Theatre in Lockdown

We are now in week eight of lockdown here in the UK, and I can safely say I have watched more theatre than ever before. There is so much on offer, from the National Theatre, the RSC, the Globe, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Complicite, and many many other sources, West End and fringe.

Barber Shop 2

nationaltheatre.org.uk

Streamed theatre is no substitute for the real thing, obviously, despite the deftness of the filming. But it does have one big advantage: it’s global. Punters from all over the world can watch our NT’s plays along with us, or Lloyd Webber’s shows on YouTube. Andrew Scott in Sea Wall can be viewed by anyone – see the links below – as can Forced Entertainment’s improvised spoof Zoom meetings. And lockdown has produced some remarkably innovating and enterprising ideas, from dancers, singers, musicians, sports commentators and, of course, actors. ITV recently transmitted ISOLATION STORIES, four short plays about the stresses and strains experienced by various households in lockdown, featuring real-life fathers and sons, and a heavily-pregnant – in life and on TV – Sheridan Smith, filmed by the actors themselves, and all written, performed, edited and transmitted in less than two months.  An unprecedented (if you’ll excuse the overused word) achievement in the unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in.

Personally speaking, holed up on my own as I am, I have found the breadth and speed and variety of this extraordinary creativity hugely inspiring and immensely comforting. Theatres are facing a pretty grim future. They need packed audiences to keep going at the best of times, and God knows when they will be fully back in action. Theatre companies have been hugely generous streaming shows for free, with requests for donations to performers’ fundraising sites. Lloyd Webber’s shows raised £500,000 in donations to Acting for Others – the major fundraising site in the UK representing 14 charities. Cameron Mackintosh’s Foundation donated £100,000.  The National Theatre’s first streamed show One Man Two Guvnors raised £50,000 (I don’t know how much money subsequent shows have raised). The musical Eugenius raised over £15,000. Individual performers have raised several thousands by organising streamed performances from fellow artists and musicians, including musical directors.

Whether or not the dreaded Covid19 has or will change the face of theatre permanently remains to be seen. But for a spontaneous outburst of extraordinary creativity it is – and there really is no other word for it – unprecedented.

NB: I am posting regular updates on streamed shows on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/patsy.trench
But at the time of writing this (19 May) here are links to some of the shows on offer now:

ACTING FOR OTHERS: https://www.actingforothers.co.uk/

NT At Home:  https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/nt-at-home
Complicité:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf3g9LOkCr5qqWUxMEz97eQ
Sea Wall:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j01kVmBoJW0
The Globe:  https://globeplayer.tv/ (£4.99 to rent)
Forced Entertainment:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVDgqloH420

© Patsy Trench
19 May, London, UK

 

 

Coronavirus – The show does go on

Theatres and cinemas throughout the UK, and in many other countries, are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This puts a lot of people out of work, with no knowing where their next penny is coming from.

It also leaves the punters, ie us, without any form of live entertainment. But the theatre and cinema businesses have not stood still. I’ve been compiling a list of theatre companies and other organisations who have set up a live streaming service, some for free. I will be watching a good deal of what’s on offer and posting the odd review. I will also try to update the list from time to time.

Happy viewing!

ARCOLA – https://www.gofasterstripe.com/cgi-bin/website.cgi?page=videofull&id=38659
Mark Thomas :  Check-Up: Our NHS @ 70. Pay what you can. Till 28 March. The Arcola is in dire need of funds, so be generous!

DIGITAL THEATRE – https://www.digitaltheatre.com/consumer/productions – £9.99 per month. Digital Theatre have been filming live performances of West End shows and have a large catalogue. One hopes part of their subscription goes towards the people who made the shows.

LEXI – https://thelexicinema.co.uk/film/virtual-mustang. Showing today, 23 March, at 6.30pm. Also Mubihttps://mubi.com/leximember.  A kind of arthouse cinema version of Netflix. First 3 months free, courtesy of Lexi, thereafter £9.99 per month.

The GLOBE THEATRE have an online streaming service for some of their past productions. £4.99 to rent, £7.99 to buy. https://globeplayer.tv/ 

The NATIONAL THEATRE is not offering a streaming service yet, but with their huge archive of NT Live productions no doubt this will come in due course.

THE STAGE – https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/promoted/2020/where-can-i-watch-theatre-online-coronavirus-and-theatre-streaming/ – has a comprehensive list of shows available on all sorts of devices. Personally I wouldn’t want to watch a play on my mobile via Instagram but no doubt a lot of people do.

I and You – Hampstead Theatre will make its 2018 production of I and You available to watch on Instagram. The play by US playwright Lauren Gunderson was directed by Edward Hall and starred Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Zach Wyatt. It was original filmed for IGTV in 2018 and will be released at 10am on March 23 [today] and be available until March 29.

Luke Wright – The poet, performer and playwright – winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award for his performance in  his 2015 play What I Learned From Johnny Bevan – will be performing a poetry set every night live on Twitter at 8pm.

Cyprus Avenue – First staged at the Royal Court, David Ireland’s play Cyprus Avenue was adapted for BBC Four in 2019, where it mixed stage performance with on-location footage in Belfast. It will be available for free for a month from March 27 via the Royal Court’s and the Space’s website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.

Timpson: The Musical – The Stage Edinburgh Award-winning company Gigglemug has made Timpson: The Musical available on YouTube. The Stage called it a “zany musical comedy that hits all the right notes.”

Patsy Trench
March 2020

West End ticket prices (revisited)

I have written about the price of West End shows a few times over the years – see here – so I was especially intrigued to come upon an article in The Stage (unavailable behind a paywall unless you subscribe to the newspaper) which set out, in great and meticulously-researched detail, a number of enlightening facts I was not previously aware of.

Firstly, according to ticketing guru Richard Howle (The Stage, March 28, 2018), it appears the West End theatre pays more in VAT (20% of all ticket prices goes straight to the government) than the government hands out in subsidies to all arts venues in the London area. Which effectively means the West End theatre subsidises not just the London fringe but dance, opera and arts centres as well.

Secondly, while the top – or premium – ticket price for more than half of West End shows exceeds £100, such are the costs of mounting a West End show, and in particular a musical, if you’re paying less than £30 for your ticket it’s more than likely the producer of the show is subsidising it. Or more specifically, the 5% of the audience who can afford the premium tickets are subsidising the rest of us in the cheap seats.

That made me think a bit. I’ve said before, and I’m going to say it again, one of the great joys of living in London is knowing the best theatre in the world is available to you, and by and large at an affordable price.

To back up this claim I’ve done another whistle-stop tour of some West End ticket prices as of today, the first day of 2019. Ticket prices quoted do not include the booking fee, if there is one.

To begin with the obvious:

HAMILTON: Ticket prices range from £20 to £250. You can buy a £250 ticket for most performances, but for £20 tickets you will have to wait until after April.

Hamilton programme

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE: tickets available from £20 to £85.

LES MISERABLES: £29.75 (Upper Circle side, partly restricted view) to £127.50

THE BOOK OF MORMON: £27.25 to £99.75.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME: £18 to £92.50.

Curious 2

(nationaltheatre.org.uk)

THE LION KING: £42.50 to £190.

MAMMA MIA: £27.50 to £97.25.

CONCLUSION: If you are able to wait a bit, and you are flexible with dates, you can see the best shows in London for less than £30 (excepting The Lion King, which being partly a children’s show is a great pity). Long may this remain so.

WARNING: As I’ve said before, be careful who you buy tickets from. If you are browsing online head for the OFFICIAL site of the show you are interested in and IGNORE anything that has [Ad] by it as it’s probably a ticket agent charging a markup.

Patsy Trench
1 January 2019
London (the greatest city in the world – sorry Mr Miranda.)

 

Hamilton

I’d booked the tickets six months ago, just after the most hyped show of the decade, or the century (or indeed ever) opened in London to rave reviews. (Unlike other smash-hit musicals like Les Mis, which the critics hated – as did I.) In the meantime I followed received wisdom and bought the album and listened to it till I could almost recite the whole thing verbatim.

Hamilton programme.jpg

Hamilton programme

The most astonishing thing about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is that it’s driven as much if not more by its lyrics and its characterisation than by the music. As a one-time lyricist I had always tried to pare the words down to a minimum in the belief that it’s the music everyone wants to hear and nobody is listening much to the lyrics anyway. What’s mould-breaking about the show is not just that America’s founding fathers are all played by non-whites, but that you get the entire history of the American Revolution, and its aftermath, plus a biography of Hamilton’s love life and his relationships with fellow politicians, rapped, sung and very occasionally spoken, and all in the space of just under three hours.

The London show matches the Broadway cast album precisely, which is spooky in a way because it suggests the London cast, and musicians, are puppets of the original. But the cast seem utterly at home in their skins and there are spankingly brilliant performances across the board, especially from Giles Terera as Hamilton’s nemesis Aaron Burr, Obioma Ugoala as George Washington, Michael Jibson as King George III and Rachelle Ann Go and Rachel John as Hamilton’s wife and sister in law Alexandra and Eliza Schuyler. Jamael Westman’s Hamilton is an intriguing mix of great stage presence and self deprecation, and oddly for a young performer almost straight out of drama school, he comes truly into his own in the latter scenes, as a mature man and a remorseful husband and a grieving father.

Hats off too to the fantastic, unfortunately hidden orchestra (MD Richard Beadle) and the non-stop, gyrating ensemble, who like all clever performers make it look like there are more of them than there are.

Worth the hype? Oh boy. I laughed, I cried, I marvelled, and I learned.

Hamilton (4)

Fearsome sniffer dog at the Victoria Palace

Instructions delivered by Ticketmaster in the days leading up to the performance were draconian: no tickets issued until the day of the performance; arrive an hour early, nobody’s allowed in until all the party is together, and once in you’re not allowed to leave again till the end; bring photo ID, booking confirmation and credit card; be prepared for bag searches (nothing surprising there) and sniffer dogs. All to deter ticket touts. In the event the queue stretched around the block but moved quickly, and the staff were efficient and friendly and the whole thing went without a hitch. (Though it would be nice, since there’s all that time to kill, to have a bit more seating in the bar area.)

 

 

Epic Ayckbourn

Well who’d have thought it?

I know Alan Ayckbourn  has tackled sci-fi before but never like this, never on this scale. This is Ayckbourn without the jokes. Sentimental, even – finally – optimistic. And epic in every way.

img376

Erin Doherty (programme cover)

The Divide (Old Vic) runs at nearly four hours long. I’d read the reviews beforehand and was prepared, secretly, to duck out at the interval. The fact that I didn’t is more a credit to the production and the players than the play.

In Ayckbourn’s future-world men and women live separately on either side of the ‘Divide’, as women pass on a deadly plague to the men. Procreation is by artificial insemination and the typical family group is a MaMa, a MaPa and kids. For some reason the women wear long black dresses and caps, seemingly uncomplainingly. (The puritan look has become a right cliché in sci-fi – cf The Handmaid’s Tale.) Mirrors are banned. Boys are removed from the family home when they reach puberty and wear white.

To be honest, I quickly stopped asking myself questions about the premise behind the play because absolutely none of it made sense to me, and the central doomed romance is totally predictable. What I did love about it was the production itself: director Annabel Boulton, designer Laura Hopkins, lighting David Plater, music especially composed by Christopher Nightingale (wonderfully appropriate name) and a live chorus of 26. Not to mention the performances, most notably from Erin Doherty, who narrates the entire story to us and is barely off the stage, and her on-stage brother played by Jake Davies. The rest of the large and almost all-female cast are hard to distinguish since they are identically dressed, but pretty faultless throughout.

The final message is both trite and uncharacteristically optimistic from a man who made his name slicing through the facades of everyday relationships. Astonishing.

The production – which closes tonight, February 10th – has been running for just ten days. I may not have gone for the play itself but there is something marvellous about the fact that it is on at all. Whatever else he is doing Ayckbourn is not playing it safe in his older age.

© Patsy Trench
London February 2018

 

 

Queen Anne – Sisters doing it for themselves

The second thing that occurred to me while watching this play was: why has no one written about Queen Anne before? Of all our monarchs she must be one of the least known. The only time her name crops up in conversation it’s to do with furniture.

Queen Anne

Romola Garai & Emma Cunniffe (RSC programme)

Anne was the Protestant – and estranged – daughter of the Catholic King James II and she reigned for 12 years at the beginning of the 18th century, between William III of Orange (her brother in law) and George I of Hanover. She was happily married to Prince George of Denmark and out of 17 pregnancies only three of her children survived, and none of them beyond childhood. She was more or less crippled throughout her life with arthritis and gout and, as a result, obesity, and she could barely walk. But despite all that she ruled – according to Helen Edmondson’s marvellous play – fairly and conscientiously. And she was responsible for the unification of England and Scotland.

Queen Anne the play focuses on the Queen’s relationship with her confidante and close friend Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, a friendship that begins to sour as Anne becomes Queen and the Duchess tries more and more to influence her politically.

The first thing that occurred to me while watching the play was that this is an almost all-female production. Written, directed (by Natalie Abrahami), designed (Hannah Clark) by women, with two stonking central performances for women. Of course most of the rest of the cast are men, excluding the Queen’s maid Abigail (Beth Park), whose influence grows as the duchess’s fades. Bearing in mind this was a time when parliament and political influence was entirely male. Behind the scenes of the royal bedchamber – into which people such as the Lord Chancellor Sydney Godolphin (Richard Hope) seem to wander at will – Anne is mercilessly lampooned by satirists such as Jonathan Swift and Arthur Maynwaring, a trick which the duchess exploits as the relationship deteriorates.

First class all round. Superb performances from Emma Cunniffe as the Queen and Romola Garai as the Duchess.

Queen Anne runs at the Haymarket Theatre until 30 September 2017

Patsy Trench, July 2017

Funny Girl

There is a funny story behind this show. I was chatting away to various people after the press night of a new musical (Marco Polo: the Untold Story – for my review, click here) when the press lady grabbed my arm and said – ‘Come and meet the two wives of Bob Merrill’.

Bob Merrill, you may or may not know, was an American lyricist and composer, famous mostly for the lyrics of Funny Girl – including lyrics and most of the music of the old favourite ‘People’ – and such oddballs as How much is that doggy in the window? and If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake’.

Funny Girl Bob Merrill (bobmerrill.com)

Bob Merrill (bobmerrrill.com)

Anyway, long story short, after a couple of minutes of chat Mrs Merrill 2 invited me and my friend to accompany the two of them to Funny Girl the following night. Mrs Merrill 1 had been married to Mr Merrill at the time he was writing the show. She said he sung the entire thing, playing every part, to would-be producers by way of attracting their interest and investment. Mrs M 2 lives in London and had seen the show many times at the Menier Chocolate Factory (where this production originated) and again at the Savoy, yet she was more than happy to see it again and was one of the first on her feet at the curtain call. Mrs Merrill 1, who lives in the US, had not seen the show since who knows when, and was, understandably quite overcome by the whole experience.

What a night. And what a privilege to be the guests of two such fascinating ladies. I am still hoping to write their story.

Funny Girl 1

(atgtickets.com)

Oh, and the show? I really have very little to say. It was fabulous, from top to bottom. Beautifully staged, directed, danced, sung, performed. TOTAL star turn from Sheridan Smith. Zestily directed by Michael Mayer and gustily played by a wonderful – and almost visible – orchestra. One of the great things about old musicals is that they don’t tale themselves that seriously. It’s a long time since I had spent an enjoyable evening in the theatre.

Funny Girl runs at the Savoy Theatre until 8 October 2016. Book tickets here.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

For a good deal of the first act I couldn’t stop thinking about Christopher Isherwood’s I am a Camera/Cabaret/Sally Bowles: the story, told by a young man (and a writer), of a young woman, outrageous, quirky and charismatic, who exploits and enchants everyone she meets. Replace New York with Berlin and you could almost accuse Truman Capote of (alleged) plagiarism.

Breakfast (trh.co.uk)

(trh.co.uk)

I am a camera

(likesuccess.com)

Everyone knows the film of course, if only for Audrey Hepburn. The play is based more on the novella, a slightly darker tale, and all the more interesting for it. Played on the open stage at the Haymarket Theatre and starring Pixie Lott, who I’d vaguely heard of before as a pop singer, you might expect a full-blown musical, in which case you’d be disappointed as she only sings two and a half songs, one of which – People will say we’re in love – comes, weirdly, from another show altogether (Oklahoma, in case you were wondering).

It’s well produced and very well acted, in particular by Pixie Lott. She has all the charm and charisma (and ditziness) for the character of Holly Golightly (wonderful name) and holds the stage with supreme confidence, so it is all the more surprising to see she has had so little acting training. She is well supported, especially by Victor McGuire as the smitten barman and Matt Barber as the frustrated would-be lover.

Breakfast Matt Barber Trixie Lott

Matt Barber & Trixie Lott (lovetheatre.com)

But I couldn’t help wondering why: why anyone would choose such a slight show as a vehicle for a girl who’s made her name as a singer. It makes for a pleasant enough couple of hours, the direction (Nikolai Foster) is snappy and the dialogue slick and funny. Pixie Lott has a lovely voice, though her delivery is rather more 2016 than 1940something. Why not give her a proper musical to shine in?

Kinky Boots

KINKY BOOTS has an interesting and unusual history. Taken from the true story of a shoe factory in Northampton whose failing business was saved, if temporarily, by moving from making men’s brogues into producing kinky boots for drag queens, it became first the subject of a BBC2 documentary and then a film, and finally a Broadway Tony-award-winning musical that has eventually reached the West End.

(kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk)

(kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk)

The producers of the film created the character of Lola, the drag queen, played by Chiwetel EJiofor (now that’s a film I have to see) and it is he/she and the reluctant inheritor of the shoe factory, Charlie, who form the central characters of the musical. The show makes much of their differences – the provincial down-to-earthness of Charlie versus the exotic otherness of Lola – before making great play of their similarities (they both disappointed and defied their fathers). It is this man-to-man-with-no-sex-involved relationship that’s one of the most unusual things about this show. There’s conventional love interest along the way in the form of Charlie’s fiancée, a London-oriented businesswoman who is replaced by the assistant with a crush – a gloriously funny performance from Amy Lennox. Charlie is played by Killian Donnelly, veteran of virtually every musical running in the West End, and Lola by Matt Henry, whose sole experience as far as I can tell from Googling him – being too mean to buy a programme – is coming fourth on The Voice.

officiallondontheatre.co.uk

Killian Connelly, Matt Henry and Amy Lennox (officiallondontheatre.co.uk)

The show is saved by these performances, and by a wonderfully witty script. The weirdness of its hybrid origins – an American-created show about a story set in the English provinces – is evident here and there, and in particular in the character of Charlie, who turns from unassuming Northamptonshire when he speaks into American rock star when he sings. There’s also an American sassiness, not to mention schmaltz, to the script (Harvey Fierstein). There are some creaking plot moments, in particular when Charlie quite uncharacteristically turns on his buddy Lola solely, it seems, to provide us with the subsequent regret-and-making-up moment; and Charlie’s fiancée doesn’t serve much of a purpose (except to give Amy Lennox a wonderfully comedic moment when she realises has a crush on someone else’s man). And there are a couple of puke-making songs which are both unnecessary and out of keeping with the otherwise light-hearted, hilarious and outrageous tone of the rest of the show.

But these days, when the news around us is so grim, there’s nothing like a fun night out to cheer the spirits. The audience was on its feet at the end and I suspect this one will run and run as long and as far as its steel-reinforced stilettos can carry it.

(standard.co.uk)

(standard.co.uk)