Friday, January 31, 2020
Leopoldstadt @ Wyndham's Theatre "undoubtedly Stoppard’s most humane and heart-breaking play" My review --> ...
It's funny, heart-breaking, humane, and important. We loved it.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Vienna was the liveliest metropolis in all of Europe, buzzing with intellectual activity, artistic talent, and living life to the fullest. Ten per cent of the population was Jewish and just a generation before them, Emperor Franz Josef granted Hews full civil rights. As such, thousands upon thousands had fled from the Pale of Settlement in Imperial Russia and from the pogrom riots, finding sanctuary in the crowded slum dwellings of the Jewish Ghetto known as Leopoldstadt.
Taking its name from the old Viennese Jewish district, Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt play tells the intimate tale of a Jewish family that has done well for themselves. "My grandfather used to wear a caftan," says factory owner Hermann, "My father would wear a top hat to the opera, and I would have the singers over for dinner."
However, as we all know, this beautiful life would not last. Less than half a century later, this family and millions of other Jewish families would find out first-hand what it really meant to be Jewish in the 20th century.
Leopoldstadt is probably one of Stoppard's most heart-wrenching plays. It explores the human condition as it blurs the lines between family, love, passion and perseverance. Director Patrick Marber brings it all vividly to life.
Widely regarded as an impersonal writer, Tom Stoppard (81) rarely delves into his own life, but this marks an unprecedented change in the playwright's oeuvre. Born in 1937 and raised in a Jewish family, all of Stoppard's grandparents and many of his family members from his parents' generation perished during the Holocaust. The play is then very personal and dear to Stoppard's heart, which is why the play not only took an entire year to write but also a long time to develop. Stoppard, who admitted to getting most of his ideas for plays from London's Harrods department store, decided to avoid an outright autobiography with Leopoldstadt, instead opting to write about a Viennese family rather than a Czech, thus maintaining at least some level of impersonalism.
But impersonalism is a hard act to maintain; especially with such evocative material. During rehearsals Marber "instituted a fabulous regime of lectures" given by cast members, allotting each a subject relevant to the play's themes to investigate. The second preview performance, on Monday 27 January 2020, was on Holocaust Memorial Day and the audience were given a memorial candle as they left the theatre.
The entire cast are excellent; not least Adrian Scarborough, Luke Thallon, and Stoppard's son, Ed.
The production's set design is by Richard Hudson, costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting by Neil Austin, sound, original music by Adam Cork and movement by EJ Boyle. The 41 actors performing were cast by Amy Ball (adults) and Verity Naughton (children).
Leopoldstadt is a passionate drama of love, family and endurance. It is undoubtedly Stoppard’s most humane and heart-breaking play.
Thursday, January 30, 2020
Great plays, married only slightly by the technical fault half way through the second play that caused the final hour of the production to be cancelled. I blame Voldemort.
Luckily the Nimax Theatre Box Office staff were on hand the following day and we are re-booked to see the Part II again next week - with much better seats. So, a pleasure but deferred.
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Almost a hundred years ago - long before Crossrail - there was already an underground railway linking west and east London. And although it never carried passengers it was essential in serving the capital. It was the Mail Rail, carrying letters and post between London's Post Office sorting offices.
The original Mail Rail tunnels were started in 1914 and whole network was completed ten years later in 1924. It was the world's first driver-less electric railway. It connected Paddington in west London to Whitechapel in the east via a 6-and-a-half-mile track that linked six sorting offices and criss-crossed many of London's tube lines. At peak times, the service operated for 22 hours per day. It closed in 2003 because it was deemed more expensive than using road transport by Royal Mail but it was an important part of London's communication network and has remained largely unknown to most Londoners even now.
Some Londoners do know about it though, and have even been lucky enough to ride part of the line on one of the new specially dedicated narrow-gauge passenger trains built especially for the purpose. Stuart and I rode it a year or two ago. On Monday night we gave up our train seats though, and walked the tracks instead.
Although the group was small we were almost tripping over each other; the place was dimly lit, the tunnels very narrow (6ft diameter at some parts), and the track full of trip-hazards. Our guide soldiered on though - telling us stories of the how the Mail Rail operated, the people that worked there, and what its future might be. All fascinating stuff.
For more than 75 years, Mail Rail was a vital artery in Britain's communication network, hidden from view... so it was a real treat all these years later to walk through the Post Office’s famous railway tunnels. Deep underground.
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Monday, January 27, 2020
Friday, January 24, 2020
The play is a sort of Twelve Angry (Wo)Men meets Blackadder's Nursey meets The Crucible meets Agatha Christie i.e. an angry, funny, tragic whodunit.
Taking its title from an old literary term for the vault of the sky, The Welkin is set in 1759 and revolves around a group of women in rural Suffolk faced with a grave decision. As the country is waiting for Halley’s Comet to appear and convicted murderer Sally Poppy (a spirited Ria Zmitrowicz) claims to be pregnant and therefore exempt from the death penalty, a jury of 12 women must decide whether she is telling the truth or lying to escape the noose.
The play starts with a striking, living tableau of women doing housework. Designer Bunny Christie makes the whole thing look like a painting.
We then meet midwife Lizzy Luke (Maxine Peake) who is churning milk when minor local dignitary Mr Coombes (Philip McGinley) comes to enlist her to join the women's jury.
The play then follows Lizzy as she prepares to defend the girl at the court house, with a mob baying for blood outside, and the matrons wrestling with their new authority, and the devil in their midst.
Having delivered hundreds of babies, including the convict herself, Lizzie has the expertise to recognise early pregnancy, but she is troubled by the moral weight of the decision. And others in the jury seem to just want to see Sally executed, baby or no baby.
Playwright Lucy Kirkwood, who explored international relations between the US and China in 2013's dazzling Olivier-winner Chimerica, turns her considerable talents here to exploring the themes of justice and power in this epic yet intimate story.
James Macdonald directs an atmospheric production, using blackouts, projected titles and neon lights to build the tension between scenes.
Back in the locked room above the court house, as the women debate the predicament and scrutinise the prisoner for signs of swelling or lactation, they share their own experiences and opinions with gutsy glee. Kirkwood gives such depth and insight in the course of the three-hour drama that we invest in each character. It’s glorious (and all too rare) to see a stage full of women and a narrative that doesn’t revolve around men.
Belly laughs, gasps and knowing nods abound as the confessional candour shows how little the female experience has changed from the late 1750s to the present day. The show is especially eloquent on shared but unseen suffering, from menopausal sweats to recurrent miscarriage. But it’s also alive with drama, intrigue and plot twists.
Peake’s Lizzie and Zmitrowicz’s Sally are both great of course but there is a strong ensemble here too. Haydn Gwynne’s cultivated commanding toff Charlotte and Cecilia Noble’s terminally disapproving Emma almost steal the play. Zainab Hasan’s Mary is broodingly effective, and Ayesha Kala’s hilariously, defiantly dim bulb Peg is comedy gold. Brigid Zengeni as the mute Sarah Hollis, Wendy Kweh as the childless Helen and Dawn Sievewright as Scottish Kitty Givens are also all notably good.
For all its vivacity and ambition, The Welkin is far from perfect. It needs perhaps editing down and tightening up a bit. But this rabble of rowdy women have more than enough life and freshness to leave us hooked right until the brutal, bitter end.
And a big shout out to the spontaneous rendition of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill too.
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
If a person displays certain characteristics, personality traits or behavioural tendencies, it's probably due to a combination of genetics, past and present socio-economic environment, education and familial/peer group relationships.
It is almost certainly not because they are a fucking Pisces.
It is almost certainly not because they are a fucking Pisces.
Monday, January 20, 2020
Directed by Ian Rickson and starring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage this production of the classic story of boredom, frustration, unrequited love is fresh, funny, and full of outstanding performances. Jones is excellent, as is Armitage.
Conor McPherson’s new adaptation is great; life at the turn of the 20th century - with its tumultuous frustrations, dark humour and hidden passions - is made as relevant and as vital then as it is at the turn of the 21st. Bitter-sweetness abounds.
It is the heat of summer. Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood) and her Uncle Vanya (Toby Jones) while away their days on a crumbling estate deep in the countryside, visited occasionally only by the good-looking local doctor Astrov (Richard Armitage).
However, when Sonya's father Professor Serebryakov (Ciarán Hinds) suddenly returns with his restless, alluring, new wife Yelena (Rosalind Eleazar) declaring his intention to sell the house, the polite facades crumble and long repressed feelings start to emerge with devastating consequences.
"Chekov's gun" is waiting in the wings.
The production was full and fruity, the set is great too - with a smoky design by Rae Smith, moody lighting by Bruno Poet, lovely music by Stephen Warbeck, and clear-as-a-bell sound by Ian Dickinson.
If you like your Chekhov starry with pep, zip and grit this is the show you.
Friday, January 17, 2020
Written by the American playwright Mike Lew, Teenage Dick falls very much in the tradition of Hollywood films such as ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’, using a Shakespeare play as the basis of a high school plot.
Here the play’s ‘Dick’ is Richard III and the story centres on the machinations of renamed, young Richard Gloucester, disabled and unpopular, to become senior class president in the elections at Roseland Junior High. Although Lew turns the idea in unexpected directions – his Richard is nowhere near as straightforwardly dastardly as Shakespeare's.
Also Lew insists that two disabled actors are cast in the central roles of Richard and his side kick ‘Buck' Buckingham. For this London production, he has adapted the text for the Australian actor Daniel Monks who has hemiplegia (the original star had cerebral palsy) while Ruth Madeley, who is in a wheelchair, plays Buckingham, who in this version of the play is honourable where Richard is manipulative. Both are great.
Monks dominates the play, as he is meant to, brilliantly and wittily charting Richard's course from deviousness (he gets Buck to fix the grade test results of one of his rivals) to fury (his hatred of the arrogant and unpleasant jock Eddie) to despair (when his plotting leads to the destruction of the girl he has loved.)
He's got terrific timing, pulling the lighting onto his monologues with a click of the fingers, and there is much fun to be had when he lapses into Shakespearean English and words such as "fucker-ed".
He also plays with precision with the play's central questions: does the way he looks condition the way society views him? How far can he escape from society's preconceptions of him? The contexts in which such thoughts are raised are challenging - most beautifully realised in an extended dance scene with Anne-Margaret (Siena Kelly, wonderfully conflicted) who uses dance (choreographed by Claira Vaughan) to celebrate exactly those disabilities which Richard thinks define him.
Monks is surrounded by an excellent ensemble and Michael Longhurst directs the entire thing with flair on a set by Chloe Lamford that brightly colours the simple certainties of high school life in the garish shades of a high school gym.
Teenage Dick is a play that is simultaneously a warning against the dangers of populist politics and a challenging corrective to society's view of disability.
We loved it.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Written by Shelagh Delaney when she was just nineteen, A Taste of Honey is one of the great defining and taboo-breaking plays of the 1950s.
And Bijan Sheibani's production was a delight - coarse, fun and funny.
When her mother Helen (Jodie Prenger) runs off with a coarse, vulgar flashy car salesman, feisty teenager Jo (Gemma Dobson) takes up with a black sailor who promises to marry her, before he heads for the seas, leaving her pregnant and alone. Gay art student Geoff moves in and assumes the role of surrogate parent until, misguidedly, he sends for Helen and their unconventional setup unravels.
A Taste of Honey offers an explosive celebration of the vulnerabilities and strengths of the female spirit in a deprived and restless world. Bursting with energy and daring, this exhilarating and angry depiction of harsh, working-class life in post-war Salford is shot through with love and humour, and infused with jazz - courtesy of an excellent on-stage jazz trio.
Dobson's Jo is a marvel. Prenger's Helen is a joy.
"We don’t ask for life, we have it thrust upon us."
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
This musical version of the beloved bitter-sweet French 2001 rom-com isn't exactly profound, but it is a bit of escapism, albeit one that is let down a little by the main lead.
When the show first launched itself in New York a few years back 'Amélie the Musical' got accused of being too sweet and too insipid. So now Michael Fentiman’s revival has tried to redress that balance by injecting some more viniagre into the production. With some success.
Audrey Brisson takes on the title role as Amélie but I have to say her rather shrill voice does rather pierce the show's more floaty love songs. The cast are all very able actor-musicians who fiddle and stomp their way through many other ballads - but sadly these could easily be forgotten.
Maybe the problem is in the writing, rather than the songs - we get to see this young woman's strange and wonderful world, while not really knowing that it is she thinks or feels about it.
Craig Lucas's book tells us about Amélie's tragic younger life: an over-protective father; a mother with a bizarre ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; but we don’t really get to see Brisson break out of this initial parental mismanagement until the musical’s final few moments.
In the film Audrey Tautou was gorgeous and her magnetic central performance largely carried the movie - jumping effortlessly over any occasional plot holes. Here however, Brisson ‘s Amélie travels a less central emotional journey, so when we do come across the odd confusing moment in the narrative we are left feeling a tad less served - adept though she is at leaping (with her excellent circus skills.)
'Amélie' is perhaps best when it’s slightly sending up itself up, like when Amélie's Princess Diana fixation causes her to imagine her own funeral but with her name spelled out in white flowers instead of Diana's and a stomping piano number by Caolan McCarthy, brilliantly impersonating Elton John.
I should note that Madeleine Girling's Parisian set is great as is the hilarious garden gnome puppet Dik Downey.
A brave attempt that needed slightly better songs and a more charismatic lead. With a few rewrites and fresh cast and 'Amélie the Musical' could be a great show.
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
On Sunday night Darren and I went to watch some short LGBT films at the 3rd Rainbow Umbrella Film Festival (RUFF) at The Hen & Chickens Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.
The festival is run by filmmakers and aims to celebrate the very best in indie and encourage all aspects of independent LGBT film making.
Festival Director Mark Lyminister (Theatre Manager of The Hen & Chickens Theatre) says, "Rainbow umbrella has been set up to encourage actors and film makers from the LGBT community to have a platform to express their hopes, fears, desires and experiences and share them with new audiences. We aim to allow anyone with a voice, an opinion, a vision, a calling, to be free to write, act, direct and be free to express themselves through the medium of film. From first time film makers with little or no budget to the films with more experience and financial clout, they are all welcome under our umbrella! We want to share films that show every emotion of someone experiencing life as an LGBT person."
Soft Hands (30 mins)
Director: Darren James King (UK)
One line review: Locally produced, heart-felt coming out story.
Harry Metcalfe: Big Gay Mess (14 mins)
Director: Alexandros Tsilifonis (UK)
One line review: Very funny, 4th wall breaking, comedy.
Following (Previously Like Me) (8 mins)
Director: Eric Hinojosa (USA)
One line review: Amusing social media obsessive stalker meets his idol.
Love Letter (22 mins)
Director: Nathan Hannawin (UK)
One line review: Modern day lesbian couple helps long lost WWII lesbian couple reunite.
Bound 4 Heaven (14 mins)
Director: Alexey Samsonov (USA)
One line review: Rather obvious church intolerance fable.
Conversia (8 mins)
Director: Rom Lotan (USA)
One line review: If you could take a pill to make yourself straight would you take it?
In Her Place (16 mins)
Director: Jade Winters, Lisa Frederickson (UK)
One line review: Body-swap-with-lesbian-sister-car-crash-funeral-melodrama.
Monday, January 13, 2020
Great day out on Saturday with the GayGooners watching the mighty Arsenal (stumble somewhat) at Selhurst Park in London's glitzy Crystal Palace.
A 1-1 draw was not the result we wanted but it was certainly a fun day out.
A 1-1 draw was not the result we wanted but it was certainly a fun day out.