Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kate Bush - theatrical genius!

I should preface this by saying I am a huge Kate Bush fan - I've waited 30 odd years for this so by gum it needed to be good. It wasn't just good. It was simply stunning.

At the end - and I feel guilty having taken it!

These blog posts are written from a theatre school viewpoint - so what can we draw from last night's show?

1. Never forget that if you are onstage, you are there to entertain. There's no purpose to what you do without an audience. Kate Bush put everything into drawing the audience into her differently created worlds - first as a multi-million selling uber-singer, secondly in the Ninth Wave as the desperate woman washed into the sea awaiting rescue, and thirdly as part of a summer dream tinged with the fear of blackbirds. Theatrical always, visually amazing throughout and all underscored by her wonderful music played by a superb band. And finished off with a song everyone could sing along with - somewhat euphorically!

2. Attention to detail - we go on and on about everything on stage meaning something - the slightest look, the tiniest hand movement. Everyone on stage was 'on it' 100%. But also the whole visit should be an experience, so the programme was a work of art, the merchandise original and apt (including a sea survival kit!) and even the confetti blown into the audience was printed with lines from a Tennyson poem.

3. Enjoy the show - leave the cameras/mobiles at home. Kate Bush asked fans not to take photos/recordings during the show and just enjoy the event. What a difference that made! Everyone just focused on the performance, not on dodging lit up screens. We always ask parents not to take photos or film during our main shows, primarily for security reasons but more and more I believe important moments are being ruined by the desperate need for validation through photographic proof that 'you were there' and to have every moment of your life digitally stored. So I (hypocritically)ended up like everyone else with a photo of the theatre outside, two of empty stages and one at the very end - and even then I felt a bit guilty. But it was nice to see the whole audience rapt and focused and not littered with little lit up screens. Perhaps our communications on this with parents should reflect more on 'being in the moment' rather than recording it.

4. There's no substitute for a massive budget sometimes, but it still takes skill to use it well. Kate Bush had obviously gone for the best specialists she could find - not just the brilliant musicians, but the lighting and stage/costume designers and even Adrian Noble as her co-director. I wonder if they'd come and help with 'The Boy Preference'. I'll ask...

5. Commit to your creation! Nobody is memorable for being mediocre. Try something amazing. You never know...

So overall, this might well have been the best gig I've ever seen - and I've seen quite a few. Trying to think now what my other favorites were... Japan as a support band for Blue Oyster Cult (yes it did happen), the original Two-Tone tour, Peter Gabriel's 'Growing Up' tour... no, this was the best.

There's rumours of a DVD of the show being released. I strongly advise you to make a small investment.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Not so Great Britain...

The West End transfer of the National Theatre's production of 'Great Britain' looked uncomfortable last night.

It was written and rehearsed in secret whilst the phone-hacking trials were in progress and opened soon after (June) without previews or too much publicity to generally favourable reviews (especially for Billie Piper in the lead role).

It is strange that such an immediate and 'current' piece should look so dated, so quickly! Not only is the phone-hacking scandal already very old news, but the 'state of the nation' on which the play comments has changed hugely during the debate on Scottish independence. We aren't living in the same 'Great Britain' that we were in June.

But even given this, it was a very uneven and ultimately disappointing show that dealt in broad stereotypes that we have seen far too often.

Lucy Punch played the role originally created by Billie Piper at a constant level of coarse smugness that was simply annoying after the first 10 minutes - to be honest she was pretty awful. Dermot Crowley did a good job as the Murdoch-figure and Robert Glenister was fun as the awful Editor (until he disappeared in the second act). The show was totally stolen by the hilariously incompetent Police Commissioner played by Aaron Neil and by the brilliant graphics displayed on very funky large dividing screens at scene changes.

But 'riotously funny' it was not.

There's a real benefit to the brilliant NT Travelex ticket scheme by which £15 seats are offered to most shows - you can go to a play and be disappointed without being too irate that you've wasted a huge amount of money!

And crisps £1.70 a bag (I missed my tea)! Come on....

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Fantastic fringe!

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year was superb. It's not just the vast numbers of variable quality pieces on offer (2000+), nor the ability to go from dawn to early morning in a constant stream of theatre, it's the whole vibe of so many people with similar outlooks brought together in one place. The vibe is remarkable.

Ostensibly we were there to support the youngest son with NSFW and his experience is very typical I suppose.

You arrive to a hastily constructed space (in his case an old office block just off the Royal Mile which was very atmospheric and are given a very short space of time to get your technical rehearsal done - 45 minutes at 6.30am in his case.

You open the next day and before your slot (12.55pm for NSFW) you are all out on the streets desperately leafleting away in the hope of getting an audience to see you. Walking down the Royal Mile during festival time is to run the gauntlet of creative, well-meaning, occasionally to pushy or just mad leafleteers. Your pockets swiftly fill up with bits of A6 card. Here's a nice article on the art of leafleting.

Next you hope for a good review, and the earlier the better, to attract more people. Luckily NSFW got 5* from the well-read in the first week and so numbers were pretty god. This was followed by a 4* and 3* from Edfringe later on. So the numbers were kept bubbling along - you are there for three weeks!

By the last week you are sick to death of leaflets and probably fellow thesps - NSFW's cast seemed remarkably happy together but this is probably unusual. But it's hard work being around actors for a long time and you long for the sanity of a quiet space.

At the end of three weeks you try not to count the cost of what you've just done. Very few productions make a profit. It's the experience (and the exposure) that counts.

And then home, with a bag full of ripe washing and a feeling of achievement that it takes a while to come down from.

If you've never been to the festival as audience, go. If you're an actor or director, it's part of any good actor's training.