Theatre aesthetics in a digital world

Getting straight to the point, why are many theatre sites so appalling to look at? Organisations, like the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company, have sites that are visually fine (although often too fiddly for the users) and theatre blogs, naturally, span a huge range, but theatre news outlets, like Whatsonstage, Playbill and Broadwayworld, are consistent in their aesthetic: garish, loud, like being screamed at by an old lady while repeatedly hit over the head. If you get past that assault, there is a lot of interesting content, but I still feel I am in the wrong place: normally I wouldn’t be caught dead in a place as naff as that. Continue reading

Tennessee Williams at the Old Vic and other theatre news

Melina Mercouri in Sweet Bird of Youth (1979)

In a series of irregular features, this is a roundup of theatre news and rumours that caught my eye this past week:

  • Word is Marianne Elliott will direct Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth for the Old Vic, no news on the cast yet. I have never seen the play but my enduring image of it is a black and white photo, Melina Mercouri in a 1979 greek production. The project should attract a first rate and exciting cast. (Update 11/10/2012: Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail confirmed the rumour today, with the information that Kim Cattrall will play the lead role).
  • My current theatre obsession is a play and theatre production I haven’t seen: Peter and the Starcatcher went from workshop to off Broadway production to Tony award winning Broadway hit, and indications are strong it will transfer to the West End next. Roger Rees (who developed and co-directed the play in New York) is in London for his one man show What You Will so maybe there will be news soon.
  • A few months back, the Royal Court announced, as part of its upcoming season, the new Jez Butterworth / Ian Rickson play The River, and given that Jerusalem was the last offering from this playwright / director team, the interest was huge. Excitement turned to irritation as it was also announced that no tickets could be purchased in advance (membership booking or otherwise) and all tickets would be purchased on the day. A few days ago, cast was announced for the play with Dominic West, Miranda Raison and Laura Donnelly taking the roles in this intimate three-hander. This production feels like the poisoned chalice to me, as it will be difficult to live up to expectations and the whole business with the tickets didn’t buy a lot of good will (among regular – and paying – theatregoers like myself, the critics obviously don’t care). But if I ever get tickets, I ‘ll tell you what I think of it.

What will be the National Theatre’s Christmas show and other stories

This August continues to be slow for theatre (after all, we have all been focusing on other exciting events), but casting and other news are hotting up. Here is what caught my eye this past week:

  • Director Jamie Lloyd launches his own production company in association with the Ambassador Theatre Group. The announcement of this new commercial theatre venture comes not long after Michael Grandage announced his West End season of five plays chock full of big names (Simon Russell Beale, Ben Whishaw, Judi Dench, Daniel Radcliffe). Although my wallet undoubtedly suffers when I have to pay West End prices, it’s healthy to have commercial theatre that feels exciting.
  • A couple of years ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company produced and toured Ben Power’s play A Tender Thing, a new way of looking at the story of Romeo and Juliet. I was sad to miss it then, but the play returns at the RSC this autumn, this time with two of my favourite actors, Richard McCabe and Kathryn Hunter. Not missing it this time.
  • Anne Marie Duff at the Donmar was already exciting news, but now the remaining cast for Jean Racine’s Berenice has been announced: Stephen Campbell Moore and Dominic Rowan will join her as husband and lover. In this “perfect tragedy of unfulfilled passion“, it’s a delicious combination.

John Logan’s Red in Los Angeles (or What Jonathan Groff did next)

Jonathan Groff as Ken and Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko. Photo Craig Schwartz

When I first saw Jonathan Groff in Glee, I didn’t pay much attention to him. There is much young talent in Glee and he didn’t seem much different. But a couple of years later, he showed up in Deathtrap at the West End, and anyone who can go toe to toe with Simon Russell Beale, it’s worth keeping an eye on. In some ways, I was even more impressed when I saw him in the one off performance of the 24 Hour plays at the Old Vic a few weeks later. With uneven material and very little rehearsal (as it’s inevitably the case in occasions like that), he still made a great impression. Since then, he went back to New York to appear in the off Broadway production of The Submission (playing another, if quite different, playwright than the one in the Deathtrap), went back to Glee and also has another recurring role in the political drama series Boss.

His latest role on stage is not quite on british soil (as I would have liked) but the connection with Britain is strong: Michael Grandage goes back to John Logan’s play Red, directing it this time at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, with Alfred Molina reprising his Donmar (and Broadway) role as Mark Rothko and Jonathan Groff playing Rothko’s young assistant Ken (in the original production the role was played by Ed Redmayne). The press night was this past Sunday and the reviews make for interesting reading: Continue reading

Do you want to talk about the Olympics?

There is no getting away from the Olympics. Why would I want to? We are collectively obsessed with the games and with good reason: this has been the greatest Olympics ever. Because, as Caitlin Moran wrote in the Times yesterday “Just like every new baby is the best baby ever, and every new spring triumphs over the last, all Olympics are the best, ever.” Olympics is a crazy collective dream. Noone wants to miss it.

The face of the games: some of the competitors will win olympic medals making their wildest dreams come true. Many others will achieve their personal goals. Wojdan Shaherkani, a 16 year old girl  from Saudi Arabia, is doing something she probably never wanted, but more important than all the medals together: she is the first Saudi woman to compete at the Games.

On the outside looking in: from the Financial Times London in Love with its games.

All come backs to theatre: From Mark Lawson at the Guardian Why the Olympic opening ceremony was a triumph of agitprop theatre.

Because we can never talk too much about the London 2012 opening ceremony: a blog post by my twitter friend Lucas Hare “Thank you, Danny Boyle. You caught me off guard”.

Uncharacteristic behaviour: BBC commentators keep their cool. Or not. What happened as Mo Farah won the 10,000m Olympic gold?

And finishing with a tweet that was making the rounds last night, after Super Saturday: “a mixed race girl, an African refugee & a ginger bloke walk into a bar. Everyone buys them a drink”. Quite.