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October 2011

September 2011

Finally the South Downs/Browning version review

1804053084 It's been nearly two weeks since I made my first trip to Chichester and a combination of indolence, sickness and general busyness has stood between me and my keyboard. The problem is that now that much time has passed my memory of this double bill of short plays has started to fade.

Not that they weren't very accomplished pieces of theatre, they were both superbly directed and acted pieces. I suppose what I mean is they are going to be memorable more as pieces attached to my first outing to Chichester than purely as plays in their own right.

Firstly the two work brilliantly together but then David Hare's South Down's was written to accompany Rattigan's The Browning Version. Both are set in public schools in the 1950s/60s both playwrights having gone to public schools themselves.

South Downs centre's on pupil John Blakemore (Alex Lawther) who is hyper intelligent, precocious and deemed odd by the other boys. While The Browning Version centre's on teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris (Nicholas Farrell) who is reluctantly retiring with no pension.

Both explore self identity and loneliness. Blakemore questions his inability to fit in with the rest of the boys and Crocker-Harris, worn down by years of academic grind and living in a loveless marriage questions his reputation among his pupils and his wider purpose.

If I was pressed to give a preference then it would be South Downs because it more easily transcended the period in which it is set. That and the fact that Lawther showed great promise in his professional debut.

Although I must mention Crocker-Harris's wife Millie played by Anna Chancellor who in a moment of vicious tongue-lashing is so cruel to her husband it raised a gasp from the audience.

This double bill is definitely worth a trip to Chichester to see and is booking until October 8. I'm going to give them a joint four stars.


The Stage: Southwark Playhouse must keep London Bridge home, urges council

Published Thursday 29 September 2011 at 13:32 by Natalie Woolman


It is great to see that the campaign to give Southwark Playhouse new space within the redeveloped London Bridge station, which I wrote about back in August, is gathering pace.

As the article states, the theatre has what will no doubt be one of its most important backers in the form of Southwark council planners. Sadly it's not the planners who decide they just advise the elected councillors and it is not unknown for councillors to ignore the advice of their advisors.

Lets hope all those on the Southwark planning committee are theatre fans.

Review Round-up: Mixed Bag for Leigh's Grief - Grief at Cottesloe (National Theatre) - London - Review Round-ups -

 ShareReview Round-up: Mixed Bag for Leigh's GriefDate: 22 September 2011


Have been interested to see what the critics made of 'The Mike Leigh Play' or Grief to give its official title and What's On Stage has done it usual excellent round up.

It scraped four stars from me but I think Leigh is one of those director who divides, so it is no surprise that critics too are divided.

Nothing below three stars although only What's On Stage's Michael Coveney gave it five.


Dudley Dursley takes the lead: When Did You Last See My Mother?

When-Did-You-Last-See-My--007 Have really wanted to see Harry Melling of Harry Potter cousin fame take on a lead role since he stole every scene he was in during Women Beware Women at the National last year. And so last week at the Trafalgar Studios 2 I got my chance.

In Christopher Hampton's little performed When Did You Last See My Mother? Melling plays Ian, a super intelligent, precocious 18-year-old who is sharply witty, manipulative and self-deprecating.

It's set in Ian's London bedsit in the 1960s when change is in the air. Ian is sharing with good looking, affluent school chum Jimmy (the fab Sam Swainsbury, last seen in Propeller's amazing Comedy of Errors and Richard III) before they head off to Oxford.

For all of Ian's precocious confidence, intelligence and needling he retains an air of youthful vulnerbility as evidenced in his affairs of the heart. Ian has a crush on Jimmy, who doesn't seem to have any problem in attracting attention from men or women, and he doesn't quite know what to do about it. That is until Jimmy's mother (Abigail Cruttenden) pays a visit to escape from the trials of married life and domesticity and Ian sees her as a way of getting closer to Jimmy.

Continue reading "Dudley Dursley takes the lead: When Did You Last See My Mother?" »

Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen: A souffle that rises all too briefly

Kitchen_1991345c The Olivier stage at the National Theatre is decked out, rather impressively, like it's ready for an episode of master chef in the 1950's. Actors playing kitchen staff and restaurant waitresses drift in gradually turning on gas rings, putting pans on to boil, heating oil, whisking sauces and preparing cutlery and glasses.

And so the energy slowly builds the closer it gets to service.

If you've never been into a restaurant kitchen this is certainly gives a good sense of the noise, tension and pressure the staff work under.

The interval comes just at the height of service when orders are flooding in and there is the cacophony of cooking and activity to service them. I felt exhausted just watching.

There is much to be admired. Arnold Wesker's play has a cast of more than 30, many of whom are on stage at the same time. The activity and banter is nearly constant and in all places, albeit for the occasional pause where action is frozen to allow brief private exchanges. And then there are times when the activity suddenly becomes co-ordinated like a dance.

Continue reading "Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen: A souffle that rises all too briefly" »

Good Grief?

Image Mike Leigh's subtle style and focus on the lives of the ordinary isn't to everyone's taste and Grief at the Cottesloe is very much classic Leigh.

The play was work-shopped and developed without a script with some of his regular collaborators - Lesley Manville and Wendy Nottingham to name two - and only given a title in the last week of rehearsal.

It's a post war drama set in a middle class household where war widow Dorothy (Manville) is living with her soon to be 16-year-old daughter Victoria (Ruby Bentall) and her soon to be retired older brother Edwin (Sam Kelly).

There are the characteristic Leigh moments of silence and banal conversations of everyday life peppered with some more colourful characters, mainly the friends of Dorothy and Edwin who always seem to be on their way to do more interesting things and are generally quite jolly.

It works beautifully to highlight how grief has crippled Dorothy. She goes through the motions but as the play progresses you realise she is just treading water, grasping ever more tightly to routine and completely in denial about her decaying relationship with Victoria.

Continue reading "Good Grief?" »

Di and Viv and Rose and Stan's thoughts

Di and Viv and Rose at Hampstead Downstairs feels like a breath of fresh air. This new play by Amelia Bullmore follows the lives of three friends who meet at Uni in 1983 and share a house.

The first half concentrates on their three student years together. Viv (Nicola Walker) is serious studious and celibate. Di (Tamzin Outhwaite) is sporty and enjoying the freedom of being out as a lesbian. And Di (Claudie Blakley) is ever kind and considerate but is enjoying being away from her suffocating village home and her depressed mother by sleeping with lots of men.

'If you ask them to go to bed with you they say 'yes''

The second half of the play visits them at various points during the next 24 years.

It is a breath of fresh air because it doesn't feel the need to brow beat or tackle grandiose topics such as capitalism and morality - there has been a bit too much of that in new plays recently.

Its valid because it feels human and personal while still touching on subjects such as lesbianism, promiscuity, aids and rape among others. It doesn't so much comment but show the human impact, almost the ordinariness of trials and tribulations of life. It shows how it shapes and tests friendship which is the heart and warmth of the play. 

And it does it in an entertaining and poignant way without being sentimental. The girls have fun - there is a lot of great 80's pop and dancing in the student days and they also have fears and fall outs.

Continue reading "Di and Viv and Rose and Stan's thoughts" »

Tell Them That I Am Young And Beautiful or the Kathryn Hunter coconut

Tellthem3 It's not often that you walk out of a theatre with more in your physical possession than you went in. On Thursday evening, I not only left*  the Arcola studio 2 with a coconut I'd bought off Kathryn Hunter but also having pretended to be a cow and comforted a grieving man.

I wasn't the only person to be a cow but the rest was unique to me - I must have been wearing my 'pick on face'.

If the thought of interaction with actors fills you with horror then probably best not to sit on the front row for Tell Them That I Am Young And Beautiful, a new piece written by Gilles Aufray and directed by Marcello Magni at the new small studio space at the Hackney theatre.

And it is a marvellous piece. Seven short stories from around the world told back to back in 75 minutes. Some have the quality of fables, some the quality of parables, at least one is based on a true story but all seem epic in there own small way. Kathryn Hunter leads the cast which is made up of a mixture of actors with backgrounds in music, circus and street performance.

Continue reading "Tell Them That I Am Young And Beautiful or the Kathryn Hunter coconut" »

Did Electricity by Barefaced Theatre electrify?

Electricity_poster_ammended3 The last time I went to a site-specific theatre production, I think I described it as two hours of my life I would never get back. That had little to do with the location, although a dull and nondescript office is not an encouraging point to start but more to do with the quality of the writing and acting.

Electricity is written by Murray Gold who is a seasoned writer for both stage and radio (David Tennant has 'appeared' in one of his radio plays, little fact-ette there for DT fans) so the writing was definitely a step up from my previous experience. And so was the acting, almost uniformly good.

But what of the setting? Well to put it in context, the play revolves around three men: Leo (Mansel David), Jakey (Anthony Dunn) and his son Bizzy (Zachariah Fletcher) who are decorating a room in Katherine's flat (Berri George). It's going to be a 'quiet room' with fountains and a statue of Hindu elephant god Ganesh.

It's performed in an old office space on a semi-residential street in Victoria, accessed via a plain door and narrow stairs. There are wires hanging out of the ceiling and protective sheeting over the floors and surfaces as well as paint tins and decorating paraphernalia.

The quiet room is taking shape, marked out by freshly painted orange walls (you can still smell the paint) and stencils taped to the wall. You certainly feel like you are sitting in the middle of decorating project. (And unlike other site-specific performances I've been to, there is a bar at the interval.)

There are two interwoven threads to the story. Leo is having problems getting a decent days work out of Jakey and Bizzy who seems to suffer from something akin to autism. The job is already running way over schedule not helped by Katherine's restrictions on when they can turn the power and water off.

Continue reading "Did Electricity by Barefaced Theatre electrify?" »

Review Round-up: Did Tempest Rouse the Critics? - The Tempest at Haymarket, Theatre Royal - London - Review Round-ups -

Ralph Fiennes & Elisabeth Hopper in The Tempest Review Round-up: Did Tempest Rouse the Critics? Date: 7 September 2011


Have been curious to read what the critics thought about the Trevor Nunn directed, Ralph Fiennes starring The Tempest. I'd have given it three stars at the interval but the second half pushed it to four stars. In this round up by What's on Stage (see link above) it seems to have met with mixed reviews from two to four stars.

Tom Byam Shaw's Ariel, deservedly, gets singled out for praise but the response to the comic duo of Nicholas Lyndhurst and Clive Wood is more mixed which I'm only slightly surprised by.

More surprised is the praise for Ralph Fiennes - not by all admittedly - he didn't do much for me I'm afraid.

A common criticism seems to be the plays length and pace with such words as 'gluey', 'sluggish' and 'laboured' which I think I also agree with although I am tempted to go back and see it again to see how it beds in and also because Ariel was fab.