One year later…

Well, it’s been a while. Last time I wrote here it was not long after Les Miserables had celebrated 25 years in the West End, and last night was the 25th anniversary celebration for The Phantom of the Opera. 2 shows that are nearly as old as me. If only we could all accomplish so much in 25 years…

I haven’t just been seeing old favourites though. The Wizard of Oz was fun, Million Dollar Quartet was pure escapism, Ghost was lovely, Betty Blue Eyes was sweet and sadly had too short a run, and Shrek had the best and most entertaining Ensemble I’ve seen in a long time. On the straight play side, I loved Anne Boleyn at The Globe and, having recently seen The Tempest with Ralph Fiennes and booked to see the Young Vic’s Hamlet, I think I’ve just about covered off my Shakespeare quota for the year.

But the one I’m really looking forward to is Matilda. Opening at The Cambridge next month, I missed it in Stratford earlier this year but have heard only rave reviews and really can’t wait to see it. The buzz around the production is immense, even if they have apparently had to cancel the first few previews for extended technical rehearsals. In the meantime, I’m keeping my eyes peeled around the West End for any Tim Minchin sightings.

An overdue update for no-one

I haven’t written here in about a year. Though I doubt anyone has missed me. Still, the purpose of it was to keep me writing, so that is a bit lame. In fact, writing – aside from in my day job, where blogging and interviewing and writing social media updates fill my days – is something I am not doing enough of at all, recently. I have seen several great productions lately – from Legally Blonde to an all-male version of Pirates of Penzance; the London revival of Hair (now approaching early retirement) to a wonderfully provincial touring play called The Knicker Lady; Love Never Dies, of course, and Priscilla, once again – and yet have not written anything on any of these, despite this being the whole point.

And MORE to the point, I haven’t done any creative writing – well, not enough anyway – for several months. I have ideas, I have some brief drafts of plans, I have character sketches, but I have nothing solid.

This seems to be my main problem: the motivation to start. Anything. I think about it all an awful lot, but when I get a lovely bare Sunday stretching out in front of me, I sleep, eat, and generally procrastinate until the whole day is gone and I’ve barely thought about opening the laptop.

Have been thinking of doing a creative writing course to try and stop this curse of inactivity – bully myself into doing something. But being unsually broke this year it is looking unlikely (incidentally, have 6 weddings and 4 hen do’s to go to this year. I love my friends, but this is bordering on mentalism. Also it is bankrupting me.) Anyway, have this stupid block in my head telling me that truly creative people don’t need courses to show them the way.

But then perhaps I am not truly creative.

I’m definitely not truly dedicated.

Gah.

Helen @ The Globe

It has been about three weeks since I saw the new Frank McGuinness translation of Helen at Shakespeare’s Globe and because of my laziness I think I am actually writing this on the final day of the show’s run. This is why I am not a professional theatre critic. Well, actually, there are no doubt numerous reasons why I am not a professional theatre critic, but there’s one.

Anyway it’s too late to urge anyone to see it but I still feel the need to bore you with my thoughts. I had no idea what to expect from this – never been much of a Greek tragedy fan and in fact I am so pig-ignorant about it I didn’t know that this play was about as far from a Greek tragedy as it’s far to be (how far is Egypt frm Greece? My geography’s not that great either.)

So Frank McGuinness’s translation of the Euripides classic is more comic than tragic and transposes Helen of the face that launched a thousand ships to Egypt, where she’s been imprisoned whilst her husband fights the Trojan War in the mistaken belief that she’s been kidnapped by Paris and taken to Troy. I vaguely remember this from that Brad Pitt film where Orlando Bloom was a wussy Paris and they had the big wooden horse.

Not so, of course, in this version. Despite a slightly strange set – big rocks and sliver disco-y light things – Frank McGuinness’ translation is so fresh this centuries-old story feels modern as modern can be (I particularly remember a screeching servant of the Egyptian king keeping Helen prisoner, shrieking “foreign bastards” at the husband who has unwittingly arrived, by shipwreck, at his wife’s prison – surely the old Greeks had more lofty insults up their togas.)

I am also so pig-ignorant that I didn’t know Paul McGann he was going to pop up, as Helen’s hubby Menelaus, but he was perfect as the weary soldier and incredulous lover. But, as befits a face that launched a thousand ships, Penny Downie as Helen was the star of the show. Despite having been kidnapped by her husband’s rival purely to piss him off, her Helen was in no way a passive woman whose fate was to be decided by the men around her. From her first appearance onstage, she was all spark and wit and flashing eyes. Snapping at the Greek chorus that hummed and moaned about her, she seemed a woman who’d do more than just start a war – and it was she who finished it, by plotting her escape with Menelaus.

If it was still on I’d say that for anyone like me, who knows nothing about Greek tragedy but fancies a different Globe experience, Helen is an unexpectedly joyous comic experience. But then, I’m lazy, and it’s too late now… so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Sorry.

The Miniaturists in Edinburgh

I’ve just finished writing up a feature for Who’s Jack magazine about a theatre company called The Miniaturists. The Minis – as I like to call them, being as we’re such great mates and all – specialise in the short play; that is, they stage up to five plays during one show, but each play is no more than twenty minutes long.

They usually perform at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston but they’re heading up to Edinburgh in August to perform at the Forest Fringe (wish I was going to Edinburgh but as I am now on holiday for ten days in August AND heading to Cardiff to see The Sound of Music UK tour it looks like I won’t be able to go, boo and several hisses.)

Anyway enough of me and my robust ungratefulness, basically if you ARE going to Edinburgh and don’t know The Miniaturists, I strongly recommend you try ’em out. Go see go see.

RSC, I like your Latitude.

Last weekend I found myself at the most middle-class of festivals, Latitude (or Lahtitude, as it was referred to by more than one chipper left-wing comedian.) I say ‘found myself’ – obviously I paid for a ticket and went, so it’s not like it was an accident. But anyway.

For those of you not familiar with this icon of polite festival-going, it is a bit like the older, slightly-past-it-but-still-quite-cool sister (definitely a sister) of Glastonbury. Families go there with young children. Lots of young children; there’s a family camping area and a kids festival bit, for God’s sake. Teenagers go there too, but they seem to be the probably-usually-very-well-behaved public school-educated but left-leaning offspring of bankers you may also find in Rock (the King’s Road of Cornwall), given special permission to go by their parents because, well, it’s not Glastonbury.

Anyway, I liked Latitude a lot because as well as having bands (like Passion Pit, who my sister told me to go and see because she is a lot cooler than me, and Grace Jones, Thom Yorke, The Doves and The Editors, all of whom I found all by myself), it also had a comedy tent, a literary tent, and a theatre tent. These things please me, because this is all the kind of stuff I usually miss seeing enough of in London because I am poor/disorganised/drinking/all of the above.

A highlight for me was the RSC’s exclusive Latitude event – a project they supposedly collaborated on with the Sussex Witch Hunting Society, or something. I say supposedly because I couldn’t work out whether it was complete fiction or a bit truthful. Basically, for half an hour at midnight in the theatre tent (which was massive, actually, with people crammed in all over the shop, sitting on the floor, standing at the back…) turned into this dark and creepy little world where someone playing a lady from the Sussex Witch Society thing told us all about the 12 witches found buried on the Latitude camping site. Interspersed were snippets of stories from the lives of three witches put to trial in Sussex; three of the 12 bodies found by the Sussex Society of Witches lady.

I’m being flippant, but it was a brilliant bit of theatre. Chilling. Beautifully acted. And quite an amazing experience, to be sat there in your smelly festival clothes while the RSC’s finest explored one of the several darker periods of British history.

My only criticism is that the piece didn’t make it clear whether the research referred to in the play was real or created completely for the purposes of the play. I would imagine it’s real research, but a bit more attention paid to the character of the archeologist working on the dig would have added even more atmosphere to a dark and spooky tale…