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December 2011

November 2011

Reasons To Be Pretty (and to shoot characters)

ImgresNeil LaBute's play Reasons To Be Pretty at the Almeida opens with an almighty row going on between couple Greg (Tom Burke) and Steph (Sian Brooke) which takes rather a long time to get to the cause of the argument. And when it does - a comment made by Greg to his friend Kent (Kieran Bew) along the lines of yes that other woman is very pretty but I wouldn't swap her for my normal looking girlfriend - it just seems petty. 

Indeed Steph's hysterical response culminating in throwing a hairbrush at Greg which rebounded off the set wall and nearly took out someone on the front row just seems ridiculous and extremely irritating. She is just one of three really irksome characters. 

Kent, with whom Greg works at a Costco warehouse, presumably would have been frat boy had he gone to college and is an obnoxious, superficial, letch who is having an affair with a young female colleague. His pretty pregnant wife Carly (Billie Piper) has overheard the inflammatory comment and told Steph. She is bitchy, selfish and two-faced - well they all are, apart from Greg.

I hadn't even made half way to the interval when I wanted to shoot the three of them and rescue Greg (well it is Tom Burke). But, and here's the dilemma, I was laughing too and curiosity about where it might go got me back into my seat for the second half. 

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Old Vic 24-hour plays - Sex guides, Star Wars and a dog on stage

IMGP3736I'm writing this on barely five hours sleep (damn body clock doesn't understand late night means late sleep) although I imagine I'm in better shape than those who actually wrote, produced, performed and partied hard late into night after the annual Old Vic fund raiser, the 24-hour plays.

For those who have never been or are unfamiliar and I counted myself as being one of them until last night, what happens is this. After Saturday evening's performance at the Old Vic, a group of volunteer writers, directors and actors meet for the first time.

The actors have to come armed with a prop which goes into a pool. Last night's included a plastic heron, spider-man costume, a button that said 'that was easy' when pressed and someones pet dog. A real dog. 

The six writers are then ferried off to a hotel where they fight over choose the actors they want before cracking on with writing a 10 minute play. At 8am with their freshly composed scripts are prized out of their hands and it's the directors turn to choose which script they want to work with.

Then the actors arrive and the day is spent producing and rehearsing ready for curtain up in front of a paying audience at 7.30pm. Each of the six plays has only 20 minutes tech time on stage. And, just to make things more complicated, they have to work around and within the restrictions imposed by the existing set, for the current production at the Old Vic, in this case The Playboy of the Western World.

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First trip to the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester is a Beautiful Thing

Royal_exchange_theatre_aw170410_5My friend Chris is a regular visitor to the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and always says glowing things about it. And when I tweeted that I was going, I had some similarly fond responses back. 

And while it isn't wholly pretty, it did, I'm happy to report, completely live up to its recommendations.

If you've seen how the RSC recreate a tiered, round auditorium within the Roundhouse for their London season, imagine that but in glass and placed inside a beautiful Grade II listed Victorian building.

It means there is lots of space and plenty of pre-show seating outside the glass auditorium. Certainly no feeling of being crammed into a small space that is the intersection between the bar, loos and sweet counter like the West End. Inside the auditorium surrounds the stage with three tiers. Front row seats are low and sofa-like which is right up my street.

In fact I got to enjoy the 'sofa' in the second half as I nabbed a vacant spot during the interval to get away from the rather large gent blocking my view from my third row seat (trials and tribs of being 5ft 2).

Continue reading "First trip to the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester is a Beautiful Thing" »

I'm not the only one questioning the age of recent Hamlets

Just seen this little piece by Sebastian Shakespeare in the Evening Standard tagged onto the bottom of some briefs:

Sheen shines

Michael Sheen's acclaimed Hamlet offers eloquent reproof to Uncle Monty's self-pitying refrain in Withnail & I: "It is the most shattering experience of a young man's life, when one morning he awakes, and quite reasonably says to himself, I will never play the Dane." Sheen, aged 42, is not by stretch of reason or imagination a young man.

There has been a fashion for older Hamlets in recent years, with Jude Law, David Tennant and Rory Kinnear taking to the stage. Sheen is a fine actor but I'm not sure how I will be able to suspend enough disbelief to imagine him as a youth. The best Hamlet I've seen was 22-year-old Ben Whishaw in Trevor Nunn's 2004 production. It was an utterly compelling performance and he spoke every word with clarity, conviction and feeling, as if he were uttering it for the first time. Whishaw had youth on his side, Sheen has experience. May the best man/boy win.

Although I must add that having recently seen Sheen's Hamlet, the off-the-wall production completely distracted me from my usual obsession with the age of Hamlet (I'm sure @glenpearce1 won't believe me).

Naturally I agree with his comment about Mr W and not just because he's my favourite actor. When I saw a recording of his Hamlet it was like the play finally clicked into place, in fact I called it my hallelujah moment.

Michael Sheen's Hamlet reviews are in

Ian Rickson's mental institution set Hamlet where the implication is that the central story is in the protagonists head is certainly a bold and artistic interpretation of the play and isn't going to satisfy everyone. 

It was press night yesterday so what have the professionals made of it, did it divide as anticipated? Well not quite as much as I thought it might, mainly four star reviews and just one two star review from Charles Spencer giving it an average of 3.5/5. (I really liked it just in case you were wondering.)

Michael Billington, Guardian ***

But, for all the palpable thought that has gone into this production, I missed much of the play's primal excitement and found myself echoing Gertrude's plea to Polonius for "more matter, with less art".

Paul Taylor, Independent ****

Because we are quite never sure in this version about the hero's reliability, that intensity of contact with the audience goes faintly missing – which is a paradox in a prodigious production that gives us the Prince without Hamlet.

Maxwell Cooter, What's On Stage ****

But despite Rickson’s vision and Sheen’s compelling performance, there’s something missing. Just how mad is Hamlet is one of the central questions of the play and by deciding his mental state from the outset loses some of that subtlety. And taking away the political dimension offered by the always-present threat of Fortinbras loses a central tenet of the play.

Charles Spencer, Telegraph **

Michael Sheen could be right up there among the great Hamlets but director Ian Rickson's gimmicky production is a disaster.

Libby Purves, The Times (£) ****

“Denmark is a prison,” he says, but in this place of warders and restraints and pills, Denmark itself is all in his head. Rickson hardly needs to tweak the text to make his setting work: even Claudius’s confession is heard through a distorted intercom by Hamlet alone, so it may be his imagination. There are few lines lost beyond the usual cuts (it is three and a half hours, modern style).

Henry Hitchins, Evening Standard ****

Michael Sheen is a prickly and rewarding Hamlet. And that is enough to make this assertively peculiar production of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy worth seeing.

Related posts:

Production pics of Hamlet at the Young Vic

Pre production curiosity and rehearsal shots

The cost of theatres not co-ordinating and a plea

5634567317_b4d5b61ff8In the rush to get tickets on sale before December and Christmas spending really kicks in (it's a bona fide tactic I'm told from at least one box office) three of London's main theatre's have inadvertently announced new seasons at the same time.

The Donmar Warehouse was first last week with three new productions - I'm expecting my friends membership mail out with ticket purchasing schedule to plop on the doormat any day. Then the National Theatre announced four new productions with tickets going on sale for members on Thursday.

And finally the Royal Court is doing its usual, and extremely irritating, announce at 7am, tickets on sale 9am tomorrow morning. (It's irritating because it leaves only 2 hours to co-ordinate production choices and available dates with friends before hitting the website and battling with the refresh button.)

But that is a different bug bear. Essentially the timing of the announcements means is that if you want to see everything (and I want to see nearly everything) between now and most likely the end of the month you are going to have to stump up a minimum of £188 on theatre tickets.  

OK so not everyone will go for everything and is quite as mad a theatre fan as I am, but still. Even if you manage to get the cheap and naturally very much in demand tickets - £12 Travelex at the NT, £10 Mondays at the RC and £20 Monday at the Donmar it is getting on for £200. And that's before you start buying tickets for others.

So this is a plea to the National, Royal Court and Donmar: Talk, plan and stagger, just a little bit. Please. Some of us want to be able to afford to eat this month.

Empty pocket pic: Dan Moyle on Flickr

Stan's awards predictions from the Evening Standard shortlist

So the long list for the Evening Standard's theatre awards has finally been whittled down to a more manageable three or four contenders per category but this means that, potentially, some of my fav's are already out of the running.

The headlines are all about the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller are going head to head in the best actor category for their role-swapping turns in Frankenstein at the National earlier this year. Some commentators are already calling for a duel award as it would unfair for one and not the other to win.

It would certainly make headlines to give a double honour, as pitching the two against each other has (not that I'm cynical about the motives behind these things or anything). It would be a real shame for one to win and not the other as both put in sterling performances in what was a novel and bold way of casting the play.

But we shouldn't forget that there are two other contenders in the category: Bertie Carvel for Matilda (which hadn't actually opened in London when the long list was drawn up, just saying) and Charles Edwards for Much Ado About Nothing. Of course, ironically, these two are the only ones from the long list I haven't seen and my top choice, Richard Clothier, hasn't made it which is a travesty, obviously.

Stan's best actor prediction: If they don't do a double award for the monster duo then I reckon Jonny Lee Miller will go home with the gong.

The best actress category is down to just three contenders only one of which I haven't seen, Kristen Scott Thomas for Betrayal. I've seen lots of her film work and she is a fantastic actress but I'm going to stick with my original fav.

Stan's best actress prediction: because everyone loves her at the mo (and deservedly so) it has to be Sheridan Smith for Flare Path.

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Comedy Stalin in Collaborators - who'd have thought it could work?

Collaborators-billington--007For some reason I had low expectations about Collaborators at the Cottesloe. The oddly shaped stage cutting a sort of zig-zag through the National's flexible space brought back bad memories of having endured Earthquakes in London but this new John Hodge play (he of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave fame) is the polar opposite of the Mike Bartlett number.

It's about Russian satirical playwright and writer Mikhail Bulgakov (Alex Jennings) silenced by censorship during the pre-second World War Stalin years. He's asked in a 'we'll imprison your wife' kind of way to write a play about Stalin to celebrate his 60th birthday. As well as keeping his wife out of jail, his most recent theatrical success - closed after just one triumphant performance - will be allowed to play again if he satisfactorily completes the job.

He has only four weeks and has writers block. How can he write a celebratory play about a man who has made his life and the lives of many others a misery, a man about whom he has nightmares? One night he gets a phone call asking him to go to a secret location and there he meets Stalin (Simon Russell Beale) himself who claims to be a big fan of his work.

In a surreal twist, the two come to an arrangement whereby Stalin will write the play:

Anyway, what have I got you sitting there for? You're not the typist, you're the genius! Let's swap! You come and sit here - leave the slave labour to me.

 Bulgakov is persuaded to do the leader's job, making decisions about running the country and signing off orders.

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A week of theatre announcements - but where are the casting details?

Can barely keep up with theatre announcements this week.  Firs was the Donmar announcing Josie Rourke's first season as artistic director - all looks interesting but I'm shallow and unless its a particular favourite of mine it's the casting that gets me excited and there is no news on that yet.

It's unusual for the Donmar not to at least have a big name lined up for each production. Wonder if the tickets will go on sale without the usual smattering of stars in place? 

And then there is handful of new productions at the National Theatre next year. Here we do have some casting and of course I'm excited about Anthony Sher in Travelling Light having seen him in Broken Glass in the summer. 

The only other play that stands out is She Stoops to Conquer which is one of those well known plays I've never seen. But it also has a smorgasbord of talent - Steve Pemberton, John Heffernan, HarryHadden-Paton and Sophie Thompson to name four.

Better tempt the credit card out from behind the dresser where it's been hiding since the RSC put it's new season tickets on sale.