A Nazi-backgrounded musical, a pioneering immersive theatre production, and an American classic. All in a day's work (read week and a half's work) for intrepid theatre-goers, and the results are curious, eyebrow-raising, and in some cases, ever so slightly frightening. Read more here.
So long, farewell, aufwiedersehen, good … I didn’t actually
see that show, or the comedy take-off of it which was up at the Fringe, but
after four and a bit days ensconced in that festival, you tend to become a bit …
musical … in your farewells. In fact, the shows force a hitherto unknown second
musical personality out of you, and you end up prancing down the streets all
thespy-schizoid and with jazz hands and adult humour songs buzzing on your lips
(I’m blaming you, The Ruby Darlings).
Awkwardness of course ensues when you bump into non-Fringe
tourists. Perplexed, scared, and frantically grasping for support/a phone to
dial 999, they back off (‘don’t encourage
it, Gladys, turn around, girl, hands in your pockets and gaze fixed forward and
KEEP WALKING, love!!’). Oddly enough, a huge quantity of these tourists
were swarming, be-raincoated and be-thermosed, up and down the Royal Mile,
terrified and skittish at the sight of flyerers. How is it possible that they
booked a holiday in Edinburgh in August and failed to notice that Europe’s
biggest arts festival was happening there? A question for the ages.
But the Fringe is over for another year. Coming back to
London (frigid air, torrential rain – who said the weather up north was worse
than the south? At least rolling mists have the advantage of being dramatic) I
feel a sense of sorrow – not lying, I really do. For a few days you live so
large and loud and colourfully, and then you remember your end destination: the
office. So, as one last hurrah for the bright lights and the sheer enthusiasm of Edinburgh, here are
some final reviews:
Trilogy: Agamemnon: Brought to you by former members of that Fringe
staple Belt Up Productions, this is a
claustrophobic and immensely impressive of theatre. Sat tightly packed and
practically on top of your fellow audience members, you find yourself encased
in a bunker, assailed as much by the action and emotion as the characters are
by memories and mortar. The protagonist is dying in the trenches and in a
series of memories and hallucinations he shows his belief that his wife back
home – and his cousin, who has fallen in love with her – are conspiring to kill
him. The only issue with this production is that it doesn’t need to reference
Agamemnon, as within this context it doesn’t truly succeed as an invocation of
the story – there is no Iphigenia to plant the seed of hatred in Clytemnestra,
no children, no kingdom, no names, even. Taken out of the constraints of Greek
fable, however, it is an astonishingly good piece of work – impeccable acting
and an immersive setting collide to give a sense of watching a true drama
unfold before you, as if it were on screen. ****1/2
Breakfast:Another staple of the Fringe, Shakespeare for Breakfast has
been delighting audiences for years. Furnished with a cup of coffee and a
croissant, they settle down to see modernised, immensely funny takes on
Shakespeare’s classics. Offered up to us this year was The Taming of the Shrew,
couched in the context of the Royal Wedding and Birth. Prince Harry’s attempts
to woo Pippa-Bianca remain one of the highlights of the show. With less
audience participation than previous shows of theirs and slightly less engaging
turns from a couple of cast members, it doesn’t quite reach the dizzyingly
fantastic heights of last year’s Romeo and Juliet, but these are minor
quibbles; Shakespeare for Breakfast remains a Fringe must-see. ****
Howie The Rookie:
Unequivocally the best one-man show I have ever had the privilege to see. Tom
Vaughan-Lawlor takes up a ferocious Atlas-like task, performing the monologues
of two characters, who in other incarnations would be played by two actors.
Fast-paced, relentless, careening as if written on a high through cussing and
intoxicated lyricism, the script never gives you a break but for the two
devastating moments of horrific pathos and tragedy which demarcate the end of
each character’s monologues. Howie Lee and Rookie Lee are Dublin hoodlums,
violent and seedy, but the honour and a bridge for sympathy is found in both.
Vaughan-Lawlor gives a powerhouse performance – full-throttle, never resting,
and with astonishing physical control and stamina – over the course of 80
minutes which could only end in a justly deserved standing ovation. *****
The Only Way is
Downton: Have you ever seen a young man do an impression of Maggie
Smith as the Dowager in Dowton Abbey? Well, have you ever seen him do that in
the same breath in which he impersonates Tom Daley as her unlikely bridegroom
and Alan Carr as the possibly even more unlikely reverend marrying them? The
Only Way is Downton is a brilliant one-man skit which brings together Downton
Abbey and modern reality shows (The X Factor, The Great British Bake-Off) for
an explosively funny culture clash – a clash unobserved by the characters
themselves. The impressions are uncanny, and the ability to switch lightning
fast between them all is impressive. ****
The Ruby Darlings:
Ruby and Darling are to blame: I’m perpetually humming smutty lyrics now as I
wander around and am scaring the neighbours as a result. Ruby and Darling are
two girls reclaiming the female prerogative to have a good time on equal
footing with men, with filthy lyrics and beltingly good singing voices. If they
can tighten the comedy and the song introductions, they’ll have a damn fine
Free Tea &
Biscuits Comedy: The Brits like tea and they like biscuits with their
tea; as a marketing ploy, this is a sure win. The atmosphere was very informal
and comfortable – a surprisingly leisurely approach to performance – as was the
comedy. Entertaining, with engaging compering, it was witty, understated, and
full of laughs, albeit not hugely memorable. It was that jumper which always makes an appearance when you’re not going
out – it fits, it’s comfortable, it makes you think of good times. ***
Chaucer All Strung
Up: The Franklin’s Tale: Chaucer All Strung Up promised much –
storytelling, acrobatics, puppetry, and more – but sadly delivered little.
Despite the best efforts of the cast to engage the audience, chatting with them
in character even as they were filing in and engaging them interactively
throughout, they couldn’t overcome the fact that the production itself just
didn’t have the energy or the focus to sustain interest. It seemed to be pitched
initially at a younger audience than was there, with childish voices, and
childish puppetry, which wrongfooted the audience from the start. It then lost
its story and all of Chaucer’s charm in its conceit, namely to put the story
mise-en-scene within the context of a girl (who tells everyone else the story)
reliving it herself when she joins a circus and falls in love with the lead
acrobat. The concept is laudable, but not its execution.**
Once more into the breach, dear … well, you know the rest. On the scale of horribly overused quotes …. Anyway, I am still in Edinburgh, scouring the streets for hit shows. I evidently forgot to touch wood last time, however, as I have been suitably punished for bragging about a rain-free Burg. Starting shortly after the last post, it rained. And was misty. And is still misty. And raining. But theatres are dry, and I have spent much time within them. So, read on:
Broken Holmes: A parody of Sherlock Holmes, with full apologies extended to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this is a funny and irreverent episode. Holmes is a bully, even to his dear Doctor Watson; Watson is a slow, loyal friend, who has had it up to here with Holmes’, and the detective’s inability to remember anniversaries. As Doctor Watson exposes Holmes’ egocentric re-writing of his cases, they embark on yet another. The humour is quick, and an endearing performance comes from the actor playing Holmes, but the wit of the posters remain ever so slightly more arresting than the show itself. ***
Bedtime Solos: Two characters expose the isolation of people even in the most physically intimate moments between them. Extensive monologues draw the audience right into each character’s experience and the physical aspect underlines the theme of people never really connecting with each other. The script loses its hold with the overly symbolic and descriptive nature of the female’s monologues, but strong performances and a touch of humour keep it engaging. Worth a look, and definitely different from what you expect going in. ***1/2
Nirbhaya: Taking the rape of a young girl on a New Delhi bus in December last year as their impetus, the cast give an astonishingly brave performance and give the women and children of India, who suffer physical, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse, a voice. A minimalist set and the raw emotion, moving many of the audience to tears of shock, make for the most vital piece at the Fringe. This is important. *****
The Bridge That Tom Built: This one-man show is the reason I go the Fringe: a tiny, unpretentious set, an actor gifted at story-telling and with comic timing, and the extraordinary life story of Thomas Paine, founding father, social activist, and persona non grata in more countries than you can shake a stick at. Brilliant ad-libbing at latecomers just adds to its charm. A must-see. ****1/2
Coming Soon: Agamemnon, Howie the Rookie, Shakespeare for Breakfast.
The Edinburgh Fringe is well underway once again and there have been some changes since last year. Firstly – and most importantly – it has not yet rained on me (something which the weather gods will now certainly rectify); secondly, we are seeing a much broader foreign tourist base – Bonjour overseas fame! (I refuse to believe that Edinburgh’s admittedly very pretty Castle and Tattoo tradition have anything to do with the increased diversity of the Royal Mile wanderers. We have negotiated language barriers, employed our unique brand of British charm, and whispered the words “dark and … quirky” in many a passing ear to tempt them to newer, greener, non-Royal Mile pastures. When not otherwise engaged in honing my selling skills on the Mile (pitted unfairly methinks against the quite frankly overly confident and cheerful purveyors of comedy – I’m a Londoner, we don’t ‘do’ cheerful ) I have been frequenting some shows myself. Purely for your education, of course.
The Cow Play: Kafka, eat your heart out. Your protagonist transformed into a rubbish old bug, whereas in The Cow Play Holly, sweet and supportive girlfriend, turns into a cow, literally and metaphorically. But mostly literally. You never question the concept, simply accepting the descent into surrealism, but focus on the relationships of the three main characters. The unwavering loyalty of Holly’s boyfriend, so under confident in his own talents, is touching, but even more than that, the relationship between him and his best friend brings the sharpest poignancy to the piece. Brilliantly acted with a tight script, this is well worth a watch. ****
Showstoppers: I don’t really need to say more than this. Over 4 out of the 5 Fringes I have attended, I have seen this show 5 times. An improvised musical of superlative quality, with the musical styles, title, and setting drawn from (non-planted) audience members, it is an utter delight. This time, it was the evolutionary Concorde crash in a jungle plot of In the Jungle, the Flighty Jungle that left me with aching cheeks from too much damn smiling. Who knew that the BA crash survival manual dedicated so much time to instructing survivors to procreate and continue the line? *****
Snap: A complicated drama examining the perception of events and reality through the relationship of a young girl and her photographer stepfather, this play touches on uncomfortable themes. Its origins in the Royal Court are clear and the narrative is clearly delineated. A good lead performance held the show together and a certain unevenness in the production could certainly be ironed out into a solid show. **1/2
Coming up soon (hopefully): Broken Holmes, Shakespeare for Breakfast, and more ….
X Readers in Search of a Blogger: Overview of Top West End Summer Plays
Just shy of four months. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve
updated this blog. I’d like to make excuses and believe you me, I have a
plethora of them. Some of them valid, some of them pure avoidance. But rather than offer those up as
self-exculpating form of panacea for my readers- to those who have stuck by me, I am tremendously grateful – I will
simply apologise and endeavour to be better . If I do not submit a report a day
during my sojourn in Edinburgh for the Fringe, you may hold me fully
First report due on Monday ….
In the meantime, here’s an overview of some of the plays I’ve
seen over the last few months:
Othello (National Theatre):Curious soundtrack choices aside, this is a
very strong production of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Adrian Lester
brings pathos and passion to a role which in other hands has tipped so easily
into hysteria, but the star performance comes from Rory Kinnear’s multi-layered
turn as Iago, finding humour in the most ordinary of gestures. ****
The Cripple of Inishmaan (Noel Coward
Theatre): There’s something special about a play where the audience claps
at the end of every scene. Great acting, tight direction, and a ceaseless
onslaught of humour make for an incredibly enjoyable night out. ****
Strange Interlude (National
Theatre): A slower first half gives way to an energetic and engaging second
half. Impressive set design, perhaps unnecessary with the strength of the
performances, nonetheless adds to the glamour of the backdrop. Anne-Marie Duff
is utterly convincing at every stage of Nina’s development over the years and
she is very ably supported by an excellent surrounding cast. ***1/2
Private Lives (Gielgud Theatre):
Noel Coward at its best. Played with malicious glee, a twinkle in their eye,
and an understated delivery of witticisms, the protagonists are compelling and
horrendous in their relationship - Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens as Amanda
and Elyot respectively are both at the top of their game. Their saner,
healthier counterparts are equally engaging, albeit primarily in a contrast and
compare scenario. Riotous and
rollicking, and ending far too soon. *****
The Hothouse (Trafalgar Studios):
John Simm and Simon Russell Beale deliver, as ever, wonderfully timed and
witty performances in a show which for some reason doesn’t quite thrill. Maybe
it was the supposedly good but incredibly hard seats. Maybe it was the
occasional bad turn and a certain strange abruptness. Good, just not brilliant.
The Tempest (Globe Theatre): I
have no memory of the Tempest being this entertaining – slogging through
Shakespeare in Year 8 rarely inspires a child – but every opportunity is taken
in this production, without ever resorting to cheap tricks. The ostensibly
against-type casting of Joshua James as Ferdinand is astonishingly effective when used
in-line with the slightly tongue-in-cheek delivery of the play’s representation
of the eponymous hero. Highlights include Caliban’s engagement with the
audience and Roger Allam’sa wonderful performance as Prospero. *****
Henry Goodman and Naomi Frederick head a brilliant cast in this pitch-perfect revival of Rattigan's The Winslow Boy. Exploring the strength of family and sentiment within the context of an individual's fight for justice against the state, this production delivers wit, pathos, and a challenge to politicians which will resonate with modern audiences as much as they did when the play was first performed. Read the full review here.
Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw star in the second installment of the Michael Grandage season as Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewelyn Davies, the muses behind Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. It is a tragic look at imposed fame, nostalgia, and self-deception with two riveting turns from its leads. Read the full review here.
He was the avuncular character whose on-screen creations you always hoped would turn up at someone else’s family Christmas dinner. As Uncle Monty Richard Griffiths became an iconic figure amongst cult fans of the 1987 film Withnail & I and as Uncle Vernon he terrorised a new generation from the mainstream in the Harry Potter films. In between, he delivered another uncle-esque figure with disturbing proclivities who couldn’t help but elicit some disappointed sympathy from his audience in his magnificent Olivier and Tony award winning stage performance as Hector in Alan Bennett’s History Boys. These three uncles-on-his-shoulder guarantee that Richard Griffiths, who sadly died today at the age of 65, will remembered vividly and fondly by fans across generations, mediums, and film-going divides.
Part of the baby-boomer generation, Griffiths was born in North Yorkshire in 1947. His astonishing ability to communicate every nuance of his thoughts so vividly and immediately without uttering a word was no doubt fostered by growing up with two deaf parents, and it is one of his many strengths which marked him out from contemporaries and peers both on screen and stage. His stage career saw him master myriad genres and characters, from the larger-than-life Shakespearean clown to the self-questioning psychiatrist Martin Dysart in Thea Sharrock’s 2006 production of Equus. A favourite of Sharrock’s, he delighted audiences just a year ago in a limited run of her production of The Sunshine Boys, along with Danny DeVito, and for which he received his customary excellent notices. He was an equally strong and engaging presence on-screen; small-screen devotees will remember him particularly for his portrayal of Henry Crabbe – detective inspector and chef – in the 1994-1997 series Pie in the Sky.
Griffiths received an OBE in the 2008 Honours list in recognition of his long career across radio, stage, and screen, which had made him a much-loved name in British households. A man of wit, comic mastery, and wonderful emotional intelligence, let’s remember him with a fine glass of red and say “Farewell, Uncle Monty”.
Can you give us a brief synopsis of the film? Sorry We Missed You (the current working title, subject to change) all about courtships misunderstandings and bad timings. Aida’s overwhelming attentions scare off her neighbour Peter, but when cocky Daniel moves in and she is led on by his charm, Peter begins to watch her more closely. Aida is clueless in her romantic pursuits, but she and Peter are not that different after all.
Making a short film is a lot more time-consuming and difficult than people assume - what convinced you to do it?
I wanted to be more proactive about showcasing my own work as an actress/writer. Plus, I have always wanted to direct at some point. I made my first short, the comedy sketch Taking Chances, just two months before and really enjoyed the experience. So I thought I’d challenge myself further. Sorry We Missed You is longer and more complex than my first project. It seemed like the natural step to follow.
Even short films with no special effects can be expensive. What are the best ways to keep such a project affordable?
Choice of location, crew size and equipment- it’s important to tailor everything according to the type of project and to make the most of what you have. I would definitely recommend sticking to one location. Having the use of the kitchen on location also makes catering cheaper. There is a lot of food involved in the story- we had chocolate cakes and cream cupcakes- all of which ended up on the menu after the shooting! In my experience, advance planning is usually a key factor with low budget projects. If you don’t want to compromise in quality you need to be prepared for a longer pre- and post-production time in order to save money.
You were the writer, director, producer, and lead actress in this film - that takes multi-tasking to a new level! Did you find that each position impacted the others in a positive way, or would you perhaps do things differently next time?
It’s fair to say I do enjoy a challenge! I also enjoy variety and moving from one role to the other allows me to see my writing from a completely new and different prospective, which I find quite refreshing. I have never directed a script that I haven’t written, so it’s hard for me to make comparisons, but being the writer gave me more confidence when approaching the script. I felt I had the licence “to kill my own baby”, so to speak. As a newcomer director, I would probably have approached another writer’s work with much more reverence. I might have held back a little with my creative choices. Being the writer also gave me an advantage as an actress. I knew I could incorporate my character work into the script and at the same time the creative work I did as a writer was embodied into the role.
The producing side is what can get most get in the way. A certain amount of production duties are probably inevitable, especially at an early stage of a director’s career, but it’s important to plan carefully and to lessen the on-set production duties to a minimum.
If I had to do it all again, I would definitely delegate more to make more space for the creative side.
What were the greatest challenges you faced on this project?
Adapting the script to the location was quite a challenge. Because of the budget restraint the search was long and difficult, so I had to be very flexible whilst at the same time maintaining the spirit of the script. The place I eventually secured had a great filming potential, but it required a considerable amount of script and shot list adaptations. I had to make quite a few compromises with what I had originally in mind and I had to make them fast!
How can short film directors launch their films? What has been your way of getting your work out to the public in the past?
My first short, Taking Chances, has just been released on the 50 Kisses website. It will be interesting to see what response it gets. I think websites have the potential to be incredible promotional tools if you know how to use them. That doesn’t mean I am ruling out taking the festivals route first.
Do you have any future projects planned? A feature film, perhaps? I am currently working on a series of comedy sketches for the web. The project is now in the late stages of development. I also have another couple of short scripts ready- a comedy and a fantasy- both of which are more ambitious, higher budget projects than Sorry We Missed You, and a TV series pilot. And yes, there is a feature film planned further down the line. It’s a romance comedy-drama and I am currently half way through first draft. So definitely watch this space!