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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Wells’

Playwright Tom Wells earned his ‘must see’ place on my list with two of the most heart-warming and funny plays of recent years – The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts (oh, and a lovely monologue as part of Unusual Unions backstage at the Royal Court) – so I pounced at the chance to see this one-hour one-person musical, with songs by Matthew Robins, in the Bush Theatre’s Reading Room on a brief visit from Hull, and what a delight it is.

The audience is standing in for the school assembly and 15-year-old Liam is making a project prize presentation, a musical about his friend Caz’s planned synchronised swimming project. She’s an offstage character who we get to know almost as well, a trademark of Wells’ work, as is her dad, his mum & her new man Barry and the lifeguard at the pool. Liam talks and sings us through his year from arriving in Hull through meeting Caz, her previous projects and the development of this one. Most of the time he’s standing with his guitar, but he relocates a couple of times and the audience participate in a prop-handling sort of way before eventually becoming the chorus.

Wells has a real ear for teenage dialogue and both the writing and Andrew Finnigan’s charming performance ooze authenticity, including the not always perfect guitar playing and singing, and every single facial expression and posture. It’s brilliant storytelling, which feels like you’re reading Liam’s diary of a year of growing up, friendship and fledgling love. Jane Fallowfield’s homespun staging is completely in tune with the material, which the venue seemed to complement too.

Just as heart-warming and funny as his other plays, surly we’ll see more than this handful of performances?

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Who’d have thought you could say so much in a 15 minute play. Multiply that by five and you’ve got a theatrical feast. Put them in normally unseen spaces all around the building for groups of less than ten and it adds another layer of fascination and a great deal of intimacy. This was a genuine treat.

You split into five groups and each group sees the plays in a different sequence. The first play my group saw took place in a dressing room with a balcony (now we know where the actors go for a fag!). Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Anhedonia is an intense story of a woman who has experienced sexual abuse and the actions she takes to hide it. The unusual union is a builder where she works, whose intuitively knows anyway. Rona Morison was compelling as Girl.

The Golden Hours by Frances Ya-Chu Cowing was set in a meeting room with extraordinary views of London’s rooftops, now a room where Shinger & June’s mother is laid to rest before her funeral, which was the subject of the brother & sister’s exchanges. Sarah Lam’s real tears at close quarter made this a deeply moving experience.

To a stairwell for Rachel De-Lehay’s My Twin, a captivating monologue by Sarah Ridgeway telling us her experiences of being the slightly younger twin. This was funny and touching in equal measure and felt like a one-to-one conversation.

Down underneath the stage in a workshop Phil, brilliantly performed by Alan Williams, tells us about his project to build a rocket in the garage where he works while the boss is away and his unusual union with the off-stage Helen who he meets at a slimming club and allows to rehearse in the garage for her Bowie tribute performance. Tom Wells’ Phil in Space is a quirky little comic gem which I didn’t want to end.

We ended with fighting and tension beneath the stage as two brothers, one in the army and the other in CND, discuss the evolution and history of their relationship. Appropriately called Bruises, Keiran Hurley’s play was superbly performed with great tension by Richard Rankin and Brian Ferguson.

I found it astonishing that you could get five very different plays of such quality, and such committed performances, that are only going to be seen by less than 150 people. Should it return, you should be queuing for tickets. Wonderful.

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NEW PLAYS

Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court

SHAKESPEARE

2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.

OTHER REVIVALS

Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink at the Bush Theatre was one of my best new plays of 2011 and I will be surprised if this doesn’t end up as one of the best of 2013. He seems to have cornered the market in feel-good, charming, heart-warming, uplifting plays. It’s appropriate that it’s co-produced by Hull Truck as it’s very much in the spirit of their 1980’s work (and indeed in the spirit of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, about to get a West End revival).

We’re back in Hull, in a changing room after each of six football matches. It’s a Sunday 5-a-side league comprising just four gay teams and our team, Barely Athletic, are up against The Lesbian Rovers, Man City and Tranny United! Coach / player Viv has been thrown out by the lesbians and is determined to win something, anything; deputy coach / player Danny is using this experience as part of his coaching studies and Viv’s bereaved brother-in-law Joe is the token straight. Busker Beardy can’t decide what to play at his Hull Pride audition and new boy, library assistant Luke, has been recruited by Danny for more than footballing interest.

It’s a bit of a slow start, but once you get to know the characters its captivating. Danny & Luke’s relationship develops, Joe’s grief is exposed, Viv’s competitiveness becomes obsessive and Beardy’s promiscuousness risks team success. Even though you’re only with these people for 90 minutes, you feel like you’ve known them for a whole lot longer; great characterisation. Add to this some very funny lines and deeply human stories to tell, and they play has you under its spell. Watford Palace is a big theatre for such an intimate piece, but Lucy Osborne’s design draws you into the changing room to compensate.

All five actors are excellent. Vivienne Gibbs conveys Viv’s drive, energy and competitiveness, you really feel for Matt Sutton’s Joe and Andy Rush (also superb in The Kitchen Sink) makes Geoff hapless but completely loveable. Jamie Samuel invests real emotional power in Danny and Philip Duguid-McQuillan is simply extraordinary as naive, lonely, socially inept 19-year-old virgin Luke. There is a moment when he reads from his diary when I was laughing out loud and crying at the same time.

Don’t wait until the promised autumn tour – get to Watford to see it in its final week and you’ll probably want to see it again in the autumn. Another triumph for the indispensable Paines Plough.

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When I heard that the Bush Theatre was on the move, my heart sank. I’ve been going to that room above a pub in Shepherd’s Bush for nigh on 30 years and have lost track of how many plays I’ve seen there (somewhere between 100 and 200 I’d think) with a ‘hit rate’ that is second to none. Other theatre moves, notably Hampstead, have resulted in a loss of magic associated with the space and I found the thought that this might also happen with the Bush positively devastating.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to this playful exploration of the yet-to-be-finished new space in an old library round the corner, where three short plays in three configurations (thrust, in-the-round and end on staging) using nine props from the NT’s store are coupled with wanders around the building, giving feedback on how you’d like it to be. It’s a terrific idea and it was brilliantly executed (helped by an unplanned evacuation between the first two plays for the fire brigade to deal with an exploding light!). It has, for now, put my mind to rest, though my fingers remain crossed.

The first play was the most successful for me as it fitted so well with the concept. Deidre Kinahan’s piece shows a theatre company rehearsing a PC adaptation of Wind in the Willows and the resulting theatrical send-up seemed so appropriate. One of the contrivances is to ask three directorial luminaries to provide stage directions, and Alan Ayckbourn’s for Tom Wells play seem longer than the play itself, which may be why it was less successful. Jack Thorne’s piece was the best written, but coming last and being far from playful, it somehow didn’t have the impact it might have done in other circumstances; maybe he  should work it up for a proper production.

They’ve attracted some great actors to participate in the experiment, with Nina Sosanya shining both as the first play’s play-within-a-play director and a more tragic and moving role in the final piece. I liked Francesca Annis as the old school theatrical in the first play more than as dotty Helen in the second play. Richard Cordery, Hugo Speer, Debbie Chasen and Hugh Skinner complete the excellent cast. Nathan Curry, with designers Amy Cook & Lucy Osborne, has done a terrific job of covering the building with fun-filled opportunities for the audience to explore and comment on everything from desired seating to programming to the bar. I loved the fact that the playing space had been wallpapered with scripts of previous Bush shows, reminding us of tis illustrious past.

This wasn’t great theatre (I don’t think it was meant to be), but it was a great experience and has moved me from dread to cautious anticipation of my old friend’s new home!

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