29 May 2009

the hotel by wallace shawn (rehearsed reading)

Wonderful bit if clever nonsense & I am too lazy to type all the details so here is a clickable facsimile.
Part of the Shawn Wallace season and this was the first of five rehearsed readings. I had the advantage of sitting at the right angle to see the joyful, friendly tortoise both mouthing and laughing at his own words like a child at Christmas. This needlessly enhanced my enjoyment of the piece to levels that I hardly knew how to contain.

The next bit of joy, since I was not familiar with the text, came when having previously imagined that with a cast of 60 and a running time of just over an hour, no one actor would have much time on stage, it transpired that Benedict Cumberbatch was ringmaster and his deliciously dry interludes gathered the whole randomness of the vignettes together.

This cast clearly had a good deal of fun with the piece and most were off book as their lines were short. I would love to know how long they had to rehearse this because it could have been chaos in the wrong hands. Some Royal Court front of house staff and a couple of members of the creative team were also roped in. Using the Aunt Dan and Lemon set had it's advantages from the respect of all the entrances and traditional room setting but it must have taken a good deal of effort to stage this jigsaw of a production.

The bar was buzzing afterwards and various people dropped by to either see the reading or meet up with friends. Apart from the cast, we noticed Martin Crimp, Mel Kenyon, Hattie Morahan & Neil Tennant.

Fortunately, there are cheaper places to find the playtext than this.

28 May 2009

Dido, Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe

Iarbus : Obi Abili
Singer/Lord : Jake Arditti
Aeneas : Mark Bonnar
Anna : Siân Brooke
Cloanthus : Gary Carr
Jupiter/Lioneus : Alan David
Juno/Nurse : Susan Engel
Ascanius : Freddie Hill (this night)
(Ascanius : Thomas Patten)
Dido : Anastasia Hille
Achates : Stephen Kennedy
Mercury/Hermes : Kyle McPhail
Venus : Siobhan Redmond
Ganymede/Sergestus : Ryan Sampson
Cupid : Ceallach Spellman (this night)
(Cupid : Theo Stevenson)

Director: James Macdonald
Set Designer: Tobias Hoheisel

Seen during the middle of it's run at the Cottesloe in the middle of a row towards the back of The Pit.

Extract from the programme for Dido, Queen of Carthage:

Dido, queen of carthage
First published in 1594, the year after Marlowe died. There are only three copies of this text in existence. The title page claims the play was first performed by Her Majesties Children of the Chapel, and was co-authored by Thomas Nashe. It’s unclear what Nashe’s role might have been, as the play is thematically and poetically almost a blueprint for Marlowe’s subsequent work, but totally unlike what we know of Nashe’s playwriting.

First play?
An adaptation primarily of Vergil’s Aeneid, which figured largely in an Elizabethan grammar school education. The script certainly has all the precocity of a first play by an ambitious young controversialist, from the moment of its opening stage direction: Here the curtains draw. There is discovered JUPITER dandling GANYMEDE upon his knee, and MERCURY lying asleep – a ganymede was Elizabethan slang for a male prostitute, and this scene is entirely Marlowe’s invention. Marlowe was born in Canterbury in 1564, the son of a shoemaker, and went to Cambridge on a religious scholarship funded by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The future atheist and fan of boys and tobacco seems to have learnt most of his Latin from the pagan poets, closest to his heart being Ovid – whose Amores he translated (published and immediately banned in the years after Marlowe’s death) – and who also in Heroides has Dido write a long letter to Aeneas telling him why she will kill herself.

Copyright James MacDonald 2009
When I heard about this production, the inclusion of Anastasia Hille was the hook-that-made-me-book and she did not disappoint. For me, she's the Tilda Swinton of the stage and she showed me things I had not seen her do before, which is always a thrill.

There was some deliciously amusing bits of staging and I think everyone had a lot of fun. I have seen very little Marlowe (unless you subscribe to the view that he wrote all of Billie's stuff). Why is that?
I am rather cross that all the press photos seem to have the yellow curtains so I can't show you the beautiful cobalt sea. I can't find a silly enough picture of Ryan Sampson, either. Oh - the kids were quite good in this, which is a godsend.

27 May 2009

Collaboration by Ronald Harwood

Pauline Stevens - Isla Blair
Paul Adoplh - Pip Donaghy
Hans Hinkel - Martin Hutson
Charlotte Altmann - Sophie Roberts
Richard Strauss - Michael Pennington
Stefan Zweig - David Horovitsch

Directed by Philip Franks
Designed by Simon Higlett

Seen for free on press night in the back of the steep, steep circle.

I must have missed something here. The stalls seemed to have thought it was wonderful but found it very ordinary. I trust Mr Harwood's words and the main cast are all very capable so I am going to lay the blame with the director and a bit of press nerves. I loathed the squeeling and I found the emotional scenes rather disconnected. The jumping around from set to set didn't work for me either.

What's On Stage review.

Taking Sides by Ronald Harwood

Helmuth Rode - Pip Donaghy
Lieutenant David Wills - Martin Hutson
Emmi Staube - Sophie Roberts
Dr Willhelm Furtwaengler - Michael Pennington
Major Steve Arnold - David Horovitsch
Tamara Sachs - Melanie Jessop

Directed by Philip Franks
Designed by Simon Higlett

Got a free ticket for this and thought I was coming to a preview. As it turned out I was filling a seat at the press performance. Had I been better dressed I could have ligged myself into the Sofra party with great ease. Sat up near the front of the Dress Circle but this is such a tiny theatre that the old vertigo kicked en route to the seat.

I loved what they did with the two short Pinter plays a couple of years ago but these are two longer Harwood plays and for my money, they were shown the wrong way round for the Press. I found the fourth wall thing tantamount to breaking the contract I made with them when I took my seat and the shrill squawking was embarrassing. Two or three good performances were let down by extremely mediocre and I don't blame the actors for this. The young couple were left hanging around with nothing to do like apologetic statues and with their office setting, they could have easily looked more natural. It was like bad musical hall at some points. I know I'm in the minority because it would never had made it's way from Chichester if it had been genuinely bad.

What's On Stage Review.

21 May 2009

Grasses of a Thousand Colours by Wallace Shawn

Rose - Emily McDonnell
Cerise - Miranda Richardson
The Memoirist (Ben) - Wallace Shawn
Robin - Jennifer Tilly

Director Andre Gregory
Designer Eugene Lee

Seen at great length upstairs in The Royal Court during it's premiere run there. We went on Post Show Talk night but they cancelled the talk because the production is so bloomin' loooong.

I could argue that if I had not heard this adorable man (Shawn) bumbling away on Radio 4's Today programme and stayed for the talk after The Fever, I would have been very uncomfortable from the start, imagining that he had forgotten his own text and was using hackneyed techniques to fill the air while he remembered. Even armed with these previous experiences there were moments of discomfort but they were far outweighed by much laughter (until I lost the energy to do so).

There is a point when Cerise gently enquires if anyone in the audience doesn't like talking about sex. Of course, we are all seasoned theatre-goers so we don't imagine she is asking this for any other reason than for dramatic effect but then she reforms the question with a sense of urgency and then a rather brusque insistence that if you don't like sex in theatre you should leave and don't worry, she'll wait until you have gone. Her next few lines are fairly lacking in any seriously salacious content but something like 15 minutes later, your mind floats back to her scene (which does actually bring the production to a brave half for a moment) as you hear things described and discussed that you could not have dreamt or anticipated.

I loved seeing Miranda Richardson glide a few feet in front of me. Emily and Jennifer were also fine but this could just have easily been told by Wally sitting in a nice cosy arm chair. I am really not convinced the wives needed to be there. Some of the projection work was interesting and beautiful but I didn't really think this piece warranted quite so much of a mixed media feel.

Have a look at what The Independent, The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times had to say.

19 May 2009

All's Well that Ends Well
by William Shakespeare

Violenta : Cassie Atkinson
Gentleman Astringer : Jolyon Coy
King of France : Oliver Ford Davies
Diana : Hasina Haque
Interpreter : Robert Hastie
Lavatch : Brendan O'Hea
The Widow : Janet Henfrey
The Countess of Rossillion : Clare Higgins
Parolles : Conleth Hill
2nd Lord Dumaine : Tony Jayawardena
Mariana : Sioned Jones
1st Lord Dumaine : Elliot Levey
Rynaldo : Michael Mears
Bertram : George Rainsford
Helena : Michelle Terry
Lafew : Michael Thomas
Ensemble : Ben Allen
Ensemble : Rob Delaney
Ensemble : Oliver Wilson
Ensemble : Tom Padley
Ensemble : Alex Felton

Director: Marianne Elliott
Designer: Rae Smith

Seen on the first night of preview at the glorious Olivier, so I shall have to remember to come back with pictures after Press Night (when I can steal the bigger ones from the papers). Nobody of note in the audience but interesting bits of productiony type paperwork littering the place & someone (director?) left their notes casually lying around at the end. I managed to stop myself from stealing them and licking them before bedtime.

I had to admire young George Rainsford, leaping onto the stage with such brio and I am proud to say, as a fully paid up, conscientious and enthusiastic member of the forth wall, the audience greeted him with great audible joy and I took a few moments to thrill at the thought that must have put the whole cast at ease to hear such a favourable early reaction.

There were so many lovely things happening tonight. Michael Mears' dual role was an absolute delight and from my vantage point to the side, I found his entire performance (and he did not relax for one moment) in the background one of the little gems of this glittering jewel box of silliness. It's always hard when there are so many lucky actors who get to play everything for laughs around a whole team of actors dealing with the serious matters of regal illness and unrequited love and I suspect some of the balances may change a little. Perhaps I am a little too fresh from the wonderful Matthew Warchus masterclass but I think there might be ways of the serious stuff getting a few more laughs (if indeed, that desirable) if some of the rest of the cast play things more seriously, if you see what I mean.

I found there were a few dead zones but in the most part, it was a good galloping jaunt through this piece. The Lords Dumaine were nicely cast and a treat to see Elliot & Tony so close on the heels of my trip to England People Very Nice.

The set was heavily influenced by Tim Burton and there was a touch of Andromaque with the red petals. The animation with the owl etc was not as wonderfully subtle as Nocturnal and I really don't think the little shadow puppet videos at the end of Act II and we could only really see the images clearly on one of them, from where we were sitting.

I hope they all enjoy this run as it's a long old piece.

Tunnel 228, A Punchdrunk production

I'm going to put a bunch of reviews & blogs in here to best serve this piece as everyone gets something different from it depending upon how dirty you are prepared to get. A pair of surgical gloves would have been as useful as the gauze mask we were given at the door.

I was a little disappointed that I didn't get into a couple of the rooms - one due to lack of response and the other due to lack of tenacity on my part (though I caught a sneaky look when he opened the door for someone in front of me). I can't complain since it was free but I would like to have experienced a bit more performance. Some of the installations were remarkable so I'm going to include a picture or two. Was it just me or did anyone else find it easier to see in the dark after removing the mouth mask?

The Guardian, The Independent, there is quite a detailed account in Victor E's reply to the WEW's blog entry and I would concur with this blog. If you pitch up, they'll let you in. That said, it's nigh on impossible to know which days it's open at what times as I was one of the last to go in on my day, whereas other days went well into the evening. I also feel that I was short changed by being late in the day. I think some of the set pieces had packed up and gone to the pub soon after 6pm. There's another blog here.

14 May 2009

Time and the Conways by J B Priestley

Mrs Conway : Francesca Annis
Carol Conway : Faye Castelow
Robin Conway : Mark Dexter
Joan Helford : Lisa Jackson
Hazel Conway : Lydia Leonard
Kay Conway : Hattie Morahan
Gerald Thornton : Alistair Petrie
Alan Conway : Paul Ready
Ernest Beevers : Adrian Scarborough
Madge Conway : Fenella Woolgar

Ensemble: Lorna Beckett, Jessie Burton, Lucy Cudden, Lynette Edwards, Simon Markey, Perri Snowdon

Director: Rupert Goold
Designer: Laura Hopkins

Seen during it's revival run at the Lyttelton with a wonderful standby ticket in row E of the stalls.

I seem to have seen so many wonderful contemporary pieces lately that I was almost reluctant to step back into the drawing room but this production was real feast. Paul Ready gave such a beautiful performance that I found myself watching him whilst all the women were chattering away. My prejudice against Ms Annis (dating back to an odious performance in the audience at the Donmar) was restored to one of admiration and Hattie Morahan seemed to bring the younger actors to order when her grace entered the room.

I hardly recognised Adrian Scarborough when he first entered as he had darkened hair and brows and he gives a lovely performance as his character grows. Sadly for Alistair Petrie, there is not a great deal he can do with Mr Thornton as he only has one real scene of any depth but his performance cannot be faulted.

The staging of the timey-wimey sequences was stunning. The transition at the end of the first act made me want to rewind the tape to see it again. The mirror performance effect at the end of Act 2 was so dangerous and could have been so awful if it had not been so beautifully staged. The shimmering, ghostly projections of Kay and Alan at the end of Act 3 were interesting and the use of the Lyttelton's funny safety hatch system was used to great effect at several points during the production.

A wonderful and unexpected night of joy.

08 May 2009

Dimetos by Athol Fugard

Lydia - Holliday Grainger
Danilo - Alex Lanipekun
Dimetos - Jonathan Pryce
Sophia - Anne Reid

Director: Douglas Hodge
Designer: Bunny Christie

At the Donmar towards the end of it's run. Terry Gilliam and David Morrissey in the audience, as was Douglas Hodge, if that actually counts!
Man is the only animal to be trapped by time.
Exhausted by life in the city as a highly skilled engineer, Dimetos escapes to a remote coastal village with his niece and housekeeper in search of a simpler existence. Five years on, a stranger from the metropolis arrives to tempt him back with devastating consequences.

Athol Fugard’s powerful and deeply moving story about love, guilt and retribution explores faith in a modern world of moral decay

The staging of the suicide was very effective. Great performances from everyone and such a lovely theatre. It reminded me of Mrs Affleck in some ways but that may have simply been the desolate beach element. Far better staging, of course. A contemplative piece in the hands of a delicately confident cast and director.

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Edited to Add: Douglas Hodge spoke about this production during his masterclass at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and he clearly had a wonderful time with his actors.

07 May 2009

Nocturnal by Juan Mayorga
translated by David Johnston

Doctor - Martin Dunster
Short Man - Paul Hunter
Short Woman - Amanda Lawrence
Tall Man - Justin Salinger
Tall Woman - Justine Mitchell

Directed by Lyndsey Turner
Designed by Matthew Walker & Hannah Clark
Animation by Matthew Walker

Two men live in the same apartment block. One likes long walks, Greek myths and foreign languages. The other likes making lists, fixing bikes and blackmail.

One day, they bump into each other in a local café. Only this is no coincidence: one of them has been planning this moment for a very, very, very long time.

When you're alone in a big city, how far would you go to make a new friend?

A brilliant new satire about obsession, insomnia and ships that pass in the night.

At the Gate Theatre in unreserved seating during it's UK premiere run and on the night of the Post Show discussion.

Wonderful piece of twisty writing. During the post show talk, we learned that the amazing first scene was originally a stand alone piece commissioned by the Royal Court but not optioned. Mr Mayorga found himself living with the two men and progressing their lives into this play.

There are two main ideas in here - about the creepy and strange obsessiveness of the short man and the illegal immigrant status of the tall man......with all the stresses and strains that puts upon their individual wives. The short man's wife explores the world of retreating into obsession and the tall man's wife has to deal with taking a dominant role in the relationship as the breadwinner and thereby demeaning her husband. All very tricky, interesting stuff.

All of the performances were wonderful and such a refreshing, new idea handled with joy by lovely Lyndsey Turner.
The fifth character is only ever seen on a tv screen but there is a sixth character in the form of the amazing animated sets. These are so incredible that they might almost distract - so much so that one silly girl sitting in front of me giggled each time a pair of nocturnal eyes peeped out from behind a tree. It was executed to such great effect and solved what must have been a multitude of set change problems that would have otherwise been impossible in this tiny theatre.

Take a look at what the Guardian had to say.

Silly note - the lady at the box office was featured in the poster for The Winterling when it played at the Royal Court.

02 May 2009

Andromaque - par Jean Racine

Camille Cayol - Andromaque
Christophe Grégoire - Pyrrhus
Camille Japy - Hermione
Xavier Boiffier - Oreste
Romain Cottard - Pylade
Bênêdicte Wenders - Céphise
Cécile Leterme - Cléone
Vincent de Bouard - Phoenix
Mathieu Spinosi - Astyanax

Director Declan Donnellan
Designer Nick Ormerod
Lighting Designer Judith Greenwood
Movement Director Jane Gibson
Produced by C.I.C.T/ Théàtre des Bouffes du Nord
In a co-production with Théàtre du Nord, Lille and Cheek by Jowl & part of Paris Calling, a Franco-British season of performing arts that I have been doing my best to support.

Seen in the Silk Street Theatre at the Barbican. I don't know why I thought I'd be able to avoid this. I had the chance of a seat for the first night but held strong and then one came up in what I thought would be the perfect place on the last night so I had to take it.E 17. I thought I saw Claire Bloom in the audience but I could be wrong.

The Trojan War ended in a blaze of shame, a massacre of horrific proportions. Now the children of Troy’s Greek conquerors face the impossible task of living up to their immortalised parents. Hector’s widow, Andromaque, lives only to save her son. When the Greeks demand his surrender, she faces an appalling dilemma.

In a radical new production by Cheek by Jowl, Racine’s French classic exposes our capacity for self deception with lacerating clarity.
In French with English surtitles

The sense of excitement in the foyer was palpable and I really hoped that all the people in the returns line would be as lucky as I was. I think they were as there were five or six empty seats by the time it all started. I'm afraid my seat wasn't so great as it turned out. A gentleman sat next to me and he smelt of STP & really we should have had three seats between us. I think he was feeling a little off-colour and he kept flinging his arms and a cloth around and also scratching noisily. The only thing I could do to block him out the performance was to lean right forward but then I was worried about breathing on the head of the woman in front of me. The other reason the seat was not so good for me was because I had to move my head up and down for the surtitles. At the interval the stunningly helpful front-of-house staff gave me a seat a couple of rows back and it was amazing. The surtitles were in my eyeline and I was among healthy, attentive people with loads of room & I saw the full effect of the magic.

Cheek by Jowl are kind enough to provide a very helpful the family tree but I have seen a couple of variations on this tale quite recently so I didn't really need it. Even wth my limited schoolgirl of French, I am pretty certain that the surtitles were not terribly faithful to Racine's passionate text. It seemed to me that great chunks were missed but they were almost not needed. The performances were staggering and I was reduced to tears when the wedding petals turned to red petals of blood. Have a look around the CbJ link for some reviews but here is the Sunday Times as a starter. You can catch the last few performances in Warwick if you hurry next week. Glorious evening.