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#301060 The Silver Tassie- National Theatre

Posted El Peter on Yesterday, 06:52 PM

I saw this at the first preview on Tuesday evening and was absorbed by it while also thinking it a strange play. It was cheered to the rafters at final curtain and deservedly so for what is another well-directed Howard Davies production, with the stage-design and sound-design of the production as striking and just right.

It has four acts. The first centres round the homecoming of a victorious sporting hero with the team's trophy, the silver tassie. The third is set in a hospital ward where we see him in a wheelchair. The fourth act is set at a postwar Armistice party back home, but with the angry protagonist among those marginalised men disinclined to celebrate.

What is unusual is the second act, written by O'Casey and presented here in Expressionist style that tries to capture the madness and scale of the bloody Western Front 1914-18. It is like a dream sequence, heavy on symbolism and with songs ands some evocative music, with bullets and shells flying, all in order to express the nightmare experience of front-line fighting, defiance and fear of what has been happening month in and month out for years. This second act stands out, but will not be to everyone's taste because of the leap of imagination involved and its apparent disconnection to acts one and three. Yes, a couple to our right did not return after the interval, and three or four more a few rows behind. But the famous O'Casey plays always had that aspect to them, and the experimental nature of this today is still as perplexing as it must have seemed on paper to Yeats who rejected it for the Abbey.   

It is not a play to enjoy, for despite the characteristic black humour of the writer it is too serious and too angry to do that. This is not the World War One of its last very aged wheel-chaired fussed over military survivors in the late 1990s/early 2000s. No, this is an anti-war play written and staged just over ten years after the Armistice, when the human wreckage of the global conflict was all about, or dying off or just hidden away. The point at which 'a land fit for heroes' when fighting was over, had turned out to be bogus. This play's premiere, in London, staged just days before the 1929 Wall Street Crash, with years of Slump and Great Depression still to follow (along with another world war).

It is irritating, it is disputatious, it is lop-sided, disconnected — perhaps what O'Casey was trying to capture about that war. We left the theatre thoughtful and intrigued at what we had seen and heard. This morning I browsed the web a little and found a couple of articles about an earlier production of this play, that others may find helpful in understanding what I am trying to convey here.



#299989 Time To Support Theatre On Forum!

Posted freckles on 10 April 2014 - 10:20 AM

A forum is designed for an exchange of views.

I'm getting a bit tired of people being slapped down for not praising everything to the heights - whether they are critics, members of forums or people on social media. The ultimate measure of success is surely the production itself, and I see no harm in forum members discussing their views freely. Of course, as with all forums there will always be trolls & extremists, but there are enough heartfelt, genuine contributors on WOS to make it a very useful & interesting resource.

I too feel that I support theatre by buying tickets (and programmes & drinks etc) but if I really didn't rate a production, I don't see any harm in sharing my views. I am interested to hear what others have to say when I'm thinking of booking something and it would be a great loss to me if everybody were unerringly positive and "supportive" at the expense of honest opinion. Of course, I am the first to share when I absolutely love something too.

I know there has been discussion in the media recently about the effect of word-of-mouth and social media on the success, or failure, of a show but think there is a very real danger of social media platforms being hi-jacked by PR bods rather than genuine theatre goers. (Even on these boards, you know who you are!) Many productions use social media as an aspect of their publicity; for some smaller, underfunded shows it is often relied upon as the primary means of promotion. Hence sometimes what one reads online does not truly reflect how the majority of the audience reacted, or how well a show is selling. I've seen at least two fringe productions that were so talked up on twitter that you'd have thought they could have instantly transferred to & filled the Palladium, yet when I saw them, they were seriously lacking. I think the lines between PR and genuine debate are becoming blurred, and feel forum members have a duty to maintain the WOS Forum as a platform for genuine comment & opinion.

So carry on with your observations; I'm going to & I doubt our comments can ever really be blamed for closing a show, the responsibility for that does lie with the production itself.

#299140 The Vale Of Health (Simon Gray Rep Season)

Posted steveatplays on 02 April 2014 - 11:07 PM

Saw "Japes" tonight.

Like Xanderl said, this does indeed seem to be a parent play of Mike Bartlett's "Love Love Love." It features a generational clash in which two generations judge each other, yet it didn't need to be that. The conclusion feels oddly random. Not that it is unearned per se, but I feel there is a more fulfilling ending in the ether that more perfectly addresses the tensions and themes raised throughout the play. I had the distinct sensation Simon Gray himself felt this way, when he saw Japes performed the first go round. I am intrigued which ending will feel most right to me.

I was surprised by how serious the tone of this was, given how funny Gray is in other plays. If Japes is a rebellious Butley style misfit, he's one who has lost much of his mischief, his humour and his joie de vivre, though he retains Butley's charisma.

The essential themes of the play, which never resolved themselves here, have more to do with how different personality types relate, rather than intergenerational gulfs. Essentially, you have a cerebral man, Michael, who loves a sensation driven id-fuelled woman, Neets. And in between them is Japes, Michael's brother, who shares both their characteristics, and who loves them both. He links them as much as he divides them, and the strange and fascinating bond these three share develops over a lifetime.

The yoyoing relationship of this trio remains almost as stable as the Stephen Spender poetry anthology, sitting on the living room table of the house co-owned by the brothers, unmoved for 20 years. But when the Stephen Spender poetry book finally topples. . .

Laura Rees is a brilliant Neets, her physicality defined by slithering snakelike into the space of others, making pervasive eye contact, raising and dropping the pitch of her voice from shrill needy highs to deep seductive lows. Jamie Ballard is intellect personified, his repressed id ever trying to escape his pursed lips and rounded vowels. And Gethin Anthony as Japes is a perfect go-between, part raging thrill seeker, part idealist poet (hence the Spender book), expressing the physical and psychic damage of Jape's leg injury with every hobbled movement.

The appearance of Imogen Doel as Neet's daughter, Wendy, towards the end of the play, delivers up the "Love Love Love" intergenerational judgement aspect of the play, and also proves that her expressive saucer eyes are capable of more than physical comedy. I did laugh when she first appeared wide-eyed, as I remembered her eyes bugging out as she screamed at me to eat a massive cream cake in Gastronauts in front of the whole cackling audience at the Royal Court, an embarrassment I'll never get over. But here her character soon morphs into the same grave seriousness that engulfs the whole play.

This definitely has the feel of a last play, one last serious statement from an old joker of a playwright. I am glad Gray wrote more endings to this though. Maybe I'll find one I like better. Or maybe all the plays will fit together to make one superior work.

If this were one play alone, I'd rate it 3 and a half stars, but as it is only part of a greater whole, I'll reserve judgement. :)

#298256 X Factor The Musical To The Palladium

Posted amos on 27 March 2014 - 09:58 AM

View Postpopcultureboy, on 27 March 2014 - 09:05 AM, said:

The three star review from Quentin Letts just makes me think they paid for the reviews. The general word of mouth (and not just on here) has been quite negative, and this is the kind of show that Letts would despise.
"its unfettered Britishness is a welcome change from all the American musicals in the West End" shows his maths is as suspect as Nigel Farage. I reckon there are around 14 British shows at the moment and maybe half a dozen US imports. Just imagine all the Eastern European shows he'll have to put up with when the 490 million Bulgarians arrive.

#298233 Booing

Posted Andromeda Dench on 27 March 2014 - 08:03 AM

Tar and feather them, I say! And chase them out of the town.
The only place I have ever (to my great shock and mortification) witnessed booing has been at La Scala. Every single time, apparently by the same group of people (disheveled looking middle-aged and elderly men), whom I also once saw engaged in a fist fight with another group after the show. Puzzled, I did some online research and asked some Italian friends what it was all about, and it turns out that there is apparently a group who blackmails singers/production teams/La Scala itself (depending on the source) asking for money not to boo the performers and the show.
Food for thought, wanna-be mobsters. :)
I could never boo anyone or anything, I just passive-aggressively refuse to participate in the applause.

#297232 Blithe Spirit, Gielgud Theatre

Posted VDCNI on 19 March 2014 - 07:43 AM

Was at press night last night and really enjoyed it. Certainly a big step up from the Alison Steadman production a few years ago which was horrific. Lansbury may have been a bit uncertain in early previews but she nails it here - perhaps not at the absolute top of her game but near enough, if anything it was Janie Dee who stumbled a bit over the lines here and there. It is clear early in the second act when she clashes with Ruth that the dottiness is a performance and not her age.

Rest of the cast also very strong - Charles Edwards is as good as ever and Janie Dee matches him and count me as someone who likes Jemima Rooper's performance - having seen most actresses think all the part needs is a bit of wafting around and a smug expression it's great to see her bring out the sexuality & slight instability in the character - she actually seems like the person they describe in the first scene - shame about the wig though.

#296636 Big Celebrities

Posted Alexandra on 14 March 2014 - 12:09 PM

Well, it was certainly worth the nearly 2 year wait for that joke.

#295883 Unexpected Moments!

Posted EmiCardiff on 09 March 2014 - 04:35 PM

Talking of Mr Kinner's Othello (a couple of pages back) the night I saw it the tap on the sink in the toilets broke, Rory valiantly tried to fix it back on/stop the water spurting out. Failed miserably and got some very wet trousers for his trouble. Bit of tap in hand he turned to the audience and said 'Knew I should have taken that plumbing course' before continuing with the scene. (and doing another three scenes looking like Iago had a bit of an accident)

#295844 Versailles - Donmar

Posted Lynette on 09 March 2014 - 01:12 AM

A huge disappointment. A play so wrong on so many levels, hard to analyse! It was obsolete in its structure, three acts with two intervals and sooooo long. It wasted actors by having them appear in only one or two of the acts; it used too many actors and did not fully characterise any of the parts. It was a waste of talent, money and time.

There is a play to be written on the topic but this wasn't it. How anyone who must have seen Copenhagen, or An Inspector Calls or read E.M. Forster's novel, Howard's End not to mention all the other brilliant evocations of war and guilt, class and so on, could put together this undramatic mish mush I do not know. As a respected man of the theatre, Gill should have known better. And to direct it himself exacerbated the inadequacies where another director might have made a few useful suggestions like cutting, cutting, cutting. Walking an actor round a desk- several times - doth not a performance make. Having not one but three actors deliver very long, complex speeches and I mean long certainly doesn't. Hamlet's 'To be or not too be' speech is about as long as any speech ought to be and we all know it.

The acting of course was very good. I felt for them, especially Barbara Flynn who was shaping up to be a nice Lady Bracknell I thought. But even she couldn't hold it together.

Just to say that in the loo afterwards I overheard a young woman say that she understood the beginning a bit but not the end. If this is the kind of stuff the Donmar thinks will build them an audience they must think again. I expect they will be trawling the telly and the movies for stars to come to their rescue  a la Mr Hiddleston. Good luck to them.

It is a sell out. If this is theatre for some people, then subsidised theatre is doomed. And if it is the best the Donmar can offer to examine WWI then we are all doomed.

#295842 Do I Hear A Waltz?

Posted steveatplays on 09 March 2014 - 12:54 AM

Saw this tonight. Yes, it's not great, but I really enjoyed hearing the songs, so I'm delighted I went.

The set will send Mr Barnaby scurrying to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory again to calm his nerves. It's basically a two dimensional background drawing of Venice, where the lack of three dimensions makes the water look like it's defying gravity. There's also percussion instruments and a piano in the centre back, and a staircase on either side of the instruments, allowing entrances and exits.

The central love affair is weak because Philip Lee as Renato Di Rossi shows no passion whatsoever, and because he sounds so very English. Indeed, there's a five year old in this who does a more convincing Italian accent than he does. Room with a View this is not!

It's a shame as Philip Lee is a lovely singer, and he sings "Take The Moment" beautifully. This should be Andrew Marvel's "To His Coy Mistress," pressing the urgency of living while you are alive. This should be Robin Williams jumping about, singing "Seize the Day," as he implores American tourist Leona to have an affair with him. Does Renato kneel before her here? Does he kiss her hand? Does he dance seductively around her? Does he smile and charm her? No, no, no and no. He stands about five feet away motionless and sings dryly at her. He doesn't even look as if he wants an affair. What was the director thinking?

Arthur Laurent's book is dated. Teenagers in Ibiza have more fun than these two wannabe lovers, there is too much talk, all guilt, no action.

That said, there are some lovely moments in this, particularly those that involve peripheral characters.

One of my favourite songs in this is "No Understand," in which American tourist Eddie (Matthew Kellett)) forsakes his wife, Jennifer (Rebecca Moon), and falls into the clutches of a lascivious restaurant proprietress, Fioria (Rosie Strobel). Where the central duo lack passion, Eddie and Fioria can't keep their hands off each other, but what makes the writing and blocking here so lovely is the young Italian waitress, who barely speaks a word of English and is taking English lessons from Eddie, consistently gets between the two, repeatedly singing that she "no understand." As the young waitress Giovanna, a hollow eyed Carolina Gregory manages to seem both very very gormless as well as very very savvy, creating a comic scenario of a twosome stifled from becoming but also threatening to erupt into a threesome.

I also loved it when Kellett's Eddie sang the hilarious Sondheim lyric to his wife "We'll build our house upon the rock of my virility," not a lyric from the Bible, to be sure.

In fact, I should have preferred if Kellett had had the lead role, as he evinced passion more convincingly than the lead, and Kellett and Moon did a great job with the song "We're gonna be alright."

Also lovely is "What Do We Do, We Fly?" which involves the whole ensemble swirling around declaring Sondheim's witty lyrics about hating planes, which rang true to me even today. I particularly liked gravel-voiced Richard Griffiths lookalike, Bruce Graham whining about the omnipresence of Doris Day, and Rebecca Moon's tightly wound delivery of Sondheim's verse about pesky children on planes: "The kid I noticed the first was the one who stood on my feet, the kid I hated the worst was the one who kicked my seat, there was one on the left who bit, there was one on the right who spit, there was one in the back I hit" lol!"

In Act 2, the women join together singing a beguiling Richard Rodgers' melody, "Moon in my Window," which featured an unconvincing projection of the moon, but which was otherwise luscious, with dreamy Sondheim lyrics about the moon waking the city up to life.

I should also mention that while I wasn't bowled over by the volume of lead actress Rebecca Seale's voice, playing Leona, she was easily the best actress in this production, convincing portraying smiling through loneliness, drunkenness, and joint equal in the comedy stakes with Carolina Gregory's Giovanna, both actresses having excellent timing. Without Rebecca Seale in the lead, this production would be unconvincing as well as bloodless. As it is, it is merely the latter not the former.

All in all, it's worth hearing this for the songs, but I was left wondering how amazing this might have been if the directing and acting team involved in St James' "Putting It Together" were also involved in this!

3 stars.

#295751 1984 At The Almeida

Posted EmiCardiff on 08 March 2014 - 12:49 PM

I saw this on tour and it divided most of the audience into total love or hate. I loved the structure of the story and thought it worked really well for a stage re-telling. Interestingly in one of the post show talks the cast revealed that about 90% of what seems to be 'additions' or 'alterations' were actually found in Orwell's notes/postscript (it's been years since I read it so can't corroborate that!)

I did have a strange thing happen to me watching it (I was still working as an usher then) and the final time I saw it I had the most extreme reaction to the content (which I won't spoil here but suffice to say fairly graphic) I was shaking for a good 20 minutes after. And I'm not normally one to be 'affected' that strongly by such things.  Probably because a) I knew what was coming and B) I'd seen it something like 5 nights in a row. But still a very strange reaction.

#295732 Urinetown

Posted steveatplays on 08 March 2014 - 10:29 AM

View Postmallardo, on 07 March 2014 - 11:18 PM, said:

I thought Jamie Lloyd over-directed and over-produced it.  Too much set - it's better when it's played simpler.  

Lloyd is constantly underlining - the actors in rabbit heads illustrating just what Don't Be The Bunny is really saying.  We don't need it.

Lockstock himself, as played by Jonathan Slinger, seems misconceived.  Too smarmy and sleazy and overtly sadistic.  Lockstock has to be a charmer.  All the bad things he does are done with a fresh gleaming smile, not a leer.  And what's with the bad New Yawk accent?  The show is not set in New York so why do it?

And what's with the buckets of blood?  Way too literal.  Not only unnecessary but wrong.

I wish Lloyd had trusted his material more and not felt the need to add his own unhelpful flourishes.  But the show is strong enough to survive them.  And, despite my carping, I had a good time.  Don't think I'd see it again though.

Glad you had a good time regardless. Like Freckles, this was the first time I have seen this, and I didn't know the book or music before I did.

For me, this was like falling in love, I loved everything about it. I have no other version of this to compare it to, and I would balk at a toned-down or sanitised version of it. And that includes loving all the extreme things Jamie Lloyd did to underline the theme, to make it gory and filthy and mean and in your face.

I am aware that the producers are saying this version is "darker" than the original version because they feel darker plays more to the British psyche. However, I personally doubt this justification. As a take on an apocalypse scenario, Americans are lapping up the TV show "The Walking Dead," which is very bit as dirty and filthy and mean and visceral as this, though it lacks the humour of this as well as the satiric critique of what we are doing to our world.


#295712 Blithe Spirit, Gielgud Theatre

Posted Nicholas on 08 March 2014 - 02:05 AM

View Postwickedgrin, on 07 March 2014 - 11:28 PM, said:

Noel Coward wrote the play in days and virtually no lines were altered. He was a stickler for the accurate delivery of his script. He would have had palpitations if he had witnessed this production.

There’s a line in Hay Fever that reads “You can see Marlow on a clear day, so they tell me” but which Edith Evans, in rehearsals, read as “You can see Marlowe on a very clear day.”  Correcting her, Coward said “No, dear, on a very clear day you can see Marlowe and Beaumont and Fletcher.”

Judy Campbell, who toured with Coward in the war, got annoyed with him.
Campbell: Oh, I could just throw something at you!”
Coward: Try starting with my lines.

And bringing it back to Blithe Spirit, and Fletcher (Jessica), Claudette Colbert was fluffing her lines.
Colbert: Oh, dear, I knew them backwards this morning.
Coward: And that’s just the way you’re delivering them, dear.

#295667 Do I Hear A Waltz?

Posted xanderl on 07 March 2014 - 06:19 PM

Anyway, Mallardo, the lesson of this discussion is that you need to see Do I Hear a Waltz regardless, otherwise you'll be back here in a few years saying its the only one you've not seen!

#295163 Stephen Ward - The Musical

Posted freckles on 05 March 2014 - 09:36 AM

Bless! I love listening in at the interval.

My favourite when I saw it (from a similar gaggle of ladies) was "Oooh, don't take your coat off Joan, it's a bit nippy in here. I feel sorry for that poor girl, I hope she's got a heater backstage!"