The Westbridge by Rachel De-Lahay – Royal Court Theatre – Review

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Ryan Calais Cameron as Andre

I’m always amazed at how they transform the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre. Last night as I entered there was a matrix of chairs facing this way and that, with the stage built around the edge of the seats. Theatre in the round in reverse is the best way to describe it. Just for the record this was a preview performance that I went to see. It officially opens on 30th Nov.

The play centres on the lives of a community in London, that live near the notorious Westbridge estate. Referred to ominously as “The Westbridge” by characters. An assault has happened there and the community of characters we see show how they deal with it. This is no neat “social play” though, Rachel De-Lahay provides some really dramatic moments, and shows the strains amongst our communities. Especially between the Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities in our land. Everyone’s trying to make sense of the senselessness around them.

It was refreshing to see a truly multicultural cast and with each character displaying their good points and their bad points too. This felt like a fair portrait of our communities. There are some tense dramatic moments, and some real laugh out loud moments too. There’s a great scene where Soriya takes her boyfriend Marcus round to her fathers for the first time and this is played out with them sitting at other ends of the theatre. The intimacy is maintained but the chasm between them is clearly visible. Clint Dyer’s direction is fast paced but allows the audience to keep up.

Shavani Seth and Ryan Calais Cameron

The cast give very strong performances. I especially like the interaction between Chetna Pandya’s character Soriya and Fraser Ayres portrayal of Marcus. Ravi Aujla as the weary Saghir was superb. Ryan Calais Cameron depiction of the youth in trouble Andre was excellent, as he went from cool boy trying to be hard, to heartbroken teen.

This is Rachel De-Lahay’s first script, I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

STARS: * * * *

How The World Began by Catherine Trieschmann – Arcola Theatre London – Review

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Two diametrically opposed worldviews?

Whilst on my way to the theatre yesterday to see this play about science and religious fundamentalism I saw a Pentecostal group shrieking (via a very loud PA system, surely that’s worthy of an ASBO?) how unless you agreed with them you were going to hell, I crossed over the road only to see some muslims handing out leaflets and books. I hastened on, only to be obstructed by another Christian with leaflets. “yikes” says I ducking off the high street before the Hare Krishna’s turned up.

As I settled down in the theatre I was transported to Plainview in Kansas, USA, where New York science teacher Susan is having to deal with the consequences of calling non-scientific views such as creationism “gobbledygook”, in a town where Christian fundamentalism holds sway. The instigator of the trouble is student Micah, whose faith in a literal understanding of the Bible is causing him to feel the teacher has offended god and therefore judgement will befall the town. Well meaning guardian of Micah, Gene tries to be the peace maker, but has his own fundamentalist world view.As Susan realises she and the inhabitants of Plainview, “live in completely different universes”.

Catherine Trieschmann’s play deals sensitively and cleverly with the issues, of faith, science, education and the dangers of fundamentalism. It would have been easy to portray Micah as a stupid kid, but she gives him depth and makes us realise that there are often root causes to fundamentalists holding the views they do. Gene as Micah’s guardian is a wonderful character, a guy just trying to do the best he can for the young man who’s he come to look after tragedy. Science teacher Susan, is also a more sophisticated character than just a stock atheist, with her concerns for her health insurance and wanting to make a difference. Trieschmann offers no real answer beyond the obvious one, that unfortunately the two world views are so different, that little reconciliation is possible. She rightly shows how the religious when challenged don’t resort to dialogue but violence and intimidation. Also how a fundamentalist world view is driven primarily by fear above all else.

There's a storm brewing in Plainview

I come from a fundamentalist background, when I was Micah’s age I’d have said the same as him which is rather sobering. Thankfully I realised the folly of my ways and so this play was of special interest and I can identify with all the characters. I’m sure they’ll be many who’ll think this is an American issue, but there are numerous calls for creation to be taught in UK state schools. It already IS in many of the faith/fundamentalist schools that have proliferated over the last decade in the UK. Let’s also not forget the Church of England often thought of as a bit of a national joke, had leaders say that recent floods in the UK were the result of god’s wrath on the UK’s accommodation of other faiths and lifestyles. Not forgetting the “curse” on the millennium stone in Carlisle that is apparently responsible for the outbreak of foot and mouth and the flood there. The UK can certainly give the US a run for its money with religious fundamentalism.  This video is worth watching if you want to see a bit more about the US and creationism:

That’s why I think this is a timely play. The cast of three, Anna Francolini (Susan), Ciaran McIntyre (Gene) and Perry Millward (Micah), give excellent performances. Anna Francolini allows the audience to see and feel her frustrations, Ciaran McIntyre provides the necessary foil and humour and you have to sympathise with him trying his best to raise Micah. Perry Millward despite his youth is excellent, his role as Micah is a demanding one and he never allows his character to stray into melodrama or become too much of a religious nutter. The play has humorous and touching scenes aswell as more serious and dramatic moments.

Des Kennedy is the recipient of the inaugural Out of Joint Directing Award. His direction allows the claustrophobia of the classroom to spill over into the world views clashing. The classroom serves as the pressure cooker for the views to explode, like the Big Bang. The use of sound and projections during the scene changes were effective and nice touch.

As you can see this is a topic that is of personal interest, and I certainly recommend this play to you should the subjects of education, religion, evolution and creationism be of interest to you. Even if they’re not, this is a dramatic and exciting play that has some great characters and gives an insight to worldviews you may not have encountered.

STARS : * * * *


for those that are interested I recommend this blog, unreasonable faith.

Mad about Manon – Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – Review


The Royal Opera House - Stunning Inside and Out

Last night I had a theatrical experience that could almost be described as transcendental. The Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House Orchestra whisked me away into two hours of bliss with their production of Manon. I had never heard or seen this ballet before. Massenet’s score is moving, melodic and exquisite. I bought a copy immediately after the production and have had it on my ipod constantly these last 24 hrs.

As the score and dancers soar you are taken on this tragic journey or life, death, love and lust. I was literally speechless at the end and had to wipe away the tears from my eyes, it was just beautiful. I can’t really describe why it affected me so profoundly, but it did.

Lauren Cuthbertson was Manon and amazed me with her dancing. This ballet requires her to make her body do things that just look impossible. She was elegant, saucy, troubled and majestic. Bravo! Sergie Polunin as her lover Des Grieux was a perfect partner to Manon, he danced with vigor, poise and power. His final dance with Manon was so touching.

Martin Yates conducted the orchestra and as I said this is a beautiful score, from its opening tender bars to the fun and frolics of Act 2 to the tragedy of Act 3, the sumptuous sounds filled the Royal Opera House. you just can’t beat hearing a live orchestra.

I’ve had a great year theatrically, but I think when I look back at 2011, in the near and distant future, this will be one of my most precious theatrical memories. As and when it’s back on at the ROH, I shall make it top of my list to see, hear and delight in once more. For now the music and memories will take me to that magical place I was at last night.


STARS : * * * * *

Big disappointment


The Victoria and Albert Museum

Warning, I may come across as curmudgeonly and miserable in this post. I have good grounds to. I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum today. Especially to visit the Theatre and Performance section. There was a big hoohaar when the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden was closed a while back which the V&A was responsible for. I wasn’t too concerned as I felt that was fairly pants anyway. V&A promised to take their theatre collection and do something special with it at the V&A.

Alas it’s consigned to a few poky rooms, and all I can say is what a WASTED opportunity. The V&A could utilise its other collections to really make this a worthwhile exhibit. However all you get is a very patronising telling of how a theatre production comes together. A few costumes (mainly from very old productions, with the exception of two from The Lion King), some set designs, a video from 1991 about Wind in the Willows at NT (and that’s a very abridged version), a few random posters, a few marionettes and a couple of theatre plans. All this in a dimly lit room. Among the costumes are a few rock stars and bit of rock memorabilia, I suppose that’s the “performance” bit of the sections title.

I’m glad it’s only a donation to get in, as if I’d paid for a ticket I’d have demanded my money back. I really hate to say this, but it just felt like no thought or care had really been made. You have to walk through many other sections of V&A to get to the Theatre and Performance part, they were SO much better – especially the fabulous jewelry section. It’s sad to say that the Theatre section was a damp squib.

The rhinoceros costume from Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros was good to see, but that was best bit for me, bad news is, that’s first thing you see!

So moan, moan, moan, “got any better ideas?”, I hear you cry! Well yes I do! It would be much better to do one theme and use the space to really show off the collection and to also bring in other items from the vast V&A collection. Ideally a couple a year would be good, but if that’s not practical, have a theme a year. Pantomime, Music Hall, Ballet, Opera, Modern Drama, Musicals, Theatre styles from other parts of the world, eg. Noh, Puppets etc. etc. Rather than this dull hotch potch.

The V&A is certainly worth visiting, just not for this section, it’s sad that London is without a museum that shows off its vibrant theatrical history and also wider theatrical history. I’m more saddened that this section of V&A just feels like they don’t care about the theatrical collection they have, that’s the real tragedy.

I’d be interested to know if there are any other theatre museums in the UK (or world) that people would recommend? As I can’t recommend this one at all.

Anonymous – A few thoughts (they’re not written by me though)


I headed off to the cinema today to watch Anonymous. An Elizabethan yarn that seeks to present the idea that Shakespeare was a fraud.

It’s 2 hours of fun, some great performances and a few twists and turns that keep you guessing. All in all a fun period piece. I loved seeing the Elizabethan world brought to life. I also think it showed us powerfully the devious and scheming world of the Elizabethan Epoch. Also the power of the playwright is shown, do they still have this power?

What of its controversial premise though? Not surprisingly it goes to a rather extreme end of the debate, and paints a portrayal of Shakespeare as a crude and illiterate actor. The focus of this film though is very much on the Earl of Oxford – as it purports that he wrote the plays, as it follows closely the Prince Tudor Theory (itself a derivative of the Oxfordian theory). The film offers nothing new to the debate, but I’m sure has brought it to a wider audience. It certainly got me to revisit my tomes and references on the subject, and as I did my Shakespeare module 4 years ago at college, I’m a bit rusty on the bard.

To me it is a fascinating idea, I know many feel it is elitist to propose that Shakespeare wasn’t educated enough to write what he did, but for me that’s not been a problem, as it is unusual (not impossible I hasten to add!) that Shakespeare could write such wonderful works.

Personally, I think the truth probably lies somewhere between the two. The fact that as far as we know, Shakespeare never was imprisoned even though some of his plays were highly political has always bothered me. He certainly had friends in high places to avoid a stay in the Tower. Also I’m sure he must have been given suggestions and informed of the histories by someone more schooled than him. However as an actor, I think Shakespeare had a superb understanding of what makes good drama and great plays (with the exception of Hamlet 😉 ) . That’s what I feel he brought to the table. As stated on this blog previously, I’m sure he collaborated more than we’re aware, with other actors and playwrights. None of this is to denigrate his work, in fact I think that is the hallmark of a shrewd and wise writer.

I enjoyed it, it’s not convinced me that Shakespeare was a fraud, but it’s certainly brought the Oxfordian Theory debate into the 21st century, which I’m sure will annoy many who wished to consign it to the 20th!

Jumpy – Royal Court Theatre – Review

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Apart from the screaming chav, an enjoyable play

To say this play is simply enjoyable, may make it seem quite bland. It’s anything but. April De Angelis’ witty script is a very enjoyable 2 hours in the theatre. However it’s nothing more than that. That’s not to say it should be, there is most certainly a place for theatre to be an amusing and pleasurable diversion, and this play certainly is.

It has some very funny moments, especially the character Frances’ dance routine, done with great abandon by Doon Mackichan. There are also some great witty lines throughout. For me though it felt a bit like a cross between Absolutely Fabulous and an Ayckbourn play, but it never felt as good as either of those unfortunately.

Tamsin Greig certainly steals the show with her touching and funny portrayal of angst ridden parent Hilary. Supported ably by Ewan Stewart as her husband Mark and Richard Lintern as her admirer.

The biggest problem for me was the character of Hilary’s daughter Tilly played by Bel Powley. She seemed so incongruent, this chav spawned from these nice middle-class parents who drink wine and go on holiday to Norfolk. To me it seemed like a device to get cheap laughs and to also do the usual middle-class voyeurism on the english underclass that seems to fascinate so many writers at present. This character is monotone throughout (she yells most of time ) which is a shame as there is little that she does to endear herself to the audience, I think we’re supposed to like her though. I just thought , she got what she deserves, the stupid slut!

One thing that really felt contemporary was Hilary looking back at the Greenham Common protest, as our news is currently focused on the protest outside St Paul’s I really felt like that could be this generations “Greenham Common”.

Lizzie Clachan’s set is brilliant, so simple yet so effective, it allows the cast and the script to shine, but has a nice surprise up it’s sleeve when it takes us to Norfolk.

Nina Raine directs the cast well, although having read the script I do wonder if the finger of blame for making Tilly such a monotone character perhaps lies more with her than with Bel Powley’s acting?

This is very much a play of today, it’s texting and Facebook references, I’m sure will date it pretty quickly, but it certainly does reflect the times we live in. As I said earlier, I did enjoy this play, it was a lovely way to spend the evening and it had some genuine laugh out loud moments.

STARS : * * *