Consistently Infrequent

April 10, 2012

The Wizard of Oz (London Palladium Theatre, London, 2012 Production)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 11:49 am

Premise

A teenage girl runs away from home to save her dog from being put down but gets caught in a tornado and is whisked away to a far off magical land.

Theatre

There’s an electric atmosphere in the London Palladium that I haven’t experience at any other London theatre. Touted as the most famous theatre in the world due to it’s long history of hosting the biggest names in showbiz, and therefore some of the biggest shows including the Royal Variety Performance, I did wonder if I would have felt any different about the place had I not previously known of its legacy. I probably still would’ve been awe struck as it is, to me, one of the grandest of any of the theatres I’ve been to.

I was sat in the Stalls, Row D, seat 19. At 6′ tall legroom was bearable with about an inch between my knees and the seat in front though I was fortunate to be able to tuck my legs under said seat for confort (otherwise I think I would’ve ended up sporting a cramp). Being so close to the stage meant that when the stage was flat I was unable to see the feet of the actors when they went towards the back of the stage. The seats in row D are not at all staggered with those in row C,  meaning the head of the person directly in front of me was always in the way (other than when they slumped into their seat). The rake is also almost non-existent for the first four rows at least. I ended up with a slight ache in my neck from looking upwards but nothing major (might be different for those shorter than I).

Plot

I haven’t watched the movie in its entirety since I was a kid but what I remember is it  that it started in black and white and then switched over to technicolour when Dorothy, her dog Toto, and their house land in Oz after some freak tornado steels them away, and killing the wicked witch of the east in the process. Then something about munch-kins,  the evil witch’s even wickeder witchy sister, a good witch, a yellow brick road, a scarecrow, a tin man, a lion, a wizard and some ruby slippers. Oh, and some songs.

All of the elements above are in the theatrical production. The plot basically revolves around getting Dorothy back home to Kansas by realising that home is where the heart is and that she has it within her to rescue herself.

Verdict

I was surprised at how much I loved the opening scenes pre-OZ. The opening song “Nobody understands me” is great (I love that type of music, I’ll put a link to the song after this paragraph), the stage scenery (windmill, house, carts etc.) drew me in at once and were perfect with projected video adding even more details to this immersive experience.

Then we get to Oz and it all gets super-cheese. Now, I like overly sentimental dialogue to a rather embarrassingly large degree but for some reason this just irritated me. I think I wanted more depth which in retrospect is more of a failing on my part because this musical is meant to be a family show and rather light entertainment and so in that context I think it succeeds. I really enjoyed the Scarecrow, the Tin-man, and most of all the Lion who had me laughing throughout. I can  identify with each of the characteristics that those three feel they are missing (intelligence, emotions and bravery) and therefore I liked them as characters (I know, it’s not objective but I always like characters I can identify with in some way).

Having seen Wicked a few years previous and having only midly enjoyed it, I must confess that in comparison to the The Wizard of OZ, Wicked is the superior musical in my opinion with a vastly superior staging of the machanical Wizard of Oz than is achieved at the Palladium. Again however, I think they each have a different audiance in mind, and so with that context it’s not fair to directly compare them other than to say that I personally preferred Wicked for it’s attempt at not having so many 2D characters.

Overall, it was a fun evening with some surprises with actors being suspending from the air (I won’t spoil those with more details because I didn’t know about them before hand and they proved to be the highlights for me). I liked the ambiguity of Oz being either fantasy or reality. I liked Dorathy effectively realising that she has the resources to save herself and I think that aspect of the musical raises it up several levels in my estimation. Plus there’s about 3 or 4 songs which I adore and will be looking to download them in the near future. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again but I didn’t hate it and that’s something :)

March 24, 2012

The Comedy of Errors (National Theatre Olivier Auditorium, London, 2012)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 5:53 pm

Premise

A case of mistaken identity about two sets of twins who are are separated at birth.

Theatre

This was my first time into one of the auditoriums of the National Theatre. I initially got a bit lost inside the building as I couldn’t see which was the way to the Olivier auditorium but thankfully a staff member saw the confusion in my face and helped me out. In the main foyer there was a band playing some songs (country music) and it made me wish that I had arrived a bit earlier so that I could’ve heard more of their set as it was rather pleasant.

I was sat in the Stalls, Row L, Seat 6. At 6 foot tall the legroom was good, the stagnation of seats between rows very good, and the rake excellent. I had a fantastic and unobstructed view of the entire stage. I really like the layout of this theatre and got the impression that one would have a decent view from almost any seat given that the stage is rounded and so those on the sides (like my seat was) won’t miss anything. I wish more theatre’s in the West End were like this one.

As always, for a wider variety of seating opinions, check out the Theatre Monkey website.

Plot

The play starts off with an elderly Syracusian man being arrested for his presence in Ephesus (where no Syracusian merchants are allowed by law). In order to escape execution he must pay a fine of 1000 marks.

He tells the Duke his sad story of when he was young he had purchased the twins of a poor woman to be slaves to his own twin sons. Soon afterwards, he, his wife, his baby twin sons and the baby twin slaves make a sea voyage during which there is a storm. He is rescued with one of his twin sons and one of the twin slaves. His wife is also rescued but by another boat with the other twin son and twin slave. However, he never sees her, or the children she took with her, again. The boys he saved grow into men and set off to find their brothers but he had not heard from them in years and so set off to find them, which is how he ended up on Ephesus.

The rest of the plot then revolves around the Syracusian twins being mistaken for the Ephesian twins, and vice-versa, throughout the rest of the play. This results in wrongful beatings, a near-seduction (at least in one case as I think the other might’ve been sucesful), an arrest, accusations of infidelity, theft, madness, and demonic possession.

Verdict

When the play started I found it very difficult to understand what anyone was saying because they were using old Shakespearian English. I never liked studying Shakespeare when I was at school because I never understood any of it (though to be fair I didn’t understand most of what I read in my early teens, and it wasn’t until I was 18 that I started to read books independently).

This was the first time I’ve  ever seen any Shakespeare live and initially thought it would be a dull evening and a waste of time given my inability to understand what was being said. However, once I understood the rhythm of the speech I was able to get the gist of what was spoken. Anything I didn’t understand from the speech I was able to infer from the actions and reactions of the cast and audience.

There is something very entertaining and endearing about hearing long multisyllabic words spoken in a non-posh accent. I wish I knew how to construct and speak sentences full of such lovely words.

The production uses contemporary scenery and props to escape the trappings of being set during a much ear. As I understand it, the original  play was also contemporary and so therefore I have no issues with the update (plus it makes it easier to understand what is going on in my opinion). However, even I’m mistaken about the original play being contemporary for it’s time, as a novice, I still found the update helpful.

Most of the Play was predictable but still enjoyable. I even liked the happy ending even though I usually prefer bitter sweet endings. I thought the leads did a fantastic job and really made be believe in the characters they were portraying. Also, the scene changes had a set of musicians appear on stage sing a short contemporary and popular song (in a foreign language) while the set is changed behind them.

Overall, I did enjoy the play and, if given the opportunity, would now happily watch another Shakespearian play as I’m beginning to see what all the fuss about him is.

February 15, 2012

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter (Bloomsbury Theatre, London, 2012)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 5:43 pm

Premise

A musical about a young girl who wishes to become a firework-maker but is instead told by her father that her destiny is to find a husband and have children. *sad face*

Theatre

The Bloomsbury theatre is owned by UCL (University Collage London) and located on Gordon Street in Central London’s Bloomsbury area, near Euston, Euston Square, and Warren Street tube stations, behind Tottenham Court Road. Being a modern theatre (about 43 years old) it has a seating layout for 535 seats which provide excellent legroom and a fantastic rake to provide a clear view of the stage. We were sat in the stalls, seats I30 and I31 and would happily sit there again.

Audience

As one might expect from a production aimed at children, there were many of them about. Throughout the show we could hear them talking quietly to one another, rustling bags of crisps, rustling bags of sweets, and making frequent trips to the toilet. However this was not unexpected and so one just tries to ignore it. Far more difficult to ignore and excuse are the adults who whisper far too loudly to one another or rustle their own bags of food with far too little thought for those around them.

Whenever I think of badly behaved audiences I have a automatic impulse to have a quick read of the What’s On Stage discussion board to reassure myself that I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by this behaviour: https://www.whatsonstage.com/board/index.php?/topic/22065-bad-behaviour-at-a-show

Plot

A young girl called Lila wishes to become a firework-maker just like her father. However her father believes this to be an unsuitable job for a girl and refuses to make her his apprentice and tell her the secret all firework-maker’s must know. Lila is quite capable and has produce innovative fireworks of her own but longs to know what the secret is. Her friend Chulak on hearing of Lila’s sadness tricks Lila’s father into telling him the secret which he then tells Lila: she must journey to acquire Royal Sulphur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend at Mount Merapi. Lila sets off on her adventure and encounters four pirates on her way who at first want to kill her but change their minds when she saves their lives.

Chulak and the elephant he’s taking care of, Hamlet, go after Lila to help her because there was some information Lila’s father had not divulged to Chulak and which could lead to Lila’s death. Specifically she needs three gifts for the fire-fiend and some magic water from the Goddess of the Emerald Lake to protect her. Chulak is able to acquire the water because his reason’s are not selfish and arrives just in time to give it to Lila. However, Lila doesn’t know what the three gifts she needs are but the fire-fiend recognises the three gifts in her but still doesn’t give her the Roayl Sulphur and disapears.

When Lila, Chulak and Hamlet return home they find that Lila’s father has been imprisoned for the disappearance of Hamlet. The King agrees to release her father if she can win his firework contest which will have the greatest firework-maker’s in the world in attendance. Through hard work Lila is able to win the contest by telling her story of wanting to become a firework-maker through her firework display. With her father released he tells her that he was wrong to deny her ambition and that the three gifts she didn’t know about but had in great supply where internal ones: they are talent, courage, and luck. She has talent, having worked with her father at firework-making for many years; courage, for having undertaken the journey; and good fortune, which lies in having loyal friends, Chulak and Hamlet.

Verdict

Based on the Philip Pulman story with the same name, I had high hopes, especially as Pullman was quoted to have said “One of the best productions of my work I’ve ever seen!”. I enjoyed having the musicians up on stage and being part of the natural background or having the actor’s play instruments, it just adds that extra something to the show which makes it feel a bit special. Furthermore the use of puppets to show Lila going up and falling down the mountain was just so inspiring with excellent work by everyone involved.

In terms of the music, the opening song (heard in the trailer below) was rather good and played several times throughout the show. I can’t really remember what the other songs were but I’m not sure if that’s because they weren’t particularly noteworthy or because in comparison to the opening number they just didn’t have as much impact.

Overall I though the show was OK. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again unless I needed something to take children to but that’s just because I prefer more multi-level plots.  The show itself is well written and well produced

 

January 16, 2012

Strictly Gershwin (London Coliseum, London, January 2012)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 12:31 pm

Premise

The English National Ballet presents two hours showcasing some of Gershwin’s most famous and iconic musical compositions being performed with a live orchestra and a variety of choreographed interpretive dances.

Gershwin

An American composer and pianist, the works of George Gershwin are widely known and respected. Among his most popular tunes are Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928). He wrote music for a number of Broadway musicals (such as Funny Girl and Crazy For You), Operas (Blue Monday, and Porgy and Bess),  films (e.g. Shall We Dance ) and stand-alone pieces (e.g. Preludes For Piano).

Theatre

This was my second time inside the London coliseum and I still think it’s among the most beautiful of auditoriums I’ve been in. I was sat in the stalls, row G, seat 8. Even though the seat is on the side it still affords a fantastic view of the stage with only the very extreme right being out of sight (which for this production was a non-issue). At 5′ 11” legroom was decent enough. The rake is good such that the people in front didn’t obstruct my view. The seats between rows are slightly staggered which also aids an obstructed view.

Audience

I was unfortunate enough to experience some annoying behaviour from a small minority of the audience members sat around me. A couple in the row in front of me and to the right whispered to one another throughout the show and blocked the view of the people directly behind them whenever they kissed or one rested their head on the shoulder of the other. The father of the family sat next to me would make sarcastic and loud comments about the performance to his wife sat a couple seats away from him which was very distracting. Finally there was a couple of elderly ladies sat behind me at the end of the row who also made comments (mostly complimentary) to one another about the performance but didn’t even attempt to whisper and instead spoke at a normal conversational volume.

I stayed quiet for as long as I possible could, doing my best to ignore this rude and inconsiderate behaviour, and just when I thought I could take no more, I said absolutely nothing. I just quietly sat there and did my best to enjoy the performance which is what I think the rest of the well behaved audience around me opted for (though a few brave souls did shush the offending parties on several occasions and others gave them the evil eye).

An entertaining thread documenting some of the experiences theatregoers have had with badly behaved audiences can be found in the following thread from whatsonstage.com’s discussion forum: https://www.whatsonstage.com/board/index.php?/topic/2984-badly-behaved-audiences/

Verdict

Having obtained a couple of cheap tickets I thought it would be an interesting experience to attend this type of show where an orchestra plays some popular compositions of a well known composer whilst a company of dancers interpret it live on stage. The closest thing I have to compare this with would be the multitude of dance shows on TV such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Strictly Come Dancing”. I’m a bit of a fan of SYTYCD and love how it incorporates a wide variety of different dancing and musical genres to keep the entertainment factor high. This is effectively what Strictly Gershwin does and I must say is very successful at accomplishing.

I must confess that I am not very knowledgeable about the art forms I witnessed at the London Coliseum but will say that I was both highly impressed with the dancers and blown away by orchestra. Words seem to fail me as I don’t have the vocabulary to do justice to the performance.

The dancers were flawless to my untrained eyes. They performed a variety of choreographed set pieces from several appropriate genres (ballet, ballroom and tap dance were the three easiest styles for me to pick out). The way the ballerina’s almost floated across the stage by standing on the tips of their toes and then in quick succession alternating each foot hitting the ground and the other in the air was seriously impressive (and slightly amusing).

The conductor of the orchestra had a bit of fun too doing his own little funny dances to amuse the audience between sets. The orchestra itself was, to my untrained ears, flawless and the singers pitch perfect.

Overall, I had a great time at Strictly Gershwin, much better than I had anticipated and will certainly be less hesitant to attend these types of performances in the future!

Footnote

I used this post http://wpbtips.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/inserting-grooveshark-audio-players/ to figure out how to embed the grooveshark flash content above into a wordpress.com blog post.

January 13, 2012

Swallows and Amazons (Vaudeville Theatre, London, January 2012)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 12:34 pm

Premise

A musical, based on the book of the same name, set in the early 1900’s about a group of children who decide to play make-believe about pirates, amazons and treasure over the period of several summer days and evenings.

Theatre

The Vaudeville is a nice cosy theatre with three levels. The staff are pleasant and it’s located very close to Covent Garden, Embankment and Charring Cross stations. We were sat in the Dress Circle (second level) in seats D16  and D15 (which have good enough leg room for someone about 6 foot tall). Very luckily we had short children sat in front of us which gave us a full view of the stage. During this production the cast members sometimes left the stage and went among the audience and part of that was missed from these seats. If I were to go again I’d want to be sat in the stalls (where I have sat in the past for this theatre and must say give an excellent view). As always, check out the fantastic Theatremonkey website for a wider variety London theatre seating opinions.

Audience

Being a show aimed at children there were lots of families in attendance but also a good deal of adults without children. Based on the audience reactions and a quick look on twitter it would seem everyone was having a very good time. Whilst people often whisper to each other during a show (which is considered very rude by most decent theatre-goers), one thing that short children will do is actually stand up for a short burst if there is something they can’t see very well during an entertaining part of the show. Rather more annoyingly however is when their parents don’t immediately correct this behaviour as it spoils the view for everyone immediately behind them, all the way to the back of the auditorium.

Plot

Four young siblings set sail for an island in the hope of finding adventure. They call themselves the Swallows and consist of “captain” John who is the eldest brother and the one in charge, “first mate” Susan who tries to make sure everyone is OK, “able seaman” Titty who thirsts for adventure and  youngest brother Roger who is the “ship’s boy” and almost eight years old. As they land on the island they meet a couple of “Amazons” who are slightly older and consist of “captain” Nancy and her sister Peggy.

Both the Swallows and Amazons are initially at odds with one another until they realise they have a common enemy in that of Captain Flint (the uncle of the Amazon’s who has been neglecting his niece’s in order to finish a book he has been writing, and who blames the Swallows for a firework going off on his houseboat, though that was actually the Amazons). In order to decide who will lead the the attack on Captain Flint they decide to have a competition that whoever can capture the other’s boat first will have the honour of being the flagship.

Whilst the Swallow’s make preparations they are asked to make Captain Flint aware that someone may try to burgle his houseboat. Captain Jonn sets sail alone to inform Captain Flint of this information but is unable to do so because Captain Flint won’t hear him out (still believing The Swallows are responsible for the Firework going off on his houseboat) and calls John a liar (which John is visibly upset about).

The rest of the plot revolves around the Swallows capturing the Amazon’s boat, the Amazon’s graciously conceding defeat, the Swallows being wrongfully accused of breaking into Captain Flint’s houseboat, Captain Flint apologising to John for calling him a liar and Titty being a hero to help locate the stolen property. Finally Captain Flint makes proper amends by agreeing to play with both the Swallow’s and the Amazons.

Here’s a trailer (which does not do the show justice at all but it’s the best I could find!)

Verdict

I went into this with very low expectations but these were vastly exceeded by the pure brilliance and fun factor of the musical. It started off a bit slow but soon kicked up a gear when the Swallow’s left home for their camping adventure. From this point on it was fantastic.

The music is catchy with my favourite being when the theme songs of both the Swallows and the Amazons are song over one another (I wish I knew where to find it). I love it when there are musician’s on stage who blend into the background and that occurs here. There is very clever uses and realisations of the simple props to hand, such as when a telescope is used one of the stage hands produces a large hollow circle (with simultaneous motion to that of the telescope holder) to show what is being magnified, and the parrot whose eyes and beak are made up of pliers. To simulate the sound of fire on stage, several stage click their fingers in an arrhythmic pattern and is actually very convincing. The actor’s do a decent job with the woman playing the role of Susan deserving special praise not only for her singing but also for giving the most convincing performance of the character she was portraying.

Overall a most excellent production and one I would love to see again (if it weren’t closing this week!).

December 8, 2011

A Round-Heeled Woman, Aldwych Theatre, London (2011 Production)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 6:20 pm

The Plot

A 66 year old woman who has been celibate for 30 years decides to put an advertisement in the paper for a man she can both like and have sex with. Lots of sex.

The Theatre

For this production all the seats from Row M in the Stalls to the back of the theatre have been partitioned off by a series of fake walls to create a more intimate atmosphere. We were sat in J6 and J7 which have a decent view of the entire stage when the people in front either slouch or lean to one side, with J6 having the added bonus of also being an aisle seat in a row with limited legroom. The row directly in front is HH with its seats not well staggered against row J and also very little rake between them.

The Verdict

I wasn’t expecting to like this play and so was pleasantly surprised to find myself both laughing along to most of the jokes and actually caring about the protagonist, maybe even admiring her somewhat for having the guts to go out and get what she wants. The last time I was surprised to find myself enjoying a show I had low expectations for was The Drowsy Chaperone and the fact it didn’t run longer in the West End is tragedy in my opinion.

The opening joke was a particular highlight and pretty funny with her masturbating while starting to have phone sex and then telling the man on the other end that ofcourse she is alone and would never do anything like that in front of an audience – at which point she breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience while acting slightly embarrassed. My friend and I had an interesting conversation during the interval about this brief seen and the difference between how male and female masturbation is often portrayed on stage, in movies, on TV and in literature – for women it’s usually shown as a sensual act with a deep emotional connection whereas for men it’s usually shown to be a purely animal urge for sexual release . Now ofcourse there are exceptions but still it’s sad that these difference are what are often portrayed when in reality, for both men and women, it can be all those things. Also I was surprised she didn’t have any tissues with her.

A low point was when there’s a memory being played out of when she took her father to a strip-bar so he can have a lap dance (this was when she was younger and wanted his approval). During the lapdance one of the actresses exposes her breasts (large fake plastic ones which have been placed over her real chest) and it is really quite seedy and off-putting to watch but then again on reflection I suppose maybe that was kind of the point that was being made.

One of the most interesting parts of the play is how the character of the leading lady doesn’t just hop into bed with just anyone but has standards and tries to find the attractive qualities in the men she meets. One man she meets is 30 years her junior and this causes her friends to feel embarrassed for her. Again, this is one of those things I’ve never really understood because why should anyone judge what two consenting adults get up to in the privacy of their lives if they’re not hurting anyone? Why hinder their happiness – it’s their lives after all.

Overall a surprisingly fun play made watchable by not only the performances of the actors, who are superb, but also by the fact that it’s not just about sex but about being alone and needing to feel desired and touched by another human being and what kind of situations that can lead to. An interesting way to spend a couple of hours that’s for sure with lots of jokes along the way and some heartbreak.

December 2, 2011

Castor and Pollux, London Coliseum, London (English National Opera)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 12:19 am

Having never been to an Opera before (despite having worked opposite the Royal Opera House for 3.5 years), I decided to keep an eye out for a cheep ticket for whichever opera came across my path. So when I saw a special offer for central stalls at the London Coliseum for an ENO (English National Opera) production of Castor and Pollux for discounted tickets (£97 reduced to £20) I jumped at the opportunity! Plus it was the closing night performance which always adds a bit of extra energy.

The Plot

Two brothers are in love with the same woman. The older brother, Pollux, is set to marry her but seeing the affection she and his younger brother, Castor, have for one another decides to let them get married instead. At the end of the wedding celebrations they are attacked and Castor dies. Pollux vows to rescue Castor from Hell whatever the cost to himself.

The Theatre

This is a beautiful theatre. As I sat in my central stalls seat I was in awe of what a work of art the place is. Shame they don’t let you take photo’s of it (I didn’t try because that no photography rule applies across all theatres it seems, though some people ignored it). In row K I had a clear view of the stage, apart from on several occasions when the gentleman in front of me leaned backwards. This wouldn’t have been a problem if my row and the row in front weren’t in perfect aligniment with one another because then the centre of my seat would’ve been been inbetween the edges of the two in front, instead of directly behind the seat in front of me. At 5’11’ tall legroom was good too.

The Verdict

Even though the opera is in English, I couldn’t understand the first several minutes of it because I’m not used to the high operatic singing style. It was a relief to realise that there were subtitles above the stage which mirrored what was being sang and wish I’d realised that earlier!

There were a lot of occasions where I wasn’t sure what was happening and didn’t understand a lot of the symbolism going on. At one point half of the cast stripped naked which probably has something to do with the pleasures of the flesh but I didn’t really get that impression and wasn’t too sure what the significance was. Some of the scenes seemed silly or unnecessary to me such as when some of the women started taking of layer after layer of their panties, or when one woman who had an unrequited love for Castor, lay down on the ground and out of which a male hand appeared and started to masturbate her (simulated). Interesting to watch for the first 5 seconds and then you wonder what the point is.

The ending itself seemed to work out well for both Castor and Pollux. Shame the same can’t be said about the two female leads. Whether that has something to do with gender inequality or is just a coincidence, I don’t know. Maybe most Greek myths are like that, in which case, for that time period, fine.

One of the positives of this experience was that I rather enjoyed the music which is something I’ve never achieved with opera when watching clips of it on TV or hearing it on the Radio. There were a number of musical phrases which were a delight to hear live. The acting seemed over the top but then again I guess that’s what this style of story telling requires and at least it makes it easy to see what each character is feeling. I couldn’t fault the singing however, very enjoyable, including the chorus whom my eyes kept drifting over too.

When the curtain call came, it was heart-warming to see the cast united and taking their final bows, you could feel the atmosphere jump up several notches with the sheer joy that was radiating off of them. It was a shame a lot of people left at the beginning of the applauding because I think they may have missed something slightly special. Just my opinion.

Overall, I think I enjoyed the experience and am glad I didn’t leave at the interval (the thought had crossed my mind). I feel that I may have misjudged opera music in the past and perhaps it improves if you’ve seen it live. I might actually google some of the music because it was surprisingly good to my ears. If I get cheep tickets again I will most certainly be checking out some more Opera for sure.

November 23, 2011

War Horse (New London Theatre, London, 2011 Production)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 12:08 am

Just got back from watching the wonderful New London Theatre production of War Horse in Central London and thought I’d write up some general thoughts.

The Plot

A teenage boy, Albert, develops a deep bond with his horse, Joey, whom he raises from a fowl. His heart is broken however when the army requisitions his horse during World War I. Too young to officially join the army, the story revolves around the adventures Albert and Joey endure in an effort to be reunited again.

The Theatre

This is a wonderfully designed theatre, sort of a hybrid between a traditional theatre and an IMAX cinema I think would be an appropriate description. I’ve actually been here before when the Blue Man Group were resident and whilst the layout of the seating may have changed, the feel of the place remains the same. Tonight we were sat in the central stalls row D which provided an excellent view of the stage and plenty of leg room (I’m 5’11” tall).

The Production

This is an awe inspiring production. Everything about it is first class. The ingenious puppetry of the horses, requiring three different actors for movement, had me wide eyed with delight and feeling an array of different emotions for them throughout. The actors running through the audience made me feel part of the action. The story itself had many people in tears, even my eyes has a tiny bit of moisture around them at one point. The folk songs, which I was not expecting, were appropriate for the setting and added all kinds of different energy to the atmosphere. One song in particular which stands out was “The Year Turns Round Again” and is officially my new favourite song. There’s a TED talk about how they developed the show and is an interesting watch if you have time.

The Verdict

It is, simply put, the best play I have ever seen and would happily re-watch it again in a heartbeat if the tickets were not so expensive! I really need to get the soundtrack because I’ve fallen in love with the folk songs that were performed. Browsing twitter for tonight’s performance seems to echo my sentiments above. There is a movie version by Steven Spielberg which I now can not wait to watch and I might even look into the book (though my to-read list is longer than my arm at this point!).

November 17, 2011

Cool Hand Luke (Aldwych Theatre, London, 2011 production)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 12:14 am

I just got back from watching a production of Cool Hand Luke at the Aldwych Theatre in Central London. Given that one of the reasons I started this blog was to improve my communication skills, I thought I’d try my hand at a review. The following are my general thoughts on various aspects of the experience:

The Theatre

The theatre was half empty which was not surprising given the negative reviews around the show but at least it meant I got bumped up to a nicer part of the stalls in row K, seat 8 which offered a great view of the stage though legroom was a smudge on the side of uncomfortable for me at 5’11” tall. Seats were slightly uncomfortable too but not more so than most other theatres in the area. The mens’ toilets near the front of the stalls were small but again that’s not uncommon for the area. From row K in the stalls it felt like a small space, close enough to the actors to make you feel part of the action which I really enjoyed. It’s not a bad theatre but I didn’t feel in awe of the place either.

The Plot

Briefly, the story revolves around a former World War II American solder who’s been dismissed from the army for his behavour and on his return to America gets sent to prison for vandalism. Whilst in prison he becomes an inspiration to his fellow inmate for his unbreakable spirit, cool nature and ability to do the seemingly impossible.

The Production

There were some disturbing flashbacks of what Luke’s platoon got up to during the war which were difficult to watch and scene transitions were marked by a group of female Christians singing A cappella which whilst enjoyable wasn’t really necessary and didn’t really add much at all. Having said that, the flashbacks were interesting, the show was well acted throughout (special mention should go to Marc Warren who really does have the X factor which the role requires), and the singers were very good, beautiful voices I thought. My main criticism would be the (1) lack of pace – there were many moments I was wish something, anything interesting, would happen, and (2) lack of humour – given Luke’s cool nature and smart mouth I was hoping for a few more jokes.

The Staff

Didn’t interact with them very much at all but the young man who gave me my tickets did it with an enthusiastic smile and a warm energy which I rather liked (it’s amazing how little things like that can improve the theatre experience though sadly it doesn’t happen as often as one might hope).

The Audiance

People who feel the need to check their mobile phones every 10 minutes or so shouldn’t be allowed in the theatre. The screen is bright and distracting. Yes, there were quite a few people doing that tonight! Plus the whisperers should learn that the quiet parts are the worst time to explain something to your friend (shouldn’t speak at all during the performance if I’m being honest). The theatre seemed half empty which is always a sad sight in my eyes but it wasn’t surprising given the reviews the show has received.

The Verdict

To be honest, I thought about leaving the theatre at the interval because I wasn’t really invested in the play but I always hope that maybe it’ll get better in the second act for those situations, plus I didn’t want to loose out on the money I’d already paid.  The performers were great but the writing was, to me, sluggish. Overall I would say it was below average but the actors still did a great job. Cool Hand Luke will end its run this week and it’s not something I’d recommend. Hmm, I feel like a bit of a git for writing that last line but I can’t think of a politer way of saying it in a review setting like this. Looking for “Cool Hand Luke” on twitter would suggest that other people enjoyed it a great deal (with particular praise, and lust, for Marc Warren it would seem). So whilst I may not think it was great, seems others might have done!

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