Review: Simon Russell Beale in Temple, Donmar Warehouse


Simon Russell Beale is staring out a window. You can see St Paul's Cathedral looming large and hear the rhythmic beat of drums outside punctuated by the occasional roar of a crowd cheering and snatches of song. 

It is Autumn 2011 and Occupy London, having been prevented from protesting outside the stock exchange have instead set up camp outside St Paul's. The cathedral has be closed because of protest and is losing thousands of pounds a day in essential tourist revenue.

In Steve Water's new play at the Donmar he takes a fictional look at what was going on behind the scenes at St Paul's at this unprecedented time in the Cathedral's history - its doors had been kept open during the Blitz, floods and terrorist threats.

SRB is the Dean of the Cathedral and faced with a difficult decision. He is under pressure from the City of London to co-operate with an injunction to get the protestors evicted. He is under pressure from within the chapter of the Cathedral some of whom question what the church's role should be in such situation's: a church of the high finance or a church of the common man. And he is under pressure from the Bishop of London to make the right decision and minimise the damage to the Cathedral and church's reputation.

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Review: Restoration comedy laughs in The Beaux' Stratagem, National Theatre

The_Beaux_Stratagem_poster_notitleSamuel Barnett preens onto the Olivier stage, frock coat swishing and looking handsome. He is Aimwell, the younger brother of a count, who has frittered away his fortune enjoying life with his friend Archer (Geoffrey Streatfeild) and the two are on a mission to find rich wives to replenish their coffers.

Arriving at a coaching inn with Archer posing as Aimwell's servant they set about their plan to seek out well-funded beaux. Meanwhile the most eligible young woman Dorinda (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is helping her sister in law, Mrs Sullen (Susannah Fielding), to make her husband jealous in the hope that he will be less neglectful.

Throw in a highway man, a romantic French captain, an amorous 'French' priest and a love tangle among the servants and you have George Farquhar's restoration comedy The Beaux' Stratagem. It is an entangled tale of love, lust, marriage and money. And while it isn't quite the romp that She Stoops to Conquer was three years ago, there is plenty of amusement and laughs.

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Fringe review: 60s soul music and sexual exploitation in The Flannelettes, Kings Head Theatre

The Flannelettes (c) Chris Tribble (19)
Emma Hook and Holly Campbell in The Flannelettes
Photo: Chris Tribble

Richard Cameron's new play The Flannelettes is a grim story of domestic violence and sexual exploitation set against, ironically, the romantic 60s love songs from the Motown stable.

Set in a former mining town Delie (Emma Hook) is 22, has learning difficulties and is staying with her aunt Brenda (Suzan Sylvester) who runs a refuge for abused women. She can sing and is reforming Motown tribute band The Flannelettes with her aunt and George (Geoff Leesley), who runs a pawnbrokers and is happy to don a dress for their performances.

Delie picks up litter to raise money for the refuge and has a civic trophy as thanks. At the refuge she meets Roma (Holly Campbell) a young women in an abusive relationship. Roma tries to warn Delie of about the people she is mixing with, a group she herself seems powerless to leave. Despite her efforts  those of the ones looking out for her, Delie gets drawn into an exploitative sexual relationship.

The grim under belly of this economically deprived and drug-riddled community is exposed through the eyes of those who are trying their best to help turn it around.

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Fringe review and production photos: Sense of an Ending, Theatre 503

SOAE Dress, © Jack Sain 2015-0914
Sense of an Ending, Theatre 503. Photo by Jack Sain

Fringe theatre is where the difficult to watch plays are at the moment. Ken Urban's new piece, Sense of an Ending, is about a journalist investigating the case of two nun's who are standing trial for their part in the massacre of Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide.

While there are some necessary grim details about the murders and attacks this is a play that focuses more on the emotional agony, moral dilemmas, guilt and self justification.

Ben Onwukwe plays Charles, an American journalist who is trying to rebuild his career having made a mistake. He's been granted exclusive access to Sister Justina (Lynette Clarke) and Sister Alice (Akiya Henry) in order to interview them for a piece for the New York Times.

He arrives believing they must be innocent, believing that as women of God they wouldn't have allowed Tutsi men, women and children to be massacred in their church. The nuns' Hutu captors think otherwise and then there is Dusabi (Kevin Golding) who also has a story to tell about the massacre.

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Thoughts and production photos: The Angry Brigade at the Bush Theatre this time

Harry Melling and Mark Arends in The Angry Brigade ∏Manuel Harlan
Harry Melling and Mark Arends in Angry Brigade at the Bush Theatre. Photo Manuel Harlan

Saw The Angry Brigade at the Watford Palace Theatre last Autumn and it's found it's way to the Bush Theatre with Harry Melling returning and three new actors taking the other parts.

It's the story of Britain's answer to the Baader Meinhof and 1st of May guerilla groups in the 1970s and the police efforts to unmask them. You can read more detail about the play itself and my thoughts in the Watford review, the second viewing is a bit of a clue as to how much I enjoyed it, but I was also curious how it would change in a different theatre space.

Watford is an old theatre, a very formal setting for a play that has anarchy at its heart. The Bush has a flexible studio space allowing more freedom.

In the first half when the story follows the police the action is appropriately contained within the marked performance space but when it turns to the Angry Brigade themselves in the second half it is a different matter.

The audience is sat on three sides, slightly raised from the main performance space which has a walkway sized shelf around it. "Please keep bags and feet behind the rail," those of us on the front row were instructed and yes at one point Harry Melling was lying at my feet.

There are multiple entry points which the 'Brigade' made the most of. Actors often appearing behind the audience or sitting in a seat at the back. It can have quite a startling effect particularly when the filing cabinet 'bombs' start going off.  It all adds to the atmosphere although I must admit that it felt just a little bit more rebellious watching it from a red velvet upholstered seat in a traditional theatre.

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Props and an actor go flying in Ah, Wilderness!, Young Vic

Ah-wilderness-007 Ashley Zhangazha and George MacKay in Ah, Wilderness! Photo: Tristram Kenton

Always feel for actors when they've got an awkward stage set to move around. I mean is it not enough for them to have to remember their lines, their cues, the props and act all at the same time? Sloping stages always have me worrying for their ankles but sandy stages, well that's just a recipe for problems. 

Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic has a sandy stage and the first time I saw it there were a few stumbles and wobbles. Last night Janie Dee properly fell over as she was trying to make her exit. The rest of the cast were, of course, pro's with George MacKay's 'Richard' calling out a concerned 'mom' while going to help her.

There was no limping or signs of injury at the curtain call so lets hope that means she was OK. But it wasn't the only mishap in last night's performance. The props seem to take on a life of their own.

In the opening scene Richard and his brother Arthur (Ashley Zhangazha) argue over a book that happened to have a pen clipped to its cover. In the tug of war over the book the pen went flying and nearly hit a man sat on the front row in the face.

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Review: Who was the star of American Buffalo for me?

Tom Sturridge (Bob) in American Buffalo at Wyndham's Theatre. Credit Johan Persson (10)
Tom Sturridge (Bob) in American Buffalo at Wyndham's Theatre. Photographer: Johan Persson

Looking back to when I saw American Buffalo on Wednesday, it all seems at bit of a blur now. A blur apart from one character.

@pcchan1981 would say it's a blur because it was boring but I certainly didn't think that when I was watching it. Some plays are like that, you enjoy them at the time and then they fade quickly. Others don't really make their mark until the days after.

But in thinking back there is one character who sticks in my mind and that's Tom Sturridge's Bob. Damian Lewis' Teach was a needy mix of entitlement and hypocrisy and John Goodman's Don is beautifully conflicted. But then there is Bob.

To put it in context, just a few days before I had seen Tom Sturridge playing a handsome cad, dressed in military red in the film Far From a Madding Crowd. Bob couldn't be more different and it is always a treat to see actors showing off their range.

But that is the only reason Bob sticks in my mind. In the play he is an 'ex' heroin addict whom junk shop owner Don has taken under his wing as a sort of protege.

Thin frame, head shaved with a sore on his face he looks likes he's slept in the gutter in his overly baggy clothes. He moves and talks like he's a little bit stoned or struggling to keep up and when he stops he holds on to things or leans. I didn't know whether I wanted to shake him or take him home for good meal. I found my attention drawn to him, watching what he was doing whenever he was in scene.

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Fringe review: The harrowing Lonely Soldier Monologues, Cockpit Theatre

LSM 5, Pete le May
The Lonely Soldier Monologues, Cockpit Theatre

Imagine being sexually harassed on a daily basis. Imagine being threatened with the sack if you complain. Imagine not going to the toilet after dark for fear of being raped. Sounds like life in some sort of repressive, misogynistic regime doesn't it? This is, in fact, life in the US army for seven service women.

Helen Benedict's play, The Lonely Soldier Monologues, is adapted from her book which is a series of verbatim interviews with women who served in the US military on tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. There is much revealed in the play to get angry about. There is certainly plenty to be shocked by.

Actors tell the stories of the seven women using their own words, lifted from Benedict's interviews. Starting with why they signed up, to life away on tour and then what it was like when they returned. Most come from troubled, abusive or dysfunctional backgrounds and signing up is a chance of escape or at least to put their lives back on track.

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Review: Olivia Poulet pitches perfect satire and farce in Product, Arcola Theatre

Olivia Poulet in Product by Mark Ravenhill, Arcola, 27 April - 24 May, courtesy of Richard Davenport, 1
Olivia Poulet in Product. Photo by Richard Davenport

If the film Olivia Poulet's Leah is pitching to an actress had a movie poster it would be the sort that you'd run a mile from. Mark Ravenhill's satirical monologue is far more entertaining than the finished product ever would be or perhaps it would be a film so bad it would actually be good.

Leah thinks she has the perfect script for big actress Julia. She needs a big name actress to get the film green lit and Julia's career is on the wane:

"It's a three dimensional character, I'd love to see you play a three dimensional again."

And so for 50 minutes Leah talks Julia through the plot, re-anacting bits of the script, playing mood music, giving costume notes "You are wearing a gorgeous Versace suit, Versace are on board" and generally scene setting.

It is a cringe-worthy script which will be "hardened up" and a plot that is laced with female and racial stereotypes. Imagine Bridget Jones crossed with a bad Jason Statham action movie. Leah wants Julia to play the central character Amy, a successful, jet-setting woman living in a "beautiful warehouse apartment in East London that used to be an abattoir". Amy meets and falls in love with Mohammad, a Jihadist. Osama Bin Laden even makes an appearance. It's pure farce. It's cackle-inducing.

But this isn't just about the bad movie, it's about movie making as a commercial enterprise masquerading as an art form. And it's about Leah's increasingly desperate attempts to sell the movie. Leah peels off lists of inner monologues for particular scenes, breaking flow to mention how fantastic the lighting will be and body doubles. You can only imagine the look on Julia's face throughout.

It's a masterclass in acting from Poulet and, ironically, a level of talent which wouldn't even save this film from heading straight to DVD were it to be made.

Product is silly, ridiculous and sharp. It's a thoroughly entertaining 50 minutes. Catch it at the Arcola's Studio 2 until May 23



Review: Beyond Caring, National Theatre

Beyond Caring is a curious play; curious in that it feels slow and, dare I say it, a little underwhelming while you are watching, but it is only afterwards when you realise how it has quietly got under your skin.

It's a Yard Theatre production written and directed Alexander Zeldin, and devised with the company, and is set in a sausage factory where three women have been employed on zero hour contracts to clean at night alongside full-timer Phil (Sean O'Callaghan). There is a lot of cleaning.

They are supervised by Ian (Luke Clarke) who pops in every now and again to assert his own brand of management on the team. But this is a play about strangers who find themselves in the same situation, working unsociable hours doing a job very few would do if they could avoid. You'd expect one of them to be chatty and loud but none of them are. There are long periods when nothing is spoken and they are getting on with cleaning, hence why it can feel a little slow; the communication and character revelations come from their body language and behaviour.

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