Friday, 30 November 2018

Two by Jim Cartwright (Theatr Clwyd)

I arrived at Theatr Clwyd’s “Clwyd Room” with a mix of apprehension and intrigue about me. It’s not often I go to the theatre when the performance is not being held “on stage.” In fact, I think the only time has been when I went to see/immerse myself in The Great Gatsby, and I had moral support for that one!

The Clwyd Room is a space where I’ve normally watched stand up comics perform, it’s not one of the actual “theatre” spaces. Tonight it had been transferred into a Lancashire pub, ten round tables had been placed along one wall for people to sit around as though they were sat in a bar watching the regulars come and go.

Two is written by the award winning Jim Cartwright  who has also given us The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and Road. Immediately you know you’re going to be in for a night of dry wit, broad northern humour and the moving melancholy of ordinary human life as they get mixed together in the boiling put of the traditional British pub; where all forms of human life reside!

Two was written in 1989, but a lot of the issues raised are still prevalent in today’s society. Bill Snell and Pam Courtenay play the landlord and landlady at Mr Cinders Cocktail Bar in Car Boot Theatre Company’s production of this emotive play. Car Boot Theatre Company is an amateur touring group who perform largely in theatres and village halls in North Wales. On the whole they tackled the production well, but they didn't quite give justice to Cartwright’s text.

The sound of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” blares out as we’re transported back to the 1980’s; as the lights go down to Joy Division’s haunting classic “Love Will Tear us Apart” you immediately get the sense that there’s going to be some heartache along the way. The landlord and landlady know all their patrons and make everyone feel welcome, laughing and joking with them, whilst in the background they show nothing but contempt for each other as they switch from bickering and bantering the night away. They might not like all their customers, but they still greet them like an old friend, and this extends to those brave enough in the audience to sit at the tables near the front. (Shy types, beware!) It is through these pieces that Snell and Courtenay do quite well – and I admire anyone that can manage a “conversation” when talking to imagined customers who obviously can not reply! It is this that draws you into their world, which makes you interested in the characters that pop in for a pint, and makes you realise there’s more going on with the landlord and landlady than first noticed.

This two-hander play features fourteen other diverse characters, often played by the same two actors in professional productions. In this production, there is an actor to play each character, so they really should be able to become comfortable with the traits of who they are performing as. An old lady shuffles in for her bottle of Guinness, a hush descends as she starts her monologue, lamenting the long years she has served in her marriage, and the quiet respite and solace she finds in having a drink by herself after a days shopping. Gwyneth Dillon’s approach to the character was spot on, but she just spoke too quietly, that coupled with the whirr of a fan behind me meant that much of her emotive speech was lost on the wind.

Moth and Maudie were an interesting couple…she hanging around the womanising Moth as he struted around for the ladies in front of her, even getting phone numbers for dates with them! All she wants is for him to marry her so that her life is complete. It showed the contrast of how little she thinks of herself in comparison to how much he loves himself.

The tortured souls pass in and out and we uncomfortably shuffle in our seats as Lesley is tortured physically and mentality by her abusive boyfriend Roy. Peter Thorne played Roy well, making us laugh at him at the start and then become more aghast at his domineering behaviour, until shock and repulsion took over.

There were lighter moments too, especially the two bobbled hatted customers who just come in to the pub to watch TV and eat crisps – they were an excellent uplifting moment. These little pieces of human life were simple snapshots that etched looking into a mirror at normal human existence. But the play only works if the actors embody the characters. Lines spoken without conviction, stilted deliveries and whispered confessions were all distractive and the power of the underlying story between the landlord and landlady was somehow lost amidst it.

I certainly enjoyed my evening, and it brought the play to my attention, so I’ll certainly look out for a professional production in the future. Car Boot Theatre Company should be applauded for the hard work and dedication shown to a difficult piece of theatre, and I was pleased to see that even though the production wasn’t perfect, it didn’t loose its audience at the interval. Something all concerned should be proud of.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Don Carlos (Take Two) – Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames

Q. What do Paddington Bear and Tom Burke have in common?

A. They both reduced me to a sobbing, emotional mess in the same week.  (Oh don’t tell me you didn’t sniffle when Paddington was in prison.)

After the last night of Don Carlos, I was fortunate to grab a few words with Tom. I told him he’d made me cry. He said, “that’s a good thing isn’t it?” And yes, I must confess that it was. 

Like a young red wine, Don Carlos had been allowed to breathe into a full-bodied performance. It had become injected full of character, passion, power and emotion that it had sometimes lacked in Exeter. The basis of a fantastic production was there for all to see, (bar the eejit at The Times) and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it at Exeter, the initial performances were perfectly quaffable, but a bit acidic at times.

As I noted in my previous review, the pace of the dialogue was killing some elements of the play. I spoke to Ali about it and begged her not to take offence, but I felt that the scene between her and Sam Valentine as Princess Eboli and Don Carlos in the bed chamber ended up becoming a screaming match as they tried their best to deliver the lines at the fast pace Gadi Roll had directed them to do. If you listened carefully, you could hear all the words, but the subtle nuances of Schiller’s text were lost as too much concentration was being used on what was being said. I used the analogy of when you go for a gallop on a horse and you suddenly realise, you’re no longer in control. A quick check on the reins slows the horse just enough for the exhilarating pace to remain, but for control to come back to the rider. That’s what I felt had happened at Kingston; a slight reduction of pace allowed for the comic situation of two people with their wires crossed to filter through to the audience. It allowed the light and shade of the situation to sweep through the scene, giving the rest of the production a sense of foreboding that had been alluded to in the very first scene by Posa himself!

Now that’s how theatre is supposed to make you feel.

Saturday was the day of the most exemplary performances of Don Carlos yet, the matinee seemed to have everything thrown at it.  I tried to sniffle inconspicuously throughout the second half as Posa made his final speech to the Queen. People who had got bored and went home in the interval missed some of the most enthralling scenes I’ve witnessed on stage. Even reminiscing about them makes me draw breath to compose myself again.

The pace that had killed the two handers between the Duke of Alba and Domingo had gone. Both Jason Morrell and Vinta Morgan brought eloquence and power into their performances which was missing every time they turned their backs to the audience in Exeter. Their words had previously been hard to catch, and the role they played in the story was lost, but here in Kingston they were word perfect and the relationship between the two felt more meaningful.

Tom Burke’s Posa and & Darrell D’Silva’s King continued to shine. They were powerful and thought-provoking, and I was gripped every time they took command of that stage together. So much so, that when it came to the final curtain call, I had to give the cast a standing ovation. For me a standing ovation is a rare thing, it’s like when Craig Revel Horwood dusts off his 10 paddle on Strictly Come Dancing!

Photo via Jordan Lever (Babes) on Twitter

This was a brave and ultimately brilliant production. I may have given it a Len Goodman 7 at the start of the run, but its emotional climax was worthy of a 10. I think ARA set themselves up with a complex piece for their stage debut, but the hard work and determination of a strong cast has heralded an exciting future for the theatre company which I’m looking forward to seeing grow.

Stop! Thief!

I ended up seeing the play four times in Kingston. In hindsight, had I not originally been part of a group going to see the play, I would probably have only gone to watch it on the Saturday, but I’m pleased I did watch it when I did, as each night led to a different experience. The extra time in Kingston also allowed me to explore the area and broaden my horizons with a visit to the local museum and a day out at Hampton Court Palace. My Thursday night at the theatre I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but I will relay what happened on here as a word of warning to other theatre goers, as I suspect most of us feel drama only happens on the theatre stage!

Despite it being November, it was still cardigan weather, so I just chucked my purse, phone and book into my cardi pockets and headed to the theatre. I wrapped everything into a ball and placed my cardi under my seat. During the performance, the ladies sat behind me started talking (loudly.) People were shushing them, but they persisted. At times, when the actors were on stage, they sighed loudly and said “boring” at the tops of their voices. I was surprised that the actors did not flinch, and that shows the level of professionalism they displayed to be able to continue. At one point, the woman behind me started stroking my back. I jumped from my seat, gave her daggers and carried on watching the play. There was a loud crash and more shushing, and eventually we came to the interval. They got up and left. I then realised they’d left with my cardi and all my belongings.

To cut a long story short I loudly drew attention to the fact my belongings had been stolen and I ran to a member of staff to explain. In the meantime, two gentlemen had seen what the women looked like and were keeping track of them. They found me and said they were outside, but as I followed them, the women had gone. I had been joined by a member of theatre staff as the men turned and said, “they’re getting into that taxi.” “Oh no you bloody don’t” I thought, and I ran towards the taxi screaming something original like “Stop! Thief!”

As I pinned both women at the door of the taxi I screamed “where are my things?” but they denied everything, even when I grabbed my cardigan out of one of the women’s hands. The pockets were empty, and as they stood looking at me stunned, I continued to demand all my stuff back. I presume people thought I had the matter in hand or they were just too damned scared of the bad tempered woman hurling abuse at these drunken thieves. Because that’s what they were, either that or drugs, whatever…they clearly weren’t on the same planet as me. I retrieved half of my belongings off one woman and half off the other. Both still maintaining innocence, despite me describing my stuff to the theatre lady and then pulling it out of their handbags myself.

I perhaps should have dragged them both to the police station opposite the theatre (yes really) but I couldn’t see that would achieve much, other than me missing the second half of the play…so I collected all my stuff and returned to my seat. I offered to buy the chaps who had helped me a drink at the end of the show, not realising the bar would be shut afterwards…but I suppose it’s the thought that counts!

Someone said to me “they chose the wrong person to pick on there” and I agreed, but actually, I think they chose the right person; imagine if they’d done that to one of the older members of the audience. I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself. If I ever tried the “woe is me” technique of guilting empathy out of someone it always backfired; I was told to pull myself together, and I suppose that gave me the backbone to be the intolerant, bloody-minded person I am today!  

The second half of Don Carlos was enjoyable, but I probably wasn’t in the right frame of mind to get the most out of what I was seeing. I looked forward to heading back to the peace and tranquillity of my hotel room, getting an early night and walking to Hampton Court Palace the next morning.

Tom Burke has done more for my education than school ever did!

© 2018 Sioux
A dreary day…not good for photography, but nevertheless Hampton Court was on my agenda and it was staying that way. I walked via the road route and enjoyed a pleasant day taking in the enormity of the palace and the beauty of the rooms (the Chapel Royal took my breath away) and imagining what it must be like in Spring and Summer when the gardens are in full bloom. It is a place to go back to, so I will have to keep an eye on what productions will be on at The Rose to lure me back to Kingston! 

As dusk began to fall, I decided to walk back via the path beside the River Thames. As I pootled along, I could hear the voices of friends telling me I was an idiot, and I probably was, but fear of the unknown shouldn’t put you off doing the things you want to do, just keep vigilant when you do so. (Says the woman who was robbed the night before!) So I watched the sun go down and the lights of Kingston come on as I negotiated the muddy puddles on the footpath, before heading back to the hotel for a quick change before walking down to the theatre and being handed my ticket for that night’s performance.

As I watched the show on Friday night and considered the various themes, thoughts started to crystallise in my mind. Not only did themes echo down the centuries to modern day political situations, but some of the lines uttered made me think of how my relationship and trust in the people surrounding me had also begun to change. This quote from Tom Burke in Time & Leisure Magazine (Kingston Ed) particularly resonated “It’s a unique balance of many things, including idealism and cynicism. It has a beautiful humanistic heartbeat running through it but the story is ultimately a brutal one. It takes a long hard look at a paranoid, desensitised, ego-driven leader.” I continued to think about this as I bade those going to the pub goodnight and I continued back to my hotel.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for photo’s, only today I was looking at them rather than taking them! Across the road from my hotel was Kingston Museum – as a child my horse books all showed photographs of the horses gaits; walk, trot, canter, gallop – how the horses feet hit the ground during each transition, to enable (in theory) a better rider. What I didn’t know, was that the man behind the pictures was from Kingston. The museum has a wing dedicated to Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) a pioneer in photography and the inventor of the zoopraxiscope (a projector which held a glass disc on which Muybridge’s photographs of horses were traced and painted around the edge.) As the disc spun, it showed how the horse moved, answering the question as to whether all four feet of a horse are ever off the ground at the same time.  It was a fascinating exhibition for someone like me who had grown up with these images but knew nothing about the man behind them!

Now people might laugh at me when I say that Tom Burke has done a damned site more for my education than school or university ever did…but indirectly, he somehow enables these strange coincidences to occur!

Goodnight Kingston © 2018 Sioux

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber

Just like Uncle Bulgaria I’m behind “The Times.” (Only people of a certain vintage will get that!) I’ve just realised that Emma Rice’s production of Wise Children is going on tour next year. I’m thankful for this as I wanted to see it at The Old Vic in London but I’m watching the pennies and couldn’t really justify the trip. So, Storeyhouse in Chester it is. A ticket has been purchased and I’m thrilled to see Angela Carter’s last novel brought to stage by the innovative director, Emma Rice.

So, who is Angela Carter? I recorded a BBC documentary about her recently; one of Britain’s greatest writers, she was an independent-minded woman, outspoken and challenging of the authorities. If you can find a copy of it, I recommend watching it. She was born in Sussex in 1940 and read English at Bristol university. She had a prolific writing career and all multi-layered tales, which were quirky and sometimes vulgar in style, were highly thought of and received critical acclaim. She died of lung cancer in 1992, aged just 51.

When I visited Bath a couple of years ago, I picked up a copy of Christopher Frayling’s book – Inside The Bloody Chamber. It’s a wonderful insight into Angela Carter, her work, other weird tales and the Gothic genre. When I read English Literature at UCLanc I chose the gothic novel as one of my options…I quickly ending up reading the list of books and not bothering with the lectures (once again concern arose that books of such beauty would be pulled apart and the overall effects lost.)

“I would really like to have had the guts and the energy and so on to be able to write about people having battles with the DHSS. But I haven’t. I’ve done other things. I mean, I’m an arty person. Okay, I write overblown, purple, self-indulgent prose. So fucking what…”

Angela Carter – interview with Kim Evans for the BBC

Christopher Frayling, historian and broadcaster, was a close friend of Angela Carter, and throughout the pages of this book that friendship is documented via both Carter’s literary works and personal correspondence with Frayling from the time she was living in Bath in the 1970s. It was during this time that she wrote many of her important literary works, The Sadeian Woman, The Passion of New Eve and The Bloody Chamber, from which the book gets its title.

The book is a collection of essay’s, articles and lectures which mirror many of the stories within The Bloody Chamber and cover all sorts of topics, from Hitchcock and Hammer horror films, Freud, Disney, The Hound of the Baskervilles and of course, vampires! It gives wonderful insight into the mind of Angela Carter, but also that of the horror story. Disney’s version of Snow White is well known all over the globe, but the tale was based on Snowdrop, translated by the Brothers Grimm (published 1823) which was a darker and more sadistic tale than Disney’s saccharine portrayal of a princess and her helpers. It is these investigations into tales and back stories, alongside the beautiful woodcut prints scattered amongst the text, which make this an appealing book for all lovers of the Gothic.

The Bloody Chamber and other stories is a fairy tale book like no other. It comprises of ten short stories which are reminiscent of some of the more popular tales we were told as children. But these stories are not for children. They are works of serious re-imagining, bringing sexual unease into the cruel world of the original fairy tales, making them darker and more twisted than the tales collected and recollected by the Brothers Grimm. What store lies in wait for the new bride in the bloody chamber, and what has happened to her husband’s previous wives? “I was seventeen and knew nothing of the world; my Marquis had been married before, more than once, and I remained a little bemused that, after those others, he should now have chosen me.”

Beauty and broken promises can destroy the life of the heartbroken Mr Lyon, whilst a game of cards changes the fortune of beast and betrothed. If you thought your cat was just a sleepy companion then you are wrong… “So may all your wives, if you need them, be rich and pretty; and all your husbands, if you want them, be young and virile; and all your cats as wily, perspicacious and resourceful as: PUSS-IN-BOOTS.” Never trust the smile on a sleeping feline.

These tales create a unique world of fantasy and show a writer with great imagination that the imperious reader may take instant dislike to. They break the chains of the righteous and have a dynamic energy because of that.

“What a joy it is to dance and sing.”

So, what will Emma Rice bring to the stage in Wise Children, Carter’s final novel? It is a tale about twins Dora and Nora Chance. It is Shakespeare’s birthday, it is also their 75th birthday, and in a bizarre coincidence it is the 100th birthday of their father and his twin brother. The tale could be heralded as Dora’s memoirs as she looks back through her life, to when her father was a prolific Shakespearean actor, who didn’t publicly acknowledge his daughters; instead the world believed they were the offspring of his brother instead.

Reviews at The Old Vic have been well received, saying it is a night of magic and stardust.

I’ll get back to you about that, in March, after I’ve had a chance to watch it for myself!

Dates and information about the tour can be found by clicking here: