My Brilliant Friend at the Rose Theatre Kingston review ****


My Brilliant Friend Parts 1 and 2

Rose Theatre Kingston, 27th February and 17th March 2017

I had not read the quartet of Elena Ferrante novels coming in to this (though I mean to put this right now). However, as this is a Guardian readers’ and various novelists’ favourite and with the SO having partially read them and given them a qualified thumbs up (she sets the bar pretty high), and with it being the Rose so on the doorstep, we were destined to go. And so we did.

First decision was to split the two parts. For choice I normally wouldn’t do that preferring to take the pain of setting through multi part theatre on the chin, (or more exactly bum), by doing it all in a day where possible. This was a reminder of why that remains the preferred strategy. What you get out of a theatre performance depends in part on what you put in, so different days means different moods and therefore different levels of enjoyment. With these plays, festooned with multiple characters, (and doubling/trebling of parts), an awful lot of sharp, staccato scenes to get through in the 5 or so hours, (to do justice to the novels I gather), and multiple themes to explore, (where I think the adaption was clearly a winner), one sitting would definitely have worked better for me.

A particular attraction was the director Melly Still. I really, really liked her Cymbeline for the RSC. A tricky play but she was unafraid to chuck ideas in, (gender changes for characters, topical issues of national identity, nature vs nurture and so on), which definitely made sense to me in a play where it is very easy to get lost. So a plus there. I had not seen Catherine McCormack (Lila) or, to my eternal shame, Niamh Cusack (Elena/Lenu) on stage before, but felt they were both perfectly cast. In Part 1 Catherine McCormack was outstanding capturing the strength and unpredictability  of Lila, (don’t shout at me I am just using a word to describe a whole gamut of traits), with her movement as well as her speech. In Part 2 Niamh Cusack took centre stage, (and left. right up and down – there was a lot of movement in the production), as her character developed with a determination and a different, egotistical strength.

So I think two cracking complementary performances, a lot of smart stagecraft, the use of set, sound and lighting in a way that the Rose rarely sees, an obviously brilliant story/stories, and breathtaking pace and energy. In fact the pace and energy may just be a little too breathtaking. I gather there is a lot to pack in and this is what the adaption does. This is then multiplied by the character, place and time shifts. So it is all a bit of a whirlwind. No other way to do it and meet the needs of the faithful I suspect but even so there were times when I wanted a bit of air in proceedings (when this did happen, largely in the Lila/Lenu exchanges, I got more meaning I think).

As I said I haven’t read the books which I am guessing is an advantage in seeing this, so no risk of what is in the head clashing with what is on the stage. But overall whilst I thoroughly enjoyed what I was seeing and hearing, and how I was seeing and hearing it, there may just have been a bit too much to take in (compounded I think by my gender – there is a lot of experience for a privileged, white male to take in here given that all the men are – rightly – portrayed as utter c**ks).

I see some reviews of this that are whinging about scenes lost or themes in the novels which don’t come out on stage. Whilst I suspect that the pace of the production did mean some “thinning out” I would, with all due respect, say to these punters that there is a book, and now there is a play (and I believe there will be a TV adaptation). It’s theatre. it’s different, that is the whole point. Let the book take care of interior monologue, invocation of time and place and the clash of ideas. Let the play focus on the character and the drama in a shared experience. Don’t go if you are just going to moan about what isn’t there. Judge what is there. Right rant over. Sorry.

Oh and finally I would come down on the side of those who think there is only really one character here – that make most sense to me. It’s a memory play which to me explores the power of words to shape the past and the experience of women in a grimly patriarchal society (amongst loads of other things). So I only really saw one character through multiple possible experiences.

P.S. I just saw a “review” in Mail Online – yet another reason why I detest everything about that shabby organisation.



Grounded at the Gate Theatre review ****



Gate Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, 15th March 2017

Given that Grounded is now into its third run at the Gate and that is has had critical acclaim heaped upon it the last thing it needs is this chump adding to the sound and fury. But it seems I am something of a completist when it comes to recording my cultural journey so so no let off for you I am afraid.

And it is good. I mean really good. There was a bit of me that was a bit dubious going in to this. Potentially obvious target with an an obvious outcome (I swear no irony intended in this). But it is some much more than it appears on the surface. To check this I whizzed through the script. Do that and compare to what you have just seen and I think what the writer George Brant has created and, in particular, what Lucy Ellinson, conjures up alone on stage is just really, really good theatre. Makes you care and makes you think without overtly moralising (well maybe right at the end).

The Pilot at the outset is exactly what you might expect of an F-16 fighter pilot. Then love, husband and child take over and the Pilot ends up flying a drone from a base in the Nevada desert. That is when the dilemmas and the twists (of a sort) kick in. The pace of the monologue is rapid but full of imagery (sky, desert, Vegas, family life, being boxed in amongst many others) and Lucy Ellinson completely inhabits the character. In some ways the journey the pilot takes and where she ends up is, in retrospect, predictable but the insight into being a woman in this world, into balancing home and this sort of work (including its drudgery and social interaction as well as its obvious purpose), into the psychological stress of killing from afar, into the morality of this sort of war, are all revealed in a smart way.

Now it is possible that this worked for me because I am a liberal type who knows f**k all about what it is to be the person who is tasked with killing but Brant certainly got me thinking about all of that.

Anyway see for yourself whilst it is still on. Or make a mental reminder should in pop up elsewhere in future.

Oh and a reminder that the best way to see theatre is not in some poxy, neo-classical Edwardian fol-de-rol but above a pub on a bench (though I confess the Gate’s benches are back-breaking – just as well most everything I have seen there has captivated).




Russian Art at the Royal Academy review ****


Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932

Royal Academy of Arts of Arts, 15th March 2017

Right short and sweet I think here. This was fascinating. But maybe less for the art itself and more for the insight into Soviet history. I only had a vague sense of the events that marked the Revolution, the civil war, the ascent of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and the dictatorship of Stalin. And even less of an idea of how art developed in the period beyond the vague shift away from the avant-garde towards a state approved Socialist Realism. Thanks to this fascinating exhibition I now know a lot more.

So what struck me most was the diversity of artistic movements jostling side by side under Lenin and how the early optimism led the artists of the period to try to support the aims of the Revolution and Bolshevism. We see how the state tried to accommodate the various strands of avant-garde art notably its arguably most important figure Malevich. But it also becomes quickly apparent that the communist regime cannot accommodate this diversity and that the attempts of artists across all forms to criticise the regime as it all starts to go wrong are brutally extinguished. Then we are left with artists either being co-opted entirely by the propaganda of the state or offering a critique in the most elliptical fashion possible. (My only previous exposure to this is through the life and music of Shostakovich so a real eye opener to see this going on elsewhere).

So I highly recommend you take a whizz around this exhibition. Optimism turns to despair and then suffering or deception. Better still contrast with the America After After the Fall exhibition also at the RA as I am sure the curators intend you to. I saw this in Paris (how lah di dah is that) and will run along again to see it shortly (it is that good) but from memory this also shows how art reveals the darker undercurrents in a society racked by economic collapse in the 1930s albeit with a veneer of optimism about the future.

In no particular order the highlights for me of the Russian Art exhibition were ….

  • Just how quickly the cult of Lenin took hold – the crowds turning out for his arrival in St Petersburg and the scale of the mourning at his death
  • Kliment Redko – Insurrection 1925 – this is in the first room I think – looking back critically on the Revolution and aftermath and a very powerful work
  • The real beauty of some of the photographs and paintings in room 2 which capture the industrial advance and the heroic worker
  • The early optimism of some of the artists as they embraced Lenin’s attempt to turn art into propaganda and perhaps how easily they were co-opted
  • The paintings of Pavel Filonov in room 3 – made up of small fragments building into beautiful images
  • Just how quickly the optimism was broken and how brutal was the repression as there were killed – there is a row of photographs of key artists in I think room 3 which conveys this eloquently
  • I don’t really get on with Malevich’s suprematist paintings but the casts of the buildings in room 4 were very interesting
  • The disastrous impact of collectivisation on rural Russia is well conveyed as is the links back to the pre-Revolutionary past – I loved the two Chagalls which have been sneaked in as part of these rooms
  • The various food coupons in I think room 7
  • The model of Tatlin’s glider is a real stand-out and a thing of beauty
  • The room devoted to Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin – never heard of him before but the still lifes in particular are really fascinating in terms of colour, perspective and content – the one with the herring is beautiful and very sad
  • The last room contrasts the daft socialist realist Stalinist sport paintings – and the complete stamping out of any Modernist art –  with a moving memorial

Sorry not so short in the end. Go take a look.

Bryars and Reich, LPO at the RFH review ****


London Philharmonic Orchestra, Synergy Vocals, Sound Intermedia

Royal Festival Hall, 15th March 2017

Now it is a racing certainty that you will be familiar one way or another with the great minimalist composers of the second half of the C20 even if you don’t know it. The sound is ubiquitous in film, television and elsewhere. Driven by clear rhythms and patterns, with simple sonorities and slow harmonic progression, and with loads of repetition, this is a breeze for the punter (like me) born and bred in a pop/rock/soul paradigm.This is why it is justifiably quite “popular” and is bringing in a load of bearded youth into concert halls (a good thing with some minor exceptions).

From this base I have put some effort in and in the last couple of years have expanded exponentially into the minimalist world. The Minimalist series in 2015 at King Place was very helpful (big respect to Kings Place and the way they pull these series together) and I have seen a fair chunk of the major pieces performed in London since then and bought a lot of CDs to boot. So no expert but unlike many things I see I think I have a bit of a jump on most here.

But whisper this. There are times when the repetition can spill over into the plain dull. Fortunately this evening was not one of them.

Gavin Bryars “post-minimalism”, at least in the context of two of his most well known pieces played here, does ask a bit of the listener though to avoid falling into the dull trap. The “Sinking of the Titanic” takes some tape snippets and then sets a score based on what may have been played by the ship’s band as she went down. The lines are long, the harmonies shift slowly and it does go on a bit but overall the “underwater” effect and the varying of the instrumentation was enough to keep me going.

The second Bryars piece I have heard more often. This is Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. The tape loop of the tuneful tramp singing will burrow into your brain. However here the slow but palpable building up of the orchestration on top of this makes it easier to follow for a ninny like me. It reminds me a bit of another fave of minimalism for me, Arvo Part’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten. Remember all this is my impression, please don’t shout at me if musically this descriptions or comparisons are nonsense.

Then we had arguably Steve’s Reich’s most famous work, Music for 18 Musicians. I own a couple of recordings of this (how fancy is that) and have seen a few performances. This helps as I can now follow the joins (announced by the fella on the mettalaphone no less) so can hear each of the parts in a way I couldn’t at first. But with the rhythm provided by the percussion instruments (love it when the maracas come in – hard work for the players I guess to do that much shaking in one night), and the pianos I defy anyone listening to this not to be drawn in and get the “minimalist trance” thing kicking in.

I can’t put my finger on why but this was the best live performance I can remember of the piece or maybe familiarity is a virtue here. Or most likely the LPO musicians just had a blinder. Anyway I highly recommend anyone taken by this to delve further into this world.

For Steve Reich I recommend the Desert Music and Drumming on top of this pieces, for Philip Glass maybe Glassworks to start(there is an awful lot of Philip Glass music as I am finding out the hard way), for John Adams I think Shaker Loops and Short Ride in a Fast Machine and I would also put a shout in for Michael Nyman’s string quartets and film music. There are tons of compilations (look away now classical music cognoscenti) to get you going.  Oh and you need the grandaddy of them all In C by Terry Riley. I will deal with the “holy’ Minimalists and especially Arvo Part another day.

Anyway all up I genuinely think your life will be a lot better listening to some of this especially for you youngsters who are steeped in rhythm anyway. So get that YouTube working.

Travesties at the Apollo Theatre review ****



Apollo Theatre, 13th March 2017

Right then. I clearly have to up my game. The more theatre I see the better I am at appreciating, understanding and enjoying. This is particularly the case with the great playwrights. With Will Shakespeare given a half decent director and cast I can now follow the plot, hear almost all the language and grasp, albeit in a rudimentary fashion, the dilemmas and tribulations that are presented to the characters. Until the last couple of years I freely admit it was enough just to keep up with what was going on and I was often bored. All my fault.

Elsewhere I have had some revelatory Greek experiences (not sure that came out exactly as intended), Ibsen and especially Chekhov are falling into place and the Americans, O’Neill, Williams, Miller and Albee, are all firmly on the go to list.

As for the great Britons well I am finally seeing that there is more to Pinter that menace and now I understand why Caryl Churchill is perfect in terms of form and content. And of course for we live right now in a golden age for new British theatre which only a numpty would ignore.

However, Stoppard until now has been a mystery. I have not knowingly seen any Stoppard plays in the dim and distant past though as we know (and delightfully Travesties reminds us) memory is an active construct of the present so I could be wrong. Likely though Travesties was my first ever. Obviously bonkers good reviews from the Menier Chocolate Factory run and the fella Hollander drew me in as well as the ubiquitous Patrick Marber directing (in order I would say the draw here being Marber’s previous directing assignments followed by the Partridge connection rather than his plays which I confess I need to see).

In short Tom Hollander plays Henry Carr some minor British consul type who apparently got into a dispute with James Joyce over payment connected with a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest in Zurich in 1917 where Carr played Algernon. Carr is looking back so a kind of imperfect and comedic “memory play’ is brought to bear. From this Stoppard elides Carr’s interactions with Joyce as well as Lenin and Tristan Tzara (one of the founders of Dada) as well Carr’s butler Bennett, Lenin’s wife (I think) and Cecily and Gwendolen characters. Carr and Bennett I gather are characters in Ulysses (of which I am still massively intimidated so have never read or am likely to read I confess).

So how did I fare? Well I thought I had put some hours in having delved into the history of modernism in C20 culture and with a bit of past, and more recent, boning up on Marxism. But I failed to follow vast chunks of Stoppard’s dazzling brain and wit. I can get the plot crossover into the Importance of Being Earnest (thanks mostly to the 2002 film with Everett, Firth, Witherspoon, Dench etc and the Gerald Barry opera which is a must see should it be revived again). But so much of the direct references to the life and works of Lenin, Joyce and Tzara passed me by. (Mind you I can recommend the Soviet Art exhibition at the Royal Academy for an insight into the rise of Lenin and how he shaped art and literature post the Revolution).

Still all the erudition on show does remind you just how important this time was to the formation of ideas in politics, art and literature and how those ideas have (or in many cases have not) filtered through into later decades. I guess some of the debates on the relationship between art and society, capitalism vs socialism and literary form which are aired in the play were more lively in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Travesties was written in 1974) but I still think there was much to feast on here. I just need to work out what.

But no matter it still made me chuckle where I did get it (Tzara whizzing through the inaugural night at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Lenin setting out the correct march through socialism to communism, the p*ss takes on street guides to Dublin) and the zip of the whole thing just carries you along. There were multiple shifts in the form and structure of the play which I thoroughly enjoyed such as a scene entirely in limericks, replays as Carr sees events in different ways, lots of punning, music hall parodies, doors opening/closing in a quasi farcical way as well as verbal sparring generally between Carr and the three main characters as well as moving monologues from Carr on the waste of the First World War.

So if you limber up beforehand with a bit of Wiki action, look at the interview in the programme between Marber and Stoppard (obviously I left this until after – doh) and take it easy on all the brain food on offer here then an enjoyable night is on the cards. Tom Hollander’s ability to capture the bemusement and snarkeyness of the British toff anchors the whole thing and the tone of the other characters was ideal. Freddie Fox as Tzara/Jack/Earnest puts a shift in physically, Forbes Masson as Lenin has a bit less to play with but captures it very well and Peter McDonald as Joyce gets to be Stoppard’s favourite methinks (both in terms of his art and as Lady Bracknell). I especially loved Amy Morgan and Clare Foster in the “no I’m engaged to him” parody bit.

Having said that it is, even with a decent pitch in the stalls, a ridiculously uncomfortable theatre for a big unit like me so beware.

But note to self. Put more effort in for the next Stoppard play.

Pollini at the RFH review *****


Maurizio Pollini

Royal Festival Hall, 14th March 2017

Now I am afraid I don’t know much about classical music but I am learning. I can’t read music or play to save my life. There are vast chunks of the classical music canon that I don’t get on with. I have recordings of the composers I do get on with though in only a few cases do I have more than one recording of the same piece.

But I do know what I like (a statement which will need debunking when it comes to culture generally but that is for another time). And what I do like is Maurizio Pollini playing Beethoven. His recordings are my favourites (along with Paul Lewis, Glenn Gould and a bit of Ashkenazy). Now I have no doubt that there are other recordings I should explore but all in good time.

So suffice to say I was bound to like this. However I was not bowled over by his Chopin performances in February at the RFH (and I did not stay for the Debussy – on the list of stuff I don’t get on with I fear). This however was altogether a marvellous experience.

Pollini for me makes sense of the music in a way that I can understand. I gather some think him a bit cold and clinical if I read the reviews correctly but for me I hear the logic of the music laid out with perfect clarity with enough emotion to lift me up as well.

He kicked off with some Schoenberg. Now I know I am supposed to grasp why Schoenberg was so important to the development of C20 music. I am also coming on in leaps and bounds with my appreciation of contemporary classical music and have started (slowly) delving in to the likes of Xenakis and Ligeti for example. And I can genuinely say that I am starting to “get” some of this stuff.

I can also claim to be making progress with the boy Berg having seen and heard Woyzeck, Lulu and the Violin Concerto in recent months. No idea yet why Woyzeck is so clever in terms of musical construction as I can’t hear the structures yet but I think I will get there.

However so far Schoenberg has eluded me. Mind you that may reflect the fact that I have only heard that Verklarte Nacht a couple of times live and that to me is a bit of syrupy romantic tosh that I cannot fathom.

Now I can’t pretend that Mr Pollini has converted me but I did concentrate on the two pieces he played in a way that pleasantly surprised me: 3 Pieces for piano, Op.11 ; 6 Little pieces for piano, Op.19. More work for me to do but I think this may be the way into Schoenberg’s world for me. I still could hear a tonal thread but with enough variety and drama to draw me in.

As for the Beethoven well the stand out in the Op 13 “Pathetique” was the Adagio slow movement (mind you anything chorale like is bound to work for a simpleton like me) and I got a bit lost in the final Rondo but that was probably my fault for not concentrating enough. But after the interval the two movement Op.78 “à Thérèse” (I gather the F sharp major key here is the reason this sounds a bit different) and the Op.57 “Appassionata” (where Beethoven delights in exploiting leaps in piano technology) were simply wonderful.

To me Mr Pollini seems to be a little freer in his interpretations compared to the recordings. Mind you those recordings apparently span much of the career of an artist who has been at it for seven decades now. Imagine that. Going to work every day for nearly 60 years trying to get better at what you do whilst giving pleasure to everyone around you. That is “sticking it to the man”. (Indeed I gather Mr Pollini did indeed pursue a more classically politically engaged stance in the 1960s and 1970s making even more of a hero in my book).

Anyway this was just about perfect – I had the thing that I like about concerts when it works where you are just completely immersed in the music. Seemed to me that was shared by the audience (though there was some ar*e trying to record the Schoenberg on their phone until they were told off – I shall return to this subject in later posts but for me this is a bloody outrage).

So here’s the deal. This blog is generally aimed at the culturally curious armed with only a tiny bit of knowledge. For those who know they like or think they might like Beethoven and want to delve into the piano sonatas then this would have been no better way to start. For just a tenner (assuming you are prepared to compromise a bit on the sound at the back of the stalls and don’t mind not seeing the maestro’s hands at work) you can hear this music played by this man who surely ranks as one of the greatest living pianists.

Of course that is no use now it has been and gone but I highly recommend looking out for the great man’s return next year (March 2018). If Beethoven appears just grab a ticket or two.

And while you are at it treat yourself to the complete recordings of the Beethoven sonatas. it took a bit of time I gather for Mr Pollini to record everything but there they are – for £33 on Amazon you get 8 discs (don’t talk to me about downloads – I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to own physical copies of this music). Get these and decent complete sets of the symphonies and the strong quartets and you will be well on the way to immersing yourself in probably the greatest music every written (the Fall excepted).

Some forthcoming theatre ideas

So here are some ideas of stuff that is on now that I have enjoyed and some stuff that is coming up that I think will be tip-top for various reasons. Sorry it is a bit random as I have only just got going on this so we are sort of mid season as it were. Hopefully though it may save you ploughing through all the websites and other stuff.

Top picks (more detail below)

  • Much Ado About Nothing at Theatre Royal Haymarket – not long left (like literally a couple of days) so a last minute treat
  • My Brilliant Friend – based on the Elena Ferrante novels – we have seen Part 1 which was brilliant in my view (though my lady chums were less bowled over) – at the Rose Kingston
  • Grounded at the Gate Theatre – now booking through March
  • Ink at the Almeida Theatre – now booking for July/Aug but getting full so get your skates on
  • The Suppliant Women at the Young Vic – now booking for late November
  • Obsession at the Barbican Theatre – now booking for mid April/May – still some availability
  • Against at the Almeida – dates just announced with booking opening in May – see below for details but I think this will be an absolute scorcher
  • Macbeth at the National Theatre next year – keep your eye on the website

Overall there are a lot of classic US plays coming up generally, plenty of funked up Shakespeare and lots of state of the nation plays as us well off luvvy lefties always like to wring our hands when the world doesn’t do what we want …

Anyway I have tried to give a flavor of what to expect ordered by venue.

National Theatre

Coming up though not yet booking or performance dates.

  • Follies – Summer 2017 – Sondheim musical with Imelda Staunton – she was barnstorming in Gypsy and is wowing the critics in the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf which I am seeing soon. Now I have some problems with musical theatre which will no doubt be revealed in time but this will be a blinder I think – though I don’t know Follies. Anyway if you like musicals it is a must – West End transfer written all over it.
  • Network – Nov 2017 – based on the classic 70s film comedy about a failing TV network – will be directed by Ivo van Hove (genius normally) and with that Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad in the lead – check out the film but really what’s not to like here.
  • Mosquitoes – July 2017new play by Lucy Kirkwood who wrote the magnificent Chimerica and with Olivia Colman in the cast – two sisters and the search for the Higgs boson – so sounds like another of the big science vs human relationships plays which are currently de rigeur.
  • Macbeth – not until Spring 2018 but this will be mandatory attendance in my view with Rory Kinnear and Anne Marie Duff as the naughty couple and directed by Rufus Norris. I am literally shaking with excitement already at this.
  • Amadeus is coming back in 2018 – for me a 4/5 (the Mozart was a bit “off” for me) but if you know/like the film then well worth it.

Coming up … these are already booking.

  • Twelfth Night – Shakespeare twins, cross dressing, mistaken identities, comic mayhem – you know the gig – Tamsin Greig as Malvolia just to shake it up even more – plenty of availability in April/early May – reviews are very good.
  • Angels in America – sold out – the big event of the year at NT – cracking cast lead by Andrew Garfield and Denise Gough – the defining American play of the 1980s BUT 7 hours (over 2 parts) of very wordy, philosophical stuff means I will take one for the team when I go – it will be shown live in the cinema on 20th and 27th July – if you put the effort in a big reward but you will likely have something better to do with your life
  • Consent – availability in May – play by Nina Raine who is very good – a legal case with ramifications for both lawyers – hard to tell if this will be a winner or not but worth a pop I think – enough availability but getting tighter.
  • Salome – this is written by Yoel Farber South Africa’s leading director/playwright – based on the eponymous biblical story – transfer from US with decent reviews – I saw her production of Les Blancs last year which was terrific – expect it to look great, be wordy, have contemporary parallels – only 90 minutes.
  • Common – written by DC Moore about whom I know nothing – sounds like a bit of a romp – set around Industrial Revolution and time of land enclosure – with Anne Marie Duff as lead who I would watch doing the ironing for 3 hours she is so good – I think this will be a cracker but may not be for everyone.

Barbican Theatres

No doubt many will be disappointed that Roman Tragedies is sold out – 6.5 hours of the 3 Roman Shakespeare plays mashed up in Dutch with audience participation – but after seeing Kings Of War by the same bunch last year I cannot wait. So any returns should be snapped up.

Looking forward at the Barbican we have the following all with plenty of tickets available when I last looked.

  • The Winters Tale – Cheek by Jowl production which spices up the classic Shakespeare tale of jealousy and partial redemption and gets it down to a manageable length – early reviews from tour are unsurprisingly good.
  • Obsession – I have banged on about this to my mates for some time but I have high hopes for this – based on the Visconti film which is the same plot as the Postman Always Rings Twice (drifter’s impact on ill matched couple) – with Jude Law as Gino and directed by Ivo van Hove with some of his Toneelgroep Amsterdam ensemble in the cast (who are brilliant) – but thankfully in English not Dutch this time – there are a handful of tickets left.
  • The Tempest – this is the RSC transfer with Simon Russell Beale (probably the greatest living stage actor – discuss) as Prospero and with all the techno 3D stuff – very good reviews if not outstanding – it’s the Tempest so you can’t go wrong.
  • After the Rehearsal/The Persona – last of Toneelgroep/Van Hove in this season – two plays based on Bergman films about lives of actors – muted reviews from US showings – if I am honest this is probably going to be hard work so I won’t be heartbroken if you don’t listen to me on this one.

FYI for those interested loads of dance stuff at the Barbican and if anyone ever fancies seeing actors of the future act in the Guildhall School the final year productions for just a tenner at Milton Court are always worth a look.

Young Vic

Always worth taking a punt with anything at the Young Vic – though I normally steer a little clear of some of the more challenging material.

Recently announced is the A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – a Young Vic production but showing in Apollo Theatre which makes it a bit pricier (Stalls £65) – the big draw is that Sienna Miller as Maggie who I gather gets in the papers and a chap called Jack O’Connell as Brick (he is apparently in Skins of which I know nothing) – for me thought the key is Benedict Andrews directing – he was behind the Young Vic’s A Streetcar Named Desire from a couple of years ago with Gillian Anderson as Blanche and was storming – so I think worth investigating.

Coming up for me the most interesting are …

  • Life of Galileo – the life of the scientist as he argues with the nasty Catholic Church – tough to tell if this will work – Young Vic historically does Brecht well but it might also be bloody annoying – has Brendan Cowell in the lead who played opposite Billie Piper in the Yerma from last year (which is/was extraordinary).
  • Wings – Juliet Stevenson plays a woman recovering from a stroke – she can do this sort of role in her sleep so should be good – I saw her in Happy Days (the Beckett play where she is buried up to the neck) and she made that work (Beckett normally makes me want to bang my head against the wall).
  • The Suppliant Women – this is the one at the Young Vic I am really looking forward to – if you haven’t done any Greek plays (Aeschylus in this case) zuzzed up for today’s world then start here – got great reviews in Edinburgh last year – and like all the Greek plays reminds you that all the issues were the same 2500 years ago – in this case the issues around asylum seekers.

The revival of last year’s Yerma is sold out but will be in cinemas in August. If you haven’t seen it then you must – no excuses even if you don’t get on with the cinema screenings.

Royal Court Theatre

So tickets now on sale for the final part of this years RC season in addition to the earlier stuff below. The RC never gives much away on the website as to the content of the productions but here goes. Bodies by Vivienne Franzmann looks like it is about surrogacy, B is by Guillermo Calderon is another new work from a leading Chilean playwright which looks like it examines the limits of insurrection and finally Victory Condition another new play where I simply can’t work about the theme from the teaser !!

The Ferryman – the new play by Jez Butterworth who wrote Jerusalem which is a modern classic from a few years back which had that nice Mark Rylance in the lead role – this is sold out at the Royal Court but there is already a West End transfer to the Gielgud Theatre – directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty and the last Bond films) who has done musicals but not stage plays – with the great Paddy Considine in the cast and set in rural Ireland in the 1980s Troubles (I suspect there will be lots of politics here) – so all up there is a lot of hype but likely to deliver.

Of the other plays in the current season I would point to …

  • The Kid Stays in the Picture – I don’t know if this is going to work – a tale of the rise and fall of a Hollywood producer called Robert Evans – I am going because it is being directed by Simon McBurney the man behind Complicite who is a genius.
  • Anatomy of a Suicide – I have a feeling the clue is in the title so no comedy here – but Katie Mitchell is directing – who excels in any dark stuff.
  • Road – a revival of a classic “in yer face” 1980s play by Jim Cartwright set Up North – lots of menace and violence
  • Killology – new play about on line gaming and moral consequences it seems.

Almeida Theatre

So the new play by Christopher Shinn (Other People, Dying City, Now or Later, Teddy Ferrara) who is a massive luvvies favourite has been announced – it is called Against and will be directed by Ian Rickson and will have the lovely Ben Wishaw in the lead – if you have never seen Wishaw on stage then with all due respect you are a numpty – he is brilliant though I have a bit of a crush on him I admit – anyway here’s the blurb from the website.

Silicon Valley. The future. A rocket launches.

Luke is an aerospace billionaire who can talk to anyone. But God is talking to him. He sets out to change the world. Only violence stands in his way.

Now to me that sound bloody fantastic so I will stab a guess this will sell fast – booking opens in May for performances in second half August and through September.

The Hamlet with Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is sold out though if you can be bothered returns do pop up but that is all a bit random – I assume it will have a cinema screening anyway and I’ll take a punt that there will be a transfer if the cast can do it. I thought it was brilliant – the best Hamlet I have ever seen will everyone else matching him. The best Shakespeare I have seen bar the Othello at the National a few years back. Mind you I am no expert but I cannot imagine a production or performance of greater clarity. Still not much use me saying that now.

I do highly recommend INK by James Graham who wrote This House, which is about Parliamentary politics in the 1970s and is a brilliant play – this new play is about Murdoch setting up The Sun and should be a very funny satire – directed by Rupert Goold. No cast yet but it is the Almeida so bound to be cracking. Tickets left later in the run so just get in there.

The other interesting play in the new season is a revival of The Treatment by Martin Crimp – set in 90s New York this is a bit of a miserable goriest i gather so maybe not for everyone.

Donmar Warehouse

So it looks like both Limehouse a new play about the foundation of the Social Democrat party (for those or us fascinated by UK politics) and the The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (another Brecht play out the rise of a demagogue – sound familiar?) with Lenny Henry are sold out – I might expect Arturo Ai to have a cinema screening if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Old Vic Theatre

Woyzeck – classic German expressionist play about a poor unfortunate which is being updated to Cold War Berlin – John Boyega in the lead directed by Jack Thorne – should be very good though not everything that is on at the Old Vic under Matthew Warchus has been perfect in my view but always worth going.

Girl from the North Country – new play from Conor McPherson (if you have never seen his play The Weir then you must) with Bob Dylan songs (oops) and set in Great Depression mid West – I am liking the sound of this.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – revival of the classic early Tom Stoppard with that Daniel Radcliffe – now there are times when Stoppard is so clever it just wizzes over my head so I will have to see about this – but it it’s a classic modern comedy – reviews are generally very good.

Hampstead Theatre

Hampstead is a bit hit and miss like the Old Vic though less expensive when you make a mistake as I have done.

I think Filthy Business looks the most interesting – Jewish family comedy with Sara Kestelman as the matriarch – she was very good in the Kushner play Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide …. (see Angels of America above) last year at Hampstead.

The other two are Occupational Hazards, the memoir of a UK diplomat in newly liberated Iraq, and Gloria, comedy set in a US publishing house – not sure about either though I will go.

Fringe Theatres

I have found since I wound down from work that pitching up to a fringe theatre especially the little ones above pubs is one of life’s greatest pleasures – and if anyone wants to compound this pleasure by skiving off work for an afternoon then get on with it – take a look at the websites for details – and generally all this for £20 or less

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond – my “local” and probably all up my favourite theatre – though I often end up at matinees with a bunch of pensioners who may not always be envisaged target audience – anyway I recommend  the The Lottery of Love (classic French comedy of manners by Marivaux which is to be set in Austen England – think couples, misunderstandings and heaving cleavage) and An Octeroon (look at the website as this is hard to describe!)

Southwark Playhouse – The Cardinal – Southwark Playhouse now a firm favourite of mine – this is a revival of a Restoration tragedy about guess what a C16 Spanish Cardinal – I am going 16th May – there is also an early Sam Shepherd revival Lie of the Mind which I am mulling over whether to see and The Island which I understand is a fine play set in apartheid South Africa.

Park Theatre, Finsbury Park – I like the sound of Madame Rubinstein (Miriam Margoyles plays the founder of Estee Lauder) and Twitstorm (tweets go wrong) and thinking about A Clockwork Orange for those who know the Burgess book/Kubrick film (though it sounds a bit full on).

Gate Theatre, Notting Hill – Grounded (a drone pilot and mother) was very well reviewed from last year so they are putting it back on – The Gate puts on brilliant stuff – though it is a tad uncomfortable for a big fella like me but then everything there is so good that it hasn’t mattered.

Finborough Theatre, Earls Court – Tiny but brilliant venue – I am looking at You’re Human Like the Rest of Them and will go to Incident at Vichy – both revivals of neglected or early works which is the theatre’s forte (as it is for the Orange Tree)

Arcola Theatre in Dalston – there is a Cherry Orchard – initial reviews are mixed but the boy Chekhov normally rises above directors and performers to deliver a worthwhile couple of hours – the new season has some goodies (at least as far as I am concerned) – in particular an adaption of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine by a British East Asian women’s company, a version of Camus’ The Plague and a Richard III with Greg Hicks, a veteran Shakespearean – the Arcola £50 for 5 tickets passport deal is an absolute steal (at least for those who can contemplate getting to hipster Dalston five times in a year).

Elsewhere I keep my eye on Theatre 503 in Battersea (Escape the Scaffold looks interesting), the Tricycle in Kilburn (which is being refurbished but is wonderful), Print Room Coronet (a Babette’s Feast for those of you who know the brilliant Danish film based on the book by Karen Blixen) and some others.

“Outer” and Other Theatres

In terms of “outer” and other London venues I watch the following

Rose Theatre Kingston – I have seen/am seeing the My Brilliant Friend Parts 1 and 2 based on the Elena Ferrante novels, a Guardian readers’ favourite though wI have not read them – the Rose can be hit or miss but it is on the doorstep so I go to most things not aimed at pensioners – I have seen Part 1 and I absolutely loved it but some lady friends were less sure. More to follow on this.

Richmond Theatre – it does put on pre West End try-outs and touring productions as well as some awful crap – but it pays to wait – I have seen The Miser (the Moliere play with Griff Rhys Jones and that Lee Mack) which will go to West End – a 3/5 for me – like most of the director Sean Foley’s recent plays I have seen, he mines enough humour from the material but it is not overwhelmingly funny – aims high but falls a little short.

I am still thinking about Gabriel (a wartime melodrama by Moira Buffini who wrote Handbagged which is a goodish play), the Crucible (though don’t know the production details) and most importantly Abigail’s Party – I assume everyone knows the genius of Mike Leigh’s 70s classic but if you don’t YouTube can enlighten you.

Greenwich Theatre – I am espying but have not yet booked a production of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Hysteria by Terry Johnson (his play Dead Funny is currently West End and is very clever and funny).

Lyric Hammersmith – can be relied upon for properly controversial revivals (and excellent stuff for kids) but not much coming up right now – other than City of Glass (based on the Paul Auster novels) which has had goodish reviews before coming here. The new season has a Ibsen Seagull and a play called Terror which I am looking into. More to follow.

Globe Theatre – I avoid the Globe because it is just too bloody uncomfortable others may be made of sterner stuff – take a look at the new Spring/Summer season on the website – the Boudica tempts me a bit.

Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park – on a balmy summer’s evening it doesn’t get much better than this – I fancy  The Tale of Two Cities (a new version) in July – they are also doing an Oliver Twist for littluns and reviving their Jesus Christ Superstar (I draw the line here but others may be interested).

For those who have never experienced Wilton’s Music Hall there is a well reviewed Othello coming up transferring from Bristol. I think this sounds good and mercifully succinct.

West End Theatres

I have an aversion to most West End theatres as they are too expensive and the seats are generally terrible – and all the tourist tat stuff needs to be avoided – but I will keep tabs as the one good thing is that you get loads of advance warning pre booking opens – also I am perfecting the art of holding back until the discounters come in – so watch out for late booking ideas.

Just announced is a revival of the Philanthropist a comedy by Christopher Hampton he of Les Liaisons Dangereueses fame – I don’t know it but it has a cast aimed to pull in the youngsters so I will give it a whirl – mind you at the Trafalgar Studios which is both uncomfortable and expensive in my view …

On that front I highly recommend the RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on right now – ends mid Mar so only a couple of nights left – it is lovely, v funny, lines cut to the bone so only a couple of hours ex interval – sets and costumes are a treat – set post WW1 in a country house which works – the Benedick and the Beatrice are perfectly cast – if you have ever thought Shakespeare comedies aren’t actually funny this will prove you wrong.

Looking forward I am booked to see the following, which should all be good (and some are revivals/transfers so good reviews already)

Apollo TheatreTravesties – this is the transfer from the Menier Chocolate Factory of the early Stoppard play directed by Patrick Marber and with that Tom Hollander – like all Stoppard it is a bit smartarse and a lot went over my head but I enjoyed it even so.

Wyndhams TheatreDon Juan in Soho – revival directed by the ubiquitous Patrick Marber with David Tennant as the dirty Don who puts it about with the ladies – Moliere updated – strong reviews first time round.

Harold Pinter Theatre – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – Martha, George, Nick and Honey get p*ssed up and shouty – you know the film no doubt – with the mighty Imelda Staunton as Martha – and James Macdonald a particular favourite of mine is directing. So the reviews suggest this is outstanding so I think there is no excuse here. I am looking forward immensely.

Theatre Royal Haymarket – The Goat or Who is Sylvia – another Edward Albee play (see WAOVW above) about a bloke who falls for a goat (well actually a bit more than that you will be pleased to hear) – with that Damien Lewis and best of all Sophie Okonedo (if you have not seen her playing Margaret in Hollow Crown 2 then you must – right now – in fact buy the DVDs of this and HC 1 – tell the rest of the family to f**k off – and sit and watch it right the way through – now that is a mini-series – stuff your Game of Thrones – and give or take it actually all happened – well maybe there is a whiff or propaganda from big Will S).

Duke of Yorks – The Glass Menagerie – usual Tennessee Williams fare (Southern matriarch, family a mess, new arrival) directed by Scotland’s finest John Tiffany. I loved it despite sitting a bit too far away.

 Right that’s your lot. 

Why I am doing this

An apology for cluttering up the Internet with inanties


So for one reason or another I find myself with time on my hands which others have told me might be usefully employed by starting a blog.

I am lucky enough to be able to explore the mighty city of London and all sorts of cultural events therein so this blog will act as a record of my travels. There will be plenty of biases, and it will be focused on theatre and art/exhibitions with a bit of classical/opera tacked on and some thoughts on films and some other things. Dance is still a tricky customer for me and gigs generally are now way too loud and uncomfortable. I am under strict orders to eat less (so no restaurants) and the last time I went to a club Thatcher was in charge (mind you plus ca change plus c’est le meme chose).

I am a fully paid up member of the London metropolitan elite so don’t come here if you aren’t comfortable with all the ponceyness that goes with that. As an ageing, misanthropic, liberal type expect some ranting from the armchair about the state of the world as well.

I don’t really use a phone or social media, not as a reaction or pose, but because I don’t really have enough friends to warrant it and I don’t really understand it.

So off we go.