Monday, October 30, 2006

Escape to Dorset

Have had a rare theatre-free week, which is probably for the best as I have some kind of winter lurgy at the moment and would just be one of those serial coughers who annoys everyone sitting around them in the auditorium.

Went down to Dorset for the birthday of Dan last weekend and had a fantastic time. Drove down on Friday with the Gin Soaked Boy and Matt-in-need-of-a-nickname and were joined later by L&D. On Saturday we went to Lulworth Cove and had smoked salmon sandwiches and prosecco on the beach. Dubious as I was about this expedition, it was actually rather wonderful, the beach was truly beautiful, an amazing palette of blues, the kind of which you just don't get in the city. We found a sheltered spot and spent an hour or so staring out at the water (not to mention Toby's ill advised but highly entertaining rock-juggling). The evening was predictably boozy but also very agreeable. On Sunday, a few us drove down to rainy Weymouth and spent the afternoon wandering around the harbour, one of the more creative ways of shaking off a hangover and actually pretty cool in its own aimless way.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Tale Of Two Musicals

Two very different theatrical experiences this week. On Wednesday night I caught a performance of Monty Python's Spamalot at the Palace Theatre. I must confess I was looking forward to this, having rather fallen for all the Broadway-related hype, but I was really let down by the show. Though I did laugh in places, on the whole I found it overlong, repetitive and a little boring. It's not that I dislike Python, the opposite in fact, but everything that made them interesting is absent from this retread through the Holy Grail. I know they make no claims otherwise, tagging it as a "loving rip-off" but it seemed so lazy. The (very American) audience were applauding before half the characters even spoke, people were chanting along with the lines and a crowbarred-in rendition of Always Look On the Bright Side turned into a very cheesy sing-along. I was talking to Mark Ravenhill on the interval and he seemed as bemused as I was so at least I wasn't alone in feeling like the only sober guest at a very rowdy party.

Far, far better was Caroline, Or Change at the National last night. Lisa and I went along to the opening night, neither of us with particularly high expectations - Tony Kushner's musical about a black maid and her Jewish employers in 1960s Louisiana sounded very worthy on paper. But we were both completely blown away. This is that rarest of things, a musical that deals with social issues in an intelligent and engaging way, with characters who are well-rounded and believeable as people. It was a euphoric and intense production, with a cast who were truly faultless, not a mediocre vocal performance among them. Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic. Very tempted to see it again.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Brownies at Borough Market

Friday evening saw me at the White Bear in Kennington for a production of a rarely staged Polish play, The Police. Written by Slawomir Mrozek, it's set in an unnamed state where the populus have become so loyal and unquestioning that the police are forced to stir up dissent to keep themselves in business.

I've never been to the White Bear before - it's a proper pub theatre, attached to a proper pub - boozy regulars and a mist of cigarette smoke. The production was rather ambitious for such a small space, especially at the start, as we were grudgingly given permission to enter the venue by an unsmiling, uniformed woman who herded us through the pretty grim corridor beside the gents toilets - much to the befuddlement of one of the aforementioned regulars. Unfortunately nothing in the play itself quite lived up to this inventive beginning. Though the satire still felt fresh, and I found myself laughing more than I expected, the staging felt rather stiff and the performances were only so-so.

The day after I made my first ever visit to Borough Market - and, oh my God, what have I been doing with my Saturday mornings before now? It was as brilliant as everyone says; Lisa and I stocked up on cheese and olives and bought some excellent walnut bread (and a large slab of chocolate brownie which I was compelled to consume in the grounds of Southwark Cathedral). Then we strolled back to Waterloo along the river walk, past the Globe and the Tate. Pretty perfect as days go. In fact the last few weekends have been really lovely, I hope the pattern continues for the pending excurison to Dorset for Dan H's birthday.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Young Vic Reopens

The last time I went to the Young Vic I was still at university and the main draw, I must admit, had little to do with the fact that I'd studied Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus in some depth on my course, and everything to do with the fact that the title role was being played by Jude Law. Yes, I know - I'm not proud of myself, I'm not usually such a name-whore - but he was still an on-the-rise talent back then, with less bad movies and nanny-shagging incidents under his belt. And it was an enjoyable production as I recall, Law was on good form, despite sporting some rather curious facial hair. (Proper, I'm-an-actor-me beardy business).

Returning to the theatre on Wednesday for the opening performance in the newly refurbished space was interesting. After a lengthy period of refurbishment, the Young Vic is now equipped with a very Shoreditch-esque bar area in which we were treated to champagne and speeches.

The show itself, Tobias and the Angel, was billed as a 'community opera' - two words in conjunction that set alarm bells ringing in my head - but with its huge choir and big stage-filling set pieces it was actually a rather joyous affair, engaging and inclusive. I found myself really caught up in the piece and I loved some of its creative touches, like the great, green fish in the fantastic underwater scene. On paper what sounded worthy and a little off-putting was in fact accessible, entertaining and uplifting. An unexpected treat.

Future productions look exciting too, with Rufus Norris' adaptation of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little topping my how-the-hell-are-they-going-to-do-that? pile.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Inside a South London Icon

Though I've been living in the new place for about six weeks now, my intention to spend the weekend doing exciting London-y things that had not been possible before, hasn't quite come off. Open House weekend and several rep cinema screenings have both fallen by the wayside in exchange for the combined pleasures of croissants, tea and a long trawl through the Sunday papers. So I was doubly glad I made the effort this weekend to walk over to Battersea Power Station for the current Chinese art exhibition.

To be honest I wasn't that fussed by the art installations themselves, bar the strange display of slowly rotting apples which seemed in keeping with the general decay of the place. What I found genuinely thrilling was the opportunity to see up close such an iconic - and vast - building. I've always had a thing for secret spaces, hidden corners of the city and the way they work on your imagination, abandoned tube stations and the like (which is why I loved the production of Dido, Queen of Carthage at the House of St Barnabas in Soho earlier this year). After traipsing through Battersea Park and gawping at the considerable queue, the first thing that hits you is the scale, it's quite dizzyingly huge. And for someone accustomed to low-rise European cities it throws your sense of perspective completely out of whack. Unfortunately we weren't let loose to explore on our own terms, but then the building is derilict and unsafe, so that's probably wise. I couldn't quite understand why they'd employed some burly chap to shout at people who attempted to take photos of the interior though.

The building is pretty much a shell now, but you could see the differences between the part that was built earlier - heavy on art deco tiles - and the parts that were added later in the 1950s. The tour took us through damp, disused corridors, stripped and eerie. The art felt like an afterthought, though the juxtaposition of the shiny animation detailing the proposed development with the Chinese video art was rather cool. By the time we left the sun was setting and the building was silhouetted by the twilight, an oddly striking and beautiful sight.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Three Plays in a Week

Been an incredibly busy week theatre-wise. On Tuesady night I traipsed out to the Yvonne Arnuad in Guildford to see the new adaptation of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men In A Boat. The gentle, anecdotal comedy of the novel is well suited for the stage but the rather creaky production was the most regional-theatre of all the regional theatre productions I've yet seen, pandering unashamedly to the mostly grey crowd, even pausing for a rather cringe-worthy but seemingly popular sing-along in the second act. (They couldn't keep everyone happy though, and one chap with a booming voice, and probably though I couldn't see him, a nice bushy moustache, kept loudly proclaiming his displeasure every time they veered even slightly away from the events of the book).

Wednesday night's show couldn't have been more different if it tried. The production of Kafka's Metamorphosis at the Lyric, by Icelandic company Vesturport, was intense and often very striking. Some critics seem troubled by the liberties it has taken with the text but my main problem was that alot of these physical theatre techniques already feel over-familiar, from the company's own Woyzeck (which played again in London earlier this summer) to the superb Nights at the Circus in which lead actor and director Gisli Orn Gardarsson also starred. My expectations were high and while I could see what they were aiming for, and could certainly admire some aspects of what they achieved, I ultimately felt rather let down.

I'm still mulling over last night's show. it was the opening night of the new production of Bent at the Trafalgar Studios. It was a glitzy affair, as these things go, with Graham Norton, Maureen Lipman and - apparently, though I didn't see her - Monica Lewinski amongst the audience. And though the play feels in many ways dated, it still has real power. I was less convinced by Alan Cummings central performance though. As Max, a man who, when arrested and sent to a concentration camp in wartime Berlin, would rather wear the yellow star of a Jew than the pink triangle of a homosexual, I found him rather mannered and tic-driven. His co-star Chris New, as fellow prisoner Horst, was stronger, he felt far more confident despite his relative inexperience.

It's very much a play of two halves. The first is a very OTT affair, bombarding you with broad comedy, sudden, brutal violence and dramatic sheets of flame, while the second half is altogether more subtle and successful. But though the tension was often unberable, I thoughht some crucial connection, some vital, human something, was lacking - I still can't quite put my finger on what.

After all that I'm looking forward to tonight, a laid-back evening at the flat with friends, movies, and maybe the odd cocktail. No, make that definitely, the odd cocktail...

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Night at the Lyric

Went back to the Lyric (one of my favourite London theatres) on Thursday, after a too-long summer hiatus. Their main house programme doesn't kick off until Wednesday (with a version of Kafka's Metamorphosis, that I'm really quite excited about seeing) but their studio theatre is playing host to an Anglo-Iranian production called The Persian Revolution - a surreal, dramatic essay on the 1906 constitutional revolution in Iran. What this meant in practice, was a five-strong cast, clad in matching purple suits, playing multiple roles and fleshing out the complicated social and political background to this pivotal episode in the history of the Middle East. A lot of this I found genuinally interesting but I thought the director was often trying to hard to make things work in a theatrical context, overwhelming some fascinating material with a lot of shouting, singing and unnecessary dashing about.

Other then that, Mum came to visit the flat on Tuesday, and took Lisa and I out for dinner at great local Italian. And, even better than that, bought us new wine glasses. Finally we can cease drinking wine out of huge tumblers (or, worse, mugs!)