Previous month:
December 2015
Next month:
February 2016

January 2016

That was January in London theatre - news, views and celeb spots

Doctor Faustus poster image no detailsStart of what might become a thing, let me know what you think:

* RSC finished their annual winter residency at the Barbican with the RII-HV tetralogy, four plays in three days for those with the stamina, and a triumphant return to the role of Richard II from David Tennant.

* Game of Throne’s star (and hottie) Kit Harington was rumoured then confirmed as taking the lead in Jamie Lloyd’s production of Dr Faustus. Flagged as a 'return' to the West End I was more surprised that I'd forgotten I'd seen him in War Horse and Posh (I've even dug out the production pictures for Posh and I still can't remember him in it, sorry Kit). But a debate was sparked by Harington casually mentioning in an interview that a woman would be playing Mephistopheles, now who could/should that be?

The Libertine Portrait Photo Credit Johan Persson (2).jpg
The Libertine, photo: Johan Persson

* The Vault Festival kicked off and if you haven’t yet been to the cavernous warren under Waterloo Station it is worth it for the atmosphere alone - it’s like discovering some secret theatre society.

* Hot on the heels of the Kit announcement, Dominic Cooper graced headlines with the announcement that he is to star in The Libertine. I still have the image in my head of him looking rather hot in combat trousers and a black vest in Phedre at the National back in 2009.

* Ralph Fiennes proved himself a man of no short play once again (does he have it in his contract that he doesn't get out of bed for anything with a run time under two and a half hours?). An early preview of The Master Builder at the Old Vic ran to more than 3 hours - the two intervals were quite long, presumably because they were having problems with the set change so I'm sure this will come down to nearer the  2 hrs 45 running time advertised on the website.

* Missed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the National this week which I’m already regretting going by the enthusiastic tweets I've seen. I’m blaming The Master Builder, such a late night at the beginning of the week, I was just too tired to sit through another 2hr 45 play.

Celeb spot corner: Leo Bill, Robert Lindsay and Gary Lineker (what a handsome man he is) watching Herons at the Lyric. And not quite theatre but I’m mentioning it because I’m a bit of a fan girl: Natalie Dormer at the Digital Theatre screening of True West, she's a very pretty lady.

...And three things I'm particularly excited about seeing in February: Uncle Vanya at the Almeida, Rupert Goold seems very excited about it if his tweets are anything to go by; Hand To God just because it's got Harry Melling and a hand puppet in it and it sounds a bit mental and Complicite's Encounter at the Barbican because it's Simon McBurney.

Drum overall theatre hottie of 2015 was...

Wow this was much, much harder than I thought, hence why it's taken me to the end of January to decide.  They are all so, well...and Bertie Carvel made hottie of the month twice...but it's not him. Sorry Bertie.

I've chosen Peter Rykov, from Cheek By Jowl's Russian Measure For Measure (which also made my favourite theatre list). The reason is I still remember the feeling, the slightly breathless/giggly feeling I had at the end of the play. And also, of all my hotties from 2015 he's the one I'm least likely to see on stage again so I think I should honour him while I can. Here's his hottie entry and the rest of the hotties from 2015.

Peter Rykov in Measure for Measure. Photo Johan Persson.

Review: Three boys go to war in Pink Mist, Bush Theatre

Phil Dunster in Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet.JPGPhil Dunster in Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

It is curious that Owen Sheers has chosen to have three boys going to war in Pink Mist. His play is a contemporary story of the psychological and physical impact of being a British soldier in the Afghan war but coupled with his poetic writing style it has a fairytale quality albeit more in the vein of Grimm rather than Disney.

Three boys, three teenage friends from Bristol set off to make something of their lives; they could be three little pigs, three billy goats gruff or three bears going into the woods. There is Taff (Peter Edwards) who is a (very) young Dad and can't support his family, Hads (Alex Stedman) who is doing minimum-wage shop work and the narrator of the piece, Arthur (Phil Dunster), who is the first to sign up.  Arthur parks cars for a living and feels like he is going nowhere.

Their youth and naivete is ripe to be exploited by army recruiters. It wasn't so long ago they were playing war games in the school playground (the cry of 'Lets play war!' becomes a trope) but stuck in dead end jobs their mundane lives mapped out, playing war for real feels like an adventure they can't turn down and of course the money is better. Only their wife/family/girlfriend see the danger but they don't heed the warnings.

Continue reading "Review: Three boys go to war in Pink Mist, Bush Theatre" »

Who should play the female Mephistopheles in Jamie Lloyd's Dr Faustus?

29937_fullSo it was officially confirmed today that Kit "Jon Snow" Harington is playing the lead in Jamie Lloyd's production of Dr Faustus at the Duke of York's in the Spring - snapped up tickets obviously. But what made it really interesting was an interview with Kit on the BBC website in which he said a woman would be playing Mephistopheles and the casting was yet to be announced.

My dream choice of actress for the role, and it ain't gonna happen but I can dream, would be Tilda Swinton but I'd also love Jade Anouka or Helen McCrory or Lisa Dillon. And then via Twitter came suggestions of Maxine Peake, Rachael Stirling, Vanessa Kirby, Kate Fleetwood, Lydia Wilson, Naomie Harris, Kirsty Bushell, Ruth Wilson and Gemma Chan (thanks @weez, @polyg, @oughttobeclowns), all great suggestions. Who have we missed?

Oh and you are welcome Jamie.

Dr Faustus runs at the Duke of York's Theatre from April 9 to June 4*


* Does this mean Kit won't be doing any Game of Thrones promotional work then because we all know he is definitely in the new series?

Review: Ralph Fiennes is The Master Builder, Old Vic

Cw-9693-mediumIbsen's The Master Builder is rather an odd play and it's interesting that the premise it is marketed on isn't actually the bit I enjoyed so much.

The story is that Halvard Solness (Ralph Fiennes), a naturally talented but untrained architect, has become a great success but is worried that his days as the master builder may be coming to an end. He fears that younger, more talented architects will come along, like Ragnar (Martin Hutson) who works in his office. A young woman Hilde Wangel (Sarah Snook) arrives one day claiming to have met Halvard 10 years previously, when he made advances on her together with some outlandish promises (think trolls and castles in the sky).

But that is part of the play that I didn't like so much. I couldn't make out if Hilde was delusional or calculated and I'm not sure if she is meant to be either (maybe it is David Hare's adapatation?). I think the trailer interview with Ralph Fiennes talking about the play being a psychological thriller doesn't help. Reading up on the play afterwards Halvard has been described as a middle-aged man showing off in front of a young woman and that I get. But, in his work practices Halvard doesn't so much flirt with youth as block it, he manipulates his young book-keeper Kaja's (Charlie Cameron) feelings for him in order to keep her fiance Ragnar from striking out on his own.

Hilde brings with her a slightly fantastical element, perhaps she represents a younger, freer, bolder Halvard before life experience and tragedy shaped him? You can't really take her at face value because she is quite fanciful which is why I question whether she is delusional. But then Halvard's wife and his doctor friend fear he might have his own mental issues.

Continue reading "Review: Ralph Fiennes is The Master Builder, Old Vic" »

To use star ratings or not to use star ratings

5623485582_b245fe56ba_mThis is something I've been wrestling with for a while now, do I use star ratings on my reviews? I used to; several years ago I contributed reviews to an aggregation website so star ratings were required. When the website got shelved, I shelved the stars.

I don't like boiling down reviews to a number out of five. People can see the star rating and make a snap judgement without any context and three out of five might mean average to one person or good to another. Star ratings can often say as much about the reviewer as they can about the play. 'Of course so and so would give that five stars' or 'they never like that sort of production anyway'. Who hasn't scrolled through the different reviews of a much loved play and judged the critics by whether they agreed or disagreed? There is nothing wrong with that of course.

So why am I considering them again? The main reason is that I'm getting asked to review more and more. More than a third of the 100+ plays I saw last year were 'press' tickets and so I asked some theatre PR's what they thought about star ratings on reviews. The answer was that they are a double-edged sword but ultimately a really useful tool for marketing. 

If star ratings can help champion a brilliant piece of fringe theatre then that has to be a good thing, surely?

There is of course an element of ego. To have Rev Stan's Theatre blog name checked on the poster/website for a play would be pretty amazing - but quotes don't tend to get used without star ratings.

So I'm giving it a go and will review my starred reviews later in the year.

Star image by Melissa Petrie on Flickr and used under a creative commons license.


Review: The problematic Picture of Dorian Gray, Trafalgar Studios 2

The Picture of Dorian Gray. Production images 2014. Courtesy Emily Hyland - 25
Guy Warren-Thomas as Dorian Gray. Photo: Emily Hyland

I've never read Oscar Wilde's novel on which this play is based but I've seen plenty of portrayals on screen of the beautiful youth who trades his soul to stay ever young, most recently Reeve Carney in Penny Dreadful.

The book caused scandal at the time it was published for its homoerotic undertones despite Wilde having toned it down prior to publication. Working with Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland, John O'Connor has restored some of the bits deemed too racy for the Victorian audience but it still seems pretty tame by 21st century standards.

Guy Warren-Thomas plays the chiselled-jawed youth Dorian whom artist Basil Hallward (Rupert Mason) falls in love with while he paints his portrait. It is deemed to be his best work something Basil credits Dorian with.  However, the youth is fickle and self-obsessed, the portrait serving to show that day by day he gets older; he'll never be as young as he is in the painting. So, he makes a wish that it will be the portrait that ages not him.

He lives a hedonistic lifestyle with a youthful vigour, falling in and out of love with sometimes tragic consequences and all the while his sins are reflected in the portrait, now hidden beneath a cloth in the attic. And I obsessed about that portrait. It was just a frame, very occasionally Warren-Thomas would step into it tableau-style, but it became a powerful symbol even though it was covered most of the time. I knew it was just a frame and yet I wanted someone to rip off the cloth to see the hideous corrupted image beneath that reflected Dorian's sins.

Continue reading "Review: The problematic Picture of Dorian Gray, Trafalgar Studios 2" »

Review: Simon Stephens' poetic and pregnant Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

Sophia Decaro, Billy Matthews, Max Gill, Moses Adejimi and Ella McLoughlin. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Sophia Decaro, Billy Matthews, Max Gill, Moses Adejimi and Ella McLoughlin. Photo by Tristram Kenton

The more Simon Stephens plays I see the more of the poetry I see in them. His most recent, A Song From Far Away, completely disarmed me last Autumn. Herons is a revival of an early work and probably sits more with the likes of Port and Blindsided in tone.

It is a short, pregnant piece where Stephens tells you just enough to let your imagination run wild. The set is part urban canalside with a lockgate and partially submerged playground with a roundabout and one of those spring mounted rocking-horses where the school kids hang out. A screen at the back of the stage loops a wildlife film showing monkeys living in the wild and suggests watering hole.

Scott (Billy Matthews) is the leader of a gang and the school bully. He has a message for Billy (Max Gill) to pass onto his dad (Ed Gaughan) from his brother Ross who is in prison. A message that is blantantly passive aggressive and makes Billy scared. Something happened to a girl at their schoool, something to which they are all directly or indirectly connected, something that haunts the school ground and all their relationships.

But Billy has other problems, family problems. His dad spends his days at the canal and can't get a job. His brother and sister live with his mum and the threat of being taken into care hangs heavy in the air.

Continue reading "Review: Simon Stephens' poetic and pregnant Herons, Lyric Hammersmith" »

The Digital Theatre experience on the big screen: True West (filmed at the Tricycle)

88933To celebrate adding True West to its library, Digital Theatre held a special screening at the Regent Street Cinema last night (non-other than Lady Margaery - Natalie Dormer - was in attendance to add a touch of celebrity glamour). The cinema itself is celebrating its 120th anniversary and boasts being the birthplace of cinema in the UK - it's a lovely old cinema, lovingly restored and well worth a trip if you you want somewhere with a bit more soul than a multiplex for your film-watching.

But back to theatre, sort of. I'm told recordings of plays don't count but then for many it is often the only opportunity to see theatre so I'm still counting it. While it is never going to replace the thrill of seeing live theatre for me, its a great way of catching something I've missed and with Digital Theatre you don't even have to go to the cinema.

True West was a co-production between Glasgow's Citizens Theatre and the Tricycle in London and was filmed at the Tricycle. Didn't get to see it on stage and it's an interesting piece. Written by Sam Shepard it is a tense family drama set in a town outside of Los Angeles. Austin (Eugene O'Hare) is house-sitting for his mother while she is in Alaska. He's a straight-laced, sensible screenwriter on the verge of success and has arranged an important meeting at the house with film producer Saul Kimmer (Steven Elliot) who is interested in his work.

His brother Lee (Alex Fern) who is an alcoholic, scruffy, petty criminal, decides to drop by. Lee has a story he thinks would make a great film so Austin reluctantly helps him write an outline to pitch to Saul. Whether genuinely interested or as the result of losing a bet with Lee, Saul decides to develop Lee's story, much to Austin's annoyance, and the two are forced to work together.

Continue reading "The Digital Theatre experience on the big screen: True West (filmed at the Tricycle)" »

Review: RSC's King and Country cycle - Henry V, Barbican

Alex Hassell as Henry V. Photo by Alastair Muir

Over three days I watched the landscape that would form Henry V taking shape; the prince not born to be King but thrown into it by his father's deposing of Richard II. His petulant years as the party prince rebelling against this unexpected, unlooked for responsibility, rebelling and yet not quite relinquishing the need to make his father proud. It is an inner battle fought through Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and at the beginning of Henry V we see the new King (Alex Hassell) resolved to his new found responsibility, determined if a little scared and a little nervous. 

This final play in the tetralogy watched back to back, is his journey from infamous youth to warrior and clever politician. When Henry successfully puts down a plot to murder him you see him grow a little in confidence. He needs it for the path ahead when he has to play politics with the French King and make life and death decisions for his former friends and for 1,000 of soldiers.

Before the play begins the stage is lit so that you can see all the backstage areas, the props and bits of sets to be used later. You hear the actors being called to the stage. It is a contemporary start to a history play and yet it is how Shakespeare intended, a way of getting the audience to use their imagination for the trips to France and epic battles that are to come.

Oliver Ford Davis in casual 21st Century clothes - a cardie and scarf - has a slightly wry tone to his lines as Chorus which serve to move the action forward, set the scene and sometimes develop the drama.

Continue reading "Review: RSC's King and Country cycle - Henry V, Barbican " »