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Ripped

I have been impressed with quite a few performances so far this Fringe, but the most impressive skill an actor can possess is the ability to elicit a gut reaction to a scenario that is beyond the ken of most audients. And Alex Gwyther left me barely able to stand up and walk out of the theatre.

In Ripped, Gwyther portrays a male rape victim masking his trauma by taking action to fulfill a gender stereotype; a stereotype he struggles to define throughout. Gwyther also embodies the victim’s associates, and just keeping the plot clear is a challenge that he rises to with the deftest of hands.

On one level, I want to praise Gwyther’s technical prowess: he is skilled and professional in every way. But the technical skill he demonstrates, regardless of how worthy it is of praise, pales into insignificance against the creative choices he has made in developing the monologue.

This is a story that balances the need to energise and engage with an edifying glimpse into the morass of toxic masculinity. That is a remarkable achievement, and I cannot describe how impressed I am with Gwyther’s achievement.

At the end of this performance, I applauded with the rest of the audience, but I could barely move, and had to take a moment gathering my thoughts before I could leave. That is the mark of a stellar performance.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 14 August 2019 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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Vulvarine

Vulvarine, wowing audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe

There is a subtle difference, I think, between efforts to bring about gender equality by political action, and efforts to shift or reinforce gender equality as a paradigm and a goal. The former was needed in the last few centuries, but the latter will be needed much longer.

Fat Rascal Theatre’s Vulvarine, currently wowing audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is one of the most enjoyable examples of musical theatre to stand up to the challenge of building the gender equality paradigm.

The story centres on Bryony Buckle, a nerdy office worker with a crush on another nerdy office worker and a cough. After accepting a new medication from a misogynistic doctor, she is struck by lightning and becomes a superhero. You can guess what this hero’s name becomes…

The greatest strength of this production is how effortlessly it engages the audience, with slapstick humour and a light-hearted, whimsical air it screams along at a cracking pace, with barely enough time for the audience to draw a breath between guffaws. And the deeply important messages it delivers come with a depth or pathos rare for any musical, let alone such a comic one.

Performances are exceptional. There are five performers, and I lost count of characters at some point, but although Allie Munroe is spectacularly perfect in her depiction of Bryony Buckle, each one is a consummate professional worthy of the highest praise Edinburgh can offer.

My one objection is that I thought I was the only playwright to ever use High Wycombe in a play!

I don’t know if many misogynists would be persuaded by this work, but it reinforces messages of gender equality in a light hearted and positive way, building the culture of gender equality as paradigm, rather than movement.

But most importantly, this is musical theatre at its finest: engaging, witty and pointed.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 13 August 2019 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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Royal Vauxhall

A little more theatrical than cabaret, but a little more cabaret than theatre, Royal Vauxhall straddles the divide exceptionally well, and presented beautifully in the pub it was named after.

Telling the story of the night in 1988 when Princess Diana went to a gay bar in drag with Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett (no, I’d never heard of him either), Royal Vauxhall is named after the pub where it happened. Though the troupe


is touring the show, I was lucky enough to be in London while it was being performed at the very same Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which was rather a special moment.

Desmond O’Connor’s book is spot on for this kind of environment. Though it might be a little less interactive than most cabarets, it nonetheless allows for a real engagement with the audience that we rarely see in musical theatre. The music is loud and engaging, and there aren’t too many sappy moments to leave a pub audience bored.
And the material is just as well suited. The piece is truly hilarious and was well appreciated by the audience.

Sarah-Louise Young plays Diana, and she is charming and engaging throughout. Reuben R Kaye’s Freddie Mercury keeps the audience and the action on track, and is clearly a master of cabaret. And Stuart Saint is invariably relatable as Kenny Everett.

The show is set to tour the UK, but if they make it to Australia, I imagine there will be a receptive audience for them there too (wink, wink; nudge, nudge).

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 7 September 2017 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Outlaws to In-Laws

Having recently produced a show that attempted to draw a bow through LGBTIQ history, I am familiar with the difficulty of having to eschew particular bits of history to get a story across. Outlaws to In-Laws navigates this dilemma quite well, I think.

Spanning seven decades, Outlaws to In-Laws tells seven unrelated stories about gay men living their lives. The premise is simple: the changes in the way we live can’t really be broached by a single plot arc, so let’s have several plots!

And the result is remarkable. Each play digs deeply into the heart of sex or romance or both, providing a glimpse of the impact of the political sphere on the personal across seven decades of queer history.

For me, two stories really stood out, and the first was Mister Tuesday. Delivering a plate of cucumber sandwiches to his lover, who only comes on Tuesdays, a man attempts to deepen the relationship, and failing, turns to blackmail. Set in the 1960s, the ploy has a particular impact, and the performances of both Jack Bence and Elliot Balchin are compelling.

The second stand out was Reward, set in the 1970s. A young man perseveres in attempting to strike up a conversation with another at a bus stop, and a romance develops. Jack Bence is hilarious in this piece, and holds his composure remarkably. Michael Duke, likewise, is engaging and believeable, and the two do a brilliant job with Jonathan Kemp’s brilliantly composed script.

This is a timely production that neatly captures the heart of this moment in our history, this moment where we really care about our history because it seems to have brought us somewhere. As such, Outlaws to In-Laws is a quintessentially theatrical production that truly matters.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 5 September 2017 in British Theatre, King's Head Theatre, Theatre

 

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Rob Cawsey: Just Cruising

Desperately running out of time to take in everything the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has to offer, I stumbled late into Banshee’s to see Rob Cawsey. Apparently he’s a comedian.

A comedian he may be, but what I saw was a brilliant comic actor presenting slapstick comedy with a cohesive and engaging plot that elicited both laughter and a touch of empathy.

It’s a rare combination.

The story is his own: a big night out trying, increasingly desperately, to pick up. And throughout, there is this splendid balance between humour and despair. It is a great story presented brilliantly. Right up there with the best I’ve seen this Fringe.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 25 August 2017 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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Shitfaced Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

I‘m not entirely certain that the glorification of intoxication is a public good, but I don’t think it can be argued that it’s not good for a laugh.

The premise for this piece is beautiful in its simplicity: perform one of Shakespeare’s works with a lead actor completely sloshed. To maintain the premise, a couple of audients are provided with instruments for calling for another drink for the actor, and an audient in the splash zone is put on bucket duty.

Though it may not please the purists, my immediate sensation was that this manner of presentation is possibly even truer to the style of performance in Elizabethan London than the present-day Globe. It’s bawdy and the audience are involved and don’t mind calling out.

But that’s probably where the argument for this as an authentic Shakespearean experience ends. It’s a laugh, and as far as great performances go, there’s little more than some quality improvisation to praise.

The play is shortened to one hour, which is an improvement, but does necessitate a certain amount of assumed knowledge of Shakespeare’s work.

In all, this is a great idea that’s good for one laugh, but I’m not likely to bother a second time.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 23 August 2017 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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About a Goth

Life is all about transitions. Moving from one stage of life to the next, sometimes gracefully, sometimes stumbling, and sometimes holding on for your life.

About a Goth explores such a transition as a young man grapples with understanding himself.

Delivered as a monologue, the plot is revealed as a series of events that would frustrate the heck out of any gay goth teen: an unhealthy obsession with a straight mate and Starbucks’ lack of Gothic options are compounded by his family’s obstinate refusal to reject him when he comes out. Selfish buggers.

Clement Charles gives a stellar performance, full of energy and life throughout. It is beautifully written by Tom Wells, and explores this young person’s journey through a transition with empathy and humour and spirit.

So far, the best performance I’ve seen at the Fringe.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 17 August 2017 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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Cannonballl

Cannonball starts well.

I’m impressed by the dialogue. I’m impressed by the actors. I’m impressed that it’s genuinely naturalistic and the media being projected is atmospheric and well coordinated.

Slowly, though, it unravels. Maybe I missed a thread somewhere, a vital piece of information that I needed to follow the plot. It started with two mates talking about girls, then one of them ends up with a girlfriend who becomes a wife and has a baby… and he slowly descends into a kind of depression, until the play peters out with us wondering whether he’ll take his own life or not.

By the end it’s feels terribly melodramatic without enough plot to carry the emotion. Which is a shame, given the promise the beginning held.

The quality of the performances don’t really decline, nor does the quality of dialogue, which is why I think it might be me who missed something. If you’re reading this, and you’ve seen it (as opposed to if you’re in it, or maybe even then!), let me know what you thought.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 17 August 2017 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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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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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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Encounter

encounterIn 1945, one of Noël Coward’s great successes hit the big screen. Brief Encounter centred on the romance between a married man and a married woman, whose love is an impossible dream. Phil Willmot’s Encounter reimagines this story as a romance between Lawrence, a doctor who passes through Vauxhall Station each week, and Arthur, the station master. A chance encounter leads to a developing romance that is hindered by external pressures. However strong their connection, the barriers to their happiness in post war London seem insurmountable.

Both of the main characters are exquisitely developed and spring out from the stage through sparky, intelligent dialogue and magnificent performances from Adam Lilley as Lawrence and Alexander Huetson as Arthur. The supporting roles are somewhat more flat, with four additional characters played by two actors. These four just don’t have the depth of the central characters, and occasionally undermine the pathos of the whole, though they retain some comic value and drive the plot along.

One of the great achievements here is the way in which the tiny set transforms so readily to so many locations. That, and the sense of a filmic style that carries well in Above the Stag‘s tiny space under the overground.

Encounter, it is suggested, is the play Noël Coward wanted to write, but couldn’t: I think it presumptuous to suggest so. Coward never saw his private life, especially his sexuality, as a suitable topic for public conversation. But Willmot’s play, nonetheless, is a perfectly executed reimagining of Brief Encounter. It acknowledges the past and celebrates the present in a subtle but powerful way.

This is a deeply moving piece of theatre, with characters who quickly warm your heart and hold it enthralled until its chilling conclusion.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 14 October 2015 in Above the Stag, British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Saffron Hill

saffron hillSetting a fictional story in a real history can be a challenge. In doing that myself, I’ve built up intricate scenarios only to realise I’ve overlooked a minor historical fact that makes a big difference to the plot. In Saffron Hill, Penny Culliford triples the challenge for herself, and still delivers a script that engages and elicits the necessary empathy for the characters.

Beginning with the migration of the Italian Musetti family to London in 1872, the play marks the journey of the family in their new country over three different periods in the coming century. Observing the struggles of the migrants in the 1870s, the generation that faced the heartache of being an Italian Briton during the Second World War, and those who continued to hold an Italian identity almost a hundred years after their ancestors migrated, the play takes a broad look at the family’s fortunes.

With the same cast delivering a range of roles over the three periods, a strong bond develops and it is easy to remain engaged with the family across what is essentially three stories. The use of radio news broadcasts to highlight the passing of time creates a great atmosphere and marks the passage of time leading into the next stage of the story.

In all, I found the play engaging and insightful, and I admire the skill involved in bringing the story to life.

 

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 10 October 2015 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Trainspotting

trainspottingI wasn’t prepared for an immersive experience when I went to see In Your Face Theatre‘s production of Trainspotting, and when I realised there was no auditorium, I will admit to a little hesitation. The experience, however, was just as this incredibly grimy story needed it to be, and was only enhanced by not knowing where the performers were off to next.

The venue could not have been more appropriate. This former Masonic Lodge occasionally flashed up glimpses of the names of its members or phrases such as ‘trust in the lord’ all in a gold print that jarred eerily with Irvine Welsh’s confronting story of the lives of urban junkies.

Though I’ve not been able to find the names of the performers anywhere, they were all very impressive (and this is a very large cast). Rents, Sickboy and Tommy were at once pathetic and yet able to command my sympathy. And a chorus, accompanied by a very appropriate soundtrack from the last twenty years was not a mere addendum to the action, but was critically important in establishing the atmosphere and moving the audience to the appropriate part of the space (or distracting us from the set change).

While the script seemed to skim too quickly over some moments of character development, and though I felt the use of narration didn’t really suit this style of performance, in all, I was surprised at how closely this production elicited the same emotions in me as the novel and film did so long ago.

This is a story that has neither aged nor lost its edge, and remains as gritty as it was when it first saw the light of day in 1993.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 3 August 2014 in British Theatre, In Your Face Theatre, Theatre

 

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Bunbury is Dead

Disappointed twice in a week by productions that stem from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest? I never thought it would be possible.

Bunbury is Dead is not really about the friend Algernon Moncrief makes up as an excuse for not performing his social duties in Wilde’s play, though the character does share much of Algernon’s DNA.

As the plot unravels, it is clear that Christopher Cutting’s script has a lot to offer. The concept is unique, new and engaging. Bunbury, a character who had to be created out of source material from Wilde’s plays, is every bit as strong as Wilde’s Algernon, and his butler is an equally fine creation. But just about all of the dialogue is borrowed from Wilde, and this I don’t understand.

The play is strong, and could be set in the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries perfectly well. The plot is relatable and the characters recognisable. Wilde’s words simply have nothing to offer here, and they become a distraction. As an inspiration for a lead, even Bunbury is perfect, but as far as I can tell, Cutting really doesn’t need Wilde’s help. The story would be more interesting without being interrupted by Wilde’s words.

It is unfortunate that this didn’t live up to its possibilities.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 3 August 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Importance of Being Earnest

the importance of being earnestI was pleased to find £10 tickets for The Importance of Being Earnest at the Harold Pinter Theatre, and I wasn’t even worried about the likelihood of finding a pillar in my view, but it wasn’t that far in that I felt I wanted at least £5 of my £10 back (and the £5 I was happy for them to keep was for the charming set).

This is not so much a poor production as it is a poorly conceived one. Oscar Wilde’s amazingly witty play is couched in a modern super-plot that turns the performance into a final rehearsal for a regional repertory society’s production.

In itself, it does bring some additional humour in the form of extra quips and some additional wit, but it adds nothing of value to Wilde’s play or its message, and I would argue that in so doing, it undermines the quality of Wilde’s work.

I’m no purist. I do like playing with the great works, and appreciate a novel setting or treatment for something as familiar as this, but the problem here lies in how far Wilde stretches our willingness to suspend our disbelief. Lady Bracknell is patently absurd, and yet when performed well, she is recognisable from life and is the engine for the play’s theme. Turning Lady Bracknell into an actor performing Lady Bracknell completely undermines her integrity, and entirely flattens Wilde’s play.

If there was a point being made by the extraneous setting, it may have worked, but it adds nothing worthwhile, and ought to have been eschewed.

The best production I have seen remains Rhys Holden’s Canberra production with Free Rain Theatre in the early noughties, which retained Wilde’s words but provided an entirely modern setting, enlivening the play brilliantly.

This production doesn’t even hold a candle to it. Particularly disappointing.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 2 August 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Julius Caesar

julius caesarWhen I was a backpacker in London in 1995 I donated £10 for a brick for the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It took me 19 years, and even after arriving in London I still found circumstances conspiring against me, but I have finally been to a show in the magnificent reconstruction.

I can’t comment too intelligently on the show. Partly because I had no familiarity with Julius Caesar before today, but mostly because of the amazing novelty of being a groundling in Shakespeare’s Globe. I think I would have to see quite a few shows before I could concentrate on the show and not the venue, and even then the number of tourists who are there for the novelty would still be a distraction.

For the unaware, Shakespeare’s Globe is a relatively accurate reconstruction of the Globe Theatre that stood on the South Bank of the Thames when Shakespeare’s work was at its peak. It stands very close to the position of the original, and was constructed using sixteenth century building techniques as much as possible (though it does have the odd modern feature for practicality’s sake like steel drainpipes, safety equipment and a few halogen lights). Like Shakespeare’s Globe it has three balcony levels, where patrons pay according to the view of the stage, and a pit directly in front of the stage where common folk like me can stand and get amongst it all as ‘groundlings’ for a mere £5. It is an outdoor venue, with roofing over the stage and the upper balconies, but none over the pit. And yes, it did rain, which was perfect.

I really would not have enjoyed my day quite as much had I paid for a seat; there are just too many advantages in being a groundling. One of the techniques used to draw the audience’s attention in this context where the house lights don’t turn off on cue and there are no lights for the stage or any curtain to speak of, is for the action to burst into the pit amongst the groundlings, which is exactly how Julius Caesar opens. The performers just burst in pushing a way through the crowd and get everyone focused on the action. This worked extremely well, and really created an atmosphere appropriate to Ancient Rome, which you would be completely outside of if you were sitting.

The main inconvenience in being a groundling is the sky above. It belongs to London, and therefore leaks. Most of the time the leaks are small, but I happened to come on a day when the heavens ope’d and spewed forth their watery bounty. I had secured a spot next to the stage, where I had some respite. I had also forked out for a garbage bag with a hood, which are sold at the door, and offer enough protection to allow you to enjoy the performance, which of course carries on regardless (although the heavens did seem to open and close at the right times to change the meaning of quite a few lines, much to everyone’s enjoyment (including the wet ones)).

2014-07-25 London 090aI hope you’re starting to get an idea of why I wasn’t paying as much attention as I normally do to what is going on on stage.

The performance was impeccable, I think. I may have been overwhelmed by the novelty of the theatre, but I certainly enjoyed the murder of Caesar, and Marc Antony’s speech was remarkable. Likewise, the friendship of Brutus and Cassius was palpable in this wooden O (sorry, couldn’t resist).

I only regret waiting so long to come see something here. I will be back again and again until I don’t notice the novelty of the space and the tourists annoy me because I’m no longer one of them.

 

 
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Posted by on Friday, 25 July 2014 in British Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe, Theatre

 

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Dracula

draculaDracula is one of those brilliant stories that just never gets old. Its universal themes seem to always thrive in the present, presenting new insight into humanity. And different wonderful people just keep imagining brilliant new ways to bring this story to life. The one I saw tonight is the work of Action to the Word, and they certainly made an impression.

Perhaps it was just Zoe Koperski’s steampunk design that made this such a memorable production. Or maybe it was the in-your-face indie rock the whole cast blasted out into the auditorium. Either way, it was an aggressive and courageous take on Bram Stoker’s gothic horror novel, and I loved it.

Despite a few prop hiccups (and did I possibly detect a line drop?), the performers were genuinely brilliant. Jonno Davies‘ Count Dracula struck just the right balance between inciting a come hither and a piss off, while Henry Bauckham’s Jonathan Harker was at once noble and vulnerable. But it was the women who genuinely shone. Olivia Bromley, Rachel Bright and Claire Petzal played Mina Murray, Lucy Westenra and Jack (here Johanna) Seward respectively and all three deserved the ovation one enthusiastic member of the audience in front of me tried to give them for their remarkable performances.

However highly polished and professional these performers were, there was one thing they couldn’t compensate for, and that was a lack of focus on character and plot. In the effort to create a great spectacle (and a great spectacle it was), Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ adaptation didn’t allow enough depth for the characters to be fully engaged, and at the end no matter how much I enjoyed the spectacle, I certainly didn’t feel I’d encountered a story.

And as a rendition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Well, you would do well to have another read before you go to ensure you have the plot clear. I was stretching my memory once or twice trying to remember how the plot went, and I’m a fan.

Nonetheless, this really is a great show, even if just for the sake of enjoying the cast’s amazing music and the brilliant steampunk design, and it deserves a great deal of attention in Edinburgh.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 24 July 2014 in British Theatre, Pleasance Theatre, Theatre

 

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Let the Right One In

Let The Right One In reviewThere is so much to love about Let the Right One In that I really don’t know where to start. Jaunty dialogue that belies its heavier themes; deep, rich characterisation that lets you into its world without making it too easy; and a challenging plot unafraid to embrace the darkness of the human spirit combine to make a show that is as engaging and heart-warming as it is confronting and horrifying.

Thinking about it, the plot could have emerged from the cheesiest of Hollywood blockbusters. But it is in fact Swedish in origin, and characteristically so, given its classy combination of high- and low-brow imagery.

The story is centred on Oskar and Eli, played respectively by Martin Quinn and Rebecca Benson. The pair form an uneasy friendship that develops into something much more. As Oskar faces the tormenting of his school bullies, Eli faces an uncertain future as a vampire who hides in the forest with her carer who undertakes the odd murder from time to time to provide her with sustenance.

It’s at this point that I would have flicked the page if I was reading this synopsis looking for a show to see. Luckily, I refrained from reading too much and just booked the bargain ticket I’d seen advertised on Facey. As I’ve found in the past, the less I knew about the play, the better the result.

There is an understated intensity to this play. It sits lightly on the stage but the heaviness of its themes rear their heads constantly through the music that filmically punctuates the action, and in the occasional gory scene (some of which I think would even make Shakespeare blush).

The set is almost as much a star as the great performers. Okay, so I have a thing for birch trees, and the set has them, so I like the set. But no, I mean I love the set! There is such a lightness in the way the trunks dominate the space, and the indoor scenes, indicated with nothing more than a piece of furniture, are enhanced by the air the trees imply. I’d probably have liked it almost as much if they had used something else, but birch were definitely the right choice.

I really couldn’t have picked a better play had I tried, and I’m so glad I got the chance to see this. Brilliance.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 in British Theatre, National Theatre of Scotland, Theatre

 

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Potted Sherlock

potted sherlockSince Shakespeare’s Compleat Works were abridged by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, similar treatment has been given to a range of original sources, with mixed results. Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner have apparently been pottering about with Harry Potter in this antipode while I’ve been in the other one, and have now turned their attention to one of my favourite series, Sherlock Holmes.

When it comes to the still-novel-ish notion of condensing a bunch of great works into an hour’s romp, character is not king. If you wanted to engage with Conan-Doyle’s characters at all, you’d be sorely disappointed as this is really all about Dan and Jeff (and the girl who doesn’t seem to be credited anywhere). Similarly if you wanted to see any of the stories, you’d leave just as ignorant (they speak of them but don’t really get around to showing them). But for a little romp, it’ll do just nicely. These three brilliant performers maintain a giddy energy, keeping the laughs rolling both within the script and without it.

I think the concept’s days are numbered. Really, nothing quite measures up to the genius of the Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), and ultimately these are forumlaic productions. How many times can we really take a series or theme and abridge them into a farce before it becomes de rigeur? Well, I guess Hollywood, Broadway and the West End have been doing little more than that for the last couple of decades, but it hardly makes for interesting theatre after it’s been done a few times.

Nonetheless, for the time being, this is a great formula and the raconteurs can probably squeeze a few more good ones out before the Webberesque machine drains it of life and starts selling tickets for over £100. See these guys before they transfer!

 

 
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Posted by on Friday, 18 July 2014 in British Theatre, Pleasance Theatre, Theatre

 

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