The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is another West End production by Ronseal Theatre. My apologies, by Mischief Theatre. Why Ronseal? Because it does exactly what it says on the tin. I have seen The Play That Goes Wrong twice, first with a friend and second with my family. Being from a theatrical singing dancing family, we howled at the totally relatable slips, trips and fuck ups. Not knowing what to buy my sister and father for their birthday, I treated them to a trip to see our favourite theatre company! This time with the boyfriend. He seemed unfair that he hadn’t seen the rib cracking first production. So I saw it a third time. The Play on Wednesday and the Bank Robbery on Friday, what a week for me!
It does what it says on the tin, it’s a comedy about a bank robbery. But its so much more than that! This is a comedy about love and mistaken identity. It’s basically modern Shakespeare with a lot more puns and physical comedy. There’s a scene with a moustache and it just keeps getting bigger! We open in a Canadian prison, Mitch Ruscitti has a plan to rob a diamond worth $500,000. It’s set in the past so that was a lot of money. He escapes and joins the eccentric bunch of characters that work at the bank. Let’s just say, a whole five minutes is spent milking the name Robin Freeboys for all it’s worth!
I’m not sure if it was an advantage watch the two products to closest to one another. The Play is the play I hold all comedies too. Bank Robbery has a slow start. After a more eye rolling exchange, the action kicks off with a car chase … with laundry baskets. It’s when two of our main characters start getting it on that I started laughing inappropriately and had tears streaming down my face. Until the slinky moment at the end of the second act but you’d need to see it to full appreciate that. It’s not fair to compare the two as Mischief that learnt so much from their first productions in Edinburgh. There were just as many stunts and there was music and singing in the style of the time: 1950s! An absolute dream! Theatre is good when it’s audience walks away a better person, theatre is great when you need a clean pair of pants and your ribs taped.
I thought I knew this play. I knew it on paper from reading and studying it at university. I remember love and pain during the AIDS crisis. Set in New York in the mid-1980s, we follow several men and women suffering or affected by AIDS. The play tackles some very big themes and need time to do it. Therefore, this play of two halves is over seven hours long; part one running at three and a half hours, and part two running at over four hours. With this time, something many of our characters don’t have, we are invested. We live with these characters and experience the highs and lows of life and death, love and lust, friendship and more. Here are the three stories:
Prior Walter is fabulous. He watches friends his age die from the disease they share and he wears colours and moans and teases. This is the face he chooses to wear while his body starts to show the signs of AIDS. Prior is played by Andrew Garfield, better known for his work on screens than stages. He got into a little trouble earlier in the year for not expressing himself in a politically correct way. He done his research and he blows us away. I would say he was the stand out star if the cast wasn’t full of them such as James McArdle as Louis. Louis is Prior’s cowardly boyfriend who couldn’t watch him die. With time, we feel sorry for him. Even if he makes selfish choices such as a passionate affair with a married man.
That man is Joe Pitt, played by Russell Tovey. A straight mormon with a paranoid wife: Harper Pitt played by Denise Gough. He tries to do the right thing but he’s got a devil on his shoulder. Roy Cohn is a lawyer who can do it all and has it all. Roy is played by Nathan Lane. I know Nathan Lane’s talented. He sings and dances in The Producers, he’s hilarious. This is not a hilarious play, although it had it’s moments. For me, Nathan Lane stands out. This is his show. He’ll defy all expectations. From the furious pitbull on the phone in part one to the dying stubborn old man in part two.
This production is flawless. Thanks to the kind of cash the National Theatre must have, everything was possible. There are some parts in the play that are bonkers and even the playwright admits they might not be possible. During one of Prior’s states of delusion a book on a column rises from the floor and bursts into flames before returning to the ground. Not to mention THE angel. It wasn’t enough to tackle the AIDS crisis, we have to tackle the heavens themselves. Prior thinks he is a messenger, a message given to him by an angel in his bedroom late at night. I told you it was bonkers. Everything about this pay is epic: cast, costumes, set, words, plot. Like the Angel, it must be seen to be believed.
Last week, I talked about ‘new’ in the historically accurate Shakespeare’s Globe. The same words with new twists. This week I saw Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House. Prior to seeing it, I had little to no understanding of the plot. My friends and I tried humming and singing parts of the music over gin and tonics before hand. We knew one bit, our other attempts sounded more like Harry Potter. I do know this about ballet; the music doesn’t change and the choreography doesn’t change. So what’s new?
First, a quick review from a complete dummy. I did two weeks of ballet when I was in my teens so I’m the first to admit I know fuck all. The performance is broken into four scenes in three acts. The first at 70 minutes, the second at 40 minutes and the final at 20 minutes. It seemed a little pointless to me to have a second interval of 20 minutes to return for 20 minutes but again, I’m a dummy. I assume it’s more for the dancers as some sections of dance are physically and mentally demanding. I like to look at everything. As impressive as the prima ballerina or ‘main swan’ was, I was more in awe of the girls on the sides; they held delicate poses for ages and effortlessly changed position on the stage avoiding other skinny limbs. I applauded for them, not the girl who just got an applause and came back for a couple more spins and wanted another shower of affection. And the jester, comic characters always get a louder clap from me. Long story short, it was beautiful.
I saw it, I liked it. I would get a front facing seat with a seat back next time so it’s not so much Back of a Head Lake. But would I see it again? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Unless it had radical changes such as an all male version. With so much control and things set in stone, what can you offer a loyal audience? For me, the evening was about seeing great friends and the ability to say ‘I saw Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House’. The venue commands respect and their performances to be done in the proper way. Maybe radical is a turnoff which is why Emma Rice’s Summer of Love season had such bad reviews at Shakespeare’s Globe. People don’t like change. I like change. I like new. I like radical. In the future, I shall seek it elsewhere.
It truly is the summer of love. I got me a man. Also, love love love is the theme of the summer season at the Globe Theatre. I went on a tour of the Globe many years ago with my brother but this was the first time I would actually see something on the recreated stage. I was in for two very different experience of love; one that would end in tragedy and one that would end in happily ever after. One I would have a cushion, one I would be standing. That remind me of a famous Chaucer quote: “You’re good. You’re very good. My lords, my ladies, and everybody else here not sitting on a cushion!” Fine! It’s from A Knight’s Tale. My point is get the cushion.
First: tragedy and sitting. In spite the classic Shakespearean ending of everyone dying, Romeo and Juliet is a love story and that’s what I admire most about Daniel Kramer’s vision for the tale of star crossed lovers. Kramer has found the comedy of falling in love. It is awkward. You’re caught staring. You can’t control the words that come out of your mouth. You go for a kiss and bash faces. It was a welcome breath of fresh air for me and my friends. Unfortunately, it cannot last forever and the darker themes come to light. Revenge rears it’s ugly head and strikes down our young characters. The true scene stealer was the design of the production, black and white and eventually red all over. Romance as you’ve never seen it before.
Second: comedy and standing. I knew I could bare standing for nearly three hours with Twelfth Night because it’s a play I haven’t the displeasure of studying. This was going to be a brand new story to try and follow. Despite the twists and turns, the cast made it so easy to follow. The characters were over the top. In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda “Love is love is love is love.” Boys were girls and girls were boys but none of that mattered. Love is also laughter. Some jokes were clever and some not so much. Personally, I like crude humour. The only word to describe this production is camp. Is that a bad word? I don’t know but it’s the best and only word I have to hand.
As I write these very late reviews, Shakespeare’s Globe have appointed actress and writer Michelle Terry as their new artistic director. Emma Rice will be leaving after deciding her “methods were not authentic enough.” Terry has appeared in many of Billy’s plays and maybe they hope she’ll bring the tights and ruffles back. But I don’t want it. These two productions are the most bonkers interpretations of these plays I have seen and that’s what made them great. “I never look back, darling! It distracts from the now.” I don’t want authentic or real, I want to escape. Let us.
I’m proud to say I have never walked out of a play or film. And I’ve seen some shit. Local theatre, alternative performances at university and my own little sister’s dance shows, I’ve paid money to be there so I’m going to be there for every second. The handsome Jude Law has had a couple of spells on the stage. Notably, the ‘if you haven’t done it, are you even an actor’ Hamlet as well as Henry V and Doctor Faustus. This year, Law was in something more modern, something called Obsession. This play will not stand the test of time in theatre circles (the reviews aren’t too pleasant). Instead, it will live on in my memory as The Play I Almost Walked Out On.
There are few times in my ‘theatre’ career where I can take the high ground. I’ve seen things for the famous faces or the sheer cheesiness of the thing (cough cough Shrek the Musical cough cough). Having seen Hedda Gabler at the National screened in my local cinema, I was drawn to the director’s next work: Obsession. I think Jude Law is a great actor and a bad person. This was the first time I pitied him. What on earth was this production? If it had an interval or if my bladder didn’t hold out, I would have left and never looked back.
Law played a drifter named Gino. He has an affair with a married woman and the husband dies in a car accident.The play is based on a 1943 Italian film of the same name which is based on The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain which has nothing to do with postmen. There are many reason why I almost walked, I’m only going to talk about the big three: character, story and tone. Yep, it pretty much failed on all fronts and I’m very excited to talk about it.
First, character. I did not give a shit about anyone on that stage. They were shallow and two dimensional, it was hard to like them and they made stupid choices and spoke as if the script was pushed through Google Translate. Second, story. Slow. Slow. Slow. It moved at a snail pace and I found myself zoning out thinking about next week’s shopping but that’s okay because nothing was happening except long knowing stares which got dull pretty quickly. Finally, tone. There were some interesting choices made. An accordion was constantly on stage and played itself. Everyone but Jude Law could and would sing opera. Right. In. Each. Other’s. Faces. You would have to have an extensive knowledge to understand why this was significant because I couldn’t see it. Especially as they also played crazy techno and off beat indie track for when Jude Law ran on a treadmill with his back to the audience and his face projected onto the back wall every time Gino decided to run away from the crazy bitch he fucked once, fucked some more and then plotted murder with. Not as thrilling as it sounds.
The problem with the production was it wasn’t engaging. You didn’t care for the three main characters from the off and any new characters served no real purpose. The emotion they showed were either the extreme of sex and violence or flat. I was glad they all died in the end. Saved you 120 minutes, you’re welcome. Having seen Hedda Gabler, I don’t think I’m in a position to blame the director. I think his talents were wasted on a bad script and that’s the biggest tragedy of all.
I saw Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse recently. What’s that? You’ve never heard of it? Perhaps it’s because I’m calling the play by it’s German name. You should recognise the title character. I’m talking about the 1941 parable play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by one of my favourite playwrights Bertolt Brecht. His theatre is never straightforward. They’re always about something else. In this case, by using 1930 Chicago mobsters, he’s showing us the rise of Adolf Hitler. It was slow, subtle and deliberate; perfectly orchestrated and we let it happen. Given today’s various, cough cough, situations, I think we all need reminding that rises are resistible. Just because they walk the walk and talk the talk, doesn’t make them leaders.
Hitler wasn’t one man but the face of the Nazi Party. Ui wasn’t one man but the face of his operation. He wanted power and he wanted to take it from the Chicago Cauliflower Trust. I studied this play a lot and know what should be done to get good grades at university and in my humble opinion this was sort of done correctly. The play was performed in the round not your traditional theatre setting. The rows of seats were taken out for tables and chair bar style. Nuts and nibbles were provided, much to my annoyance in the gods. I was peckish too.
The 2017 audience weren’t totally lost in 1930. There were subtle and not so subtle hints towards a leader wanting walls, less immigrants and to make his country great again. There was modern music sung in the style matching the pinstripe suits and perfectly chosen to reflect the upcoming scene. However, it was terribly entertaining which is why I think it wasn’t completely Brechtian. They found the humour which helps with such a dark theme. People were getting manipulated and whacked left, right and centre. The director gave us tongue in cheek innuendos and some physical comedy which dragged us away from the point but it also had the meta nods to today’s dumpster fire.
The point is resistance. Hitler and Ui were students, they learnt how to present themselves as charismatic and trustworthy. Just as the title suggests, we are allowing these unsavoury characters to rise. With the help of a programme, a little bit of research and spending more than an hour watching the History Channel or Yesterday, we know the sequence of events that lead to .. well, that. So what’s the harm in enjoying the show? Especially as we all are kind of in agreement that Trump is bad. So if we know these rises are resistable, the big question is what do we do once it’s already happened?
If you didn’t study Shakespeare’s Hamlet with the same intensity that I had to, you may not remember the name’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Difficult names to say and difficult characters to remember. There were just there; human plot devices to move the story along or put Hamlet in the right place at the right time. This play fills in the gaps quite nicely with humour and big questions that make your head fuzzy. The play was written way back in 1966 and premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe. Not essential to my review but I thought it was interesting.
The play was gifted to me a while back under the premise that it was the greatest thing ever written. I think I agree. I would pick reading it over watching it. I don’t know how Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe learnt it! They spoke at the speed of light and danced around the same topic of conversation. A labyrinth of words, it was a little hard to keep up at times.
McGuire, as Guildenstern, would work himself into a real mess and we were left in stunned silence with Rosencrantz, played by Radcliffe. Guildenstern slowly builds to his anger and Rosencrantz’s came from nowhere. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are two sides of the same coin. The opening states that a little bluntly. They’re both heads. They overthink… everything. The play returned to The Old Vic to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary, directed by David Leveaux, and it’s as timeless as the original Shakespeare. Leveaux understood the pace of the thing, when to rampage uncontrollably and when to pause for thought.
The best way to describe the play is ‘Clever’, there’s really no two ways about it. Stoppard’s script uses the original play text. As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern only spoke to royalty in Hamlet, it’s as if the King, Queen and wayward Prince have their own language. We are the common folk with the boys and the players. The Players! A mix match group of artists of any art. They provided crude humour that was a welcome break from the absurd nature of the boys’ situation and life itself. The plot may be borrowed but Tom Stoppard has created something unique with the same 26 letters we all use.