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.
Programme cost: £2
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
“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!
The play is anchored by Stephanie Fayerman as the madam of the house and Gary Lilburn as Pat her partner and former IRA soldier, their relationship holds the show together and their dialogue is the snappiest with a brilliant shared dry humour. All the other characters of the house swirl around either or both of them, in an often bewildering array.
The opening scene is great with all the characters coming together and an impromptu Irish jig and singalong starts. It really sets the scene in this bawdy convivial whorehouse and under Caitlin Shannon’s musical direction, the singing and instrument-playing (I saw a piano, a flute, a drum, a fiddle and a penny-whistle) was all very impressive. The action is then continually interspersed with Irish songs, although I found these musical interludes becoming increasingly intrusive. In the second half in particular, the farcical songs just arrested the action and I struggled to see what songs such as “Don’t muck with the moon’ and ‘I’m here, I’m queer’ really added to the play, dissipating the dramatic tension completely as they did.
Former Riverdancer Christopher Doyle’s inept IRA guard was the funniest character, stealing several scenes effortlessly with some excellent physical comedy. Ben James-Ellis, as the soldier taken hostage, had great clarity in his singing but needs to work on transferring that over to his speaking voice, too many lines were swallowed up in his approximation of a London accent and I’m not sure I was convinced by his naivete: would a soldier really be so clueless as to why he had been kidnapped? Emily Dobbs as Teresa, with whom a very fast relationship is formed was much more convincing as a girl straight out of the convent making a connection with the only other ‘pure’ person in sight.
The staging looks effective, with a wooden staircase and landing at the rear evoking the boarding house feel nicely, but using a small thrust stage with such a large cast, many of whom are onstage at the same time, means that there’s just too much going on in a very confined space, too much dialogue is lost and there’s an awful lot of watching people’s backs, no matter where you’re sat.
In the final analysis, if one treats this as a silly farce then all should be ok. It is certainly entertaining enough and I was never bored, all credit to the performers here. It is as unique a treatment of the Anglo-Irish relationship as you will ever see, but not one that I felt actually had anything to tell us.
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 ambitionand the power of ‘spin’ in order to manipulate situations both publicly and privately to one’s own good.
Carl Prekopp does an admirable job, playing him with less of a hunchback and more of a palsy-related disability, but capturing perfectly the conspiratorial tone of the manipulative man on the make and getting the level of cruel comedy just right: I loved the way he constantly slunk around in the shadows, whether on the fringes of his family or the court. His descent into madness and paranoia is perhaps a touch overplayed, his physical performance becoming almost reptilian, but still convincing.
Programme cost: £3 (but it covers all 3 of the ‘Death & Destruction’ plays)
BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Rachel Weisz – A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse (24.8%)
Alison Steadman – Enjoy at the Gielgud (12.8%)
Fiona Shaw – Mother Courage & Her Children at the NT Olivier (9.4%)
Helen Mirren – Phedre at the NT Lyttelton (21.60%)
Juliet Stevenson – Duet for One at the Almeida & Vaudeville (7.60%)
Lesley Sharp – The Rise & Fall of Little Voice at the Vaudeville (23.80%
THE CAPITAL BREAKS BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jude Law – Hamlet, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s (40.80%)
David Harewood – The Mountaintop at Theatre 503 & Trafalgar Studios 1 (6.00%)
Dominic West – Life Is a Dream at the Donmar Warehouse (13.60%)
Ken Stott – A View from the Bridge at the Duke of York’s (14.90%)
Mark Rylance – Jerusalem at the Royal Court Downstairs (13.90%)
Samuel West – Enron at the Royal Court Downstairs (10.80%)
Continue reading “Winners of the 2010 What’s On Stage Awards”
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
UK – Best male in a supporting role
Clifford Rose as The Judge in The Chalk Garden
UK – Best female in a supporting role
Phoebe Nicholls as Frances Trebell in Waste and Helen Seville in The Vortex
US – Most promising Male
Aaron Tveit – as Gabriel Goodman in Next to Normal
US – Most promising female
Quincy Tyler Bernstine– as Salima in Ruined
Best New Play
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
Mark Rylance in Jerusalem
Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire
The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Jude Law in Hamlet
Rupert Goold for Enron
Christopher Oram for Red
Most Promising Playwright
Alia Bano for Shades
The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
Tom Sturridge in Punk Rock
Elsewhere, Paul Ritter is very funny as the head of the government department dealing with the ‘ageing problem’, saying all the things that we’ve thought but would never dare say out loud in ever-plausible government-speak (including an ingenious solution to crowded pavements which I can actually see being implemented) but never becomes monstrous, we always see the man behind the suit, making his journey in the second half all the more heartbreaking. And Lucy May Barker did well with a somewhat underwritten part as a teenager adopted by Lyn as part of one of the government schemes.
Finally, there is a stunning performance from Michela Meazza as Mimi. Meazza is better known as a dancer, being a member of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company, and I don’t want to give too much away here, but she delivers a physical performance which literally has to be seen to be believed, I loved it.
Programme costs: £2
Note: in a pleasing affirmation that karma does indeed exist in this world, after being mugged one day, I got upgraded the next. Having booked a restricted view ticket on the side for this show, I was bumped to the centre of the pit just a few rows from the stage! Apparently, the restricted view also currently includes a considerable view of the backstage area given the small revolve and so whilst they investigate options, people are getting upgrades which should be a welcome surprise for a lucky few.