Last week was my first time at Battersea Arts Centre, a grand old town hall that hosts a wealth of arts programmes and performances. Currently showing is the macabre and menacing The Red Shoes.
This production of The Red Shoes is by quirky and innovative theatre group Kneehigh who originally had success with the play 10 years ago. Here, Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale conjures a strange, nonsensical world filled with dark secrets.
The cast are a motley crew, in uniforms of plain white men’s underwear, all with shaved heads. Their eyes are circled with dark make up, their numb expressions creepily dehumanised.
Patrycja Kujawska is strikingly scary as the play’s main girl. She is mute throughout but speaks volumes with her glaring eyes and spooky smirk. She dons red clogs that although feminine, look extremely heavy and cumbersome. The Girl is obsessed with and eventually possessed by the shoes; they force her to dance continually and relentlessly with demonic animation.
Of the four male actors (who make up the rest of the cast) I was entranced by Giles King as Lady Lydia, the eccentric cross-dressing compere. Oddly sexy and mischievous she/he reminded me of Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka but armed with a long fishing line, which turns the character into a cruel puppeteer.
The Red Shoes is at Battersea Arts Centre until 9 April, book here.
Sebastian Faulks’ harrowing novel Birdsong has been adapted for the stage and has its first run at London’s The Comedy Theatre . This play has a star line-up, with director Trevor Nunn, and many wonderful actors.
Birdsong follows a young man’s journey through a great love and a great war. The play is split into three sections. The long opening act concentrates on the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford as he visits Amiens and falls in love with a married woman, played by the rather stiff Genevieve O’Reilly.
I found the second two acts more convincing than the first. After the interval Birdsong shows the vile horror of World War I, like I have never seen it portrayed before. Every aspect of the painful anguish and devastation is realised through haunting acting and clever dramatics. The stage is impressively constructed to show the claustrobic tunnels and trenches, and smoke effects create further atmosphere. Just before the second interval a great clash and cloud of powder wafts over the audience, an incredible sensation and evocative transition to mark the start of the war.
I loved watching Lee Ross who plays one of the central characters, Jack Firebrace. The kindness and bravery of this character within the turmoil of war gives the story real strength and substance, and Ross’s characterisation reflects this with a touching morality.
I left feeling moved and educated, and now would like to read the original book.
With Remembrance Day in London tomorrow, the show feels particularly poignant.
The play continues until 15 January 2011. Book Birdsong tickets here.]]>
Onassis explores the Greek shipping magnate’s relationships with two women and how he is torn between them. One was Maria Callas, the world famous opera singer and the other Jacqueline Kennedy, arguably one of the most iconic women of the 20th century.
Onassis’s smooth but brash charm won him the love of Callas but their passionate affair was over when he married Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of JFK. The excellent Anna Francolini as a heartbroken Callas sends a shiver down the spine as she curses his new love and marriage.
The tragic lives of the Kennedy and Onassis families are well known. One such moment is highlighted in the play when Onassis hears that his young son has been killed in a plane crash. Lindsay’s Onassis conveys a powerful, commanding character with many insecurities and flaws. The audience observe as he turns into a paranoid and unsettled man unable to get over the death of his son. Many have said that it was this event that led to his death just two years later.
Based on Peter Evans’ book Nemesis the story speculates on some of the many conspiracies surrounding both families including connections with the Mafia, Hollywood and a theory that Onassis was behind the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. The play captures the wealth and glamour of the era, taking place on Onassis’s yacht and the Greek Islands.
Observing this portrayal of Onassis and his most intimate relationships which made headlines across the world is a real treat and is not to be missed.
Onassis plays at the Novello Theatre until 8 January 2011. Book tickets here
How to be an Other Woman is based on Lorrie Moore’s collection of stories, Self-Help. The talented Natalie Abrahami adapted and directed this story for its World Premiere at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill. I’d never been to this theatre before, despite spending a lot of my time in the area. The Gate is cute and cutting-edge cool. How To Be An Other Woman could be described the same and suited the venue well.
As we sat down the atmosphere was sexily chilled out. Girls wandered across the stage, the audience muttered excitedly among themselves and the sweet smell of menthol stage cigarettes wafted through the small theatre. It was slightly Sex and the City-esque.
The play itself is slick, and delightfully interpreted for the stage. Recurring motifs pepper the narrative, and are used cleverly throughout, the most obvious of which are a conspicuous trench coat and high-heeled shoes. Each girl has a turn at being the “mistress” (and wearing the trench) while the other instructs her as to how such a character should act and react. It was a weird coincidence that my companion had, just a few days earlier, been given a similar coat for her birthday.
Of the four women I was most drawn to watch Faye Castelow. Her chirpy character acting is full of energy and endeared her to me. My friend was captivated by Ony Uhiara who, she told me, stole the show recently in the Young Vic’s Eurydice.
Abrahami cast four women and no man, leaving the male part to be alternately taken by each actress. My theatre-expert best friend found this particularly intriguing and afterwards explained her interpretation of this casting decision – that it proposes the empowering of women. And yet throughout the women are similar to little girls playing in their bedroom, dressing up and giggling.
This play is dangerously moreish, perhaps like an affair… And at only an hour long, it ended too soon for me.
How to be an Other Woman is at the Gate Theatre until 2 October, 2010.
It was a fantastic evening for the opening of The Comedy of Errors last night: warm, with barely a breeze, and Regent’s Park’s beautiful Open Air Theatre audience was on fine form.
Shakespeare’s early comedy about two sets of twins and a lot of mistaken identity is the second show in the Open Air Theatre’s season. And I loved it.
Director Philip Franks has transported Epheseus to 1940s Casablanca for this production; the cast sport stylish 40s suits and dresses, with big, glamorous Hollywood-filmstar sunglasses. The Courtesan, played by Anna-Jane Casey, is now a nightclub owner, while the twin servants (both called Dromio) wear fezzes and seem to suffer more than usual in the heat of this foreign-feeling place.
This is a Comedy of Errors with an emphasis on the comedy. It’s not a terribly subtle production (gorilla suits and burlesque dance pieces in particular!), and knows exactly where the humour can be found in both Shakespeare’s text and in additional clever moments of slapstick.
As Antipholis of Syracuse, Daniel Weyman does a fantastic job of building the confusion and bewilderment throughout the play. I also enjoyed the performances of Joseph Kloska and Josh Cohen as the twin servants Dromio. Kloska’s hilarious description of a fat kitchen maid as a map of the world (with obligatory puns on the “Netherlands”) was brilliant, and made me think of just how incredibly timeless some of Shakespeare’s comedy can be.
The incredible attention to detail means you probably don’t spot all the intricate little looks, precise puns, and comedy in the crowd scenes the first time around. This is ensemble theatre at its best: when everyone on stage is working to create a perfect tableau. It all comes together beautifully.
But if you’re a fan of the sillier side of Shakespeare’s early stuff, as well as the snatches of sublime poetry that accompanies it, for example, in the tear-jerkingly happy ending, I would really recommend seeing this show.
The Comedy of Errors plays at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 13 July. Book tickets here
If you want to sink your teeth into a story of real depth All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre could be just what you’re looking for.
I saw this play last night and bawled my eyes out (there, I said it!). There are many light-hearted moments throughout but there is a constant underlying tension that bubbles beneath the surface in this bleak yet touching post-World War II story. The script, infused with this tension, encourages the audience to investigate the dark mysteries behind the perfect American family seen on stage.
The cast are no strangers to the stage and screen. Acting-royalty David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker disappear expertly behind the characters of Joe and Kate Keller and are joined by a talented cast who transform into their close friends and family.
This intimate play is set in the mid-west of the USA and tells the intriguing story of the Keller family and their once-neighbours, the Deevers. Beneath the charm of their American 1940s smiles and laughter lies a stomach-wrenching truth that slowly makes its way to the surface. It is this constant balance between light and dark that holds our attention.
I won’t give away too much, but there were shrieks and gasps from even the back rows of the theatre when the dark truth bubbled to the surface and the play ended. These audible shocks might even have come from Richard E Grant or Mrs Laurence Olivier (Joan Plowright) who we had spotted during the interval!
Like many new productions, the actors could do with a few more performances to really settle in. The large house on set, for example, feels less like an old family home and more like a new prop to which the actors aren’t completely familiar. We don’t get a true sense that this is their home and has been for over 20 years. Perhaps more minor practical interactions with the house (eg. uprooting a weed or checking a wood panel) rather than gazing off into the sunset in a nostalgic stupor would help.
The play is filled with eye-opening moments of pure agony, family love, blind responsibility and gut-twisting realisation that keep the cast and audience enthralled.
I’d gladly watch it again.
All My Sons plays at the Apollo Theatre until 11 September 2010
This week I attended The 39 Steps Vintage Night in London’s West End.
The 39 Steps is a classic play (and a book, and a famous film directed by Alfred Hitchcock) that’s been running since September 2006 at the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus.
I was attracted to the idea of their special “Vintage Night” because I love dressing up and I’d heard the show was good fun. However, given the Hitchcock connection, I expected they play itself to be a bit serious and moody. In this, I was utterly wrong, The 39 Steps is a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable, highly entertaining spectacle from go to whoa.
Set in the 1930s, the play begins with leading man Richard Hannay (dashingly played by David Bark-Jones) having just returned from abroad to his “humble” Portland Square abode. He laments he’s tired of life (tired of London too, we presume) but his situation quickly becomes a lot more exciting when he meets a dark and mysterious German woman (Dianne Pilkington) who reveals a plot involving international espionage before she is killed, leaving Hannay as the prime suspect. He goes on the run, catching a train to Scotland (on which he encounters a stylish blonde – also played by Dianne Pilkington) then racketing about the countryside attempting to prove his innocence by exposing the arch criminals at the heart of the spy ring.
There’s a host of minor characters – policemen, newspaper boys, Scottish farmers and hoteliers – all played by two actors (Timothy Speyer and Jeremy Swift) and it’s amazing what they can do with some quick costume changes and ingenious set devices.
In fact the whole thing is extremely slick and clever – using all the old drama school tricks such as the four-chairs-make-a-car routine, flapping coats and bits of mime to denote a windy roof of the train and in-jokes about other Hitchcock movies – all delivered to great effect and with impeccable comic timing.
Afterwards we joined the other vintage lovers for a very civilised supper in the Criterion Theatre‘s impressive Victorian foyer. Here we were treated to retro teacups containing iced tea with a shot of gin (G&Tea by Vintage Secret), and delicious cupcakes decorated with recurring motifs from the play – handcuffs, lampposts, a pipe – from The Vintage Patisserie.
The Vintage Night was a nice twist on a traditional trip to the theatre and I was left with a big smile on my face. And I’d recommend this show to anyone who wants to see a jolly good West End play without it being too serious. There’s no need to dress up (although you can, of course!).
Buy your The 39 Steps tickets today.]]>