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October 2010

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.

A hit, a palpable hit: Hamlet at the National

Images-6 When I heard Rory Kinnear was to play Hamlet it didn't generate the same excitement as other castings which was, in hindsight, a little unfair because he more than proved his acting metal last night.

I'd already got a bit of insight into how Hamlet was going to be played out from the talk Nicholas Hytner gave at the National last week but there is always that element of doubt about whether it can be pulled off.

Hytner has gone for a modern setting, nothing new in that, but taking inspiration from the times of heightened suspicion that Shakespeare lived in, he's cranked up the idea of Denmark being some sort of modern surveillance state.

There is security everywhere. Drawing on the large cast to have be-suited, gun-wielding and ear-piece wearing body guards hovering in the background. The large cast, no doubt, being a luxury that the National will not be able to afford when spending cuts bite.

But I digress. Hytner adds layers to the plot lines of characters being asked to spy and report on friends and family, for example, Polonius throws at Ophelia a file of surveillance photo's showing her and Hamlet together. It heightens the tension and puts Hamlet on a different footing. 

From the start he is more present and involved in proceedings than other Hamlet's I've seen. There is no laying on the stage or acting out of place to demonstrate his grief and depression. He is a prince who wants to escape the tyranny of the court and go back to the freedom of University but who finds his request at first ignored, then refused by his new step-father.

Continue reading "A hit, a palpable hit: Hamlet at the National" »

Who should play Hamlet next?

I've yet to see my second Hamlet of year - Rory Kinnear at the NT on Wednesday - so I am jumping the gun slightly, but a conversation @polyg and I had while we were in Sheffield to see my first Hamlet of the year, John Simm, and then this article from The Telegraph got me a thinking: Who should play Hamlet next? Or rather, as Poly and I discussed, who would we like to see play Hamlet?

Michael Sheen is due to play the Dane next year at the Young Vic but one big name Hamlet in the pipeline is never enough. Robert Gore-Langton's Telegraph article concludes by saying that current darling of BBC TV and a proven stage actor, Benedict Cumberbatch would be an obvious choice and also Tom Hollander.

Cumberbatch would certainly make an interesting Hamlet. He has proved he can do the hyper intelligent introspector in Sherlock Holmes but it was seeing him on stage at the National in Rattigan's After the Dance where he really shone as the depressed, aloof but ultimately needy David Scott-Fowler.

Tom Hollander I haven't seen on stage but he has done some good supporting work on the silver screen (big and small) although for me he will always be Mr Collins in Pride & Prejudice. Rediculous, I know, but sometimes I just can't shake a character off an actor.

But what would my choice be? Anyone who's known my blog since its Vox days will have noticed a bit of an obsession with young Hamlet's. It's been six years since Ben Whishaw took the role aged just 23 and I'm aching to see another young Hamlet and not just young at heart with a late 30's actor dressing young. 

So my choice, based on the fact that I saw his debut stage performance when he was 21 and he impressed me so much, when he was cast in the Saturday tea-time family series Merlin I had to watch and subsequently became addicted, is Colin Morgan.

He demonstrates such range and skill already at the age of 24, I think he'd do a pretty good job of the Prince. And of all the actors around at the moment I can't think of a casting choice that would have me more excited unless of course Mr Whishaw decided to do it again but I think there is as much chance of that happening as there is John Gielgud performing it again.

Simm shines as Hamlet but there are still some dark corners

Images-1 The last Hamlet I saw was the Donmar/Jude Law version last year and Law was surprisingly good, but not quite as good as the RSC/David Tennant production of 2008. This time John Simm steps up to the plate at the wonderful Sheffield Crucible theatre and there was a lot hanging on this production.

In the first scenes Simm seemed to playing Hamlet as quite young and vulnerable but this was soon left behind for a more mature, philosophical student and the character felt more isolated than other versions I've season. There is some good and bad in that. Firstly the good, the lighting was designed so that rather than round spotlights they were square.

When Simm was delivering soliloquies the squares of light in which he stood were quite small, almost prison-like and an effective devise.

But the flip side of the coin to the ultra isolated Hamlet was that there seemed to be little warmth or closeness with Horatio (Colin Tierney), his friend, the one he can trust, the constant. And this was a problem for me as it rendered Horatio to little more than a messenger.

There was a lack of intimacy elsewhere in the production too. The doting mother that Claudius comments on in the second half of the play appeared in words only. It was interesting, that in the cast Q&A afterwards, Barbara Flynn who plays Gertrude commented on how the size of stage and small cast meant they were encouraged to spread out to fill it. (NB there are 14 in the cast, the RSC had 22 and Donmar 20)

The decision to limit intimacy was a conscious one and I think to the detriment of the production, particular demonstrated in the closet scene. Even the pictures of Old Hamlet and Claudius Hamlet gathers for his mother to compare were placed so far apart as to be a realistic, unless of course you don't want someone to draw too close a comparison but I hardly think that is the case in this instance.

Continue reading "Simm shines as Hamlet but there are still some dark corners" »

Terror at Terror 2010: Death and Resurrection

Terror2010large Roll up, roll up for an evening of terror:

*    Gasp at the stage-school tribute to Michael Jackson's Thriller zombies

*    Sigh as each short play's initial promise crumbles like a piece of smouldering ash.

*    Wince at the soporific effect of the final play

*    Weep with relief at how not a single hair has been raised on the back of your neck

*    Cry at the fact that you aren't going to ever get those two and a bit hours of your life back and any credability in recommending friends come along to see a play too has now gone

Yes, I was unimpressed. Can you tell? I love the Southwark Playhouse and thought, where better than the dimly lit, exposed brick arches of London Bridge station with the faint demonic rumbling of trains overhead to see a Hallowe'en inspired series of short plays?

And if two of those short plays were written by Neil LaBute and Mark Ravenhill then all the better.

Now I scare easily and I went along with friends in easy grabbing distance but the main problem was I've seen baby rabbits that were scarier.

It started with some promise. The curtain raiser was an warning sung operatic-style by a slightly sinster singing nurse (it's the old nurses uniform which does it) not to leave our mobiles on.

*spoilers follow*

The first play, Exclusion Zone by Mark Ravenhill also started promisingly in the pitch black with two voices. Hate the dark and when one character produced a torch I thought 'hello, here we go Blair Witch territory'.

The concept was supposed to be the classic 'there is something out there' but the story about what 'it' actually was, was lame rather than tantalisingly scary and what should have been a really atmospheric and chilling piece just turned into a bit of a damp squib.  And then a joke, when a load of 'extras' came on dressed as zombies and did a bit of a song and dance routine. Zombies are rarely scary and the certainly aren't scary when performed in a style of a school play.

Then more nursey singing a scary song, which despite my dislike of musicals, I actually quite enjoyed.

Second play The Unimaginable by Neil LaBute, again started with a lot of promise. One of those old fashioned trunks (like Harry Potter uses), lid open, full of the sort of dolls that look a bit demonic and usually come alive during horror films.

A voice from no where starts warning us about leaving our children unattended and how they might be snatched. And eventually you can just make out the creeping figure behind the voice moving about slowly at the back of the stage. He gets closer and closer to the box going and you know he is going to slam the lid down with a snap that is supposed to make you jump.

So you wait for it and he goes on about the kids and you wait and he goes on a bit more about the kids and then finally he snaps the lid down by which point you are just relieved.

Interval. Thank goodness. Time for a drink and a quick catch up with the West End Whingers (still waiting for their revue but am looking forward to it as always).

Then it was back in for what was starting to feel like a bit of a tortuous evening for all the wrong reasons but I remained hopeful.

Continue reading "Terror at Terror 2010: Death and Resurrection" »

The wonderful Ivan and the Dogs, Soho Theatre

Images I'm writing about Ivan and the Dogs, which I saw last night, before I complete Tuesday night's review of Terror 2010 at the Southwark Playhouse because I really liked Ivan and I want lots of people to go and see it.

Ivan is simple, engaging storytelling at its best. Indeed it took me back to when I was a kid at school sat crossed-legged on the carpet, completely engrossed in story time.

It is a monologue, written by Hattie Naylor, in which Ivan recounts the tale of when, as a four-year old, he ran away from abusive and neglectful parents. It was the time of the terrible recession in early 1990's Moscow and is based on a true story.

Polish actor Rad Kaim as Ivan, quickly paints a picture of grim city life where impoverished parents have abandoned both pets and sometimes children they can't afford to feed. Gangs of children roam the streets terrorising the local Bombzi (tramps) for food and money to buy glue to sniff and dogs hunt in packs for anything they can find to eat.

Danger is everywhere and Ivan is all alone but for a white dog he meets.

Continue reading "The wonderful Ivan and the Dogs, Soho Theatre" »

Enlightenment, Hampstead Theatre

Enlightenment_main_2 Enlightenment's set brought out a bit of minimalism envy in me. It is stark white with clear chairs and table, the only colour provided by brightly covered books on the book shelf.

It reminded me of a cross between that sketch in Absolutely Fabulous when Edina and Patsy go to a uber-trendy minimalist house party and Edina doesn't know where to put the wine she has bought and the sort of house an architect would have designed in the 1980's.

Aside from focusing attention on the actors in the play, which is about a mother and step father coming to terms with the disappearance of their son Adam while travelling, it serves to emphasise the comfy, middle-class life they live in.

As opposed to? Well, as opposed to Indonesia where their cotton-wool wrapped son may or may not have been blown up by terrorists and as opposed to the as yet unknown life of the young man who turns up with amnesia and their son's stuff.

The first half builds an emotional bond with the mother Lia played with a degree of heart-tugging expertise by Julie Graham working the script to the max. She is a woman in limbo of not knowing, unable to grieve and move on, turning to spiritualists for answers.

Each scene is punctuated by a shot of darkness and a camera like flash and  shadowy images projected on the perfectly white back wall. It adds a photo story feel to the production.

Continue reading "Enlightenment, Hampstead Theatre" »

A theatrical marathon

I've, probably unwisely, booked three plays on the trot this coming week but hey you sometimes have to take this opportunities when they arise.

First up is Enlightenment at Hamptead Theatre which I haven't been to for a while. Really like it as a venue and the play sounds interesting. It is about parents coming to terms with the disappearance of their son while he was travelling in the far east.

Then, on Tuesday, it's time for a bit of Hallowe'en themed theatre at the Southwark Playhouse. The theatre is below the brick exposed arches of London Bridge station so where better to see four short plays by playwrights including Mark Ravenhill and Neil LaBute all with scary themes and under the banner Terror 2010: Death and Resurrection

Of course I'm not going alone - I'm a right scaredy-cat so I need a hand or two to grab.

Completing the trio is a trip to fav venue the Soho Theatre to see Ivan and the Dogs which is based on a true story. Its set in the 1990's recession ravaged Moscow when many families were forced to abandon their pets.

Thursday will be an early night.

A celebration of Celebrity (Autobiography) or David Tennant does Richard Burton

Images-3 Oh my, oh my what an evening's entertainment this one turned out to be. Celebrity Autobiography started out in New York, the brain child of Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel who thought of a genius, yet simple, way of mocking celebrity - by letting them tell their own stories.

How's it done? Well, and I'm aware this isn't initially going to sound that 'wow', they read excerpts from celebrities autobiographies. As we are told at the start, none of it is made up, it is entirely the celebrities own words. And it is hilarious. Never before have the over inflated ego's of celebrity been exposed in such an entertaining fashion.

From the likes of Britney Spear and Sly Stallone who publish the most unriveting and mundane accounts of their lives to Tommy Lee and David Cassidy who felt it necessary to commit to print details of some of their most intimate moments.

Quite simply they come across as really silly egomaniacs. Of course it is all in the delivery and that is the second thing that makes this concept genius. There is a rolling programme of narrators. On Wednesday night we were treated to Doon Mackichan, Sally Phillips, Dom Joly and yes Mr David Tennant (OK, I admit, it was seeing his name  that made me snap up a ticket) among others.

There are too many highlights to mention but I will always remember DT reading David Cassidy and his account of sleeping with the actress who played his sister in the Patridge family and then as Richard Burton, complete with Welsh accent. The latter was in an ensemble piece which performed extracts from not only the autobiography of the Welsh film icon but also those of Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. All the extracts related to the same period in the their lives giving an interesting and highly amusing variety of perspectives.

And I must also mention the extract about putting from Tiger Woods' autobiography which takes on a whole new level of double entendre's now that his infidelities have been exposed.

At the moment they only have five dates booked in at the Leicester Square Theatre (Stephen Merchant is one of the narrators for tomorrow night) but I can't imagine it not growing in success and garnering a longer run somewhere else.

If you need further enthusiasm for Celebrity Autobiography then check out these blogs:


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