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July 2011

And now for something completely different: Accomplice London

Accomplice_CF_220x300_1a Accomplice London  is a bit like Ghost Stories in that you don't want to reveal much so as not to spoil the experience for others. But that is as far as you can go with a comparison - on any level.

Probably the best way to describe Accomplice, without giving anything away, is a theatrical, interactive treasure hunt.

The drama starts the day before you've booked with a phone call detailing the rendezvous point, which is somewhere on the South Bank. Once there the journey proper begins. There is no announcement about mobile phones, no buying a programme or settling into your seat with a glass of wine instead you are not so much lead but pointed in the direction of a trail along which there are clues to solve and encounters to experience.

You and your fellow 'audience' members - there is a maximum of 10 per group for every performance - are part of the story. A big part of the story in fact. But who else is in on it? You certainly start to look at people differently as you wander around the South Bank.

If you want to see something different, something that involves a bit of walking and exploring the less well known parts of the South Bank and don't mind interacting with real live actors or people you've never met before then you will have a hoot.

Don't book if you are expecting something deep and meaningful or prefer to sit in the dark in front of a stage and not talk to anyone.

As it is so different from almost all other theatre you will see in London at the moment it's a bit difficult to compare it, ratings-wise, to others but I'm going to give it five stars for being fun quirky and clever.

Accomplice London is part of the Menier Chocolate Factory's repertoire, has performances starting at regular intervals and is booking until Oct.

No RS/BW 6DS this time because of the absence of a cast list.



Did Zoe Wanamaker win me over to Cherry Orchard?

Cherry_1898631b Now if anyone can convince me that Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard is more than an extended whinge about some trees then Zoe Wanamaker can. A bit flippant of me to describe it thus, I know, but that's my overriding memory since seeing it at the Old Vic three years ago despite my review being more favourable.

I get that the tragedy is that they engineer their own demise, that the family can save themselves from financial ruin if they just sell off their beloved Cherry Orchard but choose not to. And I'm learning to let that wash over me rather than irritate me intensely; that it is my problem, not the play's.

Key to unlocking The Cherry Orchard, for me, is to have the frustration of the family's inaction slowly turned to sympathy. And I'm not sure it did. There is, however, a 'but' (well actually there are two) and that is, I did quite enjoy the play.

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Ooh hello, it's the RSC's Cardenio

CardenioProductionPhoto10_541x361 Oh dear, I am going to sound very crude and shallow but Cardenio should be renamed Phwoar Cardenio.

My appreciative eye for a fine male form was certainly satisfied with both young male leads Oliver Rix (Cardenio) and Alex Hassell (Fernando) ripping shirts of at various points during the play. Oh to have been the elderly gent seated in the front row towards whom Cardenio makes a desperate lunge (he looked like he was going to have a heart attack).

But was this so called lost play of Mr Shakespeare merely insubstantial eye-candy?

Thankfully, for the sake of my reputation if nothing else, the answer is no. The delicious Fernando is also a deliciously darkly comic moving through cheeky, caddish, scoundrel to villain and displaying a lack of scruples over doing what he knows is wrong which bounces just beyond reproach into amusement.

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The end of Journey's End

18918 It's been a while since I walked out of a theatre shaking.

RC Sherriff's Journey's End is a play that slowly creeps up on you delivering a final punch that only a person made of steel couldn't feel.

It's set in a First World War billet some two 'rugger pitch' width's distance from the front line. Second Lieutenant Raleigh (pronounced 'Rawley') has just been sent to the front for the first time. He's painfully young and full of public school boy enthusiasm for the job at hand.

He's placed under Captain Stanhope (Stan-up), a young, dedicated soldier who's rose through the ranks who is revered by those he commands, never takes his leave and is renowned for his drinking. He's also an old family friend of Raleigh's and the weight of responsibility of having him under his command is immediately obvious.

The play covers three and bit days leading up to a big push. Soldiers come and go between watches, eat, sleep and drink. The everyday banal conversation is threaded with glints of the terror of their work which most of them take in their stride.

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Did I get it wrong with A Woman Killed With Kindness?

5ee4c505b6eebc63c100d449f7b255f4_XL Whenever I write a less than glowing review about a play I've seen, there is always a certain amount of soul searching after I've published: Did I get it right? Am I being unfair?

I usually turn to other theatre bloggers and the professional critics for reassurance but although others views may make me appreciate a play differently I don't think I've ever gone back and added to an original review.

Katie Mitchell's A Woman Killed With Kindness gained only two stars from me and comments made and subsequent bloggers reviews seem to replicate how I felt about the play.

The play had it's press night yesterday so I was curious to see what the critics made of it and I admit that I've been a little surprised to see the three and four star reviews. (Blog and review links at end of post.)

Now either they've completely turned the play around since I saw it a week ago or I missed a major point.

A theatre friend on Twitter - Leena Hassan - saw the play on press night too and tweeted:

"Completely agreed with your Woman Killed with Kindness review. Lovely set but it was pretty dire overall. Didn't feel anything.."

Which implies the production still wasn't working for one person at least.

Did I miss the point? What the critics have had to say hasn't given me a great appreciation for the play and the production of A Woman Killed With Kindness I saw will be emblazoned on my memory for all the wrong reasons.

One thing I do agree with is that Katie Mitchell divides, this one just wasn't my Marmite.

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LAMDA at Large: Tomorrow's stage stars today?

148301514_d482ad1407 Had my first trip to see LAMDA at Large recently. The final year students at the west London drama school produced and performed A Gloriously Mucky Business and Arcadia at the Lyric Hammersmith over the space of the week and open the doors to joe-public to watch.

The performance I saw was Arcadia and I'm not going to review it except to say that it was incredibly accomplished for a cast and crew with that level of experience - I've seen a professional production or two that could learn something.

My main reason for going was the opportunity to potentially see a fledgling stage star. There was a familiar face among the cast - Matthew Tennyson who's already had a special mention on this blog for his stint in Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket but who else caught my eye?

Well Joshua Mayes-Cooper put in a good turn as Septimus, the tutor of the ultra bright Thomasina who develops a crush. And so did Ciaran Owens as Bernard Nightingale the blinkered academic.

Of the acresses I particularly liked Sophie Dickson as the slightly barbed but equally obsessive academic Hannah and Alice Orr-Ewing who did a great job playing Thomasina's mother - something that is quite difficult to pull off when the actor/character age gap is so pronounced.

Will definitely be keeping an eye out for their names around London's theatre scene.


OK so this isn't technically a review but there is a connection so I couldn't resist. Matthew Tennyson's stint in Flare Path with Sienna Miller has already put him one step away from Mr W who played Miller's boyfriend Sidney in Layer Cake. Here's a little youtube link because I just love him in the disco scene so much.

Star image by ff137 on Flickr

Did Katie Kill a Woman With Kindness?

Womankilled Katie Mitchell's latest for the National Theatre, A Woman Killed With Kindness, doesn't get off to a great start.

The first scene is at a wedding reception, a long table set with white table cloth and laden with drinks and a lovely big flower arrangement sits front of stage. It pushes the actors to the back of the stage, obscuring your view at the formative scene setting bit of the play.

What followed for the next hour is a series of what I can only imagine are, having not read Thomas Heywood's play, a series of vignettes giving a flavour of the story.

These are played out on two sets, one the house of John Frankford (Paul Ready) and his new wife Anne (Liz White) takes up two thirds of the stage and the other third is the house of Sir Charles Mountford (Leo Bill) and his reclusive sister Susan (Sandy McDade).

While characters are talking on one set, the characters in the other are doing stuff - the servants spend a lot of time efficiently bustling about doing servanty stuff. It can be very distracting or maybe the vignettes just aren't engaging enough.

John and Anne's story is that the morning after their wedding Sir Charles gets beaten in a wager by Sir Francis Acton (Nick Fletcher) and in a fit of anger shoots one of his huntsmen. Wendoll (Sebastian Armesto) comes to tell the newlyweds what has happened and is (for reason's I couldn't fathom) invited to stay.

Month's pass, the pregnant Anne is seduced by Wendoll. A servant snitches, John plans to catch them in the act, does, bans Anne from the house and from seeing the children. She starves herself to death.

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How Harry Potter reignited my love of the theatre... and a (now growing) list

DSC00018 As the final Harry Potter film is out on Friday, thought it was timely to write about how close the film and theatre are linked in my affections.

My student days in Liverpool were full of theatre trips. You could get a ticket for the Everyman or the Playhouse for £2-3 but when I came to London to look for a job, theatre was sacrificed under extreme financial pressures. And for many years it was virtually a lost love, until in 2007 that is.

I can't remember the particulars behind my realisation that I could afford to go to theatre again occasionally but once I'd decided, I was faced with a dizzying array of plays to choose from and no experience of performers, directors or indeed theatres with which to inform my decision.

London theatre is mind-boggling in its diversity and offer if you are coming at it cold (and is still) but I decided on Equus because story sounded interesting, as I'd studied a bit of child psychology at Uni, and I was a Harry Potter fan. *Whispers* And I didn't think Daniel Radcliffe would be any good, so was curious.

No one believes me but I didn't find out about the nudity until after I'd bought the ticket. Anyway to cut a long story short it blew me away. I came out of the theatre feeling truly alive. My theatre love reignited, I immediately booked to see it again at the end of the run.

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The Pride of Sheffield

The-Pride-Sheffield--007 I love Alexi Kaye Campbell's play about life as  gay men in the 1958 vs 2008 but confess this production had a slight disadvantage from the outset - the last version I saw was in New York with Stan-fav Ben Whishaw playing Oliver.

This production the Crucible's studio space is directed by Richard Wilson (who decided to look in on the performance with Merlin pal Colin Morgan) and has a slightly older cast than the New York version.

Initially a voice in my head screamed, 'it's not going to work as well' but it did and heightened that sense of time running out for the characters as Poly so correctly observed.

Daniel Evans takes on Oliver in this production with Jamie Sives playing Philip, Claire Price - Sylvia and Jay Simpson the miscellaneous extra parts but perhaps I should explain the story a little first.

The play is set in 1958 and 2008, swapping act by act between the two periods. In 1958 Philip is a children's writer who has commissioned Sylvia to illustrate his book. Sylvia invites him to dinner with her husband Philip and there is an immediate but subtle connection between the two.

In 2008, Philip has just left Oliver after the discovery of yet another infidelity and Sylvia is their best friend. Oliver is taking the split badly.

It is at times a deliciously funny play; the 2008 Nazi role-playing scene and Oliver's meeting with a lads-mag editor keen to show the publication is gay-friendly are worth the ticket price alone. But it is also a moving piece which at its heart explores loneliness and fear of being alone.

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A slightly bumpy ride on The Village Bike

Villagebike I have a little problem with The Village Bike at the Royal Court despite it being very good in the main. It feels refreshingly contemporary in many respects.

Becky (Romola Garai) is in the early stages of pregnancy and as horny as hell but hubby John (Nicholas Burns) has gone all super-Dad-to-be and sees her as mother rather than lover.

For a while porn satisfies Becky, digging into the stash she and John used to enjoy together but when temptation comes in the form of village-neighbour Oliver, who is selling her a push-bike, she embarks on a passionate and elaborate fuck-fest.

And here is my tiny problem:

"I hate this whole thing, like women can't have sex without getting emotionally involved.  It's bullshit. I've had sex with loads of me and not given a shit afterwards."

After saying it, you know Becky is going to fall for Oliver and does so with added hysterics when his wife returns from a trip away and he ends it. And I'm afraid I found it a little bit irritating.

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