Thursday, November 30, 2006

Strange Coincidences

I was at Hampstead Theatre on Tuesday night for the opening of Ryan Craig’s (of What We Did To Weinstein notoriety) new play The Glass Room. The play was about a human right lawyer with Jewish roots who takes on the case of holocaust-denying historian. The issues were pertinent and some of the arguments powerful, but the play itself was rather sloppily constructed, relying too heavily on narrative contrivance and characters that just didn’t ring true. For every gripping exchange of dialogue there was a scene of such awkwardness it was impossible to excuse (most obviously the scene when Sian Thomas, the icy academic at the heart of the case, lets her mask slip to reveal her rabid anti-Semitism). Having said that the play succeeded in making me laugh and making me think, but its plot holes and dramatic failings were too large to ignore.

It did lead to one of those odd coincidences that happens sometimes in London. I was walked past an oddly familiar man in the street yesterday, on one of my lunchtime wanderings through Soho, and was forced to do one of those slo-mo double-takes people only do in films. I was staring at him for a good minute or so as I tried to figure out whether we’d been at school together or met at university when I realised he was actually the chap who played Myles the lawyer in the play the night before. Then after I’d stood gawping at him for a while in what was probably a quite intense and scary fashion, we ended up walking down the street in the same direction. Poor sod probably thinks he has a stalker now…

The Time Of My Life?

Last week’s theatrefest concluded with a corker. Yes, it had to happen at some point – I went to see the Dirty Dancing musical at the Aldwych Theatre. We’d booked tickets months in advance (as had everyone else – the place was rammed and there were, literally, coachloads of people pumping into the auditorium). I met with Laura, Caroline, Ann and Sarah B for a hasty bite beforehand, before taking our seats in the upper circle.

The production was the oddest thing, a scene by scene re-enactment of the film, every snippet of dialogue reproduced, every corny montage re-created (including the bit with the log and the bit with the watermelons and the bit with the lake – you get the picture). There had been barely any attempt to re-imagine it as a musical in any real sense, instead it worked more along the lines of a porn movie, only with a two hour build to the money shot: “No-one puts baby in the corner!” – delivered with as much emotional resonance as the aforementioned log, by the well-muscled but distinctly wooden Patrick Swayze stand-in.

Laura, bless her, loved every cheesy minute of it and I’d forgotten how nice it can be to go to the theatre with a group of friends. (It also provided another reminder of how distanced the whole press night hoopla can be from the real post-opening night experience of going to the theatre; Michael Billington very rarely shouts at the leading man to get his kit off.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Unexpected Pleasures

Some kind of train snarl up at Waterloo meant I was running late for the theatre yesterday (though not quite as late at I had been for my last visit to the Bush). So I arrived at Theatre 503, at the Latchmere in Battersea, flustered and tired, not really in the best mood to see a play. I had very little idea what Jason Hall's GBS was about and didn't even skim the programme notes beforehand preferring to skulk in a corner with a book and recover from my trip. However it turned out to be one of the nicest things I've seem all year, a touching two-hander about two brothers reuniting after their father falls ill. It took that rather unoriginal idea and spun it into an incredibly entertaining duologue about two very different people, united by family, if little else. As a study of sibling relationships it was very well observed and the plot had a believable randomness to it, these were people that seemed to have lives that went beyond the confines of the play, the characters' reactions were human and understandable even if the situations they were in were sometimes absurd.

And it made me laugh, that's the important thing. It wasn't the most accomplished or daring of plays, but I was tired and frustrated, and it picked me up and it left me smiling.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Two Down, Two To Go

Tempting as it is to employ some sort of bus-related metaphor here I can't quite be bothered, all I'm going to say is that after a few thin weeks theatre-wise, I've now hit a spurt - four plays this week. Two down, two to go.

On Monday, Lisa and I went to see Peter Hall's revival of David Hare's Amy's View, an interesting character study rather undermined by stuffy, conventional staging (ironic in a play that makes such a big deal about the virtues of theatre vs. other forms of media). I almost felt myself agreeing with the deeply unsympathetic son-in-law character when he explained what he disliked about theatre (productions that don't even try to transport you anywhere new, now that would be one of my dislikes). The relationship between Felicity Kendal's charismatic matriarch and her daughter was well done, complex, believable. But the play left me cold and the final seen which should have been quietly devastating left me unmoved.

Yesterday's play couldn't have been more different. A micro-budget musical in Islington's Rosemary Branch Theatre (a lovely above-a-pub affair with scatter cushions on the seats, but a complete arse to get to). The Big Ending had a neat concept, that a man's unbalanced brain chemistry could result in all the trappings of musical theatre - with people slipping into song in the street and at work - just with it happening all in his head. It was clever and well sung, but once this tricksy premise was established they didn't seem to know where to take things next. It was a short play, just over an hour, but it still dragged in places and (ironically) didn't know how to end things. Still, with its 5p budget and committed performances, it felt braver than the previous evening's offering.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I noticed my blog was looking rather text-heavy of late so I thought I'd rectify things. This is the best of the pictures from the halloween party. Rather pushing the literary/mythological theme to its limits, but hey, they made their own weapons, so to complain would be churlish.

Adventures in Vintage

With all the fuss over lateness and its consequences (see below) I completely forgot to mention the coolest part of my weekend. On Saturday, Lisa and I went on a shopping jaunt to the King's Road and she introduced me to the wonderful place that is Steinberg and Tolkein, a vast cave of vintage goodies. I was particularly taken with a 1930s burgandy evening dress and saw the most amzing 70s velevet coat, that looked just about my size (I didn't dare try it on, down that road temptation lies.)

Had I money to spend I could easily have spent it in there, and almost would have had I slightly more slender hands, as I spotted a pair of gorgeous finned, black leather gloves on the ground floor that almost provided the solution to this winter's Great Glove Hunt.

Buoyed by the experience I devoted my lunch break today to exploring another emporium of vintage goodies, the new Soho branch of Beyond Retro, just five minutes from my office. Though I was momentarilly distracted by a green jacket with a fur collar (far too big for me unfortunately, plus there's the whole fur/veggie dilemma, even if it is second hand) I was actually rather let down. Age doesn't automatically bestow beauty on things and there was a lot of shoulder-padded eighties tat on display. As I was leaving a couple of leather belts caught my eye, but then I realised that my favourite belt of the moment has been purloined from my mother's wardrobe and hails from the late 70s - which makes it vintage! And without having to part with any money or worry about any patches of suspicious yellowing. Hurrah!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Running Late

Saturday was a first for me. I was late for a show for the first time ever. I could blame the central line engineering works that added twenty minutes to my journey or the BT helpline operator, with whom I had a frustratingly circular (and, it turns out, pointless) conversation, that caused me to leave home later than I intended - but it comes down to the fact that I was late. And not just dive into my seat as the two minutes to curtain-up bell rings late, but actually "no, the show has started and you'll have to wait until the interval" late. I was so annoyed with myself. Fortunately the staff at the Bush theatre were lovely about it (it's a tiny venue with a no admittance policy to latecomers so I guess they're probably used to it) and I met another girl in the same boat as me, so we were able to slink guiltly to a nearby pub for a very necessary G&T during the remainder of the first act. Equally fortunately, the Bush supplied us with a plot synopsis and a copy of the play text so it wasn't difficult to catch up with what we'd missed.

Steven Thompson's Whipping It Up is a sharp political comedy very much in the vein of the Thick Of It with shades of Yes Minister. It's set in 2008 when the Tories have returned to power, presenting a believable portrait of the casual backstabbings and machinations of the chief whip's office. I enjoyed it to a point, but it felt like it belonged on television rather than on stage (though I gather a West End transfer is already being discussed, whic makes sense given the pedigree of the cast - Richard Wilson plays the Chief). I doubt my overall impression of the piece would have been much altered by me seeing it all the way through, though that still doesn't alter the fact that I misjudged the journey time. I expect I shall be turning up to things ridiculuously early for the next few weeks, thumbing a book in the empty stalls, reading the programme from cover to cover or sinking one too many gins in the theatre bar.

Sunday was less fraught. Finally trained it down to Winchester to visit Neil and Jo and their lovely, lovely new house. We spent the morning wandering through the town before raiding the local farmers' market for goodies. Fantastic bread, cheese and brlliantly fresh cherry tomatoes. Lunch was a long and rambling affair, pretty much ideal.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Let Down By Donkeys Years

Last night I went to see Donkeys' Years at the Comedy Theatre in the West End, Michael Frayn's farce about a group of university friends meeting up for their twenty five year reunion.

I usually see plays on or around opening night, so it made a refreshing and enlightening change, going so late in the run. The most obvious difference was the make-up of the audience, grey predominated, I'd say 75% of people there were over 50 and there were a lot of Americans in, a hell of a lot, several of whom spent the bulk of the play explaning the jokes to each other (and not quietly either). It was interesting in a way, as I suppose this is a true reflection of just who actually keeps these West End shows afloat once the critics have departed. And the production itself seemed tailor-made to cater to such a crowd, with its Oxbridge setting, nostalgic overtones and frantic but unthreatening comedy.

The cast were great, it has to be said, with the ever-excellent David Haig standing out amongst them as the harrassed government minister worried about potential scandal, but there was just an air of so-what about the whole thing. It kept me vaguely amused for a couple of hours but left me unmoved. It just seemed so unadventurous and bland; it's not like I expect every West End show I see to push theatrical boundaries and break new ground but I do expect to be moved or uplifted in some way, and this just didn't cut it. A big disappointment.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Theatre, Finally - And A Return To The Roundhouse

My theatre drought finally came to an end last night, after a rare fortnight without a single show to see. I went to the little downstairs venue at the Trafalgar Studios to see a production of Not About Heroes, Stephen MacDonald's two-hander about the relationship between Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. It's a play that's quite popular with fringe companies as it's well-suited to being performed in a small space; I've seen it performed before actually, last year, at the teeny subterranean Baron's Court Theatre. This time around I found the staging quite laboured and it took a while to warm up, but it's a nicely written piece (despite the slightly creaky moment when Sassoon helps the younger Owen compose one of his more famous poems: "Anthem for Dead Youth? No that doesn't sound quite right...") and I found myself getting caught up in it all over again.

Despite the lack of theatre-going opportunities, the last couple of weeks have been pretty cool. The weekend just gone was dominated by the Halloween party at Laura and Lisa's (and the subsequent mulled wine hangover). Once again the costumes were amazing. There are pictures on Lisa's blog if you're interested. And last Thursday I went back to the Roundhouse for the first time in almost a decade (I saw my first proper gig there, with Texan Claire and Sarah B. It was a Suede concert and we were moshpit virgins; some poor bloke probably still has a dent in his head care of Sarah's steel toe-capped DMs as she was hoisted over the crash barrier.) This time round I was there to see the Divine Comedy, harking back to a similar era. They were great - Neil Hannon still has the most amazing baritone and I'd forgotten how cool their lyrics can be when they're on form. I had a fantastic time, especially seeing as I haven't been to a proper gig in ages. I miss it, the whole live music thing, must make the effort to go more often.