Monthly Archives: June 2014

THE COLBY SISTERS OF PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn

GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES ENDURES GLOSSY EMPTINESS AT THE HANDS OF NEW YORK SOCIALITES

Ever wondered what happens to Disney princesses when they grow up boring? Adam Bock has. His new play, premiering at the Tricycle, sets out with such rich pickings: five immaculate sisters, all varying degrees of gorgeous and at the centre of New York high society. The mind can genuinely boggle at this premise; so much to satirise, explore and comment upon. However, this play opts instead to sit and fester. The only injection of drama is that some of the sisters don’t get on that well; a device which is so laboured over and so uninterestingly dealt with that one of the characters takes the initiative and shoots herself. A shocking relief.

Although the play is vaguely threaded around the marital breakdown and eventual suicide of one of the sisters (Patricia Potter), the main bulk of the action concerns a series of extremely flat scenes. At one point they are trying on dresses for the Gala, then they go to the Gala, then they mourn the death of the sister who shot herself at the Gala, then they play tennis. Obviously.

This absolute fluff (not condescendingly satirised, but positively indulged in) is decorated with inane conversation desperately trying to buy subtext. ‘It’s so tiresome not having money,’ Willow sighs, whilst Mouse (these are their actual names) shares that her new boyfriend is a ‘barista, whatever that is. I think it’s some kind of lawyer for the poor’. The entire text is a loathsome cliché with nothing going on underneath. Paparazzi are following them, most of them are extremely wealthy, one has a PA, yet none of it is explained. The poor, poor actors have nothing to get their teeth into and only Claire Forlani (as Willow) manages to scrape together anything interesting as the victim of the others’ snobbery.

The dialogue – a flick switch between dull conversation and raging argument – is exceptionally poor and verging on offensive. We laugh at Made in Chelsea and Keeping Up With The Kardashians because they know it is meaningless distraction, and to some extent play up to that, whereas this production approaches essentially the same group of people but with a worthiness and self assurance that it is something more.

‘Nobody knows us. They think they do. But they don’t,’ Mouse says at the very end of the play, as the three remaining sisters prepare to strut out into the gaggle of photographers. I am here to testify that there is nothing to know. And if there is, this play doesn’t have a clue either.

– LUKE JONES

Rating: One 1 Meece Rating

At the Tricycle Theatre until 26 July. Box Office: 020 7328 1000

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CAROUSEL – Arcola Theatre

GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES GOES ROUND AND ROUND THIS RICKETY BUT FUN CAROUSEL

If you have never been to the Arcola, imagine the Donmar’s hip cousin; a small and intimate theatre, but with its skirt hitched to reveal even more girders, sheet wood and brick. A rougher venue; smokey and a little too hot for its own good. So too is Luke Frederick’s production of this golden age classic. It is a sweaty and ruffled production which throws a enjoyable but wobbly punch.

We begin with the young Julie and Carrie thrown out of the Carousel and we end with them crying up over their children’s graduation. Carrie draped in furs, husband at her side, and Julie alone, the ghost of her roguish husband watching from the great Carousel in the sky.

This is a tiny production, allowing you to feel the whip of air and a lick of perspiration as dancer after dancer flies past. But however much it got your heart beating, my eyes were increasingly drawn towards the many slips, trips and sloppy steps. Some of the numbers are hit and miss; many a gaggle of limbs, but some, like June is Bustin’ Out All Over, burst from the stage with a tight energy. It is joyful peril as the performers almost spill onto the front row. These instances of classic choreography are refreshing but lost amongst clumsier, stranger numbers.

Where the dancing slips, the performances catch it. Vicki Lee Taylor vocally steals the evening as Carrie; a joy to behold sat only three feet away. Both her performance, and Gemma Sutton’s as Julie, are given a raw and emotional boost by the lack of amplification and the small band. Amanda Minihan as a more raucous Nettie Fowle also shines in this respect. It is strange to hear a musical completely without electrical aid, but at such proximity it forces you into goosebumps. However, as Billy Bigelow, Tim Rogers quickly drags you out of them again as his voice and performance are strained a little too far.

Luke Frederick has crafted some lovely comic moments which dirties the show up a bit and is duly rewarded with big laughs. Its issue is its clunky delivery. The set is a mess which requires loud assembly and wheeling around to little effect. The result, combined with a bland turn from Tim Rogers, is a taming of what could be some really tender moments in between the guffaws.

A rough, saucy production, stitched together laughs but with frayed edges.

– LUKE JONES

Rating: three 3 Meece Rating

At the Arcola Theatre until 19th July. Box Office: 020 7503 1646

Presented by arrangement with R&H Theatricals Europe

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MIDSUMMER MISCHIEF B, RSC Courtyard Theatre & touring

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI SEES THE SECOND TWO PLAYS IN THE RSC’S “MIDSUMMER MISCHIEF” SERIES: PROGRAMME B

Continuing the exploration of the challenge phrase “Well-behaved women seldom make history”, Programme B of Midsummer Mischief pairs a play about a woman so well-behaved she was virtually forgotten by her own family, with a play about a woman so hidebound by modern magazine discourse that she cannot live up to the example of her fearless mother. Directed by Jo McInnes, these naturalistic yet surreal pieces are funny, fast-paced, and unsettling.

I CAN HEAR YOU – E.V. Crowe

Perhaps drawing inspiration from the brilliant recent French TV drama Les Revenants, E. V. Crowe’s play shows a family in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy which turns, rapidly, into deliciously awkward farce, as the much-beloved and dead son comes back to rejoin family life. Robert Boulter is chillingly aggressive and careless as Tommy, the macho footballer son with more than a hint of nastiness about him, while John Bowe is convincing and affecting as a father unable to articulate his emotions. Divisions between male and female are tenaciously gripped in this family: the men ignore, control and domineer over their women, who in their turn are unable to get traction on their own lives and dreams. Marie, the mother who died before the action begins, is offered a similar chance, like Tommy, to come back from the dead.  I must say, I didn’t blame her for refusing. Starkly funny, E.V. Crowe’s play shows us how old-fashioned patriarchal family stereotypes fail to nourish or support anyone, and speaks clearly about why they must be broken.

THIS IS NOT AN EXIT – Abi Zakarian

“I was prepared for you to be many things, darling, but naïve wasn’t one of them.” Julie Legrand (also a magnificent Zoe in Programme A) is unforgettable as tough Northern mother Blanche, who chained herself to Parliament when 8 months pregnant to fight for equal pay. Her baby grew up to be Nora, our heroine, played expertly by Ruth Gemmell (wonderful in all four works), who lives in a welter of glossy magazines, manufacturing soapy bylines (“879 Jeans That Make You Look Thinner”) without hope or end, staring depression and desolation in the face. Cue Scarlett Brookes as the hilarious, glamourous Scouse “find your inner lioness” life coach Gulch, and some of the funniest parodying of magazine empowerment-speak I have been privileged to find. Nora is living with the burden of parental expectation, a fear of failure and a consciousness that failure has already arrived; all she can do is hide in a Cath Kidston pillowcase and growl on demand.  As Gulch and the insouciant, thoroughly modern Riley (“Ain’t you heard lady, there ain’t no girls anymore?”) bully Nora more and more fiercely, we see that they are an externalisation of the million media pressures on women today. Clever, funny, and moving, with a haunting sense of nostalgia for the lost priorities of the past, and some wonderful original music by Johanna Groot Bluemink, Zakarian takes us back to a time when achievements, hopes and dreams were real. Let’s hope they can be so again.

– CHARLOTTE VALORI

At the RSC Courtyard Theatre until 12 July: 0844 800 1110

At the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs 15-17 July: 020 7565 5000

Rating: Four 4 Meece Rating

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MIDSUMMER MISCHIEF A, RSC Courtyard Theatre & touring

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI SEES THE FIRST TWO PLAYS IN THE RSC’S “MIDSUMMER MISCHIEF” SERIES: PROGRAMME A

THE ANT AND THE CICADA – Timberlake Wertenbaker

Zoe is an artist, living in debt in the old family house in Greece; Selina is her sister, who turns up with a practical plan to save her, which Zoe will hate. It may have taken a few gauche strokes to establish this scenario: defensive liberalism, infuriatingly airy-fairy Art versus depressingly selfish Economy – but the final scene, in which we too are immersed in Zoe’s performance art, brings all the agony, frustration and complexity of the Greek crisis to life. Erica Whyman’s sensitive direction allows this brilliant play to speak clearly. Wertenbaker dares difficult questions, encapsulated in Zoe’s furious speech on the vicious nature of “god the market… Your irrational and capricious god”, and involves us (quite literally) in Greece’s uncertain future. Whether you believe Elgin saved or stole his Marbles, there is no doubting the rueful humour of the observation that “the Parthenon… can’t fit into the British Museum”: we are now beyond the old solutions. Using intimate family faultlines, strong-armed semi-legal negotiation and the louring shadow of Fascism to create an explosive, conflicting atmosphere of fulfilment and betrayal, Wertenbaker’s clear-eyed view of how Greece came into this mess, and her anxiety at what its resolution will be, is fascinating and moving.

REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN.  – Alice Birch

Like a shot of philosophical adrenalin delivered to the arm, Alice Birch’s series of short scenes provoke us to be honest about the failures of feminism to date. Porn is an ongoing testament to that failure. Associated by certain lingual tics (potatoes, bluebells) but otherwise not following any deliberate plot pattern, Birch’s scenes distort social paradigms, often to comic effect, to soften us up for the philosophical punch to close, while minimalist set design by Madeleine Girling and Whyman’s strong sense of movement bring dazzling energy to the whole.

Birch opens playfully as a woman criticises, objects to and rearranges the words in which a man tells her how badly, and how, he wants to sleep with her, eventually overcoming and emasculating him by her own verbal and sexual power. Brilliantly acted with taste and without blushing by Mimi Ndiweni, it made me proud to be female. Next, a disastrous proposal scene deconstructs the ideas of love and marriage, romantically and practically. Birch moves on to comment on work-life balance, female body anxiety, the world food chain and carbon footprint guilt, children, motherhood and abandonment – all evoked in scenes busy with tension, drama and surrealist bite. The actors constantly impress with their range and versatility: Ndiweni just steals the edge over her companions for sheer presence, magnetism and skill, though Scarlett Brookes also astounds us with her distinctive portrayals of so many different characters.

The word “wastelands” is one of the play’s final thoughts: “wastelands had grown where we thought we were building mountains”. Though her play ends on a vibratingly misandric note (a final deliberate distortion), the subtlety, breadth and richness of Birch’s vision reminded me that, like T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, despair can breed luscious creativity. If every girl and boy in every school in Britain could see this play, we might just possibly grow up in a more equal world.

– CHARLOTTE VALORI

At the RSC Courtyard Theatre until 12 July: 0844 800 1110

At the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs 15-17 July: 020 7565 5000

Rating: Four 4 Meece Rating

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ADLER AND GIBB Royal Court SW1

IN WHICH OUR GUEST REVIEWER JOHN PETER DOES NOT HAVE A HAPPY NIGHT OUT

 
Tim Crouch has given us a play which is not a play.   It has no
narrative: it does not give you a story; it does not give you characters.
What is a character in a play?    It is a person with a past, a person with
intentions, however simple, crude, or naïve, to create something of his
life.

 
Do you remember HAMLET?    His Royal Highness of Denmark summed it all
up when he told his actors that to play in a play was “to hold the mirror up
to nature”.

 

These words are the most simple, most obvious, but also most profound
summing up of why we need and created the theatre: to see our selves, our
nature and the nature of the world we live in.   This is what the theatre
has done from Sophocles, Shakespeare and Moliere to Arthur Miller, Samuel
Beckett, Harold Pinter, David Hare and Lucy Prebble.

 
Tim Crouch’s play is not such a play.   It is a series of theatrical
installations.   Here, in a series of short scenes, we are presented with
moments of despair, with moments of dark, grim comedy.   Who am I?   Why am
I here?   Why are we loving or hating each other?   Why can’t we be
understood by other people?    You are here but you don’t know why: so what
can you make of it?

 
This “play” is a lecture of unbreakable pessimism decorated with grim
humour.   The actors get little opportunity to act: they have little time to
create a character.   That is why this “play” has neither beginning nor end.

– JOHN PETER
box office 020 7565 5000; royalcourttheatre.com to 8 July
Innovation partner: Coutts

RATING:  three 3 Meece Rating

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SKYLIGHT – Wyndham’s , WC2

BILL NIGHY BACK ONSTAGE: MORE THAN WELCOME

 

 

Few actors are more instantly recognizable than Bill Nighy, yet his gift is to deploy in faithful service of each distinct part his idiosyncratic, louche grace, his shrugs and closed-lips, headshaking laughs, his light-footed prowling Afghan-hound grace and general air of hangdog mischief. To see this elegant oddness back onstage, after all those films and television dramas, is a considerable treat. To see him opposite Carey Mulligan doubles the pleasure: there is a real rapport there, all the more skilful because of the painful status which David Hare’s play gives to their relationship.
For Nighy  (who did this part first in 1997) plays Tom, a middle-aged successful restaurateur – a sort of Conran – who had a six-year affair with the young, rather earnest Kyra. She became a close family friend, mentor to their son and companion of his wife. It felt, she remembers, almost right: loving. When the wife found out, though, Kyra left. Two years later she is an earnest, devoted teacher in a hard school in East Ham, and lives in an awful tower-block flat off the North Circular. She gets on a six a.m. bus to commute to work and do extra coaching, and listens entranced to the ordinary struggling people on the top deck whose lives, she sees, are more heroic than any business chief’s. She speaks with passion of the mission of schools to provide both “a haven and a challenge” and demand more of disadvantaged children. Very topical, even Goveite.

 

Into her flat – realized in brilliantly depressing detail, bathroom and all, by Bob Crowley’s set – erupts her old lover’s son Edward , seeking her help because, since the wife died Tom has been depressed and unresponsive in their house in suburban Wimbledon (“a green fortress”) where he built the dying woman a room with the sloping glass wall of the title. Edwardfeels doubly abandoned: Matthew Beard (whose part exists only in first and final scenes) evokes a gangling, awkward gap-year boy who sets off the mentorish composure of Mulligan’s Kyra.

 

When he goes, Tom himself turns up, striding and swirling round the little flat in his elegant black overcoat, shuddering at its ordinariness (his wince at the geyser in the bathroom is great), criticizing her cooking as, onstage and live with fine aromas, she makes spaghetti sauce. When he discovers the dried-up cheese she proposes to grate, he falls into a gourmet sulk and tries to send his driver to buy fresh Parmesan. Kyra in return lectures him on the unreal bubble of prosperity he lives in and how it isn’t the real world. Which does, at times, feel like being beaten round the head with a copy of the Guardian.

 

But through all this clash of ideologies and wordy worthy social politicking, a real thread of pain and confusion is drawn tight by Nighy’s needy posturing and guilty desperate longing. Both of them are real people, suffering in the trap of their inability to accept one another’s worlds, atoning for that bygone deception of the dead wife.

 

I expected a bleak ending, and there seemed to be one. But startlingly, Hare ends on a note bordering on whimsy and definitely sentimental. Actually, too sentimental even for me, as director Stephen Daldry lets the dawn light rise at the end of the long night, with sounds of a waking city and children’s happy cries.

Box office 0844 482 5120 to 23 August.
Skylight will be broadcast live to more than 500 UK cinemas on 17 July 2014 as part of National Theatre Live.
Rating: four 4 Meece Rating

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HOBSON’S CHOICE – Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park

BY ‘ECK, IT’S BRIGHOUSE ROCKING INTO THE ‘SIXTIES…

 
Never underestimate a young woman in a neat blue dress from anywhere North of Watford. Especially one called Maggie. One glare, and bullies like old Hobson grumblingly cede their ancient sovereignty, while meek lads like Willie Mossop accept the stern judgement “I’ve got my work cut out, but you’ve the makings of a man about you!”. Bygone ministers may sigh in strangely affectionate recognition…

 
Not that the tease is deliberate: just an incidental pleasure in Nadia Fall’s rousing updating of the Harold Brighouse play about a tyrannical drunken widower ruling over a Salford bootmaker’s shop in the 1880’s. He keeps his three daughters in servitude until the eldest rebels, orders the talented junior boot-maker Willie to marry her, sets up a rival shop to take his best customers, and with a sharp smalltown legal plot liberates her younger sisters to marry their own lads . It’s a well-loved play – and film – but Fall has given it new life and irony by updating it to the 1960’s, another time of social change and female rebellion.

 
Ben Stones’ set, the boot-shop revolving to the street and humble cellar where the newlywed Mossops set up shop, is detailed: but its edges are ragged, ruinous, shading into heaps of bricks, a metaphor for a crumbling way of life. Two theme songs wind in and out occasionally, with the same message of change: Mark Benton’s domineering, pot-bellied old rascal belts out Sinatra, the young ones in their miniskirts twist to Gerry and the Pacemakers. Nice.

 
And goodness, it’s funny: sharp Lancashire humour and crushing put-downs from Maggie are played with fabulous, faultless, dominating energy by Jodie McNee. Her wooing scene is matchless, with initial cowering terror from her swain (“I’m engaged to Ada Figgins!” “Then you’ll get loose of her!” shading to “I’m resigned. You’re growing on me, lass!”.) Karl Davies hilariously conveys Willie’s progress from semi-literate cowed boothand to rising businessman under her tutelage. The pair work beautifully together, with a sudden wedding-night virginal softness and, in Willie’s final confrontation with old Hobson, a transformative moment. As t he contradicts even his fierce wife, across her face spreads a marvellous triumphant grin: at last she’s made him a man worth having. Worth wearing that penny brass wedding-ring for.

 
Benton is a treat too: blustering, losing his grip to alcoholism, ranting against his daughters half- Lear half-Falstaff as he sits reduced to dressing-gown, underpants and a single sock-suspender. He succumbs. Who wouldn’t? But like Falstaff he gets some of the best lines, especially against lawyers. And the whole ensemble is joyful around these three: magic moments include Jordan Metcalfe the uppity solicitor embarrassingly forced by Maggie’s magnetic authority to push a handcart of rag-and-bone furniture “in broad daylight down the streets of Salford!”, and Kate Adler as Ada Figgins threatening to set her Mum on Willie if he jilts her.
In high good humour and throwaway wisdom, here to shame the soppy south is the rising North of all ages: the cobbled quintesscence, the ecky-thumpessence of business nous and female ferocity which made it great. A gorgeous evening.

 

box office 0844 826 4242 to 12 July

Rating:  five 5 Meece Rating

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