Tuesday, March 31, 2009

RIP Andy Hallett

Now this is very sad. At the age of 33, slightly younger than this blogger, Andy Hallett has died of heart failure. He had been fighting heart disease for five years and he lost that battle on Sunday night.

He will always be best known as Lorne on Angel and he was frequently the best thing about many episodes. He was also my most favourite character in the show. I had no idea he was even ill, so to read of his passing this morning was a very unpleasant surprise.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

PCB's Quarterly Theatre round up

I have seen several shows this year already and not blogged about them so I thought I'd split it into quarters, since we're almost into April.

Twelfth Night

The first Shakespeare of the Donmar's West End season and it was greeted with reviews slightly more muted than those that greeted the season opener, Ivanov. Only slightly though, and given the flat out raves that greeted said production, I think Night can hold its head up high.

I have to say, I flat out loved it. I have seen it before of course, at the Donmar's off-West End home as part of Sam Mendes' farewell shows. It must be somewhat galling for him to see the same theatre produce a better cast, infinitely warmer and richer, not to mention much much funnier version. Derek Jacobi is of course incredible as Malvolio, but there's not a weak link in the cast. I was surprised by Indira Varma, who was just glorious, showing a comic timing I was not expecting of her. However, in my opinion, the show was stolen by Zubin Varla's singing, percussive, cartwheeling performance. He was outstanding and yet he was barely mentioned in any of the reviews. WhatEVER!

Be Near Me

The actual Donmar Warehouse is easily my favourite theatre in the world. Not only is it the most gorgeous space but they have produced some of the most compelling shows around in the last decade. To usher in 2009 with this is something of an oddity. An adaptation of Andrew O'Hagan's book (which I found too dull to bother finishing) about a gay priest and the friendship he strikes up with two wayward teens which inevitably goes awry, it doesn't immediately scream "stage me!"

However, in the hands of Ian McDiarmid, who adapts as well as stars in the lead role of Father David, and John Tiffany, who directs, they turn what could have been a dull, predictable and preachy couple of hours into a fluidly directed, beautifully acted and heart rendingly tender play. Special mention to Richard Madden as Mark, the teenaged catalyst for Anderton's downfall, who was, I thought, fabulous. And I'm not just saying it because he's pretty. He will, I'm sure, go on to have quite a career.

Private Lives

The Hampstead Theatre staged this revival to mark their 50th anniversary, as its premiere there was their first big success. Normally I wouldn't have bothered with this but heading the cast as Amanda was Claire Price, for whom I would walk over broken glass to see on stage. I had never laid eyes on her before November of last year when I saw her in a revival of The White Devil and I was absolutely transfixed.

The ticket was a birthday present from a good friend who came along for the show too and it was wonderful. Funny, stylish, very well directed and acted (tellingly, a dialogue free moment between the two sparring lovers managed to evoke laughs from the audience), it was a frothy delight and the new Hampstead Theatre is absolutely gorgeous to boot.

Duet For One

A two hander about a celebrated concert violinist struck down in her prime by multiple sclerosis starts regular visits to a psychiatrist to help her overcome the shock and to readjust to her life without being able to play. Doesn't sound fun does it? And indeed, it's not, though I found it riveting from start to finish.

The violinist is played by Juliet Stevenson, initially stoic and good humoured about the rotten hand life has suddenly dealt her. Henry Goodman takes on the psychiatrist role with a cod Jewish accent (necessary since it's referenced in the text) who slowly chips away at her bravado exterior. There is a great deal of humour in the early scenes that gives way to anger and then of course there's the breakthrough. Or in this case, breakdown. Has everyone here seen Truly Madly Deeply? Specifically the opening weepathon from Ms Stevenson to her psychiatrist? Well, she had a similar scene at the end of Act One here, as she bewails having to listen to godwawful students and her lesser talented husband all day and she can't play herself. It's an absolutely devastating moment that left the audience somewhat shellshocked for the interval. That Act Two's big breakthrough came without any emotion, but a calm and collected delivery of her revelatory monologue was something of a relief. This is about to transfer for a limited run and for Stevenson alone, it's worth seeing.

Little Shop Of Horrors

Having missed the Menier run and its West End transfer, I caught the tour of Little Shop when it came to my neck of the woods. Damian Humbley (who made a magnificent Jamie in the Menier's production of Last Five Years) was again top notch as Seymour. Clive Rowe was a full throated Audrey II and Alex Ferns was surprisingly brilliant as Orin Scrivello, returning to play all the agents vying for Seymour's attention in "The Meek Shall Inherit". The urchins were also fantastic singers, though their acting was a little, uh, amateurish.

But that is where the plaudits have to end. Claire Buckfield was not a good Audrey, lacking the vocal power to effectively transition in "Suddenly, Seymour" (her mic was just turned up really loud instead). Sylvester McCoy was hopelessly adrift as Mr Mushnik. Shame. I still enjoyed the camp ridiculousness of it all and I will never tire of a majority of the show's songs, but I was left with the nagging feeling that this could have been better.

A Little Night Music

I was initially resistant to the idea of seeing this show, due to the casting. I can't tolerate Maureen Lipman and Hannah Waddingham can be very hit and miss. But then the reviews were through the roof amazing, and I figured "what the hell?"

Well how happy am I that I threw caution to the wind and got a ticket as it was the most glorious three hours I've spent in a theatre. The cast were all exceptional (with the exception of Jessie Buckley who was woefully out of her depth as Anne) and this production mined more comedy out of the script than anybody would have thought possible. I loved it, I laughed, I was moved to tears and since seeing it, I have been unable to stop listening to the cast recording featuring Judi Dench as Desiree. It's a little telling that on that recording, Joanna Riding plays Anne and her excited squeal of "it's at a chateau!" at the start of "A Weekend In The Country" packs more character info than Jessie Buckley manages over an entire performance. It has now started its West End transfer and I will be seeing it again, at least once, hopefully more.

A View From The Bridge

I love me some Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. I think she's massively underrated and never really had the high profile career she deserves. She shows up on the London stage every now and again (she was splendid in the Donmar's revival of Grand Hotel in 2004-2005) and she's back, with Ken Stott and Hayley Atwell in Arthur Miller's tragedy.

One asks, did Miller really ever write anything but? It's not as though you could play The Crucible or Death of a Salesman for laughs, is it? And Bridge is hardly brimming with feelgood charm and in a little over two hours, manages to bring the audience, dooby doo down down. It's supremely well acted, if a little clunkily staged and directed, and though set in the 50's, the themes of the play are still relevant to today, in some ways. While it's not something you could ever say was entertaining, it was definitely worthwhile viewing.

Three Days Of Rain

An actor's play if ever there was one. A three hander where Act One is set in the present day and Act Two has the actors playing their character's parents from Act One, it requires two completely different performances from each of them. In the hands of James McAvoy, Nigel Harman and Lyndsey Marshall, that element is a qualified success.

As is, in my opinion, the play itself. I never really got the sense that the pay off was worthy of the build up. It was all very beautiful and very subtle but I don't know, I just wanted more. Walker Janeway and his sister meet in an abandoned New York loft after the death of their renowned architect father. They're joined by childhood friend Theo and the settling of the estate and a discovery of a journal, which Walker finds maddening in its brevity causes things to unravel, particularly when he focuses on the entry that is merely the play's title and nothing more.

Act Two reveals what happened during the titular three days and the most striking volte face, performance wise, is McAvoy. Walker is hyperactive, slightly crazy, possibly gay and very angry. Walker's father Ned is shy, quiet and has a stutter. The fallout of the three days is something only the audience can appreciate as we know what their kids think happened, so witnessing the actuality is very bittersweet. Richard Greenberg is a very good playwright and this structure is a fascinating idea but it clips the bullseye rather than going dead centre.

Plague Over England

What a weird play. Written by a critic, for the love of God. Ostensibly about John Gielgud and his arrest for cottaging when he was at the height of his fame, it also tries to cram in about 5 other storylines with the majority of the cast playing multiple roles to add to the confusion.

It's very rushed, as people come bustling on, say about nine words and then it's the next scene. At one point, two scenes play out simultaneously for no good reason. The extremely odd and hallucinatory ending fails to tie everything up satisfactorily. How this was a good idea that deserved a West End run, I cannot fathom.

Waiting For Godot

And speaking of things I cannot fathom, Samuel Beckett. I've somehow gone 34 years without ever watching a Beckett play and in all honesty, if this one hadn't starred Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, I would easily have made it many more years without seeing a Beckett play.

I don't get it. I don't get him and I certainly don't get how precious he and now his estate are over the staging of his plays (you have to sign a contract stipulating you won't deviate one iota from the text and the stage directions). Godot was two and a half hours of blank nonsense that in less talented hands would have been a disaster. That McKellen and Stewart, along with Simon Callow in full on Brian Blessed mode and Ronald Pickup, made this even slightly entertaining is testament to their inordinate talent. Currently on a pre-West End tour, it's playing to capacity houses of rapturous audiences but I very much doubt ANYONE was cheering the choice of material.

Already booked in for the next three months:

New Boy
with Nicholas Hoult
The Fever with Claire Higgins
Madame De Sade with Judi Dench, Rosamund Pike, Frances Barber and Deborah Findlay
Dimetos with Jonathan Pryce and Anne Reid
A Doll's House with Gillian Anderson, Christopher Ecclestone, Toby Stephens and Tara Fitzgerald.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hot Guy Monday: Tahmoh Penikett

Since last Friday marked not only the end of Battlestar Galactica but also Dollhouse finally kicking into high gear, today's hot guy is Helo himself, Tahmoh Penikett.

Battlestar is one of the finest shows to have graced television in recent times. Buried on the Sci Fi Channel and dismissed by a lot of people, it transcended the genre with some impeccable writing, direction and performances (James Callis' performance as Baltar is quite possibly the most finely rendered and perfectly pitched piece of acting as to have ever been on television). The last ever episode was not perfect but it was absolutely astonishing all the same and I was moved to tears on more than one occasion (to come back to Callis again, his "I know about farming" line gutted me like a fish). Now that it's over, I want to watch it all again.

As for Dollhouse, five weeks of tonal uncertainty and poor plotting finally gave way to a multitude of twists and turns that was insanely exciting and ensured I'll watch the show to the end of the season. Plus, Tahmoh was shirtless a lot.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

RIP Natasha Richardson

You know how sometimes you hear a news report about a celebrity injury and think "oh they'll get better"? The reports about Richardson's skiing accident were so inconsistent that throughout the two days I kept expecting her to appear on TV and say "oh for heaven's sake people, I'm fine!"

But no. She died last night and it's so shocking and sad. She was young, she was fiercely talented and she leaves behind a grieving husband and two teenage sons. I saw her on stage twice (once in Closer, once in Streetcar) but the role for which she will always be remembered is Sally Bowles in the Broadway revival of Cabaret. I didn't get to see her in the role (she'd left the production the weekend before my first ever trip to NYC), I have the cast recording and her performance of the songs on there is so new, so unexpected and to be quite honest, so pitch perfect that to have just her take on the title number as her sole legacy would be a huge achievement.

However, it's just one entry in a distinguished career and it really underlines how tragic her early unexpected death is. In addition to the talent, Richardson also possessed something sadly lacking in a lot of today's stars: class. She was supremely classy and I've never forgotten how sweet and funny she was at the stage door for Closer, even with fans more interested in talking to her about her husband. She will be missed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hot Guy Monday: Returning with............

Something a little left of centre. I've been watching and enjoying the new Fox show Lie To Me, and it's given me a new TV boyfriend. Brendan Hines. He's adorable on the show and he's just plain gorgeous to look at too. But the main selling point? His hair. Sweet Christ I just love his hair. It's the kind of unruly mop that he probably hates but it gives me full on Hair Envy. Feast your eyes:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

PCB is now 34

So I hit 34 years of age on Monday. I'm really not sure how that happened. Isn't there a saying about how life is what happens when you're looking the other way? I do really feel like my life is being lived without me at the moment. Wow, 2009 is really shaping up to be a champion year isn't it?

In all seriousness, since the Canadian debacle, I have been doing a lot of soul searching about what I really want to do with my life and where I want to go and I am in the process of making some really tough decisions. The first decision is to move back to London. That's made, but the logistics, the finances and many other little obstacles need to be ironed out and overcome, so it's a good thing I won't be going for at least another 10 months. Thanks to the recession, there is not a great deal of point in going any sooner anyway as there are no jobs to go to up there. There possibly won't be in 10 months time, so we'll have to see.

Since the Canadian decision, I haven't really been sleeping properly either. I've been waking up around 5am every single morning and been unable to get back to sleep. Hence I'm writing this entry at 6:40am. Fun. I need to do something about this though as it's really starting to get to me and I lost my temper with a co-worker yesterday as I was just too tired to keep my annoyance in check. Ooops.

Since I don't want my blog to become a complete downer, I'll try and make the next entries more fun, promise.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Naked Farmer for March 2009

I've been massively neglectful of my blog since the start of 2009. I just don't feel like I'm doing stuff interesting enough to blog about. Or maybe it's that I am doing interesting stuff, I just can't muster the energy to blog about it. I've been very blue since the whole Canada farrago and with a birthday on the horizon to remind me I ain't getting any younger, I've apparently descended into a state of bleh. So here's some naked farmer to take my mind off it.