Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Humans Inc" - Edinburgh Fringe 2013

'Futuristic-good-cop-rescues-bad-corporation's-secret-test-subject-while-falling-in-love-and-defeating-OTT-Bond-villain' plot aside, Humans Inc is actually a rather good show.  Stylish, imaginative and with a bit of a swagger. I didn't even mind the elements that sailed perilously close to the dreaded 'Dance & Physical Theatre' section of the Fringe programme...

The seven strong cast deliver a very polished set of performances but there's a bit of a difference in tone that hampers the show as a whole.  Jonathan Stephenson has a genuine stage presence and plays Isaac, our cop-having-a-bad-day with a level of sci-fi gravitas last seen circa Blade Runner, while the rest of the cast camp things up Galaxy Quest style.  Individually, the performances are excellent but the contrasting styles didn't sit well for me.  The exception being Lily Levin's gloriously dead pan take on Isaac's wife which comes closest to matching Stephenson's approach.   I get that 'serious' sci-fi is a hard sell to an audience, but the creativity of the company displayed here suggests that The Alchemist are capable of pulling it off.

A fun bit of fluff to fill a gap in a schedule - and the venue in C-1 is as comfy as you're likely to get at the Fringe this side of 2440.

Humans Inc runs at C Chambers Street at 18:10 until 26 August


"Bite the Bullet" - Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Back in the early nineties Sandy Nelson & Keith Warwick's fictional Proclaimers-esque duo "The Telltales" achieved minor chart success in the UK but were a surprise No.1 sensation in Japan.  21 years after their pop career fizzled out, they are reuniting to perform at a ceremony in their honour in Tokyo.  The show cuts between the present day and pivotal moments from the group's past, featuring a number of songs along the way.

Some shows at the Fringe have actors doing a very passable job of playing musicians, but Nelson & Warwick are undoubtedly the real deal - and should really be selling CDs post show in the foyer. But while the music is a strength, the show's desire to establish its 'muso' credentials works against it.  This was my era and I struggled with some of the references. There's certainly a danger that cultural touchstones written for its original incarnation as part of Oran Mor's "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" in Glasgow simply won't transfer to the Fringe's more diverse audience.  But that's a minor quibble - the music, comedy and characters are universal.

Nelson & Warwick may play up the comedy, but they are equally comfortable as the tone shifts to more serious considerations of friendship and their post celebrity lives. Kirstin McLean completes the cast with a fine performance in a number of roles including the band's manager Zara. With the exception of an unnecessary filler scene in Norway, the show is slick and tight; never feeling anything like its one hour runtime.

Bite the Bullet runs at the Assembly Rooms until 25 August.


Monday, July 22, 2013

"Macbeth" (MIF / NT Live) - July 2013

With tickets for the entire run at Manchester International Festival selling out in nine minutes, it's fortunate that NT Live enabled us, along with thousands of others, to watch a live broadcast in cinemas around the UK and beyond.   The pairing of Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston is clearly one that features on many "Macbeth" dream cast lists, and it would be convenient to put our general sense of disappointment down to overly high expectations.  But in truth, despite glowing reviews just about everywhere else,  and some fine moments of spectacle, it was just a bit bland.  There's a distinct lack of any stamp of creativity or new take on the play.  Is it asking too much to want to remember the production in future as something other than 'the Macbeth where they traipsed through a lot of mud'?

There's no doubting Branagh's ability to deliver Shakespeare in a clear and accessible manner, and his ability to deliver a perfect tear on demand is truly impressive, but there seemed little behind the words to give insight into the character. For her part, Alex Kingston has no difficulty in bringing the text to life, but as a performance I found it largely forgettable - save the overcooked sleepwalking hysterics which stay in the memory for all the wrong reasons.  As a classic treatment of Macbeth it would make for a great 'study text' for schools, but brings little new to anyone familiar with the characters - and even with co-director Rob Ashford's pre-show interview giving crib notes as to how they perceived the characters' motivations, I saw no real evidence of this once the play began.

Yet, there are some great performances elsewhere in the cast.  I was just about on the verge of giving up on the play and joining Waldorf in her 15 minute snooze when Rosalie Craig as Lady Macduff revived my interest with a performance more affecting than any other on the night; closely followed by Ray Fearon's portrayal of Macduff's grief on learning of her fate.

I'm really glad we saw this, and can tick a 'Branagh Shakespeare' off our non-existent 'to-see' list (albeit virtually - although I don't think seeing it in the flesh would have been any more rewarding) but I can't say it made much of a lasting impression on me.

Macbeth has completed its run in Manchester, however recordings of the live broadcast are being shown in limited cinemas over the next few weeks.
Image by Johan Persson used with permission.


Monday, June 17, 2013

"The Audience" (NTLive) - June 2013

Although we’ve been absent from the theatre for several months, it was never far away from our thoughts.  Indeed, at one point we came very close to booking up for a London trip with “The Audience” as the focus for our weekend, so when our trip fell through we were delighted to see that it was to feature as part of NT Live and be broadcast to cinemas around the UK and beyond.  We've seen a few NT Live shows in the past at the GFT and found the concept to work very well, and our concerns that that the intimacy might be lost in a large auditorium at the Cineworld were quickly dispelled.

Rather oddly, I was quite taken aback a little by the humorous tone of Peter Morgan’s play.  I can’t quite pin down why, but I was definitely expecting a more serious, possibly even academic, series of imagined conversations between Elizabeth II and her Prime Ministers over her 60 years on the throne.  Whilst Morgan’s writing certainly has its more sombre and political moments, it’s first and foremost a light hearted piece of entertainment.  The Queen’s encounters with John Major, Gordon Brown and David Cameron evoke the gentle-but-sharp humour of “Yes Minister” while those with Harold Wilson show a more relaxed monarch with a genuine affection for the politician.  During the interval Morgan when interviewed suggested that he couldn’t claim his imagined accounts were ‘accurate’ but hoped they were ‘truthful’, but I’m not entirely convinced there isn’t more than a little rose-tint being applied to all the characters featured here. 

The completist in me can’t help but feel a little cheated by the absence of some of those who have resided at No.10 including Ted Heath and Tony Blair.  While Morgan would no doubt argue that he’s already covered the Queen/Blair relationship on screen, on stage it felt like a missing chapter.  Although Eden receives an uncomfortable grilling over Suez, and troubles with Blair are hinted at, it’s perhaps Margaret Thatcher who receives the harshest treatment over her approach to apartheid South Africa. Surprisingly, despite an impressive portrayal by Haydn Gwynne, the scene with Thatcher is a bit of a lull in the proceedings where sparks were expected to fly – leaving both Waldorf and myself glancing at watches for the first and only time of the evening.

Of course, Helen Mirren is the star attraction here and she doesn't disappoint. It's almost breathtaking at time to watch the flash transformations between the eras and Mirren convinces entirely from the young novice finding her feet to the present day Queen who has seen-it-all-before.  It's a very demanding role with almost no time off stage (if any - as this was NT Live she may have just been out of shot) and in addition to the segments with each Prime Minister, Morgan uses a nice conceit to bring the young Princess Elizabeth on stage to interact with her older self.    

All in, this was a very enjoyable evening out at the 'theatre' and has given us a bit of our appetite for seeing some more 'proper' local theatre in the near future.

The Audience has completed its run at the Gielgud Theatre, but 'encore' performances of the NT Live show are available at cinemas across the country over the next couple of weeks.

Image by Johan Persson used with permission.


Back again...

So, it's been a while...

We continued to struggle over the winter with intermittent illnesses, family commitments and day jobs, but after a trip to the NT Live screening of "The Audience" we're hopefully, finally, going to get out to see some theatre.  We've started looking through the Edinburgh Fringe programme and will be having a trawl through our local theatres' websites. 

Thanks for sticking around while we 'disappeared'.