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April 2012

March 2012

Chuckling at the Tobacco Factory's Cherry Orchard

TimthumbI don't remember ever chuckling at The Cherry Orchard quite like I did at the Tobacco Factory Theatre on Thursday. Director Andrew Hilton has teased out the wit in Chekhov's play of posh folk with money troubles, cranking up the melodrama and throwing in some physical humour to boot. 

It not only gives the play a lighter touch - in a good way - but makes it all the more entertaining and engaging for it.

The Cherry Orchard isn't a favourite play of mine, as I've mentioned before here, and my irritation with the central characters' inaction remains but in making their deportment so ridiculous it heightens the sense of futility that is at the heart of their behaviour. There is also a warmth in their behaviour you suspect that, deep down, they are aware of their silliness and foibles but it binds them together.

Julia Hills' Ranevskaya has a charm that makes you believe her Paris apartment would be crowded with gentlemen callers and Simon Armstrong's Lopakhin is shrewd but not cold and portrays a genuine warmth and affection for Ranevskaya and her family.

Continue reading "Chuckling at the Tobacco Factory's Cherry Orchard" »

The charm of Filumena @AlmeidaTheatre but is it enough?

Filumena%20455Filumena is a curious little play.  The premise of Italian Eduardo De Filippo's story is that our heroine has faked a near death illness in order to get her lover of 25-years standing to marry her. On the pronouncement of being husband and wife Filumena (Samantha Spiro) miraculously recovers, earning the ire of lover Domenico (Clive Wood).

However there is more to Filumena's plotting than meets the eye - she has a grand plan but will her beloved Domenico play ball?

It is a play that is both charming in its depiction of the battle of the sexes (there are shades of Much Ado About Nothing) but it is also a little frustrating. Maybe it was just me but the second half seemed to be building towards something that is never quite satisfactorily realised.

Filumena is a great character, a woman of spirit and pluck and fundamentally a good soul. Clive Wood balances Domenico the selfish, arrogant philanderer with a softer, gentler man who just needs to be nudged down the right path.

Both leads put in sterling performances - it's great to see Spiro in such a spirited role again. It is also very nicely produced. The house courtyard setting, bedecked with flowers and a wonderful soundtrack of bird song and insects chirruping is like an advert for holidays in Italy's yellow-stoned Tuscan towns.

It is entertaining, amusing and charming but the second half seems to run out of fizz. Yes both characters learn something and are better as a result but it just wasn't quite enough. There was an element of drama, another twist or revelation that was hinted at but not realised. Perhaps we were spoilt in the first half, perhaps we are supposed to accept what is, like Domenico? 

As a result it's nudging four stars but not quite so I'm going to give it three and a half.

Filumena runs at the Almeida until May 12.


Not a direct one but Clive Wood was in Flare Path with Sienna Miller who play Mr W's girlfriend in the film Layer Cake.


The bloody Duchess of Malfi at the Old Vic

Carousel-image1If Jacobean dramatist John Webster had been writing today he'd probably be penning some violent and bloody gang related HBO drama or episodes of Spooks, killing off key characters when you least expect it. It is, after all, a brave move knocking off your heroine 40 minutes before the end of the play but an act that sets in motion the sort of bloody carnage so loved by early 17th century writers.

Webster's Duchess of Malfi is a tale of two evil brothers who bully their young, widowed sister, banning her from remarrying and then pursuing her relentlessly when they discover she has not only taken a husband but one of lowly status.

This being classic Jacobean tragedy there are undertones of incestuous feelings and murder most foul but it is an honour killing that is at the heart of the Machiavellian and brutal plotting that forms the central storyline.

The Old Vic production, directed by Jamie Lloyd, is beautifully staged in traditional dress against a backdrop of stairs and landings with intricate carvings, lit so as to throw carefully sculpted shadows and shafts of light. 

And the cast do a wonderful job with Webster's rich and metaphor heavy text. I could listen to Mark Bonnar's beautifully Scottish-lilted soliloquies as Bosola for hours, even if he is spitting bile and loathing against mankind most of the time. 

Tom Bateman who is building an impressive CV having played Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham's last year while still at drama school, takes on the more meaty role of the Duchess's good-souled husband Antonio. And it is always a joy to see Harry Lloyd on stage - here channeling a little of his Game of Thrones character Viserys Tagaryen, as the jealous and venomous brother who has an eye for his sister. He does a very convincing almost bratish baddy.

It was my first time seeing theatre darling Eve Best and she didn't disappoint as the strong-willed tragic heroine.

This was a late preview performance and from what @oughttobeclowns has said the running time has tightened up considerably as this performance clocked in at 2 hours and 40 including interval rather than the 3 hours 20 advertised. It still sags a little in the middle of the second half but quickly picks up pace as the carnage begins - the Duchess's demise is particularly drawn out and distressing.

Jacobean tragedy done bloody well - the Old Vic has finally found the stage blood supplies - I'm going to give it four stars.

The Duchess of Malfi runs at the Old Vic until June 9


Was worried that I might have to call upon the Kevin Spacey fall-back but fortunately found a direct link, Finbar Lynch who plays the Cardinal has Richard II listed in his TV credits in which Mr W takes the title role of course (due to be aired in July according to recent reports).


Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio March 26 - April 1

Compiled by Poly Gianniba

Friday March 30

10pm on BBC Radio 2: at the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show, Welsh poet, author and scriptwriter Owen Sheers discusses the National Theatre of Wales' memory event which marks the first anniversary of its award-winning production, The Passion, which starred Michael Sheen.

Saturday March 31

7:15pm on BBC radio 4: Saturday Review features the Duchess of Malfi at the Old Vic, starring Eve Best.

9:30pm on BBC2: the Arena programme profiles Jonathan Miller and his work on television, radio, theatre and opera.

Sunday April 1

10:15pm on ITV1: Lenny Henry - Finding Shakespeare, part of the Perspectives series. 

Catch up on iPlayer

The Strand continues its Shakespeare coverage visiting Athens where the Greek National Theatre are creating Pericles

Night Waves reviews Eduardo De Filippo's Filumena at the Almeida, starring Samantha Spiro, and Michael Billington and Susannah Clapp discuss the appointment of Greg Doran as the new artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Gregory Doran is interviewed on Front Row


After Miss Julie and the budgie murder

After%20Miss%20Julie%20by%20Richard%20Huber%20SmithI don't want to let what will now be know as 'the budgie incident' overshadow what is a very good play but I can't but help but obsess with it. You see something bad happens to a budgie. It's hopping around in its cage. It gets removed from its cage and then, well, it's bloody, is all I'll say.

Now I know no real harm comes to the budgie - although there is no official confirmation of this in the programme, just the name of the company that supplies the birds (it says budgies plural). But where does it go, how does the theatre trickery work so that it is safely stowed for the remainder of the play with some cuttlefish or Trill to keep it happy and quiet?

I've asked the Young Vic and they haven't yet replied. Yes I am that obsessed with it but putting it to one side, the play itself is very good.

It's set just after the end of the second world war in the kitchen of an aristocratic household. It's a time of austerity, rationing still in full force. Labour has just swept into power on a landslide, class barriers are starting to break down and so too the perceived role of women.

Julie (Natalie Dormer), the daughter of 'his Lordship' has had a unconventional upbringing. From what she tells us, her mother was a bohemian who was eventually 'brought into line' by her father who appears to have got embarrassed by her behaviour - presumably the behaviour that first attracted him to her.

Continue reading "After Miss Julie and the budgie murder" »

R4 Front Row: Greg Doran talks his plans for Stratford and why there won't be any "starry turns" chipping in

Speaking to Mark Lawson on Front Row this evening Gregory Doran, who will replace Michael Boyd as artistic director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, said he will put Shakespeare at the heart of what he does.

"Shakespeare is at the centre of what we do, he is our house playwright, that’s my passion and that’s what I hope to re-engage the company with," he said on the BBC radio station's cultural programme.

It also means the 'company' approach will remain key. Doran pointed out that many of the UK's classic actors such as Fiona Shaw, Mark Rylance and Simon Russell Beale  have "flexed their muscles and honed their craft" in Stratford, however he added that there won't be any star turns "chipping in".

"My appointment means a commitment to the discipline of Shakespeare. It is hard, it is a craft and you have to work at it," he says.

He name checked some of those who he's lured back to company in recent years, such as Patrick Stewart and David Tennant, but it is clear that he'll be looking for a long term commitment from his actors regardless of their star power.

He also said a permanent home in London remains an important goal as does re-opening The Other Place in Stratford however, establishing its raison d'etre is important: "You can't just open a black box studio space."

You can listen to the full interview on the Front Row podcast which is available to download from the BBC website.


Olivier Awards shortlist - predictions and omissions (and now the results)

Everyone else has already mulled over the Olivier Awards shortlist I'm sure but I'm not one to miss an opportunity to put in my own two-penneth.

So here are some of my thoughts on the contenders, my predictions for the winners and those I think were shamefully missed off.  (And now with the results added in)

Best New Play


Jumpy - I enjoyed it very much critics were more mixed, not sure I would give it an award though

Ladykillers - Memorable more for the set than the play which was entertaining enough but not the funniest thing around in the West End in the last 12 months.

One Man Two Guvnors - Enjoyed, probably even more second time around when could pay more attention to witty script. Yes this should be here.

Collaborators - Loved this. Very clever as well as funny,  well deserves its place.

OMISSION?  Well most of the new writing I've seen isn't in the West End so I can't add anything that would qualify for this category.

AND THE WINNER IS? I'd like it to be Collaborators but I think it will be One Man Two Guvnors. Hurrah it was the Collaborators

Continue reading "Olivier Awards shortlist - predictions and omissions (and now the results)" »

Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio March 19 - 25

Compiled by Poly Gianniba

Monday March 19

7pm on Sky Arts2: "In Love with Wilde", Stephen Fry, Caroline Quentin, Paterson Joseph, Russell Tovey and Eddie Marsan perform their favourite Oscar Wilde roles. 

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row, Mark Lawson interviews Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton about their production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.

Tuesday March 20

1:15pm on BBC Radio Scotland: The Culture Cafe interviews Dominic Hill, the artistic director at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. 

Wednesday March 21

9am on BBC Radio 4: On Midweek, Libby Purves interviews Barrie Rutter, artistic director of the Northern Broadsides theatre company.

Thursday March 22

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: On Front Row, a review of the Complicite staging of Bulgakov's renowned novel The Master and Margarita.

Friday March 23

10pm on BBC Radio 2: BBC Radio 2 Arts Show, Actress Gwen Taylor talks about starring in The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo in a new stage adaption by Daniel Buckroyd, at the Curve Theatre Leicester. 

Saturday March 24

11:40pm on BBC2: and now for something completely different, a film centred around the staging of a play:

Synecdoche, New York

Director: Charlie Kaufman

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Sadie Goldstein, Tom Noonan, Peter Friedman, Charles Techman

Story: Theatre director Caden Cotard's artistic life is boosted with a prestigious grant, but his marriage abruptly ends and a mystery malady starts taking its toll. Throwing himself into a theatrical attempt to portray stark reality, Caden's relationships and existence become the subject of, and contaminated by, his epic work. 


Does the new cast of One Man Two Guvnors match up to Corden et al?

Saw One Man Two Guvnors at the National Theatre last year and enjoyed it very much, despite myself and the elements of farce that I find irritating.

The production proved good fodder for ticket sales transferring to the West End. And it's about to open on Broadway leaving a new cast to entertain London audiences at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. But how do they measure up?

Well firstly it's not quite as starry a cast as the original production unless you are a fan of TV talent shows or S Club 7 (Jodie Prenger and Hannah Spearritt). Owain Arthur steps into James Corden's shoes as Francis - a difficult act to follow. Arthur plays up his Welsh accent giving the performance a different flavour while maintaining the elements of the original which are much loved, and he soon has the audience eating out of his hand.

Elsewhere there was less distinction between performances but then there is a strong case for saying, 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'.

I found the first 20 minutes a little bit too hammy for my liking but once it got into its stride comparisons with the original started to fade. 

One Man Two Guvnors is still packing in the laughs and is a fun, entertaining evening at the theatre - arguably the funniest thing in town at the moment. The bonus of seeing it again is that the humour in the script floats to the surface, unfettered from seeing the physical comedy for the first time.  It is a very witty script, wittier than I remembered.

If you didn't see the original cast of One Man Two Guvnors this is definitely a production worthy of its London residency. If you enjoyed the original, then there is that tiny starry spark of experience missing but the heart of the original is there to enjoy.

First time around it got 4 stars and it's getting very solid 4 stars again. One Man Two Guvnors runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until September 1.

Official production shots below by Johan Persson


Kevin Spacey says expensive theatre prohibitive to young people - I say, day seats for ALL ages

Old Vic artistic director and American actor Kevin Spacey says that tickets prices in the West End mean theatre is becoming an "exclusive club" and turning off the next generation of theatre-goers.

It's not just the young Mr Spacey. How many people can really afford to pay £50 plus for a single ticket - and I'm holding off saying a decent ticket because you can pay that amount and more for a seat in Row U in some theatres? It makes West End theatre a rare luxury not just for the young, but everyone else who is normally-waged and London theatre regulars like myself.

However it is not just the steadily skyward creeping prices we should worry about, it is also the reducing numbers of day seats. Just last year the Theatre Royal Haymarket decided to cash in on the star pulling power of Ralph Fiennes in its production of  The Tempest and cut the number of day seats from 20 to 9. 

It could be worse, at least TRH offers day seats. I recently asked the Duke of York's theatre, via Facebook, if they were offering day seats for All New People and their feigned misunderstanding of the question spoke volumes, a big fat 'no', screamed the subtext.

The West End theatres have to make money but surely a few days seats isn't make or break. And the camaraderie as played out on social media and reports of queues in the press (Jerusalem) can only be good marketing for a play.

Incidentally I'm predicting that the Mark Rylance Richard III/Twelfth Night (the latter with added Stephen Fry effect) will have the longest day seat queues, if they have day seats, of any West End play this year. You read it here first. (Unless of course David Tennant announces he is treading the boards again this year.)