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January 2011

December 2010

Going out on 2010 theatre high: Bea at the Soho Theatre

Bea_1780875b Needed something to wash the taste of Joseph K out of my mouth and Bea proved to be made of minty fresh. Bea (Pippa Nixon) has a long term illness and requires a carer when her mum is out at work. On the inside she is vivacious, fun-loving and full of life but on the outside she is in constant pain, has a fatal prognosis and on a good day is able to make an earing.

Her new carer Not Gay Ray (Al Weaver) is chatty and extremely camp:

Loved the Scouts. Except for camping. And Badges. Too competitive. I only ever got Home Help and my mum was doing the marking so, well there was a slight scandal - but we survived.

He's just what Bea needs tapping into her inner-self and an antidote to her over-protective barrister mother (Paula Wilcox). But Ray is put in an uncomfortable position when he writes a letter for Bea to her mother in which she expresses her wish to die and asks for help.

Continue reading "Going out on 2010 theatre high: Bea at the Soho Theatre" »

More theatre excitement for 2011: Colin Morgan hits the stage

Images-1 I didn't think levels of excited anticipation could get higher than the announcement that Benedict Cumberbatch/Johnny Lee Miller will play Frankenstein and his monster at the National Theatre next year.

But tonight, channeling Poly's detective skills, I happened upon a bit of casting news hidden away from all my usual sources that is one step shy of the excitment of a Ben Whishaw announcement: little Colin Morgan is to tread the boards upstairs at the Royal Court in Our Private Life. (There isn't anything on the RC site yet.)

Have been desperate to see Col tread the boards since his debut in Vernon God Little and to get to see him at the tiny Jerwood Upstairs where I last saw Mr W tread the London boards is even better.


Agonising over Joseph K

JosephK-at-the-Gat_1768515b I'm going to have to throw my hands up in the air over this one. I saw Joseph K last Friday at the great little Gate Theatre in Notting Hill and have shied away from writing about it since because, well, I didn't understand it.

There, I said it, it's out there.

Maybe it's because it's based on Kafka's novel The Trial and I've always struggled with Kafka. Maybe I'm just stupid because that's how it made me feel. That and frustrated. Bit like when I couldn't do my O-level maths homework.

The play follows a man who's life is good until he is accused of an unknown crime. Niggley things start happening, his mobile and bank cards stop working and he starts being overlooked at work. So, he sets about finding out what it is he is supposed to have done,  dealing with all sort of levels of silly, illogical bureaucracy along the way. (Ought to be Clowns has a more detailed description of the plot on his blog.)

It is the fodder of your most surreal, illogical dream, the sort of dream that you are relieved to wake up from and can never explain to anyone else.

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In which Stan goes to a technical rehearsal

This has to be one for the real theatre nerds, watching a technical rehearsal. You don't get to see the whole play, you sit up in the circle out of sight but it is theatre laid bare, all mysticism removed just plain old hard grafting. And I loved it.

Of course it helps when it is the RSC.

The play being tech rehearsed was The Winter's Tale which I saw in Stratford last year. Not my favourite Shakespeare play but it has a lot of fun elements to it.

We (the fifty or so of us who'd paid a fiver for the privilege) were ushered into our circle seats at the Roundhouse shortly before seven where a nice man with an ID lanyard explained that we would be seeing the second-half rehearsed and that the cast and crew were due back from "supper" at seven but were running a little late as usual. He also told us we could come and go as we pleased and that they were hoping to be finished by 9.50pm.

And so we settled down and waited as the members of the cast gradually drifted onto the stage, some rehearsing bits of dance sequences together, others just lolling around chatting until the stage manager, like a conductor tapping his baton at the orchestra, called everyone to order. And we were off, or rather they were, performing a dance sequence with the two central characters.

Light sequences weren't quite right and neither was the dance so a halt was called, starting positions re-found and off they went again.

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'Tis the Season's Greetings

Images-1 Family Christmases were cited as 'unreasonable behaviour' in the Rev Stan/Christmas divorce. Since the decree absolute came through we've got along swimmingly so was Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings at the National Theatre the ghost of Christmas past, the memories too painful to find funny or an amusing confirmation of why it never worked in the first place?

Well first of all if Oliver Chris had been at any of those Christmases then things might have been a lot different *pause for sigh*. He plays Clive, friend of Rachel (Nicola Walker) for whom the friend moniker falls short of where she'd like things to go.

Rachel invites Clive to her sister Belinda (Catherine Tate) and husband Neville's (Neil Stuke) for  Christmas where they are joined by Uncle Harvey (David Troughton), sister in law Phyllis (Jenna Russell), her husband Bernard (Mark Gatiss) and friends Eddie (Marc Wootton) and his wife Pattie (Katherine Parkinson).

So while Rachel is failing to move things on with Clive, he's caught the eye of Belinda who is feeling unloved and neglected by gadget-loving husband Neville. Phyllis likes a drink or three while husband Bernard is an incompetent doctor bent of putting on yet another epic puppet show for the kids. Eddie meanwhile is an expert in avoiding duties of any sort for heavily pregnant wife Pattie who really would rather not be having another baby.

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Did Grandage's Lear win me over?

126651939610 Saw King Lear for the first time three years ago with Sir Ian McKellen in the lead and I confess that I wasn't won over by it as a play despite being a very good production.

But as it's all about interpretation and performance, thought I'd give it another go, this time in the hands of director Michael Grandage and Derek Jacobi at the Donmar Warehouse.

Lear is a difficult character to like. Within minutes of the opening scene he demonstrates what a vain and egocentric man he is, dividing up his kingdom among his three daughters but then asking each to say how much they love him in order to get their share.

His youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to pander to him and he disinherits her starting a chain of events that inevitably lead to tragedy.

The first time I saw Lear, I couldn't help thinking the King got everything he deserved. I didn't see any regret just self pity which made for a slightly unsatifactory ending.

However, in Jacobi's portrayal, that all changed. His descent from raging tyrant to madness and then frail and lonely old man made him a far more pitiable character. And, in the final scene, his distress at Cordelia's death was deeply moving.

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When a pre-theatre menu isn't a pre-theatre menu

If you are a restaurant attached to a performance venue then you know that the majority of your customers are not in for a long, leisurely dinner. So you need to plan with your kitchen and waiting staff how ensure there is a quick turn around.

Full marks then go to the restaurant at the Roundhouse for serving up a short, pre-theatre set menu to keep things simple.

Full marks taken away from the restaurant at the Roundhouse for not being able to deliver said menu in time for paying customers to actually be able to eat their food before the performance starts.

Yep that's right. Things didn't start off well when I had to ask three times for my drinks order to be brought. Two courses were ordered at 6.05pm (play starting at 7.15pm). Starters arrived at 6.15pm, not bad. Starters finished at 6.35pm delayed slightly due to my companion having to take a work call. At 6.50pm however, the plates still hadn't been cleared.

Waitress called at 6.55pm and enquiries made about main course to which we were told they were cooked in order and ours would be at least 10 minutes. At which point, faced with shovelling food down like the Cookie monster eating packet of biscuits, we quit while we were ahead, cancelled the mains, refused the offer of a free tea or coffee (only another glass of wine would have placated at that point) and quickly headed to the bar in search of other sustenance before taking our seats.

It's kind of ironic because most waiting staff in restaurants, of a certain price range in London, seem hell bent on hovvering over you and clearing the moment you've put the last morsel of food in your mouth.

RSC's Romeo & Juliet, this time at the Roundhouse in Camden

Rj The Royal Shakespeare Company has brought its Courtyard Theatre to Camden. Or so it seems. The old Victorian turning shed cum performance space has been RSC'd. It's like someone has scooped up the Courtyard from Stratford, then sliced the Roundhouse roof off and popped it down snugly inside, carefully putting the roof back so no one would know from the outside.

And so with the Stratford stage you pretty much get the Stratford production of Romeo & Juliet which I really enjoyed back in July (I don't want to repeat too much of what I said back then, so for my full review click here). It had all the things I loved about that performance; the fun, the high energy and sexual tension. And Jonjo O'Neill as Mercutio is still scene stealing.

It seems to have benefitted from having bedded down well in Stratford over the summer with a few of the niggles having been ironed out. Sam Troughton as Romeo has sorted out his delivery, speaking with more clarity in the heated scenes. Mariah Gale too seems to be making a little more of Juliet's death scene but it could still do with a bit more milking for my liking.

It is an accomplished, youthful and highly-charged production of Romeo & Juliet but having seen in Hamlet at the National Theatre how well the light and dark of a Shakespeare play can be reflected in a variety of pace, I couldn't help wishing that some bits had been reined in, just a tad.

Star rating-wise it is just nudging four but that doesn't take into account the restricted view, despite having paid top whack for tickets which would probably bring it down to a three.

If you are about to book to see it at the Roundhouse beware of seats at the very end of the rows on either side of the stage (Our seats were C1 & C2). It feels like you are looking at the back of the action a lot of the time. And when the actors are on the main balcony, unless they are at the front you can't really see what is going on. Neither can you see the actor who speaks from the balcony to the left in the crypt scene (or the balcony to the right, depending on which side of the stage you sit).

I've written to the RSC highlighting that if you are paying the same price as someone sitting head on to the stage or at least further up the thrust,  then they should warn you that won't be able to see everything that is going on in certain seats. Haven't heard anything back as yet.