24 posts categorized "Pub theatre" Feed

LabFest 2012: Occupied @theatre503

First time at Theatre 503* in Battersea last night thanks to playwright Carla Grauls whose new play Occupied is being performed as part of the LabFest 2012 - a festival of full-length, new plays.

It's a great little theatre (if a little warm at this time of year), perfect for showcasing new writing and Occupied immediately grabs your attention. Set in a public loo, Alex (Mark Conway) is using the facilities, trousers around his ankles reading a paper, Andreya (Rosie Hilal) is playing Rule Britannia very slowly on an accordion and a Tom (Luke Waldock) lies tied up and seemingly unconscious on the floor. 

Tom has been kidnapped by Alex and Andreya who are Romanian immigrants living in the toilet. Alex wants to know how to be British and plans to find out from Tom. And so we embark on an absurdist journey of cultural stereotypes and prejudices, learning a little on the way about what it takes to survive or even merely exist in modern western society. Each character, we discover, is running away from something and hoping to find something better.

It is a clever premise, nicely executed and staged, at times funny and quite poignant and rattles along at an entertaining pace in the main. 

However, for the subject matter I would have like it to have been just a little bit more challenging and have had a little more back story for Alex and Tom. For the latter and without giving too much away, there isn't enough to satisfactorily explain how he ended up in the situation he did and I'm not sure whether we are supposed to feel sympathetic or whether he is just an attention seeking melodramatic.

Plaudits must go to the cast though who have had limited time to rehearse and you really couldn't tell - certainly three names I'll keep an eye out for, as I will Carla Grauls. It will be interesting to see what they all do next.

Occupied is only playing for three nights and finishes tomorrow. 

* Get there early grab a drink in the Latchmere pub and head upstairs to the theatre where there are some huge comfy sofas.  


Tattoos, braces and bovver boots - it must be Titus Andronicus

Titus-023Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare's answer to the popular blood and guts tragedies his contemporaries were churning out; the Jacobean theatre equivalent of Slasher Films I suppose.

It has a typically complicated plot but all you really need to know is that it is all about revenge. Stabbing, hand-severing, tongue removing, raping, grinding up your enemies bones and feeding them to their mother revenge. The usual type.

So setting it among the turf wars of 1980s skinhead gangs feels like a natural fit right down to the street-accented delivery of the bards words. There is sarcasm, contempt, facing off and jostling aplenty in the delivery of the initial confrontations and a particularly puffed-up petulance from the younger characters which works nicely.  

Shakespeare plays aren't known for having small casts and Titus is no different - there are 14 actors in this production which seems extraordinary for a tiny pub theatre. I confess I was concerned when I saw how small the stage is and whether they would all fit on but by keeping set and props to a minimum (a sofa and a St George's flag) it never felt over-crowded which is testament to Zoe Ford's direction.

I've commented before about how some actors in small spaces have a tendency to perform as if they are on a big stage which can feel a little over blown and hammy  but Titus is such a big, brutal story with lots of angry characters on the verge of violence it kind of gets away with some chewing the scenery.

Honourable performance mentions go to David Vaughan Knight who manages to add some depth to the vengeful Titus and Stanley J Browne as the manipulative and machiavellian Aaron. And also Maya Thomas who plays the tricky role of Lavinia for keeping the character present, giving her a silent voice after she is rendered dumb by the tongue 'incident' about half way through.

Yes with such a physical production you lose some subtlety in the character development and motives and the dialogue did get a little swallowed up in shouting occasionally but main plot points shine through, even if they are typically outlandish at times (the dressing up as revenge, rape and murder scene is always going to be tricky to make believable).

This is good solid pub Shakespeare and I'm going to give it four stars. Titus Andronicus runs at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden until May 27.

RS/BW 6DS

Yes there is one, Adam Henderson Scott was in A Moon For the Misbegotten at the Old Vic which starred Kevin Spacey who famously spotted Mr W when he was a RADA student and then interviewed him for the Guardian when he was playing Hamlet.


That was January for Stan in theatre-land

Well what a jam-packed theatre month that was. One really interesting and exciting casting announcement was that Jonjo O'Neill is take on Richard III for the RSC this year. And then there was the news that the V&A is giving some of its play recordings an airing on the big screen. (Trevor Nunn directed, Ben Whishaw starring Hamlet was last Sunday but plenty of other gems still to come, definitely worth a look - and it's free.) 

There was also talk of Prof Snape (other Alan Rickman roles do exist) treading the West End boards once again, which really would be a treat. 

The West End also bid farewell to Jerusalem although its star Rylance has said he would be interested in revisting the role of Rooster but not for a while. The end of the production was marked by the uncermonious chopping up of Roosters caravan so it would fit in the back of a lorry.

Doing my bit for the arts I saw 11 plays and there was certainly an interesting mix although nothing quite stood out enough to get five Stan stars. 

Of my two favourites the first was Constellations at Royal Court upstairs which saw the fab Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins using beautifully nuanced performance to examine choice vs pre-destination. It finishes this Saturday but is all sold out and from stories I hear of Monday scrambles for day seats, the queue for returns is likely to be long.

And the second fav was Execution of Justice at Southwark Playhouse which used a cast of many to cleverly re-enact the trial of Dan White who murdered Harvey Milk using a verbatim script. A thought provoking and affecting production but you'll have to take my word for it as it finished last week.

My least favourites of the month were The Changeling at the Young Vic which I felt was trying a little too hard to be contemporary and symbolic for my liking but seems to be getting some quite good reviews so don't take my word for it. It runs until February 25. And The Tempest at the White Bear which had a very irritating Miranda.

February is not going to be quite so jam packed (there are fewer days for a start) but I'm already excited about The Way of the World at the Sheffield Crucible and In Basildon at the Royal Court. 


First Shakespeare of 2012: The Tempest at the White Bear

The last production of The Tempest I saw was in the West End, starred Ralph Fiennes and was suitable lavish. But often the inventiveness of small pub theatre productions which have little or no money can add a quirkiness and memorable experience that all the glamour of a big production just can't offer.

This tiny Tempest is set against an abstract backdrop of chess board-like red and green squares dripping down black walls and across a black floor.  It is a theme replicated on Ariel's costume emphasising the spirit's role as key chess piece in Prospero's game with his former adversaries the pawns manoeuvred to his island home.

There is no space for Ariel on a wire here, instead the spirit is portrayed in good old-fashioned movement - and charmingly done by Maya Thomas. Indeed I think Ariel was my favourite in the production often putting a smile on my face.

Caliban too, played  by Yuriria Fanjul - the first time I've seen a woman take the role - rather than use cushions and make up to add deformity this Caliban has ticks and twitches almost punctuating her speeches with beating her arms and chest and pained noises.

The weak points were Prospero (Matthew Ward) and Miranda (Georgina Morell). The former seemed angry when he didn't need to be and too mild when he ought to be angry and vengeful. 

Maybe by design, his relationship with Ariel seemed more true and warm than that with his daughter which seemed to be one of indifference. But then Morrell's Miranda - a girl brought up in isolation with only her Dad and the creature Caliban for company - was so haughty and lacking in any warmth I neither believed that Ferdinand would fall in love with her or that she felt anything other that disdain for him. It puts a different spin on Caliban's attempt to violate her, certainly.

Overall this production has its charms and some lovely moments. I'm going to give it three stars. It runs at the White Bear until 15 January.


First play of 2012: Fog at the Finborough

FogMy first play of 2012 is a new offering written by Tash Fairbanks and Toby Wharton, the latter being a first time writer. It's called Fog - the nickname of the central character (played by Wharton) who has just moved into a new council flat with his dad Cannon (Victor Gardener). Cannon has returned from active service in the armed forces having abandoned into care Fog and his sister Lou (Annie Hemingway) when their mother died.   

At first things seem to work out between father and son but the cracks soon begin to appear. Fog has had a difficult and troubled time in care and is scarred by the experience. He struggles with his own identity easily following others lead while in private he fantasises about being a powerful 'big man'.

His ambitions lie in small time drug dealing, smoking pot and getting a nice car to drive around in. Cannon is obsessed with finding Lou to complete the family reunion and quickly grows disappointed with his son's lack of ambition and his own inability to find a good job. Life after his return isn't quite as he imagined.

Meanwhile Fog's black friend Michael (Benjamin Crawley) and his sister Bernice (Kanga Tanikye-Buah) are on the up. Michael is studying to get into university and Bernice is in line for promotion.

When Lou finally reappears the full truth about what happened to the siblings in care emerges and Cannon comes face to face with the consequences of his abandonment.

On the back of the play text it says Fog is about two contrasting families one white and dysfunctional and one black and aspirational but I don't think this is its strength or really the heart of it. It is Fog's story and a story about the impact of abandonment and the care system. 

Fog's dislocation and neediness beneath the veneer of street cred is, on reflection, heartbreaking and Bernice's dislike of Fog and Lou certainly adds intrigue about their troubled past. But the disintegrating relationship between Fog and Michael feels like an unnecessary contrivance that detracts from the central plot. As a result the revelations about Fog and his sister's past feel less shocking than it should. 

It is otherwise a promising script, well acted and engaging enough but it doesn't quite feel like it fulfils its full potential.

I'm going to give Fog three and a half stars. It runs at the Finborough until January 28

 


La Ronde at the White Bear - just a load of shagging under sheets?

La ronde lg sq I think I'm going to have to file the production of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde at the White Bear in the same category as Top Girls. It's a play that is of its early 20th century time.

David Hare's modern makeover in 1998, called the Blue Room, caused a stir because - Shock! Horror! - the audience caught a glimpse of Nicole Kidman's bare arse. The difference between Blue Room and La Ronde being that with the former, no one batted an eyelid about the male full frontal nudity, which is ironic on several levels, while in the early 1900s sex as a subject matter caused violent outrage.

But I get ahead of myself. La Ronde is a series of short scenes each revolving around a sexual encounter. The scenes are linked as one character from each moves onto the next so that the soldier who sleeps with the prostitute goes on to seduce the maid and so on through the classes finishing with a Count sleeping with the prostitute.

Schnitzler wanted to examine morals and sexuality. I imagine at the time it was written it was shocking for not only blatantly discussing that people had sex but also that everyone was at it.

Today neither of these things raise so much as an eyebrow. The play being pre-sexual revolution has the men dominating while the women lie back and think of Austria. There are a few exceptions though.

You could argue that in a modern context it is interesting to debate just how far or otherwise the sexual revolution has got women but this play is more about the morality of it all rather than women. The Harbinger Theatre Production Company has updated the setting to the 1950s but I'm not sure what that actually adds.

Otherwise it is reasonably well done. The actors do a good job in the intimate setting of the White Bear. If Nicole Kidman ever felt intimidated by the closeness of Donmar audience then this cast are due recognition for stripping to their smalls with the paying public just feet away.

Continue reading "La Ronde at the White Bear - just a load of shagging under sheets?" »


It's not Jerusalem at the White Bear

The-winterling_thumb Jerusalem is still a painful word to me. It's the play that got away, the one I really wanted to see but wasn't organised enough. I even got up early one bank holiday monday to queue for day seats but to no avail.

I may still get my chance as there are rumours it might come back to the West End after its stint on Broadway (and I'll be ready this time). But in the meantime Stone Junction Productions which specialises in reviving 'entertaining, thought-provoking and human' modern plays is putting on an early Jez Butterworth - The Winterling.

So off I pop to what is my nearest theatre, the lovely bijou White Bear in Kennington and settle on one of their benches with a nice glass of red, ready to be blown away by Butterworth.

Winterling is set in a semi derelict dwelling on Dartmoor where West, a man in a suit, lives alongside a homeless man, Draycott, who sleeps on the porch and a girl called Lue who sleeps upstairs. West invites a former associate from his criminal past, Wally, to visit and Wally brings along his stepson the Patsy whom he seems to be grooming into the ways of the shady underworld.

Continue reading "It's not Jerusalem at the White Bear" »


Before the Exit Line at the The Horse

IMG_0259 Before The Exit Line is a fun piece, devised over just three days of improvisation and workshop by First Draft Theatre. The idea, it says in the programme, is to push the story beyond the last line of the text through a series of structured improvisations (and a bit of audience participation).

It is loosely structured as an audition with five actors being put through their paces by a director who sits tucked away in a corner behind the audience and talks through microphone.

A variety of audition pieces are used from speeches by Puck in A Midsummer's Night Dream to Brecht's The Jewish Wife. There is some physical interpretation and lots of playing around with different styles of acting and even pieces where the five actors perform the same speech in different languages.

The audience gets involved a couple of times to decide the style of how certain pieces are done by raising a red or yellow card.

It's a shame this is only on for three nights because I think it would develop well with a longer run. Some of the 'audition pieces' are a little long, trimming and replacing with some other shorter pieces would add more variety and flexibility to explore a little more boldly.

I was a little disappointed that the audience vote wasn't used more, again something that could be used a little more boldly.

But overall it is fun and interesting, with some cute hammy and unhammy performances. Its on a the The Horse pub near Waterloo tonight and tomorrow at 8pm and tickets are £6/8. Get in the queue early for a comfy seat on a sofa or armchair.

 


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...

 

 


Did The Aliens cough up a storm*?

Tn_536_aliens_1281481646 First visit to the lovely little Bush Theatre where it's so small that I could see, clear as day, the shock on the face of the elderly lady sat on the opposite side of the stage when one of the characters asked another: "Did you finger her pussy?"

And what makes it all the more special is to see actors such as Mackenzie Crook (in vain hope I scanned the audience for his pal Johnny D) and Ralph 'Anthony Royle' Little so close, they are a step away from sitting on your lap.

It is also great to see such a small space turned over so thoroughly to the plays setting: a cafe's back yard complete with gravel, wheelie bins, graffiti-decorated corrugated fencing and grill covered back door.

The rest of the stage setting is simple, a couple of beat up chairs and a pile of crates that doubles as a table.

So all the ingredients were there it just needed a fine play to turn it into something tasty. And it is a fine play, well the second half is. The first half establishes Jasper (Crook) and KJ (Little) as a couple of slackers or layabouts as the elderly lady would have probably called them. They spend their time hanging out at the back of the cafe, talking about a bit of this and that namely poetry, Jasper's ex and the novel he's writing and gently teasing, the impressionable 17-year old Evan who has just started working at the cafe.

Continue reading "Did The Aliens cough up a storm*?" »