Category Archives: Four Mice

BELLEVILLE Donmar WC2

SWEET YOUNG LOVE IN PARIS:  NOT.

 

 

“We’re not going the full Mousetrap here” said the press desk, “but there is a moment at the end…we’re asking..” . Fine, no spoilers. Plenty else to write about, what with the knife thing and the bath thing and the DIY toe surgery thing (eurgghh!) and the screams and the vomit. And to be honest you never expected it to end in a well. The plot, I mean: I mean: as a play Amy Herzog’s piece is a cracker, superbly acted by the two fearless principals as young Americans in Paris , and a beautifully contrasted pair, their respectable Senegalese-Muslim landlords downstairs in the shabby Belleville apartment block. Michael Longhurst’s direction is tense, alarming, sometimes funny. So the whole catastrophic unfolding of it is horribly credible.

 

 

Perhaps dangerously credible, given current widespread suspicion among over-fifties that the milllennial generation, now in late twenties, are messed-up spoilt kids prone to binge drinking, drug use and a whining egotism fed by therapy-theory and the language of obsessive, analytical self-exculpation. As in our heroine Abby’s “I am emotionally abusive. I know that about myself . I’m working on that”.

 

 

 

There is sometimes a dark pleasure to be had in being cruelly judgmental of fictional characters, as one should not be about real people. If that is your pleasure, this will feed it in a most unChristmassy way. If you can raise compassion for the central pair, that’d do too: not least because in Herzog’s artful gradual 100-minute exposition you are never completely confident about which of this couple is to blame for the other’s disastrous state.

 

 

Abby – a magnificent Imogen Poots – is first the likely candidate, nervily  and shrieking when she sees through the door her husband Zack pleasuring himself over porn, grumbling that French people don’t seem to like her, giving up her language class because “they all speak English”, and patronizing Alioune the neighbour  and landlord who has popped by to “pack a bowl” – smoke a bong – with Zack. Who owes him rent. Abby’s hysteria over being thought to be 32 – she’s 28 – is combined with understandable holiday-season homesickness and a refusal to try and stop obsessively mourning her mother after five years . None of this is endearing. She makes strident emotional demands , moans “I wish I was less disdainful of everyone and expected a little less from myself”, and after passing out dead drunk again whines “Why did you let me drink so much?” though when he tries she yowled about his male “controlling” and having her personality “subsumed” . Best place for it, I’d say.   On the other hand there is something fishy about Zack’s job, porn habit and tendency to crash into the flat of respectable Senegalese neighbours at 3 a.m. searching drunkenly for more drugs.

 

 

 

As you can tell, it’s all a bit Albee, and there is something bracingly merciless – in this age of compulsory compassion – about Herzog’s depiction of someone both mentally ill and shrilly entitled who systematically wrecks a life, marriage and indeed a flat. But it is also horribly entertaining. James Norton’s as clean-cut Zack takes a remarkable journey from calm doctorliness to utter dissolution, and Poots is fearless, pitch-perfect and generally mesmerising.   Malachi Kirby and Faith Alabi are perfect as the neighbours: younger, saner, their hardworking immigrant decency a shaming foil to the lost-soul , self-indulgent Westerneners.

 

 

I’m not sure where it gets us, but as a portrait of modern disjunction it rivets attention. And an almost silent coda , after the event of which we may not speak, is priceless. Especially when the Macbook Air goes in the binbag. That fact, by the way, wasn’t a spoiler.

 

 

Box Office 0844 871 7624 to 3 feb Principal Sponsor: Barclays
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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A CHRISTMAS CAROL BY FITZROVIA RADIO HOUR Spiegeltent, Leicester Square

LARKING  WITHIN TENT

 

 

As an old radio hack, who started a career over forty years ago in the days when “spot effects” in drama studios were one of the more amusing jobs, I have a feeling for the quintet who create the “Fitzrovia Radio Hour”. In play-that-goes-wrong style they not only score off one another’s fictional actor-personae, but ramp up the comedy by struggling to do the sound effects. It rings true: I remember doing“footsteps” in the gravel tray while clutching the doorbell, and hitting cabbages with an axe for the more bloodstained French Revolution-themed plays.

 

 

So the comedy has a double edge of memory for me, but the group’s success has found a wider, younger following, enchanted by the retro struggles onstage. The only thing that doesn’t ring true for me is that, US-style, they’re doing it with ads and product placement. But hey, a lot of the crowd in the Spiegeltent in December are Americans too..

 

Here, four players take the first hour without “Stanley de Pfeffel”, the veteran who always plays Scrooge and who has been (possibly on purpose) hospitalized by the collapse from a theatre fly-tower of “the entire set of the Importance of Being Earnest” .

That the fifth will indignantly reappear is increasingly likely (nice use of the echo-plate here). The others proceed, entertainingly deploying in a witty set their mass of domestic and DIY equipmen. There is sexual tension between one pair and respective mourning / resentment for dePfeffel by the other.

 

There was a point when it lagged a bit, 45 minutes in, but a fine coup de theatre with Scrooge’s third ghost turns it around, and the ripples and barks of laughter start up again as it accelerates. All power to Michael Lumsden here… enuff said.

 

As a merciful 75-minute, £ 18.50 break from the maelstrom of London Christmas shopping, it is good value.

 

 

box office http://christmascarollondon.com 03333 444167
Weds-Sun at 3.30 pm till the 30th, 2pm on Christmas Eve

rating four  4 Meece Rating

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HOW TO WIN AGAINST HISTORY Young Vic SE1

A SPANGLED ANGLESEY ARISTOCRAT WALKS AGAIN

 

 

One way to win, if your own era rejects you, is to be so spectacularly odd that two centuries later a musical theatremaker gets obsessed with you and recreates your avatar onstage. Growing up on Anglesey Seiriol Davies found out about Henry Cyril Paget, the fifth marquess of that isle, descended from a hero of Waterloo and expected to carry on the line. He preferred to cross-dress (sometimes as Eleanor of Aquitaine, sometimes as a butterfly), gut the family chapel to make a theatre starring himself, marry (rather lavenderly) a poor girl for whom he bought an entire jewellers’ stock only to drape it on her naked and leave out the other marital duty; and generally waste the family money until he died near-destitute in Monte Carlo. And was described brutally in obits as “a strange and repellent spirit opaquely incomprehensible and pathetically alone” , though the Times did say that for all his eccentricity Anglesey quite liked him.

 

 

 

Well, these days such a history – though his family burned all the Marquess’ diaries and letters in disgust – is definitely one you can win with. And Davies makes it happen, playing poor Henry himself, with alongside him Matthew Blake as his theatrical follower and helper, and a comically dour Dylan Townley at a keyboard . The result is a strange wild camp and ultimately endearing squib, 75 minutes long, walking  a tightrope between revue (it began at Edinburgh) and commemorative sermon on individuality. In a spangled blue cocktail frock with a slit to reveal silk stockings Davies speaks and sings, sometimes faint and vulnerable and lonely, sometimes beltingly exhibitionist. There are jokes , as he and Blake go on tour, about the touring lives of actors, which are very funny (the “it went well’ chorus particularly telling).

 

 

There is real pain sometimes, though not often, and a proper sense of how confusing it is to be different in a world and rank that wants you solid and Imperial. It is the same message about cross-dressing eccentricity and self- assertion as in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie: except of course that Jamie has a Mum who loves him, classmates who come round, and a 21st life. Oh, how we have come on…

 

 

Fine jokes work, not least a spoof interview with the Daily Mail in which he has to pretend he loves tweed more than spangles; but it is the portrait of poor brave extravagant Henry is as a man that sticks. 75 minutes was enough for this romp, but I wouldn’t mind a less arch, deeper imagined biography of him.

 

 

box office 020 7922 2922 to 23 dec
rating four, for sheer oddity and rather nice music

4 Meece Rating

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LA SOIREE Aldwych, WC1

EROTICROBATICS, BANANAS, HIGH JINKS

 

 

Relief flooded in with the first act, Cabaret Decadanse from Montreal. Here was a larger-than-life lip-synching puppet diva made of glittering springs , doing a Shirley Bassey version of “If you could read my mind” while rather skilfully groping her own puppeteer’s bra. Splendid. This is what we came for. Then barely time to clap before Rajesh Amrale and Rajesh Mudki, fresh from Mumbai, sprang into action like twin Mowglis in extraordinarily graceful , rapidly accelerating poses and balances and twirls around a fat wooden pole. Next, to lower the tone a bit on came the pleasingly disreputable Mark and Svetlana from Vegas in leopardprint naffery (“Daredevil Chicken” they call themselves ). Their first of several turns was the classic gross-out of long-distance spitting into one another’s mouths. In this case not ping-pong-balls but fragments of banana. One, as it happened, landing in my ringside friend’s lap.

 

 

That one is never my favourite genre, but was somehow reassuring. The relief is because I had wondered whether La Soirée would work without the Spiegeltent on the South bank, the whiff of old hot-dogs and Thames fog. Would Brett Haylock’s fringe-born, “dysfunctional family” of new-variety acrobatics and cabaret be somehow selling out by coming in to the stately Aldwych Theatre? Has it gone all premium-price black tie on us?

 

 

Nope. None of that. Tickets from £ 17, stalls removed for those red folding chairs; a ring in front of the proscenium , a few table seats onstage, a drink in your fist, plenty of smoke and razzle. And – a plus – the full height of the space can be used to spectacular effect for higher aerialist turns than the old tent could accommodate. And actally, this year’s line-up is probably the best they’ve had yet, quite making up for the retirement from nude hanky frolics of Ursula Martinez (she’s up at the Soho by the way, in a new show). Daredevil Chicken were back several times, banana-free and really quite horribly brilliant in their Vegas way, and meanwhile we were dazzled repeatedly by acrobatics (in one case I find I wrote “eroticrobatics” . That was when Leon and Klodi slithered around one another, as if doing a neck-stand upside down on one’s partner’s shoulders was really pleasingly sensual rather than an oof-ouch! moment).

 

 

The sheer marvel of athleticism is an important part of new-variety evenings – a certain blindfold swinging and catching aloft was almost shocking – but in some ways it is pure beauty that stills the heart: Michele Clark’s manipulation of hoops is hypnotic, optically illusionist grace: the remarkable Fancy Chance may dangle alarmingly from her own hair but it is the swirling of her white angel-wing robe and the glitter of her spinning finale that entrance.

 

 

Favourite for me was the dryly, extravagantly witty turns of Amy G from New York. She can perform flamenco on roller-skates with sharp banter and male audience recruitment, deploy risqueé inappropriateess in a 10ft feather boa, caress helpless stage-seat chaps with “Ooh, my lipstick;s on your nose” and fondle men’s ears with her stiletto shoe. Nor do many shows feature a Trump-era rendering of “America The Beautiful” on what I can only call a genital kazoo.

 

 

And the Decadanse puppeteers were back twice, brilliantly. And yes, some stark nudity occurred, male this time and very funny, plus La Serviette, which is a masculine take on the fan-dance with tablecloths. They’re doing a petite soiree for the more easily shocked age group in the afternoon, but – despite a particularly interesting employment of a Beatle-wig as a temporary male merkin – there is nothing which is not , in the last analysis, absolutely admirable.
Well, except the soggy bananas. But no cabaret should take place entirely in anyone’s Safe Space, should it?

 

 

box office 0845 200 7981 http://www.la-soiree.com To Feb.

rating four

 

 

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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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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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