Sunday, 23 April 2017

Gabriel – Moira Buffini (Theatr Clwyd Mold)

As a student, my friends and I would role in from a nightclub at 3 am, make a stack of tea and toast and Marmite and watch the cult film Withnail and I.  It told the tale of two luckless (frankly unemployable) actors, played by Paul McGann and Richard E Grant, as they drifted about between a squalid flat, the dole office and the pub. Leaving London for Penrith in the Lake District, they find the north is full of terrifying locals and lots of rain! It really is a fantastic film.

When I saw Paul McGann was taking to the stage in Mold, I had to have a ticket. I didn’t know anything about the play Gabriel; but I knew this was a fantastic opportunity to see Paul on stage; there is nothing better than seeing an actor performing live.

Gabriel is the story of a widow, Jeanne Becquet, living in 1943 Nazi-occupied Guernsey. Jeanne will do anything to ensure that her young daughter remains safe on an island filled with fear during the middle of WWII. The Becquet family home has been requisitioned by German officers, forcing them to move to an old farmhouse. The matriarch, Jeanne, is a widow with a son missing in action and she has an overly imaginative adolescent daughter Estelle. Add to the mix Jeanne’s Jewish daughter-in-law Lily, and you have an explosive mix of characters living together on this small island. 

Moira Buffini’s play has such a full and dramatic storyline, it would lend itself to a great radio drama. It is a play filled with moral dilemmas coupled with black humour; good v’s evil, the responsibilities of a mother in a war torn land and how far she should go to protect those around her, and, if necessary, who she should throw to the wolves.

Jeanne, played with great acerbic wit by Belinda Lang (2.4 children) walks this tightrope of both collaborating with and resisting the Germans. She is selling food grown on her farm on the black market and she had previously had an affair with a German officer on the island. She is on the brink of having an affair with the replacement general; who she mistakenly believes cannot understand a word of English, when her Jewish daughter-in-law rescues a mysterious naked man from the beach.
Jeanne is furious that this unconscious, unidentified man has been brought under her roof, although there is a disarming similarity in that he looks like her missing son. The man, once he regains consciousness speaks fluent English, but he has lost his memory, he even doesn’t recognise himself in the mirror. The plot takes an interesting twist, when the man they have named Gabriel, meets General Von Pfunz and speaks fluent German to him. The family is horrified. Who is this man, and whose side is he on?

Paul McGann plays a very convincing Nazi general, Von Pfunz, from his realistic accent to his very pronounced mannerisms. He stands there at the start of the play smiling inanely and taking on all of the insults thrown at him by Jeanne who believes he can’t understand a word she says. It becomes obvious though that this is an educated man who is fluent in English and has witnessed many atrocities during the war. This is not a man to be messed with. He initially tricks the audience that Jeanne is the one with the upper hand, but it transpires he is playing cat and mouse with her. He is far shrewder than we have given him credit for, yet he still remains surprisingly human throughout.

The play shows the unusual situation the islanders found themselves in. Harsh things were going on further afield in the war. Occupied France and Holland found the Germans meeting an active resistance, whereas on the Channel Islands there are photographs of German soldiers lying on the beach with locals. Whilst eventually there was a concentration camp on the island of Alderney, the play reflects the unusual atmosphere that the islanders were forced to face and tells a story of how to survive in such circumstances.

By the end of the play we are left wondering, who is Gabriel? Was he a missing RAF pilot, a local boy with a brain tumour, or an SS interrogator? Did Estelle really summon the Angel Gabriel to bring salvation and hope to the family, or, was he simply just a Scapegoat?

I have witnessed many great plays at Theatr Clwyd, but this was a real stand out moment. In this modern world it is difficult to comprehend that such horrors can happen in a human world. The matter of fact manner in which Von Pfunz writes his poetry about rooms full of hair (human hair from the Jews) that it is made into carpets is truly shocking. It is hard to comprehend that people could believe this was normal behaviour. In a world where we see so many frightful images on TV, we can become desensitised to what we see. We can’t believe what we are seeing, yet we know it goes on and is wrong. Hearing such poetic words describing such atrocities wakes you up and instils an anger that wrongdoings can and still do occur every day all over the world.

Gabriel has spread its wings and left Theatr Clwyd, but you can catch up with it as the tour continues its run at Theatre Royal, Windsor, Berkshire.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Arsenic and Old Lace - Stoke Rep

I have been so blessed to watch some amazing theatrical productions in London during the past few months, but sometimes it's nice to sit back and enjoy some raw local(ish) theatre, where there are no famous names, just ordinary people who have acting as a passion and hobby.

When I heard one of my colleagues was in a production of Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace, I thought I'd buy a copy and see what I thought. A couple of days later I was rolling about laughing at the ludicrous notion of two old ladies who were serial killers. It was so absurd, but not quite as absurd as a poor fellow thinking he was the president of the USA, Teddy Roosevelt!

1941, Brooklyn New York, Martha and Abby Brewster, two kind and sweet old ladies, hide a dark secret. They take on poor, orphan lodgers that they wish to save from the sorrows of the world, and then poison  them with a glass of homemade elderberry wine.  To ensure their souls are at piece, a service is held in line with whichever church that they belonged to, and then they are buried in the cellar. Their nephew Teddy lives with them. He is as mad as a box of frogs and believes he is President Teddy Roosevelt. This assists the aunts somewhat, as Teddy believes he is digging the Suez Canal in the cellar and the dead bodies are victims of yellow fever which must be contained.

Teddy's brother, the theatre critic Mortimer Brewster often pops round to visit his aunts, and unwittingly finds out about his dear aunts hobby. He is mortified!  If things couldn't be anymore absurd, his long lost brother returns to Brooklyn, he now looks like Boris Karloff due to extensive plastic surgery, required to cover his identity because he is a man on the run for murder!

The cast took on this much loved American classic with great aplomb. Comedy, especially black comedies, are difficult to get right, and whilst the play took a little while to develop the pace required it was enjoyable to watch. It was hilarious to watch the matter-of-fact manner of the sisters who couldn't quite comprehend what Mortimer was so shocked about. A special mention must be given to James Freeman who played Mortimer Brewster; he stole the show with his accent, mannerisms and spot on delivery. He was perfect for the role of this poor bewildered chap, trying to make sense of the notion that his dear sweet aunts are serial killers!

Nick Proud should also be justly pleased with his performance as Jonathan Brewster. He was reminiscent of Boris Karloff, as the play requires, although his delivery often reminded me of a send up of an Al Capone gangster, both threatening but also laughable. As the play spirals out of belief and the action becomes more frenetic, the play takes on more of its farcical nature that you imagine whilst reading it. Some of the cast struggled a bit maintaining a Brooklyn accent throughout the performance, which at times was distracting. This became more noticeable when it was imperative a quick pace was required. The slowness of pace to enunciate words in an american accent affected the tempo of delivery so some of the comedic timing was lost, but all in all it was an absolute treat to watch.

Othello - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse London

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I LOVE the Sam Wanamaker theatre. Love, love, LOVE it. The theatre is a wooden intimate box, filled by candle light. When all of the candles are ablaze, a soft but bright light fills the room, as each candle is extinguished, the room takes on a darker, sinister feel. Unless you experience it, it is hard to imagine just how bright and powerful a candle can be.

Othello is the perfect play for this space; a tragic, darkly woven tale of manipulation and deception. It is set on the streets of Venice, and for anyone who has been lucky enough to wander those streets alone at night, you’ll know just how dark and scary those narrow streets can be to the overworked, imaginative mind.

The play commences with Iago and Roderigo discussing Othello. They despise him. Not only has Iago been overlooked as Othello’s lieutenant, but the love of Roderigo’s life (Desdemona) has secretly married Othello. From these first minutes of the play, you know things are not going to turn out well for poor Othello!

Iago, played excellently by Sam Spruell, is the archetypal villain. He pretends to be loyal to Othello, a man to be trusted, whilst behind Othello’s back he continues to scheme and plot his downfall. This starts by Roderigo telling Desdemona’s father that his daughter has secretly married. Her father, obviously furious at this news, believes that it must have been witchcraft, not love that ensnared her. Iago “loyal” to Othello, makes a scene, threatening Roderigo for causing such destruction between a father and daughter, but when left alone the truth wills out…Iago confesses to the audience his utter hatred of Othello.

Othello is sent to Cyprus to fight against the Turks, Desdemona is allowed to travel too, but she arrives separately. Iago notices the close friendship between Desdemona and Cassio, and believes he can use this to his advantage to break up Othello’s marriage. As an aside, Iago comments that he believes that Othello has had an affair with his wife, Emilia, who also happens to be Desdemona’s maid. Emilia, played by Musketeer actor Thalissa Teixeira, notices that Desdemona has dropped her handkerchief, a present from Othello, she secretes it about her person and later hands it to Iago who has asked her to steal it.

Iago manages to convince Othello that he has seen Desdemona and Cassio together, and that Cassio now has the handkerchief, the token of his affection. When asked to produce the handkerchief, Desdemona finds that it is missing and Othello is outraged. Cassio finds the handkerchief planted in her room, and asks her mistress Bianco to embroider one like it. (Cassio in this production is played by a woman, Joanna Horton.) Bianca tries to return the handkerchief to Othello, but he sees this as further proof of Desdemona’s infidelity calling her a whore and striking her, furious of her adultery.

Emilia begins to suspect that things may not be as they seem; that someone is deliberately trying to outrage Othello. Back on the dark streets, Roderigo attacks Cassio, Roderigo is wounded, but before Cassio can escape, Iago catches and wounds her. He sends word to Emilia that Roderigo is dead and Cassio hurt, and she is to deliver the news to Othello and Desdemona. Still proclaiming her innocence, Desdemona is suffocated by Othello. Emilia finally finds her voice to explain about the handkerchief, and realises that her husband is a villain and not to be trusted. Iago silences his wife and tries to flee. The enormity of what he has done and the turn of events devastates Othello who stabs himself in despair.

I have never seen a production of Othello before, so I cannot compare it against anything else. I wanted to watch this production because I had watched Thalissa in The Musketeers and thought her a compelling actor to watch. She did not disappoint, but then, no-one in the cast did. I am a conflicted Shakespeare fan. I don’t believe The Bard should be messed with. His work has lasted about 400 years so he must have done something right, but then I will see tweaks here and there and think, well actually that worked rather well.

Andrew Scott’s Hamlet which I watched a couple of days earlier worked in a modern stylistic setting, and the use of some up to date touches in Othello also had me nodding in appreciation. The play starts with some annoyingly familiar music that I could not place. The tune has a resonance, the words sound well known, but it is being sung with a slow tempo in a medieval style. It’s annoying that I can't place it, but it's not detracting from the play. What was distracting however, was the celebrations that were held for beating the Turks and Othello’s marriage. A karaoke machine was produced, and as all the actors danced the night away, Emilia headed over to where I was sitting; she sat in front of me, looked down at me and said “I hate this music.” I’m not entirely sure what else she said; I was suddenly in a vacuum. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t register anything. Thalissa, the person I had come to see was sat RIGHT NEXT TO ME – TALKING AT ME. I was dumbfounded!

After the interval I had pulled myself together enough to bear witness to the destruction of so many people’s lives because of jealousy and selfishness. This production weaves between the jealousies of the old world, and a more modern interpretation. Not only is Iago jealous of Cassio being promoted ahead of him…in this production he has also been usurped by a woman. Othello, likewise, is angered by his wife’s supposed infidelity, but she is having an affair with a woman. (I guess after watching ‘Who is Sylvia?’ the night before he should have been pleased it wasn’t with a goat! – On that moot point, there was a line in the play which said “Is he a goat or a monkey?” I did well to stifle the laughter – reader, you would have been proud of me!)

This was no insipid production. Desdemona had a fire about her, she was not the one in the wrong and by hell she wasn’t going to go down without a fight, she would kick and struggle until her last breath. The same is to be said of Emilia. Once she finds her voice, realises her husband is deceitful and the cause of so much heartache, he voice rings out rich and true. In the hushed candlelit glow of the stage, a sickening noise rings out, as Iago ensures her voice is silenced for good.

This was a superb introduction to Othello for me. The atmosphere of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was perfect for this darkly disturbing play where physical and mental destruction was at the fore.

Finally it hit me on the train home…Lana Del Rey – Video Games. That’s the song that was haunting me. Video games and a karaoke machine in Shakespeare’s world…wonder what he would have done with them!

The Goat or Who is Sylvia? Theatre Royal Haymarket

How are you supposed to react to someone who has been faithful to you for all of your married life, when they suddenly tell you that they are having an affair? And just how are you supposed to react when you find out that the affair is with a goat?

When you read the premise of Edward Albee’s play, you can’t help but think how absurd. You probably think you are going to watch a farce or a comedy, the idea of bestiality consigned to the usual jokes about Sheep Shagger’s or the popular rugby song…“Bestiality’s Best Boys.” (Oh the joy of many a coach trip to a formal sport’s balls listening to that song hitting the airwaves. It’s a lengthy tune that lasts far longer and is more annoying than 1000 Green Bottles Sitting on a Wall.)

But this is not a play to be taken so light heartedly. Whilst there are plenty of opportunities to laugh at Martin’s predicament, the underlying message of hurt and betrayal is never far away. In reality, it is a tragedy (quite literally – tragedy in ancient Greek means goat song.) How can a man with a perfect career, a perfect wife, a perfect family become so undone? Whilst the play covers various themes and can be taken at so many levels, at the core of the play is a dark secret that rips apart this perfect, socially acceptable family. Because this is what the play is about…just where do you draw the line, what is acceptable by society and what isn’t. More importantly the question that needs to be answered is why some things are so much more acceptable than others. The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? takes this question to the extreme, but it does make you sit back and think as you laugh uncomfortably as the situation for the family worsens.

Damian Lewis (using a similar American accent as in his show Billions) plays the conflicted Martin. He has a guilty secret he doesn’t want to share, but his best friend knows something is wrong and cajoles Martin into telling him what it is. Disgusted by the news, Ross writes a letter to Martin’s wife Stevie. Both Stevie and Martin are hurt by the contents of the letter, the betrayal both parties feel but for completely different reasons. Stevie feels hurt and betrayed that her husband is having an affair, Martins feels a confidence has been betrayed by his best friend telling Stevie. 

You can’t help but feel sorry for Martin. The torment of trying to keep this secret hidden, knowing that once it was out people wouldn’t understand him, must have been tearing him apart. He knows that society isn’t the safe tolerant place it proclaims to be. But then your feelings change towards him, he fastidiously denies that there is anything wrong about falling in love with a goat. His eccentricities start to spill over; he becomes this vile, argumentative character, speaking to his son and wife as though he is the one in the right in this sordid affair. Damian’s performance has you switching from empathy to disgust and confusion and a hatred for the way he speaks to his family, and then it switches back to sorrow...his behaviour is just not normal. But then, what is normal?

Stevie needs answers. She needs to understand her husband’s actions. She wants details. What makes someone have an affair? And why a goat? Gasps of disbelief echo around the theatre as Martin explains “it’s the eyes.” The conscious mind allows us the benefit of choice. We can methodically look at an issue and calculate an answer. The subconscious mind does not allow this process. Why do we fall in love with one person and not another? What draws us to that person? We can consciously say that we have things in common. We share the same outlook on life. We like the same books, TV, theatre etc. But sometimes we can’t answer the question that easily. We can become obsessed with a “star” we kn

ow nothing about and not be able to answer why we are drawn to that particular person. “Oh he just has that certain something” we say. But what IS that certain something? Is it something locked deep inside our subconscious? If so, then isn’t it plausible that the eyes of a goat show a similar soul to the eyes of a person in our subconscious state? It’s a reasonable question, but one that is not easily answered.

Stevie lashes out in the only way she can, destroying all around her, smashing ornaments and furniture within her grasp. She will be as destructive as he has been. He has destroyed her mentally, she will destroy everything physically. Whilst being emotionally torn apart watching Stevie (played with such depth by Sophie Okonedo) as she vents her rage, I couldn’t help but smile as Martin tries to rescue a picture from her destructive clutches. “That’s my mother’s painting” he shouts. “IT STILL IS!!!” she screams as she tears it apart.

The play manipulates the audience one way and then another. It is a fantastic one and a half hours of theatre, designed to shock and to make you think about just how far society is prepared to accept differences. Just where are you to draw the line? In Edward Albee’s day it was unacceptable to be a homosexual. Will there ever be a day where sex with an animal is ok, or is this just one step too far? As the play states, the goat had no choice, it wasn’t consensual sex, it was rape. And with that, the stage walls close in, literally and figuratively on this family’s life to leaving an audience shell-shocked, with much to think about.

Love in Idleness - Menier Chocolate Factory

After the intensity of last night’s Hamlet, I was in need of something a little more jovial for my Saturday afternoon visit to the theatre, and Rattigan did not disappoint.

Love in Idleness is the third in Rattigan’s ‘war trilogy’, it follows on from Flarepath and While the Sun Shines. The original play that Rattigan wrote was actually called Less Than Kind, but it was never produced, instead Rattigan re-wrote it, turning it into a less political animal than that of its former self. In this production, Trevor Nunn has carefully woven both of the plays together; keeping the upbeat momentum if Love in Idleness, with the more political content of Less Than Kind. In this modern era of political conflict with Brexit and the unsurity of those around us, the work feels very of the moment, despite its 1940’s setting.

Michael was a child evacuee, sent to Canada during the war. His mother receives the news that he is coming back to Britain. In her eyes her small boy is coming back, in reality it is a teenager of nearly 18 who is returning home. Neither a child nor a man is returning home, and the play shows the upheaval that is brought to people’s lives when a new person enters the fray, especially when that person is so demanding and you don’t wish to hurt their feelings.

Whilst Michael has been living in Canada, his widowed mother has fallen in love with a cabinet minister, Sir John Fletcher. She is living with him in an opulent house in Westminster, she is living the dream, lying on the sofa arranging a dinner party and inviting authors and the Chancellor to dinner with great aplomb. This is far removed from the life she had before, the life that Michael knew before he left Britain. She is deliriously happy, telling Sir John that her little boy is coming home, Sir John however is a savvy man and calculates that Michael is actually nearly 18, and that despite her protestations he is not his mummy’s little boy anymore, he is nearly a man, and will have thoughts of his own.

Sir John is proved correct when Michael arrives; he takes an instant dislike to Sir John. This man is living with his mother, and his right wing politics do not live up to Michael’s left wing views. Stuck in the middle of this is Michael’s mother, torn between the two men she loves. What can she do? Whatever path she chooses she is going to hurt one of them. This is where Eve Best as Olivia Brown comes into her own. She could have played the hair-brained Olivia as a vacuous character that you didn’t really care about, but she added a great depth of character to the part. She showed layers of depth and vulnerability as she desperately clung to her ‘little boy’, hiding her true feelings beneath idle chit chat; a veneer that was easy for the onlooker to see through. They could see the difficulties she faced choosing between the two men in her life. Should she put herself in second place for her son’s happiness? She had, after all, packed him away as a child and missed him growing up. There would be a feeling of guilt, despite knowing that he was safer in Canada and she was doing her best for him. There was an undeniable conflict between her current unworthy life of luxury, and the return to living in a basic bedsit with her son and his idealistic vision of a fairer world for everyone.

Edward Bluemel is perfectly cast as the idealistic Michael, showing utter contempt that Sir John believes the ‘New World’ will be just the same as the old ‘but spring cleaned a little.’ His adolescent outbursts echo the torment faced by Hamlet, a reference that Sir John is quick to point out to his mother. Watching this and the similarities to Hamlet, helped put both plays in context, they allowed me a greater understanding of why Hamlet didn’t rush to kill his uncle. After Hamlet questions had been raised, after Love in Idleness some of them had been answered!

Edward is an actor to look out for. He has that perfect comic timing, and the ability to use his eyes and face to convey meaning without saying a word. I believe that that is the mark of a good actor, for them to transport you into how they are feeling, and as he flings himself face down on his bed, covered in lipstick, he looks both adorable as a young child might, and heart-breaking as one remembers the pain of growing up.

Anthony Head is adept at portraying the exasperated Sir John. He was quite happy until the appearance of “this odious little rat” but as he loves Olivia, he tries to love her child too. His comic timing was perfection, although both he and Eve Best began corpsing in a scene towards the end when they were sat at her small kitchen table. Once they started, the audience started, and the audience really didn’t help the pair to get back on track. A few minutes passed before a collective audience and actors pulled themselves together and silenced beckoned for the rest of the scene.

All of the Rattigan plays I have seen performed on stage have not disappointed, and neither did this one. From the outset I knew I was in for a treat. The stage was shrouded in a gauze curtain which has old Pathe newsreels projected onto it as scene changes took place. This was an intelligent way to link the seriousness of the political situation with the triviality of dinner parties. This showed that Rattigan was understood, that his lightweight comedy had layers to them; and that underneath all of the laughter was a poignant message of parents, children and love.

Hamlet - Almeida Theatre, London

I can’t tell you how much I have wanted to watch Andrew Scott on stage. His performances as Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock left me dumbfounded. He played the character just the ride side of ‘geniustic’ madness, making it a character to be feared, not ridiculed, so I thought this would lend itself well to the character of Hamlet, a character that has often been ‘over performed’.

This is Hamlet stripped back. The Almeida is a small and intimate space where we can be left alone with a man and his thoughts. From the start, Scott shows we are going to see a different side to Hamlet, a softer, more considered man, who as he wrestles with his thoughts and tries to put his demons to bed, becomes more and more disturbed. This modern day Hamlet, dressed in black, is emotionally charged. He’s a young man who hears of his father’s death, and within a short period bears witness to the marriage of his uncle and mother. Where is the grief? Where is the period of mourning? Did his mother not love his father? And what of the uncle? Has he always desired his mother? These and many more questions abound Hamlets frail mental state, and Scott interweaves the tides of emotion from anger and frustration, to tears and grief. Just as you are accustomed to one thought process, Scott twists and turns to another like a man possessed, giving the text a new tempo.

It is interesting to see just how well this piece plays out as a more conventional piece of theatre. It utilises CCTV cameras and news reels to bring the audience closer to understanding the political conflicts, as well as the family turmoil. It becomes clearer, to me anyway, that this is a play that not only represents a young man who resents his uncle for capturing his mother’s heart; but a play that shows the dysfunctionality of the family system whatever era we’re in.  They are people trying to live, day by day, harbouring grief and feelings that they don’t altogether understand; their public faces are put on, but behind closed doors they allow the angst and pain to flow. Scott speaks softly, as though trying out his lines for the first time. It’s as though he has a stream of consciousness that he is trying to put together, to make sense of, which gives his character an almost morose feel. He is a character in turmoil, and you can feel it with every word spoken, every gesture made.

One of my friends was talking to two actors during the intervals; they were evidently not as impressed with the play as I was. Not the acting I understood, the actual play. They questioned why Hamlet didn’t just shoot his uncle when he had the chance. Well, for one, it would have led to a very short play, and two, just how easy is it to pull a trigger on someone? Let’s not forget, Hamlet was not a soldier, he had been at university when his father died, he was a scholar and therefore the act of killing someone in cold blood was not to be taken too lightly. Then there is the question of his sanity. Was he sane enough to come to such a reason? If we try to psychoanalyse Hamlet, as Freud’s friend Ernest Jones did, that famous indecision is due to a psychological blockage, or the Oedipus complex, whereby Oedipus prophesised that he would kill his father and become the object of his mother’s affections instead. The difficulty with Hamlet is that his Uncle has already killed his father and become the object of his mother’s love. This has confused matters, how can Hamlet do what Claudius has already done? As Jones argued, it would be like Hamlet killing himself. 
As to the rest of the cast, they lived in the shadow of Scott’s performance. The change of the play’s tempo suited some of the actors more than others. Gertrude and Claudius acted like teenagers in love, sneaking off and falling asleep on a sofa, entwined in other’s embrace only to be woken by an ambassador’s visit. This reminds us that this is no ordinary family; this is a royal dynasty where a public front should be shown at all times.

I enjoyed parts of Jessica Brown Findlay’s portrayal of Ophelia. She gave the character some much needed depth; you truly begin to believe how much she hates life and herself. As she heads towards madness, she appears on stage in a wheelchair, rigid, hard, staring at nothing. In this play she doesn’t dreamily strew flowers about with gay abandon, this is a woman who has hit rock bottom. She despises herself, she lashes out and hits herself, and she hates what life has brought her. When Gertrude softly announces Ophelia’s death later, it is no surprise. Her prior entrance had showed she was not far from suicide.

It was interesting to watch the play become a play within a play. As Hamlet stages his own show for the family to watch, we watch him give the players direction, not to be too theatrical, no wild flailing of arms, or booming voices in verse. He’s directing the show in a similar understated manner as to the play we are watching. He needs a convincing performance so that he can watch his uncle’s reaction in order to convince himself that his uncle murdered his father. Chairs are brought out and lined up in front of the first row of the audience. The actors are no longer on stage, they are sitting with us. Watching what we see. Hearing what we hear. They are now one of us. The only difference being that they didn’t have to sit there for four hours! Did it need to last that long? I don’t think so. There wasn’t much that could have been stripped back, but some of the dramatic pauses could have been cut shorter without altering the tempo of the play too much. All in all though, the time flew by and we were treated to a wonderful evening of dramatic
entertainment, and that is what the theatre is for…entertainment. 

London Calling to a Theatrical Crowd

This was the weekend I'd really been looking forward to. Four plays in three days. Two Shakespeare's, a Rattigan and a goat! I was excited to see both Andrew Scott and Damian Lewis on stage, and I was eager to see new venues too (The Almeida, The Menier Chocolate Factory, and The Theatre Royal Haymarket.)

As soon as I stepped into London I could feel the magic beginning. I stepped onto the underground at Euston, and as soon as started walking to the centre of the platform I saw a face I recognised, Hugh Dennis, a man I met many, many years ago when he was part of The Mary Whitehouse Experience (TMWE). As I walked past him, giving him a nod and a grin I saw two people run up to him wanting a selfie, he kindly obliged then set foot in the same carriage as me. Standing and quietly watching him as the tube roared along, happy memories flooded back to when my friend and I were at different universities, and we'd get tickets to watch TMWE live on tour as an excuse for meeting up. l desperately wanted to shout "milky, milky...lovely" but decided that was probably not a great idea, he might not want to remember his past incarnations. I then thought how much my mate would have loved that story were she still alive to hear it.

Later that day I made my way to The Almeida for the first of the four plays of the weekend, Hamlet. As I sat with my friends having something to eat before the show, one of them gave us the heads up. There, sat a few feet behind us was Sir Ian McKellan! Following his departure, Peter Sullivan (who I had seen during the run of The Deep Blue Sea) walked in. Well this was certainly a day of famous faces, and that was before we'd seen anyone on stage! After what was a fine performance of Hamlet, we hung around the foyer waiting for the actors to come out. For some reason it seemed wholly inappropriate to be asking for autographs (possibly something to do with the poor buggers being on stage for 4 hours!) so we just hung around patiently and watched the actors pop to the bar for a well earned drink. Andrew Scott finally appeared, and as he made his way past I said a a quick thank you to him and got an arm/shoulder squeeze off him. Bless him, he looked knackered!

After a completely uninspiring breakfast at our hotel (what type of hotel doesn't do a cooked breakfast?) my spirits were lifted meeting up with my friend to practice our photography skills. Nikki did a photography course last year and recommended it to me, so I've started it too on the basis that I have nice camera but always set it to automatic. It's a waste, so the two of us headed off around St Paul's and the Millenium Bridge so I could start trying to take fully manual pictures. I have a lot to learn! As my stomach started complaining, we headed off to The Swan at The Globe for a well needed lunch. As we sat down, an exuberant waiter danced towards us, "what will it be ladies? Prosecco?" Well it wasn't what we had intended, but hey, why not? We knew we wouldn't have time later to eat between the two shows we were seeing, so we should make the most of this food break whilst possible!

We decided lunch would be a feast of two parts, the main at The Globe, the pudding at The Menier Chocolate Factory. We headed across town to the theatre, met up with the rest of our friends and had the most amazing chocolate brownie ever. It was a good plan which left us on the right side of full to watch Love in Idleness without falling asleep! As we left the theatre, ready to cut a dash across from the Southbank to the West End I turned around to see Helen George taking her dog for a walk. I was in awe at just how quickly someone can get changed!

I fast paced it across town with just enough time for a quick G&T before The Goat. Time for the autograph hunter to make an appearance, I had got Damian Lewis's wife's autograph at DBS, now it was time to meet to her husband. There was quite a throng of people waiting for him, far more than I have ever seen at The National, but no matter. He came out, said he wasn't posing for photo's but we could snap away if we wanted, and that he was just doing autographs. Fine by me I thought as I hate selfies, and so I managed to grab a quick word and get his moniker on my programme!

Sunday, one play left to go and it was a stunning sunny day. It seemed a shame not to make the most of it, and so whilst the others preferred to settle in The Globe for a drink, I made the most of wandering up the South Bank looking for some new camera angles and watching the world go by. I could see filming going on the other side of the river, so decided to head towards it, as I walked I saw a familiar shape heading towards me. Andrew Scott came into focus, I couldn't believe it. I smiled and walked on by with an added spring to my step before watching the fourth and final play of the weekend, Othello.

All in all it was a great theatrical weekend, although I'm glad I was able to squeeze in a bit of photography too. Hopefully as I move through the course modules, the pictures will improve and I'll gain more confidence in my camera.

For the reports on the four plays I saw over the weekend look up, Hamlet, Love in Idleness, The Goat and Othello. Each one has its own page!