300 posts categorized "Fringe/pub theatre" Feed

Lockdown London theatre walks: Arcola Theatre - memory of a famous Friend and a friendship

When I think of the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, two things immediately spring to mind. The first involves a famous Friend, the second a friend.

Arcola Theatre Apr 2021
Arcola Theatre in lockdown April 2021

The famous Friend was Rupert Friend, and he was in the Dennis Potter play, Brimstone and Treacle, in the studio space.

It was dark, humourous, and at times uncomfortable play to watch. The play has a domestic setting, but the protagonist Martin (played by Friend) breaks the fourth wall, making asides and direct eye contact with the audience.

Martin is the sort of character written and performed to bring the audience into his confidence while simultaneously making you feel that confidence could be misplaced at any time.

The studio space is small, so proximity to Martin and the sense that something isn't quite right makes that moment when he does catch your eye an all the more uncomfortable experience.

Dangerous stare

Particularly when you are sat on the front row, his head snaps around suddenly, and he fixes you with a dangerous stare, holding your gaze for what seems like an age.

It certainly wasn't for just a moment.

What also makes it memorable is that the character was a real departure for Rupert Friend. I'd seen him in costume dramas on screen, and in the Little Dog Laughed on stage which was a little boring.

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Sunday theatre question: What play do you want to see revived post-lockdown?

If there was one play/production you could revive to watch when theatres reopen (hopefully) in May, what would you choose?

Sunday theatre post lockdown play

Would you go for something tragic or uplifting? Maybe a comedy because a laugh would be good?

This week my inbox has been busy with announcements about the first swathe of productions opening, and it got me thinking about what I want that first post lockdown theatre experience to be.

And given how tough it's been, combined with what will undoubtedly feel like quite joyful new freedom, I don't want to see something too depressing or tragic. 

Not off the bat anyway.

I'd like to revisit something that had me walking out of the theatre with a spring in my step.

Something like Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd, which I saw at the White Bear Theatre and Trafalgar Studios on its transfer.

Or The Dirty Great Love Story from the Arts Theatre, which was a guffaw-inducing modern love story.

Alternatively, I'd like to watch something that is just downright silly, like Bears in Space which was at the Soho Theatre and starred none other than King Joffrey actor Jack Gleeson.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington and seeing an early career Olly Alexander

London has an abundance of pub theatres, and the Old Red Lion in Islington is one of my favourites. The space is tiny—pew-like seating on two sides of the tea-tray sized stage.

Old Red Lion theatre

If you sit on the front row, you are in constant fear of tripping an actor because they are so close.

And that is part of the appeal, there is no separation between audience and actors; the drama is happening right there in your face.

One of the stand out plays/productions for me was Mercury Fur in 2012. I'm a huge fan of Philip Ridley's plays and had heard a lot about Mercury Fur but hasn't seen a production of Mercury Fur.

Coincidentally, an early-career Ben Whishaw starred in the very first production back in 2005. Not that I'm trying to weave Ben Whishaw into all my lockdown theatre walk posts. Well, I wasn't, but I may challenge myself now.

Anyway, back to the Old Red Lion. Watching a Philip Ridley play like Mercury Fur in such a small, intimate space means there is no escaping the horror and repugnance. Sitting in this small darkened room, the separation from the comfort of the real world yawns.

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Sunday theatre questions: Which play have you seen the most?

Theatre-land is a mixture of new plays and revivals, but there are certain classics which regularly get staged - which have you seen the most? Is there a particular reason why you've seen one play more than any others?

Which play have you seen the most

The hands-down winner for me is Hamlet. I think I've seen 17 or more different productions, but I confess it was less than literary reasons that got me hooked initially.

Yes, Hamlet was one of the set texts in my final year at Uni but that year also saw the release of a film version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson.

He was one of my teen crushes so; naturally, I ran to the cinema to see it and then went back to see it again... and again.

I have no idea if it was well done - I wasn't really watching it for the play - but it helped me get really familiar with the key speeches. Handy when exam time came around.

The very first production

The first stage production of Hamlet I saw was on a student trip to Theatr Clwyd. It was memorable for several reasons no least because one of the actor's costumes caught fire  - it was all fine, quickly stamped out by another actor without even a pause in their speech.

But it wasn't until I saw it again years later - in 2008 - with David Tennant as Hamlet that it really sparked my interest/obsession. The speeches were still familiar, and the production just opened up the play in different ways.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: White Bear Theatre, Kennington and two very different memories

I should have thought of this back in March but better late than never... I've started using my lockdown weekend walks (or cycles) to visit some of my favourite London theatres.

White Bear Theatre in lockdown Jan 2021
White Bear Theatre, Kennington in lockdown Jan 2021

The off-the-top-of-my-head list I drew up has 18 non-West End theatres (well not the big West End Theatres anyway) so let's see how many I get to between now and, well, having something else to do at the weekends other than walk or cycle.

First up is the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, which is about a 30-minute walk from home.

Now I have to start with a question. Did the theatre at the White Bear use to be downstairs at the back of the pub before they moved it into swisher space upstairs? Or am I getting it mixed up with somewhere else?

Anyway, it's one of my favourite pub theatres, and I'm not just saying that because it's close to home. It's a nice size, has some raked seating (important when you are 5ft 2in tall) and puts on an interesting mix of new work.

I'm all for pub theatres being the proving ground for new talent and to be quite frank; I'm long over pub theatre productions of classics by Shakespeare and Chekhov. 

Going to a pub theatre is about the chance to see a spark of new talent or something different and inventive.

Two particular plays I've seen at the White Bear Theatre stand out for very different reasons:

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd by Keith Stevenson

This was one of those productions which had me grinning and feeling full of life. It came at a dark time - Trump's inauguration and Theresa May spouting hard Brexit speeches - so was a very welcome diversion on a cold January evening.

As I said in my review, it was a reminder that there is some good in the world.

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Digital theatre review: All By Myself - a surface look at self identity in the digital age

A woman is in her dark flat, hunched over two potatoes, some nails and copper wire trying to make a battery. Her phone is running out of juice, there is a power cut and you have to admire her ingenuity.

All By Myself screen shot

It's not the first thing I'd think about if the power went off but then I don't have a popular YouTube channel and social media accounts that need regular feeding.

The play, a production by Part of the Main theatre company for Applecart Arts, is live streaming as part of the Dazed New World festival and explores identity during the Covid crisis when your only connection to the outside world is via the internet.

We see our YouTuber - played by Charlie Blandford - pouting, preening and oozing confidence for the camera while talking about self-care during lockdown.

Although we also see behind the scenes and how the best shots are carefully edited together to create the illusion of perfection and camera poise.

When the camera stops rolling and there is no self-editing she is human - flawed, frustrated, bored, lonely and desperate for that connection.

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Review: F**k Off, Bread and Roses Theatre - real live theatre for the first time in 5 months

I sat in a theatre and watched actors performing on a stage this week for the first time since the beginning of March. It was wonderful and strange and made me realise how the pandemic has changed the experience.

F*ck Off play poster

The play was called F**k Off, at the Bread and Roses pub theatre in Clapham. Kudos to Integrity Theatre for taking the gamble and planning the production without knowing if live performance would be allowed.

Henry (Michael Dunbar) is the protagonist of the piece; a boxer trying to make a comeback, training hard and trying to get his head in the right space.

A win in the ring would mean money and opportunities.

Complicated life

But outside of the ring, it is complicated. His ex has moved on, there is a court case, an absent father who wants to get back in touch and a trainer who has a dodgy side-hustle.

All good threads for creating tension and drama in Henry's story, shaping the character, except they leave more questions than they answer.

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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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Review: Black Women Dating White Men - a candid exploration of interracial relationships

There is a lot that is fabulous about Somebody Jones' verbatim play Black Women Dating White Men, one of which is that it works so well on Zoom.

 

BWDWM still
Black Women Dating White Men by Somebody Jones

 

Five black women, sometimes with a glass a wine in hand or in a dressing gown, come together lockdown-style for regular chats via Zoom during which they discuss and share their experiences of being in an interracial relationship.

The nature of Zoom means the characters are at home, while you are watching at home which makes for an intimate experience, it feels like you are part of the chat.

They talk about how their friends and family reacted when they first met their white boyfriends, how they are treated when out and the ups and downs of their relationship.

It's a candid discussion, relaxed and matter of fact, sometimes humourous but no less powerful in what it exposes.

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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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