Sunday, January 02, 2005

Wonderful old buildings...

For a family treat, we went to Blackpool to see the Xmas Circus/Panto. I was a little wary- would it combine the best attributes of both, or the worst? We had seen Dick Whittington a couple of days earlier at the Manchester Opera House and that had a contrived plot, tatty set and weak Dame (the actor who played Spike in Hi De Hi!). The Chuckle Brothers made up for it, as did Billy Pearce at the Alhambra last Christmas.

I love the Tower Complex- it is very much from the 19th Century and whilst it has been "improved" many times both the ballroom and the circus are sumptuous creations of the celebrated architect Frank Matcham. (Or at least re-creations, they were both reconstructed by matcham once the building started to make money).

Anyway, we didn't have too much choice of seating and I opted for the North Balcony. The North Balcony is only three rows deep and the performers generally perform towards the north anyway, something we noticed to our cost sitting ringside on the south arena during the summer. Not only did we have backs to us a lot but as the two followspots are in the North Balcony anyway some of the acts were in shadow.

I've only been on the balcony once before, when doing some work in the building a long time ago. What I had forgotten was how convoluted and higgledy-piggledy it is with walkways actually through each of the four tower legs which make up the four corners of the arena. It is also unusual in having tip-up bench seats (fortunately padded) with steel hoop dividers rather than armrests. The whole place reeks of history as well as a bit of neglect due to lack of investment which in this case is a good thing.

With the house lights on, the arabesque decoration looks harsh & somewhat unloved, however with the stage lighting up, the soft reflected glow makes the fibrous plasterwork almost as fascinating as the show that goes on underneath.

As to the show? Well, no tatty sets being in the round, although quite a lot of props. The Dame was OK but as usual, Mooky stole the show. It was a circus thinly disguised as a Panto but none the worse for that. The only disappointment was the lack of a water finale' at the end, although we saw that coming when the ring carpet stayed in place after the interval.

For a lover of places of entertainment like myself who can take or leave circuses, a chance to wander the building is worth the admission price by itself. The circus acts are very impressive, but I find myself saying "so-what?" to myself a lot. At one point during a skipping routine that involved someone who had appeared as a strongman, I whispered to the Wife that I'd be impressed if the Sumo-shaped bloke did any skipping. Lo and behold, he did so, with someone standing on his shoulders and someone else standing on the shoulders of the 2nd person. Now that was impressive, but how useful it is for adding value in the digital networked economy I couldn't say!

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