Review: Smack Family Robinson, by Richard Bean – Rose Theatre Kingston

Keith Allen and Denise Welch in rehearsal. Photo by Alastair Muir

Keith Allen and Denise Welch in rehearsal. Photo by Alastair Muir

In recent weeks, I had the opportunity to see the earlier work of two playwrights who are now at the top of their game: Bruce Norris’ Purple Heart, written more than a decade ago, still plays at the Gate Theatre and Richard Bean’s Smack Family Robinson, written in 2003, just started its run at the Rose Theatre Kingston. Both playwrights have gone to receive much acclaim as well as win numerous awards and a look at their early plays is fascinating.

Smack Family Robinson (originally written in 2003 and set in Whitley Bay but updated to present time and Kingston for this production) tells the story of middle class suburbia but with a twist. Or is it twisted middle class suburbia? Either way, the Robinsons are typical in their strong community bonds, their family squabbles, their 60s-free-love values turning into consumerism. On the other hand, their source of income is, one hopes, unusual. The clue is in the title. Tensions between received wisdom and true morality, expectations and reality, are at the heart of the play. Continue reading

Punchdrunk is back in town. But The Drowned Man comes at a (steep) price

The Drowned Man - A Hollywood Fable. A Punchdrunk production. Photo by creativeXs

The Drowned Man – A Hollywood Fable. A Punchdrunk production. Photo by creativeXs

Last week, a wave of excitement shivered among theatre junkies. A cryptic email by the National Theatre, and snippets of information ingenuously gathered by the most inventive among us, pointed to a new Punchdrunk production (or rather experience) coming to town. Quickly the rumours were confirmed, the National Theatre website got very busy, and The Drowned Man – A Hollywood Fable became a hot ticket. To top up the excitement, a mini preview show – a bit like a live trailer – played in a secret location in Dalston (not so secret that the Telegraph didn’t get to review it though).

I have to admit  my enthusiasm is somewhat muted. Mainly because the ticket prices don’t feel right. First of all, considering it’s a National Theatre co-production, the tickets are fairly expensive (standard tickets £39 or £47.50 depending on the day, previews a bit cheaper, limited number of concessions at £19.50). The ticketing policy is also unclear and some of the pricing information is  only provided after you start the booking process.But the main source for my dissatisfaction is the presence of premium tickets. Premium seats are nothing new, most theatres have a variety of ticket prices based on the fact that, unless you stage a production in someone’s living room, not all seats are equally  good.

The premium prices for Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man (at a massive £85 a ticket) are somewhat different. Continue reading

Photo of the week: Ron Cook at the Donmar

Rae Smith sketch - Juno and the Paycock Donmar 1999

Rae Smith sketch – Juno and the Paycock Donmar 1999

Ron Cook belongs to a group of actors that everyone knows, everyone loves but not everyone can name. He doesn’t often headline projects but invariably gives the stand out memorable performance: his Mr Crabb was the earthy soul in Mr Selfridge, Trelawny of the Wells wouldn’t be half as good without his sparkling talent and his sir Toby Belch is still the best I have seen.

In the last fifteen years, he has regularly worked with the Donmar Warehouse under three different artistic directors (a big achievement in itself), and the company’s digital team have gone through the archives and put up a collection of photographs in their facebook pages.

The digital print (not really a photograph) that caught my attention was Rae Smith’s sketch from the Juno and the Paycock, 1999. The caption simply says: Ron Cook as ‘Joxer’ Daly and Colm Meaney as ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle (1999). Rehearsal sketch by Rae Smith.

The role led to an Olivier Best Supporting Actor nomination for Ron Cook (hard to believe but this is his only nomination so far). Continue reading

Review: Proof by David Auburn, at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Jamie Parker as Hal and Mariah Gale as Catherine. Photo: Alastair Muir

Jamie Parker as Hal and Mariah Gale as Catherine. Photo: Alastair Muir

Of all the popular beliefs about maths, the most striking  is that world class mathematicians do their best work by the age of 25. Is that true, or even perceived to be true, for any other field? Maths, the most cerebral  of sciences, requires high speeds, recklessness and energy that often cannibalises the mind and the physical world. Science for the adrenaline junkies.

David Auburn’s play Proof captures the ferocious energy and emotional turbulence of its subject matter. Three people, at different stages of their life, obsess with maths and feed off each others’ energy, ideas and emotions. The three ages of the mathematician, none of them complacent, all of them fascinating to watch. Continue reading

Comic Relief does Shakespeare (and a rare opportunity to see Jonathan Pryce as Hamlet)

We are still on Comic Relief weekend (which reminds me, if you haven’t donated already, do it now) and it’s right and proper there has been much talk about its many achievements over 25 years. Yet, despite extensive discussion, some are still overlooked. Like its contribution to Shakespearean studies.

Many have asked the question: could have Shakespeare benefited from an editor? But no one gave as succinct an answer as that: Continue reading

Review: The Winslow Boy, by Terence Rattigan at the Old Vic Theatre

Charlie Rowe as Ronnie Winslow. Photo Nobby Clark.

Charlie Rowe as Ronnie Winslow. Photo Nobby Clark.

What do Terence Rattigan and Mike Bartlett have in common? Making the town of Reading the butt of their jokes apparently. I shouldn’t start my review in such a facetious way, as this fine production of a near perfect play deserves better, but I can’t help it.

But let’s get back to the business at hand: Terence Rattigan’s play, about a small case fought with absolute conviction that justice can’t be measured in a balance sheet, feels fresh, unexpected and rich in every way. With its big themes, small distilled moments and perfectly observed relationships, it is a dream for any director and cast. And Lindsay Posner and his actors grab the opportunity and do it justice.

What I found irresistible is the play’s ability to surprise: Continue reading

Review: Peter and Alice by John Logan (starring Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw) – Noel Coward theatre

Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in rehearsals. Photo Marc Brenner.

Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in rehearsals. Photo Marc Brenner.

Are any children born with an intrinsic love for money? I don’t know why this thought popped to my head as John Logan’s Peter and Alice finished. The play has no materialistic obsessions. But it deals with the passage to the adult world, and money is an entirely adult concept.

It is 1932. Alice Liddell Hargreaves is 80. Peter Llewelyn Davies is 35. They meet for the first time. These two people have a unique bond, everyone is connected to their childhood. But they are not connected to theirs. Peter Davies is desperate to understand the missing links. Alice Hargreaves knows not to be desperate for anything.

John Logan’s play is focused on the passage to adulthood: From a place of moral, intellectual and emotional clarity we move backwards to a place of pain and confusion. What do we actually learn or know to do better?

There are many powerful elements in the play, not least the performances and unravelling the past with an explorer’s eye for adventure (the past is indeed another country). Continue reading

Martin Crimp talks about the audience walking out In The Republic of Happiness

Back in December, I made no secret how much I disliked Martin Crimp’s In The Republic of Happiness. It was unrelentlessly boring, further more its central theme – the myopic indulgence of the middle classes – is at least five years behind the times. Until 2008, the middle classes thought the world was their oyster, happiness, success, security their entitlement. After 2008, the main story is fear. Entitlement is still wedged in the consciousness of the middle classes, yet it doesn’t match reality. Casual cruelty, confusion, shame drive the narrative.

A few days ago, Martin Crimp was interviewed at Front Row by Mark Lawson, a propos of his opera Written on Skin playing at the Royal Opera House. The conversation turned to In The Republic of Happiness, and here is what Martin Crimp said about members of the audience walking out in the middle of the performance. Continue reading

Video of the Week: Joss Whedon talks about Much Ado About Nothing

There are many reasons to love Shakespeare. Not least because, despite school curriculum and stuffy cultural commentators, he defies respectability. He inspires a fan’s devotion before he demands a critic’s appreciation. Throw in witches, ghosts and bloody violence, and he has more in common with sci-fi, comics and superheroes than it’s immediately obvious. (And that’s before the long tradition of Shakespearean actors playing in the sci-fi / fantasy sandbox. I mean, even Laurence Olivier played Zeus in the Clash of the Titans).

So Joss Whedon directing Much Ado About Nothing was always a mouth watering – and fitting – proposition. Now that the trailer is all over the internet, and doesn’t it look gorgeous, watch a couple of clips of Whedon talking about the project, both of them from the Glasgow Film Festival. This should tide you over till June, when the film is released in the UK.

Some choice quotes from the interviews: Continue reading

Photo of the Week: David Tennant at The Pillowman

Nigel Lindsay and David Tennant in The Pillowman. Photo Nigel Norrington

Nigel Lindsay and David Tennant in The Pillowman. Photo Nigel Norrington

Update June 2nd 2013: When I originally posted The Pillowman photo a couple of months ago, I had no idea one of David Tennant’s co-stars in that production would be his Bolingroke in the upcoming Richard II, directed by Greg Doran, for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It has been announced that Nigel Lindsay will play the role, an excellent choice and an interesting dynamic, I ‘d like to think, based on their previous working partnership. Additionally, two other members of the cast have been announced, Oliver Ford Davies as Duke of York and Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt. Richard II starts performances in Stratford-upon-Avon on October 10th with a transfer to London on December 9th. It will broadcast to cinemas in the UK and around the world on November 13th. End of update, continue to the original post below. Continue reading