The Treatment by Martin Crimp, Almeida Theatre, 27 May 2017

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.

Noddyland/well poised

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.”

Then the unhelpful gentleman turned around.

It was Ollie Goodwin. An old mate from school…or should I say an old high school bud? It must be fully four days since we last met. Ollie had seen me coming.

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 Almeida website has a superb resource on each production these days, with production information, pictures, descriptions and links to the reviews, so no point me replicating that sort of stuff – click here for The Almeida resource on the Treatment.

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.

Back to The Treatment. You can read many good reviews, mostly four star, linked in full at the Almeida resource – here. But the reviews are not universally great; Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph is not so sure about the play.

I also wondered what the American critics might think of it; Marianka Swain in Broadway World was pretty impressed.

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.

Wild by Mike Bartlett, Hampstead Theatre, 17 June 2016

Wow, this was great.

Funnily enough, the day before our visit, I had run into Vince Leigh (most recently of Orange Tree/The Brink fame) at the health club. I congratulated him on The Brink and we discussed theatre generally. When I mentioned our impending visit to see Wild, he said he was going to see it that very day. He also told me that the production had experienced some technical problems with the set, so although the press night was supposed to be that very day (the Thursday), press night had actually been put back to Monday.

When Janie and I got to the Hampstead on the Friday, I asked the front of house staff whether the technical problems had been resolved for this evening. Two of them exchanged glances and one said, “we’ll find out”!

Well, the coup de théâtre that had (very understandably) had some teething problems came off with aplomb. But it would be a shame if this play and production is remembered only for that.

The play is basically about a character, based on Edward Snowden, disoriented in a “hotel room” in Russia. The dialogue is fast paced and whizzes around a myriad of big, important issues like a maelstrom.

In short, we loved it.

Here’s a link to the Hampstead’s area on this production, which provides plenty of detail, including (we subsequently learn) headlines and extracts from the excellent reviews this play/production deservedly received.

Coincidentally, I ran into Vince Leigh again the morning after the referendum result, this time on the street in Notting Hill Gate. He asked me how we found Wild. I told him and we agreed how good it was. Vince and I then also agreed what a strange day it was, everyone we had spoken to wandering around in a zombie-like state, trying not to cry about the result. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but our disorientation had something in common with that of the Snowden-like character. It felt like several of our walls had come down.

 

 

Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill, Royal Court Theatre, 12 March 2016

A conversation with Janie back in January.

Janie: I’ve just heard Front Row. They were talking about an amazing new play by Caryl Churchill at the Royal Court.

Me: (inquisitively) Yessss…

Janie: …so why haven’t you got us tickets for it?

Me: (nervously) Cripes – I’ll look into it. Leave it to me.

But of course, I had already bought tickets for Escaped Alone at the Royal Court. I’d bought tickets for the play so long ago, Janie and I had both forgotten about it. So long ago, that we hadn’t then quite worked out when we were going to take our winter break. I had, for that reason, booked for right at the end of the run, 12 March, to ensure that our holiday window was as wide as possible.

By the time we returned from our winter trip to Nicaragua, we were aware that Escaped Alone had received rave reviews from almost all the critics, that several of our friends had already seen it and that no-one seemed very able to explain what the play is about.

Thus we went to Sloane Square with a great sense of expectation; perhaps that in part explains why both of us found the play rather disappointing. Yet I didn’t find the piece quite as obscure and mysterious as critics (and friends) inferred. So, for those readers who wonder what this play is about, (even those of you who have seen and/or read it) here is my take on the work.

Caryl Churchill gives us, at the front of the play text, the quote “I only am escaped alone to tell thee” from the Book of Job (Job’s servant with bad news) and also from the epitaph to Moby Dick (Ishmael’s words). But I don’t think this clue leads naturally to the idea that Mrs Jarrett’s (Linda Bassett’s) dystopian speeches are supposed to be her describing actual experiences prior to visiting the garden and/or that the garden scenes take place while other aspects of the world are turning hellish.

The start of the play reveals that Mrs Jarrett knows the other three women only slightly when she joins them in the garden. The other three clearly know each other well; that familiar trio are given and use only first names. It is only Mrs Jarrett, the surnamed partial outsider, who steps outside the comfort of the garden to make dystopian speeches in partial, flashing light of the outer stage.

In the garden scenes, as the play unfolds, each of the three familiar friends makes a relatively lengthy speech in which they reveal their inner demons. In Sally’s case, it is the fear of cats. In Lena’s case, it is workplace-induced depression/agoraphobia. In Vi’s case, it is obsessive thoughts about her killing of her husband and the effect it has had on her life since. Mrs Jarrett doesn’t make such a speech within the garden – we have heard plenty about her demons in her dystopian speeches from the outside. So Mrs Jarrett merely says the phrase “terrible rage” many times over, when it is her turn to open up to the others with a longer speech in the garden.

The point is, I think, that all four women are describing inner demons; Mrs Jarrett only articulates hers outside the garden. We all have inner demons, which we can only really “escape alone”, or sometimes reveal to friends as personal dystopiae, because those worries are unique to us.  There is an interesting counterpoint here with Hitchcock’s take on inner fears (which in his case manifest as plot devices and ways of making the audience anxious) – fresh in my mind after seeing Hitchcock/Truffaut the previous day. Perhaps Churchill’s subtle focus on the notion that everyone has inner fears explains why Escaped Alone seems to have resonated so well with the critics (and perhaps also audiences).

Janie and I have seen a fair smattering of Caryl Churchill in our time. They are often short works, with an absurd, obscure and/or dystopian feel to some or all of the piece. This piece didn’t seem, to us, to add much to that Churchill oeuvre. Among the critics, only Billington (whose review was also very good) at least alluded to dystopia overkill and the use of similar ideas in earlier Churchill works. Blue Heart, A Number and especially Far Away all came to my mind while watching the play, prior to reading that Billington review.

Yes, Escaped Alone had a super set. Yes, the production had a superb posse of senior actresses, but the play/production simply didn’t resonate well with either of us, unlike many of Churchill’s earlier works.

The audience was ecstatic at the end of the show, but then it was a last night audience and the critics had universally told readers that the play/production was top ranking. Thus the audience went into critic-induced raptures at the “Da Doo Ron Ron” rendition by the four ladies in the garden, sandwiched between two of Mrs Jarrett’s dystopian speeches, soon after Sally’s cat phobia speech, just before Lena’s depression/agoraphobia one. An excessive response, in my view, to something that was a nice touch but not a coup de théâtre.

Similarly, the universal acclaim for this play/production seems excessive to both of us, although perhaps this piece does far more for people who have been less steeped in Caryl Churchill.

Privacy by James Graham, Donmar Warehouse, 24 May 2014

This was a fascinating piece.

It is an uber-modern play about privacy, data and all that. Some members of the audience, perhaps foolishly, left their mobile phones on and acquiesced to a request to submit a selfie – only to discover that geeks can find out a heck of a lot about you just from the simple combination of that submission and other stuff we readily transmit and is there to be found.

To some extent the piece was born of the Edward Snowden/Wikileaks saga, but in truth this play is an entertainment about the issues for ordinary people more than the geopolitical aspects or the Snowden case itself. We did subsequently see a super play that really was about a Snowden-type case, Mike Bartlett’s Wild at the Hampstead, which was cracking:

Wild by Mike Bartlett, Hampstead Theatre, 17 June 2016

If this now sounds like a geeks night out without drama, I’m giving you the wrong idea. It was a powerful story and piece of drama to boot – a strong cast and superb production qualities as we might expect from the Donmar.

No Donmar resource on-line, sadly, but here is a link to a search term that finds reviews and other useful resources about the play/production.

The first time we came across James Graham – This House, we weren’t so keen. But this one was sufficiently different and engaging to convert us to Graham’s writing…

…just as well, because Ink really was smashing:

Ink by James Graham, Almeida Theatre, 17 June 2017

Lunch At Lambeth Palace, Followed By The School For Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Barbican Theatre, 15 June 2011

A rare visit to the theatre on my own and on a Wednesday. No point trying to get Janie to a Georgian comedy; she doesn’t do classics and she doesn’t do farcical comedy of any kind.

But for reasons of my own – I still have some distantly related ideas for a comedy play on a jotter – I very much wanted to see this show, which had but a short run at the Barbican before going on to the Holland Festival.

As it happens, I had been invited that day to Lambeth Palace for lunch by the Church Commissioners (as Ian Theodoreson’s guest), so it seemed a suitable day for me to take the rest of the day off and therefore be free to spend the early part of a midweek evening at the theatre.

While suitable in practical terms, it was perhaps not quite such a suitable cultural switch from a dignified Lambeth Palace lunch under the auspices of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to a bawdy Georgian comedy under the auspices of Deborah Warner, the radical stage director. Neither the irony nor the culture shock of the switch seemed to affect me unduly on the day.

The Lambeth Palace lunch was delightful, btw. I met several interesting new people (this was the only occasion I met Rowan Williams) as well as getting a chance to chat with Ian T and the people I know in that Church of England circle. I was particularly impressed with the dignified informality and grandeur with a tasteful lack of ostentation to the whole Lambeth Palace event.

Afterwards I had plenty of time to do some reading at the Barbican Centre over a coffee or two in the afternoon before seeing the play.

Here is an explanatory vid with Deborah Warner talking about her production of the School For Scandal:

In truth I wasn’t bowled over by this production, which had received mixed reviews. This search term – click here – will find you reviews and other resources on the production.

It had some super people in the cast and I thought some of the modernising ideas were quite interesting. But on the whole I thought it was a pretty standard production of a Georgian play with a few nods to modern touches.

Of course it isn’t easy to refresh ideas that have been around for centuries and get their relevance across to modern audiences…

…perhaps the two halves of my unusual day had more in common than I thought about at the time.

Beyond The Horizon by Eugene O’Neill, Cottesloe Theatre. 19 June 2010

This production of an early Eugene O’Neil was twinned with a production of an early Tennessee Williams, Spring Storm, which we went to see a few weeks later, click here.

Janie and I are partial to a bit of Eugene O’Neill; almost as partial as we are to Tennessee Williams. While this early play is not one of O’Neill’s great plays, like the Williams, it shows all the signs of an emerging great playwright and was a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.

A very strong cast and production from a regional source; the Royal & Derngate Northampton, did great service to both productions.

The critics loved both; this search term – click here – will find you the reviews and stuff; mostly for both but some for this play specifically.

As on the prvious visit to the Cottesloe, we probably got some food from Shanghai Knightsbridge, “May’s”, afterwards. Either that or shawarmas.

Spring Storm by Tennessee Williams, Cottesloe Theatre, 15 May 2010

We’d been on a relatively poor run at the theatre for six months. This was more like it!

This production of an early Tennessee Williams was twinned with a production of an early Eugene O’Neil, Beyond The Horizon, which we went to see a few weeks later – click here.

Janie and I are partial to a bit of Tennessee Williams. While this early play is not one of his great plays, it shows all the signs of an emerging great playwright and was a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.

A very strong cast and production from a regional source; the Royal & Derngate Northampton.

The critics loved it; this search term – click here – will find you the reviews and stuff; mostly for both but some for this play specifically.

We probably got some food from Shanghai Knightsbridge, “May’s”, afterwards. Either that or shawarmas.

Really Old, Like Forty Five by Tamsin Oglesby, Cottesloe Theatre, 30 January 2010

We were very keen on the idea of this one and booked a preview.

We are glad we did; the play was enjoyable, agonising and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Partly about the domestic and interpersonal aspects of ageing, the play also takes on questions of government policy around ageing, including social care and the potential for robots to provide same.

I make it sound a bit “everything but the kitchen sink” on the topic, because in a way it was, but in a good way. The themes do more or less come together into a coherent whole and there is an element of comedic romp about the play which allows room for some forgiveness.

It was pretty well received on the whole – a rummage through the reviews and materials yielded by this search term should satisfy your curiosity if you remain curious.

Excellent cast, well directed, well produced…

…what do you expect from the Cottesloe?

Judgment Day by Ödön Von Horváth, in a new version by Christopher Hampton, Almeida Theatre, 10 October 2009

We love the Almeida Theatre, despite the extra shlep involved in getting there from West London. At the time of writing (29 May 2017) we have just been again.

One really excellent thing about the Almeida is the quality of on-line resource they put up for the productions, with lots of information about the play, the creatives involved in the production, plenty of pictures and links to many reviews (the favourable ones of course).

Here is the Almeida’s on-line resource for Judgment Day.

The other really excellent thing about the Almeida is the quality of stuff it puts on. This play/production was no exception.

Ödön Von Horváth (imagine answering the “how do you spell it?” question with that name) has long fascinated Christopher Hampton. This seemingly small canvas German play, about the moral consequences of covering up the true reason for a deadly train crash, is in reality a pre-war allegory with the wilful blindness that led to Nazi power.

It was an especially good evening in the theatre; Janie and I both remember it fondly well. I also recently (when we saw The Ferryman) remembered that we had seen the excellent Laura Donnelly before, but didn’t at the time connect it with this play/production.

Most of the reviews – eight to ten of them included in the Almeida resource link above and here – are very good, but:

We thought it was top notch.

Nocturnal by Juan Mayorga, Translated by David Johnston, Gate Theatre, 8 May 2009

The details for this play/production are set out at OfficialLondonTheatre.co.uk – click here.

I only vaguely remember this creepy play/production. It had a fine cast and I think we felt that it was all very well done but we found the play a bit impenetrable.

It was a shame, really, as it was almost a very good play/production, but there just wasn’t enough to grab hold of in the play.