Category Archives: Theatre

Writefest 2017

According to the blurb Progress Theatre’s Writefest is in its 12th year but previous incarnations have passed us by. The idea is that six local authors write a short (c. 20 minutes) play and all are shown in one evening . It’s an interesting idea and one that means that if you don’t like one of the plays there is bound to be another along in a minute that you do like. We went to see if that was true last Thursday.

The six plays were very different, even if there were themes that were similar. For example political unrest, people who are different than us and Brexit all made their way into the offerings in one way or another. The sets were minimal just a chair or a table in order to allow the stage to be set quickly between each one and some of the actors were shared too.

In terms of the plays themselves it was a real mixed bag. The evening started strongly with “A Little Nibble” which told the story of a good Samaritan who was brought home by the person she helped only to discover that they were a zombie and wanted to eat her. Next up was “Pen” which while the idea was sound – that memories stored in the cloud are lost in the event of a disaster and paper is forever – but, for me, this one didn’t really work and wasn’t a very strong story.

The first half ended with “The Last Bus” which I think was probably my favourite of the evening. This showed a couple who were waiting to catch the last bus out of Pergatory which was being shut down. Nicely acted and a good idea.

The second half started with “If it be now” which was my least favourite of the lot mainly because it was a bit of a mess. What went on, I think, was that a couple were planning to kill someone who seemed to be stalking them after the wife of the couple had an affair with him a few year previously. It could also have been that the wife was setting up the husband but this wasn’t clear. It also came to an abrupt end and nobody seemed quite sure if it had ended or not.

Next up was “Buried” about a man struggling with his sexuality and hiding the fact that he really wanted to be a woman despite getting married and having children. This was done by having his inner voice played by another actor trying to guide him to do what he wanted rather than what society demanded. I would hope that this is an outdated concept but maybe it’s not.

And finally “Fairy Tails”- one that wasn’t set in the here and now as it was a fantasy of three, well I’m not sure what they were, who snapped the tails of fairies to make calls and ended up killing one of them. It was actually better than I have made it sound.

It was an interesting evening and there were some interesting ideas there but I am not sure that 20 minutes is enough time to give the subjects that some tried to cover justice. Also some left just a little too much to the imagination (or maybe I just suffer from a lack of it?).

The best bit in the whole evening though was when an audience member behind us, in a voice that they clearly thought was a whisper but really wasn’t, said to their partner “NICE COFFEE”. I spent several minutes following that suppressing a giggle!

I say there is no darkness but ignorance

Some reading this may well conclude that I am either a heathen or, perhaps, a philistine – maybe even both. (My use of both heathen and philistine should count in my favour though).

However, let’s get it out of the way early. I don’t rate Shakespeare at all. So you can imagine my level of enthusiasm when it was suggested that we go with friends to see Twelfth Night at The Globe in London. I’m a firm believer that experiences are a great way to happiness and so I classed this visit in the same bucket, although I went along with more hope than expectation.

I nearly had a last minute reprieve when the friends we were going with, who also had the tickets, were delayed on the train into Waterloo. This last glimmer of hope was dashed as they ran from the station to the theatre arriving just as the bell was sounding for us to take our seats. Well, when I say “seats” I mean hard wooden benches. There are, no doubt, prisons in Siberia with more conformable seating arrangements. Nevertheless even this was preferable to the standing area at the front given the continual rain that fell on them during the play.

And then it began and the biggest shock was that Shakespeare seemed to have written a camp musical set in Scotland. Lots of jolly sailors with flags dancing to 70’s disco and some bloke with an impressive chest dressed up in a glittery dress and huge wig. I don’t mind a camp musical at all, I’ve seen a few in my time, but add the Bard’s impenetrable prose on top of that and you have an almighty mess.

Now, to be fair, everyone else seemed to be having a good time and laughing away so it could just be me but I don’t think so. Everyone else had simply been brainwashed into believing the “Shakespeare is the greatest playwright” schtick.

Our next trip to the theatre is to see Young Marx, the next play by Richard Bean – now there’s a playwright!

The Hypocrite – the Play that Went Wrong

A few years ago, when he was only famous for Gavin and Stacey, James Corden stared in a play by Richard Bean called “One Man, Two Govners” and we were lucky to be able to see it and him during its London run. It was tremendous fun and so when we saw that Bean had written another play we quickly booked up to see it.

The Hypocrite is set in Hull of all places during the lead up to the civil war during the reign of Charles I and has a stellar cast including Mark Addy, Caroline Quentin and Lloydy from Preston Front. 

The play retains all the elements that made One Man so good – the side achingly funny one liners, the riotous behaviour, the slapstick and the old and decrepit butler. If you have seen One Man you’ll be pleased that someone falls or is pushed down a hole not once but three times in The Hypocrite!

There was an added element in The Hypocrite in that it also had music in the form of, I guess, strolling minstrels who played between each section of the play. They also came into their own last night as they were called upon to improvise and fill in when there was an issue on stage…

There is a running gag through the play about a bed designed by Indigo Jones. Turns out that the last scene includes this very bed which is wheeled onto the stage. The problem last night was that the bed was too high to fit under the top of the stage. At first I thought that this might be part of the play, a bit like when Corden’s character interacts with the audience over his lunch. I still wasn’t certain that it wasn’t a part of the play when the stage manager came on to tell us that they were having problems and there would be a short delay. Turns out it was about a five minute delay during which the musicians, who were excellent, did an impromptu turn involving the audience. When the curtain came back up the bed was manhandled into place by numerous stage hands and things got going again. Somehow this added rather than detracted from the whole thing. 

Turns out that we were at The Hypocrite for the very last night of its run in Stratford having also done a run in Hull prior to that. I’m not sure what the plans for it next are but I’m not sure how well it would transfer to the West End due to it being a bit parochial (if you’re from Hull and know the area some of the jokes are just for you). I hope that it gets a longer run somewhere as it is quite brilliant and I would love to go see it again.

#KeepTheSecrets

About 18 months ago tickets for the Harry Potter plays went on sale and I found myself in an online queue waiting patiently to get to the front. When I did I managed to secure tickets for March 2017. That seemed like such a ridiculously long time away and, it was, but eventually it did come round and we finally went last weekend.

The reason that this post is called #KeepTheSecrets is that is what you are asked to do when seeing the play so I will try and not give any spoilers in this post but if you are at all concerned look away now, as they say.

I’d wondered how well the Harry Potter universe, which covers such a geographically spread and diverse set of locations, would translate to the stage. I was even more curious when I saw what was, to all intents and purposes, an empty stage. The designers has decided that there was no way that they were going to recreate the scenes such as Hogwarts or Diagon Alley and so went for a minimalist look that worked incredibly well. There were a number of stage tricks that were used to perform some of the better known tricks that appear in both the books and film – travelling by floo being simple but incredibly effective. Movable staircases and trunks are made good use of to cover all sorts of situations.

The story itself takes place 20 years after the last book and centres around the friendship of the sons of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy – Albus and Scorpius respectively. Neither seem to live up to the expectations of their fathers and Harry in particular just seems to spend all his time with Albus shouting at him.

Again without giving too much away I was pretty disappointed with the story which I thought was pretty weak and just an excuse to go over lots of old ground, sort of like a greatest hits of the books/films. Of course die hard Harry Potter fans will welcome this but to me it seemed a wasted opportunity.

Oh and I really don’t think that it needs to be spread over two parts – unless you are the promotor of course…

So an enjoyable experience yes and incredibly well staged but let down by a weak story that didn’t do the books justice.

Art

It’s been a while since I have posted because, well, because life has got in the way and basically I forgot! However, I thought that a trip to the Old Vic on Saturday to see Art was worth a mention.

It has been many many years since we have been to see Art – the play about three friends and one painting – in fact a quick Google suggests that it might be as much as 18 years. The last time the purchaser of said painting was Art Malik and this time it was Rufus Sewell. The play has a bit of the emperors new clothes about it with Serge (Sewell) buying a white canvas and waxing lyrical about to his friends whom he expects to also see the beauty in this all white painting.

I’m reminded of a trip we took to the Tate Liverpool where there was a picture by the American artist Ad Reinhardt. The canvas looked black but the more you stared at it the more that colours that had been painted underneath came through. Helen to this day insists that there was nothing there and it was a waste of wall space whilst I found it fascinating. So I can sympathise with Serge that his friends don’t really get the picture or the fact that he has spent €100,000 on it.

Of course the play isn’t really about the picture itself but is used as a device to bring the tensions in the relationships between the three men to the fore and in particular between Serge and Mark. It is all beautifully done and the three playing the parts we saw at the weekend were brilliant as was the set (with the worlds largest coving) and the music.

One aside is the ridiculous no photography rule that the theatre had. I quite understand that there shouldn’t be any pictures taken while the performance is underway but the bouncers ushers were on anyone that even tried to take a selfie long before the performance started. I don’t understand the point of this. No doubt many people would have posted the picture to social media which would have promoted both the play and the theatre. In this day and age it seemed very short-sighted. Oh and it wasn’t me trying to take a picture this time!