Posts Tagged ‘Arcola Theatre’

Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola Theatre 9 January

January 11, 2014


A pensive Don Gil in Bath, but still the wonderful Hedydd Dylan

A pensive Don Gil in Bath, but still the wonderful Hedydd Dylan

This was a preview, or even a preview of a preview, but it wasn’t since the three plays of The Spanish Golden Age had already had an extended run-out in Bath.  As one would, I was expecting a kind of Shakespeare without the poetry or psychological probing, and indeed we did get Rosalind, very tall and dressed in green.  Here she was Doña Juana, whose beloved Don Martin has left her in Valladolid  to go to Madrid and make an advantageous marriage with Doña Ines.  But he has to call himself  Don Gil.  So she has to go to Madrid herself disguised as another Don Gil so as to outwit the stupid men and other second-tier comic characters and reclaim her true love.  But she wears green breeches, so she has to be the special Don Gil.  (Plot summary here.)  Remember that women cannot help falling in love with a delicate stranger, in Madrid or anywhere else…

It turned out that Tirso de Molina’s strengths here lay in keeping the exuberantly silly plot moving swiftly and convincingly and in providing excuses for the appearance of many green Don Gils of different sexes.  The audience found it very funny, and applauded enthusiastically at the end to make up for their lack of numbers.  Indeed, I could even sit  in one of the two rows that give you a frontal view of the production (and the row behind seemed to be playing host to the claque, while director  Mehmet Ergan had exiled himself to the outer reaches of the bleachers).

This blog heartily recommends Don Gil of the Green Breeches–it could easily reach five-star level with a few more outings in its new home.

Larisa and the Merchants, Arcola Studio 2, 02 May

May 4, 2013



In your dreams, girl (from

This is a version by Samuel Adamson of Bespridannitsa by the 19th-century Russian dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky.  As so often with Ostrovsky, we are in a town on the Volga towards the end of the 19th century.  The young and beautiful Larisa has no dowry, so finding a husband will be difficult.  Moreover, she has been captivated by the upper-class steamship proprietor Paratov, who disappeared suddenly.  But she has decided to make the best of the bad job and marry Karandyshev, a government official, who has only one thing to be said in his favour–he loves her.  Then of course Paratov returns and somehow you know that things aren’t going to turn out well..

I had two difficulties with this performance.  The first was that the part of Larisa was severely underplayed–there was no sign of the desperate craving for happiness that leads you to wreck the world for what you know is impossible or indeed the lightning changes in mood.  I think that in general Ostrovsky requires a more declamatory style of performance.  The text seemed to have been toned down along the same lines as well.  Instead of  Larisa’s final speech:

Let them be merry, if they feel like it…I don’t want to get in anyone’s way.  Live, all of you live!  You have to live, and I have to die…I’m not complaining about anyone, I’m not angry at anyone…you are all good people…I love you…all of you.  (Blows a kiss)

we got something much more restrained:

Let those who are happy be happy…live, live…love…

Also we didn’t really get any feeling of the merchants as belonging to their own caste separate from the rest of the world and living by their own rules.  In fact, the title may have given the idea that Paratov was just another of the merchants when in fact it was the contact with another world that proved fatal, as in Madame Bovary and many other places you can think of.  Here the merchants were got up rather as modern Russian businessmen who certainly don’t as yet constitute a hereditary caste.  The first thing with Ostrovsky is the patriarchal way of life and how it destroys people:  you need to establish that before moving on to anything else.

The production was perfectly lucid and you could tell who was who and what was going on.  Sam Phillips as Paratov was  very good– sexy and imposing and dangerous–though perhaps he needed to be more of a creep as well.

There is a Bank Holiday £5 Ticket Offer for 6 May and director Jacqui Honess-Martin will be giving a talk at Pushkin House on 21 May.  And see here for what I know about other Russian plays in London.

Purge, Arcola Theatre 29 February

March 3, 2012


Aliida manages to get close to Hans

A full and expectant house was pressed up close against the set as Aliida Truu read her newspaper and then going about her evening tasks found a runaway prostute Zara unconscious in her yard.

The action in this play went on in two periods simultaneously: the period after the Second World War when the Soviet Union consolidated its hold over Estonia, and that after the fall of the Soviet Union, when hustlers and criminals prepared to make a killing.  The theme of sexual violence against women–first of all by the security services, then by pimps–was a constant.

The most effective scenes were those where the young Aliida struggled to make her way in the postwar world and to get the concealed fugitive Hans to notice her while the old Aliida looked on and seemed to understand.  Some of the present-day scenes were a lot weaker, especially since the world of Russian hustlers and whores is regrettably familiar to me, and I didn’t find the reprentations of them in Pasha (Benjamin Way) and Zara (Elicia Daly) at all convincing.

While each half of the evening ended with an effective theatrical coup, there was quite a lot of plodding novelistic exposition in between (I think this text was first of all a play, then a novel, then a play again).  You were reminded that themes like the psychological effect of defeat and concealment had been done a lot better elsewhere.

I think that Sofi Oksanen’s presentation of what she was trying to say here strayed too far towards the naturalistic.  It might even have been better to do it in the style of Greek tragedy, with Aliida starting off by describing her weary old life in the village and then recounting the myth of the Soviet invasion and subsequent oppression of Estonia and what happened to her family then questioning Zara in stichomythia.  The old Aliida could be the chorus following and commenting on the action, then bringing matters to a close.

One thing that was puzzling me got explained on the way out, when the woman in front of me turned and said to her friend, Oh, he was an undercover policeman.

Phaedra’s Love Arcola Theatre 28 September

September 28, 2011


Arcola Studio 1--but not this production!

I know that looks like Uncle Vanya up there, but I have a point to make:  you want to sit in the seating in the middle facing the wall (so you can see the video projection on the wall) but not in the front row (unless you want to tangle with Hippolytus’s toy-car-cum-chariot).

I had the idea that this was an adaptation of Seneca’s Phaedra, but that’s not quite it:  it’s more like the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus done in the Senecan manner with lots of extra incest, mutilation, rape etc thrown in for good measure and with dreary existential attitudinising after Caligula (or more distantly Huis Clos) added as well.

So at the beginning Hippolytus is a cynical depressed unwashed slob given to fast food and masturbation and hence women are crazy for him, especially his stepmother Phaedra.  Both Nicholas Shaw (Hippolytus) and Joanna Roth (Phaedra) did this bit very well, and the tension was well maintained in some further incestuous interchanges with their half-sister/daughter Strophe (Emma Keele).

You know what happens next.  Fellatio.   Phaedra dead and Hippolytus accused of rape.  He will not save himself.  Up to here we’d done pretty well really, with the play keeping us securely in the discomfort zone.  Then there was an outbreak of existentialism as Hippolytus sought–welcomed–authenticity at last.  Then there followed mob violence, castration, incestuous anal rape etc not to mention a final lyrical-existential-decadent declaration by Hippolytus regarding vultures.

I think if you’re going to stage that kind of violent excess you need to do it on a really grand scale and try to cow the audience, which is not really possible in this space.

A lot of the time we had rather intrusive sound design (or just sound) and I personally couldn’t make out all the words.  I suppose that Katie Mitchell has decreed that video projections and clipboards (it wasn’t quite a clipboard that Strophe entered with, but near enough) are compulsory in all productions with some classical reference, so it must be so.

But all-in-all worth seeing, and with some impressive playing.

The Golden Dragon Arcola Theatre 02 September

September 3, 2011


Picture from Edinburgh production

Actors Touring Company kindly sent me an email: ATC would love to invite you to see the show on our official Press Night which will take place on Friday 2nd September. If you are unable to attend the Press Night we would be happy for you to come along on to our Preview Night on Thursday 1st September. Both performances begin at 7.30pm. We will provide you with a free ticket to the performances of your choice as a thank you for your time. 

I was interested to see what a theatre full of bloggers would look like and I’d heard of playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig, so I thought I would go along but pay for my own ticket to ensure the complete impartiality of this blog.

As a first approximation we got something like Georges Perec (La vie mode d’emploi) adapated by Bertolt Brecht and staged in the poor theatre style of Jerzy Grotowski, with plenty of stage directions spoken by the actors, men playing women, old actors playing young characters, undersized furniture…a good night of modern European theatre.

The action concerned the staff and customers of a Vietnamese-Chinese-Thai restaurant and other people living in the block of flats it was located in.  So far so Perec, although the addition of the Ant and the Grasshopper from Aesop stretched the boundaries a bit.  As things went on, these stories blended into each other, we encountered a Rabelais-style kingdom-in-a-tooth, the alienation effects were moderated and some of the characters even gained names.  On the other hand, the jokes also grew less frequent and the audience laughed less.

The ending once more played with our expectations of an ending (and offered an instead-of-an-ending, though we could call the rotten tooth spat into the river the objective correlative of a Joycean epiphany I  suppose).  But all in all a good evening of modern European theatre without needing to go beyond E8, even if £ 17 for 70 minutes of five actors and 70p worth of props seems a bit steep.  And you feel hungry again as soon as it’s finished…

Oh yes, the audience–they did appear to be younger, better-looking and more intelligent than the average…

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (Caryl Churchill) Arcola Theatre 17 July

July 18, 2010


Uninformative picture of some cast members

The Arcola Theatre was quite well-filled with an audience predominantly of decaying lefties (like the present author) for the Saturday evening performance of Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play about the  English Civil War, Putney Debates, and the unhappy fate of the Diggers and Levellers.  The extreme (sandal-wearing) faction of the audience had some difficulties with the cross of fresh earth that had been let into a concrete floor so that the Diggers could dig.

It wasn’t very good, in all truth.  I enjoyed the hymn-singing, Biblical references and extracts from the Putney Debates, but otherwise….

So we began with some vignettes of life on the eve of (perhaps at the beginning of) the Civil War, making approved points about the subjection of women, poverty of the masses, landowners and established church joining in Old Coruption, etc.  As far as I can see there are two ways of doing this:  like Bulgakov in The White Guard, you can create a convincing picture of peacetime life so that the audience knows what is being lost or changed, or like Brecht in Mother Courage you can present your scenes explicitly framed and alienated, like the small panels round the edge of the icon.  Here Churchill was trying to do the second in the manner of the first, and it didn’t work.

Also the characters were wearing black and the lifesuppressing black curtain was in place round the edge of Arcola Studio 1 (I actually touched it–Eurgh!!), so the whole action rather failed to detach itself from the gloom.  Then we had the Putney Debates, and I cheered up–the actors took off their black tops to reveal white shirts, and they had some interesting words to say.  At the end, Cromwell said they would refer the Agitator’s paper to a Comittee–a sure sign of the coming triumph of satanic evil, one has to agree.  I thought that Michelle Terry did a good job as Henry Ireton here, needing as she did to overcome the twin disadvantages of being a girl and defending the rights of property.

So I was encouraged enough to stay for the second half.  Where people were wearing odd bits of (dark coloured) modern clothing and military gear.  So the Diggers and Levellers were suppressed, the army had the choice of killing Irish or going home.  Then we had the kind of scene that Dostoevsky did so well (and on this evidence Ms Churchill would be advised not to attempt at all) where characters filled with millenarian expectation declare that Christ is coming, God is within them, sin is no sin, while desperately drinking and whoring.

So after Dostoevsky we had Orwell and the new Parliamentary squire becoming the same as the old Royal Squire and explaining that Cromwell would no longer oppose enclosing the commons though he had in the past; and then  Voltaire–Chacun doit cultiver son jardin, which the Levelling soldier Briggs did by learning to eat grass.

Well, I thought that Michelle Terry was getting a handle on her various roles.  Philip Arditti took the Frenchified diction of the class oppressor a bit too far.  Apart from the complaints listed above, I found that once more the oversized amorphous drabness of Arcola Studio 1 dissipated the drama into dullness, and I didn’t believe a lot of the text–I would have expected, for instance,  the characters to back up almost every assertion by a Biblical reference.

Gala Evening Special Offer 21 July

I have also received the following from the Arcola:

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Curchill

For just £30 (normally £48), you can join special guest Caryl Churchill at the Arcola Theatre for an evening of theatre, discussion, music, food and drink.

The evening includes:

• Food and Wine

• A ticket to see the show

• An introductory talk on the period by Geoffrey Robertson, QC

• Tony Benn and Kate Mosse in conversation

• Music from Billy Bragg

With fantastic catering provided by Leila Latif, and free flowing wine from the Swan, at Shakespeare’s Globe, the evening kicks off at 6.30pm, before the show will start at 7.30pm.

The play tells the story of a group of ordinary men and women struggling to find a voice in the face of unspeakable suffering, who cling to the belief that they will be shown a glimpse of an unspeakable, transcendent glory. Churchill herself will be in the audience to see the next installment from director Polly Findlay, and the stellar creative team behind Thyestes (Arcola) and Eigengrau (Bush Theatre).

“Polly Findlay showed real insight and imagination in her production of my translation of Seneca’s Thyestes at the Arcola. I enjoyed her use of the space and the detail of her work with the actors, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with Light Shining.” – Caryl Churchill

Your support will go directly to making the production possible.

Light Shining Gala Night

Wed 21 July at 6.30pm

To book – simply call Arcola Box Office on 02075031646 and quote ‘Subscriber Gala Offer’.

Tickets to this special event are entirely subject to availability.

Greek Drama (perhaps) in June (perhaps) and July

May 31, 2010

I think they mean June

The Theatro Technis Facebook page is advertising ‘The Phoenician Women’ for 23-27 June–that’s not quite what the poster says, but never mind.  This production has yet to appear on their website.


Meanwhile, there will be performances of Hotel Medea: An Overnight Experience on July 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31.  It is described as A site-specific performance leaving by boat from the QEII Pier at the O2 (North Greenwich).  Ticketing details  here. Violence, nudity, staying up all night and unsuitable for children–sounds like it’s just meant for me.

I wonder what original source they used–which is worse out of Euripides and Apollonius Rhodius?

Sir, one does not dispute the precedency between a flea and a louse.

The Roman Bath (Stanislav Stratiev) Arcola Theatre 15 May

May 16, 2010


Picture from Arcola site, with the help of Ctrl + Alt + PrtSc

A healthy crowd turned out for the £5 final matinee of this Bulgarian comedy.

The basic story is that the hero (Ivan Antonov) returns from holiday to find that a Roman bath has been discovered beneath the floor of his flat, and divers lowlifes and others want to profit from it.  Of course, since this is Communist-era Bulgaria there’s no question of him finding another place to live.  Hilarious consequences ensue, especially with the interruptions of the lifeguard, who has been appointed to make sure that nobody drowns in the swimming pool.

At the end, the other pretenders find themselves ousted by the local party cell, and the hero and his new girlfriend Martha, who started out as the fiancee of the ambitious archaeologist Vasilev MA, slip away to join the people, taking with them only a couple of mementoes of the the part Antonov’s family played in nthe revolutionary struggle.

So far so Nikolai Erdman–in Mandat some accommodation becomes unexpectedly available and various pretenders appear while in The Suicide a threatened suicide also attracts different factions wanting to claim it for themselves; in both cases it all ends with realising that the people is right.  So this one loses by not having the edge of desperation in the original situation and gains in the sheer absurdity of what goes on.

There was certainly plenty of  laughter from the £5 audience, though some people also did not return after the interval.  I thought that Ifan Meredith did well as the typical man-on-the-edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown comic here, while Rhona Croker as the love interest rather underplayed, and portrayed her changes of mood too matter-of-factly.  Contrariwise, I thought that Bo Poraj as the curator-of-fine-arts-come-spiv Banev pressed a bit too hard and didn’t give the jokes quite enough time to take effect.  Lloyd Woolf as the Lifeguard and Derek Schaal as the Party Rep were both very sound.

The design featured a load of crap in the middle of the indeterminate (but excessively large) black void that is Arcola Studio 1.  The lighting left Antonov’s face in the dark on a couple of occasions when we would have liked to have seen it.

So, not bad for £5, and I got the chance to try out the East London Line as well.

The Roman Bath for £5!

May 14, 2010

We have received an email as follows from the Arcola:

£5 per ticket
Only available on Saturday May 15 at 3pm

The Roman Bath
Studio 1
8pm (3pm Matinee)

This offer is not available online, please ring our box office on 020 7503 1646 to book.
For more information about The Roman Bath please click here.

Knives in Hens (David Harrower) Arcola Theatre 27 February

February 28, 2010


I didn’t understand this.  The idea is that we’re in some kind of pre-industrial nowhere (but they speak with Yorkshire accents and dispense with the definite article the way Yorkshire folk do) and the Young Woman who is married to Pony Williams (they are shown above) gains control of language after visiting the miller (who actively reads and writes) after which the two of them do away with PW (who may have been making love to his own horses or to ‘that Robertson girl’ in the stables) and then they…go their separate ways.

So let’s think about this.  The stage of not understanding figurative language–that something can be ‘like’ something else–lies further back in human development than any culture we have direct evidence for.  Even in Yorkshire.  The fact that the miller has a surname–he’s called Gilbert Horn–means we can’t be any earlier than the 15th century.  The material culture on view (pen, neatly printed books, safety matches (!)) suggests mid-to-late 19th century, and the fact that the Young Woman Working In The Fields could read and write means late 19th century I think.

So I didn’t believe it.  And she killed two hens in one day, just for her and PW??  Furthermore, I was bored–and there were times when I (who spent 15 years or so within the historic boundaries of Yorkshire) couldn’t understand what Jodie McNee as the YW was saying.   While I could understand Phil Cheadle as Miller Gilbert Horn and Nathaniel Martello-White as Pony William, I was no more convinced by them.

The Young Woman–who incidentally wrote down her name as Sarah from where I was sitting–likened her creation-by-naming to sticking a knife in a hen’s stomach, which is where the title comes from.

At least it was only an hour and a quarter!