Review: Rough Cuts – Bytes, Royal Court

“It’s on the internet…”

Just a quickie for this as the Royal Court’s Rough Cuts season is a space for short plays, experimental readings and works in progress and so I’m just including it here for the completeness of my theatregoing records. It has previously taken place in the upstairs theatre but as this is currently occupied, they have converted the Wilson rehearsal studio – right next to the main building – into a public performance space for this group of four pieces, all based on the theme of our relationship to the internet.

This year’s cohort of writers made this a must-see from the moment it was announced, featuring as it does Alia Bano, DC Moore, Penelope Skinner and Nick Payne, and with an ensemble of six actors including Sarah Woodward and Al Weaver, I was confident of enjoying the performances too. And it was an agreeable evening from start to early finish – such a rarity to be home well before 9pm on a theatre night – and a pleasing indication of the vibrancy and variety in new theatre writing in the UK.  Continue reading “Review: Rough Cuts – Bytes, Royal Court”

Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court

“We have to be remembered”

This rehearsed reading of Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance was held at the Royal Court in memory of its playwright John Arden who passed away in March of this year. I decided to attend as he’s not a writer I’m familiar with and the little reading I about him that I did in advance seemed to suggest that he’s possibly due a Rattigan-like revival. Though now apparently considered a highly significant British playwright, his work hasn’t really been in fashion in recent decades and his was a career marked with frequent clashes with the theatrical establishment which has possibly led to his oeuvre being a little neglected.

The journey of the play Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance itself seems archetypal in this respect. It was received badly by both critics and audiences on its opening in 1959 but is now considered to be his best play and a modern classic. The process of exactly how something like this happens is something I’m very interested in discovering more about, (a short programme note explains the Royal Court themselves published a leaflet for audiences asking ‘What kind of theatre do you want?’ to get to the bottom of the issue) but on the evidence of this play, it is a little hard to see why it was not a success. Continue reading “Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court”

Not-a-review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough

The Finborough’s Vibrant festival has been running for 3 years now, offering an opportunity to catch pieces of new writing and works-in-progress from the vast number of playwrights with some connection to the West London theatre. I’ve attended a few of these readings in the past and am loving the fact that I will soon have the opportunity to see a full production of one of them early next year as Mike Bartlett’s Bull makes its bow up in Sheffield.

Catching my eye this year though was the chance to see a musical version of Thérèse Raquin with music by Craig Adams and book and lyrics by Nona Shepphard. We were treated to the first half in its entirety and remarkably, a cast of 13 gathered to give full voice to this intriguingly pitched musical which lies, in the astute words of my companion for the evening, ‘between Les Mis and Sunday in the Park with George”. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough”

Not-a-review: Pagans, Royal Court

“What’s an agnostic?”

Last up in the set of rehearsed readings for the International Playwrights Season was the play Pagans by Ukrainian Anna Yablonskaya. This reading was overlaid with great sadness when it was revealed that the playwright was killed in the Moscow Domodedovo Airport bombing on 24th January 2011 on her way to collect a prize for the screenplay of this very play. It had been scheduled well before her tragic death and the decision was never in doubt to continue with it as a beautiful tribute to her life and work.

Directed by Simon Godwin and translated from the Russian in which she wrote by Rory Mullarkey, Pagans follows the impact of the return of Natalya Stepanovna, long-estranged from her son Oleg, on his family, in particular his over-worked wife Marina and awkward university-dropout daughter Kristina, and other people in their life. They are all non-believers but she is fervently religious and though they are initially sceptical of her desire to bring Jesus into their lives to save them, they soon find out that the Lord (or is it Natalya) works in mysterious ways. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Pagans, Royal Court”

Not-a-Review: The Harvest, Royal Court

“Apple-picking is really cool”

The Royal Court’s International Playwrights Season turns its gaze to Eastern Europe now, with main show the Latvian Remembrance Day opening this week and two rehearsed readings accompanying it from other former Soviet countries. The first was from Belarus, The Harvest by Pavel Pryazhko and translated here by Sasha Dugdale, a deceptively simple but wickedly funny comedy about four young people picking apples in an orchard.

I’ve enjoyed the previous readings I’ve been to so I would most likely have booked for this one anyway, but as soon as I discovered that the much-lauded (on this blog at least!) John Heffernan was taking part, it was a no-brainer. But it was also pleasing to see the rest of the cast being interesting names too: David Dawson (an alumnus of Posh from downstairs here), and Laura Elphinstone and Emily Taaffe, both of whom I’ve seen and liked but in fairly serious roles, so it was a great pleasure to see everyone breaking loose and playing with the daftness in the comedy of Pryazhko’s writing and all doing really well. Continue reading “Not-a-Review: The Harvest, Royal Court”

Not-a-Review: Villa, Royal Court

“Somebody spoiled their ballot”

Continuing the International Playwrights season at the Royal Court was the first of two readings of Chilean Guillermo Calderón’s plays, Villa. Based around a table discussion between three women, appointed to a committee to make a decision about what to do with a mansion, the villa of the title, in which unspeakable atrocities were carried out by the (now presumably defunct) ruling regime. Tensions are running high in the community about how best to deal with it or what they are actually trying to do here, commemorate the tragedies, secure the legacy, forget it even happened, with public meetings degenerating into violence as the two proposals were debated: raze it to the ground or build a museum in it.

So Macarena, Carla and Francisca are the three representatives have been selected and put into a room to come up with a decision and Calderon lets their debate run in real time with to great effect. There’s a great set-up in which it is made immediately apparent that at least one of the women has a hidden agenda here and from then on, the power games commence as they each circle the others, trying to ascertain if they are friend or foe, whether they can be relied upon for the casting vote for their preferred option. The most beautiful writing came with the scenes where Carla and Francisca each presented the case for one proposal, with achingly painful clarity that packed a hefty emotional punch, then beautifully undercut by the their final assertion that this isn’t necessarily what they believe in themselves. Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Villa, Royal Court”

Not a Review: Cinema Red, Royal Court

“Men get hard just watching me dance”

As part of the International Playwrights season, Cinema Red was one of the rehearsed readings featuring writers with whom the Royal Court has established relationships in order to give them opportunities to showcase the work that has been developed in their creative partnerships in a certain region of the world. At the moment it is Latin America under the spotlight with Colombian play Our Private Life currently running upstairs. This particular play though is by Mexican playwright Zaría Abreu and we watched it in illustrious company which included Mike Bartlett and Chloë Moss.

As ever with readings, this shouldn’t be treated as a formal review, but rather for information as a collection of my thoughts about it. Set in Mexico, in and around a brothel/porn cinema, it follows the lives of some of people who float around, visiting, working there and the dreams they have to get them through the day. Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, it took a slightly different take on the way it was read, one that I hadn’t seen before and took a little getting used to, in that in each of the four locations, a different actor took the responsibility of reading the stage directions but I soon got used to it. And it really was an engaging 90 minutes of thrilling new writing and some great acting even whilst reading from scripts sitting down in chairs. Continue reading “Not a Review: Cinema Red, Royal Court”

(Not a) Review: Contact U.K., Soho Theatre

“We need have some boundaries…”

This isn’t a review of this show, Contact U.K., as it was a table reading of this new play by Michael Kingsbury which took place at the Studio on the top floor of the Soho Theatre, but more of a note for myself for completeness to my record of theatre-going and also, hopefully, the smugness I can have when/if this show makes it to the stage: I can say that I filled out a rather amusing feedback form and helped shape its progress!

I can’t deny that the cast involved played a big part in me wanting to attend to: Tara Fitzgerald is just wonderful full stop, Michelle Ryan is proving herself to be quite the versatile actress and Rupert Graves has a special place in my period-drama loving heart (hello Maurice!). Iain McKee made up the fourth cast member, recognisable to those of you who’ve seen Channel 4’s The Promise and we even got some bonus John Sessions as the narrator which was a pleasant surprise. Continue reading “(Not a) Review: Contact U.K., Soho Theatre”

Not a Review: Painted Lady – The Princess Caraboo Scandal, Finborough

“The biggest stinker is the one with the foulest stench”

Fate can be a funny thing. As anyone who has read this blog for a bit will know, I decided a while back that director and playwright Phil Willmott was going to be my new best friend after Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi melted my heart, but oddly enough that has yet to come to fruition! But being a very hard-working man, opportunities to see his work keep popping up and when a preview of his new musical Painted Lady – The Princess Caraboo Story was announced as part of the Finborough’s Vibrant festival, there was no chance I wasn’t booking my tickets. And sure enough, the man himself was there and after introducing the show, he made his way to his seat WHICH WAS NEXT TO MINE! Good times. Except, due to Chiltern Railways’ inability to notify people just when their engineering works were taking place making me rather late and needing to run to make the curtain and it being a ridiculously hot evening, it was practically like a sauna in the little theatre and so the only thing I could do next to Mr Willmott was sweat, a lot. And I am sorry to him for that. Goddamn fate!

Anyway, the show: Willmott accepted a commission for a brand new musical from the Bristol Old Vic for 2011 and this is the first airing of the material being developed for it, the first draft of an embryo I think someone described it as. After a week’s rehearsal, we were told not to expect too much and to imagine the dance routines in the big numbers, a tricksy way of lowering expectations because as a company of 17 filed onstage, they acted and sang and in some cases threw in a bit of choreography which looked quite practised and comfortable, all very impressive. As with other works-in-progress, this is more an overview though than an actual review. Continue reading “Not a Review: Painted Lady – The Princess Caraboo Scandal, Finborough”