Flops

Hello again! Sorry there has been a little break on my blog page for the past couple of weeks – but I’m back now and ready to get blogging again!

I read with interest a review of Gigi on Broadway starring High School Musical actress Vanessa Hudgens. Gigi is a musical that has always sat a bit uncomfortably for a modern audience – the story of a fifteen year old girl being groomed to be a rich man’s mistress, only for the rich man to fall in love with her and they live happily ever after! Not sure it would pass muster in a literary department today but then again, neither would Romeo & Juliet I imagine!

Key to the article is that the show had been ‘watered down’ so exclude the not so pleasant undertones of prostitution and by doing so the play was left as a bit of a shell of it’s former self and a bit, well, boring. It will be interesting to see how the run pans out and whether the relative star casting of Hudgens manages to keep it going in a notoriously difficult market.

It got me thinking about some of the bad shows I’ve seen. One of the most disappointing was Viva Forever. I remember being really excited when it was announced there was going to be a Spice Girls musical a la Mamma Mia and was even more excited when my equally ‘girl power’ obsessed friend wanted to go with me to see it. We got tickets for the front of the Royal Circle and counted down the days until it was time to party Spice Girls style. The day arrived and the theatre was packed to the rafters with fans – including a row of girls beside us who were completely drunk before the first song!

The show began and….erm…what? It was just…terrible. And not in a so bad it’s good way, just truly terrible. First and foremost the story just made no sense whatsoever. There was no beginning, middle and end, just a lazy compilation of scenes that were unfunny, tired and quite frankly boring. By the end of the first act I just knew this was a stinker, no matter how much goodwill (or booze) the audience had.

It ended up closing 8 weeks after its first performance, which is always sad – especially for the performers and creative’s involved who suddenly found themselves out a job. But fundamentally, this was a show that rested on it’s laurels and ,in my opinion, the producers were very cocky about the kind of show an audience would accept so long as it had a few well known songs in it.

I think it’s a very important point that producers and directors should never underestimate their audience, no matter what ‘kind’ of audience you think your show will attract it is your responsibility to push the whole production team to create the best show possible….even if in the case of Viva Forever it means asking Jennifer Saunders to take out some of her god awful jokes from the script.

What was the production you’ve even seen and why? Answer on a postcard (or a comment!)

 

 

Without fail….

OneDoesNot

The end of IdeasTap. The start of something better?

I’m going to say something controversial. I am not totally cut up about IdeasTap closing. There, I said it.

To break it down a little…the website was notoriously difficult to navigate, and despite persistent changes of format it was never user friendly. As a result of this there were a myriad of half finished profiles, and documents/pictures were difficult to upload (particularly in an attractive way that showed them off to their best potential) Also whilst the site was meant to be partly used as a way of networking with other theatre-makers I personally never knew anyone who had done any networking whatsoever via IdeasTap that they couldn’t have done in person, on Facebook, on CCP, stalking (ok maybe not stalking but…you know). The networking element consisted of ‘friending’ someone much like you do on Facebook, with the idea that you could follow their work through their profile. Except no one ever updated their profile. So…it didn’t really work.

I’m not dissing IdeasTap for the sake of it, rather I am of the opinion that it wasn’t the pinnacle of resources for young theatre makers that everyone seems to be making it out to be. I absolutely think there should be more resources for theatre makers to network, have access to opportunities and generally have a bit of a community going but I don’t think that IdeasTap ever achieved this. Surely there is a better way of doing it? Does it even have to be a website?

Funding naturally plays a big part and it’s always sad to see the arts lose financial support. I think this is perhaps why a lot of people are upset about this because it seems to signal even more cut backs on artistic resources with no happy end in sight. However, support for the arts has been dwindling for a long time now with lots of casualties so really we should have got to a point where this isn’t a massive surprise. If you work in the arts you know there is little money in it and whilst there is nothing wrong with lamenting this it’s what you do about it that makes the difference.

The website will cease being online from June and I think instead of complaining or setting up campaigns to keep it going we should look to making something bigger and better, and perhaps something that doesn’t require such a huge injection of funding to keep it going. All young theatre makers want to do is have the chance to network with people because when it comes down to it, that’s what will get you a job at the National Theatre or the RSC, not a profile on a website.

So how about a networking event. A cheap one. In a space in London. With cheap booze (obvi) Invite the big theatre’s, invite the little theatres, invite the young theatre makers AND the old ones. Maybe only a few will turn up but it only takes one connection to get the ball rolling. Instead of an online profile have a REAL profile in the form of yourself…in person…talking to people. What does everyone think?? Whose with me????? (I’m deadly serious about this!)

Happy Days

Last week I went to see Happy Days by Samuel Beckett at the Young Vic. It starred Juliet Stevenson and was directed by Natalie Abrahami.

I have to admit this wasn’t really my kind of play. I can absolutely see why others enjoy it, not least because the role is an absolute feat for any actress – I was exhausted just watching and couldn’t believe Stevenson could do this for 7 shows per week! Also the language itself follows an unusual rhythm, not unlike Molly Blooms soliloquy in Ulysees, and it’s always interesting to see how a director/actress tackles such dense monologue whilst also exploring how to interpret the physically demanding stage directions.

I went into the play having never studied it. All I knew was that the lead character is buried up to the waist (and later) neck and that there was a (often silent) off stage male character. I did know this was predominantly a monologue so I wasn’t expecting too much action on stage, in fact I was probably most excited to see how they were going to realistically bury someone up to the neck in a pile of rubble!

Watching it I understood how when this play was first performed (1963) it must have felt quit revolutionary in the way it explored relationships between women and men, how marriage can gradually suffocate us, and the affect that ageing has on a woman amongst other things. I do believe these themes are still very important and relevant, however the way in which they are presented in this play feels very dated. That is not to say if something that is ‘dated’ it cannot not still be enjoyable and inform us about a time that is different to ours, but for me, in this particular case I was wishing for something to happen that would ‘surprise’ me, or that would at least make make me feel anything but slight boredom. I’m aware that many won’t feel the same but this is just personal opinion! I came out of it feeling quite drained, and not in an good way – rather after the first fifteen minutes I realised this wasn’t for me but felt obliged to see it through to the end before passing proper judgement.

I wondered if there would be any way one could stage this play in order to make it more relevant? I don’t mean adding in a gimmick or changing the language, but is there a way that a play about a woman’s struggle within her marriage and her struggle to find a sense of self in a world where she seemingly doesn’t matter could be transferred to a modern day setting? A setting that might offer the audience a few more surprises perhaps? It’s something to think about…!

Happy Days

The Warp

What can we learn from the past? Based on the video below I’d like to think we can learn how to put on a pretty darn epic site specific 24 hour play that hasn’t even been rehearsed! For all the techies out there, please try and see past the somewhat grainy footage and feast your eyes on the absolutely fantastic “The Warp”, a 24 hour production staged by director Ken Campbell in 1979.

It’s true that 24 hour plays are not unheard of  these days, with the Old Vic staging possibly the most well known one where a collection of writers, directors and actors come together to write, direct and stage a series of short plays over 24 hours. But what is different about The Warp is that it is actually ONE play, not a collection of them. It is the story of one man and his journey into the past, future and quite frankly other worldly spheres of the universe, meeting a whole host of characters along the way (eagle eyed viewers may spot a young Jim Broadbent in the mix!)

I wondered whether anything like that could be put on today? Sadly my guess was no. My opinion (and it is only my opinion!) is that the larger, public funded theatre’s would keep a distance from something like that, it’s far too unpredictable, and dare I say it, amateurish – which is a great shame as it is that very ‘amateur’ energy and enthusiasm that makes it so special. However, I also feel that fringe companies would also be wary of attempting something on this scale for the simple fact of lack of funding and also concern for lack of audience. Ken Campbell even confirms in the video that everyone is working for free!

In the video the BBC reporter talks to Ken Campbell about the production and also his method of directing, Campbell comments that he always tries to put something funny into a scene, or at least something that at least one audience member will find amusing. He also remarks that he finds drama, or more specifically theatrical drama’s, to be a “dangerous” thing. It’s an interesting perspective from an interesting man and I can’t think of many well-known directors these days who seem to share his ‘get up and go’ and joy for making theatre. Of course, that isn’t to generalise a whole profession (including my own!!) but theatre certainly seems to be a more serious business than it did in 1979, and I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing.

Swagspeare

Enron (and offending Americans)

A play I really wish I’d got the chance to see when it was on a few years ago was Lucy Prebble’s Enron. It was play which explored the infamous financial scandal through the use of physical theatre, fantastical elements (men with velociraptor heads spring to mind) and also musical numbers. Not the obvious way one might stage a production on something of this topic! I read the play whilst studying creative writing and it was fascinating just how specific the writer had been with her stage directions, from reading it you had an incredibly clear picture of how it should be staged and what the ‘feel’ of the show should be. Here is a clip from the original West End production.

Interestingly, whilst is was a massive hit in the West End it closed after only 15 shows on Broadway! This video goes some way in explaining why – interestingly in the video, a critic who reviewed the show put the early closing down to the topic being ‘too close to home’. He also suggests that a British show satirising one of America’s biggest banking scandals could be seen as a form of ‘mocking’ the American culture. Both are interesting points yet I wonder if there are any American stage shows mocking British events? And if so, would they get the same reaction from the native audience? As always, answers on a postcard (or a comment)!

Maxine Peake as Hamlet

I just read a great interview with Maxine Peake about playing Hamlet – click here for link to The Guardian article. The interview offers an interesting perspective on what it is like to perform one of Shakespeare’s most famous male roles and how she approached this part from the perspective of a female performer.

She also rightly points out that there seems to have been a significant increase in female actors getting the chance to play some of Shakespeares more iconic male roles –

“It feels like there’s going to be a real sea change in theatre… I never thought I was going to be a fantastic Hamlet, I just thought, “What an opportunity!” … There aren’t that many great female roles in Shakespeare – none that I’d be desperate to play.” – Maxine Peake

This is an exciting time for female performers and I really hope productions like Peake’s Hamlet continue to pave the way for other female actors to experience performing not only some of Shakespeare’s famous male roles, but other classic parts that have been set aside exclusively for men.

Peake’s version of Hamlet, directed by Sarah Frankom, is going to be shown in cinemas from the 23rd March, I’m definitely going to check it out and would be really interested to know if anyone else is planning on doing the same :)  Perhaps an excursion could be organised??

Hakuna Meowtata

off-off-off-broadway