Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A Human Being Died That Night, 25 May 2013

Firstly, an apology.  I got into a habit of attempting to write reviews then forgetting them (or remembering them as their run had ended, so it has been a while. I also just haven't seen that much this year or certainly little of interest.

A Human Being Died That Night at Hampstead Downstairs is Nicholas Wright's return to Hampstead after the wonderful The Last of the Duchess in 2011, which I loved. This is very different, an adaptation of A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness by Dr Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, it looks at Gobodo-Madikizela's meetings with Eugene De Kock, a white policeman accused of the murders of many South Africans and refered to as "Prime Evil". It looks as forgiveness, suspicion and post-apartheid South Africa.

Noma Dumezweni and Matthew Marsh. Credit to Hampstead Theatre

It's strengths are the performances; Matthew Marsh as De Kock (and a frightenly accurate Afrikaners accents) who could easily play De Kock as a monster who regrets his incarceration but plays him a vulnerable man with a stutter, an abusive childhood and an indication of the insecurity of the Afrikaners that kept Apartheid going for decades and Noma Dumezweni as Gobodo-Madikizela, whose introduction outside the studio space could easily convince you that she was a psychologist and not an actress remembering lines. Wright doesn't paint either as perfect; she is understandably suspicious of white South Africans but pushes her anger towards Cape Town and Table Mountain, landscapes that were no go for a black South African in the townships and De Kock, who reveals, during a touching moment of sympathy where Gobodo touches his hand, that was the hand he used to kill people with.

At 80 minutes with no interval it doesn't sag like so many plays, it leaves you wanting more not just due to writing and performaces but in hope that a better understanding of South Africa, that has attempted forgiveness in the most public way with its Truth and Reconciliation committees and is suffering new issues such as AIDS amongst its poor black South Africans.

After the poor Travelling Light it is good to see Wright tackle the problems and roots to reconciliation in his homeland.

Monday, 26 November 2012

This House (Cottesloe), October 2012

Who's in it? Charles Edwards, Phil Daniels, Philip Glenister, Lauren O'Neill, Richard Ridings, Vincent Franklin and Julian Wadham.

Where did you see it? The Cottesloe, but it's sold out run finishes on the 1st December and with a transfer to the Olivier in February.

Every so often this blog develops an unhealthy obsession with a play (Collaborators, Last of the Duchess) and this is my play of 2012. It helps with James Graham's This House to be a major fan of politics but this young writer merely puts together a coherrent script out of the real life drama that was the House of Commons between 1974 -1979.

It is a testament to the storyline that there is no real character development outside the Labour and Conservative Party whips. Charles Edwards, Ed Hughes and Julian Wadham are in the blue corner and Philip Glenister, Lauren O'Neill, Vincent Franklin, Philip Glenister (sadly not appearing in the Olivier transfer) and Phil Daniels, who appeared later in the run due to a family bereavement and was replaced by the fantastic Andrew Frame (appearing script in hand as the Cottesloe doesn't employ understudies) for the early shows.

The ensemble made up of Gunnar Cauthery, Andrew Havill, Christopher Godwin, Helena Lymbery, Giles Taylor, Matthew Pidgeon, Rupert Vanisart and Tony Turner are probably the most interesting to watch, they get to show their range even when their characters don't even have names; most of the MPs are refered to as the Member for [insert constituency here], which draws acknowledgement when the Member for Finchley is mentioned but mostly caused me to want to go home and google resulting in a "Oh that's who the Member for Abingdon is!"

The play's strength isn't so much its script (reading the playtext reveals a long winded play that would have been far longer than the 2 hours 45 it clocks in at) but a director and set designer in Jerrmy Herrin and Rae Smith, respectively, who make the most of the Cottesloe (the set's main attraction is the House of Common green benches in the stalls) and a house band doing versions of David Bowie songs (Daniels, envoking his Parklife days even does a number) that add to the seventies atmosphere and avoids being pretentious or embarassing to watch. Even the choreographed numbers feel like they have a place in a play that's text already has a lot going on.

I cannot really find fault with this play and it is such a relief to see a strong play after the disaster that is Damned by Despair at the National Theatre and what has been a weak year for NT productions in general.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Damned by Despair, 5 October 2012 (Preview)

Who's in it? Bertie Carvel, Sebastian Armesto, Leanne Best, Rory Keenan, Lorna Brown, Michael Gould, Amanda Lawrence, Pierce Reid and Alex Warren.

Where did you see it? Olivier, National Theatre

Occasionally the National Theatre put on productions that make you wonder what the director has on Sir Nicholas Hytner . Associate Director Bijan Sheibani must have something pretty major to bring Frank McGuinness' adaptation of Tirso de Molina's Damned by Despair to the biggest theatre on the South Bank.

It is a complete and utter car crash. The lack of big names means it isn't selling too well (I had complementary tickets) and when it does get an audience in they are quick to disappear at the interval. The story surrounds hermit Paulo (Armesto), who after receiving a message from 'God', goes to find his counterpart Enrico (Carvel), a violent man who kills for money and sometimes just for fun. Armesto and Carvel are badly miscast. Armesto lacks the charm or ability to keep the audience interested in Paulo and Carvel, 2012 Olivier Award winner for Matilda, is all charm and muscle (He looks fantastic, he reminded me of a young Gary Oldman when Oldman only played psychos) but his musical theatre past keeps cropping up, with limp wristed movements and all round campiness that ruins any belief the audience had in Enrico,violent gang-leader and killer. The brilliant What's on Stage forum suggested he wants baddie roles but Carvel will be lucky to get any roles after this.

Company in rehearsal
Add in the fact that is religious propaganda that sits uncomfortably with a 21st century audience. I hate to sound all Ricky Gervais but it feels out of place, in the same way 13's message of Atheism felt like being force fed marbles of issues that aren't done well at the best of times but feel particularly clunky in the theatre.

It is also doesn't seem to know when it is set, is it 17th century Naples as the original or is it a modern day setting (There's a really cringey bit with Carvel and his gang, shocking made up of mostly black men which really offended me, singing 'Stuck in the Middle' with you as they chopped off someone's ear) . The actual set is one of the cheapest, nastiest sets I have seen in a theatre.It looks like cardboard and the only pay off is a scene towards the end. It's staging means a lot of action takes places amongst the audience, which results in awkward shuffling as some realise they are both watching and they are also part of the action. There is also the poor supporting cast, only saved by Alex Warren and Rory Keenan, who provide actual charm and suitable acting in this poor production. Leanne Best plays Celia as smug, quite unnecessarily which makes me think she isn't necessarily acting the smugness and Pierce Reid, who was actually quite good in Collaborators, is reduced to ensemble.

I am not sure how the National can justify this dull play at any time, let alone during a recession. Offering during the Travelex season isn't justification for why it looks and feels so cheap and it isn't what you expect from the National Theatre.

My recommendation is don't go but if you do try to enjoy as campy nonsense rather than a serious play.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Judas Kiss 15 September 2012

Who's in it? Rupert Everett, Freddie Fox, Tom Colley, Cal Macaninch, Ben Hardy,
Alister Cameron, Kirsty Oswald
Where did you see it? Hampstead Theatre

It has been a while, hasn't it. I struggled to see performances (where were all the Edinburgh previews this year?) and then write about them.

I return to blogging after seeing The Judas Kiss by David Hare. This production has the perfect recipe of a subject that still interests, over a century after his death, and a cast lead by theatre veteran Rupert Everett and the up and coming Freddie Fox. The story is divided into two halves; Oscar Wilde (Everett) on the evening before his arrest and Wilde after his release living with his lover and the cause of his downfall Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas (Fox).In the middle you have Robbie Ross (played brilliantly by Macaninch), a man far more in love with Wilde than Wilde ever was with him, though clearly fond of him as he was Wilde's first male lover. Ross has the uneviable task of paying off the help (Oswald, Hardy and Cameron) whilst trying to get his friend away from the police. He is also go-between for Wilde and his wife Constance,  though we never meet  her, her  humiliation and hatred of Bosie comes through Ross. 

Everett shines as Wilde, but it is not a difficult part. The audience can empathise with Wilde's love for  his children who are estranged from him and his determination not to flee whilst he has the chance. What everyone struggles with is how he can love Bosie so, a man who introduced him to the rent boys who provide evidence against Wilde at trial, a man so spoilt and selfish yet so unaware.Hare (and Fox) could easily make Bosie a one dimensional villain but there is something intriguing and attractive about this horrible character that attracts Wilde (and Gallieo, played by the rather well-endowed Tom Colley). My only issue would be the second half, which drags but has the most potential (it is mostly a two hander between Wilde and Ross or Wilde and Bosie).
Fox, Everett and Macaninch in The Judas Kiss

I should warn, or mention in passing so you buy tickets, that there is a LOT of full frontal nudity in this play. Tom Colley is the highlight (Let's just say Fox is very keen to put on his bedsheet when wondering around the stage whereas Colley isn't) but it is all done tastefully, though maybe too darkly lit for some people's tastes.

I think what stuck with me was Wilde's comment that Judas's betrayal to Jesus wasn't dramatic enough. He hardly knew Jesus, it should have been John that administered the kiss. The saddest thing about Wilde is that he betrayed by EVERYBODY for something that wouldn't raise an eyebrow had he done these thigs a hundred years later.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Chariots of Fire, 19 May 2012

Who's in it? James McArdle, Mark Edel-Hunt, Tam Williams, Simon Williams, Sam Archer, Savannah Stevenson, Natasha Broomfield and Jack Lowden.
Where did you see it? Hampstead Theatre (Transfers to the Gielgud Theatre on the 22nd June 2012)

I'm not sure if people have fond memories of the film Chariots of Fire. I think the fondness for it and its success is completely dependent on Vangelis's music as opposed to the whole "two men win races" thing.
Director (and artistic director of Hampstead Theatre) Edward Hall desperately tries to recreate the beach scenes by having his company (elder member exempt) warming up (Really? they couldn't do this in their dressing rooms?) and running around the round stage in what could be a beautiful piece of choreography if they weren't wearing modern day t-shirts and tracksuit bottoms. I won't bore you too much with the plot, the plot is the same as the film version.

Chariots of Fire is more than two men win the athletics, it is about overcoming discrimination, your God or your love of sport etc etc but this stage play becomes about which actor can run around in circles most convincingly. It doesn't make the play exciting and any tension that has been created is then slowed down by watching people run around. The scenes set in Paris 1924 feel anti-climatic and lose meaning because you know all comes good. The actual scripted scenes are nothing special, Mike Bartlett has brought nothing to stage that wasn't on the screen and completely unsubtle (Oooh, they hate him because he's a Jew, do you see?). Bartlett's seems incapable of not treating his audience like idiots, he was just as blatant during the epic 13 at the National Theatre last year.  The production of Chariots of Fire isn't about showcasing great actors (I think James McArdle and Jack Lowden are wasted in their roles as Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell) but about showcasing what the Hampstead Theatre can do.
Nicholas Woodeson and James McArdle

I think the move to Gieguld without judging its success at the Hampstead is a major problem (though it has sold out-not dificult when so many seats have been removed for the round staging), will there really be an audience for this because of 2012, will that audience not just go and see the theatrical re-release due this summer? In a season that has seen the stage adaptation of The King's Speech close early because it was released too closely to the film will the same fate not be dealt to Chariots of Fire.

Monday, 21 May 2012

One Man, Two Guvnors, 12 May 2012

Who's in it?  Owain Arthur, Martin Barrass , David Benson, Robin Berry, Nigel Betts, Gillian Budd, Andrew Dennis, Derek Elroy, Gerard Horan, Daniel Ings, Ben Mansfield, Laura Matthews, Jodie Prenger, Richard Shanks, Hannah Spearritt, Gemma Whelan and  Matthew Woodyat.

Where did you see it? Theatre Royal Haymarket

One Man, Two Guvnors originally starred James Corden, Chris Oliver and Jemima Rooper, they have now taken this smash hit play (it transfered to Aldwych from the Lyttelton, National Theatre AND toured the UK) to Broadway and the play continues, with Corden's understudy Owain Arthur, taking on the lead role at the Haymarket.

The Theatre Royal Haymarket is a horrible, expensive mess of a venue. I shouldn't have gone back after seeing The Importance of Being Earnest there a few months ago but the National Theatre were offering cheap (and what I thought were better) seats in the Upper Circle. My seats in the Upper Circle were even worse than the balcony. For anyone familiar with The Simpsons you will remember a wonderful scene where Springfield's police force have their own documentary series Bad Cops. In Bad Cops we see Principal Skinner and his mother Agnes call out the police. The argument surrounds the television where one half of the screen has been covered causing a hysterical Skinner to exclaim "We rented The Man Without a Face...I didn't even know he had a problem!"

I could only see half the stage, something not apparent if you were to book tickets for OMTG and take a look at the seating plan. I was in C3 Upper Circle, the couple next to me on C1 & C2 left about five minutes into the show. Whilst a ticket can stress restricted view they had no view at all. A complete rip off on the part of the TRH. Especially when they are charging at least £15 for seats where the audience cannot see the play.
Jodie Prentice and Owain Arthur

As for OMTG part of me wants to suggests anyone with restricted view tickets isn't actually missing much. I don't get the rave reviews (and it seems the Oliviers agreed with me). The play revolves around Brighton, mistaken identity between a twin brother and sister, the sister's lover who murdered her brother and the harlequin in the form of Francis Henshall (Arthur) who acts as minder for both Rachel (the twin sister of the dead Rocco) and her boyfriend Stanley, who she is escaping to Australia with.

Firstly there is too much going on, a lot of the back story involving the fiancee of the late Rocco feels tacked on and where this is humour it feels false, in fact it is false. The corpsing, the audience participation (except one section are all faked) and I fail to understand how such a strong adaption by Richard Bean of A Servant of Two Masters needed to break the fourth wall (or pretend to). My review and disappointment is definitely to do with the poor seats where I couldn't see a lot of the action but also a shockingly poor play that's doesn't really know where it is going.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

New Act Comedy

I don't write enough about comedy on this blog. I hope this will be rectified as the Edinburgh previews begin but for now I've been attending a few new act nights in London, mainly to support my friend Ian Lane but also because I don't know why I avoid new comic nights, I feel like I should support them because a select few will become established well known acts one day. I also appreciate that it is damn hard and as a punter viewing new comics I've come up with some dos and don'ts.

DO know how to use a microphone
The new comic's first nemesis (well first on stage nemesis anyway) I saw so many comics fight with a rogue microphone stand at Rudy's Revenge 2012 on 25th April. It is distracting, not only for the comic but for the audience member and microphone technique is a skill that needs to be learned.

DO speak proper!
One comic at Rudy's Revenge could not talk properly. Maybe it was nerves, maybe he is uneducated but either way he got no laughs because his set wasn't audible.

DON'T make jokes about Stephen Fry
Inexplicably jokes about how wonderful Stephen Fry don't go down well, especially when you look like a young Stephen Fry (as the comic at Rudy's Revenge-at this point you are probably wondering about the lack of names I am using. It isn't my place to embarass acts by naming and shaming them). It is also doesn't allow for the fact that some of your audience are on twitter and have witnessed Fry's petulant child antics first hand. He is not untouchable.

DON'T charge for new act nights
When you live in London there are plenty of cheap, established nights that contain known comics. If you are lucky you can get a good night of comedy for about £6. For Rudy's Revenge organisers to charge £3 for acts that will range in quality or have no quality whatsoever seems appaling when there are so many free new acts nights, like Freedom on the Fringe at the Torriano. That's a tip for promoters rather than comics.