Archive | Theatre & Performing Arts RSS feed for this section

It Happened One Night

22 Nov

Sometimes you meet people for a fleeting moment, and yet they touch you in ways that leave you changed and thankful for that single encounter. Such was the case when I met Richard Armitage last night. However, I am getting ahead of myself…

Confession: I am not the biggest Armitage fan on the planet. I respect the man but I am not a keen collector of his work. I found out about RA through my sister whose fine taste in men should have raised alarm bells. I have since regretted her repeated pleas to watch North & South and slowly but surely, I have started devouring every piece of work that he did to atone for my sins. Better late than never, huh?

Now, enough of my questionable Armitage geekdom… It is already 6 am here in London and I am wide awake and my brain is loaded with wonderful memories of Richard Armitage. I am buzzing… I am grinning… I am tingling… And every now and then, I collapse into helpless giggles. I am now a hard-core convert…

I saw him perform as part of the ensemble cast that made up the just concluded “The 24 Hour Plays” held at the Old Vic on November 21. In brief, “The 24 Hour Plays” is the ultimate theatrical challenge where a host of well-known actors, directors and writers join forces to write, rehearse and perform six short plays in just 24 hours, culminating in a unique performance. As this blog post is dedicated to Richard Armitage, and thoughtfully written for the hordes of RA fans out there, I will just give my review of “The Third Wish”.

The Third Wish
Playwright: Stephen Beresford
Director: Charlie Westenra
Asst. Director: Natasha Nixon

Dennis: Richard Armitage
Debbie: Debbie Chazen
Niamh: Niamh Cusack
Miranda: Miranda Raison

The play opens with three women on stage. The setting was a fabulous looking flat in the city and right in the middle of the room was a tree. Debbie, an energetic middle-aged woman, and a bit on the chubby side was regaling her two friends with stories of the tree. Apparently, said tree has special powers. It grants wishes. She goes on to reveal that she made a wish for a bigger flat and that her wish was granted. Her friends were all gobsmacked at her changed fortunes until Debbie tells them to “wait until you see Dennis”, her husband, because he too made a wish.

Cue Dennis’ entrance to the stage. Who else would embody a man’s wish to become the perfect man? Dennis has transformed from a chubby middle-aged man into, you guessed it, The Richard Armitage! The girls asked Dennis what he wished for and he said “I made a wish to be Richard Armitage” and Voila! The audience gave rapturous applause and so they should as we see Dennis, ehr, Richard Armitage, own the stage with his panther-like moves. He was dressed conspicuously and rather appropriately like Spooks’ Lucas North. Topical, diabolical, dangerous. Hot! One can tell that Armitage is enjoying his return to the stage as he parodied his sex god status by prancing on stage, lifting his long lithe legs effortlessly, swirling his lustrous thick jet black hair as if he was the star of a new Pantene male advert! Didn’t know RA can do comedy! He was hilarious! He then goes to Debbie and they start a dance routine that left the audience practically in stitches. I remember reading that he studied dance in LAMDA so this must be all second nature to him.

When the girls asked Debbie why they chose Armitage, Debbie remarked that Armitage is beautiful but down to earth in real life. Ah, it is art imitating life in all its grandiose splendor, I love it! On the other side of the stage however, we see Armitage, ehr Dennis, looking straight at the audience, showing off his physique and probably still not used to his new demigod apperance. He then gives his wife Debbie a lingering kiss and then we see Miranda getting hold of the tree and she too makes her third wish. It was a delight to see Miranda Raison (she played Jo Portman in Spooks), same with Niamh Cusack but most of all to see Richard Armitage grace the Old Vic stage albeit a brief 20 minutes.

But you said you met Richard Armitage, Simone! Yes I did, just gimme a mo to breathe…

After the six plays have been performed, we were instructed to convene outside the Old Vic, next to Stage Door as there is a bus waiting for the actors and members of the audience to take them to the post show party in Asia de Cuba. Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good. My friend and I got on the bus, totally unprepared for life’s sweetest surprise. Richard Armitage was also on the same bus! How adorable is this man, one of the biggest stars on tv, and there he was riding with the lowly masses, sitting next to an absolute pleb (me!) and our thighs rubbing, not that I took any notice. I did not even enjoy a minute of it! I am a big fat liar!

I was surprised to see him there and I had to compose myself, so I will not come off as a blabbering idiot. Congratulations were in order so I offered him my professional and unbiased critique of the show and he seemed genuinely pleased. It was so lovely of him to ask me how I was. I think I responded with something somewhat articulate. We then shook hands and he had a nice strong grip. Let me tell you right now, that yes, this man is possibly the most strikingly gorgeous man I have ever had the pleasure to meet! He was warm and attentive. Please feel free to insert any wonderful adjective to describe him and it will most likely apply. I guarantee it.

The bus ride took all of 15 minutes but there is no shortage of Armitage charm for the rest of the night. After our brief chat, I kept to myself and left him in peace. I mean, restraining orders are real and all and I have resolved to maintain my dignity. My friend was under no such constraints! She was smarting from the fact that I have not had my picture taken with Richard. Thank heavens for the collusive nature of friendship! She very impressively arranged a photo op with the man himself:

He was so gracious the whole night and up till now, in the glaring light of day, I still marvel at how beautiful he is as an actor and as a human being. Mr. Richard Armitage, you have made me utterly happy with your generosity and kindness and hope you find success and joy in all your endeavors. Bow.

Laurence Olivier Awards 2010 Winners

21 Mar

2009 had been a great year at the theatre and although any award giving body, (for me at least) should not be thought of as a gauge of what one truly enjoyed seeing onstage, but there’s just something about the Oliviers that is irresistible. It was an additional treat that the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) decided to livestream the Olivier Awards so theatre fans will experience the blow-by-blow account of the evening. I particularly enjoyed Anthony Head hosting the event, the performances from some of the nominated musicals, Samantha Spiro winning Best Actress in a Musical and Hello Dolly! for Best Musical Revival, and last but not the least, the major upset win by playwright Katori Hall for The Mountaintop for the Best New Play accolade beating heavy favorites ENRON & Jerusalem.

I was so thrilled that I decided to live tweet the event that it must have annoyed my Twitter followers, but it also gave me a chance to get a few new followers, so thanks for that too. Anyway, if you missed it, scroll down for the winners for the much coveted theatre award of the year and congratulations to all the winners! Looking forward to another wonderful time at the theatre in 2010.

SOLT Special Award- Dame Maggie Smith

Outstanding Achievement- Michael Codron


Best Director- Rupert Goold for ENRON

Best New Play- THE MOUNTAINTOP by Katori Hall

Best Musical Revival- HELLO DOLLY!

Best Entertainment- MORECAMBE

Best Actor in a Musical or Entertainment- Aneurin Barnard for SPRING AWAKENING

Best Actress in a Musical or Entertainment- Samantha Spiro for HELLO DOLLY!

Best Supporting Performance in a Musical or Entertainment- Iwan Rheon for SPRING AWAKENING

Best Revival- CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF directed by Debbie Allen

Best New Opera Production- The Royal Opera’s TRISTAN UND ISOLDE at the Royal Opera House

Outstanding achievement (Opera) – Nina Stemme (Tristan und Isolde)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role- Eddie Redmayne for RED at the Donmar Warehouse

Best Actress- Rachel Weisz for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at the Donmar Warehouse

Best Actor- Mark Rylance for JERUSALEM at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs and now at the Apollo

Audience Award for Most Popular Show- WICKED

Best Actress in a Supporting Role- Ruth Wilson for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at the Donmar Warehouse

Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre- Royal Court for COCK at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs

Best New Dance Production- The Brandstrup-Rojo project’s GOLDBERG at the Royal Opera House

Outstanding Achievement in Dance- Rambert Dance Company for an outstanding year of new work

Best Theatre Choreographer- Stephen Mear for HELLO DOLLY!

Best New Comedy- THE PRIORY by Michael Wynne at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

Best Set Design- JERUSALEM designed by Ultz at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre

Best Costume Design- PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT – THE MUSICAL designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner

Best Sound Design- SPRING AWAKENING designed by Brian Ronan

Best Lighting Design- BURNT BY THE SUN designed by Mark Henderson

Stars Who Stalked the Stage in 2009

19 Jan

The year 2009 has been a great year for the theatre not just in terms of good productions but also because we saw an influx of big name stars gracing the stage. I have to admit that although I have become more of a theatre stalker now I still get excited to see big name actors and actresses go back to their theatre roots. If I must confess, it was Ian McKellen’s star turn in Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) repertoire productions of King Lear and The Seagull that dragged me back into the theatre, not looking back since. With this list however, I will not attempt to cite the best performances I have seen these actors perform, it’s enough that they made my theatre experience in 2009 “such fun”.

Richard Dreyfuss, Elizabeth McGovern and David Suchet in Complicit, Old Vic Theatre

This production was saddled with problems to begin with, it’s opening date was pushed back, and Mr. Dreyfuss not able to remember his lines that he had to use a special headset so his lines can be fed to him. It was not an outstanding performance coming from him but altogether it was still a treat to see him on stage opposite the much better Suchet. McGovern didnt do much either but I hardly recognize her from her films looking a bit thinner but still beautiful.

Go here for a full review of this production.

Rowan Atkinson in Oliver!, Drury Lane

Confession. I have not seen Oliver! anywhere else before so after being prodded by friends who are huge fans of not just Oliver! but big musicals (I prefer plays in case you havent guessed) I decided to join them in this outing. I was more thrilled to see how Jodie Prenger will do, if you’ve got short term memory, she won the BBC’s search of Nancy in that I’ll Do Anything program with Andrew Lloyd Webber himself as a main judge. As for Rowan Atkinson playing Fagin, well, not having any other claim of reference I thought he did quite well. The kids absolutely loved every minute that he was on stage. Atkinson has since left the production in July 2009.

James McAvoy in Three Days of Rain, Apollo Theatre

How can I pass this one up? It’s James McAvoy! He’s Scottish (okay Glaswegian if we are being accurate) and almost everything that he starred in I loved, but I have to say that his dual performance as Walker and his dad Ned was quite not up there. McAvoy had presence alright but it wasnt that overwhelming. I would like to see him again, hopefully with a much better character, Hamlet perhaps?

Ciaran Hinds in Burnt by the Sun, National Theatre

I have seen Ciaran Hinds in most of his tv and film work but never on stage so it was such a surprise that he too will make a welcome return to the theatre. He played a decorated hero of the Russian revolution so in a way the character wasnt a bit of a stretch but the highlight of this evening was actually meeting him. Starstruck indeed!

Ken Stott and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in A View from the Bridge, Duke of York’s

I thought that this was hands down the best performance from an actor I have seen this year. I totally fell in love with Ken Stott’s portrayal of Eddie and felt guilty that I have ignored his recent stage performances. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio provided really good support and Hayley Atwell played Catherine so well as opposed to her treatment of Major Barbara the previous year. On Broadway this year, it’s interesting that it’s Liev Schrieber playing Eddie opposite Scarlett Johansson.

Ethan Hawke in The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard, Old Vic

Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey made this possible through their annual Bridge Project which if I am not mistaken is now on their 2nd year where a company of both English and American actors will perform two productions in repertoire and bring it across the Atlantic with the final stop usually in the UK. Last year it was Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. I am excited to see both because of Simon Russell Beale, who may not be a big named Hollywood or film star which was of his own choosing but he is considered one of the greatest stage actor of his generation. The interesting thing surrounding this production apart from the inclusion of Sinead Cusack and Rebecca Hall is the casting of Ethan Hawke. I have a soft spot for Ethan having grown up watching most of his films. I was very thrilled to find out that he has forayed into theatre and was part of this company. Although I had a bit of a problem with him as Trofimov in The Cherry Orchard, but as Autolycus in Tale, by golly, he was sensational! The slow but equally powerful pace of the first half of Tale was balanced by a burning second half with great music played by Hawke himself.

Go here to read my full reviews of The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard. Did I also mention that SRB finally got a photo with me too?

Gillian Anderson, Toby Stephens and Christopher Eccleston in A Doll’s House, Donmar Warehouse

I am on an ongoing quest to watch as much Henrik Ibsen plays and so when it was made known that a revival will be staged at the Donmar with Gillian Anderson playing the lead role who is not a stranger to the West End having done What The Night is For and The Sweetest Swing, it will be interesting to see her take on Nora, considered to be one of the most interesting of Ibsen’s female characters.

Gillian Anderson was just stunning and gave a very fine performance as the devoted wife then changed woman. Her Nora is beautiful yet vulnerable. Toby Stephens as husband Thomas Vaughan played his self righteous role of a politician with much bravado, kudos as well to Anton Lesser as the faithful Dr. Rank, and I thought that the sub-plot rekindled romance between Kelman and Christine -excellently played here by Christopher Eccleston and Tara Fitzgerald was superbly played. I still would have liked to see a faithful adaptation of the play although this new version was quite engaging. Overall an inspired and wonderful production with high octane performances from all members of the cast.

Helen Mirren in Phedre, National Theatre

After scoring Best Actress accolades left right and centre for her fine performance of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, the whole world was watching when it was announced that Dame Helen will grace the proscenium arch of the National Theatre by playing the role of Racine’s Phedre. As if conveniently to capitalise on Miss Mirren’s current popularity and stature, the NT Live feature was also introduced wherein a live performance of the play will be watched across over 60 cinemas in cities across the globe which whilst highly ambitious in its inception stage is really a clever way of reaching audiences everywhere particularly those who can not travel to London and witness the performances live. So how did Dame Mirren do onstage as a mourning wife slash highly infatuated with her stepson the next? Although it was a thrill to see her onstage, I have to say that she didnt win me as the passion stricken woman. I was hoping to see more from her, laid bare, her heart and soul stripped. It was still an experience that hopefully will not be the last. A superb supporting cast included Dominic Cooper.

Jude Law in Hamlet, Donmar West End

Having missed David Tennant’s sterling performance of Hamlet because of surgery on his slipped disc during X’mas 2008, I must say I was quite excited to see Jude Law’s take on Hamlet last summer. Tickets sold out quite fast and toward its run, there were queues starting so early in the morning for patrons hoping to get day tickets, the frenzy of it all indeed, quite reminiscent of when Tennant did Hamlet. This was my second time to see this tragic play of the Danish prince, having seen a quite capable Edward Bennett tackle the role who was Tennant’s understudy in 2008. So how was Jude Law? Was he more than just a pretty face? Did he pull it off? Well, I thought he was amazing! I almost expected him to fail but no, he was just very good through and through. I was clinging to his every word and believed in him. I even thought I was merely watching a really good actor, who just happened to look and was named after him. Another reason why I wanted to see this production was because of Penelope Wilton who played Gertrude. The success of this production was just so that it made its way to Broadway in September and just closed in December with a record breaking run.

Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar Warehouse

Another theatre buzz last year was the news that Rachel Weisz will play the lead role of Blanche Dubois, Tennessee Williams’ femme fatale in A Streetcar Named Desire. Thoughts such as, isn’t she a bit too young as Blanche? She will be out of her depth with this one. Didn’t she do all those Mummy films? Yes, but wasn’t she also good, surprising us all in John Le Carre’s thriller The Constant Gardener, winning her the Academy for Supporting Actress? And sitting in the front row, watching her every move, changing her clothes in front of you, convincing you she is all pure, you will be attracted to Miss Weisz like a moth to a flame. It was another theatre coup for Miss Weisz eventually won this year’s Evening Standard Best Actress for her spirited portrayal of Blanche.

Kevin Spacey in Inherit the Wind, Old Vic

Mr Spacey, who incidentally is the Old Vic Theatre’s artistic director makes a welcome return to the stage with David Troughton in Inherit the Wind, which is a Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s 1955 play based on the 1926 Scopes Monkey Trial in which Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in contravention of a state law insisting that only religious explanations for the origin of mankind be taught. Matthew Harrison Brady (David Troughton) and Henry Drummond (Spacey) battle it out for the prosecution and defence respectively. I have seen Spacey on stage before in A Moon for the Misbegotten with an equally brilliant Eve Best and Speed the Plow opposite Jeff Goldblum, and Spacey have always given consistenly excellent performances including this one. It was announced that in the 3rd year of the Bridge Project he will also co-star in one of its productions.

I have yet to see Keira Knightley and Damian Lewis in Moliere’s The Misanthrope at the Comedy Theatre, and quite looking forward to finally see Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rose Theatre and Rosamund Pike in Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at the Richmond. If you havent tried the theatre before, it might help at first to watch an actor whose previous work you are already familiar with, it might make you keep coming back to see more and as the theatre always needs a fresh new audience, who knows that could be you? And don’t be a stranger and say hello!

This article was first published in my pal’s Filmstalker site as part of the annual Stalkers Top Ten.

Theatre Review: Blood Brothers

3 Dec

Plot: Set in Britain, Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers tells the story of fraternal twins who are separated at birth. One brother is raised in a family of great privilege and one brother is raised in poverty. Even with their different socioeconomic backgrounds, the two boys end up becoming best friends until a misunderstanding leads to a tragic ending.

I did mention here that I nearly missed out on Blood Brothers because I don’t know anything. It’s true, I really dont know anything. I passed judgment without even checking what it was about and it wasn’t until Melanie C took over the main role as Mrs Johnstone that my interest was piqued. I asked myself why would Melanie C, the artist formerly known as Sporty Spice, be attracted to this musical and then of course the critics were all unanimous in their verdict, now there is this renewed interest for Blood Brothers. Most of the accolades were directed to Miss Chisholm’s outstanding performance and after seeing it last night, I raise my hand, okay both hands even, and say that I was completely blown away by this musical. I absolutely love it and after Hello Dolly!, it’s the second musical I enjoyed this year, and will probably be my new Phantom of the Opera, in my language that means, I am most likely to see it more than once.

It’s got everything going for it, a good storyline, interesting characters you will care for, a smashing score and an excellent casting ensemble. Mel C didnt disappoint, she had you at the palm of her hands from the start. Her scenes with either of the twins was tender and heartbreaking as the situation calls for it, and her songs! Easy Terms was haunting and Tell Me It’s Not True emotionally charged. It’s that kind of musical that will make even the most hard hearted choked with emotions. I bawled like I’ve never bawled before, tears freely streaming down my face that I had to control myself and not scream BRAVO at the top of my lungs. We gave the cast four curtain calls and a standing ovation.

Very special mention to Philip Stewart as the narrator whose singing of The Devil’s Got Your Number made it sound even more ominous, the twins were portrayed really well by both Stephen Palfreman as Mickey and Richard Reynard as Eddie. Their songs My Friend and That Guy were just two of the loveliest ditties about friendship I have heard performed on stage.

If you have seen Blood Brothers, good on you, but why not see it again though? And if you haven’t seen Blood Brothers, I implore you, please don’t do a Simone and pass judgment quickly, check this out, it’s definitely worth the ticket. I am telling you, it’s true. Pun intended.

Blood Brothers: 5/5
Playing at the Phoenix Theatre
Melanie C will perform the role of Mrs Johnstone until April 2010

Theatre trotting in December

1 Dec

December. The homestretch. Holiday season. Good excuse to see more theatre.

I saw most of the productions I booked last month but one. I’m actually quite thrilled about this month because I am seeing 3 musicals, one of which I probably wouldnt have paid much attention but because of the raving reviews it has received I thought, go on then, book it for I might just like it too. So without much ado, here’s my theatre itinerary for December.

3 – Blood Brothers, Phoenix Theatre

If it was just up to me, if I didnt listen to anybody else, didnt bother reading reviews or anything, I probably would never have given this musical a chance. I’ve been living in London for over 8 years now and have been passing by the Phoenix Theatre with it’s marquee lights and billboards but it has never really drawn me in. Since hearing “Tell Me It’s Not True”, via Michael Ball, and the raves regarding Melanie C’s stirring performance since she took over as Mrs Johnstone, I was left with no choice. It’s amazing how most of the critics were won over, so although I prefer straight plays, I still like my musicals and am hoping to be converted. Tell me it’s true!

10 – Rope, Almeida

A play by Patrick Hamilton adapted into film by master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. With a cast led by Blake Ritson and Alex Waldmann.

14- Legally Blonde

I quite enjoyed the film with Reese Witherspoon although I wouldnt give two rats patootie with the sequel but a musical version? Seriously? It was during one of my outings with the West End Whingers that this idea was broached and we thought it will be a good evening out nevertheless. I have never seen Sheridan Smith on stage but I love most of her tv work. So yes, let’s all hope that Legally Blonde the Musical will be a hoot!

18- Sweet Charity, Menier Chocolate Factory

I like Neil Simon’s work. Barefoot in the Park, They’re Playing Our Song, The Goodbye Girl, just to name a few. I really wanted to see this with the Whingers but could not do it on a Sunday, well, just about any given Sunday really. It will be my first time to see Tamzin Outhwaite but really thrilled to see Josefina Gabrielle again. Sweet!

21- The Misanthrope, Comedy Theatre

No, I am not a fan of Miss Keira Knightley, I thought I’ll get that out of the way first. I have always felt that she still needs to take some more acting lessons after having seen a lot of other actresses like Romola Garai, Hayley Atwell, Michelle Dockery and Carey Mulligan who has got better acting chops than Miss K. But I will be kind and say that she did impress me in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. So although I booked this mainly because it’s a play by Moliere, and led by veteran thespians in Damian Lewis, Tara Fitzgerald and Dominic Rowan, I really would like to see her do well in this and maybe see more of her on stage if she does pull it off.

29 –Red, Donmar Warehouse

A play about the artist Mark Rothko, starring Alfred Molina.

There goes my list, it’s not a lot but with this weather geting a lot colder as we speak, I seem to prefer staying indoors right after work nowadays so 6 productions this month is just about right. So, what about you?