Thursday, 15 May 2014

‘Birland’ - Royal Court Theatre - Saturday 10th May 2014

(Rated 4/5 )

Birdland’ by Simon Stephens – who previously adapted Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ for the stage – is described as a play about empathy, money and fame. The second two are very immediately obvious as subjects of the play: Rock Star Paul played by Andrew Scott – probably best known recently as Moriaty in ‘Sherlock’ – is at the height of his fame on a massive world tour, talking to anyone who will listen about bucketloads of money and material wealth and worth whilst buying anything and everything he wants, including people, with ‘his’ money and fame. Given that he doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of any of this the empathy subject is less obvious, but I guess that is one of the crucial points – it’s about empathy by exploring the corrupting effects of focusing too far away from empathy and humanity and more on superficial pleasures, which in the end have no worth at all. The play is also highly empathic in its treatment of the personal, the subtext, beneath the superficiality of the words and the dynamics of the relationships between the characters.
The staging is a lot of fun and very active. The ‘set’ mainly consists of 6 chairs - for the 6 actors playing between them a total of 18 characters - and an archway, which the actors’ and audience’s imaginations turn into whatever it needs to be in context. Later we have water gradually flooding the stage, which alarmed me a little reflecting the dangers and drowning-feeling later in the play as reality hits and fantasy fades.
Andrew Scott is very impressive and very ably supported by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Daniel Cerqueira, Yolanda Kettle and Charlotte Randle all of whom play a range of characters – gifts as acting challenges in character development – and Alex Price as Paul’s friend and fellow musician Johnny. This movement of actors into different people and of all the props by the actors rather than stage-hands, also endow the play with a lot of energy – again empathic to the life-style associated with the music business. The core of the play is the relationship between Paul and Johnny and their – yes sorry going to use this word – journey together and apart.
There is such a great deal going on in this play – so many aspects explored. Well worth a look especially if you have an interest in the entertainment business or thinking of going into it. It may have you wanting to think again.

Birdland – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014

Friday, 2 May 2014

‘A Taste of Honey’ - National Theatre: Lyttleton Theatre - Saturday 26th April 2014, Film 1961 Dir Tony Richardson

(Rated 4/5 )

I saw the stage version of this play and then a few days later saw the film too. An obvious thing to say but how different and yet the same! To me the film had a darker feel and hit me harder but the play allowed a deeper exploration of the characters particularly through the dialogue, and somehow brought out more of the comedy in the dynamics between them. I felt despair at the end of the film, but hope somehow at the end of the play. It feels strange – yet I guess obvious – to get such polar feelings from the two different productions. I suppose the darkness of the film may also have to do with it being in black and white, and the more obviously visible darkness of the settings – Salford and Blackpool - and many of them cutting fairly frequently from one to another. Location changes in the play are much fewer – in the main we are either in Helen and Jo’s small ‘shabby’ flat together or Jo’s first home alone - and the characters convey to us changes in time with actions between ‘scenes’, especially with lots of great movements to music! The dancing was great and the musical interludes fun, expressive, light and deeply moving all at the same time. I loved Lesley Sharp and Kate O’Flynn as mother Helen and daughter Jo respectively. Lesley Sharp never disappoints for me though I struggled a little to feel empathy for her in a role that is so unsavoury and uncaring for her daughter yet favours the next man who turns up to woo her only, as you can so easily predict, to then let her down. Kate O’Flynn’s Jo is brilliant! She has a strength and resilience from coping with her mother moving them from place to place - no stability, no security - and bringing herself up as Helen couldn’t be bothered with and often abandoned her, yet also such a sensitivity and delicateness. A very knowing yet childlike character longing to love and be loved yet so wary and unsure of both. I loved the expressiveness in her voice, its tone, volume, accent – perfectly pitched in speech and song. Dean Lennox Kelly was suitably unlikeable as Helen’s ‘friend’ Peter, Eric Kofi Abrefa lovely as Jo’s sailor-boy Jimmie and Harry Hepple (great name) adorable as Jo’s gay friend Geoffrey, with whom she finally shares a kind of idyllic playing being a family about to bring up baby together. I found myself beautifully enveloped by the dialogue and performances and didn’t notice it being such a long play. Helen is played by Dora Bryan in the much shorter film which also introduced Rita Tushingham as Jo. Again excellent performances with the camera up close and personal to all the nuances of feeling in the actors’ faces. This play transports us to the experiences of women in 1950s Salford. A radically different perspective to what had gone before and written by the amazing Shelagh Delaney.

A Taste of Honey – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014