Sunday, 30 June 2019

Present Laughter - Old Vic

I always enjoy seeing Andrew Scott, so seeing him in 'Present Laughter'  seemed like a good idea, and seeing it with a friend, better still.

We went on Saturday evening, which was very early in the run, and it was excellent.

The production switches the genders of some characters to great effect - Joanna is now Joe, and Henry is Helen, which brings things up to date and, given that the play is clearly to some degree a self-parody by Coward, probably also more accurate! 

Andrew Scott is marvellous as Garry Essendine,  the  successful, needy actor who is coping (badly) with impending middle age. He clearly has great fun with the role, which involves lots of deliberate histrionics, but he also beautifully  portrays Garry's underlying loneliness and uncertainty, ensuring that he is a character, not merely a caricature.

The production is fantastic - very, very funny , but with enough depth to make it  more than just a farce. 

Sophie Thompson, as Garry's long-suffering secretary, is a joy to watch, and  Indira Varma, as his cynical-but-protective (estranged) wife, whom he  purports to be uninterested in, and dismissive of, but who he clearly still needs and relies upon.

A special mention is due also to Luke Thallon, as Roland Maule, the gauche young playwright who gatecrashes at all the most awkward moments, who starts by being critical of Garry's populist choices as a performer and rapidly becomes embarrassingly infatuated with him...

The whole thing is beautifully done, highly entertaining and makes for a great evening out.

It is on at the Old Vic until 10th August, and for those not able to get to London, is going to be broadcast as a NTLIve broadcast  - tickets are currently on sale for a screening on 28th November with international screenings to follow. 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Blithe Spirit - Theatre Royal Bath

Bath Theatre Royal's summer season has opened, with a revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit,  featuring Jennifer Saunders as the medium, Madame Arcati,who is  disastrously successful in raising a spirit, when invited to run a seance by novelist Charles Condomine (Geoffrey Streatfeild) and his second wife Ruth (Lisa Dillon).

It's a lot of fun, but perhaps inevitably , also rather dated - some parts of the play work better than others, and especially when, in the later part of the play, Charles' first wife, Elvira, and second wife Ruth are pitted against one another.     

Jennifer Saunders is excellent - and Geoffrey Streatfeild's egocentric Charles is also very good.

Fun to watch,, but not overly memorable! 

The play is at Bath until 7th July.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019


I wasn't familiar with Ibsen's play Rosmersholm; before I went to see it. I booked mainly on the basis that as the cast includes Giles Terera and Hayley Atwell it ought to be worth seeing!

In which assumption I was perfectly correct. 

It is not a cheerful play (it is Ibsen, after all)

Giles Terera is chillingly good as Kroll, the ambitious, right-wing politician, hoping to persuade Rosmer into opening endorsing him, and Rosmer himself (Tom Burke) is equally good  as the intelligent, broken man, seeking to do the right thing but without the underlying strength of character to do it.

Hayley Atwell appears as Rebecca, former companion of  Rosmer's late wife, with her own demons to conquer.

It's well worth seeing,  but very dark and depressing. 

It's on until 20th July.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Emilia the play

I went to see Emilia last  Saturday, for the penultimate performance.  The play started life at the Globe, and then transferred to the Vaudeville, where I saw it.

It's loosely based on the life of Emilia Bassano Lanier,(1569-1645) who is one candidate for Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady'. She was the daughter of a court musician, and spent part of her childhood in the household of the Countess of Kent. By the time she was 18 she had become the mistress of Henry Carey, the 61 year old Lord Chamberlain (Shakespeare at the time had a company of players, the Lord Chamberlain's men, so it is reasonable to assume that they may have met).

A marriage was arranged for her when she became pregnant with Carey's child,(which led to financial problems which seem to have dogged her for the rest of her life)  and his death  shortly after left her unprotected. Later in life, with the help of a number of well-born female patrons, she published a volume of poetry.

The play imagines  her as an early, justifiably angry, feminist, doomed always to be dismissed due to her gender, despite being as (or more) talented than her male counterparts. 

It puts her words into the mouths of some of Shakespeare's characters (most notably Emilia in Othello) and her anger at his appropriation of her words, and his publication of verses originally written for her.

Emilia is the narrator of her own story - there are 3 actors playing Emilia at different stages of her life, the eldest of whom also narrates and frequently addressing the audience directly, and perhaps due to its origins at the Globe, there are also frequent incursions into the audience by the cast  Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain turn up in the boxes, chatting to punters, for instance. 

The cast is entirely made up of women, some of whom, in their roles as amorous or  lecherous men are clearly having way too much fun with it! 

It's very good, and covers a lot of ground that remains all too pertinent. The run is over now, but if it is revised, or tours, do see it , it's great!

Friday, 7 June 2019

Admissions, Trafalgar Studios

About 5 years ago, I saw Joshua Harmon's play 'Bad Jews' ,at the Ustinov Studio in Bath, and it was excellent, so when I saw that another of his plays, Admissions, was being produced at Trafalgar Studios, I was keen to see it, and when I saw it would star  Alex Kingston, it sealed the deal! 

The play features Kingston as Sherri, who is head of admissions at a private school, and who is  very consciously,  proudly, and vocally seeking to increase diversity and access in in the school. 

We see her, at the start of the play, demanding that her subordinate  amend the school brochure to show more photographs showing student who aren't white, and saying (while trying not to say so explicitly) that photos of Lewis, the mixed race son of another staff member, don't count because he isn't obviously black..

We learn that Sherri's son Charlie, and Lewis, is best friend, have both applied for early admission to Yale, and are waiting to hear back.

When it turns out that Lewis has been accepted, and Charlie hasn't, things go rapidly downhill, as Charlie, and his parents, try to navigate how far they are willing to stick to their principles when it starts to involve personal sacrifice.

It lays bare a lot of uncomfortable truths, but it does it with style, and is very, very funny.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Good Omens - Neil Gaiman, David Tennant and Michael Sheen at the Royal Festival Hall, and a bookshop.

As you know, I am a fan of Terry Pratchett's work, and a fan of Neil Gaiman's work, so I am, and have been, pretty excited about the Good Omens TV series, which is out this weekend.

So, when I saw that Neil had an event at the Southbank  Centre, I couldn't resist, even though it was a week night. I'm pretty sure that Master Crowley would say I shouldn't try to resist temptation..

photo of a wooden sign against green foliage, reading 'beware of the snakes'

I went through Waterloo station, on my way, where there was a  pop up garden, with an apple tree, and warnings about snakes. (there were snakes, too, but they were having a snooze in private when I visited)

photo of a hand holding a red apple, on which appears the 'Good Omens' logo

And , there friendly demons, tempting passers-by with apples...

I met up with my friend, and we dined, then went to the Southbank Centre. Where there were, perhaps inevitably,some chattering Satanic nuns. Which is not something you see every day, even at the Southbank Centre.  

Sadly we arrived just as they were finishing their mini concert, but I am sure that they sang beautiful, profane songs about the Antichrist. (they have an album out, you know)

photo of a group of women dressed as nuns

Then the main event.

Neil Gaiman, Michael Sheen, and David Tennant were being interviewed by Kirsty Wark. 

The event started with a short clip from the show (the scene in the band stand, from Ep.3, for those who have seen the show) then Kirsty (who has a cameo in the show and was clearly a fan) interviewed the others.

Neil explained how he had felt that he had to make the series, for Terry, and that he was show runner so that no-one else could mess it up. He and Michael talked about a very awkward  meal they had together, when they were each trying to break it to the other that Michael wasn't right for the role of Crowley.

photo of Michael Sheen (L) and David Tennant (R)

Michael and David performed a brief scene from the show (with Neil reading the stage directions ) - hearing Drunk Crowley and Drunk Aziraphale was a lot of fun. Kirsty Wark described Crowley's appearance as being 'aging rock star' - resulting in David feigning offence at the 'aging'  part (she hastily changed to 'young rock star' but David continued to make comments about his age during the rest of the evening! 

Neil talked about some of the other members of the cast, and how they accepted their roles (Frances McDormand's response when asked to play God was that it would confirm what her family had always suggested about her...,and Nick Offerman offered to pay for his own plane ticket if necessary!  )

 Michael talked about having been a fan of the book since it first came out, and David about having just loved the script when it was sent to him. 

It was a lovely evening, not least because both those on stage, and in the audience, seemed genuinely happy to be there and enthusiastic about the show. Although there was a slightly awkward moment during the Q and A when someone asked  rather oddly worded question which resulted in an uncomfortable silence as an entire auditorium full of people tried to  work out what was meant, and the four people on stage all looked as though they were hoping one of the others would work it out and say something!  (Kirsty Wark stepped in and asked the questioner to frame it more simply).

Neil also explained that Crowley would still have an answering machine, and that he took the view that this was for Aziraphale's benefit, that he would have found it hard to adjust to mobile phones, so Crowley dug out his old ansaphone and set it up again!

Then, a day or two after the Southbank event, I was in London for other reasons and was able to make time to go to Soho, where there was, very briefly, a pop-up version of Aziraphale's bookshop, which one may visit. 

I wasn't sure how easy it would be to find, or whether I would be able to get in, but when I arrived in Greek Street, I guessed, from spotting the VIntage Bentley, and Angel and Demon wandering around, that I was in the right place. 

Blck and White photo of a young man dressed in white with white feather wings

Black and white photo of a man whearing sunglasses, a black T short reading 'good omens' and black wings

And after a wait of around 15 minutes I was able to go into the shop. 

Photo of a black and grey 1930s Bentley car
Crowley's Bentley, outside Aziraphale's shop in Soho 
It's very well done. The entrance has heaps of old leather-bound books, and a gentleman looking not unlike the late, great, Sir Terry, grumpily telling people to go away, and not to touch anything. (Crowley, wandering up and down the queue outside, was actively encouraging everyone to touch (and lick) everything)

Aziraphale's Shop
Then upstairs there was one room with an exhibition of art by Lorna May Wadsworth, including sketches made during filming, a giant portrait of Neil, and various Icons of David as Crowley, and Michael as Aziraphale.

photo of display case holding a wooden book, on the cover of which is painted a portrait of Neil Gaiman

 There was a second room with an exhibition of props and costumes from the series, including the basket Crowley takes the baby to the convent in, a very burned and battered copy of the Nice and Accurate Prophecies , and a copy of the paper with Shadwell's advert for the Withcfinder Army (among other ads, for Terry's lost hat, and for a book club reading of  'Neverwhere' , led by a Neil G..

There were some perfectly charming Demons and Angels keeping an eye on each of the rooms, all staying, like Crowley and Aziraphale outside, in character.
blck and white photo of a young woman dressed in black and wearing dark glasses and black feathered wings

I didn't get to do the escape room, as this had to be booked in advance and sold out very fast, but the bits I did see were very good!

The shop was only open for 3 days, so I was very lucky to get the chance to go.

And all this on top of getting to see the show itself, which is of course now available on Amazon Prime and, f I may say so, well worth watching!   

More pictures over on Flickr