Friday, 14 June 2013

The Audience - Gielgud Theatre

This play, indeed the entire production, is brilliant from start to finish. The script, the magnificent cast headed by Helen Mirren reviving her role as Queen, the fascinating live costume changes on stage and even the corgis; it’s difficult to fault anything about The Audience.  Furthermore, the ‘real’ audience enjoyed the rare privilege of an interview with writer, Peter Morgan, during the intermission.
Portrayed through various sketches, it’s the story of imagined conversations between the Queen and her prime ministers over the years. As no one other than the prime ministers and the Queen herself actually know what was discussed during these meetings (there are no minutes and both parties have an unspoken agreement not to divulge what is said), Morgan focuses on each prime ministers’ best known traits.
The fact that the play doesn’t run chronologically keeps it fresh and intriguing and the smooth transitions are cleverly aided by the Queen’s interchanges with her younger self.  As the play spans a few decades she’s shown as mother and grandmother.
We don’t know how realistic this piece is but in some ways that’s the beauty of it and, does it really matter? Personally, I think not. With astute one-liners and the monarch even falling asleep during one of her meetings, there is no shortage of laughs. A beautifully casted and crafted production and I would highly recommend it. But hurry, there are only two more shows!

The Audience can be seen @ Gielgud Theatre until 15th June

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Amen Corner @ The National Theatre

Marianne Jean-Baptiste gives a compelling performance as the fervent pastor of a 1950’s Harlem Pentecostal church. This strict pastor has some challenges ahead as her husband’s sudden return threatens to undermine all she stands for. Add to this the seemingly negative influence he has on her son and her congregation plotting a revolt, and it feels as though Sister Margaret Alexander is losing a grip on everything she has worked so hard to build over the years.
The London Gospel Community Choir do an excellent job of reviving some old church hymns and choruses and director Rufus Norris splendidly pulls it altogether so it flows effortlessly from one scene to another.
Indeed many a black Pentecostal church-goer will be able to relate to the dancing, singing, jumping, and rolling in the spirit of this ardent congregation in James Baldwin’s play. My favourite character is easily Sis Moore (Cecilia Noble). With her whiney voice and insinuating attitude (always in denial that she is actually making any kind of accusation) she plays the role of ‘church stirrer’ to perfection.
Some exchanges between characters drag on a little, the ending seems abrupt and the husband’s character underdeveloped. But this engaging production is easily accessible even to those of a non religious background and worth watching.

The Amen Corner can be seen @ The National Theatre until mid August 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Alan Bennett's Untold Stories - Duchess Theatre

I’m always impressed with a successfully performed monolog and Alex Jennings, as Alan Bennett, in Untold Stories (2 plays) does not disappoint.
The first play, Hymn, lasts for only half an hour but that felt long enough for me. Here the account of his father’s failure to teach him to play the violin is recounted in prose- poetry, beautifully accompanied by Southbank Sinfonia. Though the delivery of his monolog was on point, I wouldn’t want to sit through an hour of the story being re-countered this way so the length of the piece feels about right.
The second play, Cocktail Sticks, is witty, moving and thoroughly enjoyable. It opens with Bennett (Jennings) questioning why he had such an ordinary upbringing.  We’re introduced to his parents, with specific focus on his mother (played by Gabrielle Lloyd). She plays the role well; her fascination of cocktails and sandwiches with the crusts off that she reads of in her monthly magazine juxtaposed with her battle against dementia endears the audience to her.
Although he is a well-known playwright, screenwriter, author and actor the play is a wonderful introduction for those unfamiliar with Alan Bennett.

Untold Stories is currently showing @ Duchess Theatre 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Blind Date @ Charring Cross Theatre

The premise behind this show is a brave yet slightly dangerous one. It is an improv piece but as every seasoned theatregoer knows, improv needs to be executed brilliantly in order for it to work. Unfortunately, though the concept for Blind Date is intriguing, the execution falls far below brilliant.
Rebecca Northan’s character, Mimi has been waiting 2 hours for a blind date who has clearly stood her up, so she chooses a man form the audience to be her date for the night. The show very much depends on the man she chooses. The first night I saw the show, she chose a 27 year old man who didn’t appear stage shy and was really up for the challenge of taking a leading role in this 90 minute piece. The second night I saw it, a 51 man who came across as smug and cocky was chosen. He seemed determined to take the show in his own direction.  
The dates are managed tastefully and volunteers are made to feel at ease with a ‘time-out’ line created allowing her ‘date’ breathing space if he starts to feel uncomfortable or needs coaching.
There are a few genuinely funny moments and the improvised police car shows how imagination can make even the most basic props fun. However, long, awkward pauses and the usual blunders associated with improv let the show down. Additionally it commenced 15 minutes later than the advertised time both nights I attended.
Nonetheless, the truly clever thing about this show is that every night is guaranteed to be a different experience so potentially audience members who enjoy it enough can return again and again.

Blind Date can been seen @ Charring Cross Theatre until mid July