Archive for September, 2009

Guest review – Cloud 9 – Fandango productions at the Union Theatre

September 5, 2009

(Guest review courtesy of Elizabeth Baxter-Williams.)

I don’t care if it makes me sound like a drama teacher. I like Caryl Churchill. Her dialogue sparkles, especially when she’s putting words in the mouths of children. In short, she’s a good play-write, who cares that she’s not particularly in vogue?

So it was with lightness in my step that I arrived at the Union Theatre, just the wrong side of punctual, to see a Fandango’s 30th Anniversary production of Cloud 9, Churchill’s play about gender, sexuality and the structures of society.

The space we are in is just what you would expect: a small black studio with a minimum of clutter which is perfectly sized for the cast of seven. The audience is not quite in the round but on three sides, a fact which seems to have largely been ignored in blocking. Despite this, the direction is solid, and the first act flows wonderfully.

We are in colonial Africa, and the natives are, as it were, revolting. Mrs Saunders, a widow, has sought refuge from the rioting in the home of a British colonial Administrator, Clive, his family and staff. They are soon joined by an explorer named Harry Bagley. What follows is nothing short of a romp. While the head of the household Clive embodies colonialism and the values it entails, his wife Betty, played excellently in both acts by Alan Gibbons and Jennifer Bryden respectively, is the epitome, outwardly, of the perfect Victorian wife. We explore the relationships of the characters and glimpse what it be a sexual being in an era of oppression and repression.

Jamie Honeybourne’s directing is subtle but smart, aside from the aforementioned blocking issues. The comedy is gentle and enjoyable but ultimately the play has lost its shocking edge.

Act two benefits from a gin and tonic in the interval. Though set in 1979, only twenty-five years have passed for our characters. Grown up, and before a very different socio-political backdrop, each role is now played by a different member of the cast. Characterisation in the second act is patchy though, and while the cast do pull it together the transition seems a little forced. There is, however, one stand out performance: Jennifer Bryden is truly wonderful. I cannot fault her sweet portrayal of young Edward in the first act nor her switch to playing Betty in act two. She plays both roles with deep empathy and shines among the otherwise variable cast. Anthony Obeney too is excellent in his playing of both Cathy and Clive, but Bryden’s perfect handling of the act two monologue on the discovery of masturbation just gives her the edge.

It is a shame that Cloud 9 isn’t quite relevant in this age of civil partnerships and widespread polyamory. If you are a Churchill fan, and there must be at least one more out there, Cloud 9 is worth the perfectly reasonable ticket price. For Churchill virgins too, it is a good introduction. But for those who have grown weary of her very personal style, well, Cloud 9 won’t reverse your opinion.

(This guest review is for the performance that took place on 4th September. Performances continue Tues-Sat until 26th September, 2009. For an alternate view, please see the West End Whingers.)

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£25 off two “top price” tickets for War Horse – except matinees, Sat PM

September 4, 2009

NOTE: THIS DEAL IS NOW EXPIRED. Sorry. A 2010 September offer is now here.

I was sent a flyer in the mail from the National announcing £25 off of “two top price tickets” for War Horse, good through October 24th, 2009. Per the voucher, go to warhorselondon.com/25 (which redirects you to the National’s War Horse site), then follow the instructions – either buy online using the promo code 2104 or call the box office (020 7452 3000, quote ‘Promotion Code 2104’) – and order two top price tickets (£47.50 for £35.00). Although it says it’s good for two tickets, the web site appears to be perfectly willing to sell you up to eight at a savings of £12.50 per ticket. While this seems kind of unimpressive in general, I compared to the TKTS “half price” booth (on a Friday) and found that the best deal to be had for the same ticket was £38.00, so this is actually a little better and not so prone to “will they be for sale tonight or not” problem that comes with TKTS purchases. So while this isn’t a great deal (especially compared to the £10 day seats you could have got if you’d gone to see it at the National instead of waiting until it transferred to the New London Theatre), it’s the best thing I’ve seen for this show other than restricted view seats.

Review – Alan Cumming’s “I Bought a Blue Car Today” – Vaudeville Theatre

September 1, 2009

Tonight I went with J and Jess to see the opening performance of Alan Cumming’s one man show, “I Bought A Blue Car Today.” Despite this show having had runs in NYC and Australia, I hadn’t read any of the reviews and knew little of it other than it was Alan Cumming doing whatever he felt like. This suited me fine (though somehow I’d got it in my head that this was a stand-up comedy evening). While I can rarely be convinced to see a show based on one performer (I frequently can’t remember actors’ names and am nearly wholly immune to the clut of celebrity), fact of the matter is that Mr. Cumming is my #1 favorite stage actor and probably the only performer of stage or screen that I teenishly fangrrl over. I’m not saying I follow him online or have a poster of him on my wall or was waiting in line to get an autograph tonight; but I do think he’s painfully sexy on top of being a great actor and a good singer.

“I Bought A Blue Car Today” has actually very little in the way of narrative about Alan’s life in America, though he does explain why he went for citizenship (to overturn our previous fascist regime) and a little bit about some cultural confusion (no worse than mine here except for not understanding why being on Saturday Night Live was such a big deal). Instead, it’s full of fun and occasionally rude anecdotes about his life in showbiz, ranging from dancing with Walter Cronkite (at Cabaret) to riding a motorcycle up 5th Avenue while high. The anecdotes fill time between songs, which are really the heart of the show (available on the CD they’ll be happy to sell you in the lobby). They ranged from a Dolly Parton/Mika mashup to “Mein Herr” and on to some lovely original songs. Mostly the music was rather on the fluffy side, but really gave Mr. Cumming a chance to show of his pipes. It’s no surprise that he’s really quite a good singer; what’s a real shame is that with all of his movie roles, he so rarely gets to sing on stage, which is, in my mind, where he ought to be. The best of the night was “Where I Want to Be” from Chess; I’ve never seen it but with the 7 (?) piece band backing him, with extra trumpet, it really rocked the house and showed a lot of passion.

For any Alan Cumming fan, this was an unmissable evening, especially if you’d managed to pull 15 quid second row seats, and the audience was quite enthusiastic. But the guy has really got a good voice, and while I think he could have chosen better material, if you’re looking to catch a Broadway/West End performer at the peak of his performing career – unlike Liza, whose performances this last year showed a star faded almost to black – then this show would be worth the effort to see. As it is, it’s given me a host of dirty jokes to tell people (like the one about Anne Miller and Eyes Wide Shut) and I consider it a great start to the West End’s fall season.

Note: Alan Cumming also announced from his stage that he and his pianist were going to be doing a late night fundraising show on Thursday, so if you can’t get enough of either or both of them you’ve got another shot to load up while they’re in town. Here’s the email I just got from Nimax Theater’s about it: “Notes Unleashed! The Music of Lance Horne, will take to the stage at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand at 11.00pm on Thursday 3 September 2009, in a special one-night only event following Alan Cumming’s solo show at the Vaudeville that evening. It marks the London première of songs written by the Emmy Award winning composer, Lance Horne, with the composer at the piano.

“Olivier and Tony Award winner Alan Cumming will join West End stars Julie Atherton (Avenue Q), Aneurin Barnard (Spring Awakening), Simon Burke (La Cage Aux Folles), Alexandra Silber (Carousel), Hannah Waddingham (Spamalot, A Little Night Music) and Emma Williams (Zorro) in Notes Unleashed! The Music of Lance Horne, the inaugural edition of a late-night strand of the West End’s Notes from New York series at the Vaudeville Theatre on Thursday 3 September at 11.00pm. Book Online or call the Box Office on 0844 412 4663.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 1st. “I Bought a Blue Car Today” runs through Sunday, September 6th. And since someone asked about nudity, the answer is, no, Alan does not take his clothes off. *sniff*)