Wednesday 7 June 2017

A trio of theatre, some cutting edge art and a rock and roll extravaganza...

30th May - 4th June 2017

Another pretty packed and mixed week this one, quite theatre heavy but with such a variety of genres...

The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui

The Donmar Warehouse always has interesting productions, if not always entirely successful, there is always something in each one which makes it a worthwhile visit.

The draw for this production was Lenny Henry's return to the stage, and the prospect of him playing the role of a villain was all the more intriguing.

This is a revival of a 1941 play by Bertolt Brecht, and concerns the fictional gangster Arturo Ui in thirties Chicago and his rise to power by taking over the cauliflower market by ruthless means.

Some of the cauliflowers in question...

Obviously that's a nutshell description, and could be taken as quite comical, which it is to a point as it is meant as a satirical take on the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, with many of the situations veering fro menace to black comedy within the space of a single scene.

For this production the Donmar has been reconfigured with the stalls being replaced by cocktail tables and chairs encompassing the stage in the round, with a staircase leading up to the circle which is in it's usual state with the addition of a row of seats along a balcony which partly involve the audience in the setting.

This isn't the only audience involvement either, as they are several instances of audience members being used as stand ins for characters, and even at points asked to engage en-mass for certain scenes.

Henry as the lead is his ever charismatic self and plays the role well, using not only his acting skills but also his physical presence as a tool to convey Ui's domineering influence which allows him to gain respect which leads ultimately to fear and surrender to his will.

He is surrounded by a variety of loyal followers who exact revenge to those who defy him or pose a threat to his reign, always managing to actually keep his own hands clean whilst others carry out his dirty work.

Of particular note amongst the cast was Lucy Ellinson whose manic gangster with a taste for murder also provides the show with many of it's laughs too.

The whole ensemble acquit themselves admirably though and the segues with jazzed up snippets of modern songs serve as a fitting soundtrack.

The final scene requiring the entire audience to take part illustrates Brecht's point of how fear and violence were used to the Nazi's benefit in gaining power and the 'backing' of the people, however the play never feels too preachy or laboured in it's message.

For an entertaining night out at the theatre you can't go far wrong with this, as it's original full of energy and manages to strike a nice balance between laughs and drama, whilst allowing Henry the chance to show what he's really capable of.

It's on until the 17th of June and tickets are scarce, but it's worth the effort to try and get along.


Wednesday we were back at the O2 for some more rock, this time in the form of Glam titans Kiss.

Knowing of their reputation for putting on a big, brash proper over the top rock show meant we were looking forward to seeing them in action replete with the iconic face paint, pyrotechnics and leather studded platform boots.

The support act was anew band called The Dives, featuring Kiss singer/guitarist Paul Stanley's son, a punk pop type band who brought a decent energy to their performance and seemed to be enjoying themselves and the crowd seemed to enjoy it too.

We had lower tier seats a couple of blocks from the stage so had a pretty good overall view, which is needed to fully take in the whole show on stage.

After the support left the stage the huge Kiss curtain shrouded the stage in preparation for their explosive arrival.

After the PA finished blasting Rock And Roll' by Led Zeppelin the curtain was pulled away to reveal the band lowering to the stage on a platform from the ceiling.. as you do... and immediately diving in to the classic 'Deuce'.

From there it was hit after hit with a few album tracks thrown in to change things up a bit, interspersed with Paul Stanley working the crowd.

Gene Simmons looked ever intimidating, at times using the famous axe shaped bass and performing his fire spitting trick, and drooling blood during his bass solo before flying up above the stage.

Stanley too also had an airborne moment at one point flying over the crowd to a small platform in the centre of the crowd to perform a few songs before returning to the stage for the finale.

After closing with the obligatory 'Rock And Roll All Nite' they returned for the awesome encore of 'I Was Made For Loving You' and 'Detroit Rock City' to close what can only be described as a rock and roll extravaganza of epic proportions, the band were clearly enjoying every minute and Stanley and Simmons still have it despite being in their mid sixties.

The full set list was as follows:

Shout It Out Loud
Lick It Up
I Love It Loud
Shock Me
Guitar Solo
Flaming Youth
Bass Solo
God Of Thunder
Crazy Crazy Nights
War Machine
Say Yeah
Psycho Circus
Black Diamond
Rock And Roll All Nite
I Was Made For Lovin' You

Detroit Rock City

Angels In America - Part One - Millennium Approaches

Friday night saw us making our second theatre visit of the week, this time to the National Theatre on the South Bank for the sold out revival of Angels In America, (well part one, we'll be seeing part two next month...).

The play is considered to be a landmark play from the early nineties by playwright Tony Kushner and is seen as a symbolic look at homosexuality and AIDS in eighties America, including a look at the political climate of Reaganism of the time.

This revival of the play has been highly anticipated due to the starry cast, including Nathan Lane, (who starred alongside Robin Williams in 'The Birdcage'), Andrew Garfield, (who played the previous incarnation of Spider-Man), and Russell Tovey, (star of the BBC's 'Being Human'), and quite rightly as we found it to be something really quite amazing.

The play weaves together the seemingly unconnected stories of several characters, Garfield's character Prior Walter is a gay man who is in a relationship with Louis, (played by James McArdle), who is diagnosed with AIDS which leads to the breakdown of their relationship as Louis struggles to cope with Prior's worsening condition, which also highlights their differing religious backgrounds, Louis is Jewish and Prior is Protestant.

The second story concerns Tovey's character Joe who is a Mormon married to his agoraphobic wife Harper, (played by Denise Gough), who works as a lawyer and is a closeted homosexual in denial about his sexual desires and is offered an opportunity by his friend/mentor figure Roy Cohn, (Nathan Lane), to move up the ladder by taking a new job in Washington.

Roy's story is the other main strand, also a gay man, but kept secret to avoid any scandal jeopardising his job as a high powered influential lawyer, who also discovers he has contracted AIDS and is under threat of disbarment for his unscrupulous methods.

The character of Belize, (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett),  is a common link between several characters, who also connect through surreal dream sequences and hallucinations which the characters are never sure if they are induced through medication, illness or mental illness.

Including the spectral appearance of Ethel Rosenberg, (who carried out espionage for the Soviet Union in the fifties), who Cohn was instrumental in sending to execution and Prior Walter hearing the voice of an angel telling him that there is work to be done and that she will soon reveal herself to him.

At three and a half hours, with two intervals it could sound daunting, (part two is four hours), however the writing, acting and pacing of the play is phenomenal and the interest never wanes as the story become intertwined and character's motivations begin to reveal themselves.

It's very difficult to do the play justice in writing and really needs to be seen to appreciate why it's become such a highly regarded work of theatre with such dense themes and storytelling.

Once again the superb technical aspect of staging is on show with a deceptively simple revolving set which also includes a whole section which raises up from below and the whole set moving to the back of the stage at one point too.

The show can be seen over two separate nights or in a two show day, however it's basically sold out except for returns or day seats.

It's on until the 19th of August, and going by what we've seen so far it's a must see.

Mat Collishaw - Thresholds

On Saturday morning we booked a slot to experience the virtual reality experience created by YBA Mat Collishaw, of a historic photography exhibition from 1839.

Yeah, sounds quite niche, however as a glimpse of what can be achieved with this technology and the experience that can be provided it was pretty phenomenal.

We'd backed the creation of this project on Kickstarter last year, so it was nice to get a chance to see how it finally turned out.

Basically it's a recreation of the 1839 exhibition of photographic prints by William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the earliest photography exhibitions, originally held at King Edward's School in Birmingham.

The photographs exhibited at the time are now extremely faded and are kept in vaults to preserve them so are not available for public viewing, however using new virtual reality technology Collishaw has spearheaded a recreation of the exhibition as it would have been, and afforded us the ability to experience not only the photographs, but also the experience of being at the actual exhibition and much more besides.

The whole experience allows the attendee six minutes in the room, the exhibition is only small so it's plenty of time.

The room itself is completely white, with physical versions of the display cabinets made of wood, just to recreate the space in the physical world, however once wearing the VR gear, (which involves wearing a light backpack, goggles which accommodate most sizes of glasses and headphones), the room is transformed to 1836, with wood panelled ceilings and walls and a stone floor, including scurrying mice, spiders scuttling over portraits on the walls and moths flurrying around the candlelight chandeliers. There's even an open fire in the corner which gives off heat and the background sound of the ticking clock on the wall.

Other people in the room are represented as spectral columns of light to avoid people bumping into each other.

One of the most remarkable aspects was that you can look out of the recreated windows and see nightwatchmen walking about, and every now and then the sound of a rabble is heard which is a recreation of the Chartist protests of the time, the torch wielding rabble can be seen outside the windows clashing with the authorities.

The photos themselves are displayed in chest height display cases, and one of the aspects which really makes the show come into it own is the ability to hover your hand over an item and pick up the photo to view it in detail in your hand.

This really was an experience which showed a really intriguing use of the technology and pushed the boundaries of how it could actually be used to great effect, not just gimmicky but actually worthwhile.

Hopefully this inspires some more experiments in a similar vein and is a highly recommended glimpse of the future.

It's only on until the 11th of June so be quick if you fancy it.

Stepping Out

We then went on to the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand for the matinee of the play Stepping Out.

Currently being headlined by Amanda Holden, (however she was off with 'Britain's Got Talent' commitments), she was ably replaced by Suzy Bloom, the play also starred Tracy Ann-Oberman, (from 'Friday Night Dinner'), Nicola Stephenson and Natalie Casey.

The play concerns an amateur tap dance class held in a church hall once a week, attended by several women and one man, which is a chance for most of them to have a night off from their families and enjoy themselves, however an opportunity to perform at a local talent show means things become a little more serious and despite their very different backgrounds must pull together and support each other to put on the show of their lives.

This is a very British comedy in the tradition of Alan Ayckbourn, Victoria Wood or Mike Leigh, in which the everyday lives of normal people are the focus of the type of humour with which we are all part of in our own lives, which make the situations a characters very relateable and reminiscent of people we've all probably encountered at some point in our lives.

The humour is portrayed physically in the rag tag dance scenes and through the small talk and anecdotes between the characters, although there's a healthy dose of drama and insights into their private lives.

There's plenty to enjoy here, the cast are obviously enjoying themselves and their chemistry is evident, and the story zips along nicely, never dragging.

This was a great couple of hours of well written, well acted theatre, which all adds up to a very enjoyable afternoon/night out.

It's on until the 17th of June.

Next week includes a film preview and a variety of music, both live and in a cinematic setting. Until then, get inspired...

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