Forget the Evening Standard. It’s the credible theatre awards I could do without

Last night we had the Evening Standard theatre awards. I would have forgotten if it wasn’t for people on twitter, and even then I was happy to ignore them. The case against them is easy, other people have said it best, and it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

So why am I blogging about them? To my defense, I have no intention of talking about these specific awards. But every year we moan / rejoice / obsess at the mere mention of nominations and ceremonies. (Is there a verb that combines all three? It would save so much time when talking about fandoms). The question is always the same: why aren’t awards better at identifying the best?

What if they were? What if someone had the superpower to know what’s best and told us? Continue reading

Second trip to Birdland at the Royal Court, post-show Q&A, and You ‘re Not as Tall As You Look by Chris Thorpe

Andrew Scott and Alex Price during the Q&A. Photo courtesy of @cumberbatchweb

Andrew Scott and Alex Price during the Q&A. Photo courtesy of @cumberbatchweb

Wednesday evening saw my return trip to Simon Stephens’ Birdland, Every few months, I have a play or production that ignites the imagination and thus repeat viewings are inevitable. Furthermore, this is the only way to fully experience theatre: once is often a necessity but it’s not a preference. Productions are living things, if it’s impractical to be there every night, it doesn’t mean they stay still without our presence (professional critics often seem to forget that).

It’s fun trying to decipher what changed with time (There will be SPOILERS for the rest of the post, so please don’t read if you don’t want to be spoiled): Paul felt more deliberately cruel than in the previous performance. Louis – the superfan – is now holding a magnifying glass when he is meeting Paul. At one point David (the manager) puts drops to Paul’s eyes. At the same time, one of the actresses is at the roof and dropping marbles on a metal bowl held by another actress standing below, thus mimicking the eye-dropping action (and creating a loud clanking sound). On Wednesday night, the actress missed the bowl and the marble rolled all the way to the front of the stage and sank in the water. Some things are the same but now I am able to focus on them differently: I love how the set exposes the backstage area all the way to the exterior wall. When Johnny leaves through the fire escape, he exits directly into the street.

The post show talk was lovely and intimate: Continue reading

Cross gender casting in theatre: the facts (as I made them up)

Forbes Masson as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo Simon Annand

Forbes Masson as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo Simon Annand

There has been media discussion lately about cross gender casting, mainly because high profile actresses talked about their desire to play male roles. This is surprising to me. The fact this kind of statement generates headlines that is, not the desire itself. Why would you be an actor and not want to play everything? And equally, why is suspension of disbelief perceived as problematic when it involves gender?

So I decided to think through some of the joys and challenges of cross gender casting. I did almost no research, so feel free to dispute any of my statements and I am sure everyone’s examples will be richer than mine.

1) Some of the discussion is tied with gender inequality and the small number of female roles in classical theatre. While this is true (and inequality isn’t always addressed in modern theatre either), is that poor justification for what is an artistic decision? Truth is, cross gender casting is far more exciting than that and can jolt the imagination in interesting directions, including – but not limited to – plays where gender politics have a central role. The recent The Taming of the Shrew at the Royal Shakespeare Company – with men playing women and women playing men – and The Shed’s Blurred Lines – with its all female cast playing all roles – are good examples. Continue reading

What happened to the characters in Jez Butterworth’s Mojo?

You know how it is. One thing led to another and a casual conversation turned inspiration to map the future of all the characters in Jez Butterworth’s Mojo. Thanks to revstan and @emst for contributions and ill-judged encouragement.

Without permission and with sincere apologies to Jez Butterworth. References to the 2013 production at the Harold Pinter theatre, directed by Ian Rickson.

L to R: Ben Whishaw (Baby), Sweets (Rupert Grint), Skinny (Colin Morgan), Potts (Daniel Mays), Mickey (Brendan Coyle). Photo Geraint Lewis

L to R: Ben Whishaw (Baby), Sweets (Rupert Grint), Skinny (Colin Morgan), Potts (Daniel Mays), Mickey (Brendan Coyle). Photo Geraint Lewis

SPOILERS for the play. I mean it. Continue reading

My top ten theatre productions of 2013

As You Like It. Pippan Nixon and Alex Waldmann. Photo Alastair Muir

As You Like It. Pippan Nixon and Alex Waldmann. Photo Alastair Muir

These are the 2013 productions that stuck in my dreams and didn’t want to shift. In strict alphabetical order, because selecting ten for the list was hard enough.

American Psycho, Almeida theatre: the energy and clarity of the production juxtaposed with Patrick Bateman’s nihilism made for an unforgettable experience. Hell in pastel colours and blood splatters. And eighties pop songs. Matt Smith plays the absence of a soul magnificently.

As You Like It, Royal Shakespeare Company: Discovery of love and freedom played out with such openness in Maria Aberg’s production that in the end I wanted to cry with joy. Pippa Nixon was luminous (and as Ganymede she looked like a young K.D. Lang – that can only be a plus) and Alex Waldmann matched her soulful playfulness every step of the way. Continue reading

My Theatre Quiz of the Year – What do you remember of 2013?

Question 1: guess the play and the character

Question 1: guess the play and the character

The National Theatre is not the only place to challenge your theatrical knowledge. And let’s face it, my theatre quiz is much more difficult. (Tip: many of the answers are somewhere in my blog. That was not done by design but it turns out this quiz is a blueprint of my obsessions).

1) Let’s start with something easy. Guess the play (and the character) from the props in the photograph.

2) Rupert Goold said: “[he is] the best verse speaker in the country, has that Zidane gift – more time than everyone else while speaking just as fast.” Who was he talking about?
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.

Continue reading

Old Vic’s Much Ado About Nothing or the nature of early word of mouth

old vic much ado about nothing posterIt’s a rare pleasure when I can enjoy advance word of mouth without first hand experience of a production. When I am without a ticket and uninterested enough not to be avoiding spoilers, but intrigued by what I hear and read. This is the case with the Old Vic production of Much Ado About Nothing, with its big name cast (Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones) and its larger than life director (Mark Rylance). Press night is tonight but the word of mouth has been interesting (to use a word that, if it had an expression, it would be a poker face).

“This Much Ado About Nothing is bolder than one might have expected” writes Ian (Ought to be clowns) . Another blog (Cream of Vampire Soup) disagrees: “All Old Vic productions are the same (…) No mess. No fuss. And definitely no risk.” Webcowgirl (in a blog post that has generated 46 comments so far) isn’t impressed: “Rarely has a title for a Shakespearean show proven so prophetic.” Westendwhingers give it two out of five. Huffington Post raves about it: “This wonderful production has so much innovation, spirit and humour that I loved every minute.”

Continue reading

Secret theatre: To Be or Not To Be (thoughts on the Lyric Hammersmith project – but no spoilers)

The company in rehearsal

The company in rehearsal

And so, somewhat unexpectedly, we have a debate in our hands. Last night the first play of Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre initiative started performances (it’s the first play to start performances but it’s Secret Show no 2, stay with me) and Mark Shenton took to twitter to reveal the title. A certain amount of outrage followed – with Jake Orr writing a blog and several tweets expressing displeasure (we have to accept a theatre outrage is a very contained affair. I live for the day when arguments about theatre will spill over to the streets).

There is no question, spoiling it for people who want to play the game makes you a party pooper, no matter how you look at it. But other questions also spring to mind. Continue reading