Summer Feel-good Shakespeare

Shakespeare, who brought us our language’s greatest tragedies, can be so many things, including bawdy, lighthearted and none too sophisticated.  His dialogue is the ancestor of the witty Sun headline, and his audiences clearly appreciated off-colour jokes as much as we do today.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About NothingCatherine Tate and David Tennant bring that spirit to the West End with their raucous, slapstick interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing which had the whole theatre laughing for the pure joy of it.   The plot is unlikely, and the characterisation even less so – a soldier (David Tennant’s Benedick) and a noblewoman (Catherine Tate’s Beatrice) act like a pair of embarrassed twelve year olds, disguising their love for each other in a constant barrage of witty putdowns and the biting sacasm of which Tate is an absolute mistress.   Meanwhile, as Claudio is about to marry Hero, the evil Don John sets him up to believe she has been unfaithful to him.   Much confusion and hilarity ensues, and it’s probably not a spoiler to say it all turns out happily in the end.

Directed by Josie Rourke, who is about to take over the helm at the Donmar, the play is set in 1980’s Gibraltar, and from electric blue dresses to ghetto blasters and a small boy playing with a rubik’s cube, show the era perfectly.   Hen and stag parties, complete with lap dancing and chippendales, may be a slightly more recent innovation, or perhaps I just didn’t get invited to those sorts of hen parties in the 80s.

It’s the slapstick that makes it, and both Tennant and Tate are wonderfully physical comics.  Benedick, overhearing his friends discussing how much Beatrice loves him, puts his hand in a paint can in shock, and, ducking behind various pillars to keep himself out of sight, gradually becomes covered in the stuff, messier and messier as he hears more.  And of course, it wouldn’t be British humour without a bloke in drag.  Tennant looks better in a mini-skirt than most women, even sitting smoking with wig off.

Tennant’s special talent is to be totally in the part, whether the utterly broken grief of his Hamlet, too solid flesh melting, or here, utterly, jubiliantly in love as he dances at his wedding.  At the end, the most curmudgeonly dour cynic in the world couldn’t help but enjoy it with him.

5 starsIt’s mass entertainment at it’s best, and should play a big theatre, the Olivier, or the Colliseum, for months.  They’ve done the bawdy old Bard proud, and the only pity is it’s such a short run in a small theatre.  In theory, it’s booking until 3 September, but the only seats available are returns and 20 seats for £10 each allocated by lottery if you turn up in person before 10.30am on the day.

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London Road, a musical about murders

I looked at my diary on the weekend, and wondered what on earth I’d been thinking when I booked this.  A musical about the Ipswich murders in 2006?  Seriously?

This isn’t about the women who were murdered, territory well covered in the excellent TV series Five Daughters, or about the murderer, Stephen Wright.  It’s about everyone else affected, particularly the residents of the street on which he lived, London Road.  These people had their area labelled a red light district, and had to put up with the media invasion, police in their hundreds, as well as the suspicion and fear caused by having five women murdered nearby.

It’s hardly a conventional musical.  The words are all those of the people of London Road, recorded by Alecky Blythe during various visits during and after the time of the murders, and then shaped into lyrics and set to music by Adam Cork.  There’s a deep sense of respect for the people involved, and a real honesty in using their own words, complete with ums and ahs and hesitations.  No layers of convention which would be laid over them by the papers, no “Outrage!” or Guardian style handwringing about the streetwalkers who died either.

The result is gripping, moving, and quite extraordinary.   From early scenes, when new murders are still being discovered, through to the grand finale, the judging day for a London Road in Bloom competition where it seems the entire street has covered itself in hanging baskets of petunias, we see a community of ordinary people coming together and building itself out of a tragedy.  It’s an excellent ensemble cast, with no clear leading roles, but Kate Fleetwood stands out as Julie, one of those slightly odd and possibly annoying types who nevertheless manages to get everyone out doing hanging baskets (she has 17 out the back) and taking care of their front gardens to beautify the street.

The National Theatre have just announced that this is extending to the end of August.  Go and see it.

Four stars - I'll remember this for a whileLondon Road runs in the Cottesloe until 27 August.  Tickets are £12 to £32.  Seat V38 wasn’t bad for £12, but try to get closer to the centre block, or into row T.  The upper tier of the stage was partly obstructed.

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Little Eyolf, by Henrik Ibsen

After a rather depressing week at work, with major problems still unresolved , a good dose of the gloomy Norweigan is probably not what I need on a Friday night.  However, tickets booked, and so I find myself again in the tiny basement of the Jermyn St theatre, surrounded by delightful luvvies and grateful for the eccentric seat-allocation process which always seems to land me in the front row.  I think the box office lady likes me. Continue reading

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Cause Célèbre, by Terrance Rattigan

X21 in the balcony of the Old Vic is not a good seat.  If you’re over 5′ 1″, your knees will be cramped, and if you’re under 5’6″ you won’t be able to see over the railings. You have to be very tall indeed to avoid having the far right side of the stage cut off.  But, it’s only £10, and I am fairly broke.  So, I was delighted to arrive for Thea Sharrock’s excellent revival of Terence Rattigan’s Cause Célèbre to find that the balcony was closed, and I’d been moved to the middle of the stalls.  Thank you nice Old Vic people!! Continue reading

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Princess Ivona, by Tower Theatre

Never before have I come out of the theatre feeling like I’ve wasted an evening, and just want to go home and eat a tub of chocolate icecream, but Princess Ivona, the lastest production from London’s oldest amateur theatre company, Tower Theatre, inspired me do just that*. Continue reading

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A roundup

A new job means I’ve been to less theatre in the last couple of months, and also haven’t had much time for blogging.  So, here’s a little catchup meme to get going again.  You may have seen versions of this with 10, but I only need five to take me back to the last review, which just goes to show how much my theatre-going has slowed down lately.

List the last 5 things you saw at the theatre in order:

1. Wastwater at the Royal Court
2. Under Milkwood at Pentameters in Highgate
3. Godspell at the Rose and Crown in Walthamstow
4. After Troy at the Shaw Theatre
5. Frankenstein at the National (Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein)
Continue reading

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The Heretic, by Richard Bean

Skepticism, the practice of questioning assumptions and not taking things at face value, is a good thing, especially when applied to the ‘truths’ we hold most dear.  Denial, maintaining an unreasonable position in the face of strong evidence to the contrary, while perhaps psychologically useful, is often dangerous.  As an old adage goes, the problem is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know that just ain’t so.

Continue reading

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Judith, at the Cock Tavern Theatre

Judith was a remarkable woman.  According to the apocryphal Book of Judith, which may or may not be historical, when Israel was threatened by Nebuchadezzar’s army, this widow beguiled his general, Holofernes, and, while he was sleeping off a boozy session in his tent, chopped off his head, took it back to her city of Bethulia and had it hung from the city walls.  Definitely not a lady to be messed with.  After the invaders turned tail and fled, she ‘remained in her own possession and was in her time honourable in all the country’.  She never remarried, but continued to run her household and was clearly a respected figure in the community. Continue reading

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Greenland, at the National Theatre

Climate change is complicated.  The basic concept, that the world is becoming hotter due to greenhouse gases emitted through human activity, is not particularly controversial any more.    Scientists believe it, governments believe it, major corporations believe it, left-wing activists believe it, even the Tories believe it.  It’s no longer about if, but about when and how it will happen, and what should be done about it.   The movement to combat climate change spans left and right, anarchist and corporatist and is nearly as complex as the climate. Continue reading

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Water, by Filter at the Tricycle

Actor Ferdy Roberts, who plays the father and one son, in front of a large swimming carpWater, the play, starts with a lecture about the polarised molecule that makes up 70% of our bodies , and a drawing of the molecule as a child’s picture of a person – oxygen is the head, the feet are the hydrogens and the hands, waving in the air are the two electrons drawn from the hydrogens into the outer valence shell of the oxygen.  On a set with screens and laptops, this might seem likely to be a geeky “big themes” production, but it very quickly becomes clear that the real theme is the way we interact with those around us and the modern tendency to disconnect.

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