It’s been a few weeks since I went to see Before The Party at the Almeida, but I just haven’t got around to posting a review (in fact there are a few that I have meant to get around to posting that I haven’t yet. I’ve been too busy ‘going out’ to blog recently!)
Before The Party was written by Rodney Ackland and originally showed at the St Martin’s Theatre in 1949, starring Constance Cummings as Laura.
In the Almeida production, Katherine Parkinson played Laura. I have to admit that it was this casting that originally caught my eye, as we had recently seen her in Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends, and she had been fantastic.
Her mother was played by Stella Gonet, who I only know from being Beatrice in The House of Elliot (you know, the older, blonde sister who wasn’t the elegant dark-bobbed one that we all wanted to be at the time!)
The reast of the cast were great too, but I have to admit, I didn’t recognise any of the names (although I am sure I probably should have done!).
Before The Party is set in two halves, before two parties on the same day. The only location is Laura’s bedroom, that the whole family tends to come together in whilst they are getting ready for firstly a garden party at a local family home where ‘anyone who’s anyone’ is going to be. The second the family themselves are hosting as an impromptu supper party as the garden party suffers from a proper English downpour.
And ‘proper English’ is what it’s all about. It’s all about society, etiquette and the false veneer of morailty that those of a certain class felt they needed to hide behind at that time.
Laura’s shocking secrets about her marriage and the death of her husband that she has hid from everyone including her family are forced into the open – and the family have to decide how to act both on this, and the fact that she has become romantically involved with an apparent nobody.
The tension on the stage between the characters was very well written, and the claustraphobia of the one location was often felt, especially by Laura who was constantly asking people to leave her alone in her own room.
Fantastic costumes, a brilliant set – the staircase just outside the door was a particularly good touch, and well-written, believable, although not particulalrly likeable characters. A wonderful (but occasionally uncomfortable) snippet of middle-class English family life in the late 40s.
King’s Place has become quite a favourite venue of mine. Not only is it very easy for me to get to both from work and to/from home, their two halls aren’t VERY big, and therefore all seats get a good view…and if you book online and are happy to be allocated a seat on the day ALL performances are just £9.50!
Due to this, I’ve already tried a couple of new things that I may not necessarily have come across – the D’arcylicious Austentatious (who we have since seen again elsewhere) and the excellent Storytellers’ Club. I have also been regularly going to the amazing Not So Silent Movies on a Sunday afternoon – but more on that another time.
it seems to be a place to discover great improv comedy, as we found last week when we went along to enjoy The Maydays and their ‘Confessions’ show.
Audience members are invited to write down a confession which are then all placed in a pot on the stage. Confessions can be anything – from stealing a penny sweet when you were six to cheating with your sister’s boyfriend (I think that did actually come up as a ‘what you could have had’ at the end.)
The troupe (ably assisted by not-Richard Vranch at the piano – I think his name was Joe) then improvise either a sketch, song or combination of both ON THE SPOT! WITH HARMONIES AND EVERYTHING!!
Some confessions are naturally more comedic than others, but it’s not necessarily the confession that secures the laughter. One person on our night had written a confession that contained exstensive emoticons and exclamation marks etc and instead of concentrating just on the confession, they wove using emoticons verbally with other expressive noises into a sketch. and it was good. and we all laughed heartily!
In the final half, they invite someone to ‘confess’ in front of the audience, giving a bit more meat and background to their confession, and they then performed a series of sketches and songs based on that one confession. I think we were particularly lucky to have a meaty confession concerning drugs being brought back through border control on a coach after working in Holland for a few months.
There was a lot of mileage in that one – but, The Maydays didn’t actually just go for all the obvious ones, and sometimes they went off at such a tangent, you could see the troupe members who weren’t performing cracking up at what was going on at some points.
And I think that summed it up – they obviously know each other well, can read each other, love what they do and are bloody good at it!
They usually appear at the Leicester Square Theatre (same as Austentatious!) but will also be at the Brighton Fringe (as that’s where they’re based). And they run Improv Comedy Classes too – how tempting is that!?
I do love theatre, and I do love things that are a little ‘different’ – so I was looking forward to the promenade, site-responsive theatre production by DreamThinkSpeak at Somerset House recently called In The Beginning Was The End.
The blurb didn’t really say much about it to be honest: “A new large-scale, site-responsive theatre production, inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Book of Revelation and the world of Mechatronics
Take a journey through the maze-like underground passages and unseen spaces of King’s College and Somerset House into a world of calamitous accidents and divine revelations.
Mixing Leonardo-inspired hydraulics and modern mechanical engineering with dreamthinkspeak’s special blend of film, installation and live performance, it reveals a vision of the world either on the verge of collapse – or the brink of rebirth.
dreamthinkspeak return to Somerset House after the sell-out success of their 2004 show Don’t Look Back.” But hey, that’s all good, isn’t it?
I had experienced the fantastic Punch Drunk’s Black Diamond production around the streets of Shoreditch that was a completely immersive experience, and also to the amazing The New World Order by Hydrocracker – a site-responsive piece within Shoreditch Town Hall. I had also been to the Barbican’s promenade performance of Hansel & Gretel by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company which was also excellent. So I had high hopes for this, which was by comparison a lot more expensive!
We were ushered in groups of ten across a courtyard, and down some steps and through a maze of corridors to a meeting room, with a screen showing us the events in another similar meeting room.
We were joined by one of the actors and off we went – it started off very promising, complete with alarms, a bit of running, lab coats and foreign language.
And then it kind of fizzled out for quite a while. We were left to wander aimlessly around darkened labs with bleeping equipment and books of research. That was quite interesting for a while. i wondered if we were meant to be looking for clues – but nothing jumped out at me really.
I played with some of the dials and made some old-fashioned frequency waves change oscillation and felt a bit naughty for doing so, but I really didn’t know what I was meant to be doing or experiencing.
There were some models and screens with various scenarios showing, and once we got round, I realised that they had been depicting ‘scenes’ to come. There were a couple of scientists that were working at their benches too – one powering a light with lemons and another writing formulas on a wall.
They interacted with us, but in a Germanic-sounding language, which was quite amusing.
We were then ushered into a bright shiny succession of rooms that were meant to be within a company making innovative products – and we were introduced to these products, again in a mainly indecipherable language. This was by far the best part of the production.
After visiting their labs, we went to their ‘Complaints Centre’ where a team of workers sat, eventually indivdiually showing their distaste for their employees by having a mental breakdown, stripping off completely and cli,bing a spiral staircase at set intervals.
It was rather beautiful and dramatic to see this spectacle, but being British, I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to be looking. this wasn’t helped by one of the guys appearing to have a semi-on – especially has he kept catching my eye and grinning slightly. I did start to wonder whether he was even part of the production, or if he was an audience member who’d decided to have a go himself – he seemed totally contrasting to the rest of them. or maybe THAT was part of the show too!
Oh it’s all so confusing!
The literature that we were given only as we left mentions Da Vinci, The Koran, John the Baptist and the Bible but I found the whole thing a little dull, confusing and very much style over substance. I like surreal, but this was rather too obscure for my tastes. Far too conceptual.
Also, the literature tells me that the piece is meant to raise the question of whether we are really in a world of development or a world of collapse. That wasn’t something I had picked up on through my 70 minute aimless wandering – and perhaps I should have had some literature to go round with – some friendly signposts as to what I was meant to be thinking or feeling – or even just taking notice of!
I don’t think I have ever seen an Alan Bennett play – in fact, until I read Smut with the E17 Book Club last year, I don’t think I had even read an Alan Bennett book!
So, I wanted to see People at the National Theatre – but by the time I thought to book it, the reasonably-priced tickets had all gone for weeks ahead. So, I was very excited to see that there was a live broadcast being shown at the Hackney Picturehouse as I’m a member.
I watched the Theatre Live series recently on Sky Arts, presented by Sandi Toksvig and had really enjoyed that kind of theatre / live TV hybrid. However, I had no idea what to expect from a National Theatre screening.
Obviously everything is timed, and we got a lovely view of the audience as they were all filing into the theatre, and waiting for the play to start. Then Emma Freud appeared to tell us that we were now getting to watch a 5 minute film about the play. Now THAT is something you don’t get at the theatre!
Frances De La Tour plays practically hermit-like ex-model Lady Dorothy Stacpoole – current owner of the family stately home that hasn’t been able to afford the upkeep on for many years. She lives in mainly one room with her faithful ‘companion’, Iris played by the wonderful Linda Bassett.
Her arch-deacon sister (Selina Cadell) is trying to persuade her to give the home over to the National Trust, but Dorothy abhors ‘people’. The thought of them traipsing all over her family’s precious land and property, just for the experience – although not actually experiencing it – is more than she can bear. She is also being ‘wooed’ by an auctioneer (the fabulous Miles Jupp) who believes he can offer her more than just an attic sale.
When she has a surprise visit by an old friend from her modelling days, Dorothy wonders whether he could prove to be her rather unconventional salvation – much to the disgust of her sister.
I absolutely loved this play. The mixture of ‘very proper’ and ‘downright improper’ reminded me very much of “The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson” within Smut. Parts of it seemed quite farcical, but the contrast of those moments with the deeper, darker ones felt very well-placed, very Bennett.
De La Tour commanded the stage and made Dorothy feel completely real – aided and abetted by the beautifully comedic timing of Linda Bassett.
I have to say that I think the screening of this was fantastic, and I may have enjoyed it more than if I had seen it live in the theatre. Unexpectedly, there were many cameras, given shots from many angles, close-ups and panning shots.
The stage set was wonderful, and I believe I may have missed a lot fo that from the ‘cheap seats’. I think I may also have lost a lot of the emotion in the performances, seeing them from afar. the cameras kind of directed you to where you should be looking. So I think that this was definitely a total success for National Theatre Live.
I have actually already booked to see the live screening of The Audience with Helen Mirren, so I am looking forward to that even more now.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to the theatre, and the whole experience of it, so don’t believe that live screenings can replace the feeling of ‘being there’, but now that I have been to one, I am happy to acknowledge that it is a very, very enjoyable second best!
People is showing at the National Theatre until 15th May 2013.
When I heard that Arthur Smith was going to be appearing at my very very local pub a couple of months ago, I bagged me and The Man a couple of tickets immediately.
I have been to a few of the gigs put on by lovely compere Susan Murray as part of the Guffaw Comedy Club at Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre Pub – and I have seen some great stuff, including Richard Herring TWICE!
Susan Murray was on especially sparkling good form (perhaps because it was her birthday and her parents were in the audience – although we never heard/saw any evidence of said parents, so perhaps they were made up!).
Next was Grainne Maguire – Irish (obviously), self-deprecating, unique, extremely likeable, and ‘not very rude’ as she kept pointing out. She actually had the audience in the palm of her hand, expertly playing us until we were almost weeping with laughter – a class act!
It seemed like there was going to be an Irish invasion, as next up was Rory O’Hanlon. Unfortunately, as it is now a week ago, I can’t remember much about Rory, which is rather embarrassing – but I know that he was very amusing.
Canadian Ryan Cull made a rather brief appearance next, and as happens often with foreign acts, he pointed out the funny things about us Brits – which is always completely hilarious. He had a ready smile, and was quite cute – and he was only on for about 15 minutes…he couldn’t go wrong really, could he?
Finally, it was time for the main attraction, the wonderful grumpy old man that IS Arthur Smith – the Night Mayor of Balham (luckily I’d recently had my shots, so couldn’t catch anything from this particular specimen from South of the river!) I have a real soft spot for Mr Smith (ooer) – grumpy old man he may be, he’s never ‘nasty’, and he’s got that voice, that wonderful gravelly voice. Not only do a listen to that voice almost every night when I go to bed (he does the continuity for the Comedy Zone on Radio 7…10 til midnight – yeah, OK they now call it 4Extra, but it will alwyas be Radio 7 to me!) but I was once fortunate enough to talk to the man himself on the phone – back in about 1994. Oh how gooey I went at the sound of that voice!
Arthur was a wonderful mix of observations and old favourites chucked in for the kitsch factor.
I have to say, every single one of them hit the spot and made for a fantastic evening where I sniggered, chuckled and indeed guffawed happily.
I believe Stuart Lee and Richard Herring are due to appear in the summer, so we’ll be looking out for those!
Because the lovely King’s Place does a fantastic online deal, where (if you don’t mind where you sit) any performance is only £9.50, I booked up a few things at once.
Storyteller’s Club was one such booking that I made. The brainchild of compere and storyteller (comedian) Sarah Benetto, it’s really a number of stand-up turns. There is a ‘real fire’ (a static flame-effect electric heater thing) and each comedian relays one ‘story’.
A number of well known comedians have performed as part of the club night, and when I booked, Phil Jupitus was down as one of the line-up.
Unfortunately, a month before the night, I received an email stating that Phil Jupitus wouldn’t be appearing on the night. Although initially a little disappointed, I got over it in about 30 seconds, when I reminded myself that I only paid £9.50, and that Phil Kay was still going to be on! (Plus, I got to see Phil Jupitus in fine fettle the following week in Coalition).
Sarah Bennetto was the perfect Australian host, and kicked proceedings off. We then had New York comedian Jamie Kilstein who told the story of his coming-of-age and change of relationship with his dad. He was likeable in a boyish not-too-annoying-New-Yorker kind of way
Then we had Jamie Dowdeswell who told the story of a prank by one of the patrons of his dad’s pub. His shaggy look went with his shaggy dog’s story and he was extremely personable.
Next up was Canadian comedian Phil Nichol – he is one of those people where I recognised the name but couldn’t place him at all. then, when he came onto the stage, I thought “Ohhhh, him!” His story was of a Japanese tourist that once befriended him.
Finally, Phil Kay who I once saw back in about 1997 when I think he was on the TV a lot. In fact, I think I saw a TV recording of a show he was doing. I believe he might have been naked right at the beginning!
If anything, he has become even more mad, surreal and hilarious – a little like Billy Connolly on crack. No, not crack, on acid! Fabulous, just fabulous!
I’ll definitely look out for another Storyteller Club night – it was a brilliant night out.
Me and my lovely mate were meant to be going to see In The Beginning Was The End at Somerset House last week, but someone forgot to book the tickets! I have to book to go and see that on my own now, as there only seem to be single tickets left.
Anyway, we already had the evening booked out together, so decided to see what else was on that night. There was a talk on at the Barbican by a film composer – not the normal kind of thing we would have gone to, but we’ve been going to a lot of silent films over the past couple of years, and so film music has started to have a little more relevance to us. and we’re both members of the Barbican, so it was just over £8…you can’t go wrong really, can you?
At first, we felt a little fraudulent – Harry Gregson-Williams (who I had never heard of) actually attended the Guildhall School, which is next to the Barbican, and I think the majority of the audience were budding musicians and many hopeful composers.
On the stage was a beautiful piano, a 16-piece choir, electric violinist Hugh Marsh and a huge amount of ‘mixing kit’.
Any discomfort we felt about being intruders soon disappeared when Harry started speaking. His passion shone through and he was absolutely fascinating, as well as coing across as a thoroughly likeable chap.
Although he now resides in LA, he is originally from Sussex, and is an ex-choirboy. He came across as a kind of cross between Hugh Grant and Eddie Izzard, and I don’t quite know what that might conjur up for you – but it was all good, honestly (and it helps that he was rather cute to look at too!)
His scores include the entire Shrek series, the Chroniclaes of Narnia 1 & 2, Bridget Jones Edge of Reason, Arthur Christmas, the Total Recall remake, Cowboys & Aliens, Flushed Away and Gone Baby Gone (which I finally watched last weekend – brilliant film, and have only just seen that he did that score too!)
He gave little demonstrations of how he goes about composing, and played same scenes from the films, playing some of the soundtrack live, explained a lot of the process and relayed a lot of vignettes of his experiences.
I was really moved by his tales of Tony Scott who he seemed to work with a lot, and obviously held in high regard before his sudden suicide last year.
And then he played a scene from a film that I have always cried at, and always been annoyed with myself for crying at – the kidnap scene from Man On Fire, which is inexplicably a firm favourite film of mine.
His explanation of all the layers in the music for that scene that he put in, far from making it seem less impactful had the total opposite effect. Especially as I had forgotten that the starting music is Debussy’s Clair De Lune which I chose for my uncle’s funeral last year.
So, I sat in a packed theatre, during a fascinating talk, watching a 3 minute clip of a film with tears rolling down my face.
Anyway, it was a brilliant evening, totally different to anything I have been to recently (or maybe ever) and I will definitely look out for more interesting talks going on, even if I have never heard of the person speaking!
I was totally spoilt last night as a lovely friend treated me to theatre and a meal as a belated birthday pressie.
We went off to the Pleasance Theatre, just round the corner from Caledonian Road tube station. The Pleasance Theatre and The George Shillibeer (the gorgeous pub below) inhabit the space that used to be the London Omnibus Company (the omnibus was created by George Shillibeer – hence the name). It’s an unexpectedly lovely space!
We went on the exact right night to see Coalition, considering the Eastleigh by-election was going on at the time!
The play starts with various news reel segments from the last election, finishing on the fact that we’re now under a coalition government (as if we hadn’t realised) and finished with “Four years later…”
Thom Tuck plays Nick Clegg – I mean Matt Cooper, Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister whose ratings aren’t great, who doesn’t seem to have the ear of the Prime Minister any more and whose own MPs are threatening to defect. His supporters are angry that policies haven’t been going through and he doesn’t seem able to make anyone happy at all – including his wife.
Phil Jupitus is frivilously wonderful as the Rt Hon Sir Francis Whitford MP, Minister without Portfolio – a rather dandy, spat-attired, camp Tory with a penchant for eating fruit and an unnerving ability to perfectly time a text announcment of his immenent arrival.
Jo Caulfield plays the Lib Dem Chief Whip – trying to balance Whitford’s gossiping and undermining with Cooper’s frantic, almost unstable demands with what she feels is really best for her party.
With Jessica Regan as Cooper’s special advisor, these main four characters give extremely strong performances. They are almost TOO believable! I had to keep reminding myself that this is actually a work of fiction and although based loosely on current affairs, isn’t a documentary!
Most disconcerting was Thom Tuck, who many MANY times looked exactly like Nick Clegg. Scary stuff! Alistair Barrie also gave a brilliant performance as a ‘wronged’ Lib Dem who then forces a by-election…and I would really have enjoyed seeing more of him!
I highly recommend this – it’s only on til 10th March (a week on Sunday) and the tickets are just £14. If you have a chance to see it, make sure that you do. Brilliant script (which is available to buy, and I wish I had!) and brilliant performances. What more could you ask for.
Also, if you book in advance, the George Shillibeer do a special pre and post theatre deal of £10 for two courses – and although a standard pub grub offer, the quality of the food is excellent, so again I would highly recommend…but you can only get the offer if you book!
On Thursday, I went along to my first experience of Austentatious. I say ‘first experience’ because I enjoyed it so much that I will definitely be going along to see them again!
Austentatious is a show from ‘The Milk Monitors’. It is a complete hour-long improvised comedy story loosely-based on the works of Jane Austen.
Before they begin, they pass round a basket to be filled with title-suggestions from the audience. This gives the theme for the play to be loosely based on. (If anyone used to listen to the marvellous ‘The Masterson Inheritence’ on Radio 4 in the 90′s, but repeated frequently on 4Extra, it is exactly the same idea!)
Previous show titles have included Man-filled Park, Pride & Predator, Mr Arsey, Tents & Tent Stability…the list is (almost) endless.
During the intro, two or three titles are blindly picked out that ‘almost made the cut’, and then the actual title is picked out…and on Thursday, the randomly chosen title was ‘Tax & Taxability‘.
Our story was based in Hemel Hempstead, starred Lady Beatrice Beatrice and Pastor Parson amongst others and featured a scandal, a grand ball, lost wealth, plenty of blessings and lashings and lashings of gin.
It was hilarious! The cast know their Austen, and they work with each other so effortlessly. The parts where they forgot their names, or whether they were a Lord or a Viscount or stumbled over silly phrases or forgotten words for things wasn’t brushed off, it was embraced and referred to later to aid the continuity (eg, the Lord claimed to have lost his vast wealth by not paying his taxes).
It was totally enjoyable, and the way that they wrapped it up exactly within the hour gave it the time to be fabulous without starting to grate or get ‘samey’. Me and my mate are planning to go to another show in a couple of months.
Also, when I checked out their website, you can imagine how delighted I was to read this:
“Austen is understood to have written a number of lost novels, novellas, cartoons and plays. Some of these appear to have been irrevocably damaged by fire or exposure; others are believed to have been misplaced by publishers; a few may have been purposefully destroyed by Austen herself. Most recently a collection of 576 of her short stories was found behind the bins of the Walthamstow Lidl, much to our delight.”
Last weekend, I spent another lovely evening at Hackney Picturehouse. I actually went slightly early and did my homework for my creative writing course, which consisted of ‘observing’ people in a crowded place. It really is a great place to people-watch…but then I end up people-watching all the time (it’s just a nicer way of saying I’m nosey really, isn’t it?)
Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita was first released in 1924, and is set in 1921. It was apparently the first science-fiction film to come out of the Soviet Union, but to be honest, the ‘sci-fi’ bit of it isn’t the main story.
A strange radio transmission is being received across the world, and one of the recipients is an engineer called Los. Newly-married to Natasha, the message intrigues Los and he starts day-dreaming of its origin.
We cut to his dreams, which are of the woman of the title – Aelita, Queen of Mars. Although Aelita is supposedly the Queen, she doesn’t really seem to have much power – that is down to the Elders. One of the inventors has built a special ‘viewing machine’, which he shows to Aelita, and she becomes obsessed with Earth, and especially one man – Los himself.
Meanwhile, Los & Natasha have been told that they have to take in a lodger, Elrich. Unknown to them, Elrich is married, and his wife is currently working on Los’ colleague, conning him out of his money. Elrich too is abusing his position and stealing from the State (the political messaging in the film is unmistakable throughout!). However, Los becomes fixated on his misguided suspicion that Natasha is having an affair with Elrich, and this in turn pushes him into day-dreaming more about Aelita.
This film is absolutely bloody bonkers!
I could see echoes of Dr Caligari in it, especially in the Mars-based sets, and I could also see shere it probably influenced some of the scenes that came a few years later in Metropolis. Some of the Mars costumes were truly odd – one girl had trousers that looked like bird cages, and there was a large amount of perspex in the costumes of the Elders – some great perspex hair and beards (see above).
However, there were a lot of scenes where me and my mate looked at each other and just said “WTF??” — I think the total surrealism of it all added to its appeal though, as I have been thinking back over it a lot over the past week.
As for the live score, Minima were once again fantastic – atmospheric, haunting, spot-on! I especially liked the dog bark that one of them managed (was it the cellist??)
I have already booked tickets for me and my mates to their double-bill at the Prince Charles Cinema next month – Dr Caligari again but also Nosferatu, which I have never seen