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April 2013

Review: Britain's Got Talons at the Hen and Chickens is sadly lacking any claws

There is a germ of good idea in James Morton's Britain Got Talons unfortunately it never really grows into its potential.

The premise, a judge is murdered on a TV talent show and one of the contestants is in the frame, held potential for biting humour and a satirical look at obsession with celebrity and ratings. But three chuckles in an hour and a half does not a black comedy make.

I think the central problem is that it just doesn't say anything new and it doesn't say it in a clever way. The characters are morally bankrupt and self-obsessed media types which have been done many times before - and better - Patsy and Edina in Absolutely Fabulous spring immediately to mind. One, we learn, even had a nasty mother presumably to explain why she is such a bitch.

The two contestants we are introduced to are equally cliched, the Estuary English girl who is the manufactured baddie of the show and the good girl who just wants to sing.

There is a mild twist in the whodunit plot line but by then it too late to make any real impact. In fact, I think the plays was probably at its best as a murder mystery, albeit one that reminded me of those dinner party games you can buy where the fun is in dressing up and putting on silly accents than in actually solving the crime.

The actors work to the best of their abilities with a weak script that feels terribly contrived and clunky at times with one speech involving a gold fish that just had me rolling my eyes. Characters are under developed, although flash backs using home video clips attempt to address this.

Britain's Got Talons wouldn't get my vote, I'm afraid, which is a shame because it sounded like it could be fun. It runs at the Hen and Chicken's Theatre until May 4.


Review: Tales of the extraordinary in The Weir

08181_show_landscape_01The idea of sitting around the fire on a stormy night telling stories is nothing new. Setting the tale-telling in a pub in rural Ireland adds little to its uniqueness but there is something in the blend of tragi-comedy and spooky subject matter of the yarns in Conor McPherson The Weir that is utterly engaging and moving.

For all the tales of ghosts and fairies The Weir is about as human as you can get; loneliness, love, loss and a sense of belonging are at the heart of the stories and the play. Four friends are pricked into recollecting their rural community's more colourful characters and past by the arrival of Valerie (Dervla Kirwan), a woman who has recently moved from Dublin.

Jack (Brian Cox), Brendan (Peter McDonald) Jim (Ardal O'Hanlon) and Finbar (Risteard Cooper)  subconsciously compete for Valerie's attention unused to having a woman's company on a night of drinking. Their stories are at times chilling, fantastical, funny and moving, revealing as much about the storytellers as the people in the stories.

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Review: Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear in Othello

Rory-Kinnear-and-Adrian-L-008In an interview Rory Kinnear said that playing Iago in Othello has been a long time in the planning. National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner had talked to him about playing the part in 2007, even earlier - 2003 - he'd talked to Adrian Lester about playing the title role.

So Hytner has obviously had a long time to think about how he'd approach the play and do his research. For Hamlet three years ago in which Kinnear played the lead Hytner consulted his father, a barrister, and investigated security states. For Othello he's taken on a military adviser to shape Othello's and Iago's back stories and, most importantly, how they relate to each other.

The result is a very solid production that whips through its three hours and had a few people on their feet at the curtain call - and this was a preview performance.

With Hytner and Shakespeare you know that you are in a safe pair of hands. He picks actors that can deliver the lines in a way that makes you forget they were written more than 400 years ago and while he modernises the setting, it always makes sense. It doesn't feel like he's done it for the sake of doing something different; it doesn't feel forced.

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Royal Court's 'Open Court' - is £20 per ticket a big ask?

Picking through the jumble sale of offerings in Vicky Featherstone's inaugral season at the Royal Court has left me thinking could it be a big gamble both on the part of Featherstone and on the part of the paying audience?

The main feature of this six week 'summer season' seems to be week-long runs of new plays performed by one ensemble of actors. The Royal Court as a producing theatre by its very nature takes continual gambles in putting on new work and here there are six new pieces in six weeks.

But is it an even bigger gamble for the audience? We don't have an inkling of the calibre of the actors who are going to be working multiple roles with only a week's rehearsal time. These aren't going to be fully produced plays and yet the non-concession ticket price is £20 or £16 if you book three or more; there is no £10 Monday performance.

The play synopses all seem very, well, Royal Court and that in itself can be a good or bad thing. For every Jerusalem and Clybourne Park there is a Haunted Child and a In The Republic of Happiness but at least you can make a judgement on buying a ticket based on playwright, director, synopsis and usually an actor or two.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Royal Court's Rough Cuts season where you get to see new plays as works in progress with a cast having done minimal rehearsal, a rehearsed reading essentially. But the tickets are much cheaper.

This is £20 a ticket compared to £28 you would pay for a fully rehearsed and produced play.

What is encouraging is that the playwrights all have good CV's even if their writing careers with the Royal Court are in the early stages. And you could end up with some interesting ensemble members but is it enough to gamble £20 of hard-earned cash on?

Tickets go on sale to members on Monday (interesting that the Royal Court is pushing membership on this one) and Tuesday to the public.

 

 

 


Review: The Winslow Boy or The Winslow Girl as I'd rename it

Winslow-boy-008Radio 4 Front Row presenter and journalist Mark Lawson writes in The Winslow Boy programme about the significance of father-son relationships in Terence Rattigan plays and in this play in particular. He recalls first seeing it with his father and how his father had been brought to rarely seen tears.

My dad had had a stressful relationship with his own father and so perhaps the play spoke to him, as it has to generations of this nation's males and those who have to raise or live with them.

And yes, the father-son relationship is interesting but to me, perhaps as a woman, it was the father-daughter relationship that was more so. Perhaps it is also because interesting and prominent female characters in plays aren't as prolific as they should be. If I could only select one thing to praise in Terence Rattigan's work it would be that he writes great parts for women.

In The Winslow Boy, the story is of Arthur Winslow (Henry Goodman) who is obsessed with getting a fair trial for his school boy son Ronnie (Charlie Rowe) who's been expelled for stealing. However, it is Catherine Winslow (Naomi Frederick) who stands by and supports her father the most convincingly. She's a suffragette with intelligent and informed opinions who can hold her own in conversation, standing up to the celebrated, sharp and unemotional barrister Sir Robert Morton (Peter Sullivan).

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Another pointless trailer: Punchdrunk's Drowned Man

Another play another trailer that is all very arty farty and abstract and therefore uninspiring and certainly not illuminating. It shows a naked man running and has flashes (oh stop it) of Hollywood acting legends. As the play's subtitle is: A Hollywood Fable it is hardly giving anything away in that.

Will someone in the theatre world who thinks these are a good idea please tell me what the point of them is? I mean would anyone watch this and go 'ooh that looks interesting where's my credit card I'll buy a ticket'?

Save your money cash strapped arts organisations, buy a few props or a costume or something.

 


Interview: What it's like being an understudy for a West End play (Peter and Alice)

I was flicking through the Peter and Alice programme and noticed a familiar face among the understudies. The face belongs to Henry Everett with whom I'd worked some 10 years ago; he left journalism to train to be an actor.

It got me thinking about what it's actually like being an understudy, always wondering if you'll get to go on in front of an audience, what it's like if you do go on and how the understudies work with the cast? Fortunately Henry was happy to answer to my barrage of questions over a pot of chamomile tea between today's matinee and evening performance.

Henry is understudy for two parts: Lewis Carroll and James Barrie. He'd been reluctant to audition having understudied a couple of times before but was persuaded to by his agent. A week or so ago he got to put all his preparation into practice when Derek Riddell who plays Barrie was ill. This is what he had to say about being an understudy and that call.

On rehearsals:
"The understudies watch the rehearsals picking up the blocking and any advice the director (Michael Grandage) gives the actors. Then after the actors have left we spend two hours with the assistant director rehearsing.

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Review: The highs and Low Road

The-Low-Road-010Bruce Norris' new play at the Royal Court is rambling, indulgent, outlandish, ridiculous and doesn't say anything new but equally under Dominic Cook's direction it is riotous, funny and an entertaining romp.

At three hours, including an interval, Norris takes a long time to tell the life story of 27-year old Jim Trumpett (Johnny Flynn). It starts shortly after his birth in 1759 New England when he is left on the doorstep of a bar and brothel. Jim quickly demonstrates an apptitude for numbers having read the letters of an English soldier billeted at the whore house develops a philosophy on life that leads him down a path of money making enterprises that mirrors those of modern bankers.

Indeed, if Jim is a metaphor for those bankers (it is never explained how he goes from being a canny brothel book keep to a bond and derivatives trader) then Norris' image is scathing one. Jim is oblivious to the impact his failing financial schemes have on those he has duped into investing and is impervious to criticism. The free market is king and anyone who doesn't help himself or can't help themselve is little more than pointless in his eyes.

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