Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off" - February 2008

Now who says history can't be fun? I'm rather ashamed to admit just how limited my knowledge of Scottish history is - my recollection of history in school seems to jump rather quickly from Ancient Egypt to World War I (with a little bit of Industrial Revolution along the way). But I'm sure if it had been as enjoyable as what I saw tonight I'd have paid a lot more attention.

XLC and Langside College
have put together a hugely entertaining production of Liz Lochhead's play that takes a look at Scotland - then and now. Full of energy and physicality it fills the Circle Studio at the Citz while also allowing some quieter moments for its cast to show their skills.

And what a cast. Lorna Gold as Mary is marvelously regal while giving glimpses of the woman underneath. Regular readers will know that I can have a real issue with accents, but hers was a fantastic combination of French/Scots and is perfectly judged throughout- somewhat reminiscent of an Old Firm foreign footballer who's been in Glasgow just a little too long. Elaine Stirrat also produces an excellent performance as Elizabeth - giving her more than a little of our current Queen to great effect. But that's only half the story - Gold and Stirrat also double up as each other's lady-in-waiting with Stirrat in particular having some great moments. It could easily get horribly confusing but these two make it simple thanks to some more great character work.

Rosaria Mazzone as our narrator La Corbie keeps the show flowing and manages to fully engage the audience right from the start, performing some of the play's most complex dialogue and showing a beautiful singing voice. Richard Rankin is particularly comfortable as Bothwell while Alan Berkley and Kevin Mains as Knox and Darnley also get their moments to shine. Preston Clare, Colin Harris and Kevin Guthrie give very strong support - especially in the play-within-the-play. Special word also for Alan Craig's music which was really effective at creating a mood for the piece.

It isn't flawless (some of the dialogue gets lost in a couple of the ensemble scenes and the dream sequence didn't quite work for me) but it's certainly not far off it, and the energy and quality of the performances are more than enough to make up for the odd problem.

And I guess when it comes to problems things can't be that bad when the biggest problem of the night is that the cast didn't seem prepared to come back for a second curtain call and the audience just weren't for moving until they did. The poor usher seemed concerned she might have a riot on her hands until the cast finally returned after over a minute of continuous applause. So please guys - don't be so surprised if the audience want to show their appreciation. You certainly deserve it.

"Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off" runs at the Citizens until Saturday 1st March (including a Saturday matinee)


Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Picasso & Me" - February 2008

Mike Maran returns to the Citizens Circle Studio with another one man show, but this one is considerably darker and has more impact than the light, but very enjoyable tales of "Don Camillo". This time the focus is Picasso and the show is really about using the artist's life and relationships to reflect on how those relationships work (or don't work) for us all.

The main conceit of the show is an imagined encounter between a young man who, by accident rather than design, ends up spending a day in the company of Picasso. We also encounter an older version of the young man and get an insight into his relationships with his own father and son. The structure works well, although there are a few moments where it takes a second or two to bring in to focus who/what we are seeing.

The anecdotes about Picasso kept the audience in rapt attention and the details of his relationships are at turns emotional and horrific, and Maran has a wonderful knack of withholding information and then dropping it deadpan into his delivery.

The success of this show is really all about Mike Maran. A talented storyteller first and foremost he practices the art in a manner not dissimilar to how it would have been centuries ago. He has an unnatural ability to describe and interact with imaginary objects with such utter conviction that it's impossible not to be drawn into his world. He also switches effectively between narrator, who involves and engages the audience; and his characterisations who remain firmly behind the fourth wall.

But despite very much enjoying the show it's left me a little torn. A large part of me admires the simplicity and traditional aspects of the storytelling, but another part would love to see some technology thrown at the piece. Effective use of projection or computer displays giving the audience the chance to see the paintings and family members referred to - it would just give that extra dimension to it, especially for those with limited knowledge of the artist's work.
But even as it stands its a very entertaining evening and we'll certainly be keeping an eye out for future shows.

"Picasso & Me" runs at the Citizens until the 23rd February and then continues on its tour.
Image by The Photographic Unit, used with permission.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"We Will Rock You" - February 2008

Knowing that "Othello" wasn't going to be a bundle of laughs and being a little unsure what to expect from "Speed-the-Plow" we wanted to make sure we had some guaranteed 'fun' on our London trip. And having seen the STF Amateur production of "We Will Rock You" last year we were pretty confident the West End version would do the job (admittedly at a price!). And with central tickets in Row G we knew it would definitely be an experience.

I've seen a lot of puzzled faces when I've told them we were seeing "We Will Rock You" after "Othello" but there really isn't anything to sneer about. WWRY is well written by Ben Elton, performed by a polished cast, is visually stunning, and features the music of Queen. It's a great piece of fun that doesn't pretend to be anything else. Okay, so there isn't any depth to the characters and the plot is very basic - but come on, it's a MUSICAL! It's meant to be like that.

The main cast all put in good solid performances, including Craig Ryder who stepped in as Khashoggi in the performance we saw. Maybe it's unfair to compare a cast doing this show night after night, week after week, month after month, with an amateur cast doing it for one week. But like for like the STF cast delivered a stronger performance both vocally and in their acting in every main role. I thought it was maybe just me but when I expressed this view to Waldorf during the interval and she agreed wholeheartedly.

The show also suffers a little as the gags don't always stand up to a repeat viewing but there's enough freshness added with gags about Amy Winehouse, the new Wembley and Northern Rock. And it was also amusing to see the apparently recent deletion of the 'Britney Spears' character due to her current real life troubles and having the character renamed as Vic(toria) Beckham.

But this show is all about two things - the music and the fun, and there's plenty of both. In many ways the show is more like a rock concert than a musical, with volume levels to match, but it all adds to the experience. The audience are here to enjoy themselves and the cast work them well - although some of the action that takes place 'above' the front of the stalls should really provide a better opportunity to directly interact with a growl or two directed at those in the (expensive) seats below.

If you like your music loud and don't want to have to think too much WWRY will definitely be to your taste - and it makes a perfect complement to a weekend of 'serious' theatre.

"We Will Rock You" runs at the Dominion Theatre in London for the next 144 years.


Monday, February 04, 2008

"Speed-the-Plow" - February 2008

As we were making the trip to London for "Othello" we wanted to make the most of our time there, and when the opportunity came to see Kevin Spacey in "Speed-the-Plow" at the Old Vic we quickly booked up - even before Jeff Goldblum was announced as joining the cast. But due to the way the dates worked out it had to be an early Preview of the show (2nd night). So we'll be keeping our thoughts pretty limited on this one...

In essence we both really enjoyed it. Okay, so David Mamet's play doesn't really tell us anything about the murky world of film producers that we couldn't have guessed but it gives us a lot of fun along the way. With three scenes and a 90 minute run time the show flies in and Spacey and Goldblum both give great performances as film producers considering the merits of a couple of scripts. The dialogue is never short of entertaining and their delivery makes the most of it. Laura Michelle Kelly also does well with the more limited role as Goldblum's temporary secretary.

It's good stuff all round (Waldorf particularly loved the set) and it remains in Preview for several more shows which should let them perfect the rather pulled stage fight.

"Speed-the-Plow" completes Previews on 11 Feb then runs until 26 April


"Othello" - February 2008

From the instant the cast was revealed for this production at London's Donmar Warehouse we knew we would be joining the scramble for tickets in its small theatre. We've enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor's film work, and despite not always being a fan of Ewan McGregor's performances I felt he would be excellent as Iago. But after all the hype about ticket prices on e-bay, could the production live up to our expectations?

Ejiofor and McGregor certainly did. Ejiofor makes his Othello clearly a cultural outsider but gives him the charisma to be believable as the respected war hero. As his trust in Desdemona is destroyed the pain and turmoil screams out with every expression and movement.

McGregor's Iago is charming and it's easy to see how this man could be capable of pulling off his grand manipulations. There isn't a moment when you are left thinking "he'd never get away with that" and even at the play's tragic end, I really wouldn't have minded Iago slipping away with a triumphant smirk.

I'm afraid Kelly Reilly's Desdemona didn't work for me. I simply couldn't reconcile the almost fluffy portrayal with a character who has the strength to defy her father and marry Othello, or even any sign of a burning passion that has driven her to it. Only in her scenes of bewilderment as she realises her likely fate does the character come to life.

But Tom Hiddleston's Cassio makes up for any failings in Desdemona. It's a performance equal of Ejiofor and McGregor's, and manages to bring the character to the forefront rather than the simple plot device I tend to consider him.

The strong supporting cast all work well, and in the Donmar's small space even manage to pop up in the audience now and again. The sword play is impressive - and for once I was glad we were in the front row of the circle rather than the stalls.

There's no denying this is an excellent production of "Othello" with two outstanding lead performances but I can't deny that there was something lacking. 'Excellent', 'Powerful', 'Striking'. Yes. 'Brilliant', 'Sparkling', 'Exciting'? Not quite. It's just a little too safe for my taste. Perhaps Director Michael Grandage wanted to put this down as a marker of a classic "Othello" and if so he and his cast have largely succeeded, but I like productions of Shakespeare to bring me something new and to leave me with something to think about. Leaving the Donmar my thoughts were all about the performances - not the play. And I'm not sure that's really how it should be.

"Othello" runs until 23rd Feb. Run sold out with the exception of 10 Day tickets and a number of Standing tickets released daily.