Previous month:
January 2011
Next month:
March 2011

February 2011

Frankenstein: The talk of the town

House_of_frankenstein_revive Every day, apart from Sunday's, queues form on the South Bank in anticipation of the National Theatre box office opening, some even camp out so eager are they to secure day seats for the Olivier's newly opened show Frankenstein.

Whatever you think of the play, it is the hot ticket in London this Spring and with names like Danny Boyle, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller attached it has also generated column inches or whatever the equivalent is online.

Here is just a selection of what people are saying about Frankenstein and what those in Frankenstein are saying

The interviews:

* The Times interviewed Boyle and Jonny Lee Miller in which the latter talks about the working relationship with Cumberbatch and whether he prefers playing Victor or the Creature. Boyle talks about some of the decisions he and script writer Nick Dear made in adapting Mary Shelley's novel such as giving the Creature back the voice that had been overlooked in so many previous adaptations.

The full version can be read here or if you aren't a subscriber to The Times Online website there are some extracts on this fan blog.

* The Metro also ran an interview this time with Boyle and Cumberbatch. The actor talks about the rigours of performing in the show, the context of the novel which has influenced the play and Victor Frankenstein's motives.

* This Guardian interview with the three has the two actors discussing how the rehearsal period evolved and 'borrowing' the best bits from each others performances.

* And if it is pics you are after there is a great selection of production shots, from both versions, in The Telegraph

Continue reading "Frankenstein: The talk of the town" »

The National creates a monster


If ever there was a director/story combo that could showcase the breadth of what the National Theatre can do then it is Danny Boyle and Frankenstein.

From the moment you walk into the auditorium past a working bell pull, take in the set which has exploded outside the confines of the stage and the dramatic arrow shaped lighting rig made up hundreds of small bulbs pointing towards a frame, centre stage, of two drum skins between which you can see a human form, you know this is going to be spectacle if nothing else.

And so it is from the pulsing beat of Frankenstein’s creature's electrified heart and his first tentative attempts at standing to arctic-set denouement it is a visual and aural feast of effects.

There is rain, thunder, lightning, there is snow, there is grass, birds flying out of hay-ricks, a train, a boat…. And that is before we get onto what could be made into a demo video for revolving-stage manufacturers or indeed the creature's make up (in this performance played by Jonny Lee Miller.

But what of the play itself? Is it merely smoke screen and mirrors to disguise a weak adaptation?

Continue reading "The National creates a monster" »

Winterlong at the Soho theatre

Winterlong-007 Andrew Sheridan is undoubtedly a talented playwright but he seems to come from a school of writing where the primary aim is to shock (the likes of Sarah Kane are referenced in the play's marketing material) rather than anything else.

Winterlong, which is playing at the Soho Theatre until March 12, is about a boy, Oscar, rejected by his parents, who suffer from a personality disorder, and is brought up by his grandparents. His grandfather, John, is a resentful of and distant towards his charge. Oscar is kind hearted but socially awkward and a bit of a loner.

The story starts just before his birth through to his teenage years. Oscar is looking for connection, for his place in the world but those around him seem unable to give it.

It is, on one level, a tragic tale of a childhood bruised by poverty and neglect in an environment of mental illness and little love. But on another level there is what I can only describe as 'extraneous oddity'.

Continue reading "Winterlong at the Soho theatre" »

Our Private Life round two but what happened to Colin?

Our-Private-Life1-300x200 Second outing to see Our Private Life at the Royal Court but this time with a post show Q&A. Since seeing it the first time I've read the play text and the thing that stands out most is just how dark and disturbing the Father's final speech is.

What I didn't realise until director Lyndsey Turner mentioned it after the show, was that it's impact is elevated by one subtle difference in the father's character.

Rozo gives all the other characters excuses. It is a circle of blame, each blaming the other for their circumstances and predicaments except for the Father, he never blames anyone which makes his epilogue confessional so startlingly stark and disturbing.

Colombian Rozo submitted the play on spec and work-shopped it with the Royal Court's writers programme but prior to work on the production starting Turner travelled to Colombia so as to better understand the culture of where the story came from.

Continue reading "Our Private Life round two but what happened to Colin?" »

The Heretic is so good I bought the album

Heretic3 Well, not quite but it did inspire a purchase. You see in going to the Royal Court on Friday night I discovered musical talent in the form Johnny Flynn who plays Ben in The Heretic. In one scene he sings and plays guitar and although good I didn't think for one minute he was a recording artist.

He's a good actor too but more of that in a bit. When I got home, I googled him and there he is, not just a myspace wannabe but a bona fide recording artist and so I bought his album on iTunes.

A4b386613794e4c7cd10e5b37246fd64_XL It's a shame you can't buy a recording of the song in the play. It's a love song to the daughter of Dr Diane Cassell played by the rather splendid Juliet Stevenson. The play isn't a love story as such, the scene is incidental, it's about *Shock!* *Horror!* climate change.

Normally such a topic would have me running in the opposite direction having been scarred by the NT's Earthquakes in London but this play isn't like that. Its not didactic or finger-wagging for a start.

Its central narrative is about a university professor, Dr Cassell, whose research in the Maldives appears to show sea levels aren't rising.

Presumably inspired by the climate change 'spin' email scandal of 2009 in essence the play is about science vs the politics of climate change.

Dr Cassell starts getting death threats and, adding to the political angle, is under pressure from faculty head Professor Kevin Maloney (James Fleet) not to publish her research because the university is cash-strapped and fighting to get funding from an insurance firm for whom global warming is good for business.

So where does Ben come in? Well he is a student of Dr Cassell's for whom being green is almost a religious-like pursuit.

"Muslims or Jews can't eat pork. He can't get on a fossil fuels mini-bus."

Dr Cassell convinces him to approach climate change with a science hat on rather than an emotional one sets him the task of replicating some recent global warming research.

The sub-plot is that Ben falls in love with Dr Cassell's anorexic daughter Phoebe (Lydia Wilson) with whom she has a difficult relationship resulting a constant verbal and sometimes physical sparring. 

Continue reading "The Heretic is so good I bought the album" »

Hamlets young and old or have the Young Vic and Globe got it the wrong way around

File It wouldn't be a year of theatre-going without at least one Hamlet. Last year there were two: John Simm's OK performance and Rory Kinnear's fantastically paced delivery.

And this year I thought the Hamlet excitement would revolve solely around Michael Sheen's interpretation at the Young Vic. He's a great actor and I'm excited about seeing him on stage in such an intimate theatre more than him actually playing Hamlet. At 42 I think he's pushing the upper age-limit of the character but then I do have a preference for younger danes.

So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that The Globe is putting on Hamlet and titular role is being played by Joshua McGuire, described on his agent's website as having an acting age of 16-25 years. I've seen him on stage before at the Royal Court in Posh (pictured left) which was an all round good production.

The Globe has decided to pare down Shakespeare's most famous play to two and a half hours and promises:

"a handful of players will perform a raw, thrillingly elemental production of this inexhaustible play."

It strikes me as ironic that these aren't the words being used to describe the Young Vic's production. After all wouldn't a young Hamlet be more fitting for a theatre that prides itself on championing the young in the industry and being accessible to all? Surely the younger audience the cheap prices attract would identify and engage better with a peer than someone the wrong side of forty agonising and prevaricating?

The RSC proved you can do a fresh, lively and accessible production with David Tennant in the lead and Ian Rickson is directing at the Young Vic so I'm not worried in the least, I'm just more excited about The Globe's.

Related links

Guardian interview with Ian Rickson

Our (not so) Private Life and Merlin fans

IMG_0164 The central irony in Pedro Miguel Rozo's black comedy, Our Private Life, is that nothing appears to be private. The play opens with a phone call between brothers Carlos (Colin Morgan) and Sergio (Eugene O'Hare) in which they not only hear what the other is saying but also each others thoughts.

Set in a village that wants to be a town, or a town with the heart of a village, Carlos and Sergio come from a well respected family in a community where reputation and status is everything. But then rumours about their father (Anthony O'Donnell) and his relationship with his former tenant Tania's (Clare Cathcart) pre-pubescent son Joaquin (Joshua Williams) begin to spread.

The rumours start to poison an already infected family. Carlos is a diagnosed 'biopolar compulsive fantasist', gay and melodramatic and is determined to pin the source of his troubles onto everyone but himself. Sergio is successful and wealthy, fighting not to be tainted by his father's behaviour and to whom he is a continual disappointment.

Their mother is  TV-obsessed, materialistic and describes herself as 'modern' in her way of thinking which inevitably means she isn't. And their father just seems bitter, depressed and resentful, particularly of Sergio: 

"He'll end up a wreck, just like me...Doing everything out of habit because that's all there is. Everything else just goes, it frustrates you, it dies, it disappears out the back door to the bins like my one-hectare farm, and my sex drive with or without viagra"

As the story unfolds, secrets unravel and the family fights to uncover the truth while still keeping it hidden in a town where everyone seems to be on the make.

It is a rich, multi-layered piece with a good dose of the Latin quirkiness that has become familiar in the works of Latin American/Spanish filmakers such as Almodovar. It's humour is dark but there are plenty of laughs.

Continue reading "Our (not so) Private Life and Merlin fans" »

That was January's theatre

We are charging into February and a chocolate box rammed full of theatre delights but before January becomes a dim and distant memory, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on some of its offerings.

I have my (nerdy) new spread sheet to help me and while I rate each play in my review out of five, I also give it mark out of 100 on the spread sheet - it makes it a hell of lot easier to rank stuff. So this is based on those scores with links to my original reviews:

  1. Vernon God Little, Young Vic 85%
  2. A View From the Bridge, Lyceum, Edinburgh 77%
  3. The Boy James, Southwark Playhouse 75%
  4. Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre 72%
  5. Rough Cuts, Royal Court 70%
  6. Comedy of Errors, Greenwich Playhouse 55%
  7. Twelfth Night, Cottesloe, 45%
  8. Get Santa 25%

So am I surprised by the results? Well yes and no. Vernon coming out top isn't too much of a surprise as I saw the original production back in 2007 and really enjoyed it. But I am surprised that Twelfth Night rated so low considering how much it had going for it: Peter Hall directing and the likes of Simon Callow in the cast. It just fell flat which was a real shame.

One thing that is interesting, to me anyway, about rating the plays I see in this way is that it means you get shoestring budget production like Comedy of Errors at the Greenwich Playhouse scoring higher than the polished and luxurious production of Twelfth Night. The acting was better in the latter, by far, but I enjoyed Comedy of Errors more. It just goes to show that money and big names aren't necessarily everything.

Not surprised that Get Santa! came out so low but that is because it really wasn't my type of thing and I'm judging it on that rather than the fact that it was a bad play and production.

The play that I'd say sticks most in my mind after Vernon, I have to say is The Boy James mainly because it was an interactive piece in a unique setting.

So that was January. February has already got off to a roaring start with Julius Caesar and last nights Our Private Life which I will be writing up very soon...



Fun and frolics at the Young Vic: Vernon God Little

IMG_0144 One of the things I love about the Young Vic is that, well, it feels young which in one sense is ironic because it is celebrating its 40th birthday but in another is its raison d'etre, the antidote to the M&S brigade down the road at the Old Vic (and yes I am one of those too on occasion).

There is always a lively, Friday-night feel to the bar that you just don't quite get elsewhere and I also can't imagine any other theatre putting on a play such as Vernon God Little. I feel I should say this quietly but it's lively and fun, you see.

Based on DBC Pierre's Man Booker winning novel it is a modern tale of a Texas High School massacre but it is also a darkly comic satire on a society that has become materialistic, brand-obsessed and fame-hungry, preaching Christian values with as much thought as discarding a half-eaten Barbie-Chew-Barn chicken mix.

The book is richly comic and fast-paced and the Young Vic proved they could capture the essence of the story nearly four years ago with Tanya Ronder's original stage adaptation. The Young Vic also proved that you can pluck an actor fresh from drama school and give them a starring role to excel in.

Revived as part of the 40th Birthday celebrations this production once again captures the mad and morally insane world of protagonist Vernon who's best friend Jesus has gone on the shooting spree before turning the gun on himself. Thrust into world's media spotlight, Vernon's small Texas town of Martirio  scrabbles around for someone to blame.

All the innovation of the first production is back, the desk chairs and sofa's that become cars, for example, as are the use of songs and music and occasional dance routines. It feels like you are watching a TV spectacular which I guess is the point but against all this chaos Vernon's story has to shine through.

Continue reading "Fun and frolics at the Young Vic: Vernon God Little" »