Saturday, 28 December 2013

Candide - Menier Chocolate Factory, Sunday 22nd December 2014

Synopsis:
Candide, the illegitimate nephew of Baron Thunder-ten-Tronck, is bullied by the Baroness and her son Maximillian.  Candide is in love with Cunegonde, the Baroness' daughter. Along with Cunegonde's maid, Paquette, they  discover that Dr. Pangloss, a man thought to be the world's greatest philosopher, has taught them happiness.  Candide and Cunegonde dream of what married life would be like with wildly differing views. The Baron is angered at what Candide has done to Cunegonde, as he is a social inferior. Candide is promptly exiled and is recruited by the Bulgar Army, who plots to liberate Schloss Thunder-ten-Tronck. His attempt to escape the army is foiled, and both armies attack the castle.  All the principal characters are killed.  Candide returns to the castle's ruins and searches for Cunegonde.  Hebecomes a beggar and gives  the last of his coins to a syphilitic man who turns out to be Dr.Pangloss, who reveals that he was revived by an anatomist's scalpel.  Apparently he contracted his syphilis from Pacquette.  A merchant offers the two employment and they sail to Lisbon. As they arrive, a volcano erupts and the ensuing earthquake results in the death of 30,000 people. Pangloss and Candide are blamed, arrested as heretics and publicly tortured to face the Grand Inquisitor. Pangloss is hanged and Candide is flogged.  Candide eventually ends up in Paris, where a mysterious but beautiful woman is shared sexually by a rich Jew and the city's Cardinal Archbishop.  Cunegonde (for it is she, miraculously alive) contemplates her fall from purity in exchange for wealth. Candide is reunited with her and forgives her. Her companion, an old lady, forewarns Cunegonde and Candide that Cunegonde's lovers are about to call. Candide inadvertently kills both. The three flee to Cadiz with Cunegonde's jewels, where the Old Lady reveals her colourful past.. The jewels are stolen and the Old Lady offers to sing for Candide's dinner.  The French police arrive and attempt to apprehend Candide for murdering the Jew and the Archbishop. Candide befriends Cacambo, a Brazillian, and accepts him as his valet. Accepting an offer to fight the Jesuits in South America against the Spanish government, Candide takes his friends to the New World, and they sail away, hoping to find peace and happiness.
In Montevideo,  the four are reunited with Maximillian and Paquette who have escaped from Europe dressed as slave girls. The governor of the city falls in love with Maximilian, but quickly realizes his mistake and falls in love with Cunegonde. The Old Lady convinces Cunegonde that her marriage to the governor will support her financially and she reluctantly submits. Candide and Cacambo stumble upon a Jesuit camp and discovers that the Mother Superior is actually Paquette and the Father Superior is Maximilian. When Candide tells Maximilian that he will marry Cunegonde, Maximilian challenges him to a fight. Maximilian is once again inadvertently stabbed to death by Candide, who flees into the jungle with Cacambo.
Three years later, Cunegonde and the Old Lady are bored with life in Montevideo Meanwhile, Candide and Cacambo are starving and lost in the jungles. Finding an abandoned boat  they float downriver until they finally reach Eldorado, the fabled city of gold. Finding peace for a while, they stay, but eventually Candide begins to pine for Cunegonde and are given blessing to leave and take several solid gold sheep with them.  Durign the journey, the sheep die or are lost until only two remain. Unwilling to go back to Montevideo, Candide gives Cacambo one of the sheep to ransom Cunegonde, telling them that they will meet again in Venice
Arriving at Suriname,  Candide meets Martin, a local pessimist.  Vanderdendur, a Dutch villain, offers his ship, the Santa Rosalia, bound for Venice, in exchange for the golden sheep. The ship sinks and Martin and Vandendur drown.  Candide drifts ashore with the last remaining sheep, and travels to Venice where the Carnival festival is taking place. Candide searches for Cunegonde and meets Maximilian, who is revived once again and now is the corrupt Prefect of Police. Paquette is now one of the town's most successful prostitutes. Cunegonde and the Old Lady are employed to encourage the gamblers.  Pangloss wins a game of Roulette, but fritters his money away.  Candide discovers that Cunegonde is leading a dissolute life and is appalled.  Between them, the characters scrape together enough money to buy a small farm. Candide and Cunegonde are reconciled and they all settle down to a simple but happy life together.
Cast:
Dr. Pangloss/Cacambo/Martin: James Dreyfus
Candide: Fra Fee
Paquette: Cassidy Janson
Maximillian: David Thaxton
Cunegonde: Scarlett Strallen
Baron: Michael Cahill
Governor/Vanderdendur: Ben Lewis
Old Lady: Jackie Clne
Creative Team:
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Adaptation: Hugh Wheeler
Lyrics: Richard Wilbur
Additional Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lilian Helman, Dororthy Parker
Director: Matthew White
Choreography: Adam Cooper
Set and Costumes: Paul Farnsworth
Lighting: Paul Anderson
Well, if you have to sell your house in order to get a ticket for this, do it. You won't regret it.  I have to admit that I was slightly concerned that Him Indoors had paid well over the odds for our tickets (they were relatively expensive: we usually sit in the cheap seats and lump it) but I would gladly have paid double to see this. There is energy, enthusiasm, creativity, great direction, humour in buckets, a fantastic cast who work their collective backsides off and, most importantly, heart.  Candide is a work that needs heart, or it will fail miserably.  If you saw the National Theatre production of this yonks and yonks ago, you will know what I mean.  The production didn't have any heart. 
This production, however, has more heart than should be allowed. The entire place brims over with it.  Every single person on that stage works like a trouper.  There is not a single person who is being "carried" and there is not a single weak link in the chain.  They earn their money.  And more. 
Yes, the show is flawed.  Its waaaaay too long (this is the "opera house" version not the pallid 1956 one), wildly uneven and can be very dark. There are places where it drags terribly and the story runs out of steam several times.  As a response, several songs (notably "Dear Boy", "We are Women" and "Quiet") and a few minor scenes  have been cut and  it still drags in a few places (by halfway throught the second half, both the cast and the audience are knackered; this, however, may well have been a lot do with the intense heat in the auditorium.  Such a small space heats up very quickly).  But by the time you get to the rousing finale, nobody cares.  Everyone has had a good time.  Everyone has gone on the journey, undergone its various triumphs and calamaties with the characters and come out the other side relatively unscathed, a lot wiser and hopefully a lot happier.  We've loved, laughed, suffered, cried, been shipwrecked on the barren coasts of loss and celebrated at the festival of life. 
There is a clever and simple framing device to the story.  The audience enter the auditorium through tented entrances, displaying a small playbill.  Apparently a peformance of Candide is going to be given.  We sit around the fringes of a  small, Mittel-European town square, bedecked with shutters and balconies and a troupe of slightly ragged travelling players tumble into the square and start unpacking.  Costumes are pulled from chests and donned and the show begins.  So we're not just watching a show, we are watching a performance of a show.  Clever.  This gets round the problematic size of the cast of characters, as most of  the troupe double-, triple- or even quadruple-up their parts.  The need for multiple locations is got around by using simple props to evoke a place, just as it would be in a "strolling player" production.  Look closely and you will see that the costumes bear the traces of long use, of being sweated into and hauled about from place to place stuffed into trunks and in bags.  They are frayed around the edges, down at the hems and going bald in places.  Umbrellas and parasols have spokes missing, wigs are moulting.  Just as it should be. 
Plaudits and hurrahs in bucketsful to Scarlett Strallen.  Her performance is a masterclass of how to play Cunegonde, and as for her rendition of "Glitter and be gay" - well, its totes amaze, as I believe they say.  It is fiendishly difficult anyway and yet she throws herself around the floor and drapes herself over a chaise longue and then puts a rope of diamonds (stolen, wittily, from a chandelier) around her neck and proceeeds to hula hoop them around her throat.  My dear, that is technique.   She is well and ably supported by James Dreyfus as Pangloss, Cacambo and Martin (if I were to make a cut, I would cut the character of Martin and his one song - "Words, words, words, words" -  as neither make any notable contribution to the plot), even though he is quite obviously outclassed by other performers more vocally gifted).  It is nice to see him not have to camp it up for once.  Jackie Clune's Old Lady is perhaps a trifle underpowered - sure, she does everythign that is necessary for the role but she is no exponent of comic timing, a vital attribute for the role, and a lot of the character's funniest lines go for nothing (ff you have the luck to see a recording of Ann Howard in the Scottish Opera version at the Old Vic, note her coming timing as well as her obvious operatic skills).   If there was one disappointing Principal then it was the oddly-monikered Fra Fee, who has not got the requisite top notes to sing the role of Candide as written in the score and who does not seem to have mastered the art of stage make-up yet either, looking like some kind of Westphalian Goth. 
Of the minor principals (I say "minor", but in this cast, nobody rests; when you are not playing a named part you are slogging your guts out in the chorus) then Ben Lewis is notable for his portrayal of the Governor of Buenos Aires and Vanderdendur.  Mr. Lewis has the kind of pure, clear, strong tenor voice that Mr. Fee can only dream of, and hits some amazing, completely unforced top B flats that ring out like cathedral bells.  Well, he did play the Phantom in Love Never Dies, so what do you expect?  Well done, that man. 
Take a bottle of water into the auditorium. Go to the toilet beforehand.  Try and avoid the front row if you are shy because you may find yourself roped unwillingly into the action at several points.  Check your cynicism at the cloakroom (you will find plenty more inside).  And have a bloody good night out in the company of people who know what they are doing and how to entertain.  And act, and sing, and dance, often all at the same time.  Sell your grandmother for a ticket if necessary.  If there is any justice in the world (and Candide teaches us that there is, indeed, no justice in this world,despite all our efforts to believe so) then this show will transfer to the West End and run and run and run and be showered with awards.   But, unfortunately, as the characters find out eventually and to their great cost, this is not the best of all possible worlds.  So catch this if and while you can.  The world will be a duller place without it.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

We interrupt this broadcast......

Not that I have been broadcasting much over the last couple of months (for which my continued apologies - unfortunately life sometimes just gets in the way)....

Readers may have already heard about this evening's horrific events at the Apollo Theatre.  During a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a section of the main auditorium ceiling gave way.  A lighting rig came down and fell onto a section of the Upper Circle, part of which then also collapsed.  There are many reported injured, 8 seriously, and our thoughts are with those people and their families after what must have been a terrible, terrible event.  Thankfully there are no reported fatalities. 

However, this incident does prompt serious questions.  The first is that the Apollo Theatre is a Grade II listed building.  How then has the building been allowed to fall into what seems like such serious disrepair that such an incident can happen?  Surely English Heritage demand that such buildings are regularly inspected?  

The second is that Nimax Theatres, who own this and several other theatres, charge a compulsory "Restoration Levy" on each ticket sold. That's £1 on each and every ticket sold (theatre capacity is 775 seats). Over the years this must have netted the owners a considerable amount of £. This money is supposed to be spent on restoration and maintenance, which means that we, theatregoers, are putting our hands in our pockets and paying for maintenance ourselves, which is surely the responsibility of the owners?   Why has this money apparently not been spent on restoration and maintenance and, more importantly, where has it gone?  Into the pockets of Nimax and their shareholders??  

Thursday, 21 November 2013

yeah, yeah, I know

Nothing written for ages. Review of Royal Ballet Don Quixote from a few weeks ago still to write.  Soon.  Ish.  Not much money in the kitty at pres for theatre tickets.  However, Him Indoors has been left some money so expect a bit of that will go on theatre tickets.  Reviews will follow.  Soon.  Ish.  Yeah, I know....

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Dracula - Wilton's Music Hall, Tuesday 29th October 2013

Cast:
Dracula – Jonathan Goddard
Mina Harker – Eleanor Duval
Jonathan Harker – Christopher Tandy
Lucy Westenra – Kristin McGuire
Doctor – Wayne Parsons
Priest – Jordi Calpe Serrats
Lord – Alan Vincent
Vampire Brides – Cree Williams, Nichole Guarino, Hannah Kidd

Creative Team
Choreographed and directed by Mark Bruce
Set: Phil Eddols
Lighting: Guy Hoare
Costumes: Dorothee Brodruck

Holy Mary, mother of God this is scary.  And even more so when watched in the atmospheric, creepy Wilton’s Music Hall.  Had there been room, I would probably have peed myself on at least two occasions – but you have to be thin to sit comfortably at Wiltons, because the seats are all closely lashed together with absolutely no room between them, so I spent most of the first half sitting on one buttock and the second half bolt upright with my shoulders well forward so that the people sitting next to me could sit with their backs against the chair backs, so that the people sitting next to them could sit bolt upright with their shoulders well forward, and so on and so on down the row.  This is not the level of buttock and shoulder room I expect when the seat price is enough to feed me for a week.  Because of the lack of room between seats, each person in the row was overflowing onto their neighbour’s seat by about 5cm, causing serious problems towards the end of each row for anyone with broad shoulders or a large bottom or both.  This was the theatrical equivalent of economy class on EasyJet.  Not that most of Wilton’s patrons will know what EasyJet is – there is a seeming creeping Hoxtonisation going on, rather like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  You know the sort – achingly trendy types with iPads, designer spectacle frames and nebulous jobs in the meeja.  The type who can’t go anywhere without a drink first and another drink in the interval and a polystyrene carton of something ethnic to munch on during the second half, like the impossibly pompous “student of Brecht” sitting right behind me whose knowledge of Brecht was so paper-thin that I heard a lot of talk about a play called “The irresistible rise of ……someone or other” which is apparently “like, you know, about, like, Hitler, I think”. 

Anyway, I digress.  As I said, Holy Mary mother of God this is scary.  Simply and economically told, pared down to the essence of the story (gone are the Van Helsing and Renfield sub-plots) and, to use a much over-used adjective, gothic.  Its also very smoky, so take some cough sweets.  And a bucket to pee into.  There are some flashes of humour – the courtship of Lucy Westenra by the doctor, the priest and a lord (a wonderfully rambunctious and randy characterisation by Alan Vincent, which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the music hall stage), for instance – but mostly its full on scary, and at times damned frightening; the carriage ride to Castle Dracula will stay with me for a long time, as will the rising of Lucy from her tomb.  There’s just one slightly odd note – before the interval, Count Dracula goes into a slightly grotesque version of a music hall number with top hat and cane, which I didn’t understand at all and which didn’t fit with the rest of the production in any way, seemingly – it looked like Baron Samedi doing a bit of soft-shoe.  The idea of having the three Vampire Brides act almost as a chorus, always observing, always present, is clever.  There are some very “filmic” moments – the scene in the tavern, the carriage ride, Dracula slithering down the castle wall, the final chase through the snow –some incredibly well-designed lighting and enough genuinely scary moments to haunt the dreams of anyone with an over-active imagination for a good long time. Atmosphere is provided in buckets by a wild smorgasbord of music from Mozart to music hall (for me, hearing a recording of the original version of “Down at the old Bull and Bush” echoing through a place where that original version is highly likely to have been sung night after night was really scary). Me, I’m keeping a light on and some garlic handy, just in case. 








Sunday, 29 September 2013

About 2/3 of A Midsummer Night's Dream - Noel Coward Theatre, Wednesday 24th September 2013

Cast:
Theseus/Oberon - Padraic Delaney
Hippolyta/Titania - Sheridan Smith
Egeus - Leo Wringer
Hermia - Susannah Fielding
Demetrius - Stefano Braschi
Lysander - Sam Swainsbury
Helena - Katherine Kingsley
Peter Quince/Moth - Richard Dempsey
Bottom - David Walliams
Francis Flute/Mustardseed - Alex Large
Tom Snout/Peaseblossom - Henry Everett
Snug the Joiner - Craig Vye
Puck - Gavin Fowler
Robin Starveling/Cobweb - Stefan Adegbola

Creative Team:
Director - Michael Grandage
Set and Costumes - Christopher Oram (aka Mrs. Grandage0
Lighting (Paule Constable)

Lordy, this is a lazy production.  Lazy in that the text has been slashed to ribbons (presumably so that the plebs who are flocking to see David Walliams are introduced gently to the concept of Shakespeare; its less than 2 1/2 hours long including the interval) which is surprising because, as someone pointed out to me recently, the Dream is one of the few Shakespeare plays where you don't mind sitting and listening to it all).  Lazy in that the text that does remain is gabbled through at such a pace that you can't hear that much of it anyway - its almost as if the cast are either doing a "speed read" rehearsal or competing among themselves as to who can spit their lines out the fastest, or that someone has their eye on a particular train home and is racing for it.  Lazy in the fact that there are several people in the cast (some in major roles) who have never done any Shakespeare before in their entire lives) - if Mr. Grandage knew that people would be flocking to see someone in particular why did he not bother to give a bit more to his audience by surrounding them with the best actors he could find?  Lazy in the fact that a couple of people in the cast have already appeared in other plays in this season and Mr. Grandage obviously thought it would be easier and cheaper to keep them in the company despite being woefully inadequate for their role in Dream.  Lazy in that there is only one permanent set so there is no sense of "meanwhile, in another part of the forest". Lazy in that all the named fairy parts are doubled by those playing the Mechanicals.   Lazy in that there is absolutely no exploration of the play's darker themes.  Lazy in that although this is being trumpeted as "tickets for a tenner" none of the publicity mentions that in the £10 seats you can only see 2/3 of the stage - when characters stand on the "wild bank" at the rear, all you can see is their feet, and at no point can you see any of the backdrop whatsoever.   Lazy in that Mr. Walliams does nothing - nothing - with the pivotal role of Bottom other than exactly the same as he has always done before.  And lazy in that what comedy there is here mainly consists of cheap laughs rather than any real humour. 
 
Sheridan Smith is probably the best thing in this, and that isn't saying much.  At least she has a fair stab at Shakespeare's poetic Queen of the Fairies, but she looks and sounds like a superannuated character from Cats. There's nothing of the anger or the darkness of the role on show. She purrs and vamps her way though the part, completely ignoring the brittle yet otherworldy nature of Titania.  She is given no help whatsoever by Padraic Delaney, who is the worst Oberon I have ever seen (and I have seen Dream more times than I care to remember).  He has no gravitas, no mystery, no depth and no authority whatsoever, but giggles and simpers through the part and is seemingly channelling Ed Byrne.  His Theseus is a walking disaster.  The four lovers are anodyne and without a shred of character between them (and between all four can only boast minimal Shakespearean experience).  It would seem that Messrs Swainsbury and Braschi - Lysander and Demetrius respectively - were cast for their rippling torsos and pert buttocks rather than any kind of acting ability.  I suspect that Mr. Grandage fancied a bit of semi-naked eye candy to direct; all four lovers gradually (or not so gradually) lose items of clothing until they are running around the Athenian wood in their scanties.  Obviously not a very muddy wood (even though Titania observes that "the nine men's morris is filled with mud" as a result of the weather being completely out of synch with the season) because all remains pristine; perhaps Proctor and Gamble have put money into the production?  All four of them gabble at such a rate that their scenes become incomprehensible; if I didn't already know the plot backwards then I would have been completely and totally lost as to what was going on.  David Walliams is David Walliams and that is really all that can be said for his "performance".  Its a lazy retread of his various roles in Little Britain and shows us nothing new, nothing of his supposed "range".  I don't think he actually has one;  this is probably all that he can do.  And yet people were practically falling about in the aisles.  I have no idea why.  In retrospect it was fortunate that there were no solo curtain calls because I would have booed very, very loudly.

There was very little magic in this production.  The fairies are 60s hippies, spliffed out and dancing to tracks from the Carpenters and the Beach Boys.  This puts them firmly in the human realm when they should inhabit a parallel, dark world of Faerie. A dangerous world which may mirror the human one but is a fractured, enchanted ones.   At least give the poor buggers some wings, because otherwise it looks like they are just a load of dropouts passing through Athens.  OK, if they are on drugs and tripping out, at least make it look and sound and feel like they are spliffed out.  The magic flower that Oberon uses to enchant the eyes of Titania and the lovers was here a tab of acid - but there was no triply lighting effect, no sense of looking at the world and seeing it changed or somehow beyond your control.  To steal an idea from the FT review below, this entire production takes a puff on a joint but doesn't inhale.  And to steal another idea from the Telegraph, in Shakespeare the "wood" is both inside and outside - its inside your head (a place where you can escape and dream) and outside the city, away from the constraints of being who others expect you to be.  Its a place where you can literally cut loose.  But the production doesn't. 
 
Its so frustrating when you see a production like this.  All the potential for a really popular "bums on seats" production because of the "big name draw" was wasted.  One cannot blame the cast, merely Mr. Grandage for being so effing lazy.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/london-shows/10315107/A-Midsummer-Nights-Dream-Noel-Coward-Theatre-review.html
 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Storm in a Flower Vase - Arts Theatre, Friday 20th September 2013

Synopsis:

Iconic floral designer and cookery writer Constance Spry remains a household name to this day. A pioneer for working women, she ran a successful business as the florist of choice for the highest of high society, designing floral displays for royal weddings and for the Queen’s coronation as well as creating the iconic dish Coronation Chicken.  But behind the image of this highly respected businesswoman lay a very different story  of marital discord, affairs and heartache….

Cast:
Constance Spry – Penny Downie
Henry Spry – Christopher Ravenscroft
Val Pirie – Sally George
Rosemary Hume – Sheila Ruskin
Hannah Gluckstein – Carolyn Backhouse
Syrie Maugham – Carol Royle

Creative Team:
Writer – Anton Burge
Director – Alan Strachan
Design – Morgan Large
Lighting – James Whiteside

WARNING – THIS PLAY CONTAINS SMOKING.  THERE IS ALSO ADULTERY, DECEIT, LESBIANISM AND SEX OUTSIDE MARRIAGE BUT YOU WILL BE CONFRONTED BY A SIGN ON THE AUDITORIUM DOORS WARNING YOU THAT CIGARETTES ARE GOING TO BE SMOKED ON STAGE.  IF YOUR SENSIBILITIES CAN COPE WITH ADULTERY, DECEIT, LESBIANISM AND SEX OUTSIDE MARRIAGE  BUT YOU FALL INTO A SWOON AT THE MERE THOUGHT OF TOBACCO BEING CONSUMED ON THE STAGE, DO NOT BUY TICKETS FOR THIS PLAY.

When making a flower arrangement, it is important not to try and cram in too much material, otherwise you may overwhelm the design.  The stems of this play are far too long and need a good trim down.  Even the hardier blooms in the audience on Friday began to wilt as the play ticked towards 2 ¾ hours.  I began to need an aspirin dissolved in the water.  Some of the material in the arrangement needs cutting back, and some elements are too showy and threaten to unbalance the layout in their favour.  Conversely, some parts resemble foliage stuck in to bulk out the design.  Never, ever, over-vase your flowers.   

This is an old-fashioned arrangement of a kind that will appeal to a certain audience.  It will find favour among middle aged, middle class ladies who belong to the WI and who consider themselves too old to go out on the lash before screaming obscenities from the rear stalls at The Bodyguard.  There will be coach parties coming up from the Home Counties, armed with OASIS, pin holders and crumpled chicken wire. 

Penny Downie “Constance Spry”  is a hardy perennial and is shown off to good effect in this particular vase, working particularly well in this arrangement.  The creeping bindweed in the plot is the role of Hannah Gluckstein, scrambling all over several long scenes and in need of cutting back.  It is an unsympathetic, stereotypical part, badly written and, like Ruta graveolens (rue),  irritating after a while and frankly somewhat embarrassing.   The appalling wig a la Glenda Jackson on a particularly bad hair day doesn’t help.  Conversely Carol Royle “Syrie Maugham” appears in two scenes and blooms gaudily all over them, pulling focus from the other parts and threatening to overbalance the arrangement.  Always strive for harmony in your arrangements, ladies.  Each specimen must support but not outshine the others.   Fortunately, good support is offered by Christopher Ravenscroft as a dry old stick propping up some of the foliage. 

An opportunity was lost here to create drama.  Spry’s arrangements were always dramatic but, like a branch of Corkscrew Hazel, this representation weaves about all over the place and doesn’t really come to any definable conclusion.  Rather like the one floral arrangement at the local flower show that fails to win any prizes, it is pleasant enough but there’s no real drama.  The end of the first act is a bit of a fudge – everyone leaves the stage and the lights dim, and therefore the audience thinks its time to clap, but then the lights go up again to reveal a solitary painting hung in an art gallery.  The applause dies out – and then the lights go down again and everyone has to start clapping again.  We may possibly have been mislead into clapping as Carole Royle’s mother was obviously in the audience and applauded on her exit.  When this happened again after Ms. Royle’s one scene in the second half, nobody was fooled and the auditorium rang out with the sound of one person clapping.  They soon stopped when they realised nobody else followed suit. 

There are an awful lot of plastic flowers in this show.  Unfortunately Monkshood (aconitum napellus) is referred to as being in the first bunch you see but there isn’t any in it.  There is also a red Anemone “De Caen” in a scene that takes place in January, which is wrong, because Anemone “De Caen” blossoms in April.  At one point a painting is made of a floral arrangement.  The painting contains a single bloom of Anthurium but the floral arrangement it depicts does not – there are white tulips, calla lilies, narcissus and sprays of some kind of daisy-type “filler” flower but no Anthuriums.   One of the characters in the play is based on Syrie Maugham but this is spelt as “Maughan” in the programme.  The back of the programme carries an advert for what I assume is a hideously expensive Covent Garden florist.  The photograph in this advert is of appalling quality.  The photograph includes a large arrangement of deep red flowers (possibly roses, but the picture is of too poor a quality to be sure).  The picture is in black and white.  Red flowers do not show up well  in black and white images and you would have thought that a) a professional photographer would have known this and b) the firm it advertises would have commissioned a better picture both in terms of quality and presentation of their products.  There is a facebook tag on the back of the flyer with the facebook “F” followed by “artstheatrewestend”.  Unfortunately this makes it read as Fartstheatrewestend. 

Personally, I think “Storm in a Flower Vase” is a really, really naff title and smacks of desperation because the author couldn’t think of a better alternative.  The root phrase “storm in a teacup describes something which is wildly overblown but really adds up to nothing very much, a bit like this play.  Inoffensive, pleasant enough, slightly old fashioned and over-vased.  

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Sincerely, Mr. Toad - Greenwich Theatre, Friday 13th September 2013

Synopsis:

Kenneth Grahame makes the lives of his family unbearable while writing The Wind in the Willows and then his son kills himself.  It takes 2 and a half hours to get to this point, by which time nobody cares.

Cast:
Kenneth Grahame – Adam Venus
Mouse – Keith Jack
Elspeth Grahame – Sarah Borges
Beth Thorpe – Kirsty Anne Myers
Ensemble – Luke Foster, Jamie Jukes, Gareth Healey, Gracie Hughes, Kayleigh Smith, Emma Salvo, Julia Cave

Creative Team:
Music – David Andrew Wilson
Book – David Hutchinson
Lyrics – Katie McIvor
Director – Phillip Rowntree


If I had known this was by the Sell a Door Theatre Company then I would have run a mile from it.  I’ve suffered at their hands before.  And in the process of expressing my opinion, found myself on the receiving end of abuse from members of the company.  Well, I had better dig out my tin hat and flak jacket because I am probably going to get some more 

This has got FAILURE written all over it.  To start with, the subject matter is tired, and I can’t say that its one I really care for anyway.  Essentially, the story is about how dreadful Kenneth Grahame’s life was and how he got so obsessed with writing The Wind in the Willows that he made everyone else’s life awful as well, ignoring his wife and eventually leading to the suicide of his son, Mouse.  This kind of thing – digging about in the psyche of authors of famous children’s authors and uncovering darkness – has been done before  and it didn’t work then.  To set this kind of depressing story to music just isn’t going to work full stop.  Particularly when the story is set in a specific period and the music doesn’t reflect this at all. In fact, the score of this musical is so wildly inappropriate to its subject that I began to think that Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad might soon be waving flags on the barricades as Paris burnt down around them.  Its all very sub-Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Even though His Lordship was actually in the audience , where were Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad all night?  You would have thought that, given the entire story is about the man who created them from his imagination, it might have been appropriate to have incorporated them as characters?  Only once did we get a glimpse into Grahame’s fantasy world of animals and you have to wait for the opening of act 2 to get it – by which time we had nearly given up.  In fact, Him Indoors turned to me in the interval and said “Do you want to stay for the second half?”, which in retrospect I now recognise as a thinly-disguised request to go home.    Grahame’s story is dreary, without sparkle and so portentous that you can tell after the first 20 minutes that you ain’t going to get a happy ending .  Knowing that its all going to go tits up is depressing, and you can feel the doom reaching out to you and dragging you down.  Its over-long by at least half an hour, mainly because the subject is so depressing.  I am sure that everyone went home wondering whether to feel miserable (Mouse commits suicide in some undefined way at the end – possibly there is a train involved but this is unclear) or elated  because they didn’t  have to sit through any more of it. 

Production values were so thin as to be see-through. On a budget this might have been, but this looked cheap and nasty.  Someone’s old bedsheets made makeshift drapes to “decorate” the stage (serving only to emphasise the bleakness rather than hide it) and there was a tiny plywood desk on wonky castors with old books nailed all over it.  Two sets of steps disguised as stacks of books must have taken up a goodly chunk of the production budget and, to be frank, I think it could have better been spent elsewhere.   Better costumes, certainly.    At least, I think they were meant to be books.   Given a decent budget, it might be possible to turn this show into something worth watching, but its going to need some far superior choreography to that which it has at the moment , a major rewrite and a complete change of director. 

Whoever was working on the Sound Desk needs retraining or sacking.  It was all so over-amplified that for a long time I couldn’t hear anything that was being said or sung.  

Given the dreariness of the material, everyone tried hard.  Mouse is a character without any redeeming qualities whatsoever and it is impossible to feel empathy with him, so it is lucky that Keith Jacks didn’t even seem to be trying.  Winsome will only get you so far, love.  Sarah Borges as Mrs. Grahame hid her light under a bushel until almost the very end, taking on a solo of such musical complexity and requiring an incredible vocal range so she can be excused for finding the upper and lower reaches slightly difficult.  Move the song away from the end of Act 2, direct it more sympathetically and it has the potential to be a showstopper.   Nobody else really made an impression.


A real stinker. 


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Titanic - Southwark Playhouse, Saturday 27th July 2013

Synopsis:

Big ship hits iceberg. Lots of people drown.

Cast:
Barrett, the Stoker – James Austen Murray
Lightoller – Dominic Brewer
Kate Mullins – Scarlett Courtney
Bride, the Radio Operator – Matthew Crowe
Kate Murphy – Grace Eccle
Alice Beane – Celia Graham
Edgar Beane – Oliver Hemborough
Ismay – Simon Green
Mr Etches – James Hume
Caroline Neville – Clare Marlowe
Jim Farrell – Shane McDaid
Captain Smith – Philip Rham
Kate McGowan – Victoria Serra

Creative Team:
Book – Peter Stone
Music and lyrics – Maury Yeston
Director – Thom Sutherland
MD – Mark Aspinall
Set and Costumes – David Woodhead
Lighting – Howard Hudson

It was the day when the heatwave finally broke, after a week of muggy, vile, humid weather.  It was a horrendously sticky evening and a desultory rainstorm wetted the pavements but did nothing to clear the air.  It was like walking through soup.  And the air conditioning in the theatre had broken down completely.  Consequently sitting there waiting for the show to start was like sitting fully clothed in a Turkish bath.  Every programme was being pressed into service as a fan and every other scrap of paper in the theatre had been scavenged by those without them.  People began wondering aloud whether on payment of a suitable sum the Producer might actually allow the iceberg to make an earlier than scheduled appearance just to lower the temperature in the auditorium, or whether the journey to New York might not actually be in peril if the iceberg had, indeed, already melted.  The show started, foreheads glistened, stage makeup began to slide off faces and everyone silently sympathised with men wearing heavy period overcoats.   Lines about how unusually cold it was for April were met with rueful laughter.  Two-thirds of the way through the first half, the show juddered to a sudden halt.  The Director announced that we had hit an iceberg labelled “Health and Safety” and that The Show Could Not Go On  because of the temperature in the auditorium; Voyage Suspended until something had been done about it.  The audience piled into the lifeboats and waited, bobbing about in the swell.  I wondered whether we would ever get to New York at this rate.  Some 30 minutes later, the engines restarted, the audience climbed back on board and we were off again . The Band Played On  -  sans violinist and sans viola who had been unable to keep their instruments in tune as the humidity in the auditorium was making their catgut go all limp and drippy.  The cast wrung out their costumes and prepared to hit the iceberg.  By the time the Carpathia had delivered the survivors to New York it was gone 11pm, the cast were completely knackered (having already done a matinee that afternoon) and in the audience, T shirts and underwear were clinging to backs and bums like passengers to a lifebelt.  Still, we all stood up and applauded like there was no tomorrow – mostly out of sheer relief but also because the cast had stayed at their posts and given the performance with considerable welly right to the bitter end, probably for Equity Minimum.   I dread to think what the dressing rooms smelt like the next day. 

This is a difficult show to do with a small cast – there are 22 singing roles, as well as a slew of small named speaking roles (many of whom make an appearance in the embarkation scene and then essentially disappear), so there was a lot of doubling up going on, sometimes to the detriment of coherence.  Still, they managed, and on the whole managed well.  This is also a difficult show to do when your performance area is a “black box” and you have to have audience on three sides.  Still, they managed, and managed well.  A back wall of black metal panels gave some idea of the scale of the ship (and the enterprise being undertaken) and there was a clever gantry, accessed by tall sets of metal steps on wheels which gave additional performing space and some sense of perspective.  A nice directoral touch was to have the names of all those lost in the disaster scroll across the floor  in an illuminated “role of honour”

There were some excellent performances.  James Austen-Murray made a fine and believable Barrett (the Head Stoker), sporting a pair of shoulders that I would kill for.  His duet with Bride, the Radio Operator (Matthew Crowe) was nicely handled direction-wise and was, I thought, underscored with a slight sexual frisson – did the socially maladjusted Bride, happier communicating by morse code than with real people, think that all his all his dreams had come true when a sweaty, beefy stoker wandered into the Telegraph Cabin?  Celia Graham handled the role of the irritating Alice Beane and her ferociously difficult solo number with considerable aplomb and James Hume played Mr Etches, the First Class Steward in the style of a slightly affronted heron, exactly how the character should be portrayed.  I was less impressed with Dudley Rogers and Judith Street’s performances as Isidor and Ida Strauss and I really, really did not like the direction of their final number.  Street was hampered in her performance of what should be a heart-rending duet by trying to clamber into a somewhat unflattering costume while singing it.  The role of Mr. Andrews, the architect of Titanic, was watered down almost to the point of invisibility by giving the opening song to Ismay, the owner of the WhIte Star Line.  Doing so kept Andrews out of the audience’s field of vision until it was too late for the character to really register.  Simon Green was the perfect casting for Ismay – Green does the “conceited tosser” far too well for it to be anything other than who he really is. 

The show itself is flawed – its top heavy and there is at least one number (“Doing the latest rag”) that seems superfluous.  With its cast of millions it runs the risk of over-egging the pudding and trying to cram too many stories into the mix.  It cannot be denied that the problems with this particular performance made the show seem a lot longer than it appears.  But I cannot fault the dedication of the cast who gave a sterling performance under extremely trying and difficult conditions.  During the lifeboat scenes towards the end there were a couple of individuals on stage who were so “in” their performances that I found it quite distressing to watch them – Scarlett Courtney in her uncredited role of Lady Duff Gordon seemed to be living the part to such an extent that I do wonder how she managed to sleep that night. 

A round of applause to all involved for soldering on under incredibly difficult circumstances. 

What the critics thought:







Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Ladykillers - Vaudeville Theatre, Saturday 20th July 2013

Synopsis:

Posing as amateur musicians, Professor Marcus and his gang rent rooms in the lopsided house of sweet but eccentric Mrs Wilberforce. The villains plot to involve her unwittingly in Marcus’ brilliantly conceived heist job. The police are left stumped but Mrs Wilberforce becomes wise to their ruse and Marcus concludes that there is only one way to keep the old lady quiet. With only her parrot, General Gordon, to help her, Mrs W. is alone with five desperate men. 

The criminals argue among themselves and, one by one, they start to plot against each other, each ultimately meeting their deaths at the hands of one of their former colleagues and their bodies being dumped into departing trains. Mrs. Wilberforce tries to convince the local police that she has foiled the robbery plot and tries to return the money but isn't believed, instead being told to keep the money.  She uses the money to take General Gordon on a cruise in order to seek the cure for the illness that has caused all his feathers to drop out.  

Cast:
Constable MacDonald - Blair Plant
Mrs. Wilberforce - Angela Thorne
Professor Marcus - John Gordon Sinclair
Major Courtney - Simon Day
Harry Robinson - Ralf Little
One-Round - Chris McCalphy
Louis - Con O'Neill
Mrs. Tromleyton - Carole Dance

Creative Team:
Written by – Graham Lineham, based on the screenplay by William Rose
Director – Sean Foley
Set and costumes – Michael Taylor
Lighting – James Farncombe

I was looking forward to this to cheer me up.  Unfortunately the first half was completely and totally ruined by the bad behaviour and appalling manners of the middle-aged couple sitting directly behind me.   THREE times (yes, three!) I had to turn round and ask them to be quiet.  And then, in the interval, they started having  a “conversation” which was clearly directed at me so I eventually had to turn round and tell them that I thought people of their generation had better manners.  Things got rather tense so I had to move to another seat – but by this time the show was ruined for me, which was a shame because my bad experience (and subsequent bad mood) will have a knock on effect on how I review it.  I missed a lot of the dialogue in act one because of the constant stream of dialogue coming from the seats behind me.  The rest of the audience seemed to be having a good time though.

The set is marvellous – the interior of a creaky old house, rapidly being shaken to pieces by the rumble of the steam trains coming and going from King’s Cross .  Some of the scenes which take place outside the house are cleverly incorporated into the fabric of the house itself, although the heist scene, which is played out with model cars and trucks moving round on the vertical surface of the house’s exterior wall doesn’t really work terribly well.  It’s a clever idea but not done slickly enough.   There were a couple of scenes during the second act when it seemed as if something hadn’t gone according to plan – perhaps a fluffed line or a missed cue.  Particularly clunky was the scene where the two robbers attempt to throw each other off the roof.  Something got bungled somewhere and Simon Day ended up throwing himself off the roof. 

The cast do the best they can within the limited stereotypes dictated by the script.  Angela Thorne does a marvellous job of the physical aspects of being a doddery old lady (compare her walkdown and bow at the curtain when she seems positively spritely by comparison) and is genuinely touching in some of her scenes - particularly when she descends the staircase arrayed in her lovingly preserved party dress. John Gordon Sinclair manages well with the unforgiving role of Professor Marcus, haunted as he is by the ghost of Alec Guinness, but isn’t nearly “odd” enough.  But Ralf Little’s tics and twitches are overdone and get irritating very quickly.   Con O’Neill’s Louis is inaudible for most of the time because of his appalling accent. 

The script works well, sticking closely enough to that of the film to honour the source but different enough to be fresh.  Unfortunately most of the action takes place in act two so it feels uneven. There is so much going on and so many people to be bumped off that it feels over-crammed yet still rushed. 


The show deserves a better review than I’ve given it.  I was deeply, deeply pissed off with the rude people behind me and spent the second half in a black sulk at the back.  Stupid, I know, allowing other people to spoil an afternoon at the theatre – but sometimes other people can be so bloody inconsiderate.  



Monday, 16 September 2013

Passion Play - Duke of Yorks Theatre, Saturday 29th June 2013

Synopsis:
Eleanor is  a chorister whose marriage disintegrates when her husband James embarks on an affair with someone she had considered as a friend and confidante.  James, a leading restorer of paintings, agrees to a clandestine meeting with the couple's sultry young friend Kate, the widow of a former colleague. An affluent photographer, Kate ostensibly needs James' professional input for a book she plans to write; but her real motive for meeting Eleanor's husband is to convince him to take her as his lover.
James needs little convincing, and slowly the lies mount up. The revelation that her husband of twenty-five years is being unfaithful comes as a tremendous shock to Eleanor, who feels compelled to reveal secrets of her own. With the marriage at crisis point, both she and James develop alter-egos  who give voice to the troubled spouses' innermost thoughts.

Cast:
Eleanor -   ZoĆ« Wanamaker
James ... Owen Teale
Eleanor's alter-ego  ... Samantha Bond
James' alter-ego  ... Oliver Cotton
Kate ... Annabel Scholey
Agnes ... Sian Thomas

Creative Team:

Director: David Leveaux
Producer: Tali Pelman
Set Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Fergus O'Hare
Costume Designer: Laura Hopkins


With apologies for the delayed posting - Passion Play will have already closed by the time you read this.  Things have been a little hairy on the domestic front at RTR Towers (to say nothing of the slightly gammy leg still which is driving me up the wall). In fact, I did wonder whether we would ever make it home after the performance, seeing as how some bright spark at Westminster Council had given permission for the EDL to march through central London on the same day as Gay Pride.  Now there's a riot in potentia. Still, at least things have not been so hairy as they were for Eleanor and James, the main characters in this play. 

It wasn't selling well, and its easy to see why.  This was not a pleasant evening out at the theatre.  I found it quite distressing at times, and I wonder about the psychological effect it would have on an actor to be playing it 8 times a week.  I wouldn't have recommended going to see this to anyone who was in any way depressed - and certainly not to anyone struggling with the effects of marital infidelity.  In fact, I was chatting away to the woman in the seat next to me who was on her own and obviously desperate for someone to talk to during the interval and we both agreed that, amusing though aspects of the play were, both of us would probably go home and slit our wrists with a razor blade if it got any darker. 


You do have to pay close attention because, with four people on stage but only two characters (both main characters have an "alter ego" who speaks their thoughts) it can get fairly confusing.  It could, of course, have got even more confusing - the chap in front wondered whether Zoe/Samantha and Owen/Oliver would swap roles after the interval and I thought "if that happens I'm totally lost".  What kept me relatively sane during Act 1 was that the alter egos didn't actually speak directly to anyone else on stage.  And then, during Act 2, the prediction from the row in front was more or less fulfilled and the alter egos not only started interacting with other characters on stage but also with each other and I thought my head was going to go off pop.  It wasn't too bad with the men, because despite being a character and his alter ego, Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton don't really look that much like each other.  Oliver Cotton, for example, has a lot more hair.  But with Zoe Wannamaker and Samantha Bond looking like the pair of slightly demented twins in Gormenghast, with the wigmaker's art having been pushed to its limit, the only way I could easily tell them apart was becuase Wannamaker has a retrousse nose (if anyone knows how to type an accented e in Blogger, I would be grateful for the tip) and Bond was wearing a necklace and slightly different coloured trousers. 

It did, of course, feel like there was somebody missing from the stage, and that was Kate's alter-ego.  Mind you, there probably wouldn't have been much room for it - her personality is (perhaps deliberately) rendered as so manipulative and horrible that any other point of view would probably have got in the way.  You are left in no uncertain terms as to who is the villain of the piece and that James is simply a middle-aged fool flattered into destroying his marriage.  It becomes less and less easy to sympathise with either Kate or James, who seem to act without any thought of the possible consequences.  

The entire play does feel a little dated with its references to records, letters (remember those?) and telephone boxes. Apart from those references, it could be anywhere, anytime, and the spare, pared back set did a good job of being nicely non-specific.  It does all get terribly, terribly confusing (particularly when one is a Bear of Very Little Brain) in the second half when the alter-egos start interacting with the "real people" - a real acting challenge I should imagine to spend half the play saying lines directed at nobody and to whom nobody reacts, and then to spend the second half interacting normally, and it does all get terribly, terribly bleak as things spiral out of control.  Not a play I would recommend to anyone feeling emotionally fragile in any way, or indeed anyone who has ever been in a relationship breaking down because of someone's infidelity.

What the critics thought:

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/may/12/passion-play-zoe-wanamaker-review

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/may/07/passion-play-review

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/10041727/Passion-Play-Duke-of-Yorks-Theatre-review.html


Normal service resumed shortly

Dear Readers

Apologies for the lack of reviews lately. I have had to take a bit of time off from blogging due to being in a bad place vis a vis a terrible bout of depression.  Lack of funds have also had a knock on effect - money is tight and there has been little to spend of theatre tickets.  Over the next couple of days I hope to be able to bring things up to date with a series of mini-reviews.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Audience - filmed performance shown at Greenwich Picturehouse, Wednesday 19th June 2013

Synopsis:
 
For sixty years, Elizabeth II has met each of her Prime Ministers in a weekly audience at Buckingham Palace - a meeting like no other in British public life; it is in private.  Both parties have an unspoken agreement never to repeat what is said, not even to their spouse. The Audience breaks this contract of silence and imagines a series of pivotal meetings between the Downing Street incumbents and their Queen.  
From young woman to grandmother, these private audiences chart the arc of the second Elizabethan age.  Politicians come and go through the revolving door of electoral politics, while she remains constant, waiting to welcome her next Prime Minister.
 
 
HM The Queen – Helen Mirren
Anthony Eden – Michael Elwyn
Margaret Thatcher – Haydn Gwynne
Harold Wilson – Richard McCabe
Gordon Brown – Nathaniel Parker
John Major – Paul Ritter
David Cameron – Rufus Wright
Winston Churchill – Edward Fox
James Callaghan/Private Secretary – David Peart
Equerry – Geoffrey Beevers
Princess Elizabeth – Nell Williams
 
Creative team:
Written by Peter Morgan
Director – Stephen Daldry
Designer – Bob Crowley
Lighting – Rich Fisher
 
I sometimes worry about Him Indoors.  Firstly, this show completely failed to register on his radar.  Given that he is often to be found crouching over the PC like some kind of demented puma at 0859hrs waiting for the booking season for something obscure to open at 0900hrs, this is in itself a matter for some concern (although when this was brought up in conversation, the story subtly changed to “I saw it mentioned and didn’t think it would be the kind of thing you would be interested in”  Personally I think this is a poor attempt at trying to get out of not having realised it was opening.  He always was a terribly poor liar).  Secondly is that he seemed to think that Mary Hopkins was in this.  I think he is losing his mind.  It comes to us all, some earlier than others. 
 
Every time the show has been mentioned in the media over the last couple of months, I have made vaguely distressed whimpering noises, which markedly increased in volume and frequency when I found out that, due to Ms Mirren’s contractual obligations elsewhere, The Audience would be closing shortly.  So it was with considerable relief on both parts that he managed to get tickets for a filmed relay of this into Greenwich Picturehouse.  Not live, unfortunately, because the show has already finished its run.  But still a performance, nonetheless; hey, sometimes we have to take what we can get. 
 
So, it was on a hot, sticky and very sultry lunchtime that we headed off on the bus down to Greenwich, humming “Those were the days, my friend”, and finding that we were the youngest people in the auditorium by a long shot.  Well, I was, anyway.  I wasn’t best pleased to find that we were in the front row; granted there was space for me to stick my still poorly old foot out (apparently I will never dance Giselle again, according to my GP), but it did mean that we were so close I could see that some of the actors hadn’t plucked their nose hair recently and I ended up with a major crick in my neck).  One of the disadvantages of watching a filmed performance is that you have to look at what the director wants you to look at; I would have preferred it if there had been a fixed camera somewhere offering a complete view of the entire stage (so you could watch the show from the point of view of an audience member in the stalls).  Needless to say Him Indoors disagrees; he does this now and then but I try to ignore him as best I can.  Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad had we not been so close to the screen. It can be quite disconcerting looking up the Queen’s nose.  I couldn’t see Mary Hopkins though, however hard I tried. 
 
It cannot be denied that Dame Helen gives a tour de force performance as HM.  After a six-month run of this eight times a week, the poor cow must be exhausted as, apart from a couple of short exits for costume changes, she is on stage for the entire 2 ½ hours.  Even so, I did notice a couple of slightly fudged lines.  For obvious reasons, she is somewhat less convincing as Queenie in the very early days of her reign – even an experienced actress like her cannot make a mature voice sound young. As Queenie from the 1960’s onwards, however, the performance is astonishing, helped (of course) in part by remarkable wigs and costumes.  From a distance, it would be incredibly difficult to tell the Dame and the Queen apart – although the Dame has a bit of a conk on her which is obvious in profile.  Every gesture, every facial expression, every posture – its truly uncanny.
 
Most of The Audience is played strictly for laughs, and I thought it would have been better had it been less funny.  The Prime Ministers are, almost without exception, played as pantomime caricatures (mostly villains).  Richard McCabe plays Harold Wilson as a genial, bumbling fool and Hayden Gwynne’s performance as Mrs. Thatcher and Paul Ritter’s as John Major have  both seemingly been lifted straight from Spitting Image. Gwynne’s is a star turn – a cross between Cruella de Vil and Iago.  I was somewhat shocked at the sheer lack of physical resemblance depicted by some performers; Nathaniel Parker doesn’t really look very much like Gordon Brown at all, and Rufus Wright bears no more than a tangential  resemblance to David Cameron (he’s got the hand gestures right, but looks too sharp-angled and ferret-like; Mr. Cameron has got slightly pudgy-faced over the last six months).   Robert Hardy was to have played Winston Churchill but was taken ill during rehearsals so Edward Fox can be forgiven for not looking very much like him.  David Peart looks even less like James Callaghan, but is only on for a couple of minutes or so and does us all the favour of announcing that he is James Callagham, so no worries there. 
 
Again, a full company bow with a solo bow from the star.  I do so hate all this “communist bowing” as Him Indoors calls it – I fully believe that every member of the cast deserves their own bow and their own applause.  I was slightly shocked that Dame Helen didn’t take her bow in character – it was all that was needed to make the illusion complete (perhaps apart from the sudden appearance of Mary Hopkins). 
 


What the critics said:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2013/mar/10/audience-helen-mirren-daldry-review

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/9910160/The-Audience-Gielgud-Theatre-review.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/review-the-audience-gielgud-theatre-london-8521370.html

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Cripple of Innishmaan - Noel Coward Theatre, Friday 14th June 2013

Synopsis:
 
Set on the remote island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland just before the outbreak of WW2,  word arrives that a Hollywood film is being made on the neighboring island of Inishmore. The one person who wants to be in the film more than anybody is young Cripple Billy, if only to break away from the bitter tedium of his daily life.  Billy forges a doctor's letter saying that he has TB and only months to live in order to get sympathy from Babbybobby and a ride in his boat over to Inishmore, where he is spotted by the Director and taken to Hollywood for a screen test.  Having failed the test, Cripple Billy returns home to find that life will probably never be the same.  Finally finding  out the truth regarding his parents' apparent suicide, Fate has a couple of surprises still in store for him.

 
Cast:
Kate Osbourne - Ingrid Craigie
Gillian Osbourne, her sister - Gillian Hanna
Johnnypateenmike - Pat Short
Billy - Daniel Radcliffe
Bartley McCormick - Conor MacNeill
Helen McCormick, his sister - Sarah Greene
Babbybobby - Padraic Delaney
Doctor - Gary Lilburn
Mammy, Johnnypateenmike's elderly mother - June Watson
 
Creative Team:
Written by Martin McDonagh
Director: Michael Grandage
Set and costumes - Christopher Oram
Lighting - Paule Constable


I think if you were any member of the cast other than Daniel Radcliffe, you would be really quite peed off with both the Noel Coward Theatre and Mr. Grandage.  Not only is Mr. Radcliffe’s mug plastered up all over the outside of the theatre and all over the programme cover (just him, mind you), but he is the only member of the cast given a solo bow at the end of the show.  Full company bow, solo bow by Mr. Radcliffe, full company bow, solo bow by Mr. Radcliffe, curtain.   Yes, I know he’s young, pretty and Harry Potter (there were at least two sad middle-aged women having their picture taken outside the theatre of them draping themselves over the pictures of Mr. Potter) and a very bankable star name, but this play is very much an ensemble piece (and, frankly, the role of Billy is not actually a very big one).  There are other people in it, is what I’m getting at.  But you wouldn’t know it. 

From the same pen as The Beauty Queen of Leenane, this is  quite a slight play, but with similarly dark overtones and lots of the same kind of comedy.  Like Beauty Queen, there are several points where the plot turns on a sixpence, and you are sit there thinking “Oh my god [this] is going to happen” but then it suddenly doesn’t and the plot twists away in another direction, and you are left sitting there feeling that you have been taken up the garden path and then dumped among the hydrangeas feeling stupid.  There seemed to be very little actual plot, and I’m not entirely sure what the audience were expecting but there were an awful lot fewer people in the auditorium after the interval.  I could have done with two fewer people in the auditorium all the way through – the two idiot teenage boys sitting next to me.  One of them tried to get past on his way to his seat and then barged by before I had managed to get up (narrowly missing poorly foot) and had not yet learned how to blow his nose on a handkerchief and treated everyone in the vicinity to a loud and bubbly nasal symphony every five minutes or so, and neither of them had worked out how to get sweets out of a small cardboard box quietly nor how to drink through a straw without a) blowing bubbles in the drink first and  b) making that loud slurping noise you get when the drink is running out and you are chasing the dregs of fluid around the bottom of the cup.  Needless to say, one of them had a mobile phone which went off during a quiet bit in the second half. 

Most of this play is very, very funny – leaning towards the “Craggy Island” style.  And a certain amount is very, very dark.  And the stage is very, very dark for a lot of the time as well – off towards the wings everything fades into obscurity  - thankfully most of the action is well centred on stage but there is at least one (non-essential but funny) part involving a bible that you may well miss unless you have been eating all your carrots.  The funny lines come so thick and fast that you could miss a lot of the jokes because you are laughing so much, and then it all gets very serious, and then very funny again and then very serious – leaving me feeling rather like I was sitting on a rollercoaster.  It gets a little tiring eventually.  Mr. Radcliffe's accent wanders a bit now and again.

It would be invidious to pick out any individual performance because, as I said before, this is an ensemble piece – unless you are Daniel Radcliffe – and everyone is very good.  Sometimes the Irish brogues are a bit too thick to be penetrable and sometimes the dialogue goes too fast for comfort, but overall its well-paced and slick throughout, which is fortunate because it could become self-indulgent at a slower pace.  The lighting  could be better at times, but all in all it’s a fun evening out, even if the plot is essentially unrealistic.  Why people walked out at the interval I don’t know – perhaps they were expecting Mr. Radcliffe to be whizzing round the stage on a Nimbus 2000?  Apparently he was handed a pile of scripts by Mr. Grandage and told “pick one you fancy being in and we’ll do it”.  It is to Mr. Radcliffe’s credit that he picked something which didn’t supply him with a  “star vehicle” to the detriment of the rest of the cast.  I would still have liked to see everyone get their own bow at the final curtain, however. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Whodunnit [hobbling] - Greenwich Theatre, Monday 10th June 2013


Synopsis:
Act 1
A collection of characters, apparently drawn directly from classic English detective fiction, arrive for a party in an old country house. Among them there is a Rear-Admiral, a lawyer,  a pair of "Bright Young Things" , a lady archaeologist,  and a flamboyantly eccentric butler who keeps trying to serve up his own cocktail creation, the "Zombie Whammy". There is also Andreas Capodistriou, a smooth talking serpent of a man who demonstrates to each guest in turn that he knows something compromising about them and is intent on blackmailing each one.

The act climaxes as each guest, having a reason to want Capodistriou dead, conceals his or her self on the set to lie in wait for the victim, who arrives alone and kneels to perform his evening prayer. As he does so, a collection of sword-wielding hands appear around him. One blade falls, removing his head, and the curtain falls.
Act 2
The act opens on an incongruous scene. Policemen in modern dress mingle with the archaically dressed guests. They are investigating the murder that ended the first act. The Rear Admiral sneezes and loses his fake moustache in the process. He reveals that he is actually an actor, and was hired to participate in a role-playing party for the owner of the house, who would act as detective and solve the mystery. It transpires that all of the "guests", and the butler, are also hired actors. The entire affair has been orchestrated in order to murder the man who played "Capodistriou", who in turn is revealed to be Gerry Marshall, a theatrical agent who held the contracts of all the actors. Each actor hated Marshall, but all deny knowing it was him playing Capodistriou. The organizer of the party was apparently Marshall himself. It is up to Inspector Bowden to unravel the tangle of relationships, real and unreal, to unmask the killer.
 
Cast:
Perkins, the Butler: James Pellow
Andreas Capodistriou, an oily Levantine: James Murphy
Silas Bazeby: Paul Cleveland
RearAdmiral Knatchbull Folliat; Robert Hannouch
Lady Tremurrain: Ellen Verenieks
Lavinia Hargreaves, a Bright Young Thing: Stephanie Wilson
Roger Dashwood, a Young Man About Town: Thomas Barron
Dame Edith Runcible, an archaeologist: Lillie Collier
Inspector Bowden: Damien Tracy
Sergeant: Andrew Beckett

Creative Team:
Written by Anthony Shaffer
Directed by Paul Taylor-Mills
Designer - David Shields
Produced by Kyle Vilcins

Him Indoors was in a lather of anticipation - he had seen the original production of this at Her Majesty's Theatre back when God was a boy, and when it was called The Case of the Oily Levantine. Apparently the cast was reasonably stellar for the period, the set was enormous, the production values slick - and it sank like a stone. 

I think this production would best be described as "endearingly awful". It did rather smack of a wet afternoon in Frinton-on-Sea watchng the local repertory company die on its arse in front of an audience of about 2 dozen punters, most of whom have only bought a ticket to get in out of the rain for a couple of hours.  The play smacks of "repertory company" anyway, with a vast array of parts for people of wildly differing ages.  That is no bad thing in itself - being "in rep" was a true apprenticeship which taught you your craft through long hard slog and experience; rehearsing one play during the day and appearing in another during the evenings every week really honed your expertise.  You developed your acting muscles and could play the leading man one week and a walk-on with three lines the next.  If there wasn't a part for you, you either helped out backstage, manned the box office or took a wildly unsuitable part if nobody else was available.  There were a couple of instances of people taking on wildly unsuitable parts in this show.

Whodunnit? is very much a "repertory company play" anyway - the "detective thriller" genre was one of the rep system staples.    And this play calls for each person to demonstrate two very distinct acting styles - in the first act, the audience has to be tricked into thinking that they are watching a "period thriller" in the style of the early stories of Agatha Christie, whereas in the second, it becomes apparent that the setting is contemporary.  This was actually pulled off very well in this production.  What wasn't so successful was that a couple of roles taken by people decades too young to play the parts convincingly, which could do nothing for the credibility of the production or the actors concerned.  White makeup plastered all over your hair does not make you look old - it makes you look like someone with white makeup plastered all over your hair.  Playing an old person and bounding about the stage like a boisterous puppy is not convincing - just embarassingly amateurish.  If you are going to use a walking stick, watch someone who has to use one and observe how they move.  Don't just flail it about. 

This is a well-crafted and intelligent play, and better production values and considerably better direction would have helped it immensely. The constraints of the set did not help the production but merely showed up its deficiencies.  I am not entirely sure that the Director was entirely up to speed with what was needed at several points.  Scrutinising the set, I could only make out one reflective surface (the glass of the French windows) when, at one point, every character on stage needs to be looking into one - no mirrors were in evidence, nor shiny silver trays, nor powder compacts.  When someone pours a drink, unless it is whisky or port (and most certainly if it is referred to as orange squash), more than an inch of fluid needs to be put in the glass.  The "voiceover", which narrates the viewpoint of the murderer, and which must not be identifiable as any member of the cast, was so garbled and obscured that it was supremely difficult to make out what was actually being said.  When your entire cast are meant to be holding swords, it looks daft to give one of them a golf club.

James Pellow really rather walks away with the acting honours in a stand-out turn as Perkins the Butler, transmogrifying into an evil old queen much in the style of Derek Jacobi in Vicious.  Paul Cleveland as Bazeby showed a complete inability to do anything with his arms - in fact, for at least the first ten minutes of Act 1, I was convinced that, for some reason to do with the plot, he was wearing false arms inside his jacket (he wasn't, but it looked like it).   Robert Hannouch, who cannot be out of his 20s, did not make a terribly convincing Old Sea Dog, and wearing a false moustache over a real one is just bizarre.  Mr. Hannouch, the Court finds you guilty of putting white makeup in your hair. Likewise, Lily Collier is far, far too young to play Dame Runcible (a role that was taken on Broadway by Hermione Baddely - Mrs. Bridges to you and me - when she must have been well into her 60s).  Thomas Barron is smoothly plausible as Roger Dashwood - full marks, Mr. Barron for correct period hair and pencil moustache.  And bonus points for wearing calf-length socks; nothing is so "unperiod" as being able to see a bit of white leg over the top of a short sock when a man is sitting down - at least two male cast members guilty of this.  Andrew Beckett gives a nice comic turn as the outrageously camp Police Sergeant, but the team is let down badly by Damien Tracey's Inspector Bowden, who looks like he needs a hairbrush, a razor, an ironing board, a needle and thread and a good night's sleep, as well as closer and more detailed direction - at several points I felt he was just wandering aimlessly and rather pointlessly about the stage.  Better direction would certainly have helped in the second act which is very wordy and liable to drag for the audience if they are not being visually entertained. 

I enjoyed this play, but am afraid that I didn't enjoy this production of it.  I stick by my claim of "endearingly awful".  It could have been so much better. I wanted it to succeed and be funny and sharp and slick and make me laugh and pack in the punters.  As it is, I found it all faintly embarrassing.   And I have to take issue with the "programme". One sheet of folded A4 paper inside a cover made of one sheet of folded A4 card does not constitute a programme, in my mind, particularly when a) it covers three plays being performed over a 12-day season, b) it contains nothing but cast and creative team biographies and mentions nothing whatsoever about the plays, their production histories and so on and c) it costs £2.  I've had more informative bus tickets and feel somewhat ripped off.