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!

Sherlock Season 3 preview @ BFI – The Empty Hearse

So, anyone that knows anything about Sherlock knows that you won’t find spoilers here. I really don’t want to spoil anyone and, tbh, it will be 500 million times better if you don’t know what’s coming. So don’t go looking for them!

20131215_152221

The short review is: amazing. Brilliant show, brilliant cast…it just gets better. The fact that we wait so long for so little is one of the things that makes it so great, I think. It just maximises the quality of the show – you know it hasn’t been rushed and no one has burnt out trying to write 22 episodes a season.

I had wanted to write a little about the Q&A, but quite frankly it was awful. I’m not the biggest Caitlin Moran fan, but she did the last Sherlock Q&A really well and I know she really likes Benedict and Sherlock, so I was happy that it would be someone who knew what they were talking about. Boy was I wrong. Nothing she asked had anything to do with the episode, showing how crap she is at interviewing on the fly. And what made that worse was that she clearly hadn’t prepared properly either because her jokes and what she thought was funny really were not and clearly not well thought through.

You could say that Caitlin misjudged the humour in her questions. She went into the Q&A to take the piss out of the fans, the show and the whole phenomenon in general. Not, mind you, maliciously. Just in a mocking way. But that was bad judgement. The people in the room were the cast and crew, journos and fans that are well known for taking the show seriously. We had waited for 2 years for the episode.

20131215_152209

Things Caitlin asked them about:

  • Code words when filming and general secrecy
  • Martin casting his wife
  • Telling the director that fans are visible in one scene and generally making a big thing about it – i.e. asking the fans in the audience if they could see themselves
  • Making Benedict and Martin read fanfiction aloud – and fibbing by saying there’s nothing rude in it, when it turns out there’s some hot and heavy kissing

In fact, I cannot remember anything else that Caitlin Moran asked them about that interested me. And those above didn’t interest me, just memorable for being really dumb.

Let me address the fact that she decided to make a big thing about a mistake in the episode. It’s not polite or friendly to do that and she didn’t just reference it once, but she also called out to the audience if anyone saw themselves. You could tell both the director and Stephen Moffat were a bit pissed off, but they kept joking about it, presumably out of embarrassment.

That was the only thing Caitlin Moran really said about the episode that wasn’t related to casting choices.

About the fanfic thing. So Catlin decided that it would be funny to focus on the same thing all boring interviewers focus on when interviewing actors with huge fandoms – fan fiction. It’s been done to death, usually by Graham Norton, but in general it’s brought up a lot. I have never seen two actors being asked to read slash fanfic together though. And there’s a good reason for that – they don’t like it. Benedict was more reluctant than Martin, but they were both trying to be good sports about the whole thing. I suspect they know Caitlin and didn’t expect her to put them in an awkward position. But as they read down into the fic it was clear it wasn’t as innocent as she kept making out. Here is the extract they read (it was edited by Caitlin so they didn’t read all the description, just a little):

John opened the door.

Sherlock sprang to his feet and went into the kitchen. John was taking off his coat.

“You’re home early.”

John glanced up at him, rubbing the back of his neck. “Um, yeah, didn’t work out.”

Sherlock licked his bottom lip. “She was interested. It was you who ended the evening.”

John hung up his coat carefully. “Bit boring to be honest. Was hoping you’d interrupt me with a case or something.” He smiled weakly.

Sherlock didn’t laugh, his chest felt tight. The woman had been no more boring than the rest of them, yet John had come home.

“Boring’s never bothered you before,” he said, taking a step closer.

John turned then, but avoided his eyes. “Yeah well. It’s different now.”

Sherlock advanced on him, a peculiar fluttering within his mid-section. “Different how?”

John looked off to the left, his body at attention. “It’s hard work having a relationship outside of—” he waved his hand. “This, you. Too hard to bother with boring.”

Sherlock stopped a hand’s breadth from John.

“This isn’t enough for you. You want love, intimacy.”

John swallowed and shut his eyes. “Yeah.”

Sherlock studied John. John, with his nicest button down shirt, plain cardigan, grey-shot hair, bags under his eyes and lines on his face. John who was standing, tense and agitated. John, who cared about Sherlock and was more important than comfort or reputation. John, who right now needed caring too. Sherlock felt something unfurling within him, something he’d kept ruthlessly tucked away for a very long time. Hope was the least of it.

He closed the space between them and leaned his forehead down to John’s. John’s eyes remained shut but his breath quickened.

“John,” Sherlock murmured and he grazed his fingertips over the buttons of his cardigan.

John’s jaw twitched and his eyes flickered open, meeting Sherlock’s. His gaze darted down to Sherlock’s mouth and Sherlock found his own eyes drawn to John’s mouth in turn, that funny, expressive mouth. He suddenly very much needed to know how it felt, how it tasted. He tilted his head and very carefully pressed their lips together. John gave the slightest start, a small intake of air and then his thin lips parted under Sherlock’s. Sherlock froze at the frisson that ran through his centre, and he held there, lips pressed to John’s, their breaths loud. After a beat he slowly drew back, seeking John’s eyes.

“I can give that to you,” he said, voice uncommonly rough. “Let me.”

John’s tongue darted out to wet his lips. “Let you…”

Sherlock solemnly began unbuttoning his cardigan. “You need to be touched; let me.”

John gave a shuddering sigh and leaned his forehead back against Sherlock’s, their noses bumped, cheeks grazed and then John lifted his hand to Sherlock’s cheek and their mouths crushed together.

Sherlock pushed John back against the wall, deepening the kiss.
Source: Tea on AO3

Directly after this part is an extremely explicit (pornographic) scene and I don’t know whether that was on the print out Martin and Benedict had, or whether Caitlin just got her kicks from knowing that it followed, but it was all very uncomfortable. Benedict stopped as soon as it got to the kiss, they didn’t read it smoothly, they kept stopping, trying to distract, but not be real divas about it and refuse to read.

Essentially, I found it ridiculous and it really comes to something when the panelist is worse than the fan Qs, which in this case were decent and reasonably thoughtful.

Afterwards, Benedict also made a point of saying that fanfic has no bearing on the show, that it’s fantasy, and in the world they had created the scenarios are absurd. (I am paraphrasing, please don’t take that as a quote.)

And, Caitlin Moran has essentially uninvited herself to any Sherlock events again. Madness.

Edit: the person whose fanfic was read out has spoken. Read her comments here. I’ll leave you this quote, which sums up my general feelings on Moran anyway:

Also if Caitlin Moran had asked permission to use my work I would have begged her not to. She didn’t ask.
Mocking women for their passions, not very feminist.
Source

Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse, London

Just a quick review of this from me because it’s late, I’m tired and actually I don’t have a lot to say. Coriolanus is not a favoured Shakespeare play of mine – try as I might, I find it boring and kind of a chore to follow. So now you have some context for this review.

996304c26ccc3bf1ee4a3f4dca243e79

I found that Coriolanus contained some very good trousers. On Tom Hiddleston’s behind. Yes, well chosen Ed Parry. As tight as they come.

The set design was very powerful. There’s an amazing piece with a shower that requires a naked torso to really show it off. Bravo, Lucy Osborne, bravo.

The acting from everyone was strong and skilled. I particularly enjoyed the way Hadley Fraser kissed Tom Hiddleston several times. Very intense.

To be serious for a moment, the production was very Donmar, if you know what I mean. Too much techno music and other ‘modern’ touches. They work in moderation, but I feel like I’ve seen them before here. Overall the production didn’t help lift me out of my ‘I hate Coriolanus’ funk, but it did entertain me and I enjoyed myself.

There’s an amazing cast – they’re all pretty great. Tom Hiddleston commands a stage with ease and Deborah Findley plays his mother with all the fierceness necessary. Mark Gatiss was….Mark Gatiss. He’s one of those actors that I think struggles to get out of himself, but still a joy to watch. Dean Thomas…I mean Alfred Enoch…was a revelation. Only know him from Harry Potter, but was impressed by his performance.

Go see it! If you can get a ticket!

P.S. There seems to be some sort of trend at the moment for actors to be suspended upside down! Tom Hiddleston gives Tom Rhys Harries (Mojo) and Angus Miller (Let the Right One In) a run for their money!

P.P.S. I would really love to know what you think in the comments!

Mojo @ Harold Pinter Theatre (Ben Whishaw Colin Morgan Rupert Grint Brendan Coyle)

showbiz-mojo-stage-rupert-grint-ben-whishaw-et-al

So what do you say about a play you’ve been anticipating for months? When Mojo was first announced and I heard that Rupert Grint was going to debut in his first stage role, I was a smidge excited. Especially as he would be starring alongside Ben Whishaw, who I was dying to see on stage again after Peter and Alice. I quickly bought up tickets for the first and last preview. Then they announced Colin Morgan and I kind of went a bit nuts with the ticket buying for the rest of the run. It’s like the gods decided to put on a play with Claire’s dream cast. Because Daniel Mays and Brendan Coyle are also two that would get me to go see any show.

So you get a stellar cast like that, and a play like Mojo, and you know there’s no chance it will suck.

Writer Jez Butterworth, 25 years old at the time, debuted Mojo at the Royal Court in 1995. The play won the Olivier for Best New Comedy, and Jez won a couple of awards for Best New Playwright. It was well received, to say the least. The cast in 1995 included Tom Hollander as Baby and Aidan Gillen as Skinny, and it too was directed by Ian Rickson, as this new production is.

Tom Rhys Harries (Silver Johnny) in rehearsals for Mojo, photo by Simon AnnandIt’s 1958, it’s Soho, and a young 17 year old rock singer dubbed Silver Jonny (Tom Rhys-Harries), in a shiny silver suit and pink shirt, with his blond hair slicked back, and as pretty as they come, opens the show with some moves that set the scene. He disappears from stage for most of the rest of the play, mores the pity, but he’s in the back of your mind as so much of the show centres on his character. In the next scene, Sydney Potts (Daniel Mays) describes to Sweets (Rupert Grint) how the girls go wild for Silver Jonny, so wild they soil themselves. And as he says, “anything makes polite young ladies come their cocoa in public is worth taking a look at”.

It’s Ezra’s Atlantic Club and everything seems business as usual, until the next morning they find out that Ezra is dead. Sweets and Potts, along with runt of the club Skinny (Colin Morgan), Ezra’s psychotic son Baby (Ben Whishaw) and the older leader of the group Mickey (Brendan Coyle), are all terrified they might be next. They decide to sweat it out in the club for the weekend until everything has cooled down.

But tensions between the group run high, with suspicious and accusations flying, causing a strained atmosphere that you know just isn’t going to end well.

But this is a comedy, if you couldn’t tell by the synopsis. One that is dark and humorous, with constant flares of genius. I’m generally not a fan of comedy in TV and film, but on stage it seems to work for me a lot more, and I’ve enjoyed a few comedies in recent times. Mojo is the kind of play where you are nervously tittering throughout, knowing that it’s not not all going to be fun and games and waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you.

Rupert Grint (Sweets) in rehearsals for Mojo photo by Simon Annand

The writing is strong, lyrical at times, and the characters nicely drawn. Sweets and Potts are a wonderful comedy duo that play off each other well, while Skinny is appropriately irritating and awkward to the point of discomfort. Baby. Well Baby is the star of the show, the unmistakable loose canon who sets you on edge in every scene and drives you crazy.

The cast in this version were very strong for a first preview. I was surprised at how strong they were in fact, though like any show they will only get better with time. Rupert Grint was surprisingly good and self assured on stage, and it was great to see him there. I’d say he’s played it a little safe for his first stage role – at times I would slip into thinking about Ron Weasley, but I am certain that will change with time. From both an acting and audience perspective. I felt just the same seeing Daniel Radcliffe in Equus and even seeing Colin Morgan in Our Private Life when I still associated him so heavily with Merlin.

But that is definitely not the case with Colin anymore. I’ve watched him shake that off very successfully and he just gets better. His Skinny is well played, and his twitchy, somewhat sleazy character plays off Ben Whishaw’s Baby so very well. There’s a barely hidden sexual tension between the two that underwrites all their interactions.

Also, cheekbones that could cut glass. I’ve never seen them pop so hard. ;)

Colin Morgan (Skinny) in Rehearsals for Mojo, photo by Simon Annand

Ben Whishaw, of course, gives it his all. He nails the crazycakes Baby character effortlessly, barely displaying any kind of emotion, making the smile freeze on your lips. He can go from strutting around to murderous frenzy in a moment, causing the tension to ratchet up as the play moves on. His face is the one to watch throughout – his cold looks, his empty smiles, they’re all enough to remind you that this comedy isn’t light. And that Ben is one brilliant actor.

Ben Whishaw (Baby) in rehearsals for Mojo photo by Simon AnnandBy the way, he’s also a great singer. Colour me surprised, although I shouldn’t have been since he’s just been cast as Freddie Mercury. I enjoyed his voice a lot.

Daniel Mays as Potts is hilarious. His is a stand out performance, although perhaps it’s also a stand out role, with some of the best lines in the whole play. His performance was full of energy and exuberance, pumping up the laughs and lulling you into a false sense of security with his and Sweets rather bumbling approach to everything.

Brendan Coyle was solid, but the character of Mickey did little to really focus on. He’s probably the least well drawn of the characters, but is one that shows the most remorse as the play ends.

There’s some scenes in the play that will get the fangirls going (myself included). Colin Morgan in white underpants, tied to a jukebox, being bullied by Ben Whishaw is one that will stay with you. I won’t spoil the scene, but suffice to say they get up close and personal. (And, yes, yes, I did describe Colin’s thighs as quivering earlier, which seems to have stuck with some!) Some of Baby’s ‘Kiss My Pegs’ rage is so crackling with sexual tension you want them to just do it and put us all out of our misery. Ben Whishaw, by the way, looks nothing like what you’d imagine with his shirt off. Toned, tanned and gorgeous. I always imagined him being willowy and pale, but also gorgeous.

Finally, some props to Tom Rhys-Harries who has a small role in this production and spends most of it upside down. I’ve had my eye on him for a while and it’s great to see him in a play of this calibre. I’m excited to see his career climb.

Negatives? Well it wasn’t perfect. Down to the writing mainly. There’s some plot holes to be honest, but easily overlooked. There was some nerves on stage, but let’s be fair as it was first preview. All in all, I give it a massive thumbs up. Having seen some real tosh recently on stage, it’s so brilliant to be excited about a play again.

Buy tickets for Mojo.

The Pride @ Trafalgar Studios

I realised this weekend that I am exactly 22 events behind in reviewing. One day I will find myself with more time to write. In fact, I made a pact with myself today that I write at least one blog post and one page of prose per week. I’m nothing if not consistent in setting myself lofty goals. ;)

1097-6567-l_r_al_weaver__oliver____harry_hadden_paton__philip____the_pride___trafalgar_studios___photo_marc_brenner

The one play I did want to review is The Pride, which I saw about a week ago at the Trafalgar Studios. I’ve long been a supporter of gay theatre, ever since I went to Above the Stag once years ago. It’s not that I necessarily want to seek it out, but the heart of gay stories is very human and the kind of thing I like – inner turmoil, self-hatred/self-doubt, passion, desire, repression, big epic love, risking everything for another person, identity and sexuality, etc. It’s the agonising angst, you see. Don’t tell me these are stories that straight people don’t also enjoy!

So I go when something grabs me, which this one did. Of course, I was aware of it as Hugh Dancy and Ben Whishaw performed this play in NYC (and how I would give anything to have seen that!), so when it came back to the London stage, I knew I wanted to see it. Having seen Beautiful Thing the previous month, I really wanted to find a piece of gay theatre out there really pushing boundaries and making it count. Don’t get me wrong, Beautiful Thing is a wonderful play, but the performance at The Arts Theatre left me cold and I was starting to feel that we’re so deprived of gay stories that anything gets acclaim.

So I was delighted that The Pride hit every one of my spots, as a theatre goer, as a (budding) writer, as a person interested in the human condition, etc.

the-pride-poster

The Pride is a play of two stories, interwoven and interlocking, about gay lovers in 1958 and in 2008. In it the stories explore the changing attitudes to sexuality and honesty over the period and, while at face value we can see the times have changed drastically, the mood of 2008 quite rightly still feels melancholy. The character of Oliver, a closeted children’s author in 1958, and a promiscuous gay man in 2008, skilfully portrayed by Al Weaver, seem world’s apart from each other. In 1958 he falls for the husband of his illustrator, a deeply closeted man who cannot feel the pride Oliver feels and violently rejects him. In 2008, Oliver struggles with his own nature after being dumped by his long suffering boyfriend, who cannot continue to endure his desire for anonymous sex, also known as ‘slut stuff’.

image

But although it feels times have changed, Oliver is as lonely in 2008 as he is in 1958. Even with all the liberation of the modern day, relationships aren’t easy, and the casual sex Oliver desires in 2008 doesn’t make him any happier.

Alongside Al Weaver’s amazing performance, Hayley Atwell is brilliant as the 50s housewife who comes to the eventual realisation that everyone is as lonely and unhappy as she is. Her character is juxtaposed with a giggly 2008 BFF to Oliver, trying to give him the support he needs when all feels lost. So too are excellent performances by Harry Hadden-Patton and Matthew Horne. It’s truly a brilliant cast.

pride1

The writing in this play is tight and incredibly well scripted. It was intense and, for the first time in years, maybe ever, it shocked me. In a good way. It turned my stomach into knots constantly, made all the more intense by the couple sat next to me clutching each other’s hands throughout, like it was as painful for them watch as it was for Oliver to live through it. If you can find empathy in your heart then this is a play to watch.

At the very end, after the applause and cheering, the cast came out on stage with placards that said ‘to Russia with love’. When you see that, some things truly hit home.

Go watch it before it ends. You have until November! Buy tickets here.

Coriolanus @ The Donmar Warehouse

Coriolanus FINAL

So anyone that knows me knows that I love both The Donmar Warehouse and Tom Hiddleston. For a retrospective on Tom Hiddleston’s reading of Tennessee Williams at the Criterion Theatre, head over to my Tumblr, where I used to do long bulky review posts! Anyway, I’ve seen a few things at the little Donmar – a theatre that is little by size and not in name! When they announced that Coriolanus was coming, starring Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss, the world of ‘fandom’ collectively wet their pants in excitement. And everyone prepared for battle.

See, the Donmar is a teeny tiny theatre. And the popularity of Tom and Mark is beyond their size, so we all knew it would be painful. And it was. I really wanted opening night tickets, because one of the things I like to do is get a review up first for shows I know fangirls are chomping at the bit for information on. And I was lucky! In a strategic battle plan organised with my friends, we successfully procured tickets mostly for what we wanted. Sadly, I failed to get tickets for closing night, but you take what you can get!

And guys, never fear, we can battle it out again when the Barclaycard £10 front row deal comes along!

One of the things I was most interested in was how far and wide reaching it is. People are travelling from all over for this play. So I want to find out who is coming to the show and from where! Leave me a comment below and tell me where you’re travelling from to see Coriolanus!

See you at the show!

The Cripple of Inishmaan with Daniel Radcliffe

So despite having seen a lot of theatre since my last post, I wanted to make the next one about the opening night of The Cripple of Innishmaan at the Noël Coward theatre. The Cripple of Innishmaan is the second third in a season of plays from Michael Grandage - I did go see Peter and Alice, so sorry about the lack of review for that one!

inishmaanThe Cripple of Innishmaan is a revival of a play that first premiered at the National in 1996. It stars the boy I can’t stop calling Harry Potter – Daniel Radcliffe. But it would be a shame to focus only on Daniel because the play had a fantastic cast supporting him.

The play is set in 1934 on a rather bleak island called Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland. Excitement stirs as a Hollywood film crew arrive to make a documentary about island life. (Cripple) Billy suffers from hemiplegia and was orphaned soon after his birth, and lives with his two adopted aunts who run a small convenience store. Billy sees the film as an opportunity out of the depressing existence that he is in and, despite ridicule and mockery from the townspeople, chases after a dream to be chosen for the film.

inishmaan2

The play is darkly humorous and that’s my favourite type of comedy. There’s nothing PC about the way that Billy is referred to as Cripple Billy and, while I know we are viewing an era when it wasn’t considered mean-spirited to use descriptive language to refer to someone, it still felt rather shocking. When Billy asks one character to stop calling him ‘Cripple Billy’ and receives a confused ‘then what should I call you?’, you realise that this was a time when language like this came from isolation and ignorance, not malice.

Helen, the young, firey angry girl that Billy wants to kiss is a little over the top at times. She’s so mean that you wonder what Billy, who seems sensible and thoughtful and beyond the intelligence of most of the characters he shares a life with, would see in someone like her. Her brother Bartley too, relentlessly bullied by Helen, yet able to be as mean and nasty as her.

Billy’s life is depressing. I felt for him as he tries desperately to change the inevitability of his life and situation. Daniel Radcliffe was superb. I’ve watched him as an actor grow from Harry Potter, to the brave and bold lead in Equus, to The Cripple of Inishmaan and I think he still has so much more to give. To see him on stage is affirming – this is a young man that could have gone to Hollywood and made blockbuster after blockbuster, but he takes and introverted role about a boy that maybe in some ways he can relate to, trapped in an existence he can’t control. Fame can be a bit like that for someone as famous as Daniel.

He has improved greatly. He was natural and seamless in this role. I absolutely forgot I was watching Daniel Radcliffe on stage last night – to me he really embodied Billy. To compare to his last stage role in Equus, Daniel has really come on in creating a natural character without any awkwardness.

inishmaan3

All the other actors were also fantastic. I thought Pat Shortt as Jonnypateenmike, the local gossip, was superb, and Padraic Delaney as Babbybobby was also great. Sarah Greene, as Helen, despite the over the top character worked it well with some sense of vulnerability that softened my opinion of her by the end.

This is really a fantastic play. Go see it! Get your tickets here.

Celeb count: Daniel Radcliffe (actor: Harry Potter)

 

Wyrd @ secret wine cellar in Southwark

wyrd
So. Immersive theatre. Ever done that? No, me either, until last Friday night, when I was invited to the press night of Wyrd by Immer-city. Until two days before, all I knew was that it was in a wine cellar in Southwark, then I was given a meeting point at a pub. Intriguing.

Now, I’m a Secret Cinema hipster. I went back when it was still in its infancy and they weren’t selling thousands of tickets per production. You know, when it was small, interesting and most people don’t know about it. Thinking about it, the immersive experience of Wyrd is basically Secret Cinema for the theatre.

Kind of.

It wasn’t quite as good as a Secret Cinema event. Even those early ones. But they did share the same spirit and that’s pretty exciting as a theatre goer! I’m aware there are other immersive theatre events in London, but I haven’t been to one before and, if I’m honest, the prospect has always filled me with dread. I’m no actor. I love watching plays, musical theatre, etc, but I can neither act, nor sing, and I have a pretty low embarrassment threshold. So not knowing the level of audience participation often makes me back right off. Same reason I hate stand up, or drag acts, or anywhere that someone will go out of their way to try to embarrass me.

But I took the plunge on this as they were nice enough to invite me to attend.

wyrd1We met at the The Lord Clyde pub in Southwark where everyone milled around outside chatting. As soon as we arrived it was clear that this was going to be a case of not knowing who was an actor and who was audience for a while, but that was quite fun. After some stories about the history of the area and Southwark, we were taken to literally an abandoned house where the stories continued. Everyone was then lead, by month of birth, down to the wine cellar where we were directed by tutting into our seats on what looked like boxes and sacks set out in a circle.

 

Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut

Apparently I sat in the wrong place, because some serious freak outs happened and the tutting reached a crescendo with me standing in the middle not quite sure what was going on, before being redirected to the correct seat.

Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut tut

We were then ready for the seance, the very reason we had all gathered in this random location in Southwark. Joseph, his wife Fiona and his best friend Ethan had asked friends to gather with them to hold a seance in the hope of finding out more about what happened to Joseph’s murdered grandfather. They were helped by Dr Isabella Gaudi, ‘renowned’ spiritualist, Lilith the witch and Joseph’s starey eyed mute sister Amanda.

The space was used extremely well. It was claustrophobic and oppressive – ideal for a seance – with certain effects used to create terror (or perhaps discomfort). During the seance in which Amanda was possessed, the lights went out at times (it was seriously pitch black), background noises were used and it was all extremely atmospheric. I thought the group passing of the salt round the circle to contain the spirits was a nice touch (hey I watch Supernatural!). Overall, the lighting/staging/audience participation was used to excellent effect.

wyrd2

By far the best part of the show for me, however, was when the real story began. And for me that was in the final scene. Until then, there was an element of the school play about the whole production. However (although this is a smidge of a spoiler) when Fiona, Ethan and Jonathan are possessed by the spirits of Joseph’s late grandfather and his wife, the story really came to life. This was the real heart of the play and was the climax we were working towards. The idea of playing out a story using possessed characters during a seance was great and I thought the actors did well.

The immersive part, well, I could have lived without that preamble to be honest. I didn’t feel a lot of it was especially needed or added value overall. Yes, I liked the fact that I felt like I was part of a group of friends holding a seance – that worked extremely well. I liked the chat in the pub beforehand too. Was I convinced by the characters? Well not entirely, no. Dr Guadi felt a little too young to be convincingly authoritative, and I didn’t find the delivery of the stories by her and Lilith particularly engaging. (Especially the final one – after the great climax of the final scene, the subsequent story telling diluted the wow factor of the ending considerably.)

Some choices I found bizarre, such as a ritual that Dr Gaudi performed with a sandwich at one point before we took our seats in the seance. (Sam Trueman, who played Ethan, bless him, did well to cover the fact that most of us were frowning with confusion over that and the fact that he was cute helped distract me from the nonsensical nutella sandwich making!)

It would be remiss to not mention that there was a lot of content shared on Facebook and Twitter prior to the opening of the show to really expand the experience of the audience. This is a great idea and I would love it if theatres used this idea more. In this instance, however, I was a little confused about the relevance of the content available on Facebook. The content is mainly comprised of things like pictures of the wedding between Joseph and Fiona, their marriage proposal, hen/stag does, etc, and didn’t feel at all important to the evening ahead. The content around the death of the grandfather was good, but too limited – I would have expected more on his life and the relationship between him, his wife and friend, etc. It would have been a lot stronger if the focus and build-up was on what we were all aiming for – which was to find out what happened that fateful night.

Overall my first experience of immersive theatre was cool. While I have some reservations, I did enjoy myself and think it has helped me be a little more adventurous in what I see.

To check out Wyrd, ensure you book in advance because capacity is limited. Purchase here – runs until 19th May, before transferring to Endinburgh Fringe.