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.
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:
By the time we got to our seats, Janie and I had probably had enough suspense, drama, excitement and surprise for one day.
We’d been following the ODI cricket all day, which was well poised when we left Noddyland, in good time to get to The Almeida.
In fact the traffic was very light, enabling us to take an unusually direct route, but that didn’t stop the cricket from taking more twists and turns than a Sat Nav assisted London journey in a traffic jam.
Janie was convinced England were going to win throughout the Saffer chase; whereas I was less optimistic in the absence of early wickets for England on a very flat track. But between the time we drove past Madam Tussaud’s to the time we drove past the Wellcome Collection, the Saffers reduced the ask from 26 runs off 13 balls to 10 runs off 10 balls. Even Janie briefly thought England were as stuffed as…well, waxworks aren’t technically stuffed, but some specimens in the Wellcome Collection must be.
The worst part about listening to the end of that cricket match in the car was waiting to turn from White Lion Street onto Islington High Street, when the Saffers needed just four runs off the last two balls. The radio signal hit one of those building-affected interference spots and we couldn’t hear a thing for about a minute – which felt like an hour. As we emerged onto the High Street, we soon learnt that we hadn’t missed a ball; merely a lot of faffing around in the field. Phew.
So the match was won – scorecard here – just as we arrived at the Almeida. Double-phew. We sat in the car a while to decompress and hear the post-match punditry.
The Almeida was heaving by the time we entered, a little after 19:00. We collected our tickets, bought a programme, ordered our drinks and found a quieter spot in the corner of the bar. Janie wanted to read the two or three sentence promotional teaser for the play, which was absent from the programme but is the information that enticed us to book the play. I volunteered to get her the little promo card, via the loo.
As I weaved through the heaving foyer/bar area, at one point a fellow, with his back to me, was standing in a particularly obstructive place, making it impossible for me to get past. I tapped him gently on the shoulder and said, “excuse me, may I please get past you?”, to which he replied, without turning around, “NO. You can go all the way around the other side instead.”
Janie had met Ollie and indeed Ollie’s other half, Victoria, a few months ago at Chris Grant’s alumni do, so we needed little reintroduction, chatting briefly before the play and then again at some more length about the play during the interval and after the show.
It is one of those plays that gives you plenty to chat about.
The Treatment has had superb reviews (as evidenced in the above Almeida resource), but one of Janie’s clients had absolutely hated this play, describing it as “rubbish”, so we went with a little trepidation. That particular client/lady often has taste that corresponds with ours. But on this occasion Janie’s client got it wrong; I can see how the play (indeed Martin Crimp’s writing generally) wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is very interesting and far from rubbish.
Martin Crimp’s plays are (in our experience) always sinister and weird. The Treatment (which Crimp wrote and was first performed in 1993) echoes some of the themes Crimp also covered in The City – which we saw at the Royal Court in 2008 and which I Ogblogged here. In particular the crazy, suspenseful nature of cities. Menace that is partly overt, partly covert; some only in our minds, some all too real.
Coincidentally, Benedict Cumberbatch was in the audience with us, sitting very close to or even next to Ollie and Victoria. As a young, up-and-coming, virtually unknown but clearly very talented actor, Cumberbatch starred in that production of The City (and indeed Martin Crimp’s version of Rhinoceros at The Royal Court – Ogblogged here). I think we first saw Cumberbatch at the Almeida as it happens, as Tesman in a superb production of Hedda Gabler in 2005.
Benedict Cumberbatch also plonked himself at the next table to ours during the interval, much to the complete nonchalance of Janie, Ollie and Victoria…until I pointed him out to them.
Actually, these days Benedict Cumberbatch is everywhere and in everything, so on that basis this encounter was hardly a coincidence. Indeed, given the size of the cast used in The Treatment it’s a miracle that Cumberbatch wasn’t in the play rather than merely watching it. Stranger still that Janie and I didn’t see him eating at Ranoush in Kensington later in the evening. Absolutely everywhere, he is.
Janie and I will find ourselves talking about this play for some while, I’m sure; certainly for the rest of the weekend…and this is a long weekend. That’s the sign of a good play to us. We also thought it was a superb production, with excellent performances and very innovative stage direction/set design.
Our first visit to the theatre for a wee while, as there tends to be less of the stuff we like to see over the summer.
This play looked very interesting in the Almeida leaflet. Unusually, this was the only play we booked at the Almeida this season; they seem to be doing fewer new plays these days.
It was indeed an interesting play. Mostly set in London, where a do-gooder jolly hockey sticks woman is trying to organise an awareness raising Congo Festival with the consent and co-operation of the local Congolese diaspora community. Funny and sinister in equal measure. But the play doesn’t shy away from also showing us a glimpse into the horrors of life in the war-torn DRC.
Michael Longhurst directed this one, as he did Carmen Disruption last spring. We found that play interesting with some excellent scenes, but a little disjointed. I’d suggest that They Drink It In The Congo is similar in that regard. In particular, some of the festival-organising intrigue was a little drawn out and convoluted, but some of the scenes were superb. Interesting set and scene changes. All performances very good indeed.
We knew that the Almeida had done something funky with the set and seating, because we had a call from the theatre last weekend, asking if we minded that that a rejig of the set and seating meant that there would be an aisle between our front row seats. We could either put up with that or sit together further back.
We politely suggested that it ought to be possible for them to shift people around such that we can still sit together in the front row; we asked the gentleman at least to try. A few minutes later, the nice gentleman called back with the good news that he had achieved our wish.
Just as well, as we observed on entry to the theatre that the aisle in question was more like a chasm than a small gap.
But soon enough we also observed that the characters on the set, who were going around on an industrial conveyor belt like human sushi in one of those sushi bars, were sitting in perfect sitting posture without seats. I worked out that they each must have a support in one of their trouser legs, but the effect was very eye-catching and warmed us up for a short evening of theatre with a difference.
It is hard to do this piece justice in the description. It is 70 minutes of edge-of-your-seat theatre in which nothing much really happens. We are simply following a young 17 year-old lad, Liam, around London on one of his interminable, listless days. Yet all around him (and therefore us) we see glimpses of London life that resonate wonderfully. We are also made all-too aware of the hopeless of such a lad’s circumstances.
In one telling scene, Liam goes to register at the job centre or some such, only to be told that he should return when he is 18 and find himself something useful to do in the meantime. “That’s nearly a year,” Liam yells, despairingly.
But for us the star performance really is the extraordinary set and direction. The cast have to navigate some tightly choreographed scene changes and movements across the conveyor belt, plus those extraordinary “seats of their pants”, as it were. The wonderful movement elements of the production reminded us a little of Complicite; that’s a complement coming from us.
Lots to think about and talk about after the show, which is what good theatre is all about as far as we are concerned. As only tends to happen after really unusual and excellent pieces, that conversation started with strangers in the audience and some of the Almeida ushers before we’d even left the theatre.
One of the ushers told us that this production has not yet sold out – so if you are reading this fairly soon after the date in the headline, get on to the Almeida and snap up some of those remaining tickets.
“What was that about” said Janie after the show; proof positive that her review would not be 100% positive. “I liked bits of it but it seemed all over the place at times and I’m not really sure what it was trying to say.”
Janie has a point.
Yet it was a very entertaining play/show in many ways.
Centre stage as we walked in was a dying bull, or rather a moving facsimile of same. It remained pretty much centre stage throughout.
Men were dressed a women, women were dressed as men, it was sort of about an opera singer, sort of about a toy boy…
…read the reviews and figure it out for yourself if you wish.
Shocking, as in, it left us feeling really quite shaken and discombobulated.
In a way, this was immersive theatre. The Almeida was reconfigured, such that the audience was divided into sections in sort-of booths, from which you could see some of the action live and the rest on screens. You have to wear headphones to hear everything, which increases the confusion between the real and the virtual.
The conceit of the play is that some people who cannot afford good housing choose to live in an attractive-looking home, but the price is that they are spied upon by sadistic paying customers who are allowed to shoot stun darts at the residents “for fun”.
It is a horrible thought. The story plays out in interesting ways, not all predictable. The experience is disconcerting, because, as an audience member, you feel somewhat complicit in the voyeurism and sadism playing out before your eyes and on the screen. Occasionally some of the action takes place within your booth itself.
It made us think about the housing crisis, the ways that computer games and so-called reality television are encroaching on people’s lives and more besides.
It all felt very different on arrival at the theatre, with the space transformed for this piece and entrances to the space where audiences normally fear to tread.
But the piece itself never really took off into the stratosphere as perhaps it should.
We heard a lot from the good-hearted middle class people who felt conflicted by the riots and/or tried to help those who got into difficulties during the chaos. We heard less from the rioters themselves.
To be fair on Alecky Blythe, she took the orthodox view on the play and stuck only to the verbatim material she could gather at the time, so I suppose that would be weighted towards those slightly safer situations…
…not least because people are not normally full of conversation while rioting…
…I imagine; not ever having been in the heart of a riot personally.