132 posts categorized "Theatre thoughts" Feed

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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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.

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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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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.

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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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Lockdown lessons for theatres in audience relations

I've been waiting for Cultural Capital to publish her thoughts about how the National Theatre saved lockdown and what it means for future audience relations.

We've discussed it a couple of times in recent weeks, having both noticed a change in the relationship between theatres and their audiences.

 
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Without a communal space to congregate in, theatres have had to reach out like never before to find an audience - and without live performance, they've had to be inventive in their offer.

As the piece says, the National Theatre's NT Live has been a boon but even more so has been the 'behind the scenes' Zoom chats with the cast and creatives. You'll have to read the piece to get Cultural Capital's full thoughts about how this might fuel changes.

We have also discussed how theatres have been far more responsive on social media, again reaching out to engage with their audience noticeably more than has been done in the past.

Have theatres realised that they need to build a relationship with their audiences in a far more engaged and meaningful way than they have in the past?

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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.

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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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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?
 

10th Birthday list: My 10 (ok it's 11) favourite stage actresses plus who I'd really like to see on stage more

While there might not be quite as many meaty stage roles for actresses as there are actors (is that changing?) the plethora of acting talent I've seen over the past 10 years made this quite tricky to narrow down. Hence the list of 11 rather than a neat 10 (and presented in no particular order).

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Patsy Ferran in My Mum's a Twat, Royal Court Theatre. Photo by Helen Murray.

I've also added a few names I've only seen once or twice but really want to see do more stage work.

Who would you add, let me know in the comments?

1. Imelda Staunton

Who can forget Margaret in Good People or Martha in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolf? It's always a treat when she treads the boards.

2. Jade Anouka

She was the best Hotspur I've seen when Phyllida Law did her all-female Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse. She also did a fantastic one-woman show at the fringe (Chef) and I still remember the bit of subtlety she brought to Jamie Lloyd's lively production of Dr Faustus.

3. Patsy Ferran

Patsy, Patsy, Patsy. Have seen her in fringe productions, small studio theatres, one-women shows and taking lead roles in classics which have ended up in the West End (and winning her awards). So pleased to see her career taking off and can't wait to see what she does next.

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