Academy Award Winner F. Murray Abraham to appear in West End run of The Mentor

Academy Award Winner F. Murray Abraham to appear in West End run of The Mentor

Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Nica Burns are delighted to announce that Laurence Boswell’s critically acclaimed production of Daniel Kehlmann’s The Mentor will have a West End run at London’s Vaudeville Theatre from 24 June to 2 September with opening night for press on Tuesday 4 July.

The Mentor stars Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham as Benjamin Rubin, Daniel Weyman as Martin Wegner, Naomi Frederick as Gina Wegner and Jonathan Cullen as Erwin Rudicek.

The Mentor is directed by Olivier Award-winning Laurence Boswell who resides as Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio where the play celebrated a record-breaking run earlier this year, the most successful in the studio’s history. This production, translated by Academy Award-winning Christopher Hampton, marks the first time that bestselling author Daniel Kehlmann’s play has been performed outside of Germany.

F. Murray Abraham in The Mentor at the Vaudeville Theatre, 24 June to 2 September. CREDIT Simon Annand (5)

In a dilapidated art nouveau villa, somewhere in the German countryside, two massive egos are set on a collision course in this perceptive and compelling comedy about art and artists and the legacy of fame.

F. Murray Abraham won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Salieri in Miloš Forman’s masterpiece Amadeus. His numerous other screen credits include Homeland, Mighty Aphrodite, Scarface, Finding Forrester, Star Trek: Insurrection, The Name of the Rose, The Good Wife, Inside Llewyn Davis and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Theatre credits include It’s Only A Play, Othello, Richard III and Uncle Vanya, for which he was awarded an Obie Award for Best Actor.

Daniel Weyman’s previous credits for Theatre Royal Bath include Kafka’s Dick and King Lear. Additional theatre credits include Sideways (St James Theatre), 4000 Days (Park Theatre) and The Crucible(Bristol Old Vic). Television and film credits include Great Expectations, Foyle’s War and Silent Witness.

Naomi Frederick’s theatre credits include Hobson’s Choice (Theatre Royal Bath and West End), The Heresy of Love, Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It (Shakespeare’s Globe) and The Winslow Boy(Old Vic).

Jonathan Cullen starred in the Ustinov Studio’s production of Trouble in Mind. Additional theatre credits include Enemy of the People (Chichester Festival Theatre), Doctor Faustus (Shakespeare’s Globe) and Love the Sinner (National Theatre).

Daniel Kehlmann is a German-language author whose novel Measuring the World, sold three million copies in Germany alone and has been translated into more than 40 languages.

Christopher Hampton previously translated Florian Zeller’s play The Father for the Ustinov Studio, launching its international success. He won an Academy Award for the adaptation of his own play,Dangerous Liaisons.

Laurence Boswell is an Olivier Award-winner, Artistic Director of the Ustinov Studio and an Associate Artist of the RSC. His recent productions include A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Theatre Royal’s Main House, and Trouble in the Mind, The Mother, Intimate Apparel and The Spanish Golden Age Season in the Ustinov Studio.

Living a Little, King’s Head Theatre

Living a Little, King’s Head Theatre

As a long time enjoyer of the horror and comedy horror genres, I was disappointed by the thinness of Living a Little. Ironically for a play about Zombie flesh eaters, there just wasn’t enough meat. I kind of knew where it was going to go, and the route it took was a little too obvious. Even the surprises weren’t all that surprising.

Equally some of the plot devices simply didn’t work as they were supposed to. If a play is asking me to suspend belief enough to believe that the main characters are living through a zombie apocalypse, they need to do more work to not challenge that sense of disbelief elsewhere. Making the main characters and plumber and an electrician may have felt like a great wheeze and an easy way to explain their creature comforts, but it did nothing to stop me questioning the incongruity of the way they lived. Why were these two among all others able to forage so successfully in a way the band of survivors Penelope (Pearl Appleby) has previously been travelling with?

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Equally, why make a semi-significant plot point of the female character’s hairy legs only for the actress to appear completely shaven. Yes, I hate myself for looking, but the dialogue directed me there more than once and once again it took me out of the drama of the play.

I liked the characters on the level they were presented to me on and I understood their motivations perhaps more than their circumstances. The temptation to party blindly in the face of disaster is one we can all relate to.  The cast did a good job with the material they had, and I could feel the audience willing the actors on.  Playwright Finlay Bain who played central character Rob is currently a more sophisticated actor than he is a writer and there were some really interesting nuances that came through. For me, his performance stood out above the others.

The themes in Living a Little deserve a hearing. How do we cope with the end of the world? What does really matter when nothing is left? There’s something in there that deserves to be explored. But for me, this play doesn’t quite get there.

 

This is Not Culturally Significant, The Bunker

This is Not Culturally Significant, The Bunker

Ed Whitfield’s review of The Vaults run is here

Following Ed’s and others reviews of how great this show was during its run at The Vaults Festival, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to see its transfer to The Bunker. DO believe the hype, Adam Scott-Rowley’s performance is incredible; moving, funny and skilled all in the space of 50 minutes.

The audience can’t ignore the fact this show is performed naked but the nudity becomes a blank canvass as Scott-Rowley can move between characters without props or other limitations. This is a high paced show and putting on a wig or hat would only slow Rowley down.

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What is about it? I am still not entirely sure. Scott-Rowley plays so many characters; porn star, her father, the man watching her on a webcam, his wife, a man in a gay club above them and so on with most only having limited connections. What struck me was that as a nude man there was something rather androgynous about him; I was convinced by the female characters simply by his mannerisms and voice as well as his shapely figure. Adam Scott-Rowley’s confidence, not only in his performance but in his refusal to cover up is refreshing. I could relate far too much to his university lecturer character (so many boring talks) and I found his older lesbian, coping with the loss of her wife through song, oddly moving. The horrible relationship of the Doncaster couple felt very Philip Ridley.

It is also aided by Graeme Pugh’s sound and Will Scarnell’s and Matt Cater’s stunning lighting, making a simple show look and sound more extravagant.

Adam Scott-Rowley has done something that many shows fail to do; make nudity seem natural and integral to this performance. Could he do it clothed? Absolutely, it would be just as good but maybe not as fun.

This is Not Culturally Significant is on until 3 June. Tickets from £15

https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/this-is-not-culturally-significant/about

Ballroom, Waterloo East

Ballroom, Waterloo East

When a musical makes its European debut nearly 40 years after its American debut you question the quality but in Ballroom, this tale of love after love, audiences are treated to a fun show with questionable morals and but ultimately lacking in musical or dramatic substance.

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Our protagonist is Bea (Jessica Martin), a widow living a mundane existence running a junkyard shop with her sister-in-law. When friend Angie (Natalie Moore-Williams) suggests she goes to Stardust Ballroom to get back out there after her bereavement Bea is understandably reluctant but ultimately charmed by the idea and leads Bea into a journey of living a life she never thought she could find again; finding love and judgement from her loved ones in the process.

As a musical it is quite bland in places, despite its large cast there are only 4 characters that sing; Bea, her lover Al Rossi (Cory Peterson-who despite his advanced years had my companion and I swooning) and the two club singers Marlene and Nathan (Danielle Morris and Adam Anderson). Most of the numbers are songs that Bea and her friends dance to in the ballroom. Most of the songs are forgettable and the only number that stands out in these scenes is the disco ‘More of the Same’. Jessica Martin has a cracking Judy Garland-like voice but it is a real shame that characters like Angie and Al weren’t given more songs to explain their back stories or widowhood and marriage.

The lack of drama is also a problem; it is a nice story but the lack of conflict is an issue. Bea’s nosey family and the fact that her lover is married are brushed aside, Bea even sings Fifty Percent a song about how she gets to bang this gorgeous man without having to do all the boring wife stuff like ironing. As a feminist and person who dislikes ironing, I was conflicted by her laissez-faire attitude to his unseen wife.

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Ultimately it is a fun show, Bea’s development feels fresh and relatable and her friends (all actors in their 50s/60s) provide some great laughs and some great dancing, even as a relatively young person it is time to grey-pound were acknowledged with a show they can relate to.

It is very frothy but the message is clear; it is never too late and you are never too old to have a bit of fun.

Ballroom is on until 4 June. Tickets from £20 http://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/ballroom.html

 

Disconnect, The Loft (Ugly Duck)

Disconnect, The Loft (Ugly Duck)

KT Jemment and Michelle Shortland, writer and director of Disconnect, must have been the few people delighted when yet another election was announced. When I interviewed the two of them the focus was very much on the concept of democracy and audiences’ beliefs. Upon seeing this brief run even the most liberal audience will be swayed to make a difficult decision if they aren’t swayed by a character.

It is an unknown year, country etc. but the audience, as citizens of ProxC, is in a dystopia which deems you a criminal for murder, corruption, hacking, gambling and getting pregnant. The ship destined to jettison 10 criminals has stalled and as citizens, we get to vote on their fate. So far, so Big Brother but what makes Disconnect interesting is not so much the interactive element but the stories that unfold.

It is hard to make large casts work in fringe theatre as space is usually too cramped but in The Loft on Tanner Street, this pop theatre feels spacious and pleasant with some lovely lighting from William Adams. Ironically too spacious and too pleasant for a production set on a cramped spaceship, which means there are few sound issues for very crucial announcements.

We first meet Max (Nansi Nsue), an exotic accented woman who goes straight for the ship’s insides. She is behind the stalling along with Hacker-Kid (Samuel Topper) and other characters follow; Imogen (Sofia Greenacre) who is a gambling sex worker with connections, Peter (Sam Elwin), a cult member, Piers (Ben Koalack) a drug dealer who wants to stay because of his young daughter, Jacob (Joey Akubere), a man reluctant to tell us his crime, Rachel (Samantha Earle) a woman who has got pregnant despite a program to keep women infertile until they have permission, Darren (Joel Smith) a law enforcer gone rogue, Daisy (Jessica Kathryn) a manic thief and Agnes (Rosie Rigby) a believer in religion.

KT Jemmett strongly characterises well but the issue is the performances. Joey Akubere is stunning as Jacob and was unrecognisable from his recent role in Hope Theatre’s Wild Party as is Sofia Greenacre, a medical professional who oozes charm and intelligence and Nansi Nsue as Max, who is tough and determined in her efforts to stall the ship with the occasional glimpses of warmth and kindness. Sadly there are too many forgettable and undeveloped performances particularly Koalack’s Piers a one note look at drug withdrawal and wanting his daughter. It is no wonder the audience voted against his character’s wishes on the night because we were given nothing to warm to. I felt for Sam Elwin, who once again is lost in a big ensemble following his performance in One Last Thing (For Now) and Joel Smith’s whose characters weren’t really given much to and had the most uninteresting backstories.

The issue is that so much isn’t explained; why are these ten people on the ship when there hasn’t been a jettison for 28 years? Why in this quite harsh dystopian country are we made to compulsory vote when the point of the production (clumsily explained in an unscripted conclusion after the vote) is that a lot of people don’t’ bother? Why is the conclusion unscripted? We go from confident performances to terrified mutterings and giggles from actors, who clearly struggle with improvisation.

It has a lot of potential as a script and as an idea, I would love to see individual plays about some characters’ back stories and more immersive work with the vote, but it needs a stronger cast with improvisation skills or to be a fully scripted/devised piece that allows tighter performances, script and conclusion.

Home – Frozen Lights Oval House Theatre

Home – Frozen Lights Oval House Theatre

I went into Frozen Light’s immersive show for people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD), ‘Home’, determined to do two things: not use the word “inspiring”, and assess the production as a piece of theatre in its own right.

The hour-long interactive show follows two women stranded in a city-destroying dust storm after missing an emergency evacuation. Together, Scarlet and Olive must survive until rescue comes, finally deciding to rebuild their city with other survivors.

Performed in an intimate and well-utilised space, Home is a multi-sensory adventure. The vaguely dystopian staging and design are pleasingly Mad Maxian – but with a disco ball and a bubble machine – complete with layers of beige rags and copious amounts of sand (and gold glitter). The leads act (in spoken English and BSL), sing, dance, play instruments and engage with each audience member in a way that is warm and personal.

I’ve been to a lot of immersive/interactive non-disabled theatre and found myself being called upon to do some weird stuff (shoutout to Arturo Ui) but nothing feels so intimate as someone spraying sweet mist into your mouth or gently adorning you with bubbles. If it felt like that for me, how must it have felt for the PMLD audience members? Well, included, probably. For once. Visible.

I am not going to use the word inspiring. But I realised while watching that treating it as just another piece of theatre is facile and reductive. It works fine as a piece of theatre. It’s deceptively sophisticated. It has a strong narrative, great music, and talented performers with buckets of stage presence. But I am not who this piece was made for. I recently watched something I wrote performed in BSL and it was a light bulb moment regarding how disabled audiences are othered in a traditional mainstream theatre.

Disabled audiences are still too often marginalised in theatre, and none more so than audience members with PMLD. Rather than making theatre inherently for able-bodied audiences and shoehorning in access accommodation (a single performance in a run that has captions, placed at a neck-breaking angle so the “normals” aren’t discombobulated), why not change the paradigm and make work that has accessibility built into its DNA?

This is what Frozen Lights does, and in doing so it creates a powerful and inclusive experience. Home very simply, in a short and straightforward way, explores all manner of complex issues: isolation, connection, separation, compromise, community, survival, and the need for home and what home represents. These are issues that everyone can identify with, regardless of their ability status.

Home ran at the Oval House Theatre 5- 6th May, and will tour nationally until 24th May. http://frozenlighttheatre.com/current-production/home-tour-dates/

Paper Hearts, Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Billed as the new British musical, Paper Hearts is on tour after rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016. The show is now at Upstairs At The Gatehouse, a quaint theatre unsurprisingly above a pub called the Gatehouse in Highgate village, until 20th May 2017. Set almost entirely in a book store, this musical flits between writer Atticus’ real life and the lives of the Russian characters in the novel he is writing.

There were a lot of things to enjoy about this new musical. The use of a small cast- most of which were also very talented band members- was impressive, with seamless role changes and transitions from real world to book world. The choreography is clever, and the way in which the instruments and music dovetailed into the play highlighted they were just as integral to the piece as the script. The set is sparse, as expected in such a space, but the simple props which were chosen were used to good effect. The music was strong from the very beginning and there were a few songs which really demonstrated the cast’s vocal skills perfectly. If you are a bit of a book worm, you will enjoy the many literary references and the ‘book-off.’ There really were lots of very good constituent parts.

It feels a little mean, therefore, to say that where Paper Hearts unfortunately comes up short are the characters themselves. They feel a little two dimensional. Everyone is either good or bad, and where they have done questionable things there is a very good reason for it. Their relationships feel too simple and quite frankly a little cliché.  I just about buy the ‘nerdy writer living life through his characters’ vibe, but cannot empathise with his pathos.  He feels like a bit of a man child. The tension with Lily felt forced and the ending all too easy. I didn’t believe the relationships in the real world. Interestingly, however, the book world appeared much more nuanced and all the characters a bit more flawed and, thus, human. They have agency and motivation, not all of which are good, which drive their actions. They have purpose.

Paper hearts is carried by the music, with a few clear stand outs (It’s You, Not Me, and That Makes A Good Marriage Last! spring immediately to mind). It is at its heart a feel good play, with soaring numbers and a beautiful message; it is greater than the sum of its parts and a good way to spend an evening. It is a little clichéd in places, but then name me a musical that isn’t.

Review by @loxsmith and @amychristel1 Photography by Tim Hall Photography