I’ve had this blog for over a year, but I’ve come to realise that I want more functionality than Tumblr can offer. So, I’ve created a Wordpress blog at http://loiteringinthetheatre.wordpress.com/, and I’ll be posting my reviews there from now on. I’ll leave this blog up for a while.
Thank you to everyone who has followed me and read my reviews - I hope they’ve been interesting and/or useful to you!
Daisy Pulls It Off is set in that ‘golden age’ of 1920s school stories, reminiscent of Elinor Brent-Dyer and Angela Brazil. As someone who enjoys this kind of unabashed nostalgia but who isn’t above making fun of it, I was looking forward to seeing this spoof, originally performed in 1983 and written by Denise Deegan.
The stage of the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre – one of the largest of the pub theatres I’ve come across so far – was set out just like an old-fashioned school, with wooden floorboards, plaques listing notable former pupils, and even a piano in the corner (beautifully played throughout the show by Joanna Cichonska). The actors ranged in age from twenties to eighties, but the bizarre spectacle of older ladies in schoolgirl gymslips was overcome to an extent by good acting and the fact that the older women played older girls – thus reflecting the way the younger pupils perceived the sixth formers.
Holly Dale Spencer made a sympathetic and appealing Daisy Meredith, the title character, who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Grangewood School but finds that not all her classmates appreciate the presence of an ‘elementary school pupil’ in their midst. Daisy must prove herself by settling in, playing the game, working hard and helping the school win an important hockey match, not to mention taking time out with her best friend Trixie to search for the treasure that could help save the school. Gillian McCafferty as Trixie and Suanne Braun as Daisy’s nemesis Sybil are also very good, as is James Yeoburn as the mysterious Russian music teacher, but the star is Adam Venus who plays multiple roles – including two mistresses and the gardener – with great comic timing and a sense of fun.
I thoroughly enjoyed this amusing and lighthearted production, and I’m debating whether or not I can introduce the phrase “Oh jubilate!” into general conversation.
The Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell is bizarrely located in the middle of a housing estate near Oval tube station. It’s not the easiest place to find, but based on my experience last week it’s certainly worth the effort.
I am trying to extend my knowledge of classical drama, and after seeing The Bacchae and Antigone last year, I was pleased to see this production of Oedipus (the Rex has been dropped) advertised. Sophocles’ play has been adapted and updated by Lazarus Theatre, and takes place in a 20th century war setting (designed by Max Dorey).
The staging and costumes generally work well, particularly the opening scene in which characters emerge imposingly out of the fog. The chorus members – 1940s nurses – have been issued with gas masks, lending them a sinister air. I was less keen on other aspects of the play’s modernisation, such as the references to Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ – coupled with standard invocations to the Greek gods and the oracle at Delphi, these sound rather absurd.
This dramatic and effective production, directed by Ricky Dukes, filled the small space with a presence and an intensity normally reserved for bigger and higher-budget productions. The acting is excellent, particularly from Jack Cosgrove as the title character, conveying the arrogance and self-assurance of a powerful and respected king until his fate catches up with him and he is left humbled and broken. Alec Parkinson makes a convincing Creon, a quieter foil to Oedipus, and Samantha Andersen makes a superb Jocasta, whose dawning sense of horror is wonderfully conveyed.
Overall I thought this was a powerful production and an example of how modernised classical plays can be made to work. The only major negative for me was the enormously overheated auditorium, which, coupled with my thick jumper, almost caused me to faint. Let’s hope they turn off the heating in the summer, or else they might have an epidemic on their hands.
I bought a last-minute ticket to Quartermaine’s Terms on Monday, the 1981 Simon Gray play enjoying a revival at Wyndham’s Theatre. I grew up with Mr Bean and love Blackadder, so knew I would be interested in seeing this play as it stars Rowan Atkinson.
His character is St John Quartermaine, a teacher at an English language school for foreigners in Cambridge. An inept teacher and a socially awkward character, he hovers at the edge of the crises and incidents that affect the other members of staff, from would-be novelist Mark and unhappily married Anita to long-suffering Melanie and accident-prone Derek. The pace is slow but the personalities and lives of the characters are evoked subtly and sensitively. We see how they develop over a period of a couple of years, as St John remains in the background.
At first I couldn’t get past Mr Bean, but Rowan Atkinson’s performance was a good one and his character proved very different to his previous comedic creation. It’s hard not to pity St John, whose palpable loneliness is evident to everyone except his colleagues, whose own dramas leave them oblivious to his empty life. Other excellent performances came from Will Keen as the hapless but hardworking Derek and Conleth Hill as the bluff and confident Henry.
Directed by Richard Eyre, Quartermaine’s Terms moves through separate scenes in a traditional structure with curtains raised and lowered to mark the passage of time. The play gives the impression that the world of the school is somewhat apart from the rest of academic life in Cambridge, like St John Quartermaine is set apart from the rest of his colleagues.
I wouldn’t say this is one of my favourite plays, but it’s well worth seeing and I’m glad I made the effort.
I visited the Barons Court Theatre last night for the first time, in order to see an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd. I love Hardy and I was curious as to how the novel would work on the stage.
The theatre is a tiny room in the basement of the Curtains Up pub near Barons Court tube. Small and dark, excellent use has been made of the space, which is very atmospheric. Myriad Productions are a group that specialises in adaptations of the classics. That expertise certainly came across in this production, directed by Connie Stephens. Five actors played all of the principal parts, and all were convincing. Joanna O’Connor made a spirited and appealing Bathsheba Everdene, with James Kingdon a superb Gabriel Oak. James Edwards convinced as the obsessive Farmer Boldwood, while Maxwell Tyler was a suitably caddish Sergeant Troy and Anna Rowland a sympathetic Fanny Robin. The actors also took on some of the more minor roles, which helped to move the story along.
The adaptation was cleverly and thoughtfully done, with the story being told and partly narrated by Gabriel Oak. One thing I didn’t quite like was the flashback effect, which meant that the first scene also became one of the last. This would give the story away to anyone unfamiliar with it, and get rid of any narrative tension – although it’s fair to assume, I think, that few audience members at a show like this would not know the story.
I loved this production and, being a lover of the classics, I want to look out for more productions from this group in the future.
I hadn’t originally planned to go and see Dear World, the Jerry Herman musical showing at the Charing Cross Theatre. However, I read so many positive reviews that I decided to take the plunge.
The musical, set in Paris after the Second World War, is about a bonkers old lady, the Countess Aurelia, who owns a café in the city. On hearing that some cut-throat capitalists have discovered oil under the city and plan to destroy the café to get it, she hatches a plan to defeat them.
The plot of Dear World, with a book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (newly revised by David Thompson) is flimsy but entertaining, and if the concept of a group of assorted down-and-outs defeating the baddies in an afternoon is naïve and silly, it’s also feel-good and cosy, perfect escapism for these straitened times. In fact, the whole thing feels spookily relevant – as one audience member pointed out during the post-show Q&A, you can imagine the besuited businessmen dancing around Canary Wharf.
The set is gorgeous, the exterior and interior of the café proving extremely evocative of the period. Director Gillian Lynne has created a beautifully sung and choreographed piece that oozes charm. Broadway legend Betty Buckley really carries the show as the determined and eccentric Countess Aurelia, ably assisted by Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Locke as a pair of batty ladies – the latter’s imaginary dog provides a great deal of entertainment. A ramshackle assortment of characters offer variety: a mute, a waitress, a would-be suicide and a man who lives in the sewers (played with a twinkle in the eye by Paul Nicholas) form the unlikely group. I loved the corporate capitalists, whose wickedly gleeful songs and dances are high points in the production.
None of the songs are outstanding but several are melodic and moving, even inspiring in the case of ‘One Person’. There are hints of lost loves and past heartaches that add depth to the characters. My biggest problem with the show was that not only did it seem to sanction murder, it was happy to condone trial without the defendants present – but I suppose you have to see the show for what it is – a dreamlike whimsical fantasy.
I love Chekhov, so as soon as I saw the new production of Longing advertised at Hampstead Theatre, I booked a ticket. Novelist and screenwriter William Boyd has adapted two Chekhov short stories, ‘My Life’ and ‘A Visit to Friends’, into a full-length play, and the results – while not quite reaching the heights of original Chekhovian drama – are positive.
Set in and around a beautiful summer house in an idyllic country estate, friends Tanya and Varya await the arrival of their old friend, Moscow lawyer Kolya. Tanya’s husband Sergei has frittered away her inheritance and she hopes that Kolya will be able to offer advice – or else that he will marry her younger sister Natasha. Meanwhile, architect’s son Misail, a young idealist who has resolved to devote himself to a life of manual labour (and has been employed to paint the roof of the summer house), is drawn into marriage with the overbearing Kleopatra, daughter of self-made engineer Dolzikhov, determined to buy the estate.
The set, designed by Lizzie Clachan, is perfect Chekhov, a gorgeous wooden house with realistic-looking grass and a beautiful backdrop of trees. The scent of the open air floated around the auditorium, until I felt that I was out in the countryside myself. The actors are fabulous, particularly Iain Glen (last year’s outstanding Uncle Vanya at the Print Room) as the emotionally disconnected Kolya, Tamsin Greig as the middle-aged doctor in love with him, and Natasha Little as the harassed wife faced with losing the estate she loves. The younger cast are excellent too, including William Postlethwaite as the naïve idealist Misail and especially Eve Ponsonby as young Natasha, whose infatuation with Kolya cannot be suppressed.
The production, beautifully directed by Nina Raine, has some slow moments and some clumsy ones, and it isn’t really comparable to Chekhov’s own superlative plays. However, his hallmark of comedy mixed with tragedy comes through beautifully, and the essential humanity of his characters shines through. The concept of longing is powerfully expressed, from the desire of Natasha for Kolya, the passion for the working life expressed by Misail, and the feelings for Kolya held by Varya. The closing scene in particular is incredibly moving.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Pistachio Choice production of little-known Shakespeare play Pericles at the Drayton Theatre last month, so was happy to be returning to see their version of Cymbeline. Like Pericles, Cymbeline is a little-known and rarely performed play, but unlike the former, which is set in and around Greece and the Mediterranean, Cymbeline tells the story of ancient Britons.
Again with a small cast, some of whom also appeared in Pericles, the production once again showcases the ability of the company’s members to chop and change characters at will. Jerome Thompson plays both the hero of the piece Posthumus Leonatus, and the proud Cloten. Scott Wilson-Besgrove is the mighty king Cymbeline and the devious Pisanio. Ruth Rogers is the conniving Queen and the Roman general Caius Lucius, while Caitlin Thorburn plays both the heroine Imogen and Philario.
Once again, the acting was excellent all round, with the characters convincing even as the actors changed accents and costumes mid-scene in order to keep up. The set was simple but well-designed: I especially liked the sheer curtains and the chest used to hide Pisanio. Cymbeline isn’t my favourite Shakespeare play, but the production was entertaining and well done.
I didn’t like this as much as the production of Pericles, but it is still a good production and one which is worth seeing.
Last seen in the West End over thirty years ago, Laburnum Grove – by the dramatist most famous for An Inspector Calls, J. B. Priestley – is being revived at the tiny Finborough Theatre near Earl’s Court. As a fan of the latter play, I was curious about this one. I was not disappointed.
The play is set in the early 20th century, in a relatively new north London suburb, created thanks to the extension of the tube. The stage conveys a respectable middle-class house, with a dining table at which the householders drink tea and eat supper consisting of cold tongue and stewed fruit, making polite conversation. The only threats to the quiet life of the Radfern family come from Dorothy Redfern’s sister and her husband, outstaying their welcome but hoping for a loan, and young Elsie’s ne’er-do-well suitor Harold, also hankering after financial assistance. Around the supper table, master of the house George Radfern shatters all illusions of his decency and respectability by claiming he is a fraudster and a criminal. Is it all a ploy to scare off his in-laws and his daughter’s boyfriend – or is there more to his story?
The theme of criminality and detection, explored in An Inspector Calls, is evident here as the audience – and the rest of the characters – wonder if George’s tall tale is true, and if it is, whether he will be found out. Priestley explores the façade of middle-class respectability and the darker undercurrent that lies beneath it, leaving us to question the importance and meaning of a quiet life on an ordinary street. The character of Elsie, the daughter of the house, demonstrates this potently as her irritation with her dull and boring suburban life transforms to panic as she worries that she might lose it. The acting is very good throughout, especially from Robert Goodale as George, who convinces as a man with different sides to his personality, and from Timothy Speyer as his brother-in-law Bernard Baxley.
I found the play very funny and engaging, helped by the proximity of the audience to the actors – it was almost as though we were sitting with them in their living room. This play will make you look at quiet suburban life in a very different way.
The Wizard of Oz has remained eternally popular since its release in 1939, while the turn-of-the-century book on which it was based, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is a perennial classic. The world of Oz is enjoying something of a resurgence, with the forthcoming release of Disney’s Oz: The Great and Powerful and the current ‘Returning to Oz’ season at the BFI. Also related to the current Oz mania is this production of Dorothy in Oz, an adaptation by James Michael Shoberg staged at the small Waterloo East Theatre – explicitly stated not to be suitable for children. I was intrigued.
The play is set in the ‘Ozlin Centre’ a facility for the mentally ill (shades of 1985’s Return to Oz), to which an unwilling Dorothy (known as Dottie) has been committed by her worried Aunt Em. Dottie, who suffers from bipolar disorder and who has been hearing the barking of her beloved dog Toto (run over the previous year), is treated with an experimental drug called Cyclozil, leading her to hallucinate a bizarre version of the hospital called ‘Oz’. She is informed by Glinda Good, a scatty therapist, that the only way to ensure her release is by finding the hospital’s mysterious administrator, but will her plans be thawed by Dr Green – the ‘Wicked Witch of the West Wing’?
The original Oz story is pretty odd in itself, so setting it in a mental health institution works well. I liked the new versions of the traditional characters, especially the well-intentioned but less than helpful Glinda and the ‘mad scientist’ wicked witch complete with green eyeliner and lipstick. Dottie’s (Kristy Bruce) companions are imaginatively portrayed, too – the Scarecrow (James Clifford) becomes a recovering heroin addict in a goth band, the Tin Man (Paul Christian Rogers) is a young man (nicknamed Rusty) covered in piercings with anger management issues, and the Cowardly Lion (Rob Tofield) is Mr Lyons and needs a bit of courage in a more personal department. There are several clever references throughout to both the original book and the famous film – someone unfamiliar with either might struggle to understand, but really, who hasn’t seen The Wizard of Oz? And if you haven’t, would you really bother going to see this play?
There is plenty of humour in Immersion Theatre’s dark production, and some good performances that capture the humanity behind the dysfunctional personalities. I also loved the musical interludes, which comprise rock versions of classics from the film and other musical classics inspired by Oz. There is a melancholic edge to the production, and it is certainly unsettling – the ending was somewhat disturbing. A really worthwhile production, particularly for fans of anything to do with Oz.