Two transfers - An Octoroon and Sea Wall - are they as good in bigger venues? Or a shout out for diversity.

It's great to see small production transfer to bigger venues so more people get to experience them but there is always a danger they lose something in a larger space.

An Octoroon national theatre posterAnd so it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I have been to see two transfers recently - An Octoroon and Sea Wall.

An Octoroon first wowed me at the Orange Tree in Richmond where it served as a reminder of why I go to the theatre. (You can read my original review of An Octoroon here.)

Same intimacy?

Its transfer is to the Dorfman at the National Theatre which is a great choice as the space is flexible so the original staging, with the audience on four sides, can easily be recreated.

You would think it would lose some of its intimacy in the bigger venue but it didn't.

And crucially An Octoroon is a testament to not only why we need plays that reflect a more diverse narrative but also why theatres need to be attracting a more diverse audience.

By diverse I'm talking about both age and ethnicity.

Less staid

I've written before the difference it makes sitting in an audience that is more reflective of London's population, it makes for a less staid, less vanilla theatre-going experience.

And so it was for An Octoroon, right from the very beginning when the fourth wall was broken and there was a verbal response to actor Ken Nwosu's greeting when he came on stage.

This was an audience engaged and gripped from the outset and it just heightens your own enjoyment being part of that collective experience.

Go see An Octoroon if you can get a ticket. It's just as brilliant at the Dorfman, details at the end of the post.

 

 

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Review: A teacher in her seductive prime, the superb The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar Warehouse

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a production, like its central character, that bewitches

An austere head in a sensible grey skirt suit is talking to a group of schoolgirls in shapeless grey uniforms and then in swoops a coiffured, red-lipstick, tailored red-dress wearing woman.

Prime of Miss Jean Brodie rev stan instagramJust the way she moves and holds herself oozes elegance, sophistication and glamour.

She is magnetic like a movie star stepped off a set into a classroom and you are smitten even before she speaks in her husky, seductive voice.

This is Miss Brodie the girls' new teacher who, as her personal style hints, doesn't follow the rules and sees education more in the light of its Latin root: 'to lead'.

Warning signs

But along what path will she lead, is the red a distant warning sign?

Miss Brodie is complex character, a bag of contradictions in Lia Williams portrayal.

She is open and yet mysterious, full stories of her own life and experiences, full of opinion but what she doesn't tell is just as intriguing.

Are her tales of travel real or part of a persona she presents, part of the person she yearns to be?

Truly heartbroken

What is such an outwardly sophisticated woman doing teaching in a dreary girls school - a big fish in a small pond? Is that what she wants to be.

Is she truly heart-broken or is that an excuse to remain free from marriage?

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10 Very British Theatre Problems (inspired by @SoVeryBritish)

It's just sitting in the dark watching people talking on stage, right?

Wrong. Theatre-going is one huge mess of social awkwardness for us Brits and here's why: 

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Photo by Shrinkin' Violet on Flickr

1. Feeling you have to apologise when you stand up to let someone get to their seat.

2. Or finding yourself apologising for not standing up fast enough to let someone get to their seat.

3. Sitting on the front row and trying to look 'interested and entertained' just in case one of the actors meets your eye.

4. Then deciding you can never see that actor on the stage ever again because they caught you yawning or accidentally pulling a face when they did look at you.

5. At the interval, apologising for disturbing the couple at the end of the row despite the fact that they failed to notice everyone else had stood up and was waiting for them to move.

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Review: Notes From The Field, Royal Court - or the most affecting play I've seen for a long while

It was an uncomfortable, seat-squirming, horrifying joy to sit and experience this piece of theatre.

Anna Deavere Smith's Notes From The Field at the Royal Court is an important play and one that makes a lot of theatre feel inconsequential.

royal court notes from the field rev stanIt is a powerful, affecting piece devised and performed by Deavere Smith using the words of real people she has interviewed.

Each interview is linked thematically and explores the relationship between poverty, justice, education and racism in America but there are also clusters of interviews with people linked in various ways to particular events.

Diverse

She has spoken to a broad range of people from eye-witnesses, workers within the legal system, politicians, human rights campaigners, academics, teachers and parents.

Slipping her bare feet into a pair of trainers or boots or shoes and shrugging on a jacket or scarf or top she transforms into the person whose words she speaks.

You don't need to have heard or seen a recording to realise that each interviewee is recreated through a carefully observed performance that captures their intonation, accent, verbal ticks and body language.

Deserves applause

That in itself deserves applause.

There are minimal props - occasionally a chair or a sofa or podium - instead images and videos are projected on the brick wall at the back of the stage to either set the scene or give visual context.

Prop and costume changes are conducted in full view, the wings of the stage exposed and somehow this reality check, this breaking of the fourth wall makes her performance all the more captivating.

Real life

For all the pretend this is real life, really happening - just as the words come from real people, real situations and real experiences.

The performance and narrative hold your attention, through every distressing, disturbing, horrifying, disbelieving and uplifting moment of it.

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Production photos: RSC's historical thriller Imperium officially opens next week at Gielgud Theatre

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RSC's Imperium: Dictator. Photo by Ikin Yum

Following a sold-out run in Stratford Upon Avon, the RSC's historical two-part thriller Imperium has its official opening at the Gielgud next week and guess who will be there?

Adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton (Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies) from Robert Harris’ internationally best-selling Cicero trilogy the story is presented at six one-act plays. 

Told through the watchful eyes of Cicero’s loyal secretary IMPERIUM I: Conspirator chronicles how the great orator’s early success unwittingly paves the way for a brutal and bloody end to the Republic. 


With Rome in chaos at the beginning of IMPERIUM II: Dictator, Cicero must use all his brilliance to restore the power of the Senate from the civic mob and their would-be Emperor: one Julius Caesar. 

RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, directs a cast led by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Richard McCabe (The Audience, BBC’s Collateral) as Cicero and Joseph Kloska (The Crown) as Tiro.

Currently open for previews, each part can be seen on its own or together as one epic story. There are over 10,000 tickets for £10 or under and you will find details on the RSC's Imperium West End website.

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RSC's Imperium: Conspirator. Photo by Ikin Yum

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Review: Watching Machinal, Almeida Theatre and feeling like a fraud

My reaction to Machinal at the Almeida Theatre made me want to drag myself off to the naughty step to think about what I'd done - or rather what I hadn't done.

IMG_6433And what I hadn't done is respond to a play with strong feminist themes with empathy or anger at society.

Instead, I had just felt cold and annoyed with the central character.

As a feminist this made me feel like a fraud. Am I a fraud?

Is it my problem?

Should I be looking over my shoulder expecting to have my credentials ripped up? Is the problem mine or is it the play?

On paper, Machinal ticks a lot of boxes - a play about a Young Woman (Emily Berrington) trapped within the constraints of a patriarchal society and driven empty and then murderous by it when she finally gets a taste of a different life.

Stereotypical portrayal

The young woman initially appears overwrought, highly strung, unravelling and my heart sank.

How many historical plays with lead female characters portray them as close to hysteria or having some sort of breakdown?

I'm thinking: 'Can't we explore feminist themes with a character that doesn't play up to the patriarchal stereotype of female emotional and mental fragility?'

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Review: The good and bad about Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios or questions about nudity on stage

I liked it for its challenges but it isn't without its problems.

Tracy Letts' play Killer Joe, for those unfamiliar, is gritty, to put it mildly, but having seen the film adaptation I was at least prepared for that.

Killer Joe warning sign rev stan instagramAnd while it is refreshing to see something a bit more 'grimy' at the theatre, this stage adaptation is borderline farce compared to the screen version but more of that later.

There's a debate about whether the play is misogynistic in the way it shows women being treated or whether it exposes bad male behaviour and the depths of immorality.

Trailer park setting

Set in a trailer park in Texas, Chris (Adam Gillen) persuades his father Ansel (Stefan Rhodri) to help him take out a hit on his ex-wife for her life-insurance money.

Chris, a small-time drug dealer, has got himself into debt after his mother allegedly stole his merchandise.

His child-like sister Dottie (Sophie Cookson) ends up being used as a bargaining chip when they are unable to pay the deposit to hire hit man Joe Cooper (Orlando Bloom). 

Both Dottie and later Ansel's girlfriend Sharla (Neve McIntosh) suffer moments of sexual humiliation which will make the hardiest feel a little squeamish. 

Uncomfortable viewing

It is, of course, uncomfortable viewing but does that necessarily mean it shouldn't be on stage or that it is misogynistic?

As OughtToBeClowns points out the play is written by a man, directed by a man and it's mostly female nudity rather than male.

Have we become unaccustomed to female nudity in recent years? When I first started going to the theatre again back in 2007 there were lady-bits all over the place and barely a glimpse of anything male but that trend seems to have flipped.

Here we get a glimpse of Orlando Bloom's bare buttocks but longer, lingering moments of female full frontal nudity.

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New play reviews: Libby's Eyes and Nine Foot Nine, Bunker Theatre #Bunkerbreakingout

The Bunker Breaking Out festival is on which means the chance to see a selection of new work from up and theatre companies.

Saw a double bill last night of Libby's Eyes by Poke In the Eye Productions and Alex Woods' Nine Foot Nine. What were they like?

LIBBY'S EYES

Libbys eyes poke in the eye theatreAmy Bethan Evans' play explores the world of Libby who is blind and trying to navigate new regulations governing benefits and support for the disabled - and also getting used to her new AI robot that is supposed to help her be more independent.

The play is audio described but the describer can't resist inserting her own commentary both about what is going on with Libby and about her self.

In breaking the fourth wall the audience is brought fully into the story challenging the perception of and behaviour towards disabled people.

While done with humour and wit, knowing that Amy Bethan Evans has drawn on some personal experiences makes you cringe in your seat - and feel quite angry.

Libby's Eyes is fast-paced, playful and entertaining while cleverly delivering a powerfully exposing an almost Kafka-esque system that doesn't allow for individuality.

Loved it.

It's playing 7pm, Mondays and Thursdays at The Bunker until July 7 and is 60 minutes long.

 

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Comment: Is Mark Rylance right to say noisy audiences are the fault of the actors?

The Stage reports on comments made by Mark Rylance at a conference in which he laid the blame for noisy audiences on the actors:

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 18.27.10But is he right?

Yes, there might be occasions when the performances aren't engaging enough but to solely blame actors would absolve playwrights, dramaturgs and directors of any responsibility.

Not all plays are perfect. I've sat through several new works that should have had more development time.

Equally, I've sat through revivals of 'rarely performed' work that probably should have stayed on the bookshelf.

Plays not perfect

Sometimes the actors can be doing their utmost with what isn't a particularly good play. In fact, I've written reviews in which I couldn't fault the production but found the play was lacking.

Not everyone will feel the same way about a particular story and themes and no amount of good acting is going to change it. 

I'm not going to get noisy and disruptive when I'm not enjoying a play but others do.

Last week when I was enjoying Julie at the National Theatre the man sat next obviously wasn't. He was huffing and puffing and sighing in that way people do when they are bored or irritated.

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Playhouse Theatre transforming for Stephen Daldry's The Jungle + rehearsal photos

Preparations are underway for the West End transfer of the Young Vic's The Jungle directed by Stephen Daldry.

The Playhouse Theatre, where the play opens for preview on June 16, is being transformed in order to accommodate Miriam Buether's original set design from the Young Vic and the Dress Circle will be transformed in the 'Cliffs of Dover'.

Screens will also relay close up shots, live news broadcast-style, to bring a more intimate play watching experience in the larger theatre.

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s play is set in Europe’s largest unofficial refugee camp, the Calais Jungle, which in 2015, became a temporary home for more than 10,000 people. 

The cast is in rehearsal and you can see pictures below. For more details and booking go to the official website.

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The Jungle rehearsals. Photo by Marc Brenner
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The Jungle rehearsal. Photo by Marc Brenner

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