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June 2011

When theatre trailers go too far?

Am off to see The Seagull at the Arcola tonight. Never seen the play before and very much looking forward to it. Decided to watch the trailer and kind of feel they've given the ending away - which is a real shame. Nothing beats a shock or surprise at the end of a play when you see it for the first time.

I'm not against theatre trailers, it's nice to get a flavour of a production to whet the appetite but I do hope they don't start falling into the same trap as some film makers and give away virtually the entire plot in 1 minute 20 seconds.


The Flying Karamatov Brothers - better than Pirates 4

Image As we were leaving the Vaudeville Theatre last night, my friend Kate said to me: "Well it was better than Pirates of the Caribbean." A reference to the fourth film, On Stranger Tides, which we'd seen together a few weeks earlier and been distinctly underwhelmed by.

And that probably sums it up quite nicely. The Flying Karamazov Brothers mainly juggle and occasionally play instruments and lark around a bit. They are very impressive jugglers and do some great musical interludes and one quite amusing ballet-themed one but at the end of the day they are a cabaret act and quite what they are doing on the stage of a big West End theatre in a run that is due to last until September I do not know.

Like a good fringe show they are fun but at 90 minutes even with the interval it feels stretched.  I think I'd be quite miffed if I'd paid any more than £10 for a ticket (prices are advertised up to around £40 for the best seats) but as the auditorium was barely half full I imagine it will be easy to get hold of good offers.

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Will Luise Miller redeem the Donmar?

Schillers-luise-miller After the disappointing Moonlight, I've been waiting for something a bit more in the league of Red from the Donmar and Luise Miller might come close.

It's a new version of Friedrich Schiller's late 18th century play and one of what became known as the 'domestic tragedies'.

Luise (pronounced Louisa not Louise as I quickly discovered and played by Felicity Jones) is a musician's daughter who falls in love with one of her father's students, Ferdinand (Max Bennett), the son of the powerful and important Chancellor.

It would be problem enough except that Ferdinand reciprocates Luise's love and his father (Ben Daniels) has a strategic and politically important marriage arranged for him to the Prince's mistress Lady Milford (Alex Kingston).

Of course the passionate young love threatens to derail The Chancellor's plans and those of his servant Wurm (John Light), who has an eye for Luise himself, and so something must be done to break the bond between the two.

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The good half of Chicken Soup with Barley

B011pkql_640_360 I don't want to seem ungrateful because I didn't pay for my ticket but it is difficult to properly review the Royal Court's Chicken Soup with Barley because I could only see half the stage from my seat.

Was really lucky to win two tickets which happened to be in the circle slips - avoid these seats like the plague - and I probably wouldn't have got to see this wonderful play otherwise, so I'm thankful for that.

But it doesn't get around the fact that for large chunks of key scenes I couldn't actually see any of the actors as the dinner table around which much of the action takes place was obscured. I'm not exaggerating but certain characters I didn't actually see properly until they took their bow.

Anyway pushing that to one side, what I saw was brilliant. This is a political play with a real heart. Sarah Kahn (Samantha Spiro), an East End Jewish mother, is a communist, an idealist and obsessed with making sure everyone is fed and watered at every opportunity. She also lives under her own obscure but amusing sort of logic.

"God knows what I'll do without air when I'm dead"

Every ounce of homemaker is more than matched by her passion for the cause, nothing will stop her protesting and fighting for what she sees as right.

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Young Vic turns its hand to farce: Government Inspector

Government-Inspector--007 More farce in London, this time it's the Young Vic's turn with David Harrower's version of the 19th-century, Nicolai Gogol play, Government Inspector.

Julian Barratt of Mighty Boosh-fame makes his stage-debut as the small town Mayor in back of beyond Russia. It is a simple set up. News arrives that a government inspector is to visit the town incognito which sends the bureaucrats into a frenzy of efficiency and clean-up. When the inspector is wrongly identified as a traveller passing through, it exposes exactly the sort of underhand activity the town's bigwigs are desperate to hide.

The story is generously populated with many of the cast members doubling up - all are caricatures and dressed in pantomime-worthy costumes. The set and production design has the feel of a Russian-influenced 80's sit-com gone bad complete with a mechanical furry friend running along the picture rail and hands appearing out of vases on dressers.

It starts with dream and ends with a nightmare although the whole play has that strange surreal feel to it. In the video interview below Barratt describes it as Kafka-like.

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From The Wire to wit: Dominic West is Butley

DominicWest Butley is one of those classic misanthropic literary characters that says such naughty things you laugh against your better judgement.

He's a bored English Literature lecturer at a London University, sardonic, profligate, self-centred with a penchant for daytime drinking. Not surprisingly his wife Anne (Amanda Drew) is leaving him for another man, his friend and colleague Joseph (Mark Hutson) is leaving him for his own space and another man, Reg (Paul McGann), and to top it all the students are rebelling.

Butley is full of self-loathing which prevents him from pulling out of the downward spiral in which he finds himself. He rails against what he sees as the injustice of it all in the only way he can with words of delicious wit that cut to the bone.

And it is a very funny wit. However, there is a 'but' in Butley and as incredibly impressive as the Duchess Theatre set was (I've never seen so many books on stage) and as strong as the performances were, I couldn't help thinking that the play somehow got lost.

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The Much Ado About Nothing Press night but did they like it?

Muchadotennant_1910231b Was lucky enough to get to go to the press night of the Tennant/Tate Much Ado About Nothing last night - thanks to @polyg securing us tickets (nope not a freebie). Think I was more excited about the celeb spotting than the play, initially: Billie Piper, Bob Geldolf (with Tiger Lily), Neil Pearson, Georgia Moffett, Peter Davidson, Richard Wilson and Angela Rippon were all in.

But then the play started and it's all got a little bit calmer and subsequently more coherent and rounded since the first preview I saw. And it is really good - the most enjoyable Shakespeare comedy I've seen.

At the first preview I gave it four stars, the hysteria of the first night fans was a little too much, but it's going up to five now and we even stood for the ovation - first time I've done that. And now the professional reviewers have seen it what did they think? Not that is matters one jot as it's virtually sold out.

Last night I predicted on Twitter that one critic wouldn't enjoy it but was I right?

Michael Billington in the Guardian gives it four stars: "While Jeremy Herrin's version at Shakespeare's Globe has many admirable qualities, this West End revival is 20 minutes shorter, more socially specific and much sexier"

Charles Spencer in the Telegraph also gave it four stars, although don't read his review if you want Mr Tennant's spectacular entrance to remain a surprise: "This, in short, is populist Shakespeare with both intelligence and heart."

Henry Hitchins in The Evening Standard is a another four star review: "I have seen funnier productions of Much Ado, and more pungently intelligent ones, but Rourke's account oozes charm."

And yes I was right, someone didn't like it. That honour goes to The Independent's Paul Taylor who gave it three stars: "Despite Tennant's gloriously engaging Benedick - I'd rather go to the Globe"