Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bikes and Horses: Watching Films and Plays

Two plays I attended in West End theatres recently were ones I'd already seen as films, in both cases some years before. Although films and plays have ingredients in common -storyline, acting and settings, to name the three most important elements, I think they're very different.

What it boils down to, really, is that watching plays needs more effort, and I don't just mean having to book in advance and tunr up on time or they might not let you in.

A film runs the same every time regardless of the audience, but actors in a play rely on a response to bring out their best performances. It's the difference between riding a bike and riding a horse (not that I've ever ridden a horse)I was once an amateur actor, so I know something about it. Nowadays, when I'm in the audience,the nearer to the stage I am the more I feel obliged to respond to the actors.

In The Killing of Sister George at the Arts Theatre, for instance, I felt bound to laugh loudly at Meera Syals' lines. It was partly because I thought the actress playing Alice, or 'Childie' put in a weak performance. It wasn't down to me to compensate, but I'm sure I'm not the only member of the audience who felt the same.

I've seen the film of The Killing of Sister George twice, in the cinema and on TV, and thought it was much better than the play. It was funnier - Beryl Reid's tweedy drunk so much more credible as the radio soap's nurse on a scooter, and Suzannah York overtly playing up her sexual charms in her baby doll pyjamas, pretending (in close up) to relish eating George's cigar.

I can hardly remember the film Cool Hand Luke, probably because it's so long since I saw it. I just recall Paul Newman lying on his back on a pool table, his stomach swollen from eating fifty hard-boiled eggs for a bet.

I thought the play Cool Hand Luke at the Aldwych theatre was much better, because the staging was clever and the acting powerful. Marc Warren comes ready supplied with his eccentric loner persona ready-formed from his TV roles, in series such as Hustle.
I was impressed, too, by Lee Boardman, playing his side-kick and promoter,'Dragline'. He was the teeth-baring monster who terrorised Steve, landlord of Coronation Street's Rovers Return. Dragline, Luke's chief supporter in the prisoner bunk-house when he realises that there's money to be made, comes to admire the self-assured outsider bent on self-destruction. The complex role gave Boardman a chance to shine.

There was a real sense of the heat of the Deep South, created by lighting and acting. I liked the musical accompaniment provided by a quartet of female choristers - two gospel singers and two salvation Army members in uniform.

Someone once said that being in a cinema reminds us of the womb - floating in warm darkness, reluctant to return to the real world. Theatre, I think, wakens you up and gives you some responsibility. When all goes well, you feel you played a part the play's success.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Picturing Montmartre: Toulouse Lautrec and Jane Avril at the Moulin Rouge at the Courtauld Institute ;Degas and the Ballet:Picturing Movement and the Royal Academy; Midnight in Paris(2011) dir.Woody Allen; French Cancan (1954) dir. Jean Renoir

A couple of exhibitions and films I've enjoyed recently featured the Parisian artists' quarter, Montmartre, in its glorious turn-of-the-century heighday.

Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril at the Moulin Rouge was lavishly supplied with background information about the artist and his favourite muse. Jane Avril, not her real name, worked as a part-time prostitute before she entertained customers by dancing at the the Moulin Rouge. Toulouse Lautrec himself was an alcoholic and died young,from syphilis. A sense of decadence presided over the exhibits, reinforced by newspaper cuttings and articles that suggested Jane's gawky but frenzied dancing style and her emaciatied appearance was caused by infirmity. The paintings depicted a cast of grotesques, customers and entertainers alike.

There was relatively little information about Degas at the RA, and, for some visitors, too few of his paintings. He seems, going by the evidence, to have been not so much a stage-door Johnny as a backstage Peeping Tom with an eye for young girls in unusual poses. The emphasis in this exhibition was on early photography and its ability to capture movement, a quality that was to prove so useful to painters.

More prosaically, I once stayed in Montmartre on a home-swap holiday. Streets in the area consisted mainly of steps leading up to the great white dome of the Sacre Coeur, with a terrace in front that afforded a view of Paris stretching to the horizon.In the surrounding area, it was easy to imagine oneself back to a time when artists contributed to the Bohemian atmosphere of its cobbled streets and cafe-lined squares.

In a nearby 'place', artists had set up easels under the trees and drew portraits for tourists. Small shops had street displays of prints, with more inside including Monet's Waterlilies, Van Gogh's Sunflowers, plus tiny statuettes of Degas' Little Dancer of Fourteen Years.

Both exhibitions place the artists' work in the context of their time, a mileu explored to comic effect in Woody Allen's most recent film, Midnight in Paris.

Given a double dose of nostalgia and fantasy, it's no surprise that the protagonist, a would-be novelist played by Owen Wilson, is whisked back in time to meet habitues of the quartier who include Lautrec, Degas and Salvador Dali, as well as literary giants Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

Bohemian decadence and nostalgia have their attractions, but for sheer charm I'd back Jean Renoir's film, French Cancan, which I saw at the BFI a few weeks ago. In the film, Jean Gabin plays the founder of Montmartre's most famous nightclub with a cool-eyed insouciance, but the real triumph is the studio recreation of Montmarte, whose streets and characters echo well-known artististic portrayals, and the final twenty-minutes of high-kicking exuberance, when the signature dance is performance before an enraptured audience in a packed Moulin Rouge

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When Bobby Met Dora Delaney: Fanny's First Play by GB Shaw at Pentameters Theatre

North Londoners are spoilt for fringe theatres, but I haven't met a homelier venue than the Pentameters, a couple of minutes walk from Hampstead underground station and attached to a popular pub.

The 60-seater space is straight out of Alice in Wonderland: like an untidy living room where children are about to put on a show. Three rows of chairs with a mix of cushions are ranged on steps opposite a shallow stage. Cardboard boxes under each seat apparently hold programmes from previous productions.

The stage set itself is sparse: a table with fold-down flaps and a lacy cloth, on which stands a tiny bell. Five Edwardian dining chairs with green velvet seats are set nearby. Dark, striped wallpaper and an oval mirror with an elaborate gilt frame complete the decor; in fact, the theatre's proprietor, Leonie Scott-Matthews, comes out at the start to apologise, explaining that Fanny's First Play is a touring production, and Pentameters' normal staging is usually more detailed. She reappears at the end, too - a charming personal touch, I thought.

Chatter drifts through from the pub's street tables during the performance, but that's alright, because the plot has a dinner party going on in an adjoining room. The pub is handy, too, on a warm night, except for the charge of £10 for two drinks and a packet of admittedly superior crisps. 'That Duvel is 8.5%,' remarked my companion, who stuck to the bitter. I balanced the bottle on the step beside me for the second half.

The relaxed atmosphere was superb, as was the play. One of the lead actors was weak, so I gave it four stars out of five in my review, but on reflection that was a bit mean.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Baker's Wife at The Union Theatre

It seemed a bit unlikely that a musical would fit into the tiny Union Theatre, where we'd last seen an excellent production of Somerset Maugham's For Services Rendered. The Baker's Wife was adapted into a musical in 1938 from a film by Marcel Pagnol but not staged until 1989, directed by Trevor Nunn at the Phoenix Theatre. It only ran for a month because despite winning an Evening Standard award it was losing money.

The theatre space was completely changed, with the seats in straight rows instead of arranged in a horshoe shape as they had been for the Maugham play, and the air dark with billowing smoke. Whoever was working the smoke machine for the rehearsal had overdone it, so the first scenes took place in light more reminiscent of a London fog than a Provencal afternoon. Later on, there was supposed to be a fire in the bakery, but no extra smoke was needed.

The rendition was competent for the slight tale of a discontented wife, although the ensemble routines seemed cramped. As it was press night, the management provided cakes in the cosy bar, to chime with the bakery theme. I was disappointed not to have wine, but was feeling peckish so that when a sweet almond and cherry slice proved to be the best I've ever tasted I overdid it by eating two pieces.

Last time we'd approached the theatre from the Waterloo end of Union Street,walking along The Cut but this time we came from London Bridge. All the pubs round Waterloo had been crammed to the rafters but on this occasion we spotted a quiet little place in Union Street in the other direction, called The Charles Dickens, where we enjoyed a peaceful pint while we discussed the play. Oddly enough, the beer was called Oscar Wilde.

My review appears on the Remotegoat website.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Concrete Evidence: a visit to 2, Willow Road, NW3

Living in London, I'm very conscious of architecture, including the domestic kind; as I live in a small flat I was keen to see what a modernist designer made of a restricted living space.

Raised in a northern terrace, I find TV house-hunting programmes like Location, Location, Location a bit bizarre. Maybe I've seen too many Hong Kong movies, where people seem to live in cupboards, but for me, a home's a launchpad by day and a shelter at night. So Le Corbusier's description of a house as 'a machine for living' is spot on. It's a shame he's associated with the high-rise blocks of the 1950s onwards. He didn't anticipate cheap materials and the lack of infrastructure that characterise British council estates built on his principles.

I have no problem with small - a tiny living space is a reminder of one's status in the grand order of things and even, these days, a statement about scarce resources. I feel sympathetic to squatters in empty mansions- it's a shame the places they occupy are such 'folies de grandeur', with all the attendant problems. No wonder the owners leave them empty.

A scene from the film Educating Rita is a reminder of the 'knock-through' craze of the 1970s; terrace dwellers suddenly wanted the sense of space that the middle and upper classes took for granted. The eponymous heroine takes a sledgehammer to a dividing wall in the terraced house she shares with her husband and the comic collapse in a cloud of dust identifues it as a 'supporting wall'.

Erno Goldfinger solved the problem of how to provide space without internal supporting walls, in Willow Road, Hampstead. Unfortunately, as far as fellow Hampstead dwellers in their Victorian stone villas were concerned, it involved concrete; very non-traditional. There was a lot of opposition from the likes of novelist Ian Fleming. He was so incensed he named one of his most famous villains after the architect.

For me it's an example of a house that serves its purpose, as a place to live in, not a showcase for the owner's possessions costing a fortune to heat in an English winter. Having said that, Goldfinger knew some leading artists and examples of their work are dotted about the rooms. I'd recommend a visit to this interesting house, a short walk from Hampstead tube and now a National Trust property.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bring on the Dancing Girls: Crazy for You by George and Ira Gershwin at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and Donizetti's The Elixir of Love at The Coliseum, St Martin's Lane

My parents hooked me up to American film musicals in the 1950s. I can understand why Jonathan Miller set his 2010 production of The Elixir of Love , now in revival at The Coliseum, in that era. There's a nostalgic connection for elderly opera-goers, and even younger audience members would know of Marilyn Monroe, if only from Andy Warhol. The female lead, Sarah Tynan, was a Marilyn look-alike.

When I pay £19 for a seat in the balcony, I expect a great production, and ENO doesn't let you down. We're talking London's biggest theatre, apart from the O2, and I didn't want a repeat of last year's Carmen, when I couldn't tell who was singing. So I took my binoculars.

The set works well - a revolving wedge-shaped diner in a desert landscape, with a petrol pump outside. There's even room for a pink and white cadillac to be driven onstage when the snake-oil salesman hits town with his cure for unrequited love. Baritone Andrew Shore is outstanding in the part.

Garrison Keillor, of Lake Woebegone fame, is cited by the programme notes as an influence. You can see why: there's down-home feeling, reinforced when when the despairing male lead thinks of joining the army. It contrasts with the overlay of glamour represented by the costumes and the Elvis-style cavorting in front of the diner's stage mic.

The words of the libretto appear above the stage on a kind of autocue, directed at the audience. I haven't heard this opera sung in Italian but the translation, given an American tang, raised a laugh and the opera is billed as a comic one. I'd say the lyrics were weakest part of the production , although they didn't interfere with the famous tenor aria 'La Furtiva Lacrima' in the second act, the news that 'Uncle Joe had kicked the bucket' strikes a crude note that's fairly typical.

I'd had high hopes since I saw Jonathan Miller's production of The Mikado, and before that La Boheme. But The Elixir was Gilbert and Sullivan without Gilbert

Crazy for You had no such problems, being a genuine example although set much earlier, in 1930. The storyline deals with a stage-struck young man whose mother wants him to be a banker. When his job is to foreclose a theatre in Nevada showbusiness takes precedent and it becomes a 'let put the show on here' affair.

The dancing girls and the male chorus were excellent and the principals are competent, with Bobby Childs, as the male lead, sparking off Claire Foster as feisty Polly. Within the walls of the diner in The Elixir the best that can be managed is a kind of hippy-hippy shake.

The failure of The Elixir to convince as a musical is partly because the opera score doesn't allow for dance routines.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed both productions. I even like the bit at the Open Air Theatre when the sweepers come on with towels to dry the stage after a shower. Since the Coliseum would be dancing-girl friendly, it's a shame the show there didn't have any. I wonder if there's an opera that does have dancing girls....

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Everyday Story of Bindle Stiffs: Of Mice and Men at the Brockley Jack Studio.

As a teenager, I read Steinbeck's 1939 American novel, The Grapes of Wrath , for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, with astonishment. Steinbeck's empathy with an 'underclass' was almost unknown in English novels, where working class characters were used for comic relief or appeared as villains. There were plenty of servants, of course, since most novels were set in middle or upper-class households.

George Orwell was about the nearest English equivalent to Steinbeck, but there was something inauthentic about an old Etonian pretending to be down and out. In novels empathy with workers was almost nonexistent; failure to make it up the class ladder was generally ascribed to personal moral decrepitude. It's a view that's recently become popular again, but it only began to be challenged in English novels in the late 1950s.

The story of the Joad family's epic journey across the American dust-bowl derives from an era when few authors dared suggest that human institutions might be faulty. The recognition, let alone celebration, of humanity among ordinary working people was a literary novelty in England in the 1950s, although DH Lawrence's 1913 autobiographical 'Sons and Lovers' and some of his short stories had come close.

Of Mice and Men, as the title suggests, works on a smaller scale. Seemingly a portrait of two men locked into a toxic co-dependency, the theme of the sustaining power of dreams and their fragility is reflected in the setting: a rural workplace.It's a far cry from The Archers.

I enjoyed this production at The Brockley Jack Studio. It seemed superior to the 1939 film classic starring Lon Chaney and the 1992 Gary Sinese-directed version with John Malkovitch.

I appreciated the ten minute drive to the Brockley Jack and the easy on-road parking. What I didn't like was not hearing the starting bell or any announcement in the bar, which extends to a room round the back. As a result my companion and I crept into into the back row of the crowded 50-seater theatre after stumbling up creaky steps. I've never been so glad of an interval to stretch my legs.

The play continues until September 24th and my review appears on the Remotegoat website.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Summer of The Greeks at The Space

Just when you think you'll never see a Greek Tragedy again, two come along together.

Last week, I was thrilled at chance to revisit The Space, the arts centre on the Isle of Dogs, where the aptly-titled Lazarus Theatre Company (they specialise in revivals) is currently staging two adaptations of Greek plays: Electra and Orestes, billed as The Summer of The Greeks

As a rule I like small-scale domestic works , but there's something compelling about Greek drama, with its focus on stupendous events and legendary characters in extreme situations. The chorus and lead players give off waves of intense emotion so strong you feel quite battered by the experience.

They're meant to be staged outdoors, in vast open-air ampitheatres suited to epic themes of human pride and divine retribution.

The nearest I came to the theatrical experience they aimed for was watching Antigone at Holland Park. However, I recall once wandering around an authentic Greek theatre in a cliff-top location in Taormina, Sicily. I sat high among a myriad of stone steps curved around a three-sided arena, looking down on the stage below. I was trying to imagine what it must have been like be in the audience for one of the great epics, such as Oedipus Rex, with a gods' eye-view of human follies.

My first visit to The Space a few weeks back was to see Tartuffe, when the French comedy classic had been given a rambunctious treatment, with actors chasing around in period costumes between irregular rows of seats. Even a small-scale domestic drama seemed to burst the boundaries, so I wondered how a pair of epic tragedies would fare.

The adaptations had been trimmed to suit the small-scale ambience, but the theatre was amazingly versatile, too. The interior had taken on a dignity to suit the occasion; all straight lines and well-ordered rows, reminiscent of its origins as a Presbyterian church.

On the previous occasion there hadn't been time to visit the 'Hubbub' cafe, comprising an upstairs bar and bench-and-table combinations under the trees to one side of the theatre. A lively crowd of young actors stood about- the whole 30-strong company had turned out for the press-night showing of both plays as a double bill. In the interval, under cover of studying the programme notes I listened to them talking about rehearsal mishaps. It was a nice contrast to the soul-stirring drama onstage.

My review of the play is on the Remotegoat website.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Boston and Brigadoon: The Gift of Lightning at Waterloo East Theatre

I was pleased to see a new venue, Waterloo East Theatre, listed on the Remotegoat list of venues. The play sounded a bit 'different', too - about a young Irishman whose life is changed when he's struck by lightning. Must be all the influence of all those blockbusters I see at Cineworld that attracted me. In fact, I think it was the proximity to Waterloo Station.

Sure enough, it was only a short walk up a street called Alaska, opposite the Waterloo Road entrance. As we arrived, at the same time as a jolly crowd of thirty-somethings, we even spotted a nearby pub to get a drink when we came out.

The theatre foyer was tiny, with a spiral staircase up to a balcony - but access to the theatre was off the foyer beside the quaintly-named 'Wet Bar' - no beer on pumps, but they served nicely chilled white wine and, according to my companion,a pleasant red, as well as the usual range.

The box office and bar staff were very welcoming, as you'd expect on a press night. Press nights are good for spotting celebrity thesps who attend to support their fellow actors. The downside is they laugh like hyenas and try to instigate standing ovations even when they aren't quite justified.

As it happened,The Gift of Lightning was thought-provoking as well as enjoyable and I gave it four stars in my review

The venue had about three times as many seats as the nearby the Union Street theatre, arranged in rows. I prefer the intimacy of theatre in the round, but in the Waterloo Rast's coffin-shaped space this would be well-nigh impossible

The play itself was short, giving us time to try for the pub, but it was so crammed and so noisy that once again we ended up in the basement bar called The Wellesley, on the main concourse of Waterloo Station

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Odious Comparison: Park Avenue Cat at Arts Theatre, Leicester Square and After the Dance on BBBC Channel 4.

It's a promising sign, I think, when a theatre programme consists of the complete text of the play.It promises a meaty plot you'll have to get to grips with later, or dazzling dialogue to savour at leisure. The last time I experienced this was at The Young Vic when Jane Horrocks starred in a fantastic production of The Good Woman of Schetzwan

But what a let down! Frank Stausser's joyless piece really isn't worth cramping your legs between the rows in the Arts Theatre for, even when the show lasts only an hour and a quarter. I felt relieved and ripped off at the same time.

The premise looks good: a Los Angeles psychotherapist is consulted by 41 year old model who can't decide whether to settle down and have kids with her staid middle-aged lover, or continue a passionate affair with a young playboy rich enough to have a pool and a butler.

Psychotherapist Nancy is played by Tessa Peake-Jones from Only Fools and Horses, who does a fine line in controlled exasperation. The older man, Philip, is Gray O'Brien, the mad-eyed charmer who terrorised Coronation Street's Gale Platt, and the model,Lilly, elegant Josefina Gabrielle, resembles a slimmer Nigella Lawson. The young millionaire Dorian has almost nothing to do but Daniel Wayna makes him plausible.

So what was missing? Only a credible plot, any hint of chemistry between the actors, or vestige of witty dialogue. Some amusement was provided by the phone voices of Nancy's other patients in crisis. Tess Peake-Jones wrung laughs from the contrast between the cheerful cliches of her advice and the irritation she was feeling at her clients' behaviour. It's a bad sign, though, when the scene changes are more entertaining than the play.

It didn't help, of course, that we'd watched Terence Rattigan's After the Dance, on TV the night before. Comparison was invited because it had the same insouciant attitude to relationships and a similar theme of a young woman caught between an older man's suavity and a younger one's ardour. The difference was the brittle half-amusement, half-depair, wholly engaging tone of the script; beneath the banter,there were real feelings.

While Anton Rodgers as the doomed writer doused his liver with whiskey and soda, Imogen Stubbs the dewy-eyed ingenue discarded her fiance to save him. Gemma Jones as the cast-aside wife put on a brave face while world-weary John Bird delivered witticisms from a sofa; all to a backdrop of an ongoing cocktail party and juicy gossip.

Speaking of cocktails, it's annoying that West End pubs are so crowded, inside and out; you can't face the fight to the bar, even to wash away the taste of a wasted evening.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

'Yes, awfully': For Services Rendered by Somerset Maugham at The Union Theatre

In my quest to find fringe theatres within half an hour of Lewisham, this was a real find. First a train to Waterloo East, then a walk to the other end of The Cut - a walk full of interest, too, passing The Old and Young Vic, popular pubs and lively pavement life.

A Latin American band played on the corner opposite the Old Vic.

The tiny theatre, with its scruffy cafe in front, is located near a railway bridge in Union Street. There's a licenced bar inside, but the cafe has a selection of cheap and cheerful baguettes and focacias, very welcome as we'd come straight from visiting the hospital at Camberwell.

The theatre interior was cosy - only about 50 seats, on three sides, but tiered, some comfortable cinema-style ones and some upholstered lecture-hall chairs. I just about managed the step up to seats in the second row to reach one of the cinema seats.I was glad of a companion to give me a hand down

I fancied seeing the play, too. I'm a fan of Somerset Maugham's short stories, although I'd only seen one of his plays before: The Circle at Greenwich Theatre a few years back, starring Googie Withers, an old screen favourite.

WS Maugham comes the same category as GB Shaw and JB Priestley - always reliable for a well-crafted play with a message.

I can't imagine the play much better done in the West End. The maid was slightly late on one cue - her part was a thankless task anyway - but it all added to the fun.

You can see my review on the Remotegoat website

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Moliere's Tartuffe at The Space, Westferry Road, Isle of Dogs

The Remotegoat website favours fringe venues, which suits me fine. I decided recently that sooner than go haring off to Islington, Camden and other points north I'd explore venues more local to me - theatres other than perennial favourites The Brockley Jack and The Greenwich Playhouse. Luckily, I live near the DLR, and The Space in Westferry Road seemed a likely prospect, a shortish walk from Mudchute station on the Isle of Dogs.

It's a building that started out as a Presbyterian church; now it's ornate of facade and shabby inside. The performing space is oval with double rows of chairs spaced in double rows around it. There couldn't have been more than fifty.

I was keen to see a performance of the classic French classic, Tartuffe, by Moliere.

The show was rambunctious, to say the least, so the chases round the auditorium had the added frission of making the audience wonder if chairs would go flying, or actors or audience members. Not to mention all the trailing wires from the hi-tec refurbishment. The rehearsals must have been fraught.

Tartuffe continues until the 16th July. There's a restaurant and bar, which I didn't try, but will next time.

You can see the review on the Remotegoat site by clicking here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rollicking Farce: Lend Me a Tenor:The Musical at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue

When a failing operatic troupe in the American mid-West decides to stage a performance of Verdi's Otello they hire a real Italian tenor, hearthrob Tito Merelli.(Michael Matus)

The skirt-chasing star arrives late, and quarrels with his jealous wife,(Joanna Riding) who leaves him, prompting his apparent suicide. Self-doubting but talented Max,(Damien Humley) a member of the troupe, is persuaded to take his place. Problem solved ....or is it? In the best traditon of farce, things can only become more complicated.

Exasperated empresario Henry (Matthew Kelly) oversees the mayhem in the funniest musical farce I've seen for some time. The groundwork for the final mix-ups and hilarious set-pieces are carefully laid down, the singing is superb and the dancing hellhops are a sheer delight. The tour-de-force operatic performance by Cassidy Janson in the second act will leave you gasping.

The programme features an unusual piece (lacking a byline) about plays that change their names and one by Antonia Fraser linking a royal wedding and Betty Blue Eyes That's another superb musical currently running at the Aldwych.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Candida by George Bernard Saw at the Greenwich Playhouse

I nearly didn't get to see this interesting play, which would have been a pity because I gave it four stars when I reviewed it for Remotegoat. The young man at the box office hadn't been notified that I'd be there and seemed to think I was trying out some get-into-theatres-free ruse.

When he finally relented he said he'd run out of programmes. I was flustered by then and said I couldn't do a review if I didn't have the names of all the participants. I was all for leaving and went back into the bar, but my partner persuaded me not to. Luckily, he's suave and tactful at times when I feel embarrassed and angry.

By then the young man had found a photocopy of the programme.

What made it worse was that there were only a dozen people in the audience, it being a Wednesday night. You could argue either way as to whether the box office man was conscientous or officious, I suppose.

In future, I'll note the name and number of the theatre contact, as supplied by Remotegoat, just in case the person at the box office is mistrustful. It wouldn't do me any harm, either, to copy some of my escort's manners.

Click here to read the review

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kicking over the Traces

I saw two films recently that appealed quite independently of any inherent merit; they reminded me that film for me is chiefly an escape into another world, enhanced (ideally) by womb-like warmth, darkness and silence except for what's happening on the screen.

In Water for the Elephants a would-be vet is just about to sit his final exams in a sepia-tinted library, where it seemed the students sat so close round oak tables they couldn't help but see one another's answers. Just as he's unscrewing his fountain pen some fusty old men in suits arrive to say his father is dead. Cut to where lawyers are explaining his father's farm is forfeited to pay debts. Cut to him jumping on a moving freight train at night and nearly gets beaten up - it transpires that he's leapt aboard a circus train.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides starts with Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow arrested for disguising himself as a judge. He ends up, manacled to a chair, in front of a bewigged Richard Griffiths as King George, in the wonderful painted hall at Greenwich Naval College. Cut to his escape in a coach through the grounds, with a startled dowager Judi Dench, then he's driving a truck of burning coals and scattering the street crowd.Cut to some sword play in a tavern. Cut to scrubbing the deck on a pirate ship, with the bosun's whip whistling round his ears.

I think you can forgive films almost anything if the openings are as exhilarating as this - minimal preparation and straight into the action. I came away from both regretting that I hadn't run away to the circus or to sea. Either seemed to promise a life that was colourful, companionable and full of incident.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Two classic plays: Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and GB Shaw's Candida

After two very different versions of Macbeth within a short time, Roy was apprehensive about my next choice of play to review for the Remotegoat website. I've taught the play a few times so I appreciated the novelty, but for someone who doesn't, the two very unusual interpretations were probably confusing.

Still recovering from a recent operation, I looked at the list of plays for review and picked out two classic plays that didn't involve too much travelling. I was a bit apprehensive all the same about A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Brockley Jack pub. It's a play more suited, I thought, to outdoor venues such as Regents Park Theatre. But the interpretation was superb. Thinking about it, although it's all outdoors the action takes place in a wood at night, so the slightly spooky atmosphere the players and the venue helped create was entirely appropriate. I gave it five stars.

The full review can be seen here

The production made me see the point of a play that I knew well but never really liked or understood, so it deserves the accolade.

The other 'classic' at Greenwich Playhouse was one I hadn't seem before - GB Shaw's play Candida is apparently rarely performed, but the Playhouse seems to specialise in classic revivals - good for me because, as with The Brockley Jack, it only takes me about fifteen minutes to get there.

I have fond memories of Shaw, as my first amdram role with the 'Castaways' in Penge was as a maid in Arms and the Man a play better known in its musical form as The Chocolate Soldier, just as Shaw's Pygmalion, is better known as My Fair Lady.

Candida is a perfectly structured play, although it suffers from Shaw's usual fault of characters seeming at times mere mouthpieces for his social reform ideas. The acting and direction were good enough to gloss over this aspect and I was thoroughly entertained so I gave it four stars.

The full review can be seen here

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Two Versions of The Scottish Play: Macbeth at The Greenwich Playhouse and The Tragedy of Macbeth at Charlton House

It's strange how a particular venue or a gimmicky detail can foreground certain aspects of a classic play. This was illustrated by two local productions I attended recently, within weeks of each other.

On April 7th I saw Shakespeare's Scottish play at the Greenwich Playhouse, the cosy studio space over a pub near Greenwich station and the DLR. An all-black cast were brilliant in a production that drew parallels between an ancient African kingdom and the belief systems of medieval England.

My review of the play appeared on the Remotegoat website (click to view)

More recently I went to a performance at Charlton House. A Jacobean manor house must be the perfect venue, I thought, for a performance of this darkest of Shakespearean tragedies. Best of all, it was on the bus route between Lewisham and Belmarsh.

Strangely enough, the venue had as many drawbacks as it had benefits. Or perhaps it wasn't so strange after all that a a purpose-built theatre is always going to score over a stately home, even one with a wrap-round minstrel's gallery.

This review also appeared on the Remotegoat website (click to view)