Whatever happened to Dainty June?

Or, two reviews in one. There’s a tenuous link between these shows – I mean, other than that I saw them both – and it’s that the central female character in each is named Fran, and that I’ve seen each actress-playing-Fran play June in a revival of Gypsy: Daisy Maywood at Curve, and Gemma Sutton at the Savoy. And in both cases, they’re the best thing about the show they’re in right now. Given the shows they’re in right now, that doesn’t necessarily suggest a very high bar, but they’re both wonderful, even if the shows surrounding them are not.

Strictly Ballroom, to be fair, counts as a near-miss. Baz Lurhmann‘s gaudily kitsch camp-fest of a film is an obvious choice for adaptation as a stage musical, and the show – somewhat retooled after its Australian premiere two years ago – gets a lot of things right. The plot is still completely ludicrous, the camp/bitchy one-liners still come thick and fast, and the costumes are so LOUD you’ll come out of the theatre with day-glo lime-green taffeta permanently etched on the back of your eyeballs. The book, “adapted” by Terry Johnson from Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s original(s) (Luhrmann and Pearce have co-written every incarnation of the material so far, from the play that begat the film to the book the musical used in Australia), is fast and funny, Drew McOnie’s choreography in the big production numbers is sensational, and Soutra Gilmore’s revolving multilayered set almost, nearly makes it look as if the production had a lavish budget.

There’s a superb cast, too. As Fran – just Fran – the mousy, bespectacled young woman who has only been dancing for two years and who is yearning to express her inner longings via the paso doble blah blah blah (this is not a show where you’re going to be surprised by anything the plot throws at you, even if you’ve never seen the film), Gemma Sutton is pretty much perfect – she sings gloriously, tugs your heartstrings convincingly, and has whatever quality it is that draws you to someone whenever they’re onstage. Opposite her, as Scott Hastings, the dancer who just wants to dance his own steps but the judges won’t let him blah blah blah, we have Dale White standing in for an indisposed Sam Lips (who incidentally has the best name in showbiz since Buster Skeggs), and he’s perfectly OK. He dances very well indeed (he’s the production’s dance captain as well as an understudy), acts and sings well enough, and doesn’t leave anyone feeling short-changed, although he also doesn’t quite bring the fiery star quality you perhaps need to sell material as silly as this. The wonderful Eve Polycarpou makes something warmly touching out of Just Fran’s ethnic cliché of an Abuela, Tamsin Carroll’s comic timing as Shirley Hastings, Scott’s insanely ambitious mother, could cut through steel, and the supporting roles are all perfectly, colourfully filled.

So what’s missing? Bluntly, a score. Luhrmann and his colleagues haven’t given the job of writing the show’s score to one single songwriting team. Instead, they seem to have collared anyone who didn’t run away fast enough and persuaded/coerced them into supplying one or two numbers, and then thrown in the songs from the movie soundtrack for good measure. This doesn’t work at all; the new songs are uniformly dismal, the familiarity of the older ones from the movie makes the new songs seem even worse, and the show, which is great fun whenever the actors are speaking or dancing, sags badly whenever anybody opens their mouth and starts to sing. Even Ms. Sutton can’t quite save it, although she comes closer than anyone else to selling the parade of forgettable songs she’s being paid to sing (actually that’s not quite fair: Beautiful Surprise, Scott and Fran’s big duet, is insinuating enough that you probably won’t forget it in a hurry, although it’s so utterly banal that you’ll keep trying). Strictly Ballroom, at least in this incarnation, is certainly a viable musical, so it’s too bad that the music is the element that holes the production below the waterline. Really, the only way the show is going to work is if they throw the whole lot out and start again, preferably using people who have at least a passing acquaintance with the concept of wit.

Promises Promises, at the Southwark Playhouse, has more or less exactly the opposite problem. While it’s rarely revived in this country, it’s a minor 60s classic, and the music – so far, Burt Bacharach‘s single original score for the theatre – is peerless. The material surrounding the score, on the other hand, is less than completely successful, although that’s partly simply because sexual politics are very different now than they were when the show premiered on Broadway in 1968. Based on the Billy Wilder/Jack Lemmon/Shirley MacLaine film The Apartment, Promises Promises is the sordid-but-wholesome story of Chuck Baxter, a lowly office grunt who lends his apartment to various senior colleagues for them to use as a venue for their extramarital liaisons, then discovers that Fran Kubelik, the woman he’s trying to date, is the frequent houseguest of his boss. Wacky hijinks – including a suicide attempt – ensue, and it all ends happily ever after, three arse-numbing hours after we all first walked into the theatre. The saving grace is the score, and it’s brilliant – a parade of dazzling standards including Half As Big As Life, Knowing When To Leave, Wanting Things, Whoever You Are (I Love You), and the glorious I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. As for the book – if you’d like to see a version of this story that really works, go back to Billy Wilder.

The problem, actually, isn’t that the material is sexist – it’s a period piece, and while attitudes have certainly changed, it hasn’t become uncomfortable in the way that, for example, Sweet Charity (also with a book by Neil Simon) has. It’s simply that Neil Simon’s compulsive, reflexive instinct to go for the gag doesn’t sit very well next to the melodrama of Fran’s suicide attempt in Act Two – we go from three-handkerchief weepie to a wince-inducingly schticky musical number from the (very stereotypically) Jewish doctor who lives downstairs in the space of about three lines. It may be possible to negotiate that transition without making it seem like a great big yawning chasm, but Bronagh Lagan and her cast don’t manage it.

Throughout, unfortunately, the tone is often at least a little off. Lagan tells us in a programme note that she loves The Apartment, film noir, and clowning, but she doesn’t appear to have much idea of how to balance those elements in a production of Promises Promises. Her leading actors – the wonderful Daisy Maywood as Fran Kubelik, and the much, much less wonderful Gabriel Vick as Baxter – are costumed and styled to look, it seems, as similar as possible to Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in the original Wilder film, right down to Fran Kubelik’s rather severe short haircut; since they aren’t Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, this choice does them no favours. There are noirish projections of Manhattan brownstones visible on the upper level of Simon Anthony Wells’s set in some scenes; sometimes they’re effective, and sometimes they work against the comedic content of the scene in front of them. The pacing is sometimes painfully slack. Wells’s set is dominated by a rising garage door which reveals a bar or Chuck Baxter’s apartment, depending on the scene, and you can while away the dead moments by guessing whether or not it’s going to open/close properly the next time it’s used (answer: probably not). When (most) people are singing, the show is a delight – but there’s a lot of space between the songs. It doesn’t help, either, that Gabriel Vick’s Chuck Baxter is barely audible when he sings – and that’s from the third row (of five). He’s charming enough and funny enough in the dialogue scenes, but when he starts to sing he simply disappears. It’s as if he’s interpreted Half As Big As Life, the title of his opening number, as a stage direction; at Saturday’s matinee, his performance of the title song late in the second act was met with stone cold silence from the audience, because nobody could hear him over the backing vocals.

The production is well worth seeing, though, despite the (many) deficiencies in the direction, thanks to Daisy Maywood’s luminously lovely performance as Fran Kubelik and Alex Young’s showstopping, hilarious turn as Marge, the man-eating drunk who picks Chuck up in a bar in the first scene in the second act. It’s not simply that the show comes to life whenever they’re onstage, although it certainly does; they’re both so good that it’s worth sitting through the rest of it to see these two performances. As Marge, Young has two scenes and half a song, and she very nearly walks away with the entire show; Maywood’s Fran, meanwhile, is sincerely played and beautifully sung, and she makes the plot’s happy ending genuinely touching, which is no mean feat in a production in which so little works as it should. This is the text used in the recent Broadway revival, which means two more Bacharach standards – Say A Little Prayer and A House Is Not A Home – are uncomfortably shoehorned in as additional solos for Fran; in context, neither song makes much sense, but Maywood sings them beautifully and just about manages to sell them in character. Maywood and Young both, thank God, bring Gabriel Vick’s semi-inert performance somewhat to life when he’s sharing the stage with them; in I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, his big second-act duet with Maywood, he’s even mostly audible.

In the end, though – like Strictly Ballroom, albeit for different reasons – this is a wildly imperfect production. Maywood and Young are great, and it’s lovely to get the opportunity to hear Bacharach and David’s marvellous score in an actual production rather than just via a CD, but Bronagh Lagan consistently fails to capture the show’s tone. Better pacing would help – the production could easily stand to lose at least twenty minutes – but Lagan seems to think she’s directing a film noir, and doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the show and the source material.

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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.

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen?

It’s here again, and I am ready. I have chocolate, I have paracetamol, I have a barf bag, and I have a clear run between where I’m sitting and the nearest bathroom. If you are going to face the Eurovision Song Contest without alcohol, it’s best to be prepared. To that end, while I am watching this completely stone-cold sober, I am not, as usual, watching it live. We all need a little something to help us get through this; if you don’t like tequila, the only thing left is the fast-forward button.

Anyway. So. This year we’re in beautiful Copenhagen, home of the Little Mermaid, a lot of knitwear, and some really good TV drama. We open with – according to Graham Norton, providing snarky commentary again for the BBC – a snatch of last year’s winning entry, about which I remember absolutely nothing. Said winner – Emily – is seen making her way over the Oresund Bridge from Malmo, where the contest was held last year, to the disused ship factory that’s been tarted up to serve as tonight’s venue. This opening sequence is like ‘Mission Impossible’, only boring, but fast-forwarding this early in the show would be cheating.

Oh, sod it.

OK. Flags of all nations being carried onstage by demented-looking black-clad dancers. Let the insanity begin. This year, we have indoor fireworks right at the top of the show. This is Eurovision; it’s just about the only place on television where a full minute’s worth of pyrotechnics counts as minimalism. Opening parade of contestants across the stage; this year, not all of them look like escaped mental patients, which is nice. But some of them do, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?

Aaaaand here are our perma-grinning hosts, cueing the audience to set off 10,000-odd party-poppers. Again, around here, this is what passes for subtle restraint. Mr. Pilou Asbaek, Ms. Lise Rønne (and that’s the first and last time I will be using that special ASCII character this evening), and Mr. Nikolaj Koppel. Mr. Asbaek is a Serious Actor (and was brilliant as the duplicitous, tormented spin doctor in ‘Borgen’); he told the Guardian the other day that he took this gig because he felt he couldn’t turn down a party. I’m sure most of us feel the same way – that’s why we’re watching, and it’s also why we bought painkillers before tuning in. Mr. Asbaek is wearing a very-definitely-NOT-clip-on bow-tie (oh yes, and a dinner suit, obviously) which he couldn’t quite get straight before the show started, Ms. Ronne is in beige-ish gold with a tulle skirt and lots of diamanté, accessorised with a metal butterfly in her hair, and Mr. Koppel seems to be dressed for a funeral. Given that music is about to be pushed to the edge of death and possibly beyond, this is not an inappropriate choice.

Their scripted banter is awful, but that’s par for the course. Voting lines will not open until all acts have performed; this is an innovation that was only introduced a couple of years ago, which should tell you all you need to know about the integrity of the voting process.

So. Performance number one. Mariya Yaremchuck, representing Ukraine, with a song called ‘Tick Tock’ whose title has absolutely no subtextual symbolism when considered in the context of recent events in her home country. Each song is preceded by a short film in which the singer attempts some kind of novelty recreation of their country’s flag; Ms. Yaremchuck chooses to perform this task by sticking blank post-it notes to the platform of a Metro station in Kyiv, and I suspect it’s probably better not to ask why. She’s got long black hair, a generic voice, a flowing purple gown, and boobs, and there’s a guy in a hamster wheel behind her. The song is bland, well-produced Eurodisco – not good, not terrible, and not even slightly memorable, which is probably why she’s using a blinding light show and the wind machine. Oh yes, and there’s a bit in the middle where she looks like she’s about to dry-hump the hamster wheel, which is tasteful.

We’d all love to see the contest staged in Kyiv next year, wouldn’t we? That would be special.

Number two. Teo, representing Belarus with ‘Cheesecake’. He and his four male backing singers look and sound like insane Slavic cheesy-listening clones of Take That, only (hopefully) without the tax avoidance scheme headlines. Teo’s bow tie is untied, presumably because all his pre-show prep time was spent getting his hair to stand up at precisely 90 degrees. Mr. Norton informs us that no song in position two in the running order has ever won the contest. This one isn’t going to buck that trend.

Three. Azerbaijan – we see more footage of those gas-flame skyscrapers before her song. Dilara Kazimova, ‘Start a Fire (But Don’t Mention Human Rights Abuses)’. Ms. Kazimova is allegedly singing in English, but seems to be not entirely familiar with consonants. ANY consonants. There’s a trapeze artist behind her. It’s a drippy, overwrought piano ballad, and… bugger that, a minute of it is all I can stand.

Four. Iceland. Footage of men with beards walking towards a waterfall in snow. One of the backing singers apparently is an Icelandic MP. ‘No Prejudice’, by Pollaponk. Bright coloured suits, big drum-beats, guitars, beards… this is nearly as macho as Eurovision gets (so, um, not very macho, then). It’s basically the Hipster Teletubbies. The song is catchy, completely demented, and great fun. And… oh. Now they’re line-dancing. This won’t win, but it should. It’s fresh, fun, and there’s an eight-bar bit near the end where the audience is invited to clap along. They end in a pose, and I think their yellow-suited bassist might have just dislocated something.

Five. Norway. Their singer has a Very Serious Tattoo on his arm, but apparently no experience as a singer. Carl Espen, ‘Silent Storm’. Sound is coming from his mouth – at least I think it’s coming from his mouth – but I’m not sure if it’s singing or just the sort of noise you’d make when you were coming round from an anaesthetic. The song is a really, really boring piano ballad. I miss Bobbysocks. And I am NOT going to watch this to the end. So there.

I fast-forwarded. It started quiet and boring, and now it’s overwrought and boring. Fast-forward again.

Mr. Norton thinks Mr. Espen must be delighted that’s over, “as are we”. Word.

Six. Romania. Paula Seling & OVI, with ‘Miracle’. Mr. OVI looks and sounds a bit like a Carphone Warehouse salesman, and Ms. Seling reminds me of nothing so much as a cross between Amanda Lamb and a gerbil. They have no chemistry at all, which isn’t exactly a surprise given that they also have no charisma. They do have a completely circular piano; it’s way more interesting than their song, but so is being in a coma. We’re back in the land of Generic Slabs of Eurodisco, and it’s fast-forward time. Again.

Seven. Armenia. It’s possibly an ominous sign that the pre-song filmlet shows a guy melting metal down. He’s making a lovely brooch in the colours of the Armenian flag, then photographing it with his iPhone, presumably so he can cover the fare back home by flogging it on eBay after he doesn’t win. Aram MP3 – I assume that’s not his legal surname – with ‘Not Alone’. Another drippy piano intro, which so far seems to be this evening’s recurring musical theme. He has shiny leather boots, a nice tailored grey coat, and no personality. The song is obviously Very Meaningful to him, because he’s singing with his eyes closed. And now it’s getting overwrought, and he’s bellowing and grimacing like he’s giving birth while constipated. Lovely. Sorry, Mr. MP3, the pyrotechnics behind you won’t disguise the absolute dreariness of your dreary, dreary song. But then, Armenia often score surprisingly well; at Eurovision, entering a crappy song isn’t necessarily any barrier to success, as long as you have the right kind of crappy song – and that was the right kind of crappy song.

Eight. Montenegro. ‘Moj Svljet’, sung by Sergej Cetkovic. Wispy folk intro, ballerina on rollerblades, Very Sincere singer, projections of trees and flowers behind him. The floor lights up behind the dancer as she rollerblades across the stage, which is cool; the song unfortunately mutates from its charming, folksy intro into a far more generic soft-rock ballad in triple time. The high notes aren’t very high, but Mr. Cetkovic does manage to hit nearly all of them. It’s rather charming, and it won’t win.

Nine. Poland. Donatan & Cleo, with ‘My Slowianie – We Are Slavic’. They’re in yoof versions of folk dresses, one of them has a milk pail, there’s a stomping beat, and their hair is in unfeasibly long braids. The milk pail lady churns butter on the edge of the stage, and seems to be constantly on the verge of getting her tits out. Aside from the accordion break in the middle, it – bizarrely – reminds me a bit of Toto Coelo’s ‘I Eat Cannibals’. It isn’t good – at all – but it’s very entertaining. It’d be even better if it had any kind of tune, but you can’t have everything.

Ten. Greece. Freaky Fortune featuring RiskyKidd, with ‘Rise Up’. A Greek rapper, rapping in English. The chorus is insidiously catchy, but we’re back in Eurodisco land AGAIN. Someone must have spent, ooh, minutes programming this backing track. They have a trampoline onstage, because their backing track wasn’t bouncy enough already. Next week, this will be in every bar and disco in every resort on the Mediterranean… and the week after, the staff in every bar and disco in every resort on the Mediterranean will lose the will to live.

Eleven. Austria. Conchita Wurst, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’. Mesmerisingly-staged bearded-lady drag act. Arresting stage presence, fabulous gown, dramatic song – you could imagine Shirley Bassey singing it. Her voice is only OK, and frankly a little underpowered for this particular song, but the performance is so compelling that it doesn’t matter. It’s not necessarily good music, but it’s great television, and at Eurovision, that’s what counts. She ends to a huge ovation, and is probably the favourite to win.

Twelve. Germany, Elaiza (that’s a trio, not a girl’s name), ‘Is It Right?’ They have an accordion onstage with them and one of them is actually playing it, so no it isn’t. Oom-pa-pa verse with a big drumbeat that kicks in for the chorus. They’re performing very enthusiastically, and they’re mostly doing a very good job of demonstrating to the world once again that there are vast areas of German popular culture that anyone who isn’t German just. can’t. understand.

Holy shit, she went into head voice a bit near the end. Someone please make her never ever do that ever again. Presumably Germany really don’t want to pay to host the contest next year. I hope there were no low-flying aircraft nearby. Or seagulls.

Short break. Mr. Koppel – still in his funeral tie – is explaining to us rubes at home what a hashtag is, because apparently none of this show’s 180 million viewers are on social media. Somebody got paid to write his links. That’s profoundly depressing.

There’s a Eurovision Book of Records, apparently, if you don’t have a life. Whoopee. Quick flash of last year’s Romanian Vampire and his big falsetto note, which – unlike the lead singer we just saw in Germany’s Elaiza – he hit dead on, because of course we all need to relive that particular trauma over and over again. I mean really, who doesn’t have that video clip bookmarked?

Lise and Pilou are back. Back. BACK!!! Yay.

So is their scripted banter. Boo.

Apparently when the venue was a shipyard, it was full of beautiful men with big sweaty muscles. Mr. Asbaek did not sound entirely convincing as he delivered that line.

Back to the songs. Thirteen, Sweden. In the pre-song filmlet, she’s blowing up yellow lilos in a swimming pool, which of course is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Sweden, isn’t it? Sanna Nielsen, ‘Undo’. Elegant black sequinned dress, better-than-decent voice, and the song is a full-on power ballad complete with a cheesy key-change into the climactic refrain. This is a formula that has won several times before, and she does it very, very well indeed. Even if it doesn’t win, she’s going to sell a lot of records.

Fourteen. France. Twin Twin, with ‘Moustache’. Two of them really are twins, apparently.

Oh. My. God. It’s like someone took the worst elements of Jedward, Weird Al Yankovic, the Village People, and every middle-class white-boy rapper who ever lived, put them in a blender, and dumped the resulting mess onto a stage with a load of day-glo lighting effects. This is extraordinarily awful, even by Eurovision standards.

No, France. NO. Go and sit on the naughty step until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.

More twins, this time from Russia. Fifteen. Russia. The Tolmachevy Sisters, with ‘Shine’. They start the song back-to-back with their hair intertwined, grinning like loons, standing at the centre of a giant seesaw, each holding a perspex rod for no apparent reason. All of these things are more interesting than the song itself, which sounds like an offcut from an 80s Bond soundtrack. They have nice matching dresses and a hunky male backing singer, and they’re singing in tune, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of love for Russia in the room this evening, apart from among the actual Russians in the audience. Gosh, I can’t imagine why.

Sixteen. Italy. The pre-song filmlet shows her arranging tomatoes, mozzarella slices and basil leaves on a platter. She’s a big star already in Italy, but if this whole music thing doesn’t work out, a career in salad awaits. Emma, with ‘La Mia Città’. Lots of eyeshadow, fake gold laurel leaves in her hair, white dress, gold sequins, and she’s here to RAWK. Someone in her band has a keytar. This is straight from the early 80s – the song, the attitude, everything – and I love it. Of course it won’t win.

Seventeen. Slovenia, Tinkara Kovac – I love typing that – with ‘Round and Round’. At this performance, Ms. Kovac will be playing the role of a spasming flautist in scary gold eyeshadow. Sludgy ballad, and now she’s brandishing the flute like she’s about to hit someone with it. On the whole, being knocked unsconscious by her flute would be better than having to listen to the rest of this song. Moving on.

Eighteen. Finland. Softengine, with ‘Something Better’. After that last sorry excuse for a song, it would pretty much have to be. It’s a proper uptempo guitar-drums-and-piano-driven pop/rock song. I’ve no idea what they’re singing about – and yes, they’re singing in English – but the music is terrific. It’s somewhere between the Killers and what Coldplay would sound like if they weren’t crap, and at least – unlike Coldplay’s Chris Martin – they have an excuse for the English-as-a-second-language lyrics. Great chorus, and they perform with absolute conviction, without relying on any tacky staging gimmicks. This isn’t going to win, because stuff like this never wins, but it’s the best song of the evening so far.

Nineteen. Spain. Ruth Lorenzo, who was apparently on X-Factor a few years ago and just wrote a song for Dannii Minogue, with ‘Dancing In The Rain’. It starts with rain effects on stage – I had to look twice, because it’s also peeing it down outside right now. It’s not a bad song, but her high notes in the chorus are truly unpleasant. And when she goes to belt the big notes in the bridge, she looks uncannily like Sporty Spice, if Sporty Spice was a vampire. Veins in her neck start to bulge as the music gets more and more overdramatic, and if she doesn’t calm down soon there’s going to be blood – either hers or mine. Fast-forwarding now before my ears try to throttle my brain.

As Mr. Norton reminds us, that’s Spain’s strongest entry in several years. Let us not dwell on any of the previous ones.

Twenty. Switzerland. Sebalter, with something called ‘Hunter of Stars’. In which a gaggle of overeager hipster waiters attempt to do rockabilly. They’re very energetic, very nice, and almost completely plastic. On the bright side, their lead singer can sing in tune, and it’s fun. Given that there is a banjo onstage, that’s quite an achievement.

Twenty-one. Hungary. ‘Running’, sung by one András Kállay-Saunders, who seems to really want to be Seal. He can sing, and it’s a pretty good song, but he might be better off without the slightly ridiculous interpretive pas-de-deux being performed behind him as he sings. Apparently it’s a song about child abuse, but the lyrics are almost completely unintelligible. Score one for the sound system.

Twenty-two. Malta. More hipster beards. Firelight, with ‘Coming Home’. Yep, hipster folk pop, which is a slightly bizarre thing to take to Eurovision if you have any expectation of actually winning (given that the ‘prize’ is the chance to host next year’s very expensive show, and pay for it, I imagine Malta is not praying for the top spot). They’re great – everything the Swiss act was pretending to be but wasn’t, and with a better song and better voices and music that clearly is authentically who they are – but they seem to have wandered in from a different concert. It’s like watching Mumford and Sons do Sunday Night at the London Palladium: entertaining, but somehow wrong.

Twenty-three. Denmark, our hosts. Basim, with ‘Cliche Love Song’ (don’t yell at me about the missing accent, I’m just copying what’s on the caption). He’s like Glenn Medeiros on crack. This is so peppy that it’s almost frightening. Basim is also not the first performer this evening to be wearing an untied bow-tie. I know he’s very young, but surely someone backstage could have helped him with it.

Twenty-four. The Netherlands, ‘Calm After The Storm’ by the Common Linnets. Eurovision goes country-and-western. If Johnny Cash and June Carter had ever done Eurovision, this is what it would have sounded like. The song is lovely, and the performance – the singing, the playing, the projected-highway staging concept, the costume design, and all the rest of it – is absolutely impeccable. They’re great, but like the Maltese band, they seem to have parachuted in from a different, much classier show.

Twenty-five. San Marino, which has a population of about three, with a song called ‘Maybe’ sung by Valentina Monetta. The song and the performance are both straight off some second-rate 80s TV variety show. It’s lovely that San Marino got this far, and Ms. Monetta is obviously very, very pleased and excited to be here, but when the voting starts this’ll be toast. Still, at least Ms. Monetta got to indulge her obvious passion for ruched fabric on a global stage, so that’s nice for her.

Twenty-six. Last. Us. Molly, with ‘Children of the Universe’. Mr. Norton thinks this could be our year, so I’m guessing we’re going to place in the bottom ten (voting was over hours ago, and I know who won, but I don’t know yet how the rest of the scores panned out). The song has a big catchy hook and a stomping beat; I’m afraid there’s just something about it that I really, really dislike. Between the bombastic beat, the fauxspirational lyrics, and Molly’s nasal voice, the result is more irritating than uplifting. Still, it’s better than our last several efforts – but really, given that you could do better than Englebert Humperdink simply by showing up on time and having a pulse, that’s not much of an achievement, is it?

So that’s the songs done with. I think there might have been a couple of them that didn’t begin with a warning about strobe lights, but I lost track.

The presenters are back, and Mr. Koppel is STILL wearing his funeral tie. The scripted banter hasn’t got any better; the funeral might well be for his and Mr. Asbaek’s dignity, which died less than ten minutes into the show. Mr. Asbaek is now trying to joke with Graham Norton in Chinese. You know how funny that sounds? Precisely. Now someone is showering Mr. Norton with confetti, some of which has gone in his wine glass. That’s just cruel.

Voting open. This means one thing for the TV audience at home, and one thing only: interval show. Recap of all the songs so far = fast-forward time. Mr. Asbaek introduces the interval act, which involves people in white suits on big ladders singing ‘Ode To Joy’. One of them has a harmonica, which in a less liberal country than Denmark might be grounds for arrest. It’s deeply strange and slightly pointless, and the original version was apparently much longer and stranger, but it got cut way down in rehearsals. Thank the Lord for small mercies.

Now Mr. Koppel – STILL wearing his funeral tie – is at the piano. We’re treated to a video of him, Mr. Asbaek, and Ms. Ronne singing a song Mr. Koppel wrote about Eurovision. Mr. Asbaek throws himself into it gamely enough, but singing – let’s be kind here – isn’t really his strength. The lyrics are about the number 12 – the highest score in the voting process – with an excursion in which they discuss the Chinese calendar, whose leap years have thirteen months instead of twelve. Plus, obviously, chopsticks and opium. It’s three minutes of WTF, performed by the three presenters with all the grace and subtlety of a car crash.

Next, we have the 11-year-old Maltese winner of Junior Eurovision, whose BIG voice, God help us, seems tailor-made for belting out ‘Tomorrow’ in a revival of ‘Annie’. She’s charming, though, and better than some of the adult contestants.

Voting over. Mr. Koppel introduces a segment about a ‘Museum of Eurovision History’, in which Mr. Asbaek once again gets to show off his immaculate comic timing.

Part of that last sentence may not have been meant entirely sincerely.

Sorry, Denmark. Any fifteen seconds of the Swedish Smorgasbord number in last year’s interval act was funnier than the whole of what you just gave us.

And we’re back onstage. Ms. Ronne is still wearing the dress she was in at the beginning. It’s not a proper Eurovision unless at least one presenter wears a succession of hideous gowns. It doesn’t absolutely have to be one of the women, but Mr. Koppel seems strangely attached to his funeral tie. But she’s just delivered a full English breakfast to the Maltese lead singer, whose mum is from Yorkshire, so that’s nice. And now she’s talking to Molly about cake. They’ve just given Molly a curly-wurly cake from Borough Market. Molly thinks it’s ridiculous. Molly is right.

Ms. Ronne knows an awful lot about Molly’s family. If I was Molly, I’d be looking for the webcam.

Now Ms. Ronne is talking to France. Fast-forward time, because those people are scary.

Shut up about China, Mr. Asbaek. Now we’re back to last year’s winner, whose winning song I still don’t remember. This may or may not be it, but she’s singing it backed by a chorus-line of dancing trees. It looks strangely like a choreographic representation of Birnam Wood removing to Dunsinane. I wonder who is going to die in the final portion of the show? Apart from my sanity, obviously. That died half an hour ago, how else do you think I’m still able to watch?

And the scoring begins. Thank God I can fast-forward through a lot of this. If you watch it live, it seems to go on for about four days.

Holy shit. Albania gave Spain 12 points. Are they deaf?

There’s booing from inside the theatre as the Russian presenter gives her scores. And then big boos whenever Russia gets one of the top four scores. Again, I can’t imagine why.

It is unfortunate for the Russian contestants, who are very young. They did their best, and the audience’s outrage at Russia – the mess in Ukraine, the appalling and indefensible anti-gay legislation and all the rest of it – is nothing to do with them, and it can’t be easy to sit and smile while their country is being booed. The reception Russia is getting tonight, though, is entirely understandable.

No, Mr. Koppel, I don’t particularly care which Eurovision entry contained the most repetitions of the word ‘la’.

Back to the votes. Once again, the UK is doing really badly. Guess a lot of other people liked our entry about as much as I did, then.

The Finnish presenter is rapping his introduction. He is very, very white.

Ukraine gave Russia 4 points. Wow.

It’s clear with a few countries still to go that Conchita Wurst has won this for Austria – and so it proves. There were better songs in this competition, and better voices, but not a better performance. Very popular winner – and thank God, the scripted banter from the presenters is almost over.

So, as Ms. Wurst – no sausage jokes, please – gives us her song again, a recap. There were some genuinely surprising acts in this year’s competition, and some of the music was actually good. More surprising still: some of the good stuff scored surprisingly highly. And speaking of surprises, this year’s roster of acts included surprisingly few flaming camp catastrophes. Nobody got five feet taller during the final verse of their song, or performed suspended above the stage, or walked out wearing a swan. Depending on what you’re looking for from Eurovision, that’s possibly disappointing. And the Danish-scripted parts of the show, even by Eurovision standards, were lame. The presenters were stiff, the script wasn’t even slightly funny, and the interval act was dismal, and paled in comparison to the show Sweden put on last year.

So next year… presumably Vienna. The odds are at least even that this will be in the show somewhere. In the meantime, I think congratulations are in order: I got through the entire show on only four squares of chocolate and two paracetamols. I think that might be a record.

This year’s winner:

…and brought a lotta schlock home

Ibuprofen? Check.

Barf bag? Check.

Crackers? Check.

Everybody ready? OK, we’ll begin. It’s time, once again, for the year’s biggest onslaught of televisual cheese. There will be sequins, there will be glitter, there will very possibly be blood, some of which may be mine because before this is over my eyes and ears will very likely start bleeding. Yes, it’s Eurovision night. Whoopee.

A disclaimer before we begin: I am not witnessing this live, because I don’t drink – since I can’t use alcohol to dull the pain, I lack the testicular fortitude to put myself through this without the ability to resort to the fast-forward button if necessary. And I got new glasses last week, and the new ones don’t have the anti-glare coating (most of the time, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference for me, and it starts to rub off if you have the habit of absent-mindedly cleaning your glasses on your T-shirt), so I reserve the right to hide behind a cushion if things get really dicey. The secret to surviving a Eurovision telecast, remember, is to prepare in advance for every eventuality. Including, possibly, your own death in a tragic and horrible sequin/wind machine accident.

Anyway. So. Last year’s winner, if you’re lucky enough to remember, was the fabulous Loreen. No, not Soreen, Loreen. I remember her name, but not her face or her song, which at Eurovision is par for the course for acts that don’t dress like Rosa Klebb after a glitter explosion. Loreen is Swedish, so this year le concours Eurovision is coming to us from beautiful sunny Malmö, capital of Scania and home of the Twisting Torso. That’s a tall building, not a corpse in a Henning Mankell novel, Ystad is 35 miles away.

Our host – in the UK, at least – is Graham Norton. Again. We open with a montage starring a caterpillar, which appears to be touring Europe by boat, train and moped. I think it’s supposed to be cute. It’s not. And of course the caterpillar is now turning into a butterfly in front of the Oresund bridge. A Swedish footballer welcomes us to Malmo (I found the right accent once, I’m not going to do it again) from the side of the Twisting Torso, and now a big choir starts off the proceedings by singing something tuneless. The music is by Benny Andersson, the lyrics are by Bjorn Ulvaeus, and one of the ladies in the choir has a very large gap in her teeth.

Ooh. Now people carrying the flags of all nations are entering via a catwalk over the audience. One young woman seems to be wearing a swan and pink hotpants. These are either the contestants, or a glimpse of Vivienne Westwood’s Primark collection.

Yes, Mr. Andersson, we know you know what a pedal point is. The choir are singing something about a legacy in song. It is, shall we say, statistically unlikely that any of this evening’s victims contestants will end up leaving us a musical legacy that in any way approaches that of Mr. Andersson and Mr. Ulvaeus, but hope springs eternal. That’s why we’re all watching.

Synchronised flag-waving. It’s like ‘One Day More’, without the knowledge that nearly everyone on stage will be dead by the end of the second half.

Here’s our Swedish hostess. And a lot of animated butterflies. She’s wearing what looks like a fuschia replica of the Shard. Her name is Petra Mede, and I’m not going to attempt a pronunciation. She’s talking about Bjorn and Benny, and three lines in she’s winkingly referred to ‘Dancing Queens’. Abba were sadly unavailable, so we have to make do with bb. Agnetha and Anni-Frid seem to have elected to stay home. Probably wise.

Ah, I see. The base of her pyramid dress is wide because it has to hide the tug-o’-war team pulling ropes to keep her smile in place.

Lines do not open until all acts have performed. Seems sensible, but this is only the second time they’ve done this.

May the best song win, Petra says. It usually doesn’t, but what the hell.

Aaaand we’re off. Song #1. Amandine Bourgeois, representing France with the charmingly-titled ‘L’enfer et Moi’ – ‘Hell and Me’. We’ve just seen a montage of Amandine shopping and having her hair done. Hell, presumably, is what happens next. She’s wearing a leather feather duster that’s cut well above her knees, and she seems to want to be a cross between Amy Winehouse and Courtney Love. Team France have possibly put more effort into artfully smudging her eyeshadow than crafting her song’s melody. It’s not bad, and for Eurovision it’s refreshingly rough around the edges, and… oh. Now she’s screaming. Possibly she’s already seen this.

Song #2. The next performance contains flashing images and strobe effects, says the caption on the screen. Don’t they all. Lithuania, Andrius Pojavis, ‘Something’. His favourite part of his body, according to Mr. Norton, is his arms. He wrote the song himself. It’s a sort of u2/early-era The Killers mashup. He’s terribly sincere – white T-shirt, black leather jacket, zombie poses, closes his eyes a lot – but not terribly charismatic. Again, not bad, but pleasantly inoffensive and not really memorable for either the right reasons or the wrong ones. This isn’t what we’re here for.

Now the butterfly is taking us to Moldova, represented in the montage by horses, dancing, and flying lanterns. Song #3, ‘O Mie’ by Aliona Moon. Piano intro, musclebound dancers dressed in white, she seems to be standing behind her dress rather than wearing it, and Emeli Sandé wants her hair back. It’s all Very Meaningful. She’s got a nice voice, and it seems to be about to get very overwrought. Her skirt, strangely, is glowing red as if lit from within, and lightning is being projected across it. And she’s getting taller. Ooh. A lift. And flames projected onto her skirt as the music approaches – please, God – a climax. She ends the song four feet taller than when she began it. At least she didn’t sing ‘Defying Gravity’.

Finland. Song #4, ‘Marry Me’, Krista Siegfrids. I’d rather not, Krista. Thanks anyway. Ah, she’s the lady who was wearing the swan with the pink hotpants in the opening procession. Her backing singers are wearing red frilly rubber aprons, and she’s being carried around by three Inigo Montoya wannabes in Batman masks. The song is generic Eurodisco, and not even good generic Eurodisco. Nicely trashy choreography, but this won’t win. Oh – now she’s got a wedding veil, and a lot of fireworks are going off. That’s what I love about Eurovision. The subtlety. She ends by snogging one of her backing singers.

Song #5. Spain. Y viva Espana. She’s got a Polaroid camera. Who still has one of those? ‘Contigo Hasta El Final’, by ESDM.  Not BSDM, ESDM. Don’t get your hopes up. It starts with a Spanish bagpipe. It’s folksy, the singer is wearing what looks like a courgette flower with gold shoulder trim, and they’re using the wind machine. The guitarist in the brown suit with the shaggy hipster hair has to be on drugs. You possibly would be too, if you’d rehearsed this a few times. Particularly since staying on – or, really, anywhere near – the note is not one of her better skills.

They travelled to Malmo by boat, apparently, and it took a week. How lovely they made it in time so we could all see this.

Belgium. Song #6, ‘Love Kills’ by Roberto Bellarosa. He’s only 18, apparently. Bless. He’s in a dinner jacket and no tie, standing in front of what looks like a selection of IKEA floor lamps, and I think he’s singing in English but I can’t quite tell.  Now the lamps have flown out, and the choreography begins. Oh, bloody hell. Dire sub-Michael Bolton ballad, and the dancers seem to be doing some bizarre cross between a Robert Palmer video and the Funky Chicken. Love kills over and over, apparently. If I don’t fast-forward this, they’re in danger of taking me down with them, and there’s a whole shitload of songs still to go. Moving swiftly on…

…to Estonia. Song #7, ‘Et Uus Saaks Alguse’, by Birgit. Hi, Birgit. A restrained, sweetly sad piano ballad, judging by the first verse. Oh – no, the drums and guitars have kicked in. It’s a 70s MOR knockoff, and I can’t take any more.

Song #8, Belarus,  ‘Solayoh’, by Alyona Lanskaya. The pre-song film montage featured carrot juice and monkeys. This has to be a step up from the last one. Alyona emerges from a six-foot glitterball, her dancers are wearing… well, something white that words can’t really describe, except you can see their bare chests most of the time. The song is a full-on onslaught of Eastern Europe disco WTF, and they seem to have borrowed a bouzouki from Greece. Jets of flame shoot up from the front of the stage, presumably to burn away the shattered remnants of everybody’s dignity. Including mine, for watching. This is pure Eurovision.

Song #9. Malta. He’s a doctor, apparently, and in the pre-song montage we see him walking down a corridor with a stethoscope around his neck. His name is Gianluca, and his song is called ‘Tomorrow’. Hopefully, it’s not that ‘Tomorrow’. He doesn’t appear to be a 10-year-old-girl with red curly hair, but you can never quite tell where the costuming with these things is going to go. We’re back on the folksy side of things again. He’s grinning a bit too much – seemingly with his very prominent eyebrows as well as his mouth – and it would be more charming if he grinned a bit less. Fast-forward time.

Next, Russia. No grandmas this year. Song #10, Dina Garipova, ‘What If’. I think we’re heading into Céline territory here – possibly not a bad tactical move, since Céline, once upon a time, actually won this thing. The song is adult-oriented pop sludge with uplifting/inspirational lyrics, there are four very cleanly-scrubbed backing singers behind her, there’s a melodramatic middle eight, and she’s selling it with absolute conviction. She’s also – and you have to have watched a few of these things to know how unusual this is – hitting all the notes dead-on, even the big ones. Not bad.

Germany. We are again warned about strobe effects, which is redundant at Eurovision. Song #11, ‘Glorious’, by Cascada. It’s an odd cross between full-on Eurodisco and full-on power-ballad, and the strobe effects are more interesting than the song. This is many things, but Glorious is not among them. You can barely hear her singing over the programmed synths. From what I can hear, this is not a problem. From Germany, this is a disappointingly by-the-numbers entry. Better luck next time, Deutschland, this won’t win.

Song #12, Armenia, ‘Lonely Planet’ by Dorians. Generic stadium rock, and yes, they’re using the wind machine. The keyboard player looks a bit like John Goodman. The guitarists are scowling. The song is Not Very Good. Still, the singer has a good, raucous rock voice, and they’re certainly giving it their all. Oh, look – those jets of flame again, accompanying the obligatory post-bridge key change. I have no idea what they’re singing about.

Well, at least that was mercifully short. Back to Petra, who’s still wearing the Pink Shard. She’s got better English than a lot of British presenters. Break for a short “comedy” film featuring Linda Woodruff, a Janet Street-Porter soundalike played disturbingly convincingly by a Swedish actress called Sarah Dawn Finer. She’s better than her script. Long, laboured joke about Abba being the Swedish Royal Family. Oh dear.

And we’re off again, this time to the Netherlands, who haven’t even been in the grand final for a while (no, I did not watch the heats myself – what do you think I am, a masochist?). Song #13, ‘Birds’, by Anouk. We are warned that if you don’t like Lana Del Rey, you’ll loathe Anouk. Noted. I like the idea of Lana Del Rey better than I like Lana Del Rey… and better than I like this. Minor-key music-to-slit-your-wrists-by in 3/4 time, delivered with what’s supposed to be a knowingly gloomy smile. I lasted almost two minutes, I hope you appreciate it.

Song #14. Romania. Again with the strobelights warning. Mr. Norton tells us it’s going to be special. I have a cushion ready. ‘It’s My Life’ by Cezar. Black sequinned Wicked Witch coatdress, overwrought music, dancers writhing under red satin, a falsetto chorus drawn from the very lowest circle of Dante’s Inferno, and the dancers seem to be wearing only flesh-coloured loincloths. This is, indeed, special, and it’s getting more and more special by the second. Cezar looks like a male Dynasty-era Joan Collins who has prepared for an audition for a vampire movie by modelling his vocal stylings on a drunk Kiri Te Kanawa and his facial expressions on a bilious attack. ‘Special’ doesn’t begin to cover it.

And it’s us. Song #15, the UK, Bonnie Tyler. Love Bonnie Tyler. Love, love, LOVE Bonnie Tyler. She is fabulous, and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is a genuine pop classic. This song – ‘Believe In Me’ – unfortunately is not. She’s as charismatic a performer as we’ve seen so far, she’s selling the song with everything she’s got, but the song is sludge and she won’t win. Shame, because she’s obviously having a good time, and if anyone deserves another moment in the spotlight, she does.

Home entry. Song #16, Sweden, ‘You’ by Robin Stjernberg. He’s sort of Gary Barlow-ish, until it gets unhinged. OTT chorus, five dancers on a red flying saucer doing choreography that seems to be the result of a collaboration between Twyla Tharp and the Muppet Swedish Chef, and a barrage of fireworks as we enter the final chorus. If you were trying to stage an aneurysm, this is possibly what it would look like.

Hungary. Song #17. ‘Kedvesem’, apparently in the Zoohacker Remix, like that means anything to any of us viewers at home, performed by ByeAlex, and yes, that is supposed to be all one word. He looks strangely like French Nouvelle Star (= American Idol) winner Christophe Willem, his song is slightly folksy hipster-ish pop, and it’s refreshingly low-key and rather charming. He’s toast.

Song #18. Denmark. The favourite to win, apparently. ‘Only Teardrops’ by Emmelie de Forest. She’s very pretty, it’s a perfectly attractive Europop song with a slightly military drumbeat underneath and a penny whistle solo in the intro. Pleasant, cute, but not terribly memorable. She can sing, though, and she’s having a lovely time singing her lovely song, which is nice. Huge cheer at the end, but I’m not sure what for, although it’s got a catchy chorus.

Iceland. Song #19. Montage film includes, yes, lots of snow and ice, and heavy sweaters. ‘Eg a Lif’, by Eythor Ingi. Sung in Icelandic. His look is lounge-singer-goes-RAWK, the song is a dull, rather old-fashioned pop-rock ballad that’s positioned somewhere between Abba and Meatloaf, and he’s got a terrific voice. It’s not unpleasant, but it isn’t going to win.

Azerbaijan. Song #20. ‘Hold Me’, by Farid Mammadov. Oh dear God, this has STAGING. He’s grinning like an evil doctor on an American daytime soap, perched on top of a six-foot perspex box that has a dancer in it mirroring his moves – yes, upside down. For the second verse, Farid jumps off the top of the box and they do an old-fashioned side-by-side mirror act. Then a woman enters in a red dress whose train probably stretches the entire length of Azerbaijan, and the perspex box fills with petals, and everyone grimaces meaningfully until it ends, two choruses later. The song is the sort of overwrought rock ballad people slow-dance to in every disco in every Mediterranean resort, which means it won’t make your ears bleed and you won’t remember a note of it two minutes after it ends. This could do well, although the staging is possibly too batshit insane for it to win.

And now, Greece. Song #21, ‘Alcohol Is Free’, Koza Nosta featuring Agathon Iakovidis. Greece, clearly, didn’t even try this year, and have just kidnapped a cheesy folk band from a backstreet bar in Piraeus, then force-fed them amphetamines to make them play at double speed. I lasted a little over a minute.

Ukraine. Song #22, ‘Gravity’, sung by Zlata Ognevich. She enters carried by a man who is apparently 7’8″ tall, and proceeds to sing a song that starts as a drippy ballad, and turns into a full-on festival of WTF – thumping beat, showy high notes, but it just sort of meanders in search of a point. Still, she’s gorgeous, and she’s got a hell of a voice. It’s wasted on this, though.

Song #23. Italy. ‘L’Essenziale’, Marco Mengioni. He’s probably very nice, the lapels on his suit are very shiny, his song is really boring, and he just stands there. This could really use some half-naked dancers and projected lightning forks. Or a pulse, even, because I’m not sure Mr. Mengioni’s got one. Has the doctor from Malta left the building already? Please, someone check. I’m not sure everyone is going to make it to the end of this song alive.

Another warning about strobe effects and flashing lights. If there weren’t strobe effects and flashing lights, we’d want a refund. Song #24, Norway, ‘I Feed You My Love’, sung by Margaret Berger. It’s a battle sequence from Star Wars with a techno beat underneath, coyly sung by Hayden Panetierre’s twin sister, who is wearing a dress so tight that it had to be put on in hospital under a general anaesthetic. She really goes for it, but it’s not quite demented enough to be a Eurovision classic, and it’s probably too bombastic to win.

Nearly the end of the songs now. Song #25, Georgia, ‘Waterfall’, by Nodi Tatishvili and Sophie Gelovani, whose song is a huge power-ballad duet about how their LUUUUURVE is LIIIKE a WATERFALL. There are fireworks, there’s dry ice, the wind machine is going full blast, and every time they hit a big-ass high note they look like they need to poo.

Ireland. Last song, #26. Not Jedward this time, but there will be flashing lights and strobe effects. Ryan Dolan, ‘Only Love Survives’. Camp Celtic drummers who’ve been sprayed with cooking oil, a big anthemic chorus, strained high notes – this is a slab of toxic Eurodisco that’s sung, apparently, by a computer-generated Danny Zuko wannabe. It’s awful – less awful than Jedward, obviously, but possibly awful enough to do well.

And that’s all the acts. I’ll spare you the pre-voting recap because I’m fast-forwarding past it myself, obviously – I mean, really, if I couldn’t even make it through some of those songs once, I’m not going to stick around for the recap.

Petra’s back to announce the interval act – last year’s winner, Loreen, singing a medley of her biggest hit and wearing a black-and-white feathered thingy on her shoulders that could potentially poke out the eyes of several of her dancers if they get too close. ‘We Got The Power’, she’s singing. She looks quite angry. Possibly she didn’t choose that outfit, or possibly she’s just pissed off because she knows that if she moved a little to her left, the wiring in her shoulder-feather-thingy would pick up a much better TV show from Denmark.

Ooh. There are acrobats on wires, and the music just got worse. She’s taken off the feathers now, and replaced them with a black-and-white copy of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The stage lifts her back into the air, the end of the coat stays on the ground, she finishes the song 15 feet above the audience to a wall of cheers. Not a tough crowd, this.

Another recap. Fast-forward time.

Petra has now changed into the colours of the Swedish flag, and before we start in on the points we’ve got film of Bonnie Tyler’s lovely week in Sweden. What this mostly reinforces is that yes, she’s great,  but why couldn’t we find her a better song?

Interval act #2 – Petra, leading us in a song-and-dance celebration of Swedish kitsch, complete with dancers toting elk antlers, nods to the Muppet Chef, ‘The Seventh Seal’, vikings, IKEA,  and ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, and thirty seconds of choreography about recycling. It’s even got a chorus-line of high-kicking footballers and a woman writhing in a martini glass full of milk.  It’s utterly cheesy, and possibly more completely fabulous than nearly anything else we’ve seen this evening.  And Petra, amazingly, knows how to sock a big production number across the footlights.

Voting now. I’ll be skipping a lot of this, because who cares? Oh, wait. No, we’ve got Sarah Dawn Finer as herself, giving us her self-consciously arty cover of ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Ms. Finer clearly does not feel compelled to stay too close to the song’s actual melody. No wonder Agnetha stayed home.

So, yes, the voting. This hasn’t been a banner year – even the camp kitschfests were fairly subdued, there was nothing as demented as last year’s Russian Grandmas, and we can all predict which countries will vote along which nationalistic lines well in advance. And getting through this part of the broadcast takes about forty minutes, and I can’t be arsed. We all just want to know who won, and who got nul points. Denmark have an early lead, Estonia are bottom, Bonnie Tyler is also near the bottom of the board.

Now Ireland are bottom, nobody has nul points – shame – and we’re still languishing in the bottom half of the bottom half of the board.

…and with four countries still to vote, Denmark have won. We are still in the lower half of the board, so the battle now is a race for the bottom. Rather like the whole competition, if you’re cynical. And who isn’t when they’re watching this?

Oh. That catwalk over the audience is supposed to represent the Oresund Bridge.

Ireland’s bottom. Surprising, even given the blatantly nationalistic voting – he was far from the worst. So next year we’ll be in Denmark, and now we get another blast of Emmelie de Forest, with an extra glittergasm on the last chorus.

Overall: B-, apart from the Swedish Smorgasbord number, which was a knockout. Let’s hope Denmark can bring back the kitsch next year.

This year’s winner:

Can’t spell? Go and work for Waterstones!

Here, for your reading pleasure, is a selection of the staff recommendation cards on display on bookshelves in Waterstones in the Manchester Arndale shopping centre:

Psycodelic?!

Oops, we lost an N.

They had a pile of spare hyphens in the stockroom, and they had to use them somewhere…

…and that letter E just refuses to behave itself.

See? There’s an evil extra letter E lurking in the store that’s clearly determined to insert itself into as many cards as possible.

Finally, here’s the apostrophe that the company removed from their corporate name at the beginning of this year. Obviously, it refuses to go away.

I was with a friend; we were in there for about fifteen minutes, we certainly didn’t go into the shop intending to poke fun at their signs, and without really looking we found about ten cards containing horrible spelling mistakes. Since we only browsed through a fairly small section of the store, it’s almost certainly fair to assume that there are more. Presumably the branch’s management approves these materials; if head office aren’t embarrassed, they should be. This is sub-GCSE English, and to allow this kind of weapons-grade illiteracy to be part of a merchandising display at all, never mind in a bookshop, is inexcusable.

It’s also, to be fair, not at all what I expect from Waterstones. In other branches, the standard of English on display on these cards is usually impeccable. This, however, is sloppy, lazy, and thoroughly unprofessional.