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"My Child", Royal Court – Review

When I looked at my ticket and it said “unreserved standing” I was reminded of when I was about thirteen and dying to go to a Jamie Walters (who? Don’t ask…) concert and paid about £15 to stand up front. I’ve been to other concerts where I’ve ended up standing (and FYI Jamie decided to not do the concert after all!), but the coincidence was brought on by the price of my ticket. I envisioned the stage and myself standing there with my hands in the air (or not) for three hours. I was concerned for my back, to tell you the truth.

Then we were finally allowed inside, and the small room looks like the inside of a bus. Some seating, some standing, iron bars to hold onto, the works. There was a kid playing with an electric car in the middle aisle. Everyone found their seat/standing position, and suddenly I saw someone straight ahead of me, wearing a grey jumper and black jeans. It looked a helluva lot like Ben Miles. Just standing there, hanging with the audience. The most hilarious part was that nobody else seemed to have noticed, not even those next to him. Then the control to the car stopped working, and he helped the kid to put it back together. That was when it was a collective *gasp* going through the crowd, and little did we know that the play had already started.

Lasting 35 minutes (not three hours as previously feared), we see how a father (Ben Miles) goes to extremes to see his son when his ex-wife (Lia Williams) openly tells him his father is a loser. And possibly not even his father, as she had an affair at the time that he was conceived. What does it mean to be a good parent? What does it mean to be a man? These are questions this play raises. Is a man someone that’s strong, driven and provides? Is that a good father? Or is a good father someone that loves their child more than anything and goes to any lengths to be near them? Violence and hardship VS sensitive and caring. What matters in today’s world?

For me, Ben Miles just stole the performance. I saw him previously in Richard II at the Old Vic. There he acted alongside charismatic Kevin Spacey and they were equals up there. As the battered father of a son that prefers his rich stepfather is rather brilliant. The play, written by newcomer Mike Bartlett, is rather brilliantly directed by Sacha Wares. It cuts between scenes in a way that there’s no doubt one scene has ended and another one starts – even though it happens rather frequently and without warning. Many of the actors were sitting amongst us, threw out a line here and there, and you don’t really know they’re part of the play until you hear someone next to you speaking. (Watch yourself so you don’t end up smacking someone for speaking during the performance – 😉 )

Fantastic performances, great script, good fun. “My Child” is on from 3rd May until 2nd June at the Royal Court – Jerwood Theatre.

An unrelated but totally embarrassing story

When I saw Ben in the bar after “Richard II” I thought I would just say that I liked his performance, and ended up saying something along the lines of “I really enjoyed your interpretation of Bollingbrooke in this production.” That was all I really had to say, considering Shakespeare isn’t exactly on my ‘I’m highly competent in’ list. He was about to order a drink when I said that. I’ve said similar things to actors before, and every time you get “thank you” and they move on. It was a mistake to assume this would be the case every time, cause in this instant it wasn’t.

He turned, looked at me, smiled heartily and said, “Really! Well thank you very much!” – with added enthusiasm so I’d say something else. I was completely blank. I was taken aback. Me, shy, totally sober and zero knowledge of Shakespeare. Him, confident (and ever so slightly good lookin’!), also sober and up for a chat. We stood in silence. For possibly a minute. It was awkward. He really must have thought I was a total arse. The L on my forehead went from virtually non-existent to being in pink neon and blinking. I rounded off by saying “Anyway…” and excused myself.

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Posted by on May 4, 2007 in Ben Miles, lia williams, my child, royal court

 

Rafta, Rafta…, Lyttleton – Review

A lustful relationship leads to a beautiful Bollywood marriage leads to… absolutely nothing in the bedroom.

A young married couple lives with his parents, their room placed firmly in between his folks and his brothers on the second floor – so it may not be all that odd when, six weeks later, there’s been no action whatsoever in the bedroom. However, it appears that Atul’s (Ronny Jhutti) problems are deeper rooted than that, cause what viril lad would let a little thing like family stand in the way of consummating his marriage to his beautiful wife Vina (Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi)?

Bollywood actor Harish Patel makes his West End debut in “Rafta, Rafta…” and is perhaps the most delightful character in this production as Atul’s father Eeshwar. Unable to connect with his oldest son, missing and obsessing over his friend that all of a sudden lost touch with him (even after he came on honeymoon with him and his wife Meera to Blackpool), enjoying being the centre of attention (even at his son’s wedding reception) and finding himself attempting a long overdue birds and bees talk with Atul after yet another failed shag in the middle of the night.

Being a virgin as far as seeing Bollywood on a stage, I can vouch for the fact that you don’t need to be Indian or know anything about Bollywood to enjoy this production. I’ve seen all of one Bollywood movies (“Monsoon Wedding” for those interested) and enjoyed this play more. The sense of humour, the slight piss-take of Indian family life, the ups and downs (ahem) of being newly-weds living in a house full of distractions, families and in-laws getting involved in one husband’s unability to take his wife’s virginity.

Rafta, Rafta… is on at the Lyttleton – National Theatre, from 18th of April until 23rd of June.

 

Kevin Spacey’s Da Vinci Play

If your name is Kevin Spacey it’s not quite enough to be artistic director of one of London’s oldest theatres, do a movie and appear in a play 8 times a week simultaneously. No, Sir. Why only do three things at the same time when you can easily do four?

On 17 April a number of international celebrities will gather at the SIHH Watch Fair in Geneva for the lavishly produced “Serata di Leonardo.” Yes, we’re talking Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s to celebrate the launch of IWC Schaffhausen’s new generation of Da Vinci watches in the opulent style of the Renaissance.

Whoever else will decide to show up to this Who’s (Doing) Who In Showbiz event, the highlight will be the Old Vic’s artistic director Kevin Spacey going on the stage to take the lead role in his own theatrical piece.

The play, “Leo and Lisa” (wild guess: Leonardo and Mona Lisa), is produced especially for IWC. As a man that likes being – ideally – everywhere at any given moment, I’m sure he makes no big deal out of taking the day off from his Broadway run of “A Moon For The Misbegotten” to appear alongside Thandie Newton (“Mission Impossible II” and “Crash”) half a world away. She will undoubtedly be there to make sure his jetlag is kept under control 😉

“Leo and Lisa” is being staged in an amphitheatre that has been built specially for this momentous event and will be recorded live. If you’re tearing your hair out at the moment, trying to get time off work for the day because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a spectacular one-off play… don’t despair. On 16th May you can see it online on the IWC site alongside a making-of from the rehearsals.

 

"The Entertainer" Q&A with Robert Lindsay, Pam Ferris and Sean Holmes

10th of April, 50 years to the day when “The Entertainer” opened at the Royal Court, starring Lawrence Olivier. The Old Vic marked this anniversary by inviting the audience to participate in a Q&A with Robert Lindsay, Pam Ferris and director Sean Holmes. It was chaired by Michael Coveney.

One complimentary glass of red Mouton Cadet wine later, we all swarmed into the theatre, scattering ourselves around the – mainly – front of the stage, everyone pretty much wondering who would sit down in the “RESERVED” seat to the left of the stage, halfway back. Your mind is bending. Who could it be? Kevin Spacey making a surprise visit back from NY to be there for the anniversary of this John Osborne play? Peter O’Toole looking for a way to deliver constructive criticism to the cast? A journalist whose arse needs special greasing before the next production?

Mind you, it was none of the above. Maybe it was reserved for the spirit of Osborne himself. Whether it was someone getting a seat and deciding not to show up or being occupied by the spirit of a great American playwright, the chair remained empty.

Of course, my decision to not sit up front and rest my feet on the stage proved to be a bad idea. I was hoping to be able to use my voice-recorder and report back from the hour-long session, but as it turns out there was slight trouble with projecting voices beyond the first few rows. (At this point you’re probably thinking I have a hearing problem for mentioning projecting before when I was practically hanging from the chandelier at the National Theatre – but if I have trouble hearing, so does my ultra-sensitive voice-recorder.)

As a result of this, I got nothing. Well, except what I remember 18 hours later.

They started off asking Robert Lindsay if he felt intimidated by the fact that he would, as far as many are concerned, be filling Lawrence Olivier’s shoes. Also, the old story about Larry giving Robert Lindsay his blessing to do this role. Robert said he had “certainly not given his blessing” but that he said it was a fantastic part to play. Robert said Olivier had come to see his play (“Me and my Girl”?) twice, at a point where he was very ill and had a nurse with him, but that he had very much enjoyed the performance and given Robert a piece of advice; “Try flipping a sugar cube with a spoon into your hat.” He had tried and had gotten a standing ovation. 😉

Pam Ferris went onto talking about her first acting experience at the age of 13 in New Zealand, the move down under caused by her sister starting a family there and driving their mother nuts by not bringing the grandchildren to the UK, and forty years later she’s still doing it. Though she obviously, at some point, made the move back. She said – when asked if they compared themselves to the ‘original cast’ – that she was against doing it. She reads reviews, and wants to know what people think, but she won’t base her performance on what someone else thinks or someone else did before.

Sean Holmes was asked later if he had considered “updating” the play, as far as 1956 war references were concerned. He was adamant that the play was still current considering a son was taken capture in “The Entertainer” – drawing a parallel to the recent situation with British soldiers being held in Iran. He mentioned an example of another play this had happened with during the outbreak of the Iraq war. They had decided to put the play on a year in advance, and suddenly it was current again with a recent incident.

The biggest laugh of the evening came when Robert Lindsay was asked about who he enjoyed playing the most, Archie Rice or Tony Blair. Especially when he said, when asked who he liked the most, “Oh, Archie Rice, definitely!” Robert was telling us about how he’s terrified of doing the music-hall sequences every night, because every time something new happens in the audience. He has to reply in character (“or not as the case may be”) and again I’m sure he was referring to comments like, “I know where you live!” that was freaking him out on the first preview night. He said that he had been lucky enough to have a bunch of non-theatre-goers from where he grew up come see the play. Some of the younger members had been very moved by the play, obviously connecting to the mental abuse that’s going on, and added dryly, “Oh, and we got a 50-people standing ovation at the end.”

Someone from the audience rounded off by saying he saw the original “The Entertainer” at the Royal Court 50 years ago and had never forgotten how Lawrence Olivier had been such a prominent character that made everyone else fade. It made me excessively curious how this production would compare, a question that Robert Lindsay had already answered in part when he said one of Osborne’s friends had come see the play, and said it was a production he would have loved.

Well, after hearing that, nothing else matters.

Also see:

 

The Elephant Man, Trafalgar Studios – Review

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that when I was very young I saw “The Elephant Man” movie starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and John Gielgud. Multiple times. I was, naturally, very anxious to see how they would do this at the theatre. It obviously started as a theatre production, but this was my first time seeing it live.

“The Elephant Man” was Joseph Merrick. If you don’t know the story, as far as his appearance, a picture will say more than a thousand words (below). When I saw the movie I recall having undying sympathy for this disfigured – yet terribly intelligent – man, as he struggled through his life, taunted by crowds of cruel individuals, probably afraid of what they didn’t know. He was picked up by a showman that made him some money from shows, but they got away from each other and eventually Merrick met Dr Treves that decided to take care of him. After years of living at the hospital, he died in his sleep when he was only 32.

My main question was:
How would they deal with Joseph Merrick’s appearance?

I almost expected some hideously unreal plaster-work, but luckily – if I may say so – Marc Pickering (playing Merrick) had enough acting talent to not need any props added onto his body to play convincing as the disfigured Elephant Man. Frederick Treves (Ayden Callaghan) showed a slide-show of pictures of the real Merrick, explaining his physique, as Merrick stood – naked – with his back against us, adding one deformed limb after another as his doctor explained. In the end, you’d have to have a terribly blank imagination if you couldn’t see every deformity on this man’s body.

My forehead was sore after 90 minutes of frowning in a mix of “those f***ers!” and “nobody should have to feel like he did”. Even though Treves ultimately did a good thing getting Merrick off the street, he also – to some extent – abused his power. He wanted to maintain full control and giving Merrick as little space to do what he wanted to do/say/think as possible. “For his own good” was the excuse. Like wanting to see a woman naked just once in his life. When he gets to, he gets told off like a naughty school boy – around the age of 30.

I have to say that I thought it was an outstanding, understated production. The small stage with maybe 50 seats surrounding it just added to the excellence. Marc Pickering was just… I hardly have words. He was perfect. Baring it all – physically and emotionally – for a role that was done with such elegance, intelligence, emotion and heart has to be incredibly difficult. Maybe even more so in such an intimate setting.

Jennifer Taylor (Mrs Kendal) has a real compassion for her new friend, to the extent that she’s willing to grant him his highest wish. She, herself, suggests that she comes to see him often so that he can grow acquainted with communication with women. Something he had previously never done. She shows real passion, and love, for Merrick’s bleeding and compassionate heart. In the film Mrs Kendal says: “You’re not an Elephant Man at all – you’re Romeo!”

Ayden Callaghan was perfectly cast as the doctor that struggles with his own guilt, sees himself in his patient more than he cares to admit, and has an incredible amount of self-loathing in the middle of it all. When Merrick points out things to him – that he already knows but wishes he didn’t – he gets angry and frustrated. Ayden does this role incredibly well, acting out his suppressed anger and hatred as intended.

The only scene I missed from in the movie was where Merrick finally gets his recognition at the theatre; His actress friend Mrs Kendal dedicates her entire performance to him, asks him to stand up and gets a standing ovation from everyone at the theatre as he mutters: “I feel as if I’ve travelled my whole life just to stand here.”

“The Elephant Man” opened 4th April for previews, and will run through to 5th May at Trafalgar Studios. It first received critical acclamations for the 1979 Broadway production, winning all major drama awards including three Tonys, three Obies, the Drama Desk Award and the New York Drama Critics award.

If you’re up for a strong experience, don’t miss it.

 

Crunch, Arts Theatre – Review

Once upon a time, not so long ago that we don’t remember it, there was a man called Adam and a woman called Eve that worked in the Fruit Naming Department of Eden Enterprises. All is well, for a long time, but then… the apple arrives. Yes, that one. What’s missing in the equation? Yesssssss, the sssssssssnake. Guess what he convinces Eve to do. Yessssss. They’re being kicked out there and are set to find another apple – to match the one currently in Eve’s greedy stomach – to save their jobs and their place in Eden.

Every conceivable apple story is told in roughly an hour and a half, including Sir Isaac Newton, William Tell, Apple Mac, The Big Apple and The Golden Apple of Troy – with a little Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Swedish singing thrown in.

Sara Lewerth, Johan Westergren, Troels Findsen and John Hinton are all absolutely delightful. The Arts Theatre is small and cosy, the mood is relaxed, you can expect to be greeted by a charming guitarist before the show as you find your place and quite possibly get dragged up onstage during the show if you’re on the front row. I was, needless to say, sweating – as I was one of three shaking in their boots on row one. It’s almost like a pantomime, in the sense that the audience is very much a part of the show. Like when Adam holds the girl – that has been sleeping for a very very long time – in his arms and asks what he should do. “Kiss her!” was the obvious answer, but “Give’er some coffee, mate!” was also suggested.

It’s charming, it’s hilarious, it’s involving, it’s the perfect remedy if you’ve had a bad/annoying/hard day at work and need a good laugh. Just steer clear of row one unless you want to become a performer for a night. Daniel Goldman directs this multi-national company formed last year by Lecoq graduates.

Crunch!” can be seen at the Arts Theatre from Wednesday 28th March to 14th April.

 

Did You Hear That…?

  • Peter Ackroyd is writing a play about Shakespeare, possibly for the Old Vic?
  • The Trevor Nunn production “Porgy & Bess” is due to close 5th May instead of 27th October?
  • Little Shop Of Horrors” is extending three months and will run until September 2007?
  • Tony Hadley stays on as Billy Flynn in “Chicago” until14th April after extending his original run from 26th March?
  • Connie Fisher is to play six of the eight shows a week in “The Sound Of Music“, being let off the remaining two by fellow reality star Aoife Mulholland?
  • You can catch the Sherlock Holmes tale “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at the Duchess Theatre from 17th April?
  • Kevin Spacey and Eve Best start previews this week for “A Moon For The Misbegotten” on Broadway this week?