Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Duck Variations & The Bay at Nice, Theatr Clwyd

@Theatr Clwyd

It was America versus Russia in this double bill of one act plays from Suitcase Theatre, but not the usual East meet West showcase that David Hare created!

The Duck Variations by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo) might sound on paper to be rather dull. Two old men, sat on a park bench, converse about the world, using ducks as an analogy for everything that’s going on around them. George is opinionated, and prone to believing everything he reads in the newspapers, so he is often prone to disseminating misinformation to the more poetical Emil. Where George talks, Emil listens, although when Emil does speak it is with the wonderment that often only still exists in small children.

This is typical early Mamet territory, contemplative characters, speaking in short snatches in the naturalistic way people do. The conversation meandering off course and back again, bits are repeated, bits overlap, there are bits where you think “what are they talking about?” And of course, there are those moments of silence as a conversation starts to fall flat. This naturalistic way of talking on stage is actually hard to do in a convincing manner, but both male leads managed the stop start exchanges effortlessly. As a member of the audience, you felt you had sat on a park bench across the way and were watching a slice of real life in front of you.

“You know, for centuries prior to this time man has watched birds.”

Just as Chekhov elicits pathos, Mamet’s 14 variations on the theme of ducks awakens something inside. Watching these two men philosophising about the world and relating it to the life of a duck was both bizarre and cleverly intertwined. Watching the birds flying in formation, their talk leads them to discuss the fact that the lead duck will at some point fall behind, they won’t be the leader anymore, they’ll go to the back of the pack and at some point they will inevitably die, whilst some younger bird will become leader, and the cycle will happen again. Then there is the tale of the ongoing

Monday, 20 May 2019

Strangers on a Train Set - The Lowry, Salford

I don’t think I was the little girl my mother had longed for. Ideas of wearing pretty dresses and playing with dolls were thrown out of the window very early on. I would proudly push my pram down the road with her, but it didn’t contain a doll; that had been defaced and beheaded long ago…no, my pram was full of cuddly toy animals. If I wasn’t playing with them, I would be playing with my train set. Yes, a train set, a clockwork locomotive designed to keep me away from my older brothers’ electric train set. My train was really boring….it just went around in a little circle. Now my brothers’, well they had a huge trestle table with a hole in the middle, and lots of tracks with points and signals…countryside painted on the walls surrounding it, endless amounts of Modroc used to create hills and valleys, freight trains, steam trains that puffed little clouds of vapour, diesel trains…it was great fun, even when I was shouted at to keep my little sticky fingers at bay!!

Neither of my parents drove so the train was the preferred mode of transport. British Rail weren’t too good at being on time so connections were always missed, and so to pass the time, me dad and I would go train spotting. I’d scribble numbers in my notebook whilst dad shouted them out to me, and then at the end of the day we would cross them off in a special book we’d buy from John Menzies (yes I am that old) at Chester railway station. At the end of the year you would see how many numbers you had crossed off in the book before starting again the next year!

I don’t train spot anymore, but the sight of a steam train always brings great joy and when a diesel locomotive roars past me if I’m sat at a station, I test myself to see if I can still remember what class of engine it is. Suffice to say, a heady mix of trains, theatre and crime novels was too good to miss; I figured this would be a fun-filled way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

LipService Theatre (Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding) have been described as the Laurel & Hardy of literary deconstruction. Having watched Mr Darcy Loses the Plot a couple of years ago, I can see why. Their knowledge and ability to turn the mundane into something hilarious is one to be appreciated; part stand-up, part live acting and part film projection, it is a perfect heady mix of virtuosity and jubilation.

Strangers On A Train Set pulled into The Lowry, Salford Friday 17th May 2019 and departed on the 19th May 2019 to resume its tour around the country. For those of you who have never seen LipService, then be warned, it has developed a bit of a cult following around various venues, so grab your tickets quickly when you see them heading your way or you’ll miss out on a treat.

Derek and Geoff (Fox and Ryding) are two model train enthusiasts who have been invited to Salford to showcase their 00 gauge model railway, and recreate some classic railway journeys via steam locomotive or Geoff’s favourite, his modern Virgin Pendolino. 

When it comes to their trains, no detail goes unnoticed. For authenticity, Geoff has lovingly scuffed his Pendolino with cat litter, to

Friday, 10 May 2019

Stones in his Pockets – by Marie Jones (Theatr Clwyd)

In a small rural town in County Kerry, Ireland, a Hollywood film crew descends and monopolises the town. The locals are thrilled, they might only be earning £40 a day as a film extra, but this place has now become the land of opportunity, dreams of becoming a famous actor could now become a reality.

The play centres around two characters, Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn. Charlie had been running a small business renting our movies, but then a blockbuster chain moved in, with more choice and more copies of films. After going bankrupt, Charlie grabbed his tent and started wandering around Ireland and now here he is, an extra on an American film, with the opportunity of submitting a film script to someone big in Hollywood.

Jake has recently returned to Ireland following some time in New York and he is mesmerised by the star of the movie, Caroline Giovanni. Caroline swans in, the glamourous girl from Hollywood, and despite proclaiming that she wants to perfect the Irish account and give a realistic portrayal on screen, she and the rest of the American crew are only concerned about finishing the movie on time.

At the start, the community is excited to have such famous people in their midst, but soon the novelty starts to wear off and they start to feel used and abused. Jobs in this part of the world are scarce, so the crew know that £40 a day is a lot to some of the folk, so they can treat them anyway they want.
One evening in the local pub, a teenager, Sean Harkin, who is completely in awe of Caroline tries to speak with her. Caroline, who has gone the pub to “get an authentic feel for the locals” cannot help but be the Hollywood diva she is, makes a scene

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Rosmersholm - Duke of York's Theatre, London (Henrik Ibsen)

Edvard Munch – Love and Angst

Well it's been a very busy few days, but let’s face it, you don’t really care about days 1-3 of my little jaunt to London, you’re here to find out about Tom’s new play aren’t you?!

Theatre programme for Ibsen's Rosmersholm, 1893 by Edouard Vuillard
Well, first of all, there's a small, but interesting diversion, as Monday started with a trip to the British Museum to see the work of another Norwegian, the artist Edvard Munch.
When I cruised around Norway a few years ago, his most famous painting The Scream seemed to be everywhere. It has become a universal symbol for anxiety, and this collection of prints in a collection entitled “Love and Angst” showed Munch’s exploration of his personal experiences of death and suffering throughout his life. It seemed the perfect introduction to get into the mindset of the evening’s play, which was to be a Norwegian writer’s exploration of human suffering.

Munch found his native homeland restrictive to his liberal ideas. He moved throughout Europe, just like Ibsen, and in fact he developed a friendship with both the playwrights Ibsen and Strindberg, which gave him an interest in the theatre. Hypnosis and the power of suggestion was becoming increasingly looked into in the 1880’s this can be seen in another play that Tom Burke has been in, August Strindbergs Creditors, which again explored how easily a man can be manipulated by a woman. 

Whilst Munch fell out with Strindberg, he developed a particular interest in Ibsen’s plays, his dark art shocked society, and Ibsen’s plays which focused on dark subject matters such as immorality, adultery and hypocrisy made them an ideal working partnership when it came to stage set and theatre programme designs. 

Henrik Ibsen 1902
Following Ibsen’s death in 1906, the German director Max Reinhardt asked Munch to design the sets for Ghosts, one of Ibsen’s earlier plays. Munch felt a close bond with the character Osvald who had inherited syphilis from his profligate father. Having watched his sister die, and as a family dealing with grief, Munch was able to transfer his own feelings of tragedy onto Ibsen’s characters. When he met the elderly Ibsen in 1893, he was told “Believe me – you will have the same fate as I – the more enemies, the more friends.” And in the 21st century that is to be believed, both Ibsen and Munch still have a huge following, and in today’s confused and troubled times, they seem more popular than ever.

Rosmersholm – Henrik Ibsen - 1886

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

“I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.”

I studied Rosmersholm back in the 90s and thought it was one of the most striking plays I had ever read. I have always been obsessed with horses, and I was fascinated by the idea of white horses being the ghosts of the house of Rosmersholm, whether they be the ghosts of past, present or future, that fear of seeing this mythical beast resonated with me. That sense of foreboding is nothing new, think of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (The white horse, the red horse, the black horse, the pale horse.)

These ghosts of foreboding

Sunday, 5 May 2019

All My Sons – Arthur Miller (The Old Vic, London)

If you’ve read The Crucible blog, you’ll know I was really excited to see All My Sons. As I’ve said previously, I’m not very familiar with Arthur Miller’s work, so in preparation I made the mistake of watching a previous version of the play (available online) starring David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker. It was fabulous!

Based upon a true story that Miller’s mother-in-law had seen in an Ohio newspaper, Miller wrote All My Sons in a vain bid to write a commercially successful play. All My Sons appears to be heavily influenced by Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, a play whereby a family has various skeletons in the closet which have to come out! In Miller’s story, two American business men conspired with army inspection officers to approve defective aircraft engines built for military use.

Money talks in this play… Joe Keller (Bill Pullman) has been exonerated of knowingly shipping damaged cylinder heads to the American air force, which have contributed to the deaths of 21 pilots during World War II. Instead, he blames his partner

The Crucible – Arthur Miller (The Yard Theatre, London)

I am not going to pretend that I know much about Arthur Miller. I know he was an American playwright, once married to Marilyn Monroe and he wrote The Crucible, a drama based on the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692/93. (I know about that because we read it at school and took a school trip to the theatre in Manchester, or maybe Liverpool, to watch it!) But apart from that, I don’t own any Arthur Miller books, so I was happy to go with my friend’s recommendations and have a “Miller” day in London.

First stop, The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick. Now I have been to this quirky little theatre before to watch Three Sisters After Chekhov which was amazing, but I knew it was a small fringe theatre and so I didn’t raise my hopes up too much on this production, I was saving myself for the evening’s blockbuster!

You’re a witch.
                               No I’m not.
You’re a witch.

                               No I’m not.
You’re a witch.
                               Stop saying that.
You’re a witch.
                               You’re scaring me.
You’re a witch.
You’re a witch.
You’re a witch.

As I took my seat on the front row, I realised this was not going to be the place to take a naughty snapshot of the stage, especially as I was practically sat on it! The opening image is rather striking in its simplicity. A set of red chairs, with the names of the characters emblazoned on the white backrests, are set up as though ready for a service in a small pastoral church. A crib is front, centre stage. The nine actors gradually take their chairs and introduce us to their duel-roles as they swap seats to take on the numerous characters they portray. They start off telling the story in their own accents, gradually slipping into American accents as they explain the context of Salem and the Puritans of Massachusetts, their isolation, their internal tensions and lack of stability leading to the events that unfold during the rest of the play.

I thought this was an interesting but unnerving start to the play, especially as one of the main narrators was sat within touching distance and I wasn’t really sure where to look…do I stare her out, do I look at the others who aren’t speaking??!! I was a little bit anxious if I’m honest…but then as I settled into the play, I realised this was a good thing. I wasn’t just watching the play…I felt complicit

Saturday, 4 May 2019

All About Eve - Noel Coward Theatre, London

“Nothing is forever in the theatre. Love or hate, success or failure…whatever it is, it flares up and burns hot and then it is gone.”

It’s true that people are often more interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the movies and the theatre, than what they see on screen or stage. Actors are a strange breed if you’re not living in their world…when you speak to them at the stage door are you really speaking to them, or are you speaking to another version of them? When they hug you and say, “it’s wonderful to see you again” do they really mean it, or internally is every fibre of their being screaming “oh dear God no, no, not you again!!!!”

There are those of us who think they must be fed up of us if they were honest, that they are just being polite, it’s just part of their job when they leave the stage door to smile and pose for pictures. Then there are those who genuinely believe the actor is as thrilled and excited to see them after the show, as they are to see the actor. And then there’s the Eve Harrington’s of this world, so honest, so sincere, but behind the laughter and the smiles they want something more than a hug and a selfie, and by God they’ll make sure they get it, even if it means riding roughshod over everybody.

Based on the 1946 short story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr, All About Eve tells the story of how one obsessed fan manipulated her way into the life of the Broadway star Margo (Crane) Channing. Eve’s behaviour is rather desperate, her desire to become friends with Margo is all consuming,