Monday, April 07, 2014

Strange animals: Banksy: The Room in the Elephant @arcolatheatre

In 2011, while Banksy was in California he decided to write on a derelict white water tank "this looks a bit like an elephant".

Suddenly a piece of junk in Los Angeles becomes the latest sought after piece of art, cranes arrive and it is carted off to a secret location and offered for sale.

But the work of art had also been a home a man had been living in for the past seven years. He finds the furnishing it with things he found discarded, finds himself homeless.

This is the is the story that makes up Banksy: The Room in the Elephant playing at the Arcola Theatre. Tachowa Covington, the man who lived in the elephant recounts his experiences in LA, living amongst the rich and famous and meeting Banksy.

The inspiration for the work came from a story Did Banksy's latest work bring misery to a homeless man? Presented as a one man show and also as a commentary both on the art world and the theatre world (since both are making something out of someone else's story), it is a fascinating and emotional journey into one man's life outside the mainstream.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Boom and bust: Eldorado @arcolatheatre

Property deals, war, angst and a healthy dose of absurdism mark Eldorado, the stylish new production currently playing at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston.

It is beautiful to look at and so well staged that you might feel inclined to seek out investment opportunities in Iraq afterwards, even if it has your recalling the worst excesses of the Iraq war.

The play opens with a description of a post-apocalyptic description of a war-torn land, that is open for a "unique investment opportunity".

We are then introduced to Anton (pictured). He has it made. He has a wonderful house, a wife who is a talented pianist and they are expecting a baby.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A drawn out title for a drawn out play: We Are Proud To Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia...

Jackie Sibblies Drury's play, which has the full title of: We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About the Herero Of Namibia, Formerly Known As Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika Between The Years 1884 - 1915, shows that there is a fine line between challenging an audience and boring them to death. About twenty minutes into the piece of shouting and confusion (which is intended as it is scripted) we wanted to leave, but both the work and the layout of the Bush Theatre conspire to keep you captive... Whether you want to be or not.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Pop-up opera: Le Docteur Miracle

Popup Opera's spring season of operas in unlikely places was a chance to venture to a gallery in Hackney Wick to see this short opera about a young man who goes into various disguises to win the hand of his lover. With some great performances, fresh ideas and a few modern twists, it makes for a fun (if slightly silly) night out.

The piece by Bizet is a comic opérette (a French form of light opera), in one act by Bizet for soprano, mezzo, tenor and baritone. The hero, a young man called Silvio, comes to the mayor's house in various disguises in order to win the hand of the mayor's daughter, Laurette. The mayor's new wife conspires with his daughter to see true love prevails, but not before some mild hi-jinks.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Life from the Front of House: Ushers The Musical @CharingCrossThr

Some inspired late night comedy is currently playing at the Charing Cross Theatre with Ushers The Front Of House Musical. It takes its story from the brutal reality that ushers on the West End are usually actors between jobs who often have more talent than the soap stars on stage.

The piece is full of in-jokes and bitchy barbs at theatre life (that is the life of an usher at a theatre). But what is most impressive that this young talented cast muster up the energy and dance moves to bring this show to life at the late starting time of 10.15pm.

The plot is a bit cliched and the production values are low, but the cast are enthusiastic and the music is inspired to make this a rather fun late night show to catch. Set at the theatre playing (s)hit Britney Spears jukebox musical, "Oops I did it again" the ushers learn the ropes and sell over-priced ice cream while dreaming of their next big break, finding love, or in the case of one usher, stalking the stars and posting photos on twitter of them. Its inspired and silly stuff

Ushers is the musical theatre writing debut for Yiannis Koutsakos (music & lyrics), James Oban (lyrics) - Search for A Twitter Composer finalists - and actor James Rottger (book). They have called it the Front of House's answer to A Chorus Line... Go grab an overpriced ice cream and see it while you can... And remember no flash photography...

Ushers The Front of House Musical runs until 19 April on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10.15pm and runs for 80 minutes.

First impressions from a rather tired @johnnyfoxlondon and I en route to find some milk for  breakfast at the Coop supermarket follows...

Photo: production photo of the cast hot footing it... 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A wee bit of fun: Urinetown @st_jamestheatre

The star power of its cast and wonderful production design make Urinetown the Musical a show to catch for its short run. Just don't expect a happy ending... Or pleasant subject matter. It is an anti-musical so it turns the genre upside down and parodies everything, including itself. The cast have an incredible energy and in the the intimate space of the St James Theatre their enthusiasm will have you hooked.

The piece is set in some dystopian city where a severe drought has made private bathrooms unthinkable. People have to pay to go to the bathroom. If they don't pay to pee, they get carted off to this mythical place called Urinetown... And are never heard of again.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Men chasing older women: The Fat Man's Wife

Remaining un-produced until 2004, The Fat Man's Wife by Tennessee Williams is having its UK Premiere at the Canal Cafe Theatre. It is a fragment of a play rather than a fully fledged piece that is about a sophisticated society lady who has to make a choice... Should she stay with her rich philandering husband or run off to Mexico with a poor young playwright?  It's Hobson's Choice set in the Upper East Side.

Written in 1937, it is perhaps it is probably also the first case of a MILF relationship portrayed on stage. But it a fascinating look at how some of Tennessee Williams's observations on women, relationships and situations would later develop. And even if it is a bit predictable, running under an hour it makes for a none too taxing early evening diversion.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Northern Exposures: In Skagway @arcolatheatre

In Skagway, now playing at The Arcola Theatre is an intriguing piece about three women on the Alaskan frontier. It is the late nineteenth century and the Klondike Gold Rush is nearing its end.

It is a journey to the wild west territory and well performed by the all-female cast. But you are never quite sure just how harsh and inhospitable these conditions really are. It is a pity the production did not try and take things up a notch (although the draughty conditions in the theatre appeared to be an attempt to recreate the Alaskan winter).

The piece focuses around Francis Harmon (played by Angeline Ball), who for years traded off her reputation as a star actress traveling from city to city gold rush towns. You get the impression her talent is more about showing off her assets than being an actress but it provides a living for her assistant May (Geraldine Alexander) and her daughter T-belle (Natasha Starkey).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lost in exposition: The Lost Boy

A musical based on Peter Pan growing up and heading off to fight in  the Great War is the premise of The Lost Boy musical currently playing at Charing Cross Theatre.

It is an interesting concept. The generation of men who first grew up reading JM Barrie's Peter Pan did end up going to war. They may have even thought it was going to be an adventure rather than a nightmare. Legend also has it that Barrie's eldest adopted son, George Llewelyn Davies, who was the inspiration for Peter Pan and killed during the war in 1915, was carrying a copy of the story in his pocket.

So in this story Llewelyn Davies, about to go out to the battle field, has a dream where Peter Pan reunites with the lost boys and goes to war to prove to Wendy he is a man. Along the way we find out that Tinkerbell has become a street walker, one of the lost boys is gay trapeze artist and so on and so on.

If only a decision was made to focus on one or two of the characters. Things start to get a bit confusing as there are so many stories to be told... And each one has its own song... that you feel like you could be there all night (and you almost are)...

It is one of the few times where I thought it was a musical that would benefit from the majority of the songs being cut as they don't serve the story particularly well. The music isn't particularly varied or lively and the arrangements only bring out the most sombre tones in this production.

Of course the production looks smart, the cast are lovely and sing their hearts out, but all told the show doesn't feel like it is working. It isn't aided by the cumbersome (and at times frightening) choreography either...

It runs until February 15 but will then have a two-week pause where some minor changes and cuts are proposed.

This might make for a better show, but then again, the show has had quite a number of raves for just the way it is already. The show will reopen on 3 March and run through to 29 March.


 Photo credit: Production photo Scott Rylander from the Finborough Theatre Production which ran December / January 2013

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Harsh lighting: Carthage @Finborough Theatre

Carthage, currently playing at the Finborough Theatre lets the audience in on a world of social care, and the circumstances in which the state can take control of your life and take your life.

Its brilliance is in taking what could be depressing subject and making it full of humour and humanity as people try to do what is best. But it also leaves you wondering if at the end is there anything that could be done differently and whether our systems and due processes are the best we really can do as a society.

It is the debut play from Chris Thompson, who drew on his experiences as a social worker over the past 12 years. What is incredible about the play is how finely observed the characters are. There is the boy in care, a jaded social worker, the teenage mother in and out of prison and the prison wardens. There are no judgements on their actions but the consequences are clearly on display for the audience to see.

The cast do well, particularly Jack McMullen as Tommy, the boy who was born in a prison and dies in a prison, who balances his characters tough-guy attitude and vulnerability once he is in prison. We don't know why he is in prison but that's not the point. It is about the process. When the scene that is the focal point of the piece takes place there are no shocks, except for perhaps how routine everything was... right up until the point he dies.

It is also a smart looking and slick production that brings out the cold and clinical nature of prison, procedures, checklists. Fluorescent lights flicker on and off. Plastic chairs and battered furniture.

It is on for a short period at the Finborough Theatre but deserves the buzz and attention that it is getting. Don't miss it. It runs until February 22.


Photo credit: Production photo Richard Davenport