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

Friday, February 07, 2014

Theatre: The Mercy Seat

The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute is hard hitting and controversial. Originally staged in 2002, it no doubt caused a stir when first staged a dark and cynical look at human emotions against the backdrop of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Ten years on, time gives it a different perspective. It feels less shocking and the more understandable. Perhaps it helps having lived in London through a summer of mindless random criminal acts... Riots, police corruption, general economic malaise... Life can seem a lot like how LaBute describes it: random and opportunistic. And given the right set of circumstances anyone can do anything.

Against this backdrop is Ben and Abby (played by Sean O'Neil and Janine Ingrid Ulfane). She is his boss and he is married. Both should have been at the Twin Towers but a morning dalliance meant that instead they were at her flat. And now against the tragedy there is a potential opportunity.

To give too much away would spoil the play, but watching the chemistry between the two actors as they alternate between sparring and embracing each other is fascinating and brutally believable. It is a roller coaster ride and after a slow build up things move quickly throughout the one hour forty minutes at the theatre. The intimacy of the Pleasance theatre makes watching the proceedings at times almost voyeuristic and unbearable. But like all good drama you can't resist watching. It runs until 16 September.

Immediate impressions from the Audioboo below (with thanks to Webcowgirl)
Theatre: The Mercy Seat at Pleasance Islington (mp3)

A chance to also reflect upon the fact that ten years ago there was not much social media. Sure there were blogs, but with no wifi, no tweets no audioboos... How did we live our lives?

Panto variations on a beanstalk: Jack & The Beanstalk

Jack & The Beanstalk currently playing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East is a fun off-beat panto that puts a bit of a modern twist on the story of young Jack, a boy who sells the family cow for a bunch of beans. Theatre Royal Stratford pantos tend to be offbeat with crazy ideas and original music. Some of these were confusing enough for me to be flipping through the programme to see if there was any background information on the traditional tale. But it was hard not to like the introduction of the "spider organ" character when he appeared towards the finale and wanted to fight Jack with his eight legs, musical instrument and enormous sac. It could have been the effects of the fine wine consumed at interval, but it felt like an amusing moment.

While most pantomime productions are a mix of colourful costumes, elaborate sets and a selection of pop hits, the bar is set a little higher here as the production has original music written by Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius. The challenge with original music is that it needs to be catchy and entertaining to engage the audience. It is not always successful and perhaps there are a few too many songs that slow things down. The show itself could probably benefit from a shorter interval and a quicker running time if it jettisoned some of the songs, subplots and the imaginary rabbit that was Jack's best friend. Although it is hard to be too mean to anyone playing a giant seven foot rabbit that is made from a psychadellic crochet pattern that I think my mother also has...

The sets and costumes are simple and there are some clever touches with lighting effects and the use of curtains for scene changes that keep things bright and fun. And by the time Jack climbs the beanstalk and finds himself face to face with the ogre, there is an impressive and scary display of puppetry at work here, which had the audience in awe.

Gemma Salter as Lucy is tasked with being the first on stage and getting the audience participation going early with a somewhat rousing version of "She'll be comin' round the mountain". It is a tough sell to get the audience that has just arrived to get into the panto spirit but she somehow manages to do it. Her character also serves as a bit of a tomboy love interest for Jack as well.

Michael Bertenshaw as Dame Mrs Trott is refreshing as a very male pantomime dame and gives some of the evening's best lines for the older members of the audience. Windson Liong is great as Mr Fleece and manages to go from a villain to a song-and-dance-man / good guy (in addition to playing the incredible spider organ) by the end of the show. He also managed to get the younger members of the audience worked up into such a frenzy to tell him the plot, that some of them seemed to be bursting with authoritative information on the subject...

Good fun, this Jack & The Beanstalk runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East until Saturday 19 January. There is loud music, a fantastic looking Ogre, cheap laughs and a few gentle plugs for the season's sponsor Gallions Reach Beckton.

Post panto musings with @Johnnyfoxlondon captured on the boo below...

listen to ‘Beanstalk boo: Jack and the beanstalk fun at Stratford’ on Audioboo

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Triumph of the barihunks and projectionists: Don Giovanni @RoyalOpera

Opening night of the Royal Opera's new production of Don Giovanni shows that with the right cast and a few modern elements you can deliver a dazzling and memorable production that is sexy, funny and musically memorable.

Original barihunk, Mariusz Kwiecień plays Don Giovanni. He looks the part and is charismatic enough to almost made you forget that he sounded a little tentative in the early part of the evening. His final damnation in this production appears to be that he is left alone rather than dragged down to hell to be left alone to contemplate hell and his hunky self.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Sex, Drugs and Downton: Guilt and Shame Addicted to Everything @sohotheatre

For a brief moment last week, Guilt and Shame took over the upstairs space at the Soho Theatre for some random therapy on addiction, drugs and masturbating penises through glory holes.  Alternating between the bizarre and the offensive, it made for a great night of comedy.

Arriving at the theatre everyone is instructed by Gabe to put on a name tag as everyone is about to take part (unwittingly or not) in an addicts anonymous group.

Then his best friend and eternal gay virgin Rob arrives dragging both themselves and the audience on filthy journey literally to hell and back. The journey includes acting out sex with a swan (pictured above), getting a member of the audience to confront his fear of penises in men's toilets and observations about gay men who have an unhealthy liking for Downton Abbey...