The Firm by Roy Williams, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 4 November 2010

We usually really like Roy Williams’s plays – in particular we loved Fallout, Clubland and Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads, but the last couple of times we haven’t been so impressed.

They are always a bit laddish; this piece especially so.

Janie really didn’t like it at all and let the extent of her uninterest show, in the form of nodding off to sleep a few times.

I simply felt that it was lesser Roy Williams but still enjoyed the piercing wit in some of the bants and the way Williams gets the mood in potentially tense situations to change with great rapidity and skill.

For example, I thought the scene in which Selwyn “loses it” and Trent helps him to calm down was very well done.

But in the end, it did all feel like more of the same from Roy Williams and I’m sure that he is potentially better than this as a playwright. We’ll probably think at least twice before booking his next one. Or I might see it on my own.

A light supper of avocado and prawns when we got home; Daisy’s good mood was easily restored with that and a nice glass of white wine.

No One Will Tell Me How To Start A Revolution by Luke Barnes, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 23 September 2017

Interesting and entertaining play, this.

Hampstead resource on the play/production can be found here.

It is the tale of three sisters from a self-confessed chav family which moves to a posh town for the sake of the girls’ education.

It throws up a great many issues about class, families, aspirations and the like.

The problem with it is the extreme nature of the plot. I’m not sure where this posh town might be, entirely populated by such snobby, middle-class people that this trio of roofer’s daughters are so utterly different from all of their peers.

Still, the story provides a vehicle for those pertinent issues and a vehicle also for three very high energy and vibrant performances by the actresses.

Weird set with the audience separated into four quadrants while the stage formed a cross formation covering most of the room, allowing the girls plenty of space for their performances.

It’s a short play (100 minutes without an interval) which suited us well. Janie had bought one of those crispy Gressingham duck things for the weekend and it seemed a shame not to roast and eat it when we got home.

Scarlett by Colette Kane, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 4 March 2017

I’m almost boring myself by going on about how good the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs is, so goodness knows what effect such comments are having on long-suffering Ogblog readers. But by gosh the quality of productions and performances is high.

The one paragraph description of Scarlett – a play about a woman who escapes to try and start afresh in the Welsh countryside – might not have caught our eye as being different enough, but we set that “synopsis bar” a little lower for the Hampstead Downstairs, as we so consistently enjoy our evenings there.

Yet again, we are so glad we chose to book this one.

Interestingly (and unusually) it is pretty much an all woman production – i.e. the writer, director, designer and all five performers are women.

Here’s a link to the excellent Hampstead resource on this production for all the details.

We had seen a Colette Kane play at the Hampstead Downstairs before; “I Know How I Feel About Eve” about four years ago – that will be Ogblogged in the fullness of time – for now here is a link to an introductory piece/mini-interview with Colette Kane at that time.

In both Colette Kane plays we have seen so far, the writing is delightful and thought provoking. Perhaps she has yet entirely to find her own voice. She is clearly a playwright steeped in modern theatre who knows how to cherry-pick style and tone without quite making her pieces unmistakably her own.

Still, Scarlett is a really superb 75-80 minutes of drama. All five performers are excellent, especially Kate Ashfield as the eponymous lead. All five surprise us a little at some point in the drama, but without interrupting a natural-seeming flow to the simple but compelling story.

Scarlett is very well directed too, by Mel Hillyard. We have seen her work before, quite recently; The Brink at the Orange Tree last April. We were very impressed then too. A young director to watch, methinks.

We started the evening by bumping into John and Linda – a couple we know simply because we quite regularly see them at theatres and who coincidentally (it transpires) live just across the road from the Notting Hill Gate flat. They were seeing Sex With Strangers upstairs – a production that didn’t appeal to us for booking. Janie and I rounded off our evening with some Iranian food from Mohsen.

At the time of writing, Scarlett still has three weeks to run. Janie and I would both recommend it thoroughly to people who enjoy top notch productions of well-crafted, short plays in small theatres.

Experience by Dave Florez, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 28 January 2017

Janie and I love the Hampstead Downstairs and this was yet another little gem down there.

Not for the fainthearted, this play.

It is about sexual surrogacy, which is one part of a three-way therapy treatment for people who have issues with sex and/or intimacy. The other two parts are client and therapist.

It should come as no surprise that the play is a three-hander.

But this play is about a somewhat controversial, experimental use of surrogate partner therapy with offenders.

Is the result a compelling 80 minutes of drama? You bet.

Superb cast, well directed.

Here’s a link to the Hampstead resource on the play.

If you are able, go see for yourselves, don’t take our word for it.

Cracking, it was.

Light supper of shawarmas afterwards; an inexpensive night out, but still a cracker.

 

Platinum by Hannah Patterson, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 10 December 2016

Ged Ukulele Barefoot Ladd, not singing “This Land Is Your Land”

Hmm.

We very rarely see a dud downstairs at the Hampstead – Ed Hall’s project to put works on down there regularly has been a raging success as far as we are concerned.

But sadly, I feel obliged to report that this one, to us, was a dud.

The idea sounded great. An iconic 1970s protest songstress, now a recluse, with an estranged daughter and a fundamentally important secret about that iconic career.

Trouble is, that’s about it, plot-wise. The important secret has a rather “so what?”, tenuous feeling about it, while the motivation of the characters to behave as they do/had done in the past, if the secret was so important to them, was utterly dubious.

It was also difficult to care for even one of the three characters, each irritating in their own way: the iconic songstress, the estranged aspiring chanteuse daughter, and the Californian PhD student who has been studying the icon for six years only then to act as the catalyst for the wafer-thin plot to unfold.

Daisy nodded off about 20 minutes into the piece, once it became clear where it was (and wasn’t) going.

I persevered.

I wondered whether the PhD student’s explanation of protest song types, rhetorical and magnetic, was something the playwright had invented for him or whether it was an actual media studies/sociology course thing. Turns out it is the latter and that the explanation as expounded by the character can be found in the Wikipedia entry on protest songs under “types” and that this particular classification should be credited to the late R. Serge Denisoff, bless him.

The actors sang some protest songs along the way, closing with We Shall Overcome and at one point rendering This Land Is Your Land, quite well.

I rather like the latter song but Janie, tragically not steeped in media studies or the sociology of popular culture, perceives it as a nationalistic US song rather than Woody Guthrie’s intended protest song and has banned me from singing it on my ukulele in her presence. She should click the link I have added to the phrase This Land Is Your Land and look at some of the original lyrics. In particular, the verse that reads:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

…that verse might come back into fashion some time soon. But they didn’t sing that verse in this rather bland play. Pity.

Kiss Me by Richard Bean, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 29 October 2016

Unusually we return to the same theatre two weeks in a row, but this time to see a premier of the downstairs play, Kiss Me by Richard Bean.

After the busy end to our week, we were rather relieved to discover that this was a short play – 70 minutes without an interval.

The play is set in the 1920’s. A young WW1 widow has arranged a liaison with a young man through a mysterious doctor who helps women with deceased or damaged husbands to get pregnant, through the services of this young man. It is a strange scenario, but there is some evidence that some sort of arrangement or arrangements of this kind did happen at that time.

The liaison is supposed to take place within strict parameters regarding lack of intimacy and information sharing, but inevitably in the play the parameters soon break down and so the play becomes a more conventional love story, albeit within an unconventional scenario.

It was a little difficult to buy into the conceit of this play lock stock and barrel; the woman’s motivations in particular seemed confused, the man’s a little hard to believe as stated. Still, the acting was good and the play did cover some interesting points about sexual mores, class differences and of course sex discrimination in that era. The young man basically has so many more choices than the woman.

Here is a link to the Hampstead resource for this play/production.

In short, we enjoyed the play and we enjoyed our Mohsen Persian supper too.

 

R And D by Simon Vinnicombe, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 1 October 2016

I really liked this short play downstairs at the Hampstead. Janie found the subject matter rather too weird and felt she couldn’t relate to it.

The central characters are two brothers; one a writer, bereaved just under a year before the start of the play, the other a geeky scientist whose company is secretly developing a world-beating sentient, anthropomorphic robot, in the form of a rather attractive and spirited young woman. Take it from there.

I liked the drama of it and also the ethical dilemmas that got an airing through the story. It’s a short play, perhaps 75 minutes. It was very well acted.

There is an excellent stub with all the information you might want about the play and production – here.

No formal reviews at Hampstead Downstairs, but the audience shout outs on the above stub are very positive.

Janie was that set against it but she sees the idea of sentient anthropomorphic robots as being way too futuristic. Personally, I think we’re getting mighty close to such technology – perhaps within 10 years; certainly our lifetimes, unless our lives are cut short.

Anyway, Janie was mollified by some excellent Chinese food from Four Seasons afterwards, so all was not lost for her as an evening, not by any stretch.

Alligators by Andrew Keatley, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 16 July 2016

By gosh this is one powerful play, with this production proving once again that the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs is one of the hottest locations in London at the moment for showcasing modern plays and emerging talent.

This one all-but caused a domestic between me and Janie. Yes, we both agreed what a good play it was. But our take diverged on the moral dilemmas therein and the extent to which the protagonist was to some extent the architect of his own misfortune as well as the subject of great sympathy.

The plot is simple enough; the protagonist, Daniel (played extremely well by Alec Newman) is a teacher, falsely accused of sex offences by a delusional former pupil, years after the alleged offences.

The complexity comes from Daniel’s less-than-exemplary interactions with the troubled schoolgirl at the time, his with-holding of some of the relevant contextual information from the police when first questioned and his troubling interest in internet porn of the kind that bears a creepy resemblance to the alleged offences.

Janie and I debated our divergent takes on this play to some extent during the interval and more vociferously on the way home in the comfort of our own vehicle. Frankly, I think we were both somewhat in shock.

While Janie and I were personally reconciled by the time we got home and started tucking in to our shawarma supper, we only realised the next morning when we rose to prepare for a day at Lord’s, that we had rapidly polished off a tasty bottle of Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz in double-quick time, which left us both a little sore-headed until the fresh air of Lord’s started to weave its magic on our fevered brows.

As well as Alec Newman, Susan Stanley as Daniel’s unquestionably sympathy-deserving wife, Sally, was an absolute standout in a generally very good cast and production. The full works Hampstead production details can be found on the theatre’s archive – here.

We saw the last night of the run at the Hampstead, but this production really deserves a tour and/or transfer so here’s hoping it will return/run elsewhere.

Recommendations: yes, do see this play if you possibly can. No, don’t fall out over it; the dilemmas are meant to leave you feeling confused, cognitively dissonant and angry. No, don’t knock back a whole bottle of strong wine between two of you afterwards in a vain attempt to make your whirling brain feel better; doesn’t work.

 

Giving by Hannah Patterson, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 4 June 2016

Janie wasn’t sure that she was in the mood for the theatre when we set off for Swiss Cottage that evening, especially when I said that the subject matter was big donor philanthropy. “More your sort of subject than mine,” she said.

Still, there was the promise of a different oriental restaurant to try afterwards, Singapore Garden, a result of Janie’s research. Plus the fact that the play was billed as a short one; 90 minutes without an interval.

Janie’s spirits were further dampened when we took our seats, as a group of four people asked us to budge along our row to the end. At first Janie simply said no, so they split their group around us. Frankly, I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t gone to the other side where there were at least two blocks big enough for their group. Still, I told Janie that I thought she had responded rather abruptly, so Janie relented and we ended up tucked in the corner. “They didn’t even say thank you and I’m stuck with a lousy view,” fumed Janie.

After a while, I turned to the gentleman next to me and arranged for us to sit more centrally while they took the four corner seats, which seemed fairer in the circumstances. One woman in front of us turned round and said to Janie,  “good on you; I hate it when people badger me like that.”  Oh for the relative simplicity of allocated seats.

Anyway, it turned out that this was a really good play/production. The set is simple but clever, as furniture representing different locations get tucked away into the walls of other locations; not original but well done in this play. The acting from all four was excellent.

The plot satisfying enough. We aren’t really made to dig too deep into the moral dilemmas around conscience-salving donors, but there is enough intrigue, love interest and moral uncertainty to keep you guessing and to make you think. Well worth the 90 minutes and the modest price for tickets downstairs. We continue to see the Hampstead Downstairs as a gem of a place with a terrific hit rate from our point of view.

Downstairs productions don’t get formal reviews, of course, but it is covered well on monkeymatterstheatre.com, also on the oughttobeclowns blogspot. The latter points out how very special  Sinéad Matthews is as an 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.

Later, to add compliment to remedy, we thoroughly enjoyed our Singapore Garden dinner. Where has that place been all our lives? Well, it’s been in Swiss Cottage/South Hampstead for some while I gather.

Ken by Terry Johnson, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 23 April 2016

I had been looking forward to this one since we booked it. I am a big fan of the late Ken Campbell, an interest going back to the 1990s. I/we saw several of his shows. Soon after he died, in 2008, we went to see a tribute to him at the Royal Court. Etc.

This piece sounded interesting, written and performed by Terry Johnson, who worked with Ken Campbell when he (Terry) was very young. Terry’s material tends to be much more structured than Ken Campbell’s stuff, but there’s usually a suggestion of that Campbellian anarchy in Terry Johnson’s writing. In short, the piece promised to be a bit different. It was.

From the moment you walked in to the theatre downstairs, now littered with comfy sofas, armchairs, suspended egg chairs and the like, you knew it was different.

“Come and sit at the front – there’s no audience participation,” entreated the ushers. Up to a point, they were telling the truth. But beyond that point things could take a strange turn.

Actually it had been a slightly strange afternoon for me. The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, I felt motivated by some incoming correspondence to put something up on Facebook about “me and the Bard”, which got quite a few friends going. If physiognomy were all it is cracked up to be, I’d have quite a few hit plays in the west end right now. But enough about me.

Ken is a short piece of some 80 minutes without an interval. The main part of the piece is about Terry Johnson’s youthful involvement in Ken Campbell’s bold The Warp project in 1979; in particular the infamous “squat transfer” to Edinburgh for the festival that year. More than half the piece is about that. The remainder picks up on Terry Johnson’s subsequent involvement with Ken. The ill-fated stage version of Hitchhiker’s Guide at the Rainbow Theatre in 1980, plus a few later overlappings.

Jeremy Stockwell does a magnificent turn as Ken Campbell (and a few other seriously good impersonations too; Stockwell’s Trevor Nunn body language is great). Terry Johnson does a reasonably good turn as himself; but I suspect that Jeremy Stockwell might have been able to do Terry Johnson better than Terry Johnson. Jeremy Stockwell in particular moves among the audience a lot, making unnerving eye contact at times.

Some of the crazy stories we’ve heard several times before, although I never tire of the “Royal Dickens Company” practical joke on Trevor Nunn, for example. Actually, it was the crazy material about The Warp that held the most interest for me; partly because that project was clearly such an anarchic, enormous overstretch, partly because I hadn’t heard the detail about that crazy production before.

Daisy didn’t enjoy the show as much as I did, but she did enjoy the show. You can sense that Terry Johnson feels that his time and relationship with Ken Campbell was hugely formative for him, so deep affection as well as the desire to tell the crazy stories pervades the script and the production.

At the end of the show, Jeremy Stockwell, still in character as Ken, together with a slightly timid young woman in a diaphanous wrap which left precious little to the imagination, invite the audience to join them backstage in a re-enactment of the nude body painting scene from The Warp.

“If you are curious, you come through this door, to my left, take off all your clothes and join in the body painting scene. If you want to go straight home, you go out the way you came through the door to my right,” said Ken/Jeremy.

“You may keep your undies on if you wish,” added the diaphanous young woman, almost apologetically.

I shall now draw a veil over the proceedings; a far more opaque veil than that of the diaphanous young lady’s wrap. So it is up to your imagination, dear reader, to wonder what Daisy and I chose to do in these circumstances. The curious door to the left, or the safety of the exit door to the right?

To borrow from that ghastly Las Vegas adage: what happens in The Hampstead, stays in The Hampstead.