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October 2012

James McAvoy and Hayley Atwell take to the Donmar stage for an afternoon of tragedy

You don't realise how little you actually get to hear James McAvoy Scottish brogue. So little in fact that the first few lines he spoke this afternoon, at the Donmar's  rehearsed reading of Bajazet, had me thinking he was putting it on.

It is at once a testament to his skill at adopting accents for his many film and TV performances and a shame that he doesn't get to play roles where he can use his own lovely, natural voice. I so want to hear more of it and @_gabriellasf is right he must play Macbeth  (just not at the Globe).

But James McAvoy's Scottish accent was just one of the bag of treats of this afternoon's one off. Joining McAvoy in a seated performance where much is said in just the manner of turning the script pages were Hayley Atwell, Ruth Negga and Alex Jennings. It's the sort of cast list that you couldn't ever imagine being brought together for a fully fledged production but such is the joy of rehearsed readings.

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Review: The magic and tragedy of Peter of Pan fame @losttheatre

Robert Gooch : Stills Photographer: Peter &emdash;


If you were to draw a venn diagram of recent (ish) portrayals of Peter Pan author JM Barrie and the boy who inspired the the character then Stacy Sobieski's new play would fit in the middle with child-Peter focused film, Finding Neverland, overlapping on one side and, I expect*, John Logan's play of grown-up Peter and Alice overlapping on the other.

It starts off telling the story of how JM Barrie (Stewart Marquis) became friends and, after their own father dies, a surrogate father to the Llewelyn Davies boys George, Jack, Michael and of course Peter. Interwoven among these scenes of rambunctious role plays of the invention of JM Barrie the action leaps forward to a grown up Peter (Martin Richardson) talking to his old nurse maid Mary Hodgson (Helen Fullerton) about what has happened in the intervening years. 

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Review: Mark Gatiss and Douglas Henshall calmly power through 55 Days

55_days_finalmarkbThe Hampstead Theatre has rolled out a bumper cast for its latest production, a Howard Brenton play about the days between King Charles I's imprisonment, his trial and then execution.

I'm not sure whether the 30 or so actors and extras  were really warranted - I'm wondering who might have been roped in for walk on parts - although it did create quite a nice effect as they streamed across the stage from opposite sides picking up pieces of furniture and props in passing. Incidentally, the stage has been placed in the middle of the theatre with seating on two long sides which, vaguely, reminded me of the Houses of Parliament although the stage furniture was more 1950's office.

I digress, the stars of the show are most certainly Mark Gatiss and Douglas Henshall who play Charles and the engineer of his downfall Oliver Cromwell.

Gatiss's Charles is dressed as you see the King in portraits complete with the trademark pointy moustache and beard and long hair but his is the only period dress. Cromwell and the rest of the cast all wear modern attire, sometimes military garb sometimes suits to emphasise the overthrow of an old order with something more modern.

Henshall's Cromwell is calm and thoughtful without being cold, his composure and strong moral stance gives him an air of approachable authority that makes his success as a leader understandable.

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Review: Does Jez Butterworth's The River @royalcourt live up to expectation?

510x340.fitandcropThe Royal Court created both excitement and a stink when it announced it was to showcase a new play by Jez Butterworth.

Excitement because it's the first new play by Butterworth since Jerusalem took the West End and Broadway by storm. Stink because tickets would only go on sale on the day of the performance, penalising those who live outside London, those whose nights out need careful organising and members who pay to get access to tickets in advance.

When Dominic West and Miranda Raison were cast it became, probably, the most anticipated play of the year. But does it live up to expectation and all the hype?

The first thing to say is, it isn't Jerusalem. And it shouldn't be despite how much, deep down, you secretly wish it was. This is an entirely different creature.

What is trademark Butterworth is the poetic language but in The River he takes it to a new level. This is the sort of language that takes you to another place, a place the characters have been to, rather than the fantasy of Jerusalem's Rooster but crucially it is far gentler, far more delicate.

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Trials and tribulations of getting tickets for Jez Butterworth's The River: An updated Update

6a0133ec96767e970b017ee4400c60970d-580wiSo I get off the bus turn the corner a mixture of dread and excitement and there is a huge lorry parked in front of the theatre, I can't see the queue.

Find myself almost jogging across Sloane Square and there it is, a few fold out chairs, a picnic blanket, a flask of tea - all the tell tale signs of hardened queuers but most importantly there are only eight people. I am ninth, if Poly fails online we will get tickets.

Now is the nice part, the queue camaraderie, getting to know fellow theatre hard core.
And in a first for day seats a member of staff at the Royal Court has just been out to say hello and reassure us we'll get tickets.

What would be the icing on the cake is if we saw the actors arriving for final rehearsals, tonight is the first performance after all.

UPDATE: Poly couldn't get tickets online, they went in a flash apparently but I did get us tickets. Royal Court staff were very attentive and efficient checking on who was taking one or two tickets so they could let the people at the end of the queue know if they were going to get any or not.

I asked one of the front of house staff if they'd seen any of the play and he said he had seen a rehearsal and it's 'beautiful'. One thing to note is they won't reprint the tickets if you manage to lose them so I'm leaving nothing to chance and have left them at the box office to pick up tonight. The play is 90 minutes straight through and it better be worth it after all this hoo-ha.

Poly has written about her expectations and nerves about seeing The River over on her blog.

Update, update, update 19/10/12

The running time of the play last night was about 1 hour 25 minutes although we were told three different times by different staff from 75 minutes to 90 minutes - it was the first preview.

I've also been asked on Twitter what time I turned up to queue for tickets. It was about 7.55am but this was the first performance before any word has spilled out about what the play is like and before any press reviews.

If you want to know what I thought of it, my review is here.

Trials and tribulations of getting tickets for Jez Butterworth's The River

I am on a bus at 7.30am. Nothing particularly unusual about that except I have the week off work. This is voluntary. Jez Butterworth's new play The River opens today and tickets can not be bought in advance.

It's sort of like day seats with a back up plan. Thirty tickets are available from the theatre box office at 10am. The rest go on sale online at 9am, fastest finger/Internet first - the play is on at the Royal Court upstairs so there aren't a lot of tickets.

Poly is doing fastest finger. I am queueing. If we don't succeed today we'll be better prepared tomorrow.

This is theatre fanatic in action and the tension is a little addictive. The mystery of not knowing what you are going to find when you get to theatre. Will I be too late (it's happened several times for day seats)? Will I be there really early and have the comfort of knowing tickets are a certainty while being slightly irked that I could have had an extra half an hour in bed?

Or will I be on the cusp, taking a calculated gamble that not everyone in the queue takes two tickets? I've queued for two hours to have the person in front nab the last ticket before.

Soon I'll find out...

Update...and here is what happened.

Pic: Temporary Cottesloe Theatre replacement space take shape - the Donmar of the South Bank?


Next year the Cottesloe Theatre is to close for a year-long refurbishment as part of a £70m overhaul at the National Theatre.

The NT's studio space was an add on to the Olivier and Lyttleton Theatres after they were completed and while it is the most flexible of the three performance spaces and, as a consequence, often has the more bold and experimental work, it suffers from 'make do' public spaces, facilities and access. As such an overhaul is certainly needed. Indeed, if the dire loo situation - number and location - isn't addressed then whoever has briefed the designers is either a) a man b) has never been to a performance at the Cottesloe and, therefore, needs a sharp slap to the back of the hand.

But while the Cottesloe is being cocooned in building works ready to emerge butterfly-like as the Dorfman Theatre in 2014, a new excitingly bijou, temporary performance space is being built facing the river in front of the National (pictured above).

It will be 250-seats compared to the Cottesloe's 400ish and you can get an idea of what it will look like inside on the designer's website. I'm already imagining it as the Donmar of the South Bank attracting the best and biggest names in acting, directing and writing and therefore the accompanying scramble for tickets.

Review: Not quite so sound effects in All That Fall at the Jermyn Street Theatre

114620768_fall_345741cCould there be a starrier cast and director for the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre than Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon and Sir Trevor Nunn? I mean this is a theatre so small that you not only walk down stairs from the street straight into the auditorium but the loos are backstage, literally back stage, as in you have to walk across the stage to get to them.

Add in a never before staged Samuel Beckett radio play and there was much anticipation.

Now I've seen radio plays staged before, most recently the Live From series at the Criterion which was performed in what I like to call half and half style. There are the bare remnants of a set for the actors - a doorway, a chair, a sink that sort of thing but like a radio broadcast much is in the sound effects and in this instant the cast helped out with creating those effects. Seeing the mechanics of how it was put together with a little nod to having a live audience in the visualisation worked really well.

I've been told by people who have listened to All That Fall as a radio play that the sound effects are a big part of the story and creating its particular atmosphere. And that is I think where Sir Trevor Nunn's staging falls down. The sound effects are mostly recorded and while some are evocative others are poor or victim bad timing.

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Were the critics damning of Damned by Despair?

158512_2_previewHaving followed what can only be described as furore on Twitter about the National Theatre's latest production at the Olivier, Damned by Despair, I've been curious to see how the critics would react.

I liked it and gave it four stars for which I've publically been described as 'mental'. Not everything is to everyone's taste and that is fine but the degree of hatred for this play has been quite astounding especially as I can't quite get to the bottom of what people actually didn't like (@polyg has written a very good post 'In Praise of Bad Productions' over on her blog). It's another reason why I've been curious to read the reviews.

Michael Billington in The Guardian writes a perceptive and balanced portrait giving it three stars commenting on the odd set for one while enjoying the subtleties of Molina's story about forgiveness and redemption.

Paul Taylor is less appeased in the Independent describes it as a 'rare turkey for the National', he thought the modern gangster scenes sat uncomfortably with the more ethereal religious elements.

In The Telegraph Dominic Cavendish also gives it three stars describing it as "fiendishly simple while devilishly provocative" but had a problem with the modern interpretation and the impact that had on the central story.

In the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts who's not shy of giving a one star rating gave it big fat raspberry describing it as "cheesy" for reasons I can't quite discern.

And finally What's On Stage's Michael Coveney gave it three stars with readers giving it just one star. He said it made for "an awkward, demanding, sometimes bathetic night in the Olivier" describing the set as "gloomy" and that the production "shows signs of faltering self-belief and loose ends after rough cuts in previews."

I may be slightly biased because I liked it but I more inclined to accede to the negatives criticism of those that have offered a balance view than those who have berated, generally without giving much by way of a good reason.

Perhaps I should write to Nicholas Hytner and offer my four stars for the posters - he could probably do with a bit of cheering up after all this animosity or perhaps, like actors, he doesn't read reviews. With the numbers that have been reportedly walking out at the interval and the lack of any glowing praise from official sources I wonder whether this might have its run curtailed. Do they do that at the National?