It is a comedy and it is a funny play, yet the issues in the play about unfair work practices and about attitudes between different minority communities in New York are both poignant and prescient.
The tiny Finborough had been turned into a sort-of Harlem copy shop with the audience all on one side for a change.
The young woman who checks your tickets took pains to ask us not to throw our rubbish in the bins because they are props. We though it was so obvious that they were props that it was almost embarrassing for her to have to tell us this.
But some dumb mf’s has bi dumpin’ dair trash in de set.
In truth, it did take us both a while to get used to the Harlem street talk used in the play, but either it or we settled down quite quickly to that aspect.
The plot was quite slow to build, but by the end of the first half (which was probably two-thirds of the play in fact) the plot was simmering and we were keen for the second half.
That shorter act, after the interval, was very pacey and well done.
The cast were excellent and you can see why this play won awards in the USA.
We picked up some Persian food from Mohsen on the way home. Janie was in a bad mood at the injustice of life as depicted in this play. So it is fair to say that the play was more than a little affecting.
Well done Finborough – another high quality find, well produced.
It is the tale of three sisters from a self-confessed chav family which moves to a posh town for the sake of the girls’ education.
It throws up a great many issues about class, families, aspirations and the like.
The problem with it is the extreme nature of the plot. I’m not sure where this posh town might be, entirely populated by such snobby, middle-class people that this trio of roofer’s daughters are so utterly different from all of their peers.
Still, the story provides a vehicle for those pertinent issues and a vehicle also for three very high energy and vibrant performances by the actresses.
Weird set with the audience separated into four quadrants while the stage formed a cross formation covering most of the room, allowing the girls plenty of space for their performances.
It’s a short play (100 minutes without an interval) which suited us well. Janie had bought one of those crispy Gressingham duck things for the weekend and it seemed a shame not to roast and eat it when we got home.
I had trouble getting Daisy out of the house, after Joy had told her unequivocally that this play was garbage and that she & Barry had walked out in irritation at half time. I said we should judge the play for ourselves and we are both glad we did.
It is set at the end of Jack Cardiff’s life. The play tries to show Cardiff looking back on his fascinating life in cinema through the distorted lens of a long, lingering old age with advancing dementia.
I think we are supposed to see analogies between the cognitive distortions of dementia and the the natural distortions of light through prisms and colour lenses. The latter can lead, ultimately, to beauty and clarity, whereas I’d suggest that dementia struggles to do that.
The play is also meant to show us the impact of Jack Cardiff’s success (and latterly his dementia) on his son Mason and his second wife Niki. I fear that both of those parts were underwritten, perhaps because both of those people are still alive. Indeed the son, Mason Cardiff, is credited as an associate producer of the Hampstead production. As is Robert Lindsay, who plays Jack Cardiff (rather brilliantly) and was very instrumental in encouraging this piece to be written and produced. I believe Lindsay was a neighbour of the Cardiff family in Denham, where the play is set.
Consequently, the normally excellent Claire Skinner had little material to work with, while I fear that Barnaby Kay who played Mason (and also vaguely attempted Humphrey Bogart and Arthur Miller) was stretched even by his sparse roles.
Actually we thought the stand out performance was Rebecca Night as the young carer, rather casually employed by the Cardiff’s to help Jack with his daily needs and also to help him write his autobiography. The young woman’s unfortunate story formed an interesting sub-plot – potentially more interesting, in my view; that sub-plot bubbled but didn’t really boil.
To my mind, Prism is certainly a flawed play. Terry Johnson is a very capable writer, but I think the conceits of this piece are inherently problematic and the cracks show throughout. There are some superb coups de theatre, though – not least when the boat scene of The African Queen more or less comes to life in front of our eyes on the stage, just before the interval.
Two scenes after the interval were genuine highlights – The African Queen one immediately after the interval and a scene soon after, in which we realise that an explosive earlier scene with the carer and family was perceived by Jack Cardiff to be with Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn and Arthur Miller.
On balance, we’re glad we have seen this play and glad that we have learnt a bit more about Jack Cardiff through it. But this is not one of Terry Johnson’s nor the Hampstead Theatre’s greatest hits.
Unfortunately, this one didn’t really do the business for us.
I said to Janie at the interval, “if this play manages to pull together all of its big and disparate themes in the second half, we’re in for one cracker of a second half.” I didn’t think it would. It didn’t.
Strangely, I don’t think we’d ever seen a Christopher Shinn play before. I say strangely, because he has had so many of his works performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, which we frequent a lot. Perhaps the subject matter has never appealed to us before.
This sounded interesting from the Almeida blurb and indeed it was interesting subject matter. Too much of it; violence in society, sexual politics, religion, workers’ increasing sense of powerlessness…
…but the performances were all very good. They seemed, to us, wasted on this play.
Tellingly, the Almeida resource does not link to reviews, so here are a few links:
To help rescue our evening, we ran into Jilly Black sitting, with a friend, a few rows behind us. We chatted with them after the show; indeed Janie dropped them at Baker Street giving us quite a bit of very pleasant post show chat time.
It is not very often that we bemoan the extra few minutes journey time to the Almeida; normally that place is well worth the extra few minutes each way, but this piece left us warm to the interesting topics but decidedly cold to the play,
Janie, who would have loved to have seen the show, felt that she couldn’t free up the day.
Still, I learned that there were to be several old muckers from Alleyns in Edinburgh that day and also that Marie and Joe Logan (the former being a Z/Yen alum) would at least be able to join us for lunch.
Marie and Joe’s application to become honorary school alumni for the day was unanimously accepted, especially when the gang discovered that Marie is a close friend of Linda Cook’s, as Linda had organised the Z/Yen Board Room gig.
But, when Marie inadvertently mentioned “Old Alleynians” in correspondence, I felt obliged to explain:
…there is one really important point you need to get right.
You are each an honorary Alleyn’s Old Girl/Alleyn’s Old Boy (respectively). Neither of you is in any shape or form an Old Alleynian, honorary or otherwise. Old Alleynians are alumni of Dulwich College, the pathetic, rival school of Alleyn’s.
Let me illustrate with well-known examples:
Alleyn’s Old Boy – Jude Law;
Alleyn’s Old Girl – Florence (and the Machine) Welch;
Old Alleynian – Nigel Farage.
Need I say more?
Mercifully there was no unpleasantness in the alumni-confusion-department on the day.
So I rose about 4:30 (a bit earlier than necessary in truth), setting off on an early flight from Heathrow (thank you, Janie, for the lift all the way to Terminal 5) and then took the tram into Edinburgh.
In schoolboy mode for a meet up with old school muckers, I got very excited with my smartphone when I realised that there was free wifi on the tram, sending Janie a picture and a sound recording of the Chigley-like tram sounds.
Janie messaged back to say that I’m a big kid.
Then a solo stroll through Edinburgh from New Town to Old Town…
…towards The Counting House…
When I arrived, only Rohan was there – John and Steve were out soliciting trade…for Rohan’s show, readers, control yourselves…
…but soon after I arrived, there was a surprise (to me) arrival – Claire Tooley (now Claire Brooke) – a very pleasant surprise indeed. Even more pleasantly, Claire was able to join us for lunch after the show.
I thought the performance was very good. Rohan hasn’t changed the show much since the pilot, but he has tightened up the script and his delivery has some lovely pauses and nuances that have clearly evolved with practice and experience.
It was a pretty full house, which at 11:00 in the morning on the Free Fringe I reckon is a big win. Certainly there seemed to be little activity for the other morning/lunchtime shows at The Counting House.
The audience was very receptive, I thought, although those who had attended performances earlier in the week thought that the laughter was slower to build that day, but the attentiveness, reaction and laughter as the story built ended up better.
We strolled to Spoon to meet Marie and Joe. Apparently this place is an old haunt of JK Rowling’s, so well suited to an arty gathering.
Like a fool I neglected to take any pictures in Spoon, but we gathered as nine: me, Steve Butterworth, Rohan Candappa, Paul and Cathy Driscoll, John Eltham, Claire Tooley-Brooke, Marie and Joe Logan.
One coincidence about this event, I realised, is that this season is the 25th anniversary of my own material premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 1992, Brian Jordan brought The Ultimate Love Song – click here to Edinburgh in his wonderfully-named show “Whoops Vicar, Is That Your Dick?”.
When I mentioned this coincidence, Rohan (naturally) asked me to give an acapella rendering in Spoon, which I did as best I could – not very well. You can hear Ben Murphy’s excellent recording of the song below:
But back to Spoon. The food was good, the chat was jolly. People drifted away as journeys home or appointments with other shows approached, but we were a pretty lively group for a couple of hours at least.
Eventually, when it was just me, Marie & Joe left, we went for a stroll around town to see what we might find for the remaining couple of hours, before I needed to head for the airport.
In this production the performer, Paul Kennedy, is simply excellent. Although it is a monologue – a story told in the first person by a narrator – he acts out some of his colleagues dialogue using ticks and gestures to indicate who is talking.
Continuity is comparatively very understated. The Ferryman was surely written with the West End and Broadway in mind. Continuity was probably written with radio and/or small theatres like the Finborough in mind. But Continuity is still extremely effective and affecting. Where has this writer, Gerry Moynihan, been all these years? One to look out for again, to be sure.
Daisy agreed with me that the piece was excellent, but it did also make her reconfirm her determination to select a lighter batch of plays and avoid the heaviest subjects next time around. But when she suggested musicals and farces as the alternative, I guessed that her tongue is to some extent in her cheek.
But it was an incredibly powerful, mood-affecting piece. So much so that Janie suggested, after getting uber-strident over shawarmas at home after the show, that perhaps we should skip these very morally-upsetting subjects at the theatre for a while.
It is performed (alongside the author) by a different performer each night, who has not seen the script. We got Phelim McDermott, who is one of the artistic directors of Improbable. He was very good.
The piece is, on the surface, very simple, childish even. Yet the more you think about it, the more you realise that Nassim is making profound points about freedom of speech, not least the pains people like him go through when they leave their home country (in his case Iran) in order to communicate what they have to say in a foreign place and a foreign language.
We sat right at the front but managed to avoid the worst elements of the audience participation. Having said that, I got the dirtiest of dirty looks from Phelim when I tried to help him follow his instructions, by pointing to an “X marks the spot” which was located next to my seat.
We weren’t just moved and thoughtful; we laughed a lot during the 70 minutes or so. Nassim is clearly a very innovative and skilled dramatist; we’ll certainly look out for his work again.
This Bush run is an Edinburgh preview – I think this piece will go down very well in Edinburgh. It is then returning to The Bush for a while after Edinburgh – I recommend that you grab a ticket for that while/if you still can, if you like this sort of thing.
Janie and I had a crazy craving for Iranian food after Nassim’s homesick piece, so decided to try Rice Chiswick, which we found very satisfactory. Not quite Mohsen’s standard, but close and very convenient for the Bush.
We’re on a bit of a roll at the moment; this was another very interesting piece.
It is a bit difficult to describe this play without spoilers – indeed the Hampstead Theatre staff we spoke to were bemoaning the fact that some of the formal reviews contain spoilers. Janie and I always avoid reading the reviews before we see a play/production, so it wasn’t spoiled for us and I’ll try not to spoil it for you.
The first act is a fairly conventional office politics satire set in a magazine publishing house; well acted and with some delightful vignettes. One ranting speech, towards the end of that act, by the chief fact-checker (played by Bo Poraj) will live long in our memories. Still, such office satires have been done many times and we have seen plenty to know that we are not wild about the genre…
…there is a pivotal moment at the end of the first act which reassured us that the second half of the play would be quite different.
Indeed, the second half was far more interesting and progresses, through two more, shorter, acts, in intriguing ways from the slow build of the first act.
Gloria has deservedly had good reviews from all the majors. It was a great success in its native USA and should do well in the UK too – at the time of writing the Hampstead run has already been extended and a West End run surely beckons.
Go see it.
Janie and I rewarded ourselves with some Chinese food from Four Seasons afterwards.
This was the first preview of Ink – so if you are reading this within 10 days or so of the above date, you still won’t be able to see formal reviews but you might still be able to get tickets. Get them before it’s too late!
Brilliant production, incredibly pacey, wonderfully designed, superbly acted – we were gripped from start to finish – for more than three hours – despite the heat and the exhaustion therefrom.
Ink starts with Rupert Murdoch buying a maligned, failing broadsheet paper, The Sun, from IPC (which was in effect The Mirror Group then) and persuading Larry Lamb to edit The Sun for him and help Murdoch beat the Mirror at their own game.
The rest is history and the history of that first year of Murdoch ownership pans out relentlessly on the stage.
The first half was especially pacey, taking us through the early days of the Murdoch era, not least the tension of the tabloid launch in November 1969.
The second half goes deeper and at times darker; the Muriel McKay kidnap/murder and the start of the Page 3 era being covered in a great deal of detail.
I had a strangely good feeling about this play/production despite its provenance. We didn’t much like the preview we saw of This House by James Graham a few years ago – indeed we left in the interval – but I sensed that his writing style would please us in this Fleet Street context far more than it did in the Westminster setting.
Biographical/history plays of this kind have a fundamental problem of course; we know how the story and even the main sub-plots end, so the drama, tension and thought-provocation has to come from elsewhere. James Graham is becoming a master at doing this. His style is different from Peter Morgan’s (Frost/Nixon etc.), but I think we are now blessed with two British writers who are world class at this genre.
Being hyper-critical, I think James Graham is probably a little too kind on Rupert Murdoch and a little too harsh on Larry Lamb. The inference in several scenes is that Lamb was going further than Murdoch wanted him to go, but to my mind it is a classic media proprietor’s trick (and certainly an archetypal Murdoch one) to hire street-fighters to do their work and then seemingly recoil in genteel horror when the street-fighter fights.
James Graham might have shown up the hypocrisy in Murdoch’s position more, but I suspect Graham deliberately chose not to. Murdoch is still alive and hugely influential whereas Larry Lamb and the other main protagonists are gone.
But these are minor points; the story is wonderfully portrayed and I hope the play and this production do extremely well; they deserve to do so.
I might spoil the fun if I reveal the clever effects and coups de theatre that come thick and fast in this production, but I will share a couple.
In one of the scenes illustrating the then ground-breaking marketing and advertising campaigns run by The Sun, the actors threw fistfuls of “money” into the air, much of which landed at the front of the stage but some came tumbling into the audience; in our front row seats I scored a crisp (albeit false) Ayrton on my lap:
A welcome breach of the fourth wall.
Not that the front row was all good news for me and Janie. In one scene, in which Larry Lamb angrily beats out a printing plate himself, because none of the unionised workers will touch the story, Janie and I got showered with…
…ink? Whatever it is, it went all over our clothes.
I called the Almeida on the Monday to ask them what the substance might be and how best we might wash our clothes. Strangely, it was one of the actors who answered the phone; he seemed especially concerned that they try to avoid breaching the fourth wall that way in future performances. Fair point.
But the actor also kindly called me back a few minutes later, after speaking with stage management and wardrobe, to say that they were very cagey indeed about revealing what the actual substance is, but they did give him some washing instructions to pass on to me. The instructions started, “firstly, put on Cat 3 asbestos-hooded coveralls…” I’m kidding, I’m kidding.
I suppose those two breaches of the fourth wall combine well in an expression that the quintessential Yorkshireman, Larry Lamb, would often have used: