Review: Money, Radio 3

“Men are valued not on what they are, but what they seem to be”

The term ‘all-star cast’ is bandied about quite a bit these days and the more I go to the theatre, the more I realise how subjective a concept it is for me at least. Looking at the performer credits for this Radio 3 production of the Victorian satirical drama Money by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, I went into paroxysms of delight at the names contained within, but chatting later that evening to a group of non-theatre-going friends (for indeed I do still have some!), my excitement was hardly shared.

But for those of you in the know, and I’m counting all you readers of this blog, this is a great collection of actors. Celia Imrie, Roger Allam, Ian McDiarmid, Bertie Carvel, Tom Goodman-Hill, Phoebe Waller-Bridge to name just a few and all directed by the estimable Samuel West, making his radio directorial debut – how could anyone resist. For this version, the play, given a major production by the National Theatre in 1999 which also featured Allam, was recorded on location at Knebworth House which was inherited by Bulwer-Lytton himself just after he wrote this very work in 1840. Continue reading “Review: Money, Radio 3”

Re-review: Noises Off, Novello Theatre

“Once it gets in your nostrils, the smell of it never leaves”

One of the most unexpected things that happened to me in a theatre last year was me tumbling utterly for the charms of Noises Off. As detailed in my review from then, I’m really not a fan of farce but Michael Frayn’s play is so much more than what I’ve come to associate with the genre. Intelligently written in its deconstruction of it but still imbued with an affectionate warmth that shines through as this touring theatre company of misfits struggle across the country with a stuttering show which increasingly disintegrates as their shenanigans threaten to derail the whole shebang.

The show has transferred from its sell-out run at the Old Vic to the Novello Theatre where it will play til the end of June, and rather impressively it has managed to hang on to a large proportion of its cast. So one can still experience the glorious turns from Celia Imrie, Janie Dee, Karl Johnson et al and if anything, their performances have become richer in their perfectly timed interactions and comic desperation. The two new arrivals – Alice Bailey Johnson and Lucy Briggs-Owen – have slotted in extremely well. Bailey Johnson’s wailing ASM is good in a rather limited role but Brigg-Owen is excellent as the blank-eyed Brooke whose limitations are exposed as often as her contact lenses fall out. Continue reading “Re-review: Noises Off, Novello Theatre”

2012 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Collaborators by John Hodge – National Theatre Cottesloe
Jumpy by April De Angelis – Jerwood Downstairs, Royal Court
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean – National Theatre Lyttleton
The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan – Gielgud

Best New Musical
Betty Blue Eyes – Novello
Ghost – Piccadilly
London Road – National Theatre Cottesloe
Matilda – Cambridge
Shrek – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Best Revival 
Anna Christie – Donmar Warehouse
Flare Path – Haymarket
Much Ado about Nothing – Wyndham’s
Noises Off – Old Vic Continue reading “2012 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Review: Noises Off, Old Vic

“Oh God, I can’t believe we’re opening tomorrow”

Sondheim once posed the question “Don’t you love farce?” which given the name of this blog is rather apt for me, and I can safely say that it is not a genre of which I have proven fond. I’ve given it several tries but I really wasn’t a fan at all of A Flea In Her Ear, Once Bitten or One Man Two Guvnors, though the Orange Tree’s Three Farces did hint at the possibilities within the form that I did actually find funny. Billington reckoned in his last review of One Man Two Guvnors that one “would had to have had a humour by-pass not to enjoy it” which seems a bit harsh – I’m not against people finding farce funny but senses of humour are individual and so different things make different people laugh.

So you’d be quite right to think there was little chance of me going to see Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, the Old Vic having apparently decided that farce is their Christmas go-to. But I’m a theatre addict, and I love Celia Imrie, so I plonked down £20 for a restricted view seat (which happened to have several empty seats next to it, which I would never recommend that you could sneakily upgrade yourself to…) and gritted my teeth in readiness. Continue reading “Review: Noises Off, Old Vic”

DVD Review: Calendar Girls

“I can’t knit or make plum jam, but I can make a bloody victoria sponge…Of course I didn’t make this one, I got it from Marks and Spencer”

I managed to resist the temptation to go and see the stage version of Calendar Girls, the prospect of it never really appealed and though it has now started appearing with regularity on the touring circuit, I still haven’t worked enough desire to make the effort. When the film appeared on the television though in a post-turkey leftovers dinner haze, I couldn’t find the remote and so ended up watching it. I seem to remember quite liking it in the cinema, but something obviously didn’t settle too well in my memory as I’d never revisited on DVD or TV, never mind on stage, despite its epic cast of dames to be.

For much like with The King’s Speech, the feel-good factor that comes from the first viewing just evaporated and what was left was, to me at least, a rather thin film, of limited characterisation and what little there is feels laboured and contrived. A problem I guess that results from trying to dramatise a real life story, but one which felt rather exposed when rewatching the film. Continue reading “DVD Review: Calendar Girls”

Review: Drama at Inish, Finborough

“We do serious plays – Russian plays and that sort of thing”

The pleasures of theatregoing, especially in London, are many and varied but amongst my favourites are the chances offered to see some of our best actors in the most intimate of surroundings. So the opportunity to see the glorious Celia Imrie in the 50 seater Finborough Theatre in Earls Court was one I was never likely to miss. She is part of a large company performing Drama At Inish, a 1933 Irish comedy by Lennox Robinson which has not been seen in London for 60 years, in a strictly limited engagement. Also known as Is Life Worth Living?, the play is something of a farcical comedy, set in the small village of Inish where a travelling repertory company arrive for the summer, replacing the usual circus with their weightier fare of Ibsen, Tolstoy, Strindberg and Chekhov. But their serious drama soon begins to impact massively on the mood of the town with the inhabitants sinking into a melancholy morass of neuroses, unduly influenced by the theatre going on around them.

Fidelis Morgan’s production is full of hustle and bustle as the cast of thirteen swirl around the Seaview Hotel, where the entire show takes place, spread over a week. The actor couple of Hector De La Mare and Constance Constantia – a delightfully expansive pair of performances from Rupert Frazer and Juliet Cadzow – watch on bemusedly as their drama plays out in real life with character after character affected by what they see: political consciences, long hidden romances and secret dead children are exposed, people are moved to attempt suicide and murder, but it is all played with a jovial silliness that lifts the heart. Continue reading “Review: Drama at Inish, Finborough”

Review: Hay Fever, Rose Theatre Kingston

“People stare in astonishment when we say the most ordinary things”

In mounting a new production of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, the Rose Theatre, Kingston has managed another casting coup after attracting Judi Dench out west earlier this year, although their plans haven’t quite gone according to schedule. Celia Imrie agreed to take on the lead role of Judith Bliss, but subsequent filming commitments meant she can only fulfil half the run, so Nichola McAuliffe will be stepping in for the final two weeks. Still, a very interesting cast under Stephen Unwin’s direction, makes this an intriguing proposition.

Set in the Blisses’ family home in the 1920s, Judith, a recently retired stage actress, David, a self-absorbed novelist, and their two equally unconventional children make for a eccentric family grouping given to melodramatic theatrical excesses. On the weekend we see them, they have each invited someone, unbeknownst to the others, a stuffy diplomat, a shy girl, an athletic boxer and a fashionable sophisticate and the scene is set for comedic chaos as endless scenes and permutations are played out by the Blisses and their unsuspecting house guests. Continue reading “Review: Hay Fever, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Polar Bears, Donmar Warehouse

“Where’s Kay, is she in Oslo? No, she’s in the cellar.”

Polar Bears is quite a coup for the Donmar Warehouse, being the first play written by celebrated novelist Mark Haddon. After the huge success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which featured a lead character with Asperger’s Syndrome and its follow-up A Spot of Bother, Haddon has now turned his hand to the theatre.

If you can, I would recommend going into this play with as little knowledge of it as possible, as it really does enhance the whole effect of it to no end. The review that follows does not contain any plot spoilers per se but it does discuss the nature and structure of the play which in itself is a bit spoilery, so if you’ve not seen it yet and you intend to, look away now! (But do come back afterwards xx) Continue reading “Review: Polar Bears, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse

“If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!”

Taking up residence at the Southwark Playhouse is this new production of Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals, mixing music and dance with a very high calibre cast to create a fresh new look at this well-known comedy. Set in eighteenth century Bath, it follows the efforts of the meddlesome Mrs Malaprop to marry off her niece Lydia Languish, who has romantic designs of her own, but with an array of suitors, some of whom are not all who they seem, the scene is set for a plethora of romantic capers.
I loved the opening: the cast trickle onto the stage and chat away to the audience as if we’re all here for a ball, then up strikes the music and there’s a wickedly subversive choice of songs for an opening dance number which set the tone for this mischievous little production. There’s a real convivial atmosphere throughout, with plenty of fourth-wall-breaking going on (be warned if you’re on the front row!) and the cast play up to the intimacy of the venue with a strong conversational style.

It’s led by a trio of high-profile female performances. The stunningly beautiful Charity Wakefield as a playful Lydia is spritely good fun and charmingly engaging and Ella Smith as Julia does well with the lightest of touches on some very wordy scenes and showing off a melodious voice and some flute-playing thrown in for good measure. But it is Celia Imrie as Mrs Malaprop who is the star of the show: this being my first viewing of The Rivals, I can hardly imagine anyone else doing better in the role, it seems tailor-made for her. She endows her with such warmth and humour that one tended to find oneself laughing with and not really at her, and it is genuinely distressing to see her discover the truth about who has written the letters mocking her. Imrie seizes every opportunity to display her comic chops too, the incredible misjudged verbosity is always well-delivered, the constant shooing away of the recorder-playing heralds was a nice touch and her seductive swaying is just a sight to behold. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse”

2009 Best success in the face of adversity, and Damehood

Best success in the face of adversity

Helen Dallimore, Too Close To The Sun
Cynics might think I created this category specifically so that Too Close To The Sun could win something, and they might be right. The particular performance that I witnessed involved what can only be described as “tablegate”, so not only did they have to put up with delivering one of the worst musicals ever created, the cast in particular Helen Dallimore, had to contend with a collapsing wicker chest and the funniest case of ongoing corpsing I’ve ever seen. It made what would have been a tragedy into an ‘event’ and one which I feel privileged to have been part of!

Honourable mention
The cast of Madame de Sade
Miranda Richardson, Grasses of a Thousand Colours
When the Donmar West End season was announced, my eyes were immediately drawn to the third play, the only one to feature an all-female cast and one of such calibre that Iwas eagerly anticipating Madame de Sade. What a shame that this was the only mis-step in a excellent season: a turgid, laborious piece that not even a Dame could rescue.
And there needs to be some recognition of the indignities suffered upon Ms Richardson, cast as a lover of Wallace Shawn in a play written by the self-same Wallace Shawn, he had her pretending to be a cat and licking his bald head.

Closest move to damehood

Imelda Staunton
Parading all her wares us to laugh at in Entertaining Mr Sloane, Imelda Staunton showed great fortitude and continued a legacy of fine fine performances on the stage (which, combined with her efforts in Cranford) means that a place on the Queen’s list must surely be hers soon.

Celia Imrie
Fiona Shaw
Juliet Stevenson