119 posts categorized "Comedy" Feed

Back at the theatre at last...to see socially distanced stand up comedy at Battersea Arts Centre

When theatres had to close in March, I thought it might be a month or two before I was back watching live performance again.

Stan fran andrew

As the weeks passed, it became obvious that it was going to be much, much longer and I stopped thinking about when I might return.

Did I imagine, that at the beginning of August I'd be sitting on a wooden bench wearing a mask with 30, socially distanced, others waiting for a live performance to being?

No.

The live performance was a series of stand-up comedian's headlined by Ed Gamble and wooden bench was in a courtyard at Battersea Arts Centre. 

With indoor theatres still closed, it is a genius use of outdoor space which also has a balcony level where some more people could stand.

So what was the experience like?

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10th birthday list: My favourite comedy plays and a few I didn't like so much

Humour is personal, what one person finds hilarious might fall flat for someone else. And it is really difficult to get right, comic timing is a great skill.

Dan-cook-MCauAnBJeig-unsplash

Now I love dark comedy, the uncomfortable laugh that makes you think but I'm also partial to the silliness of a good farce.

Here are my favourite comedies from the past 10 years of writing this blog and I would love to know what your favourites are - tell me in the comments.

Upstart Crow, Gielgud Theatre

A clever and funny play that twists and weaves Shakespeare's plots - often exposing their ridiculousness and prejudices - with modern references.

Teenage Dick, Donmar Theatre

Based loosely on Shakespeare's Richard III the setting is an American high school and the machiavellian protagonist is a hemiplegic student Richard who is fed up of being bullied and teased about his disability.

It was a great combination of fun and dark comedy - and had a brilliant dance sequence.

Emilia, Vaudeville

A potent mix of humour, fun and feminism. It had a powerful message delivered in a deliciously entertaining and clever way.

Present Laughter, Old Vic

Director Matthew Warchus put a fresh spin on the well-trodden Noel Coward play which, coupled with Andrew Scott's performance, made this a sublime comedy.

I reviewed it alongside Noises Off at the Lyric Hammersmith, in a compare and contrast of the two comedies which you can read here.

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Review: Ben Elton's Upstart Crow, Gielgud Theatre - a serious comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously

It doesn't matter if you've never seen Ben Elton's TV comedy series, Upstart Crow, (I hadn't) as the stage play is a stand-alone piece.

David Mitchell  Gemma Whelan  Credit Johan Persson (02)
David Mitchell and  Gemma Whelan in Upstart Crow the play. Photo: Johan Persson

Having some familiarity with Shakespeare's plays helps although I confess I couldn't tell you the plot of Measure for Measure or Alls Well That Ends Well.

Upstart Crow (the play) centres on Shakespeare's search for inspiration for his next hit but along the way has a rich vein of commentary on gender inequality, immigration, religion and the acting profession.

There are also a lot of cod-piece jokes and a brilliant dancing bear.

Elton cleverly weaves strands of Shakespeare's actual plays into the plot while simultaneously ridiculing them.  King Lear, Othello and Twelfth Night are mixed with nods to Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, A Comedy of Errors, The Tempest and more all of which have the more outlandish and suspect aspects of their stories exposed.

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10 plays from the past 10 years that stand out - for a variety of reasons (not necessarily overly worthy ones)

Here is a snapshot of my favourite theatre from the past 10 years. I say 'favourite', I've tried not to overthink it, these are simply the plays that stand out most in my memory, the ones I talk about if people ask.

Theatre tickets
Stan's growing pile of theatre tickets


The list is not about plays that broke new ground or changed the theatre landscape - there are plenty of those lists around already - rather these plays just had something in them that I remember fondly.

To say that it has been tough narrowing it down to 10 is an understatement but I get another go next year because my blog is 10 in April. (There, I spoilt the surprise.)

In no particular order (the links are through to my reviews):

1. After the Dance, National Theatre

This is a play that gets talked about in 'theatre circles' a lot. It had a uniformly standout cast and I can still remember Nancy Carroll's snot crying.

But it has a particularly special place in my memory for being the play which turned Benedict Cumberbatch into 'one to watch' for me.

I'd seen him plenty on TV but this catapulted him from jobbing actor to leading man potential in my eyes.

This was before Sherlock hit the screens and as a result, means I can smugly say 'well I've been a fan since before he played Holmes'.

2. Hamlet, Stratford and Hackney Empire

I've seen a lot of Hamlets, more than one a year, and while technically I did see Ben Whishaw's Hamlet for the first time in 2010, it was a recording rather than the live performance so it doesn't count.

Paapa Essiedu's Hamlet for the RSC was the first, since Whishaw's, where I really felt he was a student and acting his age, he was also the most likeable which made the play all the more tragic.

Setting the play in an African country and having Rosencrantz & Guildenstern as 2 of only 3 white characters was also genius because it put them out of their depth in so many more interesting ways.

When I saw it for the second time, in Hackney, a group of teenagers were so swept up in it they leapt up to dance at the end. I don't think there is higher praise than that really.

3. The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

It's the play in which director Jamie Lloyd had James McAvoy unicycling around the stage wearing just his pants. Have no idea why that sticks out in my mind. Ahem.

The play was brilliantly bonkers too. Wish I could see it again.

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Review: Teenage Dick, Donmar Warehouse - a fun, sharp, black comedy

Teenage Dick is one of those play titles you have to be careful mentioning or googling, a bit like Cock at the Royal Court - but it is wholly appropriate for Mike Lew's play. 

Teenage Dick official marketing image
The Dick of the title is Roseland high-school student Richard Gloucester (Daniel Monks) who is based loosely on Shakespeare's machiavellian King.

Hemiplegic Richard is fed-up of being bullied, ostracised or worse, ignored, so with the elections for senior year president looming, he decides he will scheme his way to the top enacting revenge along the way.

However, matters become complicated by Anne Margaret (Siena Kelly) who starts to be more than a pawn in his game.

Decisions

Richard has to decide what he values and what is worth sacrificing.

Lew's play is a black comedy full of witty one-liners and verbal battles of scathing put-downs.

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Review: The Man In The White Suit, Wyndhams Theatre - Does this Ealing comedy adaptation revive the laughs

Foley has injected the odd contemporary quip about proroguing parliament, Brexit and capitalism which landed well with the audience.

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Stephen-Mangan in The Man in the White Suit. Photo: Nobby Clark

The woman sat behind me at Wyndham's Theatre for The Man In The White Suit, last night, had a very distinctive laugh. It was the sort of laugh that is infectious, it made me chuckle more than once.

She was obviously enjoying Sean Foley's adaptation of the 1950s Ealing comedy which stars Stephen Mangan as clever but hapless scientist Sidney and Kara Tointon as Daphne, a posh, mill owner's daughter.

The physical comedy and slapstick, in particular, made her guffaw as did the way Daphne walked with an exaggerated, seductive swagger.

Loud chuckles

Sidney's 'farting' lab equipment, explosive experiments and the way food and drink seemed to gravitate towards crotches were also afforded loud chuckles.

The story centres around his invention of an indestructible, dirt-proof cloth. Unable to absorb coloured dye, Sidney has the cloth made into a white suit to demonstrate its unique qualities.

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Review: The Actor's Nightmare, Park Theatre - a few giggles but it needs more bite

The Actor's Nightmare is six short plays, linked by themes of acting, theatre and performance and brought together for the first time at the Park Theatre.

The Cast of The Actor's Nightmare. Photo credit - Ali Wright
The Cast of The Actor's Nightmare. Photo: Ali Wright

It kicks off with a monologue, Mrs Sorken, which is in part a lecture about the etymology of words such as 'theatre' and part reflection from a theatre-goer.

While observations about the ancient origins of the language around theatre and performance elevate the importance of the medium, the theatre-goer brings things down to earth with a bump, talking about the practicalities of outside theatre and wanting to be home by 10.30.

The irony of the arts perceived lofty importance pitched against mundane reality is refreshing and I'd have liked to have seen more of the audience perspective explored.

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Review: Who won the battle of comedies - Present Laughter (Old Vic) or Noises Off (Lyric Hammersmith)?

London's theatreland is ripe for a good hearty laugh. I mean look at the state of the world, who wouldn't want to bury their head in giggles for a couple of hours?

Present Laughter Old Vic poster

And so we are spoiled by not one but two classic comedies both with stellar casts: Present Laughter starring Andrew Scott and Indira Varma at the Old Vic and Noises Off starring Meera Syal and Daniel Rigby at the Lyric Hammersmith.

But which one is best?

The two plays haven't just got comedy in common, both involve actors playing actors.

Andrew Scott plays Garry Essendine a stage star with his coterie of friends and staff trying to stop him making bad decisions - or are they riding on the coattails of his fame as he believes.

Drama off stage

In Noises Off Meera Syal is one of a troupe of actors touring the regions where the drama offstage threatens to overshadow that on stage.

What the play is most famous for is showing the same scene not only as it appears on stage but also from backstage. You get to see it three times in fact.

Both plays rely on running jokes and a lot of comings and goings, lots of doors, people missing each other and being kept apart.

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Review: Dark Sublime, Trafalgar Studios - laughs and hammy 80s sci-fi but could be slicker

While the play gets off to a punchy start with plenty of laughs it doesn't feel like the focus on relationships, loneliness and the nature of friendship get sufficient purchase. 

Dark Sublime  Trafalgar Studios (credit Scott Rylander) (3) Marina Sirtis and Kwaku Mills
Dark Sublime Trafalgar Studios: Marina Sirtis and Kwaku Mills. Photo: Scott Rylander

There are two actors playing actors on stage in London at the moment and both characters present as needy and vain.

Andrew Scott's Garry in Present Laughter (Old Vic) is at the extreme end of the spectrum but there are elements too in Marina Sirtis' Marianne.

She's an actress whose star has long been in the descendent having reached the heady heights of a 1980s sci-fi series called Dark Sublime and some episodes in a soap.

Now she gets by on the odd bit of radio work and corporate training gigs and spends her evenings drinking and grumbling with old friend Kate (Jacqueline King) when she isn't seeing her new, young girlfriend Suzanne (Sophie Ward).

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Review: Little Bulb Theatre's The Future, Battersea Arts Centre - science and rock songs (guess which I liked more?)

The eccentric inventiveness of what Little Bulb has done is thoroughly entertaining.

Little Bulb  The Future at Battersea Arts Centre 2019  PHOTOCREDIT Adam Trigg - www-naturaltheatre-photos Future-006
Little Bulb Theatre: The Future, Battersea Arts Centre 2019. Photo: Adam Trigg

I loved Little Bulb Theatre's last production Orpheus so much I saw it twice, so I was really excited to see their new work The Future.

It projects us into the world of three scientists who, with the help of a compere/conductor/presenter (Clare Beresford), explore super intelligence - AI - and the impact it will have on humanity. 

This being Little Bulb their take is executed with quirkiness, music and song.

The scientists wear tinfoil on their heads and have an idiosyncratic way of talking that manages to be nerdy, dry and humorous all at the same time. Shamira Turner is particularly brilliant in her style of delivery.

Living with super intelligence

AI is represented by a box on a stand - the genie contained - and the play (and it's rock-inflected songs) explore the good and bad of living with super intelligence.

Scenarios and presentations are played out by the scientists in their own quirky style of fun and you find yourself laughing at them just as much as with.

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