Posts Tagged ‘Royal Court’

And so another year draws to a close, and it’s time to look back on another theatrical year. Here are the TheatrePunk awards!

So, in no particular order, here are the top ten. These represent the most fun I have had in a theatre this year. They may not be the best things to be staged in Britain this year, but they are the shows that gave me the most pleasure. The shows that I recommended to friends, sometimes saw twice, or the ones that really gave me something to think about. In summary, they are my favourites of the year…

Matilda (RSC)

Just an absolute joy from beginning to end. Intelligent, moving, funny and with a soundtrack that sticks with you and for two hours turns you into a child again. It was one of the best musicals I’ve seen in years, and I’m absolutely delighted that, having already had its sell-out run extended, it appears to be settling down for a long West End residency.

Frankenstein (National Theatre)

Probably the theatrical event of the year, and I’m sure it’s a show that will be appearing in many ‘best of the year’ pieces. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller were incredible in Danny Boyle’s return to the UK theatre scene. I saw this with Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein’s monster and Benedict Cumberbatch as the doctor. They both shone, and perhaps because of that, the piece marked another triumph for the NT Live screenings, which allowed people to watch the cast in their alternate roles.

Journey’s End (Touring Consortium)

As a fan of anything related to the First World War, I was really looking forward to seeing this show. I certainly didn’t expect it to be as brilliant as it was. It was just spectacular. A masterclass in acting superbly staged and sensitively tackled. It was one of those shows that played on my mind for a long time afterwards, and remains one of the best adaptations I have ever seen.

Operation Greenfield (Little Bulb Theatre)

One of the few shows I saw twice this year. I was simply too good to only see once. Little Bulb have been quietly bubbling away for a while now, creating fun fringe pieces which challenge audiences and demonstrate the supreme talents of the small company. All actor-musicians.  The music in this piece is the thing you will take away with you more than anything. ‘Summer Flowers’ was a classic, ‘I am the True Vine’ was another, but ‘Zachariah in the Temple’, Operation Greenfield’s final triumph is the song that left you wanting to leap for joy.

Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer (Weeping Spoon)

If this were a list from ten to one, then there is a very good chance that Alvin Sputnik would top that list. It is, to put it simply, my play of the year. I can’ do justice to it’s brilliance in a paragraph, so I’ll sum up. It is a one man show about a man who dives to the bottom of the sea in pursuit of the soul of Elena, his wife. The story was perfectly executed using a circular screen in centre stage, a wonderful moustache, and one of the best puppets I’ve ever seen. Alvin Sputnik was a white glove and a white foam ball. It was theatre at its very finest and something every theatre fan should see.

Translunar Paradise (Theatre Ad Infinitum)

Sometimes I am so grateful for twitter, as without the buzz I saw on there I would never have spotted this little gem. Theatre Ad Infinitum have created a beautiful little show which certainly gets my ‘Best Show at the Fringe’ award this year. A simple story about an elderly man mourning his wife, it used masks and an accordion so effectively that every single person in the audience was crying by the end. I believe the show is now on tour so is definitely worth a trip – though bring tissues. Many tissues.

One Man Two Guvnors (National Theatre)

It’s about to transfer to Broadway following an extended run at the National and a transfer to the West End, which demonstrates just how popular this show has been. James Corden shines in this traditional farce, and demonstrates that he’s not just ‘Smithy’. Richard Bean’s script is tight, with jokes packed into every single moment. The dialogue is funny, but the physical comedy and slapstick is even funnier. Using traditional Commedia set ups gives the whole thing a structure and clarity that is rarely seen in comedy. Certainly worth the hype it has received.

Othello (Crucible Theatre)

This is my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, which means I’m hyper-critical and very difficult to please when it comes to new productions of it. As the first paragraph of my review demonstrates, I hold a grudge. So I was delighted to find that the Crucible’s adaptation of Othello was brilliant. It was performed in a traditional style, allowing Shakespeare’s language to do the majority of the work. Dominic West was the best Iago I have seen, revelling in the maliciousness of the character without ever becoming repellent, a difficult task indeed!

Dunsinane (RSC)

I think this was too quickly dismissed by many. In my view, this represents one of the best scripts I’ve read this year. The writing was really sharp, with relevant points and a pace that made the whole thing trip along quite nicely, despite the strong subject matter. Jonny Phillips was also brilliant in the role of Siward – every time I see him he’s great, which makes me think that anything he’s in next year is probably worth a look.

Wastwater (Royal Court)

As a fan of new writing (though looking over this list, you wouldn’t know it) I am a massive fan of Simon Stephens. This trilogy of tales were all really strong, in my opinion, and provided a lot of food for thought  about relevant issues and social situations. I loved the scenes in the hotel room, and the way in which what was being left unsaid was much more important than what was being presented. It was a really strong piece, and the script has given me many joyous hours of reading and rereading.

If this were a top fifteen, the next five would be…

The Wild Bride (Kneehigh Theatre)

The Heart of Robin Hood (RSC)

Richard III (Old Vic)

Our Private Life (Royal Court)

Frisky and Mannish: Pop Centre Plus (Frisky and Mannish)

The Theatre Punk Special Awards 2011

Best Tearjerker

Honourable mentions must go to Alvin Sputnik, and Love Letters Straight from the Heart, but the winner for this has to be Translunar Paradise by Theatre Ad Infinitum. A play so sad that I ran out of tissues, because I was sharing them with the two people sitting next to me. The term ‘not a dry eye in the house’ is used too often these days. Translunar Paradise demonstrates that sometimes that’s really true. Every single person in that audience was crying.

Annoyed that I paid the ticket price award

13 at the National. Annoying because I had an inkling it wasn’t going to be brilliant, but I like Mike Bartlett and keep ignoring the times he disappoints me. I’d like to think it won’t happen again, but…

Numb Bum Award

Richard III at the Old Vic. Kevin Spacey was spectacular, the show was brilliant. But did it really need to be three and a half hours long?!

Daily Mail baiting award

Marat/Sade at the RSC. Over the din of the anal rape you could still hear Quentin Letts grinding his teeth in fury.

Up and Comers award

Curious Directive. Your Last Breath at the fringe showed real promise , and a style that was reminiscent of Complicite. Definitely a company to watch next year.

 Worst of the Year

This is the one everyone really wants to know, right? Well my award goes to Woyzeck on the Highveld by Handspring Puppet Company. Just dreadful from beginning to end. Badly written, poorly structured, and perhaps the most surprising of all, the puppetry was fairly slapdash. Simply had no redeemable features.

Happy Christmas fellow Theatre Punks, and we’ll see you in the new year!

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14/04/11

Wastwater in the Lake District is only mentioned once in this play, yet it’s hidden depths represent the emotional undercurrents that litter Simon Stephens’s new play.

Wastwater takes the form of three elliptical episodes, all showing  characters at a pivotal turning point in their life. A foster mother and her charge discuss his imminent departure in a dilapidated farmhouse, direct in the path Heathrow’s planned third runway. A man and woman meet in a hotel room, both considering a dark form of adultery, and in a deserted warehouse, a man meets with a child-trafficker to purchase a child.

The combination of Katie Mitchell and Simon Stephens proved an irresistible draw for me. I thought Mitchell’s precision and simplicity would be a perfect accompaniment to Stephens broken, often episodic style, and I was correct. Mitchell strips back the often chaotic dialogue so characters remain almost completely stationary – the simplicity and confidence of this direction allows Stephen’s dialogue to soar, and makes the play that much more compelling as a result. The title suggests that beneath the surface of these tales there is untold depths, and Stephens does not disappoint. Each tale breaks off at a moment of physical connection – we are never granted more than terse conversation about the act to follow.

The design by Lizzie Clachan’s is just fantastic, and I am still left reeling by the speed of those set changes (It still bothers me now…how in the hell did they do that?!) Each design is markedly different from the one before it, a balmly farmhouse transforms in seconds to a plush hotel room, and the abandoned warehouse is both cavernous and intimidating.

Overall, the acting is extremely good. There is an uncertain quality to each one of the exchanges, and as each exchange progresses you can’t help but feel that something isn’t quite right. Linda Bassett stands out as the foster mother who has grown a little too close to her ward, and Jo McInnes shines as one half of the couple in the hotel room. Both verbally circle and strike one another in a sort of erotic dance cum fight. It is Stephen’s writing at it’s very best, and Mcinnes certainly does it justice.

There are links between all three stories should you wish to create an overriding narrative, the Habanera from Carmen recurs, and the characters are all linked in some way or another. A teacher slapping a student, a deadly car crash, and a foster home all link the tales, but not in any significant way. There isn’t any linear story to find in these broken narratives, instead we are presented with a snapshot of life. It is heartless at times, and certainly cruel, but there is no greater exploration of the themes presented. As a result of this, some may find Wastwater unfulfilling.

Wastwater is more shocking than I expected, but never mind that, it’s a fantastic evening in the theatre – it’s hard work, and may not appeal to those who just which to sit back and let a story wash over them, but the extra effort paid to this show does pay off. Stephens writing is almost impotent in it’s presentation of key themes. We are aware of the sinister and harsh nature of this almost dystopic world, but leave feeling powerless to stop it.  Instead we must simply mull over the existential choices each character makes, and ponder how we would act when placed in the same circumstance. Would I leave? Would I do it? What would I do? I like to think I’d make the right choice…but Wastwater suggests that perhaps I wouldn’t.

12/03/11

Our Private Life by Colombian playwright Pedro Miguel Rozo, is the first play in the Royal Court’s International Playwrights Season. Developed in part at their International Residency, Our Private Life or Nuestras Vidas Privadas has been produced in Colombia but appears here in a translation by Simon Scardifield. Set in a traditional Colombian village with dreams of being a town (they’ve got a shopping centre now and everything.), the story follows a single family who try desperately to appear respectable to those around them, while all the time rumours and secrets are damaging their reputations and home life. As the rumour mill begins it’s work, long buried secrets in the family come to the fore, and accusations fly from all angles as the family try to figure out who is telling the truth.

The claustrophobia of home and village life is palpable here, and is pressed on the audience by having characters turn to the audience and reveal their thoughts aloud. This sometimes took the form of comical asides, other times as extended rants. —This was an amusing device at first, the interruptions skillfully incorporated into the action without losing any of the pace or tension, though as the story progressed the device became quite limiting in more dramatic moments.

Our Private Life is an interesting examination of private persona vs. public reputation, though there are flaws. The portrayal of child abuse here is too simplistic, and the idea that there was something to blame for Carlos being gay made me feel a little uncomfortable. (I understand that this was a source of humour for the most part, but it still felt like an odd angle.) The writing was interesting overall, and had some good ideas, though some of the ideas put forward could have been explored in more detail – particularly with regards to the aspect of class, which seemed like more of an issue at the end than it did at the beginning. Despite these little niggles, though, I found the writing snappy and smart, and would definitely like to see more work from Rozo.

 The set is a traditional Colombian kitchen, though seems a little superfluous. I couldn’t help but think that a simpler set would have been welcome in the confined studio space and would not have hindered the performances in any way.

The characters were all somewhat distorted, to both comic and tragic effect. Relationships changed rapidly, and characters twisted themselves in secrets and lies as the fast paced story raced towards its conclusion. There were fine performances from all involved, most notably Anthony O Donnell’s forlorn and uncommunicative father, around whom the drama unfolds, and Colin Morgan as the gay, bi-polar, compulsive fantasist, Carlos. Morgan, in particular, had some stand out moments, and certainly hasn’t lost any of his edge since his 2008 appearances at the Young Vic.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the play is when Carlos returns to a family dinner upset about some long buried memories. As his family argue loudly around him, he starts crying in the most dramatic and hysterical way possible. He then proceeds to attempt suicide using the nearest piece of cutlery, which happens to be a butter knife. It is simultaneously hilarious and shocking, which perhaps sums up the whole play.

Our Private Life is a darkly funny little piece, and I’m sure if I have seen this show three or four years ago I would have hailed it as revolutionary, edgy, and unsettling. However, I can’t help but be reminded of a quote from the inimitable Tony Kushner. “It’s something you learn after your second theme party: it’s all been done before.”