Saturday, 29 May 2010


29/5/10, Tricycle

90 mins, no interval. Filter's take on the play, a jam session with a cast of six, two musicians and a stage manager sitting at the back with her laptop, heavily cut but with all the famous bits kept in... demonstrating once again how robust Shakespeare's stuff is, what punishment it can take; and how familiar many of his lines are. Though what it would mean if one didn't know the play and the text I'm not sure.

This was the rough theatre version, originally seen as part of the RSC's full works season in 2008, directed by Sean Holmes. A bare stage and no scenery except for the Tricycle's battered proscenium, which sits way back in the playing area and tonight had been painted red white and blue (for the theatre's next production we were told, since this was Filter's last night: "I wouldn't want you to think Filter's some extension of the BNP," the frontman said). Viola borrowed her man's coat and hat from members of the audience, Feste wore a red nose, there was musical accompaniment from an electronic bass sitting centre stage at the back and various keyboards, percussion, sax and trumpet scattered on tables at either side, and much singing, dancing and mucking about with the PA. Illyria was identified as a sea area in the shipping forecast; characters used mobile phones and intercoms to communicate.

The musical highlights included a heavy metal solo, complete with air guitar, for Malvolio, and a nighttime revel for the drunken Belch and Aguecheek which started off very quietly ("Shhhh!") and gradually snowballed to include the whole audience throwing velcro balls at the velcro-covered heads of Aguecheek and a handful of audience members, abnd Agucheek distributing takeaway pizzas round the auditorium.

Malvolio (Ferdy Roberts) looked like a cross between Willie Rushton and the Marquess of Bath ("the one with the wifelets," D said), dressed all in black until he stripped down post-solo to his bright yellow socks, underpants and curious stockings, a bit like exaggerated legwarmers. Sir Toby (Oliver Dimsdale) was the only member of the cast in Elizabethan costume.

Olivia's Yorkshire accent kept showing through; Olivia (Poppy Miller) spoke the lines classily and was almost convincing as both brother and sister in the final scene, but was a lousy mover; the woman who played Maria and Feste (Gemma Saunders) had an engagingly cheeky stage persona (bleached blonde bob, baggy black harem pants, striped top); Jonathan Broadbent doubled as Orsino and Aguecheek and had the greatest stage presence (and did a mean backflip too). Much of it was genuinely funny, especially Belch and Aguecheek, and that's not something you can always say of a production of a Shakespeare comedy.

The production's been brought back more than once by the Trike, for whom it was originally a runaway success, but they've come once too often to the well: the theatre was only just over half full, even though it was a Saturday night, and they had to work hard to generate the necessary atmosphere. I wasn't sure what seeing it added to my understanding of Twelfth Night or my appreciation of the play. But I'd happily see another Filter production

Friday, 28 May 2010


27/5/10, Lyric, Hammersmith

A very curious play, full of odd moments, monologues, loose ends and things that didn't wholly make sense. It's nearing the end of the world. There is a precise time for an asteroid to hit earth; society is running down, people are downing tools to return to their homes. The focus is on a dysfunctional family of brothers from a Yorkshire farm and their mother. One brother is dying of cancer and wants them all to gather before he dies and the world ends. There is a moving scene early on in which his mother bathes him in a tin bath. There is a final scene in which all the surviving participants (the cancer-stricken brother has died by now) gather on a hillside, all standing to face the audience, and await the end.

But there were some very peculiar bits. The oldest brother looked old enough to be the youngest's grandfather, and for a long while it wasn't clear that they were siblings since the younger referred to the older as "Uncle Jake". (The difference in age was explained away in a later scene, not altogether convincingly.) Different scenes and characters seemed to belong to different plays. This may have had something to do with the fact that the play was a collaboration between three different writers: David Eldridge (who adapted Festen for the stage), Robert Holman and Simon Stephens (whose monologue-driven Punk Rock and Pornography we have recently seen). Perhaps they all threw into the pot whatever they happened to be working on at the time and stirred, waiting to see what emerged.

Some performances stronger than others: Ann Mitchell (we saw her with Simon Callow years ago in a play about a butcher at Southwark Playhouse: he stripped naked in that so she's used to handling middle aged male nudity. Callow was in the audience the night we went) was impressive as the mother. Others had difficulty getting the right tone with the sometimes naturalistic, sometimes poetic language.


26/5/10, Hampstead

Jonathan Harvey's latest. He's still ploughing the same old furrow, but he does it intelligently and with a warm and sympathetic heart.

A chief constable (Philip Voss) is outed as a closet gay when it emerges that he had an affair with another young man in his youth but was persuaded, to save his career, to accuse the other guy of raping him.

Three months on (didn't manage to write it up at the time) the details have faded. But I can recall a Machiavellian gay TV host, a scene of a gay man in the 1960s being given aversion therapy, Paula Wilcox as the police chief's wife (and Mrs Thatcher) and a general sense that it was well-done if not groundbreaking.

The second act begins with Voss in drag as Mary Whitehouse conducting one of her early mass meetings which is interrupted by gay activists scattered around the audience.

There's a Big Secret which is revealed towards the end but I can't remember what it was!

Reminded of me Nick de Jong's

Here are some reviews.

Saturday, 22 May 2010


22/5/10, ENO

A new production by Catherine Malfitano (her first). She clearly likes her operas straight and there seems to be no trickery here. What I take to be the original stage directions seemed to be followed scrupulously.

There were some fine sets: a great example of old fashioned scenery painting in the first scene, with the interior of the church picked out in great detail on a backcloth, while in the foreground we had columns, statue of the virgin, painting, gated chapel etc, all as advertised. Likewise Scarpia's office in Act 2. Only the battlements in the third act were not conventional: a great semi-circular space a bit like a skateboarding ramp, on which at one point the soldiers played a game in which they seemed to treat as such.

She likes her lighting. There was a scarlet predawn sky on the backdrop at the start of Act 3, fading to icy blue with a blue light on the stage and the firing squad downstage with their backs to the audience, silhouetted in shadow. And during Cavaradossi's offstage torture he is taken out into some brightly-lit anteroom through a pivoting door: the light floods onto the stage from the side. And in Act 1 at the end the back of the church lit up while downstage front the chorus (or choir) forms up with what looks like a cardinal at their centre, his back to us facing upstage, a great red cloak spread out behind him. It's a tableau that prefigures the end of Act 2, when Tosca stands downstage centre with her back to the audience and the back wall of Scarpia's study lights up to show the battlements beyond. And then Act 3 is the only one to finish with the central figure facing the audience, as Tosca turns, appalled by the drop, and falls backwards to her doom. All a bit schematic, perhaps, but striking.

Only in operas like this does the 19th century tradition of melodrama survive. I thought Sardou's original play must be pretty risible, but then remembered The Prince's Play which we saw at the National with Ken Stott some years ago: written by Victor Hugo, it was the model for Rigoletto, and I seem to recall it was pretty compelling stuff.

Musically Act 1 takes a while to get going (despite the great tenor aria at the start). Act 3 struggles to hold one's attention. Act 2 is a cracker.

Scarpia (Anthony Michaels-Moore) had a frog in his throat for part of the time but was thoroughly and convincingly nasty. Cavaradossi (Julian Gavin) had the requisite heft. Tosca (Amanda Echalaz) sang beautifully and I thought was quite a looker until the lights came full on for the curtain call...

Psychologically it's interesting. When Cavaradossi is being tortured but Tosca sings "I am being tortured" it's a Lady Macbeth "What in our house?" moment: the diva taking centre stage. Her death's a bit like that too


21/5/10, National (Cottesloe)

Interesting premise. A convention of church leaders in Africa is trying (and failing) to agree a common position on homosexuality: the liberal westerners find the principal African bishop intransigent. One of the volunteers assisting at the conference goes to bed in his room with a waiter, who then tries to get the volunteer to take him back with him to the UK. Back home, the volunteer's wife is going out of her mind with longing for a baby, but her husband is reluctant on ethical grounds to consider IVF.

So a wonderful stew of hypocrisy, ethical dilemmas, real religious and political differences. The problem was partly the writing. The dialogue was excessively naturalistic (though delivered in a rather mannered fashion) which meant it was allusive and rather baffling. You found yourself confused and puzzled by what was going on. The acting and the production were problematic as well: it got very shouty much too quickly, both in the disputatious meeting of bishops and in the scene in the hotel bedroom. And then there was the heavy symbolism, especially in the third scene, between the volunteer and his wife, with a family of squirrels living in the roof (the rodent man has been called) helping to drive the childless wife potty.

We left at the interval. S and Dr T stayed and said it didn't improve.

Saturday, 8 May 2010


7/5/10, National Theatre (Olivier)

Missed it. Had to work (election). D said 'twas very stylish, great costumes, Harriet Walter stunning, used the revolve very well, and the lighting. Nice band, bit screechy. They all died.


5/5/10, Royal Court

What Alan Bennett's History Boys might have become if they'd gone to Eton, Harrow and Winchester instead of a Yorkshire grammar school. A thinly-disguised portrait of the Bullingdon Club timed to coincide with the General Election.

Top notch ensemble performances, clever direction by Lyndsey Turner (the blocking alone a triumph, what with ten or more actors on the tiny Court stage, much of the time sitting around a dining table), one or two good jokes... but awful people, made utterly obnoxious by the sense of entitlement that comes with wealth (in the case of the Greek Dimitri) or a title or a sentimental attachment to Things as They Were. And that actually made it rather boring to watch.

This was a club in which talk of politics was supposedly banned but which was political to its core, if total disregard for the interests and feelings of others constitutes a political position. They meet to get "chateaued" in some country pub, play silly games, argue, boast (they're barely out of adolescence) and then it all turns nasty when one of them insists on kissing the landlord's daughter against her will, her father protests at what they've done to his pub (trashed it) and to his daughter and a minor sexual assault turns into a serious physical assault which leaves him unconscious.

There's then an unconvincing coda in which a suave MP gets the one who's agreed to take/been lumbered with the rap (he did throw the first punch, played by Leo Bill) positioned for a career in politics. The actor playing the young man was a dead ringer for Tim Gardam.

There were some nice touches in the script (by Laura Wade). At one point they lament the decline of the country house -- mummy and daddy forced into two rooms by the beastly National Trust, thousands of oikish visitors trampling the carpets -- and the gay one goes into a riff about how dreadful it is and one of them suddenly twigs from the way he talks that he must actually go to these places as a paying visitor. The one who eventually throws the punch has a nice turn when he reads out a letter he's found in the chairman's bag, a letter which begins ("Why I want to work for Deutsche Bank"): this to a roomful of people who insist they don't apply for jobs, the jobs come to them. And the one who throws the punch also closes the first act with a spectacular spittle-flecked rant about privilege and entitlement and the little people and how sick he is of poor people which was hard to follow but had a certain bravura quality.

There were a few good jokes, but an alarming number of people in the (very posh) audience seemed to be laughing like drains with rather than at the club's antics.

Clever production included occasional a capella songs to break the action up and mark the passage of time. But it was one of those plays where seeing it didn't really add much to what you got from reading the reviews. The experience of watching it gave little pleasure; and frankly it was hard to care tuppence about these horrible people and the way the related to one another.


30/4/10, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Linbury)

Thomas Ades' famous (notorious?) opera about Margaret Duchess of Argyll, aristocrat, good time girl and fellater of headless men.

It's a fascinating story, full of sex, betrayal, breathtaking arrogance, though lacking drama: a straightforward rise and fall. We loved the staging. There was a vast staircase filling almost the whole of the downstage and sweeping up and narrowing to a doorway at the top. The Duchess (Joan Rodgers) made her first appearance (and several subsequently) from a giant powder puff halfway up the stairs stage left, which revolved and opened to reveal her. Her husband/lover/nemesis (the bass baritone Alan Ewing) made dramatic entrances from the door at the back, which slid open and shut. The other two cast members, the tenor Iain Paton and soprano Rebecca Bottone (again) scurried on and off as a succession of domestics, hangers-on and lovers. The action spanned decades from a present-day flashback to the Duchess's arrival on the scene in about 1930, through her notoriety during the 40s and 50s, and then the divorce and impecunious decline in a succession of hotel rooms during the 1970s and 80s (though for some reason the dates flashed up on a counter above that doorway didn't tally with the actual dates of her story as spelt out in the programme).

The problem was that, with the exception of a few numbers (like a popular song parody sung by one of the hangers on in the 1930s segment), the music seemed more of an obstacle than an aid to understanding as with so much contemporary opera. That's partly because you can't hear many of the words, so demanding is music like this to sing; partly because Ades' stuff, though much more accessible than some composers', is often hard on the ears.