70 posts categorized "Old Vic" Feed

Review: Pygmalion, Old Vic Theatre - Performances designed to extract laughs rather than meaning

Pygmalion old vic

This was my first Pygmalion. I've not seen My Fair Lady either (musical 🥴), but I know of it, I know the story, so I was curious to see a production.

This Old Vic production kicks off with a stagey bustle of posh people sheltering from the rain outside the Royal Opera House with snatches of different conversations, complaints and commands to find taxis.

Flower girl Eliza Doolittle's basket (Patsy Ferran) gets knocked to the ground, and, cor blimey guv'nor, it all kicks off.

Eliza is thrown into the path of arrogant and rude linguist Henry Higgins (Bertie Carvel), who has a knack for pinpointing exactly where people are from by their accents.

If she can learn to speak 'proper', Eliza has a chance of working in a flower shop rather than hawking flowers on the streets. She solicits elocution lessons from Higgins, who simultaneously wagers a bet with Colonel Pickering (Michael Gould) that he can pass Eliza off as a lady.

It is a play where prejudices and concerns expressed in the early scenes hang over the story. It's not a case of whether Eliza will 'transform' into a lady but what happens as a consequence. Indeed the transformation is seemingly rapid, but more on that later.

One of my favourite scenes is Eliza's first outing, where she's nailed the posh accent, but her language is natural to her upbringing. It's cleverly performed by Ferran.

It's also one of my favourite scenes because it's when the sensible Mrs Higgins, Henry's mother, appears played by the brilliant Sylvestra Le Touzel.

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Theatre best of: Stan's top 10 plays 0f 2022

Best of theatre 2022
This feels like a moment; I haven't been able to do a best-of theatre list since 2019 because of 'you know what'. It's been huge fun revisiting the plays I've seen - nearly 50. And while that total is down on pre-pandemic levels, it was still tricky to narrow down my choices, but here goes.

1. The Collaboration, Young Vic

Synopsis in a sentence: Andy Warhol's star is waning, and young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat's star is rising; they have nothing in common but are persuaded to collaborate.

From my review: "I was gripped in the presence of two great artists and gripped by their stories. I laughed, I gasped, I cried, and if I felt compelled to tap my toes at the start, by the end, I was on my feet, and that's something I rarely do."

The play is now on Broadway, and look out for a film version (an actual film, not a filmed stage version).

2. Henry V, Donmar Warehouse

Synopsis in a sentence: The wayward Prince becomes King and has to prove himself to his country and foreign powers.

Not going to lie, Kit Harington surprised me with his performance in this.

From my review: "This is a powerful production of Henry V. Harington's nuanced, often quiet and considered Henry V perfectly highlights the complexity and often contradictory nature of the character and the role of leadership.

3. The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A woman has a final phone call with her lover, who is getting married the next day.

From my review: "It hasn't gone down well with all the critics, but I thought it was mesmerising and gripping. Hats off to Ruth Wilson."

4. Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A lesbian choir get a coveted spot on the main stage at Pride, mainly because they are the only lesbian choir to apply.

From my review: "It is a funny, interesting and occasionally challenging play that had me walking out of the theatre with a big grin on my face. And that is a big win."

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Review: Eureka Day, Old Vic - sharp and very funny

There is a scene in Eureka Day at the Old Vic during which the audience is roaring with laughter, but it isn't anything to do with the actors who are on stage or what they are saying.

And it isn't a mistake, it is intended, and it's a genius scene for a couple of reasons, how the actors carry on regardless and the relatable source of the comedy.

Kirsten Foster  Mark McKinney  Helen Hunt  Ben Schnetzer and Susan Kelechi Watson in Eureka Day at The Old Vic  photo by Manuel Harlan
Kirsten Foster, Mark McKinney, Helen Hunt, Ben Schnetzer and Susan Kelechi Watson in Eureka Day at The Old Vic, Sep 2022. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Eureka Day is the name of a private school in Berkeley, California, which is welcome to all children. That is until there is a health crisis which tests the ideas and values of five members of the PTA.

At first, the play is a satirical stab at the 'woke' left as they debate the appropriate racial groups to reference on the school's website. Everyone is seemingly doing their best to listen, suggest, understand and reach a consensus without causing offence. And it raises a good few laughs.

Of course, the irony is that they are so busy demonstrating what the school stands for and its inclusivity they don't realise the voices they are trying to include are getting stifled.

However, when a child at the school comes down with mumps, the play shifts gear into the debate around vaccines.

Where it gets very funny is at an emergency meeting about what to do, conducted via live video call with the rest of the parents. The PTA are huddled around one laptop, remaining polite and respectful to each other's views.

Then on the back wall of the classroom set, the comments from the video chat start popping up.

At first, it is a mixture of gossip, random remarks and polite comments about vaccines, but it soon descends into chaos, a mixture of wacky ideas, passive-aggressive comments and plain insults about each other's views.

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Review: Jitney, Old Vic Theatre - great acting but a slow and frustrating play

About halfway through the first half of Jitney at the Old Vic, I had set my mind on leaving at the interval. I couldn't connect with anything or see any signs of what it was building towards.

Jitney old vic 2022
Jitney, Old Vic theatre 2022

The rapid pace of the opening scene, where the drivers at Becker's (Wil Johnson) jitney office are introduced, is a series of arrivals and departures punctuated by banter. No one character is around long enough to get familiar with, and I struggled to find the depth in the jibes and jokes.

It didn't seem to be leading to anything, and it went on too long.

It wasn't until Rena (Leanne Henlon), the girlfriend of Vietnam vet Youngblood (Solomon Israel), turned up that I felt myself properly tuned in - and I decided to stay. Rena is the only female character and has two of the play's most interesting scenes.

The jitney office is under threat from redevelopment. It's in a deprived area but provides a vital service for the community as licensed cabs avoid the area.

War vets and gossip

Aside from Youngblood, for whom driving is one of three jobs he has, the other drivers are Fielding (Tony Marshall), who is an alcoholic, Doub (Geoff Aymer), a quiet, cautious Korean War vet and Turnbo (Sule Rimi) the volatile gossip.

Shealy (Nnabiko Ejimofor) swaggers in to use the office for his betting operations, and the weary Becker tries to keep everyone in line between drives.

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Review: Camp Siegfried, Old Vic Theatre - teen romance and radicalisation

Camp Siegfried is more than a German-themed summer camp for German Americans in 1938 Long Island; alongside all the usual fun activities, Nazi doctrines are openly pedalled.

Old Vic Camp Siegfried
Camp Siegfried, Old Vic, Sept 2021. Photo: Rev Stan

The camp is based on a real Camp Siegfried, which operated in the 1930s and included flower beds in the shape of swastikas.

Bess Wohl's play sets the innocence of a teen romance against a backdrop of fascist grooming.

Our teenagers, played by Patsy Ferran and Luke Thallon, are in the process of finding out who they are and what they want out of life. They are impressionable but without realising it. 

Thallon's Him is 17 and already fully immersed in the camp and its values, having visited several times before. He spots Ferran's Her, a shy 16-year old and makes a bee-line towards her.

It's her first camp, she's there with an Aunt and not finding it easy. The marching bands are loud, she doesn't like dancing and is no good at sports or anything outdoorsy.

Romance is encouraged

As the two hang out together more and more, we learn of how 'romance' is encouraged to further the Nazi cause and, through camp gossip, how the reality is often inexperienced fumblings and embarrassment, not the great love and conquest most anticipate. 

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Sunday theatre question: Favourite Winter play

This week's theatre question is inspired by the wintery weather. The weathermen forecast snow for this weekend here in London but instead, it's peeing it down with rain. Not that I mind too much snow is just a pain - on those rare occasions we get it in the city.

Anyway, the prospect of snow got me thinking about plays that either have a wintery setting or remind me of the winter. Watch the video to find out my choice of favourite winter play and let me know your snowy-set play choices in the comments.

If you are looking for some inspiration, here are some other plays that have wintery connections:

The Red Barn, National Theatre - Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki starred in this intriguing and tense play in which a snowstorm throws a group of people together.

On Bear Ridge, Royal Court - The mountain setting, the snowy stage, the actors wrapped in layers against the 'cold' - a beautiful play with a bleak future setting and the weather to match.

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic - The one starring Rhys Ifans had everyone in the audience so giddy that when it started 'snowing' over the stalls there was spontaneous applause. It was such a joyful moment.

And my review of Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios starring James McAvoy which had a distinctly wintery feel.


Sunday theatre question: What combo would be your nightmare theatre production?

If you had a theatre-watching nightmare, one where you were forced to sit an watch something and it was everything you hate, what would that look like for you?

Sunday theatre question

For me, it would be a musical, written by Tom Stoppard and starring Ben Whishaw for reasons I explain in the video below.

There is one Tom Stoppard play I really like and that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead but I've realised over the years that the only reason I like that play is because I love Hamlet and crucially I'm familiar with it.

And that's the problem with Stoppard he relies on a lot of existing knowledge and if the references and ideas aren't familiar then it doesn't make much sense. Which has been the case with all the other plays I've seen.

I'm not one for dumbing down but I find them alienating because I don't have the prerequisite level of knowledge to adequately appreciate them.

And I've tried quite a few - I've seen Arcadia more than once - but after these years of testing, I've come to the conclusion that Stoppard isn't for me.

Here's a couple of reviews of Tom Stoppard plays I've seen:

The great: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Old Vic starring Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire

The tedious: The Hard Problem, Dorfman Theatre

 

 


Review: Faith Healer, Old Vic In Camera - when 'Zoom theatre' truly comes into its own

I miss sitting in a theatre and watching a live performance. I miss it terribly. But the Old Vic's latest In Camera production - Brian Friel's Faith Healer - not only worked really well as a live stream, it might have worked better.

Faith Healer poster old vic in camera
The 'curtain' during scene changes

I've seen the play before, a production at the Donmar Warehouse in 2016, its format is four monologues told by three different characters all recounting the build-up to a fateful night in a pub in rural Ireland with each having a contrasting take.

The faith healer of the title is Frank Hardy (Michael Sheen) who travels around healing people with his wife Grace (Indira Varma) and manager Teddy (David Threlfall) tow.

Frank questions his ability to heal. He tells us he just knows when something is going to happen and when it is not. His success rate hasn't led to fame and fortune rather, it's a tough life on the road sometimes sleeping in the van.

Genuine or con?

Is his 'ability' genuine or a truth he tells himself or a con?

Both Teddy and Grace have something that resembles faith in his healing.

Teddy refers to it as a 'talent'. His background is in managing seemingly improbable - and amusing - variety acts such as Rob Roy, the bagpipe playing whippet.

Yet there is no perceived irony in how he talks about Frank or any of his 'acts'.

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Review: Andrew Scott in Three Kings - a master in storytelling, compelling and gripping

If you've ever seen Andrew Scott perform Simon Stephens' monologue Sea Wall you'll know he is a master storyteller, deftly lifting words off the page and turning them into something compelling and gripping.

Andrew Scott Three Kings start

Three Kings, beautifully written by Stephen Beresford, gives him even more scope to sprinkle his performance magic.

Created especially for the Old Vic's In Camera, it is described as a scratch performance but only the lack of embellishments like set and fancy lighting give any sign of this. 

And who needs any of that anyway when you've got 60 minutes of you and Andrew Scott, albeit seen from the other side of a screen.

Funny and heartbreaking

Like Sea Wall, the power is in the story as it is told. And it is a powerful piece Scott drawing out the humour and heartache in equal measure.

Three Kings is about the relationship between a son and his an estranged father.

He meets him briefly at 8 years old but the meeting leaves an indelible mark which will go on shaping their relationship for many years.

His father leaves him a challenge of solving a puzzle involving three coins - the Three Kings of the title.

But it more than a simple test of puzzle-solving, solving this puzzle is hugely weighted.

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Review: Lungs, Old Vic - the 'live' theatre experience and a few thoughts on the play itself (I wasn't blown away)

I never got to see Lungs when it was on stage and I nearly didn't get to see this live online version because of the Old Vic's odd approach to ticketing - charging normal theatre prices for people to sit in their own homes to watch.

Lungs Old Vic on screen

But putting that to one side (I wrote about it here), on the final release of tickets, without expecting to find anything affordable, I managed to snag a £20 ticket.

The Old Vic has tried to inject as much of the live theatre atmosphere into the online experience as possible.

In the run-up to the live performance by Claire Foy and Matt Smith, you hear the hubbub of an audience and the bell that warns people the start is imminent and to take their seats.

It was a nice touch.

The performance itself looks like it's filmed on two cameras so you have the two actors appearing side by side on screen but in different shots.

You only get a sense that they are on the same stage in the occasional wide shot and when one of them walks across the other's shot to take up a new position.

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