Tag Archives: plays

REVIEW: All New People by Zach Braff, King’s Theatre Glasgow 17th February 2012

The dead of winter, Long Beach Island, New Jersey, Charlie, has hit rock bottom. Away from the rest of the world, his ultimate escape is interrupted by a motley parade of misfits who show up and change his plans.

Following a painful breakup and subsequent meltdown at work, Charlie (Zach Braff) has retreated to a vacation house on Long Beach Island, N.J. owned by his wealthy friend Kevin. It being mid-winter in a summer colony, he expects to be left alone. No such luck. First to arrive is Emma (Eve Myles), a verbose British real estate broker with immigration-status problems, looking to rent out the house. Next comes Myron (Paul Hilton), a drama teacher-turned-fireman and drug-dealer (he prefers “purveyor of distractions”) whose love for Emma is unrequited.

Finally, in walks Kim (Susannah Fielding), a $15,000-a-night hooker sent by Kevin as a care package.

The play has become the highest-grossing drama of all time here at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow. Of its success Zach Braff said: “The response to ‘All New People’ in Glasgow is beyond my wildest imagination. I want to thank the people of Glasgow and the staff at the King’s Theatre for their wonderful support and generosity.”

The whoops and hollers from the audience last night proved that, if he didn’t already have them, he certainly made a few thousand more fans.

Reminiscent of Neil Simon’s early work “All New People” is full of quick fire banter and pop culture references. However, some criticism has been levelled at this play – for one – that it reminds you of a TV sitcom episode rather than a stage play, but Braff has a fine ear for comedic dialogue and the play strikes a fine balance between humour and melancholy.

In fact it was the moments of melancholy that showed what a fine writer Braff is, they were finely wrought and genuinely moving. It is also a great credit to Braff that he doesn’t have all the laughs or drama to himself, in fact his role is more of the supporting player who allows the others to shine. Hilton and Fielding are particularly good, playing their roles as characters rather than characatures, Miles, fares less well – she played it a bit broad and strayed into pantomime territory too much for me.

In Garden State, Braff’s independent film of 2004, he brought a gentler touch to themes that he re-uses here – the urge to numb ourselves to life’s emotional bruises and the desperate need to connect. Ultimately, All New People is highly entertaining as a comedy with serious overtones, about how strangers can become friends, and friends can become family, helping to heal life’s wounds. I hope that Braff learns from its faults and keeps writing plays – one day he might just hit the perfect note.

“Sad Jews in New Jersey are my speciality.”

REVIEW: The Tempest – William Shakespeare starring Ralph Fiennes, Theatre Royal Haymarket London, 20th October 2011

There were crowds forming before ten in the morning for return tickets outside the theatre and indeed the draw of seeing Ralph Fiennes play Shakespeare was the reason I booked to see this.

Fiennes is a fine, fine actor in full command of his powers and his is a highly impressive and commanding Prospero. He manages to convey the torture and complexity of the role and has a lucid way with Shakespeare’s verse, speaking it beautifully, meaningfully and clearly. He also has a magnetic quality like most true acting stars and you are drawn to him wherever he is on stage. Fiennes is, by far, the best thing about this production and is certainly worth the admission price alone. When he opens his mouth for the first time and his magnificent voice sounds out you really are transfixed.

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, however this version by Trevor Nunn comes in at 3 hours. All faults in this production have been laid squarely at the feet of Nunn by the critics. Charles Spencer from the Telegraph blames Nunn’s ability to “bore for England.” It may be due to the fact that Nunn never seems to resist the temptation to turn everything he does into a lavish musical production – the parallels can really be drawn here as the set, with its crumbled buildings looks like he’s recycled it from Cats.

There are some moments of spectacle here as well as some Cirque de Soleil inspired ones and a whole lot of music (which probably results in its running time) but ultimately it’s Fiennes who is the source of all real quality and interest in the whole production.

Tom Byam Shaw is a bleached blonde Ariel and he captures the character’s sprightly nature well (he has an impish face which helps) but at moments to me he seemed a bit on the camp side – which elicited a few sniggers from the audience.

Elisabeth Hill as Miranda seemed wooden and unnatural at times when playing against Fiennes. Two years ago the 23yr old was at Manchester University and this is her first major role. Playing alongside a star such as Fiennes seem to be a step too far. His naturalness and believability just highlighted her stage school expressions of emotion.

Nicholas Lyndhurst displays his comic timing well as Trinculo and Clive Wood plays a spectacularly drunk and boorish Stephano.

I am glad I saw this, for all its faults I wouldn’t have passed up the chance to see Ralph Fiennes on stage and he certainly surpassed any expectations I had. A truly great actor at the height of his powers and a real talent for Shakespeare.

REVIEW: One Man Two Guv’nors starring James Corden, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, 29th October 2011

Originally this had a limited run at the National Theatre at the beginning of 2011. It’s now on a whistle-stop tour before going into The Adelphi in the West End.

Based on Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 comedy The Servant of Two Masters. The plot almost defies description. The safest way to describe it is to say that it’s a farce (not something that is oft seen in theatre these days), and I mean that in the theatrical way!  It has been re-set to 1963 Brighton, and the key point is that Francis Henshall (James Corden), a failed skiffle player, finds himself working for two guvnors. One, Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper), is disguised as her dead gangland twin, and, in her mop-top wig, bears an uncanny resemblance to Ringo Starr!!!

Francis’s other employer is a snooty toff, Stanley Stubbers, who not only killed Rachel’s brother but is also her secret lover. Neither boss is aware the other is in Brighton, as Francis bounces between them like a shuttlecock and, in the play’s most famous scene, serves them dinner simultaneously.

This isn’t exactly a stretch for Corden, being an amalgam of everything you’ve ever seen him in, but you can’t criticise that. He keeps the energy up throughout all of the slapstick and interacts brilliantly with the audience. While Corden is the star, the supporting cast are really strong.

Oliver Chris as Stanley is the epitome of over the top characatured public school arrogance. He has some completely insane lines to deliver which he does brilliantly wringing every bit of humour out of them with a glint in his eye;

Daniel Rigby (whom I last saw in his fantastic BAFTA award winning role as Eric Morecambe in Victoria Wood’s Eric & Ernie) as a would-be actor has fantastic, old-school luvvie theatrical mannerisms. He storms, minces and prances around the stage in turn, delivering his (also outrageously over-the-top lines) with maximum gusto.

Suzie Toase is pitch perfect as sex-pot Dolly;

and Jemima Rooper as the male-attired Rachel has a wonderful swagger.  Adding to the joyous atmosphere, there’s even a skiffle group The Craze who play before, during and after the performance.

But what makes the show so enjoyable is its combination of visual and verbal comedy.

The dinner scene with the octogenarian waiter, magnificently played by Tom Edden, whose hand alarmingly quivers (Mrs. Overall-like) as he serves a tureen of soup, is fabulously funny.

The second half doesn’t quite match the first for hilarity, but as a whole it is laugh-out-loud funny and every single person on the stage is an absolute gem and that’s a rare thing to say, so if you’re in London anytime soon, I urge you to get a ticket.

Postscript – This is going on a national tour at the end of 2012 so you now have the chance to catch it at a theatre near you.

REVIEW: Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth starring Mark Rylance and Mackenzie Crook, Apollo Theatre London, 19th October 2011

“A comic, contemporary vision of rural life in our green and pleasant land, Jez Butterworth’s epic play is wildly original. In part a lament about the erosion of country life and in part a rebuff to the antiseptic modern world, it features a landmark central performance from Mark Rylance as hell-raiser Johnny Byron, ‘a performance so charismatic, so mercurial, so complete and compelling that it doesn’t look like acting’ (Evening Standard), and a superb ensemble cast including Mackenzie Crook who excels as Johnny’s sidekick Ginger.”

So much has been written about this play, mostly in superlatives. I didn’t manage to get a ticket for this first time round in the West End so I made sure on its return from the Tony Award winning run on Broadway that I got one.

I’m a huge fan of Mark Rylance – there are too few fearless actors any more and he is always willing to push the boundaries of performance and always so utterly magnetic.

I hate to jump on the band wagon but I really must add my own praise into the mix. This was an absolute tour de force – I have no idea how Rylance can keep up the focus or summon the energy to give a performance like this night after night. He is spell-binding. The dialogue is a treat and it was genuinely rib-achingly funny in parts and heart-rendingly sad in others. Praise must go to the rest of the cast – Mackenzie Crook and Alan Davis in particular.

This was a thing of rare quality and a real privilege to see.

REVIEW: Journey’s End by R. C. Sherriff, Theatre Royal Glasgow 10th September 2011

This revival of R.C. Sherriff’s 1929 play Journey’s End has been enjoying an extended run in London to outstanding reviews.

The play is a slice of the reality of trench warfare, not just the struggle to control the ever-present fear of being shot, gassed or blinded but coping with the sordid daily privations. The unreal acceptance of rats, fleas and inedible food, joked about in the dialogue in between outbursts of anger, grief and humour brings us a little closer to the almost unimaginable horrors of the First World War written by an author who was there.

It is an intimate window into the varied characters who shared trench life and the fact that we sit there watching with the knowledge of what was about to happen while they carry on in their innocence is all the more heart-breaking.

The play ends with a sustained, ear-splitting replication of trench bombing. So dramatic that many of the audience were cowering in their seats with their hands over their ears. Then the curtain comes up upon the “soldiers” frozen in tableau with (a mere fraction of) the names of the war dead behind them.

R.C. Sherriff himself had an interesting literary life beyond this play. He tried (mostly without much success) to replicate the critical regard and commercial success of this play.He also met with mixed success when it came to novel writing, hitting the mark with The Fortnight In September (published by Persephone Press).

In his autobiography No Leading Lady he recalls:

“For my own part it seemed as if I could only hit the bull’s eye if I didn’t try. I hadn’t tried with Journey’s End. I’d worked on it to pass the winter evenings without any thought of getting it produced. I’d tried for all I was worth with the two plays that followed it, and both went down the drain. I gave up trying because it wasn’t worthwhile any longer, wrote a novel (The Fortnight in September) to pass the time, and found myself on top of the world again.”

Sherriff eventually went to Hollywood in the 1930s where he wrote the screenplays for among others; The Invisible Man, Mrs. Miniver, Goodbye Mr. Chips and The Dam Busters! He was nominated for both Oscar and BAFTA awards.

R.C. Sherriff in 1917

REVIEW: Verdict by Agatha Christie, King’s Theatre Glasgow 11th August 2011

“A completely original play by Agatha Christie, Verdict, eschews the mystery thriller format and is more of a melodrama. Yes there’s a murder but it is carried out onstage in front of us and Christie is much more interested in exploring the consequences of following the head and not the heart and the impact that purely intellectual reasoning can have on people.”

“Set in 1958 in the Bloomsbury flat of German émigré Professor Karl Hendryk where he lives with wife Anya, suffering from a progressively debilitating disease, and cousin Lisa who helps to care for her. Anya is bitter about having to flee her contented life in Germany due to Karl’s act of kindness to a persecuted friend and depressed about the state of her own health, so questions of suicide are raised when she dies. But his liberal attitudes to those who do him wrong push his friends to the very limit as it turns out all is not what it seems with his wife’s death and adhering so strictly to his moral code threatens those who are closest to him.”

This was booked at an hour’s notice and I’m glad I did. An interesting departure from the usual Agatha Christie whodunnit, this was gripping, atmospheric and the acting was beautifully pitched, something often lacking in productions like this. An unexpected gem on a rainy afternoon.

REVIEW: Henceforward – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

It’s sometime quite soon . . .

Jerome is a serious avant-garde composer. He`s written string quartets, a ‘cello sonata. Unfortunately, he`s best known for the soundtrack of the infamous Singing Babies TV commercial . . .

Even worse, ever since his bank manager wife Corinna left him, taking their daughter with her, Jerome has suffered from creative block. Locked inside his fortress flat, he now lives surrounded by TV screens, computers and synthesizers, with just one companion: NAN 300F, a robot nanny who seems almost human, despite being perpetually on the blink. Well, the manufacturer did have to withdraw the entire range after that ‘unfortunate incident’ . . .

Desperate to gain custody of his daughter, but knowing that this unconventional lifestyle is unlikely to endear him to the Department of Child Wellbeing, Jerome hires out-of-work actress Zoë to pose as his fiancée and play happy families for the benefit of Mervyn Bickerdyke, the Child Welfare Officer.

But things with Zoë go horribly wrong – just as Mervyn and Corinna are on their way to examine Jerome’s stable new home environment – and Jerome is forced to improvise. You know, it’s amazing what you can do with a robot, a few micro-chips and a screwdriver . . .

Alan Ayckbourn’s play unfortunately doesn’t stand up to the ravages of time and has dated – badly. It’s not helped by the fact the central character, though well enough acted, had no redeeming features. Ultimately it all left me a little bit cold.

REVIEW: Much Ado About Nothing starring Eve Best and Charles Edwards at Shakespeare’s Globe 15th July 2011

 More than 400 years on, Shakespeare’s play has lost none of its power to delight – and to astonish.

The show generated great waves of warm laughter from a packed house that hung on to every word. With the Globe stage covered with pools of blue water and its pillars transformed into fruit-laden orange trees, this production memorably blends the play’s humour with its moments of darkness.

The cast don’t disappoint either – Eve Best’s Beatrice (above) is fiercely intelligent, ironic and good-hearted, using her prodigious wit as a shield against hurt. She makes it plain that her heart has already been bruised by Benedick and that her insults and jibes are intended to keep him at a distance.

Charles Edwards (above right) gives a superb performance as a feeling, thinking man who keeps pain at bay by pretending to be a cheerful silly ass.

The scenes when both are duped into believing that they are loved by the other and finally acknowledge their true feelings are staged with great wit and imagination. Best even grabs the hand of one of the groundlings as she describes her sudden, unexpected happiness.

But, right to the end, both actors suggest the precariousness of their love in a world corrupted by sin and made even more complex by their own prodigious intelligence. Only when they kiss (to the delighted cheers of the audience) does the flow of words end in the joy of their mutual love.

Where it matters most, in the wit, wounded feelings and final happiness of Beatrice and Benedick, this production soars.” The Telegraph

This is one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had – elbows on the stage being totally swept away in the fantastic storytelling of Shakespeare and the phenomenal skill and talent of this truly wonderful cast. I can’t praise it highly enough. Just magical.

REVIEW: Richard III starring Kevin Spacey, Old Vic Theatre London, 13th July 2011

It’s a funny thing indeed to see your acting hero in the flesh, there’s a hint of unreality that it’s really just a film your watching. Expectations were high; the tension in the air before the performance at the Old Vic was palpable. I have never felt an atmosphere like it, the audience was literally buzzing.

The moment Kevin Spacey appeared on stage and announced “Now is the winter of our discontent” there was a sharp intake of breathe and the audience seemed to hold it there in total silence for the next two hours until the first interval. It’s a testament to him and a strong supporting cast that the two hours flew by in the blink of an eye. Totally breathtaking from start to finish.

It’s easy to see why Spacey has two Oscars, he is totally magnetic, even when not part of the action you can’t help follow his every move. Chewing The Scenery blog agrees;

“He (Spacey) is unavoidably watchable whenever he is on stage; often his reactions and expressions are more exciting than the dialogue being delivered by the rest of the very talented cast. In no way does Spacey attempt to compensate for his screen acting experience by exaggerating his gestures beyond what is necessary; every gesture is beautifully judged and every syllable articulate. Put plainly, Kevin Spacey over the course of three and a half hours proves to over 1,000 people each night exactly why he is the best. His monologues and asides to the audience are so delightfully acted, it was hard not to become mesmerised in the presence of a true star.”

This was a truly momentous experience – one you get the feeling only comes around once a decade. Proof of this was the fact there were more famous actors in the audience than on the stage, no doubt coming to see if Spacey was all he was hyped up to be. Well, simply put – he is! I, like my fellow audience members was on my feet at the end and the ovation just thundered on and on. This was remarkable – unforgettable theatrical magic!

REVIEW: Children’s Hour, The Comedy Theatre London 2nd April 2011 starring Keira Knightley, Elisabeth Moss, Ellen Burstyn & Carol Kane

Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play The Children’s Hour is set in a boarding school in 1930s New England run by two women, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie. When a student runs away from the school, they become entangled in a story of deceit, shame and courage.

A potent exploration of a culture of fear, The Children’s Hour was banned in several cities in America and also in London, though it did receive its UK premiere in 1936. This Crucible-esque play – though it pre-dates Arthur Miller’s classic by two decades – tells the story of a teacher whose entire life is threatened by the rumours of an angry child.

“This production of The Children’s Hour stars Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss. Knightley plays Karen Wright, who, along with friend and colleague Martha Dobie – played by Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss – has fought and struggled to build up a school for girls. Though there is tension surrounding Wright’s impending marriage to local doctor Joseph Cardin (Tobias Menzies) and its effect on the school and Dobie, everything is rosy. That is until one child runs away and whispers an accusation in the ear of her doting grandmother in the hope of avoiding a return to the school.”

“Last time the Pirates Of The Caribbean star trod the boards, making her West End debut in The Misanthrope in 2009, she received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for her efforts. Whether she will be honoured in the same way for this performance won’t be known until this time next year, though she certainly makes the switch from stage to screen seem easy, her willowy, elongated frame perfectly at home under the proscenium arch of the Comedy Theatre.”

“While the cast boasts an embarrassment of riches – Knightley and Moss are joined by Academy, Tony and Emmy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn as the all too easily convinced grandparent, and Emmy Award-winner Carol Kane as an eccentric failed-actress aunt – it is British stage regular Bryony Hannah who delivers the stand out performance as the repulsive Mary Tilford. She makes the blood boil as the manipulative child with a very big chip on very small shoulders, who believes the world is against her and layers lie upon lie upon lie, to disguise her own wrongs.”

 

“While the first half, even with Hannah’s livewire performance, takes its time building the pressure, the second delves into the devastating fallout for all of the characters, giving the headline stars their chance to shine, despite a script that, on occasion, sounds dated.”

“Times have changed since the play was written in 1933, and the content of the malicious rumours may not have quite the same effect in the 21st century. But in a world where tabloids and magazines, social media and the internet spread gossip as though it were news, the danger of believing every unsubstantiated word you hear has never been more apparent.”

I personally found Keira Knightley’s performance well judged and accomplished as was that of Elizabeth Moss, however Moss did resort to wild facial contortions at times, though not as maddening as those of Bryony Hannah who spent the whole evening contorting her face to the point of grotesqueness. I am sure that from the circle or balcony this wouldn’t have been as noticable but from the front row it became a maddening source of annoyance. The play itself was very much of its time and the ending lost its impact because it didn’t resonate throught the years to the present.

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