Wednesday, 21 December 2011

‘The Comedy of Errors’ - National Theatre: Olivier Theatre - Tuesday 20th December 2011

(Rated 4/5 )

This was marvellous entertainment! Such a simple, well-executed plot involving mistaken identity – well there’s a surprise ;) – two sets of twins, and a whole series of errors. To me it felt as though it was over in a few moments – as they say time does fly when you’re having fun and this had bucket-loads of that! A fast-paced, high-jinks comedy, which felt somewhat like Morecombe and Wise do Old Bill’s best rhyming dialogue, including many bonkers beatings that had us crying with laughter.
Lenny Henry was the absolute master of comedy as ever. And Chris Jarman an excellent match as his twin of the same name, Antipholus. The Dromios – Lucian Msamati and Daniel Poyser - were fabulous as well. Also of note was Amit Shah, highly humorous as Angelo, the disgruntled  goldsmith, chasing both Antopholuses for money for the gold chain commissioned by one of them.
Lenny proves that he wasn’t just a one hit Shakespearean wonder as Othello, and combines his perfection in comedy with his new passion for the Bard. He convincingly becomes increasingly confused and indignant, as he is chased by the law and women believing he is his brother and accused of madness. His elocution is faultless and the audience may recognise a few mannerisms from his stand-up such as cawing ;) Others were not so clear in their expression – a bit of mumbling – though still the delightful rhymes shone through.
The set was amazing – revolving blocks creating numerous different types of construction – our favourite the Phoenix block of flats. This production was set in modern times and the costumes were lovely.
This lesser known of Shakespeare’s plays stands out above many of his comedies in the way it is treated here by performances and production.

Note: The ‘we’ in the above is not royal, but multiple as this review is based on comments from all four of us who attended.

P.S. For those with disability of the lower limbs it’s worth noting that there are many flights of stairs to climb to The Olivier Theatre. You may like to take the lift. The seats are very comfortable. And the setting – The South Bank – is a personal favourite of mine.

The Comedy of Errors – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011
Twitter: @RestrictReview

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

‘My Week With Marilyn’ - Vue Cinema, Leicester Square - Monday 30th November 2011

(Rated 4/5 )

This is a wonderful little film about real-life film-maker Colin Clark’s time spent working as third assistant director on The Prince and The Showgirl, starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. It features particularly beautiful performances from Michelle Williams as Marilyn and Eddie Redmayne. He is adorable as the young Colin, who becomes besotted with Marilyn and helps take care of her, so enabling her to produce her incredible performances. Also personally striking a huge note for me was Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, who contrary to Olivier’s reaction to her, encouraged Marilyn by asking her for help in reading lines together – such a lovely example of empowering someone! Michelle produced a truly inspired, sympathetic and gentle embodiment of Marilyn.
This is a gorgeous insight into Marilyn’s use of Method acting, which so conflicted with Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) use of technique from observation of people. Marilyn’s work was erratic to say the least. Many times she would be late for set, other times ill and unable to come at all, yet more times what she produced was wrong, mediocre or even bad. This maddened Olivier. Yet when in the zone – and as Paula Strasberg (played very nicely and humorously by Zoe Wanamaker) said it took her time to prepare – she was sheer brilliance. She was so vulnerable and in touch with a breadth of emotional range, which would even amaze Olivier. As he said towards the end of the film, while he and Colin watch the rushes of her work as The Showgirl, she was exceptional and yet had no idea how good she was, which made her even more brilliant.

The captions at the end of the film remind us that following this work, Marilyn made Some Like It Hot – her most famous and critically acclaimed performance. And Olivier also produced his best work on stage directly afterwards. Had they learned from each other in spite of their majorly opposing approaches?

My Week With Marilyn – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

TV Lady Cops: ‘Cagney & Lacey’; 30th Anniversary - British Film Institute - Tuesday 29th November 2011, ‘The Killing II’; Preview with Sofie Grabol and Piv Bernth - BAFTA - Monday 31st October 2011

On reading my A Round-Heeled Woman review, a friend asked me ‘What about Sofie at BAFTA?!’ She’s got a very good point. What indeed?! Well I had intended to give The Killing a review all of its own and will do once I have seen both of the first two seasons, but in the meantime I thought I’d write something combining my experiences involving three lovely ladies who have played highly significant and ground-breaking television roles as female detectives.
As Jenni Murray commented at the BFI event commemorating the 30th Anniversary of Cagney & Lacey, without them there would have been no Sarah Lund. And so, even though seeing Sofie Grabol in person came first for me, it feels right to start with Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless and the man behind the women, without whom none of this would have happened, Barney Rosenzweig.
Barney had a lot to say bless him. He, Tyne and Sharon discussed the show and its process with broadcaster, Jenni Murray, as event host. There were clips from both Cagney & Lacey – the first of which; the show titles had me in tears!- and The Trials of Rosie O’Neill, which was also produced by Barney and starred Sharon in the title role with a guest appearance by Tyne.
Cagney & Lacey had been billed as Starsky & Hutch in drag but how much more it was! These were intelligent – intellectually and emotionally – women, and we were seeing their home lives as well as work lives and how they juggled both. Not – I have to say – that I didn’t enjoy Starsky & Hutch, but for a young female viewer they were more eye candy and without much depth to either of them. This was so revolutionary in that sense, and even more so with putting two women at the helm. In a sense Barney – I wanted to call him Harvey there; how important and endearing a character was Harvey Lacey; Mary Beth’s husband – had missed the boat; the women’s movement had already happened, and he had such a fight on his hands to get the show picked up, and then at various points to defend it and keep it going against all the odds and in spite of great viewing figures. Even fans had to be recruited to sign petitions to persuade the network to commission new seasons.
It’s quite amazing now to discover that both Tyne and Sharon were reluctant to take it on. Tyne spoke about playing the role of a cop again. Sharon was also unsure about that and she ‘didn’t like the man with a beard’ at her audition. That man was Barney. Ten years later she married him! Sharon also spoke about having trouble finding Christine. She wasn’t sure who she was for ages. Sharon said her agent/manager of the time persuaded her to take the risk.
Tyne and Sharon talked about the big differences between the two women. Lacey; the family woman with lovely husband Harvey. Meanwhile there is single woman Cagney, who, as Tyne said, ‘blows off’ her boyfriends. This last caused great hilarity. There is quite a difference in meaning between the English and American even though we think we speak the same language. 
Later Sharon spoke about how she came to acting late. She had worked more behind the scenes. I felt so much for her when she talked about how nervous she gets before she goes into a scene or on stage and how that is still the case. She said her agent/manager had persuaded her she had a talent for acting and that’s how she went for it. Now she is happy she did and all her Emmys are a testament that she does have something pretty amazing. Tyne too. Between them they have won 6 Emmys for Cagney & Lacey.
Jenni asked Tyne and Sharon about the chemistry between them as acting partners. Tyne replied, ‘I flunked at chemistry.’ She preferred to call it magic. They clicked – it’s that simple and that wonderful. They did a lot of reading lines together just the two of them. And from other interviews I know they said they sweated together and that sweat created a cemented bond, as Tyne’s mother referred to it. They are very close and firm friends now.
As well as dealing with many pertinent issues episode after episode, the show addressed two very major concerns. The first was the cancer storyline in which Mary-Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer. Again, for me, it’s such a massive indication of the impact of this show on a teenage girl, that only having seen these episodes maybe a couple of times, and watching selected scenes again now, I remembered what was said line by line and how each actor responded and their character felt. Emotion memories stronger than those from my own life at the time! Tyne commented that she had been reluctant to do this storyline because it takes Mary-Beth away from her hero-status. I was quite surprised about this but putting it in the context of how heroes were then it does make sense. They couldn’t be seen as vulnerable. Now, for me, a hero is someone who is vulnerable and can go to the pits of despair and show that pain and yet still rises above strong and fully feeling. To me that is more heroic than wearing the mask and carrying on. The heroes of then were ‘perfect’. Now we have the celebrated anti-heroes; the Sarah Lunds. One question asked at BAFTA was why should we love Sarah when she is so cold, so flawed – well that’s exactly why – she is interesting and loveable for those flaws; why she has them and how she deals with them and others react to her. Far more interesting than a perfect, happy super-woman. But, for now back to those heroes of the 80s – the ones who dared to be different in that way and laid the path for Sarah Lund and Helen Mirren’s character in Prime Suspect. (Sharon told the story of how Helen Mirren went down at her feet and bowed, bless!) Tyne and Barney mentioned that there wasn’t much time for Tyne to do research, but she had already researched cancer for another character she had played. And though taking her away from that perfect hero, such things win Emmys!
In Christine’s case, Sharon had been interviewed by someone who commented that Christine behaves like the child of an alcoholic, which gave them the idea of making her father, Charlie, an alcoholic and then Christine herself. Jenni made some comment about Sharon using her own drinking experience. Sharon bravely acknowledged that she had also been an alcoholic – she’s a hero for me with that openness and courage! Wow! The script was written and shown to Sharon. She saw how excellent it was and asked Barney, ‘So, who are you gonna get to play this?’ She did and another Emmy came her way! Unusually the scenes were filmed in order in order to make it easier to work through. Sharon also spoke about her concerns at losing the tough hero Cagney and showing that vulnerability in her.
And that beautiful, human vulnerability is so obvious in Sharon herself. She goes all over the place when she tries to explain something or explores the answer to a question. I identify with that and find it very endearing J. Tyne is so full of wit and confidence. It’s interesting that she has played a couple of Diva-like characters – there seems to be a hint of that in her in the nicest possible way. As I mentioned before Sharon still experiences stage-fright and was talking about that in relation to her opening night of A Round-Heeled Woman the next night at The Aldwych.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the interactions between the two lady thespians. Sharon admitted to having the habit of hitting Tyne’s arm – all with so much affection – but Tyne had hurt one of her arms – thankfully it was the one the other side to Sharon’s hitting. They had such delightful banter going on between them. And little exchanges, which amused me, like when one of the clips came up and Tyne asked Sharon if she was going to watch it.
The event had sold out within a few hours of being announced. I was one of those who came to know about it too late to get a ticket. In fact I found out from Sharon at the stage door of The Riverside Studios. So, as is my way with things that matter so much to me, I went to join the returns queue at the BFI. I did actually arrive first but wound up in second place. When I arrived I asked when the queue might start and was told that it’d be when the first person decides to start it ;). I decided not to simply because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand for as long as it would take – I’d arrived at 2pm and tickets would not be released til 6pm. So I sat on a sofa nearby. Half an hour later another woman started the queue. I went to join her, and was just explaining how I’d have to sit on the floor to manage the wait, when a BFI person (one of the queue managers – yes there are such roles!) came up to us and explained how it would all work. I explained my problem standing so long and he kindly got me a chair. So I spent the long wait seated. I felt a bit guilty as well as very grateful. By 6pm the queue had at least 20 people in it. I am aware that the first 5 people at least managed to get tickets – I hope it was more. This time I couldn’t fail to notice there were many lesbians, and some gay men, in the queue – and certainly they made up a large proportion of the audience. One of them pointed this out to the Cagney & Lacey panel and asked why Christine’s sexuality as a lesbian had not been explored. Barney replied that they had not been aware of the large lesbian following and that Christine was a healthy heterosexual woman and there was enough to explore in that. This was also discussed further in the queue for autographs afterwards, as well as scenes from Cagney & Lacey: The Menopause Years and how having Christine get married and have kids was so against her type – for me that’s also what makes it so interesting – she was struggling with it and that was obvious – growth (or not!) in the character. It was agreed though that Barney talked a lot – and IMHO he has every right to – without him it wouldn’t have happened and I couldn’t be more grateful that a producer of his calibre had the idea and fought so strongly for it. I told him when he signed for me that it was the first TV show to which I had become addicted and for such good reasons. I thanked Tyne and she did me too in her dedication with autograph J. And Sharon remembered me and the camera problems we had at Riverside Studios J.
When asked about who their own heroes were, Tyne talked first about an actress – feel awful because I’ve forgotten her name and I’d love to know – who focussed on acting as being. That resonates with me too. Then Sharon spoke at length about her grandmother and what a strong and supportive woman she was, until Tyne interrupted her and said she could also have talked about her grandmother! I’m with them – my grandmothers are the most significant heroines of my life and I wouldn’t have made it through without them when they were still in this realm and without the influence their spirits have on me. And like Sharon and Tyne, and Christine and Mary-Beth, they were very different women.

The BFI screening was a very warm and cosy experience. The temperature was just right, it was packed with lots of lovely warm bodies and, as I commented to my next-seat neighbours, you feel like you’re sitting in a comfortable cross-between an armchair and a rocking chair. I am sad to say the same is not the case at BAFTA’s Princess Anne Theatre. I have had some truly wonderful times there, but always feel I am battling against the extreme cold of the auditorium. So for The Killing II preview screening one of Sarah Lund’s jumpers would have come in very handy. And I’m getting one knitted by my lovely, fellow Killing-fan mother for Christmas – maybe this year or next year depending when it gets finished. It’s a copy (-ish because it uses different wool) of the jumper that opens season 2; red with stars over her chest. Sofie was asked about the jumper/s. The first one – I guess the Lund classic – was decided on as part of developing Sarah’s character and showing how unfashionable she is – how ironic then that it has become the fashionable sort-after item, costing over 200 euros for a pre-made one. Sofie finds this amusing and said, with a smile we never see on the face of Sarah Lund, she would rather talk about more serious matters. However, she did confide that that first jumper had been ditched for season 2, but she realised after a time it was so Sarah and she had to wear it again to feel fully back in her shoes – or jumper. And those jumpers, the trousers and long boots with hair ties back in a scruffy pony-tail are the little bits of information, aside of course from Sofie’s acting, that we get about Sarah. We never see her at home. She hasn’t yet had a permanent home – more like she lives in places she uses the way others would use hotels – and when we have seen her things, they are in boxes for when she intends to move. She is this mystery character and much of the pleasure we get watching her is trying to suss out who and why she is. And will we find out? Well it would seem the writer, Soren Sveistrup always planned to tell us over the series of three seasons so we shall see. The writing is in collaboration and following discussions with Sofie and Piv, fellow writers and other members of the team. The episodes are filmed in sequence as they are written, so while the previous one is being filmed, the next one is written. This is very special and unusual for a TV show. Like many actors, Sofie was not sure about committing herself to the entire series. As she said, it’s good to change and do a lot of different projects – she has also worked on the stage in Denmark. But happily she agreed – who else could play the extraordinary Sarah Lund?!
Watch this space for more on The Killing…!!!

TV Lady Cops – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

‘A Round-Heeled Woman’ - Riverside Studios - Thursday 17th November 2011 (Including a mini-review of ‘Cagney and Lacey’: 1982-1988)

(Rated 4/5 )

This year and next year I get to see two of my teenagehood heroes on stage...
The first – Sharon Gless – who played Christine Cagney in Cagney and Lacey.
The second – next year – Tyne Daly – who played MaryBeth Lacey.
On the surface of things the show was one of many cop shows in the 70s and 80s. But delving deeper it was ever so much more. Yes there were the standard cops chasing robbers and other criminals and a case to solve every episode, but what made it revolutionary was we saw these women in their private lives and how their work impacted on their lives. It explored the relationship between these two very different women; one single and sassy and the other very much the family woman. Christine’s sassiness covered an emotional vulnerability, which she protected at all costs, and an attempt to match up to and for her father. MaryBeth’s emotional strength was constantly tested by her family situation – being a good mother was her priority and she did such an excellent job - and health issues… and even, and perhaps especially, in relationship with her work partner. And that was the crux of what made the show so special. It wasn’t afraid to explore the complexities of these two women’s lives with wit, humour and also heart-rending drama. It tested Sharon and Tyne’s acting skills and won them multitudes of awards and the love of many viewers. Huge credit to Exec Producer Barney Rosenzweig and all the writers too… phenomenal!

And so I readily admit Sharon, rather than the play, was the immediate draw for me. But, as it turned out, the play was also interesting, fun, emotional and again – something I love – has a truth about it because it is based on the real life experiences of a lovely, brave woman, Jane Juska. She posted an advert in New York Review of Books:
            “BEFORE I TURN 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like.
If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”
And so the stage is set for Jane’s adventures in men, sex and her journey through resolving her underlying emotional issues related to difficult relationships with her husband and son.
And in that stage setting, all scenes take place within the same area, incorporating and doubling up to be Jane’s bedroom, living-room, a nightclub, cafes in which she meets men, her outside postbox, a library, hotel-room etc etc… and all believable with just slight adaptations by Sharon or her fellow cast members. We know exactly where we are meant to be from their acting and changes in dress. Sharon makes all her dress changes on set. The others off – but they have even more changes to create; each of the five of them, (two women and three men), play at least three characters each. Most impressive in this regard was Michael Thompson, playing the youngest of Jane’s suitors and her son. He convincingly switched from one character to another in seconds and made them each so individual. Beth Cordingly, playing one of Jane’s friends and Miss MacKenzie; a character from a beloved Trollope novel of Jane’s, is also worthy of mention. Indeed all performers were good; Barry McCarthy and Neil McCaul as many of Jane’s sex interests and Jane Bertish as her friend and mother.
Sharon herself, was a total delight as Jane Juska. As the lights go up at the start of the play we see her pleasuring herself as she lies on her bed during a phonecall with one of the men. She carries this out with ease, and though pretends alarm when she notices all of us watching, seems totally comfortable with all the antics her character gets up to on stage. In fact, the wit, the recognisable Gless Glint in her eyes, the highly charged emotion and the fun she gave to Christine Cagney are all so apparent again in this role, whilst still being a quite a different portrayal. I love how Sharon generously gives of herself to her acting. Personally I feel that brings out the best in any performance.

And that relaxed open attitude is also what comes across in spades when you meet her in person. Luckily my friend and I had noticed where this was earlier, when Sharon was there with others. It is not labeled as a stage door! It was a long wait for her after the show. I’m used to the rapid exitings of the likes of those currently in the spotlight glare of the great success of their recent shows and fame. We were told by a waiting fan that Sharon had to remove her eyes! Actually contacts of course – out she came in large black-rimmed glasses. I was still expecting to only have a little time with her, so did my best to overcome the nerves of meeting a childhood heroine and role-model, and moved forward for my moment. She happily autographed my programme – only costing a pound, as one of the ushers proudly told me ‘The cheapest in London’ - and then I asked if I could have a photo with her. I was still feeling I must be quick and not take up too much of her time. As usual though, my camera decided otherwise. People new to it always experience a difficulty in pressing the shutter button to the right extent, which has delayed the taking of pictures and increased my time with my heroes, as well as often creating funny expressions on their faces! This time it ran out of memory and my friend had to hand it back to me for me to delete some shots. She later told me it would have been great to film Sharon and my interaction as we both studied the photos and I decided what could be sacrificed! In the end I found one – won’t even admit what it was ;) – and we got a picture together of me with a massive smile on my face hugging Sharon with a dubious look on hers. I imagine she was wondering if it would take. Following our success, Sharon went up to my friend, gave her a very firm handshake and said, with a hint of a question in her tone, ‘You’re the friend.’ (At the time I confess I was completely unaware of the significance of this. The audience had been full of lesbian women and so ‘her friend’/my friend could imply more than simply friendship. In reality she was probably referring to something I said to her before about my friend with the camera but I just don’t remember in the hazy memory fog that descends on me when I meet my heroes.)   I moved away for others to have a turn but realised there was time and space for everyone and Sharon seemed happy to chat for as long as we liked. Another fan asked for a photo with her and said she was scared – Sharon told her not to be. She cheerily talked about it being the 30th anniversary of Cagney and Lacey and how Tyne would also be bringing her play to London. And that we’d been a lovely audience. Then it was time for Sharon to have something to eat and I grabbed another moment. I hugged her – still amazed at how long that was possible for – and told her how much I enjoyed and loved Cagney and Lacey and thanked her for her part in it.

P.S. Riverside Studios is accessible to the disabled, however, if you are going by tube – I imagine the same is true for the bus – it is a longish walk and not that easy to find. It is worth arriving early to get the seat of your choice; there are no prior allocations. If you want to eat there, booking in advance seems to be a good idea – the restaurant and bar were both fully booked that night. Unfortunately after a while I found my seat uncomfortable – I had problems with pain in my thigh – though I am not sure if the culprit was the seat or me. But it has a lovely simple stage and auditorium – a blank canvass for the actors’ and audience’s imaginations.

A Round-Heeled Woman – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011     

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Sunday, 20 November 2011

‘Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ - National Gallery Saturday - 12th November 2011

(Rated 7/5 )

Maybe it’s not accidental that the first word to pop into my head, having seen this exhibition, was in Craig Revel-Horwood’s voice ‘A-MAZ-ING’! One lovely, amusing - IMHO though I know not all agree, perfectionist gay critic about the work of another lovely, witty – so it is said, perfectionist gay creator of extraordinary delights for our eyes to behold. I went with a good artist friend of mine. I was looking forward to discussing the works with yet another lovely, fun, perfectionist, but not gay this time – hey some straight men are pretty amazing talents too, creator of art and critic. We were fortunate to have complimentary tickets, courtesy of another good gay artist friend of mine – okay what is it with me and gay artistic people?! ;) – and not have to queue for the two hours, which those who had arrived on the day for tickets, would have to. I’ve never before seen such a long queue outside the National Gallery! I wouldn’t have been able to stand it. As it was I had a lot of difficulty walking round and standing to take in the exhibition, and, by the end, was in pain. But, as is said, the price we pay for beauty – and these works are extraordinarily beautiful and priceless. They are completely alive! Look at a Da Vinci painting such as The Belle Ferroniere or The Lady with an Ermine and you will experience that these are works of life created by art rather than simply works of art. I commented to my friend that it was like looking at a photo rather than a painting, but actually his works have more life than in a photo. I felt held to look, and look, and look and could not tear myself away. There is so much to take in; just, for example, the way Leonardo played with the effects of light and shadow and techniques he used to create realistic skin. At one point, I indicated the play of light he had created on Ferroniere’s jawline, and was so drawn in, my little finger drew in to indicate. A guard hastily warned me not to get too close. Afterwards we joked about how famous I could have been if I’d tripped and jabbed Ferroniere with my finger – the woman responsible for ruining one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatest paintings – not the way I’d like to be remembered! If possible The Lady with an Ermine is even more exquisite. Leonardo intended these works to inspire love in the viewer, and there is no doubt he succeeded, but not only for her man, Ludovico Sforza, but in all who see her. I won’t go into artistic detail relating to techniques – there are many fair better qualified to comment on that than I. The feelings created by those techniques; the ‘results’ speak for themselves. I am able to write about my feelings in response to these performances in art. But one point of technical note – my friend was so impressed by Leonardo’s use of tones and shadows, rather than lines, to create flow in drapery/material – gorgeous. As are his miniatures. You’d think that detail or impression of reality would suffer in scaled down versions, but they are as impressive, if not more so, than his full-scale works. And it is the attention to detail – his almost obsessive study of nature and precisely how things are; the perfectionism, that comes out in all his works. He studied and studied and noticed to the nth degree.
For me this precise observation of the natural world came out most in the first of his Virgin on the Rocks, or as I mistakenly called it Madonna on the Rocks. I love the gentle flow of the colours – so natural, the way he has the light shine through onto the scene and also the natural perfection in the mountains and flowers creating the setting of the piece. Stunning. Then, across the room is his later recreation – the second Madonna on the Rocks. This one didn’t work so well for me. It is far less natural, and far clearer in its contrast, but unreal. Was this an attempt to make it look more divine or was he under pressure to conform to the ideas of the time as to how a good painting should look? This one he ‘abandoned’; as he said, ‘Art is never finished but abandoned’ – and he had to be summoned back to complete it.
There are many other works in this exhibition. A multitude of small studies by Leonardo – many of them leant by HRH The Queen – including hands, feet, noses and the internal workings of motions of the body, which reflected his belief that the motions of the mind were reflected in the body; his studies of beauty and the grotesque – good men were beautiful and evil men had grotesque physical features: All this work used in his painting The Last Supper – a copy of which, by another painter, is exhibited. There are also works by Leonardo’s disciples/followers, and a newly discovered Christ as Salvador Mundi. You can see how his disciples have attempted to copy their master, and at the same time, these works are obviously using copied techniques and are not as skilled. It’s a strange experience seeing a ‘new’ Leonardo. Again Leonardo uses his powers of invention to create the divine. For me this doesn’t work so well. But it’s a taste issue – I prefer his more natural work.
Having spent a long time studying all the feasts for our eyes, it was time to satisfy our stomachs with a feast of sandwiches from the National Gallery café – very tasty.
And finally – even though I’d already had a lovely Leonardo shopping trip with even lovelier friend helping as personal shopper – time to go and look at the goodies again – very tempted by the Leonardo fridge magnets but they were all sold out! Well that is aside from one pack which included one of the magnets with an imperfection in it. Not having that – like Leonardo I strive for perfection!

Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Monday, 14 November 2011

‘Lunchtime with Mark Rylance’ - Criterion Theatre - Thursday 10th Novemberber 2011

(Rated 5/5 )

Mark Rylance an absolute delight!

Billed as 'Lunchtime with Mark Rylance' this has to be one of my best lunchtimes ever!  Slipping now and then into acting and vocal demonstrations, he talked about his hits Jerusalem and La Bete and his tendency to be given long soliloquies and heightened language because he does them so well. But this was in no way boasting - he is the most unassuming, gentle actor I have ever encountered, who shows such delight in his work, especially in the theatre, which he loves for providing a community/family with fellow actors and crew, and perhaps even more importantly to us, an up close and personal interaction with the audience. He talked at depth about this and how it is a collective experience and his performances vary in communication with us as the audience; be it verbally, physically or via some transpersonal {my word} connection. He imagines us going in to the theatre and coming out again, and during a performance we can be Hamlet's soul, or for Rooster trees and animals :).

Mark left the stage and then came back to thank us for coming to hear him talk.

Lunchtime with Mark Rylance – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Friday, 4 November 2011

‘Top Girls’ - Trafalgar Studios - Thursday 20th October 2011

(Rated 4/5 )

I became curious about this play when reading about play structure. It has a very unusual set-up and yet follows conventional rules of heightening drama. But enough on technicalities and theories…
I first read the script when I was confined to a lot of sitting around having broken my ankle. The writing was powerful and intriguing enough to transport me into the worlds of Marlene and her contemporary (1980s) family and colleagues as well as her historical, fictional and mystical dinner-party guests from times gone by. Finishing the play I was left with a strong feeling of wanting to see it staged…
The opportunity came when Suranne Jones took on the role of Marlene and the production arrived in London having been transferred following a highly successful run at The Minerva Theatre in Chichester. In keeping with the themes of the play, as the audience wait for the interesting and varied women to join Marlene in celebration of her work promotion, the back screen shows a montage of famous women from now and many thens – the fun part to see how many you can identify. And while you do that to think about what impact they have made on our world and our lives. The power and influence of womankind! And that is exactly what the play inspires you to contemplate as it presents us with a multitude of scenes involving women making their way apart from men; with men; without men; in spite of men; as inspirations to men; working, having children and the two together or not; abused by men or celebrated by them; in positions of power or almost enslaved – all about the essences of womankind; real, created and imagined. There are no male characters and yet in a way they are conspicuous by their absence and that makes their presence and influence felt.
Marlene has won a promotion over a man but only – it would seem – by rejecting her disabled daughter to the care of her sister. In the third act we see the two sisters conflict over the different lives they have chosen or had chosen for them. And in the second act we see women at different levels and abilities in Marlene’s agency – living their working lives and bringing out the politics of women making careers in the 1980s. It may sound dated and yet still feels relevant for today.
As someone who tends to wander off in her mind to past times, I was most fascinated by the scene at the beginning of the play in which Marlene welcomes the possibly fictitious legendary13th century Pope Joan, Chaucer’s character Patient Griselda, World-Traveller and Natural Historian Isabella Bird from the 19th century, Japanese Emperor’s Concubine turned Buddhist Nun Lady Nijo; also from the 13th century, and subject of the 1562 painting by Pieter Breughel; Dull Gret, to a contemporary restaurant meal. These women come across as very real; inspiring and annoying, strong and weak, as they share their stories of courage, challenge, pain and trauma in their journeys towards their goals. Each of them bring so much to the scene and the whole play that I really missed them when they were gone. That said the actresses themselves had not gone, as they all – aside of course from Suranne Jones who was playing Marlene throughout – doubled, or in some cases tripled, up as other characters during the rest of the play. All but Dull Gret – played superbly by Olivia Poulet, who later equally and impressively plays Marlene’s daughter – constantly interrupt each other, making the naturalness of the exchanges highly remarkable. I found it interesting to monitor my own responses to them. I felt irritated by Lady Nijo and Patient Griselda as they spoke about their suffering at the hands of men and mostly in relation to their children. I’m sure that is intentional, bringing up the core issues which Caryl Churchill was dealing with in relation to feminism; we want women to have equal power and rights and are used to that being the case today in 2011. It makes us cringe to hear these stories of abuse and ill-treatment from women, who in their time and culture (Lady Nijo) and according to their personality of patience and obedience, simple accept it. However I found Isabella’s attention-demanding moaning about her illnesses and accompanying self-glorification also annoying. I think that probably says more about me and my own lack of moaning about my disabilities and modesty about my abilities ;). Dull Gret provided great comedy as she stole food and crockery from the table and looked bemused about how she should eat and drink. Pope Joan was the most bizarre maybe – to me she came across as the strongest of the women and yet to become a pope in the thirteenth century she had to dress as a man and succeeded until her woman’s body betrayed her by giving birth as she rode her horse in a public parade! As they all get progressively more drunk she resorts to a multitude of lamentations in Latin. It turns out Dull Gret has had the most children and seems completely unphased by it all. Our hostess, Marlene, says nothing about having any children. We discover the truth later as we go back in time. Marlene is a success in business but, I would argue, not in life. She believes her own child to be unworthy of a job and doesn’t seem to be able to hold down a relationship. Success, of course, depends on your point of view but she, like all her dinner guests, seems to have suffered just as much though differently to achieve her career goals. Suranne Jones is very lovely and convincing as in all roles I have seen her. The only thing I would say is this role felt similar to many others she has played and I wonder if she suffers a little from type-casting. I’d love to see her play something completely different.
Perhaps amusingly by the end of the whole play I felt Dull Gret to be the most successful. Maybe it is her fight against the strangely shaped devils to kill off all evil done to her and her nearest and dearest and symbolically it feels as though she has psychologically defeated all impediments to success in all aspects of life.

P.S. Trafalgar Studios is a theatre without circles. There are simply stall seats going up and up. Apparently, according to a box office lady who sold me Top Girls tickets, ‘all seats are good seats’. Prior to this I saw Lenny Henry’s Othello, and even though further back on that occasion I still had a very good view. This time it was even better and I was also armed with my opera glasses. I did, however, find my seat a little uncomfortable – perhaps too upright. And again there’s the issue of needing a friendly arm to support you to your seat if you have challenge of the lower limbs.

Top Girls – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

‘The Tempest’ - Theatre Royal Haymarket - Thursday 13th October 2011 / With reference to… ‘Richard III’ - The Old Vic - Saturday 27th August 2011

(Rated 4/5 )

The Tempest – thought to be Shakespeare’s last play and possibly written by him for his last performance in a lead role also – is a play I had not read or seen yet wanted to for some time. I had heard it described variously as weird, fantastical, surreal and probably Shakespeare’s most autobiographical. I recall seeing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe Theatre, on a night of high winds and rain, and, of course, in the open air. One of the people I was with commented that, on that particular night, it was a more appropriate setting for The Tempest! Perhaps The Dream, with its themes of fairy magic and fantastical happenings, is the closest of Shakespeare’s other plays to The Tempest. And yet in fantasy land there can live greater truth than in reality. It would seem that the attention to detail and study of events, which Shakespeare used in most of his other plays, was let go in this instance. He seems to come so much more from feeling/emotion than clever wit. There are very few, if any, plot tricks and devices: No real sense of the tools he uses time and again of mistaken identity and multitudes of settings and scene changes. We have one setting in real time in accordance with the oldest ‘rules’ of Aristostlean drama.
All that matters here is to understand how this man – Prospero – feels about his isolation for twelve years on a desert island with his daughter in the environment he has created for himself; his plan to take revenge on those who banished them – including his own brother – and plot to marry his daughter with his brother’s son; and in order for all this to occur, how he uses his magic and employs the spirits to create the tempest, shipwrecking those on whom he wishes to take revenge and carrying out tricks upon them. As is common in Shakespeare we have the villainous brother and the clowns, including the King’s fool, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst in high comedic form.
In the end this is, unusually for Shakespeare, a simple surreal psychological journey of one man, setting free the daughter he adores, letting go of revenge and learning to forgive. And in this whole process letting go of his magic and tricks. And herein lies the autobiographical element – was Shakespeare processing the loss of his creativity in writing and performance before his own end in a kind of drama self-therapy? Perhaps symbolically, as Prospero releases his hold on his daughter to the care of another man, her cousin, so Shakespeare frees his written offspring to be adopted in performance by his fellow actors of the time, and, as he sadly was never to know, by many generations of actors since. His creative children have grown up in ever so many different ways as his characters are embodied by different actors, and plays taken under the wings of numerous production teams and interpreted by such a variety of directors.
For me the feelings and emotive forces in this play come through stronger than from all his other work. The drama involved in the likes of Hamlet, Othello and King Lear, is more complex, more compelling, certainly more intelligent and exceptional, yet I felt the truth pouring out of this play in a deeper, more profound way. Aren’t writers advised to write what they know and is that not usually the best of their work? Shakespeare’s research and insights into humanity cannot be flawed, but no research is required to write that which comes directly from the heart and in that, there is a pure freedom of expression. The other main, and highly significant, contributor to this feeling is the performance of Ralph Fiennes as Prospero. His embodiment is so gentle and powerfully moving. As he put on his magic coat at the beginning of the play, I felt a comfort and serenity, and during his epilogue my goosebumps had goosebumps.
In spite of years of study of Shakespeare in school, and feeling the need many times, as an audience member, to have some understanding of the script beforehand, in this case I did not. Though I did not understand all the intricacies of the dialogue, I got the essence of it and that was good enough. In a way, as with all accomplished acting, the power of the meaning; the subtext, comes across beyond the text, and in a sense, focussing on the text itself can get in the way of that. Unfortunately, I did not have the same experience when I went to see Kevin Spacey’s Richard III. That was in no way due to poor acting. One aspect had to do with the importance of the detail of the - as we now know – falsified history of Richard III; who he was created to be and what he supposedly did. It is a play – like many of the histories in my opinion – that requires prior knowledge of the events and characters involved. It is also important for me to be able to see the emoting of the actors involved. The Old Vic is too big to allow that for those in the cheap seats. When broadcast on screen at one point, Kevin’s emotionally expressive facial nuances were as clear as crystal and so varied – at various times scary, amusing and touching. Without that, for me, there is a lot missing from my the theatrical experience. This inspired me to buy a lovely set of 1940s opera glasses, so that, even if disabled by sitting far back ‘in the gods’, I can still spy on the minutiae of an actor’s emotions on the stage far below. That is, if they hold their heads up! One complaint – and the only one – I have regarding Ralph’s acting of Prospero, was that he bowed his head on some occasions.
In some ways it’s bizarre to even think of comparing the calm, magical Prospero and the tyrannical Richard. Whatever his vengeful acts, Prospero is all about his growing understanding of what it is to be human and forgiving. (Alongside his story, Prospero’s daughter is literally also learning how human beings are as she encounters others – aside from her father and the island’s native Caliban – for the first time. Through her experience and the contrast Shakespeare draws between humans and spirits/fairies, we also learn more about ourselves along with the human characters in the piece.) Shakespeare’s Richard is an inhuman tyrant, who may show moments of doubt and guilt, but was in contrast to those labelled as tyrants today, directly involved in the acts of terrorism and death he was instigating. In his case there is no learning of compassion and forgiveness. At the end of their respective plays both Prospero and Richard are set free, as are those under their influence. Richard’s death ends his cruel reign. Prospero asks for our indulgence to set him free and for ‘spirits to enforce and art to enchant’. This feels like the spirit of Shakespeare entreating to us never to forget him though his ‘ending is despair’ at the loss of the magic of his creative ability.
William Shakespeare, in my humble opinion, it is certain that as long as this world still exists, with producers still to produce your plays, actors to embody your characters, and audiences still to witness them, your spirit will reign supreme and your art enchant for evermore.

P.S. The Theatre Royal is a lovely old ornate theatre, but for those with disability of the lower limbs I would advise taking someone to lean on as you make your way to your seat: The stairs are small and awkward and there is no handrail to hold on to. As already mentioned the size of The Old Vic can lead to visual disabilities that have nothing to do with actual disability of the audience member. I have also experienced it to be far too cold as a result of over-enthusiastic air-conditioning. However it is not the only theatre with that problem.

The Tempest – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

‘The Shadow Line’ - Broadcast by BBC2 - Thursday 5th May -Thursday 16th June 2011

Some shows are easy to watch even if you are a restricted viewer. They are shown on television and all you need do is park yourself on your sofa, with a cuppa perhaps, and a bite to eat, and enjoy the view on the small(ish) silver screen in front of you.

Mind you, if the show is The Shadow Line, it might be wise to take great care when you choose to sip your tea, and like many of the characters you may not even have a chance to take that bite to eat, before a shocking moment descends on you. Happily in the viewer’s case the result is probably not death. For the characters there’s a high chance it might be!

This is a compelling and bizarre thriller with a vast multitude of thrilling moments in addition to very many hysterically funny moments also, some intended by the writer, (producer and director), Hugo Blick and others possibly unintentional. For me the greatest comedy was provided by Rafe Spall as baby-faced psychopath Jay Wratten, nephew of drug baron Harvey Wratten, whose murder sets the whole story and investigation by both criminals and police off. Jay was terrifying and funny at the same time, delivering lines, such as that accusing a fellow character of comitting a ‘naughty tackle’, superbly and later telling the story of a sportsman inviting people to ‘shoot him’ if he returned to his sport. Jay announces if the man had said that to him he would have shot him. And we know he would and with glee, and what that also means for anyone who does not leave his ‘sport’ when they have said they would. In a scene chasing another character his running gait provides some moments of light relief in the midst of high tension. He loves to torture; beware all humans and cats! The moment he, or Stephen Rea’s mysterious Gatehouse, appear on screen we feel very wary. That said Gatehouse is far less obvious as someone of whom to be afraid; he is still, monotone and in perfect control. He seeems like he may actually help the other characters. In first meeting him you wonder whether you can actually fully trust this man in raincoat, black gloves and trilby hat informing you, ‘What I am about to tell you will be the most important thing you will ever hear.’ But why? Well if I said any more it’d spoil the surprise(s) wouldn’t it?!

The direction, photography and acting by all are excellent. You could take still images and they would feel like works of art set in the shadow between light and dark – Leonardo DaVinci would have loved it! And the direction gives plenty of time to focus on each actor as they explore the depth of their character and his/her feelings in outstanding psychological studies. This is especially important in the stories of Detective Inspector Jonah Gabriel played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and ‘flower-man’ Joseph Bede – Christopher Eccleston. Whilst trying to solve the crime, Jonah is also trying to solve the mystery of who he is, suffering amnesia as the result of a bullet in his head. Is he ‘good cop’ or ‘bad cop’? The great sensitivity of his emotional expression has us feeling for him and yet not knowing if we are ‘right’ to – our doubts reflecting his own. His work partner Lia Honey (very nicely played by Kierston Wareing) tells him that he is a good cop because ‘it goes with the badge’ but that doesn’t feel very convincing or reassuring. The difficulty with these two characters is we don’t really get to know them. Chiwetel does an excellent job expressing what he can but of course holds back because he doesn’t know exactly who he is! And Honey comes across as a very efficient and dedicated, though a  little naïve, cop but also a highly expositional character. This is also the trouble with the script at many points. Some of the characters are given very long-winded expositional monologues/dialogues to take the plot forward and yet we cannot engage enough to understand it. At points it tries to be too clever; too over-the-top for what actually needs to be conveyed. And when, following probably the longest expositional scene by a character in the whole piece, that same character decides to put a gun in his mouth instead of a cup of tea we completely sympathise! That said, even with its vast array of characters – probably too many to follow and some seemingly uneccessary, we do feel a great deal of empathy for many of them even some more minor characters.
The character who most inspires our empathy though is the ‘main’ criminal character Joseph Bede, who has felt obliged to take over the drugs operation from his murdered boss Harvey Wratten. Played softly and subtly by Christopher Eccleston, he seems so gentle and hardly a cold, calculating criminal. He is all about surviving and making enough money in a final drugs deal to support himself and his wife Julie – Leslie Sharp – to the end of their days. The tragedy is the end of their days together may be much sooner than for others in their mid-forties. Julie suffers with early-onset alzheimers. Arguably Lesley’s performance in this is the most impressive of all – it is certainly the most heart-rending. Joseph and Julie were childhood sweethearts and we will for him to have his final deal succeed so at least they can have the care required to make the best of the few remaining precious real moments her illness allows them together.

So who did kill Harvey Wratten and why does it matter so much to the 70 characters involved? What is The Shadow Line really about? Is is simply asking us to think about the ethics and moral of human behaviour and how there is no black and white but rather we are all good and bad? Or is there something much greater at stake?
For that you will have to watch for yourselves and hope to understand – it is not easy!

Or you can read below for a few clues and resolutions…


The answer to the who-dunnit comes surprisingly early in episode 3 when we learn it is Gatehouse. In fact this seems too simple and obvious and has you asking yourself if that was really the case and what more is there to discover? Of course, in spite of the fact that Gatehouse is murdering people right, left and centre and did kill Harvey Wratten, there is more to it! And that is one of the reasons we remain hooked. We so want to know what as well as follow Jonah’s journey of self-discovery and find out if Joseph can find a miracle to help him and Julie!

The what was beautifully summarised in a text from someone near and dear to me:
“I only understood what was going on just before the end. I don’t quite see how this system {pension ‘scheme’} can be viable considering the numbers of murders necessary each time someone steps out of line! Emotionally harrowing though…”

And yes it really is that!
Joseph’s deal does not succeed in time to make a better life for him and Julie with care in their own home. And as he has not left the ‘game’ in adequate time to satisfy Jay Wratten, he knows he intends to kill him. Desperately sad and with Julie trying to kill herself to stop the pain and begging him to let her go, Joseph commits sucide himself allowing Jay to kill him in the same manner as Harvey Wratten was killed at the beginning.
And just as Jonah has found out that he is in fact a good cop and now tries to stop the bad cops he also gets killed by his own partner Honey! This is awful – the good hero dies – thinking at the end of the scan of his new baby still inside his wife’s womb.

Unusually bad has won over good and we are left with bad guys Jay Wratten and Gatehouse and bent cops taking care of the continuing pension scheme!

The Shadow Line – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011
Twitter: @RestrictReview

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Frankenstein (Reverse Roles) - National Theatre – via NTLive screening - Saturday 26th March 2011

(Rated 3/5 )

As the audience settles into its seats and waits for the show to start so does the actor playing The Creature, in a large bubble-womb centre stage, in this innovative stage version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle.

And then the creature, and the show, spring to life triggered by impressive stage effect lightning/electricity. So he is born, naked and scarred from the stitching of his patchwork body.

Jonny Lee Miller spends many minutes alone on stage discovering his body; how it moves, how to sit, stand and cries out in shock and wonder at it all; as the actor said like a young toddler but in a fully-grown man’s body. And then he starts to encounter people and learn how to be…

Jonny’s interpretation of the creature was superb; played with great sensitivity and emotional intelligence at times far greater than the other characters he encounters, especially Victor Frankenstein, his creator. Benedict Cumberbatch, addicted to his revolutionary work, excellently plays the scientist as closed-off from other humans, especially his fiancée Elizabeth (Naomie Harris).

Unlike in the classic films, this creature is not a monster with neck bolts and with the focus of the story on his creator. Rather he is the protagonist. The production and Jonny’s performance inspire true empathy. He learns how it feels to be human, to love, to desire, to need, to savour the words of Milton, and to express as though a character from a Shakespearean play, and like in many such tragedies to trust and have that trust betrayed, to experience great loss and to be denied simply because of your appearance. He is like an alien showing us how we are, at times not a very palatable view. Can we really wonder that he turns to anger and rage and in being shown so little care that he does so in return?

The interactions between The Creature and Frankenstein crackle in intensity as they conflict in their analyses of the meaning of life. Almost all the other characters feel like extras, undeveloped by the script and with little to work on, they come across as wasted and stereotypical. Victor’s father (George Harris) seems almost robotic, perhaps this was deliberate – an indication of the parenting of Victor and maybe how he became shut-down (emotionally) himself. Having no real sympathy for many of the supporting characters and with muted reaction from them we almost feel nothing when Victor’s brother, William, is killed.

However the rape and murder of Elizabeth is shocking. We see the trust develop between her and the Creature and, aside from the blind man who teaches the Creature much in his early life, Elizabeth is the only one showing him kindness and compassion. Yet, through the fault of her husband, she has to die; in revenge for Victor’s killing of the Female he created as companion.

And so on the two battle through a kind of no-man’s land and we are left wondering who is in fact the more human.

Frankenstein – Review by The Restricted Reviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Much Ado About Nothing - Wyndhams Theatre - 26th May 2011

(Rated 7/5 ) 

Please note for those who do not know the play or want to be surprised by the production, this review contains spoilers.

This was actually Much Ado About Something Totally Amazing!
Rated 7/5 as it is definitely better than perfection and 7 is my favourite number!
A spectacle triggered and catalyzed by the special connection between Catherine Tate, and David Tennant and definitely enhanced by their glorious skills in comedy drama making them an electric pairing of acting talent – in my humble opinion, best comedy couple ever!
And, yes I cannot resist, in the words of David Tennant’s alter-ego the 10th Doctor, as if speaking to all performers/companions involved, ‘You were brilliant, and so were you, and you…’ Gulps!

From now on I will refer to David Tennant as DT, (as he is affectionately called by many), and Catherine Tate as CT.

I first heard about this on Saturday 8th January 2011, in a text from a very good friend, with whom I’ve shared some previous superb DT performance viewings on stage in Hamlet and Love’s Labours Lost. I was in the bath at the time! The text read that DT and CT would be on BBC Breakfast. So I rushed out of the bath and put the TV on. That was around 8am so a bit of a wait to the end of the programme when they came on, just before 10am. DT said to CT: ‘You tell them.’ And so she did; they’d be doing Much Ado About Nothing together with her as Beatrice and him as Benedick. It had been CT’s idea to do it, but some time ago, and she thought too close to their time on Doctor Who and so they waited a while before running it by a producer, Sonia Friedman. CT added she thought DT would be the perfect Benedick. Later he said he thought she the perfect Beatrice. Russell T. Davies comments in his book, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale that DT and CT adore each other. Their on-screen chemistry is clear to all who have seen their stint together in the TARDIS during the fourth series of the new Doctor Who (DW). Though DT is not ‘My Doctor’ as Whovians term their favourite DW title-role playing actor, he and CT are my favourite Doctor-Companion combination. They spark off each other! Their joy and emotion hits you full on! And personally I love the concept of two best buddies working together for the entertainment of themselves and so for others too. That way we/the audience, get to experience their best work.
The moment the interview finished I was on the internet to book tickets - any tickets that could be obtained. Well, except they couldn’t be for love nor money. Not for the next 3 hours. The website was continually down and nobody answered the box office phone. I guess maybe a few others were trying too! I persisted, absolutely determined, and at the 11th hour – so to speak (just as I had to go out); not a reference to Matt Smith honest – I was rewarded by the website finally allowing me to get two tickets. In actual fact I wasn’t quite sure when I’d got them for. By this point the website was live and working but in a kind of sporadic way that meant you could get so far before it hung up and you lost what you’d been doing. As it turned out they were tickets to a preview show. In theory the actors and whole performance improves during the run until the end when they’re so at ease with it, the flow is as perfect as it’s ever going to be. I imagine during some runs there are performances in the middle that may feel a little less good if the actors fall into the trap of roboticness and not feeling a new zest for it every performance. That said there is something very exciting about previews. The actors and team are still experimenting; trying out new things, and for me any mistakes are actually exciting opportunities, endearing, potentially exposing of some personal quality of that actor and not ‘wrong’.

On the day I felt the usual pre-performance nerves that I experience for the actors and for me. I trust them more than I do myself. Of course they’re gonna do great and have it all in hand – head and heart too – but maybe my psychology is someone has to be nervous so I’ll do it for them.

I arrived early – as is my way – but this time, joy of joys, no need for a google map or directions. If you do check google – which of course I did! – Wyndham’s theatre sits on top of Leicester Square tube. Geographically it is right next door. And of course there is a huge picture of DT and CT for all to see from afar so you absolutely can’t miss it/them. I had also checked out the location with a friend the previous Saturday and we’d also sussed out the ‘stage door’ situation – ‘stage dooring’ now being a necessary part of the complete theatrical experience for me. I love meeting the actors afterwards as themselves and doing the autograph/photo thing - lovely little interactions.
I sat in the theatre foyer waiting for a friend. (We were going to meet at the stage door but it was raining hard.) Already there were some quite scruffy-looking men, being organised by a smart-casually dressed woman. They seemed to have camera equipment and the woman was handing out notes. Press! It was press night. My friend arrived and then a man from below who informed everyone that there was another 7 minutes to wait as ‘Catherine was having her hair and make-up completed.’ OH how I’d have loved to gate-crash that press Q&A. Could’ve invented a fictional magazine/periodical that I was writing for. Well actually I am! But of course the organising woman had names and was counting heads on the way in so missed that gig!

Friend and I went to eat. We planned to go to a place about 5 minutes away but it rained so hard on the way that we dove into the nearest restaurant, which happened to be a Bella Italia, but could have been anything really! Later, unfortunately, I texted other friends that we were in Bella Pasta, causing a great deal of confusion in meeting up since there are no Bella Pastas on Leicester Square but, is I found out from one poor friend trying to find us, 3 Bella Italias!

Having rescued friend, and finished our meal, we made our way back to the theatre. We still had plenty of time and so decided to go for another stage door reccy. It was still there but quite neglected. We joked we’d have good spots if we stayed and didn’t bother watching the performance. Very different to the previous Saturday around 5:15pm when it was crowded with people waiting for the stars. On that occasion a couple walked past wondering if ‘it’ was Christopher Eccleston, whom everyone was waiting for. As DT came out, and I managed to get a good enough view, I commented, ‘He has stubble’. A passing man asked if that was good. I replied in the affirmative; certainly very good on most men to look at and if not too long and prickly to kiss too.

We collected two more friends at the front of the theatre and, seeing as we were all sitting in different places, agreed to meet for a just a few minutes afterwards – in my head the few minutes would extend to as long as it took DT and CT to come out – back at the stage door.

On the way to my seat I bought goodies. I had just planned to get a programme – as souvenir, for cast/crew information and to be signed by DT&CT – and a poster – to put up on wall. Then I spotted a T-shirt was available too. I unashamedly admit that, like DT, I enjoy wearing T-shirts – black best – on which are my favourite performers and/or something they have drawn, eg. DT and his doodle for Headway Essex.  So T-shirt was very tempting but a dilemma due to cost and being financially challenged. In the end, as friend said, I’d be getting them all anyway so I might as well do it now. I did and clutched them all lovingly and obsessively to my chest as I struggling past others to my seat. A fab seat! Central in 3rd row stalls.

The play commenced with Hero (Sarah Macrae) dancing to a recognisable, but disguised 80s track, ‘played’ by a ghetto-blaster. And so the party, the theme and setting of the play are well and entertainingly established. According to the programme we are in Gibraltar and many of the male members of the cast, including Benedick and Claudio have come back from the Falklands war. All the music is 80s-inspired or adapted; so too, the costumes and hair. Maria’s young son, who has some highly amusing interactions with DT’s Benedick, comes on stage with a Rubik’s cube. CT’s Beatrice first appears dressed as a Blues Brother. And later DT’s Benedick redresses for the fancy dress party in highly colourful lace tights and top, denim mini-skirt and a curly fair-haired wig; Madonna?! Claudio comes as Adam Ant and Hero wears a Lady Diana mask and later her wedding dress. But I am jumping way ahead of myself and the play…

DT in fact first arrives on stage at the wheel of a golf-buggy to resounding cheers from the audience. Incidentally DT has said that this bit of ‘business’ will not continue for the whole run. What a shame; it was wonderfully hilarious seeing him do a 3-point turn to drive the buggy off stage again.

Benedick is talking with other characters, when Beatrice baits him, beginning the first of many rounds of comedic insulting banter by asking him why he is talking as nobody is listening to him. He retorts with the famous line;
"What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?"
She replies wondering how such disdain could die, with Beneck there to feed it.
And so the current state of their relationship is simply yet beautifully and effectively set-up by the master writer William Shakespeare; probably at his best comedically in this play. This is a classic situation of two people meant to be together yet constantly resisting their attraction. A meeting of minds and wit but determined to hate each other. The one set in his ways and content as he is with no need for a female love-interest/companion; the other as scornful of men as she is of marriage.
This seems designed for the skills of DT and CT. They play it marvellously, jumping off each other’s lines with their own in perfect timing, pitch and with a sense that they are absolutely in tune being out of tune. Interestingly, these two are playing this at ages 43 (her) and 40 (him). A time when single people these days may feel ‘on the shelf’ with no hope of getting off it, which would almost certainly have been the case/feeling in Shakespeare’s time. Many of us teenagers of the 80s can identify!

We are also introduced to Hero’s story. Claudio (Tom Bateman) is told that the Prince, Don Pedro (Adam James) plans to woo Hero for him. Claudio is suspicious that the prince actually plans to woo her for himself, unware that it is the bastard brother Don John (Elliot Levey) of whom he should be wary. As villain of the piece Don John plots to convince Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful and so ruining her for marriage. This is in fact the main plot of the play and the thread on which all else hangs, and yet it feels like it is there only to serve the drama of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship.

We return to B&B as, set on getting them together, other characters amuse themselves, and us, by attempting to convince each one that the other is in love with them. The staging of this is total genius. Whilst the men discuss how much Beatrice loves Benedick, pillars revolve around the stage, at times just revealing enough and yet plenty of the hidden – or so he thinks – Benedick and his reactions to what they are saying. Meanwhile the blinds are being white-washed by painters. DT encounters many obstacles and has numerous accidents whilst trying to keep hidden while still hearing what’s going on. At one point he falls so that his hand gets covered in paint, which he later forgets and wipes over his face and hair. Of course we know, though he doesn’t, that not only do the conspirators know he is there but he is being highly unsuccessful in covering his accidents. Benedick’s facial expressions are classic DT! This is fall-out-of-your seat hysterically funny.
Beatrice is sent to call Benedick to dinner. The physical state he is now in begs all her disdain! He now feels for her supposed predicament and has decided to requite her love… but not yet. We experience the humour of their kind of transition state – her just as she was and he altered.

And then it is Beatrice’s turn to be set-up. This time one of the painters is on a pulley-system as he paints a pillar. Hero and Ursula (Kathryn Hunt) start talking about Benedick’s supposed infatuation and Beatrice tries to hide from them. In her case she crawls under a paint-spattered sheet. Her conspirators proceed to hook her up to the pulley and she is raised from under the sheet so she can look and listen from on high, whilst still believing she is hiding! Again there is phenomenal comedy from CT’s facial expressions and body language; and so much laughter that we can hardly hear the dialogue below her. We are provided with another wonderful and typical CT moment as, back down to earth, she unhooks herself and shows us how proud she is of her high-flying feats! All credit to CT doing that 8 performances per week in the 3-month run. I believe 101 times in all!

The acting by all is superb. There are no hangers on. They have the excellent text of Shakespeare to work on and sell it in spades.

The comedy continues to excel in the hands on the watchmen who witness talk regarding the dastardly deed of usual Shakespearean mistaken identity in which Hero, really Margaret (Natalie Thomas) is taken to have ‘spoken’ with Borachio (Alex Beckett) at her hen party. But otherwise the tone of the piece changes to a painful seriousness as the consequences of the deception play out.

The interval comes as Beatrice is getting drunk on the hen night as she struggles with her love for Benedick and fretting about how he will repond to her having decided to requite him.

Then in Act 2, Hero is preparing for her wedding in Lady Di gown and Beatrice, unprepared, has a hang-over! She curls up in Hero’s train.

B&B believe themselves in love but have not yet come out to each other. We see all the feelings that we can so identify with and feel for them in; the awkwardness, the vulnerability, the looks of love, the avoidances and again all superbly acted by CT and DT.

We then have the drama of Hero’s wedding in which Claudio refuses to marry Hero, accusing her of being ‘false’.  Beatrice is upset; distraught for her cousin, Benedick is all concern. This is again finely played, especially by CT revealing the heart of Beatrice and love for her cousin. A revenge plot is hatched to convince Claudio and others that Hero died from the shock and he is obliged to marry her ‘cousin’.

B&B are left alone. With a gulp, Benedick confesses his love to Beatrice. She laughs. This is such a huge ‘Aaww’ moment that I found myself expressing it out loud on several occasions through the scene. It felt so real and true. Just as many will empathise with; that moment where you declare love and the other reciprocates and you have the joy, embarrassment – if you’ve been sparring partners – a kind of denial and the heightened vulnerability, connection and delight. It tore at the heart in the most beautiful way.

But before they can be together, there is one thing he has to do for her – ‘Kill Claudio!’

And we have almost reached the denouement… but not before we have another very amusing scene between DT and the young boy involving a keyboard and leading to some more wonderful banter between B&B now in love… and an almost kiss! I was longing for it! Whilst also willing the play not to end!

At the repeat wedding – following a brilliantly powerful funeral scene, in which Claudio anguishes along to music from a loud, echoing ghetto-blaster – Claudio marries Hero’s ‘cousin’ to discover it is Hero herself.

Benedick asks the friar to marry him to Beatrice. Of course he has to ask her too! And they finally kiss to great whoops of delight from the audience.

They end, as the play began, with dancing.

During the curtain calls there were the best smiles you can imagine on DT and CTs faces. They seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience.
I was shaking as I stood up to applaud them.

As arranged I met my friends at the stage door.
DT was already out and signing autographs. How does he change so quickly?!
I managed to get a spot where I probably wasn’t supposed to be – kind of in the way of other actors coming out – but I wasn’t moved on – maybe the presence of my walking stick helped. I watched DT as he made his way along the line – happily signing and smiling in people’s photos – so open and delightful. I was wearing his Headway doodle T-shirt – kind of for him and also in the hopes of attracting his attention ;). Then he made it to me. I think he saw the T-shirt but didn’t comment. He signed the programme page with his picture on. And then went on to the next person, and then somehow he didn’t know who to go to next, and returned to me! I said he’d already signed for me and he replied ‘I could do you twice’ – okay maybe I’m misremembering that a little – but it was so sweet and funny – and yet it felt greedy to accept – a friend behind me handed me her flyer and I handed it to him to sign.
And then CT… SO lovely in person! (Friend later said how beautiful her hair is and how red-heads should rule the world! Made me so proud that I’m a strawberry blond! We also talked about how TV makes people fatter and distorted and how they look even better in person.) As I gave CT my programme to sign, I told her the performance was so good and she replied ‘Thank you, my darling’.

I am going again! Once is totally amazing but this is must-see several times over! It’s a drug and I’m addicted to that high!

Afterthought – courtesy of comments from my friends:
It was noted how quickly the conspirators are forgiven in the original compared to the Shakespeare Retold version in which Hero also keeps Claudio waiting and does not marry him; the trust destroyed between them. Maybe this reflects Shakespeare’s comedies in which he tends not to stay long with the ‘bad stuff’. Or perhaps it’s a historical thing and of his time when younger women of that ripe-to-be-married age didn’t have as much power to stand up for themselves in the same way as they do now and needed to have their honour defended by chivalrous men.

Much Ado About Nothing – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2011

Twitter: @RestrictReview