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October 2014

Review: Alex Waldmann and Peter Egan are Jonah and Otto at Park Theatre

241535_2_previewWasn't that taken with the last Robert Holman play I saw, or rather trio of short plays, under the heading Making Noise Quietly. Hadn't drawn the connection with Jonah and Otto which may have been a good thing because there was something infinitely more compelling about this new work.

As the title suggests its a two-hander Jonah (Alex Waldmann) and Otto (Peter Egan) are two strangers who end up spending a day together where they argue, debate and reveal information about themselves.

Jonah has aggressive outbursts, can do magic tricks and is light fingered in other ways too. He has his baby daughter in tow, in shopping trolley which doubles as a make-shift pram. Otto is a clergyman but doesn't believe in God, has a wife and grown up children who patronise him. He also has penchant for pretty women.

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Review: Macabre comedy Grand Guignol, Southwark Playhouse

ImageThe nights are drawing in and the Grand Guignol in early 20th Century Paris is drawing in the crowds for its macabre and terrifying horror shows. Meanwhile outside on the streets of Monmatre a monster carries out his gruesome murders. 

Into this scenario steps eminent psychologist Dr Alfred Binet (Matthew Pearson) who is conducting a study of 'creatives': "Actors, playwrights, lunatics. They are all imminently fascinating to me."

And so it begins, a witches cauldron of horror, melodrama, satire and farce with a pinch of murder mystery added for good measure.

The actors at the Grand Guignol are pretentious and affected, the stage manager/props maker bossy and the owner of the theatre demanding in the pursuit of profit. The theatre's resident writer Andre De Lorde (Jonathan Broadbent) is a gentle soul but a slave to his craft and haunted by Edgar Allen Poe whom he relies on for inspiration (a terrifying Andy Williams complete with stuffed raven on his shoulder).

Later we meet the theatre critic Level (Andy Williams again). He is all that you imagine in this context but with a delightful twist.

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Review: Fringe First winner Spine, Soho Theatre

Spine 007, Ed Fringe 2014, courtesy Richard Davenport
Rosie Wyatt as Amy in Spine, Soho Theatre. Photo by Richard Davenport

Clara Brennan's 2014 Fringe First winning Spine makes a nice companion piece to James Graham's The Angry Brigade both touching on the issue of disaffected youth.

In execution the two are very different. Spine is a 65 minute monologue by teenager Amy (Rosie Wyatt) about her unlikely friendship with old lady and book-hoarder Mrs Glenda.

Brilliantly performed, Wyatt switches between Amy and Mrs Glenda to tell the story. It begins with the teenager, whose family is forced to scavenge from the tip to make ends meet, turning up on Mrs Glenda's doorstep with a black eye and blood down her front having seen an advert for a room to rent.

Mrs Glenda is not shy of airing her opinions but is non-judgemental when it comes to Amy. She quickly disarms the sometimes bolshie teen and before Amy realises what she is doing, spills the beans on events that led her to the old lady's doorstep.

It is a funny and sad tale of young woman who knows better and tries to do the right thing but lets her emotions and circumstance get in the way. Mrs Glenda it turns out is a rebel in her own way. She has a strong sense of justice and a just society and channels Amy's frustration, anger and sense of personal injustice into something more constructive.

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Review: James Graham's The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace Theatre

Paines Plough's production of The Angry Brigade, photo by Richard Davenport

Harry Melling's police chief is vigorously swirling a biscuit in his cup of tea. It is small act of rebellion from a man who's wife, he tells his colleague, doesn't like him 'dunking' and marks one end of the spectrum of rebellion that is explored in The Angry Brigade.

The title of James Graham's new play refers to a real life group who in 1971 were Britain's answer to Germany's Baader Meinhof and France's 1st of May guerrilla groups. It was a period of youth-led discontent with bombing campaigns and protests about authority, class divide and capitalism. 

Graham says he was inspired by the ignited passions to protest seen in more recent years, a stark contrast to the apathy of his 30-something generation when they were at University. Passion for a cause is something that shines through on both sides of the narrative.

The first act follows the police investigation into a spate of bombings of political figures, public buildings and retailers. The police are at first baffled by the anonymity of the group calling themselves The Angry Brigade and it becomes a cat and mouse game to identify them.

In the second half the story is seen through the eyes of The Angry Brigade themselves as they set up operations from a flat in Stoke Newington.

Despite exploring events of more than 40 years ago you can't help draw parallels with contemporary issues. It is a depressing undertone but one that doesn't resonate fully until after the play is over.

Graham and director James Grieve take you on a journey that is laced with humour, fun and inventiveness. The police may represent order and law but the biscuit dunking is just the start. Those tasked with investigating The Angry Brigade are encouraged to forget the usual rules of workplace formality, banter and teasing ensues.

On Twitter I asked Graham if the playful humour in the first half was an act of rebellion in itself to which he replied: "Humour as a weapon has always intrigued me. Certainly think it shows resistance to expectations/the status quo..."

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Review: Has the Young Vic produced a version of The Cherry Orchard I can finally appreciate?

Kate Duchene and Dominic Rowan in The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic

My two regular readers will know I have a difficult time with Chekhov and in particular The Cherry Orchard. I keep plugging away in the hope that something will click, that it will feel funny and tragic rather than a long, frustrating, philosophical whinge.

It's a slow burn, I'm starting to realise, but the Young Vic may have just ignited a couple more branches.

This version is by Simon Stephens and directed by Katie Mitchell. It's a trim 2 hours straight through and that plays its part. It feels fast paced, characters rushing across the stage - a more traditional proscenium style for the Young Vic - as if time is spinning faster towards the inevitable end.

The frenetic energy contrasts with Madame Ranevskaya (Kate Duchene) mental stasis. And it was that which played the biggest part.

Never before have I been able to connect with Ranevskaya, the lady of the house and owner of the Cherry Orchard. She has always seemed a bit too silly and ridiculous. I've wanted to yell at her 'just sell the bloody Cherry Orchard'. Lopakhin (Dominic Rowan) does actually yell at her to do just that which was a satisfying moment. It made me smile.

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Review: John Hannah is Uncle Vanya, St James Theatre

478x359-v1aHave come to the conclusion that with Chekhov plays I have a preference for the ones with guns in them. It's probably sacrilege to say it but I'm not a massive fan of his work; it's the relentless inevitability. I keep going to productions in the hope that something will click into place. I'm the one trying to change in the relationship, I'll admit.

This was was my first Uncle Vanya, so could it be the missing piece? 

Like all of Chekhov's plays, it seems, the central theme is one of being trapped whether by gender, social status or inaction. The result is a great deal of ennui, prevarication and philosophising on the pointlessness of life. You can start to see why I like the guns.

Vanya (John Hannah) has dedicated his life to working the family farm to support his late sister and her husband Serebryakov (Jack Shepherd) an academic whom he reveres. Serebryakov has returned to the farm with a new young wife Yelena (Rebecca Night). He is pompous and throws the house into turmoil unaware not only of the trouble people go to for him but also of sacrifices they have made. 

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Review: Harry Lloyd's one man turn in existential Notes From Underground


Harry Lloyd is sat in a beaten-up, leather armchair on a stage made up of old, hard-backed books. He is bare foot but wrapped in a piece of black, sack-looking cloth. His bob length hair is greasy and dishevelled and he has a scraggy black beard.

As the audience arrives he meets their eye, waving in a manner that has both an innocent excitement and manic energy of someone who is slightly deranged.

I'm sat on the front row and I have met Harry's eye returning a subtle smile. Next to me, two old ladies have got out their diaries and are in a deep and complex negotiation about a date for something or other. One complains that her pen won't work 'just when you want it to'. Neither look at Harry. It feels oddly appropriate for this adaptation of Dostoyevsky's existential novella Notes From Underground.

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Review: The Donmar Warehouse's all female Henry IV (parts 1 and 2)

Harriet Walters is Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse

If you saw the all-female Julius Caesar at the Donmar two years ago, the setting of this abridged version of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 will be familiar to you: a women's prison. And I must confess I was a little bit disappointed when I heard it was to be the same device (why does the all female cast have to be explained?)

The plastic chairs, stark lighting and functional institution-style set and props are back. In order to make this a more immersive experience, the audience is asked to gather at a cocktail bar down the road before being directed to an unglamourous side entrance where staff dressed as prison guards direct you to your seats.

Brash and bold in style and tone - just like Julius Caesar - the genius of this particular production is in the use of popular songs and music and also in the cast. It feels a bit impolite to say but they look normal, like an everyday bunch of women who just happen to have taken a path down the wrong side of the law. The grey baggy track suits help, it is size, shape, haircuts and ethnicity that are the distinguishing features. The personalities and attitudes of the characters shine through released from the shackles of formal costume and 'courtly' behaviour.

Harriet Walters plays a no nonsense king, she reminded me a little of Marlon Brando in the Godfather with her slightly set jaw and low gravely tone.

Her son, Prince Hal (Claire Dunn), is Irish and the leader of the rebellion, the hot-headed Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy (Jade Anouka) is a small but tough and moves like she could take care of herself on a dark night in less salubrious London suburb.

There are Scottish, Yorkshire and Afro-Caribbean accents in the mix too giving Shakespeare’s words an earthiness. And it is delivered with a fresh clarity and comprehension – it is some of the best I’ve heard.

The two plays have been condensed down into a swift and pacey two hours straight through and not once did it feel like there were any great omissions, in fact there is one scene that could have been cut shorter without harm.

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Review: Lindsay Lohan in Speed The Plow, Playhouse Theatre

Nigel Lindsay, Lindsay Lohan and Richard Schiff

Feel that the London theatre lot, myself included, has been a bit snobby about Lindsay Lohan making her stage debut in the West End. When you've been on the silver screen since you were 10 and become more famous for off-screen indiscretions then its not as if you can take a small role to quietly hone your craft. That would receive just as much comment.

In the little that I've read about Speed the Plow, it's as if the press and theatre fans alike have been building her up to fail. I confess I wasn't initially interested but I actually started to feel sorry for her. After all it takes a lot of courage to get up on stage once let alone night after night, particularly if you've never done it before. And, particularly if you know that the press and a chunk of the audience will be scrutinising every little thing far more than a less 'notorious' actor would be.

So I day-seated. It's £20 for a front row seat and the mixed reviews, perhaps, are keeping the queue short. I rocked up 25 minutes before the box office opened this morning, was ninth in the queue and only one person joined after me. I think there was one matinee day seat unfilled.

The opening act of David Mamet's play is set in the office of Bobby Gould (Richard Schiff) who's recently been promoted to head of production at a big Hollywood film studio. An associate, Charlie Fox (Nigel Lindsay) arrives with exciting news of a film project that is sure to be hit.

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Review: Japan's answer to the Blue Man Group - Siro-A


If you cross the Blue Man Group with Japanese pop culture, electro music and video then you'll have an idea of what Siro-A's show is all about.

The six performers are dressed in white rather than blue but over the course of 60 minutes spin through a number of 'acts' which involve video projections, light, cameras, performance and dance. It's very clever and slightly difficult to describe.

Sometimes the performers are shadows against a backdrop on which images are projected, sometimes they hold square screens on which images are projected and sometime they have images projected onto their white suits. It is skillfully done and timed with great precision so that they can interact with the images, move with them, catch them, throw them etc. All the time you are thinking: are the following the images or the images following them?

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