Magazine article The Spectator

Fascinating Aida/The Lisbon Traviata/Happy Days

Magazine article The Spectator

Fascinating Aida/The Lisbon Traviata/Happy Days

Article excerpt

Theatre Out of place Fascinating Aida Comedy The Lisbon Traviata King's Head Happy Days Arts

My job is superfluous. I needn't be here. Fascinating Aida is so firmly established in the hearts of its fans that a review seems redundant. After the first number, we were asked, 'Who's seen us before?' and the stalls bristled with upraised hands. The three gals specialise in bluestocking crudities and exquisitely Grafted comic songs. Their parody of the King's Singers was so accurate that I felt a twinge of sympathy for its target. In those piping, trilling, hey-nonny harmonies they sang: 'We're a bunch of chaps from Oxbridge and we think we're very clever/ And we write completely boring songs that go on for ever and ever.' How cruel and how true. But who remembers the King's Singers? The material doesn't connect with contemporary society and I dare say that's the appeal. This show is apparently their 'final farewell' but die-hard fans shouldn't take it to heart. They'll be back. And a good thing, too.

I was equally out of place at The Lisbon Traviata. This comedy-drama is aimed at a minuscule and very distinct niche-market: mincing, middle-aged opera-loving woofters. Well, all right, maybe other pink pounders will enjoy it as well, but its focus is too narrow for it to flourish in the straight camp. The whole thing is just unbelievably gay. Not that I hold anything against gay men, of course, even though in my adolescence they sometimes held things against me.

David Bamber stars as Mendy, a flouncing, preening, garrulous queen obsessed with Maria Callas. Ensconced in his flat with his pal Stephen, he natters non-stop about his disastrous sex-life and his adoration of La Divina. Mendy is hard work and it takes hard work from Bamber to make him likeable. But once you accept the character's limitations you can settle back and enjoy his bravura comic performance. As always, the calculated one-liners fail. 'Who do you have to f---- in this town in order to get laid?' I bet that got a big laugh when it popped out spontaneously around the dinner table. On stage it's too premeditated. 'Why did you buy this?' asks Stephen picking up one of Mendy's new albums. 'You hate 20th-century opera?' 'Oh, I was feeling pretentious.' On sight, not a promising gag, but Bamber's beautiful, rained-on glumness made it sing. …

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