Monthly Archives: February 2016

Evening at the Talk House (National Theatre)

This is a world premiere of a new play by Wallace Shawn, who also stars in this 100 minute piece running at the Dorfman Theatre until April.

The set is that of a club called the Talk House, where the assorted characters in the play used to meet regularly ten years ago, when they were cast and crew members in a successful theatre production called ‘Midnight In a Clearing With Moon and Stars’.

In Bob’s lengthy opening monologue (which sets the tone for what is to follow, ponderous, over-explanatory and rather dull), we hear about how the reunion came to pass, and see each character being introduced – Nellie, Jane, Ted, Annette, Tom, Bill, and Dick, the gate crasher played by Shawn, the actor who has clearly fallen on hard times.

Soon it becomes apparent that this is not the world as we know it.  Theatre ‘no longer exists’ by state decree.  A ‘Programme of Murdering’ removes undesirables both abroad and closer to home.  Ordinary looking and sounding people talk of targeting and assassinating as if it is just a normal bodily function.  There is an air of menace hanging over proceedings …

… the trouble is, nothing happens other than 100 minutes of talk, which includes descriptions of murders of people we know nothing about, and constant ‘did you hear what happened to Y’ and ‘do you remember X’ just alienates an audience who simply does not care about the characters in front of them, let alone a parade of people off the set who simply do not matter.

I liked the way the set (by the Quay Brothers) and lighting design at least tried to conspire together to convey a sense of movement and transition in this play, but the writing stops it flat, despite the basic premise being quite an intriguing, if naïve, idea.  The contrast between the forced bonhomie of colleagues who probably never liked each other anyway with the beatings and killings in which they are regularly involved feels forced.

In the cast, apart from Shawn as the failed and battered actor, we have Anna Calder-Marshall as the kindly Nellie, the Talk House’s proprietress, .Josh Hamilton as sniffy Bob, Sinead Matthews as Jane the waitress turned assassin who longs for death, Joseph Mydell as the idealistic Bill, Naomi Wirthner as costume designer Annette who was everyone’s confidante and who now has a heart of ice, Stuart Milligan as Ted the on the surface nice guy, and Simon Shepherd as successful yet vacuous TV personality Tom.

Shawn is feted as one of America’s foremost dramatists, but even those with that status sometimes need to be reined in.  Alhough Ian Rickson does his best with direction, this play goes nowhere and does so at a funereal pace.  By the ending, which doesn’t really make much sense, we have stopped caring, which might explain the audience grumbling when the lights go down and the silence before the grudging applause.

Theatreboard: a new social space for theatre fans



THEATREBOARD: the new home of independent theatre discussion.

The UK now has a new independent online forum to discuss theatre.

Following the recent decision by its American parent company to discontinue support for the discussion forums originally established by, a group of dedicated fans have taken on the challenge to create a brand new home for lively and informed discussion about the UK theatre scene and beyond.

Once the closure of the old forum was announced at the start of January, many users rapidly got involved suggesting ways forward.  Different approaches were considered before the community as a whole put its support behind a plan to create a new home at

A former moderator of the forum commented: ‘It was fantastic seeing our online community come together to protect something they valued so much.  It was a very democratic process and we are proud to have launched the new site within a matter of weeks.’

A small team of volunteer staff came together to cover the costs and work on the design and functionality of the new site which already boasts over 500 members and is averaging 17,000 hits a day.

A spokesperson said: ‘We are thrilled to have secured this new online home which we hope will continue to grow and flourish in the years to come. Everyone is welcome –  whatever type of theatre they enjoy or how often they manage to see a show.’

TheatreBoard features sections discussing Musicals; Plays; Performers and following member demand, a new area dedicated to Opera and Dance. Conversations already cover dozens of productions including West End, fringe and touring; alongside topics as diverse as badly behaved audiences to theatre technology and a live chat planned for the upcoming Olivier awards.

All year round the UK delivers an exceptional wealth of live theatre in venues ranging in size from over two thousand seats down to the most intimate studio spaces. TheatreBoard aims to support informed, varied and vigorous debate among those who love theatre.

Soundtrack of my life in 100 songs (part 1)

There are so many examples of great music out there, and over the years I have developed a core of favourite musicians and songs (not necessarily recorded within my lifetime) which I would like to share in this blog post.

This post will have a look at the first group of ten, in no particular order, and with no link between them.

Les Paul and Mary Ford, “How High The Moon”.  Recorded in 1951 by the husband and wife duo who did a lot to popularise new technicological ways of recording including double tracking.  Many modern guitarists cite Paul as a major influence.  This song showcases those tricks, and is a good example of their style.

Roger Whittaker, “A Special Kind of Man”. In 1974 this was the B side of Whittaker’s major hit, “The Last Farewell”, which was covered by Elvis Presley.  Whittaker’s brand of folksy gentleness, and occasional whistling, made him very popular in the easy listening section.

Dave Berry, “This Strange Effect”. Written by Ray Davies, but never officially recorded by The Kinks, this haunting ballad from 1965 is my favourite of his songs, although I would also recommend “The Crying Game” and “Mama”. The video here is a lot of fun as it shows fan hysteria in the 60s. Berry is still performing today, and even predated Michael Jackson in his slinky use of one-glove wearing.

Goldie, “Goin’ Back”. A song best known for the Dusty Springfield version released shortly afterwards in 1966. Goldie’s version fell foul of lyric changes not pleasing the songwriters Goffin and King, but it is rather sweet, I think. I heard this for the first time when the compilation CD ‘Goin’ Back’ was released.

Rainbow, “Gates of Babylon”. One of the best rock bands, this was from their early days (1978) before becoming more commercial. Big epics were the order of the day, and this is one of their best, with the trio of Ritchie Blackmore (1945- ) on guitar, Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010) on vocals, and Cozy Powell (1947-1998) on drums. This isn’t the version that appeared on their ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’ album, but a live version that was made into a promo video.

The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Originally recorded in 1971, this live performance was filmed in 1978 and released as part of the film “The Kids Are Alright”, by which time drummer Keith Moon had died and the band’s future seemed questionable. They continued with Kenney Jones, but it was never quite the same. This video shows how great they were, but also take a look at their performances at Woodstock and the Isle at Wight a few years earlier.

Tom Jones, “Green, Green Grass of Home”. In 1967 Jones had already been recording for a few years, and his signature style had already developed. This is definitely one of his best songs, and this video certainly shows a country vibe. Still going strong, I’d say in some areas his voice has even improved!

Joe Cocker, “You Can Leave Your Hat On”. I could have picked his iconic Woodstock performance of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends”, but this version of Randy Newman’s song is just fab. The video is from 9 1/2 Weeks, of course, and the year is 1986. Cocker sadly passed away in 2014, but his fabulous soul voice lives on. Video slightly NSFW.

Eric Clapton, “Wonderful Tonight”. Patti Boyd had a number of love songs written for her (the other major one was George Harrison’s “Something”, written for the Beatles). This song dates from 1977 and it is one of my favourite slow songs. There is a longer 8 minute version around but I prefer this version which is usually on radio playlists.

Bee Gees, “I Started A Joke”. This group of siblings is often remembered for Barry’s falsetto singing, but good though that is, I always liked Robin’s rather strange phrasing and delicate voice, which is showcased well here in a song from 1968 (but performed here in 1997). Robin died in 2012, his twin Maurice having passed away in 2003, but the music of the Bee Gees, notably their songs for the soundtrack of ‘Saturday Night Fever’, endure.

Sunny Afternoon (Harold Pinter Theatre)

The Kinks were arguably the first band to play hard rock, and this show, loosely based on the true story of their rise to fame as told by lead singer Ray Davies, certainly delivers on the sound – at times it is ear-shatteringly loud, especially once the few teasing chords of ‘You Really Got Me’ turn into a full performance of the song.


Songs shoehorned into a story are only ever partially successful, which is probably why the big and loud numbers like ‘All Day And All Of The Night’, ‘Till The End of the Day’, and ‘Lola’ are presented in concert settings.  ‘Dead End Street’ is wittily repurposed to be sung by Ray and Dave’s dad, in their dingy flat, while ‘That Strange Effect’ (a favourite of the songs written by Ray Davies but best known for the version by Dave Berry) is used for an awkward love scene between ‘Ray’ and eventual first wife and Kinks back-up singer Rasa.  The two also have a trans-Atlantic duet over the ‘phone to ‘I Go To Sleep’ (best known these days for the version by a later girlfriend of Ray’s, Chrissie Hynde, with the Pretenders).

Performances are broadly good, with the central quartet of Danny Horn (Ray), Oliver Hoare (Dave), Tom Whitelock (Pete Quaife) and Damien Walsh (Mick Avory) evolving from gawky working-class louts to assured ‘followers of fashion’.  (Actually on the night we saw this, Walsh was replaced after the interval, by I think Alex Tosh, which was interesting in itself and proved that the cast was at least versatile in the face of change).  In supporting roles we have Jason Baughan as grasping publisher Eddie Kassner, Megan Leigh Mason (excellent) as Rasa, Charlie Tigh and Gabriel Vick as silly twit managers Grenville and Bobby, and Stephen Pallister in dual roles as Mr Davies and Allen Klein, their powerful late promoter.

It might be churlish to say that having closed the show, plot-wise, with ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and a curtain-call, we then switch to Madison Square Gardens for a performance of ‘Lola’ in which the audience is chivvied to its feet for a sneaky standing ovation, but there’s enough here to recommend this, if not at full-price, at least for any discount you can get during promotions.  We were in the front row of the dress circle, which was close up and high enough to give a good view of the moments which took place on the extended stage into the front stalls.

Amusing moment: ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, where the band start to develop their sartorial style.  Moving moment: Ray and Dave’s duet ‘A Long Way From Home’ (the show closes in 1970 and so does not address the breakdown of the sibling relationship, or the decline of Ray and Rasa’s marriage).  The programme may be rather flowery about the Kinks’ back catalogue, but there is certainly enough here to give a flavour of their varied output.  Curiously, Edward Hall directs, and I still think of him as primarily a Shakespeare specialist.  On this evidence, he’s not bad with a musical hook either.


Amy Steele on music, books and other (mostly alternative) entertainment

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Lover of good food, good wine and all things London-related - theatre, music, history and Arsenal FC being some of my particular passions. Join me on my travels around this amazing city and beyond...

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