Our Shadows Walk @ Etcetera Theatre

OSW-Image--1024x697

This new play written by Danny Pegg and directed by Alex Israel was inspired by the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. Our Shadows Walk explores an alternative society in which a war on terrorism still rages but the lines between warriors and terrorists are blurred. It was short-listed for the Verity Bargate Award and now crowd-funded to the Etcetera Theatre.

Our Shadows Walk is a quote by Gavrilo Princip who by shooting Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, effectively started two world wars: a very apt title for a play which concept muses the consequences and shadows of all our actions.

The play opens with Terence and Goldsmith, two rookies preparing to interview a terrorist suspect.  When Ben, an excellent Jacob Dunn, is brought in, the interrogation starts ruthlessly. It is a clever devise that Pegg has chosen the officers to be female to a male suspect: it means that their strategies, Anna McCormick’s Goldsmith is a fan of seduction, and their use of violence gets a more manipulative power than just straight aggression. Deniz Barazi’s shows her emotional versatility in the role of Terence, who needs some subtle convincing by her colleague.

Things get interesting when Terence and Goldsmith are called to their superiors the steely Sapphire and Carmine, a very engaging Lesley Curtis-Borwn and Lisa Morris, in a follow up scene that reveals that the lines are more blurred than initially expected. The direction brings out some great moments of theatricality, whether in well timed rhythmical dialogue or near-choreographed action but the some of the Bureau tradition/routines of team building and protocol seem a little forced.  Yet I really liked the abstractness of the scenes and it is when familiarity comes to the dialogue that it loses its engagement and creates confusion. Why would Sapphire end the final scene the way she does, as she is such an old hand?!

The playwright states in the program that Our Shadows Walk gives plenty of answers but maybe the play is not quite sure what the main question is. There are a few nice twists in this play and the commentary on today’s world was very clear but the rules of the alternative setting were confusing, making me feel like I missed the point of the play… Could it be as simple as what the consequences and shadows of terrorism and fear could be?  The play has kept me thinking…and perhaps that is enough.

Clarissa Widya is a graduate of the Royal Court’s Unheard Voices writers group and co-founder of new writing company Papergang Theatre. She is also reviews for Broadway Baby and thelondonword.com. Her personal blog can be found on: http://twistsandtales.com/

Another Country – movie/play comparison

Another-Country-1984-Colin-Firth-Rupert-EverettRupert Everett (Guy Bennett) and Colin Firth (Tommy Judd) in Another Country (film)

I wanted to write a short post about these two because I finally got around to watching Another Country the film, starring Rupert Everett and Colin Firth, after having seen Another Country, the stage version, three times at Trafalgar Studios, and have one more indulgence when they tour in Richmond next month.

I was quite surprised to note how different the film version of this play is, though not necessarily in terms of script and story (though there is a whole chunk missing from the film that I was surprised to see go, and some scene additions that I actually thought added to the story). What truly surprised me, however, was the very different tones between the two. They’re so dramatically different.

The first thing I noticed was the very depressing sense of foreboding that permeated the film version. There’s nothing remotely jolly about it – you are instantly thrown into a feeling of ugliness. The characters of Judd and Bennett are bantering, but quite seriously and with very little humour.

ANOTHER COUNTRY by MitchellWilliam Attenborough (Tommy Judd) and Rob Callender (Guy Bennett) in Another Country (play)

This is such a stark contrast with the current production, which lulls you into a false sense of security from the start. The character of Bennett is played with joyful recklessness – his witty one liners and amusing anecdotes do much to drag the audience into his romantic fantasies. His obsession with the boy from another house is sweet and innocent. You do exactly what the characters in the play do – fail to take him seriously. It’s funny and endearing.

In terms of sex, the film does much to make Bennett’s sexuality quite threatening in comparison to the play, yet there’s still very little shown to the audience, not even a kiss! His seriousness and the way he delivers his lines, coupled with direction choices, make him a very real homosexual. He’s decadent, a risk taker and the film fills out his relationship with Harcourt so we see them together: in the early terrifying stages of their union - the risks they took to be together – to later when they just tenderly hold each other, hiding in the night in the boats on the lake. Rupert Everett plays it so well – his attraction to Harcourt is so real in their first meeting. His seduction is palpable - he looks at Harcourt with eyes that seem to want to devour him.

By contrast, Bennett’s homosexuality in the current production of the play is borderline sexless. Clearly a direction choice – you never see Harcourt, he’s just this perfect man described by the boy that’s obsessed with him. Similarly, you never see any of the homosexual exploits referenced in the play – neither the act that caused the suicide of one of the boys, nor the acts referred to between the boys of the school. Bennett himself is a bit camp and funny, so he’s safe and non-threatening.

item2.rendition.slideshowWideHorizontal.ss03-another-country-25-fashionable-films Another-Country-Rob-Callender-as-Bennett-Photo-Credit-Johan-Persson-ref2129

There’s not a right way or wrong way to interpret this story, but what I did marvel at is the different feelings I had after each. What I like about the stage play is that it’s much more about Bennett himself. You can’t see how tightly he’s keeping his real feelings bound up until it all comes unravelling in the end. The playful, cheeky, flirtatious Bennett has been hurt so much, and cares so deeply for Harcourt, that when he loses everything it’s all the more painful because his revelation is as much a revelation for him as it is for the audience. In a way, we feel we have conspired with the others in the play by laughing along and not taking him seriously.

The film version on the other hand was really about Bennett and Harcourt. From very early on it’s about their relationship. Bennett’s in love with Harcourt and that’s very much apparent, so the way that it’s delivered is not a comedy. Bennett’s whimsical romanticism is delivered like a man with heartache, a desperate desire to be with the one he loves, openly and happily. The men around him warn him to stop messing around, not realising he’s not remotely messing around. He truly loves Harcourt and he can’t stop talking about it. He’s romantic. He would write sonnets and sing it from the rooftops if he could.

So that’s my little bit of comparison of the day! In terms of performances, you can’t pick between them really – Rupert Everett and Rob Callender give completely compelling performances despite their completely different interpretations. I adore Rob Callender’s performance – Bennett’s non-threatening homosexuality notwithstanding. He’s so likeable and so endearing that when he breaks down towards the end of the play it hurts. You’re shocked out of your laughter and realise this is a young man that is hurting. Could they have made the relationship between him and Harcourt more real? In my opinion, yes. I haven’t read the play, but given a tiny bit more both in terms of the relationship with Harcourt, and also in terms of letting something sexual shine through the safe, non-threatening gay Bennett, we might feel even more heartbroken at the end. But it’s a small criticism.

As for the film – the melancholy really gets to me in the film. Rupert Everett plays it so incredibly well and the relationship between Bennett and Harcourt is so tangible it’s easy to get caught up in. The character is a lot more serious and adult in Everett’s hands – I wonder how he played it on stage.

You can catch the current production on tour around the UK. (There are other places too – I know of Malvern and Bath – pls check your local theatre.) Go see it, I urge you. One of my very favourites of the year so far!

Hamlet @ Barbican Centre 2015 / Benedict Cumberbatch

This might be a bit of a risky post given that the last time I wrote about Benedict Cumberbatch on my blog a whole shit storm started and I got about 60,000 hits in 2 days, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I feel the need to get it out. (I wrote this post a week ago and have given my irritation some time to settle, but even a week on, I do want to post.)

What on earth is going on at the Barbican, Sonia Friedman Productions and in Benedict Cumberbatch’s head?? There are several restrictions in place to see Hamlet at the Barbican in 2015. I will outline them here:

  • Ticket purchases will be limited to a maximum of six per household 
  • The name of the lead booker will be printed on each ticket and photo ID of the lead booker will be required to gain admission
  • Lead bookers are required to keep their ID and credit/debit card used to make the booking with them at all times as they may be required for re-entry or requested at any point
  • Failure to adhere to these conditions may result in tickets not being valid for entry

Six tickets per household limit

Let me confess to two things.

1) This does not concern me majorly as I don’t intend to see Hamlet many times. Twice. Perhaps. If the front rows are cheaper like Barbican usually prices them. I am after all local. Either way, I most certainly don’t want to go 6 times.

2) I went to see Mojo (another Sonia Friedman production) 10 times. So what? I don’t think anyone missed out on seeing Mojo that wanted to. I am a huge fan of all of the actors that were in the play and of the play itself. I had many people in my life that wanted to see it, including friends that came from overseas. I enjoyed every last performance and I would definitely see it again tomorrow if I could.

The Barbican is HUGE. What difference does it make if someone wants to go 10 times? Or 20 for that matter? The enjoyment that a person can get from one play when it all comes together for them – production, text, actors, performances – can be immeasurable. All added together it can create something so enjoyable that you want to relive it while you can. Unlike a movie or a TV show, you can’t keep a play at home and enjoy it over and over again. (How many times have you watched your favourite movie in your lifetime, for example? I’ve probably watched Back to the Future 100 times in my life.) Plays have a limited run and you have to catch them while you can.

However, fine, I can appreciate that some people might not want the same fangirls on the front row every night. I’m sure there are reasons, even if I don’t understand them. But the six ticket limit disadvantages the average person in many ways.

  • Group of flatmates all want to go to see Hamlet with their friends/family, but this household restriction means that they are limited in how they do that and who they go with.
  • You want to go multiple times, but you want to book with your friends in a group (because that’s how most people go to the theatre).
  • You wanted to book tickets for daughter’s birthday party, but can only bring 5 of them.

You can see where I’m going with this.

Photo ID to access the play

Even though I don’t agree with the restriction of six tickets, it probably won’t affect me. This one, however, will. Photo ID seems like a totally sensible request on first glance, but let me tell you about the reality of modern life.

  • You live in London and you’re on the tube, dashing from a client meeting to the Barbican on the other side of London and the tube stops. You’re too late to make it to the show. Boom, lead booker is not there to gain entrance for the group. The group has no ID of the lead booker – what happens?
  • You’re sick. You had to go home from work and don’t want to go to the Barbican to see the show anymore. Your friends can’t continue without you as the lead booker is not there to gain entrance for the group and the group has no ID.
  • You’re on a low income budget and treating your kids because they love the Batch. You can’t afford an extra ticket for the sole reason of accompanying your children, but you have no choice because of the ID restriction.
  • You’re a parent that wanted to purchase tickets for your kids but just have no desire to see the play yourself. You have to go since your teenage daughters have no credit/debit card or photo ID.
  • You have no photo ID and can’t prove who you are. You haven’t needed to for anything else. (Who needs photo ID these days?)

You get my drift. There are many scenarios and in some cases, like the low income family example, it feels discriminatory. If not that, certainly elitist. So what does the average, sensible person need to do? They need to attend the play solo, just in case. Talk about zapping all the fun of the theatre experience out of this play.

I emailed the Barbican about some of my concerns a while ago and they sent what I think they thought was a reassuring message that these things would be take into consideration and it’s just a deterrent. And then then last week they added even more restrictions to their site, so actually I am no longer reassured and feel that email was just lip service.

Photo ID on demand

Last week, the Barbican took pains to add that you could be requested for your ID at any time when attending the play, as lead booker. Hmmm. So does the group have to go to the loo together? To the bar together? What does the Barbican expect here? I do not understand. I feel that we are owed more information.

Zapping the fun…

The money issue

So we’ve talked about all these restrictions and there’s one other thing that annoys me. It’s ONE YEAR away. Most people have no idea where they’ll be next year in August. A lot of people who work shifts and irregular hours, don’t know this far in advance what their days off will be. I have lots of friends like that, but most theatres in London have very fair and flexible policies when it comes to returns on popular shows. Aside from a small fee (like 2 quid), I have received refunds on tickets from a great number of theatres, as well as at places like the BFI as a member. This helps people when planning – if the dates don’t fit, you can either sell on to a friend, or even a stranger on Twitter, and if that fails, you can get your ticket refunded or resold by the theatre.

At the Barbican, you can do neither. The Barbican instead expects you to spend probably upwards of £70-80 for a ticket in one years time and gives you no way to get your money back if you find out in 6 months you got a promotion at work and need to move to NYC. Or you’re expected to present at a conference. Or whatever number of things that might come up not necessarily at the last minute, but in advance. And unless you’re intending to come back within 6 months and see something else (you better not live far away), you’re buggered.

Zappity zap zap of the fun.

Now to get to my point. (And I didn’t even touch upon the membership issue that is getting madly out of hand.) I don’t really care about going anymore. There, I said it. Long time fan of Bendict Cumberbatch, local to the Barbican and a regular patron, and a fan of nearly every production Sonia Friedman has put on in the last couple of years. (I am even going to New York to see The River.) But this bullshit is ridiculous. It’s JUST Benedict Cumberbatch. We have seen bigger names on stage in this country. The arrogance surrounding all of this is too much for me to bear. It makes him look bad. It makes the organisations involved look bad. They are all basically ruining it for the average theatre goer. I am at the theatre every week, usually multiple times a week, and never felt more like I wasn’t wanted. Like I am infringing greatly on them for the audacity of wanting to attend. I have never had any organisation try to force me to enjoy something in the way they insist. It’s crass.

Although I understand that Tom Hiddleston’s appearance at the Donmar Warehouse probably had an impact on the decisions made for this production, I’m baffled that a 1,900+ seater theatre could even be compared to the Donmar run. The touts that this has so clearly been about are almost non-existent in the theatre world. I know that there was some attempt from touts to sell Coriolanus tickets, but what goes on with theatre ticket reselling is so mild to never come across it, whereas for music it is significant. But that’s because with music, it’s maybe 1 or 2 nights per city. This is a THREE month run in a 1,900+ seat theatre. Everyone is going to get to go. I will eat my hat if the demand is anything like Coriolanus because that venue was a fraction of the size. It’s baffling to me that this has become so insane.

I can’t go on because this is already really very long, but I would like to hear your thoughts on the restrictions – do they cause you any difficulty? Did you want to see Benedict more than 6 times? Let me know in the comments.

(And where are you coming from? I’d like to compare you to the Coriolanus post!)

Bare Essentials by Encompass Productions @ Savoy Tup

Encompass productions has searched the globe, or the world wide web at least, for six short pieces of new writing to be presented with minimal staging yet maximum polish upstairs at the Savoy Tup. The evening is divided in two halves with three short pieces either side of the break.

BE1

A Million Things is written by Tracy Harris, a writer, performance artist and filmmaker based in Cardiff.  Her piece follows the story of three people, searching for meaning, projecting their hopes and dreams in life upon other things. It is a great premise yet the conclusion and its message felt a little contrived and could potentially be left a little more open to interpretation.

Drink the Kool-Aid is an American expression referring to a person or group who take on a belief without critical questioning.  Five minutes before mass exodus in their cult, Grant has a very important question for Penny. The juxtaposition of the setting and the action makes for interesting viewing and some well deserved laughs. Excellent acting from Helena Gullan and Robert Wallis.

Going Viral by Brandon Close is very topical – we all have Facebook friends who share moments of their children on Facebook. Some even have their own account – so what happens when the child grows old enough to manage the page by him/herself? The recognition makes for humoristic moments but it was a shame that conversation, especially in the daughter’s case, did not always ring truthful.

Thin Air

 

Thin Air by Tom Coash had a beautiful storyline and tight story arch which made it intriguing to watch. Freya Parsons delicately delivers her monologue as a rope-walker standing on a chair, supposedly suspended 60ft in the air. The direction by Liam Fleming is simple but effective: I was mesmerised. Well written, directed and performed, this was a pretty perfect hattrick.

You are all I see presented three snippets of a bigger piece of work by Dan Horrigan. In an alternative universe or even a potential future, newborns are taken away from their mothers as they are a strain on resources, homosexuality is seen as a genetic flaw as all children are now screened for perfection. 1984esque, Horrigan will have to choose the tone of the final piece carefully to ensure he does not over-egg it but it will be interesting to see how the play develops.

How to murder someone

How to murder someone and make sure they’re absolutely, definitely dead is a very long title for this short play by Matthew Smith. From Manchester, this is Smith’s first play in London and it shows great skill. The humour is very British with a whiff of classic 80s/90s sketches, the piece has a nice pace, a few twists and again a really good story arch that kept the audience fascinated. Jonathan Whittaker and Samantha Wynn show lovely chemistry and Matthew Leigh complemented them as the straight man outsider.

The evening was a great mix of work, Encompass achieved a very entertaining evening and I would definitely keep an eye out for the next Bare Essentials this autumn – after their full length production in the summer.

Clarissa Widya is a graduate of the Royal Court’s Unheard Voices writers group and co-founder of new writing company Papergang Theatre. She is also reviews for Broadway Baby and thelondonword.com. Her personal blog can be found on: http://twistsandtales.com/

PSA – Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies Day Seats @ Aldwych Theatre

Just a quick note for those looking for day seats for Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies at Aldwych Theatre. I was quite keen to get day seats for these plays as we’d somehow messed up pre-booking and really only premium tickets and overpriced back seats were left. All I could find online about day seats was what is on the Theatre Monkey website and sadly that’s not accurate at all. Here’s the skinny:

  • On sale at 10.30am
  • ONE ticket per person (they’re being strict about this)
  • £10 per ticket
  • Not clear the number of day seats available – seems to be subject to change
  • Seats are not in the front row stalls, but in fact all over the theatre. I went on press day, so less was available to me today, but in general:
  • Back row of stalls
  • Slips and back row of dress circle
  • Some possibly in grand circle (today I was offered row D)

The day seats are at the discretion of the box office, so subject to change. I gather that standard is back row stalls and dress circle slips. However, there are some more expensive seats that they are willing to offer for day seats prices on the day, depending how busy it is. Today no dress circle slips were available.

They said that they’re not committing to exact day seats (location/number) and that’s why there’s no info online.

Timing: I rocked up at 7.45am and no one else showed until 8.45am. And that was a friend. After that it was about 9.15am when the next group showed up. Overall not a long queue, but given how vague they are about availability, I recommend getting there early.

Seating: take further up and forward over lower down at the back.

Dress circle: good view – I would take slips or back row on this level over back of stalls. The overhang of the circle makes the back of stalls feel very restricted, whereas there is a generally clear view of the stage from back of dress circle.

Grand circle: Front of the grand circle is closer (better than back of dress circle), though very cramped re: legroom. Row D on this level has loads of legroom and my seat (#25) was a good view if you can cope with the safety bar in view (tends to be better for short people). There were lots of unsold seats though, so we moved to the front row of the grand circle after interval and it felt very close for being in a second circle.

Staging: Quite minimalist, nothing will be missed if front corners are cut-off, meaning side seats are totally fine. Most action occurs middle of the stage. There’s not really a preferred side.

If not for a very kind friend today, I would have queued for 2 and a half hours for nothing since the one ticket per person restriction is not stated anywhere at all online that I could find. Edit: thanks to below comment for pointing out that there is some day seat info here.

Interesting theatre: In the Vale of Health, Testament of Mary, The Drowned Man

This past week I’ve returned from holiday in Malta and jumped straight into a busy week of theatre, seeing four productions in the space of about 5 days. This is not an unusual schedule for me, but I have to admit to have been very grateful for the lazy bank holiday Monday to recover from it, of which I spent most of the day watching Pride and Prejudice, drinking tea and panicking about not doing any pre-reading for my ‘Writing for Theatre’ course. (Started today and was very exciting!)

Something that struck me this week in the theatre I’ve seen, as well as the theatre I’ve liked in recent months, is anything that goes beyond the convention of theatre normal really gets me going. When you see as much theatre as I do, when something comes along outside of the box, it can be immensely exciting. Earlier this year, I felt it with the American Psycho musical at the Almeida (I swear I can’t get this out of my head and won’t rest until they properly announce a transfer) and even something like Body of An American at the Gate Theatre, which is written in an epistolary style. They’re just different.

ValeofhealthGethin Anthony, Laura Rees, Jamie Ballard – In the Vale of Health

This week I had the pleasure of the unusual. I’ll start with the first, In the Vale of Health at Hampstead Theatre – a series of four interlinked Simon Gray plays staged at the same time. I saw Japes and Japes Too. Japes is the original play; a one-off play that Simon Gray just couldn’t let rest. He subsequently wrote three companion pieces, addressing the thing that all writers surely ponder: what would have happened if these characters had made different decisions? 

Although it seems a little unfair to write about them without seeing all four, I thought it was an interesting experiment. For my part, Japes and Japes Too were so similar that I found myself questioning how those tiny changes that were there could have affected such a dramatic change of ending. While Japes felt like a soap opera ending, with everything from double death, teen pregnancy, drugs, prison and false child sex abuse threats, Japes Too felt like a tighter, stronger, more true ending.

Thus, I can imagine being Simon Gray and not feeling entirely satisfied with the ending of Japes. It would nag at me too, until I rewrote it.

valeofhealthGethin Anthony, Laura Rees, Jamie Ballard – In the Vale of Health

As a whole, the story of In the Vale of Health, has some interesting themes. I am fascinated by the interplay between the three main characters; two brothers and a wife they both share. Michael turning a blind eye to the affair between his wife and brother Japes out of a lifetime of guilt over the latter’s misfortune as a result of a childhood accident. In Japes Too, it was all the more affecting than in Japes – the character of Michael spends a lot of time pretending, not acknowledging, something his brother knows he knows. I was struck by a scene after Japes and Anita (wife) have had sex, when Michael walks in and sees them asleep on the sofa, pulls down her skirt and attempts to fasten Japes’ jeans to hide what they have done. When Japes wakes at the movement, neither of them address it.

As a result, the ending of Japes Too satisfied me more. As Michael has sacrificed so much in his guilt, so the ending of Japes Too offers Japes the opportunity to redeem himself and return that care and sacrifice to Michael. The ending of Japes is hollow and melodramatic in comparison.

After the play we spoke to Gethin Anthony and his comments on Missing Dates make me want to see it now. He says it’s the most different of the plays and I’m intrigued where it might go. The idea of four plays so intimately linked, yet also very different, is appealing.

testamentofmaryFiona Shaw in The Testament of Mary

In addition to my double stint at the Hampstead Theatre, I went to the Barbican to see Fiona Shaw in The Testament of Mary. Here we have a massive, huge stage – one of the largest in London at nearly 2000 seats – and one woman, alone. To say she commanded the stage would be an understatement – she owned it. She mesmerised. It was incredible.

Pre-show there is an on-stage exhibit, so do what I didn’t do and get there early. Fiona Shaw is in a square transparent cube and you can get on stage and look up close, take pics, as well as admire a real actual vulture, which she picks up and walks around a bit before taking it off stage. Amazing.

It’s not wholly unusual to get ‘one-woman plays’, but at this scale it’s unusual.

testamentofmary

The monologue alone is so powerful, with a tone of bitterness and loss that can’t help but be affecting. The story is one of a mother, Mary, reliving her famous son Jesus’ demise not as we know it from the gospels, but through the eyes of a grieving mother. Mary in modern day is an icon – the church downgraded her to almost silence, so we don’t know the female side of the theology and that’s why this story is so compelling. By choosing to tell it with only her present, it pays respect to that when she has never before had a voice. And it’s about time women had a voice in these things, even if it’s in fiction. And as an audience member, seeing something so unique was truly an experience.

Finally, this week I went for my second outing to The Drowned ManPunchdrunk‘s incredible, mind blowing immersive experience. On my first trip to The Drowned Man, I was overwhelmed by it. In a good way. I think I talked about it for 48 hours straight afterwards, so impressed I was by the whole experience. The mystery of not knowing what I was getting into, what was next, the excitement of finding the stories, following a character, discovering new sets was an absolute joy. I even had a terrifying one-on-one with an actor that nearly made me wet my pants. In short, it was one of the best things I’d been to in a long time.

pdPunchdrunk’s The Drowned Man

I wouldn’t say I’d like every theatre production to be The Drowned Man, but what it does is take theatre to a new level of experience and connection. The feeling of being part of the show itself really comes through in this production in a way other immersive theatre experiences haven’t (though immersive theatre certainly doesn’t have to do that in order to be good either), and on a scale that surely has never been seen before.

dm_mg_2767Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man

Although I felt the second The Drowned Man experience paled vastly in comparison to the first, I’m still fascinated by the interplay of story and audience. By making the audience part of the story, including having the sought after one-to-ones with the actors, the experience and appreciation of the entire theatre experience changes every time, as well as being different for every audience member.

As a writer or creator, that potential must be quite intoxicating – the story is not fixed and can live on in many different ways.

Consequence @ Dalston Departmentstore

So I’ve been on holiday, and while I was absent from London, my friend Clarissa took up the theatre going mantel and attended something very exciting from Clay Theatre and Film, a new theatre and film company. New writing and new theatre is a passion of London Reviews and we didn’t want to miss out. Sadly due to holidays, etc, this review is a little post-event, but I do urge you to keep an eye out for any more of their work.

-

The open space of Dalston Departmentstore is perfect for this trio of short plays by Daniel Summerford and Zaf Ayub.

ConSeQuence_POSTER_final

The evening is divided in two halves: the first contains two plays by Summerford and the second half the short play by Ayub.

Daniel Summerford has a very philosophical angle to his writing, his first play Blooms contemplates whether necessity is truly the mother of invention. It uses the metaphor of a job interview to explore the notion that people’s true colours are discovered under pressure, when they are aware of their mortality.

It is an interesting concept and the setting felt slightly Matrix like: Justin Aves is excellent as the affected boss and Kirsten Varley is the perfect straight woman in this absurd play. Emmanuel Koutsis had the difficult task to work his emotional arch when the stakes are suddenly increased. The metaphor is clever but it took the audience awhile to take it all in.

The second play Once Said is set at the police station where two women interview their male suspect. The question how we can trust the verdict we make when fact can obscure the truth, was a bit lost on me. The initial ambiguity of guilt was intriguing, though the dialogue felt a bit unbalanced with an overwhelming barrage coming from the good cop/bad cop act, Janine I Ulfane and Bethan Lucas, battering poor little man Leigh Kelly. The tension arch is built slowly when the climax comes as a surprise and seemingly without reason. A real shame as immediately the audience interest wanes and it feels a little like a short cut to the end.

During the interval we could attend the bar, conveniently set up in the same room and the cheap price of a drink is donated to the company. It would be rude not to support this cause of course.

The space is once again changed in a traverse setting and The Broken by Zaf Ayub makes up the second half.  The set immediately draws you in, the brilliant wordless opening captivates and the theatrical devises were just delightful. The tragic act of a woman slowly unfolds before us, all through the research of a man. Old conversations are played out: tape recordings made flesh.  All we see and hear are flashes and snippets that come together as carefully placed clues and puzzle pieces. Ayub neatly ties two storylines together with great skill, patience and pacing.  The theatrical concept of the text and creativity of the direction by N.A Newman and R. Gemaehling make this short play a grand piece of theatre.

Consequence is a great theatre evening for fans of new writing and I am looking forward to see more of these playwrights’ work.

Clarissa Widya is a graduate of the Royal Court’s Unheard Voices writers group and co-founder of new writing company Papergang Theatre. She is also reviews for Broadway Baby and thelondonword.com. Her personal blog can be found on: http://twistsandtales.com/

Gale Harold @ BFI ‘Filmonomics’ talk

*Please do not repost any part of this blog. Please see the second to last paragraph about why I have made this request.*

20140412_111933

I want to start off this post by saying a little bit about the British Film Institute, which is an organisation I really think offers the most incredible content constantly and is worth every penny of my membership. I go there a lot, and today it brought me something I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to do, which is to see Gale Harold in the flesh.

If I could be indulged one moment to get tediously fangirlish, I have been a fan of Gale Harold since the distant days of Queer As Folk US. First watched because I loved the UK version, I was stunned that the US version could take it and make something even better. While it ran far too long, the first 3 seasons of QAF US are still some of my favourite TV ever made and the thing that made the show so incredible was the unflinching and raw talent of Gale Harold.

About 3 weeks ago, I started re-watching QAF on Netflix and got hooked again. I’ve even been watching episodes before going to work, something I can remember doing back when it was airing. And as a result, started looking up Gale again. And low and behold, last night when I got home from the pub, I was browsing Twitter and this event came up at the BFI. And I couldn’t quite believe my eyes: that Gale was not only going to be in London, but that he was going to be speaking at an event AND that they still had tickets available (including one on the front row that I quickly bought). As a fan in London, and Gale being so very firmly tied to the US, I never thought I’d get to see him do anything. I’m not the kind of person that would go abroad to a convention, so I was very pleased. The event was called Filmonomics and was part of the Birds Eye View film festival.

Filmonomics is a training / masterclass type series and the session yesterday was on confidence. I’d hesitate to say it was the most practical of ‘training’ sessions, but I’m not a filmmaker, so who knows. I will say it was utterly fascinating though because the issue of confidence applies to everyone in all aspects of their life and work. The session was a bit of a ramble through the experiences of each of the panel and how they view confidence as a creative in the film industry. And I apologise in advance for my lack of memory regarding some of Gales comments. At times he got very passionate about what he was saying, which was incredibly inspiring. None of the other members of the panel spoke as passionately, though everyone spoke very personally about their experiences as people working in film. (Also in attendance was Joanna Hogg, Mia Bays and Jay Basu.)

20140412_114715

Gale spoke about the process between actor and director. How there is no time for an actor and a director to talk, but how they need to talk before embarking on a project to truly understand what that character is going through. He mentioned the often cliche idea of an actor saying: I don’t really feel my character would do/say this, implying that’s actually the result of poor preparation. He gave the example of how he personally was here in London, which he isn’t usually, talking on a panel, which he never usually does because he hates that kind of thing, all actions out of the norm for him. So when an actor is faced with a character doing something out of character, they have to get to the bottom of that with the director by filling all the blanks about that character before they start.

Joanna started off a discussion about the confidence of being able to negotiate away the obligations of doing interviews and anything that isn’t filmmaking, which she dislikes. Gale and Mia talked about how you can negotiate once reaching a certain point and that often if you stand your ground it can be done, and that privacy is important. Gale urged everyone to watch Lana Wachowski’s speech for the HRC, where she discusses the decision that her and her brother made to remain private for 12 years. Not because of her gender transition, but because of their desire to participate in public civic life. They told the studios that they didn’t want to be public and the studios said they had to, so they made the bold decision that if that was the case, they would no longer make movies. The studios immediately changed their mind and the Wachoskis were able to stay out of the public eye for 12 years and still make movies. Gale seemed to really identify with this idea and seemed to think this was quite possible. Do watch the video if you can, I agree with Gale that it’s incredibly inspiring.

The other two moments that really stood out to me were when Mia asked Gale directly about working on Queer As Folk and the confidence needed to carry a show like that. Gale was very candid about it, prefacing his story with the fact that he was in London. I wasn’t sure if he said that because he felt it was more comfortable to open up over here, or the fact that it was more relevant, but he started by talking about back when QAF UK was on, his ex-girlfriend had got herself a dodgy VHS copy of it that was falling apart. She came to him and said he needed to watch it and they managed to get in 10 mins of Aiden Gillen’s performance before the tape broke, but it was enough to be completely blown away by the whole thing. He was shocked at what he was seeing, but also impressed by it. And when he heard about the US version he couldn’t believe that they could do it in the US, but also that he really wanted to be a part of it.

20140412_113056

Gale said that his confidence to do QAF was because of his naivety. That because he was naive about what he was getting himself into, he just went for it. He felt a great sense of responsibility to the role – some of his heroes are gay and as a straight man it was important to him that he gave a believable performance, and do it justice, etc. And he felt that if he was even a fraction as good as Aiden he would take that.

He then moved on to talk about when you lose confidence – when you start with it, then lose it rapidly and how that had happened to him. When QAF started airing, he said everything changed. He told a story about how he’d be out in New York and a guy would come up to him and get all in his face. In those moments, he didn’t know whether that guy was going to come onto him, whether he would say he knew him from elementary school, or if he would knife him. (He had previously mentioned the controversy surrounding the show airing, so I get the impression that Gale had some threats in those days.) These things seriously got to him and he described how he withdrew into himself, lost confidence, how it affected him and that he got into some bad things personally. (I don’t know anything about Gale’s personal life, but I think he was alluding to an addiction.) He finished by saying that if he’d known what he was actually getting into, he would never have done Queer As Folk. He spoke very passionately about the fact he would never have done it, that he would have run far far away, miles away. (I was really shocked and it was upsetting to hear because it’s awful to think that the experience was so bad for him, and that maybe he was suffering in those times when I was enjoying it so much.)

The second personal story that I just want to touch upon is when Mia asked Gale directly about his accident and the confidence to come back after a career break. I knew nothing about Gale’s accident. I’d heard about it vaguely, but knew no details. Gale described how he was working on Desperate Housewives and was just getting over a really bad knee injury. And on the very day that he got over the knee injury he was in a serious motorcycle accident. And that he was in a medically induced coma for 40 hours. He talked about being very lucky to be alive. (He knocked on the wooden table and so did Joanna, who seemed particularly affected by Gale’s story.) Gale was very candid about just how sick he was after coming out of the coma – he had problems remembering things, talking, understanding words, their meanings and contexts. He said it was pretty much agreed that he wouldn’t be able to act again, his career was over. Although, he said, he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to even participate in society fully again. But, he said, he made a very rapid recovery after he started cognitive therapy and because of all of the support around him was able to get back to his life. He said very absolutely that he wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the people in his life.

20140412_123546 - Copy

Gale went on to say that one of the first things he did professionally was get back on stage. That he was terrified but that he needed to do it. That getting back on stage wasn’t just about him as an actor, but that on stage was where he learned to be a human being again. This prompted a spontaneous applause from the audience, who were all very touched by how difficult it must have been for him to talk about something so personal.

There was lots of chat over the course of 1.5 hours, but these are the things that stick out to me regarding Gale’s comments. I don’t know if he has spoken about these things before because I haven’t really followed his career closely, so to some the following request might feel unnecessary. But one thing I do know about Gale is that he’s always been very private. To open up in a public event, which was being filmed, meant that he was comfortable in that scenario talking about these things, but I’d like people to respect him by not plastering this all over the internet. So please don’t repost anything from this blog anywhere else. I really don’t want his stories to become something out of context, please just link back here. I thank you all in advance for your sensitivity.

Finally, I heard that Gale recently expressed an interest in working in London theatre and I really hope that he does. As you can probably see from my blog, I am a passionate theatre enthusiast and I think the London stage is about as good as you can get for pursuing the craft. Outside the west end, there are some incredible projects, and if I could choose, I’d like to see Gale working with Rupert Goold at the Almeida or Josie Rourke at the Donmar Warehouse or Jamie Lloyd for Trafalgar Transformed. But even at a smaller level, we have some incredible theatre talent in our fringe theatres. London would welcome him with open arms. :)

The Boy Who Cried @ The Hope Theatre

without_matts_name_medium

I was invited last week to see The Boy Who Cried at the new Hope Theatre. I hadn’t heard of the theatre until I received the email, so I was quite pleased to find out that it exists. It’s always exciting when a new theatre pops up and this one is dedicated to new writing. That’s something to support, so I urge you to check it out.

The Boy Who Cried is the début play of Matt Osman. It’s a dark, supernatural thriller set in a world like ours in which lycanthropy is a common social issue. A young girl has gone missing and Sam Elvin (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) is suspected of harming her. His mother, with growing concern about her son, has called in a “Protection Officer”, who interrogates Sam and by law has 28 days to get a confession out of him. Gradually, out of desperation, Protection officer Thompson (Jake Curran) becomes more and more unhinged, going to great lengths to get what he needs to convict.

From the start it’s clear that you need to pay attention – there is a surrealism in this play that can confuse at first, if you’re not used to it. Although the great moon shining over the set gives us an idea of what we are seeing, the script takes time to get it all out and the exposition feels long and drawn out to begin with. While this picks up in the second half, the choice to move into faux Shakespearean language is a somewhat bizarre choice and felt nothing but jarring to me.

274_L1008107

At the interval, the friend I was with said: the playwright is obviously a fan of Welcome to Night Vale. Although I don’t know it well, having been recommended it by so many people, I went home and listened to it straight away to see what she meant. I see the influence very clearly. They do have a lot in common both in tone and atmosphere, and the inclusion of the TV style reports and the cut to the weather directly correlates stylistically.

The performances were solid and the chemistry between Curran and Mallory-Skinner was strong. I most enjoyed the scenes between them and Mallory-Skinner in particular did well with the verse he had to deal with.

The play is an interesting departure from a lot of the theatre I’ve been seeing in London and the werewolf theme appealed to me. That said, it felt a little like a chore watching it. Almost as soon as I got used to what the play was about and the surrealist feeling to the characters and their interactions, I was deciphering iambic pentameter and trying to concentrate on language and metaphor interpretation. Not exactly fun, but if you can do so patiently, there’s something worthwhile watching at the heart.

End of year theatre and events round-up!

So we were blessed with some really incredible theatre and events last year. I think 2014 is going to have to do a lot to catch-up to 2013 in terms of sheer awesomeness, but with theatre being more popular than ever for high profile actors to get involved in, I’m pretty hopeful we’ll get to see lots of great stuff. Nonetheless, with my two favourite actors being Ben Whishaw and Colin Morgan, I very much doubt I’ll be treated to them both on stage twice again in 2014. So 2013 I salute you for being fab.

I had to do a round-up of theatre and events for 2013 for something else, so I thought I’d share here just what I did see last year because I reviewed about 10% of it! My new years resolution for 2014 is to review more. And stop seeing the same show multiple times – something I did quite a lot in 2013! (* denotes viewing multiple times)

January
The Nutcracker (English National Ballet) @ Coliseum Ballet
Julius Caesar @ Donmar Warehouse Play
NBA @ O2 Sport
No screening @ Curzon Screening
February
Grantly’s Show @ Poor School Musical
L’Elisir d’Amore @ The King’s Head Theatre Opera
Black Veil Brides @ Brixton Concert
Trelawny of the Wells @ Donmar Warehouse Play
Tailor Made Man @ The Arts Theatre Musical
March
Peter and Alice @ Noel Coward Theatre Play
April
Macbeth @ Trafalgar Studios Play
Othello @ The National Theatre Play
The Tempest @ Shakespeare’s Globe * Play
Idina Menzel @ Hackney Empire for Radio 2 Concert
Pink Martini & Rufus Wainwright @ Royal Albert Hall Concert
May
James Wong & The Gin Garden @ Heals Talk
Wyrd @ undisclosed location in Southwark Play
Beautiful Thing @ The Arts Theatre Play
My Vitriol @ Koko Concert
Bare @ Union Theatre Musical
The Weir @ The Donmar Warehouse Play
Q&A @ Shakespeare’s Globe Talk
Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall @ Soho Theatre Play
June
Book of Mormon @ Prince of Wales Theatre Musical
Cripple of Inishmaan @ Noel Coward Theatre Play
The Wandering Scholar @ The King’s Head Theatre Opera
Much Ado About Nothing screening @ BFI Screening
Neil Gaiman (Royal Society of Literature) @ The Peacock Theatre Talk
July
Curious Night at the Theatre @ Apollo Theatre Charity
The Night Alive @ The Donmar Warehouse Play
Edgar Wright weekender @ PCC Screening
PCC Pyjama Party @ PCC Screening
Sea Wall @ The Shed Play
Sweet Bird of Youth @ The Old Vic Play
August
James Rhodes @ The Soho Theatre Concert
Private Lives @ The Gielgud Theatre Play
Cold Con @ Genesis Cinema Convention
The Pride @ Trafalgar Studios Play
Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman in conversation @ Oxford Playhouse Talk
A Season in the Congo @ The Young Vic Play
September
The Lightning Child @ Shakespeare’s Globe * Musical
Macbeth @ Shakespeare’s Globe Play
October
Farragut North @ Southwark Playhouse Play
Chimerica @ Harold Pinter Theatre Play
Once @ The Phoenix Theatre Musical
Don Jon – London Film Festival Screening
Kill Your Darlings - London Film Festival Screening
12 Years a Slave - London Film Festival Screening
Only Lovers Left Alive - London Film Festival Screening
Edward II @ The National Theatre Play
Mojo @ Harold Pinter Theatre * Play
Thor 2 screening @ Curzon Soho Screening
November
Cool Gothic and the New Vampire @ BFI Talk
George A Romero in conversation @ BFI Talk
Night of the Living Dead @ BFI Screening
Tory Boyz (National Youth Theatre) @ Ambassadors Theatre Play
A Young Doctor’s Notebook screening @ BAFTA Screening
30 Seconds to Mars @  O2 Concert
Ballet Boyz @ Sadler’s Wells Ballet
Tracate Midoth screening & Mark Gatiss Q&A @ BFI Screening
December
Let the Right One In @ The Royal Court Play
Jumper’s for Goalposts @ Bush Theatre Play
Coriolanus @ The Donmar Warehouse * Play
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake @ Sadler’s Wells Ballet
Henry V @ Noel Coward Theatre Play
Sherlock preview @ BFI Screening
Black Veil Brides @ Manchester Academy Concert

Already in 2014 I have seen American Psycho, which I will also see a couple more times. Along with some repeat viewings of Mojo and Coriolanus. Although there is much booked in for Jan and Feb, the rest of the year is looking quiet, so come on Sonia, Michael, Nicholas, Josie – announce something exciting! And get those tickets for Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet on sale soon, pls!