In Praise of The Pride (with Bertie Carvel, Ben Whishaw, Daniel Evans, Hugh Dancy and more)

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride came back to London last week, timeless, tender, profound and this time unexpectedly topical: the play coincided with protests for Putin’s anti-gay russian laws.

It’s a rare modern play that I remember so many of its past productions: Although aware of the glowing word of mouth I missed the first production in 2008 at the Royal Court and I regret it ever since. Among other things, I had to wait for Almeida’s The Rope several months later to discover Bertie Carvel for myself. And in a case of ex post facto typecasting (I always wanted to use latin in my writing), I always thought that Bertie Carvel played Philip, while in fact he was Oliver.

JJ Field (Philip) and Bertie Carvel (Oliver) in the 1950s. Photo Tristram Kenton

JJ Feild (Philip) and Bertie Carvel (Oliver) in the 1950s. Photo Tristram Kenton

Every time I go to revstan’s flat, Continue reading

In Praise of Douglas Hodge: Albin sings A Little More Mascara

With only a few days before the first performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the return of Douglas Hodge to the London stage, it’s only appropriate to remember the 2008 Menier (and West End) production of La Cage Aux Folles.

Douglas Hodge as Albin is one of my favourite performances of all time, moving, light, truthful, a precious and personal memory from the first time I saw the production at the Menier. Repeat visits to the Playhouse theatre were exhilarating – with one memorable scene having Zaza / Albin singing I Am What I Am, taking the wig off and bursting to the street from a side door in full drag.

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In Praise of the barely rehearsed understudy

Robert Hardy in rehersals for The Audience. Photo Johan Persson

Robert Hardy in rehersals for The Audience. Photo Johan Persson

The announcement was simple: “Robert Hardy pulls out of Gielgud theatre’s production of The Audience. Edward Fox steps in“. But behind the headline, several remarkable things stand out. Before his injury, Bafta-winning actor Robert Hardy, aged 87, was planning to do eight live performances a week for the next three months. Even after he cracked his ribs in a fall, he continued to perform at previews. And Edward Fox, who is replacing him, will learn the part, rehearse and perform at press night in less than a week.

Actors are often dismissed as pumpered and spoiled but they strike me as much tougher than most white collar workers. Granted, acting is not hard labour but working in an office, as I do, isn’t either. I don’t know many 87 year olds who want to get out of the house, let alone work.

As for actors working with little or no preparation, I am often amazed at the performances they can give. Last fall, I saw a preview of This House at the National Theatre when Phil Daniels, set to play Bob Mellish, was indisposed (this turned out to be the first of several performances he missed). Howard Ward, who stepped in, was given the script to hold and walked on stage to perform. Did it show? Hardly. Apart from holding the script, often done with such skill that it went unnoticed, the performance was accomplished and involving.

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In Praise of Bad Productions (or what I learned from watching Damned by Despair)

There is a storm brewing in the air. I haven’t got around to writing my own review of Damned by Despair yet (Update: you can find my full review here), but it’s obvious it provokes extreme reactions: revstan liked it a lot, but there are ramblings on twitter by people who hated it with passion and commitment. One particularly militant theatregoer has written an open letter to Nic Hytner to withdraw the production “for the sake of the reputation of the National Theatre and and any compassion you have for the unfortunate actors taking part in it” (posted at the National Theatre facebook page). Continue reading

In Praise of Bertie Carvel

For the time I have spent talking about Bertie Carvel (to my friends, to other theatregoers, to anyone who will listen frankly), you would think I have seen him on stage in everything he has done. In fact, I have only seen him in two roles: as Rupert Cavell in The Rope (Almeida) and as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda.

Bertie Carvel in The Pride. Photo Stephen Cummiskey

To my great regret, I missed him in Alexi Kaye Cambell’s The Pride (Royal Court) and his television work doesn’t really count: on tv he is allowed – or limited, depending on how you look at it – to be the handsome man that he is, but Bertie Carvel thrives when he looks nothing like himself. Or rather when he looks nothing like any human being has ever lived. It’s hard to avoid that often, on stage, he looks rather strange. And as much as I don’t care about actors who transform themselves, in his case I will make an exception. Continue reading

In Praise of Rehearsed Readings

I always wanted to do a blog post about rehearsed readings and with the new season of Playwrights’ Playwright at the Duke of York’s, this is the perfect opportunity.

Straight to the point, for me rehearsed readings are theatre at its purest: a group of very talented actors, little rehearsal, no time to overthink it, no real props or set to hide behind. Actors are relaxed and playful. There is very little at stake (no reviews or press) which means there is everything at stake: the moment that can’t be repeated or improved upon and it can only be shared by a bunch of people in that one evening. Continue reading