My Mum’s A Twat by Anoushka Warden, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 13 January 2018

Janie and I loved this short piece. It was funny and intelligent and emotionally complex…

…a superb debut play for Anoushka Warden. It turns out that Anoushka Warden is more or less telling her own story – about growing up with a mother who transforms from a loving parent into an all-but estranged mum running a cult’s outpost in Canada.

It also transpires that Warden works for the Royal Court as head of PR – explained in the interview/preview piece linked here. That might explain why Vicky Featherstone chose to direct it herself but also brought in the very promising director Jude Christian to co-direct.

Here is a link to The Royal Court resource on this play/production.

It’s a one woman show – this must be the first time we have ever been to see a brace of one woman shows in the same weekend – the other being Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 at the Gate the previous day:

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith, Gate Theatre, 12 January 2018

Actually I think we should start an actress emancipation campaign on the back of this weekend’s experience. In Twilight, Nina Bowers had to play 20 different parts and also serve the intermission tea and biscuits – yes really…

…while My Mum’s A Twat, albeit a less physical show, is running twice nightly, so poor Patsy Ferran will be on the stage for in excess of two and three quarter hours each night with not much more than 30 minutes break between performances.

And what a fine performance My Mum’s A Twat was too.

Here is a link to resources and reviews generally for this play/production. The reviews have mostly been good but not great reviews. We actually rated the piece and the performance very highly.

The main criticism seems to be that monologue itself is a limited dramatic form. I see that point, but it is also a very powerful form when done well…and this one has been done very well. The mixture of humour and sadness really works; you sense that the character/author has been both strengthened and emotionally damaged by her maternal experience.

We don’t have a picture of Anoushka Warden’s mum, so here is a picture of Janie’s mum instead. The use of this picture to illustrate this Ogblog piece does not in any way suggest that we think that Janie’s mum is a twat…
…so in the interests of balance, here is a picture of my mum (who also wasn’t a twat)

At the time of writing, My Mum’s A Twat only has a few more days to run at the Royal Court and is sold out. I hope it will get its deserved extension or transfer so that more people can get to see it.

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith, Gate Theatre, 12 January 2018

I’m so often saying how wonderful The Gate Theatre is under Ellen McDougall’s new regime, I’m starting to bore myself by saying it.

We loved The Unknown Island…

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

…we loved Suzy Storck…

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

…and now I’m not going to surprise you by saying that we thought this production of Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 was also superb.

We nearly didn’t book it – we wondered whether this was overly heavy subject matter for us on a Friday evening and whether the 1991/1992 news aspect of it (the aftermath of the Latasha Harlins killing, the Rodney King video/policemen’s trial and the resulting riots) might make this verbatim play seem dated.

But in this post-truth, crazy era of ours the piece seemed eerily topical and prescient.

We arrived to a heaving lobby – there was a large party of Americans on a London Theatre marathon who had virtually bought out the house for the night.

Turned out the Americans were an exceptionally friendly and polite bunch who pretty much pushed us to the front to collect our tickets, apologising for the fact that they were a huge bunch of visitors preventing the locals from getting their tickets. Perhaps Janie and I had “make way/Brexity” expressions on our faces when we came in from the wind-chill-factor-enhanced bitter cold.

When we got to the front, apart from the ticket desk chap, the only faces that looked as though they might not be the American party were Daisy Cooper from the Gate production team (whom I mistook for an actress) and Caoilfhionn Dunne who had played Suzy Storck, but to whom I couldn’t say, “good evening Caoilfhionn” because I couldn’t remember how to pronounce her name; it’s pronounced “kay-lean”, btw. I did get a chance to congratulate her on her stellar Suzy Storck performance just before we all went in.

The ticket man didn’t give us tickets, he gave us badges to wear and a pen with which to label up the badges. I emblazoned mine thus:

At Janie’s request, I emblazoned hers with the name, “Daisy”, plus her talk about topic, “life”.

Daisy Cooper pointed out that her name was Daisy too.

On to the show, which is a one woman performance.

The actress, Nina Bowers, was superb. I have had to do some real detective work to discover her identity, though, as there was no leaflet on the night and at the time of writing (14 January 2018) the Gate website is silent on that matter.

There is an excellent preview piece by Ellen McDougall – click here – which says watch this space for cast…

…but on the main resource for this production – click here – at the time of writing, only the creatives are listed, not poor Nina Bowers, who has to play 20 parts all by herself and plays them brilliantly well. I guess the piece is about injustice and powerlessness in the face of such injustice, so perhaps Nina Bowers will enjoy the irony of her credit’s omission…

…or perhaps the injustice will have been put right by the time you read this Ogblog piece.

Nina even serves intermission drinks and biscuits to the audience – yes really. In fact, this is a performance without a real interval, but for 10 minutes towards the end of the show, the piece itself has a short intermission for tea, biscuits and conversation around the subject matter on our badges.

Janie and I chatted with a charming young American woman who turned out to be one of a handful of the audience who, like us, was not with the large party of New Jersey-folk. She was in fact from Orange County – not too far from the location of the riots but far too young to remember them. She must have been mighty confused when she asked about my fish, because I told her that my pet goldfish, Simon, had died and Daisy told her that my koi carp was named Peter and had gone down the plug hole.

No-one asked Daisy about life, probably because she had put her badge on upside down which made it quite hard to read.

If this all sounds silly and superficial, please do not be deceived by my ramblings and please do not be put off this play/production.

It is seriously well worth seeing – a very well-crafted piece of verbatim theatre about the terrible injustices that played out in Los Angeles in 1991 and 1992 which led to the riots, some further injustices and eventually an element of correcting some of the injustices and reconciliation. The USA has not eradicated the culture that led to those injustices and the subject matter seemed all-too relevant today.

I cooked a pasta dish for Janie after the show, using an excellent Speck sauce. We did not talk about fish and we did not talk about life – we were talking about Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.

Highly recommended, this play/production.

Cast – Nina Bowers – playing all the parts – remember where you read her name first.

Grimly Handsome by Julia Jarcho, The Site At The Royal Court Theatre, 22 December 2017

Experimental theatre. Installation theatre. Menippean satire, anyone? Julia Jarcho’s work is hard to categorise, apparently.

But this installation piece won awards in the USA and was chosen by the Royal Court as its pilot piece for a new chunk of SW1 real estate recently acquired sort-of next door to the Royal Court overlooking the tube platform; The Site.

Here is a link to the Royal Court resource on this play/production.

Sounded intriguingly weird and we thought we’d give it a try.

Sounded weird…WAS weird

About 20 minutes before the start of the play we were invited in to tour the installation, which was Christmas-themed and included a Christmas tree sales yard, a young woman’s bedroom, a gym, a cordoned-off crime scene that looked seriously grim…about 10 different scenes.

We were offered a cup of mulled wine for this tour, which Janie (Daisy) and I both declined, neither of us liking mulled wine. Several people took and drank the wine, while bemoaning their dislike of the stuff. Some people.

Then the show itself. The main performance space and seating area for the audience was scattered with video screens which could show, via CCTV cameras, the scenes we had toured.

A young woman dressed in some sort of animal suit operated the lights, the cameras the TV screens and even, at a couple of points, a cooker. Despite her pivotal role in the piece, from what I can gather she gets no credit in the programme or on-line at all, which feels wrong.

The three performers were simply superb. It is a very physical piece and the three actors have to keep changing roles – especially the female character who plays four different roles in the 90 minute piece.

Janie and I were really divided on this one.

I thought the piece very interesting and enjoyed its humour, gruesomeness and strangeness in equal measure.

Janie simply found it perplexing.

I felt I was doing fine deciphering the piece until the final part, in which all three actors were, apparently, red pandas, although one of the characters was gnawing away at the bones of (presumably) the murdered humans from the earlier parts and red pandas are strictly veggie, despite being quite closely related to carnivorous scavengers such as raccoons.

Even I struggled to decipher the last part, but I think that was supposed to be the idea.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, while Janie I think felt she could have done without feeling bemused at the end of a hard-working week just before Christmas.

Here is a link to help you find the mixed reviews from this Royal Court production – more agreeing with me than with Daisy I think, but it is not a competition.

Parliament Square, James Fritz, Bush Theatre, 16 December 2017

Janie got far more out of this one than I did. It’s only fair to say that the critics tended to agree with Janie rather than me.

Here is a link to the Bush Theatre resource on this show.

The story/scenario is an interesting and potentially moving one. But I struggled to put aside the foolishness of the protagonist; the way she went about her protest being destined to fail in so many ways. I even struggled to suspend belief and roll with the plot line.

It was very well acted and the sparse design/setting, performed in the round, suited the piece very well.

This search term should find you reviews and stuff – click here.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Cell Mates by Simon Gray, Hampstead Theatre, 9 December 2017

There were warning signs that this production of this play might provoke thoughts of walking out part-way through and even take me and Janie to the very edge of reason…

…I had simply forgotten about them and/or ignored them.

We didn’t book the original production of the play, Cell Mates, but we read all about it when Stephen Fry walked out on the production after just a few days and disappeared – the controversy about that is well documented on the Wikipedia entry for the play – here.

Further, two of the lead performers for this production, Geoffrey Streatfeild and Cara Horgan, were in The Pains Of Youth – Ogblogged here – which Janie and I hated and from which we walked at half time.

But these reflections are terribly unfair on those fine actors, whose performances were the saving grace of this production of Cell Mates. Our problem with Cell Mates, I think, is mostly the play itself.

The story of George Blake and Sean Bourke is very interesting. I can see why Simon Gray sought to dramatise it. Yet sometimes great stories do not make great drama; or perhaps this story would have needed more dramatic licence to bring the story to dramatic life. Blake’s passion for Marxism and the Soviet Union, to the exclusion of his human relationships, is a fascinating idea but made for dreary drama to our eyes.

To us, this play was a waste of excellent talent; all of the cast are fine performers and played their parts well. Edward Hall is a director we greatly admire. We considered walking at half time, but stuck it out on the strength of the performances.

Anyway, here is the Hampstead Theatre resource on the play/production. 

Here is Ed Hall talking about the production:

Here is the trailer:

Here is a search term that will take you to reviews and stuff – the critics seem to be seeing a bit more in the play/production than we did…but only a bit.

The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill, Finborough Theatre, 3 December 2017

This was a very interesting Sunday evening at the Finborough.

Here is a link to the Finborough resource on this play/production.

The playwright, Israel Zangwill, sounds like a fascinating character in his own right. To some extent the story in the play mirrors his story, although the play is set in New York, not Zangwill’s native London. Also, the play’s young hero is a composer, rather than an author.

The young hero of the play, David, is a refugee survivor of the Kishinev (Chișinău) pogrom, inspired to compose music to celebrate the cultural melting pot he finds in New York. He falls in love with a beautiful Russian Christian radical who is running a settlement house in New York and who turns out to be the daughter of an anti-semitic Baron from Bessarabia. How culpable is the Baron for the pogrom that took place on his watch? And how is the young love going to go down with him and with David’s traditionally orthodox but loving kin?

If that all sounds a bit melodramatic to your taste, I can understand the sentiment. Yet somehow Zangwill manages to avoid those excesses, at least in the hands of this Bitter Pill/NeilMcPherson/Finborough production. The play isn’t quite Ibsen, but it is even less like a melodramatic Yiddish Theatre monstrosity.

Indeed the play seems hugely pertinent today, with many minorities being persecuted across the globe still, plus swathes of refugees and migrants on the move. Zangwill includes both sides of the assimilation (or perhaps I should say acculturation) and ethnic tolerance argument, although you are left in no doubt that you have been in the hands of a liberal enthusiast of the melting pot.

Grandpa Lew, sitting, with his musician brother, Great Uncle Max, standing

Of course I cannot help this piece bringing to mind my own family – in particular my mother’s musical family, who came to London from the Pale of Settlement in the early 1890s.

I wondered briefly whether Israel Zingwall might have taught my Grandpa Lew at the Jews’ Free School, as the programme says that Zingwall taught there, but a little on-line research indicates that Zingwall quit teaching at that school a few years before Grandpa Lew made his fleeting appearances there (between periods of survival-oriented child labour truancy).

Returning to the Finborough in December 2017, the place was deservedly full on a cold, wet Sunday evening. In the bar and audience we saw Michael Billington, with Mrs B making a (now rare/occasional) appearance at the theatre. The Billington’s dedication to high-quality fringe theatre over the decades is exceptional.

Reviews, if/when they appear, should be covered by this search term – click here.

Janie and I highly recommend this production.

Poison by Lot Vekemans, Orange Tree Theatre, 18 November 2017

When we booked it, we really liked the sound of this modern Dutch two-hander about loss and relationships.

Poison has been very well received and reviewed, both in its original award-winning Dutch form and in this translation at The Orange Tree.

Excellent cast – it seemed like only a few weeks ago that we’d seen Zumin Varma in the round in West London – directed by the ever-reliable Paul Miller.

Yet for some reason this piece simply did not press our buttons. Perhaps Janie and I had seen this subject matter covered with more power elsewhere. Perhaps the characters came across as rather stiff and cold to us, rather than the bottled-up emotion that (I suspect) was supposed to be portrayed.

It is a short piece and is (as more or less always at the Orange Tree) thoughtfully designed and produced in the round. So don’t necessarily take our word for it.

Here is a link to the Orange Tree resource on this play/production.

Here is a search term that will find you reviews and stuff.

Did we go to Don Fernando to chow down afterwards? You can bet your sweet fabada we did.

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 Eleen 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 2017

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.