We’ve lost another legend today; Sir Christopher Lee. Dracula, Fu Manchu, Blind Pew, Sherlock Holmes, Death of Discworld, Saruman, and so many unbelievably impressive and brilliant theater roles that it would be impossible to list them all. 93, but still gone too soon.
This year, I was lucky enough to attend the annual Laurence Olivier Awards at the Royal Opera House. Check me out!
And apparently I was entirely on trend on the red carpet too; long black dress and gold accessories. I guess it had to happen some day 😉 It is a strange phenomenon though, walking down that red carpet. When you step on it, every head along it turns your way to see if you are anyone of importance and when you’re not this air of disappointment and disinterest wafts your way. I could only laugh about it and quickly dodge celebrities (Pixie Lot, Amanda Abbington, Mark Gatiss, George Maguire to name a few) on my way to the glass of free champagne. Or three. (four)
The view from the nosebleed section wasn’t actually bad! Not all the way up top and fairly in the center of the row, I had a great view of the stage. And they gave us a little goodie bag with a bottle of water, sweets and a candy bar 🙂
Lenny Henry was the host for the night, bringing laughs and scathing remarks about arts funding and the upcoming election. And he wasn’t the only one; many of the winners’ speeches revolved around the cuts in the arts section. Interestingly enough, many of the winners are or come from subsidised plays and shows. Something to consider if you are eligible to vote and enjoy theater and/or musicals.
There were performances from all the nominated musicals and revived musicals which really reminded me how much I love musicals. I don’t go see any often enough! The nominated plays were represented by a host and trailer each and there was a breathtaking dance performance in celebration of Sylvie Guillem’s career (as well as the special award she received!) I missed an opera performance though, despite the two opera categories.
It was a long show, 3,5 hours, but I was never bored during any of it. The joy of the winners is contagious, even high up and far away. It is lovely to see the talent and happiness and fantastic shows. And some very special moments as well (read on)!
This is the full list of the Olivier Awards 2015 winners:
New Play – King Charles III
New Opera – The Mastersingers of Nuremberg
Supporting Actor – Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
Set Design – Es Devlin, The Nether
Costume Design – Chrisopher Oram, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
Sound Design – Gareth Owen, Memphis the Musical
Lighting Design – Howard Harrison, City of Angels
Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre – Bull at The Maria, Young Vic
New Comedy – The Play That Goes Wrong, Duchess Theatre
Revival – A View From The Bridge, Young Vic
Best Actor – Mark Strong, A View From the Bridge, Young Vic (completely deserved, but James McAvoy was equally stunning)
Best Actress – Penelope Wilton, Taken At Midnight, Theatre Royal Haymarket (I was rooting for Gillian Anderson!)
This Morning Audience Award – Wicked
New Dance Production – 32 Rue Vandenbranden and Mat EK’s Juliet And Romeo
Entertainment and Family – La Soiree
Theatre Choreographer – Sergio Trujillo, Memphis The Musical
Director – Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge (a little Dutch pride :))
Supporting Actor in a Musical – George Maguire, Sunny Afternoon
Supporting Actress in a Musical – Lorna Want, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Musical Revival – City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse (a personal whoop-whoop, my favourite show this year!)
Actor in a Musical – John Dagleish, Sunny Afternoon
Actress in a Musical – Katie Brayben, Beautiful
Kevin Spacey was honored by Dame Judi Dench, who told a story about how he turned up on her doorstep one night “with a ping-pong table on his head”. One can only imagine… He was awarded an award for his work as director of the Old Vic for the past 10 years; his revival of the theater, his work for The Bridge, his plays and one-man-show he starred in.
In return, he gifted everyone with the biggest surprise of the evening; a rousing rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water with Beverly Knight. Yes, you read that right. You should really have been there, my lord.
The programme book is large, heavy and shiny, and a lovely reminder of the night. As nice as it is to watch it on TV, being in the room was magical and amazing and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I am already picking out a dress for next year!
Cast: Lynda Baron, Chris Larkin, Zoë Wanamaker
Seen on: March 09, 2015
Stevie is the story of poet Stevie Smith; an eccentric, asexual woman who works as a secretary at a publisher and writes poetry in her spare time. Stevie the woman lives in Palmers Green with her Auntie, Stevie the poet-on-the-rise is a social eccentric butterflying through Central London. The play tells her story from childhood to death, with her own poets interspersing the storytelling.
I went to see Stevie during the first few days of previews and while I understand it will go through several stages of changes and amends until opening night – and sometimes even after that – I do have to admit I wasn’t really gripped by the play. The first half was, dare I say it, actually quite boring. Zoë Wanamaker doesn’t feel right for the woman we are supposed to believe she is; her Stevie seems too old for the part of her life she is talking about. If this is on purpose and the audience is meant to just sit and listen to an older Stevie regale about her younger years, it is not clear from the dialogue and monologue, and the whole things feel disjointed and it drags.
The second half is much better. Zoë Wanamaker’s Stevie feels appropriate, fitting. There is true wit and humour in the narrative and dramaturgy. Chris Larkin plays several roles, but his part as Stevie’s exasperated gay friend from the social circles of London lifts the play to a new, though still not too impressive, height. Not even Lynda Baron’s Auntie’s demise and ultimate death brings any kind of emotion to the play; it feels flat and forced, as if it’s a bit that we all have to suffer through to get to the final scene, which is incidentally the best scene of the whole play.
Stevie’s recount of her day at Buckingham Palace with the Queen is funny, heartwarming and moving, all at the same time. Zoë Wanamaker’s Stevie is perfect here, during Stevie’s final years; old, exhausted, sarcastic and worn, and it finally clicks into place. Too bad it is only for that one final scene, after two hours of suppressed yawns.
Title: The Ruling Class
Cast: James McAvoy, Kathryn Drysdale, Anthony O’Donnell, Serena Evans
Seen on: February 10, 2015
James McAvoy opened the first season of Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed back in 2013 with a stunning performance of McBeth, and he is back in the second season in a revival of Peter Barnes’ The Ruling Class. I actually didn’t know the play going in, so I had no idea what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what I got.
Holy bonkers, Batman!
James McAvoy plays Jack, the 14th earl of Gurney. His father accidentally killed himself while erotically strangling himself in a tutu, and if that doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the play, then what does? The family is worried Jack might not be an appropriate heir to his father’s estate, but most importantly his good name and reputation, and we soon find out why.
Jack thinks he is Jesus Christ incarnated.
He calls himself the God of love, goes around prancing and dancing and singing ludicrous songs, thinks he is married to a fictional woman, crucifies himself and sleeps on the cross, hallucinates making tables fly, and fights an imaginative man with a dinosaur head.
Like I said, holy bonkers, Batman!
Jack’s family and doctor do everything to make him normal. Or, their normal. They’re a family of power, reputation, stature, and Jack needs to fit into that as the next earl of Gurney. The plot and plan and scheme, slowly but surely changing Jack from the carefree God of love to the powerful, edgy Earl of Gurney. The transformation is terrifyingly subtle; a man pushed to breaking point, and that breaking point being supposed normalcy. But where the doctor deemed Jack not dangerous in the first half of the play, Jack becomes a homicidal maniac in the second half. But the family is satisfied, because now Jack is “normal”.
While first written and performed in the 80s, the play is still a poignant, on-topic statement on the state of society; class, power-mad leaders, aristocracy, government, money, and how forcing your own “normal” on others can actually turn out very dangerous.
The audience is represented by Tucker, the family’s loyal servant. He is the common man, the outsider, the mostly reasonable thread through the insanity that is this play. Tucker is the relief between the manic happenings, the one thing you recognise and relate to, and it makes the play a little bit easier to handle. This is not a play for the light-hearted or easily offended. And please do not go see this if you are of a strong religious persuasion, unless you are open to parody and ridicule. If you are not, this is not for you. At all.
Now for the actors. James McAvoy is absolutely magnetic. Despite a completely bonkers story, with more insanity than you can safely shake a stick at, McAvoy keeps it all together like a messiah. Which, incidentally, his character thinks he is. The first half of the show, McAvoy prances around the stage like a man possessed, driven by love and conviction. His family all have one goal: cure him of his insanity and make him normal. Like them. Naturally, it all goes tits up after the interval, when McAvoy transforms his character from a foaming-at-the-mouth mental patient to an aristocrat with poise and stature. And a penchant for killing. The transformation is stunning.
One thing I have always been very impressed by, is McAvoy’s physicality. He gives his characters little things; a nose twitch, a finger movement, a speech pattern. But then he is amazing at the big stuff too; his stage presence, his energy, his charm. It is truly a fantastic thing to watch. For Jack, he gave him a speech pattern, a stammer, an involuntary noise, a nose twitch, where appropriate. That is one of the things I love about McAvoy as an actor and I cannot stop being amazed by it every single time. His Jack is no exception.
I didn’t care much for Kathryn Drysdale’s Grace – Jack’s wife. I only know her from Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, where she plays an airhead, and her Grace isn’t much different. Maybe Grace was written that way, maybe it’s the way she plays it, but I felt like she could have given Grace a bit more layers.
Anthony O’Donnell as Tucker is lovely; he brings the levity, the jokes, and his sacrifice at the end is just tragic. It makes you hate McAvoy’s Jack a little more and feel for O’Donnell’s Tucker even more. And he does a very convincing drunken man 😉
The rest of the cast was alright, but didn’t blow my mind particularly. It is really McAvoy’s show, but he rules them all spectacularly.
Throw in a few silly songs, McAvoy riding around on a unicycle in his pants, a rather explicit sex scene followed by a murder, and a suicide by erotic strangulation, and you are close to at least understanding what takes place in The Ruling Class. That doesn’t mean you understand what to expect though; whatever you think The Ruling Class is, it isn’t. It’s crazier, better, and will leave you with one question: What?!
Title: City of Angels
Cast: Hadley Fraser, Rosalie Craig, Tam Mutu, Samantha Barks
Seen on: 3 different dates in 2014 & 2015
Yes, you read that right. I saw the Donmar’s production of City of Angels three times. 3. I am insanely crazy about this show. Hadley Fraser, Tam Mutu, and their closing song before the interval (You’re Nothing Without Me) is one of the best musical songs I have heard in a long time. Their chemistry is amazing, even if one is the fictional imagination of the other. The story is intricate and intriguing, the acting camp and brilliant, the characters layered and well-rounded, the set and lighting very cleverly support the storytelling, and the live music and conducting is breathtaking. Honestly, 3 times was hardly enough. Here’s to hoping they’ll release a cast recording!
The only downside was the forward-facing set, which didn’t match up with the u-shaped seats at the Donmar. The people at the sides missed out on a lot of the clever lighting.
Title: The Play That Goes Wrong
Cast: Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Charlie Russell, Dave Hearn, Nancy Wallinger, Rob Falconer
Seen on: November 29, 2014
The Play That Goes Wrong follows the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are trying their to stage a production of a 1920s murder mystery. With the emphasis on “trying”. The title of the play suggest it all; everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. From over-acting to sets falling apart, from misplaced props to forgotten lines and too-early entrances. It is hilarious and will make you feel so, so sorry for the cast and crew of this fictional drama society. Truly a laugh!
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi, Stephen Rea
Seen on: October 11
Is it possible to fall in love with a play? When it’s Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk as performed by Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi, and Stephen Rea then yes. Excuse the language, but holy sh*t, that was some amazing theater!
Cillian Murphy said in an interview how he wanted the audience to get out of the performance exhausted. Well, mister Murphy, mission accomplished. While he (1) and Mikel Murfi (2) were doing exhausting physical theater on stage, the audience is left doing mental gymnastics in their seats trying to keep up and understand what is going on. Because who are these men? Where are they, what are they to each other, and what is Ballyturk? And is that third man that comes in halfway through the play (Stephen Rea) really Death? What’s with the balloons, the talcum powder, and the shoes? And how did it exactly end?
Even buying the playbook afterwards with the whole text and annotations in it didn’t clear anything up. However, Ballyturk doesn’t need clearing up. It is what it is. The best way I can describe it is poetry by way of physical comedy and layers of storytelling. Nothing is given a name, an explanation, or a meaning, yet the entire audience is at the edge of their seats with baited breath to see what happens next. Despite constantly wondering what is going on, the audience is never pulled from the story. Every single moment in the play gives a little bit of what we all hope is an answer to our questions. Suspense writers can learn from Enda Walsh’s way of giving just enough to rapture and not enough to give away.
After all of that, let me try and explain what the story is about: two men (1 & 2) are in a room together. They have a routine, they talk as if they’ve known each other for years, and they have memories. They don’t have a door though. Nor a window. 1 is a nervous man, relying on 2 to explain or help or comfort him. But 2 is just as lost as 1 is. Then there is Ballyturk. The way the men tell it, Ballyturk is a town. And there are people in Ballyturk; Larry, Sophie, Cody, and others. 1 and 2 often play out characters and stories from Ballyturk, complete with yellow jumper (“I fecking hate yella!”), skimmed milk (“Behind the eggs”), and dates (clouds and clouds and clouds of talcum powder and cheap deodorant are used). They each take turns picking who to play next and what the story is going to be, complete with outfits, sound effects, and props. But what exactly is Ballyturk? Then comes man 3. He comes through the wall, seemingly from a field or pasture. Is he Death? We never really find out. He comes with explanations though, some of which make sense and others don’t. Because who is he and how does he know these men? And why does he come through a huge wall in the door-less room? Despite this middle piece of the play taking a bit of flow out of the play, it still intrigues, and delivers some fabulous comedic moments (cookie-Jenga, anyone?)
Ballyturk is a whiplash of a play, jumping from action to comedy to heartbreak to cringe to laughter to running and dancing to epileptic seizures to blushing to flies and bunnies. And that was just the first act. I was so, so impressed with Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi, you have no idea. Their timing and physical comedy was on a whole new level of amazing. Earlier this year I raved about Billy Crudup as Lucky in Waiting for Godot, but these two men blow that right out of the water (sorry, Billy!). There are four major movement scenes in the play, all high-speed and detail-crucial, and they pull them off flawlessly. It made me feel utterly pointless as both an actress and a human being with a body. Again, holy sh*t!
There are many layers in Ballyturk and because the play never wants to explain itself it leaves the audience with their own interpretation of what is and was happening. For me, it was never about the two men or their imaginary town or the murderous bunnies. Early on, 2 says to 1 “Let’s not talk about us, bunnies are much more arbitrary,” and that is for me part of the essence of what this play was about in a round-about way. But it could have been about something else entirely to the person next to me. And that is ultimately the brilliance of Enda Walsh and the actors. Cillian Murphy stole the show for me with his small gestures of his nervous and seizures-plagued 1, his attention to detail both in himself and his surroundings, his timing both comedic and dramatic, and just his overall conveyance of emotion. I am a fan.
I will leave you with a few of my favourite lines:
1. So to finish what I started earlier —
1. — there was a terrible — whatyacallit — a terrible?
1. No a terrible — it’s a feeling — a sensation —
2. A draft?
1. It’s like a draft but more overriding.
2. A breeze?
1. Less of a breeze and even more invisible.
2. A waft?
1. Tell me something of no importance and the word will come to me guaranteed.
2. Francie Lyon’s head was twenty inches wider than his neck — from a distance he looked like a wandering yield sign.
1. A terrible foreboding?
1. And it was everywhere this feeling — not unlike the wind — but more surreptitious than the wind.
2. Like a draft?
1. It was exactly like draft!