Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Hoors" - May 2009

I'm really not sure we should be writing about "Hoors" as there appears to have been some mistake in the production we saw. Gregory Burke has clearly written a nice little throwaway 45 minute play, perhaps for the next 'A Play, A Pie & A Pint' season of lunchtime theatre at Oran Mor, but somehow it has got lost along the way. It's gained an hour in length and has been transformed into a lavish production at the Traverse with a three week run (followed by runs at the Tron and the Theatre Royal Bath). How on earth did that happen??? Okay... it might have had something to do with Burke's last play.

The premise is actually a promising one for the 'black comedy' it's billed as. Wild stag weekend ends up with a dead groom being buried on his wedding day, while his wife-to-be Vicky is more relieved at getting out of marrying Andy than anything else. We meet Vicky (Lisa Gardner) and her sister Nikki (Catherine Murray) the night before the funeral as Andy's mates Tony (Andrew Clark) and Stevie (Michael Moreland) come round to pay their respects. Stevie has already slept with Vicky since Andy died and wants a future with her. Tony and Vicky have a past she would like to revisit while Tony fancies his chances with Nikki. And they work their way through a load of drink and drugs. Yawn.

There are undeniably some nice lines but they are few and far between - and the biggest laugh of the night was a cheap shot at the expense of Clark's height. Throughout the play there was sporadic laughter in the audience but strangely it only ever seemed to be a handful of different people laughing at different moments. There was never a sense that a line really hit home with a large section of the audience.

There are also indications that the play wants to be more than just a comedy. The set, the direction, the pace, the lighting all seem more suited to a serious piece of drama rather than comedy (black or otherwise). The production also features a revolving stage that makes an impact the first couple of times but which frequently irritates by shifting only fractionally (and very slowly) between scenes to provide a slightly differently angled view of the same room. Totally pointless.

Every so often it looks like it might have something to say, such as Vicky's comments about her apparent wealth being all built on a house of cards about to fall, but then goes nowhere with it. And the characters are so uniformly unpleasant that it's impossible to feel any level of empathy for them - even poor dead Andy lying on stage in his coffin is quickly shown to be not exactly undeserving of his fate. And I reckon that's the biggest mistake the play makes. Andy should have been the key to making it work and seeing/hearing his opinion on the actions of the others is where the humour should have come from - Desperate Housewives style.

The cast do their best but the play is pretty unsalvageable. Unless of course Burke wants to cut it down to the 45 minutes of decent material that's currently rattling around in there somewhere.

Hoors runs at the Tron until Saturday 6th June and at Theatre Royal Bath from 10th to 20th June.


"Oliver" - May 2009

With Lionel Bart's Oliver! (exclamation mark compulsory) you know exactly what you should be getting. Lots of small loveable orphans and cheeky pickpockets, a thief with a heart and a right bad 'un. Oh, and some pretty well known tunes and an infamous request for a bit more grub. So with all this, what more does this need? That's right, a BBC Saturday night reality TV show to cast the leading lady. But how do all these work together in this revival at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane?

First off, the set changes worked rather well, in particular a rather nice raised stage section that allowed you to descend into Fagin's lair. However the stage itself seemed small from where we sat towards the side and back of the stalls. Perhaps just the number of cast and chorus that filled it at various points made it seem (intentionally?) claustrophic, but it lacked some of the scale and wow factor I expected.

There also seemed to be opportunities missed. Obviously licencing issues may have played a part, but in the middle of a recession some of the gags could have been tuned to the times. Rowan Atkinson as Fagin provided most of the comic relief, but as Statler said it was a little too much Mr Bean and not enough Blackadder. Jodie Prenger as Nancy performed her songs well, but the star song was "Who Will Buy" with Oliver & Company - and largely because of The Company.

The urchins, orphans, Oliver (Harry Stott) and The Artful Dodger (Eric Dibb-Fuller) were all suitably cute, but that contrasted with the horribly over the top bawdiness that was going on around them. The worst bits of Benny Hill going over the head of the remarkably well behaved younger members of the audience.

Was it an ok show to see? Yes. Was it a good use of £120 on a sunny Saturday afternoon in London? Absolutely not. Definitely more a case of 'Sorry sir, I've had quite enough'.

Image by Michael Le Poer Trench used with permission.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

"What the Animals Say" - May 2009

While the joy of the "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" seasons at Oran Mor is the variation in style and tone from week to week, there's always something a bit special about the ones that aim for pure comic entertainment. When they succeed, like "What the Animals Say" did, they send me back to the office with a grin that won't fade until three hours later when I hit the queues on the M8 on my way home.

David Ireland's comedy reunites two Belfast schoolfriends as they wait for the Stranraer to Belfast ferry. Both are now living in Glasgow, but under very different circumstances - Jimmy is a struggling actor waiting for his big break while Eddie has already made it big playing for Celtic. It takes a brave or foolish writer in his debut play to call to mind "Father Ted" and risk the inevitable comparisons, but here the reference works well in establishing exactly the tone the piece is aiming for - full of cuddly irreverence, physicality and playful obscenity.

The comedy is sustained throughout and rarely, if ever, misses the mark. It's just as well the audience at Oran Mor is willing to laugh at itself as both Glasgow and the theatrical community find themselves firmly in the firing line here. Other targets include their shared Loyalist background, the Beckhams and Mel Gibson. While much of the humour tests the boundaries of political acceptability, Ireland ensures that we are largely laughing at rather than with Eddie. Considered in isolation many of the laughs here shouldn't work half as well as they do, but there's such a momentum created that the laughs just seem to roll from one set piece to the next. Robbie Jack as Eddie and David Walshe as Jimmy make for a pretty spectacular double act and get every last laugh out of the material.

This is comedy at its best and if anyone out there is looking for a sitcom to go to pilot this would not be a bad place to start at all.

"What the Animals Say" has completed its run at Oran Mor.
Image by Leslie Black used with permission.


"Love's Time's Beggar" - May 2009

Those who follow our posts closely, well the ones written by me at any rate, may have noticed that apostrophes can be an issue. But despite a title that sets my head spinning, we popped along to "Love's Time's Beggar" from Ankur Productions' Community Ensemble at the Tron. As always, please remember that we don't make allowances for this being a Community based piece - we treat all productions in the same manner.

The proposition is simple but immediately intriguing - five characters who have recently died are given the opportunity by their guides to the afterlife to record one memory from their lifetime to take with them to eternity - all other memories will be erased. Each then shares a memory which is portrayed with the help of the others in the 'waiting room'. It's a nice framing device that shares the burden of the narrative and allows each segment to set its own tone and feel, without overwhelming the whole.

It takes a while to warm up and in the early stages the performances feel rather 'forced', almost uncomfortable. The problem isn't Anna's tale of domestic abuse (the first we see), more the dynamic in the 'waiting room' scenes. Fortunately, as the show goes on the performers seem to relax into their roles and by the time we reach the more playful elements of Max's retreat into a virtual world, it has developed into a pretty polished production. But while each of the tales was sufficiently well crafted to keep my interest, and there were a couple of very nice moments, it never quite made the impact the concept has the potential to.

This was certainly a perfectly pleasant way to spend an evening, but I suspect those involved may have been aiming just a little bit higher.

"Love's Time's Beggar" has completed its run at the Tron.
Image by Andrew Wilson used with permission.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Ghosts" - May 2009

If you read reviews of this show elsewhere you'll no doubt read about how it's not a traditional production of Ibsen's work, but as far as that's concerned, I really don't care. We aren't talking "Romeo and Juliet" or "Pygmallion" where taking liberties will be noticed by a wider audience familiar with the classic interpretations of the tale, so I've little interest in comparisons here. All I'm interested in is whether I enjoyed what was put on the Citz stage in front of us.

Amelia Bulmore's version of the text is a thoroughly modern one - much more so than the period costumes and set would suggest. In fact I'm not sure it wouldn't have benefitted from being brought entirely into a present day setting to remove any lingering doubts as to its current relevance - the language used would certainly support such a staging.

And the issues addressed are certainly not ones in our past. The importance of reputation, the hypocrisy of the great and good, infidelity, deceit, duty vs self interest, and finally euthanasia. As you can see there's plenty to think about here... if only we had the time. There's a division of opinion on this at View From The Stalls with Waldorf liking the pace of events as an indication of just how quickly things can fall apart, but for me it was all too rushed. Not just in direction and pace but in the timing of events. With the action seeming to take place over a very short period it damages what is otherwise an entirely plausible chain of events. And it's so unnecessary, as there are natural breaks that would easily have allowed a suggestion that time had passed between events.

But despite all those serious themes there's plenty of humour here - for the first three quarters at least. And it works really well, although as we overheard another audience member comment, Kevin McMonagle's Pastor Manders is "just a little too Reverend I M Jolly". But what the production does amazingly well is shift the tone from light to dark - without the continuing inappropriate laughter that so often accompanies such a change. Central to this success is Maureen Beattie's performance as Mrs Alving. Frequently playing straight man to McMonagle's more obvious comedy she delivers a compelling performance so when the time comes there's no difficulty in going with her to the play's tragic conclusion. The supporting performances are all strong but the show belongs to Beattie.

This is a production that is easy to like and enjoy, but to some extent that palatability makes it easy to dismiss without giving it the deeper thought that it should really provoke. But for those who do wish to examine the issues, for a play written in 1881 it remains remarkably relevant.

Ghosts runs at the Citizens until Saturday 30th May
Image by Eamonn McGoldrick used with permission


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A moment of silence please...

This evening we were dealt a body blow to our theatregoing experience in Glasgow. More often than not our trips to the theatre are midweek events, and managing to grab dinner pre-theatre was never easy. We were regularly reduced to a sandwich in the Citz car park to get us through the evening before picking up takeaway on the way home. But then we discovered Salsa on the south side of the Clyde...

Less than 5 minutes drive from the Citz (2 minutes if you catch the lights just right) serving great mexican food, with friendly service and ensuring a two or even three course meal could be completed in 45 minutes it was perfect for us. We became regular diners over the last couple of years and the staff would always ask what we were off to see that evening but on arriving this evening we discovered to our shock and dismay that it had closed down two weeks ago. In a bit of a panic we headed back into the city centre and managed to grab a quick main course in a nondescript Italian restaurant (leaving my shirt spattered with bolognese sauce) but we're now desperately on the look out for new places that are (A) easy to park at and with easy access to the Citz (B) we don't need to book for, and (C) can reliably turn us around in 45 minutes.

But that's for another day. Tonight we are remembering all the good times we've had in our favourite pre-theatre haunt, and wondering if we'll ever find anywhere that serves cinnamon tortilla chips with ice cream quite like they did. Salsa - gone but not forgotten.


Critics Awards shortlist announced

Just a brief post to highlight that the shortlist for the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) were announced today. We were delighted to see "Sub Rosa", "Interiors" and "Midsummer" all receive a number of nominations but disappointed that "The Drawer Boy" and "4.48 Psychosis" didn't receive more than their single nomination each. The winners will be announced at a ceremony at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre on Sunday 14th June.

Congratulations to all those nominated.


Monday, May 11, 2009

"Waterproof" - May 2009

This week's lunchtime offering at Oran Mor is Andy Duffy's "Waterproof" - a tale of two friends on a fishing trip. Ryan Fletcher's Alex is making the most of his new found freedom at university while Ali Craig's Gordon is still living with his parents and recovering from a painful break-up. Please be aware that my comments here give more plot detail than we normally do, so if you haven't seen the show yet you may want to think twice before reading on...

Duffy supplies Alex with some great lines but there are also several that fall flat, and after a while the character's cheeky persona crosses the threshold into irritation. Balancing this, Craig's Gordon is wonderfully deadpan and gives the impression that there is a whole lot going on below the surface. The banter between the two works well and gets (most of) the intended laughs but it comes at the expense of credibility. Yes, part of what's going on is clearly about friends drifting apart, but the 'banter' is at times so ferocious that there's little here to show a level of attachment - even one in the past.

The other problem with the banter is that it goes off at all sorts of tangents with anecdotes and mini-lectures that provide the laughs but do little to provide insight to the characters or advance the story. And I do mean all sorts of tangents - dead deer, linguistics, pederasty, an old bloke across the river, Thoreau's 'Walden', Byron, a visit to a prostitute, and instruments for stunning fish. Maybe Duffy is being very clever here and is intentionally playing with the audience, teasing us and making us think we know where this is headed - unrequited feelings of one for the other, blunt instrument introduced in Act one to be murder weapon in Act three, the suspicion of Alex having had a one-night stand with Gordon's ex Linda. But none of these are developed, and in fact nothing really happens at all - and the addition of a friend who never arrives leaves the whole thing feeling like a take on "Waiting for Godot".

Selma Dimitrijevic's direction keeps things pacy and ensures no side of the in-the-round setting feels neglected, but the use of a pop-up tent proves problematic for a period. It leaves the actors teetering around the edges of the raised stage - they seriously need either a smaller tent or a bigger stage before the inevitable happens.

Andy Duffy has created a pair of characters that certainly intrigue, and the performances bring them to life, but "Waterproof" feels like a chapter in the middle of a novel where the best bits have already been or are still to come. That said, while during the course of the play the muted laughter left me unsure how well it was being received, there was no doubting the very enthusiastic response at the end.

Waterproof runs at Oran Mor as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint until Saturday 16th May.
Image by Leslie Black used with permission


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Now Booking for Summer 2009

There's still plenty of theatre left to see in May & June before July brings the calm before the storm of Edinburgh's Festivals. It's still some time until the Fringe Programme is published but here's a quick run through of what we'll be seeing over the next few weeks...

We debated for a long time about seeing "Ghosts" at the Citizens but at a recent 'Friends of the Citz' coffee morning we were given a look at the set design and a chat by Jeremy Raison that intrigued us sufficiently to make us want to see the real thing. At the same time we also had Guy Holland's talking about "Museum of Dreams" but sadly we don't think we'll be able pass convincingly as eight year olds. It sounded absolutely magical so if you have kids in the 6 to 8 age bracket it should definitely be worth getting them along to see it.

We've already caught "The Ducky" and "Interiors" elsewhere before they reach the Tron in the next few weeks but we will be seeing "Hoors" when it transfers from the Traverse and Ankur Adult Theatre Workshop's "Love's Time's Beggar" which features a very intriguing concept. It's great to see the Tron running throughout the summer so we'll also hope to catch their "Cooking with Elvis" in July and Scottish Youth Theatre's Pinnochio at the start of August.

While the Fringe keeps us waiting, the Edinburgh International Festival's programme has been available for a while. Ticket prices become a bit of an issue in August given our annual contribution to the Fringe economy, so we'll be limiting our attendance at the EIF where costs can very quickly mount up. We've booked for the Traverse's contribution to the EIF, "The Last Witch", which rather confusingly is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre and has very limited ticket availability already. We might also try and catch "Faith Healer" which is one of three Brian Friel plays on offer.

There are still a few plays left in this season's "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" at Oran Mor and they've confirmed that they are following on from last year's successful series of Corona's Classic Cuts. This year's classics are "Medea", "Lady Windemere's Fan", "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Romeo & Juliet". Unlike the regular lunchtime show it's likely that Waldorf will be joining me at the Saturday performances of these, so I'm afraid we won't be posting comments on them until after their runs have completed.


"The Ducky" - May 2009

D C Jackson & Borderline Theatre Co have followed up their hugely successful 2008 show "The Wall" with "The Ducky". Set in the same Ayrshire locale and featuring three of the original characters, intellectual 'Bam' Rab McGuire is back from Cambridge, Michelle is home to visit her dying great gran, while Norma has never left and is receiving attention from Rab's brother Trevor and new local thug Cooney. But although "The Ducky" builds on the events of its predecessor it works perfectly well in its own right and no prior knowledge is required to find it hugely enjoyable.

Like "The Wall", events take place over a short period in the summer as outside influences take their toll on our young characters. Jackson retains a magnificent touch for producing one-liners, although in the early stages some of the comedy seems a little more forced this time round. But the heart and charm that made the original so affecting is undoubtedly present - the characters and the performances eliciting sincere "Ah's" from the audience at times. However, Jackson isn't content to give the audience an easy ride, and silences them with a marvelously effective piece of misdirection.

Sally Reid is in excellent form as Norma, making her significantly more than the caricature she could easily become. There's a real sense that the character has grown since we first met her, even if she's only a little wiser. Alan Tripney as Trevor and Jonathan Holt as Cooney do well with characters that are essentially two dimensional stereotypes - it's a pity they lack the depth Jackson has given the others. Hannah Donaldson gives a fine performance as Michelle, but it's Finn den Hertog who gives the outstanding performance of the piece in brilliantly managing to gel the twin aspects of the character.

Jackson's characters and their coming of age stories deserve to live on - both through further productions of "The Wall" & "The Ducky" and hopefully in future works. Given the opportunity, this group of young friends from Stewarton could become firmly embedded in Scottish theatrical culture.

The Ducky is on an extensive tour of Scotland until mid June.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Theatre Marketing - The Good & The Bad

This is essentially a combination of two related topics that have been on our mind for a while - taking a look at the benefits of theatre "Friends" schemes and highlighting some of the more frustrating marketing methods currently in use. Last year I wrote what amounted to a fairly substantial rant entitled "Theatre is Killing The Planet" - but Waldorf wouldn't let me post it. However, after the excellent initiative taken by the Tron this week to reward regular theatregoers I think it's a good time to have a look at the best and worst practice we encounter in Theatre marketing and promotion...

On Wednesday night we attended a performance of "Bliss + Mud" at the invitation of the Tron theatre who provided us with complimentary tickets for the evening. At View From The Stalls we have a general policy of declining the press tickets we are often offered and prefer to support the artists and theatres that give us so much pleasure. We'd never trade on the fact we run this site to get free tickets. But this was different. We weren't offered tickets as 'View From The Stalls' but as individuals who (along with a large group of others) had been identified as regular attendees at the Tron in recent months. Yes, along with the drinks and canapes there was a gentle promotion of the benefits of signing up their new Patrons Scheme, but it was an absolutley inspired initiative by the Tron, and even for natural cynics like us it created a genuine feeling of warmth that our support is appreciated. So how do the "Friends" schemes and marketing methods used elsewhere measure up?

Even prior to the invite to "Bliss + Mud" we had already determined we would sign up for the Tron's new scheme. As soon as the leaflet came through the post it was a done deal. In fact, I had to read it several times before I was convinced there wasn't a catch somewhere that I was missing. From £100 annually, benefits include a pair of tickets to the opening night of Tron Theatre Company productions (with complimentary interval drinks and an invitation for two to the post-show drinks reception), an opportunity to attend supporter events and new Patrons will receive a bottle of whisky from Tron sponsor AnCnoc. So, needless to say we'll be signing up in the next few days.

We've been "Friends" of the Citizens for a couple of years now and spent a very enjoyable Saturday morning back in March at a Friends event with Q&A's with senior members of the Citz team. At £40 for annual joint membership we viewed this largely as a donation to the Citz and never took advantage of their "Friends Wednesdays" discounts as the Tuesday night £7 offer available to anyone was better. But there were occasions such as the Audience with Sir Alex Ferguson when the short period of priority booking was very handy. The Citz are conscious that they haven't quite made the most of the opportunity to build a wider community of supporters and the scheme is currently in the process of being revamped.

As regular readers may be aware, we aren't really fans of the Kings & Theatre Royal in Glasgow. Previous experience has made us wary of their touring productions and the comfort factor isn't great. Yet, you may be surprised to know that we are in fact currently members of their joint Friends of Glasgow Theatres scheme. It was certainly more by accident than design - when we booked tickets over the phone for "The Love of Three Oranges" we were asked to join the scheme - and by doing so we instantly saved more on the ticket price than the membership fee cost us. We haven't looked at the other benefits of the scheme but if you are planning a visit it's definitely worth looking at just how the finances work out.

Now given our somewhat ambivalent attitude to Opera we won't be signing up for the current supporters scheme from Scottish Opera, but the mailshot we received was so fantastically creative that we'd like to bring it to your attention as a model of making an impact (although disappointingly their website isn't half as pretty as the paper version).

But while some schemes are well organised others seem a little more haphazard. Cumbernauld Theatre's "Love the Arts" scheme is excellent in that it's free to join and gives considerable discounts on tickets, but its execution is rather cumbersome. When phoning to book tickets you have to be able to provide details for every member of the party who is a member of the scheme in order to get the reduced ticket price. It can easily turn what should be a two minute call into a five minute one. When it launched they also made a big deal about it reducing the amount of paper flyers etc they would send out as they would be focusing on using e-mail as a main method of contact. Sounds great - but it hasn't happened. And while many other organisations make excellent use of their websites/blogs and sending e-mail updates, it really doesn't seem to have reduced their paper output to any extent. Which brings me to the second part of this post...

As I'm still getting the hang of the whole 'blue bin' thing I can't exactly claim to be the most environmentally aware person on the planet but even I get upset at the amount of promotional material we get through the post from theatres and production companies. Of course we're happy to be informed about things we may like to see but not so much when (A) we get flyers from the production company and each of the several theatres the production is touring to (B) we've already had two letters from the theatre about other shows that week and C) WE BOOKED TICKETS WEEKS AGO. Not to mention the frequent duplication of letters that we get due to receiving a copy each, and at times getting multiple copies each addressed to variations of names (full name or initial) despite all being listed at the one address. I'm not going to name and shame as to be honest they are all at it - it would be unfair to damn the one that just happened to land on my hall floor this week.

I appreciate there are no doubt valid reasons that contribute to these problems - data protection preventing sharing of data etc but surely given the waste of resources (financial and otherwise) something can be done. More and more frequently theatres and companies are co-operating, so is it too much to ask for a centralised database where theatregoers can register to receive marketing that may be of interest to them.

Am I wrong in my thinking that theatres aren't really in competition with each other? We don't decide we're going out on a Friday and then decide what to see, if a theatre has a show on that is of sufficient interest to us we'll go and see it. I can't remember the last time we had to choose which to see on a particular evening/week (Edinburgh Fringe excluded). The more theatres can co-operate the better. Theatregoing is a habit and the more you can get people to attend one theatre the more likely they are to give another one a chance too. Theatres seem happy enough to carry each other's brochures in foyers - so is it really that big a leap to have combined mailshots sent out? The only time theatres are genuinely in competition in our mind is when we have a touring show visiting several local theatres where we have to choose which to attend - but more often than not our decision will be determined by external factors such as working patterns etc rather than being influenced by the theatre. So where is the harm in co-ordinating communications a bit better?

So what theatres have you found make good "Friends" and which organisations are pouring their funding through your letterbox on a weekly basis?


"Bliss + Mud" - May 2009

The Tron Theatre Company brings us a double bill of plays as part of a new initiative known as "Tron Stripped" featuring "pared-back stagings". But there's little evidence on stage of much being pared back, other than the fact that the plays feature a relatively small cast of four and three respectively. There's certainly no lack of effort or attention apparent in the performances, direction, lighting or set design.

Caryl Churchill's translation of Olivier Choiniere's "Bliss" is undeniably a challenging piece of theatre (translation: it confused the hell out of us). But any difficulties are overcome by the fact that whether or not we understood all of it, we both agreed that we had unquestionably enjoyed it. I tend to like plays where things that seem unconnected fall gradually into place, but here the construction of the play seem designed to make things deliberately and unnecessarily awkward to piece together. And while I think I'm just about 'there' having re-read the blurb on the Tron website I can't help feel that the play would have been more successful with a simpler and clearer framing device. Pauline Goldsmith, Grant Smeaton, Gabriel Quigley & Mark Prendergast all give impressive performances as an ever-changing array of characters whose realities/fantasies blur into each other and there is poetic quality to the language.

Maria Irene Fornes' "Mud" is easily the more accessible of the two pieces and feels much like the evil twin of the Tron's production of "The Drawer Boy". It's beautifully directed by Andy Arnold, the lighting is striking and the musical interludes between scenes work wonderfully well. But while "The Drawer Boy" was a magnificently uplifting tale, "Mud" is unrelentingly bleak in its portrayal of America's underclass. Smeaton, Quigley & Prendergast are almost unrecogniseable from their "Bliss" characters (Goldsmith does not feature in "Mud") and it's a fantastic indication of the level of talent on display here. It's a miserable and rather horrible tale, but here it is told beautifully.

There are clear common themes between the two plays relating to the need to escape from a mundane or brutal reality through fantasy or struggle, but in tone they are so different that we weren't entirely convinced that they were a natural pairing. They are also both of sufficient length at around an hour that they are undoubtedly full plays in their own right and I'm still undecided if they added or subtracted from each other. However, it does mean that the Tron's marketing call of "Two plays for the price of one" is completely genuine.

While View From The Stalls has a policy of declining press tickets for events, for this production we were provided with complimentary tickets as part of a 'thank you'/marketing initiative for regular attendees at the Tron. This was not related in any way to our writing about theatre.

Bliss + Mud run at the Tron until Saturday 9th May.
Image by Richard Campbell used with permission.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"Parlour Song" - May 2009

At View From The Stalls we always choose what shows to see carefully - particularly on our occasional London trips where the ticket prices can be a bit of a shock to our system. We'll check the cast, the writer's track record and even seat recommendations - all to ensure we make an informed choice. We'll even make an effort to balance a weekend with a mix of light and darker themed shows. We'd never book tickets just because we had dinner reservations across the road. No, no, that would never happen. That would be a ridiculous way to make such an important decision. Well, ridiculous or not, our unorthodox decision making process turned out to provide the highlight of our weekend.

Jez Butterworth's "Parlour Song" might not be groundbreaking as a study of domestic disintegration but it is beautifully executed. The dialogue is genuinely funny and the cast succeed in making the characters entirely credible. While Toby Jones and Amanda Drew give strong performances as troubled couple Ned and Joy, it's Andrew Lincoln's next door neighbour Dale who has the greatest opportunity to make an impact. Taking on the role of narrator and retelling events in flashback, he remains thoroughly engaging despite his casual delivery of a startling, if insignificant, revelation as the play nears its conclusion.

Director Ian Ricksen provides the production with the most effective use of both projection and a revolving stage that I think I've ever encountered - and at times the combination of both makes for a deceptively powerful way of setting up a scene. As a whole, the production feels thoroughly polished but more than that, it feels as though all those involved have a genuine affection for the work.

Parlour Song runs at the Almeida Theatre, London until Saturday 9th May
Image by Simon Annand used with permission


Monday, May 04, 2009

"Madame de Sade" - May 2009

This afternoon while I was starting to mentally draft this post, there was the serious possibility that it may amount to simply – “The dresses were pretty.” Partly because I was struggling to gather the enthusiasm to put pen to paper but it was also due to the fact that I could recall so little about it. While I’ll often comment that a show is in danger of being forgettable, I do believe that this is the first time that a mere three days later I had absolutely no recollection of how a play ended (even after racking my brain for a good thirty minutes). I swear I didn’t nod off (sitting in the front row it was just too risky), and I gave it my full attention throughout. I suspect the reason I couldn’t remember is that even while I was watching it, I just didn’t care. I’ve since remembered the ending so no Postcards please – there is no prize!

Yukio Mishima's account of the lives of six women (some real, some fictional) around the Marquis De Sade wasn’t necessarily a bad one, and the play (translated by Donald Keene) certainly has some nice moments but it’s also terribly self-important and the execution lacks any fire. It never managed to be more than a curiosity piece and I had zero emotional investment in the characters.

But let's be honest, like the vast majority of the audience, we hadn’t come to see the play, we’d come to see Judi Dench. For me Dame Judi’s performance was fine, as were all the cast, however Waldorf wasn’t as impressed. And I can see where she’s coming from. The performances are hampered by a direction style that leaves characters frequently seeming to direct their dialogue at the audience rather than to each other, and there are a few too many knowing ‘turn to camera’ looks which give an almost pantomime or bedroom farce feel to the performances – particularly any scene with Frances Barber’s Comtesse de Saint-Fond.

It doesn't make for an unenjoyable evening - I certainly smiled on several occasions - but it lacks any kind of genuine impact and really just washed over us. And given the level of talent on stage that has to go down as a disappointment.

But oh yes - the dresses were pretty.

Madame De Sade is part of the Donmar West End season at Wyndham's Theatre, London until 23 May.
Image by Hugo Glendinning used with permission