Dial (York Theatre Royal, 27th November 2009)

I really enjoyed this short piece in the Studio at York Theatre Royal.  The play was set in a Call Centre and this seemed like a really good idea because working in sales is like, or even is, putting on a performance.  What happens here is that the edges of reality are slightly shifted so we are actually in a fantasy world.  The call centre supervisor motivates her team with team games and one ot ones, and the management speak is turned into an ironic commentary on office life and the world of cold calling and hard selling.

The Call Centre sells soul saving.  Customers are the desperate members of society – those in financial difficulty, having relationship issues, suffering bereavement.  They are all fodder for the sales team to sell a counselling sessions.  This is a commentary of the  customer service approach that has at the bottom of it a greed for consumerism.  In the Soul Savers’ world, is customer service about making sure people are treated with dignity?  No it pampers to them to sell them something.  In using the Soul Savers idea, the pressures of society today are wonderfully highlighted and that makes them a customer ready to be sold to is a fantastic idea.

The play introduces us to four stereotypes.  The male sexual  predator who thinks he can charm every woman and sex is his only interest.  A woman who flirts with her male colleague but wants to do a MA in Creative Writing and poor Johsie who easily falls down (literally and metaphorically to use a cliché).  The central character is Carol, recently promoted and determined to be at the top of the company’s sales board.  In the background, and never seen, there are a cast of characters, the callers to the call centre and Stuart, the previous team leader, who seemed to have had a human side.

Conversations with callers always begins with the statement ‘every call is confidential’.  The irony is that nothing is confidential.  Calls are listened into, mocked by the sales team and used for training purposes. The client list of the Samaritans has even been sold on, as a source to cold called.

The twist at the end of the play is wonderful and shocking.  We except Carol to have a human face, that we find she is actually a sensitive woman and can be moved to have to sympathy for the callers.   We expect the twist to be something we think we spot under the surface.   I won’t spoil the ending, but it is a good one, testing even our own responses to how we think we read and know people.

Twelfth Night (The Courtyard Theatre, w/c 9th November 2009)

Twelfth Night at the Courtyard
The Courtyard before a performance of Twelfth Night. 'For the rain it raineth everyday'.


Outside in the town of Stratford it was raining every day.  Inside, the Courtyard Theatre, there is a promise of sunshine as the sun streams through the doors and windows across a dimmed stage and auditorium.  The play will commence in the dusky light of the moment when the day begins to turn to night and will oscillate through dark and light.   The  audience will be taken through moods of light and shade. 

When we enter the auditorium we are faced with  golden colours – reds, oranges and browns which are contrasted with the beautiful pastel yellow, peach and pink roses in  colours.  High above the worn wall, the blue sky has a splattering of clouds.  Two columns rise at the side of the stage, one broken and another an ionic column.  Slightly menacingly, there is a window high up is grilled as if we might be looking up at a prison window.  This is somewhere exotic, somewhere that is strating to crumble.  Possibly Turkey say some of the reviews.

Musicians come onto the stage for the pre-show and play enchanting music, and strangely, a wave breaks at the back of the stage and we know we are in Illyria.  Between the moments when we visit Orsino’s court for the first time and meet the shipwrecked Viola,  a dumb show is performed as Olivia, Maria, Malvolio and the priest, dressed in black, walk silently across the stage making us realise that death is a visitor in this play as well as the humour and the courtship games.

Greg Doran’s latest RSC production is a strong vibrant interpretation of the text.  Miltos Yerolemou is a marvellous Feste able to move between the two houses and making his living as a ‘corrupter of words’, and this is why he is so hurt, and so desperately pained by Malvolio’s ‘barren rascal’ comment and so shocked clearly put down.  Yerolemou is able to perform one of the most engaging pre shows I’ve seen as the audience return from the interval.  In getting the whole house clapping he lifts the mood and we  move straight into the sparring between the Fool and Viola.   There is another wonderful moment when Feste is able to dim the house lights with a click of his fingers.  In this scene outside the church, we are reminded that both Feste and Viola are both not what they seem and are able to interact with the audience in this way, as if we are now implicated in their different disguises.

Richard McCabe was a totally inebriated Sir Toby Belch, and his only real sober moment is the realisation that the trick on Malvolio has gone too far.  I felt that I became more unsympathetic to him as the play developed, especially as the maliciousness of the character, as well as the comedy, came over in McCabe’s performance.  Sir Toby was very clear to show his dislike of Sir Andrew and this was evident from their entrance, as he pulled faces and gestured behind Sir Andrew’s back.  Even, Maria can’t be in his company at the end of the play.   James Fleet was very funny as Sir Andrew. He was both pompous and sad at the same time, and unaware of his own self mockery.  He is pompous because he happily joined in with the disruption and sad because he was being gulled by Sir Toby and we knew he would never marry Olivia.  The drinking scene is set in a laundry so the three men (Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste) manage to find many things to make a noise with.  The overhearing scene is also painfully funny and the box tree, like a balloon basket, is just wonderful.

The two leading women were just superb.  Nancy Carroll was an articulate intelligent Cesario.  She doesn’t overdo the masculinity, but the men who wait on Orsino are clearly jealous of her Cesario.  Alexandra Gilbreath played the comedy in Olivia’s role beautifully.  At one point Olivia was able to shriek at Sir Toby while at the same time turning back to woo Cesario, and we are now watching a woman no longer grieving for her brother, but now sexually aware and in love.  Pamela Nomvete as Maria was also really good managing to get such a lovely balance between the light and dark moments she is involved in.

Richard Wilson was just how I thought he would be as Malvolio. He was really dry and he was funny.  I felt that this was a Malvolio who made me feel ill at ease.  When he wore his  yellow stockings, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable.   Not because Richard Wilson didn’t portray this well, but I felt that this was one of his strength of his performance that the moments of silence and his physical presence were directed in such a way that they had an impact.  In the Sir Topaz scene he comes up through the trap, beautifully and ironically mirroring the moment that he enters Olivia’s laundry to put an end to the drinking scene.  As he was humiliated  by Sir Toby and co,  I felt the taunting of Malvolio made me uncomfortable as it is supposed to do, but I think this was particularly relevent due to Wilson’s performance. 

As soon as Orsino and Olivia meet they are battling with one and another and at one point, Orsino grabs a knife and threatens to kill Olivia.  This is not a funny moment, but one that is intended to make us realise that these two have never met and that all Orsino’s love was really being in the love with the idea of being in love.  His anger in his meeting with Olivia is actually shocking and unnerving

As it started, the play closes asking us consider the light and dark moments at the end of the play.  Why can Orsino can fall in love so easily with Cesario and mistakes Sebastian for her at the end of the play? The fool is locked out of the house, mirroring the moment Autolycus is locked out of this year’s RSC The Winter’s Tale.  He sings about the rain and I am thinking whether it is still raining outside.  The ones who lose in this play walk across the play.  Air Andrew has packed his bags.  Sir Toby and Maria have fallen out and we feel their’s will be a loveless marriage. Malvolio, mirroring the dumb show at the start, walks slowly across the stage, but this time he is alone, and as he leaves he turns to look at Feste.  It’s a poignant moment and ends the play really well.

The lights dim and yes it is pouring with rain outside the theatre.

Reviews and Previews

RSC Twelfth Night – Michael Billington review
Coventry Telegraph Preview of RSC Twelfth Night
The Stage / News / Wilson to star in RSC’s Twel…
Best of Theatre Autumn 2009 in The Times
RSC Twelfth Night in The Evening Standard
RSC Twelfth Night in The Independent
WOS Review of RSC Twelfth Night
Playbill News: Richard Wilson to Play Malvolio …
Telegraph on RSC Twelfth Night
The Stage / News / Wilson to star in RSC’s Twel…
The Stage review of Twelfth Night at Stratford
The Times review of Twelfth Night
Independent on Sunday RSC Twelfth Night
BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Wilson poised to mak…
Financial Times on the RSC Twelfth Night
Wilson Leads RSC Twelfth, Cooke Revives Arabian…

Peter Kirwin’s blog on RSC’s Twelfth Night

Doctor Who, 'The Waters of Mars' (15th November 2009)

There will be  a change in the Doctor we kept getting told.  What did we think before ‘The Waters of Mars’ aired?  Possibly that the Doctor will give up and fail to save those he was sent to help.  That his failure leads to tragedy on a grand scale and that he feels so bad he just gives up and because he can’t face it anymore he moves towards his death.  No – it’s the opposite…..

….so the Doctor thinks he is invincible and he sees himself as the victorious Doctor.  At the end of the ‘The Waters of Mars’, we leave him in the snow with a kind of death knell hanging over him and an ood looking with those sad ood eyes at him.  The end is on its way.  How exciting…..and how emotional!

It’s good to spend a little time with an idea and I felt that this was the strength of this episode. It was an interesting idea in that the people who are doomed are in our future and not in our past (such as in ‘The Fires of Pompeii).  

It felt that, despite scary monsters and all the usual ‘crew of a spaceship about to be doomed stuff” the production team worked really well to build up a narrative that looked forwards and backwards at the same time.  The dilemma here is that if  the Doctor saves the people on the space station, time will be changed for ever.  Rather  than going hi tech, the programme played with the idea that things are undeveloped in this future world.  I liked the idea that progress was the to grew vegetables for a Christmas dinner and this gave the episode a really simple naive and raw feel.   I really liked the Doctor in his space suit just thinking, as all around him try desperately, and a little clumsily to survive, but we know they are doomed.  We’ve seen their lives flash before our eyes.  The old fashioned space suit makes the Doctor see vulnerable.  It reminds us he needs air to survive.  The production team could make the scene of the crew collecting boxes, scrambling around and trying to leave as long as they wanted, because we just know that is the end for them unless the Doctor interjects.  At that point we think the Doctor’s strength will be that he leaves the people to die.  In many ways there are some echoes of ‘Children of Earth’ here.  In the Torchwood series, Captain Jack let the children die to save mankind, will the Doctor let these people die to save mankind.  Whatever the Doctor does, he is not in a good place.  As we watch the audience is placed in a position clearly wanting to know is will the Doctor save this small group of people or leave them to die?  Without his companion, he is truly on his own and the decision is his own.  Will he do what captain Jack did and have to come back to face the end of time, knowing  the enemy was within himself.

The Doctor chooses to save the crew.  Such an act of bravery, but so wrong as well….   

Did we think that by this act we would see the chaos of the future that the Doctor had caused?  No the time is set back and it all seems well….except that the Doctor seems to be a different person…

 ….the trailer at the end shows a man rising from the rubbish tip and as he turns his head we see a/the blond Master. 

I still kind of secretly hope the Doctor turns into the Master and John Simm is the next Doctor.  The Doctor/Master thing is just a really interesting idea …….

so we’ll have to wait for Christmas, and all the interviews – teasers, trailers tasters – the pre show hype that positions us an audience so carefully to think one thing and what we see is another.

Thoughts on…Blogs this week

Having just moved Miching Malicho over here to Between the Acts, I have been a little bit more interested in what other Theatre/Culture blogs look like this week.  In reading through some blogs I came across  Cultural Tales of Two Cities.  I really like the way that the blog focuses on the two cities of Manchester and London, though there is a review of the RSC Twelfth Night there so clearly towns and cities between Manchester and London count.  There was a very interesting comment on the casting of Richard Wilson as Malvolio in the RSC’s Twelfth Night  on the blog this week.  The blog notes that this production was

A play of two halves really for the RSC’s latest Stratford offering. This production of ‘Twelfth Night’ was apparently delayed until Richard Wilson was available to play Malvolio. I am just not sure that someone who is so known for one character can credibly play another. At times it felt like the audience was waiting for him to announce ‘I don’t believe it’… (Cultural Tales of Two Cities accessed 8th November 2009)

 I always think that Peter Kirwin’s Bardathon is so informative, and  this week he was writing about the RSC’s Days of Significance and commenting on its relationship to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.   I was interested to see that Blogging By Numbers was writing about Mother Courage and Their Children last week with a big But:

But – and this is one of those huge, clunking buts – I was never less than engaged. I loved the invention. I loved the humour. I loved the money I could see had been spent. I loved, loved Fiona Shaw as a Mother Courage that you were at once compelled and repulsed by. (Blogging By Number accessed 8th November 2009)

This still makes me feel I should have gone to see the whole thing after all after having the just the first half experience.

I’m writing about blogging at the moment, as well as blogging about blogging, which feels a little indulgent.  I am interested in the idea that Web 2.0 opens up the web for the audience to produce and to inform what is being written and produced.  The myriad of opinion out there is often engaging and interesting and we have the choice to read or not. 

As blogs appear and we all get a say, one blog that seems to have gone is Patricia 1957 Arts Diary.  I really enjoyed reading the posts on Patricia 1957 Arts Diary , but it looks like this has been deleted which is a shame.   My move from Miching Malicho to Between the Acts is about changing virtual personas.  However, the disappearance of  Patricia1957ArtsDiary shows that on the blogosphere we can have a voice and silence our own voices just as quickly.