American Buffalo – Wyndham’s Theatre, London – Review

2 Comments

Show_AmericanBuffalo

David Mamet’s classic play American Buffalo comes to the West End with a stellar cast and a very limited 10 week run. Will it become the ticket to try to get? I saw it last night and I’d say it’s definitely the show to catch in the West End above all others over the next 10 weeks.

I’ve made it no secret on this blog about my admiration for David Mamet, his plays, films and other writings about theatre/film/politics  have had a profound effect on me as I completed my BA in Theatre Studies at Rose Bruford (I focused on his works for one of my main assignments), as an actor, producer and as a human being. If you’ve never witnessed a play of his, go and see American Buffalo his seminal work. His writing is erudite, witty and intense.

A highlight for me last night was getting to actually meet David Mamet who was in the audience just in front of me. Sometimes meeting your hero can be disappointing, not so last night. However that’s a post for a day or so. Back to the play.

This is a three hander set in the junk shop of Don Dubrow. John Goodman couldn’t have been more ideally cast. His bearing and nuanced performance as Don gives the play its centre and axis point between the volatile Bob and intimidating Teach.

John Goodman, Tom Sturridge and Damien Lewis in action.

John Goodman, Tom Sturridge and Damien Lewis in action.

Tom Sturridge’s star is in ascendancy at present and his performance here will certainly continue that. Bob is a complicated character, struggling with addiction and not quite with it mentally. Tom Sturridge doesn’t allow him to become a figure of pity though or a cliché. He is the heart of the play.

Damien Lewis revels in his character Teach. His transformation into a hard talking and criminal Teach is startling. He provides much of the wit along with the violence and intensity of the piece.

Mamet has a way of writing male dialogue that is authentic as well as rhythmic. I really noticed this in American Buffalo the pace and punch of the dialogue was a joy to watch. Needless to say there are expletives aplenty. Those that know me find it a bit of a paradox that I enjoy Mamet so much despite my usual disdain for potty mouthed plays. Mamet doesn’t write this way for shock value or because he has run out of words. His scripting is tight, intelligent and precise that’s why the expletives work.

Daniel Evans as director allows the characters and text to speak. He’s brought this play alive, keeping it set in the 1970’s is wise and the set by Paul Wills frames the action wonderfully.

Mamet can sometimes be seen as a very “blokey” writer, and I’ll be interested to read what female critics thought of this play. For me though it really encapsulates how men communicate or rather miscommunicate. Daniel Evans makes this observation in the program; “Mamet says something really interesting about his dialogue. He says that his characters never speak the desire, they only speak that which they think will bring about the desire.” In the 40 years since this play was written, I don’t think too much has changed in the way men communicate.

Catch them whilst you can.

Catch them whilst you can.

I can imagine tickets for this are pretty hard to come by already, but make sure you get one somehow, as writing, directing and acting like this is well worth your time and money to catch.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

To see what others thought check out the reviews compilation at OfficialTheatre.com

Advertisements

Rose Bruford Graduation 2013

6 Comments
The graduation day finally came!

The graduation day finally came!

After 8 years of studying in my “spare time” the day actually came. I graduated with my BA in Theatre Studies from Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, yesterday!! To say I’m chuffed is an understatement.

It has been the most thrilling, exhausting, challenging, frustrating and fun 8 years of my life. I had no idea the journey I’d be on when I started back then. It’ll be a cliché I know but embarking on this course really was THE BEST decision I’ve ever made.

Graduation cupcakes - yum!

Graduation cupcakes – yum!

I’d never have started this blog if I’d not been on the course (and I’m blown away this blog has had over 100,000 readers since I started it). It really has impacted every area of my life. So looking back what were my most memorable moments and parts that stand out?

Firstly it’ll be the people I’ve met on the course, the tutors, staff and fellow students. I’ve got some amazing friends from this course and have had great banter with them, The tutors have stretched me and it’s been a good experience to disagree with some of them (especially on Stanislavski, Peter Brook, The Method), they’ve also helped me to hone my own views on theatre.

Myself and Kevin, we disagree on lots of things theatrically, but we always enjoy debating our differences!

Myself and Kevin, we disagree on lots of things theatrically, but we always enjoy debating our differences!

Top of the Class goes to our Scottish student Calum.

Top of the Class goes to our Scottish student Calum.

Programme Director Jayne Richards and Mary Lynch the Administration Manger a HUGE thank you to them. I really couldn't have done it without them.

Programme Director Jayne Richards and Mary Lynch the Administration Manger, a HUGE thank you to them. I really couldn’t have done it without them.

The course encouraged me to go and do all sorts of things such as, a trip to Dublin to see Brian Friel’s Translations  (and falling in love with that play and city). Getting up on stage and acting myself, becoming a theatre producer and spending a placement with Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. They’re the experiences that come immediately to mind.

There are 3 specific areas I’ll always be thankful to the course for:

  • My Theatre of the Absurd module literally changed my life – it’s not hyperbole, it’s true. The plays and philosophy I read for that module, just “clicked” with me. I found a philosophical outlook on life that made sense of this crazy universe to me. Devouring the works of Sartre, Ionesco, Beckett and especially Albert Camus has been life changing. A huge thanks to Dr Harry Derbyshire who taught this module deserves a special mention he was an amazing tutor, teaching my first and penultimate modules. Thanks Harry!
  • Encouraging my critical skills. I never imagined I’d become a theatre critic when I started the course. Eight years later here I am, critiquing away. It’s also led me to be invited to officially critique productions and be asked along by others to act as a dramaturg giving input and advice on numerous productions. Thanks to tutor David Chadderton for his Theatre Criticism module and helping me to think in a much more focused way about my theatre critic vocation.
  • Opening my eyes to such a huge variety of playwrights. It is their work that has been what has kept me going on these 8 years. Now I’ll be honest I’ve read a lot of tosh(that’s an academic term!)  also over the last 8 years on this course,  However these plays are special to me:

The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan – I remember reading this for a module and sobbing tears at the end of reading it. I dried my eyes and read it again immediately. My love and admiration for all things Rattigan is due to this course.

Oleanna by David Mamet – I read this very early on in the course and the confusing emotions and feelings it aroused suddenly made me realise the power that theatre has. Mamet’s wider writings on theatre have also been inspirational to me.

Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall – This caught me totally by surprise,  a tight, thought-provoking and dramatic piece. Seeing someone address mental health in such a clever way, blew me away.

Translations by Brian Friel – I owe my love of Irish playwriting to this play (and the Irish Playwriting module). As I said earlier, I took a trip to Dublin to see a revival of this piece as I was so keen to see it rather than just read it. That’s currently the furthest I’ve travelled   just to see a play. A testament to the power of it.

  • The work of director Augusto Boal also radically changed my outlook on life/theatre. Specifically for me, it has led to my active support of Cardboard Citizens. This has been an enriching experience for me and I’m blown away by the help and support they give those who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness.

So I’m sad to be at the end. It really has been a hell of a ride, but I’m grateful for it in so many ways.

President of Rose Bruford College Sir Richard Eyre quoted Sir Tom Stoppard in his address to us, it is a fitting end to this chapter in my life.

 “Knowledge is good. It does not have to look good or even sound good or even do good. It is good just by being knowledge. And the only thing that makes it knowledge is that it is true. You can’t have too much of it and there is no little too little to be worth having.

DSC01502

Race by David Mamet – Hampstead Theatre – Review

Leave a comment

Race

Anyone that’s been reading TheatreThoughts.com for a while will know I’m a huge David Mamet fan, his plays and writings on theatre are one of my biggest influences. Few writers have got me thinking like Mamet.

So the chance to see a premier of his latest play was a must for me. In fact it’s the first play of his I’ve seen, having only seen film versions, read or listened to his other works. My first visit to The Hampstead was a pleasant affair, it’s a great theatrical space with helpful and friendly staff and I’ll definitely be returning as it produces some amazing work.

Race is Mamet writing at his frenetic and gripping best. We’re thrown into the legal world of the US and watch as a white man is accused of raping a black woman. The legal firm consists of a white and black partner with a black legal apprentice. Assumptions, prejudices and deep-seated beliefs are brought to light.

Whilst this is an issue based play, Mamet doesn’t ignore his own advice and ignore the plot (something far to many “issue” plays do). There is a strong plot that has you on the edge of your seat throughout as the schemes and twists of the case come out.

In some ways this being set in the US makes it easier to observe and pass judgement on the issues he presents. I know it caused a stir on Broadway. However the issues he brings up are not comfortable for us in the UK either (and equally as applicable) and do need addressing. Yet he frames them within strong characters and you’re torn between who is right and wrong.

A powerful quartet of actors

The cast of four (Jasper Britton, Charles Daish, Clarke Peters and Nina Toussaint-White) give dynamic performances, keeping the pace up and allowing the intensity to come through. Mamet’s usage of dialect and machine gun dialogue is not easy. Their timing and phrasing is spot on.

As my wife and I left the theatre for a stroll up to Hampstead Heath we were still talking about the play walking around the Heath! To me that’s the mark of great writing, it gets the audience talking and thinking as it leaves. Race did just that for us and I’m sure it will for you.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

Be Seen, Be Heard, Be Understood

2 Comments

Be Seen, Be Heard, Be Understood

The above is the “mantra” of the director I’m currently working with.  Three simply things, but without them, there’s little point in performing.

After last nights rehearsal, I read this by David Mamet, which linked in nicely with the advice above:

“Actors must be trained to speak well, easily, and distinctively, to move well and decisively, to stand relaxedly, to observe and act upon the simple, mechanical actions called for by the text. Any play can then be rehearsed in a few weeks at most.”

Let’s see if I can put both pieces of advice into practice.

 

Monday Mamet Musings

Leave a comment

I thoroughly enjoy David Mamet’s books, and so thought I’d go through chapter by chapter of his latest book “Theatre” on the blog as and when I have time to. Feel free to comment, and add your views. Mamet isn’t a divine authority, but he certainly gets me thinking, and I trust he does the same for you.

His first chapter is The Hunter and the Game, here he makes an important observation that the Broadway ( as an American he obviously focuses on American theatre) audience is now predominantly made up of tourists;

“The tourist has no memory of last year’s play and actors…He comes to see spectacle, which will neither provoke nor disturb, whose worth cannot be questioned.”

The tourist has a different “agenda” when viewing theatre, they want to be able to go home having had an experience and brag about it. The West End thankfully is seeing a rise in attendance of plays (and of newly written ones too), but it is dominated by spectacles, and some even describe and sell themselves as such. Obviously it’s good that the “spectaculars” bring in tourists and therefore help the economy, but isn’t it a shame that so many of the musicals on currently are simply “juke box” shows or revivals.

Mamet then goes on to say that plays have to succeed in New York for them to then be able to even be printed, tour or be picked up and produced by amateur groups and thus provide a continued income for the playwright. He’s quite scathing regarding the critics, which is interesting as The Stage has recently run  a few articles on the future of the critic and has a good podcast on it (available for free via iTunes).

After reading this chapter, I gained a sense of how fortunate I am to be in London and the UK, which even though I moan and grumble (on occasion), we have a huge amount of theatres in London (40 in the West End alone) which put on a the whole kaleidoscope of theatrical productions one could want to see. See some of my previous reviews from the last months for a variety of what’s been or is currently on.

He ends on a positive note, saying that perhaps the internet will be a way of plays/playwrights being seen by a wider audience. I suppose time will tell.

A Few Good Pictures and a Few Good Musings

2 Comments

As promised, here are some pictures (all pictures by Peter Whittle) from A Few Good Men, it’s the last night tonight 😦

Yes that’s me being beaten up and gagged up there!

It’s been a great run and  they’ve been a great bunch of guys (and 1 girl) to work with. I’m looking forward to working with them again in future productions. There are a few plays we’re interested in doing next season, so watch this space.

When I’ve not been treading the boards this last week, I’ve finished Micheal Billington’s State of the Nation, British Theatre Since 1945. This is a brilliant book, that I heartily recommend. He makes no bones about his political left leanings, but a bit of Thatcher bashing is always good! He gives a comprehensive overview of this period and brought to my attention a good few plays and playwrights I’d not heard of but will be reading soon. It’s well written and I think it’s essential reading for anyone interested in modern British Theatre.

The other book I’ve been reading this week and not quite yet finished is David Mamet’s new book Theatre. This is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!! I’m going to do a complete review once I finish it, but Mamet’s observations and bluntness,cutting through a lot of the theatrical crap is a much need corrective. There are literally dozens of quotes I could post here but here are two of my favourite;

“No adult Londoner would go to see the Crown Jewels, and no adult New Yorker went to see Mama Mia! for to do so would have been culturally repugnant, branding him as a tourist or a dufus.”

“Stanislavski’s theoretical books are a lot of trash. They are unimplementable and thus, useless for the actor. His great gift was his recognition of Chekhov. And it is Chekhov’s plays that transformed acting.”

I’ll offer more comment on this work in a future post, while I don’t agree with everything he writes (the above two quotes, I certainly do though!), he certainly got me thinking. There were many occasions though where I nodded my head in approval while reading.

Well last night party to get ready for 🙂 TTFN