24 posts categorized "Outside London" Feed

Is Shakespeare shaping up to be the most exciting theatre of 2012?

I know we are getting extra helpings of Shakespeare, what with it being the cultural Olympiad and all that but it feels like all the plays I'm particularly excited about seeing this year were written by the bard.

First there was the announcement that Jonjo O'Neill is to play a young Richard III at Stratford and I'm also looking forward to seeing what Jonathan Slinger does as Prospero in the RSC's The Tempest. 

Then there is The Globe which has tempted me to part with hard-earned cash at what is my least favourite theatre by putting the fabulous Mark Rylance on its stage playing Richard III and Olivia in Twelfth Night. And then not only adding Samual Barnett and Johnny Flynn to the cast list but now Stephen Fry is to play Malvolio

And before I get to see most of that I have what is bound to be a wonderful treat, Propeller's A Winter's Tale and Henry V at the Hampstead Theatre. Propeller's 2011 offerings of Richard III and Comedy of Errors both ended up in my top 5 plays of the year so there is much anticipation.

I'm always excited about everything I see at the theatre but I can't think of anything else outside these Shakespeare's that have quite the same level of elevated anticipation. If at least two don't make it into my top 10 for 2012 I'll be very surprised.

Here's a promo vid the RSC has made for a trio of plays it's calling the Shipwreck trilogy of which The Tempest forms a part


First trip to the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester is a Beautiful Thing

Royal_exchange_theatre_aw170410_5My friend Chris is a regular visitor to the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and always says glowing things about it. And when I tweeted that I was going, I had some similarly fond responses back. 

And while it isn't wholly pretty, it did, I'm happy to report, completely live up to its recommendations.

If you've seen how the RSC recreate a tiered, round auditorium within the Roundhouse for their London season, imagine that but in glass and placed inside a beautiful Grade II listed Victorian building.

It means there is lots of space and plenty of pre-show seating outside the glass auditorium. Certainly no feeling of being crammed into a small space that is the intersection between the bar, loos and sweet counter like the West End. Inside the auditorium surrounds the stage with three tiers. Front row seats are low and sofa-like which is right up my street.

In fact I got to enjoy the 'sofa' in the second half as I nabbed a vacant spot during the interval to get away from the rather large gent blocking my view from my third row seat (trials and tribs of being 5ft 2).

Continue reading "First trip to the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester is a Beautiful Thing" »

Finally the South Downs/Browning version review

1804053084 It's been nearly two weeks since I made my first trip to Chichester and a combination of indolence, sickness and general busyness has stood between me and my keyboard. The problem is that now that much time has passed my memory of this double bill of short plays has started to fade.

Not that they weren't very accomplished pieces of theatre, they were both superbly directed and acted pieces. I suppose what I mean is they are going to be memorable more as pieces attached to my first outing to Chichester than purely as plays in their own right.

Firstly the two work brilliantly together but then David Hare's South Down's was written to accompany Rattigan's The Browning Version. Both are set in public schools in the 1950s/60s both playwrights having gone to public schools themselves.

South Downs centre's on pupil John Blakemore (Alex Lawther) who is hyper intelligent, precocious and deemed odd by the other boys. While The Browning Version centre's on teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris (Nicholas Farrell) who is reluctantly retiring with no pension.

Both explore self identity and loneliness. Blakemore questions his inability to fit in with the rest of the boys and Crocker-Harris, worn down by years of academic grind and living in a loveless marriage questions his reputation among his pupils and his wider purpose.

If I was pressed to give a preference then it would be South Downs because it more easily transcended the period in which it is set. That and the fact that Lawther showed great promise in his professional debut.

Although I must mention Crocker-Harris's wife Millie played by Anna Chancellor who in a moment of vicious tongue-lashing is so cruel to her husband it raised a gasp from the audience.

This double bill is definitely worth a trip to Chichester to see and is booking until October 8. I'm going to give them a joint four stars.


July's theatre round up

Wow, what a bumper month July turned out to be, five plays earned five star reviews, although one of those was a second visit to see Propeller's Richard III which I'd already given top rating to. The remaining nine plays I saw got four stars apart from one which let the side down considerably. Shame on you Woman Killed with Kindness at the National Theatre and your 2 star, 35% score.

So here were my top three (excluding RIII):

1. Propeller's Comedy of Errors - credited with changing my mind about Shakespeare's comedies 87%

2. The Pride, Sheffield Crucible - loved it when I saw it in New York with my fav Ben Whishaw and didn't think it could be topped but the cast in Sheffield proved me wrong and reminded me that Mr W aside, it is a cracking good play 85%

3. Journey's End, Duke of York's - lived up to the hype and extremely moving 81%

July's run of five star plays is a record for this year but unfortunately the one two star review dragged the average down and February still remains my top month - but only just.

August has had a slow start - even a theatre addict needs to ease off once in while - but it is to be short lived and next week, breaking my New Year's resolution for the second time, I'm seeing three plays in three days.

Of those and the rest I have booked, the ones I'm particularly excited about are Kevin Spacey's Richard III, Anna Christie at the Donmar and Broken Glass at the Tricycle which will be my first visit there. Bring it on.


The Pride of Sheffield

The-Pride-Sheffield--007 I love Alexi Kaye Campbell's play about life as  gay men in the 1958 vs 2008 but confess this production had a slight disadvantage from the outset - the last version I saw was in New York with Stan-fav Ben Whishaw playing Oliver.

This production the Crucible's studio space is directed by Richard Wilson (who decided to look in on the performance with Merlin pal Colin Morgan) and has a slightly older cast than the New York version.

Initially a voice in my head screamed, 'it's not going to work as well' but it did and heightened that sense of time running out for the characters as Poly so correctly observed.

Daniel Evans takes on Oliver in this production with Jamie Sives playing Philip, Claire Price - Sylvia and Jay Simpson the miscellaneous extra parts but perhaps I should explain the story a little first.

The play is set in 1958 and 2008, swapping act by act between the two periods. In 1958 Philip is a children's writer who has commissioned Sylvia to illustrate his book. Sylvia invites him to dinner with her husband Philip and there is an immediate but subtle connection between the two.

In 2008, Philip has just left Oliver after the discovery of yet another infidelity and Sylvia is their best friend. Oliver is taking the split badly.

It is at times a deliciously funny play; the 2008 Nazi role-playing scene and Oliver's meeting with a lads-mag editor keen to show the publication is gay-friendly are worth the ticket price alone. But it is also a moving piece which at its heart explores loneliness and fear of being alone.

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That was January's theatre

We are charging into February and a chocolate box rammed full of theatre delights but before January becomes a dim and distant memory, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on some of its offerings.

I have my (nerdy) new spread sheet to help me and while I rate each play in my review out of five, I also give it mark out of 100 on the spread sheet - it makes it a hell of lot easier to rank stuff. So this is based on those scores with links to my original reviews:

  1. Vernon God Little, Young Vic 85%
  2. A View From the Bridge, Lyceum, Edinburgh 77%
  3. The Boy James, Southwark Playhouse 75%
  4. Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre 72%
  5. Rough Cuts, Royal Court 70%
  6. Comedy of Errors, Greenwich Playhouse 55%
  7. Twelfth Night, Cottesloe, 45%
  8. Get Santa 25%

So am I surprised by the results? Well yes and no. Vernon coming out top isn't too much of a surprise as I saw the original production back in 2007 and really enjoyed it. But I am surprised that Twelfth Night rated so low considering how much it had going for it: Peter Hall directing and the likes of Simon Callow in the cast. It just fell flat which was a real shame.

One thing that is interesting, to me anyway, about rating the plays I see in this way is that it means you get shoestring budget production like Comedy of Errors at the Greenwich Playhouse scoring higher than the polished and luxurious production of Twelfth Night. The acting was better in the latter, by far, but I enjoyed Comedy of Errors more. It just goes to show that money and big names aren't necessarily everything.

Not surprised that Get Santa! came out so low but that is because it really wasn't my type of thing and I'm judging it on that rather than the fact that it was a bad play and production.

The play that I'd say sticks most in my mind after Vernon, I have to say is The Boy James mainly because it was an interactive piece in a unique setting.

So that was January. February has already got off to a roaring start with Julius Caesar and last nights Our Private Life which I will be writing up very soon...



A View from the Scottish Bridge

Images The first time I saw A View From the Bridge Ken Stott’s performance as Eddie Carbone moved me to tears. That was nearly two years ago and I’ve been eager to seen another production ever since. So when I discovered a work trip to Edinburgh coincided with a run of the play at its Lyceum Theatre it was a too tempting an opportunity to miss.

This time Stanley Townsend took the part of Eddie. I last saw him on stage in the wonderful Tribes at the Royal Court and although he certainly made an impression it wasn’t the meatiest of roles.
Eddie is a filet steak of a role. He’s an over protective uncle in 1950’s Brooklyn who wants a better life for his niece Catherine (Kirsty Mackay) but who’s familial love is boiling a little close to the edge.

At first his reluctance to let Catherine take a job and go out into the world seems more to do with his inability to accept that she is growing up, that his father role is coming to an end. When Rodolpho and Marco, two Italian cousin’s of his wife Bea’s come to stay while working illegally and love blossoms between Rodolpho and Catherine, Eddie’s protectiveness unleashes deeper rooted feelings.

It’s a great story of a bear of man, with a good heart but who is cornered by his own pride and feelings and ends up doing something that goes against everything he stands for. So did Townsend and the Lyceum do it justice?

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Dressing rooms and where to celeb-spot in Stratford

Right finally got time to sit down and go through my photo's from the preview tour of the RSC's new theatres in Stratford.

First can I say 'wow'. I love the way they've melded the old with the new keeping some stunning features like the gothic Victorian staircase in the Swan Theatre and the art deco ticket booth from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

I also think it's great that they've recycled bits that couldn't stay in situ. For example the wood that graced the stage has been relaid in one of the bars so visitors get to tread the famous boards themselves.

There is some great artwork too. I particularly liked the oil painting of a scene from Richard II in which he gives his last soliloquoy standing under pouring sand - at least that's the performance and production it reminded me of if it isn't (there is a picture in the slide show below). There is also a great explosion of pages from Shakespeare's complete works in one of the bars. It looks like the pupils of Hogwarts have been having a bit of fun with their magic skills (also have a pic).

Of course my favourite bit was nosing around the dressing rooms. Each has a balcony overlooking the River Avon so if there's a matinee on, in warmer weather, a slow stroll along there might yield some good actor-type spots when productions return to the theatre. (The first full productions will be existing shows when they return from the RSC's London season in February and then the first productions-designed specifically for the new space start in the spring.)

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There will be no foolish wand waving in this theatre

Images-9 When the lovely, distinctive gravely voice of Stanley fav Prof Snape Alan Rickman reverberated around the stage of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin last night, I couldn't stifle a little grin and the urge to sit up straight.

I've loved Alan Rickman since Truly Madly Deeply. He stole the film as the evil Sheriff in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, then there was his turn as the slighted but warm-hearted Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility and I won't even mention that teaching role.

But this time he was John Gabriel Borkman in the eponymous play by Henrik Ibsen. The brooding disgraced banker, pacing his self-imposed cell and planning his come back while down stairs his estranged wife Gunhild (Fiona Shaw) plots her own return to respectability using their son Erhart (Marty Rea).

Set in a snowy landscape which serves to heighten the isolation and tension between husband and wife, a blast from the past in the form of Gunhild's twin sister and Borkman's former lover, Ella (Lindsay Duncan) visits with her own plans for Erhart.

John Gabriel Borkman is a tragedy brought about by delayed reaction. Gunhild and Borkman have become almost paralised by their own self-pity and when they do decide to act, their motives are poisoned by selfishness and ill-conceived.

Continue reading "There will be no foolish wand waving in this theatre" »

Theatre travels

You'd think London with its Christmas-size Quality Street tin full of theatre treats would be enough to satisfy this fan but no. Not once, not twice but now three times in less than 12 months I am to venture out of this fair city to seek entertainment (I don't count Stratford as that is traditional).

I'm blaming @polyg who spotted that long time fav of mine Alan Rickman is taking to the boards in Dublin but also myself for egging her on to get tickets. So tomorrow we fly to Ireland to see a play, Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre. And then on Sunday we fly back. Oh the glamour.

Naturally I'm only going so I can tick Professor Snape off my list of Harry Potter actors I've seen on stage.