Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Phèdre" (NT Live) - June 2009

Here's something a little bit different. Tonight we went to see the National Theatre's London performance of "Phèdre" starring Helen Mirren in the title role... at the Glasgow Film Theatre. It's the first of a series of 'one night only' NT Live performances of National Theatre productions that are beamed simultaneously to cinema screens around the world. I have to admit to being a bit dubious as to if it would work, but there is no question in my mind now. It did work - brilliantly.

In a pre-show on screen chat it was explained that the performance was essentially taking place exactly as it has been each and every night and that the cast would continue to play to their real live audience in the National Theatre and not to the cameras (which are presumably unobtrusive on the auditorium). We certainly saw no indication of cameramen wandering around on-stage. Technically it was almost flawless - with only a couple of jumpy 'pull back' shots and a moment of jerkiness, although on a few occasions Waldorf found herself wishing for a wider shot of the stage.

Performances were all very strong with Dominic Cooper particularly impressive as Hippolytus who finds himself undone by his stepmother Phèdre's impossible lust for him. He manages to make the character's reluctance to reveal Phèdre's advances to his father believable - despite his knowledge of the likely consequences. Helen Mirren brings everything to the role that you would expect - strength, emotion and just the right amount of willfulness. Margaret Tyzack is the other standout of the night, as Phèdre's confidante Oenone, bringing out much of what little humour the piece allows.

But there were logistical problems with the event. We were told the performance would commence at 6.30 (with doors opening at 6.00) and that the run time for the show was two hours. However, on arrival there were notices saying the performance would start at 6.45pm and come 6.45 it became clear we had a further 15 minutes of 'chat' between director Nicholas Hytner and Jeremy Irons. And that 30 minutes makes a huge difference and must take a share of the blame for all those who had to avail themselves of the cinema's toilet facilities during the performance. It also has a knock on effect for those with dinner plans after the show. But regardless of that, the production needed an interval - the amount of fidgeting and watch checking during the last fifteen minutes made this abundantly clear as the show never actually dragged to any extent.

Tickets for the screening cost us £10 each. Would I rather have paid around £40 for a ticket to 'the real thing'? Possibly. Would I rather have paid £200 for tickets, flights and accommodation. Definitely not. This is genuinely a brilliant initiative from the National Theatre and I was really impressed with how 'theatrical' it felt. Waldorf was scathing of some of those around us who applauded at the curtain call, but truth be told I was half tempted to join in.

Phèdre continues its run at the National Theatre until 27th August. NT Live has performance planned of three future shows - "All's Well That Ends Well", "Nation" and "The Habit of Art".
Image by Catherine Ashmore used with permission.


Monday, June 22, 2009

"Cyrano de Bergerac" - June 2009

Yes, we know this was last week's 'Corona Classic Cut' at Oran Mor, but we only saw it on Saturday and it was a busy weekend. We'll try not to let it happen again. Actually no, we'll not be seeing this week's play 'Romeo & Juliet' until Saturday and with another busy weekend planned you'll probably not see our thoughts on that until Monday night either. Sorry.

Selma Dimitrijevic has cut down Edwin Morgan's Glaswegian Scots translation of Rostand's classic tale to fit the 50 minute lunchtime slot by effectively reducing it to the relationship between Cyrano (Gary Collins) and Christian (Ryan Fletcher). Although the production also features Annie Grace providing a scene setting introduction and musical accompaniment, she's really rather wasted here. The brunt of making the production work falls on Collins and Fletcher who give excellent comic performances. The unfamiliar language simultaneously amuses and frustrates (even here in Glasgow) and I'm afraid I lost a good portion of the narrative in Cyrano's final speech. Dimitrijevic's direction works well for the most part, but the changes between scenes are often unclear and there's little indication of time passing or intervening events.

An entertaining way to spend a lunchtime but not one that we'll remember for any great length of time.

Cyrano de Bergerac has completed its run at Oran Mor. The Corona Classic Cuts series concludes this week with Romeo & Juliet.
Image by Leslie Black used with permission.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Edinburgh Fringe 2009 - First picks

Since the Edinburgh Fringe Programme was published last Wednesday we've been working our way through it trying to make an initial selection of shows. While there's still plenty of time before it starts officially on Friday 7th August, tickets went on sale on Monday and we always try to get some of the more expensive shows booked up as part of the 2 for 1 offer many shows operate on the first Sunday/Monday. So here are the shows that have caught our attention so far, and a round up of some of the ones we've already seen that are being revived at this years Fringe...

Usually the first place we start when planning our opening weekend is the Traverse, partly because it can usually be relied upon for quality and also because its shows can be at the more expensive end of the scale. But this year we've been rather underwhelmed with their offerings and as things currently stand we won't be booking up for any of the Fringe shows at the Traverse this year. That may change as more info comes out and we get a better feel for the shows - at the moment details are sparse in the Fringe Programme and their website has no info at all. Perhaps this lack of a 'must see' show is a knock-on effect of the Traverse' involvement in the Edinburgh International Festival where they are staging "The Last Witch" at the Lyceum (which we will be seeing). There is one exception to our lack of enthusiasm for the Traverse Fringe Programme - "Midsummer (A Play with Songs)" which is being brought back after huge success towards the end of last year. Like just about everyone who saw it we adored it and anyone who wants to see a feelgood show has to fit this one in.

We're also having to come to terms with the loss of what has been one of the highlights of recent years at the Fringe. Due to work being undertaken at Rosslyn Chapel, Nonsense Room are unable to stage their show there this year and have decanted to the Scottish Mining Museum just outside Dalkeith with two shows. We'll be making an early visit to "Ae Fond Kiss" and may try to see "Treasure Island" later in the month. Even without the added attraction of a visit to the Chapel, Nonsense Room have proved to us over the years that their shows are always worth seeing.

But making up for those elements missing from this year's Fringe is the return of site specific specialists Grid Iron. We've not seen their work at previous Fringes but their shows "Roam" and "Yarn" both provided us with some fantastic theatrical memories. We've already booked up for "Barflies" at the Barony Bar and given the reputation this company has tickets will go quickly.

We like to dip our toes in the Comedy section of the programme and having enjoyed his campaigning TV shows we've booked up for Mark Thomas who is putting together a manifesto based on suggestions from his audiences. Sadly there's no new Rebus McTaggart show but there is a short run of the original show that we enjoyed so much.

Over the last two years with "Mehndi Night" and "Stolen Secrets" Fin Kennedy and Mulberry School have proved that a 45 minute show can pack in just as much as a three hour epic, and we're expecting something equally as delightful with this year's "The Unravelling". And another school group who we'll be seeing is Feltonfleet's "An Ofsted Inspector Calls".

The highlight of our theatrical year so far has been "Sub Rosa" and the driving force behind it, David Leddy, has two shows in Edinburgh this year. He has transferred his audio based show "Susurrus" and located it in Royal Botanic Garden, as well as premiering his new Japanese themed show "White Tea".

At last year's Fringe we enjoyed You Need Me's "How It Ended" despite it being located in the Dance and Physical Theatre section of the Programme. This year they return with "Certain Dark Things" which sounds similar in tone and style.

A week or so ago I read a review of "Kursk" down in london and thought it sounded fantastic so I was delighted to discover it as I flicked through the Programme. Unfortunately there seems to be a problem with booking tickets for the show at Hopefully this is just a temporary glitch and not a sign of a more serious problem with the plans for the show.

It's a book I've always had a lot of time for, so we've booked up to see EattheBaby's take on "A Clockwork Orange"
over the first weekend. But some other shows inevitably have to wait until later in the month due to scheduling issues, one of which will be Gregory Burke's "Gagarin Way" by the Comedians Theatre Company.

I think that's covered all the shows that we're immediately booking up for, but as well as our weekend trips through together, I'll be doing a few midweek visits on my own - flexitime permitting. Here's a quick run through of some of the other shows I'm hoping to fit in:
EGTG's version of "Antigone", Michael Frayn's "Audience" and a political take on Arthurian legend in "King Arthur".

Other shows appearing at this year's Fringe that we saw in the last year include - "The Year of the Horse", "Djupid (The Deep)" and "My Grandfather's Great War"

But there's still plenty of gaps to fill and we'll continue to follow up on some of the website links provided in the Programme and see what else grabs our interest. And of course we're always open to suggestions...


Monday, June 15, 2009

Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland

Congratulations to all the winners at Sunday's ceremony for the CATS (Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland). The big winner was 'Interiors' which won Best Production, Best Ensemble & Best Director (for Matthew Lenton). Of the other winners the only one we managed to see was Matthew Zajac for Best Male Performance in 'The Tailor of Inverness', so we can't really claim to give a complete assessment, but we are dismayed that 'Sub Rosa' and 'Midsummer' left empty handed.

The full list of winners is currently available at The Stage and is soon to be posted on the CATS website which also details the nominations.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

"Medea" - June 2009

The only downside of Oran Mor's "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" seasons is that unless you wait for the reviews to come out, potential audiences have little to go on other than a line or two that often reveals little. As a result it can be a bit hit and miss - not in the sense of quality, more as to personal taste. But with their short season of Corona Classic Cuts the plays are cut-down adaptations of well known pieces, so you have a better idea of what to expect. This week saw the first of this year's four productions - 'Medea' by Euripides, translated by Alistair Elliot and adapted/directed by Paddy Cunneen.

Cara Kelly gives a wonderfully engaging performance as the mistreated title character as she wreaks a horrific revenge on her errant husband Jason, his wife-to-be and her father, King Creon. Kelly's ability to connect directly with each audience member makes Medea's justifications pretty convincing - at least until we are confronted by the shattering reality of her actions.

Candida Benson is tasked with playing all the male characters in the play - including Jason and Creon. When an actor is asked to play so many characters in a short period the easy option is to play it for laughs and exaggerate the characters, but Benson and director Cunneen choose the harder course and Benson pulls it off beautifully making each character fully formed and distinct. Kelly and Benson are accompanied by an effective chorus of the women of Corinth, played by students from the University of the West of Scotland.

With a run time of almost the full hour, this was considerably longer than most of Oran Mor's shows but it never felt it and I suspect over the course of the week some audience members may have found themselves explaining to bosses why they were late back from lunch! An excellent start to this short season which continues next week with "Lady Windemere's Fan".

Medea has now completed its run at Oran Mor.
Image by Leslie Black used with permission.