Posts tagged ‘king’s head’

10 June, 2010

Beating Berlusconi

Paul Duckworth as Kenny Noonan

Paul Duckworth as Kenny Noonan. Image courtesy of Martin Shippen Arts Marketing and Media

King’s Head Theatre, 8 June – 4 July

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide and cross-posted to The Collective Review

If you’re on tenterhooks for the World Cup, you could do worse for a warm-up than Beating Berlusconi. But you don’t need a review to tell you that; you can work out from the poster alone that it’s pitched at football fans. This review is for everyone else, in whom the idea of the World Cup inspires anything from indifference to nausea, and its advice is this: give Beating Berlusconi a try. It’ll surprise you if you let it.

In a nutshell, this one man show is the story of one Liverpool fan’s quest to see his team beat AC Milan at the Champions’ League final in Istanbul – and to nearly lamp Silvio Berlusconi in the process. But it’s as much about how and why he gets there as it is about the match (or the Berlusconi encounter); and the forces driving him Istanbul-wards are personal, political and social as often as they are sporting.

Paul Duckworth is Kenny, our affable EveryScouser; and as well as being a fine comic character actor, Paul Duckworth knows how to play to the crowd, which is invaluable in a play that encourages a certain amount of chanting and heckling. He’s got that instant familiarity that turns the show from Theatre into an extended barstool anecdote.

But it’s the occasional touching, visceral appearance of his lifetime’s worth of emotional baggage – his indignation at the demonisation of his community after Heysel and Hillsborough, the regret he carries after parting on bad terms with a close friend, his estrangement from his father – which, whatever your views on football, will make you root for Kenny to reach Istanbul whatever it costs him.

If you need an antidote to World Cup fever, Beating Berlusconi is not it. Beating Berlusconi is an inoculation. Even if you don’t buy into the hype yourself, it might help you understand why the game means so much to so many people. Like most things worth getting excited about, theatre included, it’s “a chance to escape all the shite”.

Written by John Graham Davies

Crew includes Matt Rutter (director) and Mike Wright (designer)

Cast includes Paul Duckworth (Kenny Noonan)

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19 February, 2010

‘I’d rather be in the pub’ is not an excuse

Written for The Collective Review, 19 February 2010

It’s understandable that a lot of people would rather spend their evening in the pub than at the theatre.  Who cares if the tickets are more affordable than you might think?  Theatres are stuffy and elitist, plays are boring, and you can’t even fortify yourself beforehand or commiserate properly afterwards because the beer is expensive and the wine is expensive and nasty…

…all right, you’ve caught me; that was a test.  If you found yourself showering that paragraph in indignant spittle then give yourself a pat on the back and move on.  If, on the other hand, you found yourself nodding in agreement, keep reading:  this article is for you.

I’m taken by surprise on a regular basis by people (theatre people and ‘normal’ people alike) who have no idea that there are theatres in pubs.  It surprises me because I see plays staged in little studios above or behind London pubs all the time (I’m the British Theatre Guide’s current go-to guy for pub theatre), and because they seem to me to be such a winning formula.

In this city at least, pub theatres (and theatre pubs – there’s a delicate distinction) are everywhere.  The tickets and the drinks alike are affordable.  There’s none of that gin-quaffing air-kissing atmosphere that puts so many people off the theatre.  The sets and lighting are often basic, but that encourages directorial innovation, and there’s a wealth of interesting, well-performed work to be found as a result.  So how come everyone I talk to reacts like pub theatre is London’s best-kept secret?

I think it’s largely a marketing issue.  The first time I visit a particular pub theatre I often realise I’ve walked past the pub before without realising there was a theatre in it.  From the street, the only evidence that – for instance – the Oxford Arms in Camden also houses the Etcetera Theatre is a sandwich board in the porch.  Presumably the publicans are worried pub-only punters could be put off by the thought of sharing the bar with a bunch of ginned-up luvvies.

Equally, while they don’t deliberately obscure the fact, few theatres make a selling point of being situated in a pub.  It’s possible to book online and turn up at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington and only then realise it takes its name from the pub it’s attached to; likewise the King’s Head or Hen and Chickens in Islington.  The name ‘Theatre503‘ in a listing or review does not immediately suggest a connection to the Latchmere pub in Battersea, and the Greenwich Playhouse’s website studiously avoids mentioning that it can only be accessed through an O’Neill’s.  They seem to want to be defined as theatres that happen to share premises with a pub, rather than the joint entity ‘pub theatre’.

It’s like the pubs and their theatres are determined to be the awkward bedfellows they are on paper – in which case we need to be the mutual friends determined to show them how perfect they actually are for one another.  No one’s consciously keeping people in the dark about the pub theatre movement, but people are in the dark nonetheless, and that benefits nobody.

20 March, 2009

The Murder Game

King’s Head Theatre Pub, 18 March – 19 April 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

James Farwell is, first and foremost, an attorney and political consultant. The Murder Game is his first foray into playwriting and he’s sticking to what he knows: the legal community of his native New Orleans.

The plot is pure farce. There’s a criminal on the loose with a murderous vendetta against Katherine Kelly (Josefina Gabrielle), the judge that put him away. Her unfaithful husband Randall (Michael Praed) orders a hit on her too, for a variety of apparently justifiable reasons, so she orders one back in self-defence.

At the same time Katherine’s on the rebound with Brazilian ex-footballer turned crime writer Pito Pinto (Ben Jones), and her prosecutor friend Melvin (Patrick Clancy) is running up gambling debts on her office phone.

It’s a promising set-up for a farce. The stakes are certainly high. Lives are on the line, and both Katherine and Randall are public figures – he’s running for District Attorney – with a lot to lose should their questionably legal behaviour come to light.

The problem is that Farwell hasn’t written a farce, despite having a great scenario for one. All the onstage characters are in on it, so instead of hiding their sordid affairs from one another, they’re all united in concealing them from the impersonal, unseen (and therefore unthreatening) threat of The Media.

Perhaps Farwell didn’t set out to write a farce. Fair enough. But as the pressure mounts, his characters act with the escalating idiocy of farce characters, without the frantic pace the genre uses to excuse it. Farwell’s characters have time to consider, and they still act stupidly.

Chalk that one up to inexperience with the venerable old modes of theatre, perhaps. But the play has other, less easily excusable flaws, not least of which is a tendency to tell, not show – breaking one of the cardinal rules of playwriting.

Rather than demonstrate their flaws, vices and virtues through action, characters are exhaustively described by one another. Randall reels off Katherine’s character crib sheet as an explanation for his infidelity. Melvin describes Pito’s every facet to Randall and proceeds to explain precisely his influence on Katherine’s behaviour. It makes for unexciting, static staging.

Jones, Clancy and Matt Healy as hitman Clyde all have a grasp on the kind of play The Murder Game is trying to be, and play accordingly for laughs. Melvin is high (though thankfully not screaming) camp, and Pito is the stereotypical Latin loverboy. The two leads are scripted a little more in earnest, though their behaviour is no less outrageous, so Gabrielle and Praed have a harder time reconciling their performances with the play’s muddled tone.

In fact, Praed is a little too convincing. With a charming, trustworthy smile and uninflected delivery, he sounds like a politician reading his lines off an autocue.

Frequent video interludes – showcasing parodied but worryingly still realistic campaign ads – can’t keep the play from feeling dated. The second act dinner party in particular is a long-abandoned theatrical tradition.

You can’t fault Farwell’s legal knowledge, which is used but not overused; but a little more knowledge of theatre history could have helped frame The Murder Game in a format better befitting its content.

Written by James Farwell

Crew includes John Tillinger (director) and Nigel Hook (set/costume design)

Cast includes Patrick Clancy (Melvin Kline), Josefina Gabrielle (Katherine Kelly), Matt Healy (Clyde), Ben Jones (Pito) and Michael Praed (Randall Kelly)

Need a second opinion?