Something for the weekend sir?

Not sure what to do over the Bank Holiday? The idea of wall-to-wall sport proving too much to bare? Well here are a couple of suggestions for things to go and see discover some theatre that you never even knew existed.

ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS

Who? James Cordon returns to the stage at the National. Last seen on stage in Alan Bennett’s phenomenally successful The History Boys playing a schoolboy, subsequently seen practically everywhere else. His omnipresence has meant that he has been known to appear in dreams, flashbacks and in the corner of your eye at tube stations.
What? One Man, Two Guvnors is closely based on the 18the Century play The Servant with Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni. It contains many of the classical elements of comedies from this period; class systems, women dressing up as men and general confusion and farcical misunderstandings. James Cordon is a man who (rather unsurprisingly) has two employers (one of whom is a woman pretending to be her dead brother) and you may not be surprised to learn that hilarious shenanigans ensue.
Why? Given Lesbian Vampire Killers and the Horne & Cordon sketch show, people can be forgiven for being wary of seeing a play that seems to be set-up as a celebrity vehicle for James Cordon. However this forgets the naturalism of his performance in Gavin and Stacey and the stagecraft he demonstrated in The History Boys. Reviews have been uniform in praising the production and it seems the National has one of the hits of the Summer on its hand.
Where? National Theatre
When? Until 26 July
How much? £12 – £45 (£5 tickets available for 16-25 year olds)
Tedious one sentence deconstruction: Over-exposed TV actor returns to the stage in an adapted play that has surprised many critics by funnier than imagined.

TACTICAL QUESTIONING

Who? The Tricycle Theatre has developed a reputation for being one of London’s premiere venues for breaking political theatre. Tactical Questioning is the 8th tribunal play that has been produced at the venue and previous subjects have included the Hutton Inquiry, the Saville Inquiry and Guantanamo Bay.
What? There is no denying that Tactical Questioning will be a grim, painful and intense evening at the theatre. It couldn’t be any other way. It is an edited but verbatim account taken from the transcripts of a Public Inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa whilst in the custody of the British army. These performances have come after the closure of the inquiry but before it reports its findings and only contains excerpts from statements taken from those interviewed.
Why? Some plays are enjoyable and some are important. The Tricycle’s Tribunal plays are very much in the latter category. Their importance can be summed up by noting that Guantanamo (2004) was performed at both the Houses of Parliament and on Capitol Hill in Washington, whilst Archbishop Desmond Tutu appeared in their New York production. These plays are a raw and painfully real – real events are depicted with real dialogue, and in doing so drama is created out of what is in reality interminably long and complex proceedings.
Where? Tricycle Theatre
When? June 2nd – July 2nd
How much? £12 – £22
Tedious one sentence deconstruction: Blurring the line between drama and reality, the tribunal productions are unlike anything else on the british stage and Tactical Questioning should be mandatory viewing for anyone with an interest in the workings of international justice.

Spotting a summer celebrity – 2011

 Five to watch

It’s that time of year again when those celebrities, or those unfortunate to have missed out on the chance to spend the next four months sitting in hotel lobbies desperately promoting a $200 million turkey to  hacks still willing to buy into the illusion that Pirates of the Caribbean represents a significant addition to cinema’s canon, remember that theatre represents their true calling along’.  We can forget for the moment that most will have disappeared back State-side, ready to add a new-found gravitas to an already embarrassingly padded C.V, just in time for the festival circuit and instead enjoy gawping at people we normally see in while chowing down on a bucket of popcorn the size of a small child.

5) Rupert Everett & Diana Rigg

Pygmalion – Garrick  Theatre, from the  25 May 2011

First off, sadly Diana Rigg is not due to play Eliza Doolittle, although that would be an officially awesome reworking of George Bernard’s Shaw classic. Instead she is down to play Mrs Higgins, while Rupert Everett reprises the role of Henry Higgins that he first played as part of the Chichester Festival.

GBS is having a slightly revival of late, with recent major productions of St Joan and Mrs Warren’s Profession gracing Londdon, after a long period of having been pushed into the shadows. I am sure the imperious Diana Rigg will be splendid but Everett is the more interesting choice; he, after all, is a man who never quite made it onto the Hollywood A-list (for reasons that may or may not have to do with him being openly gay) who will be playing a character who works to fundamentally change Eliza so that she is more socially acceptable. One wonders what Freud would have to say about that?

Celebrity enjoyment factor: C

4) Jude Law

Anna Christie – Donmar Warehouse, 04 August – 08 October 2011

Jude Law loses out in the battle of the Hamlets (see 2. below) but this is partly down to the fact that I don’t really know as much as I should about Eugene O’Neill and his plays. Wikipedia tells me that this one the Pulitzer Prize back in 1922 so I am guess it is going to be pretty good and Long Day’s Journey into the Night is generally regarded as an American classic.

The Donmar rarely puts on poor productions and Jude Law, even before Hamlet, is no mug on stage. Just as he was starting out in Hollywood (way, way before the Jude Law overload of 2004, which saw him opening 6 films in one year and the public getting more and more sick of the sight of him – the nadir probably being the execrable remake of Alfie) he left an indelible impression in the Young Vic’s production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. If this production is half as good as that then, following a reasonably strong Hamlet, we may be seeing the moulding of Law as a strong presence on the British stage.

Celebrity enjoyment factor: B-

3) Ralph Fiennes

The Tempest – Theatre Royal  Haymarket, 27 August – 29 October 2011 

Coming as part of Trevor Nunn’s impressive first season as artistic director of the Theatre Royal Haymarket (we have already seen a well reviewed, and star-heavy, Rattigan revival in Flare Path and we can look forward to Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead in early summer), The Tempest has drawn one of the few actors who seems at ease on stage as he is on camera. Ralph Fiennes, who has previously excelled as Julius Caesar and has been busy with his directoral debut, a modern-day version of Coriolanus, so is clearly no stranger to Shakepeare (even if many of his younger fans may recognise him more clearly as Voldemort in Harry Potter).

The only question-mark is his age. Not yet 50, Fiennes would seem to be a very young Prospero (even if Miranda is only supposed to 16); traditionally a part that actors take as they approach the end of their careers. The question is whether Fiennes has the gravitas of a man who was cast adrift when his daughter was just a baby. In lesser hands it may be more of a concern but looking at some of his career highlights to date – Quiz Show, Schindler’s List, The English Patient, The Reader – it is clear this is a man who understands and enjoys complex roles, and this should be an exciting proposition.

Celebrity enjoyment factor: B

2) David Tennant & Catherine Tate

Much Ado About Nothing – Wyndhams  Theatre, from May 16 2011

Admittedly this isn’t exactly Hollywood but this is about as close as we get in the UK. The Doctor and one of the most left-field choices of companion turning it around and going head to head in one of Shakespeare’s most ferocious and ferociously funny comedies. Tennant showed in Hamlet that he has a quick-silver tongue and Tate has demonstrated a motor-mouth on numerous occasions; even without the pre-history of Doctor Who behind them, this would be a Benedict and Beatrice worthy of note. 

My only gripe is the outrageously expensive ticket prices, god only knows whether they plan to somehow incorporate time travel into the show but with Stalls seats running at £61 and the Circle for £51 there had better be something splendid to justify the price. While it would be naive to expect reasonably priced tickets in the West End, it is profoundly depressing when a show which will clearly appeal to children and those who don’t always go to the theatre will cost a family of four over £200 for seats that are not right up in the gods (spending over 2 hours with that little leg room is enough to put people off Shakespeare for life). If people complain about the sustainability of theatre then productions like this, which seem to exclude new audiences through price alone, should take a large part of the blame.

Celebrity enjoyment factor: A-

1) Kevin Spacey

Richard III – Old Vic Theatre, from 18 June 2011 before an international tour

If you, like me, has been more than a little underwhelmed by Kevin Spacey’s period as artistic director for the Old Vic then hopefully here is the big project you have been waiting for.  It seems that there have been too many small scale American plays that haven’t resonated with audiences this side of the Atlantic and when Spacey has been on stage we have seen nothing of the tour de force performance that brought him international acclaim in The Iceman Cometh.

Well if anything calls for a tour de force then it must be Richard III. One of the great ‘acting’ roles, Richard III must leave actors salivating. A great plot of intrigue and murder, one of the first anti-heroes; a king who is both crippled in mind and body. From the off… ‘Now is the winter of our discontent…’ this is a play crammed full of memorable lines and set-pieces. It can only be hoped that Spacey, under the direction of the reliable Mendes, who clearly knows how to work with film actors, really lets himself go and retakes the stage by storm.

Celebrity enjoyment factor: A

Whose Frankenstein is it anyway?

Frankenstein : National Theatre, 14 April 2011

Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein…or is it Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein, wait a minute isn’t it Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? How about Nick Dear? He adapted the book after all. These questions are at the heart of what is essentially a solid, spectacular if slightly emotionally cold reworking of the classic ‘monster’ novel. This is a production overwhelmed at times by its celebrity. There can be few directors as hot in Hollywood right now as Danny Boyle. His versatility and formal inventiveness can be seen driving his work, from making a filmable version of Trainspotting through turning a story set in the Indian slums into a Hollywood smash (certainly no mean feat) before giving a true-life tale about a man who gets stuck by himself for 127 Hours a kaleidoscopic and hallucinatory shot in the arm (pun only marginally intended). Like many British film directors he has a strong grounding in the theatre and his return was always likely to be an ‘event’.

Could Boyle have returned to any other theatre but the Olivier? Where else could possibly have contained his whirlwind imagination? That vast, empty stage has stumped many previous directors. It is comically large, the actors appearing almost as matchstick men; sets that look as if they could have been pulled out of a Victorian dolls house. But part of the joy of the Olivier is seeing how they tackle the challenge. In the case of Frankenstein, having a soundtrack created by Underworld (another tick in the celebrity box) certainly helps. Their pulsing score drives much of the action and from the opening moment seems to be in tune with the heartbeat of the Monster (in this production, Jonny Lee Miller). It tones down but does not remove the darker beats of their best albums, and fills the theatre with a mechanical baroqueness. This is cathedral music as reinvented by the Futurists; it is thrillingly industrial and works in harmony with a set that seems to half an eye on the ever fertile steam punk market (how else to explain the emergence of a train seemingly assembled from cogs and random pieces of metal – a superb piece of theatre that is only let down by the questionably need for it in the plot.

The set makes full use of the Olivier’s malleability – the stage lifts and recedes as needed; to form cliffs, houses and a suitably windswept and remote Scottish island where Frankenstein retreats to build the Monster his mate. There seems little doubt that Boyle relishes the challenge of making an epic story work on an epic space. It also seems likely that, unlike some directors returning to theatre, Boyle is of that rare breed that has learnt from his work in film and seeks to apply that to the stage.

And in this lies the crux of the problem…<<Full Review continues here>>.