Heather by Thomas Eccleshare, Bush Studio, 11 November 2017

This made it two out of two excellent short plays at small theatres this weekend, after the stunning Suzy Storck at The Gate the previous night.

This one, in the Bush Studio, was a two-hander with just a table, two chairs and two mikes as props. It was extraordinary how much “magic” the excellent performers manage to get out of that low-key set.

The play is about a reclusive but massively successful author of children’s fiction.

The Bush resource on this play/production is comprehensive, explaining the play, production etc. – click here.

Here is a link that will find you reviews and things – click here.

Deservedly good reviews and another short play/production that deserves a wider audience than The Bush Studio – I do hope it gets a transfer and/or tour.

Below is the trailer:

Suzy Storck by Magali Mougel, Gate Theatre, 10 November 2017

This was a very affecting piece. An unusual piece of writing; brilliantly acted, directed and produced.

Another mini triumph for The Gate Theatre since Eileen McDougall took over as artistic director recently. We also much enjoyed The Unknown Island – click here – recently – indeed for Suzy Storck we found ourselves again inadvertently at The Gate on a Young People’s night. Must be some sort of type-casting for me and Janie.

The story is a shocking one, about a young woman entirely dissatisfied with her life, suffering from post-natal depression and getting neither help nor sympathy from her man, mother or anyone else.

All of the acting was top notch, but particular praise goes to Caoilfhionn Dunne, who we saw in another stand out performance not so long ago in Wild at The Hampstead – click here.

“Caoilfhionn” is pronounced “kay-lean”, btw, an Irish shibboleth of a name if ever there was one.

The Q&A afterwards was attended by Theo Solomon and Jonah Russell. Young People’s night was not so heavily populated with young people this time. It was a very jolly mixture of people who stayed on for the Q&A and who asked sensible questions of the team, hosted by Daisy Cooper from the Gate’s production team.

Here is a link to The Gate’s on-line resource for this play/production.

Here is a link to a search term for reviews and stuff – the reviews are deservedly very good indeed.

This piece and production really does deserve a wider audience, both for the quality of the drama on show and for the issues covered in a shocking yet subtle way. I do hope it gets a transfer.

Below are links to four YouTubes: the show’s trailer and then a fascinating three-part interview with the extraordinary director Jean-Pierre Baro:

The Firm by Roy Williams, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 4 November 2010

We usually really like Roy Williams’s plays – in particular we loved Fallout, Clubland and Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads, but the last couple of times we haven’t been so impressed.

They are always a bit laddish; this piece especially so.

Janie really didn’t like it at all and let the extent of her uninterest show, in the form of nodding off to sleep a few times.

I simply felt that it was lesser Roy Williams but still enjoyed the piercing wit in some of the bants and the way Williams gets the mood in potentially tense situations to change with great rapidity and skill.

For example, I thought the scene in which Selwyn “loses it” and Trent helps him to calm down was very well done.

But in the end, it did all feel like more of the same from Roy Williams and I’m sure that he is potentially better than this as a playwright. We’ll probably think at least twice before booking his next one. Or I might see it on my own.

A light supper of avocado and prawns when we got home; Daisy’s good mood was easily restored with that and a nice glass of white wine.

What Listening To 10,000 Love Songs Has Taught Me About Love by Rohan Candappa, Cockpit Theatre, 31 October 2017

Ahead of the performance, I went to Don Pepe, where several of Rohan’s friends, but none of the Alleyn’s crowd other than me, were gathering; on my recommendation.

Nick Primmer appeared to be the ringleader of that group; a really pleasant bunch of people. (When have I ever met unpleasant people through Rohan?) We ate light – just a few tapas between us – we hadn’t allowed much time. Then we navigated an inverse Bodmin (everyone wanted to overpay) before heading towards The Cockpit.

I joked that Janie’s and my visit the night before for the jazz – click here – was essential reconnaissance for Rohan’s evening. Strangely, it did help, because approaching the theatre from the north-west side, you need to climb a rather unusual staircase/walkway, which I think the others might have missed but which I realised must be the right way from the previous night’s loop round the estate to get out.

So we were in good time…

…but perhaps Rohan wasn’t. At least, he seemed in no rush to start. We waited for one or two latecomers, getting our number up to perhaps 30 people. Then Rohan said, “I have one or two things to do, so I’d like you all to discuss in pairs the question, ‘what is your favourite song?’, before I start.”

Of course this was a ruse to warm us up.

I was sitting next to John Eltham and Ben Clayson. We decided to break the rules and work as a trio. We quickly concluded that it is impossible to name one favourite song. John suggested that we name a current favourite, or perhaps the song that is occupying our minds most of the time at the moment.

I chimed in with, “in that case, for me it must be Innsbruck Ich Muss Dich Lassen, the Renaissance song I am currently trying to work up to performance standard on my baroq-ulele for the forthcoming Gresham Society soiree.”

That pronouncement seemed to put an end to the conversation in our trio for some reason. Heck, it is a love song, you know? Still, as John said afterwards, “only Ian would say that his favourite song of the moment is a 15th century song.”

Fortunately, around that conversation-stopping moment, Rohan decided that we were all warm enough, so he started his performance.

Gram-o-phone, grandad?

The performance started with Rohan computing that he (and therefore all of us of a similar age) have probably listened to about 10,000 love songs.

Rohan then takes us on a journey through his own coming-of-age and rites-of-passage, using a few well-chosen love songs to illustrate his stories.

I’m tempted to describe it as a sort-of autobiographical cross between a Bildungsroman and Desert Island Discs. But that sounds like a prelude to damning the piece, whereas it is my intention to praise it very highly indeed.

It reminded me a little of Every Brilliant Thing, which Janie and I thought was quite magnificent but when I tried to describe it,  the piece sounds ordinary – click here.

Not that Rohan’s piece is as tight and polished as Every Brilliant Thing…yet.

Anyway, the record in Rohan’s head for his first kiss (and therefore the first record he played to us on the evening) was Heart Of Glass by Blondie.

Rohan explained the Triangular Theory Of Love through the use of Toblerone, so I think that means that the advert I recall saying “do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?” should really have been a question about your last piece of Toblerone.

While Rohan handed around the Toblerone to the audience, a riot broke out.

No, the riot wasn’t a scrap for chocolate-based food amongst a feral, hungry audience; but something seemed to be kicking off on the local estates around the theatre.

“Standin’ at the door of the Pink Flamingo cryin’ in the rain…”

Meanwhile, Rohan pressed on. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by Soft Cell for an unrequited love episode…there’s a lot of 13th Century troubadour material on that subject, Rohan, if you would like me to dig some out for you…

…and a couple of left-field choices which, very strangely indeed, also coincide with my own coming-of-age stories:

I don’t know whether Rohan’s piece brought floods of memories to other members of the audience to the same extent as it brought such floods to me, but I have now written some 3,500 words of memory pieces since the show in order to capture those recovered memories while they remain fresh in my mind.

Like any good Bildungsroman, Rohan returns to his adult self and thoughts of his parents at the end of the show, with their favourite song, Moon River, proving that you can’t keep a good love song down; be it 56 or 532 years old.

By the time we’d cleared up the room, only a few of us retreated to The Globe pub, but a delightful small group of people it was. A very substantial police presence protected us for the 200 yards or so between the theatre and the pub. Many police in high viz flak jackets felt a little more robust than the theatre’s security; the solitary figure of John Eltham with a label/badge which reassuringly read “security”.

Anyway, a chance to say hello properly to Jan and also to meet Julie, aka the character “Croissanita” from Rohan’s previous show, How I Said ‘F*** You’ To The Company When They Tried to Make Me Redundant – click here for the pilot review of that one.

Ollie Goodwin and I were the last to leave the pub, although most of us left roughly at the same time.

When I got home I felt hungry. All could find easily to hand was a croissant on the breakfast bar and some salami in the fridge. I thought the croissant was most apt, given that I had finally met Croissanita that evening:

But the last word should go to Ollie Goodwin, who has e-mail circulated the following review, which in many ways says as much in 11 words as I have said in 1000:

This piece will resonate with everyone who has ears and genitals

Of Kith And Kin by Chris Thompson, Bush Theatre, 28 October 2017

Another night at the theatre, another enjoyable evening despite a rather messy play.

We enjoyed Of Kith And Kin, especially once the narrative got past the rather sitcom meets soap opera first act. There were interesting issues and a nice mixture of comedy, tension and tragedy.

But my goodness did we have to suspend belief a lot at times. No amount of desperation, deep-seated psychological damage and troubled back story would, in my view, lead a solicitor to behave as Daniel behaves at times in the second and third acts.

The acting felt a bit patchy too. All three female parts were very well-expressed but the central (male) couple felt a bit weak at times. Perhaps it was the play. Perhaps it was the way the play was directed.

The Bush has published a trailer on YouTube:

The Bush anchor and details can be found by clicking here.

I’ll guess the play will get/is getting mixed reviews – this search term should find whatever is out there whenever you come to look.

Still, we had a good evening.

We met again the nice young chap who sat next to us and chatted with us at The Gate the other week, serving behind the bar at The Bush.

We tried a very tasty Thai takeaway from the Sisters Cafe in Pitshanger Lane after the show.

Albion by Mike Bartlett, Almeida Theatre, 27 October 2017

As  usual for the Almeida, we booked this as soon as it was announced because it sounded very interesting and we normally enjoy the Almeida stuff.

We normally go to a Saturday preview or an early Saturday in the run; this time we couldn’t do those dates, so chose a Friday two or three weeks into the run.

The play/production has had universally good reviews, which sounded like good news, but in truth this play did not really do the business for us. A shame, because the cast were superb, seemed very much a team, the design was stunning and there were some excellent coups de theatre and some very good lines. But the play just didn’t work for us.

To us, the garden was a rather clunky metaphor for that section of the English elite that hankers back to bygone glorious times.  A dramatist’s reaction to David Goodhart’s The Road To Somewhere.  The plot, limited though it was, contained one or two rather predictable twists that were well-signalled in advance and very clumsily explained in arrears.

As King Charles III is Mike Bartlett’s Shakespeare pastiche play, Albion is his Chekhov pastiche. Janie liked neither; I had more time for the Shakespearean style of the King Charles III one (to be Ogblogged in the fullness of time).

We’re not averse to Mike Bartlett – we loved Game and we loved Wild. Bartlett can have such an original voice, I’m not sure why he falls back on pastiche. Janie points out that his pastiche ones seem to be way more successful with critics and the transfer market than the more original ones.

“Most of the theatre audience is naff,” says Janie, with her trademark subtlety and tact.

In truth, the Almeida audience the night we saw Albion was dreadful and irritated us. Older on average than the Saturday night crowd, they seemed especially and unnecessarily elbows-out pushy at the bar and in the queues for tickets/entry. Janie was especially irritated by the woman sitting next to her who took off her shoes and then held us up for five minutes at the start of the interval trying to put her shoes back on her ever so smelly feet.

I had spent an hour before the show saying goodbye (workwise) to Ian Theodoreson at his leaving drinks in The Barley Mow. A shorter play would have probably suited me better on the night. But we have both turned up to theatre after longer, harder days than this; in truth this play/production just wasn’t to my/our taste.

Here is a link to the Almeida information hub on Albion – including links to those rave reviews.

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, Orange Tree Theatre, 21 October 2017

This brilliant show is so difficult to describe without making it sound awful. Hence the big adjective up front to make it very clear that this is a great show and is highly recommended by both of us.

The reason it sounds awful is because it is riddled with audience participation and childish comedy, yet it is about depression and suicide, so could err towards mawkishness.

But it does none of those things – it is simply an hour of wonderful, entertaining stuff.

Don’t take our word for it – this search term finds you zillions of reviews.

Here is the excellent Orange Tree stub on the production.

Janie and I did not get majorly picked on for audience participation (unlike some), but we did get to read out an item each from the list; “Christopher Walken’s Voice” in Janie’s case and “Christopher Walken’s Hair” (must have been type-casting) in mine.

Janie had to ask me afterwards who Christopher Walken is.

Well done Paul Miller and the Orange Tree crowd for grabbing this one and giving it a go at the Orange Tree – just the right size and shape of venue for this piece.

We went for our usual post-Orange Tree Don Fernando meal feeling thoroughly satisfied and thrilled with our evening’s entertainment.

Ramona Tells Jim by Sophie Wu, Bush Studio, 14 October 2017

This is the third time we have been to the new Bush Studio and the third time we have been thrilled by the results there. From our point of view, this is akin to the wonders of the Hampstead Downstairs as a source of top notch fringe theatre.

Click here for a link to the Bush’s on-line resource for the Ramona Tells Jim play/production.

Spanning 15 years, the play depicts the fumbling, youthful love between Ramona and Jim as teenagers, as well as the lingering aftermath of those fleeting but life-changing events.

Here is an embedded trailer for the production, which shows snippets of the junior scenes:

The playwright, Sophie Wu, is a new name to us. Apparently she is more TV and film actress  than playwright at this stage of her career. We’ll certainly be looking out for her plays again. Ramona Tells Jim is a charming, short piece – very impressive as an early effort.

This search term – click here – digs out plenty of reviews. In truth the reviews speak more highly of the production than the play, claiming some lack of depth and/or plausibility in the latter. But what do the reviewers know? We thought this was 80-90 minutes of high quality, thought-provoking, dark comedy.

Extremely well acted and directed too; the reviewers certainly agree with us on that. Director Mel Hillyard wowed us as recently as March with Scarlett at the Hampstead Dowstairs and also last year with the Brink at the Orange Tree. She is certainly a director to watch.

We had also seen Ruby Bentall before, although I had to look this up to recall where; in DNA and The Miracle at the Cottesloe yonks ago. All of the performers were very good indeed.

The audience had their moments on the night we attended. The Bush was very quiet that evening, as the next production in the main house (Of Kith and Kin – we’re going to that in a couple of week’s time) has not yet opened. Just before the doors were due to open (15 minutes before scheduled the start of the play), two members of staff went through and locked the door behind them. One couple, seeing people go in, went running up to the door and banged on it fervently, thinking that they had missed the start of the show, perhaps unused to 19:45 start times for the new studio rather than 19:30 in the main house.

“We must be the most stupid people on earth”, said the door-banging chap as the couple joined the rest of us in a sedate drinking/milling around mode for a few more minutes.

Actually, the most stupid people on earth award for the evening might go to the woman next to me who left her mobile phone on, noisily pinging through texts and e-mails during the 1998 scenes – very incongruous noise – until she realised the problem was her, at which point she tried to rectify the problem discreetly, hoping no-one would notice that it was her. Plenty of people noticed, love.

Next up for a stupid award was the woman who insisted on rattling her voluminous drink ice around in her glass like a teenager noisily munching popcorn in the cinema, then later cackling like a hyena at the fumbling sex scene which was surely whimsical pathos humour rather than guffaw humour to anyone old enough to know better, which this woman surely was.

Crumbs, the above paragraphs infer that we had an irritating evening but we really didn’t – we came home truly delighted with the play and the production. We had a light supper of salami and cream cheese baguettes with some salad stuff, washed down with a very jolly Dão red.

Highly commended by both me and Janie – we’ll be looking out again for the talent that was on show – writing, directing, producing and acting.

The March On Russia by David Storey, Orange Tree Theatre, 7 October 2017

Back in the late 1980’s. when I read a heck of a lot of plays as my “commute fodder”, I remember wanting to like David Storey’s plays but never enjoying reading them. I wanted to like them, because I knew his son, Jake, at University, which was as close as I got to actually knowing a playwright back then. But I always found the plays themselves naturalistic to the point of being dull.

But I had never seen a David Storey performed and now he has died and Daisy liked the sound of this one and it is supposedly one of his most autobiographical ones and it was the Orange Tree…

…so off we went.

I’m going to guess that this is about as good a production of a David Storey as one might find. Excellent cast, fine young director in Alice Hamilton, whose work we have enjoyed before. (Although German Skerries,which she also directed, was a naturalistic, dull, late 20th Century play which sent us to sleep.) Plus, the Orange Tree “in the round” treatment suits this type of naturalistic chamber play.

This production of The March On Russia has had excellent reviews – quotes, links and other resources about the production can be found on the Orange Tree’s site – here.

But I did find the play dull. It was borderline for me whether we stayed on for the second half, but Daisy guessed, correctly, that the drama would unfold in a rather more interesting way second half. I’m glad we stayed. I’m glad I’ve seen a David Storey. Neither of us will be rushing back to see another of his, though.

We debated this and more over a delicious Spanish meal at Don Fernando after theatre, as is our habit post Orange Tree, making the evening as a whole worthwhile and enjoyable.

The Unknown Island adapted from a short story by José Saramago, Gate Theatre, 29 September 2017

Ellen McDougall is the new artistic director of The Gate and this production is a great start to her role.

Based on The Tale Of The Unknown Island, an allegorical short story by Portugese writer José Saramago, four actors enact the piece. It is a very simple story with many-layered themes; to some extent the unknown island is an individual’s capacity to explore personal horizons, to some extent it is an allegorical tale about bureaucracy, leadership, power and colonialism.

Sounds heavy but honestly it isn’t. It is a one hour piece full of fun and little coups de theatre. There’s even a tiny bit of audience participation…but not of the “embarrassing pick on one person” kind.

Here is a link to The Gate’s resource on the play/production. The production has deservedly had superb reviews, links to which can be found in this resource, saving me the trouble.

Janie and I thought we were the oldest people in the audience…

…turns out I had inadvertently booked for “Young People’s Night” – it was simply the only Friday evening we were available!

Still, we are young at heart.

There was a short Q&A session after the show for Young People’s Night. As we were honorary young folk by then, Janie and I stayed on, finding the discussion interesting.

But back to the play/production – it is most certainly well worth seeing; for the story, for the production and for the quality of the performances, all four performers being excellent.

At the time of writing (the next morning), this production still has a week to run; Janie and I would thoroughly recommend it. Hopefully the piece will transfer and allow a wider audience to enjoy this thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable production.