Tag Archives: Theatre

Coriolanus @ Donmar Warehouse

I have to start this review by saying that Coriolanus is not one of Shakespeare’s better plays. It is a political tragedy based in Rome, and the main character has a bit of an Oedipus complex – none of which screams entertainment at you when comparing it to say, Macbeth or Much Ado about Nothing. Nevertheless I was really very excited to see this performance, mainly (and unsurprisingly) because of the casting: Tom Hiddleston plays Coriolanus and Mark Gatiss is Menenius.

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I was actually a little nervous when Hiddleston started his first monologue – he was gesturing exactly to match what he was saying, which looks very amateur and a little wooden. However I think he relaxed a bit more as his character developed more, and overall I think he was a very convincing angry and slightly mad military leader and traitor. The director was also clearly aware of Hiddleston’s fan base, as we were blessed with the most gratuitous topless shower scene I have every witnessed, but I am definitely not complaining. I’m sure that’s what Shakespeare envisaged anyway.

Mark Gatiss was wonderful from start to finish, expressing fear, regret, pride and power with subtlety and conviction. Similarly, Deborah Findlay who played Coriolanus’ over-affectionate mother Volumnia, created a very believable character who I think probably made most of the audience a little uncomfortable with her very involved relationship with her son. Unfortunately Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (from Borgen) who played Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia was not the best. Admittedly her character is not the most interesting, however I think she made the fatal combination of over the top hysteria while underplaying every other emotion to have a generally dissatisfied look for most of the play. The rest of the cast were generally very good, with the people’s tribune’s being particularly terrifying in their fight to have Coriolanus exiled, and the physicality of the soldiers being very impressive.

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The set before the performance 

The set and production were particularly good. The stage was empty but for a single ladder rising up to the ceiling, and a line of chairs which the cast moved forwards and back as needed. As in Macbeth the play seemed to be set in an ambiguous modern time, with the soldiers wearing leather breastplates with tight trousers (again, thank you to the costume designer for that one) with hiking boots, while the women wore a mixture of non-descript shift dresses and a tight lace number for Virgilia. What I found most interesting was their use of multimedia. Specific lines and words from the script were projected on the exposed brick back wall of the set, which also had Roman graffiti painted on it at the start of the play. On the floor various lines were also painted to indicate the walls of a rooms. One quite divisive production choice was the music, which was only used between scenes. It was very jarring electronic music, which I enjoyed because I thought it reflected the troubled times and events portrayed in the action, but my sister found it to be at odds with the seemingly timeless setting.

Overall, while I don’t think I would necessarily choose to see other interpretations of Coriolanus, I did enjoy this one because of its impressive cast and interesting production choices.

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West Side Story @ Sadler’s Wells

I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend to see the Sadler’s Wells production of West Side Story. I am a huge fan of the film version, but have never seen a stage performance, so was really excited to see one of my favourite musicals live on stage.

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I have to say, unfortunately, I was not blown away. Many of the singers were very good, especially Tony and Anita, and the choreography, following the original by Jerome Robbins, was superb. However much of the actual dancing was pretty lacklustre, and the actor playing Riff wasn’t obviously the strongest singer or dancers in the Jets group. Indeed one of the most enjoyable songs was “Gee, Officer Krupke”, in which Riff doesn’t feature. However, the performances were generally strong, and really picked up in the second act. The ending in particular brought me to tears – Maria was exceptionally powerful in the final scenes.

I think my main problem with the stage version of West Side Story is that I just prefer it in film. While the choreography is fantastic, much of the ‘fighting’ requires way too much set up for my liking, and this makes a lot of the main scenes lose pace. It is very obvious where the film has changed scenes around or cut them out altogether, and I think in some places this was for the better. There was a rather strange dream sequence where Tony and Maria envisage a world where everyone gets along. While this is a good message it didn’t seem to fit into the flow of the musical in general. However it did showcase the style of dance that seemed to come most naturally to the cast, which was nice to see.

This review may seem quite negative, but I have to say I did enjoy West Side Story, and I am very glad I have experienced the original stage version. I suspect the problem was just that it did not quite live up to my expectations, and I think that is quite a typical problem with ‘summer stock’ performances.

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Edinburgh #3

The last two weeks in Edinburgh were very busy, and I’m pleased to say I kept to my promise of seeing a lot more shows! I also unfortunately succumbed to the inevitable, and got Fringe flu, but now I am back home and recovering. I have seen a really great mix of shows, so lets get on with the list:

McNeil & Pamphilon Go 8-bit – this was one of our shows that I was very excited to see. Essentially it consisted of a group of comedians playing old video games, drinking and doing forfeit challenges. Despite the fact that I am too young to remember any of the games played (the original Mario Kart, Streetfighter and Bomberman) I got really into the show, shouting and chanting with everyone else.

Ben Moor: Each of us – this is probably my favourite show of the fringe. Ben Moor is billed as a comedian, but the show is more performance storytelling than anything else. All I can really say is that Moor delivers a truly beautiful show, and I am exceedingly glad that he was selling a book of it, because there were so many lines I had wanted to note down.

John Kearns (winner of best newcomer) – I was taken to see Kearns straight after seeing Ben Moor and the contrast was staggering. Equally brilliant, Kearns’ show was a strange mixture of character comedy, stand up and general weirdness – all of which he acknowledges through the show. Even though I didn’t really understand what I had seen, I knew I loved it!

The Wrestling II – The Wrestling is a one off show where comedians and professional wrestlers actually wrestle each other. It is a weird and wonderful combination that makes for a very high intensity night if screaming and laughing.

Johnny & the Baptists – A very good musical comedy show with plenty of talent and laughs! They are also very lovely guys, which always helps.

Cariad & Paul – This improv duo (one of ours) are absolutely fantastic at what they do. Taking one word from the audience as a prompt to get the creative juices flowing, they invent a show based around the development of a few scenes over an hour. Not only does this in itself just blow my mind, but the actual scenes were also really entertaining and different enough that it didn’t ever feel like they were falling back on stock material.

Men – This play was done by TapTap Theatre which is a Bristol based theatre company. The acting and story were all very good, but I found the play in general overly sweary. It very much felt that the writer had equated anger and intensity with swear word, which I often find lessens their effect. However considering the playwright was 20 when she wrote Men I can understand this slightly immature approach to realism.

Bristol Revunions: Elegant Nymphs – One of my very good friends is in the Bristol sketch comedy group, and I was really happy to be able to see him perform! I really liked the show in general, although I think the framing device of having it be Nymphs trying to break out of their stereotype was a bit misused.

Tim Key: Work in Progress – I only saw Tim Key because I had some time to kill while my friend finished her shift, and he wasn’t sold out. I am very glad I did! The show was a mixture of stand up, weird poetry and general bizarreness (including a woman periodically appearing from a mattress on stage and dancing). It was a great show, and I would love to see the finished product.

Bo Burnham: What – I thought Bo Burnham was genius, and he is definitely in the running for my favourite show! His songs are extremely clever, his poems hilarious and his sarcastic and cynical personality really works with my sense of humour.

Take it Interns – this was a musical brought up by a student run production company (1945 productions) from Bristol. Overall I thought it was really good – the story line, following a group of badly chosen interns at an advertising company, was silly and clever at the same time. For the most part the musical performances were solid, although a few of the actors were clearly not natural singers, and some of the harmonies were not to my taste.

Peacock & Gamble: Heart-Throbs – I don’t think this comedy duo are really my thing. Although I generally enjoyed the show, their odd brand of sketch/ double act comedy didn’t really appeal to me on the night. It was really funny though to see them make each other corpse, a part of comedy shows that I often enjoy the most!

Set List (With Paul Foot, Adam Bloom, Ahir Shah, Matt Okine & others) – I really liked the concept of Set List – comedians are given random items from their imaginary set lists and have to perform stand-up about it. The only problem is that stand-up comedians aren’t known for their improv skills, so you get a very mixed bag of success. Luckily on my night a couple people really rose to the challenge, in particular Ahir Shah and Paul Foot.

Beardyman: One Album Per Hour – Pretty much all I have to say about Beardyman is WOW. Not only is he an incredible beat-boxer, singer, rapper, producer and general lovely guy – he can genuinely create a completely improvised album in an hour. It blew my mind.

Fullmooners (Paulmooners) – This was a charity gig for Paul Byrne, Ed Byrne’s brother who was very sadly diagnosed with cancer on the 2nd day of the Fringe. The Fullmooners concept was created by Paul with Andrew Maxwell and so they put a benefit gig together in just 2 weeks. It was a fantastical funny and emotional gig, with many of the comedians giving little speeches at the end of their sets about Paul.

Comedy Countdown – this show is effectively a low budget Countdown with comedians. Paper and a clipboard are used instead of letter cards, and the clock is in fact David Morgan. It was a really fun set up, and yet again, I got far too into the spirit of the game.

Ben Van der Velde: Chain Letter – My final Edinburgh show was that of my now good friend Ben. Part stand-up, part storytelling, Chain Letter is the story of his attempt to reinvent the hand written letter. It was a funny and heartwarming show that left me very happy. A perfect way to end the Fringe!

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Review: Private Lives @ Gielgud Theatre

Private Lives follows the turbulent and confused relationship between Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne over the course of a few days. As can be expected of Noël Coward, there are plenty of ups, downs, laughs, hysterics and sheer oddities during the play, which keep the audience entertained throughout. Having seen a slightly lacking Hay Fever last year, I was really hoping that this production would give the play the pace and energy required by Coward’s brilliant writing. I can safely say that Private Lives did not disappoint at all.

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In terms of the actual play, although there is very little plot the roller coaster of Elyot and Amanda’s respective and mutual relationships provided enough entertainment and social observation that it didn’t really matter! Coward uses the play to comment on the paradox that he saw in the high society of the 1920s. Amanda and Elyot are fantastically decadent, uncaring and ‘utterly modern’, which, as Philip Hoare points out in the programme, acted as an antithesis to the economic problems of the time. This is all obvious in the characters’ rejection of seriousness, and the sumptuousness of the set, which was a beautifully crafted revolving scene that alternated between a hotel balcony and Amanda’s Parisian apartment – decorated richly to the height of Art Deco fashion. While Private Lives probably isn’t the most thrilling in terms of plot, it certainly gives us a window into the lives of the young and rich of the 1920s, as well as plenty of moments of sheer entertainment.

This production, directed by Jonathan Kent, made use of the exquisite talents of Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor (yes, I saw Duckface in the flesh, it was too exciting and nostalgic!) Both principal actors were excellent, getting equal laughs from the audience thanks to their impeccable one-liner delivery and physical ability. Stephens was playing Elyot in a way that very much reminded me of a typical Hugh Grant character, only if Hugh Grant could actually act, and so achieved a hilarious mix of caddishness and flippancy. Chancellor was simply brilliant as the self-indulgent and confounding Amanda. My favourite moment of the entire play was her dancing to music from Rite of Spring as a way frustrate Elyot. It had me and my sister in tears of laughter, particularly because I knew that the random arm movements and jumping were all too in keeping with the proper choreography. All the actors (Anthony Calf playing Victor Prynne, Anna-Louise Plowman as Sibyl Chase, and Sue Kelvin as the French maid Louise) portrayed their fantastically typecast characters very convincingly and each clearly understood the tone and speed needed to bring Coward’s words to life.  The only criticism I would level at the actors in general was that they didn’t project quite as much as was needed. Although for the most part I could hear fine, there was an elderly couple behind us (at the back of the stalls) who could clearly not hear the actors adequately, as they kept turning to each other to ask what had been said. Also, perhaps as a testament to the actors, secondary jokes were often missed because of the audience’s laughter at the first.

Overall however, Private Lives was a triumph, with everything from the acting to the set, and of course not forgetting the genius of Noël Coward, combining to create a thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious evening. As my mother and I told a woman on the tube home, it most definitely deserved its 5 stars.

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Review: Macbeth @ Trafalgar Studios

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Having never studied, seen or even read Macbeth, I had no idea what to expect from the inaugural performance at the Trafalgar Studios. The performance, directed by Jamie Lloyd and starring James McAvoy and Claire Foy, was surprising, captivating and powerful on all levels.

Set in a modern, dystopian Scotland, Lloyd’s Macbeth presented the psychology of Shakespeare’s text as it applies to contemporary events and social conscience. Bare metal, fluorescent lights and ragged clothing replaced the traditional Elizabethan garb, creating a much more dark and raw atmosphere. In addition to this the audience was literally brought closer to the action, with a third of the seats put on the opposite side to the main seating area, effectively on the stage. I was lucky enough to be seated in the front row of the onstage seating, and this really did make me feel more involved in the performance. The actors also helped this feeling through careful inclusion of both sides of the audience, as well as more direct monologuing to choice audience members (James McAvoy held my gaze for a good 30 seconds of monologue!) The space was well used, with ladders, tables and chairs providing ample opportunity for different levels in an otherwise very flat set. The lighting added to this, with blackouts, side spotlights and hand held lamps creating another dimension to the already dramatic set, which provided the perfect background for the modern interpretation of the Scottish play.

The drama was extremely well directed, and there was a great sense that all the actors very much understood the meaning behind the words – even if sometimes this was not overly clear to the audience; the strength of the scottish accents made some of the dialogue hard to follow. However, overall the acting was of an incredibly high standard with a wealth of stand out performances. Jamie Ballard portrayed Macduff’s grief on hearing of his wife and children’s death with a heart-wrenching truthfulness, and was deeply moving as Macbeth’s crazed adversary in the final battle scenes. Claire Foy made a beautiful yet damaged Lady Macbeth. She portrayed the character’s duplicity with a great skill, and in particular Foy’s interpretation of Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking was disturbed and almost primal. Her gut-wrenching scream was one of the most terrible sounds I have heard, and it visibly moved the audience. Finally, James McAvoy’s Macbeth was a hugely powerful, considered and physical character. It was clear that McAvoy fully understood the psyche of his character, and he seemed to fit perfectly into the modern war-torn setting created by Lloyd. I think the best testament I can give to his acting skill is that, when approaching our seats during a monologue, McAvoy’s roar of anger sent my mum shooting a foot into the air (much to our embarrassment, and the audience’s amusement!) What struck me most about all of the performances was their physicality – the actors were constantly sliding, climbing, fighting and running across the stage, which added to the savagery of the play. It was also impossible to ignore the gore of this interpretation of Macbeth. McAvoy and Foy’s arms covered in blood up to the elbows, the ghost of Banquo’s face drenched in blood, a shower of blood over Macbeth as he is killed, Macduff’s presentation of Macbeth’s severed head dripping with blood… It was really quite a lot, but I have to say it never felt gratuitous. Savage and terrifying yes, but not just for the sake of it. The gory aspect of the play was justified by the tragic nature of the text, and I think along with that Lloyd’s contextualisation of the play in the near future allowed for the more visual aspects of the play to be brought out, than perhaps in a more traditional interpretation.

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(The stage at the interval)

Overall I think Macbeth was a truly thrilling and visceral play, and although it is unfortunately sold out, I would really recommend seeing a play at the Trafalgar Studios. Jamie Lloyd is currently directing a series of plays in his ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ project, and it would be very interesting to see his direction of other plays as I think it is primarily his choice of set, concept and direction that made Macbeth stand out from other Shakespeare productions (as well as James McAvoy’s lovely face, of course.)

Our view: http://instagram.com/p/Xu6nH7KuNt/

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