Posts Tagged ‘Simon Stephens’

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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05/05/11

I went to the Young Vic with no pre-conceptions about what I was about to see. I knew nothing about Fosse, and only knew the work of Patrice Chereau through one of his films. I was drawn to the show months ago by the story, and to see another of Simon Stephens work, even if it was an adaptation. Because of this, I had no idea what was in store for me. I have deliberately waited a week to allow myself time to absorb the script and the story, and while I left the theatre unsure of if I enjoyed the show of not, I now know I was witnessing something incredibly special.

I Am the Wind’s story is simply that of two men in a boat. The One is a sailor, and appears to spend a long time alone at sea. The Other seems to know very little about the sea, but takes on an almost protective role throughout their time together. The One sways between calm and depression in rather the same way the boat rocks them, before a journey takes them too far out to sea, and The One goes overboard (stumbles or jumps?).

Behind this simple story are layers and layers of emotion and meaning, and even after reading the script twice now, I still know there is more to discover. The reading I get so far is that this is an absurdist study of two people, both dependent on the other for different reasons, struggling to find their place in the world and contemplating the point, or rather pointlessness of their own existence. Depression also seems to be an incredibly important aspect to this production. The One is certainly consumed by his depression. He can’t be alone, but he can’t be with people. He both loves and hates the boat, and fears the moment when he will just step over the edge and into the sea.

I thought at one point that these characters were one of the same personality, one sinking into apathy and depression, the other trying to remain buoyant despite his situation, however in retrospect I don’t believe this is the case.

The fact there are so many ways to interpret this production has to be a good thing. Chereau’s production is stationary and beautiful, and Richard Peduzzi’s set is nothing short of mind-blowing. A pool lies dormant and still in the centre, rippling only when one of the men step briefly around it’s edges. It’s simplicity was striking, and I thought I could not be more impressed, until a raft rose from the water, tipping, tilting and rising as though on a gentle sea.

The raft certainly provided a physical challenge for the actors, and both took on that challenge with aplomb. Tom Brooke as The One is compelling, his whole being seeming to represent the sea he sits on. Quiet on the surface, with so much turmoil beneath. Jack Laskey, in a way, has a more difficult job – providing a crutch for the contradictory nature of his companion. However, his silent reassurance is a constant, and makes the relationship between the two characters that much more intriguing.

It would be very easy to put Fosse’s script somewhere between Ibsen, Beckett and Pinter, but there is a lot more to it than that. From the moment The One walks, or rather staggers onto the stage, we are treated to a prolonged and silent scene, wherein one man holds the other, first carrying him gently, then dressing him, physically supporting him throughout. It is hypnotic to watch, and sets the tone for the duration of the production.

This production should be essential viewing for any theatre fan. It is thought-provoking and haunting, and asks questions of its audience that will have you thinking long after you’ve left the theatre. The desire to simply live is not one any of us should take for granted, and Fosse’s script reminds us of this. Just wonderful.

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.