harder to earn this kind of honour. At worst, his anecdotes are solipsistic, at best celebrity gossip. He tells us he met the then elderly (now late) film star Ann Miller, who congratulated him on his brief appearance in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. She confessed she wished she had seen the European cut of the movie, where she believed there was "more pussy". This is an ideal Cumming story, in that it both flatters him and promulgates sexual confusion (Miller was actually married three times; Cumming has been married twice only, once to each sex). Even the great, and also late, Walter Cronkite gets to show his feminine side when Cumming recalls accidentally hauling the former anchorman on to the stage in Cabaret for a dance. The next time they met at a party, Cronkite growled: "May I have the pleasure?"

The best we can say of these slightly faltering stories is that they feel intimate. If one had not been paying for the privilege, hearing them would have been flattering.

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