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September 2013

Has the Young Vic got the most exciting theatre programme of 2014?

Photo by Sam Carpenter on Flickr and used under a creative commons liscence
It's been a while since I got excited about a season of plays. Most theatres, that decide on their programmes in advance, have one or two productions that get the 'Oooo' reaction but the Young Vic's had me positively jumping up and down for lots of different reasons.

First up they've got Juliet Stevenson in Samuel Beckett's play Happy Days. Don't know the play but I am fond of Beckett and I've long been a fan of Stevenson.

Then we've got A View From The Bridge, one of my favourite plays which is a delicious enough prospect in itself but the Young Vic has a reputation for putting a different spin on classics - Michael Sheen as Hamlet set in a mental asylum, and last year's tables and mud production of Three Sisters, for example.

They've got Belgian director Ivo Van Hove on board who has worked internationally but not yet in the UK. Don't know anything about his work and style which also adds another layer of interest (any theatre fans out there have a view of his work?)

Kathryn Hunter is the draw of the next play on the list: The Valley of Astonishment. I haven't seen nearly enough of Hunter's work and want to remedy that. She is such a unique performer. 

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Review: One Queen and One Maggie? Moira Buffini goes for two of each in Handbagged

HANDBAGGED_image_Web-711x1024Handbagged, Moira Buffini's new play currently in preview at the Tricycle Theatre, is certainly a play of broad scope and imagination.

It follows the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher during her time as Prime Minister - a period of 11 years - with her Majesty and Maggie played simultaneously as younger and older women. Clare Holman is the younger Queen, Marion Bailey the older while Fenella Woolgar is the younger Thatcher and Stella Gonet the older. The rest of the characters are picked up by Neet Mohan and Jeff Rawle who even fight over some of the parts but more of that later.

Taking on a political figure like Thatcher and, to a certain extent the Queen too, is a bold decision and one fraught with dangers and difficult decisions. Firstly do you nail your colours to the mast on how you view these two women or do you leave it up to the audience to bring their own views and prejudices?

And secondly, with so much history to draw from what do you leave out? It is something that Buffini has tried to address having Mohan raise certain topics that have been missed out or skimmed over sort of like theatrical footnotes. The effect is similar to a play within a play. Mohan and Rawle discuss their and fight over who should be Neil Kinnock using their contractual terms and conditions as ammunition.

The fourth wall is broken, Maggie and the Queen argue about whether there should be an interval or not albeit while staying resolutely in character. They challenge Rawle when he plays 'himself' and gives his personal opinion on a political matter asking 'why does your opinion matter?'.

Some of these devices work really well and some not so and I couldn't decide whether it was a necessary or unnecessary diversion from the main topic. And on that score its interest depends on your knowledge, certainly the most interesting elements of Thatcher's career were the bits I didn't really know about.

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Review: Michael Grandage's trippy A Midsummer Night's Dream


Official production photo of Michael Grandage's A Midsummer Night's Dream taken by Johan Persson


Explaining away fairies and magic by means of hallucinogenic drug-taking is a good and satisfying modern spin on Shakespeare's fantastical comedy of love: A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In Michael Grandage's production Titania (Sheridan Smith) and her fairy followers are dope-smoking hippies living in the woods. When the love quadrangle of Lysander (Sam Swainsbury), Hermia (Susannah Fielding), Demetrius (Stefano Braschi) and Helena (Katherine Kingsley) wander into the path of Titania's spurned lover Oberon (Padraic Delaney) it is tabs of acid they are unwittingly fed to induce amorous feelings. It also helpfully explains Bottom's (David Walliams) 'appearance' as an ass.

Such is the wildness, pace and colour of this production you'd believe the very air the characters breathed was intoxicating or at least the large spliff they were often to be seen passing around for a toke was real.

This is Shakespearean comedy done brazenly, oozing sex appeal as the young lovers attempt to seduce, undressing and sometimes tearing at each others clothing in the height of their passion. The fairies attire is a cross between the village people and hot, summer festival for which we have to thank  Michael Grandage and costume designer Christopher Oram. (Surely this must be the 'fittest' cast on stage currently, if not this year?)

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Benedict Cumberbatch to play Hamlet - but that's not the really exciting prospect

There are rumours that Benedict Cumberbatch is going to take on Hamlet next Autumn. It was kind of inevitable what with him saying he wanted to play the part and being, arguably, the UK's biggest acting name currently.

Does this get me excited? Well of course but not purely because of Cumberbatch. Naturally I think he's a talented and mecurial enough to have an interesting stab at the Dane, particularly if Lyndsey Turner is directing.

Turner's back catalogue of work has tended to be contemporary productions most recently the multimedia epic that is Chimerica and this is what starts making this Hamlet a really interesting prospect but what seals it, is its potential location. The news story hints that this production might not make its home in one of the grand old West End theatres but 'a non-traditional theatre space'. My fervent hope is for the latter. 

Benedict Cumberbatch will be a big draw wherever the play is put on but the West End theatres do tend to play it a little bit safe, for obvious commercial reasons. I think released from the shackles of a West End stage there is far more scope for imagination and inventiveness in the production and interpretation of the play and that is what makes me most excited about this news.

This is guaranteed to be the hot ticket in theatre-land next year. I can't think of another combo that would generate such fan interest unless One Direction were to make their stage debut. It also has the potential of being a pretty hot Hamlet.

Related posts

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Frankenstein review - Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein

Frankenstein review - Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature

Frankenstein Q&A with Benedict, Jonny and Danny Boyle

After the Dance review

Review: The People of the Town, RADA's Gielgud Theatre

David Dawson is the star of this new play by Lily Bevan which has had such a short run at RADA's Gielgud Theatre by the time this is published it will be over.

He plays a French theatre director Antoine who is pretentious and arrogant and, well, very French. The first word of the play: "Hedgehog", he delivers with a deliciously comic mix of Gallic disdain and melodrama that quickly had the audience in stitches. He believes humans are all like "hedgehogs",  you see, isolated because their spines prevent them from getting close to one another. He's also a surrealist.

What follows this opening delight is slightly odd series of set up scenes in which we get a quick back story for the main characters before heading straight to the main event which is an acting workshop  Antoine is hosting with his camp assistant Jean-Paul (Jolyon Coy). And that is pretty much it as far as plot goes. Antoine wants to mould everyone into his style which he does by getting them to work on the opening scene of his current hit play.

It's very funny in a surreal and often ridiculous way and almost entirely because of Dawson. Having never trained (or contemplated training) as an actor there was a feeling that I snuck into a secret club meeting. The play does feel a little too knowing at times and although it is an enjoyable hour and 15 minutes I did feel like an outsider, not quite getting all the in-jokes.

Still it was worth every penny to see Dawson and one to look out for if it surfaces again at some point in the future.


David Dawson and Jolyon Coy were both in Posh at the Royal Court with Joshua Maguire who was in The Hour with Mr W


Video: RSC's production diary for Richard II (David Tennant arrives knowing all his lines apparently)

After the underwhelming trailer the RSC released for Richard II, I've discovered this little series of videos which more than make up for it.

The RSC is keeping a production diary of the rehearsal process the first of which is below. They not only serve to give you insight into the process and the play but also tantalising glimpses of what shape the production is taking.

Looking forward to seeing the rest in the build up to Oct 14 which is when I'll be seeing it for the first time (I might be seeing it more than once).


Production diary 2

Production diary 3

Production diary 4

Review: Rory Kinnear’s debut as a playwright – The Herd at the Bush

The-Herd-by-Rory-Kinnear--010Have always admired Rory Kinnear as an actor - his Iago is currently stealing the show in the National Theatre’s production of Othello. He’s also admired by those important theatre biz people who hand out awards having had two Evening Standard's, an Olivier and an Ian Charleson bestowed on him in recent years. But what’s he like as a playwright?

Promising, is how I’d describe him. His family drama, at the Bush Theatre, has some wonderful moments in it, raising laughs in between its darker moments but it isn’t perfect.

Set around the preparations for Andy’s 21st birthday lunch, tensions are running high. Andy is severely disabled and mother Carol (Amanda Root) distrusts his carers at the home he is in. Daughter Claire (Louise Brealey) has announced a male “friend” Mark (Adrian Bower) is to join the gathering and grandmother (Anna Calder-Marshall) just can’t help being nosey.

If all that weren’t enough tension for one family gathering, Carol’s ex-husband Ian (Adrian Rawlins) turns up out of the blue.

Continue reading "Review: Rory Kinnear’s debut as a playwright – The Herd at the Bush" »

RSC's trailer for Richard II - don't get excited

Another underwhelming trailer for a play and another opportunity missed - and this one is being broadcast in cinemas to advertise the live broadcast.

I'll save you 1 min 38 seconds - it's sweeping views of English countryside with the scepter'd isle speech as a voice over. Then the camera pulls back showing a pile of soil on the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a crown placed on top of it.

No sign of Mr David Tennant who's playing the titular role (just in case you didn't know) until the very end - but don't get excited, it's just the promo image of him sitting on the thrown in his jeans.

Lets face it, Mr T is the biggest and best selling point of this production. You'd think they'd have milked that.

So no hint of anything about the production or even what the play is about for those unfamiliar. Cracking.


Review: Max Irons in Farragut North at the Southwark Playhouse

FarragutImageHe was the charming, womanising medieval King Edward in the small screen adaptation of The White Lady but now Max Iron's has turned his attention to a charming, potty-mouthed political PR in Farragut North, the Beau Willimon play currently in preview at the Southwark Playhouse.

There are no swords and and armour here instead the characters use rhetoric and guile to manipulate voters in a Democrat caucus.

Irons plays Stephen the bright and talented communications manager whose loyalty to his campaign manager, Paul (Shaun Williamson), is tested when the campaign manager of the rival candidate offers him a job.

Willimon's script is sharp and punchy and deserves a delivery to match. This is play of high drama and tension and the soupçon of nerves visible from the cast (this was the first preview) only added to the atmosphere.

Irons' Stephen oozes the necessary charm to make his success and confidence believable but it is as things start to fall apart that we see a darker less composed and ultimately more interesting side to the character. There were a couple of forgotten lines but it is nonetheless a convincing performance, winning the audience over despite the characters obvious flaws.  And, no doubt, he will relax and gain more confidence as the run progresses.

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Review: Award winning Fringe in London - Fleabag at the Soho Theatre

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Fleabag
The Edinburgh Fringe is over and plays like Fleabag at the Soho Theatre confirm my theory for not having yet made it up there: the good stuff tends to come to London.

I know, I know I should go and I will but until I can work up to it, I can sit back and enjoy the cream of the crop, the award winning shows from the comfort of a theatre a short bus ride from home.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge's self-penned and performed show picked up a Fringe First accolade and best solo performer and is now aiming to entertain the London theatre crowd for two and half weeks at the Soho Theatre.

Waller-Bridge plays Fleabag who isn't sex obsessed (she is) and isn't fucking up her life (she is). Her best friend has accidentally killed herself, her boyfriend has left her - clearing out the fridge on the way out - and she can't pay the rent on her cafe.

This is a shamelessly frank and modern tale that is laugh out-loud funny and at times surreal and random in the way life can be. There is also a tinge of sadness to it, the sadness of a loss and a lost a soul.

Brilliantly performed Waller-Bridge her Fleabag is a lovely combination of sharp wit and keen observation with hapless choices and a sometimes insensitive way with words.

Well worth an hour at the theatre the bonus is it starts at 7pm. Catch it while you can it runs at the Soho Theatre until Sep 22.


Phoebe was in Hayfever with Lindsay Duncan who was in Criminal Justice with Mr W.