Memphis lives in me.

Firstly credit to my friend Jen for getting up at an ungodly hour, and braving a slightly scary day seat queue for this one.

I’ve seen Memphis twice now, once in New York and again in London. Both times I confess it was really to see the leading man (Adam Pascal and Killian Donnelly respectively) but both times I’ve been really surprised at how much I like the show.

Memphis, if I were to describe it, is a darker, more adult Hairspray (interestingly this was the last thing I saw at the Shaftsbury in London too)  It deals with many of the same themes, from a similar era. But Memphis has a darker edge, and it’s central characters are older, their experiences less sunny, the outcome also less cheery. Perhaps it’s because I’m a cynical grown-up I actually prefer Memphis’ take on race-relations in America.

Taking place in, funnily enough, Memphis, the story centres on Huey, an somewhat unsuccessful and unlucky young white man, who has a passion for ‘black music’. Huey breaks convention to go to Black clubs, and then defy authority to play what his boss calls ‘race music’ in a department store, and is subsequently fired. Huey goes on to blag his way into a radio station, and through playing ‘race music’ becomes the most successful radio DJ in Memphis. In the process he is forming a relationship with (black) club singer Felicia. Their relationship against the backdrop of the 1950s South, ends up having serious consequences for everyone. And without giving everything away, Memphis doesn’t end on a fairytale ending.

When I first saw Memphis I appreciated this honesty of depiction. That the white boy couldn’t just sweep a black girl off her feet and live happily ever after. As a historical piece that would be a betrayal, and tragically as it turned out just this week, even in contemporary America these themes resonate. I don’t want to dwell on these issues here, partly because such discussions deserve their own space. But in a week where Black Americans were murdered in cold blood, in 2015, the attitudes, the dangers, that Memphis shows a glimpse of, are still so tragically not far away. That’s why I appreciate that Memphis doesn’t gloss over these elements, and that it also doesn’t make things easy for it’s characters. I’m not claiming it’s a hard hitting political drama, but if anything Memphis shows that a piece of theatre doesn’t have to be that in order to still have resonance and truth.

History and politics slightly to one side, Memphis is also a well put together piece of theatre. Musically it’s not the strongest new piece of recent years, but the score is solid, inspired by Blues and Rock and Roll, it sounds very much of the era it is set. Personally I’d have preferred more balance between leading man and leading lady numbers, with it being weighted in favour of the latter.

The best part of Memphis for me remains the reason I bought a ticket: Killian Donnelly. My theatre nerds will appreciate when I say there are those times, those shows where you just go and fall in love with an actor. Not their character, not them as a real person, just them as a performer. Sometimes there’s just that extra bit of theatrical magic when everything falls into place. He’s an actor who was born for musicals, and not only is his voice glorious, he has that particular musical theatre acting skill that’s rarer than you’d think. It’s the kind of performance that makes you just fall for an actor’s talent regardless of the type of role. I’d urge anyone who can to see Memphis before he leaves in a few weeks. Or failing that Kinky Boots later in summer. An actor whose talents that I’ll long be admiring. And yes, ok, fact that he’s a tall, bearded Irishman is doing him no harm at all.

Memphis is a great smaller musical with a serious edge. It’s ensemble is excellent and hardworking and everything from staging to choreography is slick but not overbearing. And although I’ve urged anyone thinking of going to see Donnelly before he leaves, if that’s not possible head to an understudy performance- some true musical theatre talent in Jon Robyns and Rachel John as well.

Here’s a sneak peak of ‘Memphis Lives in Me’


Everyman Festival Preview

I’m really excited that to kick off my new re-vamped theatre review blog I’ve been invited by Everyman Theatre in Cardiff to be one of their bloggers for the summer festival!

A lot of people in Cardiff will be familar with the Everyman theatre festival which happens every summer. For those who aren’t every year Everyman sets up home for an outdoor festival of theatre including Shakespeare, Musical Theatre, Comedy and a children’s show-meaning there’s something for everyone. This year the company are back in Sophia Gardens with four great shows:

Blackadder the Third – 24th June-4th July
Sweet Charity- 8th-18th July 
As You Like It 22nd July- 4th August 

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast 25th July – 1st August

Blackadder the Third follows on from last year’s hilarious Blackadder outing for the festival. For those whose Blackadder knowledge is sketchy, this installment sees Blackadder in Regency England as a Butler-with of course help from Baldrick at his side- at the court of Prince George.
Oh and if you’re after an additional giggle, and keen on helping a good cause Saturday 27th June 3.00pm & 8.00pm performances will be a Charity Gala Event in aid of Comic Relief and will feature a special guest from BBC Wales Today!

Following that it’s musical time, and being something of a musical theatre nerd I can’t wait for Cy Coleman’s classic Sweet Charity.  A classic American musical set in 1960s New York, Sweet Charity is always a fun song and dance filled performance. And of course includes the classic ‘Hey Big Spender’ and for those (like me) who’ve ever had to learn it, the impossibly difficult but impossible to remove from your head once it’s in ‘Rhythm of Life’ (I do apologize for anyone who spends the rest of the day singing it now…) Sweet Charity runs Wednesday 22 July – Saturday 1 August and tickets are available here;

Shakespearean offering this year is As You Like It set in 1915 for this production where Rosalind, escaped to the forest of Arden teaches a disguised Orlando about love. A great introduction to Shakespeare for anyone who is wary of the Bard, and a firm favourite among Shakespere aficionados too. 

Finally there’s something for younger audiences-and involving young thespians, in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Designed for, and performed by younger audiences this is a Disney classic that’s great for the little theatre goers, and with morning and afternoon shows is a great family trip as well.

If all of those shows weren’t enough, this year the Festival also has two special ‘Sunday Nights at the Festival’ evenings. On the 28th  June, Forte present One Night Only, an evening of songs from your favourite films and musicals and on 12th  July,  57 Chevy line up with the ultimate 50s and 60s show. 

I’ll be blogging about each of the main shows as the festival unfolds, and you can follow me, and the festival on twitter bellow. 


And you can follow my updates on 

Goodbye Hytner thanks for the plays!

So it came to my attention that today is the last day of Nick Hytner’s time at the National Theatre. I’ve not seen nearly as much as I’d like there while he’s been there, hampered by not being closer. However I thought I’d share some highlights. I’ve stuck to those plays I’ve seen live rather than via NT live or for research purposes in their archives. (while we’re at it thank NT for that, you’ve saved my academic bacon with your religious recording of things….)

So the good….

War Horse
I didn’t see it in the NT, but I think no summary of Hytner’s tenancy can go without mentioning this one. I fought really hard to keep a discussion of this in my thesis in fact. War Horse is without doubt one of the most innovative works the NT has seen in years. No the story itself isn’t ground breaking, but I’m also all for honest, but young person friendly historical tales. But the use of puppets in this way, was simply unheard of. Years later it’s still astounding, still beautiful. Ah Joey.

London Road Verbatim Theatre, in musical form, about the Ipswich Prostitute murders? sign me up. I saw this twice. I thought it was better in the Cottesloe. But I love it. I think it’s brilliant and innovative and pushes boundaries, and everything theatre should be. It also has songs about hanging baskets. I can’t wait to see the film version this summer, especially  as it has added Olivia Coleman. Also the people I was with hated it. Not so fun at the time but for personal reasons in reterospect wonderful. It’s also the production at which I was recognised across the Olivier circle for being “that girl who looks a bit like Connie Fisher” Anyway I digress….

This House  Political play? political play that felt like a bit of a thriller, a bit of a black comedy? Excellent. I’ve nothing much else to add other than it was a well written play and an excellent production. Brilliant stuff.

The Amen Corner  I’m a sucker for a gospel choir what can I say? but I do love that this play incorporates music in an unusual way, making it that rarer beast the ‘play with music’ rather than ‘musical’. It’s also a fascinating and harrowing play that was performed brilliantly. Something of a risk but a good one.

Othello  To my shame the only Shakespeare of Hytner’s run I’ve seen, but directed by him also. A great production that did modernizing well. Kinnear and Lester’s double act was impeccable. Othello is one of three Shakespeare’s I know upside down and back to front and have strong feelings on so to get this I thought spot on for me made it a great production. Also seeing Kinnear do battle with an exploding pipe on stage, quip about being a plummer and do two scenes looking like he’d wet himself was a bonus.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime another innovative and imagination capturing production. And a brave one at that. I saw it in the Cottesloe and although I’m seeing the tour next month I don’t think it could be as perfect as it was for that setting. Of all the spaces that one has my affection for what can be done there and this was a perfect example. I don’t love the story as much as some but the staging and direction for me won me over. Even if an errant train did cause me to nearly jump out of my seat.

Finally, none of the others are ranked but this one is number 1. Caroline or Change.  The love I have for this production is immeasurable. It was the first Tony Kushner play (musical) I saw live. And look what that led to. Sometimes you fall in love with an actor on stage, sometimes a director, sometimes a writer. Sometimes all three at once. The performances in this were truly exceptional. I have nothing else to say except it was a remarkable production of a remarkable musical. For this alone I will love Hytner forever.

And the not so hot….

Actually in the NT I’ve had very few bad evenings. The Magistrate did little to set my world on fire, but I went for John Lithgow and seeing the “other side” of the NT Live Broadcasts and that’s what I got. Along with a stunning set it must be said. Until I looked over my programme I’d forgotten 13 by Mike Bartlett, but I remember it being a decent enough play, just not one to sear into my memory.

Honourable mention for “what the everloving **** was that?” award must go to “The Veil” by Connor McPherson. In my defense I was very very tired when I saw it. But all I remember is a scary old lady, a scary child and a puff of smoke. If there was something drastic I’m missing someone please enlighten me….

Finally, the only truly bad thing I’ve seen to come out of Hytner’s time, although again I didn’t see the original: One Man Two Guvnors. Not only is it the worst of the NT I’ve seen it is the only, I repeat only time I’ve genuinely wanted to leave at the interval (in fairness to it the second half is the better half) I know I’m in the minority but it’s like theatrical fingernails on a blackboard to me.


525, 600 minutes and then some; Rent and me nine years later.

December 22nd, 8pm, Eastern Standard time….wait that’s not quite right.

Nine years ago, 22nd December, 8pm (Eastern standard time) I finally saw Rent on Broadway. It’s fair to say that night changed my life, and changed me. A fairly bold statement, but after 4 years and one PhD that is (half) about Rent, I think that’s fair. It also cemented my love of theatre and musical theatre.

We begin….as Mark says in the opening monologue…

I don’t actually remember finding Rent, it just feels like from the moment of musical theatre obsession being born it was there. I do remember when I finally got the Original Cast Recording. I was desperate to play it on my CD walkman (remember those kids) and playing it on the bus home in Montreal (where I was living by this time) but at this point Rue Sherbrooke (yes I remember what bus I was on) was far too bumpy and ‘What You Own’ skipped and skipped the whole way home (remember skipping CD’s kids?) Once I had that recording I was obsessed. These were the days before YouTube and bootlegs were harder to come by, so all I had was the recording. The recording and internet message boards. I spent a great deal of time of Broadwayworld, taking in details of shows I hadn’t seen and talking about those I did. The internet at this time was a wonderful resource for my theatre-starved life, and it’s where I found out all about Rent.

Eventually I made it to see Rent. In my head I remember it being sooner-that winter that I was living in Montreal but my fastidious record keeping tells me in fact it was the Christmas after, when Mum and I returned to New York. I remember having to persuade her to see it, that it wasn’t something she thought she wanted to see. In the end we saw it again four days later.

(What You Own has always been my favourite moment in Rent, Roger and Mark’s friendship being as important as the love stories to me. And I love the staging too) 

I actually don’t remember the first time that well. I was really jet-lagged having flown in the day before. We were sitting close by, about row C, and there was a man explaining the plot to his teenage daughter behind us. The current Mark was also infamous for not being particularly engaged with his character, which in retrospect I see was right. It was still magical, wonderful, enchanting. And on Boxing Day, having no show booked for the matinee we went back.

This moment forever ingrained in my mind (forever flicker on the 3D imax of my mind…) 

This is the show I remember, this is the Rent I’ll always remember no matter how many versions I see. There was a bit of a kerfuffle and an understudy Mark was put on after a delay (turns out not so engaged Mark forgot he had a show…so internet gossip mongers told me later). The show was electric. I wish I knew that understudy’s name, but it came to life in a way I never imagined. I loved it four days earlier, I didn’t quite have words for what I felt that day. There was a moment, in the song ‘Will I’ always an emotional song, I felt like I’d be struck by lightening. It’s a strange analogy, but the best one I can come up with even now. It wasn’t so much the moment on stage, more this wave of emotion unlike anything I’ve experienced in theatre before or since.

When talking about Rent in my PhD, I always compared it to my other key text ‘Angels in America’ by describing them as ‘head and heart’ Angels is my head, the philosophical political intelligence driven text. Rent is my heart, the emotional core. I’d actually argue that they need each other and work so well because the other exists in a way. But that’s another argument (or book)  what that means to me is just that, Rent hits a part of my heart in a way that no other musical or play does. Original cast member Anthony Rapp told me that whenever he sees a production of Rent, if it makes him cry then they’ve done it right. That for me sums it up.

Rent has become a part of me. In part because of what it stood for. Rent is anarchic and rebellious and also political. It’s political in that it instills an idea of an alternative. All of Rent is alternative. Maybe not so much looking back now, maybe not even so much when I saw it nearly ten years after it opened. But it was different, so different to that which had gone before. With it’s mix of races (as a British person I didn’t even know the word ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’ before Rent (and that isn’t racist before anyone attacks me for it, but another cultural frame of reference) To see a drag queen/transvestite who wasn’t either Eddie Izzard or a pantomime dame on stage, integrated as part of the play, to see gay couples as a natural part of the narrative. To see non-traditional love stories. To see couples who took drugs and were strippers and who lived outside what Larson called ‘the mainstream’ and see them not be punished for it. All of this was and in some respects is, revolutionary.

More than that though Rent was always about friendship and love And it was friendship and love that I could recognize. Although I had begun a love of theatre and musical theatre, the people on stage were always a million miles from my life. I was never going to be a nun running away with a naval officer, I wasn’t an opera protege, I’m not a dancing cat. The characters of Rent were people I recognized, even if they were glossed with the sheen of exotic Manhattan. They were rough around the edges, they didn’t live in, or in some cases come from the ‘good’ parts of town. The actors too, weren’t cookie cutter theatre graduates. They weren’t the pretty girls and boys who always got the leading roles, they were normal looking people, they looked like people you might know. The characters lives weren’t a fairy tale either, yes things end (relatively) happily but nobody runs away with a Prince, life is, to some degree still the same, if you think beyond the musical, the characters would still struggle in their lives. It feels real, despite the bit of artistic license.  And that’s what connects people to Rent. The idea that you could know these people. As someone who grew up in the 90s particularly these looked like people I might have known if I was older. They looked like people I wanted to know despite their problems.

Viva la vie boheme 

Rent also shaped my life in that way something you’re a fan of always does. It took me back and forth to America in fostering my love of all things Broadway. It’s taken me to concerts and different performances. It’s taken me to TV shows, it’s taken me to other Broadway shows and plays. It took me to my PhD, and hopefully beyond. It took me to meet Anthony Rapp and share with him some of this experience. Oh and it’s allowed me to be able to say to Frozen fans ‘Kids I’ve loved Elsa since before you were even born’ (I’m a delight with children really) Rent, to quote my PhD counterpart has taken me to places I never dreamed I’d go.

And I still love Rent. I love it in the fond way you love something that’s been a part of your life for so long, but I love it for what it is. I still believe it’s among the greatest musical theatre works of the 20th century. It’s not perfect, even without analyzing it beyond what is normal I know that. It’s rough around the edges, it’s an unfinished work. Who knows if Jonathan had lived what it would have been. I always feel sure things would have changed, but what he left us with is something pretty special anyway.

Ah Jonathan. For any Rent fan, Larson’s story and legacy are as significant as the musical itself. For those who may not know Jonathan Larson, composer of Rent died the night of the final dress rehearsal from an aneurysm, at 35 years old. He never saw the phenomenon his musical became.  For me, and I’m sure many others, discovering Rent coincided with, and was responsible for, my love of theatre and later my decision to make some kind of life in that world. In that too Jonathan became an inspiration. Rent was his big break, he’d worked for years-working at a diner in New York to support himself, having bits of work produced here and there-none of it happened overnight. In the autobiographical musical ‘Tick Tick Boom’ which didn’t see a full production until after his death, he talks of his struggles with giving up on the art he loved for an easier life as 30 loomed. It’s an idea that’s been particularly poignant this year as I approached and passed 30 wondering what I was doing with my life, and if I should still be hanging on to dreams or growing up and being sensible. But actually, having been instilled with the bohemian rebellion of Rent, and with Jonathan’s ‘never give up’ story, I’ve kept going.

 Rent taught me many things. It has brought me so much in terms of career, in terms of knowledge, life experience, friendships and a million little things that are connected to it. And as I look back, nine years later, firstly I can’t help but be thankful that I found it. Thankful that it changed my life. I also can’t help but think if Jonathan Larson knew all the thousands of stories like mine, the ways in which Rent changed lives in big ways and small, that he’d be beyond happy.

At the end of every Rent performance he was part of Anthony Rapp used to sent three claps upward to Jonathan, thanking him for what he had done. Tonight, nine years after that first night, I’ll do the same.

There’s one thing every Rent fan says at some point, and I don’t think I’ve ever said it publicly, so i will now, it’s simple really: Thank you Jonathan Larson.

I picked the film version to end, because it has most of the original cast. Seasons of Love. 

My Night With Reg

Advanced warning this isn’t really a review. The play has closed anyway, and I’m not able to be really objective enough about this to say much in the way of critical content. So let’s agree to disagree and call it a reflection.

My Night With Reg is known by me, and possibly by many others as “The British AIDS play” it’s not the only play to address the issue but it is by far the most focused on it as a single issue, although it never actually mentions it by name (more on that later). It is also the most British of British plays. And I adored it.

My Night with Reg centres on a group of friends, all gay men, ranging from 18 to mid-40s over three separate meetings at Guy’s house. In the first gathering Daniel talks of his new love ‘Reg’ as the play continues it transpires he isn’t the only one to have had an encounter with Reg. John in particular is in love with Reg also, having been with him the night before Guy’s gathering. In scene 2 Reg has died, from AIDS related illness (again although it’s never named) leaving John distraught but unable to confess to his friend Daniel why. In scene 3 Guy, the most ‘safety conscious’ of their group has also died, leaving his flat to John, who he had been in love with since University.

In terms of plot, to quote Sondheim, there’s not an awful lot. But I like that about it. In terms of politics, again there’s not a lot (generous in terms of capitol P politics there’s none) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a statement about AIDS. What I love about ‘Reg’ is it’s ability to engage and move without being plot-politics heavy.

Perhaps it works only in context of the other AIDS plays. We need the others, we need angry vitriol of The Normal Heart, we need the sweeping world changing politics of Angels in America and we need the grass roots determination of Rent. All of these were and are important but there is also something wonderful about the approach Kevin Elyot takes in ‘Reg’.

Michael Billington wrote about Angels in America that it finally took American drama out of the living room. In Reg the AIDS drama firmly returns to the living room. And alongside those big political texts that had been imported that works so well. In Reg the men involved aren’t (as far as we know at least) involved in the political fights of the era, they are just trying to live their lives, gather in living rooms and drink Blue Nun. They are also older men, and later in the AIDS crisis, in their 30s and 40s when Elyot writes in 1994. But that doesn’t make it less affecting.

It is however so wonderfully British. Which I think for me personally, spending far too many years studying plays on this topic, is refreshing. Although the American plays are brilliant, affecting and rallying cries. There is something wonderful about something which speaks your own language. In this case a language of camp humour and almost militant avoidance of the topics that should be discussed, making them louder than ever. Firstly the humour, in a hark back to that over used phrase ‘Blitz spirit’ there is a sense of a Britain under the AIDS crisis just getting on with it. All these men are more than aware of what is happening but they get on with their lives. In a sense this is highly realistic. Not everyone was Larry Kramer and despite the pervasive nature of the crisis, lives still had to be lived, jobs gone to, houses cleaned meals cooked. And ‘Reg’ shows this. I also love that Elyot includes in his mash up of men working class people. I’m always an advocate of seeing some working class people on stage, and not just in an Artful Dodger manner. In ‘Reg’ Benny is a bus driver, and AIDS crisis or no, he must carry on (also a gay working class man in the theatre, surely not?!) the point being life very much goes on, even as the play later unravels in the face of death.

These characters aren’t particularly philosophical about it either. They talk of love and missing in a very honest way. When John, distraught at the loss of Reg-the lover he can’t admit to in front of several friends-his finding comfort in a passionate kiss, and exit with Benny, is both emotionally charged and incredibly real. When people experience loss, even in the midst of a crisis that is inherently political, they don’t always respond by rallying at the barricades, they express grief privately, they also do things like take a friend home to bed instead of dealing with the grief. And for this, Elyot’s play is incredibly real, and moving. The kiss between John and Benny, or the final exchange between John and Daniel, loaded with everything they haven’t said, is incredibly moving.

But against these moments, it’s hilarious, truly laugh out loud funny. yes it’s camp, yes there could (and have) been levied accusations of gay stereotypes. But to that I say, I give Elyot as a gay man writing about gay issues, the benefit of the doubt. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, and I’d lay money on each of the characters being based on someone Elyot knew. There’s also the importance of this now being a historical text, and what was the cultural norm for some gay men in 19994 may well be different now, but that doesn’t mean it’s offensive. Also, have I mentioned, it’s bloody funny? And perhaps forgive me for a moment of theatre nationalism, but it’s a kind of combined black humour and camp humour (and don’t those go together so well?) that only a British play could achieve in talking about AIDS. It is possible, even productive to laugh in the face of the darkest times and Elyot’s play managed that skillfully with emotionally charged moments.

The play stands up well to revival. It feels like a period piece and that’s fine. It also reminds us, perhaps unintentionally that we are again deliberately not talking about AIDS, even though it still exists. And perhaps that was Reg’s strongest enduring message.

As for me, it was a poignant moment at which to see this. Weeks after submitting the theisis I actually felt like I had enough distance to reflect on this. And, if I had my time again one of the (many) things I’d do differently is include this play. It’s so important, and it’s such a strong British voice showing there is more than one way to respond to a crisis.

It’s a great tragedy that Kevin Elyot died within weeks of this revival, I have a feeling he’d have been incredibly proud at how his play stands up, and how it was received.

Oh and as a less sophisticated footnote, being a Downton Abbey fan was slightly awkward this Sunday having just seen a lot more of one of Lady Mary’s suitors than anticipated. Temptation to shout at the TV “You don’t know what you’re missing Mary”…tone suitably lowered I’ll be on my way…


Review: The Crucible

Then how did he die?

They press him John.


Great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead ay or nay. They say he give them but two words. “More weight,” he says. And died.

I could actually quote that entire scene (I looked it up only to check I’d gotten the wording right) verbatim, without checking. I have, if memory serves played both Proctors at some point, and I have clearly had the play etched into my brain via GCSE drama and other delightful studies. Add to that a specialism in Cold War History (more on that shortly) and 20th Century drama, it’s possible to get a little Crucible-ed out. However in all that I’ve never actually seen the damn thing performed live. So with the Old Vic doing a production, while I was in London, and with Richard Armitage in the role of Proctor, I decided to finally see it.

Despite knowing the play so well, I found this production to be engaging and almost thriller like in it’s pacing. I had been concerned given reports of its length, but it felt well paced and never seemed to drag or as long as it actually was. Yes the lengthy scene changes which were carefully choreographed moving of the minimal set on an off stage, did add time to the already substantial length. However they added atmosphere and allowed for transitions between scenes that actually at times added to the story.

The staging itself worked really well. Staged in the Old Vic’s new ‘in the round’ set up, it helped bring the action in closer to the audience and added a sense of claustrophobia that fits with the premise of the play. Much like ‘Other Desert Cities’ before it, the intimacy between actors, set and audience helps to draw into the play, making it more intimate than I’d ever imagined it as.

I have a difficult time with The Crucible as a play generally. Having studied it to death for a start, makes it difficult to disconnect and get lost in the performance. But the performances, the staging and the atmosphere created here was enough to draw me in and keep me locked in the story for much of the time. I do find it difficult to completely  lose myself in the story though, my historians brain gets in the way, and the metaphor gets a little lost on me. My brain always resets to the contemporary setting that Miller was writing about with The Crucible (the ‘witch hunt’ of his era, the Army-McCarthy hearings) and as any historian will tell you there’s such a thing as knowing too much when it comes to fiction. In the case of this play I know too much about the fictionalised Salem version and the present day that Miller was writing to. So for me it’s a true testament to this play that I did find myself lost in the story and at times even though I knew all to well what was next, waiting in anticipation for it. The other aspect is just how terrifying the group of young girls is. I don’t mean in their witchy personas but actually the deeper point about mass hysteria or mob mentality that Miller was making. Anyone who has had any association with teenage girls knows en masse they are a scary lot, but I found myself making allusions to Mamet’s Oleanna in which people in authority are brought down by in that case a young woman, but in the case of the Crucible, a group of women. I’m sure there’s a more detailed analysis there, and I may be off track entirely but it’s a thought that occurred. What also occurred to me which my 1990s education certainly didn’t touch on was the inherent sexism of the play, all women are mad, the idea of women as a righteous man like John Proctor’s downfall. However, Miller is not exactly known for being devoid of sexist content. And that is a lengthy essay for another day. As it is I can accept The Crucible more than his other plays in terms of sexism as he was drawing on the historical tales of Salem. And well, if I wasn’t able to turn off my sexism radar and enjoy a play for what it is now and then I’d have major issues going to the theatre. And this production also doesn’t overplay or make worse the inherent negative images of women, if anything they became more rounded, more real women. They are still a terrifying force, and a problematic one in some respects, but I also understood them more as individuals, even when acting a scary ‘coven’.

For many of these reasons, overall ‘The Crucible’ doesn’t make me emotional in the way ‘Streetcar’ did the night before. In some ways its the way I engage with the playwrights, for me Williams speaks poetically and to the heart, particularly in Streetcar. Miller on the other hand speaks to my head, which I can’t turn off. That isn’t to say I wasn’t moved, when finally in the scene I quoted at the start, Protor and his Elizabeth are together. In fact the two scenes they share alone across the play were both incredibly moving. And both Armitage and Anna Madely give stand out performances.

And though it’s being sold as Armitage’s play (well if you can put him on a poster why wouldn’t you?) and though Proctor is a character who binds the piece it’s real strength is its ensemble piece. And the ensemble for this production is incredibly strong. From the group of girls who at time scarily move and seem to think as one, to the supporting group of male village elders-particularly Adrian Schiller and Michael Thomas as reverends Hale and Parris respectively, are all standout performances of their own. Armitage is excellent as Proctor, his booming voice and physical stature dominate the early scenes making it all the more affecting when, in the final scene he is broken down, his voice and stature reflecting this. There is no doubt in his abilities and he brings the ensemble together effectively but there is no doubt this production is a team effort.

Despite my doubts, and my inability to turn off my brain usually, I felt myself sucked in and taken on a thrilling engaging ride by The Crucible. Armitage is a stand out performer and it is impossible to take your eyes off him (well ok it is, but why would you want to?) within a strong, well directed piece of classic theatre. More than enough to blow off the cobwebs of GCSE drama.


Review: A Streetcar Named Desire

“I have always relied on the kindness of strangers”
“Well that’s a stupid thing to do”

…..or so goes the famous line in my head. I blame Tony Kushner who appropriates Tennessee Williams’ most famous play twice in his own most famous play. And that’s the trouble with famous plays, we all think we know how it goes. We all have our own version of them in our minds. Whether it’s the film version or Marge Simpson appearing as Blanche. However actually this production made me think about how well I really knew the play, which is always a good thing.

As a side note, for me it was particularly interesting, having spent far too many years looking at Kushner, to return to Williams. Kushner talks often of his love and influence by Williams and I would even say that I see Kushner as one of Williams’ worthy successors in American drama. Seeing Williams performed after spending so long with Kushner then I could see the influences on his drama. Oddly in knowing the playwright he influenced so much so well, made me appreciate the smaller nuances of Williams’ drama more. And has made me love Williams’ work more also.

Overall this is an excellent production. The acting talent in the central trio alone would take even a dire production to new heights. Even though I have some issues with the production, it’s anything but dire but the three central actors take it to another level.

Firstly the set. Yes this will go down in theatre lore I think as the spinning Streetcar. The set, an open rectangular kitchen/bathroom/living room of the Kowlaski house is on an almost permanent revolve. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t keen. Firstly the advantage of the Young Vic’s in the round (or technically octagonal) space gives an intimate setting regardless of how you stage it. This strangely shaped rectangular room seemed to needlessly restrict space for the performance. The rotation, which I can see the motivation behind, it gives alternative views on each scene dependent on where you are situated and the revolve was put to great use in emphasizing Blanche’s state of mind. It is a clever, interesting theatrical device and I appreciated what it was being used for, and to some extent what it achieved. The idea that some parts of the performance were hidden from, and in turn revealed to different sections of audience is an interesting way to play it. The idea that the revolving direction and speed are linked to Blanche likewise clever and interesting. However, these clever and interesting elements negate the fact that a constantly spinning set is a little irritating (not to mention as Les Mis proved to me, sea sickness inducing) I was glad to have a seat upstairs as my view was largely uninhibited up there. Overall though not a set or design choice that appealed.

However the modernised set, to reflect the contemporary setting of the piece did work for me. I’ve seen reviews and comments that as a result certain lines in the play, or certain aspects of it no longer work. To an extent yes, certain references may not stand up to scrutiny in the contemporary setting. However this is an issue with playwright copyright and what is permitted to change. I’m fairly ambivalent and lenient with such things anyway. In watching it what actually struck me is, in the second half when we realise how judged Blanche is for her behaviour with men, is just how shockingly contemporary that still feels. We still hold women up to such standards, and women still understandably unravel under that pressure. For me the contemporary setting worked then and the world of Blanche, Stella and Stanley doesn’t seem that far removed from our own. Even the military references obviously more indicative of Williams’ time, don’t seem in a re-militarized America of today that much of a stretch (really, has America ever been anything other than militarized?) And though some might find Blanche’s ‘Southern Belle’ routine ‘dated’ and not in fitting with today, I’d disagree, I could envisage someone of her circumstance falling back on such cultural models or moulds. In fact once she starts to truly unravel in the second half the slightly incongruous nature of that ‘act’ makes the disintegration all the more tragic.

Overall then I loved the direction, the staging though problematic for me, I could see motivations for, and the updating worked. I had some issues with pacing. The first act rockets by and this works quite well, feeling like these characters are sort of crashing into each other and the world being turned on its head a bit. In the second half I could have done with a bit of slowing down a lot earlier. Things grind to a devastating halt in the final scene where the moments are finally given space to breathe and to great affect. Before that there are scenes I wanted to slow down, to allow the characters and the audience to catch up a bit. Lord knows nobody wants to make this play any longer but there is something to be said about taking your time in some scenes- ‘moments’ as one of my favourite acting teachers was fond of. And though there are substantial moments that make you pause as an audience and catch your breath at times the careering pace felt a bit much to allow audience and characters to really be present. That said, when it does stop it’s devastatingly effective.

As costume is one of my personal obsessions and bugbears simultaneously, I couldn’t let this production go by without mentioning costumes. Costume is obviously a big part of Blanche’s character and much is made of her outfits in the text. This production I felt got this pitch perfect. From her neat suit at the start echoed in the final scene, to her outlandish dresses. The moment she changes into a Southern Belle-esque ballgown is a brilliant piece of costuming that gets a laugh but is also heartbreaking. Even her ‘exotic’ coloured dressing gown is pitch perfect. My favourite clothing elements were however the shoes. Not just because, well they are a mighty fine collection of shoes. Constantly Blanche is in huge heels, like Dolly Parton is rumoured to, she steps from bed or bath directly into fabulous heels. Practically this of course helps the tiny Gillian Anderson gain a few inches, but in terms of character I thought this was a wonderful touch. Blanche is so obsessed with appearances, of being put together and right, that having her never take off those heels unless she was unseen behind the shower curtain-the only time she is un-heeled, was to me a marvelous touch to the character. If I’d taken notes I’m sure I could have read something into each shoe choice-certainly the sparkly shoes are saved for dramatic purpose. But the outfits for Blanche were so meticulously constructed, including and especially the shoes, they might just be my favourite part of this production.

Overall it’s the performances that make this play. Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby make a strong Kowalski duo. Stella in this production is as strong and important a character as Blanche, Kirby not overshadowed by Gillian Anderson’s Blanche. In fact Kirby’s performance is that strong, that engaging I found myself wanting more of Stella than Williams’ play gives us. Of course the evening belongs to Gillian Anderson. As much as I can be objective about the production, I find it difficult to be objective about her in most instances. However, I don’t think I need to be in this particular instance. Her Blanche is nuanced and despite her exaggerated character feels very real. She’s so very controlled in the role, bringing a slick, quite barbed but quick-witted Blanche to life in the first part of the play. When her cracks begin to show although the character unravels Anderson is an actress in complete control of the nuances of the character. I saw things in Blanche I’d never considered across the performance and there’s an emotional centre to it from the moment she steps on stage. When she breaks down a little to Mitch there is a sense of what is further to come at the end of the play but she knows how to measure it out, to return a little to the earlier character before the final scenes. When the play finally reaches its climax it is truly devastating.  If you don’t know the play, through the realisation of what has been happening in the final scene. When the famous line is delivered it has stopped being the line we all know, and becomes about this Blanche in this moment. And if nothing else that’s when you know a revival has worked, when those famous lines take on their own life again. And if that fails to move, Anderson’s slow final walk around the set, looking into the eyes of audience members as a broken lost Blanche is truly a devastating end to an emotional production.

On a personal note, seeing Gillian Anderson on stage again was a magical experience. I’ve said above that I find it hard to be objective, and I think I’ve been fair in my review here, my thoughts echoed by the press and other audience members. There are very few actors I love I’m quite so enamored with though, I suppose 20 years of fangirling will do that to someone. What I do realise is that I am still hopelessly in love with her as an actress (and a person) and I’m kind of ok with that. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my Birthday.


Richard III

So following a more official review for ‘Cardiff Shakespeare’ this is my more personal review, with a bit for fan-girl thoughts thrown in.

I wasn’t going to bother with Richard III. Mainly due to logistics/time getting to London and cose of tickets. However, I got lucky with the £15 Mondays deal and knew I’d regret not seeing it. In the end it was a desire to see what Jamie Lloyd (who I’m a big fan of) had done with the production and to see Jo Stone-Fewings as Buckingham, an actor who I’ve also long been a fan of and is a little more obscure than Mr Freeman.

Much has been made of this production in relation to the blood and the Freeman fans who were aparently just there to see Martin Freeman do Dick. (sorry it’s a cheap joke but you have to admit a good one) I didn’t have a problem with the latter (but I’ll come to that later) and the blood well, there was a fair bit of it to be sure.

The production, I really loved. As I say I’m a fan of Jamie Lloyd and I really see what he was doing with this. In my nit-picking theatre brain I can call out a few things I wasn’t sure of, but these are both nit-picky and personal preference. I’m not a fan of audience on stage, particularly when this seems to serve no purpose to the action. Although having audience on stage did serve the claustrophobic feeling of Soutra Gilmor’s 1970s Cabinet office set, they didn’t really add much to it. For an obvious comparison the NT’s ‘Our House’ had audience members sat as though part of the House of Commons on stage, and had actors at times among them. This added to both set and atmosphere. The set-up in Richard III reminded me of this but didn’t really engage in the same way. That said, there is of course argument for it not needing to serve purpose, but simply to allow a set of seats with a different audience perspective, which is valid.

Much has been made of the blood content in this production In addition to the cuts many of the off stage deaths are brought on stage, often in graphic detail.  Much has been made of the violence and sheer volume of blood in this production (those in the first three rows are warned of being in a ‘splash zone’) and while, yes there was quite a bit of blood it didn’t’ feel particularly gratuitous. That said, I’ve watched some very very bloody performances in my time, and I’ve also been watching a lot of Hannibal lately. I guess bloody is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing some of the usual off-stage deaths also brought characterisation or motivation home, further fleshing out what we already knew or felt about some characters. And I did “enjoy” seeing some graphic stage deaths in contrast to some where a slight poke with a sword induces death, or a bloodless gunshot kills everyone immediately. The deaths were long, graphic and drawn out at times, but realistic, something that modern Shakespeare should keep in mind-how in this setting would this character be murdered? how long would it take? how much blood? Lloyd has thought this through and the end fight-‘showdown’ actually seems more appropriate, made good use of an issue that troubles many modern-dress Shakespeare plays, how to deal with the imbalance between guns and swords. In this case effective use of guns versus the knives (rather than swords) across the play makes a profound statement of violence at its close. Also film fans of a certain age, there’s a nice allegory to ‘Seven’ for one of the off-stage deaths. Now that was what I call a lot of blood.

The 1970s political setting works well for Lloyd’s pacey production. It also works well in some of the slower scenes, in fitting with the back and forth and posturing of political debate. The claustrophobic set-the entirety of the action set in a cabinet office also works well with the political heat and (literal) back-stabbing of the narrative. I’ve read comments and reviews that the setting was confusing. Even without buying a programme which apparently has some context for Lloyd’s setting, I still followed the setting and  the desired political analogies. The modern-but not quite contemporary setting works well in modernizing a history play (as anachronistic and troublesome as that sentence demonstrates) making the narrative recognizable, but still something ‘other’ lends itself well to the Histories, if they aren’t done in period settings. For me this period worked well for a back stabbing (literally) Richard and his accomplices. It also works well for the roles the female characters serve in Richard III they have power, they have leverage but they are most often on the fringes. For a British political setting of that era their roles also fit well, and the actresses in the naturally male dominated company all delivered excellent performances. 
The cast is strong, with a reduced cast fitting the edited nature of the text. Gina McKee as Queen Elizabeth and Maggie Steed as Queen Margret as mentioned  provide strong female roles in this testosterone filled play. Stand out performance in particular from Jo Stone-Fewings as Buckingham who delivered a conniving and dark performance. For me, he made the play, to which I was disappointed to realise (spoiler alert) that he’s quickly dispatched with in Act 2. Stone-Fewings held a good balance of conniving, and slippery while utimatly also fallen foul of a far more conniving Richard. 
Freeman’s Richard goes against a more common approach  to bring a more cautious, calmer but no less nasty Richard to life. I fully believed his attitude inspired by his physical deformities (though Mum was convinced he forgot his limp at times). In his scheming he is a carefully planned and poisonous in that sense a true politician Richard. Personally I missed the charismatic scheming Richard I’ve come to associate with this play. It is still an accomplished performance and fully in fitting with what Jamie Lloyd is trying to achieve with this modern political production. Personally though, it was a disappointing central character. I went in with no expectations, not knowing what Freeman would make of the role, and I left a little deflated. I’m not sure what I wanted but I want to say more. More lasciviousness, more charm, the scene where he convinces Elizabeth to give up her daughter for example, I want Richard to do it through charm, seduction. In this case he didn’t need to, she was tied to a chair and already in his power. Again this is a directing quibble more than an acting issue, but overall that’s where the performance fell for me, a little short of what I felt the play demands. By no stretch is it bad, it’s accomplished and clever and intelligent. But I just wasn’t engaged with his Richard in the way I’d want. 
Shakespeare, particularly for fans is such a personal experience, and one that’s won and lost on the strength of the actors in whose hands it falls. I fully respect Freeman’s interpretation, I can see almost beat for beat the thinking and motivation behind the choices he made-and perhaps the direction that went alongside that. But it jsut didn’t do that thing where it hit me in the gut. Funnily enough the more I think about the production the more I love the choices that Jamie Lloyd has made, and by no stretch do I think Freeman is a poor choice. Again I understand that choice, just for me personally it’s a choice that fell flat. 
As an aside, this led me, while mentally reviewing the play to consider do I dare to say this out loud? do I dare to review this negatively? to say that Freeman is anything less than brilliant? I look above and see how carefully I’ve chosen my words and I realise how I’ve been influenced by fandom and fan culture around Sherlock and all it entails, both through working on it academically and being a fan. Normally I’m a no holds barred (no holds Bard?!) theatre reviewer (as anyone who has the misfortune to ask me what I thought of One Man Two Guvner’s finds out) but here I’ve been careful. I haven’t lied above, in my intelligent academic side of the brain that’s what I thought. In my theatre reviewer side of the brain I’d write that. As a fan? I’m not sure. I can hear the hatred, based on even what I write here and that’s not fair. Since when did fandom become a ‘with us or against us’ thing? there’s plenty of actors I’ve loved in one role hated in another. Doesn’t mean I now hate the actor as a performer or as a person. Doesn’t mean I’m less of a fan. As a fan I’d say I wasn’t sure before I went in, Freeman is an actor I respect but he always makes me uneasy, that’s the best emotion I can describe watching him on screen, sometimes almost as if I’m scared of him. Anthony Hopkins gives me the same feeling, I don’t always enjoy watching them as actors, I can’t relax. Weirdly on stage I didn’t get that. It’s honestly the most at ease watching Martin Freeman perform that I’ve felt. But somehow that’s contradictory to Richard III I should feel uneasy watching an actor portray him. I’m probably not explaining  this well. But being immersed in a fandom comes with baggage, in viewing and reviewing. I will however keep fangirling Jamie Lloyd, who has gotten a lot of flack in the press, and from theatre fan communities, but personally I bloody love the man’s bloody (literally) productions. 

The Normal Heart

This is not a real review of ‘The Normal Heart’ having spent the last four years writing about AIDS and theatre I’m too invested for that. 

I’ll admit I was wary. As anyone is about a new adaptation of something they love. I’m wary about new stagings of it, but I’m even more wary about transposing it to a new medium. I was also wary about the team behind it. On one hand HBO were producing it. The team that did the seemingly impossible in bringing Angels in America to screen so successfully. Alongside this Larry Kramer was writing the screenplay adaptation of his play. To my mind nobody else could do it. Larry knows his work, Larry also knows film. On the other hand, the director was Ryan Murphy. Known for ‘Glee’ Murphy is not the first name that crops up on an ideal directors list for anything, not least The Normal Heart. In Murphy’s defense the list of directors I’d have been happy with right away is very short. Also in Murphy’s defense I quite enjoyed the first season of Glee. However I feel he also owes me £8.50 and two hours of my life for the Glee film. 

So I was wary. Casting was announced and I was wary. Could Mark Ruffalo carry it? I knew nothing about him really. Supporting cast had some good people. Jim Parsons could do it, he did it on stage. The trouble with knowing what stage performances have done with the role, means nobody is ever going to quite fit. With the exception of Joe Mantello. Because he’s an exception to every rule. 

But the trouble with something tranposing from stage to screen is that feeling of a stage version, of a stage performance. You can’t perform it the same on stage, therefore it will be altered. And how to react to that?

On the whole I thought the film was good. I’d rather have this version than no version. That sounds like a back handed compliment. It isn’t, I genuinely think this is a good version of The Normal Heart. If it gets Larry Krammer’s story to more people, if it preserves it on film, I’m happy with that. And actually it translates to screen well in Murphy’s hands. Most of the changes he made, I was happy with for the sake of the different medium. 

And film does add elements, it gives visuals and fleshes out a story in a way that’s impossible on stage. It also makes the performances more visceral, more real. On stage it’s impossible to realistically take an actor from healthy to dying in two hours, we suspend our disbelief and use tricks to make it so, but we know they will bounce on stage healthy again at the curtain call. The exception ironically being Stephen Spinella’s performance in Angels in America that set the rumour mill into overdrive about his health. But on film, you can feel like a character is dying, intimately see the affects of their illness that are only alluded to or representative on stage. There is something to be said for that head on collision with the affects of AIDS that film provides. On stage I don’t feel it less, but the physical realities on film are hard to get away from. That AIDS is being depicted in graphic detail on film is still important, as is the explicit, overt depiction of gay sexuality on film is also an important aspect. It’s different on film, no doubt, but not worse. There is only one scene, which I won’t spoil, that I felt was lessened for seeing it realised. On stage it’s a story that’s told, and one that hits not so much the heart as the gut. It’s visceral in it’s telling, and actually what my imagination always conjured is far worse than seeing it realised. Some things are more powerful unseen. 

The performances overall were strong. Again, what I want from a portrayal of Ned Weeks and what the average audience needs are two different things. But Mark Ruffalo hit the mark on almost every important beat. And his dialect coach is a genius-to the point I had to pause the film to comment on how accurate his voice work was, and for that if nothing else I give him high marks. If I closed my eyes I could hear Larry Kramer. 

One or two cast members I had issue with, Julia Roberts in a difficult role admittedly just didn’t gel for me. Neither did Taylor Kitsch, again in a difficult role. I don’t think either actor was bad, just not quite there, and probably simply miscast. Ruffalo aside, the stand out performance for me was Jim Parsons. He was no surprise having seen him as Tommy in the stage version, I knew he could do it. But faced with the version on film, and some slightly altered scenes, Parson’s brought more depth the to role, and was for me an emotional anchor to the piece. Parson’s casting, and performance in the role of Tommy hopefully helped audiences who were finding it hard to connect with Ruffalo’s Ned Weeks (not Ruffalo’s fault, at times Ned/Kramer is hard to connect with at times). The rest of the supporting cast on the whole were also good. Points particuarlly to Joe Mantello, who is always brilliant but pulled at my heart strings because of his long connection with this play, and others like it. Similarly a cameo from Stephen Spinella was enough to break my heart in the opening minutes. 

And did The Normal Heart break mine? Not as much as the stage version is the honest answer. But, I say this with the caveat that maybe it will more on repeat viewings. I was on edge, waiting for the answer to the question ‘will it be good’ that I didn’t engage as fully as I might have. So I reserve judgement fully. I do know that there were moments where I felt something breaking. When I saw Stephen Spinella yes, but also when Tommy spoke at the funeral,  when Ned takes care of Feliz, and many other moments. The moment that really got me however was the ‘I belong to a culture speech’ Ned Weeks says the following; 

‘I belong to a culture that includes Proust, Henry James, Tchaikovsky, Cole Porter, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Marlowe, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Tennessee Williams, Byron, E. M. Forster, Lorca, Auden, Francis Bacon, James Baldwin, Harry Stack Sullivan, John Maynard Keynes, Dag Hammarskjold These are not invisible men.’

As the speech goes on, I truly felt the emotion of the piece. What I felt were Larry Kramer’s words. Because through all this, it’s Kramer’s writing that still rings true, that still hits where it hurts and is still so utterly desperate after all these years.

Much was made, when the film came out, of why? why do we need this film? why now? To answer the last question first, is perhaps to answer all three. Because it took this long to get here. Because it’s taken years of fighting to get a film made. Because still there is reluctance to address these issues, to commit them to film and air them in public. Because while it is fiction, Kramer’s play is also historical record. Why do we need the film then? because despite this historical track record things still remain a certain way. Things have changed yes, for people with AIDS, for gay people. But not nearly enough. And the fight that Kramer depicts still goes on, for recognition, for support. AIDS is still an issue, in America in Britain, all around the world. Finally why make this film? well to remember those involved. To remember what Larry Kramer and his friends did, and why they had to do it. Why do we make art about any historical event? because in remembering someday someone will hopefully learn. In this case history is not quite over anyway. We still need people like Larry Kramer to shout.


The Drowned Man (round 2)

Last Friday I went for round two (and sadly final round) of Punchdrunk’s ‘The Drowned Man’ write up here, for my own memory and anyone who is interested in that sort of thing!

The account of my first encounter is here:

I went to round two, after much deliberation with no plan. I decided that letting my nose and instincts guide me the first time served me well. And as I wouldn’t have the luxury of multiple visits to see everything I wanted to see, I felt I’d have a more enjoyable time just letting it happen. I had a few vague ‘wants’ some of which happened some didn’t, and as is the Punchdrunk way, some things I didn’t think I’d bother with, I did and they turned out to be the best parts!

I was in the first lift (I think? someone who was with me could probably correct…) for those keeping score, and wanting to know which cast member I’m talking about it was Friday 27th 5pm show.

One of my vague thoughts was to spend more time in the studio, but as I got out in town, I wandered through and came across William and Mary. With nobody else around having the scene all to myself seemed too good a chance to miss. I had them to myself, and almost to myself for a good fifteen minutes. In my first show, I’d chopped and changed between Mary, Miguel and William for my first loop so I made the decision to follow William for the whole first loop. I really enjoyed seeing the story I’d pieced together in my first show, entirely from one character’s point of view. And this version of William was also very different to the last, again the beauty of TDM repeat viewings. One thing began to amuse me, a fellow audience member clearly decided I knew what I was doing and started following me. Not only sticking to me like glue whenever I took off after William, as if I knew where he was going (I mostly had no idea) but also following me to wherever I stood in a scene, as if I had magical information about the best position. I hate to break it to you girl in the camouflage print shirt, I just like to be out of the crowd when I can…or there was just a tall person in front of me.

At the end of that loop I decided to take myself on a wander and see what happened. Making my way down the stairs from the desert, I decided to go all the way down to the basement. I’d set foot in the basement for all of two minutes last time, so I wanted to see some of it. I wandered a little around the big space (and I forget what order I stumbled across these scenes so forgive me) I cam across the Doctor and a woman who I think was the PA? (leopard print outfit, sexy and sassy?) watched their scene and wandered some more. I also came across Mr Stanford, on the phone, and then shredding a head shot, the scene where he says the line ‘I made the horse run, I can make it bolt; he scared the life out of me so I left him to it and wandered some more, poking about rooms like the Foley room and generally exploring.

I continued my wander a little longer, spending some time with the Gatekeeper as it was quiet in there! poked around his room a bit until Ramola arrived. I watched her scene in the office, where she types and followed her via the Doctor down to Mr Stamford in the basement. At which point I left them both-the combined crowds were a bit much and I wasn’t overly invested in either of them at that point, and feeling the heat I took myself off to Studio 3 for a break.

A personal observation at this point-which was about the mid-point of my show. Firstly, a similar thing happened last time I went. At about the same point in time I felt both tired, overwhelmed and a bit ‘done’. Last time I accidentally found studio 3, took the chance to re hydrate, sit, and have a bit of a time out before diving back in, at which point I was fine. Both times in fact the second half of my show has been better. I think maybe my mind needs time to adjust before enjoying it, something I’m sure would change had I been multiple times. This time something else came to my attention, there was no midway for me with TDM, either the expereince allowed me to toally lose myself in the world of Temple Studios, forgetting everything, or the silence, the isolation actually left me disconnected with my own (very loud) thoughts. I also learned a lesson in your own mental space being really important. Not that it could be helped but my poor head wasn’t in the greatest place on Friday, I’d had an epic meltdown at the station earlier, for long and boring reasons. And sadly my brain just wasn’t letting go. In a way I’m sad, almost heartbroken that my only second chance at TDM was ruined a little by outside things, and by my poor head being a mess. Anyway, I took myself off to the loos, had another little meltdown, put my mask back on and went back in. And, actually the second half of my visit I really enjoyed.

Due to everything above, I think I was feeling not lazy, but less inclined to rush about, see and do everything. I wandered into the town. One of my favourite things to do is to simply wander in the quiet space and have a poke around (I’m nosy what can I say?) so I was quietly doing that, minding my own business when the Dust Witch stormed past. Well, if old Dusty storms past you have to follow right? So I followed and watched her bathe Migeul. As it turns out, 1960s Hollywood Dust Witches have the same vile coloured burgundy bath that I used to have…but I digress. Leaving Miguel to dresss (and squelching my way out) I wandered a bit more and decided to take my lovely friend’s advice for having a bit of a breather and hang out in the drugstore for a while.

I wandered into the Drugstore just as the Drug Store girl was taking someone in for a 1:1 so I hung around and waited for her to come out. I spent the rest of the loop either with her or with Tuttle. My first introduction to Tuttle was when he used his hips to ‘bump’ me out of the way at the Drugstore counter (I genuinely hadn’t heard the door and he somehow sneaked up behind me) I had no idea he was Tuttle at that point,but a little while later I wandered over to his shop. As I arrived he was giving out jellybeans and had to lean over and around several toys to give me one commenting ‘Gee there’s a lot of you in here, I should start charging’ I confess I fell a little bit in love with this Tuttle (and I really wanted to hug him when the Gatekeeper chased him!)  I shared the rest of the loop between him and Drug Store girl (who gave me a lemonade, and later a little wide-eyed nod as I helped her pick up her postcards.) I actually felt I got the most out of this loop, by staying in the town/fountain area I got to see a lot of the comings and goings and felt a bit more a part of the ‘world’ by observing this one spot of it. That would be my advice to a person who hasn’t seen it, as much as picking one person gives you a story, picking one spot (as long as it’s a fairly busy one!) will give you another story.

I followed Drug Store Girl down to the murder, slowly, as I knew that’s where we were going and for my first show I’d been following Wendy for the final loop so had gotten a good look. I stayed back out of the crowds for the murder which ended up giving me an excellent front row view for the finale-before which I got a wink from the PA. After which I looked up and saw two arms held out to me-the Grocer took my hands and led me out, kissing my hands softly as he went. When we got to studio three he pulled me into a little dance, then pulled back and started into my eyes before kissing my mask and saying ‘thank you’ over and over. I muttered a ‘thank you ‘ or two to which he replied ‘no thank you’. And disappeared.

With a little fluttering or eyelashes and showing of my lipstick stained mask I was also allowed to keep it, which was an added bonus (but did look a bit odd on the train home to Cardiff)

So that was round two, and sadly the final adventure in Temple Studios. I wish I’d discovered the show sooner (or realistically had chance to go sooner) I’d never had made it as many times as some people but I feel for me 3-4 times would have been great. I feel like I got enough from my experience, but I know I’d have loved more. Sadly, this time it wasn’t to be. But it was still magical. I know that the experience isn’t for everyone, I know some of my theatre friends have their issues with the show. And with my critical hat on I could find them too. But for me, the experience, and the enjoyment of the time in the performance far outweighs that. And it’s so rare to find something like that. Although every theatrical experience is individual, there is something lovely about something so very individual, and so very unique to every audience member that enters those lifts.