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February 2011

January 2011

A View from the Scottish Bridge

Images The first time I saw A View From the Bridge Ken Stott’s performance as Eddie Carbone moved me to tears. That was nearly two years ago and I’ve been eager to seen another production ever since. So when I discovered a work trip to Edinburgh coincided with a run of the play at its Lyceum Theatre it was a too tempting an opportunity to miss.

This time Stanley Townsend took the part of Eddie. I last saw him on stage in the wonderful Tribes at the Royal Court and although he certainly made an impression it wasn’t the meatiest of roles.
Eddie is a filet steak of a role. He’s an over protective uncle in 1950’s Brooklyn who wants a better life for his niece Catherine (Kirsty Mackay) but who’s familial love is boiling a little close to the edge.

At first his reluctance to let Catherine take a job and go out into the world seems more to do with his inability to accept that she is growing up, that his father role is coming to an end. When Rodolpho and Marco, two Italian cousin’s of his wife Bea’s come to stay while working illegally and love blossoms between Rodolpho and Catherine, Eddie’s protectiveness unleashes deeper rooted feelings.

It’s a great story of a bear of man, with a good heart but who is cornered by his own pride and feelings and ends up doing something that goes against everything he stands for. So did Townsend and the Lyceum do it justice?

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Comedy of Errors at the Greenwich Playhouse: production shots and review

Production Image2 My last outing to the Greenwich Playhouse didn’t go too well but despite what I said in my review, they asked me back and so this week I found myself, once again, devouring a plate of tasty pre-threatre ribs and chips in the pub below the theatre.

All I knew about Comedy of Errors prior to settling down in my seat was that there are two sets of twins involved. With Shakespeare’s penchant for mistaken identity as a narrative thread it didn’t take long to work out where this one was going.

Director Bryn Holding has chosen to set the piece in a 1950s seaside resort with three beach huts at the back of the stage and one set of twins dressed in shorts, striped t-shirts, deck pumps and knotted hankies on their heads.

The knotted-hankie twins are from a poor family the other a rich. The poor twins are adopted by the rich twins father and brought up to be their servants. Alas though siblings are separated in a storm and brought up independently until one of the rich twins, with servant twin in tow, sets out to find his brother.

When the brother arrives at his twins home town what ensues is a lot of mistaken identity. A lot of mistaken identity.

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Tiger Country should carry a health warning

Tiger_Country_home Nina Raine's last play, Tribes, bowled me over and it was that which was the draw to the lovely Hampstead Theatre last Monday. That and the fact the Ought To Be Clowns had it on his 'looking forward to seeing' list.

Coming off the back of a lacklustre Twelfth Night at the Cottesloe last week I was ready for some energy and that I certainly got.

The play is set in a hospital and the opening scene was almost like watching an episode of Casualty (I imagine, I haven't watched it for a long while) with an operation being performed and patients having tubes stuck in them.

I'm a little squeamish so I was relieved when that bit was over and no that isn't why this play should have a health warning although those theatre-goers with a more delicate constitutions might want to take note. But more of that later.

Tiger Country has what in these times of budget cuts seems like an extravagant cast of 11. The principal characters are doctors of varying degrees of seniority each with their own story thread. There is Emily (Ruth Everett) who is a new SHO (I had to look it up, it means Senior House Officer but essentially is a trainee doctor) with good instincts but gets too emotionally involved.

John (Adam James) is a consultant who has health problems of his own which he is trying to ignore and Mark (Pip Carter) is an ambitious trainee surgeon who feels his supervisor Vashti (Thusitha Jayasundera) is holding him back. Vashti herself gets a dose of being on the other side of the fence when a relative comes to the hospital for a routine operation.

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Rough Cuts at the Royal Court

It's my first time at Rough Cuts. I've done rehearsed readings but not this short season at the Royal Court is where three plays are showcased as work in progress/experimental pieces in back to back 20 min segments.

The actors only have one day of rehearsal.

Permafrost by Brad Birch

Director: James McDonald

Cast: Lorraine Ashbourne (Mary) and Tom Brooke (Michael)

The scene is a bedsit. Mary, we quickly discover, is recently bereaved. She answers the door to Tom who worked with her, we'll assume, husband at a nearby factory. Tom has called to see how she is.

The 20 min slot progressed through several visits by Tom. Not a great deal is said. Mary is obviously still in a state of deep grief and Tom seems nervous and awkward but volunteers to help her with odd jobs.

And that is as much of a taster as we got. Where the story and presumably the relationship was going is anybodies guess. We were left tantalisingly at the doorstep of a hundred possibilities. But the pace was slow, combined with the fact that the actors didn't move around but sat on chairs to deliver their lines from the scripts it was difficult to engage.

That isn't to say that their performances weren't good Ashbourne, or Mrs Gollum, as I like to call her put in a particularly emotional performance, it's just the 20 minutes just skimmed the surface too much.

Buried by Alia Bano

Director: Joe Hill-Gibbons

Cast: Stephanie Street (Cathy), Claudia Harris (Jane), Geoffrey Streetfeild (Ryan, Jane's boyfriend).

This one was definitely further down the road to being a completed work. Jane's job has just cranked up to warped-speed as she helps prepare an important pitch. Good friend and colleague Cathy has just lost her mother and as well as contending with her grief has to organise a traditional Muslim funeral. She leans on Jane for support and comfort but Jane is new to a lot of the traditions and customs surrounding the death of a Muslim.

Tensions begin to rise as pressure from work lead Jane to confront Cathy about when she will return from compassionate leave and give vital help on the pitch.

This one had pace and in 20 minutes quickly built up a head of steam are underlying prejudices and tensions that left you wanting to find out more.

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The play that made Stephen Fry cry: The Boy James

DSC_0070 Stephen Fry went to see The Boy James on Saturday and tweeted afterwards that it had made him cry which immediately piqued my curiosity. What was it about this play that would reduce a grown man to tears?

The James of the story is the young JM Barrie, played as an enthusiastic and overly imaginative, pyjama-wearing, young boy by Jethro Compton. It is The Boy who greets you as you walk into the Southwark Playhouse's new bijou space called The Vault. He offers you an imaginary plate of sandwiches or cake (I opted for cake as it was a Victoria sponge) before ushering you into what looks like a late Victorian sitting room cum children's den.

The floor is decked with rugs, in the centre a writing desk and then around the walls various pieces of furniture and myriad chairs, sofas, pouffes and cushions are strewn around so that audience mix with performance space.

The Boy continues to talk as if we are new friends, part of his gang he is 'training up'. He starts a game of 'it' which developed into game of 'stuck in the mud' and it wasn't long before barriers had broken and most were playing along.

The Boy has a vivid imagination and has a constant stream of vibrant tales to tell of far away imagined adventures he's had with James.

It is a clever device drawing you into the world of childhood, teasing out memories of your own youthful innocence, taking you back or at least giving you a longing to return.

But The Boy James is about loss of innocence. About growing up and how experience corrupts that innocence and fun.

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In need of the Twelfth Night

Screen-shot-2010-09-29-at-10.29.01 The Cottesloe to me is the National's quirky space, somewhere for more experimental work, where the performance space, production and theatrical devices push the boundaries.  So Twelfth Night seemed to me to be a slightly odd choice for the space and in particular a Twelfth Night directed by Sir Peter Hall or was he about to turn it all on it's head?

Sadly the answer quickly appeared to be 'no' with a conventional audience/stage set up and nothing more racy than a huge, looped canvas with a pleasant Habitat-esque tree design on it being raised and lowered over the stage. But with a promising cast including Sir Peter's daughter Rebecca and well-seasoned thesp Simon Callow at the least there was the promise of a good, solid show.

Now this was the second performance in preview and I know some theatres get upset when people write less than glowing reports about their plays before they've had chance to refine them for the esteemed press, so I'm viewing this as a work in progress.

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Much Ado About Tennant/Tate announcement

Since rumours first appeared in a What's On Stage forum last weekend that David Tennant and Catherine Tate were going to be working together this year in Much Ado About Nothing, fellow theatre twitterers have been working overtime to unearth more details.

So with everyone already worked up into a lather of anticipation it was no surprise that when Tate and Tennant appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning under the guise that they would be announcing something, anticipation went into overdrive.

And of course the rumours proved true, with the two announcing they are taking the roles of Beatrice and Benedick in a production at the Wyndhams Theatre from May 16. Cue Delfont Macintosh Theatres ticketing website melt down and box office chaos as staff weren't so much left unprepared but left in the dark, having not be told about the announcement (well done management).

Picture 2 As the day has worn on the news has continued trending on Twitter as the trials and tribulations of ticket purchases was reported. Twitter became the place to share the joy of success and frustration of frozen web browsers. I can't remember a bigger theatre buzz for quite some time and it was great to be part of although I could only guiltily report that my tickets had been successfully bought for me by @polyg who seems to have magical booking powers when it comes to this sort of thing.

It has certainly eclipsed the hype surrounding the announcement that Danny Boyle would be directing Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein at the National. Lets just hope that it lives up to expectation.

PS Hope everyone who wanted tickets managed to get them, having been at the wrong end of a frozen browser too many times to mention I can feel for you.

PPS Delfont Macintosh will be laughing all the way to the bank on this one. It's bound to sell out, if it hasn't already, and top price seats are over £60 which is ridiculous (and why I only go to the West End very occasionally) although a relative bargain compared to what they are asking for the best seats to see Keira Knightley tread the boards at the Comedy Theatre...And no I'm not tempted to part with hard earned cash by Ms Knightley's casting.


Not really Getting Santa

Images-1 It is a little unfair of me to review Get Santa! at the Royal Court. I'm not fond of songs in plays and I particularly don't like songs that are supposed to be funny. They generally aren't.

Plenty of people seem to have absolutely loved this show with its weird sense of humour, whereas I had to be talked into staying for the second half, which was a bit better.

I don't want to slate it just because it wasn't my cup of tea. It was well done with some great theatrical devices such as the TV screens that appear at the back of the stage for bulletins and people arriving on stage via wires through a skylight has to impress.

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Looking ahead to some potential theatre gems 2011

Well 2010 is going to be pretty tough to beat but there are already some tempting treats in the diary that have got me excited with expectation.

Twelfth Night directed by Peter Hall and starring daughter Rebecca is high on the list. It's a play I studied at uni (although I always preferred the tragedies) so is as close to feeling like a pair of old slippers as a Shakespeare play can get. The National has put on some pretty good productions of plays by Bill and his contemporaries during the last couple of years so all the ingredients are there.

Then there is Vernon God Little at the Young Vic which I'm hoping lives up to my memories of the first time I saw it. Colin Morgan was fresh out of drama school when he took the titular role and newcomer Joseph Drake is in a similar position this time. It's a fantastic first stage role so I'm hoping he'll follow in little Colin's footsteps and be a star in the making.

Following hot on the heels of that, well the very next night in fact, is my first trip to see Julius Caesar. I've heard several friends speak very fondly of the play and I'm also hopeful my visual appetite for stage blood will be sated, the RSC has a good reputation on that score. It's at the Roundhouse so my only concern is the potential restricted view.

In fact February is shaping up to be a bumper month three further hotties already lined up: Our Private Life, upstairs at the Royal Court with the lovely Mr Morgan (first time I'll have seen him on stage since Vernon), Frankenstein at the National (need I say more?) and In a Forest Dark and Deep at the Vaudeville which I'll readily admit is partially motivated by getting to ogle Matthew Fox.

If I'm still breathing after all that there is Rattigan's Cause Celebre at the Old Vic with the wonderful talent that is Anne-Marie Duff in March.

And those are just my pre-emptive highlights goodness knows what little gems might pop up in between, particularly if certain rumours surrounding you know Who prove true. If anyone out there has any recommendations then please do recommend away.

Theatre season 2011 kicks off on Tuesday with Get Santa! at the Royal Court which could prove to be inappropriately appropriate (the tickets were very cheap) so let the battle to win my heart and mind commence.


Rev Stan's theatre list 2010

Oh this has been tough, it's been a good year and a bumper year, 71 plays in all. Meagre compared to Ought To Be Clowns 291 and Glen Pearce's 141 but I do go to the cinema rather a lot too so I don't feel like a complete lightweight.

Anyway, I'm afraid I've knicked Mark Kermode's idea of having a 'nearly made it' list, the stuff that I loved but didn't quite make it into the top 10, call it highly commended if you like. I've also added some random categories at the end, if you get that far.

The nearly made it list:

Red at the Donmar gets a special mention not least for the priming the canvas scene. Then there was Private Lives with the gorgeous sexy spy no. 1 (Matthew MacFadyen) and the suprising talent that was Kim Cattrall. King Lear at the Donmar engrossed me in the play in a way the RSC's version I saw a couple of years ago failed to do. And a late entry, Bea at the Soho Theatre which was my last play of the year and great way to finish. Al Weaver is a rising star or certainly should be.

But here is the top ten (no particular order):

The Pride, Lucille Lortel Theatre, NY - What? Ben Whishaw, on stage, in New York? And that combo isn't going to earn it a place in my top ten? Play was brilliant too.

London Assurance, National Theatre - Larger than life characters played by stage royalty like Fiona Shaw, Simon Russell Beale & Richard Briers meant London Assurance was hard to beat for pure entertainment value.

The Man, Finborough - Pub theatre at its best, an innovative but simple concept very well executed. Just a shame I didn't get to see it more than once as each performance had a wonderful randomness and a rota of actors taking the lead. I saw the lovely Samuel Barnett.

All My Sons, Apollo Theatre - Fantastic production with breathtaking performances from Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet. And they had a proper lawn on the stage.

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