138 posts categorized "Theatre thoughts" Feed

Lockdown London theatre walks: Southwark Playhouse and my stage debut with Freddie Fox

I made my London stage debut alongside Freddie Fox at the Southwark Playhouse. It's not how I anticipated the evening panning out as I chose a seat on the front row (it was unallocated seating) to watch a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Southwark Playhouse Feb 2021

Poly was supposed to be with me but hadn't been able to make it, so I was on my own. I entirely blame her for what happened. The actors would never have chosen me to play a flower had she been sat beside me. I'm convinced.

I should probably mention that a comic device of this production was that it had too few actors to play all the parts - seven actors when there are 17 characters  - and only about four props. The fourth wall was broken at the start as we were asked to use our imagination.  

But I didn't need to imagine being dragged onto the stage to play the 'love-in-idleness' blossom which Oberon uses for a love potion.

Despite wanting to imagine being back in my seat, it wasn't easy when the actor playing Oberon was holding my hand, delivering an impassioned speech while looking deep into my eyes.

I thought I conveyed mortification and embarrassment without words particularly well.

However, when the scene was over, and I was able to return to my seat, I got the first laugh of the play by stepping around the tree we'd been asked to imagine in the middle of the stage. #proud

But it didn't end there.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Bridge Theatre and a conversion to the groundling experience

One of the newest theatres in London, the Bridge Theatre has already made an impression, not least for making the groundling experience enjoyable.

Bridge Theatre Feb 2021
Bridge Theatre lockdown Feb 2021

Yes, yes, I know there are plenty of groundling fans out there, but whenever I've tried it at the Globe, I've ended up frustrated with the view, tired and cold.

But the groundling experience at the Bridge was completely different. It was indoors for a start. More importantly, there was no fixed stage for the audience to queue up early for so you could get a spot at the front and see properly.

Crowds are always problematic for me as I'm short, so I end up trying to peer over peoples shoulders to see.

I get ahead of myself; I haven't even mentioned the play. Actually, it was two different Shakespeare productions: Julius Caesar and then A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Attracted by the starry cast

And I have to confess if Julius Caesar hadn't starred Ben Whishaw - and Michelle Fairley and David Morrissey - I may not have bothered. And I certainly wouldn't have opted for the groundling experience. (I booked a seat for later in the run, just in case.)

Because the Bridge is a new theatre, the auditorium has been designed to be flexible with a wide variety of staging options. For Julius Caesar (and then MSND), this meant bits of stage rising from the floor so that the location of the performance changed frequently.

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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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World Theatre Day: 47 things I love about going to the theatre

It is World Theatre Day, and while it has been a horrible year with theatres closed, for the most part, I want to celebrate and look forward to when we can enjoy live performance again.

So here are 47 things I love about going to the theatre:

1. The familiarity of the walk up to a theatre I've visited many times before.

2. Patiently listening to the front of house staff telling me where the loos are and the directions for my seat even though I'm a regular and know the theatre layout like my own flat.

3. The sound of the 2-minute warning bell.

4. The fact that it isn't really 2 minutes, and it's just to chivvy people along.

5. The buzz of the auditorium before the lights go down.

6. The way the chatter quickly dies down when they do.

7. The £10 Monday crowd.

8. Getting a fantastic day seat deal for something you really want to see.

9. Getting front-row seats.

10. The difference between the weekday audience and the weekend audience.

Donmar Warehouse Blindness
Donmar Warehouse Blindness 2020

11. Not wanting to stare when the actors are already on stage but feeling it's rude to ignore them.

12. Seeing the set for the first time (if there is a curtain).

13. Entering the auditorium and not knowing where the stage will be because it's a flexible performance space.

14. Missing the first few lines because you are still busy taking it all in.

15. Getting completely lost in the performance, you gasp or cry.

16. Watching something that makes you feel angry.

17. Watching something that makes you grin or laugh.

18. Enjoying the reaction of those sitting around you.

19. The excitement of seeing a new play by a favourite playwright.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Barbican Theatre - the stage for epic Shakespeare and event theatre

There were few people outside my theatre friends who could understand my excitement at having spent 6 hours watching Shakespeare performed in Dutch. But it was brilliant, and it was at the Barbican theatre. 

Barbican Theatre entrance March 2021
Barbican Theatre lockdown March 2021

The Barbican is one of only a few big theatres in London I actually like. The auditorium is not only spacious - no cramped seating and having to stand up every time someone wants to get to their seat - but it also has great sightlines.

Its size means it can have big productions, epic in fact hence the 6 hours of Shakespeare.

That was Ivo Van Hove's Roman Tragedies where he cut and shut Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, so you got to see how all those stories interrelate.

It was the follow up to Kings of War which had been a mere 4.5 hours and took a similar approach to Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III (with a smidge of Henry IV part 2 at the very beginning). In hindsight, Kings of War was just a warm-up act - but a bloody good one.

These productions could legitimately be called 'event' theatre. They were more than long plays, they were a new play watching experience. 

Ivo Van Hove broke the taboos of theatre. You were allowed to Tweet and take photos during the performance (except during particular scenes). The audience was invited up onto the stage at certain points to sit among the actors and see the drama unfolding close up.

He used cameras - handheld in some instances to get close to the actors and take the audience into otherwise hidden corners of the set and stage.

And alongside that, you get Van Hove's naturalist directing style and contemporary setting which brings a new dimension to Shakespeare.

In fact, when I rummage through my archive, the Barbican has become the stage for epic Shakespeare.

It's become the London home for the RSC, and it was where I got the opportunity to watch the King and Country Cycle: Four plays in two days - Richard II, Henry IV part 1 and part 2 and Henry V.

Seeing them like that, you got to appreciate the little treatments that carried through all the plays and the 'full story' of Henry V from the landscape he was born into to his most famous victory.

Another epic production, but more so because of its star lead, was Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet. Memorable for the ticket scramble and (smugly) managing to get tickets to see it more than once.

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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: Hampstead Theatre - comedy conversions, velvet and Ben Whishaw

I don't want to turn this lockdown theatre walks series into Ben Whishaw stories, but I do have a Ben Whishaw story connected to Hampstead Theatre, but I'll come onto that.

Hampstead theatre Dumb Waiter
Hampstead Theatre Jan 2021

Normally I'd get the tube to Hampstead as the Santander Cycle docks don't stretch that far but having the time, I cycled into town and met up with fellow blogger Maryam (Cultural Capital) for a socially distanced walk to the theatre.

At the end of last year, we had tickets to see The Dumb Waiter, but then theatres had to close, again, so it was bittersweet seeing the posters.

I think my relationship with Hampstead properly started with Propeller Theatre and two particular productions: Richard III and A Comedy of Errors.

Richard Clothier's portrayal of Richard III is still one of my favourites and Propeller's 'Errors' was the first time a Shakespeare comedy had really made me laugh so it was a bit of a revelation.

Velvet trip hazards

Another play that really 'stands out' is The Judas Kiss for reasons of impressive velvet backdrop which proved to be a teeny trip hazard and, well, if you've seen it you'll know the 'other' reason. 

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Soho Theatre and the Ben Whishaw and Phoebe Waller-Bridge connection

Headed into town for my weekend lockdown exercise and visited the Soho Theatre - we go back a long way, to pre-blog days and pre-fame days for two notable names.

Soho Theatre lockdown Jan 2021
Soho Theatre in January 2021

It was at the Soho Theatre I first saw Ben Whishaw on stage. He'd just come to my notice in the film Perfume and when I saw that he was doing a play I bought a ticket out of curiosity to see what he'd be like on stage.

The play was Leaves of Glass, by Philip Ridley and he co-starred with Maxine Peake.

I actually saw him in person the week before, passed him on the stairs at the theatre as I was heading to see some comedy (Soho has more than one performance space).

Whenever I'm walking up those stairs with @polyg I point out the spot where we passed - it never wears thin. For me, anyway.  Poly is very good at humouring me.

Seeing Leaves of Glass cemented my opinion of Mr W, and I've tried to see everything he's done on stage and screen ever since.

But this wasn't the only 'early in their career' spot at the Soho Theatre.

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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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