28 November 2007

War Horse based on Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Nick Stafford

Major Nicholls - Jamie Ballard
Swallow/Emilie - Alice Barclay
Chapman Carter/Rudi - Jason Barnett
Sergeant Bone/Colonel Strauss/Sergeant Fine - James Barriscale
Captain Stewart/Soldat Schmidt - Simon Bubb
Joey's Mother, a horse/Goose/Topthorn/Veterinary Officer Martin - Finn Caldwell
David Taylor/Soldat Schultz - Paul Chequer
Song Man - Tim Van Eyken
Young Joey/Topthorn = Thomas Goodridge
Joey's mother, a horse/Dr Schweyk/Coco, a horse/Geordie - Stephen Harper
Rose Narracott/Private Shaw - Thusitha Jayasundera
Veterinaray Officer Bright/Karl - Gareth Kennerley
Crow/Joey - Craig Leo
Young Joey/Emile - Rachel Leonard
Topthorn/Major Callaghan - Tim Lewis
Joey - Tommy Luther
Young Joey/Emile - Mervyn Millar
Paulette/Crow - Emily Mytton
Swallow/Joey/Crow - Toby Olie
Ted Narracott/Coca, a horse - Toby Sedgwick
Ned Warren/Heine, a horse - Ashley Taylor-Rhys
Albert Narracott - Luke Treadaway
Sergeant Thunder/Soldat Klebb - Howard Ward
Arthru Warrren/Soldat Manfred - Alan Williams
Heine, a horse/Ensemble - Matthew Woodyatt
Hauptman Friedrich Muller - Angus Wright

Directed by Marianne Elliot & Tom Morris
Designed by Rae Smith
Puppet Design & Fabrication - Basil Jones & Adrain Kohler for Handspring Puppet Company

Phew ! A fairy tale story about a farm boy in World War 1 but more about the forgotten animals in war. Some really lovely performances but the most credit goes to the horse puppeteers. They were so fluid and beautiful with such attention to detail.

A fun night out.

21 November 2007

Alex by Charles Peattie & Russell Taylor

Alex - Robert Bathurst

Directed by Phelim McDermott

Seen at the Arts Theatre Circle A2

No actors I could see in the audience but during one of my shelters from the rain, I think I saw Tom Hardy in a cafe

I had the misfortune of sitting (wedging) right next to the epitome of old Telegraph readership. This great lummox had clearly never been inside a theatre before, waded in with his tumbler of red wine.........and proceeded to stumble in and out to the bathroom with no thought for Mr Bathurst or his fellow audience members. He was clearly oblivious of the etiquette around waiting for scene changes. He was so drunk that he kept lurching forward as he dozed. We were in the front row of the balcony and the temptation to tip him over the bar was enormous.

I must say that Robert was wonderful but I just found the material a bit too tired and dated.

I was soaked to the skin in the 7 or 8 minutes it took me to get there and ringing wet all over after the 25 minutes it took me to get home on my bike.

The Country Wife by William Wycherley

Horner - Toby Stephens
Quack - David Shaw-Parker
Boy - Derek Howard
Sir Jaspar Fidget - Nicholas Day
Lady Fidget - Patricia Hodge
Dainty Fidget - Lucy Tregear
Mrs Squeamish - Liz Crowther
Harcourt - John Hopkins
Dorilant - Tristran Beint
Sparkish - Jo Stone-Fewings
Pinchwife - David Haig
Mrs Margery Pinchwife - Fiona Glascott
Ms Alithea - Elisabeth Dermot Walsh
Lucy - Catherine Bailey
Old Lady Squeamish - Janet Brown

Directed by Jonathan Ken
Designer - Paul Brown

seen during it's run at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket R16

Celeb in the audience: Fern Britton & Philip Schofield

Glorious humour, inspired set design and wonderful performances from everyone. With the exception of the carrier bag fiddler near me, the audience were marvelous too.

19 November 2007

The Arsonists by Max Frisch & translated by Alistair Beaton

Anna - Zawe Ashton
Chorus - Michael Begley
Schmitz - Paul Chahidi
Eisenring - Benedict Cumberbatch
Babettte - Jacqueline Defferary
Chorus - David Hinton
Biedermann - Will Keen
Chorus/Dr of Philosophy - Munir Khairdin
Chorus - Claire Prempeh
Chorus/Widow Knechling - Alwyne Taylor
Chorus Leader - Graham Turner

Directed by Ramin Gray
Designed by Anthony Ward

Seen during it's run downstairs at the Royal Court - Circle A18

Actor in the audience: Harry Lloyd - well, he was in the bar, at least!

I wonder why they needed to enlist the help of the fire department at a station as far away as Euston? Were Chelsea unhelpful or has that station been closed?

Well, thank goodness for Will Keen. Without his dry wit and immaculate timing this would have little to commend it. He was glorious and there were a couple of nice staging gags but I loathed and loathed and loathed the bloody chorus thing. As soon as they started, the whole thing descended to a school play for me. I should make it very clear that it was the format that grated. The performers were all top class. I feel disloyal but I always have my reservations about Ramin's work. I should try to rise above it.

On a practical note, I made the unusual choice of circle seats on a whim but I'm glad I did as much of the action takes place on the roof of the house.

Face to Face with Stephen Poliakoff

I really am taking the piss now! This was so fascinating that I felt the need to record the event here. I shall write more when I have caught up on my main reason for being at the Royal Court tonight

14 November 2007

Statement of Regret by Kwame Kwei-Armah

Issi : Angel Coulby

Soby : Oscar James

Val : Trevor Laird

Michael Akinbola : Colin McFarlane

Idrissa Adebayo : Chu Omambala

Kwaku Mackenzie Jnr : Javone Prince

Adrian Mackenzie : Clifford Samuel

Lola Mackenzie : Ellen Thomas

Kwaku Mackenzie : Don Warrington

Director: Jeremy Herrin

Designer: Mike Britton

At the Cottesloe during it's premiere run

I stumbled upon the press night and the flash of a smile let me in. There was a good atmosphere in the audience for which the cast must always be grateful.

A complex piece from which you can take as little or as much as you please. Very efficient set design and good performances though a couple were a bit too large for me. I didn't really grasp the point of our central character changing his accent around so much. I thought it might have been that he was more West Indian when he was with his father or halucinating but that theory didn't hold up. Ellen Thomas stole the show a couple of times which pleased me.

Interesting. I wonder what the reviews will say.

11 November 2007

The 24 Hour Plays Celebrity Gala introduced by Kevin Spacey & hosted by Ronnie Corbett

I would not ordinarily describe much about the plot in this blog since such information is always readily available elsewhere. However, after seeing some new writing earlier in the year and regretting making such brief notes, I decided that this night may warrant a different approach.

Assuming that the format of these 24 Hour Plays is well understood by now, I should explain that during a brief film shown beforehand, we learned of props brought by the actors and one provided by the frozen food manufacturing sponsors, the inclusion of which in one of the plays would produce a further £ 1,200 to got to the charity.
I have copied the Old Vic notes about the format of the event if anyone is not familiar with it

Fighters by Moses and Nina Raine

Billy - Kwame Kwei-Armah
Patrick - Samuel West
Craig - Ralf Little
Amanda - Elizabeth McGovern

Directed by Josie Rourke

Now this is terrible of me. I don't remember much about the plot of this play. Such is the mind of a withering soul. I remember that I had a sneaking suspicion that Elizabeth McGovern was trying to do a cut-glass English accent which she never fully achieved and should not have attempted with no time allowance for a voice coach. I also remember that Kwame and to an even greater degree Sam were woefully under-used. Something about the play made it feel like Robert De Niro had turned up in an episode of Neighbours but I think I am being too cruel. I am waiting for my friend to remind me of the plot. How ridiculous that I cannot recall any detail of it. I recall that Ralf Little produced all of his props to much laughter. It was very funny - I do remember that but it was not tight and polished ..........and the plot was unmemorable, apparently

My memory has been jogged but I decided not to replace the comments above because this blog is about instant reactions. This is the plot summary as supplied by my dear friend.

Talented but insecure boxer tries to psych himself up for the fight. He is being cajoled by the assistant, bullied by the manager. The manager objects to the on-off girlfriend. Girlfriend shows up, tension mounts, the boxer wants to quit boxing because he doesn't like the pressure. With the backing of the girlfriend he finds the nerve to stand up to the manager. The boxer fires the manager and between the firing and the girlfriend, he finds his backbone and decides to fight. He goes out for the fight and we find out that the situation was a set up between the manager and the girlfriend, who are having an affair. The assistant is clueless throughout.

Sounds alright, doesn't it?

Two Stars

A Handbag by Amy Rosenthal

Jez - Stephen Mangan
Zoe - Juliet Rylance
Victor - Donald Sumpter
Marilyn - Gemma Jones

Directed by Wilson Milam

Zoe's bag is stolen but Victor, the husband of the thief, brings his wife, Marilyn to justice. Zoe and her husband, Jez invite Victor and Marilyn to their home to discuss the theft. The bag has already been returned presumably via the police. This seemed like some cathartic act straight out of the plot of The Pain and the Itch.

The play starts with witty banter between Jez and Zoe as they prepare to receive their guests. Upon their arrival it is clear that Victor is annoyed with his wife's strange behavior and it transpires that this is an isolated incident. Marilyn sits in a daze but it is unclear whether this is with distress, denial or indeed peace. She even suggests it was fate they should meet and after years of drudgery she found the contents of the bag liberating and uplifting, filling her with optimism. Witty and touching with taught performances. What more can you ask for?

Four Stars

An Act of Love by Aschlin Ditta

Drew - Tom Hollander
Louise - Sharon Small
Catherine - Doon Mackichan
Ben - Obi Abili

Directed by Edward Dick

The star of the evening in my opinion. It hit the ground running and didn't lose pace at any point.

A couple let themselves into a flat and shout out for the owner who is finishing in the bathroom. Drew is very uneasy about the task ahead - going to the clinic for a wank so that the bathroom dwelling sister of his wife, Louise can have his child by the turkey basting method, thereby negating the need for the intervention of a male partner. After some awkward preamble Louise confides that her sister Catherine is not at all keen on the artificial method of conception so they (the two sisters) have decided it should be done 'naturally'. Drew was not a party to this decision. The banter is sharp and immaculately delivered.

Catherine emerges with the obvious intention of performing said natural act immediately. Louise departs for the kitchen and Drew strips down to his y-fronts and a perfectly judged detached petting ensues. The front door opens and the lodger, Ben walks in. More silly exchanges with the added contrivance of a packet of McCain Oven Chips being introduced into the script which he takes off to the kitchen to cook.

Louise returned from the kitchen when she heard Ben talking and is now left with her husband and sister in a state of undress and decides that she would feel better about the entire arrangement if she could watch them. This is not greeted with the greatest of enthusiasm but the curtain falls as the task resumes.

The joy for this writer was knowing the cast in advance and totally using Tom Hollander's talents to the greatest advantage. We saw the tech rehearsal for this and I must say Obi gave a better performance then but all in all this was wonderfully timed and a total hoot.

Six Stars

Get Tested by Laura Wade

Bob - Kevin Spacey
Claudia - Haydn Gwynne
Abby - Katherine Parkinson
Daniel - Tobias Menzies

Directed by Matt WIlde

Bob and Abby, an affluent but disparate couple are joined by a self-assured interloper, Claudia. It is clear that Bob has decided their marriage should not be a sexually exclusive union but does not wish to digress with any deceit to his wife.

A very practical arrangement is made with Claudia, to the extent that all three of them gain written proof they have been tested for the various STDs. Abby is clearly not quite as comfortable with this new stage in her marriage but becomes significantly more interested in the prospect when Claudia's friend Daniel enters to join the fun. Bob's mood turns on a sixpence and even the production of Daniel's test certificate does not placate him. Bob's protestations are universally taunted until he drags Abby away from the house, leaving just long enough for her to mouth a big 'thank you' to Claudia as she leaves.

I think this gets my 5 out of six rating for the evening. The performances were wonderful and once again, I suspect the writer had the individual actors in mind. Perfect timing and everyone clearly enjoyed themselves.

Five Stars

Dinner - Simon Vinnicombe

Susan - Sharon Maughan
Paul - Rob Brydon
Vera - Fiona Shaw
Mike - Simon Woods

Directed by Tim Roseman

Two couples meet for diner and are clearly on blind dates from a lonely heart's contact. I don't believe we are supposed to think they are the same restaurant at this point. We flit from one couple back to the other over various time-lines, both trying to make the best of the liaison and eventually agreeing to make a more permanent partnership.

Various rifts form in the relationships and cruel truths are finally discussed. We see the same arc of the relationship commence as the couples swap over.

I feel as though I may have missed or forgotten something here. I liked the little vignettes and the cast were wonderful but other than demonstrating the desperate nature of some people's desire for companionship and the inevitable repetition or our mistakes, I think there was more to this than I grasped or remembered. The enjoyable little sketches did not adhere well enough to make a satisfying play.

Three Stars

Tears by Bryony Lavery

Marilyn - Sian Thomas
Maria - Natasha Little
Moira - Nancy Carroll
Maura - Ronnie Ancona
Marta - Maureen Lipman

Directed by Tamara Harvey

So sad to end on the weakest piece. A bunch of silly women turning up to an adulterer's wake. They all have their points to make and they all have blue carrier bags containing reminders of their late lover. A few clunky laughs but a dreadful waste of a talented cast, in my opinion. Bad luck all around.

One Star

I cannot conclude my notes of the auditorium proceedings without mention of the talents of the heavily jet-lagged Mr Spacey as he introduced the evening. He really does have a confidence and charisma that both excites and puts at ease.

Ronnie Corbett was wonderful. He was unrelenting in his jokes around his diminutive stature and I only wish I could remember some of them.

Any harsh criticism of the work here is not meant to in any way diminish the wonderful evening enjoyed by all. A monumental achievement and that a couple of these tiny productions were virtually flawless is a testament to the greatness of the entire endeavor.

in other parts of the building we were treated to a brief look in at a tech rehearsal and endless champagne in the Pit Bar with a gracious and personal thank you from Mr Spacey. We were efficiently hauled away to the Plaza on the River for more champagne, raffles and generous entertainment during the 25th Hour Gala Night Party.

I fear that after years of resisting, I am now addicted and will need to find the means to attend next year.

I normally note celebrities in the audience but that would be a fools errand on this occasion. I will just say that Mrs Mangan sat in the row behind us and if I see Adrian Lukis at the theatre any more times, he will think I am on the staff. Esther Hall was there to support her beau but Bo was sadly not there to support his wife or current co-star. Rebecca Hall seemed to be enjoying the company of other thespians. The remarkable young Mark Field, whose performance in Vincent River will surely secure his future, was also in the front row and had benefited from the object of this charity.

Notes about the 24 Hour Play proceedure

The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices
Information sheet taken from the Old Vic website


The ultimate theatrical challenge. In just 24 hours, seven teams comprising of 1 writer, 1 director, 1 producer and 4-5 actors must create, produce, rehearse and perform a 10-minute play in front of 1,000 members of the paying public.

The breakneck schedule starts when the writers, producers and directors meet the actors who, one by one, introduce themselves, have their photograph taken and describe a single prop that they’ve brought. The actors retire and each writer bids for the actors that they feel most inspired to write for. Clutching polaroids of their chosen casts, the writers each head for their own room in a local hotel where, overnight, they’ll have to create their plays.

At 7.00am the next morning, the producers prise the new works from the hands of the weary writers, and frantically photocopy and distribute them. The directors read the plays and make impassioned bids for their favourites. Once everyone has been assigned a play, the rush begins to create ideas before the casts arrive.

Come 9.00am, the actors and directors are at work around the theatre - a process managed and co-ordinated by the producers. Each cast has just 11 hours to rehearse the show and memorise their parts.

A short technical rehearsal that afternoon is the last chance for directors to make changes, and for actors to learn lines. The producers are on hand ready to tackle all the inevitable last-minute crises.

At 8.00pm, the moment of judgment arrives. The Old Vic is a-buzz with 1000 eager theatregoers waiting to see six brand new plays, ink barely dry on the scripts. As the curtain rises, an evening of spontaneous creativity rarely seen in the theatre begins...


Each year, a celebrity 24 Hour Plays gala is held at The Old Vic to raise money for Old Vic New Voices. Previous casts have featured a host of well-known theatre, TV and film talent, including Catherine Tate, Brooke Shields, Brian Cox, Gabriel Garçia Bernal, Joseph Fiennes, Jim Broadbent, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Meera Syal.

In 2005, we decided to throw out the same nail-biting challenge to 18-25 year old practitioners. The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices project was born, with a company of 50 young actors, writers, directors and producers receiving support and advice from a host of professionals (including Patrick Marber, Claire Higgins, Michael Sheen, Patsy Rodenberg and Sam Adamson) to prepare them for their big day. The event was such a success that we made The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices an annual sister event to the gala show.

09 November 2007

Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill

Clive/Cathy - James Fleet
Joshua/Gerry - Mark Letheren
Harry Bagley/Martin - Tobias Menzies
Betty/Edward - Bo Poraj
Maud/Victoria - Joanna Scanlan
Ellen/Mrs Saunders/Lin - Sophie Stanton
Edward/Betty - Nicola Walker

Directed by Thea Sharrock
Designed by Peter McKintosh

Seen during it's revival at the Almeida D9

Celebrity in the audience - Daniel Radcliffe??? but I could be wrong there

Joy of joys. Caryl's work can either excite me or confuse me and this happily falls into the former camp but further energised beyond my wildest dreams by Thea Sharrock's inspired direction. Wonderful performances given because they were so perfectly cast. I could happily see this again - time permitting. Seriously thinking about going to the last night.

..........didn't make the last night but I did get another chance on 7th December. Utterly wonderful again and as the run waltzed to the end the cast had a really naughty time.

08 November 2007

Rafta, Rafta by Ayub Khan-Din & Bill Naughton

Eeshwar Dutt - Harish Patel
Atul Dutt - Ronny Jhutti
Jai Dutt - Rudi Dharmalingam
Etash Tailor - Arsher Ali
Jibaj Bhatt - Simon Nagra
Lopa Dutt - Meera Syal
Lata Patel - Shaheen Khan
Vina Patel - Rokhsaneh Gwawam-Shahidi
Moly Bhatt - Natalie Grady
Laxman Patel - Kirss Dosanjh

Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Designed by Tim Hatley

Seen during it's long run at the Lyttelton Theatre G19

Celebrity in the audience - Stephen Frears

I suffered with a donkey braying woman behind me during this......and not even at appropriate moments. It looked good and would have had some really poignant points to make between the comic lines if I had the luxury of being able to hear it over the screeching behind. I am sure this is very clever. I have a vested interest because Bill Naughton was a client of my father's and visited us from time to time with his lovely wife.

07 November 2007

Vincent River by Philip RIdley

Anita - Lynda Bellingham
Davey - Mark Field

Directed by Rebecca McCutcheon
Designed by Harry Scott

Seen in it's premiere run at the Trafalgar Studio 2 C13

Very intense story of love, bereavement and denial. Wonderful performances, full on for the duration and at the perfect venue.