Thursday, November 01, 2012

Bullingdon Boy: Don Giovanni at The Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London

This experience was quite a change from my usual one at the Coliseum. Normally I sit in a cheap upper circle seat more often than not on the back row. A friend told me 'I can't go there - I have no head for heights'  There are advantages: a panoramic view of the big stage and being more or less level with the sur-titles. There's a magical quality to sitting almost within the splendid dome, almost touching  the gilded charioteers on either side of the stage. The acoustics are so good that none of the music is lost.

This time, being an official reviewer, I was in the middle of the stalls and even had to lift my eyes to read the sur-titles.

I'd nothing much to draw  on in terms of previous knowledge of the work : an amateur performance in Chiswick in which a friend sang  the dramatic Commendatore role  and  nearly caused a companion to jump out of his seat with surprise at the climax to the second Act. That was nearly twenty years ago and I couldn't remember much else about it.  So I watched a DVD of a film version directed by Joseph Losey to have something more recent to compare. Recent for me, that is - the film was made in 1979.

The film was beautifully shot in the grounds of an authentic Italian villa filled with amazing statuary. So this version, inspired by contemporary Spanish city suburbs, was quite a contrast. Political references struck nearer to home, presenting a womanizer with a sense of entitlement.

 My review is  on The Public Reviews website. When I read the Evening Standard reviewer's account next day I realised I should have said a lot more about the music, but to be fair the actual staging was pretty spectacular. It didn't quite overshadow the sound, but it bid fair to doing so.

The show seems to have improved  a lot  since its first showing in 2010, going by the reviews at the time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Before the Ships Set Sail: Iphigenia in Aulis at the Jack Studio, Brockley

I love going to this local theatre,  a short bus ride from where I live. The tiny space sparks innovative  productions and there's the added bonus of the  pub.

Lazarus Theatre Company specialise in re-interpreting classics in a non-realistic style,  incorporating dance and mime,  that suits Greek Tragedy.  Last year I saw them perform two adapted dramas, 'Electra, Her Life'  and 'Orestes, His Fall' at The Space theatre on the Isle of Dogs.

National dramas reflect national character, and Greece has been much in the news lately. So this dramatised debate about personal sacrifice versus the  public good strikes a  topical note.

Meant to be performed in an ampitheatre, how would this monumental prologue to the Trojan wars  fare in the tiny black box of the Jack Studio?

Here's my account on the website:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Buttoned-Up Decadence: Noel Coward's 'Volcano' at the Vaudeville

Just when you think there's no danger of exposure to  well-to-do characters who quaff martinis and stare into the middle distance or exchange banter with heavy sub-texts, along comes Volcano . I can't recommend this play for anyone who likes  a modicum of tension and drama with their plays.

This is another production where the programme notes are much more interesting than the work itself,  filling in some background to the  the dying days of empire .  The setting is  partly based on Noel Coward's home in Jamaica,  but also resembles the kind of South Pacific island that attracted writers and artists in the early twentieth century. In 1936 Coward had the distinction of being England's first tax-exile. It's a world of sleazy decadence made familiar by Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene and John Le Carre.

Volcano was never performed in  Noel Coward's lifetime, despite his success with Blithe Spirit,(1941)  Brief Encounter (1945)and Private Lives (1930). It's doubtful that it would have got past the censor as  one of the characters is gay. The central relationship is based on an affair between Ian Fleming and a wealthy female plantation owner, so a potential producer could have risked a libel action.

A more immediate  objection nowadays would be to the colourless characters and the lack of plot. Coward built his home in Jamaica but in keeping with the vogue at the time, the play is set in a fictitious island in the South Pacific.  Apart from a lot of talk and cocktail drinking as well as some wincing (after  an off-stage mule-trek  up the volcano), almost nothing happens.
The acting, especially by Jenny Seagrove as the banana plantation owner  in love with a philanderer, is fine. The characters themselves are so two-dimentional we don't really care what happens to them.
The best things about the production are the set and the atmospheric lighting - you really can  believe you are on the fictitious Pacific island of Samolo - although the absence of servants and labourers is bizarre. Surely Jenny Seagrove is a bit frail to run a banana plantation, even though we know she's only overseeing it until her boy comes back from public school.

Judi Dench's  daughter Finty Williams plays the bouncy half of a happily married pair, with a clear voice and some spirit but in this role there is nothing to challenge her.

I was interested to read that Coward's Home was called Blue Harbour - an adopted brand name for Marks and Spencer's range of Summer wear for men. Maybe the play has a connection to modern tax-dodgers, but the point is surely too obscure, and besides they tend to be all-too-involved with events at home instead of  lounging about on tropical islands

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Nasty Side of Naples: 'The Rover' at The New Diorama

I was curious to see how a large-cast play could fit into a space that was ideal for a one-woman show. Or so I thought the first time I was here a year or so ago.( The play  called, I think, 'Three Days of Grace' and was about a woman waiting for a fridge to be delivered. )

I was confident my companion would like the venue - a very modern theatre and bar in the swish Regents Place development off Marylebone Road.

The  box office assistant was taken aback because the press night was not until the next night and the programmes weren't ready. After some kerfuffle the director, a remarkably calm young woman in a long skirt, produced a cast list.

As it was  a hot night we sat out on some steps until the start time. Then we trouped into  a black box kitted out with tiered orange seats.  A strong odour came from a  thick layer of straw that covered  the acting area.

It was an odd,  an air-freshener smell that reminded me of a bathroom spray called 'Summer Meadows' . It turned out to be a metaphor for  sexual morality in  seventeenth century Naples. That and the costumes were the best thing about the production . The straw was scattered across the foyer by the time we left.  I hope they were less heavy-handed with the air-freshener on the press night. 

My review is on the Remote Goat website.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Death and Deadline: The Doctor's Dilemma by GB Shaw at The Lyttleton Theatre

Coincidences dog my footsteps, usually in a good way. Yesterday, the remaining entry  required to complete  a crossword was the name of a Michigan University town. I had some letters filled in:  A--  / A--o-. Two hours later, Roy read an article about finals of a  bridge tournament which took  place in Ann Arbour.

My favourite coincidence occurred in northern Spain, where I did a stint as a volunteer teacher a couple of years ago.  I bought book about the ancient city where I was living: a collection of part -literary part-historical essays . As I made for the door, the shopkeeper called 'El Maestro! El Maestro!' She introduced me to the author, an eminent local journalist and poet who just happened to be passing . He came back to the shop and  signed my copy. * The following week his daughter happened to be in a  class I ran for local Spanish teachers.  Carmen and I became friends.

I wish all  coincidences were so  pleasant, unlike the latest one that happened to me. GBS wrote The Doctor's Dilemma to prove that he could write a play about death. On the day I sat down to review it, my son reminded me that I was to attend the funeral of a family friend.

There was no way I could make the  mid-day deadline because I had to leave at 11am and didn't get back until 4pm.

The resulting review was rushed.  Never mind - here it is on  The Public Reviews website.

* There's an  account of this incident in the entry for Saturday October 24th 2009 in this blog


Monday, July 23, 2012

Psychadelic Whimsy: Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in Coram Fields

I must admit I do like to be entertained when I go to see a show, which is why I awarded five stars  to this freely adapted version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', seen at Coram's Fields last Saturday. A Beatles score and lots of slapstick may not be to everyone's taste, but it is to mine.
One reason I chose to review this show was the venue - I always fancy open-air Shakespeare in the summer, but there's a lot wrong with Regents Park as a venue.  It gets cold, mainly because the seats are so high up and you can feel as if you need a telescope as well as a sleeping bag, and the park gate allowing access to Baker Street tube is closes around nine. You end up walking what seems like miles to get to any public transport. This venue was a short walk from Russell Square or bus stops on Southampton Row.

One of the problems I faced with the Coram Fields  venue was getting any information about the seating arrangements. So we carried fold-up camping chairs on train and bus, which turned out to be unnecessary.

It was all very informal - a number of park benches were ranged in fronto of those gazebo-style tents with optional wall flaps that you buy in Argos or Wilkinsons. We had a bench to ourselves and wished we'd brought a picnic hamper instead of the folding chairs. The action of the play was punctuated with the popping of fizzy wine corks.

Coram Fields is named after a man called Sir Thomas Coram, who established a Foundlings Hospital on the site in 1739, which only closed in 1958, by which it had moved to Surrey. Most of the original building was demolished in 1928 and now it's a childrens playground,  so adults have to take a child with them   to gain access in the day time.  There's a Foundling Museum in nearby Brunswick Square. I'll be making a visit as soon as I can.

My review appears on The Public Reviews website. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Get Ahead of the Games says Mr Johnson

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love public transport in London. I think of it as a free show on the way to a show. This is  especially true since the invention of the mobile phone. I can't understand why people complain. In the past I'd sometimes listen in to dialogue conducted in a language I was studying. Nowadays I'm often treated to a stream of  novelty language, as a young woman scolds an errant boyfriend, or I overhear an exchange of confidential business details between suited gents.

.Just recently, like everyone else, I've had to listen to announcements by  Boris.  He tells us in an insistant voice that as we are about to welcome one million extra visitors a day to our city, we need to plan our journeys and 'get ahead of the games'. I'd have thought people already planned their the optimum route to work. I know I thought long and hard about alternatives when I commuted two hours there and back Lewisham to Twickenham on weekdays. I had to allow for delays and cancellations. Last Saturday it took me three hours to get from Chessington to London Bridge, because of a signal failure in Surbiton. It required some detours by bus and much waiting on cold damp platforms. It seems silly when I  can go from Euston to Preston, 200 miles, in just over two hours. And whatever happened to waiting rooms?

We've been pestered, too, by a series of cartoon images on posters and tube barriers. As if being  even more squashed will be fun, akin to  being an extra in a Disney film.

Thank goodness the only journeys I'll make will be outside  rush hours.  'Plan your journey'  must take the euphemism prize for 'Get up at the crack of dawn to have any chance of getting to work by lunch-time!'

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Musical Interlude: Summer Concert at St Stephen's, Gloucester Road

 A lot of people I know belong to church choirs so I've had it up to here with requiems. When my next-door neighbour, slipped a leaflet through the door, I wasn't overjoyed.  But we're keen to support her and we've enjoyed previous concerts by the group she belongs to, the Hanover Choir. The church is a short walk from Gloucester Road tube and  there's a homely welcome from the Welsh conductor plus  wine and mince pies or other refreshments in the interval. I like the added drama of the church setting.

I tend to daydream during classical concerts, preferring  operas and musicals.There was  a strong tradition of singing in pubs in my home town in Lancashire, one reason why I relate so easily to Terence Davies' films. Alternatively,  I'd like to have lived in the days when people gathered for genteel evenings that included card games, when people took turns to entertain the company by singing.One of my favourite scenes in Pride and Prejudice is where the over-eager Mary has to be reined in by Mr Bennett.

I do like Mozart, so I was pleased that the programme included a Mozart Vespers. He wrote it, according to the programme notes,to commemorate the  death of his pet starling. I liked the parallel Latin/English text, too. The  soprano soloist was slightly built but had a  suprisingly  sonorous voice, ideally suited to the church. The tenor soloist, a rather gaunt young man with glasses,  had a whole Schubert love song to himself.

The secular theme continued in the second half, which  included a  series of Aesop's fables set to music by a British composer called Ben Chilcott. I remembered reading some of them in school: The Hare and the Tortoise, The Fox and the Grapes, and the one where the sun and the wind who have a competition to see who can make a traveller take his coat off.

I hope this trend away from requiems continues.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Alarmed at The City Lit

I knew what to do when the fire alarm sounded at the City Lit last night: scarper. I've been in plenty of evacuations in 30 years of teaching, much of it during the IRA years in London. The worst place  for 'prank' alarms was Richmond College in Twickenham, a vast site with a couple of thousand students.  The most memorable include Debenhams in Oxford Street, Crystal Palace Swimming Pool and a hotel on the Costa del Sol in December down a smoke-filled stairwell. Nothing to do with the IRA, that one.

Quite apart from the delay while fellow students disentangled themselves from chairs with trays that swing over your knees, I was halted when the lecturer calling me back. The slowness of the progress down the stairs would have put the Spanish pensioners to shame. However, we were all out and back in again in fifteen minutes, so at least we didn't lose much tuition time.

On the bright side, I collected next year's amazing prospectus. The prices must be the cheapest in London.

Sadly, the scope of the one-off Film and Censorship session was far too wide for the time available - three hours - but I enjoyed the film clips, ranging from back and white Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931) through Dirk Bogarde playing a gay barrister in Victim (1960) to a rape scene in Clockwork Orange (1973)

The final clip was a very graphic and unpleasant episode from Polanski's Salo, only released uncensored in 2008. The lecturer, John Wisby, gave fair notice that the film content was pretty shocking and said students might want to wait in the corridor. So I was surprised when  two of them complained at the end. What did they expect?' Maybe it was delayed shock from the earlier evacuation.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Time for a Snooze: Michael Frayn's Democracy at The Old Vic

There are times when I'm glad  to take  notes  - it helps to keep me awake when a play, film or talk is dull or when the venue is  overheated. No such excuse with this one, and no note-taking required as I'd been offered cheap tickets at the last minute.

I've cut back on reviewing since a return to  to writing fiction.

 I didn't have high expectations, it's true, because political plays are my least favourite genre, but at The Old Vic last Saturday I slept through much of a very boring play.

Any doubts I'd had were softened by a positive view of the author's previous form. I know his comedy 'Noises Off' is highly praised for its current run in the West End, and I want to see it;  last year I was entertained on a long drive to Wales by an audio tape of Frayn's comic crime novel, Headlong,  about the theft of a painting. I remember reading his  funny column in  The Observer newspaper a while back.

This work seemed to defy all the obvious rules about theatre -except   Greek drama's rule that the action must take place off-stage.

Frayn  sets his play in Bonn, where twelve middle-aged men in suits, stand or sit in an office which occasionally converts to a first class train carriage. They talk and occasionally declaim.  One of the main characters is Willi Brandt, (Patrick  Drury)  Chancellor of West Germany, paving the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall. The other is a Stasi spy reporting back to his controller in East Germany . The controller is onstage, which serves two purposes. He's much younger and has a sixties  hair-cut, so that's some visual variety, and it allows the mole, Gunter Guillaume, (Ed Hughes) a mildly comic figure, to  give him a live  commentary on the action. The others have names like Horst and  Herbert and Helmut but it's hard to know which is which.

I learned a lot about German politics 1969-1974  from the programme, which is like a small text-book, with illustrations and a time-line. It wouldn't be fair to write more,  as I was asleep. The air-conditioning in the Old Vic was working fine; nothing to do with that.

Democracy by Michael Fryan continues at The Old Vic until July 28th

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Society's Pound of Flesh: Mary Shelley by Helen Edmundson at the Tricycle, Kilburn

I saw this excellent production at the Tricyle last Thursday but felt the evening was  jinxed.

For a start , the Ticycle isn't exactly round the corner from Lewisham and the weather was typical of what we've been having lately. So I wasn't too pleased to be told my name wasn't on the press list. If I'd been alone I'd have gone home and watched a recording of Vera. However, my companion was keen and the theatre people were apologetic and happy to squeeze us in.

Like most fringe theatres the Tricycle has unallocated seating and I cast resentful glances at   'press reserved'  labels from my upholstered bench on the very back row of the upstairs section. It's unusual for a fringe theatre to  an 'upstairs' at all, but going by the crowds at the Tricycle they have no trouble filling it.

It wasn't a brightly-lit play;  most of the indoor scenes were gloomy rooms above a bookshop where Mary's family jostled for space. The rest weren't much different:  a graveside; a stormy sea-crossing; a garret in Switzerland.

Anyway, there I was, thankful that I'd learned the technique of writing in the dark years ago on a  BFI film course -you use a flip notebook and your left thumb as a guide to write your way down the page. All very well until the  interval, when I discovered my pen had run out of ink about two pages into the play!

Two glasses of excellent wine in the interval and my partner's  spare pencil helped the second half along.  The programme included a complete copy of the text, so I  wasn't too much affected by the blank pages in my notebook.

It appears on  The Public Reviews website

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Honour Killing: The Duchess of Malfi at The Old Vic

This excellent production at The Old Vic has an imposing cathedral-like set that almost constitutes an extra character - one that is incredibily dark and menacing. It's as if all the forces of oppression are looming over the sole female of rank, a dignified and virtuous figure as portrayed  by Eve Best .

The powerful poetic text, and strong lead performances make for a very striking version of this often performed  but repellant play.

Like many Jacobean revenge tragedies, the story's set in Italy - a place of hot passion ( the sex scenes are explicit) and short tempers. Webster, according to TS Eliot, saw 'the skull beneath the skin' - in other words he was obsessed with death, usually of a particularly violent kind.

At the start, the  young Duchess of Malfi, widowed and childless, is warned by  her two brothers not to remarry without their permission. Their motives are not entirely clear, but 'honour' is a word that's frequently bandied about.

Unknown to them, she has already fallen for her handsome secretary; despite the disparity of rank, he responds and  they secretly  marry. However, her brothers have employed a spy, disguised as a groom, to report any suspicious behaviour. Her preganancy is disguised by 'a loose-bodied gown', but she's very partial to the apricots proffered by her tormentor, which he takes as proof that she's expecting. When the truth comes to light, the  younger brother Ferdinand plans a drawn-out and terrible revenge. The other one, a carnally-inclined Cardinal, has enough on his plate just trying to control his feisty mistress.

 One of the problems with this play has been to settle on the motivation.  It may be the brothers dread  a loss of social status or fear her fortune will fall into other hands; perhaps loyalty to the memory of the first husband influences them.  Most directors ascribe incestuous feelings to Ferdinand to account for the extremities of his behaviour.

It occurred to me, reading  recent newspaper reports of 'honour' killings, that a search for further motives is unnecessary. Critics claim that Webster's representations of cruelty and corruption were just reflections, as he saw it, of the society he lived in. While the notion of 'honour killing' might have seemed a historical relic,  in the light of recent cases it's easier to credit.The explanation for the cruelty is not particular to the case of the Duchess and her brothers but  a general reflection of what can occur when women resist control of their sexuality. 


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ripe for Plucking: The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov at The Rose Theatre, Kingston

Chekhov's portrait of a family in decline can make for tedious staging, but this productions injects a bit of comedy into the melange of languid characters waiting for something to happen.

When Madame Raneskaya comes back from Paris she exudes wealth and scatters rubles, but her estate's on the edge of collapse, as she's informed by  her hired business adviser, Lopakhin. Having risen from the ranks by his bootstraps one suspects he's less than sympathetic . But nobody in this dysfunctional family does anything quickly. The time when the harvest from the prodigious cherry orchard supported the family, their servants and a raft of hangers-on is past. Now the developers gather like vultures before the start of the  inevitable land auction.

Too bad the family will be forced to carry on their lives of relative leisure elsewhere, some more galvanised than others by historical changes. But it's the class they've hardly noticed and who've sustained their  existence who suffer most. 

Here's my review on The Public Reviews Website

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Kind of Co-dependency : Charles Dyer's  Mother Adam at Jermyn Street Theatre

Press nights at Jermyn Street Theatre seem to be packed with luvvies come to support their fellow thesps. They aren't hard to spot in the tiny 70 seat theatre down some steps in Jermyn Street. Last time I came it was for a musical version of She Stoops to Conquer, and I saw Stephen Fry and James Coden. The latter slept through the second half, which I thought was odd (and rude)  until I read that his wife had given birth to their first child three days before.

This time I saw one of my favourites, the actress who plays  Mrs Warboys in  One Foot in the Grave , in the row in front of me. Further along was another actress who played a very watchable Inspector Gina Gold in The Bill  Actors  certainly make an appreciative audience ; they know the hard work goes into making difficult parts acceptable, and always shout 'Bravo!' at the end.

Unlike the musical version of She Stoops to Conquer I saw here,  I wasn't so enthusiastic; but  a two-hander long enough to have an interval is a challenge for the  the actors . Speaking of intervals, I must say the white wine I half drank then was appalling. A saving grace was the Tesco Express opposite, on the corner of Jermyn and Lower Regent Street, where I bought a packet of spicy rice cakes and threw the wine and its plastic container into a bin. I don't think I should complain, though, because  if it weren't for the 'hospitality' I'd have to buy my own drink, or go without. Also, if the theatres didn't let me have a couple of free tickets in return for reviewing, I wouldn't be able to afford to go so often. Like the mother/son relationship depicted in the play, it's a kind of co-dependency.

Here's my review of the play on The Public Reviews website  

Monday, April 30, 2012

Kaleidoscopic Nightmare: Emoticon at the Brockley Jack Studio

This is another one I saw but failed to blog about at the time. I went with an ex-colleague who still lectures at the same local South London College I left in 2004. Even so, she gasped at some of the language. Even I thought it was pretty toe-curling, accustomed as I am to the grittiness of some fringe theatre shows. It reminded me a bit of a film called Romper Stomper,  (1992) but maybe it was a coincidence that the playwright was Australian.

I reviewed it for the Remotegoat website
Stalin-Crossed Lovers:  A Warsaw Melody  at the Arcola, Dalston

I must catch up with my blog
I must catch up with my blog
I must catch up with my blog

Something I never learn:  I can't be out and in at the same time. When I'm at home I'm usually sitting in front of the laptop; but having  made the review deadline I'm caught by some other attention-grabbing event. Maybe I should cancel my subscription to Time Out.

So I'm sorry it's too late to see this interesting historical drama, but here's my review  on the Remotegoat website

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not all Death and Decay: Damien Hirst Retrospective at the Tate Modern

I think the most impressive part of the Damion Hirst Exhibition is the huge statue that's been erected outside on the South Bank in front of Tate Modern. It's half-flayed to reveal musculature and organs, sharing a  link with the the bisected cow and calf inside. It reminded me of the statue in gold that was included in the RA Summer show, of the martyred saint who carries his skin like an overcoat draped over one outstretched hand. It's echoed too in some of the exhibits of medical models.

I can't get excited about  the early 'spot' paintings, although there is a visual link with the rows of coloured tablets, pill and capsules on glass shelves in rooms that focus on medical matters. I liked boxes of medicines, labelled with  exotic pharmaceutical names . It's sobering and sinister to see surgical instruments at whose purpose you can only shudder and guess. The point the artist makes - that death can only be held at bay by the application of science, not defeated by it, seems to be made in a heavy-handed fashion.

It's not all gloom and reminders of death and decay, though. There's a smaller room with slowly revolving disks splashed with glossy colour and a beach ball balanced on vented air like a perpetual seaside game. The circular forms echo the general theme of life-cycles, but these are everlasting, unlike the all-too fragile animal kind.

I liked similar disks of blue butterfly prints - maybe even real butterfly wings. There was a room specially kept humid so actual butterflies could be seen in aspects of their lifecycle, from pupae to flying around.  They seemed to suffer from torpor when I was there or maybe there weren't enough of them to be effective.

The notorious vitrines of rotting meat placed to simulate the life-cycles of flies were smelly because of the air-vents in the glass cases.  A giant ash-try gave off a suffocating odor that - deterred visitors  like myself who came too close.

Fish arranged to resemble a shoal were interesting, although to me the huge shark wasn't scary -it looked a bit like the one in the film 'Jaws' when the camera lingered on it too long. The skin was too dull and wrinkled and it looked almost as pitiful as the stuffed walrus in the Horniman Museum.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Quite a Find: Bankside Rose Production of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors

As I've  got older I've developed a preference  for theatres  within ten minutes' walk  of a  train station. The Rose Bankside is  near  London Bridge,  quite  near the more famous Globe, so quite fits the bill in that respect. I couldn't see the theatre on my mini-A-Z, but I knew how to get to Bankside.

I was lucky, too, because earlier the same week I visited the Tate Modern, where the Damien Hirst exhibition had just started. There's a lot of construction work going on around there, so I got lost among the back alleys, but by chance I spotted a poster on a stand outside a doorway festooned with leaflets. This was the entrance to the  Rose.

Right beside it was a flight of steps leading up to the south side of Southwark bridge, beside the huge Financial Times office block. I walked to the corner and saw that Southwark Bridge Road led onto Southwark Street, so I more or less knew that if I walked on I'd get to London Bridge station. On the right I recognised the Menier Chocolate Factory where I'd recently seen a play about Chekhov.

That time I'd got lost in these atmospheric backstreets, too, trying to find a pub to meet my companion and obstructed by a school playground. I keep meaning to get a newer version of the small A-Z that I carry in my bag.

It's a real handicap to have no sense of direction  - I even get completely lost inside buildings, turning left instead of right when I leave rooms.

When we left the Rose at the end of  The Comedy of Errors we didn't go up the steps. Roy went to school in the area, and was so familiar with it that he  led confidently  through Borough  Market to Southwark Street and we emerged almost opposite London Bridge station.
I was surprised  to learn that foundations of this late sixteenth century theatre were uncovered in 1989, during excavations for a new office block. Without the funding and the celebrity backing enjoyed by the Globe project, supporters struggled to develop the site.

By chance, the day after I wrote the review for the Remotegoat website I visited the Tate Modern again, and as I  passed the Rose I was thrilled to see extracts from my review had been pasted on both sides of the board outside the theatre.  It deserves to be much better known. (The theatre, I mean, although it wouldn't do my blog any harm, either)

Saturday, April 07, 2012

She Stoops to Theatre: Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer Filmed Live at the National Theatre

If all plays  were filmed to this quality and sent out  to cinemas, I don't think I'd ever see a live production again! The tickets cost a fraction of what you normally pay for the privilege of being squashed in an overheated auditorium peering round the head of the woman in front with a bouffant hairdo. There was some slight middle-class braying behind me, but not as much as you'd get in a west-end theatre. It all added to the atmosphere. 

I'd initially spotted it on the Cineworld website, and it made sense that it was to be shown in Stevenage. Give people who couldn't make it to London a chance. But for me it was easy enough, as the train only takes half an hour from Kings Cross and my Freedom Pass makes the journey cheaper.  'Don't bother to book', I said to a friend, which was foolish because it was almost immediately  sold out. What luck to find after all that I could see it in Hackney. I took a bus from London Bridge

Although my seat was in the middle of the fourth row I felt, according to camera deployment, that I was enjoying an overview of the audience in the vast bowl of the Olivier theatre, the whole  stage visible from a mid point at times, at others I felt I was  onstage with the actors . When Katherine Kelly, as Kate Hardcastle,  winked or when Hastings made a humorous aside it was in close up, but when the whole cast sang  and dance on on the wide stage, the camera panned away to show that too. There were two or three blips in the sound, but otherwise it was bell-like.

I  did think it was a pity when Katherine Kelly left Coronation Street,  although her acting was head and shoulders above everyone else's in the soap , except  the young boy who plays Peter Barlow's son.  Her role had lacked a proper storyline for quite a while, so she did well to switch to the stage - and what a stage.  There were times when she didn't quite know what to do (stand still was the answer) but her voice and gestures were excellent. John Heffernan was good as a nimble-kneed Hastings and David Fynn was the most assured Tony Lumpkin I've ever seen.

The actress who earned most applause was Sophie  Thompson, excellent  as Mrs Harcastle, the country bumplin wife who longs for city lights and fashions. She put on a series of pretentious accents and was once comically hoisted  from an ambitiously low curtsy.

In the armchair comfort of Hackney PictureHouse I was one of a  700-cinemas audience in 22 countries. Or so I was told by a presenter who appeared in a short film before the start, that  included an interview with the costume designer. This and an interview with  director in the interval were bonuses you don't get in the theatre. It  was, to quote Mr Hardcastle,  a 'Liberty Hall' experience,  and one I hope to repeat.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kept Waiting: Four Days of Grace at The New Diorama in  Regent's Place

It's not often that an off-west end theatre could be called smart, at least not the ones I usually attend. 'Efficient', yes, 'welcoming',  usually, but  'smart verging-on-glamorous' is definitely unusual.

Given the location, perhaps it's not so surprising. A three- minutewalk from Warren Street tube station,  it lies on the other side of Euston Road, in a newish  area of high-rise offices called Regent's Place. It's not far, either, from Regent's Park tube.

I sipped a cider in the sparky wine bar among a crowd of fashionable young office-workers,  with fashionably loud voices. The two sitting next to me, though, were actresses, evidenced by their gossip about auditions. It's usual for supporters to turn up on press night, so I wasn't suprised. I just hoped they wouldn't try to orchestrate a standing-ovation at the end of the play. (They did)

The theatre itself doesn't disappoint, with its nicely-raked rows of well-padded seats, upholstered in the theatre complex's signature orange. Studio theatres-in-the-round encourages an intimacy with the actors, but if someone tall sits in front of you it can be a problem. No need to worry about that here.

The play didn't disappoint either, with its instantly engaging  scenario - a perky young woman waits in her flat for a fridge to be delivered, and while she does she takes the audience into her confidence. As she waits, and chats, we learn with an increasing sense of dread about the events that have led up to this point.

Here's my review on The Public Reviews Website

Monday, March 19, 2012

When a  Plan  didn't  Come Together : Legally Blonde at  the Savoy Theatre and  Song of the Seagull at the Menier Gallery

It was a mistake to try to see two shows in one day, I admit, but the ensuing fiasco wasn't  entirely  my fault. I'd applied to review the Chekhov play well in advance but only got news about Legally Blonde the day before, and confirmation of tickets on the same day as the matinee.

Not a problem, though - I'd walk between the venues, and meet daughter Catherine at some backstreet pub near the Menier. We were  determined to spend  some 'quality time' together.  My Westminster Guide friend Joanna recommended one called the Gladstone in Lant Street that specialised in pies. I love pies, which is possibly why I've  had to lose some weight over the past few months. I reckoned that as I lost a stone I deserved a pie.

I can't say I was mad raving keen on 'Legally Blonde' but I'd quite enjoyed the film . It was slick, of course, and the choreography was excellent, also I love the Art-Deco style of the Savoy, not to mention that it's handy for Charing Cross. However, the chorus of High School friends was too loud and screechy.  The message seemed dubious to me, too - the heroine changes her dress style to be accepted at Harvard Law School but finally decides that reverting  to stereotype is empowering. I wasn't convinced.  I agreed with Miranda's Hart's preface in the programme there's nothing wrong with frothy entertainment, but to my mind this show's message was ambiguous, to say the least. My (male) companion liked it and the first two rows of the stalls gave it a standing ovation.

Never mind, there were pies and Chekhov to look forward to, in venues that were unfamiliar and therefore doubly attractive. I set off just after five, with plenty of time because the Menier Gallery show didn't start until 7.30pm. Unfortunately, I'd reckoned without my out-of date map and a tendency to get lost in what Catherine called the original Dickensian backstreets.

An hour later, I arrived at the pub, where the beautiful pies smelled rich and savoury. Unfortunately, a whole crowd of other people were in front of me and by the time I reached the counter there would be, I was told,  a thirty minute delay for pie service.

We couldn't risk missing the start, so we had to leave,  pieless. Catherine left the Menier reluctantly  half way through the show but I stuck it out to the bitter end, and  my ravening hunger was only  finally assuaged at  a Cornish pasty stall at London Bridge around 10.30pm. So not a good result for either of us. Quality time postponed.

It's a wonder, really, that I was able to concentrate on  the production, but I liked it so much I gave it a five star review. It's on The Public Reviews website.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Double Tragedy: The Duchess of Malfi at the Greenwich Playhouse

I love to attend London  Fringe Theatre performances in return for writing reviews and I'm especially happy to attend press nights at the Greenwich Playhouse. Over the past 17 years or so I've seen many excellent European classics in the inimate studio setting of the 80-seater theatre above a pub.

The Prince of Orange, as it used to be called, was located next to  Greenwich Rail and DLR stations.   The Galleon Theatre Company, under partners Alice de Sousa and Bruce Jamieson, who  undertook acting roles, directed and translated plays, guaranteed a modestly priced but thoroughly enjoyable night out.

The name of the venue is now Belushi's, no longer pub but a wine bar, with a backpackers hostel accessed to the rear of the bar, through the same door that leads to the upstairs theatre.

Earlier this year the owners announced they wouldn't  renew the the theatre lease.  It seems they prefer to expand the hostel accommodation in time for  the London Olympics.

At the end of the Press Night performance of The Duchess of Malfi,  star and producer Alice de Sousa asked the audience to write to Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford and their local council members to request support in finding  a new venue  in the borough.

It's a tragedy that a long-standing  institution should be threatened with disappearance for the sake of a one-off event which seems to have very little local support.

My review of The Duchess of Malfi appears on The Public Review website

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Brighter Shade of Yorkshire: David Hockney at the RA


There's no doubt about it, even in a mild winter London is dim and dismal.  When I see TV images of East Yorkshire, though, usually covered by floodwater or threatened by gales, I count my blessings.This happens when a friend, currently  teaching abroad, makes her twice-yearly return  to check on the house that her mother left her, in a village near Hull. I wondered what she'd think of David Hockney's portrayal of her home territory, which contradicts the wind-swept greyness  I remember from my visits.

I'm not really a Hockney fan. His enormous red canvases depicting the Grand Canyon, in a previous exhibition at the RA, seemed flat and lacked drama, which was strange, given the subject's potential. I was underwhelmed, too  by  a giant 'stand of trees' on walls surrounding a staircase at Tate Britain, which seemed to stare back at the viewer in the same insipid manner.

Hockney was apparently inspired to by  road journeys to make these pictures -much of the exhibition is filled with iPad sketches he made while sitting in his car. It's true he sat outdoors when the weather permitted, but even that must have been for brief spells only.  

I attended one  of the preview days of this new exhibition  at the RA,  and was astonished.  Wandering through room after room of these oversized, brightly coloured canvases was like taking a stroll in a magic kingdom. In  depicting the landscape  around his home town of  Bridlington,  Hockney imbues the northern landscape with the brightness of California.

Looking  at  these  technicolour, one might almost say garish, depictions, they   remind  us that when it comes to art what we see is not so important as what  we imagine. It's as if the artist has put the gloss of American glamour over a landscape that too often  seems rather drab and depressing; as if Gauguin painted French landscapes with a  Polynesian palate.

I hate it when people say of a film 'it was nothing like the book' - I want to say, 'Why should it be?'  So I don't know why I should object that these paintings are nothing like East Yorkshire. In fact, I like them much better - they're a definite improvement on the original, in my opinion.

The exhibition continues to April 9th

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Lot  to Sing About: 'Next Time I'll Sing to You' at The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

I saw this play last November and forgot to post the blog. A recent visit to Richmond's other theatre (see below) reminded me to look it up.

This must be one of  the best fringe theatres venue in London. For a start, the well-padded seating is arranged on four sides of a smallish central space, so the audience is never far from the actors.

The technical apparatus is good so that  minimal staging is enhanced by state-of-the-art lighting and sound  There's a bar serving reasonably-priced drinks, for, as is often the case with  fringe theatres, it's  attached to a well-attended  pub.

This venue scores well for other criteria, too - it's  within a short walk of a tube/ train station, has an efficient and pleasantly manned box office,  and  a cosy  foyer decked  with photos of previous productions.

The  programme contents were excellent, giving  information about the background and origins of the play and the writer's inspiration plus actor biographies and and a potted theatre history. It certainly eases a reviewer's task.

Here's my review of the play on The Public Reviews website