Regional theatres need continued investment

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Regional theatres have been in the news today, as their Artistic Directors met at the National Theatre to discuss how they can promote themselves and flag to the government (both local and national) that economic cuts will hurt not just theatres but communities, culture and the economy.

Danny Boyle has been on many radios and TV programmes today flying the flag, here’s him being interviewed :

Danny Boyle interview

A fuller interview was on Radio 4’s Front Row tonight, which will soon be available as a podcast.

Let’s hope local and national governments listen to the compelling arguments offered.

 

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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:  * * * *

Losing it by Ruby Wax and Judith Owen – Duchess Theatre – Review

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Ruby Wax and Judith Owen

A stand-up show? Informative lecture? Chance to hear a few songs? Communal event and discussion on mental health? Stigma breaking movement? I’m not sure how to describe Losing It, but all of those would in one way or another.

In act 1 Ruby and Judith treat us to a hilarious and poignant collection of jokes and music relating to their experiences of depression and various mental health issues. The jokes and observations come thick and fast and Ruby’s excellent impression of the English was a surprise as she changes from brash American to genteel, “would you like a nice cup of tea” English lady. Her guide to marriage is certainly one of the best parts of Act 1 as she tells us all how it really is. Interspersed with snippets of music from Judith Owen this act works well, but I would have preferred Judith to have had more of a chance to sing full songs rather than snippets as her sultry voice and clever lyrics need hearing.

As Ruby points out repeatedly the problem with all our existences is “There is no manual” and that we’re all trying to make the best of it that we can. She shows how depression is no respecter of career, fame, money, being in the developed or developing world. This illness (for that is what it is) needs greater understanding by us the general public and also within the actual medical profession.

Act 2 is one of the strangest experiences I’ve had a in a theatre. It was a question and answer session all about mental health. This was more serious but there were a few funny bits from Ruby and Judith. This really was theatre acting as an arena for transformation. We shared, listened and learnt. The evening was finished with Judith playing a beautiful song “Tell Me” in its entirety, a lovely ending to this heartfelt act.

They toured the show around 80 NHS mental institutes before taking it the Menier Chocolate factory and then the West End. It will shortly be touring Universities in the UK. It’s so important we address this issue of mental health and loose the taboos and stigma attached to it. I salute both Ruby and Judith for taking on this crusade and I know that those that come to see this show will leave with a better understanding of what it’s like to suffer from a mental health illness. Their openness and honesty about their illness is powerful.

So while this was a “fun” evening, it also has a more serious undertone but one that needs to be addressed and brought out to the light.

Choice, Cuts and a Challenge

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4.4% cut in their funding

At college this weekend one of the things I came away with was how fortunate I am with the amazing and world-class theatre I have literally on my doorstep. Hearing colleagues bemoan the state or lack of theatre in their own countries or locations within the UK was actually quite a wake up call that I should be VERY thankful for what I’m privileged to see.

Take the next three nights;
I’m off to see an experimental piece of theatre  at the Southwark Playhouse. Sunday at the Centre of the World. This is conveniently on my way home from work. This will be my first time there despite its location ( I desperately wanted to see Company there last month but could not get to it unfortunately)
Friday night I’m off to the “bastion of brilliance” that is The National Theatre to see Greenland. A new piece of collaborative writing which I’ve heard mixed reviews and thoughts on.
On Saturday I’m off to The Royal Court, one of the  most important theatre’s in the world, to see another new piece of writing, Simon Stephen’s Wastwater.

Last week I was in the West End seeing the fabulous musical Betty Blue Eyes and I’m fortunate that where I live has a thriving and vibrant amateur theatre that puts on a varied season of 9 plays a year.

I used to live just outside of Bath and likewise when there I was so fortunate to take advantage of what’s on at the Theatre Royal and it’s smaller venues the Ustinov and The Egg.

Growing up I was often at the Trinity Arts Theatre and looking back, productions I saw there certainly impacted me positively and could well account for my love of theatre now.

The Wonderful National Theatre

Life’s short and so I’m taking full advantage of my current location to make the most of seeing all this theatre. I’m also saddened that so many of my college colleagues are not in such a fortuitous position as I, especially others within the UK.

As the cuts loom large over the theatre world, I know that many venues simply won’t be able to survive, I suppose it’s the old adage “if you don’t use it, you lose it” and so I can only encourage you all to support your local theatres be they amateur or professional. To those that don’t have access to the quality and variety of theatre I’m so fortunate to have here in London, do consider a trip down here too, a recent family member took a week off work and spent a week in London seeing a different piece of theatre each night. While perhaps not ideal, it certainly makes sense to make a “pilgrimage”!

I wrote the above earlier on today and saved it ready to tweak and then publish, on my journey home I read THIS ARTICLE in the Evening Standard telling us what the damage is for the arts. A good response also in today’s Standard is here. Truly shocking is all I can say, cutting the Royal Court and National Theatre’s grants is nonsensical. So what did I do, other than write a blog moaning about them? Well I decided to put my money where my mouth is and become a member/friend and donate to The Royal Court, National Theatre, Cardboard Citizens and English National Ballet all of which have suffered in the art cuts. If you value the arts as much as I imagine you do if you’re reading this blog please consider supporting an arts association close to your heart – or one of the aforementioned which are of international importance.

Those of us that are spoilt for choice can’t afford to be complacent.

I’m truly thankful for all the British Theatre has given me, and trust that it continues for current and future generations despite the difficult times ahead.

English National Ballet in action

29th April 2011, The Theatrical Event of the Year?

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The Happy Couple

Well it’s been announced today that those of us in the UK will be getting a day off work next year on the 29th April, for the Royal Wedding.

However, I’m interested in this from a theatrical point of view, as it will truly be one of the most theatrical events of the year. The pomp and ceremony, given a nice 21st Century twist, with a dashing leading man and stunning leading lady.

We don’t have many communal rituals/theatrical events anymore in the UK, and certainly few secular ones (although you could argue, Xmas and Easter are now pretty much secular holidays), the Olympics was the next occasion I thought we in the UK would have, so it’s nice to have one a year early.

To me the whole of life is theatrical, we’re all playing our parts as Shakespeare put so well in As You Like It and weddings are always great theatrical events, but a Royal one, will be rather special (apart from my own which will always be THE most special). Yes there will be comparisons to Charles and Diana, but the world and Royal family have changed a lot since then. It’ll be interesting to see how they blend the traditional with the modern.

Fear not though, I’ll not be entering into the speculation that will now tie up the media for the next 5 months. I’ll let you know what I think after it though, as I find it fascinating how we as a country respond and react and participate in these large-scale theatrical events.

It will literally be a cast of thousands and a logistical challenge, but it’ll be pulled off as only the UK can, and it’ll be a day to remember.

Here’s to the happy couple!

ps, I’m available should they need a Toastmaster/Entertainer or Director! 😉

Transform

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To think, or write, or produce a play also means: to transform society, to transform the state, to subject ideologies to close scrutiny.

Brecht 1931

I’m currently immersed in the work and world of Bertold Brecht and Augusto Boal for my assignment.  This is involving me reading widely and delving into topics such as Marxism, Communism, Fascism and the Brazilian dictatorship of the 1960’s/1970’s (heavy stuff admittedly and gets some great looks on my commute to work!), on top of reading both Brecht’s and Boal’s writings and works. My assignment is looking at how the sociopolitical context affected their directorial innovations. This is proving to be absolutely fascinating. One of the key things I’m gaining an understanding of though, is the fact that theatre can (should?) not only reflect the sociopolitical climate of the time but also seek to change it. Boal and Brecht perhaps are especially pertinent exponents of using theatre to change society.

The West End theatre bucking the recession trend is such an encouragement, especially as one of the reasons that play attendance is up is that when people have been asked, they reply that they want to see something with depth, which TV and Hollywood aren’t providing. Audiences want to be engaged with, there’s a time and place to go to the theatre, sit back and enjoy some light entertainment. Yet there are times when the theatre can ” not just show real things, but how things really are” (Brecht). We’re living in tumultuous times, and the theatre can show those, yet also offer ideas and even possible solutions for the way forward for society. A lofty ideal perhaps, but one I feel is true, historically and currently. (just look at the history of dictatorships or countries with poor human rights, one of the first things they clamp down on or censor are theatre’s before most other things). I’m grateful that I live in a country where the theatre is relatively free, I’m also conscious that it’s liberty is under threat from fundamentalists of all persuasions who claim they have a right “not be offended”, which is silly as no-one has a right to not be offended. Often the truth hurts and theatre is perhaps the best art form to confront people with truths they don’t wish to see, for example in Hedda Gabler when Judge Brack says “ But, good God Almighty…people don’t do such things” , Ibsen is clearly showing his uptight Victorian audience with its head in sand that such things do happen, not just on stage but in their towns, communities and even families. What uncomfortable truths can today’s theatre confront us with?

I’m also so encouraged to read about Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre projects, not only that he did, but the centres and groups all over the world that are continuing his legacy and using theatre to help people in the here and now make positive decisions in their lives. While Theatre is about plays, the West End, Greek Theatre etc. Boal’s bringing of theatre to “non-actors” is  inspiring and refreshing to read about. Once the assignment’s complete I hope to look more into the current UK projects using his Theatre of the Oppressed systems.

So while doing the college assignments can sometimes seem a bit cerebral, it’s worth remembering the power of theatre, in our own lives, and in society too.