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May 2011

May theatre round up - kicking bad theatre in the balls

One-Man-Two-Guvnors-Billi-007 May certainly kicked in the theatre stakes and with size tens - the second best month this year so far.

It was Much Ado month, the hot ticket with accompanying brouhaha. Mr Tennant and Ms Tate et al were very good, shame the audience wasn't quite so and it lost a star because of it. Harsh perhaps but I'm seeing it again so there is ample opportunity for the audience to redeem itself and allow the play to fully shine.

It took equal top spot with One Man Two Guvnors (pictured above) a similar play in tone - lots of physical comedy and farcical elements neither of which are usually my thing but which just seemed to have tickled the right rib.

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It's not Jerusalem at the White Bear

The-winterling_thumb Jerusalem is still a painful word to me. It's the play that got away, the one I really wanted to see but wasn't organised enough. I even got up early one bank holiday monday to queue for day seats but to no avail.

I may still get my chance as there are rumours it might come back to the West End after its stint on Broadway (and I'll be ready this time). But in the meantime Stone Junction Productions which specialises in reviving 'entertaining, thought-provoking and human' modern plays is putting on an early Jez Butterworth - The Winterling.

So off I pop to what is my nearest theatre, the lovely bijou White Bear in Kennington and settle on one of their benches with a nice glass of red, ready to be blown away by Butterworth.

Winterling is set in a semi derelict dwelling on Dartmoor where West, a man in a suit, lives alongside a homeless man, Draycott, who sleeps on the porch and a girl called Lue who sleeps upstairs. West invites a former associate from his criminal past, Wally, to visit and Wally brings along his stepson the Patsy whom he seems to be grooming into the ways of the shady underworld.

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Before the Exit Line at the The Horse

IMG_0259 Before The Exit Line is a fun piece, devised over just three days of improvisation and workshop by First Draft Theatre. The idea, it says in the programme, is to push the story beyond the last line of the text through a series of structured improvisations (and a bit of audience participation).

It is loosely structured as an audition with five actors being put through their paces by a director who sits tucked away in a corner behind the audience and talks through microphone.

A variety of audition pieces are used from speeches by Puck in A Midsummer's Night Dream to Brecht's The Jewish Wife. There is some physical interpretation and lots of playing around with different styles of acting and even pieces where the five actors perform the same speech in different languages.

The audience gets involved a couple of times to decide the style of how certain pieces are done by raising a red or yellow card.

It's a shame this is only on for three nights because I think it would develop well with a longer run. Some of the 'audition pieces' are a little long, trimming and replacing with some other shorter pieces would add more variety and flexibility to explore a little more boldly.

I was a little disappointed that the audience vote wasn't used more, again something that could be used a little more boldly.

But overall it is fun and interesting, with some cute hammy and unhammy performances. Its on a the The Horse pub near Waterloo tonight and tomorrow at 8pm and tickets are £6/8. Get in the queue early for a comfy seat on a sofa or armchair.


Ingeniously positioned loos and Little Eyolf at Jermyn Street Theatre

Little-eyolf_1888118b Prior to my first visit to the Jermyn Street Theatre @3rdspearcarrier tweeted me that it had the most "ingeniously positioned" toilets which immediately made me wonder if I should pay a visit before I left home.

This studio theatre is accessed via steps straight down from the street, passing a cubby-hole serving as box office where I enquired as to the whereabouts of the loos. "Across the stage," was the reply quickly followed by "you can't use them during the performance."

I can just see myself elbowing Imogen Stubbs out of the way to get in before the interval queue forms, well actually I can't, I'm mortified if I so much as clear my throat during a performance. But yes, you do have to cross the small but perfectly formed stage to reach the loos, so I can add Jermyn Street to my list of 'boards I've trod on'. (I nearly wrote 'been on' then but in this context thought better of it.)

Anyway loos schmoose, what was the play like? Well it's set around the Allmers family who have a crippled son Eyolf. Mother Rita (Stubbs) is a hand-wringing, needy woman of heightened passion, seemingly on the verge of hysteria.

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Slapstick comes to the National Theatre: One Man, Two Guvnors

One_Man_Two_Guvnors_main It would be very easy to get snobby about Richard Bean's new play at the National Theatre - I've had to catch myself a couple of times mid nose-wrinkle. It's all a bit Carry On style you see, not the usual sort of thing you expect to see on the South Bank.

 But, as the programme so happily points out, such comedy is much broader than we snooty culture freaks give it credit for and its roots are centuries old.  

One Man, Two Guvnors is based on an 18th Century Italian play called The Servant and Two Masters but updated to the criminal underworld of 1960's Brighton.  It has all the elements of classic Shakespearean comedy from plain old slapstick and physical comedy to twins, mistaken identity and farcical gender swapping.

It's central premise is, as the name suggests, about a man who has two bosses. Francis Henshall (James Corden) ends up with two jobs and much of the play centres around him trying to serve both masters without the other finding out. There is a bit more to it than that but this isn't a play you go and see for the improbable storyline. It is a play to go an see if you just want to settle back (as much as you can in the tortuously uncomfortable Lyttleton seats) and be entertained.

And it is entertaining. It is irritating too, at times, but it is certainly entertaining. There are musical interludes, during scene changes, primarily supplied by the resident skiffle band but with some surprise appearances and there is a bit of dancing and a bit of singing. There is also pie in the face, hiding under tables, hair on fire, characters getting hit with dustin lids and opening doors and even a Benny Hill-esque chase. Oh and the fourth wall is well and truly broken.

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Much Ado About Tennant/Tate - the first night

IMG_0254 Confession time. I'm not particularly a Shakespeare comedy fan and neither do I watch Dr Who. It is past stage performances of David Tennant and Catherine Tate that made me snap up the tickets on offer to see them paired as Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

Now I know there are a lot of Tennant fans out there but nothing could quite compare me for this evening's hysteria in the auditorium; the shrill, hysterical laughter when he so much as raised an eyebrow did almost get too much at times.

This was probably the closest theatre actors get to feeling like pop stars (unless they are playing one of course).

But it's good to see a packed out theatre for Shakespeare so I'm not going to complain too much and he and Tate did live up to expectations as did the production.

Director Josie Rourke has decided to milk every possible laugh from physical comedy. The lovely @btacts whom I met for the first time this evening (and who said 'hello' to Mr T when she passed him on the street beforehand) described it as virtually pantomime. And so it was but that is no bad thing.

It is set in the 80s for a start complete with disco music, girls in ra-ra dresses and the men wearing Officer and a Gentleman-esqe uniforms teamed with Tom Cruise-Top Gun aviator sunglasses. When Bendick makes his grand entrance (won't spoil it by saying how) you know this is going to be a production with its tongue firmly in its cheek and fun tattooed on its forehead.

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I Am The Wind - properly this time

Was lucky enough to get a taster of this Jon Fosse play at the Young Vic a couple of weeks ago at a dress rehearsal and I must admit that I was really looking forward to seeing it again.

I don't pretend to understand it fully or anywhere close. It is one of those plays that, like Waiting For Godot, I can see A-Level English students picking over and debating. There is much to chew over.

Essentially it is about two men going on a voyage together. Or is it? The two characters The One (Tom Brooke) and The Other (Jack Laskey) could be two sides of the same person. Discuss. See that is what I like about it.

You can't even say that this is a piece about words rather than action because French director Patrice Chereau kicks off with a beautiful bit of physical theatre. The Other picks up the partially dressed and soaking wet The One, cradling his limp, un-responding body until his weight gets too much. He then puts him gently down and, all the time supporting him, dresses him in a jumper from his own back.

The One has just tried or maybe succeeded in committing suicide.

The Other questions The One on his actions and a despondent disconnect is revealed:

"Everything's so visible

everything can be seen

the things that people hide with what they say

the things maybe they don't even know about themselves

I see all of that"

You get a sense of irony that needs further exploration. The two then embark on a voyage together, their vessel lifting almost magically from out of the flooded stage. Yes, the Young Vic stage is flooded (see pics below if you don't believe me).

It seems, to me anyway, to be at once a celebration of the simple things that make us feel alive but also an examination of the human struggle of expression, understanding and simply being. Both beautiful, haunting and moving the piece comes full circle, ending almost as it begins.

Plaudits to Messrs Laskey and Brooke for their fine performances particularly in damp and difficult conditions. (I do wonder how long it took them to get their sea legs on the moving platform that represents their boat and how cold the water is - just me then?)

This is marmite theatre as the variety of reviews on attest. You will either love it or hate it. The saving grace, if isn't your thing, is that it is only 70 minutes long. I loved it and I'm giving it 4 stars out of five.

It's on at the Young Vic until May 21.



Thought this might be tricky with there only being two cast members but it turns out that Jack Laskey was in Hamlet with Mr W at the Old Vic. He played the roles of Cornellius and Reynaldo.

April's theatre round up

Ok so there are six contenders for April's top three. I actually saw seven plays but the last, I Am The Wind, was a dress rehearsal so I haven't rated that - the play proper will appear, possibly, in May's list as I saw it last night.

The monthly average was the lowest so far this year at 54.37%. Two plays Moonlight at the Donmar and Hamlet 1603 were the lowest scoring but it is the former Pinter play which did the most damage scraping just a 30% rating.

Slightly strange month because there are two plays in the top three that I didn't review because I've already seen them. One a few years back when it was first staged and the other was a repeat visit.

So here goes:

1. Flare Path, Theatre Royal Haymarket 

Took my friend Chris to see this while she was visiting as I thought she'd enjoy it and I love it first time around. And I was right, she did enjoy it. For me it was just as good, if not a little better than first time. Top marks come from the fact that it made me laugh and cry and is just a damn good story. If you haven't seen it yet, queue for day seats they are £20 and on the first two rows.

2. Tender Napalm, Southwark Playhouse 81%

Big fan of Philip Ridley and with his new play he has surpassed himself mixing imagery and metaphor with reality in this dynamic and energetic two-hander that takes your breath away.

3. War Horse, New London Theatre 79%

This was Chris's birthday present. I'd been looking for an excuse for a return visit having seen the original production at the National Theatre. The puppetry is first class and while it is a spectacle it is also heart-warming.


May is shaping up to be an interesting month with six plays already either seen or booked. The most highly anticipated is, of course, David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing which I'm seeing on Monday.


The Globe's lighter Hamlet

IMG_0253 Dominic Dromgoole's production of Hamlet has a song and dance routine as its book ends. It sets a lighter tone to what is probably one of Shakespeare's heaviest, brooding plays and it seemed fitting against the backdrop of the replica 17th-century theatre.

Shakespeare would, as we know, have been writing for a myriad of people, from those poorly educated, cash-strapped groundlings standing around the stage to the gentry up in their elaborately painted boxes and modern productions sometimes forget this element of his work.

Gregory Doran's David Tennant-led Hamlet for the RSC three years ago teased out some of the more humourous elements of the play but Dromgoole goes one step further stopping just short of directing the actors to deliver lines with a wink and a nudge.

He has chosen a young actor, 23-year old Joshua McGuire to play Hamlet who brings a youthful energy almost to level of bratish arrogance. And the pace is quick, not quite 1603 quick but there has certainly been some pruning here and there.

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The budding playwright's play

A colleague, Lucy Barnard, is doing an MA in creative writing at Birkbeck and last term the focus was plays. We've chatted plenty about what we've seen recently and swapped play texts. Of course it's not about existing work but creating an original piece.

Lucy asked me to 'review' the short play she's written, a play that has never been performed other than a class read through and that I've only ever read. I agreed on the proviso that when she is a famous playwright she'll invite me to the premieres of all her plays.

Seems a fair deal to me but the problem is, of course, that no one reading this will have read* her play. However, a promise is a promise.

So what's it about? Well it's called Ghost Estate, the name referring to the housing boom and bust in Ireland:

"We've got no choice. We spent all our money buying this place - and now it's worthless and we're stuck. We're up the proverbial creek without so much as a stick."

David who is English has moved to Ireland with his Irish wife Siobhan and they are preparing for their young son's birthday party. It becomes quickly evident that the marriage has been through a rocky patch and this is a fresh start, or rather an attempt at it because resentment and suspicion still run deep:

"OK. I'm not having an affair. I'm so un-sexually active I even found myself wanking to one of Toby's Manga comics last week - which I assure you alarms me much more than it could possibly alarm anyone else."

But the outside influences don't just emanate from past infidelity, perceived or otherwise, as becomes clear when the couple have an unexpected visitor.

So what is it like? Well it is safe to say that I wouldn't be writing about it if I didn't think it was any good. In fact I enjoyed reading it very much. It is probably best described as a darkly comic psychological thriller.  I laughed out loud more than once and it has some nice twists and turns along the way. I'd be curious to see how it translates onto the stage.

It is certainly the equal to what I've seen recently at the First Draft festival, so now it's over to you Lucy, go forth and become a famous playwright....

* Naturally Lucy is happy for as many people as possible to read her play so if you'd like a copy email me and I'll pass on your details.