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December 2011

Another Lyttleton play that fails to engage: Juno and the Paycock

ImgresIf I hadn't seen One Man Two Guv'nors at the Lyttleton in the last 12 months I would be wondering whether it is the theatre itself that somehow taints my enjoyment of plays I see there. Certainly, the National Theatre's second performance space doesn't get any awards for comfort and view (irks me tremendously to be on the third row and spend the entire evening shifting in my seat to see around the person sat in front of me).

The one thing that never fails to impress are the sets and calibre of the acting which leaves the play, perhaps, being the thing.

Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock has all the right ingredients for a compelling and interesting play: an impoverished Irish family one day discover they are to inherit some money from a distant relative. The family is also a rich mix of individual stories.

Matriach Juno (Sinead Cusack) is the put upon bread winner, cajoling and bullying in turns, husband Captain Jack Boyle (Ciaran Hinds) who is work shy and would rather be drinking with his pal Joxer (Risteard Cooper). Daughter Mary (Clare Dunne) works but is on strike, devours literature and has turned down an offer of marriage to take up with a trainee lawyer Jerry Devine (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor). And son Johnny (Ronan Raftery) is physically crippled and haunted from fighting the English for the IRA and lives in fear of reprisals.

*potential spoiler* A cash injection is just what the family needs and the play follows their rise and then fall with tragic consequences.

And it should be both gripping and funny but it falls short of being either. There is a bit of a language barrier as it's written in a rich but sometimes unfamiliar Dublin vernacular so that while you get a sense of the characters it is difficult to get a real insight.

Continue reading "Another Lyttleton play that fails to engage: Juno and the Paycock" »

10 things I learnt on the @royalcourt building tour yesterday

DSCN49251. The concrete walls have won awards - look closely and you can see the wood grain from the boxes they used as moulds for the blocks.

2. The Royal Court was a receiving theatre and is now a producing theatre.

3. It's the only theatre in the country which accepts unsolicited play scripts which are all read. If you send your play script to the National Theatre they will tell you to send it to the Royal Court.

4. As a theatre that fosters writing talent only the playwrights get star billing, none of the actors do, no matter who they are.

5. Rehearsing is done on site in a room created in the eaves of the building that was originally earmarked for offices; auditions are conducted on site too.

DSCN49266. The grilles which act as window decoration in the stairwell to the Jerwood Upstairs were originally the drains in the ladies loo

7. The trapdoor for the Jerwood Upstairs is accessed from the theatre's offices underneath (I want to work in that office)

DSCN49288. There is actually no stage at the Jerwood Downstairs, the boards the actors tread are specially made for each production which gives the theatre more flexibility and a quicker turnaround between productions. (When we stood on the stage yesterday, which is set up for Haunted Child, you could see through the cracks to the rather large space below which was a little bit unnerving).

9. In the stalls, the very back row is known as 'writer's row' because that's where the playwrights watch their plays being performed during preview, chosen so they can make a sharp exit at the end.

10. The Jerwood Upstairs was originally a private members club to get around laws that required all play scripts to be approved and therefore potentially edited and censored before they could be performed.

Tours around the Royal Court Theatre are conducted about four times a year and cost £7. Numbers are limited so booking in advance is recommended. The tour lasts 90 minutes and I can thoroughly recommend it.

The Observer puts its marker in the sand with a top 10 theatre 2011 list

Has everything opened for the year then? I suppose we are nearly half way through December but it doesn't stop me being a little bit surprised to see that The Observer has put out its top 10 list of the best theatre for 2011.

My last play of the year is on Dec 31 so my 2011 review certainly won't be appearing until after the midnight chimes ring in 2012. 

Now Susannah Clapp's list covers the whole country so there are quite a few productions on it that I haven't seen as most of my theatre-going is London based.

Interested and very pleased to see  Southwark Playhouse's Tender Napalm at number 10. I loved it too but I'm not sure it will have scored quite high enough to make it into my 'best of'. We'll see.

Also really pleased to see Propeller's two Shakespeare's at Hampstead, Richard III and Comedy of Errors, getting prominence. The company's fine work seems to have been pretty much overlooked in the London theatre awards, so far, which is shameful.

One Man Two Guv'nor's is an obvious entry and deservedly so but most likely won't be making my top 10 and neither will Mike Leigh's Grief which seems to have got a lot of people excited but has left me feeling  a little bit over all that Mike Leigh unique directing style stuff. 

Theatre on TV and Radio December 12-18

Monday 12 December

11:50pm on Sky Arts 2: Sky Arts goes to the Bush Theatre for the 24-hour performance of the Sixty-Six Books production

Wednesday 14 December

7.15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row reviews three first-time panto performers - Dame Edna Everage, Ann Widdecombe and Vanilla Ice.

Friday 16 December

10pm on BBc Radio 2: The BBC Radio 2 Arts Show talks to Northern Broadsides artistic director Barrie Rutter about directing Love's Labour's Lost at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Saturday 17 December

12:20pm on Sky Arts 2: Sky Arts at the Nottingham Festival of European Theatre

Sunday 18 December

1:30pm on BBC Radio 4: Ayckbourn in Action, half an hour documentary about Alan Ayckbourn as he rehearses his 75th stage play. Interviews with Julia McKenzie, Michael Gambon, Peter Bowles, Suzie Blake, Penelope Wilton and Martin Jarvis.

11pm on BBC4: Alan Ayckbourn - Greetings from Scarborough, a repeat of the episode of the Imagine series about Alan Ayckbourn

Compiled by @polyg, anything missing

2012 - Shakespeare's contemporaries get in on the act

The plethora of Shakespeare that is planned for next year, most of which is under the guise of the Cultural Olympiad has been much publicised. But 2012 is also quietly shaping up as the year of Shakespeare's contemporaries.

Already announced is The Changeling at the Young Vic and Tis a Pity She's a Whore at the Barbican. Then today the Old Vic announces The Duchess of Malfi with Eve Best taking the lead and Jamie Lloyd directing.

Bring it on I say. When I was studying Jacobean drama at Uni there was a dearth of productions to go to and as result I've seen so few performed.

Oh and if you hear of any more do drop me a line.

Reviews of Eddie Redmayne's Richard II trickle in (more reviews added)

I saw Michael Grandage's last play at the Donmar on Monday night and gave it four stars because, for me, there was something missing that I couldn't quite put my finger on. 

Now the professionals are having their say so what did they think?

Paul Taylor, The Independent hasn't given a star rating but seems to have loved it:

Redmayne is, to my mind, the best Richard since Sam West took on the role in Steven Pimlott's radically updated version at the RSC.

Michael Billington, The Guardian ***

Overall a glowing production but thinks Redmayne's inexperience with Shakespeare shows:

Like many Shakespearean tyros, he also falls into the trap of seeking to illustrate virtually every line with an appropriate hand gesture: thus when he offers "to write sorrow in the bosom of the Earth" he mimes a signature forgetting that the potency of the idea lies in the words.

Charles Spencer, The Telegraph ****

A chunk of the review is about the legacy of Grandage at the Donmar but of the play itself Redmayne impresses:

In the last act, when Richard recognises in his prison cell that “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”, Redmayne’s Richard suddenly discovers a moving depth of emotion and self-knowledge. My only quibble is that the actor overdoes the gaping mouth of a king who can’t quite believe the insolence of his subjects. It makes his Richard II resemble something on a fishmonger’s slab.

Maxwell Cooter, What's On ***

This Richard II contains some good performances and has excellent moments but fails to capture all the rich complexity of the play.

Libby Purves, The Times (£) ****

Redmayne’s Richard is all eloquent, self-dramatising kingliness, yet beneath it lies the trapped, vacillating self-doubt of a man who knows that the role he was born to is beyond him. Redmayne unpeels this pain, desperate self-delusion and vanity with great delicacy. Andrew Buchan as Bolingbroke is macho in warlike leather, his watchful stillness a tough secular contrast to Richard’s theatrical posing.

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail ***

Mr Redmayne certainly delivers an interesting performance. This Richard is not as tyrannical as some. He has the sort of mouth which opens and shuts a couple of times before passing judgment.

When he gives up the throne to Henry Bolingbroke (Andrew Buchan, rather good) he succumbs to little more than petulance. With a really top-notch Richard we surely pity him a little by the end. 

That didn’t happen for me in this production. 

From these reviews Richard II gets an average of 3.4 stars out of five so not everyone was wholly convinced.  And here are the photo's from the opening night party in case you are interested. 






Is Eddie Redmayne's hair what is out of place in Richard II @Donmarwarehouse?

1Michael Grandage's final play for the Donmar is my second favourite Shakespeare, Richard II (Hamlet is fav, if you are interested). The last time I saw it was in Stratford with Jonathan Slinger in the lead delivering his deposition soliloquy under a stream of sand.

That was more than five years ago but as I studied it for A-Level the speeches are immediately familiar and as a result accessible, comfortable even, like putting on an old pair of favourite jeans. 

Grandage has gone traditional. The set - another breathtaking transformation of the Donmar's bijou space - is a weathered wooden balcony and stairs that could have almost been borrowed straight from a medieval castle or cathedral.

The costumes are just as you would imagine (you can see production shots here). Eddie Redmayne's Richard wears predominantly white or a pale, silky blue giving the King the air of delicacy and fashion consciousness.

Richard is a king who enjoys the trappings of the job but not the responsibility. He is inexperienced and ineffectual and reminds me of a modern day super star fed by the hype of his own fame and surrounded by 'yes' men.

Redmayne plays Richard with an obvious relish at being centre of attention. As a man who enjoys and puts much energy into playing with words - it must be difficult not to given the rich material with which to work. He almost gets lost in the pleasure of delivery, the tragedy being that if he put half as much energy into ruling, things might turn out differently.

Continue reading "Is Eddie Redmayne's hair what is out of place in Richard II @Donmarwarehouse?" »

Theatre on TV and Radio: Week 5 - 11 December

Michael Sheen, Charles Laughton and reviews for the Ladykillers is some of the theatre related topics on tv and radio this week.

Tuesday 6th December
7am on BBC Radio 6 Music: Ciarán Hinds is interviewed at the Shaun Keaveny breaksfast show about the Juno and the Paycock production at the National theatre.
4:30pm on BBC Radio 4: In the series Great Lives, Michael Sheen talks about Philip K Dick  and his influence on the Young Vic production of Hamlet.
7:30pm on BBC4: Time to Remember documentary, about the Pathe newsreels of the 20s and 30s, including backstage footage of theatre actors, most notably Charles Laughton applying his own stage make-up.

Wednesday 7th December
7.15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row reviews Michael Grandage's production of Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse.

Thursday 8th December
7.15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row reviews the stage adapation of The Ladykillers (with Peter Capaldi).

Friday 9th December
7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row reviews the Royal Court production of Joe Penhall's new play Haunted Child.
10pm on BBC Radio 2: Peter Colycarpou (most recently in the Chichester Festival Theatre Production of Sweeny Todd alongside Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton) is interviewed at the Radio 2 Arts show.
11pm on BBC2: The Ladykillers features in the Review Show.

Saturday 10th December
7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Another review for The Ladykillers in the Saturday review.

What did I forget?

Mark Rylance versus Whatsonstage Awards

By guest writer polyg

Alas, it's not what you think. Mark Rylance didn't attack the Whatsonstage Awards, or indeed the Whatsonstage Awards didn't attack Mark Rylance. But today, among theatre lovers, it's the only two things worth talking about.

Mark Rylance is coming back to the Globe next summer, to play Richard III (or Dick the Shit, as Kevin Spacey calls him) and Olivia in an all-male production of the Twelfth Night. I have had enough of Richard III lately (and for me, Richard Clothier made more of a lasting impression than Kevin Spacey), but Mark Rylance anywhere is a big event, and Mark Rylance at the Globe is huge. If that wasn't enough, the prospect of an all-male Twelfth Night is mouth watering. I missed the original production in 2002, and I don't intend to make the same mistake. Back then, Ed Redmayne had his first big break as Viola, who will play the role this time? (Freddie Fox, if the rumours are true).

And of course, today the Whatsonstage Awards Nominees were announced. At the best of times, I have conflicted feelings towards awards, as they often miss the point entirely. But strangely enough, reading the nominations, I don't feel as irate as I normally feel. Granted, the nominations lean towards the big and the popular (bigger names, bigger productions), but that was a given, and there is a lot I can get behind: Matilda, Jumpy, Collaborators, Tamsin Greig, David Tennant, Sheridan Smith, Josie Rourke, Bertie Carvel, The Passion on the streets of Port Talbot, to name a few. I can live with that.

And I am very happy for at least one nomination: Mark Gatiss in Season's Greetings has been one of my favourite performances in the last year, funny, heartbreaking, fragile. But when it was time to vote, I forgot about it (I voted for Paul Higgins in Luise Miller instead). I don't necessarily regret my vote, but Mark Gatiss deserves all the recognition he can get.