With the lure of an Oscar-nominated actress and within walking distance of my flat, it did not take much to convince me to go and see The Shawl, a short but punchy play by American playwright David Mamet. The venue was the Arcola Theatre, the innovative Hackney venue which is pioneering a wide range of sustainable activities including the attempt to become the world’s first carbon neutral theatre.
The play is about a conman-like psychic John, played by Matthew Marsh, who is attempting to fleece Miss A out of a large inheritance, whilst teaching his young protégé Charles the tricks of his trade. Miss A has her own agenda in visiting the psychic though and Charles is less interested in real learning than just making a quick buck. Over four short acts, the issues of trust and betrayal in the shadow of greed are examined and the question is asked “is there such thing as an honest charlatan?” Continue reading “Review: The Shawl, Arcola”
Marking the beginning of Sean Holmes’ artistic directorship of the Lyric Hammersmith, Punk Rock is a new play written by Simon Stephens. It looks at the experiences of seven teenagers as they negotiate their final years of private school in Stockport, with the pressure of imminent mock exams looming on top of their regular adolescent trials and tribulations. The punk rock of the title is limited to short bursts which mark the scene changes, which i have to say was a blessing for me!
The company is made up of young people (thankfully there’s no 30 year olds dressing up embarassingly as schoolboys) with a combination of some experienced actors and some debutantes. This definitely adds to the freshness of the production, which is handsomely mounted, the library set looking very convincing. The action opens with new girl Lily meeting the somewhat kooky Will who is keen to impress the newcomer but finds his plans skewered by the arrival of other schoolmates into the library. Continue reading “Review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith”
This short play by Caryl Churchill ran prior to productions of Phèdre in the Lyttleton Theatre and with cheap ticket prices, proved a welcome addition to the regular programme. Three More Sleepless Nights looks at the fragility of relationships through the eyes of two all-too-human couples in three short acts. I’d viewed this primarily as an opportunity to see some great acting talent, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself engrossed in the travails of these couples as soon as the curtain had risen.
Ian Hart (eagerly anticipated by me at least in the forthcoming Speaking in Tongues) and Lindsey Coulson have great chemistry in their opening scene as a long-married long-suffering couple, Frank and Margaret, who argue constantly about his drinking and infidelity and her frustrations. They both give as good as they take and the scene is filled with sharply observed overlapping dialogue which was often very funny. Continue reading “Review: Three More Sleepless Nights, National”
Here are my top 5 plays for the month of July (somewhat belated due to a lovely holiday!):
1. A Streetcar Named Desire
3. Frank’s Closet
4. Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray
5. Waiting for Godot
and my top 20 plays of the year so far:
1. When The Rain Stops Falling
2. La Cage Aux Folles
3. A Streetcar Named Desire
5. A Doll’s House
6. The Pietà
7. Duet For One
9. Sister Act
10. The Last Five Years
11. Burnt By The Sun
12. Parlour Song
13. All’s Well That Ends Well
14. The Cherry Orchard
15. The Observer
16. Dancing At Lughnasa
17. Frank’s Closet
19. Time & The Conways
20. Carrie’s War
Maintaining its recent history of strong female-centred drama, the Donmar’s latest production is A Streetcar Named Desire and the star name this time round is Rachel Weisz, although she is ably supported by some strong upcoming talent. Not being a fan of old films, I had no idea of the story and I think this added considerably to my enjoyment.
It tells the story of Blanche DuBois, a figure with a tragic past, who turns up unannounced at her sister Stella’s apartment in 1940s New Orleans. The apartment is very small but Blanche’s personality is most certainly not, and so the pressures on Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski build up, as they struggle to wade through Blanche’s smokescreens and ascertain the real reasons for the unexpected visit. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar”
Just a quick review for this as it was a couple of weeks ago, and the run has now finished, plus there’s lots of lovely pics I wanted to post too! Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray returned to Sadler’s Wells after premiering in Edinburgh last summer, with largely the same cast. Taking Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray as its source material, this dance drama updates the action to modern times, so that Dorian is now a beautiful model who becomes an ‘It boy’ who takes the London fashion scene by storm, the portrait becomes a giant advertising billboard and there are a couple of characters who have switched gender.
I generally do not go to much dance and so cannot comment with much authority on the finer points of the quality of the choreography, but I can say that I found it most entertaining. The combination of the at times classical dancing between pairs and the modern, almost pop video-like group dances worked very well, and there was a surprising amount of humour worked into the dance as well. My lack of dance knowledge perhaps made me focus more on the storytelling, and I find it incredible how well the piece did in relating the action with not a word being said. The only area that needed a little clarity for me was with the doppelganger: I wasn’t sure whether he was a real character that had appeared on the scene or meant to just be an alter ego of Dorian himself. Continue reading “Review: Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray”
I’m not always the biggest fan of fringe theatre: often I find it overpriced and undercooked in terms of quality, but I do try to give some things a chance, as I did with Frank’s Closet, at the instigation of a dear friend last Thursday. Unfortunately the show has now closed and does not currently have future plans, but I loved it so much, I still had to write about it on here.
A new musical written by Stuart Wood, it features Frank, who on the eve of his wedding, has been set the challenge of clearing out his closet which is full of rare dresses which belonged to some of the greatest divas of our time. Each dress has a story (or song) to tell and Frank is helped to revisit elements of his past by a procession of divas who help him to fully understand the gravity of the commitment he is about to undertake, and whether indeed this is the right commitment for him to take. Continue reading “Review: Frank’s Closet, Wilton’s Music Hall”
Too Close To The Sun is a new musical which looks at the final days of the life of Ernest Hemingway before he committed suicide and makes up some things that might have happened then. Set in an isolated part of Idaho, Hemingway lives with his wife and his slutty secretary, when an old friend Rex de Havilland comes to visit with the intention of convincing the writer to sell the film rights to his life. Sounds like fun eh, well you don’t even know the half of it!
It is difficult to know where to start, there were just so many terrible elements to this thing. The songs were simply horrific: not a tune in sight and just the weirdest progressions, I don’t think any of them actually contained a chorus, it was kind of like twisted musical freestyling combined with verbal diarrhoea. I have to say that the two women, Helen Dallimore and Tammy Joelle, did their best with the material and at least had strong voices, but the two gentlemen, James Graeme and Jay Benedict, were just jaw-droppingly bad. They were landed with the worst songs for the most part, but their delivery was just so bad, that I struggled to keep a straight face any time either one opened their mouth to sing (which given I was on the front row, was a real trial). There was no sense of integration between the play and the songs at all, quite often they would just pop up and then disappear as quickly, leaving you dumbfounded. Continue reading “Review: Too Close To The Sun, Comedy”
Based on Hanif Kureishi’s 1995 novel of the same title, The Black Album takes up residence in the Cottesloe Theatre at the National. It’s a look at a Asian student’s experience of going to university in London in a pre-9/11 world, specifically around the time of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and the beginnings of the radicalisation of some extreme groups. Originally from Kent, Shahid is torn between the fun student life, complete with affairs with lecturers, that he discovers there and the pressures of his Muslim friends who want him to retreat from the excesses of Western living.
The story has taken on a much more powerful resonance in this post 9/11 world and as such, has the potential to be an incisive examination of British Muslim identity and the pressures it faced at a time of crucial change. And whilst the play does deal with some of these issues, it never really tackles them head on and it sometimes felt like there was a little lack of conviction about the proceedings. There’s never a real sense of just how ominous the direction that the extremists are heading in is and whilst I can’t say that I did not enjoy the play, I just feel like it is a bit of a missed opportunity. Continue reading “Review: The Black Album, National Theatre”
When the Donmar first announced its West End season, taking residence in the Wyndhams theatre, there was a special offer if you bought tickets for ll four productions at the same time, so incredibly, I’ve had a ticket for Hamlet for over 18 months! Indeed the entire run had been sold out for quite some time before it even opened, such was the draw of Jude Law’s name as Shakespeare’s eponymous Dane.
The weight of expectation must have been huge on Law’s shoulders. Not only was he following a superlatively-received Hamlet at the RSC with David Tennant, there has been a case of somewhat diminishing returns on the Donmar’s experiment, with Madame de Sade in particular disappointing many after Ivanov’s excellent start. So the sound of gleeful knives sharpening was strong, with a lead actor more known for his looks than acting talent these days taking a lot of flak before he had even started his run. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Donmar at the Wyndham’s”