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.

Boy by Leo Butler, Almeida Theatre, 16 April 2016

Oh boy, this is a good one.

We’ve enjoyed Leo Butler’s work before, at the Royal Court. We booked this basically on the back of remembering that we like his writing. We didn’t realise that this production also brought back the imaginative team, which brought us Game at the Almeida early last year; Sacha Wares as director and Miriam Buether as designer.

The Almeida’s website has lots of information about the production and also collates the good reviews. As a glance at the review headlines suggests that they have been more or less universally good, this Almeida link should be pretty much definitive. 

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.

The mostly very young cast do a brilliant job, but Frankie Fox as Liam really does stand out. I recognised Wendy Kweh from our recent visit to North Korea as depicted in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs – the irony of being reminded of North Korean hopelessness while being shown London hopelessness was not wasted on me.

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.

This really is a hot ticket.

 

 

 

The Fever by Wallace Shawn, Royal Court Theatre, 4 April 2009

I saw Wallace Shawn perform this piece in early 1991, I think at the Cottesloe, but perhaps upstairs at the Royal Court…to be Ogblogged (with accurate details) in the fullness of time.

But Janie hadn’t seen it before and Clare Higgins is a cracking good actress.

Also, in the post crash times that were late 2008/early 2009 when we booked to see this production, I thought the piece might have a different, meaningful resonance.

In many ways it did.

Yet it wasn’t quite the same thing as seeing Wallace Shawn perform it himself. How could it be?

 

 

 

 

Tusk Tusk by Polly Stenham, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 28 March 2009

We enjoyed but were a bit disappointed by this one.

We had absolutely loved That Face, Polly Stenham’s first play, so had eagerly awaited this one for two years.

Tusk Tusk was another play about a dysfunctional family with an addled mother (absentee mother this time) and several wild kids as the result.

It felt a bit like more of the same to us, which was a shame because we (perhaps unreasonably) expected more from Polly Stenham on the back of her stunningly good first play.

Still, some excellent performances from the youngsters (this must have been the first time we saw the excellent Bel Powley, for example) and the usual Royal Court quality of production, even when the play is being done upstairs.

We saw the Saturday preview before press night.

I have found some super Pete Jones Productions photos online – presumably from opening night – click here.

The Stone by Marius von Mayenburg, Royal Court Theatre, 14 February 2009

This was a short play with a good cast and minimal set. We wanted to like it more than we did like it.

Set in Dresden, it is about a house that changed hands while retaining secrets across 60 years of political strife.

Janie usually hates plays that jump backwards and forwards in time, as this one did.

The play and production is well described in The Stage – here.

…you get the point.

Not sure what we ate afterwards – in all the temporal confusion it’s a miracle that we succeeded in getting food and getting home in that order.