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.

 

American Buffalo – Wyndham’s Theatre, London – Review

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David Mamet’s classic play American Buffalo comes to the West End with a stellar cast and a very limited 10 week run. Will it become the ticket to try to get? I saw it last night and I’d say it’s definitely the show to catch in the West End above all others over the next 10 weeks.

I’ve made it no secret on this blog about my admiration for David Mamet, his plays, films and other writings about theatre/film/politics  have had a profound effect on me as I completed my BA in Theatre Studies at Rose Bruford (I focused on his works for one of my main assignments), as an actor, producer and as a human being. If you’ve never witnessed a play of his, go and see American Buffalo his seminal work. His writing is erudite, witty and intense.

A highlight for me last night was getting to actually meet David Mamet who was in the audience just in front of me. Sometimes meeting your hero can be disappointing, not so last night. However that’s a post for a day or so. Back to the play.

This is a three hander set in the junk shop of Don Dubrow. John Goodman couldn’t have been more ideally cast. His bearing and nuanced performance as Don gives the play its centre and axis point between the volatile Bob and intimidating Teach.

John Goodman, Tom Sturridge and Damien Lewis in action.

John Goodman, Tom Sturridge and Damien Lewis in action.

Tom Sturridge’s star is in ascendancy at present and his performance here will certainly continue that. Bob is a complicated character, struggling with addiction and not quite with it mentally. Tom Sturridge doesn’t allow him to become a figure of pity though or a cliché. He is the heart of the play.

Damien Lewis revels in his character Teach. His transformation into a hard talking and criminal Teach is startling. He provides much of the wit along with the violence and intensity of the piece.

Mamet has a way of writing male dialogue that is authentic as well as rhythmic. I really noticed this in American Buffalo the pace and punch of the dialogue was a joy to watch. Needless to say there are expletives aplenty. Those that know me find it a bit of a paradox that I enjoy Mamet so much despite my usual disdain for potty mouthed plays. Mamet doesn’t write this way for shock value or because he has run out of words. His scripting is tight, intelligent and precise that’s why the expletives work.

Daniel Evans as director allows the characters and text to speak. He’s brought this play alive, keeping it set in the 1970’s is wise and the set by Paul Wills frames the action wonderfully.

Mamet can sometimes be seen as a very “blokey” writer, and I’ll be interested to read what female critics thought of this play. For me though it really encapsulates how men communicate or rather miscommunicate. Daniel Evans makes this observation in the program; “Mamet says something really interesting about his dialogue. He says that his characters never speak the desire, they only speak that which they think will bring about the desire.” In the 40 years since this play was written, I don’t think too much has changed in the way men communicate.

Catch them whilst you can.

Catch them whilst you can.

I can imagine tickets for this are pretty hard to come by already, but make sure you get one somehow, as writing, directing and acting like this is well worth your time and money to catch.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

To see what others thought check out the reviews compilation at OfficialTheatre.com

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.