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Posts Tagged ‘Theatre’

The Young Vic has pulled off another coup by getting Swiss director Luc Bondy again; he’s a world-class figure whose productions people in most European countries would be queuing up for; not London, of course!

This is an excellent adaptation of an Arthur Schnitzler play by David Harrower, whose Blackbird was a huge success in both London and Edinburgh a few years back. Two soldiers party with two girls when they are interrupted by a man who challenges one of the soldiers to a duel as he’s discovered his wife has been having an affair with him. In the second half we move to the life of the offending soldiers’ girlfriend, her father, friend and neighbour before and after the duel.

It isn’t the play itself that engages you as much as it’s unpredictability, brooding atmosphere and sexual tension. There’s a terrific physicality which draws you in like a voyeur and keeps you intrigued by the characters. The performances are uniformly fine, with a brilliant cameo from Hayley Carmichael as the busybody neighbour. 

I wasn’t sure I understood the point of all of the design / staging choices (which might mean they were seemless and effective!). High black back panels have been added to the Young Vic seats. There is a revolve, but it’s so slow it doesn’t complete one revolution in each half. There is a pit which is a kitchen in the first half and an orchestra pit in the second. In one short scene, the house lights are turned on. 

In the end, though, I was gripped by the intrigue, the sexual chemistry and the relationships. I almost gave it a miss – it was a visit I only planned at short notice – but I was very glad I didn’t.

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I’m used to low Audience:Performer ratios at the Union Theatre, but this one is 2:1 with a full house – and they’re all so young, I actually aged several years in two hours.

Phil Wilmott’s musical is a love story set in that (in)famous Liverpool hotel which switches (rather confusingly and a bit clumsily, I thought) between the 20’s / 30’s and now. It’s a simple tale with some Adelphi myths woven in – cowboy Roy Rodgers and his horse on the hotel roof and a trainee Nazi in the kitchens! I’m sure I’m being scouse-ist, but it reminded me of Blood Brothers, with musical themes recurring and the old Alice looking rather like Mrs Johnstone.

The positioning of the band between the two banks of seats meant they drowned out (well, at least from where I was sitting) a lot of the solo vocals, though the chorus singing was excellent. The fact that the entire cast seemed teenagers meant you had to suspend belief even more than usual with a musical. The design coup was the back of an illuminated HOLLYWOOD-like hotel sign, though this did restrict the already restricted playing area; apart from that they seem to have spent the rest (plus most of their salaries, I’d say) on a huge number of costumes.

It’s not a great show, but it’s one of that endangered species, a NEW MUSICAL, and it’s in a lovely theatre, so you have to go!

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Well, the Rose Theatre at Kingston is full at last – but it took a Dame to do it. I hope this has given the good people of Kingston and environs a theatre-going habit, because their excellent new theatre won’t survive relying on us Londoners risking our street credibility to venture into the suburbs. 

This isn’t a particularly revelatory production, but it stands out in two ways – uniformly well acted and beautifully spoken. I particularly liked the physicality of the lovers scene in the forest and though the rude mechanicals were rather too subdued at first, they came into their own when they got to put on their play.

In the acting department, there’ a lot more than a Dame, including Rachel Stirling’s passionate Helena, Oliver Chris’ very funny Bottom and a fine regal pair in Charles Edwards and Julian Wadham. As for Her Highness, well you have to take any opportunity these days to be in the presence of her greatness and she’s as great as ever.

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Sondheim does Brecht & Weill !

This early (36-year old) Sondheim show was only his third. It would be another six years before he’d produce his first great musical, Company (though the earlier A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was fun, I wouldn’t call it great).

He seemed to be finding his way, trying out things which would later become part of his unique style. It is clearly derivative of Brecht & Weill’s ‘political’  musicals with what seems to be tongue-in-cheek sniping at the then generic Broadway style.

It’s the story of a town mayor who ‘creates’ a miracle in an attempt to breathe life into the local economy. What follows is exploitation, corruption and oppression. There is a charming naivety to it, but in terms of plotting and story-telling, it’s all a bit clumsy. There’s little of the lyrical inventiveness or musical originality which Sondheim was soon to deliver.

Tom Littler’s production makes the best of the material and the cast of 14 double up as musicians in the John Doyle way. I was particularly impressed by Roslaie Craig as the nurse, but felt that Issy van Randwyck was too doll-like as the Mayoress.

It’s an excellent contribution to Sondheim’s 80th year, as a rare opportunity for fans / completists / collectors like me to see the development of someone who was to become the greatest writer of musicals, rather than as a great musical itself.

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The impact today of 19th century comedies like this depends more on the production and acting than the play (I remember a very mediocre London Assurance in 1989 transferred from Chichester and directed by a very young Sam Mendes). Well, here’s a terrific example of how you can breathe new life into something that’s 170 years old; I doubt it was that funny then!

Nicholas Hytner’s company get every laugh in the play, and a lot more that aren’t in it. Simon Russell Beale has extraordinary range as an actor, and comedy is one of his best hands – he’s the only person I know who can convey a reaction, emotion or opinion with just his eyes and cause a riot merely by striking an outrageously funny pose – and this is one of his best performances. He’s joined here by Fiona Shaw’s larger-than-life Lady Gay Spanker (!), comic genius Richard Briers in a wonderful cameo as her husband and a fine ensemble who appear to be having as much of a ball as the audience.

When Russell Beale and Shaw are struggling to suppress their own laughs (and at times, I wonder how it’s possible to play against SRB without corpsing) it adds rather than detracts from the fun.

Mark Thompson has built a terrific country house which fills the Olivier stage to great effect and created costumes that convey the characters perfectly.

This is an absolute gem and one of the best things to grace the Olivier stage in 30 years

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The last Shakespeare at the Almeida was a dreadful production I named ‘The Designer Macbeth’ which was devoid of any passion and the only occasion I’ve ever seen the talents of Simon Russell Beale wasted.

Fortunately, this is a fine interpretation of a very difficult ‘morality’ play. The modern setting works really well (it starts with lap dancers!) as the themes, including the abuse of power, are just as relevant today. Les Brotherston’s set allows the action to move swiftly between office, street, prison etc. and Michael Attenborough handles the ambiguity of the ending brilliantly.

Rory Kinnear as Angelo and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Isabella are both hugely impressive; it’s a pity Angelo is offstage for much of middle of the play as he’s enthralling when he’s on. Amongst a very good ensemble, I have to single out an outstanding Lucio from Lloyd Hutchinson. I was less convinced by Ben Miles’ Duke – he seemed distracted, resulting in somewhat idiosyncratic verse speaking! – though he did improve as the play went on.

Great to have such a good Shakespeare production anywhere, but particularly welcome at the Almeida.

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Serenading Louie

I spoke too soon when I suggested Dunsinane might be the end of my theatrical recession. Based on this, I might be in for a double-dip. Arghh!!!

Twenty years ago I saw my last Lanford Wilson play. It was Burn This at Hampstead Theatre, with John Malkovitch and Juliet Stevenson. I thought it was rather good and have often wondered why there haven’t been any other Lanford Wilson plays in London (?) since.

Well, this one might give us a clue! I found Serenading Louie a most irrelevant and pointless play. It was impossible to empathise with or care about any of the characters. Nothing interesting happens.

 Acceptable performances and the nostalgia one gets from a 70’s set (‘ooh, I had one of those’) doesn’t really sustain one for 2 hours 15 mins.

What was going through those bright minds at the Donmar when they thought we might be remotely interested in this tosh?

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Dunsinane

The first sign that my theatrical recession may be over…..

It’s a cracking idea – Macbeth: The Sequel! Malcolm is installed as a puppet king by the English with Macduff as their military advisor. Lady M. is still around as a dissident royal trying to get her son on to the throne where he belongs. An English army of young homesick boys on a misguided mission in a country their leaders just don’t understand.

I’ve long admired playwright David Grieg and here he produces something Shakespearean in scale but with sharp (and often very funny) dialogue and bang up-to-date in its parallels with Afghanistan 2010. Some scenes are linked by a young soldier reading his letters to his mother, which was a great device. It’s a great piece of storytelling but it also makes you think.

Roxana Silbert’s production for the RSC has great pace and energy in a cleverly reconfigured Hampstead Theatre with terrific use of music. There are some great performances here form a huge cast, including a lot of impressive young actors just out of, or still in, drama school.

A treat on many levels – a proper play on an epic scale with relevance, great writing, fresh new talent and something good at Hampstead Theatre (at last)!  I can’t believe it only got a 3.5 week run…..

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Six Degrees of Separation

It’s official; I’m in a theatrical recession – four mediocre outings in a row! I think Jerusalem has spoilt me; maybe I should take a rest.

I have fond memories of the first production of this play at the Royal Court some 18 years ago – at the time it seemed so radical – but I’m afraid this revival didn’t live up to them. It takes a long time to get off the ground, and only does so when the revelations begin, some third of the way in.

It’s the story of an unexpected visitor who claims to be Sidney Poitier’s son and a friend of their children at university. The said Sidney Poitier is making a film of Cats (now that dates it!).

You can’t fault the staging or the acting, but somehow it just doesn’t cut it. When it’s running, – when the extent of the con becomes obvious and when the kids get involved – it’s excellent, but there are too many dull moments.

A friend who works in a school told me they’d cancelled their school trip because of its nudity. I think this was a good idea, lest they go through life with these two as a benchmark, which will inevitably result in feelings of disappointment or inadequacy!

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Off The Endz

There’s something tacky about a play where a Z replaces S! The Endz in question is a housing estate which the aspirational black couple are trying to leave when their friend released from prison comes to stay and turns their lives upside down.

It’s a competent piece of writing, but I’m not sure it says anything new and at 75 minutes, it’s a rather slight piece. Ashley Walter’s naturalistic acting is very watchable and the rest of the cast perform well, but there are too many short staccato scenes to allow strong story and character development, which ultimately means it fails to satisfy.

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