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December 2011

November 2011

Mark Ravenhill at the RSC (or when am I going to see Shopping and F*cking at last?)

By guest writer @polyg

It's being known for a while, but it was officially announced today that Mark Ravenhill will join the Royal Shakespeare Company as writer in resident from January 2012.

Without a doubt, this is exciting news. Years ago, when I was in Greece and started going to the theatre, I "discovered" a theatre space, something like the Royal Court Upstairs, that I thought it magical. (It was called Amore, it closed in 2008. Familiar story). It was small, it was the first theatre I knew where you could sit at the front row and your knees would almost touch the actors. Shopping and Fucking was playing there for a while, and the title alone was promising something truly explosive. But, for reasons I can't remember, I didn't see it. (I think it was sold out. I didn't know how to get tickets for sold out plays back then). In fact, I never saw it since. For me, It has become this mythical play, whose title impressed me such a long time ago and for which I know nothing else.

I have seen several Mark Ravenhill plays since, and I have a great affection for his Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat project. (I vividly remember a rehearsed reading at the Hampstead theatre and Joseph Millson in a performance at the Royal Court bar).

So I am expecting big things and several trips to Stratford. Now, when are they going to reopen The Other Place?

P.S. Mark Ravenhill tweeted a few days ago that his mother has been telling the neighbours he is going to be writer in residence at the RSPCA. Call me crazy, but I think there is a lot of potential in that.

Zach Braff coming to London with his play All New People

By guest writer @polyg

According to Deadline, Zach Braff will come to London with his play All New People, for a 10-week run at the Duke of York Theatre starting 22 February. The play, written by Braff, opened off Broadway in July, with a cast that included Justin Bartha, David Wilson Barnes, Anna Camp and Krysten Ritter, but not Braff himself. In the London production, Braff will also star in the role of Charlie, who on his 35th birthday escapes at his wealthy friends’ Long Beach Island flat, but things don't go according to plan.

I am not easily impressed by American actors doing theatre in London, but this could be proved interesting.  The play is described as an angst-filled comedy, and I liked Garden State (the 2004 film that was Braff's directorial and screenwriting debut). I might have liked a smaller venue, but one can't have everything.

Braff’s stage credits as an actor include a starring role in Paul Weitz’s Trust (an off Broadway production in 2010), and playing Sebastian in Twelfth Night, a Shakespeare in the Park production.

Theatre on TV and Radio: Week 28 November - 4 December

How much does theatre feature on television and radio programmes? Very little as it turns out. In an attempt not to miss anything, but also to shame broadcasters to provide more programmes about theatre, here is the list for the week 28 November - 4 December. Pitifully short list, did I miss anything?

Wednesday 30th November
2:30pm on Sky Arts 1: Headlong Theatre's Decade
7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row reviews the Comedy of Errors at the National Theatre

Thursday 1st December
10pm on BBC Radio 3: Night Waves interviews German director Thomas Ostermeier about his Hamlet production at the Barbican
7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row interviews composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, whose show Pippin is produced at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Friday 2 December
9am on Sky Arts 1: The South Bank Show programme on Alan Bennett (repeat)
7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row reviews The Heart of Robin Hood, a new Royal Shakespeare Company production

Saturday 3 December
7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Saturday Review features the Comedy of Errors at the National Theatre

The Truth about Hamlet

From guest writer @polyg, be afraid, very afraid.

In honour of the Young Vic Hamlet, which goes further than most in exploring unusual theories ("Is it real? Is it not? Is Horatio Hamlet's imaginary friend?"), what's your favourite theory of the play?

Ian Shuttleworth, the theatre critic of the Financial Times, has mentioned the following story a couple of times and it's a cracker:

Osric and Claudius were lovers. Their plot was to kill King Hamlet, Claudius  would take the throne and Osric would rise up the ranks. Inevitably, the very pragmatic Claudius decides that marrying Gertrude is a smart political move. Osric, abandoned and jealous and nowhere up the ranks as he would have liked, wants to take his revenge. He disguises as the Ghost of King Hamlet, leaks information and sets the story in motion. And it is a successful plan, as in the end [BIG SPOILER] everyone dies, except him (and Horatio). Do these two have a future together?

Who has a better theory?

In which Stan goes on holiday but introduces a guest writer...

IMGP1766Even a hardened theatre (and film) addict like myself needs a break once in a while.

The nosy-parker, can't-miss-anything in me is silently weeping at the prospect of a whole 10 days away but the lure of sun, beach, sea and nothing more techy* than my Kindle to keep me occupied is a bigger draw for health and sanity. 

But don't despair (not that you would) the lovely @polyg is taking up the reins and will be writing the occasional post while I'm away.

She's got lots of brilliant ideas and I'm already kicking myself for not thinking of them so enjoy, and write lots of nice comments, please.

And yes, I have pre-booked one of those deckchairs - I have to be on the front row, as you know. 

* OK that might be a fib, I'll have my iPhone and if I get hooked up to WiFi while I'm away there may be a tweet or two...

Evening Standard Theatre Awards - just call me "Nostrastanus"

So last night the twittersphere was alive with news from the Evening Standard Theatre Awards at the Savoy. No TV coverage (although there is a short video I've pasted at the bottom of the post) but there were plenty giving blow by blow accounts via social media as the gongs were announced. 

I made some predictions a few weeks back and I'm pleased to say that I got 4 out of 5 correct: Best actor(s) for Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller jointly, Best Actress for Sheridan Smith, Best play, another joint award owing to the fact that Richard Bean had two in the category so won for One Man Two Guvnors and The Heretic and Best Newcomer for Kyle Soller (although he's the only one in the category I'd actually seen.)

The one I didn't get right and is naturally a travesty is Mike Leigh winning over Ed Hall for best director. Mike Leigh does what you expect Mike Leigh to do. OK so no one else is putting plays together in quite the same way but it's gone past being exciting and new whereas Ed Hall is producing, fresh, in your face theatre in which you never know quite what he is going to do next. Certainly I'll be rushing out to buy tickets for Propellers 2011 season at the Hampstead Theatre next year but I can't say the announcement of another Mike Leigh play would have the same affect.

Must also mention the BC/JLM joint gong which I cynically predicted would be a headline grab. Ahem and which is the headline virtually all the papers and principle news websites have gone with? Call me a cynic...but I'm still glad they won it as my first choice, Richard Clothier didn't make it onto the shortlist, not quite such a headline grabbing name perhaps?

Next awards are What's On Stage but as these are voted for by the audience it is anyone's guess who'll walk away with the prizes. (You can nominate here). It's guaranteed to be a predictable and mainstream shortlist. The only play I really want to see get some recognition is the Tennant/Tate Much Ado About Nothing because it was shamefully overlooked by the Evening Standard, not making an appearance on any of the long lists let alone short lists.


Has theatre critics vs bloggers just become critics vs Twittersphere?

Twitter-logoThe critic vs blogger debate is a well trodden path and I can't be bothered to re-visit the arguments - I'm sure one of the critic-bloggers can be relied upon to bring up the topic again at some point in the not too distant future. 

What does interest me in the whole theatre and the social media discussion though is how it is moving beyond bloggers writing reviews before or after press night.

More and more theatres are cottoning on to the power of the internet and I don't mean having a website through which you can buy tickets, I'm talking about Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube.

The National Theatre, Donmar Warehouse and Royal Court are just three to have Facebook pages using them to post links to reviews, productions photos, videos, news and more. It not only acts as a promotional tool generating interest in productions weeks before they open but also a news outlet and means of interacting with audiences. 

And there are a growing number of theatres with Twitter accounts too. Today an email from the Bush Theatre in West London took social media usage to a new level. Included in the usual marketing blurb about its latest production The Kitchen Sink was a link to a hash tag search on Twitter:

Screen shot 2011-11-19 at 16.51.12

It is the first time I've seen this done but essentially what the Bush is doing is linking to audience opinion about the play. And it is still in preview. It has decided to promote the views of the audience ahead of the critics. Of course I can't imagine them doing the same thing had the comments been stinkers but it certainly puts a different spin on the critic vs blogger debate. 

Continue reading "Has theatre critics vs bloggers just become critics vs Twittersphere?" »

The reviews are in for Neil LaBute's Reasons To Be Pretty

What's on Stage has done its usual excellent round up of the professional reviews for Neil LaBute's play Reason's To Be Pretty at the Almeida Theatre. 

I wasn't wholly convinced by it but found it nonetheless an entertaining evening and gave it three and a half stars. A few theatre Tweeps have been less impressed with comments raging from 'vapid', 'shallow' and 'ignores the deeper issues'. There don't seem to be many other blogger reviews around just yet but the critics seem to have liked it which, I confess, I'm a little surprised by. Of the seven reviews featured by WOS, all gave it four stars with comments including:

"The American dramatist Neil LaBute is a master of imaginative unpleasantness ... There is no doubt that he knows how to hold an audience - even if you sometimes hate yourself for becoming so gripped by his dramas."

Charles Spencer, The Telegraph


"The play may not possess the visceral shock-value of previous LaBute work but it has more humanity and confirms the validity of Bacon's observation that: 'There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.'"

Michael Billington, The Guardian

It's pencilled in to be one of the plays discussed on this coming week's As Yet Unnamed London Theatre Podcast, I'll post a link here if it is.

Here are some pics from the opening night after party (photographer seems to be obsessed with Billie Piper)

Philip Ridley revival and a new play for 2012... and some wishful thinking

Imgres-1My first introduction to Philip Ridley was thanks to Ben Whishaw appearing in Leaves of Glass at the Soho Theatre in 2007 (and the first time I saw Mr W on stage). It sparked an interest in Ridley's work that is yet to wane. I liked the gritty realism, laced with a touch of the fantastical.

He has a reputation for writing controversial pieces - Leaves of Glass is fairly sedate, I'm led to believe, from what I've read about his other work. Mr W appeared in Mercury Fur in 2005, described by The Stage as a 'theatrical thump in the solar plexus', and it remains top of my list of Ridley plays I've yet to see - I've been slowly ticking off his back catalogue as they reappear.

This year I saw his new play Tender Napalm, which certainly reaffirmed my love of his writing. So naturally I'm excited to read that there will be a double dose of Ridley next year, a revival of Pitchfork Disney at the Arcola in January followed by a new play, Shivered, at the Southwark Playhouse in March.

Pitchfork comes from way back in the archive, 1991 it was first performed, too early to read reviews online but it's known for heralding a period of theatre dubbed the 'nasty nineties'. 

Shivered sounds equally intriguing and a return to the grim, gritty futuristic setting of plays like Pitchfork and Mercury. Naturally I'm reaching straight for the plastic fantastic to book tickets.

Casting hasn't been announced for either play but I'm wishing fervently that Ridley and Whishaw work together for a third time (it's been two years now since he was on the London stage). If that does prove true just remember where you read it first. And no, I definitely do not have any inside knowledge.

Picture is of Ben Whishaw in Mercury Fur


Will Death and the Maiden's early closure kill off Thandie Newton's stage ambitions?

It wasn't a great surprise when I saw a Tweet yesterday announcing that Death and the Maiden at the newly named Harold Pinter Theatre is to close three weeks early. As much as I enjoyed the play when I saw it, the performance from the leading lady Thandie Newton was lacking and left me yearning to see someone else in the role.

The critics too weren't overly impressed.

But I do feel a little bit for Newton. She's had a successful film and TV career, choosing interesting projects rather than going just for big pay packets and making that leap onto the boards must be a terrifying one. Not only is there the terror of the live performance, no cut and go again, but you get to face your critics and a diminishing paying audience night after night. (I reckon the number of special offers on tickets for plays must correlated to how long the run will go before it gives up.)

It's an ambitious first role to take on. If you are already a big name there is no easing yourself in gently with some smaller role or bit part (unless you are Orlando Bloom and couldn't even do that convincingly). Perhaps it might have been wiser to have gone for something in a smaller theatre to start with, a more intimate space where the audience is closer and the subtleties of performance picked up by a camera are more affective.

If I was Newton I'd be getting through the run a day at a time and then running as far away from the stage as possible, never to return. Will we see her back? My admiration for anyone who is brave enough to tread the boards hopes the experience hasn't bruised her so much that she does.