Punk Rock (Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, 11th October 2009)

I saw some excellent theatre this week.  Having seen The Caucasian Chalk Circle in Leeds, The Trial in York earlier in the week and now Punk Rock in Manchester, I feel that I have experienced the best of theatre and what’s great is that it isn’t all happening in London.

When I read on notices around the auditorium  that there won’t be an interval, I usually assume that the play will build up tension through to a dramatic conclusion and having an interval will undermine that tension.  So when I read notices about the running time of Punk Rock at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre,  I was thinking that this production would build to a dramatic ending and I wasn’t disappointed.  I must say Punk Rock really worked well without an interval, and I’m not sure where you would have put an interval if you’d had one anyway.  Indeed, even without an interval the time rushed by as the dialogue kept me totally engaged.  I felt that I started to get to know a set of characters, which at the start of the play, I felt I would not like much.  For example, I started to feel  for the endearing complex William (Tom Surridge) with his heart broken by the rather self-assured, on the surface, Lilly (Jessica Raine).  The writing took time to build up the situation and characters.  I found I wanted to laugh when it wasn’t really funny and at the end I had to remind myself, I was in a theatre as I found myself believing I was in the library with the characters.

In Punk Rock we are presented with a group of young  people who were struggling with the pressures of being young.  As a group they were grappling with a range of emotions, their sexual awakening, concerns about body image, and high academic expectations.  There is a pressure to succeed and the sense that an education is the key to a better future, but the effects of this pressure have not been though through.  The play carefully and sensitively dealt with some of these issues and we see characters dealing with it in many ways such as self harming, rage, self confidence and through knowledge being a defence mechanism.  It felt that the setting was timeliness and the title made me think of teenagers in the late 1970s but the mention of White Stripes brings the story up to date.  Whatever generation these young people are part of, the play seemed to suggest that the late mid teenage years bring with them a set of emotional pressures that are compounded by society’s expectation of our young people. 

This was a shocking, startling and shattering story that is still with me today as I write about it here in my blog.

Reviews and Previews

Punk Rock in the Evening Standard
Punk Rock in the Financial Times
Observer on Punk Rock
The Stage on Punk Rock
What’s On Stage, Punk Rock
Official London Stage on Punk Roack
Charles Spencer on Punk Rock

The Trial (York Theatre Royal, 8th October 2009)

As I stand outside York Theatre Royal in the chill of the evening, I have no idea where I am going.  The interval crowd from Equus has inhabited the foyer bar and it is clear that Belt Up’s The Trial will not be using the front of stage of the Theatre Royal as mentioned on my ticket.  There’s only a few of us waiting outside with an odd smoker from the main house production.  Then the bowler hatted  little man  carrying his umbrella and brief case whistles as he walks by us.  We start to follow him and we must have looked like a strange group of people following this funny looking man down a street in York.  Of course this is Josef K and the story has just begun….

I don’t want to blog about this piece of theatre in the usual way, because the whole experience builds on tension surprise and challenging the audience.  To try and explain, or even offer my own thoughts on how I experienced this work, would spoil it for other theatre goers.  It was a piece of theatre which considered the use of space and the audience’s role in theatre.  It, like Shared Experience’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, made the story telling central to what it was trying to achieve.  I was gripped and would recommend anyone to see this production of The Trial if the opportunity arises.   I didn’t have nightmares, but the images keep coming into my head and I keep thinking that I might just see the little man walking by as he whistles on his way to work. and it will all start again.

Reviews and Previews

The Trial (Belt Up) Guardian review
York Press on Trial and The Tartuffe

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (West Yorkshire Playhouse 9th October 2009)

I really enjoyed this production of Brecht’s play at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Quarry Theatre was an ideal venue for this big production with a choir on stage.  There was that sense of a theatrical event that the National Theatre were trying to achieve with their production of Mother Courage, but none of the fussiness that I experienced on the first night of Deborah Warner’s production.  Shared Experience brought out the theme of story telling really well.  Though the production was three hours long it never felt that it was dragging on.  I felt the characterisation was excellent and the use of the puppet was wonderful.  The singing brought an extra layer of narration and the use of props was imaginative and really set the scene well.  This was a brutal world, where money did not always triumph, and the love story running through the play was a contrast to the corruption and violence.

 Reviews and Previews

The Stage on The Caucasian Chalk Circle,
The Guardian on The Caucasian Chalk Circle

On the Booker Prize (Tuesday October 6th 2009)

PA070302PA070300I failed miserably in my attempt to read all the Booker novels before the winner was announced. I manged to read Sarah Walters The Little Stranger and J.M Coetzee Summertime. However, I think I’ll plod on and read the other four as soon as I can. I normally buy the shortlist when they are in paperback and this year in purchasing the hardback shortlist, I felt I wanted to be much more involved in the event itself. I’m sure that it will feel much more relvant to read the rest closer to the ceremony than waiting to read them as next year’s summer reading.

As I was interested in watching the ceremony, I was disappointed that the ceremony wasn’t broadcast live, either on television or radio. I am now getting used to that XFactor/Britian’s Got Talent sense of anticpation of waiting for winner’s announcements, and would have liked to have felt like I had experienced the Booker in a similar way. Robert McCrum discusses this in an article in The Observer.
Why my interest in the Booker? It is my view that a group of people have taken the time to read many books, and in their view these six books are worth reading. On their reccomendation, I feel I want to read them.

Further Information

Robert McCrum on the televising of the Man Booker Prize

Man Booker web site

Hilary Mantal’s acceptance speech on the BBC web site

The Tartuffe (York Theatre Royal, 2nd October 2009)

I have seen Belt Up before, but only in the Studio space at York Theatre Royal.  In their energetic production of  The Tartuffe, the company of young actors, use the whole of the auditorium and stage of the main house to great effect.  The audience loved this production, which explored the idea of playing and theatre, and immediately broke down the fourth wall and invited the audience to get on stage and join in the can can.  We were never sure if the character on stage was a character from the play, or an actor playing the actor of the character.   Indeed, at times it wasn’t clear who were actors and who were audience members of if actors had become members of the audience.

Belt Up are doing some exciting work.  They think carefully about the use of space and audience interaction.  That’s why I’m really looking forward to The Trail this week.  Not sure where though!

Reviews and Previews

The Trial (Belt Up) Guardian review
York Press on Trial and The Tartuffe