39 posts categorized "Hampstead Theatre" Feed

Review: Wigs, frocks and expletives, it's Simon Russell Beale in Mr Foote's Other Leg

3513-1Gone are the dog collar and respectful black and in are bouffant wigs and dresses with faux buxom bosoms. Simon Russell Beale follows up his subtle and serious turn in Temple with a raucous comedy Mr Footes Other Leg at Hampstead Theatre.

Written by Ian Kelly (who also plays Prince George) the story is based on real life Samuel Foote (Simon Russell Beale) a lawyer turned actor and satirical comedian who ended up running the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 18th century, securing its royal warrant along the way. After a bet goes wrong Foote loses his leg which he turns to his advantage.

Set primarily back stage in Footes' dressing room, he enjoys fame and notoriety and his life is populated with colourful characters. Among them are his friend and rival David Garrick (Joseph Millson) the Brummie obsessed with Shakespeare; Peg Woffington (Dirvla Kirwan) actress and mistress to the rich who's not afraid of a bit of titillation to bring the punters in; Mrs Garner (Jenny Galloway) the no nonsense, loyal and occasionally mischievous stage manager; and Frank Barbour (Micah Balfour) the freed slave from Jamaica who does all the odd jobs and is therefore indispensable.

We follow his battle with the censors, the squabbles back stage, desperate tactics to make money and rivalry with other theatres. Intertwined are scenes with Foote's friend, failed actor John Hunter (Forbes Masson), who together with Benjamin Franklin (John Stinton) has an interest in the science of the brain and questions whether fame makes you mad.

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Review: Zoe Wanamaker is Stevie at Hampstead Theatre

Stevie_3233851bAll I know of Stevie Smith is her poem Not Waving But Drowning and I decided to keep it that way ahead of seeing Hugh Whitemore's play at Hampstead (Poly didn't even know she was a poet and I'd like to have seen the play through her eyes).

Not Waving makes an appearance, as do several of her other poems as we visit Stevie (Zoe Wanamaker) living with her 'lion aunt' (Lynda Baron) in suburban North London, working by day as a secretary in Piccadilly and writing by night.

Chris Larkin acts a sort of narrator and stands in for various boyfriends and acquaintances of Stevie's. Through the three characters we learn of Stevie's childhood, teenage years and how she thinks of the world.

It is a warm, tender and amusing portrayal from Wanamaker in what is a warm and gentle play. Stevie was an independent and extremely intelligent woman and probably viewed as an eccentric at the time. She wasn't really interested in men and was obsessed with death in that it was a subject and state that fascinated her, something that was reflected in her poems. She sought out other writers and became a bit of a celebrity, broadcasting on the BBC.

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Review: The ins and outs of love - Hello/Goodbye, Hampstead Theatre

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Miranda Raison and Shaun Evans in Hello/Goodbye, Hampstead Theatre

Juliet (Miranda Raison) is moving into her new flat only to discover there's been a bit of a mix up and a man, Alex (Shaun Evans), is already there, unpacking his own belongings. This is the set up of Peter Souter's relationship 'dramedy' which has graduated from the Hampstead's studio space into the main theatre.

For Juliet the flat is supposed to be a fresh start after a disastrous (in more ways than one) relationship. She's ambitious, a little bit narcissistic, a little bit rude and a little bit self-centred in fact to start with she comes across as a bit of a bitch.

Alex on the other hand is presented as intelligent and witty but with a nerdy obsession with collecting things - McDonald's Happy Meal toys, coke bottle lids etc. A verbal sparring becomes something more. Juliet starts to flirt and Alex resists which makes her flirt all the more until the inevitable happens.

The second half fast forwards 10 years to see what happened to the two of them.

As relationship dramas go, its refreshing to see something contemporary and well written and it is well performed. Shaun Evans' Alex is one of those characters that oozes charm without even realising while Miranda Raison's Juliet is all front to hide insecurities.

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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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Review: Antony Sher in the odd and awkward Hysteria at the Hampstead theatre

 

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Antony Sher as Professor Sigmund Freud in Hysteria. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Hysteria has a lot of potential on paper: Two big, very different and interesting personalities from history meet. On one side you have penis-envy psychologist Sigmund Freud (Antony Sher) and on the other avant garde, surrealist painter Salvadore Dali (Adrian Schiller).

 

The two did meet in London during the Second World War having fled conflict in their respective homelands - Austria and Spain - and if the play focused entirely on their meeting and the clash of personality then it might work. Equally if the play focused entirely on the second plot line - the unexpected arrival of a young woman who is obsessed with a past case of Freud's - then it might work but the two combined just sit really awkwardly.

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Review: @Propellertheatr Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew at the Hampstead Theatre

Each year I see Propeller I get a little more smitten with them. I mean what isn't to love about an all male Shakespeare company that almost guarantees at least one appearance of a pair of bare buttocks?

Smut aside they have an irrevant, fresh approach to Shakespeare that I love often stuffed with joyous moments that have the plays rocking along.

First up is Twelfth Night:

Chris_Myles__Malvolio__in_Propeller_s_Twelfth_Night._Photo_by_Manuel_Harlan.__5_Having seen The Globe's brilliant, traditional and very lively production with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry earlier in the year I was expecting Propeller to ratchet the physical comedy to new levels adding their own trademark spin. But it turned out to be something I wasn't at all expecting and I liked it all the more for it.

This was a melancholy, almost haunting production of Twelfth Night which made the contrasting comedy moment all the funnier.  There were still moments of farce and silliness, snatches of modern tunes amusingly appropriate to the scene and flirtation with the audience but in between it was far subtler showcasing something more akin to the reflective side of love.

Relationships between characters I'd never noticed before or rather took for narrative contrivances got a chance to blossom away from the usual frolicking.

The initial storm sequence was done with a ship in a bottle and the twins (Viola - Joseph Chance and Sebastian - Dan Wheeler) born aloft by others in the company as if floating on waves. Then we meet Orsino (Christopher Heywood) in an almost Miss Haversham-style repose. There is a huge chandelier on its side in the middle of the floor and dust sheets over huge wardrobes with antique mirrored doors which would become the main set (for both plays). These acted as both entrance and exit points, doors to slam and hidey holes and changing rooms, tipped on their side to make tables and pushed to one side when not needed.

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Review: Longing at the Hampstead Theatre has a great set, not sure about the play

601333_567529473276733_1856143184_nWhen the set is the thing you remember most about a play then you know that something hasn't quite worked.

Longing at the Hampstead Theatre does have an amazing set - a wooden summer house sits on real grass and is surrounded by trees. There is a soundtrack of birdsong and the outdoors and combined with the smell of wood it is probably the most sensuous stage I've experienced.

Shame then about the play. *potential plot spoilers* Maybe Chekhov fans will appreciate it more and for those familiar with his work there aren't any surprises; its main plotline has been seen before - rich family fritters away money and ends up being turfed out of the family home.

There are other plot lines - the young pretty woman who is obsessively in love with the older bachelor, a man and woman that are old friends and obviously in love and the son of a rich man who wants to turn his back on the trappings of privilege and do manual labour. In true Chekovian style nobody really grabs the opportunities, follows their heart or has the courage of their convictions.

Longing is based on two short stories, scripted by William Boyd but adds little to Chekhov's canon and therefore I don't quite understand why it was deemed a worthwhile exercise turning it into another play.

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Review: Did Di and Viv and Rose at the Hampstead Theatre impress all over again?

Di_2448696bLoved Di and Viv and Rose when I saw it first time around at the Hampstead Theatre's smaller downstairs space in 2011. Then the trio of the title was made up of Tamzin Outhwaite, Nicola Walker and Claudie Blakley.

Outhwaite reprises her role as Di and is joined by Anna Maxwell Martin as Rose and Gina McKee as Viv in Hampstead's bigger, upstairs theatre but is it as good as I remember?

What I loved about the play the first time, aside from the treat of seeing a story about and performed solely by women, is the warmth and humour in the script. It is about the life long friendships that are formed through the trials and tribulations of growing up.

Di and Viv and Rose meet at University and share a house. They are all very different people but become firm friends and the play explores those bonds of friendship. Life's slings and arrows are dealt with matter-of -factly, playwright Amelia Bullmore tackling issues such as lesbianism, rape, sex and pregnancy without judgement or preaching.

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Rev Stan's theatre best and worst of 2012

Usain-Bolt-has-lost-all-respect-for-Carl-Lewis-TO21ONR9-x-largeIt was a Jubilee Year, an Olympic year but while all eyes were on the Queen and the lycra wearing athletes I was quietly breaking my annual record with 109 theatre trips. So which were the gold medal winners which took home the booby prizes?

Well it's been a good year for the National Theatre and in particular the Lyttleton which, perversely, is one of my least favourite theatres. And I have to say it's been quite difficult narrowing it down as you can tell from the rather long highly commended list. The flip side is it feels like there has been more obvious stinkers this year although I've only listed the three worst to spare blushes.

The Usain Bolt of my theatre going year was easy: Curious Incident at the Cottesloe. It was a superb and imaginative adaptation of a much loved booked so convincingly performed I saw it twice and might be tempted to give it a third look when it transfers to the West End in the Spring. Here is the full list:

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Review: Mark Gatiss and Douglas Henshall calmly power through 55 Days

55_days_finalmarkbThe Hampstead Theatre has rolled out a bumper cast for its latest production, a Howard Brenton play about the days between King Charles I's imprisonment, his trial and then execution.

I'm not sure whether the 30 or so actors and extras  were really warranted - I'm wondering who might have been roped in for walk on parts - although it did create quite a nice effect as they streamed across the stage from opposite sides picking up pieces of furniture and props in passing. Incidentally, the stage has been placed in the middle of the theatre with seating on two long sides which, vaguely, reminded me of the Houses of Parliament although the stage furniture was more 1950's office.

I digress, the stars of the show are most certainly Mark Gatiss and Douglas Henshall who play Charles and the engineer of his downfall Oliver Cromwell.

Gatiss's Charles is dressed as you see the King in portraits complete with the trademark pointy moustache and beard and long hair but his is the only period dress. Cromwell and the rest of the cast all wear modern attire, sometimes military garb sometimes suits to emphasise the overthrow of an old order with something more modern.

Henshall's Cromwell is calm and thoughtful without being cold, his composure and strong moral stance gives him an air of approachable authority that makes his success as a leader understandable.

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