Here’s a little story that should make you cry…

Follies DVD

Or, a game of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The good:
There is now a production of Follies available on DVD (and that’s all I’m going to say about the show itself, because if you’re reading this you probably shouldn’t need a synopsis.)

The bad:
It’s the Opéra de Toulon production from two years ago.

The ugly:
The actor playing Buddy (Jérôme Pradon) is costumed in a bright red sparkly tuxedo with subtly clashing red trousers, and is forced to perform “Buddy’s Blues” in his underwear.

The good:
Charlotte Page as Sally and Liz Robertson as Phyllis. Two fine performances, and they deserve to be in a better production. Page’s ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’, in particular, is absolutely haunting.

The bad:
The actress playing  Young Sally is a bit pitch-approximate, and for some strange reason is made up to resemble Siobhan Redmond playing Shona Spurtle in ‘The High Life’.

The ugly:
Did I mention the costumes?

The good:
There’s a large orchestra playing the original orchestrations under the baton of David Charles Abell, who is about as good as anyone in the world when it comes to this kind of material.

The bad:
The actors are stuck with the current licensed version of the text, which is significantly weaker than the 1971 original. For this, our thanks must allegedly go to James Goldman’s widow, who refuses to let any other version of the show be performed. Apparently she thinks her late husband’s work is better when it’s been disembowelled.

The ugly:
Really. Did I mention the costumes?

The good:
Charlotte Page’s Sally is probably the standout vocal performance here, but the singing is almost all excellent.

The bad:
You can’t always say the same for the acting, particularly from the people with bit-parts.

The ugly:
The same actor doubles as Roscoe and Max Deems. Max Deems only has about three lines – but for some reason the actor is forced to wear white face-paint, and looks as if he’s auditioning to play Ko-Ko in Jonathan Miller’s production of ‘The Mikado’ at the ENO. It just about works when he’s singing ‘Beautiful Girls’; in the subsequent scene, though, it looks odd.

The good:
Marilyn Hill Smith and Kristy Swift offer an absolutely ravishing ‘One More Kiss’.

The bad:
Solange is played by a man in drag (Denis D’Arcangelo) for no apparent reason; he does his best, but it doesn’t really work.

The ugly:
Marilyn Hill Smith’s lilac hair matches the fluffy hem of her gown.

And so on. It’s an odd, frustrating, sometimes very entertaining experience; the score, of course, is peerless, and it’s well played and often beautifully sung, and the power of the material does shine through here and there. Olivier Bénézech’s production, though, while obviously operating within fairly rigid budget constraints, is pretty much a two-hour parade of OMGWTF with a few good bits thrown in, and it says a great deal for the material, even in this weaker, revised version, that he and his choreographer (Caroline Roëlands)and set designer (Valérie Jung, whose designs for the Loveland sequence are the production’s lowest point) don’t manage to completely kill the show.

Unfortunately between them they very nearly kill ‘Who’s That Woman?’, which is usually one of the show’s great highlights; I can certainly forgive Roëlands for not using the original Michael Bennett choreography, which would perhaps have been too complicated to rehearse in what I imagine was a rather limited rehearsal period, but she simply misses the point of the number. The point of the song is to see the older characters singing and dancing with their younger selves; in what is supposed to be th efirst moment in the show where the past and present characters interact, Roëlands for some reason chooses to keep the ‘ghosts’ offstage until relatively late in the number. Instead we see video footage of the younger dancers projected on the back wall before they actually enter, and when they finally arrive onstage, they function more or less as a chorus line. If you didn’t know who/what they were supposed to represent, you might not guess; it’s not as if her choreography is particularly exciting to begin with, so as a result, the number that should be the show’s biggest showstopper falls flat.

The Loveland sequence, in terms of direction, is possibly worse. Musically, it’s a very respectable account indeed (we’ll draw a polite veil over Young Sally); visually, it’s a lurid day-glo nightmare of ugly projections and misguided costumes.

And speaking of the costumes, Sally enters at the top of the show wearing a green dress, which means that an hour later, in ‘Too Many Mornings’, she has to sing ‘should I have worn green?/I wore green the last time’ instead of ‘I should have worn green/I wore green the last time’. It’s a minor point, I suppose – but really, in the whole of the south of France, could they not have managed to find Charlotte Page a dress that wasn’t green?

I could go on picking holes, but you get the idea – in many ways, this is as far from an ideal production of Follies as you could imagine. On the other hand… it’s a full production of Follies on DVD. It has the complete score, the original orchestrations, and a cast of good singers. The four principals are all in places undercut by the staging, but they all emerge with their dignity intact (and, yes, I’d be curious to see them all – particularly Page, who is good here and could be a very fine Sally indeed) in a better production. I even liked Graham Bickley (Ben), for only the second time ever (the first was as Signor Naccarelli in ‘The Light in the Piazza’ at Curve). Bénézech may botch some of the show’s big moments, but he does at least understand the basic rhythm of the scenes, and that they should cross-fade into each other so that the show never stops for a blackout.   Some of the earlier ensemble numbers, like ‘Waiting for the Girls Upstairs’, work very well, Julia Sutton’s ‘Broadway Baby’ is a delight, Nicole Croisille’s ‘I’m Still Here’ is a little eccentric in places but she gets away with it, and – have I mentioned this already? – there are 47 players in the pit, and the score sounds glorious. And above all, there is, thank God, no Bernadette Peters, whose jaw-droppingly awful performance as Sally on the show’s most recent cast album is even more misguided than Ms. Roëlands’s choreography for “Who’s That Woman”.

The bottom line: for the price of a DVD, if you love the material, this is probably worth owning.  If, on the other hand, I had shelled out for the cost of an expensive ticket plus hotel and airfare in order to see this production in the theatre, I imagine my response to it would be considerably less charitable.

Oh yes… and if you aren’t French, there’s a snag. The DVD is region 2 only, which is not an insurmountable problem, and it is not available for sale in English-speaking markets, which means you’re going to have to negotiate, which only offers service in French.  Bonne chance!

Call it hell, call it heaven…


Or, some collected thoughts on Wednesday’s matinee performance of the pre-West End tour of Chichester Festival Theatre’s (mostly terrific) revival of Guys and Dolls:

First, heaven.

  • Guys and Dolls is one of the very best of the golden-age musical comedies, and it’s on my (very) short list of shows I think, as writing, are just about perfect.
  • This production more than does it justice. There have been bigger, starrier, glossier revivals, but Gordon Greenberg’s staging here has considerable wit and panache, and an almost ridiculous amount of charm. You’ll come out of the theatre with a great big grin all over your face.
  • That doesn’t mean it’s beyond criticism. For a start, a bigger orchestra would be nice. There are sharp, brassy new orchestrations by Larry Blank, and the band really swings, but for this music fourteen players just aren’t enough.
  • Three of the four leads don’t sing particularly well – Sophie Thompson and David Haig (Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit) are actors who can sort of hold a tune, and Siubhan Harrison has a nice-enough voice but is often pitch-approximate. You aren’t going to want a cast recording of this production (not that one has been announced) – but you do want to see them, because they’re all absolutely charming and very, very funny.
  • Jamie Parker’s Sinatra-esque Sky Masterson, though, is brilliantly sung and acted. He’s worth the cost of a ticket on his own.
  • The supporting performances are excellent. Yes, all of them. Gavin Spokes’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson might be first among equals, but there aren’t any weak links.
  • Of course Mr. Spokes stops the show with ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ – and Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright’s choreography is great fun (as it is throughout the show) – and of course he gets an encore. ONE encore, and they don’t milk it beyond that. Thank God. (Yes, I remember Clive Rowe’s shameless, self-indulgent mugging in the 1996 National Theatre revival… and the THREE encores, which made it seem like the song was stubbornly refusing to go away).
  • Neil McCaul’s Arvide Abernathy is absolutely lovely, and his ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ – a song which can sometimes seem like an afterthought – is one of this production’s great highlights.
  • That’s partly because Mr. Greenberg is careful to keep the show grounded in a (reasonably) believable emotional reality. It’s a slight comedy with a silly story, but this is a show about people – as opposed to, for example, the Jerry Zaks revival twenty-odd years ago, which was mostly about actors doing schtick.
  • Really good-looking sets and costumes by Peter McKintosh – a sunburst of period billboards, superbly lit by Tim Mitchell. As I said further up, there have been more opulent productions – but other designers, with this show, have spent more and achieved less. Again, I’m thinking of that Jerry Zaks revival, which was far too cartoonish in terms of the design as well as the performances.
  • This was only this company’s second public performance. There are a few timing/pacing issues that I expect will be tightened up by the time the show hits London, particularly in the first half of the first act, which seemed a little tentative; that’s only to be expected at a second preview, and it was crystal clear all the way through that the production is a labour of love for everyone involved.
  • And the few legitimate quibbles, by the end of the show, seem more or less irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that there’s no string section, or that some of the singing is merely adequate, because in every other respect this is a perfectly-pitched, perfectly-judged staging of an acknowledged classic. It’s fresh, funny, absolutely charming, and it doesn’t muck about with the material.
  • It’s following Chichester’s brilliant revival of Gypsy into the Savoy in the West End for a limited season before going out on tour again. Go.

Aaaaand… the Hell.

  • It’s a while since I’ve done a midweek matinee at the Palace, and the audience, as a whole, were not charming. It’s not the Liverpool Empire – I think some of those people actually bite – but there was plenty of bad behaviour on display, and the house management was ineffectual at best.
  • At the top of the show, before the overture began, the theatre played a selection of ringtones over the PA. They did not, however, make any announcement explicitly asking patrons to turn off their phones. The predictable result was that a lot of phones went off during the performance – in the stalls, at least five in each act that I heard, and possibly more.
  • You know that stereotype about how British people love to queue? This audience didn’t. Is elbowing people in the ribs to shove them out of the way as you rush up the aisle now a thing? In Manchester, apparently, yes it is.
  • There was also a constant – and disruptive – stream (sorry) of people leaving their seats, usually from the middle of the row, to go to the toilet mid-act. I know, I know – midweek matinee, so an elderly house, but the show isn’t that long.
  • When you know you’ve got a relatively elderly audience, it’s usually – take it from a former house manager – a good idea to open the doors a little earlier, because getting them all seated is going to take longer. In this instance, at least some of the shoving in the aisles was simply down to bad crowd management: the doors opened relatively late, so there were too many people who don’t move very quickly all trying to get to their seats at the same time.
  • The Ambassador Theatre Group – an organisation which somewhat resembles the Death Star, only a little less benevolent – imposes a not-trivial “transaction fee” on ticket bookings, even if you pick the ticket up from the box office. Given that ticket prices aren’t cheap to begin with, this demonstrates a certain cheek; worse, at 1pm on Wednesday, an hour and a half before showtime, the queue to collect tickets stretched out of the box office onto the pavement and snaked up Oxford Street for the full length of the theatre’s frontage. Since ATG have already bilked  you out of a fee for the privilege of spending your money with them, that’s inexcusable.
  • And then there’s – again – the preview issue. In the West End and on Broadway, ‘preview’ performances prior to the official opening are clearly labelled as such, and are usually sold at a (slight) discount. There’s a reason for that: in previews, the show is still in rehearsal, because there’s a certain point where the actors need to work in front of an audience. The Manchester run is the show’s first date. These are this production’s first public performances, and while the show is in very good shape, there is clearly still a little work to be done in terms of timing/pacing/picking up cues. In other words, this is not a “finished product”, it’s work-in-progress – and that’s fine, as long as it’s labelled and priced as such. It’s hardly the first time ATG have pulled this scam on Manchester audiences; presumably they think people in the provinces don’t know any better, and they’ve sometimes previewed shows here that were in far worse shape than this one, but it still demonstrates a certain contempt for the local audience. Audiences are very forgiving – if you tell them it’s a preview, and that work is still going on, they’ll understand (and they’ll love it if something goes wrong) – but if you’re not selling them a finished product, they need to be informed. To sell a preview performance at full price without labelling it as such is tantamount to bait-and-switch. It’s dishonest, and we deserve better.

Flash! Ah-ah, she’ll save every one of us!

As a hook, it’s pretty much irresistible. Watch Meryl Streep, who apparently can’t pour herself a cup of coffee without taking on a new accent and getting an Oscar nomination for it, strap on a guitar and unleash her inner rock goddess. That, right there, is about half a dozen reasons to shell out for a cinema ticket. Who cares if the film itself is any good?

Well… it’s better than you might think, and not as good as it could be. Streep is phenomenal – and, sure, worth the cost of the ticket on her own – and the film that surrounds her is sharply witty and never less than entertaining, but Diablo Cody’s screenplay treats the plot’s darker emotional undercurrents with rather too light a touch, and the feelgood ending, while not unmotivated, arrives a little too quickly.

Streep plays Ricki Rendazzo – or rather, a former housewife called Linda from Indianapolis who abandoned her husband and young children and moved to Los Angeles in the hope of becoming a rock star. At the start of the film, she’s fronting a covers band in a dive bar in the San Fernando Valley and working a day-job as a checkout clerk in a high-end (but low-paying) supermarket; the plot kicks into gear when she’s called back home by her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) to help her now-grown-up daughter (Mamie Gummer), who has had a kind of breakdown following the end of her marriage.

Did I mention that this is a comedy?

The early encounters between Ricki and her estranged adult children, in fact, are among the best things in the film. Gummer, in particular, is a whirlwind of rage and resentment, and yet she somehow manages the very difficult trick of making her character’s edgy bitterness towards her mother funny. She and Streep – her real-life mother – play off each other beautifully, and their gradually-thawing relationship is surprisingly touching. Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate as Ricki’s sons have too little to do, but do it very well; the restaurant dinner-from-Hell at which Ricki sees her adult sons for the first time in years is bracingly sharp-edged and, again, a perfectly-judged comedy of (bad) manners.

The trouble is, there’s more to this story than we’re ever allowed to see. At the centre of the film is a societal double-standard: a man would not necessarily be condemned for turning his back on his children in order to focus on his career, but for a woman it’s considered one of the ultimate sins. Cody’s screenplay even has Ricki make that point explicitly in one scene; we don’t get enough sense, though, of the force that drove Linda to walk away from her family and reinvent herself as Ricki, particularly given that it’s clear throughout that she does love her children, even if she doesn’t always know how to deal with them. Character details are raised and then dropped; we learn that Ricki is a conservative Republican who voted for George W. Bush twice, and the film (admirably) doesn’t condemn or mock her for it, but Cody doesn’t really explore the interesting contrast between Ricki’s conservative politics and her free-spirit lifestyle. Kline is perfectly charming as Ricki’s ex-husband, but there’s little sense of how two characters so unlike each other that they could have come from different planets could ever believably have been married to each other.

And then there’s Audra McDonald as Ricki’s ex-husband’s second wife. She’s billed fourth, behind Streep, Kline, and Gummer, she has a handful of Emmy nominations and about four hundred and fifty Tony Awards, and she basically has two scenes. She’s great, and she brings a very entertaining passive-aggressive acidity to her showdown with Streep, but she’s one of the best actors of her generation and she has two scenes. It’s like buying a Maserati and then only ever driving it around a supermarket car-park. The role, as written, perhaps doesn’t need to be any bigger, and possibly needs someone with a certain gravitas in order for the character’s big scene with Streep to work, but still. Two scenes. McDonald is a luminous presence on screen – the camera loves her – and she’s someone who really should be playing meatier roles rather than bit-parts.

What saves the film – and, you won’t be surprised to learn, what saves the day at the plot’s final turn – is the music. I said earlier that the main reason to buy a ticket was to see Streep pick up a guitar and rock out, and that’s where the film unquestionably delivers. Is there nothing she can’t do? She is absolutely believable as a woman who lives for her music, she plays a mean guitar, and she fronts a band which features Rick Springfield, Rick Rosas, and Bernie Worrell, and gets away with it. Director Jonathan Demme shoots the band’s performances with loving care; they’re genuinely exciting, right down to Streep’s appropriately rough-around-the-edges vocals. Even though you know fifteen minutes into the film that Ricki, in the end, is going to heal her broken relationships with her children via the transformative power of her music blah blah blah, it’s a pity there are a couple of chapters that seem to be missing from Cody’s screenplay before that finale rolls around. Fortunately, the performance scenes are enjoyable enough that they paper over the screenplay’s cracks, at least while you’re watching them.

Overall? It’s great fun, but not a great film. It’s worth seeing for Streep and Gummer, Streep’s scene with McDonald, and (above all) the band, and you’ll walk out of the cinema with a smile on your face, but there’s a fair amount in the screenplay that doesn’t quite bear close scrutiny.

And brace yourselves, because somebody somewhere must be thinking about trying remake it as a jukebox musical for the stage. I wonder – does Patti LuPone play the guitar?

Come follow the bland…

Or, the tour of the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Barnum, as seen yesterday at the Lowry in Salford. Bullet points again, because if the show’s writers can’t be arsed to write a proper book for their musical, I can’t be arsed to write proper prose for the review.

* Brian Conley is really, really, really, REALLY annoying on television.

* Oddly, the qualities that make him so annoying on TV – the glib insincerity, the cheesy grin – work well here.

* His voice is rougher around the edges than it used to be, but he can still sing. More than that, onstage he has presence. He commands attention, and he delivers the score’s rapid-fire patter songs with considerable aplomb. And most of all, he knows how to work an audience, and that’s vital – whoever plays Barnum needs to be a performer as much as an actor. Mr. Conley, somewhat to my surprise – as I said, I can’t stand him on TV – is absolutely terrific.

* So it’s a pity the writers give him so little to do – which, yes, is an odd thing to say about a role in which the actor almost never leaves the stage, and performs a variety of circus tricks as well as singing, dancing and (in theory) acting.

* Here’s the problem: for all the razzle-dazzle of the presentation, Mark Bramble’s book for the show is thin to the point of being emaciated. It’s little more than a set of flashcards; there’s no point of view, the characters are drawn so sketchily that they aren’t even cardboard, and you end the show knowing very little more about P.T. Barnum than you knew going in. Sure, the show’s authors give us the barest biographical details, but there’s no attempt at all to explore what made the man tick. We don’t see where he comes from, we don’t see how he learns the art of humbug (an unkind person might call it con-artistry), and there’s more or less no attempt to explore whatever contradictions might be inherent in, for example, a man who made a considerable fortune by essentially stretching the truth to breaking-point AND who toured the lecture circuit promoting temperance. He’s a loveable con-artist at the beginning of the show, and a loveable con-artist at the end of it, and that’s pretty much all the show’s writers have to say about him.

* We don’t even get much sense of why Bramble, Coleman and Stewart thought this story was worth telling on the musical stage. I mean, Mr. Bramble provides a lengthy programme note on the subject, which is lovely of him, but the effort of writing it might have been better spent on adding some depth – any depth – to the show’s actual book. As it is, the show’s writers seem to be perversely determined to present their subject in the blandest terms possible. It’s as if they simply expect us to accept that Barnum was a great showman, and then just go along for the ride.

* And of course that’s not enough to hang a show on, even when you throw a dozen or so Cy Coleman songs into the mix. The show’s book might be tissue-thin, but the bouncy, brassy score is (mostly) great fun, even if it isn’t first-tier Cy Coleman.

* And yet, despite the (many) flaws in the writing, the show is never less than entertaining. That’s partly because of the excellent ensemble cast, and partly because the physical production is an absolute knockout. Presented more or less as a succession of sideshow acts, the show famously incorporates all manner of circus tricks, from tightrope-walking and fire-eating (both by the actor playing Barnum himself) to trapeze work, stilt-walking, and acrobatics (other members of the cast). There’s always something to look at, even if there’s almost never anything to think about.

* As Chairy, Barnum’s long-suffering wife, Linzi Hateley is some kind of miracle. Of course her singing is peerless – in terms of the vocal requirements, she’s way overqualified for the role – but she manages to create a warm, touching character out of writing that doesn’t even rise to the level of a succession of clichés. ‘The Colours Of My Life’, as a song, is limper than fortnight-old lettuce, but she turns her half of it  into something lovely, and manages to make you forget that the words she’s singing are absolutely vacuous.

* This production is based on the Chichester Festival revival of two years ago (though Timothy Sheader, that production’s director, didn’t bother to show up to direct it again, and his direction has been recreated by an underling – which might matter if the show’s book had any dramatic content at all, so it’s a good thing it doesn’t), so of course it substitutes the new ‘Barnum’s Lament’ (an aria for Barnum midway through the second act, cobbled together from bits of the show’s other musical numbers) in place of ‘The Prince of Humbug’. It’s not an improvement. The show, up until that point, has been entirely superficial. The song comes an hour and a half of stage time into the show, and it’s the very first time we’ve been asked to take an interest in Barnum’s emotional state. Therefore, of course, it just sits there. It’s jarringly out of step with everything we’ve seen and heard up until that moment; Mr. Conley does his best to sell it, but it simply doesn’t work.

* All of this makes it sound like the show is a disaster. It isn’t. It’s great fun if you simply treat it as a spectacle with songs. Stop and think about what you’re watching, though – at all – and the whole confection quickly begins to deflate. I said earlier that it’s never less than entertaining, and that’s true, but it’s never more than that either, and you always have the sense that there’s a much more interesting story that could have been told about P.T. Barnum’s life.

* One more thing: the biggest laugh came when Barnum announced he’d borrowed the money to finance – God knows, maybe Jenny Lind’s contract, or perhaps a Taco Bell franchise – from “a reputable Scottish bank”. Ouch.



“To give music an identity in the modern musical is… some would say suicidal [laughs], but I couldn’t do it unless the music had that real sense of itself.”

There should probably be some kind of law against artists using programme notes to make any kind of grand statement about the genre they’re working in. It’s usually not a good idea. That’s Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz fame, talking about his new musical – wonder-dot-land – which opens at the Palace Theatre in Manchester this week as the centrepiece of the 2015 Manchester International Festival. It’s an ambitious show, and he’s written, with librettist Moira Buffini, a very ambitious score. Unfortunately it doesn’t work – at all – and the most central problem with his contribution is that he seems somehow afraid of letting his music function as the score of a traditional musical.

That’s not to say there’s nothing worthwhile about the production, but it’s one of those frustrating evenings where everybody involved has a lot of great ideas which never quite come together. A present-day sort-of-retelling of Alice in Wonderland in which the ‘rabbit hole’ is the screen of a smartphone is a clever (albeit obvious) concept, and making ‘Alice’ and the other characters in Wonderland avatars in an online game is a logical next step. Making a phone screen the portal to a more attractive world opens the door for a ‘real-life’ parallel story in which an unhappy teenager simultaneously is bullied online and uses her online world to escape her bullies. And showing Aly, the central character, create an idealised version of herself as her avatar in an online game is as good a beginning as any for a plot that’s mostly about coming to terms with who you really are.

By themselves, though, ideas aren’t enough, and unfortunately plays as if the writers had a long brainstorming session and then just took the Microsoft OneNote files that came from it and splattered them all over the stage. Albarn talks in the programme about giving his music a real sense of itself, but in its present state the score is meandering and unfocused. A lot of his music is attractive, and a lot of it is interesting, but it’s maddeningly unstructured and rather too pretentious for its own good, apart from one sequence which is apparently supposed to be a Victorian music-hall pastiche but which sounds more like a speed-fuelled gallop through the chorus of ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’. The show is a sort of continuous tapestry of song, underscoring, and dialogue, but the fragments of music rarely coalesce into a satisfying musical number. Buffini’s libretto doesn’t help, either – she and Albarn seem to have excused themselves from making the lyrics sit properly on the music, to the point where there are awkwardly mis-stressed syllables in nearly every line. Worse, her libretto is repetitive; in the (relatively few) musical sequences that are more than mere fragments (a duet for Aly’s estranged parents, Aly’s song to her baby brother, the mad hatter’s tea party sequence, the headmistress/Red Queen’s introduction) you invariably get the point within the first twenty seconds, and then Buffini simply has the character repeat it over and over and over and over again until the scene changes. It doesn’t make for exciting drama; a lot of the time, it isn’t even particularly involving.

The physical presentation, on the other hand, is a knockout. Director Rufus Norris and choreographer Javier de Frutos conjure a fluid, sometimes thrilling staging that moves seamlessly back and forth between Aly’s black-and-white real world and the colourful, surreal gamescape of, rendered spectacularly in Rae Smith’s set and 59 Productions’ extraordinary projections. A second-act set-piece involving a zombie-killing computer game is brilliantly realised; elsewhere,’s magical garden is as visually fascinating as Buffini’s libretto is dull, and the monochrome tower blocks, bus stops and classrooms that form the backdrop of Aly’s non-virtual real life have a strange, forbidding beauty about them. de Frutos’s choreography neatly delineates which characters are human or computer-generated, but the oddly fragmented score does not leave him many opportunities for dance, as opposed to musical staging. His work is terrific – he even finds an odd poetry in the tired shuffling of a bus queue – but you won’t find any showstopping production numbers here.

And that, actually, points to the show’s basic problem. By allowing the writing to remain so frustratingly unfocused, Albarn and Buffini short-change the cast, none of whom are given enough to do. As the Cheshire Cat, Hal Fowler stalks lasciviously through the action singing the word ‘fabulous’ a lot, but whatever significance he’s supposed to have remains elusive because the musical material he’s given never adds up to any kind of coherent statement. Rosalie Craig’s blonde bombshell of an avatar is a brilliant performance, as far as it goes – her timing, her un-human movement, her unnerving mimicry of the human she’s supposed to reflect are all beyond criticism, but she’s hamstrung by a libretto that gives her too little to play, and by a score that gives her too little to sing. Lois Chimimba’s Aly should be a far more touching figure than she is, and it’s not Ms. Chimimba’s fault: she does everything superbly well, but the writers give her a string of moody-inner-city-teenager clichés rather than an actual character. The most successful performance comes from Anna Francolini as the mean, teenager-hating headmistress Ms. Manxome – Buffini even gives her a couple of jokes that land – but she, too, is held back by the formless writing. Dressed and wigged as a more uptight version of Cruella de Vil (albeit without the penchant for fur), Ms. Francolini launches into her big introductory patter-song with lip-smacking relish – but the song just peters out instead of building to the kind of showstopping conclusion it needs, and the actress is left stranded without the tools she needs to make her character make sense.

What’s missing from the writing, simply, is structure, coupled with a shot of good old-fashioned showbiz pizazz. Albarn is more than capable of composing a memorable song – there are at least half a dozen on every Blur album. Here, though, he and Buffini have allowed themselves to lose focus, and they seem to be more interested in Making Art than in telling their story, defining their characters, or entertaining the audience. As it stands, every single character needs further development, and the music would almost certainly land better if it was broken up into a more defined series of musical numbers. There’s nothing wrong with allowing a song to build to a big finish, ending on a button, and allowing the audience to applaud, and desperately needs the infusion of energy that comes when an audience applauds a showstopping number. There is a lot of talent on display on the Palace’s stage – including Albarn and Buffini, who have both done much better work than this – but too often, the show’s heart is as elusive as the White Rabbit Alice spends half the evening chasing. The visuals are great, but they alone are not enough: in the hiatus between the Manchester run and the show’s reopening at the National in late November, Albarn and Buffini need to go back to the drawing-board, sort through the ideas from their (apparently very productive) initial brainstorming session, cut out everything in the libretto and score that wastes time or repeats information we already have, and find some actual characters for their cast to play.

Oh yes, one more thing: a big thank you to the front-of-house staff at the Palace Theatre for letting the show start ten minutes late on Wednesday night and then letting the interval overrun by five minutes. Public transport in Greater Manchester shuts down way earlier than it ought to given that this is the country’s second-largest urban area, and some of us had buses to catch; to where I live, those fifteen wasted minutes were the difference between getting home in under an an hour and getting home after midnight.

Word salad

rings resonantly

Yes, this is from one of those Playbill clickthrough pieces – in this case, about actors who’ve won a Tony award but then not appeared on Broadway since. Yes, I sometimes read that stuff (and yes, I remember – dimly – when Playbill’s content was mostly news). And no, unfortunately, if you can figure out what the author means by the phrase “rings resonantly with no sign of abating”, you do not get a prize.

But you probably should.

Oh, Vienna…

Brace yourselves. It’s here again. Like many of you, I can hardly contain my excitement. Eurovision is back. Back! BACK! There will be glitter, there will be dry ice, there will be whimpering behind a cushion until the scary parts have finished (you think the Weeping Angels are scary? They have nothing on Ukraine’s 2007 entry, which looks like what would happen if Rosa Klebb found herself at the epicentre of a silver lamé explosion), and since the show is being staged in Austria there will probably be dirndls. There will be Graham Norton muttering in the background, there will be a weird interval act, and there will almost certainly, before this is over, be multiple snarkgasms.

I’m ready for the cheese – I have crackers, I have a cushion, and I am only about twelve feet from the nearest bathroom. As ever, I am not watching this live – since I don’t drink and therefore can’t use Margaritas to dull the pain, I need to be able to resort to the fast-forward button in the event of it all getting too much, which usually happens less than twenty minutes into the show. Also, really, who has the patience to sit through the more-than-an-hour-long voting process? I certainly don’t. I mean, I could use the time constructively and read a book or something, but by the time the voting begins, on past form, my IQ will have temporarily dropped by about forty-five points. Best to just get it over as quickly as possible.

No, I did not watch the semi-finals. There is a point at which pain stops being pleasurable; if I’d watched the semi-finals, that point would likely have arrived at about 8.25pm on Tuesday, and we wouldn’t be here now. Judge for yourselves whether or not that would be a bad thing. I have – by dint of very selective viewing of Facebook and Twitter for the past three hours – managed to remain relatively spoiler-free, so that’s nice. I only have to sit through this once… unless there’s something really ghastly, in which case I reserve the right to pause, rewind, and watch it over and over about twenty times until my brain finally implodes in disgust at what I’m forcing it to witness.

ANYway. So. Thanks to the victory last year of the faaaaaaabulous Conchita Wurst, we are in Vienna this year. I like Vienna. A long time ago, as an undergraduate, I sang in both the Karlskirche and the Stephansdom as part of a tour of Eastern Europe with my college’s chapel choir. I think it’s a reasonably safe bet that nothing we hear this evening will much resemble the programme of English choral music we performed on that trip. Of course, on that trip I also saw The Phantom of the Opera at the (very beautiful) Raimund Theater – in German, so I didn’t have to suffer the English lyrics. I may flirt with the highbrow from time to time, but it seems I usually end up back wallowing in the cheese.

I spoke too soon. We’re beginning with the Vienna Philharmonic getting their Mozart on in the grounds of the Schonbrunn palace. Have I mentioned that Vienna is a gorgeous city? Don’t worry, the sequence only lasted two minutes. That’s the last natural beauty you’re going to be seeing tonight.

And heeeeeeere’s Conchita! Mr. Norton is telling us we can go online and download a scorecard – or at least, you could if you were a) watching it live and b) gave a shit about the scoring.

Now we’re seeing lots of happy Austrians standing in a circle and releasing balloons. No idea why. Inside the arena, the first thing we see is a giant glittery ball – not a glitterball, that wouldn’t be classy enough – dropping from the ceiling to a solo violinist, backed by a full orchestra, giving us the melody of Conchita Wurst’s ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’. And guess how Ms. Wurst enters?

(I’ll give you a clue, it involved a trapdoor and a lift. Geddit?)

The opening number is called ‘Building Bridges’, because of course this entire event is supposed to be some kind of celebration of international cooperation and peace and love and mutual understanding and all that crap. Conchita is flying on a wire above the audience while the orchestra plays a generic slab of Europop. If you were watching anything else, you’d think it couldn’t possibly get any more kitsch, but this is Eurovision. Sure enough, they immediately wheel on a choir of children.

The opening number passed without anyone letting off any fireworks, though, which is disappointing. Maybe there’ll be some later.

(“Maybe”? Yeah, right.)

Now all the contestants are parading into the arena. It looks like a cross between a Primark fashion show and the entrance of the athletes in an Olympic opening ceremony, if the entrance of the athletes in an Olympic opening ceremony was staged in a gay nightclub in Benidorm.

I’ve forgotten what this year’s British entry looks like. I’ve forgotten what it sounds like too, which is possibly no bad thing. Our recent form in this competition is not good.

And just in case we missed the point, everybody’s singing a slowed-down reprise of ‘Building Bridges’. You can just feel the love, can’t you?

Never mind.

Our Austrian presenters are welcoming this year’s special anniversary contestants – Australia, because why should anyone expect any of this to make sense? – and telling us a little more about the theme of building bridges “between countries, cultures, musical styles” and so on blah blah blah. Film montage of people around the world backed by a Russian power ballad about people coming together as one. Sweet.

The Austrian presenters are Not Very Good, and I think I missed most of their names. One of them might be called Arabella, and all of them might be robots. We are told, once more, that you can’t vote until all contestants have performed – this is a recent-ish innovation – but you CAN, this year, vote via an app, assuming you can be arsed to download an app in order to vote in Eurovision. Since the whole thing is over now because I’m not watching live, it’s a moot point.

So, entry number one. Slovenia. Maraaya, with a song called “Here For You”. She’s wearing enormous noise-cancelling headphones, possibly so she can’t hear herself. The song is hipsterish pop, she sounds like the love-child of Duffy and Basil Brush, and a black-clad dancer with white Christmas tree baubles sewn onto her jumpsuit is playing air violin next to her. It’s bizarre, but not bizarre enough. The lyrics are completely incomprehensible, but it’s got a catchy chorus. It won’t win, but it’s a decent start.

Two. France. Lisa Angell, “N’Oubliez Pas” Black-clad woman with smudged eyeshadow singing a prettily doomy ballad while images of an urban wasteland are projected on an enormous LED screen behind her. She has a nice enough voice but no presence, and the song is sludge.

Oh. Now there are four military drummers drumming alongside her. She does at least hit all the notes, and she has a bigger voice than you’d guess, but that wasn’t France’s finest hour.

Three. A screen caption warns us the next performance contains flashing images and strobe effects. Duh, this is Eurovision. Israel, Nadav Guedj, “Golden Boy”. Not, sadly, by Charles Strouse. He’s apparently 16, but could easily pass for 40. It’s basically a slightly Middle-Eastern boyband song – he’s got three backing singers/dancers behind him – and it’s good, energetic, clean fun. And there are fireworks. See? I told you there’d be fireworks. We only had to wait until the third number to get them. At Eurovision, that’s what passes for delayed gratification.

Four. Estonia. Elina Born & Stig Rasta (there’s some kind of accent over the first A in his surname but I can’t be frigged to look up the ASCII character), “Goodbye to Yesterday”. Moody Johnny-Cash-meets-rockabilly, beautifully staged with spectacular projected shadows behind the two performers. They’re sexy, they can both sing – her better than him – and it’s quite a good song. Once again, though, the sound system is obliterating the lyrics. They probably aren’t very good, but that’s not quite the point – the sound is so bad that if I didn’t know these people were singing in English, I possibly wouldn’t guess.

Five. Us. The UK. Electro Velvet, “Still In Love With You”. Now I remember. Fun slab of electronic swing music, nicely performed, staged like a 21st-Century Art Deco hallucination. There’s black lighting AND their costumes actually light up. It’s not remotely subtle, but it’s also not remotely embarrassing, which puts it several steps above about half our last dozen entries. It won’t win, but it’s got as good a shot as anything we’ve entered in a while.

Six. Armenia. Genealogy, “Face the Shadow”. There are six singers, and they’re all smiling like they’ve drunk a little bit too much Robitussin. I have no idea what they’re singing about because the miking, once again, is crap, but it all seems to be terribly meaningful. And they’re using the wind machine, and it’s building to an overwrought climax. It ends with fireballs shooting into the air behind the singers, because Eurovision.

According to Mr. Norton, we have now, having seen the Armenian entry, plumbed the depths of tonight’s contest. That, apparently, is as low as we go.


Seven. Lithuania. Their singer has apparently attempted to enter Eurovision several times before, so of course the pre-song introductory film shows the poor woman doing a bungee jump. Monika Linkyt & Vaidas Baumila (which sounds like something you’d put on a cold sore), with “This Time”. It’s one of those very, very peppy, enthusiastic acoustic guitar-driven pop songs that leave you thinking nobody could possibly be so high on life. The melody is absolutely forgettable, the staging is big and bright and colourful – there’s a projected deco sunburst behind them – and as the song progresses, it gradually starts to dawn on you that their fake smiles might actually be sincere, which is frightening.

Eight. Serbia. Another warning about flashing images and strobe lights. Bojana Stamenov, “Beauty Never Lies”. Silver ballgown, sequinned cape, glittery hair, four white-clad masked figures behind her waving flags. It’s All Very Dramatic, and a minute into the song the masked figures whip their masks and overalls off to reveal contemporary party clothes. Ms. Stamenov has a hell of a high belt, the lighting is completely bonkers, it’s camper than a whole stack of Canvas Holidays brochures, and it’s probably the most genuinely entertaining entry so far.

Nine. Norway. Morland & Debrah Scarlett, “A Monster Like Me”. This time you can hear the lyrics. Unfortunately the first lyrics you hear are “I’m telling the truth/I did something terrible/In my early youth”. His vocals are upsettingly Chris Martin-esque; she looks a bit like a young Bernadette Peters and sounds like a backed-up drain. It’s one of those songs that’s probably going to end with some kind of suicide pact involving either both singers or the entire audience.

Oh no, we’re still here. That was a bit traumatic, wasn’t it? Let the healing begin.

Ten. Sweden. The favourite, apparently. Mans Zelmerlow, “Heroes”. Very clever staging which has the singer interacting with stick-figure projections behind him. It’s a decent song, he can sing, and the staging is a knockout. It’s not the kind of compelling, charismatic turn that won it for Conchita Wurst last year, but it’s head and shoulders above anything we’ve seen so far.

Eleven. Cyprus. John Karayiannis, “One Thing I Should Have Done”. A sincere, rather lovely ballad, presented relatively simply until the demented lighting effects cut in at the dramatic part of the song’s bridge. Unfortunately for Mr. Karayiannis, this is Eurovision. Sincerity doesn’t play well here. He’s very likeable, but he won’t win.

Twelve. Australia. Guy Sebastian, apparently a big star Down Under, with “Tonight Again”. It’s a very slick, polished performance, but it’s also the sort of thing that makes you long for the playful wit and emotional depth of, say, Justin Timberlake. It’s bouncy, energetic, and completely forgettable. Moving on…

Thirteen. Belgium. More flashing images and strobe effects. Loic Nottet, “Rhythm Inside”. He’s walking slightly robotically, and so are his five white-clad backing singers. It’s a bit like Depeche Mode circa 1984 with better harmonies and slick choreography. It’s endearingly strange, they perform it with absolute conviction, and it hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.

Fourteen. Austria. The Makemakes, “I Am Yours”. Also known as the please-God-don’t-let-us-win-this-year entry (the winning country gets saddled with the bill for staging next year’s event). Slightly Lennon-and-McCartneyish piano-and-guitar pop, “sung” by a long-haired hipster who might have learned his vocal style from being waterboarded. Halfway through the second verse, the piano catches fire. Unfortunately it doesn’t take out the band, and they get to finish the song. Damn.

Little intermission. Conchita takes us into the Green Room. What’s the Wurst that could happen? Well, one of the plastic presenters could try to be funny, and the joke could land like a concrete Sachertorte.

The joke involved a reference to Ms. Wurst’s long hair and beard and the 2008 French entry, whose backing singers all sported conspicuously fake flowing wigs and long beards. Laugh? I thought my pants would never dry.

And we’re back to the songs. Fifteen, Greece, Maria Elena Kyriakou, “One Last Breath”. Flowing blonde hair, low-cut glittery evening dress, tinkly piano, wind machine, drums coming in at the keychange into the second chorus. We’re in cut-price Céline territory here – there’s always at least one. It’s a lousy song, and she doesn’t quite have the power to really sock the climax home, although she hits all the notes. Not one of the evening’s highlights, either for the right or the wrong reasons.

Sixteen. Montenegro, Knez, with “Adio”. A violinist playing a folksy melody, drum machine underneath, people striking weirdly dramatic poses, and a slightly seedy man with glittery lapels on his black jacket trying to sound sincere in a language 98% of the people watching this don’t speak. It’s less interesting than I’m making it sound. Fast-forward time.

Seventeen. Germany. Ann Sophie with “Black Smoke”. The guy who won the selection process in Germany dropped out, so we’re getting this instead. Aren’t we lucky? The song is a bit Bond Theme-y, and Adele wants her (borrowed) vocal stylings back. Or she might, if Ann Sophie could sing half as well as she can. Ms. Sophie borrowed her (low-cut) black belted jumpsuit from 1968, and her right earring possibly doubles as a feather duster. That’s not a bun on her head, either – when she’s done singing, or whatever it is she thinks she’s doing, she’s going to use it to cosh people who don’t vote for her. I think that’s going to keep her quite busy later on.

Not Germany’s best effort, this one. Better luck next time.

Eighteen. Poland. Monika Kuszynska, “In The Name of Love”. Ms. Kuszynska has, we are told, overcome considerable personal adversity (a serious car accident which left her in a wheelchair) in order to be here. The song is a pretty middle-of-the-road midtempo ballad, and she sings it very prettily, although the backing singers drown her out a bit. She’s lovely – but, again, sweet sincerity is not necessarily what works at Eurovision.

Nineteen. Latvia. By now I’m not even noticing the warnings about strobe lights. Aminata, “Love Injected”, a title which mostly just serves to remind us all that we’re dealing with this without the aid of pharmaceuticals. Plinky plonky intro, she’s singing a weird un-melody and wearing what looks like an inverted tulip. Then she strikes a pose and shreiks. Her dress has apparently rendered her immobile from the shoulders down; wondering whether she walked onstage herself or had to be wheeled into place is more interesting than actually listening to her song. Oh thank God it’s over. That was quick, or maybe I zoned out.

Twenty. Romania. Voltaj, “De La Capat”. Voltaj have apparently been big stars on their home turf for about twenty years. They’re a Proper Group, with instruments and everything. The sound system is rendering the Romanian lyrics far more clearly than it’s managed with anything sung in English this evening. Too bad I don’t speak Romanian. The song is a bit Gary Barlow-ish – pleasantly inoffensive, with a Great Big Chorus which isn’t quite as memorable as they’d like it to be. It’s an enjoyable performance, but I think not a winning one.

Twenty-one. Spain. She’s dating a Man Utd player, apparently. I’ve never heard of her. I’ve never heard of him either. Edurne, with “Amanecer”. She begins by kneeling on a comatose man’s torso while wearing what look like red sequinned terry-cloth widow’s weeds. In the second verse, the comatose man gets up and holds her train, then yanks it – and the red sequinned terry-cloth thing – off as she goes into the chorus, revealing a glittery silvery somewhat see-through dress which is cut so high you can see her knickers. All of this is more interesting than the song she’s singing. There’s some kind of desert landscape projected behind her, and then the half-naked male dancer comes back and lifts her up. And then he’s gone again, possibly blown away by the wind machine which cuts in for the final chorus. I’m sure it all made sense to somebody when they started rehearsals.

What am I saying? No I’m not, this is Eurovision.

Twenty-two. Hungary, Boggie, “Wars for Nothing”. Earnest young woman in burgundy polyester singing about Whirled Peas. Four other singers are classically attired in blue and white polyester (blue suits and white shirts for the men, blue skirts and white blouses for the women, all looking like they were bought for £8.99 at ASDA), and behind them the screen is showing a projection of a tree made out of machine guns. It’s very low-key and a bit tuneless, but they have lovely voices. The last verse, which they sing in harmony, is quite nice, but it isn’t going to set anyone’s pulse racing.

Twenty-three. Georgia. Vampira McScary, or rather Nina Sublatti, with “Warrior”. She looks like a teenage goth throwing a tantrum – she’s obviously been practicing her grimace in the bathroom mirror for, ooh, minutes – and the pointy feathered shoulders on her outfit could take someone’s eye out. She’s got a dagger-like headpiece in her centre parting, her hair is even limper than the week-old celery in my fridge, and behind her there’s all the dry ice in the world. She can sing, but the performance is all posturing. It’s a bit like watching Katharine McPhee trying to play Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Ms. Sublatti has possibly spent a little bit too long watching reruns of “Dark Shadows” and “Xena, Warrior Princess”. The song is instantly forgettable Europop, which rather works against the sneering attitude she’s trying to strike as she sings it.

Twenty-four. Azerbaijan. Elnur Huseynov, “Hour of the Wolf”. Pleasant pop ballad sung (quite well) by a blandly good-looking young man as a pair of writhing dancers – one of whom is bare-chested – perform what appears to be a carefully-choreographed mashup of a wrestling match and a bilious attack around him. They all get through the song without giggling, which is more than I can manage.

Twenty-five. Russia. Apparently one of the favourites. It’d be fun if the campest international television event on the planet ended up being staged next year in a country which last year passed into law some of the most repressive anti-gay legislation on the books anywhere in the developed world, wouldn’t it? Perhaps Putin could host. Without his shirt. While wrestling a bear.

No, not that kind of bear.

Polina Gagarina, “A Million Voices”. All about love and tolerance, according to Mr. Norton – values that Russia’s current political leaders so clearly espouse. At least, they reeeeeaaaaallly love Crimea and the eastern part of Ukraine. But let us not speak of The Unpleasantness. Ms. Gagarina is about to sing. It’s a big power ballad, the above-the-waist part of her dress is apparently a couple of bits of kitchen roll and a piece of string, she’s got a big voice, and her roots need doing. It’s got a huge singalong chorus, and – all snarking about her ridiculous President’s appalling record aside – is actually pretty good in a you’ll-hate-yourself-later-for-enjoying-this sort of way. Dull presentation, though. The visuals do count for something – the contest, these days, is about acts rather than songs.

Twenty-six. Albania. Elhaida Dani, “I’m Alive”. That’s nice for her; after having been watching this for a couple of hours now, I’m not sure I am. It’s low-key, it’s classy, it’s boring as shit, and her vocal “style” appears to involve going off-pitch a lot. Fast-forward time. Bye bye, Elhaida.

Oh, crap. I didn’t quite miss her big shreik at the end. Bummer.

Twenty-seven. The last one. Italy. Il Volo, “Grande Amore”. They’ve toured as Streisand’s opening act, apparently. Three cheesily, generically handsome men with improbably vertical hair and slightly operatic voices singing Sarah Brightman-esque crossover pop. They can sing, they have remarkably mobile eyebrows, and I really really really REALLY hate this kind of music. They do it very well indeed, and it stinks.

So. We’ve seen it all. Conchita wants us to applaud because everyone was AMAZING. The presenters have changed their dresses and I still can’t remember their names; they’ve got to talk for a bit while the stage is cleared for the interval act, and I can fast-forward through the recap of all the acts which they always do when voting begins.

One of the three nameless presenters – Miriam? – just sang a snatch of ‘The Hills Are Alive’ really badly. Thank God they didn’t hold the show in Salzburg, it would have been wall-to-wall dirndls.

Ohhhhkay. Martin Grubinger and the Percussive Planet Ensemble with ‘Speeding Up The Images’ and ‘All Is In A State Of Flux. It begins with a big dramatic chord and a lot of people playing percussion instruments like they’re on meth withdrawal, and I’ve a feeling I may not be watching this all the way through.


Oh dear.

It’s never a good sign if, two minutes into watching something, you start to think you’d rather be watching “Riverdance”.

(Yes, I have seen “Riverdance”, and not just their Eurovision intermission act from years ago.)

Now there’s a quiet bit with French horns. I may not have to go and stick my head in the freezer after all.

Everybody in the green room is holding a pose. I think they’re supposed to be heart shapes.

And now a choir of very classy musicians are singing something generically modern/classical and almost, nearly maintaining straight faces as they do so. This is deeply silly, and not in a good way. Flags of all nations (well, all the nations that are here in the arena) are waving all around them. Like a lot of things this evening, it’s obviously supposed to be Very Very Meaningful, but it isn’t.

And we’re back with the crazy percussion people. I’m fast-forwarding.

Apparently that was all based on themes by famous Austrian composers. I’m sure their music is super, but thank God it’s over.

And here’s another recap of all the acts. Fast-forward time.

Second interval act: Conchita Wurst with two new songs, reminding us she’s a more compelling, more exciting performer than anyone else we’ve seen all night, even though several of the acts we’ve seen feature better singers. The songs aren’t very good, but Ms. Wurst is one of those people who can hold a stage just by standing there and striking a pose – which doesn’t mean they don’t bring out a gaggle of flamboyantly weird dancers and the full weight of the show’s weapons-grade lighting rig for the second number.

Unfortunately, the performance is followed by a painfully stilted scripted chat with one of the presenters-whose-name-I-can’t-remember in which they repeatedly plug Ms. Wurst’s new album. Even by the standards of everything else we’ve seen tonight, this is cringe-inducing.

Now we’re introduced to Vincenzo Cantiello, winner of last year’s Junior Eurovision. Holy crap, that kid is loud. His neighbours must be either very understanding or profoundly deaf.

And NOW, one of the presenters is describing the trophy as “a real piece of art”. It looks like it came from a pound shop.

We see a montage of past winners, and it’s almost time for the points to be announced. But first, a word from Jon Ola Sand, the ESC’s executive supervisor… like I give a shit. Fast-forward time.

Un-fast-forward. The Romanian presenter appears to be standing in front of a backdrop of smog. 10 points to Russia, so hopefully they won’t invade.

Just kidding.

Judging by the Moldovan presenter, the Jaclyn Smith look is still big over there.

Azerbaijan give douze points to Russia. They don’t want to be invaded either. We picked up a point somewhere, I don’t know where from.

Latvia’s presenter is powered by Duracell, and his hair is made out of styrofoam and taped into place.

Early on, it looks like it’s between Russia, Italy, and Sweden.

Awww. France gives Belgium douze points. Bless. It’s more of a race than it’s been the last couple of years.

Germany’s presenter seems to be wearing some kind of pizza cutter. We’ve picked up another point from somewhere, aren’t we lucky?

Electro Velvet are now third from bottom, Germany and Austria still have nul points. Somewhere, an Austrian network executive is breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

Hungary gives Belgium twelve points, and we all need a moment to recover from the sight of an Eastern Bloc country NOT giving their highest score to another Eastern Bloc country.

The UK’s points are being presented by Nigella, who sadly doesn’t whip up a sumptuous pasta dish as she announces the results of our phone-in vote. She does, however, speak flawless German, Italian and French. We gave ten points to Australia, and I’m losing the will to live. Douze points à la Suède. We’re still third from bottom.

San Marino gave us three points. They’re the 35th counrtry to announce their results, and their three points more than doubles our score. I think Electro Velvet are probably going to be down the dumper quite soon.

The Norwegian presenter has had someone embroider licorice allsorts into the shoulders of her frock. Oh, those wacky Norwegians.

(No, they really are. Let us not forget, Norway is the country that sent both Jahn Tiegen and Benedicte Adrian to Eurovision. Obviously there’s some kind of strange national sense of humour there that the rest of the world will never quite be able to understand.)

We’re now fourth from the bottom, not third. Yay us.

And it’s all over bar the shouting. We’re fourth from bottom, Austria and Germany both have nul points, and Sweden – deservedly – wins by a fairly clear margin. Can I put in an early vote for them to bring back Petra Mede as presenter next year?

Here’s the winning entry, and we should all get some kind of group hug for having made it through to the end of the show:

And there wasn’t a dirndl in sight. I want a refund.