Culture bound – March

Culture bound – March

Theatre

Three Ayckbourn Plays by Alan Ayckbourn (OSO Community Arts Centre, Barnes) I think probably the less said about this the better. The amateur group performing these three one-acters (Mother Figure, A Cut In The Rates and No Knowing) had received a knock-out blow to the production just hours before curtain up but even so it was an object lesson in what not to do with Ayckbourn’s work. Amateurs often think they are making an easy choice by putting on his plays. They aren’t and this production was living proof of that *

Strike Up The Band by George and Ira Gershwin and George S. Kaufman (Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate) There can’t be many musicals where the main action takes place in a cheese factory. This was a thoroughly engaging fun evening with glorious Gershwin tunes and a seldom performed book by George S. Kaufman – thus quite a rarity. The set design was rather basic and sound balance was a little off – the, otherwise excellent, band unfortunately drowned out some of the lyrics in the more rousing numbers. There really wasn’t a weak link in the ten strong cast; particularly outstanding was Beth Burrows who played the romantic lead with panache ****

Talk Radio by Eric Bogosian (Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington) A very well realised and executed production with a monster (both senses) of a central part **** See full review here

The Life I Lead by James Kettle (Park Theatre, Finsbury park) A surprising and thoroughly delightful one man play about actor David Tomlinson **** See full review here

In Basildon by David Eldridge (Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch) A very good slice of life drama which went down extremely well with an audience drawn from the immediate locale of the play; I doubt it would have landed quite so well anywhere else in the country. It’s a revival of a Royal Court play from 2012 but still relevant in its look at the political landscape of the last 25 or so years. The dialogue crackles and fizzes and the characters (the vicar apart) were neatly drawn and expertly played. The set looked too small for the stage and its bare décor did not ring true ****

Berberian Sound Studios by Joel Horwood (Donmar Warehouse) An adaptation of a film set in a 1970s Italian horror/sexploitation sound dubbing studio in the 1970s. Gilderoy (the dork from Dorking) travels to Italy to lend his expertise but gets caught up in his own chain of horror and violence. The ending was a complete mystery but the lead actor Tom Brooke and the main USP of the piece, the extraordinary aural soundscape, made the play a worthwhile watch – or perhaps that should be listen ***

Crown Dual by Daniel Clarkson (King’s Head, Islington) A pleasant 70 minute romp which was a parody of Netfix’s TV hit The Crown. It had just two very slick and committed performers (plus stooges taken from the audience) and a great deal of silliness thrown in. Not so much a play, more an entertainment; there was a script full of daft moments but everything was done to serve the jokes. Some of the best bits were the ad libs ***

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, adapted by Harry Gibson (Tower Theatre) As expected a forcefully pungent slice of life among the drug addicts of Edinburgh delivered with comic brio. Apparently first seen before the famous film version this was a no holds barred in your face immersive production … fortunately the infamous “worst toilet” segment wasn’t too immersive! Most of the cast played multiple roles switching between them with apparent ease; they all showed an impressive level of commitment to a tale full of tragedy with a throbbing soundtrack and an unapologetic demeanour ***

BEST OF THE BUNCH

The Show In Which Hopefully Nothing Happens created by Jetse Batelaan (Unicorn Theatre) An absolute treat of a show which worked on a number of levels. Full review here *****

The Conductor adapted by Mark Wallington and Jared McNeill (The Space, Tower Hamlets) A dramatic narrative blended with a piano recital concerning the composition of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony in Leningrad when the city was under siege by Nazi invaders. It’s first Leningrad conductor, Karl Eliasberg (Joe Skelton) both admires Shostakovich’s genius but also loathes him – shades of Amadeus here, I thought, suggesting a lack of originality. Deborah Wastell played a range of female characters (with Welsh/Scottish etc. accents!!) and Shostakovich himself was the brilliant pianist Danny Wallington. Very simply staged it was an interesting “play” the drama element of which was eventually overpowered by the sublime music ***

TV Recording

Tonight With ….. This was a curious beast. A late night chat show hosted by Vladimir Putin interviewing June Sarpong. It also featured Meghan Markle answering questions from the audience. One of the celebrities was real – the other two were computer generated. See if you can guess which was which. Spitting Image did it better but it will be curious to see how it fares when it hits the screens. As an experience it was somewhat tedious **

QI I always look forward to a recording of this show as it is invariably entertaining and very slickly done (there were no pick ups/retakes at the end which tells you something). Sandi Toksvig was joined by Alan Davies, Jason Manford, Sarah Millican and new face Loyiso Gola from South Africa. The theme was “Q for quirky” and, as ever, it certainly was ****

Books

The Beast by Alexander Starritt. Heavy handed satire which missed the mark ** Full review here

Rules For Living by Sam Holcroft. Manic play about coping strategies which I’ll be directing later this year **** Full review here

Exhibition

Dorothea Tanning (Tate Modern) Not as immediately famous as Dali or Magritte, or even her husband, Max Ernst, Tanning is often bracketed with the surrealist movement. Though this was true of her earlier work her long life was spent making art of increasing complexity and diversity. I did prefer the earlier part of the show (her Eine Kleine Nachmusik being a particular highlight) though some of her later works were a revelation especially the very spooky Chambre 202, Hôtel du Pavot an early example of what is now known as installation art. Not an extensive show but one which stimulated the mind ****

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