Saturday, 26 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty-One

The Beaux' Strategem, Oliver Theatre, National Theatre, London. September 2015.

After the sadness of War Horse a restoration romp seemed just the thing to see next and I'm pleased to report that Rebecca and I had a great time at the final performance of this comedy.

I think it took me slightly longer to warm to the play than Rebecca in the first instance but very quickly I was swept away in the complicated, multi-stranded plot.

Aimwell and Archer have wasted all of their money in London and are thus taking to the provinces in an attempt to find rich wives who's money will support their chosen lifestyle.  Aimwell is impersonating his older, titled, brother and Archer is acting as a high class personal gentleman as they put into play their strategy - hence the play's title.

In addition to this we have a corrupt landlord involved in all sorts of crimes, imprisoned French officers and their priest and the ladies of the grand house who Archer and Aimwell have in their sights.  There is also an unhappy marriage, brought about by the need for money...

It sounds complicated and until you have grasped who is who, fortunately there is very little role doubling, it seems a little bit of a mess but quickly it is clear what a clever piece of writing this actually is.

In many ways this felt a very Shakespearean play, far more so than the other Farquhar play (The Recruiting Officer) that I have seen.  There was a lot of song, very bawdy humour, a dead pan servant, a jig at the end and a very neat (improbable) tying up of the loose ends to make the finale.  This isn't a criticism, just something I wasn't expecting from a Restoration Comedy.

The set and costumes were sumptuous in this production and the cast were very obviously having a good time - I do wonder if this was heightened as it was a last performance as there was some, hastily recovered, corpsing on occasion.
All in all this was a real mood boost play, with a few things to think about afterwards thrown in for good measure.  It has also left me with a craving for trifle.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirty

War Horse, New London Theatre, London. September 2015.

This trip turned out to be incredibly poignant as while we were ensconced in the auditorium closing notices for the production were posted.

We however found this out afterwards and in the meantime the three of us making this trip were blown away by what we saw on stage.  This was my fourth visit but the first time my companions had seen the play live, although one had seen the NT Live broadcast.

Repeated viewings of this production never disappoint me.  Each time I sit in a different area of the theatre and so see something new. This time we had seats in the 'restricted view' seats to the side of the stalls. I have put the restricted view into inverted commas because I think that we missed nothing on the stage at all, and while sometimes the actors had their backs to us that was the only inconvenience.  The seats were in fact just three rows from the front and so we really could see the whites of the actors eyes.

As ever I was instantly swept up into the story and forgot within seconds that Joey and Topthorn weren't real.  In fact where we were sitting we made so much eye contact with Joey at one point that we were all reaching for apples to share with him! This close range also showed just how good the puppets are in scenes where they are used as riders on the "half-horses."

Every time I watch this play I get a lump in my throat at a different point, after all of the work I have been doing on the Norfolk in WW1 project it was the lines about the war being over by Christmas in act one choked me up but it was the very final scene that had me swallowing hard this time.  I know that I have become more involved in the human story in the past few years and while the treatment of the animals is a way into the horrors of war I have moved on from that in some ways and do get more involved with the human story.  However there were still points I had to shut my eyes for!
As we said afterwards - without showing any blood at all this is one of the most violent and brutal things we've ever seen.

In the second act we are taken away from the bucolic Devon countryside and romantic ideas of how the war will be into the horrors of the trenches - the added realism of a real mouse around my feet was a nice,but unnecessary touch!

On the way home we were discussing what we'd seen when the man sitting behind us joined in - it turns out that he'd been the back-end puppeteer of Joey for a few years and had given Michael Morpurgo a ride on Joey!  He gave some fascinating insights to the role, how the puppets work and how hard it was to make it look so real and so effortless.  I'm just glad we had all liked the performance and were saying nice things, it isn't always the case!

I'm now planning one more trip to see War Horse before it closes, and wondering whether to really splash out for those special seats in the front stalls for the 'wow' moment or to stick with the so-called restricted view and go twice...

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Nine

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Theatre Royal, Norwich. September 2015.

Back in 2012 Rebecca and I were lucky enough to get tickets to see this play in its original incarnation at the Cottesloe Theatre in London and it made my top 5 plays of the year. I've wanted Mr Norfolkbookworm to see the play for a while but as he isn't too keen on London it was a great relief to discover that the tour was coming to Norwich.

Before going in I was worried how the change from black box theatre to proscenium arch would work.  The set was so integral to the original play we saw, could this be reproduced? I'm pleased to say that it totally worked - and possibly improved some parts.

The set comprised of an open box that was divided into, for better description, graph paper and was used to great effect as lights and drawings appeared on all visible sides as needed.  The three dimensional set also made it clearer that the ever changing lights and projections were reflections of Christopher's mind being unable to process the world around him.  When he is coping there are ordered lines and his own images but when over whelmed it all becomes jumbled, flashing, loud and incomprehensible.

It may be false memory but I did think that the fourth wall was broken more times in this version than in the original and I didn't like this - I was jolted out of the production at these points, but this is a small criticism of a wonderful night out.

If you don't catch this on tour then it is still playing in London and I really recommend going if you can, it is a play that can stand repeat viewings. Mr Norfolkbookworm also gives it his seal of approval!

Two warnings:

  • there are unpredictable strobe lighting effects used in this, if you are susceptible to these this really may not be the play for you. 
  • there is a slight danger of cuteness over load at one point.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Eight

The Simon and Garfunkel Story, The Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. September 2015.

I've been a fan of Simon and Garfunkel's music for as long as I can remember,  influenced probably by my parents who had a lot of their music as I was growing up.  If I ever had the chance to go in a time machine their concert in Central Park in 1981 would be one of my first destinations - along with the Queen tour of 1986 - how shallow am I???

My companion and I weren't sure what we'd be experiencing at this show, another friend had seen it recently and was positive so we were hopeful. We were pretty much the youngest in the audience and our seat neighbour was borderline rude about C but we weren't that bothered as we were there for the show/music.

It is a very simple format, two men sing the songs of Simon and Garfunkel with the support of a drummer, keyboard player and bassist. A screen is visible behind the musicians and this shows a montage of images and films that reflect the music, America of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and also images of the duo themselves.  Simple but effective.

The voices of the two performers were pretty much perfect - if you shut your eyes you could easily convince yourself that you had the originals in front of you.  Even with your eyes open the pair had the mannerisms down pat and it was a surreal watch.

I loved every minute of this evening, it was like a sedate rock concert - fab music, lots of chance to hum along and I knew every song except two. I loved that the songs were interspersed with  little anecdotes about the duo or their music and that although it was a very affectionate telling of their story it also didn't gloss over some of the problems.

Both of us wanted there to be more than one performance, and I think that we'd have booked straightaway to see this again - rumour has it that it may be back  in Norfolk early in 2016, I think we'll be there!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Seven (sort of)

The Oresteia, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2015.

With this play Mr Norfolkbookworm and I did something that we've only done once before in all the years we've been going to the theatre - we left before the end.

I appreciate that we only saw the second preview of this and so perhaps we were a little harsh, but I'm afraid that after 85 minutes we had had enough.  I am still going to review what we saw however because although we only saw Act I this was the entire play Agamemnon which forms the first part of the Oresteia trilogy.

Agamemnon deals with the end of the Trojan War and the return of King Agamemnon to his kingdom and wife after a 10 year absence.  He returns with the doomed prophetess Cassandra and the knowledge that he'd tricked his wife and sacrificed his daughter to guarantee luck at the start of the war.  It seems he is welcomed home by a loving wife but it goes bloodily wrong very quickly.

My problems with this production were many...

I have pretty good hearing and yet so many of the lines were spoken from the Groundling area or by the cast with their backs to me that I couldn't hear them.

Many of the lines were accompanied by music, which meant that even when the cast were facing me I couldn't hear them.

The costumes were all over the place. The Chorus appeared to be from the 1940s - especially the women who looked like they were stereo typical members of the French Resistance.  Clytemnestra and her attendants looked like they'd stepped out of a 1960s Mary Quant fashion show (or if you are being less generous off the set of the Austin Powers films). The Greek army were in modern battledress with nightsticks and helmets.  To cap it all Agamemnon appeared in a traditional Ancient Greek costume.

My final problem was with the gore - there was so much that it lost all impact, there was no shock value at all and it all just seemed pantomime.

As I said I can't let you know how the final two parts of the trilogy were performed, I'm afraid we left.  I suppose I will always be a little curious but I don't regret leaving.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Twenty-Six

The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales Theatre, London. August 2015.

My final show from this past weekend outing to London was to see The Book of Mormon. This is another notorious show, both for content and seat price and Rebecca and I have been waiting a while to see it.

Once more we were up as high as you could be in the theatre, but unlike at the Barbican the production has been designed with the whole theatre in mind and although we were a long way from the stage we never felt like it, and I don't think we missed a thing.

To appreciate this show you have to be someone who isn't easily shocked as it is rude, full of swear words and sexual jokes, mocks religion terribly and most of the time you aren't sure if it is okay to laugh or if the boundary in to offensive has been crossed.

It is however hysterical and a totally feel good show. I was smiling from the opening number - you can see a version of that here!

The show is however a scant two hours (plus interval) and I do think that unless you can get the cheap seats, or a good offer, it is over priced but it is certainly something to see at least once, especially if you like South Park.

The programme is also great fun with adverts for the Mormon church!