Sur Le Pont D’Avignon

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Sur Le Pont D'Avignon

Yes, even a conscientious theatrical reviewer, practitioner and student such as I deserves a break. Previous breaks in Dublin and Amsterdam this year have included theatrical visits, this one doesn’t have any planned. I know what many are thinking – “Dominic, you love theatre, you’re going to Avignon one month after their international theatre festival”, yes, one day I’ll return to visit the festival, but for now, the sun, wine and vibe will suffice.

However my college course kicked off again at the beginning of August, so my bag is packed with plays, modules and other books, as I look forward to studying in a few cafes while there.

I’m looking forward to reading Aleks Sierz new book on the last 10 years of British theatre. I enjoyed his book In Yer Face Theatre, that examined British theatre of the 1990’s. I hope this builds on that essential book, as the last 10 years have been equally as exciting for British drama.

Other plays I’ll read will be:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I’ll have plenty to muse and mull on while sipping my wine and eating some fromage.

As well as reading, I’m planning on using sometime to finish the first draft of my own play.

So au revoir and I’ll blog on my return.

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Rehearsing a Right Rollicking Revue

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Come one, come all...

This will be a short and sweet blog by me as I’m currently a very busy boy rehearsing the next production I’m in. (see the poster above)

This is proving to be a real hoot, we’ve a fab cast who share a common sense of humour and silliness, which is essential for a Revue. It’s not without its challenges, the score has some demanding harmonies and I’ve got a solo to sing too. Aswell as appearing as a Fairy, Just William and various Elizabethan folks. Well I best get back to my script and score and “Brush up my Shakespeare…” (yep, we’re singing that too!)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – The Lord Chamberlain’s Men – Dyrham Park – Review

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As I sat down in the beautiful grounds of the National Trust’s Dyrham Park, I was hoping the rain would stay away, which thankfully it did. Which meant I could enjoy The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the open air, rather than under an umbrella.

As hot air balloons glided past and birds sang and swooped above it was the perfect backdrop to this magical tale.

Although this comedy was written 400 years ago, it is still hilarious and a great piece of comedic theatre. The cast threw themselves into it, and were clearly having a great time which was infectious for the audience. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are an entirely male cast, and the 7 men carried the entire play. With their chameleon like skill they seamlessly acted their roles switching from male to female and then to fairies! It was also wonderful to hear actors that could project their voices so not a word of this script was lost. Roddy Peters as Bottom is to be commended as he did this whilst wearing a donkey’s head too.

With a basic set which is creatively used and excellent costumes, they managed to transport us back in time and out of this world into theirs. The simplicity of acting, some music and costumes actually shows that a great script and cast is all that is really required, yes it’s nice to have all the whistles and bells sometimes, but this was so refreshing and actually more effective than some of the effects driven theatre I’ve seen. Andrew Normington, the director utilised the talent he had and let that and the play shine.

The play opened with a traditional Elizabethan song, followed by the cast serenading an audience member who was there on her Hen do. I love touches like this, theatre is at its strongest I feel when there is an acknowledgement by the cast of the audience, Shakespeare in particular.

Oliver Pengelly was a powerful Oberon and the perfect foil to Morgan Brind’s short and comic Puck. Their interplay as they realise Puck has mucked it up (try saying that fast 10 times), was perfect.

Peter Bray was a fabulous fairy. As Titania the Queen Fairy he floated in his gown and his falling for Bottom after he’d been changed to a donkey was very funny.

For me though, the highlight was the scene where the characters act a play for Hippolyta and Thesus. It literally brought tears of laughter to my eyes. Thomas Judd as Snout, had the audience in the palm of his hand with his portrayal of “Wall” and then “Lion”, great facial expressions and asides to the audience.  Jonny Bower as “Moonlight” likewise had great reactions from the audience. Tristan Bernays added the final flourish to this scene with Roddy Peters as the tragic double suicide was completed with some great laughs along the way. As Hippolyta says, “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard”.  The comic timing by all in this scene was just stupendous.

It was great to see a mixed aged audience laughing and enjoying this play, I think many of the young people were not expecting to have such a great time, no doubt dragged along by parents (with the best of intentions).  As we all left chuckling and smiling, Shakespeare had worked his magic again thanks to this bewitching bunch of fairies.

 

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill – Trafalgar Studios, London – Review

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I’ve read it, I’ve re-read it, I’ve written assignments on it, referenced it in other assignments, seen it mentioned in almost every module. If you’re a theatre student, there is no escaping Top Girls.

On each re-reading, I’ve grown to appreciate it a bit more, but I’ve always wanted to see it. Act 1 is nigh on impossible to read, as it’s a script of the women at a dinner party, talking over and interjecting each other. I was looking forward to sitting back and watching it as I’ve felt I’ve never really “got” this play due to the scripting in Act 1.

The infamous Act 1. With the eclectic guest list

I was also pleased as this production was to be directed by Max Staffford-Clark who directed the original production all those years ago (yes 1982 is actually quite a long time ago, scary but true!). I was pleasantly surprised to see during the interval he was sitting a row behind me, with his notebook.

As usual my wife joined me on this theatre trip, I was keen to see how she’d respond. She knew nothing of the play and I was also keen to see how as a woman the play would speak to her.

The assembled cast of Top Girls, certainly gave good performances, especially Surrane Jones as Marlene. She was stunning as the 80’s woman, and gave her character a real conviction. Stella Gonet was excellent in her three roles but especially as Joyce in Act 3.

Act 1 was visually striking, as each guest arrived in their period costume, the scene was set for this absurd first Act. I was struck by how humourous it was, with great character acting by Olivia Poulet as Dull Gret. I always wondered if this would actually work or whether it was a clever idea on paper only. Having now seen it I feel it does work. It cleverly shows that the challenges women face are timeless and even though different times and cultures have come up with different solutions the challenges of career, sex, childbearing, violence, marriage and men, are still relevant.

Into Act 2, which having not revisited this play for the last 18 months or so, I’d totally forgotten about! Having dug out my dog-eared script this morning, I was also surprised to see that they’ve changed the order of scenes. I think the version I saw last night got it right, going straight to Angie and Kit playing in their garden, then moving on to the Tops Girls Agency in London.

The attention to detail in the Top Girls agency and home set of Act 3, was brilliant but also a bit scary that my childhood is now a “historical setting” ! Why were electric kettles brown in the 80’s??

Stella Gonet and Suranne Jones

Act 3 was extremely powerful as it shows the stark choices Joyce and Marlene have made. It doesn’t offer any glib solutions or answers and Caryl Churchill sensibly avoids defining whether Joyce or Marlene are “right” in the decisions they’ve made. I have to say I sympathised most with Marlene, wanting to escape the backwaters of East Anglia and make something of her life was easy for me to understand.

On leaving I finally felt like I understood this work properly for the first time. As my wife and I meandered back to Charing Cross and we chatted on the journey back, we said that not much has changed in the last 29 years. Women still get paid less than men in comparable roles (my wife being a case in point!), the choice of career and/or children is still one many women struggle with. Also how do women retain their “womanliness” in the more male dominated careers. As Joyce wryly observes in Act 3, of Margaret Thatcher, “What good ‘s first woman [prime minister] if it’s her?” Just as importantly though my wife enjoyed the play, she thought Act 1 was fun and actually set the scene in an admittedly unusual but effective way. We also enjoyed the office scenes, especially the interviews.

So I’m chuffed I’ve managed to see this, perhaps if I’d seen it first I’d have found its themes and structure more palatable when reading/studying the play. So if you have had to, or are going to be studying this play, get along and see it!

I also have a greater appreciation for Caryl Churchill and her work. I’ve read a good number of her plays, some I love such as Easy Money, others I loathe such as Cloud Nine! Yet her contribution to 20th and 21st century theatre is important and Top Girls will always remain part of the theatrical canon, having now seen it I can say that it rightly deserves to be in there.