Posts Tagged ‘Theatre’

Somehow the reviews led me to believe I was in for a raucous satire, so I was very surprised to find this play so disturbing, with a positively chilling final scene.

An Oxford University dining society (think Bullingdon Club) is meeting in the private room of an out-of-town gastropub, their penchant for trashing their venues (but paying the full cost, as if this means it’s OK) having been rumbled in the city. The power struggle to depose the current weak president leads to one trying to prove his point by menu choices, another by hiring a prostitute and a third by organising a post-dinner outing to Reykjavik (good timing, there!) in Dad’s private plane. As the evening progresses, wine is consumed, rituals are observed, behaviour declines and underlying attitudes emerge.

It’s a very cleverly structured play, because it leaves you to make connections and consider what the consequences of these attitudes are. In my case, it explained much of the arrogance of the last few years where our society has been threatened by people who think they have rights to rule and rights to exploit. This is what was so devastating for me, and the ending – which I won’t reveal – is both chilling and depressing in its believability.

The acting is uniformly excellent, with David Dawson – fast becoming the one to watch in his generation – following The Old Vic’s Entertainer, Chichester’s Nicholas Nickleby and Lyric Hammersmith’s Comedians with another terrific performance and Leo Bill a thrillingly vicious toff. Anthony Ward’s extraordinary lifelike set makes you feel like a fly on the wall rather than a member of an audience, but most importantly two young women – playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner – have put up a mirror to a small but very real and powerful part of our society in an entertaining but thought-provoking and revealing way without preaching.

After Jerusalem and Enron, this feels like the third in a state-of-the-nation/world trilogy and another theatrical feast.

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Well, I bet that title got your attention!

This show started in Malta and has landed at Theatre503 in Battersea via the Edinburgh fringe. It’s writers Boris Cezak, Kris Spiteri & Malcolm Galea are also the show’s two musicians and narrator. It’s tongue is firmly in its cheek and its huge fun.

Stefan runs away (from Malta) to the US when he discovers his fiance is a whore. He gets caught up in the porn movie business and falls in love with his acting partner but returns to Malta on developing an STD he believes she has given him. He’s followed to Malta where the rest of the farcical story unfolds.

The story is merely a vehicle for the fun, the music is good enough (with some very good song titles and lyrics), but it’s the performances that make it. Brendan Cull is a brilliantly nerdy Stefan, Jody Peach is wonderfully OTT playing fiance / whore Jade, Sophia Thierens balances porn star with besotted  lover perfectly, Alain Terzoli captures the vanity of the male porn star with a phd (work it out!) terrifically and I lost count of the roles (and the laughs) Ahmet Ahmet gets as ‘miscellaneous man’. The actors occasionally step out of their roles to complain about their lot and this works really well, adding yet more laughs to an already overflowing cup. I’m not sure the role of narrator is entirely necessary and may be job creation for the writer / lyricist!

It’s great to go to something that’s this much fun that’s staged and acted so well and I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Based on his plays that preceded this one, which I first saw 28 years ago, I always thought Tom Stoppard was too glib for his own good – he always seemed to be showing off, clever clever and knowing in a way that frankly irritated me. This was the first of his plays where he seemed to be portraying real people, relationships and indeed love! I don’t know whether it is, but it did seem to be autobiographical, then and now.

Playwright Henry leaves his wife for the wife of her colleague / their friend and later finds this new relationship strained by his new wife’s relationship with a younger colleague. It’s cleverly structured with terrific sharp and witty dialogue and the character development is excellent. You really feel you know Henry very well two hours later.

Anna Mackmin’s staging is slick and fast paced, aided by Les Brotherston’s set which moves between four flats with the rise / fall of panels. It’s very well cast, with Toby Stephens a particularly good Henry (I preferred him to Roger Rees in the original production and Stephen Dillane in the Donmar’s revival some time back).

This is the Stoppard play to see even if you don’t like Stoppard, because it’s the least Stoppardian(!) and you’d be hard pressed to find a better revival.

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I don’t think there’s ever been a major London revival of this, or Educating Rita which is running in rep with it, which is a puzzle to me(as is the fact that an excellent writer like Willy Russell hasn’t written much for almost 20 years!). Though the furniture and clothes have dated, the story is timeless and the humour has lasted well. How can a man write so well for a woman?

Shirley’s tale of an unfulfilled life is told brilliantly by Meera Syal. How do you command a stage and hold an audience for 100 minutes and make egg and chips whilst you’re doing it? (they looked good too; I bet the stage managers fight over who gets to scoff them during the second scene!). Well she does it so well and really does make the part her own.

Yet again, the Menier leads the way, breathing new life into a long overdue revival. Now I’m very much looking forward to Educating Rita next week…..

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Just four days after my return from Ukraine, and for the second day running, I find myself at a play set in Ukraine; and this was not planned!

This one covers events during the First World War when the country changes from a part of tsarist Russia to German occupation to independence to the pro-tzarist White Guard of the title to Bolshevik Russia in an alarmingly short period which must have seemed like anarchy at the time.

This is a terrific adaptation of Bugalov’s novel / play and a terrific production that only the National could do. It’s such a fascinating piece of history and the twists and turns of the play reflect the realities of the real events. It probably sounds heavy but it’s far from it – Andrew Upton, whilst being faithful to his source, has produced an accessible fresh adaptation which moves from tragic to cynical to funny seamlessly, but never lets up on showing the pointlessness of it all.

There are some great performances and it’s brilliantly staged by Howard Davies on Bunny Christie’s extraordinary sets that take you from apartment to palace to school to army camp and back to apartment – and there are special effects that make you jump!

What the NT is for…..

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The White Bear in Kennington is punching above its weight again with this black comedy by Julian Sims. A New York Jewish family end up as refugees in Ukraine following a nuclear attack whilst they were airborne. Most of the world is wiped out, but where they are in Crimea and where they want to be in Israel are still inhabitable.

It’s a fairly formulaic fish-out-of-water scenario which is raised significantly my Michael Kingsbury’s production and a set of excellent performances which squeeze out a lot more laughs than written. It’s given an absurd / surreal edge which successfully papers over the implausibility and predictability of some of the plot. A cracking performance by Sue Kelvin as the NY Jewish mother obsessed with her material possessions, and in particular her shoes, is worth the ticket price alone.

It’s a fast paced 80 minutes, but I think they should dump the unnecessary interval as to some extent it builds expectations of a meatier second half which really just ties up the ends and delivers a denouement. However, this is quality fringe fare and well worth a visit.

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Chronicles of Long Kesh

A play set in and about the infamous Northern Ireland internment camp in the 1970’s, with pop songs sung a capella. Mmm…..

Well, it’s good to report that it works. There’s no set as such, just an ensemble of six terrific actors , five of whom play multiple roles. It moves from angry to sad to funny to poignant on the turn of an actor from one role to another. The pace is fast, the precision is astonishing and the ‘gallows humour’ is delicious.

At the time it was on my TV and in my newspaper almost daily, yet when I read the programme before it started I realised how much I’d forgotten. Though it doesn’t take sides, there is a risk (particularly for those who weren’t even alive then) that it will bury the evil many of these people were responsible for and even glamourise  them as ‘lovable rogues’; this made me feel a little uneasy and would be my only reservation for what is otherwise an original idea executed with real panache.

The Q&A with the cast afterwards explained why it was so slick – these people have extraordinary chemistry with each other and seemed like lifelong friends rather than acting colleagues.

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