30 June 2008

2,000 Feet Away by Anthony Weigh

AG - Ian Hart
Boy - Joe Ashman/Oliver Coopersmith
Byron/Resident - Roger Sloman
Nan - Phyllis
Deputy - Joseph Feinnes
Woman/Manager - Kirsty Bushell
Waiter/18 yr old - Kevin Trainor
Girl - Miranda Princi/Charlotte Beaumont
Child - Charlie Coopersmith/Kalum Howard

Directed by Josie Rourke
Designed by Lucy Osborne

Seen in it's debut production at the tiny Bush Theatre

Celebrity in the audience: Adrian Scarborough

I'm not a big fan of Mr Feinnes but I cannot fault the job he made tonight. The american accents sounded fine to my ear and the young girl was remarkable.....but of the two listed in the programme, I am not sure which one she was (might be Miranda) but I suspect I will see her again.

The Bush auditorium stunk of diesel or some other noxious vapour for almost the entire production. About ten minutes from the end, it seemed to dissipate but I caught myself not breathing at various points. I say 'auditorium' but it's about the size of half a church hall with four or five rows of seats in a C shape. On one of the back audience corners was a framed copy of Grant Wood's famous painting(see above). We took some note if it and had fortunately committed it to memory before the (rather delayed) start of the play.

The picture was used as a running device that worked quite well to cement the various vignettes that formed the narrative of this piece. Ian Hart plays a sex offender and he is not allowed to be within 2000 feet of a place where children congregate. His character is called AG, presumably named after the painting which his parents annually dress up to compete for a look-alike prize which they won 11 or 12 years running.

So we see a slice of Middle America and whilst Mr Weigh has some good things to say, I found it wavered a little and preferred to view it as a series of vingettes, loosely connected. I'm not even sure it really lived up to the hype for me but I am very glad I saw it and it certainly made me think a lot.

24 June 2008

The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall

Oliver Kilbourn - Christopher Connel
Harry WilsonMichael Hodgson
Robert Lyon - Ian Kelly
Young Lad/Ben Nicholson - Brian Lonsdale
Susan Parks - Lisa McGrillis
George Brown - Deka Walmsley
Jimmy Floyd - David Whitaker
Helen Sutherland - Phillippa Wilson

Directed by Max Roberts
Designed by Gary McCann

Seen during it's premiere run at the Cottesloe. J31
Celebs in the audience: Alan Rickman, Phyllida Law, Melvyn Bragg, Robert Winston, Sinead Cussack (and an Irons Jr?), David Hare, Nicole Farhi and others whose names evade me.

This play sold out as the ink was drying on the press night reviews. Not a single big name in the production but a masterful piece of political comedy and based on a true story, to boot.
I saw it with a returned ticket in what appeared to be the house row on the night before it closed, but fear not as it returns to the Lyttelton in a few months. Suffice it to say I am glad to have seen it in the Cottesloe and it's not coincidence that the world and his luvvie wife rushed to see it there too.

I really enjoyed the variety of ways the works of art were presented. Some were projected and this meant the larger pieces could be split across the three screens. The canvases were on stage the whole time. Every scene change was choreographed so cleverly and each character was developed with easily identifiable personality. Fabulous piece with broad Northumberland accents.

They had run out of programmes but I'll get one from the next run. They printed bigger than normal cast sheets which gave a running time of 2hrs 15mins but unless I took 45 minutes to get to my car, they ran a good deal longer than that.

I should probably link to The Ashington Painters somewhere and a picture wouldn't go amiss.

23 June 2008

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

Taximan/Bystander - Steven Alexander
Bystander - Mia Austen
Freddy Eynsford Hill - Matt Barber
Sarcastic Bystander - Peter Cadden
Eliza Doolittle - Michelle Dockery
Bystander - Mark Extance
Alfred Doolittle - Tony Haygarth
Mrs Higgins - Barbara Jefford
Colonel Pickering - James Laurenson
Parlourmaid - Corinna Marlowe
Mrs Eynsford Hill - Pamela Miles
Clara Eynsford Hill - Emma Noakes
Henry Higgins - Tim Pigott-Smith
Mrs Pearce - Una Stubbs

Directed by Sir Peter Hall
Designed by Simon Higlett

Celeb in the audience: Diana Rigg and that lovely young actor I often see...Tom Brooke.......both in my row - L7

I cannot find a photo that does justice to the unique quality that Michelle Dockery (whom I have dubbed 'Dockers' for sometime) brings to this performance. She made the character's journey with measured ease and glided around like something from planet gorgeous.
The Old Vic is a venue that eats up a production like this. The horseshoe of the circle gives the stalls room to breathe whilst drawing in the audience from all directions.

I did love Major Barbara but this really was the meatier, more wholly satisfying production. All the cast were perfectly balanced and the audience were so alert and responsive. After receiving uncontrollable laughter from Tony Haygarth's first scene, he got spontaneous applause every time he left the stage from subsequant scenes. Colonel Pickering was pitched and just the right level and I have no good reason to single him out because they were all fabulous.

20 June 2008

Relocation by Anthony Neilson

Connie Johnson- Frances Grey
Katie Novak - Molly
Kerry Balfour/Connie Johnson - Nicola Walker
Liam/Umbrella Man - Stuart McQuarrie
John/Johan - Phil McKee
Marjorie Charles - Jan Pearson

Directed by Anthony Neilson
Designed by Mirium Buether

If Anish Kapoor were to turn his hand to set design, he may well have come up with this set in his early sketches. Darker than dark with an infinite black hole from whence the cast emerge and a front lit screen (who knew that rope lights could achieve so much?) for those slightly more brutal scene changes.

I really did think I had the hang of the plot and then a few curve-balls whizzed past my ear and I had to think again. Was it all a dream, a coma, a nightmare or a harsh mind tricking reality? Were we watching other dimensions fighting for authority or a ghost story unravelling itself? it would help if a playtext was available but there was none. They rather cheekily sold a leaflet for £1 which told you no more than you could find out in Wiki about the creative forces involved.

Lovely to hear Nicola singing again and she seemed to be carrying a bump not visible in Cloud Nine. Some very funny lines that were eerie enough to make you wonder if you should laugh. Yet another seating configuration to test my 'where's the window' game. Familiar faces in the audience but none I could name.
So much to think about and a very slick production. At last I know what a real dick-head looks like!

Royal Court Link

18 June 2008

The Country by Martin Crimp

Corinne - Federay Holmes
Rebecca - Jennifer Kidd
Richard - David Shelley

Directed by Simon Godwin
Designed by Rhys Jarman

Seen in the wilds of Chiswick at the tiny Tabard Theatre (above the pub) on a wonderful summer evening and on a whim.

When we saw The City at The Royal Court we chose the night of the post show talk. The Country was referred to a couple of times and this really is a companion piece. The characters do not relate but in both cases they are dealing with their environment and the effect it has on relationships. The performances in this piece were amazing and every bit as good (and well directed) as you might see on one of the higher profile indie stages further east.

The Tabard is a lovely intimate space with all the intimacy of The Bush and with the added bonus of a nice summer pub and garden (not to mention a wicked kebab house almost next door).

Our couple have moved from the city for reasons too awful to be discussed. They are trying to make a life in the country and unlike The City, we don't actually meet the child but there IS a counterpart for the neighbour and there is also much talk about (and to, via the telephone) of the co-worker. This really is like a concave mirror to The City and serves to cement my already high esteem for Mr Crimp and his prodigious mop of hair. Is there some connection between me thinking of their vast grey hair first when I hear the names of both recent Seagull translators, Crimp and Hampton?

17 June 2008

The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan

Mrs Elton - Jacqueline Tong
Philip Welch - Anthony Jardine
Ann Welch - Rebecca O'Mara
Hester Collyer - Greta Scacchi
Mr Miller - Tim McMullan
William Collyer- Simon Willians
Freddie Page - Dugald Bruce-Lockhart
Jackie Jackson - Jack Tarlton

Directed by Edward Hall
Designed by Francis O'Connor

Seen at comfortable close quarters in the Vaudeville Theatre during an evening show that seemed to have sucked in a lost matinee audience. AZ3
Note to self: Don't get sniffy about seats near the front of this theatre. Very comfy with no neck strain and a generally very tactile experience. Furthermore, there is a wonderful secret parking place nearby.

If I said that my eyes blurred with tears on occasion it will be apparent that even this hard old nut can be cracked under the weight of a performance such as Ms Scacchi's. I should also mention that I shed tears of laughter almost every time Tim McMullan opened his mouth. No idea where he found that voice but it worked for me and the younger members of the audience.

The 'paying cast member' among whom I numbered gave a peculiar edge to the evening. The strangest mixture I have sat with in a long time and whilst many of them were overly distracting, I decided that the only way to enjoy this was to embrace their daft interjections (yes, one old boy kept shouting ' Oh, GOOD line!' whenever one popped up) despite the constant sniffing, coffee slurping and uncontrollable limbs of the woman next to me.

Recently read a piece saying that Rattigan is our Ibsen and seeing this so close on the heels of Rosmersholm, I can understand why. I could also argue that it was like Gaslight without the conscious introduction of insanity.

Wonderful performances by all and against the odds of this very silly audience.

11 June 2008

Oxford Street by Levi David Addai

Boy Two - Reece Beaumont
Others - Will Beer & Demi Oyediran
Loraina Marceli - Preeya Kalidas
Boy One - Daniel Kaluuya
Aleksander Rydzewski - Kristian Kiehling
Stephanie Hannon - Amelia Lowdell
Kofi Graham - Nathaniel Martello-White
Emmanuel Lamptey - Cyril Nri
Darrell Obi-Anderson - Ashley Walters
Husnad Khaliq - Shane Zaza

Director Dawn Walton
Designer Soutra Gilmour
I think I saw Sacha Wares in the audience

I went to the first show after this production transferred to the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre following a successful run upstairs in Sloane Square. They moved into a deserted unit of W H Smith departed and I get the feeling they staged this in pretty much the same way as at the start of the run. The performance area was in a cross with the audience in the corners. The furthest points of the corners had a L-shape of a raised area and even included a couple of chairs with backs (rather than the stools) so I plumped for one of them. This turned out to be a huge mistake because I sat next to the small group of women who didn't realise that once the performance has begun, it is the actors turn to talk. The acoustics were not good when the cast had their backs to us in any case but these self-involved women were exacerbating the problem. It was also much too hot and when those women ran out of anything else to say, they complained about the heat.

The play was fun and whilst I am pleased to have seen it in such an interesting venue, I think it would have impacted better on me without the distraction of displacement. Very sweet to see Ashley Walters greet his kiddies after the show and heartening to see so many of the regular RC staff all mucking in to get the show up and running.

The Royal Court

09 June 2008

Contractions by Mike Bartlett

The Manager - Julia Davis
Emma - Anna Madeley

Director Lyndsey Turner
Lighting Nicki Brown
Sound David McSeveny

A deliciously intense 90 minutes. They was staged in a rehearsal room in the bowls of the Royal Court to which we were herded in to five minutes before the production began. An apparently ridiculous exchange between a personnel manager and an employee doing with the firm's Code of Conduct directives what Dave Gorman did with horoscopes last year.

Such were the magnificent performances (and I only saw Julia Davis from behind for the duration) that the fantastic premise of the piece seemed utterly plausible. Julia Davis was so calmly persuasive and Anna Madeley achieved an incredible blend of intelligence and yet submission and I would imagine a lesser pairing would have this piece hang in threads.

Royal Court Website
The Times

07 June 2008

Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

Agamemnon - Anthony Mark Barrow
Achilles / Priam - Paul Brennen
Cressida / Andromache - Lucy Briggs-Owen
Thersites / Calchas - Richard Cant
Hector - David Caves
Paris - Oliver Coleman
Pandarus - David Collings
Alexander / Helenus - Gabriel Fleary
Diomedes - Mark Holgate
Nestor - Damian Kearney
Ulysses - Ryan Kiggell
Aeneas - Tom McClane
Helen / Cassandra - Marianne Oldham
Patroclus - David Ononokpono
Ajax - Laurence Spellman
Troilus - Alex Waldmann

Director Declan Donnellan
Designer Nick Ormerod

You don't come to one of Declan & Nick's productions without a degree of nervous anticipation. It's not the first time I've seen him muck around with the space at the Barbican and this time it was a real improvement. We were told to enter the auditorium right at the bottom of the steps which would ordinarily lead us to the front row but in this case it lead us to a raised platform and eventually took us onto the enormous stage with the performance area right down the middle of two rakes of audience.
The design was very simple and worked with bold lighting. The presentation was a little messy in places and had a touch of the pantomime about it but some gloriously naughty risks were taken and they worked for me.
Sadly, I had a pompous fool behind me who declared that the only people who would come to see this play are those who studied it at university. Once again, I searched in vain for my pea-shooter but settled into the play without the benefit of her courtly interjections.

I shall watch out for the youngsters to turn up on the stage again. They were so comfortable with the text and made it such easy watching. A couple of mentions for Paul Brennan and Richard Cant. Not sure they were doing the right thing but there were certainly committed to it.

Cheek By Jowl's website

04 June 2008

The Revenger's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton

Vindice - Rory Kinnear
Hippolito - Jamie Parker
Lussurioso - Elliot Cowan
Duke - Ken Bones
Spurio - Billy Carter
Duchess - Adjoa Andoh
Gratiana - Barbara Flynn
Ambitioso - Tom Andrews
Supervacuo - John Heffernan
Castiza - Katherine Manners
Younger Son - Tommy Luther
Antonio - Simon Nagra
Piero/Gentleman/Officer - Peter Hinton
Whore/Gloriana - Donatella Martina Cabras
Gentleman/Officer - Conor Doyle
Judge/Keeper/Spurio's Man - Derek Howard
Judge/Nobleman/Officer - Pieter Lawman
Nencio - Jane Leaney
Sordido - Robert McNeill
Lady in Waiting - Pamela Merrick
Lord/Guard - Rick Nodine
Lord/Officer/Spurio's Man - Richard Shanks
Nobleman/Guard - Ross Waiton
Lady Antonio - Lizzie Winkler

Directed and designed by Melly Still with a bit of design help from Ti Green

Seen on the press night (get me!) of this glorious new production at my beloved Olivier. D7 (raised something-to-the-side}
Celebrities in the audience were surprisingly few to my keen eye. I did see Henry Goodman and SO happy to see young Sam Roukin who is about to embark on a wonderful career (currently filming with Jane Campion and Ben Whishaw) having started as a 'spear carrier' in Henry IV at this very same auditorium.
First of all, my due thanks to Poly because what she lacks in prodigious blogging she makes up for in true theatrical companionship and going out on a limb with advance booking. I even had the stupidity to hesitate in accepting her offer of a spare ticket! Thank you, Poly.

Thankfully, a late start (press nights are usually early but they had a delay with all the 'casuals' collecting their tickets very late) meant that my disasterously bad journey did not preclude me from the very loud opening scene. There we were, engaged in polite conversation when BAM, a noise even louder than the explosion for "Never So Good" and bring on the dance troupe.

With a very strong whiff of Hytner intervention, we were treated to a spectacular production with all the ridiculous ingredients that ask us to suspend belief and suppress natural squeamishness to effect a wonderful lark of unlikely jealousy and insidious revenge.

NO idea what Rory was doing with his accent but I did understand the two persona he was mean to show us. Gotta wonder what kind of mother is fooled by a son who has lank receding locks when he shaves his head to effect a disguise but that's the joy of Jacobean farce - oops, I mean tragedy.

I have never taken one of these side seats before but I can thoroughly recommend the front row of the side (row D) They are ridiculously good value and you feel as though you are virtually on the stage. I really think I had more eye-contact with the performers than if I had been dead centre. Perhaps they spotted the spinach on my teeth. The potential downside was that we missed some of the magic because we saw the full technicalities of the amazing set design. I can't even go into details because there was so much to look at and admire. I must mention the crystalline bar stools in the court scene and the wonderful corridors through the tricorned, revolving set.

Rory, Rory, Rory - you sweet thing. It's really hard to see him as the tough guy because I just want to put him in my pocket and save him for later. He did pull it off though, on some levels and his comic timing, whilst scarcely called upon, was delicious whenever it surfaced.

I have been longing to see Jamie Parker since The History Boys and his voice is intoxicating. A lovely balance to Rory.The play is as daft as a bag of spanners to a contemporary audience but it reassuringly follows the template of it's time and whilst my ritual of not looking at the programme before the first interval probably presented some testing moments, it's all pretty standard plotting. I sometimes get Middleton confused with Webster and this is prime example but if I wasn't familiar with the format, I think I might have been confused - more so than I actually was, I mean!

It was not until towards the end of the interval that Poly pointed out the page for the family tree! Now THAT is an inspired bit of programme content.

Go on - loose yourself. See some accessible Jacobean nonsense on a glorious stage.