An assault on the ears: Reviews in handy podcast format

It was probably inevitable that after spending three years forcing diligent readers to consume my witterings through their eyeballs, I would look to find an even easier way to force my views upon people. Handily the perfect opportunity has arrived and all Civilian Theatre had to do was show up.

Earlier this month I went to see the excellent Oresteia at the Almeida Theatre. It is the first part of Rupert Goold’s ‘Almeida Greeks’ season, which will also include The Bakkhai (with Ben Whishaw) and Medea (with Kate Fleetwood). Aeschylus’ tragic trilogy of plays concerning the curse of the House of Atreus has been condensed into one super-play lasting 3hr40min. The time may put a lot of people off, but luckily the podcast is a mere 10min – a much easier proposition.

Civilian Theatre will be writing a more detailed article in due course on Oresteia, but until then you can fix your lugholes on this:

As Yet Unnamed Theatre Podcast (either listen to the whole thing, or the review of Oresteia is about 14min in).

Also taking part was Tim Watson (Host and http://www.londontheatregoer.com),  Phil from the West End Whingers (http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com), Gareth James, (http://garethjames.wordpress.com/), Julie Raby (http://julieraby.com/).

Enjoy (and, as always, thoughts and feedback are welcome)

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Whose line was it anyway? A Tim Crouch theatrical experience

An Oak Tree – Temporary Space @ National Theatre, until 15 July 2015 (Tickets)tim-crouch-97210

Whether you would enjoy An Oak Tree might be best based on the response you’d give on learning that the play is named after a Michael Craig-Martin artwork in which an artist asks the viewer to suppose a glass of water has become a tree, and that Crouch is someone who described theatre as ‘a conceptual artform. It doesn’t need sets, costumes and props, but exists inside an audience’s head’.

There will be many who find the 70-min play – where Crouch performs opposite an actor who he meets an hour before and arrives on stage not having seen the script, or knowing anything about the play – exactly the kind of pretentious garbage that justifies the swingeing cuts currently being delivered to the Arts Council. However those who see in theatre a medium naturally open to the world of almost infinite possibility will surely be invigorated by this revival of an early work from one of the most formally inventive writers of the 21st century.

In recent years we have seen the flowering of a new generation of playwrights, with few ties to the in-yer-face dramatists of the 1990s. Nick Payne, Lucy Prebble and Lucy Kirkwood have burst onto the scene with superbly delicate plays that balance strong writing with inventive design and narrative trickery. Yet for all their skill none have come close to Crouch’s assault on the nature of theatre.

Coming in under the radar, Adler & Gibb – his most high profile play to date – was a shock to the system and a welcome reminder that there are still people willing to use theatre as a means to interrogate itself. It was infuriating, brilliant and radical. Exactly what theatre ought to be.

<Continue to full review>

 

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Snobbish champagne socialites at the Old Vic

High Society – Old Vic Theatre, until 22 August 2015 (Tickets)wpid-wp-1434876973039.jpg

After a decade at the helm, High Society marks Kevin Spacey’s last show in charge of the Old Vic. If Clarence Darrow was a – not unwarranted – gift from Spacey to himself, a much deserved lap of honour that indulged his love of great character parts and allowed the audience to wallow in the sheer magnetism of the man, then High Society is a chance to give the crowds a little sparkle and razzmatazz as he heads out the door.

In a fortuitous piece of scheduling, I headed to the Old Vic just days after seeing a Berlin & Hart musical (Face the Music) staged splendidly in a tiny theatre pub in east London. To watch both in such close proximity only reinforced the gigantic financial disparities in the theatre world. It is clearly evident on the stage, where Maria Friedman (Merrily We Roll Along) deploys pretty much every available bell and whistle to make the musical in-the-round, and also in the murky world of ticket prices – £10 for High Society, £18 for Face The Music – where corporate sponsorship enables incredible cheap tickets in the face of a steep production budget.

As you are sitting in the baking hot auditorium waiting for the second half to start, it is likely you will be thinking that even £10 seemed a little steep. The first half of High Society is a real mish-mash. It suffers from problems everywhere you look; the story takes time to get going as it labours under a endless series of characters being introduced only to be whisked off in search of a plot device. There is a real absence of decent songs and routines before the interval, whilst some of the vocal talent on display is rather uneven. The only exception is Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a lovely little number that sees Porter’s lyrical wit matched with fun choreography and energetic performances from Jamie Parker and Katherine Pearson.

Then the lights go down, the double bass begins to play and 12 minutes later Nathan M Wright’s superbly choreographed Let’s Misbehave has transformed the evening. It is a fantastic set-piece and one of those glorious numbers that seems as if it will go on and on for the rest of the night. Just as it hits a peak, it will relax before coming back even more impressively with a new routine. This is one of few numbers where the choreography is truly at a West End standard. It even had someone tap-dancing on the top of a piano.

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Jade Anouka in Chef @ Soho Theatre

A chef with a tongue as a sharp as a knife

Chef – Soho Theatre, until 04 July 2015 (Tickets)wpid-wp-1434742428681.jpg

There are few things more satisfying to a regular theatre goer than watching an actor emerge into the spotlight. Go and see enough plays and you soon realise that the same familiar faces keep on cropping up. The personal nature of the theatre – the intimacy of the shared space giving a sense of an assumed connection between audience and actor – can lead to a greater sense of investment and emotional connectivity with the actor than you find in film. Seeing actors like Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Mydidae and Fleabag) or Rudi Dharmalingham (The Events and Oresteia) develop has been the biggest privilege of writing this theatre blog over the last 4 years.

To that list it is safe to add the considerable talents of Jade Anouka (Henry IV and The Vote); currently at Soho Theatre with Sabrina Mahfouz’s Fringe First-award winning Chef. A one-woman show, Chef gives Anouka free range to showcase the considerable skills and highly kinetic performance style that was so captivating as a completely atypical Hotspur in Phyllidia Lloyd’s radical and brilliant Henry IV.

Jade Anouka in Chef @ Soho TheatreAs a reviewer there is a lot of trepidation in viewing a one-person show. It needs an exceptionally high level of writing and acting talent in order to keep an audience from start to finish. Without any actors to bounce lines off there is a risk that the show will soon become one-note and tonally flat. A poor script can sometimes be hidden by action between characters but it dies on the mouth of even a talented actor, whilst a poor actor trying to deliver a strong script is one of the more painful theatrical experiences.

Sabrina Mahfouz is a recipient of a Sky Arts Scholarship Award for Poetry, and this background may be what grounds the play in the rhythms and structures of performance poetry. Whilst clearly a play, it feels highly sensitive to the flow of language, and is at times more interested in the beauty of language than capturing the naturalism of delivery.

It is unlikely that anyone would say “I’d never been in love / but I decided that I’d know when I was / because the man would remind of the way/ seagulls glide out of stalactite clouds, / suddenly, / smoothly, / that’s how he’d find me” but within the show – delivered after describing how she had left her estate and joined her dad on a fishing boat – it is given the dreamy lyrical wonder of someone who has just begun to realise the limitations of her world.

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Small is beautiful in first-class fringe revival

Face The Music – All Star Productions @ Ye Olde Rose and Crown, until 03 July 2015 (tickets)

Sometimes, through no fault of their own, theatres are so indelibly linked with a traumatic experience that all plays there become tarred by association. Three years ago I sat in a sweltering black box theatre above the Rose and Crown and watched WAG: The Musical – a show so terrible it effectively caused me to avoidwpid-wp-1434282633307.jpg my local Walthamstow-based theatre ever since.

During that time All Star Productions have continued to develop their reputation as purveyors of solid fringe productions of near forgotten musicals. Having seen a production of Howard Goodall’s Girlfriends that showed the limitations of the venue alongside the strength of the performances, the team had rather fallen off my radar during to the horror of the singing footballers’ wives.

However whispers across the blogging sphere in the intervening years had led me to believe All Star Productions had been going from strength to strength, and earlier this year they scored a West End transfer when Superman: The Musical made it to the Leicester Square theatre. So when an unexpected, but wholly welcomed, invitation to accompany View From The Gods to the depths of E17 to watch an Irving Berlin & Moss Hart musical that I had not previously heard of, Civilian Theatre finally felt it was time to seek closure on the past.

All Star Productions should be lauded for their dedication for restaging the unknown and the forgotten. I would imagine it is a rather canny financial position as well – one would think the staging rights to an Irving Berlin musical not performed for 70 years are rather less than for Anything Goes. It also doesn’t come weighted with expectation and if it proves to be a success then you may find yourself – well if not Cameron Mackintosh rich – then at least as rich as Croesus.

Face The Music has the distinction of being the first collaboration between Berlin & Hart and is the first professional UK staging of the show.  These facts make the show worthy of interest but are certainly not enough to praise it. And the potential downside of All Star Productions dedication is obvious – there may well be good reasons why a musical has sat on the shelf for 70 years.

While it may lack the absolute belters that can be found in the best works of both Berlin & Hart, there are still some lovely tunes in here. If You Believe closes the first half and is a thumping, toe-tapping cod-evangelical feel that musical devotees will find has distinct echoes of Blow, Gabriel, Blow, that wonderful number which kicks-off the second half of Anything Goes. Equally songs like Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee, My Beautiful Rhinestone Cowboy and Manhattan Madness are not ground-breaking numbers but they do tend to be quite delightful (or given who we are talking about, possibly it is in fact de-lovely).

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Scotch & Soda leaves you in high spirits

Scotch & Soda feat. The Crusty Suitcase Band – Spiegeltent @ London Wonderground, until 02 August 2015 (tickets)

Three years after launching with their immediately identifiable brand of well-financed, 12a-rated, corporately-sponsored debauchery aimed squarely at a target market of well-heeled financiers from Clapham and people who consider reading 50 Shades of Grey on the bus the height of risqué behaviour, London Wonderground has begun to feel as much a Thames-side institution as the statue people who so bafflingly thrill tourists with the amazing ability to stand still.

Yet until now Civilian Theatre has never made the trip across the river to experience the famous Spiegeltent and its carnival of delights and vigilant readers may have noticed the faint whiff of cynicism rising from the above paragraph. I should make clear this is in no way is aimed at the performers – Scotch & Soda, or any of those taking part this summer. Having seen some of the acts perform elsewhere, the talent is not to be doubted.

Scotch and Soda. Credit Sean Young Photography (4)No, my main issue with the London Wonderground experience is struggling to avoid the chuckling charlies braying their stock portfolios at one another as they think nothing of throwing down another £7 on a glass of Pimms, or forking out £10 for a souvenir programme (7 pages of high gloss photos). This is not a show for those looking to manage their budgets. A family of four would be hard pressed to be spending less than £120 for a show that lasts 70 minutes (and that assumes calls for ice creams, cokes or glasses of wine are resisted).

All that said, Scotch & Soda is a highly entertaining show. The Australian troupe is a mixture of skilled circus performers and fantastically enjoyable horn and drum infused jazz. Their style is perhaps inspired by the idea of early 20th century touring circuses – a hipster meets hillbilly confection where moustaches meet muscles, where a jug-band meets a classically trained double-bassist.

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Watch a little video courtesy of our friends at Official Theatre