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Theatre Review: Mother Courage and Her Children

24 Sep


Plot: Mother Courage and Her Children is an epic drama set in the 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War. The plot follows the resilient Mother Courage who survives by running a commissary business that profits from all sides. As the war claims all of her children in turn, the play poignantly demonstrates that no one can profit from the war without being subject to its terrible cost also.

I have always wanted so see Fiona Shaw and a Bertolt Brecht play performed so imagine my excitement when I found out that the National was doing a revival of Brecht’s greatest work with Shaw playing the title role. I booked the first preview performance on 10 September which was delayed for a good 10 minutes or so until the director, Deborah Warner took the stage and apologetically addressed the audience that they were unable to complete the technical rehearsal of the last 2 pivotal scenes and what was accomplished was only good enough up to the interval. The audience were given the option to stay and watch the unfinished product or leave now, either way our tickets will be reimbursed. As I have already been physically exhausted with all the theatre I have seen the past week, the thought of sitting through 2 hours and then returning to see it in its entirety with a running time of 3 hours and 20 minutes wasnt just too appealing so I left and hoped that on the day I have decided to rebook it which was a good two weeks, everything should be done and dusted and that the wait will be worth it.

So was it worth it? I have not read nor seen this play but came prepared to what it’s about, it’s an anti-war play with Anna Fierling, aka Mother Courage, who is a war profiteer that despite losing all her children seemed to be the only one who didnt learn a lesson from it all. This was obvious from the get go and until the end but that wasnt the bone I wanted to pick. Was it just me but I felt that I would have preferred a traditional version of this play as opposed to the noisy and then melancholy and oftentimes irritating infusion of music composed and performed by Duke Special. The novelty of having live music which is supposed to put you in the mood easily wore off for me and it just annoyed me all throughout. I was basically tempted to leave at the interval which of course I didnt do. I stayed because I wanted to like the play (or is it a musical?), I stayed because I wanted to say that Fiona Shaw was a trouper, rockstress one minute, then poignant the next.

Up to this day I still dont know what to make of this production and for the first time I am not even going to rate it. Fellow theatre trotter LondonTheatreGoer might make more sense than I do so you can check his own thoughts about the play here.

Mother Courage and Her Children is playing at the Olivier, National Theatre until December 08.


Theatre Review: All’s Well that Ends Well

19 May


Plot: The feisty but lowly Helena falls in love with Bertram, a haughty count. To gain his hand she is set a string of impossible tasks. Even if accomplished, they can hardly guarantee his love. He refuses to bed her and yet says he’ll only be hers if she bears his child; and he lusts after another. Nevertheless, our heroine, whether wisely or no, refuses to give him up.

This is a beautiful production helmed by the very effective and highly imaginative Marianne Elliot whose talent as a director I have come to admire after having seen her excellent revival of Ibsen’s Pillars of the Community at the National in 2006. Still not a habitue of the theatre on those days I am kicking myself for having missed her version of the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the National Theatre’s Saint Joan and Therese Raquin, not to mention that I still havent seen War Horse either! Like Ms. Elliott, I have not seen any production of AWTEW and have decided to skip reading the play text and just relied on my Shakespeare’s companion book. The plot of the woman scorned appealed to me for like Helena, I have experienced rejection quite a few times but my resilience to see it through regardless of the result was a good learning experience (if I ever learned!) and I would like to see how this translates to the stage.

I thought that the performance of Michelle Terry as Helena whom I also saw previously in the raucous yet a lot of fun England People Very Nice was exceptional, you really felt for her when Bertram refused her pointblank, he’s a snob and an idiot, and men of that same sort are sadly still about, and worse! I mean how dare he?! Claire Higgins as the Countess of Rossillion was authoritative yet affectionate, and so was Oliver Ford Davies as the King of France. And I very rarely give credit to the more technical side of the production but kudos to Rae Smith, Gemma Carrington and Jon Driscoll for a superb background of what seems llke a lost fairy land, complete with gothic towers and visual effects of crows and owls.

All’s Well that Ends Well: 4/5
Playing at the Olivier, National Theatre until 30 September

Marianne Elliott article on The Times

Theatre Review: Dido Queen of Carthage

17 Mar


Plot: Seeking refuge from a violent storm, Aeneas lands on the shores of Carthage where Queen Dido, moved by his retelling of the fall of Troy and bewitched by a malevolent Cupid, soon burns with love. Their ensuing passion, manipulated by the watching, warring gods, can only end in tragedy.

I wouldnt even bother with a review so here’s the beef: it’s worth missing this Marlowe for the Merlot. I just quoted the Whingers motto because I couldnt have said it any better. Fellow theatre blogger Tim who was also there at the preview, has got more to say here.

Dido, Queen of Carthage- 1/5

The evening’s highlight was really my meet up with fellow SRB admirer Abigail who is just as charming and fine in person as she is online. Wish we had stayed longer at the bar, although your own outing went well. Till the next time!

Theatre trotting in March

1 Mar

First off, I want to say that I did well last month for I did not skip any of the six productions I have booked, so pat me in the back please! Our party almost missed Zorro on the 02/02 because of the heavy snow that London and most of the UK experienced but as they cancelled the show, we were entitled to rebook. Thanks to SEE tickets who were very understanding and helpful. Speaking of Zorro, the bad news came out last month that Zorro is definitely closing and this is due to recasting issues. The last I heard and this is straight from their website is that Zorro will embark on nine confirmed future international productions including France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Korea and Russia. The mark of Zorro lives indeed!

So what am I seeing in March then?

2- La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse Theatre

I wasn’t really planning on seeing this but after having read several enthusiastic reviews and really good word-of-mouth vibe about the performances and how it’s such a feel good production, I was left with little choice. As I am seeing it tomorrow night and have never been to the Playhouse, I am trying to navigate my way to get there.

6- Zorro, Garrick Theatre
Playing until March 14

I have a ticket to see Mrs Affleck at the Cottesloe but as most of those I know who have already seen the production loathed it, a couple of them walking out in the interval even, I thought, well what’s the point? Okay, I would lose my hard earned £10 but it’s better than a wasted Friday evening when I know I could be having more fun in seeing Zorro for the 3rd and last time! I missed Matt Rawle in my second viewing so I am hoping that he is back for this.

13- Duet for One, Almeida

Seeing this play was decided after watching the National’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour with fellow theatre trotter Lynne back in January. Now almost at the end of its run and with tickets sold out I am pleased we did book tickets as it has received very good reviews here and here. Now that’s another Friday evening to look forward to!

17- War Horse, Olivier, National Theatre

This is really more like a box ticking exercise to say that yes, its that Michael Morpurgo recreation and I have seen it. When I first started going to the National in 2008, and missed War Horse the year before, I was advised that if it should have another staging that I make a point in booking it. I have also been warned about it but if it fails to capture my imagination, and as I am catching a matinee performance, all is not lost as I have another play to see afterwards. But I want it to be good!

17- Dido, Queen of Carthage, Cottesloe, National Theatre

Would saying I am curious about Christopher Marlowe’s work suffice for my booking this?

So with back to back plays, it’s really going to be a day out at the National, missing SRB like crazy, but also looking forward to meet Abigail!

20- On the Waterfront, Haymarket Theatre Royal

Making sure that I must have seen Stephen Berkoff in at least a film of two, I checked out his CV in IMDb and found that he was in Revolution with Al Pacino but I so hated that film and I barely remember him in it. But yes, he was also in Octopussy, Rambo II, and Beverly Hills Cop among others, so okay I do know the man. Anyway, his involvement with On the Waterfront is enough to get excited but it took a few good word of mouth for this production that behooved me to finally book it. Not having seen the Elia Kazan film with a younger Marlon Brando, I still have the time to do so before sinking my teeth into it!

27- Dimetos, Donmar Warehouse

Jonathan Pryce. The Donmar. Enough said.

So what are you seeing in the theatre this month?

Theatre Review: Burnt by the Sun

24 Feb


Plot: Colonel Kotov (Ciaran Hinds), decorated hero of the Russian Revolution, is spending an idyllic summer in the country with his beloved young wife Maroussia (Michelle Dockery) and family. But on one glorious sunny morning in 1936, his wife’s former lover Mitya (Rory Kinnear) returns from a long and unexplained absence. Amidst a tangle of sexual jealousy, retribution and remorseless political backstabbing, Kotov feels the full, horrifying reach of Stalin’s rule.

The main reason why I wanted to see this play was because of Ciaran Hinds whom I have seen in a number of films and made for tv movies. But it was his role as Captain Wentworth in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion that I fell for him hook line and sinker. Tonight was the play’s first preview and it was nice to also be in the company of fellow theatre trotters Phil, Tim of LondonTheatreGoer, Andrew/Phil of the West End Whingers fame still flying high from their recent success after their blog was named as one of the 100 best blogs in the Performing Arts by the Times. YEY!

Tonight is the first preview so expectations are not very high. Saying that, I am amazed at the bevy of talent in this production with Hinds, Rory Kinnear and Michelle Dockery. Please dont shoot me for this confession, but as I am a late bloomer for theatre, I didnt really understood the magnitude of Kinnear’s talent until I saw him in the BBC’s The Long Walk to Finchley where he played Denis Thatcher opposite to an equally effervescent Andrea Riseborough as Margaret. No, I did not see him in The Man of Mode, The Revenger’s Tragey or Philistines. I am playing catch up here alright? As for Dockery, I saw her in Pillars of the Community and last year’s Pygmalion as Eliza Doolittle at The Old Vic.

It took a while for me to get into grips with the play, it wasnt until halfway to the interval that it really got me itching to see Act 2. For a while I even thought, but this is just my type of plot, as I do love anything that has to with espionage when reading or when watching a film. So what was really going on in my head was how good must the film be and how I can get my hand on a copy to see it. Altogether, it was brave attempt to do a stage adaptation. I am not a big fan of films being translated into stage plays but the effort was there – a revolving dacha courtesy of Vicki Mortimer, melodious singing which has now become a staple fare at the National, and a superb performance from the cast, particularly Hinds and Kinnear. I thought Dockery was given too little to play with. She is more than a pretty face, saying that I couldnt help but notice her beatifully trimmed eyebrows! So yes, I’d like to see more of Dockery act; I was mulling over the thought that she could have played a better Barbara Undershaft than Hayley Atwell, although I meant no disrespect there of course.

The highlight of the evening was really my chance meeting with Mr. Hinds who was ever so accommodating when Andrew and I approached him. And our conversation went something like this:

Simone: Hi, I am Simone, I have loved your work since Persuasion, and I really enjoyed your performance tonight.
Ciaran: Really? Thank you!
Andrew: (Sorting out the iPhone to take a photo) Be still as this doesn’t have flash.
Simone & Ciaran poses


Simone: Well,my sister is surely going to be jealous now.
Ciaran: We dont really want her to be jealous now, do we?
Simone: Well, she went and saw Al Pacino whom I love in L.A., we both love you but I am the one here, so bad for her!
Ciaran: Oh right! (He was about to sign my programme then asks) So is Simone spelled with an e in the end? (Brownie points for asking!)

Altogether a wonderful evening at the theatre!

Burnt by the Sun: 3/5
Playing at the Lyttelton, National Theatre until 21 May

Theatre Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

16 Jan

Plot: A dissident (Millson) is locked up in an asylum. If he accepts that he was ill, has been treated and is now cured, he will be released. He refuses. Sharing his cell is a real lunatic, Ivanov (Jones), who believes himself to be surrounded by an orchestra. As the dissident’s son begs his father to free himself with a lie, Tom Stoppard’s darkly funny play asks if denying the truth is a price worth paying for liberty.

I haven’t been to the National Theatre since November, after seeing  August: Osage County so I was really looking forward to return and also because I am curious as to how this play for actors and orchestra will turn out. All I knew about the play was that Tom Stoppard wrote it in the 70’s with music provided for by then principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn.

I was already running late, no thanks to the traffic in Liverpool Street but managed to just get in right in time with minutes to spare. I was also meeting with Lynne, a fellow theatre trotter. I’m comfortably seated at dead center in the Olivier Circle and was already warming up to it just seeing the orchestra on stage – I wanted it to be good, I hoped that it would be good! So 65 minutes later, yes, the play didnt even take that long, what’s my verdict? I couldnt believe it! It was one of the best productions the National have staged – I’ve never seen anything like it before, ever! My seatmate, a really wondeful gentleman was still reeling with excitement after the experience, and if I may quote him, the subtle aggression was wonderfully played. The acting from Millson whom I already admired in his television performances and Toby Jones’ Ivanov was superb! What an evening!

EGBDF definitely hit all the right notes, so if you can, please dont miss this production and come away uplifted by the experience of a night of not just words, but music.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour:
Playing at the Olivier, National Theatre until 25 February

Theatre Review: August: Osage County

21 Nov


Plot: A vanished father. A pill-popping mother. Three sisters harboring shady little secrets. When the large Weston family unexpectedly reunites after dad disappears, their Oklahoman family homestead explores in a maelstrom of repressed truths and unsettling secrets.

You come from a dysfunctional family? If you think your family’s dysfunctional, hold onto that thought and wait till you’ve gone and seen this play, because your family might just be normal after all. I am sure theatre afficionados have been waiting for the West End transfer of this latest Broadway hit having won numerous Tony awards including the Pulitzer for Best Play and rightly so because it didnt disappoint at all levels. It may have been a slow start but that’s working out and developing the characters and their relationships and I didnt even notice how long the play took – it clocked about 3 hours and 20 minutes including interval but I didnt care. I have never been so embarrassed, shocked, left in stitches and feeling sympathy all at the same time, this awesome play elicited all these rollercoaster of emotions that I never thought I had.

August: Osage County: 4/5
August: Osage County is playing at the Lyttelton, National Theatre until 21 January 2009