29 April 2009

BAFTA ROCLIFFE New Writing Forum
Chaired By Mike Newell

This was primarily under the auspices of screenwriting but since the evening was based around live performance, I am including it in this blog. I found this to be varied, interesting and challenging evening. It was made clear that the actors gave their time for free but I suspect all the creative input was without remuneration and the quality of this evening surpassed any previous Rocliffe event I have attended. £5 well spent.
BAFTA and Rocliffe are delighted to announce that Mike Newell, the highly acclaimed, BAFTA-winning director of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin, Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and forthcoming feature Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, will co-chair the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum.
The BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum is both a platform for new writing, and a networking event. The format selects three 7-8 minute script extracts - feature film, short film or television drama sketches. The pieces are cast by a casting director, and rehearsed by professional actors and directors on the evening. A narrator sets the piece in context and the extracts are then performed to an audience of producers, development executives, directors, actors and literary agents.

Following each performance, the writer receives feedback from the industry co-chair and answers questions from the audience. The evening will round off with a Q&A with Mike Newell, and finally a relaxed networking session.

The benefits to a writer, new or seasoned, are: hearing their work read by professional actors; a development focused discussion generated by the readings; exposure to and advice from experienced industry members; feedback from an audience and an invaluable method to test out new concepts and material. Given the often isolating nature of the industry, the New Writing Forum creates an ideal environment for networking.

The Most Beautiful Angel by JR Bernucci
Narrator - Rez Kempton
Lucifer - Tony Maudsley
Gabriel - Paul Fox
Directed by Dallas Campbell
Backdrop by Kem White
Musical Introduction composed by Tom Hodge
Casting by Laura Dickens

This piece had a very good premise with very detailed back-story (to the small section we saw) but it seemed very self-conscience and lacked a little faith in the talent of whatever actors might take the roles by being too heavy on ever-so-slightly pretentious dialogue. This could easily be developed into something extremely interesting but needs some work or collaboration with a brutal but pragmatic hand. Some of the ideas were wonderful and even within the short piece we saw, there were debates that even struck a pleasing chord with this atheist. The performances were wonderful.

Mr Newell hit the ground running with an intensity that created an atmosphere knife-cuttingly still. One might surmise from his responses that he had a particular disdain for the chairperson but I am just hoping she was having a bad night. She annoyed me too and seemed to vacillate between being engaged with saying something that she felt was gloriously pertinent and then drifting into complete detachment. That said, I would not have not coped any better in her shoes - in fact, much worse.

Mike was clearly very excited about the amount of information and depth to the entire story and defended much of the criticism levied at the writer. He found the 'sex with an angel' crime (in God's eyes) after all the good intentions Lucifer had, a glorious concept. The writer said that the main thrust of his piece was that after doing so well and having such good intentions to solve so many of the world's problems that he might possibly being accepted back into God's good favour, this was completely nulled by his liaison with the Angel Gabriel. This was ultimate crime.
It crossed my mind that the other writers must have been sitting in the audience feeling deflated at this point because Mike twice referred to how much more additional detail and texture there was to his piece than either of the other two. He said it in a way that made us think he approved but I suspect he thought that his detail was as over-written as the piece we saw performed. However, while he was praising the writing of the final piece, he double checked with this writer to confirm that English was not his first language. Mike was rightfully very impressed and implied that he suspected that was why it was over-written.
I smiled so much when Mike said 'snicker-snee'. Haven't heard that in ages. He elaborated by saying 'cut & thrust'.

Boy in Amber by Julian Mountfield
Narrator - Alexandra Boyd
Edmund - Chris Overton
Petal(Francis) - Zac Fox
Chandra - Fiona Wade

Directed by Paul Callahan
Backdrop by Kem White
Musical Introduction composed by Simon Russell
Casting by Laura Dickens

First thing to say about this is that Zac Fox is to be watched like a hawk. Don't be put of by the stage school look of his website. He has clearly been watching the people he's been working with and taking notes. If he is careful, he will have a good, solid career ahead of him. The other performers were very good, given the tiny amount of time they 'd had to work on this but they were a little more heavy handed than Zac and the narrator mis-pronounced a word, which wound me up.
I feel sorry to say this but I felt as though I'd seen a similar story to this a few too many times in my living room. I don't think it would carry the right weight in the cinema but some extraordinary casting could make it work on tv. Ideally, I'd like to see it in an intimate theatre. Credit must also be given to the choice of extract, ending in the very poignant "beautiful, good" which produced an intake of breath from several areas of the audience. Obviously, I have not seen any of the rest of the script but in ten minutes SO much information about these troubled souls was conveyed with so little.

Mike seemed to love this piece too and it was at this point when I realised his praise of the first piece's back story was not to the detraction of the other pieces. The sparsity and use of staccato style language shaped the entire piece and expressed the character's dilemma beautiful. Mike was so enthused but the amount of text that had been removed from this to such great effect.

Mugs - The Life of John Bindon by Christopher Brand
Narrator - Caroline Wildi
John Bindon - Kieran O'Connor
Vickie Hodge - Alexandra Moen
Agent - David Hounslow
Newsreader - Charlotte Purton

Directed by Susan Jacobson
Backdrop by Kem White
Musical Introduction composed by Theo Green
Casting by Laura Dickens

This felt like a very well formed piece based on a true story I knew nothing about but immediately wanted to know more. The performances were good except for Alexandra who was trying too hard and being a bit silly with the pouting - which was an enormous shame because she is a stunning, natural beauty who could be sensational if she was less self conscious. She is to Hotel Bablyon what Jaime Murray is to Hustle - a bit of Kudos tottie that thinks it's enough to look lovely and flounce around like a vacuous model. Well, many models aren't that vacuous so get over yourself and see if you've got some real communication talent. I digress but I did find her antics disrespectful of the script. If she was trying to be an Edie Sedgwick she missed the point of her character and of Edie. Perhaps the fault lay with director.

The chairwoman started by describing this piece as something to watch with two eyes when she did in fact mean it was a biographical piece. She corrected herself later (sorry, but that is a huge bug-bare of mine). Mike adored this one too and commented on how it was clear that Christopher was an actor because he wrote 'speakable' lines. He said it should not really be the job on an actor to work out how to use an unspeakable script but that fate often befalls them.


The evening went on to discuss Mike's career which gave him more opportunity to give withering replies to the chairwoman. It was actually rather funny because she was clearly no match for him but I am not convinced that she knew this.

He wriggled uncomfortably in his chair when asked about work he had liked and really didn't want to say that he wasn't very pleased with anything he'd done except one piece - Bad Blood -which he said nobody saw. I think I must have caught it at the LFF because I do seem to remember it.

A woman in the audience wanted to further discuss a theme of conversation where he had referenced Donnie Brasco and as she was laboriously forming the question, he interrupted by shouting "say his fucking name!" a couple of times. She was clearly not familiar with the film and was quite shaken. It was hilarious, poor woman.

I wish I could remember more of what he said because it was intoxicating. I am sure it will spring to mind when I need a salient thought from the very, very wise.

It was a fantastic evening and any harsh or petty words written here could never be a match for my own staggeringly bad articulation.

27 April 2009

Parlour Song by Jez Butterworth

Amanda Drew - Joy
Toby Jones - Ned
Andrew Lincoln - Dale

Directed by Ian Rickson
Designed by Jeremy Herbert

Seen at the Almeida during it's first run in this country. We booked our usual seats, slightly to the side & just a bit cheaper but as has happened before, the lovely staff urged us to grab one of the few empty seats in the centre section. You have to love these people.

This is one of those productions I could happily see over and over again. It's interesting, thought provoking and hilarious. The performances are wonderful with Toby Jones very nearly stealing the show but for the equally strong performances from Andrew and Amanda.

The post show talk was marvelous and it's so nice to see Mr Rickson again.
The Almeida website does most of the work and I can hardly disagree with any of the quotes they have gleaned from the reviews. Be sure to listen to the podcast.

26 April 2009

The Great Game - Part Three

Unashamedly copied from The Official London Theatre Guide....

The Great Game: Afghanistan is a festival exploring Afghan culture and history through a series of specially commissioned plays, readings, exhibitions and discussions, running from 17 April to 14 June.

Tricycle theatre Artistic Director Nicolas Kent said: “The aim of the festival is to help audiences understand more about Afghanistan, and to open up debate, appreciation and discussion on Afghanistan’s importance to Britain as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.”
Part Three: Enduring Freedom 1996-2009, which plays in repertoire with the other two parts, brings the history of the country up to date with four new plays. They are:

Honey by Ben Ockrent

While civil war rages, a lone CIA agent realises the dangers of American disengagement. He has found an 'in' to persuade Commander Masoud, the Lion of Panjshir, to help get them back into the game. But with the Taliban closing in on Kabul, will it be enough? The action takes place in 1996 at the Islamabad US Embassy; 1996 in Massoud's Office, Kabul; Sept 8th, 2001 in Northern Afghanistan Massoud's bedroom; 9th September, 2001 in another room at the same house.

Ockrent is a playwright and screenwriter whose first play was The Pleasure Principle.
Masood Khalili - Vincent Ebrahim
Robin Raphael - Jemma Redgrave
Gary Schroen - Michael Cochrane
Ahmad Shah Massoud - Paul Bhattacharjee
Attendant - Ramon Tikaram
Reporter - Danny Rahim
Cameraman - Sagar Arya

Directed by Nicholas Kent

I have no idea why I didn't make any notes about this but so I'll read the text to refresh my memory.

The Night Is Darkest Before The Dawn by Abi Morgan

The widowed Huma is trying to reopen her husband's school following the American bombing and 'liberation' of Afghanistan. However, she needs to persuade six more girls to attend. But Behrukh's father is more concerned with his opium crop and who will harvest it. This is set in the country side, south of Kandahar, April 2002.

Morgan's plays include Skinned, Sleeping Around, Tiny Dynamite, Tender, Splendour and Fugee. Her television work includes Tsunami - The Aftermath, White Girl and Sex Traffic.

Minoo - Jemima Rooper
Huma - Lolita Chakrabarti
Alex - Daniel Betts
Omaid - Ramon Tikaram
Berukh - Sheena Bhattessa
Elmar - Sagar Arya
Tribesman - Paul Bhattacharjee
Tribesman - Vincent Ebrahim
Tribesman - Danny Rahim

Directed by Nicholas Kent

This was the other piece in the day that didn't get any applause. Abi Morgan is incredible when she is on form but perhaps this was not one of those occasions. I can't put my finger on what did not work but it seemed clunky. The actors made the best of it, though and it did communicate it's own issue perfectly well. Someone must think this was a good piece because there are more pictures around. Perhaps the cast were flagging but it didn't seem that way. Wish I could remember what didn't work for me.

Verbatim Edited Richard Norton Taylor

Richard Norton Taylor joined The Guardian in 1975 as Europe correspondent based in Brussells and in 1998 he was appointed Security Affairs Editor. With John McGrath he wrote Half The Picture, an adaptation of the Scott inquiry, which was presented at the Tricycle, Houses of Parliament, and on BBC2, and won a Freedom of Information Campaign Award and TIme Out Drama Award. Since then he has just edited most of the tribunal plays at the Tricycle including: Nuremberg, The Colour of Jusitice, Justifying War, Bloody Sunday (winner of an Olivier Award), and Called to Account - all ow which were later broadcast by the BBC.
Ashraf Ghani - Ramon Tikaram
General Sir David Richards - Rick Warden
Matthew Waldman - Tom McKay
Ahmed Rashid - Paul Bhattercharjee

Directed by Nicholas Kent
On The Side Of The Angels by Richard Bean

Jackie and Graham are working for Direct Action World Poverty, east of Herat. They are thrown together to work on a new project about land rights. In trying to help and settle local disputes, the results are not what they expected, as Bollywood, women's rights and tribal disputes create a toxic mix.

Bean is the author of plays including The English Game, In The Club, Harvest, Toast, The God Botherers and England People Very Nice, which is currently playing at the National Theatre.
Fiona - Jemima Rooper
Jackie - Jemma Redgrave
Jonathan - Daniel Betts
Graham - Tom McKay
Jalaluddin - Nabil Elouahabi
Dawood - Ramon Tikaram
Tribesman - Vincent Ebrahim
Tribesman - Danny Rahim

Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Verbatim Edited Richard Norton Taylor
Masood Khalili - Vincent Ebrahim
Mullah Abdullah Ghazni - Sagar Arya
General Sir David Richards - Rick Warden
Clare Lockhart - Jemma Redgrave
RIchard Holbrooke - Michael Cochrane

Directed by Nicholas Kent

Canopy Of Stars by Simon Stephens

In a bunker guarding the Kajaki Dam, two soldiers talk of chips and gravy, football, women and whether the British should start to negotiate with the Taliban insurgents. This is a searing insight into soldiers at war and what happens when they go home. The play is set in a bunker ner the peripheries of the Kajaki Dam, then during an army action in Helmand and finally in the front room of a house in Levenshulme, south Manchester.

Laurence Olivier Award-winning playwright Stephens is the author of Motortown, Port, One Minute, On The Shore Of The Wide World and Harper Regan.
Sergeant Jay Watkins - Tom McKay
Richard Kendall - Hugh Skinner
Soldiers - Danny Rahim, Daniel Betts, Rick Warden
Medic - Jemma Redgrave
Cheryl - Jemima Rooper

Directed by Nicholas Kent

Be warned that there is some really serious shellfire in this one!


Interviews with Lolitta Chakrabati and Jemima Rooper.

What's On Stage

The Great Game - Part Two

Unashamedly copied from The Official London Theatre Guide....

The Great Game: Afghanistan is a festival exploring Afghan culture and history through a series of specially commissioned plays, readings, exhibitions and discussions, running from 17 April to 14 June.

Tricycle theatre Artistic Director Nicolas Kent said: “The aim of the festival is to help audiences understand more about Afghanistan, and to open up debate, appreciation and discussion on Afghanistan’s importance to Britain as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.”
Part Two: Communism, The Mujahideen & The Taliban 1979-1996 comprises the following plays:

Black Tulips by David Edgar

1979, an army of a super-power invaded Afghanistan. Soviet troops were sent to combat backwardness and banditry, to defend women's rights, to build hospitals and schools. They thought they would all be home in a few months. The action takes place in 1987, 85, 84, 82 and 1981 in an Afghanistan briefing room for newly-arrived conscripts of the Soviet 40th Army.

Edgar is one of the UK's foremost political playwrights whose most recent play, Testing The Echo, played at the Tricycle theatre in 2008.
Commander - Daniel Betts
1st Deputy - Tom McKay
1st Representative - Ramon Tikaram
Interpreter - Jemima Rooper
Rifleman - Hugh Skinner
Captain - Vincent Ebrahim
Ensign - Rick Warden
Angry Major - Michael Cochrane
2nd Representative - Paul Bhattacharjee
2nd Deputy - Sagar Arya
Nahid - Lolita Chakrabarti
Meena - Sheena Bhattesssa

Directed by Nicholas Kent

This was a wonderful platform for debate. Beautifully written and very funny. Michael Cochrane was amazing again but all the cast are so strong it seems terrible to single someone out.

This was followed by another moving monologue performed by Lolita Chakrabarti & directed by Indhu Rubashingham
Blood And Gifts by J T Rogers

Two Afghans have risked their lives crossing the Pakistan/Afghanistan border to meet with two Americans in a safehouse. The aim is to negotiate arms but the Americans' offer of Enfield rifles, radio equipment and medical supplies is considered by the Afghans insufficient to repel the Russians. The action takes place in 1981 in The Frontier Province, Pakistan, 1986 in Washington DC and 1988 near Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Rogers's plays include The Overwhelming, Madagascar and White People.
Congressional Aide - Jemima Rooper
Soldier - Hugh Skinner
Abdullah - Vincent Ebrahim
Jim - Rick Warden
Saaid - Danny Rahim

Directed by Rachel Grunwald

Another engaging piece & I was reminded of the tv drama Endgame which I saw last week. Jim 'doesn't exist' but his actions are instrumental in the repatriation. Wonderfully observed.

Miniskirts Of Kabul by David Greig

1996: The Taliban are closing in on Kabul: shells and rockets are exploding around the capital. A woman is interviewing President Najibullah, who has sought refuge in the UN compound. He talks about fashion, communism, torture and whisky, but time is running out.

Greig's numerous plays include The American Pilot, Ramallah and Damascus, which played at the Tricycle in 2009, plus several plays for the Donmar Warehouse including a version of Strindberg's Creditors, which played there in 2008.

Writer - Jemima Rooper
Najibullah - Ramon Tikaram

Directed by Indhu Rubashingham

This piece was simply poetic. It was clear & to the point, funny and beautifully performed. Quite apart from the information given, there were fun interludes, one of which involved both characters dancing to a Spice Girls video. Jemima and Ramon were on fire & I could happily watch this piece again. It made me think that these pieces could easily be dotted around a tv schedule. If people can absorb information like this in snack-sized pieces they seem to retain the important information for longer and are more moved to react.

This was followed by a Duologue set in Herat, 1996 with Mohammed Masha again and a Taliban leader played by Danny Rahim. Other members of the company were Taliban and Nicholas Kent directed this one.

The Lion Of Kabul by Colin Teevan

Two Afghan aid workers disappear while distributing rice. Rabia, their UN Director of Operations, is determined to discover what has happened to them. The problem is her organisation does not recognise the Taliban, and the Taliban does not recognise her. She seeks justice but who is to dispense it? Set in Kabul, 1998

Teevan wrote the Young Vic's Christmas show Amazonia and his adaptation of Kafka's Monkey plays there in March 2009. His other work includes How Many Miles to Basra?, The Diver And The Bee and The Walls.
Rabia - Lolita Chakrabarti
Ismael - Paul Bhattacharjee
Khan - Nabil Elouahabi
Herati - Ramon Tikaram
Guard - Sagar Arya
Guard - Vincent Ebrahim
Prisoner - Danny Rahim
Prisoner - Hugh Skinner

Directed by Indhu Rubashingham

I'm not sure the lion's cage worked too well here but what can you do? Ms Chakrabarti was wonderful.

I am still trying to find the right pictures for each part but sadly failing.

Interviews with Lolita Chakrabarti and Jemima Rooper.

The Great Game - Part One (& general overview)

Unashamedly copied from The Official London Theatre Guide....
The Great Game: Afghanistan is a festival exploring Afghan culture and history through a series of specially commissioned plays, readings, exhibitions and discussions, running from 17 April to 14 June.

Tricycle theatre Artistic Director Nicolas Kent said: “The aim of the festival is to help audiences understand more about Afghanistan, and to open up debate, appreciation and discussion on Afghanistan’s importance to Britain as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.”

Please take a few minutes to check out the video here.

The audience soon seemed to develop a rather clubby atmosphere and we were told that once we'd chosen our seats for part one, we could call them 'home' for the rest of the day. I secured an end of row fairly near the front which suited me fine. I noticed the writers slid in and out of the upper right balcony and was a bit sad to see that Mr Stafford Clark was only able to see part two though he'd reserved seats at the back of the stalls for all three. I'll forgive him anything though!

I don't think I've ever seen a production at the Tricycle that used every inch of available action space. My previous experiences have been with more conventional roomed sets. I rather like to see all the chaos and texture of the building. The proscenium seemed a very long way back & I made mental note to look into the history of this building which I believe had been a public meeting place. The only drawback of this design was the difficulty in expressing much intimacy when needed but it's a small thing and so many different situations needed to be accommodated.

There is a big backdrop of a politically inspired painting throughout most of the production although not always featured. I had to make notes because we were bombarded with so much intense information over and above what appears to be listed at the website - punctuating monologues and duologues(written by Siba Shakib), some of which worked better than others.

I can't adequately express what a mammoth undertaking this must have been. I fail to see how even a sell-out run could begin to break even but it deserves enough success to allow parts to tour perhaps, or run consecutively nationwide. Everyone involved seems to have made the most impressive commitment. I am hoping that there are reviews which can more intelligently express the importance & magnitude of this festival.

I'd like to give a special mention to Paul Bhattacharjee for his chameleon-like performances. He has a mouth like Tom Stoppard when it's not bearded - just a bit of trivia for you there. He glides around the stage like a prince. I hope he's a nice guy. You have to admire MIchael Cochrane's energy and poise. Ramon Tikaram and Jemima Rooper worked beautifully together. Daniel Betts has grown up to be a lovely actor and it's so good to see Rick Warden again. Lolita Chakrabarti was ethereal and Vincent Ebrahim had both the energy and the variety in his performance that made the stage light up when he entered. Jemma Redgrave's first character did not stretch her at all but she really came to life in part three.

Part One: Invasions & Independence 1842-1930 features four new plays which explore the history of the country in this turbulent period. The plays are:

Bugles At The Gates Of Jalalabad by Stephen Jeffreys.

In January 1842 a contingent of British soldiers, 16,000 strong, retreated from Kabul. Only a few stragglers were left alive in the British Army's worst defeat in history. The General's wife, Lady Sale, documents the battles in the Hindu Kush, while four buglers sound the advance at the Gates of Jalalabad as a signal to any survivors.

Jeffreys's plays include Like Dolls Or Angels, The Libertine, I Just Stopped By To See The Man and The Art Of War.
Lady Sale - Jemma Redgrave
McCann - Daniel Betts
Dickenson - Tom McKay
Hendrick - Rick Warden
Winterflood - Hugh Skinner
Afzal - Nabil Elouahabi

directed by Indhu Rubisingham

It was tough to be the first piece on stage at such a strange hour on a Sunday morning and if I'm brutally honest, that did tend to show a little. So much so that I am tempted to return one evening for this part. Mr Jeffreys is very good at making an impact and it must have been his task to set a mood for the entire day.

So to plunder my notes, we started with a monolgue from the wonderful Vincent Ebrahim (as Mohammed Mashal) and directed by Nicholas Kent with various company members stepping in as Taliban. It was set in Herat, 1996. It was immediately followed by Mr Jeffrey's production but I was highly amused when the gentleman in front of me commented to his wife that the monologue seemed like an 'amuse bouche' to commence our banquet!

As I implied earlier, 'Bugles' did not hit the ground running at all. The sound of the actual bugles were too much for me and made the nerves in my teeth pierce my senses. I suppose I'm too old for loud noises already. There was also a rather critical lighting error and a closer inspection of the stage revealed that they were few marks. I don't know if it was one of the actors who missed his spot or something wrong with the techs but for some rather poignant speeches, one actor who was required to remain stationary, was shadowed by another one standing in his light. I have noted that this piece seemed rather cold and this is not what I expect of Mr Jeffreys so I can only assume it was the hour of the day.

This piece was followed by duologue directed by Indhu Rubisingham, that really didn't work for me and was one of only two pieces during the entire day that did not receive any applause, though I should say this was probably more due to a bit of audience confusion that a concerted effort to show lack of appreciation. I felt desperately sorry for Jemima Rooper (Malalai) and Vincent (returning as Mohammed Mashal) but at this point I even wondered if I'd made a mistake in booking for all three. I believe this link shows a clip of the duologue.

Durand's Line by Ron Hutchinson

Set in 1893 at guest house owned by Amir Abdul Rahman who has kept the Indian Foreign Secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand, cooped up in Kabul for weeks. Sir Mortimer is desperate to negotiate the division of Waziristan to avenge the humilation of his father's name. Rahman fights to protect his country's borders from Imperialist map-making.

Hutchinson is the author of Topless Mum, Moonlight And Magnolias (performed at the Tricycle in 2007/08), Says I Says He and Rat In The Skull.

Sir Henry Mortimer - Michael Cochrane
Abdur Raham - Paul Bhattacharjee
Thomas Salter Pyne - Rick Warden
Servant - Danny Rahim

Directed by Nicholas Kentt

Hurrah for Ron Hutchinson. The cast finally got into their stride with a wonderful text. Michael Cochrane was magnificent. This part of the production still seemed a little raw in parts but in some ways that served well.

Sadly, the cafe staff were totally unprepared for the deluge at the interval but I noticed that they remedied that 200% for part two!
Campaign by Amit Gupta

Set in the present day at the Foreign Office. Harry Hawk MP, Parliamentary Private Secretay to the Foreign Secretary, needs to find a new approach to policy in Afghanistan. Hawk summons the expert, Professor Kahn, to advise on the potential success of the 'supplementary plan' conceived by the civil service. While Hawk hopes that history can repeat itself, Kahn is not convinced that it will.

Gupta is a writer and director for theatre and television, and won the Royal Court Young Writers' Competition with his first play, Touch.

Harry Hawk MP - Tom McKay
Professor Tariq Khan - Paul Bhattacharjee
Tom - Daniel Betts
Directed by Nicholas Kentt

Now Is The Time by Joy Wilkinson
This is set the north of Kabul in 1929. King Amanullah, his wife Soraya and his father-in-law Tarzi are fleeing the capital. Their car is marooned in the snow, while Pashtun tribes and Tajik forces march towards Kabul. Will the Soviet Union help? Will the British interfere?

Wilkinson's plays include Fair, Felt Effects and The Aquatic Ape.

Amanullah Khan - Sagar Ayra
Driver - Daniel Betts
Mahmud Tarzi - Vincent Ebrahim
Soraya Tarzi - Jemima Rooper

Directed by Nicholas Kentt

I'm sure this is a silly, empty thing to say but Jemima reminded me of Julie Christie in all her arctic furs. She was serene, sublime and strong. This is a very tightly written piece. I made an unreadable note that seems to compare some of this to In The Loop. I have given up trying to find a picture of the Queen. Far too few examples out there from this production.

Interview with Jemima Rooper.

Please take the time to read the various reviews listed here I am not sure how long that actual link will last. Please have a look around the cinema programme too. I have seen several of these films and there are some remarkable pieces in the schedule.
What's On StageReview.

25 April 2009

England People Very Nice by Richard Bean

Elmar/Andre/Sweatshop Owner/Tchisikov - Philip Arditti
Officer Kelly/Patrick Houlihan/Rothschild/Asharful/Barry - Jamie Beamish
Hugo - Paul Chequer
Philippa/Anne O'Neill/Camilla - Olivia Colman
Benny/Naz - Rudi Dharmalingam
Norfolk Danny/Carlo/Aaron/Mushi - Sacha Dhawan
Ginny/Eels/Labiba - Hasina Haque
Morrie/Shah Abdul -Tony Jayawardena
Yayah/Rennie - Trevor Laird
Taher/Denham/Lord George/Gordon/Katz/StJohn/Milkman - Elliot Levey
Tatyana/Kathleen/Janice - Siobhán McSweeney
Dick/Barrow Boy/Thomas/Egg-Nog - Neet Mohan
Iqbal/De Gascoigne/John O'Neill/Chief Rabbi/Attar/Iman - Aaron Neil
Sausages/Lilly/Anika - Sophia Nomvete
Turkish Coffee/Major Evans-Gordon/Stetcher bearer - Daniel Poyser
Adriana/Sea-Coals/Rayhana - Claire Prempeh
Laure/Brick Lane Rabbi - Fred Ridgeway
Gaskin/Harry Samuels MP/Police Sergeant - Avin Shah
Sanya/Ida - Sophie Stanton
Camille/Mary/Black Ruth/Deborah - Michelle Terry
Bishop of London/Lord Ballast/Harvey Kleinman/National Front Speaker - David Verrey
Beggar/Anjum - Harvey Virdi

Director: Nicholas Hytner
Designer: Mark Thompson

Seen at the Olivier during what I believe was it's premiere run in a very central and close seat, kindly donated by a dear friend who couldn't make it.

Programme Extract
The noun refugee, derived from the French réfugié, entered the English language in 1685, the year in which France’s Catholic monarch revoked the 1598 Edict of Nantes and denied French Huguenots their right to practice Calvinist Protestantism. The revocation precipitated a large scale movement of Huguenots across the channel. In all it is estimated that some 40,000 refugees settled in England, the majority in London. In the centuries that have followed, London has remained a beacon for incomers, some entering as refugees others seeking economic opportunity. In trickles and floods migrant groups have come from all continents to mark out their future in one of the major capitals of the world. Until the beginning of the 20th century, with the exception of the period of the French wars, there were no restrictions on entry. It was in 1905, with the rise of anti-alien sentiment, that the first peace-time immigration controls were imposed; ten years later, as part of emergency war time legislation, the right to refuge on grounds of religious or political persecution was withdrawn and sympathetic use of the term refugee, to describe the desperate and persecuted incomer, faded from usage. It was not until the Geneva Convention of 1951 that right of refuge in Britain was reintroduced.
Copyright Anne Kershen 2009

The layout of the cast list makes this look like it might be a complicated few hours but is it a very clever few hours. It hurtles through the history of English ethnic progression with a couple of comfortingly familiar and simple plot repetitions that demonstrate the pure inevitability of the pattern of life with our initial resentment to change and infiltration, to our happy acceptance. This is constructed so beautifully and with such humour that the time races by. The performances are wonderful and what could have been a very confusing production slots into place like a child's jigsaw.

It's worth looking around the NT link above for further information. This is a play within a play whereupon the entire cast start and finish each half by returning to the contemporary refugee centre to receive notes from their director. This provides some very amusing interactions which make for further humour when the cast switch back to the period production.

For example, Taher has a problem with a line referring to Pride & Prejudice because he is asked to say "it's like Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth" when of course, he feels it should be "like Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy". He rightly argues that it doesn't make any sense so when it finally pops up much later in the period production, the audience love it. I wish I could remember all of the other such references as they were gorgeous.

The set was wonderfully used with backdrops projected from such a height that there was rarely any obstruction or silhouette thrown by the cast who were able to move around the stage freely. Various wooden doors were used as a main back wall through which to enter and exit but also to project drawings of recurring buildings (like a church, changing to a synagog, changing to a mosque) and other clever devices.

The cast were incredible as most of them had to twist and turn into so many different characters. Some of these had recurring plots and dialogue but with different accents however to my ear, they never faltered. Part of the fun was to also see the path that the actors took through the play in their different guises. It seemed like a wonderfully joyous company, all mucking in with the democracy that this play demanded.

I'll admit my poor old bones and larger frame were rather tested in the cramp of the third row but I was happy to not be in the front row which has even less room and danger of spittle fallout. Sadly, I was also in front of a pompous man who felt the need to bellow a commentary when he cottoned on to each plot device and joke about 90 seconds after the rest of the audience.

A fabulous production and there could not have been a more perfect pre-cursor to the day I had ahead of me on Sunday.

23 April 2009

You Can See The Hills by Matthew Dunster

Adam - William Ash

Directed by Matthew Dunster
Designed by Anna Fleischle

Seen on the first night of it's preview for it's current run at the Young Vic with unreserved seating in the lovely little studio. Spotted in the audience - Dominic Coleman (and with William in the bar afterwards)

I have waited so long and so patiently to see this and it did not disappoint in any way. I have been watching out for William Ash in the same way as I do Shaun Dooley and they have both filled me with great joy and admiration this spring.

This production started at the Manchester Royal Exchange and for some reason, was only given a week at the Young Vic when it was down here last year. The return is most welcome as it slid into my schedule seamlessly. I notice the Sound credit goes to Gerry Marsden. Is that THE same man?

The writing is so engaging and funny but I could not imagine anyone other than William bringing all these characters to an audience in such a tactile and involving way. He attended the same school as Matthew which must inform his understanding of the role.

Just read the reviews linked up there.

I am so pleased you can now find trailer's on-line. Such wonderful memories. I could see this again and again. That I saw it for the preview price of £10 seems almost too ridiculous, given that Messers Ash and Dunster have worked on this piece for so long.

......just in, Charles Spencer review.

Paris Calling: Readings at the National Theatre
directed by Marianne Badrichani

Holy Land by Mohamed Kacimi, translated by Colin Teevan
A contemporary tragedy set in occupied territories

Yad - Sean Jackson
Imen - Chetna Pandya
Alia - Siobhan Redmond
Amin - Andrew Scott

This was a very funny but disturbing observation on the mental ravages of war.

The beginning of by Pascal Rambert, translated by Kate Moran
A meditation on the surprise of love

The Contacted - Caroline Garland
The Parisian with Arrow - Andrew Scott

I have a feeling this may have lost something in the translation. I was constantly aware of how interesting the french language would have been here - even with my schoolgirl knowledge. It was a bat and ball exploration and sadly Ms Garland was not up to the challenge and ill-matched with Andrew Scott. An ambitious and thought provoking piece. I would love to have see Gina McKee return to Paris Calling for this role.

Moi aussi, je suis Catherine Deneuve by Pierre Notte, translated by David Bradby
A dark comedy of dysfunctional family life

Marie - Caroline Garland
Genevieve - Chetna Pandya
Mother - Siobhan Redmond
Son - Andrew Scott

This was the most entertaining and well formed of the bunch. Perhaps I mean, more pleasing to an English audience but it had the care and observances I adored so much in The Bankrupt Man, with the same absurdities too. I would have preferred to see more of Andrew in this but it was important that his character was absent for the most of it.

Very frustated that I can't find my notes.

17 April 2009

Jacques and his Master by Milan Kundera
Translated by Simon Callow

Mother/Agathe's Mother - Judith Coke
Master - Aden Gillett
Justine - Hazel Holder
Young Bigre/Police Officer - Syrus Lowe
Chevalier - Joseph Millson
Innkeeper - Siobhan Redmond
Jacques - Simon Trinder
Daughter/Agathe - Rebecca Whitehead
Marquis/Old Bigre - Simon Wilson

Directed by David Lan
In the little studio at the Young Vic as part of the Paris Calling season. I sat in the second row with an intimate audience.

I have something of an addiction to rehearsed readings. I think part of the attraction is that you know the actual experience it a total one-off. They are rarely done more than once and because the time commitment is so small (usually 2 days or three at the most) you find amazing actors doing them. That is how I came to see Gina McKee, Andrew Scott and Nicolas Tennant at the Soho Theatre last month. This sparked my interest in a wonderful programme happening in London called Paris Calling though the website is a bit of a nightmare to navigate in my opinion. I would really love to see the Cheek By Jowl piece but I can't afford it and tickets are hard to get now.

So to compensate, I have been noting the various smaller productions and there are several rehearsed readings - at the Hampstead, Young Vic, National, Tricycle, Bush etc. I knew there was this one happening on Friday & I wanted to book a ticket there to see the lovely William Ash whose show starts on the evening after the NT Paris Calling reading.

It was mayhem at the theatre. The bar was packed on both floors and Katie Mitchell's Dido is a sell-out so people were spilling out of every entrance & I could hardly get by.

The writer was Czech born but has lived in Paris for nearly 30 years, I believe. He could almost be the Czech version of Beckett. That the piece was translated by Simon Callow speaks volumes.

The main story centres around Jacques played to wonderful effect by someone unknown to me called Simon Trinder but interesting to see he was in Simon Callow's Merry Wives production. This cheeky young man has a great future. As you might imagine, the other main character was the Master played by House of Elliot's own Aden Gillett. To simplify the thrust of this work, pairs of people try to trick each other in love with a third party by devious means. The third party elements are almost innocents but easily lead. The play is in three acts but they worked straight through with just a dimming of lights between acts.

Joseph was beautifully cast as a dashing devil on horseback appropriately called Chevalier. His honeyed tones could persuade anyone to walk into a trap to further his own lust for evil sport. The big clue was that throughout his performance, he carried a silly yellow plastic comedy sword. He could have been a knight in shining armour but he most certainly wasn't - just deliciously and charmingly manipulative. There was a moment when he did some furious lewd tongue action and he was also very physically funny with something else but I can't recall it now. No playtexts were available that I could see. The cast had printouts rather than photocopies from a book, so it is my guess they just had Simon's translation and there is nothing published.

The play is an hilarious exploration of Jacques and his master's desire for love and it's intertwined with a sort of knowing play within a play (within another play) whereupon the playwright is deemed to be a heavenly being, one might say God. He was constantly referred to with skyward gestures. All the way through, Jacques is trying to tell his Master how he first lost his cherry but all manner of other stories interrupt. There was also a farce element to the circular interaction of the characters. In some ways, it was quite a complicated piece but the humour helped it along and justice prevailed as Chevalier was mortally wounded by the Master's bright red plastic sword in the end.

I blow hot and cold with Aden over his career but he was gorgeous in this and once again, I think he was perfectly cast. He was pompous and smarmy but also vulnerable and charming. Siobhan had a very small role but she was lovely. Rebecca Whitehead
& Simon WIlson were lovely too - they all were and as a production it was very thoroughly prepared with a lot more physical action than you sometimes get at readings.

A fun evening that I am glad to have persevered through the awful weather to see.

15 April 2009

Madame de Sade by Yukio Mishima
(translated by Donald Keene)

Comtesse de Saint-Fond - Frances Barber
Anne - Fiona Button
Madame de Montreuil - Judi Dench
Baronesse de Simiane - Deborah Findlay
Charlotte - Jenny Galloway
Renée, Madame de Sade - Rosamund Pike

Director: Michael Grandage
Designer: Christopher Oram

At the Donmar West End residence in the Wyndham's Theatre in a wonderful seat, kindly given by a friend who couldn't make it

It's hard to find fault with this production so I shall be interested to catch up with the luke warm press reviews.
For a matinee audience, everyone seemed very attentive and involved. The performances were staggering from the sparsity and dryness of Jenny Galloway's lines to the incredible monologues from Rosumund, Judi and Frances. Brilliantly naughty and funny with some heart-breaking turns. Is it bad that I kept picturing Johnny Depp as Sade? I think I had The Libertine in mind.

The costumes were great and I particularly liked the pale blues & greys of the final act.

I felt like I'd seen the set before sometime in the last couple of years but it worked perfectly. Music and projection stuff were a bit indulgent but it made the old dears sit up in their seats.

I can hardly believe there are still people who think they are less disruptive if they open their noisy sweets slowly than if they do it quickly get it over with but I'll teach 'em, one fool at a time.

Many of the audience rose to their feet for the second curtain call and the crescendo of applause for Frances, Rosamund and Judi was very exciting and stirring....had me wiping a tear.

Thanks Flip!

08 April 2009

The Fever by Wallace Shawn

A one person show with Clare Higgins, directed by Dominic Cooke and designed by Jean Kalman

I think Alexi Kaye Campbell may have been in the audience but he certainly stuck around to see Dominic in the Post Show Talk. Frankly, I wish he'd chaired it but that's another story.

Would that we all had the chance to expose and discuss our most concerned thoughts in a public arena like this. It's a magnificent tour de force with no real answers but the solutions really lie in the questioning. At the risk of stating the obvious, one of the most striking things about this piece is the fact that the idea of it began more than 20 years ago.

What's on Stage gathered some reviews from Monday night and the ovation that Ms Higgins got really said it all.

The talk afterwards was very entertaining. Mr Shawn was hilariously bumbling when trying to articulate his thoughts and Clare was so euphoric one was concerned for her health. Dominic was calm, considered and utterly adorable. Worth paying the full price for the talk night but we got discount for booking another production in this glorious season.

06 April 2009

Tusk Tusk by Polly Stenham

Roland - Tom Beard
Finn - Austin Moulton,Finn Bennett
Cassie - Georgia Groome
Katie - Caroline Harker
Maggie - Bel Powley
Eliot - Toby Regbo

Director Jeremy Herrin
Designer Robert Innes Hopkins

Seen upstairs at the Royal Courtwith unreserved seating on a £10 night around a kitchen/diner set in a corner flanked by 'L' shaped audience on two sides. Nobody of note in the audience but the bar was packed with people attending the press night for The Fever downstairs.

Just reminding anyone who stumbles across this blog that these are my notes to remind ME how I felt and not intended as a review in any way.

I don't much like children, and whiny teenagers (no matter how justified their whines) just grate on my ears. That said, I think all three kids made a very good job of the first act. Sadly, the second act is what I walked away remembering and it irritated me. There were teens in That Face but they were not expected to carry the piece and they were played by more experienced actors. I was very pleased to see that despite playing a similar age, Bel Powley certainly showed that she could bring more maturity than is asked of her in MI-High. By the time we got to the second act, I felt Toby Regbo was trying too hard to 'not act' and of course, all I saw was him trying not to act. His casualness was too measured but in both of these youngsters you can see there is going to be some talent worth looking out for. They can certainly hold an audience.

I think it was just the actual piece and the fact that teens were carrying it that I found difficult. I know it was really brave to make the leads so young and the material written for them was first class in the main but I didn't enjoy watching them for that long. The lines just started to sound like white noise until the adults entered but by then, it was too late for me to re-engage. I really didn't like Georgia Groome any more in this than in that Gurinder Chadha film. She just seems like a pushy stage-school kid who got the role because she badgered someone harder than anyone else. Fortunately, it's just a service character so I didn't have to suffer her much.

So the bottom line is that I was disappointed. This didn't explore as much of the family dynamic as That Face and I'm too old to enjoy that long a piece with teenagers carrying it. If it had been 75 uninterrupted minutes, I might have liked it. It also felt a bit sanitised and if I'm going to see this kind of statement on the plight of such a family, I want it to feel a little more real.
At the curtain call, young Toby seemed quite disturbed, so much so that young Bel gave him a reassuring stroke on the second bow. I wonder if I simply went to a less good night......

03 April 2009

Rory Kinnear in Conversation @ the NT

This was chaired as usual by Al Senter so we had to wait through a good five minutes of his smug and laborious pedantry waffle before the demure and patient Rory had a chance to charm us. It was worth the wait.

Rory quietly held the audience in his hand with his obvious but elegant adoration for his father.

He said that on the fourth day of shooting Quantum of Solace (at that point, unnamed) it actually dawned on him that everyone would see him in this. He didn't understand his lines and he was 'snoozy' at the premiere.

He also talked about his time as Laertes with Ben Whishaw and Sam Roukin (who was in the audience). The production started at 7pm and he was done by 7:23 with no need to return until 9:50. When asked how he coped with such a long period off stage he said he coped by living two minutes from the theatre. The European Cup was on at the time and he would go home, make beans on toast and watch a match. Sadly, the last match against Portugal went into penalty time so he missed the end of it but could hear people listening to it back-stage. I can't remember the details but while he and Sam were rolling around on the stage, there was some competitive provocations.

On another occasion he went to see a friend in a production down the road at the Young Vic. It was a short piece so he had a drink in the bar with him afterwards and David Lan (artistic director) spotted him and said he hadn't realised the Hamlet had closed already. Rory replied that it hadn't but he wasn't due back on for another 20 minutes. Apparently, Mr Lan gave him a look that said 'I will never cast this man in any production of mine'.

I really must drag that production out of the V & A archives for a look soonest.

Monica Dolan was also in the audience & I was dying to ask her what we might see her in next. I embarrassed myself by waiting for Rory to sign a postcard afterwards but it was an orderly organised line with him sitting at a table rather than an unholy fight at the stage door.