Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"The Little World of Don Camillo" - February 2007

Giovanni Guareschi's stories of Catholic priest Don Camillo and his nemesis Peppone, the local Communist mayor, in their post-war Italian town don't seem to be that well known in the UK. As a result I had little idea of what to expect. The blurbs for this production by Mike Maran were also a little vague on how it was to be staged as well, so it really was a bit of a venture into the unknown as we entered the Circle Studio at the Citizens.

I turned out to be correct in thinking I was about to see something reminiscent of an Italian "Ballykissangel" or "Hamish Macbeth" - typical of the gentle comedy loved of a Sunday evening on BBC1 (although please note I'm not including "Last of the Summer Wine" in this category). I was however very wrong in my guess that the performance would be a small cast of 5 or 6 - in fact it's largely a one man show with Mike Maran acting as story teller with musical accompaniment and occasional assistance from his accordion and trumpet players. And it is lovely to have live on stage music as part of a show - something all too rare these days.

As a format this works well as Maran takes us through a series of lighthearted tales of how the two enemies share a grudging respect for one another despite their attempts to gain the upper hand in public matters. Maran also takes time out to explain how this reflects the wider picture in Italy of the time and also to give an insight through his own family history. It all feels a little like regressing back to childhood and sitting watching a cracking Jackanory with Bernard Cribbens narrating.

This isn't really a laugh-out-loud kind of show - more gentle chortles, and I'm not completely sure that as early thirtysomethings we are really the target audience, but it made for a very enjoyable evening.

Now this shouldn't really be a criticism, as I've already said the stories do suit the style of presentation and Maran does a great job of bringing the characters to life, but I do also feel that the material could be (and in future no doubt will be) used to even greater effect with a small cast of characters and fully performed.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Teechers" - February 2007

Despite not being familiar with the piece, I thought I had a fair idea what to expect from this performance by Glasgow College of Nautical Studies drama students in the Citizens Circle Studio. I was however completely unprepared for the absolute riot of fun and energy it turned out to be. Although normally performed with a tiny cast of 3, this performance used a cast of 10 and I'd suggest it really benefited from this as it helped create a truly school-like atmosphere at times.
Some may say that the choice of show wasn't too demanding from a serious "acting" perspective of intense stares, furrowed brows and wringing of hands variety, but it more than made up for this in being a very technically challenging piece with so many members playing multiple characters (even with the extended cast), fast paced scene changes, direct narration to the audience, and the need for well honed comic timing - not to mention the inclusion of a song and dance number!

All of the cast were more than good - and from the very first scene our three narrators, Salty, Gail and Hobby (Scott Fletcher, Deidre Coghill & Laura Szalecki), had the audience eating out of palm of their hands. Scott Kyle as the central Nixon also produced an impressive performance while David McNay as the Mr Bronson-like Basford was in danger of stealing the show with every scene.

Overall this was a hugely enjoyable evening with more than a touch of a Scottish Youth Theatre atmosphere and tone about it (and that is very much a compliment for anyone in any doubt). However, it did become clear right at the end that these young students still have something to learn - when you get an audience response like that at the end of a show, please come back out for a second curtain call - you deserved it and we wanted to give you it...


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"My Bloody Valentine" - February 2007

When you go to an established production you have a rough idea of what to expect. There may be some updates as to costume, or language but you know the general story. With My Bloody Valentine we went in blind as it's a work devised and performed by the Citizens' Community Company. I'm glad to say we didn't leave disappointed.

It was clear that the cast were enjoying themselves as they produced a series of sketches around love and relationships and Valentine's Day. A simple but effective set of restaurant tables allowed the company the freedom to give us sketches ranging from macabre to slapstick. These were interwoven with "Lyrical Interludes" telling the story of one particularly troubled relationship by using a variety of song lyrics.

Some of the sketches were stronger than others, but the pace was nicely judged and I've got to admit to having sore jaws at the end from grinning for just over an hour. None of the stories had huge twists - everything was fairly well signposted - but you shouldn't expect that in this kind of work. Trying to work a huge reveal in takes time you just don't have in short simple tales and can end up looking forced or contrived. The fun tonight was in the journey, not necessarily the destination.

Special mentions have to go to Hairbrush, written and performed by Patricia Preston which was a nicely delivered Alan Bennett-ish monologue. Also a brave and witty a capella performance of 'Daisy Daisy' with a French twist by Siobhan Crawford. However, this was very much an ensemble performance which worked well as a whole.

The Stalls Studio is a small space, with a difficult layout - the audience sits on 2 sides of the square, facing each other, with only one entrance and exit. However this had obviously been considered carefully in the set layout, and in the direction. The large cast did well in remembering to play to both sides of the room.

Sometimes the advantage of community/amateur company performances is that the cast are enjoying themselves as much as the audience, and this was a perfect example. If you think that they might have lower standards, then think again.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Guide To Polite Theatre Going

I get relatively easily irritated by the foibles of other audience members' so figured it was time to draw up some Dos and Don'ts of watching a play. It actually depresses me slightly that I feel the need to list what should just be a matter of common sense and common decency.

  1. Arrive on time. To be fair theatres have a big responsibility here too. Only allow people in at a sensible breaks in performances and if someone has to leave mid act then don't let them back in.

  2. Don't drink too much. A lot of rude behaviour is caused by partaking of a few too many before the show, or during the interval. It just makes you look a prat.

  3. Don't eat sweets. You're only sitting there for an hour or so, you can survive for that long. The rustling really carries.

  4. Turn off your mobile. And I mean off, not vibrate. The same goes for beeping watches.

  5. Don't talk. When the lights go down that's your cue to shut up. Don't finish your conversation - it can wait till the interval.

  6. Make sure you're the appropriate audience for the performance. We've seen kids of 8 or 9 at shows that have clearly stated that the suggested age is 14+. We've also overheard other audience members, usually older ones, complaining about the strong language. This has usually either been specifically stated in the show info, or you could deduce it being likely from the subject matter.

  7. Be considerate to the people around you. Watch your elbows, and don't wear hats or have big hair. Watch your knees and feet. A slight shift in movement to you can feel like the percussion section are practicing on your kidneys to the person in front.

  8. Dress appropriately for the venue. I don't mean tux and evening dress here (but if that floats your boat, then go for it). I do mean think about what you're going to see. If it's not a conventional theatre style performance and you're going to be walking about following the actors don't wear 3" high stilettos (especially for across grass). Companies usually advise you that you'll need warm clothing, sensible shoes etc - pay attention to that advice.

  9. Keep the luggage to a minimum. We've seen people who've obviously just done the weekly shop before squeezing into their seat.

  10. In unallocated seating don't move seat at the interval. You're just going to cause chaos as there will be a ripple effect of people hunting for new seats.


"Dangerous Liaisons" - February 2007

Saturday saw us back at the Citizens again for an enjoyable performance of “Dangerous Liaisons” by a second set of Reid Kerr students following our midweek visit to “The Crucible.” As always, the content of the following review is based on the same standards used for “professional” theatre - I don’t believe it helpful to anyone if we “make allowances” because it is a youth/student/amateur production.

The cast really had the measure of the Circle Studio and their performances and vocal levels were spot on for the intimate setting. Our three lead characters of Valmonte, Mdme de Mertuil and Mdme de Tourvel all gave good central performances but while Valmonte and Mdme de Tourvel seemed to have everything “on display” Stacia Bantouvakis as Mdme de Mertuil gave a much more subtle performance with a greater suggestion of character depth and complexity. Both Martin Haddow as Valmonte and Elena Burns as Mdme de Tourvel did show hints of internal conflict in some of the major dramatic set pieces but I think for most of the play the decision to perform with strong accents took so much effort and concentration that it limited some of their other skills. Bantouvakis’s more natural accent seemed to have afforded her greater opportunity to produce a more three dimensional portrayal. Indeed Dylan Lewis as Valmonte's manservant benefited from sticking with a straight Glasgow accent and as a result brought a good deal of depth to his relatively small role and was able to showcase his obviously good timing.

I found much of the show uneven in tone, but without closer reference to the source material I’m unsure if this is the nature of the play or a flaw in the way it has been adapted. Much of it seemed verging on knockabout comedy and at times they went for what seemed the cheap gag rather than a clever one, and for me this didn’t sit well with the stronger scenes of violence later in the play to the extent that I found it uncomfortable - although I will accept that this may have been a legitimate intention of the cast/director.

The supporting cast all did their jobs well, including some young ladies who were incredibly brave to be quite so exposed in such an “up close and personal” setting. Lighting was used to good effect, as were musical interludes between scene changes, and the cast coped very professionally with a couple of minor irritations in the audience.

As stated at the beginning, this was an enjoyable evening and I think some of these guys could have a future in theatre, but I do wish that some of them would appreciate that the best acting is about more than an accent, gestures and volume control - the best actors in an intimate space like this can convey emotions with a mere look. But I guess that’s all part of the learning process and I’d happily return to see future productions from either of the two sets of student I’ve seen this week and that probably says more than anything else.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"The Crucible" - February 2007

I'd never seen or read "The Crucible" before tonight, but was aware enough of the political overtones that I was looking forward to this production by Reid Kerr College Drama Students in the Citizens Circle Studio. Before we go any further I'd just like to post a reminder of my policy for commenting on youth/community/amateur/student productions and performances - these get judged to exactly the same standard as any "professional" performance, to do otherwise would be patronising.

OKAY, HERE GOES, THE FIRST ACT INTRODUCED US TO SEVERAL OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS BUT SOME OF THE DIALOGUE WAS SO FAST AND SHOUTY IT WAS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO CATCH WHAT WAS BEING SAID THROUGH THE FAIRLY HEAVY ACCENTS AND I'M NOT SURE IF THIS WAS DOWN TO A MISJUDGING OF THIS INTIMATE THEATRE SPACE BUT THE EFFECT WAS VERY SIMILAR TO TYPING WITH CAPS LOCK ON AND EMPHASIS WAS LOST WHEN IT WAS ACTUALLY REQUIRED. It did however become very clear early on that Kirsti Quinn as Abigail was going to deliver an electric performance and was entirely believable in her role. Fortunately the second Act brought a bit of a quieter tone but volume was still an issue with Grant Hamilton's otherwise excellent performance as John Proctor lessened by shouting just too many times. By the interval I was struggling a bit and it all seemed a little haphazard and as if I was being bludgeoned over the head with some of the delivery.

After the interval things improved greatly and the courtroom scene was very well staged - the chorus of the girls being particularly effective. Things were also helped by the greater involvement of Una McDade as Elizabeth Proctor with a very measured performance and the introduction of Kevin Gunn as Judge Danforth commanding his hearings. The final Act saw great exchanges between John and Elizabeth and these were the scenes with the greatest impact.

Overall what we had was an enjoyable performance that with a bit more considered direction could have been more subtle and sophisticated. As I've mentioned in reviews before I think it's great mistake to attempt national or regional accents - it rarely adds much to the role that can't be achieved by adopting a variation of the performer's usual accent to reflect class etc. This is much simpler and avoids the all too often scenario where two or three performers hold great accents throughout while others obviously struggle to the extent that it is a constant distraction to the audience. I'd also have liked to have seen just a fraction more creativity in the setting of the play - it was never about the Salem witch trials and even minor indications of the play's relevance today would have been welcome. Anyone for putting the accused in orange jumpsuits??? It was however good enough that I'm looking forward to see what their classmates produce later in the week with "Les Liaisons Dangereuses".


Monday, February 05, 2007

"Hot Fuzz" February 2007

Yes, this is normally a Theatre Review blog, and yes "Hot Fuzz" is the new film from the creators of "Shaun of the Dead" but I was lucky enough to get the chance to see the film tonight over a week before it opens, followed by a Q&A with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. So, for one post only I'm going to review a cinema film...

Those of you who have read our Welcome post already know that I don't get to the cinema often due to the increasing annoyances of the other patrons, the ridiculous lack of originality and the insistence of studios of airing trailers that either completely spoil the film in advance or are actually the only good 2 minutes of it. But I wasn't going to miss this opportunity having really enjoyed "Shaun of the Dead"

I'm not going to go into any details on the plot which although present and fairly substantial isn't really what this film is all about, but the basic set-up is big time cop moved out to the sticks. The first hour or so is fairly slowly paced but generally and genuinely funny and Simon Pegg gets the chance to show that he can really *act* and I mean that in the sense of saying that this guy has the potential of all sort of statues and awards given the kind of role that those panels favour. And Nick Frost shows he has the potential to be more than just a loveable sidekick - I hope we get to see him given more variety in their next production.

The last 45 minutes is where the pace takes off and it just does not stop - it is completely unrelentless and gives Edgar Wright the chance to show that as a director he shouldn't be limited to relatively low budget (in Hollywood terms) films and is perfectly capable of directing a "serious" action film. But even in "all out action" mode the humour is kept very much front and central and only slips to the background when they attempt to out-do the gruesomeness of the Final Destination films. This action onslaught is everything I felt was lacking from "Casino Royale" - I left it finding it difficult to recall any real highlight set pieces. With "Hot Fuzz" I think I've just spent the whole bus journey home with a silly grin on my face recalling the best moments. And just in case I haven't made it clear this is a 5/5 film.

The guys were great at the Q&A afterwards, having a chat with an interviewer and answering questions from the audience. It was great to see and hear how much love they have put into the film and it really does show in the final product. Getting back to our roots here, this is definitely something Theatre should do more of - it has much greater opportunities to do so but post show cast discussions are few and far between and I'm sure there are many who would be interested in attending. Nonsenseroom are one of the few companies who seem to really make the most of this with their "Gala night" performances.

Anyway, normal service will resume later this week when we get back to the theatre...