The Trials of Oscar Wilde

3 November 2014
Trafalgar Studios, London

By Merlin Holland and John O’Connor
based on the original words spoken in court during the libel and criminal trials of Oscar Wilde

Cast: John Gorick, Rupert Mason, William Kempsell

Directed by Peter Craze

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A Streetcar Named Desire – NT Live Broadcast

September 16, 2014
Broadcast live from the Young Vic Theatre, London

“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

By Tennessee Williams

Directed by Benedict Andrews

Cast: Gillian Anderson, Clare Burt, Lachele Carl, Branwell Donaghey, Otto Farrant, Ben Foster, Nicholas Gecks, Troy Glasgow, Stephanie Jacob, Corey Johnson, Vanessa Kirby, Claire Prempeh

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Guest post by iwishyoumuchmirth


The miners united will never be defeated

By Beth Steel

Directed by Edward Hall

Cast: Andrew Readman, Michael Cochrane, Andrew Havill, Paul Cawley, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Simon Slater, Paul Brennen, Nigel Betts, Gunnar Cauthery, Paul Rattray, Ben-Ryan Davies, David Moorst, Jan Leeming, Edd Muruako, Jack Pike, Guy Remy, Darius Ryan, Jack Silver, Tom Winsor

Synopsis: The Midlands, 1984: Two young lads are about to learn what it is to be a miner, to be accepted into the close camaraderie and initiated into a unique workplace where sweat, toil, collapsing roofs and explosions are all to be met with bawdy humour. London, 1984: A conflicted Tory MP, a brash American CEO and an eccentric maverick are the face of a radical Conservative government preparing to do battle with the most powerful workforce, the miners. As the two sides clash, the miners fight for their livelihoods and families, and the government for its vision of a free Britain. Together they change the fabric of the nation forever.

Live-Stream from the Hampstead Theatre, Saturday 26th July, 2014

I learned about the live stream just a few hours beforehand through twitter and was intrigued. This was my first internet stream of a theatre production. I’m used to being either in a theatre or at a cinema as part of an audience, but watching a stream at home on my laptop is quite a different experience. I feared I would constantly get distracted or lose interest, but that wasn’t the case at all.

The play is set both “below” in the pit of a mine, and “above” in the offices of government officials. The scene changes between these two worlds are very cleverly done, with Ashley Martin-Davis’s set design being put to maximum use. There is a pit, pit cage, ladders, and overhead gantries. All the metal clanging can be a bit distracting because it tends to drown out the dialogue at times, but you just have to concentrate a bit harder.

While the first half sets up the story and introduces the audience to the characters in both worlds, and mainly shows the everyday work in the pit, the second half shows how a strike of the proportions of the 1984 strike and clashing ideologies tears apart friendships, and ultimately whole communities. The play stays largely sympathetic towards the strikers, but also doesn’t depict (most of) the “government” as pure evil. Especially the scene where Andrew Havill’s Energy Secretary Peter Walker tells the audience of the bombings at the Party Conference that killed the man attending in his stead is very moving.

The performances are strong all around, especially Paul Brennen as Colonel is exellent. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart is a wonderful David Hart, and Andrew Havill also stands out as Peter Walker.

The video stream will be on demand until Tuesday, 29th July here.

Watch the official trailer:

One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Sisterly guest post, crossposted here.

20140702_101458 Plakat einer flog OS-web

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn;
Wire, briar, limber lock,
Three geese in a flock.
One flew east,
And one flew west,
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.


One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Einer flog über das Kuckucksnest)

By Dale Wasserman

Directed by Zeno Stanek

Cast: Klaus Huhle, Horst Heiss, Elke Hartmann, Karl Ferdinand Kratzl, Karin Verdorfer, Christian Strasser, Robert Kolar, Daniel Wagner, Richard Maynau, Alexander T.T. Mueller, Simon Jaritz, Konstantin Gerlach, Marcus J. Carney, Doris Kotrba, Siegfried Auerböck, Karl Litzenberger, Hermine Ritter, Katharina Bauer, Brigitte Haumer, Daniela Romstorfer, Alexander Koy, Caroline Weber, Peter Dworzak, Max Sulzenauer, Sophie Isermann, Christian Paul and others

Synopsis: The protagonist is a wildly funny rebel who feigns insanity in order to finish his prison sentence in a mental ward rather than a work farm. However, when he meets the fellow members of the asylum, he discovers that they make a lot more sense than the restrictive and conformist establishment, embodied by a control-freak named Nurse Ratched.

Festspiele Stockerau, Tuesday 1st July, 2014

This is a really tough one to write, not only because it’s an English review for a play performed in German, but also because I’m not quite sure how to summarize the evening.

The Summer Theatre Festival in Stockerau (a small town in Lower Austria, about a half hour outside Vienna) celebrates its 50th anniversary this season with Dale Wasserman’s play “One flew over the Cukoo’s Nest”. The festival returned to spoken theatre last year after a 15 year long “musical period” under former Artistic Director Alfons Haider. While I am not the biggest fan of Haider (he’s an Austrian actor and TV presenter and really really annoying) and his often quite cheesy musical productions (which always featured him as the lead and were usually laden with crowd-pleasing innuendo and little jabs at current affairs), I must confess that I still preferred his productions to the more “artistic” approach of current Artistic Director Zeno Stanek. I think summer open air theatre should be either Shakespeare or light-hearted comedies/musicals. And judging from the audience reactions at the opening night party I am not alone in my opinion. I spoke with a few people afterwards who all shared my opinion that while you didn’t have to like Haider as a person, he still knew how to put on shows that actually got people to buy tickets and be entertained.

I’m usually not the kind of person to attend an opening night, let alone the party afterwards. However since my friend Brigitte, who lives in Stockerau, is an extra in this production (as she was in last year’s “The Visit” by Friedrich Dürrenmatt), I went to support her and to have a chance to chat with her afterwards, since we don’t see each other that often. The opening night audience is a curious beast. While in London and other cities Press Night is usually the night where the celebrities show up, in Austria it’s always opening night. And so I found myself in the midst of artists, socialites, politicians and leading figures auf economy, with said people giving interview after interview for the various press outlets present. Fortunately I’m quite good at dodging cameras. The party afterwards was quite relaxed and the wild boar sausages were divine.

In case you are wondering – all this faffing about is just my way of not having to write about the actual production. Because I can’t think of anything substantial to write. There were quite a few things that irked me, first and foremost the performance of Klaus Huhle as Randle P. McMurphy. And I don’t even have the excuse of comparing him to Jack Nicholson, because I’ve actually never seen the film. Elke Hartmann was quite good as Nurse Ratched. The undisputable highlights for me were Konstantin Gerlach as Billy Bibbit and Simon Jaritz as Dale Harding. All other members of the ensemble delivered solid, yet unspectacular performances. The production received politely enthusiastic applause, but no standing ovations, which would have been grossly exaggerated anyways. All in all it was a semi-entertaining evening, it didn’t rain, and there were very good sausages at the end.


War Horse

Guest Post from Sister Madly (obscure Crowded House reference of the day) as I was out of the country at the time of the broadcast.20140325_191138

NTLive War Horse Broadcast, Feb. 27

Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel and adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford, War Horse has been running in London since 2007, starting out at the National Theatre before being transferred to the West End in 2009. Since 2011, productions have been staged on Broadway, in Toronto, Melbourne and Berlin, with national tours in the US and UK.

Being neither a fan of puppet shows nor of so-called “tear jerkers”, I have to admit that I was very sceptical at first, but still wanted to see what all the fuss was about. At the heart of the show are the amazing life-sized puppets by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, who bring the horses (and other animals, I’m talking about you, Goose…) to life on stage. The puppeteers are not hidden away or work in the shadows, dressed all in black, but they are an integral part of the performance, moving, living and breathing – and neighing – for and with their characters. The acting of the supporting cast, i.e. the “real live characters” is solid throughout, even if the German speaking parts are a little funny to listen to for a native speaker, but the accents were surprisingly good. I also loved the way the story was moved forward through the score and the songs by folk musician John Tams, performed by Christopher Dickins and members of the cast. The sparse set, designed by Rae Smith, and especially the cleverly used projection screen, also fit the production well. It’s clear that the entire crew worked hard to take nothing of the focus away from the real stars – the puppets and the actors animating them.
The live screening was watched simultaneously (or in case of North America near simultaneously) by a whopping 155,000 people worldwide, the largest screening of a National Theatre production yet. The interval interview, conducted as usual by the expendable Emma Freud, was less cringe-worthy than her previous stint with Josie Rourke for the live screening of Coriolanus earlier this year, and both an adorably awkward Michael Morpurgo and co-director Marianne Elliott tried to answer Freud’s extraneous questions with grace and dignity.

Since the owner of this blog abandoned me for Doctor Who, D’Artagnan and The Stig* (do I sound slightly jealous? I do? Good.), I took a fried who is neither a regular theatre goer nor fluent in English, and she was able to follow the story without any problems, and was just as impressed by the production as I was.
*note from ButMadNorth: I stood you up for Captain America in London, dear sister; the (just) causes for jealousy went down the days prior in Liverpool.

The play starts out in rural Devon, where main protagonist Albert Narracott’s (Sion Daniel Young) father Ted buys a foal at an auction just to spite his brother. Despite the lack of mortgage money resulting from the purchase, Albert convinces his mother to raise the foal – named Joey – until he is ready to be sold with profit. Horse and boy quickly form a strong bond. On the outbreak of World War I Ted sells Joey to Lieutenant James Nicholls, who promises Albert to take care of Joey and bring him back after the war. In France, Nicholls is shot and killed, and his sketchbook is sent to Albert just before Christmas, triggering Albert to run away and enlist, lying about his age. Meanwhile Joey falls into the hands of a German officer, Friedrich Müller, who loves horses and despises the war, and after he is killed, Joey and another horse, Topthorn, are forced to work as draft horses, pulling heavy artillery. When Topthorn dies from exhaustion, Joey runs away during a tank attack, getting caught in barbed wire between the enemy lines. Each side sends out a man under a white flag to aid the horse. Flipping a coin after they free the horse, the British soldier wins and takes the wounded horse back to their camp. Meanwhile, Albert is blinded by tear gas and sent to field hospital. He tells his story to a nurse as the injured Joey is brought to the camp by the soldiers. Just as Joey is about to be shot and killed, Albert hears what is going on. He whistles to the horse, who goes to him as he always did. As the soldiers learn his story, they agree to let Albert care for him. Boy and horse return home safe to Devon at the end of the war.

Out of interest, I watched the Stephen Spielberg movie after having seen the live screening of the play, and in typical Hollywood fashion he managed to add inconsequential plot lines and souse everything in pathos. It is still an entertaining film to watch, especially if you haven’t seen the play, with good performances and epic cinematography, but still, Hollywood: Why? WHY? But that should probably be the topic of a different blog.

NTLive Coriolanus Live Broadcast, Jan 30

DSCN1521Cinemas in Vienna jumped on the theatre bandwagon only very recently, so this was the second live broadcast (after the RSC’s Richard II) we had the opportunity to see and the first where I had seen the play live before. I am not going to wax on about the play itself – I have already done that here – but on the cinema screening.

Of course there is a huge difference in being in the actual theatre and seeing a broadcast, but it’s really the next best thing and gives a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to see the play access to great productions.

It is also a great way to discover new things about a play you have already seen. You never catch everything and there were a lot of plays I would have liked the chance to revisit and dissect more. In this production for example, I had missed the moment Volumnia finally realised she just practically killed her son. I think I was checking if there were already swords being sharpened or tempers rising stage left right then.

On the other hand, some things are hard to be picked up by the cameras, especially in such a small theatre as the Donmar. When one of Aufidius’ men (Mark Stanley) was stealthily creeping up behind Coriolanus, I had one eye on Coriolanus and Aufidius and one eye on him. In the broadcast, he popped into the frame rather suddenly when he was already right behind Coriolanus which caused some in the audience to laugh.

Technically, the broadcast was really well done. There were a few minor sound glitches in the beginning and two tiny camera mishaps, but none of those lasted more than half a second and there were no issues for the rest of the play.

The interview with Josie Rourke during intermission was dispensable even though she managed to gracefully make the most out of being asked stupid questions. I would have been more interested in the production process than in why people chose to sleep in front of the theatre hoping for day tickets. Rourke is not only the director of the play but also artistic director of the Donmar, for crying out loud.

The really embarrassing part was the sexiest man alive question (if you can call that a question at all). Not only did Emma Freud put herself in the same league as the two girls jumping up and down yelling ‘oh my God!’ in the loo in our cinema, it was disrespectful and insulting to both the director and the actor to insinuate the play’s lead might have not been cast on merit but for looks and fanbase.

I get extremely ticked off whenever someone suggests a woman might have gotten a job on her looks (or worse), but if we are equally as stupid in judging men, we have absolutely no leg to stand on. If I choose looking at that comment on a lighter note than the above, it was fangirling which is still unprofessional and irksome.

I suspect there were a lot of theatre newbies in the cinemas, for some of them it was probably even the first time they were confronted with Shakespeare. It would be interesting to know how many of those were bitten by the theatre bug. I also hope that the plays are going to be released on DVD/BluRay/VoD at some point, so even more have access to them. Until then, we’ll just keep buying tickets for the screenings as soon as they are announced. Just keep them coming NTL and RSC!