Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Chorus of Disapproval at Harold Pinter Theatre, London

Nigel Harman, Rob Brydon and Ashley Jensen.

I'm not a lover of musical theatre. My first experience of it was many years ago in the eighties, when I saw 'Cats' with my sister in London. We both thought we must have missed something when we didn't really think much of it. Everyone else seemed to think it was absolutely the best thing since sliced bread. Over the years I've seen a few shows, just because I've had to, and only enjoyed 'Mamma Mia' because the tunes took me back to my teenage years in Sweden. I'd much rather go and see a serious depressing play by Strindberg (obviously) or Ibsen. If there's any singing to be done on a stage, I'd much rather it was the real thing, opera. I know I'm dull, but there's no accounting for taste.

So, when I heard that the play, A Chorus of Disapproval, we'd booked to see with the Englishman's mother last night was really a musical, my heart sank. The only saving grace was that the production was directed by Trevor Nunn and starred Rob Brydon who I think is really funny.

Photo A Chorus of Disapproval
Of course had I known anything about musical theatre, I would have known that A Chorus of Disapproval is the mother of all musicals (the programmes can be so informative). Written by Allan Ayckbourn, it's a classic piece.

The opening of the play is also the opening night of a small town amateur operatic company's production of The Beggar's Opera. It ends in a triumph, but when the curtain goes down (which is cleverly portrayed by a shadow descending onto the stage), all's not well with the star of the show, played by Nigel Harman, who seems to be shunned by the rest of the company. 

The play then goes back to the beginning of the story and Nigel Harman's audition with the director, Rob Brydon. And I find myself enjoying this first scene. Not only is there some very good singing by both Harman, and (especially) Brydon, but they are both genuinely funny too. 

It's all a lot of nonsense, but it's good, funny and well-played nonsense, which I enjoyed very much. Rob Brydon is excellent as the ambitious director who admits he uses art as an escape from his real life troubles. Ashley Jensen (of Ugly Betty fame) is good as Brydon's unhappy wife who seeks solace with Harman's character. Her singing is a little weak at times, but then she's supposed to be an amateur…The rest of the cast is stellar too, and there are many more comic moments as we get an insight into the complicated (sex/love) lives of the amateur cast.

All in all, I was almost sad when the curtain really fell and the play was over. 

A Chorus of Approval with Rob Brydon
For a limited season up till 5th January 2013
Harold Pinter Theatre
The Haymarket
London SW1Y 4DN

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Physicists at The Donmar Warehouse

Every theatre company is allowed the occasional flop, and The Physicists at the Donmar Warehouse definitely was one. In fact the play was so bad we walked out at the interval. Yes, I know, this is the first time ever I've done it, and I didn't take the decision lightly.

The Physicists at the Donmar Warehouse.
Photograph: Johan Persson
The play, which I presume was supposed to be a farce, had as many caricatures as could humanly be fitted onto the small stage. There were pretty nurses wearing short tight skirts and high heels, being murdered by mad scientists, who in turn were looked after by a thoroughly loony, humpbacked psychiatrist. The final straw for our group was when two young German men dressed in lederhosen entered the stage.

The plot (which was recounted to us by a very friendly member of the staff who saw us leaving early) was so silly that I think even the actors had difficulty in believing in their own characters and came across as stiff and unconvincing.

But in the name of science, which became our theme of the night, we decided to carry out research of our own, making our way to the recently opened Speakeasy cocktail bar in Hampstead, Dach and Sons (Time Out review here). We tried almost all their inventive drinks, so much so, that the next morning my head rather wished we'd stayed on for the second half of the play…below some of the drinks we had. (Don't ask me to name them.)

The friendly barman
who kept supplying us
with cocktails at Dach and Sons.
(The Physicists ran until 21 July this year)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Timon of Athens at The National Theatre

Simon Russell Beale, centre, is in compelling form in Nicholas Hytner's production of Timon Of Athens. Photograph: Tristram Kenton 
I love Simon Russell Beale and I love the National Theatre.

Mr R-B could act the contents of the Yellow Pages for me and I'd give him a standing ovation. So the fact the this unfinished play by Shakespeare was more depressing and (dare I say it) a little boring, rewritten and set as it was in the modern times, didn't matter a jot to me.

Simon Russell Beale owned the stage, and I laughed, scoffed and cried with him as his fortunes, as Timon, were turned from the wealthy - and too generous as it turned out - Athenian benefactor to a down and out tramp. The lessons of the play were that good time friends are just that - good time friends - and that money breeds greed and violence. There were some references to last summer's riots in London as well as to the recent anti Capitalist demonstrations in the City of London, the credit crunch and the corruptive effect of absolute wealth, but on the whole no-one in the play came out smelling of roses.

I think it's a noble effort to try both to finish a play by such a master as Shakespeare, as well as to set it in modern times. I've said on this blog before that I'm really no expert on Shakespeare - he was but skimmed in my Finnish education - and have to admit that this play was a difficult one for me to grasp.

And Timon of Athens lacked any kind of reprieve for the audience; there was very little humour, no sex and no love story. But, it may be that, as I've found with other Shakespeare plays, they have a habit of growing on you: the more Shakespeare I see the more I enjoy him.

As with Shakespeare, the National Theatre too has been growing on me. When  I moved here in the early 1980's I thought the South Bank building ugly and the theatre too large, sterile and anonymous. But now I love the stark architecture and appreciate the flexibility the different stages at the National afford a theatre company. And having spent the previous night not at all enjoying King Lear at the Almeida, partly because the seats were cramped, the comfortable chairs of the National were a bonus too.

The lighting at the National is often dramatic too.
Timon of Athens runs until 1 November 2012
Olivier Theatre
National Theatre
South Bank