Monthly Archives: November 2017

NETWORK Lyttelton, SE1

PROFIT AND  A PROPHET: RANTINGS AND RATINGS

 

 

I came to  this a day late for tedious domestic reasons, but
since the original film is about a news anchor , Howard Beale, going messianically nuts when he is sacked after 25 years for falling ratings – and then becoming a TV star for ranting against TV –  I felt a natural empathy.   Having  just spent six months sulking (alas not messianically) after 34 years of a Radio 4 show (without falling ratings), I felt a certain wistful solidarity.   Besides, the script is by Lee Hall and direction by Ivo van Hove, who never Van-hoves into view without at least being interesting. So, with yesterday’s first nighters starring it between 2 and 5, the humble mice needed a view.

 

 

It must be said that Ivo the Inventive has gone over the top this time. The wide stage is split in three – a glass TV control cubicle one side, a vast central screen, and on the right some onstage seats where richer and earlier-booking audience members  are actually eating (they also score a disconcerting closeup view of a very funny quickie between Michelle Dockery’s programme chief Diana and the angsty midlife Schumacher). I think the idea is to suggest that we all watch TV  while snogging or snacking, giving only grudging attention to the celebby performers we don’t care much about until they go nuts or get Yewtreed.  Which is, broadly, true.

 

 

In the event, it deserves  neither  2 nor 5, but wavers uncertainly, minute by minute in between.  Bryan Cranston certainly earns  every  award going for his craggy, convincing  Beale, moving from Dimblebyesque authority to a crazed Learlike  breakdown, a self-indulgent, unwell despair. WHen he steadies, he is more  than powerful in his detailed denunciations of  capitalism, and marvellously weird when the corporate boss Jensen (a terrific sinister Richard Cordery ) convinces him that only the money system works  now that there are no democratic nations only corporations (a slightly dated list of course, but we fill in Apple and Google for ourselves).

 

 

Cranston  is,  however ,given one or two too many cracker-motto truisms to cope with,  especially at the end. For which I blame Mr Hall.   It is the dementedly keen Diana who is  strangely the most credibly written: not least when she starts buying terrorists’ home videos, or analysing ratings while giving a businesslike shag to her colleague.  I think I’ve met her somewhere..

 

As to staging, there is mild irritation sometimes when a live  conversation is near-invisible in the clutter of screens and set, so we have to see it on the big screen: the pre- filmed bits fit in with technical perfection but add to the distancing and cooling of the real, hot theatricality the live cast bring.  This Katie-Mitchell I-heart-video experimentalism in theatre is becoming, dare one mutter, a bit of a bore.

 

And the message? Some things strike home hard, especially the rise of news-tertainment: some aspects feel dated now that  TV is being superseded by digital and social media. So does the rant against Saudi petrodollars – “you are owned by half a dozen medieval fanatics” – in the age of China. The  show runs two hours straight, and a cut or two wouldn’t hurt. And though the famous “I’m mad as hell” shout is well staged with vox-pop surround-sound video, it palls a bit when we have to join in for the third time.

 

But it’s a different night out. And  Cranston is fantastic, a proper star.

 

Box office.   Sold out to end of the run (24 march) BUT
tickets are still available through Day Seats and Friday Rush.
rating three   3 Meece Rating

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QUIZ Minerva, Chichester

MULTIPLE CHOICE IN A MANIPULATED WORLD

 

 

“We in this country” says the red judge grandly “Do not have trial by media or by mobs”. Hmm. Tell that to anyone now staring confusedly at the wreckage of reputation and career because an employers took instant fright at a Twitterstorm. James Graham’s new play is a sharp-edged, finally rather poignant comedy which reimagines the affair of Major Charles Ingram. He was convicted – with his wife and a supposed accomplice – of fraud, after his 2001 win in ITV’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”. The case was treated as riotous entertainment by he world’s media as m’learned friends argued over whether significant coughs from the studio audience had been giving him clues as he hesitated – rather showily – over multiple-choice double-your-money questions.

 

 

Characteristically intelligent and twistily playful, set on a hellishly shiny neon-edged TV-studio floor, the play explores the crossover between the serious and logical worlds of law and of democracy and the shimmer , manipulation and deception of light entertainment. Himself clearly a keen amasser of facts, Graham enters gleefully in to the world of quiz fanatics (Mrs Ingram and her brother were obsessive autodidacts and Millionaire addicts) . The light-hearted first part of Daniel Evans’ showy production brings gales of laughter as he explains the development of quiz shows from the 70s, with Keir Charles nailing it not only as Chris Tarrant but as Des O”Connor, Jim Bowen, Leslie Crowther and Bruce Forsyth; there is a Syd-Yobbo sketch of the head of ITV programmes David Liddiment, and Greg Haiste slimily watchful as the Celador creator of Millionaire, accurately targeting the psychology of competitive greed, tension, trivia-addiction and the fact that audiences really like to see people sweat. How far these shows were precursors of today’s reality TV becomes suddenly clear. So is Graham’s merciless exploration of the “profiling” of competitors , and the makers’ irritation whentoo many Millionaire candidates were straight, male, middle-class know-alls like the Ingram family, rather than their wider target audience desired. Did this influence the case they built? The edited tapes which made the coughing louder? Who knows?

 

 

The first half had me a bit impatient, fun though it was, because the queasy, toxic, exploitative world of light-ent TV is almost too well evoked. Mr Evans could well trim some of the immersive pub-quizzery (though the electric voting lanyards we all wear have a vital role at the end). But Graham’s gift is always for curious, not unkindly observation of the way that people are. So the human story at its core intensifies, and saddens. GAvin Spokes as Ingram himself is marvellous: a dutiful soldier now deskbound in Procurement: not the brightest, a bit bumbling but entirely decent , worried by his wife and brother-in-law’s obsession. He is drawn into it and coached by his wife as the next family candidate (the session where he learns 90’s pop culture factoids is wonderful, involving both a Hilda Ogden cameo on the revolving ring round the arena and a rendering of Ian Gow’s speech against TV in Parliament (a sharp Graham point here about government-by-personality: topical again on the very day of Gordon Brown’s glum Today interview about why we didn’t love him enough).

 

 

 

The defending barrister’s speech is electric, and the winner’s downfall despite it intensely affecting. In our preent age of public shaming, it is salutary to remember that apart from him resigning his commission and military identity, the Ingrams family had their home attacked, children bullied, dog kicked to death and pet cat shot. Evans and Graham stage that last fact so sharply, shamingly and gently that you shudder. Britain can be vile. Doubt still hangs over the conviction: we all had to vote at the end, and on the opening night it was Not Guilty.

 

 

extended: http://www.cft.org.uk or 01243 781312 to 9 December
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS Playhouse SW1

NEW GENERATION REVIEWER MICHAEL ADAIR UNMOVED BY MANSPREADING BUT LOVES THE SWEARING

The return of Glengarry Glen Ross feels rather timely. There is something striking about a play consisting entirely of middle-aged men arguing amongst themselves and battling for their place in the world. But where the idea is relevant, here the execution feels anything but.

 
David Mamet’s Pulitzer prizewinning drama about the dubious and duplicitous acts of four Chicago salesmen has been revived at the Playhouse. We meet Ricky Roma, Dave Moss, George Aaronow and Shelly Levene, each desperate to get their hands on ‘the Glengarry leads’ – the contact details of promising prospective buyers for the Glengarry Highlands in Florida, a piece of prime real estate, which each of our salesman is desperately trying to flog, with the ultimate prize being that they might just get to keep their jobs. As we’ve come to expect from these kinds of characters, they’re willing to lie, cheat, bribe and steal to get any sort of competitive advantage over their colleagues.

 
The premise is simple, which makes the entire first act all the more baffling. It is the slowest of slow burns, with three separate scenes all comprising of two men, legs spread, talking at length to each other over mugs of coffee, in a Chinese restaurant. The dialogue really flickers in and out of life – whole sections of exposition go missing as our British actors in particular seem to be concentrating more on maintaining their, admittedly rather good, American accents rather than delivering any weight. It’s a sacrifice that struggles to pay off.

 
It does, eventually, warm up and the starry cast is undeniably likeable, Stanley Townsend has the shtick of Jackie Mason with the timbre of Jeffrey Tambor as Shelley ‘The Machine’ Levine, a desperate and faded old schmuck well past his prime. Christian Slater provides the glamour and credibility that the role of top salesman Ricky Roma deserves -with his accent already in the bag, it is his effortless charm that commands the most attention and is a standout performance.

 
Where this play shines is in its Thick of It-esque descent into sweary oblivion – Slater provides us with the best moment with his furious tirade against Kris Marshall, playing boss John Williamson – whose role generally is to lean on things and get shouted at.
Credit to designer Chiara Stephenson, the set for the second act is a thing of beauty, a ransacked office covered in scattered papers and piles of cardboard boxes, broken window shutters and chipboard repairs, however it’s arrival seems to further highlight just how much of a non-event the first act is. There were some real flashes of promise in the second as our cast came together – the chemistry rose to a simmer and there was almost even a whiff of there being something at stake.

 
Ultimately, this feels somewhat like a missed opportunity. It’s amusing in places, and ends in much finer fashion than it begins – but feels disappointingly hollow for too much throughout. If you are a fan of watching men sat with their legs spread and talking loudly at each other, then this might well be the show for you.

https://www.playhousetheatrelondon.com/tickets/
Box Office: 0844 871 7631
rating  two   2 meece rating

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TWELFTH NIGHT Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

A PERFECT TWELVE

 

“What country, friend, is this?” That soon becomes clear, in this beautiful rendition of Shakespeare’s melancholy comedy of love and misapprehension. From the first glimpse of Orsino’s lounging household beneath its golden dome, with the Duke (Nicholas Bishop, camp as ninepence at this point) dashingly painting his muse Curio as a near-nude Cupid, we know just where we are. Ravishingly designed by Simon Higlett (it’ll look fabulous on screen too) the country where director Christopher Luscombe has landed us is the England of the 1890’s. It is the land of Wilde and Beardsley and Ruskin and Sickert, of Yellow-Book aestheticism and dandyish decadence and romantic exoticism.

 

 

That Imperial-era Orientalism makes it all the more apt that Viola and Sebastian, alien siblings landed and thinking one another drowned, are Indian: Dinita Gohil and Esh Alladi. Thus when Viola joins Duke Orsino’s court it is understandable that he can wear modern suits while she casts off the sari for the gold tunic , red sash and braided pillbox hat of an easternesque page. It is fitting too that Feste, in Olivia’s otherwise soberly late-Victorian household, should have a dash of exotic sartorial glamour, while Toby Belch is just a big bluff waistcoated bully and Aguecheek a hilarious dotard in breeches and Argyle socks with (at one point) a sort of deerstalker motoring-hat. It is perhaps no accident that this glorious production comes neck-and-neck with the film Victoria and Abdul, about HM’s preoccupation with her own Indian “munshi”.

 

 
This perfection of design and setting contributes not a little to the real heart of the play: the gender-bending, the unbalancing sibling griefs of Olivia and Viola, the love and delusion and desire which shine romantic in the heroines and ludicrous in the shamed Malvolio. Not a nuance is missed, not a joke fails, Shakespeare’s balance of dark and light shimmers as bright as the golden dome and as dark as the wood where the “mad” steward is confined.

 

 

There are lines sometimes lost which grow new feeling , emotional meanings teased out with throwaway precision, absurdities gleefully milked . The garden eavesdropping scene is wonderfully done, as the three plotters play garden-statues around the ecstatic Malvolio (Adrian Edmondson capering for England). You haven’t lived till you see Michael Cochrane’s fabulously hopeless Aguecheek suddenly popping head-up from behind a very explicit neo-Grecian statue, or John Hodgkinson’s Belch providing the Venus de Milo’s arms. It is also oddly shattering how clear Hodgkinson makes it that Toby Belch is a real Bullingdon-bully and Aguecheek , for all the merry dancing, his fool. HIs final contempt of the rich knight, which I had forgotten, is up there with Prince Hal’s “I know thee not, old man”. It strikes as much of a chill as Malvolio’s humiliation: and that, again, is deepened in significance by the dismay of Kara Tointon’s finely drawn Olivia, and Beruce Khan’s calculatedly capering Feste, fuelled by anger and melancholy.

 

 

AS for the gender-bending, we have lately seen Simon Godwin’s good NT production turning the steward into Malvolia, with consequent lesbian desire; but what happens here is, oddly, still more fluidly exciting, which befits the bi-curious fashion of today. Viola’s veiled confessional scene with Orsino – “My father had a daughter loved a man..” shimmers with meaning, their kiss beneath the absurd golden dome shaking the heart. Dinita Gohil, who at first I feared was too declamatory, gives real emotional weight and purity to the scene. The final explanation scene rattles, beneath the joy and laughter, with a sense that while the twins are happy, both Olivia and Orsino are settling for conventional heterosexuality not without a bat-squeak of regret for the homoerotic longings into which they were drawn by mere costume.

 

 

 

But the whole ensemble is perfect: Vivien Parry gives us Maria as a vindictive virago, her dark strength indicating that she will keep the fearful farting Belch in order once she nabs him; Sarah Twomey, Verity Kirk and Sally Cheng are lovely maids, Far more of the company than usual are on an RSC debut season, and there is an exuberance which warms the whole evening, culminating when they dance us off, Globe-style, in glorious vaudeville echoes of the earlier drinking scene. I’d go again tomorrow. Hey ho, the wind and the rain…

 

box office rsc.org.uk 01789 403493 to February
Live screening at many cinemas on 14 February, Valentine’s Day. Don’t miss it.
rating five  5 Meece Rating

oh, and a design mouse for Mr Higlett:

Set Design Mouse resized

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WAIT UNTIL DARK New Wolsey Ipswich, & touring

LIGHTS OUT,, CLUTCH YOUR SEAT

 

To be honest I was slightly daunted by the PR point that Karina Jones is the first blind actress in recent years to play Susy (hers was the Audrey Hepburn part in the 1967  film, based like Dial M for Murder on a stage play by Frederick Knott). Though disability casting is great, it felt a bit like special pleading. But Alistair Whatley’s Original Theatre Company tours some terrific work, so I went along and found myself wrong.

 

For Karina Jones is well worth seeing anywhere (she doubles as a circus-skills aerialist, by the way, clearly not a woman to be daunted by anything). And the credibility of her moves, negotiating with accustomed skill round the detailed basement-flat set, is obviously greater than most sighted actors could convey.

 

 

 

But more than that, she has a quality about her – a sort of valiant glamour – which absolutely matches the role of Suzy, beleaguered in her flat with her husband lured away, vulnerable but steely, grasping at straws of understanding while three con-men manoeuvre through the doll-cocaine-smuggling-hospital-double-dealing-telephone-call intricacy of Knott’s plot. She’s wonderful.

 

 

 

Well supported, too. Shannon Rewcroft is the Awful Child Gloria who helps out with shopping (she becomes vital in the second act, very funny and spookily convincing as an 11-year-old ) . And the criminals are good. In particular Tim Treloar as Roat, the murderous one, exudes an excellent suave nastiness, and Jack Ellis hs a credible helplessness as the supposedly friendly one, while he and Graeme Brookes’ Croker try to work well outside their smalltime comfort zone under the evil Roat.

 

 

 

The plot could become a little tiresome, were it not that our focus is so strongly on Karina Jones: a modern feminist sensitivity applauds her brilliance in gaining advantage by disabling all the lights (total darkness, of which Ipswich was sternly warned, no leaving your seat). So I got a bit irritable when Roat seemed to be getting the upper hand by mere boring old-fashioned Hitchcock violence.
But it did the business, got both gasps and the odd whimper from a keen audience, and is altogether one of the classiest of thrillers, neatly done. And I want more of Karina Jones.
box office 01473 295900 to 11 Dec http://www.wolseytheatre,co.uk

Touring Mouse widetouring on to Cardiff, YOrk , Guildford till 2 Dec http://www.waituntildark.co.uk
rating four   4 Meece Rating

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THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP Touring East

LITTLE NELL, ON THE ROAD AGAIN

 

 

Of all Dickens’ works this – originally a serial so gripping that American readers rushed the docks for the new edition – is such a farrago of preposterous, barnstorming picaresque sentimentality that the Irish leader Daniel O”Connell famously burst into tears at the ending, and threw it out of a train window. Oscar Wilde on the other hand said you’d need a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.
Perfect for the tirelessly prolific duo of Common Ground – Julian Harris and Pat Whymark – to take up, shake about, and tour with their trademark combination of shoestring inventiveness and Whymark’s evocative music.

 

 
So we have Harries (who also designed the extremely portable one-night-at-a-time set) as Nell’s Grandfather . And, with a sub-Sewell accent, as the venal notary Mr Brass. There’s a splendid Eloise Kay as 13-year-old Nell, doubling entertainingly in the same frock, give or take a mob-cap or two, as a terrified Mrs Quilp and the downtrodden maid “Marchioness”. Joe Leat is a foul-spoken Scott, feckless brother Fred and others – most memorably the boot-faced Sally Brass, in a sort of clerical hat and world-beating deadpan scowl. Tristan Teller is among others a rather beguiling Dick Swiveller in purple velvet and high boots, and Ivan Wilkinson most memorable when being the villainous Quilp. Not perhaps quite as dwarfish or hunched as Dickens wanted him in those more robust days, but stubbily vigorous in his evildoing as he cheats the sweet pair out of their Curiosity Shop and provokes their tremendous road-trip across the Midlands encountering every kind of rogue, kindly helper, employer and entertainer dear to the heart of Charles D while the Quilpies plot and pursue from the London end.

 

 

 
My reaction formed a wavering graph: pleased at the framing of it in DIckens’ own wanderings through the London streets, dipping a bit in the first act as the Dickens rhetoric can feel less than convincing on modern lips, but rising to real solid pleasure in the second half. Much of this is to the credit of Whymark’s live music – deep double-bass, guitar, and occasional squeezebox weaving atmosphere and accompanying songs which have a sense both of folksong and Victorian parlour ballad. The schoolmaster’s story of fevers and the song in the Staffordshire potteries send a real shiver down the spine, evoking a suddenly vivid sense of place and time; Dickens’ poeticism suddenly becomes sincere, the villainy richer and nastier, the nuances of Grandfather’s dependency more obvious.

 

 

A rambling tale rambled to its conclusion.   And I begin to suspect that Daniel O’Connell threw the serial out of that window as much in chagrin because it was over as in grief for the offstage demise of Nell. I often feel the same myself at the end of a good Le Carré.

 

In Ipswich next week 01473 211498
Touring Mouse wideTouring on till 25 Nov: information 07928 765153 wwwcommongroundtc.co.uk

rating four   4 Meece Rating

 

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