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Showing posts from May, 2020

On This Day: 27th May

A very dark place was the subject on offer on this day Before The Lockdown in 2018 I only have vague memories of the 2005 production that I saw with three already well established and respected actors (Jonny Lee Miller, Aiden Gillen, and David Threlfall) apart from the brutality of the scenario and the sense of optimism that the three characters strove to maintain. So when the students of Bath Spa University included Someone Who'll Watch Over Me as part of their SparkFest contribution to the Bath Festival I was keen to reacquaint myself with the piece and see what these these fresh young acting students would do with it. This story of three westerners chained up in a dark middle-eastern cell was suitably enhanced by being performed in the compact cavern-like space of Burdall's Yard. These three young men didn't have the depth of experience that the 2005 cast had to call on but the strength of the writing certainly gave the cast, and audience, plenty to get t

On This Day: 26th May

Back Before The Lockdown this was a day for the unexpected. in 2015 There are a few actors I adore, whose work is consistently impressive and there are, equally, a few that I just cannot take a liking too. In this latter case it's not necessarily that they are bad actors but often that I have never found any of their characters sympathetic or understandable. Unfortunately Gina McKee falls into that second category so I was a little torn when she was announced as the lead in Florian Zeller's The Mother at the Ustinov Studio in Bath. A year earlier I had seen a production of The Father (from the same author and creative team at the same venue) which was simply magnificent . So, trusting the team at the Ustinov I put my doubts aside and booked and ... boy, did she prove me wrong! Using a similar technique as used for The Father , of presenting the same scene but from slightly different perspectives we are constantly wrong-footed in trying to work out who's view we a

On This Day: 25th May

It's time, once again, for the amateurs on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2018 Having seen quite a few amateur productions in Bath and Bristol, by both community groups and also theatre students in training, I thought it time to check out what London might be able to offer. The community based Putney Theatre Company at the Putney Arts Theatre created an evening devoted to new writing in a showcase of seven short pieces produced and performed by the PTC. Under the umbrella title of Fate Expectations each piece offered a moment in time, either realistic or fantastical, where everything could change. in 2019 The last of this year's Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Directors' Cuts season at the Wardrobe Theatre was How My Light Is Spent . A surreal tale of how one man's life literally starts to disappear. Having lost a 'proper job' and then been replaced by a coin-bin at a zero-hours fast-food joint his disappearing prospects become a physical reality

On This Day: 24th May

Two very different shows in very different venues on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2011 What can you say about Avenue Q ? This time at the Bristol Hippodrome, having previously seen it in London five years earlier, and it was still wonderfully joyous, poignant, uplifting, and celebratory. I think Avenue Q  would have been the first time I'd seen any show that used puppets as characters and the wonder of it was that you very quickly forgot that they were puppets. Even, as in the case of Avenue Q when their handlers are there on stage visibly operating them. They believed they were real and were so unashamedly 'real' that you couldn't not believe in them as well. Tackling very real issues, that are to our shame still real issues today, including racism, homelessness, anxiety, sexual identity all with a warmth and humour that engages with everyone. A wonderful, wonderful show. I really should see it again. in 2019 Burdall's Yard is described as an "

On This Day: 23rd May

This was definitely a day for creative students Before The Lockdown: in 2017 The Bath Spa University Theatre Society was at the Mission Theatre in Bath to put on Our Country's Good . If you've been reading the older pages on this Blog you may recall that I saw a professional production of this well-regarded play back in 2014 . So, I'll be very lazy and repeat some of what I said then:  " there's a lot to like about Our Country's Good ... It's a play about the redemptive power of art, in particular of theatre, and the injustice and immorality of an impersonal legal system that fails to account for social context. " Just like when I saw it in 2014, I came away from this amateur production with much the same feeling, that for me " it's just not a very exciting play. " Despite having a much smaller budget and thus a significantly less impressive set and lacking the polish of a professional production this presentation did have a f

On This Day: 22nd May

Two films appeared on stage on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2015 I don't think I'd even heard about the film so when seeing the Rocky Horror Show 'equal' Shock Treatment on the King's Head Theatre stage in London I had no preconceptions. Like RHS, Brad and Janet are key to the story but this time faced with a bizarrely nightmarish reality TV show rather than transexual Transylvanians! It's similarly sprinkled with catchy songs and comically outrageous characters but didn't quite have the magic that made Rocky Horror such an iconic work. The design, in this cosy pub theatre, was fun and the cast were wonderfully engaging and enthusiastic so you would have to be very hard-hearted not to enjoy yourself. At the end of the day, though, it is just "that other Richard O'Brien play". in 2019 I've not read the much lauded novel, and it's so long since I last saw the film that, once again, I had little pre-knowledge to apply

On This Day: 21st May

A pertinent question was asked on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2019 Among the many interesting amateur groups putting on productions in Bath are the creative students of Bath Spa University's Theatre Society. On this day I saw their presentation of Mike Bartlett's 13 at the Mission Theatre in Bath. Apparently wondering whether a shared social conscience, in this case an apocalyptic nightmare, in response to genuine political turmoil can be harnessed by a 'visionary' to effect political change. It's a challenging piece in that it tries to explore multiple individual stories to find some common ground between them and then link that to the political process. The individual stories and each one's relationship with the 'visionary' was interesting but I'm not sure it actually came together sufficiently to pose a coherent question or offer any real insight into personal or political motivations. That, though, was not due to the production bu

On This Day: 20th May

A day of contrasting experiences at the theatre on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2015 I've hated musical films for as long as I can remember - all thigh-slapping gusto and ludicrously overt smiling and screwball choreography. No, I wanted realism and emotional depth. But, since I started going to the theatre regularly, I've come to appreciate that there is a place for stories told through music and they're not all madcap song and dance fests. However, Oklahoma! was surely a perfect example of all the things I hated about 'traditional' musicals but I thought I should at least give it a chance. It wasn't overly expensive and I really should base any opinion I have on fact, so I handed over the money and went along to the Theatre Royal Bath. Somewhat annoyingly, I did actually rather enjoy it! The characters were believable, the story arc made sense and the whole production was very polished. Sure, the songs were cheesy, but once I settled into the rhy

On This Day: 18th May

A couple of quite different plays on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2007 Through a couple of TV and film appearances I'd become aware of Ben Whishaw and Maxine Peake as two relatively new actors with considerable talent and capable of quite distinctive and eye-catching performances so when both were cast in Leaves of Glass at the Soho Theatre in London... well, it was a no-brainer. Sadly the mists of time have obscured much of my memory of the play but I do recall a sense of considerable violence in a family tormented by past trauma that they have been avoiding for too many years. Although both Ben and Maxine had already accrued many plaudits, they have certainly continued to make more great work across TV, film, and stage. in 2017 Meanwhile, ten years later, it's off  to the Theatre Royal Bath to see a couple of very well established, dare I say 'veteran', TV favourites; Anne Reid and James Bolam. A very topical environmental activism piece called Fracke

On This Day: 17th May

Another 'first time' on this day Before The Lockdown in 2013 It has been in operation since the 1980s but my first visit to the wonderful Finborough Theatre in London was not until 2013, to see Rooms - A Rock Romance . The Finborough is a tiny space but with a very cleverly judged portfolio of productions is rightly recognised as a significant player in the London theatre scene. This one, for example was the European premiere of this off-Broadway hit. It's difficult to imagine a musical, albeit with only two actors, and a four-piece band fitting within the space available but they did! As befitting a 'rock' musical the characters were played large as these two very different people with barely compatible musical tastes journey in search of success  from Glasgow, through London's punk scene and on to New York but the stress of a romance and the inevitable addiction issues make for a rocky road. By no means a great musical, it's not been filling the b

On This Day: 16th May

Another of my threesome days Before The Lockdown: in 2014 Sometimes you take a bit of a risk, you have an idea that an actor, a company, a theatre usually do something interesting but you actually know next to nothing about the production in question. A couple of actors we'd seen before and liked were part of  an improvisational company that was putting on shows that did not just include improvisation but we ticket buyers had no idea what even the basic concept was. So it was with the Secret Theatre Show 5 - A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts at the Lyric theatre London. In a room with only a square performance space, no set just a handful of props and a single row of seats around the edge of the room. To be honest, I don't really recall what happened, what it was about, but that it was fast, energetic, demanding of the actors, funny and, at the end of the evening, thought-provoking. And even if it doesn't stick in the memory for years, that still makes for

On This Day: 15th May

This was a bit of  a killer day at the mission Before The Lockdown: in 2018 From mid May to early June Bath enjoys a cultural explosion with a full on Festival, a Fringe and something called SparkFest a curated selection of delights from students on the creative courses at Bath Spa University. For my first show from the SparkFest list I chose Infamous which was put on at the Mission Theatre in Bath. A short devised pieces which wonders what might happen if five (in)famous assassins, from John Wilkes Booth to Andrew Cunanan, were to meet in some sort of afterlife. Would they compare notes, would they fight amongst themselves to take the title of being the most infamous? As with many student productions it delivered an intriguing concept put together by a team of talented people ready to take up a creative profession in 2019 Bath's Next Stage Theatre Company celebrated it's 25 year anniversary in 2019. To my shame I only discovered them in 2014 but they, and the Mis

On This Day: 14th May

Some days are heartbreaking, some days are joyous, some days Before The Lockdown are both: in 2018 I was initially unsure of this one, a play about some fat guy? Did I really want to see that? But it was at the Ustinov in Bath, and over the years I have come to trust their judgement. Yes, there have been some productions that didn't work for me but the vast majority are excellent and many have been outstanding. On this day in 2018 I saw The Whale and it was, most definitely one of the latter! In fact, I would go so far as to say that it was one of the most emotional and powerful plays I have ever seen in over twenty years of going to the theatre. Such is the reputation of the Ustinov that Shuler Hensley, who played Charlie, the 'fat guy' (actually grotesquely, morbidly, obese guy) for the play's off-Broadway premiere came over to Bath for this, the UK premiere. His understanding of the character was quite likely the key that really unlocked the piece. The play

On This Day: 13th May

Another return visit on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2016 Way back in 2001 I saw a magnificent cast of Michael Gambon, Rupert Graves, and Douglas Hodge in The Caretaker and fifteen years later I am at the Old Vic in London to see this classic play again and, once more, with an outstanding cast; Timothy Spall, George MacKay, and Daniel Mays. It was only four years ago but I really don't have any particularly distinct memories of this production. As I recall all the performances were fine, as you would expect - I pretty much love everything that Daniel Mays does and he was perfectly cast in this. Likewise George MacKay was, as usual, impressive while Timothy Spall was obviously having great fun as the manipulative tramp who sets up home in their cramped and run-down apartment. I always prefer to be as close to the stage as I can afford to be and I'm thinking that because, for this production, I was sat up in the gods it felt more like watching a performance than beari

On This Day: 11th May

It was all about truth and perception on this day Back Before The Lockdown: in 2016 I was in the main house of the Theatre Royal Bath to see The Truth . In the preceding years I had seen two plays from the same author, Florian Zeller, and translator, Christopher Hampton; the brilliant The Father and The Mother both of which had their UK premiere in the smaller Ustinov studio before heading to London's West End. Buoyed by those successes this one started in London before coming out to Bath and attracted a much larger audience, hence being on the main stage. Although sharing a similar fascination with perception, reality, and truth this new play was significantly more comic in style, using many of the familiar tropes of a farce in it's depiction of romantic deceits and misdirections but all with a modern twist that made it feel fresh. Even so, after the two previous powerfully emotive productions this one was inevitably more light-weight and so, for me, less impressive,

On This Day: 10th May

Suspenders at the ready on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2003 Oh dear, this is rather embarrassing! I loved the film, it's iconic and a standard reference point for all of us who do not believe in conformity. Yet. I've only seen the stage show, on which the film was based, once. What is even worse is that I remember so very little of the Rocky Horror Show when I did get to see at the Wimbledon Theatre in London! It must have been fun, how could it not be? But no, I recall nothing. 😢 For some reason, I do not have a programme for this show, and I am almost fanatical in getting programmes! so the image here is one I have found on the Internet and, as far as I can tell, is correct for this particular tour An interesting side-note to this is that when searching for that image I discovered that at the time this show was running Wimbledon Theatre was in severe financial difficulties and did, in fact close for several months until it was rescued by the Ambassador Thea

On This Day: 9th May

As much as I've tried I really can't find a cute thematic bon mot to apply to the theatrical rundown on this day Before The Lockdown... in 2003 Still working out what I really liked about theatre one simple selection method was recognisable names from TV. Office Games at the Pleasance Theatre in London fitted that bill quite nicely With relative stage newcomers Adam Rickitt and Charlie Brooks fresh from Coronation Street and EastEnders respectively and the well established Richard O'Callaghan. A basic office comedy with all the usual shenanigans that follow a important figure being embarrassed by a mistake that is then blamed on a junior who then seeks some sort of revenge. With being set in the British Foreign Office after the first world war this one had the added comedic value of historical attitudes. A modestly entertaining evening I recall little of the plot or the characters but what I do remember is that we bumped into Adam Rickitt at the tube station on

On This Day: 8th May

Going back, back in time, Before The Lockdown... in 2019 Back in 2017 I saw a wonderfully energetic, joyful, and also savagely poignant play about the promise of the Tony Blair's 1997 election victory so I was delighted that the same company, the Bristol born Wardrobe Ensemble, were bringing their earlier hit 1972: The Future of Sex back to the Bristol Old Vic. It was just as good. The same great soundtrack, energetic precision choreography, sharp humour and genuinely heartfelt personal stories. By deftly alternating through several stories of emergent sexual awareness in the, supposedly, simpler 70s we're reminded that getting to grips with sex, sexuality, gender, and the associated 'politics' is as it has always been ... a minefield.

On This Day: 7th May

Politics is drama, and drama is very often political. So it was on this day Before The Lockdown. in 2015 The Absence of War , at the Theatre Royal Bath was a fictionalised interpretation of the conflicts within the Labour Party in the lead up to the 1992 general election. However, although taking it's cue from those events it does ask a much more universal question about our politics. Do we want politicians to be true to themselves, to be honest about their flaws as much as their skills and abilities? If presented with a choice of an open, honest, and transparent candidate in opposition to one who taps into our media-fed prejudices and expectations would we ever choose the former. The party in this play could never trust the integrity of their idealistic leader so instead tied him to 'accepted' truths and the rules of the game that had been followed for generations before. In this case, as in the actual general election, they lost because denying the possibility of

On This Day: 6th May

The story of this particular day Before The Lockdown is of missed opportunity. in 2006 One thing you have to learn about advance booking for the theatre is that you are booking for the play and not the actor! On this day we had booked to see Paul Nicholls (building on his growing reputation as a skilled stage actor) and the estimable and already well established Clare Higgins in Phaedra at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Shortly before it opened it was announced that Paul Nicholls had to be replaced and his part taken on at very short notice by the slightly less experienced Ben Meyjes As I recall it was a  perfectly good play if somewhat prejudiced by the lack of one of our favourite up-and-coming actors, and as good as Ben was, he couldn't offer quite the same energy and intensity that Paul had developed through his previous work, which would have been supplemented by the fact that he had previously worked with Clare Higgins in Vincent In Brixton . Indeed, as one reviewe

On This Day: 5th May

It appears that I like to spend the 5th of May in Bath, for example on this day Before The Lockdown: in 2001 At the Theatre Royal Bath to see Rent for the third, and so far final, time. This was mostly a new cast and the key character was played by, then hot TV property, Adam Rickitt coming straight from the famous cobbles of Coronation Street. There are good songs throughout and some powerful and affecting scenes but these don't necessarily feature the lead character. Having a popularly recognisable name on the poster is great for getting people into the theatre, they're not always the best actors in the cast. So, as with Joe McFadden in the earlier London production,Adam was fine and did a perfectly respectable job but it was scenes with the other characters that you remember. Interesting side note; one of the swings on this production was Daniel Boys in, I believe, his first professional role. I've seen him again perhaps only twice but he is now one of our bu

On This Day: 4th May

On this day Before The Lockdown, we have a clutch of fresh faces: in 2007 I had seen the film version many years previously but this was the first time I would see Equus on stage (currently at three and counting 😎). The Gielgud theatre in London achieved quite a coup, by getting Daniel Radcliffe to star in his first significant stage role during a break in filming the Harry Potter series. He had already done some other TV work but live in a theatre is quite a different skill. Without the magic of cameras and post-production could he convince as a live actor? In the company of well respected and well-versed stage veterans like the excellent  Richard Griffiths and Jenny Agutter this was a very daring move by the young actor. The problem I have now is that this was thirteen years ago and in 2019 I saw a wholly new version of the play was was simply outstanding and will etched in my memory for years to come. But I cannot recall any specific emotions I felt for this first productio

On This Day: 3rd May

I've lived round here for years , Bath Spa University has been producing shows open to the public for years . But it wasn't until this year that I finally got round to seeing some of their work! So, back in time, Before The Lockdown: in 2017 Death and Dancing was the third production I saw at Bath Spa University, though only the second of their own student produced show. A stripped back two-hander it took us into the lives of two people, he and she, who meet on the city streets, discover that neither is quite what the other first thought. They both dance around issues of gender, sexuality and identity both in their own individual lives and the relationship which they may, or may not, want or need. A bold production, challenging and thought provoking.

On This Day: 2nd May

A mathematical conundrum Before The Lockdown in 2013 There are many reasons for why I might enjoy a particular play but I never thought mathematics would be on that list! The conceit that is at the centre of Proof , which I saw at the Theatre Royal Bath, is the death of a mathematical genius and the discovery of a new world-changing mathematical proof amongst his unpublished papers. Around this swirl issues of family loyalty, guilt, thwarted ambitions, and mental health. In this production, as well crafted and performed as it was, the emotional bonds and needs that should have been at the heart of the play weren't quite as clear as they needed to be so I left thinking that it made valid points about sexism in intellectual circles and how guilt can fester within families but I didn't feel the story, which is what I particularly enjoy about good theatre Interestingly, a few years later I saw an amateur presentation of the play and enjoyed it a whole lot more.  Whether i

On This Day: 1st May

Another day of separate lives in 2020 but this day Before The Lockdown is more than a little interesting! First some 'backstory'. 😀 In February of this year I saw a new version of an old classic, Nora: A Doll's House , but it's not the play that is of interest here. As we entered the theatre I said to my friend that we had definitely been here before - he was dubious, especially as I couldn't say when or to see what. But. I had a very clear recollection of being in the theatre cafe, drinking coffee and discussing their unusual selection of bread with the waiter! When I returned home I searched my digital records (from which these posts are derived) but could find no entry for the Young Vic. Until today! in 2009 I had seen a couple of solo shows some years earlier but I reckon this is the one that cemented my appreciation for this type of theatre. In You Can See The Hills with no set and mostly just sat on a chair, William Ash told the story of a young t