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August 2013

Review: John Heffernan and Kyle Soller pucker up in Edward II at the National Theatre

Rehearsal pic: John Heffernan as Edward II with Kyle Soller as Gaveston (right)
Feels like the National Theatre has been sprinkled with a little by Propeller dust such is the energetic, slightly irreverent approach to its production of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. But while the irony of Propeller's contemporary take on Shakespeare is a very traditional all-male cast, the National Theatre has brought the Jacobean play bang up to date by, among other things, populating the nobility of the story with more women.

And, where productions of Shakespeare's Richard II only very occasionally hint that the King's relationship with his favourites might be homosexual, here Edward II's is saliva-swappingly obvious. Whether it was so in Marlowe's time I don't know, but what the National has created is a very passionate, energetic and refreshing piece utilising multimedia which bursts the production out of the confines of the traditional performance space.

The stage has a simple carpeted dias behind which are the backs of scenery flats which make up a room we can't see inside but for glimpses through windows and doors. Around the edges and with views right to the back of the cavernous Olivier stage are racks of costumes, props and pieces of furniture.

The play is launched with a count down of images of English monarchs projected on two huge screens either side of the stage. Starting with the Queen we head back through history arriving at the image of the medieval King Edward II as played by John Heffernan. On the stage is the man himself, in regal splendor about to be crowned, accompanied by a rousing chorus of the national anthem.

Celebratory feelings are soon forgotten when the King withdraws with his nobles to an ante-chamber - the 'room' at the back - to discuss matters of state. What goes on inside is relaid by hand-held video cameras via the screens. The root of the disquiet is the King's desire to have his favourite Gaveston (Kyle Soller) returned from exile, something the nobles are vehemently opposed to.

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Review: Kim Cattrall and Seth Numrich in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic

Seth Numrich and Kim Cattrall in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic, London
"I like you. You are a nice monster."

Tennesee Williams' 1959 play Sweet Bird of Youth is certainly a play of monsters. The playwright wrote in the forward that humans are all savages at heart just "observing a few amenities of civilized behaviour" and that savagery is probably best reflected in the small southern town sensibilities where the central character of Chance Wayne (Seth Numrich) comes from.

However the monster of the quote is not one of the thugs or racists in St Cloud who mete out their own brutal justice but the faded Hollywood actress, Alexandra Del Largo (Kim Cattrall), who has fled a disastrously received come-back movie and is travelling with Chance under the pseudonym Princess Kosmonopolis.

Alexandra is a monster born out of having fame and success plucked from her by an industry obsessed with youth. Drink and drug addled, prone to panic attacks the young Chance has wheedled his way into her employ as a companion and driver. The monster in Chance is one of promise unfulfilled. He seeks fame and fortune but his motives are to win back his first love Heavenly Finley (Louise Dylan) the daughter of rich man, hence his return with Alexandra to St Cloud.

In a way it is a depressing reminder that the monstrous habit of human aging is no less a crime in society's eyes now as it was back in the 1950's. Had the play been set today Alexandra no doubt would be running away to get botox and face lifts and Chance probably would have been her personal trainer.

Equally the intoxicating lure of fame has only become heightened with the passing decades. In Sweet Bird of Youth, Chance wants Alexandra to use her connections to put on a talent competition and have him win - did Tennessee Williams foresee reality TV?

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Re-review: Curious Incident of The Dog In the Night-time - in the West End, with Johnny Gibbon as Christopher

CuriousIncidentApollo2013Have been curious about Curious being performed on a traditional proscenium arch, West End-stage ever since it transferred in March. The original production at the National Theatre's Cottesloe had the audience on four sides, in seating raked from stage level.

I'd heard good things about the transfer but the second hook was to see understudy Johnny Gibbon step into Luke Treadaway's Olivier Award-winning shoes and play Christopher. It is something he's been doing every Monday and matinees since the transfer.

I saw Curious twice at the Cottesloe and it was my favourite play of last year and having seen it again this week it hasn't lost any of its charm.

The story of Asperger's sufferer Christopher and his quest to find out who killed Wellington, his neighbour's dog, is still as affecting as it was the first time I saw it. It is funny and moving and it is a testament to Johnny Gibbon's performance that he brought tears to my eyes in just the same scenes as Luke. 

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Review: The RSC stages Titus Andronicus - shares in stage blood soar

Production photo by Simon Annand for the RSC
Ever since I walked out of a tiny pub theatre in Camden after seeing my first ever, and rather splendid, production of Titus Andronicus I've wanted to see a big budget version. A production where they could afford stage blood and really go to town on the gore.

Titus, you see, is Shakespeare's horror play. I described it in my Camden reivew, as the Bard's equivalent of a slasher movie. A gory tale of revenge sparked by the slaughter of the Queen of Goth's son by the battle-victorious Roman Titus that spills over into rape, mutilation and murder, lots and lots of murder.

No ones family members are safe as Tamora (Katy Stephens), the Queen of the Goth's who is now married to the Emperor of Rome, plots with her Moorish lover Aaron (Kevin Harvey) to get back at Titus (Stephen Boxer). And Tamora doesn't take any half measure. She has Titus's daughter Lavinia (Rose Reynolds) raped and mutilated, her husband Bassianus (Richard Goulding) murdered - he just happens to be the Emperor's brother - and then frames the murder on Titus's two sons Quintus (Joe Bannister) and Martius (CiarĂ¡n Owens).

Naturally Titus doesn't take any of this lying down and it all builds nicely to a dinner party to remember, where the content of the delicious looking pie make the horse meat scandal look like a slight mix up in the kitchen.

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Review: Catch it while you can, The Boat Factory, King's Head Theatre

The_Boat_Factory_pic_2_largeThanks to @KarlO'Doherty for the recommendation on this one. Written and starring Dan Gordon it is a chronicle of life working at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast in the late 1940s.

It is simple, yet effective story-telling that is always a refreshing change on the table of highly-produced West End fare. Gordon together with Michael Condron tell the story of Davy and Geordie who meet as joiners apprentices in 1947, becoming two among the 35,000-strong workforce at the 300-acre yard. 

Over 80 minutes they recount the fun and tragedy, the graft, scams and a little of the skills involved in working at the shipyard which built the Titantic and the SS Canberra among many, many others.

The story is, naturally, a colourful and lively affair with larger than life characters - a camp shoe seller, a farting grandfather and a despostic foreman among the number. Gordon and Condron switch between them all effortlessly, sometimes even playing the same character in the same scene but never lose the heart of the two protagonists.

A play that is interesting, fun and moving. Liam Neeson is a fan and so am I, catch it while you can, it is on at the King's Head Theatre until Saturday.



A play trailer, of sorts, that actually works: The Boat Factory, King's Head Theatre

I've moaned about play trailers in the past. They are often too cryptic, art over substance lacking any intrigue or indeed anything to prick curiosity about seeing a play. Theatre productions companies are new to this marketing tool so it's a learning curve - film production companies don't always get it right either and they've had decades of practice.

But there are one or two that are getting it right - this one by Propeller for it's production of Richard III a couple of years ago not only gives a sense of the story (if you are unfamiliar) but a flavour of the tone of the production.

The trailer for The Boat Factory, which is on at the King's Head Theatre, covers new ground and it really works. It is part documentary, part interview and part play trailer. It's like a video rendition of an article you'd get in a good theatre programme interwoven with clips of the performances.

Yesterday I put a tweet out asking for play recommendations as my theatre diary is excitingly empty for the next two weeks and it was one of the suggestions (thanks @Karlodoherty) so I checked the theatre website and found the 'trailer'. And I'm in, I've booked my ticket.

If you have any other recommendations for must sees get in touch.


Review: Jamie Lloyd returns to The Pride with Hayley Atwell, Al Weaver and Harry Hadden-Paton

Image 1Alexi Kaye Campbell's play The Pride is a rare beast in that it's only five-years-old and I have already seen three different productions. During the same period of theatre-going I have seen Hamlet at least six times but I can't say I have seen any other play written so recently more than twice.

So there must be something in it that draws directors, actors and audiences to it; for me it the combination of  clever, poignant and funny. It is also very much an actors play. There are four in the cast playing two characters each in two different time periods (one actor plays three characters).

In 1958, Sylvia (Hayley Atwell) is married to Philip (Harry Hadden-Paton) and working with Oliver (Al Weaver) who is a children's book author. When Philip and Oliver first meet there is the hint of a connection, a hint of emotional recognition, of longing or escape. It's subtle. Homosexuality is illegal, an affliction you can be treated for with the most repugnant therapy of forced association. There is no coming out of the closet.

Sylvia is perceptive, maybe even complicit in bringing the two together, recognising something unfulfilled in her husband but repressed feelings and an un-accepting society mean the relationship between the two men doesn't go well.

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Review: The Same Deep Water As Me at the Donmar Warehouse


The bookish, bespectacled, 'Where's Wally?' appearance of playwright Nick Payne seems incongruous with what comes out of the mouths of his characters and one character in particular in his new play The Same Deep Water As Me.

Kevin (Marc Wootton) uses profanity to a degree that might even impress Malcolm Tucker (although his usage isn't as clever). He's an old school friend of solicitor Andrew (Daniel Mays) who works with Barry (Nigel Lindsay) at a low-rent law firm specialising in 'no win, no fee' compensation cases, and he has a plan. He's heard about fake compensation claims, accidents which are engineered in order to extract money for injuries sustained and he asks Andrew to help.

A web of lies is woven so that dishonesty becomes the new norm and morality becomes skewered to justify their actions. Those who might challenge the new status quo are kept in the dark.

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