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



Sunday theatre question: Who would star in your dream play in 2021?

Hopefully this year we'll see theatres reopening and a semblance of normality returning so with that in mind the first Sunday Theatre question of 2021 is about what your dream play would be and who would star in it.

So pick a genre - or a play if you have one in mind - the actor and/or actress you'd most like to star in it and then share it in the comments.

My choice would be a black comedy starring Ben Whishaw and Monica Dolan for reasons I explain in the video.

Looking forward to reading about your choices and scroll down for my favourite black comedies...

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Review: The Comeback, Noel Coward Theatre - is this the comedy we need?

I love a serious play, something thought-provoking and challenging but right now, with everything that is going on, I just want a laugh. I want frothy fun that is diverting. Did behind-the-scenes farce The Comeback at the Noel Coward Theatre fit the bill?

Ben Ashenden & Alex Owen in The Comeback. Photo Marc Brenner

Written by and starring Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen, The Comeback is a bit like Michael Frayn's Noises Off but instead of seeing the on and off stage shenanigans during a play, it is set on a comedy tour.

The 'stars' of the tour are an ageing comedy duo (Morecombe and Wise-esq) trying to stage a comeback. Ben and Alex are the warm-up act and hoping the tour will catapult them into the big time.

When they spot the name of a Hollywood director on the list of ticket holders the need to impress suddenly becomes even more important.

Ashenden and Owen's humour is gentle, fun and cleverly disarming. You wonder where they are going with a skit or a gag but where it lands is often a surprise - and all the funnier for it.

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Who did you see in an early stage role before they became famous on screen?

The Guardian has published this great collection of photos of famous actors in early stage roles. It's one of the things I love about theatre, watching young actors cut their teeth in small stage roles, blossom into bigger roles and then go on to have success on screen.


Although there is a part of me that does get frustrated when they gather a large fan base which makes it difficult to get tickets to see them when they do return to the stage.

So who did you see on stage before they were famous?

Probably my best haul was the first Hamlet I saw.

I was a student in Liverpool studying English and we went on a trip to Theatr Clwyd in Mold to see Hamlet.

This was the early 90s and it wasn't until relatively recently when I found the programme, I realised that playing the minor roles were none other than Toby Jones, Rhys Ifans and Jack Davenport.

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Digital theatre review: Paines Plough's In Tandem: Snippets of life and living during lockdown

The latest digital theatre from Paines Plough is a series of 6 vignettes - longest is 8 minutes - about different aspects of life in lockdown.

In Tandem Credit Michael Windsor-Ungureanu
Image: Michael Windsor-Ungureanu

You sign up with your email and twice a day for three days you get sent an email link to watch a video online.

Written by Travis Alabanza and Magdalena Zarebska-Wegrzyn, three of the films feature a mother and daughter (Sharon D. Clarke and Leanne Henlon) trying to maintain their relationship over Zoom.

They play games, do Zumba, discuss daily events and plant care. The latter is a heavy metaphor for individual needs and care.

The remaining three films feature a Polish couple (Patrycja Durska and Paweł Kumięga) and through their conversation examines their differing approaches to coping with the lockdown.

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Review: What a Carve Up!, digital theatre - slick 90s whodunnit that feels over-egged with modern references

What A Carve Up! is a digital theatre adaptation of Jonathan Coe's satirical murder mystery novel, published in 1994, updated to include contemporary references - think scandals and newspaper headlines.

Alfred Enoch
Alfred Enoch as Raymond Winshaw in What A Carve Up!

On one level it's a documentary-style investigation into the gruesome murder of the notoriously powerful Winshaw family, on another it's darkly comic exposé of corruption among those in positions of power and privilege.

The story is set 30 years later and is told documentary-style through the eyes of Raymond Owen (Alfred Enoch) son of the prime suspect Michael Owen (voiced by Samuel Barnett), a writer who was working on a book about the family when they were murdered.

Owen senior subsequently disappeared leaving Raymond to piece together what happened. He talks directly to camera introducing and commenting on bits of evidence and various clips.

Aside from Enoch, the only on-camera performance is a TV interview with surviving family member Josephine Winshaw-Eaves (Fiona Button) with - Tamzin Outhwaite playing the interviewer. The rest is told using voice-over, 'archive' images and footage.

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Review: Uncle Vanya, directed for the screen on the Harold Pinter stage - how does it compare?

Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre, starring Toby Jones, Richard Armitage, Eleanor Eleazar and Aimee Lou Wood, was one of the last plays I saw before theatres closed and it's safe to say I adored it. Which, considering me and Chekhov have a difficult relationship, is saying something. 

Uncle Vanya for screen
Uncle Vanya (c) Photography Seamus Ryan and Artwork Muse Creative Communications

So when it was announced that the cast was reuniting under Covid-safe conditions to re-perform the play on stage but this time directed for camera, I didn't hesitate to get a ticket to see it on the big screen.

But how did it compare to the original stage directed version?

Well, the first thing to say is that the only cast change for the filmed version was Roger Allam stepping in for Ciaran Hinds to play the professor. 

Allam is slightly less intimidating than Hinds but that didn't make any material difference.

As for the filming, without the constraints of a live audience, the piece felt less stagey and more like an actual film than the NT Live productions.

In fact, you quickly forgot you were watching something performed on stage - the only reminders were the doors through which the actors exited the stage. They are part of the theatre and therefore a more contemporary style to the rest of the set.

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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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Trying to find my theatre-going mojo again

Going from seeing two or more plays a week to nothing was a huge shock. In those early days, I devoured whatever was on offer online, whatever was free, some paid stuff and I took free trials on some of the streaming services to see what they had.

Photo by Claire P on Unsplash

But the longer lockdown went on I started looking elsewhere for different diversions. I didn't want to watch serious stuff or anything worthy I wanted escapism - popcorn movies on Netflix, fantasy, sci-fi, frothy teen dramas - anything that was far removed from reality.

My creative energy was being used up keeping my freelance business going which is what pays the bills - and pays for theatre.

Work didn't completely dry up but for a while it wasn't covering my living costs. Sorting that out had to be my main focus and it was as much adulting as I could muster.

So I found myself watching less and less theatre, cherry-picking bits and bobs.  I wrote less here on the blog, recording my weekly theatre questions videos was as much as I could manage most weeks. 

My theatre mojo was a pilot light rather than at full burn.

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Sunday theatre question: Will your theatre-watching habits change post-Covid?

Theatres are starting to open again but a return to normality is a long way off. Some theatres have turned to the internet to show old and new work, have you embraced digital theatre during the lockdown?

And will your habits change for the longer term?

I've been impressed by the creativity of theatres in producing work during the Covid crisis. Although it's been the smaller theatre production companies who have really embraced the opportunity with innovative and imaginative work that has made the most of the technology available.

In a recent interview director Katie Mitchell talked about how theatres makers will need to embrace this new landscape, mixing mediums and platforms like they have never done before.

It is a harsh reality that social distancing is going to be here for quite some time. And once this pandemic has been brought under control that doesn't mean there won't be another one.

Lesson's need to be taken from this. Theatres need to find ways of building resilience, embrace the challenge and creative channels on offer.

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