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A distinct lack of Werther’s Originals in this dystopian world

Animals – Theatre 503, until 02 May 2015 (tickets)

Emma Adams’ Animals is the latest play to benefit from Theatre 503’s commitment to staging new work by emerging playwrights. Iwpid-wp-1429443050288.jpgt is an admirable philosophy and, judging by the near full house on a Wednesday night for an unsung play, one that appears to be attracting a supportive audience.

For the regular theatre goer it offers a respite from the seasoned polish of restaged classics in central London theatres (that said I am now waiting sixteen months to see Kenneth Branagh in The Entertainer) and provides a welcome opportunity to simply enjoy the process of watching a story being told to you for the first time.

Watching emerging playwrights is akin to entering a lucky dip. You buy a ticket knowing that for the 95 times out of a hundred you leave having watched an average play, eventually you will be in the audience watching this generation’s equivalent of Pinter’s The Birthday Party or Sarah Kane’s Blasted.

Even if the play doesn’t quite hold together, there is still the chance to watch the formation of a new writing talent. This is certainly the case with Emma Adams’ Animals. It is a play that feels heavy with the influences of others and watching it provides an interesting chance to see an individual’s voice beginning to define itself.

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So It Goes – Review

The premise to So It Goes seems unpromising. A sixty minute show about a woman coming to terms with the loss of her father. There are a great number of shows that are taken to the EdinburghSo It Goes Production Photos Fringe Festival with similar sounding descriptions, rather less come back down again with glowing reviews and a full touring schedule.

So It Goes manages to achieve something that is quite rare in British theatre. It engages genuinely with the nature of grief, the paralytic hold that it can have over us, and the way it warps our memories of those we loved and those that are left behind.

We are often not comfortable talking about death so seeing people on stage talk openly about their feelings can seem a little artificial, and the emotion false. Whilst we recognise that theatre is not a complete reflection of reality it still can be hard to reconcile stage reactions to death with the numbness that is felt when you hear a loved one is dead.

Hannah Moss has utilised a high-risk strategy to tell the story. Rather than use words, the whole play is described through the use of tablet whiteboards to write out dialogue. Even writing it down sounds cloyingly pretentious but as soon as Hannah simply writes “I’m not speaking, it’s easier” the purpose of it becomes clear.continues at www.everything-theatre.co.uk

<<You can read the full review on Everything Theatre)

Distant Voices, Still Bloggers

It has been a quiet few weeks for Civilian Theatre as the rigours of work and the first signs of Spring have being jostling theatre for my attention; providing a distraction from the questionable pleasures of spending precious free time sitting in darkened rooms with strangers having a shared experience (in a way distinctly less kinky than that may sound).

What it has done is allow time to catch up on the rest of the blogosphere. As I have mentioned previously the rather wonderful, and supremely energetic, Rebecca at Official Theatre has circled the wagons around #LDNTheatreBloggers and an increasing number of bloggers are gathering around the Twitter campfire

It is quite depressing how talented – and young – most of them are but (deep breath) it’s about collaboration not competition. Although I am sure that the desire to rewatch Theatre of Blood (96% on the Tomatometer people!) is purely coincidental.

This being the Internet there is naturally a blog for every niche interest imaginable and below are just a few of my favourites.

Making money from being brainy

For a long time Matt Trueman has been writing comment and criticism that has been the model for Civilian Theatre’s own output. Quite regularly a review will be uploaded, only to discover that Matt Trueman has written a far more perceptive and challenging article that gets to the heart of matter with half as much pseudo-intellectualism. Read him and weep – no wonder he is actually making proper money from this. The new Michael Billington (with all due respect to the existing Michael Billington). http://matttrueman.co.uk/  

Victoria Sadler, writing at The Huffington Post, is one of these infuriating bloggers who have demonstrated themselves as a master of all trades, jack of none. As articulate and interesting writing about art exhibitions as she is about theatre, if you are looking for another regular weekly columnist then Victoria Sadler’s articles for The Huffington Post a well worth a look-in. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victoria-sadler/

Thinking about theatre

James Waygood – the self-styled Grumpy Gay Critic – is somewhat less churlish in person than his Twitter handle may suggest. Luckily his critical faculties are, if anything, all the more potent as a result and he is always willing to give the plays he watches the write-ups they deserve. If you prefer in-depth commentary about what makes a production work to a 400 word plot synopsis and the casual awarding of 4 stars then Grumpy Gay Critic may be the blog for you. And now with added videos! http://grumpygaycritic.co.uk/

Laura Peatman is part of the aforementioned brigade of young and talented bloggers. However I try to keep my jealously intact and not to hold it against her as we have a tendency to swim in the same waters and Laura is always good value for a refreshing, perceptive and informed take on anything from ancient Greeks onwards. https://laurapeatman.wordpress.com/page/2/

I am sure that neither would thank me for mentioning it but Webcowgirl and There Ought To Be Clowns are relative veterans of the theatre blogging scene. There Ought To Be Clown’s first review dates back to 2003 – Trevor Nunn’s magical production of Anything Goes, which happens to be still the only musical production that Civilian Theatre has been to more than once – whilst Webcowgirl was in full flow by 2006. Early adopters indeed. Both blogs were key to encouraging Civilian Theatre dipping his toes into the murky world of internet blogging. Still the original and still often the best.

There are a number of multi-reviewer sites and these are often a mixed-bag. Views from the Gods is worthy of mention due to its impressive commitment to reviewing plays from the fringes of London’s theatre scene. The array of reviews at Views from the Gods acts as an important reminder that you can barely swing a cat in London without someone labelling it as site-specific theatre and charging £16 a ticket, and they offer a valuable service in telling you whether that would be a good investment of your precious time and money.

…And they just keep coming

There are obviously loads of other great sites. Exeunt is good for pretentious elitism, Everything Theatre is good for bite-sized reviews and A Younger Theatre is good for my developing Dorian Gray fantasies.

As part of the single-blogger army I am always happy to see others confidently carving their own individualistic furrow and so the final three recommends go to Mingled Yarns, The Bardette and Hello Emma Kay.

Happy reading folks.

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As much wonderful women as super men

Man and Superman – Littleton Theatre @ National Theatre, until 19 May 2015 (Tickets – day seats & returns only, NT Live on 14 May 2015)Man_and_Superman_poster_notitle

Judging by reviews it appears difficult to talk about Man and Superman without first beginning by highlighting all the intimidating facts that surround it. So yes, it is three and a half hours of densely packed text, cut-down from closer to five, written by a formidably – and forbiddingly – intelligent committed socialist who straddled late-Victorian/early Edwardian Britain. And yes, back in 1903, it was described as ‘unstageable’.

With that introduction it may come as a surprise that tickets are also as rare as hen’s teeth (day seats and returns only). One suspects that it hasn’t been produced because the public have been crying out for a revival of a play that was last staged at the National two years before this critic had even been born. It is possible that the presence of an actor who can plausibly claim to be an A-lister of both stage and screen may be the cause of ticket scarcity.

Stage appearances by Ralph Fiennes have been limited over the last 15 years; he was last seen as Prospero back in 2011, in what was unfortunately a rather interminable production by Michael Grandage (a sentence I seemed to have repeated more and more in the intervening years), but reminded everyone of his talents with a blistering snippet of Pravda’s Lambert La Roux during the National Theatre’s 50 Years celebration in 2013.

'Man and Superman' Play by Bernard Shaw performed in the Olivier Theatre at the Royal National Theatre, London, UKAnd what a performance it is. This is no stunt casting. No director would be foolish to let an inexperienced actor loose with Jack Tanner. The part is as difficult as they come. It requires the ability to enable a 21st century audience to find common ground with a figure who spends most of the play declaiming grandly about the machinations of women and who, one suspects, would only be happy marrying himself (and, as is the nature of such plots this is, in a way, exactly what happens).

The other difficulty is the sheer challenge of the language. The play runs to over 57,000 words and most of those are Tanner’s. Actors cannot rely on lovingly crafted Elizabethan verse-speaking to help settle the lines in the head, dialogue is akin to the densely packed social commentary of Dickens. When one hears Tanner it is hard not to detect the hectoring tones of Bernard Shaw in a room full of weary brow-beaten gentleman thoroughly bored with being told about the inequities of the Edwardian world. This is a challenging part, getting the wrong tone will lead to the comedy seeming tin-eared, or the moralising too earnest.

Fiennes is quite magnificent in the role. His performance fizzes with an energy that is vital for driving the momentum of a plot that seeks to extend a seemingly traditional comedy of manners into an epic spanning more than 200 minutes. Fiennes energy feels justified by the character – his vitality in keeping with the slightly pompous air of the revolutionary driven by ideology but supported by money.

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Snapshots of harrowing reality

Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre – Arcola Theatre, until 02 April 2015 (ticketsJosef Altin (Photo: Nick Rutter)

That we should be angry about the Roboski massacre should go without saying. Any act in a war that leads to 34 civilians being killed is an act that should lead to outcry and public condemnation. These are statements that it is difficult to disagree with, and it is certainly the viewpoint of Anders Lustgarten – one of the most overtly political playwrights working in a city whose theatre is often criticised for cleaving to closely to middle class sentiments for middle class audiences.

Shrapnel 5 Aslam Percival Husain and Karina Fernandez Photo Nick Rutter.jpgLustgarten should be applauded for his internationalist outlook. He has avoided more obvious events and has focussed on one tragic story that is difficult to shape within our traditional western media narratives about the war on terror. To fully understand the events at Roboski it is necessary to have a reasonable grasp of the history of the Kurdish people and their relationship with the Turkish state. Whilst it perhaps isn’t essential, it would also be useful to be aware of the PKK and the long-battle that the Kurds have had across the middle-east to avoid persecution in their adoptive homelands.

It is quite clear Lustgarten knows what he is talking about, and that he has deeply held beliefs about it. The fact the programme notes he has been arrested by the Turkish secret police provides certain validity to the idea that in writing this play he has been speaking truth to power.

Performances were excellent from across the ensemble cast and weighted with a powerful emotional charge; Aslam Percival Husain and Karina Fernandez in their roles as Kurdish villagers describing the fates that have befallen their kith and kin displayed an almost unwatchable dignity and honour in the face of tragedy.

They were supported by staging that made a striking contrast between the flashy, technological toys of those with the political, military and financial might and a sparseness that fit with desolate mountain lands that the Kurdish people called their home.

<Continue to full review>>

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Get your fix of immersive theatre and be hooked

Trainspotting – In Your Face Theatre @ King’s Head Theatre, until 11 April 2015 (tickets)

Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting has proved to be a surprisingly durable and versatile work. In its original incarnation as a novel it stands comparison with the neglected masterpiece Last Exit To Gavin Ross as Mark Renton (credit: Christopher Tribble)Brooklyn, and it does so because Welsh matches Hubert Selby Jr’s ability to capture the vernacular of the community it speaks for so from amidst the grotesque surrealism of the imagary a harrowing realism emerges.

Its vitality has made it the perfect fodder for stage and screen. With Danny Boyle at the helm, the film exploded off the screen, underpinned by a pulsating soundtrack and electric performances that encapsulated hedonistic spirit of people that knew change was in the air after almost two decades of Conservative rule.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, and certainly appropriately, In Your Face’s production began life at the Edinburgh Festival and the constraints of performing there might explain the 65 minute running time, which is really only just enough time to do justice to the world Welsh created. However Harry Gibson has done an exemplary job in adapting Trainspotting.

Rather than force the whole plot into an hour, Gibson has tightly focused the work around Renton’s journey towards ditching the skag. Other characters interweave in this story and the main beneficiary is in lifting Tommy Laurence so he becomes a central character; in this world, where scales play such a critical role, there must always be balance and so with Renton’s emancipation must come Tommy’s enslavement.

Sickboy (Neil Pendlenton) and Renton (Credit: Christopher Tribble)Fans of the film may complain that Begbie is sidelined by these changes but in this immersive staging a little of Chris Dennis’ Begbie goes an awfully long way. It is hard to believe that anyone could get close to Robert Carlyle’s psychopathic creation but Dennis has an added advantage – audience members at which to channel his malice. Even understanding the rules and structure of theatre there were moments when Begbie broke the fourth wall and became a terrifyingly real manifestation in a manner Boyle’s film could never have achieved.

In Your Face have produced an immersive experience that puts to shame many theatre companies working in a similar field; they have not found it necessary to scope out abandoned factories, railway tunnels or old department stores to create their world, rather they have transformed the King’s Head into the down-at-heel world of early 90’s Leith and trusted in their ability to take the audience with them.

We know we are in a theatre and the set is just a representation of a location – we don’t need elaborate sensory experiences to make us believe we are somewhere else, that is what we use our imaginations for – but from the moment we enter to a glowstick-raving cast gurning maniacally to Born Slippy.Nuxx, Ebenezer Goode and Right on Time through to the heartbreaking candlelit ending we are completely immersed in the world they have created.

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