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June 2013

Review: Pippa Nixon and Alex Waldmann in the RSC's As You Like It

As-You-Like-ItFirst time seeing As You Like It and I confess that a few good productions of Shakespeare's comedies in recent years has been slowly winning me over to the genre having previously preferred the serious stuff.

Often what was funny 400 or so years ago just isn't that funny in the 21st Century but those productions that have worked brought out the physical comedy and have gone for all round entertainment value. And this is true of As You Like It.

The central story thread follows Roslind (Pippa Nixon) and Orlando (Alex Waldmann) who meet briefly and fall in love. Shortly afterwards Rosalind is banished to the forest of Arden by her evil uncle who has also usurped and banished her father, and Orlando is forced to flee into the forest to escape his evil brother who wants to bump him off.

Shakespeare draws on one of his favourite plot contrivances having Rosalind disguise herself as a man (Ganymeade) in the forest for safety. Of course she then happens upon Orlando who spends  his time composing love songs to Rosalind, leaving them nailed to trees all over forest. 

'Ganymeade' persuades Orlando that he can cure him of his love for Rosalind and says he'll pretend to be Rosalind for the purpose. Cue a delightful sequence of wooing and spa-ing between the two.

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Review: Jonathan Slinger's Hamlet for the RSC and who I think should have played the lead


Spent the first half an hour recasting the RSC's Hamlet. Jonathan Slinger wears the sort lumpy suit you see an accountant wear, he looks like a dad trying to pull off retro glasses whereas the youthful, sparky Horatio (Alex Waldmann), supposedly his university friend seems like a shoe-in for the part of the troubled mature student.

After Hamlet has encountered the ghost, the spectacles come off and the suit is exchanged for the trademark dishevelled clothing and mismatched socks. (Not sure we need psychiatrists any more just institutionalise anybody who can't pull their socks up to the same height or put their clothes on the right way around).

Ironically the suit is the straight jacket in this scenario, without it Slinger's performance becomes freer and more interesting. His is probably the most mad Hamlet I've seen but mad with anger just as often as with lost faculties.

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Review: Pigeons, third play in the Royal Court's weekly rep

280x157.fitandcrop-1The Royal Court's weekly rep season is half way through now and seems to be building week to week with Pigeons the best so far. Just an hour long it packs in a lot and could easily be fleshed out.

It's not a new story in many senses. Two firm, childhood friends from different backgrounds, Amir (Nav Sidhu) and Ashley (Ryan Sampson) find themselves fighting for different beliefs and against each other but writer Suhayla El-Bushra places that story in modern British context.

Ashley is in and out of care and bunks off school but spends a lot of time with Amir's family where the home is a stabilising influence and it is Amir that is the stroppy, rebellious teen. They discover girls together, drink together, experiment with drugs together, fall out and make up but a combination of events drives a wedge between the two setting them on destructive paths.

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Review: Punchdrunk's A Drowned Man or nice sets shame about the lack of performance

WOYZECK_HORIZONTAL_22"Punchdrunk has developed a phenomenal reputation for transformative productions that focus as much on the audience and the performance as on the performers and the narrative."

And THAT is the problem with Drowned Man summed up by the people themselves. Based on Buchner's Woyzeck (apparently) it has an old Hollywood studio theme for the set which is spread throughout a rambling multi-storey building next to Paddington Station. The audience is dressed in masks and left to wander silently through near darkness trying to find something actually going on.

The sets and lighting (when there is some) is spectacular, very atmospheric in fact but after an hour of aimless wandering we'd caught snatches of three scenes. Three scenes. These were a couple having a row, which was depicted through interpretive dance, a woman doing some sort of interpretive dance in front of the light of a church and another couple having a - yes you guessed it - interpretive dance row on a sand bank.

After an hour an a half of groping around aimlessly in the gloom we could add a woman standing in the corner of a room under red threads hanging from a ceiling, another woman doing interpretive dance, this time in a wood, a woman in a small office filling a bottle and a couple drinking in a tent with the woman running away. Should have followed her lead.

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Review: Death Tax, second play in the Royal Court's weekly rep

510x340.fitandcropAfter last week's faltering start with The President Has Come To See You, it feels like the Royal Court's weekly rep is starting to get into its stride.

The second of six plays in the Open Court season, Death Tax by New York writer Lucas Hnath, while not perfect felt a more rounded and, crucially, rehearsed.

Set in a nursing home, Maxine (Anne Calder-Marshall) is an elderly resident who suspects her daughter (Siobhan Redmond) has paid a nurse (Natasha Gordon) to speed her demise to avoid inheritance tax changes that will diminish what she is bequeathed.

To foil the plot, Maxine pays the nurse an additional sum to try and keep her alive until after the tax changes come into force. It sets off a string of dodgy deals where morals and motives are examined as truth becomes distorted.

And in the main there is some really interesting stuff in this piece and some cracking dialogue. The problem is that it feels like two slightly different plays cut and shut together. The final and fifth scene works better with the first and raises interesting questions about the prolonging of life and if we have the ability should we and who should pay?

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Review: Ciaran Hinds in The Night Alive, Donmar Warehouse

VB Night Alive 1300x500

Following on swiftly from the Donmar's production of Conor McPherson's The Weir is his new play The Night Alive.

Like The Weir the story unfolds in one room, this time the bedsit of Tommy (Ciaran Hinds), and the narrative revolves around the arrival of a woman this time Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunn). While the arrival of Valerie in The Weir brings out the verbal testosterone in the men of the play, Aimee brings a mixture of hope and trouble.

Tommy is Aimee's knight in shining armour coming to her assistance when she is attacked. A relationship of sorts blossoms each helping the other in their own way but it puts Tommy's lifestyle into sharp focus while he remains blind to Aimee's, something that has dramatic consequences.

Where The Weir's dark edges were more supernatural, in The Night Alive it is a sense of a danger and there are moments where the tension is palpable. Of course it is peppered with Conor McPherson's wit and humour but it doesn't quite reach the same level of warmth and heart.

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Review: Daniel Radcliffe is the funny and tragic Cripple of Inishmaan

ImageThe first time I saw Daniel Radcliffe on stage, in Equus, I was unexpectedly impressed and he reignited my love of theatre (I have him to blame for all this, sort of). And in Martin McDonagh's Cripple of Inishmaan where he takes the title role he has impressed me all over again.

He is the centre of the story in spirit if not always as a physical presence. Set in 1934 on the little Irish island of Inishmaan, Billy (Radcliffe) is the butt of many of the locals jokes - the fact that he likes to look at cows doesn't help. His physical deformity prevents him from working so he spends most of his time reading and day dreaming but when news arrives of a film crew on a neighbouring island he sees a diversion, a means to a different life.

McDonagh's humour in the Cripple of Inishmaan is cruel and biting but what elevates this above being just a black comedy is an underlying feeling that tragedy is never far away. This is a play that toys with your emotions you'll laugh, often guiltily, one minute and want to cry the next.

There isn't a character that doesn't burst off the stage with personality and wit and it must be a joy for the actors. From Pat Shortt's Johnnypateenmike, who treats news and gossip like hostages only to be released in return for food, to the fiery Sarah (Helen McCormick) who metes out her own egg-missile revenge on the priest with wandering hands.

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Review: The President Has Come to See You, Royal Court weekly rep has a tenative start

280x157.fitandcropWhen the post show discussion on Twitter centres on whether forgotten lines and prompts were part of the play or not is does have you wondering. At first I thought it was me and not the play, as to why I was a little confused about what was going on but the discussion highlighted the small amount of time the actors had to rehearse. Now I am thinking it might have been the play.

The President Has Come to See You is the first in a season of six new plays in the Royal Court's Open Court season. The idea is to have one company of actors performing a play a week with one week's rehearsal.

It was only late last week that the company was announced presumably drastically reducing their rehearsal time for this first play. And if that was indeed the case then they did a sterling job considering but there was a scene about three quarters through that became very fragmented with forgotten lines. Paul Bhattacharjee, playing the President, seemed to get angry either with himself or the slow prompt and some of the other actors looked a little awkward.

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Review: In which Stan goes to a comedy musical - Spamalot

BonnieLangfordtomaketriumphantreturntoMontyPythonsSpamalotAnyone familiar with my theatre-going habits will probably be surprised I went to see Spamalot, it being a musical. But I was very kindly offered the tickets and I like to branch out every now and again and test my prejudices.

The first thing to say about Spamalot is that a lot of the audience seemed to be enjoying it (as were the actors who looked close to corpsing a couple of times). And I did laugh two or three times - there were two and a half good 'sketches'.

I say sketches because the story is kind of irrelevant, a lose frame on which to hang a number of set ups for songs and comic scenarios. And this is fine but I was expecting the comedy to be a little more biting and satirical rather than just plain silly. OK so I'll always laugh at a fart joke, and I did but much of the humour just felt old school and hackneyed.

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The play that isn't written yet but should be

Always fascinated by how writers get their inspiration particularly contemporary playwrights and had a sort of moment of inspiration myself the other evening. I say 'sort of' because I have neither the skill or talent to write a play.

I had flicked on Radio 4 while I was doing the washing up and there was a program about the internet and the law. The panel were having a discussion about the responsibility of the likes of Google when it comes to censoring porn.

One of the guests was a lawyer whose area of work was representing the porn industry. As I listened to him clinically defending rape porn and simulated child pornography - if all parties are consenting and of legal age then no law has been broken - it made me wonder about the moral implications of what he was defending and what sort of person he was.

Lawyers have to defend suspected criminals, even when evidence against them is seemingly incontrovertible (look at the April Jones murder) so you would have to have or develop a certain mindset in order to do your work but how much does that filter into their persona outside the courtroom? Is the inner moral code or emotion temporarily pushed into submission, does it play on the conscience? When that porn industry lawyer is defending simulated rape porn is he surpressing a feeling of repulsion?

I know that some big media companies have lawyers who read their publications from cover to cover to make sure there is nothing libellous so would a porn lawyer have to watch a certain amount to determine its legality? Has the lawyer of my fictional play become desensitised to it? Does he talk about his work to anyone and what do they think?

Moral codes in a modern setting are often explored in contemporary theatre; Lucy Kirkwood's NSFW last year looked at lad mags vs women's glossy's and their portrayal of woman, for example and I think a porn industry lawyer would certainly make for a fascinating character study.

So come on, any takers out there in the world of playwrights? I look forward to seeing it at the Royal Court Upstairs or Soho Theatre sometime in the future.