As You Like It (Theatre Royal Newcastle, 24th October 2009)

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Fans queue to see Katie Price at Newcastle book signing

Outside Waterstone’s in Newcastle, young women wearing clothes with flashes of pink, are queuing to see Katie Price signing copies of her new novel.   The former glamour model, who is also known as Jordan, experiments with different identities, and  she could be described as an independent woman making it on her own in the savage and brutal world of a celebrity-focused culture.  About 100 yards away from where Katie Price is about to undertake her book signing for her fans, another Katie prepares to take the stage as another independent woman who also experiments and explores different identities.  As the fans queue to meet Jordan, Kay Stephens is about to play Rosalind in the RSC’s inventive and interesting interpretation of As You Like It.

I have written about the RSC’s As You Like It before and the other two productions I saw at The Globe and The Curve, Leicester earlier this year, and it felt that seeing the RSC again in Newcastle is like visiting an old friend.   One of the exciting things about seeing an RSC production in Newcastle, is to see a production in a different space from The Courtyard Theatre.  I felt that Michael Boyd’s As You Like It has transferred beautifully to the Newcastle Theatre Royal’s  proscenium arch space.  Some of the key ideas behind the Courtyard space are retained such as keeping the house lights on through most of the production.  As Newcastle’s Theatre Royal  isn’t a very large theatre, seats aren’t too far from the stage even at the back of the stalls which is in keeping with having the audience close to the performance.   The overall vision and aesthetic of the production is retained in the new space.  It’s still a bleak winter world in the Forest of Arden.  In being able to move a production out of the Courtyard does make me think a little of the Courtyard experiment and how experimental it is if the productions transfer so well.

There are some problems to be overcome in the new space.  How do you get Audrey and Touchstone on stage for the wedding, especially in that skirt for example?   In Newcastle, the couple had  to make their entrance for their wedding by squeezing by people very close to the stage on Row B and Audrey has to find a free seat arm to stand on.  There are other entrances and exits that have to be changed and characters now enter from the aisles in the auditorium instead of the vomitoria.

The formal court scene early in the play worked really well on this stage  as  proscenium space promotes the sense of order and formality in the scene.   Nevertheless that formality didn’t undermine other less formal moments.  The surprises in this production continue to work well in Newcastle.  Forbes Masson’s wonderful cynical Jaques enters centre stage as he does in Stratford paying his guitar.  I’m sure that he managed to prolong the ‘more’ with the Newcastle audience much longer than I saw him do in Stratford.  His seven ages of man speech is delivered in a very original way.  Corin’s skinning of the rabbit after the interval has to be carried out with the audience all in front of him.  An addition in Newcastle is that Touchstone adds his ‘Meat is Murder’ sign alongside Orlando’s love poetry.

Some members of the audience  gasped when they saw the dress that Rosalind wears for her wedding.  It didn’t look like anything Katie Price would wear, but it was elegant and at the same time simple.  The embroidered  flowers picked up the designs in the other character’s clothes.   The dress signified Rosalind’s transformation, and  she does not return to the formal clothes she wore at the start of the play.   Nevertheless, Rosalind has made her mark and got her way and she speaks the epilogue as well.  In many ways both Katie Price and Katy Stephens’ Rosalind are role models for young women, but they are women who also play a part so that they can succeed.

The Black Album (West Yorkshire Playhouse, 21st October 2009)

I wouldn’t say that this was gripping theatre and some of the effects were just a little bit cliched.  All those flashing lights on the white set with phrases about life in the 1980s such as ‘Greed is Good’ and ‘Material Girl’  and all that music from the 80s that was about power and material items, just became a little cloying.  I felt that the pre show didn’t really add much more to the narrative other than to say this was the eighties, because I wasn’t sure that the play was a tale of morals against the coverting of material wealth.   I suppose the play’s title, in its reference to the pop sar Prince’s album, the Black Album, was supposed to have some significance to the narrative.   Apart from the fact that the central character, Shahid Hasan, liked Prince, I struggled to see the point unless the title related to Salman Rushdie’s book and if it the association did not work for me.  However,  I did learn something from watching the play and I did get caught up with the story, so I don’t want to be negative about my experience.  The problem was the story was so predictable and I did feel that all the way through I wasn’t surprised or challenged.  I felt that everything was laid out for the audience in such a way that at each moment I just knew what was going to happen in the next moment.  Characters had long speeches about what they stood for, so it just didn’t feel like they were engaged in dialogue with each other.  I became annoyed about the characters doing the scene changes in character and as they were only moving a desk and sofa from one place to another, it didn’t feel like it served a purpose.  I got so fed up with the clothes and the main character taking is trousers on and off, because yes I know clothes are about identity, the play didn’t need to lay it on with a trowel.

Yes the issues were complex and we were being asked to explore different points of view.  However, the play presented it all in a too simplistic way and the characters were often one-dimensional and feeling clearly that they were intended to represent types, rather than be rounded interesting complex characters.

Reviews and Previews (National Theatre)

Official London Theatre review of Black Album
Black Album reviewed in The Telegraph
Black Album Reviewed in The Stage
The Black Album what Michael Billington the Guardian…
Black Album in the Independent (National Production)
WOS Review of the Black Album
The Guardian roundup of the reviews of Black Album
The Black Album in the Financial Times
Independent review of Black Album
Evening Standard on Black Album
Independent on Sunday on Troilus and Cressida and Black Album

Illuminating York (York City Centre, 23rd October)

There are the groups of young women trying to recreate their summer holidays in Ibiza dressed in their short dresses without a jacket or coat, alongside other revellers out to have fun after working hard all week.  This is the familiar Friday night in York, but they are joined by the families wrapped up well against the creeping autumnal chill.   They all move down the streerts with older couples and the visiting tourists.  The night-time visitors come together at Illuminating York sites, where interaction is encouraged and being mischievous and naughty is absolutely fine.  At the 5Circles’s exhibit in St Sampson’s Square people gather around the installation and then move out tentatively into the circle of light and when they realise that they can manipulate the circles, blobs and lines they shriek with glee.  With this installation and the other installations, the historic City is brought together with the new and innovative.  Getting involved is fascinating, mesmerizing and lots of fun.  Illuminating York brings the City alive on a night and opens the street up for lots of different groups of people, that we probably wouldn’t normally see out on a Friday night.

Further Information

Illuminating York

Video in The Telegraph


York Press on 5Circles

Krapp's Last Tape (York Theatre Royal, Friday 23rd October 2009)

This was a very well-played piece, which worked beautifully in York Theatre Royal studio space.  The thing with Beckett is that you find yourself laughing when you feel maybe you shouldn’t.  A member of the audience felt that he has to leave early because he had a fit of giggles at the start of the performance, but I think that laughing when watching a Beckett play isn’t a problem at all.   There is some slapstick in the play with an obvious play on the old  banana skin joke.  Yet, as well as the comedy, there are also some very  serious moments, as the play explores growing old as an old man reflects on his youth and he is clearly now so very lonely.   The crackling of the tape as it reaches the end of the spool becomes a metaphor for the end of Krapp’s life.   The tape has finished, silence is approaching and at the end of the play Krapp leaves the stage looking so shockingly pale, we feel that we are witnessing the last moments of his  life.

When discussing playing Krapp, Harold Pinter spoke of the texture of the word ‘spool’ as the word  rolls off the tongue and the vowel sounds of the word are as delight to hear.   In this production, Kenneth Alan Taylor really makes the most of saying, ‘spool’ and demonstrating the wonderful texture of Beckett’s words.  There are some exquisite moments in this production, such as the dark shadow Krapp casts as he drinks off stage, and it felt so much like it represented the darkness that the drink brings to people’s lives, and that that drink has  literally overshadowed Krapp’s life. 

Though Krapp’s Last Tape is a short piece every word, action and pause is a delight to hear or see and this was really brought out in this production through Taylor’s lovely performance in the title role.

Reviews and Previews

Review in York Press of Krapp’s Last Tape
Preview of Krapp’s Last Tape in York Press
Krapp’s Last Tape in York Press

Addicted to reviews…


I am starting to feel that I am becoming addicted to review broadcasts and reading reviews in newspapers.  The addiction includes watching my favourite programme, The Culture Show and making sure  Newsnight Review has been recorded on Sky + to watch later in the week.   My keenness for reviews also includes  listening to Radio Four’s Front Row and Saturday Review, as well as the wonderful Kermode and Mayo on Radio Five Live.  Did video kill off radio?  My appetite for review watching, listening and reading has been fuelled by the easy accessibility of these outputs in the digital age.   As radio broadcasts are so easily accessible through the iPlayer and podcasts, I am now finding that I probably listen to more radio than I watch television.  This is because it is possible to listen while writing at the computer or when I’m travelling on trains, whereas television means I have to be in a certain place in my house.  I could watch television on my iPlayer as well I know, but it’s not as easy to be working on the computer at the same time.  Being part of the radio audience is much easier than it was and is a massive move forward from when you needed to be near a radio and spent ages moving a wire at the back around to get as signal.  Indeed, radio lagged behind television which became part of the video recording age, whereas you had to be there if you wanted to record anything on your cassette recorder.

As well as easy access to broadcast, in the age of Web 2.0 technologies there are also a slew of blogs to read and I am keen not to miss any theatre reviews, so I can access them al through my Google Reader.  I lap up Michael Billington, Mark Shenton, and Charles Spencer, as well as the rest of the well established theatre reviewers.  However, I also enjoy looking at the blogs, such as the wonderfully engaging West End Whingers, Virtual Scholars and it’s comment on culture, and Peter Kirwin’s meticulous Bardathon.  What I think  are some of the best blogs are accessible from this blog through the right hand side column.  I used to put the Press Night dates in my diary and then try and find space in my day to go out and buy the newspapers.  This of course was very risky.  If the review wasn’t in that day’s edition, it was a waste of time, but if I forget to buy them or couldn’t find the time to go to the nearest newsagent then I missed them altogether.  I suppose I do read the adverts and I must admit it was a video advert on a newspaper site which seduced me into buying tickets for the wonderful Priscilla.  I have been tempted to go to see a production because of a good review.  My visit to As You Like It at the  Curve at Leicester was down to the fact that I read the reviews and felt I must go and see another Tim Supple production.  I still buy newspapers, particularly on a Sunday.  I don’t buy less, but the digital age means I do read more than I did.  The fact that the television and radio is available in a digital form means that I can consume them when it suits me.  I am unlikely to listen and watch more than once, which would be the case if I had planned to tune in to a one off broadcast.

What appeals to me about all this?  Accessing all these reviews and conversations about culture makes me think and shape my own views.  I can choose to be influenced or not.  I like hearing different opinions.  I enjoy being annoyed about what is said and the approach taken, and   it’s like having a dialogue with someone about things I’ve seen.  I am introduced to art, film, theatre and literature, that I might not have considered.  The digital age is providing me with choice and that can only be a good thing.  It feels like the outputs  are free, but the engagement in the reviewing world  leads to me being a consumer somewhere, whether it is in buying theatre tickets, books or becoming a friend of an art galley so I can view exhibitions.  It’s not free really, as ther is a cost is in the broadband  subscription, the Sky + box or the mobile phone network.  It’s also useful to have the space in my own blog to reflect and respond to what I have seen in my own language.  It is my view that the digital age complements cultural outputs and is a really positive way forward.  I would say that digital recording has breathed new life into radio rather than determined it’s death.  The newspaper reivews still lead readers to the adverts if they are read on line and the blogs add another layer of opinion to those traditional review outputs.