The Importance of Theatre for Britain and for Me

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a musing of mine on Theatre. With our General Election coming up in the UK in a few weeks time. Now is a good a time as ever for a brief musing of mine. Especially as the good folks at MyVoucherCodes wanted me to as part of the National Go To a Play Day campaign.

Theatre is essential to a socially and artistically vibrant society. I’ve said it so many times on this blog but we are so spoiled in the UK (especially those of us near London) with the variety and level of theatrical excellence we can participate in. That goes for the amateur/community sector as well as the professional sector.

It’s telling that as ever, the Arts are not really being talked about in the run up to the election. Again I’ll sound like the proverbial broken record but for every pound invested in the arts by the government, the arts generates £2 back for our government. Also stats reveal that as many people go to the theatre each week as go to football matches, but alas the back pages of newspapers are devoted to overpaid men kicking a piece of leather about rather than the diversity and variety of theatre that happens everyday on this glorious isle.

Regular readers will notice that my reviews have not been as forthcoming as previously (I used to go at least once a week to the theatre at one point). That’s not because theatre is still not a huge part of my life, just circumstances change and so do priorities sometimes. I went to my local community theatre on Saturday and saw their splendid version of Peter Quilter’s Glorious. As clichéd as it’ll sound it was a glorious night out.

For me theatre is vital for many reasons. Saturday night it was all about having fun, relaxing, seeing friends and getting away from cares of world for a few hours. Other times it’s about engaging with the very issues that concern me. Still at other times it’s about having issues I wasn’t even aware of being brought to my attention. Other times it’s about seeing playwrights work that I admire and have a passion for, (Mamet, Beckett or Rattigan especially!)

One reason I love theatre so much is that it gives me a chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes. admittedly I may not agree or like how they see the world, but life is richer for the range of “life lenses” I’ve viewed it through at the theatre.

So as we enter this “theatrical farce” of a General Election coming up I look forward to taking refuge in the theatre and then leaving it engaging with my world in new ways.

 

 

 

A Fine Bright Day Today – Miller Centre Theatre Company – Review

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A-Fine-Bright-Day-Today-posterSeeing A Fine Bright Day Today was really nice! I know “nice”is a fairly nondescript word, but I’m not sure what else best describes this charming, and gentle play by Philip Goulding.

I don’t see “nice” as a negative either, so much theatre veers onto the offensive, “edgy” or harrowing (and there is a place for this), that it was a refreshing change to be sat immersed in a world that was like the serene lapping of the sea that forms the backdrop for this play.

It certainly gets you thinking as it examines the existential ideas of dwelling on the past and being fearful of the future. Yet it does so in a subtle way. It’s a play of pondering rather than one that rams its agenda down your throat.

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The small cast of three give nuanced performances, Mary-Rose Goodliffe as Margaret endears us to her closed and fearful character. Whilst David Kay as Milton is superb as the interloping American tourist that helps her to see beyond the small world she is trapped in. Micha Patman as daughter Rebecca plays an excellent foil to both Margaret and Milton as she helps to bring them together.

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Gail Bishop’s direction keeps the story moving along with wonderfully constructed segues so that there is no lull between the scenes which I especially liked. She allows the strong characterisation to come through the story telling. I loved her set design, which encapsulated the coast and homeliness of the play perfectly.

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I highly recommend you catch this play. It’s refreshingly different from many modern plays and it was nice to have a nice night out at the theatre!

 

DISCLAIMER : I know the director very well and one of the cast but didn’t allow that to bias my review too much.  I enjoyed this play thanks to their hard work and the excellent choice of playwright that Gail chose to direct.

Di and Viv and Rose – Vaudeville Theatre, London – Review

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6218-fitandcrop-560x350My first play of 2015 has set the standard high with this poignant, moving and excellently executed piece of theatre.

It starts with a punchy, quick series of scenes that set up the action that is to follow. We follow the eponymous characters as they move into their shared university house and the trials and triumphs that occur during these formative years. I found myself reminiscing about those that I shared my student residences with. I only keep in sporadic touch with one, the rest have drifted off and I’ve no idea where they are (reading this review perhaps?). These three characters however firm a strong bond and we then follow their lives after university.

No surprise that there are some dramatic and unexpected turns in their lives. However the events are not contrived, they are just “life”. It was this sense of realism that particularly struck me as I looked back on my life since leaving uni. Life seldom goes as planned, it’s a journey and following these three divergent yet united lives illuminated my own life. Friendship like life changes as we grow and change ourselves.

Amelia Bullmore’s script is witty, heartfelt, realistic and crafted. She gives each character an authenticity which translates from the stage to the audience. She’s a writer I’ll be keeping an eye out for any future work. I hope there is much more to come from this talented writer.

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The cast of three deliver performances that are outstanding. Tamzin Outhwaite (who I last saw steal the show in Raving) delivers again. She is truly one of may favourite stage actresses. She manages to really transcend the stage. Her portrayal of the at one moment boisterous and then vulnerable Di drew us all in. A testament to her prowess was the gasp she elicited at one moment (no spoilers!) from several audience members.

Jenna Russell is the bubbly and effervescent Rose, she’s the pivot point of the trio’s relationship and how things pan out for her is unexpected but her character mucks along. The humour she brings to the stage is delightful.

Samantha Spiro plays the uptight and slightly stuffy Viv. Her character shows that hard work and focusing pays off. She gives texture to Viv though and enables us to see why she is so driven and that focusing can also lead to being blinkered to those around you.

Anna Mackmin’s direction keeps the action moving and the attention firmly on the three ladies lives.

I hope this is a sign of things to come along theatrically in 2015 for the West End. A funny, gutsy, thought provoking and well written play, executed with skill and understanding by the cast, is what we need more of!

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

Thanks to SeatPlan and Offical Theatre for the tickets!

Into The Woods – Review

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ITW_1-Sht_v18_Lg2015 gets off to a cracking start with the cinematic release of Disney’s treatment of Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods.

I was fortunate enough to go to an advance screening in the West End earlier this week and Disney were excitedly telling us how this film has been a smash at the US box office (beating the opening weeks of Mamma Mia! and Les Miserables ). Anything that puts Les Mis in its place has got to be a good thing. Having seen the film there can be little doubt as to why this is doing so well over the pond.

Firstly it’s a Stephen Sondheim musical! So we can expect clever lyrics, crafted melodies and a story that keeps you smiling but also throws in plenty of surprises along the way. I had no idea what this story was about, other than it has a witch and is set in some woods. I don’t want to give anything away, suffice to say it’s a witty and clever retelling of some classic fairy tales.

Watching it I was struck at the skill Sondheim has and lamented that so much musical theatre is rather lazy in comparison to this. I’m always a bit concerned of film adaptations of stage musicals but Disney get this spot on, utilising the advantages of film to make this a much larger production than you’d ever get to see on stage. This is something to see at the cinema where you get the huge screen and surround sound system luxuries. This is an epic musical and seeing it brought to life on this scale is magical.

Meryl Streep is the poster girl and delivers a fabulous performance as the witch. Despite my concerns, that films that have lots of names in often don’t work, (I think that’s why the film adaptation of Nine didn’t work) this time the casting of numerous names doesn’t affect the film negatively.

Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife is the real star of this film for me.

Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife is the real star of this film for me.

Emily Blunt blew me away as the Baker’s wife, it’s a brilliant performance. There are many stories being told throughout the piece but for me hers stuck out the most. Although why she suffers whilst Prince Charming gets off scot-free seems a bit unfair! James Corden plays her Baker husband and delivers his best performance since The History Boys.

My only personal gripe is the clash of accents throughout the film, this is most noticeable between Jack who is a little cockney rascal and Little Red Riding Hood who has a very acute American “twang”, It jarred with me, it seems odd that this wood has such a variety of contrasting accents in it!

The princes duet in the waterfall (you’ll have to see it to understand it) is one of the funniest scenes and again, I was surprised at the vocal talents of Chris Pine, he’s not just a pretty face!

Sondheim musicals are not easy to sing – the score is demanding and it’s a pleasant surprise to see these Hollywood A list actors rising to the challenge and deliver what for many of them will be one of their career highlights I’m sure.

We’re only a few days into 2015, I recommend you catch this as your first musical of the year. It will set the bar high but when so many musicals are lacklustre in their story and/or music I see that as no bad thing.

 

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

 

Thanks to Disney and Laughing Buddha for the advance screening tickets!

Il Barbiere Di Siviglia – Royal Opera House – Review

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It felt strange this week to be at the Opera House and laughing heartily, I’m so used to seeing tragedies and weepies there that is was a new experience to see a comedic opera finally.

The Barber of Seville is Rossini’s most well-known opera and I was pleased Director of Opera, Kasper Holten mentioned it was to be part of this season at the ROH preview earlier this year.

The packed house was warmed up by the masterful Mark Elder wielding his baton, conducting the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they’re the greatest orchestra in the world in my opinion. I loved the fact that Mark Elder gave the opening overture a subtle and understated treatment, it teased and tantalised us rather than hitting us a with a wham.

As the curtains swung up we were greeted to a stylish set designed by Christian Fenouillat that was used to full effect throughout. Including a scene where its hydraulics moved it to dizzying effect. It was aided by Christophe Forey’s clever lighting design that took us through the different times artfully throughout the opera.

Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva

Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva – ROH photo by Tristram Kenton.

Michele Angelini makes his ROH debut as the love struck Count Almaviva, his gorgeous voice and lyricism filling the Opera House. Lucas Meachem is the eponymous Barber and relishes his entrance aria of ” Largo Al Factotum”, he made his entrance via the audience in the stalls, which was great fun and added to the comedy of this aria.

"FIGARO!"  Lucas Meachem as the excellent Barber of Seville - ROH Photo by Tristram Kenton

“FIGARO!” Lucas Meachem as the excellent Barber of Seville – ROH Photo by Tristram Kenton

Making her ROH debut as well was Serena Malfi as Rosina. She likewise brought stunning vocals that swelled and filled the ROH. She had a feistyness to her Rosina that was pleasing to see, her scene of throwing darts into the set during her aria in Act 1 was particularly comical.

Serena Malfi - an outstanding ROH debut as Rosina. ROH photo by Tristram Kenton

Serena Malfi – an outstanding ROH debut as Rosina. ROH photo by Tristram Kenton

I went to this opera expecting a fun night out and it certainly was;  a famous score, treated impressively by a great cast made for a laugh out loud night at the opera.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Porgy and Bess – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Review

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I used to live near Regent’s Park but until last week had never made the trip to see a production at the Open Air Theatre. Shame on me!

Thankfully the weather in the UK is gorgeous at the moment and so my wife and I spent a pleasant evening enjoying it at the Open Air Theatre. The hot and sticky weather added an extra realism to the setting of the play in South Carolina.

Seeing songs that are now famous such as Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So in their original and rightful context was enlightening to see. The programme notes that this is the largest orchestra and company they’ve ever had at the Regent’s Park Theatre. Unfortunately having the orchestra behind the set, means the stage is pretty small.

The production is cleverly choreographed to use the space available. I was struck by how tragic and sad a story this is. No happy and jolly story is this. The sadness, despair and abject poverty of the characters touched me.

I really felt for Bess – a woman trapped and manipulated by the men around her. Until she meets Porgy, his genuine love breaks through to her, but in the end she breaks him. Undeterred he heroically seeks after her.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess was perfectly paired with Rufus Bond Jr as Porgy. Their performances were emotive and caused a lump to appear in my throat a few times.

The story is wider than just Porgy and Bess though and the other characters are woven into their lives. It’s a raw piece of theatre. The soaring melodies of Gershwin communicate the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters without any veneer.

It’s a great way to spend a summer’s evening.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – The Savoy Theatre

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This show about 2 conmen has been causing a buzz in the West End since it opened a few weeks back. Mainly due to its stars Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound.

They are clearly having a ball on stage, but this is no self indulgent show, rather with a nod to audience early on they welcome us into their world.

The cast give us 100 percent and attack all the big numbers with flare. Katherine Kingsley ratchets up the end of Act 1 with her stunning vocal performance as Christine Colgate.

Katherine Kingsley's performance stole the show for me.

Katherine Kingsley’s performance stole the show for me.

It has many laugh out loud moments. Spolied only by the uneccesary crude and vulgar humour inserted along the way (Act 2 especially goes for cheap laughs too often I felt). The quite literal slapstick routine in Act 2 is one of the comedy highlights for me we all winced as Rufus Hound is repeatedly hit.

You'll struggle to see a more effortless stage performance as Robert Lindsay gives.

You’ll struggle to see a more effortless stage performance than the one Robert Lindsay gives.

Robert Lindsay is laid back and guides the show effortlessly. Rufus Hound is a wonderful foil and the byplay between them is perfect. It’ll be interesting to see if the show has much of a life without them.

One of the stars of the show is Peter Mckintosh’s splendid set, that adds a whole extra dimension to the piece.

I saw this on a Wednesday night and it was a perfect mid-week pick-me-up.

STARS :  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Thanks to http://www.laughingbuddhauk.com/ for the tickets!