Review: The Dresser, Duke of York's and why it feels past its best

The-DresserLove Ken Stott and it was that and a very good ticket offer on Today Tix that got me to a matinee to see The Dresser. And here is where I pause because despite Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith acting their socks off the play just felt lacklustre and a bit past it.

Ronald Harwood's play was first staged in 1980 is set during the Second World War in a theatre where actor/manager 'Sir' (Stott) is having trouble keeping himself together and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Shearsmith) is trying to get him ready to go on stage for an evening performance of King Lear.

I had several problems with the play. Sir is either having some sort of nervous breakdown or has the early signs of dementia and that isn't actually that funny - maybe Ken Stott's weepy, dazed acting is too good. He appears extremely fragile at times and attempts to get him ready for the performance feel almost cruel.

However, in his more lucid moments he is self-centred, self-obsessed and generally not very nice which makes him difficult to empathise with. You can understand why not everyone flatters and fawns over him. There is also one scene when he gropes (sexually assaults) a young actress and that might have been funny to an audience in 1980 but it certainly isn't funny now.

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That was November in London theatre land

Show_DonJuanInSohoFeels like November was a big month for announcements...and thesp spotting.

* Even being out of the country at the time I couldn't miss the announcement that David Tennant is returning to West End stage in the 16+ age rated Don Juan of Soho at the Wyndhams Theatre next year. He'll be joined by Adrian Scaraborough and Gawn Grainger with further casting to be announced

* Barely a month goes by without the National Theatre announcing new productions and it's particularly exciting to see Kate Fleetwood cast in new play Ugly Lies the Bone in which she'll play an American soldier returning home after three tours in Afghanistan.

* The Boys In The Band, starring Mark Gatiss, which enjoyed a successful run at the Park Theatre, is transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre for a two week run in February. My review from the Park Theatre is here.

* Double excitement from the Royal Court as next year they've got a new Simon Stephens play (Nuclear War) and a new Jez Butterworth play (The Ferryman). Just need to take a moment to absorb that. As Sam Mendes is directing The Ferryman and Sonia Friedman Productions are involved I'd put money on a West End transfer and at least one really starry name in the cast. Not surprising it's already sold out apart from the Monday day seats.

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Theatre hottie and girl crush of the month - bumper October and November edition

Holidays got in the way of me posting October's theatre hottie and girl crush so I decided to package up it up with November into a bumper edition - see it as an early Christmas present.

OCTOBER

Theatre hottie: This was a tough one, because it was a month where the suave, sophisticated and hot Mark Strong was on stage in The Red Barn at the National, although he did keep his shirt on. But he was just pipped at the post by Jack Derges as 'The Cowboy' in The Boys in the Band. I might have giggled like a 14-year-old when he first stepped on stage looking like this. Certainly there was knowing look that passed between PolyG and I. It must have been such hard work for Mark Gatiss. What can I say, I'm shallow.

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Mark Gatiss and Jack Derges in The Boys In The Band, Park Theatre. Photo Darren Bell

The Boys in the Band is transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre for a two week run in February.

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Review: Sparkling fun and Harry Enfield in Once In A Lifetime, Young Vic Theatre

OIAL_326This time of year needs a bit of fun and sparkle from theatreland and the Young Vic's Once In A Lifetime fits the bill perfectly.

The story is about an artistic gold rush; Hollywood's first ever talking motion picture is a massive hit and there is a scramble to produce more. The problem is that Hollywood's actors are silent movie stars not used to speaking on camera. Down on their luck variety performers Jerry (Kevin Bishop), May (Claudie Blakley) and nice but dim George (John Marquez) spy a business opportunity and jump on a cross-country train to California to set up a speech school.

On the way they meet celebrity gossip columnist Helen Hobart (Lucy Cohu) whom they wheedle into helping them with an introduction to movie mogul Herman Glogaur (Harry Enfield).

Cue what is part farce, part satire on theatre and Hollywood types who look down on each other and where guile rather than talent, luck rather than intelligence gets you ahead. It is a shallow, glamourous and opulent world full of champagne and sequins (mainly on Lucy Cohu's amazing dresses) where there are so many egos and administrative layers that it swallows people (and money) up.

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Christmas comes to London's fringe theatres - a round of up festive treats

A Christmas Carol (c) Mat Johns (6)
A Christmas Carol (c) Mat Johns

PANTO Ricky Whittington and his Cat is a timely, satirical and funny take on old-school panto featuring song, dance and a WEALTH of comic talent and guest cameos. Catch it at the New Diorama from December 12 to January 7 with a special New Years Eve performance and party.

HUMANETTE PUPPET COMEDY An absurd and endearing portrait of Christmas, like The Royle Family meets Phoenix Nights, in miniature Holy Presents is on at the Camden People's Theatre from 6 to 17 December.

COMEDY The BAC has a season of festive fun including two festive stand up shows: A John Kearns Christmas (6-10 Dec) and Josie Long Hosts Christmas This Year (13-17 Dec). For more details head to the BAC website.

SIMON STEPHENS' CHRISTMAS Not his actual Christmas but his play Christmas which Theatre N16 is reviving for a run from 11 to 22 December. It's one week ‘til Christmas. A bleak bar in the heart of London’s East End. Landlord Michael Macgraw is setting up for the Saturday punters - all two of them; young Billy Russell, a foul-mouthed football fan and Seppo the barber with an odd fondness for Drambuie and dreaming of Vienna. Christmas, a time for family, goodwill and peace to all men, but not for these three.

OPERA PANTO The King's Head Theatre in Islington has chosen Pinochio for it's festive treat. Performed by a cast of Charles Court Opera with a whale-full of jaw-dropping musical numbers from pop to opera, and puns and tomfoolery galore, this year's 10th anniversary celebration promises to be the biggest and best yet. It runs from Dec 1 to Jan 7.

DINNER & CHRISTMAS CAROL Dickens' classic festive tale comes to the Above the Arts Theatre in Covent Garden served over a two-course dinner. Food and theatre are dished up from Dec 12 to 31.


Review: RSC's bonkers Cymberline, Barbican Theatre

B5774-cymbeline_review_hub.tmb-gal-1340When plays are rarely performed you do wonder if there is a good reason for it and Cymberline isn't one of William Shakespeare's best but the RSC has done a superb job with it, particularly given that they do the whole thing.

It's definitely a play of two halves. As we paused for the interval it was all going swimmingly. Queen Cymberline (Gillian Bevan), one of several gender swaps in this production, is angry that her only daughter Innogen (Bethan Cullinan) has married her lover Posthumus (Hiran Abeysekera) and has banished him but not before the newly-weds swap gifts - a ring for Posthumus and bracelet for Innogen. Innogen's evil stepfather (James Clyde) wants Innogen to marry his oafish son Cloten (Marcus Griffiths) but he also has deadly plans for the Queen.

Things take a turn for the worse for Posthumus who, having made his way to Rome, encounters Iachimo (Oliver Johnstone), a playboy, who in hearing about the lovely and chaste Innogen wagers that he can prove she isn't by tempting her to bed. Posthumus bets the ring that Innogen has given him and you can see roughly where all that is going. Anyway that brings us up to the interval with a lot of people feeling rejected/hurt/bereft while others are rubbing their hands together in glee.

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London fringe theatre news round up - opera, circus and more

Rehearsal Shot (c) Vantage Point (6)
This Might Be It rehearsal (c) Vantage Point

2017 SEASON ANNOUNCEMENT Print Room  at the Coronet in Notting Hill has announced five plays for the first half of next year opening with Howard Barker's In The Depth of Love followed by Out of Blixen directed by Kathryn Hunter. For full season details visit the Print Rooms website.

TEEN DRAMA More to look forward to next year, Southwark Playhouse has announced a production of The Diary of a Teenage Girl which opens on Mar 1, 2017 and runs until Mar 25. It's a coming of age story as told through the eyes of a teenage girl growing up in 1970s San Francisco.

THE ONE I CAN'T PRONOUNCE Director Jimmy Walters returns to the Finborough Theatre with a new production of Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus in its first London staging for nearly 30 years. It will run from Tuesday 3rd – Saturday 28th January 2017.

CONTEMPORARY ISSUES Theatre N16 plays host to new company Vantage Point and their first show This Might Be It, which examines our relationship to technology in the digital age - think Black Mirror on stage from a millennial perspective. It runs from Dec 4 - 8.

PUB OPERA I saw my first opera in a small room above a pub a couple of years ago and despite my scepticism really enjoyed it - you are certainly never going to get that close to the singers at the ROH. If you aren't sure whether opera is your thing, pub opera is a brilliant way to try it out and as an experience after all you won't be sitting that close to the singers if you go to ROH. This is my preamble to the King's Head Theatre announcing its opera season for next year. It includes new collaborations with Olivier Award-winning librettist Amanda Holden and Charles Court Opera, the return of internationally acclaimed opera director Paul Higgins and a new production of Tosca from the King’s Head Theatre’s Artistic Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher. For more details head to the KH website.

CIRCUS French Compagnie XY, widely regarded as one of the leading contemporary circus companies in the world, will return to London for the UK premiere of their spectacular new show It’s Not Yet Midnight….This poetic and jaw-defying spectacle will run at the Roundhouse in Camden from 10th – 23rd April 2017.

 

 


Rehearsal and promotional photos: Rufus Sewell, Tim Key and Paul Ritter in Art, Old Vic Theatre

The photo shoot for Art's promotional pics look like Rufus, Tim and Paul all had fun (see a behind the scenes vid here). There's also a bunch of rehearsal shots - really looking forward to this one and not just because of the opportunity to see Rufus Sewell on stage again. Ahem.

Art at Old Vic Theatre is directed by Yasmina Reza and opens for previews on Dec 10 and then runs until Feb 17, 2017. For more info head to the Old Vic website.

ART Fight-222-Landscape Tim Key, Rufus Sewell and Paul Ritter. Photo by Manuel Harlan (1)
ART Tim Key, Rufus Sewell and Paul Ritter. Photo by Manuel Harlan
ART Fight-243 portrait. Tim Key, Paul Ritter and Rufus Sewell. Photo by Manuel Harlan (2)
ART Tim Key, Paul Ritter and Rufus Sewell. Photo by Manuel Harlan

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Review: RSC's King Lear, Barbican Theatre and why it's better than the Old Vic's

King_Lear_2016_marketing_image_2016_Photo_by_Paul_Stuart_c_RSC_181766
Photo by Paul Stuart (c) RSC

The RSC's King Lear, which stars Antony Sher and is currently enjoying a season at London's Barbican Theatre, took me by surprise. Lear isn't a play I particularly like, despite repeated viewings in order to 'convert' my opinion. However, I think the RSC may have just made me a believer.

It comes hot on the heels of seeing the Old Vic’s King Lear production last month, starring Glenda Jackson, which had reinforced my bad feelings about the play. Seeing both versions in quick succession means comparisons are inevitable. Both are stripped down productions. The Old Vic has gone contemporary with a white screen, cheap plastic chairs and the cast dressed in modern street clothes (much has been made by critics of Glenda Jackson’s cardie).

The RSC opted for a vast brick wall as a backdrop and the odd prop but the royal family at the start are opulently dressed - long robes embellished with gold embroidery although with lines that had a cleaner, modern spin.

Lear wears a heavy fur coat and is carried onto the stage with his golden throne encased in a glass box, flanked by attendants carrying huge golden discs as if he floats, celestial in a higher universe. Immediately you see a King for whom appearance, status and the appropriate deference is intrinsically linked to power and rule. It sets the scene for a man who wants to have his cake and eat it. He doesn’t want the responsibility of kingship, the cares of rule but he doesn't want how he is treated or lives to change.

This production opened in the summer in Stratford, long before the American election but the way Lear protests when he isn’t treated with the respect he feels he’s due made me think of the thin-skinned, president elect Donald Trump.

It is ironic that the RSC production with its less modern setting should resonate with current political figures while the modern take in the Old Vic production felt contemporary only in look. The lack of stateliness made Glenda Jackson’s Lear less petulant and entitled and, on reflection, less understandable.

In fact one of the strengths of the RSC production is that all the key characters had clearly defined story arcs and took you on the journey with them.

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