The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures by Tony Kushner, Hampstead Theatre, 22 October 2016

I’d forgotten how much Tony Kushner likes to write long plays. Perhaps the unfeasibly long title for this play (which Kushner helpfully abbreviates to an Apple-device-like nickname “iHo”) should have reminded me.

But I did remember how superb Angels in America had been in 1993, even though I only saw the first part of that seven-hour epic as I was so poorly the day Janie and I were supposed to see the second half that Janie went to see it alone while I spent the evening (as indeed I had spent the whole day) on the potty.

It had been a long wait for the next Tony Kushner and I snapped up these Hampstead tickets with relish when I saw the superb-looking cast and creatives list for iHo.

Before I forget, here is a link to the Hampstead’s excellent resource on this production of iHo. 

Still, come the weekend of our visit, when I saw that the production was listed as 3 hours and 30 minutes long, my heart sank a bit and I started to formulate contingency, bail-out plans, just in case it was all going to be too much. Two intervals give you extra scope for polite bail-out, of course.

Neither Janie nor I tend to have as much attention span as we once had. Perhaps it is a sign of the times; younger folk these days hardly ever finish a…or perhaps our increasing age decreases our patience – ’nuff said.

I needn’t have worried. The play has plenty going on to hold my attention for that length of time. Janie was less sure about the play than I was, but she was very taken with the performances, the design and the directing.

We ran into John and Linda – a couple we often see at the theatre and who live near the flat in Notting Hill Gate – for the first time in ages – chatting to them made both intervals whizz by.

The play might pick up some criticism for being a long, meandering ramble through an essentially simple plot about a family and their brownstone homestead in Brooklyn. But of course the play covers more than that; homosexuality, capitalism, socialism (and indeed Marxism) naturally show up; to a greater or lesser extent defining characteristics of the complex personalities of the chaotic protagonists.

Central to the plot is the overt and outspoken desire of the central character, a retired longshoreman/union-leader played excellently by David Calder, voluntarily to commit an act of euthanasia. His bisexual employment-lawyer daughter, the equally excellent Tamsin Greig, an intriguing opponent to the idea, matching the old git with her advocacy and connivances to try to steer the outcome her way, metaphorical punch for metaphorical punch.

The rest of the family and their entourages were also wonderfully depicted by this excellent cast. Family row scenes tended to have several people yelling at the same time, yet, through superb writing/directing, I felt that we were getting to hear and follow everything we were supposed to.

Anyway, we saw this production in preview, so the reviews are yet to show. The good ones will (in the fullness of time) be on the Hampstead resource for this production – here’s the link again. You’ll have to find poor/indifferent ones for yourselves unless I decide to return to this page and add some.

I thought this play/production was great and well worth seeing. Janie, less sure about the play, still thought it worth seeing. We both found a light, shawarma supper afterwards well worth eating.

 

 

Reasons To Be Happy by Neil Labute, Hampstead Theatre, 8 April 2016

We were really looking forward to this one. We have been fans of Neil Labute’s writing since he first burst onto the theatre scene in London with Bash, all those years ago. We saw Reasons to be Pretty at the Almeida some five years ago and thought it was a very good play and production.

This one, Reasons to be Happy, is a companion piece/sequel with the same characters. Michael Attenborough, now no longer at the Almeida, directing as a guest at the Hampstead. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the problem with this one is the play. Labute has, for once, written a dull, ordinary play. There are some really sharp dialogue exchanges, as you might expect, but the plot is from “Rom Com Writing 101” and even some of the dialogue drags. The menace that usually underscores a Neil Labute play was there, sort-of, but was more like muzzled poodle menace than the usual unfettered pitbull menace.

In fact, some of the script was so predictably ordinary, I wondered whether Neil Labute has programmed an artificial intelligence version of himself to keep his writing going while he does other things, like crossing the Finchley Road and getting spotted by Ged and Daisy. If so, he hasn’t programmed the machine all that well.

I was well rested, after denying myself a punishing night after the Middlesex AGM Thursday, so I stayed awake throughout, just about. Daisy was not so well rested and had experienced a trying morning of slavery at the hands of her increasingly unreasonably demanding mother. Thus Daisy took full advantage of the opportunity to catch up on her sleep during the play. She didn’t miss much, although she was understandably slightly confused about the outcome at the end of the show.

But she didn’t really care about that outcome. Nor did I.

It’s a shame, because the cast were good, doing their best to get something out of the dull script. The set was interesting enough. Michael Attenborough sure can direct, but you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 20 February 2015

Janie and I thought this was a really excellent play/production; once again the tiny Hampstead Theatre Downstairs proving to be one of the hottest tickets in town.

Sinéad Matthews is a very special up and coming actress. We first spotted her more than 10 years ago, in The Wild Duck at the Donmar, when she was but a nipper. I don’t think she only does plays named after species of fauna. We have subsequently seen her in Giving, again at the Hampstead Downstairs – click here.

Mercifully the Hampstead now has a good resource for each play/production – click here for The Wasp – as that downstairs space eschews formal reviews and I somehow mislaid the little leaflet thing they give out by way of a programme.

In a way this play is a classic revenge tragedy played out in modern terms in the present day. Perhaps some aspects of the coincidence seemed unlikely when you think deeply about the plot afterwards, but as the story plays out the evening was captivating.

Janie and I like these short plays – 90 minutes or so without an interval – when they are done well such plays/productions keep us gripped from start to finish and we feel thoroughly satisfied afterwards…sans bum ache.

The Wasp deservedly got a West End transfer later that year, but Sinéad Matthews didn’t transfer with it. Nevertheless:

I am pretty sure that Janie and I preceded our Friday evening trip to the Hampstead with a meal at Harry Morgans, so we got home early and thoroughly satisfied that evening.

The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi, Cottesloe Theatre, 18 July 2009

We saw a preview of this new play/production, as oft we did at the Cottesloe.

There is a strong OfficialLondonTheatre.co.uk resource on this play/production – click here. It is basically a stage adaptation of Kureshi’s novel about anti-racism and radical Islam.

Tanya Franks was in it, which was one for the NewsRevue alumni “where are they now” department.

I don’t remember much about this play, which is not a great sign. Perhaps my mind was on the Ashes match unfolding at Lord’s that weekend, but more likely, if the reviews are anything to go by, this was not a classic.

Oh well.

In The Red And Brown Water by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Young Vic, 4 October 2008

Of course we hadn’t heard of Tarell Alvin McCraney when we booked this. We simply booked it because it sounded like an interesting play, which it was.

But at the time of writing this up (March 2017), Tarell Alvin McCraney is a topical name, because he wrote Moonlight, which won the best picture Oscar a few weeks ago. Go figure. Here is a link to a recent Young Vic blog piece recognising this achievement.

Official London Theatre has an excellent resource on the outline of this play/production from back then, saving me time & trouble – click here.

The Young Vic published an extensive resources document for students/teachers etc. this play/production – you can click it down – here – from this link.

Reviews were mixed:

I must say I concur with this view. I remember the production where the Young Vic was turned into a watery stage, but I couldn’t hand on heart have told you anything about it from memory, until after I flicked through the script just now.

Perhaps Janie’s memory will do better – I’ll test that a bit later but only report back if she surprises me with profound recall.

The Young Vic published a short vid showing how they made the watery stage happen – see below.