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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Neilson’

Walking into the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs is like entering a pink boudoir, or maybe a wedding marquee. Carpeted, fabric hanging from the ceiling, seats covered. The audience are on three sides, the fourth is a platform on which sit two stools either side of a small table.

Jess and Jimmy have been together for nine years but have not had sex for fourteen months. It appears they are here to do it at last; there is a mattress of sorts in front of them, with two pillows. The dialogue concerns their past experiences and their current predicament. Sometimes, one of them gives a monologue the other is not supposed the hear. They are as aware of us as we are of them, though its not clear what our role is. Is this therapy? It’s often funny, sometimes intriguing, and passes a not unpleasant 70 mins, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and I’m not sure what the point of it is.

Sophie Russell and Jonjo O’Neill are very likeable and delightfully cheeky. When you laugh it tends to be with them, as if you’re complicit or involved in some way. Fly Davies’ quirky design makes you smile too. Playwright Anthony Neilson also directs; maybe he shouldn’t have – second opinions are often useful.

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The preview buzz was a bit negative and the first reviews were too, so I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much. I thought Anthony Neilson’s new play, which he also directs, was rather good. 

Film director Maxim is a prima donna ostensibly in search of the right light for his new film. He did win the Palme d’Or for his last movie, after all. The film’s producer Anastasia just wants to get the film made on time, on budget, as does Lighting Cameraman Carl and leading lady Natasha. Extra funding comes with strings called Eva to keep an eye on things. Then the leading man is replaced with Ivan, nicknamed ‘the brute’. It’s an everyday story of film folk. I thought it was a hoot.

Matt Smith is very good as the film director and Amanda Drew the perfect calming influence as the producer, and Carl’s clandestine lover. I thought Tamara Lawrence, in what appears to be her second stage role, was terrific as the matter-of-fact ‘it’s only a job’ actress and Richard Pyros is excellent as the seen-it-all Lighting Cameraman. I loved Genevieve Barr as the deaf Eva who confounds expectations, then Jonjo O’Neill turns up and steals the show as the most actorly of actors, a performance that instantly propelled itself into my Best of list for 2016. It was so good that the rest of the cast (and him!) struggled not to corpse.

Designer Chloe Lamford appeared to have an easy job – just lighting screens and kit cases – until a coup de theatre at the end. There were too many short scenes that slowed it all down, but I forgave that for the laughs. 

Good to be having so much fun at the Royal Court again! 

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You don’t really expect a quartet of people ‘off the telly’ at Soho Theatre and the audience for this did seem a bit un-Soho. The ‘alternative’ Christmas show they got seemed unfinished and a bit underpowered.

Gary apprehends an elf breaking into his warehouse but instead of calling the police he calls his mate Simon, because he thinks it might actually be one of Santa’s elves. Simon certainly doesn’t think so and for a while we’re getting nowhere. It isn’t until prostitute Cherry turns up for her son’s promised present half-way through that the play takes off. This is where it also gets filthier, but we do get their back stories too – failed careers, broken marriages, unfulfilled lives. The addition of songs is a bit half-hearted and clumsy and I think it might be better without them. Michael Vale’s uber-realistic warehouse is great though.

In Steve Marmion’s production, the performances all seemed a bit tentative, even though it had played more than 10 shows and had already been shown to the press. Maybe actors more used to TV were uncomfortable with the live experience, or maybe they were under rehearsed? They all had their moments – Teachers’ Navin Chowdhry, Shameless’ Rebecca Atkinson and a pair of Corrie Craigs – Gazey & Kelly – but they weren’t consistent.

Maybe it was an off night. Maybe it’ll settle. Based on this performance, though, Anthony Neilson’s play is a potentially good alternative Christmas show trying to get out.

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I’ve always has a soft spot for Anthony Neilson’s quirky, absurd, surreal work. They are often a bit loose and unstructured but they are always intriguing and entertaining, and simply unique. Sadly, I’ve just fallen out of love with them as No. 6 (for me) proves to be a self-indulgent mess.

It started irritating me when it opened with projections on a screen to one side barely visible from the other side where I was (lazy design), then a dose of overlapping dialogue meant you heard virtually none of it. What follows, from seven actors wearing T-shirts printed with images of their younger selves, are stories of vanity, self-obsession and inconsequentiality. It isn’t long before you don’t care about anyone or anything except how long 110 minutes can be.

The narrative is presumably about these people’s lives, some interconnected. There are some good moments – particularly the mystery of the anus photo (!) and life as seat selection on a double-decker bus, but they are just moments in what is otherwise a rambling mess, and a very long one on those bum-numbing Theatre Upstairs benches. Given Neilson’s colaborative working style it might be difficult, but I really don’t think he should direct his own work; an objective director alongside might just have pulled it into some sort of shape.

It was probably a good thing that I was sitting on the opposite side of the exit, because I suspect the temptation to walk would have otherwise been overwhelming, but in the end I really regretted I wasn’t on the other side!

 

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When I heard edgy playwright Anthony Neilson was doing a Christmas show for the Royal Court – their first – I thought they may well have lost the plot; but I couldn’t resist taking my 10-year old godson and as much as I like traditional things like panto, this is such a breath of fresh air, and so Royal Court!

Holly wants her real dad (who she’s never met) for Christmas but Santa keeps ignoring her request so she hatches a plot to ensure he takes her seriously and what unfolds is positively surreal. Her step-dad is a dog, her real dad inhabits a Teddy (or is he?), Santa’s son Bumblehole comes in through the skylight whilst Santa uses the traditional chimney. In the second half, Christmas keeps repeating itself until the spell is broken and all is revealed.

Neilson’s trademark absurdity is all over it, but it’s as accessible to youngsters as it is fun for adults. Miriam Buether’s set and costumes establish the tone brilliantly and the performances are all excellent. You can believe Gabriel Quigley’s Mum is daft enough to marry a dog, Amanda Hadingue is a deliciously batty Gran, David Sterne combines grumpy and cool as Santa and it’s impossible not to love Tom Godwin’s hapless Bumblehole. Anchoring it all, though, is a superb Holly from Imogen Doel (her professional debut no less!) who captures the contradictions of teenage years so perfectly (something tells me Neilson may well have teenage kids, so good is this characterisation). Even Nick Powell’s songs sound surreal!

A wonderful alternative to panto that the 58-year old and the 10-year old both loved in equal measure.

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Wednesday started with another highlight – My Romantic History at the Traverse. This play about a present relationship and the past relationships of its protagonists is told in two halves (though without the interval in the customary Edinburgh tradition) from the prospective of each protagonist respectively. The writing is outstanding with dialogue that sparkles with realism and humour and the three actors are exceptional. A hugely uplifting experience and if you live in London and don’t catch this when it transfers in October, you’re completely bonkers*****

Another World is another one of those excuses for an exhibition that adds some borrowed items to the Dean Gallery’s extensive permanent collection of surrealists to justify an entry fee for something that is in reality not particularly illuminating.  There are some good Magritte’s, a magnificent Dali and some interesting British surrealists but I left unconvinced*** The lunch and the walk back along the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s inner city country river, were both lovely though.

One of the few main festival’s new plays, Caledonia, was an enticing prospect – satirist Alistair Beaton’s take on a little known 17th century attempt at colonising part of Central America by a then independent Scotland through a trading company not unlike the England’s East India Company. The modern parallels with Scottish independence this century and the role of banks were striking. Apparently, the writer fell out with the director (playwright Anthony Neilson) and given that the production was a sort of Carry On Panto, I think I can see why. A lost opportunity, not unlike last years The Last Witch and I’m beginning to think that the festival pressure doesn’t allow new work to mature enough before its high profile exposure to the press and public**

My final exhibition was the annual open submission International Photography one at the Edinburgh Photographic Society and this year was a cracker with more portraiture and less (often Austrian and Ukrainian) 70’s-style tacky collages! The talent of these amateurs is extraordinary and makes me feel completely inadequate****

The Scat pack’s Lights! Camera! Improvise! develops their three-year-old formula into an award-winning improv. show where a film is created from audience suggestion which on the day we saw it was very funny indeed and somewhat appropriately based on the rape of Wales forests!****

The final show of the day was Teenage Riot by the young Belgian company with whom I stared last year’s festival sort of speed dating at Internal! This one took place in a large cube with most of the action of the eight teenagers inside projected live onto the outside. It had its flaws but you had to admire the ingenuity and much like the ‘speed dating’ it has more impact on your thinking after that it did at the time***.5

Our last day began with our biggest disappointment but had a perfect ending. When You Lie is a play about cosmetic surgery, comparing the excellent job it does restoring people after tragedies with it’s pandering to vanity and lifestyles. The trouble is it’s not particularly well written or directed (another writer directing – is there a pattern emerging?!) and comes over as a heavy-handed preposterous and rather distasteful cocktail**

Laura Solon is more comic story-teller than stand-up and her show was gentle charming and witty, if not exactly ground-breaking, and made a pleasantly diverting hour***

We ended at Rosslyn Chapel for a production of Benjamin Britten’s opera of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It was a long way out by taxi and cold in the venue, but somehow it proved to be the perfect event to end this year. With 25 performers on a tiny stage, it was a bit cramped and I could have done with less choreographed fairy business (and maybe half as many fairies!). The playing was occasionally ragged but the singing was terrific and for a University company – Cambridge’s Shadwell Opera – hugely impressive.

Well, that’s it for another year – En Route and My Romantic History the top two shows so look out for them, but Roadkill, Speechless, Beautiful Burnout, Simon Keenlyside, Latin American Vespers, Five Guys Named Moe and A Midsummer Night’s Dream all treats and Flesh & Blood & Fish & Foul, Grandpa Fredo (sorry, Malcolm!), Lights! Camera! Improvise! and Teenage Riot getting special mentions for inventiveness. I’m now in the Outer Hebrides, but more of that in a few days…..

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