Category Archives: Theatre

I have run away and joined the Circus!

Roll Up!  Roll Up!  Step this way ladies and Gentlemen and follow me for FUN and GAMES!

Well to say that I have run away and joined the Circus might be a teeny weeny exaggeration, but never let the truth get in the way of entertainment has long been a showbiz maxim, and I have joined a Circus family albeit for a couple of weeks.

Yes I am an Advocate of Fun for the Unlimited Theatre’s The Giant and the Bear(click here for tickets) show being performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from now until 8 July.  It is part theatre, part circus and one hundred percent wonderful.   Plus there are tonnes of fun and games to children from 0 to 90 to play and feel part of the circus family too.

As frequent readers of my blogs know already I am very squeamish about spoilers but I’m not giving the game away by telling you that The Giant has a travelling circus and there is a bear working there who is not allowed to fly.

It really is a magical show especially if you have children (of any ages) and I strongly recommend a visit before the Circus leaves town.

Mary Poppins I aint.

 

I am definitely not practically perfect in anyway

Blimey, if I thought it was stressful getting the girls to their technical rehearsal on Thursday night.  I had no idea what was in store the following evening.

It was the first night of the show.  Excitement was running at a fever pitch, there were girls of all heights and ages running around.  The one common factor; they all had immaculate gelled buns.  First pressure of the night. Would Nina’s gelled bun withstand the tests and rigours demanded of it.   The amount of gel and hairspray slathered on it would have kept a medium-sized hairdressers going for a week.  It was a nervous time.

Mrs Hampshore had given full and clear instructions on arrival times.  We knew which mums would be helping in the dressing rooms, runners were organised too.  Drinks and snacks had been provided and we were told to bring board games for the girls.   I had managed to bring some cards.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well for someone who is not a natural sewer, the pressure of having to sew torn costumes was intense.   The girls were doing a routine to Run Rabbit Run and they had neon pink netting skirts complete with a white bob-tail fastened at the back, the aforementioned white leotard and a sequined neon pink bow tie.

You would be amazed and possibly quite disbelieving just how many bow ties could come unattached or how many bob-tails could split just as the girls were being called to the stage.    One girl’s bow tie went on one side, and then two seconds before she went on stage the other side went.   My mind went blank.  I couldn’t even thread the needle in time.  The eye of the needle had become microscopic and my fingers and threads had swelled to the size of a giant’s.  My mind went blanker.  Buddhists mediating for years couldn’t empty their mind anymore than mine was at that moment.   Luckily one mum noticed and her rapid response quick thinking saved the day.  She tied the elastic on to itself and on the girl went.  It took until the interval for my knees to stop knocking.

If we thought the pressure was off once they came back down after the performance, we had to think again.  How do you keep 20 odd girls, ages ranging from 3 to 7-year-old clean for over an hour in a dusty room?  Especially when they are wearing white and have been given orange juice in squashy cartons to drink?  We couldn’t have handled those cartons to the girls more delicately if they had been the most precious finely blown priceless glassware.  The girls were under very strict orders not to squeeze the boxes.  We all held our breath, and miraculously no orange juice spilled on the costumes.   It doesn’t seem possible we were so lucky.

Then all we had to do was keep them occupied and relatively quiet for over an hour with extremely limited resources.  We tried Chinese Whispers.  That lasted maybe two rounds. The girls all wanted to start off the whispers themselves and couldn’t agree who should do it.  Despite all our attempts at arbitration.   We tried Grandma’s Footsteps.  That was successful for about 30 seconds.  We tried singing.  That didn’t even get off the ground.  By this time the little ones were really missing their mummies.  “I want my mummy”.  “I want my  mummy”. “I WANT my mummy.”  One little girl was insistent and was far too clever to be fobbed off with a cheery but vague.  “She will be here soon”.     None of us adults were even sure who her mum was.  This little darling dumpling of a girl was probably not much older than 3.  Still with those adorable plump little toddler legs.  It was well past her bedtime, of course she should want her mum.

Anxious looks went round the helpers.  What are we doing to do?  In the interval I searched for her mum in the audience but she wasn’t there.   It was going to be long long Second Half.

With darling dumpling girl on one knee and her friend on the other we tried some more singing.   The thought went through my mind… how did they keep children occupied in concentration camps.  An extreme thought I know but then I heard one of the other mums saying as she balanced two more babies on her knees ” This is just like being in the war!”.

Every minute of the second Act meant we were closer to the finale and hometime.  It couldn’t come quick enough.   I had brought some pencils and crayons.  We ripped up a cardboard box and I did a raid of The Friends of Guiseley Operatic Society flyers as they were blank on one side and the girls settled down to do some drawing.  Peace (well apart from the squabbles over colours) reigned.  We breathed a sigh of relief.

At last the girls were being called to the stage for the finale.  We are on the home stretch. Things were going smoothly.  Our only obstacle was to get girls to the loo in time.  Getting the costumes off and back on again was tricky but manageable.  Everything was looking good, everything was looking great until Nina, yes my daughter, locked the door of her loo and it stuck fast.   Cue panic from Nina, she wouldn’t climb under the door.  She couldn’t undo the lock.  I couldn’t undo the lock with my thumb nail on my side.  I despatched the other little girl with instructions to bring a mum with a penny!  Which she duly did.  I could hear the stage manager barking for the lines of girls to go up to the stage.  Nina was getting quite hysterical behind the door.  The penny was not opening the door.  I was trying to stop the rising levels of panic that were building all around us.  The mum with the penny tried again.  Nothing.  One last try, the lock opened. Nina was released straight into her line and up the stairs and onto the stage.  Leaving two rather frazzled women in her wake.

Backstage has always held a certain fascination for me, seeing what really goes on to put on the show, being in the “know”, feeling part of something, a sense of community.  I have to say though being a chaperone for those girls has made me rethink that a little.  I realise now the pleasure and privilege of sitting front of house and letting the show entertain you.

And if I am chaperoning next year I will be coming with a Mary Poppins bag of tricks and reams and reams of paper, a dozen pre-threaded needles and strict instructions that no-one locks the loo!

Nat’s Treasures No #17 Danny Boyle

An occasional series looking at people I admire

Tuesday 22 February 2011.  Already it’s a whole year since I attended the World Premiere of Frankenstein at the National Theatre.

If you don’t remember this, it was one of the biggest theatre events last year.  Benedict Cumberbatch (who had just shot to stardom in Sherlock, see previous blogs for my admiration of his talent!) was playing Victor Frankenstein and The Creature on alternate nights opposite an old Danny Boyle favourite Jonny Lee Millar.

Frankenstein was a new play by Nick Dear, who had previously worked with Jonny Lee Miller in the BBC TV series Bryon, who was famously with Mary Shelley and her husband in Switzerland when the idea of Frankenstein came to Mary in a dream, after a night telling ghost stories.

So tickets to the hottest show in town, time away from the kids, and a trip to the South Bank, somewhere I consider somewhat of a spiritual home, could the day get any better?  Well yes, this was a glittering star studded event, we lost count of famous people attending alongside us, in short it appeared to be the cream of British Acting talent there that night, oh and Paul and I.  We even ended up having drinks beside a noticeably nervous Danny Boyle (he is much taller in real life) and the extremely apprehensive  Nick Dear.  We even saw the long time Boyle musical collaborators  Underworld.  They seemed to taking their premiere much more in their stride.

I was quite dumbstruck to be standing next to Danny Boyle, director of so many of my favourite films.  Scenes from Trainspotting, (the only film I have seen at the cinema four times, to say I was obsessed is an understatement) Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Shallow Grave and my personal favourite, Millions raced through my head.  I wanted to thank him right for every exhilarating adrenaline fueled visual moment.  To thank him for all those sublime film soundtracks, for all that music which has become so entwined in my own life.  For all those characters he has brought to the screen so clearly and so vividly, and for all that new British acting talent he has brought to us.

His incredible energy was on display, he was chewing gum at a ferocious rate.  I couldn’t say anything he was with his family, but it was amazing to overhear the conversations about the Oscars being held that Sunday.  They were up for best picture with 127 hours, another film that jumps out of the screen and holds you in a rock hard grip for 2 hours.  There was much talk of it being Colin’s year for Best Actor  as he was in contention with James Franco.  It made you realise just how arbitrary these awards are.  How can you really say which  performance is better?  A very surreal moment.

And wonderful to hear that voice, that Manchester accent that has been softened by years of international film-making but still so distinct.  I love that Danny Boyle promotes all his own films.  I can listen to his analysis, passion, enthusiasm, creativity and total artistic understanding of his films and their power all day.  He makes me feel that anything is possible.  That I can achieve anything I want. In short a very inspiring man.

Which makes me so delighted that he is in charge of the Olympics Opening Ceremony.  Who ever made that appointment should be given a Knighthood themselves.   Danny Boyle understands how to communicate to and also to entertain an audience.  He knows exactly what makes something so exciting to watch.  How to tell a story clearly but also with impact, imagination and humour.   I am sure he is having a few sleepless nights right now, but I know he is the right man for the job.  I can’t wait to see what he does, but I know it will be memorable, spectacular and at the heart of it the very essence of what it is to be British.  Something we will be proud to show the world.

And the play? well it had all of Danny Boyle’s trademark visual punch and flair (the lighting that stimulating the life-giving lightening seared your eyes it was so bright, it actually hurt).  There was a giant bell (cast when Shakespeare was alive), birthing,  snow, rain, sun rises, full-size trains, fire, a revolving stage and award-winning, can’t take your eyes of them, central performances.  The Creature is birthed at the beginning of the play and then is naked on the stage for 15 minutes as he learns how to move and walk.  The script was clunky in places but when you are dealing with all the big questions of life, love, death, parenting, rejection, nature versus nature and that fine line between science and advancement on one hand and morality and religion on the other, well I guess you probably do need a bit of shoe horn.

You did need to see both castings in both roles to get the full impact of the play as well.  Thank goodness for the wonderful NT live scheme, where you can see performances streamed direct into the cinemas around the world.

And this year? well it going to be a bit more low-key.  Going to work as a Lunchtime Behaviour Supervisor isn’t quite the showy affair last year was, but I shall be chuckling as I keep that pizza queue moving that last year I was stood next to an Oscar-winning director. I like the contrast in that, in fact it could almost be a scene out of a Danny Boyle film.

War Horse

Yesterday was a red-letter day for such a cinephilic family as ours.

We all went to the cinema to see the same film together.  Steven Spielberg’s filmic version of the sell-out National Theatre play based on the Michael Morpugo book, War Horse.

The tickets were a very generous gift from a very lovely friend, and even though I know that refreshments are eye-wateringly expensive because food and beverages are how the cinema make their money, they get scant revenue from the films themselves.  I know this but it still really smarts when  two micro paper packets of popcorn and two drinks of pop comes to £14.

So we were in, we had our our rip off snacks.  In some ways I am delighted they were so small, as training children to eat automatically the minute they sit down and watch a film does make me very uneasy.  Plus I am the rustle police.  I CAN’T STAND TO HEAR ALL THAT CHOMPING AND SCHLURPING  around me when I am watching a film.  Don’t get me started about people who eat at the theatre.  What is wrong with you that you can’t stop munching for 3 hours.  What are we?  No better than grazing animals gazing blank eyed at the pretty people?  I went to Othello in the Autumn and all through a very intense and very powerful production someone behind me was eating a large bag of Minstrels……just stay at home and watch Casualty dear! Right snotty rant over!  We will leave coughing for another day.  What is wrong with people that they have to cough all over spell-binding performances?  I think sometimes people are just so desperate to have a voice, to be heard in anyway, they can’t stop themselves.

Crikey this is getting like a restaurant review isn’t it, so far down and still no mention of the film.

Next came the trailers.. a good number too, recently cinemas have been showing far too many ads and not enough trailers, but yesterday the balance was just right.

So Warhorse.  Well  first off, it was a very good film, it is not a you must see this film film, but it is very good. Essentially the story is Black Beauty goes to War.  The cinematography was exceptional, all the performances were excellent.   There were so many fantastic character actors from Britain and Europe, from Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis and Tom Hiddleston to Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell, Liam Cunningham and Eddie Marsan.  It was a treat to watch them as they came and went in Warhorse’s life. If you were a fan of  The Killing 2 there is a lovely surprise appearance for you too.  It was good to see David Kross again, he was the young Michael Berg in The Reader and Niels Arestrup, whose loving Grandfather was a million miles away from  the violent criminal mastermind in A Prophet. Oh how I would love to work for Jina Jay the casting director not only of War Horse but Tinker Tailor.  Acting is really something we British are very good at isn’t it.  I don’t think this talent is celebrated nearly enough.

John Williams scored it perfectly.  Swirling, stirring and lump in the throat emotional. It never dominated, it only ever emphasised.  When those last trumpet notes rang out at the end, well I don’t think I was the only one nudging away a tear.  In fact most of our showing was entertained to some very loud sobbing from about half way through the film.  I could see people craning their necks trying to identify the weeper.

I would say my only slight reservation was right at the beginning.  You could tell this was an American’s version of Devon.  There was something slightly almost dare I say Mary Poppinseque about the opening sequences at the farm.  A real sense of heightened reality. Maybe it was needed to carry the rest of the story, but it was surprising, but only fleeting.

There are some must see scenes, I am always so squeamish about spoilers I will say they both involve horses, and they are breath-taking and well worth seeing on the big screen.

The horrors of the First World War have been very cleverly handled.  There is enough to leave in you no doubt of the horrors and yet not so brutally done that children watching will have nightmares.  This is Michael Morpurgo’s skill as a story-teller, my children have also enjoyed Private Peaceful and When the Whales Came.  He tackles these adult subjects about the brutality and destruction of war and how it destroys lives and tears families apart but it is done in a way children can comprehend.

My son Harry, aged 10 said afterward that he thought War Horse was a beautiful film, very moving and just showed the pointlessness of war.

How have I written so much and not mentioned the horses that played Joey?  Well, what can you say?  The entire film you are wondering how on earth did they get the horses to do that?   You think they are acting too.  They really are the stars, and only a director as experienced and accomplished Steven Spielberg, a man who has added to the lexicon of cinematic imagery the way Shakespeare added words to the English language, could achieve that.

So half way through the celebrations.. how is everyone bearing up?

I have no idea what day it is, are we still in Bank Holiday territory?

I feel like I have eaten and drunk my body-weight again in roasted meats and booze.

I have wrapped what felt a million presents and cleared up the same paper less than 12 hours later.

I have seen or communicated most of my immediate family and managed to have a ridiculous argument with my sister (for which I am truly sorry). I have watched some dire Christmas TV, the only highlights were Doctor Who (so emotional, what could be better, at this time of year, than a story about the power of a mother, especially when the Mother was Claire Skinner, and those happy tears so humanny wumanny.  Matt Smith and Stephen Moffat you have pulled it off again). Downton Abbey (just sublime, and about time too (no spoilers)) and my very favourite so far, Ab Fab.  It was as if Eddie and Patsy had never been away.  I am still dancing with delight at the sight of Sarah Lund plus her jumper as a visitor in Eddie’s dream.

Oh and I think a very honorable mention to Lost Christmas.. which was also superb.  An urban fairytale with Eddie Izzard and Steven Macintosh that had us all blubbing even my 10 year old.

Although I am very delighted that Prince Philip managed to pull through.. I was not looking forward to 3 days of sombre images and music of the Duke lying in state over my turkey dinner!

The radio hasn’t been on except to pump out the Christmas hits, I have not heard any news, been anywhere, haven’t had to look at a clock, stick to a schedule and it has been utterly blissful.

I have been feeling very proud of the unseasonally mild weather this year too.  I feel I can take full credit after buying the kids a sledge and snowboots and a snow shovel in October this year.

My only exercise has been a couple of rounds of Just Dance 2, my Jump Jump is coming along a treat.  My cossack dancing on Rasputin sadly, is not.

There is a beacon that is guiding me through the fog of these festive days. I am going to see Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre on Thursday.   Every few days I seem to read another tweet from someone who has been transfixed by the power of the story and Mark Rylance’s performance.  I am on tenterhooks until I am in my seat, the curtain goes up and the actors walk on stage.

Oh and then there is that other treat on New Year’s Day… the return of Sherlock.   And it looks sooooooo good.  If you happened to have missed any of the trailers by any chance, well here is one of them.. well it is Christmas!

So really I seem to be bearing up ok, hope you are too.. now if only I just work out what day it is today…….

We Will Rock You – Leeds Grand Theatre 15 November 2011

 

To celebrate my son’s 10th birthday the Emmines family took a trip to the theatre to see the touring version of We Will Rock You.

I must say it wouldn’t have been my first choice of entertainment. Indeed it was quite bizarre to think only a few weeks ago I had been at The Grand Theatre entranced by Opera North’s emotional telling of Madame Butterfly. Still low expectations can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises and it was so wonderful to be all together (and everyone in a lovely mood, not always a given these days).

The band, Queen, have always had a very special place in my heart. The Greatest Hits tape was the musical backbone of many a family holiday; the single common denominator that could bridge generational and fraternal differences.

And to me Another One Bites the Dust is the sound of the Youth Club. That disco bassline sounding just as exciting today as it did thumping out at St Mary’s Church Hall speakers all those years ago.  Pop music is Proustian.  Hear a tune from your past, you are transported there in an instant.  All those sensations, memories, feelings even smells rushing back stronger than a rip tide.

Ahem, yes well, anyway,  back to the show in hand.  I have to say upfront.  I did enjoy it.  Unashamedly so.

It is set in a dystopian future that has banned rock and any sort of music or instruments that generate soulful euphoria,  the “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  With nods to Orwell, A Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the story worked well especially as a device to deliver us as many Queen classics as possible (I lost count after 16).

Opening with Radio Gaga performed by High School Musical drones, the message was clear,  Simon Cowell and computerised music are the arch-enemies.  A line about pop stars’ careers being over before their song had finishing playing raised one of the biggest laughs of the night.

There were wider themes being explored too.  Globalisation, the loss of individuality and the relentless of homogenisation of not just our music but our lives today was being played out too.   When you consider the show is now in its tenth year, it felt remarkably fresh and pertinent to current issues.  I could see real parallels to the We are the 99% protestors.  It can be no coincidence that Ben Elton named the villain’s company Globalsoft.

It would be an impossible job for anyone to live up to Freddy Mercury’s singing or stage presence, the cast acquitted themselves well.  The show’s band was excellent and I was delighted they were revealed before the end to receive their very deserved applause.

With all the references to manufactured music it was almost a post modern twist when I realised the lead was being played, by none other than Noel Sullivan, last seen in Hear’ Say, the very first winner of Popstars,  X-factor’s fore-runner.  Tricky Dicky from Eastenders, Ian Reddington was an excellent Pop, the old hippy-cum-roadie, a man who could have shared many a Camberwell Carrot with Withnail & I’s Danny.   His performance was very assured.  His skill and energy, when he came on in the second half, lifted everyone in the theatre, actors and audience alike.

At the interval my daughter said very disappointedly “Oh they haven’t played We Will Rock You”.  By time they did, she was up on her feet dancing away.   In a nutshell, that is what made it so good, just singing and dancing with my family.  Everyone left the theatre smiling and tapping their feet.  You couldn’t help but think Freddie would have been delighted.

A Night At The Opera

Last night I went to the Opera for the very first time to see the superb Opera North’s Madame Butterfly.

I was quite apprehensive beforehand. What happens if I can’t follow it, I don’t like it, that it is just not my thing.  The idea of sitting through an unenjoyable performance for two and half hours on the hottest night in September in living memory was, I will be honest, filling me with dread.  Still a couple of sharpeners later and the half time gin and tonic booked in, I was ready for the night’s entertainment.

All those fears all proved groundless and just melted away in the very first minutes of the performance.  It was utterly spell-binding.

At first it was just so novel watching people sing  continuously without speaking.  I found it so fascinating watching effectively a play and understanding the movement and gestures of the actors whilst they sang to tell the story.

After about 5 minutes I realised there were screens at either side of stage.   I did know the basic outline of the plot to Madame Butterfly but the screens with the English translation helped me to understand the nuances.  The language was so poetic too.  The first description Pinkerton has of his Japanese bride is ” Fair as a garland of fragrant flowers.  Brighter than a star in the heavens.”

The singing of course was out of this world.  As this was my first opera I have nothing to compare it too but I can’t believe there can be many better singers than the Soprano who sang the part of Cio Cio San, or Madame Butterfly (Anne Sophie Duprels).  Her voice was so pure and true, utterly exquisite and completely heart-breaking.

My friend was rather taken with the conductor.  Sadly I couldn’t see him really until the curtain call, but it was so exciting to be a room listening to a live orchestra, I wish I got to do it much more often.  There is really nothing else like hearing an orchestra playing Puccini’s beautiful, haunting, emotional music; actually hearing the music being produced and played for your pleasure.  The music reminded me of a film score, giving power and weight to the drama.  There were recurring themes and motifs, such as phrasing of the star-spangled banner for Pinkerton the American Sailor, defining and explaining characters in exactly the same way as they do in a film.

Emotional would be the word of the night.  By the time the production got to the most famous aria from the opera I could feel the tears welling up.  As the fate of Madame Butterfly was played out, as I watched the drama of this young woman’s life unfold and saw her pain and anguish, her most precious hopes and dreams being destroyed, it almost felt that the tragedy and the sorrow was mine too.  I could feel the tears streaming down my face, they ran under my chin.  I couldn’t stop them.  My friend said he looked at me and it was Niagara Falls.  I was trying to cry silently as not to spoil the moment for any other opera goer.  I was very aware that I was in danger of making the most  horrible racking sobbing noise.  I was starting to find it hard to breathe.  The trombones  saved me.  The sound of them right at that moment indicated the whole orchestra was coming to a powerful crescendo.  Here was my chance, I breathed, snorted and blew my nose all under the cover of the wonderful brass section.  Massive apologies to anyone there that heard or saw that it.  It could not have been pretty.

Half way through Ed and I were planning a trip to Glyndebourne, so I think it is safe to say we both really enjoyed it.  It has really made me want to see another opera, maybe some more Puccini or even some Mozart.  I think Madame Butterfly might have set the bar extremely high for all other operas but I am looking forward to finding out.

And if after all of this you want to hear some of the opera yourself, here is the most famous aria “Un Bel di Vedremo” (One Fine Day).

And thank you Ed for the most amazing night. Loved that we were the youngest people in the audience of Madame Butterfly by about 30 years and then we ended in Mission and I was the oldest person in there by 20 years.  I will never experience such a night of extremes ever again.

Me and the Bard.. A To Do List.. or put it another way.. is this a bucket list I see before me?

macbeth stage

Macbeth, Swan Theatre, 2011.

(This is possibly a very self-indulgent post normal service will resume again very soon!)

This is going to be more of a list, and maybe a chance for me to catalogue a promise I made to myself sitting on a coach on a Saturday morning many years ago, on my very first trip to the RSC, to see my first Shakespeare play.

I probably vowed many things when I was 17, not to have kids, not even get married, and to be a millionaire all seem quite likely at that age.  But this is the only one that has stuck.  The vow was to see all of Shakespeare’s plays performed as I had been captivated by them since school.  I loved that over 500 years human nature had not changed, plus I adored the challenge of puzzling out the meanings of those beautiful words and expressions.

So far I have achieved (and it’s not a very long list, to my shame!)

Comedy of Errors – RSC  Stratford 1984

I must confess I had no idea what was going on.  There was case of mistaken identity and things descended from the sky which I thought was very exciting.  Not having experienced anything other than very regional theatre at that point. But it looked beautiful and it obviously didn’t put me off.

Macbeth – Riverside Studios Hammersmith

Helen Mccrory was one of the witches, it must have been one of her first roles.  Macbeth was a tv detective, Roy Marsden?  I just remember quite a lot of scaffolding and a very red set.

The Merchant of Venice.  Phoenix Theatre 1990 – dir: Peter Hall

Dustin Hoffman was Shylock, Geraldine James was Portia.  Dustin Hoffman’s Shylock was definitely more New York hustler than 17th century Venetian.  And, as Barry Norman used to say, why not?

There was then a massive hiatus where I think I was more interested in dance rhythms  than iambic pentameter.  Although I did sneak in some Wilde, but back to the count.

Hamlet – West Yorkshire Playhouse 2002

Christopher Ecclestone as Hamlet and Maxine Peake as Ophelia.  My husband, Paul, loves to remind me that I was befriended by Chris’s drama teacher from Salford University at the start and interval, only for her to shun me at the end, after my eyes closed momentarily during the penultimate scene.  It had been a very long day and it was extremely hot, that is my only excuse!

Richard II – Old Vic November 2005 – Trevor Nunn

Kevin Spacey.  A modern-day Richard II, very new labour and Tony Blairesque.  Sadly this was my first experience of people coming to the theatre to cough.  Why spend all that money and then hack your way through a sublime performance?  Ben Miles (Coupling) surprised and impressed me also as a very strong Bolingbroke.

Much Ado About Nothing – RSC London Season January 2007

Set in 1930s Cuba and Tamsin Greig was an extremely witty and clever Beatrice.  The music from the Cuban band was divine.

Hamlet – RSC  London Season Boxing Day 2008 – Gregory Doran

Yes this was the night of the understudy, David Tennant’s hurt back meant we saw Edward Bennett’s Hamlet instead.  The moments before his first soliloquy were the most intense experience.  Your chest felt compressed by the weight of expectation in the room,  it was so heavy it was enough to give you the bends.  Patrick Stewart was also excellent as  Claudius, as was Mariah Gale as Ophelia.  A beautiful polished, mirrored set cleverly doubled as both the castle ramparts and  the Palace interior.  It was modern dress, except the play within in a play which had the most sumptuous Elizabethan costumes.  Even minus Tennant I left on a high.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. RSC London Season Jan 2009 – Gregory Doran

Edward Bennett and Mariah Gale both very good again, and that gorgeous polished, mirrored set this time created a magical forest with a very low hanging moon.

The Tempest – The Grand Theatre Leeds October 2009

The RSC collaboration with Baxter Theatre, Cape Town.  With Anthony Sher as Prospero and John Kani as Caliban.  It was big, bold, beautiful.  The South African puppets and music added so much, it was easy to make parallels to apartheid.  It was also a very short play at just over 2 hours, and The Grand is just over the road from my favourite bar, Mojos.  Cue a fabulous impromptu night with a wonderful friend and a few too many Cuba Libras.  Magnificent.

Hamlet – Crucible  2 October 2010

John Simm’s turn as the Dane and my first experience of actors speaking directly to the audience

Act One, S III

Horatio “Aren’t you going to turn that off?” (me: mmmm don’t remember this from school)

Hamlet “Your phone?”

Yes a numpty in the front row had left their phone on and it was ringing repeatedly.   To add insult to injury phone man couldn’t fish it out from the bottom of his very large shopper until the ansaphone ring back.  He then fell soundly asleep in the second half.  Again, Paul, I reiterate my eyes closed for just a second 8 years ago.

As You Like it – West Yorkshire Playhouse October 2010 – Ian Brown

A sparkling version of As You Like It.  Vanessa Kirby  (one to watch) was a captivating and engaging Rosalind in a very strong, funny production.  Again the set deserves a mention, the trees in the forest were beautiful.

Much Ado About Nothing – Wyndhams Theatre 18 June 2011

My chance to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate together as the bickering duo.  Set in 1980s Gibraltar it was a cross between ‘An Officer and A Gentleman’ and Wham’s Club Tropicana.  David Tennant was incredible at Benedick, it was an absolute joy to watch someone so comfortable on the stage, so absolutely enjoying entertaining us.  I thought Catherine Tate was excellent at the slapstick, but I was disappointed by her performance, rather one-dimensional.

And so this leads to this weekend.

Richard III – Old Vic – 12 August 2011 Sam Mendes

Oh my goodness.  There are not words to express what I saw. Possibly the best piece of theatre ever.  Kevin Spacey was magnificent.  Twisted body, villanous mind.  A poisonous bunch-backed toad indeed.  Chuk Iwuji was also fantastic as Buckingham.  He is definitely one to watch in the future.

Macbeth RSC – 13 August 2011 – Stratford

Fantastic to  see the first play of the first season of the new Swan Theatre.  The stage has two walkways reaching out into the audience.  There isn’t a bad seat in the house.  No witches in this performance, instead very unsettling children.  It was a good solid production and very enjoyable but it missed the flourishes of the previous night’s play.

So in conclusion, after over 20 years I have not yet seen a third of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.  I had some near misses too.  We had tickets for King Lear with Ian McKellen (and another Doctor Who reference, Sylvester McCoy as the Fool – I am not doing this on purpose I promise) and Romola Garai as Cordelia.  But my daughter was sick and we couldn’t go.  I still think about those empty seats at that performance.

And the future? Well coming up later this year is Othello, played by Lester and McNulty from the Wire.  Again in Sheffield. Hopefully that man leaves his phone at home this time.   And after that who knows what productions are being planned or which actors being cast, but I do know “I have deserved no better entertainment” and that is enough for me.

Cumberwatch

As you may have noticed from my very first blog, I am quite a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch. I believe he is the greatest actor of this generation and is destined for very very very great things.

I feel therefore it would be negligent of me not to point out that he is on both the tv and radio quite a lot at the moment.

Sherlock – BBC1 Wednesday 8.30pm

A repeat of episode two of the first series. Possibly the weakest story of the series, nevertheless the production is dazzling, sharp, clever. Sherlock brought into the 21st century.  The relationship between himself and Watson is a joy to behold.

The Rattigan Engima – BBC 4 Thursday 9.00pm

A documentary by BC into the life and work of playwright Terence Rattigan.

Cabin Pressure – Radio 4 Friday 11.30 am

If you haven’t discovered the aircrew of MJN Air you are in for an absolute treat.  It is no exaggeration to say this is one of the funniest comedies on either tv or radio. Ever. Promise.

Hawking – BBC4 Monday 10.00pm

A rare chance to see this affecting 2004 drama about the life of Stephen Hawking. A role that lead to a Bafta Best Actor nomination and made BC such a name to watch. He is mesmerizing, even Stephen Hawking himself approved the portrayal.

And if that isn’t enough, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is set for general release on 16th September: