PRIVACY – Donmar, WC2



An artful cloud of insecurity surrounds James Graham’s new, mainly verbatim, play about the reckless modern surrender of privacy to technology. As we each take our seats, a sign flashes “Audience Member 022…” with a sci-fi bleep. We are asked to keep our phones on, silent, and share a demonstration of how Google tailors its replies: we search “pizza” and it knows where we are and can identify our seat. It also knows your search history: everyone inputs the words “Is it wrong to..?” and compares answers. Mine were innocent – “…to cheat / feel jealous / kill animals”. My neighbour, the Sunday Telegraph critic, was startled to find “ have these fantasies” at the top of his wrongs. Others were even stranger.


Joshua McGuire plays “The Writer”, in therapy with Josh Cohen (Paul Chahidi, who plays a slew of other parts). He complains intially of a sense of disconnection and isolation which he half treasures and half resents, and is badgered to get online and research the play, by Michelle Terry playing a bossy director (the real director is Josie Rourke). Gunnar Cauthery, Jonathan Coy and Nina Sosanya nimbly play all the other people he interviewed.


His discoveries about the capacity of new technology to track, collect, store and pass on information are entertainingly shared with a mixture of demonstrations and at one point a sort of vaudeville-meets-1984 informatic assault on an audience member (ticket buyers are checked for willingness online). It is not only the trails of Facebookers and Tweeters which amaze, but the way Clubcard companies know whether a woman is pregnant before she does. Clues like a change of hand-cream, apparently. Political figures drift in and out, notably Cauthery as William Hague booming “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear”, and the News of the World man who snarls “privacy is for paedos” at Leveson.


Much fun is had with the vulnerability of unregulated “metadata” of contacts and movements – who with, where, when, how long? We take selfies and have them flashed up with pictures of the global servers they bounce through. An audience member is outed by ATG tickets for having been to Jeeves & Wooster, buying a G & T, and belonging to a postcode which makes him “40-60, a voice of authority who finds it hard to turn off work”. By the interval I thought the cheek, smartness, and humour deserved a West End transfer hit. And certainly it is a fine urgent topic for theatre to explore.


But despite occasional returns to the lifelong and emotional implications for the online generation, the play loses traction as it plunges into the wider surveillance issues about the NSA and GCHQ harvesting our data. Dealing with the Snowden security leak it tangles itself in imperfectly digested indignation. The actors become, verbatim, Guardian journalists and their impeccably righteous editor, and little of any other point of view is represented. It is like having a warm bath in leftish indignation with Shami Chakrabati to scrub your back: even as a leftish type myself it made me uneasy. Graham does, in the end, return to the Writer’s private emotion, but almost too late. Still, there’s one really good, gaspworthy surprise.   Which won the fourth mouse, which before that was trembling uncertainly.   My lips are sealed.


Box Office 0844 871 7624 to 31 May.
Sponsor: Barclays . Supported by Marcia Whitaker

rating: four  4 Meece Rating

Comments Off

Filed under Four Mice

EVERY LAST TRICK – Royal, Northampton

Light as a feather, puffy and sweet as a puffed meringue, this is where complete nonsense meets consummate skill. Not surprising: it is an adaptation of an 1892 Feydeau farce, therefore nonsense; the skill is unsurprising given that half the cast – Aitor Basauri and Toby Park – are usually seen as half of the matchless clowning troupe Skymonkey, and that the director is Paul Hunter of Told by an Idiot.


With a pedigree like that, you don’t turn up expecting Ibsen. Though Tamsin Ogleby’s adaptation does manage, bizarrely, to refer to him as author of a fictional am-dram play called The Fire Exit. She also adapts Shylock’s speech in The Merchant of Venice, insouciantly awarding it to the heroine (Sophie Russell) as an unexpected feminist rant at her husband. It’s all barmy panto-farcical nonsense: and unless you are in a particularly foul and unforgiving mood, is very engaging. Take your inner teenager, or a gang of outer ones. Have a roaring night out. Tickets go right down to a tenner. You know you want to…


The skeleton of Feydeau’s story is that Juan (Basauri) is a conjurer whose wife (Russell) thinks he is unfaithful, because her last husband was. Actually, of course, he is. His tactic is to hypnotize her so she remains asleep while he visits his mistress. Sheis accidentally woken and wooed by an old flame just back from Borneo in a safari-suit (Park) . I think that the sound-effect of his faithful elephant in the garden is a post-Feydeau innovation, one of many. More typical is a drunken butler (Adrien Gygax, also physically superb) who steals the booze and gets wrongly accused.


It isn’t the most intricate of farces, and at times one could almost do without the Feydeau tale and wish that the more surreal Spymonkey spirit ruled all (as it does in their own COOPED ) or that there was a story of more purport (as in their OEDIPUSSY, at this same theatre a while back). But the joy, which is considerable, is in Park’s spoofy 1920‘s numbers, Lucy Bradridge’s hilarious design features (what is this trapdoor? Oh, look, a dancing grasshopper) and the utter brilliance of the physical jokes: entry through a chair or down a curtain, the French-window gag, the candle gag, the insane fights (Spymonkey have always been masters of indignity and princes of the pratfall) , and a visual joke involving a rabbit which I shall never, ever forget.
Oh, and there’s Basauri’s divinely silly demonstration of sawing a man in half , conducted in his marvellous cod Spanish accent. Which is, in fact, pretty much his real accent, seeing that he’s Spanish.

Box Office 01604 624811 to 10 May

4 Meece RatingRating: four

Comments Off

Filed under Four Mice

RELATIVE VALUES – Harold Pinter Theatre SW1

I saw this Coward revival last summer in Bath (Times review, £, ) with its gorgeous Palladian country-house drawing-room by Stephen Brimson Lewis matching the Theatre Royal’s own sumptuousness. I remembered the clever casting of Caroline Quentin, solidly honest, as the matter-of-fact lady’s maid Moxie who discovers to her horror that the young earl’s Hollywood fiancée is her own long-lost (and unregretted) sister who ran away.
I applauded the brilliance, both in comic timing and feeling, of Patricia Hodge as the dowager Lady Marshwood fussing over the village fete but aware in 1951 that she belongs to a bygone Downtown world, “something that’s over and done with…So many of one’s friends have to work, and they’re so bad at it!”. England is slowly struggling out of the aspic of prewar social certainties , its nobs trying to work out the difference between above-stairs and below. In one argument they decide that one could, for instance, take one’s golf instructor to the opera, but noe one’s butler – even though both might be born in identical social circumstances.


Trevor Nunn wisely intersperses the scenes with bits of newsreel, both real and cod, reminding us of the recent war and rationing, the Festival of Britain, and Prime Minister Churchill’s unconvincing speech about the end of social distinctions.
Quentin is still brilliant, better if possible than at Bath; so is Hodge. And this matters, because the emotional core of the play is the longstanding devotion, even friendship, of mistress and maid, compared to the hollow flibbertigibbet romance of the silly young Earl and the self-absorbed Hollywood girl with her movie-star ex and misery-memoir fibs about her humble childhood. The scenes where Moxie has to pretend to be a “secretary” so as not to lose face and liten to the actress Miranda showing off, are as funny as anything in Coward. Stepping into the cast as Miranda is another treat: Leigh Zimmerman, so funny and touching in A Chorus Line, here playing the part of the Awful Actress with elegant glee.


And for aficionados of dear Noel, it is fascinating to see a late – if lesser – play in which (las in Volcano) the old chap has grown bored of his passionate young lovers from Private Lives and Design for Living, and just wants to celebrate long, calm partnerships which make less fuss. It is also fun to notice his chippy, insecure references to other dramatists . They’re given to the butler Crestwell, like “If you will forgive a Shavian archaism…” or “Yes, a coincidence in the best tradition of British comedy. Imagine what Mr Somerset Maugham would make of it!”.


Ah yes, Crestwell. He is Rory Bremner, and to be honest, still not brilliant. Nothing you can put your finger on, and to be fair a butler always is to some extent an impressionist – playing a part, perhaps a little jerkily, in front of the toffs. But there’s a dryness here, a lack of reality. Only once does he seem real, when Moxie is berating him. But it’s fun, a cheerful evening and a last laugh from a Coward no longer brittle, but wistfully acknowledging how the anchor of daily, familiar affections is a consolation in a crumbling world.


0844 871 7615. to 21st June

rating : four   4 Meece Rating

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

NINE DAIES WONDER Snape, now touring

In a brief opening, Shakespeare quarrels with his favourite clown Will Kemp: creator of Faltaff, Feste and the rest. He resents the ad-libbing. “Let those that play clowns speak no more than is set down for them!”. Will walks out (which possibly explains why Falstaff doesn’t turn up again in Henry V, and is reported as dying demented, babbling of green fields.)
The real Will, as a publicity stunt, announces that he will dance from London to Norwich. So he did, in 1600, and wrote an account of his encounters with assorted wenches, landlords, cutpurses and competitive marathon-dancers, all of whom he naturally out-jigged.


This riotous, tuneful little show celebrates that journey in counterpoint to the more solemn quatercentenary celebrations. The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, directed by Clare Salaman, has put together a vaudeville narrative of jokes, dances and music – much of it from a contemporary Virginal Book – with songs both bawdy and melancholy.


One minute Kemp is having a furious dance-off with a local, clapping on an donkey’s head or doing one of those virtuoso clomping-clogging-leaping solo jigs which turn the dancer into a percussion instrument. The next there might be a heartbreakingly solemn rendering of “The silver swan” or a love-duet. There are bawdy songs and sweet ones, crude jokes and subtle. And all the while Salaman and her ensemble are insouciantly picking up or changing instruments: a pear-shaped banjo thing, a skinny violin with a keyboard stuck on (the HardangerFiddle, I think), a hurdy-gurdy with its friendly wind-up buzzing busyness, tabor, drum, fife, dulcian, nyckelharpa, violone, cornett…

Kemp is Steven Player, a remarkable dancer but also an actor blessed with a proper comic’s features: wry but benign, heavy-browed, with a quick impatient self-mocking cleverness. He puts on a stunning show from start to finish, a marathon of virtuoso hoofing. Jeremy Avis sings the solos with a light happy versatile tenor but is – like several other musicians – startlingly willing to join dances, or indeed fights, when required. It roars along: I saw it in Snape, where it was born in the Britten studio under the wing of Aldeburgh Music, and the audience appreciated the familiar place-names as Kemp danced through Ingatestone, Braintree, Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds. On this occasion Simon Paisley Day joined in with extra jokes and moments and a curious modern rhyming coda. But even without him (he’s still in Urinetown!) it makes a fascinating show. And reminds us how much of our comic taste, and how many dance types from tap to street, are echoes of past centuries.
The Strange and Ancient ones head off now for one-night gigs till November, and it’s worth trying to catch them. You won’t find anything else quite like it. And at Snape they gave cheap tickets to anyone turning up in a Morris-dancing outfit. Might not happen everywhere – but you never know.. performances to 7 Nov
Next up, Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre on 24th!

RATING   FOUR    4 Meece Rating



Comments Off

Filed under Four Mice

HANDBAGGED – Vaudeville, WC2

She’s back, the Iron Lady, with a war-cry of “No!” and a warmly patronizing memory of “The men!…I can pin them wrigging with my gaze and release them with a smile”. Baffled but courteous, the Queen creeps up behind her to offer a chair for their weekly meeting. And we’re off: piquantly, the most insightful political comedy to hit the West End for years is not born of the Westminster village or the boys-club standup nexus. It’s written by Moira Buffini, directed by Indhu Rubasingham, and played by women outnumbering men two-to-one.


Not that it’s a feminist plea – its twin heroines would never stand for that. Rather – drawing on speeches, memoirs, news reports, Christmas broadcasts and (not least) Buffini’s mischievous imagination – it is a playful and unexpectedly humane treatment of eleven years which Prime Minister Thatcher shared with H.M. the Queen.
Playful because there are two of each: one younger, 1980s version, another as they are or would be today. They argue with one another and with their other selves, as in a four-way melée of differing perceptions as they recall like Zimbabwe, the Falklands, bombings, riots, and the Special Relationship. Joining them, henpecked, are jobbing actors hired to conjure up the other characters from Denis and Philip to Kaunda, Enoch,Kinnock, Reagan, HoweHeseltine. The playfulness lies in the idea that they have met in a theatre (to the Queen’s faint chagrin, though “one saw War Horse”) and that the footmen-actors – Jeff Rawle as the older, Neet Mohan as the younger – occasionally jib at parts they are given or break out with their own opinions. So two generations can identify, and the odd in-joke flourish (“What was a Closed Shop?” asks the youth, and Rawle snarls “The reason actors used to earn proper money!”. Naturally, any male rebellion is futile against the basilisk stare of Thatcher and the amused authority of the monarch. The Queen, by the way, insists on an interval despite the PM’s protest “there’s work to do!”.


Likenesses go far beyond wigs and suits: Fenella Woolgar in particular has caught a particular eyebrow-move which took me right back to 1980 with a shiver, and Marion Bailey as the older Queen goes beyond caricature into a degree of identity previously only caught by Helen Mirren. In which context it is worth mentioning The Audience because its weakest scene was the Thatcher one. This more than makes up the deficit.
In my last doomed week as Times Chief Theatre critic this show proved great solace at the Tricycle. My review (£ concluded “Pure theatre, doing something only theatre can.”. Glad to return the favour: six months on, the well-deserved transfer has that very quote outside.


One of the pleasures of seeing it again is noticing how subtly it accepts the two women not as Spitting Image caricatures but as living, struggling humans. “Journalists and policemen are always so BIG” muses the Queen “One finds them enormous”. And I had forgotten the moment when the Chequers Christmas gathering (with Murdochs and Archers) watches the defiant 1981 Christmas message with horror as HM recklessly uses the word “comradeship”…


It’s political, and historical, yet universal in its vision of two people finding one another baffling but occasionally sharing empathy (as when they reflect on the risk of assassination). Lightly, truthfully, it shows how a great public role can only partly define you; how the years go by, and within each of us is a scornful younger self and a thoughtful future one. Don’t miss it. It’s a treat.
box office 0845 505 8500 to 28 June

rating:   even better, so 5  5 Meece Rating


Comments Off

Filed under Five Mice

HENRY IV part 2 – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

AND SO IT GOES ON… (review of part I just below)    The Bard Mouse width fixed



Such is the traditional, ungimmicky nature of Greg Doran’s productions that it is quite a shock when “Rumour”, the abstract character who introduces the second part of the Henry-Hal-Falstaff saga, comes on in a pop art red-mouth T-shirt in front of a flashing projection of social media gabble. It wakes us up, though, and is only a fleeting moment before the centuries roll us back into the tale. Having seen Part I, we know how much is rumour and how much truth: that Hotspur is dead, the first battle won but the rebels still angry, and that a slight souring has crossed the relationship between Prince Hal and Antony Sher’s Falstaff (who has by now scored a feather in his awful hat and a cheeky, adorable tiny page).


This play gives more space for the tavern characters to grow, and to find their own melancholy. Paola Dionisotti as Quickly is a victim of Falstaff’s debts and lies, still fiery but less certain; the fat knight himself is more often obstreperous than amusing, Bardolph remains glumly, beautifully resigned and Pistol (Antony Byrne) is plain barking mad, with a hairstyle that can only be described as deshabillé Jedward.


But what Greg Doran finds in this second part is a sense of inexorable change: old Henry is dying, Hal’s return to the tavern set is sourer, more bent on teasing Falstaff than enjoying him. Doll Tearsheet (Nia Gwynne) has an unhappy anger about her. There are moments of great fun, not least Pistol’s crazy chandelier-swinging and trouserwork, but decline and death haunt them all. Falstaff’s “Do not bid me remember mine end” to Doll is amplified later in a peculiarly touching rendering of his scene with the old men Shallow and Silence, set before a hay-cart which reminds you of the simple, suffering rural England across which battle has raged. The limping, shuffling peasant soldiers they recruit are treated with more pathos than humour (congratulations to Leigh Quinn as Wart, bent double: that’s a memorable RSC debut and I hope the physio looks after her).


So the serious Matter of England presses hard, beyond the foreground concerns of warlike nobles and tavern revellers. And so does the gradual, inexorable advance of death on all: when the old men giggle about “Jane Nightwork” a former tart of fifty years ago, the shocked realization in the line “She’s old..she cannot help but be old..” hits home with rare force. “We have heard the chimes of midnight, Master Shallow..”
This has never been my favourite of the two parts, and if I were forced to ask which one to book, the first would win. But if you can do both, to see the story out is a great thing, the cross-currents richly rewarding. Jasper Britton makes Henry’s approach to death deeply moving and involving , and Alex Hassell’s self-reinvention as a responsible prince is well taken. Because in a characteristically young-male adolescent switch, the thoughtless irresponsibility of his past becomes an equally thoughtless, posed frigidity as he delivers that most famous snub in literature: “I know thee not, old man”.


0844 800 1110 to 6 September

Part 3 in participating cinemas 18 June (see below for Pt 1)

rating: four    4 Meece Rating


Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

HENRY IV PART 1 – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

BOOZE AND BATTLE, GRACE AND HUMANITY          The Bard Mouse width fixed


The tale of troubled Henry, threatened by rebellion, haunted by guilt at Richard’s murder and exasperated by the follies of his son Hal, is one of the great Shakespearean chronicles. Wild Hal, warlike Hotspur and the irresistibly disgraceful Falstaff shine vivid down the centuries. The play is rich in magnificent, eloquent insults: bed-presser, bull’s pizzle, stockfish! Mad-headed ape, whoreson greasy tallow patch, vile standing-tuck! Between those and the tremendous battle scenes it has an honourable record of being the route by which a crafty parent introduces a restless boy to the History plays: a comedy, a ripping yarn.


Greg Doran directs as ever with a lovely clarity and humour, never flagging but not hurrying either. Just over three hours with the interval, this production gives even the smallest character space and time to breathe and expand. There is of course Antony Sher’s Falstaff : who when he claps on a leather hat above his capacious overcoat, has the air of a large ambulating mushroom sprouting curly grey fungus of beard and hair. Falstaff’s baseness is not dodged or lightened as it sometimes has been. Sher, in a slow rich slur, gives full value to the fat knight’s Just-William talent for fantasy and excuse, and we laugh with him as he fences with the less adept young Prince.


But when he boasts of his earnings from frightened citizens with his press-gang protection racket, filling his military company with the dregs of prison and gutter who can’t pay, Doran gives us something startling. Behind Falstaff and his handcart picnic files a dim-lit parade of shuffling and staggering figures. He shrugs that they will fill graves as well as any, shrugs at other deaths with no intention of dying himself, a sociable sociopath – “I like not such grinning honour as Sir Walter had – give me life!”. His sermon about the uselessness of honour – which can be done with quiet intelligent horror as Roger Allam did at the Globe – is chucked out by this old bastard as just another canting fantasy. Insouciant selfishness goes too far: when Hal finds, mid-battle, that it’s a bottle in his friend’s holster, not a pistol, the lad’s visible frustration suddenly feels like one of the subtle, important, corners of the play : it foreshadows the rejection he will inflict on the old man in Part II.


But there are many such corners and hints in Alex Hassell’s closely built performance as Hal: his head hung in shame at his father’s rebukes, his impatience with idleness – “The land is burning!”‘ and his sudden, boyish plea for peace or single-combat after he has seen the state of Falstaff’s half-dead soldiery. Trevor White’s Hotspur, on the other hand, turns no corners and never changes: he is played white-blond, pale-eyed, a hypermanic Roundhead to Hal’s sensual cavalier. He leaps and punches the air and yells “Yesss!” and in a terrifyingly arranged fight (arranger Terry King surpasses himself) at one stage is belabouring Hal with both swords at once, crazy-manic and fearless. This is not a likeable Hotspur, not least when he hurls around his imploring wife. Some will mourn his lack of heroic seriousness, but it is credible: he’s very young.


Doran’s pace and shaping of the play is superb. Great humour shades to seriousness. Hotspur’s baiting of the Druidically solemn self-satisfied Glendower (Joshua Richard, very New Age ) quietens as Nia Gwynne sings in Welsh to a gentle harp. Hotspur scorns and insults the singing, not knowing it will be his dirge. The roll-on tavern scenes are fun, with Paola Dionisotti giving a sharp Dot-Cottonish Quickly, Joshua Richards a pricelessly laconic Bardolph and Elliott Barnes-Worrell haring around beautifully in waiterly panic as Francis. But even as Sher in his slow-spoken querulous pomp weaves Falstaff’s web of fantastic excuses, we cut to King Henry: almost weeping with frustration and remorse, gasping out his longing to atone the murder, the words “Holy Land” snatching his very breath.


Clouds scud overhead or hang as smoke over the open fields of England (a tangle of bare branches against blue, glimpsed behind the battered barnlike back wall). The final battles are action-movie stuff, Douglas the crazed Scotsman flailing some sort of murderous Celtic shillelagh, flashes and smoke and crashing across the vast room. Jerks of compassion as Hal kneels by his dead rival and thinks to mourn Falstaff are diffused as the fat one rolls upright and desecrates Hotspur’s corpse (oh yes, this is no jolly Falstaff, not after a while). The whole thing is masterly: with intense, scholarly, humane concern and care Doran teases out spirit and character , finds nuggets of meaning and sorrow. This, and Part II (review follows) will be live in cinemas and streamed into schools. Such permanence is well-earned.
0844 800 1110 to 6 September
Part I in participating cinemas 14 May

rating: five  5 Meece Rating

Comments Off

Filed under Five Mice