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December 2011

The perfect Pitman Painters

Pitmen painters, duchessEvery now and again comes along an unassuming play that completely blows me away and Pitmen Painters is one them. 

OK so I'm a little late to the party, it is been garnering five star reviews all over the place since its debut in Newcastle in 2007, subsequent transfer to the National, UK tour and Broadway run but better late than never. 

Written by Lee Hall and inspired by the William Feaver book, it is about a group of North East pit workers in 1930/40s whom the Workers Education Association organises art appreciation classes.

Posh art prof Robert Lyon (Ian Kelly) travels up from Durham to take the class once a week but it quickly turns into a painting class with the pitmen proving to have hidden talents that quickly get noticed by the art world glitterati.

If you take the warmth and fun of say The Full Monty or Billy Elliot, if that isn't too cliched, but add art appreciation, social commentary and history you get somewhere close to what Pitmen Painters is like as a play.

It is effectly and simply staged, as a painting is displayed on an easel a larger image is projected on screens over the actors heads for all to see. The only furniture is simple, wooden folded chairs that are moved into various configurations depending on the location of the scene. There is even a bit of art in action, although not done with quite as much drama and intensity as the painting scene in Red at the Donmar last year. The acting is also faultless.

Continue reading "The perfect Pitman Painters" »

Dominic Cooke's The Comedy of Errors

COMEDY-OF-ERRORS_2070158bI have been spoilt when it comes to productions of The Comedy of Errors well, in truth, one production, Propeller's at the Hampstead Theatre. It was so good I'll be very surprised if it doesn't make my top ten theatre list for 2011.

The only problem is that every subsequent production of The Comedy of Errors (and Richard III for exactly the same reason) that comes along will always be judged against it.

Dominic Cooke's production of Comedy at the National Theatre is by all accounts very good. Superbly acted, fantastic set (when it wasn't breaking down) genius little musical interludes but it just wasn't as funny and eye-poppingly stand out as the Propeller version. I laughed but at Hampstead I laughed until it hurt and that has never happened with a Shakespeare comedy before.

Listening to a podcast of Cooke talking about Comedy of Errors he says he wanted to show that the play isn't just an opportunity for slapstick comedy, that it has its serious side exploring themes of alienation, prejudice and the harsh realities of commerce. It is all well and good but I just can't get out of my head the image of one of the Propeller actors walking across the stage naked, with a lit sparkler clenched between his buttocks.

In the podcast Cooke mentions that he's seen four other Comedy of Errors this year and I'd be surprised if Propeller's wasn't one of them in which case he'll have no doubt, and understandably, wanted to do something very different.

That isn't to say Cooke has ignored slapstick, there is a great Benny Hill-esque chase, for example, which is triggered by an ambulance driving on stage - this is the National after all. But in addition Cooke's production, by his design, does have a heightened sense of alienation and the irrationality of behaviour that that feeling can provoke.

Continue reading "Dominic Cooke's The Comedy of Errors" »

Theatre on TV and Radio December 26 - Jan 1

Some real treats this week, with two documentaries on More4, a radio documentary on the Everyman theatre in Liverpool and a programme about Judi Dench.

26 December 2011

6pm on BBC Radio 2: The Phanton Phenomenon, a repeat of the documentary about The Phanton of the Opera celebrating its 25th anniversary.

8pm on BBC Radio Merseyside: documentary about the Everyman theatre in Liverpool. (repeated on 28 December, 8pm).

9pm on BBC2 Wales: Welsh Arts Review of the Year, including Michael Sheen talking about The Passion, his Easter production at his hometown in Port Talbot. Repeat on 1 January, 6:30pm. The programme will be available on iPlayer. 

30 December 2011

8pm on BBc2: The Many Faces of Dame Judi Dench, programme tracing the career of Judi Dench, theatre should feature heavily.

1 January 2012

12:10pm on More4: The Making of Duchess of Malfi, this documentary follows English National Opera and theatre company Punchdrunk in the eight weeks leading up to the opening night of the first immersive opera.

13:15pm on More4: The Making of Swallows and Amazons, documentary about the stage production of Swallows and Amazons, Bristol Old Vic's Christmas show, directed by Tom Morris, and with original songs by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy.

Compiled by @polyg


Dear Santa, please work your magic on London theatre in 2012

3054216668_39a3b3d5b5Hi Santa,

It's Christmas Eve and I know you are busy but fear not, I don't need any of this for tomorrow (the theatres are closed) but if you could sprinkle some of your magic over theatre-land I'd be most grateful.

I've been a very good theatre-goer his year. Have always remembered to turn my phone off, not eat noisey sweets or talk during the performance. 

Yours with much anticipation,

Rev Stan xxx

1. Ben Whishaw on stage. He's in the Evening Standard's 50 most influential theatre people list but he's been a bit tardy when it comes to stage work in fact 2009 was the last time he trod the boards in London. Believe he is free from March-ish. 

2. Royal Court membership administrators come down off planet theatre. Announcing the new season at 7am and putting the tickets on sale at 9am. Hello? People with real lives and jobs and busy friends to organise? Oh and while we are on the topic, emailing members that more tickets have gone on sale five hours after they've gone on sale...the reason for paying the annual membership is?

3. Richard Clothier back on stage because I'm a little bit in love with him.

4. Katie Mitchell remembers there is an audience watching or straining to watch and listen to her plays.

5. David Tennant back on stage but not a comedy as I don't think I could cope with the hysterically amused Dr Who fans again quite yet.

6. The front four rows of seats at the Lyttleton Theatre ripped out and burnt and replaced with three rows of comfortable and more thoughtfully positioned seats, preferably raked.

Continue reading "Dear Santa, please work your magic on London theatre in 2012" »

The enjoyable but flawed Haunted Child at the Royal Court

Haunted%20childThis isn't a universally well received new play. It certainly had a mixed reception from the group of us that went earlier in the week and I had comments on Twitter including @webcowgirl saying 'hope you enjoy it more than I did'

And I did enjoy it albeit with an eye for its flaws. 

Joe Penhall's play starts with Julie (Sophie Okonedo) comforting her young son who claims to have seen a ghost. It turns out that Jules' husband Douglas (Ben Daniels) has disappeared. The play is about what happens when he returns. Douglas seems to have had a break down or mid life crisis and fallen in with some sort of religious order or cult.

What I liked about it is the emotional journey that Julie goes on. *potential spoilers* There is anger and rejection initially and incredulity at how her non-spiritual husband is suddently obsessed with a form of spirituality.

She moves into fight mode pulling on all her resources to win him back even resorting to seduction in the hope that it will reignite old feelings. And then there is the desperate moment when she almost considers joining him for a moment. 

Ben Daniels is superb, there is a painful feeling of 'lost soul' at the edges of his performance that is quite moving. Sophie Okonedo also has some great moments but, and here is where the flaws come in, is somewhat hamstrung by the script.

Continue reading "The enjoyable but flawed Haunted Child at the Royal Court" »

2011: The year dictators fell and er...artistic directors quit

OK so alcohol may have been involved, for some at least, but last night, after watching Haunted Child at the Royal Court, we* got talking about how theatre news and world news have been mirroring each other this year. As dictators have fallen around the world, so well known artistic directors have announced their resignations.

Yesterday Dominic Cook announced he was leaving the Royal Court just as North Korea is mourning the death of leader Kim Jong-il.

Then back in October Michael Boyd and Vikki Heywood announced their departure from the RSC Meanwhile, during the same month, Colonel Gaddafi was captured and killed in Libya.

Going back to earlier in the year, Spring in fact, Josie Rourke said she was quitting the Bush Theatre to step into Michael Grandage's shoes at the Donmar Warehouse not long after Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt. 

Just a coincidence, obviously.

* @polyg, @3rdspearcarrier, @weez, @lorranah and @pcchan1981

Theatre on TV and Radio December 19-25

19 December

10pm on BBC4: Season's Greetings, the Alan Aycbourn play, with Michael Cashman, Lesley Dunlop, Barbara Flynn, Nicky Henson, Anna Massey, Geoffrey Palmer

 25 December

12pm on Radio 3: Private Passions has theatre composer Andrew Lloyd Webber as a guest

10:00pm on More4: a repeat of Making War Horse, the documentary about the National Theatre production

Compiled by @polyg


The Westbridge: Good play, gimmicky seating

P643914695-3I confess it was the intriguing seating arrangement that drew me to seeing The Westbridge last week (thanks to the Royal Court building tour). 

The stage is a catwalk around three sides of the Jerwood Upstair's rectangular space. There is one long bench against the spare wall and the remaining seats are in the middle, fixed to the floor and facing difference directions at right angles.

My intrigued centred on the purpose of having the audience thus positioned, what it would add to the play, the story being told and the overall experience. The conclusion I've drawn is that I'm still not entirely sure it added anything other than getting annoying and quite uncomfortable squirming around in your seat as the focus of the play changed from one part of the stage to another. 

There is one particularly irritating scene about a family dinner where two of the diners sit at one end of the catwalk and the remaining two at the other. When you've got your back to one set of actors and the dialogue is a fairly rapid exchange between the two you have to make decisions as to which set you are going to look at and therefore lose half the performance.

The play itself, no doubt inspired but the summer riots, is set on a council estate in Battersea or South Chelsea as estate agents call it. An attack on a young woman on the estate sparks reprisals and racial tension among the mixed-race community. The growing tension is mirrored on micro level in the relationship between Soriya (Chetna Pandya) who is white-Pakistani and Marcus (Fraser Ayers) who is white-Afro Caribbean. 

Continue reading "The Westbridge: Good play, gimmicky seating" »

Adopting a theatre, the project for 2012?

4485997223_1ea48edb93Have been thinking about my 'projects' for 2012. This is the list of things I'd like to do over the course of the year which I draw up in lieu of New Year's resolutions. (I believe in the positive, I want to do more of...rather than I should do less of...unless it is endangering my health and sanity.)

So as more theatres announce 2012 seasons it's got me thinking whether I should 'adopt' a small theatre, try and see everything they do for a year by way of comparison with say the likes of the Donmar, National or Royal Court where I see I lot of stuff already?

I've always loved the Finborough and don't get there anywhere near as many times as I would like. For Spring of 2012 it will be producing six rediscovered plays - a risk as often there is a very good reason why certain plays aren't performed very often.

Then there is the Lyric Hammersmith which likes to court controversy occasionally putting on those plays from the past which divided critics and audiences. The newly announced 2012 season includes a re-imagining of A Midsummer Nights Dream and a collaboration piece with TV writer du jour, Abi Morgan.

Also flying the flag for West London is the Bush Theatre, currently enjoying an extended and sold out run with The Kitchen Sink. Haven't been to the new theatre space yet so that could be an incentive.

But then we have the rest of London on offer too. I've always had a special regard for the Southwark Playhouse. Have seen some great stuff there, as well as the odd dud, and they are hosting the new Philip Ridley play next year which is already in my diary. It is also their final year under the arches at London Bridge before finding a temporary home while the station is redeveloped.

The Young Vic has featured quite a bit on this year's theatre trips and puts on some great stuff (and yes I am one of the two people who liked I Am The Wind

I'm also fond of the Arcola in Hackney. Have already booked to see the revival of Ridley's Pitchfork Disney early next year. I like the mix of well known, obscure and slightly off the wall productions they choose.

And there are still theatres I've yet to visit but that's another project perhaps? So which theatre should I go for and try and see everything they produce in 2012?

Big Ben image by Defatto on Flickr

The Ladykillers: funny but not as funny as One Man, Two Guvnors

L-R-Clive-Rowe-Peter-Capaldi-Ben-Miller-Marcia-Warren-Stephen-Wight-and-James-Fleet-in-The-Ladykillers.-Image-by-Manuel-HarlanWouldn't have gone to see The Ladykillers at the Gielgud if it hadn't been for the offer of a freebie (thanks @glenpearce1) but I'm glad I did - the set and theatre wizardry is worth the visit alone.

I certainly wouldn't pay full whack to see it but then farce isn't my favourite type of comedy and it didn't make me laugh as much as One Man Two Guvnors, which I liked despite myself.

And I would also recommend, for once, seats higher up (we were in the Royal Circle) as the stage is multi-layered.

The story isn't complex. A master criminal rents a room in the house of a doddery old lady so he and his gang can plan a robbery. When the lady discovers what they are up to, they have to work out how to remove her from the equation. 

The cast led by Peter Capaldi as Professor Marcus and Marcia Warren as the wonderful Mrs Wilberforce are uniformly good. And of course it is the characters themselves that add the colour and entertainment.

James Fleet plays Major Courtney who has a penchant for dressing in women's clothes, Stephen Wight's Harry Robinson suffers unfortunate side effects from the pills he pops and Clive Rowe's One Round is nice but amusingly dim and inadvertently the architect of much of what goes wrong.

Coupled with a bit of slapstick and the amazing set and appropriate theatrical trickery it is an entertaining evening. I laughed a bit, I smiled a lot but I didn't split my sides and I did with One Man.

Worth a look if you want want a fun, light evening at the theatre. There were empty seats there last night so I wouldn't be surprised if tickets offers appear soon. I'm going to give it four stars mainly because of the set and the wizardry.

The Ladykillers is playing at the Gielgud Theatre until April 14.


Peter Capaldi was in The Devil's Whore which starred Andrea Riseborough who was in The Pride with Mr W. And @polyg will probably disqualify this one (even though it's my game) but Harry Peacock who plays Constable Macdonald is Katherine Parkinson's boyfriend. Katherine played Mr W's girlfriend in Cock.