Jam by Matt Parvin, Finborough Theatre, 16 June 2017

This was not the best Friday evening Janie and I have ever had.

First stop was the Finborough Theatre – our latest hot place – in several senses of the term that evening – it had been a scorcher of a day and was still well hot early evening. The heat in part explains our irritability.

I deposited our “friendship form” with the delightful volunteers at the ticket desk who were unsure what to do with the form, making an almighty fuss about it until someone senior enough came downstairs, grabbed the form and took it away. By this point, Janie was convinced that the senior response was inadequate in the circumstances, whereas I was convinced that it was fine; all I had wanted to do was save myself the price of a stamp by handing the thing in rather than posting it.

We were there to see Jam by Matt Parvin – click here for Finborough resource.

The acting was superb and the subject-matter really interesting, but Janie and I both found it nigh-on impossible to suspend our disbelief in the behaviour of the characters,  in particular the school teacher, given the situation.

Before any savvy readers start to think that we read reviews and then find ourselves seeing the production as reviewers would have us see it, I should say that it is our habit studiously to avoid reading reviews until we have seen a production and formed opinions for ourselves.

But on this occasion, our friend, Michael Billington’s review in the Guardian – click here – sums up almost exactly how we felt and how we discussed it in the minutes/hours after we left the theatre.

David Ralf in The Stage is kinder on the piece; “a touch contrived”. He is also full of deserved praise for the quite excellent performances by the two on stage; Jasmine Hyde and Harry Melling – remember where you heard the names first.

Long before we got to the theatre, Janie and I had agreed that we had a crazy craving for Persian food – Mohsen’s. This craving was only exacerbated by references to the Iranian origins of the teacher character in the play.

But it turned out that Mohsens is closed for a refurb at the moment.

No matter, we thought, Alounak is still there and not such a detour for us. Well, we used to be fans of Alounak’s food, but the standard seems to have declined considerably – at least to our taste. Now we can hardly wait for Mohsen to reopen.

Not the most successful Friday evening ever – but then there was still Saturday evening to come and that turned out to be an altogether more pleasing experience…

…I guess it was a case of “jam tomorrow”.

Diary Of A Madman by Al Smith after Gogol, Gate Theatre Notting Hill, 29 July 2016

I rather liked the idea of this modern adaptation of Gogol’s magnificent short story, Diary of a Madman, set in modern Scotland.

This show is going to Edinburgh in August and then running at The Gate Theatre in September, but we booked for one of three previews at The Gate, which we thought would be a good way to see the production.

The play and production certainly had its moments, but also had some longueurs. Perhaps these will be ironed out between preview and main show, but the preview ran for some 90 minutes and I suspect that 60 to 70 would work better; there is certainly at least 20 minutes-worth of material, mostly earlier in the piece, that is surplus to requirements and made the play seem slow.

But it was very well acted and there were some lovely ideas in there. The bar scene towards the end was a wonderful mixture of anarchic, comedic and suspenseful drama. Some of the topical humour about referenda should play well, especially in Edinburgh.

Here’s a link to the Gate resource on the production. Too early for reviews at the time of writing, but perhaps not at the time of reading.

Janie particularly enjoyed the pea soup followed by “Big Al” pasta dish at Chez Clanricarde after the show.

 

The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch, Orange Tree Theatre, 16 January 2016

We seem fated to sit next to the luvvies this year. Last week Daisy ended up with Benedict Wong sitting next to her at The Royal Court. Then earlier this week, she took a call from the Orange Tree , to see if we minded shifting up one seat on our row to make space for an actors’ seat. I’m not sure what would have happened if we had refused this request. Anyway, I ended up with half the cast sitting next to me at one time or another (not all at the same time).

Don’t let the jovial start to this posting deceive you. This was another bleak piece about troubled people in a troubled place. This time the place is Uganda and the story is basically that of a young man who gets himself and his religious family caught up in the persecution of gay people. At no point in the play would you sensibly anticipate a happy ending.

The play has won awards and is another of Paul Miller’s canny transfers from Royal Exchange Manchester, where it was deservedly very well received – see synopsis, reviews from Manchester (presumably, eventually, also from Richmond – we attended the last Oraneg Tree Preview), cast and creative credits here.

This is only Chris Urch’s second play, so his is certainly a name to look out for in future.

The title, The Rolling Stone, refers to a newspaper in Uganda that acts as a focal point for persecution by naming and shaming homosexuals.  You’d need a heart of stone not to be moved by this production and the real life plight of gay people in Uganda (and indeed many parts of the world), which this play puts under the spotlight.