The Audience

the_audience-large

I’d been seeking a ticket for this West End show since January. Yes, before the curtains of this play had even drawn. Alas, the press night was on the 4th March – when I was slicing through the snow in St Anton – so, I couldn’t make it. By the time I returned, the new show on the block had been reviewed and a press ticket was no longer available.

Why not buy a ticket? Well, this is where the show returned to the news, for (running neck and neck with The Book of Mormon) The Audience is the most expensive ticket in town; with a dress circle seat setting you back a whopping £124. An Intern at The Daily Telegraph, shelling out over a week’s allowance for one night was sadly out of the question. I tried to stave my desires; voyaging to other parts of town with The Upcoming and sinking my journalistic claws into as many productions as possible.

Still my thirst for the Mirren-led performance was not slaked. Still I concocted plans to slip in through the wings and gain access; it was a far-fetched mission, but that was how desperate I had become. Then, just as I was going to give up hope, I received a text message from, let’s call him the Other (as in the other journalist), which read: ‘What are you doing on Monday night? Have been offered tickets for Helen Mirren in The Audience. Thought you would enjoy seeing it, and I’d enjoy reading your review!’

The Other didn’t realise how right he was. Enjoy seeing it – what an understatement, I would love to see it, and indeed I loved seeing it. Last night, at precisely 7.13 p.m, I met the Other outside the Geilgud Theatre (35 Shaftesbury Avenue), for the 7.30 p.m performance of Peter Morgan’s The Audience. The play (as mentioned) stars Helen Mirren, who has returned to the role that won her the Oscar, as Queen Elizabeth II. The plot is based on the traditional Tuesday evening meeting that our Monarch has with our Prime Minister, and has had with Prime Ministers before him. Indeed, in just 2 hrs 20 mins we were given an insight into what the weekly meetings – spanning over 60 years – might have been like.

A superb script by Morgan (Frost/Nixon) sewed together a Diamond Jubilee’s worth of history seamlessly. Opting out of a chronological order format, shifts between leaders – Wilson to Thatcher, Cameron to Callaghan, Major to Eden – were both cleverly crafted and smoothly executed under the eye of Director Stephen Daldry.

What perhaps stood out the most, aside from mega-superstar Dame Helen, was the degree of humour and wit the plot carried. I hadn’t expected a play about the Queen and Prime Ministers to be so funny. Mirren’s exceptional performance of our Monarch copyright’s itself  (no-one can own the role now, and who would want, or dare attempt to recreate it?); from her pursed lips, her perfectly timed pauses, to her subtle leg-crosses and even the delicate fiddling of fingers, she was uncanny in her resemblance. It was the turn-of-the-head pauses, almost Pinter-esque, that brought the most laughter and really captured the ‘not saying anything, yet saying everything look’ that has been asserted about the Queen.

A notable absence was that of Tony Blair who, though mentioned, didn’t make the cut for character – one supposes this is due to the large air-time that the former Labour leader received in the 2006 film, and that there wasn’t enough time within the show to appropriately cover the death of Princess Diana. Or perhaps his scene was cut to make way for a new addition between Cameron and the Queen about the death of Margaret Thatcher, in which, Cameron expresses his support for the Queen to attend the longest ever serving Prime Minister’s funeral tomorrow.

Aside from the marvellous Mirren, it was Richard McCabe, who played Harold Wilson, that stole the show. His portrayal of the Huddersfield-born Labour Leader, who served as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976, was absolutely fantastic. Gait, accent, tone and aura were captured faultlessly and he was undoubtedly the audience’s – of The Audience – favourite.

In conclusion, if you are willing to break the piggy bank then I would highly recommend going to see The Audience. Interesting, topical, well-written and highly amusing, this play is a wonderful opportunity to see a stellar cast in action.

*****

For tickets visit: http://www.theaudienceplay.com/home/

Theatre review: The Low Road at the Royal Court Theatre

After seven fruitful years at Sloane Square’s Royal Court Theatre, Dominic Cooke is relinquishing his position as artistic director, though not before one final collaboration with American playwright Bruce Norris. The duo who brought us The Pain and the Itch and the critically acclaimed Clybourne Park team up again for The Low Road.

Set in 18th Century Massachusetts,The Low Road is a “fable of free-market economics and cut-throat capitalism”. Following the life of amoral Jim Trumpett, who may or may not be the son of George Washington, the play is powered by money, greed and racism. Trumpett, played by Johnny Flynn, desires nothing more than to be stinking rich and has no issue with eliminating all who get his way. Whether this is achieved by stealing from them, buying them or actually murdering them is of little concern to him.

Flynn plays the role with just the right amount of fake boyish charm and callousness. He is gracious to those who can help on his way, and vile once they have served their purpose. The brilliant portrayal of his character’s immorality is best bared in his scenes with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who plays Trumpett’s well-spoken slave John Blanke. Flynn perfectly captures Trumpett’s frustration as he repeatedly fails to control Blanke, in a series of highly amusing verbal battles.

Humour is a real strong point of the performance and holds it together when it verges on heavy-going. The plot is thick; there are location shifts, character shifts and time shifts -including one massive leap into a 21st Century board-room meeting. Indeed, if it weren’t for the Brechtian use of banners and signs telling you whereabouts in the story you were, and the brilliant dry-witted narrator, Adam Smith (played by Bill Paterson), then you would be at risk of literally losing the plot.

With a 20-strong cast playing, between them, 51 characters, The Low Road is a massive undertaking, which could only succeed under the experienced direction of Dominic Cooke. The play, which is reminiscent of Lucy Prebble’s Enron, is cleverly scripted, entertaining and thought-provoking. The realisation that the one character you explicitly don’t trust is probably the only character that is telling the truth is extremely unsettling. The Low Road is a long road, but it is worth the journey.

Verdict: ••••

Alice Audley

http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2013/03/29/theatre-review-the-low-road-at-the-royal-court-theatre/

Theatre Review: Steptoe and Son at the Lyric Hammersmith

British sitcom Steptoe and Son first hit television screens on 4th January 1962. Following the tumultuous relationship between a father and son in the scrap-selling business, the BBC One show ran for eight seasons, produced 57 episodes and didn’t finish until 1974. Spin-offs were made in Sweden, the Netherlands and the US, and two films were released in the UK in ’72 and ’73. In 2004, Steptoe and Son was voted 15th in Britain’s Best Sitcom awards.

Steptoe-and-SonThis year, “dirty old man” Albert and son Harold have returned, but this time to the stage. The Kneehigh and West Yorkshire Playhouse have brought the iconic series back home to the Lyric Hammersmith in West London.

Laughs are rife from the start. Mike Shepherd (Albert) and Dean Nolan (Harold) have chemistry that rings true of a father-son relationship. From small gestures to gait, from physical interaction and hilarious dance moves to voice, the pair is perfectly in tune throughout the performance. Their quick fire exchanges in the stichomythia scenes were performed superbly and it really did seem like they had been together (in the scrap yard) forever.

The scrap yard was depicted by a large cart centre stage, which doubled as their home. The set was crowded: a model horse stage right, a record box stage left, a large orb upstage, bits of scrap downstage, this disorder worked well and conveyed both the chaotic nature of their work and their relationship.

Unfortunately, the plot was very weak. Director Emma Rice had the pair bumble along irritating each other for the majority of the performance, occasionally interspersed with more tender scenes that suggested they cared about each other – a message that wasn’t strong enough to warrant a two-hour performance and felt, by the second half, exceedingly drawn out.

Rice also added a female character (Kirsty Woodward) who, in addition to playing numerous bland roles that never successfully meshed with Albert and Harold, acted as a physical representation of time. Through her dramatic costume changes, including a playboy bunny and a 60s hippy, the audience could gauge the shift of years and eras.

Despite its lack of backbone, Steptoe and Son was entertaining. Shepherd and Nolan both gave worthy performances, recreating the slap-stick comedy of their 60s predecessors. Woodward didn’t have the opportunity to shine, which considering her previous performances was a shame. A wasted opportunity – it was good, but with a stronger script it could have been great.

Verdict: 

Alice Audley

Steptoe and Son is on at the Lyric Hammersmith until 6th April 2013. For further information or to book tickets, click here

http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2013/03/21/theatre-review-steptoe-and-son-at-lyric-hammersmith/

Theatre/Dance Review: Greed

After the success of last year’s Sensual Africa, choreographer Bawren Tavaziva has returned to London with his new show Greed. With foundations rooted in the seven deadly sins, Greed claims to deal with the “complexities of money, power and religion and the subtle and not so subtle differences between African and Western cultures”. Perhaps these complexities are thorny to the point of incomprehensibility – whatever the reason, they didn’t translate clearly in the performance.

Greed at The Place

Even with Afro-Western comparisons removed from the equation, deciphering the seven deadly sins was challenging enough. In just over one hour the eight dancers – dressed in white Aztec-print lycra – performed a cyclical, tribal, modern, voodoo-infused routine in which, out of pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth, only lust was performed with any clarity.

And what a scene this was: slinking onstage, grabbing each other bestially and thrusting aggressively, the dancers masterfully depicted pre and post-coital states. A fusion of human and animal, the dancers paraded their insatiable sexual appetites to the backdrop of Tavaziva’s porno-esque soundtrack, in which mewing females, rasping throaty males, wails and heavy-breathing intermingled with the bellows of elephants and the deep grunts of a leopard. The scene was reminiscent of Laurie Lee’s beautifully crafted description in Cider with Rosie of “the orgasmic outbursts of tethered beasts.”

Alas, after Petros Treklis (the only male performer) lifted the final dancer by her nether regions, the scene was over and we were drawn back into the indistinguishable blur of convolution. Perhaps the only other sin apparent was sloth – manifested in the yawns of the audience. This languor, however, could have been part of Tavazina’s plan: he wanted us to feel bored, to feel sloth, and thus created a soporific soundtrack. Or, the audience might just have been bored.

Though the dancing was impressive and energetic it was also confusing and repetitive. This repetition sadly caused a lack of audience concentration, rendering the production’s message impenetrable and undermining its redemptive section. Sneak in for the lust scene, or give it a miss.

Verdict: ••

Alice Audley

Theatre review: Fuerzabruta at Roundhouse

Bizarre, confusing, unnerving yet exciting, Diqui James’ show Fuerzabruta is an accessible modern-day equivalent to visiting Bedlam. Rather than paying to go to mental asylums to watch crazed individuals, Londoners can now go to Chalk Farm’s Roundhouse instead.

Fuerzabruta is an 80-minute show which has no plot, and performers that have lost the plot – a rare combination of the utterly plot-less.  The scenes that unfold amidst the spectacle were certainly difficult to get your head around.

Wailing females with tortured faces chasing each other like mad sirens were juxtaposed with a treadmill and a running man, who despite numerous gunshot wounds and deaths, was consistently resurrected. This Mo Farrah/Jesus hybrid was then followed by a George Washington DJ who smiled creepily and bounced up and down erratically for a while. There was no underlying message or deeper meaning, and the shifts were random, abstract and at times clunky, especially when the audience had to be ushered around the pit.

However, though nonsensical, it is not to say that Fuerzabruta isn’t enjoyable. Just as our predecessors enjoyed watching the inhabitants of Bedlam, the audience equally enjoyed watching the actors in Roundhouse. There is something exciting about watching humans shun social norms and act out; we do secretly enjoy the occasional drunken person on the Underground that screams incoherently. It is ingrained in human nature that we enjoy people who make a spectacle of themselves. People are interested in people.

Reiterating this interest in our fellow man was the best scene of the night – the human aquarium.  Four semi-clothed women splashed around on a translucent board which was lowered above the audience’s heads. Curving their bodies, diving and then looking through the water with their eyes open like possessed nymphs, the women captivated the audience. The board lowered further and a few stray hands reached up to touch them, just as one taps on a fish tank. They were there for our entertainment and we were entitled to ogle them.

Fuerzabruta is an odd one; it may be plot-less but it is also original, innovative and thoroughly entertaining. Unlike anything in the present theatrical market, the performance is well worth a visit if you don’t mind watching something purely for watching’s sake. Prepare yourself for a completely pointless, wacky and alternative cocktail of music, dance and special effects.

Verdict: ••••

Alice Audley

Theatre Review: Siro-A at the Leicester Square Theatre

SIRO-A_all_standing2_medium

(Photo: Patrick Coyle)

London’s Leicester Square Theatre has been invaded by a futuristic force; a psychedelic, kaleidoscopic, technodelic force. London’s Leicester Square Theatre has been invaded by Siro-A.

Stylistically likened to The Blue Man Group, Japan’s Siro-A is an award-winning six man dance/mime team who seek to entertain a new generation – a multi-generational audience; and they succeeded. Fusing electric visuals with pumping beats, crafty choreography and clever comedy, Siro-A proved a sensual feast.

The distinction between human and modern interaction is made before the performance has even started. One of the team meanders through the front rows shaking hands with the audience, before retreating onto the stage and then filming the same people. Not only does this break the fourth wall and involve you in the action, but it also marks the change in how we socialise: gone are the days of human contact, in are the days of socialising behind the veil of technology.

This technological revolution is the driving force behind Siro-A’sperformance. The set is simple, stark and white, and the actors all have luminous white-painted faces. The scene can only be brought alive through technology – and technology they use. The audience is transported into a myriad of weird and wonderful sets, from nightclubs, to computer games, to Japan (and one of the performer’s homes). You never know where they are going to thrust you next, or how long they will let you stay there.

In just under an hour you are sucked into a technophile’s dreamland where reality, fantasy and endless possibility magically collide. Harvesting every emotion evoked by Siro-A’s performance would be nigh on impossible (unless of course there was a technology invented to record every second of feeling). The brain is overwhelmed with colour, movement, change and sound; though you don’t know what is happening and you can’t follow a plot, you do know that you are enjoying yourself.

Perfectly timed (any longer and the brain may just melt) and perfectly executed, with a sharp sense of humour, Siro-A is a futuristic phenomenon that is rightfully carving a following in the theatrical market. Get down to Leicester Square!

Verdict: ••••

http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2013/02/22/theatre-review-siro-a-at-the-leicester-square-theatre/siro-a_all_standing2_medium/

 

Taboo

The Olivier Award-winning tale of 80s superstar Boy George is back on stage. Yes, musical biopic Taboo has returned. Gloriously eccentric, wildly decadent and fabulously opulent yet with a constant subterranean sadness, Christopher Renshaw’s production of the Boy George musical is fine-tuned perfection.

The plot follows two young lovers Billy (Alex Jordan-Mills) and Kim (Devon-Elise Johnson) in their quest to succeed in the exciting artistic climate of 80s London, an era which was defined by its superstars and the New Romantic movement. On moving to the city, Billy meets Boy George (Paul Treacy) and Leigh Bowery (Sam Buttery), and the audience are drawn into the depths of the extravagant world of stardom, accompanied by the era’s smash hits.

The Brixton Club House is transformed into the perfect set. With its dark walls, fully stocked bar, smoky interior and a stripper-esque stage, you are physically brought into the realms of the sordid and forbidden 80s nightclub. As much as the actors are depicting debauchery, your surroundings also work hard to involve you in it.

A whirlwind of a history that tracks the career of Boy George in just under three hours, the actors do well to convincingly portray the chronological shifts. Treacy’s performance is faultless and his resemblance to the star uncanny – both physically and vocally. Strong vocals were evident from each cast member, with Katie Kerr (Big Sue) and Julia Worsley bringing impressive power to the female roles. Sam Buttery was utterly absorbing as Leigh Bowery and Paul Kevin-Taylor shone in his three roles as Derek, Lucien Freud and Petal. His performance of Petal, the drug-pushing transgender hooker, was particularly entertaining.

Especially noteworthy was Olivier award-winning actor Paul Baker. Baker played an articulate, witty and slightly menacing Philip Salon and both narrated and acted in the production. A wonderful comic presence, Baker’s snarling and withered facial expressions were brilliantly timed, and his interaction with the audience both unnerving and incredibly amusing.

“From squat to superstardom, from rock to rock bottom”, Taboo traces the turbulent emotional period of one of England’s greatest icons, but avoids the trap of creating too dark an atmosphere. Turmoil, laughter, loneliness, success and lashings of brilliant music, Taboo is an award-winning sensation that demands attention.

Verdict:••••

http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2013/01/11/theatre-review-taboo-at-brixton-club-house/

 

Fawlty Towers – The Dining Experience

Willingly paying for bad service, delighting in plates crashing to the floor and drinks being spilled, are rather odd concepts.  Yet, last night more than forty people happily shelled out over 50 pounds, for an incompetent waiter, a rude manager and his distressingly and witheringly loud wife. Where else could we be, but in a re-incarnation of John Cleese’s classic Fawlty Towers?

Nationally and globally acclaimed, Fawlty Towers – The Dining Experience, has now come to London – to the Torquay Suite of the Charing Cross Hotel. After a short, brisk walk from Embankment Tube, my Cousin and I made our way into the smart establishment just after 7pm. Happy to escape the freeze and pleasantly warmed from the moment we stepped into the foyer, we were shown up a decadent candle-lit staircase and then ushered into the Trafalgar bar, to both remove our thick coats and have some pre-dinner drinks.

Among the first to arrive, we bought a bottle of wine, were handed a mismatched pair of glasses (Fawlty Towers theme creeping in) and set up camp in the corner of the room. A 2012 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, it was one of the worst white wines that I’ve had in a long time. Tepid, sickly and almost glutenous undoubtedly it fell within the confines of a Fawlty Towers appropriate drink and if it had been free then that would have been fine, but paying £22.95 to fight the gag reflex is just not on.

Over the next half an hour the rest of the guests/audience filtered in, aside from a family with teenage children, the average age was about forty-five and mainly couples. At 7.30 pm the bar was in full swing; jovial shouts and laughter engulfed us and an air of excitement spread across the room. We were surrounded by people and three-quarters of the way through our revolting grape-squished-wrong bottle, when we heard him:

“Manuel!”

Dressed in a over-sized tweed ensemble, Basil Fawlty had entered the room. With a slick black comb-over, receding hair-line (which on closer inspection had been shaved) and a slug-sized moustache, it was as if John Cleese himself had arrived.

“Manuel!” he shouted again, pushing the customers out of the way, in his search for the language-challenged, tiny Spaniard. The interaction between cast and audience had begun.

“Ba-sil!” Sybil had arrived on the scene. “Ba-sil!” The high-pitched wail shuddered across the room and as the two found the cowering Manuel, the laughs started – it wouldn’t be for another two hours until they would stop.

After a healthy dose of pre-supper mis-communication – where Manuel literally took the glasses of visually-impaired rather than the vessels from which one drinks – Basil shouted out the surnames of the guests and told us the number of our allocated tables. Thus, the chaos ensued.

A pair of dentures that had gone walkabout turned up in a woman’s soup, the hunt for Manuel’s rat along with a Matador solo from the Spaniard (on top a a table) evolved around the main course and a vast set of briefs worked as an appetiser for pudding. It really was like, as the team suggest it to be, the 13th episode of the hit comedy.

The repartee between the three was fantastic and their characters utterly convincing. From Basil’s perfect comic violence towards Manuel (which included a fair few head bashing incidents) to his blatant and hyperbolic fear of his ‘Dragon’ Sybil, from Sybil’s endearing and frustrated tone with foreigner Manuel, to her speedy, lengthy and fearsome monologues to Basil, the impersonations of the relationships between the Fawlty management were both eye-wateringly funny and historically apt.

In terms of food, there’s no denying that it was very poor. After the simple yet tasty leek and potato soup starter, things got progressively worse. The main was chicken breast that had clearly been cooked well in advance and then left in a warming oven and was as dry your mouth on a particularly bad hangover. This was served with a hard lump of unseasoned mashed potato, bisto-esque gravy, spinach and over-done green beans – it really was fowl. If this was bad, then the pudding was worse – a vanilla cheesecake, which again had been made well in advance caused the repulsive (and well-known) side-affect of the ‘sodden base syndrome,’ this was topped off with whipped cream out of a can and a lone cranberry.

However, if the food was Michelin star quality, or even just very good, the it would actually be detrimental to the evening. It would detract from why you are actually there and from the play that you have signed up to be a part of. You have signed up for the Fawlty Towers Dining Experience – and great food is not a part of that.

Food is a by-product of the night, a secondary thought, it’s a prop – the night is about Basil, Sybil and Manuel – and with that in mind, you won’t leave disappointed.  The only disappointment you’ll feel is when the trio leave and The Dining Experience comes to a close. Willingly paying for bad service, for 120 minutes with these characters,  is a phenomenon that I just might get used to!

For tickets go to :http://faultytowers.net/

Food: *

Wine: *

Experience: *****

 

Comedian Daniel Sloss – The Show

With our heart rates just about back to a healthy resting rate (after the steamy erotic book club the night before), Jamie and I took to London town for yet another adventure.

As many of you might note by now, I am an aspiring writer – books, plays, short stories, articles – I love it all. Unfortunately, I am not a rare breed. Despite having a degree in English and a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism, despite even doing Shorthand classes on Wednesdays from 6 – 9pm – getting hired has proved nigh impossible.

The Journalism trade is changing out of recognition; the print media is on its way to extinction…apps, kindles, ipads are everywhere, news is everywhere – we’re always connected. Why pay someone to travel to Thailand, when you can just get someone who is already out there to write for you?

With this change comes a healthy dose of rejection. How many covering letters, applications and CVs can you send out, before the self-doubt starts to sink in – can you really write? Are you deluded? Are you the literary equivalent to the thousands of horrendous X Factor applicants – have you been praised by family and friends to the extent where your vision of what makes good writing has become so warped that you actually think that your ramblings are the stuff of Booker Prize awards?

These were where my thoughts were running away to last week. I was pretty miserable. The one thing that I had always wanted to do, the one thing that everyone had always said I would make it as – and there I was not making it.

It was at the end of my fifth melancholy hour that my gmail flashed up. An inbox message! Probably the Milkground graduate jobs or Gorkana – yes lets remind Alice how many jobs there are still left to be rejected from. But, it wasn’t. No, as I delicately clicked the mouse, to open what I presumed to be a ‘sorry but your application for the role of (too many to list) has been unsuccessful,’ I read the words that I’ve been waiting my whole life to read:

‘We would love you to write for us.’

SUCCESS!

So now, my friends, you aren’t just looking at The Editor of The Audley Chronicle – you are looking at Culture Writer for THE UPCOMING!

– Which brings me back to last night, the streets of London and Jamie (and another friend called Ben). We were on our way to my first review – that of 22-year old Scottish Comedian Daniel Sloss. So, I leave you here – I must get back to my notes, I have a deadline to meet – a real writers’ deadline!

I’ll post the link to the review later today. Until then, I leave you with some photos of the Sloss and supporting act Kai Humphries – taken after the gig.

Xx

 LINK: http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2012/10/30/comedy-review-daniel-sloss-at-the-bloomsbury-theatre/

Myself and Daniel Sloss (above)

Myself and Kai Humphries (below)