Felix and Shi could use a little break from blogging, they said.
Why not jump in for a couple of songs, they said.
Of course I agreed. Who could resist the chance of a sneak peek behind the scenes in Rotterdam? Especially when the first song I get to talk about is [checks notes] oh, right – my least favourite this year.
No, but seriously: I think one of the most interesting challenges for a blogger is to write objectively about a package they really don’t get along with, and that sure is true for “Here I Stand” from North Macedonia. I’m totally up for a bit of overblown balladry – I’ve been to see, like, 50 musicals in recent years – I just find this particular iteration of it wandery and, well, not particularly good. So I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what they’ve done with it on stage and whether Vasil can win over a sceptic like me. And after that I’ll be looking at how the Irish entry is coming together, with promises of all kinds of visual trickery coming our way. Bring it on!
As always, keep refreshing this liveblog for the latest updates!
We see a blurry Vasil to start, as his face slides onto the screen from the side. Once he’s in focus, he’s half-lit throughout the first verse as a light source emanates from the centre of his chest and fires out some Jamala-style tree roots, because obviously. The effects continue: a fiery, smoky hand, some of Victoria’s stars… they sure pack a lot of visual bits and bobs into the first section before we finally get some light on Vasil and the stage. “Gold and black” is your broad colour palette here.
It’s wider shots for most of the bulk of the performance, and a gold twinkly backdrop accompanies Vasil as the plastic prerecorded backing vocals kick in. There’s a particularly wide shot of the arena during the “shiny Dotter shirt moment” (you’ve all seen the photos, but just in case) and that’s quite effective in itself, albeit a bit weird in the context of the whole performance.
And actually, that’s generally what I’m getting from this so far – a disjointed feel to the staging that emphasises the disjointed nature of the song, kind of like “Why Angels Cry” (if you remember that one) in that it has a lot of crescendos and isolated moments but never really hangs together as a whole. Of course, this is just the first run, so we’ll see what we get next!
Vasil is in decent voice for the most part but hasn’t really nailed any of the big notes so far. Unlike the disgruntled queen above, however, Vasil is very happy with how things are going and never stops smiling throughout the performance, which is nice for him.
Second run-through (which might be all we’re getting): I think they might be fully lighting his face a bit sooner this time. Otherwise it’s mostly as you were; a couple of different angles on the various tricks, especially DotterShirt, and Vasil feels like he’s hitting the long notes with more assurance this time – right up until he falls off the very last one right at the end. Oops! Still, that’s good enough for a backup performance if required.
Overall, while you can’t really say they’ve done anything wrong in how they’ve chosen to stage it, it’s almost not bombastic and camp enough to overcome the shortcomings of the composition, which just leaves us with a bunch of unconnected shots and big notes and Vasil leaning backwards at a one o’clock angle while he emotes. It’s hard to see where the audience is for this (other than in the online press centre chat, where a few people are wowed).
Right then. Let’s see what Lesley Roy and Ireland have in store!
Lesley starts by looking out through a cardboard frame, as if she’s stuck inside your television. She sings the first verse as if inside a landscape of cardboard trees, and that theme continues for the first bit of the song, with some awkward transitions as she presumably hops on and off the treadmill that we’ve seen is involved here somewhere. I think it’s meant to look like she’s inside a kind of real-life cartoon environment to some extent – a knowingly lo-fi retro kind of affair – but she clearly has a lot to think about at every step of the way and looks more panicked than enraptured by the whole experience.
The “stage hands flicking through a paper flickbook” effect that we thought might be upgraded into something more spectacular… hasn’t been. It’s just some people flicking through a paper flickbook of drawings. Okay.
The middle eight is probably the most effective part of the “retro staging” section, as Lesley sings in front of a backdrop of rainfall then it pulls away to reveal that it’s being manually controlled by the two stage hands operating a roller kind of contraption. It’s cute – and by the end, when Lesley strides out onto the satellite stage and delivers the final chorus without any faff around her, she finally looks comfortable and sounds better. But before that… hoo boy, you can tell she has a lot to think about in addition to singing well and looking un-stressed, and after run-through number one at least, that is not something she’s managing to multitask just yet.
Second run-through: Lesley still has to look down when she hops off the treadmill, which isn’t ideal. Some of the filming is much better this time, and some of it is hilariously not – the flipbook section is just two pairs of hands for a while, like they’ve either cut to it too early or forgotten to start flipping. Generally, I’m sticking with that first impression, despite a few improvements: the last minute of this is pretty good, the rest of it is coming together, but there’s a lot of ideas in here and I’m not sure they all hang together. You can see what the idea behind the staging is, though, and Lesley comes across as very likeable, although part of that might just be because there’s a wee bit of fear in her eyes and you’re worried things might go wrong for her at any minute.
Vocals! I haven’t mentioned vocals much yet. Lesley is strong in places but her voice cracks in others. You can get away with that when you’re exuding confidence and hitting all your marks in the staging. When you’re clearly also having to think very hard about what you’re doing on stage too, the viewer notices the vocal issues more. But that’s what rehearsals are for – the more they do it, the more comfortable she should get.
We get a third run-through of this one, and it’s smoother again, but still the second flickbook section starts late. Or is it meant to? We get so many shots of “how it’s done” here – the rain roller being operated, the cardboard props piled up behind Lesley as she sings the final chorus – that I’m now wondering how much of this is a deliberate attempt to do a slightly rickety, “old school television” presentation and how much of it is just going a bit wrong. Very confusing.
Overall verdict: Effective when it works; fingers will need to be firmly crossed that it all does.
And that’s it from my little lunchtime session! Felix will be here with the next batch of rehearsals from Cyprus onwards in a new post on our front page. Enjoy!