Saturday, 29 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Five

Tiddler, Leicester Square Theatre, London. August 2015.

After the somewhat disappointmenting Hamlet I was looking forward to my next play - after all a weekend in London when you only see one thing is a waste!

After abandoning Rebecca for a couple of hours I met my sister and nephew in Leicester Square for our trip  to see Tiddler and other tales.  The outing didn't start that well as the toilets were out of order at the theatre and at a show full of under 7s the last thing you want is long queues for the one cubicle that was available.  Credit to the staff as they did get people sorted and the play started almost on time.

It was a wonderful hour of theatre.  Three talented actors with unlimited energy told the stories of Monkey Puzzle, A Squash and A Squeeze, The Smartest Giant in Town and the eponymous Tiddler. The tales blended seamlessly into each other and there was just the right amount of imagination needed to fill out the stories, who in their past hasn't turned cushions into animals to help act out a story?

The source material from Julia Donaldson obviously helps but with the aid of puppets, shadows and songs I, along with pretty much the whole audience, was captivated throughout.  Although clearly for children there were just a few jokes - visual and spoken - just for the grown ups in the theatre and these really made the outing for me.

I love good children's theatre, and going with my nephew is a real treat as he is always spellbound by what he sees on stage.  Extra special congratulations to the cast member who completed the whole thing with her arm in a plaster cast.

Huge thanks to my sister who treated me to my ticket - and next time dad, you really should see if there are any spare seats because you missed a real treat!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Four

Hamlet, The Barbican, London. August 2015.

I have to add the disclaimer to this review stating that the production was still in preview when we saw this performance, although at the time of booking we weren't aware of this.

As well as being the most eagerly awaited theatrical event of the year this Hamlet has also proved the most controversial. A quick Google search will bring up pages of controversy surrounding the production and with that much hype it was always going to be be hard to live up to.

When Rebecca and I saw this the production had moved the 'To Be...' speech back into a more traditional location and I was a little sad at that - if you are going to be daring with a play then be really daring! Instead the play opened with Hamlet (Cumberbatch) sat on the stage listening to Nature Boy looking through his childhood possessions.  The speeches usually given to by the guards on duty then were spoken by Hamlet. It didn't feel odd or out of place at all and I can see that with this melancholy start how the To be... lines would have worked.

Following this the stage opens right out into an opulent stately home and as the Barbican's stage is so big I did really feel like I was looking at a National Trust property.  The play then continued in a servicable fashion, the text had been reworked so that narratives were easy to follow but there were no standout brilliant parts for me.  In fact I started getting incredibly frustrated by the direction which had the lighting change and the rest of the cast move in slow motion each time Hamlet gives a soliloquy. I can see how the criticisms of a dumbed-down production have arisen.

Many of the reviews that have been published since press night praise Cumberbatch but are less kind to the play as a whole and I think that I agree with that.  He was a good Hamlet, he managed to make a character I have never liked tolerable, The set was the other star!  We had seats in the gallery for this performance and only once did we notice an actor playing to the whole audience - something that is very noticeable after frequenting the Globe and seeing how they encompass everyone.  Our seats were also not listed as restricted view and they certainly were! To add insult to injury the programme - no more than a collection of images freely available on line - costs £8.50, the same as a glass of champagne from the bar.

This feels like a very grumpy review and I am glad that I will see the play again in September, from better seats, as I can then make an informed decision about what I really feel about the production.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Books, Glorious Books

After my holiday I discovered I'd read myself to a standstill again and it has only been in the last week or so that I have rediscovered my reading mojo.  You'd think I'd learn as I do this every holiday!

However thanks to Net Galley advance copies and my library card I have broken this drought and have read several books I want to tell everyone about!

Noonday - Pat Barker.  This one disappointed me, although billed as "by the author of..." I didn't expect that you'd have to have such good recall of books that are 7 or so years old.  It follows characters first met in Life Class Toby's Room but has a WW2 setting.  I didn't find it anywhere near as good as the former books, and I felt that Barker doesn't write as well about WW2 as she does WW1.

The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks.  This was fantastic. I am a great fan of taking a well known person or event and then telling their story from a new viewpoint.  This is the full story around King David, using the relevant information from the Bible, Brooks has added detail and colour to the well known stories and created a book I found hard to stop reading.  I have a love/hate relationship with this author (I loved her book about the plague in Eyam and loathed her retelling of Little Women) but this was great and I shall be recommending it to all and sundry, especially if you liked The Red Tent by Diamant.

The Millionaire and the Bard - Andrea Mays. This is all about Henry Folger, an American who created the biggest collection of Shakespeare's works early in the 20th Century and then created a library in Washington for the items.  His name comes up regularly in my studies and I dream of visiting the Folger Library so it was nice to read more about the books and the man.

Ana of California - Andi Teran.  This was the first of two retellings of classical children's books and I liked it a lot.  It is loosely based on Anne of Green Gables but with enough variation that it felt totally fresh and it was a game of spot the reference.  The ending was a little rushed but I enjoyed it a lot.

Katy - Jacqueline Wilson. The second retelling, this time of What Katy Did.  The first half drove me mad, it was so close to the original (and the parts that had been updated 150 years were awful) that I wondered why I was bothering.  It was after Katy's accident however that the book came into its own.  Unlike in the original it felt believable and Katy did not become a saint!  The struggles with coming to terms with the results of the accident were a little quick but this is a book aimed at the under 13s and so within these parameters was very good - if you can get past the first 100+ pages.  Of course if you've never read What Katy Did you won't know what my gripe is!

Now I am back to two super-secret reading projects again which have to be completed before uni restarts in late September.  I can see that for the next month or so I will be either at work, at the theatre or reading - happily trips to London involve four hours on a train and so that it extra reading time!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Three

Mack and Mabel, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester. August 2015.

Regular blog readers will remember that a couple of years ago we went to see Barnum in the temporary tent theatre at Chichester with Mr Norfolkbookworm's aunt.  The renovations to the main theatre have now been finished and Mack and Mabel caught the same aunt's eye and so we made a return trip.

Way back in the early spring when I booked this trip I had mixed experiences with the staff at the theatre.  We needed seats that had little or no steps to gain access to them and the staff couldn't have been more helpful in recommending where to sit.  However when booking opened it became a nightmare trying to book on-line, on behalf of someone else and I ended up sitting on hold for a very long time before getting the seats we needed.  It was thus with mixed feelings we went to see this show.

Once more I knew nothing about the show, and the reviews I'd read were not entirely positive but again I trusted our companion's choice.

On the whole I really enjoyed the show, I thought the mixing of acting and footage from the actual films was done brilliantly, and the choreography was fantastic.  I enjoyed all of the actors and thought that their singing, especially the main draw - Michael Ball, was top notch.  Mabel didn't convince me quite as much but then as part of the plot line is that she is only a comic actress and not that great at anything else I chose to see this as a casting/directing decision.

The first act whizzed by and was highly enjoyable, custard pies and all. The second act felt a little padded to me. There was a great tap number but I'm not convinced that it was needed. The ending was a little like a punch in the stomach and very well done, what could have been horribly sentimental wasn't and did leave me with a slight lump in the throat. I do wonder if this would have been better as an edited, shorter, one act musical?

I didn't come out humming any of the tunes, and after the ending not particularly uplifted but I do have the urge to find and watch movies from the 1920s and before such as the Keystone Cops as the use of them on stage was great.

After my mixed experiences with the staff before our trip I'm pleased to report that they were all fantastic during our visit, helpful, friendly and knowledgeable.

I was left feeling a little perturbed by some of the audience/Michael Ball fans however.  There is so much in the press currently about the 'bad behaviour' of Cumberbatch fans at Hamlet (which seems to all be rumour and nothing concrete) yet there were some in the CFT who could have been accused of the same behaviour and yet we hear nothing of that in the press. Oh well I shall report back as my next trip is to see the afore mentioned Hamlet...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Two

Richard II, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2015.

This was a surprise addition to my theatre going calendar as I was lucky enough to win tickets to this on Twitter. Well I actually won tickets to any Globe production this season but as it is my friend's favourite Shakespeare play (probably) we decided that this was the one we'd see.

It was also my friend's first visit to the Globe after listening to me rave about it for the past few years so I was a little nervous how she'd take to the space - it isn't for everyone after all,  To add to the pressure she'd also accompanied me to see Richard II in 2013 when we saw the RSC version.

I found this production much clearer in terms of plot narrative, starting the play with the coronation of a child  (which segued into an adult very well) showed that this version of Richard was all about a king who hadn't known any other way of life, hence why he was so spoilt and petulant.  The action unfolded naturally after this and there was a lot of humour in the staging, this childishness was also very movingly reprised at the end in a scene that did bring a lump to my throat.

This Bolingbroke was a charismatic and alluring figure, more so than the king, and thus it was easy to see why people did follow him so swiftly.  He also managed to foreshadow his future as shown in Henry IV (parts one and two) which was a nice touch. In this version Aumerle was more of a sycophant to Richard than anything else and his treachery treated very well.

This isn't a play that allows a lot of interaction with the Groundlings and what there was came naturally and wasn't over played, as with the rest of the season however I did find that the space was used a little too much for entrances and exits.

The comic scenes were typical Globe moments and worked wonderfully within the play, they kept the plot moving and were not at all comic asides or pauses in the action. The love between Richard and his Queen was another beautiful thing to watch.

My main criticism with this play remains the same as before - unless you listen very, very closely to the words - you are left not entirely sure why the king is as 'bad' as he is and why he has to abdicate. There is no flowing hair or homosexual undertone in this version and I came away feeling that poor Richard really got the thin edge of the wedge. My friend and I were debating this after the show, and both agreed that occasionally we found his lines to be rushed and wondered if this was a directorial choice and a way of showing his instability and unsuitability...

I am revisiting this play on the very last day of the season and I am pleased to have a second chance to see this play as it is deceptively complicated and there are a lot of little details I want to see again.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-One

Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre, London. August 2015.

The trouble with booking theatre in advance to ensure you get a ticket is that things like Tube strikes can crop up.  Luckily there are two train routes to London and one of these put the theatre in easy, if up hill, walking distance and so Rebecca and I weren't troubled by the strike at all.

I confess that I like Greek drama, to the extent of going to see it (and mostly enjoy it) even when it is performed in Ancient Greek and I was looking forward to this, even with it being a reworking of the script - but then what translation of a play that is 2000+ years old isn't?!

The story is a tragedy. The God Dionysus has been denied his status by the city in which he was born, and his mother branded a liar for claiming to have been Zeus's mistress. The young God has returned to Thebes in order to make the city accept him. He has turned his aunts mad and created a cult of women living in the hills above. His cousin, Pentheus, now king of Thebes really refuses to acknowledge Dionysus and so the two come face to face and the God systematically destroys his family and city. Cheerful stuff!

The staging was both wonderfully traditional, just three actors and a chorus, and cleverly modern (the chorus were all female) and from the start I was hooked.  There has been a lot of comment about the role of the chorus in reviews, and a lot of it has been negative. I however found them to be fascinating. A group of 10 women spoke and moved in absolute unison as well as singing many of their lines in a truly hypnotic fashion. The comments have called these interludes overlong and confusing yet when you go back and read a translation of the original play this is just how they come across. The Chorus speeches are the longest in the play and they do transform between Dionysus' supporters and the women of Thebes and to be honest even in the original text you are wishing they'd get on with it. In this version their singing did help me overcome this problem and I was swept away by the sound.

The three lead actors, male, played all the rest of the roles and while Ben Wishaw is getting all the credit for this play (and somewhat deservedly - he is totally compelling on stage) I found the stand out to be Bertie Carvel, who played Pentheus and his mother. Watching his downfall at the hands of a vengeful God was stunning and then to see him transform into his mother, also driven mad by Dionysus, was brilliant.

Much has also been said about Wishaw's costume in the play:

but again this androgynous look is a stage direction from the original and isn't there as a 'shock' tactic. Wishaw carries the look very well and there is a moment in the play when he fixes Pentheus' hair which was one of the most erotic pieces of theatre I've seen this year - and again this is in the original and is not a modern reading.

All in all I enjoyed this play, I wasn't sure about the Chorus arriving in modern dress with suitcases at the very start but it won me over and I find myself unable to stop thinking about the play which is a good sign. It may yet end up in my top 10 of the year.

The one downside for me is that however accurate and good Wishaw is in his costume he did remind me of both Conchita Wurst and the guy who play Jesus in the 1970s film version of Jesus Christ: Superstar!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty

Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2015.

I confess that I approached this play with some trepidation,  the play was a set text earlier this year and I wasn't at all sure what to make of it.  Luckily in the hands of the Globe I needn't have worried and this outing has rocketed high into my top ten performances of the year so far.

Measure for Measure is one of the 'problem plays,' both through content and disputed authorship! But as in Taming of the Shrew a few years ago a fine line was steered and the play clarified before my eyes.

Put very simply the Duke of Vienna is tired of his role, his city is out of control and so he decides to appoint a deputy and leave town.  His deputy, Angelo, starts off with good intentions but then proves himself as corrupt as the rest of Vienna. However in this play you can see that Angelo's actions are having an effect and that he is improving the city - before the official start the Yard was full of action, bawdy houses were wheeled on and drunks, prostitutes, corrupt law men and religious pamphleteers filled the area with a show.  These characters continued to pop up on the stage between scenes throughout the first act, but by the end we rarely saw them and the city was a better place... In his personal decisions Angelo may be corrupt and hypocritical but his ideas for the city as a whole weren't all detrimental.

The ending of this play is morally dubious. After preventing Isabella from being violated by Angelo the Duke all but forces her into giving up the religious life for which she was training and into marrying him.  The staging of this version did allude to this slightly - the Duke appeared to realise that his actions towards Isabella were little better than Angelo's, and in the end, it is clearly Isabella who makes the choice for her future.  For me I find the Duke's actions as reprehensible as the court in Merchant of Venice when it forces Shylock to convert to Christianity and I was surprised at the laugh this scene raised in the theatre when I was expecting a hiss...

The comedy was very much to the fore in this production and I liked this, the comic scenes felt very much integral to the story and not at all as light relief scenes between the drama. Once more my slight criticism could be that there was too much action off stage in the Yard but this was rarely actual speech, just added colour and so I'll just recommend this play to anyone who can get to London!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Nineteen

Mummy Mia, The Blakeney Players,Blakeney. July 2015.

As ever this review comes with the disclaimer that I know one of the cast and that I'm never going to be anything other than positive about the Blakeney Player.

This is a show that is totally impossible to review without you all thinking I've been indulging in illegal substances.

We opened with the music from the film Lawrence of Arabia and a sheikh staring into the desert distance as a pantomime camel appears on stage.

The next to appear on stage was explorer Gertrude Bell, the hieroglyphics expert Rosetta Stone and their colleagues Ray and a reluctant explorer, Livingstone.

Thanks to the magic of a cursed tomb we then slipped back in time to the reign of King Tut Tut and the invention of the pyramid. We visited the royal palace, a bazaar in Cairo and a camel race before ending up with the King from Memphis. There was also a dancing camel and an on-stage sand dance in the style of Wilson, Keppel and Betty.

You really had to be there but I can say that this is the most fun I have from curtain up to curtain down since the last Players' show!

The highlight of the show was the illusion dance (here's one I found on line but the Players' version was much better!) but from the dreadful puns to the grand finale this was a show that left us all with aching sides, big grins and a sense of wonder.  I don't want to wish time away but I'm already looking forward to the Christmas show.

I'm not the only one to really enjoy the show - the EDP reviewed it very favourably too!