Category Archives: Two Mice

THE WRITER Almeida, N1

REBEL WITHOUT AN ARGUMENT

 

It is a curiosity of the age that young British women seem to be far angrier about The Patriarchy than their mothers , even though law, language, women’s accomplishments, education, and domestic social conventions are infinitely more on their side , and their struggle is far less. None of our ‘60s victories counts: one wrong pass or incautious phrase and they cry outrage. Every global cruelty and disaster from war and capitalism to environmental disaster is men’s fault too – even when a woman sends the bombers, runs the shops or uses the microbead lotions. Odd

 

In this show the bastards are also in charge of the arts: ruining creative women’s holy myths by mentioning squalid things like the need to sell tickets for the Sacred Space that is Theatre. Ella Hickson’s meta-theatrical play opens with a bracing encounter between a male director (Sam West,) and a truculent, furious young woman (Lara Rossi, brilliant at it) . She has seen a play and informs him that it was unreal,“saying lines..fake hair and new shoes and famous people doing things badly”, that he’s just a “good night out sort of guy” (ugh!) and that old men with flaking skin “tell THEIR truth” and don’t change the world with holy fire. So he offers her a writing commission, but it turns out that when they met before he tried to kiss her, so that invalidates everything, hashtag MeToo !

 

 

The patriarchal idea of logical narrative is obviously out of the question, so it jerks on to a quite funny sketch of a panel – adding Romola Garai and Michael Gould to the first two – discussing a work in progress. There’s one great exchange where the elder man sneers that drama can’t be “just one person’s self-involved perspective on their own anguish” and the woman writer replies “Hamlet!”.

 

Hence to a half-finished playlet (Anna Fleischle’s set nicely built in moments onstage) in which Garai and West are a couple. He (after a quick shag) serves her supper and wishes she would accept a £ 40K film offer for her play. She says it would be like mutilating an unborn child, that she is “broken” in agonizing pain by his love of sofas and Waitrose, and that Picasso didn’t do anything he didn’t want to , so why should she? A real baby is briefly brought on, to prove she doesn’t want one, and next thing we know the set has vanished and she is having an IUD fitted. Which brings on a mythic monologue about being in a tribe with the goddess Semele and having lesbian sex under rippling lighting effects, which is better than the “semi devastated feeling that follows sex with men” because you negotiate your own sameness…
The producer comes on and mutters that though she is frighteningly gifted the play would be better without this “tribal shit” and with an actual ending. So despite her affront (“writers need to be safe”) we move to that ending. Which consists of a ritzier set, the two women eating a takeaway and having sex, once without a huge vivid purple dildo and once with it. Which upsets them, because just as in the end of Animal Farm. the power-game panting of the topmost one means that she has become one of the oppressive pigs. Dicks are evil, see?

 

I get it. I see why this means to break boundaries and change the world, know why the real male boss-class put it on, and why some uneasy middle-aged men – with and without flaky skin – will give it an approving nod. And the cast are all excellent. But I’m a woman, and a fiction writer, and frankly, if this is feminism and a plea for creativity I am a banana. It speaks only for the narrowest of demographics: a notional angry , unloving, sexually militant mythoholic 24-year-old riddled with humourless artistic vanity and self-pity. That Ella Hickson gives her male characters occasional sharp funny lines to puncture this monstrous kid’s balloon is to her credit. But as a play, it is pretty awful.

 

box office almeida.co.uk to 26 May
rating two   2 meece rating

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A PRINCESS UNDONE Park Theatre N4

MA’AM , THE MINION AND THE MACHO MAN

 

 

“I never boasted an education. I learned tricks” says Princess Margaret, bitterly, at a late point in Richard Stirling’s interesting but frustrating new play. For a moment you think – yes, that’s it! if a wilful, lively, pretty young woman learns nothing of science, history, and the deeper nobility of history and literature, but all she is given is that Princess status, things will go sour for her. And they did. Between the impertinent imaginations of The Crown on Netflix , and the brilliant “99 glimpses” collected from memoirs by Craig Brown in his book Ma’am Darling, there is a resurgence of interest in the Queen’s late sister. So Stirling’s play is well placed to attract interest.

 

 

And with more refinement, it could be genuinely worthwhile. It encounters the Princess in lateish middle age and the royal family’s Annus Horribilis: she’s divorced from Snowdon , resenting Diana (“Golden Girl”) and bitching about the “rentaKents” next door. Separated for the moment from her young lover Roddy, she is engaged in a curious incident, based on reality, when she burned a number of potentially damaging letters and papers from the Queen Mother’s Clarence House.

 

 

Stirling himself plays the QM’s ‘page” Backstairs Billy, with rather more camp than is strictly necessary, assisting her and keeping the drinks coming. A fictional young chancer turns up, to indicate the general hunger for royal gossip and leaks, and in the second and more interesting half the thuggish ex-con Bindon (in real life one of her Mustique pals) turns up, terminally ill, to challenge her.

 

 

That bit is interesting, touching at times. And Felicity Dean is brilliant as Margaret, catching – whenever the script allows – a confusion between being posh and frozenly Princessy and being slangy and matey: a problem widely observed by those who perceived her best. Patrick Toomey’s Bindon is strong too, and between them we get some real chemistry. Though I doubt he’d have rough-housed her as readily with staff in the next room, ex-lover or not.

 

But the terrible slow-burn of the first half merely exasperates: the witty one-liners are placed too obviously from real memoirs, and you get no real sense of the mixed hauteur and familiarity in her rather overlong dealings with Billy. I really want this to be a better play, and it may grow into one. But too much misfires. The best line is when Bindon threatens her saying “If you were a man – “ and she snaps “If I were a man, I’d be king”. That hits home.

 

 

Parktheatre.co.uk to 17 March
rating two  2 meece rating

PS    By the way, the excellent co-production of A Passage to India is still running in the bigger space at the Park…till the 24th.  This is my Northampton review of it:  https://tinyurl.com/yaog4m92

 

 

 

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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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AGAINST Almeida, N1

GUEST CRITIC LUKE JONES HUNGERS BUT DOESN’T GET A BYTE

 

I’ll give them this; it’s timely. After the violence in Charlottesville, we’ve all been asking what on earth is happening with American society. Christopher Shinn’s Against has a silicon valley billionaire asking the same question, and has the cash and the sense of entitlement to march round the country trying to find out.

 

 

 

The Almeida – almost certainly the best stage in Zones 1 or 2 – has given way to the shiny wooden floor and fashionably dusty brick wall of an Apple Store in 2009.  Ben Whishaw is Luke; a nondescript standard tech billionaire preoccupied with what we’d expect. Artificial Intelligence, , transport, medicine, whatever.  He talks in platitudes, but I think the playwright doesn’t recognise them as such. He has that strange evangelical streak we increasingly see in tech leaders, but this is more than a bubbling sense of social justice or philanthropy. Strangely for this godless valley, Luke has been talking to the Man Upstairs.  “Go to violence”, God tells him, so Luke starts a “project”, a website (the details of which are always glossed over).

 

 

 

He sets out on a tour of the USA to hear from people, chronicle their experiences of violence and generally stare at them like a puppy. The issue? There are too many issues. A play is never going to drill down to recognisable truth if it takes wild shots at the conscience of the tech industry, gun violence at schools, sex, sex work, addiction, prisons, workers’ rights, wealth, and family. Each is given a glib going over, and that’s the only meat on offer. The first (a school shooting) starts well. It even had the early tinglings of a thriller. But we are quickly moved on, and it’s not mentioned again.

 

 

 

The thread which supposedly weaves all this together, Luke ’s curious relationship with a colleague, is frustratingly flat. None of this is lifted by Ian Rickson’s direction. A final shootout flits between huddles and stories we’ve followed, and is quite snappy. But the rest is stodgy. As if they’ve had a jolly good time tossing all 15,000 ideas around in the rehearsal room, but come up with little. There are flashes of humanity: the play quite refreshingly wears it’s sexual impulses on its sleeve and some of the incidental characters (Elliot Barnes-Worrell as a manual worker fan of Luke’s, Kevin Harvey as the most outrageously camp lefty University tutor and Naomi Wirthner as the tormented mother of a student shooter), but these glimpses don’t exactly make 2hrs 50 fly by.

 

 

Whishaw himself suits the mellow manners of a humble billionaire; uncomfortable away from a computer, stumbling through life. But where’s the range? There’s as much character in his crisp polo and bright white trainers as in his face. His charisma supposedly draws the masses of smalltown America (a touch of Jesus) and makes them divulge their lives to him. But none of that allure reaches the stalls.

 
This is clearly one of the most fruitful subject areas of our time. There’s been some incredible writing on the social responsibility of the tech world (not least from Jamie Bartlett) and how it’s possibly waking up to it. The motives of people like Mark Zuckerberg, who actually has toured the country to listen to people, are ripe for artistic investigation.
This play talks a lot about the difference between knowing and feeling, and journalism, when these people are so cagey, can take us only so far. A play could burrow further. Annoyingly, after this one neither knows nor feels.

 

Box Office 020 7359 4404 Until 30th September
rating two   2 meece rating

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COMMITTEE Donmar, WC1

THE MIRACLE THAT FAILED

 

 

The subtitle is “The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids’ Company”. Josie Rourke, with Hadley Fraser and Tom Deering’s music, has made a sort of opera from the verbatim public record of that day in October 2015, when the most normally “un-sexy” of Select Committees, under Bernard Jenkin MP, interrogated Camila Batmanghelidjh, who founded and led the charity for two decades, and her Chairman Alan Yentob.

 

 

 

It had gone broke, salaries unpaid, and abruptly closed after accepting over the years £ 42m of public subsidy including a final, desperate £3m emergency bung. Indeed the rather cruel payoff is Batmanghelidh’s indignant “On what basis have you decided this is a failing charity?” and Jenkin’s “Because it’s gone bust!”. She, however, is allowed one last majestic aria about poor and abused children failed by the state.

 

 

 

Which, of course, they often are. And that derogation of social duty, erosion of social services and lack of trust in public organization is one reason that KidsCo lasted so long, a refuge and succour to its “self-referred” young clients. It impressed many ministers and donors, ticked the box for Cameron’s ‘big society’, and was allowed to suck up public money with little oversight by its puffed-up, self-satisfied networking-freak of a chairman. Who, in a rare descent into plain speaking, replied to the question of why they didn’t “restructure” with the words “We believed the government was going to give us more money”.

 

 

It is a fascinating and still unresolved story, not least because of the exuberant, eccentric figure of Camila herself; and the way a select committee works is actually not undramatic, especially when made surreal as the panel rise up, sing choruses (“We want to learn! This is not a show trial, we want to learn!” ) or read written statements from outside witnesses. The interrogators are all pitch-perfect, with that characteristic MP-mixture of earnest administrator and “showbiz-for-ugly-people”. Notably there is Alexander Hanson’s urbanely civil Jenkin, Liz Robertson’s sarky Cheryl Gillan, Rosemary Ashe as the maverick Kate Hoey and the Welsh terrier Paul Flynn (Anthony O’Donnell).

 

 

 

But of course the focus is on the odd couple who sit before them (and are seen up on screens, and occasionally rise to pace the floor, singing) . Sandra Marvin is unnervingly like Camila in multicoloured dress and turban, gait, high-pitched speech, and unnerving smile: when she sings the sincerity of both the woman’s good intentions and her dangerous self-belief are gloriously magnified. As Yentob, Omar Ebrahim is not quite the cornered-rat one remembers from the TV relay (possibly because he’s a splendid baritone, which gives a Verdiesque dignity even to his absurdities, like the notorious claim he signed off that without more money London would see “riots and looting”) . But he does often catch the pompous worry of a man addicted to citing powerful friends and colleagues who approve of him: the PM, Michael Gove, the “Chairman of WH Smith”, big banks, whoever….
 

 

So it’s all there: the Camila flakiness, the Chairman’s complacency, the dark unseen hinterland of tragic young lives, and the clash between idealism and safe administrative procedure. You reflect, watching and listening to Batmanghelidjh,, that giving – financially and emotionally – is a satisfying addiction, and can if imprudent bring you down. As for Yentob, the reflection is that thinking well of yourself and collecting plaudits from grand friends is probably another addictive behaviour. So what we had here was a kind of folie-a-deux. If the Chair had been some tough, clever, unimpressable terrier of a manager, we might still have the charity.

 

 

But is this good drama? Not really. The sense of going round in circles of irritable mutual misunderstanding – which that hearing of course did – means it feels unresolved, even sometimes dull. Despite the pair’s arias, you get little sense of the diverse realities of these unseen children. None of the outside written submissions , for instance, reflect the large number of clients (one of whom, a friend, was sitting next to me) who saw it close up. Especially those who were initially helped and grateful, owe KidsCo a lot and give it thanks, yet had firmly to disentangle themselves from the therapeutic emotionalism of the increasingly dominant foundress as they grew up. There’s a whole other play there. But this one may, in going off at half-cock, have stopped that happening for a few years at least.

 

 

box office 0844 871 7624 to February 2017
Principal Sponsor Barclays.
Rating two  2 meece rating

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COMMON National Theatre, SE1

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI FINDS HERSELF REACHING FOR HER PITCHFORK

“You are blight and darkness and sin…” Lost village girl Mary comes home to her beloved Laura after a lifetime of sin in “that devil-town London”, but finds – well – that’s the problem. This play by DC Moore, part lesbian Catherine Cookson fantasy, part undead horror slasher, via a Wicker Man of the woods and fields, isn’t actually about much at all. Moore’s central fascination seems to be Mary’s selfishness, but this quickly becomes so farcically exaggerated that we scarcely care about her: indeed, the production’s finest moment is Mary’s lynching by the rest of the village just before the interval, a splendid scene which conjured my full and wholehearted sympathy – just pass me a pitchfork – but sadly this most irritating of characters came back to life for an entirely pointless second act. Moore fails to convey anything interesting about love, incest, being undead, or the social ill of enclosure, which is never properly explained, or functionally connected to the lives of the villagers in a moving way, nor indeed genuinely integrated into the plot. He also appears to claim a world without spirituality, while focusing his plot on real-life resurrection. In short, this is a muddled, missed opportunity of a play, which (by way of zero change) brings a sophisticated character from the metropolis to stir up the lives of ye backward locals, all of whom come from different corners of England, some from more than one, judging by their mobile, inconsistent faux-rural accents. It’s playwriting as if Jerusalem – that mad, brilliant, beautiful paean of Englishness, class and the rural world – just never happened.

Director Jeremy Herrin does a stellar job with DC Moore’s clunky ideas, with wonderful group choreography (did I mention that brilliant lynching?) and decent tension in individual scenes, which momentarily draw us into a few interesting scenarios; the fact we never actually care for those characters is Moore’s fault, not Herrin’s.  Nor is it the fault of the actors, who mostly do their best with Moore’s gawky script; fine performances in particular from Trevor Fox as Geordie enforcer Heron, Lois Chimimba doubling a rather dim-witted Eggy Tom with an altogether more interesting Young Hannah, and Brian Doherty as affecting Irish foreman Graham. However, apart from forcing his actors to speak like Yoda every few lines in the name, presumably, of poeticism (“Burn gone this unfine village” – indeed), Moore deploys swearwords like AK47 bullets across his script, wielding them with about as much subtlety and fascinating power as foam arrows. Anne-Marie Duff gets the worst, and filthiest, lines, presumably because Moore is most anxious (rightly) about his failed central character, and consequently takes his shock tactics to the max. But it just alienates Duff’s smug, canny and cold performance all the further from our suspension of disbelief.

Richard Hudson’s set and costumes are stunning, especially the masks for the mischievous villagers, all conjuring creatures from nature made of tendrils, leaves, animal skulls and towering grasses. Paule Constable’s lighting design creates silhouettes and giant shadows to gorgeous effect. And, once we get beyond lynching to disembowelling and cutting people’s hearts out, it all looks deliciously, stickily real. Sadly, however, we just don’t care.

~ CHARLOTTE VALORI

At the National Theatre, SE1 until 5 August

Box office: 020 7452 3000

Rating: Two

2 meece rating

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MY COUNTRY Dorfman, SE1 then touring

BREXIT MEANS… A BIT OF A DOG’S BREAKFAST

 
Rufus Norris of the National Theatre is to be applauded for taking on the post-referendum mood, and making an honest stab at understanding why it happened. Last June the theatre community and its followers tended more to utter cries of horror and pour torrents of frank calumny on the 52% : dupes or xenophobes, Ukippers and racists, OMG how could they? It was (and we need a properly funny Richard Bean or James Graham play about this) a bizarre moment in social history, when the left and the Fabian-minded liberals furiously scolded the northern unemployed and the neglected rural poor for disobeying an Etonian, Tory, prime minister and big business…

 
This is a verbatim piece, billed as a work-in-progress and oddly selective in its regions (East Anglia forgotten, as ever). Britannia, splendidly played as a worried matriarch by Penny Layden morphing into various politicians (she does a cracking Boris), has assembled representatives of each region – Scotland, Cymru, Northeast, Northwest, Midlands, Southwest – who speak the words gathered by researchers, irrespective of gender. They then fall – an hour into the 90 minutes – into some nicely furious argument and movement.

 
The beginning, though, is pretty static: they state their lives, a bit of childhoods sometimes, and utter their preoccupations before moving on to the Brexit issue. There are a few nice comments which are familiar enough – one seeing the EU as like an older sibling who’s on the dole but buys you presents with money you’ve contributed to anyway, others fretting about immigration, though with the usual failure to distinguish between global influx and actual EU citizens. Unfortunately some speakers, through this selection, end up with particular characteristics: a chippy Scot, resentful Midlander, a comically smug Southerner (who’d have guessed..).

 

 

There is a lot of “if I moved to their country I’d keep their rules” and a few stupidities. And here I became uneasy. It is not free from the same flaw that made the artistically brilliant London Road hard to watch for me (and a good few others). Verbatim interviews re-created by actors, however skilfully, create a distance. Since they are usually interviews with unpractised and unguarded speakers, it is fatally easy to seem to send them up. Three or four times in this show, a line raised a laugh from the knowing NT london-liberal audience. Yet when a medley of real recordings was played at the end the voices were less likely to be ludicrous. More hesitant, real, humble.

 
So there’s a discomfort in the sense that ill-phrased but sincere views are being, however subtly, mocked. One critic complained that the play’s fault was that the metropolitan liberal elite wasn’t represented. Trouble is, it was: it was out there in the stalls, sniggering.

 

 
But it was worth a try, and Carol Ann Duffy’s poetic moments, spoken by Layden (who really is very good) are powerful. “I am Britannia. I am your memory, your cathedrals, schools, pubs, hospitals…your rain. I sing your thousand musics” etc. And when it becomes purely theatrical, in a big final row, the vote moment, and the astonished huddle of people who realize that bloody hell, they’ve actually done it, broken the union… then, it is striking.

It goes off on tour round the country soon. Interesting to see what the real regions make of it. I see it gets as far east as Cambridge, but once again the mystery and identity of East Anglia remain unexplored by mainstream theatre.
Box office 020 7452 3000
rating two  Touring Mouse wideTouring Mouse wide

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