Friday, 25 June 2010

Review: Plucker, Southwark Playhouse

In her program note to the audience, Plucker's playwright Alena Smith claims that the play is her attempt "to write an old-fashioned farce about a new generation". If this is the case, then it's a failure. But thankfully, postmodern criticism is quite happy to say it doesn't really matter what a writer thinks they are doing; it's how it's perceived is more important.

Which is a very good thing. Because once you ignore the irrelevance that is the defeathered parrot of the title and the truth serum-cum-tequila, this play is actually quite a competent look at the issues facing late twenty-somethings conducting relationships outside of the traditional model of marriage.

Alexis (Emily Bevan) and Louis (Jamal Rodriguez) have recently moved in together, but aren't feeling the domestic bliss; Julian and Thomasina on the other hand are moving towards marriage quite contentedly. Cue a dinner party, copious amounts of alcohol and a love interest from the past and the holes in the relationships quickly widen.

There's nothing radical about this premise, but it's handled well. Smith's script manages to balance the more outright comedic moments of the night ("I need an IV drip of pinot or I stop having fun") with the serious reflection. And if at times it can all feel a little self-centred, Smith is careful to make sure this sort of naval-gazing provokes is held up for equal mockery.

£8, early bird ticket offer. Southwark Playhouse operates what it refers to as 'Airline Style' pricing, so the earlier you book, the cheaper the seat. However, the airline in question is clearly Ryanair, at the seats are unassigned, and on busy nights it can be hard to get two together if you arrive late. You have been warned.

£2. Brief note form writer with cast biogs - nothing outstanding.

Plucker plays at the Southwark Playhouse until July 3. Phone the box office on 020 7407 0234 or visit the website.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Review: All My Sons, Apollo Theatre

At this late stage, there's not much more of originality that can be added to the superlative reviews already heaped on the revival of Howard Davies' production of All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre. This is a stunningly good production of Arthur Miller's first successful play, a tale of conscience and culpability in post-war America that has obvious resonances today.

Joe Keller is the archetypal Miller protagonist, an everyman pursuing the American Dream, apparently with success. William Dudley's solidly realistic house and garden not only provide a beautifully naturalistic backdrop, but represent the material security he has established for his family. But based on wartime profiteering and his "talent for ignoring things", this comfortable lifestyle is under threat.

David Suchet gives a virtuoso performance as Keller, winning over friends, family and neighbourhood children alike with his blend of charisma and beneficence. His mistake, of course, is that he is all too ready to believe his own spin, clinging to his lies for support long after they unravel. There is something utterly compelling about his downfall, as Suchet's confident entertainer is diminished to a bewildered shell of man.

Wife Kate, played by Zoë Wanamaker, is too preoccupied with her own pretenses to fall under his spell fully. Clinging to the belief that her youngest son is still alive, Wanamaker wrings every ounce of sympathy and emotional turmoil from the script to create a multi-layered portrayal that I still find myself thinking about days later.

With this powerful pairing then, it's equally impressive that the supporting cast is quite so good as well. Stephen Campbell Moore as the son that survived the war manages exceptionally well in a part that can be rather unforgiving, while Jemima Rooper as his fiancée maintains the necessary uncertainty that her role as outsider and catalyst demands, particularly in the final scenes.

The narrative tension mounts up slowly - a line here, a reference there - but the pieces slide into place just a split second before the audience is aware of the outcome, and the tragic denouement manages to be shocking in its inevitability. Theatre as its best.

£30 for the balcony. Ah, the West End, nemesis to the theatregoer on a shoestring. I will certainly be keeping my ear to the ground for any word of cheap tickets for All My Sons, but with such great reviews, I wouldn't hold out much hope.


Total Cost:
£33.50, but worth every penny.

All My Sons is currently running at the Apollo until 2nd October 2010. Tickets can be booked online here.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Ticket Offer: Sucker Punch / Ingredient X, Royal Court

Two special offers from the Royal Court, who are clearly feeling very sociable at the minute!

1) Sucker Punch by Roy Williams: see the show for just £10 from Friday 11th – 17th June.

2) Nick Grosso's Ingredient X at the Royal Court his Saturday matinee (12th June) with a 2-4-1 offer – two tickets for £15.

To book, call the box office on 020 7565 5000 and quote 'Social offer' and the name of the play (subject to availability). For more information on the plays, visit the Royal Court website.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Review: The Concise Dictionary of Dress, Blythe House

Despite being a curated fashion exhibition, and therefore somewhat beyond the ken of Views From The Cheap Seats, The Concise Dictionary of Dress was first brought to my attention by Lyn Gardner's recent Guardian blog entry 'Theatre that really takes us places'. And there is something decidedly theatrical about this site-specific installation at Blythe House - previously the Post Office Savings bank, now the depository for the the V&A's surplus collections.

Designed by fashion curator Judith Clark with definitions provided by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, small groups are led around 11 exhibits exploring concepts of fashion (from 'Armoured' through to 'Tight'), located within the museum's vast storerooms. Objects from the collection along with specially commissioned works are used to create each tableau. Usually closed to the public, a large part of the thrill of this experience comes from accessing areas normally off-limits behind card keys and cargo lifts. Albeit under the watchful eye of a chaperone, who is less a guide than an usher. Questions are discouraged until the end of the tour, and so the individual is left to import meaning from the exhibit, its location and Phillips' definitions.

The definitions are at once illuminating and confusing. Subjective, conflicting, and at times down right impenetrable (quite how 'Essential' can be understood as 'distracting', I'm still not sure), Clark and Phillips seem to be deliberately toying with the idea that fashion can be summed up meaningfully in one word or a choice phrase, and by extension, that it can be sensibly archived into a museum catalogue.

Instead, the exhibit relies on the context of the spaces, both past and present. From the wax resin figure of 'Armoured' on the roof (where there were apparently used to be segregated shooting ranges for male and female Post Office employees), to the mobile archive shelves wheeled open to reveal 'Comfortable' and 'Conformist', to the former meat larder housing 'Tight', the ghosts of the past jostle with the present to conjure up layers of meaning. Indeed, that Blythe House is a functioning building has led to some fascinating juxtapositions, all the more so for being unintentional. The simple paper structures created for 'Plain' are coincidentally reflected in the protective white shroud covering, what is labelled, a 'flaky paint dress' - part of the actual V&A collection - which was supposedly moved there after Concise Dictionary had opened. As with the best fashion then, it is the accidental accessories that set off this exhibition best.



Total Cost:

The Concise Dictionary of Dress
continues until 27 June 2010. Tours of Blythe House run every 20 mins during open hours. Places on the tours are strictly limited and tickets must be purchased in advance. Tickets online or call 0871 231 0847, price £12.50/£10 concessions.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Ticket Offer: Henry IV Part 1, Shakespeare's Globe

Another 2 for 1 in the yard offer from Shakespeare's Globe, this time for Henry IV Part 1. i'm getting the feeling that the audience for these histories might be of an age where they prefer (and can afford) sitting down to standing. But for cheap ticket lovers, it now means you can bring a date at no extra cost!

To take advantage of the offer use the promo code 'pcdyard' when booking online or call Box Office on 020 7401 9919 and quote the code.

Offer subject to availability.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Ticket Update: The Duchess of Malfi, Punchdrunk / ENO

This isn't so much a ticket offer, as let's be honest, Punchdrunk and the ENO aren't going to be struggling to shift these tickets. But for all those interested, they go on sale tomorrow (Friday 4th June) at 10am. Looks like they're £35 a pop, so get in there quick as you know they are going to go like the proverbial cakes what are hot.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Ticket Offer: Lulu, Gate Theatre; Welcome to Thebes, National Theatre

Apologies for the lull in reviews and ticket offers around here, but I was back in the old country for a week's holiday and it's left me with a bit of a backlog of reviews: expect my thoughts on Henry VIII and All My Sons imminently! But to tide you over, here's not one but two ticket offers!

The first is from the Gate (London, not Dublin) who are offering £8 Gatecrasher tickets for their collaboration with Headlong, Lulu, on 10th June. Quite what a Gatecrasher ticket is or how one books it, I'm not quite sure, but I'm sure if you mention to Box Office that you read it on their Facebook page, they'll know what you are talking about!

The other is a special preview offer from the National and their world premiere of Welcome to Thebes by Moira Buffini. Book by Friday 4 June (so hurry!) and get top price tickets for £20 (or just £10 for performances 15 and 16 June). To book call 020 7452 3000 and quote ‘Thebes Preview Offer’ or book online and enter promotion code 2768.

Valid with top price tickets for performances 15-23 June only. Subject to availability.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare's Globe

After excessive exposure to some of his works (anyone for yet another version of A Midsummer Night's Dream or Romeo and Juliet? No?), it’s easy to get excited about a production of a Shakespeare play that’s rarely performed. And no, I don’t mean that recent publicity stunt by Arden of his supposed lost work, Double Falsehood, but rather that late late play, Henry VIII, or All Is True. Its delayed appearance at the new Globe might be understandable given that an early performance razed the original in 1613. The more cynical, however, may suggest that its less than stellar reputation in the canon is to blame.

It’s all too easy to knock this play as a collaboration, as though John Fletcher somehow contaminated the ‘genius’ of Shakespeare. Some of the best bits for my money – Katharine’s showdown with the two cardinals (“O, good my lord, no Latin!”), Wolsey’s repentance, Cranmer’s prophecy – are all from Fletcher’s pen. Instead, it’s an overall unity that seems to be lacking. Having spent the first half investing in the parallel downfalls of Katherine of Aragon and Cardinal Wolsey, it’s quite surprising that they are pretty much gone from the narrative by the end of Act 3.

All the more pity, since Ian McNeice and Kate Duchêne offer very watchable performances as these perennial outsiders who have more in common that they would care to admit. His Cardinal Wolsey is all jowls and entitlement, unaware that his own expenses scandal is about to hit, while Duchêne makes an excellent case for Katharine being considered among Shakespeare's leading heroines.

This is not an easy play to understand, but for the most part, Angela Davies’ set design helps the clarity immensely. The space outside the Globe pillars is rigidly separated from the space within by the simple use of a red carpet, giving the effect of an inner sanctum from which corridors of power and influence emanate. The introduction of a court fool with boy puppet, although brilliantly played by Amanda Lawrence, is less effective. The spectre of a male heir is already writ large in this play and its visual representation often detracted from those words, most notably in Katharine's trial scene, where it mugged and upstaged from behind Henry's throne.

Henry somewhat struggles to be the hero of his own play, eponymous though he may be. It should be stressed though that this is not the fault of Dominic Rowan, who brings his typically sophisticated touch to the interpretation. Rather, Henry seems to be a casualty of both the play's episodic structure and of Mark Rosenblatt's directing. The transformation of Henry into his Holbein portrait persona at the end is a nice touch, but at times it feels a bit like Rosenblatt has been more concerned with the minutiae of historical accuracy - depicting offstage events is indicative of this - than with exploring the play's inherent rejection of the idea that there is only one historical truth. Or, that all is true.

£5, yard standing ticket.


Total Cost:

Henry VIII
is in repertory at Shakespeare’s Globe until 21 August 2010. For tickets and further information visit the website, or phone Box Office on 020 7401 9919.