Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 30 April 2016

Many months ago, when I read the sparse Royal Court promotional synopsis of this play, to Janie, she said, “surely not?” But I said, “it sounds weird and intriguing, I’d really like to give this one a go”.

Eric Miller, a Belfast loyalist, believes that his new born granddaughter is Gerry Adams.

I was also attracted by the fact that this was to be a joint production with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and that the magnificent Stephen Rea was going to be in it.

Several months later, when (as is often the case) we have both forgotten what we booked and why, Janie asked me again what the play we were due to see that evening was about. I told her. “I can’t believe we booked that,” said Janie. “It was my idea; my bad if it’s no good. But I have a feeling it’s going to be something special”, I replied.

It really is something special.

When we got to the Royal Court, we went to see Simon David in the bookstall to buy our programme and find out what he thinks. Simon is often quite critical and we don’t always agree with him. “It’s marvellous”, said Simon, “I’ve seen it twice and am hoping to sneak in again this evening to see it for a third time.” He did.

When we sat down, the lady sitting next to me said, “you’re in for a treat this evening. I don’t often come back to see a play a second time, but I’ve come back to see this one again. The acting is just marvellous.”

Frankly, I might look at the script to get my head around some of the incredible dialogue again, but having experienced this extraordinary piece as a member of the audience, once is enough. It is unusual and special and a very clever piece; it is superbly acted, provoking laughter, thought and horror in equal measure. But once is enough.

From the very first scene, when Eric (Stephen Rea) calmly asks his psychiatrist, “why are you a nigger?”, through the flashbacks where we learn of Eric’s delusion about his granddaughter and his back story from the troubles, the piece is funny and yet chilling.

Perhaps the funniest scene is the watershed (scene six) which starts as a long soliloquy by Eric and ends as a frantic scene between Eric and Slim, the loyalist paramilitary, played wonderfully by Chris Corrigan. You know you shouldn’t be laughing at the rantings of these crazed extremists, yet there is something inherently funny about them. Heck, my NewsRevue friends and I wrote enough songs and sketches about it back in the day – one example linked here.

When the play pans out to its inevitably horrific conclusion, of course you know that discrimination, extremism, prejudice and terrorism are no jokes. This play/production works the audience’s cognitive dissonance like a maestro conductor with a great orchestra and a fine symphony.

Highly recommended, but (as they used to say on the telly when I was a child) not for people of a nervous disposition.

Cypress Avenue by David Ireland – click for Royal Court Information Here,

The play and production has understandably been very well received by the critics:

Ken by Terry Johnson, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 23 April 2016

I had been looking forward to this one since we booked it. I am a big fan of the late Ken Campbell, an interest going back to the 1990s. I/we saw several of his shows. Soon after he died, in 2008, we went to see a tribute to him at the Royal Court. Etc.

This piece sounded interesting, written and performed by Terry Johnson, who worked with Ken Campbell when he (Terry) was very young. Terry’s material tends to be much more structured than Ken Campbell’s stuff, but there’s usually a suggestion of that Campbellian anarchy in Terry Johnson’s writing. In short, the piece promised to be a bit different. It was.

From the moment you walked in to the theatre downstairs, now littered with comfy sofas, armchairs, suspended egg chairs and the like, you knew it was different.

“Come and sit at the front – there’s no audience participation,” entreated the ushers. Up to a point, they were telling the truth. But beyond that point things could take a strange turn.

Actually it had been a slightly strange afternoon for me. The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, I felt motivated by some incoming correspondence to put something up on Facebook about “me and the Bard”, which got quite a few friends going. If physiognomy were all it is cracked up to be, I’d have quite a few hit plays in the west end right now. But enough about me.

Ken is a short piece of some 80 minutes without an interval. The main part of the piece is about Terry Johnson’s youthful involvement in Ken Campbell’s bold The Warp project in 1979; in particular the infamous “squat transfer” to Edinburgh for the festival that year. More than half the piece is about that. The remainder picks up on Terry Johnson’s subsequent involvement with Ken. The ill-fated stage version of Hitchhiker’s Guide at the Rainbow Theatre in 1980, plus a few later overlappings.

Jeremy Stockwell does a magnificent turn as Ken Campbell (and a few other seriously good impersonations too; Stockwell’s Trevor Nunn body language is great). Terry Johnson does a reasonably good turn as himself; but I suspect that Jeremy Stockwell might have been able to do Terry Johnson better than Terry Johnson. Jeremy Stockwell in particular moves among the audience a lot, making unnerving eye contact at times.

Some of the crazy stories we’ve heard several times before, although I never tire of the “Royal Dickens Company” practical joke on Trevor Nunn, for example. Actually, it was the crazy material about The Warp that held the most interest for me; partly because that project was clearly such an anarchic, enormous overstretch, partly because I hadn’t heard the detail about that crazy production before.

Daisy didn’t enjoy the show as much as I did, but she did enjoy the show. You can sense that Terry Johnson feels that his time and relationship with Ken Campbell was hugely formative for him, so deep affection as well as the desire to tell the crazy stories pervades the script and the production.

At the end of the show, Jeremy Stockwell, still in character as Ken, together with a slightly timid young woman in a diaphanous wrap which left precious little to the imagination, invite the audience to join them backstage in a re-enactment of the nude body painting scene from The Warp.

“If you are curious, you come through this door, to my left, take off all your clothes and join in the body painting scene. If you want to go straight home, you go out the way you came through the door to my right,” said Ken/Jeremy.

“You may keep your undies on if you wish,” added the diaphanous young woman, almost apologetically.

I shall now draw a veil over the proceedings; a far more opaque veil than that of the diaphanous young lady’s wrap. So it is up to your imagination, dear reader, to wonder what Daisy and I chose to do in these circumstances. The curious door to the left, or the safety of the exit door to the right?

To borrow from that ghastly Las Vegas adage: what happens in The Hampstead, stays in The Hampstead.

 

 

 

 

Middlesex v Warwickshire Days 2 & 3, Lord’s, 18 & 19 April 2016

Monday

‘Twas the second day of Middlesex’s cricket season and my first glimpse of live cricket for far too long. Charley “the Gent” Malloy was my guest for the day.

I went to the gym first thing, then on to the bakers for fresh bread and then the flat to prepare the picnic. Cray fish breakfast muffins and wild Alaskan salmon in poppy-seed bagels formed the highlight of the feast. A fruity little Kiwi Riesling was the highlight beverage.

On my way to Lord’s, I noticed that King Cricket had that very day published my piece about visiting the Ashes test with Daisy, less than nine moths after the event. This coincidence seemed most timely to me, not least because I wanted to discuss with Charley the future of my “match reports” in this brave new Ogblog era.

Charley was waiting for me at the Grace Gate and looked at his watch as I arrived, as if to say “where have you been?” In fact, we had both arrived some minutes ahead of the appointed hour, which was probably just as well, as Charley wasn’t moving too quickly. “Done me knee,” said Charley.

“I’m not in the best of knee health myself,” I said, as my ignominious tumble on the real tennis court on Seaxe AGM day was still causing me gyp in the knee department, not least because I had managed a couple of unfortunate knocks on just the wrong spot since. “We’ll swap knee stories when we sit down”, said Charley, which we did. Charley’s was worse. Much worse.

In accordance with our tradition, Charley and I sat on death row; the front row of the lower tier of the pavilion. Normally, our backs can only tolerate death row for a while, but as it turned out, our knee problems probably served to mask any back pain. Further, with Charley’s limited mobility and no chance of sun that day anywhere in the ground, we ended up staying put on death row for the whole day.

I described to Charley my correspondence with King Cricket on the matter of match reports henceforward. Charley liked my ideas about writing book reviews and recipes for King Cricket, while posting reports of this kind on Ogblog. I wondered whether I should revert to real names here on Ogblog, but Charley felt that the characters’ names were a tradition and allowed me a bit more poetic licence. (Little does Charley realise that I write with reckless abandon, at least in the matter of creative licence, regardless of naming conventions).

While all this was going on, my understanding is that there was a bit of a cricket match taking place on the lawn in front of us and that Sam Robson blessed us with the sight of him reaching a double-hundred. I hadn’t seen one of those since I caught the very end of Chris Rogers’ match winning double a couple of seasons ago in the match linked here. Not that you’d realise what had happened from the King Cricket match report linked here, as you are not allowed to say anything about the actual cricket in a KC report about a professional match.

It was seriously chilly but Charley and I had both wrapped up warm and were chatting eagerly; the start of the season holds so many exciting possibilities. So the day passed very quickly. With just over an hour left to play, the umpires decided that the slight gloom which had pervaded for much of the day had become a little too gloomy, so off came the players and that was that for the day. Charley and I stuck around for a while, partly in hope more than expectation and partly to warm up with some coffee inside the pavilion before heading home. We’d had a very good day.

Tuesday

I returned to Lord’s the next day, primarily for meetings, but with the hope and expectation that I’d get to see some cricket too. Indeed, as a couple of the meetings got postponed, I got to see much of the day’s cricket and get some good reading done.

It was a much sunnier day, so I decided to take up position on the north side of the middle tier balcony. As soon as I plonked myself down, I sensed that I might be blocking Dougie Brown’s view. So the moment I heard “excuse me”, in that unmistakable Scottish accent, I started to shift along the row and checked that all now had a clear view. Dougie was chatting with Peter Such and soon Graham Thorpe joined them, but my mind was firmly on my book, A Confederacy of Dunces (read nothing into the juxtaposition, folks) and of course I was taking in the cricket.

Despite the sun, it still wasn’t warm and I hadn’t donned my thermals on the Tuesday. Also, I was quite peckish by about 12:30, as Charley and I had picnicked sensibly the day before and/but I had only snacked in the evening. So I went to the upstairs bar and bought a nice chunky sandwich and a hot cup of coffee for my lunch, both of which I downed with great pleasure. The bar was mostly populated with Warwickshire 1882 Club members talking exclusively about soccer football.

After my lunch, I retired to the writing room, where I thought I’d get some quiet and a decent view of the cricket protected from the cold. To some extent, my plan worked, especially the matter of getting some reading done and shield myself from the cold.

But my attempts to make headway with this Ogblog piece were continually thwarted. Initially, for a few brief minutes, I was distracted by the arms of Morpheus. Then when play resumed, there were interruptions and enough going on in the cricket to tear me away repeatedly from my little Kindle Fire gadget. No matter.

The interruptions came primarily in two forms:

After the helicopter crescendo and witnessing Trott complete his double-hundred (they seem to be like double-decker buses, these double-hundreds), I then had an interesting chat with a couple of the remaining writing room gentlemen. The younger of the two had been a teacher at Highbury Grove School when Rhodes Boyson was the head, which made for an interesting chat. I said that I remembered protesting against Boyson’s cuts when he was an Education Minister and I was a student. The older of the two gentlemen suggested that they might be in the company of a dangerous leftist, to which I countered that the chap who had been teaching in an Islington Comprehensive in the 1970s had, by definition, more “dangerous leftist credentials” than me.

I did not share with those gentlemen the clear memory, which popped into my head, of an anti-cuts protest we staged in the early 1980s outside the UGC Building in Bloomsbury.  I’ll need to go through my diaries to write that one up properly and no doubt Simon Jacobs will again deny all memory of the business. Suffice it to say here that a similarly garbed non-violent protest stunt, staged these days, might be inadvisable to say the very least.

I was spotted by one or two other friends and associates at that writing room table, who stopped by for an early season hello and quick chat. Richard Goatley arrived to whisk me away soon after those interludes, so I had a quick drink with Richard and a few other people in the Bowlers’ Bar, then headed for home a few overs before stumps.

Boy by Leo Butler, Almeida Theatre, 16 April 2016

Oh boy, this is a good one.

We’ve enjoyed Leo Butler’s work before, at the Royal Court. We booked this basically on the back of remembering that we like his writing. We didn’t realise that this production also brought back the imaginative team, which brought us Game at the Almeida early last year; Sacha Wares as director and Miriam Buether as designer.

The Almeida’s website has lots of information about the production and also collates the good reviews. As a glance at the review headlines suggests that they have been more or less universally good, this Almeida link should be pretty much definitive. 

We knew that the Almeida had done something funky with the set and seating, because we had a call from the theatre last weekend, asking if we minded that that a rejig of the set and seating meant that there would be an aisle between our front row seats. We could either put up with that or sit together further back.

We politely suggested that it ought to be possible for them to shift people around such that we can still sit together in the front row; we asked the gentleman at least to try. A few minutes later, the nice gentleman called back with the good news that he had achieved our wish.

Just as well, as we observed on entry to the theatre that the aisle in question was more like a chasm than a small gap.

But soon enough we also observed that the characters on the set, who were going around on an industrial conveyor belt like human sushi in one of those sushi bars, were sitting in perfect sitting posture without seats. I worked out that they each must have a support in one of their trouser legs, but the effect was very eye-catching and warmed us up for a short evening of theatre with a difference.

It is hard to do this piece justice in the description. It is 70 minutes of edge-of-your-seat theatre in which nothing much really happens. We are simply following a young 17 year-old lad, Liam, around London on one of his interminable, listless days. Yet all around him (and therefore us) we see glimpses of London life that resonate wonderfully. We are also made all-too aware of the hopeless of such a lad’s circumstances.

In one telling scene, Liam goes to register at the job centre or some such, only to be told that he should return when he is 18 and find himself something useful to do in the meantime. “That’s nearly a year,” Liam yells, despairingly.

The mostly very young cast do a brilliant job, but Frankie Fox as Liam really does stand out. I recognised Wendy Kweh from our recent visit to North Korea as depicted in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs – the irony of being reminded of North Korean hopelessness while being shown London hopelessness was not wasted on me.

But for us the star performance really is the extraordinary set and direction. The cast have to navigate some tightly choreographed scene changes and movements across the conveyor belt, plus those extraordinary “seats of their pants”, as it were. The wonderful movement elements of the production reminded us a little of Complicite; that’s a complement coming from us.

Lots to think about and talk about after the show, which is what good theatre is all about as far as we are concerned. As only tends to happen after really unusual and excellent pieces, that conversation started with strangers in the audience and some of the Almeida ushers before we’d even left the theatre.

One of the ushers told us that this production has not yet sold out – so if you are reading this fairly soon after the date in the headline, get on to the Almeida and snap up some of those remaining tickets.

This really is a hot ticket.

 

 

 

Dinner at the Stonemasons Arms with Simon Jacobs, 14 April 2016

I hadn’t seen Simon Jacobs for more years than either of us care/dare to recall. A combination of Facebook group postings/chats and some of my sample Ogblog activity got us e-chatting. We e-agreed that W2, W3 and W6 should not exactly be geographically challenging distances.

So we decided on the Stonemasons Arms in Hammersmith – Simon’s patch. As it turned out, I needed to go into the City that day. Commuting to Hammersmith rather than home is not much further. But it did mean that I was suited, booted and hatted, whereas Simon was wearing normal clothes.

We ordered a crispy squid starter to share, followed by, in my case, a roasted belly pork with mash dish that would make Janie envious as hell, while Simon ordered a posh burger dish. We also ordered some broccoli with almonds to share, to make the meal seem more healthy and perhaps subconsciously to stick two fingers up at George H Bush and his famous hatred of the stuff. We also ordered a rather tasty bottle of Primativo, as well recommended by the waiter.

Simon and I started our catch up chat. We considered talking for a minute each on the subject “what I have been up to since last we met” without hesitation, repetition, deviation or repetition. But we decided to go for a more free-form approach to the chat.

Surprisingly soon, our food arrived. Except it wasn’t our starter of crispy squid; it was our mains. Simon enquired after the squid and the waiter was hugely apologetic, offering even to bring the squid as a side order for us at no charge, but we declined that offer and agreed that it didn’t matter.

I considered making a joke about the squid not being well enough, so we’ve saved sick squid, but decided that the joke didn’t work well enough orally, let alone in writing. Simon quietly remarked that some waiters write things down and we both agreed that we’ve reached the age and stage that we need to write things down, if indeed we ever were at an age and stage when we didn’t need to do so. For example, Simon remembered little about the Princess Margaret skit from Keele in 1980, but did recognise his own handwriting, so he could deny nothing.

We then continued our interesting chat over the very tasty meal before us. A few elements of the reminiscence and chat hit on items that I have written up on Ogblog. In each of those cases I said that I would send Simon a link when I got home but…

…I didn’t write any of those items down. It’s OK, I’ll wing it and send Simon a few vaguely suitable Ogblog links. I don’t suppose he’ll remember which ones I actually promised, so I’m sure I’ll get away with it, as long as no-one grasses on me to Simon on this point.

It really was a very pleasant evening; I was surprised when I looked at my watch to realise that three hours had sailed by.

I hope we don’t leave it quite so long until next we meet; we really will both be old gits by then.

We’ve Bin To A Meeting, HHGE AGM, 12 April 2016

Janie and I don’t like public meetings. We really, really don’t. We went to this one, because of our involvement in the Hanger Hill Garden Estate (HHGE) wheelie-bin campaign. So, we felt more or less obliged to attend, despite our near-allergy.

The committee provides a small incentive for people to attend; some half-decent wine to help the time pass. That pleasant gesture only helped us to a limited extent.

The opening act was supposed to be our local MP, Rupa Haq, but her arrival was delayed, so the opening act instead was a local copper explaining crime (or lack thereof) in our neighbourhood. The unfortunate spokesperson wasn’t really “our main copper”, although he is part of the local police team, so he didn’t seem completely on top of HHGE issues.

After the quintessential AGM business of accepting accounts, nominating committee members, etc., eventually Rupa Haq arrived on the stump, making much of the fact that she is a local lass, but mostly being party parochial rather than geographically parochial. I suspect and hope that public speaking is not what Rupa does best.

Eventually the meeting got round to the wheelie-bin debate; arguably the biggest deal on the agenda. Many people wanted, understandably, to have their say and raise questions and issues. But basically, when it came down to the vote on whether people wanted the service road collection idea (the idea I had advocated and helped get the Council to agree to do, if the local people want it), the vast majority of people voted in favour of the idea. Hooray.

It had been a long 135 minutes in the community hall, but basically a successful meeting, from a rubbish point of view.

Janie and I won’t be putting up our hands to attend public meetings again in a hurry. But I shall certainly be putting up my hand for the amazing pasta Janie had prepared for us to eat when we got home; a venison and veal ragù that defies description beyond a big adjective; tremendous.

An Afternoon and Evening With Pady Jalali and John White, 11 April 2016

The reason for Pady’s visit was most unfortunate (the sudden death and funeral of a friend of hers), but the timing proved to be fortunate for us, as the trip made her available to meet us in London on 11 April.

Janie and I had already arranged a day off that day, to see a lunchtime concert of (mostly) English madrigals at The Wigmore Hall – Ogblogged here and had not arranged anything else of substance to do that day. John White was also available that evening and able to get away from work a little early.

Pady arranged to meet us at The Wiggy after the concert. She arrived a little flustered about 30 minutes after the concert ended. But hanging around at the Wigmore Hall is hardly a hardship for me and Janie (Daisy). It is one of our favourite places. In my case, it is now one of only two places in the world (the Lord’s pavilion being the other) where people still address me as “young man”.

It was lovely to see Pady again. Janie hadn’t met her before, but they hit it off straight away, as I sensed they would.

It was a sunny early afternoon when Janie and I had arrived at The Wiggy but it was raining quite heavily when the concert ended. By the time Pady arrived, the rain had subsided but still looked a bit threatening, so we decided to retire to the new Ivy Cafe in Marylebone Lane for some tea. A very suitable venue; quiet in the afternoon and geared up for dining or snacking.

Pady had checked in to a nearby hotel for the London leg of her journey, so we resolved to find a suitable restaurant nearby. Strangely, Pady doesn’t get to try Lebanese food in Boston. As she is a vegetarian, we thought the major mezzes followed by lesser mains tradition would work well.

John was able to join us at the Ivy around 16:30, by which time I was on to my second little pot of jasmine tea and we other three had already “done scones”. Getting to know you chat then switched to catching up chat.

Daisy and I did some thorough research and latched on to a restaurant named Levant – very nearby, as a good contender and one we hadn’t tried before. The promise of nightly live entertainment didn’t please us, but the idea of the entertainment starting no earlier than 20:30 did, as we were proposing to eat early. In any case, we could always fall back on Maroush if we didn’t like the look/smell of Levant.

As it turned out, we did like the look and smell of Levant. We very much enjoyed our meal and chat there. Very quiet at 17:30/18:00 when we arrived. Staff very pleasant. The mezzes were excellent. The grills less so, but still did their job. John drank beer; Lebanese and Moroccan varieties, while the rest of us showed no mercy to a tasty bottle of Côtes du Rhône.

After dinner, Daisy requested an arabic coffee but was told that, regrettably, the machine wasn’t working and that it would have to be regular coffee. We had a short debate about whether we could be bothered to go elsewhere, which was resolved by the realisation that it was nearly 20:30 already, so the live entertainment was due to start soon.

Where did all that time go? In chatting, reminiscing and catching up, that’s where.

So we ventured out into the mercifully dry evening, soon to find Comptoir Libanais on Wigmore Street. “They should have arabic coffee,” declared Daisy, marching across Wigmore Street, grinding taxis, bicycles and other vehicles to a brief but sudden halt. “Do you have arabic coffee?” asked Daisy as she breezed into the cafe. “Yes, come in sit down,” said an unidentified member of staff.

But it turned out that Comptoir Libanais didn’t do arabic coffee; never does, never did. None of us could be arsed to move again; we mostly wanted to carry on chatting for a short while. So we made do with regular espressos, cappuccinos or, in my case, rose-mint tea.

All too soon, we realised that it was really getting late for John, who still had a couple of hours journey ahead of him, so we walked John down to Bond Street tube and then Daisy and I walked Pady back to her hotel.

It was a lovely afternoon and evening. We worked out that it must be at least 10 years since Pady’s last visit, so hopefully Pady will start visiting a lot more regularly now. Who knows, perhaps as soon as next month. That’s right, in the merry, merry month of May, fa-la-la-la-la…

I Fagiolini, Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Concert, 11 April 2016

Daisy and I arranged a Monday off, in part because “that’s quite often what we do these days”, but this one in particular because I fancied this lunchtime concert at “The Wiggy”.

It turned out to be a fortuitous choice of date, as it coincided with Pady Jalali’s unexpected but delightful visit, which I shall report once I have finished this short piece; a link to which should appear, as if by magic, as a ping-back on this one once it is done. (Clever stuff, this WordPress blogging).

Pady toyed with the idea of joining us for the concert, but the train times from Manchester didn’t really work sensibly for that, so just Daisy and I enjoyed the concert, from our front row mafia vantage point.

Janie is not a great fan of Renaissance English Madrigals, especially those of the fa-la-la variety, but even she admitted that this short concert was a wonderful way to get a small dose of them without the irritation that arises from a large dose.

There was a lyric sheet available for 50p which I avoided. Not for the matter of 50p, you understand, but because making it too obvious that the lyrics were mostly about shepherds, shepherdesses, the merry month of May and a fa-la-la-la-la… would not have added to Daisy’s enjoyment. Worse, me singing along would not have added to anyone’s enjoyment.

The concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 3, will be broadcast again on 17th April and should be available on this link until 8th or 9th May. Yes, available until the merry month of May fa-la-la-la-la…

The ensemble entered wearing straw hats and carrying a hamper, an old badminton racket etc. The idea was to give the feeling of a spring picnic; an idea that worked better live than on radio, I’d suggest.

There were three examples of modern madrigal in our concert too – the running order is archived here – but for the encore I Fagiolini returned to the safer ground of traditional month of May-type material; Now is the Month of Maying by Thomas Morley. Plenty of fa-la-las to send us on our way.

Twee? Yes. But it was a lovely concert which set us up very nicely indeed for a relaxing afternoon and evening with friends.

 

The Brink by Brad Birch, Orange Tree Theatre, 9 April 2016

Wow. This was great.

Despite our unexpectedly disappointing evening at the Hampstead the day before in the hands of old favourites Neil Labute and Michael Attenborough, we still had high hopes for this play by new playwright Brad Birch and emerging director Mel Hillyard.

Our high hopes were well founded. A young teacher descending into psychotic madness does not sound like an entertaining, even amusing subject. Yet somehow this extraordinary play and production indeed entertained and amused, while also bemusing and shocking us.

The cast were all excellent, with especially strong performances by Ciarán Owens as the unfortunate young teacher, Nick, and Vince Leigh in several roles, as Nick’s headmaster and other tormentors.

Vince Leigh I recognised as soon as he came onto the stage, as a nice fellow I chat with sometimes at the health club. I was delighted and relieved when he and the production turned out to be so good. At dinner afterwards, one of Janie’s first, unprompted and highly-positive comments was about Vince’s performance, at which point I told her about the small but pleasing connection.

We’re big fans of the Orange Tree and think that Paul Miller is doing great things there since taking over eighteen months or so ago. Pomona, for example, was simply superb.  

We attended the last preview – so press night is this Monday. We really hope that The Brink is well received by the critics and does well for the Orange Tree – it deserves to.

Details about The Brink, including the reviews once they have been published, are/will be gathered here on the Orange Tree site.

 

Reasons To Be Happy by Neil Labute, Hampstead Theatre, 8 April 2016

We were really looking forward to this one. We have been fans of Neil Labute’s writing since he first burst onto the theatre scene in London with Bash, all those years ago. We saw Reasons to be Pretty at the Almeida some five years ago and thought it was a very good play and production.

This one, Reasons to be Happy, is a companion piece/sequel with the same characters. Michael Attenborough, now no longer at the Almeida, directing as a guest at the Hampstead. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the problem with this one is the play. Labute has, for once, written a dull, ordinary play. There are some really sharp dialogue exchanges, as you might expect, but the plot is from “Rom Com Writing 101” and even some of the dialogue drags. The menace that usually underscores a Neil Labute play was there, sort-of, but was more like muzzled poodle menace than the usual unfettered pitbull menace.

In fact, some of the script was so predictably ordinary, I wondered whether Neil Labute has programmed an artificial intelligence version of himself to keep his writing going while he does other things, like crossing the Finchley Road and getting spotted by Ged and Daisy. If so, he hasn’t programmed the machine all that well.

I was well rested, after denying myself a punishing night after the Middlesex AGM Thursday, so I stayed awake throughout, just about. Daisy was not so well rested and had experienced a trying morning of slavery at the hands of her increasingly unreasonably demanding mother. Thus Daisy took full advantage of the opportunity to catch up on her sleep during the play. She didn’t miss much, although she was understandably slightly confused about the outcome at the end of the show.

But she didn’t really care about that outcome. Nor did I.

It’s a shame, because the cast were good, doing their best to get something out of the dull script. The set was interesting enough. Michael Attenborough sure can direct, but you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.