Saturday, 19 December 2009

Harry Lloyd interview + more

This month's Gay Times features an interview with Harry Lloyd about the upcoming West End play The Little Dog Laughed at the Garrick Theatre: (click on the pics for full scans)

+ Interview with Tom Goodman-Hill in the Angel Magazine. (thanks spiffyjellybean for the heads-up)
+ Interview with Julian Rhind-Tutt in the Evening Standard.
+ How We Met: Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller.
+ Both and Momentary Bursts of Enthusiam have scans of last weekend's Sunday Times special about British theatre, featuring (among other favourites of this blog) John Simm.
+ On top of the Hampstead Theatre having their Anton Chekov anniversary celebrations BBC Radio (through Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7) join in the party with a series of radio plays, essays and special programmes about the Russian writer. Read the press release. Ben Whishaw and Simon Russell Beale are to take part.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Review: The Misanthrope, Comedy Theatre, 14 Dec 09

First a head-up: I do like Keira Knightley. I think in the hands of good directors she can give very good performances. So unlike 90% of the blogosphere I went to the theatre with a positive opinion of her and willing to cut the girl some slack.

We saw a very preview-ish preview of The Misanthrope. They were still trying things out with the lightning and the actors still seemed unsure of their choices about the characters. I can predict that the play will get better and better along the run. Knightley seemed like the new girl, yes, not in terms of her ability but in the sense that it was clear she was the one with the least experience onstage. That should also fix itself within the next weeks of playing.

This particular version of Moliere's play (for many his masterpiece & I have to admit my personal favourite as well) is Martin Crimp's adaptation from 1995, with the necessary tinkering to adapt it to 2009 of course.

It's all a bit childish, really and I must admit I was amused by the pettiness of some of the play's attacks on out Tabloid Society; Crimp delivers some very funny turns of phrase and the verse works perfectly. There's an adolescent delight in his own cleverness that I enjoy, even if it's not proper memorable theatre. Delight, yes, there's a lot of that, and a lot of fun but I think the play loses gravitas and importance through this version and it's hard to fully engage with a story where the characters doesn't seem to have so much at stake in the first place. It doesn't seem like Alceste is a honest hero whose desire for truth at any cost might get him into trouble. You never feel that his convictions are that important to him, just that he lives to annoy and oppose, just because it amuses him. That makes his infatuation with Jennifer - who seems to embody all he detests but not really - lose a lot of his punch.

It's a solid cast but some of the acting choices I wasn't so keen on. In part it might be the writing but Damian Lewis' Alceste is not the champion of honesty we were waiting for. He is childish and rude, not straightforward, and Lewis plays him in a way that's easy to caricaturize him. He is not very sympathetic, specially when he turns jealous boyfriend to Jennifer. We see him as shallow from the beginning so his fall from grace doesn't affect us as it should. Lewis is a very good actor, and very funny, and he could make an extraordinary Alceste - see him in Friends and Crocodiles - if he chose to play him with some more weight to his philosophy. And I could have done with less histrionics.

On the other hand Keira Knightley is not as good an actor as Lewis and yet her choices were, in my opinion, smarter. Through Knightley we see Jennifer as someone that's more like Alceste than not and she has the intelligence to highlight this, giving us reasons why he fell in love with her in the first time. Jennifer is smart, sharp, and sees things as they are, and it's a very conscious choice for her to follow the rules of the game. There's hypocrisy to her, but Knightley makes sure that the audience understands it's a kind of hypocrisy radically different to that of people around her and Alceste. There's a cruel streak to her that's quite ugly but she charms her way out of it. Alceste's demands on her are absurd and many a time the audience finds themselves siding with Jennifer.

Thea Sharrock surrounds her two leads with a strong supporting cast. It's wonderful to see Tara Fitzgerald on stage again, after her impressive performance in the Donmar's A Doll's House; here she plays Marcia, Jennifer's old acting teacher, and her performance is positively larger-than-life. Even if it's no acting challenge, Fitzgerald adds no little technique and charm to her part.

Of all people on stage that night Dominic Rowan was the one to make most of an impression on me and my theatre-going companion, despite his limited stage-time. He seemed most at easy with the verse and gave a calm, seemingly effortless performance. I look forward to seeing more of him in the future. Kelly Price offers a great performance as tabloid journalist and professional traitor Ellen, and seems - with Dominic Rowan - like the most relaxed of them all onstage. The supporting cast is all very efficent but still struggling to really shine, unpolished. It must be hard handling with characters that are more caricatures than actual people.

I loved the set, huge and cold, and some of the direction and design was very clever - specially the ending, with a very adequate mood of a zombie movie. It was less of an "event" that journalists might want to see in it, indeed it was proper theatre, even if some of its elements weren't totally satisfying for me.

There's is something just obvious enough about casting Keira Knightley in a play that deals with and ridicules our obssession with celebrities and shallow fame. The play's delight with its own cleverness steps over the line of being too much but never crosses it, never goes into Rupert Goold Territory of Obvious. So it's still good fun.

Martin Crimp writes about this revival.

The Guardian.
The Times.
The Independent.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Casting News (We Love Those)

+ The news have been broken a week ago or so but finally it's confirmed. John Simm will play Hamlet in the Sheffield Crucible's production of Shakespeare's play. It's their first Shakespeare too. Directing will be Paul Miller, which is great news, cause he did a great job with Elling and a flawless job with the difficult The Enchantment at the National. He is unintrusive and actors-focused and low key and if you ask me that's exactly what Hamlet needs. Good luck to everyone and see you in Sheffield in the autumn.

+ In other Sheffield Crucible news, Lucy Cohu will join the cast of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, starring Anthony Sher. Cohu is arguably my favourite actress of the stage 2009 and the true revelation of the season so it's good to see her going on to more theatre, after an absence of years before Speaking in Tongues. Artistic chief Daniel Evans will direct An Enemy of the People and we love Mr.Evans big time. Big time.

+ Now some London news. The upcoming Donmar production of Mark Haddon's Polar Bears will star Richard Coyle and Jodhi May. I'm still suspicious about Haddon's writing skills (never bought the hype over The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) but I liked Richard Coyle a lot in Pinter's The Lover/The Collection at the Comedy last year. And Jodhi May. Aw, Jodhi May, she is wonderful. It will be quite a thrill to see her in theatre, after her luminous presence in Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching and the BBC's rather uneven mini-series adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma.

+ Earlier this week it was announced that Romola Garai would be returning to the stage for Filter's production of Chekov's Three Sisters at the Lyric Hammersmith. Now, this is an example of absolutely PERFECT casting news. First, Filter already amazed me with their Twelfth Night at the Tricycle last season. And it's Chekov! So Three Sisters is not my favourite Chekov but still it beats almost any other night out, and I normally like Christopher Hampton's versions. Plus Romola Garai. I remember seeing her many years ago playing Lucia Beckett in Michael Hastings' Calico and the impression she left was enduring indeed.

+ Finally a bad news/good news thing. The much expected (at least by me) production of Ibsen's Ghosts at the Duchess Theatre, starring Lesley Sharp and Ian Glen (and directed by Glen), will not have Tom Brooke as Oswald as it did when it was presented in a rehearsed reading at the Young Vic. Brooke was a great Oswald and it's a pity that he can't reprise that role. The good news is that the part of Oswald now goes to Harry Treadaway, who was most impressive in Mark Ravenhill's Over There and I confess to being a big fan. So it almost makes up for the absence of Brooke.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Radio picks for the next days

Interesting actors and writing lined up for these next days on the Afternoon/Friday/Saturday Play on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 3. Radio dramas are the light of my life, I tell you. Pity that BBC only makes these available for people in the UK. I remember being very frustrated with this when I still lived in Spain.

The Contingency Plan by Steve Waters. (Sunday 13th Dec, 20:00 Radio 3)

A powerful new version of the play originally staged at The Bush Theatre in London, addressing the subject of climate change. As Britain faces unprecedented and catastrophic floods, government and scientists argue over what action to take. A young glaciologist arrives in Whitehall determined to convince the powers that be of the importance of immediate action. But he is also bent on avenging his father, a scientist whose views were discredited a generation ago.

Will Paxton ...... Joseph Kloska
Sarika Chatterjee ...... Vineeta Rishi
Robin Paxton ...... Robin Soans
Jenny Paxton ...... Susan Brown
Christopher Casson ...... David Bark-Jones
Tessa Fortnum ...... Stella Gonet
Colin Jenks ...... Michael Elwyn

Producer/Director: Peter Leslie Wild.

Getting to Four Degress by Sarah Woods. (Thursday 10th Dec, 14:15, Radio 4)

What if we can't limit global warming to two degrees? What if it reaches four degrees - or more? Three real-life climate change experts spin one average family into the future, to look at life on a warmer planet.

With Professor Kevin Anderson, Mark Lynas and Dr Emma Tompkins.

Ian ...... Don Gilet
Sue ...... Kate Ashfield
Chloe ...... Amber Beattie
Jack ...... Ryan Watson
Grandad Bill ...... Bruce Alexander
Louisa ...... Melissa Advani
Narrator ...... Emerald O'Hanrahan

Directed by Jonquil Panting.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent by Deborah Davis. (Wednesday 16th Dec, 14:15, Radio 4)

When Dina and Jake rush their baby daughter to hospital, little do they realise that it is the beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare from which it seems there is no escape.

Dina ...... Maxine Peake
Jake ...... Dan Stevens

With Kate Layden, David Hargreaves, Melissa Advani, Joseph Cohen-Cole, Tessa Nicholson, Rhys Jennings, Piers Wehner and Nigel Pilkington.

Directed by Tracey Neale.

The Middle by Amelia Bullmore. (Saturday 12th Dec, 14:30, Radio 4)

Clare is the golden middle sister in a family headed by a formidable matriarch, Luca. Clare meets and quickly marries Martin, who falls just as much in love with her fun, sparky family. But Martin makes a mistake and sets in train a series of events which brings the family to its knees.

Clare ...... Emma Cunniffe
Martin ...... Ben Miles
Nicky ...... Anna Madeley
Justine ...... Eve Matheson
Luca ...... Paola Dionisotti
Karl ...... Nigel Pilkington
Owen ...... Baxter Willis
Mick ...... John Biggins
Ed ...... Piers Wehner
Donna ...... Melissa Advani

Directed by Mary Peate.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Cock, Royal Court, 4 Dic 2009

The most played-with title of the theatre season, Mike Bartlett's Cock had, by the time I saw it (after three failed attempts & much queueing), a bit of a reputation. And yes, jokes still have to be made.

And it had a bit of a reputation rightly so - this is one of the most exciting new plays of the year.

Last year Mike Bartlett turned in a great monologue for the Bush Theatre's Broken Space Season, He Said... played by the wonderful Tom Brooke. It was a significant quality leap from his earlier plays (My Child, Artefacts...) and signalled a new direction for his work. Cock sees that promise fulfilled.

The story is apparently simple: John has a boyfriend but falls in love with a girl. He goes back to his boyfriend but still has feelings for the woman. He wants them both. He can't decide. That indecision will cost him his happiness. Or not.

Although Cock is a sharp examination of sexual orientation, its fluidity and our society's stubborn wish to box and categorize it, it's not the only theme explored in these 80 minutes. These characters are not examples, they are living, breathing people, wonderfully particular, gorgeous drawn by Bartlett; the text is full of poetry and details (the teddy bears discussion).

And it is very funny as well.

This production is exemplarily sparse - but that's a writer's choice rather than a directors, on the playtext Bartlett clearly indicates no set, no props, no warbrode, no mime. Unconventional writing needs to be staged unconventionally and this is the perfect example of a play where writing and production are perfectly in synch. So many theatres should take James McDonald's example in this.

A hard, white lighting job means the audience can see everything, all the other members of the audience - you see the other's face and wonder at their reactions to Mike Bartlett's timely stab at identity politics.

For me the play reaches its peak when it plunges into the dark waters of long-term relationships and their misery. John and M are so finaly observed (& acted) that it actually hurts to look at them, be witness of their games of tenderness and cruelty. That's why, very cleverly structured, the scenes between John and the woman come in as a relief, gentle and poetic, fleeting and wondruous. The comparsion between an old relationship and one that is just starting, with all its hope and self-delusion.

I have to admit that, for me, the play loses a bit of its punch as it becomes a dinner date farce (father of the boyfriend included) the cast and the ordinary tragedy of the unresolved ending makes up for it. A shame, because the first half is just such a perfect piece of writing.
"Some people might think you were scrawny but I think you're like a picture drawn with a pencil. I like it. You haven't been coloured in, you're all


Photograph: Tristram Kenton

And then there's the cast. Funnily enough I had just come out of a screening of Jane Campion's film, Bright Star before going to the Royal Court, so I had fresh in my mind the possibility of Ben Whishaw being quite terrible (Bright Star is a stale, mediocre affair). But I had also seen him in theatre twice before so I wasn't anxious. Whishaw is indeed brilliant in the lead role. He gives the character a nervous energy that makes the audience sympathize a lot; John is a tricky part, weak and indecisive and capable of knowingly hurting the people who love him and it's thanks to Whishaw that he doesn't come off as entirely appalling. He is not charming but he is just likeable enough. The scene where he has sex with the woman for the first time (great, great writing) is particularly striking, the delicacy with which Whishaw plays John in it, his fear and exciment.

Katherine Parkinson on the other hand is matter-of-factly and wonderful. It is crucial for the audience to buy John's enchanment with this woman. Mainly known for her comedy roles (specially in the cult hit The IT Crowd, which I confess to adoring as well) Parkinson proves just how well she can do in drama. Still funny (the script is very funny in itself) she treads a fragile ground between instinctive and too-much, she charms her way without effort, into John's heart and bed.

In a supporting role Paul Jesson (after being part of the wonderful Bridge Project at the Old Vic last summer) does a good job of a difficult character: M's father loves his son so he will go to lengths to help him win John back. He comes across as patronizing, forceful and sometimes appalling but the acting never lets you lose sight of why he does this.

But of course it's Andrew Scott as John's boyfriend who makes the evening truly memorable. And I say "of course" because by now I'm not shy of saying that I believe Andrew Scott is the most-gifted actor of the British stage right now. He's in a league of his own. The confidence with which he handles the role of M is a sight in itself. Over-the-top and bullying Scott lends M his natural charm so that the audience can't condemn him wholly. You are always aware of how afraid of losing John he is. How unsatisfied he is. How insecure. In a lesser actor's hands M would be insufferable, but Scott paints a a very human, pathetic portrait of a man too clever to not notice the cracks in his relationship. The staging helps him as well - this is how Andrew Scott should be experienced (because he is, himself, his skills, a theatrical experience), up close, on a bare stage, in the round.

Yes, yes, a wonderful Cock (no, the jokes will never die). This is why new writing is so important, plays like this one. This is what Upstairs does so well. Like Webcowgirl said in her wonderful review, plays like Cock are the reason why we go to the theatre week after week.

The Guardian.
The Telegraph.
The Independent.
West End Whingers.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

news, press, casting news.

The Bush Theatre launches Bush Green, a new play-sharing site.

+ The Guardian: People of Are Making British Theatre Happen. Quotes from actors, directors and writers about the good health of the British theatre right now. Nice to see the work of people like Josie Rourke and Ian Rickson noticed like this. I would be more inclined to agree with the celebrations of a new British renaissance if new writing was actually into making something new, but there have been few braves ones in the last two years.

+ On the other hand, and in The Guardian as well, Michael Billington argues that British theatre has cause for concerns as well as celebrations. He raises a valid point about neglecting the classics and shying away from new work in musicals.

+ Bush Green goes live. The Bush Theatre's new play-sharing website could, on paper, change the rules of the game in the relationship between writers and theatres. At the very least it should make the process of submitting a play to the Bush easier and swifter (but do we really want that?). I'll try it with my new play (when it's finished) and see what happens.

+ Anne-Marie Duff interview at the Manchester Evening. As dissapointed as Enid (despite Joe Millson's blink-and-you-miss-it presence) and Gracie! were the latest installement of Women We Loved at BBC4, Margot, pretty much made up for it. Not just because of the quality of the script or the acting but because, unlike the other two dramas, it was shot with some originality and sensitivity by Otto Bathurst (who had already impressed us with Criminal Justice).

+ Speaking of telly, Anton Lesser will play a role in BBC's upcoming Five Daughters, written by Stephen Butchard and starring Ian Hart and Sarah Lancashire.

+ A Jubilee for Anton Chekov. The Hampstead Theatre celebrates Chekov, and it is quite exciting too: "From 18 – 23 January 2010, Michael Pennington, one of Britain’s finest actors, and leading Chekhov specialist Rosamund Bartlett will host a series of shows dedicated to the work of this fascinating writer. The event has been organised to raise money to restore the White Dacha – the house in Yalta where Chekhov wrote Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, which has now lost its state funding and is in serious disrepair."

+ The Shakespeare's Globe 2010 season of "Kings & Rogues" sounds interesting, despite how dissapointing Howard Brenton's latest efforts are I'm quite pumped to expect great things of his Anne Boylen.

+ The National Theatre Wales launches its (very exciting) first season in this video.

+ Nick Ward is appointed first writer in residence of the Cock Tavern. We love Nick Ward. He wrote "The Present". We love him dearly. Good news.

+ Carl Barat will debut on the London stage at the Riverside Studios' revival of Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love", also starring Sadie Frost. This makes our lives so much more surrealistic than they were. Not that we are not big Libertines fans but...

+ The best piece of casting news lately (except for maybe Pip Carter doing "The White Guard" at the National, but let's leave my theatrical crush on Carter aside for now) involves the Bush Theatre's production "The Whiskey Taster" in January: David Haigh, Rafe Spall and Hattie Morahan. We, for one, will never ever get enough of Miss Morahan in theatre. And now that Andrea Riseborough is leaving us for the US, she is our great girl hope.

+ A bit two weeks ago but this might be my new favourite interview piece in the world. Lucy Cohu and Anna Maxwell Martin talking about what good friends they are. I should probably add a Lucy Cohu tag to my labels now. My love and admiration for her grows and grows with every performance I see of "Speaking in Tongues".

+ Really nice production photos of Cock at the Royal Court, including our favourite, Andrew Scott.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Life is a Dream, Donmar Warehouse, 27 Nov 2009

Unlike other fellow Spaniards in the audience for last Friday's performance, I wasn't particularly protective of Calderón de la Barca's masterpiece. Sure, like all Spanish people, I had to study it at school, and even during my time with the college school theatre we had a shot or two at Segismundo's inmortal soliloquy. But I was not worried or bothered about what kind of faithfulness Helen Edmunson could show in her translation.

It is a very good translation, too. The actors, I can guess less aware then some in the audience as to who or what was De la Barca, chose to deliver Edmunson's rich and gorgeous dialogue as if they were doing Shakespeare. That proved to be the right choice as well. Like most Shakespeare, Life is a Dream is at times brilliant, absurd, shamelessly uninterested in plot and surprisingly strange. De la Barca's play is very charged, philosophically, and that's one of the reasons of its endurance. His characters are sometimes too thinly-written and the narrative arch is uneven, making for a second half that is much weaker than the first.

With all the inherent flaws of the play, this is a production that makes good use of its virtues and it is also very Donmar-ish, if such thing exists. Sometimes I think the Donmar is overhyped but then it always delivers - at least the Donmar Warehouse does (let us forget the horrendous Donmar West End production of Hamlet, which still brings on nightmares in my house). This one doesn't fly as high as Dimetos but Jonathan Munby's Life is a Dream is handsome, engaging and thoroughly entertaining.

As a fan of minimal set designs I was happy to be met by Angela Davies' dark and damp stage, its bareness in perfect synch with the play's metaphorical nature. The live music by Ansuman Biswas added perfect effect as well. When it comes to production values no one can argue that the Donmar always gets it right (unless we are talking about Hamlet *shivers*) and this is no exception. Once more, at times, I thought I was witnessing some RSC's version of Shakespeare, but with a lot more charm.

As for the acting, Dominic West stroke the perfect balance between princely pride and a kind of rude, savage energy. He was suprisingly funny too. The transformation in the character in the second half and his hurried decisions in the climax didn't ring quite true but that's a problem of the writing rather than Mr.West's. Other than that he was up to the challenge and turned out a really commanding presence on stage. I had always imagined Segismundo to be a lot more fragile but Dominic West brought a caged-animal quality to his acting that, although not my idea of the character, convinced me completely.

The rest of the cast was solid and brilliant. Glad to see Kate Fleetwood on stage again, after how much we liked her in Rupert Goold's Macbeth. She is so fierce, it's a joy to see her act. Great Lloyd Hutchinson as well, getting on another great Donmar production after impressing us with his Antonio in the West End's Twelfth Night. Perhaps the greatest surprise of the evening was Rupert Evans, who hadn't impressed us in film or tv ever and whom we missed at the Bush's Broken Space Season last year; he was particularly flawless, hilarious and grabbing the verse and making it his own to the very last syllable. That should teach us not to judge just from what we see on the telly...

Bottom line: high value entertaiment, worth every penny of its (decently priced) ticket. Helen Edmunson turned in a lively translation & she even did quite alright when approaching what's arguably the best-known and loved monologue in the history of Spanish theatre:
Oh wretched me! Unhappy me!
Dear Lord in Heaven, tell me please,
what harm does my existence mean
that I should be so cruelly used
as this? That I was born I do
confess, and being born is Man's
most henious crime, deserving
of severest judgement, yet and yet
I cannot grasp nor comprehend
what further crime I did commit
that I should be condemned
to such extremes of punishment.
For are not all men born, as I?

The Guardian.
The Independent.
The Stage.
The Telegraph.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Pains of Youth, National Theatre, 11 Nov 2009

It says everything about my take on Pains of Youth that the real highlight of the night was seeing Gillian Anderson on my route to the toilet during the interval. And I don't like Gillian Anderson. Not one bit.

It's a shame, too, this production, because I was fairly excited about my second Katie Mitchell after ...some trace of her blew my theatrical mind last year. And I was also excited to see George Streatfeild after so many years - he was the first West End actor that left a lasting impression on me, when I was visiting London with my college friends and caught a revival of Journey's End. And of course Martin Crimp is one of my favourite writers.

So, this production had everything going to for it (including Leo Bill in it, memorable for his rendering of the word "pimp" in arguably the best tv drama ever made, Julian Jarrold's "Crime and Punishment", but I digress). I went into the Cottesloe theatre with hope in my heart - this was a stage that had rarely failed to enchant me so I was confident and trsuting.

Boy was I wrong.

I haven't been so thoroughly bored by a play since... well, since Riflemind, and that's saying something. While I appreciated what Katie Mitchell was trying to do with the direction and set design, the fault was not in the production - or in the underused cast, full of brilliant actors (like Cara Horgan, who needs to go on to better things) none of which were able to make me connect with the characters. Only Streatfeild managed to resonate in any way with the amoral, charming and manipulative Freder, a character who probably deserved a better play, too.

The story concerns a bunch of medical students in Vienna in the 1920s and there's much neurosis and promiscuity. Some of its themes must have been quite shocking when it was first staged (like Desiree's lesbian desire for Marie, or suicide) but sound trite and merely sensationalist now, without any real heart behind the story. I don't know if Martin Crimp's version is mistakingly dull or if that's the best he could do with the original but there was none of the sharpness and poetry we can normally find in the author. The characters are self-indulging and ridiculous and not in a way that's entertaining or provokes debate. You just want them so shut up.

In short, a real waste of money and time, and one of the biggest disappointments of the season.

The Independent.
The Guardian.
The Telegraph.
Sans Taste.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Royal Court Upstairs celebrations + Andrew Scott alert

The Royal Court is celebrating 40 years of its more intimate space this week with a series of panels where writers, directors, designers and actors will talk about their experiences Upstairs.

Here's the program:
Tuesday 3 November, 7pm
The Ripple Effect

Five authors of ground-breaking Theatre Upstairs plays discuss their work.
Chair: Mark Ravenhill
Panel includes Bola Agbaje, Winsome Pinnock, Marius von Mayenburg, Snoo Wilson

Wednesday 4 November, 7pm
Is Small Beautiful?
The founder of the Theatre Upstairs, and it’s first Artistic Director discuss programming and directing in the space with more recent Artistic and Associate Directors.
Chair: Jeremy Herrin
Panel includes Max Stafford Clark, William Gaskill, Ramin Gray, Nicholas Wright

Thursday 5 November, 7pm
Infinite Worlds in a Black Box
Designers and other practitioners share how they have explored the potential and approached the limitations of the space over forty years.

Chair Paul Handley
Panel includes Hildegard Bechtler, Jeremy Herbert, Ian Rickson, Ultz

Friday 6 November, 7pm
Close Encounters
Actors discuss the unique experience of defining roles for the first time in the bold, challenging, sometimes notorious work that has originated in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

Chair: Daniel Evans
Panel: Sian Brooke, Kenneth Cranham, Daniel Mays, Sophie Okonedo, Andrew Scott

Notice that Andrew Scott will take part in the last panel, which is very exciting of course. Wonder what he'll have to say about the stage.

My own relationship with the Theatre Upstairs has been more positive than with the space Downstairs (which is always a hit-or-miss). I love its smallness, I have always preferred smaller spaces. I first came up those stairs to see the double bill of plays from Sweden and Ukraine "The Good Family"/"The Khomenko Family Chronicles". It was a momentous occassion not just because it was my first contact with an space I love so (and an space I hope to have my plays on someday) but also because it was the first time I saw Harry Lloyd in theatre and since then he's become one of my favourites.

I wish I had gone more often there (& most of the time it was for readings and discussions) but nevertheless it's one of my favourite theatre spaces in London, if not my favourite.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

celebrate Howard Barker

Yesterday The Wrestling School, Howard Barker's theatre company, turned 21, something to celebrate. It makes Andrew Haydon ask himself if plays are to be enjoyed at the Guardian (I wish he would have written a longer piece about it, as it's a very interesting concept, why do we go to the theatre?).

There are few people in the theatre right now that I admire more than Howard Baker, few who posses such awe-inspiring integrity. I think integrity is not a word many theatremakers take into account when making career decisions. Only Trevor Griffiths, somehow, comes to my mind, when I think about the kind of stubborness with which Barker refuses to comply to either the material goals of commercial theatre and the trends in the art world. Like he says, he doesn't fit.

Howard Baker is a difficult writer and I must admit his Arguments for Theatre went over my head. But in a good way. I know that someday soon I will have to develop my own theoretical take on the medium, other than hurl volumes of Artaud, Brook and Barker at people. All dramatists should shape their own basic beliefs about the form of art they are choosing. Barker is one artist I can look up to and look for guidance in his texts. He is driven by a complete faith and wild trust in theatre, which is something that in our cynical world is almost always met with suspicion.

"Tragedy is the greatest art form of all. It gives us the courage to continue with our life by exposing us to the pain of life. It is unsentimental, it takes us seriously as human beings, it is not condescending. Paradoxically, by seeing pain we are made greater, it becomes a need."

It's not his ideas but his poetry that I keep coming back to Barker. I still remember reading most of Dead Hands standing up in the National Theatre bookshop, rooted to the ground by the power of his words.

I have only dipped my toes in Barker's body of work and though I have a long way to go so far all I've read has left a mark on me, both radio versions of Victory and Scenes from an Execution and the reading of Dead Hands, Gertrud - The Cry and He Stumbled. These are complex plays, full of unforgettable images and magnificent poetry. They leave me trembling. It's a very particular response that I associate with the sublime.

Now, I have to make a confession here: I have never seen a production of a Barker play just yet. Victory came at a hard time for me to see theatre and Found in the Ground well, let's say that the location of the Riverside Studios makes me lazy to get my ass there. But I think there's something more than that. I guess I don't want the feeling I've got when reading Barker plays in the privacy of my own bedroom, or listening to the radio adaptations, to be disturbed by the actual staging of his words. Barker plays live in some sort of abstract reality for me and I am still reluctant to face the materiality of them on stage. This is something I have to get over, of course, because plays are meant to be seen on stage. But maybe I'm not there just yet.

Impossible to overlook the fact that I feel specially close to Barker because he holds Shakespeare in such esteem.

"I am so far as I am aware not at all influenced by dramatists, expect for Shakespeare, who I have to say, it is impossible not to be influenced by if you hold language to be the major element of theatre. "

- Read Whatsonstage brief interview with Howard Baker (9 Oct 2009).

- The Telegraph on the 21x21 celebrations.

- Check out this excellent interview with Barker at the archives of Theatre Voice.

11th May
Howard Barker

At the ceasing of the running:
What terrified us so?
At the fall of the cities:
Why did we inhabit them?

I love the way the grasses one genus
Following the other smother the dead cars
The strict order of their progress

I love the way her neck falls into
Soft lines and the hardening of her hands
The strict order of her decline

I sung the world no longer there
Hardly a dried flower of Apollinaire
Hardly a chair
And we would fail to know it in the market

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

news: Royal Court Spring Season 2010

The Royal Court has announced its Spring 2010 Season (details at Whatsonstage):


- Off the Endz, (16 February-13 March 2010) by Bola Agbaje (Gone Too Far).
- Posh, (15 April-22 May 2010) by Laura Wade (Breathing Corpses). Directed by Lyndsey Turner.
- Sucker Punch, (18 June-24 July 2010) by Roy Williams.


- Disconnect, (22 February-20 March 2010) by Anupama Chandrsekhar.
- The Empire, (8 April-1 May 2010) by DC Moore (Alaska). Directed by Mike Bradwell.
- Ingredient X, (26 May-19 June 2010) by Nick Grosso.
- Spur of the Moment, (20 July-14 August 2010) by Ania Reiss.

Not much to be cheerful about. Roy Williams is a great writers but he is always a hit-or-miss business. It will be interesting to see Nick Grosso come back to the Court - he is a writer in my opinion who has never lived up to the promise of his first pieces. I'm sort of looking forward to Spur of the Moment, which on one hand it seems like the Court trying to find a new Polly Stenham (please no) but it also seems like something right up my alley. We'll see.

Monday, 19 October 2009

News, Interviews, Food for Thought

- Interview with Lesley Sharp at Whatsonstage. Apart from her current run in Jim Cartwright's Little Voice at the West End Sharp talks about her next project, a version of Ibsen's Ghosts directed by Ian Glen (I saw a rehearsed reading of this a while back at the Young Vic, with Sharp, Glen and my beloved Tom Brooke; and it blew my mind). Don't forget Little Voice opens officially tomorrow at the Vaudeville Theatre. It is really worth it, one of the most enjoyable plays of the season - you can get very cheap first row day seats if you swing by the theatre around 10 in the morning.

- Listen to a new adaptation of Berthold Bretch's and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera for Drama on 3. A collaboration between BBC Drama and the BBC Philharmonic. A quite splendid production of this masterpiece, thanks to the very special talents of Joseph Millson as Macheath and Zubin Varla as Peachum.

- Speaking of this blog's favourite actor, Joseph Millson; news are officially out that he will play Raoul in Love Never Dies, the sequel (or reimagining, or whatever Lloyd Webber said it was) of The Phantom of the Opera. To no one's surprise, since Millson was strongly rumoured for the role as he had already recorded the part in the concept album (you can order it at the official website). News about the cast announcement via Playbill, and the always useful Joseph

- "Sacred" opens tomorrow at Chelsea Theatre. A season of contemporany performance that promises to be something quite different to our usual theatre evenings. Looking forward to it.

- Also opening this week If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet at the Bush Theatre. The always wonderful Josie Rourke directs and the always interesting Rafe Spall is in the cast.

- Simon Anstell will be doing his stand-up routine, Do Nothing at the Royal Court in November. I saw two warm ups and it's a really enjoyable act, charming and well-observed. You won't regret spending money on this, I promise.

- Matt Trueman's article in the Guardian yesterday, "Is the live theatre experience dying?" left us a bit worried. Not because the live theatre experience might be dying (although all this business of Tennant's Hamlet DVDs and live transmisions from the National Theatre is quite annoying) but because some people's implication that the mix-media might by killing it. As the article says indeed the theatrical experience, its liveness, needs to be re-examined, but not from a position of deriding the new shape narrative and performance art takes. One of the examples used, Katie Mitchell's use of video on her productions, feels specially significant for me, because ...some trace of her remains one of the most original, touching and yes theatrical experiences I've had as an audience. So maybe all this genre-bending and media infiltration is not the death of live theatre but rather its evolution in order to survive.

- Also interesting, Michael Billington's little note about the use of the word "Brechtian" and how it tend to send audiences running out of the auditorium. I agree people have a natural reluctance to the adjetive. As for me, I am not Bretch's most fervent fan, far from it, but I was brought up to believe you can do worse than "Brechtian" in your plays.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Speaking in Tongues Q&A at the Duke of York's

My only complain about the otherwise perfect Speaking in Tongues revival is that the Duke of York's is the wrong place to have it on. So I feel sort of vindicated when I heard Toby Frow insinuating the same concern, and saying that his first options had been off-West End and that it had been the producer's decision to move the play to a different, wider (and in my opinion, wrong) audience. Now we can only dream how wonderful this production would have been in the Almeida.

The highlight of the Q&A event with director and cast (minus John Simm) was of course Ian Hart's repetition of his well-known stand on "hating theatre". Nevermind, cause he does offer a good and coherent argument for it and I, personally, have nothing to protest about his belief. I think it's his right and I think it's admirable that he says so with honesty. But eyebrows were raised upon hearing this:
Ian Hart: That’s what I hate about theatre. What Kerry’s just outlined as a pleasure and a joy to me is an intrusion on what I do for a living. The audience, I can’t stand you. Collectively, not individually, I’m sure you’re all lovely people, but as a collective entity I find you abhorrent. I genuinely don’t understand from your side of that divide what it is that you want. That’s up to you to decide, what it is you come in with, whatever it is you want to get out of this experience. As far as I’m concerned, it ends at the edge of the stage and I work on the stage with my colleagues, tell the story, and obey the writer’s instructions and the director’s intentions. What you get out of it is entirely up to you. I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to respond to your laughter, your crisp packets. It’s not my responsibility to take on board.
You can read/hear the rest of the Q&A at the website.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

COMEDY: Ricky Gervais, New Theatre Oxford, 12 October 2009

Having seen two warm-ups previous to the tour there was little to surprise me in this show. Although slightly less rich and coherent than Fame or Politics, seeing Ricky Gervais is always a treat. His presence onstage is charismatic and likeable.

He doesn't tone down the polemic elements in his stand-up but nor does he exploit them for polemic's sake. He is vital and inventive and though some parts of the show work better than others (his encore is a bit underwhelming after what came before) the fact that we are still laughing after seeing the same material twice before is testimony to his genius.

And in any case it's just exciting to see one of the best writers of any generation in the flesh.

Ricky, we are not worthy.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Little Voice, Vaudeville Theatre, 9 October 2009

Photograph: PR

There's a line Jeanette Winterson says when referring to Virginia Woolf's Orlando and the enthusiastic reaction it got from readers: "They (people) did not understand it but it charmed them."

The same sentiment could be used to describe "Little Voice" and its singular misguiding nature.

It is a charming play and it's easily misconstructed by the audience as a feel-good, uplifting play. Its structure suggests a simpler play than it really is. Of course it helps that this is a West End revival and the girl playing LV comes from the world of X-factor.

But (like the equally misjudged "Speaking in Tongues" at the Duke of York's right now) this is not a West End play and though it has enough going for it to woo a West End audience I dare say few people sitting around me at one of the preview nights stopped and thought just how extraordinary a play this "Little Voice" is.

This is not your usual West End musical it is a piece of poetry. Jim Cartwright is a poet. His language is extraordinarily experimental but it comes wrapped up in what Marc Warren calls a "northern showbiz fairytale". There are songs and good feelings and a budding, cute romance amidst the tragedy and wasted chances of these characters' lives. The play paints quite a dark picture of these dead-end people, of brash, loud, selfish Mari (Lesley Sharp) and her shy, anti-social daughter (Diana Vickers), and the chancer, has-been disaster that is the charming Ray (Marc Warren).

It's a redeeming and familiar enough story: LV, shy and self-confined to her room and her late fatheer's records gets out in the world through her extraordinary gift, a voice that can mimick those of the great singers: Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Shirley Bassey. Exploited by her dissatisfied and uncaring mother and a manipulative manager LV ultimately escapes the clutches of her opressive family life and finds love and freedom.

It is at times Disney-like fable and at times grim, tough Jimmy McGovern-ish Northern social drama.

It's curious to see how this revival sells one point but then the actual production doesn't turn its back on the other. It shouldn't blend well but it does. I suspect there's a lot of irony in Cartwright's assumed happy ending but there's a lot of heart, too. It's a complicated ending, too. It offers hope but few answers.

Although I think Lez Brotherston's girating set was a bit distracting at times I appreciated that Mari's house was every bit as ordinary and bleak as her life, and that they didn't prettied-up or clean the set for a more conventional audience than the one Jim Cartwright usually writes to (not for, I don't think he writes for anyone but himself). The production - despite the glittery posters and heavy pr campaign - doesn't shy from the darker themes of the story and, for example, the heartstopping last fight between Mari and LV is a perfect example, wonderfully pathetic and raw.

And the asset of this production is its cast, so that the GORGEOUS prose of Cartwright's get to shine as it deserves:
Mari: "You've always been a little voice and you've never liked much, to speak and such, but this thing you've developed could make us Ray reckons. Don't know where the hell it's come from, such a quiet lonely thing you've always been. I could almost fit you in my two hands as a babe. I don't know if it's the drink but I keep seeing you tonight as our little LV there, little pale chil' in me arms, or in the old pram there, that lemon coloured crocheted blanket around you, tiny good-as-gold face in the wool. I'm sorry for the way I am love at times, it seems to be the way I am. It seems to be something..."
Of course most people turned up at the theatre wondering if X-factor contestant Diana Vickers was up to the challenge. Well, yes and no. I have never seen X-factor so I had no previous reference, and I wasn't particularly concerned where she was coming from, as long as she was able to do a decent job. She is not a very good actress but she is not a very bad one, either. She fits the part of LV in a way that makes her believable. At least I believed her. She is sympathetic and the scenes with LV's love interest (played by the playwright's son, James Cartwright) carry the perfect balance of cuteness and embarrasment. But Vickers is not a great singer so when the times comes for LV to shine the moment is just a little underwhelming. But all in all she doesn't hurt the production irrevocably.

It was interesting to see two of my favourite actors acting together for the first time; although both Marc Warren and Lesley Sharp were pretty much in their comfort zones with this one. That doesn't diminish their merit, of course, but I always enjoy my favourites when they are doing something new (like Warren did with "The Pillowman"). Sharp is a veteran Cartwright-ist, having been in the first production of his seminal (& people use this adjective far too often but here I mean it) play, "Road" and her skills for both lyrical and down-to-earth moments makes her the perfect Mari, as if the role had been written for her. And Warren is used to play charmers so he is at home with Ray, but he also shows his capacity for pathos in the wonderful scene where Ray breaks down at the club.

It is always wonderful to see such gifted actors doing their thing.

"Little Voice" is a rare thing; it's a show that I utterly love but also I show I would recommend to everyone for very different reasons to those why I love it. Whether you are looking for a bit of West End escapism or for a searching, lyrical piece of art, you will leave the theatre satisfied. Cheered up even.

Read Marc Warren's diary of the production.

The Stage.
The Guardian.
The Telegraph.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Press heads up: Jonathan Pryce Interview

Excellent (if as always shorter than we'd like) interview with Jonathan Pryce at the Guardian. He talks about coming back to the Liverpool Everyman for a revival of Pinter's The Caretaker, and about his career origins on that very stage.
Pryce is returning to the Everyman for the first time since the early 1970s, in a production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, playing Davies, the loquacious tramp. He could have waited until the theatre's refurbishment was complete, but Pryce says he had a nostalgic urge to experience the old venue the way he remembered it, "before they got hot water in the showers".
Liverpool is a long way from London and there are very few people in the world for whom I'll make that trip. But I went to see Marc Warren in Leicester and so at some point of this month I will pack my bags and board one of those uncomfortable National Express coaches heading North to see not only Mr.Pryce but own personal favourite Tom Brooke alongside him.

I really loved Liverpool on my first visit (to see The Coral in concert) and I can't think of a better reason for an impulsive one-day trip than theatre.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

ENRON, Royal Court, 2 Oct 2009

Sometimes a good night out is quite a surprising thing. For I might be only person in the UK whom upon seeing the name "Rupert Goold" in the credits I am immediately less likely to go see that play. I think he is overrated, I can appreciate why he is a critical darling but I believe his ideas kill the text more often than they enhace it. He overdoes things, everything he touches becomes infussed with obviousness and self-importance. Six Characters in Search of an Author remains one of the most repulsive theatre experiences of my life.

Yes, I did have prejudices about Enron before seeing it. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt because I had quite liked Time and the Conways (even if Goold destroyed the ending with his heavy-handed direction) and above all else was the matter of Tom Goodman-Hill. As much as I love seeing Samuel West on stage and how he is always worth the money of the ticket, it was my admiration for Goodman-Hill and his acting skills what decided me to brave the queues and take my chances with a return ticket of this sold-out production.

Two hours of queue later I was in (with quite appalling seats but the Royal Court is small enough for them to be decent) and enjoying it.

It's a fun play to watch. Most of it comes from Lucy Prebble's confidence as a writer, which translates into this indescribable energy that pushes the play even through its less compelling moments (these are very few, indeed, but still there are some glitches). I call it "cocky writing" and it's always a good thing. It was a highly entertaining piece of writing, and clever and never didactic though I admit I learned a few things. The old woman by my side was confused by the economics of it but I think the play does a superb job of explaining the important details of the convoluted finantial affair while never talk down the audience. It's a fine balance and Prebble succeeds.

Sam West always makes for a compelling lead, one of the few actors in UK who can carry the weight of such a huge enterprise as this on his shoulders. He goes from nerdy, socially awkward genius to self-assured, cool guy and the tranformation is quite something to witness. West navigates through the character of Jeffrey Skilling flawless.

Tom Goodman-Hill is a revelation himself. I was quite unsure how much stage time he was going to get and if the price of my ticket would be worth it just to see him, but he was quite pivotal in the plot, had loads of scenes and he excelled in all of that. He was at turns sympathetic and pathetic, ruthless, a villain and a victim. His performance outshone the rest of the cast, for me, the real highlight of the night. The rest of the cast was competent but not exciting (although it's always good to see Ashley Rolfe). And the production in general was very good, with a couple of moments when Goold overdoes it but in a play like this his natural tendencies do less harm than to other works. It is a flashy play. In the best sense. It has great ideas (the raptors, for a start; the newscasters) but sometimes it feels a bit too much, with the lights and the video and the plastic chairs racing like bikes. But I guess it's part of the point the play is trying to make, the abundance and collapse of it all.

In short, the writing was so solid that not even Rupert Goold could do it much harm, and Sam West and Tom Goodman-Hill alone are each worth the price of the ticket. If you can get one, that is.

There's always the West End transfer.

Read other reviews:
The Guardian.
Another article in The Guardian about theatre and banking.
This is London.
Times Online.
Aleks Sierz writes about it.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Bush Library opens

The Bush Theatre Library opens today, welcoming back Simon Stephens' monologue "Sea Wall", easily my favourite piece of theatre of 2008, performed by the most excellent Andrew Scott, easily the most talented actor on the stage nowadays. If you missed it last year you have until Sat 17th of October to catch it. You won't regret it.

Read more.

Friday, 2 October 2009

the fear of rejection

I've submitted a (very) short play to Hampstead Theatre's Start Night. I wrote it in about two hours so I'm not trusting my chances. Specially since they already rejected some of my stuff this year. But I think it's good to get things out there. And Start Night is a great idea, very encouraging.

Friday, 25 September 2009

have you met my new hero?

OUR CLASS, National Theatre, 24 Sep 2009

It's always very, very exciting to go see a play with Justin Salinger in it. I have mentioned many times in this blog, but he is one of the most exciting actors on stage in Britain, only rivalled in talent by the likes of Andrew Scott or Joe Millson. The experience seemed even more auspicious by the presence in the cast of Lee Ingleby, of whom I've been a fan for years (even putting up with the whole run of George Gently in all its glorious boredom).

But the subject matter of the play put me off a bit and like the Tyro Theatre Critic (formerly the Teenage Theatre Critic) I arrived at the National full of doubts and

In the summer of 1941 1600 Jews were burned to death in a barn in Jedwabne, a small town in Poland. The culprits of this massacre were not the invading Nazi forces but the very own residents of Jedwabne, neighbours and friends (and classmates) to the dead. This is the raw material Tadeusz Slobodzianek uses to construct his Our Class.

It's tricky to start with real events and real people. If those events are framed within the Holocaust the risk is even higher. And I don't mean the risk of offending, playwrights shouldn't be weighted down by that, by any kind of moral opinion on their material. For me the risk is going the other way. The kind of respect, awe, solemnity, carefulness this kind of even inspires can seriously handicap a story and the storyteller. It often results in a thin, washed down product.

Fortunately for most of its duration (it's not perfect, this is a flawed play) Our Class seems to just fly over the weight of those precautions. There is plenty of powerful writing (and powerful translation, thanks to Ryan Craig) in here. For a start it is a very theatrical experience. It's probably my favourite set design of the season so far (kudos to Bunny Christie and to the lighting job from Jon Clark) because it is sparse as it is evocative: played in the round, over dark wooden boards with a low step of aluminium at each side. The lack of detail design makes the experience even more vivid, and one laments that so many plays nowadays take a stubbornly realistic view on set and design, understimating theatre's capacity for the metaphorical. In Our Class the characters speak directly to the audience in many occassions and the scenes change from location to location without needing to stop for set changes, and one can have many locations and actions developing at the same time. The austerity of the production, in this case, is its strongest asset. It lets the writing show and the very excellent (and large, ten main characters) shine.

(on a shallower note I have to say that I had very lousy seats, up in the second circle of the Cottesloe, result of me being a cheap shot and snatching the 10 pound tickets at the last minute; I intend to see this production again at some point so I'll try to get better seats in the stalls and check how the set works from closer to the actors)

I was worried about the duration of the thing as well, but the three hours went swiftly by. The play is dynamic and engaging, even if the last scenes drag on a bit; the final fate of the characters (and their families) are ultimately less interesting than the build-up to the massacre and the inmediate consequences of it. My favourite part was still when the tensions between the Catholic and Jews in the class start to show in subtle, unexpected way. From childhood friendship the characters get together and separate and clash. Political and historical pressures break up this group that wasn't so solid to begin with, with tragic consequences.

The play shows a wonderful touch of detachment through it all. One of the main dangers with this kind of story is to fall into the trap of cheap sentimentality. But despite the horrible events if depicts Our Class remains refreshingly unsentimental most of the time. That was a relief.

There's always a degree of scepticsm when confronted with a large lead cast, because it's impossible that everbody can mesure up and there's nothing worse than an unbalanced cast. But in this case everybody is surprisingly adequate - all performances are equally sensitive and low key and skillful. Some of the acting I took longer to warm up to than the others. Paul Hickey, as Menachem, I had reservations about during the first third of the play but it grew on me big time and ended up being one of my favourites. Edward Hogg and Jason Watkins were expectedly brilliant. Amanda Hale (whom I had seen and liked in Crimp's The City and who was part of the soon to be released Bright Star, with Ben Whishaw) makes a wonderful turn as Rachelka, who marries a Catholic classmate to save her life and changes even her name to escape the atrocities.

Justin Salinger was the constant (and unknowing) commentary as the schoolboy who goes to America and writes (and recieves) letters, all optimism and naivete, a clever theatrical aside as a character ignorant of what his former friends are going through, their crimes and their sufferings. Of course Mister Salinger is as flawless and challenging as ever, though his part was not as lengthy as I might have wished.

One might have wished, as well, that Lee Ingleby, who was absolutely perfect as the cruel and unforgivable Zygmunt, would be given a part outside his comfort zone - we have seen him play one too many degenerate and mean bastards (The Street, Life on Mars, Borstal Boy). Hopefully next time we'll see him do a likable hero in a comedy, like he did, charmingly so, in BBC's Rapunzel.

Bottom line, Our Class is a very good and enjoyable piece of theatre played by a group of terribly talented actors. It tackles very big issues without being sentimental or patronizing, and it casts a suspicious light on our very notion of history, our certainties about it.

Thoroughly recommended to any kind of audience.

As a curious aside, I spotted Harry Lloyd in the audience, whom weeks ago I had seen triumph at the Arcola in Ghosts. There was some chatting about his performance in The Sea last year and he told me he was going to be in The Little Dog Laughed next year. That's excellent news as we love us some Harry Lloyd in theatre any time. He is one of our favourites.

The Guardian.
The Telegraph.
The Evening Standard.
The Independent.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

who's afraid of new writing?

Interesting entry about new writing over at Karl Miller's blog.

Though I do share most of the concerns about the tropes and cliches pointed at there (some of them I'm afraid I have committed myself) and while I do agree to a certain extent with the affirmation "most new plays suck" I think that's even a stronger case to help out and nurture the new writers.

Because once in a while, among all those sucky plays, you get something like "You Can See The Hills" or "The Pride".

Friday, 7 August 2009

COMEDY: Simon Amstell, Soho Theatre, 6 Agust 2009

Work in progress. Fascinating piece of confessional comedy. Not as linguistically inventive as Dylan Moran or well-observed as Ricky Gervais but candid and sympathetic (& sometimes just pathetic). One to keep our eyes on.

Monday, 6 July 2009

All's Well That Ends Well, National Theatre, June 2009

If earlier this year I thought that RSC's Taming of The Shrew as seen in the Novello Theatre was at fault of trying to hard to offer a radical version of the play and in the process losing its soul and coming up with a repulsive, hard-to-watch reading of the story, I think Marianne Elliot's version of All's Well That Ends Well goes too much the other way and comes across as too bland.

It feels as if much of the effort went into the over-cute set design and little into the actual exploration of the text. It's not an easy play, sure enough. It's uneven and at parts weak and complex. But it can be done. Years ago I saw a perfectly decent version of it, directed by Greg Doran with Judi Dench and Guy Henry. I did appreciate the beauty of the decoration and animations and I liked the fairytale high concept of the NT production but this theme was not in any way reflected in the acting.

Michelle Terry, who was so brilliant in the Bush's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover seemed unenergetic as Helena. We try to sympathize with her but her blandness makes it hard. She is a charismatic actress so Helena's weakness is all the more dissapointing, at least for me. She would be likeable enough if the rest of the cast could have been a little bit stronger as well. But George Rainsford was an insipid Bertram - it's hard enough to feel any pity for this character as it is in the text but add it a half-heartedly performance and the result is disastrous. But the worst dissapointment of all was Parolles, a role I love dearly and I remember Guy Henry being absolutely excellent in, but in this case I felt Conleth Hill was absolutely destroying the part. Mostly because he was not charming. Parolles is a sleazy, selfish ass but as with many of this type of characters in Shakespeare, he is terribly charming, appealing. None of his appeal was present in the National Theatre's version.

The National Theatre is always a hit and miss business, with more miss than hits, to be honest, at least in the Oliver and Lyttleton stages (the Cottesloe usually offers more interesting productions) but All's Well That Ends Well is possibly my least liked play of all those I've seen in this venue.

You can check what other people have thought about it:

The Guardian Review.
The Times Review.
The Independent Review.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Dimetos, Donmar, 28 March 2009

Sometimes I don't understand critics.

Well, I normally understand them even if I don't agree with them, but I would have thought that somebody out there would feel the same I did seeing Athol Fugard's Dimetos at the Donmar Warehouse. I've been quite baffled by audiences' and critics' responses lately, after the lukewarm response to Three Days of Rain and I know Dimetos is a difficult play but I had guessed it would be a love-it/hate-it kind of deal. The Telegraph review has cheered me up, at least, but I'd had love to see more people sharing the wild love I have for this play.

I came out of the theatre totally transformed by the experience - by the writing and the acting. I had seen Jonathan Pryce in theatre before but it was in Dimetos when I was blown away by his talent. He is miles from almost everyone in this business. I can only remember being this impressed with a performance in theatre on only two other occasions: Elling and Statfford Castle's Hamlet.

This play is something I find difficult to talk about and will find difficult for some time. I had only heard of Athol Fugard and knew of his reputation, but had not seen or read any of his plays. But I came out of the play wanting to know more, to read more. Sadly, even if yes, Fugard is a brilliant writer and I enjoyed reading Boesman and Lena and Siswe Bansi is Dead I found there none of the poetry and pain that made Dimetos such a remarkable experience at the Donmar.

Dimetos seems to be something different altogether, even for the author. Its lack of succesful must have been painful. Specially because it feels profoundly personal, I don't know if in the themes but at least in style. On paper, it shouldn't work. You take the play by its elements, its language and theatrical techniques and you would expect a dense, heavy, pedantic play. And maybe it is dense, but the potry within it gives it such wings. It is suspended, like Lydia at the beginning of the play, in a moment of grace. It is full of darkness and yet you come out of it oddly exilarated. It is not pedantic it celebrates theatre and language. We do not care about the allegory it might hold, we care about what's on stage. Flesh and blood.

The cast is not only flawless but more than that, they are inspiring and challenging in every way. Jonathan Pryce takes the stage and makes it his own in a way I have seldom seen before. He manages to be powerful and subtle at the same time. The young Holliday Grainger was also a huge, pleasing surprise.

My very deep review of the whole thing would be: Wow.

The Independent review.
The Guardian review.
The Telegraph review.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

READING: The Uncertainty Of The Situation, Royal Court, 11 March 2009

The leaflet says:
Dumped by his girlfriend and abandoned by his friends, Jan finds himself on the streets, a witness to the extraordinary, terrible events unfolding in the city around him - events for which he starts to consider himself responsible.
Another rehearsed reading for the German season that would deserve a full production, if only for its wide appeal - I have no trouble imagining it a hit with young and non-theatrical audiences; it is a confident play, funny and fast and defying, if a bit hollow, and a bit too reminescent of Fight Club hipter cynism.

Directed by Lindsay Turner and with a cast that could hardly be paid if this were a proper production, this play by Philipp Loehle was a most entertaining occassion. Nothing life-changing in the writing, though, although it's always a special occassion to see Andrew Scott on stage, of whom one cannot say enough good things. It was his peculiar charm and energy (he is an amazing lead) that drove the play forward swiftly. Sam West and Katherine Parkinson were also delightful in the supporting cast.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

READING: The Bankrupt Man, Soho Theatre, 06 March 2009

I don't go nearly often enough to the Soho Theatre - for a place I love so dearly: it gave me Andrea Riseborough in a wonderful black comedy and it gave me White Boy and I will always remember how enjoyable and useful their writing workshop was.

So it's always a nice time when I go. More so if it's to see Andrew Scott, Gina McKee and Nicholas Tennant acting. Such cast would be difficult to gather in a proper production so it's a treat to see them in a rehearsed reading of David Lescot's play (translated by Christopher Cambell). The reading is part of a season of collaboration between the National Theatre Studio and the French Embassy.

The Bankrupt Man deals with the spiralling down life of a common man, portrayed with sympathy and warmth by Tennant, haunted by debt and a failed marriage. Gina McKee was wonderfully impervious as the ex-wife and Andrew Scott showed his seemingly limitless range with the sinister and hilarious character of a debt collector. While the play wasn't perfect (it was a bit prosaic and dragged on in parts) it was engaging and one could see how it would be a hit with audiences of almost any kind. The best of it, for me, was the slightly surreal turn it took at times (regarding Andrew Scott's character, specially), I left yearning for more.

In short another chance to check out UK's most promising stage actor, Andrew Scott, and enjoy an entertaining play very much of its time.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Wrecks, Bush Theatre, 9 Feb 2009

You know? Robert Glenister is one of my favourite actors and yet he keeps on appearing in things that are not entirely satisfying to me. After the gruelling business of Never So Good comes my second chance of seeing him now in Neil LaBute's Wrecks. Now, LaBute is someone to be admired and some of his pieces are among my favourite theatre or film experiences but Wrecks feels half-cooked, to be honest. There are good moments and ideas but it relies on a plot twist that's entirely predictable and there are truly ridiculous moments. Pity, because I really wanted to like it but I came out feeling it needed a couple of rewrites. Mister Glenister did his best and lends a lot of sympathy and charm to the role. On the good side for a long monologue it was entertaining enough that I didn't feel it dragged too much even on a second performance.

One thing has to be said: set designs at the Bush are always something to look forward to, even in less-than-good plays.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Katie Mitchell interview at Theatre Voice

The wonderful site Theatre Voice has uploaded an interview with director Katie Mitchell about the release of her book The Director's Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre.

I read bits of the book on the bookshop of the National Theatre and found it very interesting. After enjoying ...some trace of her intensely I have been converted to the Katie Mitchell cause. I know her directing is not everybody's cup of tea but I at least found the play refreshing and inquisitive, one of the best book adaptations I have seen onstage.

The interview itself is highly interesting, with Mitchell saying that she wrote the book for her "younger self" as she wished there had been such a book when she run into difficulties at the beginning of her career.

Our critical hero Aleks Sierz conducts the interview.