“It seems to be that yet we sleep, we dream”
The Michael Grandage Company move onto their fourth show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first of two Shakespeares that will finish the season. And given the emphasis of the star wattage that formed the backbone of its publicity, it’s an interesting choice of play due to its ensemble nature and lack of any real star parts. So we get Sheridan Smith in the dual role of Hippolyta and Titania and David Walliams as Nick Bottom the weaver, alongside a company of others many of whom have appeared in previous MGC shows.
Grandage’s main conceit is to locate the play in 1960s England, making the magical forest into a festival-like world of hippies and free love, allowing an unambiguous focus on sex as the driving force of the play. It’s more like an Athena model version of sex than the untrammeled passion of the real thing though – the four lovers parade about the forest in various states of underwear-clad undress, Titania’s seductive ways lure Bottom into an off-stage bower, the hints of amour between the Rude Mechanicals left tantalisingly unexplored. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noël Coward Theatre”
“We’ll press upon the enemy until he’s in a funk,
And show him its no easy thing resisting British spunk”
Just a quickie to cover this return trip to Privates on Parade, the opening show of Michael Grandage’s 5 show takeover of the Noël Coward Theatre, as I was able to attend the final performance of the run thanks to the day-seating efforts of a friend. I liked the show immensely when I saw it at the end of last year and whilst I could see that it might not be to everyone’s tastes, I was somewhat surprised at the charge of ‘dated’ that some people levelled at the play. Perhaps it’s a conversation that needs to be had with someone who actually felt that way but it feels erroneous to me, not least because it’s not even set (late 1940s) when it was written (1977).
The biggest change of course was due to the untimely and sudden death of Sophiya Haque who played the role of Sylvia. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the company to continue after such a tragedy and all credit to understudy Davina Perera who rose to the challenge of taking on the role full time mid-run and achieving a seamless transition. Otherwise, I enjoyed the show just as much as I did first time round and having a better sense of the play as a whole, I appreciated the emotional depths of the writing that much more, the comedy has a more astringent edge in the knowledge of what is to come. Continue reading “Re-review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward”
With perhaps some predictability, the two most popular posts ever on this blog are the Leading Men of the Year from 2010 and 2011 – clearly if blog hits are what makes you happy, just post pics of hot shirtless men 🙂 – heaven knows I won’t judge you! Also Mark Lawson says “critics…should be wary of parading their crushes in print” and the day I start taking his advice…
Well what an unexpected thing Privates on Parade turned out to be. Not knowing anything about it in advance meant it was full of surprises: the ‘play with songs’ moniker shouldn’t disguise the fact that it is closer to a musical than a play, and it very much needs to be treated as the period piece that it is. On the face of it, its ribald campery and racial stereotyping could be something of an affront, a relic of an old-fashioned past with old-fashioned attitudes, but to merely dismiss it as dated and offensive is to miss the wider points of Peter Nichols’ 1977 play and the nuances of Michael Grandage’s production, first seen at the Donmar in 2001.(FYI: this was a preview performance.)
The play opens the Michael Grandage residency at the Noël Coward theatre, a season of five star-studded plays – Simon Russell Beale is the marquee name here – with a new pricing model aiming for greater affordability for drama in the West End. It’s set in the fictional Song and Dance Unit South East Asia (SADUESA), a British army entertainment corps stationed there at the time of the Malayan Emergency in the aftermath of the Second World War, and follows this troupe of military entertainers as they tour their act through the hostile jungle of the Malayan peninsula. So against the near-oblivious flamboyance of the Marlene Dietrich covers, cabaret turns and jaunty full ensemble numbers, is a backdrop of long-simmering native discontent and explosive violence for which they are ill-prepared. Continue reading “Review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre”
“That seeming to be most which we indeed least are”
Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more notorious plays, The Taming of the Shrew has enjoyed a long and varied performance history as productions seek to try to present this difficult tale of female subservience in a way that is acceptable to audiences. It has proved trickier though in modern times to square the misogynistic circle and so directors often find themselves upping the innovative ante to unearth interpretations which will prove satisfyingly revelatory. What this often means in practice though is that a high concept is adopted which offers insight into part of the story whilst the rest is left straining to fit in. Lucy Bailey is the latest to try and tame the Shrew here for the RSC in a production which has played a season in Stratford and is now on a short tour of the UK, currently here in Richmond.
The angle that she chooses to focus on is the Induction, the framing device that sets the story in its context – this is all just a performance being put on by a rowdy bunch of friends to delude the drunken fool Christopher Sly. Sly – a bumptious revealing turn from Nick Holder – is kept on stage throughout most of the first half and in some ways, this almost convinces us that what we are watching is but a drunken fantasy. But he is gradually phased out of the show, and so the apparent importance of being reminded that this isn’t real is stripped away and the second half played largely straight as a story that suddenly is to be taken more seriously. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre”
“You’ve got to feed your fanny”
Ain’t Twitter grand. All sorts of randomness appears on Twitter, peccadilloes exposed, truths revealed and a whole lot of guff expounded about any range of subjects. But sometimes little gems appear (and not just the lettuces) as it was with this YouTube clip that was pointed out to me. It’s a spoof South Bank-style documentary, following the fortunes of an actress ‘up-and-coming’ as described by only her, and her disastrous experiences in the company of a newly opened show.
It was actually put together by the cast of When Did You Last See My Mother which played at the Trafalgar Studios 2 last year, assumably for a bit of a laugh and though it is perhaps a little overlong, I’d say it is worth the watch. It feels quite Victoria Wood-like (I think it most reminds me of a backstage episode of Acorn Antiques) and is often quite amusing in the way it contrasts the accounts of her God-given talent and the forced smiles of her co-stars as they are grudgingly interviewed, and the realities of just how shit she is as revealed by hilarious ‘candid’ encounters with the same colleagues as she continually screws up and is exposed for the chancer she is. Continue reading “Review: Backstage Pass (pilot) Inside Fanny”
“You can be terribly tactless Ian”
There are two ways this review could go and since I ticked the ‘fanboy going overboard’ box with a mildly amusing drunken encounter (which rebounded on me in the most unexpected way – actors read this thing?!) at the Hampstead Theatre 2 Fridays ago, I shall try to use a more measured approach here. But the uninitiated should know that I do have a slight admiration for the work of Sam Swainsbury… 😉 Anyhoo, to the matter in hand. When Did You Last See My Mother was the first play that Christopher Hampton ever wrote as a teenager in 1964, but despite his reputation has remained rather unknown.
And it is a little hard to believe as whilst it may not be the most sophisticated piece of theatre with an ending which whilst sweet is a little too neat, it contains a masterful piece of character work with main protagonist Ian that is a gift of a role for a talented young actor. Director Blanche McIntyre has chosen wisely in casting Harry Melling, perhaps the one of the kids from of the Harry Potter who has shown the most promise as an actor, on the stage at least, and he delivers an extraordinary performance. Continue reading “Review: When Did You Last See My Mother, Trafalgar Studios 2”