Posts tagged ‘sam smith’

11 July, 2010

The Comedy of Errors

Sophie  Roberts and Daniel Weyman in The Comedy of Errors

Sophie Roberts and Daniel Weyman in The Comedy of Errors. Image courtesy of The Corner Shop

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 24 June – 31 July 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The first and final scenes of this open-air Comedy of Errors feel dashed off, as if director Philip Franks couldn’t be bothered to do much with them. This isn’t as big a problem as it might be in a different play: The Comedy of Errors is mostly middle.

Franks appears to have judged, by no means incorrectly, that the sob story Egeon (Christopher Ravenscroft) feeds the Duke (Alister Cameron) in scene one isn’t nearly as important to the audience as it is to Egeon (who is, after all, telling it in order to secure himself a stay of execution). Adoptions and shipwrecks don’t concern us. All we need to know is that two sets of estranged identical twins are about to be set loose in Ephesus and hilarity, as they say, will ensue.

So yes, the opening scene is interminable, there’s little evidence of “grief unspeakable” in Ravenscroft’s performance and as such his climactic reunion with his wife and sons is emotionally flat. But as soon as Egeon yields the stage to the twin Antipholi and Dromios, Franks and the audience alike sit up and start paying attention.

The production has a fantastic sense of fun, embracing the absurdity of the play’s premise and embellishing it with brand new absurdities, like unexpected song and dance numbers and Scooby-Doo-style pursuits with mobs racing past people hidden in convenient wicker baskets.

The contrasting relationships of the Antipholi (Daniels Weyman and Llewelyn-Williams) to their respective Dromios (Joseph Kloska and Josh Cohen) are convincingly fleshed out: Ephesian Dromio (Cohen) is beaten and put-upon by his wealthy master (Llewelyn-Williams) but they always make up in the end, while the less affluent Syracusan pair are on a more equal footing.

This means that when the Antipholi unwittingly swap Dromios or vice versa, as they inevitably must, there’s an extra level of humour to enjoy. One Dromio leaves in search of bail money for Antipholus and another returns with a bit of rope – that’s worth a giggle. But when Ephesian Antipholus, used to getting his own way, is faced with a Dromio who isn’t used to taking orders, hilarity ensues.

Perhaps if Franks had paid as much attention to Egeon’s characterisation as to the twins’, the production could have gained yet another layer, this time of poignancy. But this production gets belly laughs from a capacity crowd using Elizabethan dialogue, so I say, who needs depth when hilarity is ensuing?

Written by William Shakespeare

Crew includes Philip Franks (director), Gideon Davey (designer), Quinny Sacks (movement director), Paul Frankish (musical director)

Cast includes Alister Cameron (Duke), Josh Cohen (Dromio of Ephesus), Joseph Kloska (Dromio of Syracuse), Daniel Llewelyn-Williams (Antipholus of Ephesus), Christopher Ravenscroft (Egeon), Daniel Weyman (Antipholus of Syracuse)

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9 May, 2010

The Riddle of the Sands

Matthew Brown and Tom Micklem in The Riddle of the Sands

Matthew Brown and Tom Micklem in The Riddle of the Sands. Image courtesy of Clout Communications

Jermyn Street Theatre, 7 – 22 May 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Espionage drama these days is such serious business. It’s all split screens, ticking time bombs and torture. It’s enough to make one yearn for simpler times, when a rather staid civil servant type could foil a dastardly German plot in the course of a yachting holiday in the Baltics.

Enter Chalkfoot Theatre Arts, with an inventive adaptation of Erskine Childers’ novel The Riddle of the Sands. The story’s influence on writers like Fleming, Buchan and Le Carré is so clear throughout that it’s hard to fathom why Childers isn’t more of a household name; perhaps this production can help rectify that, at least for as many households as will fit in the cosy Jermyn Street Theatre.

What the production lacks in tension – and there is some, but no more than in, say, an episode of Scooby-Doo – it makes up for in playful good humour. A boat chase is acted out using a pair of little models, which the two performers wave about with deadly seriousness. A climactic dinner party makes a comedic virtue of the unfavourable performer to character ratio. The yacht’s low ceilings and narrow companionways make for some mime-based sight gags that could almost be called clowning.

It’s a cuddly, rose-tinted portrait of a time when baddies obligingly labelled themselves as such with eyepatches and wobbly German accents; a time when heroes needed no more motivation than a spirit of adventure and a sense of patriotic duty. In reality there probably never was such a time, but to imagine there was is a welcome change of pace from an increasingly tense, suspicious, cynical world.

Written by Philip Dart

Crew includes Philip Dart (director), Lia Prentaki (movement director), Phil Newman (set & costume design)

Cast includes Matthew Brown (Carruthers and others) and Tom Micklem (Davies and others)

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3 February, 2010

My Stories, Your Emails

Barbican, 2 – 13 February 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Ursula Martinez is an enigma and so is her new solo show, My Stories, Your Emails. An original member of La Clique, Martinez exists in the borderlands between stand-up comedy, burlesque dance, stage magic and performance art. Similarly, My Stories, Your Emails is a lecture, a stand-up act, a play, a confession and an autobiography while simultaneously being none of these things.

It also appears simultaneously to be a constructive, creative response to a potentially upsetting situation and a petty, misdirected act of vengeance.

As the title suggests, it’s a show of two halves. The first involves Martinez reading (mostly) humorous autobiographical anecdotes from a lectern. Her deadpan delivery is disconcertingly reminiscent of Jimmy Carr, though Martinez excels at getting laughs by leaving stories hanging, instead of by comic over-explanation.

The stories serve as a brief introduction to Martinez’s life, revealing aspects of her upbringing and career, details about her family and so on, without sketching anything like a complete picture of her as a person.

The second half concerns a similarly incomplete picture – a video of her magic/striptease act Hanky Panky, which was released onto the internet without her permission – and some of the astonishing conclusions people the world over drew about her as a result. It’s a pageant showcasing some prime examples of that uniquely 21st century prose genre, the speculative online solicitation, in which the objective is to coat every syllable in steaming sexual subtext, but convince the receiving party that you are not just another hopeless case begging for sex.

There’s a surprising variety of pretexts, from those who idolise Martinez as a campaigner for Nudism, to those who want to book her act, through those seeking friendship to those barefacedly requesting sex. What they have in common is that they all think they know, understand or have some kind of claim over Martinez just because they’ve watched a video of her stripping and making a silk handkerchief disappear.

The concept of this segment is a problematic one. A piece of Martinez’s work not intended for mass online consumption ended up online; she responds to this by taking fanmail (complete with full names, photos and even some telephone numbers) presumably meant for her eyes only and performing it publicly. The majority of the men (and they are all men) don’t come out of it especially well. On paper it feels like an eye for an eye.

But she performs the emails without commentary: the men are allowed to present themselves in their own words (though she provides each with an appropriate accent). It also becomes clear from occasional instances of two-way correspondence that their permission has been sought and granted to incorporate their words and pictures into the show.

To presume to draw a definitive conclusion regarding the motivation and ethics behind My Stories, Your Emails would be to make the same mistake as the men. Best just to present the facts and let Ursula Martinez remain an enigma.

Written by Ursula Martinez

Crew includes Mark Whitelaw (director)

Cast includes Ursula Martinez

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9 May, 2009

The Frontline

Shakespeare’s Globe, 8 – 23 May 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

In 2008, Ché Walker’s The Frontline became the first contemporary play staged at Shakespeare’s Globe. Now, in 2009, Matthew Dunster’s production has returned to the venue: confirmation, if it were needed, that contemporary work now forms a permanent part of the Globe’s programming.

As if to ease sceptics into the change, Walker’s play is Shakespearean in its structure and scope. Presenting a chaotic day in the life of London’s “Invisibles” – dealers, addicts, cleaners, lap dancers and evangelist chuggers – the play is overseen by a Scottish hot dog vendor (John Stahl) who bookends each act with direct appeals to the audience, in the grand Elizabethan tradition.

This corner of London is populated by an ensemble of 23. Their lives, stories, arguments, debates and dialogues overlap and interlock to create a vibrant, living, continuous street scene.

The amount of action all happening at once, coupled with the wide range of sociolects in use, make some threads difficult to follow, and some of the cast strain to make their voices heard in the upper galleries. But exuberant physical business generally fills in the gaps, and that sense of everything happening at once is the point; you can’t catch every detail of the goings-on around you in real life, either.

There’s death and despair and drug dealing and other features of London’s underbelly, but on balance the tone of the show is overwhelmingly optimistic, inspiring panto-style applause and baddie-booing.

A selection of hip-hop, blues, jazz, reggae, gospel and swing numbers, with self-consciously musical theatre-style dance routines, have the audience clapping along, and there are several touching romances. Paul Lloyd and Matthew J Henry earn the most affection, as Seamus, a middle-aged Irishman in a two-tone suit, and Benny, a high-camp Beyoncé fan in pink cycle shorts and bling who turns Seamus’s attempts to remould him on their head.

As well as a few alterations to the cast, the new production exists in a new context. No longer representative of a bold step in an unfamiliar direction, The Frontline is now triumphant evidence of the success of that step.

Not only that, but it follows hard on the heels of another large-scale ensemble-cast London community play, Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice at the National, and benefits from the comparison. Bean’s play was full of national and cultural stereotypes (albeit in order to lampoon them); Walker’s is populated by three-dimensional characters (with notable exceptions). Bean’s play hung gaudy, distracting lampshades on its moral messages; Walker’s shows rather than tells, letting the action speak for itself.

Written by Ché Walker

Crew includes Matthew Dunster (director), Paul Wills (designer), Olly Fox (composer) and Georgina Lamb (choreographer)

Cast includes Trystan Gravelle (Mordechai Thurrock), Matthew J Henry (Benny), Paul Lloyd (Seamus), Kevork Malikyan (Mahmoud), Golda Rosheuvel (Beth), John Stahl (Erkenwald) and Beru Tessema (Miruts)

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9 January, 2009

Studies for a Portrait

White Bear Theatre Club, 6 January – 1 February 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

All four characters in Studies for a Portrait are homosexual men, but the overriding theme of the play is not homosexuality. Whatever might be wrong with it, the play deserves some praise for reminding people that gay characters can explore and embody other important issues than their own sexuality.

Celebrated American artist Julian Barker (Martin Bendel), a contemporary of Warhol and Bacon, is dying of pancreatic cancer. While Julian attempts gamely to continue painting, drinking and shagging until he drops dead, politicians, admirers and former lovers emerge from the woodwork to squabble over his legacy – both financial and emotional.

Each has a genuine claim over Julian, whether as a commodity, an inspiration, a benefactor, or simply as a friend. Which of these claims, the play asks, is most valid? To whom does a public figure’s legacy rightfully belong – to himself, to his public, or to his bereaved?

Julian is a largely offstage presence, cloistering himself in his studio and allowing his devotees to fight amongst themselves. Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher resists confrontational histrionics in favour of calculating nastiness, enabled by some delicious turns of phrase from playwright Daniel Reitz. Julian’s current and former lovers, Chad (James Holmes) and Marcus (David Price), have an especially honest and vicious enmity.

Beyond these enjoyably frank exchanges the play is heavy on flimsily motivated exposition. Backstory details are revealed in monologue to the subject, who presumably already knows his own life story, but sits through the lecture anyway for the audience’s benefit. Spreadbury-Maher’s directorial understatement allows the dialogue to shine when it’s good, but leaves the stage too static when exposition slows the pace.

Stylistically and thematically, Studies for a Portrait breaks no new ground, but it does attempt to sow something worthwhile there. Every play like this one is another step towards relocating non-heterosexual people from the LGBTQ Theatre bracket into the artistic mainstream. It isn’t an overt call to arms, but it’s one more raised fist in an invisible revolution.

Written by Daniel Reitz

Crew includes Adam Spreadbury-Maher (director)

Cast includes Martin Bendel (Julian), Stephen Hagan (Justin), James Holmes (Chad) and David Price (Marcus)

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