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July 2011
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September 2011

August 2011

In which Stan tries to get Ben Whishaw a job at the Propeller Theatre Company

Dear Mr Hall,

You've got an all male Shakespeare company, right? Need any new actors?

Well just in case you do, let me introduce you to Mr Ben Whishaw. He's done a bit of Shakespeare, played Hamlet once, directed by Trevor Nunn - have you heard of him? And he donned moobs to play Ariel in a film of The Tempest which is like extreme cross-dressing.

He's also played Konstantin in The Seagull which everyone says is like Hamlet so that must count too.

Aside from experience, he's also quite slight of build so could definitely play girls (he'd be perfect for Juliet) and doesn't seem to eat much so would be cheap on tour.

But most of all he's keen. In fact he said he'd love to have a go at playing a female character in Shakespeare.

Please consider him for your Company. Everyone who works with him says he's really nice.

Yours hopefully

Rev Stan

PS If you need to get hold of him this is his agent


That was August in theatreland but what's in store for September?

The month isn't quite over but I feel it's time to reflect on August's theatre going. Despite the throngs of tourists who flood into London for what is supposedly our warmest month, most theatres seem reluctant to launch new productions and as a result there have been slim pickings.

But there has still been a handful of complete gems, three in fact that all earned five stars from me. Sadly it wasn't enough to counter the less than sparkling productions with August officially my worst month of the year so far with an average rating of 3.13 stars. Ouch.

Two plays didn't make it onto the scoreboard albeit for different reasons. The first, Lady of Pleasure had me running for the tube at the interval and therefore I thought it unfair to rate just half and the second was Wild Child, part of the Royal Court Rough Cuts season which is a work in progress - a very good work in progress - but again, I didn't feel it fair to rate.

Anyway onto the gems:

1. Wittenberg - breathed fresh life back into pub theatre, clever, witty and intelligent. I gave it 87% putting it up there as a contender for play of the year.

2. Broken Glass - my first experience of this Arthur Miller play and Antony Sher. Wow is all I can say. It gets 86%

3. Anna Christie - Another hit from the Donmar and not just because of Jude Law's ultra buff body, the play and performances also had the wow factor. 85% is it's Stan rating, yep it was that close this month.

Worst play of the month, aside of The Lady of Pleasure sadly goes to another White Bear Theatre production: La Ronde. It wasn't a bad production as such just a play that is dated and needs a fresh contemporary take that was lacking here. I gave it 48%.

So that was August but what of September? Well the Autumn is chocker full of promise with so many new production but next month I'm most looking forward to the as yet untitled Mike Leigh play at the National, Faith Machine at the Royal Court and a brace of plays at the Arcola: Tell Them I Am Young and Beautiful and Phaedra's Love.

I must also mention that I'm stupidly excited about seeing the final performance of the Tennant/Tate Much Ado About Nothing on Saturday not just because I enjoyed the play but also because I've never seen a last night before and I'm expect all sorts of fun and japes.

La Ronde at the White Bear - just a load of shagging under sheets?

La ronde lg sq I think I'm going to have to file the production of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde at the White Bear in the same category as Top Girls. It's a play that is of its early 20th century time.

David Hare's modern makeover in 1998, called the Blue Room, caused a stir because - Shock! Horror! - the audience caught a glimpse of Nicole Kidman's bare arse. The difference between Blue Room and La Ronde being that with the former, no one batted an eyelid about the male full frontal nudity, which is ironic on several levels, while in the early 1900s sex as a subject matter caused violent outrage.

But I get ahead of myself. La Ronde is a series of short scenes each revolving around a sexual encounter. The scenes are linked as one character from each moves onto the next so that the soldier who sleeps with the prostitute goes on to seduce the maid and so on through the classes finishing with a Count sleeping with the prostitute.

Schnitzler wanted to examine morals and sexuality. I imagine at the time it was written it was shocking for not only blatantly discussing that people had sex but also that everyone was at it.

Today neither of these things raise so much as an eyebrow. The play being pre-sexual revolution has the men dominating while the women lie back and think of Austria. There are a few exceptions though.

You could argue that in a modern context it is interesting to debate just how far or otherwise the sexual revolution has got women but this play is more about the morality of it all rather than women. The Harbinger Theatre Production Company has updated the setting to the 1950s but I'm not sure what that actually adds.

Otherwise it is reasonably well done. The actors do a good job in the intimate setting of the White Bear. If Nicole Kidman ever felt intimidated by the closeness of Donmar audience then this cast are due recognition for stripping to their smalls with the paying public just feet away.

Continue reading "La Ronde at the White Bear - just a load of shagging under sheets?" »

I pray thee, go to Wittenberg @gatetheatre

July1.1 I was beginning to lose faith in London's pub theatre. Were the hidden gems like The Man imagined? Were the productions that punched way above their bijou performance space and budgets just wishful thinking?

Thank goodness then for The Gate in Notting Hill and Wittenberg. Pub theatre is alive and certainly kicking.

David Davalos's play imagines the young Prince Hamlet at school in Wittenberg (note the young, Mr Pearce ;0) where he is studying theology and philosophy. His theology tutor is one Dr Martin Luther on the cusp of nailing his Ninety-Five Thesis to a church door and his philosophy tutor is Dr Faustus.

Luther is devout but questioning the Catholic church. He's also constipated literally having an Hallelujah moment on the toilet. While his friend and physician, Faustus, is less inclined to live by faith but by intellect, wine, women and song (he performs at the local pub in the evening).

Hamlet, the future King, is in awe of his tutors and susceptible to their views. Troubled by a dream (and his tennis game) he turns to Luther and Faustus for help. The two tutors meanwhile are having an intellectual battle of their own debating faith vs reason in which Hamlet becomes unwittingly embroiled.

Continue reading "I pray thee, go to Wittenberg @gatetheatre" »

Five actors I'd move heaven to see on stage

This post started life back in June from a question @polyg asked while we were waiting for a play to start. And of course it needed some thought before answering, nearly three months worth in fact. 

There are plenty of great actors I enjoy watching on stage but the play and the role often informs the choice of going to see it.

So this has to be about, who I would rush out to see, regardless of what they were in. Well no thought for my first choice, but the remaining four...

Leavesofglass372 1. Ben Whishaw - First saw him in Leaves of Glass at the Soho Theatre in 2007 after being mesmerised by him on screen in Perfume: Story of  Murderer. I've seen everything he's done on stage ever since (and TV and Film, yes even the shorts) plus a recording at the V&A archive of his Hamlet from 2004.

I flew to New York to see The Pride - well I'd never been before so it was the perfect excuse and people go for less ie shopping. He's never disappointed me, he always makes interesting choices and he never fails to convince in his performances. He's one of those talents that says just as much without words and I always find my eye wandering over to where ever he is on stage just to see what he is doing.

Plays seen:Leaves of Glass, ...some trace of her, rehearsed reading of Ice Cream, Cock & The Pride

After-the-dance 2. Benedict Cumberbatch - BC had been bimbling along at the back of my conscience for a while, mainly for his TV roles. It's funny because he's become intrinsically linked with the character of Sherlock now and yet he first dazzled me in After The Dance at the National Theatre. Emotionally repressed is not easy to pull off without alienating the audience but you could feel his inner turmoil.

And then there was Frankenstein. Such a spectacle requires big performances.

I fear his next stint at the theatre maybe some time off as his dance card seems full with film and TV engagements at the moment.

Plays seen: After The Dance, Frankenstein (creature), Frankenstein (Victor)

Continue reading "Five actors I'd move heaven to see on stage" »

Finally, the perfect Hamlet

Heard this week of a third* Hamlet production for the year, this time a rather avant garde sounding version at the Barbican. Sadly its short run coincides with my holiday plans so it's unlikely I'll get to see it.

But it did remind me that I've already found my perfect Hamlet. He's young and good looking and I think he brings a special kind of youthful energy and angst to the role:


Yep, that's right, you can get a manga version of Hamlet, and other Shakespeare plays. Might have to start an alternative complete works collection...

* First was 'little' Hamlet at The Globe, second will be Michael Sheen at the Young Vic in the Autumn

Broken Glass brilliance @tricycletheatre

Glass Several theatre tweeps have spoken very highly of the Tricycle's production of Broken Glass from last year and I'm going to have to add my own superlatives. In a sentence, this production is faultless. 

It is one of Arthur Miller's later plays, written in the early 1990's but set in 1930s New York as the Nazi's were beginning to persecute Jews in Germany.

Like many of his stories he sets about destroying the image of a seemingly happy family. Sylvia Gellburg (Tara Fitzgerald) has suddenly lost the use of her legs and her loving husband Phillip (Antony Sher) is determined to do everything he can to get her better again.

Through a series of meetings between Phillip and Dr Harry Hyman (Stanley Townsend) and meetings between Dr Hyman and Sylvia the veneer over the Gellburg's relationship begins to peel and the source of Sylvia's conversion disorder or hysteria, as it was diagnosed back then, is revealed.

This being Miller the source of the problem is of course complex and multi-faceted. This play is about identity, racism, prejudice, love and respect and it is gripping and emotional stuff.

The staging is beautifully simple. A cellist signals the start of each new scene with snatches of beautifully sad and haunting tunes. Furniture is limited to a bed, two chairs and Sylvia's wheelchair. It leaves plenty of room for the stunning performances.

It may surprise some but this is the first time I've seen Antony Sher on the stage. Such is his talent that he seemed to physically grow smaller as the play progresses.

Continue reading "Broken Glass brilliance @tricycletheatre" »

Top Girls not quite top play

651308-I-LS_topgirls_l Caryl Churchill's Top Girls is a bit of a rarity in that it is a play entirely made up of female characters. It is, therefore, a little disappointing that it hasn't aged very well.

It's nearly 30 years since it was first performed earning plaudits for being a commentary on Thatcher's Britain.

It's central character Marlene has just been given the top job at a recruitment agency over a man. The play starts with Marlene celebrating her promotion with a fantasy dinner party in which she is joined by various historic and literary figures - Pope Joan, Dull Gret and Lady Nijo to name just three.

The subsequent acts then flit back and forth from the time before the promotion and just after it, examining her relationship with her female co-workers and the poor relatives she left behind - and there is a skeleton in the closet there of course.

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Appreciating the fruits of Jude Law's labour: Anna Christie

ANNA-CHRISTIE-by_1968071b The new season at the Donmar has got off to a cracking start with Eugene O'Neill's tale about trying to escape the past - and not just because Jude Law has been working out, a lot.

Seaman Chris Christopherson (David Hayman) is reunited with his daughter Anna (Ruth Wilson), whom he hasn't seen since she was a young child in Sweden.

When Anna falls in love with Irish sailor Mat Burke (Law), who is rescued from a shipwreck by Chris, personalities and expectation clash and the past Anna thought she'd escaped from threatens to tear them all apart.

Ruth Wilson is the star in every respect. From the moment she steps on stage you get the impression this is a young woman who has already experienced too much in life. There is just enough feisty-ness and just enough vulnerability. By the interval I was already on the verge of tears.

Continue reading "Appreciating the fruits of Jude Law's labour: Anna Christie" »

The battle of the Richard III's: Propeller vs Spacey

PAGE_9_SPACEY_618871s So this week I finally got to see the Old Vic production of Richard III with Kevin Spacey donning the hump.

Propeller Theatre Company's all-male, Victorian gothic/horror version, last month, with Richard Clothier playing the King as a comic yet nonetheless sinister murderer blew me away. I gave it five stars. So Spacey et al already had a big shoes to fill.

So did it impress?

The Old Vic's production is definitely more traditional, it's a longer version of play for a start, no nip and tuck with Shakespeare's text like Propeller.

Spacey plays directly to the audience as much as possible, looking individuals in the eye as he worked his way through the soliloquies rather than gazing out into the distance. Its a device that works really well giving the audience the uncomfortable feeling of complicity in his murderous schemes and making the smug revelling in his duplicity all the more amusing.

But like the contrasting costumes - Spacey in black much of the time, Clothier in red velvet - it is the latter's Richard which stands out as the more colourful portrayal. Clothier's felt the more fun but more dangerous for it.

There were some great choices by Sam Mendes who directed at the Old Vic. Having Queen Margaret as a cross between a bag lady and ghost delivering her curses while banging bones together and placing black crosses on the set's many doors as each prophecy comes true worked brilliantly. It threads nicely into the Bosworth Field scene where King Richard is visited by the ghosts of all his victims.

Continue reading "The battle of the Richard III's: Propeller vs Spacey" »