The Hotel Plays by Tennessee Williams at The Langham, London

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I haven’t seen that much site specific theatre as yet, but as soon as I heard about The Hotel Plays I knew I had to go and experience it for myself. Theatre company Defibrillator brings together three short plays by Tennessee Williams (The Pink Bedroom, Green Eyes and Sunburst), each of which is set within a hotel room and stages them within the plush surroundings of The Langham Hotel in London. The audience for each performance is no more than 25-30 people and you are guided around the floors of the hotel by member of staff, entering each room to observe the play before leaving again as if you had never been there in the first place. 

Having the plays take place within an actual hotel is incredibly effective, placing the audience at the heart of the emotionally charged scenes that unfold inches from you, giving the evening a voyeuristic air that is made all the more powerful by the stories themselves. This is particularly true of Green Eyes (the second play of the evening), which sees the audience witness the charged atmosphere in the hotel room of a young American couple on their honeymoon, which grows more and more uncomfortable with each passing moment. I would agree with most other reviews that highlight this play as the strongest of the three. The acting by Aisling Lofting and Gethin Anthony (best known to the general public for Mr Selfridge and Game of Thrones respectively) is excellent and I certainly had no idea what was going to happen next. 

The acting in the remaining two plays is very strong as well. I was particularly drawn to Helen George (from Call The Midwife) as the mistress confronting her married lover of eight years in The Pink Bedroom. As you make your way from one floor to the next, you can’t help wondering what other stories are happening in the hotel at that moment and the inclusion of Linden Walcott-Burton as the hotel porter, who appears at certain moments in each of the plays, enhances the concept that many such scenes are possibly witnessed by staff in such hotels every day. 

Overall I thought this was an innovative, exciting concept for site specific theatre, which is wonderfully staged and extremely well acted. Each of the plays provides a different set of emotions, whether sadness, anger, a threat of violence or even comedy and therefore at the end of the 75 minutes I certainly felt that I had experienced something unique that was incredibly satisfying. 

The Hotel Plays continues at the Langham Hotel, London until 15th March, with three timed performance slots each evening (five on Saturdays). At £24 this is definitely a different theatrical experience well worth trying. Tickets can be booked through the link below.

https://sohoticketing.ticketsolve.com/shows/873506777/events

 

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The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Photo by Bronwen Sharp
Photo by Bronwen Sharp

 

The second production at the recently opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe is at the opposite end of the spectrum to The Duchess of Malfi, providing an incredibly entertaining, light hearted time at the theatre. 

The Knight of the Burning Pestle is effectively two (if not three) plays in one. There is The London Merchant, the play the acting troupe is attempting to stage, in which the merchant’s apprentice Jasper wishes to marry his master’s daughter Luce against her father’s wishes. In to this scenario a grocer and his wife in the audience insist that one of their own joins in as a heroic character and so the grocer’s young apprentice Rafe is thrust in to the spotlight to become a knight who, separate to the main plot, will make it his mission to do brave deeds as the Knight of the Burning Pestle (which in Pulp Fiction style is carried in a small box, which glows in golden light when opened!). The rest of the play revolves around the comical blending of these two strands in a hilarious, Monty Python style story, which sees all manner of crazy requests provided by the grocer and his wife for Rafe to act on stage, together with the perturbed company, who are also determined that their own tale should continue despite this unexpected insertion. 

The hilarity of the piece suits the intimate setting of the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse perfectly, enhanced by the wonderful staging which sees the grocer and his wife sit throughout the show amongst the audience members in the Pit, providing a third aspect to the play as we watch their reactions to the action unfolding on stage, making this a truly engaging experience for everyone (and those sitting near them will also benefit from offerings of food and drink too)! Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn are wonderful as the couple whose interfering antics and whose relationship becomes central to the story. There is genuine warmth and affection between them and their interaction with the audience is brilliantly played.

The ensemble also contains some other strong performances. Alex Waldmann (whose King John for the RSC still burns brightly in my mind) was very strong throughout and gave a more confident performance here than in Malfi, clearly comfortable with the light tone of the piece and the freedom he has to explore the role. Due to Matthew Needham’s injury (more on that shortly) he also had to act the most bonkers stage fight I have ever seen!

At the start of Sunday’s matinee we were informed by the “stage hands” that Matthew Needham who plays Rafe had suffered an injury to his leg during rehearsals and that certain scenes had been modified. This resulted in a quirk which for such a farcical play worked sublimely – Matthew acted the whole play on crutches and during fight scenes the other actors undertook a master class in improvisation, throwing imaginary punches and hurling themselves about the stage, whilst the stage hands within the play called out to the audience what was happening (“Now Rafe is thrown to the floor and beaten” etc.)! It is unfortunate for Matthew that he is injured and I hope he recovers fully before the end of the run. However, I personally thought this creative solution to the problem worked fantastically well. The “fight” between Rafe and Jasper was one of the funniest I’ve seen at the theatre, particularly when Matthew turned to my side of the Pit and dryly commented how it was much easier this way and despite his injury I thought he performed the role of Rafe extremely well throughout. 

Again, the unique atmosphere of the candlelit Playhouse added to the intimacy and at times made it feel as if we were all at one big party rather than the theatre. The comedic tone of the play seemed written for the space. I particularly enjoyed the entertaining start to proceedings as the stage hands (who become the Knight’s men and are played with prefect comic timing by Dennis Herdman and Dean Nolan) light the candles, setting the tone for the rest of the afternoon. The musicians are also excellent adding to the frivolity and fun.

The running time was 3 hours, which is perhaps still a little long but this is compensated for by four breaks (three four minute interludes and a 15 minute break). I also understand that this is already 15 minutes shorter than the first preview so I imagine by opening night it will be tighter and a little shorter. Also, thankfully, they seem to have added additional cushioning to the seats since my earlier trip to Malfi, meaning that I actually felt quite comfortable in the Pit.

Due to the small number of seats in the Playhouse and the relatively short run, this is likely to sell out very soon (most dates are already showing limited availability). Therefore if you want to see something a bit different that will leave you with a smile on your face I recommend you buy a ticket quickly!

 The Knight of the Burning Pestle runs until 30th March 2014 and tickets are available at the Globe’s website: 

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse/the-knight-of-the-burning-pestle

Rapture, Blister, Burn – Hampstead Theatre

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by Alastair Muir

Gina Giofriddo’s latest play, a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, arrives in London after a successful Off-Broadway run and certainly provides food for thought for its audience, particularly if you are a woman.

The play focuses on the choices available to women today – career or family? marry or remain single? – and whether any of these possible choices will make you feel fulfilled or whether the grass is always greener. Such questions are debated though the tri-generational female characters within the story. Catherine, a successful writer and academic on the subject of politics, the rise of feminism and its links with pornography, her mother for whom she has returned home to care for after a heart attack, her old college roommate Gwen and the young free-spirited Avery, Gwen’s former babysitter.

Catherine is 42 and unmarried but with a very successful career, Gwen is a stay at home wife and mother, who also happens to be married to Catherine’s college love Don, now a junior dean at the local college, who numbs his mediocre life with alcohol, pot and porn and who helps Catherine start a summer school course in advance of her full time post beginning in the autumn.

It is through her classes, held in her mother’s sitting room (to which only two students turn up – Gwen and Avery) that the history of feminism, the role of women and their relationships with men are debated, in what to some degree feels like a lecture on the notable authorities on the subject such as conservative Phyllis Schlafly and feminist Betty Friedan. Admittedly this may feel too much like a history lesson for some, but personally I found these scenes in the play incredibly absorbing and thought provoking. Women do indeed have more options today but it is Avery who questions whether women are faced with an unsatisfied life whatever they choose. It is this question that becomes the focus of the story when the possibility of Catherine and Gwen swapping lifestyles is raised and which drives the emotional heart of the play through the second Act.  

The performances of all five actors are excellent. Emilia Fox, in her first stage role for a decade, successfully conveys both Catherine’s strength and sexiness and her need to be loved, Emma Fielding is very good as Gwen, struggling to hold on to her family and Polly Adams adds light touches (not to mention Martinis) as Catherine’s mother (although her predominantly English accent throughout did seem odd). Adam James is particularly strong as Don, caught between his staid C+ marriage and the possible fresh start with Catherine and convincingly conveys his character’s inability to understand what he actually wants without feeling unlikeable. However it is Shannon Tarbet as Avery who steals the show with some truly sharp and witty one-liners and who you cannot fail to like.

The set works well, making effective use of the Hampstead space and thankfully on my second visit there seemed to be no issues with the mechanics, which on the day of the first preview had suffered problems, treating those of us there that night to a public dress rehearsal of sorts.

I found this to be an intelligent, sharply witty play, which at its heart is filled with the nuances of human relationships and emotions.

Rapture, Blister, Burn is at the Hampstead Theatre until 22nd February 2014. Tickets are selling quickly but there is limited availability towards the end of the run via the theatre website: www.hampsteadtheatre.com

King Lear (National Theatre) with Simon Russell Beale – 18 January 2014

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When the National Theatre announced this production, to be directed by Sam Mendes and reunite him with the superb Simon Russell Beale I was rather excited to see the results, booking a ticket for Saturday’s preview. I admit from the outset that King Lear is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. However I thoroughly enjoyed this interpretation. It is very clear and would be easy to follow for anyone new to the play, something I think is hugely important in continuing to bring new audiences to theatre and Shakespeare in particular. One of my personal problems with King Lear is that I sometimes feel that it starts to drag on and I become distracted, but at 3 hours 25 minutes (including the interval), the fact this production also held my attention throughout and seemed to fly by highlights how engaging the production itself is.

This is primarily due to the strength of most of the cast and also some interesting and exciting choices of direction, which I’ll mention later. Staged in modern dress, the play opens in a corporate-style war room, evoking thoughts of military dictatorships in World War II. Indeed, Simon Russell Beale’s Lear begins very much as a dictator and I found myself drawing comparisons with his portrayal of Stalin in the Collaborators in terms of his movement and presence on stage in the early scenes. The opening scene is staged with Lear on stage with his back to the audience, sitting as if to pass sentence on his three daughters before him and Simon Russell Beale captures well the violent anger of Lear at Cordelia’s refusal to follow his orders, demonstrating that this Lear is already a little unhinged. As the play progresses, his performance captures wonderfully his loss of control and descent in to madness, as he becomes more and more childlike. I particularly enjoyed his later scenes with Cordelia and Kent and found his final moments very moving, during which you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre.

There are also some other very strong performances. Olivia Vinnell follows on from her wonderful Desdemona with a strong performance as Cordelia. I still however find myself wishing that Shakespeare had given her a bigger role in the story. Kate Fleetwood is very good as Goneril and Stanley Townsend is a strong Kent, whose loyalty and friendship for Lear is one of the few genuinely warm relationships in the play. My favourite though was Anna Maxwell-Martin’s superb performance as Regan – brilliantly seductive and malevolent. The threat she poses and her desire for power is never in question and was a refreshing change from the light characters I have seen her play previously (plus she had some stunning costumes). Adrian Scarborough’s Fool comes across as being far less of a Fool than in other productions I’ve seen and his interaction with Lear works well. My one complaint would be that I wish that he had been used more.

Tom Brooke as Edgar was a surprising choice for me, in large part due to me imagining him as more suited to Edmund. I personally thought he played the role of Poor Tom far more convincingly than that of Edgar, which I just didn’t find believable in the early scenes. His portrayal of Poor Tom was very well acted and became incredibly moving by the end of the play. Sam Trougton is a fine actor and he plays Edmund’s deviousness well. However for me his portrayal lacked the depth needed to make the character a genuine threat, although this may develop during the run.

Overall I thought the modern dress staging and set worked well, with the military-style corporate mood matching the tone of the story and the grasping for power by different factions. I am however still undecided about the African plain-style setting for the final scenes, which caused me to start to focus too much on thinking about where the action was set rather than on the story itself, something that I hadn’t found myself doing up to that point. I did however find this to be an engaging and overall satisfying production.

SPOILER AHEAD – One of the most interesting and exciting aspects of this production for me is a change to the usual approach of a particular scene and so I suggest you do not read further if you wish to remain surprised.

This concerns the fate of the Fool, which I’ve not seen dealt with on stage in this manner before. The text simply has Lear refer to the fact that his Fool has been hanged, which seems unsurprising after the terrible treatment of Gloucester. Here however it is Lear himself who, in a violent outburst as he starts to deteriorate, murders the Fool in a scene that I found more shocking than the torture of Gloucester. It was in fact so unexpected that at first I did not quite believe he was dead. I found this choice by Sam Mendes to be very interesting and exciting, as it makes us think about the text anew. It is arguably very plausible that in such a deteriorated mental state Lear would commit such an act and then simply forget or not realise what has happened, choosing instead to believe the Fool met a different fate. This is another reason I love seeing Shakespeare on stage – there is always something fresh that can be brought to the stage to open it up for discussion. I will be interested to hear what other people’s reactions were to this directorial choice. 

The production opens on Thursday 23rd January, with an initial run of dates announced until 25th March. Check the National Theatre website for availability. Further dates will go on sale in February and day seats are available at the box office each morning.  

Watching Sherlock Series 3 Filming in London!

I started to write about my fantastic experiences watching filming of series 3 of Sherlock earlier in the year, more so I didn’t forget it and now I have a blog and now the episodes have aired I thought why not post it, so forgive me if this rambles on a bit! SPOILER WARNING – If you have yet to see the episodes this does contain spoilers.

I find the production of film and TV incredibly interesting and tend to watch filming if I come across it, which living in London does happen occasionally, especially since I learnt from the wisdom of others what those neon arrows I often see on lampposts mean! Therefore I was hopeful of catching filming of the new series of Sherlock when it ventured to London, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to Cardiff due to work.

I had already caught the bug after being lucky enough to be one of a small crowd who watched filming for the series 2 finale The Reichenbach Fall outside St Barts on 17 July 2011. There really weren’t many people there and at one point myself and my two friends found ourselves being moved to stand behind the monitor tent (so that we were not in shot), only to have Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stand practically next to us! They were watching their stunt doubles film the aftermath of Sherlock’s fall (Sherlock on the floor and John being knocked to the floor by the bike). It was quite surreal to have them so near, with Benedict covered in blood, with a towel round his shoulders – Sherlock and John watching Sherlock and John! Bonkers. Although we didn’t approach them as they were clearly working and that felt wholly inappropriate, it certainly made me hope I’d see more filming of this brilliant series!

Filming the aftermath of the Fall (you can just see Benedict on the floor)
can you spot Benedict’s arm as he lies on the floor?
Sherlock s2 finale
Benedict being wheeled in to the hospital entrance for a take

 

10th April 2013 – Day 1 at 221b!

I didn’t realise it would take quite so long however but at long last series 3 filming began in Wales and then the first trip to London. What a difference a two year hiatus makes – I still can’t quite believe the crowd at Baker Street for filming of episode one The Empty Hearse on 10th April 2013. As it was a working day I only managed to get there after work, but hadn’t actually missed too much. The weather started out fine and we watched the filming of what would turn out to be Sherlock & Watson’s last shot in the episode, standing outside Baker Street speaking to the reporters, complete with deerstalker. It was lovely to see them actually filming outside that iconic location and even my flatmate came along to watch!

S3 Ep 1

That evening turned out to be a great one to go to, with quite a few scenes shot, including John being attacked outside 221b. Mark Gatiss entertained the crowd during rehearsal of this scene, as on seeing what happens the crowd gasped, prompting him to turn around to us all, put his hand to his mouth and make a shock gasp style gesture!

As the evening went on however the weather took a turn for the worse. In short it poured it down for hours, but the crowd at Sherlock filming have a great spirit and once we had an umbrella (purchased from the wonderful corner shop on North Gower Street) it was fine. As the rain started to fall heavily, filming was to continue with Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington, who were to film their speedy exit from 221b on to the road and Sherlock commandeering a motorbike. It was during the set up for these scenes that Benedict, Martin and Amanda all came across to the huge crowd to say hello. Only Benedict made it along the line opposite 221b to reach the opposite corner where we were standing but it was nice of him to do so. He thanked everyone for being there and supporting the show and said to “Stay sane and dry” which in that weather was really a lost hope! I said I hoped he’d be able to fit in some more theatre sometime soon, to which he said he hoped so too as he’d love to if he could find the time. With the exciting Hamlet rumours now circulating I certainly hope this happens soon!

The scene with the bike was still being filmed when I left just after 10 p.m. (by which point myself and my flatmate were sufficiently drenched).

13th April 2013 – St Barts Day 1!

It wasn’t long before the all-important filming outside St Bart’s arrived. As I don’t work far from there, I suspected the rumours were true when the parking restriction signs for a full weekend due to filming went up all along the side of Smithfield Market and so I joined a few friends there the next day. The weather was pretty miserable yet again and I felt genuinely sorry for the cast and crew having to work on it the rain. Poor Benedict also seemed to have a cold, which couldn’t have been much fun in that weather.

When I arrived the crowd was fairly small and the large blue crash mat was in position by St Bart’s (little did we know that it would actually be in the episode!). Most of the day was spent filming Sherlock’s fall, requiring Benedict to first jump/fall from the cradle raised above the crash mat.

This was followed up by him leaping on to the mat from the side, which meant he had to climb a ladder and then launch himself on to the mat, which looked like a lot of fun!

In true fashion, the rain started once the wirework began. Benedict’s stunt double was used to measure out the different heights they wanted to capture and once that was done it was time for Benedict to film. After a few takes and as the rain started to pour, someone had clearly had a great idea, and as Benedict was raised up on the wire in preparation for another take, he took the umbrella up with him, continuing to hold it over himself whilst suspended in mid-air, which was quite funny to see. Only when they were ready to film, did he drop the umbrella to the crew below and do a take. The crew also started laying towels on the crash mat, as a few takes resulted in Benedict being lowered fully on to the mat face down, which by this point must have been soaking wet.


Benedict’s stunt double on the wire as they set up shots

Once Benedict and Martin were no longer needed, Benedict’s stunt double was filmed on the wire, dropping from the top of St Bart’s to almost the pavement, before being hoisted back up at some speed! It was very impressive to watch.

Everyone hoped that the weather would improve for the next day!


Benedict’s stunt double doing the full drop

14th April 2013 – St Bart’s Day 2!

As if by magic the weather for the second day at St Bart’s couldn’t have been more different! The sun was out and it was already quite warm by 11 a.m. when I arrived. A couple of friends I knew were already there and barriers were up, behind which the crowd were watching. The first scene I saw was Martin filming John on the phone to Sherlock and calling out to him. In between takes the cast and crew seemed far more relaxed (maybe it was the glorious weather) and Benedict and Martin, both sporting sunglasses chatted with Mark Gatiss, Sue Vertue and the crew.

It was then time to film scenes in front of the hospital and joined by my flatmate, we managed to get a fantastic spot on top of a stone seat near the archway of the hospital. Being relatively short it was great to have something to stand! The next few hours were incredibly good fun. We watched the scene where Benedict ran up and swapped places with his stunt double who was dragged off through the side archway (cue lots of oohs from the crowd) and Steven Moffat appeared just before lunch to much excitement.


the body swap!


Two Sherlocks! Benedict wanders over between shots.


Benedict on the pavement


The 2 headed Sherlock! Real and stunt side by side!


Filming the scenes with Benedict covered in blood on the pavement

After lunch it really did get ridiculous. First Mark Gatiss returned to set, but in full Mycroft outfit, which started the speculation as to how Mycroft fitted in to the puzzle! Then, all of a sudden Andrew Scott, in full costume, casually sauntered up the road towards the hospital. The reaction as he was spotted by more people was crazy and he drew claps and cheers from the crowd. He chatted happily on set, every so often waving to those watching. Then they “filmed” that scene and I’m so pleased I was there to watch, as along with everyone else I puzzled over why Mycroft and Moriarty were together and shaking hands – was this flashback? And why on earth was Moriarty wearing Sherlock’s coat?! Or was this a hoax to wind us all up?! It was also nice to watch as Benedict wandered up to watch them film, sitting down on the floor against the ambulance station, next to Steven Moffat. Good for them for trying to plot red herrings and keep us guessing!

Then just when it couldn’t get any stranger, Martin began filming and my friend went “That guy looks a bit like Derren Brown” before we realised that that was indeed Derren Brown! We could clearly hear him saying “and sleep” which made us want to laugh. John hypnotised by Derren Brown? Really?!

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and I felt privileged to watch the hard working crew as well as the actors at work. The set up and effort that goes in to making TV of this quality is very impressive indeed. We also did well by not putting any spoilers on the internet.


Mycroft on set


Yes we did miss you Andrew!


The red herring!


The only photo I have of Derren – it’s him under the hood honest!

21st May 2013 – Day 2 at 221b!

My next trip to “221b” was for more filming of The Empty Hearse and the taxi scene from The Sign of Three, in which Sherlock hails a cab and he and John head off to investigate The Bloody Guardsman. The crowd was again quite large and it was a much shorter day in terms of scenes filmed. Benedict and Martin filmed the hailing of the taxi for about 45 minutes and then Benedict left and Martin filmed John’s arrival, this time with moustache (much to everyone’s amusement!) at 221b and the children asking him to give a Penny For The Guy. For trivia fans – the face on the Guy was drawn by Mark Gatiss! Filming was finished in a few hours, as the crew had already been filming in the morning at St James’ Park for the scenes on the bench and with the guards, which sadly I didn’t go to. The crew did however let people queue up to have photos at 221b before they removed the numbers and also with the Baker Street sign after it had been removed from the wall!

21st August 2013 – Day 3 at 221b!

My final day of filming was for the finale and again, mainly involved Benedict hailing a taxi, although instead of taking John with him, Sherlock leaves him standing alone of the street after what looked to be a few serious words. It was fun last night to see what they were actually saying and my friend who was there with me that day was thrilled to see it live on TV.

For the first time I was able to witness the welcome Martin and Benedict get when they arrive on set and it is quite something. There were hundreds of people there that day and the cheers they received when they arrived were like something from a rock concert! My friend had come with me out of curiosity and he couldn’t believe it. There came a point early on when the main crowd opposite 221b (we chose to stand in our usual spot on the corner a bit further along) screamed and cheered whenever they appeared from out of the door of 221b to rehearse the scene and after a couple of times, Benedict wandered across good naturedly and gestured for them to not do it when they were rehearsing/filming.

From then on, there was relative silence until Cut was shouted, at which point a large cheer and applause would be given. I felt as if I was at the theatre in some ways. It must be very strange for them filming TV in those surroundings.

Amanda Abbington also arrived on set and happily signed autographs for the crowd. This was also the day Benedict held up his political questions on civil liberties and I was hilariously referenced in a Guardian article, as possibly one of the first people to put on twitter what he’d said. That’s certainly one way to get your thoughts out to the world!

The other scenes filmed were the arrival of the henchmen of Charles Augustus Magnusson in a black car with the number plate “I CAM” and their entry in to Baker Street and also Sherlock’s arrival with John at Baker Street, dressed in very un-Sherlock tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt. We were all amused by his annoyance with the door knocker and again it was lovely to see the context of that on last night’s episode.

Once filming ended I was amazed when both Benedict and Martin signed for the huge crowd, with Benedict going along the whole line, as if it was a film premiere. Typically I hadn’t brought anything with me that day, seeing as they hadn’t signed previously so I happily stood back and watched the spectacle. People who just happened to be walking past wondered what was going on and on hearing who was signing, they joined the crowd! Now we just had to wait for the episodes to air!  

15th December 2013 – The Empty Hearse Preview at the BFI!

To top off the fun I’d had at filming, by some miracle I managed to buy two tickets for the preview screening at the BFI of episode one. I have been a BFI member for a few years now and I usually fail at getting tickets for the “popular sell out in seconds events”, so this was a huge surprise! As my earlier spoiler free post about that day says, the atmosphere was wonderful both in the building beforehand and during the screening. It was also lovely to see so many people involved with the show there. Andrew Scott seemed to go relatively unnoticed as people took their seats and Louise Brealey was sitting next to him with Una Stubbs also there. As you would expect the arrival of Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch caused lots of excitement and they seemed genuinely thrilled to be there.

It was certainly an incredible atmosphere in which to watch that episode and now it’s aired you can imagine the reactions to some of the moments right from the first few minutes. There were everything from gasps, to groans, to laughter and clapping. The majority of people in the room also recognised who was playing Sherlock’s parents and this drew claps. Benedict in the Q&A later said how emotional he’d felt watching that scene and it getting that response and how wonderful it had been to have his parents involved. I’d recommend reading the transcript of the Q&A as there were some great questions (putting aside the awkward fan fiction moment).

And now it’s all over. I really hope it’s not another two year hiatus, but quality takes time and they are all so busy now that I won’t be surprised if it is. All my fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to see some filming of series 4, although the thought that that could not be until 2015 is quite a scary thought!

I’ll attempt in the next few days to put all my photos on Flickr (as I think I have an account for that). All my filming videos are on You Tube under vickster5001.

Richard II Cast Q&A – Barbican – 8th January 2014

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A few people have been interested to hear about the Q&A session that followed last night’s performance of Richard II at the Barbican and so I thought I’d write up a quick post.

In attendance for the Q&A was Oliver Ford Davies, Emma Hamilton (Queen), Marcus Griffiths (Greene), Owen Horsley (1st AD), David Tennant, Miranda Nolan (lady-in-waiting), Gracy Goldman (lady-in-waiting) and Nigel Lindsay. For those of us that had been able to attend the Q&A in Stratford-Upon-Avon, it was lovely to see David and Nigel as they didn’t come to that session.

The session started with the first assistant director talking about the rehearsal process, saying rehearsals started in Clapham on 26th August. He then went on to explain Greg Doran’s rehearsal process, which some of you may already know, describing how the first two weeks are spent reading the text in a circle, but that no one reads their own part. This is a tool that Greg always uses for his productions and Owen talked of how it helps make everyone feel a sense of ownership of the play and strengthens the ensemble. It certainly stands out for me when I see Greg’s plays that all the ensemble are invested in the story and clearly understand the characters and the situation in every scene. You just need to watch actors who are only in the background of a scene to see that they are absolutely in that moment as their character would be.

The discussion then moved on to the research trips the company went on during rehearsals and Miranda Nolan talked about how valuable it had been to visit Westminster Hall at Westminster Abbey and see the great hall that Richard II had expanded and how it helped all the actors when it came to playing the scenes set in that vast hall. Gracy Goldman also mentioned the tour guides they’d had and how the anecdotes they’d provided about happenings in the hall during Richard’s reign helped to make them understand exactly what their character would be feeling in those moments in the play.

SPOILER WARNING – Skip this paragraph if you have not yet seen the production! The floor was then opened up to the audience and after an off topic request to take David for a drink (he kindly said he had to get home), it was asked why the choice of murderer of Richard had been changed from the original text. David Tennant talked about how Exton is a character that appears at the very end of the play to kill Richard and is someone the audience has no emotional investment in and that, on discussion as a company they all felt that once Aumerle is made the killer, the play seems to be more complete. He also referred to the scene between the Yorks and Bolingbroke and that without Aumerle as the killer that scene doesn’t really go anywhere and that, although we’ll never know, he tends to think that’s possibly how Shakespeare would have wanted it to be. He also mentioned that for Henry IV Shakespeare had had to change Falstaff’s name, as the family with whom he originally shared a name were unhappy with the link and asked for it to be changed. David said it’s possible the Rutland family also didn’t like a link between their family and the killer in this play (as by this point Aumerle is called Rutland). This was a point that Oliver Ford Davies had also mentioned in the Q&A in Stratford-Upon-Avon in November and is certainly an interesting thought. I for one think the way this production is structured, the tragic end feels inevitable.

Another gentleman spoke of John Barton’s famous 1973 Richard II production starring Ian Richardson and Richard Pasco, who would alternate the roles of Richard and Bolingbroke. He had seen both versions of this production 40 years ago and asked if any of the cast had taken inspiration from this production at all. David responded that it was hard to get a sense of a performance that you didn’t see and that perhaps for him his connection was more of a spiritual one, as Ian’s wife has given him the ring Ian wore for this production. All the cast agreed it must have been fantastic to be able to see it live. Oliver Ford Davies later came back to this point and added that both Ian and Richard saw the characters in very different ways, leading to two contrasting versions. Ian Richardson was of the view that Bolingbroke did come back for the crown, whereas Richard Pascoe felt the opposite. It is always interesting to hear Oliver Ford Davies talk about Richard II, as it was his special subject at Oxford and he read volumes of Latin about the subject and therefore has lots of insights.

Owen Horsley also spoke of how useful it had been that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon had laid out a table for them of artefacts from the time, including a letter from John of Gaunt, as well as material about other productions.

Another question was about the wonderful costumes and whether they also wore them in rehearsal. Marcus said they didn’t have the full costumes at that time and it was very much up to the imagination, but that everything falls into place when you put on the costume. Nigel Lindsay did however say that he had the gloves, the sword and later the long coat during rehearsal as it gave him a sense of how to walk and of the character in general. He also mentioned that Sean Chapman (Northumberland) had one iron glove throughout rehearsal and that perhaps those playing soldiers had felt more of a need to have some part of the costume whilst rehearsing. Miranda Nolan also talked about that ladies wearing practice skirts to get used to walking in the large gowns and that Jane Lapotaire (Duchess of Gloucester) was an expert in how to wear period costume! She also spoke of the hairstyle for the ladies-in-waiting and that it’s almost like a corset.

With regards to David’s hair, they recalled the first rehearsal after David had had the extensions done and that he arrived during a warm up and Miranda at first didn’t recognise him! David also jokingly said he should also have worn a practice skirt as it was far harder than he expected to move in some of his costumes. He also spoke of the five flights of stairs between the stage and the dressing rooms and that hoisting it up to climb the stairs a few times a night was very unregal!

The cast were then asked, if the coalition government were planning to ban Shakespeare after tomorrow (which David jokingly said he thought they were), what role they would want to play or play again one last time? Nigel Lindsay playfully responded with Desdemona, but then followed up with Iago (I can really see that. He’d be great). Gracy said Hermione (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Miranda chose Juliet, David said he would have said Iago but as it was taken he’d choose Malvolio, Owen said he’s like to direct Titus Andronicus, Marcus wanted to be Coriolanus, Emma also opted for Iago and Oliver Ford Davies said he’d stick with Polonius (good choice indeed)! Someone also asked whether they preferred comedies, tragedies or histories. The majority said tragedies, with only Gracy choosing comedy and Miranda choosing histories. David on the other hand said it would be reductive to put them in to categories!

The next question related to whether any practitioners of Shakespeare had influenced their work. Gracy spoke about Cicely Berry (the RSC’s brilliant voice coach) and recalled taking part in a workshop with her, during which they had to do interesting work with excerpts from Macbeth and that this had really made her love Shakespeare.

Someone also asked whether they thought it was more difficult to create a character from history and how did they find their way in to the character. Nigel Lindsay commented that it was nice to play a real person as there is research available to you, but that as they lived so long ago you can still bring something of your own to it. He also spoke of how visiting places like Westminster Hall was very helpful. With regards to new plays/characters, he said you probably can be more free in a way and that for some characters it’s not the history of the person but the history of all those who have played it before that can be the most frightening. He also said how Greg spoke in rehearsal that they were playing the play not the history and that he thought that was an important point. He did however speak about reading a chronicle written by Adam of Usk, who lived at the time and apparently accompanied Bolingbroke back from exile and even visited Richard in prison and he said reading something like that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

Someone asked David if he dreamed Shakespeare, to which he said he wished he was that eloquent! He did say he sometimes wakes up at night with lines going through his head though, but that it would be for those around him to answer whether he brings the characters home with him. He said he used to think he didn’t but he’s not sure now. At this point Nigel Lindsay referred to the National Theatre’s 2003 production of The Pillowman (available to view in the NT archive if you are interested as, although the recording quality isn’t great, it’s a superb production) in which his character spent most of the play torturing David’s character with electrodes! He said that during that run his family did say he sometimes brought the character home with him, which was quite a scary thought having watched that portrayal!

The questions started to become a little silly towards the end (Doctor Who crept up as someone had brought songs she’d written about the characters for David, which he did take at the end) and there was then a discussion about David’s hair. He said he didn’t know how people do it – all the maintenance, the washing, and the endless brushing! It was jokingly suggested that at the end he should auction it for charity, which he thought was funny and he seemed doubtful anyone would want such a thing. He then jokingly said he could perhaps give it to another actor some time when they are going to play Richard and used Colin Morgan as a random example, going “Here you are Colin, here’s a scraggy bit of hair for you. That’ll set you straight!” It was very funny in that he was really highlighting the craziness of the idea that anyone could possibly ever want his hair!

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This is David doing the action of offering his hair to another actor, the idea of which he thought ridiculous!

On that note, they received a final round of applause before the session finished. I always find the Q&A and director talks at the RSC fascinating and if you have a chance to go to any of them then I definitely recommend it.

Looking Ahead to Theatre in 2014!

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In the words of The Full Monty’s tagline – Drop Everything – it’s a New Year and that means a new 12 months of theatre awaits so I wanted to look ahead at some of the productions arriving during the next 12 months and there is certainly a few exciting prospects. People tend to ask me what I would recommend they see, so here are the new productions already announced for 2014 that I am most excited about, plus a few offerings already running that I’d urge you to see if you can.

1. Birdland – Royal Court Theatre – 3rd April – 24th May – I’m very much looking forward to this new play by Simon Stephens (who brilliantly adapted Curious Incident and the Young Vic’s A Doll’s House and whose wonderful Seawall was a highlight of 2013 for me). It will also reunite him with the supremely talented Andrew Scott.

2. A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic summer 2014 – Firm dates have yet to be announced but I await them eagerly as I was sorry to miss the Donmar’s fairly recent production. It will also be very exciting to see Gillian Anderson in the main role.

3. Blithe Spirit – Gielgud – 1st March – 7th June – A transfer from New York has been rumoured for a while now and I’m thrilled it’s finally on its way, as I’ve still never seen this play and it will be lovely to see Angela Lansbury on stage.

4. The Full Monty – Noel Coward Theatre – 20th February – 14th June – I’m cheating slightly as I saw this in Sheffield last year, but it’s a fantastic show that will certainly make you smile and I’m definitely planning to go again.

5. Shakespeare In Love – Noel Coward Theatre – opens in July – Following The Full Monty in to this theatre is this adaptation. I enjoyed the film and am intrigued to see how it translates to the stage. With the right cast I think it could be lovely and I look forward to casting announcements in the future.

6. Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 – Royal Shakespeare Theatre & Barbican – March – September, followed by a London transfer – Greg Doran’s tenure in charge of the RSC has started strongly with Richard II and I look forward to seeing this standard continue this year with Henry IV starring Antony Sher and some of the current Richard II ensemble. The entire Swan season also looks very interesting too.

7. Boeing Boeing – Sheffield Crucible – 15th May – 7th June – I have never seen this comedy performed, although I did see the sequel Don’t Dress For Dinner in New York in 2012. It would be lovely if Adam James could be in it as Bernard again, but I’m not sure I’m that lucky!

8. Rapture, Blister, Burn – Hampstead Theatre – 16th January – 22nd February – Adam is at least popping up on stage later this month in this new production at the Hampstead Theatre. The plot sounds interesting and it also stars Emilia Fox.

9. The Duchess of Malfi – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – 9th January – 16th February – I’m very excited to experience a production inside this newly opened theatre and it will be nice to compare this production to the Old Vic’s recent production with Eve Best.

10. Other Desert Cities – Old Vic – 13 March – 24 May – Announced yesterday, I am thrilled this is coming to London, as I was able to see it at the Booth Theatre in New York in 2012. Casting is yet to be announced but I’d love Stockard Channing to come to London with it. It is also going to be performed in the round which will add another wonderful dimension to the production.

11. Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch – No further details are known about this production, other than that Benedict himself has said he is hoping to play Hamlet in autumn 2014 and Sonia Friedman is possibly involved. Hamlet is possibly still my favourite Shakespeare play and a production of it starring not only one of my favourite actors, but one of the finest British theatre actors is incredibly exciting. The choice of ensemble cast will be crucial to ensure a strong overall production, but I have high hopes for this already. Watch this space!

I would also strongly urge anyone who hasn’t already seen the following productions to make it a resolution to book tickets this year:

1. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – Once this wonderful production reopens at the Apollo (currently scheduled for 13 January) I urge everyone to go. It is simply superb and remains one of the best shows currently running in London.

2. American Psycho – Almeida Theatre – You have until 2 February to try and see this new musical starring Matt Smith as Patrick Bateman. Chances are it will require an early morning queue for the approximately 10 seats released every day at the box office (or checking at the theatre in person closer to the start of the performance for any returns) but I promise it’s worth the effort. Odd tickets are popping up on the theatre’s website but you have to be quick to nab those!

3. Richard II – Barbican until 25 January – Although sold out, returns are appearing fairly regularly on the Barbican’s website and 30 stalls seats are released at 10 am every day for £10. Again, there is likely to be an early queue required but this really is a superb ensemble production not to be missed.

4. Matilda – Cambridge Theatre – It’s been just over three years since I first saw this fantastic musical in Stratford-Upon-Avon and it is thrilling to see what it has gone on to achieve. Funny, fun and heartfelt, with brilliant music and the lyrics by Tim Minchin, it is one of the best musicals around.

5. War Horse – New London Theatre – this production continues to thrill audiences in London. It is visually incredible and emotionally powerful and is not to be missed.

6. Les Miserables – Queen’s Theatre – yes you may have seen the film (which I also enjoyed) but have you seen the live stage version yet? If not, then I cannot recommend it highly enough. The songs are stunning and I never fail to be moved by its intensity, which is why it remains my favourite musical. If you’ve yet to go then you really should!

It will be exciting to see just what else is announced over the coming months!