The Kitchen – National Theatre – Review

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Ok, who ordered the turbot?

The Nationals Olivier stage has been superbly changed to a large working kitchen for this production, complete with gas rings, cookers, pots, pans, knives and lots of plates. I saw this play in a student production and it worked well in their tiny theatre and I wondered how it would make the leap to the cavernous Olivier Theatre. By maximizing the scale of the space Giles Cadle’s set has successfully filled this space and still allowed for a feel of claustrophobia for the characters trapped in this place.

Bijan Sheibani’s direction is very impressive, there are whole scenes where the actors are literally choreographed as they prepare the food, and go about their tasks. These were a particular highlight. I also liked the way that Bijan Sheibani, chose to emphasise parts of dialogue by having the other characters in the kitchen freeze, or go into slow motion. The mime the cast do to as they work is so deceptive on occasions I was certain they really were chopping, slicing marinating and whisking real ingredients. The clever use of special effects, of smoke, flame and sound really added to this.

The cast give very good performances, on occasions it was hard to hear a couple of them over the noise of the kitchen, but most of them projected clearly. For me the play is about the character Peter, played with great skill by Tom Brooke. It’s his story we follow and whilst the other characters have their dreams, stories and roles to fulfil, Peters are left unfulfilled.

I found it quite a moving play and you leave the theatre with much to think about or at least I did. Are we all just going through the motions? As Peter says, “The world chases money, so we chase money too”. How do we make our dreams reality? Can we ever really do that? Or are we all destined to work in our own “Kitchens”?

I was surprised that this play from 1957 still had much to say to us in the 21st century. The issues of race and multiculturalism, while a challenge when this play came out, are still very much issues we are grappling with. Wesker also confronts us with question of an existential nature and also gets us to question the validity of our economic system.

It’s not without humour though, which surfaces at just the right times to provide a moments reprise from the pressure of the work and their situations. Rory Keenan as the new chef Kevin or “Irishman” as they all call him, was a particularly memorable performance as he provides the fresh set of eyes needed in this jaded environment.

I worked in a hotel kitchen when I was student, and the characters and pressure of the environment recreated last night were every bit as real as the one I worked in. I’m certainly glad I don’t work there anymore.

I was hoping to catch this play soon after it opened, but had to re-arrange my ticket due to other commitments, it’s only on for another 2 weeks. If you fancy seeing a creatively staged play that is enjoyable, but will give you no easy answers and perhaps more questions, catch this while it’s still on.

STARS:  * * * *


No Show Makes You Feel Happier! – Crazy For You – Novello Theatre London -Review

The best legs on the London stage!
I’ve had a week of Gershwin this week. On Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing Strictly Gershwin, and last night I saw Crazy For You. It takes no genius to realise I kind of like Gershwin’s  music. This show was a storming success over the summer at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and has now been housed for the winter  in the Novello Theatre London. The theatre itself sets the scene perfectly for this musical, the ornate golden sculpturing, the marble stairs and the accents of brass everywhere, means this is a feast for your eyes before the show starts.
Allow me to say at this point – and WOW WHAT A SHOW!
Firstly we must raise our hat’s (and glasses)  to the Gershwin brothers for their wonderful score. Brought to life by this brilliant cast and orchestra.

The cast could not have more energy - I loved the "Stiff Upper Lip" number

The cast gave this everything they had. The closing to Act 1 , “I’ve got Rhythm”, was stunning, I could not believe they just kept on dancing, and dancing and dancing. The choreography is stupendous, pushing the dancers to their limits, but they deliver (and they’d done a matinée aswell yesterday!). The show is on full throttle for most of the time, and you just get whisked along.  I loved the costumes,  the ladies look wonderful and the gents manage to subtly change from slack hillibillies to dashing dancers by the end.  The company really look and feel like a true company. Each member has their own quirks and turns and so while the story is about Bobby and Polly, each of the characters have a part in this story. When they dance their timing was impeccable and they filled the stage with their presence and joie d vivre.

Music, Dance and Romance - who could ask for anything more?

Each of the cast deserve the fullest praise possible, but I will just specially mention Sean Palmer and Clare Foster as Bobby and Polly they lead this show and their solos and duets both of singing and dancing are beautiful.  Sean Palmer dances like I can only dream of and Polly’s transformation at the end from cowgirl to showgirl is marvellous.
Want a taster? Well have a look here:
If you’re not smiling at the end of that, I’m not sure why, perhaps you’re dead?
This to me is what a musical should look, sound and feel like, yes it’s a classic from the past, but this production feels so fresh, it’s like a brand new show. It’s polished to perfection and Timothy Sheader as Director and Stephen Mear as Choreographer should be congratulated for bringing glamour, pizzazz and fun to the West End.
I’ve recently been wondering about starting to do a star rating on my reviews, I’ve held off for a while as I’ve wanted to work out my own gauge of 1-5 stars.  It seems fitting that now that I’ve worked this out I can give my first star rating and yes it’s a 5 Star one to this!
STARS :  * * * * *

Cardboard Citizens

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I’ve mentioned their work before (here and here ) . To me it is something VERY special. I just want to bring to your attention a few up and coming projects and productions that readers may be interested in:

For those that don’t know of Cardboard Citizen’s or their work here’s a brief video that explains it (and for those that do it’s a good reminder too!)

Their new production called Three Blind Mice written by Olivier-winner Bola Agbaje and will be playing to the public on the 28th & 29th November at Toynbee Studios. Tickets are available here. This is before the production goes on tour to 40 hostels, prisons and day centres with it. If you’ve never experienced Forum Theatre, or you want to see what it’s about, this will be the place to go.

For those that are not in London:

Mincemeat (written by Adrian Jackson and Farhana Sheikh) is based on the extraordinary story of a WWII deception, a secret war which never made the history books.

“A rare theatrical treasure” – The Telegraph
“I was utterly gripped by this marvellous production.” – The Guardian
On 2009’s Mincemeat

This will be on Radio 3 on 13th November at 8.30pm.  So tune in.

Looking ahead to 2012 :

A Few Man Fridays, will be running at Riverside Studios from 10th Feb- 10th Mar 2012.

A Few Man Fridays unearths an inglorious episode of British histroy. Between 1967 and 1973, the population of the Chagos Islands was evicted to make way for a US military base. For 40 years they have fought for justice, in an epic struggle that is unlikely to end even when the European Court of Justice delivers a ruling later this year.

They would love your support in promoting it and bringing all your friends to see it. Tickets go on sale soon. Watch this space!

I really recommend you catch one or all of these events as they’ll be something very special and different.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, they rely on the generosity of good folks like yourself, so please go to Cardboard Citizen’s website and donate.

The Barefaced Bard?


It’s been the subject of speculation amongst scholars for years, and over the last few it’s seeped into the general public, with the conspiracy theories of Dan Brown and most notably the book The Shakespeare Secret by J. L. Carrell.

I've not read it, but it's on my wishlist - perhaps Father Christmas will bring it to me?

On walking through London Town I’ve seen many posters for the film Anonymous which I assumed was a conspiracy film, based on the current mask wearers situated outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

Could this be old Bill?

On seeing a trailer, I was surprised to see the idea of Shakespeare as a fraud was the basis of the film. The film certainly has a stellar cast and looks like it will contribute to the debate about what Shakespeare did or did not write. (I for one wish he hadn’t written Hamlet!) So it looks like the debate will become public domain for a few months, which will be interesting. I’ll try to catch the film as it looks like my kind of film, and I’ll comment here on what I think.

I’m intrigued in how the Bard himself has become a “fictional” character, with Shakespeare in Love, and now this film, we’re fascinated not just by his work, but by the man himself (of which scant is known). I’m sure some purists and tutors will not be happy with this portrayal, but if it gets people interested in Shakespeare I can’t see it being a bad thing.

The best biography I’ve read on Shakespeare is 1599 by James Shapiro, I found myself engrossed in the story, and time that he brings to life. I also like the idea of focusing on that one year. If you’ve not read it, I recommend it to you.

Best book on the Bard

Strictly Gershwin on Tour – The English National Ballet – The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton – Review


I saw this earlier in the year at the Royal Albert Hall, and gave it a stupendous review here. Would the touring version be a let down or more of the same?

Surprisingly perhaps, but I actually preferred this version. It suited a proscenium arch theatre much better than the vast Royal Albert Hall. It felt a much tighter show and the choreography worked much better I felt as it was framed by the theatre, whereas in the Royal Albert Hall, it dissipated.

The dancers were perfect as ever and a joy to watch. I know that the purists have tut-tutted that this show fuses different styles of dancing with ballet, but to me that is a good thing. Seeing the company dance ballroom with a balletic twist is breathtaking on occasions. What also is contagious is the sense of fun the dancers are having. Sometimes in ballet the smiles of the dancers can seem a bit forced, in this there was a genuineness from all.

The orchestra again were a real highlight, I wish a recording was available, as the orchestrations of Gershwin’s beautiful music  are excellent and I’d love to be able to listen to them again. The orchestra was huge and their sound swelled and filled the theatre gorgeously. The quartet of singers provided stylised and brilliant harmonies. While this is a show most definitely about the dancers, it’s nice that the musicians get a chance to shine with a couple of spots just for the orchestra and singers.

The dancing and music complement each other perfectly, Rhapsody in Blue is still the highlight for me, seeing the orchestra and pianist bring one of my favourite pieces to life is great, but it’s the dancing that adds an extra dimension, as the choreography and costumes are majestic.

I’d certainly see it again (and again and again). I takes you to a magical place like few shows I’ve seen do. Full listings of where it’s playing for the rest of the year and 2012 are here.



Marat / Sade – RSC – Review


It gives me great pleasure to present a guest review from my college colleague Anna Brickman:

Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss, directed by Anthony Neilson for the RSC

Warning: Contains spoilers.

Marat/Sade is one of those plays that I’ve been aware of forever but never seen nor read.  The RSC, who gave us the original English production in 1964, directed by Peter Brook, is presenting a new production of it as part of their 50th Birthday programme.  It’s directed by Anthony Neilson, whose occasional ventures in directing work not written by himself have given him something of a reputation for moulding other writer’s scripts to his own bidding, however, he’s also a director very capable of working with large casts and pushing audiences (and possibly actors) into unsettling areas of life.  I look forward to the day the RSC invite him to direct some Shakespeare!

The conceit of the play is that in 1808 the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned at Charenton Asylum, asylums then being home not just to people with mental illness but to people with dissident or dangerous ideas.  He was allowed to put on plays from time to time, and what we’re watching is his play about the murder of Jean-Paul Marat, the revolutionary, in 1793.  You know, the one stabbed in the bath in the painting by Jacques Louis David.  This immediately sets up the politics of Marat, old-school socialist, against de Sade, who believed in the individual; and the times, the French Revolution having turned sour with Napoleon becoming a dictator.  Except it premiered in Berlin in 1964, where the recently built wall kept Communism and Capitalism apart, where the Holocaust was still a raw memory, and the Paris riots, anti Vietnam War demonstrations, and much that we now use to define “the 60s” was yet to come.  Except it’s 2011, and this isn’t a museum piece.  Driving to the theatre for the first preview the news was full of Liam Fox’s resignation and the murkier politics behind that.  When I saw it last night it was a quiet news day.  Tonight, when the Press get to see it, of course the news is filled with Gaddafi.

Neilson has deliberately referenced the Arab Spring.  In an ethnically diverse cast, Marat, played by Arsher Ali, could easily pass as Egyptian or Tunisian.  The music has a strong Arab influence with some beautiful oud playing.  But it sits lightly.  Neilson isn’t forcing a new identity onto an old play, but rather suggesting resonances whilst leaving us space to find our own if we wish.

So that’s the politics, but what about the entertainment?  Yes, it was very entertaining.  We had been warned in advance about nudity, gunfire, etc, and the audience seemed to have a heightened expectation of the possibility of being affronted, or insulted, or humiliated.  Those of us familiar with the thrust stage, either of the new RST or its predecessor The Courtyard, or even The Swan, are used to actors coming through the audience for exits and entrances, and feel no nervous tension when this happens.  We’re also used to actors addressing individuals in the audience.  The newer people in the audience, and there was a refreshingly high proportion of young people, seemed less secure about the missing fourth wall.  There is one incident where one of the actors goes into the audience and demands money from a particular individual, then throws it back in derision because the amount proffered is so insultingly low, but apart from having popcorn thrown at us, and the usual front row dangers of accidental spillage (my neighbour got water and latex pig guts), that was it.  We were safe.  At first I was concerned that I was expected to laugh at people with serious mental health problems, but the actors weren’t just “playing mad”.  Each character had a definite personality and if I’d spoken to the actors I’ll bet they knew exactly what condition or syndrome their character had.  Neilson’s own writing has addressed mental illness, so he wasn’t going to be crass about its portrayal.  Obviously with de Sade in charge some of the scenes were difficult to watch.  De Sade (Jasper Britton) himself was tasered for pleasure, and another character was repeatedly violated with a dildo, but other scenes which may have shocked in the 60s were funny or puerile.  There would have been little point, though, in Neilson trying to outshock Brook’s production, because that isn’t really the point.

The set, by Garance Marneur, was beautiful and simple.  Following the line of the Circle was a gallery at the back, with the musicians on one side and “audience” on the other, which included Coulmier (Christopher Ettridge), Director of Charenton, who from time to time brought proceedings back to order.  I would have put some genuine members of the audience up there.  Below this gallery were 5 or 6 full height turnstyles, giving options for entrances.  On both sides of the stage were two crescent shaped ladders or climbing frames, arcing up to the lighting bar in front of the circle, upon which the actors sometimes climbed.  In the centre was a large grey box, the bath, which at times rose on a platform, but could also be pushed off stage.  Simple and elegant.  Standard clothing for the inmates was white, possibly plastic, tracksuit like outfits with dazzling white trainers, and most importantly, a smartphone worn in a sleeve around the ankle (similar to the ones joggers wear on their arms to hold iPods).

Coulmier used the phones as a means of control.  There were times when everyone’s phone rang, which brought things to a halt and restored some semblance of order, and there were times when only one phone rang, which resulted in that character having to kneel for a while wearing a black hood.  At other times the characters used the cameras in their phones.  Interestingly, no one used their phone to have a conversation.

Marat/Sade is a sprawling mess of a play.  Part Brechtian with its metatheatrical alienation and lengthy political arguments, part provocative Theatre of Cruelty, part comedy, and very thin on plot.  I spoke to someone who saw the original, who told me it had a very clear message and advised me to watch the DVD (it’s on the list).  He’d found Neilson’s production too busy (he’s a big Neilson fan), but this was after the first preview and thankfully it’s sharpened up a lot since then.  With nothing to compare it to, I thought it felt very modern, very European, still a little puzzling, but very commendable.  It’s on in Stratford until November 5th, along with a selection of talks about Theatre of Cruelty, Theatre of Protest, rehearsed readings, etc.  If you get the chance, go and see it.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? By Edward Albee – Miller Centre Theatre Company – Review

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An intense and gripping play, that demands a lot from its cast of four. The Miller Centre Theatre Company are not shy of tackling challenging plays and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Is a challenge they’ve dealt with admirably.

Mark Pendry is the manipulative and put upon husband George, he delivers his cutting remarks with rapier sharpness and magnificently goes from cool and collected to loud and brash. Anne Page as his wife Martha of 23 years, shows a stoney hearted and devious side, yet as the play develops we can see the pain she’s suffered. Katie Kavanagh as the dizzy Honey is superb and has some of the funniest moments of the play, which she does not waste. Sean Herbert as the dashing young biologist Nick is excellent, especially as this is his first time on stage – congratulations Sean, you looked at home in the brilliant set Keith Orton has designed. The attention to detail in the set is remarkable and really makes you feel you’re in their living room.

Jacquelyn Winter’s direction keeps the pace going and as this is an in the round production, she keeps the movement of the cast done with great subtlety, so that you seldom have them with their backs to you.

The play itself caused a great stir when it originally came out in 1962, and even today, the antics of George and Martha are quite shocking. Yet Albee brings out the issues of marriage, infidelity, childlessness, professional failure and stagnation with great skill and confronts us with them. Act three is called The Exorcism, and shows how we all have issues we need to exorcise.

The play is on until October 29th, I really recommend this, it’s a gripping play, that is superbly acted and creatively directed, what more could you want? Well the price of only £7 is the icing on the cake!