Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 
Drip by drip, the National is teasing us with the cast reveals for Network.

Latest to be announced is Douglas Henshall who is to play Max Schumacher in this world-premiere of Lee Hall’s new adaptation of the Oscar-winning film by Paddy Chayefsky.

Directed by Ivo van Hove, the cast also includes Tony award winner Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale, and Michelle Dockery as Diana Christenson. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic

“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”

There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.

The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.

Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic”

Re-review: War Horse, New London

“Do I look like an effing equine expert?”

The theatrical behemoth that is War Horse shows no signs of flagging (or ending up as a Tesco burger just yet…) but as someone who is easily freaked out by puppets and isn’t particularly keen on horses, its charms have eluded me somewhat. I was taken to see the show for my birthday in 2011 after declaring it was the only way I would ever see it (review here) and from the awkwardly placed cheap seats in the side circle, it was a difficult place from which to try and challenge my preconceptions. Surprisingly for me though, it was the actual play I had the biggest problem with rather than the puppets. 

But when the opportunity presented itself to go again with a friend who had never seen the show before, I couldn’t resist the temptation to revisit the show and revisit my opinion with something less of the original baggage I went with. And with this somewhat different mindset and also aided by far superior seats, I did find myself enjoying it far more than I had anticipated. Indeed I welled up more than during the film of Les Misérables, leaving me questioning just who I’ve turned into! 

Being prepared for what was actually happening onstage rather my expectations opened my eyes to the charming nature of the first half (though I’d still roast that goose given half a chance) and there are undeniably magical moments of theatre that come from Handspring’s puppetry, not least the first appearance of the adult Joey which not even familiarity with the puppet can dull. (And in today’s economic climate, who could honestly deny the NT the invaluable marketing opportunities from showcasing one of their greatest successes). 


But even in this happier state of affairs, some doubts still persisted about the show as a whole. The story is really quite slight as it races across Devon cornfields and then French battlefields as little time is ever devoted to these characters – why does Albert apparently have no friends in the village, major plots points like cousin Billy’s shell-shock and Muller’s dramatic volte-face are quickly despatched with no depth. And structurally, there is little disguising the way in which the show lurches from set piece to set piece – the folk music hauntingly sung by Bob Fox is undoubtedly atmospheric but sits awkwardly, functional rather than integral, an altogether too easy way of manipulating emotion in a story that really shouldn’t need it. 

And I suspect this stems from the tension that comes from adapting a children’s book for a wider market which remains family-friendly. Nick Stafford’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel evokes much of the desperate horror of conflict, but the central thrust of the story with its repeatedly equine soft focus is simply too laden with saccharine sentimentality for the brutally effective First World War story that is hinted at elsewhere. Of course in the end, it matters little: the show continues to do great business, remarkably so for a play, and for all my caveats, this is the kind of theatre that people will remember. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 26th October for the current booking period

DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer

“Do something special, anything special…”

This charity shop malarkey is proving to be a veritable treasure trove of theatrical goodies, of variable quality I should stress, but after the delights of Ms Paige – which will be continued shortly with an upcoming DVD review – I was given this DVD of the 1998 Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza Hey Mr Producer which cost a whole 99p from a British Heart Foundation shop in north west London. A benefit concert ostensibly put together for the RNIB but also honouring and celebrating the work of producer Mackintosh (although oddly he was involved in putting the show together – honouring himself…) by bringing together excerpts from many of the most famous shows he has been involved in and pulling together an extraordinary cast of the musical theatre glitterati, many of whom originated the roles, the like of which has rarely been seen since.

And it really does come across as something special, at times a little frustrating but it is often the way with concerts like these that tantalise with little glimpses of shows and when the calibre of performer is such as it is here, one barely minds as there is much pleasure to be had. It is impressive how much was packed into the single evening, multi-song sections from shows were interspersed with single songs from others meaning that over 20 shows were showcased here. Whether it was shows I love – Little Shop of Horrors, Oliver!, Les Mis, ones I’m ok with – Phantom of the Opera, Company or even ones I’ve never actually seen – My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, Carousel – the sequences that had more than one song worked surprisingly well, getting across something of the flavour of the shows even with the rapid pace and semi-staging. I would have loved to have seen and heard more from Anything Goes, Godspell and The Boyfriend and for Salad Days, Mackintosh’s favourite show apparently, to have gotten a proper treatment, but then I guess the three hour show would have gone on for days. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer”

Review: Boiling Frogs, Southwark Playhouse

“Do you have a problem with authority?
‘I have a problem with authoritarians…’”

The title of Boiling Frogs refers to an alleged phenomenon which should be familiar to fans of Christopher Brookmyre’s books and is an apt metaphor for this, The Factory’s first ever full-length original play. Usually known for reinterpreting classic plays and hugely interactive scenarios (the audience bringing along random props to be used and getting to pick who will play each part), Steven Bloomer has written a play set in a police cell in a world not too dissimilar from our own but where global warming has hit hard, the fallout from a riot called the Battle of Birmingham is on everyone’s lips and capital punishment is being introduced for terrorists.

The first people we see in the cell are Mark, a keenly intelligent professional protester arrested for impersonating a police officer and the policeman who is trying to interview him and avoid getting himself tied up in Mark’s word games and constant assertions of his civil rights. As the play progresses, George is then thrown into the cell, another protester who was at the same picnic in Parliament Square and then Tom, a policeman being held for overstepping the line. A sergeant also appears periodically to ratchet up the tension as the walls both metaphorically and literally begin to close in and the three prisoners are forced to face up to what they have done and what they believe is right. Continue reading “Review: Boiling Frogs, Southwark Playhouse”