10th birthday list: Favourite Ben Whishaw stage performances... and encounters

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while will know my favourite actor is Ben Whishaw. It's an admiration of talent pure and simple, I may not always like the play (or film) he chooses but he never disappoints in what he brings to his roles.

Ben Whishaw Bakkhai Almeida Marc Brenner
Ben Whishaw in Bakkhai at Almeida Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner

I'm always excited about his next project and ever hopeful that he treads the boards again.

It wouldn't be a theatre blog birthday celebration without reminiscing about some of my favourite Ben Whishaw performances...and encounters.

I don't stage door, apart from that one time in New York but our paths have crossed a few times. I've only spoken to him once (New York), the whole speaking to celebs thing makes me cringe, besides I'd only make a tit of myself and say something stupid which would haunt me.

(PS there is a bit of cheating in this list because some of these pre-date Rev Stan's Theatre Blog but if I make the rules, I can break them 😉)

The watch incident (Leaves of Glass, Soho Theatre, review from my old blog)

Mr Whishaw first came to my attention on the big screen in the film Perfume but it was around the same time I had started going to the theatre again.

I saw that he was in a play at the Soho Theatre and was curious to see him on stage.

A week or two earlier I'd been at the Soho Theatre seeing some comedy with an ex and passed him on the stairs but it was when watching the play that 'it' happened.

I was sat on the front row and during the play, there was a fight - a sort of scuffle/grappling sort of fight - during which Ben's watch flew off and hit me on the foot.

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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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Video: This Sunday's theatre question - why do you love going to the theatre?

Theatre makes a massive contribution to the UK whether it is in the jobs it creates, the billions it generates for the economy, the outreach programmes for local communities and of course what it gives to you and me as theatre-goers.

Its future is at risk which is heartbreaking, in this Sunday's theatre question video I talk about why I love going to the theatre so much and I'd love to know what you love about it.

And if you want to help theatre survive there are all sorts of things you can do. Sign this petition to get the Government to help theatres, make a donation to your favourite theatre or buy a membership, pay to watch some streamed theatre and tell your friends about it, for example.

If you've missed a Sunday theatre question, here's a few I've already posted:

The question about Shakespeare.

The question about unexpected audience experiences.

The question about directors.

The question about which theatre production you'd revive?

If you want to see more of my videos, including my 60-second reviews, follow my YouTube channel, like my Facebook page or follow me on Instagram, whichever is your favourite platform 🤓

 


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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Review: We R Not Virus - powerful exploration of Covid-19 and racism (streaming via Omnibus Theatre)

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, hate crime targeted at East and South-East Asians has tripled and We R Not Virus is a series of monologues, films and poetry responding to that.

We R Not Virus
Kirsty Rider in We R Not Virus

Over the course of an hour, you see a selection of the 10 specially commissioned pieces by East and South-East Asian artists exploring racism and prejudice within Western cultures and outside it.

The complexity and rootedness of racism are evident, often spurred by a heavy dose of ignorance and cultural stereotypes.

One piece explores the double threat facing the Chinese community in the UK: the virus, coupled with the increasing risk of being the target of verbal abuse and violence purely because of ethnicity or looks.  

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Is the Old Vic's choice of ticketing for Lungs reinforcing what is bad about theatre?

Anyone else wondering why the Old Vic has decided to sell tickets for the live-streamed performances of Lungs in the way it has?
 
Old Vic We'll be back soon sign
 
And by that, I mean pricing tickets and limiting the numbers as if people are actually coming to watch it in the theatre.
 
You don't get a better seat for £65 but you might have to pay that when the cheaper seats sell out.
 
Actors Matt Smith and Claire Foy who star are a big draw and the queues to get on the website have been in the thousands (I joined at 8,000+ and 7 hours later haven't made it onto the site).
 
Surely, given the demand, they could have sold unlimited tickets at a fixed price - say £20 - and made more money on an extremely limited number of performances.
 
It would open up theatre to a broader audience, not just those for whom the ticket prices are mostly prohibitive but also those who live too far away.
 
By adopting this conventional form of ticketing at such an unconventional time it feels like it is just reinforcing theatre's image of being an exclusive pass time for the affluent.
 
Or am I missing something?
 

Interview: Brixton House's Owen Calvert-Lyons on the future of fringe theatre post lockdown

Head of theatre and artist development at Brixton House (formally Ovalhouse*) Owen Calvert-Lyons talks about life during the lockdown, the post-Covid future for fringe theatre and exciting streaming plans.

Owen Calvert-Lyons  Head of Theatre and Artist Development at Ovalhouse (credit Ludovic Des Cognets) 1
Owen Calvert-Lyons Head of Theatre and Artist Development at Ovalhouse/Brixton House. Photo: Ludovic Des Cognets.

How are you doing during lockdown?

Lockdown has been a very strange experience so far. Of course, it has lots of negatives, but I’ve been surprised by the number of positives too.

Working in theatre can be all-consuming and this has given me an opportunity to redress the work/life balance and spend more time doing things I love other than theatre.

What does the future look like for fringe theatres post-lockdown?

While things look pretty bleak right now, I think it’s important to remain positive. Theatre is not just about entertainment, it plays a really vital role in many people’s lives, so it will certainly survive this crisis.

I think the most important thing is not to feel that we have to return to the status quo.

There are many things which need to change about our industry and this hiatus should give us an opportunity to imagine what theatre could look like in the future.

One of the most pressing needs is to solve the inequalities in arts funding which leave so many freelance artists struggling to earn a living.

If we can use this moment to fix that, then theatre post-lockdown could be better than ever before.

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Review: The Machine Stops - Big Telly Theatre draws on prescient EM Forster story for latest live stream

Following on from two fun-filled, family-focused, live-streamed shows, Big Telly Theatre, in collaboration with Riverside Theatre, has chosen a seemingly prescient EM Forster story for its latest piece.

The Machine Stops

The story, The Machine Stops, was written in 1909 and sees people living underground in individual cells, communicating via telephone.

An early speech - the cast all perform via Zoom from home - beautifully sums up our current predicament, how being connected via phone and video doesn't quite satisfy in making you feel connected in the same way as being with each other.

Life underground is governed by rules set out by the machine. You have to get permission to go to the apparently uninhabitable surface and reproduction is carefully managed.

The latter point is particularly pertinent to our situation given UK Government recent guidance and rules on social distancing.

If you've seen any of Big Telly's previous shows the format will be familiar, green screens enable the actors to be transported to different locations using projections and props, costumes and makeup are all what the actors have to hand or have made themselves.

Given the theme of the piece the interactive elements, getting the audience involved in the story doesn't feel necessary or as relevant as it did for the more family-focused pieces. 

The dialogue - influenced by EM Forster's text - is weighty and sometimes the lighter more humorous moments serve to detract from the themes of the piece rather than add to it.

As a result, I'd have perhaps preferred more time given to exploring the experience of living isolated from others and the break down of blind obedience - this is where the play worked best for me. The parallels between what EM Forster wrote and expressed through his characters and our own experiences in lockdown are spookily similar. 

The Machine Stops is a different beast to the previous shows and shows Big Telly going in a slightly different direction and just about getting away with it.

It is 60 minutes long and there are two more shows today (7 June) at 3 pm and 7.30 pm - visit Big Telly's website for more details.

You might also like to read:

Matt Smith and Claire Foy to perform a socially-distanced version of Lungs and 5 other plays that could have the same treatment.

My 11 favourite actresses.

From the archive: Review of the first James Graham play I saw and still a favourite - The Man, Finborough Theatre.

 

 

 


Coming soon: Isolation story The Machine Stops becomes the latest live Zoom production by Big Telly Theatre

A short story written by E. M. Forster in 1909 about people living in isolation will get the Big Telly Theatre live performance in lockdown treatment next month.

The Machine Stops

Eerily pertinent to now, the story is about people living underground on their own in cells and illustrates the Victorian era's culture, thinking and fears just as the western world was beginning its accelerated journey into modernity.

Big Telly describes the piece as an escapist adventure into a steampunk world of curious Victoriana - flowers with secret messages, dining in the dark, tea-duelling, crystal gazing, parlour games and more and that audiences should expect to be surprised, charmed and possibly slightly unnerved.

“A story written over 100 years ago about lockdown about the impact of isolation, what we stand to gain from technology and what we stand to lose from the absence of human contact.

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