Choice, Cuts and a Challenge

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4.4% cut in their funding

At college this weekend one of the things I came away with was how fortunate I am with the amazing and world-class theatre I have literally on my doorstep. Hearing colleagues bemoan the state or lack of theatre in their own countries or locations within the UK was actually quite a wake up call that I should be VERY thankful for what I’m privileged to see.

Take the next three nights;
I’m off to see an experimental piece of theatre  at the Southwark Playhouse. Sunday at the Centre of the World. This is conveniently on my way home from work. This will be my first time there despite its location ( I desperately wanted to see Company there last month but could not get to it unfortunately)
Friday night I’m off to the “bastion of brilliance” that is The National Theatre to see Greenland. A new piece of collaborative writing which I’ve heard mixed reviews and thoughts on.
On Saturday I’m off to The Royal Court, one of the  most important theatre’s in the world, to see another new piece of writing, Simon Stephen’s Wastwater.

Last week I was in the West End seeing the fabulous musical Betty Blue Eyes and I’m fortunate that where I live has a thriving and vibrant amateur theatre that puts on a varied season of 9 plays a year.

I used to live just outside of Bath and likewise when there I was so fortunate to take advantage of what’s on at the Theatre Royal and it’s smaller venues the Ustinov and The Egg.

Growing up I was often at the Trinity Arts Theatre and looking back, productions I saw there certainly impacted me positively and could well account for my love of theatre now.

The Wonderful National Theatre

Life’s short and so I’m taking full advantage of my current location to make the most of seeing all this theatre. I’m also saddened that so many of my college colleagues are not in such a fortuitous position as I, especially others within the UK.

As the cuts loom large over the theatre world, I know that many venues simply won’t be able to survive, I suppose it’s the old adage “if you don’t use it, you lose it” and so I can only encourage you all to support your local theatres be they amateur or professional. To those that don’t have access to the quality and variety of theatre I’m so fortunate to have here in London, do consider a trip down here too, a recent family member took a week off work and spent a week in London seeing a different piece of theatre each night. While perhaps not ideal, it certainly makes sense to make a “pilgrimage”!

I wrote the above earlier on today and saved it ready to tweak and then publish, on my journey home I read THIS ARTICLE in the Evening Standard telling us what the damage is for the arts. A good response also in today’s Standard is here. Truly shocking is all I can say, cutting the Royal Court and National Theatre’s grants is nonsensical. So what did I do, other than write a blog moaning about them? Well I decided to put my money where my mouth is and become a member/friend and donate to The Royal Court, National Theatre, Cardboard Citizens and English National Ballet all of which have suffered in the art cuts. If you value the arts as much as I imagine you do if you’re reading this blog please consider supporting an arts association close to your heart – or one of the aforementioned which are of international importance.

Those of us that are spoilt for choice can’t afford to be complacent.

I’m truly thankful for all the British Theatre has given me, and trust that it continues for current and future generations despite the difficult times ahead.

English National Ballet in action

Study Weekend 2011 – “Pieces like this make me want to puke!”

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The sun always shines in Sidcup

Well as mentioned previously the annual Study Weekend at Rose Bruford College is the highlight of my academic year. 2011 was no different.

Primarily I’ve laughed lots and shared my passion for theatre with a group who feel equally as passionate, even when my disdain for Stanislavski and some modern playwrights is expressed by me in rather blunt tones! It great to mix with other people with a vast range of experiences/nationalities/views. I really enjoy the stimulation this weekend gives me, intellectually, physically and emotionally.

So what did we get up to?

Well it kicked off with a session by David Chatterton on “Signs of a Good Performance: Writing for Readers and the Work of the Theatre Critic”. This was a fabulous start, David gave us much to think on and we broke into groups and looked at varying reviews of a recent production. This was especially helpful to me and the reviews that I write. David is the tutor for a module I commence in September on Theatre Criticism. This session gave me much to muse upon and I imagine this module will have a very strong effect on my reviews – I trust for the better!

Next up Dr Rachel Clements led a session on “Plays Without Signs.” Here we were given sections of plays written in the last 15 years by Sarah Kane, Martin Crimp and Simon Stephens. My group had the play Pornography and it was fascinating what others in my group thought about how it should be staged. I was surprised too, this play deals with the events of the 7th July attack in London, I lived very near where the bus exploded that day and I was surprised how emotional this play made me feel and how feelings I thought were a thing of the past came right back. So an emotionally tough session but worthwhile. The title of this post  “Pieces like this make me want to puke!” was exclaimed by Sharon, on her feedback from her group, they had Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life as their text, this split the class but I’ll be honest I agree with her! I’m not sure what merit there is to a “playwright” who writes so little of a play that the cast and crew and director has to basically create the work?

A break for something to eat which was just as well as the afternoon was going to be pretty physical.

We had a session on Kudiyattam theatre. This is an ancient Indian form and was certainly outside of all our comfort zones. Our tutor  Arya Madhavan was extremely patient as we tried to learn the foot, hand and rhythmic movements required. Think aerobics and yoga with a bit of drama thrown in  and I think that’s probably what the class looked like. We then had the chance to work out our own brief sketches using this form to present back to the whole group later on.

Dinner was served, accompanied by a nice glass of red wine.

We returned to the Rose Theatre and presented our pieces back to everyone, which was good fun. Our tutor then presented a 10-15 minute performance of a Kudiyattam performance, telling the story of the young baby Krishna. It was spellbinding to see this intricate and unusual theatrical form performed for us. A brief interview and Q&A session followed which was equally as enlightening.

A visit to a tavern was a suitable  finish to the day to continue our discussions.

Loosing an hour of sleep, failed to deter us returning fresh as a daisy this morning for more. I unfortunately was held up with “technical” issues preparing for my lecture in the afternoon. So missed most of Prof Michael Walling’s session on “Physicality, Energy and the Making of Meaning”. I did get to see the groups performances at the end of the session and enjoyed those.

After lunch I presented my own lecture to the students, “The Closer You Look, The Less You See.” Looking at signs and gestures used in the art of conjuring. The students and staff seemed to enjoy my performance and lecture which I was pleased at. I’ll post up a synopsis of the lecture up on here at some point soon.

A final session on study tips and encouraging us all as we study remotely, was a perfect end.

I huge thanks to all the staff that helped organise and run the weekend, and thanks to all those that attended, it’s sharing events like this with such a fab bunch that makes studying so enjoyable and the Study Weekend the highlight of the academic year.

Betty Blue Eyes – Novello Theatre – Review

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FINALLY! A quirky and quintessentially British musical comes to the West End. The synchronicity of this musical focusing on the austerity of post war Britain preparing for a royal wedding could not be more applicable to us today and so this musical is charming and contemporary.

It takes us on an absurd journey in a northern English town and the eccentric characters that live there. It centres around the title character, brought to life through a clever animatronic pig!

Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith (ohh and Betty!)

Star of the show is without a doubt Sarah Lancashire. Her performance really was stellar, giving her all in each number. She belted out her numbers and has a wonderful voice, giving us 110% all the time. Her show stopping performance of the song Nobody was stunning. Her natural humour and good fun came through and she led the cast superbly.

Reece Shearsmith suitably cast as the chiropodist Gilbert Chivers played this comedic part superbly. His facial expressions and acting captured this quirky character just right and he certainly was the hero of the show even though he’s “simply doing his duty”. This character gives the show it’s heart and Reece played the vulnerable underdog spot on.

Ann Emery as the hilarious character Mother Dear (yes that’s how she’s listed in the programme!) got some of the biggest laughs of the night (and there were MANY laughs), especially the scene where she overhears Joyce and Gilbert talking about killing the pig and thinks they’re talking about her, roars of laughter were heard throughout the theatre.

Adrian Scarborough who recently won an Olivier award for Best Supporting Actor, may well be up for that award again next year following his performance in this as the villain meat inspector. He has one of the most bizarre songs of the show Painting by Heart, but again its absurdity works and it’s a great cast number.

The score by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe is what drives this musical though, and they have wonderfully brought Alan Bennett’s story to life through music. It’s corny to say but there really is not a dud song in this show. Each is perfectly scored and the lyrics are literally laugh out loud funny. It’s so refreshing to hear an innovative and original score in the West End nowadays, this is a breath of fresh air! The highlights for me were Lionheart, and the Finale Ultimo – Confessions.

The orchestra was perfect and it was great to see them be given the stage for The Primrose Ballroom scene and finale.  Tim Hatley’s design is imaginatively creative, recreating a familiar northern town feel to the whole show, and the use of film footage from 1947 adds to its charm. Richard Eyre direction provides some clever moments, I especially liked a scene where the characters were acting in “slow motion”, a very clever piece of theatrics.

So as you can see I didn’t just like this, I LOVED it, the audience leaving the theatre were chuckling and beaming at the good time we’d spent in the company of this vibrant cast and pig! If you fancy a musical like no other, that’s original, quirky, and fabulous fun, make your way to the Novello, this deserves to be this years hit, I sincerely hope it is!

Frankenstein’s Wedding – BBC3 19th March 2011

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I’m pleased to present a blog post by another writer today – Sally-anne McWilliam. I met Sally-anne through my college course, she’s a graduate of it, whereas I’ve got a few more modules to go yet. She set up and runs What About Me Theatre Arts.

Who invited the hoodie to the wedding?? Doesn't he know the dress code?

“Billed as a ‘terrifying marriage of music and drama’ this reimagining of Shelley’s book promised much but delivered little. Television viewers had been tantalised for weeks with snippets of Elizabeth (Lacey Turner) seemingly having second thoughts about her wedding to Victor Frankenstein (Andrew Gower), a wedding that the ordinary person could actually participate in. Intrigued as to how this would work I had apparently set my expectations too high.
The setting for the marriage was Kirkstall Abbey, perfect to enhance the gothic undertones of the play but its impact was made redundant by all the technical stage regalia. Those who dreamed up the idea had thought of everything music, drama, dance, special effects, community involvement – but that was ultimately the problem with this piece as it resulted in a disjointed feel. The concept of inviting a whole community to participate in this cultural event was fantastic but was it really necessary to bombard them with so many different types of performance that for the majority of the time the audience looked completely bewildered. Despite brave attempts by the actors to create a ripple of enthusiasm in the crowd, a Glastonbury style atmosphere did not appear to be recreated. Although the music used was instantly recognisable, I felt the creators were trying too hard to tap into the popularity of the jukebox musical and the performances were not always that successful. Despite audience participation being the unique selling point for this event, overall there didn’t appear to be too much involvement of the crowd apart from coming dressed as wedding guests and being asked to take photographs of the happy couple after the ceremony had taken place.
So was there anything good about this spectacle? Definitely! The outstanding moment for me (which was far more chilling than the monster’s performance) was when the whole audience performed dance moves that they had previously been taught by Phoenix Dance Theatre. The sight of such a large body of people moving as one sent shivers down my spine – so simple yet so stunning. In addition, Lacey Turner did a fabulous job as Elizabeth but then being involved with mad men appears to be her bread and butter as an actress. And finally, the fact that someone decided to attempt this at all is wonderful for the arts and I am sure that the more these types of events are experimented with a true spectacle will one day be seen.”

 

Thanks Sally-anne!

Truly a Theatre of Tragedy

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I’ve recently got back from a few days in Amsterdam and had a great time there, taking in this wonderfully liberal, vibrant and quirky city.

There was  a production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross opening this week which I wish I could have stayed on to see.

A particular moving experience of this trip was a visit to the Theatre Hollandsche Schouwburg.

The Hollandsche Schouwburg

 

This was a thriving theatre from 1892 – 1942. From 1942 – 1943  it was  a place where the Jews of Amsterdam and Holland were sent before being deported to the death camps of the Nazi regime. Now it stands as a memorial for those Jews that died and suffered in The Netherlands during WWII.

The memorial stands where the stage was, the stage wing walls remain too.

It’s sad to think of a place that provided laughter, joy and an escape, could be transformed into a place of grief, anguish and torment. I trust we learn the lessons from history and see that this is never repeated.

Oliviers – Results

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And the winners are....

 

 

Well the ceremony’s occurred and seems to have gone very well. I unfortunately was out of the country so couldn’t attend (a post on where I was and what I was doing will appear later this week)

Here is the list of winners;

BEST ACTRESS
Nancy Carroll
After The Dance

BEST ACTOR
Roger Allam
Henry IV Parts 1 & 2

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Michelle Terry
Tribes

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Adrian Scarborough
After The Dance

MASTERCARD BEST NEW PLAY
Clybourne Park

XL VIDEO AWARD FOR BEST SET DESIGN
Bunny Christie
The White Guard

BEST REVIVAL
After The Dance

BBC RADIO 2 OLIVIER AUDIENCE AWARD
We Will Rock You

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL
Into The Woods

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Sheridan Smith
Legally Blonde The Musical

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
David Thaxton
Passion

BEST SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Jill Halfpenny
Legally Blonde The Musical

BEST DIRECTOR
Howard Davies
The White Guard

BEST NEW MUSICAL
Legally Blonde The Musical

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN
Neil Austin
The White Guard

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Hildegard Bechtler
After The Dance

BEST SOUND DESIGN
Adam Cork
King Lear

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN AN AFFILIATE THEATRE
Lyric Hammersmith for Blasted

BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION
La Bohème

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA
Christian Gerhaher
Tannhäuser

BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION
Babel (Words)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE
Antony Gormley
Babel (Words)

BEST ENTERTAINMENT
The Railway Children

BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER
Leon Baugh
Sucker Punch

SPECIAL AWARD
Stephen Sondheim

All very deserved. I was surprised that Love Never Dies didn’t get at least one award after being nominated for so many. It was good to see the Lyric Hammersmith awarded one for Blasted. The fact that the National Theatre and Royal Court dominate should be a wake up call to government that subsidised theatre works and should be supported. There’s a huge amount of exciting work happening over the next 12 months in London and we’ll see what are possible candidates for next years, but I bet the NT and Royal Court will dominate again.

 

Olivier Awards 2011

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And the winner for Best Theatrical Blog goes to......

This year the Olivier awards certainly have upped their game and profile, which is BRILLIANT to see. These awards are important for the theatre industry but more so have an important role as a way of showing what Theatre’s been up to these last 12 months to the wider general public.

I congratulate SOLT for really grabbing the bull by the horns and getting the awards and ceremony sorted as it had been floundering a bit these last few years and for getting maximum promotion for these awards. Stephen Sondheim is being rightly awarded a Special Award. To top it all Barry Manilow is going to be singing along with Kerry Ellis which will be a highlight I’m sure.

The only bad thing is they’ve arranged it for a time when I’m out of the country so alas your fave theatrical blogger won’t be treading the red carpet or rubbing shoulders with Barry, Sondheim or Kerry – boo hoo! (rumour has it they are equally upset at my absence 😉 )

Once the results are out I’m sure I’ll have something to say.

On a separate note, but kind of linked too, I was reading about The National Theatre’s history when Olivier was in charge this morning and I’d no idea of the debt we in the theatre world owe to him for helping found the wonderful National Theatre, thanks Larry!