Top 5 Reasons to see Made in Dagenham

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 0

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was lucky to nab some last minute tickets to the new musical Made in Dagenham on Friday, I didn’t really know what to expect from it and in general I tend to prefer a small play to a big fancy musical, but this was fun and funny and a great night out that I heartily recommend.

5. The Costumes: The 60s fashion and hair is great. The factory girls all have floral dresses, matching macs and big hair that is seriously fun to behold. The real fashionista is the wife of the Ford manager, who supports the strike, puts together a petition against caning in schools and looks fabulous throughout. As the only wealthy and fashion forward character she has the most costume changes, and they really seem to have fun with her wardrobe. She is introduced wearing a wonderful orange Biba dress that plays a prominent role in the final scene, but my favourite piece is a cream trouser suit, or it could have been a jumpsuit that is early disco fabulous. I kinda wish I could see this again, just to make notes on all the clothes

4. The Sets: like the costumes, the set is by the magnificent Bunny Christie, and as a result an absolute visual feast. The number of sets changes itself is ridiculous and one of the reasons that I do enjoy a big budget musical. The centrepiece is a car seats conveyor belt and push out frames of giant model kits, but I also loved the intricacies of the O’Grady house, with its upright bed, the enormous Big Ben clock face that stands as background to all the Parliament scenes and the insanity of the American song set and the Ford Cortina advert, with all the cars, flags and glitz.

3. The Story: It’s a true story with a very engaging subject matter. Unlike the Pyjama Game, which I enjoyed but felt a bit safe and dated, this is a story about industrial action, about working class women working together to make change happen at great personal cost and sacrifice. It is feminist with a good portrayal of a range of different women, from the politician, to the wealthy highly educated (“I have a double first from Cambridge”) housewife that is looking for a purpose in life to the career unionist who refused to marry for convenience to the various factory workers, a couple of which get a fair bit of personality. Whilst the story is serious, the way it’s told is seriously funny (sorry, I can’t help myself) with so much warmth and love.

2. The Jokes + the politicians: Mark Hadfield plays a hilariously camp and clueless Harold Wilson, whose gags were my favourite and made me laugh out loud a number of times. An attempt at a dramatic exit using the wrong door is a classic for a reason and so well played here. Some jokes fall a bit flat, like the recurring one about Martin Luther King getting shot, but this is a witty show that packs a lot of laughs.

1. Jemma Arterton: I loved Jemma Arterton, as the heart of the story, her role is enormously important, and I think she pulls it off. She is very likeable, keeps the accent even in song and has a much better voice than I expected.

All in all, a fab night out. One thing I didn’t include in my top 5 is the songs itself, which are fun but are not particularly memorable or catchy. (With the exception of ‘Made in Dagenham, Laid in Dagenham’ which was in my head for the entire evening)

The Cherry Orchard Review

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 0

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was running late to the theatre and had to make my way around the front row and right by the terrifying black hole like curtain that fully separates the stage from the audience. Unlike my last visit to the Young Vic, for a Streetcar Named Desire, where the seating fully surrounded an open rotating stage giving the audience a view from every direction, here there was a firm divide. I felt something akin to fear as the curtain lifted with a loud industrial noise to reveal the stark set of the nursery past its prime and the wonderful cast of characters that make up Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard.

In an attempt to see all the classics, I was very excited for this production and as is my preferred choice I didn’t actually familiarise myself with the plot beforehand.

For those similarly uneducated, the Cherry Orchard is a Russian tragi-comedy set in the eve of the decline of the aristocracy 40 odd years after the abolition of serfdom. Wealthy landowners suddenly devout of free labour and used to lavish lifestyles struggled to adapt and naturally ended up with huge debts. In the case of our protagonists, this results in the inevitable auctioning of the family house and the destruction of the eponymous cherry orchard. It’s at its core tragic, as it deals with the overwhelming grief of losing a child, losing your home and your entire purpose of being, but with certain absurd comic moments (beware the unexpected nudity!) and an intriguing and distinct cast of characters. All of this makes for thoroughly entertaining two hours.

Katie Mitchell’s naturalist style means that various characters spend some time with their backs to the audience, in a way that I found a bit obstructing and distracting. It made me aware of it and consciously think, ohh this is meant to be natural, I see, which presumably isn’t the idea? It’s a new version written by Simon Stephens, which has altogether modern turns of phrase and language, which I am unable to compare to more classic translation, or indeed to the Russian text, so any purists might be disinclined to agree, but I liked it.

The characters and plot are compelling and it even made me laugh a few times and not in the ‘ha-ha this bit is intended to be funny, even though it is actually tragic so I am going to laugh obnoxiously to show that I am learned.’ but actually funny.

Overall, I loved the play itself, though I am not sure how much this particular production added to that. I might even try and read the original. My Russian is rusty at best, but I did manage to get through most Crime and Punishment a few years ago, so it might be worth a try.

Open Air Theatre: To Kill a Mockingbird

Monday, September 15, 2014 2

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was very lucky to nab a last minute ticket to see the most excellent production of To Kill a Mockingbird at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. A first, in a couple of ways, for me. While the existence of a theatre in the great outdoors of my second favourite park in London has always intrigued me, the reality of the great British weather and needing to book tickets well in advance had preventing me from actually seeing anything there. A friend had a spare ticket for last Wednesday’s performance and knowing my inability to say no (it’s a problem, I am working on it) she asked if I wanted it. After quickly checking the weather for rain, I agreed.

It didn’t rain, but I was woefully underdressed and absolutely froze as a result, though I was so fully absorbed n the performance, I hardly noticed any discomfort.

The Venue: The Open Air theatre is a lovely venue, there is covered dining, but all the seats and the stage itself lives up to the ‘open air’ name. The setting in the heart of Regent’s Park is wonderful and though there is a grassy area in the theatre ground for a picnic, if you are not early enough to get one of the park benches, the grass outside of the venue has probably seen better days.

There is quite a range of food available there, from a BBQ to healthy looking salads, though I cannot judge on the quality of it, a we’d armed ourselves with Waitrose’s finest. But judging by the many well dressed people drinking champagne from plastic flutes on the picnic benches, the food is probably not bad. There is also a full bar, from which I had a much needed hot chocolate.

The Play: This leads to the other first, which I am a little ashamed to admit, I have somehow not read to Kill a Mockingbird. We didn’t study it at school and I never got around to reading it later, which I regret as I wish I could have experienced it for the first time at a much younger age. As it stands, I cannot comment on the play’s strength as an adaptation, but judged on its own merits, it was fantastic.

It starts with the cast dispersed amongst the audience, standing up one by one and reading passages from the book. They all make their way to the stage, a very spare set consisting of a rather realistic looking tree with a tyre swing, and transform it into a chalk drawn map. Props and actors remain on the side until needed, with quick on stage costume changed effectively transforming narrators to various characters and back. The reading from the book continues throughout and it’s a method that really works to add depth to the performances we see on stage. The adult cast is all great, but the real stars are the kids, which are truly fantastic. The play is brought to life by the kids playing games and running around, on a few occasions, beyond the stage itself. The limited props mean that the storytelling relies heavily on the audience’s imagination to transform you to the little town in Alabama and it works. The first half is lighter than I was expecting, with a number of laugh out loud funny moments. The courtroom scenes are excellent and the attack on the children mostly shown via a passage from the book, nevertheless frightens. Really, Scout’s ham costume alone is worth seeing this for.

In a Sentence: Really fantastic play, definitely reading the book ASAP, wish I’d brought a blanket.

Can I see it? To Kill A Mockingbird has just finished its run at Regent’s Park, but it’s starting a National Tour and will be back in London next year, I couldn’t recommend it more.

My Top London Theatre Tips

Thursday, August 28, 2014 1

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am going to New York in September and I am very excited, because I am planning on seeing something on Broadway for the first time ever! I have been to New York before and I have even been to the theatre in New York before (I was very lucky to see Zachary Quinto in Angels in America a few years back) but never Broadway, so I am really looking forward to it.

The problem is that shows on Broadway seem prohibitively expensive in a way that theatre in London does not. Now, I know London theatre and where to get my tickets from that won’t charge me extortionate booking fees and what deals there are so I very rarely pay anything more than £30 and often closer to £10. Which is good, because the amount of theatre I see would soon bankrupt me if it was to move to NYC. Maybe it’s because I don’t know my way around it, but google is certainly falling to unveil anything like what we have here in London.

So in the spirit of helpfulness for anyone that feels similarly lost in the London Theatre scene, here are my:

Top Tips for Cheaper Theatre Tickets:

  • Avoid Ticketmaster. If you can book your tickets directly from the theatre box office or the theatre website, do it! They are less likely to add fees on and more likely to have a greater seat selection. If they don’t sell the tickets themselves the ticket provider to which the theatre links you to is normally (but not always) the best one. If in doubt, shop around, often the same tickets are priced slightly differently depending on where they are being sold, so it’s worth a little research to find the best deal.
  • Bookmark Theatremonkey.  Theatremonkey will be your friend and faithful companion and guide you through some very difficult decisions. It has a detailed guide for each West End theatre that includes seats opinions and highlight seats that are especially terrible or a great value for the price. It’s really invaluable for when you are trying to decide which nosebleed seat to go for and exactly what ‘restricted view’ means. I’ve got some great bargains such as heavily discounted rare stalls seats based on it’s recommendations and always check if when going to a new theatre. It’s opinions are constantly updated based on new productions.
  • Look into day seats. Many theatres have super cheap tickets available on the day. They are often limited, and especially for sold out shows there may be a queue from very early in the morning (in some cases people have been known to camp in front of the theatre, but I do not recommend that) but if the show is not sold out, picking up a day ticket can be a pain free experience, especially on a week day. This is a great resource (I told you theatremonkey is fantastic) My favourite day seats are those is the National Theatre, because there are lots available, especially if you are willing to stand, and I have very fond memories of seeing The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime for only £5.
  • Time Out Theatre Offers: the number of plays I’ve seen with a Time Out voucher is bordering on ridiculous, these are often for fringe shows or west end shows that are not selling particularly well. So if you are looking for Book of Mormon it’s unlikely to pop up on there, but there are consistently great offers and it’s always worth having a look if you fancy seeing something but are not too fussed on what. A couple of times recently I’ve booked tickets only for Time Out to do an offer the day after I’ve booked them, so sometimes it’s worth waiting it out.
  • Special Schemes: There are so many cheap schemes out there, especially for young people that they probably deserve their own post, but these are my favourite and are available to everyone (if you are quick enough with the refresh button and unlike day seats can be purchased from the comfort of your home)
    1. Donmar’s Barclay’s Front Row Scheme: I’ve already talked about this, because I love it. Every Monday front row tickets go on sale for £10. In the last couple of years I’ve seen almost everything staged at the Donmar because of this scheme. Now I admit it can be stressful when unsuccessful, until you try again the following week. And if it looks to be sold out in 10 seconds, don’t despair, but keep refreshing for up to 10 minutes, as often tickets become available later as people release them from their baskets.
    2. Royal Court’s £10 Mondays: I’ve only done this once, as discussed here, but looking forward to trying it again soon.
    3. The National Theatre’s Travelex partnership that means that half the tickets for selected shows are only £15. I managed to get a Travelex ticket for Medea, which I am looking forward to seeing next week.
  • Bonus Tip: I asked my friend (and theatre going companion) for a tip and she was wonderful and offered slightly more than one, so you get 3 for the price of 1.
    1. Worth checking if your local theatre has a scheme for residents and those who work nearby”
    2. For Opera and Ballet fans: “Royal Opera House has 67 day tickets for various prices”
    3. if you can afford it, Young Vic’s Season Saver” where you get three top price tickets for the price of two, the biggest problem is trying to pick only 3 shows per season..

That’s it for now, please let me know if I’ve missed your favourite tip and if you can help me with my Broadway dilemma!