24 posts categorized "Outside London" Feed

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, voilá, 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: James Graham's The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace Theatre

Paines Plough's production of The Angry Brigade, photo by Richard Davenport

Harry Melling's police chief is vigorously swirling a biscuit in his cup of tea. It is small act of rebellion from a man who's wife, he tells his colleague, doesn't like him 'dunking' and marks one end of the spectrum of rebellion that is explored in The Angry Brigade.

The title of James Graham's new play refers to a real life group who in 1971 were Britain's answer to Germany's Baader Meinhof and France's 1st of May guerrilla groups. It was a period of youth-led discontent with bombing campaigns and protests about authority, class divide and capitalism. 

Graham says he was inspired by the ignited passions to protest seen in more recent years, a stark contrast to the apathy of his 30-something generation when they were at University. Passion for a cause is something that shines through on both sides of the narrative.

The first act follows the police investigation into a spate of bombings of political figures, public buildings and retailers. The police are at first baffled by the anonymity of the group calling themselves The Angry Brigade and it becomes a cat and mouse game to identify them.

In the second half the story is seen through the eyes of The Angry Brigade themselves as they set up operations from a flat in Stoke Newington.

Despite exploring events of more than 40 years ago you can't help draw parallels with contemporary issues. It is a depressing undertone but one that doesn't resonate fully until after the play is over.

Graham and director James Grieve take you on a journey that is laced with humour, fun and inventiveness. The police may represent order and law but the biscuit dunking is just the start. Those tasked with investigating The Angry Brigade are encouraged to forget the usual rules of workplace formality, banter and teasing ensues.

On Twitter I asked Graham if the playful humour in the first half was an act of rebellion in itself to which he replied: "Humour as a weapon has always intrigued me. Certainly think it shows resistance to expectations/the status quo..."

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Review: Maxine Peake is Hamlet at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

Katie West and Maxine Peake in rehearsals for Hamlet at the Royal Exchange

This production will be remembered not just for Maxine Peake's superb youthful take on the Dane but for being the first Hamlet I've seen to really feel like a family drama.

There are few servants and no Fortinbras and the threat of war so that courtly life and politics feel peripheral. Sarah Francom's production focuses instead on the family politics: a remarriage and an uncle with a hell of a skeleton in the closet.

Peake, with partially shaved hair and androgynous look made Hamlet nervous, youthful and full of petulant energy that worried and exacerbated his parents. Gertrude (Barbara Marten) looked like a mother torn between her new husband and troubled son.

*Warning of production spoilers*

And Peake's Hamlet was certainly troubled. It's the first time in a while I've seen a Hamlet that felt like the Prince was genuinely on the verge of breakdown, barely keeping it together. To this end the To be or not to be speech was moved to much later in the play, just after the closet scene (and the interval) giving it added despair after what was an angry and fear-driven murder.

Having a Polonia (Gillian Bevan) rather than a Polonius was also an inspired choice. Hamlet has murdered a woman, a mother. Then there is the mother/daughter tension between Polonia and Ophelia (Katie West). It's something very different to that between father/daughter.

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Review: Mike Bartlett's An Intervention, Watford Palace Theatre

Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth in Mike Bartlett's An Intervention

It must be a rarity to see two new plays by the same writer within the space of 10 days. Mike Bartlett has been busy.

An Intervention is a co-production with Watford Palace Theatre and Paines Plough and sees Bartlett return to more simple story-telling of his Cock (tee hee, cannot resist). Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth play best friends A and B whose friendship is tested to breaking point.

A is a passionate anti-war protester and B thinks intervention is better in the long run. But the argument that sparks a break down of their friendship is only a mask for what is really going on. A likes to drink. A lot. She is the life and soul of the party, always full of energy, witty and fun and that is her life. B, however, sees a different future for himself. He's got a new girlfriend (whom A hates) who has opened the door to a different lifestyle.

Bartlett puts friendship under a magnifying glass and examines what it means. When is it right to intervene, when should you stay quiet and at what point do you throw in the towel?

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Review: Arcadia, Bristol Tobacco Factory

Piers Wehner as Septimus in Arcadia, Bristol Tobacco Factory

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is one of @polyg's favourites, she particularly likes the maths and science in it. Unfortunately for me that is what turns me off. Maths was horrible for me at school and my ignorance on the subject means that chunks of the play just don't connect.

It's not that I don't appreciate the skill and craft of Stoppard's work, it's just that talk of maths is like listening to a foreign language I've only just mastered the pleasantries for. Fortunately Arcadia has much more to it.

Set in the same house but in two different periods, around 180 years apart, the characters of the modern time set about unravelling what happened in the house during the earlier period.

In 1809 Septimus (Piers Wehner) is tutor to the maths obsessed Thomasina (Hannah Lee), in love with her mother (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and having an affair with a married woman who's husband Ezra Chater (Vincenzo Pellegrino) has just found out.

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Review: Simon Stephen's Blindsided, Manchester Royal Exchange

Katie West and Andrew Sheridan in Blindsided. Photo by Kevin Cummins

Simon Stephen's writes specifically for the space at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, something I missed in seeing Port at the Lyttleton theatre just over a year ago.

The Royal Exchange, if you haven't been, is theatre in the round - a type of space most directors seem to shy away from Stephens commented on in a Q&A. It makes for an intimate and exciting performance space the actors appearing from different places and as an audience member you feel like you are leaning in to see something secret that is hidden from the outside world.

Like Port, Stephens has a young female protagonist, in this case 17-year old Cathy (Katie West) who has a young baby. She is studying one A-level in history, has a part time job and her mum Susan (Julie Hesmondhalgh) helps her out with 'little Ruthie'.

Then she meets John (Andrew Sheridan) a trainee accountant with a sideline in burglary. He charms and is charmed by Cathy and their relationship moves fast. Susan doesn't trust John and his flattery, call it gut instinct or experience but she sees through him.

But while John's faults and misdemeanors might make suitable fodder for a play itself it is the effect he has on Cathy and that is the surprise, particularly as it isn't what you'd think.

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Review: Denise Welch and Keith Allen star in Smack Family Robinson but Harry Melling shines

Keith_Allen_and_Denise_Welch_-_Smack_Family_Robinson_-_credit_Jason_KelvinThe Robinson's have a nice house and a comfortable life in suburban Kingston, the fruit of years growing the family's drug dealing business.

Dad Gavin (Keith Allen) has retired leaving son Sean (Harry Melling) to run things. Mum Cath (Denise Welch) has a little florist shop which is used to launder the drugs money. Eldest son Robert (Matthew Wilson) helps out as Sean's driver and muscle.

It is a family that is both functional and dis-functional; a family where loyalty is of paramount importance but in which they follow their own sort of twisted moral code and house rules. For example, such rules dictate that cooking up a hit of heroin is only wrong if you do it in the living room rather than in the kitchen with the fan going.

It is a family that revels in its criminal past and present while perversely believing it upholds some sort criminal code of conduct, a sort of honesty amongst drug dealers. The one exception being daughter Cora (Kate Lamb) who just wants to pass her catering qualifications and get a regular job.

Richard Bean's 2003 play - which has be relocated to Kingston especially for its run at the Rose Theatre - is like a BBC sit com with c-words and serious crime and it kind of works if you don't think about it too much. There is a perverse charm to the Robinson family, a voyeuristic intrigue in seeing they operates behind closed doors, which helps because you do need to root for them in some small way.

There are some great lines and plenty of laugh out loud moments. However, the ease with which violence is discussed and meted out rankles a little alongside the more innocent, obvious humour.

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Chuckling at the Tobacco Factory's Cherry Orchard

TimthumbI don't remember ever chuckling at The Cherry Orchard quite like I did at the Tobacco Factory Theatre on Thursday. Director Andrew Hilton has teased out the wit in Chekhov's play of posh folk with money troubles, cranking up the melodrama and throwing in some physical humour to boot. 

It not only gives the play a lighter touch - in a good way - but makes it all the more entertaining and engaging for it.

The Cherry Orchard isn't a favourite play of mine, as I've mentioned before here, and my irritation with the central characters' inaction remains but in making their deportment so ridiculous it heightens the sense of futility that is at the heart of their behaviour. There is also a warmth in their behaviour you suspect that, deep down, they are aware of their silliness and foibles but it binds them together.

Julia Hills' Ranevskaya has a charm that makes you believe her Paris apartment would be crowded with gentlemen callers and Simon Armstrong's Lopakhin is shrewd but not cold and portrays a genuine warmth and affection for Ranevskaya and her family.

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Learning to love Lear with the help of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory

LEARThis is my third Lear and I’m gradually growing fond of this Shakespeare tragedy.

The first time I saw it,  with Ian McKellan in the eponymous role, the King's scheming and bitchy daughters Goneril and Regan were just too abhorrent, I couldn’t wait for them to get their just desserts. And as for Lear himself, he too, I felt, got just what he deserved.

I don't mind an out an out baddie but for the goodies to stay loyal there has to be something to empathise with, you have to believe that what they are doing is right and worthy. This, and perhaps hindsight from watching subsequent productions, brought out the tragedy of the story far more for me than the first version with McKellan.

This quality production from the Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory company sees John Shrapnel take on the lead, giving him that initial stubborn pride that sets him on the path to destruction but then gradually peeling away the layers of corrupted power to reveal a vulnerable old man.

Goneril (Julia Hills) and Regan (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) while fawning over their father when he initially asks for their declarations of love seem ill-judged rather than calculating. Their darker motives appear gradually as their confidence in their new found power grows into a delicious coldness and increasingly rash decision-making.

Shakespeare's dialogue is delivered by all with great clarity which is always a treat - only in some of the action sequences and during the storm in the second half does some of the dialogue get swallowed up by the surroundings.

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Wigs and onesie's - it's The Way of the World

2769812453If for nothing else but the costumes and wigs, playing the character of Witwoud in The Way of the World, for Samuel Barnett, must be heaps of fun. As well as modern spins on frock coats, ruffled cuffs and a rather fetching striped onesie complete with night cap he also gets to wear a towering restoration-era wig (see trailer below).

Barnett's costumes are just some of a delightful array worn by the cast in what is a hybrid modern/traditional take on the William Congreve's play of bright young things on the make through the institution of marriage.

Don't ask me to give a summary of the plot because I'm not sure I could recount the intricacies (director Lyndsey Turner confesses to getting a lawyer friend to help unravel the family tree and deeds), needless to say there is a lot of plotting and duping but it all ends satisfactorily with the 'not quite goodies' outwitting the 'not quite baddies' and then there is a jolly good dance.

The journey to get to the dance is a fun and clever. Set against a white back drop the characters explode on stage in colours only matched by their sharp wit and charm.

The opening sequence is imaginatively set in a TV studio where Mirabell's (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) daily life is unveiled in the style of a pop video. The resulting video then makes an appearance in the second half as two characters sing along to it, karaoke style. It is a nice touch serving to illustrate the ridiculous nature and an element of disrespect  felt by all the central characters.

Indeed it is a play about how ridiculous those of privilege and wealth have become, so ridiculous in fact that they rely entirely on subterfuge and deceit to get by.

Not a single cast member puts a foot wrong be it gold winkle-picker or platformed stiletto. Special mention should go to Mr Barnett's flamboyant Witwoud, Leo Bill's scarily angry Fainall and the wonderful Deborah Findlay as the vain and gullible Lady Wishfort.

It's getting four stars from me and runs at the Sheffield Crucible until Feb 25 so catch it while you can.


There are a couple of direct connections the obvious one being Mr Barnett who was in Bright Star but Ben Lloyd-Hughes also lists The Hour among his credits