The Weir by Conor McPherson – The Archway Theatre Company

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I returned to The Archway Theatre this year to see The Weir, just as my first outing there last year was to see a play that I was studying for college (Closer by Patrick Marber – my review is here), so too was this visit. I’m drawing to the end of my module on Postwar British and Irish Playwriting and this play was one we study. I decided I would see it prior to reading/studying it though.

I’m glad I did, as this play is wonderful. Conor McPherson is a superb playwright, this play contains such wit, realism and moving monologues, I loved it. It’s refreshing to see a modern playwright actually write monologues for characters, and such beautiful ones too. He’s a real wordsmith, who captures the Irish timbre, lilt and speech patterns perfectly. I look forward to reading the script and re-visiting this play again (I may even use it for my up and coming assignment).

The play centres on a small Irish country pub, the set was spot on, and I really felt I was in a little corner of Ireland, I was tempted to go and get a Guinness too, but I was driving so refrained. It also has a small cast of 5, and with large monologues for each, would the cast cope with the demands this would place on them?

The cast was excellent, special mention must go to Mike Park who played the character Jack. He got the comic timing, accent and mannerisms absolutely perfect and was a joy to watch. The rest of the cast gave good performances too. I’d seen Kevin Day in Closer last year and he ably performed as Brendan the bar owner. Simon Bonsor was great as Finbar. Andrew Cook gave a subtle performance to Jim and played his humorous lines spot on too. Ali Hannant as the only female in the cast, was a strong performer and her monologue on her daughter’s death was extremely moving. They were a credit to the strong writing and really deserve a huge congratulations for tackling was must be a daunting play as an actor, and giving us all a delightful night out at the theatre.

This is a play that will stay with me a long time, thanks to the strong performances and the stupendous writing. I raise a pint of Guinness to the cast, crew and especially to Conor McPherson!

Theatrical Perfection? – The Blue Dragon – The Barbican Theatre London – Review

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Tai Wei Foo in The Blue Dragon

Why do I go to the theatre regularly? To be entertained? To be challenged? Because I’m a student of the art form? Yes to all of these but my primary aim is to be changed. A lofty aim no doubt, and to be honest it seldom happens, but every so often it does, and it’s the most incredible experience.

Since commencing my Theatre Studies back in 2005 there have been several seminal events in my theatrical life. One of which was hearing Robert Lepage lecture at my college in my first year of study. His passion, vision and clarity struck me, and following that lecture I researched more into his work, and his life.  I’ve been fortunate to see some of his work via video, but never live. The chance to see his new play and with him in it, made it top of my list for theatrical visits this year. I was also fortunate to see TOTEM also by Lepage this year and I found that an inspiring theatrical event.

So I booked this ticket solely on the fact that it was a Lepage play, but as I then read more about it, I became more and more intrigued. It focuses on Pierre Lamontagne, the character Lepage created for his Dragon’s Trilogy just over 25 years ago. We revisit this character in Shanghai and catch up with him and his life. Lepage plays Pierre, in what is one of the best portrayals I’ve seen on stage. Following this post recently a friend commented to me that, it’s great when you see a play and you forget the actor, and you become immersed in the world on stage and that character. Lepage was an object lesson in this, he WAS Pierre. Likewise Tai Wei Foo and Marie Michaud who played Xiao Ling and Claire respectively also created believable characters on stage. More than that though I cared for these characters and their decisions and their lives.

Tai Wei Foo as Xiao Ling and Marie Michaud as Claire

For me this was why this play was so special, it had heart and soul, and I felt part of their world as I could see it was a reflection of my own world. We live in a Globalised world now and Theatre is responding to that in various ways, one is to simply produce the same musicals everywhere – a Chinese version of Les Mis opened in 2008. More Cameron Mackintosh productions are to follow in China too. Whilst this is one way of reacting to the new world, I feel Lepage’s is more organic and more beneficial.  The Blue Dragon felt that each culture was respected and brought to the melting pot. That’s not to say only the good parts of each culture were displayed, far from it, the small-minded view of the Québécois that Pierre escaped from was shown as well as the harshness of life in China, but Lepage never went over to melodrama, his characters have to put up with problems like we all do, they got on, made decisions and lived with them. That is why this play resonated with me so much, it felt tangible and real, like few plays do. The speech of the play is in English, French and Mandarin (with subtitles) as and when required, rather than being confusing it simply helped to add to the realism and also the difference in speech tones and rhythms between the three languages was striking to hear.  As someone who works in a cosmopolitan city and work environment, different languages being spoken at anytime is not something that I’m unfamiliar with, again it’s part of being in the 21st Century Globalised world. One thing the play highlighted is something we’ve known for a long time, but was dramatically shown here, we’ll all be hearing more Mandarin in the future, more  than French and English perhaps?

Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

Lepage is known for his use of theatrical effects and this play is no different, but again, the effects, staging and lighting fit in seamlessly, and help to tell the story. This is theatre for a 21st century audience that isn’t afraid to use visual and cinematic ideas. The set gave me a feeling of “widescreen” and the clever staging utilised one aspect that theatre is especially suited to, that of working vertically whereas film is primarily a horizontal view, Lepage blended to the two genres and played to the strength of each.

I especially loved the tribute to Herge’s book The Blue Lotus in this play. As the programme states, for many (myself included) this book was probably the first time that many of us encountered China and the images Herge paints certainly have left their mark on generations of westerners.

A few subtle references are made to this throughout

It’s refreshing to go to the theatre and be surprised, challenged and inspired and all in the same night! That is how I felt having watched The Blue Dragon.  The playwright Eugene Ionesco talked about his work and the “two fundamental states of consciousness” between which he moved, “an awareness of evanescence and of solidity, of emptiness and too much presence, of the unreal transparency of the world and its opacity, of light and of thick darkness.” ( see his book Notes and Counter Notes) I got a sense of this last night, especially between the evanescent and solidity of the characters lives and of my own too, something that had been fairy cerebral until last night.

So to call this “Theatrical Perfection” is indeed a HUGE and outlandish claim, but for me, it was pretty close, something to aspire to and be inspired by.

Post-Production Depression

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Well done to all of this lot!

I’m not sure if there is officially such a syndrome as “Post-Production Depression”, but I know that for many people involved in theatrical productions there is certainly a sense of sadness when they’re over.

Over the last 3 months and especially the last 6 weeks, the cast and crew of The Matchgirls have been like a second family. Some I knew beforehand and others I met at this production. They’ve been a great bunch to work with. We’ve had our ups and downs but I’m glad to have worked with them all for this production, and in a strange way will miss not seeing them tomorrow, as I’ve seen them everyday for the last 2 weeks.

Looking back, how did the run go? Well, it certainly had a rocky start, and was a challenge each night to pull off, towards the end of the run I felt we were in the swing of things. This was the first musical I’ve done and it was a lot harder than I ever thought it was going to be. As a cast we perhaps “bit off more than we could chew”, with this production. John Harries-Rees the Director guided us and helped us pull it out of the bag.

The last 6 nights were all sold-out and that certainly helped us up our game and it was a great buzz to be playing to a full crowd.

The Miller Centre Theatre hasn’t done a musical for a few years previous to this and I imagine there will be a gap before we do another. Lessons have been learnt and we’ll build on that. For now, I’m glad I was given the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone, try something new, makes some great friends and see what it was like to be a “ginger” for two weeks of my life.

Well done to the cast, crew and a big thank you to our family and friends and audiences for giving us your support.

Now I look forward to a well deserved rest!

The Matchgirls – The Photos

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Well it’s the penultimate night tonight, this run has been challenging in many ways (I’ve got LOTS of ideas/material for future blog posts I can assure you!) The good news is that we’ve been SOLD OUT for the last 6 nights and had good attendance the first few nights too.

 

But for now here’s some great pictures from the highly talented photographer Avril Jones.

 

Our Amazing Set! Tony Dent was our fantastic designer and a team of hard-working chaps constructed it

The Empty Space needs people on it to create theatre though - here they are for the wedding scene

Here I am as GBS with my co-stars

I love this picture. and Polly's response to the banner - "Not yet, but I'll let you know when I am!"

Ranting to Annie over the "Tory Press"

A great image from the show - "We've Won!"

All the cast for the finale

Belting out the last number - George Bernard Shaw singing, that's not something you see very often!

The End

 

Two more performances to go and then this show that’s been part of my life intensely these last 3 months will be gone! There’ll definitely be a post on “post-production depression” coming up!

Break a Leg!!! for the last two shows folks!

Happy Birthday – Have Your Hair Coloured!

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Firstly – HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!! Theatre Thoughts Blog is ONE YEAR old today! Thanks to all my readers, writing this blog has been a steep but enjoyable learning curve, I trust my reviews and ramblings have been entertaining and enlightening!

Well it’s often said that we “suffer” for our art, and for this latest production I’m in, I’ve had to undergo a transformation of a rather radical nature.

 

A picture of me taken backstage recently

The hair stylists set to work

Letting the colouring do its thing - notice I'm reading a college book swot that I am!

Colour is looking good

 

Costume added, George Bernard Shaw is starting to take shape

 

In the dressing room today, some of this is needed and one final finishing touch

The beard is the finishing touch - transformation complete!

 

So there we go! The things we do for our art!

Rehearsals went well today, the Dress Rehearsal tomorrow then we open on Thursday!

Be Seen, Be Heard, Be Understood

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Be Seen, Be Heard, Be Understood

The above is the “mantra” of the director I’m currently working with.  Three simply things, but without them, there’s little point in performing.

After last nights rehearsal, I read this by David Mamet, which linked in nicely with the advice above:

“Actors must be trained to speak well, easily, and distinctively, to move well and decisively, to stand relaxedly, to observe and act upon the simple, mechanical actions called for by the text. Any play can then be rehearsed in a few weeks at most.”

Let’s see if I can put both pieces of advice into practice.