2010 Evening Standard Theatre Awards

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Martin Freeman and Sophie Thompson in Clybourne Park winner of Best Play

The results are in for this years Evening Standard Theatre awards. As I read the coverage in tonight’s Evening Standard, I have to say I wasn’t surprised by any of the results. It basically boiled down to a competition between the National and the Royal Court for most of the categories. The Donmar’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion was awarded Best Musical, Clybourne Park by the American playwright Bruce Norris was best play, which will shortly be transferring to the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End running from January 28th – May 7th.

Michael Gambon as Krapp

It was good to see Michael Gambon being awarded the Lebedev Special Award for his contribution to British Theatre.

Lots of the attention went to Anya Reiss who was awarded the Award for Most Promising Playwright. She rightly stated, “I know all the attention is on my age (she’s 19), ¬†but I hope I will come to be seen as a good playwright rather than just a good young playwright.”

Peter Hall rightly championed the funding for the success story that is British Theatre lets hope those with ears to hear listen and learn.

Obviously these are London based awards, but as the capital is the heart of the UK theatre scene, the awards give a good overview of the current state of the Theatre in the UK. There is lots to be excited, and grateful for. I look forward to seeing what 2011 brings.

 

29th April 2011, The Theatrical Event of the Year?

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The Happy Couple

Well it’s been announced today that those of us in the UK will be getting a day off work next year on the 29th April, for the Royal Wedding.

However, I’m interested in this from a theatrical point of view, as it will truly be one of the most theatrical events of the year. The pomp and ceremony, given a nice 21st Century twist, with a dashing leading man and stunning leading lady.

We don’t have many communal rituals/theatrical events anymore in the UK, and certainly few secular ones (although you could argue, Xmas and Easter are now pretty much secular holidays), the Olympics was the next occasion I thought we in the UK would have, so it’s nice to have one a year early.

To me the whole of life is theatrical, we’re all playing our parts as Shakespeare put so well in As You Like It and weddings are always great theatrical events, but a Royal one, will be rather special (apart from my own which will always be THE most special). Yes there will be comparisons to Charles and Diana, but the world and Royal family have changed a lot since then. It’ll be interesting to see how they blend the traditional with the modern.

Fear not though, I’ll not be entering into the speculation that will now tie up the media for the next 5 months. I’ll let you know what I think after it though, as I find it fascinating how we as a country respond and react and participate in these large-scale theatrical events.

It will literally be a cast of thousands and a logistical challenge, but it’ll be pulled off as only the UK can, and it’ll be a day to remember.

Here’s to the happy couple!

ps, I’m available should they need a Toastmaster/Entertainer or Director! ūüėČ

Quit Your Complaining Conti!

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Tom Conti - Not a Happy Bunny

 

I read this article in yesterdays London Evening Standard. In it Tom Conti¬†complains that he can’t find a West End Venue for his “critically acclaimed” play Wife After Death and he’s blaming musicals for this.

While I share his concern that there are few plays on in the West End, the reality is there are currently plays on in the West End, and a good variety too. Admittedly newly written plays are few and far between in the West End, but they’re easily accessible at The Royal Court ( a quick tube ride from the West End) and The National (which is a short walk from West End).

He then makes the statement that “The thing is, most musicals these days are not any good at all.” That’s just plain wrong, if they were all rubbish the theatres wouldn’t be full with people constantly. Yes they’re a safer option for theatre owners, but they’re running a business and several of the West End theatre owners use the musicals to support and subsidise them putting on plays and productions that may not have such mass appeal. I see nothing wrong in this business savvy approach.

Also I think Tom Conti misses the point, the majority of West End theatre goers are tourists either from the UK or oversees, as David Mamet points out brilliantly in his book Theatre, tourists are after spectacle and an experience/event. Which musicals fulfil perfectly.

His dismissal that long running musicals decline once the original cast leave is again I think totally wrong and leaves me wondering if he’s just using them as an excuse to vent his own frustration. Most long running musicals are revisited by the choreographer/director/writers regularly to ensure the standards are maintained. Yes some do deteriorate, but so do plays with long runs too, he doesn’t have a go at The Mousetrap or Woman in Black, they could equally be accused of “preventing good new plays finding a home.”

The article made me think about how many are long running (how “long” does he think defines “long” too, I’d like to know)? Phantom, Les Mis, Lion King, Chicago, Blood Brothers, We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia! Wicked, Dirty Dancing and Billy Elliot came to my mind. (Avenue Q has now closed and gone on tour and Grease is to do the same early next year) So that’s 10 theatres out of a total of 37 West End Theatres. Some of the above shows are also in venues with 2000+ seats, does Tom Conti really think his play will fill that size venue night after night? 12 of these venues have plays on currently. The current trend is for musicals, but play attendance is on the increase which is great. However I can’t see what’s wrong with musicals being the most popular form of theatre in the West End at present.

In the current economic climate, I can totally empathise with theatre owners going for more risk averse productions, and if these shows are employing hundreds of staff in the theatre industry and entertaining thousands of people night after night we should celebrate that, not denigrate it.

There are lots of off West End venues I’m sure he could find for his play, and I suggest he looks there rather than complaining and putting other people’s hard work down.

Best way to start the year – London MimeFest 2011

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Josef Nadj & Akosh S will be appearing at the 2011 Mimefest

I know, I know, we’ve not even finished 2010 and I’m talking about the new year!

For the last few years I’ve made my first theatrical trip of the year to the London International Mime Festival. It’s a great way to start the year as I always see something brilliant and from a physical and visual theatre perspective as opposed to the more text-based work I spend most of my year immersed in.

Tickets have been released for the 2011 festival and I recommend booking asap as these SELL OUT FAST.

Personally I just take a plunge a see at least one or more that take my fancy. It’s always interesting and different and sometimes quite strange! That’s all part of the fun of theatre though.

I found out about this festival which has been running since 1977, a few years back through an article in the Stage, and I’m so grateful I did, it’s a real gem of an event and a highlight for me each January.

Details on the 2011 festival are here. I recommend you take a look and take a chance and go and see something.

Previously I’ve seen Pep Bou do amazing and beautiful things with bubbles I never thought were possible, accompanied by a beautiful classical pianist. I saw two clowns (argh I hear you cry, but no these were really GOOD!) who enchanted us all – they were called Okidok. I’ve also seen jugglers and physical comedians performing really creative pieces, all while transcending the language barrier.

I wrote a blog post recently on the importance of images in theatrical pieces and this festival has left many implanted on my mind and no doubt will continue to do so.

I’m not 100% certain which event(s) I’ll get to yet, but there’s a great and varied selection. Les Corbeaux appeals the most. The two pictures are from that production.

Once I’ve confirmed what I’m seeing I’ll let you all know.

Here’s to 2011!

Love Never Dies – Review

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I posted earlier this year when Love Never Dies opened and said then that I’d see it in a “few months time”, well I finally got the chance yesterday, so what did I think????

It’s had a huge amount of attention and comment made, both in the theatrical press and also the blogosphere. I’ll be honest I went with a bit of trepidation. I’m a HUGE Phantom of the Opera fan, I think it’s one of the best musicals ever, and to me it ticks all the right boxes, story, score, spectacle. Would Love Never Dies, build on that or simply be a bit of a damp squib in comparison to the original in my mind?

I bought the soundtrack to Love Never Dies in the summer as I was keen to hear it as I liked the title song and “‘Til I Hear You Sing Again.”. I’ve never bought a soundtrack prior to seeing a show, but it certainly gave me a familiarity with the score before seeing it. I’m not sure I’d buy a soundtrack prior to seeing a show again though, as I had a load of pre-conceptions in my imagination to how I “saw” the show.

I’m aware that many changes have been made to it since opening and that they are in fact closing the show for four days later this month to implement further changes. Having seen “Mark 1”, I’m intrigued to find out what they decide to change.

The score itself has some wonderful moments, the opening Coney Island Waltz, really is beautiful and the visuals created on stage are breathtakingly wonderful. “‘Til I Hear You Sing”, is certainly the song of Act 1 for me, although “Look with Your Heart”, is a charming and sweet song, that seeing live I appreciated more than I originally had on the CD. There is an incongruous song in Act one, “The Beauty Underneath”, which when I heard it originally on my iPod, I thought I’d downloaded a rogue song! Seeing it in the show did little for me, and I still feel it needs changing as it really doesn’t fit in. It’s a good song, and frustratingly gets wedged in one’s mind, but it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Act II, I felt worked much better, the orchestras overture set the scene perfectly and it seemed to flow better than Act I. “Love Never Dies” is definitely the song of this act and it was sensational to hear this performed live.

The entire cast was excellent, but special mention must got to;

Ramin Karimloo

Ramin Karimloo was perfect as The Phantom, he played him with just the right amount of menace and sense of “tortured genius”. His voice is also amazing and this score shows that off. It’s easy to see why Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted him to perform the title role. He’s definitely made it his own and has set the standard for all who follow in his shoes for this show. I know I keep harping on about it but “‘Til I Hear You Sing”, is for me THE song of the show, and Ramin Karimloo’s performance yesterday, took my breath away.

Lucy Van Gasse (Photo by http://www.rodography.com)

We were fortunate to see it with Lucy Van Gasse playing the part of Christine Daaé. WOW, WOW, WOW, she was brilliant. she filled the whole theatre with her soaring voice. Yet the gentleness and tenderness of Christine came to the fore as and when required. Her performance of Love Never Dies is without doubt one of the highlights of the show.

Summer Strallen

Summer Strallen¬†was gloriously radiant as Meg Giry, she had some great fun numbers, her quick changes during “Bathing Beauty”, were executed superbly and her beaming smile throughout her numbers was infectious. She was clearly loving this role and we caught that vibe. Her character has perhaps the longest journey of them all and as the show comes to its conclusion we see the price she’s paid. Ms Strallen showed us this journey with magnificent skill.

The general feedback from people seems to be that the story is the big let down of the show, and while I don’t think it’s the shows strong point , it’s not as awful as many make out and certainly no more predictable that 90% of other musicals. As I’ve said before on this blog, if you’re going to a musical expecting a deep complicated storyline, that’s probably a false expectation. I was disappointed that there wasn’t¬†more humour in it, especially as Ben Elton is one of the writers.

As with any production of this scale it’s a huge team of people who help it come together. Jon Driscoll’s outstanding projections really must be mentioned. These are incredible and add so much to the show. The first scene’s projection is amazing and if you have any interest in theatrical effects or where modern technology is taking the art form, go and see this and pay close attention to his projection. I was also keen to see what Scott Penrose had contributed from a “special effects” point of view. His illusions and handiwork were used throughout and added to the overall magical nature of Coney Island and The Phantoms lair.

It’s a spectacular show both visually and musically, hearing a full orchestra and cast perform the score was much better than on CD, and visually it’s an orgy of effects and visuals that are staggering. Here’s a few tasters;

If you’re a fan of Phantom, Lloyd Webber or musical theatre I’m confident you’ll like and enjoy this production, it’s certainly not as bad as many are reporting, admittedly it’s had a good six months to bed down, but that’s to be expected, it’s foolish to think a show of this scale is going to be perfect on the first few previews! It will be very exciting to see what changes are made at the end of this month, rumour has it that the ending may change and that Charles Hart (lyricist from original Phantom) will be helping to re-write the lyrics. I’m glad I got to see “Mark 1” and look forward to seeing “Mark 2”. Personally the ending does need changing and Raoul needs to be changed as he’s a complete wimp currently!

Overall this ticks most of my boxes and I had an enjoyable time watching and experiencing this show and seeing how the Phantom story continued.¬†I’m curious to hear others opinions on what they thought so please feel free to add comments. Once I’ve seen the updated version I’ll add a review.

 

 

Words into Action

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I was fortunate to spend 45 mins in the presence of William Gaskill and Max Stafford-Clark on Monday night at the National Theatre. William Gaskill was giving a Platform Talk and it was linked with his new book Words into Action.

I originally went just to hear these two giants of theatre talk/lecture and muse, which they did, however I immediately rushed to the foyer following the Platform and bought a copy of this wonderful book. I’ve only read the first few chapters, but I REALLY recommend this to all those interested in theatre,be that actors/directors/designers/students.

It was wonderful hearing BIll Gaskill talk about his experiences working with Olivier, Bond, and Beckett (amongst others), and hearing his insights and thoughts on the current theatre scene. Max also contributed and I could have listened to them all night.

A particular highlight was hearing Bill talk about his experience of seeing the Berliner Ensemble coming to England in 1956 and him describing their work as “beautiful and meaningful, it’s unusual to get both”. I’ve read so much about that visit in my module at college last year, to actually hear someone talking about it and reminiscing was amazing and brought it to life more so that any book I’ve read. It also made me realise what a key moment that visit was in British theatre, one that is perhaps overlooked.

His passion for the words of the text is refreshing. As so often directors especially, seem to think they can chop and change the writers words, which regular readers of my blog will know gets on my wick too.

I was also struck by how often they referred to theatre as a “craft”, with an enormous respect for it, something that I feel is also not done enough today. Theatre is a “craft”, which we need to work at and be expert craftsmen. I certainly came away with a deeper respect for this “craft”, and the example of these two luminaries is worth bearing in mind.

My notebook is full of wise words here are a few I jotted down;

  • ” Argument is not a bad word, it’s a very useful word in rehearsal.” to which Max added “remember you don’t need to win them all either, win the right ones!”
  • “Know what banner you want to work under, and know what you Do and what you DON’T admire.” (and why)
  • “Theatres have been handed over to directors, and in my view that’s not a good thing.”
  • “Theatre is about writers and actors, the director is a midwife.”
  • “The reason there are no decent right-wing plays is that there are no decent right-wing writers”

It was a great evening and time really well spent, I truly felt honored to have the opportunity to listen to their wise words.

Max quoted the last sentence/question from the book and I feel it’s worth sharing

“Today the amount of talent in writing and acting is enormous, but not enough is focused or shared. We live in an individualistic, competitive society, but does it have to dominate our work?”

Something for us all to ponder upon.