"why don't you go fuck a play" Boy George, by Twitter 18.7.2012

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Look Back in Ongar

Review of 'In Basildon' at the Royal Court theatre.

We love a bit of festering resentment. We’re quite fond of a bit of working class argy-bargy too, especially in an emetically-carpeted housing estate setting. And we’re having echoing déjà vu moments for the Royal Court on 8 May 1956.

It is only slight exaggeration to compare what we’re dying to call a ‘Rom’ Com because of its Romford-born and Essex-celebrating author David Eldridge with his hero John Osborne’s original kitchen sink drama.

Except it's much more laugh-out-loud funny than Osborne ever was.

Len’s dying in his own living room attended by his best mate Ken (deft comic turn by Peter Wight) and his two daughters Doreen and Maureen who haven’t spoken to each other in twenty years. Only at the end of the play, in a brilliant spin through time, do we learn why. These totally authentic women characters appear to have ‘misery’ lettered through them like sticks of Southend rock in wholly credible and almost documentary performances by two of our finest character actresses.

Mike Leigh-veteran Ruth Sheen (Vera Drake’s black marketeering mate) is outstanding and completely matched by Linda Bassett whose capacity to bring to life a succession of working class and downtrodden women is legendary and whose omission from a starring role in EastEnders is a crime against talent.

Into this working-class pigeon loft, Eldridge drops a sleek cat in the form of a university-educated posh fiancé for Len’s granddaughter. His naivete and condescension provide much of the comedy. One blogger saw this as a commentary on the exclusion of the working-class voice from modern political discourse, but we felt it was a surreally delicious part of the placement of a Basildon comedy in an SW3 theatre, whereby a 'Made in Chelsea' audience gets the chance to see a clutch of people who wouldn’t make it into 'TOWIE'.

Talking of placement, and following similar attempts at the Old Vic and the Menier, the Royal Court has built a secondary seating area behind the stage in a misguided attempt at ‘in the round’. It seems a waste of scaffolding, and some of the sightlines are terrible, so if you get the chance, choose seats on the conventional auditorium side.

The play is directed by Dominic Cooke who also did Clybourne Park for the Court, and there are textural similarities which only enhance the sharpness of the comedy and the naturalism of the drama. With a superb cast, and such sensitive direction, it is unmatched by anything in the West End.

See this play. Embrace this play. It is theatre. It is London.

This review written for Londonist.com

Sunday, 19 February 2012

G&S in a Higher Bracket

The problem with coming up with a cracking idea on the theatre fringe is you’re obliged to repeat it – building, for example, on the brilliance of the original all-male Pirates of Penzance, Sasha Regan producer-director at the Union polished the Mikado and glorious Iolanthe to undeniably fresh brilliance.

It’s fortunate there are a dozen such comic operas in the repertoire because with the successful staging of Patience, she’ll need several more to meet demand: my money’s on Pinafore.

This Patience looks and sounds delightful. It’s set and lit with the Union’s usual home-made charm, and again Drew McOnie demonstrates his extraordinarily intuitive and modern choreographic range in designing movement which matches the humour and dexterous diction of G&S without bursting into production numbers.

The story satirises the aestheticism movement of the late 19th century and suggests young ladies are most attracted to willowy men who spout poetry rather than rough-shouldered soldiery. Both are exceptionally well-rendered in the cast – among the ‘ladies’ who are amazingly able to sing to the top of their soprano range in full voice rather than strained falsetto, Edward Charles Bernstone is a tuneful and pert Patience but it’s James Lacey with the affecting kiss-curl who stands out as the most effective head girl of the “twenty love-sick maidens”.

Demonstrating the richness of vocal talent in London, only a couple of the singers are veterans of previous Union productions, and the brilliant new finds sourced by casting director Adam Lewis Ford include Lacey and Bernstone and an outstanding lyric baritone in Stiofán O’Doherty as Grosvenor, the boy who by switching from aesthete to ordinary, and by eschewing a pair of spray-on white jodhpurs even Mr Darcy might have reconsidered - eventually turns Patience’s head.

Every element is beautifully realised, the ensemble is excellent, and the singing impeccable. If there’s a flaw, it’s that Patience simply isn’t G&S’s strongest piece, and apart from one once wrestled into submission by Dame Hilda Bracket, there’s hardly a familiar tune.

this review written for www.remotegoat.co.uk

Monday, 13 February 2012

You Me Bohème Bohème Train

If you’ve been to site-specific arts events before, like Punchdrunk or Bum Bum Train or Theatre Delicatessen, you’ve probably ricocheted from one scene or event to another, feeling somewhere between a film extra and a peeping tom.  Heritage Arts and the crew behind Silent Opera bring you closer to the action and whilst there’s a certain amount of herding involved, you’re much more directly engaged with the performers and the drama.

Snap on a pair of Sennheiser HD headphones, snap OFF your mobile, and find first a beanbag or a patch of crowded floor in the ‘attic’ space of the Old Vic Tunnels rigged up as the realistically shabby student squat in which Rodolfo and Mimi fall in love: you can almost smell the stale joints and congealed pizza.

The orchestra’s a recording but the technician in charge is also a trained conductor who can adjust its speed to accommodate the singers: he might not be flailing his arms in an evening suit, but it works.

You don’t really need to know the story of La Bohème either, many of the audience were opera virgins and it’s sung in modern English with laugh-out-loud libretto lines like ‘fetch the Cillit Bang’ and ‘here's a feast worthy of Come Dine With Me: Beans' enriching what’s basically a story of two boy-meets-girl romances at the end of which one dies.  As with most modernised Bohèmes, Mimi’s condition is updated from ‘consumption’, here to anorexia, but we wish they’d go the whole hog and make her a drug addict, it’s time for a Mimi Winehouse.

So when in the shabby flat the students decide to go off to the Christmas market and then to the night café, it’s YOUR arm they’re pulling to get up off your beanbag, and you join the drunken queue for the nightclub where Musetta’s singing, and eventually you’re standing at Mimi’s bedside when she dies.

You’re certainly carried along, although less emotionally than you might expect for such a heart-tugging tale – the headphone music didn’t seem to swell as passionately as in conventional theatre settings, and we weren’t quite swept away by the romance and the beautiful tunes although Emily Ward's Mimi was in fine voice.

It’s a young cast – when will someone do one of these fantastic immersive site-specifics with established opera singers - some of the acting is clunky, and despite the smooth shepherding of the 150-strong sellout audience up and down stairs and through the different scenes, neither the singing nor the on-stage movement was quite as fluid as it could be, although we were quite early in the run.

We’d have liked even more direct engagement between the actors and audience, in the Gatehouse’s Traviata, Violetta does a lapdance, and Bohème’s Musetta is no less a tart.  Being allowed to bring your wine would help the atmosphere too.

But it’s such an enjoyable night out – well worth the ticket price of £20 – with a young and cool Superdry-chic audience many of whom seemed to be on date night, and supported by a good popup bar, Hammer Horror flick club cinema, comedy, music, interactive film, and the rest of the Vault experience.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Merchant Ivory Soap

Went to the London premiere last night of 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' starring La Dench, Smith, Wilton, Imrie

What a waste of the assembled vintage talent - it's trite, predictable and every line was anticipated by the audience - some of it audibly.

Dismally directed by John Madden it merges every conceivable Merchant-Ivory homage with 'Carry On Abroad' and brings nothing to the screen except a further opportunity for some pretty well-worn old hams to exercise their trademark schtick.

None does it more annoyingly than Bill Nighy retailing that goofy lanky twunt he's honed in countless torpid Britflics and too many adverts to shake a stick at.

Talking of adverts, there's an outrageous piece of product placement for the over sugared BritBiscuit 'Hobnob'. God knows how much United Biscuits/McVities' paid to have it described by Dame Judi and visually advertised by Dame Maggie but it's not nearly enough.

Every racist and patronising cliche is trotted out: revulsion at spicy food, Delhi belly, horror at traffic, Indian inability to organise, visible poverty, caste system, accents and cricket. Apart from the visuals of a fascinating country which may boost Jaipur/Udaipur tourism, this is an appalling piece of lazy and soapy made-for-TV standard filming.