Hot on the heels from playing Pentheus and Pentheus' mother in Bakkhai at the Almeida, Bertie Carvel will soon be seen as the muscular and fiery ship stoker Yank in Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape at the Old Vic. Can't wait.
Matthew Warchus' tenure as artistic director at the Old Vic kicks off with a new comedy about education and has a cast of many. Rob Brydon is the star name being touted on marketing material but in reality this is an ensemble piece.
Tamsin Oglesby's Future Conditional is essentially three plays in one, each with a separate cast, the action swapping between the stories with only two characters crossing over (one seen and one referred to).
In Brydon's segment he plays a teacher at a secondary school telling the story in a series of conversations with his class but for the most part you have to imagine what the pupils are saying because you only hear his side.
Through the teachers eyes we see some of the challenges of the classroom. Juggling the ultra bright and eager to learn Pakistani refugee Alia (Nikki Patel) with the disruptive Jordan who's got problems at home.
It is skillfully written and performed so that it is not just Brydon's physical and verbal reactions that are funny but also the imagined comments from the kids.
And while Brydon is no doubt a draw, for me at least the excitement mainly came from seeing Ben Lloyd-Hughes (see additional 6DS below). He features in a segment set around a Government think tank which is supposed to be advising on educational policy.
The group is a mixture of people from different backgrounds, state and private education with Joshua Maguire (another Stan fav) playing an Oxbridge graduate and ex-Etonian. The debate here is about equality in education and how you maximise the potential of children from poorer backgrounds so that they are on an level playing field with those from affluent backgrounds.
Bit of a recent convert to the church of Bertie Carvel. PolyG has long sung his praises but he hasn't really been on my radar. I thought Bakkhai opposite my fav Ben Whishaw would be my first proper chance to see him in action but the TV adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell came along and suddenly my excitement levels about Bakkhai got ramped up (if that was possible).
Then yesterday I got the press release announcing he's playing Yank in the Old Vic production of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. It's a play that was already on my radar without any cast having seen a superb production at the Southwark Playhouse three years ago.
Now Bertie has been cast it suddenly gets really interesting. Yank is very much a manly man, reminds me a little of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire. He's all muscle and testosterone but it is just a few words that knock him to the ground and challenge him in a way that he never predicted.
From the seating plan on the Old Vic website it looks like they are keeping the round stage format (hurray) which should work really well in making the audience feel like they are in the dark, hot, cramped ship engine room where Yank works.
The Hairy Ape is on from Oct 17 until November 21 and is booking now. Five weeks before the start of the run £10 preview seats will be released for half the auditorium.
Excited by the prospect of being able to see stuff at the Old Vic for a tenner? I know I am. Here's how it's going to work:
For the first five previews* half of the seats will be £10 and they will be scattered throughout the auditorium.
Seats will be released on a first come, first served basis at 12pm on the Monday five weeks prior to the first preview. Four tickets per person. Dates will be announced to the PwC Previews mailing list and you can sign up for that list at www.oldvictheatre.com/pwcpreviews
* excludes Jekyll and Hyde, Rise and The Old Vic Variety Nights
The Old Vic Theatre has a rather large and impressive tree on its round stage. On the floor beneath it a road is marked out with white tape (and the word 'ROAD' just in case you were unsure) and there are also squares marking imaginary tree stumps.
Tim Key arrives with a cool box and a small ruck sack. He's meeting 'Sarah' for a picnic date underneath the tree but he's got the time mixed up, forgotten the clocks went back. Then he notices Daniel Kitson up the tree. Over an hour and a half the two men tease out each other's stories - the back ground to the date and why up a tree. They are amusingly told, often filled with banter, teasing and incredulity.
The picnic is set out during the conversation - very ordinary yet pertinent fare which is served with a particular flourish - and Kitson stays up the tree.
Kristin Scott Thomas takes James McAvoy's impassion five minute speech I watched last week and raises it to full length play.
It is difficult not to be affected by her performance as Electra, the woman who is forced to live, unmarried and childless with her fathers murderers: her mother and her mother's lover. Through an hour and forty minutes she is haunted, mourns, despairs and rails frustrated against those who don't understand her loyalty and faint hope that her brother Orestes (Jack Lowden) will return and enact revenge.
She embodies the predicament of a woman imprisoned in a patriarchal society who is determined to push her 'captors' to the limit. There is nothing left for her but her rebellion, grief and a little hope.
Lowden prooves himself once again a magnetic stage presence and equally Diana Quick as Clytemestra makes her mark during her short appearance. This is a play in which the performances demand you hang on every word.
There is, however, a 'but' to all this. I enjoyed watching the emotionally charged performances, I was moved by the performances but the play left me wanting. Essentially the ending felt a little anti climatic after all that high emotion. Orestes reveals his plan to fake his own death in order to gain entry to his childhood home, duping Electra for a time too and it all goes rather swimmingly. The bloody revenge is performed off stage in the Greek-style and it all felt a little, well, easy after all that angst.
Have only ever seen the first half of The Crucible. Not, I hasten to add, because I wasn't enjoying it but because it was an outdoor theatre, on a cool evening and I was simply too cold to stay for the second half.
However, it wasn't just finding out how Arthur Miller's metaphorical play about the Salem witch trials panned out that had me sitting on the stage at the Old Vic last night, it was also finally getting to see Richard Armitage in a play. Bit of a fan you see.
From the moment you walk in to the auditorium you know that this is going to be a grim and atmospheric production. The Old Vic's ornate decoration has been obscured by grubby wall hangings, the stage a rough grey wooden flooring, and the set equally austere and jaded looking. The lighting has a sickly tinge and stage smoke hangs in the air.
Tituba (Sarah Niles), the village minister's Barbadian servant appears with a smoking urn, circling the stage in a slow rhythmic steps, muttering a low incantation which adds a spooky soundscape to the setting. And from there the tension steadily grows.
When young Betty (Marama Corlett) lies "possessed" on her bed her body contortions are like something from a horror movie and Abby (Samantha Colley) is a vicious and convincing bully that sets the town on a road to hysteria and calamity.
This is play of raw emotions, where rational thought and contemplation turn into anger and violence almost on the turn of a heel. The atmosphere constantly fluctuates between strained and shrill.
The Old Vic has transformed its auditorium to theatre in the round once again and it's a configuration that appeals mainly because you are closer to the stage and a lot of the stalls seating is properly raked.
Jon Robin Baitz's play, Other Desert Cities, is the first production to test the new stage and is a family drama of the skeleton in the closet type. Hollywood actress Martha Plimpton plays Brooke who has returned home to California for Christmas after a lengthy time away. She's just about to publish a book, a memoir in fact, that could prove explosive.
Parents Lyman (Peter Egan) and Polly (Sinead Cusack) were actors whose starry careers have long since faded leaving them with a stream of anecdotes and names to drop. Lyman has since gone into Republican politics.
Making up the family is brother Trip (Daniel Lapaine) who has disappointed his parents by using his top university law degree to host a TV courtroom show and alcoholic and destitute aunt Silda (Claire Higgins).
Not seen any Ivan Turgenev plays before and was told they are more 'English' than Chekhov which certainly felt true with Fortune's Fool, presented here in a version by Mike Poulton. There is an array of colourful characters and a mix of humour, warmth, cruelty and tragedy that reminded me a little of Dickens.
While Dickens will send his central characters on epic emotional journeys over many years Turgenev manages to pack in something that is equally so for Vassily (Iain Glen) in just 24 hours.
Vassily is an impoverished gentleman living on the charity of a rich family and has been for many years. The play opens with the servants being whipped into a frenzy of preparations for the arrival of the mistress of the estate Olga (Lucy Briggs-Owen) and her new husband Pavel (Alexander Vlahos). The frenzy is almost entirely due the estate's steward Trembinsky (Daniel Cerqueria) whose primary skill seems to be bossiness rather than organisation an, of course, it is the sensible footman Pyotr (Dyfan Dwfor) who picks up the pieces.