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The Theatre, dahling.


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Went to see Six Characters in Search of An Author at the Gielgud theatre in London the night before last. I enjoyed it a lot.

 

The original text has six characters - a loose family group - interrupt the rehearsal of a play, demanding that the author tells their story. In this modern updating, instead of a play, it's a drama documentary - or is it a docu-drama? That's one of the jokes - about teenage euthanasia in Denmark. I think this works quite well in exploring one of the ideas in the play, what happens when writers get involved in telling stories.

 

It's very clever and inventive, genuinely funny and moving, and shocking and disturbing in places. It gets a bit mad and multi-layered towards the end, with "the producer" discussing the actual show, and other shows put in an appearance or get a mention. Lots of alienation effect! I'd actually like to see it again to figure out the last half hour. Pirandello himself even appears.

 

It seems to me that just now, everything in the West End of London is fairly safe - a musical or a long-running play or a big TV star name. Maybe that's just my impression, but this was the best, most challenging thing I've personally seen in ages. (I believe one of the leads, Ian McDairmid, is known for a role in Star Wars, but that was lost on me!) I'd recommend it if you're down that way.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been humming and ha-ing about going to see this as it sounds good but got a bad write up in Time Out which said it unravelled in the last half hour - your post has made me decide to go for it and decide for myself! I think in the Time Out review it also said that the main actor was replaced by an understudy who had to be prompted for lines once too often, so this probably had quite a lot to do with the bad review!

 

Went to see Six Characters in Search of An Author at the Gielgud theatre in London the night before last. I enjoyed it a lot.

 

The original text has six characters - a loose family group - interrupt the rehearsal of a play, demanding that the author tells their story. In this modern updating, instead of a play, it's a drama documentary - or is it a docu-drama? That's one of the jokes - about teenage euthanasia in Denmark. I think this works quite well in exploring one of the ideas in the play, what happens when writers get involved in telling stories.

 

It's very clever and inventive, genuinely funny and moving, and shocking and disturbing in places. It gets a bit mad and multi-layered towards the end, with "the producer" discussing the actual show, and other shows put in an appearance or get a mention. Lots of alienation effect! I'd actually like to see it again to figure out the last half hour. Pirandello himself even appears.

 

It seems to me that just now, everything in the West End of London is fairly safe - a musical or a long-running play or a big TV star name. Maybe that's just my impression, but this was the best, most challenging thing I've personally seen in ages. (I believe one of the leads, Ian McDairmid, is known for a role in Star Wars, but that was lost on me!) I'd recommend it if you're down that way.

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Another trip to the ADC Theatre in Cambridge to see the musical Parade

Set in the southern state of Georgia, the show is inspired by the real-life case of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jewish Northerner, who was framed for the assault and murder of a 13-year-old labourer, Mary Phagan, at the pencil factory where he was superintendent on Confederate Memorial Day, 1913. As recounted by this musical, the story embraces electoral expediency (a conviction needs to be gained even if it involves suborning a black man to testify against the next to the bottom of the heap, a Jew) and the love that awkwardly but ardently evolves in the previously strained relationship between Frank and his wife as a result of her fighting to have his sentence commuted. It ends in tragedy with the semi-absolved Leo dragged from his cell and lynched by the ravening mob in 1915.
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Am I the only one going to the theatre at the moment?

 

Last Saturday I had another trip to the ADC theatre in Cambridge, but the awful journey home, and Mr meg's RTA when meeting my train had driven it from my mind.

 

Went to see Rebecca .

A bit too amateurish, I felt, but that may have been because I was anticipating travel problems afterwards and that thought kept intruding between me and the play.

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Which reminds me, I have the Citizens Spring Season here, and for those that are interested, here are my planned visits:

 

Sub Rosa, described as a "gothic Victorian promenade show through the secret backstage spaces of the Citizens Theatre", 19th-31st Jan.

 

Educating Rita, Willy Russell, 11th Feb- 7th March

 

Ghosts, Henrik Ibsen, 13th-30th May.

 

Be Near Me, from Andrew O'Hagan's novel, 25th March-4th April.

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Have booked for Twelfth Night at Wyndhams Theatre starring Derek Jacobi. The producer, Michael Grandage, had great success at The Crucible and now going great guns in the West End.

 

ETA: a great afternoon at the theatre:not only was Jacobi superb (no surprise) but so were all of the supporting cast. In a timeless sort of set, it was good to see Ron Cook's Sir Toby Belch without beard or great paunch, with some great interplay with the lanky Guy Henry as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. A packed theatre cheered and cheered.

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Arthur Miller's one of my favourite playwrights, so naturally I was keen to get to the West End revival of "A View from the Bridge" at the Duke of York's.

 

Set in mid-1950s Brooklyn, the play's central character is Italian-American longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Ken Stott, whose accent suggests the Forth rather than the Hudson is where he plies his trade). Eddie lives with his wife Beatrice (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and Beatrice's teenage niece Catherine (Hayley Atwell), a trainee stenographer. Their story is narrated by a lawyer and Carbone family friend, Alfieri.

 

Eddie agrees to take in two Sicilian immigrants, Marco, there to raise money for his family in the old country, and Rodolpho, uncharacteristically fair for a man from southern Italy. Catherine is strongly attracted to Rodolpho, much to Eddie's disapproval, since he thinks he's "not right" because he sings and makes dresses. There's also a hint of jealousy over the relationship that isn't just a possessive father figure worried about his surrogate daughter. Eventually, Eddie takes a fatal decision about how to end the relationship.

 

As a character, Eddie bears more than a passing resemblence to Willy Loman. Stott plays him with a pugnacious stubbornness and holds the play together well. On the other hand, as a part Beatrice, fiercely loyal to Eddie, doesn't give Mastrantonio much to work with, and she fades into the background. Atwell, making her West End debut, gives Catherine the right amount of innocence as tensions escalate with Eddie and Marco.

 

The set is designed to flit back and forth between scenes set in the Carbone family home and on the street outside, meaning those set in the lawyer's offices look somewhat makeshift.

 

All in all, this is a production of a play that, whilst it perhaps does not deserve to be ranked alongside his very best, still demonstrates Miller was one of the greatest dramatists of the 20th century, and is boosted by some excellent acting but held back by some technical flaws.

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During our sojourn in the Cotswolds last week, Lady L and I did spend a night at the theatre, to see "The Tempest" in Stratford-upon-Avon. This is a co-production with a South African theatre company, with Sir Antony Sher taking the role of Prospero.

 

The programme noted that this was an African take on the play. This meant particularly highlighting its colonial aspects - that Prospero, as well as having been usurped back in Milan, is also a usurper on Caliban's island. In addition, a dreadlocked Ariel appears covered in white body paint, which Prospero symbolically washes off when he is released at the end of the play. Much of the play's magic involves a leaping group of sprites and puppets to highlight the Africanness of the venture and which bought great energy to the production.

 

The South African accents of comic relief Stefano and Trinculo were somewhat jarring when one is used to hearing Shakespeare spoken in received pronounciation, but appropriate in this setting.

 

For these parts of the play, this approach cast a new light on the text successfully. However, Sher and his collaborators were clearly at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the scenes featuring the other survivors of the shipwreck - Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio et al, which seemed rather rote in comparison, with Sebastian sneering in a particularly hammy sort of way.

 

I believe the production is going on tour, and is well worth checking out if it makes its way to your area.

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I went to see Educating Rita at the Citz last night.

I wasn't terribly keen on seeing it for some reason - I only went because a friend wanted to go. I think I felt it was just too familiar.

The cast was very good. They were both "names" - Charles Lawson (Jim McDonald in Corrie) and Emma Cunliffe, who you would recognise from lots of TV drama. In that sense, it was unusual for the Citz.

The play needs a strong cast, being a one set two hander, and they were good enough to carry it. I thought the strength of the cast threw up the weaknesses of the play, which, for me, sags in the middle before picking up towards the end. And, a minor point, but I couldn't quite figure out the period of the production - the costumes said 80s, but 80s is in again, and while they had the "new" Rita swigging from a very noughties water bottle, the study had no computer.

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In addition, a dreadlocked Ariel appears covered in white body paint, which Prospero symbolically washes off when he is released at the end of the play.
Ooh, I quite like that.

 

Educating Rita sounds a little disappointing MM, I am relieved now that I didn't get tickets.

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Me again. Is no-one else going to the theatre?

I went to see Be Near Me at the Citz last night - a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Donmar Warehouse.

It's an adaptation by, and starring, Ian McDiarmid - him again - of the Andrew O'Hagan novel. It was very good, and in several places was better than the novel.

It cut out the section set in Oxford, reducing the Conor story to a conversation between Fr David and his mother, so the first half was the lead up to the central incident, and the second half was the fallout. While McDiarmid is too old to be Fr David, he captured the character well. The kids, who I found slightly unconvincing in the book, worked well in the flesh. Blythe Duff, aka DI Jackie Reid in Taggart, was very good as Mrs Poole.

It was a very stripped down set, with a table, chairs, a chandelier and a rug the main components. A range of sectarian-tinged songs were used as transitions and as a way of conveying the tribal loyalties in that deprived part of Ayrshire, and it made me wonder how the play would have been received in London, where the audience might not get the inferences from the songs.

 

As a side note, the performance I was at was captioned for the deaf. We mostly all found that incredibly distracting, being English teachers who are genetically pre-disposed to read anything within our vision. I would have thought it might have been possible to do this with alternative, hand-held technology or something - they asked for feedback at the end, so I fed back!

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Just been to see Ghosts at the Citz.

Excellent stuff. It was just an hour and a half. straight through with no interval. I like my comfort break, and I thought I'd get restless, but I was gripped and couldn't believe it had finished.

It was quite a fast version (a new translation / version by Amelia Bullimore, who, my friend was impressed to find out, is the husband of a bloke who used to be in a theatre group with me when we were teenagers! Six degrees of separation ...). There felt like there wasn't a wasted word, though it was maybe a bit too fast.

The performances were excellent, particularly Maureen Beattie in the lead role. I could see how it would have been terribly scandalous in its day, dealing with incest, adultery and STDs. Some aspects of that felt a bit melodramatic for now. But overall, a great night out, tho a quick one!

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Been to a couple of things over the past month.

 

The Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park is a pleasant place to while away a sunny afternoon in London. Although it mostly puts on Shakespeare, there's usually a couple of other productions each summer, one of which this year was "The Importance of Being Earnest". It seems to have been a hit as, for the first time in many years of going to the Open Air Theatre, the performance I attended was a sell out.

 

The excellence of the text goes without saying, and by and large the cast laid into their lines with relish, although Lady Bracknell delivered "A handbag?" in a more understated way than some of her predecessors.

 

However, overall it was a rather peculiar production. The striking set was a large white disc with a sweeping white walkway up the right hand side and a reflective back wall. The disc was used ingeniously to double for both London and then a Hertfordshire garden but mostly it felt jarringly modern and was overall something of a distraction. In addition, odd and rather pointless links, such as the performance beginning with the cast assembling on stage and peering at the crowd through assorted telescopes, opera glasses and binoculars, seemed tacked on for effect rather than adding anything.

 

20 years after the publication of his second novel "The Black Album", Hanif Kureishi has adapted it for the stage at the Cottesloe, the National Theatre's smallest space.

 

Shahid, the son of a Sevenoaks travel agent, is at university where one of his neighbours in his hall of residence, the Pakistani Riaz, has gathered a small coterie of fellow fundamentalists around him. Shahid is torn between him and his tutor Deedee Osgood, with whom he bonds over a shared love of Prince and begins an affair. Deedee's partner, an ineffectual Marxist professor, is also increasingly under Riaz's spell. Then there's also Shahid's brother Chili, enjoying the yuppie lifestyle to the hilt. All point to possible future paths for Shahid, but which is best?

 

Whilst its late '80s backdrop gave it an appealing air of nostalgia, the play deals with the still relevant issue of Muslim fundamentalism in the context of the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie. However, as is perhaps inveitable when adapting a 400 page novel into a 2½ hour stage play, it all feels like too much has been crammed in. Everything moves at a hectic pace and there's no time to explore the issues more than superificially as the play moves to its explosive denouement.

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Went to see Arcadia last night at the Duke of Yorks in London as our aniversary treat. The cheapest tickets were £45 with no reductions or offers; fortunately Mrs Woofwoof had £50 in theatre tokens from her birthday! It was excellent - very funny indeed (right from the opening line: 13 year old girl to her tutor, 'Mr Hodge, what is "carnal embrace"?!) and a very interesting plot based around events in a country house that took place in 1809 and in the same location 200 years later. Where it does fail a little is Stoppard's tendency to be a bit too clever for his own good. One of the themes is chaos theory; I am from a scientific background myself but a lot of the dialogue (mouthed by the obligatory Cambridge student on leave, played by Stoppard's son) I found to be tedious and stilted. Having said that you don't go to a Stoppard play and expect it to be like a Noel Coward farce which is what it would have been without the scientific theme.

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So you live in Scotland, Minxminnie. I used to live in Glasgow and I loved it.

Yes, sorry to anyone who didn't get my shorthand - we refer a lot to the Citz on this thread. It's the Citizens' Theatre, a wonderful institution in the Gorbals - a fairly small main theatre with two even smaller spaces, putting on a fantastic range of productions with a bit of an emphasis on stuff with a social conscience. When I was at school, young people and the unemployed got in for free, and even now it's very reasonable at only £15 full price. Lots of well respected actors have started out here or come back for the love of it.

 

Phoebus, you might like to contribute to our thread on the city:

http://www.bookgrouponline.com/forum/showthread.html?t=6203

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Me again. :o

 

The House of Bernarda Alba was excellent stuff. It's the first time that I can think of that I've ever seen a play and wanted to see it again. The other two staff on the trip felt the same way. (Part of my reason for wanting to see it again, though, was that I missed 15 mins of it when I had to go out with a girl who had eaten too many Monster Munch. Grrr. Had to remember I was working and hadn't paid for my ticket!)

 

The play has been translated and rewritten to a degree by Scottish playwright Rona Munro. The main character (played by a very matriarchal and frankly scary Siobhan Redmond) is the widow of a recently deceased gangland boss, and the set is perfect as her home - a very aspirational Glasgow statement pad, all beige and glass and halogen spotlights. The action focuses around the unseen Peter Romano, the son of another gangland boss who is marrying the eldest daughter (played by Miss Hoolie from Balamory) in an arrangement whose exact benefits were lost on me due to the Monster Munch.

However, the youngest daughter (who is in River City - do you get that down south?) is in love with Peter and thinks he loves her too. The action all stems from that and the mother's determination to hold her family together.

The dialogue was fantastic - it crackled along at a great pace and showed Munro's astute ear for the rhythms of West of Scotland dialect. Lots of "Gie's peace!" and the like. I found the ending very affecting - it totally took me by surprise.

I'm hoping to get to see it again wehen it goes on tour - this run is pretty much sold out, except for dodgy seats.

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