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May 2017

June 2017

Review: Rotterdam returns and is still packing the laughs and emotional punches, Arts Theatre

Rotterdam - 59E59 Theater - 2017 - Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine Freeman - photo by Hunter Canning
Rotterdam - Alice McCarthy, Anna Martine Freeman and Ed Eales-White, photo by Hunter Canning

There is a scene in Jon Brittain's Rotterdam when Fiona (Anna Martine Freeman) is on the telephone to her parents. It is New Year's Eve and she is telling them she thinks she's a man. You can't hear what her parents (and grandma) are saying but it is written and performed in a way that you can easily imagine. It is a brilliantly observed - there are aspects of the conversation many people will relate to - and imagined. It is a scene that is funny and tender, it makes you laugh and puts a lump in your throat. And that is everything that is brilliant about Rotterdam as a play in that moment.

It is a play that started life in pub theatre and is now on it's third London transfer (via a stint off Broadway) and tells the story of lesbian couple Alice (Alice McCarthy) and Fiona who've been together for seven years, living as expats in Rotterdam. We join them the day before New Year's Eve as Alice is plucking up the courage to come out to her parents but Fiona has her own announcement to make. It is reflective of their personalities that while Alice, dithers and over-thinks Fiona blurts and moves forward at a pace like champagne leaving a shaken bottle.

Fiona's brother Josh (Ed Bales-White), who also lives in Rotterdam, takes her decision in his stride and her conversation with her parents is easier than she anticipates, getting accepted as a man and the impact on her relationship with Alice - and how it makes Alice feel about her own sexuality - is less straightforward.

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Production photos: Colin Morgan and Ellie Kendrick in Gloria, Hampstead Theatre

Timely that these production photos for Gloria at Hampstead Theatre have arrived as I'm seeing this tonight. Stupidly excited to see Colin on stage again (it's 10 years since I first saw him in Vernon God Little) and in this play by the brilliant Branden Jacob-Jenkins.

Gloria is at the Hampstead Theatre downstairs until July 22.

 


Review: Post war modern women and making babies in Kiss Me, Trafalgar Studios 2

Kiss Me - production images - Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Claire Lams - Photos by Robert Day 10
Kiss Me: Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Claire Lams - Photo by Robert Day

It is 1929 and women out number men, the result of the First World War and Spanish influenza. Where are the men for a lorry driving, war widow like Stephanie (Claire Lams), perceived as past her prime at 32, independent - had to be during the war - and wanting a baby.

Who is there is Dennis (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), a sperm donor but not of the turkey baster sort.

In Stephanie's small room at her lodgings - landlady out the way - their unusual transaction is about to take place. Dennis is stiff backed, stickler for the rules of engagement - no kissing on the mouth - as laid out by the bohemian doctor who sets up the liaisons. He has the air and manner of posh and is well turned out - you could easily see him in uniform. Stephanie is nervous, chatting relentlessly, breaking the rules but she's also funny not afraid to poke fun at their situation, raise an eyebrow at an unwitting double entendre or talk about her sex.

Unexpected consequences arise from this unorthodox transaction and when rules get broken the two have to examine their pasts, their motives and where their lives are going. As the mirrors of Stephanie's room reflect back their appearances, their relationship exposes some truths about themselves.

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Review: Powerful and haunting - The Enchanted, The Bunker Theatre

The Enchanted  The Bunker  - Courtesy of Dina T (1)
The Enchanted The Bunker - Courtesy of Dina T

There is no doubt that Arden (Corey Montague-Sholay) and York (Hunter Bishop) have killed. This isn't a miscarriage of justice death row drama or a did they or didn't they, this is story of two murderers waiting for execution and how they face it while a Lady (Jade Ogugua) makes a last ditch effort to get the death penalty over turned.

Adapted by Joanna and Connie Treves from Rene Denfeld's poetic novel, The Enchanted is narrated by Arden and takes a walk in the shoes of the two convicts and their pasts. Locked in windowless cells a trip to the visitors room is the only glimpse of the outside world they get. They aren't allow any human contact and you don't fully comprehend what that would be like until it is laid bare by Arden.

He weaves his own thoughts, observation and history with York's story, the Lady's conversations with people from his past and the Fallen Priest (Jack Staddon) who is a regular death row visitor. The monologues and dialogues are punctuated with ebbs and flows of movement that serve to illustrate the outside world that is unreachable and alien to the prisoners.

Puppets of the young York and his mother and Arden as a child stalk the background as a harsh reminder of the journey they've been on in their short lives. The actors also write and draw with chalk on the floor and back wall of the stage although I'm not sure this particular device is entirely necessary or effective.

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Review: Threat, forgiveness and the search for truth in Jam, Finborough Theatre

Harry-Melling-Jasmine-Hyde-in-Jam-Photo-credit-MATHEW-FOSTER
Harry Melling and Jasmine Hyde in Jam, Finborough Theatre, photo Mathew Foster

The synopsis of this debut full length play by Matt Parvin reminded me a teeny bit of Blackbird - a confrontation between two adults about an incident that happened when one of them was still a child. In Jam, Bella Saroush (Jasmine Hyde) is a teacher who's got her life back on track - new job, new school, after an incident in a classroom ten years earlier.

That incident involved pupil Kane McCarthy (Harry Melling) whom she finds back in her classroom one evening with a baseball bat in his backpack claiming to seek forgiveness. It isn't just a case of whether Kane is to be believed but also whether the truth of what happened lies in what they both remember.

Over one hour and forty minutes the two verbally spar, teasing the audience with versions of their truth. Harry Melling's Kane has an unpredictability in the way he moves, as well as in his tone and dialogue; it makes him feel dangerous at times and yet he also portrays a vulnerability and hints of remorse that keep you guessing. There are clues in the briefest looks and gestures.

Jasmine Hyde's Miss Saroush is a battle between scepticism, trust and anger. Is her compassion wrapped up in guilt or a genuine sensitivity that ultimately makes her vulnerable and, even after 10 years, easily played?

Kane and Miss Saroush's is a game of own truths or daring to admit the truth, as an audience you have to weed out which is which. Jasmine Hyde and Harry Melling superbly amplify the tension, ambiguity and flaws of their characters and it makes for compelling viewing. I'm giving it four stars and it's at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court until June 17.

 


Common thoughts (the play not just general ramblings) - now with a post press night PS

1280x720_ntgds_ak_common_rollout11_0-1OK so given my dilemma, which I wrote about this morning, and the response I've had, I decided to put some thoughts down about Common at the National Theatre. If you haven't read my previous post I'll preface all this by saying it was third preview I saw and the fourth preview was cancelled to work on the production, so what you subsequently see, if you are are seeing it, might be quite different.

First the synopsis. It's a new play by DC Moore set in the 18th century during the time of enclosure. Mary (the always wonderful Anne-Marie Duff) is returning from London to the place she grew up. She's done well for herself in London using wit, charm and guile, elevating herself from poor country girl to a woman of apparent means and fine clothes. She isn't immediately recognised and isn't exactly welcome either.

She's a potty-mouthed protagonist who tells the audience up front not to believe anything she says. So her return may be to rekindle an old love, it may be to get revenge on the man who broke up that relationship, it may be to help galvanise the locals to resist enclosure and upset the local land owner or it may be just to wreak a bit of havoc because she can.

And this is where the problems start. The play is a sort of love/revenge/history with explorations of Christianity vs paganism, witchcraft, industrialisation, rural economics and sociology but it doesn't properly nail any of these things partly because the central plot line isn't always coherent enough from which to hang the themes.

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Common, the cancelled preview and the blogger's dilemma

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 07.48.35I don't think I've been in this situation before. I saw the third preview performance of Common, a new play, at the National Theatre on Thursday and despite great performances and production it still wasn't good. There were clusters of empty seats after the interval and it had been similar the previous night. I'd contemplated leaving myself - so did @PolyG and she's got far greater resolve that me.  That isn't the situation though. The situation is I subsequently heard that Friday night's performance was cancelled to allow more time to work on the production.

First or early previews can been cancelled when productions aren't quite ready for a paying audience but to cancel a preview after a few performances is more curious and unusual.

So do I write about a play I saw that is likely to have had more than a few tweaks made to it - it had already lost 10-15 minutes off it's official running time the night we saw it. I've had arguments in the past about reviewing previews and my stance has always been that if I've paid for a ticket, then I can express my thoughts and opinions about what I've seen and experienced, whether that is on social media or this blog. I've seen enough theatre to gauge where things might naturally improve and tighten up with a few more performances.

Occasionally, there is something wrong with the play itself that no amount of previews are going to solve and if the preview of Common hadn't been cancelled I'd put it in that camp. Will one preview performance off be enough to sort it out? Perhaps. However, there is part of me that wants a record of what I saw, that is, after all, the primary reason for writing my blog. That's the dilemma.

***

PS edit: Given the response I've had since writing this, I decided to commit my thoughts to my blog.

 


That was May in London theatre-land - casting, transfers, an anniversary and another bumper crop of thesp spots

600Gloria_FINAL_landscapeSmall* Stan fav Colin Morgan has been cast with Game of Thrones’ Ellie Kendrick in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre which just happens to be my newest favourite playwright. So lots of excitement for that. Gloria will also be a 10 year theatre anniversary for me and Colin. I first saw him (and mentally tipped him as one to watch) when he played the lead in Vernon God Little at the Young Vic in 2007.

* Keeping up the Game of Thrones thesp count in London’s theatre land is Natalie Dormer who’s been cast with David Oakes in Venus in Furs at Theatre Royal Haymarket from October.

* Colm Meaney joins Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Apollo Theatre which opens in July.

* Arthur Darvill of Broadchurch fame has been cast in Hir at Bush Theatre which opens on June 15.

* James Graham (This House) has a new political comedy, Labour of Love, coming to the Noel Coward Theatre in September starring Martin Freeman and Sarah Lancashire.

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