Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Confusion and full frontal nudity: Funny Peculiar at the Richmond Theatre

Funny Peculiar playing this week at Richmond Theatre is probably the most perplexing production to be seen on a stage since Too Close To the Sun (it was a short-lived musical about Ernest Hemingway's suicide). The plot revolves around a small time grocer with a wife and a baby who is desperate for sex. Mike Stott's play was probably daring for putting fellatio on stage in 1973 and the shock of the original production was no doubt a distraction. Fast forward forty years and it really looks like a series of stock comedy scenarios straining for laughs. It lacks timing or purpose, and with its one dimensional characters comes across as just a little bit creepy.

It's not unwatchable but perplexing to think why it is on stage at all. The cast are gorgeous though and as the show plods along you feel real pity for the material they have to work with. And at times you fear they are going to injure themselves trying to get some laughs. Even Craig Gazey's flaccid penis is flopped out but it still falls a little flat.

Some members of the audience were laughing but it was hard to tell whether it was nervous laughter or just a determination to have a good time regardless. They are a bit like that in Richmond, and as two punters mentioned to us in the bar at intermission, a night out is a night out... And the theatre is lovely... But all told it is best considered a curiosity and a lesson on how not to write comedy. It runs until the end of the week...

@Johnnyfoxlondon and I eventually managed to record an Audioboo, after he left the theatre early to head to the bathroom... But to avoid any confusion the play is more a cure for constipation and less something to wet yourself laughing over...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Music that pulls no punches: Soul Sister

Soul Sister at Hackney Empire is a musical based on the life of Tina Turner. It's an opportunity to set the rhythm and blues music from Ike and Tina Turner to her lifestory with some incredible results. Most of this is due to the incredible powerhouse performances by Emi Wokoma as Tina and Chris Tummings as Ike. Wokoma doesn't pretend she is Tina Turner but is a star turn all the same. It's energetic, musical and thrilling. By the end of the show with the obligatory musical medley the audience was on its feet dancing.

It is a pity that the creative team decided to musicalise a story that features domestic violence so prominently. Either from shock or bewhilderment the audience were either laughing at every punch or cat calling. It was enough to make you feel like you were in the audience for the taping of a Jerry Springer show. Here's hoping as the show evolves there is a better solution to telling the Ike and Tina story on stage... And perhaps finding a punchier first act. Surely the show could have opened with a livelier number than "Private Dancer"?

Fascinating show all the same and it runs at the Hackney Empire until 5 May... For now...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Last chance theatre: A Doll's House

The young and rather attractive cast of The Goat's Theatre Company have produced an excellent production of Ibsen's A Doll's House that's playing at The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone this week.

The tale of lies, deceit, a woman's place in society (and macaroons) feels fresh and alive in this no-nonsense production. Caroline Hobbs playing the role of Nora (she shares the role with Victoria Jane Appleton who is in the above clip) brought out the right balance between fragility and her awakening and is a delight to watch.

The production focuses on great performances and all of the cast are great. The staging also makes the most of the generous space of the Cockpit theatre as well. I could have done without some of the sound effects (was it children offstage or Gizmo from Gremlins?) but this is a show not to miss. It finishes today. If you are near the Church St Antique market today head over to Gateforth Street. Performances are at 4pm and 7.30pm.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Art: Venetia Norris and drawings inspired by Fenton House

Hampstead's Fenton House is currently exhibiting a collection of drawings by London artist Venetia Norris. Norris has taken inspiration from the civilised and beautiful walled gardens of Fenton house and created a series of intricate and detailed drawings of plants and floral arrangements. An individual or pair of plants are captured in extraordinary detail and shading. And the images are a mix of pencil or ink interrupted by occasional lines of gold or silver-leaf (as illustrated opposite).

A reflective evening at Fenton House. It runs until 1 July 2012. Be sure to explore the other rooms of this 17th century merchants house (and the the views of London from the roof) to see the impressive collection of early keyboard instruments and porcelain.

Also to coincide with Open Squares Weekend and Fenton’s Summer Tea Party, Norris will be holding a number of 30-45-minute drawing workshops on 4th and 9th June 2012 (these will be held at 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm on both days). Something a shade different to do over the summer...

Image courtesy of the artist

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Theatre and migration: The Crossing


Esther O'Toole's gripping play The Crossing is in London this week at Battersea's Theatre 503. It tells the story of three Ghanaian men in the last months of their journey through North Africa to Europe and what they see as a better life. It's based on various first hand accounts and given recent stories of the failure of NATO ships to assist refugees off the coast of Libya and border spats between France and Italy, it feels like it has been ripped from the headlines.

The play works so well in bringing out the stories and motivations of these three men who risk everything and pay smugglers to get them to the Italian Island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean. The performances by Michael Offei, Michael Kofi and Kwaku Boateng draw you in to a world of desperation, hope and humour. The chemistry between them also gives the story a real warmth. By the end you feel like you understand where they are coming from.

The production is also slick with some clever projections of maps to keep your bearings and some excellent lighting and sound effects that will make you jump at some tense moments in the story. Of course dreams of success and prosperity prove elusive (unless those dreams involve selling sunglasses on Italian Beaches). While the story may end up being a predictable one, it is the journey that you will remember. And in addition to being a geography lesson and cultural exchange, you'll leave the theatre wondering if there is ever going to be a better way of addressing economic migration.

A thought-provoking night at the theatre and worth catching this week. It's at Theatre 503 through to Saturday at 7.45pm.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Opera and beefcake: Don Giovanni goes to Heaven

Heaven nightclub is an unlikely place for an opera at first. But Sunday night it was packed with people keen to take in a new twist to Mozart's Don Giovanni. The sexuality and genders of key roles are reversed with some surprising (and funny) results.

Heading the cast as the cad Don is Baritone Duncan Rock who has a voice to match his body... It's big. He has appeared at Glyndebourne, British Youth Opera, Opera Holland Park so he isn't just there to be pretty but he is central to making this show work so well.

With a book is by David Collier and lyrics by Ranjit Bolt this update has Don living as a yuppie in 1980s London where the sex, coke and boys are all one thing... Easy. There is also some inspired costumes including a very tight set of gold lame pants worn by one of the men. It's funny and amusing without too much dwelling on the gay gore for straight members or those curious about opera. There is also a lovely interpretation of hell and damnation for this modern Don.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Phone book reading and star turns at the theatre: Big and Small

There are people out there that would watch a talented actress read a phonebook. Gross Und Klein is a new translation of Botho Strauss's 1978 play at the Barbican comes close to this experience. Direct from Sydney Theatre Company and headlined by Cate Blanchett it is the unravelling of a woman's life after her husband leaves her.

The play starts off well with Blanchett's character overhearing conversations from a hotel window in Morocco. It's a wonderful monologue that brings out many of the themes of the play. But unfortunately it doesn't go anywhere. Is it in her mind? Did her husband leaving her unravel her life? Is she alone? Is she depressed? We don't really know.

What follows for the next three hours is a series of scenes about isolation, loneliness, detachment and mental breakdown. Some of them are pretty, some of them creepy. But none offer much insight or are weirdly imaginative enough to sustain interest in this epic. Blanchett runs the gamut of facial expressions and actorly movements... She is attacked by a camping tent... She wrestles a fat girl having convulsions in her underwear... There is even an old man with a flaccid penis. It is all no doubt intended to provoke interest but it was hard to stifle the yawns.

The only time something happens is when a scene stops (ends) and the lights go out. The music is pumped up and it is a cue for the actors to move the furniture about on stage. It is the only time anything really happens and it makes you wonder whether the actors trained at NIDA or Pickfords.

The current translation with an Australian cast with broad Australian accents also evokes some unexpected thoughts. Does living in rude and vulgar 1970s West Germany really seem to be so similar to living in present day Australia? It appears so.

The joke is probably on the audience for going. But given the star turn it will be hard to resist. It runs through to the end of April and then tours Europe. If you dare...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dignitas and theatre: An Instinct For Kindness


The process of dying in a Swiss assisted suicide clinic is detailed, efficient and bureaucratic as told in An Instinct For Kindness, currently showing at the Trafalgar Studios. Chris Larner's monologue based on his real-life observations and experiences in dealing with his former wife illness and eventual death is a sad tale but also has enough observations and surprises to keep you engaged.

At 70 minutes long it is not a long journey. And Larner's ability to keep things funny and give a fresh take on pain, processes and the emotion of it makes for an enjoyable and contemplative night out at the theatre. This production was first at the Edinburgh Fringe and so it is good to see that it is now touring. It runs at Trafalgar Studios until the end of April.

There are post show discussions as well if you like that sort of thing. @Johnnyfoxlondon and I decided to pass on the Rabbi who was speaking after the show on the night we went in favour of a boo...

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Sold out theatre: Abigail's Party

Thanks to the nimble efforts of @FerozeIyer, I found myself with a ticket to Abigail's Party, the latest sell-out show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. We went for the full Abigail experience which included '70s themed dining while being entertained by people queueing for returns in desperation to get a ticket. While the amusing menu served as a reminder why heart disease features prominently in this piece, I suspect the joke was on us for eating it.

F4F81A57-40FB-4393-8F80-B9B36250E0C4It is a wonderful production of Mike Leigh's play with and excellent cast. The star of the show is really the authentic recreation of suburbia 1970s, which for both Feroze and I brought back happy memories of our childhood - complete with leather look lounges. The cast which includes Jill Halfpenny as party host extraordinaire Beverly and Joe Absolom as Tony.

The story is fairly straight forward. They drink, they smoke, they drink, they argue. They drink some more, smoke some more and argue more. What its all about and the point of it all is another matter but it is very funny. It also serves as a reminder that you don't have to watch Mad Men for a retro fix.
You can register on their website for interest in an extension to the season or a possible west end transfer. The production deserves a longer outing. Current run is scheduled to end 21 April.

The views of well fed and front row passive smokers are as follows...

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Theatre Previews: Let It Be

In October it will be fifty years since The Beatles released their first single ‘Love Me Do’. While scary to think that anyone now who remembers the sixties is ready for retirement (or near death), London’s Prince of Wales Theatre will welcome Let It Be, a new West End production featuring many of The Beatles’ greatest hits from September 2012.

The show is a theatrical concert and the first West End show with full rights to the Beatles' catalogue. The Prince of Wales theatre is also the site of the fab four's legendary Royal Variety performance, featured in the above clip. Tickets are on sale now. Mamma Mia, currently playing at the Prince of Wales theatre, moves to the Novello early September.