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November 2012

Straight review: The stars allign to produce one of my favourite plays of the year

AN12643455Henry-Pettigrew-aI hate to use the word perfect because if you look hard enough you will inevitable find a flaw but both in watching and on reflection I can find nothing bad to say about DC Moore's play Straight. It is as if the stars of script, direction and performance aligned.

Straight's central premise is a drunken challenge between two university friends - Lewis (Henry Pettigrew) and Waldorf (Philip McGinley) - who are reunited after Waldorf returns from seven years travelling.

Lewis is married and thinking about starting a family with his wife Morgan (Jessica Ransom). Waldorf burst into their settled idyll - well cramped studio flat - with tales of adventure and sexual exploits. To say that Lewis re-evaluates his own life as a result would be doing the plot a disservice but I think to explain the challenge and how it changes the men's friendship and the relationship between husband and wife would be too much of a spoiler

Straight is an adaptation of the film Humpday and what you get is a script crackling with wit, humour and carefully observed behaviour. It was interesting and intriguing and under Richard Wilson's direction performed with perfect pitch - an achievement considering it is essentially a comedy about sex. It is laddish without being crude and exploitative; a situation that is contrived without being farcical, funny without being silly.

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Review: The frustrating and charming Hero

510x340.fitandcropWalking onto the set of Hero - you have to, to get to your seat - brought a flood of memories back. Not good memories because it is designed to look like a school gym, all light wooden floors, tape marking the area of play and bright lighting.

The gym set is, however, more symbolic than real.  It serves merely as a reminder that play is about two school teachers with the action taking place around a second set in the middle consisting of kitchen table and chairs and an island block with sink, kettle and other culinary objects. In fact you quickly forget the gym.

The story starts with Jamie (Daniel Mays) who is married to Lisa (Susannah Wise), visiting colleague Danny (Liam Garrigan) who is married to Joe (Tim Steed). Jamie is seeking reassurance from Danny that he handled correctly a situation at school in which a seven-year-old called him gay. The problem is he over-reacted but not to hurt his feelings Danny lies.

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Review: How far can you take grumpiness in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky?

One Sunday morning I was at the screening of a Danish costume drama set in the 18th century in which the King was being quite nasty to his Queen for no apparent reason. About an hour into the film an elderly gentlemen among the small audience started shouting at the screen: 'Will you stop being so horrible to that women, she's done nothing to you'.

It was a surprising outburst and also quite amusing but I tell the story because about three quarters of the way through Nick Dear's play The Dark Earth and the Light Sky I felt like doing just that. First world war poet Edward Thomas (Pip Carter) whom the play is about may have been a talented writer - and you get flashes of it in the script - but he wasn't a very nice man.

His free-spirit, intelligent wife Helen (Hattie Morahan) doggedly supports and encourages him only to be rewarded with a barrage of insensitive remarks. He isn't even that nice to his friend, the American poet Robert Frost (Shaun Dooley) whom he spends a summer with.

Thomas starts the play having resigned from a job in the civil service he can't see the point of, supporting his family by writing book reviews but creatively he suffers from writer's block. It is only in meeting Frost and spending hours in his company, walking, observing and documenting the countryside he loves that, with encouragement, he finds his voice once again.

He's not a happy person and early on confesses to having had suicidal thoughts only the beauty of the spot he'd chosen preventing him. However, his lack of self-worth makes him prickly, sharp, critical and highly-insensitive. But there is only so far empathy for a tortured genius or troubled soul can stretch.

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Re-view: The life-affirming Constellations at the Duke of York's


I confess, I had my reservations about seeing Constellations in a big West End theatre. There is something special about watching a performance, a really good, nuanced performance, in a tiny theatre where the set decoration is something you have to walk through to get to your seat. (And you have the writer and director sat behind you scribbling notes as it's preview.)

But Nick Payne's play about pre-destination and choice stands up to the test of it's transfer from the Royal Court Upstairs - even if you have to peer around the head of the chap sat directly in front.

And it's because it is a cracking good play performed with perfection by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. It is at once wide-ranging and intimate in its scope playing out the threads and possible threads of two peoples lives that interweave.  Scenes are repeated, maybe just a few lines, changing the destination of the plot sometimes with a different tone of voice, sometimes by saying 'yes' rather than 'no'.

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Review: Does @NationalTheatre have another Christmas hit on its hands with The Magistrate

MagistrateIf you like the gentle fun of Victorian comedies of the ilk of London Assurance then you'll like The Magistrate.

This isn't quite a rib-tickler like One Man, Two Guvnors more of a 'smile out loud' as @paulinlondon aptly described it on Twitter.

Its charm, for me comes in the spectacle of the production. From the licorice striped outfits and comic wigs of the dandies singing Richard Stilgoe-composed comedy lyrics between scenes to the revolving, flipping stage and set shenanigans.

It is like a box of chocolates - written with the voice of Forrest Gump's mother in my head - you never know quite what you are going to get next.

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Solaris review or does Sci Fi as a genre work on stage?

Tobor_great_42The Courtyard Theatre's production of Solaris is my first introduction to the story which started life as a book and subsequently was adapted twice for film.

It got me and Poly talking about other Sci Fi-based plays we might have seen and the fact that we couldn't recall any made me think about it as a genre for the stage.

You see the problem, well two problems, I had with Solaris the play is that firstly Sci Fi speak is difficult to pull off without sounding ridiculous or that the genre is being spoofed. It takes a pretty strong combination of director and acting talent to make the words sound natural and genuine. Secondly, it is difficult to create a convincing back drop that doesn't just look like the set of a 1950s B movie.

In novel form Sci Fi is only limited by the imagination. On film and TV there are so many tricks and techniques you can use to create a believable environment and atmosphere. A low-budget stage production has many limitations even before you approach Sci Fi. Clear corrugated plastic screens which are moved by masked characters to represent walls and electric doors is a good idea but its less than perfect execution creates a distraction when everything is supposed to be electronic and smooth.

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Review: The Seagull @swkplay and why it's becoming one of my favourite plays

116530496_ARTS_Seag_355494cMy mum would sometimes ask me, when I was visiting, what I had seen at the theatre and I remember one time mentioning 'Hamlet again' to which her response was 'surely you know the story by now?'. I tried then to explain the appeal of that play, its many layers and different interpretations that made every new production a draw.

The Seagull is rapidly becoming 'a Hamlet' in that after seeing just two productions, this latest at the Southwark Playhouse, I could quite happily go and see another version tomorrow, should there be one to see.

I'm not familiar enough with the more traditional translations of Chekhov's play to judge how much artistic licence playwright Anya Reiss's has taken in her 'version' so I can only judge on how believable and natural the dialogue sounded and on both points it gets the thumbs up.

In fact, the modern dialogue worked perfectly within the modern setting. Konstantin (Joseph Drake) writes on a laptop, Arkadina (Sasha Waddell) can't get a signal on her mobile and Masha (Emily Dobbs) plays music on her iPod, dresses Goth-like and smokes spliffs.

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Evening Standard theatre awards shortlist: Stan's choices and predictions

Evening Standard announced the shortlist for its annual theatre awards today or the BAFTA's to the Olivier's Oscars as I like to think of it. Here's my pick of winners and which I think will win - I've omitted anything musical/production related and those categories where I've only seen one out of the three shortlisted plays.


  • Constellations by Nick Payne (Royal Court Upstairs)
  • Love and Information by Caryl Churchill  (Royal Court Downstairs)
  • This House by James Graham (National’s Cottesloe)

 Stan's choice: Love and Information is my least favourite of the three - it gave me a headache. This House was very good but I think Constellations was clever and moving.

And the winner: Probably be Love and Information just because it Caryl Churchill and it was so different and clever (but it still gave me a headache)


  • Carrie Cracknell for A Doll’s House (Young Vic)
  • Nicholas Hytner for Timon of Athens (National’s Olivier)
  • James Macdonald for Love and Information (Royal Court Downstairs)
  • Ian Rickson for Hamlet (Young Vic)

Stan's choice: Even though it isn't my favourite I think James Macdonald should win just for the sheer logistics of directing a play of that scope and variety.

And the winner: Love and Information. For reasons I've mentioned above. I think Hamlet and A Doll's House were quite devisive and therefore that will count them out and although Timon was fab not sure it was Hytner's best and award winning work.


  • Simon Russell Beale, Collaborators (National’s Cottesloe)
  • Charles Edwards, The King’s Speech (Wyndham’s) and This House  (National’s Cottesloe)
  • Adrian Lester, Red Velvet (Tricycle Theatre)
  • Luke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in theNight-time, (National Theatre’s Cottesloe)

Stan's choice: Have only seen SRB, Treadaway and Edwards in This House, in this category. I've heard good things about Lester but as I haven't seen Red Velvet I have to eliminate him from my choice. It's down to SRB and Treadaway. I loved both performances very much and both plays, saw them twice in fact but I think if push came to shove then Treadaway but just by a hair.

And the winner: I have a feeling that Lester will be in with a good chance but he'll be up against Treadaway. It'll definitely be one of those two.

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Review: Being part of The Effect set and Billie Piper and Jonjo O'Neill's hidden talents

ImageIf you are lucky enough to have secured a stalls ticket for The Effect at the Cottesloe then there is a good chance your seat will part of the set.

Lucy 'Enron' Prebble's new play takes place at the residential research facility of a pharmaceutical company, where human guinea pigs - usually students - volunteer for drugs testing in return for cash. The set has a corporate/private hospital feel with muted coloured carpet and minimalist modern sofa's, coffee tables with flower-filled vases and magazines to read.

Audience seating is on four sides with the usual uncomfortable Cottesloe folding seats replaced in the stalls with sofa's and banquettes matching those within the performance space so that they feel like a natural extension. Poly and I had our own two-seater complete with coffee table right on the carpet (probably the most comfortable I've been in the theatre). 

We watched incredulous (well I did) as a couple sat in similar seats opposite, obliviously dumped their coats and bags down on the table. The ushers were hawk-eyed though and it wasn't long before everything was stowed so as not to interfere with the beautiful minimalist lines of the set's decor.

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Review: Our Boys and why some plays need updating

AN9679472Our+Boys+at+The+DuBy all accounts Our Boys is a very good play. It made me laugh (until my face hurt at one point) but it also has a serious side. It is very well acted, nicely staged etc but I couldn't help thinking that there was an opportunity missed.

Like Yes, Prime Minister, which seems to be taking up permanent residence at Trafalgar Studios, it could do with updating.

It is set in an army hospital in the early 1990s. The humour is engineered through the banter and japes of the patients whose routine is upset when a POM (potential officer material) is put on the ward. The serious story underneath is how the ordinary soldier is treated particularly those who are injured and traumatised.

The problem is not necessarily lack of relevance but is one of reference points. Talk among the soldiers is of the Falkland's war, Northern Ireland and the IRA bombing campaign in England. They are events that live in the memory of those, like myself, of a certain generation but probably not the Harry Potter fans who were there to see Neville Longbottom actor Matthew Lewis.

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