The Hothouse – July 2013

Experience: 7/10

By Harold Pinter

Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Venue: Trafalgar Studio 1

Date: Thursday 18th July 2013

The heat definitely affected my enjoyment today, as the Trafalgar Studios simply don’t have air conditioning worth the name. And having experienced cinemas in Hong Kong where we had to wear a cardigan indoors because of the chill, there’s no excuse for the sort of heat we had to endure today. Of course, if it was difficult for us it must have been hell for the actors, especially with those suits, but at least they could get off stage from time to time to cool down, and with only forty-five minutes each way it was just bearable.

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Macbeth – April 2013

Experience: 3/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Venue: Trafalgar Studios

Date: Thursday 25th April 2013

We were running late today and nearly missed this performance; the day would have gone better if we had. Steve may have ‘enjoyed’ this slightly more than I did, but then he was one in from the end of our row and thus could see a bit more of the action. Our seats were at the back of the stage, second row, and while they gave us an interesting perspective, the poor sightlines made our experience worse than it might have been had we sat elsewhere. (We were late booking, I should point out.) Judging by the gaps we could see after the interval, we weren’t alone in our opinion of the production; only our eternal optimism kept us there for another turgid hour or so.

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Being Shakespeare – March 2012

7/10

By Jonathan Bate (with a bit of help from William Shakespeare)

Directed by Tom Cairns

Venue: Trafalgar Studios 1

Date: Saturday 17th March 2012

The set consisted of a square platform with one step along the front and side, placed at an angle to the front of the stage. Four plain wooden chairs were stacked against the dark right-hand wall. The light-coloured wall on the left had two windows high up, and there was another light-coloured part wall behind the platform. Two trees emerged from the darkness at the back of the stage towards the end of the first half, and were replaced by two more trees during the interval; these encroached further forward. The platform held various props – sword, paper crown, globe, cap, books, small mobile with figures dangling from it, etc. – as well as having two trapdoors, one of which provided flames for the early Mark Antony speech from Julius Caesar – “Friends, Romans” – and another occasion later on. There was a sweep of dark marbly bits to the left of the platform – a slight nuisance, as they kept tracking across whenever Simon Callow walked on them – but otherwise the stage seemed bare from our angle.

The play was very interesting and entertaining. Using Shakespeare’s Seven Ages Of Man speech – spoken by Jacques in As You Like It – Jonathan Bate has devised this ramble through Shakespeare’s work and what we know about the historical context in which it was written, both political and personal. Simon Callow delivered it all very well, although at times the lecturing style of the author shone through; not a bad thing, but less dramatic than some other parts of the afternoon. I recognised many of the readings, of course, but there was a lot of newer information as well, and the overall framework made it more easily digestible. Things went a little wobbly around the ‘soldier’ part, with the lack of evidence about Will’s life making it harder to stick to the speech, but with an actor of Simon Callow’s talent we were in safe hands. His delivery was very good, and my only quibble was that he had so little time to set up the speeches that I wasn’t able to make as strong an emotional connection as I would have liked. Still, the purpose of the piece was to take us on the lifetime journey, and that it did very well.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Dealer’s Choice – March 2008

8/10

By Patrick Marber

Directed by Samuel West

Venue: Trafalgar Studio 1

Date: Thursday 20th March 2008

I was hugely impressed by this play, as well as the production. This was Patrick Marber’s first effort at playwriting, apparently, and it’s tremendously well constructed, with plenty of insight and humour. A modern classic.

The first half of the play takes us up to just before the poker game starts, while the second half covers parts of the game itself. The game is held in the cellar of a restaurant, with the earlier scenes being set in the restaurant and kitchen up above, allowing for an interesting scene change during the interval. The players are mainly those connected to the restaurant – the owner, his staff and his son – but tonight there’s a new player to contend with. The son, Carl, owes money to Ash, who’s been subbing him and teaching him how to play poker, blackjack, etc. Carl fits nicely into the category known as “mug punter”, and doesn’t have the money that Ash needs to pay his debts, so Carl gets Ash a seat at the poker game downstairs. With his talent, Ash makes plenty towards covering what he owes.

We’ve already spent the first couple of acts learning about the other characters. Stephen, the restaurant owner, is a fairly tough cookie, but his son is definitely a weak spot in his armour. The chef, Sweeney, has plans to visit his daughter the next day, and initially says he won’t be playing, but gets suckered in as usual, losing all his money. Mugsy, the junior waiter, is well named. He has aspirations, which at this point consist of planning to open up a fancy restaurant in the Mile End road in a converted public loo. He also loses his money, so the prospects don’t look good, but he is good value in terms of humour, with his immature attitudes and boundless enthusiasm. The other waiter, Frankie, is more sensible, though that’s not saying a lot in this company. Ash cleans up at the table, though as someone points out near the end, he’s welcomed at the big boys’ tables because he’s their mug player, even if he’s better than this crowd.

The cast included Ross Boatman, a well-known poker player himself, but despite the emphasis on poker it wasn’t so much about that as about the characters and how they’re hooked on gambling. The performances were all excellent, the set was very good, and I’m glad I’ve finally seen this play.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me