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June 2014

Review: Hunky Hal and hilarious Falstaff in the RSC's Henry IV part 1

Antony Sher as Sir John Falstaff and Alex Hassell as Prince Hal in the RSC's Henry IV part 1

Henry IV part 1 has the honour of being the first Shakespeare play I ever saw on stage. It was my O-level set text (showing my age) and we trooped down to 'that London' from rural East Midlands to see it. The only thing I can remember is that the period of the costumes kept changing which I found confusing as, from up in the gods, dress was the main way I was keeping tabs on who was who.

No such confusion in the RSC's production. The attire of the cheeky, charming and good-hearted Prince Hal (a rather easy on the eye Alex Hassell) perfectly mirrors his journey as a character. Beginning in just underwear, having enjoyed the pleasures of the night, before dressing in casual attire to hang out with the lads before moving on to battle-ready and responsible heir apparent.

And, as gracious and well-intentioned as Prince Hal is then Antony Sher's corpulent Falstaff is comically roguish. It is his picture on the poster, almost deservedly so, although Hassell does a pretty good job of making his presence felt and it is the ensemble scenes which really do steal the show. 

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Review: Devastating and atmospheric storytelling in the RSC's Rape of Lucrece

Camille O'Sullivan performs the Rape of Lucrece

Camille O'Sullivan who performs The Rape of Lucrece with her long term musical collaborator Feargal Murray was approached to work on the piece after director Elizabeth Freestone saw her at the Edinburgh Festival.

O'Sullivan is enviably multi-talented. Architect, portrait painter and singer she is renowned for her own interpretation of narrative songs from the likes of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen.

She'd never acted before let alone recited a line of Shakespeare but Freestone saw something in her Edinburgh show that made her think she'd be perfect for a performance-led rendition of Shakespeare's epic poem, The Rape of Lucrece (pronounced Loo-cree-sha, in case you were wondering). Working with musician Murray, the three have produced something that is quite unique, powerful and utterly moving.

Little has been changed from Shakespeare's epic poem about the violent defilement of the chaste Lucrece by the Prince Tarquin who is unable to control his carnal desires. Some of the politics of has been cut to focus on the two central characters, a few lines are repeated when turned into song and just the odd line added.

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Review: The Valley of Astonishment at the Young Vic

Valley_326The human brain comes under dramatic scrutiny for the second time this year. Where Nick Payne's Incognito examined the sense of self this looks at memory and people with a condition called synaesthesia.

Directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, it's based on real neurological experiments on synaesthetes who's sensory pathways work in union.  For example when they see letters they become images or sounds become colours.

Kathryn Hunter plays Sammy Costas who can easily memorise lists of random words or numbers with the aid of her synaethesia.

The format feels like a dramatic lecture. It is full of interesting information but whereas Incognito had its feet firmly in the drama camp with a rooted narrative and human experience, this feels like a lecture with bits acted out.

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Review: Cheek by Jowl's brilliantly bonkers Ubu Roi at the Barbican

Production photo by Johan Persson

This native French version of Alfred Jarry controversial play doesn't get off to a good start. For the first 15 minutes or so we watch as a teenage boy creeps around his parents house filming random domestic items really close up - the fur on his mothers coat, a hair in the bed, the stained toilet etc  while his parents prepare for a dinner party oblivious.

Most of the rooms he is in are hidden to us so we just see the footage projected on the wall of an all-white living room which is being prepared for the party. It goes on a bit.

But as the guests are about to arrive - something we are told via the subtitles screen - it picks up pace and turns into the most bonkers dinner party you are ever likely to see. The parents and guests double up as the characters from Ubu Roi including the money hungry and murderous king Pere Ubu (Christophe Gregoire), his Lady Macbeth-esque wife (Cecile Leterme) and his supporters and enemies including the crown Prince Bougrelas (Sylvain Levitte) whose parents Pere Ubu has murdered.

It reminded me a little of a game of musical statues. One moment the adults are all sitting around the table having a nice dinner, chatting inaudibly and then with a flick of a lighting switch they are involved in the crazed plot of Ubu Roi. And it flicks seemingly randomly between the two throughout which becomes increasingly amusing as the chaos and destruction spreads.

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Watch: Trailer for Helen McCrory's Medea at the National Theatre

Very much looking forward to seeing this not just because of Helen McCrory and music by Goldfrapp but also because I've only seen an end of year drama students. During that production I was publicly humiliated by the student actor playing Jason - there was history. Need to purge those ghosts and get over the association and if any production can do it, this one can.


Review: Stan goes to her first ever opera - Cosi Fan Tutte by Pop Up Opera

Pop-Up Opera, Cosi, Summer Season 2014 (courtesy Richard Davenport) 091
Production photo by Richard Davenport

OK, so you know I don't like musicals why on earth would I go to an opera? Well, I've been to some musicals and that's why I know they don't do anything for me but I've never been to an opera. And, I do have some opera on my iPod (I don't have any songs from musicals*).

There's a Best of album that is on my regular 'at work' playlist but a few of the most familiar songs is different to watching the whole thing which is why its taken until now for me to see one.

Pop Up Opera had the task of initiating me into the live opera world and, having spent a fun evening in a tiny upstairs room of a pub in Mayfair sat on a antique three-seater sofa, I can say it is a very good entry point. They do a one night only tour around unusual venues (see their website for details) and the cast rotates so you are never going to get quite the same experience twice. These production pictures are of a performance they gave in a church.

I did some prep before I went along, bought a Cosi Fan Tutte highlights albums to familiarise myself although I confess on the night I still only recognised the famous one. In terms of the plot Pop Up Opera hold your hand a little. There is a scene by scene synopsis in the programme and throughout silent movie style captions are projected onto the back wall.

What made this particularly enjoyable is that the captions take a slightly irreverent approach to the story. They acknowledge the fact that the plot and characters behaviour is sometimes a bit silly, particularly to a modern audience and they often raised a laugh.

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Review: The Ted Bundy Project at the Ovalhouse Theatre

I really wanted to like Greg Wohead's self-penned and performed The Ted Bundy Project. It's got a fascinating source material: the confession tapes of a serial killer, rapist and necrophiliac.

All I know of Ted Bundy is what is in the trailer (below) and I'm not sure I came away with a great deal more information which would be fine if there had been something else more substantial to the piece. I wasn't particularly shocked or surprised, I didn't feel like my perceptions had been challenged. I learnt that some people look at really gross stuff on the internet and film their reactions. We got to see one of the so called reaction videos, several times over.

There were some odd interludes one involving pulling a man out of the audience and making him stand with a pair of tights on his head while Wohead dresses up as one of Ted Bundy's victims and dances slightly flirtatiously in front of him for an awkwardly long time.

At one point Wohead sits in the audience and re-watches the reaction video with us.

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Review: Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy in Skylight, Wyndhams Theatre

22CE893E5-D8B3-0E85-EDB609D92625F070An actress cooking spaghetti bolognese on stage is always going to memorable* but I'm not sure much else will be about Skylight. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy it because I did to a point but it is one of those plays that you walk away from the theatre and life has already moved on.

Set in a dingy flat on a north London estate Kyra (Carey Mulligan) has two visitors in the same evening. First is Edward the son of her former lover (Matthew Beard) and then Tom his father (Bill Nighy). Tom's wife has recently died and full of guilt he is looking to rekindle his relationship with Kyra.

The two verbally spar as Kyra cooks dinner; both have lives that now revolve around very different spheres and they use their prejudices against each other. Kyra teaches at a school in rough part of East London and believes there is talent in everyone if given the right opportunities but is her self sacrifice, choice and location of dwelling some sort of self-punishment?

Tom is a successful and rich restaurateur who believes in hard work but that some people will never amount to much. He cannot fathom Kyra's stance or her life choice especially when she lived with Tom and his family in comfortable and affluent surroundings for several years while working for his business.

As they argue the toss over their differing opinions the story of how they got together and then split slowly emerges.

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Review: Seth Numrich in Fathers and Sons at the Donmar

Joshua James (Arkady) and Seth Numrich (Bazarov)

Been keen to see Seth Numrich on stage again after watching him pucker up with (lucky) Kim Cattrall in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic last year and here he is obliging me at the Donmar.

The play is a Brian Friel adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's novel set in 19th century Russia that pits youthful idealism and coming of age against the traditions the older generation.

Numrich plays Bazarov a university friend of Arkady (Joshua James) whose nihilistic beliefs don't exactly go down well when the two visit Arkady's father's estate.

Arkady shares his friend's belief but not quite his conviction and when he falls in love with the sister of a rich young widow tensions mount. Bazarov doesn't believe in love but that a physical coupling is natural and ultimately more honest. But it is in this belief where his own convictions are tested. Bazarov may be an excellent scholar and expert orator but his emotions perplex and challenge him beyond what he can reason which makes him particularly antagonistic.

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