Friday, May 22, 2015

There’s something about Tracy: High Society @oldvictheatre


An ingenious staging in the round and some rousing numbers (in the second half) may still have you wondering about the point of this revival of High Society at the Old Vic Theatre, a show that was probably best left on film rather than attempting to transfer it to a staged musical.

The production is quite marvellous to look at. Things just pop up from the floor - stages, tables with umbrellas, second pianos. There is even some on-stage cooking of breakfast and as someone who loves the smell of eggs and bacon cooking in the morning (although it could have been pancakes - I wasn’t sitting close enough), it was pure bliss.

But by casting actors who are not the best singers, the shine seems to be missing in this frothy, superfluous musical, giving it a grittier feel that does not quite sit with it’s farcical and escapist plot.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Out of the focus group: The Candidate @theatredeli @labcollective


It's well known that key messages espoused by politicians these days are the product of carefully considered focus groups and research. But here in the Candidate, it takes this a step further, suggesting that everything is up for grabs in shaping a new leader, presently bereft of any thought. It proves for an amusing and topical diversion.

Arriving at the rather dreary looking 119 Farringdon Road, the former offices of The Guardian, and home to Theatre Delicatessen, you are ushered into a room and told that you would be taking part in what is described as a unique polling session.

The Candidate, Omar Ibrahim, is seeking views (in this case the unsuspecting audience members) to help shape his ideals, policy and image. He can be whatever you want or need him to be, adjusted to suit the tastes of the theatregoers.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

When women war: The Lonely Soldier Monologues @cockpittheatre @LSpace10

The Lonely Soldier Monologues, currently playing at the Cockpit Theatre, by Helen Benedict takes the stories of seven women who served in the US Armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. What emerges from this verbatim play is the subtle and none-too subtle methods of discrimination and sexual harassment that they suffer serving in the armed forces.

The piece is not anti-war or anti-military; for many of these women the serving in the Armed services was a way to show patriotic duty after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or just a way off welfare. But it highlights many of the excesses known from the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, in war so poorly planned and organised that soldiers had to make do without body armour but could still eat lobster.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Oh what a lovely war on terror: Product @arcolatheatre


One of the lasting memories about watching the 9/11 terrorist attacks unfold live on television was wondering what would happen next. There was the first tower, then the second, then the Pentagon, and then somewhere in middle America. A few weeks later there would be the anthrax scare, the need to be alert but not alarmed, and to buy up duct tape.

In the immediate post 9/11 period there was so much paranoia about how clever and evil the perpetrators of this terrorist attack were, that anything next was possible.

Product, currently playing at the Arcola Theatre, is Mark Ravenhill's monologue about the pitching of a dubious script. It brings back the memories of the worst of this post 9/11 paranoia.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Sultry and sweaty: In The Dead of Night @LandorTheatre


A sexy cast, terrific dancing and high drama make In The Dead of Night a fun, fascinating and classy take on the film noir thrillers of old Hollywood. The dialogue is clipped, the dancing is tight and the bodies are hot. So hot you can smell the sweat coming off them. Or it might be baby oil looking like sweat... The Landor Theatre is a pretty intimate space so sometimes nothing is left to the imagination.

In the Dead of Night is set in a dodgy South American shanty town at the end of the war, and  everyone is on the take. The men work on the docks. The women sell their bodies. And if the men are up for it they sell their bodies too.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Death becomes him: Everyman @NationalTheatre


Judgement day and getting taken to the cleaners takes on a new meaning in this spectacular new take on the classic fifteenth century morality play Everyman at the National Theatre with Chiwetel Ejiofor.

It feels like every theatrical trick is deployed during the roughly ninety minutes it takes for one man to account for his life. There  is a giant video screen, dazzling lights, a urinating penis prop. It’s all terrific stuff and an awe inspiring updating of the tale to modern and secular London.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

La vie en rose: Dead Royal @Ovalhouse


Charbonnel et Walker pink champagne truffle boxes are piled up in an apartment. A video is hooked up playing Gone With The Wind. I’ve Seen That Face Before is playing in the background. And then Chris Ioan Roberts as Wallis Simpson vomits pink muck all over blue and white floor.

Is it an aversion to seafood that she does not want to admit for fear of being considered too common? Or was it too many Charbonnel et Walker truffles? Whatever the cause you are left without any doubt that for the next sixty minutes you are in for a show that is going to be camp and dirty.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Flipping hell: A Simple Space @Udderbellyfest @GOM_Circus


A Simple Space, by Australian-based circus troupe Gravity and Other Myths, is the latest round of circus offering at the Udderbelly Festival at the Southbank Centre.

Between the amazing feats of acrobatics you can hear a constant sound. The sound of heavy breathing. It is coming from the stage. This is pretty intense stuff here and the energy and sweat from the performers is audible and palpable. And in the space of the giant purple cow, where you are up close to the performers, it seems much more intense and intimate.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Filthy press: Clarion @arcolatheatre


It’s hard to get out of your head the scenes and dialogue in Clarion, the smart, new, foul-mouthed comedy currently playing at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. What lingers is not the expected satire of a rabidly right wing tabloid that fills its pages with anti-immigration stories and showbiz fluff. Perhaps in the post phone-hacking days, not much can surprise us about the lengths a tabloid paper goes to get a story. Instead, it is the sensational performances and characters full of anger (and filthy mouths) that will shock and awe you into hysterics.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A gran day out: Animals @Theatre503


There is something dark and unsettling about Animals, a brilliant new play by Emma Adams at Theatre 503. Its frank humour and intense performances from a terrific cast will have you loving every minute of it. It might also have you wondering what your grandmother really gets up to when she tells you she spent most of the day finishing a crossword.

This surreal story set in a dystopian English seaside town where the old people are being displaced by incomers who dress smartly and keep their children in bubble wrap. For them life is a dream. But for anyone past their prime, life is pretty grim and involuntary euthanasia is the norm.

Monday, April 13, 2015

High on the hills: The Sound of Music (uk tour)


Watching The Sound of Music on tour is really an opportunity to indulge in comfort entertainment. As Maria and the Mother Superior in the stage production sing about crisp apple strudel in the early part of the first act you realise that it is a Pavlovian response to get all warm and fuzzy about the show. Apart from getting a taste for strudel it will have you recalling when you first saw the movie... Or first dressed up as Ray (a drop of golden sun) to the first singalong. Everyone did that right?

This is probably a good thing, as take away fifty years of cultural repositioning the show is a bit of a non-event. Take away the film’s lovely Salzburg locations and the long lingering shots between the Captain and Maria, on stage you have the entire romantic plot condensed into a short speech by infant Gretel to Maria towards the end of the first act.

Don't forget to vote: Also Recognised Awards close Friday

Now that the Oliviers are out of the way, Friday is the last day people have to vote in the Also Recognised Awards, set up by the exciting new London theatre resource, My Theatre Mates run by Mark Shenton and Terri Paddock.

The Also Recognised Awards celebrate lesser-known but equally worthy talent in fields overlooked by other awards.

They comprise ten categories including an award for musical direction, which is the the first award of its kind, and recognises how the contribution of musical direction can really set the tone of a show.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I'm OK you're OK: Death Row Cowboy @CourtyardHoxton


Death Row Cowboy, which has just finished a short run at the Courtyard Theatre is a gritty and realistic piece of writing that leaves you wondering if it was based on a real life incident. But of course if that were the case there would need to be a different ethnic makeup of the cast, given that the majority of inmates on death row are not white...

But real life is less important than the character study of the three key people in the piece. Carl, who is on death row, prison officer Bobby and a police officer’s widow Hillary. It is written by Andrew Lynch and Mark McCabe who play Carl and Bobby and serves as a vehicle to explore some intriguing themes on relationships, loneliness, love and regret.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Let the river run: Hiraeth @sohotheatre


Some people are rocks. Some people are rivers. Some people can be rocks in rivers. Some people can be rocks just nearby the river. And so on and so on and so on.

These important observations are about as deep as things get in Hiraeth. The word is Welsh for longing. But notwithstanding the flimsy premise the piece is a sweet-natured, whimsical account of  one woman’s journey from a small Welsh farming town to London.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hammams of convenience: Mozart's Die Entführung @PopupOperaUK


There is something appealingly convenient about the format of Pop Up Opera’s productions. They take witty (and often seldom performed) pieces and stage them in unusual locations, with a modern twist. The convenient part comes in the fact these locations are either close to your place of work, your home et cetera. So by the time Die Entführung came to south east London, I was ready to go.

Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) is about a hero, Belmonte and his servant, Pedrillo, and their attempts to rescue their lovers, Konstanze and Blonde from an Ottoman harem. Given the popup opera treatment, the harem is now a big brother-like bath house come beauty boot camp where no men are allowed. And no women are allowed to leave (at least until the treatments are complete).



In this production most of the spoken dialogue is removed and in place are some rather witty title cards. The role of the figurehead-dictator Pasha Selim is now an omnipresent big-brother like figure. And Belmonte and Konstanze develop their romance online through some tinder-like encounter.

Naturally there are plenty of mishaps with lovers in disguise, getting bad people drunk and true love winning after threats of mild peril.

But amongst all this shenanigans there is some fine singing. Despite the light subject matter, it is not an easy opera to sing with its enormous range and demands on the performers.  On Thursday night, Eve Daniell as Konstanze managed a number of tricky passages easily.

Emily Phillips as Konstanze’s servant / personal assistant has a wonderful aria where she taunts Osmin the overseer of the boot camp and has a wonderful strong and dramatic voice. And Marcin Gesla with his deep bass deftly managed those unfathomable low notes.

The choice of venue in Bermondsey proved to have some excellent acoustics which helped project the vocals, and the other star of the show was Elizabeth Challenger* as Musical Director and pianist keeping things in time moving along nicely.

Popup Opera is a civilised and informal way of discovering some opera gems. It is touring around the countryside (including a few further dates in London) through to 1 May. Check their website for details as one might just be popping up close to where you live or work... And it would be a shame to miss it...

⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎

* correction: initially I attributed Berrak Dyer as MD, sorry about that!