Round Up

So I’m heading home and enroute will be pondering my round up of the best and worst shows of 2009 for a post shortly.  But in the meantime here is what I and some other fabulous people from What’s On Stage thought were this year’s highlights:

Off West End – Year in Review

Let me know if you agree or would beg to differ, and have we missed off your favourite show? Thoughts on a postcard as always…

The Night Before Christmas – Neilson Style

Written for What’s On Stage

T’was the night before Christmas and all through the (ware)house not a creature was stirring, not even a junky elf. Doesn’t sound right? Welcome to The Night Before Christmasaccording to Antony Neilson; a world where ‘Christmas feeling’ is a narcotic and prostitutes give hand jobs to get presents for their children. In their production at the intimate Barons Court Theatre, The New Actors Company deal with this scrooge-fest sweetly if a little clumsily at times.

Genial Gary has called his fabulously skeptical best friend, Simon, to his warehouse at 11pm on Christmas Eve. Needless to say Simon is not impressed, his annoyance turning to anger when the cause of the call is revealed to be an elf, caught by Gary apparently in the middle of a heist. Is he an elf or a junky thief, or a junky elf? The possibilities are endless as Gary, Simon and Gary’s squeeze Cherry play detective and find out much more than they bargained for.

Neilson’s language is sharp and darkly witty as he laces his barbarity with an inherent gentlemanly flair. The language of these supposed dregs of society is absurdly eloquent, with Simon at points channeling a slightly perturbed Noel Coward and Gary and Cherry debating the philosophies of parenthood with Zen-like self-awareness. This lends the play a fantasy-like quality; at its heart it is a beautifully warped urban fairytale.

Director Robert Laycock handles this spiky text with care but could do with a bit more relaxed flair to really get it to really fly. Daniel Souter and Jay Alwyn bounce off each other nicely as Gary and Simon and Caroline Steiner’s Cherry inspires genuine empathy at points. However, all-in-all the style is too presentational: the fact that they are ‘acting’ is at the forefront of everything they do. Perhaps unexpectedly the most believable of the cast isThomas Shirley, whose otherworldly silent elf is a beautiful example of the simple power of a wide-eyed stare and the confidence to do very little.

It could do with some polish and more interplay from its actors, but at a tidy one hour long, this Night Before Christmas never bores, with Neilson’s wonderfully subversive text speaking for itself in the midst of this small but neatly formed production. A fun, if slightly disturbing, night at the theatre.

Running till 03 January 2010

1984 – Blind Summit Theatre

With multi-media now being a regular, if not expected, facet of the theatrical scene it is refreshing to see a company who are taking it back to basics. Puppet aficionados Blind Summit Theatre do just that with their low-tech version of George Orwell’s seminal 1984. Their consummate ‘here’s one I made earlier’ style makes for a vibrant evening that will open this text to an audience whose only knowledge of Big Brother is via Channel 4. But ultimately their image of this dystopia is too safe; if Orwell’s vision of the future was a boot stamping on a human face, Blind Summit choose to see it as a teenager’s trainer, tapping gently.

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Thought for the day: Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.

School Girl Thinking Over a Book

I recently attended a press night to see a new version of a classic which to all intents and purposes I should have read but hadn’t.  I therefore knew very little about it and so was glad when I was sent an immense amount of information from one of the co-producers of the show.  As I gratefully pored over these tomes, I realised the amount of propaganda that was going into this literature.  Each process was described as perfectly appropriate to the inner workings of the text; this team were obviously superhuman in their ability to deal with this difficult masterpiece. I immediately stopped and decided to go in blind (a scarier but cleaner prospect) and I think it was the best thing I could have done.  It meant that I judged the show on the merits of what was before me and not any prepared research.

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The Line – argue, make up, repeat.

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Line should to all intents and purposes be an engaging and enthralling drama.  Based on the tempestuous relationship of a fiery and sexy woman and her infamous teacher, Edgar Degas, The Line could have been a vibrant and passionate exploration of the master, pupil relationship or furthermore questioned the ideas of art itself.  Instead what results is a tedious repetition of conflict and resolution which carries neither party further forward apart from in years.

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More loveliness from The Little Angel

Petrushka.

Petrushka is a magical puppet with no strings whose tale of daring do has been given a vibrant make-over at The Little Angel Theatre.  With a delicate piano score by Stravinsky and sweetly rhyming language by John Agard the quality of this work is plain to see as are the charming performances from the undoubtedly talented Josh Darcy, Ronnie Le Drew, Mandy Travis, Rebekah Wild.  These friendly performers manipulate their charges with a skill that impresses young and old and aren’t that bad at acting themselves either. 

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