Review: Bunnies, New Diorama Theatre, London

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A play about a farmer who feels he must resort to culling whole species in order to save his livelihood could, on the face of it, be no more topical. With much discussion over whether or not to cull the badger population in an effort to stem the spread of bovine tuberculosis, and a proposed (and possibly overdue) ban on the importation of ash trees to try and prevent the spread of a disease to our own native stocks, there are issues worthy of discussion and debate aplenty here.

Kieran Lynn’s Bunnies, currently playing at the New Diorama theatre, is not that sort of play. Instead, it is a curious attempt at political satire that seems to revel in the crudity of its allegory, just as it revels in acts of violence and bad taxidermy. It is set on a farm, and there are animals involved – but Animal Farm this is not.

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Review: Bunnies, New Diorama Theatre, London2Scott Matthewman2012-10-29 08:48:30A play about a farmer who feels he must resort to culling whole species in order to save his livelihood could, on the face of it, be no more topical. …

Review: The Incredible Doctor Guttmann, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

There can’t help but have been a sense of local pride in the Aylesbury area this summer. While the Olympic and Paralympic Games took place in the East End of London, the latter has its roots very firmly in this small town. In Stoke Mandeville Hospital to be precise, whose spinal injuries unit created the first Games for the Paralysed under the leadership of Doctor Ludwig Guttmann.

The BBC took a pass at telling the story of Guttmann and the birth of the Paralympics with Lucy Gannon’s The Best of Men (you can read a piece by Gannon about that production on the BBC Writersroom blog). Featuring a remarkable central performance by Eddie Marsan, it helped get the story of Guttmann out to a wide audience.

In contrast, Karen Simpson Productions’ telling of the story, with a script by Nicholas McInerny and directed by Charlotte Westenra, is intended to tell the story to much smaller audiences – after this weekend at the Waterside, it will tour to local communities for the next month. And while there’s an inevitable amount of overlap between the BBC’s story and this stage one, I have to admit that I found the theatrical retelling to be a far more involving and emotional take on Guttmann and his legacy.

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Julius Caesar, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

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Battered concrete, broken away to reveal the rusting iron frame within, forms the backdrop to Gregory Doran’s production of Julius Caesar. It’s an apt metaphor for the state of Rome at this point: what ought to be majestic and powerful is fracturing, broken and damaged by war.

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Julius Caesar, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre4Scott Matthewman2012-09-21 17:36:35Battered concrete, broken away to reveal the rusting iron frame within, forms the backdrop to Gregory Doran’s production of Julius Caesar. It’s an apt…

If It Only Even Runs a Minute 2, Landor Theatre

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After my review of the first London edition of cabaret night If It Only Even Runs a Minute, I did wonder how the hosts Oliver Southgate and Lydia Grant would take my comments. Not everyone whose show was described as a “shambolic mess”, and whose delivery was described as “amusingly under-rehearsed”, would necessarily be happy about the reviewer in question.

As it turns out, they were fine with it. So fine that I was invited back by them for Monday’s second edition.

At its core, it hadn’t changed. There’s a fine line between being informally relaxed and being disorganised – a line which If It Only Even Runs‘s hosts display a tendency to use as a skipping rope.

Personally, I find their presentation style charming, especially because the calibre of Monday’s guest performers were so high. I was being comped, though: I do wonder whether, if I’d paid for the tickets out of my own pocket, whether I’d find it quite so endearing.

But to concentrate on that side of the evening is unfair – as I said last time, the quality of the performances (and, in particular, the guest performers) is the real focus of the evening. And in their second London show, the calibre of the guests shot up several notches.

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If It Only Even Runs a Minute 2, Landor Theatre4Scott Matthewman2012-07-12 00:11:19After my review of the first London edition of cabaret night If It Only Even Runs a Minute, I did wonder how the hosts Oliver Southgate and Lydia Gran…

Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios

Yes Prime Minister returns to the West End, weakened by plot changes after its UK tour

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Back in September 2010, I reviewed Yes Prime Minister at the Gielgud Theatre, where I wrote:

The result is a farce that works well throughout. The political satire may aim for obvious targets – European projects derailed by national self-interests, the BBC’s uneasy relationship with government, general confusion on all sides about climate change – but it pretty much nails them every time…

…At times, the pace does flag a bit, particularly in the second act. But the bigger problem, post-interval, is one of casting structure. Sir Humphrey is absent for most of Act Two, which unbalances the dynamic and forces Bernard to assume more of the cunning and guile of his mentor than his character should possess.

All that remains true, now that the production has returned to the West End after a UK tour. In its new home of Trafalgar Studios, sitting appropriately at the top of Whitehall, Yes Prime Minister remains a fun farce, albeit one where the fast pace is verbal rather than physical.

Unfortunately, there are cast and script changes that mean that the returning version is weaker than it was before it went walkabout.

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Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios3Scott Matthewman2012-07-11 11:13:22Yes Prime Minister returns to the West End, weakened by plot changes after its UK tour

South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre

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South Downs stars Alex Lawther (Blakemore) and Jonathan Bailey (Duffield)

Originally staged at Chichester Festival Theatre, this double bill saw one of Terrence Rattigan’s most enduring plays, the one-act The Browning Version, revived as part of the tributes to the playwright’s centenary year (cf. revivals of Cause Celebre, Flare Path, etc.

Rather than pairing it with Harlequinade, the other Rattigan one-act play it had originally been played with, though, CFT prefaced the play with a new, companion piece from contemporary playwright David Hare. South Downs, like The Browning Version, is set within the walls of an English public school. Change is similarly encroaching: in Hare’s story, it is of the forthcoming Wilson government and the socio-economic change from the white heat of technology, whereas the world outside Rattigan’s school is still embroiled in war.

The two pieces complement each other extremely well – far more than I would have expected, and I suspect far better than a revival of Harlequinade could do.

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South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre5Scott Matthewman2012-04-29 17:36:24
South Downs stars Alex Lawther (Blakemore) and Jonathan Bailey (Duffield)

Origi…

If It Only Even Runs a Minute – London Edition, Landor Theatre

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Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of Above the Stag Theatre’s 2009 summer cabaret, Blink!, which celebrated the joys to be found in songs from shows that did not last particularly long, and to different degrees their 2010 and 2011 shows, Blink! Twice and Blink Again!. There probably won’t be a 2012 version, as Above the Stag’s home of The Stag pub was recently closed as part of the redevelopment of the area around London Victoria station.

A series of concerts on the same theme has been running at New York’s Joe’s Café for a while now. And while each iteration of Blink! was a show that would repeat each night, If It Only Even Runs a Minute promises to be different each time, as befits a series of occasional concerts. The beauty of that format is that it can be as flexible as possible, and allow many guest stars to make a one-night commitment to perform songs from shows that they were in.

Last night saw the first in a hopeful series of UK equivalents at the Landor Theatre. And while it was a bit of a shambolic mess at times, it was at the very least a loveable mess, with some cracking performances.

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If It Only Even Runs a Minute – London Edition, Landor Theatre4Scott Matthewman2012-04-24 19:53:22Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of Above the Stag Theatre’s 2009 summer cabaret, Blink!, which celebrated the joys to be found in songs…

Review: Opera Come Strictly, Aylesbury Waterside

Opera Come Strictly, which performed at Aylesbury Waterside on Saturday evening, does at least do what it says on the tin. It is an evening of operatic arias, some of which are accompanied by ballroom dancing. And as such, it’s perfectly serviceable. The 15-piece orchestra, playing arrangements by musical director Stephen Higgins, give accomplished renditions that form a solid backbone to the evening.

There are, however, some severe shortcomings which prevent this from being as enjoyable an evening as it could be.

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Mary Rose, Riverside Studios

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[media-credit name=”Laura Harling” align=”aligncenter” width=”584″][/media-credit]
Jessie Cave as Mary Rose with Spirits (Sally Preston, Greg Airey, Ariel Harrison, Philippa George, Maya Thomas, Noah Young and Scott Ellis)

As I found out when watching a student production of Dear Brutus last year, there is more to author and playwright J M Barrie than Peter Pan. Even then, the story of The Boy Who Never Grew Up – as originally written, rather than as the Disney version and numerous panto versions have painted – seems to have themes which Barrie’s other plays also share, mixing comic observations of middle class life with supernatural occurrences.

Here the story is centred around the Morland family, whose daughter Mary Rose once disappeared on a family holiday to the Hebrides, reappearing three weeks later with no knowledge that she had even been away. As a dashing young sailor approaches her parents to ask for her hand in marriage, they divulge the mystery that they have kept secret from her. And, several years later, the couple return to the island, Mary still unaware of the episode from her past – when the island starts calling to her again…

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Mary Rose, Riverside Studios3Scott Matthewman2012-04-01 20:45:44[caption id=”attachment_2597″ align=”aligncenter” width=”584″ caption=”Jessie Cave as Mary Rose with Spirits (Sally Preston, Greg Airey, Ariel Harriso…

The King’s Speech, Wyndham’s Theatre

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Just two weeks ago, I was at Richmond Theatre watching the stage version of The King’s Speech (read my review here). So when I got an invitation to see the press night of the West End version, I was in two minds whether to see it again. I chose to accept partly to cheer on my friend Adam Lilley, who is in the ensemble.

I’m glad I did, though, because seeing the play again helped me clarify a few things.

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The King’s Speech, Wyndham’s Theatre3Scott Matthewman2012-03-29 10:59:04Just two weeks ago, I was at Richmond Theatre watching the stage version of The King’s Speech (read my review here). So when I got an invitation to se…