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June 2012

Has the Donmar redeemed itself with The Physicists?

John-Heffernan-as-M-bius--008Josie Rourke's tenure as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse has got off to a wobbly start. First there was The Recruiting Officer which had some splendid moments but as a whole piece didn't quite live up to expectations and hype. Then there was Making Snores Quietly. Enough said.

So her third offering, a new version of Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Physicists by Jack Thorne, didn't so much have big shoes to fill as a reputation to restore. And I think it did.

It's a curious play. The first half is full of surreal and black comedy, set in a sanatorium where three patients remain in the old building, having not yet been transferred to new facilities. Of these three one thinks he is Einstein (Paul Bhattacharjee), one thinks he's Sir Isaac Newton (Justin Salinger) and the third is a physicist (John Heffernan) who believes King Soloman talks to him. 

Einstein has just strangled a nurse, Newton having committed a similar crime a week or so earlier but Dr Mathilde Von Zahnd (a hunchbacked Sophie Thompson) seems more bothered about how distressed the perpetrator is by his crime rather than the offense itself.

The second half is equally surreal but has a different tone, it is much darker as tables are well and truly turned.

Written in 1961 at the height of the cold war the play, for all its oddities, essentially muses on the idea of knowledge as power, the responsibility of that power and whether it corrupts. Who do you trust when you don't know who is watching who? It's humour is as dark as its sentiment is sombre.

With such a great acting ensemble you'd expect great performances and they were. John Heffernan is generally fab in everything he does and this is no exception. Justin Salinger, whom I last saw in the superb Our Class and Through A Glass Darkly, is going to become a bit of a favourite, I can feel it, and Paul Batacharjee has happily wiped Faith, Hope and Charity from my memory.

Sophie Thompson is always a joy to watch but I'm starting to think that she's getting typecast as the eccentric, bossy older lady and would love to see her play something really different. Dyeing her hair blond for the role isn't quite enough.

Miranda Raison has two criminally small parts which was a shame but she looked like she was having fun and I had fun too.  The Physicists is getting a good solid four stars from me.

Production photo: Johan Persson


Chocker full of second degree connections this one (at least six) but this is my favourite because it's a teeny bit cheeky: Oliver Coopersmith who plays both Blocher and Wilfried-Kaspar has also appeared in Grandma's House. And if you don't get the connection then never mind. @polyg approves and as she is this game's harshest critic and self-proclaimed rule-maker, that counts for a lot.


Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio June 11-17

Compiled by Poly Gianniba and posted up late by Rev Stan (sorry)

Tuesday June 12 (now available as a podcast from Radio 4 website)

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Front Row interviews stage actor Alan Howard.

Friday June 15

10pm on BBC Radio 2: Robert Dawes and Michael Simkins are interviewed in the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show about the theatre adaptation of 'Yes Prime Minister' which is back in London.

Saturday June 16

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Saturday Review discusses Gatz at the Noel Coward theatre.

Sunday June 17

7am on BBC Radio 6 Music: Stephen Mangan visits Nemone to discuss starring in Birthday at the Royal Court.


@royalcourt irks theatre fans with its new Butterworth play ticketing policy

Normally when a theatre such as the Royal Court announces its new season there is much excitement among regular theatre-goers with conversations on Twitter about what is on offer and who is going to what and when.

When the Sloane Square theatre unveiled its offerings for the rest of the year via email and online at lunch time today, excitement among theatre tweeps quickly turned to annoyance and anger.

The reason? Well one of the plays is a new piece from Jez 'Jerusalem' Butterworth, something to be very excited about except that the theatre, in anticipation of high demand, is not putting tickets on sale in advance to members or indeed anyone. It is day seats only.  

My first question, put to the Royal Court via Twitter, was why choose the bijou Jerwood Theatre Upstairs for the new play, called The River, rather than the much larger theatre downstairs if they are anticipating such high demand?

The answer from the Royal Court came in an extended Tweet:

We hope this way is fairer - meaning anyone can see the show (not just high level supporters). It's an intimate 3-hander & JTU best suits the play artistically. It's a v small capacity & if sold in advance there wouldn't even be enough tix for members to buy 2 each. We wanted everyone to have a fair chance of seeing Jez's new play.Day seats available online and in-person.

Interesting because the Royal Court's intimate two-hander Constellations, which also had its debut in JTU, is transferring to the large Duke of York's theatre in the West End in November. 

@goldenavenger1 asked the Royal Court if they were planning to transfer The River to the West End to which there has been no reply.

And to pick up on the theatres intention of making tickets available to 'everyone', well they aren't. On Twitter @glenpearce1, @allisonadler and @susiesooze all pointed out that for those, like themselves, who live outside London, improvised theatre trips are tricky:

With a family, an elderly mother & work I have to make plans to travel in.Feels like discrimination & I'm sad as I love the theatre @Susiesooze

And it's not just people who live outside London that have babysitters to organise or have care responsibilities or have to plan ahead.

Earlier in the year I wrote to the Royal Court about its seeming disconnect with the world of ordinary people because it had unveiled its new season just two hours before the 9am ticket sale. It's marketing department promised to try harder.

I've just renewed my membership for the Royal Court - ironically I got the confirmation email outlining the benefits today -  but I'm beginning to wonder why I bothered, when the primary (only) reason for handing over £25 is to get advance access to tickets. I know of one person who's already contacted the Royal Court to say they won't be renewing their own membership when it expires because of this ridiculous policy.

So instead of generating excitement about its new season, the Royal Court has generated cynicism. This from @nathanaelkent

Of course it'll transfer. They just want a pic in the ES of people queuing overnight.

And this from @goldenavenger1

Clearly trying to create 'buzz' to shift tickets once it transfers.

All this could easily have been avoided by extending the run and/or only selling a portion of the tickets in advance, I believe on £10 Mondays it is standard practice. 

Poor show Royal Court, for this you get a theatrical boo and hiss.

Related post from @glenpearce1:

Royal Court Sells Friends Down The River 


Boys behaving badly at the Soho Theatre

600x600Boys will be boys in Ella Hickson's latest to have an outing in London. Or not, as the case may be. Yes their student flat is an homage to the female form and Bacchus and there is a certain amount of infidelity and drug-taking, hiding on top of the fridge freezer and eating bowls of coco pops with a 4ft spoon but underneath it all there is something more interesting going on.

Benny (Danny Kirrane) has just got a first but wants answers about a tragic event, Timp (Tom Mothersdale), the non-student, is just about living from one party to the next, Cam (Lorn Macdonald) is on the cusp of an illustrious classical music career but his nerves might just nip that in the bud and Mack (Samuel Edward Cook) can only think about himself right now.

Throw in Timps' girlfriend Laura (Alison O'Donnell) who wants to settle down and Sophie (Eve Ponsonby), Benny's brother's ex and you have a melting pot of emotions, expectations and regrets.

Can someone please explain to me - why when you two are sitting there having just polished off four year a studying with shiny old marks and you - (points to Cam) are about to get your tiny magical musical arse kissed by half the world and we are going to have a blinding fucking knees-up - I am the only one that is having a lovely old time? 

Continue reading "Boys behaving badly at the Soho Theatre" »

What a day for London theatre casting announcements

I don't know, you wait for one exciting casting announcements and three come along at once.

First there is Ken Stott in the Lindsay Posner directed Uncle Vanya with Anna Friel and Sam West at the Vaudeville, no less. I've been a fan of Ken Stott's since seeing him in God of Carnage and then his wonderful turn as Eddie in A View From the Bridge. And you have to admire an actor who stops mid performance to ask a group of rowdy teenagers to leave the theatre.

For those who prefer not to pay top whack there are day seats costing £10 (thanks to @nathanaelkent for pointing that out).

Then there is Rowan Atkinson in the Quartermaine's Terms. Now Atkinson has a special place in my West End going past as he was the first person I ever saw on a West End stage. I was 14 and had travelled down to the big city from rural Rutland to stay with my older sister. It was his stand up show rather than a play but I still remember the thrill of sitting in one of the grand big theatres. 

To see him again on stage some *mumbles* years later will be a real treat and I'm curious to see what he's like outside the Black Adder/Mr Bean/general buffoon role. 

Cheaper ticket options might be to catch it on tour in Brighton or Bath prior to its arrival at the Wyndhams in the West End.

And then finally there is the unveiling of the Hampstead Theatre's new season which will see Rupert Everett playing Oscar Wilde in Judas Kiss. Now there's an actor/role match made in heaven. He'll be joined by Freddie Fox whom I'm quickly growing quite fond of.

So plenty to worry the credit card with and there will be barely time to catch breath as the Royal Court is due to announce its new season early next week. It's almost too much at once.

Terrific Torch Song Trilogy




The Menier Chocolate Factory's Torch Song Trilogy is one of those plays you see in preview that despite odd moments of visible nerves and a dialogue stumble you know it is just going to fly given a few more performances to bed in.

In cutting the original trilogy of plays down to one of around 2 and a half hours (that's a guesstimate as I didn't check the time when it finished) you lose some of the detail and the middle play, I don't think, quite establishes the depth of protagonist Arnold's relationship with Alan. 

But I jump slightly ahead, the three plays have been edited to three neat acts each following drag queen Arnold (David Bedella) through the trials and tribulations of his search for true love.

At the start of the first act he is disillusioned with love having had a string of unrequited love affairs. He meets confused bisexual Ed  (Joe McFadden) in a bar and things all seem to be going well for once when Ed dumps him for Laurel (Laura Pyper). 

Over the course of the next act Ed flits in and out of Arnold's life as does Laurel culminating in a visit to the couple's holiday home with his new beau Alan (Tom Rhys Harries) when all get to say what's on their mind.

The final part sees Arnold adopting gay teen David (Perry Millward), resisting the advances of Ed who is confused, again, and dealing with a visit from his un-approving and overbearing mother (Sara Kestelman).

Arnold, when he first bounded onto the stage back in the late 70s and early 80s, would have no doubt surprised audiences, challenging gay stereotypes, with his desire to find a meaningful relationship and have a family. Today with civil partnerships common place and celeb gay couples such as Elton John adopting it doesn't really raise an eyebrow.

However, his mother's reaction to his homosexuality and the adoption together with the fate of Alan is something that, I'm sure, still resonates 30 years on far more than it should and as a result Torch Song doesn't feel particularly dated.  

It is good story told with wit, humour and poignancy and a Stan-friendly number of songs. In chopping the three stories into one, what you lack in depth is certainly made up for in pace with never a slack moment.

The staging mixes between conventional and the less so with a rather imaginative use of an over-sized double bed in the weekend away scene.

There are strong performances throughout particularly from Bedella and I just loved Perry Millward's precocious and cheeky David so much I want to take him home in my pocket and feed him cake.

Must also mention Tom Rhys Harries who graduates from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama this Summer, definitely someone to keep an eye on.

I'm going to give Torch Song a strong 4 stars, so strong it's on the cusp of five, but not quite. I'm sure if I saw it again, later in the run, it would get five.

The Torch Song Trilogy runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until August 12. Get tickets as I think it's going to be popular.

* And just a tip on seating, the Menier is a small theatre so you are never going to get a rubbish view but if you are sat in the front two/three rows at either end, the set juts out close to the front row and very occassionally the action takes place at these points. As a result you have to painfully crick your neck to see what is going on if it is at the opposite side of the stage. You can't not see anything, it's just not the best angle to watch from so if you can get more central seats, then all the better. 


I'm really pleased with this one because I don't think I've got to use the film Perfume: Story of a Murderer much before. But little Perry Millward was in it, as was the wonderful Mr W who, of course, played the lead Grenouille.

Love, love, loved Love Love Love

LoveLoveLoveMike Bartlett is back on form albeit with one or two of his irritating habits creeping in. I loved his Cock (no I never tire of writing that) but Earthquakes in London left me cold - over reaching, undisciplined and indulgent. So scarred was I that I couldn't bear to see 13 which followed Earthquakes at the National.

His latest to hit London*, Love Love Love, sees him back at the Royal Court but on the big stage and while it is probably about 15 minutes too long and the two interval-inducing set changes a little indulgent the script was sharp and at times laugh out loud funny.

It follows Kenneth (Ben Miles) and Sandra (Victoria Hamilton) from there first meeting in Kenneth's brother's flat in 1967 then jumps to 1990 when they are married with kids Jamie (George Rainsford) and Rose (Claire Foy). The final act sees the family in 2011, the kids are grown up and Kenneth has retired.

As the title suggests love does play its part, whether it can endure and what form it takes. However for me what was more interesting were the musings on societal changes over the 45 years through the characters expectations as to how their lives would play out.

Each seems stuck at a particular point of their lives, with a particular mindset while life has moved on. Kenneth and Sandra, the generation where freedom to do what you want was the mantra are approaching their later years comfortably well off and able to do as they please. Meanwhile Jamie in 2011 still lives at home and Rose is stuck in a low paid job and desperate to own her own home.

It has quite a bleak ending in someways for what is a funny play, in fact I think there was a corker of a line in each act.

All families are boring. That's why London was invented. So you can move away.

Aging your actors by 45 years is always going to be tricky to pull off but it works. As well as the obvious changes in clothes and some greying hair the pace of delivery and gait changes.

Surperb performances from all (although it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Kenneth's brother Henry played by Sam Troughton - a topic that came up in the post show Q&A). Standout for me was Hamilton as the selfish, wine-quaffing Sandra who becomes an almost hellish mother.

In the Q&A director James Grieve said that Bartlett never writes with a point in mind, he writes about a debate that is going on in his own head. Here there was much to discuss afterwards which I'd count as a success whereas previous plays have just felt like the outpourings of an over excited mind.

I'm going to give Love, Love, Love four stars. If you want to catch it you'll have to be quick because it finishes on June 9.

*Love Love Love was first performed at the Drum Theatre in Plymouth in 2010 and toured in 2011.

Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio June 5 - 8

Compiled by Poly Gianniba

June 6

 9am on BBC Radio 4: Samantha Spiro is interviewed in Midweek about playing  Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

June 8

8pm on Sky Arts 1: Athol Fugard, documentary about the South African playwright Athol Fugard.

10pm on BBC Radio 2: Dominic Savage is interviewed at the BBC Radio 2 Arts show about his writing and directing his first stage play Fear at the Bush Theatre. Also, Ruth Carney talks about the Lantern Theatre in Sheffield, where she is artistic director.

On iPlayer

* Jack Thorne and artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse Josie Rourke talk about their new play The Physicists.

* It's fun but is it theatre? Sarah Hemming, theatre critic for The Financial Times, explores the popular more interactive theatre trend that has emerged over the past decade.