The Bald Prima Donna – Upstairs at the Gatehouse – Review

Leave a comment

press-image-resized

Eugene Ionesco’s works are seldom on in the capital unfortunately. The Bald Prima Donna, is his earliest work and Slip of The Lip present this quirky and fun piece of theatrical absurdity with a minimalistic set and Ionesco’s nonsensical dialogue flowing thick and fast.

The Martin’s have popped over to the Smith’s who live in a comfortable London suburb, one Friday night. What unfolds is not your usual naturalistic play, but rather a pertinent observation on the vacuous nonsense most of us spend our time talking about! Therein lies the inherent humour of the piece and there were plenty of moments where we chuckled and laughed out loud at the absurdity presented before us. Whilst acknowledging to ourselves that we too probably sound like this sometimes.

The cast of six throw themselves into Ionesco's strange world with great abandon,

The cast of six throw themselves into Ionesco’s strange world with great abandon,

Peter Eastbrook as Mr Martin had a wonderfully deadpan delivery of his lines which only heightened the humour. Perhaps the most obtuse and crazy lines are delivered by the Fireman portrayed with a wonderful nervousness by Guy Remy. Alice Devine is a feisty Mrs Martin and Griselda Williams being the mumsy linchpin of the piece. Brian Merry brings a brooding menace to Mr Smith. Annie McKenzie rounds off the cast with an exuberant performance as the maid Mary.

Paul Hoskins direction allows the surreal world of the play to be brought to life and he allows the script to draw us in I’m pleased to say. This is not an easy play to perform as the fluidity of script and thought means the actors have to be concentrating constantly. They ably threw themselves into Ionesco’s strange world. Yet they also used it as a mirror to our own world and the repetitive speech patterns we all use and the awkward silences that permeate conversations.

As it is his first play, it lacks some of the refinement of Ionesco’s later works. It’s not his best piece but is an enjoyable romp through our incongruous world of speech and miscommunication. Theatre of the Absurd is often seen as a niche of the theatre world, but I find Ionesco’s work much more accessible than most of Beckett’s so don’t be put of if you’re unsure what to expect. I was pleased to finally get to see a production of this rarely performed piece.

STARS : ★ ★ ★

Advertisements

Not I / Footfalls / Rockaby – Duchess Theatre – Review

Leave a comment

Triology header

I’ve been having a “theatrical sabbatical” the last 6/8 weeks. I was meant to be seeing this Beckett trilogy at the Royal Court Theatre in January, but work conspired against me and I had to miss it. Which I was pretty miffed about. So I was delighted to see it had a West End transfer and bought a ticket straight away. I have a soft spot for the Duchess Theatre, it’s rather bland/functional but that’s perfect for Beckett. I saw Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape here back in 2010.

I know that Beckett isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but for me he is one of a handful of playwrights whose work truly speaks to me. When I studied his work (and other absurdist/existential writers) at college I finally found a philosophy that resonated with me and made sense of this crazy thing we call existence.

The cavernous Duchess has all eyes transfixed on this for Not I

The cavernous Duchess Theatre has all eyes transfixed on this for Not I

Not I is the first play we’re treated to – we’re warned the theatre will descend into complete darkness even the fire exit signs are put out. It was truly eerie to be in compete darkness, something in our neon lit/mobile screens going constantly world, seldom happens. Then Lisa Dwan’s mouth appears, hovering over the stage and wham she’s off on a relentless performance. In the 10 minutes she must easily cram in 20 minutes worth of words!

I'll have to work on my own version with this puppet mouth at somepoint in the future !

My own production didn’t quite get the West End transfer I was hoping for.

In this play Beckett perfectly captures that incessant noise we sometimes get in our heads when our thoughts whirl and those bizarre internal conversations we have with ourselves. It really is a performance piece for Lisa Dwan and it is staggering to see how she performs this.

Captivating and ethereal in Footfalls.

Captivating and ethereal in Footfalls.

Footfalls starts with a beautiful and haunting entrance of Lisa Dwan in white, the ethereal nature of her presence as she walks up and down the thin beam of light was beautiful and disturbing. It ended just as magically as it had begun with her melting away. A melancholy look at death, but sometimes it’s good to face our demons.

Rockaby Performed by Lisa Dwan  free pic

Rockaby was my favourite of the three. I found it truly hypnotic and felt I was being lulled into the world on stage. The repetitive and lonely nature of existence is wonderfully portrayed, and it ends with some say a bleak call to “f*@k life”. To me it’s not bleak, rather a hopeful rallying call, to not take ourselves or our existence too seriously.

A massive “thank you and congratulations” to Lisa Dwan for her performance in all three plays. I found her truly mesmeric to watch and these are no easy pieces to bring to life. Her mouth in Not I, lit and filling the Duchess Theatre was a fabulous thing to see and hear.

Sometimes theatre imbeds itself permanently onto your brain and into your life – this is certainly true for this trilogy for me.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Samuel-Beckett-Quotes-2

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

Ten Out of Ten – Ovalhouse – Review

1 Comment

My first visit to Ovalhouse was to see this charming, thought-provoking piece of theatre.

It forms part of a series with the theme “Beside Me”, which the brochure describes as, “an eclectic trip around a carousel of light-hearted and heart-felt ephemera.”

Ten Out of Ten, follows a fictitious character’s search for recognition, success and achievement and also the inevitable failures and disasters in this strange thing we call existence.

The cast of Terry O’Donovan, Stuart Barter and Clare Dunn (who devised the piece too), use this character to actually hold a mirror to our own absurd quests for attainment. I found it profoundly challenging and moving on occasions. Their use of physical theatre and music help communicate this longing and fear we all have effectively and I found several moments extremely percipient.

There is also humour aplenty, I loved the job interview section and I’m sure anyone that has endured an interview will recognise the bland generic questions we are all asked at such times.

It’s a theatrical piece that does require audience participation, but I felt the cast handled us all with care and there were no awkward moments. I found the audience involvement actually helped us to bond with one another and the universal themes that we were exploring. The redundancy scene was especially poignant and relevant to our current economic climate.

I left the theatre and felt affected in a way that I’ve not been by a piece of theatre in a long time. It may sound a bit pretentious but this felt like an absurdist play for the 21st century. Terry O’Donovan, Stuart Barter and Clare Dunn are to be congratulated on not just their excellent performances but their accurate devising of this innate need we all have for recognition in its deepest or most trivial way.

STARS : * * * *

Looking back at 2011

Leave a comment

For me 2011, has certainly been my busiest year theatrically. As I sit here with my Xmas Turkish Delight and box of choccy’s, what were my highlights?

  • Finally getting to see Robert Lepage was certainly a memorable occasion. His play The Blue Dragon I referred to as “Theatrical perfection”.

    Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

  • I saw my first Burlesque  show, which was certainly an eye opener!

    Mistress of Ceremonies

  • London Road at the National Theatre is certainly one of the highlights for me. An amazing piece of theatre.
  • The best new play of this year I think was The Acid Test by Anya Reiss.

Best new play of 2011

  • The best acting I saw this year was in The Seagull at the Arcola, especially Yolanda Kettle as Nina, who gets my “Best Actress Award”. Best Actor goes to Joseph Milson as Ben Stark in Rocket to the Moon at the National.

    Yolanda Kettle, best actress I saw in 2011, in The Seagull at the Arcola.

Joseph Milson, best actor I saw in 2011, in Rocket to the Moon

  • Crazy for You, was definitely the best musical I saw this year.

    The best legs in London!

  • Manon at the Royal Opera House, wins “best ballet” award.

    Manon left me speechless.

  • Best entertainment award would go to Strictly Gershwin. (so good I saw it twice and my wife saw it three times!)

    Dancing from the beautiful Rhapsody in Blue

  • Best theatre book of the year, without a doubt the publication of Volume 2 Samuel Beckett’s letters from 1941 – 1956, I’m still ploughing my way through them, but they’re one of the most rewarding things I’ve read in a long time.

So all in all a very good year theatrically for me.  Thanks to all my readers and I wish you all a very prosperous 2012.

Dublin Writers Museum – A Literary Legacy

2 Comments

On my recent visit to Dublin, I took the opportunity to not only visit the Abbey Theatre, but also to visit The Dublin Writer’s Museum. The  City can boast a tremendous amount of talent, and writers of historical and literary importance. From a theatrical point of view it is the home/birthplace of several theatrical luminaries.

One of several George Bernard Shaw portraits.

I was pleased that so much of the museum was dedicated to the playwrights that have come from this city and their works. I also found it an educational experience as fresh writers were brought to my attention.

I especially liked the displays on George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett (including his phone that had a big red button on it, that he pushed when he didn’t want to be disturbed) and Oscar Wilde.

First Edition of Waiting for Godot!

My only disappointment was with the bookshop. As a dedicated bibliophile I was hoping the bookshop would have shelves and shelves of the literary delights I’d just read about and seen in the museum. Alas, I found it a real let down, and I can’t understand why the space isn’t used more fully and why it doesn’t carry a fuller stock? Aside from that if you’re interested in Irish playwrights, I recommend a visit to the museum, I found it a suitable conclusion to my Irish playwriting studies.

Theatrical Perfection? – The Blue Dragon – The Barbican Theatre London – Review

2 Comments

Tai Wei Foo in The Blue Dragon

Why do I go to the theatre regularly? To be entertained? To be challenged? Because I’m a student of the art form? Yes to all of these but my primary aim is to be changed. A lofty aim no doubt, and to be honest it seldom happens, but every so often it does, and it’s the most incredible experience.

Since commencing my Theatre Studies back in 2005 there have been several seminal events in my theatrical life. One of which was hearing Robert Lepage lecture at my college in my first year of study. His passion, vision and clarity struck me, and following that lecture I researched more into his work, and his life.  I’ve been fortunate to see some of his work via video, but never live. The chance to see his new play and with him in it, made it top of my list for theatrical visits this year. I was also fortunate to see TOTEM also by Lepage this year and I found that an inspiring theatrical event.

So I booked this ticket solely on the fact that it was a Lepage play, but as I then read more about it, I became more and more intrigued. It focuses on Pierre Lamontagne, the character Lepage created for his Dragon’s Trilogy just over 25 years ago. We revisit this character in Shanghai and catch up with him and his life. Lepage plays Pierre, in what is one of the best portrayals I’ve seen on stage. Following this post recently a friend commented to me that, it’s great when you see a play and you forget the actor, and you become immersed in the world on stage and that character. Lepage was an object lesson in this, he WAS Pierre. Likewise Tai Wei Foo and Marie Michaud who played Xiao Ling and Claire respectively also created believable characters on stage. More than that though I cared for these characters and their decisions and their lives.

Tai Wei Foo as Xiao Ling and Marie Michaud as Claire

For me this was why this play was so special, it had heart and soul, and I felt part of their world as I could see it was a reflection of my own world. We live in a Globalised world now and Theatre is responding to that in various ways, one is to simply produce the same musicals everywhere – a Chinese version of Les Mis opened in 2008. More Cameron Mackintosh productions are to follow in China too. Whilst this is one way of reacting to the new world, I feel Lepage’s is more organic and more beneficial.  The Blue Dragon felt that each culture was respected and brought to the melting pot. That’s not to say only the good parts of each culture were displayed, far from it, the small-minded view of the Québécois that Pierre escaped from was shown as well as the harshness of life in China, but Lepage never went over to melodrama, his characters have to put up with problems like we all do, they got on, made decisions and lived with them. That is why this play resonated with me so much, it felt tangible and real, like few plays do. The speech of the play is in English, French and Mandarin (with subtitles) as and when required, rather than being confusing it simply helped to add to the realism and also the difference in speech tones and rhythms between the three languages was striking to hear.  As someone who works in a cosmopolitan city and work environment, different languages being spoken at anytime is not something that I’m unfamiliar with, again it’s part of being in the 21st Century Globalised world. One thing the play highlighted is something we’ve known for a long time, but was dramatically shown here, we’ll all be hearing more Mandarin in the future, more  than French and English perhaps?

Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

Lepage is known for his use of theatrical effects and this play is no different, but again, the effects, staging and lighting fit in seamlessly, and help to tell the story. This is theatre for a 21st century audience that isn’t afraid to use visual and cinematic ideas. The set gave me a feeling of “widescreen” and the clever staging utilised one aspect that theatre is especially suited to, that of working vertically whereas film is primarily a horizontal view, Lepage blended to the two genres and played to the strength of each.

I especially loved the tribute to Herge’s book The Blue Lotus in this play. As the programme states, for many (myself included) this book was probably the first time that many of us encountered China and the images Herge paints certainly have left their mark on generations of westerners.

A few subtle references are made to this throughout

It’s refreshing to go to the theatre and be surprised, challenged and inspired and all in the same night! That is how I felt having watched The Blue Dragon.  The playwright Eugene Ionesco talked about his work and the “two fundamental states of consciousness” between which he moved, “an awareness of evanescence and of solidity, of emptiness and too much presence, of the unreal transparency of the world and its opacity, of light and of thick darkness.” ( see his book Notes and Counter Notes) I got a sense of this last night, especially between the evanescent and solidity of the characters lives and of my own too, something that had been fairy cerebral until last night.

So to call this “Theatrical Perfection” is indeed a HUGE and outlandish claim, but for me, it was pretty close, something to aspire to and be inspired by.