My Mum’s A Twat by Anoushka Warden, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 13 January 2018

Janie and I loved this short piece. It was funny and intelligent and emotionally complex…

…a superb debut play for Anoushka Warden. It turns out that Anoushka Warden is more or less telling her own story – about growing up with a mother who transforms from a loving parent into an all-but estranged mum running a cult’s outpost in Canada.

It also transpires that Warden works for the Royal Court as head of PR – explained in the interview/preview piece linked here. That might explain why Vicky Featherstone chose to direct it herself but also brought in the very promising director Jude Christian to co-direct.

Here is a link to The Royal Court resource on this play/production.

It’s a one woman show – this must be the first time we have ever been to see a brace of one woman shows in the same weekend – the other being Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 at the Gate the previous day:

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith, Gate Theatre, 12 January 2018

Actually I think we should start an actress emancipation campaign on the back of this weekend’s experience. In Twilight, Nina Bowers had to play 20 different parts and also serve the intermission tea and biscuits – yes really…

…while My Mum’s A Twat, albeit a less physical show, is running twice nightly, so poor Patsy Ferran will be on the stage for in excess of two and three quarter hours each night with not much more than 30 minutes break between performances.

And what a fine performance My Mum’s A Twat was too.

Here is a link to resources and reviews generally for this play/production. The reviews have mostly been good but not great reviews. We actually rated the piece and the performance very highly.

The main criticism seems to be that monologue itself is a limited dramatic form. I see that point, but it is also a very powerful form when done well…and this one has been done very well. The mixture of humour and sadness really works; you sense that the character/author has been both strengthened and emotionally damaged by her maternal experience.

We don’t have a picture of Anoushka Warden’s mum, so here is a picture of Janie’s mum instead. The use of this picture to illustrate this Ogblog piece does not in any way suggest that we think that Janie’s mum is a twat…
…so in the interests of balance, here is a picture of my mum (who also wasn’t a twat)

At the time of writing, My Mum’s A Twat only has a few more days to run at the Royal Court and is sold out. I hope it will get its deserved extension or transfer so that more people can get to see it.

Grimly Handsome by Julia Jarcho, The Site At The Royal Court Theatre, 22 December 2017

Experimental theatre. Installation theatre. Menippean satire, anyone? Julia Jarcho’s work is hard to categorise, apparently.

But this installation piece won awards in the USA and was chosen by the Royal Court as its pilot piece for a new chunk of SW1 real estate recently acquired sort-of next door to the Royal Court overlooking the tube platform; The Site.

Here is a link to the Royal Court resource on this play/production.

Sounded intriguingly weird and we thought we’d give it a try.

Sounded weird…WAS weird

About 20 minutes before the start of the play we were invited in to tour the installation, which was Christmas-themed and included a Christmas tree sales yard, a young woman’s bedroom, a gym, a cordoned-off crime scene that looked seriously grim…about 10 different scenes.

We were offered a cup of mulled wine for this tour, which Janie (Daisy) and I both declined, neither of us liking mulled wine. Several people took and drank the wine, while bemoaning their dislike of the stuff. Some people.

Then the show itself. The main performance space and seating area for the audience was scattered with video screens which could show, via CCTV cameras, the scenes we had toured.

A young woman dressed in some sort of animal suit operated the lights, the cameras the TV screens and even, at a couple of points, a cooker. Despite her pivotal role in the piece, from what I can gather she gets no credit in the programme or on-line at all, which feels wrong.

The three performers were simply superb. It is a very physical piece and the three actors have to keep changing roles – especially the female character who plays four different roles in the 90 minute piece.

Janie and I were really divided on this one.

I thought the piece very interesting and enjoyed its humour, gruesomeness and strangeness in equal measure.

Janie simply found it perplexing.

I felt I was doing fine deciphering the piece until the final part, in which all three actors were, apparently, red pandas, although one of the characters was gnawing away at the bones of (presumably) the murdered humans from the earlier parts and red pandas are strictly veggie, despite being quite closely related to carnivorous scavengers such as raccoons.

Even I struggled to decipher the last part, but I think that was supposed to be the idea.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, while Janie I think felt she could have done without feeling bemused at the end of a hard-working week just before Christmas.

Here is a link to help you find the mixed reviews from this Royal Court production – more agreeing with me than with Daisy I think, but it is not a competition.

Nuclear War by Simon Stephens, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 22 April 2017

“I didn’t have a clue what was going on, but still I rather liked that”, was Janie’s unusual verdict. The first phrase would usually precede a phrase such as “what a load of rubbish” or similar.

But in many ways I could see Daisy-do’s point.

Actually, about five minutes into this short (45 minutes in total) piece, I thought I was really going to hate it.

I didn’t have a clue what was going on, it was cold, it felt soulless and some ghastly member of the audience was coughing and spluttering so much I couldn’t concentrate on trying to penetrate the impenetrable. It certainly wasn’t about nuclear war.

But once I realised that Simon Stephens and Imogen Knight had no intention of giving us a clue as to what was going on, I relaxed and went with the flow. The flow was mostly astonishing dance and some poetic words.

I sensed that the central character was bereaved and/or seriously mentally ill. I sensed that the chorus were her inner tormentors/comforters.

In the end, I did, like Daisy, rather like the piece.

I wondered what our friend Michael Billington would make of it all. We ran into him as we entered the Royal Court and had a quick chat with him, realising that we hadn’t seen him for ages.

We also chatted, in the queue, with a nice man who clearly goes to theatre a great deal and whose late partner was a cricketer as well as theatre-lover – a point that came out as I checked the Middlesex v Essex cricket score for the umpteenth time.

Anyway, turns out our friend Michael Billington (as I suspected) didn’t like it at all – a rare two stars, “baffling and obscure”. Other critics agreed with the obscure tag but were kinder on the piece:

We enjoyed a veritable smörgåsbord of nibbles when we got home, for a change.

Unreachable by Anthony Neilson, Royal Court Theatre, 9 July 2016

I’ve heard it said that jazz is the only form of live music where the players seem to be having more fun than the audience. That was certainly so last night at the Wigmore Hall in Janie’s case; she certainly did not enjoy Christian McBride and Chick Corea as much as they enjoyed themselves.

Unfortunately for Janie, Unreachable by Anthony Neilson might be described as a theatrical equivalent of jazz. Neilson’s writing technique is to start with no more than an outline and to work up a piece through workshops, rehearsals, trial and error.

So much so that, rarely for the Royal Court, there was no play text available for this piece. Simon David at the bookstall told us proudly that the piece is still being devised even beyond press night (which was the previous night). Simon also commended the piece to us.

I got a heck of a lot more out of it than Janie did. She hated the piece so much she even wanted to abandon me and the car at half time; then reluctantly relented and agreed to stay for the remaining 45 minutes, suggesting that she might sleep a bit during that second half. But it wasn’t a relaxing enough piece to fall asleep in much, according to Janie. I agree with that last point.

The play opens with a scene showing Natasha (a very confident young actress named Tamara Lawrance) auditioning for a role in a movie. We hear the dismembered voice of auteur/director Max (played by Matt Smith) describing the film. It is set in a dystopian near future after a virus has wiped out most of the population etc. etc.

Some members of the audience laugh at this horrifying scenario; presumably they have been told that the play is basically a comedy. But Natasha then acts out a quite lengthy gruelling monologue as a mother who believes that a malevolent militia is about to inflict terrible cruelties upon her and her child.

So far, so Vicky Featherstone’s Royal Court. I have written before about the relentlessly dystopian theme of the new regime on Sloane Square, where the ubiquitous grimy kitchen sink has been replaced by the apocalyptic landscape.  But perhaps this time the dystopian opening is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the new norm in SW1’s corner of theatre-land…

…because, beyond that early monologue, Unreachable is basically a lightweight, albeit black comedy, looking behind the scenes at the world of movies and movie-making people. They are a grotesque, dysfunctional lot, if this play is to be believed. Probably the play shouldn’t entirely be believed.

Another element you might find hard to believe (but this bit is true) is that Janie and I live in such a limited-TV-viewing bubble that we had no idea that Matt Smith was Doctor Who. We just thought of him as the fine young actor we saw in That Face by Polly Stenham a few years ago. But it was clear from the business he was given to perform and the audience reaction to it that Matt’s performance was the centre-piece of the play…

…until the arrival of the craziest character of all; Jonjo O’Neill’s Ivan “The Brute”.

Even Janie agreed that all of the performances were very good. She just struggled to get her head around the play. The plot was perhaps so superficial Janie was looking for “more in it” when there was no more to be had.

But I laughed a lot and enjoyed the sheer nonsensical intrigue of it. Indeed, in our troubled post-referendum times, the preposterous back-stabbing, feigned walk-outs and the politically-motivated engagement of an uncontrollable anarchic element in the interests of some unattainable “light at the end of the tunnel”… it seemed to me to be quite an appropriate tonic for the live-arts-supporting troops at the moment.

As for the jazz analogy, well clearly the cast seemed to be enjoying themselves enormously. In particular, once Jonjo O’Neill got going with Ivan’s foul tongue and ludicrous boasts, you could tell that not only the audience but also the other members of the cast didn’t quite know where his verbal cadenzas might go. The other actors needed to react quickly to those crazy outbursts without corpsing; which they were able to most but not all of the time.

To be fair, although Janie didn’t enjoy herself and some audience members left at half time, the vast majority stayed and were clearly enjoying themselves at least as much, if not more than the cast.

Here’s a link to the plentiful Royal Court resources on this play.

The Royal Court will no doubt post some reviews eventually, but they are only starting to come out, as the press night was the night before our visit. So far:

Janie would say “take my word for it, don’t bother” whereas I would say, “decide for yourself  – go see it!”.

How to Hold Your Breath by Zinnie Harris, Royal Court Theatre, 14 February 2015

I have written elsewhere about the Vicky Featherstone regime at the Royal Court seeming to have a relentlessly miserablist agenda.

Janie and I don’t mind gloomy stuff. Crickey, you wouldn’t choose the sorts of theatre that we choose if all you wanted was feel good rom-coms and musicals. But relentless and extreme miserablism?

I can’t remember quite such a quintessentially down-hearted play as How to Hold Your Breath for a long time.

Part of the problem I had with it was my inability to buy into the notion that a financial crisis might have a young, successful, professional Northern-European (presumably German) woman descend from yuppydom to prostitution/migration in but a few days.

Yes of course it is meant to be an expressionistic-type dream play. But to suspend belief sufficiently to buy into a thesis (but for fortune, it might be Europeans desperate to migrate to Africa and the Middle East, not the other way around) it needs sufficient plausibility, which this lacked.

So instead of making its worthy and at times interesting points about inequality, economic power and migration well, it seemed to ram them down our throats to the extent that I (and Janie agreed) almost wanted to throw the metaphorical babies out with the bathwater. Which is a horrible way of putting it, given this play’s unsettling and shocking denouement.

All a great shame because the cast were excellent. Maxine Peake really can act; indeed all of them can. The design was stylish; it was just the unsubtle play that didn’t do it for us. We normally like Zinnie Harris’s plays; we just didn’t like this one.

I can’t remember how we tried to make ourselves feel a bit better with food afterwards – probably Ranoush shawarmas or possibly Mohsen’s Iranian-style kebabs.

 

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy, Adapted by Nancy Harris, Gate Theatre, 5 November 2009

A rare visit to the theatre on my own. I was keen to see this thing and Janie was struggling to find the time for it, so I just went midweek – on the opening night. Hardly a shlep, is it, from the flat to The Gate?

It was very good indeed. More or less a one man show for the excellent Hilton McRae.

The Gate, being a tiny theatre with hardly any money, obviously has a much better online presence than the big boys, so the on-line resource on this play/production covers many of the bases for me – here.

…as was I. A rare miss for Daisy and I could have made her suffer for it but I didn’t. I told her that she probably wouldn’t have liked it as much as I did.

To get an idea of this productions unusual style, here is a rather tasty little promo vid that the Gate put together for this production: