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October 2011

All Ham'let Eve

It seems like only yesterday it was a sunny Spring morning and I pegged it down to the Young Vic box office to book tickets for Hamlet because their website had crashed. The time has flown by, tomorrow is the night and the excited anticipation not lessened.

Rehearsal pictures have emerged of a scruffy-haired Michael Sheen and an interview too in which he talks about the play moulding itself to interpretation. It's one of the plays great attractions for me, seeing how different directors and actors interpret it.

Added curiosity comes in the form of an email from the Young Vic asking people to get to the theatre 30 minutes before the play starts to experience a "new way" into the Young Vic.

When I saw the Good Soul of Sechuan there a few years back, the entire auditorium was decked out like a warehouse complete with workers beavering away. We had to go back stage and then enter the auditorium walking across the stage (a strangely unnerving experience) in order to get to our seats. I'm wracking my brains to think of what else they could mean about a new way into the theatre other than dropping us one by one on wires. (If you've already seen it and know then please keep it secret.)

Tomorrow is also Hallowe'en and it seem wholly appropriate to be seeing a play in which there is 'murder most foul', ghosts, skulls and crazies  *evil laugh*.

Anyway, all this adds up to: I. Can. Not. Wait.


The review I've put off writing: My City

Sian-Brooke-Julie-David-Troughton-Minken-Sorcha-Cusack-Summers-Tom-Riley-Richard-Tracey-Ullman-Lambert-in-My-City-Almeida-Theatre.-Photo-Hugo-GlendinningIt's been more than a week since I saw Stephen Poliakoff's new play My City at the Almeida and I think it is telling that I don't have being busy as an excuse for not writing about it.

I didn't dislike it enough to feel inspired to write about it immediately and neither was it brilliant. A one word, well sound really, description would be 'meh'.

It's classic Poliakoff in many ways in that it is obvious fairly early on that there is something odd going on. But despite liking what he's done for the telly this just didn't have a satisfactory oddness - if that makes any sense at all.

Tom Riley plays Richard who comes across his old and much loved school headmistress Mrs Lambert (Tracey Ullman) asleep on a park bench. It turns out that she spends the entire night time walking around the City of London.

Richard arranges to meet up with Mrs Lambert to reminisce, together with another ex-pupil Julie (Sian Brooke) and the party soon extends to two other ex-teachers Minken (David Troughton) and Summers (Sorcha Cusack).

And it's all a bit up and down in the enjoyment stakes from then on really. The teachers were renowned for telling the most amazing stories about London's history and so the flashbacks to the teaching days are really enjoyable and engaging.

Continue reading "The review I've put off writing: My City" »


The Last of the Duchess and the Ben Whishaw experience

The-Last-of-the-Duchess---007I'm going to confess right from the start that it is going to be a little difficult to review The Last of the Duchess at the Hampstead Theatre because I had a certain favourite actor of mine sat right behind me and I'm sorry but I found that at little bit diverting.

I could write a whole post about the utter coincidence of it all but that would only really be interesting to me and probably two other people who feel the same way (ask nicely by email and and I might give you a moment by moment account of the evening ;0). So I'm going to launch straight into what thoughts I did have about the play.

It's based around a book that was written by Lady Caroline Blackwood  (Anna Chancellor) who went to interview the Duchess of Windsor, for The Times, when she was an elderly widow living as a reclusive in Paris. Once there Caroline comes up against Maitre Suzanne Blume (Sheila Hancock), the Duchess' formidable and controlling lawyer whose achilles heel is a snobbery that allows her to be easily flattered.

With Blume threatening to sue - or worse - for anything that isn't the most favourable report of the Duchess and blocking any access to the woman herself, Caroline begins to suspect that there is more to her than just an over protective friend. Is the Duchess still alive? Why won't Blume let anyone see her? Why are the Duchesses things being sold off? But then Caroline likes a drink in a 'carry a bottle of vodey in a handbag' sort of way, so are her suspicions the irrational thoughts of an alcoholic?

It has the makings of a great mystery and also has it's laugh out loud moments. Of course it is very well acted (aside from a handful of line fumbles) as you would imagine from such an experienced cast. It is engaging more in an amusing way than as a thriller. And maybe this is the problem.

Continue reading "The Last of the Duchess and the Ben Whishaw experience" »


Jumpy: fun and substance and not knowing where to look

Jumpy-royal-court-007Front row is always my favourite place to sit at the theatre but it can come with one or two disadvantages. Firstly you are in spittle firing range if an actor really goes for it and secondly you can sometimes see the actors from angles that aren't always flattering.

It was the latter problem that had me not knowing where to look at times on Monday night as I watched April De Angelis' new play Jumpy at the Royal Court.

Short skirts were the problem or rather 'pelmets' as my mum would have described them. Doon Mackichan (Frances) in a leather basque and fishnets doing burlesque is oddly fine, really funny in fact but the knickers revealing skirts just made me feel a little bit awkward.

The costumes are all thankfully in context. The play is about a mother-teenage daughter relationship. Hilary (Tamsin Greig) threatened with redundancy, with her daughter Tilly's (Bel Powley) increasing independence and a marriage that has become routine questions the future. Having demonstrated at Greenham Common she wants Tilly to grow up to be a strong woman who doesn't feel pigeon-holed by her sex or objectified.

Tilly on the other hand is concerned only about parties and boys. She huffs and stomps, is glued to her mobile, full of back-chat and embarrassed by her parents.

And, knickers on show aside, Jumpy is brilliant. It's a witty and extremely funny play that demonstrates that parents are from Mars and teenagers are from Venus. I don't have kids but I couldn't help having all sorts of thoughts that reminded me of my own parents (which made me cry a little inside - it is true I am turning into my mother).

Continue reading "Jumpy: fun and substance and not knowing where to look" »


Death and the Maiden - what the critics said

Thandie-Newton-as-Paulina-007What's on Stage has, as usual, done an excellent round up of the reviews of the new version of Death and the Maiden at the Harold Pinter Theatre. It sees actress Thandie Newton make her stage debut and when I saw it in preview I wasn't overly impressed but thought it might improve with more performances.

Well the critics, it seems weren't blown away either with most giving it three stars and Michael Coveney giving it just two. The Telegraph's Charles Spencer describes Newton as the weak link:

"Unfortunately the Hollywood actress Thandie Newton almost entirely misses the flayed intensity, horror and exhilaration that Juliet Stevenson brought to central character 20 years ago."

Julie Carpenter in the Express broke ranks and gave it four stars but nonetheless saw flaws in Newton's performance:

"Newton invests her with a detached sarcastic coolness but is perhaps a little too cool and is more effective in the moments she allows her pain to pierce through"

Click on the link above to see the WOS round up and links to the full reviews.

Image: Tristram Kenton


Michael Sheen as Hamlet - rehearsal pics

First pics have appeared of Michael Sheen and the rest of the Young Vic's Hamlet cast in rehearsal. Looks like Sheen is going for a dishevelled look for the Dane - unless he's just making the most of the rehearsal period and is planning a cut and brush up before opening night.

It'll be interesting to see how the dynamics of the play work with a female Horatio and Guildenstern. I like the idea of gender swapping roles - have very fond memories of a version of Hamlet at the Theatre Clwyd with a man playing Gertrude.

I'm also really keen to see what Vinette Robinson does with the role of Ophelia. Loved her performance in Philip Ridley's Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse earlier this year.

There have been some cracking productions of Hamlet in recent years Ian Rickson and Sheen have got a big rabbit to pull out of the hat and my curiosity levels are reaching Everest heights. Monday can't come soon enough.


Jerusalem and Inadmissable Evidence - Stan vs the reviewers

I got in before press night but what did the professional reviewers make of the latest clutch of new releases in the West End?

Mark-Rylance-in-Jez-Butte-001Jerusalem, Apollo Theatre

Stan rating: 5 stars

This being the third outing in London in two years for Jez Butterworth's award winning play there aren't many reviews this time around. Jerusalem started out at Royal Court in 2009, transferred to the Apollo Theatre in the West End in 2010, did a stint on Broadway at the beginning of this year before returning to the Apollo last week for a short final run.

One who couldn't resist a third visit to see if "the magic had survived" was Charles Spencer at the Telegraph. He gave it five stars so I think the answer is a resounding 'yes it had'.

Going back to the reviews from the original Apollo run and out of the six I scanned only Michael Billington of the Guardian gave it four stars rather than five commenting: "Like everyone else, I was mesmerised, on its first appearance at the Royal Court, by Mark Rylance's tremendous ­performance as Rooster Byron. But what I took to be a romantic nostalgia for a lost rural England, symbolised by the charismatic hero, is much more morally equivocal than I initially realised."

Incidentally there was a very good interview with Mark Rylance who plays Rooster on Radio 4's Front Row which is still available for download as a podcast if you are quick. He talks about changes that were made to the play for Broadway, how he prepares for the physicality of the role and keeps it fresh after hundreds of performances.

Inadmissable-evidence-bil-007Inadmissible Evidence, Donmar Warehouse

Stan rating: 4 1/2 stars

What's on Stage aggregated round up of four rated reviews average score: 3.75

Only WOS gave it three stars with the rest giving it four. Selected comments include:

"Though it gives Douglas Hodge opportunity to dazzle, the play never gains momentum of its own..."

Matt Trueman, WOS

"In this superb lacerating staging, with an extraordinary performance from Douglas Hodge as the tormented anti-hero..."

Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph

Coming up:

Press night for Death and the Maiden is looming. I gave it 3 1/2 stars on aggregate and the West End Whingers were less impressed and gave it two. Will be interesting to see what the pro's made of it and Thandie Newton's stage and West End debut. She talks about working on the London stage to Mark Lawson in another episode of Front Row. Again the podcast is available for a limited time.

Jerusalem pic: Tristram Kenton

Inadmissible Evidence pic: Johan Persson


Terror 2011 - Terrible or Terrific?

320x320.fitandcropTerror 2010 at the Southwark Playhouse last year was terrifically terrible but I will always give things a second chance. This year's theatrical homage to the spooky hallowe'en season has moved to the new downstairs cabaret space as the Soho Theatre and the show has moved more cabaret in style too.

Seated around tables, it is a series songs, monologues and two-handers and one slightly odd burlesque sequence and a little bit of dance all with love as the theme. The performances spill out into the audience and at times participation in the songs is encouraged.

Not all of it works. There is some hammy acting and that burlesque sequence which involved the 'artiste' messily dying just wasn't my thing.

But there are some entertaining bits. Some darkly funny songs (yes me liking songs - not all of them mind) of which I particularly liked the one which was a love song about Fred and Rosemary West - a slightly sick sense of humour helps. The two monologues are also very good, both macabre and disturbing stories but well told and engaging.

Some of it does seem a little a contrived to give an excuse to turn the lights off and for the actors to creep around the audience. If you are of a nervous disposition probably best not to sit around the edges (it's unallocated seating).

The seating arrangement gave some people the notion that it was OK to get up and visit the loo but it didn't seem to matter too much. They've also tried not to over-egg it keeping it at 80 minutes long without an interval. It starts at 7.15pm leaving time to go off and do other things afterwards or get an early night if you are like me.

It's not particularly scary more about entertainment and amusement with a dark edge. All the vignettes are relatively short so the duff ones don't last long but as a package overall, I quite enjoyed it as something a little bit different and fun. Slightly difficult to rate as it can't be compared easily to traditional theatre but I'm going to give it three and a half stars.

Terror 2011 runs as the Soho Theatre until November 5.

 

 


Evening Standard Theatre Awards long list revealed - but who should win?

Evening Standard unveiled the long list for its theatre awards today and for the first time I'm in a position to say I've seen a large chunk of those non-musical nominees. So of the ones I've seen who do I think should win?

Actor

Richard-Clothierki_1815527bThere are only two performances in this category that I haven't seen, those that I have are:

Richard Clothier, Richard III; James Corden, One Man, Two Guvnors; Benedict Cumberbatch, Frankenstein; Ralph Fiennes, The Tempest; Harry Hadden-Paton, Flare Path; Derek Jacobi, King Lear;Jude Law, Anna Christie; Jonny Lee Miller, Frankenstein; Kevin Spacey, Richard III; Dominic West, Butley

Stan's winner: Strong category, lots of great performances. Harry H-P, Derek Jacobi, Jude Law and Jonny Lee Miller were all very good and gave performances that helped earn the plays five star reviews from me but the first name I looked for on the list is Richard Clothier as Richard III. His partner Tara Fitzgerald was asked to pick her most memorable theatre moment by an interviewer and she chose seeing Richard III because she completely forgot that she knew him.

Actress

Sienna-Miller-and-Sherida-007Not as many on this list that I've seen and I've left on Tracey Ullman, My City which I'm seeing on Friday so I may change my mind:

Haydn Gwynne, Richard III; Lesley Manville, Grief; Sheridan Smith, Flare Path; Samantha Spiro, Chicken Soup with Barley; Imelda Staunton, A Delicate Balance; Michelle Terry, Tribes; Tracey Ullman, My City; Ruth Wilson, Anna Christie

Stan's choice: The problem with this category is that there are far fewer good meaty stage roles for actresses than there are for actors, so there aren't quite as many stunning performances to choose from. Nonetheless, standouts for me include Samantha Spiro, Michelle Terry, Ruth Wilson and Imelda Staunton who was pretty much the life and soul of A Delicate Balance. But I think I'm going to have to give it to Sheridan Smith whose chin trembling performance in Flare Path has stuck with me (I saw the play twice because I loved it so much).

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