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February 2012

Floundering in The Shallow End

Mario-Demetriou-Kristin-Mcilquham-600x399I can imagine that when Doug Lucie's play about the dangers of the big media corporations vying for world domination was first staged at the Royal Court in 1997  the ruthless business plans and lack of social conscious displayed was perhaps shocking. 

Today when we've seen newspapers scandalised by phone hacking and brown envelope journalism the topic barely raises an eyebrow. That isn't to say there aren't some interesting arguments in the play about the media supplying what the public demands, editorial integrity and journalist freedom, for example, they just aren't well served. 

There are two key problems. First the only thing that really raises eyebrows is the inexplicable use of sex in the first half. The play (which has a contrived wedding setting) follows a series of meetings between the editor of a UK Sunday newspaper and various members of staff, half of whom are being sacked because they aren't receptive to the new 'downmarket' direction the paper is heading in order to boost flagging sales.

In the first scene the impression for the main is of a man conducting negotiations with a lady of dubious profession. There is lots of sex talk and crude flirtation but it turns out that the man is the editor of the paper and the woman is a writer of semi-pornographic books whom he is trying to recruit onto the paper as a columnist. The only thing that stunned me was why it was written and performed like that.

The next scene involves two sports writers snorting cocaine while discussing the new direction of the newspaper and all the while, in the corner of the room, another journalist is f*cking an unidentified woman. It goes on and on and on. It is gratuitous, unnecessary, boring and adds nothing to the story or the debate.

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Pics: The Recruiting Officer at Donmar Warehouse via @whatsonstage

Find these production pictures of The Recruiting Officer, which is the first horse out of the Josie Rourke Donmar stable tomorrow, almost too tantalising as I'm not seeing it until April. Never normally leave it late in a run to see something, due to my impatience and not wanting to read too much about it beforehand but unfortunately I didn't have the Donmar's friends programme on my side this time around ie they cocked up. 

Damn my impatience.

Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio Feb 13 - 20

Compiled by @polyg

A good selection this week, with two interviews with Josie Rourke

Monday February 13

1:45pm on Sky Arts 1: "Pinter's Progress: Philip Saville on Harold Pinter", Philip Saville, Michael Caine and Steven Berkoff talk about Harold Pinter

2:45pm on BBC Radio 4 Extra: Christopher Bigsby's biography of Arthur Miller, read by Henry Goodman. Episode 1 of 5

10:45pm on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, series in which film and theatre directors talk about the art of directing. First episode: Roger Michell

Tuesday February 14

2:45pm on BBC Radio 4 Extra: Second episode of Christopher Bigsby's biography of Arthur Miller, read by Henry Goodman.

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row reports on how best to create heavy rain on stage

10:45pm on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, series in which film and theatre directors talk about the art of directing. Tonight: Emma Rice

Wednesday February 15

2:45pm on BBC Radio 4 Extra: Third episode of Christopher Bigsby's biography of Arthur Miller, read by Henry Goodman.

10:45 on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, series in which film and theatre directors talk about the art of directing. Tonight: Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher

Thursday February 16

2:45pm on BBC Radio 4 Extra: Fourth episode of Christopher Bigsby's biography of Arthur Miller, read by Henry Goodman. 

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row interviews Josie Rourke about her new production The Recruiting Officer at the Donmar

10:45pm on BBC Radio 3: The Essay, series in which film and theatre directors talk about the art of directing. Tonight: Josie Rourke

Friday February 15

2:45pm on BBC Radio 4 Extra: Concluding episode of Christopher Bigsby's biography of Arthur Miller, read by Henry Goodman. 

Saturday February 18

6pm on BBC2: The Culture Show features the National Theatre of Scotland's new adaptation of The Wicker Man


What the critics made of Absent Friends and will it have longevity?

Absentfriends_2133736bFeels like ages ago that I saw Absent Friends (been a busy time at work) but press night has come and gone so what did the critics make of it?

What's on Stage has done the labourious bit and compiled eight reviews. Now I enjoyed it despite a hiccup with the lines giving it a solid four stars and six of the reviewers agreed. One, Michael Billington, The Guardian, commented: 

Jeremy Herrin is bang on the money with the revival of this much less familiar piece from 1974. There are times when you are caught between laughter and tears ... Any budding dramatist could learn a vast amount from the economy and skill with which Ayckbourn sets up the situation."

There weren't any five star reviews though with the remainder three stars, one of the slightly less impressed. Paul Taylor, Independent wrote:

Full of amusing gaffes that demonstrate our nervousness about death, the play is weakened by a back story that does not, to my mind, add up and by the stereotypical nature of the characters.

On aggregate it gets a worthy 3.75/5. It's on a limited run until April 14 and I hope it does well but I do wonder how much appeal it will have when it is up against the likes of One Man Two Guv'nors and The Lady Killers for more straight forward laughs. 

That was January for Stan in theatre-land

Well what a jam-packed theatre month that was. One really interesting and exciting casting announcement was that Jonjo O'Neill is take on Richard III for the RSC this year. And then there was the news that the V&A is giving some of its play recordings an airing on the big screen. (Trevor Nunn directed, Ben Whishaw starring Hamlet was last Sunday but plenty of other gems still to come, definitely worth a look - and it's free.) 

There was also talk of Prof Snape (other Alan Rickman roles do exist) treading the West End boards once again, which really would be a treat. 

The West End also bid farewell to Jerusalem although its star Rylance has said he would be interested in revisting the role of Rooster but not for a while. The end of the production was marked by the uncermonious chopping up of Roosters caravan so it would fit in the back of a lorry.

Doing my bit for the arts I saw 11 plays and there was certainly an interesting mix although nothing quite stood out enough to get five Stan stars. 

Of my two favourites the first was Constellations at Royal Court upstairs which saw the fab Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins using beautifully nuanced performance to examine choice vs pre-destination. It finishes this Saturday but is all sold out and from stories I hear of Monday scrambles for day seats, the queue for returns is likely to be long.

And the second fav was Execution of Justice at Southwark Playhouse which used a cast of many to cleverly re-enact the trial of Dan White who murdered Harvey Milk using a verbatim script. A thought provoking and affecting production but you'll have to take my word for it as it finished last week.

My least favourites of the month were The Changeling at the Young Vic which I felt was trying a little too hard to be contemporary and symbolic for my liking but seems to be getting some quite good reviews so don't take my word for it. It runs until February 25. And The Tempest at the White Bear which had a very irritating Miranda.

February is not going to be quite so jam packed (there are fewer days for a start) but I'm already excited about The Way of the World at the Sheffield Crucible and In Basildon at the Royal Court. 

These are a few of our favourite theatre things: @pocketful's not so Trivial Pursuit

Written by @pocketful

IMG00042-20120206-2209My name is Chris and I’m a kleptomaniac.

Please, put away your outdated misconceptions for a moment – you’ll not find me shuffling out of Tesco with frozen turkey between my thighs or anything remotely so kitchen-sink. I am a THEATRICAL kleptomaniac.

Props, my friends. Props. Nothing crucial to the plot or anything like that – you won’t see me bolting out of a theatre clutching Jean Valjean’s candlesticks or find me spectacularly missing the point and clambering onstage to try and make off with Macbeth’s illusionary dagger. That said, if it’s not nailed down, I’ll have it. If it IS nailed down, then pass the claw hammer.

It all began with being handed a juicebox for my turn in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (now centre-stage on my mantelpiece), and somehow escalated to plain old theft at Inadmissible Evidence, rifling through the boxes littered around the office set, and stuffing sheaves of letters into my bag.

I’m not proud of this. But I’m not ashamed, either. I think they make for far better souvenirs than, say, tickets – a pile of which has been gathering steam on my chest of drawers and is now legally a fire hazard and will remain so 'til the day I choose to fashion them into some kind of tapestry/quilt/Technicolor Dreamcoat.

And yes, it makes me look like some kind of extreme hoarder, poised to be evicted while Channel 4 watches on, but I do love my little collection of objets. I’m basically The Little Mermaid.

There is one item among my haul which I cherish most of all. Those of you lucky or plucky enough to have seen Jerusalem will have borne witness to one of the most blistering stage performances in recent memory, and a play that calls out to the numb disillusionment of a nation, all the while conjuring memories of pastoral sunsets and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot. There will quite frankly never be another like it - it fuses tales of tall giants with tall tales of Girls Aloud. Oh and Trivial Pursuit.

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Sir Trevor Nunn introduces V&A Hamlet screening and studying Ben Whishaw's performance a second time

IMG_0445The first and only time I've seen what I regard as the definitive Hamlet was on a small telly with headphones in the V&A theatre and performance archive nearly three years ago.

As part of the 20th-anniversary celebrations of the archives they are showing a selection of the plays on a big screen and today was said definitive Hamlet, the Old Vic's 2004 production starring Stan fav Ben Whishaw and directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, who braved the snowy weather to introduce the recording.

In what he claimed was an unprepared speech, he talked about how this production came into being, a production which sees not only the protagonist played as a 19-year-old but also his fellow students, mother and uncle as much younger than theatre-land normally casts.

Opportunity to revisit

Previously unaware that the recording existed (the archive is for a national record not commercial purposes) Sir Trevor seemed genuinely pleased to have the opportunity to see it again: "Theatre is usually like drawing in the sand, the waves come in and wash it all away so there is nothing left to see."

At the time Hamlet was playing at the Old Vic negotiations were ongoing about making a TV version but these came to nothing.

Now the story of how he got the idea for a young Hamlet began when he was what he describes as "a precocious 18-year-old, or rather a more precocious 18-year-old".

He put on a production of Hamlet with a company of teenage actors and felt then that the play was always about this age group.

Conventional production

Ten years later he directed Alan Howard in the lead role for the RSC. Howard was then in his early 30s and Nunn realised that what he was putting on "was a conventional production".

"Theatre history decrees that Hamlet is played by an actor in their 30s or even 40s and we've grown accustomed to that," he explained. "In the 19th century touring companies the lead actor, who would naturally be given the part, would always be of a certain age."

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Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio Feb 6 - 12

Compiled by @polyg

Monday February 6th

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Mark Lawson interviews theatre producers Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire, named the most influential people in British theatre by The Stage.

9pm on BBC 2 Scotland: Documentary around Andrew O'Hagan's play The Missing for the National Theatre of Scotland, director John Tiffany.

Thursday February 9th

7pm and 7:30pm on Sky Arts 2: first two episodes of Theatreland, the 2009 series going behind the scenes at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and its production of Waiting for Godot (with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, director: Sean Mathias). 

Friday February 10th

11:30am on BBC Radio 4: The programme examines the life and work of "Author of the Week", playwright and creator of "Flare Path", Sir Terence Rattigan.

7pm on BBC 2: The Culture Show is back and includes an interview with Zach Braff about his play All New People

7pm and 7:30pm on Sky Arts 2: episodes 3 and 4 of Theatreland

10pm on BBC Radio 2: The BBC Radio 2 Arts Show interviews Daniel Evans, artistic director of the Sheffield Crucible about the Crucible Theatre's 40th birthday celebrations, the revival of William Congreve's The Way of the World, and the Michael Frayn season.

On iPlayer

Last word at BBC Radio 4 remembers the actor Nicol Williamson, and includes audio clips of his Hamlet and more importantly him playing Bill Maitland in Inadmissible Evidence


More exciting casting news for Twelfth Night and Richard III at The Globe

OK so it was always going to take the presence of someone like Mark Rylance on the stage at The Globe to get me sitting on those uncomfortable benches in the chill of a Summer evening. However, today's news that joining Mark Rylance in the cast for Twelfth Night and Richard III will be the wonderful Samuel Barnett and Johnny Flynn means that I'll be hitting the internet the moment tickets go on sale. 

Taking a leaf out of Propeller's book there will be gender swapping, Barnett will play Elizabeth in Richard III (and Sebastian in Twelfth Night) while Flynn takes on Lady Ann in Richard III and Viola in Twelfth Night.

It also means that this year there will another battle of the Richards. Last year we had Propeller vs Spacey and now we have Rylance vs Jonjo at the RSC.

*rubs hands with glee*


Absent Friends and absent lines

Absentfriends_500It's a little bit of shame that the abiding memory of watching Absent Friends this week is going to be Reece Shearsmith forgetting his lines and being prompted. I've only seen it happen once before (Paul Jesson in Cock at the Royal Court Upstairs) and it is uncomfortable to experience not only for the actor concerned and the rest of the cast but also the audience.

Shearsmith recovered brilliantly and the rest of the cast barely batted an eyelid but for the next 10 minutes my eyes kept wandering over to where he was on stage to check for signs that he was rattled, put off his flow or whatever. It wasn't out of a wish of wanting to see it happen again it was more a fear for him, a will that it would go smoothly from then on. Standing up in front of hundreds of people and going blank is a popular nightmare and I'm sure not just in the Stanley household.

Aside from that little mishap I really enjoyed Absent Friends. I know Alan Ayckbourn can be a little too much middle class moaning for some people but I like the melancholy, awkward humour in it and Ayckbourn has knack for well-observed dialogue even if it is, at times, a little dated.

At its core it is about life and death and how we deal with it. A group of old school friends gather for an afternoon tea party to support Colin who's newly returned to the area having lost his fiance Carole in a swimming accident.

It takes a little while to get into its stride, set up the scenario and feed in lines for the humour but once it gets going, it not only gives a humourous look at how we deal with death but also how we deal with our life choices.

Colin's perfect view of his relationship with the dead Carole is unaware of the marital tension between schoolyard sweethearts Diana (Katherine Parkinson) and Paul (Steffan Rhodri) and new parents Evelyn (Kara Tointon) and John (David Armand) but the cracks soon begin to appear.

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