Category: Theatre Notes

Rice pudding at The Globe

Rice puddings were a staple of my childhood diet; a thick, glutinous stodge with the only saving grace being the over-browned skin covering its surface. This was the dessert course equivalent of the crackling on the pork or the marrow to be sucked from stew bones.

Beyond that, rice was an unappetising dish, dressed up in its fancy cloak in a failed attempt to make the mundane appealing and even exciting.

In the intervening years, this grain has assumed a far more tasty role as we have become familiar with exciting dishes from the sub-continent, the Orient and even Europe.

Curry and rice,  sushi, risotto, paella and numerous other once seemingly exotic creations have become firmly established on our menus, within the home as well as when eating out. And, of course, and perhaps predominantly, when indulging in that ubiquitous convenience the takeaway.

Yet for all that, it is still that duplicitous dessert – alluring on the outside, such a stodgy mess within – that first jumps to mind whenever the word “rice” is mentioned.

And so it was when I read that Rice is now on the menu at London’s Globe Theatre. Not any old rice, but Emma Rice. She who has emerged through the ranks of the theatrical fringe to become the director of that most esteemed playhouse.

The very name has me running for the exit – or, rather, speeding past the box office without a stop for tickets.

I have tried – oh, believe me, how hard I have tried – to succumb to the allure she holds for many theatregoers; or cultists, as they seem to have become in their fanaticism.

But every time her productions leave me underwhelmed.  Many nights I waded through muddy fields to get to the Kneehigh theatre’s tent pitched in a Cornish meadow to join her acolytes in another night billed as exciting, edgy theatre but which transpired as chaotic, and eventually boring, mayhem.  The final straw was her much-vaunted production of that theatrical classic, Rebecca, which departed the tent and toured the nation’s theatres.

Oh dear, what a mess we weave when we attempt to be different. Such a mishmash. It aimed at times for humour, at times for high drama and at times for farce – and failed on all fronts. Many a ticket-holder departed at the interval, clearly overfed on another Rice pudding.

And before she has even taken the reins at the Globe she has promised to shake things up  That dreary old “innovation” of casting women in men’s roles is to resurface, the audience is to be encouraged to talk and shout, and mewling babes in arms will be welcomed and embraced.

Oh dear, as if  things aren’t bad enough with plays being uprooted from their writers’ original settings for no rhyme or reason, incessant chatterers on mobile phones and the regular explosions of flashlight Instagrammers.

She will cut Shakespeare’s plays to make them shorter (for the TV generation with short attention spans), rewrite the texts to make them clearer to society’s dimmer and dumber members and, of course, disrobe her actors and clothe them in modern dress.

But this is what happens when one builds a coterie of adoring followers who will hear not a word of dissent. Oddly, it was Rice herself who mentioned “the emperor’s new clothes” when expressing disdain for prevailing attitudes to mainstream theatre.  Perhaps it might be equally applied to those who so blindly follow this beguiling but mess pudding-maker.

Suchalot laughalot

It’s completely mad, totally ridiculous and one of the best evenings of sheer fun you will have in many a night at the theatre. It is, of course, the zany psuedo musical comedy Spamalot, playing all this week at the Hall for Cornwall.
Created by Eric Idle it is, as the programme proudly states, a show “lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail” which, as Idle informs us, became the “endearingly silly” film upon which much of this creation is based. For many it will be highly familiar territory enjoyably revisted as they journey with King Arthur and his shambolic knights on their search for the holy grail. All the known hazards are there – the grotesque French, the killer rabbit, the knights who say …. and the brave foe to whom the loss of legs and arms is just a flesh wound.
The dancing is hilariously energetic; the songs are zestful and laugh-along funny. And the many send-ups of the musical comedy genre fire several accurate barbs at pop divas and the numbers they scream across the footlights.
It is an ensemble show in which everyone excels but special mention has to be made of showbiz legends Bonnie Langford as The Lady of the Lake and Todd Carty as the loyally loveable Patsy, as well as multi-talented comedian Marcus Brigstocke as King Arthur.
They and they rest of the cast had the audience totally on side from beginning to end, sharing many a laugh with them along the way.
It’s a rollicking, uproarious fun night out that Tuesday night’s audience so clearly enjoyed and needed no prompting to join in singing the moment that Patsy launched into that song.

Oh dear pussy

You’ve gotta laugh. No really, you do. You can’t help yourself. The show now running at the Hall for Cornwall is ridiculous, self-indulgent, nonsensical, lacking any point or reason and totally inane – but it provides as good an evening’s entertainment as we’ve had for quite some time.
Four members of the notoriously idiotic Spymonkey collective transform Oedipus, the greatest tragedy of all time, into two hours of high farce and slapstick. The jokes begin with its title, Oedipussy – a nod in the direction of the Bond movies – and they don’t get any better. In fact some of them are downright painful.
It is broad, knockabout comedy direct from the school of Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and pantomime dames. Yet for all its faults and weaknesses it manages at least to entertain and raise many a laugh. It is raucous, rude, rustic and Rabelaisian, full-on and in-your-face and mostly succeeds thanks to the energy, comedic skills and sheer physical staying power of its four performers. And I’m sure the young man in the front row will long remember his night out and his confrontation with the female form.
Some judicial pruning wouldn’t go amiss and one or two flatter moments need improving or cutting.
It’s certainly not deep and meaningful but for a mostly hilarious evening it’s hard to beat.
Treat yourself to a chuckle or two. There are still two more nights to go.
Go on, you’ve gotta laugh … and you certainly will.

A bitch of a play

They don’t make them like that any more. Movie stars. I mean. Today’s so-called celebrities couldn’t hold a candle to the two grand dames of the silver screen who are portrayed bitching their way through life in a sublime two-hander at the Hall for Cornwall all this week.
Anita Dobson as Joan Crawford and Greta Scacchi as Bette Davis spar with barbs and scathing one-liners in Bette and Joan, a re-creation of what supposedly occurred on the backlot of Warner Bros studios in Hollywood as the two fading film stars came together in 1962 to reawaken their careers with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.
The occasion is cleverly crafted by playwright Anton Burge to encapsulate these two tempestuous careers and the shattering collision of their ego-driven personalities.
The dialogue is sharp and witty as the spotlight shifts between these two abrasive characters – one always determined to be a lady and the other claiming that her acting comes before all else; and each forever plotting to undermine the other.
In a way, both are sad and tragic figures yet they are survivors – two of a kind yet distinctly different. The triumph of the piece is that we laugh with them, rather than at them, as they relish their petty triumphs and recognise their failures and failings.
Another winner for HfC as proved by the rousing first night reception.

Boleyn along

If only all history lessons could be as sparky, bright and entertaining as the English Touring Theatre’s production of Anne Boleyn, playing all this week at Hall For Cornwall. With minstrels in the gallery, a hugely talented all-singing all-dancing cast, a humdinger of a script and a marvellous brew of humour and drama this is a show not to be missed.
It is true ensemble theatre with many of the actors doubling, or even tripling, up. Their delivery and timing bring out all the best in Howard Brenton‘s sparkling lines, which provide a whole new perspective on the convoluted tale of Anne Boleyn’s tempestuous relationship with Henry VIII. It is theatre in which the silences and pauses are as telling and forceful as the words themselves.
To single out any actors in such a consistently strong cast seems almost unfair on the rest. But especial praise must go to Claire Bond, who provides a zesty, feisty Boleyn, whimsical, manipulative and courageously pugnacious in her unrelenting fight for religious freedom, and to James Garnon as the Tourette’s afflicted King James who almost steals the show with his madcap rantings and hilarious cavortings.
All in all, a wonderful night of theatre and a show not to be missed from its surprise beginning to its boisterous end.

Steely swing

One night we are swinging along with Vivaldi; the next we’re rocking with Steeleye Span . That’s the Hall for Cornwall for you – something for everyone and all top rate.
Serenissima regaled us on Thursday with vivacious and intricate melodies from three centuries ago; and on Friday Steeleye Span took us back to their beginnings more than three decades ago. Both were joyful performances by consummate musicians with the happy knack of projecting their enjoyment and enthusiasm across the footlights. And both were melodious weavings of musical patterns than ran deep below the surface with individual players bouncing off each other with seamless continuity.
For their pre-interval session Steeleye Span relied on their Now We Are Six compilation. In the second half they delved deep into their back catalogue before giving the hall full of faithful old rockers the inevitable All Around My Hat, performed on demand. without rehearsal and totally word perfect, which says much about Steeleye’s durability and popularity.
As ever, the band was led by the ageless Maddy Prior, her crystal clear voice almost unaffected by the years, its purity and clarity still a true toe-curler as it echoed around the hall. Now that, dear X Factor contestants, is singing.
All in all, another winning night for HfC.

Vivacious Vivaldi

Having been reared in recent years on a regular bravura diet of music from the sublime Australian Chamber Orchestra it was almost a case of deja vu to witness Serenissima‘s appearance at the Hall for Cornwall on Thursday night.
Here was another band of 14 young(ish) musos who discard the traditional orchestral format of evening dress and seated performance in favour of embroidered waistcoats and stand-up playing. Replicating ACO leader Richard Tognetti the Serenissima band had an equally likeable and rumpled leader in Adrian Chandler. And while the former is a surfie dude and living national treasure, the latter could well have wandered in from the farmyard to have a chat before showing his wizardry with fiddle and bow. Two characters who imbue the audience with their obvious love of music.
It was a gentle evening of gentle music – perhaps a bit too much on one level – but played with a vivacity and enjoyment that was ably transmitted to the audience. Chandler’s deft leadership took only a nod, a wink or a smile to gain the required immediate and willing response from his fellow players. And his chatty introductions helped combat the po-faced reputation often suffered by classical music.
Vivaldi formed the mainstay of the program, which also featured pieces by Baroque contemporaries Veracini, Corelli, Albinoni and Torelli. And while the performance lacked the edgy and spirited attack of the ACO it was a welcome and enjoyable excursion into quality classical music of the sort that – judging by Thursday night’s audience – should be making more frequent appearances at HfC.

Marvellous Madness

If you haven’t got a ticket for the final two performances of The Madness of George III at the Hall for Cornwall, rectify the situation right now. This is simply superb theatre. It is live performance of scintillating writing at its very best. From the impact of the opening scene to the rousing finale, there is not a dull or non-rivetting moment.
In modern parlance, it is the complete package – text, performance, staging, scenery, music all melded into the exquisite telling of a turbulent snippet of British history.
It ranges over the gamut of emotions from farce to tragedy with broad comedy leavening moments that are heart-rending in their depiction of how the medical profession once went about “curing” the mentally sick.
David Hare, as the “mad” king, gives a stellar, sustained and unrelenting interpretation of Alan Bennett‘s witty, perceptive and engaging script. He is supported by one of the largest casts gathered on the HfC stage for some time. And not one puts a step wrong. There are no weak links in this gripping chain of historical events.
It may be a drama set more than two centuries ago, but the events – and the observations of its participants – are as relevant now as they were back then.
Go on, get a ticket NOW. Satisfaction is guaranteed.

Funny but foul

Two immensely funny guys kept a packed Hall for Cornwall laughing and applauding on Friday night with a show billed as brutally honest and frequently controversial. And it would have been no less funny or confronting if they had eliminated the excess of four letter words from their patter. It seems to have become obligatory among the huge army of stand-ups traipsing up and down the country to litter their lines with foul language that does nothing to enhance their performance.
On Friday, the urbane, laid-back and intensely likeable Reginald D Hunter rambled through topics ranging from the everyday and mundane to the intensely personal and prickly political. His delivery was equally diverse – from amiable to barbed and often thought-provoking.
His sidekick and warm-up man, gangly Australian Steve Hughes, was a headline act in its own right – sharp, satirical, biting and hugely funny but sadly let down by even wider and more frequent use of completely unnecessary obscene language than employed by the main man.
His punchy but foul-mouthed performance was a riotously subversive look at international politics, finance, global warming (inevitably) and his native land that left one wondering how long he will remain hiding in the shadows of Hunter.
All-in-all a real winner for HfC.

What’s that Woyzeck?

Maybe we should have stayed behind to hear the explanatory talk given at the end of Woyzeck on the Highveld at the Hall for Cornwall last night. It might just have helped illuminate this somewhat underwhelming visit by the internationally acclaimed Handspring Puppet Company.
It was all very worthy and well-intentioned but as a piece of theatre it failed to grip once the initial delight at watching the puppets “perform” had faded. The traditional German tale of a downtrodden soldier (Berg’s opera Wozzeck tells it so much better) has been updated to a tale of oppression and murder in modern-day South Africa but somehow the grim, gaunt drama fails to move or enthral in the hands of the puppeteers who are unfortunately far too visible to weave much magic.
There was little doubting the manipulators’ skills (especially with the accordion player and the rhinoceros) but to have them voicing in full view while pulling their strings and tugging their rods lessened any impact the piece has apparently had on audiences around the world.
And judging from the audience reaction, many others felt equally disappointed. Such a shame as HfC needs to be encouraged, not deterred, for bringing such adventurous theatre to the far southwest.