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.

Dolphins And Sharks by James Anthony Tyler, Finborough Theatre, 24 September 2017

Interesting play this, an award-winner from New York, getting its first airing in Europe at the Finborough.

The Finborough on-line resource describes the play and production well – here.

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.

No One Will Tell Me How To Start A Revolution by Luke Barnes, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 23 September 2017

Interesting and entertaining play, this.

Hampstead resource on the play/production can be found here.

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.

Prism by Terry Johnson, Hampstead Theatre, 16 September 2017

The neighbours tried hard to put us off this one. Joy and Barry are film aficionados extraordinaire, having been “in the film biz” themselves. They are also knowledgeable about and great admirers of Jack Cardiff, who was one of the pioneers of colour cinematography. I suspect they found the piece uninformative and irritating.

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.

Here’s a link to the Hampstead resource on this production.

Mixed reviews so not all that much shown at Hampstead – this search will find most of them for you.