Previous month:
September 2011
Next month:
November 2011

October 2011

Inadmissible Evidence: Douglas Hodge and that Dr Who actress

IInadmissible Evidence, the Donmar's latest production, is one of those plays that just flies from the outset. Blink and you miss it, so fast is the pace and the delivery that you've barely got time to enjoy all the delicious lines John Osbourne serves up through his protagonist, solicitor Bill Maitland (Douglas Hodge).

It starts with a mock court scene in which Maitland is on trial for what turns out to be crimes against his life. He condemns his own life as one of utter mediocrity. The play then follows him through the course of a day or two at his legal practice, the evidence I suppose for his condemnation during which he alienates himself from colleagues, family and lovers.

Maitland is full of self-loathing about what he sees as his failure in life, a trait that doesn't so much make him irascible as put him in a permanent state of anxious anger which manifests itself in almost constant movement and a witty stream of bile and self-deprecation. He is bored dealing with seedy divorces, dislikes his colleagues and his family and even questions the point of his philandering.

Continue reading "Inadmissible Evidence: Douglas Hodge and that Dr Who actress" »

Sister George killed me and not in a good way

Image-18The first half of the 1960s play The Killing of Sister George had me perplexed, sat in a defensive position with my arms firmly folded, occasionally fidgeting in my seat. Not a good sign. The thought of walking out at the interval did cross my mind but I was with a friend.

It's the slight disadvantage of coming to a play cold. All I knew is that a long serving radio soap star was about to get the chop and she wasn't very happy about it.

What I didn't get was the central relationship between the actress whom everyone calls George (Meera Syal) after her radio play character and her flatmate Alice (Elizabeth Cadwallader). I didn't immediately realise that they were a couple what with there being little sign of affection and George bullying Alice and treating her like a doormat.

I couldn't understand why George was behaving so abhorrently towards Alice and why Alice would take it although she is one of those irritatingly childlike characters but forcing her to eat the butt of a cigar for some minor misdemeanor? Even in the knowledge that they are a couple, there was nothing to explain the behaviour.

Cruel can be done with a certain amount of wit, humour and an element of charm, take Butley for example but there was little that was funny here. And if it isn't supposed to be funny (although a quick scan of the official website claims it is) what are you left with? A nasty woman stomping around like a bear with a permanent sore head, railing and abusing most around her, un redeeming and quite frankly deserving of everything she gets.

Continue reading "Sister George killed me and not in a good way" »

Death and the Maiden - great play but great performances?

TICKETOFFERDEATHANDTHEMAIDENDeath and the Maiden is one of those great plays that you can chew over long afterwards. It's ambiguous and open to interpretation and I really like that. But I'm not sure this has the great performances it deserves, just yet.

It's still in preview - I saw the second performance - and Thandie Newton makes her West End debut as Paulina who is scarred by what happened to her when she was a political prisoner.

Her husband Gerardo (Tom Goodman-Hill) is a lawyer who has just been appointed to work on a committee for the new President to look into the deaths of political prisoners at the hands of the previous dictatorship. He gets a flat tyre on his way home and is assisted by Dr Miranda (Anthony Calf).

When Dr Miranda returns to the house later Paulina, despite having never seen his face before, recognises his voice and smell as the man who raped her in prison, his signature being to play Schubert's Death and the Maiden in the background. She decides to put him on trial to make him confess. Gerardo acts as defence lawyer but isn't convinced that Paulina has got the right man and helps Miranda to 'confess' in order to save his life.

It should be a very intense and moving play. And it is at times but the cast just haven't quite nailed it yet. They are very good at the angry, anxious, shouty bits and Newton does a good line in frightened at the beginning but there is a element of warmth and passion that is lacking.

Continue reading "Death and the Maiden - great play but great performances?" »

Finally found Jerusalem (and Mark Rylance)

Mark-Rylance-and-Mackenzi-001It was the talk of the town when success at the Royal Court downstairs led to a stint in the West End and then eventually Broadway for an extended run. For me Jez Butterworth's award winning play Jerusalem was the one that got away. The one where I was never quite early enough to get day seats.

But it's back in the West End and ha! it didn't get away this time. Of course there is always the danger that it doesn't quite live up to expectations after such a big build up.

It's set in small town Wiltshire. The central character Johnny 'Rooster' Byron (Mark Rylance) lives in a caravan near a new housing estate, deals drugs and booze to the local teens and, when he isn't telling outlandish stories of fairies, giants and birthing tales worthy of Greek mythology spends his time getting barred from pubs and imbibing a variety of narcotics and alcoholic.

He might be an acquired taste for some but I warmed to Rooster quite quickly. There is a perverse truth in his philosophy that the kids are better off hanging out with him rather than roaming the streets and if he didn't give them alcohol they'd get it elsewhere.

They are a rag tag bunch of obnoxious and naive teens with the addition of Ginger (MacKenzie Crook) the butt of jokes and who just hasn't grown up. And then there is The Professor (Alan David) an eccentric elderly gent who is probably suffering from dementia or a grief induced breakdown and local publican Wesley (Max Baker).

Continue reading "Finally found Jerusalem (and Mark Rylance)" »

Theatre wishlist: Five actors I long to see on the stage

OK, time for another list that I've been thinking about for a while. These are actors that I haven't yet seen on stage that I would get really excited about if they announced they were treading the boards. These are in no particular order.

1. Colin Firth

He's managed to haul himself out of the rom-com, posh Brit film groove he'd got stuck in and has been doing some interesting work in recent years. A Single Man was the turning point for me and of course since then, there has been the King's Speech and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy although he doesn't have a great deal to do in the latter. I'd like to see him play something less straight, maybe a bit edgy otherwise he risks falling into another groove.

2. Guy Pearce

I've long been a fan. Since neighbours, if I'm being honest - who'd have thought Mike would have had such talent inside him? He has an admirable body of work from the out there Priscilla to the likes of the The Proposition, Memento, The Road and The King's Speech although I did think him odd casting in the latter being a lot younger than Colin Firth.

3. Julie Walters

I've already mentioned how much I want to see Julie Walters in a previous post. Feel like I've grown up with her from Educating Rita to Acorn Antiques and most recently the Harry Potter films. She is an actress of great scope and I can't wait to see her in the Last of the Haussmans at the National Theatre next year.

4. Geoffrey Rush

Love, love, love Geoffrey Rush. He's another actor of great scope doing a wonderful job playing such varied characters as Barbosa in the Pirates films and a pianist with mental health problems in Shine and of course the wannabe actor complete with hammy Richard Third audition in the King's Speech. He's done a lot of stage work in Australia and on Broadway in fact he's not only going to be in The Importance of Being Earnest in Melbourne next month but he's also playing Lady Bracknell. Geoffrey Rush as a woman. Genius. Melbourne might be a stretch for a theatre trip unless Uncle C smiles on me. Fingers crossed for a world tour that takes in the West End or just a tour to the West End really.

 5. Samantha Morton

When that pub type question comes up, the one about who'd you want to play you in a film of your life, I always choose Samantha Morton. My only partially jokey reason is that she's the only one who could portray my many layers. She's played too many great parts to list but the two roles that I always remember her for are Harriet Smith in Emma back in 1996 and Deborah Curtis in Control. I also like her because she seems human, normal I suppose. She hasn't got the ultra glam figure and looks and yet in such a shallow industry has made a great success from her outstanding talent. According to Wiki she made her stage debut at the Royal Court and it would be great if they could entice her back.


Straining to see The River Line

Rl2 The Jermyn Street Theatre, a theatre of five rows of raked seating, has done well to stage a play in which chunks of the audience can't see certain scenes. During the interval there was a quick game of musical chairs as people tried out some of the few empty seats to see if the view of the stage would be any better. 

And The River Line isn't a short play either and neither is it fast paced. When two actors are sat having a lengthy philosophical discussion it would be good to not have to crane your neck so you can catch a glimpse of them. The seats are cheap but they certainly aren't in the gods.

At its heart Charles Morgan's The River Line has a great story. Set in the second world war, four allies are being hidden by the French Resistance until they can complete the final stage of their escape over the border into Spain but just as they are about to leave they are forced into making a life or death decision that will haunt them.

It starts a few years after the war when Philip, an American airman, is reunited with Julian, a British army commander who has married Marie the French woman who helped them. Phillip is keen to talk about what happened but Julian isn't. What happened in France is eventually told in the middle third of the play with the final third dealing with the implications.

The problem is it is very slow to get going and gets bogged down in a lot of philosophising about life and fate (and neighbour Valerie's obsession with her half brother). At times you can really feel the tension building but then these seem to get stamped out by long and meaningful discussions that just don't seem to add much.

Continue reading "Straining to see The River Line" »

That was September - theatre round up

After the August lull in theatre-land, September saw new plays opening all over the West End and beyond. Mike Leigh returned to the West End with a new play which wasn't given a title until the week before. Ralph Fiennes was probably the biggest name to step onto the boards, this time as Prospero in The Tempest.

September saw me travelling to Chichester for the first time (what a curious place that is) and I also saw Kathryn Hunter for the first time - a complete star. I also went to my first last night and quite a spectacular one it was too: Much Ado About Nothing* at the Wyndhams complete with buggy crashes and extra face slapping (the actors not me getting annoyed with sweet wrapper rustling).

Three plays broke the five star barrier and the bottom spot? Well read on...

1. When Did You Last See My Mother, Trafalgar Studios 84% 

Great play and a brilliant showcase for the talented Harry Melling, who finally gets a lead role.

2. Di & Viv & Rose, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs 83%

There have been so many new plays that have tried to nail down the big, big issues, this was a breath of fresh air for having friendship at its heart and as a result was warm and funny.

3. Tell Them That I Am Young And Beautiful, Arcola 80%

Theatre pared back to simple story telling. Had me rapt. (And I got to 'buy' a coconut from Kathryn Hunter.)

So those were the creme de la creme but which play was a little bit sour? Well it's the third time this year the National Theatre has staged my least favourite play of the month and this time the honour goes to The Kitchen which I gave 53%. It earned points for spectacle and the quality of the production but fell down by putting all its eggs in the first half basket.

* Much Ado isn't included in September's scores as this was a repeat viewing.