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April 2011

Budding playwrights showcase short plays

5663379590_d44576c45f Went to the First Draft April Showers festival this week at the Horse Pub near Waterloo. It's a great idea: aspiring playwrights get a chance to have their short plays performed by real actors in front of a paying audience.

The call for submissions elicited more than 350 responses which were whittled down to 16 for staged readings. Then, based on the audiences and creatives response, seven were chosen for the festival running in blocks of four and three in Rep as part of the festival.

And that's what I saw on Wednesday night, four of the chosen plays (with Caryll Churchill who also in the audience apparently):

Your Female Companion by Catie O'Keefe

This was part of a longer piece, which was never finished, examining gender identities. It was my least favourite of the four revolving around a group of woman each displaying various female stereotypes. One scoffed chocolate, one obsessed about make up and they all cooed about the one who had a baby for example.

Then one reveals a sexual fantasy in which she is tied up and dominated but was quickly ejected from the group. Throughout they were inexplicably homophobic.

It was nicely executed with each character walking on and putting on a pair of red shoes before sitting on one of a row of high stools but overall I'm not sure what the point was or what I was supposed to make of this exaggerated and unflattering view of women. Perhaps the wider piece would have explained.

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The Hamlet-fest of 2011

Tomorrow is the first of this year's Hamlet offering - there will be three (four if you count the musical but I don't). The great thing this year is that each has the potential to offer something quite different - well the first two do anyway.

Take the tomorrow's version at the White Bear in Kennington. They are using the 1603 folio which is rarely performed, shorter in length and lacking many of the famous soliloquies with some differences in character names too - Polonius is Corambis, for example.

I've read the 1603 folio as part of my obsession with Hamlet being younger than it says in the 1623 text. In the earlier folio there isn't an explicit reference to his age. There aren't cast details on the website but I'm hoping that it is a younger actor taking the lead.

The Globe's production this year definitely does have a young actor, Joshua McGuire, in the lead and is a pared back version with a running time of around two hours straight through. There is always a bit of flab in Shakespeare so it will be interesting to see how it changes the dynamics of the play. And as I haven't seen a young actor play Hamlet on the stage before, I'm naturally excited about that too.

The final version at the Young Vic is the most traditional with Martin Sheen taking the role. I've already written questioning whether they've got it wrong. But, I'm still curious to see an actor of his stature on the Young Vic stage playing THE role and hopefully by October, when I'm seeing it, I will have forgotten how good Rory Kinnear was at the National.

Tender Napalm, Southwark Playhouse

Image Bit of a Philip Ridley fan so was naturally keen to see his new piece, Tender Napalm, at the Southwark Playhouse. It is a two-hander played out on a rectangular stage, bare apart from two chairs facing each other from either end. The audience sits down the two long sides.

From the opening exchange between the Man (Jack Gordon) and the Woman (Vinette Robinson), positioned so as to have the audience looking one way then another, as if watching a tennis match, the emotional battle lines are drawn.

The play explores love at it most tender and most explosive through a series of linked vignettes - some exchanges, some monologues.

Many are from a flight of imagination where the two protagonists are Greek God-like characters fighting each other for supremacy in their own fantasy kingdom. These are cleverly interwoven with glimpses and references of reality so that the story of their relationship and the nature of their love gradually unfolds.

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Frankenstein Q&A: some of the Q's and A's

IMGP3343 This is an abridged version of the Q&A from last night's charity, post-show event at the National. Someone recorded the whole thing and you can listen in segments on You Tube although the sound quality isn't great.

Just to put it in context. We were all given the green masks to wear (as modelled by Christmas Bear below) as a surprise to Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller and Danny Boyle when they came out. Didn't quite go to plan as the lights were down so they couldn't really see us.

Benedict has been poorly and losing his voice but sounded fine while Jonny sounded a bit horse so I guess he had played the creature. Benedict was drinking beer although Jonny did steal it off him at one point and take a glug. There was a bit of a bromance going on between the two, lots of praise for each other and touching. They are either good actors or have obviously grown close.

The woman from the world service, who lead the Q&A, seemed a little bit out of her depth at times (did cringe a couple of time but perhaps that's the journalist in me). Maybe she was just overwhelmed by the company. A few clips from the live broadcast were shown but these were curtailed so that there was time for more questions as the whole thing started rather late.

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Pictures: Frankenstein Q&A @nationaltheatre

Was allowed to take pictures at this evening's (for charity) Frankenstein Q&A. More on the event itself tomorrow - it was fab but it's midnight. And thanks to @3rdspearcarrier for inexplicably swapping his front row seat for my back row seat which enabled me to get such good shots.


Related posts:

Frankenstein talk of the town

The National creates a monster

Danny Boyle can't get enough Frankenstein

The day of theatre tours and why it's good to ask

The-National-The_1464353c Had my friend Chris staying for a few days this week and on Thursday we ended up doing not one but three theatre tours. Two by design, one by chance.

The National Theatre backstage tour and The Globe tour and exhibition were the two by design and the New London Theatre, where War Horse is playing, by chance but I'll come onto that.

I've done the National tour before and it is excellent. You spend 80 minutes with an enthusiastic guide going behind the scenes to get a flavour of work that goes on. I've done it before but each time it is different as there are always the sets of the current productions to get up close to (Frankenstein being the draw this time although they were setting the lights so we couldn't go on stage, just behind it) as well as what is being made for upcoming productions.

In the set workshop we saw some of the forthcoming Cherry Orchard set and props being worked on as well as the set model and some of the back drops being painted for One Man Two Guv'nors. We were also lucky enough to catch a brief glimpse of the cast of the latter, including James Corden, in one of the rehearsal rooms, just before the shutters were brought down to obscure them from view.

It is certainly worth the £7.50 particularly if you have seen or are seeing one of the plays on stage at the time. Or maybe it's just me and my fascination with all things theatrical?

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The potted Pinter review - Moonlight at the Donmar Warehouse

Moonlight - Whats On As the applause died down and we started to rise from our seats @polyg turned to me and said: "Not all Pinter is like that."

The Pinter in question was Moonlight at the Donmar and my first of his plays. And while the richness and almost poetic language was at times breathtaking the play itself was so utterly disengaging it is a good job I don't wear a watch.

It all sounds so promising in the synopsis. A father lies dying and recalls his past while his wife tries to persuade his sons to come and visit. Indeed it is described:

A tragic comedy of family dysfunction, Moonlight is one of Harold Pinter's most human and poignant plays suffused with universal emotions: the cold dread of death; the pain of separation from loved ones; the longing for reunion; and the continuity of the family.

The problem is that the family is dysfunctional to the point of being almost wholly unlikeable. Father Andy (David Bradley) is so bitter he taunts his wife with his feelings for others. His sons lay around in a squalid flat reeling off lists of people they know and pretending to be a dry cleaners when their mother calls. And Andy's friends just brag about their children.

It is presented as a series of vignettes, some have moments 'comedy' or 'poignancy' but most don't. The scenes where Andy's daughter's ghost appears are at times painfully beautiful and the best bits.

There is nothing to fault with the acting or the production, it is simply the play. If I felt half the things the characters purport to feel I think I'd shoot myself. In fact, if it had gone on much longer than it's 70-80 minutes running time I might have had to do something to myself in order to find an excuse to escape.

I'm giving it 2 out of 5. It runs until 28 May.

Precious Little Talent at the Trafalgar Studios 2

Splash The latest offering at the Trafalgar Studios small studio space is new play Precious Little Talent by award winning playwright Ella Hickson. And it is a curious piece, curious in that it is on the whole engaging but at the same time unsatisfying.

Set, primarily, in New York it opens on Christmas Eve on the roof of an apartment block with an encounter between young American Sam and newly arrived "English" girl Joey: “British is what people say when they are too embarrassed to call themselves English”.

It is the sort of encounter that only really happens in fiction and you get to see the same scene played out twice, once from each character's perspective. Sam is immediately smitten with Joey. Joey responds to his chat up lines by suddenly putting her hand in his jeans pocket and then licking his mouth (this is fiction remember).

Sam works in the apartment block as a carer for retired English professor George who has a degenerative disease. George is Sam’s father but they haven’t seen each other for two years.

The triangle between Sam trying to woo Joey, Joey trying to re-establish a relationship with her father and George trying to shield his daughter from the truth about his condition is both engaging, touching and well executed.

The problem with Precious Little Talent is not a lack of talent but a lack of focus.

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March's theatre round up

Tickets to see Wastwater didn't quite pan out, so here is my March round up instead. There are eight plays and some corkers but one particularly awful production has dragged the average down but I'll come onto that.

And before I introduce the top three, I've agonised a little over the rating for my number one choice, in fact I've changed my mind twice while writing this and so I'm going to sit on the fence and put both as equal first:

= 1 Frankenstein - Benedict Cumberbatch as creature (National Theatre) 86%

= 1 Flare Path (Theatre Royal Haymarket) 86%

3 Lidless (Trafalgar Studios) 65%

There have been a couple of plays that haven't quite lived up to expectation, despite good performances and polished productions, Rocket to the Moon being one which proved a bit lacklustre.

My average rating is the lowest so far this year but still a respectable 60.75% or 3.5/5 in the star ratings but it would have been the second highest if it hadn't been for Quango 193 which was truly dreadful, barely scraping 1 star or 12%.

Haven't got a huge amount booked in for April yet but among those I have which I'm most looking forward to is Moonlight at the Donmar and Philip Ridley's new play Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse.

I'm also off to see War Horse again, this time in the West End which is bound to be a treat as I enjoyed it very much the first time I saw it at the National


Back in the theatre saddle

Had a little theatre break (did you miss me?) last week, mainly because of work commitments and a little bit because of my fixation with BBC 4 series The Killing - only 7 episodes to go. But this week I'm back and if my plan to nab a £10 day seat for Wastwater at the Royal Court tomorrow is successful then I shall be seeing three plays.

On Wednesday I'm off to see Precious Little Talent by Ella Hickson at the little Trafalgar Studios 2 with the lovely @polyg. It's a new play and Hickson has won an award but I won't hold that against it.

Then on Friday I'm back to the Donmar after a few months break while they got a musical out of their system to see Pinter's Moonlight, again with Poly. Not seen much Pinter or indeed this so another potential surprise.

Hopefully plenty to write about, not least my March review which I'll slot in at some point. Right back to The Killing.