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July 2010

Actors at the theatre

I've created a new category for my celeb spots when I'm at the theatre - hey I'll do anything for the clicks these days.

It's been a bit of a bumper theatre week, three plays so far and one more to go. The Donmar on Monday night wasn't it's usual rich picking of celeb spots but the Royal Court proved to be as good as ever on Tuesday night.

Images Lrg_1114200812834 Sir Ian Holm (Bilbo in LOTR) was having a pre-theatre bite in the cafe bar and then afterwards, aside from the cast from Sucker Punch and Sharon Small who's in Spur of the Moment upstairs, Olivia Williams (Ghost Writer) was having a wee drinkie.

Then last night at the Cottesloe, it wasn't so much as a celeb spot as a full encounter. A rather familiar face sat next to me, someone I've seen on stage recently but couldn't place (I'm rubbish with names) and as the first two to arrive on our bench and with the stage set so unique it was inevitable that we'd end up talking to each other on it.

I commented on the challenges of rehearsing when your stage is essentially an s-shaped, bar-height cat walk and he mentioned that they had built the stage in the rehearsal room for that very reason. Further comments led me to believe he was working at the NT so I asked and he indeed was, he's playing Prince Tydeus in Welcome to Thebes which I saw a few weeks back.

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Did the earth move for Earthquakes in London?

DSCN1122 I loved Mike Bartlett's play Cock which debuted at the Royal Court last year. It was simple and powerful and in many ways the antithesis of his new offering Earthquakes in London which is in preview at the National Theatre.

With Rupert Goold at the helm there was always going to be some spectacle and when I booked my ticket at the start of the season and got a voucher with seat allocation to come later, all signs were there that the Cottesloe's flexible space would be put to good use.

And I wasn't wrong. There is a stage of sorts. Imagine an s-shaped, red catwalk sashaying through the rectangular performance space, flanked with red bar stools for some of audience. The rest of the 'stalls' space is given over to audience standing room except for two raised red-leather banquette benches down each long-side of the rectangular - which is where I sat.

Above the banquettes there are another two galleried tiers of seating. At the short ends of the rectangle are two recessed performance spaces across which curtains can be drawn for scene changes. And just as images were projected onto the stage in Enron, here the curtains and wall space are used as screens.

It is a gob-smacking and highly imaginative way to use the space.

But what of the play itself?  There is an intriguing story that runs through an almost nightmarish spectacle of strippers, discos, joggers, shoppers and identi-kit mothers pushing old fashioned prams (if anyone works out the relevance of the latter then please do enlighten me). Three sisters: one is Environment Secretary, one is heavily pregnant but obviously troubled by something and the youngest is at the wild, rebellious and directionless stage of late teenage years.

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Knocked out by a Sucker Punch?

Sucker-punch_1662946c This was a bit of a last minute ticket buy because some friends were going - boxing isn't my thang you see but I had seen rather a lot of stars on marketing material so I thought 'why not?'.

So off I toddle to fav haunt the Royal Court and they got the first punch in early as I took my seat. I knew the Jerwood had been reconfigured with the stage in the middle of the auditorium but nothing quite prepares you for the sight of a boxing ring in what was once familiar theatre space.

There was a bit of light sparring as the scene is set - a London boxing gym in the 80s. Two black, school-age teens Leon (Daniel Kaluuya) and Troy (Anthony Welsh) are learning to box and vying to be the favourite of gym-owner Charlie (Nigel Lindsay).

When Charlie loses Tommy (Jason Maza), his champion in the making and potential financial saviour of the gym, to a rival club Leon becomes his only hope.

But this is the 80s of Brixton and Tottenham riots and boxing fans not taking kindly to a black man beating a white man in the ring. To compound matters Leon has fallen out with best friend Troy and Charlie's daughter Becky (Sarah Ridgeway in the the sort of clothes I've tried desperately to forget existed in my wardrobe at one time) are secretly going out.

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Prince of Homburg at the Donmar

PD37911371_THE-PRI_1687121c Bit of a theatre packed week this week and kicked off in good style with a trip to the Donmar on Monday night.

Now the plays they choose can be a bit hit or miss but Prince of Homburg was like a nice roast shoulder of lamb - tasty and with plenty to chew on.

Written in the 19th century as the last play by Henrich van Kleist before he committed suicide at the age of 34 it examines personal freedom versus authority.

The Prince (Charlie Cox) is a popular and successful military leader, charming but impetuous. The play opens on the night before a battle and the Prince sleepwalking in a moonlit garden. The Elector (Ian McDiarmid) and his family are called to observe the Prince's behaviour for their entertainment and decide to tease him in his somnambulatory state.

The next day as the Elector's battle orders are being given the Prince is distracted by the images he perceived in his dream-like state and orders his attack too soon but ultimately wins the battle for the army. Incensed that his orders weren't followed and the victory is one of mere "chance" rather than design the Elector has the Prince court-martialled, the penalty for which is death.

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Sweating Through a Glass Darkly

TAGDRuthMainImageforweb A hot and humid summer's evening is probably not the best way to experience the Almeida Theatre for the first time. It is a splendid theatre but air-conditioning would have made sitting through an hour and a half's performance with a large, fidgety and throat-clearing man in the row behind, slightly less of an endurance.

Still it helped add to the tense atmosphere of a play set on a family holiday that is doomed from the moment one of the characters says that everything is going to be perfect.

And this family holiday is teetering on the edge of disaster from the outset: a married daughter (Ruth Wilson) newly released from a mental hospital, husband Martin (Justin Salinger) determined to love her better, novelist father David (Ian McElhinney) struggling with his art and using it as an excuse to distance himself and 16-year-old brother Max (Dimitri Leonidas) at that delicate and awkward age of sexual discovery.

A fragile web of inter-relationships is quickly woven with Karin (Ruth Wilson) at the centre keeping everyone together. Which is kind of ironic given she is the one with bipolar disorder and arguably the most vulnerable.

Inevitably her condition worsens and she is drawn to an attic room where she expects an audience with god. Her crumbling mental state brings relationship tensions to a head of confrontations, accusations and home truths and ultimately a shocking denouement that could make or break the family completely.

As Karin, Wilson absolutely shines. She is the mixed-bag of conflicted bursts of energy, hysteria, delusions, lethargy and calm. Her performance is so effortless in its schizophrenic range that when she isn't on the stage everyone else's feels almost forced and the occasionally jarring script is exposed.

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October is Hamlet month

Hamlet_shakespeare Productions of Hamlet are like buses it seems. You wait for ages and then two come along.

First up will be the wonderful John Simm in Sheffield (can't believe I travelling to Sheffield to see a play, you'd think London had enough theatre - it's all Polyg's fault). Then just five days later it's Rory Kinnear at the National.

The last two versions of Hamlet I saw, excluding the recording of the Trevor Nunn/Ben Whishaw version I saw at the V&A Archives were Jude Law and David Tenant. I had to wait nearly a year in between but enjoyed weighing up the two productions side by side. The RSC/Tenant version just pipped it.

Just, I say, because Jude Law exceeded expectation. I couldn't seem him as Hamlet somehow and he managed to pull it off. Which is why I'm reserving judgement on Rory Kinnear.

He played Laertes opposite Mr Whishaw's Hamlet and so is getting a go at the lead. I've seen him in some Jacobean drama and he's put in good performances but Hamlet? I'm not sure he's a nuanced enough performer to give Hamlet the appropriate depth and complexity. Nicholas Hytner has the reins and he must see something in him to think he can pull it off so perhaps he'll do a Law.

Simm on the other hand I've never seen in anything from that period but I've seen him play a variety of roles and he has the delicacy of form that I believe is more suited to the role. So my money's on him being the most impressive.

And if the two productions weren't enough, I've just booked to hear Hytner talking about Hamlet in a National Theatre platform in between seeing the two plays.

Me? Like Hamlet? Nah can't stand it. Far too long and whingey. Ahem.


Beauty Queen of Leenane - contender for favourite play of the year

26053a This is one of those hidden gems that I wouldn't have normally thought to see if it hadn't been for a very special deal on the tickets (£10 tickets still available for previews including press night next week, snap 'em up I say).

It's set in rural Ireland, in a stone cottage, where put-upon 40-year old spinster Maureen (Susan Lynch) is caring for her needy and manipulative mother Mag (Rosaleen Linehan).

"I can't see how a urine infection prevents you pouring a cup of Complan or tidying up the house a bit when I'm away. It wouldn't kill you."

Maureen would love to escape, indeed she dreams of escaping and an invite to a party and subsequent romantic liaison with Pato Dooley (David Ganly) gives her a glimmer of hope. But who will stir the lumps out of Mag's Complan?

The Young Vic has done a great job with the staging almost encasing the audience in the frequently rain-soaked cottage with Maureen and Mag (yes with real water) so that you feel holed-up mother and daughter. That, combined with the rippling wit in the script and acting (Linehan proves a master of comedy with a perfectly-timed raise of the eye brow or look) quite simply had us all hooked.

It's been a long time since I've seen a play where the audience has been so engaged the reaction has been quite so palpable: Sharp intakes of breath, muttering under breath as events twisted and turned and so much spontaneous applause.

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Coming soon... but what should I see?

It's one of those crunch times in the theatre calendar when new seasons are announced and those of us who like to be close enough to see the sweat on the actors' brow have to break out the diaries and credit card.

But there is sooo much choice. So much choice, it's making my brain spin just thinking about it. Here's what I'm considering - any recommendations greatly received:

National Theatre

Hamlet with Rory Kinnear in the lead directed by Nicholas Hytner. It's my favourite play and the play I've seen the most. Always curious about interpretations, delivery and staging. Pretty much a given this one.

Men Should Weep by Ena Lamont Stewart is, according to the synopsis, about a large, poor family living in a tenement and their trials and tribulations. Sounds really interesting but down side is it on at the Lyttleton which I don't really like as theatre.

Prince of Denmark a new play by Michael Lesslie about Hamlet, Laertes and Ophelia 10 years before the events of Shakespeare's play. I'm currently reading John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius, what can I say, I'm fascinated by anything Hamlet related.

Hampstead Theatre

Tiger Country by Nina Raine who is described by the Guardian as "one of theatre's brightest talents". Play is set in the high pressured, sexually charged hospital environment.

Ecstasy by Mike Leigh and as a fan of his films this one screams out at me to watch it. Have never seen one of his plays before either.

Young Vic

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams has got to be high up on my list. Studied Streetcar at unit and saw The Rose Tattoo at the National Theatre a year or two ago. Really want to see more of his work.

Vernon God Little is one of my favourite books and I enjoyed the play when I saw it first time around. Colin Morgan made his professional debut and was pretty impressive. He's gone on to do quite a bit of telly including Stan favourite Merlin.

I am the Wind by Jon Fosse about two life long travelling companions looks really interesting.

And that's as far as I've got so far. Any other recommendations?


Rupert Goold's Romeo & Juliet, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford

Sam-Troughton-and-Mariah--001Romeo and Juliet, on the surface, is a very silly story for any sensible thinking person. Two young teens meet and fall in love at first sight (Romeo after only moments before being infatuated with another), agree to marry the next day then end up killing themselves.

Teen love, angst and rebellion is of course a timeless theme but it is the 'gang culture' of Verona which resonates the strongest with modern times - perhaps why Goold eschewed guns for the more traditional blades as weapons of choice?

His approach is to give the play the energy of a teen on Red Bull, keeping the first half sexually charged and full of teasing, fun and humour. There is some brilliant skitting (and scene stealing) by Mercutio, the marvellous bleach-haired Jonjo O'Neill, who plays on the sexual double-entendres to the maximum.

Romeo, played by Sam Troughton (BBC's Robin Hood) is at times excitable and cocky while at others  awkward and withdrawn. However, he could learn something about clarity of delivery from Jude Law as he did have a tendency to garble his lines in the passion of the performance. 

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Dandiness at the Soho Theatre

28607 Other people's lives are always fascinating. And Sebastian Horsley's was certainly more fascinating than most. The self professed dandy and sometime artist and writer is the subject of the Tim Fountain play Dandy in the Underworld based on his own book of the same name.

Played wonderfully by Milo Twomey this one-hander is not so much a window into a day in the life of the effete and charming Horsley more him partially drawing back the curtain. He liked the attention, obviously. It's not a shy and retiring person who walks around Soho in a red velvet suit with matching top hat, claims to have slept with more than 1,000 prostitutes and talks of drug abuse almost lovingly.

Horsley is one of those characters that the rational part of your brain wants to abhor - he is essentially rich and bored seemingly squandering the privileged life he was born into but he has a winning charm. His often controversial world view and musings are entertaining and amusing. 

Naturally he doesn't paint his parents in a very good light but he has a neediness evident in his inability to easily cope with rejection that shows glimpses of a different person beneath the red velvet veneer.

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