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#301029 King Charles Iii

Posted steveatplays on Yesterday, 01:25 PM

Sitting in my usual partially restricted seat last night, with the doors closing, I delightedly started shuffling into the empty unobstructed seat to my left when Henry Goodman suddenly appeared and stole it from me. Well, it was his, but it felt like theft.

The play itself was neither as funny as I expected it to be, nor as dramatic as one of Shakespeare's histories, though it was thoroughly fascinating. The overall tone is serious, the story of Charles' heroic and foolish attempt to exercise real power, making a principled stand against a privacy bill restricting freedom of the press.

Although the blank verse and tragically flawed protagonist do successfully conjure up the feeling of a Shakespeare history, the stakes here are much lower: "will the privacy bill go through?" just doesn't feel as threatening as "will Richard II be murdered?"

Still, there is betrayal aplenty as various forces scheme against Charles, and Tim Pigott-Smith gives an outstanding performance as Charles, his principle, his pig-headedness, his compassion, his loneliness. This is more than mere impersonation, I really felt for him. The real Charles would never be so foolish, though this has the feel of the real man.

The sub-plot involving Harry wanting to become a commoner was well-judged, and I found all Richard Goulding's appearances as Harry to be much needed comic relief.

As William and Kate, Oliver Chris and Lydia Wilson made for a savvy and glamourous power couple, with the latter wearing the trousers. If Vanessa Kirby did a play now, we'd have all the female principals from the Royal Court's "The Acid Test" sharing the London stage simultaneously, as Phoebe Fox is at the Young Vic at the moment.

Mike Bartlett has created in this play a valuable vehicle to consider the meaning of Royalty after the Queen, as well as a play for monarchists to gawk at convincing facsimiles and republicans to consider their flaws. It's also, thanks to Pigott-Smith, an effective drama, and proves Rupert Goold's Almeida does things differently. There is undoubtedly an audience for a transfer.

4 stars.

Nb: During the interval, I chatted with Henry Goodman about the play, leaving it till the end to tell him how much I liked his Arturo Ui. Actors are like wild horses, and you must approach gingerly if you intend to stroke one. :)

#300941 A View From The Bridge

Posted steveatplays on 16 April 2014 - 06:21 PM

When I saw the glowing neon floor of the set, the bathtub shaped glass prison walls around it, and the ascending and descending cage above it, I thought I was looking at the holodeck of the Starship Enterprise. This is like a futuristic shell, designed to hold the distilled essence of a human tragedy, as a lesson to Starfleet Officers, or anybody who cares to look and learn.

The production feels timeless, divorced from the Brooklyn brownstone that glowered over the Ken Stott revival, albeit still tinged with Sicilian values about honour and justice. And it feels religious, a place where even scheming lawyers remove their shoes before entering, because the drama is somehow holy. Like a parable, I suppose.

If Ivo Van Hove wanted to leave the actors to carry the full weight of the drama, he succeeds because of Mark Strong. That man scares me, I won't lie. When his Eddie Carbone made eye contact with me, I froze with fright. His physicality is primal, his eyes hawklike, always hunting.

And what he wants most, he can't have, which is his seventeen year old niece Catherine, played by Phoebe Fox, whose thighs he can't stop stroking, and who is so childlike that she leaps into his bearlike arms and straddles her legs round his waist like she is 5 years old.

I could barely recognise Fox as the same streetwise trendy young English girl she played in The Acid Test. Her Brooklyn accent is spot on, so too her girlish mannerisms, and when when she falls for Luke Norris' blond, singing, sewing, dancing Rodolpho, she unleashes some of the worst gaydar ever in Uncle Eddie, who wins the award as the least likely character ever to be in the front row of a performance of "La Cage aux Folles" singing along to "I am what I am." Eddie decides something "ain't right" about Rodolpho.

Nicola Walker is effective and moving, as a compassionate voice of reason, Eddie's wife, who can see conflict developing, but is powerless to stop it.

The drama that develops turns all "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," when Van Hove stages the characters in a triangle, and has them using words and pauses like bullets. And make no mistake, Strong is the mirror image of Lee Van Cleef's villainous Angel Eyes in this scene, his eyes having been drawn to our attention by the play's Greek chorus, Michael Gould's forlorn Alfieri.

After this, there is a brief moment of longeurs, before the powerful resolution of one of the most starkly dramatic productions I've seen in a while. Grab the remaining tickets while they're there.

4 and a half stars. :)

#300775 Urinetown

Posted steveatplays on 15 April 2014 - 12:49 PM

View PostPharaoh, on 15 April 2014 - 12:26 PM, said:

Jenna must've had something else on; I saw her in a Starbucks near Victoria at about 6pm.

She had lost her voice, but her coffee drinking skills were unaffected.


Hope she is better now. :)

#299922 A Small Family Business

Posted steveatplays on 09 April 2014 - 05:35 PM

OK perfectly passable filler, like spending an uneventful afternoon watching the only good episode of Murder She Wrote.

This is a bit like a prequel to "Barking In Essex," where we discover the origin story of a corrupt suburban gangster family. Or to be more precise, "Barking in Essex" could easily be retitled "A Small Family Business Part 4: Barking in Essex - The family disintegrates and so does the English Language."

But if the story of a reluctant gangster kingpin is going to be funny, then he really has to be a bit more reluctant than Nigel Lindsay's Jack McCracken. Lindsay shouts and postures, but I never felt in him the deep disgust or outraged inner fury that would make the gradual corruption of his character simultaneously hilarious and tragic. The character needs to become unhinged, like Basil Fawlty, desperately trying to keep his cool, but possessed by indignant fury.

I am jealous of anyone who saw Michael Gambon in the original run of this, as Gambon's lugubrious face is the very definition of reluctance, and just the thought of that face contorting further with anger, disgust and frustration, makes me laugh.

In a tragicomic farce like this, laughs are generated when the indignant (normal) central character is confronted by the hidden craziness of the other characters. This is where this production works best, as there are 4 standout bonkers performances: there is  Matthew Cottle's Uriah Heap of a private investigator who is so sleazy he leaks 8 pints of drool over the course of the play; there is Neal Barry's brother-in-law who is positively possessed by food perversion; there is Niky Wardley's sister-in-law who wears cuckoldry and criminality without any hint of shame; and there is Jack's own wife, Debra Gillett who becomes increasingly aberrant degree by imperceptible degree.

While it is dated to be shocked by greed-is-good culture, and while this misses as much as it hits the funnybone, there is enough here to make for a reasonably entertaining evening. 3 stars.

Nb: Thanks to Ian and Vickster for your sightline warnings. Instead of taking my seat in Row A, I waited till the door shut and took an empty seat in Row F instead. It seems, like for Urinetown, the best sightline for both upper and lower stages is Row G. :)

#299698 Old Vic New Season

Posted steveatplays on 08 April 2014 - 09:51 AM

It appears that once people get past the waiting room, they feel such joy at arriving at the website, that they are lingering there forever, and the queue is slowing down! Please do spend half an hour browsing around in there, why don't you! :0

Oh wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there there!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new website,
That has such people in't!

#299689 Old Vic New Season

Posted steveatplays on 08 April 2014 - 09:38 AM

I appear to be advancing one hundred spots in the queue every ten minutes. ETA 11am then, at which point no doubt I will be automatically logged out, or my payment will be rejected. Yes, so glad I didn't bother with yon quaint subscription booking period and stuck to tried and trusty technology!

I am advancing slower than popcultureboy behind me, because the people ahead of me are not bailing out of the sinking ship. They see actual lifeboats ahead. Hang in there popcultureboy! :)

#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. :)

#298724 London Live To Screen Plays

Posted steveatplays on 30 March 2014 - 08:48 AM

Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the new London TV Channel, London Live, just said to the BBC that the Channel will be broadcasting archived plays.

He said they will start by broadcasting Lyric Hammersmith's 2012 production of "Lovesong" some time next week.

#298580 Stephen Ward - The Musical

Posted steveatplays on 29 March 2014 - 10:39 AM

The title was a disaster. It sounded so boring, like a newsnight documentary giving a balanced and dispassionate view of a historical figure. It doesn't help that "ward" rhymes with "bored."

And this title triggered the worst sort of coverage in the papers, namely serious news coverage about clearing the name of somebody nobody cares about.

For example, if this musical were called "Orgy," and the makers said they were referring to "a political orgy of corruption," as well as the literal orgy you see in the musical, coverage would have been more salacious and critical, and might have generated "outrage" and interest, with the consequence audiences might have felt they were seeing something naughty and exciting.

But that would have been a lie, because the main problem of the production is that it comes from a newsnight mind, the mind of someone making a defensive argument about political history in a biased but reasonable manner.

This musical presented a man, who recruited teenage girls from their mums and moved them into his flat in that London with the purpose of presenting them to rich and powerful men, as an awfully nice fellow. It tries to paper over the obvious fact that Ward was a seedy creep.

Imagine if Sondheim hadn't made Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett quite so wicked, if he had omitted the word "demon" from the title, if he had tried to suggest that Sweeney and Lovett were merely the victims of society rather than their own vicious inner demons, how boring would that take have been? And isn't Ward a chamber of horrors character like Sweeney Todd after all, albeit relegated to Blackpool?

Where Lloyd Webber was completely right is that this seedy creep was no worse, and probably more intrinsically likeable and decent, than many of the society figures who welcomed him into their sphere to get at his sexy young offerings. And this is another problem: society is not demonised enough in this musical. Valjean needs his Javert, but we just don't get one in Stephen Ward: we don't get an embodiment of societal evil who we can hate and fear, who would drive the story and make us root for Ward. All we get is two silly policemen tacked on in an almost spurious scene in the second half. How uninvolving!

If only this musical had not had it's po-faced crusading agenda and it's dull title, I believe this could have been a hit. I recall with fondness the passion that Lloyd Webber brought to powerful numbers like "Human Sacrifice" and "Manipulation," the touching emptiness and neediness of Charlottle Spencer singing "He sees something in me," the lonely romantic delivery of Alexander Hanson singing "Too close to the Flame," and the number the wickedness of which I wish had more embodied the whole musical, "You've Never Had It So Good."

Stephen Ward, I mourn what you could have been. :(

#298193 Other Desert Cities

Posted steveatplays on 26 March 2014 - 10:49 PM

Dude, I changed it, thanks. My phone autocorrected a typo there, and my phone interface has no edit button, so I had to wait till I got home to revise it. I did in fact know the name of the play, though I do feel all play names are in fact improved by the autocorrect function. :)

#298178 Other Desert Cities

Posted steveatplays on 26 March 2014 - 06:54 PM

While a play getting a good pounding by Parsley is a visceral thrill, elevated into an artform by his brutal tone, I find I can't agree that this is "the worst sort of American rubbish." It's not particularly American to use a dysfunctional family as a microcosm of political conflict. Only recently, The Holy Rosenbergs at the National had an almost identical plot, with a prodigal daughter, protesting Israeli actions in Gaza, threatening to turn Henry Goodman's London Jewish family into pariahs in their community.

Similarly, Julie Walters' dysfunctional matriarch in Last of the Hausmans cast a political and emotional pall over her children's lives, played by Rory Kinnear and Helen McCrory.

And weren't the recently revived Chicken Soup for Barley and Roots, by Wesker, not also about an intergenerational gulf, reflecting broader political differences?

"Other Desert Cities" is just like the above works, with a little bit of US flavouring. And in my opinion, it is more effective than the aforementioned plays, on a par with Mike Bartlett's brilliant Love, Love, Love, which saw Ben Miles' and Victoria Hamilton's parents at political loggerheads with their daughter, played by Claire Foy.

Sinead Cusack is simply sensational in this, as Polly Wyeth, a self professed believer in "order and discipline," whose inner life appears a lot more chaotic than her icy calm outer veneer. That she is not as straight as the dye she purports to be is evident by her casual racism within her family home, referring to "chink food," and her witty but judgemental and homophobic description of sarcasm as the "purview of teenagers and homosexuals."

Polly's daughter, Brooke, played by Martha Plimpton with vivid moment to moment awareness, sums up her mother's generation as "driven by fear, having taken control of the whole country." And she is determined to publish a book damning her parents, setting up some revealing and moving family developments.

Although in smaller parts, Claire Higgins is perfect as Polly's feckless but judgemental sister, and Daniel Lapaine embodies the decency and humour of Brooke's brother Trip, whose witty comments bring welcome lightness to a serious show, typified by his remark that "noone who takes pleasure so seriously could possibly be happy."

This production succeeds utterly in melding the personal with the political, it is funny, it is thought provoking, and is well worth seeing.

I would however agree with HG's remark that it is undemocratic to feature an important final coda to the play facing only one section of the audience. I had a two thirds view of the actor's face, but if I had had her back, I should have been disappointed.

4 stars. :)

#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.

#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.


#295691 Playhouse After Spam

Posted steveatplays on 07 March 2014 - 09:35 PM

Like Steve said, I'd really like to see Urinetown move in there, and stick around as long as possible.

#294811 Candide At The Menier Chocolate Factory - Christmas 2013

Posted steveatplays on 01 March 2014 - 09:38 PM

Reich, thanks for recommending this.

Scarlett Strallen just blew me away with her final "Glitter and be Gay!"

Wonderful! :)