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Round up: That was April in London theatre - Monster casting and A-list actor spots

MTNEW* I'm excited and nervous about the forthcoming stage adaptation of Patrick Ness’s novel A Monster Calls (the book is a favourite) but I couldn’t think of a better actor than Matthew Tennyson to take on the lead Conor. The production will have a run at the Bristol Old Vic from May 31 and the Old Vic from July 7.

* David Haig’s play Pressure (in which he also stars) is transferring from Park Theatre to the Ambassadors following a successful run at the Finsbury venue. Malcolm Sinclair and Laura Rogers co-star.

* Stan-fav Adam Gillen has been cast in Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios, which stars Orlando Bloom and I'm really looking forward to seeing him in something very different to Amadeus. You can see photos of the cast in rehearsal over at What's On Stage and previews start on May 18.

* Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre has been renamed the Kiln Theatre post refurbishment with a new season that includes the UK premiere of Florian Zeller’s The Son.

* In a new twist on role swapping (recent role swaps: Mary Stuart, Almeida; RSC's Doctor Faustus and NT's Frankenstein to name just three) Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden are to alternate playing Isabella and Angelo in Measure For Measure at the Donmar Warehouse.

* There is part of me that is excited and really curious and part of me that thinks: 'Gimmick to get repeated visits'. There is one version I'd particularly like to see but no way of knowing, having booked at ticket whether I'll get it. Previews start September 28.

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Review: London theatre seat guides pros and cons

You want the best seats for your money, right? But what are the pros and cons of seat review sites?

13954901608_89dfc11ece_zThere are two main sites that cover London theatre: SeatPlan.com and TheatreMonkey.com.

SeatPlan

What is it?

The site invites punters to upload reviews of seats and also pictures of the view*.

The seating plan is then colour coded according to how well or otherwise seats have been reviewed.

You can also buy tickets through the site and they invite reviews from the audience for current productions including a rating out of 5.

Coverage

The site covers the main West End Theatres and it looks like between 50-80% of seats in each theatre has been reviewed.

Pros

The site is well laid out and the seating plans are clear and easy to understand. You can see at a glance where the best-reviewed seats are and reviewers rate on comfort, view and legroom.

Cons

Many of the seats have only one review so you are only getting one opinion rather than an aggregated score.

While breaking up the review into three key areas is definitely a plus, there is no way to allow for things such as personal preference, the height of the reviewer or staging for particular productions.

For example, the cheap seats at the front of the Lyttelton get you close to the stage but the seat rows aren't offset so if you are short or medium height and have a tall person sat in the seat in front, you will be peering around someone's head. 

There are also very similar seats next to each other that are given very different ratings for no other reason than one person found the discomfort more bearable than another. 

While the main West End theatres are covered there are some notable exceptions such as the Donmar Warehouse and Trafalgar Studios.

The plans also don't allow for changes in staging. While most of the main theatres keep the same seating, not all do. For example, Quiz at the Noel Coward has on stage seating which isn't covered.

Conclusion

Clear and easy to use but check out several different seats in the same row/same area of the theatre to get a general feel and perhaps check with the official theatre websites to see if there have been any changes to the seating plans to accommodate particular staging.

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That was March in London theatre-land with Hamlet actor spots but a Shakespeare theatre low

Theatre news highlights from March

* Mark Bonnar and Jane Horrocks have been cast in Instructions for Correct Assembly at the Royal Court which opens for preview on April 7.

Cw-24829-660x375* Samuel West joins the previously announced Romola Garai in Ella Hickson's The Writer, Almeida, which opens for preview on April 16.

* Not only is the Donmar staging a new adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, directed by Polly Findlay, but Lia Williams and Angus Wright are starring. Be lovely to see those two on stage together again.

* Stan-fav Jade Anouka has been cast in The Phlebotamist, the debut play by Ella Road at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

* It's bye bye to the Lyric Hammersmith for a little while (June to October) as it undergoes a refurbishment.

* Orlando Bloom has been cast in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios which opens for previews on May 18. I admit my interest in seeing this is more out of curiosity rather than being a fan.

* Another Stan-fav, Jonjo O’Neill, has been cast in The Prudes at the Royal Court Theatre which opens for preview on April 18.

Celebrity spots

There's a bit of a Hamlet theme to the spots in March. Game of Thrones's Joe Dempsie was watching the RSC's Hamlet at Hackney Empire and then he 'stalked' @PolyG and I nearly all the way home on the tube.

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Agreeing with Exeunt magazine's (irrational) theatre dislikes and adding one of my own

Exeunt magazine (@theatremagazine) asked its reviewers what their (irrational) dislikes at the theatre were and compiled them into this great list.

ColdThere are many I agree with (ovations, actors on stage as the audience arrive, real food...) but I have my own addition: Snotty noses.

Well, not so much snotty noses, there's (s)not much you can do about that, but the fact that actors never have a hanky or tissue.

Instead, they wipe their nose on their hand or sleeve...or on the shoulder of the fellow actor, their character is hugging, if they are lucky.

It's what seven-year-olds do. It's revolting. 

Only once have I seen an actor on stage with a hanky. Zoe Wanamaker obviously had a cold during when I saw her in The Rose Tattoo at the National Theatre but she made blowing her nose part of the performance.

An actor blowing their nose isn't going to break some magical spell, in fact watching them wipe snot on their sleeve or hand breaks the spell, grown-ups (mostly) don't do that.

They must know they are going to get snotty why not be like Zoe, make it part of the performance?

Photo by William Brawley on Flickr and used under a creative commons license.

 

 


That was February in London theatre - new plays, keeping it in the family and some wizard celeb spots

* Romola Garai has been cast as The Writer in... The Writer at the Almeida. It's a new play by Ella Hickson which opens on 14 April and is directed by Blanche McIntyre.

Wizard* The casting director for An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville is keeping it in the family with real life father and son Edward and Freddie Fox playing father and son characters in the play. Frances Barber also stars and it opens on 20 April.

* Ciaran Hinds and Aoife Duffin join Colin Morgan in the cast of Brian Friel's Translations at the National Theatre which opens on May 22.

* Nicholas Hytner continues an exciting first year at the Bridge Theatre with a new Alan Bennett play, Allelujah which opens July 11. I'm already curious about who might be in the cast.

* Hadyn Gwynne has replaced Linda Bassett in The Way of The World at the Donmar Warehouse which opens 29 March.

* Another cast swap, Rhys Ifans is being replaced by Ben Chaplin for Joe Penhall's new play Mood Music at the Old Vic. Jemma Redgrave and Pip Carter have joined the cast and it opens on April 21.

* The Royal Court has announced its new season (a good summary here from What's On Stage) but here are just a small handful that catch my eye: A new play - Ear for Eye - by Debbie Tucker Green, Rory Mullarkey's new play Pity (curious about this after St George And The Dragon), Game of Throne's actress Ellie Kendrick's writing debut Hole and James Macdonald directing Cordelia Lynn's One For Sorrow.

Celeb spots:

While January had a bumper crop of actor, director and playwright spots, February was quieter but had a magical quality.... Daniel Radcliffe and Danny DeVito were both spotted watching Fanny & Alexander at the Old Vic and Poly spotted Ian McKellan at Waterloo Station. But those weren't the only spots, oh no, Sam Mendes was at the Bridge Theatre watching Q (Ben Whishaw) play Brutus in Julius Caesar, Richard E Grant was at the Royal Court watching Carey Mulligan in Girls and Boys  and Nikki Amuka Bird was at the Almeida for Summer and Smoke.

 

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January theatre round up: Big (big) name castings, highs, lows and lots of actor spots.

The Inheritance Young Vic
Vanessa Redgrave joins the cast of The Inheritance, Young Vic

Theatre gets me through the dark days of January, here are my highlights from the new play and casting announcements, favourite things I saw (and the low moment).  And, thanks to the Julius Caesar press night, there was a bumper crop of actor, director and writer spots too...

* Forbes Mason, who will forever be known as the Lucifer in pants, thanks to Jamie Lloyd's Doctor Faustus, has been cast in the Almeida's Summer and Smoke which opens later this month. Did I mention how much I'm looking forward to seeing Patsy Ferran, who also stars, in that?

* Josie Rourke announced she is stepping down as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse next year after eight years in the role. My highlights of her tenure, if you were to ask me for the first things that spring to mind, would be the Tom Hiddleston Coriolanus (incidentally my review of that is my most popular post and has been viewed nearly 15,000 times), the all women Shakespeare series and James Graham's Privacy. There are plenty of others but those are what stick most in my mind.

* Vanessa Redgrave (yes Vanessa Redgrave!) has been cast in The Inheritance at the Young Vic which opens next month. I could listen to her voice for hours. Also announced in the cast are Stan-fav's Kyle Soller, Michael Marcus and Luke Thallon plus a whole bunch of new names I’m looking forward to getting to know over a double play day.

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Attracting next generation of theatre-goers doesn't necessarily alienate older audiences

This headline for a Daily Express review of the Bridge Theatre's immersive Julius Caesar production implies that it is for young people, not people like me who are old enough to be a young persons parent.

Julius Caesar daily express headlineI have absolutely nothing against encouraging younger audiences. In fact, I much prefer to sit in a diverse group whether it is age, gender and ethnicity - the reaction and response is inevitably going to be more varied and more interesting as a result.

OK so perhaps it's nice to go to Hampstead occasionally and sit in the audience feeling young.

julius caesar bridge theatre ticketBut compartmentalising the generations is like saying that once you get to a certain again you only like Oscar Wilde revivals, productions of Shakespeare performed in ruffs and pantaloons and perhaps some Pinter if you are feeling daring.

I like all sorts of theatre; I love fresh interpretations, new writing, contemporary stories, twists on classics and innovative productions. I'm certainly not a purist or a traditionalist.

Being part of the crowd, standing for Julius Caesar was great fun. I wasn't the only 'older' person, we were a mixed group and that made it better - more representative.

However, if this production is trying to attract a younger audience and I believe it is, then it's somewhat ironic that the standing tickets are referred to as 'promenading'.

I mean this isn't the Victorian age and given that you can be just a few feet away from a murder and end up in the middle of a civil war, it's slightly misleading.

 

 


My best of theatre list for 2017 - with some rom-com, Chekhov and Christmas surprises

If you'd told me at the start of the year that there would be a rom-com, a Chekhov and a Christmas play on my best of list, I'd have laughed in your face. Just goes to show you should always expect the unexpected...here are my favourite plays of 2017, in no particular order and links are to my reviews.

An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard
An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard

Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre

Let's face it most rom-coms are a bit rubbish - they generally aren't that funny - but this tale of modern romance had me guffawing with laughter and I wasn't on my own.

An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre

This is a play that reminded me why I love going to the theatre and I could write pages on it. Thought-provoking, sometime uncomfortable to watch and yet it was still entertaining. It's transferring to the National Theatre in June and I'll definitely be getting a ticket.

Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

In my review I said: "Apologia is a play of sharp humour and depth that slowly breaks down the defences to reveal something raw and emotional. You will laugh and you will have a lump in your throat." It was also a great play for female characters.

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre and Trafalgar Studios 2

This odd-ball, misfit comedy was a breath of fresh air and it got a much deserved transfer so I got to enjoy it a second time.

Hamlet, Almeida

Up there as one of the best Hamlet productions I've seen, it made me see the play anew.

BU21, Trafalgar Studios 2

Writer Stuart Slade took real testimonies from terrorist attacks around the world and used them to create a story around a fictional attack in London. The result was an honest, awkward and funny piece that was also really clever.

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My 5 biggest theatre disappointments of 2017

Not everything is brilliant or lives up to expectations. These are the plays that disappointed me the most in 2017.

Obsession, Barbican Theatre

Ivo Van Hove had two plays in my best of list last year but Obsession, starring Jude Law, felt at times pedestrian and aloof where it should have been passionate and tense.

HamletAgainst, Almeida

While I always enjoy watching Ben Whishaw on stage the play itself was so disappointing. On reflection, in my review I think I was still trying to like it  but it was just so doughy, lacking any punch or defined focus.

Woyzeck, Old Vic

Was really excited to see John Boyega on stage but like Against, the play was a disappointment. You can see where it is going early on - there is a particular line which is like having a gun on stage - but it takes a long, long time to get there. It also felt like it was trying too hard to be shocking and edgy.

Nuclear War, Royal Court

I'm a huge fan of Simon Stephens but I wasn't a fan of this at all. It felt like an experiment that shouldn't have made it out of the rehearsal room. It was so abstract and difficult to make sense of its 45 minute running time felt too long.

Hamlet, RADA

Ah yes the Tom Hiddleston/Kenneth Branagh Hamlet I was so excited about this. Love Tom Hiddleston but I'm not a fan who sees everything he does through rose-tinted spectacles (Ben Whishaw/Against is a case in point) and this felt like a huge opportunity missed. It's a small, intimate space and the play was staged in the round with the stalls seating effectively 'on stage' but it seemed as if Kenneth Branagh had directed it for a huge West End theatre.  There was no subtlety, no surprises, no innovation and given that the last two Hamlet's I've watched have been among the best I've ever seen it was really disappointing. I'm still a little bit cross about it.

Related: My best of theatre list for 2017


My theatre 'StOlivier' awards 2017

Step aside best actor/actress/play etc this is what was noteworthy for me in theatre land, in 2017.

Menagerie award The Ferryman was an award winning play in many way but for me it deserve an extra gong for fur and feathers - a cute little rabbit and a goose both made scene stealing appearances. Babies? Schmabies. Real, live animals on stage are the thing.

Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre
Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre

Event theatre and star studded audience award Ivo Van Hove's  six hour Roman Tragedies at the Barbican was an event for many reasons not least for allowing audience members to wander onto the stage between scenes and perch wherever they could get a seat. Photos, without flash, and tweeting (see exhibit A) were also encouraged. It also attracted probably the most thespy audience I've seen so far: Simon Stephens, Rupert Goold and Kate Fleetwood, Kyle Soler and Pheobe Fox, John Heffernan, Angus Wright, Jamie Lloyd, Ruth Wilson, Ian McDiarmid, Jonjo O’Neill, Jeremy Herrin and Leo Bill.

Best kiss When Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly's characters kissed in The Ferryman, Royal Court it was so charged with years of repressed feelings it took my breath away and broke my heart a little bit.

Best spit - Not since I (probably) gave an award to the cast of Richard III for all spitting on Ralph Fiennes has their been a gobbing incident worthy of note but step forward Jasmine Hyde who spat so spectacularly on Harry Melling during Jam, Finborough Theatre.

Hottie of the month kinda lives on...these were my particular favourites in 2017: Theo James, Andrew Garfield, Douglas Booth and James Norton but if I had to choose one it would be Theo because I'm such a huge fan and it was the first time I've seen him on stage.

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