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September 2012

August 2012

Troilus & Cressida at Riverside Studios: An experiment too far

Troilus-and-Cressida---Ro-008I'm not purist about Shakespeare. I don't mind a bit of experiment, bit of tinkering, contemporary settings, cuts, scenes being rearranged etc just as long as there is a point and it is done well and doesn't get in the way of telling the story.

So I wasn't bothered that the Trojans in the RSC/Wooster Group co-production of Troilus and Cressida were styled as Native American's, played by American actors and the Greeks were dressed in modern military gear and played by Brits. It was a nice distinction.

What I was bothered about, to the point where I made a sharp exit at the interval, was incoherence in delivery and performance and the numerous inexplicable and distracting details. 

This was a multimedia performance, a description that always makes my heart sink because it is rarely done with any real purpose or well. The multimedia consisted of four TV screens playing snippets of Native Americans and old films which, I noticed about three quarters into the first half, the actors would occasionally ape. So in a love scene between Troilus and Cressida the actors movements would mimic a love scene being played on the screens from an old black and white movie.

It was perfectly timed but added nothing other than to distract you from what was being said on stage and in the case of the aforementioned scene highlighted the lack of chemistry and emotion between the two stage actors.

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It's not theatre, it's comedy and it's free

If you find yourself in the Covent Garden area of London town on a Tuesday night and fancy a drink with some free entertainment thrown in, then you could do worse than the Shoot From The Hip improvised comedy night at the Secret Comedy Club or the Africa Centre, to give it its unsecret name.

Now I'm not going to lie (as if I ever would) but the Africa Centre is a bit of a dive but it has a small bar, lots of seats and it is free so that is easily forgiven.

The improv is enthusiastically and sometimes chaotically performed. Lots of different 'games' that involve the audience shouting out suggestions such as different emotions and scenarios and some work better than others. Some have too much interference from whoever is compering that game which can spoil the flow but there are flashes of inspiration with some laughs and general amusement - it does get very silly.

This isn't the most polished and intelligent improv you will see. The range of the performers does feel limited so that, for example, anger and hatred become the same performance as does passion, ecstasy and love. The improvisers side-stepped a suggestion of 'indifference' because it 'was showing no emotion'. Quickly decided there was probably not a lot of point shouting out 'taciturn'. But, for zero dinero you don't feel short changed and there is some entertainment to be had.

Shoot From The Hip's improv is on every Tuesday at the Africa Centre on King Street, Covent Garden

RADA grads create an Illusion @swkplay

Slide_theillusion_fullAlways an extra feeling of excitement and anticipation going to see a play with fresh acting graduates in it: Will there be a potential star of the future in the cast?

Of course there is also a slight nervousness about the potential for green performances manifesting in over-acting and poor delivery although those failings can't exclusively be reserved for inexperienced actors.

This production of The Illusion at the Southwark Playhouse combined recent and new RADA grads with experienced actors and I'm happy to report there wasn't a dud performance among them. The fact that it is a fun and interesting play and all the newbies got to play more than one character or at least variations of the same character probably helped.

Tony Kushner's adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th comedy is about Pridament (James Clyde) who is searching for his son, Calisto (Charlie Archer), whom he drove away 15-years earlier. He visits mysterious and slightly sinister magician Alacandre (Melanie Jessop) who says she can show him what happened to Calisto.

The story of Calisto, a story of love, desire, heartbreak, jealousy and rivalry, shifts and changes with the same characters but roles and scenarios mildly mutating, as if looking at his story from different perspectives. The big question is whether the father can not only face the truth about himself but also the truth about Calisto.

The play is structured as a series of plays within the play, with the Pridament interjecting and responding to what he sees. As he watches so does we the audience, giving the play a 'storytime' feel peopled with larger than life and colourful characters such as Pleribo (Adam Jackson-Smith) the lisping, mad and cowardly gentleman who is a suitor for the object of Calisto's affection, the rich young lady Melibea (Daisy Hughes).

While not quite funny enough to really earn the label comedy - maybe it's lost in translation - it nonetheless made for an enjoyable evening at the theatre, an engaging story told in an interesting way. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for the young cast members in the future, lets hope we get to see more of them. 

The Illusion is on at the Southwark Playhouse until Sept 8 and I'm giving it 4 stars.


Nothing incidental about Incident at the Border

AN7456495An-Incident-at-theIncident at the Border is a little bit like Waiting For Godot but with a line.

In Kieran Lynn's new play girlfriend and boyfriend Olivia and Arthur are enjoying an afternoon in the park when the country is divided and they suddenly find themselves separated by some tape and a newly qualified and officious border guard.

Olivia (Florence Hall) likes to be part of things, know about stuff and get things done like grabbing the guards radio and threatening him with his stun gun. Arthur (Tom Bennett) likes a simple life, he's happy with not knowing, just going with the flow. He would love to be a duck.

Reiver the guard (Marc Pickering) is proud to have such an important job, to finally be someone and thinks it might get him a girlfriend. He does what he is told by his superior George who gives instructions via a radio.

And so at a park bench, by a duck pond the scene is set for a Godot-like, Kafkaesque farce that not only explores bureaucracy and authority but also takes a comic look at one couples relationship. And it is the latter which garners the most laughs, as the cracks in Olivia and Arthur's relationship begin to appear under the spotlight of the absurd situation they find themselves in. 

There are a lot of laughs in Incident at the Border and it is very well done by the trio, if I was going to going to raise a slight negative then it would be that the male/female stereotypes as personified by Olivia and Arthur just occasionally grate. But it is only a minor grumble about what is otherwise a very well conceived and entertaining short play. I'll certainly be looking out for more of Lynn's work and indeed that of the cast and director Bruce Guthrie.

An Incident at the Border has transferred from the Finborough Theatre to Trafalgar Studios 2 where it runs until September 15 and I'm going to give it four and a half stars.




Curious about Curious

312163096Saw what is a very strong contender for my play of the year for the second time - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time - this time from the front row thanks to @jongilmartin1.

And it was just as wonderful, if not better than the first time. As a feast for the eyes there was so much more to notice and see.

Of course with more to notice it raises a few questions *spoiler alert, you have been warned*:

1. How does Luke Treadaway switch the live rat and the fake rat and back again during the travelling/tube scene?

2. Do the cast and crew play with the puppy back stage before the show and during, just because it's so cute and, well, a puppy?

3. How many times has the puppy peed on stage and has it done anything worse, after all you are never going to get a puppy to 'make sure it's gone to the loo' beforehand?

4. How many puppy's do they have?

5. With the rat and puppy, is it like the school pet with the cast and crew taking it in turns to take them home and look after them for the evening or days of no performance (I do hope so)?

5. Has Luke ever got the numbers wrong or gone to the wrong hatch to retrieve something?

6. Do the railway tracks have to be placed in certain order or is there flexibility and how hard is it for Luke not to play with the train once the track has been built (I bet he made choo choo sounds in rehearsal)?

7. And how long did it take him (and Nicola Walker) to trust the cast members he leans on and who carry him at various points (did they do that exercise where you have to fall backwards into someones arms, I can certainly picture it so I hope they did)?

Anybody else curious about Curious?

To be serious for a moment one thing I did notice more the second time is how little of Christopher's face you actually see. I don't know how conscious Luke is of that but it is particularly affective considering Christopher's extreme difficulty with social interaction.

Poly is convinced it will transfer to the Olivier, if it does we've already vowed to be there to see it a third time. Yes it is that good. Curious runs in rep at the Cottesloe until October 27


Stan does the Camden Fringe: Forwards and Backwards

Square Peg TheatreIf you have ever seen Philip Ridley's play Tender Napalm then you will have a bit of an idea for how Forwards and Backwards is structured. Imagine the chronological narrative of a couple's relationship ripped into segments, jumbled and then telling the story in the order you randomly picked each segment.

However, unlike Tender Napalm there are no cryptic flights of fantasy. This is an even more pared down two-hander that slowly pieces together the ups and downs, tragedies and joys of the couple's relationship.

Devised by performers Katie Robinson and Michael White and apparently gleaned from conversations overheard on train journeys it is moving, witty and imaginatively done with only one wooden box and square piece of wood for props.

There is a bit of mime and a bit of physical storytelling but this certainly feels a lot calmer and more graceful than Tender Napalm.  It is the verbal storytelling which really packs the punches.  

As a study of the stresses and strains of keeping a modern, economy-tested relationship going - compromise, resentment, expectations, plans and dreams realised and unrealised - this is an interesting and moving piece. Katie Robinson puts in a particularly strong performance and is certainly an actress I will be looking out for in the future.

Forwards and Backwards doesn't say anything particularly new but that is OK, it's a nice, simple piece of theatre storytelling creatively done.

Catch it at Camden People's Theatre until the 18 August.

Related posts:

Stan does the Camden Fringe: Arabian Nights

Stan does the Camden Fringe: The Rover

Stan does the Camden Fringe*: Arabian Nights

Born out of the Cambridge Am Dram Society, Arabian Nights is a collection of fantastical mini fairy tales used as a diversion tactics by heroine Sheherazade in order to delay her execution.

Her husband, a king, is wreaking revenge on womankind having being jilted by his first wife. He marries then executes *insert evil laugh here*

But the plot isn't really that important it's the story telling as the cast of five take on multiple roles to play humans, animals and fantastical creatures accompanied by a musician/sounds effects chap.

It is quick-paced and quite slickly done albeit with one or two wandering accents. The characters are all larger than life and the performances similarly so but it works as the plot doesn't allow for any lingering.

This is silly fun, not quite the rip-roaring comedy it promises in the programme but certainly an entertaining 55 minutes.

Arabian Nights runs at the Camden People's Theatre until August 18

* Well a couple or three plays anyway, for now.

Finding the Lost Theatre and living the dream

PhotoIt has always been a dream of mine to live within walking distance of a theatre. Now in that dream it is usually a Covent Garden loft where I dwell but in actual fact my humble, unlofty flat in Stockwell lies less than a five minutes walk from the Lost Theatre

Housed in the former South Bank University department of built environment on the Wandsworth Road most of the building has been converted into flats and shops.

The theatre itself is the old lecture theatre which protrudes from the front of the building. It has always been a bit of an eyesore, Prince Charles would probably call it a carbunkle but its reinvention makes me see it in a new light. 

It is to my shame that, despite its proximity and my curiosity to see what it is like inside, that it was only last night when I got to experience the building, see a play and walk home afterwards.

As you can imagine, a purpose built lecture theatre is an ideal small theatre. It has nicely raked seating and surprisingly generous leg room. And the stage is also a good size too. It's probably a cross between the Finborough and Gate, size-wise.

And the play itself, that was another case of I wish I'd seen it sooner so I could encourage others to go as, and I am ashamed to say it but it was surprisingly good and it finishes on Saturday. (My review here)

So I am happy to have found the Lost Theatre and be almost living my dream.


Glad to have caught Proud at the Lost Theatre

BxEDtVisited my very local theatre for the first time last night, to my shame, and if Proud is anything to go by I will certainly be back. 

First performed in 2009, John Stanley's play is about 18-year old Lewis (Parry Glasspool), a boxer on the cusp of making the London 2012 Olympic team. But this isn't really about boxing it's about being proud of what you are and learning what is important.

Lewis is gay and is out to his family and friends but can't  pluck up the courage to come out to his hard talking trainer, Mac (Charlie Carter), who is an old family friend.

When his mum Rachel (Virginia Byron) invites Mac to the birthday dinner she is throwing for Lewis   he gets nervous as he hasn't exactly told his mum that Mac doesn't know. Throw in his boyfriend Tom (Matthew Hebden), Tom's recently jilted lesbian friend  Ally (Claire Huskisson) and sarcastic older sister Colleen (Ellen Sussams) and this isn't going to be a relaxed dinner party.

Proud isn't going to win any awards for saying anything particularly new about gay relationships and homophobia but it is great fun and laugh out loud funny. The script crackles with wit with the female characters getting most of the best lines.

It has some nicely observed family moments and rattles along at a good pace. The second half feels a little ragged at times with differing pairs of character coming and going from the garden to escape proceedings to the point where the garden door should have revolved but this is just a minor grumble.

Parry Glasspool is still in training and making his debut but carries the lead well with the rest of the cast providing solid support.

I am going to give Proud 4 stars for being fun and entertaining, it finishes tomorrow so catch it if you can.


The Rover @NewDiorama - Funny and feminist?

As the actors stepped nervously onto the hay-strewn stage for this first preview of The Rover they carried not only the weight of having to make the audience laugh - its a restoration comedy - but also the label of it being one of the earliest feminist plays.

Aphra Behn's tale of the tangled loved affairs of a three gentlemen involving two sisters and a courtesan is exemplified by contemporary feminists for showing the vulnerability of women. We'll never know if that is what she had in mind but what we do know is that Behn was hung out to dry by her employer King Charles II for whom she spied and turned to writing to make ends meet.

The vulnerability of the female characters and, in particular Florinda, reaches a height when she is the victim of not one but two attempted rapes. The second attempt is motivated by a wish to wreak revenge on women by a man who has been spurned and robbed by a prostitute with whom he was in love. What makes it worse is that it is perpetrated by the buffoon of the play, the butt of most of the jokes.

And here I have a problem. Like my recent visit to see What The Butler Saw, I just don't find jokes about rape funny and watching the attempt, coupled with supposedly jovial dialogue, was just disturbing.

If that is what Behn intended then she succeeded but for me it sits uncomfortably in any comedy and particularly in a restoration comedy where the characters are larger than life and the story frothy and frivolous. And I'm not criticising the latter per se, restoration comedy can be cracking good fun, in fact there's been some great productions this year including the Way of the World and She Stoops to Conquer.

The Rover has some nice moments in it and some great feisty female characters. I'm sure the nerves will subside and as the performances gel the physical comedy will come more to the fore but for me it was tainted by those two very dark scenes.

I'm giving it three and a half stars and if you want to catch it, it runs at the lovely but stuffy on a humid summer evening New Diorama Theatre until August 25.