Previous month:
February 2011
Next month:
April 2011

March 2011

Fabulous Flare Path

Images I'm going to come right out and say it. I loved Flare Path. If ever there was evidence that an engaging enough play can keep the tiredest person awake and alert then this is it.

It is set in a hotel near an RAF base during World War II where the guests are predominantly RAF staff and their wives and starts with the arrival of a rather suave and sophisticated looking man asking for a room for the night.

Doris (Sheridan Smith) who's Polish husband is fighting alongside the allies soon recognises him as English actor turned Hollywood screen star Peter Kyle (James Purefoy).

Kyle is out of place at the hotel where the everyday reality of wartime is evident. The wives of the pilots and gunners can recognise an enemy aircraft just from the sound of the engine, their husbands make light of their work but the danger of their nightly missions lurks in the background every look, joke and jape.

3-joe-armstrong-dusty-clive-wood-squadron-leader-swanson-mark-dexter-count-skriczevinsky-harry-hadden-paton-teddy-in-flare-path-at-the-theatre-royal-haymarket It soon becomes apparent that Kyle simple hasn't blown in with the wind but has followed Flight Lte 'Teddy' Graham's actress wife Patricia to the hotel where she is visiting her husband (Harry Hadon-Paton and Sienna Miller).

Flare Path is just as much about will or won't Patricia leave her husband for former lover Kyle as it is about will or won't the husbands return from a night bombing run and both story lines have fear, loss and loneliness at their core.

It is a genuinely warm, funny and deeply moving play with an all round superb cast. Smith is just wonderful as the bubbly, trying to hold it together Doris. And Miller gives genuine emotional depth to a character that could easily be played with a dislikeable superficiality.

Continue reading "Fabulous Flare Path" »

Needing a Rocket to the Moon

Rocket-to-the-Moon_583022s When dentist Ben Stark (Joseph Millson) gets asked by his father in law "why don't you take a rocket to the moon?" I was right behind him.

Set in 1938 during a hot New York summer, Clifford Odets play is about a hen-pecked married man coasting through life who has his head turned by his beautiful, young and slightly ditzy new secretary, Cleo Singer. But Ben isn't the only person who falls for Cleo and when it comes to deciding between her and his wife, he isn't the only one making a decision.

This being the National Theatre, Rocket to the Moon is of course beautifully produced with an impressive period set and rain storm when the weather finally breaks. Neither can you fault the acting. Jessica Raine is superb as the simple, love-struck Cleo, as is Keeley Hawes as the manipulative and domineering Belle Stark, although it's a relatively small part. But the character I enjoyed most is Belle's estranged father Mr Prince played by Nicholson Woodeson.

Mr Prince is a widow and a rich man despite the depression but he has fallen out with his daughter and is frustrated with Ben's lack of ambition and general lack of joie de vivre. But he too falls under Cleo's spell.

The problem I had with Rocket to the Moon is despite the effervescent Cleo and lively Mr Prince the first half is very slow. It concentrates on the changing relationships between Cleo, Ben, Mr Prince and Frenchy the chiropodist who has an office down the corridor but I'm wracking my brains to try and remember anything particularly stand out in terms of plot or scene.

Continue reading "Needing a Rocket to the Moon" »

A Cause for Celebre(ation)?

Cause-celeb-annemarie_500 The first tragic note of this tale is played by Irene Riggs, servant come companion to Alma Rattenbury who attempts to dismiss prospective new help George for being a little too old and strapping, at 17, to qualify for a houseboy position.

Based on an actual 1935 court case but not appearing as a play 1977, Cause Celebre sees Thea Sharrock back at the helm for her second Terrence Rattigan piece. No doubt she is looking to replicate the success enjoyed with last year's After the Dance which saw Nancy Carroll waltz off with a best actress Olivier almost certainly for one of the most memorably moving and emotionally charged scenes on the London stage last year.

But Cause Celebre is a different beast. Alma Rattenbury played by Anne-Marie Duff, is a flirtatious, three-times married mother of two who is put on trial with her lover George (Tommy McDonnell) for the murder of her husband.

It has a more complex narrative as Rattigan weaves in a parallel story of jilted new divorcee Edith Davenport (Niamh Cusack) who is fighting for the love and custody of her son and gets called up for jury service on the Rattenbury trial.

Edith represents the common held prejudices of the time mainly that, at 17, George is an innocent corrupted by an older woman, a woman of lose morals.

Duff's Alma is skittish and sexually-charged, flitting from hysterical laughter to being isolated in her own thoughts. She is a woman who appears confident and comfortable in her own skin but is deeply insecure and attention seeking.

Cusack's Edith, in contrast, rarely lets her guard down and is a stoic upholder of morals even attempting to be dismissed from the jury on the grounds that she couldn't give Alma Rattenbury a fair hearing. The chink in her armour is her teenage son Tony (Freddie Fox) who is undergoing a sexual voyage of discovery and with whom there is a growing disconnect.

Continue reading "A Cause for Celebre(ation)?" »

Lidless: Reviving my faith in small theatre productions?

Lidless-006 Had my confidence in small theatre productions dented a bit recently, where were the likes of the The Man and Bea which were highlights of last year? OK it's only March so that's maybe a little unfair but I did think twice about going to see Lidless at the Trafalgar Studios' bijou no. 2 space.

I was lured in the end by the fact that it won the Fringe First Award at Edinburgh last year rather than its post Guantanamo Bay setting.

It is essentially the story of two families torn apart by the past. First there is Bashir (Anthony Bunsee) a prisoner and torture victim at 'Gitmo', as it is referred to, who's family life is irrevocably destroyed by his long internment. And then there is Alice (Penny Layden) who took pills to make her forget her time as a prison guard and torturer but who quickly discovers they only temporarily hold back the all-consuming flood waters of the past.

The story picks up fifteen years on when Bashir turns up at Alice's florists not so much looking for revenge as recompense and a chance at life. And from the outset it puts its marker in the sand, eschewing the obvious narrative choices and textual cliches to examine the devastating longer term psychological and physical impact on those involved and their loved ones.

Continue reading "Lidless: Reviving my faith in small theatre productions?" »

Why I don't like musicals

Musicals The musical issue came up while I was watching and tweeting about the Oliviers last Sunday. There were rather a lot of musical numbers as part of the awards show and it reminded me that I don't like them, which I tweeted.

The lovely @garyhills questioned my dislike. My stock answer to the musical question is that I find the songs either get in the way of the story, or slow it down. Or, when it is entirely sung, I just want them to stop singing the story and tell it instead.

And both of these answers still stand but the conversation got me thinking, am I being unfair to judge musicals having seen so few? Then it hit me. The deep rooted reason I don't like musicals is that I just don't like that type of music.

Music is something I dance to, sing-a-long to and, most crucially, listen to while I'm doing other things. And musical music and songs just aren't what I like to listen to, sing-a-long to or dance to, with probably the exception of Maria from West Side Story which, for some reason, seems to be one of the stock tunes in my head. Although, before I come across as a bit of a hypocrite, I will qualify that last comment by pointing out that I did try to watch West Side Story on telly recently because of my fondness for the song but got bored of all the singing about 20 minutes in and switched over.

So I don't think I'm being unfair. Musicals just aren't for me.

Download 1-10 West Side Story_ Maria



Danny Boyle can't get enough of Frankenstein

Frankenstein9_1833302b Or so it seems as he was in the audience for last night's performance at the National Theatre. Checking up on his monster hit perhaps? Bet he didn't have to start queueing at 6am for day seats.

It did make me curious though. Does he sit there spotting things that have changed over the weeks of performances and making mental notes to pass on to the cast or crew? Or think 'mmm would have like to have done something different there'? Will it have lost its lustre in repeated viewing like seeing your favourite DVD for the 20th time and starting to spot the flaws?  Does he actually enjoy watching it?

He didn't applaud particularly vigorously but then it might have been strange if he had.

It also got me thinking about whether he has preferences for the casting - not that he'd ever admit it I'm sure. But he could be forgiven for, say, preferring Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor and Jonny Lee Miller as the creature or vice versa. 

Continue reading "Danny Boyle can't get enough of Frankenstein" »

Short post about a dreadful play

Quango 193 will definitely be a strong contender for the worst play of 2011. I know that already. I'm not going to devote too much time to writing about it because I've already wasted 90 minutes of my life watching it.

It's a site specific production in an office block in Victoria about a quango facing the chop. Topical, I thought; nice idea performing in an actual office, I thought.

What you got was a terrible script lacking in any depth or character development that was so over-acted a precocious ten-year old would have been more subtle.

Rather than analysing the human side to public sector cuts and the nuances of office dynamics they just killed each other. OK so we've all wanted to strangle a colleague with the phone cord at some point in our working life but really, how predictable. Mind you, if they hadn't turned on each other I would have had a go myself just to get it over with.

And just to add to the misery of watching, the director seems to have fallen into the Winterlong trap and decided that as much unnecessary mess of the performance space should be made as possible. Actors taking bites of sandwiches and then spitting it out at other actors is rarely in context or maybe they were just as irritated with each other as I was with the play.

All a bit of a shame really. Avoid like the plague. I give it one star and that's only because there was a good idea buried somewhere.

Olivier Awards: Great night for After The Dance, bad night for the BBC

Oliviersjpg After the Dance has, deservedly, stormed it at the Olivier Awards scooping best supporting actor for Adrian Scarborough, best revival and best actress for Nancy Carroll.

I'm particularly pleased Carroll won best actress. Her character gets kills off two thirds of the way through but her performance had already made such a huge impression.

It was also a good night for theatre in that the BBC decided to cover the awards, albeit via the red button. Shame they fudged the opportunity so fundamentally that they earned the wrath of many a theatre tweeter, myself included.

The terrible choice of Jodie Prenger to do red carpet interviews had me switching over for a time. She seemed more concerned with kissing everyone she knew and demonstrated such a gulf in her knowledge of theatre I'm surprised the arriving celebs didn't fall into it.

Then onto the awards themselves. The problem is that the BBC was doing a dual Radio 2 and television broadcast with DJ Paul Gambaccini doubling up as voice over during the ceremony and winners interviewer for Radio and TV. The result was a lot of bad editing decisions cutting to interviews rather than the awards. For example Nancy Carroll's acceptance speech was cut in favour of an interview with Gok Wan.

Only a select few awards were actually shown mainly acting and musicals - none of the technical achievements.

Continue reading "Olivier Awards: Great night for After The Dance, bad night for the BBC" »

That was February's theatre

After January got off to such a roaring start I thought February might struggle a bit theatre-wise but it hasn't. Far from it. I've seen slightly fewer plays (it is a shorter month after all) but my average rating is up on January, quite considerably, 75.83% vs 63% or 4/5 vs 3.75/5.

So what made February such a good month at the theatre? Well Frankenstein at the National Theatre topped the chart for pure theatrical experience. I'm off to see the alternate casting this week and it will be interesting to see if Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature can better the 87% the reverse casting got.

And then there is a tie for second place, both scoring 79% were Our Private Life at the Royal Court Upstairs and Julius Caesar at the Roundhouse. The former saw the long awaited return of the talented Colin Morgan to the stage in a dark comedy with a delicious dollop of central American cultural flavouring stirred in. And the latter was a first-time Shakespeare play done with so much pomp and ceremony and blood and gore I'm amazed I got a clean getaway. The RSC doing what it does best and I can't wait to see how they use the new stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in the summer.

So March has got a lot to live up to. And I'm reasonably confident. Frankenstein I've already mentioned and I've got In A Forest Dark and Deep already under my belt but probably what I'm most excited about is Cause Celebre at the Old Vic and Rocket to the Moon at the National Theatre.


The Fox In A Forest Dark and Deep (and the Ben Whishaw connection)

155403_168751979812262_167592009928259_394962_2017517_n I have a slight problem with Neil LaBute's play, which premiered at the Vaudeville on Thursday.

It's not the writing or the story. It's not the acting. It's not even the production. It has more to do with the following question that has bugged me since I saw it: If it was being produced in a smaller theatre and with a far less starrier cast than Matthew Fox and Olivia Williams would I remember it?

Fox and Williams play brother and sister Bobby and Betty. Betty has asked her brother to help her clear out a holiday cabin as it is being rented out (the two spend much of the play putting books in cardboard boxes).

Bobby is a carpenter, he is prickly towards his sister and obviously bears some deep rooted disapproval or resentment maybe even jealousy.  Betty is an English professor, married with kids. But as the evening of clearance begins the metaphorical clearing the air begins too and first impressions of brother and sister begin to fade.

We quickly learn that Betty wasn't always the good girl but a teen rebel, an outrageous flirt and promiscuous. Is Bobby's continuing disapproval and moral arrogance justified?

The trailer (below) describes the play as a psychological thriller. And there is defintely an element of mystery and tension there as the two verbally spar, Bobby slowly stripping away the truth about Betty's life. It is played out with a thunderstorm overhead complete with flickering lights and power cuts which reminded me a little, in setting at least, of Deathtrap.

It is really Williams's play and she deftly switches from confident, sure of herself Betty to moments of raw emotional vulnerability. The two actors have great on stage chemistry. Fox, in particular, apart from the odd stumble over lines (this was a preview so that is forgiven), appears natural and assured on stage.

Continue reading "The Fox In A Forest Dark and Deep (and the Ben Whishaw connection)" »