Friday, March 30, 2007

By Any Other Name

French Claire and I were at the National last night for their new production of The Rose Tattoo. It’s very upbeat for Tennessee Williams, love prevails (kind of) and at least no one gets carted off to the loony bin. Zoe Wanamaker plays Serafina delle Rose, a Sicilian widow, still deep in mourning after the death of her husband three years ago. We know this because her head lolls a lot when she speaks and she wears a stained and frayed nightie for a lot of the time. Wanamaker gets to do some big, ‘accenty’ acting, throwing up her arms in despair and spitting at the local crone for giving her the evil eye, that kind of thing.

This all started to get a bit much by the interval and, not knowing the play, I was wondering where on earth it would go. But instead of a descent into madness and alcoholism or some combination of the two (for Serafina not me, though I was on the red wine), a bumbling truck driving Sicilian stumbles into her tin-roofed shack and things start to look up. Though the play definitely overstays its welcome at nearly three hours, I did start to warm to it during these later scenes, I laughed a good deal, and even Wanamaker’s performance and the over-egged rose symbolism grated less. I suspect it helps that we went on press night; the original director of this production, Stephen Pimlott, died midway through rehearsals and there seemed to be a lot of determined good feeling in the audience.

And like these chaps here I too found myself unduly preoccupied by the onstage presence of a real goat – does it have an understudy? What if it gets stage fright? What if it spots a tempting Waitrose bag in the front row and decides it doesn’t want to do a nice circuit of the Olivier with the cute stage school children, but fancies an early supper? Plus, ignorant urban type that I am, I didn’t know that goats were fluffy. I think I kinda want one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Small Good Thing

My friend John-in-Sheffield saw Fin Kennedy's new play How To Disappear Completely... at the Crucible Studio yesterday and loved it. His review appears here if you're interested.

Spring Sprung

How lovely is it, to leave the office when it’s still light outside?

Very. Especially yesterday when people were lounging in Soho Square with books and beers, and lingering on pavements chatting, instead of stalking towards the nearest tube station with their heads down. I almost had a little ‘oh yeah, that’s right, this is why I love this city’ moment. Until, that is, some chap, busy yelling into his mobile phone, shouldered into me. Roughly, without a backwards glance. There was plenty of pavement space and I am Tall For A Girl and wear a purple coat, so not exactly invisible. The moment was rather lost after that.

Grumble, growl.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Perchance To Dream

Well, there was a weekend, and it was nice and warm with sleeping and eating and stuff. And there was some theatre because there usually is. The Skin Game at the Orange Tree, since you ask, requiring a trek out to Richmond. And yes the ten-minutes-on-the-train journey to Richmond counts as a trek, as does anything requiring movement outside my zone two comfort bubble.

The Skin Game is the latest production in the theatre’s season of infrequently revived Victorian and Edwardian plays. Written in 1920, by John Galsworthy, it dealt with a messy family clash between the Old Money aristocratic Hillcrists and the self-made New Money Hornblowers. There was a blackmail and scandal and a woman with a ‘past.’ (I wish I had a ‘past’). It was dramatic, well-acted and engaging and, while it descends into melodrama in the second half, it is well worth seeing.

However, as with previous trips to the Orange Tree, I was very aware of being one of the youngest people in the venue, not by a few years, but by a few decades. Which seems a shame, as the work they stage is consistently ambitious and thought-provoking, work that deserves to be seen by a wider audience then they currently seem to attract.

The theatre’s in-the-round lay-out does mean you can play ‘spot-the-sleeper’ with ease though. Friday’s count: two definites, plus one chap who may have been just ‘resting his eyes.’ A lot.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

At The White Bear

So I finally made it to the White Bear on Thursday, coughing having sufficiently abated that I could sit through two hours of Shakespeare and not make the cast and audience hate me. If you’ve never had the pleasure of the White Bear, it’s a proper pub-pub in Kennington with permanently smoky air and ‘regulars’ who are rather unsteady on their feet and repeat themselves a lot: “This friend of mine, Charlie, he went skiing, right, skiing. Off skiing, somewhere people go to ski. Skiing I tell ya.” And the play, a fringe production of Timon Of Athens was OK, quite good in moments – a review will appear here at some point.

In other news it now seems like Wandsworth Council in their wisdom will not be withdrawing funding from the BAC after all. Which is a good thing. Now if only I could get them to actually come and collect the bloody, sodding, bloody cooker that’s been sat outside our flat for the past fortnight, given that they have taken my actual money to do just that very thing, then I would be happy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lovely Links

Over there, on the right, beneath the woefully inadaquate profile thingy, is a list of blogs that are worth investigating. I am currently enjoying muchly this site: It is very, very funny. Very. And the West End Whingers have got themselves one of the best theatre blogs on the web. Go. Read. Make inappropriate snorty noises in the office when you should be working.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Not At The White Bear

So, as a result of aforementioned high probability of my expiring through coughing (and after being so rude about the Richmond audience for their high phlegm factor), I have been forced to postpone tonight’s trip to the White Bear in Kennington, as due to its shoe-box like dimensions, I doubt either the actors or my fellow audience members would appreciate having me in the front row. So instead of Timon Of Athens my night now involves large amounts of pasta and perhaps the last couple of chapters of a William Boyd.

Also at the risk of becoming one of the seemingly endless numbers of people blogging about tube-iquette, but having little else to write about today bar Strepsil consumption, you’ll have to bear with me. On the Northern Line this morning I collided with a chap on the stairs and we did that mutual “whoops-sorry” shrug-and-smile thing, as per usual. And then he gave me a little, almost affectionate, pat on the shoulder, before walking away. I admit I may have been looking particularly sniffly and pathetic but this is a new one on me. It is also, of course, a massive improvement on the slightly sozzled middle-aged chap who gave me a strange from-behind bear-hug a couple of weeks back as I made my way home from the Young Vic, slurring: “Sorry, I just had to touch you,” into my ear before staggering off towards Lavender Hill. That was just odd and unpleasant. And so unexpected I didn’t have the chance to employ my elbows in any useful way whatsoever.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

C'est La Vie

This weekend was supposed to be spent in Paris but the Eurostar very inconsiderately decided to catch fire or some such, hampering my travel plans. So instead of sipping a café crème in some charming Left Bank pavement café, I find myself sheltering from icy winds in the Starbucks near my office, drinking over-sweet coffee flavoured foam, absent-mindedly doodling over my copy of The Times, and dreaming of the City of Lights. Plus if my raspy throat and prickly eyes are to be believed, I’m coming down with a cold, so for the next few days I will be that irritating coughing person sitting right behind you in the theatre…

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Feed Me, Seymour

Met Sarah B after work on Thursday for a large, much-much-much-needed glass of Merlot and a hasty spot of dinner before heading to the Duke Of York’s Theatre to see Little Shop Of Horrors.

This is another transfer from the Menier Chocolate Factory who sent Sunday In The Park With George to the West End last summer. The Menier is also the place where Laura and I slowly expired from heat exhaustion during a sauna-like performance of The Last Five Years, but I'm learning not to hold that against it. I don't hold grudges, no, I swallow my hate, I bottle it safely away. Far healthier.

Anyway their version of Little Shop itself was great fun, slick and witty, silly yet endearing. If you don't already know the play, it's based on a 1950s B-movie, a Roger Corman film about one of life's losers, a weedy chap called Seymour, who works in a florist - and the killer plant that promises him good fortune in exchange for food (and we're not talking Baby Bio here.) The Menier's production is hugely entertaining, hitting just the right kitsch tone, and boasts fantastic performances from everyone involved, particularly Sheridan Smith as Seymour's breathy love-interest Audrey, who managed during one number, to simultaneously sing and weep - quite a difficult thing to pull off, I’d imagine.

However I did think the production's centre-piece, the blood-thirsty plant Audrey II, - though superbly voiced by Mike McShane - was a bit of a let down. I remember a lot of talk, when the show opened at the Menier, of all the money they’d spent on it, changing the design, making it properly scary, so how come it still looked like a big green dustbin with teeth? Was that really the best they could come up with?

The only new additon to the cast since the transfer, is Alistair McGowan, the long-faced impressionist guy of the telly; he was great fun as Audrey’s vile dentist boyfriend Orin (a part memorably played by Steve Martin in the 1980s film version). A minor prop malfunction, in the scene where he has Seymour in the dentist’s chair, almost caused him to corpse – but he pulled himself together quickly and fortunately it’s the kind of show where the odd involuntray giggle just adds to the charm. The shoo-wopping three-girl chorus who sing back-up on all of the songs were also superb, perhaps the best thing in it. Not only did they have great voices but spot-on comic timing as well. So, yes in short, 'twas a brilliant evening, very entertaining – and the perfect antidote to a monumentally crappy day at the office.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Margaritas on a Monday

Last night, for the second week in a row, Lisa made a pitcher of margaritas for no good reason other than she felt like making some (teaching does that to you, I guess). Margaritas on a Monday – that’s one of the reasons Lisa makes a fantastic flatmate. Some weeks we buzz around, doing our own things, and barely see each other, and indeed last night by the time I’d lugged my body back from the office she was about to disappear to her room in order to embark some serious lesson planning, so these brief cocktail interludes are very welcome.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tour de France

I spent the weekend out in the suburbs at my mum’s house, for a couple of blissful days that revolved primarily around sitting on the sofa, eating my way through a packet of dark chocolate-dipped ginger biscuits and wading through the Sunday papers. God knows how I found the time, but I did manage to crow-bar a trip to Richmond Theatre into my hectic schedule - to see English Touring Theatre’s revival of Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears. Written in 1936, it’s a frothy comedy set on the west coast of France where a group of would-be diplomats are taking French classes. It’s all rather so-so stuff – until the interval when everything kind of clicks and the precision of Rattigan’s comic writing reveals itself. The second half was very well executed and very, very funny, as the three principal male characters fret and fuss about the advances of a predatory female in their midst. It’s dated, inevitably, but still highly entertaining.

It’s been ages since I’ve been to see anything at Richmond and luckily there was a classic Richmond audience in to make the experience complete. Two elderly ladies a couple of rows behind me were having a good old catch-up chat that continued well in to the first act, a woman a few seats along from me was busy repeating every joke, word for word, to her mother, and – just for good measure – there were a couple of near-fatal-sounding coughing spasms too, seemingly planned, as these things are, to coincide with the very quietest on-stage episodes.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Kristin At Koko

I love going to theatre. Obviously. I wouldn’t spend so much of my life sitting in front of a stage if that wasn’t the case. But I do sometimes miss other non-theatrey pursuits. I used to be a regular gig-goer but over recent years one has rather eclipsed the other. So I couldn’t pass up the chance to see one of my favourite artists, Kristin Hersh, play Koko on Wednesday night, could I? Koko’s a new one on me. All red and glittery, like being in the belly of a big gay whale. And Hersh was reliably great though I prefer it when she dispenses with her band-mates and goes acoustic.

However what I found myself noticing most was how, well, not at the theatre I was. For a start I somehow seem to have forgotten how late these things start. Hersh is a considerate performer and she didn’t keep us waiting but still there was a lot of milling about. And then there’s the people sending serial text messages, taking pictures on their phones, and chatting away through the songs they didn’t know – all crimes punishable by the British breach-of-etiquette death stare at the theatre.

Plus there’s all that encore faffing. KH played a storming version of Me And My Charms after she came back on stage, but even though I enjoyed it I found myself manoeuvring myself subtly towards the exit, so I could make a break for the tube at the end of her set before the mass exodus. A great gig and a great night, but none of these things used to bother me before. Just a blip I hope.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A King Among Men

What happens if the heir to the throne should (gasp) fall in love with a Muslim girl? And not just fall in love, mind, but want to marry her and even ponder converting to Islam himself. This is the premise that Alistair Beaton uses as a springboard for King Of Hearts his entertaining if uneven new comedy at Hampstead Theatre.

In a near and familiar future, an accident has left the King in a coma, and the labour Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the two young princes (one decent and level-headed and the other a bit of a boozer with a bad attitude – who, for the purposes of the play, are called 'Richard' and 'Arthur' respectively) have gathered in Sandringham where their father's life support is due to be switched off. It then turns out that the elder prince has been dating a Muslim and the politicians practically self-combust in panic.

For me the main problem with the play was that it never seemed quite sure whether it wanted to be a satire or a full-on farce. Beaton raised some interesting points about the relationship between church and state and the limits of tolerance in modern Britain, but he seems reluctant to stray too far from stock farce situations, men in underpants hiding behind sofas, that kind of thing. There were some great performances from the ensemble cast and a good handful of laugh-out-loud moments, but I do wish the play had had sharper satirical teeth. It kind of lost momentum after the interval and the tacked-on epilogue rather confirmed the idea that perhaps Beaton had come up with this intriguing scenario and then didn't quite know what to do with it. But still it’s slicker and more entertaining than the pleasant but rather overrated Whipping It Up, which recently transferred to the New Ambassadors, and benefits from, unlike the last Royal Farce to hit London stages, a complete lack of involvement from Toby Young.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Of Ships And Soldiers

Haven’t had a chance to post for a bit, work’s been, shall we say ‘intense,’ and this weekend I was down in the New Forest for my friend Caroline’s hen party. We hired out a big converted barn, which had been decorated by her bridesmaids to resemble the pinkest thing I’ve ever seen - with added glitter and marshmallows - and spent the best part of the weekend eating and drinking (pink champagne, of course). It was pretty chilled as these things go – especially considering the state her husband-to-be got himself into on the stag do. (All you need to know is that he spent the night in King's Cross, but the remnants of his dinner remained somewhere in Soho).

Theatre-wise, I saw The Soldier’s Fortune at the Young Vic last week. David Lan’s production of Thomas Otway’s play is the second Restoration comedy I’ve seen in recent weeks after The Man Of Mode at the National. They’ve played around with the layout in the Young Vic’s main space, installing a sprawling multi-levelled stage and a grand proscenium arch complete with red velvet curtains. At first glance it all looked fantastic and Sam LondonTown, who I ran into in the lobby, was very excited about the prospect of a bit of “meta-theatre,” however when these curtains were pulled back there was nothing behind them, just the bare back wall of the theatre and yet more steps. And this, unfortunately, sums up the production for me. Great cast – Anne Marie Duff, David Bamber, Oliver Ford Davies (who I loved as Larkin at the Orange Tree) – but something vital was missing. Primarily, the bit where you find yourself laughing at the jokes. There were some mildly amusing moments, sure, but nowhere near enough to sustain a three hour production.

Better by far was the new show at Theatre 503, Andrew Bovell’s Ship Of Fools. The space at the Latchmere has also been seriously rejigged, the familiar raked bench seating gone and the theatre decorated to resemble the deck of ship with seats for the audience spread around the edges. Definitely one of the most inventive bits of fringe theatre design I’ve seen in a while. The play itself is an interesting one. It starts in 15th century Basel, where a group of town elders decide to banish all the 'fools' and other undesirables from their city by consigning them down river in a boat without oars or sails. In a parallel narrative, a group of job seekers - including a bitter refugee from the former Yugoslavia, the young girlfriend of a junkie, and a woman desperate to flee her deadbeat husband - are sent away together on a new government initiative. Bovell’s point, I guess is that society still deals poorly with its outcasts, with those who don’t fit in. And the play is gripping and atmospheric even if it rather falls apart towards the end as it tries to knit the two narrative strands together.