Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall – 10th Anniversary Production at Arcola Theatre London – Review

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I read Blue/Orange earlier this year, and immediately loved it, so much so I wrote a blog post about it here. Shortly after I found out the Arcola theatre were putting on a production for its 10th Anniversary and so booked my tickets way back at the beginning of August.

The original play was written for three male characters. This production has changed that to being three women. These were ably played by Ayesha Antoine, Esther Hall and Helen Schlesinger. I felt changing the sex of the characters worked really well and certainly gave a certain “bitchiness” between the two Drs that I don’t think was there in the original.

The subject matter is one that the play itself acknowledges is not talked about much, yet schizophrenia is an issue that affects a great number of people, not just the individuals but also their families and communities. Ayesha Antoine gave a convincing portrayal as the schizophrenic Juliet. The arguments between the Dr and Consultant are as pertinent than ever, there’s no bed for Juliet at the hospital so she should be discharged as she’s “only borderline”. Dr Emily’s pleas that she needs to be properly diagnosed and supported are dismissed by the politically and personally driven Consultant Hilary.

I mentioned in my previous post about Blue/Orange that the dialogue and scripting is brilliant and seeing it performed simply confirmed that. There is also a huge amount of humour that came out beautifully.

The set design is superb, it’s performed in the round, yet we peer through large windows into the consulting room where all the action takes place. A clever use of lighting and sound add to the production and accentuate key parts subtlety.

The Arcola itself is a lovely studio theatre with a cosy cafe area for pre and interval drinks which was nice, it also has an array of kebab shops for a post show nibble, that I refrained from, but Kevin and Vanessa who I went with partook of, and said was very nice!

The Arcola will be closing temporarily at the end of the year, before it moves to an exciting new property just up the road. More details and how to donate to it are here. It’s an inspiring project and I wish them all the best as the theatre goes into its second decade.

There is an abundance of quality plays on at the moment which is a fabulous situation for us to be in, this is definitely worth putting to the top of your list and making the effort to go to.

Varekai – Zurich – Review

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Here’s a review by Peter Gilbert a fellow theatre practitioner I met via college, who recently saw Cirque Du Soleil’s Varekai in Zurich, where he’s based.

Varekai by Cirque du Soleil

Zürich, Under the White Grand Chapiteau at Former Hardturm Stadium

Review by Peter Gilbert, 24.10.2010

Having booked the tickets for this show a good few months in advance I’d forgotten all about it until I realised that I was a Cirque du Soleil virgin!

It being my first time I was naturally excited but also a little nervous due to all the history, hype and of course happiness that this company have given since the early 1980’s. In addition to those expected feelings, I also have my sceptical side about such large companies and am a pretty hard critic!

My reservations unfortunately were not changed to being that of a true believer of Cirque du Soleil’s trademark. As soon as you enter the impressive sized tents I was immediately disappointed by the total brand sales of all sorts of merchandise, the smell of cheap chemical popcorn and no attempt at creating any pre-show atmosphere! This was also heightened by the fact that my partner who had previously worked for another Cirque du Soleil show and had seen three other shows was similarly negative. But ok, this was just the pre-show experience “let’s give them a chance to show off what they’re good at and known for” I thought.

Entering the main big top started to get my juices flowing looking around at the “imaginary world”, checking out the flying rigs, lighting, staging and getting a feeling from the audience atmosphere. As “curtain up” time drew near two “usher” actors were taking people to seats, polishing bald heads and handing out popcorn to those in front rows,  something to watch at least during the waiting time. Little did I know that we would see this pair (dressed in normal novelty act magician & assistant costumes) frequently throughout the show breaking up the flow that was being created and performing very old tricks and not very funny slapstick comedy. It made no sense at all as there were clowns integrated into the actual Varekai show? Continuing with this prologue, Varekai characters (well; dressed up performers) starting appearing from all areas of the stage traps and climbing up/down various under used bamboo style poles. The actual opening of the show was relatively good and proved to have live stage musicians as well as some vocal music.

Throughout the show (with interval) the aerialists, acrobats and performers were generally impressive although producing nothing new. At only two or three very short points did I think and say to my partner “that’s amazing” or “incredible”! The audience response (half filled with children) was good but there were times especially during the comedy/novelty routines that there was a sense of unease and it made me feel uncomfortable in all the wrong ways!

By the end of the show, the finale luckily being the best part, the performing company had recovered themselves a little.  But I still left feeling let-down by the whole creative and imaginative world with no attempt at any through line of idea or story. Maybe it’s just me but this show from Cirque du Soleil just totally missed the mark and is not what I imagined or had heard about from public and official reviews!

To check that I wasn’t missing the point I referred to their website www.cirquedusoleil.com and quote from the DISCOVER WHO WE ARE section in order to give their criteria a fair review:

Cirque du Soleil is a multifaceted creative force. Here are the 8 characteristics that help define what we’re all about.”

ACROBATIC PERFORMANCE ****

ACTING **

ART FORMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD **

IMAGINARY WORLDS ***

DANCE **

DARING ***

DEXTERITY ***

GRACE **

At best I would agree with the Independent on Sunday’s review from 7 January 2010 by Zoё Anderson linked here.

If I were very hard then I would give it an unapologetic total of 2 stars! Disney can do it, why not other brands?

Having witnessed the likes of Circus KNIE (The National Circus of Switzerland) last year and FUERZABRUTA a few years ago amongst many other small-scale musicals, play and performance I can say from the Cirque du Soleil performance I tried to experience that they have perhaps spread themselves too thin and lost their je ne sais quoi!

Blasted by Sarah Kane at The Lyric Hammersmith – Review

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Reviled. Respected. Revived. Is the tagline the Lyric Hammersmith are using with this production. It’s a great overview of this plays history. Indeed in the theatre world the play is notorious. I had to read it fairly soon in my first unit at college and it left an indelible mark on me and my views on theatre ever since.

Sarah Kane’s influence on current theatre is undeniable, and I mentioned that in a previous post here.

When I read in The Stage several months ago that the Lyric Hammersmith was to put a revival of Sarah Kane’s Blasted on, I was excited and also impressed that the Artistic Director Sean Holmes had such balls to revived this play. It will be fascinating to see how at the end of this months run the play has been received again, 15 years after its first furor.

Having read the play, I’ve always wondered how it would be staged, and so I had unusually high expectations prior to seeing this. I was also apprehensive, it’s hardly the kind of play you can “enjoy” in a traditional sense, I knew what to expect, would I find it more shocking actually seeing it live on stage?

One thing I love about the Lyric is the fabulous Cafe Brera, which is wonderful space to chill and chat before and after the play. Which with a play like this I feel it’s really important to have space afterwards to chat through with others what you’ve just seen. It was also a real treat to be able to chat to the cast members after the play.

As the theatre filled up last night, I was struck by the eclectic group that was filling the seats, although most notably there were large contingents of drama students. Last night was the 2nd night of previews, the official press night is 28th October, so my review is based on a PREVIEW performance.

The cast is; Lydia Wilson as Cate, Danny Webb as Ian and Aidan Kelly as Soldier. Who all performed superbly. This is a hard play to act, it’s extremely physical and with such a small cast the actors often have to hold our attention purely on their own. They also have to act out some rather grotesque scenes.

Lydia Wilson’s performance of Cate was different to how I’d imagined her being from reading the play, but having now seen the play, I think Lydia captured Cate’s character superbly. She’s a hard character to “place”, and as we see her journey throughout the play, I was genuinely moved especially at the end when she comes back in to share her food and drink with Ian. Her fits were especially well done and gave me an appreciation of how vulnerable Cate is to the people around her, who wish to take advantage. Her lines about suicide are especially pertinent and had a strange effect on me as Sarah Kane’s suicide in 1999, does haunt her work.

Danny Webb’s portrayal of Ian really challenged me, discussing it with a friend afterwards we both agreed we felt sympathy for him, yet weren’t sure why! He’s not a hero in any sense of the word but I really felt for him as the fear he had, was tangible. During the more harrowing scenes I was wincing and moved by the realism he gave to them, so often violence on stage can come across as mere pantomime, but this was too real for comfort, which was good. People around were shutting or covering their eyes and saying things such as “oh god no!”.

Aidan Kelly was really scary as the soldier, he freaked me out. How he managed to stuff the two full english breakfasts down so quickly is an art in itself! His violence though, was so well shown to simply be him caught in a cycle of violence, his wife had been raped and killed by soldiers, so now he goes around doing the same. I’ve never seen a more blunt and to the point way of demonstrating the futility of violence than the scene between the soldier and Ian in this play.

Did the play still shock?  Yes certainly, there were a good few walk outs (about 6-8 I think I counted – it was difficult, it was dark!), why they chose to leave I have no idea, but it would be fascinating to find out. I too at points thought “do I want to stay here?”, but in many ways it’s good to be made uncomfortable as it can teach us what we have going on inside ourselves. The violence is shocking, but I still believe Kane’s point that we should get more angry about the REAL violence (as all the violence portrayed in this play Kane took from real life stories) that is being perpetuated around the globe. The racism of Ian also seemed very contemporary, his fear that a minority group were “taking over” is certainly a current news story and I found his offensive and derogatory remarks deeply disturbing, yet I could see where they were coming from.

As this was the second performance there will obviously be things that will change over the next few nights, most notably the pacing, which I feel needs to be a bit tighter in places, but this will certainly come. Talking with Aiden Kelly afterwards, he rightly pointed out that much of the play can only be rehearsed when there is an actual audience present, to adapt to their reactions etc. This is especially true of this play which has more reliance on the audiences engagement/response than a great many. Getting the rhythm and pacing of this play is really hard, I felt the cast were almost there, which is commendable on only the second performance.

If you have any interest in theatre I really recommend you make your way to see this production, you may not “enjoy” it in a traditional sense, but, this is a seminal play and seeing it is a much better experience than merely reading it. Sarah Kane rightly said that theatre is the most existential form of art so seeing it is vital to understanding it.  Several people on leaving the theatre were saying, “I don’t think I’d want to see that again…but I’m glad I’ve seen it”. The cast, crew and artistic team should be congratulated for grappling with this play and putting on such an exceptional production. I also salute the Lyric for having the gumption to put this play on. It’ll be interesting to see how many years go by before anyone dares to put it on again.

The final words of the play are simply “Thank you.” My sentiments exactly, to all those involved in this production and especially to Sarah Kane for changing and challenging me and my views and theatre forever with this play.

It’s a funny old game

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Chess The Musical is currently back on tour in a new production. I’m not a fan of chess the game, but I love a bit of Bjorn and Benny. The score has several of the best musical numbers ever written (I Know Him So Well and Someone Else’s Story). Here’s the promo video for the current show:

A noticeable point is that the musicians are on stage throughout, this is increasingly becoming a trend in musical theatre and I feel it adds to the “spectacle” of a show, and as a musician I enjoy seeing the musicians playing their instruments rather than being buried beneath the stage. I mention this in my review of Dreamboats and Petticoats.

As for the creative teams decision to focus more on the relationship and “sex it up”, as opposed to focusing on Chess and the Cold War, I can understand their desire to adapt it for a 21st Century audience. Whether it works or not, I’ll reserve judgement until I see it. A knowledgeable insider from within the Chess world thoughts can be read here.

The Producer, Michael Harrison, doesn’t seem to committal about bringing it to the West End, perhaps if it’s a runaway success touring they’ll be persuaded. It will be interesting to see how the decision to sell it under the creative team rather than placing a name “star” in it works. I’d have thought they’d have wanted at least one of the leads to be a known name.

If any of you do see it, please let me know what you think of the production. The current tour is going to Sheffield, Salford, Cardiff, Bradford, Southampton, Nottingham, Norwich and Plymouth.

While researching for the above video clip, I stumbled across this pastiche of Chess that I think you’ll enjoy.

 

It’s All Happening at The National Theatre

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The Wonderful National Theatre

 

The National Theatre seems to be a buzz with all sorts of goings on at the moment. As you’ll see from previous posts I’ve been to many of it’s productions this year and have enjoyed them all. It’s also been great to sit outside this summer in their deck chairs or  if you’re lucky their funky giant green furniture;

Great Green Front Room

I was pleased to see that The National has had a 45% rise in attendance at productions for 2009/2010. The success of War Horse is a major contributer to this, but the Sunday performances have also been a significant success. In fact two of the productions I’ve been to this year have been Sunday matinees. As to me it’s a really convenient time to go to the theatre. The Stage reports that “NT-produced shows in the capital achieved audiences of 1.2 million – or 90% capacity. As a result the report states, the National accounted for a third of all play-going across London theatre as a whole.” This is a phenomenal acheivement and I congratulate all those involved, it’s great that we have such a beacon of theatrical excellence/innovation and success as The NT.

I also read this week that the NT is in the early stages of discussions with other London theatres about sharing it’s services, in the tough economic climate, especially as the dreaded spending revue is going to occur shortly, I think that it is wonderful that London theatres are being proactive and looking at ways of working together to ensure that this important part of the British (and especially the London) economy can continue to do it’s important work. It’s encouraging that the NT realises its responsiblity to other smaller venues in London and I hope this will help them in the tought times that are ahead. More so I hope that it leads to artistic growth and co-operation.

As you can no doubt realise, I’m a great supporter of the NT, I think it’s vital that we have a National theatre, and that it sets a standard for excellence and innovation. So I’m even more excited that it’s going to have a £70 million refurbishment between now and 2014. It’s going to be totally overhauled both internally/externally and backstage. The fundraising for this is going to begin in earnest now and I trust they meet their targets despite the financial climate and I encourage any of you to contribute as and how you can.

I’m next going to the NT in November to see a couple of their “Platforms”, one with William Gaskill (he’s being joined by Max Stafford-Clark too) looking at bringing the text to life. The other is entitled  “Can we talk about this?” and is being led by DV8 and is about freedom of speech / offence.  You know where to come to read a review about them!

Christmas has come early this year!

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WOOOOOHAAAAAAY!!!!!

Christmas has come early for me this year. My wife let me know what my Christmas present would be and I’m EXCEEDINGLY excited.

I have to wait until January 2011 but it will be well worth the wait – we’re off to see Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall.

I’ve only ever seen Cirque du Soleil on video before and so to see it live will be a fabulous experience. I’m particularly looking forward to this production as its theme is “A fascinating journey into the evolution of mankind” and it’ll be interesting to see how they weave that throughout the production.

Having done a bit more research on it since I found out we were going, I’m even more excited as the creator and director is none other than the genius that is Robert Lepage! I’m a huge admirer of his work and I was fortunate to attend a lecture by him at my college (Rose Bruford) a few years ago which was amazing. See here for a bit more info about his involvement with the production.

A review will follow on here, but I imagine the experience will be hard to put into words. As you can see from the trailer video:

Roll on January!

Busy Bunny

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"I'll be the cutest bunny in the Easter parade"

Wow, the last two weeks have flown by.

What have I been up to??

I was part of the backstage crew for Barefoot in the Park at The Miller Centre Theatre, Caterham, which was great. It’s a fun play and seemed to go down well with our audiences. The next play on at the Miller Centre Theatre is The Day After the Fair which is an adaptation of the Thomas Hardy story. This opens on the 21st October I’m currently not involved in this, so a review will be up once I get to see it.

College is keeping me rather busy. I have my first assignment for my Theatre of the Absurd module due in just over a week. I’m looking at Pinter’s The Birthday Party, Ionesco’s The Chairs, and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I’ve got to examine them in light of Martin Esslin’s “Theatre of the Absurd” definition and show how and why they fit that genre description. The first draft is done, I just need to tweak it now.

As we’re in October, it’s not long before my other assignment will be due for my Postwar British and Irish Playwriting module. For this I’ve got to look into three plays, I’ve chosen Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw, Pinter’s The Birthday Party (cunning I know as I’m studying it for the Theatre of Absurd assignment too! However both assignments are looking at totally different aspects but at least, I’ll be very familiar with the text) and Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers.

For part of the assignment I need to find a review or an analysis in a book that critiques the play, I then have to disagree with it and say why. This is quite a different way of doing an assignment question for me and I’m currently looking for a review/book that I can disagree with.

On top of this I have a few theatrical irons in the fire, including the first draft of my own play, which I’m pleased is now coming together. I also have an audition this month for a play I’m hoping to be in, during the early part of next year at the Miller Centre Theatre.

Back to the books for me now.