26 June 2012

Democracy by Michael Frayn

Willy Brandt - Patrick Drury
Hans-Dietrich Genscher - Rupert Vansittart
Ulrich Bauhaus - James Quinn
Horst Ehmke - Richard Hope
Günther Nollau - David Cann
Helmut Schmidt - David Mallinson
Reinhard Wilke - Andrew Bridgmont
Günter Guillaume - Aidan McArdle
Arno Kretschmann - Ed Hughes
Herbert Wehner - William Hoyland

Directed by Paul Miller and designed by Simon Daw.

Seen for free in a sadly, half-empty theatre just after press night at the Old Vic. Roger Lloyd-Pack was in the audience and probably other people of note, so desperate were they to paper the house.

It's with a very heavy heart that I confess this didn't have the pace and vigour of the original production in 2003. Paul Miller would be the perfect choice for a piece like this and his cast are beautifully brought together but on this occasion it struggled to come to life.

The performances were good and passionate, particularly from Mr McArdle and the wit of Mr Frayn's script shimmers through but the endless lines of expositional text seemed to be delivered a little like a section of Mock the Week wherein each contestant grabs turns to take middle stage & pontificate. I can see why this happened because the sparsity of soft furnishing in the set meant that a lot of dialogue was either swallowed or distorted by the time it reached a less than full auditorium. I'd throw up some drapes in the wings as near to the front as possible to absorb some of that, if it was me.

The exchanges between Günter and Arno were charming and the production certainly warmed as it went along.

I can't imagine what went wrong with this and I want to believe it was just a bad night. The drop in ticket sales implies that I'm not the first to leave this auditorium scratching my head. It started in Sheffield to very healthy reviews. I wish it every success as I believe it may transfer to the Novello in due course.

12 June 2012

Noises Off by Michael Frayn

Dotty Otley - Caroline Wildi (understudy to Celia Imrie)
Lloyd Dallas - Robert Glenister
Garry Lejeune - Jamie Glover
Brooke Ashton - Lucy Briggs-Owen
Poppy Norton-Taylor - Alice Bailey Johnson
Frederick Fellowes - Jonathan Coy
Belinda Blair - Janie Dee
Tim Allgood - Paul Ready
Selsdon Mowbray - Karl Johnson

Directed by Lindsay Posner
Designed by Peter McKintosh

See during it's transferred run from the Old Vic to the beautiful Novello Theatre.
Grabbed a last minute freebie from ShowFilmFirst and was given a perfect seat in the dress circle with full and comprehensive view of the delicious idiocy of the stage antics.

The writing in this farcical witnessing of a farce is absolutely beautiful and as tight as a drum but in the wrong hands, could be a sickening disaster.

The cast for tonight's performance were faultless and no doubt buoyed along by the effusive audience who could hardly contain themselves. I am not aware of the nature of Ms Imrie's disposition and whilst I wish her well, I certainly didn't miss her with her role being in the safe hands of Ms Wildi.

One senses that this cast are having much too good a time for something they must regard as work. Like a well-oiled machine, they prat-fall their way through the most idiotic of set-ups in a manner that lead me to wonder if Busby Berkeley could have made a water-based version. (Is there a limit on the number of hyphenated words in one sentence?)

Of course, enormous credit must go to the scene handlers for turning the whole set round so efficiently for the final act.

If you were sitting anywhere near me, I can only apologise if my convulsing alarmed you in any way. When Karl Johnson pointedly said 'every word' I thought I may have to be sedated.

Surely, there will never be a time when a revival of this piece wont be welcome.

30 May 2012

Antigone by Sophacles in a version by Don Taylor

Antigone - Jodie Whittaker
Ismene - Annabel Scholey
Chorus - Paul Bentall, Martin Chamberlain, Jason Cheater
Chorus - Tim Samuels, Paul Dodds, Craige Els, Ross Waiton
Chorus - Alfred Enoch, Michael Grady-Hall, Stavros Demetraki
Creon - Christopher Eccleston
Soldier - Luke Norris
Haemon - Luke Newberry
Teiresias - Jamie Ballard
Boy - Trevor Imani
Messenger - Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Eurydice - Zoë Aldrich
Ensemble - Jo Dockery, Emily Glenister

Directed by Polly Findlay
Designed by Soutra Gilmour

Seen on at the start of the run of this revived version at the Olivier on the South Bank.

Upon entering the space, the first thing to note is that Ms Gilmour's set is derived from a post-apocalyptic imagination of what Denys Lasdun's architecture might leave after wars of sibling claims to kingship, seemingly growing from the iconic design of the National Theatre itself. Effectively, there are only two sets, one of which is seen for a few minutes at the very start of Act 1 but busy, expositional declarations and murmurs of courtly dissent punctuate what would otherwise be scene changes. All of the action takes place in a bustling suite of offices which, however much it waivers between being irrelevant and apposite is an inventive representation of Thebes for this tight drama of politics, ethics and relentless ego.

The performances are fabulous. From the agony and righteous anger of Antigone, the fear of Ismene and the cold, assured conviction of Creon to the comedy of the soldier and the fearless passion of Haemon. From the chorus, Craig Els and Ross Wailton seem to deserve special note but merely by virtue of them having more opportunity than other excellent roles to show their talents.

Many of the company have little to say but are connected to the production with great conviction. Even the eponymous lead role seems sparing with it's lines making her speeches the more powerful.

The morning's papers will reveal whether the rapturous applause was from journalist or friends.

In the audience and in many cases supporting family members in the cast and crew were, Ruby Bentall and Janine Duvitski, Michelle Dockery, Debra Findlay, Oliver Cotton, Rory Kinnear, Adrian Lester, Lesley Manville, Trevor Cooper, Danny Lee Wynter and Roy Williams plus many more. Mel Kenyon and Nicholas Hytner were also there. It was Press Night, after all.

The prawn and capsicum salad was perfect for a summer's evening and nicely complimented by a delicious cheese and warm bread. I didn't stay for desert.

23 May 2012

The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon

Willie Clark - Danny DeVito
Ben Silverman - Adam Levy
Al Lewis - Richard Griffiths
Patient - William Maxwell
Voice of the TV Director - Peter Cadden
Eddie - Nick Blakeley
Miss MacKintosh - Rebecca Blackstone
Registered Nurse - Johnnie Fiori

Directed by Thea Sharrock
Designed by Hildegard Bechtler

Seen in the bottomless pit at the Savoy Theatre for virtually nothing.

The Savoy is a beautiful auditorium but they certainly make you pay for such joy by having more stairs to the stalls than any other theatre I can remember and that's after you've run the gauntlet of the approach road being littered with untidily placed tourists.

It's a bawdy riot of a play but written with so much brio and tightly screwed lines it's impossible not to be swept up in the silliness of it.

So much so that the last-to-be-mentioned, unreliable, clumsiest cast member, the audience are helpless in their conspiracy to oil the wheels of the laughter machine in a way that you can't fail to enjoy.

This entire, glorious cast perform with that fragile mixture of freshness and precision.

It's daft but go and see it.

14 May 2012

Love, Love, Love by Mike Bartlett

Kenneth - Ben Miles
Henry - Sam Troughton
Sandra - Victoria Hamilton
Jamie - George Rainsford
Rosie - Claire Foy

Directed by James Grieve and designed by James Osborne

Grabbed a £10 cheapie at 9am this morning via the Royal Court's wonderful on-line and in person scheme. Had a great seat downstairs 
......in the the Jerwood Downstairs.

I'm happy to say I've chased Mr Bartlett's work wherever I can find it. Can it really be five years since "my child"?

His work has gone from strength to strength, always using his fearless voice to explore the intense fragility of relationships and how the prevailing social climate can shape them.

The way he writes for women as powerfully as he does for men must have had them queuing as far up as the Saatchi Gallery to be cast.

To say that Love, Love, Love is a culmination of all the work he's produced so far would be confining his career to an unnecessary retrospective but it certainly feels like a deeply satisfying distillation.

On paper, the running time seems potentially testing but there is nothing spare in this script. The only moments that drag are the two intervals, during which time sets are dismantled and constructed behind the most sumptuous festooned drapes.

The premise of this piece also allows all but one of these characters to develop beautifully before our eyes. Whilst they are all in some form of conflict with each other, their plights can be identified and empathised with equally.

The performances are all extraordinary.

When Ms Hamilton is dealt some disturbing news, if you are close enough to the stage you can see her at first lose colour as the sickness of the circumstance hits her followed by her cheeks shaking almost imperceptibly before the sob-free tears begin to well. I can only image this wonderful actress has a particularly awful experience to draw upon for this performance.

She is aided by the reassuringly solid performance of Ben Miles, without whose support I doubt she could deliver such a stunning portrayal. With the deployment of a couple of wigs, Mr Miles channels Cliff Richard as he flaunts his young and spirited body performance throughout the piece. He surely must have a crusty portrait in the loft somewhere. His opening scenes with the beautifully dour Mr Troughton are deliciously teasing and his character then travels via almost dependable through to whimsical by the end. I notice the touring version of this production cast a younger pairing but Ben was not just included because of his past, early experience with Mr Bartlett's work. He is the perfect Kenneth.

It is some time since I have seen Ms Foy in a regular stage production but it's very easy to see how she came to be cast in a leading television role so early in her career. There is a fluid beauty to her performance. It's passionate and yet contained which is not always easy to achieve on screen, let alone on a stage.

Mr Rainsford's performance was at first hilarious moving to deeply touching in the final act. As with Claire, it's too long since I last saw him on stage.

I cannot speak more highly of this production. It could even be perfect. I may not be in a position to see as much theatre as I used to but when my choices include pieces like this, I feel sated. However, I do realise that my objectivity resides in a more narrow channel.

I would even go so far as to say the Royal Court's trailer excels itself too.

I may loiter in the slips for one of the post-show talks.

10 May 2012

Misterman by Enda Walsh

Thomas Magill - Cillian Murphy
Mammy - Marcella Riordan
Edel- Alice Sykes

Other voices:
Eanna Breathnach, Niall Buggy, JD Kelleher, Simone Kirby, Mikel Murfi, Morna Regan. Eileen Walsh, Barry Ward

Directed by Enda Walsh and designed by Jamie Vartan.

Seen in the middle of it's run at the Lyttelton Theatre in a last minute cheap seat.

Anyone who has felt themselves to be slightly unhinged by the uncontainable grief of loss will immediately connect with the seemingly random acts bouncing around this huge and, for a solo performer, unforgiving space. Mr Murphy fills it with an eerie energy that leaves the fastidious in us, urgently needing to tidy it up.

Mr Walsh has articulated a deep and painful ravine in the human soul that many, if not all of us have to traverse at one time or another. Hopefully, most of us will be a little more sure footed than Thomas Magill. He presents this open wound, unhealed and unredeemed.

Drawing with deep respect from Beckett, but infusing this piece with space and grandiose mechanics, Enda Walsh
has given a platform to Cillian Murphy that no studio executive has thus far trusted him with. How the poor fella doesn't have pneumonia, I'll never know.

Landmark theatre that lingers for days.

23 April 2012

All New People by Zach Braff

Charlie - Zach Braff Emma - Eve Myles Myron - Paul Hilton Kim - Susannah Fielding Special Thanks To David Bradley, Joseph Millson and Amanda Redman Directed by Peter DuBois and designed by Alexander Dodge. Seen in the last week of the run in good seat care of LastMinute.com at the Duke of York's Theatre

I have a few issues with this piece but since I wish to retain Mr Braff on the lofty perch I so happily made for him in 2004, I will conclude that I was unfortunate to attend on a rare 'bad night' and by bad, I must ask that you, the audience take some of the blame.
I know there's a good text in here. I trust this man to make me laugh and think in a carefully calibrated mind cradle. It was jarred by Ms Myles oddly faux, plumy accent, the likes of which has been used to better effect by Ms Paltrow, and the obnoxious tones adopted by Ms Fielding.

This is a beautiful, tiny, intimate theatre. There's no need to bellow and grandstand. Who can forget Mr Gambon's "Eh Joe" gently and captivatingly intoned here? The beauty of Mr Braff's text surely lies in part within the lovely laconic delivery I was hoping for but how could that happen with the entire cast having to do battle with The Loudest Projector In London?

The scenes projected from said seemingly steam-powered installation were beautifully cast and well metered. I thoroughly enjoy a bit of mixed media in the theatre but freeze-framing on the stage to allow for their interjection seemed too mannered and old fashioned. This sense was not aided by some of my neighbours feeling it was just the right time to check their glaring phones or break out, I kid you not, the meat pies from their noisy wrappers.

The male cast were certainly the most comfortable to watch and I'll always try to catch a live one from Mr Hilton but tonight seemed fragmented, almost as though the ladies didn't see the piece in the same way as the writer, or dare I even say the director. Lovely pop-cultural references seemed to be swallowed and lost on the audience around me so rather than a room full of conspiratorial strangers, I felt lonely and a tiny bit empty. I comforted myself by musing over the themes and set-ups seen here that also occur in Garden State. This boy has issues.

"That's pretty damn random of you, Largeman."

14 April 2012

Big and Small by Botho Strauss, translated by Martin Crimp

Lotte - Cate Blanchett
Old Woman - Lynette Curran
Inge/Karin - Anita Hegh
Woman/Meggy/Tent - Belinda McClory
Guitar Player/Boy - Josh McConville
Paul/Man with Shirts/Doctor - Robert Menzies
Fat Woman - Katrina Milosevic
Turkish Man - Yalın Özüçelik
Wilhelm/Offstage Lead Guitarist - Richard Piper
Alf/Jurgen - Richard Pyros
Girl/Josefina - Sophie Ross
Young Man/Albert/Man in Parka - Chris Ryan
Man/Bernd - Christopher Stollery
Old Man - Martin Vaughan

Directed by Benedict Andrews and designed by Johannes Schütz

My big theatrical cash outlay of the year, booked nearly six months ago in a moment of madness. Seen at The Barbican Theatre on press night, I had a good seat between a man with personal space issues and a lady with numeracy problems who should have known better since she was probably a journalist, judging by her annoying, scratchy pen.

Audience members of note: Martin Crimp, David Hare, Patrick Marber, Richard E Grant, Graham Norton, Tom Mison. I could go on.

I'm going to start by saying it was typically Australian disregard for propriety that allowed no less than four curtain calls, giving the show-offs in the audience a chance to get to their feet for a bit of grandstanding.

There are one or two overly showy moments in this piece but they're used to good effect.

Euan Ferguson's words in The Guardian give a pretty good appraisal.

It is long and seemingly rudderless but despite the mesmerising performance from Ms Blanchett, it feels like an organic ensemble piece, pirouetting around a glorious piece of set design that almost reaches Mnsr Lepage's level of ingenuity, simplicity and style.

I loved the proportions of the apartment building column and the simple, space transforming impression given by all those office desks. My geek button went right off at the sight of an Apple Classic sitting right next to a Stylewriter II. I have no idea why those pieces of paper were randomly falling from the fly but their faultless performance and the design honing clearly needed to achieve it was a joy to behold. Mention must also go to the glory and efficiency of Cate's varied wardrobe from the practical to the erotic. Nobody wears a Gaberdine like Ms Blanchett and to finally have it reveal what had previously been a pipe dream was gratifying.

The cast includes an adorably spry Lynette Curran and a tight group of fabulous theatre performers who slide in an out of their costume changes to impress a far larger troupe.

See it if you can and take a coffee back in with you after the half.

31 March 2012

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

Cariola - Madeline Appiah
Pescara - Harry Attwell
Antonia - Tom Bateman
The Duchess of Malfi - Eve Best
Bosola - Mark Bonnar
Sylvio - Adam Burton
Malateste- Vyelle Croom
Livia - Lucy Eaton
Grisolan - Taylor James
Delio - Tunji Kasim
Ferdinand - Harry Lloyd
Cardinal - Finbar Lynch
Roderigo - Nari Blair Mangat
Julia - Iris Roberts
Castruccio/DoctorAlan Westaway
Son - Freddie Anness-Lorenz/Alexander Aze/Max Furst

Director Jamie Lloyd, Designer Soutra Gilmour
Seen for absolutely free in a reasonable stall seat at the Old Vic towards the start of the run.

I couldn't pass up the chance to see Eve Best in this role when it would cost the price of the journey to the theatre and my inevitable desire for a programme, however Anastasia Hille's icey Duchess opposite the young Matthew Macfadyen's smouldering Anotonia with Nick & Declan's checkerboard staging was always going to take some beating.

One might presume I came to this with uneven expectations, and considering that, I thought this was, in the most part, an exhilarating production. The staging was atmospheric and majestic and I'd love to raid the skip when that flooring is struck.

Eve Best's Duchess had an unexpected warmth and compassion but I found Antonio a little bland. The Cardinal, Ferdinand and Delio were wonderful.

Given the age of this text, it translates to a gloriously evil tale that hold the audience. The staging of the tricky bits was very well handled.

There were many empty seats in the circle so I snuck up there for the second half, escaping fellow freebie seaters who had too little respect for their full-price paying neighbours' comfort and enjoyment.

Here's a nice piece from Mark Lawson about 'breaking a leg'.

28 January 2012

Grief by Mike Leigh

Dorothy - Lesley Manville
Victoria - Ruby Bentall
Edwin - Sam Kelly
Hugh - David Horovitsch
Gertrude - Marion Bailey
Muriel - Wendy Notthingham
Maureen - Dorothy Duffy

Directed by Mike Leigh and designed by Alison Chitty

Seen, as seems to be my tradition with Mike Leigh's plays, at the very last performance in the Cottesloe in a brilliant, last minute seat.

I sit in such awe of Ms Manville that it seems trite to say that this roll seemed written for her. The organic way in which Mr Leigh work inevitably gives the impression that each actor makes their own role but that would be simplifying the process disrespectfully.

These performances are all perfectly pitched with humour and heartbreak in equal measure. I do hope that young Ms Bentall was able to dip in and out of her dour zone as she left the stage or this would not have been a jolly experience for her.

The set was realistic but gratifyingly simple and yet perfectly functional for the narrative. If felt like a home that should have been comfortable but somehow wasn't.

Unlike most actors who burst into song on stage, the lovely serenades between Dorothy and Edwin were beautifully nostalgic, entirely natural and completely lacking in contrivance.

I had a wonderful evening in their company.

27 January 2012

Travelling Light by Nicholas Wright

Maurice Montgomery - Paul Jesson
Tsippa, Moti's aunt - Sue Kelvin
Moti Mendl - Damien Molony
Jacob Bindel, a timber merchant - Antony Sher
Ida, Jacob's wife - Abigail McKern
Aron, Jacob's son - Jonathan Woolf
Itzak, Jacob's son-in-law - Karl Theobald
Anna Mazowiecka - Lauren O'Neil
Josef, foreman at the sawmill - Colin Haigh
Hezzie, a workman - Darren Swift
Mo, a workman - Mark Extance
Rivka, Jacob's daugher - Alexis Zegerman
Nate Dershowitz - Damien Molony
Little Boy - Nell McCann
Ensemble - Tom Peters, Jill Stanford, Geoffrey Towers, Kate Webster

Actors on film
Teacher - Tom Keller
Rabbi - Harry Dickman
Young woman - Julia Korning
Dying man - Michael Grinter
Reb Gershon - Jack Chissick
Reb Korovitz - Jeffry Kaplow
Doctor - Philip COx
Wife - Norma Atallah
Servant - Jill Stanford
Young servant/Granddaughter - Elsie Mortimer
Yeshiva Boys - Tom Allwinton, Roy Baron, Pablo Carciofa, Daniel Kramer, Henry Markham-Hare, Pip Pearce.

Seen at the beginning of it's run in the Lyttelton Theatre via a half price ticket in a surprisingly good seat (row O) despite sitting next to a couple who talked, quizzed, explained crunched and rustled all through it and thought the musical accompaniment to the silent film sequences was a period for uninhibited general debate.They were impervious to the glares from the people in front of them. I'd hate to have watched The Artist in their company.

Well now then. This is a beautiful premise, performed commendably by most of the cast. The tale is a simple one and a little too much of the dialogue targets the lowest common denominator in the audience. Sometimes there is solace in the easily identifiable progress of a piece like this and if it had been any more complicated, I would not have heard it above the din on my neighbours. I was fortunate enough to hear almost all of the filmic witticisms which are varied and many. The explanation for Mr Scher's comedy accent was delicious and completely acceptable. On occasion it strayed dangerously into the area of farce a couple of times which made me a little grumpy but the audience loved it. It was a Friday.

The effort involved in making this very effective set design work is utterly commendable. It's a bugger of a stage to get right and this piece uses the space perfectly. The projection material was wonderfully handled.

I'm not sure it's worked out what it wants to be yet. The audience were loving the comedy and it's fine to make a period piece funny and educational but it was just a bit too trite in places. That said, there wasn't a moment when my thoughts drifted, other than controlling my desire to punch the idiots next to me.

25 January 2012

Constellations by Nick Payne

Marianne - Sally Hawkins
Roland - Rafe Spall

Directed by Michael Longhurst and designed by Tom Scutt.

Seen in the middle of it's premiere run at the Royal Court Upstairs under a sky of balloons. The moon's a balloon, you know.

This gave me the same kind of visceral thrill I got from the first time I saw Caryl Churchill's A Number.

It's so tight, witty and poignant. These two incredible actors perform with such inclusive comfort and I could watch it again quite easily, knowing that I would see a different show each time.

06 January 2012

13 by Mike Bartlett

Sarah - Genevieve O'Reilly
Amir - Davood Chadami
Ruth - Geraldine James
Martin/Paul - Nick Blakeley
Shannon - Katie Brayben
Rachel - Kirsty Bushell
Stephen - Danny Webb
Holly - Lara Rossi
Edith - Helen Ryan
Zia - Shane Zaza
Rob - Matthew Barker
Mark - Adam James
John - Trystan Gravelle
Ruby - Grace Cooper Milton
Dennis - Nick SIdi
Liam/Terry - John Webber
Carol - Sioned Jones
Alice - Natasha Broomfield
Sally - Esther McAuley
Esther - Barbara Kirby
Fiona - Zara Tempest Walters
Sir Christopher - Martin Chamberlain
Other parts played by members of the Company.

Directed by Thea Sharrock and designed by Tom Scutt.

Seen in the middle of it's opening run at the Olivier. Bought a side-ish seat under the wonderful GILT scheme & scuttled along the entire length of the otherwise empty row to a centre aisle seat.

I do enjoy Mr Bartlett but I prefer his more claustrophobic pieces, or should I say I enjoy his work when space is at a premium.

Don't get me wrong, I reserve a special part of my brain especially to thrill at the full use of the drum revolve in this stage and in that respect I wasn't disappointed but the material just seemed too big and rambling. I wanted something drum-tight and this seemed to have some frayed edges.

It's cinematic, has something clever and has some lovely performances. Adam James steals every scene he's in. I have a special soft spot for the work of Kirsty Bushell and can't quite work out why we don't see more of her.

03 January 2012

Haunted Child by Joe Penhall

Julie - Sophie Okonedo
Thomas - Jack Boulter
Douglas - Ben Daniels

Director - Jeremy Herrin
Designer - Bunnie Christie

Seen one month into it's premiere run at the Royal Court downstairs during the wonderful winter bargain period

It has been over six months since I made an entry here and almost as long since I have been to the theatre, such is the sorry state of my lifestyle these days. I could not let another Penhall come and go without making an effort to sneak into it.

I had a moment at the start when I feared this might be a little self-conscious but then the writing I know and love kicked in and it was heartbreaking and funny, moving along at a comfortable pace and resolving beautifully. It's not without flaws and slightly questionable logic from the Julie character but I liked the journey.

I enjoyed the set but admit to not quite understanding the uplighting through the floorboards. I thought the little boy was very good, considering he is a little boy.

Since it's a while since I've been to this building which I used to visit once a week, I sensed a change. I was in the circle and the front of house staff were having to marshall inconsiderate patron. One person was chastised for not turning their iPad off, even though the lights had not yet gone down but the Kindle user next-door-but-one was left unshamed. At one point, someone shouted repeatedly at another to turn their iPhone off. It may have made for a performance without noise or light pollution but the atmosphere in the circle took a while to relax.

The bar was open but not serving food so soon after the New Year.....whatever......I guess they couldn't get fresh supplies. The Front of House staff were exceptionally lovely, as ever although I scarcely recognised any of them. The bookstall was reassuringly stuffed and cordially attended.

This may not be the last post of the week.