Play a Day

Back in June I joined in with the Borough Press‘s Twitter chat #bookadayuk, in which participants talked about the books they loved. I have been inspired to create a similar chat about the theatre – please join in with #playaday!*

There’s no need to stick rigidly to the prompts, and you don’t have to join in every day if you don’t want to – I just want to get lots of people talking about theatre, whether you’re a superfan or a relative newbie.

  1. Your earliest theatrical experience
  2. Best bargain
  3. Do you prefer plays or musicals?
  4. Favourite play by a living playwright
  5. If you were an actor, which character in which play would you love to be?
  6. The play you would take a theatre newbie to see
  7. Immersive theatre – love it or hate it?
  8. The funniest play you’ve seen
  9. A play you were made to read or study at school
  10. A production starring your favourite actor/actress
  11. A play you gave a standing ovation to
  12. Favourite Shakespeare
  13. A play you left at the interval
  14. A play you thought would be great, that turned out to be terrible
  15. A play you had low expectations for, that turned out to be fantastic
  16. A play you would love to see, but you haven’t had a chance yet
  17. A play you could watch again and again
  18. A memorable production (as opposed to a play itself)
  19. A play you left at the interval
  20. Theatrical guilty pleasure
  21. A play in an unusual setting (not necessarily immersive)
  22. Favourite children’s play
  23. A play everyone should see
  24. The play you have seen the most
  25. A play that you saw with someone you love
  26. A particularly memorable theatrical moment in a play you saw
  27. A play in which something went wrong on stage
  28. A play you thought deserved more success than it received
  29. A play you think is overrated
  30. A play adapted from a film or TV show
  31. Favourite play of all time

 

*Though I almost always use the word “play” here feel free to assume that it encompasses musicals, opera, ballet and dance too – anything performance-related, basically. It’s just that “playaday” sounds better, and #playormusicalorballetoroperaaday was a bit too long a hashtag.

Duet for One

I saw Tom Kempinski’s play Duet for One in Park Theatre’s small Morris Space, a two-person play about a renowned violinist whose career is ended by multiple sclerosis. The character of Stephanie Abrahams, the newly wheelchair-bound musician, was based on the cellist Jacqueline Du Pré who herself contracted MS in 1972, forcing her to give up her career. In the play, we see Abrahams try and come to terms with her illness through her conversations with psychiatrist Dr Feldman. It is moving and touching, and there is some fine acting from both of the stars as their characters’ complex relationship develops.

The Devil & Stepashka

Inspired by a Tolstoy short story, The Devil & Stepashka by Claire Booker is performed at The Space by Goblin Baby Theatre Company. It is directed by Leigh-Anne Abela.

The production concerns Zhenya (Paul Christian Rogers), jailed for murdering a peasant girl, Stepashka. He tries to convince himself and the others around him that she seduced him, in order to hide his guilt about betraying his wife. An interesting production with a particularly strong performance from Tessa Hart as Stepashka.

You Might As Well Live

As a huge fan of American writer and wit Dorothy Parker, I headed to the Mill Studio, part of Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, in order to see You Might As Well Live, performed by Sue Daniels of Cotton Grass Theatre with jazz music from the Steve Salfield Trio. “Dorothy” tells us the story of her life, loves and the writers of her day, interwoven with her poetry. It didn’t quite reach the heights of Parker’s brilliance, but it was an entertaining evening and served as a wonderful reminder of her talent.

Happy Days: A New Musical

After watching a Channel 4 show about musicals, I decided I’d quite like to see Happy Days. In the TV show, producer Amy Anzel was trying hard to get this pet project off the ground, and I found myself rooting for her over the course of the programme. When the tour came to Milton Keynes Theatre, I headed up from London one night to catch the show.

Having never seen the original Happy Days programme, I can’t compare it with this musical, but I found it to be an enjoyable piece of retro entertainment. The plot – involving a quest to save diner Arnold’s from demolition by means of a wrestling competition – is thin, but the songs are chirpy and catchy (with the famous TV theme tune making several appearances) and it’s hard not to warm to the production.

Former Emmerdale star Ben Freeman plays the Fonz, and I thought he performed well in the role. The standout performance for me, though, came from ex-Sugababe Heidi Range as Pinky. Though I was a Sugababes fan, I always thought Heidi had the weakest voice of the girls, but here she proves that her talent is strong enough to cut it as a musical theatre lead.

Cheryl Baker stars as Mrs Cunningham, and we get the inevitable nod to Buck’s Fizz in the middle of the show. My favourite moment, though, was when Fonzie was joined by Elvis Presley and James Dean in a routine – very surreal!

I wouldn’t add this to my list of favourite ever musicals, but it definitely makes for an entertaining evening.

The Last Days of Troy

Poet Simon Armitage has turned his hand to writing plays: The Last Days of Troy is the first new play in the Globe’s “Arms and the Man” season. In it, he tackles the familiar subject of the siege of Troy with clarity and a taut narrative.

Turning Homer’s work into a three-hour play is no mean feat, but Armitage achieves it through the judicious use of dialogue and a framing device which sees a modern-day Zeus (Richard Bremmer) looking back on the past and regretting the waste of war. The cast, including Colin Tierney as Odysseus, Jake Fairbrother as Achilles, and Clare Calbraith as Andromache and Thetis were excellent, and I also liked Lily Cole’s performance as Helen, her stage debut. She has been criticised for being cold, but I think her portrayal suits the character perfectly. Overall, an entertaining play that is typical of the quality of the Globe.

Mr Burns

It’s received a mixed critical reception, but Mr Burns, the new play by Anne Washburn currently showing at the Almeida Theatre, is in my opinion a brilliant, brave piece of theatre. It shows how pop culture becomes embedded in the memory, acting like a beacon to anchor oneself to in a crisis, and how despite familiarity memory can become corrupted over time. It is also a commentary on the human need for myth and how modern popular culture could take over that role in a “post-electric” society such as that shown in the play.

It begins with survivors of some kind of nuclear disaster, sitting around a campfire and trying to recall, frame by frame, the episode of The Simpsons in which Sideshow Bob is trying to murder Bart. The characters are trying desperately to hold on to something familiar, to remember a shared experience in the face of disaster – when someone new arrives at the camp, each group member recites a list of names in the vain hope that the new arrival will have news of their loved ones.

The second act takes place seven years in the future. The characters are now part of a theatrical troupe, performing excerpts from The Simpsons and other gems of pop culture including “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and “Toxic”. This leads to a bizarre sequence of blended songs and remarkable dancing. There is a darker side, too, with the buying and selling of iconic lines from the show, and the presence of armed mobs.

In the final act, set many years in the future, the Simpsons have taken on the status of gods or heroic figures, and the Sideshow Bob episode has been transformed almost beyond recognition. Re-enactors wear outlandish costumes and sing powerful laments in an operatic style, still with elements of those pop songs. Sideshow Bob has been transformed into Mr Burns, but instead of the wrinkly old man we know and love to hate, he is a rakish Captain Sparrow-like figure with a greater aura of menace. This is what the distortion of popular memory has led to – a truly impressive finish.