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January 2013

Review and production pics: The Turn of the Screw, Almeida Theatre


The first half of The Turn of the Screw draws on all the theatrical devices it can to make for a chilling experience.

Adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz from Henry James' late 19th century novella it sees a new governess (Anna Madeley) arrive at a remote old house to look after orphaned children: Flora (Emilia Jones) and Miles (Laurence Belcher). There is mystery from the start as to the manner of death of the children's previous governess, the much loved Miss Jessel, and the identity of the man who appears on the tower.

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Quick review: The Silence of the Sea at Trafalgar Studios 2

Anthony Weigh's beautiful version of French playwright Vercors's Second World War metaphorical study of life under occupation is a haunting and strangely disarming piece.

German soldier Werner (Leo Bill) is billeted in the seaside home of a man (Finbar Lynch) and his piano playing niece (Simona Bitmate). The silence here is not the sea - ever mentioned by Werner - but the French occupants who with, ironically, an unspoken pact refuse to talk to their unwelcome guest.

Werner's own discourse full of vivid descriptions and tales of his life and homeland is in contrast to their silence passionate and rich but he never questions why they don't speak. His home he describes as surrounded by a dark forest which has a corrupting influence contrasting with the air and light of the hill top location of the French home.

He is for all intents and purposes a good man, uncomfortable with the occupation and effusive about France in a way that suggests Francophile but somehow his presence, in its awkwardness, feels mildly threatening.

Vercors was part of the intellectual resistance who were determined to protect the French culture and way of life from the Germans and here Werner serves as a warning not to be taken in.

The Silence of the Sea is a subtle but powerful piece, more abstract in idea than a lot of what you'll see in the West End at the moment but rewarding for it.

It's nearing the end of its run but you can catch it at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until Feb 2 and Poly's thoughts are here.

Review: Simon Stephens' Port at the National Theatre

Liz-White-and-Kate-O-Flyn-010Simon Stephens has quietly become a playwright whose work either makes it onto my favourites list or, and this is an achievement when you see more than a 100 plays a year, stand out.

His adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time was the best thing I saw last year and A Doll's House at the Young Vic was certainly memorable (positively for me but not so for others), equally I Am The Wind was a favourite that divided and I just loved The Trial of Ubu at the Hampstead Theatre.

Port premiered in 2002 at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and is set in his home town of Stockport. It follows the life of the bright and interested Racheal (Kate O'Flynn) from the age of 11, when she and six-year-old brother Billy (Mike Noble) are abandoned by their mother (Liz White).

Over the next 13 years we see Racheal grow up and try to make her way in the world against a back drop of an estranged father, abusive husband and borstal regular brother.

The success of Port depends so much on the performances. It's eight scenes are predominately conversation, often two-handers, rather than action-led and it's a test of any actor to go from child to adult but O'Flynn and Noble in the main are convincing. If I was going to quibble I'd have preferred O'Flynn to become a little less animated in her movements the older she got but this may, in part, be due to the size of the space in which she has to perform. More on that in a moment.

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Review: Rowan Atkinson in Quartermaine's Terms at the Wyndhams


Simon Gray's writing has a certain subtlety that means the tragedy can creep up on you unexpectedly. His 'dramody', Quartermaine's Terms, set in a 1960s foreign language school in Cambridge, despite some laugh out loud moments, is quite depressing and quietly tragic, in a very British way.

The seven teachers who flit in and out of the staff room over a period of 18 months are variously examples of unfulfilled ambition, missed opportunity, the jilted, the lonely and the put-upon.

There is one particular poignant moment when St John Quartermaine (Rowan Atkinson) has been let down by a colleague and supposed friend and for a second he aches with loneliness and rejection. But the problem is, it is just a moment.

Gray's tragedy is wrapped up in a very 60s style comedy and much of the humour is derived from that traditional British social awkwardness and ultra politeness that just seems a bit dated. Quartermaine, at one point, ends up with three invites for the same evening because he's too polite to say he's otherwise engaged and new teacher Derek Meadle (Will Keen) spends much of the first scene trying to cover up the fact he has ripped a hole in the seat of his trousers - it's just hackneyed.

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Review: Did Di and Viv and Rose at the Hampstead Theatre impress all over again?

Di_2448696bLoved Di and Viv and Rose when I saw it first time around at the Hampstead Theatre's smaller downstairs space in 2011. Then the trio of the title was made up of Tamzin Outhwaite, Nicola Walker and Claudie Blakley.

Outhwaite reprises her role as Di and is joined by Anna Maxwell Martin as Rose and Gina McKee as Viv in Hampstead's bigger, upstairs theatre but is it as good as I remember?

What I loved about the play the first time, aside from the treat of seeing a story about and performed solely by women, is the warmth and humour in the script. It is about the life long friendships that are formed through the trials and tribulations of growing up.

Di and Viv and Rose meet at University and share a house. They are all very different people but become firm friends and the play explores those bonds of friendship. Life's slings and arrows are dealt with matter-of -factly, playwright Amelia Bullmore tackling issues such as lesbianism, rape, sex and pregnancy without judgement or preaching.

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Royal Court Rough Cuts: Bytes of tasty theatrical morsals

510x340.fitandcrop-1For the uninitiated the Royal Court's Rough Cuts season is the equivalent of a theatrical taster menu. You get bite-sized chunks of works in progress or short plays from up and coming playwrights.

And this quartet was particularly tantalising with new work - under the theme of interaction with the internet - by Alia Bano (Shades), DC Moore (Straight, The Swan, Town), Nick Payne (Wanderlust, Constellations) and Penelope Skinner (Sound of Heavy Rain, The Village Bike).

Bano's play was set in a secondary school and was both funny and terrifying as a class full of teenagers terrorised a new teacher, trying to find out as much as they could about him from the internet. When a picture of him naked emerges there could be trouble and trouble there was because that was where it finished. So many questions left unanswered, definitely one I'd watch more of.

Now DC Moore's was the most intriguing particularly following on from a rather unsatisfactory trip to see a staging of Solaris last year that left me questioning whether sci fi could work on stage. If this 15 minute 'bite' is anything to go by then it definitely can.

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The five coolest theatre venues in London?

They aren't the big grand theatres, they are smaller venues that are full of atmosphere or have the coolest bars to hang out in. This is my top five:

1. Royal Court

The cafe bar serves the best chips in London (according to @polyg), take your time walking down the stairs to scan the crowd because you are virtually guaranteed to spot a thesp/director/writer. Get there early and you'll often find one or two of the Royal Court cast members lounging around on one of the sofas or having a quick drink with friends.

2. Old Vic Tunnels

Now that the Southwark Playhouse has temporarily moved from its under-the-railway-arches home at London Bridge, the Old Vic Tunnels is the place to go for your fix of theatre with a damp smell, low-lighting and trains rumbling overhead. You approach it from a down at heel street around the back of Waterloo. Blink and you miss the nondescript door but inside it oozes atmosphere, character and quirky features and feels like you've found a secret club.

3. Arcola Theatre

If you thought being able to take a real glass of something into the auditorium was cool and grown up, try settling down to watch a play with a... mug of tea. Yes, the Arcola will let you take a cuppa in with you, that's if you can get off the lovely saggy, leather sofa in the cafe bar.

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Review: No Quarter at the Royal Court

510x340.fitandcropThere was a frisson of excitement, last night, as the lights dimmed for the third preview performance of Polly Stenham's new play: No Quarter.

It may have been the prospect of a new play by the rising star, it may have been the ramshackled drawing-room set that seemed to envelop the audience or the abundance of actors also watching - John Heffernan and Michael 'the cute one from Jumpy' Marcus just two of the faces I recognised.

The Jerwood Upstairs space certainly feels cosy. Strewn with moth-eaten rugs, assorted mis-matched furniture, shelves bursting with books and a grand piano just begging for someone to run their hand over the keyboard, it whiffs of eccentric money fallen on hard times.

Robin (Tom Sturridge), the drawing room's inhabitant also whiff's of eccentricity. He wears no shoes and his dress is a mix of day and night wear. He pretends to be drunk when his older brother Oliver (Patrick Kennedy) turns up looking for their mother who has absconded from her nursing home. In that first exchange Robin comes across as spoilt, clever, naive and younger than his 24-years.

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Six things that get me to the theatre

Jd3Lyn Gardner wrote a piece on her blog this week about what makes people choose certain plays over others naturally she talked about popular actors, directors and writers, particular theatres and even favourite type of interval ice cream.

Now interval snacks are never going to be a selling point for me but even having seen more than 100 plays in the last 12 months there are still plenty that I miss, usually for reasons of time and funds (I've been lambasted on Twitter for not having seen The Kitchen Sink). London just has so much to choose from and that's before you cast your net further afield to the superb array of regional theatres and the RSC in Stratford.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how I choose what to see and while I concur with many of Lyn Gardner's suggestions (see my examples below) there are some USP's she doesn't include:


It's an obvious one but we all have our favourites - an ever growing list in my case. Names that will

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Review: Top Story at the Old Vic Tunnels

Tovt-web-revised-241x160There are some obvious choices when deciding to write a comedy about the end of the world, as seen through the eyes of two young men, in a flat with enough beer to see them through the last seven days of mankind's existence. Fortunately playwright Sebastian Michael manages to avoid most of them - you won't find tears or panic or drunkenness here.

Instead,while waiting for the meteor to hit earth, the two friends, Talfryn (Ed Pinker) and Gus (Lewis Goody) do little but say and discuss much. It is both funny and philosophical; the matter of factness and ordinariness against the backdrop of panic and blame reported on the TV news is both endearing and amusing.

Gus imagines the conversation with his girlfriend if he was to invite her over while Talfryn has monosyllabic phones calls with his mum. But for the looming end of the world it would seem like an every day sit-com and is probably at its best when the friends are having their matter of fact conversations about what sort of legacy they should leave (it involves re-writing the rules of chess).

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