*WARNING*: Reading this will be a Waste of your time.

I hope with all sincerity that my account of this spectacular play should not appear to my readers to be a waste. Unfortunately, I very fortunately managed to nab a ticket for this production’s final performance and so I’m unable to tell my readers to rush for tickets themselves. Regardless, this play provokes its audience with depressing and often uncomfortable themes which imprint poignantly onto our minds and consciences – providing for a discussion worth publicising even if you won’t be able to be ‘imprinted’ first-hand for yourselves.

Whatever you make of this review, let it be known that my spontaneous (but somewhat hesitant) decision to go along to see Waste at the National Theatre was a very good one. Even if this depressing tale describes most things as meaningless and futile, it certainly wasn’t a waste of my money or time.

Date of viewing: 19/03/2016

Production: Waste

Seat: Circle, B 19

How cheap!?: £5 (Entry Pass ticket – National Theatre 16-25 year old’s scheme)

My review must begin with a confession – I was reluctant to buy a ticket for Waste for two reasons: I was deterred by its frightening length and by its professed allegiance to politics. I can by no means be marked as a proponent either for sitting down for long periods of time (I’m too fidgety) nor for understanding or participating in politics (I’m too… [I’ll let you politicise for yourselves]). But delightfully, neither of these qualities proved too overwhelming as the plot unravelled, and I became fully immersed in the world of the story (even if I did have to feign a good deal of political understanding to get by).

Waste is an extremely stylish play. Although it exists in the now-outdated 1920’s, it is concerned, through and through, with the notion of modernity. As per usual, The National Theatre matches this pursuit of stylishness superbly with its use of scenery. Upon arrival, the stage is filled rather plainly with six or seven empty chairs. As the play begins, a glum and moody piano piece is heard – (I shan’t attempt to name the piece or composer because to do so erroneously would reveal my true identity as a less-than-capable Music undergraduate) – as a large screen slowly draws across the stage, revealing as if by magic actors sitting rather ominously in the chairs which only seconds ago were profoundly empty. The simplicity of this masterful technique is absolutely typecast of The National Theatre’s attention-to-set related detail and mimics the sleek atmosphere of the performance which follows.

Charles Edwards is simply fantastic at being a real human being”

At its birth, Waste was banned from public performance by the Lord Chamberlain of the time for its depiction of abortion. It is left unto the imagination of the reader as to whether the fact that Waste promotes politicians as flawed, like the rest of us, has anything to do with its lengthy abolition. It is easy to see why it was banned: Waste is an absolutely scandalous play.

Independent politician, and so-called moral genius Henry Trebell (played by Charles Edwards) sets about to bill the disestablishment of the Church of England. The problem is, our moral protagonist finds himself caught up in a less-than-moral scandal: the impregnation of Amy O’Connell, (Olivia Williams), an unhappily married Catholic wife with less-than-catholic views with regards to the termination of her unwanted pregnancy. Henry, is fraught with anxiety upon hearing the news, yet determined that the child need not be aborted. Amy’s suicide (which is revealed bluntly after the interval) adds another sin to Henry’s bow: who now faces being confronted with his seemingly endless string of scandals just days before his hearing in Parliament. Other advocates of the bill fret over the morality of standing alongside Henry and pursue earnestly a way to cover up his mess. Henry is dismissed from proposing the bill. Having lost his lover and his unborn child, Henry must now come to terms with the fact that his job – his first love, and indeed his life – has been snatched from him, despite his indisputable capability and gifting as a political thinker. As a result, Henry spirals into depression. His final source of comfort comes from his sister Frances (Sylvestra Le Touzel).

I daren’t reveal any more of the play’s doom-and-gloomy plot, but suffice to say, Henry’s obsequious assistant Walter, considered the whole affair to be a terrible waste of such a great man. The play ends after a black out revealing a spilled waste paper basket emptying itself of hundreds of futile scrunched up sheets. A waste.

“Olivia Williams is an actress I, quite frankly, admire”

I make rather a bold statement in suggesting that Charles Edwards, who played leading man Henry, is in fact the most convincing, naturalist actor I have ever had the pleasure of watching. His sporadically changing demeanour throughout the play was nonetheless linked exceptionally by his power to keep real. It is completely impossible to say whether or not I like the character of Henry Trebell, but sure as the sun stands, I can identify with him. As a player, moralist, atheist, scandalous politician, and sufferer of mental illness, Henry’s character begs the attention from audience members who attain all or none of those criteria because Charles Edwards is simply fantastic at being a real human being. Edwards’ acting style is not mimicked – even slightly – by any other actor. Even so, by no means does this mean there were no other outstanding performances given.

The erratic and rather annoying Amy O’Connell was played earnestly by Olivia Williams who managed to imprint a huge impression on the audience, despite only being present up until the interval. Her portrayal was perhaps too emphatic at points, but her mad, and emotion-fuelled exclamation announcing her refusal to give birth was poignantly heart-wrenching. For many reasons, Amy O’Connell is a character I’m quite sure I don’t like – but Olivia Williams is an actress I, quite frankly, admire. Although the piece is dominated largely by male performers, Sylvestra Le Touzel as Henry’s loving older sister is worthy of recognition. Her characterisation might have benefitted from an extra sprinkle of ‘life’, but one wonders whether her assumed emotional state rightly resembled Frances’ rather bland view of life – not suicidal or impassioned like her brother, but certainly not indulgent. Le Touzel’s portrayal exudes a worldly wisdom which brought comfort at even the darkest moments of the play.

“outstanding performances”

My favourite character is picked for his refreshing addition to the plot. Mr Charles Cantilupe, played by Gerrard McArthur, is a proponent of Henry’s plan to disestablish church from state, despite being a devout Christian himself. His moral conduct is unquestionable and his demeanour pleasant – which can’t be said for a number of portrayed Christians in twentieth century theatre. Fascinatingly, hopelessness is the outcome of all aspects discussed in the play – politics, gender-roles, sexual scandal, marriage, suicide, abortion – except the existence of the church. Because of this, McArthur caught my eye for playing Cantilupe as a positive proponent of much needed consistency. His vocal tone was much slower, less erratic and less impassioned than many of the other characters. Although his deep voice was sometimes intimidating, he offered unrivalled stability within the chaos.

This large cast was filled numerously with powerful performances – many which I neglect to mention with much guilt – none of which are wasted, regardless of the length of each’s on-stage presence. This is perhaps what makes the play so very real.

Although I imagine it probably does feel a terrible waste to have read so much of the play’s fantastic characters and themes now that you’re completely incapable of watching The National Theatre’s production for yourselves…

No, you’re right. That was a waste.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

Guys and *STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMEN

 

Today’s post examines a performance which transported me back to the age of the Golden Musical. This blast from the past was enjoyed thoroughly by my pensioner companions – who can blame them? It was a matinee… – who were probably dreaming of Brando and Sinatra as they watched. That’s right: I’m talking Guys and Dolls.

For those who can withstand the political incorrectness of a show which likens its female stars to tiny dress-wearing play toys, Guys and Dolls is fun to watch and a staple of theatre classics. At this performance, I enjoyed the luxury of a cheap seat at the beautiful Savoy Theatre, where Guys and Dolls will soon terminate its run and move to the Phoenix Theatre. If you’ve never seen it before, why not take the night off to doll yourself up – whoops! I mean dress comfortably in a manner which reflects your preference as a free-thinking individual – and enjoy the excitement of Guys and Dolls for yourself.

Date of viewing: 23/02/2016

Production: Guys and Dolls

Seat: Grand Circle, K 11

How cheap!?: £15 (offer via ‘Time Out’)

Guys and Dolls is a classic tale of the unlikely love between Salvation Army missionary, Miss Sarah Brown and seasoned gambler, Sky Masterson. A suitably fanciful series of events leads Sky to wager the souls of his gambling, sinner chums in order that they might make an appearance at one of Sarah’s apparently failing ‘Save-a-soul’ mission meetings. One such sinner is a mister Nathan Detroit, who entertains an unusual love story of his own. Nathan’s fourteen year engagement with night-club singer, Miss Adelaide, has spiralled out of control as Adelaide herself struggles between her desperation to become Mrs Detroit and an overgrown lie to her mother that she is a happily married mother of five (with one on the way!) As is the custom with many a good ol’ musical, love conquers all and these two contrasting love affairs conclude just as magically as we would hope.

Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat…the hottest number of the show”

This performance showcases a competent cast – particularly showing off its ensemble members and male characters. Jamie Parker playing Sky Masterson has the tough task of competing against suave Marlon Brando who played the role in the 1955 film version, but takes on the challenge with gusto. Jamie is cool and sleek in his portrayal of the champion gambler and boasts a smooth, dreamy singing voice (even if his New York accent was, at times, questionable). His performance of the theatrical epic Luck Be a Lady was particularly ravishing and left his audience swooning. Nathan Detroit is played by David Haig – who, unfairly, is a fair bit older than Sinatra was when he played the role – with good humour and personality. David is suitably emphatic and truly loveable in his portrayal of Nathan (even though he frustrates us by his reluctance to marry his fiancé Adelaide!) As has been aforementioned, this show is one for the boys! Gavin Spokes as Nicely Nicely Johnson deserves my sincerest applause for his rendition of Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat which was without a doubt the hottest number of the show. The performances from these well rounded men trump considerable those offered by the dolls.

Whoops!, did it again – women.

Unfortunately, I fear this performance was suffering from a more serious ailment than solely Adelaide’s cold (which is famously caused by her fiancé Nathan’s reluctance to set a wedding date). I believe the performance I describe suffered from a case of ‘matinee-tis’ – the primary symptom being the reserved utilisation of vocal intensity which is otherwise typical of an evening performance. It is no surprise that one should expect a different atmosphere at a matinee – (afternoon rather than evening) – performance, but I am disappointed to report I felt as though both Sophie Thompson (as Miss Adelaide) and Siubhan Harrison (Sarah Brown) were more restrained in their singing than they would choose to be for an evening performance. This was certainly a real shame, as both characters have powerful hit songs which were not given the oomph they deserved. That being said, both performers maintained stylistic attributes which delighted the audience in other ways. Sophie plays Adelaide as a successful comedienne and has masterful control over an array of emotional states. Her nasal vocal quality is both infuriating and delightful, as is warranted from the part, and her stage presence is strong. Siubhan plays the contrastingly ‘sensible’ Sarah Brown with sensitivity but not without strong assertion. Her developed accent was particularly believable and her demeanour matched that of any beloved Broadway show sweetheart.

“suffered from a case of matinee-tis”

That which particularly excited me during this production was the magnificent choreography. I hadn’t considered Guys and Dolls to be a necessarily dance-y show, but was enthralled by the three prominent dance numbers which feature excellent choreography by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright. Movement and dance was extremely well suited to the show’s overall style, providing a sense of continuity and incorporating a sort of old-time slapstick feel which gives the dancing a purposeful, mischievous character of its own.

I was similarly impressed by this production of Guys and Dolls’ set design. The stage was widely uncluttered and, in truth, generally uninventive in terms of props or scene changes. But, what stands out in my mind as a consistent grounding of the show’s identity was the enormous arch of lit-up advertisements which haloed the often minimal stage. This feature made no attempt to emulate or depict a Broadway street scene. Rather, in a remarkable way, it became Broadway itself: embodying the commercialism, illuminating nature and almost heightened heavenly presence of Broadway – without feeling the need to visually portray buildings, pavements and the likes. Tony award winner Peter McKintosh is the one responsible for this clever trick.

Guys and Dolls is a show bursting with musical classics which builds significantly upon the foundations of modern musical theatre. It is a true embodiment of the word cool and shows off some outstandingly successful and famous songs. Although this show is an unquestionably historical masterpiece, my primary suggestion would be to avoid a matinee performance – exposure to the half-hearted singing of matinee-tis risks making you feel as run down as poor, unmarried Adelaide.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

 

You must be THIS tall to see the Minotaur

Today’s review is one for the young at heart…or, more accurately, for those actually young.

Before my arrival at the Unicorn theatre, I hadn’t quite been enlightened to the venue’s tagline: the UK’s theatre for young audiences. Apparently, as a student, I’m not quite young enough to be the ideal target for this company’s work. Despite my initial doubts, I was pleased to find Minotaur to be a child-friendly rather than childish performance.

Date of viewing: 06/02/2016

Production: Minotaur

Seat: A1

How cheap!?: £4.50 (two-for-one using discount code ‘minotaur241’)

Minotaur depicts the story of a Greek tragedy with which I was only somewhat familiar. The tale is drenched in themes of intolerance, greed and death, (a rather grisly account to be retold to an audience which, prior to the performance, had been invited to paint handmade cards with glitter glue in an amusingly decorated foyer), which are treated with a sophistication that is honest to its young audience. The venue is a whole building dedicated to the theatrical education of young minds, for which it must be applauded. This performance doesn’t shy away from the tragic roots of ancient theatre, despite the majority of its seats being held by those too young to be allowed to phone the box office and book the tickets themselves.

The Weston theatre is one of two theatres inside the Unicorn building, and boasts an inventive, round performance space. The intimate feel was highly appropriate for the play, which, throughout its scenes is based on a island.

“a whole building dedicated to the theatrical education of young minds”

From the very beginning, it was clear that this performance would use technical aspects such as light and sound to good effect. The lighting, often fearfully dark, was successful in its affirmation of the cold, lifeless cave-like labyrinth by which the Minotaur (who evoked occasional squeals from my eight year old companions…and my 20 year old fellow student) is housed.

Sound, too, was mostly thoughtfully used. Echo effects enforced the lonely isolation of the labyrinth, and were well suited to a performance space which was open, and, in terms of set or props, incredibly bare. Other snippets of sound or music were generally used to further freight the youthful audience, but thoughtless musical phrases did exist, appealing to the contemporary musical tastes of youngsters but not always corresponding to the needs of the narrative.

Performers in this piece were not outstanding. Nonetheless their efforts were mostly noble. A small cast of four allowed players to take on multiple roles – a technique which always provides a challenge to the actors and audience alike.

The character Ariadne, (who at her core is a troubled teenager loathing the dependence imposed upon her by her father), is played by the beautiful Anna Elijasz whose exotic accent makes the plays Greek origins more believable. Mostly, she treats the role with sensitivity. Although in assuming other roles her acting is less convincing, her portrayal of Ariadne is suitably emotionally conflicted. She rightly receives our emotional involvement; we don’t know exactly how to feel for or about her, only that we must.

It is not easy to tell, however, whether the sympathy she implored was given due to her own persuasion skills or whether she has her cold, uncaring father to thank for imposing such a need. Most experienced actor of the cast, Rupert Holliday Evans fantastically played the villainous King Minos with a stiff demeanour and smug expression which makes Ariadne (and all other characters) feel detested. Rupert’s ability to adapt to taking on other roles, as a play with such a small cast warrants, was much more evident than that of the other actors. He carried with him a sense of experience on which his comrades most probably relied.

To tell the truth, I expected very little from the performance when I sat down – which had filled very few of its seats (…or was it just that under 10s take up so little space?) – but grew very quickly to feel invested in the performance. Watching Minotaur feels educational because it returns modern theatre to its very roots. It confronts ‘young audiences‘ (which, for the sake of my visit, must be imaginatively broadened in its definition) with tragedy which remains unresolved – a very brave thing to do. This strange little theatre with its odd little play has, thus, won my respect. Even as a theatre-loving adult I have tended to steer clear of Greek tragedy, but this performance well and truly proves the accessibility of Greek theatre without too much compromise.

“returns modern theatre to its very roots”

This is a play short enough to watch on a lunch-break  or between lectures. If you aren’t brave enough to go alone, bring along an eight year old for moral support… Although one of you might have to be prepared to lend a hand to hide behind when the Minotaur makes his stampeding entrance.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

How does one ‘Bend it Like Beckham?’

 

At last, my journey of discovery into the world of London theatre – and the notion of sitting in the cheap seats – begins.

My plan to review the theatre of London and analyse the truth behind the curse (or the treat?) of sitting in the cheap seats has, for a long time, been waiting in the wings. Today, with my reflections on the Phoenix Theatre’s Bend it Like Beckham, this plan makes its debut on the stage.

Join me as I discover what it really is like to view London theatre by sitting in the cheap seats.

Date of viewing: 26/01/2016

Production: Bend it Like Beckham

Seat: Upper Circle G15

How cheap!?: £10

I have to admit, before my Tuesday night excursion I knew nothing about this show or its film predecessor. My knowledge of what it is to ‘bend it’ like Beckham, or how one might go about doing so, was considerably lacking. I am delighted now to have had my football vocabulary dutifully broadened by the show – even if I doubt my own ability to replicate a Beckham-like bend myself.

In truth, there were many things that further delighted me about this show – but they did not go unaccompanied by a loftier dollop of disappointments.

My first disappointment came at the show’s very beginning when headless actors sang from a balcony far above the stage – my cheap seat was too high! Naturally my fear from then on was that many more scenes would depict the cast’s actors as headless, but fortunately most of the show’s proceedings were conducted at ground level. From this height, the action was mostly incredibly clear, as were the actors’ expressions.

In the show, best friends Jess (played by Natalie Dew) and Jules (Lauren Samuels) bond over a love of football which proves too challenging for Jess’ Indian family. The show ends with the pair as football champions, but not without a healthy dosage of sexuality/race/gender complications along the way.

“charmingly British humour”

What I liked most about the show was its ability to treat such complex and controversial themes with subtlety and gentleness. Throughout, characters are truthfully presented as struggling with counter-cultural confrontations, and this honesty is to be respected. These themes – most clearly represented by the distinction of Indian verses white-British culture – echoed struggles of reality for a twenty-first century audience in England. The show’s unravelling of the themes of gender, race and sexuality was doused suitably in a splash of humour. In fact, Bend it Like Beckham is an extremely funny show – especially for those with a British upbringing as it highlights all the things we Brits love and hate about ourselves. It presents its audience with charmingly British humour.

Charming is probably a good word to describe Bend it Like Beckham. Unfortunately, the show’s humorous charm does not provide enough to over-shadow the other often unspectacular elements. Natalie Dew’s performance of Jess was…nice. Her dramatic performance was mostly representative of the sheltered 18 year old Jess, and she was convincingly wide-eyed and naïve, but for a lead lacked vocal power and anything of an outstanding sonority. Lauren Samuels, on the other hand, (for whom I attended the show, having been very much impressed with other exposures to her powerful voice) has a lovely voice which is simply not utilised in this show – at all. Lauren’s few moments of vocal exposure allow little chance to demonstrate her technical skill.

In fairness to the show’s central characters, the composed music of Bend it Like Beckham is sadly consistently uninspired. British composer Howard Goodall provides this production with no show-stopping numbers or power-house belts and the melodies are rather unmemorable. Song titles such as ‘Girl Perfect’ and ‘UB2’ are representative of the production’s lazy musical writing and unimaginative word-setting. Exceptions to the disappointing music are present, but infrequent. Undoubtedly it is refreshing to hear authentic Indian gamak singing on a musical theatre stage and Rekha Sawhney’s delivery of this was beautiful. Bend it Like Beckham’s best song was sung by Sophie-Louise Dann who played Jules’ mum, Paula. There She Goes is a sweet yet modest song with a singable tune. Sophie-Louise performed this with a genuine care and concern for her grown-up daughter. This song was performed with a great level of sensitivity, reflective of Sophie-Louise’s humorous role throughout. It is nice to be able to attribute the show’s only other song of note to both lead girls and their mothers: ‘Tough Love’ is not overly powerful, but creatively builds to a harmonically pleasing quartet which is quite moving and sentimental.

“it is refreshing to hear authentic Indian gamak singing on a musical theatre stage”

The choreography fitted suitably with the bland music and allowed for football and athletic skill to be demonstrated – which is more than reasonable. Some visual elements were quite aesthetically inventive, like Jess and Jules’ levitating bedrooms, whilst others proved to be failed attempts: Jess’ joyful leap into the air at the end of Act One was accompanied by a poorly timed black-out.

Overall, Bend it Like Beckham is a fun musical. Not particularly creative or artistic, but fun. Others have described Bend it Like Beckham as a celebration of that which is British, and certainly, upon leaving the theatre I felt empowered to reminisce my typically British upbringing. Sadly, I left the performance pondering the truth of the old saying, ‘Britain: das land ohne musik’ (the land without music). I’m afraid I believe Bend it Like Beckham provides that saying with a one/nil score.

 

From,

The girl sitting in the cheap seats

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