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October 2013

Ben Whishaw's Baby and the second Mojo visit

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Ben Whishaw in rehearsal for Mojo

In my previous reviews I feel I've only really touched upon the play and Ben Whishaw's character Baby. This casting had got me very excited when it was announced as it seemed such a departure for him - he was going to play a psycho.

Now Baby isn't an out and out baddie - that is still a part I want to see him take on - but he is far from nice. In fact I was trying to think of a more complex character he's played.

Baby is vain, regularly smoothing his hair and quiff in fact he must have read my note in my review because there was much more preening last night. He also likes the latest clothes and gets very upset when Skinny (Colin Morgan) copies his style.

Or does he? And this is where Baby starts to get complex. He behaves very aggressively towards Skinny accusing him of looking at him or is it case of 'the lady doth protest too much'?

*warning of plot spoilers beyond this point*

If he is mixed up about his sexuality then it would be understandable. We find out that he was sexually abused by his dad. He was scared enough of him, that when he was a child he believed his dad was going to kill him. He's also watched his dad move onto a younger model - Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries). 

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Second thoughts review: Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan and Rupert Grint in Mojo

IMG_3323Jez Butterworth's 1995 play Mojo is set against the back drop of Soho in 1950s London. Rock 'n' Roll is just starting to find its feet in the cafes and clubs gaining an audience of insatiable youth ready for something that feels rebellious and freeing.

Make-over a good-looking youth, who has a few good moves and can sing, with the latest fashion, hair cut and a stage-name and, hey presto, you have a cash-cow. But where there is talent and money to exploit there is also rivalry and jealousy.

And so the play starts with the pretty, blond-haired Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries) preparing to perform at the Atlantic Club. The excitement and energy of the time pounds in the rhythms that come through the floor from the club downstairs.

Fast forward then to later when two staff at the club - Sweets (Rupert Grint) and Potts (Daniel Mays) are anxiously discussing a big meeting going on between the Atlantic's manager Ezra and Sam Ross. A meeting that could mean big things for Silver Johnny and big money for those who "discovered" him.

As Potts says: "The fish are jumping and the cotton is high".

But this is a black comedy and just as things seem to be looking up for our two and the rest of the club's staff, events conspire against them in a grim and violent way.

Potts and Sweets aren't the brightest sparks and fearing for their lives doesn't help in their thought processes. To add to their nerves there is Baby (Ben Whishaw) to contend with. Baby is Ezra's work-shy and psychotic son prone to waving a cutlass in someones face one minute and singing snatches of Rock n' Roll tunes the next.

Skinny (Colin Morgan) is often the focus for Baby's cutlass threats but he seems to be in with Atlantic manager Mickey (Brendan Coyle) for reasons that seem to be more down to hard graft than brain cells. He looks up to Baby or at least wants to be like him, dressing in the same clothes which adds to Baby's dislike.

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First thoughts review: Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan and Rupert Grint in Mojo

IMG_3324So here are a few first thoughts about Mojo at the Harold Pinter Theatre - for more detailed thoughts see second post link below.

With a cast that is such a magnet for fan girls, first preview is always going to have a slightly hysterical feel to it and there was plenty of inappropriately timed and inappropriately vigorous laughter which got a bit annoying. The cast fed off it too which combined with that extra nervous energy of the opening night wasn't always to the good but then that is all part of the first preview experience and it will calm down and mature.

Ben Whishaw was in fine voice (bodes well for playing Freddie Mercury if that comes off) and threw a few cool moves too. Managed to break a prop with his energetic performance. He reminded me a teeny bit of a nastier version of Sidney from Layer Cake. He's looking quite toned as if he's been working out - he certainly needs to be fit for this production.

Rupert Grint looked surprisingly assured for his first stage outing although Sweet doesn't feel like a huge stretch character-wise. I confess I had some reservations about how he'd perform on stage but I was pleasantly impressed.

Colin Morgan also looked very comfortable and had a twitchy energy that reminded me a little of what I saw in him when he played the lead in Vernon God Little back in 2007 at the Young Vic. He's looking a lot leaner than when I saw him playing around on monkey bars in The Tempest at The Globe.

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The Donmar's new season is announced - are we excited?

The Donmar has produced a bit of a mixed bag of late. Really enjoyed Trelawny of the Wells and The Weir but not so much The Night Alive and Roots. The forthcoming Coriolanus is the one play this year that feels like I could label it  'highly anticipated' not least because of it's starry casting of Tom Hiddleston.

So what of next year's offer at the Donmar? Anything to get really excited about? The first three plays have been announced and while there isn't one that immediately makes me go "ooh" there is promise.

First up is a Peter Gill play called Versaille which has one Tom Hughes in it, which is a good thing because I wasn't impressed with the last Peter Gill play I saw at the Donmar.

Next is a new Peter Graham play Privacy which does make me sit up straighter in my seat. Graham made me like political drama with This House last year and he's written one of my favourite and most memorably fringe plays to date: The Man. On these two plays and productions alone this bodes well for something exciting and a little bit different.

And then finally there is Fathers and Sons a Brian Friel play 'after the novel by Ivan Turgunev'. Now I've only got Philadelphia Here I Come from Friel's back catalogue to go on but I really enjoyed that. Coupled with the fact that Lyndsey Turner is directing this could be a cracker.

So are we excited? Well I'm not leaping of the sofa but a big part of the joy of going to the theatre is in the surprise.


Review: Was Stan Raving about Simon Paisley Day's new comedy?

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Film critic Mark Kermode has a five laugh rule for comedies. If he doesn't laugh five times at a film comedy it isn't funny.

It's an interesting rule because on the one hand I think I laughed five times at Simon Paisley Day's new comedy at the Hampstead Theatre but on the other I found there was much wanting.

Three couples have left their kids being cared for at home while they have a much needed weekend away in rural Wales. As soon as you know it is Wales you know there are going to be one or more of the following plot contrivances: a) no phone signal, b) a power cut and c) a scary or unwelcoming farmer or local. You can tick off two out of those three so in that respect it didn't disappoint.

The problem is that aside from the occasional funny line (and this is a two hour play plus interval)  Raving is predictable and full of cliches and stereotypes.

Take the couples. Briony (Tamsin Outhwaithe) and Keith (Barnaby Kay) are 'lefty' teachers and politically correct parents. Serena (Issy Van Randwyck) and Charles (Nicholas Rowe) are upper-middle class, boorish, hunting types who don't believe in setting boundaries for their kids. And Rosy (Sarah Hadland) and Ross (Robert Webb) are middle class professionals who are successful at everything they do.

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@TheElTrainEvent or how tickets can go for £25-£45 in less than 24 hours

Bit of a theatre mystery being acted out in East London and I'm not talking about a potential transfer of the Woman in Black.

On Friday it was announced that in December three short Eugene O'Neill plays are to be performed as a trio with theatre-fav Ruth Wilson starring in two and directing one. Packaged as the El. Train Hoxton Hall in East London is the venue for the production which will combine "live music" with "completely immersive design".

Interest started to bubble among the theatre Twitterati; who wanted to go and when etc but it soon turned to consternation as the ticket website - run exclusively by Just Opened London - started showing weird date ranges, differing start times and sold out dates.

@nathanaelkent tweeted that he'd got a ticket priced £25 but when others tried the site wasn't selling anything. Then just an hour later the tickets had gone up to £35. More scambling, shenanigans with the website followed by consternation. This is 70 minute show and some decided that £35 was just too pricey. But then overnight the price rose again so that by Saturday morning tickets were listed as £45 and remain at that price.

The price rise wouldn't be such a mystery if Just Opened London were operating an airline style ticketing policy but there is nothing on the website to indicate that this is the case or any explanation of there pricing system at all. Indeed an email from Just Opened to Nathanael referred to his tickets as a limited allocation of 'earlybird' prices which was the first time he'd heard them described as such.

Aside from the website going native and sharp prices rises there is another question to be asked, is £45 for a 70 minute production in a fringe venue good value?

If anyone can shed any light on the ticketing policy for these short plays then please do let me know. I for one, won't be going because £45 does seem a bit steep - and I take umbrage at a site that doesn't explain its ticketing policy.


Review: David Tennant is an unlikeable Richard II

_65464812_davidtennant_richardWanted to headline this post 'David Tennant is a prick in Dick II' but it felt a little bit like something the subs on The Sun would come up with. It does, however, succinctly sum up his turn in the RSC's latest production of Shakespeare's deposition drama Richard II, which is currently in preview at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.

I've @Polyg to thank for 'prick' which she quickly offered up as the perfect description while I was groping around for a suitable word to sum up the portrayal of the King as we talked afterwards. Tennant's Richard is the most unlikeable I've seen.

This is no naive and delicate poet, the Ben Whishaw-style in the BBC's version last year. Tennant's is a Richard who has let the entitlement of being King since he was 10-years-old go to his head. With power comes great responsibility - as someone, somewhere once said - but he's just forgotten the responsibility bit.

His bad choices which lead to his downfall are not so much misguided as born out of a spoilt arrogance. The real Richard II gave his friends power and influence as a response to years being beholden to his aged protectors. Tennant's Richard relies heavily on his favourites turning to them for approval or encouragement.

He's been given Jesus-like flowing locks, emphasising his status as God's representative on earth and affording him the opportunity for an occasional haughty flick of the hair. He holds the sceptre and orb with a feminine grace that reminded me of paintings I've seen of Elizabeth I and uses kisses as a whimsical power play.

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Theatres vs audience

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Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, credit: Rev Stan
Interesting piece by Lyn Gardner in yesterday's Guardian about whether theatres should be funding audiences not just the artists.

The truth is that it's often pretty easy for theatres to offer development time and scratch performances, where work can be tested on stage; what is often harder is to actually programme the work or help it to tour and find an audience.

Which got me thinking about the relationship between theatres and the audience. I do sometimes think that there is a disconnect between the artistic world and those who put their hands in their pockets and pay for tickets. There have been occasions when I have felt like 'the pesky audience'. More could definitely be done to engage and even, in some instances, welcome.

For example, there has been a plethora of playwright-led 'festivals'. The Royal Court even had playwrights 'taking over the theatre' in the summer which had me flippantly imagining playwrights running amok and the audience knocking on the door trying to get let in. Engaging with the audience is a tricky feat - a festival for theatre fans? (Now there is a whole new post about what my fantasy theatre festival would include.)

OK so a festival for theatre fans is perhaps a silly idea but at the very least more theatres should engage with the audience about their experiences. As a regular, it would be nice to feel some faint sort of acknowledgement as to the part we play. (Is now the time to suggest the loyalty card, coffee-shop style?)

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Review: Another kitchen drama by Arnold Wesker - Roots at the Donmar

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This year is certainly the year of food on stage. We've had baskets of nuts in Liola at the National and eggs, lots of eggs in the Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward to name just two but Roots at the Donmar beats them both.

There are three acts, two set in kitchens and the third in a front room which give a list of produce worthy of a weekly shop. We have a tea of liver and mash, flour, eggs, butter and sugar being made in cake batter, potato peeling, runner bean stringing and a table laid for high tea complete with victoria sponge and the biggest trifle I've ever seen.

Then there is the lamp lighting, the washing up and drawing water to heat in the copper for a bath - tin of course, this is 1950's Norfolk. Roots is in some senses a picture of rural domesticity. A farming community where Beatie (Jessica Raine) has returned from London ahead of introducing her boyfriend, a socialist, to her family.

The problem is that the domestic chores play too big a part in filling the action of the play. The primary theme of the play that is about thinking and living and whether you need one to do the other. Beatie is attracted to Ronnie's intellect and can recite whole tranches of what he says but is this thinking?

She reminded me a little of Pip in Dickens' Great Expectations, she's been introduced to a different world which makes her a bit ashamed of the one she comes from. But unlike Pip who turns his back, Beatie wants to change her family.

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Rehearsed reading: Alexi Kaye Campbell's Death in Whitbridge

There is something quite special about a rehearsed reading. It's often a one off, you always get one or two gems in the cast and an intimacy to the performance so that you feel like you are sitting in on a rehearsal.

The play itself can sometimes seem immaterial but in this instance the opportunity to see work previously un-performed by Alexi Kaye Campbell was a particular draw.

It was presented as part of the Finborough's Vibrant festival of new writing  and its strength lies in the ealier scenes.

A middle-class family-set comedy with son Fred (Adam James) visiting his parents to introduce them to his girlfriend Fatima (Naomi Sheldon) who is a burka and full-veil wearing Muslim. Fred also has some news which will further put him on Daily Mail hate-list and, to add to the drama, a mass murderer is on the lose leaving victims body parts in the residents if Whitbridge's shrubbery.

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