Mythic (Charing Cross Theatre)

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Daniella Bowen as Demeter. Photo by Marc Brenner.

This bright new musical takes the stories of the Greek Gods and presents them as you might not have seen them before.

Zeus (Tim Oxbrow) is having a party to honour his daughter Athena, and his daughter Aphrodite (Goddess of Love) is doing her best to gain his attention.  What better way than to bring along the sheltered Persephone, daughter of the banished Demeter (Goddess of the Earth) to Olympus?

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Michael Mather as Hades and the cast of Mythic. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Zeus is a strutter but ultimately a coward, and when Aphrodite’s power of love turns Persephone and the dangerous Hades (God of the Dead) to each other, and banishes Persephone to the Underworld, there are choices they all need to make.

In a brisk 80 minutes, seventeen songs contribute to this mainly sung-through musical, in which the twelve cast members all have a chance to shine, but especially Michael Mather (Hades) in his professional debut, Georgie Westall (Persephone), Daniella Bowen (Demeter), and Australian lawyer turned performer Genevieve McCarthy (a Paris Hiltonesque Aphrodite), who are all terrific and give their characters real depth.

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Georgie Westall as Persephone and the cast of Mythic. Photo by Marc Brenner.

You don’t need to know your Greek mythology to enjoy this, although if you do you will get an extra kick from seeing the Persephone in the Underworld take unfold, and you might like her positive spin on Charon’s boat trips on the Styx or the gardens of Hell.

The score by Oran Eldor and book/lyrics by Marcus Stevens hits the funny bone while still presenting touching moments around the growing relationship between a teenage girl and her devoted mother (“I don’t always like you, but I always love you”), and the problems of having the need to play favourites (Aphrodite is such a spoilt brat until she is able to see how her powers can be used for good rather than mischief).

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Genevieve McCarthy as Aphrodite. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Sarah O’Gleby directs and choreographs, and Chris Ma keeps tight control of a talented musical ensemble.  This has a lot of potential to grow and become a longer show,  but if you want to experience it as it currently is, and to support the company (Ben Lancaster, Ben Welch, Courtney Brogan Smalley, Eloise Davies, Jade Marvin and Jamie Ross fill out the remaining roles), go and see it now.

Mythic continues at the Charing Cross Theatre until the 24th November, and you can book tickets here.

 

 


Dave Gorman (Royal Festival Hall)

With a new show entitled ‘With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibility Point’, Dave Gorman brings a hilarious new show on tour with lots of insight, more than a few surprises, a lot of Powerpoint slides, and a killer joke about a giraffe.

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It’s a long show – we excited the hall at 10.45pm – and one Nick Doody supports in a kind of subversive John Shuttleworth-style.  Not to give any secrets or segments of the show away, I can say there is a great pre-show routine which pays off after the interval, and a domestic with the often-quoted Mrs Gorman which ends up involving some old friends you’ll recognise from ‘Modern Life is Goodish‘ in a convoluted way.

You may get old favourites.  You may get new perspectives.  You may never look at one particular word with a silent letter in it again.  You’ll be talking about the giraffe joke for weeks.  A high point of Gorman’s appeal.

Ever since ‘Are You Dave Gorman‘ debuted on TV in 2001, Gorman’s modus operandi has been a laptop, a checked shirt, a clicker, and a lot of cheek.  His fast-moving and quirky mind makes connections between the most mundane items and utilises social media platforms to develop routines in bizarre directions.  Not for him the basic fruits of observational comedy beloved of so many stand-ups.

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A superior evening which will make you cry with laughter and keep you on your toes.

 


Twelfth Night (Young Vic)

You will get into the party spirit as soon as you step into the Young Vic Theatre and see the brightly coloured streets of Illyria. A professional cast of eleven are supplemented by a talented and lively community chorus who join in the musical numbers, adding to the general atmosphere of the place.  This is where young Viola finds herself washed up on shore the day the coffin of Olivia’s brother is taken away in a (white) van for his final journey.

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View from audience. Photo by Louise Penn.

The bare bones of the Shakespeare original survives in this adaptation, conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah (who also co-directs with Oskar Eustis) and Shaina Taub (who wrote the music and lyrics for the big numbers). Some of the original verse survives in musical form, notably for Malvolio, while some is modernised into a more contemporary venacular, but without dumbing-down the text. There’s also good use of props including the van, crash barriers, window shades and confetti showers.

Viola (Gabrielle Brooks, who is excellent in her borrowed clothes and spectacles as the confused Cesario, displaying assumed masculinity as well as a growing feminine maturity) seeks employment with the Duke Orsino (Rupert Young), who conveniently lives next to a pub called ‘The Duke of Illyria’. He is enamoured of the frosty Olivia (Natalie Dew, who exudes a frustrated sexiness), who lives in mourning with her maid Maria (Gbemisola Ikumelo). Maria in turn lusts after the bawdy and boozy Sir Toby Belch (a menacing Martyn Ellis), uncle to Olivia; Olivia falls for the young ‘Cesario’; and Olivia’s hand is also sought by Welsh sot Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Silas Wyatt-Barke).

As if all the confusion is not bad enough, Viola has a brother who unbeknownsed to her, did not drown on their fated voyage. This Sebastian (Jyuddah Jaymes) was rescued by fugitive from justice Antonio (Jonathan Livingstone), who has an infatuation for his young friend. If you can believe that a boy and girl born as twins can be identical, you can see the mischief this play will bring, but the adaptation also plays with gender identity in musical numbers about ‘disguise being the devil’, about ‘what kind of man are you’, and in Feste’s lament while Orsino and ‘Cesario’ struggle with their feelings for each other, ‘is this not love>?’ – Melissa Allan, incidentally, makes a memorable Feste and adds to the gender-reversal in view.

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Viola, Orsino and Feste. Photo by Johan Persson.

Finally, Olivia’s steward Malvolio (Gerard Carey) has inflated delusions of grandeur, and he also gets a big top hat dance number, and the chance to look truly ridiculous in hideous yellow lycra. His vanity and assumption that his is an undeniable attraction to his mistress makes for the high points of the play, although his final exit is somewhat dampened by an almost genuine ‘I hope you will all be very happy’. Still, to see the character on a Segway, doing a big production number about ‘greatness’, and providing a truly farcical take on the letter scene which becomes almost piteous by the exchange about a light with Feste, is worth the admission price alone.

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Malvolio. Photo by Johan Persson.

All is well by the end of proceedings in the town of Illyria, with three married couples, two sisters, reunited twins, and a lively closing number. ‘The word on the street’ is that this musical reboot of the Bard is quite a success.

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Twelfth Night runs at the Young Vic until the 17th November 2018. Buy your tickets here.

You can listen to the cast recording of the production which ran in New York in 2016 here.


The Wider Earth (Natural History Museum)

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Marcello Cruz and Bradley Foster. Photo credit Mark Douet.

Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to a pre-preview of some scenes from The Wider Earth, together with a Q&A with the cast and a chance to meet some of the amazing puppets from the Dead Puppet Society up close.

Now the production is fully open, and I’ve been invited back to report on the finished article.  The Jerwood Gallery at the Natural History Museum has been turned into a theatre which seats roughly 300 people in a mix of floor and raised seating, and the rotating set we saw in previews has now been augmented by lighting, a backdrop for animation, and an immersive soundscape.

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Bradley Foster. Photo credit Mark Douet.

David Morton’s play has previously played in Australia, following periods of mentoring  in Cape Town with Handspring (creators of the puppets used in War Horse), and further planning in New York.  There is a cast of seven and a number of puppets with personality – including an iguana, butterflies, birds (small and large), fish, armadillos, a duck-billed platypus, and two large Galapagos tortoises.

Bradley Foster, as the young Charles Darwin leaving the chance of theological study behind to join a round-the-world voyage on HMS Beagle, is the only member of the cast who doesn’t have puppeteer duties; the rest (some of which have previous experience in the area) do well in making these curious creatures come to life.  It’s also his first leading role and he does well in portraying the young man who grows in knowledge and understanding as he sails.

As we move from Cambridge, where Darwin makes a friend of the Professor (Andrew Bridgmont) who can see his quality and inspires his curiosity, to the Manor where Darwin senior (Ian Houghton) only sees the priesthood as destination for his wayward child, the hill where Darwin promises fidelity and marriage to his beloved Emma (Melissa Vaughan), and onto the ship, we watch as sketches build the landscape behind the stage.

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Melissa Vaughan, Andrew Bridgmont, Matt Tait, Bradley Foster, Ian Houghton, Jack Parry-Jones. Photo credit Mark Douet.

Once on the voyage, captained by the religious and constrained FitzRoy (Jack Parry-Jones), Darwin starts to gain a new understanding of the world around him and the power of nature, as each island landing brings new creatures to study, with their modifications to suit their landscape.  The Revd Matthews (also Houghton), who is on a mission back to Tierra del Fuego to bring Christianity to the “savages”, sees only the power of the Lord, and Jemmy (Marcello Cruz), bought and paid for, only sees a need for returning to his home.  John Clements Wickham (Matt Tait), the second in command on the ship, attempts to be a voice of reason between opposing factions.

The Wider Earth does not assume to give answers about the power of creation, but sows the seeds for the lifetime work Charles Darwin undertook after stepping back on British soil after his five years on the HMS Beagle.  His theories of evolution and of natural selection started by studying beetles, rocks and fauna of unfamiliar terrains, but his account of his work on the Beagle brought him fame and attention.

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Cast of The Wider Earth. Photo credit Mark Douet.

If I had a small quibble about this show, it is that just occasionally the sound piped through speakers around the Gallery overpower the actors on stage, but this only affects a couple of scenes, and I don’t think anything of the sense of the production is lost.  The puppets can be clearly seen and appreciated due to clever lighting and the gifted manipulation of their cast operators, and the story is interesting and easily understandable, even to younger audience members (10 and above).

The programme (£7) is full of information on the genesis of The Wider Earth, and the journey it has taken so far.  David Morton skillfully directs his own work, and the music by Lior and Tony Buchen fits in with the nature theme without feeling superfluous or inappropriate.

The Wider Earth runs at the Natural History Museum until the 30 December 2018; you can purchase tickets here.


Company (Gielgud Theatre)

This reimagining of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical about a 35-year old man, Bobby, who juggles freedom with the wish of his married friends that he finds a lasting romance, makes Bobby become Bobbie, a woman dealing with the same preoccupations.

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Rosalie Craig’s Bobbie now has three boyfriends (Theo, Andy and P.J.) who have the trio You Could Drive A Person Crazy in Act One.  Of the five couples who interfere with her life in the name of friendship, one are a gay couple planning their wedding, leading to the hilarity of Getting Married Today where a neurotic “Jamie” (Jonathan Bailey) panics about whether dependable Paul (Alex Gaumond) is the right man for him.

Sarah and Harry (Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes) constantly belittle each other, but in here there is love, too, as Harry explains in one of the great songs of the score, Sorry/Grateful, joined by David and Larry.  Sarah is perhaps borderline bulimic, and Harry is a drunk, but their marriage can stand it because “everything’s different, nothing’s changed, only maybe slightly rearranged”.

Susan and Peter (Daisy Maywood and Ashley Campbell) find they are far better divorced than married; while Joanne and Larry (Patti LuPone and Ben Lewis) keep going as she is irritated by him and he is fascinated by her.  In the original show, Joanne propositions Bobby, but here she offers her husband to Bobbie under a sugar daddy arrangement, which didn’t work in the same way for me.

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Patti LuPone as Joanne

Jenny and David (Jennifer Saayeng and Richard Henders) are square and settled, and humour Bobbie by smoking the joint she offers them, clearly signalling they are grown up enough to move on from all that, and she isn’t.

Bobbie wears killer red heels throughout, and we see her being used by geeky Theo (Matthew Seadon-Young), who decides she isn’t marriage material, and by self-obsessed P.J. (George Blagden), who sees the universe revolving around him (Another Hundred People) rather than making any meaningful connection with others.

A night with dumb Andy (Richard Fleeshman) – formerly April the air stewardess – who has to fly off to Barcelona gives rise to a couple of surreal scenes, with the husbands of Bobbie’s friends visiting her bedroom while she is in coitus, and a dream sequence of many mirrored Bobbies and what could happen if she marries any of her three boyfriends.

The set is excellent, starting with a small lightbox that grows into a line of interconnected rooms, and some use of a box which rises from and sinks below stage level.  Bobbie’s birthday balloons, too, become as small as in Alice in Wonderland, or are large as to be suffocating.

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Gavin Spokes as Harry, Rosalie Craig as Bobbie, Mel Giedroyc as Sarah

The songs do not survive the transformation intact: I was particularly sorry to lose the original, poignant lyrics of Someone Is Waiting, an Act One solo for Bobbie who considers how a combination of her friends may make the perfect mate for her.  The same problem hampers Getting Married Today and Barcelona (mistaking Andy’s name for Freddy instead of April’s for June is not quite as funny).

There are compensations, though. Patti LuPone’s The Ladies Who Lunch lives up to expectations, Rosalie Craig’s Being Alive, which closes the show, is moving and effective, and the ensemble number Side by Side is livened up by a farcical bit of movement work.

I can’t get on board with the praise that has been lavished on this production to the point that “the original may never be done again”.

It’s an interesting experiment, and Marianne Elliott is to be congratulated on making it such fun and relevant to middle-aged women (and Sondheim himself for allowing and facilitating the changes to his exquisitely crafted songs), but for me, it didn’t quite come off.

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This remains my favourite Sondheim from a songs alone point of view, but I find that Follies, A Little Night Music, and Sweeney Todd all have a more coherent storyline.  Company remains extremely cynical about relationships, and where for a man the concept of Have I Got a Girl [Guy] For You seemed acceptable laddish banter, when sung by women to another woman it just seems a bit sad.

Photograph credit: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg.

Company runs at the Gielgud Theatre until the 22 December 2018.

 


Why theatre is therapy for me

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Regular readers will know that currently I am living with anxiety, stress and depression, which had restricted my ability to engage in my working life and left me taking each day at a time until I get back to my full strength again.  I have written about it here and here.

However, I am also a blogger and one of my primary interests is the theatre.

From my first trips with school to the Oldham Coliseum, through years living in Yorkshire and taking advantage of theatres across the North, I have always loved the escapism of the footlights (but as an observer, never a performer).

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My first theatre trips were at the Oldham Coliseum

I’m lucky enough to live in London, which has over two hundred theatres, West End, off-West End, fringe and pop-up.  Whether your taste is the big, tourist-trap musical or the above-the-pub experimental, the huge organisations (National, Old Vic, Barbican) or the exciting stuff in the smaller houses, there is something here for you.  London is also home to several suburban theatres in its surrounding towns, which host travelling tours.

This is not the post where I will discuss theatre pricing, although that may be something I return to at a later date.

No, this is about how going to the theatre has had a positive effect on my mental health.  How seeing others performing in something created for the masses lifts my spirits and keeps me calm and relaxed.  How having an hour, two, three, to think about something else other than the triggers that make me jumpy and unhappy, is the best non-medical intervention money can buy.

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Image from PR Week

For me, live performance – and I will stretch this to concerts to some extent, although sometimes they are too crowded and noisy for me – is an escape, and in building this blog over the past few years I have been able to concentrate for short periods to review and reflect on what I have seen.  Even shows which are dark and challenging can offer something to a brain which is slightly off-kilter; it doesn’t have to be something silly which brings nothing but laughter.

I do plan my visits, though.  I usually attend theatres I have been to before, or stick to the centre of the city.  If I do venture further out I plan my journey, make sure I know where I am going, and always get there at least half an hour before so I can get my bearings, take a deep breath, and get settled.

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Lonely Anxiety – by Michelle Porucz

If I can, and I’m on my own, I try to talk to people around me in the auditorium, although being in London that’s not always an option, and I have become acutely aware that there may be other people in attendance who are just as anxious as me.  So sitting in silence and just looking around the place is fine. Now and again my lovely husband comes along with me, and then I’m a bit braver, maybe going to somewhere without all that double-checking, and just purely enjoying myself.

I love the atmosphere of a theatre. What the outside looks like, how the show is promoted on the frontage.  The lights in the evening, the bustle outside in the day.  The foyers, the staff, the pictures, the programme.  How people act before the house is open. How everyone always grumbles about the loos even when they are fairly palatial (ENO Coliseum, take a bow).  The nooks and crannies of larger venues – the thrill of finding a new corner of a new level at the National, the weird little rooms around the basement stalls of Victorian buildings.

Once you’re in the auditorium: sneaking a peak at the set on stage, watching as the levels fill up, the scents and sounds and sights of a unique new audience, checking out the seat and the leg-room, the arm-rests, the strangers who will be neighbours for however long the magic lasts, the busy ushers who have eyes like hawks.  The half-darkness in many houses well before the show gets going.

What’s the stage like? A traditional proscenium? A thrust stage? In the round? What props are visible? What’s the lighting like? Is anyone on the stage already, and what are they doing? Is there music playing before the show starts? Working out the sight-line (especially if a larger head is directly in front!).  Putting the baggage of life out in the real world away under the seat, working out where to put the programme, having a quick check for the nearest exit at the end of the show.

All this helps to calm the anxious mind and push any difficult thoughts away.  For the next hour, two, three, my reality is what’s showing on that stage in front of me, and those people who are performing are not the people who are listed in the programme, but characters who are taking this journey with us and for us.  I have always been fascinated by actors and that ability to inhabit another body and soul.  Actors I have followed for years across different roles and shows, or those I am seeing for the first time, and there is always the chance that one of them will settle in the memory forever, for what they do on the stage, now.

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Some shows leave you laughing, some leave you crying, and some have a touch of both.  When you’re unwell, and your emotions have been squashed a bit by medication or by something that really doesn’t feel quite right, being able to connect on whatever level with the theatre is invaluable.  Thinking, talking, reading and writing about it later helps that feeling even more.

If something is rattling around in my mind, the best way to stop it for me is watching a play or musical on the stage (I also watch lots of films too, and they have the advantage of being able to revisit as often as you want, for far less than the outlay for two visits to the theatre), but the theatre has an immediacy and is being shared, just that one time, by those who are present at that time, on that day.

Without the escape and cocoon of the stage I would be far further back along the road to recovery.  Even if I have to take that two steps back now and again, the show pulls me back and gives me strength.  And that’s why it is special, and valuable, and essential, for me.


Wise Children (Old Vic)

Stage view from the audience

I remember reading Angela Carter’s novel about the dancing girls ‘The Lucky Chances’, Nora and Dora, a few years ago and was very intrigued to see how it would be adapted.

I know Emma Rice’s work from her two decades at Kneehigh, including their production of another Carter work, Nights at the Circus, which I saw in Leeds in 2006.

I knew from this it was definitely possible for Wise Children to be adapted effectively. Rice now leads her new company, also entitled Wise Children, but this initial show – which has its press night on the 17 October – has a familiar feel and the creative flair we have come to expect.

Doras, Noras, Grandma and Lady Atalanta at home

When we meet Dora Chance, on her 75th birthday, just five minutes older than her sister Nora, she – played by Gareth Snook – tells us about their home before a party invitation arrives from the great actor Sir Melchior Hazard, their father, now a hundred years old but he has never acknowledged them.

In planning for the party we see the twins’ history played out for us from conception to toddling tappers, from puberty and first love, from disappointments to butterflies.

Young Dora, Grandma, Young Nora

This is a piece of dark, honest drama with period songs, a heavy dose of magical realism, and disturbing undertones. The book actually went a step further with obsession and implied incest, but this show tiptoes around that to some extent.

We meet the twins portrayed through three sets of actors, and casting is gender neutral with the teenage Nora and elderly Dora both played by men. Sometimes more than one set are on stage at once, which is effective and emotionally engaging.

Rehearsal footage with Young Dora and Young Nora

The Chance girls are brought up by their dead mother’s landlady, ‘Grandma’, and are taken care of by their father’s freewheeling brother Perry, who spends money on them but a strange relationship with both is implied, and there are long absences when he isn’t around.

Melchior, now married with frightful ginger twins of his own, reveres them but treats his older girls are curiosities only. Once they have moved from end of the pier jobs with Max Miller-lite comic Gorgeous George, they join their father in Shakespeare, but does he want them for themselves or for their odd dance-strip routine?

Nora grows to be an outwardly confident glamourpuss, sleeping around and hiding her feelings, while Dora stays in the background. They share a boyfriend, gifted to Dora by Nora when they hit eighteen, and continue to live as two halves of the same coin.

A toy theatre, faulty light bulbs, a caravan, orange scarves, an animated flight across London, and doubled up casting helps pull out the shady glamour of the footlights and the misunderstandings of family, sex and secrets.

This adaptation is joyous, always interesting, and even with a few remaining fluffs, mistakes and longuers which will probably be gone by press night, this is a stunning gem of a show with a hard working ensemble and an accomplished distellation of a complex book.

Many characters have been snipped and storylines slightly altered, but from the time we meet the Chances as puppet dolls through to old age, as they get – and miss – their own chances and where the living ultimately walk among the dead, we are walking with them.

Gareth Snook is surprisingly tender as the ageing Dora, and Omari Douglas is fantastic as the tarty mid-period showgirl Nora. Melissa James (showgirl Dora) and Etta Murfitt (elderly Nora) may be less showy, but it is interesting to follow the trajectory of these girls/women as their lives evolve.

Long-time Rice collaborator Mike Shepherd does well in a variety of roles, ultimately becoming the older Perry, and you can almost imagine young Sam Archer who plays Perry in his prime may have ended up this way; less convincing is the transformation of Ankur Bahl as Melchoir into Paul Hunter, who previously mimicked those smutty Miller jokes.

Mike Shepherd in rehearsal

Patrycja Kujawska is excellent as both Lady Atalanta and the boy shared by the growing twins; Katy Owen is a domineering Grandma with a soft heart, a lot of pride, and a fondness for stout, and it is fun to see the acting of Bettrys Jones and Mirabelle Gremaud as the young twins Dora and Nora, such a contrast to the dreadful Imogen and Saskia.

Playing out after curtain call with ‘My Heart Belongs To Daddy’ underlines the clever use of songs throughout – not simply the period pieces but also work by Louis Jordan and Cyndi Lauper. The greaseprint is thick but it can’t cover the cracks.

Well done to the company for hitting the sexual complexities of this novel, and in making a moment or two genuinely shocking even when the story paints a smile.

Wise Children is a special show which is well worth your time with sparkles, grotty dressing rooms, mirrors and a little bit of ‘Electric Avenue’. You will go out with a song in your heart and a tear in your eye.

Rehearsal photos by Steve Tanner. Production photos from the Old Vic Twitter account.


Eugenius (The Other Palace)

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This frenetic new musical from Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins takes its inspiration from comic books, 80s music and TV, and the perils of both childhood and Hollywood.

It makes a triumphant return to The Other Palace in advance of a well-deserved transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End at the end of October. (Update – as of 11 October this is no longer happening).

Eugenius tells the story of Eugene (Rob Houchen), a self-described geek who lives with his father and spends his spare time creating the story of Tough Man, Super Hot Lady, and the Evil Lord Hector.

His friends Janey (Laura Baldwin, previously on stage at The Other Palace in Big Fish) and Feris (Daniel Buckley, very funny) are equally viewed as odd by their peers: she has a secret crush on Eugene but he doesn’t seem to know it, and Feris is so consumed by teenage sexual fantasies he even laminates the comics he reads.

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Feris tries to impress the cool gang at school.

When a Hollywood producer’s lackey, Theo (Scott Paige, enjoyably camp) makes a trip into Eugene’s school to look for new ideas, Tough Man is pitched and then within a flash, taken to the city of dreams to be made into a film for Powermad Productions under the direction of Lex Hogan (Alex Bourne).

The trouble is, Hogan’s vision for the story leans more towards fish people and spandex airheads than the tale invisaged by young Eugene.

There’s another problem, too. Evil Lord Hector (Neil McDermott, EastEnders actor turned stage bad boy) is somehow not a product of Eugene’s imagination, but he’s real and after heading through space for years with only a perpetually cheery robot by his side (Kevin, voiced at the performance I saw by Mark Hamill), sees the film in progress and misidentifies the doltish actor Gerhard (Simon Thomas) as the real Tough Man.

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Super Hot Lady, Evil Lord Hector, Tough Man – photo by Scott Rylander

Hector channels a fair bit of Rik Mayall in The Young Ones, while the actor playing the film Hector may just be based just a little on Laurence Olivier, but once the evil one lands on Earth he causes havoc for Hogan’s production.

Carrie, the actress playing Super Hot Lady (Emily Tierney, who has a knock-out dance number), almost falls for the adolescent pimply charms of the portly Feris, while Eugene learns that what’s most important in his life isn’t necessarily the need to “kiss ass”.

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The company of Eugenius

This hard-working company are flat out in fast-paced dance routines, but also give some love and heart to the most proposterous of characters.

It’s hard to single out any one member of the cast but apart from the main principals, I’d like to give a nod to Dillon Scott-Lewis who is a lithe and energetic dancer, and to Tom Senior’s Shock Jock.

The remainder of the cast are Christopher Ragland, Titus Rowe, Laurence Alex Tranter, Ben Darcy, Lauren Cancannon, Amy West, Sasha Wareham, and Alison Arnopp (Space Diva). And not to forget “the voice of Brian Blessed”, which is used to good effect.

With fun songs, audience participation, and silly cultural references, this show is a hard one to dislike. It has bags of heart and soul, and a vibrant message to all those grappling with growing up and life’s ambitions: “don’t shoot for the stars: shoot higher”.

Update: on 11th October it was announced that Eugenius will NOT be transferring to the West End due to the “withdrawal of a key investor”.


Wasted (Southwark Playhouse)

I’m rather late to the party as Wasted closes tonight, the new rock musical about the Brontë siblings, who lived in the desolate moorland of Haworth, growing as creative forces who became – the three surviving sisters, anyway – novelists who are still talked about nowadays, women who wrote about topics such as obsession, adultery, and domestic violence which were considered unfeminine in the 19th century.

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We first meet Charlotte (Natasha Barnes) in 1855, in the last year of her life, introducing herself as “Mrs Arthur Nicholls, also Currer Bell, and Charlotte Brontë”, and carrying the child whose birth will kill her and itself.  Nicholls had long been the curate of Dr Patrick Brontë, parson and father of Charlotte and her sisters – Maria and Elizabeth, who died young, Emily (Siobhan Athwal) and Anne (Molly Lynch) – and her brother, Branwell (Matthew Jacobs Morgan).

The four surviving Brontë children are desperate to escape the stifling world of the parsonage and the bleak surroundings (Stuck in Haworth), and retreat into development of private worlds, which they document obsessively in mini-magazines.  Their refrain “We have to work, but we want to write” leads to their finding jobs away from home in young adulthood: while Branwell still dreams of being “a painter … a writer … a flautist … something” (I Am Gonna Be …), his sisters become teachers (Charlotte and Emily go to Brussels) and a governess (Anne goes to Thorpe Hall, near York).

The events at these places of work will inform the later work of Charlotte, who based her novel Villette (not her first to be rejected, as Wasted says: that was The Professor) on her infatuation with schoolmaster M Heger; and Anne, who turned her experience into her novel Agnes Grey.  Branwell joins Anne at Thorpe Hall and starts an affair with the lady of the house, and her eventual rejection of him turns him to drink and drugs (Laudanum My Love), which eventually hasten his death in 1848, shortly before sisters Emily, then Anne, die of consumption.

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Emily, Anne, Branwell and Charlotte

This sequence of events, plus the development of all three sisters into gifted poets, then accomplished novelists, as the “Three Bells” (Currer, Ellis and Acton), is presented within the structure of a rock musical which manages to be clever, witty, inspired, and heartbreaking.  In the music of Christopher Ash and the lyrics of Carl Miller the story of the family is brought to life, including the infamous and dismissive letter from Robert Southey to Charlotte, Emily’s love for walks with her dog (a clever use of beatboxing to invoke the pup in My Soulmate), and Branwell’s sense of being invisible alongside his sister.

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Branwell painted himself out of his painting of his three sisters

With twenty-seven songs (including two variations and one reprise) across three and a half hours, there is bound to be an element of hit and miss, but for me this was simply a matter of audibility of lyrics in a couple of the heavier songs. The score is mainly sharp and varied, and the choreography is well-done, as is the use of microphone cables, paper, speakers, and metal cases as props.  We are really looking at a bare wooden thrust stage with four performers, and a four person band at the back, but it becomes alive with activity, plot and performance.

However some songs – White Violets (a duet between Charlotte and Branwell, where they both contemplate finding first love), No-One to Marry for Miles (a witty song for Anne to bemoan the lack of eligible chaps in Yorkshire), (Ex)ordinary Woman (a powerhouse number for Charlotte and her sisters to showcase their heroines and feminist stories), Before My Time (a bit of fun for Goth Emily) and The Story of Mrs Collins (an eventual rock-out number for Anne about a woman who surely inspired her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) – stand out and are memorable in their own right.

Barnes is the stand-out performer, with an enviable set of pipes and a good grasp of the elder sister who watches, grieves, and eventually “wastes” her life on marriage to the dull curate (“the wrong one”, as her siblings remind her, referring to the choice facing her creation, Jane Eyre).  Athwal may overdo the eye-rolling and wildness of Emily, but she is tempered by the mild Lynch’s Anne.

Branwell may get the worst of the bargain here, being described in the programme as the “Pete Best” of his Beatles family.  That Morgan makes him likeable even when mimicking an injection of drugs, or in attempting to silence his sisters as he is the “genius” of the family shows a gift in acting, although dismissing the Brontë brothers as “talentless” and his work as “crap” feels unnecessarily cruel.

An excellent and thought-provoking new musical, nevertheless.

 


Antony and Cleopatra (National Theatre, Olivier)

Simon Godwin’s epic new production of the Shakespeare play of love between the Roman warrior Mark Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra takes up residence at the National Theatre with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo as the ill-fated, middle-aged lovers.

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Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo – photo by Johan Persson

We first find the vain Cleopatra by her opulent pool, with her handmaidens Charmian (Gloria Obiyano) and Iras (Georgia Landers).  She is hot for the soldier who is torn by his passion for her and his duty at home, where his wife Flavia has caused division and dissent before her death.

His decision to leave seems to be an act of bravado to impress his ‘Egypt’ rather than anything in supplication to the ambitious Caesar (Tunji Kasim) and the drunken Lepidus (Nicholas Le Provost), with whom he forms a triumvirate of power.

As is usual with the Bard, events are telescoped into shorter timelines: this period of time lasted ten years in historical record.  Antony, newly widowed, marries Caesar’s ambitious sister, Octavia (Hannah Morrish), and settles into the power he will eventually ditch to return to the bosom of Cleopatra, making her Empress to his over-reaching ego.

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Tunji Kasim and Hannah Morrish – photo by Johan Persson

The best supporting perfomances come from Tim McMullan (the loyal Enobarbus), Katy Stephens (a gender-swapped Agrippa), Fisayo Akinade (Eros, who excels in one amusing scene as a messenger and is tragic at his final hour) and Nick Sampson (schoolmaster Euphronius), although, for a change, most of the cast demonstrate an affinity with the blank verse and its meaning.

The sets by Hildegard Bechtler take full advantage of the Olivier’s revolve, with at least five changes including scenes which have characters rising and lowering into the depths of the drum; while the music by Michael Bruce and lighting by Tim Lutkin do much to give the sense of court opulence and the grime and ritual of the battlefield.

One fatal flaw for me, though, was the jarring change of pace when Antony’s final moments were played for laughs, which left the final act a sadly unmoving experience, despite the presence of the real snake and the dignity of Cleopatra’s exit on her monument.

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Sophie Okonedo – photo by Johan Persson

Watch for the scope and scale of this project, and for the chemistry (and age-appropriateness) of Fiennes and Okonedo, who are glorious together, but also enjoy the small moments and performances which can fill out a play of this length – three hours and thirty minutes, which flies past.

 

 


The Talking Pictures TV Reel Streets Ealing Film Locations tour

On perhaps the wettest day to hit West London for weeks, we arrived at Osterley Park to find a Talking Pictures TV banner and a small marquee where we could pick up our brochure and picnic lunch.  It was lovely to finally meet Sarah Cronin, who does so much with her family to programme the weird and wonderful (and sometimes both) film and TV fare of Talking Pictures TV.

On a packed Routemaster (we discovered later from a friendly former bus driver that it had been a green bus in service, but now painted red), we set out for a three-hour tour of locations across Ealing (and a bit of Hounslow).

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Our bus and companion for the morning.

The route in our book wasn’t quite the route we followed – the driver decided to miss out Hanwell and visited Ealing Broadway a little earlier than planned – and the loudspeaker on the top deck was sadly inaudible until the final hour of the tour, but as a local couple my husband and I were able to roughly follow the progress of the tour from Osterley to Heston, to Southall, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway, South Ealing, Brentford then back to the park.

Highlights along the way included former cinemas the Palace Southall, Odeon Southall, and the former sites of the Walpole and the Empire in Ealing, and locations where “Richard Attenborough caught the bus in Seance on a Wet Afternoon“, “Benny Hill came past this building towards the camera in Who Done It“, and the gate “depicted in The Lavender Hill Mob“, to mention but three.

We spotted the former homes of legendary comics Sid James and Arthur Haynes (both on Gunnersbury Road, with blue plaques), and the alleyway used in Run for Your Money, as well as the corner where George Formby once walked in It’s in the Air and where the policemen marched in Carry on Constable.

Of course the main attraction was Ealing Studios, where so many great films were created and shot, from the early days of Will Barker in 1902 through to the present day.  This is currently the focus of an attempt to create a Walk of Fame to celebrate those stars and crew who made films across the borough.

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The tour brochure.

The booklet utilised film stills and brief descriptions, but I would have added a simple map of the route so it could be retraced by locals or more easily understood for those new to the borough.  It was also an ambitious route for the time and traffic, even on a Sunday morning, so future tours may wish to bear that in mind.  However, care and time had clearly been lavished on this event.

A tasty packed lunch of crisps, a cheese and tomato sandwich, and a traditional scone with clotted cream and jam (which we took home with us), plus a glass of bubbly on arrival and a Roses chocolate en route, was much appreciated, as were the two rest stops (although I think Southall Park disappointed with the loos closed!).

Our £45 tickets also included a tour of Osterley House, but we decided to call it a day after our mystery tour, planning to use the booklet on future travels around Ealing (and to tick off any films listed which we have not seen yet).

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Our yummy packed lunch.

Roll on next March, when the Renown Film Festival takes place in St Albans.


Sylvia (Old Vic)

Note that the entire run of this new musical is now being classed as previews, and that the Old Vic are handing out notices stating “it has radically evolved into what promises to be a genuinely thrilling full-blown musical … the performance … is considerably longer and in a more raw state than the creative team and The Old Vic would ever have planned … what we are sharing with you today is a work in progress”.

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The Pankhursts

There has been drama right from the start of the run, when the original first preview was changed into an open dress rehearsal, which was then cancelled part-way through as actress Genesis Lynea (who played Sylvia Pankhurst) was taken ill.  Her understudy, Maria Omakinwa, has now taken over the leading role for the remainder of this short run, with a minimum of rehearsal time.  Hats off to her.

Running at more than three hours, including interval, this show needs a fair amount of brutal trimming, as well as a focus which perhaps does not include too much stage time for Sylvia’s sister Christabel (Witney White).  I was also unconvinced about the relationship portrayed between Sylvia and the Labour Party leader Keir Hardie: this has been rumoured in some accounts but is in no way confirmed.  More problematic is the brief reference to a lesbian relationship between Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, again a rumour which the writers should have the nerve to expand upon if they wish to do justice to it.

Kate Prince, who heads the ZooNation company, and who is behind the book and lyrics for this musical, has tried to address the issue of casting black actresses as Emmeline, Christabel, and Sylvia Pankhurst, and black actors as Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George, in the name of diversity.  It feels a similar casting quirk that Hamilton has had success with, as is the use of hip hop music and dancing, but I felt that the character of Jennie Churchill, Winston’s mother as a bossy Red Hot Momma (although Jade Hackett blew the roof off the place) was particularly problematic.

There’s just too much going on, and even as someone who knows the story of the struggle for Women’s Suffrage, I felt a little lost and bored at times.  The sequence with Emily Wilding Davison and her death at the Epsom Derby is 1913 was lost in confusion, although the song which followed immediately after was a high point.  The prison-based depiction of force-feeding was rushed and flawed, and short-changes the issue which went on for more than five years and caused declining health to many women.  For a more in-depth treatment of both I can recommend the television serial Shoulder to Shoulder.

Making the opposition, and particularly Churchill, comedic, is also an aspect which doesn’t quite come off.  Here you have on one side the measured performances from Omakinwa, from Beverley Knight as Emmeline, and from Carly Bawden as Mrs Churchill (Bawden also portrays Kenney), but then you have the over-broad ones from Delroy Atkinson as Churchill and, to some extent, from John Dagleish as Keir Hardie (with red scarf, tie and long socks proclaiming his political affiliation).

The songs are a mix of funk, soul and hip-hop, and the movement and dance sequences are certainly energetic and inspiring, right from the point that Elliotte Williams-N’Dure’s General Flora Drummond exorts the gathering to “make some noise”.  There are just too many songs, and as much as I enjoyed Clementine Churchill’s break-out letter to the newspaper, the letters from the Pankhurst siblings Christabel, Adela and Harry to their imprisoned sister, or Sylvia’s lovestruck memories of seeing Hardie as she grew up, they don’t really push the plot along.

I wanted to see and hear more about Sylvia Pankhurst, who is often hidden in the shadows of her more militant sister and mother, and what drove her to support the working woman’s cause.  I wanted to see more following her break from the WSPU.

As a woman from the same town as Annie Kenney, I was disappointed that she was simply there to make eyes as Christabel, when she had so much more to offer to the history of the movement. She was a strong working woman from a mill town who joined with the middle-class ladies: if you don’t want to give her that credit, don’t use the character.  The use of Ada to composite several women in the movement would allow one of Sylvia’s friends and mentors to be depicted instead of Kenney.

Ultimately this show is nowhere near ready for a full run, and although Omakinwa is doing a great job, she is still using the book heavily in the second act and reading her lines in key scenes including the aforementioned one of force-feeding and a two-header argument with her mother, which would have great power had she been interacting with Knight fully.

This show does have great potential, and has some excellent moments, but there are too many technical issues present at the moment, and too much going on to really focus on the story or engage with the characters, for this to be a true success.  However, I look forwatd to seeing how it evolves and whether it does have a future.

 


The Wider Earth (pre-preview, Natural History Museum)

It was a pleasure and a privilege to witness an extended scene from the new drama The Wider Earth this evening, along with an opportunity to ask questions to the actors and creatives as a group and individually.

In the planning for five years, this play about the young Charles Darwin has made the journey from Cape Town to London, via New York and Sydney, and marries puppetry, a revolving set, a busy and talented cast of seven (three of which were previously in the National Theatre smash-hit War Horse), and projected animations.

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What we saw tonight was a set partly in situ in rehearsal mode, before it gets its masking, lighting rig, full staging, smoke effects, and all the bells and whistles.  We saw butterflies and a very personable iguana, and the seeds of a battle of wills between Bradley Foster’s Charles Darwin and Jack Parry-Jones’ Robert FitzRoy around the state of slaves from the British Empire.

Foster has a background in movement, having worked with Katie Mitchell at the Royal Opera House since graduating from drama school a couple of years ago: this is his first major leading role, and on this brief excerpt he looks very much like an actor to watch, engaging with the new creatures he finds on his HMS Beagle voyage with wonder, and unafraid to step up for injustice.

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Bradley Foster as Charles Darwin

The remainder of the cast both act and perform as puppeteers, a role Melissa Vaughan (Emma Wedgewood, who became Darwin’s wife) describes as “difficult” and “terrifying”, although Marcello Cruz (Jemmy) describes the puppets as “part of the cast”, and the novice puppeteers among the actors speak of their willingness to learn new skills and add to their repertoire.

The creatives from the Dead Puppets Society, Nicholas Paine and David Morton, were mentored by War House puppet supremos Handspring, and have developed a show which has played Queensland, Sydney Opera House, and now, thanks to the ingenuity and contacts of producer Trish Wadley, it is set to open in the impressive Jerwood Gallery at the Natural History Museum.

At close quarters, the puppets are deeply impressive, and took life through computer programming and careful, thoughtful, human intervention.  The larger puppets take up to five cast members to animate (Perry-Jones described a sequence with a shark and a large sea creature which would glow with energy with full sound and lighting effects), the smaller, like the iguana we saw, develop their own personalities at the hands of one performer.

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Image from the original Australian production

The Wider Earth opens on the 2nd October and is booking until the end of 2018.  It is a chance to see a unique type of theatre production in the stunning surroundings of the Victorian palace of curiosities which is the Natural History Museum.

 

 


ITV Playhouse: A Splinter of Ice (BFI Southbank)

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Ian Hendry (Tony) and Judy Loe (Clemence)

Fay Weldon’s absorbing play teams a small cast headed by Ian Hendry and Annette Crosbie to explore the problems of middle-aged marriages and the preoccupations of the younger generation.

Tony (Hendry) is a writer and TV personality who has been married to Joy (Crosbie) for twenty years. She is a brittle and bitter woman of forty who regrets not having a child, and her closest friend Bridget (Zena Walker), is also her biggest irritation.

Bridget, a ‘suburban housewife’ with a dull marriage and four children, ‘two with asthma’, and a couple of weeks away puts the smile back on her face when she has a fling with Tony’s agent, Jude (Norman Eshley).

In the meantime, we know that young Clemence (Judy Loe) has got herself pregnant from her affair with Tony, fifteen years her senior, and isn’t keen on keeping the baby. Throw in a bohemian girlfriend for Jude, Julia (Amber Kammer), a randy cat, generational attitudes towards love, commitment, and abortion, and you have a provocative drama which may not feel entirely contemporary in the 21st century, but which still engages audience empathy even if the majority of the characters are dreadful, self-obsessed, selfish and stagnant.

Hendry, Loe and Crosbie in particular shine as the unhappily married couple and the ‘slut’ who the wife first tolerates, then sees as a threat, then realises her usefulness. Walker’s frumpy mother lights up when a chance to relive her girlhood offers itself, while Eshley and Kammer are quietly obnoxious twenty-somethings abjecting themselves of any responsibility.

Utilising several extreme close-ups and some clever scenes with minimal dialogue, we see the unfolding plot from each point of view, and get a measure of what the future holds for each and every character.


DVD audit pt 4


Exit the King (National Theatre Olivier)

This classic absurdist black comedy by Ionesco is brought to the stage in a new version by Patrick Marber, and covers the last hour in the life of King Berenger (Rhys Ifans), who has devoted his life to pleasure and presided over the destruction of his kingdom to the point that some of them are liquifying where they stand, and his ministers drown in a distant river during the span of the play.

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He has been a cruel, unthinking tyrant to his people, and now, in his fifth century, it is time for him to die. No longer can he command the weather, his palace is cracking apart, and there is darkness across the land.

The only survivors at court are his two wives, sensible Marguerite (Indira Varma) and flighty Marie (Amy Morgan), who flank the King’s opulent throne with smaller ones of their own, a palace Guard (Derek Griffiths), a cleaning woman straight out of Acorn Antiques (Debra Gillett), and a Doctor who also doubles as court executioner in the manner of a jovial Mengele – smiling as he tortures and torments.

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Derek Griffiths and Indira Varma

Ifans is reminiscent of a blend of Spike Milligan and Lindsay Kemp in his wig and white face, a clown without a joke, a pathetic figure with visions of grandeur and divine right, and Anthony Ward’s design makes the most of the Olivier’s space and the famed drum revolve, with a hint of the old Pepper’s ghost trickery when it matters most.

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Amy Morgan and Rhys Ifans

A wickedly funny and unexpectedly moving piece of theatre, expertly directed by Marber and paced with comic touches (the small lecture theatre table that folds out of the King’s throne, the cupboard in the palace walls full of sweepers and brushes), this is a competent revival which deserves celebration.

Buy the acting edition of Exit the King at Amazon UK


The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Noel Coward Theatre)

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Martin McDonagh’s play is a black satire on the Irish Troubles, with the catalyst a small black cat by the name of Wee Thomas. We first meet said cat when his corpse is brought in by dumb Davey, who may or may not have ridden over him on a bicycle, caving his head in.

Trouble is, Wee Thomas doesn’t belong to Donny, but to his son, Mad Padraic, who doesn’t pause at ripping out men’s toenails or shooting them point-blank in the eye with a crossbow, but who cries like a baby to hear his cat is “off his food”, a deception Donny and Davey concoct to communicate the news of his death gently.

Farcical situations abound, from a strung-up torture victim trying to get away on his hands, a young idealist (Davey’s sister, and a girl sweet on Padriac) who shoots out cows eyes from a distance with an airgun as a protest against the meat trade, and an unfortunate cat called Sir Roger who has the indignity of being covered in shoe polish to pass for the deceased moggie.

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By the second half, guns are out, IRA ballads are sung, Padraic cuddles his cat while all around him, Donny and Davey are cutting up body parts, burning off fingerprints, and bashing out teeth.  It’s a joke-filled stream about highly-strung Irish cats, the quality of IRA bombs, splinter groups from splinter groups (anyone else think of The Life of Brian), the nutritional value of Frosties, and grudge-holding.

I first saw this play at its RSC debut in 2001, but couldn’t remember much about it.  It is absolutely hilarious and the ending is absolutely perfect, as Wee Thomas steals the show after all the carnage.

The characters are well-drawn, as Padraic wishes for a Free Ireland for men, women and cats, and appears to enjoy watching The House of Eliott, Mairead is a tough as a button but has an idealistic view of the cause, Davey becomes ever more hysterical, and Christy and his henchmen are stereotypical terrorist dolts.  Even James, in that one torture scene, makes a mark as despite his drug dealing he seems to love his cat Dominic and his ringworm.

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Charlie Murphy and Aidan Turner, rehearsal photograph

Starring Aidan Turner (Padraic), Denis Conway (Donny), Chris Walley (Davey), Charlie Murphy (Mairead), Brian Martin (James), Will Irvine (Christy), Julian Moore-Cook (Joey), and Daryl McCormack (Brendan).  All are excellent, but especially Turner (West End debut), Walley (stage debut following graduation from RADA), and Murphy (who made such an impact in the last series of Peaky Blinders).

Michael Grandage directs with a sure hand, balancing the gore and the comic – although the production slows a bit with an interval in what is just a 100 minute show – but I would have welcomed less scenes set at the front of the stage behind the tree-decorated curtain.  The play itself – written in 1993, but not staged for nine years, still has the power to shock and to intrigue, and it will most certainly make you laugh.  Even as a cat lover I could see the funny side of the whole business.

Buy the text of The Lieutenant of Inishmore from Amazon UK


Julie (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

Polly Stenham’s updated version of the Strindberg classic Miss Julie doesn’t quite come off despite the best efforts of its central trio of cast (Vanessa Kirby as Julie, Eric Kofi Abrefa as Jean, Thalissa Teixeira as Kristina).

Although the Second World War setting of Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie, which I saw in a television version around twenty years ago, worked well enough, bringing the story right up to date with the privileged white girl getting involved with the chauffeur (even if he’s black, as in this version) would not lead to the catastrophic ending in just one night; in fact no one would blink an eyelid, despite Julie stealing Jean from her only confidante, maid Kristina.

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Vanessa Kirby and Eric Kofi Abrefa

This production suffers from additional scenes set at the party, with dancing and drugging guests, which take up around ten minutes at the start of the play.  Much better to get straight into the meat of the play, with the neurotic Julie trying to break out on her birthday, to get away from the path which life has set for her.

Carrie Cracknell directs, and Tom Scutt designs, in a lighted box which only moves following the hard-hitting finale, the only bit which really connects on an emotional level through the whole play.  There is little sexual chemistry between Kirby and Abrefa, if anything he seems on the verge of being amused by her, but mainly bored.

The set, a kitchen suite into which cupboards the party-goers disappear, has potential (and reaches it, briefly, in the scene with the little bird), but doesn’t fit the sophisticated claustrophobia the original play requires, and which might have served Julie better in the Dorfman.

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The journey to being well again

A more personal post …

You may recall that in late April I shared my thoughts on my current health situation in a post entitled On black dogs, red mists, and blue Mondays.

It was my attempt to make sense of a crisis point in my mind and in my life which has led to my being off work since April, and to hopefully return in October. The expectation is clearly when I return to work I will be “well” and all will be as it was before, although after periods of physical illness caused by stress even before anxiety and depression kicked in, I knew that things had changed.

I want to engage with work in some degree, but I also want to be “well”. For me, that means my health has now taken a significant leapfrog over my career, and I wish to find a work-life balance that will help me progress through my recovery over the next few years; I believe strongly it will take as long as that to get back to the point where I was, in summer 2016, before I started worrying, not sleeping, crying at a drop of a hat, and feeling sick at heart at the prospect of heading out of the house and engaging with others.

While I’ve been off, the physical symptoms I experienced with IBS (painful cramps) and migraine, have diminished – not altogether gone, because a bad day can pitch me back – and my levels of anxiety and self-worth have slowly started to readjust to a more “normal” level.

Well, normal for me. I’ve been experimenting with mindfulness, CBT (on my own, as the local mental health unit’s phone support was poor), and seeing a private psychologist on the advice of occupational health. All this calms me. I’ve also been lucky that I can still find some pleasure in activities like films and theatre, our local zoo, music. I even found the original ms. of the poetry book I had published in 2000. This original version is good. I was a good writer. One of these days I will share this book with you.

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Self care brings magic to your life – (c) Dr Lisa Upshaw

My confidence, though, and drive, will never get to the same level again, and I have to accept this. I am still struggling with retaining information and finding the right word, and for someone who has always traded in words (writing, presenting) that scares me. I play word-games, I blog, I make sure each and every day I am out and about I talk to at least two or three people; it doesn’t matter who or why, the most mundane interaction helps a lot.

While being off, I have tried to get out of the door most days. Stay engaged with what’s going on in the world. I still feel shattered but not weepy or angry anymore. I have reconnected with “me” since stepping back from work. I have engaged with my husband more, my parents, my house. Health is everything, work is not the be all and end all of my life, nor are the financial compensations that come from it.

Occupational health felt it may be more that six months before I am fully able to engage with work on a full-time basis; I want to pre-empt this, and to stop any possibility of causing problems to the business from short-term (or worse) when I return, so I am exploring flexible working and reduced hours. There are no guarantees of course, which leads me to worry about what may happen if I return full-time too soon.

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Quotation by Pete Wentz

Now I know myself a lot better, now my medication has changed, now I know that I am not responsible for the failings of everyone else in my organisation. I still have high standards, I still care, but I have to balance that black dog which sometimes makes me whine, or bark, or want to curl up in a corner. I have to conquer it. And I will, but now I accept that time needs to be taken to do so.

Many friends have been very supportive and caring during this process: I thank them all here. You’re terrific, especially those of you who have been through similar feelings and situations. The support network out there is immense. Within organisations, though, and within the NHS, there is a mountain to climb when it comes to understanding, empathy, and basic levels of support.

Mental health is not “like breaking a leg”. It is feeling so much pressure you feel caged, or want to break and run. It is feeling so frustrated you lash out in anger at yourself and others. It is feeling sad and hopeless, sometimes to the point of looking at a train track, a knife, or pills, and thinking “what if”.  It is feeling terrified at the thoughts that come and go, which plague you in the dark or needle you in the light.

Most of all it is finding one’s inner strength, and recognising the best and most appropriate path to recovery.  Wish me luck.

 


King Lear (Duke of York’s)

Ten years ago we saw Ian McKellen play the title role in King Lear at the New London Theatre, a storming performance which was captured on film and shown on television.  Now he’s back for another crack at the complex role in a modernish production directed by Jonathan Munby and fresh from acclaim at the Chichester Festival.

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Ian McKellen (Lear)

This Lear rules a court dominated by a huge portrait of him in royal and military regalia, and although his map is one of the modern British Isles, his entourage pray to the old gods and seem in thrall of curses and the stars.  In a vignette opening, we have seen the old soldier stand, a sort of far ancestor of the Richard III he played in 1991 at the National Theatre, stiff and resolute.

When the old man states his intention to divide his kingdom, there is an exclamation of “what?”, and as each daughter takes the microphone to flatter their way into a coronet, we get the measure of their (Goneril and Regan in any case) duplicity and his weakness for flattery.

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Anita-Joy Uwajen (Cordelia), Sinead Cusack (Kent), Ian McKellen (Lear)

Claire Price is ice-cold as the elder daughter, who tolerates her meek husband Albany (Anthony Howell) for his connections as she watches elsewhere for a suitor.  In contrast, Kirsty Bushell starts calm enough as Regan, but becomes unhinged to the point of dancing like a dervish in Gloucester’s torture scene, and seems consumed by lust and power as the play progresses.

And finally, Anita-Joy Uwajen’s Cordelia convinces as the honest and loving child who takes up arms following her exile in marriage to the King of France and brings back strength to her ailing father.

Kent, often a difficult role to carry off, is played here by Sinead Cusack, as a Countess who disguises herself as a rough manservant (shades of Twelfth Night and the metamorphosis of Viola to Cesario).  She’s a convincing character, having fun with the text and yet portraying the sensitivity of a true friend to the King through female eyes.

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Ian McKellen (Lear) and Danny Webb (Gloucester)

As the unfortunate Earl of Gloucester, Danny Webb brings amusement to his astronomical charts, naivete about his sons and their intentions, and eventually pathos in the scenes at Dover with first the disguised Edgar, and then the broken-minded Lear; quite a contrast to his brutal Cornwall of the 2016 Old Vic production.

I always find the Edgar/Edmund plotline to slow down this already lengthy play, and neither Luke Thompson nor James Corrigan really convince, although I liked the camp and vain Oswald of Michael Matus, and the Fool (Lloyd Hutchinson) had his moments here and there.

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Ian McKellen (Lear)

But this is McKellen’s show, and whether raging against the daughters he feels have discarded his status, authority and dignity, losing his mind and faculties in a raging storm of rain, or presiding over a mock trial with offal and pig’s heads, he keeps your interest, and his final scene is completely, emotionally, heartbreaking, as the loss of his youngest child causes his own life to ebb away, but as it does we see within the dementia-stricken brain the brave soldier – who we saw, isolated, in the battle scene – as well as the anointed ruler who caused all to bend their knees in supplication.

A marvellous performance, and if this is McKellen’s final Shakespeare on the stage, we have been lucky indeed to “see so much” and “live so long”.  I found the production a little bit modern, and felt that the religious aspects were forgotten too quickly, but these are “just trifles here”.  This production is worth your time, and runs at the Duke of York’s until the second week in November 2018.

Buy the text of King Lear from Amazon UK

Buy the DVD of the New London theatre production from Amazon UK


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