Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Inevitable End Of Year List

OK, it seems that this time of year calls for a list of some sort. I can so do that. I like lists. So, in no particular order, the things that have moved and delighted me most this year were:

Elling, Bush Theatre
The Ugly One, Royal Court
Nakamitsu, Gate Theatre
Dealer’s Choice, Menier Chocolate Factory
Othello, Donmar Warehouse
The Brothers Size, Young Vic
Subway, Lyric Studio

That’s a rather hastily composed bunch. I’m sure there are plenty of things I’ve forgotten. There are certainly things I wish I’d had a chance to have a second crack at; I really regret that I wasn’t able to tackle The Masque Of The Red Death with the energy it deserved.

There are also a number of things I missed completely due to disorganisation and bad luck, Rupert Goold’s Macbeth being the one that springs most immediately to mind, and a number of things I am determined to squeeze in next year: principally Women Of Troy and War Horse. There were also a good few hours of my life that I'd have liked back, but I shan't dwell on the negative now.

This is also probably the time to mention how blogging has, over this past year in particular, enriched my life no end. Not only has it been the springboard for contributing to the GU arts blog but, perhaps more significantly, it has also brought me into contact with a great number of lovely people – many, though not all, of whom are called Andrew – and led to many a pleasant wine-fuelled evening. With a bit of theatre thrown in, of course. That’s a given.

Here’s to more of the same in 2008.

Happy Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lady Disdain


I often wonder what actors talk about in those moments when they are on stage but the production is yet to officially ‘start’. Are they wryly dissecting the sartorial efforts of the front row? Are they engaging in some in-character debate about codpieces?

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Much Ado About Nothing opens with Leonato and family having a spot of dinner, a scene which requires a good proportion of the cast to be on stage as the audience file in and take their seats. There’s a lot of chatter in this sequence but it’s impossible to make out what’s being said.

Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker make a pleasingly mature Benedick and Beatrice: him with a rather unmilitary paunch; her with a wine glass near permanently dangling from her hand, a woman after my own heart. Beale was particularly wonderful I thought, tremendously endearing, if, perhaps, a bit too soft-hearted in the role, while Wanamaker, though convincing as a strong-willed, acid-tongued woman, was conversely rather too spiky, too hard-edged. And as such the chemistry between them refused to spark as it should; their verbal sparring didn’t have the necessary sexual undercurrent. You couldn’t quite believe he would ever be able to ‘stop her mouth,’ in any capacity.

There was, however, a lovely bit of comedy business with a pool in which Beale demonstrated the kind of precise comic timing that caused the bronchial National Theatre audience to cease coughing for a good thirty seconds and applaud instead. It was so funny that Hytner tried to repeat it in the following scene with Beatrice – with less success, the surprise factor this time absent. (I did wonder if the odd hair-wrap Wanamaker was sporting for this scene might have concealed some kind of shower cap, to cut down on frantic interval hair-drying.)

Much Ado is, of course, a play with a jet black heart, the Beatrice and Bendick narrative merely a sub-plot to the cruel machinations that lead to the brutal jilting of Hero. But the shift in tone proved a difficult one, and I was surprised at the number of people who greeted Beatrice's impassioned request for Benedick to “Kill Claudio” with a casual chuckle. On the whole I think I preferred Marianne Elliot’s recent-ish Cuban-set take on the play, which managed to better inject an under-layer of menace into proceedings.

Where Hytner’s production struck gold was in the casting of Mark Addy as Dogberry. He was superbly self-important and entertainingly accompanied by That Chap From The Vicar Of Dibley.

The set was a strange blend: Mediterranean in the main but with this minimal, slatted central structure that divided the space and appeared rather Japanese in nature. The Olivier’s revolve got to do plenty of revolving, allowing for lots of opportunity for eavesdropping and dancing. And the West End Whingers will be gladdened to know that said dancing was accompanied by a fair bit of hey-nonny-ing, and the use of, not just a mandolin, but an accordion and a really big tambourine too. There was a disappointing dearth of goats though.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bah Humbug!

I feel somewhat torn. On one hand I am glad that a company like the RSC is willing to work with someone like Anthony Neilson, to do something a bit daring, a bit experimental, to take a chance on a more collaborative – and initially script-less – way of working. (Brian Logan goes into the details of the creative process on his GU blog).

But then I get to the show itself, the finished product, God In Ruins, which I saw last night at Soho Theatre with my friend Juice, and my enthusiasm wavers. I just didn’t think it was all that good. It didn’t even seem like a brave failure, more a muddle of ideas, many of which I’d seen better executed elsewhere. While Neilson’s previous work, The Wonderful World Of Dissocia managed to be compelling and infuriating in equal measure, this new one was – cardinal sin in Neilson’s book – kind of on the dull side: there was something rather tired and lifeless about the play, beneath all the swearing and shouting.

It starts with a mildly amusing prologue in which Ebenezer Scrooge, now fully redeemed after his encounter with his three ghosts, turns out to be just as insufferable in his new perky and life-loving incarnation as his old bah-humbug self. This did make me chuckle a little, but it was essentially one joke, and a rather over stretched one.

The play then jumps forward to the present and we meet Brian, a divorced, alcoholic reality TV producer. Having been rude to his ex-wife and failed to tip a pizza delivery man, he has his own Scrooge moment when he is visited by the white-suited ghost of dead dad, there to help him reconnect with his estranged daughter. Even at this early point in the evening there’s a seen-it-before feel to the set up: a heartless TV exec forced to confront his mortality, wasn’t that Scrooged? Even his reality shows have a ring of the familiar to them, like Chimp Monastery – Monkey Tennis, anyone?

There’s also an internet porn sequence that reminded me of Closer, even more so when the truth behind it is revealed, and a not–quite-as-funny-as-it-could-have-been interlude where two small boys discuss the fact that Santa is actually dead and it’s their parents that really buy the presents, which features liberal use of the underused put down ‘pooh head.’

This is followed by a bizarrely studenty, post-modern moment when the characters become aware that they are in a theatre and that they are being watched by an audience. A further layer of artifice is then peeled away as a ‘real’ homeless man bursts into the auditorium and interrupts proceedings, claiming to be an ex-soldier, just back, oddly, from Iran. If this was meant to indicate a slightly futuristic setting, it passed me by – I was too busy wondering why Scrooge from the opening sequence had popped up to help Brian on his way; was he a ghost? A drunken hallucination? Did it even matter?

To be fair, there were a handful of good gags, but most of the laughter I could hear was of the uneasy ‘this is supposed to be a funny bit, right?’ type – forced and awkward. As a whole, the production often seemed to be striving incredibly hard to be anarchic, and coming nowhere near. Brian, eventually finds his daughter, in Second Life, but as Juice pointed out to me in the bar afterwards, he was actually desperate to get in touch with her at the start and was only unable to because he was pissed out of his head, so it’s not much of a redemption. Though there’s also a suggestion that Brian’s unhappiness might be down to some latent homosexuality on his part.

I don’t know, I hate to tip a bagful of negative over a work that takes risks, that tries something different, but none of the disparate elements of this show seemed to fit well with one another and, on top of that, there was a sense of over-confidence to the thing – a touch of swagger about it – that I found very off-putting.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Put Out The Light


So then. Othello, Donmar Warehouse. You know the story. Sell-out run, tickets swapping hands for sky-high sums on eBay, and so forth and so on. There’s been more than enough words devoted to all that. To the point where it seems almost in danger of overshadowing the production itself. Which is a shame, as this is a completely enthralling production, even if it is rather conventionally staged.

First up, there's Ewan McGregor playing Iago, who Charles Spencer and others were so mean about. I genuinely wonder if he perhaps had an attack of the jitters on the night the press were in, because he had ample charisma when I saw him, at last Thursday’s matinee. Yes, he was probably a tad too inscrutable in the role and it was difficult to gauge his motivations, but there was something appealingly sly and underhand about his performance. As an actor, he has charm and presence, but he can also switch it off if he chooses, can blend into the background; he’s not a starry actor – and I suspect that disappoints people.

However McGregor could probably turn cartwheels in the background if he wanted and it would still be Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance that made the greatest impact on the audience. Again, many words have already been written about his nuanced and sympathetic take on the role – and most of them are on the money. He is strong and dignified, yet vulnerable – a man out of place. He makes each line come alive and does so with a skill that is considerable yet not showily so.

Kelly Reilly’s performance as Desdemona, on the other hand, has proved as divisive as McGregor’s. And while she is rather girlish and fluttery in earlier scenes, after the interval she seemed to bloom in the role. Having spent most the evening cinched and uplifted in a beautiful dress (made, according to the programme, by someone with the too-delicious-to-be-true name of Elspeth Threadgold), she is slowly and poignantly stripped of her corsets and stockings by Emilia, until she is clad only in a shapeless, white nightgown. I found this scene incredibly moving, and by the end she looked so vulnerable, so exposed, ready to give herself to her husband in what proved to be a particularly effective death scene. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve been to a production this year that had my so physically gripped. I was edged forward in my seat, silently pleading with Othello to listen to her, to heed her protestations of innocence. I wasn’t alone either; I could hear the breath catching in the throat of the girl in the seat beside me, feel the tension radiating from her. Incidently, she had queued for her ticket on the day and found the experience fun, if a little tiring, and - judging by her enraptured response - more than worth it.

Indeed, there's an interesting and increasingly demented debate going on about the ticket situation on the GU blog after Peter Bradshaw commented that such a production should be filmed to make it accessible to all.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Happy Families

I tend to gravitate towards corners. It is my default setting in most social situations and so it was last night at a performance of the Royal Court’s Family Plays, a double bill of works from Sweden and Ukraine all neatly wrapped up in an one hour and fifteen minute package (complete with bar break).

For the first piece of the evening, the Court’s upstairs space has been painted a bright, sunny yellow and the bench seating arranged around the walls, with a dining table, a comfy sofa and some garden furniture scattered around the room. It’s all very light and airy and Swedish-looking, though my corner perch wasn’t the most sensible – I was watching the actors’ backs for a good chunk of the time.

Anyway, the play. The Good Family, by Joakim Pirinen, is perhaps one of the tensest things I’ve seen on stage in a long while. In it we are presented with family: a husband and wife and their two adolescent children, who are as perky and content as it’s possible to be, enraptured by everything around them, no matter how mundane – and it’s astonishingly unnerving. I felt myself expecting – and nervously waiting for – something awful to happen – for someone to say something vile or for one of the character’s to spectacularly lose it and stab all the others with a salad fork, but this moment doesn’t come. Instead they play dice and sing songs and compliment each other incessantly, saying things like: “The potatoes are extraordinarily well-cooked” and “Your hair is really light and vigorous looking.” At one point, the father goes off to take a phone call, and the tension is almost unbearable, as we wait for him to return with some atrocious news.

This was a fascinating play; one that achieved a number of things. It’s satirical, certainly, but it also made me question why I was reacting in the way that I was; why did this image of familial bliss make me so anxious? What was it about this portrait of intense happiness that I found so difficult to process? Why was I searching so desperately for something dark and rotten at the centre of it?

After the interval we returned to the theatre to find that all the Scandinavian pleasantness had been swept away, literally – the furniture was now stacked at the back of the room, leaving the audience to sit on seat cushions or on the floor. Earlier, as we headed to the bar after the first piece, Andrew Haydon commented that the next piece was probably going to be “Blasted, it’s all going to go Sarah Kane.” And while Natalia Voorzhibit’s The Khomenko Family Chronicles isn’t nearly so extreme, he wasn’t too far off the mark.

In a visual twist that reminded me of The Wonderful World Of Dissocia one wall had been opened out to create a grim little hospital room. On a metal bed, a bald-headed child sits attached to a chemotherapy drip. His parents come to visit, his mother is heavily pregnant, in white leggings and purple spike-heeled boots; his father wears a football shirt and carries a bottle of beer. They bring their son chicken soup and reminisce about how they first met, using references to Chernobyl and September 11 to colour their stories. Chernobyl and its resulting radioactive rain represents a pleasant memory to them - they appear to make no connection between this event and their son's illness.

But what stood out most for me about this second piece was Lewis Lempereur-Palmer’s superb performance as their young son Lyosha; in a dream-like sequence during the play’s closing minutes he is required to speak a lengthy monologue while running around through the seated audience, and he was quite brilliant.

Oh, though a small point, it's still worth noting that the dramatic change of set between plays means that anything left on the seats during the interval will be gathered up and tidied away - as I discovered after leaving my book under my chair.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A South African Double Bill


Right, there was going to be a lame intro here about the imminence of Christmas and how generally unprepared I am, but it was Not Very Interesting and has gone the way of the delete key. So instead I shall simply cut to the chase. Yesterday I was at the Young Vic to see both shows in their double bill of South African re-workings of familiar stories. First up, A Christmas Carol or Ikrismas Kherol if you will. This opens with one of the most visually striking sequences I’ve seen in a while; it made me jiggle in my seat with pleasure. Starting in darkness, a group of miners, guided by the torch beams of their helmets, stomp down from the galleries above the stage, and proceed to use chains and drums to replicate the cacophony of life in the mine. It’s unsubtle and rather batters the senses, but it works – works better than perhaps any other element of the show, where pesky things like narrative start getting in the way.

Scrooge is played by singer Pauline Malefane, a mezzo-soprano I believe, who won acclaim as Carmen a couple of years back. She is, in accordance with the story, visited by three ghosts. The first of these spirits is a lady in a prim white suit who shows Scrooge images of her impoverished childhood. These, in an interesting touch, are projected on to a white screen across the back of the stage, having been shot on digital video. They reveal that Scrooge’s mother died when she was a young age and that she had a sister who was forced into prostitution in order to support them both, who then also died. These scenes, filmed in the townships of South Africa, are played out in silence with the performers adding sound-effects, vocals and narration where necessary. They also provide a dramatic counterpoint to the show’s opening, where the workings of a gold mine were conjured so vibrantly; these video sequences have the opposite effect. What we see is ‘realer’ but also, conversely, more distant, less alive. The production devotes a good chunk of its running time to these videos as well, which I felt rather knocked it off balance.

Because this is A Christmas Carol, one cannot escape without a moral message being rammed home before the curtain falls (or, rather in the case of this show, before the upbeat percussive finale) but they just about managed to swing these scenes, using bundles of cloth to make the 'every three seconds a child dies of want and ignorance' line less hectoring than it might have been.

I also caught the second production, which will be playing in rep with A Christmas Carol, a version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute by the same company, with Malefane now playing the Queen of the Night. Now, opera remains one of my cultural blindspots, so I have no other productions to compare this to. But I enjoyed it a lot, everything was done with a degree of visual flair. I have no idea why there was a trio of ladies in lavender suits with angels’ wings but I know I liked it. And the children I could see in the front row were bouncing along happily rather than sullenly swinging their legs, a fairly good indicator of how well a show like this is working.

However, perhaps to invoke appropriately wintery feelings in the audience, it was absolutely freezing in the Young Vic for both performances. Take a coat - and be prepared to wear it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Some Kind Of Bliss?


It’s been a particularly busy week, both theatre-wise and other stuff-wise - hence the gap in blogging.

Backtracking to Thursday night and I was at the Trafalgar Studios, the little downstairs one, to see Samuel Adamson’s new play, a one-woman show called Some Kind Of Bliss.

Adamson appears to be a bit of a contentious figure in the blogosphere, with many disliking his frothy and whimsical Southwark Fair with an intensity I never quite understood. However, while I quite enjoyed the latter – mainly as a result of Rory Kinnear’s endearing performance – I found his most recent work a frustratingly flimsy and tedious thing. A woman goes for a walk, that’s about the gist of it. She walks from London Bridge to Lulu’s house in Greenwich (she’s a celebrity lifestyle journalist for the Daily Mail), and during the course of this walk she has sex, gets mugged and steals an ice cream van – all things we know from the start, thanks to an overstuffed opening line: “Today - after I'd had the electric sex, got clobbered, killed the dog and parked the hijacked ice-cream van - I found the pop legend's house in Greenwich."

To her credit, Lucy Briers is highly watchable as Rachel, the woman in question, and there are a few sharp lines; but, really, how hard is it to get a laugh at the expense of the Daily Mail? The play shows an underlying love for London’s neglected corners that I found appealing, but whenever things promised to get interesting, Adamson undermined himself by driving the narrative off on odd, forced tangents, and I soon ceased to care about Rachel’s vague marital crisis.

The play did however allow me to meet Ian Shuttleworth in a non-online context for the first time, which was lovely, even if I failed to say one remotely interesting thing during our brief conversation.

This past week I also saw an appealingly dark slice of drama at the Tristan Bates Theatre, a small studio space off Shaftesbury Avenue – just over the road from the resurrected Fopp. They Have Oak Trees In North Carolina was a tense, well-acted ninety minute drama written by Sarah Wooley. Recent events have given it an unnerving topicality. It concerns a middle-aged married couple, whose young son disappeared over twenty years ago while they were on a family holiday in Florida – his body was never found, his story never resolved. Two decades on, an American man turns up on their doorstep, claiming to be the boy they lost. As I said, the play, a co-production with Theatre 503, is well written and strongly performed, but it’s given an inevitable, if unintended weight by events surrounding disappearance of Madeline McCann. It’s almost impossible to watch without thinking of where the McCanns will be some twenty years on from now, without wondering when and how – and if – their story will end.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pretty In Punk

The Bush Theatre is on the tiny side, I know this. But I've never had another person near enough sitting in my lap as I did last night. The place was packed, and having inadvisably chosen to sit on the highest level of seating, I felt rather squeezed in. But I suppose the crush of bodies is fitting given the subject matter of the current production.


Mike Packer's play is about a punk band called tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ! (also the name of play, which I'm sure will go down a treat with arts page subs). This particular band burned briefly in the 1970s and then faded from view after a messy post-gig brawl left one of their number, lead singer Billy Abortion, minus a lung. He is now working a shelf-stacker with only a cupboard full of pharmaceuticals for company. But though his screw-the-system attitude still very much intact, when an American credit card company offers the group a substantial sum of money to use their best known song in a commercial, his principles don’t prevent him from taking their cash. Then it transpires there's even more money to be had if they're willing to perform at the launch party gig – the only catch is they'll have to trade their punk garb for logo-covered turtlenecks and sing new, corporate-approved lyrics.

It’s a neat set-up, but once Packer has all the narrative elements in place it begins to feel as if he’s actually not really that sure whether his characters' adherence to the punk credo of their youth is admirable or pathetic. And, as a result, it is difficult to care overly in their predicament. The play also has an awkward ratio of ‘funny’ to ‘not funny’ – in places it’s very entertaining indeed, but there are large chunks that fell flat, whole scenes where you got a sense that you should be laughing, that you were supposed to be sliding of your seat in mirth at the irony of it all, only you weren’t, because the material wasn’t quite strong enough.

Fortunately some inspired performances help to flesh out the occasionally thin writing - Pearce Quigley, as the band’s dishevelled drummer, has this superbly stoned, stuttering delivery that turns nearly every line he utters into a punch line. And Rupert Proctor, as Billy, is so aggressively energetic that during one particularly frantic rant I worried he might pop something vital.

The actors get to perform the band’s songs too, and did so rather impressively, I thought. I also liked the fact that the set design, a collage of faded gig posters, had been extended down the stairwell and into the Bush’s teensy box office area.

As for the play, I suspect it may work better in a West End setting, where its broadness and occasional lapses into sentimentality wouldn’t be so glaring; on the miniscule Bush stage it felt unwieldy, but I could see how it might appeal to a wider audience.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A(nother) Night At The Orange Tree

There are many reasons not to like the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. It’s in Richmond for one thing. And it stages safe, solid productions designed to appeal to Richmond audiences. These tend to be done in period costume on naturalistic sets, which usually take an age to change between scenes, as there is always much twiddling with side-tables and crystal decanters and silverware. There's also a faintly irritating all-in-the-family taint to the productions too, which nearly always star Octavia Walters, daughter of the theatre’s founder and artistic director Sam Walters.

And yet, for all this, I feel considerable affection for the Orange Tree. It doesn’t tend to experiment or to surprise, but instead it does a particular thing and does it very well. In the main this means staging rarely performed plays with some kind of social weight to them. Last season was all about the work of GBS and his contemporaries, this season it’s a more loosely linked collection of plays by women dramatists.

The last thing I saw there was Daphne du Maurier’s The Years Between, perhaps not an amazing bit of writing, but still a gripping story, well-told, that questioned a woman’s position, both in the context of marriage and in society in general, in a manner that I found quite resonant.

The current production is Elizabeth Barker’s Chains was written in 1909 and is about duty and responsibility. It concerns Charley Wilson, a ‘quill-pusher’ in the City, who’s life is stirred up by the announcement of a colleague that he’s going to quit his steady job and chance his luck in Australia. Though Charley’s existence is one of hard graft and ceaseless routine, living from Sunday to Sunday, it takes his friend’s decision to really wake him up to how unhappy he is with his lot. His dilemma is reflected against that of his sister-in-law Maggie (played by – well fancy that – a certain Octavia Walters – who admittedly is pretty good in the role). Unlike Charley’s wife, who is an uncomplaining, eternally optimistic sort, her sister Maggie has fire inside her; though she is engaged to marry a wealthy man, and is, as a result, guaranteed a comfortable life, she burns to do something more, to see something more of the world – to live. She sympathises with Charley’s predicament and urges him to follow his instincts, despite the upset it might cause.

Much of the play focuses on Charley grappling with the decision to stay or to leave, to do what’s expected of him or to take a chance - to do ‘the done thing’ or the right thing - but though this eventually became a little repetitive, I loved the rather dark way Barker chooses to end things, twisting what should be a happy announcement into something far more ambiguous.

Though it was very Orange Tree - in every sense - this was a strong production, and it passed the crucial in-the-round test: despite the cosiness of the venue, the stately pacing of the drama and the average age of the audience, I didn’t spot a single sleeper – not always the case at this particular venue.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Lateness Averted

On bus. Slow bus. Checking watch. Getting rather too close to start of play for my liking. Bus still slow. And doing random loop through back streets I swear it has never taken before. Crap. Finally jump off bus, pelt down street, pass Kingsland Road shouty drunk, and reach theatre. Attempt to appear marginally less flustered than I actually am as I request my ticket. Fail. Enter theatre. Just in time.

Phew, I never usually cut things that close. I am much better organised than that. Oh, yes. Anyway, the play, the point of all that dashing: Tim Stimpson’s One, Nineteen, currently being perfomed in the Arcola’s baby back alley studio on a stage bare bar the odd sandbag and folding chair.

The title refers to the date of a catastrophic storm that devastates an area of England. But though it touches on the implications of climate change, this is not a post-apocalyptic, the whole-world’s-going-to-hell type play, but a more familiar media satire, taking the events in New Orleans as a cue to explore how the media responds to a disaster of this scale.

So Stimpson presents us with a series of characters, often in conversation with invisible interviewers. First up we get a few blanket-clad survivors, then he settles on individual stories: an environmental activist, a politician who becomes something of a scapegoat, a self-satisfied rock star who is quick to spearhead a huge concert at Wembley to raise aid, and at the heart of all this, a young mother who was separated from her three children as the waters rose, and whose story has inadvertently become the human interest hook on to which all the journalists cling. These children’s names, "Sam, Jack and little Chloe" – it's always ‘little’ Chloe – become something of a mantra throughout the play in a depressingly plausible manner. The satirical elements are at time rather heavy-handed, but I enjoyed the way the stories intersected, the pacing was taut and it managed to touch on the subjects of climate change and environmental upheaval without being preachy or overly doomy.

Plus, and here's praise, it was engaging enough for me to - just - about be able to blot out the noise from above. I‘ve not seen Jenufa which is playing in the Arcola’s main space, but from the sounds of things, it has a cast of possibly around three hundred.

Oh, and there's another "enjoyably off-the-wall" Observer post over here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Brotherly Love


“Oh, she may be weary. And them young girls they do get weary…”

Oh, don’t they just. But, while I was in something of a melancholic slump when I arrived at the Young Vic last night, it soon lifted – their current production can’t help but lift you up. The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney pulls elements of Yoruba myth into an American setting. In practice this results in one of the more vibrant, tingle-inducing things I’ve seen this year.

The production is simply staged, in-the-round (or, actually, in-the-square as the Whingers would no doubt point out), the audience seated around the four walls of the Young Vic’s Maria studio. There is no set. Just a black floor, onto which a circle is chalked in the opening minutes. A handful of red chalk is then thrown down into the same space and this then marks the actors’ clothes and skin as the evening progresses. There are no props either and the actors speak their stage directions as well as performing the actions. This sounds a little dry when described, but all these elements contribute to the distinctive rhythms of the play, its particular texture and flow. Ditto, the live musical accompaniment.

McCraney’s play concerns two brothers: Ogun and Oshoosi Size. Ogun, the eldest, is the solid, responsible and hard-working type, who has built up a successful auto-repair business. The younger Oshoosi is more flighty and easily-swayed. He has just been released from prison, so Ogun sets him up with a job in his shop, to Oshoosi’s initial displeasure. Their reunion is threatened by an ex-cell mate of Oshoosi’s, Elegba, who turns up with an old car to flog and something menacing in his demeanor.

The actors playing the brothers, Nyasha Hatendi as Ogun and Obi Abili as Oshooshi have a superb rapport, most overtly displayed when they launch into a wonderful duet of Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness, singing and dancing – and doing air piano – along to the recording. It’s a brilliant moment.

Dreams too play a large part in the narrative – a dream state indicated by a red cross being shone through the chalk circle. But McCraney manages to blend these more stylised aspects with a story that truly hooks you; the brothers’ love for each other, their reliance on one another and the lengths they’d be willing to go for one another, are powerfully and movingly portrayed throughout. All this in an interval-less ninety minutes as well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Studio 68 on Lavender Hill

Just got home from the BAC where, alongside The Masque of The Red Death, they are also showing Will Adamsdale’s Human Compute. Adamsdale won the Perrier a while back for his play Jackson’s Way and friends of mine whose opinion is usually sound on such things got very excited about his more recent work The Receipt.

Human Computer is playing in Studio 68, a part of the BAC unpenetrated by Punchdrunk. It’s a small space, but it was only half full tonight, which made Adamsdale’s show, which has elements of audience participation, into a sweetly collaborative experience. “Gosh,” he said, surveying the tiny crowd “it’s like being back in Edinburgh.” Hopefully this was a Monday night blip, as this is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long while. Adamsdale takes his technophobia and turns it into the basis of this amiably meandering routine where he dissects the workings of his computer, fashioning all the various windows and icons out of battered bits of cardboard. He revels in his ignorance, claiming his knowledge of the internet runs to once looking at a cricket website, “which was good.”

But it’s not the premise that makes this show work, indeed the premise spelt out like this probably makes Human Computer sound rather nothing much-y. No, the real joy comes via Adamsdale’s disarmingly flustered and tongue-tied delivery. That and the numerous impeccably timed and beautifully constructed lines he throws in as asides; the stories that don’t really go anywhere but are still very amusing and, that rarest of things, the comic song that is actually genuinely funny. He even copes with, what I imagine is, one of the main pitfalls of an audience participation show – mistakenly assigning a key role to the one chap determined to show off to everyone how funny he is – without a trace of irritation.

The show takes a surreal detour in its last quarter, in which Adamsdale becomes trapped in his computer and has to go on a virus-busting quest, which I felt didn’t really come off, it certainly didn't have the same impact as some of the earlier material. But I’ve not laughed this frequently and this fully at anything in quite some time, so, hey, he's forgiven.

There was some talk of whisking people off to join the post-show revelry of the Masque next door afterwards, but I didn’t stick around long enough to see if that happened. I did however add to my tally of theatrical-blogging Andrews by running into Andy Field before the show began.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fringe Etiquette

This past Thursday, I swept across London, be-scarfed and be-gloved, to Greenwich Playhouse, an above-a-pub space right next to Greenwich train station (which is handy as I don’t know Greenwich at all and suspect the chances of me getting lost en route if it were otherwise, would be high). Anyway, they are staging Hedda Gabler at the moment, in what is a solid if unremarkable production.

I shan’t pick holes in it here, however there’s one incident I can’t let pass uncommented on. In the audience there were several girls who were clearly studying the play for a course and had come along because they felt they should. And the production, while well done in places, did have the odd awkward moment, a fair scattering of stiffly delivered line, at which these girls laughed openly and in an increasingly less discrete fashion. The Playhouse is an intimate space and these girls were sat on the front row so that every wave of their giggling and sneering must have been audible to the actors. It was just so deeply inconsiderate; they even joked about intentionally trying to break the actors' concentration. Thinking back on it, I should have gently said something to them, rather than just impotently sitting there and frowning at the backs of their heads.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

An Over-Familiar Song

I am very fond of Theatre 503. I may have mentioned this before. The standard of work they put on is consistently high and, just within the last year, I’ve seen some startlingly good stuff there: George Gotts’ Cocoa, Stephen Brown’s Future Me and Jason Hall’s GBS. Having said that, I have been rather pathetic in getting over there of late and, much to my shame, missed Ben Ellis’ The Final Shot entirely. I was back there last night though, this time to see John Donnelley’s Songs Of Grace and Redemption

The play focuses on a number of characters whose lives intersect: an Icelandic bartender with a violent ex. A none-too-bright thug for hire with a learning disabled sister. A social worker in an unhappy relationship. A chap whose wife has just left him for his own father. It has its fair share of nicely comic moments, some very funny indeed (I certainly will find it difficult not to snigger next time I hear the word ‘crumble’) but often it felt quite heavily derivative – especially in a scene where one character tries to coerce another into shooting him - I felt I had seen near-identical confrontations before.

Despite some good performances, the coincidence-driven narrative really struggled to take shape on stage, I thought. It felt forced and ungainly. Lyn Gardner said it felt like “a pilot for a Channel 4 series” but actually, what I was reminded of again and again, was the wave of low-budget indie cinema that bubbled up in the mid 1990s, films that can be loosely grouped under the banner ‘starring Steve Buscemi’. Night On Earth, Living In Oblivion or Richard Linklater’s Slacker. Something of that ilk. Indeed I heard someone mention Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes in the bar afterwards so this impression wasn’t mine alone.

I’m sure someone, quite probably someone called Andrew, could weigh in with some lengthy thoughts about theatre that - at least appears to - take its primary creative cues from other media. I just know, in terms of this play, that while my attention was held throughout, I was aware of a creeping need for something more solid, for these characters to be linked together in a more organic fashion and for their stories to lead somewhere a little more unexpected. I think Donnelly has real ability as a writer, but I was just too aware of the mechanics of the writing – and, when one of the characters died, my first thought was “well, I figured one of them wouldn’t make it to the end” which is not what I want to be thinking or feeling at such a juncture. It was however the first play I’ve seen that used Facebook as a narrative device, which I found genuinely interesting.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Plays, Pies and Pints

Knocking off work a little early on Friday, I headed over to London Bridge station where the entrance to Shunt Vaults can be found. This sprawling underground space is playing host to Paines Plough’s latest venture: A Play, A Pie and A Pint.

That’s theatre food and alcohol wrapped up in one neat little package, I obviously had to investigate. I was accompanied on this most strenuous of research exercises by Helen Smith. Neither of us had been inside Shunt vaults before, so were unsure what to expect as an usher led us through the (very) dark meandering corridors to a small, better lit space where we queued for the titular pies and pints – or in my case a glass of red.

For the play part of the evening, we were then herded up a small flight of stairs. The performance space itself was of an ‘intimate’ nature, encompassing a scattering of chairs. There were no tables and the seats were quite close together, but it was just about possible to tackle my pie and wine without upending either in my lap. The play itself, the first of four, was David Greig’s Being Norwegian, a simple sketch of a thing about a man and a woman who meet in a bar. It was a neat, nicely performed two-hander which managed to be both amusing and also quite poignant. It was also only around 45 minutes long so, with a start time of 6pm, it left us with much of the evening to spare afterwards. Fortunately tickets also allow you to linger in the Shunt Vaults themselves, an atmospheric space, a bit self-consciously ramshackle, but actually a rather appealing venue in which to while away the night.

At this point things get a little hazy, as accustomed to the Theatre component of my evening finishing at a slightly later hour, the repeated trips to the bar rather took their toll on me. I suspect I was rather, um, exuberant; certainly the friends we ran into at a later stage in the evening (when I dragged Helen off to Canteen on the South Bank) took every opportunity to snigger when I caught up with them on the weekend.

The whole Play, Pie and Pint experience struck me as a neatly alliterative gimmick at first, entertaining but perhaps a little wobbly in execution. However, it was fun enough for me to want to go back later in the month and catch one of the other plays, perhaps with some more people in tow, though I’ll understand if Helen decides to have ‘other plans’ that night.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Tagged

I have been meme'd. How exciting. Weeks ago actually, by Ben Ellis. And I was going to respond, I was, but then my computer broke for a bit and then I broke for a bit and I just got sidetracked. But now the Whingers have batted it back in my direction, so I can't put it off any longer.

Here it is: List 5 things that certain people (who are not deserving of being your friend anyway) may consider to be "totally lame," but you are, despite the possible stigma, totally proud of. Own it.

1. I get an Amelie-like surge of pleasure from the tiniest things. The snap that dark chocolate makes when you break it, the smell of fresh basil when you rub it between your fingers, the composition of a well-shaped sentence and, yes, the plink-fizz of an ice cube being dropped into a G&T.

2. As a child I had a blue stuffed rabbit. Which I called Burt. Even though I was adamant it was a girl rabbit. I may possibly still have it somewhere. Not on display or anything, but you know, around. Oh sod it, who am I kidding? It's in the wardrobe at my mum's house and I would never throw it away, ever.

3. I was also a bit of a comic book geek. My uncle had all these old Marvel comics dating back years and they were wonderful. As a result there's still a little corner of my brain that's wholly devoted to trivia about villains in Spiderman and the like. Oh and Tin Tin, I wanted to be Tin Tin so badly.

4. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. Makes me cry. Every Single Time I Read It.

5. I’m kind of proud of the fact that I can’t drive. I know it’s counter-intuitive to be proud of not being able to do something, but while it was never intended as such, it has come to feel like a minor act of rebellion and I suspect I will resist for some time yet...

There. I am supposed to tag five others, but initially at least I will just extend the baton to Anna Waits, Sean In The Stalls and my friend Juice, who has lost his blogging mojo of late.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Scotland

Once again I seem to have not been At The Theatre at all this week, in fact I have not even been In London. I’m spending a few days with family in Scotland, up on the north east coast where the sky seems bigger and the air smells of the sea. It’s ridiculously pretty, if a tad nippy. Reality reasserts itself on Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Major Mamet

Bit of gap in blogging this week, due to there being not so much Theatre in my life and instead a whole lot of Other. Most of this Other was rather tedious and involved Strepsils and deadlines and things, but some of it was fun, encompassing beaches and birthdays and bottles that make a pleasing popping noise when de-corked.

There was room for some Theatre in amongst the Other though, namely the new production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Apollo in the West End. I sometimes find Mamet a bit too cock-centric for my liking, but there’s something so satisfying about this particular play, it’s a lean, sharp, surgical thing, not a word wasted. Having said that, I was only familiar with it through the 1992 film starring Jack Lemmon, I’d not seen it on stage before. But I really enjoyed James McDonald’s taut production, even if the actors seemed to take a while to warm up to the precise, distinctive rhythms of the language.

The play concerns a group of salesman who are trying to flog Florida land-plots of dubious appeal, all chasing the vital 'leads' that might cement a sale and a chance to win a Cadillac and, more importantly, hang on to their jobs. A strong sense of aggression permeates the writing, the oily lure of money coating everything in sight. The play is short, just over ninety minutes, which includes an interval, though its presence rather punctured the pacing. I suppose it's there to allow for a major set change, from the dreary Edward Hopper-esque diner of the opening scenes to the chaotic office space of the second act (a shift dramatic enough to trigger a round of applause on the night I was in, haven’t seen the set get its own applause in a while). The scenes are also divided by slides showing verdent valleys with evocatove names, like the Glengarry Glen Ross of the title, in a nice contrast to the sludgey, smudgey browns and greys of these men's actual lives.

The acting was also pretty slick with Jonathan Pryce both pitiable and curiously unsympathetic as Shelly ‘the machine’ Levene, a salesman whose best days are clearly long behind him. His eyes still glitter though, when he talks of how it feels to make a sale, to secure that vital signature of some poor sap who has fallen for his patter. I also liked Aidan Gillen’s sweaty, agressive turn as Richard Roma, though I found his moustache unduly hilarious.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Squeak, Whimper, Croak

Eek. I am without voice, in a physical not ideological sense, you understand. It ran away over the weekend and has yet to return. This is not fun, though it does mean I can currently do a rather super impersonation of Kate Winslet at the end of Titanic: “Jack, Jack, I’ll never let you go, Jack.”

Prior to the rebellion of my vocal chords, I finally got around to seeing Punchdrunk’s The Masque Of The Red Death at the BAC, something I’d been looking forwards to for ages. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed much about the experience, I didn’t make it to the finale, (something with hindsight I suspect is not wholly unrelated to my lack of speaking ability); I hit the two hour mark and began to feel distinctly wobbly, something I attributed to the combination of disorientation and the fug of perfume and incense and my innate pathetic-ness. And though a spot of swooning would have been thematically quite in keeping with surroundings, I didn’t really want to chance it, so I had to admit defeat and seek fresh air and a brief perch on the steps outside.

While I’m rather disappointed with myself for not sticking it out (and I do wonder if the narrative tug of the thing had been just that teeny bit stronger, whether I would have sucked it up and persevered) I think I spent enough time in there to get a good sense of the show. Certainly I did my best to explore every nook and cranny of the lavishly decorated space, though I’m far from convinced I saw everything.

Anyway, if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve either been, plan to go or, if not London-based, have read copious articles about it already (here, here or here, for example), so I’ll keep my additional comments brief.

While the design and the lighting have been much commented on, the use of smell was also impressive. The incense, the perfume, it all added to the piece considerably.

It is not advisable to stand too close to the actors. I got forcibly shoved aside when I made the mistake of loitering in the wrong spot during a corridor fight scene. And yes, I know, this was probably my fault and I know the performers need to stay in character. But still, while I would rather my theatre didn’t solely lull and suckle, I’d also prefer it not leave me with bruises.

While the sight of all those white-faced figures swarming around is undeniably striking, those masks are rather like the hip, edgy theatre-going take on bowling shoes, aren’t they? I hope the next person to wear mine didn't pick up my lurgy.

It’s probably stating the obvious but to get the most out of this, you really need to be in the right mood, the right frame of mind, you need to be active, to explore, to embrace what the company are trying to do, otherwise it can be rather frustrating experience.

The future of theatre? I’m not convinced, but I’d certainly like to revisit it later in the run, when I’m physically more up to up it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Technical Hitch at the Haymarket


I looked at my watch. 7.45pm. The show was supposed to have started fifteen minutes ago, yet the safety curtain was showing no signs of rising. Hmph. The last couple of days had been really draining and un-fun and I found myself making involuntary grumpy noises. Just as I was starting to ponder exactly when I had turned into my mother, a nervous-looking, black-clad behind-the-scenes person was shoved on stage. “I’m sorry,” she said. “We’re having a few problems with the sound.” The rest of the audience began to make grumpy noises of their own. She disappeared for a few minutes, before returning, looking even more apprehensive. “I’m afraid we’ve not been able to fix it. But we’re going to go ahead with the show anyway.” As the house lights finally fell, the grumpy noises reached a crescendo…

OK, let’s backtrack a bit.

Theatre: Haymarket. The one with the interior that looks like Dubai’s Burj Al Arab hotel just mated with Versailles. My Great Aunt would adore it; she’s never gone in a room she didn’t think could be improved by a bit of gold leaf and some cherubim.

Play: Jonathan Kent’s new production of William Wycherley’s Restoration comedy The Country Wife, last encountered, by me at least, on an A Level theatre outing, some ten (ten!) years ago.

A swaggering Toby Stephens plays the main character Horner. A known cad, the play opens with him conspiring with his doctor to put around a rumour that he is now impotent having picked up something nasty in the trouser-department while overseas (people keep saying "Oh, he's been in France" as way of explanation and then shaking their head sadly as if that explained everything). Horner has realized that his new found eunuch status will allow him to spend time with other men's wives un-chaperoned, something he intends to take full advantage of. His scheme is rather undermined however when the innocent young wife of his insanely jealous and over-protective friend Pinchwife develops a huge crush on him.

The production looks fantastic, on aesthetic terms alone it’s a winner; I loved Paul Brown's perspective-skewing sets, in bright blues and brighter pinks, doors receding into the distance. The outfits are rather wonderful too, blending historical and contemporary elements to striking effect – the men, for example, wear stunning silk frock coats over super tight jeans and billowing shirts.

Unfortunately the rest of the production struck me as rather muddled, a lot of thought and attention has gone into the surface elements but the dark heart of this tale of the corrupting tug of the city has been overlooked, glossed over in every sense. The farcical elements of the plot have been played up to the point of pantomime. It's all smutty asides, suggestive grape consumption and phallic vases. When it should have an edge, when it should get nasty, like when Pinchwife locks up his young wife and threatens to put out her eyes and carve the word ‘whore’ in her face with a pen-knife, well, it fails to have any impact. The audience greet these moments with the same level of laughter as when Horner jests of one of his conquests, revealing a secret door to his bedroom, that “I’m going in round the back” (this witty play on words is repeated a further couple of times for good measure; well, you wouldn’t want a joke of that quality to just get one airing, would you?)

The lack of shock-factor was partly down to the casting of David Haig as Pinchwife. He’s a great actor and can do panic and exasperation with ease, but is less good at conveying menace. However the real fault is with the decision to push forward the bawdy comedy at the expense of the play’s complexities. I also had problems with Fiona Glascott’s performance as Haig’s young wife. I found her, with her foot stamping tantrums, simply too childish and conversely not nearly innocent enough for the role, a bit too breathy and calculating for my liking. Still the production kept me entertained, kept me laughing, and for all the fuss they made at the start, the missing music in the first half was barely noticeable (they fixed it in time for the second act).

It did, however, take me an absolute age to realize that the music the cast take their bows too was a period-appropriate reworking of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun.

There was also a cameo by a Real Live Bunny in a hutch, though this clearly doesn’t top The Rose Tattoo’s scene-stealing goat moment in regards to pointless use of animals onstage.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Post Almost Wholly Devoted To Food

Ah, Arcola. I was back over there on Monday night to see their new production of Mustapha Matura’s Meetings, a play set in 1980s Trinidad.

It’s an intriguing but rather stilted play about a well-off, career-minded married couple who employ a cook so that the husband can reacquaint himself with the foods of his childhood. The play isn’t just about food, of course, it’s also about how economic prosperity can make people feel cut off from a more simple, tradition-driven past. But, as I’m sure the themes will be discussed more eloquently elsewhere, I, perhaps predictably, am going to focus on the food.

Designer James Humphrey has installed a working (Ikea) kitchen in the Arcola’s smaller studio space, complete with oven, sink and dishwasher – but it’s not just any kitchen, it’s a magic kitchen. Oh, yes. When Elsa, the young girl employed by the couple as cook, starts to prepare her meals, she opens up pots and pans to reveal lots of pre-chopped food. Actually I don’t really think this is meant to signify anything mystical, rather it is a time-saving device on the part of the director. Unfortunately, having all this food secreted around the set, was rather distracting – I kept thinking, how come this couple never noticed they had bread rolls in their dishwasher before?

Also the (teeny, tiny) portions that Elsa puts on the plates – and that actor Nicholai La Barrie duly eats – never resemble the tempting dishes they’re supposed to be. So she announces the fact she’s made something like ‘hearty, warming Trinidadian sausage and bean stew’ and then serves up a small puddle of watery, tomato-y liquid. I guess this is because it would be difficult to whip up said stew on set, even with most of the ingredients hidden in saucepans beforehand, but this disparity seems like a crucial flaw in a production that revolves around the evocative power of food. It just seems like such a shame; here we have a play – that, at least, superficially – is about food and a working kitchen - and all the food we see looks so miserable, so uninspiring. And this just a week after I saw ordinary (egg on toast, pasta) but at least edible looking fare, cooked up on stage at Soho Theatre in Pure Gold.

In addition to Elsa’s dubious dishes, the couple in Meetings also get through numerous slices of the most anaemic looking toast I’ve ever seen, a carton of chicken and chips, and bottle after bottle of radioactive-hued Caribbean soda (I think there may have been some sort of sponsorship thing going on here, as there was with Ikea for the kitchen). Not that they actually eat all of this, the actors pick and nibble, making yummy noises where necessary, before scraping most of it into the bin. Which could be taken as a comment on the wasteful habits of the wealthy, though I suspect it has more to do with actors not wanting to gain half a stone over the course of the run.

And the play itself, aside from all the food-related issues? Well it was an odd one, initially intriguing, but strangely paced and saddled with a bizarre subplot about Toxic Killer Cigarettes, a heavy-handed moral metaphor if ever there was one. But it was the use of food that lingered the longest and that I found myself thinking about as I rode home on the Big Ol’ Bus of Loud Shouty Drunks.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Winning Hand

So, I went to the Menier last Thursday for their revival of Patrick Marber’s Dealer’s Choice. Though – small admission – I wasn’t really looking forward to it; I was curious yes, I’d not seen the play the first time around and was intrigued, but I wasn’t really open to the idea I might enjoy it. After all, the usually reliable Menier tends to flounder when it comes to non-musicals, as the stodgy All Mouth attested, and though I’ve seen several good fringe productions of Marber’s best known play, Closer, I’ve never really warmed to it, indeed have come to actively dislike its unrelentingly bleak outlook. But one of my friends is seriously into poker, a game I’ve never really got to grips with, so hoping for insight, I went along.

For him poker is more than just a hobby, he would certainly snort at my use of the word ‘game.’ No, to him, poker is a beautiful thing, a pure and perfect exercise, demanding wit, skill and empathy from the player. There was nothing that happened in his life that couldn’t be summed up with a poker metaphor and he talked about his poker experiences with intensity and passion, often employing a near-impenetrable poker-centric language, peppered with references to Hold 'Em and Omaha and wild cards and what not. He often tried to convey what it was about poker that made him feel so awake, so connected, but though I nodded along, I don’t think I ever really got it.

And I’m still not sure I do. But I am a little nearer. Marber’s play really gets across what poker means to those (men) who play it, the power it exerts. The play is set in a London restaurant where the staff hold weekly Sunday poker sessions, run by the restaurant's owner, the calm, meticulous Stephen. These games are also the only time he sees his son Carl, so they have particular significance to him. The remaining players consist of a young waiter called Mugsy, an eternally optimistic fellow with a mad scheme of turning a Mile End public lav into a posh restaurant of his very own; the other waiter, Frankie, is a bit more together; and there’s also a cook, Sweeney, (played by Ross Boatman, who I gather is a bit of a poker legend himself) who’s divorced with a young daughter and hopes to cry off that night's game so he can save his cash to take her to the zoo the next day. (It’s giving away little to say his good intentions come to nothing).

The first half carefully sets up these characters, the way they interact and their various motivations. It's deftly done, the material enhanced by some genuinely superb ensemble stage acting, particularly from Malcolm Sinclair as Stephen. I really liked his measured, controlled performance – you could sense so much going on beneath the calm exterior. I also liked Stephen Wight’s Mugsy, a man whose mouth seems to be permanently two steps ahead of his brain. I suspect it takes really great timing to play dim with such proficiency. Roger Lloyd Pack was also entertaining, exuding deadpan menace as Ash, the professional poker player to whom Carl owes a hefty sum of money – though there’s something a bit wrong about seeing Trigger from Only Fools and Horses calling a man a cunt..

The already simmering tension builds up considerably in the second half when the poker game proper begins and the striking restaurant kitchen set, with its mirrored back wall, is replaced by that of the basement poker room. (I came back from the bar in time to see them changing the set around, a complex process involving ramps and motors and winches and things, fascinating, but I thought rather too susceptible to things snapping or sticking or generally going awry). The play runs at well over two hours but it flits by, every moment used wisely. I didn’t look at my watch once, and while I still couldn’t tell you what a river card is, or anything like that, I came away feeling I understood a little more of what this 'game' means to my friend.

Oh, and more musings on matinees here.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Precious Metal

Over to Soho Theatre last night, which is conveniently very near my office. However, what with my working late coupled with some general faffery, I had just enough time to nip over to Chinatown and grab a red bean bun before the show started.

Oh, and the show? That was Talawa’s production of Pure Gold, a play by Michael Bhim. It concerns a married couple, Simon and Marsha, who are seriously struggling with money after Simon loses his job as a bus driver. As a result, Marsha has had to give up her studies (in, um, something. Actually, I don’t think we ever find out) to take a job in a supermarket, and their young son Anthony, a smart and talented kid, considerate but still essentially a twelve-year-old boy, is asking for a piano for his birthday, not realising the pressure this is putting on his already stressed parents.

Further pressure comes in the form of Simon’s cousin Paul, who offers him a driving job – not mini-cabbing as he tells Marsha – but ferrying illegal immigrants into the country, and an envelope full of cash to do it without asking too many questions. And though Simon makes a big show of talking about choices, the importance of doing the right thing, of taking action and not making excuses, the pull of having all that money in his pocket is just too strong.

While I really liked Golda Rosheuvel’s performance as the infinitely calm Marsha, other aspects of Bhim’s play felt rather raw and underdeveloped. There were some superbly tense scenes between Simon and Marsha in the second half, but while these domestic scenes resonated, a lot of the remaining writing felt in need of a good red pen session. The inclusion of the illegal immigrant thing was a clunky plot device, nothing more, and the brief appearance of a local Irish villain (intended to be menacing I suspect, but really, really not) felt wildly out of place.

I did like Mike Britton’s set though. He's the man responsible for the design of Ben Yeoh’s Nakamitsu and the fantastically evocative indoors-outdoors orchard look of Hampstead Theatre’s Comfort Me With Apples. The family's council flat was very naturalistically depicted, with a working kettle and sink and a shabby sofa, but the furniture was housed in this concrete-effect box, that rather made it appear as if Marsha and Simon were living in some random corner of the National Theatre. And, were they not currently in Peru, I’m sure the Whingers would have delighted in the onstage cooking and consumption of a fried egg on toast plus some sort of pasta concoction.

Oh, and the role of the couple’s curmudgeonly but kind-hearted neighbour George is played by Leonard Fenton, who was Doctor Legg in Eastenders. I know this because I was sitting near the front and when he came on stage for the first time I heard an amusing verbal ripple of ‘Ooh, it’s Dr Legg’ travel back through the audience. Which just goes to show you can do all the Beckett and Shakespeare in the world but you can’t escape the ‘Enders.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Matinees And Musicals


I do like matinees. There’s something rather illicit and exciting about doing during the day what one normally does in the evening (intensified considerably if it happens to be a midweek matinee).

I have a whole other routine with matinees as well, facilitated by the welcome lack of post-work dash – I potter, I dawdle, I browse, I caffeinate myself in an agreeably lingering fashion, and arrive at the theatre with ample time to spare and not breathless and watch-wary and flustered as is often the case in the evening. I used to see a lot more matinees when I lived out in the Surrey suburbs, and a journey into town required a long, crawling train journey, but now, well, my day job precludes daytime cultural activities during the week, and my weekends tend to be eaten up by stuff.

So I was looking forward to seeing Saturday afternoon’s staging of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse. I knew it wasn’t likely to be the cheeriest of things, but I’d enjoyed Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years when it played at the Menier Chocolate Factory last year and was eager to see how you could possibly tackle such a grim subject in song.

Parade is set in Atlanta, Georgia, in the early years of the 20th century. On Confederate Memorial Day, a 13 year old girl is found raped and murdered in the pencil factory where she worked. Suspicion falls on the factory superintendent, Leo Frank, a Jewish man from Brooklyn, an outsider in every sense. He is arrested, tried and sentenced to death. According to the play, a hysteria built up around his case, with several other girls who worked in his factory accusing him of inappropriate behaviour. The police also found an eye witness (an African American former convict) to testify to his guilt. Eventually however his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. Perhaps predictably, this does not go down well with the local community, who are eager to blame someone for the girl’s death, and they exert a 'justice' of their own – the kind of justice that involves hoods with eye-holes and a long length of rope.

So, there you go. Frothy it is not. It is however very well done. Bertie Carvel is simply superb as Frank, all anxious and twitchy; cold, nervy and somewhat prim. Lara Pulver was also excellent as Frank’s wife Lucille, but I found her character harder to get a handle on, her total devotion and abundant stoic dignity was a little too neat for my liking. Going on what I remember of Five Years, I don’t think Brown does women very well. Frank is such an intriguing, ambiguous figure and Lucille just seemed a bit flat in comparison.

There is much to admire about this production: vocal performances (though I thought the pretty blonde chap in the cheesy civil war prologue was a little shaky), choreography - everything is very well done. There’s just something about the whole enterprise that didn’t sit very well with me. It’s not that musicals need to be all fluff and uplift (indeed those are the shows I usually avoid), but in the case of this complex story, I think I would actually have preferred a more conventional dramatic approach.

Interesting critical split on this one too, with Michael Billington applauding its eloquence and Christopher Hart getting all squeamish about the subject matter - I think I fall somewhere in between (I’d much rather this than Wicked any day), still, it was relief to emerge after two-and-a-bit hours of such darkness to find it still daylight outside.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scandalised (Or Not, Actually)

What is the sound of one arm shrugging? Or two arms for that matter? I’m not entirely sure. If I could think of a good word to encapsulate a sense of not-bothered-ness, a general lack of whelm, I would use it here, because that’s how I felt after watching Robin Soans’ latest at Hampstead Theatre.

This is another verbatim theatre piece in line with his previous work Talking To Terrorists. Only, in the case of Life After Scandal, this time it is more a matter of Talking To Disgraced Aristocrats – which doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

The play consists of a series of interwoven interviews with various public figures who have been involved in scandal – sexual, political, often a blend of the both – and whose lives subsequently became tabloid fodder, meat for the media. So we have contributions from Jonathan Aitken, Lord Brocket, the Ingrams (they of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire coughing farrago), an embittered Edwina Currie, Duncan Roy, who passed himself off as a Lord for some years, and Craig Murray, the vilified former ambassador to Uzbekistan. Oh, and Neil and Christine Hamilton. Because.

Anyway, Soans clearly has a knack for drawing people out of themselves and the stories were cleverly interlaced, I’ll give it that. But I simply struggled to care about these people and their predicaments. There were exceptions, there was pathos of sorts in the story of the elderly Lord Montagu who was embroiled in a homosexual scandal in the 1950s, a time when such things devastated lives rather than paving your way onto I’m A Celebrity, get me Out Of Here!. But often the juxtaposition between the more weighty issues – Murray discussing horrific human rights abuses in Uzbekistan – and, say the Hamiltons taking tea as they described their appearances on This Morning, felt more than a little awkward. Everything was slick and smooth and tautly (and, in the main, sympathetically) performed and it’s not that documentary techniques such as these have to be confined to Big Serious Themes only, but, still. I wanted more bite, more insight, more focus, and none was forthcoming. Oh and there was singing. A fair bit of singing. I really, really couldn’t fathom the point of the singing.

It was also press night and thus there were actors aplenty in the audience, as is the norm at such things. Post-show, they were doling out Brocket’s beer (yes, really, and no, I was not tempted to try any), though I did find the sight of the Hamiltons meeting ‘The Hamiltons’ (Caroline Quentin and Michael Mears) fairly amusing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

High Flying


Monday night and after the briefest of catch-ups with my flatmate Lisa in a Soho coffee bar, I darted over to Shepherd’s Bush, to the Bush Theatre for their new production of David Watson’s Flight Path.

Watson is 22 and this is his second play. A pretty conventional thing, structurally speaking, Flight Path concerns the problems and worries of eighteen year old Jonathan, an A level student whose parents have recently split up. He’s about to sit his exams and his 25 year old brother, who has learning disabilities, has just returned from a residential home so he’s having to help care for him as well. At the same time, his friend Joe is pestering him into joining him in a spot of house breaking. Pressure is piling on him from all directions and it soon takes its toll.

Inarticulacy is difficult to write and harder to perform. The stutters, the pauses, the half-finished sentences, it’s not that easy to replicate in any convincing fashion. But it’s something that Watson (not to mention the younger members of the cast) do well. You can see his characters searching for words, struggling to express themselves, their unvoiced feelings floating just beneath the surface.

While there’s nothing soul-piercingly brilliant about this play, I admired the way it avoided certain narrative traps, the way that it subtly subverted expectations. Jonathan’s social worker mother, for example, screams of clichĂ© when she first appears but she is allowed to be more than that. A woman who wallows in other people’s problems all day, she is as baffled and frustrated by life as her son. Jonathan’s relationship with his brother is also very tenderly sketched, his love muddied by frustration and the burden of responsibility.

I’ve seen a fair bit of this kind of theatre, theatre that, with its blurts of hip-hop between scenes attempts to be all urban and gritty and whatnot – it rarely convinces – but this was written with an uncommon level of compassion. Watson can also do dialogue, be it convincing street-smart banter or awkward father-son small-talk. And it’s, in the main, an emotionally plausible piece of writing, though it could do with being trimmed in some places and fleshed out in others (the episode with the suitcase full of cocaine felt like it had floated in from a completely different play – even though it provided the springboard for one of the funniest scenes - and it’s difficult to believe that the level-headed Jonathan would get so easily involved with serious criminal activity). Cary Crankson’s performance in the central role was excellent as well, striking just the right balance between snotty, adolescent arrogance and a more weighed down, worn out air.

The reviews for this one have been mixed, with most of the criticisms fair, though I thought Nicholas de Jongh was being picky in the extreme (he questions the realism of Jonathan having a menial job. Hello? Most people I know took on crappy jobs to see them through their A Levels, I certainly spent several mind-sapping weeks packing boxes in a factory, not to mention all those hours of my life poured into the retail machine).

Anyway, I'm spinning off-topic - an actual conclusion would be good at this point, wouldn't it? Flight Path has a number of flaws, without a doubt, but it's a very promising piece of work and it left me genuinely intrigued to see what Watson will do next.

Oh, and for more on the moonwalking, head over here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Moonwalking

It’s Friday evening and Soho’s streets are filled with after-work drinkers and pavement tables and the general jabber of people released from their desks for the weekend. And I am off to the theatre. To Soho Theatre in fact, up the stairs to their studio space where a mah jong game is in session and tinny music plays on a radio in the corner. Someone hands me a coloured tile (a red one) and, before I or the other assembled audience members have time to fully orientate ourselves, we are waved and prodded back out of the door, following a girl with a paper lantern back downstairs and out into Dean Street.

If anything it’s noisier outside than before but our attention is drawn to one particularly shouty couple, having an argument outside a restaurant, a Chinese woman and her boyfriend. She has a family party to attend and is worried about bringing him along, as she’s neglected to tell her family that he’s not Chinese. I don’t want to give away too much about the story, both because the narrative was rather on the thin side and because the uncertainty factor is one of the key joys of this production – it constantly surprises you and you’re never quite sure what was a planned part of the show and what was just random Friday night Soho stuff.

Naturally our small procession began attracting attention and soon we had tourists and people out on the town watching us with some curiosity. Some were moved to call out questions, some began tagging along to find out what was going on, and as a result I started to feel as much part of the show as the performers. Which was a rather fun feeling. The production took us all around Chinatown, past shops and restaurants, via the pagoda, and then off down alleys full of kitchen smells and cardboard boxes, before returning to Soho proper and ending up in a hidden residential courtyard where the disparate plot strands came together over a moon festival feast (and with a bit of rudimentary shadow puppetry thrown in to boot).

It was an exhilarating experience that succeeded in making me look anew at familiar streets, streets I walk through nearly everyday without really looking at them, always going somewhere, never fully awake to what’s around me. And yet, and yet, though I’m loathe to criticize what was such an enjoyable theatrical experience, in many ways it felt like something of a missed opportunity. Justin Young’s script felt disappointingly soapy, the acting was very broad and basic and the play doesn’t really say much about the history of the neighbourhood or what it means to be young and British Chinese above the very obvious. I wonder if my expectations were simply too high, because as I said I did enjoy it, and I’m probably not fully grasping the logistical complexity of staging something like this, I just thought it could have been more than it was.

It’s still an experience worth having though, and I’d love to see similar projects put on by other theatres, the Bush and the Arcola springing most immediately to mind.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ugly Beautiful (And Lessons In Excess)


The heavy-set man in front of me looked on the verge of expiring after climbing all the stairs up which you must climb in order to reach the Royal Court’s attic-y upstairs space. He had gone a worrying shade of puce, was sweating rather profusely and looking generally rather unwell – for a moment I really thought the show might be cancelled due to some kind of ‘shit, call an ambulance’ collapse situation. However he eventually recovered (and presumably took the lift on the way down) and his little episode was unconnected to the mysterious delay that bumped the start time of the play back by fifteen minutes.

I never did find out what that was about. But anyway. The play itself was Marius von Mayenburg's The Ugly One and it's a study in the strengths of keeping things concise, playing at just under an hour, with a staging stripped down to the bare essentials. There is no set as such, instead the stage has been left to resemble a bare rehearsal space, with only a couple of benches and an office chair. There are no real props or costumes and a ladder and a rail of clothes have been left, seemingly randomly, in the background. The actors were milling about in a corner chatting for some minutes before the play started. It's a basic approach - and one that is somewhat appropriate in a play that is all about surfaces and the power of the visual.

A man called Lette, a designer of plugs by trade, is told by his boss that he can’t go to a conference because, to put it plainly, he is too ugly. "You can't sell anything with that face," his boss casually informs him, a fact his wife seems only to happy to confirm, in her words his face is "disastrous." Though Lette had never considered himself ugly before now, indeed had never really given the matter much thought, he quickly decides to get the problem rectified surgically, to get a doctor to build him a whole new face. Once he has been un-uglified, Lette’s whole life changes. Women are throwing themselves at him and people start wanting to look like him, coveting his face itself.

The play touches on so many themes, notions of identity and attraction and the like, of the value that is placed on how a person looks over who they are. I like Michael Gould’s performance as Lette. In this most subtle of ways he conveyed a man changed, both enraptured and repelled by this ‘new’ him. I also enjoyed Mark Lockyer’s smooth, supercilious delivery – it seemed so in tune with the tone of the writing. The remaining roles are played by Frank McCusker and Amanda Drew, switching from character to character at rapid speed, indeed all the performances have a kind of cranked up intensity, and though von Mayenburg has chosen to give all the smaller roles the same names, it was never difficult to follow who was who. The satirical elements of the play where at times a bit too, I don’t know, overdone for my liking, but as an exercise in how much can be achieved with so little – and indeed how little you actually need to feed an audience, in terms of visual cues, for them to follow along – this was a truly exciting piece of theatre.

And despite the ample drinking time afforded by the early finish (even with the delay), I took the bus straight home after the show, still feel a little, um, delicate after ill advisedly consuming a rather large quantity of champagne the night before.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Quick Link

More blogging about blogging over here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Swishy-Kicky

Last night I took my mother to the bland, boxy Peacock Theatre on Kingsway for an evening of what my great aunt would call, with a dismissive wave of her hand, that ‘clicky-clicky stuff you like.’ And what PR folk would probably term an ‘international dance spectacular’ or words to that effect.

The show was Tango Fire, a blend of music and dance from Buenos Aires – more swishy-kicky than clicky-clicky if we’re to be precise about such things (and we are). And it was, well, it was very disappointing actually. In my mind tango exists as a seductive and deeply sexual form of dance, and this show, while it was technically incredible – legs moving at lightning speed, all manner of acrobatic flips and spins, and a fair bit of, for want of a better term, what we’ll call lady juggling – had something rather cold and clinical about it, it was too polished, and the musical interludes, from the accompanying band Quatrotango, though enjoyable, dragged on for far too long. It just wasn’t as sexy as I was expecting, unless your idea of sexy involves being twirled and tossed across the stage at frightening speed or being repeatedly thrown in the air and caught just before you crash to the ground.

The costumes though, the costumes deserve a post in themselves, lots of unflattering satin and baffling cutaways, plus one shimmery purple outfit that seemed to consist of one leg (yes, just one leg) of a velour tracksuit combined with a bodice made purely of flimsy ribbons of chiffon. That alone made the evening worth it in my book.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Future Perfect

Lyric Hammersmith again yesterday. This time to the smaller Studio space for Vanishing Point’s new production, Subway. This is one that had been glittering near the top of my list of post-Edinburgh transfers which I was determined to catch, mainly I must admit, due to the prospect of a seven-piece Kosovan band providing the music.

The play offers up a vision of a futuristic Edinburgh where the gulf between rich and poor has widened to the point where the ill and uninsured buy lottery tickets for hospital treatment and the vending machines offer advice on getting your all important eight-a-day while declining to serve Irn Bru to the unemployed. The plot is a slivery thing: after a ten year absence from the city, Patrick returns with hopes of some sort of reconciliation with his estranged father. However it’s superbly played by Sandy Grierson, as Patrick, and Rosalind Sydney, as pretty much everyone else. Everything about the production is well choreographed and well executed and the music provided by the onstage band complemented the action wonderfully, drawing out the internal music of the Scottish accents, creating beautiful patterns from words.

This is a production that revels in language in such a way I was easily able to overlook its narrative flaws. (The plot became unnecessarily convoluted, I thought, as the piece progressed and the dystopian imagery wasn’t exactly fresh). But the marriage of music and performance worked perfectly, each element of the staging was in harmony and none of the theatrical devices felt tacked on or gimmicky, as they did in The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents.

So, yes, good, I liked this one a lot. It was also interesting to note that, as a result I suspect of the presence of the Kosovan musicians, the audience contained an unusually large percentage of eastern Europeans. And much of the post-show debate that I heard appeared to revolve around the, er, intensity of the actors’ Scottish accents and the difficulty in understanding everything that was said. Still, despite the lost-in-translation factor, the overall buzz seemed to be positive.

In things un-theatre, my weekend was spent in Brussels (to mark, what I believe is politely termed, a landmark birthday for my mother). We shopped, we ate, we drank of the Kriek and of the Hoegaarden and failed to do anything at all cultural or mind-widening. Our waistlines on the other hand…

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Drugs Don't Work

Does a banana muffin and a coffee make for a balanced dinner? I think not. But it’s all I had time to grab as I headed over to Notting Hill after work yesterday to see the Gate Theatre’s production of The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents.

I had some problems with this one I must admit. It’s a play designed to unsettle – and it does, but not I suspect, always in the ways intended. The play is about a girl called Dora who has learning disabilities and has been on medication since she was a child. Her mother decides to take her off the pills, which have kept her docile, to lift the ‘pharmaceutical curtain’ and rediscover who her daughter is inside. This device is used to explore Dora’s sudden sexualisation. Off the pills, she becomes increasingly uninhibited and fascinated with the physical.

It wasn’t the subject matter that made me feel a little squirmy, rather the play itself, which felt primarily as if it were out to press buttons, to provoke a response, which is fine to a point, but I thought here it was trying a little too hard. It had this overly slick quality, making it near-impossible to get an emotional hook on the action or the characters.

The set appears to have been designed to make the characters look like part of an installation or an experiment, with the audience looking down on them from either side of the stage. The space is filled with a number of black blocks, which the cast shift around as the scene changes require. These scene changes are denoted by little bursts of music (triggered by the actors pressing a buzzer in the corner), during which they dance around, lifting one another up or occasionally jumping over one of the black blocks. There is even a little paper screen that they jump through at the start and I must admit when this happened I did jot the words ‘Legz Akimbo!’ down in my notepad (a reference to the 'educational' theatre troupe in The League Of Gentlemen, if that needs to be clarified).

That’s perhaps a bit harsh, I think I could see what was trying to be achieved, I just thought all these little theatrical devices worked against the material – in fact, I thought the main problem here was the material itself, I just don’t think it was a very good play to start with, too obvious, too button-pushy, as I said. The girl playing Dora, Cath Whitefield, was very good though, pitching the role just right I thought, giving the play a necessary human centre. The play was only ninety minutes long but I felt more than a little fidgety towards the end, though I concede this may have something to do with the twin-pronged sugar and caffeine attack on my system. I should really learn to stick with the gin.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Orange Tree Delivers

Last week’s bumper week o’ theatre ended on a pleasant high. I was off to the Orange Tree, out in Richmond, for the first play in their new autumn season. I have a real soft spot for the Orange Tree. Their last season, composed of work by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, was genuinely fascinating and this new production of the The Years Between, a play by Daphne Du Maurier, was well chosen, echoing themes – about the shifting position of women in society in the late 19th and early 20th century – that had provided something of a spine for those previous productions.

Years is set during the Second World War and concerns a woman whose husband is missing in action, his plane was shot down over the sea and he is most likely dead. In his absence, his wife Diana sets about rebuilding and reshaping her life. Reluctantly she stands as a Member of Parliament in her husband’s stead and makes plans to marry another man. Three years pass before a phone call brings news that her husband is still alive and the play then focuses on how Diana deals with this fact and the knowledge that the life she has built in his absence will be irreparably changed.

The play makes it clear that her husband was a difficult and particular man before he went away, so when he returns, gaunt and weak, he is keen for everything to be as it once was. But, of course, this cannot be. Diana has grown in confidence during the intervening years, and her husband, Michael, comes back to a life – and wife – very distant and different from what he left behind.

Years is a compelling if not outstanding piece of writing, it doesn’t really have the macabre edge of du Maurier’s novels and stories (apparently she was drawing here on unhappiness in her own marriage plus a real event that happened near to where she lived in Cornwall) but, get this, I cared about the characters, I got caught up in these people’s lives in a way that just didn’t happen during, hmm, say, Awake and Sing! It helped that the acting was good, especially Mark Tandy as the twitchy, emotionally complex colonel.

This wasn’t an absolutely blow-you-away production but I enjoyed it more than anything else I’ve seen this week, despite – or perhaps – because of the Orange Tree’s quirks. Sets are usually cluttered with rugs, mahogany side tables, antimacassars and the like – they’re clearly not big fans of the minimalist approach to set design – and they take an absolute age shifting this stuff about between scenes. The theatre is also in-the-round so at least one pivotal moment is guaranteed to be obscured by the back of someone’s head, but the Orange Tree knows its strengths, it knows its core audience (older than me by a good few decades) and it does a certain kind of production very well indeed. Measure of quality at the Orange Tree? The number of people having a bit of a nap during the play (easy to ascertain given the layout) and, for once, I didn’t spot one lolling head.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Unmoved At The Almeida


When I mentioned to my friends that I was going to see a play with Stockard Channing in it, most fell into two camps: a lot of them made some reference to Abbey Bartlet and her turn as First Lady in The West Wing, while a few got surprisingly excited about the whole Rizzo-in-Grease thing. For me it's the former role that sprang to mind initially, but I'm sure she’s done a lot more than that (all the press I've read has taken pains to point out that she's done more than that) but when I tried to think of anything else, well, the only other thing that I could come up with was Six Degrees of Separation, where I believe she was reprising a role she'd played stage, but that was so long ago, she got a higher billing than Will Smith in the credits.

But anyway, I’m drifting here. The ins and outs of Channing's CV are incidental. What I do know, is that she is currently starring in Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing! at the Almeida and on Friday night I duly wandered up to Islington to see it.

This was an interesting one. There were a number of individual aspects of the play I really liked and it certainly oozed quality, both through the performances – which were mostly excellent – and through a nicely realised set (though I thought the canopy of dangling laundry rather overdid things), however for all its undeniable class it left me feeling a bit under-whelmed, like I’d gone to a pizza place and ordered a salad. Good for you and everything, but I still felt hungry afterwards. Actually that’s an awful analogy because there was plenty of sustenance here, but there was something a bit clinical about the production, it failed to move me in any real way.

Channing plays Bessie, matriarch of the Berger family. The Bergers live in a cramped tenement building in the Bronx. Alongside Bessie, there's her sweet but terminally passive husband Myron, their children Hennie and Ralph, and grandfather Jacob, played here by John Rogan, an actor who uses a wheelchair following an accident (something I mention primarily because it was variations on ‘oh, is he actually disabled then?’ type conversations that predominated as the audience filed out after the play, not, it must be noted, musings on Odets’ depiction of 1930s New York).

Anyway, Rogan’s performance gave the show something of the heart I felt it was otherwise lacking and Channing was very good as the somewhat tyrannical Bessie, subtly conveying that her character's actions, though often domineering and insensitive, are driven by a desire for her children to have lives less blighted by hardship than hers. I was also rather taken by Nigel Lindsay’s performance as the fast-talking, cynical but soft-hearted Moe Axelrod (though I suspect this was, at least in part, down to the fact he was playing a character with the rather wonderful moniker of Moe Axelrod).

And, so, yes. While the play is insightful about the social ramifications of poverty, while there was lots about the production to admire - and I am glad I saw it - I didn’t actually enjoy it that much, which is quite a crucial distinction.