Previous month:
April 2012
Next month:
June 2012

May 2012

It's not the Children's Children you really need to worry about


I'm beginning to get worried about how young people are portrayed in new plays. I mean they can't all be self-centred, self-important and, well, just down right rude, can they?

Matthew Dunster's play Children's Children is a good example. Effie, daughter of Gordon and Sally, fits the description perfectly but then she is surrounded by supposedly mature adults who all behave equally deplorably at some point.

Dunster's play is about friendship and loyalty tested through career success and failure. Michael (Darrell D'Silva) and Gordon (Trevor Fox) are long time friends. They went to drama school together with Michael's former wife Claire and Gordon's wife Sally (Sally Rogers) and were as thick as thieves.

We learn that Gordon initially had the career success but as his work dried up he was eclipsed by Michael who has ended up as popular Saturday night TV game show presenter.

Friendship is tested when Gordon asks Michael for a large sum of money to pay off his debts and set himself up in a gardening business. Meanwhile Gordon's demanding daughter Effie is pregnant by her struggling, documentary filmmaker boyfriend Castro (John MacMillan).

Almost from the outset it feels like this friendship is a tinderbox waiting to go up and when Michael has to deal with a crisis of his own the truth about the four's friendship - Claire having been replaced by second wife Louisa (Beth Cordingly) - begins to emerge.

Once again the Almeida has created a jaw dropping sets which at one point includes a swimming pool. And there isn't a weak performance among the cast - Emily Berrington is still at drama school so certainly a talent to watch.

My only slight niggles are with one or two moments that felt overly staged - Gordon's violent reaction towards Effie in the opening act an unnecessary moment of stripping off.

I'm also getting a little bored with evangelical greens popping up in modern plays. Castro gives a very impassioned speech about how energy companies are damaging the environment but no one listens because they find it boring. The speech did go on and well, yes, it was a bit boring - is that the point?

But these are just niggles. It is a fast paced, tense and engaging piece that is ultimately quite bleak in its portrayal of modern relationships and how they are valued. It toys nicely with audience loyalties and certainly had a lot of people talking afterwards. I'm going to give it four stars.

Children's Children runs at the Almdeida Theatre until June 30.

Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio May 28 - June 3

Compiled by Poly Gianniba.

Slim pickings this week, the only theatre related content known in advance are reviews for the production of Antigone at the National Theatre

The reviews are featured in the following programmes:

Night Waves, BBC Radio 3, Wednesday May 30, 10pm

Front Row, BBC Radio 4, Thursday May 31, 7:15pm

Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4, Saturday June 2, 7:15pm


Southwark Playhouse's Hairy Ape oozes atmosphere

Emma-King-Bill-WardThink I'm becoming a bit of a Eugene O'Neill fan. After Anna Christie at the Donmar last year, A Long Day's Journey Into The Night last month and now Hairy Ape I think he can slot in nicely with Miller and Williams for writing with an eye for the rawest of human emotions. 

The Southwark Playhouse's production of Hairy Ape, while not without its flaws feels epic, bringing to life the sights and sounds of its ocean liner engine room and New York settings while never detracting from what it essentially an introspective piece on identity.

Yank (Bill Ward) is a fireman on a passenger ship. He toils away in the hellish bowels of the ship to keep the engine fires stoked. He belongs, he tells us. What he doesn't tell us about is his life before and outside the ship which makes this simple admission, of where he feels a sense of place, all the more saddening.

When a Mildred (Emma King), a rich, privileged young woman passenger requests a visit to the engine room her sense of disgust by what she sees and specifically the look she gives Yank knocks him for six. It is a rude awakening and his 'place', where he feels he belongs is permanantly and devastingly tainted by having been 'put in his place' by an outsider.

The Southwark Playhouse has surpassed itself with this one with the use of simple lighting, choreography and sound effects the production oozes atmosphere. Ward puts his heart and soul into his performance with a great effect but my only grumble is with his diction. His physical performance can't be faulted but at times the words get lost in the growl of the accent which is a shame because O'Neill writes so beautifully.

Nonetheless it is definitely worth seeing and runs at the Southwark Playhouse until June 9. And I'm giving it a very solid 4 stars.


Mitchel Mullen who plays two different characters was also in Made in Dagenham which starred Andrea Riseborough who's trode the boards with Mr W in The Pride on Broadway.

Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio May 22 -27

Compiled by Poly Gianniba

Tuesday May 22

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row interviews John Simm about his role in Harold Pinter's Betrayal at the Sheffield Crucible.

Wednesday May 23

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row reviews Chariots of Fire at Hampstead theatre.

Thursday May 24

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row talks about the playwright Arnold Wesker.

Sunday May 27

10pm on Sky Arts 1: Melvyn Bragg's South Bank Show returns with an interview and profile of the National Theatre's artistic director Nicholas Hytner.

On iPlayer

Douglas Hodge interview about directing the Torch Song Trilogy at the Menier Chocolate Factory


Six Actors In Search Of A Director: The dullest play of the year?

Steven Berkoff's new play Six Actors In Search Of A Director at the Charing Cross Theatre is 80 minutes of my life I'm never going to get back. 

According to the blurb on the website (the programmes hadn't made it from the printers when I was at the theatre yesterday) it's based on his experience of working on "more than 50 movies" and if you enjoy watching six actors, play actors whinging about the lot of actors then you'll have a rip-roaring time.

I don't for one moment doubt that all the characters - here the premise is that six minor role actors are waiting to be called to set - are based on real people he's encountered while working on "more than 50 movies" but that doesn't make it entertaining.

It's described as a comedy. It isn't really funny, in fact aside from the odd very mild chuckle I would say it is barely amusing.

The problem is that the characters aren't really likeable and they act up to the worst stereotypes of the profession you can paint, full of self importance, self aggrandisement or worse still the tortured soul "acting helps me to find myself". And the performances are appropriately hammy to accompany the script through which they just moan. A lot. 

If it was funny it would work but it isn't and no amount of hammy performance is going to change that. If you felt it was somehow lifting the lid on the acting profession, revealing something new and interesting then it would be engaging but it doesn't and so it isn't.

It's getting 2 stars for me and runs until 23 June. 


Radio plays on stage in Live From at the Criterion

Live From the Criterion is a grand idea for those wanting a bite of theatre without having to sit down to a whole meal.

But it's novelty isn't merely that it starts at 5pm and is over by 6 but also that it is a radio play and performed as such complete with a sound effects lady and the actors chipping in when an extra pair of hands is needed to ring a doorbell or something.

This particular Live From was Joe Orton's Ruffian On The Stairs and starred Lesley Sharp, Finbar Lynch and the lovely Johnny Flynn.

Mike and Joyce live in a bedsit and while Mike is out meeting a man in the loos at Kings Cross (you quickly get the impression his day job is of dubious legality) a young man calls looking for a room to rent. But there is more to him than initially meets the eye, he seems to know rather a lot about Mike and Joyce.

Ruffian on the Stairs is good fun, funny but with a dark edge to the comedy. Watching actors 'radio acting' is certainly a novelty, entertaining and interesting to watch and I'd definitely be tempted back to see another. In fact I'm surprised they are going to all this effort without actually recording the plays so that they can be listen to on the radio or online.

Live From is described as a series on the Criterion website so I'm assuming there will be more although there are no details as yet about what those future plays will be. It's worth keeping an eye out though because these one-off, tea-time performances will inevitably attract some interesting actors  and possibly those, like Lynch, who are also doing evening performances elsewhere.



Tattoos, braces and bovver boots - it must be Titus Andronicus

Titus-023Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare's answer to the popular blood and guts tragedies his contemporaries were churning out; the Jacobean theatre equivalent of Slasher Films I suppose.

It has a typically complicated plot but all you really need to know is that it is all about revenge. Stabbing, hand-severing, tongue removing, raping, grinding up your enemies bones and feeding them to their mother revenge. The usual type.

So setting it among the turf wars of 1980s skinhead gangs feels like a natural fit right down to the street-accented delivery of the bards words. There is sarcasm, contempt, facing off and jostling aplenty in the delivery of the initial confrontations and a particularly puffed-up petulance from the younger characters which works nicely.  

Shakespeare plays aren't known for having small casts and Titus is no different - there are 14 actors in this production which seems extraordinary for a tiny pub theatre. I confess I was concerned when I saw how small the stage is and whether they would all fit on but by keeping set and props to a minimum (a sofa and a St George's flag) it never felt over-crowded which is testament to Zoe Ford's direction.

I've commented before about how some actors in small spaces have a tendency to perform as if they are on a big stage which can feel a little over blown and hammy  but Titus is such a big, brutal story with lots of angry characters on the verge of violence it kind of gets away with some chewing the scenery.

Honourable performance mentions go to David Vaughan Knight who manages to add some depth to the vengeful Titus and Stanley J Browne as the manipulative and machiavellian Aaron. And also Maya Thomas who plays the tricky role of Lavinia for keeping the character present, giving her a silent voice after she is rendered dumb by the tongue 'incident' about half way through.

Yes with such a physical production you lose some subtlety in the character development and motives and the dialogue did get a little swallowed up in shouting occasionally but main plot points shine through, even if they are typically outlandish at times (the dressing up as revenge, rape and murder scene is always going to be tricky to make believable).

This is good solid pub Shakespeare and I'm going to give it four stars. Titus Andronicus runs at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden until May 27.


Yes there is one, Adam Henderson Scott was in A Moon For the Misbegotten at the Old Vic which starred Kevin Spacey who famously spotted Mr W when he was a RADA student and then interviewed him for the Guardian when he was playing Hamlet.

Critics top 10 theatres vs mine

Shenton and Coveney have been writing about their favourite theatres and both drawn up lists of 10 (although my idea of an actual list is below). Both seem to have plenty of grand old theatres in their top choices which doesn't much surprise me but my choices reflect primarily view and comfort as well as the productions and ticket price (naturally the latter won't bother the critics).

You won't find any grand old theatres on my list because  a) I just don't like them, for many reasons and b) they are expensive and therefore I go to them rarely. 

Anyway here is my list:

1. Olivier Theatre

I'm being specific because I passionately detest the Lyttleton for reasons I've waxed lyrical about before. Olivier stage is like a magic box, you never know what is going to come out of it next. It also also home to the cheap seats with the fab view because of its raked seating.

2. Royal Court

An old theatre that works but probably because it was ripped apart during a refurb. Comfortable leather seats with good views (except upstairs on the sides). Tickets on a Monday are a tenner and there is always something interesting coming up. Oh and the cafe bar is the best theatre hang out in London. And I was reminded by @VeggieV on Twitter that another reason the Royal Court is so great is that programmes are also play texts.

3. Arcola

Small but perfectly formed it attracts some great names and is possibly the only theatre in London you can take a mug of tea into the auditorium with you.

4. Finborough 

Punches well above its weight, this tiny theatre continually puts on interesting stuff and regularly sells out. Must go more.

5. Southwark Playhouse

Full of atmosphere under the arches at London Bridge, I'm always intrigued by what configuration they are going to have the stage in next. Then there is the innovative airline ticketing system and the subscription service which means regular visitors like myself can still afford to eat a square meal every day. Plays are sometimes a bit hit and miss but when you've only paid £7 you can afford to take a risk in seeing something different.

6. Donmar 

Although getting tickets can raise the stress levels and every year there is one dud, you can't beat the Donmar for quality and putting some of the biggest and best acting names in such close proximity. It's also a top celeb spot haunt for those of us who get excited by these things. With the Royal Court it's a theatre where I regularly book to see everything.

7. Hampstead Theatre

OK so it has a special connection with a certain person but it is also a lovely theatre which isn't afraid to put on something a little bit different or mess around with the stage on occasions. It also has nice leather sofas on which to enjoy a good pre-theatre chin wag.

8. Red Lion Theatre

I've only been to this tiny pub theatre once but its production of Mercury Fur blew me away. It's early days but potentially an even petiter Finborough.

9. Sheffield Crucible

I don't get out of London to the theatre as often as I'd like (not being young enough to qualify for cheap train fares doesn't help) but Sheffield is somewhere I do like to visit whenever I can. I've only ever visited the Crucible which has two great performance spaces and great space everywhere else - the benefits of the modern theatre, no elbowing your way to the loos. I always admire its programme enviously knowing I'm not going to see all that it has to offer.

10. Soho Theatre

Again another theatre that isn't afraid to experiment. It has fabulous raked seating - a boon to those economical of height like myself - and I'm a fan of unallocated seating so I can always get close to the front. It also has a special connection for me as it was the first place I saw Mr W.

Since publishing this fellow theatre blogger Glen has published his own list which you can find over on his blog. It's already reminded me of a couple I've not included which arguably should be on their, the Young Vic which is another great, flexible performance space and a nice lively cafe bar and the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. Maybe they'll make it onto the next one.



Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio May 14 - 20

Compiled by Poly Gianniba

Monday May 14

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row, Mark Lawson interviews actors Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths, starring in a new staging of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys.

10:45pm on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, in five programmes this week, writers from Sierra Leone, Brazil, India, Iran and China explain why Shakespeare resonates in their own countries. In this first essay Poonam Trivedi explains how Bollywood helped to make Shakespeare's reputation in India.

Tuesday May 15

10:45pm on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, Narguess Farzad explores how Iranians fell under the spell of Shakespeare.

Wednesday May 16

9pm on BBC2: Felicity Kendal's Indian Shakespeare Quest, actress Felicity Kendal returns to India, the land of her childhood, to talk about India's enduring love-affair with Shakespeare.

10:45pm on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, Eldred Jones explores the mutual attraction between Shakespeare and Africa.

Thursday May 17

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row has a review of a new staging of Joe Orton's farce What The Butler Saw, starring Omid Djalili, Samantha Bond, Tim McInnerny. 

10pm on BBC Radio 3: Night Waves discusses the new production of The Sunshine Boys.

10:45pm on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, Aimara Resende focuses on the power and influence of Shakespeare in Latin America.

Friday May 18

10:45pm on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, Yong Li Lan describes how popular Shakespeare remains in China and south east Asia.

11pm on BBC2: The Review Show talks about the new production of The Sunshine Boys.

Saturday May 19

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Saturday Review features the new production of The Sunshine Boys.

Sunday May 20

7:45pm on BBC Radio 3: Wesker at 80, as playwright Arnold Wesker celebrates his 80th birthday, he talks to Matthew Sweet about his life and work, including groundbreaking plays such as Roots, Chicken Soup with Barley and Shylock. Additional contributions from theatre critic Michael Billington, writer Margaret Drabble, actress Nichola McAuliffe and directors Dominic Cooke and Michael Kustow.

8:30mpm on BBC Radio 3: Chicken Soup with Barley: A radio adaptation of the Royal Court Theatre's 2011 production of Arnold Wesker's play. With Samantha Spiro, Danny Webb, Harry Peacock.

Catch up on iplayer

John Hodge talks about the Collaborators at Front Row

Jill Halfpenny discusses her role in Abigail's Party at the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show.