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August 2013

July 2013

Review: The American Plan at St James Theatre


Photo: Tristram Kenton
At the interval I wasn't quite sure what to make of The American Plan. A comedy? A melodrama? A romance? Lili (Emily Taafe) and her mother Eva (Diana Quick), who is a Jewish refugee, are holidaying in the Catskills and both oddly eccentric to the point that I really couldn't fathom them out.


They are accompanied by the straight-laced and sensible Olivia (Dona Croll) who is both servant and companion, sitting almost silently between mother and daughter as they bristle at each other. And then the seemingly sensible Nick (Luke Allen-Gale) arrives and starts wooing Lili.

In the second half much becomes clearer, sort of. Richard Greenberg's play is all of the genres described with intrigue thrown in but it somehow gels after the interval. Is Lili's assessment of her mother and her conspiracy theories petulant fantasy or is her mother indeed duplicitous? Does Lili's emotional instability mean that she has incapable of coping with happiness and therefore has to jeopordise it? Is Nick telling the truth about his past and are his motives honourable?

Writing in the programme Greenberg mentions fairytale and there is certainly an element of princess locked in the tower about Lili and her mother but it also examines love, longing and desire, prejudice, snobbery and class when worlds have been turned on their head.

Simple staged and well acted it is worth catching before it finishes its run at the St James Theatre on August 10.

Recently seen

Josephine and I

Season in the Congo, Young Vic 

Propeller Theatre's Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew

RSC's As You Like It

RSC's Hamlet with Jonathan Slinger - See more at:
Mark Edel-Hunt who plays Gil was in Brideshead Revisited in which Mr W played Sebastian Flyte

Ben Whishaw is getting his Mojo on and why this is more exciting than Peter and Alice

ImageI don't know, you wait three years for Ben Whishaw to hit the stage again and he does two plays in a year. Not that I'm complaining (my bank manager is but la la la). No, certainly not complaining, far from it.

The second of his 2013 stage outings is an interesting prospect indeed. Mojo is a Jez 'Jerusalem' Butterworth play set in the seedy, gang-run clubs of 1950s Soho.

Now Mr W is a versatile actor but I've long harboured a desire to see him play nasty. He's been essentially playing tragic and generally good characters for a while - brilliantly of course. 

Back in his early career he played some grungier characters such as Keith Richards in Stoned and the superbly annoying Sidney in Layer Cake (watch this clip if you haven't experienced the joy that is Sidney but be aware there is a major plot spoiler).

We nearly got to see him play a Californian slacker who gets drawn into a world of crime in the TV series All Signs of Death but only the pilot was shot (compilations of BW bits here, worth watching to hear him say 'He's a total fucking psycho' in an American accent).

Even in his early stage career he played edgier characters - a drug dealer in Philip Ridley's Mercury Fur for example.

In Mojo he is playing Baby, described as a psycho and mentally unstable which sounds like a delicious departure from recent roles. The beginning of the second scene is set up in the play text like this (update - Colin Morgan has been cast as Skinny):

Upstairs at the Atlantic. SKINNY is tied with his hands around the back of a juke box, his pants round his ankles. BABY, naked from the waist up, wild, is wielding an old navy cutlass and screaming at SKINNY that he is going to die. The others are all appealing to BABY to stop, but BABY swings the cutlass around pointing it at each of the them in turn. SWEETS gets up on the desk, still shouting as BABY pushes the point against SKINNY's cheek.

Continue reading "Ben Whishaw is getting his Mojo on and why this is more exciting than Peter and Alice" »

Review: Andrew Scott made me cry in The Shed (the superb Sea Wall)

Sea_Wall_1024x576Commissioned by Josie Rourke in 2008 when she was artistic director at the Bush, Simon Stephens was given three weeks to write a 30 min play, for one actor.

The endeavour coincided with an email from Andrew Scott and so he became the physical embodiment of Alex, the Sea Wall's character. It was essentially written for him.

This revival at the National Theatre's intimate temporary space, The Shed, is playing for just one week at 10 pm and it is a shame more people won't get to see it because it is an exceptional piece.

It is best not to know too much about the story just that Scott plays Alex, who is a husband, father and son-in-law.

Stephen's script delivers something that is both cleverly structured - artful is how PolyG described it - and yet so natural. In Andrew Scott's hands it has tremendous warmth and humour and yet there is something highly charged, something quite raw.

He develops a close relationship with the audience as if he's telling his story to each person individually. He draws you in, freed from the distraction of sets, fancy costumes and lighting he has you hanging on his every word which can be quite unsettling at times. And, such is his performance that what goes unsaid hangs like an oppressive weight.

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Royal Court's weekly rep: the best of and a behind the scenes video

ImageOne company of actors, six new plays over six weeks and I was there for each and everyone. There was drama, endurance and tragedy and not always in the plays.

Last minute casting and little rehearsal time meant a slightly shaky start to the first play. The London heatwave became too much for the Royal Court's air conditioning system which went on strike resulting in at least one very humid and sticky performance.

And then there was the terrible and tragic suicide of one of the company, Paul Bhattarcharjee. Paul was still reported missing when Poly and I saw the final play which he'd been cast in before his disappearance.

But what of the plays themselves?

Favourite: Talk Show by Alistair McDowall was the most accomplished, rounded and complete of the six plays. Fantastic performances by Jonjo O'Neill and Ryan Sampson too.

Best actor: This is a tough one because there are three potential winners: Jonjo, Ryan and Sam Troughton. Think it's going to have to go to Sam for putting in several intense emotional performances - he can certainly turn on the waterworks.

Best actress: Not as many meaty roles for the women (typically) but I'd give this to Angela Terrance who showed great versatility playing both school girls and grown women, innocent and worldly-wise.

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Cripple of Inishmaan - the understudy run

Have been to a tech rehearsal before but an understudy run is a new experience. Some theatre companies will open their doors to the public, for others it's an invite only affair, a chance for friends, family and perhaps agents to see what maybe the understudies only time performing their roles in front of an audience.

For the Cripple of Inishmaan, the third play in Michael Grandage's season at the Noel Coward theatre it was the latter with my friend Henry Everett ensuring my name was on the list.

Henry is understudying for three parts: Johnnypateenmike, Babbybobby and the doctor and there are three other understudies: Nuala Walsh, Brian Fenton and Clare McMahon who between them cover the remaining six parts. Each took on the main character they understudy - in Henry's case Johnnypateenmike - and the stage cast filled in the rest of the parts, giving up their time for the occasion.

In the huge Noel Coward theatre there were 40 or so of us in the audience, including Mr Grandage, making it a select gathering; our own private performance. Naturally with so many friends and family in the house there was an enthusiastic and supportive atmosphere as the curtain rose.

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Review and production photos: the moving Billy Budd @swkplay

BBThere's a nauticaul theme developing at the Southwark Playhouse. Next week Titanic opens to previews in The Large and last night Billy Budd opened in The Little.

Covered in dirt, sweat and blood that reminded me of another nautical play Southwark put on, Hairy Ape, good soul Billy is impressed upon a Navy ship that is sailing off to fight the French.

Adapted from Herman Melville's novel Billy (Charlie Archer) is an orphan, a stammerer and a simple and gentle soul who sees the good in everyone but that doesn't mean he can't handle himself, quickly winning over moody, bully Jenkins (Iain Batchelor) by standing up to him.

But there is one person Billy just can't win over: Claggart, the man at arms (Gerrard McArthur). The relationship between these two men is fascinating. While the rest of the crew can see that Claggart is out to get Billy, Billy think he is his friend.

Why Claggart takes a dislike to Billy is the sort of thing that would come up as a question on an English exam or give psychoanalysts hours of couch time, such is the subtext in their encounters.

Is Claggart afraid of Billy because Billy isn't scared of him? Does Billy's goodness remind him of what he lacks? At times I was reminded of that line Gertrude says to Hamlet in the closet scene: "Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul".

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Review: Talk Show, final play in the Royal Court's weekly rep

510x340.fitandcrop-1Well the Royal Court certainly saved the best until last in its weekly rep - one company, six new plays performed for a week only.

Talk Show by Alistair McDowall - described by Simon Stephens as England's most exciting playwright - is an accomplished and polished piece brilliantly brought to life by rep company.

It's set in the basement bedroom of 26-year-old unemployed graduate Sam (Ryan Sampson) where he spends his evenings recording a live chat show for the web. Upstairs his newly laid-off dad, Bill (Ferdy Roberts), and grandad Ron (Alan Williams) do very little chatting especially not about Sam's Uncle Jonah (Jonjo O'Neill) who turns up out of the blue having disappeared without a word several years earlier.

The threat of having the broadband switched off to save money becomes the least of Sam's worries as he tries to hide Jonah who is a bit of a live wire, a loose cannon who is concealing something.

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Review: Cush Jumbo's Josephine and I at the Bush Theatre

30165-squareCush Jumbo's debut play is as bold and brave as its titular character: Josephine Baker. It is also bold and brave in that it is a one woman show, performed by Cush who also lays herself bare with some scenes that draw on her own life experiences. 

As the unnamed 'I' she plays an actress whose life has reached a crossroads. On the one hand she is down to the final two in a casting for a breakthrough role in a US TV series, while on the other her loving and stable boyfriend is keen to start a family.

'I' has had a fascination with Josephine Baker since watching her in the film Zouzou as a child and so her chaotic personal and professional life is interwoven with Josephine's story from dancing in bars as a child to famous actress, singer and political activist.

Moving deftly between the two characters there are some parallels. Josephine Baker grew up in an America still segregated, moved to Paris where she enjoyed a life relatively free from racism and became a huge star only to return to the US and find herself being asked to use the back entrance of hotels she was staying at.

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Theatre 2013 half year review - some lists

July. How did that happen? 52 plays in six months. How did that happen?

So here are some numbers and some thoughts on the year so far...

27,653 people have visited my blog - I love each and every one of you *blows kiss*

35,002 pages have been read and these are the top five most read individual posts:

1. Second thoughts on Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in Peter and Alice

2. Punchdrunk's A Drowned Man or nice sets, shame about the lack of performance (thanks Punchdrunk, I did get something out of it after all)

3. First thoughts on Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in Peter and Alice

4. Five coolest theatre venues in London (I should probably do a new list of the five hottest with current weather conditions ;0)

5. James McAvoy's Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios second thoughts

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Review: Untitled Matriarch Play, fifth play in the Royal Court's weekly rep season

510x340.fitandcropThe penultimate play of the Royal Court's weekly rep season is Nikole Beckwith's all female Untitled Matriarch Play.

Mother Lorraine (Siobhan Redmond), at 55 has decided to have a another baby with the help of surrogate Sera (Angela Terence). Having had four daughters she wants a son. She invites her brood over on the eve of her birthday to tell them about her plans and introduce Sera who is 7 months pregnant. Cue melt down from the four.

Karen (Debbie Chazen) is the eldest at 35, worried about being overweight, single and childless. Mimi  (Natasha Gordon) is the next eldest and so named because of tendancy towards self-obsession. She has a successful career, is not interested in children or marriage and judges everyone by her own success.

Claire (Laura Elphinstone) is the second youngest and a serial student who only moved out of her mother's house a year or so ago. She lacks self confidence, is needy and easily upset while 15-year old Beckah (Farzana Dua Elahe) is just a typical moody teen, huffing about and getting overly upset by silly things. In fact all are paranoid, borderline neurotic and easily upset.

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