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Double Dose of Crudity from Anna & Jim

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I was glad I caught the last of just six performances of Anna Nicole at the Royal Opera House on Friday, but slightly disappointed in the show itself. As a musical it's fairly mediocre - you don't know whether it's supposed to be Illegally Blonde or just Leggily Blonde; as an opera it's as meretricious as the subject herself (which may be the point); and as an exercise in sticking two fingers up to the audience it's pretty childish.

The one good thing about Richard Thomas' libretto is that each of the sixteen scenes has a clear narrative purpose, even if none of them are joined up with anything resembling passion or pezazz. Once Anna Nicole acquires her synthetic new bazookas, Mark Anthony-Turnage's sinuous, occasionally witty but rather forgettable score does at least become a little jazzier and bluesier.

I don't really like it any more than I liked Thomas' Jerry Springer: The Opera (co-written with Stewart Lee), which was fairly good as a one-joke, half-hour divertissement on the Edinburgh Festival fringe but an over-inflated scatological embarrassment when taken up by the National.

Given the little he has to work with, Richard Jones' production is little less than miraculous, though, and the designs of Miriam Buether and costumes of Nicky Gillibrand a source of kitsch delight in their conjuring of a fast food, celebrity-crazed, pea-brained nightmare of Americana. And Eva Maria-Westbroek is marvellous as Anna, ditto Alan Oke as her geriatric billionaire husband and Gerald Finley as her lawyer.

I bumped into Katie Mitchell, who was quivering with excitement before the start - Jones is rightly regarded by his peers and contemporaries as the main man for this sort of musical occasion - but I don't know if she was still quivering by the end.

Anxious to test my crudity tolerance even further, I took a train down to Dartford, Kent, on Saturday evening, to catch Jim Davidson in his own play, Stand Up And Be Counted!, a curious exercise in both self-flagellation and self-justification.

It could have been so much better, but at least Davidson sees the tragedy of his own Archie Rice-style situation, playing a comic who doesn't believe in his material any more, hates the rest of the world and what's happening to show business and seeks temporary redemption in the arms of an ever dwindling audience.

Davidson's comic, Eddie Pierce, is appearing at an AIDS charity on a bill with a black, right-on comedian who gets down with his (the comic's) wife and manager between the acts and an out-gay compere who makes Graham Norton look like Jack Benny. 

He's not stupid, Davidson - no one else on the stage is as half good as him, and, in his final set, he does a facts of life routine that is genuinely hilarious. How hilarious you find his barbed remarks about reality television, Susan Boyle ("That Scottish woman who looks like Eddie Large") and  Bruce Forsyth probably depends on what you think of them all in the first place.

Davidson says he first wanted to perform in a re-write of The Entertainer, but he wasn't allowed to. Perhaps he should have considered playing the other stage Eddie, Eddie Waters, in Trevor Griffiths' Comedians, a role created, a little uncomfortably, by Jimmy Jewel. 

What he's ended up doing is both weaker and stronger: a poor play with a streak of self-critical awareness about the nature of the controversy surrounding his homophobic, misogynist banter, and a determination to put the case for his own defense as a plausible, engaging comedian.
The script is a stream of four-letter words (Jim uses them rhythmically, but too indiscriminately; Harold Pinter's a good example to study), sexual innuendo and special pleading - it turns out Eddie's daughter has died of AIDS, his company manager's suddenly a screamer and some overweight lesbian is, in the first place, bi- and large...

So there's no danger that Jimbo can be accused of being a totally reformed character. The question is: how much more of it can the audience take, and how much more of the audience will there be to take it?


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