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April 2012

Grandage talks Donmar tenure and Tyzack telling off

36_Michael-Grandage-by-Hugo-Glendinning_570Popped along to the National Theatre platform with Michael Grandage this evening. He's got a book to promote except its not quite ready yet. Whoops. Anyhow, the book is about his 10 years at the Donmar so it was lots of talk about that and some other stuff. 

How he became artistic director at the Donmar:

Fell in love with space as different from three spaces at Sheffield where was already working as artistic director. Had two years left to run on contract at Sheffield and said 'didn't know what possessed me to apply'.

Was determined to see out his contract at Sheffield and asked to do both jobs but initially Donmar said no, later changed their minds so spent a lot of time on trains between Sheffield and London.

His plans when he started out:

He had got interested and excited by the European repertoire of plays while working at the Almeida and wanted to explore that further, particularly plays that hadn't been staged in London before.

Changes made at the Donmar:

Brought with him things he'd learnt about running a theatre while in Sheffield for example, Sheffield toured productions but Donmar didn't, neither did it have an education programme. 

He said there were a lot of producing theatres already in London but had a policy 'if we liked a new play we would do it'.

How the Wyndhams season came about:

Wyndhams season came about because Othello was sold out and tickets were changing hands on the internet for 'silly money'. Run couldn't be extended the because of the actors commitments. Around that time the term 'boutique theatre' was being banded about and  'I was accused of being one'. Didn't like that label so made 10% of seats available on the day and capped advance sales.

Talked to a lot of actors who wanted to come to the Donmar but thought about fact that only 250 people a night would see them. Donmar production in the West End with Donmar ticket prices came as a result.

"At one period we had productions in four continents so definitely playing to more than 250 people a night"

Continue reading "Grandage talks Donmar tenure and Tyzack telling off" »

Ben Whishaw treading West End boards - Stan speculates

6a0133ec96767e970b013486df5b0b970c-320piMuch excitement in the vicarage this morning when this news story pops up in my google alerts. Mr W has been linked to a new John Logan play, directed by Michael Grandage in the West End which stars Dame Judi Dench. It was early 2010 the last time he trod the boards (The Pride, pictured left).

Now there doesn't seem to be anything official so I can only speculate and I love to speculate.

Timing? It could be anytime from early to mid-September. Grandage is directing Red in Los Angeles but that opens at the beginning of August and directors don't tend to hang around long after press night has come and gone. Mr W hasn't got anything on his books at all at the moment (he's got four things coming out this year so he has been busy.)

Role? Peter Pan wouldn't be an immediate choice but Logan is inventive and I don't think this will be as straight forward as it might first appear. Naturally he's perfect to play the boy who never ages but I'm hoping for an edgier, more unexpected character or someone very silly and fun. Besides I don't think Mr W would sign up for something straightforward.

Theatre? The report says 'West End' which immediately makes my heart drop as I don't like the big old theatres. However it's unusual for the big theatres to put on new plays as they are a financial risk. Having Dame Judi, a bankable name, as star will no doubt ease nerves a little. Grandage has a connection with ATG from his stint at Artistic Director at the Donmar, and they have the following options:

Harold Pinter Theatre - Not listing anything after South Downs/Browning Version finishes on Aug 4 which may be a little early although anything big is unlikely to open until after the Olympics.

Wyndhams - Kings Speech finishes in July so a similar story to above.

Trafalgar Studios - it's a small theatre for a name such a Judi but they do tend to take more risks. Probably wishful thinking on my part but would be my first choice.

Other options:

Continue reading "Ben Whishaw treading West End boards - Stan speculates" »

Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio Apr 9 - 15

Busy week, featuring Mark Rylance, Michael Sheen, Cate Blanchett and lots of Shakespeare. Compiled by Poly Gianniba.

Monday April 9

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row contains interviews with leading theatre producers, including Cameron Mackintosh, Howard Panter, Rosemary Squire, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sonia Friedman.

Tuesday April 10

00:30am on BBC News: playwright Michael Frayn is interviewed on Hardtalk.

Thursday April 12t

2:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Rough Magick, not strictly theatre, but a radio play by Marty Ross set in 1605 in the Scottish Highlands in which the Royal playwright Shaxberd saves King James from assassination and attempts to save an innocent girl from being burnt as a witch. A play where Shakespeare is called Shaxberd should be worth listening to.

7pm on BBC Radio Wales: Value Judgements - The Passion, Michael Sheen is interviewed about last year's National Theatre Wales' production of 'The Passion', in front of a live audience at Port Talbot

Value Judgements - The Passion

Friday April 13

10pm at BBC Radio 2: The Radio 2 Arts Show, Claudia Winkleman talks to Belinda Lang talks about starring in the stage production of Ladies In Lavender at Royal & Derngate in Northampton. Also, Michael Billington previews Sunday's 2012 Olivier Awards.

10:35pm on BBC1: The Graham Norton Show features Cate Blanchett talking about her Barbican production of Big and Small, and Michael Sheen talking about the documentary The Gospel of Us, revolving around his theatre production of "The Passion".

Saturday April 14

10am on BBC Radio 2: Cillian Murphy is a guest at the Graham Norton Radio 2 show, talking about the National Theatre production of Misterman

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Saturday Review talks about Long Day's Journey Into Night at the Apollo Theatre, directed by Anthony Page, starring David Suchet

Sunday April 15

5:30pm on BBC Radio 2: Broadcast of The Olivier Awards 2012

8pm on Sky Arts 2: Being Shakespeare, Simon Callow performs his one-man West-End show, written by Jonathan Bate.

9:40pm on Sky Arts 2: Discovering Hamlet, Christopher Plummer, David Tennant, John Simm and Sir Trevor Nunn discuss Hamlet.

10:35pm on BBC4: Mark Lawson talks to Mark Rylance

10:40pm on Sky Arts 2: Antony Sher and Harriet Walter star in Macbeth, directed by Gregory Doran and shot exclusively on location at the Roundhouse, London. 

On iplayer

Saturday Review on Uncle Vanya at Chichester, starring Roger Allam.


Why didn't The Recruiting Office blow me away?

The-recruiting-officer-do-007Finally got to see Josie Rourke's first play as artistic director at the Donmar last week and I think it might have been a case of too much hype. I'd been judiciously avoiding reviews and comments but a total blackout would involve disabling the internet and not speaking to anyone for months and so the good vibes about the production were penetrating my conscious.

I didn't dislike The Recruiting Officer indeed there is much to like about George Farquhar's restoration comedy.

The Donmar has been transformed, the wall behind the stalls removed gives an added sense of space, the costumes were outlandishly appropriate and there were some great, show stopping performances. And I loved the lit candles everywhere which gave the play a real sense of place in time.

The problem was I just didn't care enough about what was happening. It's a story of conspiracy to woo, to seduce the right partner and prevent your rivals from doing the same wrapped around a period when shady army recruitment practices were common. I suppose I didn't entirely warm to the characters enough or their enterprise.

Dare I say it a couple of times I started getting a bit bored. Total Film magazine used to and may still, I haven't seen a copy recently, draw a graph showing the peaks and troughs of entertainment value throughout major films they were reviewing and if I were to do the same for the Recruiting Officer, then the graph would look like foothills with a couple of notable peaks. 

Mark Gatiss can be credited with the first major peak. It was almost as if the audience was waiting for him to make his first appearance as Captain Brazen and uniformly heaved a sigh of 'yes we can enjoy it now' when he did appear. But then Gatiss's Brazen, sadly, isn't on the stage nearly enough.

Continue reading "Why didn't The Recruiting Office blow me away?" »

A Warsaw Melody at the Arcola

Warsawmelody_2187109bThe Arcola's small studio space has hosted a number of interesting plays from foreign playwrights in recent months and A Warsaw Melody continues that trend.

Written by Russian playwright Leonid Zorin it is a love story following Russian wine-making student Victor (Oliver King) and Polish singing student Helya's (Emily Tucker) relationship over two decades.

It's not a straightforward romance, it would be a surprise if it was. Set initially in Moscow just after the second world war much of the first half is taken up with the blossoming relationship between the two students. It is a joy to watch as the two get to know each other, testing the ground, discovering likes and dislikes and what makes each other tick. But politics get in the way. The second half then covers the next 20 years and the fall out. 

It is a well done and interesting two-hander, history and politics always lurking in the background. Tucker is particularly good, dazzling almost to the point where it starts to feel like her story rather than Victor's.

A Warsaw Melody isn't going to be the most memorable play I've seen at the Arcola this year, it doesn't quite pull on the heart strings as much as the subject matter suggests it should. And, I confess that there were times when my mind wandered a little. But it is nonetheless an interesting and warm piece and refreshing to see a different Russian playwright.

I'm going to give it three and a half stars. It runs at the Arcola until 28 April.


Good and bad hype and whenever is 'something for everyone'?

Interesting blog post by Caroline Bishop in the Guardian yesterday about how gushing reviews can lead to high expectations and disappointment. She uses Noises Off as an example and must admit I agree with some of her views on that particular show.

It's the main reasons why I try and avoid reviews before I go and see a play (or a film), it's why I try and see plays early in their run (and films on their opening weekend). I prefer to make my own mind up and not have someone else's personal likes and dislikes as influence because, inevitably, it is a personal experience.

I've had a similar experience to Caroline this week. I saw Recruiting Officer at the Donmar on Tuesday - much later in the run that I would prefer. The clouds of comment that float around social media are difficult to avoid and had me hyped but ultimately I was disappointed. Now whether I would have enjoyed it more with lower expectations, I'll never know. It may have just been a bad night for the cast and me. (Full thoughts coming soon)

There are plenty of people that are influenced by reviews and plenty that aren't. Look at those shows that have had critical success but haven't put bums on seats. And equally films that have been derided by the critics which have gone on to smash the box office (Twilight series for example).

Reviews have their place and are a useful guide but should never be relied on. Getting exciting about seeing something is part of the experience but I prefer my own hype. What I mean is when I get excited because it's one of my favourite plays, or playwright or director or actor rather than being swept along with the crowd.

A play will never be for everyone. Tastes are just too diverse. I love a good tragedy, something that makes me cry but I have friends that don't like anything 'depressing'. One won't go to see anything that doesn't have a happy ending whereas I luxuriate in the haunting feeling of sadness that a tragic ending leaves. That isn't to say I don't like a good laugh too, far from it so no need to send Prozac.

I think of what I've loved and others have hated and what I've hated and others loved and what I may have potentially missed out on when I have been influenced by the opinion of others. When it comes to theatre at least, there is a group of people I've got to know over the last couple of years who have similar tastes and their opinions I'll always listen to and that isn't going to change.

If you can give something a go I'd say go. You never know it might be the one thing that blows your mind.

These are a few of our favourite theatre things: @trpw has a gas with Arthur Miller

Written by @trpw who hosts the As Yet Unnamed London Theatre Podcast (@ayultp)

CrucibleMillerI have a horrible feeling that the most memorable thing, for some people, about the 1990 production of The Crucible in the Olivier at the National Theatre, is that the Proctor's farmhouse set kept breaking down. I'm not sure that they got the chimney raised properly on the night I went but it is more memorable to me for a couple of other reasons.

Firstly, I'd studied the play for O-Level and there's always something special about the books and plays that you study at school. Secondly, I sort of met Arthur Miller.

The actual production doesn't live strongly in my memory. I think I enjoyed it but I can't remember too much smouldering passion between Tom Wilkinson's John Proctor and Clare Holman's Abigail Williams.

As I was leaving the theatre I passed Arthur Miller standing outside the Mezzanine Restaurant. I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss and asked for his autograph. Any remnants of bravado melted into embarrassment as he took out his pen and prepared to sign, so I opened my programme on a random clear-looking page

I haven't asked for anyone else's autograph since that evening but, then again, I've got a British Gas advert signed by Arthur Miller so I don't need to.

Other favourite theatre things posts:

Weez's bloody trousers

Pockeful's not so Trivial Pursuit

How David Tennant's newspaper inspired @_faeriequeen

If you have an interesting object you'd like to tell us about drop me a



Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio Apr 2 - 8

Compiled by Poly Gianniba

Tuesday April 3

10pm on BBC Radio 3: Night Waves, as part of its International Review Edition, talks about the ways Shakespeare is understood and performed around the world.

Thursday April 5

11:30am on BBC Radio 4: Word for Word explores verbatim theatre, from its origins in Stoke on Trent half a century ago to Tricycle Theatre's production of The Riots.

Friday April 6

10pm on BBC Radio 2 Arts Show: Anna Chancellor and Nicholas Farrell are interviewed about the double bill of Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version and David Hare's South Downs that transfer from Chichester to the West End. And actor James Alexandrou talks about starring in the Hull Truck Theatre production of Dennis Kelly's DNA

Sunday April 8

10:30pm on BBC4: Passion in Port Talbot, documentary about the production of The Passion, directed and starring Michael Sheen. The documentary has been shown in BBC One Wales before, but it's the first showing in a channel broadcasting UK wide.

Catch up on iplayer

Alan Aycbourn being interviewed at Hardtalk

 A Gujarati company bringing their adaptation of All's Well That Ends Well to London's Globe Theatre, and featured at BBC World Service's The Strand.


Pub theatre is back and kicking with size 10's: Mercury Fur at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Mercuryfur_editPhilip Ridley is a bit of a favourite of mine but I've come to him relatively recently so I'm catching up with his earlier work. And I must say that the Old Red Lion Theatre's production of Mercury Fur is one of my favourites so far. It feels like Ridley stripped back to the core compared to his more recent work, the bare, classic elements that have put him on my fav list.

Like everything else I've seen in his repertoire, Mercury Fur is not an easy watch. I can't really say I loved the play because love is completely the wrong word. You can't however ignore its lasting, haunting impression.

Set in familiar Ridley territory - a post war/post societal breakdown future, Elliot (Ciaran Owens) and his brother Darren (Frank C Keogh) are organising a party for Spinx (Ben Dilloway) which you discover, as the story unfolds, has a barbaric party piece.

Ridley's genius here is in the suggestion. What is implied, what isn't seen, leaving your imagination to run wild. Mercury Fur is about survival at its most macabre and horrific; of a society desensitised to violence so that the younger generation who've known no different recount stories of murder, torture and rape like they are fairy tales. A generation for whom the ice cream van's tune signals the imminent sale of drugs, shaped liked butterflies with different wing colours offering a menu of effects.

In the bleak, destructive world of Elliot, Darren and Spinx human kindness and compassion take on a different, alien form but it is there nonetheless and together with brief moments of tenderness offer up a perverse sort of hope for mankind.

Continue reading "Pub theatre is back and kicking with size 10's: Mercury Fur at the Old Red Lion Theatre" »