The Bald Prima Donna – Upstairs at the Gatehouse – Review

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Eugene Ionesco’s works are seldom on in the capital unfortunately. The Bald Prima Donna, is his earliest work and Slip of The Lip present this quirky and fun piece of theatrical absurdity with a minimalistic set and Ionesco’s nonsensical dialogue flowing thick and fast.

The Martin’s have popped over to the Smith’s who live in a comfortable London suburb, one Friday night. What unfolds is not your usual naturalistic play, but rather a pertinent observation on the vacuous nonsense most of us spend our time talking about! Therein lies the inherent humour of the piece and there were plenty of moments where we chuckled and laughed out loud at the absurdity presented before us. Whilst acknowledging to ourselves that we too probably sound like this sometimes.

The cast of six throw themselves into Ionesco's strange world with great abandon,

The cast of six throw themselves into Ionesco’s strange world with great abandon,

Peter Eastbrook as Mr Martin had a wonderfully deadpan delivery of his lines which only heightened the humour. Perhaps the most obtuse and crazy lines are delivered by the Fireman portrayed with a wonderful nervousness by Guy Remy. Alice Devine is a feisty Mrs Martin and Griselda Williams being the mumsy linchpin of the piece. Brian Merry brings a brooding menace to Mr Smith. Annie McKenzie rounds off the cast with an exuberant performance as the maid Mary.

Paul Hoskins direction allows the surreal world of the play to be brought to life and he allows the script to draw us in I’m pleased to say. This is not an easy play to perform as the fluidity of script and thought means the actors have to be concentrating constantly. They ably threw themselves into Ionesco’s strange world. Yet they also used it as a mirror to our own world and the repetitive speech patterns we all use and the awkward silences that permeate conversations.

As it is his first play, it lacks some of the refinement of Ionesco’s later works. It’s not his best piece but is an enjoyable romp through our incongruous world of speech and miscommunication. Theatre of the Absurd is often seen as a niche of the theatre world, but I find Ionesco’s work much more accessible than most of Beckett’s so don’t be put of if you’re unsure what to expect. I was pleased to finally get to see a production of this rarely performed piece.

STARS : ★ ★ ★

The Mentalists – Wyndham’s Theatre – Review

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Stephen Merchant makes his West End debut in a revival of Richard Bean’s The Mentalists. I’m a huge fan of Stephen Merchant’s being an avid follower of his TV work ever since The Office. So I was looking forward to seeing him live finally. Previous readers of my blog will know I was hugely disappointed with Richard Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors . Would this play change my mind on him as a writer?

It’s a two-hander set in a grubby London hotel. Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhodri are the protagonists Ted and Morrie. They’re close friends, with Morrie doing a favour for Ted when we meet them. They make an excellent choice of casting and bring their slightly unusual characters to life. As the play becomes more serious towards the end Morrie’s care and concern for Ted is quite movingly portrayed.

Steffan Rhodri as Morrie and Stephen Merchant as Ted

Steffan Rhodri as Morrie and Stephen Merchant as Ted

However the writing felt very “clunky”. Too often lines are in the script that are there simply for a laugh rather than as part of the organic text of the play. Too many of the lines feel contrived. Reading the programme Richard Bean admits that quite a bit of the material in the play is from his stand-up days. It shows far too easily and means it lunges from one stand-up gag to the next rather inelegantly.

It has some pathos which is quite touching but again its not developed enough for me, as it is building it’s interrupted for a gag. Which diminished any emotion that was building.

The actors give good performances, it’s just that the script doesn’t do their talents any favours. As I left I was glad to have seen it, but it will go in the “enjoyable enough night out but instantly forgettable” category of theatre for me.

 

STARS : ★ ★ ★

 

The Importance of Being Earnest – Vaudeville Theatre – Review

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eventImage_289I’m becoming a bit of a Vaudeville Theatre “groupie” – this is my third visit there this year! This time to see Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

This classic piece of theatre is revived again in the West End, this time with the twist of David Suchet playing Lady Bracknell. He makes the role his own, with looks and intonation that bring plenty of laughs from the audience. The infamous “a handbag?” scene he gives a refreshing difference to. He avoids veering off into pantomime dame thankfully.
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Oscar Wilde’s humour and observations are as witty as ever, he always takes things to extremities with his own views on marriage and society shining through. The cast have got their comic timing just right and it flows effortlessly.

Philip Cumbus as Algernon Mocrieff is the “bumbering” and enthusiastic central character, he puts on a great show, eliciting some brilliant laugh out loud moments, especially in the muffin eating scene in Act 2. His foil is John Worthing played by Michael Benz. These two interact perfectly and feed of each others energy and performances wonderfully.
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For me though the stand out performance was Imogen Doel as the lovestruck Cecily. On occasions I think her performances eclipsed David Suchet. She certainly got the biggest laughs and her flirty and rambunctious characterisation was sublime to watch. I hope we see more of her on the West End stage after this.

Michelle Dotrice’s vast experience as a comedy actress shows as Miss Prism, her physical comedy and comic timing never miss a beat. Whilst her role isn’t very large she gets the most from it and is wonderful to watch.

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Adrian Noble’s direction keeps everything moving at swift pace and the action is wonderfully enacted in Peter McKintosh’s set and costumes, keeping it in the stuffy Victorian era.

It is a fairly superficial night out at the theatre, perhaps a bit of a “guilty pleasure”.  If you fancy a theatre trip which will purely entertain you, leave you smiling and witness a fine comic cast then grab a ticket for this.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

Did It Live Up To My Expectations?? – War Horse – New London Theatre – Review

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War_horse_new_posterAfter my post last week several theatre chums said before I went to see War Horse ; “I hope it lives up to your expectations and doesn’t disappoint you.”

That’s always the challenge with a long running and hugely successful show. I have to say War Horse didn’t live up to my expectations, it EXCEEDED them. I think it’s the first time a show has surpassed the expectations and hype in my mind.

So how did it manage to do this?

I think it surprised me in so many ways, firstly I wasn’t expecting the musical narration which I loved. It gave the piece a grounding in the period and added a layer of texture to the piece. The music set the emotional tone from joy to poignancy. The score added a cinematic element to the production that really added to the atmosphere. (The Soundtrack CD is now on my wish list, it’s THAT good)

Secondly the puppetry is really something to behold. I had excellent seats very near the stage and I was just in awe of the skill of the puppeteers bringing the animals to life. I also couldn’t believe the size of the horses – they’re huge! The whole spectacle and scale of the show is incredible.

The puppetry is really quite something when done at this size.

The puppetry is really quite something when done at this size.

Thirdly I surprised myself by how emotionally engaged I became with the characters and story. It is a truly horrific period of human history. Yet War Horse manages to get to the essence of the horrors of war and show that those on both sides are suffering. I enjoyed the fact that the French and German characters spoke their respective languages, that aided to the realism and whilst I can’t speak a word of German it was nice to be able to put my GCSE French skills to the test. In many ways it wasn’t what they were saying but how they said it that impacted the audience.

The final battle was also an epic piece of theatre and I don’t use that word lightly. It’s a show that has got its balance right, there isn’t spectacle just for spectacles sake. It is used wisely and to jolt the audience.

It is not hard to see why this has had such a phenomenal success and I hope it continues for many more years to come as it is one of the most impacting pieces of theatre I’ve seen.

I spoke in my previous post about “theatrical alchemy” and how this piece has achieved that via its combination of writing, direction, set, puppetry, music and cast. It is truly a theatrical gold standard to measure other theatre trips against going forward.

I hope as and when you get to see it that your expectations are exceeded just as mine were.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★  (Unmissable)

ps.  I recommend looking at the free documentary and video diaries related to War Horse on iTunes U.

The Woman in Black – Fortune Theatre – Review (BOO!)

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The Woman in Black is a perennial favourite in the West End. Judging by the packed out crowd that was there when I recently saw it, I can’t see its successful run of 26 years abating anytime soon. I have to say I think that is helped by it being on the GCSE syllabus, the vast majority that were there were student (both UK and foreign) groups. They were on their best behaviour though and judging from the shrieks and screams got into the spirit of the show.

I found it an enjoyable evening out. The ghost story is told in an imaginative way. Arthur Kipps has hired the help of a young actor to help him tell his experiences and ghost story to enable him to exorcise it from his life and help with the catharsis needed.

Don't turn the lights out. ©Tristram Kenton 09/12 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550  Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Don’t turn the lights out.
©Tristram Kenton

Thus follows the tale being told by the cast of two playing all the parts. Whilst it is a ghost story there are a few laughs along the way. I enjoyed the way the Julian Forsyth and Anthony Eden played the various other roles and brought them to life.

©Tristram Kenton

©Tristram Kenton

Is it scary though? Personally I didn’t think so, it’s more like a ghost train, a few “boo!” moments that make you jump in a few places (although several of those I thought were easy to telegraph) but there is nothing foreboding or sinister about it. I felt it veered into the realm of cliché far too often. The title character is just not scary enough.

If you fancy a different night out compared to the array of musicals in the West End then The Woman in Black is a good option, just don’t expect it to send too many shivers down your spine.

STARS : ★ ★ ★

Thanks to London Theatres for the ticket.

War Horse – A Thoroughbred of Theatre.

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In recent years the NT production of War Horse has been wowing audiences throughout the world. It’s been on my “must see” list for the last few years but I’ve never got round to seeing it (that is being rectified tonight!).

I’ve found it an interesting production to watch as it has blossomed, becoming a resident show in London’s West End and then seeing it become a global export and sensation. In many ways it vindicates the public funding the NT receives as it has brought in much more than ever it took of public funding and must have repaid that back in tax tenfold (if not more) by now.

I’m pleased that it has also been able to be taken overseas. I’ve said numerous times on this blog how I hold the NT in high esteem and I’m glad its theatrical magic is being seen by those unable to make it to the Southbank in London.

A recent social media Q&A with author Michael Morpurgo also showed how this production is engaging with its audience. I was especially intrigued that the author has made cameo appearances in the play in the West End, Broadway, Canada, Australia and Salford! The life this production has outside of its stage confines is impressive. Whether it is engaging the writer via social media or Joey the horse appearing at national events, this show pops up all over the place, not in a tacky marketing way but as something people identify and engage with.

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The way the production has touched people across the spectrum of age and nationality again shows the power that theatre can have when all the pieces of writing, direction, cast and staging come together causing alchemy to occur. It happens only rarely and the NT is perhaps one of the best theatrical crucibles we have that achieves it regularly.

I know that many of my regular readers will be glad I am finally going to see the show (especially my antipodean friend Simon Parris!) . The review will follow soon. I’m excited to get to see this theatrical thoroughbred and I salute the success it has been and continues to be for British Theatre in the world today.

Kettner’s Restaurant – Review

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No surprise that as a theatre blogger, I love going to the theatre in the West End. It’s my favourite part of London. My knowledge of places to eat before or after a show has increased over the years but there are far too many bland chain restaurants everywhere for my liking.

So it was a delight the other week to descend upon Kettner’s with 9 other London theatre bloggers (thanks to Rebecca of OfficialTheatre.com for gathering us all together!) and put our critical eyes and taste buds to the task of reviewing this West End Restaurant.

Its location is perfect, slap bang in the heart of Theatreland overlooking the Palace Theatre. It is ideally situated within a short walk of all the West End Theatres. I’ve walked past it many a time and to my chagrin never ventured inside – shame on me!

It is a venue steeped in history, it is 150 years old next year and a book about its famous visitors, meetings and ghosts will provide a riveting read I’m sure. It oozes class and style.

We sampled the Pre-Theatre menu but they do a full A La Carte menu, afternoon tea, lunches and Sunday lunch. So bear it in mind for those. The two course Pre-Theatre menu I went for was a main of Pan Fried Sea Trout, Sundried Tomato Risotto with a Tapenade dressing. Which was delicious!

My delicious main course of Sea Trout

My delicious main course of Sea Trout

Pudding didn’t disappoint either, a Chocolate pot with Madeleines was a calorific way to end dinner. Alas no picture exists of this as I tucked in too fast!

The bar area is ideal for a catch up and drinks with friends in addition there are private booths and private rooms  should you want a more formal gathering place.

They also run a selection of events and entertainment, have a look at their website for more info.

With so much tradition and art under attack in Soho, this is a special place. I wish I’d discovered it years ago and it’ll now become my “go to” for pre-theatre dining and for catching up over drinks with other theatre folk in London.