Antigone – Southwark Playhouse – Review

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I was certainly “all Greek” to me last night as I sat down in the quirky Southwark Playhouse to watch this 2500 year old play.

What surprises me most about these ancient Greek plays is how contemporary and relevant their themes are in the 21st Century. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of them is this fact, humankind has learnt little in the last 2500 years it sometimes feels.

Tom Littler was the director for this production and he’d placed it in a modern context, of what is happening in the Arab world at present. As the programme states, “As women today take to the streets in Arab states to protest against their governments, we should appreciate that they also risk death to inspire others. They are waving Antigone’s flag.”

The belligerent leadership depicted superbly by Jamie Glover as Kreon is alas all too common. His sexist remarks and statements should be a thing of 2500 years ago, but this brought into sharp focus how prevalent these views are even today in certain part of the world.

Eleanor Wyld was a feisty Antigone, who bravely follows the path she believes is right despite its consequences. Edward Petherbridge (the programme notes he has a new book out Slim Chances and Unscheduled Appearances – that’ll be worth a read I’m sure) as the wise prophet Tiresias, speaking the truth to Kreon was an especially powerful scene. As the tragedy unfolds around Kreon and we see the results of his lack of judgement, it is a timely warning to us all.

I really wanted to see how they present the concept of The Greek Chorus in a contemporary way, I was very impressed by how they presented this. Through song, dance and chorus they gave their part with clarity and force. It’s a large chorus of 16, but used in an imaginative way I thought.

They perform Timberlake Wertenbaker’s translation, and I’ll leave it to those more qualified than I to comment on whether it is an accurate translation. From my point of view though it carried the story clearly and with pace. I almost didn’t go to this last night as I have a stinking cold at the moment (ahhhhh, I hear my sympathetic readers say), and so I say at the end of a row, ready for a quick getaway if necessary. The 90 minutes flew by and I was engrossed for the whole play, I think that speaks volumes for the translation.

I’ve never seen an ancient Greek play before, so I’m glad I took this opportunity to see this one, it certainly didn’t feel ancient. Far from it, as I said, it’s scarily contemporary. Let’s hope that we learn these lessons soon.

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The Cherry Orchard – The National Theatre – Review

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Chekhov is having an abundance of productions on in London at the moment. One of the most notable is this production of Chekhov’s last play The Cherry Orchard, which having read it a few time for college, has always been one of my favourite plays of his.

Andrew Upton has provided the new translation for this production, it is a translation that brings this play really into the here and now. The sense of humour comes out much better than the more “stuffy” translations I’ve read in the past, I also felt the characters came across in a much more real way. Yes, this is a period play, but this had a contemporary edge that I’ve not felt in the other translations I’ve read.

As you can see from the poster above this production is very much a star vehicle for Zoe Wanamaker, and she gives a first class performance as Ranyevskaya. Despite this characters flaws, Zoe Wanamaker creates a real sense of sadness at her final scene where she has to leave the house that has been her family home for all these generations.

James Laurenson as Gaev, played the bumbling character with great skill and charm. While his sidekick Kenneth Cranham as Firs was funny throughout and his final scene brought a lump to my throat as it’s so tragic an end.

Mark Bonnar as the socialist student Trofimov gave an exciting and dynamic performance, this character has always been the one I’ve identified most with in this play and his impassioned speeches on the future were given with great passionate gusto. My wife (who had not seen or read the play previosuly), said she thought this character reminded her of me too. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I’m not sure, but I’m sure I too will be a perpetual student (for me theatre is my topic) too.

I really enjoyed the trio of Claudie Blakley, Charity Wakefield and Sarah Woodward as Varya, Anya and Charlotta respectively. They gave each of these three women their own distinct voice and gave them spirited performances. I enjoyed Sarah Woodward’s magic performance in Act 2, as someone who has been a professional magician for over a decade, I’ve always wondered how this scene should/could be done (and I’ve come up with a few solutions of my own), this is certainly an object lesson to all in how to make this scene work, dramatically and magically.

The set is stunning, I wondered how a naturalistic play like this would work in the voluminous theatre that is the Nationals Olivier Theatre. Howard Davies as director and Bunny Christie as the designer have created a wonderful set for this play. I loved the wooden feel of the house, and the use of light, especially in the closing scene as it peeked through the cracks in the shutters, an innovative use of the lighting and set. Howard Davies direction really helped elevate this fresh translation and whilst the play is set in 1905, as I said earlier it felt modern.

So for those like me that have had to study Chekhov, I really recommend this production, not just because it’s always helpful to see  a play rather than just read it, but I actually think you’ll leave this production with a greater appreciation for Chekhov. For those that admire Chekhov (as I do), you’ll come away with a fresh slant on this classic, that whilst you may not enjoy as much as I did,  I think you’ll appreciate it. For those that don’t know who Chekhov is or anything about this play, I think you’ll enjoy this to, it’s well acted, brilliantly set and directed and the translation means it’s extremely accessible, without it becoming to “wiv it” or silly.

Another aspect I was so pleased to see was that this WAS a funny production. Chekhov said this is a comedy and it certainly felt like I was watching a funny play (despite its sad ending) today. There was some outstanding physical comedy, some excellent witty characterisation and a real sense of fun. To those that think Chekhov is dull, depressing or boring, see this and I think you’ll be persuaded that he is extremely witty as a writer.

I’ve come away from this production with my interest and appreciation for Chekhov fired up, it’s a pity I don’t need to study him for any modules this year. This production is part of the Travelex £12 ticket scheme, you’d be mad to miss this for such a bargain price.

Ps. if you can’t get to London to see it, but you’re studying Chekhov, treat yourself to a copy of Andrew Upton’s translation as it’ll give you a fresh slant on this play.

pps. I forgot to mention when I wrote this yesterday that this production will be beamed live throughout the world via the NT Live initiative in June. For those nowhere near London (they even beam it to Australia), hopefully this’ll give you a chance to see it too.

Bring on 2012 and the Book of Mormon The Musical in the West End!

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As a treat for finishing my college assignment this weekend, I treated myself to the soundtrack of The Book of Mormon The Musical as it was released today. This is currently playing on Broadway and is a smash hit. Knowing it had the pedigree of the South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker AND the Avenue Q creator Robert Lopez was enough for me to pre-order it at the weekend. A dash home from work and a quick download and I’ve now listened to it this evening.

First the book now The Musical!

I’ve been laughing out loud at this brilliant musical. It really is just hilarious. I’ve started whistling several of the tunes already after one listen which says a lot about how catchy the tunes are.

Yes, it is a rather cheeky look at Mormonism and religion in general, but it also sends up a good few other things, especially The Lion King.

Showing us those funky Mormon moves

It’s coming to the West End in 2012 apparently but no firm details have been released yet. I’m more excited about this than the Olympics to be honest!

I won’t say anymore as I don’t want to spoil it, but do yourself a favour and get this score now, and you’ll be beaming for a good while and whistling some catchy tunes too.

Here’s to it storming the West End, once details are released I’ll let you know and I’ll be booking my tickets once they’re released.

The Acid Test by Anya Reiss – Royal Court Theatre – Review

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The Quite Marvelous Quartet. From top left clockwise; Vanessa Kirby, Denis Lawson, Phoebe Fox and Lydia Wilson.

I missed seeing Anya Reiss’ debut play, Spur of the Moment last year, but got the script and kicked myself for missing it. When I heard that her second play was coming to The Royal Court, I made sure I wouldn’t miss it. In fact I was there for its premiere performance tonight.

Anya Reiss has much to live up to with her second play, she’s won numerous awards for Spur of the Moment, and so expectations are naturally high for this play.

The Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at The Royal Court has undergone a quite amazing transformation for this play and you are literally in the living room this play is in, it’s a brilliant piece of set as you walk down past the other flats into the one the play is set. I love the fact The Royal Court continually is creative with its space, last years boxing ring for Sucker Punch and now this clever set show, that The Royal Court is consistently pushing itself, which is a pleasure to see. The set design is by Paul Wills and he’s to be commended for this brilliant piece of work.

Ok, so it’s got a fancy set but is the content any good? I’ll state it loud and clear, I think this play is better than her first. Anya Reiss showed promise and has developed and delivered on that. This is a play that reveals that age doesn’t always equal maturity and that we all need to as the character Jim says, “Grow up. Life is tough.” Anya Reiss has certainly matured as a playwright.

I loved the humour in the play it sprang naturally from the interaction of the girls with each other and from them with Jim, but Anya Reiss, develops the play to its more serious conclusion subtlety and with great skill. Each character has their flaws as we all do, but also some redeeming feature too (which I hope we all have too). In the character of Dana we get a very astute observation on how some women get into a vicious circle of using men to perpetuate their own self-identity, “I don’t need to learn to ‘love myself’ I need to fucking hate myself I need to fucking divorce myself.” she wryly observes. I admire the way the writing really gets beneath the surface and shows us aspects of characters that perhaps we’ve missed.

The cast of four give excellent performances. I saw their first preview, I’m genuinely impressed, all the important nuances were there and playing this in the round with the audience right up close is never easy, yet they acted brilliantly. It was a pleasure to see Lydia Wilson again, I saw her in Blasted last year at the Lyric Hammersmith, she gave her character of Jessica a real edge that made me not sure whether to agree with her or disagree with her.

Vanessa Kirby as the career climbing and sexual Dana showed us all the sides to the actual despair and spiral her character was on. Phoebe Fox was likewise a witty foil to the other girls as the distraught Ruth. Denis Lawson as Jim was really quite astounding though. His portrayal was witty, cowardly and just right, his character has a big journey in the short time this play is set in and he takes us on that with great aplomb.

I’m greatly encouraged by this play, if Anya Reiss is at the vanguard of what is happening in modern British Theatre we have much to be excited about.

Back to The Bard

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Well, its been 2 months since The Matchgirls, and so onto my next theatrical project which is…….. The Shakespeare Revue. This is a revue show based on The Bard and contains, sketches and songs by such writers as Victoria Wood, Stiles and Drewe, Cole Porter, Sondheim, Fry and Laurie, amongst others.

We had the read through last night which was a hoot, and I can see this its going to be a very funny show for the cast and the audience.

I’m the Production Assistant for it, which means I’m assisting the Director and doing lots of the general dogs-body work! We have the auditions in a few weeks and I wasn’t sure if I’d go for a role in this, but after last night I most certainly shall. (Whether I get cast is another matter, but still being involved as the PA will be great).

So it’ll all be go again soon, but the buzz of being involved in a production is worth it.