10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: Great Expectations, Yvonne Arnaud Guildford

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, Nichola McAuliffe, Theatre Touring UK

“A gentleman should never be discourteous”

At the heart of Tilted Wig’s new version of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is the real box of delights that is James Turner’s set design. Endlessly practical (much needed for a touring show) and versatile in its use of space, I reckon it could either be marketed to IKEA for its storage solutions or to the London housing market as a bijou starter home!

Frivolity aside, it really does epitomise the playfulness of Sophie Boyce Couzens’ production which uses a cast of eight, plus a musician, to depict the coming-of-age of young Philip Pirrip with an elegant take on its theatrical invention. The focus is on storytelling – narrative interjections split between the company, the switch between the multiple characters they all play evoked with simple but effective change of an accent or hat or suchlike. Continue reading “Review: Great Expectations, Yvonne Arnaud Guildford”

Review: All Creatures Great and Small, Yvonne Arnaud

“It takes the death of an animal to make them see sense”

There’s no doubting that here and now, a television adaptation full of television stars is a safe bet for a theatre tour but whilst one may think better the devil you know, this version of All Creatures Great and Small demonstrates the difficulties in transferring something so beloved onto the stage. Simon Stallworthy based his play on two of James Herriot’s original books – If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen To A Vet – rather than the TV series and though there’s ingenuity in the way it is crafted (without using any livestock on stage…) its flat, episodic nature lacks energy leaving me a deeper shade of blue.

We open with – what else – a cow experiencing difficulties whilst giving birth and inexperienced vet James manages to avert a tragedy with his veterinary skills, ensuring the calf is born with a nice strong heartbeat. From there, we cycle through his arrival in the Yorkshire Dales, being taken under the wing of the idiosyncratic Farnon brothers and meeting 5, 6, 7, 8, any number of gruff farmers whom he has to win over whilst coming to terms with the realities of becoming a practicing vet. And of course it proves to be a summer of love as a chain reaction of events means he meets Helen, his eventual wife-to-be.  Continue reading “Review: All Creatures Great and Small, Yvonne Arnaud”

Reviewer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“A manly enterprise”

Propeller’s 2013/14 tour sees them revive their productions ofThe Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the latter kicking things off in a few venues this winter before the former joins it in rep early next year. The all-male Shakespeare company has rightfully garnered considerable praise for its innovative ensemble-driven approach to the Bard’s works but returning to this interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, previously seen in 2003 and 2009, sees them lose a little of that special magic that they have previously brought to bear.

Located in a Victorian attic of sorts, the story of the course of true love is surprisingly leaden in a protracted first half which fails to reveal any real sense of purpose to Edward Hall’s production. The ducal court is dull with a criminally insipid Hippolyta, any character that does arrive in Will Featherstone’s performance is too little too late; there’s a quartet of curiously bloodless lovers, with only Dan Wheeler’s Helena really standing out; and the Rude Mechanicals are serviceable but little more. Joseph Chance’s Wizard of Oz-inspired Puck really is the saving grace with his supple slyness.  Continue reading “Reviewer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”

Review: The Duck House, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

“Remember when we used to trust politicians”

Although outrageous and audacious in its scope, the expenses scandal that rocked the Houses of Parliament in 2009 was also rich in comic detail as the minutiae of what our elected officials deemed acceptable to claim was revealed in the pages of the Daily Telegraph. And it is this that writers Dan Patterson and Colin Swash (with Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You among their credits) have picked up on in their new comedy The Duck House

Set in May of that year with the Labour Party in disarray, backbencher Robert Houston decides to defect to the Tories in order to maintain the lifestyle he and his family have become used to. But with just one more interview with Tory grandee Sir Norman Cavendish to get through, the expenses scandal breaks and the Houstons set about trying to minimise the damage to their prospects. The depth of their financial fiddling means that this is no easy task though and results in farcical shenanigans that affect them all.  Continue reading “Review: The Duck House, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“What kind of woman is’t?”

In what is now a bit of a tradition (although I was abandoned by my usual partner in crime), late November sees me travel to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford, as it has become one of the first places that Propeller visit as they commence their lengthy tours around the UK and beyond. Indeed my first ever Propeller experience was here with the frankly outstanding Richard III, which with The Comedy of Errors made for an incredible introduction to this all-male company. The most recent double bill of Henry V and The Winter’s Tale didn’t quite live up to that billing for me, despite still being some of the most imaginatively reinterpreted Shakespeare I saw all year, and so there was no doubt I would continue to make the pilgrimage to Surrey. 

This time round, they are revisiting their 2006/7 productions of The Taming of the Shrew (which will start performances in late January) and Twelfth Night which commenced earlier in the month and which I saw at this midweek matinée. And from the lowering storm clouds that form the ever-present backdrop, it is clear that this is going to be no fluffy romp but rather a bittersweet take on Shakespeare’s rich comedy of frustrated love and sexual confusion. Sure, the production is full of the raucous innovation that Propeller bring to their reassessment of the Bard’s work and so we have here – amongst many, many other things – boxing matches, the La’s, tap dancing, nose flicking, and shirtless moving statues. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”

Review: The King’s Speech, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford

“No emotions. Not in public.”

Despite winning 4 Oscars in 2011, early treatments of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech envisioned it as a play, and it was at a reading at the Pleasance theatre that film director Tom Hooper’s mother spotted its potential and the rest as they say is history. So, it never actually made it into a theatre but striking while the iron is hot, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre have mounted this premiere production of the show, starring Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde, which will undertake a short tour of the country in the coming months.

Seidler drew on his own experience, as a boy with a stammer who was inspired by the success of King George VI in overcoming his own stammer, to pursue telling this story but was only granted permission to access much of the primary research material after the death of the Queen Mother, who did not want the film made in her lifetime. So we follow Bertie, the second son, as he struggles to deal with his stammer at a time when the public profile of the Royal Family was increasing exponentially with the advent of radio. His meeting with unconventional Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue sets him on the difficult journey of trying to conquer his deep-seated issues, all the while dealing with the unfolding scandal of his older brother’s affair with Wallis Simpson and the constitutional crisis it incurs. Oh, and war is approaching too. Continue reading “Review: The King’s Speech, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford”

Review: Henry V, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“May I with right and conscience make this claim”

After the phenomenal success of their pairing of Richard III and The Comedy of Errors which toured considerably this year, all-male Shakespeare company Propeller are riding on something of a high. The company has evolved once again with some departures, some new faces and several stalwarts remaining in situ to take on Henry V (which will be accompanied by The Winter’s Tale from next year) which will tour the UK and the world once again, even heading over to Australia and New Zealand in March.

A history play that has war at the very heart of it, Henry V perhaps lends itself more easily than most to updating, the enduring nature of conflict meaning that resonance is sadly never too far away. Propeller, with Michael Pavelka’s design, have adopted a modern feel – costumes point towards early-twentieth century – but one that generally feels more timeless rather than particularly anchored to any specific period with scaffolding units and crates forming a flexible set. The company bring their customary level of reinvigoration to the play, breathing a new physical life into the work and letting their imagination take it to new places. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”

Review: Richard III, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

“Thus it is when men are ruled by women”

I have not been lucky enough to catch Propeller, Edward Hall’s all-male Shakespeare company, in my theatregoing thus far and it was only the perseverance of a new friend at Boycotting Trends that convinced me to make the trip (also my first) to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford in order to catch Richard III, the first of their two plays that they will be touring for the next several months in rep with The Comedy of Errors. And boy am I glad that he did, for this reimagining of the history play into a post-modern gothic Victoriana-fest is pretty close to being unmissable.

The story of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of his Plantagenet family yet possessed of a burning ambition to be King and utterly ruthless in his bloodthirsty, backstabbing, blackmailing and brutal climb to the throne, is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays but Edward Hall along with Roger Warren has adapted and re-edited the text into something more dramatically compelling than I remember this play ever being, mainly through incorporating an outrageously comic, even vaudevillian approach to the dastardly deeds that are carried out. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre”