Loot

The chance to see a Joe Orton play always appeals to me, so I was happy to hear that the Park Theatre would be reviving his 1965 classic Loot. It is performed here for the first time in its unexpurgated form, having originally been heavily cut by the censor.

As if to emphasise how the contemporary climate affected the staging of the play, each act is introduced by audio clips of news and other programmes bemoaning the decline of standards. This proves an apt way to set the piece in context, but even so it’s still pretty shocking.

Mrs McLeavy has recently died, and lies in her coffin in her WRNS uniform, awaiting a respectable Catholic burial. Her husband sincerely mourns her, but her nurse Fay has her sights set on the new widower, and has already purloined many of her clothes and jewels. Meanwhile, son Hal has taken part in a bank robbery and is desperate for somewhere to store the cash; he and his partner/lover Dennis decide that his mother’s coffin is the perfect hiding place. As they try to implement their nefarious plan, Inspector Truscott enters, posing as an official from the water board, hoping to unmask the robbers.

I found the setting slightly misleading at first: the events take place solely in the front room of the McLeavy house, but the top of the set looks like the interior of a church. Still, it emphasises how religion and particularly Catholicism looms over the play. The cast all give great performances, with Christopher Fulford a superb Truscott and Sinéad Matthews excellent as Nurse Fay, while Sam Frenchum and Calvin Demba are strong as Hal and Dennis. At the start of the play you might be forgiven for thinking that Anah Ruddin, playing the late Mrs McLeavy, had the easiest role, but in fact she probably has the most difficult task of the lot, being pummeled and manhandled while trying to give the impression of being lifeless. She probably deserves some sort of special award.

I didn’t find it as funny as I’d hoped – perhaps the shock value has rescinded over time – but I still found it amusing and fairly sharp in the way it examines corruption and authority.

Advertisements

Read Not Dead: Sappho and Phao

Sappho and Phao was the last Read Not Dead production in the ‘Before Shakespeare’ series at the Globe. It’s a comedy by John Lyly, dating from around 1584, and features the goddess Venus who endows a young ferryman with great beauty, is cross when he and the queen of Sicily, Sappho, fall in love with one another, and plots to ruin their attachment. It’s an amusing tale, cleverly staged by the team at the Globe who perform it with flair and a light touch. A fitting finale to the short season.

Titus Andronicus

Next in the RSC’s summer Roman season is Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, although it is set after the previous two Shakespeare plays of the season, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. It uses the same set as those plays, but unlike them it is set in the modern day. At first I was unsure about this, wondering if it would have made more sense to have set the play during its original time period in keeping with the rest of the season. However, setting it in the present does emphasise that the events in it are taking place years after those in Caesar and Cleopatra, and it also draws parallels between the events of the play and contemporary politics.

Titus, it must be said, is not one of Shakespeare’s best plays. It’s unsubtle and overblown, and is most famous for its violence, which is not played down in this production. Indeed, the infamous pie scene is probably the most grotesque I’ve ever seen it. However, it certainly shouldn’t be dismissed. It has some compelling characters, foreshadows the themes of some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, and has a genuine interest of its own. The characters in the play are fictional, but the events which occur are loosely based on real events. It’s interesting that while Roman civilisation and Gothic barbarism are initially contrasted, the Romans are shown to be every bit as brutal as the Goths.

Performing this play as part of the Roman season led me to see parallels between this and the other plays in the season. The triumphant entrance of the General Titus reminded me of the return of Julius Caesar at the beginning of that play, and Antony’s ultimately destructive infatuation with Cleopatra foreshadows emperor Saturninus’ obsession with Tamora.

The play could be described as a bloody revenge tragedy, but to be fair there is more to it., with plenty of political scheming, secret plotting and musings on fate. There are some strong performances from David Troughton as Titus, Hannah Morrish as Lavinia and Nia Gwynne as Tamora. An enjoyable production, superbly directed by Blanche McIntyre, and a must-watch for anyone interested in the whole of the Roman season.

Apologia

Apologia was heavily advertised on the back of Stockard Channing, its most famous cast member, known for playing Rizzo in Grease. Personally I’m no fan of Grease and freely admit it was the presence of Joseph Millson (playing Channing’s two sons) that drew me in. Another factor in its favour was that it was written by Alexi Kaye Campbell, whose plays I have enjoyed in the past.

Channing plays Kristin, an art historian with a commitment to politics and a complicated relationship with her two sons Peter and Simon who, we learn, were brought up by their father for a large part of their childhood. Kristin has recently published a book, Apologia, from which the title of the play is taken. An apologia, we learn, is not an apology but a defence of one’s opinions or conduct. It turns out that Kristin did not mention her sons at all in this, her supposed autobiography, an omission which neither is particularly happy about. Over the course of the play, both sons visit her and old resentments come to the surface.

Apologia explores what I think is a hugely relevant theme for today: the relationship between an individual’s political beliefs and their personal choices, or how the political and the personal feed into each other. It’s feminist in tone, showing how Kristin as a female academic was a trailblazer, helping to change the world for a generation of women. Kristin’s situation explores the age-old conflict between career and children. She is not perfect, and her sons’ resentment is to an extent understandable, but she is also hugely sympathetic and admirable.

Channing gives a very good performance, while Joseph Millson is superb as both Peter and Simon, the one a successful banker, the other a would-be writer suffering a mental breakdown. I also really liked Laura Carmichael as Peter’s girlfriend whose Christian sweetness and naivety is comic yet also admirable.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this play, but it made a strong impression on me and I definitely recommend it.

Salome

Sometimes I wonder if the big theatres actually talk to each other. Oscar Wilde’s Salome isn’t exactly a popular play, but for some reason in 2017 both the National and the RSC have decided to stage it. One thing I can say is that at least the productions are completely different.

The RSC have decided to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain – and the fact that Wilde himself was gay – with an almost all-male production (Suzanne Burden as Herodias is the only female actor in the show) that reveals the homoerotic undertones in the play and adds some of its own. Of course, while the original play was about a woman and a man, the theme of a rejected love would surely ring true for Wilde. I suppose I should be unhappy that a major female role has been given to a man, but to be honest I think what the RSC has done is pretty interesting.

Owen Horsley’s production is atmospheric, with dramatic set design by Bretta Gerecke and music by Perfume Genius. The play isn’t exactly my favourite – I find some of Wilde’s dialogue rather cringeworthy – but in the hands of the RSC’S ensemble cast it really doesn’t sound so bad, and it’s delivered with sincerity. Matthew Tennyson is vulnerable and compelling as Salome, while Gavin Fowler is charismatic and and powerful as Iokanaan. The supporting cast are all superb, and Suzanne Burden as Herodias in particular shines, playing possibly the most ‘Wildean’ character of the bunch, demonstrating acerbic wit.

The production isn’t quite as atmospheric and affecting as Yael Farber’s quite different one at the National, but it has its own grace and charm and is probably the best at getting across what the play is trying to say. I was intrigued by the production and actually ended up liking the play more.

Must-See Musicals DVD Collection

For someone who loves musicals, I really haven’t seen many filmed versions. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve seen The Sound of Music, for example. Last Christmas I asked for a box set of Must-See Musicals in an attempt to rectify this.

The set consists of 15 classic musicals in a striking yellow box, spanning the years from 1933 to 1962. It was great to be able to watch some musicals that I’d only ever seen on stage, including 42nd Street, Meet Me In St Louis and Singing In the Rain, as well as High Society, Gypsy, Annie Get Your Gun, Calamity Jane and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.

Some of them I wasn’t all that keen on. I thought On Moonlight Bay, April In Paris and Love Me Or Leave Me were a little bit dull, and A Star is Born was spoilt by being a full-length version including stills that had been added in without sound, really taking you out of the movie.

There are no extras (apart from A Star Is Born) and there’s nothing to suggest the films have been restored in any way – but if you just want the films you can’t go wrong. On balance, it’s a great collection for anyone wanting to improve their knowledge of classic musicals.

The Albatross

The Albatross was shown at RADA Studios as part of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival. It was a work in progress by the Cambridge Opera Company, with music by Kim Ashton, based on Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It was an interesting, atmospheric work and I’d be curious to see the whole thing.