Saturday, 19 December 2009
+ 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 Damian-Lewis.com 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
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.
Friday, 11 December 2009
+ 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
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
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
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.
West End Whingers.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
+ 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.