*Pensively considering a future beyond blogging*

As some of regular followers to the blog have noticed, there has been a distinct lack of updates over the last few weeks. It is true that Civilian Theatre rarely summons up much seasonal good cheer for Christmas-themed theatrical offerings, and with loathsome pieces of soulless corporatisation like Elf: The Musical on offer – so clearly produced with the singular purpose of extracting hard-earned wages from stressed-out parents – it is hard not to avoid a certain Grinch-like sensation.

However from a personal perspective, this lack of wonder is part of a wider malaise that has been affecting the blog – and my theatre going – for a few months now. It is the peril of any critic that the initial wide-eyed enthusiasm and joie de vivre may eventually drain away leaving the hapless blogger a shrivelled up husk of jaded cynicism. By year-end, I’ll have seen almost 90 shows, and approaching 300 since starting the blog. For some this may seem like small fry, but it is worth remembering that 94% of people go less than 10 times, and 78% see less than 4 shows a year (Source).

I often go with friends for whom theatre is a rare treat, and I am continually struck by just how more positive they are about what we watch. For them they still see the endless possibilities of what theatre can be; how it can transport you emotionally, make you believe a bare stage is a bustling street scene or amaze you with some live technical effect. For me, too often I am thinking back to when I have seen something similar, or done better.

The final curtain came watching the wonderful Kneehigh for the first time in a decade, remembering the importance of The Red Shoes in my theatrical education, and watching a hall full of teenagers, in rapt silence, going through exactly the same process of discovering the possibility of theatre. At that moment I knew I could never go back to regular blogging again.

Creating and running Civilian Theatre has been absolutely brilliant, and it has achieved pretty much everything I wanted it to be. I’m constantly surprised that people have engaged with my long rambling sub-academia theorising in an age where ‘listicles’ is both a word, and a genuine way that people are encouraged to write. I’ve found it heartening that enthusiastically, long-winded essays that are happy to go merrily disappear down tangentially-related rabbit-holes are something that can survive on the internet.


“After all, tomorrow is another day.” – I’m so I’ve generated an excuse to post this photo. Credit: Roger Bool

However it is time to say goodbye, step away and go back to enjoying theatre purely as an audience-member. The blogging world has exploded in the last couple of years and I know that there are many better writers than me who I am going to enjoy reading and engaging. (Yes, sorry folks, I haven’t quite laid up by mouse and shield, a life of being a keyboard warrior awaits).

And in an incredibly self-indulgent way, I am going to thank a few people. First and foremost is the rather wonderful Rebecca Felgate who, before fleeing to the safety of maple sugar and snow, was primarily responsible for bringing together a disparate band of introvert types who liked nothing better than to sit in the dark and go home to furtively bash away at keyboards, and forcing them to be sociable. Find out more about how to be involved at London Theatre Bloggers.

Thanks to WebCowgirl and There Ought To Be Clowns. In the relatively short history of theatre blogging, I hope they don’t mind me calling them veterans, but their blogs inspired me to get started and they are still going strong today.

I have enjoyed reading, and sharing the occasional press night mutual appreciation, with the (not very) Grumpy Gay Critic, Laura at (the original and best!) The Play’s The Thing, Shona at View from the Gods and Emma at Hello Emma Kay. Go on, have a read!

A shout out to the press agents who recognise and value what bloggers can add to the sort of theatre companies who aren’t going to get blanket companies across the mainstream media. Kevin Wilson and Chris Hislop consistently support and champion online voices, even when reviews are sometimes scathingly critical of what’s on show. Hopefully others will follow your example.

And finally a special mention to Chloe Nelkin (and not forgetting in this festive period, the importance of her regular, rotating troop of Angels!), who always provides great post-show chat and is responsible for getting me to see some absolutely brilliant plays. Thank you, and I’ll make it to the office one day, I promise…

Well, that about wraps things up. It’s been as self-indulgent as a speech at the Olivier Awards. And all that remains is to find some suitable Shakespeare to end with (well, who else could it possibly have been):

Goodbye – and if you wonder what becomes of Civilian Theatre –

“Think not on him till to-morrow. I’ll devise thee brave punishments for him. Strike up, pipers!”


Spear Carrier Number 1

Yes, in my time I’ve been on the other side of the divide. Spot spear-carrier no. 1. somewhere in the mix.




Talking Theatre – Mixed opinions on updating an ancient classic.

Time for another installation of the (As Yet Unnamed) London Theatre Podcast. Having previously contributed to podcasts on Oresteia and Bakkhai, I was particularly looking forward to adding my opinions to Medea – the final of Rupert Goold’s trilogy of ancient Greek tragedies that has formed the spine of an impressive Almeida season. Rachel Cusk’s updating of Euripides’ Medea has divided audiences and critics, and the podcast proves no different. If you have read my review then you know which camp I fall into but it is always instructive to hear the views of others – and whilst I don’t agree, I admit to understand where they are coming from.
You can hear my further reflections, and those of my trusty companions on the podcast – brought to the public as ever by Tim Watson, with contributions from Gareth James, Phil from the West End Whingers, JohnnyFox and myself. The full bill contains reviews of Medea, Showstopper! The Improved Musical, and Teddy Ferrera.
You can listen here: As Yet Unnamed London Theatre Podcast 
Enjoy (and, as always, thoughts and feedback are welcome)

A tribute to a treasure

Looking for Lansbury – St James Street Theatre, until 17 October 2015 (Future dates click here)Looking for Lansbury 400x400

The target audience for Looking for Lansbury may be one that is already quite well-versed in the life of its subject. However if Fiona-Jane Weston’s one-woman show exploring the life of Angela Lansbury provides little in the way of revelation (even to a novice Lansburyian), it does a creditable job in avoiding falling into sugary hagiography.

Weston pitches her all-singing, some-dancing, variety show part way between biographical lecture and conversational cabaret. It starts off with a strong statement of intent as Weston sets out her case but as Lansbury’s career as a leading light of the stage begins to take off it increasingly resembles a procession of Broadway belters interspersed with conversational snippets.

The opening provides a backstory that takes in Angela’s grandfather, George Lansbury (former Labour Party leader) and his role as a social reformer. We get a potted history of her English upbringing before being whisked across the Atlantic, and into her remarkable early successes in film – two Oscar nominations in her first two roles (Gaslight and The Picture of Dorian Gray) – before charting her life on stage and screen.

A slight problem is that Lansbury is an intensely private individual; there is little in the public domain to draw on and much content is given by way of inference or supposition. The snippets we do get, such as a Hollywood magazine article on her first husband Richard Cromwell, are uncomfortably salacious for a show that seems to wish to avoid the tittle-tattle of unauthorized biography.

<<Continue to full review>>

Myth, masculinity and modernity

Song of Riots – Awake Projects @ Battersea Arts Centre, until 17 October 2015 (tickets – limited availability)

It may act as a sad indictment of the limited attention span of the modern news cycle but the 2011 London Riots feel like they belong to a different era. People talk about the Poll Tax Riots but we seem to collectively forget that just four years ago large parts of London were filled with anger, frustration and nameless faces howling their protest against the body politic. Deprivation and opportunity came together in a furious explosion of pent-up energy. London burned. Not metaphorically but actually. Shops, homes and even our cultural treasures turned to ash (Back catalogues from Rough Trade, Warp and Ninja Tunes, alongside Nick Park original figures, can be countered among those lost to the destruction).

The story has been told, but not well and not often. Song of Riots gives us a version that is relevant and theatrical without feeling didactic. It is not here to preach, it is not here to understand. It tells stories unrelated to the riots but intrinsically understands the root causes. It is of life now but it tells a timeless tale.

It hones in on the idea of frustrated masculinity. In the more deprived areas of inner-London we have a generation of young men growing up without the job opportunities afforded to their parents. In London there are always hundreds of jobs, but they are not for the unskilled and under-educated. Young men live in a consumerist society in one of the wealthiest cities in the world and yet their existence goes unnoticed and unspoken.

Lucy Maycock has focused on the link between folk myth and modern life, and weaves the relatively unknown Grimm Brothers tale of Iron Hans into an exploration of what it is to become a man in London. It is co-directed with Chrisopher Sivertsen (Song of the Goat – and responsible for the remarkable Songs of Lear), and between them having created a wonderfully dynamic work that fuses dance, live music and storytelling.

<<Continue to full review>>

Kramer vs Kramer for the ancient Greek generation

Medea – Almeida Theatre, until 14 November 2015 (tickets)

Under Rupert Goold’s unusually restrained direction, the Almeida Greeks season closes with Rachel Cusk’s brutally open updating of perhaps the most intriguingly ambiguous of ancient tragedies, Medea. It is a production teetering on the edge of brilliance and one that leaves no doubt that there are few stage actors who can match Kate Fleetwood’s ability to humanise the most complex of characters.

Watching Medea, and reflecting on Oresteia and Bakkhai, the carefully chosen nature of the three plays becomes apparent. In the ancient world, the personal, political and religious were fundamentally intertwined but the strength of Goold’s season has been to disentangle these threads so as to give them a clearer contemporary relevance. The season opened with a stunning reinvention of Oresteia – a political tragedy in so much as it was a tragedy of events, where a forced decision leads to an endless echo chamber of destruction. This was followed by Bakkhai, where tragedy is orchestrated by a capricious and vengeful god.

Medea is a problematic play because for all its greatness, it has an almost unresolvable contradiction at its core – as much as we can see Medea as a wronged figure, the act of filicide can never be seen as justifiable to a modern audience. This was precisely where last year’s version with Helen McCrory at the National, based on a Ben Power translation, became unstuck as it updated the setting without finding a way to modernise the plot.

0332798d-e0e7-41b1-af41-9414fbd8949b-680x365_cTo get around this problem Cusk has substantially reworked the play to the extent that a person could watch this production and not realise that it is taken from an ancient Greek play. Purists may decry the lack of poetry and question whether this is can truly be called Euripides’ play given the narrative reworking that takes place. This should be countered by the fact that it arrives with the note that it is a new version by Rachel Cusk, and that the myths have always been adapted to meet the needs of the time.

Where Goold and Cusk succeed is to entirely reimagine the play. It is not a tragedy brought about by the divine, or by individuals caught up in grand events. It is a tragedy found in the domesticity of everyday life. Cusk’s interpretation thrusts the play into the modern world. The time of gods has passed and instead we live in a world of men (and the use of the word ‘men’ is entirely intentional).

Medea has become a domestic tragedy about family breakdown. It is a snarling, vituperative text that sets Jason against Medea, with the children a battleground and reputations as weapons. Anger courses through the play, and confrontations between the two are ferocious all-out assaults that have a dangerous, spiteful venom rarely captured on the stage.

<<Continue to full review>>
A House Repeated Landscape promo

Turn to page 235. You encounter an angry goblin. Do you…

A House Repeated – Battersea Arts Centre, until 24 0ctober 2015 (tickets)

The first thing to note about A House Repeated is that it really shouldn’t be considered as theatre. Rather than this being intended as a criticism, it is something that should be taken as fact. The description on the Battersea Arts Centre website is of a performance-game, and for many this will be the reality.

Depending on your childhood reference points, it may remind you of choose-you-own adventures, point+click computer games, or even Dungeon and Dragons. Each of these is a kind of game, but they are also interactive experiences based around the idea that the player can create their own story (even if it is within prescribed limits).

Telling stories predates almost all other art-forms. It strips human imagination back to its most primitive level, and creates an intimate bond between teller and listener. The experience is quite unlike the standard theatrical experience. It encourages a less passive engagement. There are no visual stimuli to rely on, and we are constantly forced to respond to the text to keep the story alive in our minds.

Split into two groups and following similar, but slightly divergent, narratives, it creates a sense of camaraderie within your team and friendly competition against the other. The normal rules of theatre do not apply. Talking as a team is encouraged, and as the evening continues it is easy to find yourself in conversation with a stranger entirely outside of even these the loose boundaries. It becomes a social event that normal staging conventions could never hope to achieve.

<<Continue to full review>>