Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at Saddler’s Wells. A real festive treat.
If you didn’t get yourself down to the Young Vic this autumn to see the Scottsboro Boys you really missed out. A sell out it really was a must see.
The Scottsboro Boys is based on the true story of 9 black teenagers who were wrongly arrested and charged on a false allegation of rape. Sadly, 1930s Alabama did not provide the backdrop for a fair trial or indeed a happy outcome.
Opening with a minstrel show the performance mixed song, dance and powerful (and moving) acting into what was a totally unexpected play. I did not know the story of the Scottsboro Boys at all so was shocked at the miscarriage of justice that was unfolding on the stage. Such a serious topic was dealt with using emotion and humour. It was easy to go from a giggle to shock in one scene.
Surprisingly, the Scottsboro Boys opened and closed very swiftly in New York. Such a shame as this show was brilliant. If it tours anywhere near you – go see it!
A couple of weeks ago I went to see Punch Drunk. It’s taken me until about now to work out if I liked it or not. Punch Drunk is immersive theatre. It’s not your typical night at a show.
When you arrive at Temple Studios you’re given a brief synopsis of the story. The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable (as far as I could gather) was about two couples from different sides of the track working next to a studio in Hollywood and an affair is taking place. It’s pretty dark as you shuffle along to where the adventure begins so not much time to take in the story on the print outs.
Then you’re greeted by a jolly tall man with a very good American drawl who explains a little bit more and makes sure everyone is wearing their mask. (For the whole duration you wear a solid plastic mask. And you must be silent.) Ushered into a lift the Punch Drunk adventure really begins. They are keen you have this experience on your own. And they do everything they can to separate groups. My friend and I were separated within 1 minute of the thing starting. This really pissed me off. If I’ve chosen to pay almost 40 quid to attend something I would like to decide whether I do it solo and with my pal.
I began wandering around the set that covers many floors. And I couldn’t find any people. I made it to the top floor where it was covered in sand and had a funeral scene set up. Round the corner was what looked like nuclear wasteland. At this stage a masked figure emerged from the shadows. Somewhat frightened I decided to try and find my friend. After what seemed like a lifetime I located her following one of the main characters. We followed her story for a while and then decided finding the bar would be a better idea.
Punch Drunk is amazing. I hated it and loved it within seconds. The sets were phenomenal. I would recommend going just to look at them. I didn’t really understand the story but I guess I didn’t follow enough characters to really do it justice. You can’t help but be impressed with what they do but I am not sure it is for everyone. Another friend went to see it a week after me. Her response was “at least I now know what I don’t like.” Fair play to her, I say.
Punch Drunk will be on at Temple Studios until the end of December. Book tickets online.
Philomena premiered at the London Film Festival last night. It was quite red carpet affair with Dame Judy and Steve Coogan attending. But it was the presence of Sean Mahon that got me all a flutter. Sean is a dear friend of mine and I feel as though I have been through the journey of this film with him. So as he was introduced to the audience at the Odeon West End I could not contain my whoops of excitement. So, please excuse any sycophantic elements of this review. But if you can’t praise your friend’s work what really is the point of life?!!
Philomena is the true life story of Philomena Lee. Growing up in Ireland she lived with her aunt. Her mother had died when she was 10 and her father sent her and her sister to live with her aunt when Philomena turned 18. After a night at a local carnival she had a met a boy and had quite a fun time with him. Sadly, she had fallen pregnant. She was sent to a convent when she endured a breach birth with no pain relief and then had to work off her debt for 4 years in the laundry. Not really a fair punishment for her sins.
She gave birth to a son, Anthony. At 3 he was taken from her. An American couple came to Ireland to adopt a child. They ended up taking two. A little girl and Anthony. Philomena never got to say goodbye to her son. For 50 years she kept this a secret from her family. When she eventually told her own daughter she decided to help her find Anthony.
This is where they meet the journalist and former government spin doctor Martin Sixsmith. He helped Philomena track down her son in the US. Anthony has been renamed Michael Hess. He has established a successful career at a lawyer working for both President Reagan and President Bush Senior. Sadly he contracted AIDs and died in 1995. Philomena started her search in 2003.
In all the years that Philomena had tried to find her son the nuns refused to give her any information of his whereabouts and who had adopted him. Michael had too been searching for his mother. He had travelled to Ireland and visited the convent he was born in to try and locate his mother. Again, the nuns did not help him. The tragedy of a dying man trying to locate his mother and not being helped is such an injustice.
Philomena has a serious story at its heart. The heartbreak of a young girl who is made to suffer a lifetime of guilt for an evening with a boy at a carnival. But the film has such warmth and humour at its core that you can go from laughter to tears in one scene. Dame Judy captures the innocence of Philomena Lee so well. She is a charming and funny woman who is balanced by Steve Coogan playing Martin Sixsmith who is a much more serious and frustrated character. Director Stephen Frears said before the film that it was almost a romantic comedy. And at times it certainly was. The relationship between Dame Judy and Steve Coogan did have all the hallmarks of a romantic comedy without you ever wanting them to kiss. Their friendship had a true uniqueness to it.
For me the real highlight was seeing Sean Mahon’s face on screen. He plays Michael Hess so is viewed in flashbacks throughout. I guess my only criticism is that he is just not on screen enough!
Philomena comes to cinemas nationwide on 1 November.
The National Youth Theatre is currently showing Tory Boyz at the Ambassador’s Theatre. Originally shown in 2008 we now see the Tory Boyz move from opposition to government but still dealing with the dilemma of moving up the greasy pole of power.
The play explores the idea of whether Edward Heath was gay. Frankly, what does it matter other than how utterly tragic that he had to hide it. Following the story of Sam, a Tory researcher working on the House of Commons, the play flits from modern day back to the early life of Heath and his own rise to power. Sam is gay and has an intrigue as to whether Heath was gay or not.
Sam is portrayed as not your typical Tory: working class, from the north west….a bit of a tired cliche to be honest. What is also surprising is that his boss, the chief of staff to the minister, suggests he keeps his sexuality to himself. Anyone who has worked for the Conservative Party knows this is definitely not the case. But perhaps it was more the electorate than the party machinery itself?
The audience had a sprinkle of politicos who chortled at the many Westminster village in jokes. After This House and Confessions of Gordon Brown and The Audience the politicos have been very spoilt of late with West End offerings.
Tory Boyz is showing until 27 November. Book tickets online.
Last night Mrs Gucci: The Musical has its first public showing. A concert of 10 songs from the musical written by the brilliant Peter Jukes and Marcos D’Cruze gained a loud and approving response from the audience.
Mrs Gucci is the true life tale of Patrizia Reggiani. She married into the Gucci family in the 1970s. Her husband, Maurizio Gucci, was the son of Rodolfo Gucci. Patrizia and Maurizio were married for over a decade before he just left one morning. Leaving the marriage he started a relationship with a younger woman. Patrizia was not too pleased with this new arrangement. 7 years later the divorced and although given a substantial annual alimony deal she was still not happy. With her psychic adviser Pina Auriemma she began to plot the murder of her ex husband. In March 1995 Maurizio Gucci was fatally shot. The hit had been arranged by his ex wife. She was sentenced to 26 years in jail. Pina Auriemma received a 27 year sentence. Patrizia was released in September 2013. Pina Auriemma is yet to complete her time in jail.
A tale of passion, love, betrayal and indeed murder Mrs Gucci has it all. During the concert we were introduced to four of the characters: Patrizia, Maurizio, his cousin Paolo Gucci and her psychic adviser Pina Auriemma. No doubt we will meet more characters when the full version comes to the stage later next year.
The songs are clever and emotional. I was drawn into this web of passion and riches. Although not normally a fan of musicals Mrs Gucci has such a good vibe and pace that I really did become immersed into it and wanted to hear more. The four actors, Julie Atherton, Bart Edwards, Graham MacDuff and Sophie-Louise Dann had superb voices. I really hope that they stay with the show until it has its full stage premier. I want to see more of them.
Visit the Mrs Gucci website to read more about the production.
Don Quixote opened at the Royal Opera House on Monday evening with a gala performance. Principal Carlos Acosta produced and choreographed this superb ballet.
Don Quixote follows the tale of an old gentleman who is deluded with the idea he is the successor to the medieval knights. He also has a vision of a beautiful lady, Dulcinea, who he must find. Don Quixote has a funny little man servant, Sancho Panza. Together they set off on a quest to fulfil Don Quixote’s dreams.
Meanwhile, a courtship is beginning to take place between two bright young things: Kitri and Basilio. Alas, Kitri’s father would prefer her to marry Gamache, a very camp nobleman. Don Quixote too is quite stuck with Kitiri believing her to to be his Dulcinea. As with all young lover they flee to get married. Don Quixote and Gamache follow in pursuit.
As the young lovers arrive at a gypsy camp Don Quixote catches up with them. As they sit round the campfire and are entertained by their hosts Don Quixote hallucinates that the windmill is a monster and is after him. As he sleeps he enters a magical world – the garden of the Dryads – where his beloved Dulcinea is.
The final acts sees the young lovers back in the town square preparing for their wedding. Kitri’s father is still none too keen. Basilio pretends to kill himself which leads to the match being blessed. It’s good to end on a happy note.
This is a very colourful ballet. The costumes, lighting and set all jump out from the stage. The feathers in Gamache’s hat could not have been a better blue for this rather camp chap about town. He sparkled in his gold pantaloons. I just loved him. The gold and the red of the matadors outfits was a pleasure to see. The costume design really was a highlight.
As was the set. The windmill in the beautifully lit sunset of the gypsy camp made you want to go there. It looked so warm and comforting. But the prop that caused a murmur from the audience as it trotted onto stage – definitely an approving (and impressed) murmur – was the mechanical horse that Don Quixote rode into town on. Although mounted on wheels its legs still moved so realistically.
This is a really enjoyable ballet that I would urge you to go and see. Although the newspaper critics have not rated it highly it is a stunning production that should be seen and enjoyed. It is on at the Royal Opera House until 6 November. Tickets can be bought online or day tickets are available from the box office on the day from 10am.
The Royal Opera House hosted a very different kind of event on Sunday evening. Stephen Fry and Alan Davies were monitored whilst watching an opera. Fry, of course, is a regular to the opera. Whilst Davies was an opera virgin. A team from UCL monitored their blood pressure, sweat and heart rate throughout. A really fascinating study ino the impact music can have on us.
The event was streamed live in Twitter. A world first! The Royal Opera House have now put the event youtube for all to enjoy.
Confessions of Gordon Brown was a must see for anyone working in Westminster. Starting off at the Edinburgh Fringe before heading to Trafalgar Studios (with a short holiday to Brighton for Labour Party Conference) this was a real treat for all politicos.
Written by Kevin Toolis and performed by Ian Grieve you really did feel that you were watching Gordon Brown. Set in what looked like a personal office in Westminster, Brown shares his thoughts on his time in office, Tony and, of course, the Coalition. Ian Grieve is such a talent. He mastered Brown’s mannerisms and voice perfectly. There were times that he actually looked so much like Brown that you had to remind yourself this was a play and not a real life lecture.
The studio at Trafalgar Studios is small, dark and has quite a low ceiling. It really added to the mood that you were listening in on someone’s secrets. As it was so intimate you were never far from Grieve and could really feel the tension as he swore through Brown’s anecdotes of his rise and fall from power.
Confessions of Gordon Brown played at Edinburgh Festival prior to moving to London. I did wonder if amendments had been made to the script as it was so up-to-date with references to Damian McBride and his book Power Trip (published during Labour Party Conference). But you couldn’t really expect anything less as Toolis used to be a journalist in the House of Commons.
I hope this one man show is on stage again soon. It was such an impressive performance from Grieve. He captured Brown so well but was able to slip into other Cabinet members with ease mimicking their voice and accents brilliantly.
To watch an exert of the play visit the Confessions of Gordon Brown website.