Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Elling" - September 2007 (London)

Based on a Norwegian film of the same name, "Elling" is the title character's struggle to reassimilate into society after a spell in a mental institution. Elling (John Simm) is set up in a flat with Kjell Bjarne (Adrian Bower) who has also been released and the two form a classic odd couple style relationship. Assisted by social worker Frank (Keir Charles) they navigate the difficult route back into 'normal' life. Doesn't sound like bundle of laughs, but they manage to find plenty of them.

Simm is almost unrecognisable from his TV roles, not so much in appearance but in his physical and vocal portrayal of 'Mummy's boy' Elling. He appears weedy and timid - a far cry from his usually strong characters. He brings the character to life with such definition that during the first half of the show I found myself suffering a severe personality clash with Elling. Fortunately as the character developed I found him more sympathetic.

Adrian Bower's Kjell Bjarne provides much of the play's humour as he seeks to experience the outside world (and female company in particular) for the first time. Kjell Bjarne is written fairly two dimensionally but Bower does well with the material.

While Simm & Bower are the star attractions of the production, Keir Charles gives social worker Frank a real sense of depth and we feel his genuine concern for the well being of his charges, and also his frustration at Elling's reluctance to take forward steps. In fact, given my early problems with Elling, it was Charles' performance I found the most enjoyable.

The humour in the piece comes from the characters and the language, with wordplay featuring strongly at times. There's a little slapstick in the mix as well and the best way I can describe the tone is as similar to an episode of "Frasier". With great performances, a genuinely funny script, sympathetic characters and a little to think about it's a wonderfully enjoyable evening. And I couldn't help but feel that "Elling" was everything I had hoped "The Walworth Farce" would be, but wasn't.

Elling runs at Trafalgar Studios in London until 6th October 2007.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Your Ex Lover Is Dead" - September 2007

In the middle of a very hectic week of theatregoing fitting in a stop at the Arches Live festival was always going to be a stretch but I desperately wanted to manage it. For one I wanted to catch Kirstin McLean's 'Open Grave' (which we ended up being too late to get tickets for), but I was also keen to see this one as it has Andrew Field of the excellent Arcades Project blog as it's director. Although, the set up of a couple reunited for dinner two years after splitting up didn't strike me as particularly promising.

Those of you who read View From The Stalls regularly will know by now that I love sharp, quick, witty dialogue, and that I'm particularly fond of stylish direction that really puts a stamp on a piece. "Your Ex Lover Is Dead" had both. In bucketloads. And excellent performances too. And I adored it.

The stated reason for the dinner is that Victor wants to show Trudy the draft of his new play based on their relationship, but is that really why they are there? Victor and Trudy are accompanied by a waiter and waitress who act as the audience's guide to the dinner and the couple's previous history together. They do this in a number of ways throughout the piece - sometimes re-enacting scenes from the relationship, at others simultaneously speaking the couple's dialogue, and on occasions through interactions between the narrators and the couple. It's a brilliantly executed conceit and it benefits from the constant changes rather than allowing the audience to become 'comfortable' with it over the course of the piece.

To carry it off successfully requires an incredibly polished set of performances from the cast and split second synchronisation. We've seen productions at the Arches really struggle with its particular acoustics due to the cavernous spaces and stone walls, but these guys really nailed it and even managed to use it to enhance the effects of their synchronisation.

Kevin Millington as Victor and Lucy Voller as Trudy were both totally believable in their roles, keeping Victor sympathetic rather than pathetic, while avoiding casting Trudy as the villain of the piece. Nils Hognestad does well as the waiter, particularly when portraying Victor as the relationship broke down.

But it's Eleanor Buchan who makes the greatest impact here, making the waitress an impish sprite clearly enjoying putting the relationship under the microscope, while also bringing out the joy and hope that once existed at the start of the relationship. She has a great stage presence that demands the audiences attention.

Deborah Pearson's writing is pacy, clever and most of all funny, all in a style reminiscent of Steven Moffat. Her use of repetition is poetic and adds levels of emotion but isn't overused as can often happen.

But this isn't all about style, there's a good deal of substance here too. How much do people change over time? Or are our memories too subjective and rose-tinted? Or perhaps even then, the person wasn't what we thought they were? All interesting stuff that most of us can relate to either with former partners or just old schoolfriends.

Polly Webb-Wilson's design is also worth mentioning making surprisingly effective use of what appears to be a simple set using it to convey the restaurant and several locations from the past.

I'm conscious of not overdoing how good this piece was, as many of the reasons that contributed to how much I enjoyed it are that it pushed the right buttons for me personally, both stylistically and with its dialogue. Your mileage may vary.

And even for me it did have one miss-step. While I liked the idea of the 'musical' set piece, it was the only one that I felt wasn't strong enough - a nice concept but lacking in content.

Although it didn't quite have that magical spine tingling or jaw dropping moment of "Black Watch", "Lysistrata" or "The Recovery Position", "Your Ex Lover Is Dead" is right up there as one of the most enjoyable productions I've seen this year.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Rupture" - September 2007

"Rupture" had caught Statler's eye during the Fringe, and as it was developed through the National Theatre of Scotland Workshop that had brought us the very good adaptation of "Venus As A Boy" it didn't take too much convincing for us to make the midweek trip through to to The Traverse in Edinburgh.

It was also of interest due to the involvement of a number of people we've seen in other things - we're considering doing a Scottish theatre equivalent of the Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Davey Anderson (in collaberation with the company) has managed to pull together the interconnected lives of 6 people in a tightly written and directed show, and it's strength lies in its pacing. The characters are quickly drawn with minimal fuss, and the cutting between different scenes and the rearranging of the deceptively simple set to allow this verges on choreography.

Brian Ferguson gave a comedic tragic performance as the overly keen to be liked doorman security guard Stewart. There was a guilty pleasure in the chuckles in the audience as we laughed at, not with him, as he interacts with the others, and in particular with the entrepreneurial Polish immigrant Monika (Agnieszka Bresler) and desperate businessman Colin (Neil McKinven). There were good performances from all the cast with Gabriel Quigley as Colin's wife Tracy, Owen Whitelaw as her neddish younger brother Derek and Molly Innes as the just plain weird Caroline completing the strong ensemble.

We'd seen Agnieszka before as eponymous heroine of the Glasgow College of Nautical Studies performance of "Lysistrata", which was one of the shows we've enjoyed most this year. Another face from a student performance was Owen Whitelaw and it was good to see those we've seen appearing in shows with a wider audience.

This wasn't by any means an out and out comedy, the humour was just that found in everyday situations and was counterpointed by some deep, dark blackness. However it all gelled together well for me and I was desperately hoping for a happy-ish ending.

Traverse 1 is fast becoming one of my favourite places to watch theatre as the versatile performance space means you never know quite what to expect. What started off as a fairly straight forward set went through two main transitions, the first of which still makes my head hurt.

Photo by Eammon McGoldrick, used with permission.


View From The Stalls is 1 year old...

Happy Birthday to us... Happy Birthday to us... It's incredible that we've been doing this for a year now, and it's even more incredible that so many of you pop in now and again to catch up with our scribblings.

Although 'View From The Stalls' didn't start until this time last year we did retrospectively cover shows since we stepped up our theatregoing at the start of 2006. With our latest addition of "Rupture" we'll have written about seventy four shows ranging from the phenomenon that is Black Watch, nearly thirty Edinburgh Fringe productions, delightful student theatre and even the odd musical. We've seen shows in an enormous range of venues including the stunning Rosslyn Chapel, a student bar, and airside at Edinburgh International Airport. But nowhere was more surprising than finding ourselves tempted back to Glasgow's Theatre Royal.

Our aims today remain as they always were, simply to share our responses to the productions we see and add another voice in a Scottish theatre blogosphere that remains sadly quiet at at time when theatre in Scotland is flourishing.

Thank you to all those whose productions we have seen for providing us with so much entertainment and stimulation, and particularly those of you who took our comments in the honest and genuine way they were intended. (For the record we're only aware of one individual we managed to seriously upset) Thanks also to all those of you who have shared your own thoughts by adding comments, welcomed our contributions to your own blogs, and added us to your links/blogrolls.

We've still got plenty to see later this year, and we're already starting to look forward to 2008, so please do stick around.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Hamlet" - September 2007

What a mixed bag this turned out to be, and what mixed reactions it provoked. But before diving in, I do need to be upfront about my previous relationship with "Hamlet", in that I don't have one. I've never seen it performed until tonight. I've never read it. I've never even read notes on it for school. But I do like to see Shakespeare done well and was looking forward to eradicating this unintentional (and quite honestly embarrassing) gap in my theatregoing experience.

But even with my less than passing familiarity with the play, I was aware that it doesn't normally start with "To be, or not to be..." I understand that this, and the absence of Rosencrantz were the major changes to the piece, but I'm hardly an authority, so I'll leave that for others to comment on.

What I am happier discussing is the performances that we saw from the Citizens Theatre Company. I really enjoyed Andrew Clark's "Hamlet" which was always engaging and at times evoked the menace and gallusness of Hamlet as done by Robert Carlyle in the style of Begbie from Trainspotting.

Barrie Hunter was entertaining as "Polonius" and was a show stealer in his role as the Gravedigger which was played very cleverly solo, with only a skull for his on-stage partner. The 4th wall came tumbling as he addressed the audience in a music hall style to much delight - with the possible exception of a couple in the front row who found themselves suddenly damp.

As "Claudius", John Kazek gave a weighty performance but while his quiet delivery of some lines may have brought out a deeper aspect of the character, I suspect the dialogue will have been lost to much of the audience. Fletcher Mathers did well as "Gertrude" to convey her difficult relationship with "Hamlet" as it developed over the course of the play.

Sam Heughan as "Guildenstern" and Mark Wood as "Laertes" both disappointed, giving performances that seemed fixed and unresponsive and definitely acted. Samantha Young's "Ophelia" appeared soulless and almost disinterested for much of the time although when she was finally brought to life by madness, Young produced a beautiful, moving and memorable performance of her final scenes. It's such a pity the spark wasn't ignited earlier.

Guy Hollands' direction is a prime example of how the production is at turns wonderful and woeful. The first section of the 'play within the play' is presented effectively as silhouettes on sheeting to great comic effect. But we then have the clowns front and centre with 'enhanced' prosthetic genitalia. In a normal audience this would provide a moment or two of humour and the audience would move on with the scene but it's a terribly miss-judged set piece for a production that will no doubt regularly be half filled by school parties as it was tonight. The nudges and giggles continue for several minutes after the action has moved on, much to the distraction and irritation of the remainder of the audience. And it's a shame, as for the most part the school parties tonight were well behaved and their reaction to that section was wholly predictable.

While undeniably striking, the main response to the set was almost certainly - What is it? as the huge copper triangle with holes cut out was lowered and raised. Waldorf suspects it was representative of Swiss cheese in The Mousetrap, but I'm unconvinced. The "Ghost" was effectively realised and well lit, although the dry ice was seriously overdone.

Overall, Clark's "Hamlet" was effective and interesting enough to carry the production for me, with a bit of assistance from Kazek, Mathers and Hunter. I think Waldorf was less impressed.

Hamlet runs at the Citizens until 13th October.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

News from The Citz

In a comment on our Pay Less...See More post, Helen from The Citizens' Theatre has brought us the welcome news that the £3 previews can now be booked in advance rather than by just turning up on the day. Excellent way to have a cheap night out as the Citizens bar prices are nice and reasonable. They still have their cheap Tuesday nights too.

We also notice they've sneakily launched another blog. TAG already has a busy presence on the blogosphere, but The Citizens' Theatre has launched its own contribution. Best of luck with it.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Jekyll & Hyde - The Musical" - September 2007

As I've spoken about before, I have 'issues' with musicals. It takes something a bit special for me to get past the absurdity of what I'm watching and really buy into it. The big draw for us seeing Limelight's amateur production at Dunfermline's Carnegie Hall was the involvement of Kim Shepherd & Glen McGill whose performances had impressed in "We Will Rock You". But even with that, I suspected "Jekyll & Hyde" would be close to my tolerance threshold - I just wasn't sure which side it would fall. Fortunately the performances were strong enough to ensure that it fell the right side of the line, despite any remaining concerns about the material.

Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn's musical suffers from the fact that it's essentially a one man show with a large supporting cast rather than having a number of genuine lead parts. It makes it difficult to care a great deal about the other characters due to their limited stage time - despite the best efforts of the cast.

It also suffers from a lack of truly memorable songs - there's certainly nothing that you'll have stuck in your head for a week after leaving the theatre. It doesn't help that the ending seems rushed and unsatisfactory - the jump in time before the final scene seems to miss out much that would be of interest and the resolution lacks imagination.

Okay, enough about the problems with the show as the production more than makes up for them. As "Jekyll"/"Hyde" Bobby Mitchell puts in an excellent performance vocally and does a great job in representing the crucial transformation scenes. While "Confrontation" may not be memorable as a musical number, it most certainly is for Mitchell's alternating performance as both parts of his dual role.

Rachel Brown as Hyde's love interest "Lucy" and Kim Shepherd as Jekyll's bride-to-be "Emma Carew" both produce performances that delight, but their limited stage time leaves you wanting so much more. The supporting cast are universally strong with Glen McGill's "Sir Danvers Curew", Ian Hammond Brown's "Utterson", Ross Walker's "Spider" and Fiona Patterson's "Nellie" particularly noteworthy.

Limelight have done well to compensate for the limitations in some of the songs, ensuring that they are pretty spectacularly choreographed by Clare Stewart and just by sheer numbers of cast on stage. And what a stage! Ronan @ Fine Designs' set is nothing short of brilliant and the use of the laboratory set is particularly well done.

This was easily up to the standards of a professional production and if anything the venue seemed to restrict a production which could have been just as at home on a much larger stage. I still consider myself a reluctant attendee at musicals but this was certainly a very enjoyable evening and hopefully we'll be back through to Dunfermline for Limelight's 2008 production of "Chess".

Picture courtesy of Stagepics


Saturday, September 08, 2007

"An Audience with... Hilary Kay & Paul Atterbury" - September 2007

I suspect that the most common reaction to the title of the post will be "Who???". The subtitle of "Have you had it long madam?" may serve as a hint towards their involvement with the "Antiques Roadshow" but even then many of you will be thinking "Which ones are they then???" Which partly explains the somewhat disappointing audience at the Citizens for what was an enjoyable evening.

Still trying to work out who they are? I guess it doesn't really matter - much in the same way they tell us that locations and items tend to blur into one another, so do the experts on the Antiques Roadshow. Although having been with the show for 29 and 17 years respectively, these two are certainly familiar faces to the millions who watch each Sunday evening on BBC1.

Starting with an examination of the origins of the "Antiques Roadshow" and its presenters and experts we're then given what is essentially an insiders guide to the whole Roadshow experience along with amusing anecdotes, aided by video clips from time to time.

These sections are obviously pretty structured and as a result they come across as definite performances rather than off-the-cuff dialogues, but as performances they lack a little polish. The decision to have the house lights down also doesn't help as it leaves Kay and Atterbury often looking out blankly into space rather than being able to see and engage with the audience. While seeing the theatre 1/3 full may be disheartening, it would have built more of a rapport.

During an interval the audience are then able to provide written questions for them to answer in the second half of the show. This makes for a more relaxed and spontaneous section where although many of the questions will be covered in most shows, others seemed to provide a genuine element of thought.

For the casual "Antiques Roadshow" viewer this was a lovely evening of behind the scenes chat, and while true enthusiasts would probably learn little they didn't know already, Kay and Atterbury make for amiable company.

I'm afraid I probably have to put much of the blame for the low turn out down to the Citizens. On leaving the Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir John Mortimer shows earlier in the week we were handed flyers for the upcoming production of Hamlet and the Citz programme, but no attempt was made here or with posters/announcements to remind people of the other shows in the "Audience with..." series. A sadly missed opportunity.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"An Audience with... Sir John Mortimer" - September 2007

Subtitled "Mortimer's Miscellany" this was a bit of a departure from the usual "Audience with..." format at The Citizens. Joined on stage by a pianist and flautist, Sir John Mortimer shared memories of his life as barrister and writer and gave performed readings of some of his favourite poems, writings and sketches. In these he was joined by the excellent Nichola McAuliffe and Liza Goddard in bringing the pieces to life.

Best known as the creator of "Rumpole of the Bailey" much of the evening focused on legal anecdotes and his relationship with his father, while other segments touched on politics and marriage. Despite appearing physically frail at times Sir John is clearly mentally sharp and while the format may be suited to a gentle evening's entertainment, the content was frequently anything but gentle. The performance of Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians" spoke more tellingly about current politics than any newspaper editorials, while a number of his anecdotes were filthy enough that they would have been at home in the routine of an Edinburgh Fringe stand-up.

It is these moments of Mortimer's 'bite' along with the performances of McAuliffe and Goddard that leave a lasting impression, as many of the legal anecdotes are of the variety one finds in Christmas stocking-filler books (as the show's subtitle suggests). The musical interludes were a nice touch that added to what was an enjoyable evening, if not quite what we had expected.


"An Audience with... Sir Alex Ferguson" - September 2007

Following Alan Cumming's triumphant return to Glasgow, another Scottish legend also took to the stage this week, although fortunately for the audience at The Citizens his entrance was somewhat more conventional. Walking out to a packed theatre that had been sold out almost since tickets went on sale, Sir Alex was given the welcome Glasgow reserves for its local heroes.

Ferguson's relationship with Glasgow is complex, or at least it should be. As a former Rangers player who as manager of Aberdeen broke the Glasgow domination of Scottish football, he should by rights be unpopular with at least half, if not all of a Glasgow audience. But his achievements at Manchester United have allowed Glasgow to put aside past differences, and recognise his success both there and at Aberdeen with the respect it deserves.

Accompanied on stage by writer Martin McCardie taking on the role of interviewer, Sir Alex spoke about his Glasgow roots, working on Clydeside, his time as a player at several clubs and then his managerial career. Appearing slightly nervous at the beginning of the evening, Sir Alex soon relaxed and proved an able storyteller with an astonishing memory for players names and match details.

The memories shared were a vibrant mix of the humourous, the insightful and the reflective. Happy to reveal his mischievous side as a player and showing clear affection for many of those he's worked with over the years, Sir Alex kept the audience enthralled.

A billed runtime of 80 minutes turned into two hours with the last 50 minutes or so made up by taking questions from the audience. No topics were declared off-limits and no questions were avoided, with many answers leading on to additional anecdotes. While many of the questions were fairly predictable the answers were not always so - his mention of Paul Gascoigne as the player he most regrets not managing to sign took me by surprise. He provided a very interesting analysis about the way his famous crop of young players were brought through to the first team in response to a question on Alan Hansen's "never win anything with kids" comment. He was also willing to discuss his infamous "mind games" although he played this aspect down a little.

There were a few moments where the legendary Ferguson steel came through. His continuing anger at the BBC was unrestrained, while the sense of injustice at what he perceives as the favourable treatment of some Arsenal players clearly still burns.

One further thing that struck me during the questioning was the way he responded to a question from a young boy of ten or twelve. Rather than giving a response aimed at a child he gave the question full respect and answered it in exactly the same manner as the others - without any suggestion of talking down to, or patronising him. It's easy to see why many talented young players would want to play for him despite his fearsome reputation.

The evening flew in and the audience were clearly delighted by Sir Alex taking time out from his schedule to share an evening with them. He was duly rewarded with a standing ovation after the final question, partly for a wonderfully entertaining evening but more for the man and everything he has achieved.