Reviews – drama

Lord Of The Flies – review

[Originally published in Arts in Leicester  magazine, 10th February 2016. Re-published here.]

Curve, main theatre
Lord of The Flies runs from 8th February to 13th February

A play adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams from the novel by William Golding.
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Our rating: ****

Reviewed by Trevor Locke

A gripping and imaginative production.

Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Piggy. Photo: Johan Persson.
Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Piggy.
Photo: Johan Persson.

Reading the programme notes for tonight’s play was almost as entertaining as the show itself. In The nature of being human, Professor Tanya Byron takes ‘a deeper look at what this story tells us about the nature of being human.’ The said academic is a consultant in child and adolescent mental health, writer and presenter on TV shows. Her piece, in the programme, was absorbing. It got me thinking about the plays, books and films that have portrayed teenage violence since William Golding’s novel was published in 1954 and Peter Brook’s film of the book came out in 1963. I would not want to suggest that this play is about teenage violence – it portrays much more than that – but several films came to mind as I read Byron’s contribution. I remembered attending a conference of youth justice workers at which SCUM was screened. Alan Clarke’s dark portrayal of life in a British borstal, released in 1983, was a seminal moment for me, at that time, as well as for the 200 or so social workers and probation officers with whom I watched the film. What stuck in my mind was the scene in which the Borstal inmates riot in the dining hall breaking up the furniture in a collective frenzy of teenage violence. Bear in mind that the old Borstals were based on English public schools and their regimes of character-building and devotion to rules and discipline.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

As I continued to read, other films came into my mind: Lindsay Anderson’s IF which satirised the life of English public schools, Brighton Rock by Graham Green, a story of teenage sociopaths, hoodlums and the battles brought by Rockers against Mods, The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 classic about tough working class teens and their rivals from the wealthier side of town. In fact, I even saw parallels with West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet and Rebel Without a Cause.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

Many art forms since the 50s and 60s have dwelt on the nature of young male behaviour and seen it in dark terms of violence and aggression. To Professor Byron, tonight’s play is about ‘human nature’ despite the fact that the characters are all male and all young (in the book they are preadolescent, 6 to 12) and there are no female characters in the play. Tonight’s cast was made up of actors who looked to be in their late teens or early 20s with the exception of Perceval ( a role played tonight by David Evans). Ever since the Brixton Riots of the 1980s, teenagers and young adults have been demonised in the news and popular culture, which might explain why Golding’s 1954 novel has such an enduring appeal.

Ralph in Lord of The Flies. Photo: Johan Persson.
Ralph in Lord of The Flies.
Photo: Johan Persson.

Like a lot of very successful books and dramas, Lord of the Flies can be interpreted in a number of ways and certainly its plot operates on many levels. It is ostensibly about a group of English public school boys who are marooned on a desert island after their air-plane crashes. It shows how the thin veneer of their upper class upbringing and civilisation is destroyed as they resort to savagery, tribalism, murder and bloodsports. In and beneath that, the plot is about leadership, morality and power, portraying the tense dialectic of group dynamics with individuality. You might see the plot as a struggle for survival, and yes it does show that, or what happens to well brought-up boys when the reins of adult supervision are removed.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson

Tonight’s production at Curve was dominated by the set design of Jon Bausor. The plot takes place on a desert island sometimes on the beach (near to the remains of the crashed aircraft), sometimes on the top of a hill (Castle Rock) and at times in a forest. Putting all that on to a small stage was bound to be a challenge. As with many recent productions, the same set remains in place throughout the two acts. The action – of which there is plenty – takes place around, in and on the various parts of the fuselage of the tail of the crashed plane. It is a set which requires the audience to use its imagination.

The cast of young male actors imbued the production with plenty of energy and when not acting their roles were choreographed into a series of dance-like moves, moments when some of them were frozen while the dialogue took place elsewhere and the kind of running, jumping, climbing and leaping about that only a young athletic ensemble could achieve. Nigel Williams’s adaptation of the Golding novel tells the story and unravels the plot (however you want to interpret it) whilst grappling with the logistics of life in a forested desert island with a beach and a hill. Reading Nick Smurthwaite’s programme note ‘Trouble in Paradise‘, I particularly valued his paragraph:

My experience showed me that the only falsification in Golding’s fable is the length of time the descent into savagery takes. His action takes about three months. I believe that if the cork of continued adult presence were removed from the bottle, complete catastrophe could occur within one long weekend.

He is quoting the words of Peter Brook, the director or the 1963 film, in which he took a group of untrained young actors to make the film on an island in Puerto Rico. When Golding sent his book to the publishers, the plot began with an atomic explosion which brought down the boys’ plane and led to the long the long delay to their rescue.

In that respect, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of the shallowness of civilisation generally and of mankind’s descent into savagery when law and order are removed; if that is how you want to see it, then both the book, the film and the play deserve a place alongside Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story.

A production from Regent’s Park Theatre Ltd.

Pinafore at Curve

21st July 2016

Review: Her Majesty’s Ship Pinafore

by Sophie Antunes

Our Rating: *****

I am very grateful that I got the chance to end my extremely long absence from the theatre, by attending the opening performance of HMS Pinafore, on Thursday 21st July; a truly memorable performance!

At first I was quite anxious, that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the context and irony of the show, to the fullest extent, which was heightened by the much older audience I could see around me. Yet, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself and was rather amused by the comical performances from the male cast.

HMS Pinafore at Curve, July 21st 2016
HMS Pinafore at Curve, July 21st 2016

The realism of the performance was spot on, due to small actions, such as: torches used for light, cigarettes being smoked, actors changing on stage and the brotherhood displayed by the cast, which allowed us to accurately witness the lifestyle of World War II sailors.

Also, the vocals which filled the room, were very impressive and I was stunned by the variety of notes sung, melodically, by the male actors, who were even able to impressively imitate women for the show. I felt, that I further enjoyed the show due to the music and vocals, which helped to heighten the atmosphere and emotions being presented and in turn brought the whole show to life.

Personally, I loved this theatrical experience and would encourage fans of Opera, as well as people who are interested in history and class struggles, to hurry and watch this performance!

You will laugh, be immersed in breath-taking vocals, and emotionally connect with the talented male actors of the show, who are able to push aside gender barriers to create a performance of intimacy, presenting social injustice in our British class system. HMS Pinafore has helped me to fall in love with theatre again, and I can’t wait to return.

 

Bodyguard review

The Bodyguard review

by Melissa O’Biern

Straight from the West-End to the East-End – East Midland’s DeMontfort Hall, that is – this is a concert, a movie and a musical, all rolled in to one. And it is with us for eleven days only. Showing from 15th-26th March before moving onto its next leg.

The Bodyguard with Alexandra Burke, 2016
The Bodyguard with Alexandra Burke, 2016

This stage adaptation of 1992s movie The Bodyguard just about has it all. Pyrotechnics envelope the stage seconds into the performance and the explosions do not stop there. Three-time Brit nominee and X Factor winner of 2008 Alexandra Burke as Rachel Marron greets the audience with a performance worthy of a Grammy as she provides the voice of Whitney, delivered with the energy of Beyonce, and it certainly sets the scene for the rest of the two-hour performance.

Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard 2016
Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard 2016

The story of Rachel Marron and Frank Farmer, based on the 1992 Warner Bros Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, is told beautifully, moved along by a sweet and nostalgic current of sixteen Whitney Houstin mega-hits, including One Moment in Time, Queen of the Night and I Have Nothing – all, of course, given the kiss of life by Burke’s contemporary and soulful delivery.
Global superstar diva Marron ‘s life is endangered by a crazed stalker convinced that they are meant to be together. Concerned for her well-being, her manager hires Secret Service Agent Frank Farmer (played by Stuart Reid), a no-nonsense, dry-humoured Bodyguard, renowned for his good work, to wrap her in the thick cotton wool that she requires. A man of business, versus a woman of freedom, and she initially resists his attempts to keep her safe – that is, until she falls in love with him.
Running parallel to this love story is the close yet fractured relationship between two Marron sisters, which becomes more apparent as the performance goes on. Nicki Marron (Melissa James) is modest ignored and slightly bitter, yet passive. Rachel is strong-willed and at the centre of the Universe. They seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, however they both have one thing in common – they both develop an ever-increasing interest in the Bodyguard. Is it to fill the overwhelming voids of emptiness that they are both feeling? The breath-taking duet of Run to You, delivered by the talented stars, may suggest so.
As the production rounds itself up to a finish, you can sense the almost unbearable anticipation of Houston’s most famous hit I Will Always Love You – and it does not disappoint. The Oscar aspiring Marron shines bright dressed head to toe in an Oscar trophy-esque gown, possibly mirroring her long-running Oscar ambitions which were a clear theme within the performance.
A very up-tempo and equally emotive performance delivered by Burke truly showcases her to have the full package – a singer, a dancer and an actress, displaying impressive choreography without even missing a note. This will be sure to leave you begging to ‘Dance With Somebody’.

See also:

Our review of Green Day’s American Idiot.

Our review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

American Idiot

24th March 2016

American Idiot Review
Curve Studio

Our rating: *****

Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Director and Choreographer Racky Plews

Fifteen years ago I was watching Billy Joe Armstrong and his punk band Green Day performing live at The Reading Festival. I have been loving their music ever since. The audience in Curve Studio theatre tonight also loved it; they gave the performers a standing ovation at the end of the show. It was one of the best musical events I have seen at Curve, or anywhere else for that matter.

So many things stood out for me in this show: all the cast members danced, sang and acted and played guitars; in fact in one scene they are all on stage playing guitars – en masse. You won’t see that again in a musical in a long time. The cast were very ably supported by a live band; some of the band guitarists were on stage, on a platform above the main performance area. The three principals sang songs accompanying themselves on guitars.

Green Day's American Idiot runs at Curve from 19th March. Picture from 2015 London production. Photo: Darren Bell.
Green Day’s American Idiot runs at Curve from 19th March.
Picture from 2015 London production.
Photo: Darren Bell.

The moment that stole the show for me was Matt Thorpe singing Boulevard Of Broken Dreams; the Green Day song that has a special resonance for me; I quoted from the lyrics in my novel The Trench, were its sentiments epitomised what rock bands often seem to feel about working in live music. Not what the song is about but hey it seemed to fit anyway.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone

American Idiot is a punk rock opera; its roots could be said to lie in the rich soil of Tommy, The Rocky Horror Show, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar and various other productions that have broken the mould of musical theatre over the past few decades. Green Day’s album of the same name was released in 2004, the musical being premiered in 2009 at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre prior to the show moving on to Broadway.

Tonight’s show at Curve’s Studio was absolutely marvellous. The standing ovation given by the audience at the final curtain was well deserved. The singing was fantastic, the dance was massively good, the acting amazing and the whole show a complete sensation.

American Idiot was exciting, colourful, dramatic, engrossing, poignant, enjoyable… no shortage of adjectives to describe how good it was. The show opens with the cast singing and dancing to American Idiot, the hit title song Green Day’s album of 2004. A number that fizzed with unbridled vitality.

Well maybe I’m the faggot America.
I’m not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along to the age of paranoia.

Everyone in the cast was good but Matt Thorpe (who played Johnny) was pretty amazing; Tunny (played by Alexis Gerred) was electric and Amelia Lily (as Whatsername) wonderful, Steve Rushton as Will, superb. The performance of the cast sizzled with energy. These guys really rocked out bringing it all to life on the stage.

We did not see the drummer Alex Marchisone until he came on stage for the curtain call right at the end. But the guitarists were visible for most of the show which was great because seeing them playing live gave the whole thing an extra resonance.

The show tells the story of three friends from a suburban area, following different journeys in search of their true selves. Through the songs they express their love, their rage and their struggles. The theme of the show includes a preoccupation with TV and a screen is lowered over the stage from time to time. The story line revolves around the lives of Johnny, Will and Tunny. Will’s girlfriend Heather becomes pregnant. Johnny wanders through the city streets pining for a woman he saw in a window. Tunny enlists for the army. Johnny starts to shoot heroin. Will feels trapped in life as a father with a baby and Tunny is shot while on active service.

American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.
American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.

Well there is a lot more to the story and I don’t want to spoil it for you; I just want you to see it. American Idiot is one of the best productions I have seen at Curve – and there have been a few of them. The show’s eight day run in Leicester is a great shame, for its brevity,   but it’s on tour and many other audiences in many other towns will want to see it. The show is moving on to several other cities in the UK between now and July.

Find out more about the show on the American Idiot website

American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.
American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.

See also:

Our coverage of Rent, the musical

Blood Brothers review

Rocky Horror Show review

Outings

Thursday 25th February

Outings – review

Curve, studio theatre
Outings 25th and 26th February
The world’s first show based on true-life coming out stories
by Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldin
Our rating: *****

Reviewed by Trevor Locke

Moving, funny, disturbing but wholly insightful

On stage tonight were Andrew Doyle, Caroline Lennon, Hardeep Singh Kohli and Camille Ucan.

Camille Ucan appeared in Outings, February 25
Camille Ucan appeared in Outings, February 25

The phrase ‘coming out’ has embedded itself in the British language. Originally it meant ‘coming out of the closet’, a phrase coined in America in the 1960s. Tonight the four actors read a series of stories, collected and edited by Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin, originating in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The show began at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 and most of the stories were submitted to a couple of websites run by the editors. These stories reflect the life experiences of men and women from around the world as they reveal their sexual orientations to their family, friends and work colleagues.

Moving, funny and sometimes disturbing, these stories tell us a lot about the world we live in and the people who react to the confessions of those nearest to them. The 20 or so stories are vibrant, compelling and highly revealing; they lay bare not just the personal accounts of the people who came out but the reactions of the mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, work mates and others to whom they ‘came out.’ That tells us a lot about our society; it exposes who we are and how we behave towards others, especially those we love or are supposed to love.

Adrew Doyle appeared in Outings, February 25
Adrew Doyle appeared in Outings, February 25

Outings is not a play; the four people on stage tonight did a vastly good job at acting (rather than just reading the scripts) bringing each of the characters to life and making them into real people by giving them credible voices. Neither was it a documentary or a lecture. Many kinds of individuals came across in the stories: women, men, young, old… they all told of what they did to reveal their sexual orientation to those around them, the reactions they got from others and the impact of their revelations on their lives and those of their nearest and dearest.

Most of the stories were monologues, except where two or more of the actors enhanced the story by acting out moments of dialogue. It was cleverly done and the two hours of drama and comedy never had a dull moment; it was always gripping, sometimes tear-jerking, now and then side-splittingly funny but always insightful and moving.

Our four actors had a real knack of bringing the story-tellers to life and giving them colour and presence. The stories hopped from man to woman, from teenager to older married man, to someone born into the ‘wrong’ body, to a straight woman who had married a gay man, to a footballer who had to battle with a homophobic sport, to a teacher who told a class of eight year olds that he was gay… if you did not know these were true stories you would be forgiven for thinking they had all been made up. Truth is stranger than fiction.

The media has, in recent years, presented us with several high-profile coming out events: swimmer Tom Daley, footballer Justin Fashnu, rugby player Gareth Thomas, Apple boss Tim Cook, actress Ellen Page, Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, the list goes on and on. Tonight’s stories were not about celebrities;they were from ordinary, sometimes extraordinary, people living humdrum lives in a variety of situations. What tonight’s show does remarkably well is to reflect back to ‘straight’ people how they deal with coming out. Society has a lot to learn.

Outings is at Curve on 25th and 26th February.

 

LordofTheFlies at Curve

Lord Of The Flies – review

Curve, main theatre
Lord of The Flies runs from 8th February to 13th February

A play adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams from the novel by William Golding.
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Our rating: ****

Reviewed by Trevor Locke

A gripping and imaginative production.

Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Piggy. Photo: Johan Persson.
Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Piggy.
Photo: Johan Persson.

Reading the programme notes for tonight’s play was almost as entertaining as the show itself. In The nature of being human, Professor Tanya Byron takes ‘a deeper look at what this story tells us us about the nature of being human.’ The said academic is a consultant in child and adolescent mental health, writer and presenter on TV shows. Her piece, in the programme, was absorbing. It got me thinking about the plays, books and films that have portrayed teenage violence since William Golding’s novel was published in 1954 and Peter Brook’s film of the book came out in 1963. I would not want to suggest that this play is about teenage violence – it portrays much more than that – but several films came to mind as I read Byron’s contribution. I remembered attending a conference of youth justice workers at which SCUM was screened. Alan Clarke’s dark portrayal of life in a British borstal, released in 1983, was a seminal moment for me, at that time, as well as for the 200 or so social workers and probation officers with whom I watched the film. What stuck in my mind was the scene in which the Borstal inmates riot in the dining hall breaking up the furniture in a collective frenzy of teenage violence. Bear in mind that the old Borstals were based on English public schools and their regimes of character-building and devotion to rules and discipline.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

As I continued to read, other films came into my mind: Lindsay Anderson’s IF which satirised the life of English public schools, Brighton Rock by Graham Green, a story of teenage sociopaths, hoodlums and the battles brought by Rockers against Mods, The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 classic about tough working class teens and their rivals from the wealthier side of town. In fact, I even saw parallels with West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet and Rebel Without a Cause.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

Many art forms since the 50s and 60s have dwelt on the nature of young male behaviour and seen it in dark terms of violence and aggression. To Professor Byron, tonight’s play is about ‘human nature’ despite the fact that the characters are all male and all young (in the book they are preadolescent, 6 to 12) and there are no female characters in the play. Tonight’s cast was made up of actors who looked to be in their late teens or early 20s with the exception of Perceval ( a role played tonight by David Evans). Ever since the Brixton Riots of the 1980s, teenagers and young adults have been demonised in the news and popular culture, which might explain why Golding’s 1954 novel has such an enduring appeal.

Ralph in Lord of The Flies. Photo: Johan Persson.
Ralph in Lord of The Flies.
Photo: Johan Persson.

Like a lot of very successful books and dramas, Lord of the Flies can be interpreted in a number of ways and certainly its plot operates on many levels. It is ostensibly about a group of English public school boys who are marooned on a desert island after their air-plane crashes. It shows how the thin veneer of their upper class upbringing and civilisation is destroyed as they resort to savagery, tribalism, murder and bloodsports. In and beneath that, the plot is about leadership, morality and power, portraying the tense dialectic of group dynamics with individuality. You might see the plot as a struggle for survival, and yes it does show that, or what happens to well brought-up boys when the reins of adult supervision are removed.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

Tonight’s production at Curve was dominated by the set design of Jon Bausor. The plot takes place on a desert island sometimes on the beach (near to the remains of the crashed aircraft), sometimes on the top of a hill (Castle Rock) and at times in a forest. Putting all that on to a small stage was bound to be a challenge. As with many recent productions, the same set remains in place throughout the two acts. The action – of which there is plenty – takes place around, in and on the various parts of the fuselage of the tail of the crashed plane. It is a set which requires the audience to use its imagination.

The cast of young male actors imbued the production with plenty of energy and when not acting their roles were choreographed into a series of dance-like moves, moments when some of them were frozen while the dialogue took place elsewhere and the kind of running, jumping, climbing and leaping about that only a young athletic ensemble could achieve. Nigel Williams’s adaptation of the Golding novel tells the story and unravels the plot (however you want to interpret it) whilst grappling with the logistics of life in a forested desert island with a beach and a hill. Reading Nick Smurthwaite’s programme note ‘Trouble in Paradise‘, I particularly valued his paragraph:

My experience showed me that the only falsification in Golding’s fable is the length of time the descent into savagery takes. His action takes about three months. I believe that if the cork of continued adult presence were removed from the bottle, complete catastrophe could occur within one long weekend.

He is quoting the words of Peter Brook, the director or the 1963 film, in which he took a group of untrained young actors to make the film on an island in Puerto Rico. When Golding sent his book to the publishers, the plot began with an atomic explosion which brought down the boys’ plane and led to the long the long delay to their rescue.

In that respect, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of the shallowness of civilisation generally and of mankind’s descent into savagery when law and order are removed; if that is how you want to see it, then both the book, the film and the play deserve a place alongside Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story.

A production from Regent’s Park Theatre Ltd.

See also:

Our review of King Charles III.

Feature: Food in the twentyfirst century.

King Charles III

King Charles III – review

Curve, main theatre

King Charles III runs from 26th January to 30th January

Following a sold-out run at the Almeida Theatre and a critically acclaimed West End season, Mike Bartlett’s multi award-winning new play King Charles III comes to Leicester.

King Charles III is at Curve theatre Leicester
King Charles III is at Curve theatre Leicester

Our Rating: ****

Tuesday 26th January 2016

If you think the plot of tonight’s play is far-fetched, please read the history of England’s medieval kings and remember that Charles I’s defiance of Parliament led to the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s interregnum which saw the abolition of the monarchy. Not forgetting that James II was deposed by Parliament. One thing that history tells us about our monarchy is that anything can happen, already has done and probably will do. What playwright Mike Bartlett has done is to look at the present line of succession to the throne, study the characters he finds there and extrapolate what might happen when the inevitable day comes to pass when we see a new face under the crown of England. King Charles III is nothing if not provocative. The plot which unwound in Act 1 is credible. This play captivated me from beginning to end. As the plot unravelled, through several surprising twists and turns, I became more and more absorbed in it and the result of the audience was too, I think.

The production was solemn and dignified, almost to the point of frustration. It was a plot that bit hard on the bones of the British ‘constitution’ (not that our country actually has one) and gnawed away at the uneasy relationship between democracy and monarchical rule. Our state is a peculiar edifice. This was a very serious play but then so too were Shakespeare’s history plays – the Henrys, King John, the Richards – it certainly was not a comedy but could have been a tragedy, depending on your point of view. It is perhaps (as someone said) a ‘history for tomorrow.’ Bartlett’s drama is rooted in the popular media of the contemporary world, just as the great bard’s was rooted in the fashions and preoccupations of Tudor times. What we think we know about Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry (through the lens of the media) was used to foresee how their roles might play out on the great stage of the state.

When I review a play, I normally give a resume of its plot. I have decided not to in this case; because I think that people should go and see it with an open mind and also be prepared for the many surprises, if not shocks, that it will provide if the details of the plot are not known. The play is about many things; it is about the main characters (the dramatis personae) both as individuals and as a family group, it is about how history is made, it is about the creaking fabric of the state, the endless battles between political leaders, the troubled relationship between the royals and the media, the machinations of politics and the law… I could go on.

One thing should be said about this play – Bartlett has done something few other contemporary dramatists would dare to do (or be foolish enough to do) – he has written the entire play in blank verse. The kind of thing we would be familiar with from seeing Shakespeare. It sounds like Shakespearian acting, almost, but not quite. Bartlett explained how this epic drama caused him to feel terrified at the idea of writing in verse (‘one thing I knew very little about, he admitted in an article). In fact, I liked this style; after all I have been going to Shakespeare plays for over 50 years) and a plot of this degree of epic-ness seemed to deserve something more than plain English dialogue. There are many points throughout the play where you can detect the influence of the great Bard’s history plays and the blank verse gave it a grandeur and solemnity that modern English would not have done justice to, it heightened the drama and enhanced the feel of the more monumental scenes. But even though it was written in blank verse using contemporary English, there are points where Bartlett drops in a literary anachronism or two (making the spoken dialogue far from realistic in today’s speech) simply to make the line scan an iambic pentameter, I suspect. As others have already pointed out, Bartlett lacks the gift for figurations and metaphor of the great Bard and lacks his ability to write brilliant twists of imagery. It would certainly not have worked had Bartlett tried to ape Tudor script completely; the content is far too twenty-first century for that. I cannot quote chapter and verse for these odd lapses of vocabulary (unless someone wants to send me a copy of the script) but I noticed them straight away. Happily not even these peculiar choice of words were a distraction from the plot or the acting.

If this aspect of the play interests you I recommend the article on The Guardian where Bartlett gives some examples of how he worked with the verse (Guardian 20/9/14)

Robert Powell as Charles Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Robert Powell as Charles
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Tonight’s production at Curve had many good points, not least Robert Powell’s acting and very dignified rendition of Charles. Tom Scutt’s scenery was impressive and convincing (although there was only one set and it never changed with the location suggested in the play.) Weighed against the many good points was Richard Glaves’s portrayal of the ‘ginger joke’ Prince Harry. Either Glaves’s characterisation or the script did not do it for me. What would have worked, I would suggest, is a blend of Shakespearian clown and elements of Hal (the young Henry V). The Harry of this play just didn’t feel right, from what we know of Prince Henry of Wales, the fifth in line to the throne. What we got were the antics of an unconvincing fool (to be fair to Glaves, I doubt he could have done much with the part anyway, given how it was written.) The other aspect of the play that I balked at was the appearance of the ghost of Diana Princess of Wales, more than once. We could have done without that and the scenes with the spectral visitations added little to the substance of the plot.

Bartlett’s play has been described as ‘brilliant’ and I agree with that; it is not a history, tragedy or comedy; it is a thriller. It digs deep into the modern world of power, politics and the state and rubs salt into the wounds created by the media. Its denouement sees the royals capitulating to the power of the press and they sign away regal authority in order to preserve the stats quo. The history of the English monarchy has been one of a gradual erosion of power, from the time when the King had absolute power, starting with Magna Carta and relentless slicing away of powers by Parliament until we end of by asking ‘what is left?’ A ceremonial position with even less authority than you would find in most European presidencies. In this respect the play is a dark and disturbing vision of out future with a constitutional crisis which threatens to plunge England into another civil war. It sees the Monarchy as bearing the seeds of its own destruction, imagining an apocalyptically dark chain of events that feeds on all we have seen over the past 800 years.

Spoiler alert
At the end of the play we see King William V seated in splendour with the orb and sceptre in his hands and the assembled congregation of Westminster Abbey proclaiming “God Save The King.”
Directed by Rupert Goold with Whitney Mosery
A play by Mike Bartlett
Set design by Tom Scutt
Lighting by Jon Clark
Musical director Belinda Sykes

See also:

News about the arts

A short history of food

Our roundup of theatre and drama in 2015

 

Theatre2015

Our review of

Theatre in Leicester

for the year 2015

We look back over the articles published in Arts in Leicester magazine and add other items of interest

January

February

The Woman in Black.

A tense thriller at Curve starred Malclm James and Matt Connor.

John Shuttleworth.

Comedian John Shuttleworth was at The Little Theatre for his show A Wee Ken to Remember.

March

Adrian Mole – The Musical.

April

Shiv.

We were at Curve to see the European premiere of Shiv by Aditi Brennan Kapil.

May

Beautiful Thing.

A touching and evocative play about young love.

Bromance.

Amazing combintions of athletics, gymnastic and acrobatics brought together in a dance-like spectacular.

June

The Car Man.

Reginald D. Hunter.

Comedian Reginald D. Hunter was at the De Montfort Hall for his one man show.

July

29th – Shakespeare’s Richard III opened at Curve in a production directed by Nikolai Foster. For a review see British Theatre Guide. Our reaction:  we didn’t like it.

August

September

Urban Young Actors.

Young actors created suspense with an unusual drama in Leicester.

October

A Streetcar Named Desire.

Curve provided the stage for this iconic drama set in America’s deep south.

Aakash Odedra – Echoes and I Image.

20th – A Streetcar Named Desire opens at Curve. We gave it ***

November

Tetrad’s Us And Them number 4.

Tetrad’s company were back at the Attenborough centre for another in their series Us And Them.

Streetcar

Tuesday 20th October 2015

A Streetcar Named Desire

Curve
our rating: ***

Gripping drama

Director: Nikolai Foster
Play write: Tennessee Williams
Running at Curve’s Studio Theatre from 16th October to 7th November 2015.

Trevor Locke reports

The audience in The Studio tonight was delighted with this production and many stood to give their ovation at the end of a performance that clearly had people captivated.

We have already given an overview of the play

In the leading roles at tonight’s show were Charlie Brooks (as Blanche Dubois), Stewart Clarke (as Stanley Kowalski) and Dakota Blue Richard (as Stella Kowalski. )

Patrick Knowles (as Harold Mitchell), Sandy Foster (as Eunice Hubbel) and Natasha Magigi (as Neighbour & nurse) provided supporting roles among others.

A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
A Streetcar Named Desire.
Photo: Manuel Harlan.

 

One of the great plays of the twentieth century, this was a not-to-be-missed evening. A production by Curve, this was a nail-biting and gripping drama that brought to life the colour and atmosphere of America’s south and the fragility of personal experience.

Tennessee William’s play of 1947 has been a phenomenal success on stages all over the world and became a smash hit on the cinema screen when Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh starred in the the 1951 film version.

Those of us who have seen the film version will be forgiven for being influenced by its sensational acting. As is often the case, a film version with leading stars, sets the bar and it is difficult to judge other productions because we always think back to what we have seen before.

The play deals with mental breakdown and we are reminded of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, produced at Curve in 2011.

See our archive review of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.

A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
A Streetcar Named Desire.
Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Blanche Dubois (Charlie Brooks) is one of those Marmite characters which you feel sympathy for one moment and pity the next. Equally, the rough and violent character of Stanley Kowalski (Stewart Clarke) can be both horrible and charming. Blanche appears pretentious, living in an imaginary world of her own, flirtatious and scheming, fragile and manipulative but you cannot but be sympathetic to her plight. Life had dealt her some unenviable cards and she has had to survive by her wits. In the play she is at the end of the road and has run out of options.

The scene is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the haunt of gamblers, streetwalkers and poor people and the ambience is evoked by the sounds of jazz music which is heard both at the opening of the show and at various points later, together with the passing of trams and the deafening roarer of trains passing by the flat where the Kowalskis live. Blanche is a bag of nerves but portrays herself as a woman who has had a faded past, brought up in a white house with columns, among the Southern aristocracy, her world of finery and delicate etiquette had been lost. She arrives at the Kowalski home because she has nowhere else to go; her world has vanished and she takes to the bottle as tensions mount between her and the brutal Stanley. Stewart Clarke ably enacts the violence of the rough Polish man (who Blanche refers to as a ‘Polak’ until she is roundly ticked off for this by Stanley), banging loudly on the table and smashing the crockery and flying into drunken rages.  He also well portrays the smouldering sexuality of his masculine character, ripping off his shirt right from the start of the play to reveal his muscly torso. The whole play is shot through with sexual tension and the actors capture this effortlessly in their roles.

Curve's A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
Curve’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
Photo: Manuel Harlan.

The good points of this production: the incidental music composed by David Shrubsole, the evocative set design of Michael Taylor, the real water rain storm at the end of the play (don’t sit on the front row if you prefer not to home wet), Nikolai Foster’s attention to detail in directing the action and the fast that the pace is maintained throughout the two acts so that its flies by quickly.

A Streetcar Named Desire, at Curve. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
A Streetcar Named Desire, at Curve.
Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Bad points. This was a good production and I, for one, would not have missed it. I am, however, less than convinced by the casting of Charlie Brooks as Blanche; she somehow did not seem to fit the part that well and I thought she was prone to over-acting at times.

A Streetcar Named Desire at Curve. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
A Streetcar Named Desire at Curve.
Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Most of the cast managed their Southern accents well enough, thanks to Tim Charrington’s dialect coaching.  Stewart Clarke’s role as Stanley was good, though there were times when it failed to reach the mark and was a triumph of style over content. The scene where Blanche is raped (a dramatic highlight) is treated very coyly in this production, resulting in a disappointing under-statement.

Balancing things out, it was nevertheless a highly charged production that captured the main elements of what we would expect from this challenging and demanding drama. It is well worth seeing and one of those plays that will stand out in the annals of Leicester’s arts highlights.

See also:

Our archive review of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Our pre-production article on Streetcar Named desire

Our review of Aakash Odedra’s performance in Echoes and I Imagine

Young Actors

September 2015

URBAN YOUNG ACTORS

was set up because there was such a hunger for a drama group in Leicester designed specifically for ‘Real kids with natural ability’.

URBAN is a drama workshop for young people between the ages of 8 and 21. Our session plans change weekly and consist of improvisation, script work, drama games, theatre work, filming projects, play writing, showcasing, confidence building but most importantly FUN! We are a specialist drama school and that is our main focus.

Are you ready for Project LE1?  On the 12th & 13th September our Over 16s will be performing an original, innovative and interactive promenade project. Your help is needed to solve a young girl’s murder.

Arts in Leicester attended the Sunday night performance of LE1, held at Quad Studios in Friday Street, Leicester.

It was a very enjoyable evening; we enjoyed the performance. It was a promenade theatre,  in which the audience (and some of the actors) walked round and saw various scenes from the drama, enacted in various parts of the building and in different rooms.

This new approach to theatre was very original and refreshing.  All of the young actors were good and put on impressive performances.

The story told of the murder of Maya Johnson (played by Alisha Mehta).  The audience played the role of judge and jury and was asked to decide who had committed the murder.

The audience were shown four suspects and had to vote for which one they thought committed the murder.

In a surprise ending, the ghost of Maya appeared and confessed she had poisoned herself. So, a suicide rather than a murder.

The cast had been rehearsing the drama since June; the words they spoke was improvised within a framework for the plot as a whole. We saw some impressively good performances, particularly by the presenter, Jonathan Crawley (played by Lois Gale) and by Kirk Langstrom (played by Charlie Riggall).  Alisha Mehta’s closing soliloquy as the ghost of Maya Johnson, explaining how she met her death, was both moving and dramatically  superb.

For a group of young actors this was a very engaging and impressive piece of drama.

Technical production was executed by Jamie Borland.

The drama was devised by Melissa Smith and the cast.

About Urban Young Actors

We want to inspire young people to be the best that they can be. So often it has been the case that because children may have been unable to attend a local drama group due to expensive class fees or locations they have never realised their talents and full creative potential. We often hear also that children have not felt comfortable/confident in other groups- this does not happen at Urban- we really are like one big family! The positive effects a good drama group can have on a young person are immeasurable. We at Urban Young Actors believe that setting up a safe, secure and creative environment helps children to grow in a positive manner, which can enhance all areas of life. It is a wonderful thing to attend a workshop with like-minded individuals and to feel a sense of personal achievement after every session. We aim to have a diverse mix of children in our group who will be keen to work together and learn from each other.

The group is entry on audition only. The main reason for this is to ensure personal attention and encouragement to each child therefore our numbers are limited. We also want to maintain a high quality of actors to continue our excellent relationships with casting directors. We are looking for ‘Real’ kids with a natural ability, willingness to learn, and a strong dedication to the group. It is very important children attend their 2 hour session every week to show their commitment to the group.

Urban Young Actors Leicester on YouTube

See the website for Young Urban Actors

See also:

City Festival 2015

and our article on the History of Music in Leicester