81 posts categorized "Ben Whishaw" Feed

That was April in London (and New York) theatre-land - the bloody (dog) star-spangled month

TamaskanApril was a bloody month and it was a (doggy) star spangled month...

* Haven't seen a dog on stage since Little Eyolf at the Almeida last year but this month there were two occasions for pause so the audience could go 'ah'. First up was at the Almeida again, this time a dog was walked on the stage during Boy then in The Crucible at the Walter Kerr there was a wolf. Actually it was rare dog breed called a Tamaskan (pictured) which looks spookily like a wolf. The Tamaskan gets the performance award for wandering around the stage (helped by strategically placed treats) pausing to look out into the audience before trotting off.

* Talking of The Crucible, as you may have guessed my theatre obsession took me state-side. It was my second trip to New York to check up on Ben Whishaw and it is reassuring to know he can still touch his knees with his nose at the curtain call. Used the Today Tix app to get some really good seats for a relative bargain to see Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels in the disturbing and devastatingly good Blackbird.

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Review: Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo in The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theater, New York

IMG_4548It is a calculated irony that Ivo Van Hove has set his modern dress production of The Crucible in a school classroom. Arthur Miller's play about a Salem witch hunt was written to reflect the hysteria and suspicion surrounding communism in 1950s America. Today you can replace communism with any number of groups on whom a generalised suspicion and distrust falls. Nothing changes. You could chalk it up on the blackboard at the back of the stage but the lesson hasn't been learnt.

Ivo Van Hove's cast, a mixture of American, English and Irish actors mostly speaking with their native accents, plays into this idea of prejudice and suspicion of outsiders. Abigail, the spurned school girl and the first to plant the seed of suspicion that there are witches in Salem, is played by Irish/American actress Saoirse Ronan. She is an orphan taken in by another family and has a different accent to her school friends. There is a distinct sense of fighting to get attention, fighting to fit in and be accepted. 

Rev Samuel Parris (Jason Butler Harner) is also an outsider. He's a university graduate and has had to fight hard to gain the respect of the community to which he ministers. As he starts to gain acceptance he will do anything to protect that.

There is also petty squabbling amongst the farming community which adds further tinder to the fire. Disputes about land boundaries move from one courtroom to another when competition can be eliminated if the finger of witchcraft is pointed in the right direction.

Into this brittle environment steps John Proctor (Ben Whishaw), who lives slightly outside the community and doesn't attend church regularly. He and his wife Elizabeth (Sophie Okenedo) have English accents. It is his relationship with Abigail which seals his fate and sets the community onto the destructive path.

He's a flawed and tragic hero. He has seduced his young maid Abigail while his wife is sick and got caught. Elizabeth dismisses Abigail who is ostracised by the community. When caught dancing in the woods by Parris she explains it away as a witches influence, lighting the touchpaper. It gives Abigail the attention she craves and allows her to get her revenge on the Proctors.

John is contrite for his affair and has been trying to make amends. In casting Ben Whishaw Ivo Van Hove has gone against type. Proctor is normally played by actors of bigger stature and build, a physical, manly man - I saw Richard Armitage play him at the Old Vic a couple of years ago. By removing the overt manliness of Proctor you get a character who is no less passionate but certainly more of a sensitive, caring, thinker. You see it in the way he coaches Mary Warren (Tavi Gevinson) through her court evidence. There is a gentleness and genuine concern in the way he smooths her hair out of her face or holds her protectively or rubs her back when she is afraid. He treats her as a frightened child not just a means of putting an end to the injustice that has enveloped the town. It puts his affair with Abigail's in a different light and I'd love to know what they said about that in the rehearsal room.

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That was my year of theatre-going 2015: The StOlivier awards

89050759_9b7a9cb884_mThere are awards and then there are the StOliviers...

I'm only human award: This goes to Ben Whishaw who, during the Iliad live reading, mispronounced a name did a delightful giggle at his mistake before slipping straight back into character and carrying on. You can see the reading here (roughly 26 mins in for the giggle).

Best food fight: Cast of Rules for Living, National Theatre, who not only managed to mess up the stage but trod and smeared mashed potato into the carpet and on the drapes at all the exits from the Dorfman stage.

Scariest prop: For Carman Disruption at the Almeida I was sat on the front row not far from the life-sized, prone but visibly breathing bull. It was so realistic it freaked me a little bit. If it had moved its head or a leg you wouldn't have have seen me for dust.

Most accident prone production: Ah Wilderness! Young Vic. Props went flying and actors fell over, I wrote a post about it.

I didn't know you had that in you surprise performance award: Lots of surprises this year Tom Sturridge in American Buffalo, David Dawson in The Dazzled but the award goes Johnny Flynn in Hangmen for a performance that meant the first two words I said to Poly after the curtain call were 'Johnny Flynn' to which she replied 'I know'.

The bloody play of the year: The single stream of blood slowly rolling down the stage towards the audience at the end of  Macbeth, Young Vic, was great but the bloody highlight goes to the Almeida's Oresteia. Agamemnon is murdered and his spilled blood slowly seeps out in a growing pool from beneath his corpse.

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Bakkhai Q&A with Bertie Carvel, Ben Whishaw, Almeida Theatre

There was a Q&A after last Tuesday's performance of Bakkhai at the Almeida, freshly showered after their characters rather grubby ending in the play Bertie Carvel and Ben Whishaw were joined by three of the chorus - Elinor Lawless, Aruhan Galieva, Kaisa Hammarlund - and the session was chaired by assistant director Jessica Edwards. And these are some of the highlights (not quite verbatim, my note taking isn't that fast and some of the questions I couldn't hear as there were no mic's so have guessed from the answers):

Q What was it like performing a play that is 2,500 years old?

BC - It's not really that different from performing a new play...except that you have to trust that it has some kind of integrity. The tricky thing is not to not mess with it but to mess with it in the right way. With an ancient play there is a danger of being bullied into thinking that it's lasted 2,500 years because its somehow perfect and that the mysteries it has are because you aren't clever enough to understand them. But it is like a modern play in that respect, you have to trust that it is like archaeology, peel it back layer by layer and it gives up its mysteries and you might discover something no one has discovered before.

Q. How was the chorus devised?

Described as a difficult and complicated process. Director James McDonald had pebbles with their initials on and assigned them lines. They would then record their spoken lines and then the rest of the chorus would have to learn it verbatim so that each line had ownership. The myriad of accents and style, it was hoped, would make it sound more interesting less "monotonous and boring". The timing came with experience and gelling as a group, they just got to know each others styles and characteristics but it took a long time.

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My 10 favourite things about the #Iliadlive reading at the British Museum and Almeida

Iliad cast & creative
Iliad cast & creative - click for bigger image

On Friday #IliadLive was trending on Twitter, a remarkable feat considering it was essentially a 16-hour live reading of an Ancient Greek epic poem - not the sort of thing you normally expect social media to get excited about. Even more remarkable that among the cast of more than 60, while sparkling with theatre stars - the sort of actors that get us theatre nerds very excited - only a handful have the broader TV screen fame of the sort that usually gets Twitter excited.

The readathon started at 9am at the British Museum and was live streamed for those that couldn't make it. Benches had been set up on a first come, first served basis and were full most of the time. There were people sat on the floor nearby, some had come prepared with picnics and always a throng of people at the back - some bemused foreign tourists.

As the museum was closing those among the audience lucky enough to snap up tickets for the remainder of the story at the Almeida were ushered onto a Routemaster bus or into cycle rickshaws where the reading continued during the journey.

I reckon I caught eight or nine hours, a combination of live streaming and watching it live at the British Museum and at the Almeida. Some far sturdier than me did the whole thing braving night buses to get home after the final lines were read, shortly before 1am. (I salute you @RhianBWatts).

Anyway here are 10 of my favourite things from Iliad Live, what are yours?

1. Simon Russell Beale set the bar high with the very first reading cementing why he is a national treasure when it comes to live performance (and possibly the only stage actor who'd get up to perform at 9am).

2. At the British Museum, there was no waiting in the privacy of the wings to come on, the actors are stood to one side script in hand for all to see and study which is fairly unusual. Sometimes you could see the nerves in their body language. John Simm borrowed a pen from an AD to make last minute notes on his script and Oliver Chris just leaned casually chatting and smiling like it was a walk in the park.

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First thoughts on Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet, Barbican Theatre

First visit to see Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet this week and these are very much first thoughts on a big production that will no doubt evolve and gel over the coming weeks.

It is certainly a memorable production in many ways but I do have a few reservations. *spoilers follow*

Director Lyndsey Turner has done some interesting things with the text, moving some of the speeches and switching some of the dialogue. This is most notable in the opening scene. Normally you have the ghost appearing to the watch, instead we see Hamlet alone, listening to Nat King Cole on an old record player (great use of Nature Boy).

He's sorting through crates of belongings. There's an old toy boat and clothes. He takes a jacket and smells it in that way you do when you are nostalgically drinking in the memory sparked by an aroma. It reminds him of someone - his father presumably from the style of the jacket. And when he speaks it is 'To Be or Not To Be."

Now @polyg didn't like this, felt it took the speech out of context with no opportunity to warm up to it. I disagree. It was an impassioned, tear-filled eyes, rendering that set up Cumberbatch's Hamlet as very much the thinker, an over thinker, a melancholic who is lost in grief and isolation in his own home.

Nature Boy, the boat and later when he plays at toy soldiers in his 'antic disposition' all seem to suggest a yearning for his childhood, a time presumably when he was happy.

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Exciting Ben Whishaw theatre news

So while I was watching Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet last night there was a little theatre announcement concerning Ben Whishaw (thanks @andyT for alerting me).

Next year he's heading back to Broadway to play John Procter in The Crucible opposite Sophie Okonedo and Saoirse Ronan and Ciaran Hinds (who was on the stage with Mr Cumberbatch last night, playing his villainous uncle Claudius).

Obviously any Ben Whishaw casting announcement and in particular stage work is very exciting but this reaches new levels because it's to be directed by Ivo van Hove. He pretty much tops the list of my run-to directors at the moment after seeing the amazing A View From the Bridge last year and Antigone earlier this year. (@polyg and I are already booked into to see his Shakespeare history-play epic at the Barbican next year). I'd even go so far as saying he's the most exciting director around at the moment.

Then there is the play. It's Arthur Miller and it's a great play. John Procter is a meaty role. He is caught up in a witch hunt, the only voice of common sense among a sea of irrational hysteria and he pays for it dearly. Richard Armitage did a superb job in an Old Vic production last year.

I headed over to New York to see Mr W tread the boards last time he was on Broadway and I think it's pretty certain I'll be heading over the Atlantic again next Spring.


Theatre hottie of the month: July edition (with bonus hot moment)

Thought Bertie Carvel in Bakkhai at the Almeida might steal this, even at the beginning of the month before I'd seen it. He has a look in his eye you see. There is a Greek word for it, that Poly told me about, that doesn't have an English equivalent but it sort of means a combination of sexy and fun.

Now he's quite stern to start with but Ben Whishaw's Dionysos starts to work his seduction, loosens him up. And then later he wears a dress and there is a scene where Dionysos, who is also wearing a dress, tucks a lose strand of hair back for him and it is just so sexy. Trust me.

And if all that wasn't enough to send you running for a cold shower he wears this outfit at the press night party and completely rocks it.

So my theatre hottie for July is very definitely Bertie Carvel.

Bertie Carvel in Bakkhai. Almeida Theatre. Credit Marc Brenner_2.jpg
Bertie Carvel in Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner


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Review: Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel in Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre


Picture the scene: A man in a cream dress. Think Dervish - fitted through his slim body with flowing skirt in layers to the ground. He walks gracefully down a mound at the back of the stage and stops in the middle. Pauses. Clicks his finger in the direction of the ceiling and he is illuminated.

"Long hair, bedroom eyes, cheeks like wine" is how Anne Carson has Pentheus describe him in this, her adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy.

He speaks. Tells us the story of his birth. Those eyes. A cheeky half smile. A blink-and-you-miss-it quiver of an almost pout. The quiver of an almost pout. You are seduced. This is Dionysos. This is Ben Whishaw god-like.

Had there been a hill to run to for drinking and carousing as the women of Thebes do to worship him, I would have, and I doubt I would be the only one.

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