Sunday, 28 February 2010

Top ten plays of February

If this list was judged on entertainment value it would look so different...but here's my top ten plays of February.

1. Private Lives
2. Wicked
3. A Man of No Importance
4. Dunsinane
5. A Midsummer Night's Dream
6. A Life in Three Acts
7. The Whisky Taster
8. Richard III
9. Knives in Hens
10. Early Bird

Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria

"Who can say if I've been changed for the better?"

Due to a number of reasons (mainly bad reviews from friends, vitriolic reviews from critics and the ticket prices) I never quite managed to getting round to seeing Wicked despite really wanting to see Idina Menzel who reprised her Broadway role initially, and it's always been fairly near the bottom of my list of shows to get round to seeing. But with the Get Into London Theatre offer available on good seats (£60 tickets for £35, offer now expired), I finally bit the bullet and booked.

Purporting to tell the hidden story behind the Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of two girls, Elphaba and Galinda, who meet at sorcery school and follows their tumultuous relationship as they grow up. For they become respectively, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and their complex friendship is tested with rivalries over love and their opposing personalities and viewpoints. And whereas the story begins well before Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, much of what we see sheds interesting new light on events as we know them

Cast of Wicked continued

Cast of Wicked continued

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Review: Private Lives, Vaudeville

"I believe in being kind to everyone, giving money to old beggar women and being as gay as possible"

I have been known to stop many a party in its tracks, anyone who has witnessed my karaoke turn on No More Tears (Enough is Enough) will attest to that, and when recently asked at a do whether I was an Amanda or an Elyot and I didn't know what I was being asked, the collective jaw of the party dropped. For I have never seen Private Lives before, but fortuitously for my reputation that evening, I could say that I did have tickets for the new production arriving in London, after a short run in Bath.

Noël Coward's play is about a couple, Elyot and Amanda who hate each other intensely yet love each other passionately and so divorced. Chance conspires to bring them together again though, as they both celebrate their honeymoons with new partners in adjacent rooms in the same French hotel. And despite all their history, they launch headfirst into a new affair, regardless of the situation. And it is all very funny. 

Friday, 26 February 2010

Review: Henry V, Southwark Playhouse

"I am glad thou canst speak speak no better english, for if thou couldst, thou wouldst find me such a plain king"

Ooh, this whingeing thing is hard to shake... After my exploits at the Adelphi on Monday, I had to take a couple of days downtime from the theatre to recover and reassess the world in the light of love having actually died a death right in front of me. To try and restore my customary mood, a trip was made to Henry V at the Southwark Playhouse. A company of seven actors act out the radically edited play, covering several characters each, using, and I quote "striking physical imagery, innovative movement sequences and direct contact with the audience" to "reimagine [this as] a life-sized board game. What could possibly go wrong?

One is given a pass along with your ticket which allocates one to either the English or the French army: this governs where one sits in the theatre and there's a little playing along too, as we're exhorted to rise when the King first arrives and it's all jolly fun initially. The floor is covered with a large scale map of England and France, and the seating is arranged around all four sides, creating the stage, or game-board in the middle. This is where Shakespeare's play of fast-maturing Henry V's attempts to conquer France, culminating in the famous battle of Agincourt, is told by our players in a really quite bizarre fashion.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi

"Beneath this mask I wear, there's nothing of me"

I hadn't originally intended to get a ticket to see Phantom: Love Never Dies, being appalled at the ticket prices when it was announced, but when the National Lottery gods smiled on me and I got four numbers and £64 (the price of a middle stalls tickets plus booking fee) I decided to take the plunge to see if indeed love never dies or whether I needed a defibrillator in my manbag. 

It has been billed as a stand-alone story, ie not a sequel despite the strapline being 'the story continues'... and most of the main characters being taken from Phantom of the Opera, the only new addition amongst the leads is Gustave, Christine's 10 year old son. The action here takes place ten years after the events of Phantom, the masked man having fled to New York and set up a fairground/freakshow at Coney Island called Phantasmaland. Madame Giry and daughter Meg travelled with him, Meg being one of the performers in the show and looking to make it big in showbusiness through being showcased here. However, Phantom anonymously invites Christine Daaé to come and sing at this prestigious new venue, an offer she is forced to accept as husband Raoul is now a heavy gambler, and a drunk. So they arrive in New York with son Gustave, and it soon becomes apparent that there's more than just singing on the menu, as secrets and lies from the past rear their head, long-suppressed feelings rise to the fore and frustrated ambitions boil over with shocking results.

Cast of Love Never Dies continued

Cast of Love Never Dies continued

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Review: A Life in Three Acts, Soho Theatre

"You need to see the jewel in its setting"

A Life in Three Acts with Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill has returned to the Soho Theatre, but in a significantly different format to before, evidently in advance of taking the show over to New York. The three acts, previously performed separately, have now been condensed into one two hour show, where legendary drag queen Bourne recounts a series of stories and anecdotes from his highly eventful life.

And what a life he has led: we skim through his childhood in Hackney with an abusive father, his development as an actor, most notably at the Old Vic where he starred with Ian McKellen in Edward II, to the forefront of the fight for gay rights. It was here at the gay liberation meetings that he found himself, or rather found his new persona Bette, which was to shape the rest of his life both with a substitute family in a drag commune in Notting Hill commune and then onto his groundbreaking Bloolips cabaret company that took London and New York by storm.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Review: Measure for Measure, Almeida

"Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it?"

First things first: this has a double revolve, a double revolve people!! Two bits that move independently from each other! And a table that rises up from the ground! And now breathe... So, from the Shakespeare play I know the best, to one which I've never seen before in two days. Measure for Measure sees one of the largest casts ever at at the Almeida, 17 if you're wondering, and I caught a preview last night.

Set in a Vienna which is riven with sexual depravity and political misdeeds, the Duke of the city decides to leave it in the hands of his hardline deputy Angelo, whilst remaining about incognito in order to see how he fares in restoring order. He disguises himself as a friar where he encounters the highly religious Isabella, who is faced with the prospect of sacrificing her virginity in order to save her brother's life, that brother having been sentenced to death by Angelo for getting a girl pregnant before they were married. There is then all sorts of gameplaying that ensues, both political and personal, as we rush headlong to the conclusion which may or may not include lots of weddings.

Cast of Measure for Measure continued

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Rose Theatre Kingston

"Is there no play to ease the anguish of a torturing hour?"

She's back!! I'm referring of course to Aunty Jean who popped down for the evening for some dinner and a little theatrical amusement. The play in question was
A Midsummer Night's Dream featuring a reunited Peter Hall directing and Judi Dench as Titania, 40 years on since their last collaboration in these two roles. "The wisest aunt" casually regaled me with her (not sad) tales of seeing Peter Hall's redefining production of this self-same play and McKellen and Dench in Macbeth as we sipped some vile pinot grigio at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, anticipating the treats in store and giggling at the warning of the use of 'haze' in the performance.

The conceit is that Dench is actually playing Elizabeth I, as she does in a brief wordless prologue where she opens a performance of a play, who then materialises as Titania in the same dress. It's an interesting take which works almost entirely due to the warmth radiating from her performance. The scenes when she is bewitched are just delightful, her coos and chuckles with her paramour display all the ecstasy of a lust-fuelled passion simply through the strength of her verse-reading. She also displays some considerable stamina: at one point laying slumbering with her neck in a most awkward position for such a long time, and let us not forget she is 75 now, that I did worry for her joints: I don't think I could have stayed that still for that long, at least without falling asleep!

But much like the recent RSC Twelfth Night, despite all the publicity, this isn't a star vehicle, it is an ensemble piece and it is much to Judi Dench's credit that her stellar turn complements and is complemented by the performances around her. Indeed it is Rachael Stirling who emerges as the star of this production, as Helena she proves just why she recently received a Olivier nomination, speaking with impassioned drama and a great warmth. She also gives a masterclass in reactive acting during the lovers' quarrels and particularly whilst watching the rude mechanicals: a stunning performance and a true talent.

The other lovers are good: Annabel Scholey's Hermia is perky and Tam Williams and Ben Mansfield interact very well as the duelling Lysander and Demetrius, especially given that these are not particularly well-drawn characters. Elsewhere, Oliver Chris' Bottom is brilliant, his swagger with the ass's head at the end of the first act brought the house down and along with Leon Williams' Flute plays possibly the funniest Pyramus and Thisbe death scene I've ever seen.

The set by Elizabeth Bury initially looks a bit bleakly modern but as we enter the forest, it is enhanced to gorgeous effect by Peter Mumford's lighting and a shadowy arboreal world is created which fitted the mood carefully.

This is by no means a perfect production. Reece Ritchie's frantic Puck is often to
o focused on the physical manifestation of his impishness to deliver his lines clearly enough, he just needs to slow down a bit. And whilst Charles Edwards' dashing Oberon was excellent, his rueful regret at the way his follies have played out being particularly moving, one couldn't help but wonder why they didn't cast someone who looked a bit older to partner Dench. (Maybe this was meant to reflect Elizabeth's penchant for surrounding herself with younger men?)

In the end though, this is as classy as English theatre gets. A comfortable, familiar treat, there's nothing controversial here nor should there be. A traditional, Elizabethan production in which the focus is squarely on good acting and strong verse-reading and a welcome opportunity to witness a truly great actress with absolute mastery of her craft.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £5

Note: Beware the ushers! As we walked into the auditorium, with about 15 minutes before the start, we were hectored four times in the space of three minutes to switch off our mobiles as I was finishing off a text message. Such jobsworthiness is never attractive and was entirely unnecessary, send 'em on a training course I say.

Cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream continued

Monday, 15 February 2010

Review: Serenading Louie, Donmar Warehouse

"I don't think I was in love with him then, but I'm in love with him"

Serenading Louie by American writer Lanford Wilson is the latest play to hit the Donmar Warehouse. Set in 1970s Chicago, it's a tale of two college friends who are now in their 30s, struggling to maintain their dreams in the face of marriages and jobs that haven't necessarily lived up to their expectations.

As one would expect from the Donmar, the acting is first-rate. I particularly loved Geraldine Somerville's sparky Mary, possessed of the best lines in the show (careful if you attend a dinner party with her!) the most poignant of all being the one at the top of the review, the delivery of which is almost worth the entry price alone. And Jason O'Mara as her husband Alex was a minefield of emotion just bubbling under in a tightly restrained performance which also impressed. Jason Butler Harner and Charlotte Emerson have less interesting (and more annoying) parts but both did well.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Review: Heldenplatz, Arcola

"There are more Nazis in Vienna now than in '38" 

Continuing the mini German-language season at the Arcola, Heldenplatz is an uncompromising difficult play which has had a troubled existence, especially in playwright Thomas Bernhard's native Austria. Named for the square in Vienna where Adolf Hitler declared the Anschluβ that annexed Austria to Nazi Germany and marked the beginning of the territorial aggrandisement that led to World War II, this is an excoriating look at the Austrian national character and just how prevalent right-wing sensibilities were in 1938 and persist even in the modern day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this outraged many Austrians who felt Bernhard was sullying the reputation of their nation, confronting as it does some uncomfortable truths.

The play is set in 1988 and the Schuster family and household are reeling from the death of its patriarch. As they prepare for the funeral, and then join for one final meal in his apartment afterwards, these Jewish intellectuals who fled the country once, they have found that little has changed for them: pervasive hatred and anti-Semitic prejudice still abound and they struggle to find their place in a society shorn of illusion.

Unfortunately, despite this interesting history and context to the work, the play did not live up to expectations. One of Bernhard's hallmarks is the endless repetition of the phrases and words , giving a kind of musicality to his plays, and I don't know if something was lost in the translation (by Meredith Oakes + Andrea Tierney), or the actors need more time to get used to it, or indeed if it is part of the directorial intent (Annie Castledine + Annabel Arden) but it just sounds rather odd. It's quite arrhythmical, personally I found the repetition is frequently jarring and it is not helped by some curious choices of delivery, rather one-note with no levels, which during the long monologues, struggle to keep the attention.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Review: Ghosts, Duchess Theatre

"You do not question the received wisdom"

Ghosts, or Ghostsssss as it seems to be called in this production (this was an early preview), marks the directorial debut of Iain Glen, who also stars here alongside Lesley Sharp. Shocking beyond belief when originally performed in the nineteenth century as one of the first plays to mention syphilis (the ghost of the title) and a damning indictment of Victorian morality: today it has lost this scandalous aspect so the focus necessarily becomes more on the devastating effect of keeping damaging secrets and how the sins of the father are revisited on his son.
The play centres around Mrs Alving (Lesley Sharp), a embittered widow whose husband was a notorious philanderer yet Victorian wisdom and the advice of her spiritual advisor Pastor Manders (Iain Glen) dictated that she stay by his side regardless, despite society knowing full well what he was like. The return of her son Osvald (Harry Treadaway) who she sent to Paris to escape the corruption of his father marks the possibility of a new beginning but it seems history is doomed to repeat itself as those ghosts keep on whispering.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Review: A Man of No Importance, Arts Theatre

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

"We had a grand time believing we were bloody wonderful"

After a well-received run at the Union Theatre in Southwark, A Man of No Importance has transferred to the West End to the Arts Theatre with a limited run of just 3 weeks. Based on a film from 1995 starring Albert Finney, a cast of 17 and a band of 6 create an utterly charming, warm-hearted piece of musical theatre that will transport you right away from the freezing outside to a very happy place.

We’re taken to the world of Alfie Byrne, a bus conductor in 1960s Dublin who lives with his sister, has a passion for amateur dramatics, in particular the works of Oscar Wilde, and is hiding a burning desire for his work colleague, Robbie the driver on his bus. His decision to put on a performance of the controversial ‘Salome’ causes ripples in this Catholic, working-class community that multiply and force Alfie onto a journey of discovery, both of the self and of his relationship to those around him.

In the central role, Paul Clarkson is just excellent. As a repressed gay man who knows he can never possess that which he so desires, he is desperately moving, and his penchant for bringing light and culture into the everyday world of his bus customers and theatre group means that one cannot help but fall for him and instantly wish for a happy ending for him.

Joanna Nevin as Lily, Alfie’s sister, turns in a masterfully comic, sharing the funniest song of the night in ‘Books’ but also displaying a huge depth of emotion in showing her frustration with her unmarried brother, the sense of wasted possibilities and finally allowing her love for her sibling to shine through and to accept him as he really is: the last of which moved me to tears. Her performance epitomises the understated class of this whole production, her character could easily have degenerated into a ‘Mrs Doyle from Father Ted’ cast-off but the affection that this cast clearly has for this play and their characters shines through.

Paul Monaghan‘s gruff butcher Carney is another character that could easily be played as a caricature, but Monaghan captures it perfectly, always keeping him believable. Patrick Kelliher as Robbie, the object of Alfie’s affections and Róisín Sullivan as Adele, the girl chosen to play Salome in their play both also turn in sweet, open performances, and both with excellent solo songs, Kelliher’s ‘Streets of Dublin’ being a highlight for me.

And the music composed by Stephen Flaherty really does deserve a special mention as well. It’s simple and unmistakeably Irish but without being twee, the lyrics by Lynn Ahrens are witty and thoughtful and above all, the songs are tuneful. Under Chris Peake’s musical direction, the band is bright and some of the actors even double up as musicians onstage as well. My only criticism would be in the production design, it betrays its fringe roots somewhat and could have done with a little sprucing up as befits a West End audience, but this a minor quibble.

I can’t recommend this enough, so don’t miss out on this new opportunity to see this little gem. It may be small in outlook, especially compared to the other musicals on the West End stage, but its impact is genuinely huge and it can call itself at least the equal of anything else currently in London.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, with an interval
Programme cost: £2.50
Note: wear a thick jumper: for the second show in a row, it has been freezing inside the Arts Theatre

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Review: The Boy Friend, Shaw Theatre

"We want to have, we plot to have, for it's so dreary not to have that certain thing called 'The Boyfriend'"
If you are quick, you might be able to catch the second show of this production of
The Boy Friend at the Shaw Theatre in St Pancras by the Tring Park School for the Performing Arts. Written by Sandy Wilson in the 1950s, this enduring classic, a light-hearted pastiche of 1920s shows, is constantly being revived by professionals and amateurs alike, last appearing significantly in London at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park in 2007.

Set in a finishing school on the French riviera, it's a classic girl-meets-boy story, with secretary Polly falling for errand boy Tony, despite being incognito in their lowly positions and are both actually filthy rich. Their story is placed in the midst of lots of charleston-dancing young ladies and their intendeds, a bunch of madly flirtatious adults, and it's all jolly japes, flapper dresses and a set of very tuneful songs.

Nikkola Burnhope stole the show as Madame Dubonnet: she seemed to be having a ball onstage and this relaxed attitude shone through in an extremely confident and comic performance. Rosie Fletcher as Maisie and Monique Young as the maid Hortense were also good, and I could watch Louisa Connolly-Burnham sing and dance all day long, she was another very natural performer. The girls definitely are stronger in this group: the boys are not served well by particularly interesting roles, but all needed to work on delivering more charisma onstage, Harrison Davies in particular was an excellent dancer but just needed to transfer some of that energy over to his acting as well. RIchard King was the best here as the elderly Lord Brockhurst.
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £1

As the programme puts it, this is a play with "no profanity, no violence, no nudity, nor even a message, other conquers all" but moreover, it is just a highly entertaining, light-hearted, musical evening out. WIth some cracking choreography and sterling vocal work, Tring Park did not disappoint and impressed me, given that most of them looked 17 or 18: I like to think we'll be seeing some of these faces again on the stage.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Review: Knives in Hens, Arcola

"Pull them sleeves up, Miller"

Rather amusingly, Hackney Council's newsletter refers to this play as Hens with Knives, a completely different Orwellian prospect, one wonders, and a possible new commission for someone! Knives in Hens as this play is more commonly known, was my first experience in the studio space at the rear of the Arcola, and an interesting one it is too. The first play written by David Harrower, who had success with his most recent play Blackbird, this is a look at the role of language in intellectual awakening. An uneducated young woman, trapped by marriage in a closed and superstitious community, develops an intense relationship with the village outcast, a miller. He reads and writes and so is distrusted by the villagers, but offers the woman a route to her own intellectual and sexual awakening, away from the life to which she is accustomed.

Jodie McNee's Woman is nicely portrayed, sensitively showing the potential aroused in her by the new connection in her life: her increasing ability to name things, setting herself free and open to what she might become is a nice judged journey. As the agent of change in her life, Phil Cheadle's handsome miller is laden with enigmatic temptation and Nathaniel Martello-White (recently impressive in Innocence at the same theatre) as her unyielding husband was also good.

Review: The Whisky Taster, Bush Theatre

"Never to live a single day
Without being painfully reminded
That one is not like others..."

The Whisky Taster centres around a pair of young executives at an advertising agency trying to win an account to promote a new brand of vodka. Nicola, a brash Croydonite, is a grafter but her colleague Barney has the condition synaesthesia, where the senses are somehow mixed up so that sufferers end up feeling colours for emotions and words have their own colours, which he utitlises to create winning ads. Under pressure from their boss to land this customer, they decide to employ a whisky taster to add a new depth to their campaign, but he ends up showing them a lot more about life than they were expecting.

The play literally crackles into life with the first meeting between Barney and the whisky taster. As Stahl gives a wonderfully written spiel about each of the whiskys they are tasting, we see a visual representation of the synaesthesia kick in spectacular fashion. James Farncombe's lighting design snakes around Lucy Osbourne's cleverly designed set in a scintillating manner reaching heights which are never really matched again. The interactions with the whisky taster are what makes this play special as there's a genuine connection between this pair which is really interesting to watch. The romantic melodrama thread and the satirical elements on the advertising world didn't feel quite as unique, although still being well-written, feeling sparky and contemporary and all fitting together nicely.

Samuel Barnett was highly impressive as the lovelorn Barney, externalising a mental condition very effectively and movingly without overdoing it, and the growth from the shy man cowering from his condition to someone willing to embrace all that life has to offer him, from monochrome to technicolour, was well played. His chemistry with Kate O'Flynn's Nicola was excellent, their overlapping dialogue scenes were flawless, John Stahl's totemic titular figure was a commanding presence, if a little unimaginatively dressed and there was also excellent support from Simon Merrells as a nightmare boss, desperately down with the kids and a hilarious abuser of management-speak.

So, a fascinating play, fresh and modern with some interesting design concepts that is well worth your time tripping over to West London to see, indeed they've just announced an extension of a week to the run to now's your chance.

Just finally, something I spent a lot of time in Waiting for Godot thinking about was onstage smoking, of which there is a considerable amount also in this play. How do theatres, especially small ones like the Bush cope with the smoke in the auditorium (assumably they switch off the smoke alarms) yet still comply with health & safety regulations? Answers on a postcard please!

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Review: The Early Bird, Finborough

"You don't just disappear. You don't just vanish into thin air."

The Early Bird at the Finborough should probably come with some kind of health warning, this is some seriously disturbing dark stuff. With a missing child at the centre of this play though, one should not really be expecting an easy time of it. Performed by real-life husband and wife Alex Palmer and Catherine Cusack (half-sister to Sinéad, Niamh and Sorcha and more excitingly, played Carmel the psycho nurse from Corrie!) as Jack and Debbie, the couple struggling to deal with the disappearance of their daughter Kimberley one morning on the way to school. We then follow them as they try and recreate the events of that morning but the aftermath reveals the cracks below the surface and things become increasingly, incredibly creepy.

The design by takis is sensational: the actors are enclosed in a clear perspex cube and surrounded by piles of ash, with just a toy chest inside. Lit harshly from fluorescent tubes below, it is clear they are trapped, both physically and emotionally in their horrific experience, but as the seats are arranged around the box in the round, it is clear that we the audience are also trapped, with nowhere to hide from the unfolding action and the unflinching, coruscating stares of the actors.

Leo Butler's language is dark and modern, making much use of echoing phrases and repeated sections as we discover new and changing meanings as the action progresses, but it must be said that even with just a 70 minute running time, some of the repetition did become a little bit wearing. This is in part due to the opaqueness of the writing. We are constantly having our understanding questioned with some really clever tricks pulling you one way or the other, but the nightmarish, almost hallucinatory, twists and turns means that one is still left questioning at the end of the play. The vagueness leaves one feeling somewhat unfulfilled although makes for very interesting post-show discussion.

Cusack and Palmer both give strong, impassioned performances, filled with anger they both convince, in the quieter moments there's perhaps less of an emotional connecton between them, and between them and the audience, but this is as much to do with the above-mentioned vagueness: it's hard to care for someone when you don't know if they exist or what is really going on. Just finally, there are scenes where they both double up as their daughter, these are amongst the most chilling things I have ever seen. The vocal effect alone was creepy enough, but the physical performances in playing Kimberley, especially by Palmer, is still giving me the chills thinking about it now.

Whilst by no means perfect, this is such an interesting production with much to commend it, and with limited seating inside, I rather suspect it will sell out soon, so book now. But be warned, uncompromising and brutal, this is not theatre for the faint-hearted!

Running time: 70 minutes (with no interval)
Programme cost: £2

Friday, 5 February 2010

Review: Waiting for Godot, Theatre Royal Haymarket

"Let us not waste our time in idle discourse"
Waiting for Godot was one of the huge hits of the theatrical calendar last year, starring as it did the heavyweight talents of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, running for most of the summer at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and has been reinstated there again now Breakfast at Tiffany's has finished. There's clearly a business case for bringing this production back as it was so successful and keeping as stellar a name as Ian McKellen to get the bums on seats again, but surely the main draw was seeing the combination of McKellen and Stewart and I do find the recasting decisions a little curious, part of me thinks they should have gone the whole hog in order to create an entirely new production.

That is not to negate the efforts of all involved, Rees' Vladimir felt more comfortable to watch for me, being an all-round more genial soul and he has developed a great relationship with McKellen's Estragon which gives a lighter feel to the whole shebang. Matthew Kelly's Pozzo is a more authoritative, intimidating presence, quite different from Simon Callow's, with Ronald Pickup continuing the same solid work as before on the end of the rope.

The run-down set is still the same with its crumbling facades and effective shifts of lighting, and I think I actually enjoyed it more this time, Rees feeling much more natural than Patrick Stewart, but I remain to be convinced by the play itself. I wasn't a fan when I saw it last year, and still found myself struggling to see what made people vote this one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4

Review: The Hostage, Southwark Playhouse

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

“I was court
-martialed in my absence, and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence”

After having one of the hottest tickets in London in January with The Rivals, the Southwark Playhouse had quite an act to follow and it has done so by reviving Brendan Behan’s play The Hostage, the first new production in the UK for 16 years. Opening with a song and dance routine as The Rivals did not really help to stop comparisons instantly being made, we soon moved onto to both a naked man appearing and characters addressing the audience, both of which have been in incredibly plentiful supply this year already.

Behan’s play is incredibly hard to define: it’s set in a brothel in 1960s Dublin where a young British soldier is being kept hostage by the IRA in reprisal for the planned execution of a young IRA member in a Belfast jail. The hostage is forced to share the space with the resident prostitutes both male and female, their customers, and a random selection of crazy individuals, but finds a connection despite everything with a young innocent housekeeper. It’s comic but tragic, it’s farcical but political: as I said, hard to define!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Review: Richard III, Riverside Studios

"Oh thou well skilled in curses, stay awhile
And teach me how to curse mine enemies"

So after a nice break away from London, and seven whole days without a play, 2010's theatregoing resumed with a trip to Richard III at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Part of a season of plays entitled Desire and Destruction presented by the Love and Madness company, an ensemble of 10 actors are covering 3 plays around these ever-resonant themes, of which Richard III is the second to start (Fool For Love opened last week).

One of Shakespeare's most celebrated works, Richard III is the story of the physically deformed Duke of Gloucester, a fiercely ambitious prince of the House of York whose hunger for the throne leads him down a Machiavellian path of endless murder, betrayals and general naughtiness as nothing will stop him from gaining what he so desires, even though it lays so far from him. Shakespeare played fast and loose with history in writing this play and so it lends itself to interpretation quite nicely (this production is presented in modern dress), being much more a study in uncontrolled ambition and the power of 'spin' in order to manipulate situations both publicly and privately to one's own good.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Top ten plays of January

With a lot to choose from I had to think a bit about these rankings, but there was no doubt about the top two. So here's my top ten plays of January

Midsummer (a play with songs)
Legally Blonde
The Rivals
5. Silence! The Musical
6. Really Old, Like Forty Five
7. The Waste Land
The Little Dog Laughed
10. Three Sisters