Monday, April 25, 2016

Man caves: Blue On Blue @TristanBates

The vagaries of co-dependency, self harm, rehabilitation and a lot of blue language is the subject of Blue On Blue. But what sets the piece apart are the strong performances by its leads as they explore the traumas past and present in a man's world.

Written by Chips Hardy, the piece is getting a revival at the Tristan Bates theatre. It is a dark piece which doesn't always land its jokes given the seriousness of the subject matter. But it's worthwhile all the same.

Always look on the bright side: My Mother Said I Never Should @St_JamesTheatre @tinyfiresltd

My Mother Said I Never Should is a night to remember at the St James Theatre. An epic and detailed character study, lively performances and a great production makes this revival a must see.

Charlotte Keatley's play covers the opportunities, disappointments and secrets of each generation of women in this character study. There are no men on stage here, but they are often the subject of the discussion. Each scene is so economically written; giving insight and meaning about their choices and challenges. It's also clever as it puts the audience in their shoes and has you reflecting on your own family and their experiences.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Quick snatches: The Future of Sex @wardrobensemble

The sexual revolution wasn't quite as it seemed in this style over substance account of sex in the seventies (or should that be present day)?

The Wardrobe Ensemble had a hit in Edinburgh last year with this show that goes beneath the hype of the sexual revolution, only to find that things were just as awkward then as they are now.

Narration, inner monologues and jump cuts to the present day pepper this story of a group of young people discovering sex in the 70s.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Comment: Remembering and recognition for awards Season in Theatre... including #alsorecognised

Awards and accolades are a great way of remembering some of the great performances of the past year. Assuming that you can remember them...

There is so much stuff that is great to see in London that whittling anything down to a shortlist of three or four seems a tad cruel.

Still it is great that there is a small but growing group of awards to recognise. The Oliviers and The Whats On Stage Awards cover the big end of town, but there is also the Also Recognised Awards.

It's less glamorous than those two and winners only get to pose with a selfie. Set up by My Theatre Mates Mark Shenton and Terri Paddock, they celebrate lesser-known but worthy talent in fields overlooked by other awards bodies. This year's winners included a number of winners or nominees from the Olivier Awards. But there were also some differences.

Bugsy Malone, which lost out to Gypsy for Best Musical Revival at the Oliviers, won for Best Ensemble Performance.

Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Winter’s Tale received the award for Best Shakespearean Production. And another Branagh production, All On Her Own, saw Zoë Wanamaker win for Best Solo Performance.

Natalie Dew, nominated for Best Actress in a Musical at the Oliviers, took the award for London Newcomer of the Year for her musical debut in the leading role of Bend It Like Beckham.

The Phantom of the Opera won Best Twitter Engagement and Peter Pan Goes Wrong won Best Show Trailer. Best Show Poster went to the imagery used to advertise Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play The Motherfucker With the Hat.

The Donmar Warehouse won Theatre Event of the Year for its live election night broadcast of James Graham’s play The Vote.

And in a new category Best Musical Cabaret, went to Scott Alan and Cynthia Erivo for their intimate cabaret evening at the St. James Studio.

But with so much talent on stage in London, perhaps we need more awards categories to recognise other crucially important aspects to enjoying the theatre.

Hair, make-up, lighting and costumes never seem to get the recognition they deserve for shows. Ditto shows that rely on visual or sound effects, or projections.

Then there are the specific traits actors have to have to fulfill the requirements of a role. Whether they are playing a character with an accent or staying in shape. Best accent or fittest body could be a fun shortlist.

There is also the venues themselves. Some of the theatres in the West End are a delight to visit. The St James Theatre in Victoria is worth a visit just to admire the marble staircase. The Vaudeville Theatre, where Hand To God is playing, had a great bar refurbishment. And the Adelphi, currently home to Kinky Boots, has a terrific set of refurbished urinals (modern yet in keeping with the look and feel of the place).

Something to consider until next year. Along with giving the Oliviers a proper live broadcast when it moves to Royal Albert Hall...

The Human Pile: Closer by Circa @CircaPresents @UdderbellyFest

Closer, by circus troupe Circa opens the London Wonderground on the South Bank with an intimate yet spectacular show about the power and strength of the human body.

 There is beauty in this stripped back circus extravaganza of human acrobatics that flow seamlessly from one to another.

A simple staging, with a few chairs and spotlights open up to an incredible array of performances. The effect is mesmerising as the performers make the impossible seem effortless.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Crying, talking, sleeping, walking: Russian Dolls @KingsHeadThtr

The life of two vulnerable women come together and fall apart in Kate Lock's Russian Dolls.

The way the British treat the young and the old is laid bare here. It is a terrific piece full of humour and warmth. But it never lets you forget that that if this is how good it gets for vulnerable adults and young people in this country, then there is plenty more we could be doing.

Brief encounters: X @Royalcourt

At some point in the third act there is a constant shouting of the word X. "X, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, " the characters exclaim. Constantly.

As a means to explain the loss of space and time in this futuristic story about a voyage to pluto, it is effective. But it also feels a bit like the rest of the piece. Relentlessly repetitive.

The story is that a spaceship to Pluto has lost its way and the crew slowly realise that all concept of time and continuity has been lost. They have no idea where they are, or the present or the past.

It looks great, with its 2001 a space odessey inspired set and projections. And I was chuffed to see that in the future everyone is wearing Vivobarefoot shoes. I think they are very comfortable and sensible even for the present day.

But the piece with a teasing and mysterious first half promises more than it ultimately delivers. I'm not sure having the cast running about screaming makes for a great night at the theatre.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Read the: Labels @stratfordeast

Joe Sellman-Leava's one man show is a fascinating look at how the use of words out of curiosity, fear and hostility have impacts. His power is in his ability as a storyteller to hook you in on his argument and walk in his shoes. In roughly sixty minutes he hooks you in on his story and the story of his family.

Sellman-Leava was born in Gloucestershire but his family has connections to Uganda and India. This background leads to constant inquiries about where he was from. And saying Gloucestershire is not the response people expect. This leads to an exploration about why we seek to label people.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

High stakes and high vocals: I Capuleti e i Montecchi @PopupOperaUK

Continuing their tradition of opera in surprising and unusual locations, Pop Up Opera delivers a sensational and dramatic compact performance of Bellini's I Capuleti E I Montecchi. It is easy to get swept away with the drama on stage thanks to the strong performances of the leads.

While every venue they perform in is different, the basement of a Baker Street restaurant lent itself well to this reworking of Romeo and Juliet. The action takes place in low places and hiding areas and so the polished concrete and bare staging worked well here. And the hard surfaces meant you could hear every aria and recitative.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Under the skin: Bug @found111ldn

A claustrophobic location and terrific performances makes Bug, Tracy Lett's thriller of conspiracy and loss, a must-see theatrical event.

James Norton and Kate Fleetwood act in your laps as two troubled souls stuck in an Oklahoma motel.

Found 111 is on the site of the former Central Saint Martins School on Charing Cross Road. It is one of the less glamorous West End theatrical locations, but it has to be one of the most memorable. You walk up a series of stairs surrounded by a lift well (the lift doesn't work by the way so you do have to take the stars), and then find yourself in what looks like part of a cheap motel.

There is an unmade bed in the centre and a side board for coffee making facilities. It is an incredible simple yet evocative design by Ben Stones. Desperation fills the air even before the show starts, but that may be because people are in search of the best seat in the house.

The audience surrounds all this in what has to be a new trend in voyeuristic and shock theatre. As the action unfolds in unexpected ways right in front of you at times there is nowhere to turn to avoid seeing it. Given the gore has had some people passing out, you may thank yourself for arriving late and missing the best seats...

Fleetwood plays Agnes, a cocktail waitress in a lesbian bar. She is hiding from her ex-husband (Alec Newman) and still grieving over the disappearance of her son. An introduction by her friend (Daisy Lewis) to Peter (Norton) leads him to stay with her in the model. Initially he sleeps on the floor, but is soon in her bed.

The cleverness in the piece is how everything is twisted from what we think it is in the beginning. The abusive ex-husband, the caring friend and the sweet young man, Peter. Once Peter is bed with Agnes he thinks he has found a bug. Soon both of them are convinced they are victims of an infestation of a sinister kind.

The resourcefulness of Fleetwood and Norton make this a taught and intensive piece. Fleetwood seems initially so self assured but she brings out the loneliness and sadness of the character as the piece evolves. Similarly Norton's sweet and charming demeanor conceals darker and horrific behaviour.

Originally written in the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing, in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations, surveillance concerns and paranoia takes on a new topicality here. It makes you think it is less delusional than maybe originally intended. This means that you are never certain what is real or imagined. Or what should be funny or horrific. Adding to the intensity are some terrific sound effects by Edward Lewis. If the gore doesn't make you jump then the noises sure will.

It is enough to make you think there is something just under your skin. And not just this terrific production... Don't miss it, if you can get a ticket. Bug runs until 7 May.

⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎ or maybe that should be 🐛🐛🐛🐛

Photo credit: Production photos by Simon Annand