Posted in Theatre

June 9: Stitchers

I always find it amazing that the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre can put in such “big” shows.

This time it was a wonderful play about prisoner rehabilitation through embroidery. Based on fact, this play by Emma Freud was fierce and moving. It brought back the feeling of helplessness and frustration I felt as a prison teacher when classes were cancelled without notice because of lockdowns, and reminded me that the frustration was far worse for the inmates.

The inmates were not softened at all. There was no “do-goodery” about Lady Anne. Nevertheless, good was done, and hard edges softened.

There was a shocking moment towards the end of the play, but on the whole, it was an uplifting experience.

Sinéad Cusack was wonderful, of course, but the whole cast put on a fine performance. I was pleased that the trans woman character was actually played by a trans woman. I feel that the true horror of being a trans woman in a men’s prison could only really be shown this way.

There was one extra little surprise. The programme was actually the entire text of the play. A real bargain.

Go and see this if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

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Posted in Theatre

June 6: Romeo and Juliet

I was surprised to discover that there is a fringe festival in Catford. I went along to see BOXLIT theatre hoping for a vibrant experience, but the venue was less than welcoming, and let the company down, I feel. Twenty minutes before the show was due to start, the theatre doors were still locked. Eventually, with ten minutes to spare, I was let in, and when I say “I”, I mean exactly that. I suppose on a Wednesday afternoon in Catford a small audience is to be expected, but it must have been very disappointing for the cast to have an audience of three (including the director and a member of the front-of-house team).

BUT- they acted their socks off.

The two actors took on a major Shakespearean tragedy and made it their own.

The set was stark, minimalist, modern. It was black and white. White fluorescent tubing, white draperies, the two main characters costumed in white. Minor characters in black. The only colour crept in via the excellent use of film.

Chloe Levis was a wonderful Juliet, and also took on the role of Friar Laurence. Seb Christophers made a good job of Romeo and in his gender swap, played the Nurse. Between them, the two actors portrayed Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris et al, with the action including a very clever solo fight scene.

This one-hour show pared the play down to its essentials, but kept the language. Despite the necessary million or so costume changes, there was no feeling of interruption of disconnection, thanks to the very clever use of film, music and audio-visual effects. I give credit for the smoothness of the production to Andrew Livingstone, for some very tight direction.

The company are taking the production to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. I hope they get the publicity and audiences they deserve, and I am very glad that I got to see them.

Posted in Art, Theatre

May 17: RED

Having had a look at Rothko’s Four Seasons paintings yesterday, today I watched as the two years of Rothko’s life spent painting the pictures unfolded on stage.

I have to say, I am very fond of Rothko’s paintings, and Alfred Molina’s performance as the artist gave me an understanding that I didn’t really have before. I now understand why the Tate keep their Rothko gallery in dimmed light. I have more of a feeling for why there is so much red…

I really enjoyed this play. I got the wit and the subtle humour. I didn’t laugh out loud, like some of the audience- I actually don’t think I was meant to. I loved the choreography of the priming of the canvas. I really liked the music that was used. Alfred Enoch was excellent as the assistant. And Alfred Molina was a towering presence on stage. Five stars. All the stars.

Posted in Theatre

May 9: Macbeth #3

I had a ticket for the camera rehearsal of what will be a live broadcast to cinemas from the National Theatre. Sadly, Rory Kinnear was not available for the performance I saw, but his understudy did a good job, and Anne-Marie Duff was a brilliant Lady Macbeth.

This production has had mixed reviews, but I really liked it. The post-apocalyptic setting worked well, and I liked the little touches – mismatched enamel mugs at the banquet, gaffer-taped armour, a glittery dress made of offcuts of fabric and plastic.

The set was excellent and the action made full use of the Olivier’s revolve stage.

The action started with a very realistic beheading, and ended with another one. In between there was the usual goriness, augmented by some very dark manifestations of the supernatural ( with their heads on backwards for some reason) and three spectacular witches. There was a low-level, threatening rumble of music, and excellent lighting effects. In addition, this was the most inclusive casting I have seen recently, with a good mix of genders, ethnicities and dis/ability on stage. I especially liked the idea of having a girl in the youngest role, Fleance.

I thoroughly recommend this production.

Posted in Theatre

April 27: The War Of The Worlds

I didn’t know what to expect from this production, but what I got was a fantastic performance from a tiny cast of just four, with no set, minimal costumes and props almost entirely made up of kitchenware. There was live music, some clever lighting and sound effects and a lot of jokes. At times I was breathless trying to keep up with the run of sci fi jokes, which culminated in a brilliant representation of the cycling scene from ET the Extraterrestrial, played out whilst dealing with audience participatory heckling. All the jokes and audience participation didn’t move the show away from the original story to any great degree, but instead provided a fantastic night of comedy, music and drama. The highlight for me was the Martian fighting machine which looked to be made out of an umbrella and several pairs of stuffed tights. Brilliant.

Posted in Theatre

April 21: Great Apes

This was an interesting production – a very sparse set, some excellent music and choreographed group actions. An excellent performance of Dr Zack Buster ( the alpha male) by Ruth Lass was the highlight of the play for me. I liked the costumes – the brown harem pants and polo sweaters, the sock-gloves, the short crutches all came together to suggest “chimpunity” cleverly. The female oestrus, depicted by an obscenely pleated pink bumbag affair was ghastly but effective, and overall, the acting skills of the cast suggested ape behaviours very well.

There were differences from the book, as there always are, and I was glad that some of the more extreme behaviours weren’t included.

Overall, I enjoyed the play, and feel it made the story more accessible than Will Self’s very convoluted language in the book.

Posted in Theatre

April 12: Witness For The Prosecution

This is a new production of an old Agatha Christie story. I have seen a couple of TV adaptations of this book, but nothing beats live theatre.

This version is playing in the old courtroom of County Hall, a wonderful space, with the most comfortable seats I have ever experienced in a theatre. I was front row, and the only disadvantage to that was a slightly stiff neck from looking up at actors on my side of the central stage ( if I looked straight ahead, my gaze was level with the actors’ ankles).

The acting was a little on the overdone, but the costumes and clever sound effects provided an atmosphere that made up for it.

This wasn’t “great” theatre, but it wasn’t bad, and whiled away a couple of hours pleasantly.

Posted in classical music, puppetry, Theatre

March 20: The Four Seasons

This was my first visit to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and I found it absolutely entrancing. I loved the candle lighting and the intimacy of the small space. The reimagination of Vivaldi’s music worked for me, and I particularly liked the fusion of harpsichord and synthesised effects. Gyre and Gimbal are skilful puppeteers and brilliant story tellers (I have seen their work before, in the Grinning Man), and the simplicity of the wooden puppets was perfect for this production.

Posted in Theatre

February 1: Julius Caesar

A visit to the Bridge theatre is something I am coming to look forward to very much. This time, the stalls had been stripped out to form a pit for an immersive version of the play. (In my cowardly way, I booked a seat, but in the front row, and by good fortune at the right end of the theatre for all the action). And there was action!

The use of hydraulically raised and lowered stage blocks was clever. The crowd management was well done and incorporated into the action. The opening rally and rock concert was as “Trump” as it could be, with banners and red caps a-plenty (including on my own head), and maybe one of the best versions of Seven Nation Army I have heard.

Michelle Fairley, David Morrissey and Ben Wishaw were all brilliant. Wishaw’s Brutus was introspective and almost a philosopher, in contrast to Fairley’s Cassius, who was strong and soldierly. Morissey’s Mark Anthony was the star for me.

There was no interval to break up the momentum of the play, and I think this was a good decision, even if it did deprive me of madeleines.

An excellent production, and worth the price of a front row seat.

As a diversion, the combination of Shakespeare and Seven Nation Army reminded me of the character Dogberry from Much Ado…. (The connection is via a band called the Dogberries – tenuous, I know). A few weeks ago, I was wracking my brains for the name of the figure of speech similar to, but not quite, a malapropism. Dogberry uses it a lot, and on looking him up, I was able to recall that this figure of speech is called an eggcorn. Which interestingly, is an eggcorn of acorn. We have a family eggcorn – we accuse each other of “casting nasturtiums” (when we mean aspersions, if you couldn’t work it out).

Here endeth the lesson.

Posted in Theatre

January 25: Edward II

This was only my second Marlowe play, and it was as humourless as the first one I saw. It seems Marlowe doesn’t play to the masses, as his contemporary, Shakespeare, does. There are no comedy gravediggers or rude mechanicals here.

This play should be an epic tragedy, but it doesn’t quite manage it.

Each lord of duke had his own actor (unusual these days in small venues, where multi-tasking seems to be the order of the day), although eight young white men in business attire and bare feet were hard to tell apart, even when they were all onstage together). Alicia Charles (Queen Isabella) got a nice frock, and Timothy Blore, as King Edward, had a nice glittery crown, but failed to be “kingly” in my opinion. His lover, Gaveston (played by Oseloka Obi, the only black actor in the cast, who also, depressingly, played the part of the executioner) was as petulant as the King, and the whole thing felt very shallow.

Lazarus used all their usual tricks; harsh lighting, drums, air horns, etc. There was a pre-show warning for haze, language, nudity, but to be honest, they might as well have not bothered about that, there was very little of anything offensive.

The gay theme was overt, but not really sexual. The violence was stylised. The execution scenes were strange and oddly shallow.

My overall impression was of a company trying to offend but not knowing how to, really. They knew their lines and delivered them competently. They did what the director told them to. The fight scenes were well-choreographed, but the whole thing felt superficial and vaguely unsatisfying.

I have seen Lazarus before, and liked them. Hopefully, this was just an “off” performance.