2013: The facts and figures

As 2013 moves towards its conclusion, Civilian Theatre has delved into the back of the cupboard for some last little snippets for the year. There was no intention to see quite so many plays last year – and certainly not to end up writing up quite so many – it just ended up working out that way. It is only when there is time to sit back and reflect does one begin to find the surprising nature of what does/doesn’t make a post popular, and the fact that people may come from all over the world to read them. It was surprising to discover that Shakespeare made up only 17% of the plays that I saw this year – and only just holds off musicals (although Kiss Me, Kate is an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew so it is 50:50). I also had to check that over a 1/3 of plays were new works, as these always seem as if they pass Civilian Theatre by. Less surprising but slightly depressing is that only six could be claimed to be pretty much entirely original texts.

47: Plays Seen      

38: Plays Reviewed

This includes:
8 Shakespeare Plays (17%)
7 Musicals (15%) + 1 Opera
17 were new works (36%), of which 6 were not based in existing literature or historical events (13%)
4 were in a foreign language (8%)


Most popular posts of 2013

1. Peter and Alice

Judy Dench, arguably one of the greatest female actors Britain has produced, and Ben Wishaw, spellbinding in the BBC’s Richard II, joining forces to take on the real-life counterparts of two of literature’s most enduring and imaginative childhood creations. It should have been perfect. It wasn’t.

2. Sweeny Todd / WAG: The Musical

Proving once again that bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, and Civilian Theatre’s first experience of having a review filleted for *ahem* unrepresentative quotes. WAG: The Musical is the unwanted gift that keeps on giving.

3. Mojo

Ben Wishaw (again), Rupert Grint, Colin Morgan, That guy off Downton Abbey, Daniel Mays (something for the theatre fans). I cannot guess why this made it into the top 3. I did also learn not to underestimate the twitter power of Colin Morgan fans.


Top 10 Countries by Visitors (thanks guys!)

  1. United Kingdom
  2. United States
  3. Australia
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Germany
  7. Russian Federation
  8. Belgium
  9. Republic of Korea
  10. Ireland
  • Civilian Theatre was visited by people from 87 countries in 2013.  This represents 45% of all countries recognised by the United Nations.
  • However 20 countries only visited a single time. This includes China, which has an estimated population of 1.35 billion. So clearly room for improvement there.
  • Other countries with just a single visit include the Democratic Republic of Congo,  Kazakhstan and Guatemala,

The worldwide reach of Civilian Theatre

Visitors 2013

The 2013 playlist

  1. The El Train – Hoxton Hall, December
  2. The Shape of Things – Arcola Theatre, December
  3. Henry V – Noel Coward Theatre, November
  4. The Scottsboro Boys – Young Vic, November
  5. Passing By – Tristan Bates Theatre, November
  6. Mojo – Harold Pinter Theatre, October
  7. The Events – Maria Room @ Young Vic, October
  8. Hamlet de los Andes – The Barbican Pit, October
  9. The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Duchess Theatre, September
  10. Edward II – National Theatre, September
  11. Fleabag – DryWrite @ Soho Theatre, September
  12. The Secret Agent – Theatre O @ the Young Vic, September
  13. All’s Well That Ends Well – Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, August
  14. The Same Deep Water As Me – Donmar Warehouse, August
  15. Jekyll & Hyde – Red Shift & Flipping the Bird @ Maltings Art Centre, July
  16. Where the White Stops – ANTLER @ Battersea Arts Centre, July
  17. Circle Mirror Transformation – Royal Court @ Rose Lipman Community Centre, July
  18. Death in Venice – English National Opera @ Coliseum, June
  19. Mission Drift – The Shed @ National Theatre, June
  20. The Cripple of Inishmaan – Noel Coward Theatre, June
  21. Trash Cuisine – Belarus Free Theatre @ Young Vic, June
  22. Merrily We Roll Along – Harold Pinter Theatre, May
  23. Public Enemy – Young Vic Theatre, May
  24. Orpheus – Little Bulb Theatre @ Battersea Arts Centre, May
  25. Fraulein Julie – Barbican, April
  26. Macbeth – Trafalgar Studios, April
  27. Ubu Roi – Cheek by Jowl @ the Barbican, April
  28. Gibraltar – Arcola Theatre, March
  29. This House – National Theatre, March
  30. Peter and Alice – Noel Coward Theatre, March
  31. Watt – Gate Theatre Dublin @ the Barbican, March
  32. Mydidae – Trafalgar Studios, March
  33. In The Beginning Was The End – dreamthinkspeak @ National Theatre, February
  34. Rhinoceros – Théâtre de la Ville–Paris @ the Barbican, February
  35. Old Times – Harold Pinter Theatre, January
  36. Julius Caesar – Donmar Warehouse, January
  37. The human being’s guide to not being a dick about religion – Matt Thomas at the Canal Cafe Theatre, January
  38. Kiss Me, Kate – The Old Vic, January

Not reviewed (at least not yet)

  1. American Psycho – Almeida Theatre
  2. Richard II – Barbican
  3. Coriolanus – Donmar Warehouse
  4. Othello – Olivier @ National Theatre
  5. Candide – The Swan @ Royal Shakespeare Company
  6. Metamorphosis – Lyric Hammersmith
  7. Matilda: The Musical – Cambridge Theatre
  8. The Hot House – Trafalgar Studios
  9. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – Wimbledon Theatre

For all the 2013 reviews click here

Peter and Alice and a whole lack of wonder

Peter and Alice – Noel Coward Theatre, until 01 June 2013

It all works so well on paper: Michael Grandage and Christopher Oram as director and set designer; John Logan behind the script; Ben Wishaw and Dame Judi Dench heading the cast. If any more of a hook was needed to guarantee an audience, the plot concerns Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland (or at least their real-life inspirations).

What could possibly go wrong?Peter and Alice - Ben Wishaw and Judi Dench

In some ways very little.

The major problem is that very little goes right.

For the audience, Peter and Alice is an almost pitch-perfect study in the average, the mediocre, the reassuringly dull. No doubt the brigades that travel on mass from the Home Counties, that can afford to sit in the stalls, that buy a programme, a drink and an ice-cream, that keep the West End at near maximum-capacity and that are, without doubt, vital to the on-going vitality of the London theatre scene, are going to be satisfied.

However Charles Dodson and J.M Barrie would be appalled. Not necessarily by the character assassinations perpetrated on them by Logan, in scenes that have a loose connection to the truth, but certainly by the sheer lack of imagination displayed by everyone involved in the production. Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are two of the finest examples of the flexibility of the adult mind; the sheer imaginative range of Carroll’s wordplay and of Barrie’s adventuring is a joy that has not receded in over one hundred years.

Peter and Alice fails to capture one tenth of this joy, this anarchic free-spiritedness, in one hundred minutes.

Reading the description of Barrie’s original production of Peter and Wendy one learns that Tinkerbell was created by the expedient use of a mirror to reflect a light onto the stage so that it would seem to dart and fly. This illusion, using the simplest mechanism imaginable, holds more wonder than the entire po-faced philosophising of Logan’s script.

To begin on the positives; Christopher Oram’s set is a delight. Opening on a musty office, it unfolds to a reveal the reassuringly sight of a chequer-board set and instantly recognisable Tenniel-inspired drawings of familiar characters. Given Peter Pan’s origins on stage it was a nice touch to reflect this in the use of classic flats that drop from the sky and retain a resolute two-dimensionality that highlights the artifice that lies behind theatre, and that means it will only ever be a simulacrum of reality.

Ben Wishaw and Judi Dench are perfectly adequate, and one hopes that, given this was a preview, there is a certain vitality that is still to come as they feel their way into the roles. Dench has a commanding presence that cannot help but be transferred to her characters – it is hard to imagine her playing a particularly vulnerable part. Her Liddell has developed a cast-iron exterior to the pressures of the world, and this contrasts well with Wishaw’s more vulnerable Peter Davies, a man who has not come to terms with the world as it is and the man who he will always be.

<<Continue to full review>>

Masterful Richard II proves the BBC does ‘do’ Shakespeare

Richard II – BBC2 and BBC HD, until late July 2012

Settling into watching Richard II in glorious HD on the BBC last night it was difficult to ignore the Beeb’s previous ill-fated attempts to engage with ‘the Bard’. Whilst Civilian Theatre has a better opinion than most of the BBC’s attempt to film all the Shakespeare plays; where else could we see an Othello with Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins as the leads, or a young Helen Mirren playing Rosalind in As You Like It and Imogen in Cymbeline – it is still hard to avoid the criticisms of wobbly sets and at times really duff stage-to-screen acting.

However the BBC’s reputation has been pulled significantly out of the mire after their last two adaptations of acclaimed stage productions – Tennant’s Hamlet and Stewart’s Macbeth- received sensitive transitions. Goold’s Macbeth in particular had a visual style that was magnificently assured given his background as a stage director. So hearing that he had been tasked with opening proceedings with Richard II did a lot to calm the nerves.

This calm was only reinforced by the sweeping shot across Richard II’s court; Ben Wishaw as Richard; Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt; Rory Kinnear as his son, Bolingbroke; the two David’s – Suchet and Morrisey – as father and son of York; and James Purefroy, steaming under armour as Mowbray. It goes without saying that once such accomplished actors are placed in position then there is little left to do but let them unfurl Shakespeare’s glorious language.

Richard II, compared to the rest of the history plays, is difficult. It has less of the cartoonish villain that makes Richard III such a crowd-pleaser; it lacks a comic core of Falstaff or the jingoism of Henry V. It is a wordy play about a poor king and bitter nobles. To make it worse Shakespeare, as a stylistic tic, vastly increases the amount of rhyming verse. For those untrained in plays of the era the language is often perceived to be a barrier – and Richard II does risk encapsulating everything that people think they dislike about Shakespeare – it is difficult, unnatural and can be hard to follow.

Goold and the cast respond to this challenge magnificently. For perhaps the first time we see that TV could have the edge of stage productions in some aspects. The history plays, far more than the tragedies and comedies, are complex, difficult and rely on a certain level of prior-knowledge that Shakespeare contemporaries would have had but that current audiences, for the most part, lack.

The ability to zoom-in, jump-cut and provide proper location filming – sweeping landscapes and equisite interiors that provide a true sense of time and place – thus provides an essential element in driving the plot. No longer must we scan the faces of a court scene to decide who Richard is castigating, the camera does this for us. Some may cry foul but this is both good TV – no-one needs completely static shots – and also good for accessibility. It is a period location but that does not mean that modern stylistic devices shouldn’t be used.

Goold deserves a huge amount of credit. This, and his Macbeth, were excellent adaptations that demonstrated he has a natural eye for balance and an assured touch. He may well work alongside a mighty fine cinematographer but having seen a number of his plays staged, it is clear that he has an innate understanding of composition and brings to the theatre filmic elements and here he proves he can work his artistry in reverse.


Watch out George R. R. Martin, Shakespeare’s coming

The BBC certainly seem to have taken a leaf out of HBO’s book with their new preview trailer for their Shakespeare Unlocked series. Right down to the title ‘The Hollow Crown’ – a fabulously fantasy touch – they have gone out of their way to draw on the huge water-cooler success of Game of Thrones.

With season 2 drawing to a close on Sky Atlantic, it seems like the perfect opportunity to launch The Hollow Crown – four successive history plays from Richard II through to Henry V. The cast looks suitably stellar as every high-profile actor going has put themselves forward for some high profile thesping. The limited casting released on the BBC Website hints at the quality – Rory Kinnear, Tom Hiddlestone, Ben Wishaw and the mighty Patrick Stewart (getting the rights to one of Shakespeare’s most well known speeches in ‘this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle…’). 

And the trailer? Well isn’t this just mouthwatering.