On 29 January 2020, I went to the London Palladium to see Madonna perform her Madame X exhibit. She produced the 2,297-seat theatre really feel as personal as a downtown cabaret club. She came down into the viewers, sat future to followers, experienced a chat, swigged beer from their plastic bottles. It was all quite cosy.
On Thursday, I was again at the Palladium to observe Beverley Knight and her band perform. What a change 6 months make.
The displays have been polar opposites. Bev was pitch-excellent, Madonna was not. Bev moved around the phase with dynamism and grace, an hurt Madonna hobbled. Bev’s banter had everybody cheering, Madonna’s left us experience a bit uncomfortable.
Madonna’s exhibit was much better. Not since she was greater, she was not, but mainly because we, the viewers, had been far better. Which is nobody’s fault. It really is down to the wretched virus and the related social distancing guidelines.
Madonna carried out to a complete house, Beverley Knight had the unenviable job of executing to row on row of empty seats, consisting of about 1,650 plush pink chairs occupied by black crosses on white paper fairly than persons. There have been 640 of us with tickets, whom Andrew Lloyd Webber in a pre-exhibit welcome cheerfully described as guinea pigs.
He was earning the premise for the show very crystal clear – it was not so much about enjoyment, extra about being element of a sequence of official experiments to see if a significant indoor location this sort of as the Palladium could control the logistics of placing on a socially distanced clearly show.
It was a odd affair.
The putting on of facemasks was compulsory, as a fellow journalist learned when he surreptitiously enable his slip mid-display, only for a (masked) usher to sidle up and insist he pull it again up.
Notwithstanding debates about the usefulness of masks, I found the compulsory measure reassuring, when accepting it subdues the environment: a gig without having ambiance is like a joke with no a punchline – it can slide a bit flat.
The social distancing worked properly, in so a great deal as we have been so unfold out (unless of course you’d purchased a pair of tickets to sit collectively) that you would will need the vocal projection of Brian Blessed to converse with your neighbour. The only snag with that is dwell leisure is all about a perception of shared practical experience, which is rather much non-existent in a enormous auditorium with people scattered about like ships on the ocean.
The net consequence was a feeling of watching a rehearsal instead than a exhibit. There was not the rigidity in the air you commonly get at a gig, or the union involving performer and group.
Not that Bev did not give it her ideal – she was fantastic. But how odd it need to have been for her, staring out at hundreds of items of paper, in in between which was the occasional mask-donning punter whose facial expressions were impossible to read or answer to. In the circumstances, she was five-star outstanding.
The way in which she tore into Piece of My Coronary heart would have made Janis Joplin proud, though a entire-bloodied address of the Rolling Stones’ Gratification was a emphasize.
The stand-out moment, although, was her rendition of Memory from the musical Cats – a amount she’d performed several periods on the exact same phase when participating in Grizabella in Lloyd Webber’s long-managing clearly show. She nailed the track, which you’d expect. But what caught her by surprise was the audience reaction.
We rose as a single to give her a spontaneous standing ovation, which brought on her to pause, wipe absent a tear, and wander absent to obtain herself. In retrospect it truly is uncomplicated to see why. She was two-thirds of the way as a result of her set, and for the reason that we were sporting masks had no clue about how she was accomplishing. We were loving it? Hating it? Bored? Who realized? Not Bev.
We were as non-communicative as people cardboard cut-outs in present-day football stadiums. Until, that is, we did something impulsive to demonstrate our appreciation, acknowledging she was touching us from afar (protection steps dictate that performers should stand several metres away from the front of the stage).
It was a second of ‘liveness’ that makes theatre and concert events so exceptional and essential. You can stream Memory a million periods, but it’s going to hardly ever be as excellent as it was at 3:46pm on 23 July 2020 at the London Palladium.
It proved to be a cathartic knowledge for both singer and audience, who discovered a way to bond as Bev and her effectively-tuned band run by means of I’m Just about every Lady and Come As You Are. The display stopped with a showstopper: an a capella include of Ben E King’s 60s strike Stand By Me.
Did the experiment perform? Can a location these kinds of as the Palladium deal with the logistics of a socially distanced display? The respond to to that show up to be of course.
Will it be a template for the long run? Beverley Knight and Andrew Lloyd Webber hope not, simply because as considerably as they are involved it does not work artistically or commercially. So, it is really hopeless genuinely.
Was this examination better than practically nothing? Yes. But then what is the point of testing a little something that is eventually doomed to are unsuccessful? The stark decision is very simple: for most shows to go on, it will be a case of all or nothing at all.
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Tv ninja. Lifelong analyst. Award-winning music evangelist. Professional beer buff. Incurable zombie specialist.