Sunday theatre question: Which stage role would you choose for your favourite actor?

This Sunday's theatre question is inspired by a comment Ben Whishaw made in an interview about needing to do more Shakespeare. Watch the video to hear more about the question and my choice.

Would love to hear what your choice would be, let me know in the comments. Some suggestions already made over on my Instagram channel include David Dawson in a Simon Stephens play and David Tennant as Richard III. 

I'm going to make more of an effort to add my Sunday Theatre questions here every week as posting has got a bit sporadic but in the meantime, if you want to delve into the archive they on my social media channels:

YouTube channel Facebook page or Instagram.

And in keeping with the Ben Whishaw theme, you can find my edited highlights of a Q&A he did with director Katie Mitchell here.


Torch Oxford Q&A with Ben Whishaw and Katie Mitchell on process and performance in the pandemic age

Ben Whishaw and Katie Mitchell were interviewed live via Zoom by Wes Williams for Torch Oxford on approaches to acting and directing, creativity during the lockdown and how performance will evolve for the new Zoom-world.

Ben Whishaw  Katie Mitchell Torch Oxford

Here are the edited highlights and the link to the full hour-long interview is at the bottom.

How did you come to directing/acting?

Katie:  I didn't really feel any connection with any of the work that was happening in the UK as a young woman in the 1980s.

So most of my influences came from a very big trip, I made to Eastern Europe to Russia, Georgia and Lithuania and Poland, where I researched directors' training and saw amazing practitioners and learned a lot about Stanislavski. And also seeing work that was coming into the UK from abroad.

Anyway, I then did about 15 years of working on naturalism in mainstream text-based theatre. But I always wanted to go back to a more visual arts influence, making work that was to do with the crossover between theatre and other mediums.

And so I then have my breakthrough show going into live cinema, which then set off what I would consider my real career.

It changed my life in a way

Ben: I got taken to an audition for a Youth Theatre when I was 13 by my dad, and it was a Youth Theatre in a town just down the road from the village I grew up in.

I was quite a shy 13-year-old and I think my dad must have thought it would do me good and I liked acting I'd done acting in school but I had never explored it further than that.

So I went to this audition and I got into this youth theatre and it changed my life in a way. And we did extraordinary things there. We did Greek plays and we did adaptations of books and we did devised pieces.

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Review: Faith Healer, Old Vic In Camera - when 'Zoom theatre' truly comes into its own

I miss sitting in a theatre and watching a live performance. I miss it terribly. But the Old Vic's latest In Camera production - Brian Friel's Faith Healer - not only worked really well as a live stream, it might have worked better.

Faith Healer poster old vic in camera
The 'curtain' during scene changes

I've seen the play before, a production at the Donmar Warehouse in 2016, its format is four monologues told by three different characters all recounting the build-up to a fateful night in a pub in rural Ireland with each having a contrasting take.

The faith healer of the title is Frank Hardy (Michael Sheen) who travels around healing people with his wife Grace (Indira Varma) and manager Teddy (David Threlfall) tow.

Frank questions his ability to heal. He tells us he just knows when something is going to happen and when it is not. His success rate hasn't led to fame and fortune rather, it's a tough life on the road sometimes sleeping in the van.

Genuine or con?

Is his 'ability' genuine or a truth he tells himself or a con?

Both Teddy and Grace have something that resembles faith in his healing.

Teddy refers to it as a 'talent'. His background is in managing seemingly improbable - and amusing - variety acts such as Rob Roy, the bagpipe playing whippet.

Yet there is no perceived irony in how he talks about Frank or any of his 'acts'.

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Happy 50th birthday Young Vic: A few of my favourite productions

The Young Vic is celebrating its 50th birthday and while I've only been visiting since 2007-ish, I've seen many fantastic and memorable plays there in that time.

Young Vic neon sign
Photo: Rev Stan

It's one of my favourite theatres, partly because of the variety of work it puts on, partly because the space is so flexible you never know what to expect and partly because it just has a cool vibe.

So I've been on a bit of a trip down memory lane and dug through my archives to pick out some of my favourite productions.

Happy Birthday Young Vic, hope to be back watching plays again soon...

Jesus Hopped The 'A' train, 2019

Genius writing by Stephen Adly Guirgis and the cast didn't waste a word of it. The play took you in an unexpected direction and left you questioning your thoughts and reactions.

The Inheritance, 2018

Aside from being an epic two-parter which is full of laughter and pathos, I also have a fondness for this play and production because I saw it on my birthday. (And I prefer it to Angels in America but shhh don't tell anyone.)

My Name is Rachel Corrie, 2017

A fantastic solo performance by Erin Doherty, and a story that simultaneously gave you faith in mankind and utter despair.

Yerma, 2016

Inventive staging, 'magical' scene changes, a contemporary spin on a classic that worked brilliantly - and Billie Piper.

A Song From Far Away, 2015

The first word that came out of my mouth after watching this Simon Stephens play was "fuck" - for good reasons.

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Review: Andrew Scott in Three Kings - a master in storytelling, compelling and gripping

If you've ever seen Andrew Scott perform Simon Stephens' monologue Sea Wall you'll know he is a master storyteller, deftly lifting words off the page and turning them into something compelling and gripping.

Andrew Scott Three Kings start

Three Kings, beautifully written by Stephen Beresford, gives him even more scope to sprinkle his performance magic.

Created especially for the Old Vic's In Camera, it is described as a scratch performance but only the lack of embellishments like set and fancy lighting give any sign of this. 

And who needs any of that anyway when you've got 60 minutes of you and Andrew Scott, albeit seen from the other side of a screen.

Funny and heartbreaking

Like Sea Wall, the power is in the story as it is told. And it is a powerful piece Scott drawing out the humour and heartache in equal measure.

Three Kings is about the relationship between a son and his an estranged father.

He meets him briefly at 8 years old but the meeting leaves an indelible mark which will go on shaping their relationship for many years.

His father leaves him a challenge of solving a puzzle involving three coins - the Three Kings of the title.

But it more than a simple test of puzzle-solving, solving this puzzle is hugely weighted.

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Uncle Vanya with Toby Jones & Richard Armitage is back...in a special filmed version

I saw Uncle Vanya starring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage at the Harold Pinter Theatre at the beginning of March and loved it so much I was going to try and get another ticket but then lockdown happened.

Uncle Vanya (c) Photography Seamus Ryan and Artwork Muse Creative Communications
Uncle Vanya (c) Photography Seamus Ryan and Artwork Muse Creative Communications

Much excitement then that the production is coming back. It's been filmed on stage with almost the entire original cast (Roger Allam is stepping in for Ciaran Hinds). 

It's not a straight-forward film version of the stage production instead it has been directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon in "a sumptuous re-interpretation of Ian Rickson’s stage production".

The filming took place under strict Covid-19 secure, independently drawn up protocols, with the cast self-isolating and undergoing regular tests and the crew in masks, PPE and socially distancing throughout the process.

It will have a cinematic release before being broadcast by the BBC.

For more details head to https://unclevanyaplay.com/.

Can't wait to see it again in this new version.

It will be interesting to see if other productions that had to close follow suit. What would you like to see back in a filmed version?

Related reading:

Review: Richard Armitage 'magnetic', Toby Jones 'endearing', Aimee Lou Wood 'adorable'

 


Review: F**k Off, Bread and Roses Theatre - real live theatre for the first time in 5 months

I sat in a theatre and watched actors performing on a stage this week for the first time since the beginning of March. It was wonderful and strange and made me realise how the pandemic has changed the experience.

F*ck Off play poster

The play was called F**k Off, at the Bread and Roses pub theatre in Clapham. Kudos to Integrity Theatre for taking the gamble and planning the production without knowing if live performance would be allowed.

Henry (Michael Dunbar) is the protagonist of the piece; a boxer trying to make a comeback, training hard and trying to get his head in the right space.

A win in the ring would mean money and opportunities.

Complicated life

But outside of the ring, it is complicated. His ex has moved on, there is a court case, an absent father who wants to get back in touch and a trainer who has a dodgy side-hustle.

All good threads for creating tension and drama in Henry's story, shaping the character, except they leave more questions than they answer.

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Live stream review: Alice by Creation Theatre - taking online performance to a whole new level

Creation Theatre has taken online live performance to a whole new level with its latest family show Alice.

Alice image 1 - Leda Douglas copy
Leda Douglas in Creation Theatre's Alice

Described as a virtual theme park, this is part interactive theatre, part style your own adventure, part video game and it is enjoyed from the comfort of your own living room.

Based on Lewis Carroll's famous stories of Alice in Wonderland and adapted by Zoe Seaton and Charlotte Keatley this has all the well-known characters and familiar scenes of the books.

It is imaginatively brought to life in the style of an old fashioned fairground with a combination of high tech wizardry including AI and good old fashioned theatre craft and entertainment.

Choose your story

We join Alice (Leda Douglas) via a Zoom call to be transported into her fantasy world. Fairground music sets the scene for the roller-coaster adventure to come and for the first part of the show you get to choose where you want go and explore.

A click on an icon takes you off to meet characters including the Mad Hatter, twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Mad March Hare in their Zoom rooms with their own stories and entertainment.

Don't dither in your choices though as you may miss bits.

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Review: Blindness, Donmar Warehouse - the intimate social distancing experience

Is it ironic that in going to the theatre with strict social distancing in place, I felt closer to an actor than at any time before?

Blindness poster on door smll

The Donmar has opened its doors, the first major theatre in London to do so, but with live performance still not allowed it has created what is an extraordinary experience using sound.

Blindness is adapted by Simon Stephens from a novel by José Saramago and tells the story of an epidemic in which people suddenly go blind.

Juliet Stevenson plays the narrator, then the doctor's wife, the only person who can still see as  society struggles to cope with its sudden predicament.

The Donmar, partially by design and partially by necessity, has been stripped back so that it is both familiar and different.  The bar is stacked with boxes and equipment and stage and seating have mostly been removed from the auditorium - there are still some of the benches stacked against one of the walls.

It's transformed into an open space with pairs of seats strategically placed across the floor for social distancing but facing different directions.

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Back at the theatre at last...to see socially distanced stand up comedy at Battersea Arts Centre

When theatres had to close in March, I thought it might be a month or two before I was back watching live performance again.

Stan fran andrew

As the weeks passed, it became obvious that it was going to be much, much longer and I stopped thinking about when I might return.

Did I imagine, that at the beginning of August I'd be sitting on a wooden bench wearing a mask with 30, socially distanced, others waiting for a live performance to being?

No.

The live performance was a series of stand-up comedian's headlined by Ed Gamble and wooden bench was in a courtyard at Battersea Arts Centre. 

With indoor theatres still closed, it is a genius use of outdoor space which also has a balcony level where some more people could stand.

So what was the experience like?

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