Posts Tagged ‘Theatre’

Somehow the reviews led me to believe I was in for a raucous satire, so I was very surprised to find this play so disturbing, with a positively chilling final scene.

An Oxford University dining society (think Bullingdon Club) is meeting in the private room of an out-of-town gastropub, their penchant for trashing their venues (but paying the full cost, as if this means it’s OK) having been rumbled in the city. The power struggle to depose the current weak president leads to one trying to prove his point by menu choices, another by hiring a prostitute and a third by organising a post-dinner outing to Reykjavik (good timing, there!) in Dad’s private plane. As the evening progresses, wine is consumed, rituals are observed, behaviour declines and underlying attitudes emerge.

It’s a very cleverly structured play, because it leaves you to make connections and consider what the consequences of these attitudes are. In my case, it explained much of the arrogance of the last few years where our society has been threatened by people who think they have rights to rule and rights to exploit. This is what was so devastating for me, and the ending – which I won’t reveal – is both chilling and depressing in its believability.

The acting is uniformly excellent, with David Dawson – fast becoming the one to watch in his generation – following The Old Vic’s Entertainer, Chichester’s Nicholas Nickleby and Lyric Hammersmith’s Comedians with another terrific performance and Leo Bill a thrillingly vicious toff. Anthony Ward’s extraordinary lifelike set makes you feel like a fly on the wall rather than a member of an audience, but most importantly two young women – playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner – have put up a mirror to a small but very real and powerful part of our society in an entertaining but thought-provoking and revealing way without preaching.

After Jerusalem and Enron, this feels like the third in a state-of-the-nation/world trilogy and another theatrical feast.

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Well, I bet that title got your attention!

This show started in Malta and has landed at Theatre503 in Battersea via the Edinburgh fringe. It’s writers Boris Cezak, Kris Spiteri & Malcolm Galea are also the show’s two musicians and narrator. It’s tongue is firmly in its cheek and its huge fun.

Stefan runs away (from Malta) to the US when he discovers his fiance is a whore. He gets caught up in the porn movie business and falls in love with his acting partner but returns to Malta on developing an STD he believes she has given him. He’s followed to Malta where the rest of the farcical story unfolds.

The story is merely a vehicle for the fun, the music is good enough (with some very good song titles and lyrics), but it’s the performances that make it. Brendan Cull is a brilliantly nerdy Stefan, Jody Peach is wonderfully OTT playing fiance / whore Jade, Sophia Thierens balances porn star with besotted  lover perfectly, Alain Terzoli captures the vanity of the male porn star with a phd (work it out!) terrifically and I lost count of the roles (and the laughs) Ahmet Ahmet gets as ‘miscellaneous man’. The actors occasionally step out of their roles to complain about their lot and this works really well, adding yet more laughs to an already overflowing cup. I’m not sure the role of narrator is entirely necessary and may be job creation for the writer / lyricist!

It’s great to go to something that’s this much fun that’s staged and acted so well and I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Based on his plays that preceded this one, which I first saw 28 years ago, I always thought Tom Stoppard was too glib for his own good – he always seemed to be showing off, clever clever and knowing in a way that frankly irritated me. This was the first of his plays where he seemed to be portraying real people, relationships and indeed love! I don’t know whether it is, but it did seem to be autobiographical, then and now.

Playwright Henry leaves his wife for the wife of her colleague / their friend and later finds this new relationship strained by his new wife’s relationship with a younger colleague. It’s cleverly structured with terrific sharp and witty dialogue and the character development is excellent. You really feel you know Henry very well two hours later.

Anna Mackmin’s staging is slick and fast paced, aided by Les Brotherston’s set which moves between four flats with the rise / fall of panels. It’s very well cast, with Toby Stephens a particularly good Henry (I preferred him to Roger Rees in the original production and Stephen Dillane in the Donmar’s revival some time back).

This is the Stoppard play to see even if you don’t like Stoppard, because it’s the least Stoppardian(!) and you’d be hard pressed to find a better revival.

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I don’t think there’s ever been a major London revival of this, or Educating Rita which is running in rep with it, which is a puzzle to me(as is the fact that an excellent writer like Willy Russell hasn’t written much for almost 20 years!). Though the furniture and clothes have dated, the story is timeless and the humour has lasted well. How can a man write so well for a woman?

Shirley’s tale of an unfulfilled life is told brilliantly by Meera Syal. How do you command a stage and hold an audience for 100 minutes and make egg and chips whilst you’re doing it? (they looked good too; I bet the stage managers fight over who gets to scoff them during the second scene!). Well she does it so well and really does make the part her own.

Yet again, the Menier leads the way, breathing new life into a long overdue revival. Now I’m very much looking forward to Educating Rita next week…..

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Just four days after my return from Ukraine, and for the second day running, I find myself at a play set in Ukraine; and this was not planned!

This one covers events during the First World War when the country changes from a part of tsarist Russia to German occupation to independence to the pro-tzarist White Guard of the title to Bolshevik Russia in an alarmingly short period which must have seemed like anarchy at the time.

This is a terrific adaptation of Bugalov’s novel / play and a terrific production that only the National could do. It’s such a fascinating piece of history and the twists and turns of the play reflect the realities of the real events. It probably sounds heavy but it’s far from it – Andrew Upton, whilst being faithful to his source, has produced an accessible fresh adaptation which moves from tragic to cynical to funny seamlessly, but never lets up on showing the pointlessness of it all.

There are some great performances and it’s brilliantly staged by Howard Davies on Bunny Christie’s extraordinary sets that take you from apartment to palace to school to army camp and back to apartment – and there are special effects that make you jump!

What the NT is for…..

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The White Bear in Kennington is punching above its weight again with this black comedy by Julian Sims. A New York Jewish family end up as refugees in Ukraine following a nuclear attack whilst they were airborne. Most of the world is wiped out, but where they are in Crimea and where they want to be in Israel are still inhabitable.

It’s a fairly formulaic fish-out-of-water scenario which is raised significantly my Michael Kingsbury’s production and a set of excellent performances which squeeze out a lot more laughs than written. It’s given an absurd / surreal edge which successfully papers over the implausibility and predictability of some of the plot. A cracking performance by Sue Kelvin as the NY Jewish mother obsessed with her material possessions, and in particular her shoes, is worth the ticket price alone.

It’s a fast paced 80 minutes, but I think they should dump the unnecessary interval as to some extent it builds expectations of a meatier second half which really just ties up the ends and delivers a denouement. However, this is quality fringe fare and well worth a visit.

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Chronicles of Long Kesh

A play set in and about the infamous Northern Ireland internment camp in the 1970’s, with pop songs sung a capella. Mmm…..

Well, it’s good to report that it works. There’s no set as such, just an ensemble of six terrific actors , five of whom play multiple roles. It moves from angry to sad to funny to poignant on the turn of an actor from one role to another. The pace is fast, the precision is astonishing and the ‘gallows humour’ is delicious.

At the time it was on my TV and in my newspaper almost daily, yet when I read the programme before it started I realised how much I’d forgotten. Though it doesn’t take sides, there is a risk (particularly for those who weren’t even alive then) that it will bury the evil many of these people were responsible for and even glamourise  them as ‘lovable rogues’; this made me feel a little uneasy and would be my only reservation for what is otherwise an original idea executed with real panache.

The Q&A with the cast afterwards explained why it was so slick – these people have extraordinary chemistry with each other and seemed like lifelong friends rather than acting colleagues.

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As you walk into The Pit Theatre in the Barbican Centre, the cast of 19 and 2 musicians begin a 20-minute medley of Coward songs as a curtain raiser to this 3-play evening; what a lovely way to start.

I don’t often go to the Guildhall School plays (though I regularly go to their operas and musicals) but the opportunity to see these rarely performed pieces was too good to miss.

Coward originally wrote 10 short plays, which were performed in a rolling programme of threesomes (though one was only performed once). One of these three – Still Life – went on to become the film Brief Encounter.

The first shown here was Hands Across the Sea, a drawing-room high comedy that sends up socialites of the time (Lord Mountbatten allegedly believed it was based on him and his wife). It was beautifully staged with some fine performances from young people acting old believably.

The Astonished Heart was a much darker tragedy / melodrama with a very believable jump from the apartment balcony! I found this more difficult to get into.

Still Life is a bittersweet romance with added comedy from the station staff who often seem to be in a different play. The passing trains were created by sound and smoke, including highly effective offstage crockery rattling!

These plays show Coward’s range – much more than comedy, music and musical comedy. The last Coward I saw at GSMD – Peace in Our Time – was also fascinating, showing an occupied Britain after the second world war had turned out differently. Why are these so neglected whilst we’re subjected to endless revivals of the safer Hay Fever and Private Lives?

The production values are beyond fringe and the company is extremely strong; a treat for less than the price of a cinema ticket!

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This is the inaugural production (if you don’t count Punchdrunk’s secret and impossible to get into Tunnel 228) in the Old Vic Tunnels under Waterloo Station. The space is extraordinarily and makes the London Bridge equivalent seem like a plush theatre! If you go there, however many layers of clothing you plan to wear add another one or two; it’s very damp and seems colder than it is outside.

It’s a promenade production and for once you don’t feel herded by marshalls destroying the effect. Twelve people are detained for reasons we (and they) don’t really understand. Supplies had been sent down but have now dried up. There is no way out. Two factions have learned to co-exist until they clash over a seemingly useless answer phone.

Though overlong at 1 hour 45 mins, it held my attention and even though the story is not explicit, that didn’t seem to matter. I’m not sure it always worked when it steered into ‘movement’ accompanied by music though. There is a sound scape, in addition to the relentless thunder of trains above your head which make the tunnels themselves vibrate, which is key to the production. There are some fine performances, particularly from Christopher Tajah.

If you prepare for the discomfort, the atmosphere of the venue adds much to the experience. This is a very welcome space for experimental work and a very creditable first shot. Well done Delirium and well done Old Vic!

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Let me first confess that Shaw is one of my three problem playwrights (the others being Chekov and Pinter) who I’ve always considered to be a bit of a windbag. A revival needs to be timely, revelatory or well crafted for it to be worth(my)while.

This play was clearly rather shocking in its day and though some aspects of Shaw’s moralistic treatment of prostitution still ring true (hypocrisy in particular) it isn’t a particularly timely revival, so it fails that test.

It’s a rather old-fashioned and conventional production which doesn’t say anything new or say anything in a new way, so I’m afraid it fails the revelatory test.

The design is simple, clearly made for a play with four settings that’s touring. There are some good performances – Felicity Kendal is always watchable (and here seems to have morphed into a miniature Joan Plowright), David Yelland always gives an intelligent reading and the youngsters (Lucy Briggs-Owen and Max Bennett)  show much promise. I’m not sure what the point of the character Praed is (unless it’s to have at least one non-judgemental person) so it’s hard for Mark Tandy to impress. The production seems to me to be straight off the revive-a-classic-with-someone-off-the-telly production line and fails the craftsmanship test.

I can’t say I was bored, but I can’t say I was gripped. Indifference probably best sums up my view and I suspect, like Ghosts, it’s in for an ‘early bath’ in 4-6 weeks time; there’s no room for mediocre revivals in the West End at £60 a pop top price.

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