List: Top ten theatre productions for January to June 2014

Lloyd Owen as Mike and Imelda Staunton as Margaret in Good People. Photo Johan Persson

Lloyd Owen as Mike and Imelda Staunton as Margaret in Good People. Photo Johan Persson

In a pattern frequently repeated in my life, I am about six weeks late in posting my top ten list from the first half of the year. I could have easily moved on, but 2014 is shaping into a vintage year, and I wanted to put a mark in the sand before the end of the year top ten becomes a hard and merciless business. In strict alphabetical order, the best – and favourite – productions of the first six months of 2014.

A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic (aka the Revival): it’s hard to describe how brilliant Arthur Miller’s A View from The Bridge was. Directed by Ivo Van Hove with Mark Strong as Eddie Carbone, text, acting and directorial decisions came together in a seamless union. The result was a beating heart at the palm of your hand, exhilarating and horrifying in equal measures. Eddie Carbone describing the smell of coffee will stay with me forever. What do we remember, heh?

Birdland at the Royal Court (aka the Rock descent into hell): Simon Stephens’ Birdland is not perfect. Yet it lodged under my skin more than other – more perfect (and yes, I know I shouldn’t be using a comparative construct) – productions. It had the blackest black and an aching at its bones. You can see home but you can never go back.

Blurred Lines at the Shed, National Theatre (aka the feminist rock concert): in a line of plays constructed like jazz music (pieces coming together and apart at will), Nick Payne’s and Carrie Cracknell’s Blurred Lines was incendiary, prickly and put the cat among the pigeons. And it was fun. Continue reading

List: Three boys called Josh (and a boy called Lewis) or the Donmar young actors’ club

The Donmar Warehouse is having a good year. After Versailles (which I didn’t like), they hit a home run of three productions, each of them special in distinct and varied ways. Not only that, but a series of young actors took centre stage, and it’s been a huge pleasure discovering new talent for the ever expanding “Actors to Watch Out for” list. In strict alphabetical order:

Joshua James: Before Fathers and Sons, I hadn’t seen Joshua James since Polly Stenham’s No Quarter and how has he grown! As Arkady, he held the centre of the story with confidence and did this thing my favourite actors do, balancing the ridiculousness and majesty of the human nature in a single breath.

Joshua James in Fathers and Sons. Photo Johan Persson

Joshua James in Fathers and Sons. Photo Johan Persson

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You know you go to the theatre a lot when… (the sequel)

We are overdue for a little silliness. Here is the sequel – with a topical twist – to my list of Things that Suggest You Go to The Theatre A Lot:

1) Richard Bean’s play at the National Theatre is your first thought when the verdict to the phone hacking trial is announced. (With thanks to Shanine for saying this exact thing on twitter).

2) IMDB is increasingly useless in answering the question “I have seen this actor before but I can’t remember where”.

3) You are excited about the third actor billed in the poster. The first two, not so much. (This might be old-fashioned snobbery though).

4) When you hear the word “thrust”, you think of a thrust stage. Honestly, that’s sad.

5) When you hear of tennis balls, you think of Henry V, not Wimbledon. Quite right too. Continue reading

The W list: which actors I most want to see on stage (whom I haven’t seen yet)?

From left to right: Lesley Manville, Julian Wadlam, Gary Oldman, Linda Bassett, Meera Syal, Allan Corduner in Caryl Churchill's  Serious Money. Royal Court 1987

From left to right: Lesley Manville, Julian Wadlam, Gary Oldman, Linda Bassett, Meera Syal, Allan Corduner in Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money. Royal Court 1987

Every theatre goer has one. A list of actors we most want to see on stage and for one reason or another this hasn’t happened. In fact, one of the big pleasures of seeing A View from The Bridge at the Young Vic was to see Mark Strong return to the theatre. Even if the production wasn’t the monumental, searing experience that it is, seeing Mark Strong on live performance would still justify all the excitement in the world. As I have crossed one actor off the list, I hope the remaining will reconsider their long absence and return to the stage sooner rather than later (and on this side of the Atlantic please).

Strictly in alphabetical order:

Michael Fassbender: He is among the most celebrated film actors in recent years but Fassbender’s stage work is negligible. He only has four theatre credits in 12 years, the first one age 17, playing Cinderella’s ugly sister in a pub theatre production of a play called “Fairytales Fairytales 123”; the last theatre credit is in 2006 at the Edinburgh Fringe. He could be like Daniel Day Lewis, one of the best film actors of all time but without significant stage work but I hope this won’t be the case. He ‘s been hanging around with James McAvoy, maybe he ‘ll get inspired or dared into doing stage work. Continue reading

Five reasons to love Shakespeare (the lowbrow way)

Sometimes I wonder how I got here. I certainly didn’t have the aptitude, the background or the education for it. And I don’t believe it was inevitable or necessary. But what’s not necessary can be vital, and once you breath it, you can’t give it up. And when it comes to Shakespeare, who is neither my job, my livelihood or my educational background, someone has to make the case for the lowbrow, unscholarly pleasures of his plays.

So here are my five reasons for loving Shakespeare.

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