Monthly Archives: October 2013

Macbeth – Bridewell Theatre

“Can amateurs really do Shakespeare as well as professionals?  Is it going to be any good? ”  These two questions were niggling in the back of my mind as I sat down in the intimate Bridewell Theatre for a steampunk themed Macbeth.  A friend was stage-managing and the photos looked awesome, so I had high hopes.  Perhaps this time to understand it (my last dalliance and with The Scottish Play was at the Globe, everyone bar Lady M were wearing tuxedos and I couldn’t even tell which one was Macbeth, let alone any others).

The steampunk military and mechanical styling with dramatic lighting work well as as a setting – the attention to detail is pretty impressive given that they don’t have a megabucks West End budget. But this is a show with both style AND substance. Director Chloe Faine (having played Lady Macbeth herself) has chosen a strong and capable cast – it is clear that she has a good grasp of the play and how to best present this to modern ears.

Sarah Peachey and Daniel Bogod

Macbeth (Daniel Bogod) is suitably gutless; while he has some glimmer of ambition to be king, he doesn’t really have the drive to go through with the murder, nor is he that comfortable even when he seems to have got away with it.  With every subsequent murder, he becomes ever more desperate to hold onto his crown, to fulfil the witches’ prophecy.  His cause isn’t helped by his malevolent wife, Lady Macbeth (Sarah Peachey) who switches between sultry and scheming with great ease, trying every possible method to get her husband to grow a pair.  She holds great command of the stage and her soliloquies show her as a single-minded woman, hell-bent on being queen at any cost.

The gruesome task is made no easier by the fact that he has to kill Duncan (Will Harrison-Wallace) who makes for a very engaging, warm-hearted king.  Duncan’s son, Malcolm (Douglas Baker) has a cherubic face and plays the part with great naivety, still young enough to want to stick to his ideals, not yet corrupted by the machinations of politics.

It is of course Hecate and the weird sisters (Robert J Stanex, Sarah Beebe, Sarah Heenan and James Bretherton) who play a pivotal role, indicating to Macbeth his possible options – the simple act of sliding on and off their single spiked welding goggle indicates to the audience when they are invoking their magic and when they are blending into the crowd. Their only agenda seems to be to wreak havoc and mischief in the mortal world and their presence is deliciously unnerving.

Robert J Stanex, James Bretherton, Daniel Bogod, Sarah Heenan and Sarah Beebe

Banquo (Christopher Warren) makes a gentle giant of his character – tame, without being a pushover. His murder simply fuels Macbeth’s unease with what he has started. Macduff (Stuart McMillan – originally from Glasgow) laces his lines with rich Highland tones and there is a great contrast between his initial calmness and his descent into furious rage at the murder of his wife, Lady Macduff (Fran Rafferty) who makes a great job of a very small part.  This production doesn’t pull its punches on the gore; the gutteral groans as she is mercilessly butchered by the witches genuinely turned my stomach.

The sword fighting towards the end did seem a little careful at times, but once the foils were knocked from their hands, the violence of bare-hands-combat is tangible, with the two men stamping on feet and booting each other in the ribs.  This is a very accessible production of the play, delivered with great understanding – the haunting doom-laden steampunk styling is a nice touch, but this still deserves to be seen in its own right.  I will be keeping an eye on Sedos (they are the resident theatre company at the Bridewell) – their upcoming 2014 season appeals to me.

Macbeth is on at the Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8EQ until Saturday 2nd November including a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.  More information and tickets available from http://www.sedos.co.uk 

Mojo – Harold Pinter Theatre

mojo 1This has been a difficult play to review because I still keep changing my mind over whether I liked it or not.  Without question, it has a strong cast, it’s well acted and wickedly funny – it had me absolutely helpless with laughter at some points.  But, as with some plays (and it is important that such plays exist), none of the characters are particularly endearing and not a lot really happens.  All of the action that steers the play has happened several hours before, somewhere else and we are now watching the aftermath.

Mojo plunges us into a seedy underworld of neer-do-wells in late 1950s Soho just as rock’n’roll is starting to explode onto the London music scene.  For the boys at the Atlantic Club, there’s money to be made, drugs to push, territory to defend and an endless stream of liberal-minded girls.  When a rival gangster Mr Ross murders Ezra (their club owner) in a very grisly manner and teen heartthrob Silver Johnny has gone missing, Mickey, Sweets, Potts, Baby and Skinny start to wonder if one of them could be next, so decide to barricade themselves into the club for the weekend.  The claustrophobic atmosphere means that the cracks between them start to appear very quickly.  As if the situation itself wasn’t bad enough, they’re trying to deal with it whilst assortedly hungover, still buzzing and/or on a comedown (or any combination of the three).

It takes a little while to tune into the dialogue and vernacular of ‘Laaandan’, partly because it’s very naturalistic with people shouting over each other and partly because it’s drug-addled nonsense. Potts (Daniel Mays) is a brash, cocky wideboy – very much the character of the gang – who seems to be incapable of standing still and constantly chips in with whatever is running through his head.  A lot of it, utter crap.  But very funny crap.  Everything from another man’s shoes “penny loafers.  NO tassels.”  to the correct use of linguistics:  “…in the bins, by the bins, what f***ing difference does it make?!  He’s been sawn in ‘alf!”  He also has one of the best lines of the play, talking about the girls who get so excited by Silver Johnny that they soil themselves: “anything that makes polite young ladies come their cocoa in public is worth taking a look at!”

Daniel Mays – Potts

It’s often difficult for screen actors to make the transition to theatre, but Rupert Grint (best known as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films) thankfully cuts the mustard in his stage debut.  Sweets is vaguely reminiscent of Ron, but with more pills and swearing.  He is both gormless and always slightly wired.  Grint is blessed with the sort of natural comic timing that cannot be taught – he is on stage almost constantly and manages to be funny even when he’s not saying anything.

Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, Cloud Atlas and Richard II in BBC’s series The Hollow Crown) plays Baby, a deeply troubled and complex character, with astonishing skill; one minute a playful ingenue, then quietly vulnerable, then dangerously volatile. The change is so subtle that you don’t notice it until he’s gone from gentle boy to threatening someone with a cutlass and calling them a c*** within a few syllables. The violence is terrifyingly realistic; too often stage fighting can look choreographed and placed – this looks far more visceral and spontaneous.  And who knew that buying toffee apples as a gift could be so menacing?!  Whishaw also pulls off some very Elvis-esque crooning with great aplomb.

Ben Whishaw – Baby

Skinny (Colin Morgan, Merlin in the BBC series of the same name) is the lost boy of the gang; with no real identity of his own, he copies Baby’s hair and style – at a glance they’re almost indistinguishable from each other.  Morgan plays him with a great desperation to fit in and be liked.  His final scene starts off being blackly funny “oh no, I’ve got blood on my shirt…. my teeth feel all wobbly.” then slowly moves to being quietly harrowing.  The vibration in his voice is quite something.

Mickey (Brendan Coyle, Mr Bates in Downton Abbey) has a menacing undercurrent which he mostly keeps under wraps. He comes across as emotionally hollow, a man who puts business before anything else.  Even when all the others are losing their heads in a delirious haze of amphetamines, he is silently mulling things over, not even giving anything away to the audience.  Special mention should also go to Silver Johnny (the devastatingly beautiful Tom Rhys Harries) who appears briefly at the start for some rock’n’roll posturing and posing, vanishes for most of the play, and then spends the best part of 20 minutes strung up by his ankles.  A small, but surely physically demanding part.

The only trouble with this play is it is LONG.  The first half is loaded with pace and quickfire dialogue and it keeps you laughing frequently at some pretty grimy subjects – the sort where your moral compass looks at you with absolute disdain and you know that you should feel terribly guilty (but somehow, you don’t).  The the second half has some truly inspired lines like: “Yeah, I came down the chimney.  Like f***ing Father Christmas.”, but once the laughs stop coming, the whole thing feels like it’s starting to sag and it has no sign of resolution.  It could’ve easily been 10 minutes shorter with no detriment to the overall play.  It is a good play and it is well done.  As it happens, I liked it; I just didn’t love it quite as much as I wanted to.  I suspect a lot of people will see this based on the casting and the hype – do go, but make up your own minds.

Mojo is currently in preview at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, LONDON, SW1Y 4DN and officially opens on Wednesday 13th November; it is currently booking until Saturday 25th January 2014.  Contains frequent use of very strong language.  For more information and tickets, go to http://www.mojotheplay.com/

Roots – Donmar Warehouse

I briefly studied a few excerpts from Roots by Arnold Wesker when I was at sixth form college – it was chosen to give us an example of the ‘kitchen sink drama’.  It forms part of a trilogy which also includes Chicken Soup with Barley (which I saw at the Royal Court a couple of years ago) and I’m Talking About Jerusalem.  That was 14 years ago and this is the first time I’ve ever seen the play performed.  It concerns Beatie, a girl in her early twenties who has left her family’s rural life in Norfolk to go and work in London, where she has met – and fallen in love with – Ronnie Kahn, a character in Chicken Soup With Barley.  She has returned to Norfolk for a fortnight to visit family and to introduce Ronnie to them when he visits the following Saturday.

The play itself is delivered at a rather slow speed and I suspect this is deliberate; Beatie (Jessica Raine, Call The Midwife) has spent 3 years in the hustle and bustle of the big city, so her return to the family farm and their leisurely pace of life is quite a shock for her.  Raine is bold and impetuous, her head filled with all the socialist ideas that Ronnie has told her about, constantly quoting him in a bid to impress them, but her family don’t care much for politics or revolutionary thinking (or culture or art or music – so instead they’re quietly bemused by her newfound obsessions).  Her downtrodden sister Jenny (Lisa Ellis) is rather more resigned to her fate – she is a single mother and has married for convenience and no other reason.  Jenny’s husband, Jimmy (Michael Jibson) is quietly dour and bland, but he earns a wage and keeps a roof over their head – that really is all he has going for him.  He and Beatie are quite at odds with each other, she with her yearning for romance, he with his total contentment with its absence.

Their mother, Mrs Bryant (Linda Bassett, Calendar Girls) gives one of the most incredibly subtle performances with a very thick Norfolk accent; a woman who has never known any other life than the one she has, a neverending stream of housework and peeling vegetables – she is constantly busy doing something, but without any sort of urgency.  She can’t even begin to grasp why Beatie is so disappointed in her lack of ambition for greater things or thirst for knowledge – she has her own little equilibrium and routine, so these things have never crossed her mind.  Her husband Mr Bryant (Ian Gelder, Game of Thrones) is perpetually grumpy and miserly – he goes around switching off lights to save on the electricity bill with a Scrooge-like demeanour, refusing to let Beatie use the oven to bake a cake.

But it is the final scene which provides the great drama of the play; the whole family have gathered including the filthy-minded Frank (Carl Prekopp) and his condescending wife Pearl (Emma Stansfield) to meet the infamous Ronnie.  There is a gargantuan trifle on the table and the anxious Beatie has made everyone promise to be on their best behaviour and make a good impression.  The small talk becomes ever more strained as we see that this is a family who are actually quite happy without conversation – their lives are so full of getting by and making do that communication is quite a rarity.  They wait and they wait.  And they wait.  All are clearly desperate to dig into the massive teatime spread, but they are not without manners, so they wait.  Until finally a letter arrives.  I was expecting rather more crippling embarrassment on the part of Beatie, but perhaps again this is deliberately done to keep the subtlety.  She finally makes her feelings known to all in a choked emotional display of disappointment.  With her family, her upbringing, her education and their indifference to the wider world and everything it has to offer.

There is something rather apt about this play given that this week, Julian Fellowes publicly admitted that he adapted the language of his forthcoming film Romeo and Juliet “to make it more accessible.”  He went on to say: “to see the original in its absolutely unchanged form, you require a kind of Shakespearian scholarship to understand the language…… I can do that because I had a very expensive education, I went to Cambridge.”  But this is precisely what Beatie is driving at in her final speech – that the well educated think that those lower down the scale need to have things dumbed down for them and that her family are just as entitled to culture as anyone else, but because they accept what they’re given without question, that’s all they’ll ever get.  I still have my script, so here are some of Beatie’s final words:

“If they want slop songs and film idols we’ll give ’em that then.  If they want the third rate, blust!  We’ll give ’em that then.  Anything’s good enough for them ‘cos they don’t ask for no more!  The whole stinkin’ commercial world insults us and we don’t care a damn.  Well, Ronnie’s right – it’s our own bloody fault.  We want the third rate we got it!  We got it!  We got it!”

Roots is at the Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, LONDON, WC2H 9LX until Saturday 30th November 2013.  Tickets available from http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/

Theatre on Screen

Earlier this year, Premium tickets to see Dame Helen Mirren in ‘The Audience’ in the West End were the eye-watering price of £126.00.  Yes – One Hundred and Twenty Six Pounds.  EACH.  Now I love the theatre and I think Mirren is an incredible actress, but even their cheaper tickets were steeply priced.  Yet I managed to see this wonderful play for a mere £10 with a very good view of the stage – welcome to the world of National Theatre Live which allows you to see selected West End plays for the price of a cinema ticket.

NTLive screenings may lose a little of the atmosphere of being in a theatre, but they make up for it enormously with a mix of camera angles from around the auditorium – even birds-eye-view shots from directly above the stage – and close ups of the actors faces at poignant moments.  You even get an interval (and the opportunity to eat ludicrously overpriced ice cream).  ‘The Audience’ may have finished its screenings for the time being, but from 31st October is ‘Frankenstein’ by Nick Dear which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller who jointly won the Olivier Award for Best Actor in 2012 after their critically acclaimed performances where the two of them alternate the roles of Victor Frankenstein and The Creature.

Frankenstein

I am already booked to see this at my local cinema in Surrey, but screenings are also showing at selected cinemas nationwide and even internationally.  Upcoming shows include ‘War Horse’, famous for its breathtaking work by the Handspring Puppet Company.  For further details of upcoming screenings and cinemas, go to http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

Another useful resource is Shakespeare on Screen, live recordings of plays from Shakespeare’s Globe – over the summer I took great pleasure in going to the cinema (Vue at Purley Way, Croydon – again £10 for a cinema ticket) to see Henry V starring Jamie Parker and Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry, both of which I’d seen in 2012, both stunningly good productions.  While sitting in a dark cinema will never quite match standing in the Groundling pit at the Globe, it’s still cheaper than purchasing the DVDs which are currently retailing at £19.99 from the Globe Shop.  I’m not a skinflint, honest.  Here’s a tidbit from Henry V:

But it’s still possible to go cheaper.  Digital Theatre.  For just £3.99 (yes, three pounds and ninety-nine pence) you can get a 48-hour rental of various shows which have appeared in London’s West End and further afield – I’ve even found a handful of shows available for as little as £2.99!  Sign up for a free account at http://www.digitaltheatre.com/ and rented plays will stay in your online library for 30 days – you then have 48 hours from the time you first hit ‘Play’ in which to watch it.  Prefer something more permanent?  You can buy a play for £8.99 (or £10.99 in HD) and it’s yours to keep and watch offline at your leisure.  There’s a great deal of variety on there – productions from Shakespeare’s Globe, operas, ballets, musicals and plays.

Think of the benefits! no need to wolf down dinner at a chain restaurant in order to get to the theatre on time, no worrying about making the train for the long commute home – you don’t even need to be in London in the first place.  If you have children, you don’t have to mess about getting a babysitter – OK so we can’t promise you an uninterupted evening of drama or comedy, but you can hit the pause button, just as with anything on Catch Up or DVD.  You could watch your download morning, noon or night and quite honestly, if you’ve got a laptop, why not watch it in bed?

So it was on Saturday morning (still in pyjamas and armed with a mountain of toast) that I sat down at my PC to watch ‘Lovesong’, a one-act play by Abi Morgan (most famous for writing BBC’s The Hour and the screenplay for The Iron Lady – she was the only Brit to win anything at this year’s Emmy Awards) produced by Frantic Assembly, a theatre company I briefly studied at university.  This play intertwines a couple in their twenties with the same man and woman a lifetime later.  Their past and present selves collide in this haunting and beautiful tale of togetherness.”  A very moving piece of theatre which cleverly intersperses snippets of contemporary dance with dialogue, giving an honest portrayal of what it is to grow old together.  This clip should give you a good idea of the filming quality you can expect:

Once again this has all the advantages of the view from the best seats, the many camera angles and close ups – whilst being able to watch this on your own terms, in your own home – with your own reasonably priced ice cream.