98 posts categorized "Comedy" Feed

Review: The Dresser, Duke of York's and why it feels past its best

The-DresserLove Ken Stott and it was that and a very good ticket offer on Today Tix that got me to a matinee to see The Dresser. And here is where I pause because despite Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith acting their socks off the play just felt lacklustre and a bit past it.

Ronald Harwood's play was first staged in 1980 is set during the Second World War in a theatre where actor/manager 'Sir' (Stott) is having trouble keeping himself together and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Shearsmith) is trying to get him ready to go on stage for an evening performance of King Lear.

I had several problems with the play. Sir is either having some sort of nervous breakdown or has the early signs of dementia and that isn't actually that funny - maybe Ken Stott's weepy, dazed acting is too good. He appears extremely fragile at times and attempts to get him ready for the performance feel almost cruel.

However, in his more lucid moments he is self-centred, self-obsessed and generally not very nice which makes him difficult to empathise with. You can understand why not everyone flatters and fawns over him. There is also one scene when he gropes (sexually assaults) a young actress and that might have been funny to an audience in 1980 but it certainly isn't funny now.

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Rehearsal photos: Katherine Parkinson, Ralph Little, Steve Pemberton and cast in Dead Funny (Vaudeville Theatre)

Eleanor wants a child. Richard would oblige if he could, but he's too busy running the Dead Funny Society. When British comedy heroes Frankie Howerd and Benny Hill turn up their toes in the same week the Society gather for a celebration of hilarity and laughter. But Eleanor’s grin masks a grimace. When your marriage is deader than either Morecambe or Wise it's hard to see the funny side of things.

Terry Johnson's comedy Dead Funny opens at the Vaudeville Theatre on Oct 27 and runs to Feb 4 but in the meantime here are some rehearsal pics: 

 

 


Fringe theatre review: The Undead Bard, Theatre N16

The Really Tiny Ever LivingAs the antithesis of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary celebration Robert Crighton has come up with a two part performance that (sort of) questions our obsession with the bard.

In the first half he plays a sweating, divorced professor obsessed with the question of authorship of Shakespeare's plays. He recounts how he tested several theories while playing a cat and mouse game with the 'leather patches on elbows' who want to protect Shakespeare as the author. The result is an ever more paranoid professor with ever more ridiculous theories. The second half sees him channelling the Bard who feels if he can't be 'undead' then he just wants to be left alone and forgotten about.

There are some chuckle-worthy moments and the occasional witty line - it helps if you are familiar with Shakespeare's contemporaries and the theories of authorship - but there just isn't enough of it to fill two 45 minute segments. There are sections which could perhaps work as short sketches but it needs to be cleverer and a lot funnier for a longer piece.

Crighton ends by arguing that we should put on new writing rather reviving old stuff and he does have a point but the old stuff is really rather good which is why it has lasted.

It's two 45 minute segments with a 15 minute interval and I'm giving it two stars. It is on at Theatre N16 in Balham until 13 October.


Review: Acorn antiques meets Downtown Abbey in Sellotape Sisters, Tristan Bates Theatre

SellotapeSisters smallEthel (Charlotte Weston) and Phyllis (Kellie Batchelor) are actors about to make the last live episode of the period drama soap they are starring in. In their dressing room, drinking champagne out of tea cups with fellow actor Rupert (Jonny Freeman), they discuss some of the script writers more dubious plot decisions.

It is classic lovey-bitching, name-dropping and moaning about the next job but when they discover that the script writers have taken inspiration from their own private lives - secret same sex liaisons - which could fatally damage their careers if exposed, the panic sets in.

The 1960s set play's second act is the live broadcast of the final episode which has shades of Acorn Antiques. The actors forget lines, miss cues and their marks, discretely shuffling in or out of shot.  The question is will they stick to the script? The final act is the aftermath of that decision.

Act 1 is a nice amusing warm up to the second act which is where the strength of Sellotape Sisters' lies. It borders farce and is expertly executed and sometimes laugh out loud funny.

The final act has a heavier tone dealing with the consequences of their decisions during the live broadcast and feels like an attempt to give the piece a serious message which doesn't quite work. The 1960s setting serves to demonstrate how attitudes towards gay relationships have changed but I'm not sure weaving it into an farce-like story gives it the punch it needs.

Sellotape Sisters is in the main amusing, entertaining and fun enough for hour long show and I'm giving it three and a half stars.  It is on at the Tristan Bates Theatre until August 20.


Review: In search of relationship closure in Some Girl(s), Park Theatre

Charles Dorfman (Guy) and Roxanne Pallett (Tyler) in Buckland Theatre Company's Some Girl(s) at Park Theatre. Credit Claire Bilyard (7)
Charles Dorfman (Guy) and Roxanne Pallett (Tyler) in Buckland Theatre Company's Some Girl(s) at Park Theatre. Credit Claire Bilyard


Neil LaBute's Some Girl(s) sees 'Guy' (Charles Dorfman) embark on a tour around the US to 'put things right' with four of his ex-girlfriends. He's about to get married so perhaps this is about drawing a line under one chapter of his life as he embarks on another. Perhaps.

Over the four meetings, in four different hotel rooms, in four different cities, we learn more about Guy and the women that have been in his life. With some simple but clever set changes - one anodyne hotel room picture is changed for another, the bed is moved and bedding swapped etc - we are transported from meeting to meeting. 

Sam (Elly Condron) is Guy's High School sweetheart in Seattle. His first romance whom he broke up with shortly before their prom. Sam was a nice, safe, girl and is now married with children but there is something about the break up that still rankles her. Guy fumbles his way through an explanation but not everything rings true.

We then jump to Tyler (Roxanne Pallett) in Chicago. Tyler is the opposite of Sam. She's a free spirited, party girl and sexually adventurous and Guy is tempted by her all over again. But there is more to the meeting, for Tyler, than rekindling old flames. There is a side to her that Guy underestimated during their relationship and she sees through him.

Next is Lindsay (Carolyn Backhouse) in Boston. She's the older woman and the married woman whom he ran out on when they got caught. Lindsay also has Guy's card and proposes an interesting way in which he can make amends for the hurt he caused.

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Review: Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios and why I was a very slightly disappointed

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Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Oliver Rosser

Jesse Eisenberg's background is in theatre - acting and more recently writing - but I've only ever seen him on the big screen so I was naturally curious about his play The Spoils. 

It's set in the modern Manhattan apartment of Ben (Jesse Eisenberg) a drinking, weed-smoking wannabe film-maker from a privileged background. He shares the apartment with Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar) who is a Nepalese immigrant studying business on a scholarship.

At one end of the spectrum Ben is the sort of show off that casually feigns indifference at the other he is narcissistic. He won't take rent from Kalyan but it isn't an altruistic move, it is something he does to elevate his own status, something he can hold over him or throw back at him. Kalyan is someone he can parade, show off about, look down on and just occasionally confide in. Us Brits would call Ben a tosser or a C-word - if we used it - Americans would probably call him a jerk.

When Ben discovers that his school crush Sarah (Katie Brayben) is going to marry straight-laced banker Ted (Alfie Allen), he is determined to woo her away from him.

Like most characters from this mould,  Ben's behaviour is all puff, part of the wall he's built to protect himself not just from the outside world but also from himself.  He constantly seeks approval while rebutting it. He seeks connection and yet pushes it away. The more desperate he gets the more painful and cringe-worthy his behaviour becomes.

At first the script crackles with a quick-fired wit tinged with black humour but as Ben spirals downwards, so the humour gets darker until you reach a point when it difficult to laugh any more and it is at that moment you start to pity him and how messed up he really is.

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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)

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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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