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September 2010

Sleepers....yawn...Den

Peter Gill's Sleepers Den screams out to be compared with the Beauty Queen of Leenane. It is set in a poor community, this time in Cardiff rather than rural Ireland, with a mother daughter relationship at it's heart and a subtext of mental illness.

Old Mrs Shannon is virtually bedridden and daughter, Mrs Shannon, only goes out to the shops spending the rest of the time looking after her mother, daughter Maria and brother Frankie who spends most of his time out.

As the play progresses the needy mother/daughter relationship shifts and there are hints that the daughter has been ill in the past. Sound familiar? Well sadly if you hold Sleepers Den up to the Beauty Queen mirror then something comparatively plain and boring is going to reflect back.

Aside from one woman laughing almost hysterically at inappropriate moments there was no humour, nor indeed anything to distract from the Riverside Studio's uncomfortable plastic chairs.

As @polyg so rightly put it: "Depression doesn't have to be so depressing." But sadly it was. As unhinged as the mother turned out to be, there was more energy in kitchen table's performance. My mind worked overtime imagining potential twists and reveals but it was wishful thinking.

A charity worker visits. The club money man visits. But you get nothing of the characters pasts, relationships or motives just the merest hint that something, long ago might offer some vague explanation for what is going on in the house.

Instead there is lots of obsessing over cups of tea and a tea cup gets smashed. There was a lacklustre threat to stab the mother in her sleep with one of those old fashioned, round-ended, bone handled table knives your gran always had but that is as good as it got. Perhaps they only allow round-ended knives just in case the actors want to harm themselves in an attempt to liven things up a little.

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Finally I got to see Clybourne Park

Images-2 This morning in the office:

Colleague: How was the play?

Me: It was really good, really, really funny.

Colleague: What was it about?

Me: Racism.

It doesn't paint a very good picture of me or the play does it? But, how else would you describe Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park at the Royal Court and the audience reaction? But then that is the key to its success and why it has been getting rave reviews and is sold out no doubt. Norris' skill at handling such a delicate and inflammatory subject in a way that makes you laugh but equally question yourself is quite genius.

In a dialogue that is so tight you'd need a razor to prize it open we are told two stories about one house in Chicago. The first set in the late 50's when a middle-class white family are selling cheap to get away from bad memories which allows the first black family in the neighbourhood to move in. The second has fast forwarded to 2009 and finds the house dilapidated with its young, middle-class, white couple owners planning to pull it down and build something bigger but the local neighbourhood association is not best please with the plans.

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Martin Freeman joins my tea and cake list and the Clybourne cast Q&A

DSCN2966 OK, I should probably explain. I've long harboured a desire to have tea and cake with certain famous people and by desire I don't mean anything other than wouldn't it be nice to sit and have a good old natter over a pot of tea and a large slice of moist Victoria sponge filled with cream and jam.

Ben Whishaw has long been on the list, indeed the list probably started because of him. Not least because I'd love to have a good old natter over a cuppa but also because he looks like a man in need of a good slice of cake. Incidentally I recently discovered an interview from around the time of his Hamlet in which Trevor Nunn said all the women of the cast were obsessed with his food intake and continually asked him what he'd eaten.

Mackenzie Crook is a recent addition for similar reasons because, as I think I commented in my The Aliens review, he makes Mr Whishaw look fat.

But now there is Martin Freeman who easily makes it onto the list following last night's performance and comic quips at the Clybourne post show Q&A. He is a funny man and it was great to see him making the jokes rather laughing at him in character.

Much of what he said that was funny was a case of 'you had to be there' but trust me, he would be an entertaining tea time guest.

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Almeida Theatre backstage tour

This weekend is London Open House and @polyg managed to get us booked onto the Almeida Theatre tour.

I love backstage tours, going to all those parts of the theatre you never normally get to see. Finding out a few tricks of the trade and just getting a sense of what it must be like backstage while you are sat out front enjoying the fruits of all the labour.

My favourite bits are always the green room and the dressing rooms of which there are four at the Almeida. There are always loads of personal items, good luck cards, family photo's and the like, it's when I feel at my most voyeuristic on these tours spying on a world and a side to the actors I'm not supposed to know about.

It's also where you get a bit of an insight into life backstage before, during and after a performance - the futon bed in the corning for naps between the matinee and evening performances and the fridge stocked with favourite items in the green room.

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Did The Aliens cough up a storm*?

Tn_536_aliens_1281481646 First visit to the lovely little Bush Theatre where it's so small that I could see, clear as day, the shock on the face of the elderly lady sat on the opposite side of the stage when one of the characters asked another: "Did you finger her pussy?"

And what makes it all the more special is to see actors such as Mackenzie Crook (in vain hope I scanned the audience for his pal Johnny D) and Ralph 'Anthony Royle' Little so close, they are a step away from sitting on your lap.

It is also great to see such a small space turned over so thoroughly to the plays setting: a cafe's back yard complete with gravel, wheelie bins, graffiti-decorated corrugated fencing and grill covered back door.

The rest of the stage setting is simple, a couple of beat up chairs and a pile of crates that doubles as a table.

So all the ingredients were there it just needed a fine play to turn it into something tasty. And it is a fine play, well the second half is. The first half establishes Jasper (Crook) and KJ (Little) as a couple of slackers or layabouts as the elderly lady would have probably called them. They spend their time hanging out at the back of the cafe, talking about a bit of this and that namely poetry, Jasper's ex and the novel he's writing and gently teasing, the impressionable 17-year old Evan who has just started working at the cafe.

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Great pub theatre: This is How it Goes, King's Head, Islington

P_TWVOme Dragging my sleep deprived brain back to Wednesday evening, I remember really enjoying Neil LaBute's This is How it Goes very much. Groping through the blur of three work and socialising packed days I'm not sure I'm going to be able to say anything particularly intelligent about why, but I'll try.

The first thing I should mention is that it was my first trip to the Kings Head Theatre which is behind the charming and characterful King's Head pub - although note that the loo's have charm of an entirely different sort. It gets additional Rev Stan points for treating the audience like proper grown ups and allowing them to take a drink into the theatre in a real glass.

Right the play.  It's narrated by Man (Tom Greaves) who is returning to the small town he grew up in. He has a long standing thing for Belinda (Gemma Atkinson) the school beauty and cheerleader who is now one half of a successful couple. Her husband Cody (Okezie Morro) was her childhood sweetheart, the school track star who also happened to be the one black kid in school. 

Man bumps into Belinda who vaguely remembers him from school and she offers to rent him the apartment her and her husband Cody have just built over their garage. Cody also vaguely remembers Man but as the story unfolds and they all get reacquainted, the picture of domestic bliss doesn't appear to be quite as it seems and old prejudices are reignited.

LaBute presents us with a narrator of dubious reliability making you question whether there is more than just a little duplicity going on. His script, in the hands of this able young cast, manages to juxstapose laughs with some tense and socially awkward moments as racism rears an ugly head. The cast also handle the American accents with aplomb.

I'd like to see it again and it gets a four star rating from me.

As ever all the professional and theatre blogger reviews are being aggregated as the appear over on www.upthewestend.com where of the three reviews in so far it's got a rating of 3/5


Play with a health warning: The Aliens, plus rehearsal pics

Just got an email through from the Bush Theatre about its play The Aliens which I'm booked to see with @polyg a week on Saturday. As well as the running time it had the following warning:

Please note that the show contains strong language and real cigarettes

Obviously I shall endeavour not to be offended by the strong language as someone who never so much as allows a 'blast' to cross her lips. Ahem. But I'm curious about the cigarettes warning. I don't smoke 'real cigarattes' or even unreal cigarettes but it wouldn't make me think twice about seeing a play. Would anyone else be put off and demand a refund? Or is it that much of a health threat to someone who say suffers from asthma?

Usually the warnings are posted in the theatre presumably because it's a legal requirement. Anyway I shall endeavour not to succumb to a fit of coughing when any of the actors light up now I've been warned.

And while we are on the topic of The Aliens, here are some great rehearsal shots taken by the wonder Simon Annand of The Half fame.



Design for Living, Old Vic

Images-1Design for Living isn't about a menage a trois so much as a love triangle in which none of the party can quite live with or without each other.

It's not a subject that raises much of an eyebrow in 2010, although I'm sure Jeremy Kyle would have a go, but when it was written in the 1933 it was a bit of hot potato and no London theatre would touch it for several years forcing writer, one Mr Noel Coward to look to Broadway. 

So how does the story of woman who doesn't believe in marriage and brazenly lives in sin translate for a modern audience? Well without the shock element of the subject matter you are left with a funny character piece.

Gilda (Lisa Dillon) is a woman of independent means who loves two men - Leo (Andrew Scott) a writer and Otto (Tom Burke) an artist. She is drawn into romantic liaisons with one then the other, her interest seeming to wax and wane as she goes on a voyage of self discovery and battles to come to terms with life rebelling against social conventions. It takes its toll making her neurotic, almost hysterical and prone to impulsive behaviour. 

And Leo and Otto are not much better at dealing with the freedom their lifestyle choice affords.

But when Gilda disappears leaving them identical notes, it is a wake up call for all three and they are finally forced to confront their feelings and how they want to live their lives. 

Design for Living isn't as consistently funny as say, Private Lives, it's Noel Coward going 'deep'. And the Old Vic has dug deep into it's stage design budget with not one, not two but three lavish sets representing three different apartments. They are all beautiful and exquisitely done - the final set drawing gasps from the audience as the curtain was raised.

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A sort of theatre related Ben Whishaw post

Just wanted to share my excitement with my fellow Mr W fans. It's not quite like getting a programme signed by the man himself, far from it. But with him away in LA filming All Signs of Death so no prospect of spotting him on the streets of London or seeing him at the theatre or even on stage, it fills a void and will soon be the newest addition to my wall adornments:

IMGP3135

It's a flyer from his Hamlet stint in 2004 which I was lucky enough to get to see a recording of back in May.

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