Another look at the Drowned Man: Five things I learned about Punchdrunk (and a few questions)

Paul Zivkovich at the Drowned Man. Photo Perou.

Paul Zivkovich at the Drowned Man. Photo Perou.

I never imagined I ‘d be writing a third blog post about Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man. After all, I regularly fail to write about theatre productions I have seen, such is the nature of blogging in a non professional capacity. But the response to my review of The Drowned Man, with a wide range of fascinating and articulate comments, made me think:

1) The Drowned Man feels like the stadium tour of an indie band. A new audience tries to discover what’s all about and some problems relate to scale: huge space, many people, that indie feeling is not there any more.

2) Punchdrunk has a huge fanbase I knew nothing about. Are their productions better appreciated by fans? Some art is better understood when you already know it’s a vital part of your life: subtleties open up, outsiders are baffled (and often amused, think of sc-ifi geekery and you get the picture). Does Punchdrunk fall into that category? Continue reading

Chimerica Take Two – Not a review

Watching Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica the other day, I was reminded of a story I had forgotten. Even if you know little about the play, you have seen the photograph of the lone man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen square in 1989. How this moment in time spurs and ties the story of Chimerica is the genius of the play.

But the photograph reminded me of another man in front of a tank. In November 1973, a massive demonstration against the greek military junta centered around the Athens polytechnic and gathered momentum. Eventually, tanks were called in and twenty four civilians were killed. Another man threw himself in front of a tank. The film below captures the moment and when I was growing up I saw it dozens of times.

Continue reading

“I could have been a contender”: the year’s theatrical achievements the Oliviers overlooked

Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky. Photo Alastair Muir

Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky. Photo Alastair Muir

Awards, especially the announcement of the nominees, follow a familiar pattern: anticipation and excitement followed by incredulity. It’s a well known fact that, despite being irresistible and so much fun, awards always get it wrong. Having said that, this year’s Olivier nominations got almost everything right: there is little I would object to, at least not with any conviction. Tomorrow’s award ceremony would be unique in that respect, I can route for almost everybody.

But inevitably, with the quality of London theatre, many productions missed out. Following the rule of the Kermodes (no one nominated for an Olivier is eligible), here are my awards for the past theatrical year. With an additional category or two. Because they are my awards and I can do what I like.

Best Actor: Pip Carter is an actor of minimalistic explosiveness, often doing very little and usually stealing every scene he is in. Taking the lead in Nick Dear’s The Dark Earth and The Light Sky, he brought poet Ed Thomas to life in a performance of reticent vivid pulsating desperation. He made it look easy, too easy in fact, hence the absence of award recognition. Runner Up: I had to think long and hard about this one and John Heffernan missed by a whisker: three plays (She Stoops to Conquer, Love and Information and The Physicists), an impressive range and a light touch that brings depth and humanity to all his roles mark him out as an exceptional talent. Edward II at the National next. After that, the sky is the limit. 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

My five theatre wishes for 2013

This is not the blog post I was planning to write. I am at least two reviews behind (including the magical My Fair Lady at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield), not to mention my looking back at 2012 and half a dozen other unfinished posts. But this post popped up, hurried and urgent, hardly revised, definitely not proofread. It won’t enhance my reputation. You continue at your own peril.

My five theatre wishes for 2013:

1) All theatres to put the running time of their shows at their website. It’s not much to ask, is it? I have a day job to go to the next morning, knowing the running time is indispensable.

2) Tim Walker (of the Sunday Telegraph) to stop reviewing theatre. I don’t even have to justify this.

3) Redesign for theatre websites. Most of them look like they have been designed twenty years ago.

4) The Oliviers to be broadcast on television. But only if they can do it right. And more television coverage for theatre in general.

5) I could ask for more public money for the arts, and better pay for stage actors. And I do. But let’s face it, this is not that kind of post.

Five theatre resolutions for 2013

Photo courtesy of the BBC

Photo courtesy of the BBC

New Year, you may have noticed, never mind New Year’s Day 2012 seems only yesterday. If I find who presses fast forward in my life and won’t let go, there will be hell to pay. Till then, here are my resolutions for 2013. What? Is 2014 already?

1) To see more musicals. I decided musicals is the purest form of theatre. Or at least my kind of theatre. At their best, they deliver the purest and more sustainable high. Not that I see theatre as an addiction. Not at all.

2) To read the theatre programmes more carefully. Then, I might know the answer to the question “Do you think Jez Butterworth’s The River covers the theatre trend of post modernism?”. Yes I was asked that. I have no idea what it means.

3) To raise my hand and ask questions in various Q&As. Have you heard the questions asked? I can’t possibly do any worse. Besides, after being scolded by Emma Freud at the National Theatre quiz, public embarrassment holds no fear for me.

4) To solve the mystery, why don’t we all like the same plays? Easy, I just need to put my mind to it.

5) To post more at my blog. After all, my last year’s resolution was to start a blog. I just need to keep it up.

Any resolutions you care to share?

Shakespeare: is it good for you?

Ben Whishaw as Richard II, directed by Rupert Goold

There is Shakespeare on TV tonight. The good news is there has been plenty of coverage and it’s very very good. The bad news is the press, as always, behave like Shakespeare is something to endure. Undoubtedly good for you, but mildly unpleasant.

Sam Wollaston, in his review of Julius Caesar at the Guardian earlier this week, writes: “I’ve never had the easiest relationship with the Bard. Even now, aged however old I am, I find it hard not to associate him more with homework than with a good time.” Continue reading