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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Went to see Much Ado About Nothing at the National Theatre recently. This production, directed by Simon Godwin, was set in the Hotel Messina on the Italian Riviera with wonderful sets and costumes that were lavish art deco with sequins and feathers and a swing band on a balcony. Katherine Parkinson and John Heffernan play Beatrice and Benedick who love to hate each other and are tricked by their friends into falling for each other. My memory of seeing this in the past is that the couple are the beating heart of the play but this time I felt there were many strong scenes which balanced out the play. The plot line around Hero and Claudio, Ioanna Kimbook and Eben Figueiredo, when he turns on her was quite shocking given their relationship up until then and the light-hearted comedy enhanced by Figueiredo’s delivery in a strong London accent which seemed out of place at first.

The slapstick and comedy is such fun in this production. The scenes where Beatrice and Benedick overhear their friends talking about them where well executed with them shuffling around in changing room pods and hiding in the ice cream carts. Dogberry and the Watch were very funny in scenes that have left me cold in the past. Maybe it was the mood I was in that night but all I wanted was an evening of high-class entertainment, laughter and wonderful staging and I got all of that. On until 10th September.


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Finally got to use my leaving present theatre vouchers from last summer to see My Fair Lady. This was a musical I’d loved as a child, particularly the songs Street Where You Live and Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and the Ascot scene, the Ascot Gavotte. These were all fantastic, living up to expectations and very close to the film with the Ascot costumes and the horses thundering by and great comedy. This award-winning production has moved to London Coliseum from the Lincoln Center Theater in NY with a few changes to the film, adapting a little to #MeToo era.

Amara Okereke plays Eliza Doolittle, the first time a black actor has done so. Harry Hadden-Paton plays Henry Higgins, much younger and younger looking than Rex Harrison so the latter part of the play is not quite as creepy. And Eliza does not stay with him in the end scene. However, the language used about Eliza and songs such as Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man do not get any laughs which I suspect they did in 1964 in a film set in 1912. Great set, wonderful singing and acting, Vanessa Redgrave and Stephen K Amos also very good. Just left with a feeling that it’s a difficult musical to update for a new generation. On until end of August.

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Anne-Marie Duff in House of Shades

The House of Shades at the Almeida was a great night out. Beth Steel’s play is set around Nottingham, spanning the life of a family from 1965 – 2019, taking place pretty much within one kitchen. It covers the political trajectory of unions, strike action, rise of Thatcherism, Brexit and the Red Wall. At the centre is the hand women are dealt, for example abortion, with Anne-Marie Duff outstanding as Constance. She berates her husband, puts on cocktail dresses and sings, quotes Bette Davis and leaves us in no doubt that she feels she was destined for a better life. Also great is Kelly Gough as the daughter, Agnes. But it is hard for the other actors to shine against Duff. The plays had mixed reviews but Duff’s performance makes it all worthwhile. On until 18th June.

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Back to the Bridge Theatre to see White Noise by Suzan-Lori Parks which has now sadly finished its run. The play is a 4 hander with old college friends formed of two mixed race couples. Leo (Ken Nwosu) is knocked to the floor and injured by the police. His response is to ask his white best buddy Ralph (James Corrigan) to sign him up as a slave for 40 days. Ralph starts to enjoy the power, at one point borrowing an old slave collar from a museum to put onto Leo in a disturbing scene.

Meanwhile their partners go on their own 40 day journey; Dawn (Helena Wilson) a lawyer with a white saviour complex and woke credentials and Misha (Faith Omole) who worries about exaggerating her persona on Ask a Black call-in show. All 4 characters ask thought provoking questions about the liberal society and its authenticity.

The acting was fantastic, the play gripping and it swept me up. But is it believable? Leo volunteering to be a slave is not credible and the characters reactions to it all seem inadequate. But despite plot issues, I found it thought provoking, funny and yet tense and would have recommended it, if it hadn’t ended its run!

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Back to live, in person theatre for the first time since seeing Death of England: Delroy at the NT in October 2020.  I have watched a couple of live streamed performances which were very good, but it was exciting to be at Bach & Sons at the Bridge Theatre.  And for it to star Simon Russell Beale, be directed by Nicholas Hytner and written by Nina Raine.

The play is about Bach the composer and his family life, particularly Bach’s relationship with his sons, Samuel Blenkin as Carl, and Douggie McMeekin as Wilhelm.  Bach appears to favour one over the other and pushes them to be as great as he is leading to anger and estrangement with one and drink with the other.  Bach comes across as irascible, arguing with employers, indifferent to his first wife and always being forthright, offending his family by is inability to temper the truth.  However, we also learn that there was great tragedy in his life with 10 of his 20 children dying as infants and his grief is clearly weighing on him towards the end of the play, though he chooses not to display it for the most part.

SRB is great in this role, grumpy, sad, and resentful but there is much humour in the play which is written in modern text including swearing.  The music is also wonderful when we get to hear it; it would have been good to hear more. There were a few scenes that stood out for me.  Firstly, the family singing Frère Jacques when they appear to be a harmonious family; secondly, the sad dance between Bach and his dead wife (Pandora Colin); and finally, the scene with Frederick the Great (Pravessh Rana) which apparently did happen and has a sense of menace about it. 

The set is simple and dark, and the Xmas scene is lovely.  And as mentioned, I just needed more music.  On until 12th September.

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This post is a change of direction moving to culture and sport, writers and performers.  I am going to start with theatre and stage appearances.  The 18th century actress, Sarah Siddons, lived at Westbourne Green and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard nearby.  Sarah’s most famous role was Lady Macbeth, but she also played Hamlet several times. In her time, she was a celebrity and a cultural icon.  She avoided scandals and was the most feted actress of her day. Sarah’s statue is portrayed as a tragic muse by Leon-Joseph Chavailliaud and was unveiled by Sir Henry Irving, the actor and theatre manager, in 1897. 

Anna Pavlova was a Russian prima ballerina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who went on to be the first to tour around the world and was renowned for her Dying Swan. After leaving Russia in 1912 she moved to the Ivy House, Golders Green where she lived for the rest of her life.  There are statues within the grounds which cannot be seen and a small one by her urn in Golders Green Crematorium.  But the most noted statue is on top the Victorian Palace Theatre which was installed in 1911 to mark her London debut; it is in an arabesque position.  Story goes that Pavlova did not like the statue and refused to look at it.  It was removed for WWII but then lost, replaced by the current replica by Harry Franchetti reinstated in 2006.

Joan Littlewood was an actor and theatre director, founding the Theatre Workshop with her husband Ewan MacColl. They were known for political theatre, use of working-class language and improvisation.  In 1953 the Workshop took up residence at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, East London, where it developed an international reputation.  Littlewood’s hits were A Taste of Honey and Oh, What a Lovely War, becoming the first woman nominated for a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical.  Littlewood’s statue, by the artist Philip Jackson, unveiled in 2015 is called The Mother of Modern Theatre and is based on a photograph of her sitting in the statue’s location when the Theatre Royal was threatened with demolition.

The next 2 women were writers and one a singer/songwriter, although Christie still has the theatre connection.  The Agatha Christie Memorial at St Martin’s Cross by Leicester Square tube station was created by Ben Twiston-Davies.  It is shaped like a book and contains a bust of Christie and images of some of her greatest creations such as Poirot and Miss Marple with a train, country house, pyramids, a typewriter and Christie’s signature.  There is also a bookshelf with her bestsellers on it. Her grandson came up with the concept and worked with the producer of The Mousetrap to coincide with 60 years and 25,000 London performances of the play and to celebrate Christie selling around 3 billion copies of her novels worldwide.

Virginia Woolf, the novelist and prominent member of the Bloomsbury Set, lived in an apartment in Tavistock Square from 1924 to 1939 where most of her greatest novels were written and published like Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. It was also where Virginia and Leonard Woolf housed the Hogarth printing press within the basement. This memorial was erected by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, 26 June 2004. The statue is closest to where she lived as the Tavistock Hotel now stands on the site of her former home.  

I don’t think I need to explain who Amy Winehouse is; her statue at Stables Market, Camden Town, was sculpted by Scott Eaton and unveiled in 2014.   Camden council had made an exception in allowing the statue as subjects for sculpture are normally expected to have died at least twenty years ago under their rules.  Amy lived around the corner and died in her house in Camden Square in 2011. The statue is supposed to be life size and it is tiny!

Now to sport which is also about performance on a world stage.  In Downhills Park, London N15, there is a bench with 3 sculptures.  In the centre is Leeds born Nicola Adams, MBE, the first woman to win Olympic boxing gold at the 2012 London Olympics, an achievement repeated at the 2016 Olympics.  Nicola trained at Haringey Boxing Club prior to the 2012 Olympics.  She was also Strictly Come Dancing’s first contestant to be in a same sex couple dance partnership.  She is flanked by Walter Tull (1888-1918) amongst the first Afro-Caribbean football players to be in the league with Tottenham Hotspur and the first black British army officer and by Luke Howard (1772-1864) a chemist and the meteorologist who created a naming system for cloud formations.

The next, and penultimate post, is focused on 2 unnamed women.

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Cannot tell you how wonderful it was to watch Hymn at the Almeida, live streamed on a Thursday evening. Laughed, cried, sang along, and stayed for the Q&A at the end. Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani were perfect in the roles, written with them in mind by Lolita Chakrabarti. We were supposed to see it live, lockdown prevented it, but the work done to make it work with 2 actors alone on stage, socially distanced, was so well executed and choreographed, that you could believe it was written to be a Covid production.

This is the blurb and I don’t want to give anything away as you have time to watch it this afternoon or tomorrow.

“Two men meet at a funeral. Gil knew the deceased. Benny did not. Before long, their families are close. Soon they’ll be singing the same tune. Benny is a loner anchored by his wife and children. Gil longs to fulfil his potential. They form a deep bond but as cracks appear in their fragile lives, they start to realise that true courage comes in different forms.

If there are tickets left, buy them now. It isn’t as good as being there, but it is so worth attending online.

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Very strange to look back at 2020 blog posts over the whole year when picking the top 3’s of the year.  It is also striking that the theatre faded away for us pretty much to zero whilst the art and days out sustained us. I write this blog primarily for me as a record of what we’ve done but I am so glad now that I have it as it is quite extraordinary to look back at the last year and how the non family/friendship side of our lives changed.

Top theatre is quite easy to pick out as we saw very few plays prior to lockdown and only 3 during, one of those, a Christmas Carol, televised.  Prior to lockdown the Duchess of Malfi and Three Sisters were the standout plays.   Who knew that when I wrote this about Duchess of Malfi just how true it would turn out to be: “First play of 2020 and already a strong contender to be the best I see this year.”  The Three Sisters moved from Russia to Nigeria and had an outstanding cast with unexpected humour in the first act for a play adapted from Chekhov. 

My third choice is Blindness at the Donmar which stood out for being the first socially distanced play we got to see in August, although it was an audio play about a pandemic with no live performances.  My last line of that review not knowing that it would one of only two plays I would see live post March 2020, “Is this the future of theatre? God, I hope not; I hope this is a “remember when …” memory of that surreal theatre trip during the pandemic.”  Who knew it would last so long and that so many performances I’d booked would be cancelled?  I did try watching recorded plays at home, but it just doesn’t do it for me.  Hoping for an improved situation for the theatres, their staff and all the performers in 2021 as they are very much missed and we need them to survive.

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If you want to feel festive then watch A Christmas Carol live from the Old Vic until 24th December. It is a fantastic production with Andrew Lincoln in the lead role as Scrooge. It is so well put together and absorbing and of course is guaranteed to make you a bit teary at the end with Tiny Tim and the cast playing Silent Night on the bells. The play is now being watched across the globe and has just been named critic’s choice by the New York Times. You get to purchase just 1 ticket for the family to watch this live stream and for that you get some Xmas cheer and the chance to support the Old Vic which does not receive government subsidies.

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Twelfth Night is being broadcast by Sky Arts, as part of the NT Live Broadcasts, on Monday 21st December at 9pm. It was a really fun play and Tamsin Greig in the gender changed lead to Malvolia was a master stroke.  See my blog post back in April 2017 if you need convincing.

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