92 posts categorized "Comedy" Feed

Watching a work in progress: Unreachable, Royal Court

Cw-8658-mediumThe Royal Court's artistic director Vicky Featherstone and playwright/director Anthony Neilson made a pre-performance appearance when I saw Unreachable on Tuesday. They wanted to explain that the play was still a work in progress, a major rewrite had happened over the weekend with further rewrites that day. As a result, the actors might still be working off scripts and things might not go as smoothly as you'd expect. We were asked to shout 'good luck' to the actors who were waiting in the wings.

Other than a read-through I've not seen a play performed with scripts in hands or scraps of paper retrieved from pockets.  Naturally, the audience, was very supportive as it invariably is during these sorts of things. It added an extra dimension to the play and the experience - seeing the actors 'feeling' their way through the less familiar parts of the script.

Matt Smith actually played on it at times saying at one point 'that's all I've got'. If there was any frustration with the chopping and changing of the dialogue among the cast it certainly did show, they all looked like they were having a ball and there was quite a bit of corpsing.

As to the play itself, I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't expecting a raucous comedy, satirising the film industry and acting profession.

Naturally it is difficult to review something that could change fundamentally between when I saw it and press night. Indeed, since starting to write this, I found an interview with Anthony Neilson and Matt Smith which describes a plot that is unrecognisable from that which I saw, so if you have seen it post press night I'm curious to know whether it has changed fundamentally since.

Matt Smith plays Maxim, a film director who won the Palm d'Or for his first full length feature and is now working on his second film. The award has brought with it recognition and a much bigger budget with the politics that entails but he is 'an artist' with the stereotypical artistic temperament (think: self-serving, childish, egotist). He would rather walk away and risk financial ruin than compromise.

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Review: Off The Kings Road, Jermyn Street Theatre (co-starring Jeff Bridges)

020_Off The Kings Road_Pamela Raith Photography
Luke Pitman and Michael Brandon in Off The Kings Road. Photo (c) Pamela Raith

Bit of a coup getting Hollywood legend Jeff Bridges in your play. Sort of. He appears in pre-recorded Skype calls with Matt (Michael Brandon) who is staying in a small, London town house hotel off the Kings Road.

Matt is a recently widowed American taking a break in London - a city he visited with his wife - and Bridges plays his therapist Dr Kozlowski. He is lonely and Kozlowski encourages him to fill his days with activity, things that he enjoys doing. Matt seeks companionship and intimacy with a Russian prostitute Sheena (Diana Dimitrovici) who has boyfriend problems - the blow up doll he bought just doesn't scratch the itch.

The hotel where he is staying is like something out of mildly amusing sitcom (including the presumably unintended wobbly set). Freddie (Luke Pitman) is the camp concierge and down the corridor from Matt is long term hotel guest Ellen Mellman (Cherie Lunghi). Ellen is a slightly crazy cat lady who's aged feline pet Christina keeps going missing. She also has a bit a soft spot for Matt.

As bitter sweet comedies go this doesn't quite work. There are some good individual elements but there are too many stereotypes at play and Neil Koenisberg's dialogue just isn't strong enough to balance it.

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Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Southwark Playhouse or when Stan went on stage to play a flower #7actordream

Midsummer-1At the end of this promo video for Go People's A Midsummer Night's Dream an actor says that 'everyone single person will come away with a slightly different experience' and they weren't kidding. I've had actors deliver lines at me, ad lib lines at me, throw stuff at me, sit next to me, even fall in my lap but I've never been dragged on stage to play a part before. Not until last night at the Southwark Playhouse anyway.

This isn't A Midsummer Night's Dream for purists, Go People have added an extra premise that they are a company of seven actors attempting to play all 17 parts. They also only have about four props between them but are going to give it a go with a bit of imagination and imagining from the audience.

When Puck (Melanie Fullbrook) is asked by Oberon (Ludovic Hughes) to fetch a wild pansy to use as a love potion, in lieu of a prop flower Puck grabbed me. So there I am in the middle of the stage with Oberon gripping my hands and intently telling me all about how he discovered said love potion. At least I think that was the speech he was delivering, at the time I was more concerned with the fact that I was actually on the friggin' stage and feeling just a teeny bit self-conscious.

But it didn't end there. I was whisked off to wait back stage by Puck while the next scene was in progress.  Then Puck said something like 'have fun with it' and lead me back on stage to 'work my flower magic'. Randomly waving your hands sort of works for a magic potion being administered, doesn't it? Later Oberon assisted by holding my hand and moving it in a delicately, elegant gesture. And I just wanted to face palm thinking 'yep that would have been better'.

Now at this point I should add that earlier we'd been asked to imagine there was a large oak tree in the middle of the stage which all the actors subsequently stepped around when moving from one side to the other. So when I was excused from my flower magic duties I felt I should carefully avoid the imaginary tree on my way back to my seat, in keeping with the spirit of things, which seemed to go down quite well. 

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Review: Fear and fun with Fyodor in Idiots, Soho Theatre

320x320.fitandcropIdiots starts with a bit of audience interaction*. The sort of audience interaction that leaves those on the front row and aisle seats avoiding eye contact and shrinking into their seats while those sat safely in the middle rows smugly laugh on.

I'd like to say that that is the least comfortable moment in this part adaptation** of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot and part fantasy biopic of the writer's life but it isn't. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of silliness as you'd expect from a dead central character who is living in a flat below Mr Blobby and his Thai wife. However Will Cowell and Jonnie Bayfield's play also has a dark underbelly, from the flashes of Dostoevsky's life to the scenes from The Idiot where they brutally expose what Dostoevsky only hints at in the 19th century novel.

Dostoevsky was concerned with the human state, psychology and extreme behaviour and in some ways Idiots reflects that. The dead writer of the play has his life put under the spotlight by a bureaucrat who exposes the tragedy, vanity and cruelty. It questions whether you can make allowances for bad or immoral behaviour because of  fame and talent.

Meanwhile in The Idiot the gentle intellect of Prince Mishkin is misinterpreted as stupidity and he is pushed aside by a violent bore Rogozhin who tyrannises the object of his affection Nastasya Fillipovna.

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Review: Jack O'Connell - black boxers and potting the black in The Nap, Sheffield Crucible

The_Nap1-xlarge_trans++svEi3P8Qkw0HLYn_ZSpox602VQT6XhEWMIwOXdx7beMI'm sat on the front row at the Sheffield Crucible watching Jack O'Connell play snooker. Is this actually happening? I've been a huge Jack O'Connell fan since seeing him in indie films Starred Up* and 71 and have really wanted to see him on stage. So there is that.

Then there is the snooker. Long before theatre (yes there was a time before) the Crucible, in my mind, was the home of the snooker world championships. We were a snooker family, gathering around the TV to watch games and all had our favourite players. It was the time of Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Jimmy White and Stephen Henry (my favourite) and I dreamed of watching a game at the Crucible.

These past and present passions have been brought together thanks to Richard Wilson and Richard Bean. Richard Wilson, who is associate director at the Crucible always wanted to do a play about snooker there and Richard Bean agreed to write one. And so, voil√°, I'm sitting watching Jack O'Connell play snooker.

He plays Dylan Stokes a young, up-coming player from a rough background who credits snooker with saving his life. His dad (Mark Addy) is an ex con and his mum (Esther Coles) is an alcoholic petty criminal. His career to date has been funded by Waxy Chuff (Louise Gold) a transgender crime boss who happens to be a former lover of his mum's. As his career starts to take off they all want a bit of him and the guardians of the game want a urine sample and to know if he's been asked to throw a game.

Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors had me aching with laughter and The Nap too is stuffed with belly laughs but while One Man was a farce here it is more one liners and there is a thriller element too and not just from the pressure of playing the games. Making Dylan a vegetarian means obvious jokes but where the play really comes into its own is in the Malapropisms and mixing up of common phrases: "He's a child effigy" and "There's no smoke without salmon" are two of my favourites. Richard Bean was a stand up comic and at times the script is almost like a string of quick fire jokes.

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Review: Hand to God, Vaudeville Theatre or what would happen if satan visited Sesame Street

Harry Melling (Jason) and Tyrone
Harry Melling (Jason) and Tyrone in Hand to God, Vaudeville Theatre

There is a scene in Hand To God that had me laughing so hard it hurt. It's also one of those scenes that you just can't unsee... and it involved puppets.

Robert Askins' irreverent, irreligious play started out 'off off Broadway', its success eventually propelling it onto Broadway-proper, a parallel journey to The Play That Goes Wrong here in London. Hand To God arrives at the Vaudeville in the West End with a new, British cast and perhaps fills a gap for a much needed rib-tickler on a dark, cold, winter evening.

It makes Simon Russell Beale's humourous profanity in Mr Foote's Other Leg seem so innocent but it also a play that has a heart. Jason (Harry Melling) is a dispirited, doleful teenager helping out his mum Margery (Janie Dee) with a church puppet show. His fellow 'Christketeers' are the dowdy and meek Jessica (Jemima Rooper) and the foul-mouthed, bully Timothy (Kevin Mains) who only attends because of his lascivious feelings towards Jason's mum.

Margery is also the object of Pastor Greg's affections (Neil Pearsons) who has been supporting her after the loss of her husband and Jason's father. Margery is clinging on by her finger nails and just needs Jason to be 'her rock'. To say Jason finds comfort in his sock puppet Tyrone sounds a bit wrong but he does and in return Tyrone turns into the devil and wreaks havoc.

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Review: Jackson's Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar, Battersea Arts Centre

JW by Barney Britton12
Jackson's Way photo by Barney Britton

Chris Jackson (Will Adamsdale) is here to help you. He's here to show you how to achieve and reach your power with his own brand of life coaching together with some contractual obligations to mention Christmas.

The bedrock of his philosophy is that there is more pointless stuff in the world - activities and objects - than there are 'pointful', therefore you should throw your energy behind the pointless stuff. You should PTI (push through it) to achieve your pointless goal.

Using slides, video and various props, well tea towels mainly, he takes you step by step through his power tips and there is practical application too. You might find yourself doing something pointless or a "Jacktion" as he dubs them and I'd describe some of these 'activities' but I don't want to spoil the show.

Jackson then goes on to give you examples of how Jacktions are all around us, as are many pointless objects. It is tongue in cheek but equally there is an element of truth. Learning the Jackson Way we also learn a little about the man himself, his past and his fight to reconcile his philosophy with its critics (a process that took ten years he tells us). 

It leads up to the Christmas bit - his own version of the Nativity using random pointless objects and members of the audience. CJ naturally steps into the role of JC.

Every now and again a show comes along that is blissfully silly and Jackson's Way is one such show. Brilliantly written as well as performed by Adamsdale there is a hint of satire in the silliness. On paper is sounds ridiculous and you probably have to be there to really appreciate it but I giggled, guffawed and even snorted at one point during the show's hour and a bit running time.

So if you fancy something that is part stand up and part theatre, something that is silly and funny because of it, then head to the Battersea Arts Centre where you can catch Jackson's Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar until December 12.


Hangmen review or how Johnny Flynn stole the show

590x494.fitandcropJohnny Flynn. Actor, musician; I've always had a bit of a soft spot. He's never had the breadth of roles of some of my favourite actors, often playing likeable, quiet, awkward types, but he's got a certain charm on stage. So plaudits for him and casting director Amy Ball who saw Mooney in Martin McDonagh's Hangmen in him.

Mooney is a southerner who walks into the life of  Harry (David Morrissey), Britain's second best hangman, who's from Oldham. He turns up in Harry's wife's pub where the locals take a bit of dislike to what they perceive as strange 'southern' ways but Harry's wife and daughter are charmed.

It is the genius of Martin McDonagh's writing, brought to life by Flynn, that Mooney is an enigma, just as you think you've got him sussed he does something to cast doubts in your mind. McDonagh rubs it in your face, has Mooney discussing the degrees by which he is weird, whether he is creepy or scary. It works beautifully, you sit up and take notice when he's on the stage, you want him on the stage so you can laugh and be a little bit uncomfortable at the same time.

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Review: Tipping the Velvet, Lyric Hammersmith

Ttv_showpageSarah Waters' best selling novel of a lesbian love affair set in the musical halls of late Victorian London has been adapted for the stage by Laura Wade. Its setting naturally lends itself for the theatre, the production, directed by Lyndsey Turner, has milked the music hall-variety act theme adding in numerous flares and flourishes.

There is a live band (who double up as extra's on stage) and a compere/narrator (David Cardy) in top hat and tails who knocks a gavel to end a scene or pause the action to give a commentary. It's primarily a device to allow time for scene changes.

The heroine of the story (and production) is Nan (Sally Messham) who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty (Laura Rogers) and follows her on a journey through London's vibrant and less salubrious districts; magic tricks, puppetry and acrobatics are all weaved into the story. It is a spectacle and some of it works brilliantly but not all of it.

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Review: Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King from the back of the stage and a bit of unscripted drama


Love on stage seating; up close to the action, often there is no view quite like it. So when a batch of on stage tickets were released for Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York's for £30 a pop I snapped up a pair.

Now the seating plan didn't really prepare us for where we would be sitting - which was good and bad. Ours were two of eight seats on the musicians balcony above the back of the stage accessed via the back stage area. Squeezed on a cushioned bench, lean back too far and you'd fall on a musician. They are a chatty bunch while waiting to perform.

Getting a quick peek back stage is also fun, particularly when Mark Rylance says 'hello' as you return to your seat before the second half. You also get to hear the mechanics of the performance, bits of set being moved around and the stage manager speaking to Rylance when the performance was stopped. Yes, second time this year I've been at a play when this happened.

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