Lovett’s Pies: Enjoyable but with some questionable content

Lovett + Todd – Another Soup @ King’s Head Theatre, until 01 August 2015 (tickets)

One of the more intriguing aspects of fiction is how the creation of a make-believe world with fully-formed characters is enough to tempt audiences and artists alike into constantly wishing to re-enter that world and find out more about the part of the character’s life that exists just out of sight of the viewer. A key marker is Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1966, with the implication being that it fills in the pre-story of Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester. There are many more stories in this vein that take us right up to the present with The Meursault Investigation which reframes Camus’ The Outsider through the brother of the eponymous outsider of the title.

However as post-modernity and a self-reflexive irony envelops our culture, we have seen the focus change from adding to the original to reworking the source material so that it is framed in possibilities that would seem absurd to the original authors. Poor Jane Austen has suffered greatly at the hands of others. Indignities heaped upon her characters. Like murder mysteries? Like Pride and Prejudice? Well, try Death in Pemberley! Love zombies? Love Austen? You’ll love Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

That is not to imply that there is anything wrong with this. Quite the contrary, in part this is just a conscious acknowledgement of what has been going on for centuries. Playwrights, novelists, storytellers are continually retelling the same stories through different prisms. This was brought home watching the Oresteia and discovering that the events set in motion by the return of Orestes are mirrored with startling similarity in Hamlet’s return to Elsinore.

The advantages are clear; by using an existing text, you can trade off brand recognition to attract an audience and you avoid the accusation of plagiarism because it is implicit in the process. Yet it comes weighted with great risk; audiences are interested in part because they are emotionally invested in the original characters. Toy with their emotions at great peril.

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A Night at the Theatre – Olivier Awards 2013

So the Olivier Awards have been and gone for another year, and as a result what have we have learnt the state of theatre – London theatre, sorry to anyone reading further afield but it is a very parochial affair – in 2013. Well their own website leads with ‘A curious night at the Olivier’s’, which rather sums it up for me. It was a list of winners that doesn’t reflect the experiences of this website’s year in theatre.

To look at those celebrating last night would be to imagine a rather staid and conservative theatre scene. However there has been a vitality and verve to theatre – witness the excitement over Punchdrunk announcements, A Curious Incident...winner of 7 Awardstickets to see Branagh’s Macbeth selling out in less than 10 minutes in Manchester or new plays by young playwrights that embraced quantum theory (Payne), neuroscience (Prebble) or a play that covers everything and nothing in eighty minutes (Butterworth) – that is broadly absent from the list of winners.

Perhaps this could have been guessed at by looking at a nominations list where Lucy Prebble’s The Effect was almost shut out and where the Best New Play category included just one play not reflecting on historical events or retooling an existing story for the stage.

One may argue that last year’s big winner – Matilda – is hardly a broadside against conservatism. However Matilda was the first time anything had walked home with seven awards and it was deservedly seen as a stunning achievement and that a brilliant production had been rewarded for managing the rare feat of capturing hearts, minds and wallets of critics and the public alike.

It does rather undermine the perceived value of the achievement if the next year we see another play walk-off with exactly the same number. Whilst critics have warmly received ‘A Curious Incident…’ and the public continue to throng through the doors, it does not seem to have reached the groundswell of public love and critical affirmation that marked the success of Matilda – which swept everything before it and which was the must-see performance from its very first outing in Stratford.

It is clear A Curious Incident… is good but is it seven awards good? Is it so good that we feel happy that the ‘A Dolls House’ at the Young Vic, ‘Constellations’, ‘This House’ and Complicite’s ‘Master and Margarita’ walk away with nothing? And when we talk about magnificent interpretations of novels, how did the adaptation of Bulgakov’s impossible Master and Margarita not even get a mention? The problem with placing so much attention on just three productions – A Curious Incident, The Audience and Sweeney Todd – is that it doesn’t even remotely capture the spectrum of success of what has been, in all honesty, a relatively mediocre year for theatre in London.

Another award for Helen Mirren, The Queen or possibly bothThe success of The Audience has more than a little of a smattering of one eye on the need to reward the private sector for at least trying a new play, and a more cynical person may suggest that the value of the international market may have had a role to play. Helen Mirren as Best Actress? She might have won it for her awards speech more than the actual part.

It was a pleasure to see Nicola Walker win for ‘A Curious Incident’, a stalwart of TV and of downtrodden wives and mothers everywhere, and without having seen the production it is hard to imagine a more perfect piece of casting for the mother of the 15-yr old lead. Equally commentary seems satisfied with the victory of Luke Treadaway in the role;  a part that is catnip for award judges, as it is basically the modern day answer to the ‘idiot savant’ – something that is a little bit out-of-kilter with modern understandings of mental health. As usual it was a strong year and personally a win for Rupert Everett would not have been amiss but Treadaway seems deserving of the accolades.

With an equally impressive set and technical team it suddenly becomes easier to count up those seven awards. However the Complicite team can feel short-changed not to have picked up a single technical award for their visually stunning take on Bulgakov’s masterpiece. As usual it is mind-boggling that Cheek By Jowl were not nominated for anything – despite the Barbican being a home from home.

Everyone on the Best New Play shortlist can feel hard done by for losing out to something that restaged an existing story – surely there are so many adaptations that this can be a separate category. And ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ Best Revival – a truly interminable evening that deserved nothing and for which the praise of critics from every quarter is something that is genuinely unfathomable, even the cast – Suchet, Metcalfe, Soller, all usually so excellent – were dire.

If this year’s Olivier Awards has proved anything to me, it is that this was not a stand-out year for British Theatre; that this reviewer has, Sweeney Todd excepted, has missed most major plays of the year; and that the Donmar needs to re-establish its identity with great haste. A lot of attention has come Josie Rourke’s way and so far the response has been muted at best – where is this year’s Inadmissible Evidence or Anna Christie?

The Full Awards List

What does the Guardian say…

What does the Telegraph say…

Musical Theatre: Comparing old with new

Last week I had the somewhat dubious pleasure of sampling two musicals. One is a scathing social satire on contemporary values whereas the other is a gruesome tale of revenge that ends in a bloodbath for all concerned. One is a complex work that draws on recurring classical motifs whilst the other takes a magpie approach to the classic styles of twentieth century musicals. One is regarded as one of the great musicals by a legend in his field. The other has been championed by Lorraine Kelly. But are we letting reputations get ahead of us?

In the interests of fairness, Civilian Theatre has assessed the merits of both shows to see whether Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the perennially popular Stephen Sondheim musical that won rave reviews at the Chichester Festival last year and has since transferred to the West End, is really any better than WAG! The Musical, which was enjoying its world premiere at the Ye Olde Rose and Crown in Walthamstow.

So there you have it, a win for the WAGS. The colossus of Broadway has been brought to his knees by some upstart wives of footballers. As any sportsman knows – the stats don’t lie. WAG! the musical has proved itself every inch the equal of Sweeney Todd and Sondheim (lyricist for West Side Story, Academy Award Winner, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Winner of 8 Tony’s, 8 Grammy’s and 6 Olivier Awards and with a theatre named after him) clearly has been humbled by a new challenger for the crown.

See more here:


Sweeney Todd

Editors Note: Apologies to Mr Sondheim for the misspelt Sweeney in the above article. If I hadn’t been moved close to despair by uploading gremlins then the amendment would have been made.