Polar Bears


That could, infact be my whole review. I was blown away by Polar Bears at the Donmar Warehouse. This is Mark Haddon’s (Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-time fame) first play outing as far as I know and it was a truly wonderful experience. The Donmar continues to impress, producing some of the best theatre in London right now.

With incredible performances from it’s cast, this touching story is sort of a snapshot into living with bi-polar and what it’s like to be around that world. It’s fast paced, beautifully wordy, comic, tragic and heartwarming all in an hour and a halfs slick package.

The set (Soutra Gilmour) is stark with the broken ceiling hanging above it, and the clear walls at the back providing us an almost constant reflection of the action, clever considering the subject matter. The different levels of the stage provided an inventive canvas for the piece to play out on. The lighting (Jon Clark) highlighted, picked out, warmed and isolated the action magnificently and the soundscapes (Ben and Max Ringham) provided a haunting background to the poetry of the lines.

The story itself is not an easy one, and I won’t spoil anything here (although I am tempted to relay the whole story just so you can be part of it!) Suffice to say it tells a lifestory extremely poignantly in segments which blend seamlessly into one another. You need to pay attention but with the well crafted dialogue (oftentimes lyrically poetic) and skilled pace changes this is no problem. The play doesn’t paint ‘goodies and baddies’, it presents you with a set of circumstances, most effectively making you ask yourself, “What if I were in those shoes. What would I do, who would I be and how would I cope.”

The cast were flawless in their execution of what must be a hard slog for them every performance as they get very little breathing time and the nature of the beast (very poor pun intended) means they have to exhibit a huge range in a short space of time.

Paul Hilton as the businessman brother looking out for his sister in a touching yet scarily overbearing way was tremendous.  Celia Imrie’s mother was a ferocious, overwhelming and yet also tender performance demonstrating the angst a mother in such a situation might feel.  David Leon’s roles were both comedic and touching, with his ‘explanation’ monologue in the hospital very personal and his more ‘medical role’ rather spookily authentic.  The young ladies performance was a solid piece of delivery as well (apologies – I am not sure if she was Skye Bennet or Alex Sykes but I am sure, given the quality of the overall piece either would have been just as impressive)

Jodhi May’s delivery was heartfelt, traumatic and turbulent, swinging wildly between moods as the part demands, with her fairy tale story being passionate and the different aspects of her character providing great warmth and showing the terrible ravages of such an illness.

Richard Coyle’s performance was flawless, utterly believable and a joy to be part of, I hung on every word and was totally convinced he was the ‘carer’ with a real life perspective, combined with his own philosophic outlook.  His vocal skills also made his passages flow off the tongue extremely elegantly.

I found the direction to be a work of art, and Jamie Lloyd has a huge amount to be proud of, although I am sure it was a team effort, but his work should rightly be applauded.

This was one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.  I cannot claim to have understood and followed every word of it but that didn’t matter a jot.  If someone offered me tickets to go again tonight I would go again without question.  I look forward immensely to seeing Mark Haddons next expedition into the theatric.  I have read a few less favourable reviews and they baffle me.  I was blown away by this piece of work and I encourage you to be also.  You may have to beg / bribe / borrow / steal to get a ticket, but do so.  It’s well worth it.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 11:28 am  Comments (1)  
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All the Fun? of the Fair

So, I should start by saying that the show I saw last night was in Preview. It doesn’t fully open for another week. Maybe in that week it will re-work it’s story, give it’s cast an energy drink or two and find itself some sort of spiritual home. That being said I think it rather unlikely and that it would take something of a miracle.

All the Fun of the Fair is a musical based on the songs of David Essex. It’s at the beautiful Garrick Theatre. Now I admit that I am no Essex fanboy, but then I didn’t have to like Queen to enjoy We Will Rock You. The music was throughout mostly lacklustre. The stringing together of the songs was done by a dreadfully weak story that barely made sense and to say it was basic doesn’t give basic stories much credit.

The portrayal of Johnny, a character with special needs (described in the play as being ‘a bit slow’, and in the cast list as ‘slow Johnny) was laughably bad, bordering on and frequently crossing into offensive – I thought we had left behind this sort of portrayal a decade ago – and the sickly sweet relationship between Jack and Alice was incipid to say the least.

The appeal (and I use the word loosely) of the show was obviously the chance to see David Essex, the pop legend.  Sadly his performance (perhaps based on his style which I know little about) is laid back and realxed with no energy, no drive and no passion.  His band seemed to me to be un-mic’d and the music pre-recorded, making their presence a joke.

A notable word goes to the lady playing Rosa (Louise English), the unimaginatively named gypsy fortune teller, whose voice was a saving grace in a sea of dirge and the lady who played her daughter Mary (Susan Hallam-Wright) who was equally a pleasurable to watch and listen to.

I could go on to talk about the rest of the cast’s performances, but there’s no point in slating what were some keen and enthusiastic roles, but they were just directed and choreographed so badly that it’s probably not fair to them to do so.

Perhaps the only other positive thing I could say is that the set was pretty and I liked the appearance of the dodgems, although why the horses were there and not referred to / used at all baffles me.  I thought the lighting was pretty good too, although will I suspect get a little tweaking during it’s previews.

Don’t go and see this.  Not even if you are a David Essex fan.  Buy a dvd of him at his best, listen to Godspell or something.  It will save yourself the pain of this ‘production’.  If you do want to see it (although if I haven’t made this clear enough already: DON’T) then I’d be quick.  I’ll be amazed if you get the chance for long.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 11:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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Buy one get two free!

Now I have to admit the Israel-Palestine war is not something I know very much about. More than that I’m not massively into didactic political theatre. However, with the excellent performances by the three cast (Lisa Came, Sidney Keanes & Daniel Rabin) Fever Chart was well worth the ticket. It’s a tricky piece, three short playlettes really, one in a zoo, one in a clinic and one in a back yard.

It wasn’t a balanced view, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Daniel Rabin portrayed two interesting characters with a dynamism that added a maturity and strength to the evening, Lisa Came’s singing and clear vocal performance, coupled with the very different parts she played was extremely watchable and Sidney Keanes delivered a fine performance including a 15 or so minute monologue that was enthralling.

Studio two is a nice setting and feels very intimate, which suited the piece, and the set, a sort of broken down distressed back wall with a matching floor fitted very effectively with some splashes of colour which I liked, and add to that the textual pigeons on the wall I was gently impressed with.

Well acted, strong performances led to a thoughly enjoyable evening. It also affirmed my support of one act pieces. (Even as here split into three).

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hammersmith Ghost Stories

So this week’s Theatrical adventure was to see Ghost Stories at the Lyric in Hammersmith.  I admit that I was not quite sure what to expect, but the review were good and said it was genuinely scary.  The site reads:

Please be advised that Ghost Stories contains moments of extreme shock and tension. The show is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 16. We strongly advise those of a nervous disposition to think very seriously before attending.

But that was sure (in my head) to be just a build up.  Right?  Well, in part yes.  However I commend Ghost Stories, both for being thoroughly entertaining, as well as for trying something a bit different.

I haven’t been to the Lyric before, but on entering I loved the blood red lampshades, the black painted walls.  The entrance to the theatre itself coated in hazard tape, numbers scrawled on the walls, crime scene lights lighting the seats.  Brilliant attention to detail.

The show is massively influenced by the work that Andy Nyman has done with Derren Brown (of whom I am also a fan), and was extremely well presented, as a lecture into ghost stories.  From here on in it becomes difficult.  I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it, and so I won’t give away any of the details, but it’s involved and worth paying attention all the way.  I’d love to talk specifics but I fear the spoilers would be a waste so I won’t, but suffice to say that most of the production went brilliantly with only a few things I would change!

The acting is really top notch, and cleverly stylised in places, with amazing attention to details, making complex things look natural and conveying a sense of realism that surpasses many productions I have seen, it could have been a lecture much of the time.  The cast gel together as a team, and the detailed work spreads through all of them, not just the professor character who we spend a lot of time with.

Was it scary?  Well, a lot of people seemed to think so.  They use some fairly traditional tricks – loud music and noise to mention the obvious ones.  But they still make  you jump.  They use some creepy bits and pieces too.  I wasn’t too scared, not because I am ‘the big man’ but maybe because I watch alot of scary movies or something.  It was however an enjoyable experience well worth taking in – hats off to The Lyric for taking what could be thought of as a risk.  Theatre has to compete with so many other forms of entertainment that trying out new ideas, interactivity being one of them is something that the theatre can do brilliantly, and this is just such an example, all power to them, and the more the merrier.

A note goes to the excellent design of the show (Jon Bausor whose use of trucks and gauze and things was seemless – a top job from the stage crew as well).  The lighting which served to highlight the earie quality of the show and provided thrills as well (James Farncombe) and the sound (although too loud in places for me) gritty and true to form (Nick Mannin)

Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Waiting For Gandalf?

Last week I had the pleasure of going to see Waiting for Godot at the Theatre Royal.  It’s a play I know a little bit, but only really from my school days.  It’s famous of course, for being the play where nothing happens twice.  It’s been performed terribly in many schools and local theatres, partly because it has a cast of 4, and a simple set.

People have talked about Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart being wonderful, but I didn’t get round to that.

I was not disappointed.  It’s a play that still divides audiences, and I am not sure any performance will necessarily change that.  A depressing amount of people still left at the interval, and quite a number of people supping on red wine in the bar were talking in terms of “I just don’t get it”.  In honesty, I’m not sure I do either.  But that didn’t stop me enjoying it.

The cast do an amazing job.  Roger Rees is a wonderful foil for the slightly more bumbling McKellan.  He is sleek and thoughtful and does a stirling job.  Ronald Pickup is a desperate figure, bedraggled and put upon.  His ‘outburst’ moment is wonderful and extreme and his physicality in the rest of the role speaks of a very dedicated performer – I’d love to see him in a different role now.  Matthew Kelly is a grotesque caricature, who is repellant and larger than life in a brilliant fashion.  His sheer bulk dwarfs the other actors and his presence is immense.  He’s a pretty unlikeable character, but it is played with skill and aplomb!  This brings me of course to Ian McKellan.  If I had one on then I would take off my hat to him.  If I have half the stamina, physical prowess and energy of that man when I am 70 then I will be a happy man.  He is a legend.  It’s lovely too that he doesn’t steal the stage from his cohorts.  It is a rounded, bumbling, tragic, comic performance.

It’s worth seeing just for McKellan but that doesn’t do justice to the others.  All round it’s a very worthy piece, the set in it’s bare, bleak white setting is lovely, and the lighting by Paul Pyant supports this in an very touching and precise way.  I think it must be hard to create the distressed look in an interesting fashion but they have managed it.

It’s not an easy play to watch.  The tragedey is quite painful, but the team adds moments of lightness, (which have been panned by some), to bring some relief and I think that creates a more watchable spectacle.  I think this is very worth seeing.  Still though I advise knowing what you’re going to see in advance with Waiting For Godot.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Hello to Blogging?

So, I go to the theatre a lot and I was saying to one of my ‘theatre buddies’ last night, “I keep thinking about writing a Blog, about my opinions on shows I see, and my thoughts on all that sorta stuff.”  He asked me why I didn’t and I replied that I wasn’t sure who would read it.  He asked me if that mattered and after a little cogitation I reckon it doesn’t.

If nobody reads it, well, that’s fine or I’ll stop.  If somebody does then brilliant.

Why Cathartic Theatric – well, we walked past some people in the foyer last night who were talking about how Cathartic the play we had just seen was (not completely sure they were right, but more on that elsewhere), and we discussed how it was ‘one of those things people say’.  Well – this blog is a little cathartic for me:

Catharsis: A release of emotional tension, as after an overwhelming experience, that restores or refreshes the spirit.

Theatre can often be just that – although I would suggest it’s not always overwhelming, and this is a place to ‘release my emotional tension’ – to express my rage or love, my enthusiastic energies on how wonderful a piece was, or my melancholy musings about how I would have done it better.  I’m sure that’s not always true, but hey, it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to.  Cry if I want to.

This might just encourage me to go to the theatre more, which is a ‘good thing’.  Chances are I will use this place to vent my thoughts about other bits and pieces too, but this is a starting point, an aim, a Raison d’être if you will.  Lovely.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 10:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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