Jun 18, 2007

The Forest of No Return

Jokes about the 'Forest of No Beginning' would be cheap considering that Hal Wilner and Jarvis Cocker's gloriously Epic Disney-themed variety show began began only an hour late. All the talk before hand had (inevitably) been about the galaxy of stars that had been tapped for the show - no Bryan Ferry but Nick Cave, Pete Doherty, Beth Orton, Shane MacGowan, Jarvis Cocker himself, Grace Jones... regardless of what might happen on the stage it was a Green Room that deserves its own screenplay. But the reason that Wilner has developed a reputation for his variety shows is not simply by having a gargantuan celebrity address book but by going for broke on the truly spectacular. So here, to complement the indie stars there was a magnificent and hastily assembled orchestra that, in between the crowd pleasing numbers that had cameras twitching across the hall, wandered instrumentally through the depths of Disney's classic songbook.

This was an evening of Disney songs with ambition and pretensions to grandeur to match the cavernous (and breathtakingly renovated) Royal Festival Hall. Hence swirly fog and a myriad of coloured lights played across the crowded stage while the orchestra roamed jazzily through the Jungle Book overture, the Pink Elephant Parade and others, accompanied at points by the faintly self-indulgent a-melodic free-jazz of Marshall Allen. This was an attempt not just at smug celebrity Disney sing-a-long but as a genuine voyage through the nostalgic waters of Walt's classic early fantasies, a stroll through Disneyland at night with a bottle of expensive scotch and a guy playing lounge piano. If at times it didn't come off, and had the children and the Pete Doherty fans bored senseless, so be it - it was a classy attempt.

And it certainly had its moments. Ed Harcourt and Skye Edward's Drip, Drip, Drop Little April Showers was laid back and beautiful. Nick Cave's Heigh-Ho was a pounding re-imagining full of menace. Grace Jones (when she finally showed up 2 hours late) stood on a table, with a wind machine billowing her black silk cloak around her oversized purple headress, and diva'd through Trust in Me like the 80s never went away. Pete Doherty's pared-down Chim Chimney was a slight and delicate beauty - probably the performance of the night.

And for those looking for an anecdote there was Jarvis Cocker, Shane MacGowan, Pete and Nick Cave howling like dogs through Lady and the Tramp's Home Sweet Home, while Ed Harcourt accompanied on Piano. Ridiculous. Glorious.

In the end this typified the sort of semi-serious sillyness everyone concerned seemed to approach the evening with. It left you with the sense that Walt Disney's legacy is not just a few rose-tinted cartoon films and a corporation that runs childhood. Instead what Walt's better years have left us is a dated, flawed but magnificent attempt at concocting something fantastically magical. And that pretty much sums up last night's show as well.

No comments: