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Posts Tagged ‘Lee Hall’

When I saw, and loved, this National Theatre of Scotland show at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh fringe two years ago, I would never have predicted I’d be seeing it in a West End theatre; it might be the most unlikely transfer ever. If anything, Lee Hall’s anarchic play with music is better second time around.

Our Ladies are the choir of a catholic school of the same name, from a back-of-beyond part of Scotland, who go to Edinburgh for a singing competition which turns into a bender of epic proportions, involving copious amounts of alcohol, underage sex and a riot of fun. The individual stories of the six girls are interwoven with the illicit hedonistic pleasures of the group.

It starts with some heavenly a cappella choral singing before they burst into the songs of ELO accompanied by an excellent three-piece band; ladies, obviously. These continue throughout, with choral pieces returning occasionally. It’s raucous, anarchic, rude and funny, yet the personal coming of age stories are often very moving and you get to empathise with and love these girls. The accents are sometimes impenetrable, which somehow adds to the authenticity. The six actresses, who appear to be the original cast, are all terrific, maturing in their roles.

It might be an unlikely West End hit, but it’s a breath of fresh air and I was so pleased I returned to see it again. A great curtain-raiser for my return to Edfringe on Friday.

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I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed by this – I loved the film and this stage adaptation by favourite Lee Hall, directed by other favourite Declan Donnellan, has had rave reviews. Perhaps it was the hype, perhaps I wasn’t in the mood on a wet bank holiday Monday, but it seemed to me to be a lot of talent and much energy devoted to a screen-to-stage transfer that is just that – the film on stage. It all seems a bit safe and doesn’t really add to or improve anything in the film, so I’m struggling to understand the point of it (well, apart from cashing in, obviously).

Shakespeare’s got a touch of writers block, just at a point where he owes money (and plays) to both theatre impresarios, Burbage and Henslowe, who in turn owes money to others. Aristocrat Viola de Lesseps, betrothed to Lord Wessex, is so stagestruck that she disguises herself as a boy, Thomas Kent, to audition for Henslowe and Shakespeare, who pursues him / her to her / his home with news of successful casting. Here Shakespeare falls for Viola, who becomes his muse. She, and fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe, independently dispel the writers block and inspire the writing of Romeo & Juliet, in which the lovers play the leads with the collusion of Queen Elizabeth I and despite the best efforts of Master of the Revels (theatrical censor) Edmund Tilney. It’s packed full of clever Shakespeare references and packs a lot into its 2h40m running time.

Donnellan’s production is set in Nick Ormerod’s impressive three tier wooden playhouse which provides a grand performance space as well as more intimate spaces. There’s a lot of music, maybe a bit too much, and it zips along, maybe too fast. I did feel it was a bit rushed and could have done with more moments to catch its breath and develop the characters. It’s hard to fault the cast but there is an earnestness about the playing style that didn’t feel entirely comfortable.

I didn’t dislike it, but I did feel a bit like a heritage tourist, even more than I sometimes do at The Globe. It really is the film on stage, which made me feel a bit cheated. Somehow I expected it to make the story more theatrical in the way only live theatre can do. I felt like I was watching a 3D version of a film I saw 15 years ago.

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I like a bit of what we used to call agit-prop! This 1968 Alan Plater play with music (Alex Glasgow) with additional material by ‘soul mate’ Lee Hall  (Billy Elliott, Pitman Painters) has been given a timely revival by Live Theatre Newcastle in a production by Samuel West now on tour courtesty of Northern Stage. Timely as a tribute to Alan Plater, who died a couple of years ago and who’s work we see all too rarely, and timely because of the troubled times we’re in.

It’s an unashamedly partisan presentation of the history of mining and miners in the UK from the mid-1800’s to recent times. Now that makes it sound really dry, but it isn’t. It’s told in ‘flashbacks’ by a North East family at home, contrasting the lives of two sons brought up by their grandparents (their parents having died), one a miner and the other at university. There’s a narrator who has fun with the concept of that role and a handful of other characters. The music is largely traditional music hall / folk songs (the man next to me was clearly a Geordie as he was singing along, somewhat irritatingly!).

It works on two levels – the story of the sons and how their lives diverge, as one follows dad and the other breaks free, and the telling of history.  It was entertaining, instructive, at times very funny and at others very moving. Even though it is Plater’s play, you can see Hall’s stamp on it, particularly with the updated ending. 

I think two intervals was a mistake, and there’s no obvious reason for them, as it slowed it down a bit. It also looked a bit lost in a theatre the size of Richmond and I’m not sure it’s one of Soutra Gilmour’s better designs….. but its well acted and well staged and well worth catching on tour.

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