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March 2013

Review: Gibraltar @ArcolaTheatre


Alastair Brett and Sian Evans' play Gibraltar is both a snap shot of one of the most turbulent periods of the Northern Ireland conflict and an examination of how we uncover the truth. The story centres on the killing of three unarmed IRA terrorists by the SAS in Gibraltar and two journalists investigations into what happened.

The subsequent inquiry into the incident recorded a verdict of 'lawful' killing despite the testimony of one eye witness Rosa (Karina Fernandez) who claimed to have seen the terrorist putting their hands up to surrender.

Nick (George Irving) is a newspaper hack based in Gibraltar and investigating IRA drug running through Spain. He pays his informants and meticulously checks everything but he can't get Rosa to talk. Amelia (Greer Dale-Foulkes) is a TV journalist who arrives to work on a documentary about the shooting and manages to secure a filmed interview with Rosa in which she talks about what she saw.

But the truth as both journalists find out isn't as black and white as it appears.

Structured as a series of shortish scenes, the play rattles along at a reasonable pace with all the cast doubling up to play extras when necessary - there is some deft switching of accents and costumes that is to be admired. It keeps it fresh and adds drama to what is essentially a piece in which people talk about things they've seen and what they know.

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Review: Denise Welch and Keith Allen star in Smack Family Robinson but Harry Melling shines

Keith_Allen_and_Denise_Welch_-_Smack_Family_Robinson_-_credit_Jason_KelvinThe Robinson's have a nice house and a comfortable life in suburban Kingston, the fruit of years growing the family's drug dealing business.

Dad Gavin (Keith Allen) has retired leaving son Sean (Harry Melling) to run things. Mum Cath (Denise Welch) has a little florist shop which is used to launder the drugs money. Eldest son Robert (Matthew Wilson) helps out as Sean's driver and muscle.

It is a family that is both functional and dis-functional; a family where loyalty is of paramount importance but in which they follow their own sort of twisted moral code and house rules. For example, such rules dictate that cooking up a hit of heroin is only wrong if you do it in the living room rather than in the kitchen with the fan going.

It is a family that revels in its criminal past and present while perversely believing it upholds some sort criminal code of conduct, a sort of honesty amongst drug dealers. The one exception being daughter Cora (Kate Lamb) who just wants to pass her catering qualifications and get a regular job.

Richard Bean's 2003 play - which has be relocated to Kingston especially for its run at the Rose Theatre - is like a BBC sit com with c-words and serious crime and it kind of works if you don't think about it too much. There is a perverse charm to the Robinson family, a voyeuristic intrigue in seeing they operates behind closed doors, which helps because you do need to root for them in some small way.

There are some great lines and plenty of laugh out loud moments. However, the ease with which violence is discussed and meted out rankles a little alongside the more innocent, obvious humour.

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Video: Harry Melling talks about getting into character for Smack Family Robinson

Really looking forward to seeing this tomorrow night at the Rose Theatre in Kingston - and my first experience as a pit-cushioner.

Perhaps this is the way theatres should go with videos rather than trying to do trailers? I'd definitely be interested in seeing a series of shorts like this with different members of the cast talking about their characters and the process. Gives you a glimpse into the world of acting and a bit about the play.


Critics review round up for Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench's Peter and Alice

Ever since seeing the first performance of Peter and Alice I've been curious about what the critics would make of it. Chat on Twitter has been mixed - official channels naturally retweeting the effusive praise. I've also had three reasoned criticisms on my own review, which itself happened to be favourable. That the professionals reviews might be mixed was pretty much written on the cards and that does indeed seem to be the case, ranging from three to five stars.

Michael Billington, The Guardian ****

Billington felt the script was a little too studded with opposite views, describing it, quite cleverly I think, as 'not so much Q and M as Q and A'. However he adds: 'Where Logan succeeds is in portraying the pleasure and pain of becoming an iconically inspirational figure, and in providing two gift roles for actors.'

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail ***

Also had mixed views ultimately feeling that considering the plays subject matter about life and death lacked 'religious consideration' not something I can agree with as I don't think one necessarily leads to the other. Perhap he was just in the mood for something a bit more cheerful: 'But the play, while admirably high-minded and interesting, is inevitably a bit doom-laden. How can a story which looks back so much, not least on the losses of the First World War, be anything but sorrowful?'.

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Another uninspiring play trailer - why do theatres waste their money?

I'd bought my ticket for The Low Road at the Royal Court long before this trailer appeared because it's written by Bruce Norris. Was I not familiar with his work or the subject matter of the play would this have inspired me to part with cash? I very much doubt it.


When theatres are supposedly cash strapped I can't fathom why they waste money on something that is neither intriguing, inspiring or even remotely insightful after all, isn't that the point of a trailer, to make you want to see the play? Or am I missing something?

It's almost as if theatres approach trailers from the point of view that a play is such high art it couldn't possibly present something that is straight forward, that gives a hint of the plot and potential drama, instead it has to be abstract or so metaphorical that out of context becomes meaningless.

Might start a list of the worst play trailers created and this one is definitely up there. The RSC's recent effort for its production of Hamlet also qualifies although at least that wasn't quite so abstract. Any other suggestions?


Review: Proof at the Menier Chocolate Factory

08571_show_landscape_01I'm not sure if it is intended as a pun or meant to be ironic but the mathematician characters of David Auburn's play Proof seem to be fixated on being 'past their prime'. Indeed I didn't know that mathematicians had a prime, that they are at there mathematical peak in their early 20s but apparently they are.

Catherine (Mariah Gale) is a maths student on a break from University having been caring for her sick, maths genius father Robert (Matthew Marsh) who has just died.

Hal (Jamie Parker) a former student of Robert's, and now a lecturer, has been going through the dead mathematicians notebooks to see if he had any late inspiration. The obsession with age and mathematical thinking is important because the central plot point of the play is the authorship of a new 'proof', a mathematical theory of great significance. A mathematical discovery, I suppose - maths and I were never great friends at school.

The proof is written in one of Robert's notebooks and appears to be in his handwriting but could he have written it during a period of lucidity and so late in his career? Catherine claims the proof as her own work, but as a student would she have the knowledge and skill to produce such ground-breaking work?

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Second thoughts: Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in Peter and Alice

PAblurbWhen Ben Whishaw's Peter Llewelyn Davies arrives on the Noel Coward Theatre stage, his is a slightly dishevelled appearance. He is half way to growing a moustache and beard and his hair looks like it has hastily and not quite successfully been dampened down to tame it. He nervously attempts flatten it throughout.

His clothes look well-worn and either he has lost weight or they didn't quite fit to start with. This is a man who cares little about his appearance or has cares enough to distract himself from it most of the time.

Judi Dench's Alice Liddell Hargreaves, by contrast, is well turned out in a nice dress and a fur stole although she leans heavily on a stick. She has a slightly snooty, guarded air.

For the next hour and a half Alice and Peter spar, debate and peel back the layers to reveal two very different, yet similar lives. Both inspired famous childrens literary characters: Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. They are the equivalent of JK Rowling having based Harry Potter and Hermione Granger on people she knew and telling the world who they were.

Peter and Alice is a multi-layered piece that on one level examines how fame affected the two 'muses' but on other it looks at childhood, innocence, memories and what it means to grow up.

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First thoughts: Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in #PeterandAlice

P&AphotoExpectations were as high as could be for Peter and Alice, and probably unfairly for what was the first preview. It did take a little while to get into its stride. The device writer John Logan has chosen, of mixing fantasy and reality, probably doesn't help because it is a skill getting the two to easily gel but there are plenty of promising signs.

Those who enjoyed the lightness and frivolity of Privates on Parade may find this, by contrast, a more difficult piece. Yes it has its laughs - some wonderful cutting remarks given by Dame Judi as the adult Alice, for example, but it is a far more brooding, conversational piece that muses and hints at darker issues.

If you know of Peter Llewellyn Davies' and Alice Liddel's history you will have an inkling and as such its power is in the way it slowly builds to an emotional conclusion - Mr W, despite his energetic bow and big smile for Dame Judi at the curtain was really teary-eyed. And so was I, and a little bit breathless.

My one bit of advice is that Michael Grandage get him a dresser. I've seen him with shirts buttoned up wrongly or even buttons missing when he's been in his own clothes and all I'll say is you are asking for trouble putting him in a costume with button up flies.

It was a joy to see him on stage after so very long (three years!) and his is a performance that is only going to develop and grow with the run - something I will relish seeing when I revisit in May. Dame Judi was also a joy to watch beautifully marrying the adult Alice with glimpses of the child Alice's demeanour.

Have much more to say but will save it for tomorrow.

Review: Longing at the Hampstead Theatre has a great set, not sure about the play

601333_567529473276733_1856143184_nWhen the set is the thing you remember most about a play then you know that something hasn't quite worked.

Longing at the Hampstead Theatre does have an amazing set - a wooden summer house sits on real grass and is surrounded by trees. There is a soundtrack of birdsong and the outdoors and combined with the smell of wood it is probably the most sensuous stage I've experienced.

Shame then about the play. *potential plot spoilers* Maybe Chekhov fans will appreciate it more and for those familiar with his work there aren't any surprises; its main plotline has been seen before - rich family fritters away money and ends up being turfed out of the family home.

There are other plot lines - the young pretty woman who is obsessively in love with the older bachelor, a man and woman that are old friends and obviously in love and the son of a rich man who wants to turn his back on the trappings of privilege and do manual labour. In true Chekovian style nobody really grabs the opportunities, follows their heart or has the courage of their convictions.

Longing is based on two short stories, scripted by William Boyd but adds little to Chekhov's canon and therefore I don't quite understand why it was deemed a worthwhile exercise turning it into another play.

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