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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Teddy Ferrara

teddy ferraraThough somewhat confused, Teddy Ferrara is an engaging piece with some intriguing characters and an excellent cast.

Set on a university campus that sees more than it’s fair share of suicide, it explores the lives of a range of gay and not-so-gay characters and how they intersect around stigma and social activism. It’s absolutely engaging, deals with important issues that must be addressed, but it doesn’t quite manage to hold together as well as I wanted it to.

I fear it may be too politically-minded to be of any practical good. It covers, I think, too much ground, and delves into so many political issues that its narrative is mired and somewhat unclear. It wants to be at once a story while also being a missive, and in trying to be both, it succeeds at being neither. The missive’s premise, it seems, is articulated by a minor character, rather than, as should be the case on stage, demonstrated by the central plot. The very title itself obfuscates the drama by implying that the central plot is that of Teddy Ferrara, which it is not, by any means. Far prettier characters (I’m not just talking about the actors portraying them, but also these characters’ charisma) steal the show, with Teddy ending up little more than a plot device. Or perhaps that’s not true: the stories they tell are also compelling.

And this is the play’s biggest flaw. The playwright, Christopher Shinn, has developed several compelling stories, all of them worth telling:

  • Gabe’s somewhat pragmatic romance with Drew, interrupted by personal traumas and mild betrayals, would make a brilliant variation on the usual romantic play where the central characters, instead of falling madly in love, fall gently into a mixture of like and lust.
  • Jay’s interest in Gabe could be more than a mere subplot to that story.
  • Teddy Ferrara could also warrant a play that was actually about him, exploring the multiple personas of those who live online to escape the trauma of actual human interaction.
  • The ostensibly platonic relationship between Gabe and Tim would be an interesting drama.
  • The university president, with his hilarious working relationship with the provost, and their interactions with student representative groups could make a brilliant comedy.

As it stands, none of these narratives really take centre stage.

Despite the mild confusion of the competing sub-plots, Gabe, portrayed annoyingly (which is entirely appropriate) by Luke Newberry, was front and centre as a character. He is a wet handkerchief. Ostensibly altruistic and kind, but born with the benefits of good looks, and white male privilege, and displaying them in the worst possible way. His membership of the LGBTIQ minority is really the only reason he comes across with any sense of altruism at all. He is a poor choice for the university’s diversity panel, and of course endears himself to the establishment.

He is supported by the noteworthy performances of Ryan McParland, who is brilliantly awkward and absolutely endearing as the Teddy of the title, Nathan Wiley as his closeted questioning friend Tim, and Oliver Johnstone, whose irksome portrayal of the principled and very controlling boyfriend is not in any way endearing but nonetheless very recognisable and absolutely believable.

So I am left a little flat. The play was engaging and the performances brilliant. But at the risk of being as annoyingly principled as Drew, I must remind myself that although a politician may articulate, a playwright must demonstrate. It is something I always try to remember when writing, though I, too, fail.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 28 November 2015 in British Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Theatre

 

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La Soiree

la soireeGobsmacked.

Many of you know I’m not big on variety shows, acrobatics or sight gags. Circus is all well and good, but I’d rather see a film usually. Well this is not much more than a circus, but it is so much more than a circus! La Soiree line up consummate professionals to impress and engage.

Take Captain Frodo, for instance. He’s billed as the son of a famous Norse magician, and brilliantly portrays a super nerdy and uber skinny buffoon. He doesn’t rest on his ability to pass through a tennis racket and a slightly smaller tennis racket, oh no! He plays the buffoon with the utmost professionalism, getting himself tangled up in a microphone cord, tripping over a stool and falling off the stage. It is this aspect of his routine, of course, that endears him so well to the audience, bringing a great round of applause when he returns in the second half. It is also why I was so taken with this show.

It’s just not about the amazing feats of acrobatics or the spectacle, no matter how impressive they are: it’s about the way they engage.

The English Gents perform some brilliant acrobatic work, but there would be nothing terribly interesting beyond the skill involved if they weren’t puffing a pipe or reading a newspaper while doing so.

And for those of you who usually like the circus, well you’re easily impressed, so there’s no need to bother with La Soiree, but if you do decide to come, be prepared to have the bar raised!

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 26 November 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Macbeth

macbethI fear I may be less impressed by this film than I should be.

The fact is, I think it’s very true to Shakespeare’s intentions. Had the muse of fire that we know as the cinema been invented during his lifetime, I expect this is very much how he would have imagined his play. A very Scottish Thane, rather than a slightly Gaelified English Lord, is met in battle, defeating King Duncan’s enemy in a bloodbath. He meets witches on the heath as it snows, and his wife is met in a rustic wooden cottage in a tiny village. When the king arrives, he stays in a tent. There is no hint here of English imperialism; Shakespeare’s English fable is as it should be: foreign.

In this aspect, the film distinguishes itself. It avoids the unfortunate assumptions of English and American producers which lead to a hybrid English/Scottish aesthetic, and presents The Scottish Play as if it were actually Scottish.

The performances also: spectacular! Fassbender is the quintessential Macbeth: astute, hirsute and when needed, a brute. He mixes genuine humanity with resolute barbarity. Marion Cottilard, too, is as conniving and “full of direst cruelty” as she ought to be, until her husband’s unerring barbarity tips her over the edge.

But still, I find myself craving a little more imagination. This is the Macbeth I read in high school and at university. I teach this Macbeth. It is the standard Macbeth. The Macbeth with factory fittings, or you might say, it is a Macbeth in original, mint condition. I don’t dislike it, but it’s hardly worth noticing.

At least with Geoffrey Wright’s film I thought it was disappointing. This is worse. Macbeth is protrayed absolutely perfectly, as is medieval Scotland, and I don’t care. I should care: Justin Kurzel, the film’s Australian director, should have given me a reason to care! I paid £14, an absurd sum, to be made to care, and yet, I don’t care. This is a perfect film for teaching Macbeth, unfortunately, and will probably be with us for many years to come as a result. I’m not unhappy about that. I just don’t care.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 25 November 2015 in British Film, Film, See Saw Films

 

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Burnt

This post contains minor spoilers. Not enough to ruin the film, but more than I would usually give, so proceed at your own risk!

burntBurnt is one of those great little films that really gets around your prediction instinct. The plot, in a way, is really quite predictable, but it disguises itself exceptionally well.

Essentially, the film is based on the formula for an action film. It utilises the late twentieth century chronotope of the gruff and superficially unpersonable hero, but casts him as a chef with a questionable history of drug use and alcoholism, determined to prove his value, in this instance, by attaining a third Michelin Star.

Bradley Cooper, of course is the perfect man for the job. Cooper embodies the masculine stereotype, but both his manner and his filmography allow him the leeway to delve into more unexpected waters, particularly as a sensitive and relatively accepting human being.

He is supported in this endeavour by much more nuanced casting. As a heroine, Helene (Sienna Miller) makes a shrewish entrance and, though following a similar trajectory to Shakespeare’s Kate, develops in a much more textured manner to matching Cooper’s Adam. Daniel Bruhl completes a love triangle, with his character Tony engaging with Adam’s obnoxious quest out of an unrequited love. His depiction of this character is exciting in being so understated. Neither his appearance, nor his portrayal of Tony rely on gay stereotypes, and it is refreshing to see such a subtle portrayal of a queer character, especially when the character’s orientation is a key element of the plot.

Burnt may not be a brilliant film, it may not boast spectacular dialogue or a unique plot arc, but it does surprise with some beautifully drawn characters and the perfect ending.

 
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Posted by on Monday, 9 November 2015 in American Film, Film, Weinstein Company

 

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Husbands & Sons

husbands and sonsSome days just come together, don’t they? I wasn’t thinking of doing anything terribly interesting today, but my housemate suggested trying for last minute tickets for The Winter’s Tale. I was going to say no thanks, but I struggle to say no to Shakespeare at the best of times, and I thought it was a good idea to get off my great lumbering arse. As she was queuing, though, she changed her mind and asked if I’d like to see Husbands & Sons instead. I’d not heard of the show, and knew nothing about it. So of course I said yes. And right glad I am that I did, too!

Husbands & Sons creates a deeply engrossing story by interweaving three of D.H.Lawrence’s plays. The Widowing of Mrs HolroydA Collier’s Friday Night, and The Daughter-in-Law sit splendidly side-by-side, woven together delicately by Ben Power. I’m not sure I’d have bothered to make the effort if my housemate hadn’t suggested it. Three plays simultaneously just sounds like asking for trouble! But the skillful manner in which these three have been brought together is quite remarkable.

The action shifts, often distractingly, between the three spaces that have been created, three collier’s houses in a northern English village, as it were. And while the characters hear each other, they interact little until the latter part of the play. Their stories, while separate, are far from independent, though. Power has carefully brought the themes of the plays together, so that the stories complement and enhance one another.

Bunny Christie’s design is remarkable, in that it appears, at first glance to be predictable. It reflects the Kitchen Sink style D.H.Lawrence’s scripts were ultimately categorised with, until the play begins. Projections cast an industrial shadow over domestic imagery, and the four-sided performance space of the Dorfman Theatre oozes atmospheres domestic and industrial, damp and cold, tense and cosy throughout the lengthy passage of the play’s action.

Lengthy though it may be, this production is far from a labour. We were lucky enough to find ourselves upstairs, at the rear of the auditorium high above the stage. I was able to sit back or forward, and even to stand when the mood took me. This position truly added to the experience, which was engaging enough as it was, thanks also to a brilliant cast that had benefited from impeccable direction by Marianne Elliott.

There are so many things to love about this play, but the highest praise I can offer is that it was one of those theatrical experiences where, walking outside afterwards feels like stepping into a duller, less real reality. This is the reason theatre remains so vital, so visceral, experiences like this. Even the glorious dusk light over the Thames, shining brilliantly on St. Paul’s, seemed dun in comparison to the vibrant humanity of the stories I’d just been through.

Perfect theatre. Simply perfect.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 7 November 2015 in British Theatre, National Theatre, Theatre

 

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Reading of The Ballad of Hobart Jones

Director, Hayward B. Morse, photo by Paddy Gormley

Director, Hayward B. Morse, photo by Paddy Gormley

Tonight, my play The Ballad of Hobart Jones was honoured with a reading at Actors and Writers London‘s regular meeting. Actors and Writers London is an organisation that helps actors build their careers while helping writers develop their scripts, and that’s certainly how I have experienced the organisation since I joined in 2014.

When I was contacted about this script, one of the first suggestions that was given to me was to remove the narrator. The feedback I’d had prior to this had been equally for and against narration, and I’d followed a more moderate piece of advice in developing the third draft, which had led me to connect the narrator to the story more closely by making her an elderly version of the play’s heroine. But in order to reduce the length of the play to meet the requirements of Actors and Writers London, I reluctantly produced a fourth draft with no narration. Though I lost some exquisite turns of phrase, I still think this improved the work. I was forced to rethink quite a few scenes and find ways of bringing action to the stage that had previously been merely described (something I always thought was cheating anyway). So the work began before the reading was even cast.

Keith Warren as Hobart Jones. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

Keith Warren as Hobart Jones. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

I was surprised, while working with Hayward Morse, the director assigned to my play, that he, having read only the fourth draft, sought some narration to clarify the settings and the passage of time. While most of the difficulties in this regard would be readily solved in a feature production by the change of a set or a mere lighting state or a sound effect, in the minimalist context of a rehearsed reading the narration had every reason to exist. So, small snippets of the original voice of the luminary were reinstated, for one night only, as it were, and I was very glad an audience got to hear them. There’s still a question in my mind as to whether or not they’re needed. Various members of the group gave me suggestions both for and against the narration, with more of them in favour of it, but I’m still favouring doing some work to exclude it altogether.

That audience was very receptive. Within a few seconds of the play commencing, I was relieved to hear some titters amongst the crowd. Within a minute, there’d been a chortle, and it wasn’t long before proper belly laughs flowed. This was a relief. I’ve written a drama and found out through skilful direction that it was actually a comedy, which is good; but to write a comedy and find out it’s a drama is no laughing matter, pardon the pun. The laughs came thick and fast through the first act, but slowed too much in the second, so there’s a little work to do there, too.

The comments from the meeting after the performance were all very positive. I was somewhat overwhelmed by how enthusiastic some of the members were, and took down their suggestions for draft five. The most useful of these, I think, were comments on the one female character. From the beginning, this character was always intended to be the real protagonist despite there being a superficial focus on the hero named in the title. The action still allows her to take a back seat, and remain something of a passive participant rather than the protagonist I always intended her to be.

Henry Lawson introduces Sydney to Miss Adelaide Harris. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

Henry Lawson introduces Sydney to Miss Adelaide Harris. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

Of course, there can be no greater praise than to hear an audience laugh at the moments that were actually intended to be funny, and aww at the moments that are intended to inspire an aww. In addition to the very thoughtful and helpful criticism I had from my peers at AWL, these almost involuntary reactions are extremely encouraging, and give me confidence in the value of what I’ve created.

I’m really very proud of how this script works on stage. It jumps along at a merry pace (as attested to by several members of AWL), and allows the characters to shine. There are only a few adjustments to make, most of which revolve around Ada, the would-be protagonist. So, I set to preparing a fifth rendition of my Ballad. And then all I need is a producer. Anyone interested?

 
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Posted by on Monday, 2 November 2015 in Actors and Writers London, Theatre

 

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