Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And the Best Of's just keep on coming!

It's been a busy year for gigs - 31 all told - so it's been a difficult choice!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Constant Reader and Equity, you can all now relax.

The Chrissies are here:

Best Drama/Comedy:

Best Musical:

Best Actor (Drama/Comedy):

Best Actress (Drama/Comedy):

Best Actor (Musical):

Best Actress (Musical):

Best Supporting Actor (Drama/Comedy):

Best Supporting Actor (Musical):

Best Supporting Actress (Drama/Comedy):

Best Supporting Actress (Musical):

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ah well... 2008 is all over bar the drinking as I have been to my last theatre outing!

Step forward William Shakespeare... You ushered in
the year with MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and you saw it out with TWELFTH NIGHT at the Wyndhams as part of the Donmar in the West End season.

Michael Grandage has had a great year with his sold-out productions of IVANOV, THE CHALK GARDEN, OTHELLO and PIAF and TWELFTH NIGHT is continuing that success.
Shakespeare's romantic comedy of love and confused identities belies it's 407 years and continues to provoke laughs as Viola, shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria, disguises herself as a young man Cesario and is soon employed by Count Orsino to woo Olivia, a titled woman who mourns her dead father and brother and refuses Orsino's advances.
Olivia, far from being an ice maiden is soon in love... with Cesario. Further confusion spins the plot along with Viola falling in love with Orsino and Olivia's pompous and puritanical steward Malvolio being tricked into believing that she is secretly in love with him. When Viola's identical brother Sebastian appears after surviving the same shipwreck as his sister, the scene is set for happy endings for all... except one.

The one thing I felt was missing from Grandage's production was any feeling of sexual ambiguity. Veronica Hamilton - with her honeyed Jean Simmons voice - at no time suggested a boy, a Principal Boy maybe but not a boy. But I enjoyed her performance, she spoke the text with a real intellegence. Indira Varma also made a great Olivia, langorous and mocking at first but melting with love for Cesario, she also had a nice bit of business when yelping with erotic delight when confronted by both Sebastian and Viola. The feeling that the darker elements of the play were brushed over was also felt in the character of Antonio who frequently voices his love for Sebastian, enough to make him put his life in danger by returning to Illyria where he is suspected of piracy.
Ron Cook and Guy Henry made a great little & large comedy team as Sir Toby and Sir Andrew and they were matched by Samantha Spiro's fiesty Maria. For once the sub-plot characters didn't outstay their welcome, but it helped that they shared the story with Derek Jacobi's sublime Malvolio.

Shadowing Olivia in his black suit and wing-collar he was the essence of disdainful superiority to his lessers and unctious civility to his lady and Jacobi succeeded in making him the centrepiece of the production.

The letter-reading scene
where Malvolio is tricked into believing Olivia loves him was a masterclass in high comedy - even going so far as to suggest Frankie Howerd in his outrageous response to the double-entendre "and thus makes she her great P's"! His painful efforts in keeping a smile on his face, his revelling in his soon-to-be exhaulted state and his boastful walk wearing his outlandish blazer, shorts and yellow socks was comic gold. But he also made you feel for Malvolio when, as the couples are celebrating at the end, he appears among them, angry at being locked in an asylum. His parting lines "I'll be revenged.... on the whole pack of you" guaranteed not everyone would live happily ever after.

It was definitely a good way to end a year of quality theatregoing. More on that later in the week!
I suspect I will not finish my current book in two days time as I still have about 500 pages to go so here are my 10 favorite reads of 2008:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Joyeux Noel Constant Reader, Feliz Navidad 'n' all.

I still have one big cultural event until 2008 can be put to bed but we saw the festivities in with a few more visits to the cinema and theatre.

I have seen WHITE CHRISTMAS countless times but it's one of those films that I suspect I have nev
er seen from credits to credits... even when Owen played the dvd I remember drifting off in the middle somewhere. So the news the National Film Theatre was showing a brand new print was a way of

1) seeing it all the way through
2) giving Owen a treat as the film brings back happy

NFT3 looked fairly full as the lights went down for the afternoon screening with grown-ups and a few kids in attendance and soon it seemed all were captivated by it's classic storytelling.

It was an opportunity to relish the subtle interplay between Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as successful song and dance team Bob Wallace & Phil Davis who met serving in the same army unit during WWII under the stern but fatherly command of General Waverley.
Left with a few hours to kill in Florida after their show closes they go to see the cabaret routine of sisters Betty & Judy Haynes whose brother was also in their unit. Through various shenanigans the four find themselves on a train to Vermont where the sisters have an engagement booked at a ski-lodge - and in best Hollywood tradition it's run by their General, now retired and attempting to find a life in civvy street. Due to the non-appearance of snow the business is struggling so in an attempt to help Bob & Phil stage their Broadway show in the restaurant - which is luckily the size of an aircraft hanger. Bob has one further idea to help the General's self-esteem but Betty, who has been falling for his charms, is led to believe that it's for all the wrong reasons - and quits the show for cabaret in New York.

Will Bob be able to save the situation? Will Betty return? Will the conniving Phil and Judy have to go through with their pretend engagement to get the feuding Betty & Bob back together again? Will we get our happy ending? And will it snow?

It was great to see the film on a big screen as it was intended to be seen, now in a restored version in eye-popping Technicolor. Directed by Michael Curtiz - who also directed CASABLANCA - this is a great example of classic Hollywood film-making, all departments coming together to make a seamless, entertaining film.

And talking of seamless... special mention must be made of the great Edith Head's costumes, in particular the lush jet black gown Clooney wears
for her solo cabaret turn which makes her the absolute centre of attention in these scenes. It's also fun to spot future Academy Award-winner George Chakiris as one of the 'mood' dancers in her sultry solo "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me".

Clooney's one solo number is a bit unfair when balanced against the many frantic dance sequences which spotlight Vera-Ellen. There is something strangely antiseptically all-American about her dancing, I found myself pining for something that raised the temperature, a bit more along the lines of Cyd Charisse.

Special mention too for the subtle underplaying of Dean Jagger as General Waverley who in relatively few scenes conveys a man trying to come to terms with life outside the military and the scene-stealing Mary Wickes as his caustic but loving housekeeper Emma.

By the time the two couples are together in dazzling red costumes singing Irving Berlin's timeless title song, there were definitely snuffles heard in the auditorium. Not from me tho'... I went earlier during Bing's solo performance at the start of the film!Mind you any heart-warming good cheer to mankind was soon dissipated by Tracy Letts' savaging of the American family in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY which we saw in the evening.

I went in maybe expecting a bit too much as although I enjoyed the performances of the ensemble I found Letts' striving to make it A State Of The Nation address was hampered by it's soap-style revelations. At times it felt like a stage adaptation of a dvd boxed set of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES or BROTHERS & SISTERS.

When the alcoholic poet patriarch of the Weston family goes missing, the family gathers to await news in the sprawling family home and keep an eye on their pill-popping neurotic mother Violet.

With a nod to Chekhov the family incorporates three sisters each struggling with their own problems - Barbara is separated from her husband although he has accompanied her with their dope-smoking teenage daughter, Ivy has been secretly sleeping
with her cousin Charles Jr. and hopes to start a new life in New York, and younger sister Karen arrives with her fiancee Steve who makes a pervy beeline for the young girl.

Violet's sister Mattie Fae and her husband Charles complete the seething, argumentative family and when news arrives in the middle of the night that the father has been found drowned, the family implodes in recriminations and the loud crashing of skeletons emerging from closets.

As I said, as enjoyable as the cat-fighting and vicious bitching that erupts from the father's suicide is, trying to marry this to the breakdown of America is fairly lame. It was as if Letts had to pitch his dysfunctional family tragi-comedy thus to make it relevant.

Despite my misgivings of the play the performances of the Steppenwolf company gave depth and conviction to the text. The play is dominated by three magnificent female performers: Deanna Dunegan as Violet the drug-addled mother who is as viperous sober; Amy
Morton as Barbara the oldest daughter saddled with a failed marriage and at risk of being sucked into the Weston family Hell and Rondi Reed as the loud, blowsy aunt who holds a dark secret. Dunegan and Reed both won Tony Awards and deservedly so.

The rest of the company also give committed performances and have a genuine ensemble
feel. The 3 hour 20 running time slips by thanks to Anna D. Shapiro's well-paced direction and the magnificent set by Todd Rosenthal of the Weston family home is almost a character in itself. I can imagine it having a life beyond the National Theatre and it would be interesting to see how a British company would fare with it. Mind you, if it didn't I wouldn't be too surprised.

On Broadway I have seen plays such as PROOF by David Auburn and DOUBT by John Patrick Shanley which like AUGUST... won both Pulizer and Tony Awards for Best Play and had huge critical and audience success which over here were given one-off performances at the Donmar and the Tricycle Theatres respectively and never made it into the west end.