Friday, 25 May 2012

Hello, Goodbye...

Well. There it is. My year of AS level drama has drawn to a close.
I'm trying not to think about it too hard.
Because I might cry.
I've really, really enjoyed it. There have been some very infuriating moments - a Theatre Studies essay is not at all structured like an English one, apparently - but mostly very, very fun moments.
Our first text was 'Dancing at Lughnasa' by Brian Friel. I had not heard of the play or the playwright, and after finally reading it at the start of term, I found myself entranced. It is a powerful portrait of 30s Ireland and a family of women struggling through the obstacles life puts in their way. I was lucky enough to play Kate, the eldest of the sisters; she is highly religious, strait-laced, and feels everything very powerfully. She was an absolute joy to get under the skin of, and my heart broke along with hers. I still feel my best and most powerful performance of the year was her pivotal point in the story.
I think this picture from the Second Age Theatre Company's
production captures the sisters almost perfectly...
Next was 'Death of a Salesman' by Arthur Miller, a play that is seen far more often than our first. We ran into a slight problem; in a class of two girls and one boy, we had to produce a convincing couple of scenes from a male-dominated play. Both I and my female compatriot played chaps at one point or another - I played Happy, the younger brother and delusional son. I also, to my dismay, was told to play The Woman, with whom Willy Loman, the protagonist, has an affair. Despite our early hang-ups and our drama teacher's disappointment, we eventually got over ourselves and did the bloody scene.
Philip Seymour-Hoffman as Willy Loman in the current
Broadway production
I feel I need to mention a particularly strong performance from my best friend (who doubles as my Sondheim buddy). She played Linda, Willy's long-suffering and mousy wife, in a scene near the end of the play, where she confronts her two thoughtless boys. We had been practising the scene for a few weeks and each time she got better and better; Linda finally snaps, and the build and release of tension in the scene was hard to capture.
The lesson came where we had to film our work (to send off to the exam board... one hour each of our work on our two texts). We started the scene - me adopting my 'masculine' stature! - and as soon as she walked on set I knew she'd got it. Tears spilled, words were shouted, doors slammed. Everyone was very quiet after we finished. She nailed it. Much love to you doll xx
This term, having finished all the time-consuming coursework, we focused on our practical work that would be examined at the end of the year; a monologue each, and a final performance.
It was hard work, but we got there. I've never done a three-hander before, and even though this one was only 35 minutes long, DAMN you noticed there were only three of you on stage. 'Wanted' by Michelene Wandor is a very strange play - it focuses on the issues that IVF raises, and does so by placing the ideas in a Biblical setting. Sarah, Abraham's apparently barren wife, is visited by an Angel, who attempts to persuade her to try various methods to get pregnant. Sarah is unaware of Someone, an unborn soul, who haunts the Angel throughout the play, and who emphatically does NOT want to be born.
Yep. It's weird.
But rather fun.
As Sarah, I got to swear and shout and hobble about like an old hag.
Yes, very fun indeed.
Our performances to the examiner and a small audience were on the 9th of May.
Now all we have to do is wait for the results.
I'm very sad to wave goodbye to this year in the Performing Arts Centre. But I have plans for next year. Oh, I have plans.



Friday, 18 May 2012

I'm Just A Broadway Baby

Time for a little backstory; a long time ago I was a little girl with a pudding-basin haircut, and I was living in the leafy suburb-state of Connecticut, in the USA. Though I was born in Britannia (in the equally leafy suburb of Essex) we were transplanted across the pond when I was just two due to my father's work. We often took the train to New York, New York (so good they named it twice), as it was only an hour away. So it came to pass that, even after we relocated back to the UK when I was 5, I find myself inexorably drawn back to that wonderful city, as strange, loud and crazy as it may be.
This year, we went back, and I had the opportunity to bring a friend. I whooped and cheered, and then phoned the wonderful girl whom we shall call Belle, who also whooped and cheered and said yes please, take me with you.
We had a crazy, wonderful time. We saw some amazing, unique people: we met a lonely pig called Clarence: we wandered New York by night and by day: we climbed the Empire State Building... and in between, and sometimes during these activites, we ATE. Oh, how we ate (you can see us in the picture above... about to eat).
It just so happens that both of us have the same dream - despite the fact that we bonded over woodlice when we were 6, not the arts, we have both grown to love the theatre. A lot. Often, it's all we talk about. Which is fine by us. And so treading the boards of a Broadway or West End stage is, you know, The Big Thing for us. So when we got to Times Square... we were very excited.
There is a picture of us looking very excited.
Before I go on to tell you about what we saw, I first MUST let you know about a certain diner in Times Square. It is IMPERATIVE that I tell you about Ellen's Stardust Diner. It serves your typical American food - burgers, chicken, chips, you name it. I'm going to be honest, the food isn't really why you go (though it is good... and there's lots of it...). You go because of the staff.
I know, unthinkable in England, right?
They just get up, grab the mic, and serenade the whole diner with a chart-topping hit or tear-jerking number from one of Broadway's finest musicals. It's fantastic. Our waiter was fab, and even gave Mum the mic for some ABBA (note to Ellen's: you will lose custom if you do that too much.) I'd never seen anything like it.

We saw two, rather spectacular pieces of Broadway theatre. First was 'Seminar', a new play by Theresa Rebeck about a literary composition class and their debauched, licentious 'teacher', played by the one and only Jeff Goldblum. He essentially spends an hour and a half (no interval) ripping their lives, emotions, and writings apart. It was surprisingly good viewing.
One small hiccup; Belle and I had previously been assured that 'Leonard', the chap in question, was to be played by Alan Rickman, Professor Severus Snape himself... cue slightly choked, teary assurances that we'd still like to go, even though his run had ended.
But we did actually want to go.
We just enjoy the drama.
Especially memorable was Zoe Lister-Jones as Kate, a feisty, budding writer who thinks she sees through Leonard's crap, and doesn't want to take it any more. Her numerous rants and acerbic put-downs were hilarious, while her eventual sheathing of her feminist sword and acceptance of the way the world really works was ever-so-gently heartbreaking. Everyone in our party thoroughly enjoyed it despite being greeted with this sign as we walked in late:
Cue my panic. I have NEVER been late to a performance. HUMILIATING. But hilarious if you're with the crowd I was... at the end a gentlemen behind us loudly exclaimed 'Well, I reckon the first 5 minutes were the best.' Whether he genuinely hadn't enjoyed it or just wanted to niggle at the people who had disturbed his view for 30 seconds we will never know. I like to think the best of him.
Our second Broadway treat was the production of 'Anything Goes' at the Stephen Sondheim theatre (yes... I got even more excited when his name came up). The story is complete fluff, of course, but it was rather spectacular - I saw Anything Goes in London a while ago, so I thought I knew what to expect... didn't really see the numerous tap and ballroom dances coming.
Those Broadway directors do things differently.
It was the last night of the run, and the cast were clearly having a whale of a time. Here is proof in a video that was made by them, behind the scenes. Brilliant.

So overall a total ball was had by everyone.
If anyone has a flat (or apartment) in NY that they are willing to rent out, please contact me. ASAP. Ta.


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

If a little pocket calculator can do it... why shouldn't I?

Backdated from January, after my Christmas Carol post...
From one great master of words to another, completely different one.
Happy New Year!
On Sunday, I (along with my whole, large, family) was lucky enough to go to the rather awkwardly situated Cambridge Theatre to see the show of the moment 'Matilda, the Musical.'
With words by Dennis Kelly and lyrics by Tim Minchin, (yes HIM, the ginger one) and a spectacular cast it's not like you're walking in with any doubts. You are, however, walking in with 4 ankle-biters in tow, and are carefully picking your way around other people's small people. Not that the crowd was made up of just kids; not even close. It seemed that anyone who knew a small child took the opportunity and scooped them up as an excuse to buy a ticket... I suggest you do the same. Even if you don't have a munchkin. Take your gran. Take your partner, your sister, your small dog, whatever, just GO.
And we got our tickets in May. So get on Ebay.
When Tim Minchin said in interview that the audience would laugh and cry, and if you liked 'feeling stuff' you should go, I dismissed it as a bit of a cliche, but I was very, very wrong. To go from laughing to crying and back to laughing again in such a short time is bloody tiring, but my God, it's worth it.
Bertie Carvel as the terrifying Agatha Trunchbull, bane of my childhood, was an absolute revelation. A girl really did (very cleverly) get swung by her pigtails. Instead of the butch beast we see in the film, and possibly in our brains, he was a prissy, boarding school gal, clearly jolly-hockey-sticks and all that, and though the seemingly 'delicate' exterior was there, IT WAS STILL TRUNCHBULL. The menace Carvel portrayed in a single look at a squit (read: child) was truly paralyzing. And also, you know, hilarious at the same time. I admit that was often nervous laughter, yes.
Sophia Kiely was our Matilda, and she was just perfect. Tiny but determined, she pounded those stage boards like a total, total pro. The rest of the kids are hilarious, and you completely just want to get up and join them and shout 'YES! I'M ON YOUR SIDE!' - especially Bruce Bogtrotter, ever the hero. Matilda's parents, the Wormwoods, were played with aplomb, as was the lovely Miss Honey.
I know all the words to the soundtrack, which really deserves a post all on its own. Tim Minchin has not skimped on the tunes for his fancy wordplay, and every track is completely original and absolutely stonking. Chorus, duet, and solo all make you want to crawl onto the fabulous stage and never ever leave.



EDIT: In the 2012 Olivier awards Matilda absolutely stole the show, winning:
Best New Musical
Best Actor in a Musical (Bertie Carvel, Miss Trunchbull)
Best Actress in a Musical (which the 4 Matilda's shared!)
Best Director
Best Coreography
Best Set Design
Best Sound Design

And here are some FABULOUS pictures of the Matildas with our Sophia Kiely on the far left, and Bertie Carvel looking like one of the kids:


There wasn't even any chocolate involved...

So, for my first theatre trip in quite a while (excluding Broadway, post coming soon) I went to see, along with some friendly Northern lasses and lads who came down for the weekend, Educating Rita by Willy Russell at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Things that came to mind when I heard Educating Rita:
Mainly Julie Walters
A level text
Monologue books

So as any of you who have read or performed or seen Educating Rita will know, I was still a little far off the mark. But still quite close.

Things I got going to see Educating Rita:
A level text

And I THOUGHT I had grasped the basics. Clearly some of the list can be bypassed...
All in all, not a great production. Very telling when, being one for usually not blinking during a theatre trip, I looked at my watch 15 minutes in. The first half was bland, the first line (spoken by Matthew Kelly's Frank) was forced and unbelievable, and, while Claire Sweeney's Scouse accent was fab (she is a local girl after all) the pairing just did not click... Kelly dragged her down with him. The play is their own personal journeys as well as the emotional one linking them, and, while Rita's was clearly and effectively portrayed, I honestly could not have given a toss about the professor. I felt absolutely no sympathy or empathy or really anything at all for him. Lawks.
This was not helped at all by CARDIGANS. What harm, I hear you say, can a CARDIGAN possibly do? That garment so reminiscent of grandmas and teachers - what bearing did it have on Educating Rita? Well, imagine a small stage, covered mainly in books, with lighting from the back through a 'window' (through which, incidentally, I could see the edge of the backdrop). Now imagine ooooh I don't know, five, six, CARDIGANS littered strategically about this space.
I think the director Tamara Harvey's plan was to indicate the passing of time by not only having Rita change outfit (seriously swift costume changes there Claire) but having Frank swap his knitwear. On stage. When it was partially lit.
It was excruciatingly irritating. And when I pointed it out at the interval to my comrades, they went back in waiting for it, and sure enough, by the end, they were all excruciatingly irritated too. If not asleep. I can't help feeling that the relevance this tale of a plucky Northern lass would have had in the 80's is well and truly dead - the script felt dated, and, especially the younger members of our party, we really didn't get the 'vibe'. I've been told that the film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters is now even more of a must see, as it's still fab.
Dear me. What else to say. Some line foul-ups (NB does anyone know if Rita misquotes Shakespeare, or was it Miss Sweeney? I'm quite sure Macbeth says that the poor player 'struts and frets his hour upon the stage', not 'fruts and strets'... but I wouldn't wish to accuse anyone of misquoting the Master if they are in fact just doing what they've been told). Annoying little level at the back of the stage, but I suppose necessary in such a small theatre.
I really want to stop talking about this now.
And I wanted to say something nice because a friend of mine's dad went out with Sweeney.
I had to say that of course, I couldn't very well go and see her and NOT SAY THAT.
I have to go now, before I start fuming about Franks bloody jumpers again.
Sorry, can you tell exams are coming up?