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January 2015

Rehearsal photos: More Maxine Peake this time in How To Hold Your Breath, Royal Court

Today seems to be all about Maxine Peake. Having earlier seen the vid promoting the screening of her Hamlet, I've just been sent these rehearsal pics for her next play.

The play, called How To Hold Your Breath is by Zinnie Harris and is described as a "darkly witty and magical thriller" which certainly has me intrigued. It opens in preview next week at the Royal Court so keep an eye out for my thoughts.



Video: Maxine Peake's Hamlet gets cinema broadcast

Saw Maxine Peake's turn as Hamlet at the Royal Exchange in Manchester last year and so glad that more people are going to be able to see it when it is broadcast in cinemas in March. Just watching the trailer makes me want to see it again.

In the meantime I only have to wait until next week to see Maxine treading the boards again. She's starring in Zinnie Harris' new play How To Hold Your Breath at the Royal Court.



Review: Tom Stoppard's new one, The Hard Problem, Dorfman Theatre

Hard_Problem_poster_notitleLots of excitement about this, the new Tom Stoppard play. Would I love it like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or feel ambivalent like I do about Arcadia. Well the answer is neither.

Like Arcadia, science is at the heart of this play. The Hard Problem of the title is whether human consciousness can be scientifically explained. Is the brain just a very sophisticated computer or is there something else? 

The story centres on Hilary (Olivia Vinall) a psychology grad embarking on a career at a top brain science institute. However, aside from grappling with the growing emphasis on biological research Hilary is also grappling with her past.

In Arcadia Stoppard weaves a human story around the science and those are the bits I like. The science or rather maths and physics, to be precise, go over my head. In The Hard Problem there is also a human story but it feels tacked on and you can see the plot trajectory from a mile away. It also doesn't help generate any dramatic tension or audience investment when most of the characters are unlikeable.

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Review: The ins and outs of love - Hello/Goodbye, Hampstead Theatre

Miranda Raison and Shaun Evans in Hello/Goodbye, Hampstead Theatre

Juliet (Miranda Raison) is moving into her new flat only to discover there's been a bit of a mix up and a man, Alex (Shaun Evans), is already there, unpacking his own belongings. This is the set up of Peter Souter's relationship 'dramedy' which has graduated from the Hampstead's studio space into the main theatre.

For Juliet the flat is supposed to be a fresh start after a disastrous (in more ways than one) relationship. She's ambitious, a little bit narcissistic, a little bit rude and a little bit self-centred in fact to start with she comes across as a bit of a bitch.

Alex on the other hand is presented as intelligent and witty but with a nerdy obsession with collecting things - McDonald's Happy Meal toys, coke bottle lids etc. A verbal sparring becomes something more. Juliet starts to flirt and Alex resists which makes her flirt all the more until the inevitable happens.

The second half fast forwards 10 years to see what happened to the two of them.

As relationship dramas go, its refreshing to see something contemporary and well written and it is well performed. Shaun Evans' Alex is one of those characters that oozes charm without even realising while Miranda Raison's Juliet is all front to hide insecurities.

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Review: James McAvoy is certifiably good in The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

244093_2_previewJames McAvoy is a monk, an aristocrat, JC, God and the devil. He is Jack the son of an Earl and  possibly a paranoid schizophrenic but he might also be the only sane one in his upper crust family. This is the setting of Peter Barnes 1968 sharply comic play The Ruling Class.

When Jack's father the 13th Earl of Gurney dies in an accident involving a tutu and a silk noose it opens up a power struggle for control of the estate. Jack, his only surviving son, is a voluntary patient at a private psychiatric clinic but his shrink, Dr Herder (Elliot Levey), thinks he can cure him. His uncle Sir Charlie Gurney (Ron Cook) wants him certified before he embarrasses the family but not before there is a new heir to the Gurney estate.

What unfolds on stage can be described as like watching some sort of absurd nightmarish dream - but in a good way, a really good way. It is like being inside the head of insane genius who likes to break into occasional song and dance routines (the most genius juxtaposition of the song Dry Bones and plot you'll ever see). Oh and the insane genius likes to ride a unicycle.

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Review: Funniest play in the West End? The Play That Goes Wrong, Duchess Theatre

15_1_sThe Play That Goes Wrong is, ironically, a brilliant example of how it can go brilliantly right in the theatre. Mischief Theatre's play started out life in a pub theatre before being picked up by the Trafalgar Studios 2 where I saw it in May 2013. I described it as a real rib-tickler then and was delighted when I heard it was transferring to the West End proper to the Duchess Theatre.

With a West End budget behind it surely it would go from strength to strength? Well, it has. My ribs weren't so much tickled as stretched to aching point. 

They've embellished the story from the fringe production and of course the set is far more elaborate, there is even a mezzanine which adds a whole new comic element - but I'll come onto that.

As the title suggests its about a play that doesn't quite go to plan. Cornley Polytechnic is putting on a murder mystery. They don't have a great track record but this will be their 'best yet'.

The tone is set at you arrive at the theatre with back stage crew running around front of house trying to find 'Winston' the spaniel. And on stage desperate attempts are still being made to fix the set in place. It is worth arriving and taking your seat early although you may well find yourself up on stage holding the mantel piece in place.

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Review: Love between two legends in The Liz and Dick Show, Old Red Lion Theatre

Lydia Poole as Elizabeth Taylor and Ken McConnell as Richard Burton

Dhanil Ali's witty and observant two-hander about Hollywood legends Elizabeth Taylor (Lydia Poole) and Richard Burton (Ken McConnell) is introduced as a fairytale. A prince and princess who have a doomed love affair.

Most will know at least something about these two stars of screen and stage, their tempestuous relationship and two marriages but The Liz and Dick Show succeeds in showing a glimpse of the people behind the tabloid headlines.

It is set primarily back stage during rehearsals for Who Is Afraid Of Virginia Wolf and then later at a press conference for the production.

There are interludes where each talks directly to the audience about the other.

The two fight and bicker, constantly name calling and insulting; sometimes it is playful, sometimes far more barbed. Through it all there is an obvious love and affection for each other; it is just their way, it is in part a show for the love they feel for each other.

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Review: Mike Bartlett's 55 minutes of nastiness in the brilliant Bull, Young Vic

BULL326x326It's less than an hour long but I dare you to find a play that is as uncomfortable to watch as Mike Bartlett's Bull.

The nastiness is somehow magnified by the ordinary and familiar setting. This isn't a play set in war time or criminal underworld this is a play set in an office.

Thomas (Sam Troughton) and his two colleagues Isobel (Eleanor Matsuura) and Tony (Adam James) have been called together for a meeting by their boss Carter (Neil Stuke). He's running late leaving the three in a room together to wait.

It quickly becomes evident that this meeting is about downsizing, one of the three will be losing their job, but what starts off as a bit of a banter soon starts to echo bullying. The staging gives a clue as to what is to come. The lighting might be office bright and the carpet corporate bland but it is bordered by railings so that the square space also resembles a boxing ring.

Isobel and Tony start to gang up on Thomas and doubt is thrown on whether they are being truthful or not in what they tell him. They play tricks and then accuse him of not being a good sport when he protests. Just how far will they go in this increasingly calculated school yard behaviour?

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Yep it's Stan's Shameless Theatre Phwoar list for 2014

Normally I pick one hottie for the StOliviers but there were too many to choose from and who doesn't love a bit of picture researching? I know at least two people who've been waiting for this list, I hope you enjoy.

In no particular order and photo credits listed when available:

Russell Tovey in The Pass, Royal Court - he spent half the play in his pants

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Review: An evening in Tobias Menzies' hotel room (The Fever, May Fair Hotel)

THE_FEVER_-_MAIN'Your room is along the corridor and on the right, the Amber Suite', we are told. On reaching the assigned door it is closed. Should we go straight in? Should we knock? A slow hesitant opening of the door reveals a lounge area, curious looks from those already in residence on the sofas or at the dining table. Some are talking quietly, others are playing with their phones. We spot a space on the window ledge and perch. There is an air of anticipation among the 28 of us in this May Fair Hotel suite.

Then Tobias Menzies appears through a connecting door. He is barefoot and wears a T-Shirt and lounge pants. Silence descends. He looks around the room with something very close to recognition in his face as he catches people's eyes and then he starts talking.

Wallace Shawn's play The Fever is, as this staging might suggest set in a hotel room. The hotel room of the play however is in an unnamed foreign country. It's a poor country, that we learn and Menzies' Man is ill. He describes how his body is shaking and sweating and vomiting but the substance of the dialogue is a man's feverish thoughts. Prostate on the bathroom floor his mind wanders through his past, his childhood and having seen quite a bit of the world he muses on inequality between the rich and poor.

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