Monday, 22 March 2010

bits & odds

- Yes, you all saw it. The Oliviers (see, for example, Webcowgirl's account here) were last night and The Mountaintop is the success story of the year. If anything, it makes for some interesting debate: the Guardian asks if this will be a boost to the black theatre in UK.

- On the other hand, Ruth Wilson looked very pretty. That's almost enough to calm my fury at my favourite plays of the year not being even nominated. At least there was a win for Cock so I'm counting it as an Andrew Scott win.

- National Theatre pictures of their production The White Guard, starring among others our favourite Pip Carter.

- Speaking of the National Theatre and how it continues to love me personally, one of my favourite actors in the whole world, Benedict Cumberbatch, has been cast in the upcoming production of Terence Rattigan's After the Dance, directed by Thea Sharrock. In other Benedict Cumberbatch news, there was a nice article in The Guardian this week about Steven Moffatt's Sherlock that's worth a read. (thanks to the wonderful Sherlocking site for the heads up)

- The Sheffield Telegraph has a new video in its website with a backstage tour of everybody's (well, at least mine) favourite theatre, the Crucible and the improvements made in its £15.3 million redevelopment.

- Article on the Times about the Royal Court's production of Posh, by Laura Wade, starting next April Downstairs, with a cast including the very talented Leo Bill and the promising Tom Mison.

- The Classical Serial at BBC Radio 4 is being extremely brilliant with its adaptation of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, starring Richard Armitage and Zoe Waites. Not to be missed.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Review: Ghosts, Duchess Theatre, 20 March 2010

I think Ibsen is an acquired taste: I came upon this revelation during my trip to Sheffield to see An Enemy of the People at the gorgeous new Crucible. I mean, the first time I encountered Ibsen (at college) I didn't like it very much. And even when I saw new versions by authors I like (Lucy Kirkwood's Hedda) or excellent productions (the Donmar's A Doll's House) I remained lukewarm.

Then last year I attended a small rehearsed reading of Ghosts at the Young Vic, version via Frank McGuiness, directed by Ian Glenn and with Lesley Sharp and my favourite Tom Brooke as mother and son. It was a powerful piece of theatre, despite it being a reading (although many of my favourite theatrical experiences have come by the way of readings) and started turning my head around about Ibsen. I guess it will always remain my favourite work from him and even if the scandal that the mentioning of syphillis caused in Ibsen's era might sound alien to modern audience Ghosts is every bit as much a poignant, taxing and moving play as when it was written.

So why is it that the power of that rehearsed reading doesn't translate as well to a finished production? Even though I didn't dislike this play as much, I can understand the sense of bafflement from one of my favourite theatre bloggers about the piece. I still think the early notices are unfair but there is something severly lacking here. It's not the actors - Lesley Sharp is as fabulous and refreshing as ever, she gives an unhindered Mrs.Alving and that performance only is worth the money of the ticket. Glenn's Manders is as spineless in comparsion as he should be, on the verge of pathetic but sympathetic just for that. Harry Treadaway does a comendable job in a hard, vital role - but I'm afraid that I spent most of the play remembering Harry Lloyd's take on the character in the Arcola production last year. Lloyd's Oswald will be hard to forget in years to come, I'm afraid, but still Treadaway seems like a great hope for the future, we must remember his stage debut was only last year, and he did brilliantly, in Mark Ravenhill's Over There. I was also cheered by the presence of Jessica Raine as Regina: I feel as if I had seen this girl grow up, after her great performances in Harper Regan and Gethsemane at the National.

Maybe it was the elaborated set and costumes; although I appreciated the airy and well-lit stage, a change from the usual dark and somber productions. Maybe the play worked better in the reading because of its rawness, with minimal props and some light effects. Maybe it's that I believe this play should be performed without interval. Maybe it was the early notices affecting the whole mood. Whatever the case, I didn't find it as poignant. The audience, icy, might have contributed. I left the theatre (after spotting Dominic Cooke some seats behind me, by the way) oddly unsatisfied.

Other reviews:
The Telegraph.
There Ought To Be Clowns.
The Londonist.
The Independent.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Review: Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic, 10 March 2010

photo by Martin Pope

I rather like how the brilliant Aleks Sierz calls this play "insubstantial" in his review because what I felt when I came out of the Old Vic theatre after this matinee was absolute numbness. I had wasted my time with this - fortunately not my money, as the tickets were free.

The story of con-man Paul and his upper class victims in their hollow lives of money and conventions won the Olivier award in 1993 and as I read this fact in the shiny but pricey programme I wondered if 1992 had been a particularly bad year in the British theatre or if the Oliviers have always as nonesensical as in recent years. Maybe I am being injustifiably cruel: Six Degrees of Separation is not a bad play. It is not, in my opinion, a good play either.

Everything about the play just sounded bland and unsubtle. It had the makings of a great play but ultimately no punch to it. And this was not because of the production - although it is a very forgetteable one - but because of the writing. Neither the plot or the themes seemed to grab my attention and the characters were not engaging, hard as they tried. Only Lesley Manville and her natural brilliance, made me sympatize a bit with her Ouisa but at the same time it made me wonder about what a waste her performance was, wishing I was back at National seeing Her Naked Skin. Everybody else was bland, and the only funny and truthful moments came when the teenage sons and daughters of the lead characters were on stage, hilariously grumpy and clich├ęd to the point where one can't help but fondness for the kids. Paul had some interest as a character, if only a more charming actor than Obi Abili had played him. One can imagine that in the play's debut at the Royal Court things were a lot different, they had Adrian Lester then. Like Phil from the Whingers I found these people and the play oddly irritating.

In short, a morning wasted but at least I hadn't paid for it so I came out shrugging rather than in a bitter fit.

Other reviews:
The Telegraph.
The Times.
West End Whingers.
The Stage.
The Guardian.
Interval Drinks.
The Independent.