That 'tache really says ‘dodgy geeza’.
… to you, maybe
He is playing Brutus.
Don’t you mean…Q-tus???
The power of Christ compels me to say that ‘The Exorcist’ is an interesting play, but not as successful with the story as the film was.
The cast give it 100% but some of the theatrics are a bit too theatrical. Jenny Seagrove and Peter Bowles have had long careers and the rest vary in experience (I recognised a couple of familiar, character actor faces) but don’t hold back.
But it’s not well paced, and some of the theatrics are a bit too theatrical. There are jump scares, and they work, but the most effective bits tend to be the conversations.
It’s not secret that the voice of the demon this time is Sir Ian McKellan and he is, of course, brilliant. The role has more dialogue, and without all the distortion that Mercedes McCambridge brought (very effectively) to it in the film, it’s far more about a persuasion and seduction than before. This demon grooms people, starting with Regan, and it’s horribly creepy.
So, not a great success IMHO but your mileage may vary though, as I heard a lot of other people in the audience (after the performance) talking about how scary it was!
And the performance was pretty much sold out, at 4pm on 2nd January. True, I got my ticket on a special offer, but they’re clearly bringing in the crowds.
I actually went to the theatre today. First time in about a decade (well, that’s for anything at the theatre in general, for a play, even longer). Got the last ticket for The Play That Goes Wrong afternoon matinee at the Cheltenham Everyman.
It was an excellent production. The design of the set and props is fantastic, with a potentially deadly second floor that is used to great effect and some surprisingly brave and destructive slapstick (including a Keaton window gag, which you really have to know your stuff for). The writing is superb, as sharp as their Peter Pan Goes Wrong for TV last Christmas. The cast was brilliant too, not least because they’re touring replacements for the main company. I actually mistook a few of them for their counterparts from the main company (who were on the TV versions). The changes weren’t detractions (apart from one minor bit) and served to show the difference an actor can make on how you perceive a character.
Max (the crocodile in Peter Pan) felt quite different here for instance, as his over-acting and pandering to the audience’s reactions felt less like the childlike innocence suggested by his original actor and more like the class clown, feeding his ego on attention, but both work perfectly well.
I think the one casting change that transformed the piece in a way that didn’t entirely work is with Sandra, the hammy, giving it 110% actress (Mrs Darling in Peter Pan). In the original cast, she’s played by a larger lady and there’s an element running through this play where Max is horrified at the prospect of having to kiss and get at all physical with her (I assume on a “oh she’s so ugly revulsion” note). But the actress playing Sandra here is traditionally attractive, shall we say, so the foundation of those moments (questionable as they are) is missing, thus undermining them. I think at one point Sandra is supposed to barge Max with her cleavage (while in her underwear) and the slimmer actress here isn’t really able to pull it off. It’d be like doing the Vicar of Dibley with Emilia Clarke as Geraldine.
But what I found really impressive with this and across their other productions, is how Mischief manage to build well realised characters out of the inept actors just through the cracks in their performances. Everything is working on two levels, the absurdity of the murder mystery they’re doing and the failings of its realisation but also how the individual characters deal with that. Annie, the stagehand who gets drafted into the play for instance, is thoroughly charming as she works out the role she’s been thrust into as she does it, and starts to really get into it and overact.
Aside from absolutely destroying my knees in the tiny legroom seats of the balcony, The Play That Goes Wrong was definitely worth catching and I’m really keen to book for the same company’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery when it’s near me later in the year.
I always forget to post in this thread.
Dennis Kelly wrote a play called The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas a few years ago. It was over three hours long, rather tedious, the seating plan meant it was incredibly difficult to escape from it, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever forgive him. However, he also adapted Matilda, and that means he’s still got quite a bit of capital in the bank. So, went to see his new play this week, Girls and Boys, at the Royal Court. And bloody hell, it was amazing. It’s a single hander, with Carey Mulligan being absolutely extraordinary, as she tells the story of how her character fell in love, and what happened after that. It - the play and the performance both - is smart, deft, funny and, ultimately, absolutely bloody brutal. Mulligan grabs the audience from the first minute and bounces them between the palms of her hands, until the ending, following which the entire audience were on their feet for a standing ovation as fast as I’ve ever seen. (I don’t DO standing ovations very often (and in fact, the last time I got to my feet this fast, was also for a one-woman show at the Court, Kate Tempest, who’s also an absolute fucking legend). I think this run has sold out already (Royal Court runs are always short and, when they get it right, RC new plays are like little nuclear bombs detonating on the theatre landscape) but if it transfers, and I hope to god it does, and you’re in London, absolutely worth getting a ticket to watch Mulligan and Kelly’s captivating play.
(The Royal Court, incidentally, is one of my favourite things about living in London)
Other plays what I have done seen so far this year:
Nicholas Hytner’s Julius Caesar was a great production of a play I find a bit problematic … it’s all fine until everything falls apart but then, unfortunately, so does the writing. Still, it’s Shakespeare, so tally ho and all that. Hytner’s production shows off even more of the capabilities of the Bridge, his new theatre at Tower Bridge, with a significant part of the audience promenading (as the Roman proletariat effectively), and the stage rising and falling around them as the action migrates. It worked very well … as did the updated feel. The Bridge’s audience is still about half made up of NT-traditional Home Counties set of a certain age, many of whom took umbrage at the first five minutes of the production being a live gig (as if at a political rally) … the guy sitting in front of us stuck his fingers in his ears and looked utterly disgusted as the walls shook to Seven Nation Army, which made me laugh. Anyway, also a great cast, with Michelle Fairley excelling, and Ben Whishaw bringing his, well, Whishawness to Brutus (I am very fond of Whishaw, so this is fine)
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a new musical about a gay teenager in Sheffield who wants to be a drag queen (and so has to come out all over again), written by Tom MacRae (who wrote the not-that-good-really first Cyberman 2-parter for the new Doctor Who), with the songs written by Dan Gillespie Sells, from The Feeling. I’m not usually that bothered by musicals BUT this was a huge amount of fun.
Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Kathy Burke, and starring Jennifer Saunders amongst others. Not that impressed - it felt very staid, and I’d expected something a bit less conventional from Burke. Saunders was clearly enjoying herself, but lots of the rest of the cast looked as if they definitely weren’t.
The Brothers Size at the Young Vic, by Tarell Alvin McCraney (who wrote Moonlight). This was also absolutely amazing and, like Girls and Boys, one I confidently expect to be in my plays of the year in December. Cast of three - two brothers, one just out of jail, and a guy who that brother befriended in jail. It touches on some of the same themes as Moonlight (and one key scene is structurally very similar as well), but this is far more a play about brotherly love. Impeccably acted, and emotionally taut, another one where the packed house were utterly silent for almost the entire duration of the play. And its central scene, set to Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness, was beautifully done.
The Birthday Party, by Pinter, revived AT the Pinter, with a great cast (including Toby Jones, Zoe Wanamaker, Pearl Mackie and Stephen Mangan). I’ve never actually seen The Birthday Party performed before. It’s a gloriously weird play. No-one, whether characters or audience, has the faintest fucking clue what the hell’s going on, but that isn’t really the point. Well, it is the point. But it doesn’t matter. Pinter was a very odd man. Mangan can be a very funny man when he wants to be, and Jones/Wanamaker were both their usual excellent selves. Pearl Mackie didn’t get that much to do … but good to see her out of the TARDIS.
Five Guys Named Moe. We got free tickets to this, and hated it so much we walked out at the interval. It’s getting decent reviews, but it just feels like a horribly dated piece of writing now and the performances weren’t (in my opinion anyway) that good, so much so that even the music couldn’t lift it.
The Good Doctor, a revival of the Neil Simon take on Chekov’s short stories that was a Broadway hit a few decades ago, done by a small theatre company showcasing up and coming young London actors. Simon and Chekov is a great combination and (though not quite at Pinter levels) the slight surreality of the stories bouncing off each other works really well. I always forget how much I like Neil Simon.
Plus a revival of Abi Morgan’s Tiny Dynamite, a three-hander about a pair of friends and their relationship with a woman while on holiday, in one of my favourite wee London theatre spaces, the Old Red Lion in Islington (it’s a pub theatre, so it’s tiny, up above the pub, but when a company really use the space well, it’s remarkably effective) The interesting twist with this revival was that they swapped the gender of one of the friends (two men in the original, here a man and a woman) and made it work surprisingly well.
Which, all in all, isn’t too bad a start to my theatregoing year. Well. Apart from Five Guys Named Moe.
This is also excellent and has the best perspective scene I’ve ever seen in a theatre.
Rather neglectfully, I seem to have been blissfully unaware of the existence of an entire Tennessee Williams play, so when I ended up at it tonight it was like a completely new play. Which is always a pleasant surprise.
Anyway, Summer and Smoke. V well done production of a play which I suspect in the wrong hands could go badly wrong. This didn’t. Gorgeous staging, and a great pair of leads (Patsy Ferran, who’s always ace, and Matthew Needham, who I think I’ve seen in a smaller part in something but not a name I recognise). And it’s Williams, so it’s soulful and sweltering and Southern and sultry and sad. Perfect antidote to a slightly chilly London evening.
The Humans - The best one word description I can give for this play is “anxiety”. It covers the Thanksgiving dinner of a working class family from Scranton, Pennsylvania at the daughters new New York apartment in Chinatown. The two daughters are the first generation in their family to graduate college and that dream isn’t working out as well as they’d hoped with roadblocks and chronic illness playing a heavy part. Their parents are struggling with getting to retirement age and not being able to retire along with carrying for the husband’s mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. This cast included Richard Thomas (John-Boy from The Waltons) and Pamela Reed (Kindergarten Cop). This was an incredibly good play but not a fun night for me. Too many of its themes hit way too close to home with many of them being experiences that my wife, our families and I have directly struggled with. There is an undercurrent of a family that deeply loves and cares about each other but a lot of fear and worry and almost unavoidable circumstance that make life such a struggle sometimes. So while I would recommend it as very genuine and there are some good laughs, I wouldn’t go looking good time.
I always forget about this thread.
Since last time, amongst others I’ve seen:
A ponderously awful and profoundly disappointing version of Macbeth at the National Theatre - I mean, really, Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff as the Macbeths, it should have been great. But, no. Turgid.
The Great Wave, on the other hand, redeemed the National a bit - a really interesting new play about the Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the late 70s/early 80s, and effectively manipulated into training North Korean spies to be able to pass as Japanese citizens. It’s a bit of history I hadn’t known very much about at all, and the play tracks the history by following the personal story of a mother and her two daughters, one of whom is taken as a teenager by the North Koreans during a storm, and the other who becomes determined that she didn’t die, and gradually builds up the proof that something more sinister has been at play. I love it when theatre shows me stories about the world I didn’t even know existed. Plus, Rosalind Chao played the mother, and I always get a geeky thrill about seeing a Star Trek alumnus on stage.
Pressure, written by and starring David Haig, is a very British play that also illuminates an aspect of history I’d never really thought about before - the story of the Scottish meteorologist tasked with forecasting the weather for the D-Day Landings, the argument he had with his American counterpart, and Eisenhower’s final decision. Part of the suspense is taken away by knowing the exact date of the D-Day Landing - but still a great wee play.
Instructions for Correct Assembly was a good idea, not that well-executed - after the death of their son, a middle-aged couple take advantage of new technology that allows relatively cheap purchase of robots with artificial personalities, and attempt to unpick the mistakes they’d made the first time round. It was alright, but nothing particularly original, and some of the attempts at being funny misfired fairly badly. Jane Horrocks was decent enough as the mum, while Brian Vernal (who was the Scottish gangster who came after Han Solo in The Force Awakens) was the best thing in it, playing both the couple’s dead son, and the robot replacement.
And then The Inheritance. The Inheritance is seven hours of theatre, in two parts, by an American play wright I’d not heard of before, Matthew Lopez. It’s an attempt at “The Great American Play”, an epic of the lives of a group of young gay men in the present, but their stories entwined with those of the generations that came before them, the shadows of the 20th Century still falling across their lives in the 21st. Its plot is filtered through EM Forster’s Howard’s End, but, with Forster himself as a character in the play, its theme is more filtered through Maurice, Forster’s story of gay love written a hundred years earlier, but not published until after his death in the 1970s. It isn’t a perfect play - particularly when it attempts to directly deal with the politics of modern America when it becomes a bit too talky and clumsy - but at its best, which was frequent, it had some beautiful pieces of writing and theatre (there’s an incredibly powerful final scene to the first part, where the images of men who died during the AIDS epidemic surround the central character). It’s a play that sets out the importance of gay men understanding their history, of having the conversations about how things changed throughout the 20th Century (and how they have not). Like Love, Simon (which I saw in the same week as The Inheritance) it emphasises the importance of people like me seeing stories of people “just like me”, and how much that was missing for so long.
(I knew I was gay at the height of the HIV epidemic, as fear and hysteria drove bigotry in the UK as much as in the US in the late 80s. At the time, any association of being gay anywhere I came across it was that it was dirty and dangerous, something to be ashamed of in yourself, and to be pitied in others, and absolutely, unequivocally, wrong. Section 28 still meant that it was illegal to teach anything positive about being gay in schools. It was an utterly terrifying world to realise that all of that applied to you)
The 80s AIDS epidemic still looms large in The Inheritance, mainly in the absence of a generation of older mentors, and of survivors still scarred by the losses they endured. At its most poetic, the play speaks to that legacy, and the hope that things are, and can be, better still.
(As a comics related aside, that lack of stories about people “just like me” is part of why I think I bonded with the X-Men so much, why they’re my comics ‘home’. In 1987, just as I was really starting to get into X-Men stories, these ads were running in Marvel comics, in the run up to the Fall of the Mutants:
For a kid just realising that how he thought and how he felt meant that he was gay, and all of the bad things written in the newspapers and said by people around him actually meant him, it’s not really a great surprise that the X-Men felt safe, and a source of strength and sameness.
Anyway, The Inheritance wasn’t perfect. But it was a bloody good play, ambitious in scope and intimate in portrayal, drawing you into individual lives while illuminating wider themes, and anchored by some stunningly written monologues (including, in the last part of the second part, an appearance by Vanessa Redgrave), all of which is going to bounce around my head for a while.
Oh - and it had the single funniest sex scene I’ve seen on stage in AGES.
I am currently in the last stages of, uh, uh staging our school’s big performance night. Two theatre courses and this year we set the topic of “close and far”, and there are twelve or so 10-15 minute plays that I have to work with the pupils on to make them as good as humanly possible. Music course is involved, too, especially with a piece involving a hundred metronomes. Oh, and the art course is doing an exhibition.
I will be a bad bundle of nerves until June 15th.
I’m impressed that they managed to find a hundred metronomes
Yeah, my colleague’s first effort of writing a mail to the staff hoping for metronomes didn’t bear much fruit. In the end he somehow managed to get a metronome producer to gift a box of them - I think a model that wasn’t sold anymore or something? I’m quite impressed he managed to do this, I would have bet against it
(School theatre is a great example of how to create art without any funding whatsoever, but with great resources in manpower.One of the effect is that we now quite often divide parts up between mutiple actors, while theatres usually go the opposite way of having one actor play multiple roles.)
I went to see Mischief Movie Night this afternoon. It’s by the Mischief Theatre company that did the Play That Goes Wrong et al (hence the name) featuring most/some of their founding members (the ones recognisable off the TV specials) doing an improv show.
Well, sort of an improv show. One of the cast (I don’t know any of their names, but the one whose character always forgets his lines) is the host, who warms up the audience and then gets suggestions of genre, location and significant scenes for a made-up movie that the rest of the cast will do edited highlights of. I say “sort of improv”, because they’ve clearly learned a set of bare-bone stories (including a few musical numbers) for most genres that they can work from. I’m fine with that but it did mean that the suggestion at my show of horror set at Berkley Castle became a vampire story that they already knew the main beats of.
But there was a decent amount of ad-libbing within it, which is where the role of the host came into its own. He sits out the acting but pauses proceedings to comment on what’s happening, directing bits he wants to see more of and forcing actual improvised scenes based on ad-libs and things (for instance, after the actor playing the Mayor of Berkley made an odd choice of word for describing his daughter bunking off school, we got a “special feature” of the mayor’s campaign video in which he angrily raps to court the youth vote). A lot of the improv is coming from the cast having fun with each other, slotting odd lines in the learnt structure and expanding on it, but they also gamely worked in the audience suggestions, which led to the elder vampire having a tasteful love scene with some garlic today.
The show ran about an hour and they suggested that’s normally it (I don’t know if it usually runs longer) but the performances they’re doing in Cheltenham this week have an interval and then a rough preview of their new show, which I’m not allowed to say anything about. Except that I’ll say it looks really good and I think it’s been done with an eye for TV adaptation (given one of the cast lists Comedy About A Bank Robbery as being a BBC production on their Twitter bio, I think further adaptations are a reasonable expectation), where it should do really well.
At school, we had a project week about sustainability. My project was a theatre workshop with the aim of creating a play I called “Hurra, diese Welt geht unter - 7 Variationen über die Apocalypse” (“Hooray, the world is ending - 7 Variations on the Apocalypse”). With 15 pupils, we created, rehearsed and staged a play in seven scenes that each depicted an apocalyptic scenario due to lack in sustainability. I was quite proud of the result; it was quite impressive for one week’s work in which some of the kids first had to learn the absolute basics of acting on the stage (many of them also had experience from my drama group and class, though).
I think I’ve shrunk the pics enough that I can show some and you can’t recognise any faces.
Good work, and don’t worry, I can’t recognise any–wait, is that Hans?
I saw The Comedy About A Bank Robbery today, another Mischief Theatre production (my third of the year, actually). Beyond the helpfully descriptive title, I didn’t much about it going in. Was it another fourth-wall breaking farce like the Play That Goes Wrong or more of a straight comedy?
The answer is somewhere in-between, leaning closer to the latter. There’s a full story here that centres mainly on a couple of single room farces and some good (though inconsistently employed) bits of rapid fire wordplay, along with some cool musical numbers and even a car chase. A bit of fourth wall breaking stuff creeps in with one particular scene, that I’ll come back to.
Generally, it’s all very funny, although there’s one role (or rather one set of roles all played by the same actor) that felt a bit tacked on. The guy doing those roles was fine, but there’s one scene where he’s rapidly switching between three characters as they have a fight and while it’s an impressive bit of physicality, it wasn’t particularly funny and I was waiting for some thing to cap it (all the characters turning out to be one person, for instance). There’s also a repeated gag of an FBI guy getting shouting at by successive echelons of people over the phone which gets used three times, which is at least once too many. Still, those are minor quibbles.
I think the most impressive element though was the sets. They’re all rolling and foldable, continually being wheeled in and out by the cast for rapid scene changes. But even within scenes they’re adapted cleverly. One side of the main bank set for instance is repositioned as characters go through the main door, allowing it to switch between interior and exterior. Particularly amazing is a scene that is done as an aerial view of a room, with two actors sitting on chairs stuck on the wall. I think. I’m not convinced I’ve fully got how they did it, because it doesn’t entirely seem possible that they rigged them up on the wall. This was where the fourth wall breaking comes in as one character is asked to move across the room, revealing an actor layer below that is fully aware they’re on the wall, so has to make a meal of moving and interacting with furniture and props. It’s an incredible bit of staging, however they did it.
I’d definitely recommend seeing this. It’s touring until next summer.
We went to see To Kill a Mockingbird last night at the Schubert Theater in Times Square. This is still in previews, but I think the limited performance is entirely sold out, so I’m glad we ordered the tickets as soon as we heard about it. This was adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin, with Jeff Daniels in the lead as Atticus Finch. If you enjoyed their collaboration on the HBO drama The Newsroom, this has a very similar vibe.
The three things I loved most about it:
- The ensemble cast – aside from Daniels, Dakin Matthews, and Stark Sands, the rest of the cast were unknown to me, but each one was perfectly cast in their roles. And it truly is an ensemble performance, rather than a star vehicle for Daniels.
- The set was very simple and open, and the cast members assisted in moving the pieces around to quickly change the scene from the Finch residence to the courtroom to the local jail seamlessly.
- The “score”, such as it was, is by way of an acoustic guitarist on one side of the stage and an ethereal-sounding keyboardist on the other side.
This performance reminded my why I used to love Broadway. I wish there was more like it out there.
Saw “The Maids” by Jean Genet last week, a mid-twentieth century play about class and power. Two maids to a wealthy woman are basically her slaves and mistreated in some ways, but the only reaction they have to this - until they plan on killing here - is to, when their mistress is gone, take over her role in an act of play-acting and fulfill their desire to be on the other end of the stick. It’s a very existentialist, depressing play about the human condition.
This was a very… modern kind of production. The maids were all played by men who were in padded costumes that made them almost unrecognisable as people, and made them look like sex dolls. Their voices were also contorted, bitched very high. Their movements were very exaggerated and cartoonish, and there were also cartoon sound effects and slapstick bits.
So you’ve got those alienation effects, which make it quite hard to keep watching in some ways, but very entertaining in others, and it is all very disturbing but at the same time funny, and it’s hard to engage with the story, but no the other hand you do the work of constructing it yourself, in your head… I don’t know, it worked for me, I thought it was very interesting and fun, but I would assume that many people hated it