The spirit of Christmas

A Christmas Carol – The Old Red Lion, until 03 January 2015 (tickets)

‘Humbug’. The modern lexicon creatively being employed by the youth of today means it’s a word that sits on the milder end of the spectrum. Yet, tellingly, for many it retains a special power; it’s A Christmas Carol, Old Red Lion, courtesy of Anna Söderblom,11indelibly linked with one man and one situation. To tell someone they are a humbug is to accuse them of hating Christmas – a damning indictment indeed.

Dickens’ story is so powerful that it has forced a character into their own existence. Scrooge. A creation so potent that his very name became synonymous with being a miser. It is a very simple story – of one man’s redemption over the course of one fantastical night – that has held a grip over the imagination since it was written. Each generation has their own favourite; whether it was read to them at Christmas, seeing Alistair Sims in black and white hunched around the TV or going to the cinema to watch the Muppets.

Metal Rabbit are one of three companies performing A Christmas Carol in London this winter. If you are after lashings of period detail then Antic Disposition’s version in the fabulous surroundings of Middle Temple Hall may be more to your preference, however Metal Rabbit provides a stripped down updating that consciously nods as much towards modern Britain as it does the slum-like conditions that Dickens captured so well.

Alexander McMorran’s Scrooge is, quite literally, at the centre of this production; he spends much of the play standing centre-stage on a safe (that neatly doubles as a gravestone). It is an arresting opening image that is enhanced by McMorran rhythmically clinking a chain to hint at the miser counting his money but also inescapably leading the subconscious to the ticking of a clock that governs the passage of time over this fantastical night.

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The Civil Shortlist – 2014

Well the plays have been revisited, the little grey cells put back into action and the oracle consulted. In short and without further ado, Civilian Theatre is proud to present the runners and riders in the second annual shortlist for The Civil Awards. [Cue much fanfare, fireworks and underhand, dirty trick campaigns]. Bribes, whilst having little effect on the outcome, will still be gratefully received.

It has been ferociously competitive in some categories and this year it is female performers who have far out performed their male counterparts. The honourable mentions list is arguably be a top 5 in itself.

In the end – having combined Best Support Actor into being for both men and women – it was impossible to reduce it to just five. So six have been shortlisted in another high calibre selection.

Another new category is Best Musical, which reflects the fact that below the surface and away from the big theatres, musical theatre is still doing some pretty interesting stuff. Last year’s Civilian Theatre Play of the Year ‘The Scottsboro Boys’ has transferred to the West End and it feels the form deserves its own categories.

Winners will be announced in the run-up to Christmas.

Best Actor – Female

Honourable Mentions:

Harriet Walter (Henry IV), Helen McCrory (Medea), Lisa Dwan (Not I, Footfalls & Rockaby), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (The One) and Anita Hegh (The Wild Duck).     


Best Actor – Male

Honourable Mentions:

Andrew Scott (Birdland), Andrew Twaites (The Libertine Has Left The Building) and Simon Russell Beale (King Lear)


Best Supporting Actor (Male/Female)


Best Director


Best Musical

 

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A most unexpected adventure

Antarctica – Little Bulb @ Battersea Arts Centre, until 04 January 2014 (tickets)

Astute readers of this blog will most likely have guessed that I am not between the ages of two and six. They may well have also concluded, given the amount of theatre I am able to watch, it is ANTARCTICA-11 Paul Blakemorelikely that I have either a very forgiving partner or no small children of my own. As a result it may be surprising to find Civilian Theatre at the Battersea Arts Centre on a Saturday afternoon to join Little Bulb and their ‘brave explorers club’ on a 55-minute adventure to Antarctica (not bad going – it takes me over 2 hours to get to Gloucester at Christmas).

Antarctica is a show for children from Little Bulb, the theatre company that thoroughly charmed this reviewer when they took full advantage of the Battersea Arts Centre’s period décor to present a wonderfully innovative take on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth.

ANTARCTICA-18 Paul BlakemoreDespite the tragedy of Eurydice they managed to introduce a humour built on whimsical charm and a very intelligent silliness that gave Orpheus a really unique feel, and it felt that their creative and spirited approach to story-telling would be perfect for the world of children’s theatre.

Paying close attention to their audience they have built up the silliness but, and this is crucial to all children’s theatre, they haven’t dumbed down the approach. At no point do you feel that Little Bulb are patronising or phoning it in. This is not Nativity 3, where if you look closely you can see £ signs where the actors’ pupils should be.

Each child is afforded the respect that any adult would be, and this is evident in the humour that runs deep throughout the show. Jokes have a structure and intelligence that acts as a reminder that there should be no cheap laughs no matter who is watching; good comedy is hard work and it requires a lot of heavy lifting to make jokes that feel this light.

The cast of Clare Beresford, Dominic Conway and Alex Scott work really hard to provide a warm and inclusive show. It starts as the audience is filing in, settling down and finding somewhere to put the various bags/scarves/hats/mittens that appear to accompany any mass family outing. Beresford and Conway create a soothing and magical atmosphere with the aid of xylophones and various percussion whilst Alex Scott (Sir Peregrine Falcon) makes himself busy teaching us all the brave explorers greeting and bestowing his sandwiches, maps and flags on various small children.

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Gilbert and Sullivan with added jazz hands

The Mikado – Charing Cross Theatre, until 03 January 2015

Gilbert and Sullivan are never going to appeal some people. High-brow opera aficionados will most likely turn their nose up in distaste whilst theatre connoisseurs will wryly shake their head before searching out a disused prison for the latest in immersive theatre. People who don’t go the theatre will probably just be entirely baffled by the whole experience.

For those who like Gilbert and Sullivan the joy is that they manage to keep themselves outside of any particular bracket. They are just who they are, and you feel that their operettas achieve precisely what they wanted them to achieve. Make no mistake: The Mikado is an MikadoChX-Press-SRylander-011 (1) (1)absolutely ludicrous show and so much better for it. Thom Southerland, who has a number of recent notable fringe musical successes under his belt, understands this and pitches the show in a bizarre 1930’s factory that makes absolutely no logical sense to the plot but which allows a free-wheeling lunacy to give the show a hugely infectious, if slightly demented, charm.

Southerland’s choice of location helps remove the focus from Japan, and as a result some of the slightly more knuckle-chewingly inappropriate reference points are adroitly side-stepped. In fact the result of updating the plot is that it actually makes it easier to see how Gilbert and Sullivan could be a precursor to the likes of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and perhaps they deserve more recognition in the creation of what we understand musicals to be. Anything Goes is one of the great musicals but the plot itself is pure hokum, and really how different is The Mikado? Both are full of memorable songs, some great jokes and end in marriages.

The link to American musicals is aided by some sparkling choreography from two-time Tony Award nominee, Joey McKneely. It is quite clear that McKneely is someone who knows what they are doing. He has drilled the ensemble into some fine, spirited work on a small stage. Indeed some of the energy is so high you worry that they are about to tip off the front and severely disrupt the two folk bashing away on the baby grand pianos that provide the musical accompaniment.

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Five plays for the day

Theatre Uncut 2014 – Soho Theatre

Theatre Uncut will be in Brighton, Bristol, Canterbury and Liverpool in December 2014. For more details and to book tickets check outTheatre Uncut’s website

The Theatre Uncut project is now four years old. That is four years of coalition cuts, four years of the retrenchment of public services and four years where the quiet desperation of those without a voice has remained largely unheard. In that time Theatre Uncut has expanded so that it has now been performed in 17 countries across 4 continents. It has also started its first national tour and this year, through online polling and through a workshop process, writers chose to focus on the topic; ‘Knowledge is power, knowledge is change’.

10495065_755198004552857_8325607810536121571_oOne of the most interesting aspects of the process is finding out how five different writers decided to interpret the statement and how they decided to engage with the overtly political process of writing under these conditions.

Perhaps most surprisingly, and most refreshingly, is that a number of the plays focus on the personal more than the political. There was a balance that helped stop the gnawing sense that the whole programme was little more of an anguished wail of the liberal left against a coalition government that (like it or not) had every right to govern and who had been tasked with reducing a sky-rocketing debit burden following the global economic meltdown.

The variety on display meant it avoided the sense of lecture and the evening was leavened by a remarkable versatility in the well-judged humour throughout. It starts off in a blackly comic tone with ‘The Finger Of God’, which could easily have slid out of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror-inflected fevered imagination. It takes a classically dystopian near-future world where the lottery is seeking to ramp up interest in its games due to falling public demand. On one hand we get a rather obvious satire of the powerful slowly ramping up the consequences of playing but on the other we get a more nuanced look at those who continue to play the game even when it is so clearly rigged.

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Marion Deprez Is Gorgeous – Mimetic Festival

Marion Deprez Is Gorgeous – Marion Deprez

Showing as part of Mimetic Festival 2014 (17 – 29 November 2014)GORGE1.McHUGH

In reviewing ‘Marion Deprez Is Gorgeous’ there is a rather large elephant in the room. Can one seriously review the show without addressing the matter of the title? It has been written as a preposition rather than a question – which is a bold gesture and leaves no rooms for dissenting opinion – and the result is that Ms Deprez’ act must rest on the implicit assumption that she is, by objective measures, ‘gorgeous’.

GORGE15.McHUGHThe photos that accompany this review mean readers can form their own judgement about Ms Deprez’s looks whilst this reviewer will cloak his opinions behind the very British trait of discretion (which seems entirely appropriate given the extended Gallic riffs that undercut the performance) and look to review the show on its own merits.

The show is an examination of our stereotypical ideas of beauty – we have swans, butterflies and princesses – and how far someone can get on looks rather than talent. The act can appear that it is about to spiral into disaster and we are constantly assured by Ms Deprez that she isn’t actually funny, which – unsurprisingly – doesn’t do much to reassure those in the audience of a comedy show.

This is a high-risk manoeuvre and can lead to an increasingly antagonistic relationship between performer and audience. However it is a seam that has been mined for great riches by comics as varied as Tommy Cooper (Deprez’ acknowledged idol) and Stewart Lee. There is clearly plenty of comic potential to be had from working the unease that people feel when they are not entirely sure whether a show is going off the rails.

However it is important to understand this work in the context of clowning (although I suspect that there is a closer relationship to the Italian buffo and the figures from comic operas than traditional British notions of the clown) and that the comedy derives from pushing against the expectations of the audience

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