Sunday, 17 February 2019

The American Clock - The Old Vic

picture of front facade of the Old Vic Theatre

I admit, I was in a bit of a grumpy mood when I got to the Old Vic -  my primary reason for booking to see The American Clock was that Giles Terera was to star, so I was disappointed when, after I had booked tickets, I heard that he had had to withdraw. I assume that the role he would have taken was that of Arthur Robertson, now played by Clarke Peters, he narrates the show, and appears as a millionaire who was one of the few to have seen the crash approaching, and have sold his stocks and invested in gold, preserving his fortune while others lost everything.

Still, it's still worth seeing new productions even if they don't have the people in whom you want to see, so I went along with an open mind.

The Old Vic is having building works done which means that  instead of going in through the main foyer, you go in round to one side, an perhaps as a result of building works and bits of the theatre being knocked around, the building was both very cold and very draughty.    

So the play was struggling a bit against the unfavourable conditions! 

The play is loosely based on Arthur Miller's own experiences as a young man, it covers the period from 1929 to 1939, and follows one family - Moe, Rose and Lee Baum, who, in this production, are each triple cast. I learned,after the event,  that the casting (one white (Jewish) trio, one black and one south Asian) was intended to be an representation of immigrants in America, but  this wasn't obvious, at least to me. I'm not sure how successful it is if you need to be told what it means...

At the outset, the family is well off, with a centrally located  11 room apartment,  a chauffeur, diamonds and dancing for Rose, the assumption that he can attend whichever college he wishes for Lee, and plenty of money for all. As the play progresses, we watch as they gradually lose everything. Rose sends Lee to pawn her jewels, later we see their piano  repossessed, and the family hiding (in their much smaller, Brooklyn apartment) from bailiffs. Lee winds up eventually picking a college, like his friends, based  on which offer free tuition, and later, faking estrangement from his father to qualify for FDR's WPA. 

Although the play focused on the Baum family, it also has snapshots of other scenes - Iowa farmers, almost lynching the Judge who has authorised the repossession and sale of their bankrupt farms,  and scenes from the South. We see, in the background, a friend of Lee's - studying and qualifying as a dentist, but unable to find work, and ultimately we learn of his death, in passing, as Moe comments on the subway delay after a body is found.. 

That said, the play is interesting . It's stages in the round, and there is a live jazz band on stage, and despite the depressing (!) subject matter there's a lot of singing and dancing - a successful Wall Street businessman tap-dances his way out of his office after deciding  he doesn't  wish to be head of a company taking over smaller, independent ones,  for instance, and there is an excellent, understated number as applicants at the welfare office move from individual inertia, to a stamping  rebellious group, roused by a militant socialist.

I hadn't realised ahead of time,but the director, Rachel Chavkin, is the same person who recently directed Hadestown at the National theatre, and I can see some similarities in style .
However, It's a little patchy, and drags somewhat in the second half. The performance I saw was in previews so it may tighten up a little as the run continues, but I think perhaps the fault is Miller's text, not the production!

Interesting, - I think I'd give it 3/5 stars..

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Wise Children - Bristol Old Vic

Poster for 'Wise Children' showing 2 showgirls in pink, on a black background showing the lays title and director

I've enjoyed previous productions directed by Emma Rice, so I was  looking forward to Wise Children. Originally I was due to go last Friday, but the snow got in the way, so there was a week's delay before I saw it.

And it was a lot of fun!

It's based on a novel by Angela Carter, and is a retrospective narrative  - twin sisters, Nora and Dora Chance, looking back, at the age of 75, over their lives, and the lives of their  families... starting with a brief  background of their father's parents,(including a cameo from their grandmother as a pregnant, youthful Hamlet) their own conception and birth, followed immediately by the death of their mother, and their own adoption  by 'Grandma', the big-hearted landlady of their parents' theatrical digs..

There is then a swift, and often very funny, race through their lives, including some wonderful sequences of their time as a pair of showgirls, including their early sexual experiences.  

Nora and Dora were played by three different actors,(plus a set of puppets,) at different points in their lives.   

We also met their father, self-important actor-manager  Ranulph Hazzard, and his entomologist, actor, explorer twin brother, Peregrine, who agrees to legally claim paternity of the twins to avoid any scandal attaching to Ranulph, who goes  on to marry the Lady Atalanta, who has a set of twin daughters, (whose father, we later learn, is Peregrine, not Ranulph!) who grow up indulged and greedy.

It's melodramatic and fantastical, but it's a lot of fun, and  explores family and love, and the love of theatre, without taking itself too seriously. 

Well worth seeing if you get the chance. It is touring until April. (Details here)  

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other - National Theatre

Back in November, or thereabouts, I got an e-mail from the National Theatre to say that Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane would be appearing in a play, based upon Richardson's proto-novel, Pamela.   As the play was expected to be popular, and the Dorfman theatre is small, they held a ballot for the opportunity to buy tickets, and, as these are both actors I would be interested in seeing on stage, I entered, and was pleased to learn I'd been successful.



My tickets were booked for 2nd February, which turned out not be  be ideal, as we had 11 inches of snow on the 1st,  and my car had a flat, so getting there meant a  snowy walk, a long wait at the bus stop and a slow, snowy bus journey, just to get to the station. 

Sadly, I didn't really feel that the production was worth it.

For those not familiar with it, the original novel (published in 1740) tells the story , via a collection of letters, of the eponymous Pamela, a 16 year old maidservant, whose master, Mr B, makes advances towards her which she rejects. He attempts to bribe her , before moving on to intercepting her letters to her parents, and ultimately abducting and imprisoning her, and threatening to rape her, then finally marries her, despite the differences in their social statuses.

In the play, the action is moved to a modern double garage, containing a car (an Audi, I believe) a workbench, and various other bits and pieces. It's rather claustrophobic.

The play has no plot or progression, it is a set of scenes, interrupted by one or other of the characters turning the lights on or off. The scenes involved lots of talking, powers plays, as the main characters take it in turns to dominate or be dominated,  and there is a lot of dressing up - Cate Blanchett in a mans suit, or in a maid's outfit, Stephen Dillane in a suit, or maid's outfit and wig, or a negligee, but at the end of the day, it's all rather dull. I think it sets out to be shocking and provoking, but fails , and it left me feeling I'd been watching two amazing actors wasting their time, and mine. 

According to the reviews I read (after seeing the play ), at least one person fainted at the press preview. Having now see the play, I have a theory that they didn't faint. They were just trying to fake their own death in order to escape!.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Tragedy of King Richard II - Almeida Theatre

The first theatre visit of 2019 was to see Simon Russell Beale as King Richard II, at the Almeida. 

I was intrigued when I saw that he was going to be playing the role, as of course the actual, historical monarch was one of our younger and, on the whole,  less successful kings (other than with the peasant's revolt), and  was only 33 when he was deposed, and died, and he is generally played by a younger actor. At  almost 60, Russell Beale isn't the obvious choice. 



Programme for Richard II showing Simon Russell Beale wearing a yellow paper crown, against a black background

It's unusual casting, and its an unusual production - the set is a single, apparently metal-lined box or cell - it's not clear whether this is Richard's cell, and the play is all in his mind, or whether it is symbolic of the  ways in which power can trap someone, or something else altogether.

The production is in modern dress, with no costumes other than the gloves which everyone but the king wears, and no props bar a crown, and a number of buckets, labelled, and containing, blood, water and soil. It's also a very small cast, of 8, so everyone except Simon Russell Beale (Richard) and Leo Bill (Bolingbroke) plays multiple roles.


I enjoyed it, Simon Russell Beale is an excellent actor, but I was less convinced by the staging - I felt it was less easy to follow than it could (perhaps should) have been - and I have the advantage of being pretty familiar  with the play. I think in paring it down, they have pared a little too much.

However, I was glad to have seen it , and enjoyed some excellent acting. It was interesting.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Snow

I always feel as though the end of January ought to mean the beginning of spring, and always tend to be a bit disappointed when, generally, it isn't.

This was no exception, and we ended the month with a surprising amount of snow. It started falling late afternoon on Thursday 31st and carried on snowing without stopping for almost 24 hours.



I spent some time in the back garden, watching Loki playing, and hunting snowflakes, which was cold but fun. 


Things got less fun, although no less cold, the following morning, when I spent a long time digging out my driveway, and had a cold and windy walk to check whether the main road was passable, before discovering that I had a flat tyre so couldn't go anywhere. ..   

(I do know how to change a tyre,  but due to the physical issues I have with my back, neck and shoulder, I can't,  now, do it  without causing myself significant pain, and I am not at all sure that I would be able to do it safely, and the middle of a snowstorm didn't seem to be the time to find out)

This meant that I wasn't able to get into work, so I did what I could from home, and in between,  watched the snow continuing to fall. By the time it finally stopped, we had had 11", which is unusual. It was also very cold - around -4 C during the day, and -7 overnight, and (presumably because of this) the snow was very soft and powdery.


panorama of snow covered garden

By Saturday the main road was clear so despite being car-less I was able to get to London to meet a friend, via a walk, a long bus trip and a train. 


snow covered field with bare trees in the background,  at sunrise
Sunrise over snow

Parade Gardens, Bath
I had about an hour to kill in Bath, which was looking rather nice, although there was a lot of compacted ice on the pavements.

Sunday involved a lot more digging, as the snow on the road had compacted into thick ice, assisting my neighbour change my tyre.



But there was also time to play with Loki in the snow. He was undeterred by the fact that it came up beyond his armpits, and he chose to go out even when he wasn't just following me. 
Black and white cat sitting in the snow

It was all very pretty, but I must be getting old, as when I woke up on Monday morning to find that it had rained all night, and that nearly all the sow was gone, I was relieved rather than disappointed!

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Festive Greetings


Merry Christmas,

and Happy Holidays.




May your day be whatever you would like it to be. 

Monday, 17 December 2018

BBC Recording 'With Great Pleasure'

So, a little while back I applied, on the BBC's website, for tickets to go to the recording of With Great Pleasure at Christmas, for Radio 4, recorded on Saturday,  to be broadcast on Christmas Day. Tickets are allocated by random draw, and just over 2 weeks before the recording, I got an email to say I'd been successful and got tickets. 

The recording was in the evening after I was due to see Antony and Cleopatra, so I arranged  to meet up for a meal with my friend A, and then to go to the recording. Which we did. (although we had an anxious wait as they send out more tickets than spaces, and we were among the last to arrive, so were holders of yellow 'wait' stickers instead of white 'definite seats' ones..) But all was well, we got in, and the evening was a lot of fun.

The format of the programme is to invite a guest presenter to share some of their favourite pieces of writing. 10 years ago I got to go to a recording of the Christmas episode, where the guest was Terry Pratchett. This time, the guest was Neil Gaiman..


B&W photo showing 5 people  Mitch Benn, John Finnemore, Neil Gaiman, Nina Sosanya and Peter Capaldi
Photo shamelessly nicked form Mr Gaiman's facebook page, of the performers 

Neil had picked various poems and extracts from books, which were read by (and in one case acted by) his friends - Mitch Benn, John Finnemore, Nina Sosanya, and the Angel Islington himself, Peter Capaldi .Oh, and 4 members of the ukulele orchestra of Great Britain!

The evening opened with some festive music from the ukulele orchestra, then we heard lots of readings. (skip this part if you want the programme to be a surprise...)
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The readings included some horrifying children's stories (Lucy Clifford's 'The New Mother', and Charles Dickens' 'Captain Murderer)', extracts from Mary Poppins and 'Wind in the Willows', a Saki short story, several poems, including  Henry Treece's 'The Magic Wood' and Nicholas Moore's 'The Island and the Cattle', and Wendy Cope's 'Differences of Opinion (amid some chat and jokes, and Neil's demonstration of the 'I was wrong' dance he and Amanda have for diffusing any disagreements).

 Mitch Benn sang Alan Moore's ' Me and Dorothy Parker and the Ukulele orchestra performed their (Yorkshire) version of Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights'  

We heard an extract of the original BBC  radio HHGTTG recording, and a poem by Terry Pratchett, and Neil read and extract from his own Norse Gods. There was a bit of Brahms and Simons' 'No Bed for Bacon' (about paying writers)

It's difficult to pick, but I think my favourite part was perhaps the performance of A.A. Milne's 'The Fair Lady Dorothy', in which the stage directions / footnotes were read by John Finnemore, and Peter Capaldi played the dastardly (and somewhat obtuse) lover.

Neil introduced each of the pieces,   mostly with a brief explanation of why he chose it, or a joke or comment. And of course we got to see and hear the other performers, including Peter Capaldi's amazing, evil, grin! 

At the end of the recording, there were a few brief re-takes, and then it was all over. I think one of the things which made it special was that everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, performers as well as the audience!

Walking back to the tube station, there were slightly fewer people around on Oxford Street, so I was able to stop and enjoy the Christmas lights, which made a nice end to the evening! .

Angel on Oxford Street


The programme is to be broadcast on Radio 4 Christmas Day, at 7 a.m. and repeated (or just possibly, a slightly different variation of content) at 10 p.m.  Full details here, and for those overseas or unable to listen live, it will be available on BBC Sounds afterwards. Listen and enjoy!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre


I was originally due to see this production, which stars Sophie Okonedo as Cleopatra, and Ralph Fiennes as Antony, early in its run, but I was unwell, so would up switching the ticket, and went at the weekend.  It's a long time since I have seen a production of the play, in fact I think I've only seen it once before, with my school as it was one of my A-Level English texts.

This production was at the National, and had a modern setting, which meant that Egypt was all sunken pool, soft velvet-upholstered seating and the occasional sun lounger, and Rome features lots of sleek modern furniture, sculpture and fashion, with, once battle is joined, hi-tech military surveillance kit. 


The production was very good,  Sophie Okonedo and Ralph Fiennes as the titular couple are excellent. At the outset, Antony appears to be in full mid-life crisis mode, barefoot, dressed in Hawaiian shirt with beads. He appears totally besotted with Cleopatra, understandably enough. If there is a weakness in the production, it is perhaps that Fiennes never really shakes off that image, to become the powerful and successful general his reputation suggests.


Set, at the end of Act 1

Agrippa is played by Katy Stephens and having the role played by a woman adds an interesting slant to the character's relationships with Enobarbus (Tim McMullen) and with Caesar.  And Caesar (Tunji Kasim) is presented as young, and inexperienced - very well done. 

I did, I admit, feel a little sorry for Enobarbus,remaining loyal to Antony when good sense would suggest otherwise, before dying of a broken heart when his eventual betrayal  is forgiven!

Oh, and a rel live snake. (although not, I think, and actual Asp. Method acting apparently has its limits! 

The production is on until 19th Jan, and it was filmed and broadcast for NT Live so there may be encore showings if you fancy seeing it.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Tamburlaine at the RSC

On Saturday, I met up with a couple of friends to see the RSC's production of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine. 

It's not a play I am familiar with,  I knew that it was reputed to be bloody, but that was it.
Poster in the RSC

It is the story of Tamburlaine the Great (Jude Owusu) (loosely based on real life Turco-Mongolian conqueror Amir Timur). In the play, he starts out as a small time Scythian Shepherd / bandit, who continues upon a path of conquest and destruction, which ends badly for most of those whom he encounters. 

He captures the beautiful Zenocrates (Rosy McEwen), daughter of the Soldan of Egypt, who is en route to marry the King of Arabia, and falls in love with her. His wooing takes the form of killing one of her travelling companions and conquering large parts of Persia, Africa and Turkey, as a selection of other, better established kings and emperors try, and fail, to withstand him.

He shows himself to be an immensely successful soldier and conqueror, bloody and merciless towards his defeated enemies. Which means  a lot of blood...      He keeps the (former) Emperor of Turkey, Bajazeth, prisoner in an iron cage, (resulting in said emperor eventually killing himself)


Later, we see Tamurlaine as emperor, continuing to conquer kingdoms, punish those who stand against him(at one point he orders the killing to a group of Vestal Virgins sent to plead on behalf of their besieged city,although in an uncharacteristic moment of compassion, he does spare the life of Zenocrates' father.!

There's a fascinating scene where Sigismond the (Christian) King of Hungary, signs a treaty with Orcanes, the (Muslim) King of Natolia, to agree to make peace in order that Orcanes can concentrate on defence against Tamburlaine.

Sigsimond bows to the advice of his generals, who convince him that vows made in the name of god but to a non-Christian should not be considered binding,  breaks the treaty and attacks Orcanes' forces, whereupon he is promptly, and justly, defeated, despite his superior forces. (Orcanes, like everyone else who tries to fight Tamburlaine, is of course defeated in due course.)

View of the stage at the start of the interview
During the interval, there was some intensive mopping of blood from the stage, and when we returned, many years have past, and Tambulaine is  emperor of Persia, and he and Zencrates have 3 adult sons, the younger two being bloodthirsty fighters ,after their father's heart and the eldest,  Calyphas, being more interested in poetry and girls, which results in his being killed by his father for not taking part in a battle..

In the second half , we see Tamburlaine conquer Babylon, and create a chariot drawn by a selection of the Kings he has defeated. (there's also a charming scene as he has the tongue of one of them cut out for talking back at  him)

He is, however, unable to control  life, and is cast into grief when Zenocrates falls ill and dies (in a demonstration of his total sanity and level-headedness, he reacts by razing to the ground the city where she died, and having her body embalmed  to carry around with him. As one does.) He also becomes, if possible,even more convinced of his own power, burning his copy of the Qu'ran and deciding, when he is not truck down for this sacrilege, that he is greater than god.

Tamurlaine is defeated, not by his many enemies, but by his failing body. He names his son as his successor, and demands that he be buried with Zenocrates. 

Over all, the play was interesting, if extremely bloody. I found the treatment of religion very interesting. Although Marlowe is a little confused (his Muslim characters reference 'Mahomet', as the 'friend of god, just as the Christian ones speak of christ the son of god, but also speak of various Roman gods,  but for a 16th C writer seems less prejudiced than I expected!  And no moral! 

I'm glad I saw it.

We saw the matinee on the last day of the run, so I can't recommend you go, but it was good!  

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Macbeth (Again)

The NT production of Macbeth which I saw back in May was touring and came to Bath, and  I's booked a ticket for it before I saw it the first time. I was in 2 minds as to whether or not to go, as I wasn't overly impressed with the production, but in the end, I did, and I was glad I had.

The production seems to have been tightened up considerably, and worked much better on the smaller stage in Bath than it had in the National Theatre, the smaller stage created a slightly claustrophobic feel, which worked well with the post-apocalyptic setting. 

The cast also differed from the London production - Michael Nardone as Macbeth, and Kirsty Besterman as Lady Macbeth., and at the performance I saw, Banquo was played by Reuben Johnson, the understudy.

I enjoyed it more than I expected to. 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Hadestown



I booked Hadestown on the recommendation of a friend, and a I knew going in was that it a musical based on the story of Orpheus and Euridice.

The music is a mix  of American Folk, and Jazz,and there are some excellent singers in the cast.,and it is set in what seems to be a New Orleans bar


Patrick Page is particularly memorable, as Hades. He is presented as a suave, and powerful industrialist, all sharp suit and snake-skin shoes, and he has a glorious, incredibly deep voice, it reminded me of Leonard Cohen!  Euridice (Eva Noblezada) and Amber Gray (Persephone) are also very impressive.. Euridice as a hungry, grungey young woman, and Persephone an ageing, sozzled, trophy wife.

I do think that there is a slight weakness, in that Orpheus is supposed to be able to charm the birds from the trees, and the gods themselves, and while that is never going to be possible to achieve on stage,  unfortunately it falls rather shorter than expected.

Having said that, it's an interesting and  thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I want to get the soundtrack and listen again. 

It's on at the National Theatre until 26th January.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Bridge Theatre


I enjoyed the previous plays I've seen at the Bridge Theatre, and I enjoyed the previous play by Martin McDonagh which I saw, so I thought that it would be worth seeing McDonagh's new play, A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter.

It was . . . . interesting.

It features Hans Christian Andersen (Jim Broadbent), Charles Darwin  Dickens, and his foul-mouthed wife and children, a pair of dead, time-travelling Belgians,  and a one-legged Congolese woman in a box.(Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles) 

I think it's making points about Colonialism, (and sexism), and the lack of acknowledgement of it by the literary greats of the day,  but it seems to be rather  hit and miss - it's funny, and (intentionally) offensive, and the set is intricate and very Goth, but over all, I was left feeling that the play was a bit incoherent, and not quite as clever as it thinks it is.

So - an entertaining 90 minutes, but not a play I'd want to see a second time.